As soon as Thezin entered the living room of his house, he saw Naheem rubbing his eyes with his palms. It was 2.15 am. Naheem sprang up from the chair, realizing that the time to leave had arrived. Thezin greeted Naheem and said, “I am sorry. We got delayed at the station. Did you inform your family that you would be late?”

“Yes,” said Naheem.

“Fine,” said Thezin. “Come, let me take you to the car. Rezaihan is waiting.”

Naheem said goodbye to Nasreena and Thazleena.

Inside the bedroom, Nasreena and Thazleena sat next to each other, leaning against the headboard of the bed. On one side, Thazeem slept in the same red shirt and black trousers he had worn during the visit to Shameema’s house. After saying goodbye to Rezaihan and Naheem, Thezin flopped down on a chair near the bed.

“Will they free Upa soon?” asked Thazleena.

“I don’t know,” he said, cracking a knuckle. In the deathly silence, the sound was like a bone breaking. “We have to hope for the best. The police wanted us to pay the cost of the necklace, but Upa refused.”

“I agreed with Upa when he told me,” said Nasreena. Everyone stared downwards, lost in their thoughts. They knew there were pros and cons to this proposal. Thezin rubbed his face, to keep sleep at bay. He pointed at his wrist and said, “They confiscated my watch, claiming Upa wore it during the robbery.”

Nasreena and Thazleena stared at Thezin with their mouths open.

“Are they mad?” said Nasreena.

“These people are goondas, hoodlums!” Thazleena raised her voice.

“Speak softly,” said Thezin, as he gazed at his younger brother. “Thazeem might wake up.”

Thezin quickly changed the subject.

He told his mother that he had spoken to Shahul. “Shahul said he would do something tomorrow,” said Thezin. Then, on an impulse, he called Shahul again. Shahul could sense Thezin’s desperation. In a patient voice, Shahul told Thezin he would have to wait till the morning, till he could do something. “I can’t call the SI now,” he said.

Shahul lay on the bed beside his wife and stared upwards. It was so dark he could not see the ceiling. His wife tossed and turned on her side of the bed. It seemed these brief conversations had disturbed her sleep. Shahul realized he did not know Thezin very well. They were just friends on Facebook. He barely knew Thajudheen.

Shahul knew that Thajudheen worked in Qatar. He first spoke to Thajudheen about two years ago when he wanted to take Thezin to a student camp. Shahul worked in the state minority department. They had regular phone conversations, but they rarely met in person. All kinds of thoughts were running through Shahul’s mind – could Thajudheen have stolen the necklace?

He was not sure.

At Thajudheen’s home, the family dispersed to go to sleep. As Thezin lay on his bed, he thought not about his father but Biju. Biju’s behaviour came as a shock to him. Thezin had been an admirer of the police officer. There were videos of Biju on YouTube where he had taken drastic action against people who had broken the law.

In one video, on a sunny evening, a private bus, “MXPlora”, which had a large X painted in white against a background of red and orange, drove past a stop in front of a shop where several schoolgirls with pigtails waited calmly. In Kerala, schoolchildren pay only a minimum fare on buses, irrespective of the distance they travel. So, conductors often try to avoid picking up students as they crowd the bus. When Biju saw this, he shouted and raised his hand. The driver pressed the brakes. Biju gestured with his hands to reverse the bus. When the vehicle reached the stop, Biju stood near the entrance and ensured all the children got in.

One of the reasons Thezin had allowed the cops to take his father to the police station at night was because of Biju’s reputation. Otherwise, he would have called AN Shamseer, their constituency’s MLA, and tried to prevent it from happening. Thezin had a dream of becoming a member of the Indian Police Service, but now he was not so sure. He closed his eyes, turned to one side, and drifted off to sleep.

Excerpted with permission from The Stolen Necklace: A Small Crime in a Small Town, Shevlin Sebastian and VK Thajudheen, HarperCollins India.