A Proper Little Hitler

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

The three men walked down the Whakatane river and out of the Urewera bush. All were rangers of the forest service – two tall lean men and an older, short, thickset fellow – but it was obvious that the smaller man was the leader, the senior. They were dirty and weary with heavy beard stubble, sweat-stained clothes; boots and socks soggy from river crossings. They had been walking for four days. Each carried a weather-bleached canvas shoulder pack, and one had a map case. They could have been mistaken for hunters, but there was only one rifle with the group. The morning was stinking hot. Near the road end they caught a lift in a cocky’s truck down to the Taneatua township where they phoned their forest headquarters to send transport to pick them up for they were out of the bush a day earlier than expected.

They bought a feed of greasy fish and chips, then went to the hotel to await the expected vehicle. As they entered the public bar they saw a landrover parked on the street outside. It was set up for night-shooting with brush bars, rifles in a cradle in the cab, mounted spotlight, and extra batteries. It was a well set up wagon.

There were few customers in the bar, just a couple of old codgers at the far end and a group of three roughly dressed young fellows, who, even at this early hour, had had enough to drink to be talking loudly, and too much. These fellows noticed the three forest rangers, asked them where they had sprung from, and on being told that they had just walked down the Whakatane river, assumed them to be visiting amateur hunters.

They began to boast. They were professional hunters- big time! That was their rig out there on the street. The forest rangers, showing mild interest, asked where they were going hunting. With this minimum of prompting the trio told all, and bold poachers they were! Today was pub, but tomorrow they were off to Whirinaki Forest in the southern Urewera country to do a night shoot on deer. Did they have a permit to night shoot, as it was understood that such shooting was unlawful?

No bloody fear, they didn’t have a permit and weren’t going to get one! They would keep well clear of the forestry office up there. That’s where the biggest chief of the forestry in the whole area worked, a little short bastard called Stumpy something or other. This bloke runs everything up there. He’s the logging boss and the forestry boss; he runs the whole town because it’s a forestry village; he runs the hunting and the animal control over pretty well all the Urewera country, he’s got a finger in every pie. A proper bloody little Hitler, he is.

They say that he’s got fifteen or more other forest rangers to help him; that he’s had the job for over twenty years; he’s lived in the district all his life, so he knows the country like the back of his hand. He’s hell on poachers too! Caught one mate about a month ago and prosecuted him too! A proper bastard.

No, we’ll keep well clear of that outfit. We’ll arrive there right on dark, sneak in just before they lock the forest gates, hunt all night, and sneak out again after they unlock the gates in the morning, but before the work gangs go in. It’ll be a piece of cake, no trouble at all, plenty of deer up there too. But if they get a decco at our rig, set up as it is, they’ll be out looking for us for sure, but we’ll put it across them O.K. No worry!

The conversation dragged on. Finally the transport arrived, and with a “so long” the two tall forest rangers sauntered out of the bar, grinning. The short one stayed back a-moment. He spoke to the three hunters. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. You see, I’m a district ranger for the Forest Service. My district covers most of the Urewera country right through here and down to the coast, but my home base is Whirinaki Forest. I’m the boss of the logging and the forestry and the village, up there. I’m a bloody little Hitler, a proper bastard, and I’m hell on poachers too!” “Up there, I’m known as Stumpy something or other, and I’ve been around this area all my life, but I would rather warn poachers off than catch them! See you tomorrow night. “So long.”

In a ghastly silence Stumpy walked out of the bar to the waiting car.