SWIM, OR DROWN! (fiction:shortstory:5 minute read)
By Neel Anil Panicker
They were known naah infamous as the Devil’s Troika.
Troika, because there were three of them_ Ritesh, Inder, and Tanishq.
And Devils because…?
Well, that was a particular epithet handed over to them by all those whose lives these three highly enterprising young men of a certain lineage touched.
Touched, did I say? Well, pardon my euphemism.
Let me give way and and hand over the rostrum to my boys, my ‘heroes’, the main protagonists of this highly enterprising story.
Over to Lead One Ritesh.
Hi there! Let me introduce myself. I am Ritesh aka Ritz. Pushing my twenties, when not chasing anyone that moves in a skirt, the shorter the better, I can be found cruising the west coast, hitting the gambling dens, or burning rubber on the F1 race tracks around the world.
That’s quite a start, isn’t it? Well, that’s me_a fast guy with faster fingers, around the trigger, and wherever else the itch takes me to. Surprised! Shocked! Repulsed! Flabbergasted! Or, was that a jaw dropping WOW! Perhaps, even a whiff of jealousy!?
Guess, it depends on what side of the decade you were born!
GenZers would understand me! After all, what is it they say…birds of the same feather…
Well, what more do you expect a 22 year old guy with golden locks, a perfect V shaped torso, and whole sole heir to a stinking rich millionnaire stepfather (now, happily dead) to boot do other than live life kingsize!
Another rich, amoral kid rolling in the hay, high on his father’s money! Was that what you just thought of me, all ye oldies!?
Well who am I to come in the way. Reader, you, is the king, the one who decides what is right and what is wrong, right?
So, I step aside, bow down to your will, and in abeyance and obeisance, make room for the next character of this story.
Hi, there! This is Inder. Same age as Ritz, his brother from another mother. And, yes, you guessed it right. I am poor, and live off Ritz’s money. No surprises there, right! Well, there’s a slight correction, though. I USED TO LIVE OFF RITZ’S MONEY BUT NO LONGER DO SO. I AM RICH TOO, MILLIONNARE RICH! Ever since…
Well, life wasn’t the same even a year ago. Try being born to a beggar couple, both blind to boot, and try living on the streets and off it, starting age five.
Yes, age five! At an age when babies outgrow their milk sucking days, and fall in love with myriad toys and tingle their taste buds with the joys of honey sprinkled coconut flavoured choco chips and savour the mouth watering delights of chicken tikka kebab and pepperoni paneer pista and cream lathered pastas, I was mastering survival techniques, fighting, battling, surviving older, menacing men (women, too!) with dirty bodies, and dirtier hands. Was learning what it takes to keep body and soul together! What it takes to earn a living, an unlawful living but of course.
Learning, unlearning, and relearning the rules, and even inventing some new ones_all vital to ensure bare minimum food and clothing for yours truly and also those two very pure but grossly unlucky souls who brought me into this world.
And then one fine summer morning life took an unimaginable U-turn when…
I am Tanishq, born to middle class parents, wedded to middle class values. Middle classiness defines me. Same age as the other two, I realised pretty early in this searing reality that with my average looks, average Indian height, and blessed with average intelligence, I wouldn’t stay in the same station in life as all other average brethren, my life’s trajectory taking me through the rigmarole of bagging a clerical job in some bank or the other, a regular marriage, a small house, perhaps, and the mandatory two kids.
All this, as if preordained was what I had resigned myself to until I fair haired, fair skinned boy sidled upto me one fine summer morning during our first day at kindergarten. Meeting Ritz changed the course of my life and set me up for the big stage. It would only be a decade and half later that I would realise the full import of who I had befriended, and what it meant to live life on the fast lane.
The letters, their contents identical to a T, arrived on the same day at the same time, but, at two different geographies.
At Tihar Jail, Inder had just finished his lunch and was about to be escorted back to his six by six feet cell at Barrcak 12 that he was handed over a plain white manilla envelope. Some five thousand kilometres away, in a off city Kuala Lumpur prison, Tanishq received an identical one through his lawyer during the latter’s pre-fixed weekly Sunday visitation.
While Inder hurriedly scampered back to the confines of his semi darkened cell to RIP open the letter and read its contents, Tanishq didn’t waste any time and read it in the presence of his middle aged but crack lawyer even as six gun toting prison guards watched over from a respectable distance.
The contents of the single page letter were as follows:
Dear friends Inder in Tihar Jail and Tanishq in Malaysia Central Prison, and myself in Singapore City Maximum Security Prison, it’s
been over three years since we’ve met, since our incarceration.
I wouldn’t waste time asking you about your welfare, my buddies We maybe at three different countries, but our hearts our united. This is the longest ever time we have been locked up. They say every dog has its day. These past seven years, it has been a roller coaster ride for us dogs. Our grand streak lasted pretty long, isn’t it! Seventeen high stake gold heists, fifteen bank robberies, three super market steals, and what’s more, even a daring mid air heist, and the subsequent parachute escape from above the Atlantic Ocean. What a ride what a life it had been my dear, dear friends. And know what, all this was made possible because we obeyed the omerta, our own secret code, which is ‘if we don’t hang together, we are surely going to hang separately’.
Yes, my besties, this was my own code, my dictum, my own personal philosophy that I had brought in to you two. A moral compass, you can say, a working template, a life beacon that we had religiously and scrupulously followed, all three of you. The result: A hundred percent strike rate.
Until, the day, I, yes, I alone went ahead and violated this principle. Call it the braggadocio of youth, my sky high arrogance, or plain stupidity, the ignoramus fool that I am, I had gone ahead and committed one crime on my own. That lone 30 million dollar gold heist, and that too in Singapore, the city that cocks a snook at all and any kind of societal aberration has led me to a rat infested, hell hole called Correcrionally Facility. As they this single wrongful act of mine turned our to be a slippery slope for all of us. Sans my leadership and expertise in guiding criminal acts, you two also went your individual ways, committing major blunders, and consequently ending up in different prisons too. You too, my friends, must have realised what it means when we violate the code: if we don’t hang together, we are surely going to hang separately. Inder was reckless to get caught during a botched up drug deal in Saudi Arabia. And as for you Tanishq, you made the mistake of going solo and trying the rob the Great Bank of Malaysia, a crime deemed fit enough to be awarded the death penalty as per Malaysian laws. And as for me, well what can I can say. I tried to break free go solo, and in my utter hubris, decided to steal one of the most secured hold vaults in Asia. And look, what has happened. Sans your collective intelligence and expertise, I have failed, and am locked up and staring at life imprisonment with no parole. And to think that we, all three of us, are yet to hit our 30s.
Dear Inder and Tanishq, I know I have erred. You too had anointed me as your leader and mentor in this criminal journey that we commenced way back when we were in our teens.
I know how desperate we are to taste freedom once more time. How driven we are to ensure that we don’t waste our young lives, either dead or rotting in rat infested, darkish hell holes sans sunlight, sans good food, sana fresh air, and sans any hope of ever resumption of our normal lives.
Except…save for one plan that if activated will see us, all three of us, outside these gory prison cells, walking free as free abs joyous as the birds in the sky.
My dear friends, the plan is foolproof, and if you trust me enough then, within seven weeks, we will be out of prison, and sipping cocktails and planning out next heist in some tropical island full of sun, sand, and solace. Time is running out, and I need your affirmation. Are you ready to join me and help liberate ourselves. If so, send in your answer within three weeks of receiving this letter.
Yours dearest buddy forever,
It took all of a week, the time taken for a letter to arrive from two quite apart geographies.
And on a fine Monday morning, when the prison guard knocked on the iron bars, Ritz rushed to grab the letters, literally tearing apart the envelopes to lay his hands on its contents.
His joy knew know bounds and the handsome casanova infamous in in all of South East Asia for his dare devilry erupted in a joyous shriek as he read the single line that leaped out of the pages.
It read: IF WE DON’T HANG TOGETHER, WE ARE SURELY TO HANG SEPRATELY.
The Devil’s Troika was back in the game and how!