The Case of the VIP Towels

I

Shit, jana padega. There’s been a break-in in some MLA’s house. Tell me Begum Sahiba, why does this happen every time we have a biryani plan?”

“Inspector Mohabbat Khan, you say you are now in the CID, right? Break-ins are dealt with by the local station in-charge, no? Aaram se dinner karke go see the Commissioner.”

Arre woh phone karte rahega…

“I’ll take the phone… he wouldn’t dare engage in chit-chat with me…”

 

II

“OK, so tell me Constable, at 2 PM there was a break-in and no one heard it? In broad daylight?”

“None of the family members were in the house, Sirji – MLA Sir in assembly, Madam at some social service, children in college. It’s a big house and the servants were on the other side, and didn’t think the sound of glass breaking came from within the house. So, no one went to investigate.”

“No witnesses outside? There’s usually a crowd of lukkhas milling around…”

“It was a hot afternoon Sir, and there was a Rajnikant film on cable…

“Assume I rolled my eyes. So, what has been stolen?”

“As far as we can make out, Sir, only a couple of towels.”

“What?”

“Yes, Inspector Sir. The break-in happened in the laundry room and only two towels are missing. The servants have checked very carefully else they will be suspected of stealing otherwise. We also called in forensic squad, Sir. No fingerprints, no shoe marks, nothing moved from its place.”

III

“Mohabbat Khan, now there have been three break-ins in three days in MLA houses. What are you doing, Mr. CID Inspector?”

“Commissioner, Sir, CID is working full time Sir. They are all heavily guarded houses, with Rottweilers and burglar alarms… and any number of party fellows milling around the houses. We can only investigate, not stop it…”

“Okay, okay. Sorry I lost my cool. But you know these MLA types. There’s enough guilt in their hearts to keep them paranoid; always expecting to be murdered or beaten brutally. But tell me, Inspector, they’ve really stolen nothing of worth?”

“Only towels, as far as we can make out, Sir. And ‘they’ is a loaded word, Sir. We’re not sure these are related break-ins.”

“Well, see the pattern, Inspector. 3 MLA houses, all break-ins in the afternoon, only towels stolen…”

“Sir, as per the rules of statistics, you can’t claim a pattern till you have at least thirty samples, Sir…”

“30 MLAs? En re, Inspector, it will be “bye re” from service for this Commissioner Byre Gowda.”

IV

“Begum Sahiba, till this case is over, no biryani. Every time, I sit down, there’s another break-in.”

“Nonsense. Shahnawaz Bano does not surrender to fate. Just because biryani is not in your naseeb doesn’t mean it isn’t in mine. How many break-ins till now?”

“Eight. Ab to media ko bhi pata chal gaya hai…

“Hasan, kal saare Kannada-waale paper leke aana!”

“Why Kannada?”

“They’ll be the ones with all the masalaEnglish-waale saare self-censor karte hain.”

Mujhe bhi journalist se hi shaadi karna tha.”

“Not just a journalist, deputy editor. So how many towels?”

“Well, rather consistently, two each. The thieves really seem to be interested in nothing else. Exactly the same thing, clearly a gang. They come in the afternoon, it is almost always some back-room where only servants go. But they are conveniently out of the scene, no fingerprints, or shoe marks, and only two white towels.”

‘Have you considered that there may be other motives?”

“You mansplaining to me, wife?”

“Yes. Now shut up and listen. Maybe they’re just trying to prove a point. That these break-ins just show laxity on the part of the police. If they can’t protect MLA houses how will they protect the common man’s property? The towels are just their signature. Or maybe a warning, you know. This time towels, next time…”

“Goodness, where do you get all this imagination from?”

“Look for the New Indian Express editorial tomorrow. Unsigned, of course.”

“Shit, shit, shit. My own wife writing editorials against me.”

“Then you go find the thieves.”

Tum journalism chhodke Sandalwood ke plot likho na…

V

“What Mrs Khan, ee haavina hendathi beka?”

“What Sir?”

It’s an expression in Kannada. We have got these mysterious break-ins, now you writing editorials like this. We now have to deal with snake also, snake’s wife also. Don’t you think about your husband’s job?”

“Byre Gowda Saar, writing editorials is my job. Solving cases is hubby’s job. Keeping city safe is your job.”

“This editorial is embarrassing the ruling party. Opposition will make circus in Assembly, then more media masala, then more Assembly ruckus. I’ve had calls from MLAs of all parties on what I’m doing for their security. Not to mention there’s been a break-in in a minister’s house now.”

Arre waah, bolo, bolo, tell, tell…”

“Arre Mrs. Khan, I keep falling into your traps. Ivage please no more editorials. Let your husband do his job.”

VI

“So, minister ka bhi tauliya utar gaya?”

“Begum Shahnawaz, shall I laugh or cry? By the way iss baar no towels. Bus ek bedsheet, ek bedcover.”

“And two pillow cases. Minister ke saale ke bedroom se.”

“Oh, so that suspicious young man at the site was from your paper…”

“There should be two. Editor-sahab has spared up two of our best on this case. He has a feeling they’ll get to the bottom of this case before the CID…”

“Wow! You can spare reporters for crime. Have all the film heroes turned into saints?”

Dekho police public ko taana maar rahi hai!”

VII

“Mohabbat, now the police have become a laughing stock. We are now seven MLAs short of your magic number thirty. I’m expecting to be sacked any time now.”

“What to do, Sir? It is ridiculously baffling. No one is seen coming in, no one is seen going out. Windows are broken from outside, but no fingerprints, no shoe marks. The shattered glass is neatly swept and piled in one corner… 22 cases mein ek bar bhi the gang has not made a mistake Sir. How is this humanly possible, Sir?”

“Do anything you want to, Inspector, but I don’t want to become DGP of Karnataka Police Housing Corporation.”

“Sir, we posted extra constables to guard the entrances of every MLA’s house. We put men in mufti. There were still break-ins and nobody saw anybody. Sir, we’ve tried sniffer dogs. They follow the trail to the back-gate, then there’s pepper or diesel or something thrown there to throw off the dogs. Sir, this is some Sandalwood-writer type genius Sir.”

“I know, I know… we’ve even tried ‘interrogating’ the domestic staff. None of the stations reports a confession… how much third-degree treatment can a cop stand?”

“Sir, you know very well that these third-degree methods only play into the hands of defence lawyers…”

“You have a better method? You even played good-cop, bad-cop with them.”

“Nothing, Sir. I got suspicious and even had those constables interrogated.”

“At your request, I threatened to suspend six from service and they’ve all protested innocence. The police tribunal will skewer me… and we’ve WhatsApped enough messages and SMSes to the public to report any suspicious movements.”

“I had told you, Sir, this would be counterproductive. Public sympathy is squarely with the criminals, Sir. There are daily double-meaning towel cartoons lampooning the MLAs, Sir.”

“Don’t tell me. I read the Kannada papers. There’s one of me too with a towel…”

“Sir, mood is against us. Karnataka Bar Association has given open statement that they will defend whoever is caught… And the items stolen, Sir, so trivial… I think my wife’s point that they are doing it to make the police look like incompetent fools is probably true, Sir.”

“Mohabbat Khan, at this rate neevu 100% suspend, naanu 100% suspend… yesterday Home Minister called me such bad names… these MLAs and their burst egos…”

“What more to do, Sir? We even went to NIMHANS and did FBI-style psycho-criminal profiling. See their report Sir – an unsocial, spectacled fellow from some small town with insecurity issues who wants to quickly make a name for himself? This is Bengaluru, Sir. We will have to arrest half the IT crowd…”

“I know… I told my nephew to take anticipatory bail.”

VIII

Arre Mohabbat, phir se batana toh what items have been stolen… I’m getting a commission from Buzzfeed to do an article…”

“Begum Sahiba, do I look like Deep Throat to you?”

“Bolo na, 18 MLAs, six ministers… that’s 18 pairs of towels, 6 bedsheet-pillow sets…”

“No, no, it’s not just towel or bedset… likho… 20 pairs of towels, 4 bedsheet-pillowcase sets, 1 gold-painted towel rack, 2 coffee kettles, 8 bathroom kits, 2 bathrobes, 2 bathroom mats…”

Yeh sara sounds like the things people steal from hotels.”

“What, what, what, what, what?”

“I said yeh sab to hotel se churaane wali cheezein hain…”

“That’s it, that’s it, that’s it… that’s the common thread. Begun Shahnawaz Bano, you’ve just cracked the case!”

“What?”

“Yes, of course. Now I see it clearly. Yaad hai, all these MLAs and ministers were in some resort last month during the party crisis…”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes…”

Ek minute, zara Wikipedia kholo…

IX

“Yes, got it. Look, exactly these 22 fellows, and two more… when that party split and all that brouhaha about confidence vote. So, there should be two more thefts and no more. Then we go and arrest the resort owner.”

Kal ka mast headline niklega…”

“You’re kidding me, right…”

“Do I look like the sort?”

Begum please, begum… begum…

X

“Your Highness Your Excellency Honourable CID Inspector Sir, are you happy with this transfer order, Sir?”

“Sir, yesterday’s break-ins were the last Sir. Just two more days, Sir, and I’ll have the men and women responsible, Sir. Just please ask Ladies Police Station to help me out, Sir.”

“I can’t help you, now. Commissioner Vikranth Patil is the one in-charge now. And you know his methods. He’ll just catch two random fellows and lock them up to rot…”

“We can’t let that happen, Sir. But I know a trick. Just a minute, Sir. Enappa Venkatappa, please take this letter back to Vidhana Soudha. Tell them that it could not be delivered as Commissioner Byre Gowda had to depart for Chikmagalur urgently. His mother-in-law is serious. He will return in two days and then they can send transfer order.”

“What are you driving at, Mohabbat?”

“Sir, don’t worry, Sir. Just please ask your wife to get her mother admitted in some Chikmagalur hospital immediately, Sir. And switch off your phone. Meanwhile you come to the lawn and I’ll tell you what I suspect, and no one else needs to hear.”

XI

“This is amazing, Inspector Khan. That’s why you are in CID and I am not. Whoever thought of this, didn’t reckon they were dealing with Mohabbat Khan, CID. These MLAs are holed up in a resort, steal its items like cheap people, and the resort employees form a gang to steal them back.”

“Poor fellows, Sir. Everytime some item is lost; these resort owners take it from their salaries. These items seem trivial, but for the employees they are so damaging. No wonder they wanted to steal them back before the resort owner asked for an account.”

“And you say this thievery happened with everyone’s knowledge?”

“Honesty was their modus operandi, Sir. These poor people, they just walk up to the house, tell their story to the servants, get their sympathy, and get their towels and bedsheets back.”

“What about the broken glass?”

“Staged by the servants, so they would not get blamed. Then the resort employees just walked away and no one breathed a word.”

“And some of the servants even took severe beatings for this. Innocent people…”

“No one was beaten, Sir. The stations, were, um, in on the game, Sir.”

How?”

“Sir, honestly, everybody knows this except you and me and the MLAs, Sir. When they were arrested, they told the station HOs the truth, Sir. And our men covered it up, and told us that they did third-degree and still didn’t get confession.”

“Now how do we answer the Minister, Khan Sahab? That sword still remains over our heads.”

“We’ll have to take it in our stride, Sir.”

“But, Mohabbat, I don’t want to be transferred as DGP Police Housing…”

“I’m also being posted as SHO Chamarajanagar, Sir…Next big crime, we’ll be back in our jobs, Sir. But this time, we have to take it for the people, Sir…”