Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Short Fiction: A Vodka Story


The policeman escorting me stopped at the door of the Magistrate’s chamber and talked to a turbaned peon in hushed tones. He had promised to save me the ignominy of standing in queue along with the accused in petty cases for the afternoon session of the Court. The shopping bag containing the booty recovered from my car was in his hands.

It had been a pleasant drive from Bangalore that morning. Instead of the direct route to my destination, Calicut via Sultan’s Battery, I happened to pick up a hitchhiker and took the road through Bandipur – Madumalai Wild Life Sanctuary. A part of it was in Tamil Nadu State, which I could have bypassed. But the drive along the route was exhilarating.

We stopped at the check post on the Tamil Nadu side of the border. A squat Head Constable accompanied by his assistant and a politician-looking young man took their time coming to the car.

After checking my driving license and the registration papers of the car, the Head Constable asked, “Are you carrying any alcohol?”

I suddenly remembered that Tamil Nadu State had prohibition those days and thanked my stars for not buying liquor at Bangalore where it was cheaper, to carry home.

“No,” I answered.

“What’s in that?” he questioned, pointing to the small bag kept on the back seat.

“I don’t know. It is a present. Haven’t opened it yet.” When I was leaving Bangalore, the friend with whom I was staying had placed it there saying, ‘Here’s something for you’.

The constable opened the bag and triumphantly took out a bottle and examined it carefully. “Vodka,” he said loudly. “There’s one more.”

The Head Constable nodded. “Do you have,” he asked, “a permit to carry liquor in Tamil Nadu?”

”No,” I said. “Look here, I was on my way to Calicut.”

“Should have been on that road, not on this.”

“But I was stopped and told that there’s rouge elephant blocking that road.”

The policeman laughed. “Not a dinosaur?” he asked sarcastically. “Who told you this fib?”

“The man,” I replied, “to whom I gave a lift.” I looked around for him but the fellow had vanished.

“Did he stop you at the turning to Calicut?”

“Yes.”

The Head Constable gave me an amused look. He got into the car and sat next to me. “Drive,” he ordered.

“Where to?”

“The Court,” he replied. “I’ll tell you the way.”

I thought of protesting, but kept quiet. I was thinking of a way to get out of the mess.

There was a big crowd just off the road half a mile from the check post. “What’s happening?” I asked.

“Cinema shooting. Some of the top stars are there. Your travel companion must be in the crowd”

Bastard, I said under my breath.

“Would you like me to pick him up?” the policeman asked. “Of course it won’t help you. He would deny everything. But I can shake him up pretty bad.”

“No point.”

“Actually,” the cop said after a while, “I would have let you go. After all you’re not a smuggler. But that local politician was there.”

“My bad luck,” I said. “How long will the court procedure take?”

“Depends on the number of cases ahead of yours. May be you’ll have to spend a night in the lockup.”

“I want a lawyer.”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll get you the best as soon as we reach the court. But there’s another way.”

“What?”

“I’ll arrange for the Magistrate to see you in his chambers as soon as the Court adjourns for lunch. He’s fed up of these silly cases. You admit the offense and there’ll be a fine. It’ll be over in less than fifteen minutes.”

That seemed to be the best option under the circumstance.

When we passed a tea stall by the roadside the Head Constable asked me to stop.

“The bottles,” he said, “will be confiscated. Why waste good vodka. Can I have it? A return favour.”

I was silent, thinking.

“If not me,” the policeman continued, “the court peon who seals the bottle will take it. Or someone else. What difference does it make to you?”

“What do you plan to do?”

“Do you have any water bottles in the car?”

“There’s one under the seat.”

“That won’t do. You go to the teashop and get two bottles of water. Tell them that the engine seems to be heating up and you need to carry water.”

I did as I was told.

I was asked to stop again after a few minutes. Using the third bottle which was in the car, the policeman executed a transfer trick. When he finished, we had two water bottles filled with vodka, two vodka containers with water, and an empty bottle!

“Clever,” I said. The cop smiled.

The Magistrate was a chubby man. He looked bored. After studying me he announced, “This may appear rather informal, but the Court is now in session.” Then turning to me he asked, “Do you require a lawyer?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“Good. They talk too much and waste the Court’s time.”

The policeman briefly explained the case including my claim that I landed up in Tamil Nadu inadvertently. He took out the bottles and placed them on the Magistrate’s table. After scrutinizing them the Magistrate said, “We haven’t seen this brand here. Must be expensive. Made in Sweden.”

“Only the container, Your Honour,” I said.

The judge gave me a hard look. “And the contents?”

“Water, Your Honour,” I replied without looking at the policeman.

The Magistrate leaned back on his chair and asked me sternly, “Do you know the punishment for perjury?”

“No, Your Honour, but what I stated is the absolute truth.”

“But,” the judge rejoined, “it is written Absolut Vodka on the labels.”

“True, Your Honour,” I said. “But the bottles are filled with water. Your Honour can see that the caps are not sealed.”

The judge examined the bottle caps and frowned. He turned to the policeman and asked, “What do you have to say?”

“Your Honour, I’m sure that what I confiscated was vodka.”

The judge thought for a moment and pronounced, “Since there is dispute about the contents of the bottles, we shall send them for lab test.”

“But Your Honour,” I protested, “the verdict will have to wait till the results come.”

The judge looked at me sympathetically and nodded.

“Please, Your Honour,” I pleaded, “the test can be done right here. Vodka will burn. Water will not.”

The judge turned to the policeman and asked, “What do you have to say?”

The Head Constable looked pale. “I apologise to the Honourable Court,” he said. “I didn’t think of that test.”

When we started back the cop went into peals of laughter. “You’re a smart one,” he said. “Escaped the fine.”

I nodded and drove in silence. When we reached the halfway point between the court and the check post I stopped the car, told the cop that the rear tyre appeared to be flat and requested him to check. When he was out of the car I banged the door shut and drove away.


Ends.

Cross posted from:

Short Stories By Abraham Tharakan


4 comments:

islandgal246 said...

Good story and a chuckle.

harimohan said...

that was good xlnt presence of mind is it an anecedote or story ?

Abraham Tharakan said...

islandgal246, thank you. I too thought that it is and amusing story.

Abraham Tharakan said...

You guessed right Harimohan. The story is based on a true incident.