Had he heard right? There was a momentary pause on the other side of the call to let the information sink in.
Clipped tones resumed briefing him on his course of action. Non-adherence would cost him his wife –for good.
He felt foolish discovering the locked olive green trunk stamped with his name and credentials in the rear of his jeep, just as the kidnapper had confirmed.
‘How did those blasted thugs pull this off right under my nose!?’ He seethed.
They were arm-twisting him, a forest officer, to ferry their poached trophies in nothing less than his official vehicle.
His visiting septuagenarian father-in-law took the news pitifully and slumped in his armchair, tears streaming. Hiding his face in his hands, he seemed senile,speaking his son–in–law’s name- Arya- repeatedly and not his daughter’s.
Man Friday, Hari Kumar, hovered nearby. He asked Hari for some tea, then strangely, fetched a book of Sikkim’s butterflies to insistently gift Arya when he left.
Night approached. He had to catch the Guwahati Express as instructed, at 21:00 hours.
He would apprise headquarters and the police confidentially. They’d happily help in Kesang’s rescue.
He instructed Hari Kumar to inform various officers asking them to send forces in civilian wear to the hot spot.
Hari outdid himself to save his mistress. His frantic calls triggered swift mobilization of guards at crucial checkpoints along the eastern route.
Some guards vaguely pondered the wisdom of concentrating on the east and disregarding the western gateways.
At the station Arya took a fidgety seat on a bench. The trunk with endangered animal parts stared at him.
To calm himself, he took out his father-in-law’s book. Kesang had inherited his love for butterflies and forest creatures.
Arya was proud that researchers consulted her on Himalayan biodiversity.
He opened the book but a call interrupted. The gang of poachers was busted! Kesang had already managed to escape.
Relieved, he shut the book ,when a piece of hand-crafted paper beneath the bench caught his eye. Curious, he picked it up and read – ‘Don’t Leave’. Then he noticed a‘Blue Duke’ butterfly insignia. His father-in-law owned similar notepads. He felt the perplexing message was meant for him.
A dilemma arose; but he chose to head home to his father-in-law, praying for Kesang’s safe return.
Kesang easily manoeuvered the sparsely manned checkposts. She trekked westward towards the Indo-Chinese border.
Her father knew too much. He couldn’t understand that she was a queen. Hari Kumar must have done his job and put him to rest.
She sniggered thinking of Arya. He would buy any story she fed him.
Her gang would be bailed out by morning. The pangolin scales, otter skin and ivory in the trunk would be her next delivery.
Her consignment of rare butterflies were perfect specimen. She had killed each one painstakingly, almost immediately after their wings first opened on hatching. The beauties had hardened without scratches or tears. They’d fetch big dollars.
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