I don’t know how long I had been sleeping, but I woke up all of a sudden. Someone was sitting on my chest. I cried out Bimal’s name in terror. From the darkness, a hand grasped my throat and warned, “Don’t you dare! Make any loud noises, and I’ll squeeze the life out of you.” I went cold at this and said with difficulty, “Let go of my throat. I’m suffocating.”

He removed his hand and said, “Fine. But you’re dead if you shout again.”

I couldn’t see anything in that pitch-black darkness. Who was this sitting on my chest? I heard sounds of a scuffle in the other end of the room and then a groan as someone hit someone with something. Then, silence. In that darkness, a hoarse voice asked, “Shambhu, what’s the matter?”

Another voice said, “Babu, this lad has the strength of an ox. He would have pushed me off his chest. I had to use my stick to deal with him.”

“Have you finished him off?”

“No, he’s just knocked out cold.”

“Good. Then let me switch on the light.” Saying which, he struck a match and lit the lamp. It was the man on the steamer and on the platform who had been shadowing us. Seeing me stare at him, he laughed and said, “So, partner? What makes you gawk? Or have you recognised me, by any chance?”

I didn’t reply. There was still a man sitting on my chest. Bimal’s body lay seemingly lifeless in another corner of the room. It was impossible to tell if he was dead or alive. I looked at the doors and windows, all shut as before. How did they come in then? The man with the lamp walked up to me and said, “Think you’re very clever, don’t you, boy? Finding the yaksha’s treasure? What do you think will happen to you now?”

“Who-who are you?” I asked, now very scared.

“Why do you need these tedious introductions?”

“What do you want?”

“Pocketbook – pocketbook! We need your grandpa’s pocketbook. We’ve got the skull already. Now be an angel and tell us where you’ve kept the pocketbook.”

I couldn’t help but smile to myself even in the midst of such danger. So they thought the fake skull was the real thing! And they knew about the pocketbook, so they must be Karali’s men. Seeing my silence, the man threatened me and said, “Cat got your tongue, lad? Tell us where the pocketbook is right away, or else...” He whipped out a dagger from his waistband. “Do you see what I have here?” The blade glinted and flashed in the light of the lamp.

I hurriedly said, “It’s in that bag.”

“Hmm, that’s the spirit, isn’t it? Shambhu, open the bag and check.”

Shambhu was sitting next to Bimal’s inert body. He walked over to the bag in the other corner of the room, tried to open the bag and said, “It’s locked.”

The man with the lamp turned to me once again and said, “Where’s the key to the bag?”

Before I could say anything, Bimal stood up like a whiplash and said, “Here it is – I have it,” and raised his hand. He was holding a gun! I was stunned. Bimal stepped in front and said, “I will shoot the next man who moves a muscle.”

Suddenly, the man who held the lamp dropped it to the ground, plunging the room in darkness once again. With that, Bimal’s gun spit fire with a loud bang. A man’s voice yelled, “Oh my god! I’m hit!” The man sitting on my chest let go. Immediately there was the sound of the door opening, Bagha’s barking, Ramhari’s voice. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I just sat on the bed like a man hypnotised.

Bimal said, “Kumar, light the lamp – quick!”

“But – but –”

“Don’t worry. Light it. They’re gone!”

I didn’t have to light the lamp after all, as Ramhari hurriedly entered the room with a lantern. There was no one other than us in the room. Bimal went down on all fours on the floor and said, “Blood stains. So the man escaped even after being shot. Perhaps the bullet just grazed his arm or something.”

Ramhari asked with an anxious expression, “What’s the matter, Babu?”

Bimal ignored him for the moment and continued, “The door and windows were all shut from the inside, yet they got in. Oh, got it, they must have entered while we were in the dining room. The rascals hid under the bed all that time.”

I found this convincing as well. “That makes sense. But Bimal, you were unconscious. How did you stand up all of a sudden?”

“I hadn’t fainted at all. I was just pretending. Thank heavens the gun was on my bed!”

Just then, Bagha padded into the room, his tail wagging, and started licking my feet with great affection. I saw some stains around his mouth. They looked like blood! Was Bagha injured then? I hurriedly took my face close to his and realised, no, it was someone else’s blood. Bagha must have taken a chunk off one of the goons!

I patted Bagha on the head and said, “Well done, Bagha. Good boy!” Bagha seemed to melt with my praise and started rolling around near my feet in delight. Bimal said, “From now on, Bagha will sleep with us. A thing like this would never have happened had he been in the same room as us.”

“That is correct. But what plans for the future? Karali will not let us go this easily. His spies will return in more numbers.”

Bimal said lightly, “That they will.”

Excerpted with permission from The Treasure of The Khasi Hills, Hemendra Kumar Roy, translated from the Bengali by Jashodhara Chakraborti, Talking Cub.