Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ramesh And The Costly Mistake (Part 5)

He was right. Before I could react, Ramesh came into sight, running quickly down the alley. Ramesh saw us and stopped in his tracks. “What are you doing here?” he whispered.

“Looking for you,” I whispered back, nervously.

Ramesh hurried forward and pushed us out of the alley. “Let’s get away from here!” he said quickly.

We walked to the nearest bus-stand shelter, and sat on a corner of the long bench inside. “Now tell us,” I ordered Ramesh. “Why were you away so long?”

Ramesh’s spectacles began to glint excitedly. “I’ve been snooping about inside that antique shop!” he announced, with the air of a conjuror pulling a rabbit out of his hat. “I spotted a half-open window at the back of the shop and climbed in. Did you see a foreigner enter the shop? You did? Well, I was hiding in the small storeroom next to the showroom and heard everything. He’s the customer who wants those items Sanjeev’s mother bought!”

“Why?” I asked.

Ramesh frowned thoughtfully. “It appears that one of those three items has great value for some reason. This foreigner told the antique dealer that his employer had already incurred great trouble and expense in trying to secure that item. If they didn’t get it back, his employer would be very angry!”

Sanjeev looked bewildered. “But didn’t you say that the items weren’t very valuable?”

“Yes,” agreed Ramesh. “But it seems to me that something valuable must be hidden inside one of these items and it is that valuable something which the foreigner was talking about!”

I was impressed by this logic. However, there was one flaw. “You did check the items, yaar,” I reminded Ramesh. “But you couldn’t find any hidden stuff.”

“I didn’t give them a detailed examination,” said Ramesh defensively. “I’d like to go over those things once more before the antique dealer’s representative pays his second visit to Sanjeev’s house.

I suddenly remembered our deadline. I glanced at my wrist-watch. “We’d better hurry, then!” I exclaimed. “It’s nearly six o’ clock; that chap’ll be reaching Sanjeev’s house any time now!”

Ramesh jumped to his feet. “I’d forgotten!” he exclaimed loudly, startling the other people inside the bus-stand shelter. “We must hurry! Those people are pretty desperate to get back the stuff – they might do anything! Let’s run!

We ran.

There was a small black car parked right in front of the gate of Sanjeev’s house. We came to an abrupt halt some distance away from the house. The antique dealer’s representative was standing on the doorstep and ringing the bell.

“We’re too late!” I gasped.

“Not yet!” panted Ramesh. “We can enter by the back door! Let’s head for the black alley!”

“Here, hold on, yaar!” protested the plump Sanjeev, his chest rising and falling like a troubled ocean. “Let me get my breath back!” He wiped the sweat off his forehead. "I’ve never run so much in my life!”

“You need the exercise,” retorted Ramesh pitilessly.

We were standing at the back door of Sanjeev’s house only half-a-minute later. Ramesh rang the back doorbell – and kept ringing it.

Sanjeev’s mother opened the door. “Oh, it’s you boys,” she said, surprised. “Why didn’t you come by the front door?”

Ramesh did not beat about the bush. “Because we wanted to warn you about the antique dealer’s representative. The antique dealer is involved in some kind of shady business. It’s like this…” And, in a few terse words, Ramesh went on to tell Sanjeev’s mother about the foreigner and his own hunch about a valuable hidden object.

Sanjeev’s mother took the story without batting an eyelid. “I suspected something was wrong,” she said. “This man is a bit too eager to have the goods back. But what do we do now? He’s standing in the hall talking to my husband.”

“Stall him,” Ramesh said simply. “Don’t accept any offer he makes. Let’s first examine the goods.”

Sanjeev’s mother returned to the hall while we boys quickly entered the drawing-room through the door connecting it with the dining –room.

Ramesh headed straight for the wooden stool. He picked up the vase from it and handed it to me. “You check this,” he told me, “while I look over the stool.” He turned to Sanjeev. “You, Sanjeev, run your fingers over the gilt frame of the mirror. You might touch some secret spring that opens out a hidden compartment!” he added hopefully.