On the night of November 5, my laptop vanished into thin air.

I know that sounds preposterous. But you will understand my cynicism when you know all the details.

I remember that evening well. I go to Express Avenue for what was intended to be a short shopping visit ahead of Deepavali. I park my car in the lower-most basement of the city's busiest mall and enter the premises just before 9 p.m. My parking docket number 761701 reads 20:57 as the punch-in time.

I leave my office bag - a black backpack containing a HP 430 laptop - wedged between the back seat and the front before locking the doors. It is something I do to save my back some burden for short-duration stopovers.

Then, there is an impromptu decision to watch a movie. The duration of stay at the mall extends to nearly four-and-half hours later. I leave only around 1.45 a.m.

My car is among the last in the parking mall to leave that night. As I drove out, there are no visible signs of a break in. But when I am about to exit, a suspicion lurks that the laptop bag is probably missing. I decide to retain my parking docket and instead pay a fine of Rs.300 citing loss of ticket.

After leaving Express Avenue, I drive my car to my office, situated nearby. I park and check my car. This is when it becomes clear that the window beadings in the car have been tampered with. My laptop bag is missing, probably taken.

It is easy to break open small cars like my Maruti Alto with the minimum of fuss. There is this simple trick with metal rulers (scales) that most mechanics and drivers know of.

It is already past 2 a.m. and the only thought I have is to first take the car home and allow my wife some rest.

The morning after - November 6 - I seek advice from my colleagues on the best way forward. A colleague tells me that Express Avenue parking has CCTV surveillance and that there is some hope.

I contact the Chief Security Officer at EA. He is out of town but gets one of his subordinates to call me.

I am in touch with the security through the day. By that evening, the officer who is analysing the footage, tells me if I feel like it, I should go ahead with the police complaint. They find nothing suspicious in the footage. I am to meet the Chief Security Officer the next morning.

On the morning of November 8, I meet him. An ex-military man, he is polite. “I truly wish you get your laptop back,” he tells me. “This is the first time such an incident has been reported here."

I ask him about the CCTV footage. "Nothing suspicious in it. We have analysed it. Your car is very visible thankfully because it is right in front view of a camera. But you know the CCTV camera keeps sweeping and panning. So there are usually two to three-minute delays. There was one car that was parked next to yours. But nothing unusual happened."

I find out that I cannot see the CCTV footage directly. "We open our footage only to the police."

That evening I register a complaint with the D2 Anna Salai police station. I visit the police station and the police inspector (crime) asks one of his cops, who is dressed in plainclothes, to go with me to the mall and check on my complaint.

And so with the cop, I make my second visit to the mall that day. This time I have a brief access to the CCTV room with the cop alongside. I see on the monitors several cameras panning, sweeping the entire parking lot. If someone had broken into my car, he is surely captured on camera, I think.

I am to meet the security officers again the next day. As I return home, I was ready to crash. I have not slept a wink in over 48 hours. I am beginning to have my own doubts. Was my laptop really stolen? Or did it just vanish into thin air?

Little do I know that in 24 hours, a suspect would emerge. Out of thin air.

To be continued tomorrow: "The phantom in the video"...

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