BENGALURU: The incessant ringing of the doorbell forced Neil out of his sleep, but he found no one outside the door. In a semi-awake state he stepped on an envelope on the floor near the door. Inside was a message from the mafia.5426 - go to the third stall from the left in the men’s washroom in the lobby. You will get a call in the next ten minutes. Don’t leave fingerprints on the phone. Turn it off after the call and drop it deep inside the trash bin.
Neil groaned about his unknown master’s unnecessary penchant for drama. He reread the note and felt that the last two lines were unusual. The mafia had stopped instructing him about how to handle hazardous material after the first call, so why give these instructions again? What had changed?
Neil walked towards the hotel lobby, relieved that Kanika had slept through it all. Those idiots had left a note when they knew he was being monitored. Were they planning something big that required a conversation?
He leaned against the wall to catch his breath, immobilized by terror.
God! Will I get caught?
Neil entered the washroom and rushed to the third stall, where he found the phone taped to the backside of the commode. He kneeled to extricate the phone, using a handkerchief to avoid fingerprints.
The call came through immediately after he switched on the phone. He covered the phone with his hand and answered in a low voice. ‘Hello.’
‘Open the bowling with Manuel Cyclic and Baldev Madan in the next match,’ the caller said in a muffled voice. ‘Open the batting with Benjamin Roister.’
What? Open the bowling with Manuel when he is injured and out of the next match? Something is off here.
Neil reeled as the caller spoke again. ‘You there? Speak up…’
They only give instructions, never entertain a discussion. This is a setup—a trap.
Neil smiled, a little surprised by his presence of mind. ‘Who the hell are you?’ he snapped.
‘I am the master of your destiny,’ the caller snickered. ‘Seems the photos were not enough. Next time bedroom videos; promise!’
‘I don’t fear your threats,’ shouted Neil.
Sanket did this to frame me. Now I will show him.
Neil pocketed the handkerchief and smeared the phone with his fingerprints before switching it off. He rushed out and bumped into Sanket Singh by the washroom door. ‘Oh! You are here?’ Neil asked, startled. Sanket’s presence so close to the crime scene reassured him he had made the right assessment. ‘I am officially reporting to you that match-fixers have approached me. I have, of course, turned them down. Here is the phone they used to contact me, and the note the left outside my room’ said Neil.
‘Mr Neil… why you responded to this note?’ asked Sanket, adjusting his glasses. Even after his plan had bombed, he looked in control of the situation. ‘Why did you attend a phone call at 4 a.m. in a bathroom five floors below your room.’Neil coughed to clear his throat. ‘Mr Singh…please understand that I am not a policeman like you. I didn’t know how to handle this. And since I have reported this incident myself, I have followed all the ICCL rules.’ Sanket Singh mumbled a few incoherent words and suddenly looked very uncomfortable.
‘By the way, what are you doing here at this odd time?’ asked Neil. ‘Were you expecting this to happen?’
Neil leaned on the bathroom wall and grinned as Sanket Singh walked away, with no further courtesies.
(Excerpted with permission from ‘The Fixer’ by Suman Dubey, Published by Rupa Publications)