By Ranjit Kulkarni
At 9.15 pm, Sub Inspector Satya got a phone call on his landline at home.
“Sir, tonight,” the sneaky voice at the other end said. Sub inspector Satya looked around to ensure no one was listening. His wife was not in the room.
“When?” he asked. There was a slight disturbance in the line as he said that. He paused for a few moments. Then the line became clear.
“11.30 pm,” the voice replied.
“What?” the Sub inspector asked, recognising the informer’s voice.
“Hmm.. How much?”
“400 biscuits of 25 grams.”
“Oh.. Only 10 kgs?”
“Stolen. Only one man.”
“Sir, please. It is a small haul for you. But a big one for me.”
“Okay. Reach at 11.20 pm.”
The squeaky voice disconnected.
Sub inspector Satya went to his bedroom and quickly changed to his uniform.
“Where are you going?” his wife asked.
“Some work,” he replied.
“You came one hour back and again? Don’t you have any time for your wife?” she complained.
“Why did you marry a police officer then?” he asked.
“That is my misfortune. That I married a police officer. That too an honest one,” she rambled.
“Don’t start again,” Satya put on his belt and revolver.
“Why shouldn’t I start? But I know nothing will change. I am going to die in poverty,” she said.
“We have enough to eat,” the Sub inspector said.
“That’s all we have. Just enough to eat, nothing else. You can’t provide for even a nice holiday. No car for me. No house. No jewellery. All my life I will stay in these unkempt government quarters.”
He went on to wear his shoes and cap. His wife’s words stung him like a scorpion. He stayed silent.
“Neelam showed me her photos of their trip to Switzerland.”
“Don’t compare. I know what her husband does.”
“He is also a Sub inspector,” his wife howled.
Satya decided It was time to leave. This argument was never going to end.
He started his jeep. He drove on the road leading to his police station. His informer had always been right. For the past many years, he had been on target. This was another haul. But a small one.
Did he say just ten kgs of gold biscuits? Satya recollected. Too little for the police department. Too little for him to ask for backup, he felt. Does he really need anyone to come with him? This should be a cakewalk. He had caught so many bigger smugglers and gangsters that he felt he can manage this one alone. Rightly so.
He looked at the time. It was already 10 pm. He took the first right turn and skipped going to the police station. He steered his jeep to Paloma beach. He could handle this alone.
The long drive to the southern tip of the coastal city was smooth. The nice breeze cooled him down. “I don’t know how many more taunts I have to suffer!” he thought, his mind going back home.
“She must have called her mother by now complaining about me,” he felt and banged the steering wheel of the jeep. It vibrated a bit and he held it again with both hands firm.
“This is a routine thing,” he thought twitching his lips in frustration. “I should have married a simpler girl with simpler needs. Now it’s too late,” he told himself and slouched on his seat.
The flashing headlights of a truck on the opposite side got him out of his reverie. “Be careful Satya. Focus on your duty,” he warned himself and jerked his jeep to the left. He rubbed his eyes and stretched them wide open to keep vigil on the road.
His phone rang after an hour of driving.
“SLV Sandwich Centre entrance,” the squeaky voice murmured.
“Ok, fifteen minutes,” Sub inspector Satya said. “Pistol on him?” he asked.
“No,” the informer confirmed. “Thank you Sir.”
Satya parked his jeep twenty-five meters before SLV Sandwich Centre. He walked in silence towards it, hid himself behind the stall and waited for the man to arrive with the haul.
A thought struck him while he waited.
“How much does a house and a car and some jewellery cost?” he thought.
“And how much does 10 kgs of gold cost?” his mind questioned.
He quickly did a calculation. Even half of that would be enough, he realised. In fact, more than enough. Maybe 2 kgs would be enough, he thought. To be on the safe side, let’s say, 3 kgs. Once and for all, could he then stop his wife’s taunts? No more listening to nonsense about dying in poverty.
After all, what she was expecting wasn’t too much, he felt a sense of sympathy for his wife’s predicament. A house, a car, some jewellery, a holiday – what’s wrong with that? Wives demand even more, sometimes. He shuddered at what he thought.
“What about my reputation?” another side of his mind revolted.
“But who is going to know about this? Such a small haul would not even be registered in anyone’s records,” a voice from within answered its own question. “It should not affect anything,” it continued to cajole him into submission.
“But I can’t let a stain come on my reputation. Satya, you are an honest police officer,” the earlier part of his mind rose up in disgust. He got convinced it was right, straightening his neck.
“But Naresh gets away with big ones every time,” the voice from within continued tempting him. “No wonder his wife Neelam boasts of their trips,” it continued.
“Anyway, you don’t want this for yourself,” his mind interjected again, this time with what looked like a compromise, a peace flag, a practical solution. “Who cares about big houses and cars? You definitely don’t, isn’t it Satya?” it tried to convince himself.
“Happiness is not in those things. These things are not for me. They are just for my wife and her satisfaction,” the middle path in his mind emerged. “At least, she will stop badgering me” the voice within rationalised.
The two parts within Sub inspector Satya seemed to have reached a compromise.
He took a left turn at the board that read ‘Paloma Beach’. The destination was close.
“Just once. Is it such a big deal? That too, in today’s world?” his mind’s wanderings went into the same territory again. “Honesty is always relative,” his mind agreed.
“I will still remain an honest officer,” he told himself.
Sub inspector Satya parked his car a few metres from SLV Sandwich Centre and started walking in the dark. It was an isolated beach. He had sweat on his forehead on the cold night. He wiped it and took a deep breath. His phone rang.
“I am behind your jeep,” the squeaky voice of his informer said.
“Ok,” Satya said.
“One kg for me Sir. Government reward?” he added.
“Hmm..,” Satya sighed. “Fifteen minutes, wait there,” he said and disconnected.
Makes it 4 kgs then, 3 for my wife’s demands and 1 for him, he mentally recalculated.
He saw a man in the dark walking from the beach towards him. He had a large trolley bag in his hand. This was the man with the small haul, Satya told himself. The information was correct. Satya hid behind SLV Sandwich Centre and waited for the man to come closer.
Six months later, at the housewarming ceremony of his new house, Sub inspector Satya’s wife boasted of the house she had designed. “That puja room is adorned with his favourite Gods,” she said to her relatives. “You know how much he loves his daily puja,” she remarked.
“And this kitchen granite – he specially got it ordered from his hometown for me,” she boasted to the guests with pride. “This year we are going on a trip to Europe,” she told Neelam.
Sub inspector Satya saw her happy and felt relieved. Now that he had provided her with all that she wanted, he could focus on doing his job honestly from here, he felt. After all, it was one small haul of gold which neither the police nor the JPMX gang noticed.
“My reputation as an honest police officer was intact,” he told himself. “There’s nothing wrong with providing for one’s family. In fact, I have done my duty,” he reconciled. “There’s no compromise on my honesty,” he repeated.
“Forgive me my dear Lord,” he prayed after dinner as he looked forward to having a good night’s sleep after the housewarming ceremony got over. That’s when his phone rang.
“Tonight Sir,” the squeaky voice said.
“When?” Satya asked.
“Gold. Same place.”
“The hen is laying more eggs, Sir.”
“I will come with backup.”
“No, Sir. We can handle ourselves. Only 500 biscuits of 25 grams each.”
Sub inspector Satya felt outraged. This informer was taking him for granted. One small haul and he is assuming he is available for other small hauls? Didn’t he know that he was an honest police officer? Didn’t he know the reputation he carried?
There was a silence on the phone line.
“Sir, no one will know,” the informer said. “Small thing for you Sir. Big thing for me,” he added.
“11.20 pm. SLV Sandwich Centre,” Sub inspector Satya said and hung up. He then went inside to wear his uniform. His wife didn’t complain this time. He prayed to his God in the puja room and asked for his blessings as he loaded his revolver.
Ranjit Kulkarni is a writer of short stories, articles, and novels. His work has appeared in Literary Yard, Indian Periodical, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Potato Soup Journal, Setu Journal, CC&D Scars, Ariel Chart, Active Muse, Anti-Heroin Chic and Kathmandu Tribune. More details about his work can be accessed at https://www.ranjitkulkarni.com. He lives in Bangalore, India.