Authors: Ravi Subramanian
Ravi Subramanian, an alumnus of IIM Bangalore, has spent two decades working his way up the ladder of power in the amazingly exciting and adrenaline-pumping world of global banks in India. It is but natural that his stories are set against the backdrop of the financial services industry. He lives in Mumbai with his wife Dharini and daughter Anusha. In 2008, he won the Golden Quill Readers Choice award for his debut novel,
If God was a Banker
ALSO AVAILABLE BY THE SAME AUTHOR
If God was a Banker
Devil in Pinstripes
The Incredible Banker
I Bought the Monk’s Ferrari
First published in 2012 by
Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj
New Delhi 110002
Allahabad Bengaluru Chennai
Hyderabad Jaipur Kathmandu
Copyright © Ravi Subramanian 2012
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
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Ravi Subramanian asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
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This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated, without the publisher’s prior consent, in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published.
To all the banksters out there,
playing a game with customers’ trust.
Angola, South Africa
Beginning of the 21
The passenger in the back seat of the Range Rover shook out of his slumber as the vehicle hit yet another pothole. Roads in Angola were far from what he was used to back home. He strained his neck and looked back, out of the SUV. The escort car was following very closely. It was not safe to venture alone into these areas even for a local, let alone a foreigner. These trips gave him goose bumps, which became even more pronounced as he passed a few deserted diamond mines.
The rigour wasn’t alien to him. He had been journeying here for two years now and could handle the roughness with aplomb. Every time he visited, the excitement was the same, the adrenalin rush similar and the anticipation overwhelming. Indeed, he seemed to be enjoying every bit. His small frame belied the intensity in his eyes. Curly hair, clean shaven, flawless skin. . .he would have made quite a few feminine hearts skip a beat, but for the cut above his right eyebrow, which extended across his forehead. Involuntarily, his hand drew to it, touching the deep gash gently, remembering that day a few years ago when he was caught in an ambush in Iraq. A land mine had gone off, blowing his escort team to smithereens. He had escaped with a superficial injury, but the incident was never far from his mind.
The Range Rover was passing through one of the many villages that dotted his route. A newspaper was lying in the seat packet in front of him. He pulled it out and glanced at the front page. ‘It has been said that war is the price of peace. . .Angola and Sierra Leone have already paid too much. Let them live a better life,’ screamed a local newspaper, headlining a statement made by Ambassador Juan Larrain, chairman of the monitoring mechanism on sanctions against UNITA (Union for Total Independence of Angola).
Strife-torn Angola was host to the longest and worst proxy battle the world had ever seen—a war that had lasted over three decades and had left half a million dead. UNITA was backed by United States and South Africa. It was fighting to end the regime of a Russia-backed socialist government—People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The entire battle was to control Angola’s diamond deposits. In its neighbouring diamond-rich nations—South Africa and Botswana—diamond deposits existed below the surface of the earth, requiring sophisticated mining equipment to dig up. Not so in Angola. Angola’s diamond reserves were alluvial. Over the years, they were washed out of the soil and deposited on the vast and barren countryside, embedded in sand gravel and clay. Anyone with just sieves, pans and a shovel could extract diamonds. UNITA in those days controlled areas with 60–70 per cent of the country’s diamond deposits, and this was the bone of contention between UNITA and MPLA.
Just a few hours ago, he had landed in the capital city of Luanda, flying in from Windhoek, in neighbouring Namibia. As he passed through immigration, the officer looked at him menacingly from top to toe, sending a shiver down his spine. Was his mission doomed even before it took off?
‘Will you please step aside?’ It was more of an order and he had to comply.
‘Sure’, he nodded and moved to his left. ‘Is there a problem, Officer Grindle?’ he asked casually. That was the name on the badge pinned on the officer’s shirt. Over the years he had learnt that the more relaxed he appeared, the lesser was the probability of him being suspected of foul play.
‘Not at all, just give us a couple of minutes. We need to check on something.’ Grindle was courteous. Leaving him in the room, Grindle stepped out and walked towards a cabin, presumably of his superior. The walls of the waiting room were translucent; the person inside could see everything happening on the outside.
Within a few minutes, Grindle and his senior were walking towards him. The senior was furiously gesticulating at the immigration officer and had an irritated look on his otherwise deadpan face. They stopped outside the room from where the supervisor banished Grindle back to his desk at the immigration counter where a queue was beginning to build up—Grindle was one of the two officers manning the immigration counters.
The supervisor opened the door and walked in straight towards him. He offered him a handshake. ‘Mr. . .’ and he stopped. He had forgotten the name. The passport was in his hand. Embarrassed, he opened it, looked at the name and said, ‘Aaaah. . .Mr Joseph Braganza,’ and smiled. ‘Welcome to Luanda.’
Joseph smiled, now extending his hand to shake the supervisor’s hand and reciprocate his friendly gesture. ‘Thank you.’
‘Mr Braganza, my apologies, we had received intimation about your arrival from your company and we were requested to fast-track your exit. But this idiot, officer Grindle, is new here. Not everyone is aligned to us, you see. He does not understand the sensitivity involved, Mr Braganza. It’s nice to see you in Angola.’
‘Thank you. Now if you hand me my passport, I will get going. I have people waiting for me.’
‘Sure, sure. Please accept my apologies. When will you be heading back to Namibia?’
‘Aaaaaahh. . .short stay?’
‘Have a good time, sir,’ said the supervisor, handing over the passport and simultaneously opening the door of the meeting room.
Joseph Braganza hastily exited and walked out of the airport. He did not have much time. It was a close shave for him this time around. Else, normally, the CIA contacts had always proven to be effective and he had never ever been stopped at immigration. This was the first time someone had questioned him. The first lesson that he had learnt while undergoing training as an agent was that there are no coincidences. It bothered him, but he decided to let it go, and be more watchful in the future.
A brief meeting at the airport hotel, where the ambassador of Zaire joined him, was followed by a quick exchange of pleasantries with his business associates based in Luanda, and then he had departed on this long journey—an eight-hour drive through the reverse pyramid-shaped mines, in the interiors of Angola. He was not alone in this mission. Three escort cars from the Embassy of the Republic of Zaire, two armoured vans carrying security personnel in battle fatigue and a similar number of private security personnel followed him. Relaxing in his bulletproof Range Rover, he reminisced how he had been instructed to make sure that he did not rely on the security cover provided by others, for anything was possible in Angola.
At a distance he could see the
—Angola’s artisanal miners—digging and sifting through endless mounds of sand and clay, as his cavalcade passed through yet another open diamond mine. A woman, carrying what looked like a baby a few months old, a girl barely out of her teens, a man on crutches, all feverishly digging using hands, shovels and everything else they could lay their hands on in their quest for riches and wealth.
An evil grin appeared on his face. ‘Mad people,’ he whispered as he turned his gaze to the other side. The sight was similar. ‘Does it ever occur to them that they are not destined to enjoy the fruits of their labour,’ he said to himself as he closed his eyes and slid into another one of his power naps.
When he opened his eyes, they were far away from any civilization, passing through a dense forest—a rarity in Angola. He could see the lights of the escort vehicles ahead as well as of the ones behind him.
‘How much longer?’
‘We should be there in half an hour,’ the driver responded. Joseph was very particular. On each trip, he used the same driver. Driven by the fact that he knew the terrain, and was loyal—Joseph had bought his loyalty. Tipping was easy in the land of the poor.
‘Hmm. . .’ said Joseph and that was the end of the conversation. They travelled in silence till they reached the top of a mound and began descending. A few minutes into their descent, Joseph saw a light at a distance. It looked like a camp. A few burning lanterns and the rising smoke from a large campfire indicated they were indeed close to their destination.
Joseph immediately straightened up and adjusted his clothes. Subconsciously his fingers reached out to his hip. The gun was safe in the holster. He remembered what his father-in-law always said, ‘No loose talk. Do what you are supposed to do and get out of there. No one is a friend in that camp.’
In another five minutes, the bushes started clearing up and the roads began to get wider. They could see a few gunmen in sandbagged bunkers guarding the sides of the road. No one stopped them. They were expected at the camp.
Both sides of the road were now lined with hutments with asbestos roofs, and sides draped with olive green camouflage. It was a large settlement. He had heard that over 25000 UNITA loyalists stayed in that camp. The MPLA knew about the camp, but couldn’t do anything about it. Not only was the access treacherous, but any attack on the UNITA camp would have aggravated tensions between the Russian and the American establishments, which either side could ill-afford.
After driving through the camp, the motorcade stopped in front of a heavily guarded gate. A uniformed guard walked up and said something to the driver. Being locals, they spoke fluent Portuguese. Had Joseph heard them, he would have understood what they spoke; ever since he had started dealing with these guys, he had picked up the local language. It always helped.
The guard disappeared, the gates opened and they moved towards a big open ground converted into a makeshift ammunition dump. Large battle equipment, tanks, rocket launchers, sophisticated guns and battle-ready jeeps stood amidst heavy guard. A lone cottage stood at the other end of the ground. It was the largest one and looked like the most exclusive habitation in the entire camp. The driver turned towards it and drove on till he reached within fifty metres of the cottage. That was the perimeter; no outside vehicle was allowed beyond that limit. Guards stepped in front and stopped Joseph’s car. The entire motorcade halted.