Inamoratos’ Existentialist Leap , A Short Story By Jitendra Kumar Sharma
On a pleasantly warm Saturday morning a lad came to Timothy & Brother store in London’s Savile Row which is home to world famous traditional bespoke tailoring for men. He presented written instructions on the back of an envelope bearing a cancelled stamp and addressed to Robert B. Singh, 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead which read, “To Timothy Stores: Please give to bearer the suit, pants I purchased last week; kindly put change in envelope in inside coat pocket. Trust, alterations are okay. Thanking you for your courtesies, I remain- Robert Singh [signed].”
Timothy’s called the police. The boy was arrested but released when he disclosed that he was only doing an errand for a “gent” who was awaiting him nearby. Instead Mr. Robert Singh was held for interrogation.
Robert, a dapper, somewhat anemic, young man confessed that his real name was Ravinder Bahadur Singh and he lived at a ramshackle cottage in the City of London’s 23Bread Street, a relic of his great grandfather Late Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala’s property that had seen better days. He requested that his wife Rosy Singh be informed as soon as possible of what had happened.
At Police Headquarters he was identified as the forger actively engaged during preceding months in passing bad cheques throughout the city. More recently, LLyod’s Bank was his frequent target for £1600 on May 20, for £2901 May 30,for $5113.50 and £710 on June 4,and £900 “to bearer,” on June 8 at Harrods Bank. This one inexplicably was cashed at the bank itself.
Police were certain that the forger had finally been caught. Therefore, the precinct policemen Eric Rump and Jack McLeod visited 23Bread Street. A young girl of attractive appearance opened the door whom they conveyed the unpleasant message. Mrs. Singh appeared duly shocked at the news; she insisted on her husband’s innocence. Officers departed without much ado.
Mutual jealousies and pettifogging exist in every organization and City of London Police Headquarters are no exception. The plain-clothes men and uniformed cadres often belittled each other’s successes. The police department, having earned the credit for the arrest, simply “forgot” to tell detectives Arthur Stanly and Eugene Cork about police constable Eric Rump and Jack McLeod’s meeting with Mrs. Singh.
Yet, Stanly doubted and Cork agreed if Singh alone could carry out his operations. Therefore, Stanly enquired at the Old Bailey Prison about the names and addresses of visitors who came to see the prisoner. The gateman said that no one had turned up but right then a young girl brusquely stepped to the wicket and sought permission to meet Mr. Ravinder Singh. Detective Stanly at once called the Prison Office and told the warden to detain her temporarily and say “No” to her request. A few minutes later the girl turned back dejectedly.
Stanly was no reader of Sherlock Holmes or other classic detective fiction. He was a real sleuth and depended on his own devices. Therefore, he donned a shabby suit, denied himself his overdue visit to the barber and, right away went to 23Bread Street. He saw the same girl reading a newspaper while swaying in a rocking chair in the veranda. He did not know that the girl he had seen and was now seeing was Mr. Singh’s wife. Nor did he suspect in the least the girl to be herself a forger. He only envisaged she might hold some clue to the accomplices or gang behind Mr. Singh so he might get additional evidence against Ravinder Singh, the accused.
Sheepishly, he introduced himself as an old pal of “Ravi” unfortunately locked up in the same cell with him. After a pause, Stanly sighed, “Poor Ravi; he is in desperate need of morphine”.
“Poor Ravi”, cried the girl, “couldn’t you smuggle some for him?”
“Hard job with those turnkeys, but I have already done that.” And he related stories about his being together with Singh in a Deaddiction Centre, other places.
Her responsive exclamations, questions, and expressions established rapport between the two and confirmed that she was Singh’s wife. He gathered the couple lived in comparative comfort, and she was a well-educated woman. She, however, uttered nothing about her husband’s offences or of any persons connected with them.
Stanly who had introduced himself as Steward suggested and the girl slipped on her coat and hat and walked with Stanly to Police Headquarters where Stanly’s fellow detectives convinced her that her husband had already received a small hypodermic syringe as Stanly alias Steward had told her. Mrs. Singh was now in good humor and invited the supposed crook to lunch with her at the Savoy.
At lunch the girl enquired of her new acquaintance what his particular “graft” was. He said he was an expert ‘second storey man’, and gave accounts of bold robberies and clever “tricks” in many cities. Mrs. Singh was convinced that Stanly [or Steward, his assumed name] was an expert “gun” of much expertise.
Steward or Stanly took another chance.“Ravi wanted me to say that you better put the gang wise”, he said and waited for Mrs. Singh’s response.
“Gang, what gang? You mean Dutch and Sweeney.”
“Don’t know,” he played safe, “Ravi didn’t say who they were—just to put them ‘wise.'”
Unexpectedly, she came directly to the point.
“Do you want to make a lot of money?”
Steward or Stanly replied, “Why not?”
“Do you know what they have got Ravi for?” enquired the girl.
“Phoney paper, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Rosy Singh “but Ravinder Singh didn’t write those cheques. I wrote them. If you join me we can make enough money to get your friend Ravi out and be comfortable yourself into the bargain”
“I don’t believe. Never met a woman that was so clever at that sort of game”.
“Oh, you don’t know me. Why, I can copy anything in a few moments—really I can.”
“Too dangerous,” remarked Stanly alias Steward.”I might get settled for ten years.”
“No, you won’t”, she continued.”It’s the easiest thing in the world. All you need do is to pick the mail out of some box with a copper wire and a little piece of wax—and you can’t miss among the letters some cheque made out in payment of a bill. There! You have the bank, and the signature.”
“Then you write to the bank requesting for a new cheque book, sign the name that appears on the cheque. If you can dupe the cashier to handover your messenger a new cheque book you can safely gamble on his paying a cheque signed with the same name.”
“Yes, but watch out. Never overdraw the account. I have made hundreds of cheques and banks have certified without fail!”
Stanly smiled thinly.
“Listen. Make out a fat cheque, then, go to a good store, buy something, tell to forward the cheque to the bank for certification, and that you’ll send for the goods and the change the next or some other day. The bank certifies the cheque, and you get the money.”
“Not always,” said Stanly
Mrs. Singh nodded agreement but added, “Ravinder and I have averaged over two hundred pounds a day for months.”
“Good, but how does the one who writes the cheque identify himself? Say, I go into Harrods, pick out expensive jewellery, tell I am Steward of 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead and the floorwalker says, ‘Sorry, Mr. Steward we don’t know you?’”
“Dangle a few letters to him” instructed Rosy Singh, “Letters and envelopes.”
“From where”, asked Stanly alias Steward?
“Silly boy; Send to yourself through the post, as many as you like.”
The ‘second storey man’ persisted, “But how can I mail myself a letter to 73Forelease Road, Maidenhead when I don’t live there?”
Mrs. Singh smiled, “I’m glad I can disclose a new game I have invented myself. You want letters of identification? Buy a bundle of stamped envelopes and write your own name and address on them in pencil. When received, rub off the pencil address and put down anybody’s address in ink.”
“Rosy,” said Stanly, “You are a genius, you got the gray matter. I’ll do these lucrative errands for you.”
“You can do it in style; on a lucky day if you find a letter and bill head together in the mail, copy and write your request for the cheque book and your order for the goods on printed paper exactly like it. That’s the final touch, you see. We did that with a dentist named M. Budd of 137Burlington Street.
“I give in”, said the second-storey specialist.
They rose and went to her place for a practical lesson.
Zestfully, she said to her would-be cohort.”Now, come to the desk in the French window and see my regular handwriting. She pulled a pad and wrote in a fair, round hand: “Mr. James D. HOWELL”; she continued with changing her slant and said, “Viola! Here is the signature we fooled the Lincoln National Bank with” and with variable orthography she produced the signature that got poor Ravi into trouble; she went on inscribing E. Biers and also wrote ‘poor Ravi’.
“By George, Rosy, a wonder you are! Can you copy my name? “With a flare she wrote, “Stiward”, Stanly’s assumed name with wrong spellings varying a stub and fine point nibs.
“Sure, count me in; we’ll get enough money to get Ravi Bahadur out!”. Saying this, detective Stanly swept the documentary evidence off the desk enough to convict a dozen women and pirated it under Rosy’s wide open eyes.
They were now bosom friends. Rosy advised Stanly, that is, Steward to go, make himself presentable, come back for Indian dinner at the Taj restaurant and hunt for sample mail boxes.
As soon as the fake friend left, Macavity the cat jumped from the old fashioned ventilator. Positioning himself on the writing table, he meowed persistently to Rosy facing him from her chair. Was the friendly animal reminding the thriving forger of something? Perhaps Macavity wanted Rosy to remember who had launched her on a successful crime career.
“Yes, yes, my feline friend”, Rosy played up and repeated lines from T.S.Eliot’s ode to Macavity after whom Rosy and Ravi had named this street cat:
“And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled.
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’- but he’s a mile away.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity. At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
Macavity…..: the Napoleon of Crime!”
Rosy sweet-talked to the proud, haughty, criminal cat: “You are of Indian origin like me; you like milk, not meat; carrots not parrots; peas and ground nuts; not fish or greasy omelets, you are a vegetarian. At this, Napolean of Crime jumped high and thumped on the table scattering pad, papers and pens in all directions.
Rosy brought a bowl of milk and gently offered it to the animal who after sitting in her lap for a while departed nonchalantly leaving Rosy Singh lost in memories: How on a Sunday morning, Macavity had snatched from an urchin a bundle of envelops he was trying to fish out from the Post Box at the street’s edge with a copper wire, its probing end twisted into a lump of wax. Macavity, as a practiced looter leapt to and pawed the booty, firmly held it in his mouth, ran to Rosy and Ravi, placed it before their feet and disappeared into the back street.
The loving couple had accepted the gift most graciously. Sitting on a nearby park bench they opened envelops and found several cheques in payment of bills. Together they schemed and conspired to turn the dear animal’s gift into perpetual moolah. And they never looked back. Macavity was now on friendly visiting terms and they shared their secrets with him openly.
Rosy also recalled how they had argued and debated about going against their middle class norms. They had been reading Sartre’s Being And Nothing, the Bible of Existentialism: Existence is absurd. Life has no meaning. Death is the ultimate absurdity. One is born by chance; one dies by chance. There is no God. This Human Condition demands that one must make use of freedom; only freedom of choice can allow one to escape “nausea” and authenticate one’s existence. That means one must not merely think but act even if it means going against one’s grain! Together they had shouted: Let’s break out of this bourgeois shell and be born again. And they took the so-called existentialist leap on that weekend in a London Park.
She broke off from her reverie. Got up and dressed for meeting her dinner guest at the Taj, St. James Court. Stanly alias Steward was waiting for her a few steps away. Both walked together when a cop accosted them and rudely said to Steward, the sleuth pretending as a criminal:”What are you doing here in London? I gave you only five hours to fly the cage? And who’s this woman?”
“I was going”, answered Steward”;“honest I am leaving; this lady’s okay; hasn’t done a thing.”
“Well, I must lock you up at Headquarters for the night,” said Eric Rump rudely, “The girl can go.”
“Oh, Mr.Rump, have dinner with us”, implored Mrs. Rosy Singh, “my friend hasn’t had anything to eat, he is hungry”
“Nothing doing, Miss” and Rump led Steward alias Stanly in the opposite direction. That was a preplanned police stratagem.
Steward never came back but a couple of hours later a ruffianly yokel knocked at Rosy’s door. He said he was Sweeney and, Mr. Ravinder Bahadur Singh, now behind the bars, had sent him to get morphine. He said he was her husband’s trusted cock, done things together and was just released from the same jail.
Mrs. Singh listened to him forbearingly and said, “But I do not know you”. She had become extra careful about strangers after the catastrophic fiasco with Steward alias Stanly though she did not yet know that he was a police detective and only pretending to be Ravi’s jail mate.
She gazed into Sweeney’s eyes and said, “What morphine you are talking about? My husband is no addict. He is a decent gentleman of royal lineage”.
Sweeny got up, said, “couldn’t care less” and hurtled toward the door.
Meanwhile, hand-writing experts testified that the E. Biers and other signatures were as perfect as originals and Mrs. Rosy Singh was, indeed, a “free hand” forger. Her forgeries were written by a muscular imitation of the pen movement of the writers of the genuine signatures, nearly impossible to detect.
The police, now confident of getting the real forger convicted, freed Ravinder Bahadur Singh but advised him not to leave London.
Ravinder was a jealous and suspicious husband though Rosy was a loving wife and eager to find ways to help her husband escape from the clutches of law. She was totally in the dark about his having been let off by the police.
She was happily surprised when after midnight Ravinder walked in. He was not his usual self and very inarticulate. It seems the sleuths had been telling tales about his wife having another companion and doing brisk business unaffected by his absence. Perhaps he was angry because his wife had refused to send dope through Sweeney.
The loving couple had never quarreled before but tonight Ravinder became furiously violent without reason. After a few drinks, he started thrashing her delicate wife. She was shocked, seriously injured and fell unconsciousness. Ravinder quietly slithered from the scene.
She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.
On top of that, a few hours later that Sunday noon she was taken into custody by a posse of police. Stanly, the detective had accompanied them.