Monday, May 1, 2017

The Elementals - Part 3 of 4

Arlan was so seriously lost in his thoughts that he did not even know when he had arrived at the museum. He remained seated in the car thinking far too many things. It was only when a car parked near him drove off honking loudly that Arlan was startled and he noticed where he was and Arlan finally decided that he had wasted enough of his time. Arlan slowly got out of the vehicle walking towards the museum.

As Arlan was walking in, Arlan studied the walls of the museum and saw that the walls of the museum had revolving cameras affixed on it. The cameras studied both the road outside and also the museum grounds inside the wall.

As Arlan was watching the cameras, Arlan made a sudden realization that he had been hasty as he had stepped out of his office. If he hoped to solve the theft at the museum, then he needed to talk with the bank manager, whom Arlan had helped a few years back. Though the help that the bank manager was to give him was strictly not legal, because it was a simple thing, the manager had agreed to help him.

Arlan whipped out his cell phone, dialing the office number.

"Reva?" Arlan said as soon as the call was connected.

"Yes," Revathi's voice came on the call as Arlan heard her talking to Ganesh in the background. Arlan wondered whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that Ganesh had made it to office.

And Arlan was more than sure that Revathi would find some simple work for Ganesh and keep him engaged. And then as he was thinking that, Arlan felt really grateful to Revathi. Despite everything, she was brilliant at her job and also his best friend. That was half the reason, he found handling things so easy.

"Reva, remember that bank manager, whom we helped about a year back?" Arlan asked. He knew that he did not need to give any further details about it. Revathi, rarely forget a case of the people connected with it.

"Yes," Revathi said. "What about him?"

"I called in a favour and asked him to give me some details. I do not have his number. He said he would call me. If the manager calls the office, can you just give him my number?" Arlan asked.

"Will do!" Revathi said.

Arlan was about to cut the call when Revathi spoke again. "Arlan, what case did you give Kira? She just left office in a hurry," Revathi said.

"I asked her to look into Mrs. Kirpan's husband's case." Arlan replied. "Why?"

"Kira was just talking in her cell phone and suddenly left, before I could ask her. That was all." Revathi said. "I will have to bill Kira's timing. That is why."

"Feel free to bill Mrs. Kirpan," Arlan said dryly. "And honestly Revathi, after watching Mrs. Kirpan, I have decided that I am never getting married. Ever!" Arlan said in a solemn voice, rolling his eyes, as he could hear Revathi's throaty laugh on the phone.

"There are other nice ladies, Arlan. Someone will definitely interest you," Revathi continued.

"Yeah, whatever." Arlan said cutting the call. His non-existent social life was really not something he wanted to discuss with Revathi, right now.

Arlan was standing outside the museum, as he was looking at the main road from the gate of the museum. This was not one of the main roads of the city and road at this time had sparse traffic. Right opposite the museum was the railway museum. Both the museums were run by the same management, but had their own staff. The railway museum had their own underground tunnel system, which had toy trains which kids could drive around. Arlan smiled as he remembered one of the trips he had made there from the times he was in an orphanage. That was one of the better times that he had had there.

Just near the railway museum opposite was a huge park. But then that was no surprise. Even now, one of the greatest tourist attractions for Sthapan was the fact that the city had plenty of parks. Almost every single road had at least one park. The other side of the museum was a huge mall which had been recently built. People in and around the city had opposed to the mall coming up in the place, because they all feared that the mall would increase the traffic in the place. But eventually, the mall did come up. And the traffic also increased. But then the people in Sthapan rarely complained about the traffic. That was also one of the better things about the place. People here accepted the traffic as a part of life and did not bicker too much about it.

Arlan then turned his attention to the museum – the Karankar Art Gallery, the one from which a painting worth a few crores, had been stolen a week back. The thief had been really ingenious. They had removed the painting without touching the glass case and also without the guards noticing. And though all the people who entered and left the building were searched, the thief had managed to get the painting out even without the guards noticing.

And Arlan was more than certain that the guards were involved.

Arlan figured that it was impossible for the theft to have been carried out without the knowledge of the guards. Arlan was just hoping to talk to the curator here and know more and to ask about any security guards who raised any suspicious flags.

Arlan was still at the gate of the museum and saw that on the left of the museum was the post office and the right was an open playground. The distance between the gate of the museum to the inner building was considerably longer than he had previously imagined. It seemed almost more than 100 feet.

Arlan was slowly walking towards the museum, as he saw the huge dome of the museum and below it the single entrance and right now there were four guards standing there. And as Arlan neared the museum, he found Mr. Lorik Khurana, coming out talking with his secretary. Arlan frowned trying to remember the name of the secretary as he reached the inner building.

Arlan paid for his ticket of the museum, outside at the counter and he was about to enter the main building when he heard Mr. Khurana talking loudly with his secretary.

"...Mr. Joshi?" Khurana was saying, angrily. "He has not been punctual lately."

"Mr. Joshi just called and said that he is coming. He is driving from Nirwalk sir," The soft voice of the secretary reached Arlan.

And the guard just finished checking him, and conversation inside ceased as Arlan realized that Mr. Khurana had spotted him. And Arlan was very impressed when he saw that Mr. Khurana recognized him almost immediately. Arlan also saw that Mr. Khurana was very annoyed. Not with him, but with the security guard.

"What was the point of checking him now?" Khurana demanded from the guard angrily. The guard was about to say something as Khurana angrily silenced the man. "The painting is already gone," Khurana barked at the guard who was an wizened old short man, with graying hair looking very unhappy studying the floor.

Arlan was feeling very sorry for the guard as Mr. Khurana continued, "And he is the detective who is going to find it," Khurana finished angrily thumbing at Arlan, as the guard still did not say anything, but the guard was beginning to look grumpy.

Arlan initially through that Mr. Khurana was angry with him too. But then, Arlan decided that if he lost a very expensive painting he would also be this grouchy and not just at one or two people. But at everyone, in general.

"He is just doing his job, Mr. Khurana." the secretary told Khurana in a soothing voice, as the guard looked sullen as Arlan walked near Khurana, looking around the museum.

Like all other museums, this one was big too and looking around Arlan could see that the museum was built in an area of a few acres. As soon as Arlan entered the museum, the first room after the security counter was the curator's office. And from there the grandness of the museum was clearly visible. The roof of this place was dome-shaped and made of glass. Beside the curator's office ran long corridors on both sides. Seven rooms on each side and each room housing many valuable things.

A week back, when Arlan was first contacted, Arlan learnt that the paintings were kept inside the glass casing and that the glass casing was connected to the alarm in the reception area. And all the rooms supposedly had cameras. The corridors of the museum were all neat and tidy and well-spaced and looked almost sickeningly perfect to Arlan – from the space to each room to the dust bins outside each room it was spic and span and watching it made Arlan nearly throw up.

Arlan could not explain it, but somehow watching things in clean and straight order always disrupted his way of thinking. It almost seemed like Arlan thrived in chaos and things in an orderly fashion always put him off.

"The painting was about to be taken downstairs for repairing it, Mr. Karnik! Which is why, the alarm to the glass case of that painting had been deactivated." Mr. Khurana – tall, plump and well-built man with balding hair and black eyes told Arlan, as he went inside his room, as Arlan followed the man and his secretary. "The painting was there during the day and when we were about to close the museum for the day, the paintings had disappeared." The way Mr. Khurana was ranting as he angrily sat on the desk, Arlan was willing to bet all the money that he had, on what Mr. Khurana was going to say next.

Arlan was right.

"I AM SURE THIS IS A WORK OF THE ELEMENTALS." Khurana said thumping the desk angrily. "Some idiot with the super powers to walk through walls must have taken this away," Khurana said still shouting. "Mark my words, Jayanthi!" Khurana thundered. "These freaks are a mistake. They need to be stopped."

If Elementals were using their powers to steal museums, Arlan would be feeling very stupid to even call himself an Elemental. Arlan almost said it out aloud, and then at the last minute, his survival skill kicked in, making sure Arlan kept silent. And, besides Arlan suddenly remembered that the name of the secretary was Jayanthi Nataraj. Arlan saw Jayanthi Nataraj's starched saree and noted her sharp eyes as she was listening to Mr. Khurana and Arlan felt an immense respect for the woman. Because she oozed efficiency and Arlan realized almost immediately, that Jayanthi was someone like Revathi. And Arlan made it a point never to annoy women like that. Arlan was wondering though about what happened to the woman's ring, which she probably had been wearing until recently.

"Any ideas why the Elementals want to take that painting, Mr. Khurana?" Arlan asked as he was looking around the museum.

And Mr. Khurana spluttered angrily when he heard Arlan, because Mr. Khurana could not think of anything to say and more particularly, Mr. Khurana really was not expecting anyone to talk back on this point.

Arlan was still looking around thinking what Revathi had once told him. That he had a big mouth, which put off most of their clients. Arlan took a deep breath and decided that if he just kept his mouth shut, there was a slim chance that he could actually solve this problem, without giving himself a headache.

Khurana, Arlan and Jayanthi were still inside the curator's office, as Arlan saw that the curator had a huge, imposing room and Arlan could see that Mr. Khurana despite being in a belligerent mood was actually a man of refined tastes. The paintings in the curator's room were beautiful without being gawdy and actually enhanced the beauty of the room. Everything about the room spoke about a man who loved the arts and made efforts to keep the arts safe. Arlan watched Jayanthi, whose office was adjacent to this room as Arlan wondered what sort of decoration, he would find in Jayanthi's room.

The reasons for the observation about the curator's room were very important to Arlan. If Arlan's theory was correct, then the prime candidate for the theft was the curator himself. Even before coming to the museum, Arlan was 99% sure that the curator was not involved in the theft. Now on watching the man, Arlan was 100% sure that it was not the curator.

Arlan let the man rant on for some time, as he walked towards the edge of the curator's room and saw that the curator's office was in the middle where the roof was dome-shaped.

The Arlan nodded as he again walked inside the curator's room and sat on the chair there. "Tell me a little more about the painting," Arlan said absently drumming on the table, as the secretary nodded at the two men and left them alone, walking out of the room.

Mr. Khurana looked at Arlan almost smiling and Arlan was instantly suspicious wondering what he had asked, to warrant this reaction from the man.

And a second later, a very depressed Arlan realized why the man had been so happy. "That painting – the Queen in the palanquin," Mr. Khurana said with something of a flourish, "...it was commissioned to be painted by the royals of Sthapan, close to eighty years back," the curator started in a formal voice, as Arlan watched the man aghast.

"I do not want a history class." Arlan said harshly, interrupting Mr. Khurana, looking horrified. And looking at the curator, Arlan was sure that he would have even told Arlan the exact paints used for the painting. That piece of information was sure to bring on his headache. And it was a completely and utterly useless piece of information for him.

"I am sure some very famous person painted it somewhere," Arlan said almost snarling, struggling to control himself with great difficulty. "Which room was the painting kept in?" Arlan asked, still looking horrified.

The curator turned beet red and for a small second, Arlan wondered whether the man was going to have him thrown out of the office. In fact Arlan was about to launch into a lengthy defense in his favour explaining that he was here to find the painting not paint it. And there was a part of Arlan, which was still feeling that the curator was unduly stupid. When Arlan said that he wanted information on the painting, it had to be obvious that Arlan wanted information about the painting which was relevant to him. Arlan could still not believe what the curator expected him to do, after he knew who painted the painting for whom.

Arlan could see Mr. Khurana watch him with growing anger and then slowly, the curator seemed to realize that it was really not worth his time to get angry at Arlan. "The painting was kept in the last room in the left hand corridor," Mr. Khurana said sullenly, as Mr. Khurana got up walking out of his room and pointing left. Arlan smiled to himself as he turned and that saw that the room from where the painting was stolen was special because that room was the only one which would not be visible either from the curator's office or the security counter.

"The painting was stolen in the afternoon?" Arlan asked as he watched Khurana, as he saw Jayanthi, making her way inside her room.

Khurana nodded angrily.

"Many people there in the museum at that time?" Arlan asked.

Khurana shook his head and that hardly surprised Arlan. He was yet to meet anyone who went to museums on the afternoons. If someone was really desperate to kill time, there were better places to do that. Museums probably did not even figure in the top ten of such places.

"Cameras of that room?" Arlan asked.

Mr. Khurana for the first time since the conversation had started looked embarrassed. "The camera in that room was broken ten days back," Mr. Khurana said looking annoyed.

Arlan almost said that news was perfect, when he realized that comment would probably get him thrown out of the museum. The curator would not understand the significance of that piece of news.

"Will you do anything instead of just sitting there and asking useless questions?" Mr. Khurana demanded angrily.

"I couldn't paint it for you, even if I tried," Arlan said dryly.

Mr. Khurana spluttered angrily, as Arlan shook his head, deciding that he had to keep his personal comments to himself and give Mr. Khurana some breathing space. Otherwise, the theft in the museum was going to be the least of Mr. Khurana's problems.

"You said the camera was broken ten days back?" Arlan asked Mr. Khurana, trying to look serious and failed. Which was why, Arlan settled for the next thing, and he was watching the left side of the corridor with great seriousness, just to make sure that no one noticed that he was trying his best not to laugh like a hyena.

"Yes," Mr. Khurana continued as a security guard from the counter was walking towards them. The name on the guard's shirt read Kiral Mern and the guard looked like all the other guards listened to him. "Our security chief – Nahar Joshi told me about it and that we needed a new camera there," Mr. Khurana continued.

"And you did not get a new camera immediately?" Arlan asked.

Mr. Khurana saw Kiral Mern looking a little angrily. "The shop where we get our equipment from was closed for the holidays. It would open only during the weekend. That was why I could not get it immediately," Mr. Khurana said as the guard was again studying the floor.

Arlan nodded. And that was when his cell phone rang. Arlan picked it and saw that it was the bank manager. Arlan quickly nodded to the two of them as he walked away from them and answered the call.

"No changes in the account, Mr. Karnik," the bank manager said without any preamble. "It has been exactly the way it should be."

"No sudden outflow or influx of money?" Arlan asked quietly.

"Nothing," the manager insisted.

Arlan nodded slowly. "That was all I wanted. Thank you very much," Arlan said cutting the call.

"So am I still the main suspect, Mr. Karnik?"

Arlan turned to see a slightly short and thin man, with gray hair and the brightest twinkling gray eyes. Even as the man was talking to him, Arlan realized that the man was looking more amused and less worried. The man was small and lithe on his feet despite being old. And for a brief second Arlan thought he saw the man's hands were slightly hazy and greenish. But then Arlan shook his head as he saw everything back to normal.

"You are?" Arlan asked, though he knew the answer to that question.

The curator was about to open his mouth when the man shook his head, "Mr. Karnik, please do not pretend to be an idiot. I find that irritating," the man continued watching Arlan with a grin.

"Alright Mr. Nahar Joshi." Arlan said watching the man. "Let us talk." Arlan watched the man almost completely ignoring the curator and the other security guard, who walked back to his station looking relieved, when Mr. Joshi came near Arlan. "That room where the painting was kept is the last room in this corridor. Anybody could enter the room and not be noticed either by the curator here or by the guards in the security counter. That made the camera to that room important and strangely that was broken and before it could be replaced the painting was stolen." Arlan smiled dryly. "Almost screams to be an inside job. Because only someone working in the museum, could have known about the broken camera."

The curator watched Nahar Joshi blankly like as if Arlan was suddenly talking some other language. And it looked to Arlan like Mr. Khurana had suddenly revised his opinion of Arlan. Arlan hoped that the man did not think that he was always an idiot. Arlan did do something useful sometimes.

"You?" Mr. Khurana asked, whispering, as he watched Mr. Joshi blankly.

"No!" Arlan said watching Mr. Khurana shaking his head. "Two things go against that, Mr. Khurana – This man has worked in this very museum for the past 20 years and secondly, there has been no sudden change in either his bank balance to prove that the man was in need of money," Arlan continued still studying Joshi.

"You do research your cases well, don't you?" Mr. Joshi asked smiling as he watched Arlan with respect.

"Keeps me in business," Arlan said. Arlan watched Mr. Joshi for a few seconds and then nodded. "So that means the next thing to consider is...."

"...The guards working under me." Mr. Joshi interrupted in the soft voice, nodding at Arlan. "Probably I am getting sloppy. Probably, I employed someone without properly checking them out."

Arlan said nothing as he watched Mr. Joshi for some time.

"You really care a lot about these paintings!" Arlan said nodding to himself. "So I am fairly certain that you had nothing to do with this theft!"

"Your vote of confidence means a lot to me," Mr. Joshi said dryly as he watched Arlan.

"It would be of great help to me if I could see the records of your security guards working under you." Arlan said. The other guards were all further back and none of them could hear the dialogue between the two people. Though, Kiral Mern seemed to be trying to come towards them and then not doing anything, the man walked back to his station.

And leaving the curator still looking shocked, Arlan followed the chief of security.

"Where do you keep the records?" Arlan asked as he caught up with the Mr. Joshi.

"Basement," Mr. Joshi continued, pointing below the floor. "All the cameras in the building give a feed to my office at the basement. Another camera feed goes to the curator's office. And I also keep my other important stuff in the basement."

Arlan watched the old security guard – Kiral Mern, whom Mr. Khurana had yelled twice now, as he was walking down the stairs.

Arlan nodded at Kiral Mern, as he asked Mr. Joshi. "Who is that man? Seems to be working here for a really long time."

Mr. Joshi saw whom Arlan was pointing at and grinned. "That is Kiral Mern. An old timer. We both joined the security business at the same time. I trust him." Mr. Joshi said simply. "And he is not usually like this," Mr. Joshi said. "He is usually very calm and collected." Mr. Joshi frowned as he saw Arlan. "Kiral did call me up yesterday saying that he was unwell and probably could not come to office today," Mr. Joshi sighed shaking his head. "But Khurana being very annoyed and all that, I guess Kiral decided to come to office," Mr. Joshi said shrugging.

Arlan saw Kiral and Arlan again saw some green hazy hue around Kiral's hands. Arlan shook his head trying to clear his vision, wondering what was wrong with him.

"You said you trust him?" Arlan repeated. There was a sudden annoyance in Mr. Joshi's voice and Arlan wondered why. "The basement has important stuff necessary for the security of the museum. I trust Kiral enough to give him the other key to the basement," Mr. Joshi watched Arlan. "We two are the only two people who can access the basement," Mr. Joshi continued in a gruff voice, as he was pulling out a key from his pocket. Arlan smiled as the man pulled out his car key instead.

Mr. Joshi sighed as he put the car keys back and pulled out another key, still walking towards the basement.

"And where were you when I came inside the museum?" Arlan asked. "Kiral and Jayanthi were facing the ire of the boss for you being late." Arlan said deliberately.

"I live in Nirwalk. It takes time driving from there," Mr. Joshi said sighing, shaking his head. They walked towards the basement as Mr. Joshi continued. "And the reason Mr. Khurana still employs me is that I have been around for a long time and know the flaws in the system almost better than most people. Though nowadays, you just cannot be careful."

"You are talking about the Elementals?" Arlan asked feeling a little sad.

Mr. Joshi snorted much to Arlan's surprise. "Elementals would not waste their talents in this type of things," Mr. Joshi said snapping, looking almost angry. "Any Elemental in the city would be more bothered about their own survival than the art pieces stored here." Mr. Joshi smiled mirthlessly as he continued. "No, I am more bothered because people do not understand the importance of why these art pieces need to be saved. They think it is pretty. That is all!"

"What other reasons are there to appreciate art?" Arlan asked curiously as he came near the man. Mr. Joshi switched on the lights and the basement was lit up in brilliant lights as Arlan was walking with the man towards the centre of the basement, from where the man presumably ran everything.

"Art is important, because it shows people what you could do, when you use your creativity well, instead of just letting it rot inside you." Mr. Joshi said emphatically.

Arlan smiled without meaning to.

"You think it is funny," Mr. Joshi asked, a little annoyed.

Arlan shook his head. "I seriously lack creativity. Which probably explains why I am and where I am. I probably could not pick up any arts if my life depended on it."

Mr. Joshi watched Arlan for a few seconds.

"So how do you know an Elemental?" Mr. Joshi asked him suddenly.

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