The Mississippi Company
by Mark Kertzman
A tale of two individuals on opposite sides of a fraud stretching from India to the Asteroid Belt.
“That bastard owes me a lobster dinner!” Dani almost yelled.
Jon spread his hands placatingly, almost dropping the phone clutched in his left hand. “Relax.” he said, hoping to calm her, “we’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Jon smiled at her, trying to be disarming. He wasn’t entirely successful, but she appeared to recover her composure a bit. As she pushed her feathered hair back from her face with agitated motions, Jon shifted on his stool, trying to get more comfortable. He surreptitiously looked around, but the proprietor and two other occupants of the little noodle restaurant were not paying any attention to them at all.
Lowering his voice, he continued. “Now, about that phone call. When you called him, did Ravi say where he was?”
“Do you have any idea where he could be?”
“No, I don’t have a clue.”
“What about when you were talking to him. Did you hear anything that might indicate where he was?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Anything out of the ordinary?”
“I told you, no.” She was beginning to sound exasperated.
Jon tried a different tack. “Why did you call him?”
“I told you. That bastard walked out on me during our date. Left me with the stupid bill, too. Those lobsters weren’t cheap. Is he going to pay me back for them?”
Jon couldn’t help smiling. “I hope so. How did the conversation go?”
She flipped her hair again. “Well, I told him what he had done. He sounded so contrite, but I know he’s not interested in me any more. He told me he would make it up to me when he got back, but I just bet that he’s off with some other tramp. The bastard was just using me.”
A sniff escaped her, just then. Jon hardly noticed, his mind clamping onto something else. “When he got back?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know. He just said he was going on a business trip.”
“Do you know where he usually goes when he is away on business?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Jon’s tone suddenly became more casual. “What kind of business is he in?”
“Oh, some kind of investment business.”
“And he does well at it?”
“Oh yeah. He just bought a new silver Mitsubishi HS.”
“Yeah.” She sniffed again.
“Hmph.” Jon made an inarticulate noise, “A new sports car, lobster dinner, drinking and dancing all night. He must really have a lot of cash.”
She snickered at that. “Oh, yeah. He loves to spread it around. Real big spender.” Her eyes lit up at the memories.
“Do you know where he is getting all this money?”
“Well, I just assumed from his business.”
Jon stared off into space for a moment, drumming his fingers rapidly on the tabletop. He suddenly realized that he was doing it, and stopped abruptly, staring down at his hand. Lost in thought, he pushed his mostly empty bowl of noodles away from him. “Do you know anyone named Jim Nagra?” he asked.
Dani responded slowly, “Yeah, I think that’s Ravi’s assistant.”
Jon’s eyes widened fractionally. “Assistant?”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so. He orders Jim around a lot.”
“Of course.” Jon muttered.
“Nothing. Do you remember what kind of orders he gave Jim?”
Again, her answer was slow in coming, “Uh, no.”
“Do you remember anything about what they talked about?”
“I’m sorry. No.”
“That’s O.K.” Jon smiled, “You’ve been a big help.”
“Will I get my money back for the lobsters?”
Jon gave her a long, frank look. “I don’t know. Thank you for talking to me.”
He stood up, indicating that the interview was at an end. Dani stood also. Jon extended his hand, shaking hers a little stiffly. “Thank you again.”
Still standing, Jon waited as Dani left the little restaurant. When he was alone, he clicked the phone’s recording function to STOP. Then he punched the pre-programmed number of his office.
Ten seconds later, the little screen opened with a ping.
“Hi Jon. Hold on a sec.”
Jon waited, idly tapping his foot on the stool leg. Doug had gone out of the camera phone’s range, and Jon could see the office windows, a corner of the credenza taking a sharp-edged bite out of the view of the white-capped mountains in the far distance. That made Jon think longingly about the cold.
“Jon.” Doug was back.
“Yeah, Doug, I’ve got to tell you.”
“I’ve got something.”
“Yeah, well, forget about Jim Nagra.”
“We’ve got a hit.”
They both stopped, staring at each other. Each of them had been too busy talking to listen to the other.
“Wait.” Jon finally said, “I’ll go first.”
Doug looked excited, but he nodded his head, “It’s your show.”
“Thanks. O.K. Forget about Jim Nagra. I mean, keep him on the Interpol bulletin, but he’s not important. He is just the cutout. The real brains behind this fraud belong to Ravi Tankar.”
Doug got a faraway look in his eyes. “It’s real interesting that you just said that,” he responded.
“Because we just got a hit; actually, we got two hits. Two credit cards were used, both in the name of Ravi Tankar.”
“Yeah?” Jon leaned forward excitedly.
“Yeah. A Mastercard in the name of Ravi Tankar was used to buy a ticket on Air France to Frankfurt.”
“When does it leave?” Jon snapped.
“Six-oh-five pm. But that’s only half of it. Fourteen minutes later, a Mastercard cash card was used to buy a ticket on Malaysian Airlines to Singapore, leaving seven-fifteen.”
Jon stared at the screen. This time, he was the one with the faraway look on his face.
“He’s running,” Doug said.
Jon just nodded.
“But which way?” Doug muttered, almost to himself.
Jon finally became animated again. “The Frankfurt flight is a misdirection. He’s going to Singapore.”
“How do you know?”
“He knows a credit card can be traced, but he thinks a cash card is anonymous. That’s where he’s wrong.”
Doug just nodded.
“I want to go after him.”
“Chan spoke to the Indian embassy this morning. The Indian government wants this fraud shut down. You’ve got carte blanche, Jon.”
“Good. We’re going to need it. Have Mary get me on the next flight to Singapore.”
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Kertzman