The Spider sat in the centre of his Web, waiting.
From his hideout under the Andes, lines went out to all parts of the world, spreading his Web’s invisible filaments. Some of them trailed in the depths of the sea, tasting the currents for the movements of submarines and drilling rigs. Others drifted high in the air, keeping tabs on commercial flights and fighter jets, or even higher, to the fringe of space. Yet others spread through the continents, touching the hovel and the mansion, keeping tabs on the investment banker and the inner city drug pusher.
The Spider’s senses were everywhere. Literally nothing could escape his attention, from satellites in low-earth orbits to narcoterrorist coca plantations in Central America. He knew the location of Nazi gold in Swiss bank vaults, and the exact amounts transferred by the hawala system by shipowners as ransom to Somali pirates. He knew it all.
And he taxed it all. The Spider was not stupid; he didn’t even risk harming a tail feather of the goose that kept laying golden eggs. He only levied a small, a tiny tax – so tiny they wouldn’t even feel it – but half a per cent here and two percent there added up, and paid the bills.
And the Spider had many bills. Deep in his hideout under the mountains of South America, wrapped in kilometres of rock and titanium, he had to keep warm and comfortable. He needed fresh air, too, and water, and he had to have food delivered daily, to satisfy his by no means frugal appetite. And there were the expenses to keep his crime empire going – the Web to keep in repair, the rent on his various offices, and all the salaries and insurance premiums to pay. The Spider was very generous with his salaries. Good help was hard to come by, and when you got some competent hirelings, whether hoodlums or accountants, you didn’t want them defecting to some low-grade small-time crooks like the Mafia, for example.
Despite the bills, the Spider’s wealth was incalculable. He himself had long since abandoned all attempts to compute it. Only a tiny fraction of it was public, open to his army of accountants, banked in ultra-secret numbered deposits, or put to legitimate business use under names such as the Rogerio Corporation. The rest sloshed around, uneasily, until the Spider found a use for it. Finding a use, generally, did not take a long time, but only the Spider himself knew what he did with that money.
Nobody, of course, had ever seen the Spider. They thought of him almost with mystical awe, as if he was thirty stories tall and had five heads. None of them knew anything about him at all, and filled in the gaps of knowledge with imagination.
The Spider’s personal office was almost entirely a communications suite. From his desk, ultra-thin fibres radiated to all corners of the world, bringing him information from everywhere. Other fibres conveyed orders to minions around the globe. None of the threads was ever still, for the Spider never slept.
Meanwhile, the Spider’s infamy was spreading, slowly but surely, around the planet. Most who heard of him did not believe in his existence, and thought it mere fiction, not even good fiction. Some even thought him the invention of the female arch-terrorist group, known as Alka Ida after its two founders. But one man – one man did not disbelieve.
His name was Inspector Mahakotwal, and he was determined to bring the Spider to justice. Patiently, year after year, he sat in his office and gathered information about the nefarious crime boss. At first he drew a total blank, and if he had been made of less stern stuff might well have given up. But he was not a distant descendant of the great Hercule Holmes for nothing. So, with the tenacity of the British Bulldog, he followed up leads and rumours, interrogated suspects, and over time the shell of secrecy began to crack. Mahakotwal sniffed after the Spider like a bloodhound. He tracked him down, plot by plot, money trail by money trail, informant by informant, until he knew where to strike.
Then he collated all the information and went to his superiors. And there, he ran into a brick wall.
“Nonsense!” snapped his boss, Superintendent Daniel Outing-Thomas. “The Spider doesn’t exist. He’s a fantasy, a chimera.”
“He exists,” Inspector Mahakotwal insisted. “Just look at the evidence, sir. I’ve got it all in these 123 files, 456 CDs and 789 flash drives, right here. I even know how to attack his organisation and break it into pieces.”
“What organisation?” D Outing-Thomas snapped.”There’s no such thing.”
“It exists,” the Inspector insisted. “It’s called the Web. I’ve got all the proof, right here.”
“All right,” Superintendent Outing-Thomas said. “Show me. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
So the Inspector and his boss pored over the files and perused the contents of the flash drive for forty days and thirty-nine nights (they took one night off; Bang Bang Lulu the queen of the strip show was in town), until all the data contained therein had been examined. And at last the older officer sat back and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“My boy,” he said, “this is remarkable. Go forth with my blessings, apprehend the dastardly criminal mastermind, and consign him to durance vile.”
“Thank you, sir.” So saying, the brave Inspector strode out of his office to gather his team together; men of blood and iron, honest as the day was long.
And so, over the months that followed, they pried apart the Spider’s crime network, step by excruciating step, and little by little, they tracked him down to his lair.
One spring morning, then, the Inspector stood in front of an Andean cliff and pried a boulder out of the ground. It need hardly be explained that he was alone. After all this hard work, he had no intention of sharing the glory of the capture with anyone.
As he’d expected, inside was a panel with buttons and an LED screen. Quickly, he tapped out the secret code he’d waterboarded out of a suspect mere hours ago, and a section of the cliff slid away to reveal a flight of steps, heading down.
Standing at the top of that flight of steps, staring at the Inspector with all his eyes, was the Spider.
“Welcome, Inspector,” he said, his fanged mandibles moving. “I have been expecting you.”
The Inspector was a tough man, a hard man, not a man to trifle with. Even so, the shock made him lose his voice for a little while. His jaw hanging helplessly, he goggled at the Spider helplessly
“Confess,” said the Spider, chuckling. “You’re surprised that I was expecting you. But, my dear sir, you knew that my Web spreads everywhere. A filament was in your office from the beginning.”
“Grooh,” the Inspector said. “Gah!”
If the Spider had had eyebrows, he might have raised them. “Oh, I see,” he murmured. “You’re surprised to find me an actual spider.” He paused, cocking his cephalothorax in thought. “A giant actual spider,” he amended. “But what else did you expect?”
The Inspector finally recovered his voice. “You...you’re under arrest!” he said.
The Spider laughed so hard that he shook. “And what are you going to do – handcuff me? He stuck one of his legs forward. “Go ahead and try.”
The Inspector thought better of it and returned the cuffs to his belt. “Will you come along to jail with me?” he asked.
“No,” the Spider said pleasantly. “Why should I? I’m much more comfortable down in my nice silk-lined office.”
“Because you’re a criminal,” the Inspector wailed. “And my job is to hunt down criminals!”
The Spider laughed again. “Then you’d better begin by arresting Outing-Thomas. He’s been in my pay for many years.” He paused to let that information sink in. “Didn’t you think to ask just why I allowed you to track me down when I was in on it from the beginning?”
“Uh,” the Inspector said, “no. No, I hadn’t thought of it.”
“Well,” said the Spider with gusto, “Outing-Thomas is a moron. I need a really competent man, someone I can absolutely depend on. As soon as you began working your way through the network, I knew you were that man.”
“And,” the Inspector said, “I’ve destroyed your network, and I’ve found you, so it was for nothing.”
“Oh, come. Do you really think I’m that stupid? I showed you only a tiny fraction of my organisation, my friend. Entirely expendable, I assure you. Besides, almost all of them are already out on the streets again. Some of the judges are in my pocket, you see. Of course,” he added, “I’m not wearing any pockets.”
“I,” said the Inspector, “will not work for ill-gotten gains.”
“Better and better. Do you know where the money you’re paid comes from? My income is cleaner than that.”
“Is it?” The Inspector snorted. “Where does all your net profit go? I couldn’t find a trace of it!”
“You know,” the Spider said, “the world is a pretty terrible place these days. All those wars. All those displaced children. All those orphans. Someone has to take care of them, and pay for orphanages, and so on. Mind you, I’m not saying I do any of those things.”
“I’m sorry,” the Inspector said. “But I’m not corrupt, and I will never be corrupt.”
“Oh well,” the Spider said equably. “It was worth a try. All right, then, you can go, as long as you don’t come back.”
“And if I come back?”
“I wouldn’t advise that,” said the Spider. “I really wouldn’t.”
The Inspector gulped again. “Suppose,” he said, “I come with my men to arrest you. Then what?”
The Spider lifted his mandibles in a smile. “My lady friend,” he said, gesturing with a foreleg, “might have some objection to that.”
Slowly, the Inspector turned, and looked. He had to tilt his head back up to look. He had forgotten that, in spiders, the female is much, much larger than the male.
“I love the taste of fresh policeman,” said the lady, and moved in for the kill.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012