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The Hacker

LIVING Jan de Vries has found himself in the thana, while Jaitendra, an ally of Ricky Talsera, gets closer to Shaitan Vikram, in this latest excerpt from travel editor Stanley Moss’s novel, The Hacker

 

 

 

Previous page: Chapters 9–12

Stanley Moss is travel editor of Lucire.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Ricky Talsera hit the green button on his Iphone. ‘Yes, Danny?’

‘Man, you will not believe what is going on,’ Khaneja said.

‘Surprise me. I could use some excitement.’

‘Shaitan Vikram just met de Vries at Karim’s.’

‘I knew it,’ Ricky said. ‘He’s definitely coaching our client against us. I must report this to the police immediately.’

‘Don’t do anything yet. There’s more.’

‘What else?’ Ricky said.

‘Wait, I am telling you the entire story. So, Jaitendra’s following Vikram, and we should have some more information on that front soon. Their meeting at Karim’s broke up half an hour ago. I took a few pictures with my phone. Vikram passed de Vries some document. Must be incriminating stuff and certainly useful to us. Oh and you won’t believe what happened next.’

‘What? Please tell me.’

‘He just got busted.’

‘Busted? Did you say de Vries got busted?’

‘A local cop planted some drugs on him. Luckily I got it on film.’

‘Danny, you are amazing.’

‘I’ll use the film to our best advantage at the right moment. For now let’s allow him to get settled in at the thana.’

‘Is there someone you can call?’

‘Plenty of people. I know the local DCP, a contact of my Dad’s. But I am not calling him now. I know how these things work. They’ll hold de Vries in lock-up for a couple of hours, which will actually help us out. It’ll keep de Vries out of circulation until we get to the bottom of all this. Any word on who’s reading our email and posting that stuff on the net?’

‘Nothing yet,’ Ricky said. ‘Rajan says one of his boys is working on it.’

‘Okay, I’ll stand by. And I have one more thing to tell you.’

‘My God, what else?’

‘The Destroyer is nosing around. Showed up here at Jama Masjid. But I kept her away from the police and sent her back to the office, so get ready. I told her to cancel the status update indefinitely or at least until we get a handle on what’s going on. It’ll be interesting to see how she spins all this to her own advantage. I’ll bet you a thousand she’s been in touch with de Vries in the last two days.’

‘Before the status review? She’s supposed to have told us.’

‘Right, right. If she hadn’t been with us for so long or brought in so much business, I’d have suggested we get rid of her right away. I must disconnect now. I need to call Dad and have him phone Ajit Hooda.’

‘Your Dad knows Ajit Hooda?’

‘Yes, old cricket buddies. Ok, listen, Ricky, I gotta go. I’ll call you as soon as I have more to report.’

‘What do I do about Shivani?’

‘Just listen to her, nod appreciatively, offer her a cup of tea. Have Briganza interrupt you after a few minutes and tell Shivani you need to excuse yourself and take a call. Then hide out.’

‘What about …?’

‘Ricky, I really gotta go. Later, man.’

Khaneja hung up abruptly. Ricky called Briganza and told her to have Hari Bhaiyya inform her as soon as Shivani showed up, and to interrupt their meeting after five minutes. Briganza said, ‘No problem, sir,’ and hung up. Suddenly the contracts for the new campus seemed very interesting to Ricky and he grabbed for the fat document on the corner of his desk and began to read.

 

Unperturbed by the chaos, Mr Raj and Mahatel exited the train and shuffled along the platform catching themselves in the ebb and flow of the crowd. They wove their way around cases and parcels and squatting families, around magazine stands and chaiwallahs, past carts laden with bundles and suitcases and coolies with stacks of suitcases and bags balanced on their heads. Slowly the two men climbed a crowded metal staircase which led to an overpass where they joined the creeping throng. Then they crossed to another staircase which led down into a lobby thick with travellers drifting in all directions and from there they threaded their way down to the row of open doors which led to the main crossing of the station where more human beings milled about. Here, Mr Raj motioned to his nephew to halt, and he himself stood still, too, listening to the mélange of sounds which surrounded him. Finally he heard what he sought and looked towards the source of the voice.

‘Gurgaon!’ a man cried in as loud a voice as he could muster. ‘Gurgaon!’ he shouted in each direction he turned, occasionally exchanging a few words with people who approached him. Some he directed to stand to the side and wait, others he dismissively sent on their way. This man was named Pyarelal. Six days a week he repeated this identical performance, in Gurgaon in the morning, then at the train station in the afternoon. First thing in the day he went to the garage of Singh Transport, just off Connaught Place and a business owned by his cousin’s uncle’s cousin. There he was assigned a Toyota Qualis with an official capacity for six passengers. He next picked up six call-centre workers along a prescribed route, then dropped them at their office in Gurgaon. Once his car was empty he went straight to a staging spot for local taxis and siphoned off four litres of diesel into a row of one-litre plastic bottles, which he then sold to a regular group of taxi drivers. He had a cadre of loyal customers who supplied him with their extra empty bottles and as they stopped by the parked SUV for their fuel, they always chatted amiably. Then he went to the main crossing in Gurgaon, stood on the corner among other drivers and yelled ‘Nayi Delhi Railway Station! Railway Station!’ After picking up as many people as he could, he shuttled to the station, got rid of them and looked for a new group to load. This was the point where Mr Raj intercepted him. His daily system was to be back in Gurgaon in time for his evening run in the opposite direction to carry the call-centre employees back home. At the end of the day he went to deposit the car back to the lot near Connaught Place. On a good day he took home an extra ₹500.

Mr Raj sized the man up, mid-50s, neat, diminutive, meek. He obviously didn’t like talking to the passengers, but he knew how to get them into his Qualis. Probably happy if he can hustle eight people, but will settle for six too. Mr Raj waited for the right moment, then haggled with the man for ₹25 each since he and his nephew didn’t have big suitcases like the others. He had overheard the figure of ₹30 per ride, but was determined to pay less than the others who crowded into the van. Pyarelal was no fool. An extra fifty was an extra fifty and the other passengers were waiting. He accepted the crumpled fifty-rupee note and held the door for the man and his tough-looking nephew.

On the way to Gurgaon Mr Raj kept his eyes focused on the road ahead, and plotted what he next had to do.

 

‘This is a very very nice handset,’ Subinspector Shamsher Singh said, admiring Jan de Vries’s titanium Vertu. ‘It is a beautiful fine black leather cover. Real alligator?’

Jan de Vries frowned. ‘What difference does that make?’ he snarled.

‘And now your other inside pocket, sir … A card key for the Radisson Gurgaon hotel? Ah, and another beautiful leather piece. Chaudhari, write this down: a black alligator wallet. And count the currency. Euros is it not? … Your wife? A lovely woman. Do you have children?’

‘No children,’ Jan de Vries muttered, rubbing his wrists where the cuffs, just removed, had bound his hands.

‘A pity. Children are a gift from God I think.’

‘Sir has €2,000 in cash and ₹1,500,’ constable Chaudhari interjected. ‘And several credit and bank cards whose numbers I have noted in the report.’

‘Excellent. Now your watch, please, sir,’ Singh said mildly, opening a large brown envelope, into which he dropped the phone, the card key and the wallet. ‘A beautiful, thin watch,’ he said, taking it from de Vries’s hand. ‘Gold case. A Patek Philippe. I do not often get to hold one of these. What is Sir’s business?’

‘IT,’ de Vries said. ‘Software.’

‘Very interesting,’ Singh said. ‘Now the outside pockets of your beautiful jacket, sir.’

‘There’s nothing in the pockets.’

‘Sir will hand over his jacket then, please.’

‘Do you have any idea what you are getting into?’ de Vries asked, slipping out of the silk jacket and handing it across to Singh who immediately began to search its pockets. ‘False arrest, improper detainment, harassment. Hasn’t anyone trained you about how to treat foreign nationals bringing business to your stone age country?’

‘I thought you stated your pockets were empty,’ Singh said, holding up a fine linen kerchief and a folded sheet of paper.

‘Am I supposed to declare a goddamn handkerchief and a piece of paper?’

‘Sir was asked to empty his pockets. Chaudhari, what did Sir state?’

‘Sir stated there was nothing left in his pockets,’ the constable said helpfully, reading from his form, a thin paper printed mostly in Hindi characters and now half-filled in with miniscule writing from a ballpoint pen, none of it in English.

‘An oversight I am sure,’ Singh said, tossing the kerchief and the folded paper into the brown envelope and reaching into the right-hand pocket. He found a small plastic packet filled with suspicious white powder in it. He held it up and said, ‘And was this also an oversight? Constable, bag and tag this as evidence.’

‘So that’s your game,’ de Vries growled. ‘Alright, enough is enough. When do I get my one phone call?’

‘Sir has not yet been charged. First we will need to identify the white substance. Then we will decide if there are to be charges.’

‘How much?’ Jan de Vries said. ‘Name your number.’

Singh regarded him curiously. ‘You have been accused of soliciting illegal drugs …’

‘Yes, by a truly reputable source—that reptile in the alley who probably …’

‘… and you now deny knowledge of what you carry in your own pocket?’

‘How much?’ de Vries insisted. ‘The faster I get out of this hell-hole the better.’

‘Chaudhari, can you fetch us two masala tea?’

The constable got up from the table and left the men alone. Silence invaded the place and neither man spoke for a long time. Jan de Vries surveyed the dingy room, the wobbly table and the ugly walls which surrounded him. ‘How much?’ he repeated.

Subinspector Singh had calculated what the euros in the Dutchman’s wallet were worth. About ₹120,000. He was in no hurry.

‘Ah! Here is our chai,’ he said. ‘I have often found that foreign guests prefer masala tea. Chaudhari, find some biscuits for us, please.’

‘I don’t want any of your goddamn tea,’ Jan de Vries said. ‘Or your biscuits. I want to get out of this place right now. So tell me what is it going to take.’

‘Sir will please remove his belt and shoes.’

 

Priyanka waited at Ricky Talsera’s office door. She sat down on a sofa off to the left, closed her eyes, leaned her head on the backrest, had a little nap. A half-hour passed, and then another fifteen minutes. The plink-plink-plink of stilettos on the marble foyer floor awoke her and she discovered the intimidating figure of the Destroyer towering over her. ‘Hi Shivani,’ she attempted drowsily.

‘Where’s Ricky?’ Shivani snapped back, in no mood to exchange pleasantries. ‘He in there?’

‘Yes,’ Priyanka said. ‘He asked me to wait. A long time ago. I’m still waiting for him to get off his call.’

‘Out of my way, Priyanka,’ Shivani said, and began knocking on the door impatiently. Inside the office Ricky Talsera had no doubt about who was at the door. Steeling himself he opened it, only to find Priyanka and Shivani both standing there.

‘Priyanka, I’m sorry,’ Ricky said. ‘I completely forgot.’

‘Okay, Priyanka,’ Shivani said. ‘Everybody’s sorry, so beat it now. I’ve got important stuff to discuss with Ricky.’

‘But the dog?’ Priyanka said. ‘You wanted to hear about Pushpa’s dog.’

‘Priyanka, your dog will have to wait for the time being. Go back to your office and find somebody to harass.’ Shivani said, before Ricky could get a word in. Priyanka looked at Ricky. He nodded.

‘Let’s get to it in the morning,’ he told her. ‘I’m sorry I made you wait. My mistake. I got distracted.’

‘No, no, Doctor,’ Priyanka said, and caught herself. ‘I mean Ricky. It’s not a problem. I’ll ping you tomorrow.’

‘Good idea,’ Shivani said, stepped inside and closed the door behind her. Without being invited, she took a seat across from Ricky at the blond wood desk. ‘I guess you want to know about RoodInfo?’

Ricky Talsera sat down. ‘Update me. Isn’t your team supposed to be on top of this?’

‘Monkey business!’ Shivani exclaimed. ‘That little shit Vikram is back and he’s trying to sabotage the project. He was seen in Jama Masjid with Jan de Vries a couple of hours ago. I have Jaitendra following Vikram, and Khaneja tailing de Vries. We think Vikram’s responsible for the negative blog posts. I should know something later tonight.’

‘You’re confident the status review will go well?’

‘I’m cancelling it for the moment. Until we know how bad things are, my team is gonna hang back and do some bug-fixing instead.’

‘What are we going to tell de Vries?’

‘Nothing for the moment. When he calls I’ll meet up with him and distract him. Leave him to me.’

Ricky’s phone rang and he picked it up. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Of course I can speak to him, hold on a second.’ He placed his hand over the receiver of the phone. ‘Shiv, I need to take this. It’s about building permits for the new campus. Please excuse me? Can we talk later when you know more?’

Shivani stood up. ‘Yes. I’ll call you as soon as I hear anything useful.’ She stalked out of the office, closing Ricky’s door loudly. Outside she dialled Nitin. ‘Get over to the small Newton conference room on the second floor in Building 3 right now. Don’t make me wait,’ she told him.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

That May of 1999 they rode up the valley called Joli La into an early thaw—where mud turned into stones the higher they climbed—and then marched through loose, punishing rocks as they pushed toward the sangars that stood along the ridge line. They never told you about the brilliant blue sky or the wild passage of clouds up there, or how the peaks stood out so clearly from so far away.

In the night the Mirage 2000s came and pounded the enemy supply lines. You could hear the firepower from the passes below at 16,000 ft, bad guys getting hammered. Afterwards you looked out onto the jagged peaks that bled crimson haze around their edges, framed by billowing grey cloud dispersed in the high atmosphere, then all went dark and black, quiet and starry again. Raw country, where the winds blew harsh and the cold dry air made your skin go leathery and your eyes burn. Headquarters said the enemy positions were full of army regulars, mujahideen, mercenaries, SSG operatives.

They had not told him how beautiful it would be in this primitive place. It was a brutal terrain, but he found a rugged quality to it that a man could love, for the fact that it was both breathtaking and at the same time unforgiving. Some days he would watch a MiG-27 turn its wide balletic radius overhead, and he admired the delicate way they placed their bombs along the ridge. If you did not bomb the intruders into submission, then the infantry had to evict them. That was his job. But he loved the other beauty in the emptiness of the nights between skirmishes, when you had the time to follow the arcs of satellites overhead as they transited lazily among the constellations, girdled in stars, on a canvas vast like the universe.

When he slept Jaitendra dreamt Boolean equations. He had learned them when he was quite young, in a Ramanujam club, and he used them in relation to nearly every decision he made in life. In the Army he chose his career options carefully, and as he took his promotions he saw and did things he could not tell people back home. He vowed that if he got through this incident in Kargil he would quit and do the thing he truly loved, which was to fool around with computers. Preposterous, he knew, a Major prepared to trade in twelve years of exemplary service for the life of a tinkerer. He had only to stay long enough and one day he might be a General. He could have a fine white car with curtained windows and little flags on the front, and a Jonga full of uniformed soldiers armed with sten guns following him.

Experience had taught him that fighting a war could be broken down into little algorithms and heuristics, a network of binary decisions applied in split seconds. They had sent him to Kargil to retake the LoC. Often he sat silently, his INSAS rifle draped across his lap, and looked at the stars above and planned how he and his men would finish clearing the Tololing complex. ‘First bomb them into oblivion, break their will to fight, then overrun their positions.’ The way the headquarters put it to them, it sounded all too easy.

He would not speak of the dead he had seen as they moved up the nullahs, or of the lives he had ended. Let others do that. He had lost many good friends in the operations. Slowly they had retaken the ridges, under the barrage of artillery fire that crackled and boomed in the thin air, and when the last defenders had been pushed back, he wandered the smoking, stinking ruins of their sangars. Among the rocks, he had seen corpses of people he knew, faces he had studied with in Germany years before, when they went as cadets to be trained by the Americans at a strange secret base in a forest called Hesse-Darmstadt. Dark violent skills, survival, hand-to-hand combat, weapons, psy-ops. Back then it was Indian guys versus Yankee guys, and they all hung together. He remembered Yousef, who played a phenomenal game of squash, unbeatable, now sprawled and lifeless next to a crater. Mahmood, who knew by heart the works of Ghalib and Faiz, and given enough beer would declaim their verse in his eloquent voice from the head of the table, lay dead with a pistol in his hand, his legs blown away. There was bloody Sharif, who could have been a professional bowler if only he had quit the commandos and not stayed to defend this remote and devastated place, lying hollow-eyed next to an abandoned heavy machine gun. Among the last line of defenders he found the remains of crudely dressed men he did not know, who carried antique rifles and wore the coarse cloth of mountain villages; fine snipers, men who would never go home, men whose corpses would decay unclaimed, here on these savage slopes.

He only wanted to be remembered as the man who brought all his boys home, but that was not to be true. Instead, they gave him a medal because he led one mad charge up a hill. And when he got home time passed invisibly. He shook hands with the President, posed for endless photographs, endured backslapping and drinks sent to his table, called the grieving families of his lost men, went out on dates with naïve girls who flashed their dark eyes at him and who he could sense feared him for what he had seen. Now that he was off active duty, the Army sent him to their finest graduate schools, he earned a second MBA, all a blur. But he never spoke about Kargil, and what he had seen there. Let others talk about it.

He settled back in Delhi. He joined a sports club to stay in shape. It was there that he met Danny Khaneja. One day, after a judo class, Danny introduced him to Ricky Talsera, mentioned their start-up, and Jaitendra joined the company—for no pay at first, since he knew very little about software—on the first day they were open for business. People would sometimes ask him about the famous charge but he would ignore the question and would make them talk about code-writing. Eventually Kargil faded from people’s conversations. But to his surprise the software business turned out to be quite like the battleground, with similar binary decisions to make, just fewer bullets and bombs. The terrain was cut-throat, the adversaries were merciless and espionage played an occasional role.

One morning, during his fifth year at the company, Hari Bhaiyya reported a break-in theft of some documents at Talsera. Khaneja somehow found out that a gang of Nigerians was responsible for it. He and Jaitendra paid the culprits’ hideout a visit, retrieved the documents and returned thinking they had seen the end of it. But one night they walked into a bar after work only to find the same guys sitting around. A confrontation ensued and Jaitendra’s close combat skills came in handy. But Khaneja almost got killed in the mêlée.

It wasn’t the first time Jaitendra’s unique training had played a part in Talsera’s survival. Over the years he had dealt with everyone from lesser gangsters vying to take over the company’s taxi contracts to corrupt customs inspectors, opportunistic lawyers and even some faked auto accidents. Sometimes a polite word was enough. Other times the use of controlled force was the only answer.

Over the years he had became a most unusual kind of software architect. While he was always ready to be of help where troublemakers needed to be taken care of, he preferred the company of his programmers and engineers and, unless summoned, stayed cloistered with them, out of the mainstream of everyday business.

This time, following Khaneja’s summons to stay with Shaitan Vikram, he hung behind unseen, waited patiently as Vikram madly keyboarded his user group posts at the internet café. The boy led him to a Dwarka apartment complex in Sector 6—DDA flats where a person could live anonymously and neighbours didn’t know each other. It was a grimy expanse of cookie-cutter crumbling blocks surrounded by weather-beaten trees and overgrown foliage. ‘Perfect place to hide,’ Jaitendra thought, ‘but now I’ve got you.’

He shadowed Vikram to a courtyard surrounded by six identical buildings, observed him venture into an open staircase, climb five flights to the top floor, walk along an exposed outdoor passage, unlock a corner apartment door and go inside. Jaitendra moved to an adjacent building and found his way to the roof corner where he could see both sides of Vikram’s apartment. Even though Vikram had closed off the balcony with dingy screens, Jaitendra could make out through the visible windows the faint glow of lights burning within. Not the same place where the driver Suresh said he lived; must be his workshop, Jaitendra thought. He texted Khaneja.

 

V has landed. Dwarka.

 

Khaneja replied immediately.

 

You’ll stay with him?

 

Jaitendra smiled to himself and texted back.

 

Yes

 

Hari Bhaiyya made his rounds, starting at the roof of Building 3, empty, no problems there. He looked into the corner at the top of the enclosed staircase where his sleeping platform was located, next to his hot plate and the shelves where he kept his simple cooking implements, everything as it should be. Down the steps to the fourth floor, through the broad room filled with empty cubicles—an hour earlier the place had been a beehive, across to the front staircase bathed in white light from the glass bricks, went down one flight and came upon his three goddesses occupying the tiny conference room at the front of the third floor. Their weekly meeting, usually a Wednesday or Thursday after work, seated about the round table, each with an identical yellow notebook open. He knew what they were doing. He nodded at them as he swept by, and continued on his rounds, floor by floor, checking that the big conference rooms were locked, seeing who worked late, checking in with the guards.

‘Hari just went by,’ Harpreet said. ‘It must be 7.15.’

‘Adita, try and concentrate, we only have forty-five minutes until the taxi,’ Shoba said.

‘I think we need to look more closely at the alternative energy sector,’ Adita said. ‘The potential for export business is enormous.’

‘So, what are our options?’ Shoba said.

‘In forty-five minutes or less,’ Harpreet said. For a moment their laughter filled the conference room.

 

Nitin sat at the dining-room table at right angles to his father. They had shared a cup of tea in silence. A half-full plate of biscuits lay in front of them. The mantle clock ticked.

‘This I do not understand,’ his father said. ‘Madamji called you in and asked you to resign? Without warning? You had no idea she would do this?’

‘She is such a …’ Nitin hesitated. ‘Bitchy woman,’ he said.

‘Do not use that kind of language with me,’ his father said.

‘But she is so cruel,’ Nitin said. ‘She didn’t give me a choice. She told me she was tired of my behaviour and that I was holding back the group and that she had already given me many chances. I don’t know which chances she was talking about. Then she made me sign a resignation letter.’

Beta, I do not understand what it is that you do or for that matter anything about your business. But this woman did not give any good reason for forcing you to leave your job.’

‘She told me we had a difference of styles,’ Nitin said.

‘Son, I am not an educated man like yourself, but if it occurred as you say, I do not understand the logic of her decision.‘

‘I do,’ Nitin said. ‘She hates me and does not want to work with me, no matter how dedicatedly and well I work.’

‘Does she understand your situation, our circumstances?’

‘I have no idea,’ Nitin said. ‘I can’t figure this out. And now I don’t know what to do. Any employer I apply to will call Talsera and I will never get another job.’

‘What about that important project you were working on, the top-secret confidential one you were excited about but didn’t want to discuss?’

Nitin grabbed for a biscuit. ‘I was so close to the answer,’ he said. ‘And yet she fired me. Now I guess I’ll never find out.’

 

A woman wearing a yellow flight attendant’s costume traversed the diagonal path in the courtyard below. Oversize shoulder bag, spike-heel shoes, hair drawn tight to form a neatly pinned bun at the back of her skull. Looked like someone just coming off from a shift. She glanced upward, her eyes sweeping the rooftop corner where Jaitendra casually leaned. At first he thought she had caught sight of him, but she did not look back up. Instead, she walked on, climbed the same stairs that Vikram had taken, reached the same level as his, walked down the open passage to the flat next to his, let herself in and disappeared inside.

Jaitendra waited on the roof for another two hours until his phone buzzed. A new SMS from Khaneja.

 

Another of those blogposts. It’s time to shut him down.

 

Jaitendra stared across the divide at the passageway where the entry door to Vikram’s lair lay. A faint ambient glow emanated from the apartment balcony. The tiny window Jaitendra could see was a soft amber rectangle in the dark wall.

TTYL,’ he texted Khaneja, and powered off the mobile.

As he prepared to leave the rooftop the door to Shaitan Vikram’s apartment opened and his angular, unmistakable figure emerged. It slammed the door, locked it shut and then stole away to the staircase. Jaitendra watched him walk out to the main road.

Quick binary decision: the kid or the apartment.

The winner: the apartment.

Jaitendra made his way down the staircase, walked behind Vikram’s building, took the centre stairs Vikram wouldn’t be using, and stood in front of his door in no time. He felt in his left-hand pocket for the familiar set of lock picks he always kept with himself. But before he could take them out, the door to the adjoining apartment opened about six inches and a woman peered out at him. She had changed from her yellow outfit and now wore blue jeans and a tight black T-shirt. Her braided hair hung delicately over her left shoulder. She looked quite attractive.

‘You’re not a cop,’ she said. Jaitendra didn’t reply. ‘You’re more like those guys who protect important people, no? I bet you’re a private eye. I saw you up on the roof when I came home and then I saw you sneak around the back of the building.’

‘You’re not a flight attendant,’ Jaitendra said. ‘And you’re pretty damn observant.’

‘He won’t be back for at least an hour, maybe more. You want to come in and wait?’

‘What if I’m a serial killer?’

‘I’m a pretty good judge of character,’ she said. ‘I meet a lot of people in my work. You look OK to me. Come in. I might have some useful information for you.’

‘All right,’ Jaitendra said. ‘Five minutes.’

 

‘Hooda,’ the voice said.

‘Mr Hooda, it’s Dilbar Khaneja. How are you, sir?’

‘Danny,’ Ajit Hooda said warmly. ‘Very well, what a pleasure to hear from you. How is your father? Still going to all the matches?’

‘Great, great. And, yes, mostly with the grandchildren. He goes to a few one-days, but hates the T20s.’ Danny smiled to himself.

‘He was always the best,’ Ajit Hooda said. ‘His late cut was so elegant and he could place the ball where he wanted. I am sure you didn’t call me to talk about cricket, though. How can I be of service?’

‘I have a foreign client in a bit of a situation over at the Jama Masjid police thana.’

‘And you need my help.’

‘I need you to make sure he stays there a while longer until I sort some business out connected to him. Then let me know how to take this guy off your hands. He’s prepared to cooperate.’

‘I’ll have my PA make some inquiries,’ Hooda said. ‘Call me back in an hour. I’m sure we would work it out. And send my regards to your Dad. Tell him Hooda remembers.’

‘I will, sir, and all the best to Mrs Hooda.’

 

 

Chapter 15

 

‘How odd,’ Jaitendra thought, looking around the apartment. You could never tell what went on behind closed doors. It was hardly what he expected from a place in a dusty Dwarka block. The walls were white and bare; freshly painted; no stains or holes; decorated by two framed prints which said ‘Louvre Paris’ across the bottom in modern letters; by artists he didn’t recognize; one poster looked like a pond with lilies painted with colourful smudges; the other a window with a table and a bowl of fruit; both could have been drawn by a kid for all he knew. The floor had been sanded and stained with dark finish, and under the modern couch on which he was seated, a simple but tasteful Rajasthani carpet with green chevron design rested.

It appeared she read a lot. A wide bookshelf stood against the wall, filled with volumes of different sizes. On the stylish teak coffee-table before him, next to the teapot and teacup that she had placed there just a few moments ago, he saw a copy of something by an author named Proust. Jaitendra picked it up and hefted it—a fat book with many pages and tiny print. ‘This any good?’ he asked and she shook her head. ‘No television?’ he asked, putting the book down.

She pointed at a closed, wood cabinet. ‘I like to keep it hidden,’ she said.

‘No computer?’ he asked.

‘In my bedroom,’ she said.

‘How’d you get a place like this?’ Through the doorway he could see the kitchen was in excellent repair: new, stainless-steel appliances; blue-tiled countertops; nice, white china on the shelves; glass jars of lentils and rice and beans and pickle and masala packets his Mom used to have arranged inside small cabinets. A familiar smell drifted out into the living room. She had something simmering, maybe a dal.

‘The furniture came from a diplomat who was going home and didn’t want to ship it back. I bought it all from him. A gay boy I met who decorates sets for Bollywood flicks helped me remodel. He had some guys come in during the day, so we didn’t attract any attention. You done asking questions?’ Jaitendra nodded, but he wondered about her. She was hiding something.

Her name was Neha, and she was twenty-nine years old, from Meerut. She had come to Delhi to enrol herself in an academy which trained people to work in the airline industry when she was 19. She’d quickly discovered they wanted subservient girls and not those with opinions, or who like her spoke their mind. Yet she completed the course and learned to wear her hair and uniform the way they wanted, learned to greet people, to make safety announcements over the PA system, to serve drinks gracefully, to roll carts down the aisle and collect people’s rubbish, learned how to help the pregnant and the handicapped, and what to do in case of over-the-water landings.

But she hated the pompous types who interviewed her. She had no trouble reading the lascivious looks of men who did not hesitate to hint that all it would take would be a fast transaction on an office couch and she could be sure of a position immediately. She never met the right person doing the hiring, and so never got a job.

One afternoon, she happened to be sipping coffee next to an attractively dressed woman in a Café Coffee Day and they struck up a conversation. Neha did not withhold her opinions of the people she was meeting. The well dressed woman clucked sympathetically and agreed that it’s not as glamorous working as an air hostess as people think. She herself had considered it, but was much happier working simply as a hostess. Before leaving, she gave Neha the business card of a lady who worked at an export company and who sometimes needed smart girls to help the firm’s out-of-town visitors who somehow seemed to like meeting flight attendants. Eventually she built her own business by word of mouth, and she had a good reputation.

Neha never told her family about her job; simply pretended to be working in an airline. She bought a yellow outfit from a Jet Airways girl and a red one from a Kingfisher girl, and she often showed up for her dates in a uniform, as if she had just got off from work. They seemed to like that fantasy. She found she could make as much money in a day like this as she would have made in a month as an air hostess, and without having to serve packaged meals to impolite people. In fact, now she was the one being served expensive meals at the coolest restaurants and people were nice to her. She also always had money, and was able to save enough even after sending some home. Whenever she made the three-hour trip back home to Meerut she took along sweets and bangles and wore a sari and played with her nieces and nephews and made excuses about why she never married. ‘I’m always flying away somewhere,’ she told them. ‘Nobody ever would marry me!’

Jaitendra again confronted another of those binary decisions: should he stay or should he go?

Stay.

‘Yeah, I think I’m done asking questions,’ he said and took a sip of tea. ‘Now tell me what you know about the boy next door.’

 

It would not be long now, Jan de Vries thought, staring at the pitiful chamber in the thana where he had been sequestered. Somebody would notice soon enough. His driver, Shivani, Khaneja, those idiots at Talsera, somebody! Perhaps it might be even Berthe in Rotterdam, trying to figure out why he had not made his daily call. She may by now have even phoned his office in a panic and was probably hitting the martinis earlier than usual. Anyway, eventually somebody was bound to come and get him out of this shithole, and then he would do some damage in return. First he would call the ambassador and order this man Singh’s head on a platter. He would call the news media and give them a story of false imprisonment, fraud and extortion that would be all over the international airwaves. He would ruin careers. He would make people think twice about doing business in this third-rate country. He had understood what the police officer was trying to do—first intimidate him by taking his belt and shoes and then hold him until he begged to be set free. But he would not give in so easily. Time was his friend; the longer they were going to hold him the more trouble they would be in. He understood they were waiting for him to surrender but he would offer them no satisfaction. Let them try their infantile tactics. He was not some overprivileged college student caught in a compromising position. Jan de Vries would not be manipulated.

A cockroach scurried over his foot and he gave out with a yelp as he jumped, startled, back into his chair, banging his knees painfully against the underside of the sticky wood table in the process. He stood up and his blue jeans slipped over his hips and he frantically grabbed for them, bunching them up at the front before they could get down to his knees. He was hungry and thirsty and the walls stank. The air was stale in the windowless room. But Jan de Vries would not give in.

Out in the parking area the red-turbaned Sikh awoke with a start and consulted his watch. The client was gone for more than two hours already. He called his mobile number.

Inside the police thana, the constable yet again heard a buzzing sound from the brown envelope containing Jan de Vries’s possessions. It wasn’t the first time the phone had gone off and the noise irritated him. He fished into the envelope, found the power switch on the expensive device and turned it off.

The Sikh called the Radisson deskman and reported that de Vries-ji hadn’t come back from Karim’s. The desk man called Danny Khaneja.

‘Your driver can come back in,’ Khaneja told the deskman. ‘I’ll make sure the guest gets a ride home.’

 

Mr Raj studied the signboard which showed the map of the sector, and eventually found the block he wanted. He could not tell the distance precisely, but he was confident a cycle- rickshaw driver would know the way. Off to his side his nephew smoked a cigarette, waiting for orders. Fixing his calculating gaze on the unfinished concrete skeletons which towered overhead, Mr Raj wondered which of them was his destination. While he understood the need for progress, he could not fathom why people would choose to live under such chaotic conditions. It was all noise and mud and people moving too quickly. Too many cars, too many two-wheelers, too many traditions forgotten. He looked at his nephew in the Megadeth T-shirt. Who would hire a boy like him? Who would marry their daughter to him?

 

‘I’ve seen the guy next door quite a few times, sneaking around,’ Neha began.

‘His name’s Vikram.’

‘He never introduced himself, that was strange. Guys usually want to meet me, or at least they smile. This Vikram fellow doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested. He sees me, he fumbles with his keys and hurries inside. I don’t know if he sleeps there, but I see him leaving some mornings. The first month he was here he kept getting deliveries, boxes and boxes. Bumped around in there for a few days. Then he closed off the balcony. Any of this help?’

‘None of it,’ Jaitendra said. ‘What else do you have for me? Your five minutes are almost up.’

‘What makes you think I’m not an air hostess?’

‘Your shoes were all wrong, and the bag, and the uniform. Flight attendants wear closed-toe shoes, not spiky heels. They have wheely bags, not shoulder bags like working girls’. And your uniform is out of date, not that your clients are ever going to say anything.’

‘Maybe it’s my other job.’

‘Right,’ Jaitendra said, rising. ‘I’m leaving.’

‘Wait,’ she said. ‘I can help you.’

‘I don’t need any help.’

‘He’s not going to get back for at least an hour.’

‘And you know this because?’

‘Because he pretty much lives on the tandoori rotis he gets at the dhaba down near the road. I’ve watched him for six months, his behaviour hasn’t changed. He also has paan after dinner. He stays away at least an hour. I’ll make a deal with you. I stand guard, look out for you. If he gets back early I’ll warn you. But I’d want to see inside his place. I want to see what you find.’

‘Why are you so curious?’

‘I’m a student of human nature. OK? Take it or leave it.’

Jaitendra smiled at her. A binary decision. She had intelligent eyes, and she didn’t seem to be intimidated. ‘Theek hai,’ he said. ‘You stand guard and I’ll let you look around inside after I’m done.’

To his surprise, she leaned across the couch, put her hand gently on the back of his neck and kissed him firmly on the lips. Then she sat back.

‘Nice to meet you, partner. I will be back in a flash.’

She got up and went into her room and was back in five minutes. She had changed into the yellow Jet Airways uniform and now had a rolling bag with her. Jaitendra noticed she had also slipped on a pair of closed-toe shoes.

‘One question,’ she said after she had pulled him out onto the balcony. She pointed down towards one corner of the courtyard. ‘You see that black man standing in the shadows over there?’

‘Of course I do,’ Jaitendra said. ‘He’s a Nigerian. Been shadowing me on and off for years.’

‘Are you going to finish him off?’

‘No. Not yet, at least. I’m going to keep leading him around until I figure out what to do with him.’

‘So I just pretend he’s not there.’

‘Correct,’ Jaitendra said.

 

The Ray-Ban sunglasses, the wallet, the opulent mobile phone, the hotel key, the linen handkerchief, the belt, the shoes, the white powder in the clear plastic evidence bag, the folded piece of paper. Subinspector Singh looked at the contents of the brown envelope laid out on his desk. Had he miscommunicated with the ferengi? He had given the man every opportunity but he had remained obstinate. It could have been so simple, but the man would not budge. The constable had confirmed the man was registered at the Radisson Gurgaon, though strangely the Foreigner Regional Registration Office had reported he changed his hotel just one night after his arrival. ‘Very suspicious,’ Subinspector Singh thought. Smuggling? Illegal diamonds? Drug trafficking? The man was from the Netherlands, where marijuana and hashish were freely traded, where addicts were given free heroin, where people could legally commit suicide under the supervision of a physician. A bizarre little country with mysterious laws.

Absently, Subinspector Singh unfolded the paper and examined what was written there. Three sentences scrawled in a schoolboy hand. He could not understand the language, something about invoicing and error codes, password-protected formulas, up-charges and back-valuation. But he could see one word which stood out: RoodInfo. He opened his personal laptop, which he had handpicked from the evidence room some months earlier and had caused to “go lost”, and Googled the name. Instantly a site from a company jumped forward and he clicked through it, not totally clear what it was all about. At the lower right he read the words Powered by Talsera, and he Googled ‘Talsera’. It seemed he had trapped the man in the midst of an act of corporate espionage. He congratulated himself on his brilliant luck. Now Subinspector Singh had something he could leverage.

He walked out of his office happily, passing the area where the constables stood around discussing the latest cricket scores. ‘Hold all my calls,’ he told them and opened the door to the tiny room where Jan de Vries sat. The room was hot and the air inside thick with the smell of the Dutchman’s sweat and his European cologne and the memories of thousand other interrogations.

De Vries raised his eyes and Subinspector Singh knew the man had not softened.

‘I hope you’ve come to your senses and are letting me out of this rubbish heap.’

‘I cannot be helping sir without his cooperation,’ Singh replied. ‘There is nothing more you want to tell me about your visit to Old Delhi? Why you came all the way from Gurgaon when your business is down there? Who you met or the purpose of your visit?’

‘Tourism. I like spicy food.’

‘I believe sir is withholding evidence. I believe that sir …’ Singh was interrupted by the caller tune of his mobile phone. He looked down at the screen. ‘Sir will excuse me,’ he said and left the room.

‘You can believe what you goddamn well want to,’ Jan de Vries growled to the empty room. ‘You’re not getting anything from me.’

Outside the room the Subinspector answered his call. ‘Yes, sir?’ he asked solicitously.

‘You’re holding a firangi,’ the caller said. ‘Someone whose welfare I am interested in. You follow?’

‘Of course, sir.’

‘You will hold him in isolation until you hear from me later tonight. Then you will release him. Do you understand? You do not harm him, but you do not set him free until I say so. Are we clear?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Very good,’ said Ajit Hooda and the line went dead.

 

 

Chapter 16

 

An eerie, blue-green light hung in the room, casting gloomy shadows in every corner. The room temperature was cool, though not cold. He had left the computers on, expecting to be back soon, never dreaming that someone would raid his secret command post while he was gone. Cheap folding tables, full of weird blinking boxes connected by clusters of cables and strewn with papers, lined two walls. Fat extension cords and multi-plug power strips criss-crossed the floor. Fans whooshing above filled the room with a uniform, ambient sound, which was punctuated only by the occasional plink of a device resetting itself. Little red-and-green lights seemed to dance everywhere. An open toolbox, with rolls of black electrical tape and pliers and screwdrivers and colourful plastic pieces, lay on the floor below a table. On one of the walls two large whiteboards had been mounted, filled with a myriad of scribblings and jottings that only their author could decipher. Across the room a single easy chair had been placed next to a wobbly Chinese halogen floor lamp. Strewn about the chair were dozens of discarded glossy computer magazines. In the unfurnished corner sat a pile of trash—a pyramid of Domino’s Pizza boxes around which the faint perfume of rancid tomato sauce lingered.

Three large monitors set side by side framed the corner where the tables met; a leather rolling office chair stood in front of them. A ridiculous Logitech wireless keyboard undulated in front of the centre screen. The left one displayed some online role-playing game in progress—a parallel world of passageways and demons lurking behind Neolithic pillars, of galaxies and occasional blasts light years off visible through open porticos. A state-of-the-art Bose headset connected by a hot yellow cord had been tossed onto a stack of manuals, and a shiny new joystick occupied the position to the left of the keyboard. At the right a well worn tracking ball mouse lurked, its orb glowing shimmering opal.

The centre monitor displayed five windows. On the top-right corner, a South Korean lady asked for money to buy a business-class ticket to visit him in a porn chat; she included her bank account number for his convenience. A teenage girl in Sao Paolo suggested he might enjoy looking more closely at a film of her bikini waxing in the top-left corner. In the bottom-left window, an obese Romanian woman danced naked in front of a webcam, her overwhelming breasts jiggling in close-up. In the bottom-right corner, a casino game was in progress—blackjack—with some sort of automated program running, a robot racking up virtual winnings into hundreds of millions. And occupying the centre of the screen was the site where the negative blog posts by KnightTuring had been written. He was obviously following the comments.

Jaitendra immediately recognized the contents of the right-hand screen: the RoodInfo code displayed in the left half and in the right Talsera’s internal emails constantly updated. Off to the right of the screens, a new HP colour printer sat atop its packing box, primed and fully loaded, ready to churn out documents. In the paper tray he found a printout of a Nordic girl sunbathing topless. He shook his head in wonder: if only Vikram had used his prodigious talents to do good in the world.

Quickly Jaitendra moved to the tiny bedroom, which contained a single steel-framed folding bed with rumpled bedsheets on it, and a folding chair piled with soiled clothing. A lone pair of sandals sat at the foot of the bed next to another ugly Chinese floor lamp. The rest of the room acted as the dumping ground for the packing materials of everything that came into the flat. Big cardboard boxes, Styrofoam pieces, plastic bags, crumpled papers, rough plastic cords, glossy printed product cartons and empty CD and DVD packages littered everywhere in the room. Detritus of consumer culture. Jaitendra peered into the bathroom. It seemed it had never been cleaned. Outside the door stood irregular stacks of industrial loo paper rolls and bundles of cheap paper towels carrying the logo of a Bengali restaurant supply company. In the tiny kitchen he found a tall black plastic bag stuffed with fetid trash. The sink was full of unwashed glasses and crusty tableware which Vikram had probably stolen from restaurants. He lifted a dingy towel with his pen point, set it down gingerly. There was a box of empty Thums Up bottles next to the refrigerator, inside which Jaitendra found half-eaten sweets and covered containers of dead take-away food. In the freezer he saw three flavours of ice cream. A tea pot on the counter was still warm.

Beside the doorway to the balcony he discovered a brand new generator next to a freestanding air-conditioning unit and a large industrial battery array, all connected by cabling to something outside. Jaitendra opened the door to find an elaborate system of solar panelling occupying nearly every inch of space, but blocked from view by flimsy screens. It was ingenious, he thought, how Vikram had set everything up such that he could move the sliding panels and adjust the components to harness the sunlight, so that he wasn’t relying solely on the power supply or the noisy generator.

Jaitendra came back to the main room and sat down in Vikram’s chair. He stared thoughtfully at his surroundings, swinging slowly from left and right. What had he missed? What had he forgotten? He went back to his training days and recalled how to search a room, the elementary things. He looked under the tables and started shifting around things. Below the keyboard he found a bulky envelope fastened with thick tape. It contained $18,000 in American hundred dollar bills. Jaitendra stuffed the envelope into his coat pocket. Now what? More searching or defensive action? Another binary decision. Defensive action.

Jaitendra spent the next fifteen minutes changing all the passwords to the open computers. For such a complex arrangement, it proved to be simpler than he had thought. All the programs were fortuitously logged into with admin privileges. Once the passwords were reset Jaitendra took out a 40 Gbyte flash drive he had brought along, popped it into a USB port and began to copy files he wanted to examine later. While the files were downloading he snapped photos of everything in the flat using his phone’s camera. He sent the photos to Danny Khaneja. Not a half minute later Khaneja texted him back.

 

Bring him in to the office. Einstein conf room, building 3, 9pm.

 

Jaitendra turned back to the centre screen and began to methodically delete the negative blog posts. Just as he was finishing a frantic rapping came from the door.

‘He’s back!’ Neha said from the balcony. ‘He just went into the stairwell. You have about a minute!’ Jaitendra heard her walk to her own apartment door, open it and go inside. He waited.

 

Subinspector Shamsher Singh marvelled. He knew he had not told Ajit Hooda about the firangi he had captured. He knew Hooda had spies everywhere, but he did not know how the boss of Old Delhi had found out so quickly. It was a miracle, an astounding display of the man’s power and reach. Another reason to be extremely careful. Hooda knew everything; Hooda could not be deceived. The phone call had been a kind of warning to him, an unspoken threat, a demonstration of just how little enterprise on his own part would be tolerated. He called the constable outside his office and told him to bring Lateef. Minutes later Lateef, cowering, was shown into the office, a large purple lump forming on his forehead where he had been struck during his ‘arrest’. Lateef knew enough to keep his mouth shut until spoken to.

‘You are free to go,’ Singh said. ‘You are no longer needed on this case.’ He picked up the sealed evidence bag and removed the plastic envelope of white powder which Lateef had planted in Jan de Vries’s pocket. ‘I believe this belongs to you?’

Lateef eyed the subinspector warily. ‘No,’ he said. ‘It is not mine!’

Singh placed the envelope on the far edge of his desk and turned away to face the window. ‘I do not know what it is or to whom it belongs,’ he said, looking out. ‘It is of no further use to me. It is to me as if it did not ever exist.’ When he turned back the envelope had disappeared. ‘Now get out of here.’ And Lateef disappeared.

But he was back within twenty minutes.

‘A man asked me to give you this letter,’ he said, passing over a page, which the subinspector took.

‘When?’

‘Just now, after I left thana,’ Lateef said. ‘A well dressed Indian man who spoke excellent Hindi. An educated man wearing expensive western clothing.’

‘Tell me exactly what he said.’

Lateef squinted his eyes, and tried to recollect. He had taken a sniff of the white powder as soon as he had found a hidden doorway.. He was not quite sure what he had heard. Everything was so bright and brilliant. ‘Said?’

‘His words, you fool! What exactly did he tell you?’

‘I think he said, “Oye, take this letter to the policeman,” and gave me twenty rupees.’

‘That is all he said? Nothing more?’

Lateef searched his memory. ‘He also said, “Do not hand it to anyone else. Only the policeman who struck you outside Karim’s. I would be watching you.”’

‘Describe the man.’

‘He looked like all rich men do to me. Like a movie star. Young and handsome and very sure of himself.’

Subinspector Singh opened the note and read it.

 

Sir, I may be of some help to you regarding the prisoner named de Vries. I will come to the thana at 18:30 to meet with you. Sincerely, Dilbar Khaneja

 

Khaneja? Where had he heard that name before?

 

‘You’re not going to like this,’ Rajan Abraham said, seated across from Ricky Talsera. He had shown up unannounced at Ricky’s office, an unprecedented event. While the two men had started the company together, with the silent participation of Danny Khaneja, and though they were immensely fond of each other, their areas of responsibility were so distant that they rarely had occasion to meet face to face. They usually met only in larger meetings. It was their wives who ensured they kept in touch. ‘Got to be about the RoodInfo job,’ Ricky said.

‘How’d you guess that?’ Rajan asked.

‘What else could it be? It’s a mess,’ Ricky said.

Abraham jiggled his leg, looked anywhere but at his partner and said, ‘You remember I had a kid, thought he could track down who was breaking into our email and putting internal stuff on the net?’

‘Of course I do. How’s that going?’

‘That’s the problem. The boy was very close to the answer. Pretty inventive, really. He’d set some traps, put out some bait and was closing in. Kind of like a bloodhound. We almost had the intruder.’

‘Almost,’ Ricky said. ‘That’s not good enough.’

‘I think he needed another half a day, just a few hours, and he would have figured it all out. Just a little more time.’

‘So what’s the problem? Give it to him. The status review’s been put off. Khaneja’s close to nailing Vikram. Jaitendra’s somewhere, doing something, don’t ask me what. De Vries is bound to reappear sooner or later. Let the kid carry on.’

‘But Shivani fired him this afternoon.’

‘Wait a minute. She can’t do that. Wasn’t HR involved? Nobody else consulted?’

‘Don’t ask me, Ricky. If I could understand her…’

‘You’re telling me she terminated the boy without telling HR, you or me?’

Rajan Abraham nodded yes. ‘She even had him sign a resignation letter.’

‘How’d the kid take it?’

‘Cleaned out his things fast and left without a word to anybody. Isn’t picking up his cell. Nobody else can take up where he left off. I had him doing this all by himself. I was thinking of sending Hari Bhaiyya over to his house.’

‘To say what? Oops, we’re sorry, you’re reinstated? No, Hari won’t be able to pull it off. One of us will have to go. And then we also have the Destroyer to contend with. Did you talk to Khaneja about this?’

‘Ricky, this only happened a couple of hours ago. I just found out from one of the other boys.’

‘We need that blogger’s name. Whoever it is has the power to kill the RoodInfo account and damage our reputation. Bring the boy back on as an independent contractor.’

Rajan Abraham considered the suggestion. ‘There’s still Shivani,’ he said. ‘She’ll raise a stink because we’re going against her decision. I hadn’t told anybody that Nitin was working on this. It was kind of hush-hush.’

‘Wait. Nitin? That boy who idolizes Hitler, the one who always follows me around at company parties trying to talk to me? He’s the one you were using?’

‘Ricky, the kid’s barely twenty-six. You think he knows what he’s saying or doing? Trust me, he is quite good. He has the aptitude and loves technology. We need people like him.’

‘Except that he’s a sociopath.’

‘Oh, we can mentor him. But anyway we need him now to catch the blogger. The Dutch guy is an asshole. If we don’t stop the posts, he’ll put all kinds of pressure on us and not pay us for the work already done. Or he may even pull the plug on us completely.’

‘Let’s keep trying Nitin’s mobile, then. I’ll think of something to say to Shivani in the meanwhile. The guys making any progress on the release?’

‘We were ready for the status review today—we always are—but we also can always use more time.’

‘Okay. Let’s have a beer when all this is over.’

‘If it ever is all over and we’re still standing,’ Rajan Abraham said.

Ricky nodded, said a quick goodbye and sat alone in his office. He knew that RoodInfo was short of cash and was looking for a way not to pay. He worried that if the account disappeared he would have forty idle engineers on his hands. Besides, he would have the personal pain of losing a large account. ‘Life at the top,’ he thought.

 

Karim’s again, but this time Khaneja sat by himself lost in thought, picking at a plate of kebab. He suspected a deeper involvement between Shivani and de Vries, while he was not so sure whether or not she had any knowledge of Vikram’s treachery. The only way to be certain was to put the players together in one place and watch them. Then he would know. He would need to get de Vries out of the police thana and down to Gurgaon for that to happen. But he had an hour to sit and think, to fit the pieces together. And he could not wait to get his hands on Shaitan Vikram.

His mobile rang and he picked it up immediately. It was Hari Bhaiyya. ‘Sir, Shivani madam has fired an engineer without permission.’

‘Who?’ Khaneja asked. ‘When?’

‘Someone who was helping to find the mischief maker. Today. She didn’t ask anyone.’

‘Hari, I want you to have the Einstein conference room ready for me at 8 p.m. Make sure two or three of your best guards stay on duty late. We’re having guests and I may need them. Is Ricky Sir still in his office?’

‘Yes,’ Hari Bhaiyya said. ‘Do you need me to tell him anything?’

‘No, thanks.’

 

Khaneja called Ricky Talsera. ‘Shivani’s colluding with de Vries and de Vries with Vikram. I can prove it. We need to have a meeting with everybody tonight to put the pieces together. Trust me, some smiles are going to be shattered. Can you have Shivani in Einstein at eight?’ he asked.

A mischievous look swept across Ricky’s face. ‘Will be my pleasure,’ he said.

 

Continued on next page

 

 

 

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