فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Family life

di@k was woken from his thoughts as the car screeched to a stop to avoid an auto-rickshaw and a scooter carrying a family of four which had cut across the crowded road outside the High Court buildings. di@k’s mind came back to the present. For anyone with strong nerves, travelling in India is a constant source of interest and surprise.

His driver Gopal inched his way forward, successfully winning a few feet from a bus cutting in on one side and a water-tanker on the other, each puffing out clouds of billowing, black diesel fumes. The road widened as they passed Fort St George. Gopal speeded up and they were soon leaving the elegant but neglected university buildings behind. They drove the length of the Marina, the sea on the left and a succession of historic buildings on the right. Even at this hour a few people were strolling along the beach taking the early evening air. Soon there would be crowds, all escaping the oven heat of the city for the cooling evening sea breeze.

It was five-thirty before they reached the tree-lined shade of Boat Club Road and the calm of di@k’s company house, set well back from the road in its own garden. The chowkidar opened the gate and the car slid gratefully into the cool shade of the porch.

There was a note on the kitchen table from di@k’s wife, Sally, to say she was out to tea with one of the awful society women who seemed to form a permanent part of their social life. She reminded him that they were to attend a drinks party at the Jussawallahs, a Parsee couple they had met at the club the previous week. He groaned, then made his way to the bathroom for a shower.

Later, as he sat drinking a cool beer on the terrace overlooking the garden, di@ks thoughts returned to his present problems. He was forty-eight years old; no longer young but still young enough to rise in the company. He was in good shape physically - six feet tall, slim and muscular, even if his hair was prematurely grey. He had worked for Trakton since leaving university. They had sent him to some pretty hard countries when he was young - Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Iran, Saudi Arabia. He had always managed to do well, even in the most difficult conditions.

And he had paid the price; his first wife, Sarah, had died of malaria in Papua New Guinea. At twenty-four he had found himself a widower and father of a baby daughter, Angie. She was grown up now but he still recalled the desperation of those weeks and months following Sarahs death. For a time he had gone to pieces, drinking heavily and moving from one unsuitable woman to another.

It was only when he returned briefly to London, between jobs, that he met Sally. They had both been invited to a drinks party at the Ecuadorian Embassy. He was to leave for Quito a month later. She was working as a secretary at the Foreign Office. On the surface, they had nothing in common. She was from an upper-class family with a town house in Knightsbridge and a place in the country near Bath. She had no need to work, but her father, an ex-ambassador himself, had arranged for her to work at the Foreign Office, partly at least, in the hope that she would find ‘someone suitable’ to marry. Instead she fell hopelessly in love with di@k; a man without money, with a dubious reputation, and with a baby daughter to bring up into the bargain. It would have been difficult to find anyone less ‘suitable’. But when they woke together the next morning in di@k’s Bayswater flat, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Sally’s family had disapproved of their relationship, but she left for Quito with di@k after a brief and quiet civil marriage in Kensington Registry Office. No-one from Sally’s family had attended.

Their life together had been a great success, though not without its ups and downs. Sally had been a wonderful mother to Angie, and they had had Simon a year after their marriage. They still enjoyed each other’s company, even if they were very much absorbed in their own concerns: di@k with Trakton, Sally with raising funds for a children’s charity she was involved with. There were many days when they scarcely saw each other.

di@k thought about Vish again. He had long suspected that the man was dishonest but he had never been able to prove it before. di@k’s suspicions centred on the way the company awarded contracts for various kinds of building and maintenance work. It seemed to di@k that the costs for this kind of work were higher than they should be. Contracts also seemed to be always awarded to the same few companies, many of them owned by personal friends of Vish. He suspected that Vish was taking a percentage from the contractors in exchange for giving them the contract. But for a long time di@k had never been able to prove this. When questioned, Vish had always had very clever reasons for selecting one contractor rather than another, cheaper, one.

It was only when the building contractor Haridas Enterprises came directly to di@k to complain they had not been awarded a contract for building Traktons new factory at Hosur that di@k had found real evidence. Haridas Enterprises had complained that the twenty per cent they had formerly paid to Vish had been increased to twenty-five per cent. When they had refused to pay, Vish had given the contract to another company, Naveen Construction, who had obviously agreed to pay him the higher rate. Haridas had provided di@k with all the evidence he needed about previous contracts.

di@k understood that, in different cultures, people did different favours for each other. Sometimes it was called corruption, sometimes it wasn’t. di@k wanted to be careful in judging Vish.

It was the contract for the factory in Hosur, which was really big money, that convinced di@k that Vish was really corrupt. It was for a project which was worth many crores of rupees and would last at least three years. If Vish was getting twenty-five per cent of the total cost he was going to make a lot of money out of this. At last di@k had something really big to charge Vish with - and hard evidence too. So earlier that day he had called Vish and presented him with the evidence. It had been a stormy meeting! Vish had clearly never been challenged in this way before. He had sweated, he had shouted, he had protested his innocence, he had threatened… It was after this meeting that di@k had phoned his boss, the director of Trakton, Keith Lennox.

His thoughts were interrupted by Sally’s arrival.

‘Hello, darling, ‘ she said as she bent to kiss him on the cheek. ‘How was your day?’

‘Terrible. I don’t want to talk about it now - I confronted Vish this morning and then had a row on the phone with Keith Lennox about it. I just can’t understand Keith’s attitude. ‘

‘Don’t you think you’re getting a bit obsessed with the Visvanathans, darling?’ said Sally. ‘After all, you are the boss. Surely, if you have proof of whatever it is, all you have to do is sack them?’

‘If only life was that simple!’ sighed di@k with an air of tiredness. ‘Who are we going to this evening?’

‘Come on, don’t pretend you’ve forgotten them. They’re that nice couple we met at the club last week.’ Sally seemed genuinely upset that he hadn’t remembered. ‘He owns a shipping company. You should be interested in that at least. Anyway, do try to stay awake this time!’

di@k went up to the bedroom half an hour later to find Sally coming out of the shower. He dried her with one of their biggest bath towels. They kissed and one thing led to another so that they arrived an hour late for the party, though no-one seemed to notice. The rest of the evening was spent in dull and empty conversations. They returned at midnight and di@k immediately fell into a dreamless sleep.

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