The Gang of Poachers
“The Gang of Poachers” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Divyesh Lakhotia, Tagore International School, Jaipur, India.
The Gang of Poachers
Three teenager friends, Amit, Sahil, and Ajay were having a walk in the sunny afternoon of a small village in Sunderbans, which is a forest area of state of West Bengal in India and famous for the Royal Bengal tigers. Sahil suggested, ‘Let’s go to the forest but we won’t go very deep so that we won’t face any tigers since there aren’t any in the outskirts of the jungle.’ They all agreed at once and so they set off for the forest.
They had not gone far when they saw the carcass of a tiger lying near the forest trail but when they reached near it they saw that its tail was missing. The tiger had obviously been poached! Ajay was about to rush towards the forest authorities to inform them but Amit held him back. He said ‘I always wanted a mystery to solve. Why not we do our investigations first and then we can tell them?’ Ajay agreed and so did Sahil but still he was a little worried. He was not finding it safe to risk any encounter up with some dangerous poachers but still he joined. They observed a set of footprints going towards the tiger carcass and another mysterious set of footprints with only one toe printgoing towards a tree without any print mark for crutches, which is used by a single legged man. They also found a scrap of paper, which was a booking slip of Teja Lodgings, a lodge in their village. There were no other evidences of the poachers so their next move was to visit the lodge, but before that they decided to come over to Amit’s house to have a talk over the case.
On returning to their village they went to Amit’s house to have a discussion over the case. But when the discussion was going on, Amit’s father Mr. Abhinav Roy, came in the room and said ‘I am sorry but I heard what you were talking. But I feel it highly foolish that you get involved in this dangerous work. Please avoid getting involved in this and let the authorities take care of this.’ Although Amit promised his father that he will not get mixed up but still they decided to solve the case secretly.
So the next morning, they made their next move of going to the village lodge. There was only a single guard posted outside the lodge who was sleeping as usual so they easily entered the lodge. But they didn’t enter the building because suddenly they heard voices of two hooded people talking in the side lawn. They came closer to hear them properly and hid behind a tree. One voice said ‘Sir, the job went well. I watched our shooter kill the tiger from a nearby tree.’ The second voice said ‘Ok, then you will have to arrange a meeting of our gang for another assignment. Tell them to come today evening at 7:00 at the old house near the river in the forest.’ Their conversation stopped when they suddenly saw the friends behind the tree. The first hooded man started coming towards the tree to catch them. Ajay, who was a little bit slow at running, was caught by him but Amit and Sahil threw stones at the man and he had to free Ajay. All three ran at top speed until they were at safe distance.
When they got their breaths back, Ajay said, “Whew, that was a close call!” He added that, ‘the man that was chasing us was surely from France.’ He then showed them a currency note of France and continued ‘when he caught me, that note slipped out from his trouser’s pocket. I picked it up quickly and put it in my pocket when I got free from his grasp.’ He said ‘I think he is an international smuggler and he came to India to poach tigers and sell the tiger skins and tails in his country. Amit said ‘Anyway let’s go and search for the old house near the river in the forest. Let’s try to find out what next they are up to.’ After sunset, the three young detectives went toward the forest to find the oldhouse. They walked along the banks of river. After about half an hour of walking the river turned sharply and entered a dense part of the forest. They were hesitant but continued with some courage.
After some time, they saw rays of light coming through a thicket. They followed that and came in to a clearing in the midst of which stood a very old dilapidated house from where the light was emanating. Hiding quietly behind the thick cover of bushes and trees all around the house they peeped at the entrance of the house where they saw two hooded people standing besidethe house and talking in hushed voices.
They were talking with each other but were not looking towards the entrance so the three friends decided to take a chance to enter the house. They tiptoed quietly towards the entrance but unfortunately were noticed by the men. One of the men asked him ‘Hey boys, what you are doing here in the deep forest. Please go away since this is a private house and let us not catch you again. If you are spotted here again, we will teach you a lesson.’ The friends started returning back.
But after some distance, they turned back and started moving towards the old house. It was almost 7:00 in the evening, the scheduled meeting time of the poachers. Soon they reached the house. No one, other than a guard could be seen outside the house. They thought that the poachers had gone inside for their meeting. They hid in the bushes and waited for the right time. After sometime, the guard went to the backside of the house because he had apparently heard some noise (it was just two dogs who were barking and fighting over some leftover food) but the boys wasted no time and entered the house. They could hear some conversation going on which no doubt was about poaching. The meeting was being held in a room just near the entrance door through which they entered. The door to the room was slightly ajar. They slowly headed towards the door but just when they neared the door, suddenly someone came out and saw the boys. He was the same man who had earlier told them to go away. He shouted ‘You boys again! How dare you enter the house in spite of my order? Now I must really teach you a lesson. He caught hold of Ajay and dragged him alongwith his friends to a small room at the back of the house and locked it from outside.
There were some old newspapers in the room, which were stacked in a pile in one corner. The friends looked around the room for some means of escape. It had only one window, which was barred. ‘I think your father was right about not to mess up with these people’ said Sahil. Ajay went towards the door to look out from the keyhole. ‘Could you see anything?’ said Amit. Ajay answered, ‘No, it’s no use. The key is still hanging on the other side of the door and blocking my view.’ Suddenly, Amit saw a plastic box full of iron nails on a wooden shelf in the room. His eyes lit up excitedly and he said in excitement ‘What? The key is still hanging. Oh yes, we might then escape. Amit then examined the gap between the door and the floor below. It was big enough to easily slide a paper or a small item out of the door. Amit took out one of the iron nails from the box on the shelf and a newspaper. He slid out the newspaper carefully under the door leaving only a small part on his side. He then inserted the iron nail in the keyhole and gave a push to the key. It fell down on the newspaper on other side. Amit slowly pulled it towards himself and there alongwith it came the key too. They opened the gate with the key came out of the room.
The guard was luckily not there on the entrance. Thanking their good luck, they ran away from the house in the dark evening. When they were at safe distance from the house, they stopped. ‘You are extremely clever’ said Sahil. Amit said ‘But I am not happy. What a waste of time. Anyways, what shall we do next’? Suddenly Sahil snapped his fingers and his face brightened. He said ‘I don’t think there are a lot of single legged people in this village. Why not be go to Kumar uncle. He has been living in the village for long and knows a lot about the village.We can ask him about the sucha person and then we can get back on track about the poachers. Then all of them returned to their homes.
The next day, they visited the house of Kumar uncle. On being seated, Ajay asked Kumar uncle ‘we want to donate some part of our pocket monies and old clothes to handicapped persons in the village. Could you please tell us if there are any in the village?’ Kumar uncle answered ‘Boys, you have got a noble thought but you have to do it in some other villagebecause there are no handicappedpersons in this village’. They were disappointed that another of their ideas also turned out to be a blank in their plans.
Thereafter, they met at Amit’s home and as Amit’s father was not there, they had a discussion. It seemed pretty certain that the single legged man was from somewhere else too. Ajay decided to go back home but as he came out of the house, he saw a man with black shawl covering his head running down the village path. Suspecting him to be one of the poachers’ gang, Ajay shouted and immediately Amit and Sahil also rushed towards him and they started chasing the man. Seeing the friends following him the man picked up his speed and ran very swiftly.
Amit who was the fastest among them had his sports shoes on and he ran as fast as he could but on the way, one of Amit’s shoe came out loose but not wanting to give up the chase he let it drop off on the way and kept on running with his other shoe on. Amit’s speed slowed because he was finding it difficult to run with only one shoe. Soon they lost track of the man. But then Sahil observed something very interesting. He saw the single shoe footprints made by Amit was the exactly the same as the footprints made by the single legged man, which they found on the poaching site. They started back towards Amit’s house, picking up his dropped shoe on the way.
Amit recalled that his father had given him the sports shoes yesterday only, which was the day after they saw the poaching incident in the forest. This situation was very complicated and mysterious and unfortunately pointed a very suspicious finger at Amit’s father’s involvement in poaching. This was too shocking for the friends to believe!
Amit couldn’t believe what was happening. His father had lied to him, but why? They rushed towards Amit’s home who was very distraught when he saw local policeman there and his father in handcuffs. His father saw Amit coming towards him. Amit came nearer and asked his father, “Why did you did that dad”. Amit’s father said “I am sorry my son. My eyes got blind with big money offered by the foreigners, which made me do this crime. As soon as I am released, I promise to be the best father”. Amit began to cry. In the meantime, Sahil and Ajay asked the police officer “How did you find out that he was part of the poaching gang?” The policeman answered “We got a tip off that someone he saw a packet of tiger tails and tiger skins in a village lodge room of a French man. We immediately investigated his room, there indeed we found the packet under the bed. We arrested him and his friends from the old house in the forest and on further questioning he told us of Mr. Abhinav Roy’s involvement too. Mr. Roy was actually the one who shot the tiger from a nearby tree but cleverly thought to cover his tracks and dupe the local police by wearing his shoe on one leg only to make an impression that this was the work of a single legged man.
Hearing the full story, Ajay and Sahil decided to leave the shocked and upset Amit alone but they didn’t know if they were happy to get to end of the mystery or not.