The sky was dark as the cumulonimbi scurried across the sky. It seemed they would pass the city by, propelled as they were by the strong wind. Suddenly, the storm broke. Drops of water detached themselves from their bearers and fell. Down, down until they met resistance. The perfectly formed globules brought out a flurry of umbrellas on the streets below. People without protection searched for cover in shops, stops, and buildings. There were a few specimens of humanity who were apparently unaffected by the torrent that was now gaining in intensity: insensible drunks, emaciated beggars too weak to move and on a street bustling with humanity; one man standing in a recess near a building entrance. The ever-increasing fall seemingly caused him no discomfort at all; all it prompted was an additional tightening of his raincoat.
Schmidt was running late. He should have left his office a good half hour ago. And now the rain…a cab was now necessitated due to his lack of foresight. Once he finished this dratted account, he would leave. Anna was waiting. Schmidt forced himself to stop drifting and to come back to the present. Ah yes, this expense should be…
The rain continued to fall. It had settled into a rhythm now and God had decided (or so it seemed) that he was going to empty his tanks. The solitary awaiter concentrated in identifying his man. He readied himself for what was to come.
Pillai was concentrating on his work. Or at least was trying to. If he could not find the discrepancy he suspected was in the shipments, he would have to stay here all night. And he did not relish the prospect of sleeping in his chair all night with his head on the table. Something fabricated was definitely in front of him. The question was: where?This dratted rain was obstructing his sight. A figure came out of the building. Mentally, he started to tally the given description. Hair: brown, eyes: probably wearing lenses, sallow face, slightly stooped, looks very thin. They all seemed to check out except the face, which he could not see as the man had bent down. He straightened up and our loner read the nametag: Thomas Jones. Nope, not his man. His man’s name was…was…ah yes. It was something starting with an S.
Stevens was flurried. His legendary sense of cool was looking certain to be proved a myth. As the GM of the company, he was under the most pressure to deliver. Not to mention the other “pressure” he was under. Should never have gotten involved in the first place. Where would they be waiting? When? For their pound of flesh.The time was nearing six. When was the guy going to leave? Other appointments had to be met too…
He had finished! Once he had found the pattern of discrepancies of the accounts, he had his man. Though they were distributed in various departments, only one person had access to all of them. Finally, he could file his reports of the past six months’ work at the committee set up to investigate the problems that had surfaced in the company. ‘And so the great shall fall…’ Schmidt mused as he waited for the lift in the hallway of his sixth floor office. Tomorrow was going to be a big day…
Waiting for the lift on the third floor, Pillai knew he had to get his discoveries to the police. Now. According to his calculations, one shipment was being diverted even now. And this was the work of dangerous people. They must know of his research by now. Where was the lift? According to the display it was now at the sixth floor. Another late worker probably. Pillai glanced nervously around. Dammit! The sound of the lift made him jump. It had stopped again on the fifth floor. The fire escape…then he remembered that it would only open in case of an emergency. The noise of the lift meant that it was moving down again. C’mon…c’mon…
When he had entered the lift on the fifth floor, he had thought that the occupant was waiting for him. He had hesitated to enter in his paranoia. An irritated glance from the man did not help. He took a deep breath and stepped in. Once the doors were closed, either man made no move. Still, “they” could be positioned on any other floor. The next entrant on the third floor looked nervous too. At least someone else had the fear of death in him. Stevens couldn’t wait to get to the relative safety of his car…
Peering through the glass doors, he saw his man come out of the lift. No, wait, any one of the other two could be him too. Dammit! Now he would have to ask questions. And people remembered being asked unnecessary questions. The three possibles crossed the lobby and came to the door. Even as the first one came out, he moved forward. Holding his hand out in greeting. “Mr. S…”
Schmidt was taken aback by the sudden appearance of the man. He couldn’t make out too much of the man’s face, obscured as it was by the hood of the raincoat. Could it be…no…it was the person behind him who was wanted. He hailed a cab. “Station please.”
Stevens was irritated now, His nervousness had reached fever pitch when he had seen this man come out of the recesses near the building and head toward them. But then he had been looking for the man in front. He made his way around them giving an irritated glance, and then virtually ran to his car. Once inside, he knew there was only one place to go…
Pillai was surprised when this man had called out his full name. The tongue twister that it was to unaccustomed Europeans, “Sarvapalli” had come out horribly. Luckily, he had recognized it in spite of the distortion caused to it. The man behind him impatiently moved past them and ran to the car parked near the opposite sidewalk.
“You are Mr. Sarvapalli Pillai?”
That man was in a real hurry. Having screamed out of his parking spot, he seemed to be hightailing it for the airport. At least that what it seemed like; from the turn that he had taken.
The long wait had paid off! He had his man…
“I have an important message for you Mr. Pillai.”
“Not here. Please, it’s a matter of life and death.”
“This alley fine?”
Once inside, Pillai turned.
“What is it? I have other places to go.”
“Nothing much. It’s just that you have come far too close for comfort for some associates of mine. They think its time you have a more open mind.”
He produced a small gun from his pocket. Fitted with a large silencer.
“As in with a hole in your head.”
The finger tightened round the trigger.
“You’re kidding, right? I mean…this kind of thing only happens in the movies…”
“Ever read Treasure Island?”
“What? O my God…”
“Dead men tell no tales, Mr. Pillai.”
He focused the gun at around chest level.
The man in the raincoat stiffened. But then that is the instinct of men when a gun is shoved into the small of their back.
“Let the gun drop. You really don’t have too much of a chance, y’know.”
“And why would I believe…”
At this, policemen appeared seemingly out of nowhere. All with guns. Pointed at a man in a raincoat with a gun balanced on suddenly nerveless fingers.
“B’cos my friend, you are surrounded.”
He knew he was finished. The little sneak must have called the police from the office. He let the gun fall and raised his hand in surrender. But not before pressing the little dart into his thigh.
“We’ve been keeping a watch on you for a while now, sir. We knew you were investigating the shipment hijacking and knew that these guys were gunning for you.”
The would-be assassin collapsed.
“Suicide dart. It’s a trademark. Of their gang.”
“I believe you’ll want these, Inspector.”
“Thank you sir.”
The policeman took the packet proffered to him by Pillai.
Stevens lay back on his beach towel. In Rio de Janeiro. A new identity, a new life awaited him…Maybe he would become a bartender in one of the wharfs around here. He fell into a reverie of the future.
Schmidt took a call on his cell phone at the station. It was a rival company with a much higher offer and a much higher post. He took it.
Pillai gave his testimony at the police station and went home. He collapsed onto his bed. Tomorrow would be another day. Another case. He wondered what he would get next…
A company sent out ads in the leading papers for a senior post in it six months later. Their last appointee had died of a heart attack at his table. He would be taken back to his native Germany to be buried.
A brutal murder took place one night six months later on a wharf at Rio de Janeiro. The victim was never identified and his papers were found to be false too. Another illegal immigrant, the press were told, probably from the world of crime. It received a mention in an article to illustrate burgeoning of crime in South America.
A story in the papers six months later was about the breakdown of a case on hijacking of drug shipments due to the disappearance of the star witness. He had apparently tracked the perpetrators in six months of painstaking research. The case was thrown out of court and entered the archives of the police as “Insufficient evidence”.
Do co-incidences really exist?
© Satish E Viswanath 2005