He was chewing on leftovers from the kill his father had made last night in the darkest recess of India. He was about eleven month old now. He noticed these weird creatures walking on their twos. He had never seen such creatures. This group of humans was led by someone named Jack, a man from the civilized world of England, Great Britain. Jack was a man looking for tigers for a circus. He had brought together a group of fearless men who had nothing to lose and looked optimistically at the prospect of a quick buck from the profits of acquiring a rare Bengali tigers. It all started when Jack assembled a group of men from the dregs of society, men who had not succeeded in conventional endeavors. He had this idea that he could make some money by getting some tigers to sell for profit. Amidst sips of whisky, he outlined his plan to this sad group of men, war weary members, disillusioned men who had taken to drinking to drown the reality of their failed lives. At the time, England had a network of entry into India and the world of smuggling based on India’s standing as a colony. He knew the right people who easily get him entry into acquiring these tigers, people with experience smuggling wild animals for circuses and other pleasures.
As part of the planning, they started out with the hiring of a local guide to inform them of the best route to get to the tigers. They hired a local who knew English and was very familiar with the area, as he had grown up there and spent all of his life in the same place called Sundarban. This guide, Bimal Mondal was about five foot eight, had little dark circles under his eyes, and was about thirty six years of age with dark skin that glowed almost like bronze, a square jaw with visible cheek bones, wide eyebrows making a unibrow by meeting at the top center of his broken nose, and brown hazelnut eyes. He was skinny and muscular, and looked like a spring that if you squish it together would bounce back with the force of a hopping frog.
Now Jack, on the opposite spectrum, was your typical British looking gentlemen. Years and generations of acts of bravery that ran through his lineage, whether through fighting in wars, taking on risky expeditions or even drunkenly fistfights to make money defined his character. He was honorably discharged from the army as a major, but it was a deal he couldn’t pass up on. If he left he would get everything the army could offer and if not, he would end up in circumstances he couldn’t handle on his own. And here he was, a big muscular man standing at the river bank deep in mangrove forest area with his friends. He thought back to a time not far back, just ten years ago in 1940. He had lost his family and some of his friends whom he believed were friends forever.
“Bimal, do you think we will be there by sunset?” Jack asked.
“I am sure Sir we can make it if you just let me guide you, please don’t step on my tail, is that the right expression?” Bimal replied while securing his, what he called, dingi nouko (long narrow boat) to the tree.
“Yes Bimal” Jack said with disappointment. He used to give orders and not to be given.
“Jack, what are you thinking?” said Jerry.
“Jack, are you sure we have all this time? You’ve been spaced out for some time” Tom inquired.
~ 2 ~
Tom and Jerry were Jack’s best friends since his college days and maybe they wouldn’t have been here now if it weren’t for Jack, risking his life for them in war, but they did give it back, and even more than anyone could expect. They were in dugout when bomb went down so close to it hitting Jerry the radioman and Tom the messenger with shrapnel from the blow. Jack was behind his table when he dropped his pen and bent down to get it. The attack from the air started suddenly and they knew it will start but they got a wrong time. Contusion made Jack drowsy and disoriented for a moment. He couldn’t hear anything or himself even though he was screaming, blood was oozing out from his ears as the blow destroyed his eardrums. He looked at his combat friends, who were laying down unmoving, and quickly one by one took them out of the hole placing them in one of the pits from a bomb in a safe distance. Tom was second to come out and as soon as they were some distance away another bomb destroyed their dugout completely not leaving anything to chance. The bomb landed right in the middle of it. He checked their pulse later.
Friendship wasn’t lost and that’s the best part of a bond among men. Jack trusted them with his own life. Now they were many miles away from home, like it had always been, but for some reason it felt different.
“Rain is coming” said Bimal. “Lets wait here; we are in a safe place”.
“I don’t think we have all this time to spend, I say we go” Jack said.
“Listen guys, if we want to get something, we have to do something, right?”
“Tom, Jerry what do you think, our guide is a pussy, right?” Jack said grinning.
“Gentlemen, please, let’s finish this mission and go back to our whiskey at home” Jerry said. His lips were just like two wires banding and so thin that some times they would be so blue looking like two veins, but it only happened when Jerry was angry.
An unexpected downpour of rain descended on them.
“I saw them” Bimal said.
“Who?” Jerry asked.
“The family of tigers you’re looking for. Who do you, think?” Bimal’s teeth were so yellow that when he smiled you would think he had bones in his mouth, some of them were loose and some of them were missing, but it didn’t stop him from eating anything that possibly could be eaten, especially on his missions. Every time he smiled, as he was doing now, you couldn’t help noticing his teeth.
“There they are” said Tom whispering.
“Be careful” came from Jerry.
“You think we have enough tranquilizers?” “I see them in my binoculars” Tom said now a little bit louder than he should have.
“Remember, we need just one or two cubs, any beyond that can go” Jack said moving his hand from the left to the right of his Adam’s apple. Bimal looked above him at the sky and looking down at the guys surrounding him said “I don’t think it will be possible to catch any of them tonight, let’s wait until early morning. With this kind of rain they are going to stay in the location where it will be hard to get them”. And he was right, a moment later the whole family was gone, like they were ghosts and never been in a place where any rifle was pointed on them. Unbeknownst to them, one cub had seen and registered their presence in his head, every single one of them and this cub sensed that this would not be the last time he would see these men, another time would come, but not tonight. Tonight his family was safe.
“Somebody has to go with me to set traps right now by the river, and I hope you remember if one, only one of them is trapped, you know what to do” Bimal added shaking his head.
“What you have to do is set a trap and then wait for a tiger to take a wrong step. But when the trap's jagged metal teeth sink into its paw, the tiger howls - an alarm that can rouse a park ranger. So, a smart poacher will plunge a spear down the trapped animal's throat and tear out its vocal chords before it has a chance to make any sound, then, at his leisure, he can poison or electrocute the cat or, if the buyer doesn't mind a bullet hole in the pelt, simply shoot it, but shooting is a last reserve, remember” Bimal intently explained.
That’s exactly what the magnificent three had in mind.
“I’ll go with you” said Jack “You two be on the watch until I come back for you and ammo”. With that, they left.
~ 3 ~
The walk to the river wasn’t that bad, Bimal put his prepared traps into the dirt so animals would not smell the metal and be alerted to what awaited them. During the entire walk to the river Jack was surprised, to the point of irritation, by Bimal’s ability to explain how tigers behave and what to be aware of. Jack had never hunted at this magnitude before- just some deer, hog, raccoon and other small fury animals, but tiger hunting was a first for him and his inexperienced crew.
“You see, even though the tigers are big, they are also vulnerable and I’ll explain to you why. The tiger mainly uses its sense of smell for communicating information with one another such as territories and reproductive status” Bimal said and continued “tigers will show an interesting condition, in which they pick up a scent on their upper lip and curl it upwards towards their nose to detect scents. This action makes the tiger appear to be snarling but without any sound.”
“Horses do that too, I’ve seen it” intruded Jack. To Jack it sounded like his guide was reading from a book. Bimal was walking in front of Jack. Jack turned his head slightly down and looked at Bimal’s hands and was sure they were empty, traps were hanging from his shoulder, and no book was present. Jack was astonished to hear this kind of conversation here, in a forest, led by some kind of guide who was offered to him in England by a professor who was a secret taxidermist and sold his stuffed animals through the black market. It was a good business and professor was making good money on Cambridge’s behalf, not mentioning other universities.
“You are absolutely right Sir. Tigers have some kind of tissue in the roof of their mouth located directly behind the front incisors. It has two small openings that direct scent particles from the air, as the tiger inhales, to nerves located within the structure which transmit the message to the brain.” Bimal continued with enthusiasm of a little kid waiving his hands around and glancing at Jack from time to time.
“The tiger's sense of smell is not as acute as some of its other senses and is generally not used for hunting. They have small amounts of odor-detecting cells in their nose and small region in the brain that identifies various scents.” Said Bimal lastly as he abruptly held up his hand in the air before Jack could understand what happened. A herd of wild pigs were drinking water by the river.
“You see” said Bimal. “We came this far because of the wind”.
“It blows towards us” Jack added. “They don’t smell our presence this way”.
“But what happens if the wind will change direction?” asked Jack. “Do we have to change our spot?” Jack asked again without waiting for Bimal’s response.
“We don’t have all this time; besides, we need this particular place by river to be clean for our guests, who will be arriving early tomorrow morning”.
“But how do you know when they are going to be here and why are you so certain?” Jack asked with suspicion of a soldier on a battlefield. “What is the backup plan?” Jack added. To Jack, being an army officer, certainty was the key to success. He was used to be certain in his plan “A”, but made sure plan “B” and sometimes “C” would be available as a backup and executed by professional and experienced soldiers. Here, in mangrove forest, he was relying on a simple guide which was making him a little uncomfortable.
“I did my homework immediately after I was notified that you were coming and I started to watch this family and their behavior. Based on my observations, this is their regular place for water supply. The father goes first, after checking the surroundings, then the cubs follow, and finally the mother. So, the plan is that as soon as the father gets trapped, hopefully he will, one of you should shoot the mother. We can’t wait for her to comprehend what has happened. The two of you will need to shoot the cubs with tranquilizers and I will finish the father”. Bimal took one trap and threw it flying into the air towards the herd drinking water by the river. When the trap hit the ground, the animals didn’t even move, they just turned their heads and looked for a long moment, and then like it never happened, they continued on drinking.
“Give me a coin” Bimal said to Jack. “You will see what I mean” Bimal continued with a sarcastic smile on his face as if secretly savoring his belief that white people overcomplicated and over thought certain situations.
“Here you go, silver pound my friend” Jack said with pride in his ability to give something and forget that it existed.
“Watch” said Bimal. He threw the coin into the herd of animals and in few seconds it started a crazed stampede when they caught the smell of human presence. They started to run in different directions, some of them, bigger in size, into the shallow water. At one point Jack was nervous that they would go their way, but it didn’t happen. He remembered from hunting that wild boars could be very dangerous.
“They will not come this way Jack” Bimal said “They are afraid of open ways in situations like this. That’s why I fuck with them. Is that how you say it in good English?”
Jack was laughing “Bimal, you are piece of work, my friend, and you are learning very fast”.
“I worked in the home of a family of teachers and I was always around, cleaning and doing other domestic chores for them. They were kind to me and allowed me to join the rich children they taught in the school they had set up in their home. They allowed me mainly because I was smarter than most of the villagers and willing to learn. My brothers and sister didn’t have a chance like this. I suppose I was not only smarter, but lucky as well. My brothers and sisters lead harsher lives with a lot of hard work just to be able to survive”.
“What are you talking about?” Jack said with frustration in his voice.
“Don’t you understand? I was given a chance of a life time, the only one in my family, and now look at me”, he said with intense frustration.
“Sir Jack, I learned more than anybody in my village could, but life is a cruel thing some times. I am doing things I am not supposed to do instead of finishing school and working as a teacher in my village, which was my dream. I was trying to save some money and found this job thinking that as soon as I get enough, I would continue my education further, but it’s been fifteen years Sir Jack, fifteen. Do you understand?” Bimal went from almost whispering to a loud tone.
“I apologize, Bimal” Jack said.
“You don’t have to be, Sir Jack. Let’s do this job and who knows, maybe we will see each other again and become partners, but you have to be lucky” Bimal answered. Something was nagging on Jack’s brain and he thought that something was off about Bimal, but he just couldn’t place it just yet.
They put all the traps around the waterfront, recording each spot on a paper, and left. Someone had to keep watch on the traps and they took turns doing it. The job was so different from anything they had done in the past, but the payback was better than any other venture they had taken on.
They were staying in a little shack built by Bimal just for the time being, little off to the side of the open camouflaged to the jangle around, facing the waterfront. From a distance, the shack looked like a disorganized pile of wood. Only once you came closer could you see that it was not a pile of wood, it was a hideout. Bimal sprinkled it with elephant urine for protection from other animals and to kill any human smell as much as possible. “We have to be ready tomorrow. I know you are serious, but I just want you to be cautious” said Bimal to Jack.
~ 4 ~
“What the hell was that?” asked Tom looking in a distance.
“I don’t know dude, you are getting annoying and you act like a little baby, not even a baby, half of a baby” said Jerry with a smile on his face. It was always like that; Tom would get crazy about something and Jerry was there to support him, just gently teasing him but never harsh towards him. One thing was always unusual in situations like this, despite his craziness and exaggeration, Tom was generally right. Even now, when Tom asked this question, Jerry already knew something was out of place. Next thing Tom saw, Jerry was on the ground rolling and it looked like some kind of anatomical dissection had been performed on him. Tom clearly saw Jerry’s muscles exposed on his back, from his left and right top of shoulders, claw marks were visible and distinguished; it looked like an “X” symbol with nothing in the middle except a bloody mess of tissue hanging out in chunks. One of the shoulder blade bones was white and clearly visible even from the distance where Tom was standing. Tom couldn’t even walk for some time; he was standing there on the other side of a fire pit watching with a blank look in his eyes, when another strike came from behind Jerry’s back that startled Tom. Before Tom could comprehend what had happened and started to run towards Jerry, two things happened in rapid succession; Jerry’s neck snapped with terrible sound of molars crushing it, and he was taken by the neck that looked like an expanded hose now, to the mangrove by a tiger. Jerry’s head was tilted to his left side, tongue hanging out from his mouth, eyes bulging in disbelief to what happened to him.
“Stop! Ah! Stop! You mother fucker!!!” Tom screamed while running towards Jerry. He jumped over the fire holding a revolver in his right hand and torchlight in the other, aiming the revolver at the animal, but the animal was behind Jerry and it was difficult to shoot at.
It wasn’t a big tiger and looked like it was no more then one year old. Tom had seen tigers in Siberia, Russia when he was there with his family. His dad was an officer who was introducing new army techniques to eastern European countries and he spent two years in the Primorski Kri region by the Sikhote Alin Mountain watching Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Amur tiger. The Tungusic people considered the Siberian tiger a near-deity and often referred to it as "Grandfather" or "Old man". Unlike the Bengal tiger, the Siberian tiger very rarely becomes a man-eater. Siberian tigers were historically rarely considered dangerous unless provoked. He remembered laying down in the undergrowth with Bombogor, one of the local kids that was named after an Evenk chief, leader of the Evenk federation, watching tigers in the distance close to the mountains always afraid that they will see them and come after them. Bombogor was a brave little man even at the tender age of thirteen, also Tom’s age at that time, and was always reassuring and calm.
“Just look at them, look how magnificent they are. I hate people who kill them just for pleasure and sport” Bombogor told him.
Now he was facing a different situation. His friend had been killed in front of him and taken away in to the forest’s belly, his corpse never to be found and retrieved and never to be properly buried like all humans deserved- deprived of a casket and ceremony, tears, memories shared by friends later in conversations over whiskey and pretenses of hard stone hearts trying not to show any emotions until everybody’s gone and only loneliness is one’s companion. Tom was standing there crying knowing there is no turning back and it could be his turn next.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit…” Tom was repeating again and again without stopping. He went into the forest, but it was very hard to follow the trail once the blood stains ended. The animal, or a monster if you will, Tom thought, not even thinking who he was in this situation. The tiger seemed to show a cunningness not typical of animals, as he had flipped Jerry’s lifeless body with his exposed back upwards before dragging it to the forest so the traces of blood would cease being noticeable at some point. A thick wall of sundari trees faced him after the bloody trail ended; Tom was standing not knowing where to go except back to the camp where he came from, revolver in his one hand at the ready and torchlight in the other. He was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling up and down. Damn it, he could even hear his heart pounding hard, it was that quiet at this moment. He didn’t even feel the scratches on his face, neck and arms, despite some of them being very deep. He knew that this animal went in one of the directions just a moment ago. Yet it was so quiet because no animal would dare follow or be near tiger that moved with such quiet, ruthless movement. He wondered in what direction the tiger had gone. He didn’t know. He shook his head and looked at the thick wall of green mass in front of him, and he felt dizziness building up in the back of his head. He vomited first in his mouth with a big jolt pushing him forward and then bent over and the ritual started. When he finished and came to his senses he found himself lying on the ground, not knowing how much time had passed. His torchlight was on his left, almost extinguished, laying in the grass and the gun on his right. He stood up struggling and a little bit fast he thought, picked up his torch and wiped moisture from below the fading fire light, blew on it and performed a few round gestures with his hand to keep the torch fire going, located his gun and picked it up. Tom got down on his knees and started saying a prayer for his buddy, his friend, his brother- that’s how he saw him.
If any creature was around they would hear Tom sadly and respectfully reciting a prayer for his fallen friend:
“I commend you, my dear Jerry Evans to almighty God, and entrust you to your Creator. May you rest in the arms of the Lord who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels and all the saints welcome you now that you have gone forth from this life. May Christ who was crucified for you, bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ, the true Shepherd, embrace you as one of his flock. May he forgive all your sins, and set you among those he has chosen. May you see your Redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God forever.”
Tom got up and went back to the camp the way he had come, beaten now to the punch, helpless and hopeless like a child.
~ 5 ~
At the same moment deep in the forest, Jerry’s sagging body was let go and left on a ground like a pouch of dirt. The tiger walked around him and sniffed, first the body and then the air, he was afraid to touch it with his mouth, but had no choice, that’s what he learned from his father when they discovered the same sort of shaped thing a few months ago by the river where they usually drank water from in the morning. He clearly remembered his father getting angry at him, growling and standing upwards while swatting him with his claw and pushing him away from something similar lying down in front of him. He didn’t understand at that time, he just wanted to taste it and smell it. He didn’t comprehend what was wrong with that? He was following behind his father who he thought was nervous. He remembered sitting by the entrance to his den not moving for a long period of time until his mother growled invitingly to him. He had been asleep feeling the warmth of his sister’s body lying next to him. He had been very tired at that time and now felt the same way, except that he now tasted blood.
He left very quietly, just as he came. He knew he had three more of those kinds to deal with and time was running out. Sunrise was approaching and nothing was stopping it, he would join his family and would go with his father leading him to whatever journey laid in front of them in the morning. Perhaps a river ritual to drink water, or some antelope kill that he was learning from his father who took him on hunts now more often. He was a good cub and he was willing to learn and protect his family. He sat now watching his family asleep in front of the den opening, blood dripping from his jaws. He licked it away with one swipe of his tongue and entered the den. He walked around in the circle and curled against his sister’s back like he always did when he was afraid of something.
~ 6 ~
“Jack! Jack!” those words were very loud in the early morning. Jack was sitting at his post watching the water below, snoozing and trying to keep any animals away until the family of tigers might come near again. Tom was not himself. It was about four o’clock in the morning when Tom showed up all pale faced like a ghost.
“What happened” Jack asked with annoyance in his voice “Why are you here?” he asked not waiting for the answer and continued “I said I will come to get you and Jerry”. “Jerry’s dead, and it happened so quickly that I couldn’t do anything about it” Tom replied tears streaming from his eyes.
“We have to regroup and come up with a new plan” said Bimal very calmly.
“It was a tiger” Tom continued.
“Bimal, you were supposed to be sleeping” Jack said.
“I will sleep when I am dead” Bimal replied. “Sir Jack, go sleep a little before our job, if you can. I’ll take over from here”. “Tom, go back and get the gear and…”
“Didn’t you hear what he just said? Jerry is dead, he is fucking dead” Jack cut Bimal off. “We will come back to this conversation later sir Jack” Bimal said with persistence in his voice “This is not the time and place now. Go Tom and don’t forget that green little bottle, I used all the urine on our hideout” continued Bimal. “I understand, I’ve lost a lot in my life and you have to tell me now if we are doing this job or not?” he looked into Jack’s eyes for a long moment with a serious expression on his face standing still, only his jaw bones expanding from time to time. Then he looked at Tom.
“Okay Tom, go” said Jack “and be careful” he added with a little grief in his voice that he tried to cover.
“Remember what I told you Tom?” asked Jack holding Tom by his shoulders with his hands extended. “Men grief, men don’t cry” Tom said taking Jack’s hands off his shoulders and looking into Jack’s eyes.
Tom was back fast enough. He put all the necessary equipment on the ground inside their shed. “Start wiping ammo with this urine and I will have to sprinkle you a little” said Bimal. After it was done, Bimal and Tom disappeared and came back a minute later Bimal holding an empty bottle in his hand.
“Where did you go?” Jack asked.
“I had to mark the territory around our traps, so the tigers would not go beyond that point, at least for some time. It could become a disaster if there is space big enough for them in the beginning. Later, when we start our job they may figure it out, but hopefully it will be too late for them. I also showed Tom the map with approximate location of the traps so he will be familiar with the area and its surroundings”.
“Tom, tell me, did you see that tiger eating Jerry?”
“No Bimal, it was a lot of blood, he took him by the neck and disappeared into the mangrove, but no, I didn’t see him eating Jerry. I lost my track”.
“Blood trail ended” added Bimal. “I think it was male, about a year old” Tom continued explaining. “He had a ruff of long fur on the neck around the face” Tom gestured to the area of his neck with two hands “and his front paws were relatively large. He was also a little bit different, light in color, almost golden with a lot of white fur on his belly. I have never seen anything like this before”. Bimal twitched his right eyebrow upward and peered at Tom rubbing his chin with the tip of his fingers.
“Looks like you’ve been around” he stated and added to himself with little uncertainty in his voice “I hope he didn’t taste the blood or eat him. I hope he didn’t. Tom, I think you met one of the cubs.”
“Let’s go over the plan again, with Tom now” Jack said turning back from the hole in the stack of wood where they were hiding and then quickly turned back and resumed his post. Bimal started to explain what was going to happen in an army general kind of voice: “We each will have two rifles, one with tranquilizer and another one with ammo. You and Jack also will have hand guns. One of you should have Jerry’s rifle with ammo and one of you, his gun; I’ll get his rifle with tranquilizers. We will take the positions Jack and I set up earlier. It will be easy for you to see where it is, just follow the narrow path and when you see a little opening with three sticks sticking out from the ground you will know that is it. Tom will be on the west side of the path to the river, Jack by the shed and I’ll be on the east side. Please don’t think that everything will be easy as anything could go wrong in a blink of an eye. Be alert, watch all around you. Signal if one of the tigers gets into the traps we set or the whole family is down by the river or at least one of the cubs are by the river. Remember, cubs will never be alone even if they look big to you, the mother will always be around. Use your tranquilizer rifles first on the cubs, save the ammo for the mother and father, if he will show up and if it’s necessary. If you see it’s running towards you, shoot it. Do not waste a second to think. Check the guns and have them ready. If the animals get too close, use your hand gun. If one of them, hopefully bigger gets into the trap, I’ll know what to do. In the case of more than one trapped, use your tranquilizer weapons. Remember, shoot your weapons only if necessary and on the biggest one of them. You will be able to distinguish which in the family are the cubs. The cubs will be approximately the same size, considerably smaller than the mother and father. Don’t give up your positions until everything settles and it’s safe. If everything goes well, it will not take more than five to seven minutes. I think that’s it.” Bimal turned around and started to pray. Jack and Tom did the same.
~ 7 ~
It was a quiet morning, close to six o’clock. After a hot night, the morning felt refreshing. The sun had risen but it was mild, so it was still quite cool. The light breeze provided nonchalant relief as it passed the hiding shed. They were finishing their breakfast of ghungni, a special Bengali peas curry, pau ruti (bread) and cha (tea) prepared by Bimal. The roar was a little faint in the distance, but distinct.
“We have to go to our posts, they are about two miles away” Bimal said to Tom.
“We have to get ready and remember what we went through before. Good luck, right?” and with that they were gone, but before that Tom hugged Jack and wished him good luck as well.
“We will be okay my friend” Jack feebly offered, not knowing what to say.
The first tiger Jack saw was big, really big. It was, he guessed, more than two meters in length. He remembered Bimal had said, “if it’s about two meters or you think it looks too big for you, it would be as tall as Sir Jack, but the difference is that it could weight more than four hundred pounds, so please don’t try to fight it with your fists- you are not in a pub” he remembered Bimal laughing with his mouth open wide and Jack tried not to look at him. At that time, Bimal had been a little tipsy on whiskey. On average, a local of Bimal’s build usually drank about sixty milligrams, or two shots. That day, Bimal had had at least five. Jack was watching the creature and couldn’t take his eyes off him. Just the tail on that cat was about three feet, it was simply magnificent view.
The father looked in both directions and started his slow walk down the path; he stopped and waited half way to the river. In few seconds, in a distance, three other animals appeared.
“Mom and the cubs” Jack said to himself in the whisper, “welcome”. Two of them were smaller, just as Bimal had described and the mother was a little bigger in size. The family had the expected orange and black stripes with bellies a little bit whiter. One cub was a little different. He was a little lighter in color, looked almost golden, with a blonde belly, just like Tom described earlier; he definitely stood out from his pack.
They started to go after their father and caught up to him shortly. They sniffed the air but kept moving further, the mother with the cubs always behind a few steps from the father. Tom was looking at them and with every step that the animals made, was getting angrier.
He recognized the bastard who killed Jerry. There he was, moving slowly with “his family”.
“What about mine? He was my friend” Tom said to himself looking into his rifles rear site. Blood was boiling in his body and adrenaline pouring out, he could smell it. All the hate that had built up was not enough to let him do anything but aim his rifle with determination to kill. He saw him now, very clearly, not that far away.
The father went around the perimeter smelling around him and at some point was very close to Tom and Bimal, but luckily for them, did not pick up their scent. Four of them made it pass the traps unharmed and were standing drinking water.
“You are going to pay for this! All of this!” Tom said out loud and came out from his hiding place holding rifle with two hands.
~ 8 ~
Jack and Bimal watched in disbelief with their mouths wide open, as Tom came out from his hiding spot and within a few feet fell straight into the trap, his body consumed by the metal serrated jaws of the trap. The only alternative to this situation was to shoot, and they did. One cub, perhaps a female, was down as soon as Jack pulled the trigger on one of his rifles. She was paralyzed and was moving in circles until she stopped. A rifle blast came down from Tom’s side and the mother was hit in the shoulder but was still functional and angry. She was already moving low to the ground towards Tom watching him eye-to-eye, mouth and eyes wide open, growling, her front paws steadying her as she prepared to pick up speed, shoulder blades moving up and down before she charged at Tom with blazing speed and agility. Another blast of the rifle put her down when she was up in the air and she landed a couple of feet in front of Tom. Tom was desperate, he was screaming nonsense, but it didn’t help, it only drew attention to him. His right leg was a bloody mass when he looked at it. He went down on his left knee and tried to release himself by pushing the trap jaws apart with his hands, but it was impossible. He was still kneeling when he looked up and with blood draining from his cheeks, realized what waited not so far away from him in the distance.
“You, son of a bitch! I will…” Tom was caught in mid sentence, pulling the trigger on his rifle, not realizing it was empty.
Jack was running to the river from his hiding spot and Bimal missed with his shot of tranquilizer, as he tried to hit the male cub that was closing in on Tom, hitting Tom in the chest. Tom took out the arrow but it was too late. He felt warmth quickly spreading through him and nausea came running and he went down on his knees looking into the big green eyes of his opponent staring in his, realizing what was going to happen next but not fully.
The father tiger ran towards Bimal when he was captured in one of the traps. The force of the closing jaws yanked him back so hard that he almost lost his foot. He growled, and it ended quickly for him. Bimal got closer and stuck his spear with incredible strength, hitting him in the neck, which passed almost all the way through the father’s front limbs. As he collapsed, his face hit the ground hard, blood dripping out from his mouth in the area violently pierced by Bimal’s spear. The father growled again for the last time, this time with a duller sound coming out from his body, bloody bubbles appeared from his mouth and neck popping in the air like little balloons. He moved his head around looking for his family that he couldn’t protect. He saw him, his son, fighting with all to not surrender to those insignificant creatures. With that sight, the father gave up, his eyes closed, mouth dropped, and the warmth left his body as he exhaled his last breath- his eyes closing, lifeless. He was dead.
~ 9 ~
He saw it; he saw everything- his father not moving, his mother sprawled down unmoving in front of him, his sister shaking terribly in a distance. There was no time to lose. He was standing in front of Tom. Tom was on his knees. With one swipe of his right paw Tom’s face was shredded in pieces; nose with its cartilage was hanging from its tendons. The huge claw marks intruded deeply in Tom’s face, his left eye ball popped out from its socket. As gun shots sounded close by, he moved behind Tom’s body in an attempt to protect himself. With another blow, he tore and ripped half of Tom’s scull off. Pieces of brain were visible and rolling out of the side of Tom’s head before Tom hit the ground. Bullets missed him, despite the flurry and continuity of them. He couldn’t leave just like that, when his family was in danger. He couldn’t comprehend his unmoving father, mother and his sister whom he had loved since he was borne. Somebody was on his right and he struck him with everything he could before being knocked down himself with tranquilizer from Bimal’s rifle.
Bimal was finishing with the father when he saw Jack running down the path as Tom was almost being decapitated in a distance, by the river. Jack fired Jerry’s rifle and this time a little arrow found its target in the male cub’s body. Next thing he saw was Jack flying at least two feet in the air and forward like a school bag that you hate to wear behind your back and every time you have a chance to get rid of it, you just fling it against the wall of your house after school. The whole scene was a disaster.
Bimal secured the cubs with restraints and quickly went to Jack who was slowly recovering from the strike. Jack’s chest was bloody and moments later Bimal figured out that it wasn’t Jack’s blood. Jack was fine; he had a few scratches on his chest which he could live with, no vital organs were touched. He was heaving, and a funny sound like a whistle was coming out of Jack’s body.
“Is it done?” was the first thing Jack asked looking at Bimal’s face. To Jack, Bimal looked like an angel when he first opened his eyes.
“Tell me what happened” said Jack. He was dazed and disoriented.
“We have lost Tom, Sir Jack.”
“This is my first job where people would ignore directions and I want you to know that it’s not my fault and if he had followed the rules I laid out and we agreed on”, Bimal paused, “I am sure everything would be in order. He was a serious guy, who went through war but this is not a war Sir Jack” Bimal was opening himself up over the fire in their hideout after few shots of whiskey that he felt he needed so badly. Jack went outside to pee and hit the male cub on his face with his boot while passing by. The cub didn’t make any sound, just moved a little. His mouth was fastened with rope, as was his sister’s, but at least they were alive.
“When are they going to arrive?” Jack asked Bimal as he crawled back into their hideout.
“Give it a few hours, these are people I can trust, but I have concerns” said Bimal with a professional tone in his voice.
“I think the male cub is rotten. He tasted the blood and I saw him biting into Tom’s brains. You have to put him down Sir Jack or give me an order and I’ll do it, it’s your call. But I am warning you, we can have a lot of problems with this one.” Bimal washed his spear in river water that he brought in a bowl he used for soup, wiped it on his pants and resumed the conversation.
“When they come to collect and transfer our work of nature, I’ll tell them that the male cub is rotten and it can’t be used for anything except pelt, it’s too dangerous”. Bimal was intensely involved in explaining his fear and he was right, but Jack couldn’t understand a thing.
“You can’t do that Bimal, I am warning you. Some people would pay handsomely for two cubs and this is our chance to get something from it. Look at this stud.” Jack turned and nodded at the male cub that was now fully alert, having recovered from his dose of tranquilizers.
“He is totally different and I know for sure the price will be double or even more for this one. We can’t just not take this chance, can we? Pelt will not cost as much as alive tiger.” said Jack with a little slowness in his voice after a significant amount of shots he had consumed. There was a pause, with no talk for a long moment, and Jack poured another round and looked at Bimal.
“Just think about it” Jack paused and exhaled. “You yourself said how hard it is to be here with nothing and pray to god every day that you will get something in return. I think it’s a good chance for you to get a little more after we finish what we started. Just so you know, I will never keep what’s not mine and looks like it’s only two of us left.”
Jack was never greedy about money. In the army, he used to spread his bonus, after sending his family some part of it, between his soldiers knowing how happy they would be with extra cash in their pocket for extra shot or cigarettes and they loved him for that.
They would go the extra mile just for him in any situation. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy, that’s just how he was then. Now it was different, he had nothing. “Fucking Blitz” said Jack crawling outside of the shack.
“What did you say Sir Jack? I didn’t hear you.” But Jack was gone with half a bottle of “Chapter 6” in his hand.
~ 10 ~
November 19th 1940 was rushing through Jack’s head. He was sitting by the river on one of the tree roots, sipping from a bottle from time to time. His town, Birmingham was bombed eight times, compared to London’s 71. He was away from home that day in the Scotland office, going through strategies and planning in brainstorming meetings for the second consecutive day when he got a telegraph from his brother in-law, Luke, which simply said: “I am sorry Jack” and that was all. Something was nagging on Jack’s mind. Three days later, when he came home he found his and other buildings destroyed completely, it was a tragedy and he went to see if he could find his brother in-law with his family before he would go back to war. He was given two hours of free time before having to report back to his unit. He found him in his assigned place, like a shelter, by himself and found out that his and Jack’s family was killed by a bomb, before entering the bunker, right in front of Luke’s eyes. Luke was pushed back with such a forceful wave from the explosion and opened his eyes two days later in a hospital. Luke’s hair was ash white despite his being only thirty one at that time. Jack remembered him as he had looked- with wrinkles under his eyes, a broken nose from boxing, his right eye brow missing, ears broken in a few places, a rabbit lip with a scar going from his left nostril tilted right and crossing the center and meeting his upper lip and a muscular yet basic posture. Now, a wind weathered face looked at him, making Luke appear to be a man in his fifties. Later, in the field, Jack received a telegraph notifying him that the only family he had left, including his brother in-law had died in another bombing that had hit England in December. He remembered Tom’s and Jerry’s families being buried under tons of debris when their buildings collapsed. Tom, Jerry and Jack were friends since elementary school and through army. They had always been together, for as long as Jack could remember, even though Jack had an officer title.
Now, he was alone, sitting by himself sipping from the bottle, remembering how he dropped Tom’s body into the river taking his wallet first. Jerry’s wallet never been retrieved. How Bimal and him were washing the scene away from blood so it would not be obvious. Bimal approached Jack from behind with no sound and that startled Jack.
“I was just checking on the pelts and didn’t want to disturb you, Sir Jack.” Earlier, with his professional hand, Bimal had created two beautiful pelts out of mom and dad’s bodies; each one of them was drying now on a wooden stretcher held up on two big tree roots beside Jack. Jack smelled them but now in a different way, as a conqueror.
“So, what do you think about the male cub?” asked Jack.
“Like I said before Sir Jack, I can’t be held responsible like this for the rest of my life if something happens and somebody’s life will be in danger just because you want to make more money.”
“We can’t put him down, but…” said Jack looking at Bimal with a foggy gaze in his eyes after an unaccounted amount of whiskey in his body.
“He will give us a fortune Bimal” Jack continued. But Bimal didn’t listen; he turned around and was looking at their shack in the distance.
The gun shot was so loud that everything alive around the river stopped breathing; Bimal fell down on the ground with his face destroyed by Jack’s bullet. Jack shot him from behind. Where the bullet entered, slightly above his neck, was a little hole. On the opposite side, where the bullet exited, was a bloody mass. The front of Bimal’s face was gone. Jack took him by the shoulders and dragged his body close to the river. He dragged the body through the overgrowth and tree roots to the little elevation above the river and dropped it, exhaling deeply.
“I didn’t want it Bimal, you provoked me, you brought this up on yourself” said Jack out loud into nothingness. Next thing he did, was stuff Bimal’s pockets with rocks so that the body wouldn’t rise to the surface of the river, at least not while he would be there making up a story and explaining himself to the smugglers he was waiting for. He couldn’t risk it; he couldn’t let this kind of money pass him. He dropped Bimal’s body into the river, turned around and went into the shack feeling guilty but not for long. He was used to it as he had killed before. He was able to keep all of it separate from his current life and he was good at it.
~ 11 ~
“Bimal said: few hours” Jack remembered, “How long had passed since he said that?” Jack mentally asked himself. They came, three of them. Jack, for some reason felt them coming and was rushing to get rid of Bimal’s body. They resembled Bimal, two of them more and one less, but you could clearly see that they were related. He now realized what would happen if they found out the truth about their brother.
“Where is he?” one of them said with a terrible accent but not bad English, while he gathered slightly dried pelts from Jack. “He didn’t make it, it was an accident and I am the only one here.”
“Tell me what happened and I will later translate to my brothers”, the one with good English but the terrible accent stated. Jack explained what happened in details not leaving anything out. He didn’t have to; everything was true and still vivid in his mind, except details he didn’t reveal about Bimal’s last minutes. The brothers mourned by the river for some time after Jack’s story was translated to the other two brothers and after a while they were on their way. Jack destroyed his hideout, said quick prayer to his friends and joined Bimal’s brothers on the carriage pulled by a vyas (ox). Temporary cages holding the brother and sister tigers were on the same carriage partly covered in cloth, shielding them from the sun and providing a little shade.
They were frightened in their confines, angry and curled in a corner.
“This one, the male, is going to make you a fortune” said the one with the good English. “You think we can get a little more money than we agreed on?” he continued as he momentarily glanced at his brothers.
“You will be rich with them; they will make you money”. Jack didn’t get it at one point and only later he figured them out. They were asking a lot of questions and Jack didn’t like them. He checked his revolvers, adding bullets and was ready to shoot all of them if the opportunity presented itself.
They approached the road that was leading to the docks by the ocean. There in an abandoned warehouse, they were supposed to meet a ship and it’s Captain, a little insignificant German by the name of Shultz, who was full of himself. That’s how he was presented to Jack by the English professor. All along the way, Jack was waiting on Bimal’s brothers to do something to him and as they got closer to the main road leading to the docks, one of the brothers stopped the carriage by pulling back the ropes tight to rein in the vyas, leaning back and making a funny noise with his mouth. Jack sensed that something bad was going to happen. He had a lot of experience in these kinds of situations.
“Why did we stop?” Jack asked all of them, not paying attention to anybody in particular or his question.
“We have to check on cages” the one, with not bad English replied. Three of them jumped off the carriage and surrounded Jack pointing their rifles at him. Two brothers were standing in front of Jack and one behind. Jack shot two of them from the carriage, putting two bullets in each of their bodies while quickly sliding from the carriage. Jack dropped on his right side delivering a fifth shot into his third opponent’s foot. When the last brother screamed and got down on his knees, Jack ended the brother’s life with a perfect shot into his forehead. Everything took less than a minute and he used only one gun. He reloaded the empty revolver and dragged the lifeless bodies away from the road into thick bushes on each side. Jack was on his way, leading his prize to an abandoned warehouse by the harbor, now alone.
~ 12 ~
The sun was setting in the distance when Jack arrived to the abandoned warehouse he recognized from Bimal’s description. He found the key in the exact place Bimal described. “Third brick in fifth row, left from second window on the right side when you are facing the main entrance”. When Jack opened the door and was in, something else went trough his mind that Bimal mentioned, he was supposed to go and find better cages for the cats at the market place in town not far from the harbor.
“Temporary, is not a good enough solution, we will need something better than what we will get Sir. Jack” was replaying in Jack’s mind. Jack un-tightened the carriage from the vyas and not paying much attention to the animals, pushed the carriage into the warehouse. Inside, he checked locks on the cages and went to get water and some food for the tigers. Two bowls were filled to the top with water from the sink he found functional. He had to wait a little, while the brown color of the water would vanished, even though he didn’t give a damn about these two, money was the only thing that kept him going now. He got closer to the cages and put the bowls beside them looking angrily in each of the cubs’ eyes. Then he shook the door of each cage, one by one making sure that they were secure. Once he was satisfied, he opened them and put a bowl of water in each one. He checked the doors of each cage again after closing them and went into his duffle to get some dried meat for the tigers just as Bimal prepared earlier and instructed Jack how to feed the animals without risking their lives before they reached their final destination.
“Tigers can go without food for two weeks under normal circumstances, so be generous, they are your pay” Jack remembered Bimal’s words hitting his head. He was having his dinner if you can call it that; galettes, dry meat that he was frying over the fire on a stick, whiskey. He was a little drunk and angry now, filling another two bowls with meat. He opened the female’s cage and put the bowl with food in front of her, closed it, and to be sure tried the door once again with his hands. He faced the other cage with the male tiger and looked at him for a long while, staring in his eyes, hating him with all he could, bowl of food in his hands. Jack didn’t give the male cub food at this time; he went back, sat down in a chair, before broken and now fixed, and just kept drinking. After a few gulps of his whiskey he looked at the cage with the male again.
“What?” he asked looking at the male cub.
“You think you are tough?” he asked again, blood boiling in his body.
“You son of a bitch, you killed two of my buddies, what do you think I should do to you?” He took the stick that he was grilling his dry meat with and approached the cage with the male cub. He poked him from different directions, walking from the front to the back of the cage. Cages remained on the carriage and he supposed to give the cats another dose of tranquilizers to switch the cages to the better once. The male cub was irrational, hitting the cage door and cage sides with his strong body while Jack was provoking him, pushing a stick with a little glow on its tip into the tiger’s body any time he had a chance. The noise of the cage being hit didn’t stop for several minutes.
Jack came back for another shot of whiskey on a table that he made from boxes when the cage door suddenly gave up and opened with a recognizable squeaky sound of metal on metal. Jack turned around and froze in his place, outside of his cage, the orange cat with black stripes was now free and watching him from a distance.
~ 13 ~
Jack quickly picked up one of his revolvers lying on a box and was turning around ready to shoot, but it was too late. The first blow of the cub’s paw opened Jack’s abdominal region. Jack looked down at himself and looked up into the cub’s eyes with disbelief, trying to push his guts back into his body or at least holding them in their place with his left hand. Jack’s hands were shaking terribly.
“How did he escape? That’s why he was hitting the cage so hard” the question and immediate answer went through Jack’s head. Next Jack felt an awesome pain and pressure on his right arm, bones crashing and blood seeping in different directions. The cats head was so close. Jack hit it with his left fist and cat stumbled backwards.
“Fu…!” Jack was caught in mid-sentence when the next blow took Jack’s right arm off, that was still holding the gun, completely and Jack fell to the ground. The male cub was in a rage, mouth open wide, whiskers moving up and down, eyes glaring; head down close to the ground as he took few steps back preparing him for another attack, making Jack insignificant like an insect. Jack pushed himself on one hand and was trying to move close to his gun, but he felt so tired and drained from losing blood so quickly that he knew he had no time now. With all the strength left in him, bending his knees with one working arm and opened stomach, he pushed himself backwards landing on his back close to the gun on the ground that was still embraced with his other hand. He looked at it and picked it up with his left hand, trying to slip his index finger between the trigger guard and the other finger that was still there. Jack cried in horror, eyes wide open, mouth opening and closing rapidly from the pain that suddenly registered in his brain and was very strong now. “Stop, stop, stop” were Jack’s last words when strong incisors took him by the neck and ripped it apart. At the last moment Jack pushed his left arm upwards on his elbow, pointed the gun with his two hands into the cub’s head and pulled the trigger twice before Jack fell into darkness.
Warmth went through the male cub’s body; he jerked and gave out the roar with his last full breath, shaking his head and staring into nothingness, blood rushing down from his left eye socket, now a dark gaping hole, his mouth and back of his head. He roared one last time weakly, walking drunkenly, with his feet tangling, around Jack’s body, looking at his sister’s cage. Then his body collapsed on top of human corpses covering them almost completely and he was gone.
Slava P ©