The door was locked.
The cats, beyond the door sounded like they had just knocked something over. “Silly cats.” Taking out the key and turning it in the lock, I didn’t get the usual three-stage series of weighted clicks; instead just a solitary single rotation, signifying a flatmate was home.
No answer, I walk into my room, but catch a glance of Abe’s. “He must be doing washing.” Clothes everywhere. Cupboards open. Something is not right. Thoughts of Abe or his girlfriend in a frenzied argument wander through my brain, as I pass into my room and see a symmetrical display of laundry. Something is definitely not right.
The penny drops at about the same speed as my jaw as I glance round my room. Lenses and camera intact. Passport strewn on the bed. Computer accounted for. I run back into Abe’s room; again I see his camera equipment and computer, and am even more confused. The trifecta of laundry-themed rooms ends in Armando’s, as I run past on the way to the living room, and awaiting brand-new Macbook Pro. What is going on?
Abe. No reply. A quick word with Armando, and he cuts short dinner to run home. Obviously avoiding touching anything at all, I do a quick second sweep of the rooms – the only stuff missing seems to be Abe’s computer and our beloved three-legged cat, Tripod, who is likely hiding in a dark corner somewhere. Armando arrives – pennies and jaws dropping all around.
“What’s the number for emergency services in Taiwan? … 012?”
I try Abe again. No response, so I call Natasha and ruin one more evening.
Time to dive into emergency Chinese, and I dial. The guy on the end of the phone is calm and positive, and he dispatches a policeman to arrive in the next few minutes. Just before hanging up, he compliments me on my Chinese; and even under such stress my ego still pauses to be stroked before I shake myself out of it. Meanwhile, Armando is doing his own sweep of the house, shocked that he had only left home an hour previously at 6:50. We play out the scenario – the door, the lights, the stuff left lying around – nothing quite making sense. I grab the camera, take some shots of each room, and run a video around while narrating what I remember.
My dirty laundry
Abe one more time. Or maybe two. His phone is clearly off.
The first cop arrives, and I rattle off what happened to him. This shit clearly happens all the time, and he calmly listens to our story while he wanders around and takes photos of the most pertinent details. He sits me down and I sign some forms that seem to allow detectives to come in and do a formal inspection. Switching between his Nokia cell phone and radio, he radios for backup, and Armando and I look up to see the househould Hulk cookie jar, well, ajar; it’s head and shoulders telling the story of a very polite burglar taking a peek inside and returning the lid.
The phone rings. A conversation completely out of context is difficult enough to grasp at the best of times, and it was only after a minute that I realised it was the police call centre asking to see if I was ‘satisfied’ with the timely service so far? Satisfied? What… yeah sure. Thanks. Slightly knocked sideways, it seemed all the more natural to strike up a conversation about our cats, while watching the policeman edging towards Datou. A few photos are collected on his official camera; and in mild disbelief I watch as he takes out his cell phone and adds a couple for himself. Are we looking for a cat burglar here?
Datou has a new friend.
More police begin arriving, and questions begin to be asked of the likely location of the other keys. Abe is out of contact, Natasha is on the way, and I don’t even have the cell phone of the landlord. Raised eyebrows, inspection of ID card etc etc. This is getting a bit frustrating.
The CSI dude turns up, and he begins inspecting the main door lock. No joy. Then, his eye wanders over to the window opening into the living room; a brief flash of the light and it’s clear that’s where they came in. Bars block the windows of most houses in Taiwan, and ours is no exception. The only surprise is how easily they prised the bars – with an adjustable spanner, no less. So, let me ask you – if you can get through the bars with such a crude tool, and the bars themselves work as a ladder, what is the freaking point. Strike one for Taiwan. Not in our favour is the fact that we often leave that window open to allow air in, and it was unlikely that it was locked – lesson learnt.
Breaking and entering
Prints are taken on the window, and … Hulk. Gloves. They came and went through the same place, which probably explains the scuffling sound when I arrived. We chat briefly about what to do, and his advice sounds like it is coming from a man that has seen this way, way too often. The adrenaline starts to fade as he leaves, and we assess the damage. Tasha arrives, slightly breathless.
Yes – Hulk. Please take him in for more questioning, by all means…
It’s quite clear straight off the bat that we got away amazingly lightly. A few hundred dollars in American cash, and all the expensive equipment and travel documents are still intact, as far as we can see. But still one cat missing.
Tripod is timid cat at the best of times, but she was not to be found in any of her typical hiding places. I shine a light quickly outside, and nothing. I go and get my camera, and set the flash on, hoping to capture some reflective eyes; nothing. Did they really steal her?
Another shot with the torch, and the other guys hear a loud “meow”. Tripod, except for Gizmo-like sound effects simply does not meow, ever, and I am in disbelief that it is her. Datou, on the other hand, makes a bolt for the window, clearly in distress – what a hero! Some more flash photographs taken down the alleyway, and sure enough it is her, lurking behind an air conditioning unit. I grab a torch, throw on some shoes and run out of the door, with Natasha in hot pursuit.
The rear of the apartment building is dark, dim, and not easy to access. I catch sight of her, and she scampers off (with three legs it’s hard to do much else), and I worry that we are about to start a bizarre game of mouse and cat. But I corner her, and manage to pick her shivering body up. Safe. And I pass her up to Armando, manhandling herself up the bars and into the warm light of the apartment.
Covered in the muck of a million scooters, I head back to join Natasha and walk back around to the apartment entrance. Call Abe a dozen or more times. Talk at length about what the hell just happened, and wait for his arrival. And it was about this point that we realised just ho
w hungry we were. The adrenalin surge comes to an abrupt stop.
We didn’t need to wait to long for Abe to come back. Without wanting to get too dramatic, we walked him through the house, and it was clear that he was as shocked as the rest of us. Turns out his phone had run out of power. It’s at times like this that I realise my daily Chinese skills have definite limits – vocabulary that Abe is talented and dedicated enough to learn. Still, we got through, and in the end what more is there to say? We were amazingly lucky.
We’ll be lodging the full report with the police tomorrow, but until then I have rather an important gathering to attend – the departure of Nick Chaney from Taiwan. But I’ll leave that for the next post.