It was past six in my watch as the sun submissively descended across the horizon. I stroked the brim of my porkpie hat, lazily mulling over the spectra unfolding in the evening sky.
The three men walked into the elaborately furnished waiting hall, dressed in spotless black executive suits over white shirts that covered probably repulsive torsos within. The first one to the extreme left was a semi-bald blond man whose face was as grim and unforgiving as doom could ever be. The second in the middle clearly wore an unfitting wig; expensive yet unfitting. His face seemed as insecure as a refugee stranded at the border, with an unappealing smile that fiendishly concealed all malice that lay within. The third to the extreme right was the most handsome pick among the three; tall, lean but eventually a little stooping.
It took roughly three minutes for the three men to settle down and make themselves comfortable on the deluxe couch set aside for them a few feet adjacent to my seat. The waiter was called in to take the order for primary refreshments. “Three glasses of water will do for now,” the handsome one proclaimed politely.
I flexed my back while keeping my eyes fixed on the men as the three settled into apparently unimportant conversation. It seemed funny to be watching three old men in a fascinated interest, considering there was a beautiful Egyptian girl sitting at the far end of the room, reading a magazine. I shifted lazily in my seat. If devoid of their outfits, it would be a hard time believing the three were business tycoons who were presently meeting to fix a multi-billion deal.
“This place is safe, isn`t it?” the handsome one said, a hint of nervous undertone pulsating in his voice.
“Oh please!” the semi-bald fellow chimed in. “You really don`t believe the Lucifer nonsense, do you?”
“Well how do you expect us not to?” the wigged one seemed concerned. “I know like a dozen men personally who lost all they had to this scoundrel.”
“They say that he can read minds,” it was Mr. Handsome this time around. “You know, he can look into your eyes and by those minute variations of the pupils, he can comprehend what`s on your mind.”
“Bullsh*t! Just because we got anonymous mails that the so called Lucifer is coming at us today does not mean that we drop our deals and sit at home like turkeys. I`ve tackled too many of such frauds in my life to waste my time on any nonsense. Trust me; my men are already tracing the source of the messages.” Well, not so bad for a bald billionaire, I thought.
“Anyway, there`s nothing wrong with being cautious, because if he is real, he is not taking things for granted. People say that he is quite a screwball when it comes to these things.” My eyes widened. When had I ever made things unpredictable?
And then, I sensed the waiter approaching with his tray of glasses. It was about time I joined the party. I got up and went up to him.
“Let me do that for you. I`ve always been a fan of billionaires,” and before he could decline, I politely took the silvery tray into my hands.
“Having some uneasy conversation, gentlemen?”
The three men looked startled.
“I didn`t know this place employed waiters who brought water in fancy looking trays.” The bald man looked at me piercingly.
“You do know that I am no waiter, sir; just a common man who is not used to seeing billionaires every day.” I kept the tray on the table and sat down on the opposite couch. An eerie silence prevailed for some time.
“You`re not by any chance, Mr. Norton, are you?” I said, looking at the bald man. In return, I was met with a pair of dubious eyes from him. Small eyes – that was what this man had. It exposed very little of the pupils, making it difficult to read his inner sentiment. For a moment, it seemed like he was playing reverse psychology on me; as though he wanted me to believe that he doubted me.
“Yes I am,” he replied with confidence that only a veteran businessman has; someone who had earned his wealth the hard way. I sensed tension between the other two men. It was cue for me to begin. But before I could, Norton broke in.
“Gentlemen,” he said regally, his undertone reverberating savagely to address the other two men. “I believe the man of the hour Lucifer is right next to you.”
I was starting to like this guy more and more. So far, I had only seen cowards who had pissed in their pants when they heard my name. Here was a man, all of a sudden, a step ahead of me. The three men looked at each other, a pair of anxious looks meeting an assertive one.
The sun had completely sunk below the periphery where the sky met the earth. The rays of dusk stroked our bodies, making them bathe in golden crimson. Presently, as though gaining confidence from this phenomenon, the handsome one sat up straight. The way he arduously hunched his back before straightening himself was proof enough for me that his confidence had completely drained away into nothingness.
“You seem too young a lad to be an underworld king,” his insinuation of the word ‘lad’ nearly betrayed his feigned confidence.
I hushed through a brief laugh. “Please don`t tag me under the underworld. There, people work as large mafia squads. I, quite strangely, do not take help. I work alone. And of course, I am no king, with all due respect. Kings always show themselves. I never do that.”
As though finding a much awaited loophole, the wigged one chimed in. “Well, you have shown up now.”
“As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures,” I replied courteously.
“Hopefully, your desperation won`t lead to any casualties. I hear security is pretty tight in this building,” Norton pointed out in a matter-of-fact way. I smiled in reply.
“My acquaintances tell me that they have never seen you ever; that you rob them without letting them know that you are right before them,” the wigged one said cautiously.
“That has been the strategy so far, Mr. Alfred. But then again, I have never dealt with dangerously powerful men like you fine people.”
“Dangerously powerful men!” gasped Norton. “So you do know who you are trying to fool around with.”
I nodded approvingly.
“Now you listen carefully, son. I make one call from my phone and armed men will surround you and blast your head off to paradise,” Norton said, his tone lingering about the fine line between threat and serenity.
“Well I would not really bother about that, sir considering your phone is dead,” I said as I stared emphatically at the man`s face.
For a moment, a terrifying disbelief enveloped his face. He thrust his hand into his pocket to take out his phone, only to realize that quite despairingly, it`s battery was dead. The three men looked at each other. In their silence, they acknowledged the fact that only Norton had brought his phone here due to security reasons and tried to digest presently that it was dead.
“What the hell did you do to my…”
“A phone emits non ionizing radiation as long as it has a live battery. But when an intricately manufactured Silicon alloy is kept near it, the alloy sucks the radiating energy out of it in no time…just like a sponge sucking up water,” I said nonchalantly.
The three men looked perplexed. “Well it`s not just a fancy looking silvery tray after all, is it, Mr. Norton?” I said, eying the tray that held the three glasses of water. The men looked stupefied as they tried to comprehend something beyond their intellectual dimension.
A few seconds into the unspoken confusion, the handsome one tried to get up.
“I wouldn`t do that if I were you, Mr. Samuel,” I said in a manner of scholarly lecture. “Because the moment one of you gets up, the Egyptian girl shoots you.”
Their faces donned an eerie paleness as they attempted to grasp that the Egyptian girl at the corner did have something hidden behind the magazine she was reading.
“Cool down, gentlemen. The people here are following orders from an anonymous phone call. They just don`t know they are working for me.”
Norton`s face grew a tint of glistening scarlet as he swallowed his spit riotously. “You bas**rd, do you think your silly games are going to scare us?”
I ignored his comment conveniently. “I presume none of us have time to waste on useless curses. So let`s be men and talk business.”
There was silence for some time; a condescending silence from my side, a reflective silence from theirs.
I suppose the men were plotting desperately in their minds to tackle the unforeseen predicament. But then again, they were presently wise enough to acknowledge that they were in a disheartening mess.
“We have done you no harm. We came here to do only fair business and there is nothing illegal going on here; you can verify our documents. I really can`t find any reason for which you should get involved with this and trouble us,” Samuel said, as though pleading innocent in a trial.
“I am sorry, but I never said you were criminals in any way and for the record, it does not bother me even if you go about selling nuclear bombs. Please don’t take me to be a silent guardian or a sentinel of the oppressed. Strictly speaking, I’m a bigger criminal than who you think I am.” My words seemed to land on their ears like a long awaited symphony. “In fact, I am here to sort a few things out among you.”
“We don`t even know who you are. How do you expect us to trust you then?” Norton said grimly.
“Well you men have known each other only for two and a half weeks now. Still, here you are, sitting to strike a multi-billion deal. I just expect the same kind of trust that you show among yourselves.”
Glances were exchanged quietly. “You are a coward, you know that; trying to blackmail three old men with silly gimmicks. Do you have the guts to deal things straight, man to man?” Norton muttered, and then added grudgingly, “What do you want?”
I shrugged. “Well, once you sign this deal, it will result in the privatization of a large quota of the world’s hydroelectric power supply. And while Mr. Alfred and Mr. Samuel are doing this with fine intentions to advance the use of electric power, I’m afraid Mr. Norton has a few untold ideas.”
All eyes converged onto Norton as he shifted uneasily in the couch.
“You know that electric cars are the future. But once they start spreading, it will destroy the fuel car industry. And though you may not have noticed, Norton presently is one of the biggest powers in the fossil fuel industry. So I presume it`s not rocket science to understand that once he gets his share of the deal, he will rapidly increase the price of electric power, thereby preventing the growth of electric cars. And thinking of our planet, I think that is going to cost us all dearly.”
The cityscape was presently devoid of sunlight and the illumination of the skyscrapers lit up the city. I did not say anything more. The silence seemed immensely heavy for the three men. Quite apparently, two among them were thinking about the legal as well as communal implications of what was transpiring.
“What a beautiful story,” Norton said appraisingly. “You think this conspiracy theory is going to fool us?”
“Well if I`m wrong, then what exactly were you intending to do while framing this deal?” I asked patiently.
“It was definitely not the nonsense you`re talking about. I was thinking of working out the unexplored uses of electrical energy,” he said in a neutral tone.
“Do you know Norton that when you frame a fake answer, many a time, your eyes linger a little to your upper right, and that is exactly what happened now. If you were trying to remember a real event, most probably, your eyes would`ve travelled a little to you lower left.”
“Lies! All of it!”
The other two men looked at each other in confusion. I continued, “These two innocent men also don’t know that you`ve transferred one billion dollars of unaccounted money to their accounts, fifty million to each account, so that you are safe before the law.”
Norton banged his fist on the table. “Do you even know who I am?”
“Of course, you are nothing but a man who killed a reluctant father for his will when you were nineteen; a secret which you hid efficiently from others until this moment.”
Norton`s veins tightened across his face, his eyes turning a devilish purple. He chewed the curses that came to his mouth, looking at me like a coldblooded murderer.
“And this is untraceable currency gentlemen, so you would receive no notification of receiving this money. Plus, if you involve the cops in this matter, most likely, you two men will sue yourselves.”
Samuel looked at Norton in accusation. Norton tried to pose as someone who denied and defied all that happened around him. Alfred sat confused, not exactly understanding things to the core.
“Ah, Norton…committing a crime is not an offense. But when it`s so big, you should be able to cover it up well.”
“Do you have any proof for what you are mumbling away?” Norton said, as though seeking a last resort.
I kept quiet. It seemed fascinating to look into his eyes. It held numerous devilish secrets yet. Unraveling them would be pure fun.
“Your affair with that beautiful woman at work is a big secret, isn’t it? You`re trying pretty hard to keep it from your wife.”
I noticed the other two men starting to feel physically uneasy. They had probably not imagined the extent to which I could delve into their minds. Obviously, they had similar secrets too.
Norton looked down. “And finally, looking down signifies guilt.” I proclaimed.
When I turned to look at the other two men, they instinctively looked away to avoid eye contact. “As for the proof, I want you to transfer fifty million dollars each from your account back to Norton’s as soon as you leave this building. You would be surprised to see that the transaction gives no notification. That’s because the currency being sent back is untraceable. It`s all fifth generation information technology, maybe a little hard for you to follow.”
I eased back in my couch and sighed, gently stroking my hat. “So what do you gain from this?” Samuel asked.
“Well, cancelling this deal can save the planet. To keep it simple, unlike you old men, I’ve still got a lot of years in my lifespan. I just don’t want you guys spoiling my fun.”
I was alone in my room. It felt like I had performed well this time. But I still had a few misgivings. Of course, the story about the so-called Norton planning to suppress electric cars was a lie of international standards, as was the lie about him transferring untraceable currency. In effect, two well crafted lies had resulted in the transaction of one billion dollars. Still, for a moment there, trying to absorb the grandeur of my role, I had really felt that I was Lucifer. All of a sudden, it felt depressing to realize that I was a mere sidekick.
There was a knock on the door. As I opened it, a semi-bald blond man with a grim face entered with a wicked smile that betrayed his age. It felt strange to remind myself that this fat, grumpy man – the so called Norton until a few hours ago – was the Lucifer, so professionally looting two gullible billionaires by a mere role-play .
He looked at me seriously. “What was that nonsense about the silicon alloy absorbing radiation? You were supposed to give no reason for the phone being dead; that would`ve made it mysterious. Thank god the men were fools to believe that.”
“Well…” I fumbled foolishly. “The tray looked funny, so I thought about a little improvisation…”
“Improvisation doesn`t always work in professional deception, sonny. You keep that in mind.”
I nodded like a novice. “So, when they thought they were sending back your own illegal money to you, they were sending their own. But then, they would`ve got notifications about that.”
“I hacked their accounts. Until I decide otherwise, they would not get notified about their transactions.”
I kept silent and marveled at the old man. He was packing his bags now. “We`re leaving this place right now. One billion dollars is a lot of money to spend.” His eyes glistened as he spoke.
As we walked down the verandah, Alfred`s words echoed in my mind –
“My acquaintances tell me that they have never seen you ever; that you rob them without letting them know that you are right before them.”