Looking back over the numerous cases in which my friend has been involved, not all of them successful , I find it a demanding job to select one for the present narrative. Till now in chronicling these cases I have tried to avoid those that are merely sensational , choosing those that best illustrate those peculiar methods of my friend which mark him out among the ranks and files of successful detectives of the continent. With this intention as I delve through my personal notes of the cases of those days when I happened to be associated with him , I find none so bizarre in nature nor so stunning in conclusion as the case of the dusty floor.
It all started one pleasant evening in the winter of 19-- as Ritabrata and I were returning from the exhibition of modern art at the town hall. For the hundredth time Ritaabrata was trying to convince me that modern art was not all random lines and splashes when we neared our rooms at 221 Faker street. Interrupting his discourse he suddenly remarked - " we've had some visitors but apparently they have left."
I turned my eyes to the ground and saw the marks of a horse drawn carriage and some footsteps which had induced my friend's deductions.
As we pushed the doors and entered , our housekeeper Mr.Abhyuday came to endorse Ritabrata's deductions. " Evening Sir !" , he gasped. " An officer from the yard had come , accompanied by a gentleman. I sat them down in the sitting room and bid them wait. After about ten minutes there was a muddled noise as though a fight had been taking place. Two minutes later they descended; the inspector held the other person who had an annoyed look on his face, and led him out.They didn't give any names but said that they'd call again tomorrow morning. " After that Abhyuday went back to his Rabindra Sangeeth which had been going on all along in the background.
There seemed nothing to do but wait for the morning to clear up the events. We went up and witnessed evidence of struggle , in the general disorderliness of the room. An expensive chinese vase was in pieces and chairs and tables lay scattered about with all the documents on the table strewn about the floor.
I shook my head and retired to my room with my head full of imaginations of what the morrow held in store for us. I heard Ritabrata pacing up and down for some time , after which he presumably went to bed.
Next morning as I was sipping my breakfast coffee Ritabrata spoke.
" So Manju, what is your opinion of our mysterious visitors of yesterday? Have you made any observations on it? "
" Indeed" , I replied , " it seems to me pretty obvious that the inspector has apprehended a dangerous criminal whom for some reason he brought here. Fancying his chances the crook tried to get away but was cut short in his plans by the diligent officer. However , realizing the danger of keeping him here for longer he took him off to the station as stated by our good housekeeper."
" Excellent ! is there anything more?"
" There is ", Ireplied, not without some pride. " perhaps it has escaped your notice , but outside the door there were two sets of bootmarks. One of them was the regular tread of the officer but the other one was very haphazard with the right and left legs mixed up, indicating that our second man was in a drunken state."
" Capital! you've excelled yourself today. However there is a strong objection to your theory. Why should the inspector bring a drunken criminal to our rooms?"
" Perhaps you have a better explanetion " , I said , with a touch of coldness , rather annoyed by his petty objection to a perfectly natural explanation.
" Of course I have. First let me point out to you that you are making an unwarranted assumption that the inspector apprehended the other man and took him off. Could it not be that they were walking out together , with perhaps the officer assisting the other man?"
" What about the fight? " , I questioned , bemused by his leaky solution." There is no evidence that a fight took place either" , he continued , silencing me with a rised hand as I tried to interrupt " If you do not let your mind go on flights of fancy , you'll agree that ther's no evidence for that either. Indeed , it seems to me quite certain that the second gentleman was a client brought to us by the inspector . All I can conclude from the rest of the facts you mention is that our man is a rather absent minded gentleman with an extraordinary penchant for rocking chairs. But lo! here's the man himself, if I'm not mistaken."
A prolonged ring of the bell was followed by sounds of the doors opening and that of unclear voices. Then we heard a slow tread on the stairs and presently a gentleman stood before us, looking from one of us to the other , not knowing which of us was Ritabrata. My friend requested him to sit down and asked him the reasons for his visit.
" My name is Niranjan. I live in Rockfeller street. Yesterday morning at about eleven o' clock I found that I had lost my walkman. I had kept it myself in a bag some twenty minutes before. I immediately called the scotland yard and an inspector came soon. However he could not see any light and suggested your name. We came yesterday evening . By the way, I'm sorry about that vase of yours. It was an accident. Coming back to my story, the officer could not come today as he's investigating at my house. He urged me to return with you as soon as possible."
" Your case presents certain points of interest.But I cannot theorize without data. I'll come with you."
Mr. Nirajan said to Ritabrata , pointing a finger in my direction. " This beav- , I mean this gentleman must be Manjunath. I'll be glad if he can accompany us." Rita had already risen and I too followed suit, snatching my hat and alpine stick, without even pausing to brush my hair.
We hailed a cab and reached Rockfeller street. Mr. Niranjan's house was a sizble one with a lot of open space around it. The room from which the walkman was stolen was in the first floor. The room looked out to a balcony towards the back of the house. Ritabrata lookd around and asked , " I thought you said that the detective was investigating. I don't see him around." . Mr. Niranjan said " I guess he is in the bthroom , washing his hands. I'll send him here " and left.
Ritabrata immediately applied himself to work. Every inch of the ground was subjected to a thorough search. Suddenly he exclaimed " Halloa! what's this? " Bending down I saw what he pointed out. There was a thick layer of dust on the ground. On it was a thick curved strip of the floor which was free of dust as though a rope had been pulled on the ground. Immediately Rita pushed open the door to the balcony and looked down. The ground was twelve feet below. " No doubt the thief came this way" Rita said. " But no human could ever jump this height" I retorted. "Yes , but-" , his answer was cut short by inspector Aleemuddin who came wiping his hands. " Hello Mr. Ritabrata. One of your cases, what?" he said.
" Well , what have you done so far?" Rita questioned. The detective frowned. " This has been a puzzling case. I was almost sure that Ravi the cook was our man. I even got him arrested. But the object could not be found in his possession".
" Did he protest innocence " , I asked.
" Not exactly " , the inspector mumered, " In fact, he began to cuse us. He went on saying ' Bhai ka aadmi hoon mein. Mujhse panga nahin lene ka. Varna Bhai tumko tapka dega'. I can't make out the head or tail of this affair.I'd be glad to have your suggestions".
" I'm afraid you're on the wrong track. This is not an inside job. " Ritabrata said and outlined in a few words our findings. He showed him also a partial footprint on the dusty floor and the mark of the rope on the floor. To clinch his arguments, he showed a short piece of rope dangling from the grills of the balcony. Its loose end had been cut of with a swiss knife. The detective , though , was unconvinced. He showered many questions . " If the thief came up by a rope, how could he tie it to the balcony grill? How could he cut off the rope at the upper end after climbing down? Why should he carry the rope inside the room to leave that singular mark on the floor? I cannot see the answers to these questions."
" The objections you've posed are grave indeed. But I'm confident that I shall be able to dispel all your doubts by the end of the day But for last night's rain I could have deduced a great deal from the footmarks on the ground below the balcony where our man must have climbed up from. But let us investigate and see anyway"
We went down to the spot below the balcony. As Rita had said there were no footprints left but a little distance away on a sheltered patch of land Rita made an exciting discovery. He beckoned us to see what it was. " Cigarette ash " , I said.
" Exactly! it is havanna cigar ash. It is a favourite hobby of mine to study ash in all forms. I have also written a monograph on 140 different outfits of ash.However this alone will not lead us to our man. I shall have to make some enquiries. Meanwhile continue your investigations Aleem, and we shall meet again to compare notes."
Rita and I left the premises of the house through the back gate and stood on a small lane. " What is our plan of action? " , I asked. " We shall have to make some discreet enquiries herearound" he said . Walking along we came near a shop . Looking up I saw that it was called Mama liquors. Inside was seated a stout man twirling his moustache. I wondered how Rita would be able to elicit even a single proper reply from this fellow.
Rita approached the counter." Nice day, isn't it " he said and began some small talk. Five minutes later they were chatting about bridge. Casually Rita remarked - " you sit here all day and watch people walking on the road. I'm sure you can't remember any of them . For example you won't remember who passed along at about eleven yesterday morning.I can bet anything on that" , and he tossed up a guniea and caught it in his palm. " Will you really bet? " the shopkeeper's eyes were bulging now.On Rita's confirming it , he began to think furiously , clutching his eyebrows with two fingers. After a while he began to speak " Ah! only one person went past around the time you mention.It was a man for sure, but nothing of his face was revealed for he was closely muffled up.He also had donned a long cloak which covered him completely".
" Was he accompanied by anyone?" Rita queried.
" No , he was alone. However he carried a rather larg wooden box in his hands "
Giving him a gunia we tuned back.
" Our errand was wasted. We are none the wiser now" I remarked.
" On the contrary", Rita said , " I have all the threads of the mystery in my hands.By this evening the culprits will be traced."
" My dear Ritabrata! " , I exclaimed in astonishment.
" I've told you several times that the more bizarre the case the simpler is its solution. I must admit however that, although I've met schemers of many varities in my profession our present adversary is one of the most cunning and vindictive. First let me put my Faker street irregulars to work".
We stopped at a post office where Rita dispatched two telegrams. "I've cabled Pratyay, the leader of the irregulars.I also cabled Aleem to come to our rooms at seven in the evening to hear the solution.In the meantime let us visit the townhall and study some of the paintings."
At seven we sat before the cozy fire in our sitting rooms. There was a cable for Rita which he read and threw aside. At that moment officer Aleemuddin and Mr. Niranjan walked into our rooms." Pray take your seats" , said Ritabrata , " Mr. Abhyuday, get us some tea ".
Mr. Niranjan leaned forward. " Mr Ritabrata, have you really solved the case. Who is the culprit? Where is my walkman? I'm all agog to hear it all."." So am I Sir" the deteactive added. I was equally in the dark and equally eager too.
Ritabrata began to explain- " It was clear to me from the very begining that this was an outside job. The footmark and the piece of rope were sufficient to prove that. However at this juncture I was not yet in a position to answer the officer's valid objections. Then a chance remark made by Manju made it all clear to me.He said that no human could jump that height. True, but that did not exclude apes from doing so too. What happened is then clear.The criminal comes with an ape in a ooden box.The ape jumps up , ties a rope to the balcony , the culprit goes up , does his job and climbs down. After that the ape cuts off the rope with a knife and jumps down.But that still leaves unanswered the detective's third question as to why the rope was taken inside at all. The answer is that the mark was not made by a rope but by a similar object"
" The ape's tail " , I burst out in a flash of brilliance.
" Wrong as usual" , Rita said curtly , " the ape never went in or else we would have seen its footprint. It is a favourite aphorism of mine that when you exclude the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable , must be true.We have seen that the mark is not made by a rope or the ape's tail. That forces us to the conclusion that the thief must himself have a tail. Indeed, I've been able to trace his identity too. He goes under the name of Mac. "
" Mac of the case of the splintered chair ?! " the inspector jumped up in astonishment , " he is wanted by the police in several other cases of seductions and irresponsible public speaking. Strange, his involvement in a case of burglary ".
" What is the motive?" , I asked.
" I have the reason for the crime too. Apparently in the past , Mr. Niranjan has , in a kleptomaniacal mood purloined pens and other articles belonging to Mac. This burglary is a case of pure revenge".
Aleemuddin said " This is most remarkable Mr. Holmes. You've made it all crystal clear. But there is still one problem. In this city teeming with millions how can one trace Mac , going only by the fact that he is sporting a tail?"
" And what about my walkman? It cannot be retreived until the culprit is found", Mr.Niranjan asked.
In answer Ritabrata tossed the telegram that he had received to the detective. Aleemuddin took it up and read. " What is this ? an address? " he asked.
" Yes. " Ritabrata replied, " it is a place that Mac visits without fail on every tuesday night at half past eleven. You can catch him at your convenience. Now gentlemen , if you please , we can enjoy a well earned dinner setting aside from our minds all the spooky events of the underworld".