Archive for June, 2014

Deal Gone Bad

June 14, 2014

I kept checking the rear view mirror. Saw no one. But I knew they were coming after me. Or would be paying me a visit soon. I drove my Range Rover Sport at a reckless speed of 140 kmph. A couple of hours past midnight, the road from the Tamhini hills towards Pune seemed like a ghostly empty stretch.

I felt that my left shoulder was still bleeding with the bullet wound. The deal had gone bad. I had seen a cop shooting one of my accomplices in the head and the other accomplice getting seized. I was the only one who could escape.

It was not until I reached Chandani Chowk that I could catch some breath. I slowed down a bit as I entered the city. Though there was no heavy traffic whatsoever, Paud Road was far from empty even at that hour of the night. I pulled the car aside on the main road to check the wound. The caked-on blood had covered a small portion of my shoulder, but the bleeding had stopped. Fortunately the bullet had only scratched my shoulder with its venomous tongue, and hadn’t made its way through penetrating the skin.

 

 

I reached my apartment in Koregaon Park in about 20 minutes from there. Then slowly opened door with the key, careful not to wake Sharon up. But Sharon was a cautious sleeper. Eyes still shut, she murmured in sleep,

“What time is it, Raj?”

“Quite late baby”

“What took you so long?”

“Work.”

She dozed off again.

Sharon was an Italian woman in her mid thirties. Worked for some European NGO that focused on restoring dignity and pride amongst the lower social and economic strata of the society. Or something of that sort. I didn’t care much. I had met her about six months ago in one of those fancy upscale bars that dot North Main Road.  She had sat alone in the bar. I made eye contact with her. The shine in her eyes lit something up inside me. I offered to buy her a drink. Exchanged contact details. Like it usually happens, one thing led to another. She moved to my apartment within a couple of weeks.

Sharon had a clue that there was more to my line of work than just being a real estate broker and that it was quite dangerous, whatever it was. But I am quite old fashioned that way—I do not discuss money and work with women. Keeps me out of trouble.

I am a forty two year old man who grew up partly in Delhi and partly in London. Though I do not speak with any accent, there is something about my overall personality that makes people in India treat me like a white guy. With trust and more respect that is. It made me the right candidate for the position of a senior cocaine trader for one of the very large organized crime syndicates in the sector of drug dealing in India. And Pune has historically been their most premium territory, so obviously it was a busy and challenging job.

I ran my trade desk out of one of the commercial establishments in the plush Koregaon Park. The front was a real estate consultancy. Though it was my cover, it was also a very good money making business in itself. And I equally enjoyed that work as well. I facilitated land dealings and only up-market luxury real estate buying and selling transactions. I relished wearing expensive suits to work and making use of my negotiation skills, both in property and coke dealings.

 

I put some Betadine ointment on my wound. Then fixed myself a drink in the kitchen, switched off the lights, and tried to place together the chain of events that had taken place in the past 12 hours…

 

I was ending a meeting with one of the property developers when I had received a call from Bob’s office. Bob was the crime boss and looked after Mumbai and other regions in the western part of Maharashtra state. His manager was on the line who informed me that a deal was to take place later in the night, and asked me to come over to Bob’s office on M.G. Road to discuss the three places that had been chosen as possible sites for the deal.

Without much debate we all zeroed in on Tamhini. Out of the other two sites, one was too risky and the other was too far. We went over the map a few times again to ensure that we had got the spot right. It was decided that Shankar and Jerry would accompany me. Both were young and rookies in the drug dealing business, so it would be a good learning experience for them as well. Shankar was a sharp-shooter so his presence would provide additional layer of protection. Jerry was a plain dumbwit, but then he did not have much experience under his belt either.

 

 

It was a beautiful, if not an easy drive to the chosen site– an abandoned scrap-yard on one of those hills in Tamhini area. I imagined a view of waterfalls and greenery if one went there during daytime.

I was impressed by Shankar’s curiosity and intelligent questions during the journey. He seemed like someone with a high IQ and zeal to his work. Jerry spoke little and for most of the time was just playing with his phone. Kids these days.

Within minutes of our arrival we saw a Land Cruiser turn into the road ahead and pull into the junk-yard that we were watching. We briskly walked inside the yard. I held in my hand the briefcase containing marijuana worth rupees 80 lakh (8 million).

Ali, the buyer got out of the vehicle along with his entourage, consisting of four well dressed men. Ali’s dark blue eyes and full, immaculately trimmed beard completed the look of a powerful man– feared, liked, and respected by those who knew him.

He looked me in the eye, gave a full smile, extended his hand for a handshake and said,

“You must be Raj.”

His handshake had just the right amount of firmness you expect from a professional.

“That’s me. How do you do, Ali?”

“All good. Bob speaks very highly of you.”

“Oh does he?”

“Well he is Bob. You gotta read between the lines.”

We both laughed. Then in a business-like tone he asked me,

“Where’s Aunt Mary?”

“In here.”

I handed the briefcase over to him. He asked one of his staff to test the contents of the bag for authenticity.

“Just a formality, Raj. Part of the process. We trust Bob one hundred per cent.”

I just nodded. Every buyer’s right to test the sample.

The man came back in a couple of minutes and gave Ali a thumbs up. Ali then signaled another man to hand over the cash to me.

The briefcase containing cash was very heavy.

“Be careful with the dough, Raj. The denominations are as per the instructions received from Bob’s office. You can feel free to count the cash before leaving. We have no rush.”

But I knew I did not have to. This business works on the basis of trust as far as cash is concerned.

Just when Ali was shaking hands with me one last time, I heard a gunshot in the air.

And then all hell broke loose.

 

 

It seemed to me that although the junk yard had been closed for several months, it had not been cleared and still afforded the policemen quite a few hiding places. I saw at least 5 cops, and all of them held a gun.

Before our sharp shooter Shankar could pull his gun out completely, a cop shot him in the head. Point blank. I held the briefcase with money tightly in both the hands. I signaled Jerry to run, but it seemed like he did not appreciate the idea of running away. I gave him a very hard look. Since I was very senior to him and had been around more blocks, he probably decided he’d rather play cowboy another time, and started running to the door.

When I was out of the junk yard, I realized that Jerry was not with me. I turned back once and saw that a cop had seized Jerry tightly. The same cop then pulled a gun at me. I never felt the actual bullet strike, but my body reacted to the impact as I was flung forward hard against my own Range Rover. I brushed the thought of returning the fire off my mind. Sometimes there is no tit for tat. I just got into the driving seat with the cash. And drove off. Without looking back…

 

 

It appeared like everyone else connected with the drug deal had slithered back under their rocks. I received no calls or text messages from Bob’s office throughout the next day, encoded or otherwise. I did not try making any contact either. In such situations it always makes sense to wait till the dust settles. I kept surfing the news channels and internet editions of local and national newspapers in the anticipation to hear more about the drug bust. But the police had decided to keep it low key. There was no mention of last night’s police raid. It just made me more nervous.

 

 

Sharon came home from work at about six thirty. She was surprised to see me home. I had not told her about the wound yet, but had already cooked up a story in my mind about getting injured at some construction site.

She asked me in her thick Italian accent,

“Is everything OK, love?”

“Yep honey. Just a little headache. So took a day off.”

She seemed slightly surprised. Maybe it was the first time she had seen me taking an off because of any reason.

“I’ll get you some coffee.”

“Thanks, Sharon.”

Sharon made the best coffee in the world. No Starbucks or Gloria Jean’s came even close. Sharon would gulp dozens of cups of coffee in a day. Her breath always had the aroma of dark black coffee. And I loved every sniff of it.

The moment she went inside the kitchen the doorbell rang. I instinctively reached for my gun and walked to the hall. I braced myself against the door with my left hand and looked through the peephole. Standing in the hallway staring directly at me was a big man in a dark suit. I could see two other heads as well.

I put the gun inside my belt and opened the door. The man in the suit was Bob. Himself. He was joined by his manager on the left and bodyguard on his right.

Baburao “Bob” Gawade politely asked,

“May we come in?”

“Yes, of course. Please come in and have a seat.”

The men walked in and sat on the sofa chairs in the hall. I quickly ran to the kitchen, asked Sharon to make coffee and snacks for everyone and came out.

Bob asked me,

“How are you, Raj? How’s your shoulder now?”

I wondered how he got to know about the shoulder thingy. But then Bob was a resourceful man. No point in asking such childish questions to him.

 

 

There was a legend about how Bob got into this business. It’s been said that Baburao Gawade was a low ranking officer in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) when he started his working career. With his charming personality, professional work ethic and efficiency to get the work done in time, he quickly became a favorite amongst the top government officials and other city based builders and industrialists. Bob knew how to keep people happy and did not mind cutting corners. He also led a charity initiative within the government offices where he used to appeal to the government employees and the general public of Pune to donate academic books, comic books, notepads and all such stationery that they could to his charity desk in the PMC and promised that it would be donated to poor students studying in the municipal schools, orphanages etc.

Within a few months of this operation, some smart boys from the anti-corruption cell found out that Bob was actually using all those books and notepads as a raw material for the paper recycling plant he had set up in the industrial estate of Chakan. He used to export the recycled paper to a couple of large Mexican paper mills. With impressive tonnage of free raw material obtained through his charity, the recycling business made impressive profits. He had set up the company in the name of his brother in law and used to divert all the money through a Hong Kong offshore bank account. It all seemed quite perfect until the anti corruption officials uncovered the real face of his charity. Bob lost his job and was ordered to stop all his business activities immediately. Because Bob was in the good books of the top brass, they showed him some mercy and did not take the matter further to the court. The incident was never made public.

After months of unemployment, a helpless Bob wrote to one of his Mexican business contacts about his situation and asked for some help with business ideas that dealt with things other than paper recycling. The Mexican guy liked Bob very much, and also happened to be one of the notorious drug lords in Mexico.

The rest was history.

 

 

“The dough is safe in the trunk of the car.”

“Does it look like I am worried about the money?”

I lowered my glare. Bob closed billion dollar deals for breakfast. I should not be reassuring him about his money.

He then added,

“We anyway gotta return the cash to Ali. All the dope was seized by the cops. Ali managed to escape along with a couple of his men. The rest were killed.”

“What happened to Jerry?”

“He’s been nicked in the Narcotics Control Bureau headquarters in Mumbai.”

“That’s dangerous for us, ain’t it?”

He seemed to consider that for a brief moment. I always wondered how Bob could keep cool in any situation and hold himself with such calm and ease.

“Raj, Jerry might be just another 21 year old wannabe kid for you. But you don’t know certain things about him. A few months ago he was captured by the members of one of the rival gangs in Mumbai. For about 14 days he was subject to torture, physical assault, electric shock, and was being forced to give away details of our suppliers, middlemen and customers. But he didn’t say a word. When our boys finally found out where he was being held captive and went there to rescue him, he had the same careless attitude and grin on his face. Not a sign of any pain or torture that he had been through.”

I let that sink in for a moment as my jaw dropped a bit at what Bob had just said.

“We are sometimes very quick when it comes to dismissing people based on their age or external appearance. While you should listen to what your gut says, you should also not forget that everyone has a story to tell and is worth a chance or two. You are where you are because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a break and a helping hand – no matter how hard you worked – if you are truly honest with yourself – you did not get this far on your own.”

While it all made perfect sense to me, I was not sure where it was heading to. I decided to just nod along and see where Bob was going with this.

“Anyway, Jerry won’t sing. I can guarantee you that. And he will be out in a few weeks. I know which strings to pull.”

Which I knew he did.

“Bob, I honestly believed that this was a milk run. Never thought it would turn into such a bloody mess.”

“Well, things go wrong, deals go bad. That’s just life. And it’s no reflection on you– there was a leak. Cops had been on a stakeout.”

“Leak? You think we got a rat in the gang?”

Before Bob could answer, Sharon came out with the coffee and sandwiches. After she had served the food, she turned to leave for the kitchen.

Bob said he would like to speak with Sharon and requested her to join us for the coffee. It seemed a little strange to me, but before I could express anything, Bob had started the conversation with Sharon.

“So, do you like living in India?”

“Yes, I love it. The people are just so amazing!”

“That’s good to know. Most foreigners think very highly of the hospitality which people in India offer to them.”

Sharon just smiled. Bob took a gap to take a sip of coffee from his cup.

“The coffee is beautiful. Raj is a very lucky man.”

Sharon said a blushed thank you.

This was when I saw something changing in Bob’s eyes. The look on his face slowly turned from fresh and jovial to ruthless and frightening.

“Sharon, do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an elder sister in Sicily.”

“And?”

“No that’s it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah…”

“Then who is this?”

He took out a photo from the pocket of his coat, and slowly flashed it in front of Sharon’s face. Sharon looked away.

“She is my younger sister, Tatiana. But why are you asking me all this? We no longer talk to each other. It’s a long story.”

“Then let’s cut it short. When was the last time you spoke with her?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Then let me refresh your memory. You spoke with her yesterday evening. You have been speaking with her since  last few weeks. I have pulled your call records from Vodafone.”

“I had a fight with her yesterday again. I do not wish to talk about it.”

“And may I ask why?”

I took this opportunity to interrupt.

“Bob, what is this about? Why are you interrogating her like this?”

He turned his head to me and said,

“She is a snitch.”

He said bitch, right?

“You heard me right, Raj. I said ‘snitch'”

“You gotta be kidding, Bob. She knows nothing.”

“She turned you in. She put all of us in trouble. She is responsible for Shankar’s death and Jerry’s arrest. You almost got shot….you’ve been sleeping with the enemy. Someone who has been spying on you. And our gang.”

This made absolutely no sense to me. Sharon had no clue about the other side of my profession, or the gang’s activities. It seemed to me that Bob was out of his mind and had not taken the deal’s failure so well.

I gathered my balls together and said,

“Bob, I’d like you to leave now. You have made some ghastly accusations against my girlfriend and I do not particularly appreciate it. I respect you as a person, boss and businessman. But that does not mean you cross a line like this.”

I was expecting a strong reply from Bob. But he kept his cool.

“Raj, love makes you blind. Let me open your eyes. Tatiana is Sharon’s younger sister who is married to one Ravikant Jadhav, a top official from Anti Narcotics Cell of the Crime Branch of Mumbai police.”

Sharon had never told me this. She had once said she did not like to talk about her sister. But I had no clue about who that sister was. Frankly, I never bothered. And I never asked. Why would I care?

I looked at Sharon to confirm if that was true. But she couldn’t look me in the eye. She asked Bob instead,

“But what has this got to do with my relationship with Raj? Does he have anything to do with drug dealing? Either way, I have no connection with Tatiana or her husband. Tatiana did make contact with me a few times in the previous weeks. But it did not work out. I have no love or affection left for her now after what she has done to me and my family.”

Bob gave her a “let’s cut the crap” kind of look. He turned his head to me again and started explaining,

“She has been keeping an eye on all your movements. And passing the information on to her sister and her husband. How do you think they found out about the exact site for the deal last night?”

“Her sister might be married to some narco copper. But that doesn’t prove anything. I have taken my precautions. Sharon has no access to my phone, or e-mail accounts. How the hell could she have known anything about our last night’s deal? It just doesn’t fit. The location was discussed in person at your office. There was no digital trace of it. Whatsoever. No, it doesn’t fit. She knows nothing. You should be looking somewhere else. Maybe in your own office.”

“You are insulting my intelligence by saying that.”

“I am sorry if it came out that way. But all I am saying is that you are barking up the wrong tree. She is not the one. She has no clue about any of this.”

“Let her answer this question of mine. Sharon, why did you call Supremo Electronics s.p.a. in Milan 3 times over the last two months?”

She seemed quite frightened by all this. Tears were rolling down her face now. She managed to say,

“My NGO needed to buy a couple of products that they manufacture.”

“Like this one?”

Bob’s brother in law and now his bodyguard Raju made some movement for the first time since arriving. He took out a pager-like device from briefcase and handed it over to Bob.

Bob showed it to both Sharon and me. Then moved his focus toward me and said,

“This is a GPS tracker manufactured by Supremo Electronics. One of our men found it hidden under your Range Rover this morning. All the movements of your car are being tracked, and the data is sent to the Anti Narcotics Cell of Mumbai police.”

Then he pointed at Sharon and said,

“This woman hid the bug under your car. You’ve been trapped real bad, Raj.”

Before any of us could get a chance to grasp this information and give a response, I saw Bob reaching for his gun. My hand immediately reached the gun in my belt but Bob was too fast to let anything stop him. Sharon arched backwards, her feet lifting from the ground as her chest exploded outwards in a shower of red…

 

 

Whatever I did to Bob and his people after that would never ever relieve me of the guilt for being responsible for the death of a lovely innocent woman. Sharon wasn’t the snitch. I was. Rajkumar Tandon, the undercover cop from Mumbai Police’s Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC)…

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