Read Date with a Sheesha Online

Authors: Anthony Bidulka

Date with a Sheesha (3 page)

BOOK: Date with a Sheesha
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Before I could say anything, she was gone. “Thanks,” I said to the void, minding my manners.

It felt awkward standing there, in a stranger’s home, not 18


A n t h o ny B i d u l k a

knowing if I should knock on the door or simply walk in. Did I abandon my plate of crispy onion bhajis, chicken malai tikka, and saffron rice? Or hurriedly shovel it down before going in?

I decided. Rapping on the dark wood, I tried the knob.

Finding it unlocked, I hesitantly pushed open the door.

“Mr. Quant, please come in,” Pranav Gupta said with a surprising gusto when he saw it was me. “Thank you very much for coming.”

He was standing behind the biggest desk I’d ever seen. Even though the room itself was large, the desk was an overpowering presence. Here again old East met new West. The desk was a piece of art, intricately carved and detailed, with complex patterns highlighted by gilt and multicoloured hues of rich stain. Atop the desk there was room for a laptop, a high-speed printer, and even a small plasma TV screen. The floors were thick with carpet and the walls obscured by bookshelves and wall hangings and draperies. The overall effect was like entering the inner sanctum of a maharaja, who also happened to be a modern-day entrepre-neur.

Gupta stepped from behind the behemoth and grasped my hand in a solid handshake. “I see you are trying some of my mother’s cooking. What do you think?”

I gave him an appreciative nod. “Your mother is an excellent cook.” I hadn’t tried any yet. But I’ve always found you can never go wrong complimenting a mother’s food.

The man beamed. “Which is your favourite?”


Using my fork I indicated one of the lumps on my plate.

“Oh, but have you tried the rogan josh? It’s lamb with yoghurt.” He pointed at another specimen. “Or the jeera aloo? It’s potato, you know. Please, try it.”

When I realized he was serious, and was waiting for me to sample the food, I readily complied.

Oh my.

I was reminded—as I too often am—how much I love food, and how it had the power to transport me to faraway, exotic places.



D a t e w i t h a S h e e s h a

Making sounds more appropriate to the boudoir, and under Pranav Gupta’s watchful eye, I forked in a few more mouthfuls.

The distinct flavours—sharp, sweet, spicy, and everything in between—began a party in my mouth. The tangy spices of the rogan josh played with the cumin in the jeera aloo, pungent saffron danced around the creamy mellowness of the yoghurt. It was truly a divine experience.

But I was here to work.

Resolutely, lest I be distracted by the charms of its aromas, I set the dish aside on a nearby table.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. My mother will be pleased.”

“My pleasure completely. Thank you. And pass my compli-ments to your mother.”

Culinary business complete, Mr. Gupta grasped my hand, and pulled me across the room to a bureau featuring what looked to me to be a mini shrine in honour of his dead son. He picked up the largest photo—one of about a dozen—an 8x10 in a gold frame and handed it to me. I was surprised at how heavy it was. This was no $7.95 Walmart special.

“This is my son. My only son. This is Nayan. Neil to those outside our family.”

I studied the picture. The face that stared back at me was the same one I’d found on Facebook.

“Again, Mr. Gupta, I’m sorry for your loss. But I’m afraid I don’t know why I’m here, why you
me here.”

“Ah, yes, the invitation,” he said with a chuffing noise, taking back the photograph and returning it to its place of honour on the bureau. “Let me begin by apologizing for such a melodramatic action, and for the short notice of the invitation. This is not how I normally carry out business, you understand. But I needed to have your attention. I was afraid if I gave you too much time to consider the request, you might turn it down.”

He was probably right. My head bobbed ever so slightly. I needed to move this along. “If you’re looking to hire me, a visit to my office would have sufficed,” I told him. “I have to tell you, Mr.

Gupta, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable being here. Obviously this is a very sad day for your family. Why don’t we make an 20


A n t h o ny B i d u l k a

appointment to meet in a few days? We can discuss whatever it is you want to discuss then.”

“No,” he responded quickly. “No, I want you to be here. I need you to be here. To feel this grief. To understand the depth of our sadness. To know how much my son’s death has affected our family. I want you to develop the same burning need that I have—

that we all have—to find out the truth about Neil’s death.”

I must have looked doubtful; once more, he picked up his son’s picture and thrust it toward me. I looked but did not take it.

“My son is dead,” he proclaimed, as if this were fresh news.

“Today we witnessed his body coming home. This should never have happened. He should not have died…”

“I can sympathi…”

“I want more than sympathy, Mr. Quant,” the grieving father informed me, his voice forceful and the picture frame in his hands shaking with his vehemence. “I want your passion. I am a person who believes that in all a man does—be it in his business, his personal life, his religious beliefs—success comes from passion. I need
passion, Mr. Quant. Because, you see, I am about to ask a very great deal of you.”

Uh oh. “What exactly
you asking me to do?”

“I want you to find my son’s murderer.”

Although I knew nothing about Neil Gupta’s death, I’d been expecting this exchange would turn into something along these lines. So, as shocking as murder always is, I was ready for this.

“Are you sure you want to discuss the details of this today?” I asked again, my head slightly inclined toward the den door and the houseful of guests on the other side of it.

“I am.” He reverently returned the photo of his lost son to its setting. “Emotions are high today. We are very sad, as you’ve no doubt witnessed. I want you to take this in. I want you to use it as the fuel for your passion when you search for the one who ended my son’s life.” He paused, and then added, “You will need it.”

Now he was making me nervous. “What happened to your son, Mr. Gupta?”

“Please,” he said, indicating a chic sofa of dark chestnut leather. “Sit with me awhile.”



D a t e w i t h a S h e e s h a

We sat next to one another on the couch, he slightly closer to me than I would have liked. Mr. Gupta’s sense of personal space was a little less expansive than my own.

“My son was working in the Middle East,” he began earnest-ly, “based out of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He was there under the auspices of the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Antiquities, of which my wife is the head.”

Before I could think it, Gupta added, “His stepmother played no favourites in making this decision. Neil deserved this position.

He is very young, that is true. But he is also a knowledgeable researcher and a very talented lecturer.”

I nodded my acceptance of his assertions and asked, “What was it he was researching and lecturing about?”

“Carpets.” It was an answer I was not expecting. From the look on the man’s face, I could see he knew it and was enjoying my surprise. “My son’s specialty is the antique carpet trade. Not many people are aware that this is a long and distinguished area of study, with great historical significance. Most people, when they think of carpets, think of pile rugs, welcome mats, or, at best, oriental carpets.”

I know I did.

“But there is a plethora of magnificent and breathtaking carpets from all over the globe. Carpets from Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Morocco, and Turkey and…” Gupta stopped there. He sat back and let out a chuckle. “Oh my, listen to me. Speaking of all this, as if I know something, when in reality I know so little. I am a structural engineer, not a specialist in antique carpets. Yet here I am lecturing about all this to you. Forgive me. It is simply an acquired enthusiasm, borrowed from my wife and son, and born from many, many hours listening to their conversations and argu-ments.”

I gave him a nod with a gentle smile of understanding. From personal experience, I myself knew way too much about clothing and opera from spending time with my menswear-store-owning,
-loving friend, Anthony Gatt. “I see. So your wife sent Neil to Dubai to learn more about carpets?”

His head shook. “Quite the opposite, really. During his six 22


A n t h o ny B i d u l k a

months there, he was to be guest lecturer at several Middle Eastern universities.
was going to teach
. But his main reason for going was something of greater importance. Last year, the University of Saskatchewan announced funding for a permanent display of antique carpets, to be housed at the Department of Antiquities. Perhaps you recall the press conference, the stories in the newspaper?”

I gave the man a look that I hoped conveyed I was vaguely aware, when really, I wasn’t at all.

“This is a very important move by the university. This collection will be the first of its kind amongst universities in western Canada. Unnati, as had many department heads before her, lobbied and politicked for this for a very long time. It is an exhilarating accomplishment for her. This will be the legacy of her tenure with the Department of Antiquities. And the university, the city, and the province too, will each reap significant benefits from this.

Not only in terms of research and education, but tourism dollars.

People will come from all over the world to visit what is sure to become a world-class attraction.”

Rugs as a world-class attraction? Who knew?

“And it all begins very soon.”


“I was about to tell you Neil’s greater purpose in the Middle East. He was to travel the area, assessing and making the final acquisition decisions on the most important of the carpets intended for the U of S collection. The climax of his trip was to be his return, two weeks from today. He and the final carpets were to arrive just in time for the World Antique Carpet Symposium being held here in Saskatoon.”

WACS? Except for the name, this
sound impressive.

“It is the first time the symposium has been held in Canada,”

Gupta told me. His animated face turned dark. “It was to have been a triumphant return for Neil. But instead of bathed in glory, my son came back to us in a casket.”

I was about to say how sorry I was, but I’d said it so often already the sentiment had lost its meaning. And I still didn’t know how Neil Gupta had died. “Tell me what happened to your 23


D a t e w i t h a S h e e s h a

son, Mr. Gupta.”

word is that he was attacked by hoodlums in a souk near Dubai Creek. Are you by any chance familiar with Dubai, Mr. Quant?” He eyed me carefully.

“No, I’m sorry.”

“No problem, no problem,” he hurriedly assured me.

“I take it you don’t quite believe the official word?”

He shook his head. “I do not.”

“Tell me why.”

“My son was in the souk for a party. A surprise farewell party held in his honour, arranged by his colleagues. It does not make sense that he would be in an unsafe area where he could be attacked by criminals.”

“Accidents happen,” I suggested as gently as I could.

“Perhaps your son got lost, or wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time.” I’d been in a souk in Tunis a few years earlier. I had first-hand knowledge of what utterly confusing and bewildering places they can be. And dangerous.

He shook his head, resolute in his belief.

“What exactly did the authorities say?”

“That he was stabbed repeatedly, to death, by villains as yet unknown to them. Their doctors confirmed this manner of death.

I had a third party, whom I trust, perform a second examination.

They concur. But what they cannot confirm, Mr. Quant, is that this stabbing was a simple act of violence performed by miscellaneous thugs. This is unbelievable to me. As you may know, Dubai prides itself on its very modern police force. This is a city with a reputation for being practically crime-free.”

I found this hard to believe—not to mention, lousy news for people in my particular line of work—but I let the comment go by uncontested.

“Again, Mr. Gupta, although I can understand how hard it must be for you to believe that this happened to you, to your son, these things
happen. People travel to foreign countries every day. Some never return. Murder, I’m sorry to say, can happen anywhere. And, I’m sorrier to say, sometimes it happens without reason or provocation.” I feared Neil’s father was suffering from the 24


A n t h o ny B i d u l k a

old “it can’t happen to me” syndrome.

And then he dropped his bombshell. “But you see, Mr. Quant, there
a reason.”

I wanted to suggest he might have started with that line, but held my tongue.

“And that is why I especially wanted you here today.”

Now we were getting somewhere.

“You see, Mr. Quant, like you, my son was gay.”

I almost winced at the sound of the word, which Mr. Gupta had pronounced with a harsh, hard-sounding “g.”

BOOK: Date with a Sheesha
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Bent, Not Broken by Sam Crescent and Jenika Snow
Hacedor de estrellas by Olaf Stapledon
Banjo of Destiny by Cary Fagan
Knights Of Dark Renown by Gemmell, David
Journey to Rainbow Island by Christie Hsiao
Havoc by Jeff Sampson