It was going to be another hot and humid day at the office. The place hummed with the static electricity of nearly a thousand employees going about their everyday work. The sun was shining and the skies were blue, despite predictions of summer showers later in the day. But for now, the air-conditioners were working overtime as were the computer screens. In short, everything that was about to come crumbling down was at peace.
“New Cabinet Minister Oversees Clean-up Personally”, screamed the local news headlines – recurrent theme over the past few months. Not a single side story complaining against the damned man. And he had a charming smile too, quite photogenic and yet not – that man LOOKED like a real champion, not quite ugly and neither too handsome. He was believable and almost impregnable in his spotless reputation. God knows he had tried to dig up dirt on the Minister, man and boy, but that damned Boy Scout came up squeaky clean. No one noticed him coming into the town armed with his foreign degrees and anglicized and accented vernacular. Nobody could predict that he would create a new way of entering politics through a suspiciously technologically forward marketing model and yet he did, despite much opposition. His established pedigree worked to his advantage and worse, the people liked his sly, earthy humour, never mind that vote-earning smile which projected honesty and dripped sincerity.
“Your coffee, sir”
The coffee was a special Malabar blend that he especially got from an old college friend who owned a coffee plantation. But, today even that enticing aroma could not distract his attention from the various newspapers which were confirming his worst fears and reports. The new sheriff in town seemed hell bent on an early elevation – either to the funeral pyre or the Chief Ministers chair. And considering that the man travelled without any guards or security was an openly thrown gauntlet, a welcome mat to assasins. And therein lay the problem – killing such a man would not only ruin the game, but upset the whole damn board!!!
The computer screen beeped, demanding instant appraisal. As he looked up into the flashing flatscreen, he noticed that his secretary was buzzing him on the intranet com-system.
Suravi: Your 10.30 am is here. Alone.
He typed back,
Send him in
Everything has its run and it was foolish to try to outrun destiny, he muttered as he got up to welcome his visitor.
Up close, the shaven head, the trimmed French beard….even the corpulence suggested the solidity that was evident in the newspapers and TV interviews. But they did not quite capture the Minister’s palpable hyper-active aura and avuncular affability or his youthful vigour. They just high-lighted his charm and presence, he noted with growing disquiet. They were meeting by appointment, very properly requested by the Ministers office to his aides and granted with alacrity. What was quite against accepted protocol was that the Minister had come alone, carrying a leather satchel slung like another executive across his shoulders. But that again, like his trademark Fabindia Kurta’s, Jeans and clunky sneakers image, another part of his unique man of the people thing.
He could hardly offer to meet the Minister on less equal terms, as he welcomed the man in and motioned towards the corner sofa suite which was reserved for dignitaries.
“Can we sit at your table? I find sofa’s a bit hard to sit in, with my bulk”, asked the Minister as he headed towards one of the chairs. He smiled back in return and went to his side across the table, preparing mentally for battle royal.
“Could I offer you some coffee? Its my especial brand…”, he gestured towards the porcelain service on the table.
“…from Malabar. Not really, but thanks”, finished the enigmatic young Minister.
“I am really here to create a disturbance for you, I’m afraid”, the Minister continued, “You see, you really cannot carry on like this and after following up all the leads in my 8 month campaign against mis-utilization of state and central funds, we have finally been led to your organization as being the source of all evil!!”
The man behind the desk could hardly stifle the smile that came out in answer to the Minister’s sunny visage which belied the words. Truly, this man had the charm to actually walk into the CM’s chair and more importantly stay there.
“Evil is a very strong word to use in an accusation, sir” he countered.
“Misappropriation of public funds, intended for social work and community development with a mile long trail of confusing paperwork, siphoning of monies meant for disaster relief, widows and child welfare, non-compliance with government directives, to mention a few of your present activities allows me the freedom to use that word” stated the Minister, lounging easily in his chair, satchel on his lap.
“We have been accused before, if I may remind you….unfruitfully and at great legal cost. We are merely a social organization which works as an interface for grass-root level programmes and projects. In fact, as our history in the past two decades shows, following liberalization we have aided and helped over a million people within the region and state” he replied calmly.
“Indeed, you did and made many more millions through your vast network of NGO’s and CSO’s, not to mention the unimaginable amounts you and your organization have made out of political lobbying and leveraging. No, you have made social development into an art form of money laundering and politicking. And this stops now” rumbled the Minister, lapsing into the clipped British accents which came up whenever he was interviewed on an important issue, on air.
“Minister, you are making rather strenuous accusations. I do hope you can substantiate those claims before you try to prosecute on any of them. In fact, this is my cue to ask you if you would like our lawyers to be present at this juncture?” he asked, holding onto all his reserves of calm composure.
He would be damned if this over-educated ass would rob him of his calm and longed for the hoodlum politicians of olden days.
“To do so, we would require access to your private documentation and records. Something that is not available on your public domain and the pack of wolves which serve as your legal counsel would never allow me or my team to argue for any warrants from any court in the land” said the Ministers, now leaning forward and placing his beefy and hairy forearms on the pristine glass tabletop. There would be smudging to be cleaned after this meeting, his anal retentive brain recorded for future reference.
Taking a minute to consider the dancing black eyes staring at him with frank animosity, he considered his options. Finally picking up the heavy black and steel sheffer pen on his leather blotpad, he replied,
“When you are aware of the pitfalls in that course of action, why would you come here?”
This time, he noted with interest, those glinting eyes had locked on to his own as the words came out, measured and slow;
“I was hoping that you would listen to reason before I move irrevocably against you and your people”
Irrevocably. He wondered if the man in front of him understood the term and its connotation. It was such a final word and in his work, there was no such thing as a final solution or termination. Everything moved on a cyclic wheel and everything would come back or go away.
“And if I were to say, thank you for the kind offer, but sorry?” he asked quietly
The Minister opened his satchel for the first time and took out a document. Quite a fat document with embossed seals and stamp papers in it, he could see through the plastic file folder covering.
“An offer to your firm by the State to buy out your firm and develop it into a Public-Private Partnership wherein the State would run this organization like an extension of the government. A public sector undertaking type, if you will. The settlement is quite generous and we promise not to press charges as long as you agree never to try forming another organization of this sort in the State or engaging in similar activities” offered the Minister.
He could not restrain a small smile at this. The utter gall of the man to offer Money to HIM?!! It was just too funny for words, considering the amounts he had disbursed within and outside the State. He bought and sold people, structures and ideals for a living.
The smile was answer enough for the Minister who left the document on the table and fished out an official looking walky-talky next and placed it on the table.
“I also have a 200-strong Rapid Action Force awaiting orders, to set supposed fire to your outer walls. Declaring a state of emergency within the premise, the police and fire-chief’s are within their jurisdiction to seal off the building and all its floors till the fire is contained and the building is declared safe for civilians. Quite a different window of time there, I would imagine” chopped out the next strategy.
As he considered the man before him, he blessed his stars in investing so much for having a paper-less office with a main-link having a self-destruct code set into the operating system itself. Everyday’s work was transcribed into the mains and copies transferred outside of the State and even the country. The infrastructure cost was just going to justify itself, he thought with obvious pleasure.
“Interesting, but not really. Sorry” he countered with a suitably grave face.
The Minister was clearly not expecting this answer as he felt those steady eyes measuring his resolve and they again took a minute to fully accept the answer just delivered.
Finally, the Minister fished inside his satchel and came up with a snub nosed revolver which he handled with disturbing ease. It was a blued steel and wood affair, clearly a police issue side arm and it was cocked and pointed languidly in his direction.
“Then, I must advise you to call for your immediate subordinate within your structure as I am taking you hostage and demanding release of said documentation. This is not legal, I realize, but you can prosecute me once my people have finished their work”, enunciated out slowly and clearly, impressing upon him the need for no sudden moves.
He observed with detachment and the final shreds of his legendary calm the cannon like mouth of the service issue revolver held rock steady with the forearms still resting on his table, smudging the polished sheen of the reflective glass top. Slowly, without even the slightest tremor, he willed his hand towards the desk intercom set and clicked the first button.
“Yes Sir”, he could barely make out the tremor in her voice. Good girl, she had been listening in on his conversation with the Ministers. He was betting half the office was glued to their sets, which made his task easier.
“Could you ask my brother to step into the office, please?” he intoned gravely
His brother walked into the office barely a minute later as his office was parallel to his and most likely aware of the proceedings, and came to a stop slightly beside his chair as the revolver still covered him.
“Minister, I do believe you might know my brother – M?” he courteously offered, as if they were all in a party and not under a gun with the exposed brass shells glinting off the morning light coming in from the bay windows.
“The pleasure is entirely mine, sir” his brother fell into perfect step with his cadence and poise. Good.
The gun remained steady on his shirt pocket.
“I am taking over your organization as of this moment and my people will come inside at my command and you will assist them in a comprehensive handover of ALL your documentation. You will stand your people down or else I will put a bullet into your brother’s heart and take my chances with the judicial processes” delivered the Minister crisply, confident of holding all the aces.
“I am very sorry to hear that sir, but I am afraid I really cannot allow that to happen. Your intentions are in direct contravention of our protocols of security and client confidentiality. And that we will not allow, under any circumstances” said his brother, matching the Minister’s crisp delivery.
The gun finally moved from him to his brother. Slowly.
“Fine, call your secretary. You brothers might not listen to reason, but I am sure your staff will respond correctly”, the Minister ordered.
Suravi came in, all 45 kilos of her. Not as poised as his brother but definitely in control.
The Minister repeated his demand, now covering both brothers with the gun and told her to get on with it. She refused. He offered her official security and protection. She smiled at him and asked him if she could get him some good Darjeeling tea.
Finally, the Minister put down his gun on the table and leaned back in his chair and asked,
“Impressive. So tell me, how do I go about becoming your client?”
The man behind the desk simply asked, “How about some coffee? This Malabar blend is especially good…”