I had heard of corporate espionage, but spies in our office seemed a little too far-fetched, and I said so. I mean, I don’t think we did anything sufficiently worthwhile that anyone may even want to know. But Mr A, my boss, was adamant.
“I am sure,” he said sotto voice, “there is some hanky-panky going on. There is a spy in our midst. Reports of our ……. (seemed like he said nefarious, but obviously he must have said something else) activities are reaching the top.”
I had to strain my ears to make out what he was saying, and to rack my brain to make some sense. “What do you mean, we have spies from inside or outside the organization?” I asked.
He gave me a withering look before shaking his head. The gesture must have meant something, but it eluded me. Boss looked dead serious, and so I posted a ‘suitably impressed’ expression on my face. That mollified him a little.
“People have been talking irresponsibly with the Superboss, and he is suspicious. We are being monitored,” he said with great conviction. “Which people, talking about what?” I wanted to ask, but kept quiet. In fact we were hardly doing anything, let alone doing any mischief, for ‘people’ to bother about us.
“Have you met Superboss recently?” he asked suddenly, and my blood curled. A wave of unaccounted-for guilt passed through me. I may have met Superboss during the course of work, but did I say something that could be termed ‘irresponsible’, I thought. Very much possible, my brain replied, but without giving any further inputs. I knew I was making boss suspicious, but I could not help it.
“Anyway, be careful with what you say,” he finally said, seeing that no response was forthcoming. “People are liable to carry words around, and even take names. You are too junior, you know, to mess around with wrong people,” he ended the conversation with this friendly caution.
During the next few days, I marked all my files ‘Top Secret’, avoided speaking to people on telephones and had my lunch in my room rather than with my buddies from the HR. Soon my extra cautious approach had another unintended and unfortunate consequence – my better half became suspicious, and one day accused me of having an affair in the office. What drove her to that conclusion, I do not know, but she said that I had changed, and had stopped communicating and had become secretive and all this ‘obviously’ proved my guilt. She even threatened to talk to Mr A about the matter. In a story that was so far teeming with spies, it seemed molls too had made their entry!
I shared my concerns with boss. “We have to do something about the spies, sir,” I said, “we can’t let things like this go unattended.”
Mr A smiled, nodded in agreement, beckoned me nearer, and said in a soft voice – “I have laid the trap, don’t worry. I leave a damning piece of paper on my table every evening and am waiting to see whether it reaches the table of Superboss. If it does, we will be sure.” He seemed pleased with the trap he had laid, and it reassured me that appropriate authorities were taking due care of the menace.
A few days later, the Superboss called me to his room and gave a rather suspicious stare before saying, “Hmmm David, how are you these days?” It was blood curling time again, and my brain, without being prompted, started scanning all the ‘guilt’ files. A day off without leave, playing on the net during office hours and scheming for the next holiday were flashed in an instant. The brain department dealing with excuses, went to work immediately.
“Fine sir,” I said. It is always safer to clam-up rather than speak too much and regret, I thought.
“Did you, err, apply for transfer to another zone. Are you planning a shift?” he asked.
That was a new one for me, and without hesitation or guilt, I replied in the negative. My confidence unnerved him slightly. “Oh, I thought I heard you were planning something. It must have been some other guy,” he backtracked and smiled a friendly smile. “How is the project on expansion of storage going?” he asked. The key part of the meeting was over, and I relaxed.
When I recounted my encounter with Superboss, a benign smile flitted across the normally dead-pan face of Mr A. “The mystery has been solved, my boy. The spy is none other than Dude, the office boy of Superboss,” he declared.
I understood how Dr. Watson must have felt hearing Sherlock Holmes in action. Seeing the Watson-like expression on my face, and without the “Elementary my dear David” start, Mr A explained –
“To trap the spy, I filled in a form requesting transfer – application by you, that is – and kept it on my table. I asked our peon to report to me who all visit my room after I leave. Yesterday only Dude did – his excuse was to find out whether I was around. Why should he want to know if I am around or not? And today, you were summoned.” He felt that that explained everything. Only, it had not even begun to mean anything.
“Why Dude? For whom? Why my transfer application?” I blurted out in confusion.
“Bosses need to keep an eye on their valuable workers,” explained Mr A with a calmness that did credit to him. And lest I feel I was the ‘valuable worker’ he was talking about, he added – “Boss would like to know if I had any plans. ‘X’ has also been upto some mischief I am told by my sources.” More spies and sources, I wondered, a little alarmed. This place was teeming with them and I had no idea till now, I thought.
Mr A continued with his briefing, now sounding more businesslike, “We will have to treat Dude carefully. You David, call him to your office and have tea with him once in a while. But on no account he must have a suspicion that we know. He will be useful for us to plant right information when the mischief-mongers are up their tricks again,” he said in the manner of ‘M’ briefing James Bond before a mission.
“Umm, boss,” I said slowly, because the matter was delicate, “The better half is unnecessarily suspicious that I am having an affair.”
Mr A raised his eyebrows with an ‘et tu’ expression, but seeing my guile-less face, softened a bit. Thinking the matter over, he gave his solution, “You were naturally tense during the last few days, as you should have been. It may have led to some misunderstandings. With wives, however, never attempt to clarify matters, it makes them more suspicious. What you have to do is to admit that you were up to something.”
I was aghast. The man was mad. Mr A smiled, “No, no. You have got it all wrong. Admit that you were planning a nice candle-light dinner on the beach-front and did not want her to know, and present her with the plane tickets for the holiday.” And after a pause added, “You may consider a brief leave as granted.”
The solution was costly, but I guess in such situations costs do not matter. When the secret plan was unveiled at home later that day, the sagacity of Mr A was proved beyond any doubt. She-who-must-not-be-disobeyed protested that there was no need for such an expensive holiday, and that she did not have any good beachwear, and also that I was deeper than she had thought. She would keep an eye on me in the future, she declared, but without any malice or ill will.