When the man with the green Benetton shirt and matching socks jostled shoulders with Victor F., he never suspected for even a moment that his wallet had been expertly lifted. He continued on his way, humming under his breath, and Victor crossed the one-way road to a coffee-shop, the proud new owner of a Cartier wallet.
Over a chipped plate of samosas, Victor inspected the black wallet. No doubt, his late father – an ex-headmaster – would have been crushed to know that among the other unsavoury things to which he had stooped to earn his daily bread, he picked pockets, but what was Victor – already 29 and penniless and unemployed – to do? He had very few certificates that were worth a second glance, and hard toil and sweat was something he had learned to avoid while still in nappies.
The wallet gaped open, and his eyes bulged at the sight of the thousands tucked within. Wow! he thought, his illustrious father and samosas suddenly both distant memories. His victim, he decided, had to be a neurosurgeon or a politician – judging from the green socks, probably the latter. Excited, he went through the compartments and found a card. As he removed it, something fell onto the table with a clink. It looked like a door key.
He read the card:
William Noronha, LLB
# 5/B, Orient Apartments,
Victor’s mind reeled as the possibilities, audacious and staggering, assailed him all at once. This key was like the key to the fabled cavern of riches, the Open Sesame to Ali Baba’s treasures. All he had to do was walk into the flat and then walk out safely. But did he dare? He looked up at the wall-clock; 3.35. On a motorbike, he could be there within 10 minutes. And assuming it took Noronha at least 10 minutes before he realised his wallet was missing, it would give Victor just enough time to grab what he could and run.
It took the motorcycle pilot 12 minutes to get to his destination, mainly because of a trail of potholes that had mysteriously materialized to replace most of the length of the Aquem road. Victor spent a minute haggling over the fare, then paid the man, and after an enquiry at Rose General Stores, headed for the building on one face of which was painted: ORIENT APARTMENTS.
Outside apartment # 5/B, he took a deep, steadying breath and quickly rang the doorbell. If anyone was home, an excuse about wrong addresses would suffice, and he’d have to hightail it out of Aquem and be content with the contents of the wallet.
With pounding heart, victor waited for a whole minute. But no one opened the door.
With a small whoop, he pushed the key into the lock, turned it and entered the flat.
Victor looked around, taking in everything with one long envying glance: the sofa set, the 29-inch LED television set, the imported sound system, twin tower cabinets filled with perfumes, heavy drapes that touched the floor, a laptop placed on a divan. Stylish. Luxurious.
He opened the balcony door a crack and furtively peered outside. It seemed empty. Not even flower pots. Which probably meant this Noronha character was a bachelor. Wonderful, mused Victor happily. Noronha was clearly loaded. Any cash in this place would likely be stored in the bedroom. Victor had just turned towards the bedroom, aware that he might not have much time left, when the doorbell rang.
Victor froze, and he felt his legs go suddenly weak. The sound repeated again, and a moment later, again. God, just when things were going so well… Who would have assumed that Noronha would have returned so soon? Suddenly, he frowned. It couldn’t be Noronha, could it? Noronha wouldn’t be ringing on his own doorbell…
Well, then maybe it was a neighbour, or a friend. Victor shrugged. Whoever it was, his cause seemed a lost one. Victor found himself at the front door, reaching for the handle. He had no choice. He would have to punch Noronha (or whoever) in the stomach, and while he was gasping, make a quick exit.
The two young men in school uniforms standing outside smiled at him politely. “Bob-a-job.” announced the bespectacled one gruffly.
Relieved, Victor started to close the door. “Sorry, not today.”
“Sorry.” said the same youngster stepping forward. “But it has to be today.” Moving quickly, so quickly that Victor was caught completely off -guard, the lad slammed both flattened palms into the door, sending it flying inward. It struck Victor on the temple and he staggered back, stunned.
The spectacled lad went in, pulling a length of nylon from his pockets. “Come on, Dilip, give me a hand.”
Dilip came in to help his accomplice bind Victor’s hands behind his back. He was unable to hide the worry on his face. “He looks dazed. He’ll be alright, won’t he, Greg?”
Greg laughed out loud. “We just want to rob the man, not kill him.” They pulled him up. “I don’t see why you’re getting tense about. This isn’t the first job we’ve pulled. We haven’t left any bodies behind.”
“So far.” pointed out Dilip, as they dragged Victor, who was still stunned, into the spare bedroom of the flat. “One day, there’ll be violence and someone will get hurt.”
“Not as long as the people we pick on are spinsters and bachelors, like Noronha here.” They laid Victor on the bed then Greg locked the door. “Let’s get to work; you know what to look-”
“I’ve got a better idea.” Dilip was holding open the door of the fridge. “I always work better on a full stomach.”
The man in the green Benetton t-shirt parked his scooter on the grass, smiled at the lady in Rose General Stores, and trotted up the stairs with a large shopping bag, whistling the final notes of ABBA’s Winner Takes It All. He made it up the last steps, hand reaching into his pocket and was struck into paralysis by two simultaneous realizations: his wallet was gone, and the door to the flat was open.
There was no sound from within. Which of course meant precisely nothing. Without thinking, he put an eye against the crack, hoping to see something-
“Hey, you!” said somebody from behind him, halfway up the stairs.
He jerked his head back, startled, and looked at the balding individual who had addressed him.
“Do you live here?” asked the man, eyeing him with a high degree of suspicion.
He frowned at the bald guy, all righteous indignation. “Of course I live here! If you lived in this building you would know that.”
The other man pointed a stiff finger upward. “I’m here to see a friend. And when I saw you crouched there like that, it looked very suspicious. That’s why I challenged you. It is every citizen’s duty to assist the law when the opportunity arises.”
“I admire your principles.”
“Good. So you won’t object if I ask for some form of ID, something that proves you live here.”
Noronha gawked. “What!”
The other man smiled patiently. “You could still be a crook about to rob this flat. An ID would prove me wrong, and I’d have fulfilled my duty as a law-abiding citizen.”
Noronha nodded. “Under normal circumstances, I might be happy to oblige, but circumstances are far from normal. You see, the person or persons who are inside my flat at this very moment must have stolen my wallet. My wallet contained the key to this door. I didn’t realize my wallet was missing until I got here, and now I’m afraid to go inside.”
The other’s eyes gleamed. “How many of them are there?”
“I don’t know: they forgot to take their shoes off before going in.”
“No need to be sarcastic.” said the other sharply. “Let’s go in and take them out.”
“No thanks, I’m staying here.”
“What kind of an attitude is that? They’re robbing your flat, man!”
“Well, they may be armed; maybe they’re crazy too! There’s no telling what armed and crazy individuals might do if suddenly confronted by two crazy and unarmed individuals. We’d better not go inside.”
“Lucky for you, I think I’ll disregard your advice. Even more luckily, I’m a black belt. But best of all,” He took out his ID with a grandiose flourish. “I’m a police officer. A truly dedicated one. Which means that in my eyes, the interests of the public are second to none other.” Bingo! he was thinking, I could get a promotion for this! Maybe even the-
At that moment the main door of Noronha’s flat opened.
Victor was not slow to realize his predicament. Staggering to his feet, he found the cords binding his arms a simple proposition to undo; obviously, the thieving duo had thought that the locked bedroom door along with the sharp rap he had received on his forehead would be sufficient to convince the man they thought was Mr. Noronha to keep a low profile and not cause any trouble. Discarding the nylon, he turned to the balcony door of the bedroom. Sliding back the latch, he let himself out. The balcony connected to the sitting room was only an arm’s length away. He recalled how he had opened the balcony door to peek outside. It must be still unlocked, he thought, cheered. Fortunately, this balcony faced the rear of the building. As far as he could see, there was no on in sight.
He wasted no further time in thought, and crossed over nimbly onto the main balcony. Crouched outside the door, he listened for some moments, mainly to convince himself that the two lads were not concentrating their thieving efforts in the sitting room. He was rewarded when he heard the sound of glass clinking. The fools were eating! he thought in disbelief. He got up. Well, let them eat, he wanted out. Now. He tiptoed into the sitting room, jerked open the door – and gaped.
Two faces stared back at him, and one of them, realised Victor, heart sinking, was Noronha’s.
For some instants, there was pin-drop silence. Victor, thinking fast, was the first to react.
“Mr. Noronha!” exclaimed Victor, seizing the other’s hand. “I was just about to call the police! There are two crooks in your flat. They’re inside the kitchen.”
“Inside the kitchen?” said Noronha weakly.
“I’ll take care of this.” said the policeman grimly, and he marched into the flat, flexing his fingers as he walked.
Victor nodded. “I happened to be passing by. The door was open, and I heard voices. Saying the place was loaded, that Noronha was rich. I realised what was happening, and decided to confront them. When I went in, they had gone to the kitchen. Seeing my chance, I thought I’d lock them in the flat then notify the police. But now you’re here.”
Dilip and Greg were brought into the sitting room, the police officer eyeing them wrathfully. Greg was coughing and pressing his abdomen, as if he had been punched. When he saw Victor, he glowered. “I’m going to get you for this, Noronha.” he said menacingly.
Noronha spoke first. “Noronha?” He looked at Dilip and Greg. “You thought this man was Noronha?”
Dilip looked at him, his face tear-streaked, then at Victor, who was suddenly having trouble breathing. “Well – he opened the door for us, didn’t he?”
Noronha gaped at Victor. “You!” He cried. “You’re the one who stole my wallet, not these boys!”
Greg scowled at him. “Wallet? What wallet?”
Noronha blocked the doorway so that Victor wouldn’t think of rushing past, and spoke to the cop. “You’d better see if this man has my wallet on him.”
Frowning heavily, as though the events of the day were simply too overwhelming, the policeman body-searched Victor. He found the black Cartier in Victor’s pocket. “Is this it?”
“That,” declared Noronha happily. “is most certainly my wallet.”
A movement at the door made everyone look up. Noronha swallowed.
The thin regal-looking person standing in the doorway looked at the assembled, amazed.
The policeman stepped forward, his stride befitting that of one whose next career move is a triple-promotion. “Yes, what do you want?”
“Well,” said William Percival Noronha, LLB slowly, looking at the black Cartier. ” for starters, I wonder if I could have my wallet back…”