Saturday, 18 August 2012

Assignment

That evening, after we had all eaten, the Leader motioned me to follow him outside with a nod of his head.

“We want you to investigate this matter,” he growled when we were outside.

“Why me?” I howled. “Why pick on me?”

“Because you’re the safest one,” he snapped. “With everyone else there are always complications, all sorts of friendships and alliances and whatnot, so you don’t know what’s going on in the shadows. But that’s not true with you, because you have no friends at all. You’ve always been a lone wolf. Also, you’re lazy. You need something to do.”

“I’m not the cleverest,” I submitted. “Anyone could probably do better than I could at this task, don’t you think?”

“Brains aren’t important,” he sniffed. “You know who’s responsible. I know who’s responsible. Everyone knows who’s responsible. All you have to do is prove it.”

“In that case,” I whined, “why don’t you simply prove it yourself and have done with it? Why saddle me with this job? You’re the leader, so you can do what you want.”

“Stop snivelling.” He glared down his long nose at me. “If I have to retain any authority I have to be seen to be fair. How can I be seen to be fair if I condemn someone without an investigation?”

“All right.” I accepted the inevitable. “Just where do you suggest I get this proof? Where do I begin?”

“What are you, some kind of cub wet behind the ears? You decide for yourself where to begin. Just get the proof, and by tomorrow evening, that’s all I ask.” And, mightily pleased with this solution, he stalked off back to his den, leaving me standing in the snow, alone.


I have this rooted objection to hard work. I mean, earning a living is all very fine, but this isn’t about my next meal, it’s something altogether different and the kind of work for which I do not care. So, as usual in these situations, I looked for an assistant, and as it happens, I found one almost at once. This was rather fortuitous, since someone who helps me once rarely cares to assist me on a second occasion. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe it’s because they think they have to do all the running around and smelling out trails. Well, someone’s got to do the thinking, as I always say, right?

In any case, this time I was lucky that as soon as I put out the news that I needed an assistant, and for what, I got this volunteer to help me. She was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as one might say. She came almost wiggling in her delight at being allowed to help out. “What would you like me to do?” she panted.

“Go jump in the snow,” I’d have liked to say. I never could stand all that youthful energy. Instead, I looked sternly at her. “Do you know what we’re supposed to be looking for?”

“I heard it’s something to do with who killed old Timber. Are we looking for the killer?”

“Yes. Do you have any idea who it is?”

“Everyone’s saying it’s –“

“Stop!” I snapped. “Don’t utter any names. I know who you mean, but we have no proof he killed him and besides, it’s only speculation that he killed him. Don’t you have any knowledge about investigations at all, you bitch?”

“How could I?” she whined. “I’ve never done this kind of thing before.”

“Well, all right. You know Timber was the Leader’s second-in-command so everyone thinks that either he was killed by the one we’re both thinking about so he could become the second-in-command in his turn, or...”

“Or the Leader killed Timber himself to remove a threat!” she squealed.

“Shut up,” I snarled. “Do you want us both to get into trouble from your shouting?” She was right of course, it was a possibility; but I dislike independent thinking in my assistants. “Timber was found dead at the northern edge of the ravine, where we’d gone hunting three days ago. He went there alone for unknown reasons.”

“But I heard that he had gone there to...”

“What you heard is irrelevant,” I cut her off. “He might have gone there to meet a friend or to do a little hunting on the side or whatever. That isn’t important. What’s important is who can have known that he’d gone there.”

“Everyone knew that. Even I knew. I’m surprised you didn’t know.”

“You did? How come?”

“Timber used to go out alone every night around the same time and come back in the morning. He said he was going to meditate.”

“Meditate,” I snuffled. “Why, he didn’t have a meditative bone in his body, that one. I wonder...and so everyone knew. Did anyone ever follow him out?”

“Everyone goes out alone at some time or other, doesn’t everyone? I’ll ask around though.”

“You do that.” I stretched. “Go right now and begin asking everyone. Leave nobody out. I’ll go and do some thinking myself, in the meantime.”

“Oh? Where are you going?”

“Out. Just out. I have some ideas to follow up, some thoughts about the killing.”


I went, finally, to the spot where the ravine narrowed and where Timber’s corpse had been found. Snow had filled it almost halfway to the top, and the moonlight just before dawn still gleamed on the snow. Much snow had fallen since Timber had died, but I studied the ground anyway. Hey, I did have to put on a show of activity, didn’t I?

Far away, I could see the place where the ravine began. Timber would have come down from that side, slipping between the trees until he was approximately opposite where I was now. And whoever was waiting for him would have waited right here, where I was, to take him by surprise. Timber was tough as the hills and he wouldn’t have been so easy to kill. From the nature of the wound, however...

Something moved suddenly in the corner of my vision, something that began moving away through the shadows. When I want to exert myself, I am fast, and I was running so quickly that I overtook the running shadow and brought her down in a flurry of snow before she had made it halfway to the top of the slope.

“Let me go,” my assistant whimpered, wriggling under me. “Please let me go.” She raised her head slightly, but I was ready and I had already pulled my head and neck back.

“The same trick won’t work twice,” I informed her. “You succeeded in killing Timber because he wasn’t expecting that trick, but I am.”

“How did you – how did you know I killed him?”

“So you aren’t trying to deny it?” I sat back, but she remained rolled over on her back, watching me. “Many things, little things and big things. They all added up. Do you want to know what they were?”

“What?”

“Well, Timber was a horrible old piece of ordure, really. He wouldn’t think twice of having his way with any female who took his fancy, in or out of season. He’d bang anything which had a vagina. That was one thing, but in itself it wasn’t relevant.

“Then there was your volunteering to help me. I don’t normally get assistants so easily, so I was naturally surprised at the promptness with which you came to me and asked to help. It struck me that possibly you wanted to keep a close personal watch on which way the investigation was going.

“Then, of course, when I mentioned a prime suspect, you fell over yourself to support my entirely spurious suspicions and also for good measure threw in the idea that the Leader himself might be responsible. If you had been for real, you’d just have listened and gone along with whatever I said. Remember, I’ve had assistants before; I know how a raw assistant behaves.

“And then there was the clincher. When I came here, after telling you I was going to follow up ideas, you came after me. You didn’t do what I’d told you to do. You were desperate to find out what I knew. So, you were guilty.

“As for the killing, I admit I didn’t know just how you’d achieved it till a little while ago. After all, Timber was so much larger and stronger than you, but he was found with his throat torn out. Then it struck me that when someone rolls over submissively to us, we usually begin taking things easy. We look away and drop our guard. When someone submits, we don’t expect them to attack.

“Yet, as I said, Timber was found with his throat torn out. So I began to see how you must have met him here, and of course rolled over in submission to him. And when he looked away, he would have just exposed his throat to your teeth...no, it’s no good trying it again. You’ve already failed once.”

“I hate you,” she snarled, showing her teeth. Her yellow eyes gleamed in the moonlight and her ruff of fur bristled. “You’re as bad as all of them. You wouldn’t lift a paw to help when that evil old wolf was doing things...and not just to me, either.”

“So you do admit you killed him?”

“Of course I killed him,” she spat at me. “And I’m not the least ashamed of it.”

“Did you hear all that?” I called.

“I did,” the Leader said, coming out from where he had been waiting. He stood looking at the young wolf who had been my assistant, and his tail swished to and fro. “I think,” he said at last, “that we’ll announce that after investigation we found that Timber was killed by wolves from another pack. That story should satisfy everyone, even if they don’t believe it – and they won’t.”

“I don’t get it,” said the young bitch wolf. “Are you saying that you’re letting me go?”

“Of course,” the Leader said, faintly surprised. “Why should I punish you? Timber was no loss to anyone. You’d better go back now. And stay out of trouble!”

Later, as he and I trotted up toward the den, he stopped and nudged me with his muzzle. “I’m surprised,” he told me. “I gave you till tomorrow, and you got the job done in one night. How did you manage it?”

“I’m lazy,” I admitted. “I saw that there was a way to make the killer do my job for me, so I took it. That’s the way with us lazy ones. If we can make someone else do our work for us, we do.”

“Well,” he said, “You did well enough on this one.”

“It was her guilty conscience,” I told him, my wide black nostrils sniffing the cold air. “She never really had a chance.” 



Copyright B Purkayastha 2009/12

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