I walked into the new pub just before seven, nearly twenty minutes before our appointment. I was meeting my friend, the retired police inspector, whose views on time keeping sometimes bordered on the extreme. I ordered a cold pint and sat down at a table facing the bar. I drew a long sip of the smooth beer giving thanks for the miracle of water, barley, hops and a bit of carbon. I wondered aloud, “How on earth did they make it taste so good?”
I looked around the room now as more punters strolled in giggling like eager school children with faces all lit up in anticipation of the first pint. Seated at the table to my right a young lady was flicking the pages of a magazine. As I sipped my pint a young man came up to the table. He leaned forward and said to her, “ We ready?” She smiled at him and nodded. He placed his canvas bag at the foot of the table and sat down opposite her, reaching for his glass of coke. By now more punters were streaming in, both men and women finding seats for themselves. The more excited ones preferred to stand at the bar. This was quite a small pub.
The lady at the table next to me now got up and gracefully eased her way up to the bar. It was becoming quite busy here now as friends met with colleagues, bought each other rounds and caught up with the latest news. The music was getting louder making it necessary for the punters to shout to one another. There was the usual good natured shoving to get the barman’s attention.
More people poured into the pub. One of the newcomers turned out to be my friend. And he was five minutes late. He came over and quickly ordered a round. Our drinks soon arrived as we were exchanging pleasantries. My friend said that he had been unsure about parking and had opted to drive home to South B and take a taxi back here. I agreed that this made sense, especially if we were going to make a night of it.
We chatted for a while and I asked my friend if there was fresh information about the statements that he had promised. “ There are a couple of police and witness statements, nothing much. You must remember this was over 30 years ago.” He said. “Come by the office on Monday and see for yourself.” I nodded gratefully taking another sip of the fine beer.
There seemed to be some kind of commotion brewing at the bar area. The punters were all talking in an agitated sort of way. Someone uttered a loud shriek and said “Wooiii I have been robbed. My wallet is gone! Help. Someone call the police!”
One by one the punters at the bar patted themselves and on discovering their loss joined in calling for help. Someone suggested that the doormen should lock all the doors and conduct body searches. Another called to his friends go with him to see if the culprits were hiding, perhaps in the toilets.
I asked my friend what to make of the unfolding drama. “Stay calm and carry on drinking. The police will soon be here and they’ll get to the bottom of the matter, though I doubt they will find any wallets in these premises.” He signaled to the waiter for more drinks.
I guessed that his comment was to indicate that the perpetrator(s) would have left the pub long before the first victim noticed the crime. I tried to think whether I had noticed any suspicious activity before the ex-policeman arrived. As far as I could recall the bar area punters had been having a jolly of a time. They were all office-suite types and all seemed familiar to one another. There was no way that they could have been robbed by one of their own, surely.
As if reading my mind, my pal asked, “Did you notice anything unusual, seated here facing the bar?” I shook my head slowly and said, “Well the crowd at the bar were a bit loud but it was all good natured – the Man’Ure Aresn hole, Chelski type of banter, nothing serious, you know?”
The doormen opened the doors now to let in the officers of the law. The senior policeman strode to the bar, introduced himself and explained that his officers would make searches and then take statements. The searches did not yield anything, just as my friend had suspected. It was decided that the bar would have to close immediately. The police asked for a copy of the cctv recording for the evening. The bar man now told the shocked gathering that the system had been out of order for the past 3 weeks . The management were aware of this.
The statements done, we were free to leave. The police concluded that the pub had been hit by professional pickpockets. There were several teams operating in the area. This would be the focus of their investigations. In plain english, just forget your wallets and money, go home and be more careful next time.
We were back at south B at my pal’s local. He said, “Pickpockets often sit watching the bar area to see which pocket the marks put their money in.” It is fairly easy then to finger the pockets without the mark paying the slightest notice. Do you remember anyone sitting facing the bar area?”
I suddenly remembered the pretty lady with the young lad. As I described her to him I could see a tiny smile beginning at the inspector’s lips. In his eyes there was a far-away look. He asked, “Did you notice, think carefully now, did you see a hint of a limp as she walked?”
“Yes I did inspector, do you know this woman? Is she the thief?” I asked, getting all excited. The inspector made a call on his cell. He spoke quietly for several minutes and then hang up. He looked at his phone thoughtfully
“Hmmm. The wallets and purses – valuables and cash missing of course – were found dumped in a rubbish bin outside the pub about an hour ago.” He said looking at me intently. “A woman and young boy matching the description you have just given me were seen hopping onto a number 63 bus around the time the thefts were discovered. Now last weekend there was a similar incident at a pub nearly half a mile away. The wallets were dumped in an alley in this case and an old man and young girl were spotted jumping onto a bus.”
“So is this someone that you know, a criminal from your past?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, chap, it is just a suspicion that I have because of the disguises. I think we are done here. I will tell you all about it over a nice bottle of Kavosia.” He said, smiling.
So here we were just before midnight stepping into the inspector’s house. The place was in total darkness. He flicked a switch but no light came so he cursed the “dark forces” under his breath.
“There’s a box of candles in the kitchen. I’ll just find them then we can see what we are doing. Have you got a light?”
I offered him my blue cigarette lighter which he struck several times without luck. “Pengine the gas is over, try this one,” I said slipping him the red one. He flicked this one too but it would not spark, the flint was dead. He used the flint from the first lighter to spark the gas in the second one setting a flame to the candle and then there was light. Together we cursed the lousy cheap imported lighters from the far-east.
Using the reliable candlelight we located some glasses and the large bottle of brandy. We retired to the sitting room where the inspector fished out a couple of Havana cigars from a secret panel above the fireplace. With drinks served and blasts lit my host settled into his favourite armchair. He cleared his throat and said “I suspect that the incident tonight was the work of a former adversary of mine. A very talented and extremely prolific crook who ran rings around the entire police force in the early 2000s. She specialised in pickpocketing and confidence tricks but she ran high class scams targeting the so-called great and the good. She was never caught red-handed. I personally arrested her twice but on each occasion her case was thrown out due to insufficient evidence.”
“Wow, did she have well-connected friends, then?” I wondered.
“It was difficult to say”, he answered. “Remember that most of her targets were well heeled public and private individuals. She scammed jewellery, fine arts and plots of land. She lived the jet set life-style with the best of them.
“I was coming up for my retirement in 60 days when she pulled an audacious plan to scam the police commissioner himself. It was almost as if she was daring us to try and catch her. The commissioner allowed his standards to slip. He’d been officiating at a prize giving day in a City primary school. As the event came to a close the commissioner was approached by a young man of Indian descent who asked if he could help his mother sell some gold bars.”
“The greedy commissioner took the bait. He made contact with the lady, who revealed that she needed money urgently to pay for her poorly husband’s treatment. It was all straight forward. She showed him the chest full of gold bars – their life savings, she said – The woman named her price but our hard-working commissioner managed to haggle forcing her to accept half the asking price. The woman insisted on carrying out the exchange in a busy public place.”
The plan was that the gold would be placed behind the telephone box at the end of Wabera street and the commissioner was to leave the money in a briefcase at the bottom of a bench on the other side of the street.” I was amongst many detectives drafted in that afternoon to ensure that the operation went smoothly. We believed this was a sting operation to capture a well-known smuggler.
“As the commissioner watched, a dozen young women, all dressed in the full niqab approached the bench. They gathered around it for a moment and then disappeared down the road taking the briefcase with them, niqabs flowing in the wind. Looking back at the phone box he noticed that the courier had delivered the gold. He ran back and grabbed the box, throwing the lid off. It was as he had feared. 24 cans of Redds on a tray and a note saying “Have a good weekend Mr commissioner. Xxx”
“That evening the commissioner was quietly admitted to the Mental Health Institute at Gigiri having suffered a complete nervous breakdown. To this day nobody knows the sum of money that he lost. Most believed that it was a huge amount. They said that they would not be surprised if the woman finally retired. And you know what, that was the last anyone heard of her.”
I refilled our glasses and settled back on the settee. I asked the inspector, “You haven’t mentioned her name all this time, what was her name? Or did she go by so many aliases that you just couldn’t keep up?” He replied, “There is no doubt she switched between multiple identities as she scammed her way around the country but the name that we hold on record is Ms Amina Wambui Suleiman.
If Amina Suleiman is back in the city we can expect some excitement over the next few weeks and months