March 15, 2015
The work on high-rise building was under halt for last six months. The concrete structure was abandoned in an unfinished condition after raising up to four floors. Rumours suggested the local court had issued stay order for illegal construction. Security personnel was seen guarding the place during initial days. However, the place was deserted for the last couple of months without any security cover.
At 10:00 pm, four friends had gathered on the fourth floor of the uninhabited structure with bottles of beer and food packets. An emergency lamp was lit. Their appearance was upbeat with mix of fear and joy. A clandestine mission was on threshold.
"Cheers," they clinked bottles and sipped beer.
"Forty Million will be on transit tomorrow morning from City Central Bank to Currency Chest of Gandhinagar." The first one to speak sounded like their leader. "Two armed security guards, a bank officer and driver will accompany the cash in a bullet proof van. Moneybags will be kept at the backside of the van. A senior guard would manage the door key. Timing is the vital factor. If we follow our plan, nothing can stop us. Robbery would be pulled off on way to Currency Chest. By all means we could be richer by ten million each."
"If the route is changed by driver what is our back up plan?" The second one raised a query while picking up the starter.
"Now listen carefully." The leader sipped and wiped his lips. "In this progressive world of technology we are vulnerable and hence need to be very watchful. The risk is very high if we attempt the robbery in and around the bank. The bank is well guarded by security team and CCTV cameras are hidden at every point. It takes about 50 minutes to reach Gandhinagar Currency Chest from City Central Bank. Even if the driver alters his route, the van has to pass through Metropolitan Hospital road on its way to Gandhinagar Currency Chest. The distance between Metropolitan Hospital and Gandhinagar Currency Chest could be covered in 10 minutes. There is a left turn after driving a kilometer from Metropolitan Hospital. The left turn also is marked with zebra stripes that allows pedestrians to cross the road. All vehicles slow down at this point. That would be our defining moment. A moment that will determine our fate. As I said, timing is the key factor."
"Could you brief on the bank’s security applications?" Their third teammate quickly gulped his first beer.
"High tech surveillance has become the biggest threat and challenge for modern day bank robbers." The leader burped and continued. "Banks have the latest security tools like motion sensing high resolution cameras, alarms and locator devices. This particular Cash Van is equipped with GPS and even canvas cash bags contain tracking devices."
"We may have to shun cellphones." The fourth member took a big bite of grilled starter.
"You are absolutely right." The leader opened his second beer. "Cellular phone conversations could be accidentally overheard. Police can randomly intercept the calls by using radio scanners. It is risky. If found suspicious, our location could be traced. Let us also avoid vehicles with registered number plates. Fake beard and hair sets should be destroyed soon after the robbery."
"It makes sense. Mobile phones and registered vehicles have no roles to play." The third member inhaled his cigarette.
"Yes, strictly no mobile phone unless an emergency…" The leader cautioned. "There is something more. During the course of the robbery if any of us is caught, we will not expose the identities of the rest of our accomplices. Families of jailed have to be monetarily supported by the rest. Treachery has no place in our friendship. The booty would be equally shared. Do you all promise to follow this code?"
"Yes, we do." They joined their hands.
"If everything goes as planned, we will meet here tomorrow night at 10:00 pm with cash bags. Once the money is divided, let us not contact each other for a minimum of 3 months. We will live like strangers for some time until the situation cools down."
All nodded their heads in unison. By the time their party was over it was midnight. They cleared empty bottles, cigarette buds and food trash in a plastic bag. No evidence was left behind.
At 9:30 in the morning, City Central Bank was buzzing with activity.
City Central Bank’s General Manager Vipin Sharma welcomed Deputy Commissioner of Police Arjun Biswas in his glass cabin. He was dressed in civilian clothes. A helper entered with a tray, placed coffee cups on the table and moved out.
"How is the coffee?" Vipin Sharma tilted back in his chair.
"I like my coffee strong and this is strong enough." Arjun Biswas reacted after the first sip.
Treasury Department’s Roy pushed the left door open. He entered in, followed by Currency Chest officer Balveer. Balveer dropped two canvas bags beside the table.
‘Forty million have been released to Currency Chest." Roy showed a document to Vipin Sharma. "Balveer has signed."
Vipin Sharma validated the document by marking his initials. Roy thanked and went out.
"Balveer, would you sit down for a couple of minutes?" Vipin Sharma advised his colleague. ‘Meet Deputy Commissioner of Police Arjun Biswas. He works in crime branch. Balveer looks after cash deliveries to Currency Chests."
They shook hands soon after introduction.
"This is not any kind of investigation." Arjun Biswas came to the point at once. "Vipin Sharma feels you are not somehow happy in handling deliveries of large cash. Any particular reason?"
"This is high risk job Sir." Balveer bluntly said. "There have been too many bank robberies in the recent past. Any person travelling with large amount of cash is exposed to high level of danger."
"Did you perceive any suspicious element?" Arjun Biswas turned curious.
"Whenever I accompany the Cash Van, I detect suspicious elements all around me." Balveer frustratingly remarked. "Until cash boxes or cash bags are delivered to the point of destination, I find every person is well prepared to rob me. The staff within the office, the guards at the gate, the customers, the pedestrians, shopkeepers, trailing vehicles, I live fearfully at every moment of this journey. We do not know when evil would strike. I have already requested the boss to shift me to some other department."
"Bank robbery is not as easy as you imagine." Vipin Sharma ridiculed.
"Crime rate must be surging higher. However, banks are no longer an easy score in this city." Arjun Biswas stayed serious. "Banks are protected by high tech security cover. I have spoken to Security Company that provides Cash Van. It is bulletproof, it has GPS and if van changes its route, the control room is alerted. Tracking device is hidden in cash bags. You are authorized to change and pick your route. Keep the control room informed. That is all. Your fear is just psychological without any tangible reason."
"Nothing to worry." Vipin Sharma persuaded.
"I have told you. Temporarily I will discharge this duty." Balveer hesitantly nodded. "However, I feel burdened. I earnestly request you to find someone who would enjoy this work. Sooner the better."
"After speaking to provider of Cash Van, minor changes have been contrived." Arjun Biswas rose from his chair and picked two additional canvas bags from his right. "We are not sneaking any suspicion. This just a precaution. If you bump into an unforeseen robber, this is just a safety measure. Along with your two cash bags, you will also carry two extra bags that contain some unwanted old books. The bags with trash will be kept on the floor. The security company has mounted a secret compartment at the ceiling. You will place cash bags in the concealed compartment."
"Let me explain. As you step out from the bank, two armed guards will accompany you." Vipin Sharma gave details. "The security guard will open the back door. You will walk inside with cash bags and trash bags. No one knows about the hidden compartment except you, not even the security guards. You will position the bags as advised by Arjun. The security guard will lock the back door once you step out. Are you clear?"
Balveer gestured his head in acceptance.
"Tracking devices are fixed in all the four bags." Arjun Biswas clarified. "We can detect the location even if someone manages to run away with the trash bags."
Balveer marched out with two cash bags and Arjun Biswas followed him with the trash bags. They were given security cover at the gate by two armed guards. The guard opened the back door of the Cash Van. Balveer hesitantly entered and closed the door. He came out after completing the given tasks. The door was locked soon after he stepped outside.
Arjun Biswas looked around and left the place. The driver turned on the ignition key. Balveer nervously occupied the seat between the two security guards. As the security van gathered speed, Balveer’s left eyebrow began to twitch. An unknown tingling cold fear ticked in his heart. Instantly, he instructed the driver to change the way and called the control room to report altered route.
"Please keep a careful watch on trailing vehicles." Balveer advised the driver. "Let me know if you find anything suspicious."
"You must be watching too many heist movies." The guard on left pulled his leg.
The rest of them promptly laughed. Balveer remained serious. The driver switched on the radio.
"Could you turn off the radio?" Balveer irritably yelled.
"You have chosen the longer route. I am feeling bored." The driver countered.
The next half an hour's journey was spent with such meaningless banter. It took forty minutes to reach Metropolitan hospital. After two minutes, the Cash Van slowed down to turn left. Zebra crossing indicated priority for pedestrians. The vehicle moved at a snail’s pace. Unexpectedly a bicycle rider appeared from nowhere only to crash into the face of the Cash Van. The driver instinctively applied breaks. That led to some kind of disorder and confusion with people rushing towards the fallen rider.
"My goodness, this is careless driving!" Balveer screamed in frustration.
First the security guard accompanied the driver to check condition of bicycle rider. They saw a man with overgrown beard lying flat on his back. He appeared unconscious. They bent to lift him. An unexpected attack from the bearded man sent them dodging for shelter. He lifted both his hands holding canisters of pepper spray. The inflammatory liquid was sprayed mercilessly into the faces of the driver, the security staff and the onlookers. They screamed in pain and temporary blindness.
Two bearded strangers appeared from right and left of the Van with buzzing cans. The vision of Balveer and the second security guard too was impaired. The intense pain left them gasping for breath. They were forcibly thrown out and strangers took charge of the Cash Van. The back door key was pulled out from the guard’s pocket. Rear door was opened. Two men with backpacks entered in with bicycle and closed the door.
The third member of the team sat behind the wheel. He aggressively honked while speeding towards Gandhinagar. The complete action took place at a brisk pace.
At 12:00 noon, Vipin Sharma hurriedly called Deputy Commissioner of Police Arjun Biswas and conveyed news of the Cash Van robbery. Obviously, the unexpected event had come as a shock. Being a cop, he was trained to deal with shockwaves. Arjun Biswas stopped all his work to investigate this robbery.
"Forty million are gone without any trace in this hold up." Vipin Sharma had apprehensively uttered.
"Bank robbery is not a child’s play." Arjun Biswas’s frustration was evident. "How did it happen? Where? At what time? Where is Balveer? What about security staff? How did the robbers manage to unravel the secret compartment? What is the status of GPS and tracking signals?"
"Balveer, security staff and driver are being treated at Metropolitan Hospital." Vipin Sharma briefly narrated. "They were unsettled by heavy doses of pepper spray attack. Let us catch up at Metropolitan Hospital."
Pepper spray, known as ‘oleoresin capsicum’ is a lachrymatory agent that causes tears, pain and temporary blindness after attack. Once incapacitated, the effects could persist up to 45 minutes to one hour.
Arjun Biswas rushed to Metropolitan hospital. By then Vipin Sharma had already arrived. All victims of pepper spray attack including bystanders were hospitalized. They met Balveer at the ward. He complained of crystals in eyes and burning in throat.
"I am surprised. The control room had no clue when the Cash Van was hijacked…" Arjun Biswas muttered.
"Cash Van had GPS." Vipin Sharma explained. "Control room would have been alerted if the route was diverted. Robbers stuck to specified direction. After seizing money from the hidden compartment they must have got off before reaching Gandhinagar Currency Chest. The looted Cash Van was abandoned outside Gandhinagar Currency Chest. Currency Chest’s CCTV footage is showing a bearded driver pulling a bicycle after parking and fleeing on it. The incident must have been over in less than fifteen minutes."
"A very smart operation." Arjun Biswas shook his head in disbelief. "Now I understand. It was almost a perfect plan. Van and keys were captured at zebra crossing as driver was compelled to reduce speed. Control room was kept at bay by holding on to route. Trash bags were left untouched. They cleared up the hidden compartment and emptied the cash bags. Robbers were aware of tracking devices. Using fake beard, bicycle and pepper spray were very clever choices."
"Do you mean robbers will remain at large?" Vipin Sharma was extremely worried.
"I am trying to assess the situation. Something is very strange." Arjun Biswas lightly whistled looking in Vipin Sharma’s eyes. "Balveer had taken four bags, two with cash and other two with trash. Cash bags were kept at newly mounted compartment at the top. No one else knew about this except you, Balveer and myself. Do you think robber is one among us or is there a fourth person incognito?"
"Are you weighing me up as one among the suspects?" Vipin Sharma’s face turned pale.
"At this moment I doubt even my own integrity." Arjun Biswas sounded brutally honest. "Let us go from here to your office. I would like to check the video footage of your bank’s CCTV between 9:00 and 10:00 am."
They hurriedly walked out from Metropolitan hospital. Dark clouds had scudded in his head. The finger of suspicion pointed at Balveer and Vipin Sharma. Could there be a third character, who appeared invisible now? Was there any shady operator from the security van company?
The time was quarter past ten at night.
The team of four had jubilantly gathered at the fourth floor of the abandoned high-rise structure. Emergency light was on. Cash bags were placed in middle.
"Let’s not party. It is time to share dividends and vacate the place." The leader stated. "Each of us will be richer by ten millions in a short while."
"Your tip off about possibility of hidden compartment in the Cash Van turned the tide to our benefit. Otherwise we would have lost." The Second member smiled.
"Once I saw two additional bags, I suspected their ploy." The leader clarified. "I had no other option but to use the bank’s landline."
"Your call made it possible. We were clueless." The third player breathed a sigh of relief.
"Shall we share the reward?" The fourth member showed urgency.
The brief silence was broken by the sound of footsteps. Startled by the noise, they involuntarily turned towards the stairs. Deputy Commissioner of Police Arjun Biswas was standing with his team of cops.
"I am afraid I’ve got to spoil this party." Arjun Biswas pointed his gun. "Believe it or not, crime stories are incomplete without cops. We have our roles to play. Armed Policemen have surrounded the place. There is no route to escape… Hands up. Don’t think of any madness, I would love to open fire."
Appallingly the culprits got to their feet while lifting their arms. They felt disgracefully helpless.
"You guys pulled off a perfect heist if not for one mistake." Arjun Biswas victoriously advanced closer to the leader. "We sent off 2 trash bags together with cash bags. The cash bags were hidden inside a secret compartment. How would robbers ever come to know a classified arrangement? Gang members were on road waiting for the Cash Van to appear in their territory. Someone from the bank put you folks on alert. I examined City Central Bank’s CCTV footage. Your desk is diagonally opposite Vipin Sharma’s glass office. You were watchful. I accompanied Balveer and left the bank with four bags. You observed and imagined the possible reason. The accomplices were forewarned by using bank’s landline. My dear friend, you were the first to use the bank’s landline soon after Balveer’s exit from bank today morning. CCTV footage confirmed the facts."
Arjun Biswas signaled his colleagues to arrest the criminals.
"I know you are the ringleader of this Cash Van robbery." Arjun Biswas pressed the muzzle of his gun against leader’s chest. "I saw you today morning at the bank. You work in the Treasury department. Am I right it Mr. Roy? You suspected the deviation and alerted your accomplices about fake bags. We identified the cellphone number. Thereafter tracking your geographical location turned as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. We wanted evidence and here is the evidence. The game is over."
Roy dropped his head in shame.