A financial thriller that dives deep into money laundering in India, particularly the methods used by corrupt businessmen and politicians to funnel their ill-gotten gains into the banking system, post the surprise announcement of Demonetization.
“Hi, I am Madhav,” said the man in the room, extending his hand in greeting. Vikram, still a bit dizzy, did not see him, but extended his hand
towards the voice. “Hi, I am Vikram.” Was the introduction necessary? Obviously, the man knew who he was. He had come to prison to meet Vikram. He shook the stranger’s hand, wondering who he was and what he wanted from him. “My client has a proposition for you,” said Madhav, jumping straight in, with a conspiratorial smile. There was no mention of who this client was or what he dealt in. Like anyone could walk into a prison and make deals with inmates. “He needs your help, your services.”
Vikram nearly flinched, but prison had taught him to keep his thoughts hidden behind an impassive mask. “He is well connected and can influence the judge to grant you bail.” Vikram’s control gave way, and he felt his jaw slacken in shock. How did this man know about his bail hearing? “What does he need from me?”
Madhav’s gaze caught that betraying moment. “He wants you to hack into Bharat Bank’s internal network and retrieve some information for him.” Vikram let a few seconds pass before he replied, “I am not interested. Please let your client know.” He turned to leave, eager to be away from this place, this strange man and his bizarre offer.
“I am surprised,” said Madhav, tapping his fingers on the steel table, with its top scratched and bent from countless angry negotiations. Much like this one. “Would you prefer spending your time in jail?”
Vikram felt the ominous chill of the room seep into him, into his fear of not being able to see his waiting mother, of never walking out of this hellhole. The panic that spread through him took his breath away. But instinct told him that this deal would only take him deeper into that vortex of fear and pain.
“I’ll take my chances,” he said, and was at the door when Madhav spoke again. “Could you do me the favour of speaking to my client
once?” Madhav held out a phone to Vikram. How did he get a phone into this room? All phones had to be checked in outside the visitors’ room. By now, Vikram knew the questions were rhetorical. He was being given no choice in the matter. The voice on the other end was friendly, like they had known each other for ages, like a school friend calling him out for a coffee after years of no contact. “Why are you refusing the offer?” The voice carried a hint of a laugh. It belonged to a person easily amused by the games he played, to a person who was in control of his world.
Amusement was in short supply behind the walls of the prison. “I don’t work for unknown clients,” Vikram said. “I am Mr. Daruwalla, a senior partner at a law firm. My client is wealthy and is willing to spend generously for your services.” “So you are not the client? Madhav asked me to speak to his client.” “Well, he is right.” The smile had gone out of Daruwalla’s voice. “I am Madhav’s client, but it is my client who will be paying for your services with your freedom.”
After a pause pregnant with unspoken threats, Mr. Daruwalla continued, “Of course, you can refuse, but my client is not kind. He can make life very difficult for you on the inside. Not to mention what he can do to you if you ever manage to get out.” Vikram felt his eye twitch. He wanted to scratch his eye out.
“Let your nervousness flow through you, like a river,” he heard Guruji’s voice in his head. Unfortunately, his river of nervousness was hitting a dam inside him. “What exactly do I have to do? I can’t steal money from the bank and transfer it to your accounts. If I knew how to do that, I would not be in jail,” Vikram replied, sarcastically.
His sarcasm was ignored. “Nothing like that. All we want is for you to download all the transactions of over 50 lakh rupees with corresponding account numbers and transaction details during a certain time period. Only information, no money.”
Vikram stared at Madhav incredulously even as he replied, “Is that all? I am sure you can get an entry-level hacker to do this job for you. I don’t want to get into more trouble than I am already in.” “Given the time, I am sure we can find a hacker. However, you have worked with Bharat Bank, and know how to navigate their systems. Most importantly, you know how to circumvent their security protocols. We know your track record and what led you to your current place of residence,” replied the voice at the other end. Vikram’s legs shook. He reached for the hard, steel chair. “Shall we stop playing games?” The voice went on. “We know you have no choice but to accept our offer. Our man
will get in touch with you once you are out on bail.” The phone went dead before Vikram could respond.
(Carried with due permission from the author and the publisher Leadstart Publishing)