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Short Stories, June 10, 1935
With the Able Assistance of Black John Smith,
Esq., of Halfaday Creek, Yukon Territory—
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS
A CASE
By JAMES B. HENDRYX
Author of “Black John Collects Evidence,” “The Portage,” etc.
HORSE on you, an’ five sixes to
beat in two shakes,” announced old
Cush triumphantly, as he shoved
the leather dice box across the bar.
Black J
array of si
ohn Smith scowled down at the
xes as he gathered them into the
box. “It would be a damn sight better game if
the low hand won, instead of the high hand,”
he opined.
Old Cush, the somber-faced proprietor of
Cushing’s Fort, the trading post and saloon
that served the little community of outlaws
that had sprung up on Halfaday Creek, close
against the Yukon-Alaska border, shrugged
and scrutinized the ivory cubes that the other
rolled onto the bar. “I’d figger that way, too,”
he taunted, “if my luck wasn’t runnin’ no
better’n what yourn is.”
“No, I mean it,” argued Black John. “Take
it in poker, too—if the low hand won, it would
be a better game. There’d be more stayin’ in
the pots, an’ more bettin’ on the hands. The
way it is, if a man don’t see no chance to
make a pretty good hand he trows ‘em away
an’ don’t draw. But if the low hand win, he’d
stay—a man might always ketch a low hand.”
“Humph,” grunted Cush, “it would be a
hell of a game where nothin’ would beat
somethin’. Any damn fool would know that a
good hand ort to beat a pore one.”
“But there’s so many more pore hands
dealt than there is good ones that there’d be a
lot more bettin’,” persisted Black John.
“Who’d be damn fool enough to bet on a
pore hand?”
“Why, anyone would, if the pore hand
would win.”
“You mean, if a man had a good hand he
wouldn’t have nothin’—an’ if he didn’t have
nothin’, he’d bet like hell on it?”
A
SHORT STORIES 2
“Shore. An’ he’d git a good play, because
more of the others would have pore hands
than good ones. Can’t you git that through yer
skull?”
“No, I can’t,” growled Cush, as he
returned the dice box to the back bar and set
out bottles and glasses, “an’ I ain’t got no time
to ponder on no sech a damn fool idee. If I
was you I’d bend what brains I had to some
other pursuits than inventin’ games that ain’t
got no sense to ‘em. Accordin’ to your way of
thinkin’, a baseball nine which got the most
runs would lose the game, an’ a prize fighter
which he got knocked plumb through the
ropes would win him a hell of a vict’ry, an’
there’d be a lot more prize fightin’ because all
them damn bums would be champeens. Or if
two fellas got to shootin’ it out with one
another, an’ one of ‘em missed, he’d win—an’
the boys could go ahead an’ bury him, whilst
the loser set ‘em up to the house.”
“It would,” replied Black John, pouring
his liquor, “take a modicum of brains to grasp
my p’int. I was referrin’ merely to dice, an’
the game of poker; an’ not to baseball, an’
prize fights, an’ shootin’ scrapes.”
“Poker’s like everything else,” retorted
Cush somberly, “an’ if anything, a little bit
more so. Here comes One Armed John, an’ by
the look of joy on his face, I’ll bet he’s found
him another corpse somewhere along the
crick.”
“It’s a good thing someone finds ‘em,”
said Black John. “No one wants a crick all
cluttered up with corpses. I wonder who it is,
this time?”
“It could be a lot of ‘em without causin’
me no sorrow,” grumbled Cush. “What with
the chechakos pourin’ into the Yukon like
they be, it looks like we git more’n our share
of their riff-raff.” He set out another glass as
One Armed John rested his stub on the bar,
and hoisted a foot to the brass rail.
JEST be’n up the crick talkin’ to the
Widder Sherman,” he announced, as he
poured his drink.
“The Widder Sherman!” exclaimed Black
John. “Who in hell’s the Widder Sherman?”
“Why—the only woman on the crick.
Don’t you rec’lect that guy that come in about
six, seven weeks ago an’ fetched his woman in
with him? They moved into Whiskey Bill’s
old shack, up that feeder.”
“Why—shore. But you can’t call her no
widder—”
“The hell you can’t!” interrupted One
Armed John. “You can’t call her nothin’ else,
since breakfast!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, her man, an’ that there Beauregard
that come in a couple of weeks after they did,
had a shootin’ fracas at breakfast time this
mornin’, an’ Sherman got plugged right
through the winder.”
“Was it fatal?” queried Black John.
“It was fatal enough so he’s dead as hell—
if that’s what you mean.”
“Yeah, I had some such thought in mind.
What was the rookus about?”
“The woman claims she don’t know.”
“It’s a cinch she does, then. A woman will
lie like hell. Takin’ ‘em by an’ large, they’re a
detriment to any crick.”
“It don’t make no difference if you take
‘em large er small,” said One Armed John. “A
little woman kin raise jest as much hell as a
big one. You can’t tell me. I know!”
“Why,” asked Black John, “did he shoot
him through the winder?”
“’Cause that’s where he was at. They both
shot through the winder, an’ Sherman must of
missed. I come along jest after it happened.
The woman was carryin’ on to beat hell; but
she was fair an’ square about it, at that. I told
her you’d call a miners’ meetin’ an’ the
chances is we’d hang Beauregard fer what he
done, an’ she claimed that, much as she’d
delight to see him hung fer killin’ her man,
she’d have to admit that Sherman shot first
when he seen Beauregard through the
winder.” I
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 3
“H-u-u-m, an’ what become of Beauregard
after the killin’?”
“She claimed she didn’t know. She give
one look an’ seen him slip into the bresh, an’
she figgers he prob’ly went to his tent further
on, up the feeder. When her man got shot he
staggered back clean acrost the room an’
slumped down agin the wall. She was
watchin’ him, an’ didn’t pay no more heed to
Beauregard. You couldn’t blame her none fer
that. Wimmin is kind of curious, that-a-way.
They don’t like to miss nothin’ that’s goin’
on.”
“How long had he be’n shot when you
come along?”
“She said it was about a half a hour.”
“An’ she was still cryin’ an’ carryin’ on?”
“Well, I couldn’t say she was, what you’d
call cryin’. I noticed her eyes wasn’t wet none.
She was lettin’ out, what you might say, dry
howls, an’ long wavery whines, an’ kind of
groans like.”
“Humph—prob’ly started ‘em up when
she seen you comin’,” opined Black John.
“Well, she could, at that,” admitted One
Armed John. “I come in sight on the winder
side of the shack. But hell, John, why
wouldn’t a woman carry on, if her man got
shot? In a lot of ways wimmin is about like
other folks. Some prob’ly takes their grief dry;
an’ some wet. An’ besides Sherman wasn’t
nothin’ to cry much over losin’, nohow.”
“Yeah,” grinned Black John, “but a few
tears would be more convincin’. I s’pose we
better go on up an’ investigate. Me an’ Cush
kin manage it. You kin stay here an’ tend bar.”
“I told her you an’ Cush would prob’ly to
want to hold an inquish on him,” replied One
Armed John, as he stepped behind the bar and
tied a soiled white apron about his middle.
“Told her to leave Sherman lay, an’ not to
touch nothin’. His gun lays where he dropped
it, right close to his hand. She said she
wouldn’t touch nothin’ unless Beauregard
show’d up; but if he did, she’d pick up the gun
an’ blow his guts out. She’s right rough talkin’
fer a woman—you’d ort to heard her cussin’
Beauregard out. If there’s any truth in them
old sayin’s, I’ll bet his ears is burnin’ yet.”
II
S THE two reached the mouth of the
small feeder Old Cush paused and
pointed to a canoe lying bottom upward in a
thicket of brush. On the opposite side of the
stream another craft was similarly placed.
“Here’s their canoes,” he said. “One
would be Sherman’s an’ t’other Beauregard’s.
I rec’lect that the last time we was up this here
feeder we was huntin’ all over hell fer
Whiskey Bill’s corpse—an’ him not dead.”
“Yeah,” agreed Black John, lighting his
pipe, “that’s right.”
“An’ you went ahead an’ called a miners’
meetin’ an’ damn near hung Applejack fer
murderin’ him.”
“The name was Applegate,” corrected
Black John.
“What difference would the name make if
he was wrongfully hung?”
“A man like him couldn’t be wrongfully
hung. Hell—didn’t that secret service man
take him back to git hung in Illinois fer
murder? An’ wasn’t he guilty of skullduggery
fer passin’ all that hot money off on Whiskey
Bill? What I claim, if a man’s a habitual
murderer it don’t make no difference which
one of his murders he gits hung fer.”
“I mean we want to be careful not to make
no mistake. A man wouldn’t like to git hung
fer a murder he never done.”
“Oh hell, Cush, there ain’t no chance to go
wrong on this case. If Beauregard’s guilty
we’ve got our corpus delicti, all right; an’ if
he ain’t we won’t hang him. This here’s a
simple case—what with an eye-witness an’
all. Come on, let’s be gittin’ up there.”
HE two were met at the door of the cabin,
a short distance up the creek, by a woman
of some twenty-five or thirty years who, save
A
T
SHORT STORIES 4
for a certain indefinable hardness of
expression, might have been regarded as
beautiful.
“I suppose,” she said, “that you’re the
parties the one armed man said would be
comin’ up here to look things over.”
“Yes, mom,” answered Black John
respectfully. “Smith’s my name, an’ this here
other character is Lyme Cushing.”
“Are you in the police?” The hard eyes
narrowed ever so slightly as they flitted from
face to face.
“No, mom. On Halfaday we don’t favor
the police nosin’ around. That’s why we like
to do the investigatin’ ourselves.”
“Well, if you ain’t in the police, who give
you the right to come pryin’ around in other
folks’ business?”
“No one give it to us,” replied Black John
suavely. “It’s jest one of them rights we was
born with.”
“Yeah? Well, what if I was to order you
off this claim?”
“That wouldn’t git you nothin’, mom.
We’d go right ahead with the investigation,
jest the same. There’s a man been killed
here—an’ we aim to find out how it come
about.”
“An’ if the way of it don’t happen to suit
you—what then?”
“Then,” replied Black John, “someone is
apt to git hung. The killin’ of this here
Sherman suits us all right, provided it wasn’t a
murder. But murder, robbery, an’ general
skullduggery is hangable on Halfaday after
due conviction by miners’ meetin’. We’ve got
to keep the crick moral, er the police might git
to botherin’ us.”
The woman nodded. “I suppose you’re
right. But much as I’d like to see that damn
Beauregard hung fer killin’ my man, I
couldn’t lie no one—not even him—into a
hangin’.”
“No, mom. It wouldn’t be right. Mebbe
we’d better kind of look the ground over first,
an’ then it would simplify matters if you’d tell
us jest what come off here.”
The woman shrugged. “We might as well
get it over with. It all happened so quick there
ain’t much to tell. The one armed man said I
better leave things just like they was, so I
didn’t disturb nothin’. Sherman’s layin’ here
on the floor, right where he fell. I ain’t even
washed up the dishes. We was eatin’ breakfast
when it happened.”
HE stepped aside, allowing the two to
enter the shack where the body lay
sprawled upon the floor between the stove and
the bunk on the side opposite the single
window, directly before which stood a rude
table littered with the dishes of the interrupted
meal.
Cush and the woman looked on as,
dropping to one knee, Black John unbuttoned
the dead man’s shirt and examined a wound
high on the left breast from which blood had
flowed copiously. Presently he looked up,
addressing the woman:
“This here investigation has got a legal
aspect to it, mom, bein’ as Cush is a bony fido
coroner. As sech, he finds that this here party,
to wit, alias Pierre Sherman, come to his death
by means of a bullet from a heavy calibre gun
that ketched him jest above the heart. The
man’s status havin’ been established as that of
a corpse, we’ll proceed to swear you in. Do
you swear to tell the hull truth, er any part of
it, s’elp’e God?”
“Yes,” answered the woman—sullenly.
“All right—go ahead an’ start at the
beginnin’ an’ tell us jest what come off here
this mornin’.”
“Me and Sherman was eatin’ breakfast
when all of a sudden I seen him stand up
quick an’ draw his gun an’ fire out the
window. The noise an’ smoke scairt me so I
shoved back quick, an’ then there come
another shot, from outside, an’ Sherman kind
of jerked like, an’ turned as if he was makin’
for the door, but he staggered up agin the wall
an’ dropped right where he lays. I looks quick
S
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 5
out the window an’ seen a man I recognized as
Beauregard beatin’ it for the brush. I run
acrost to Sherman, but he was bleedin’
somethin’ fierce, an’ in a couple of minutes he
was dead. Then—I don’t remember what I
done, except to cry an’ carry on, till along
come a one armed man an’ told me I better git
holt of myself, an’ not disturb nothin’ till you
come up to investigate things. So that’s what I
done.”
LACK JOHN nodded. “An’ this here is
Sherman’s gun?” he asked picking a
nickel-plated thirty-eight calibre pistol from
the floor close beside the body.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“Was he habited to go heeled?”
“Yes, he always had his gun on him. He
packed it inside his shirt.”
“Why did he pack it?”
“I don’t know,” replied the woman with a
shrug.
“Where did Sherman set—when he stood
up an’ fired through the winder?”
“Right there—facin’ the window, where
he could see out. He always set there, so he
could see anyone coming’ along the crick.”
Black John scrutinized the window pane
with its two bullet holes, the smaller one high
up on the glass, and the larger about six inches
below it. “Why would Sherman shoot
Beauregard?” he asked abruptly.
“I don’t know.”
“Was they enemies?”
“Yes—that is, I’ve heard Sherman say that
Beauregard better not cross his path.”
Black John cleared his throat a trifle
awkwardly. “Was it on account of you?” he
asked.
“No! I didn’t even know Beauregard,
except by sight. He come onto this crick a
couple of weeks after we located here, an’
pitched his tent about a half a mile above us.
I’d see him, now an’ then, at a distance. I
never spoke a word to him in my life.”
“Mebbe,” hazarded Black John, “Sherman
figgered that Beauregard aimed to rob him.”
The woman shook her head. “He wouldn’t
have got nothin’. We’re poor folks. We ain’t
hardly takin’ out wages.”
”What time of day this shootin’ come
off?”
“Well, I couldn’t say. I didn’t look at the
clock. It was while we was eatin’ breakfast.”
“Was it dark er daylight?”
“Why, it was dark—that is we had the
lamp lit. But it must have been that it was
breakin’ daylight—because I seen Beauregard
through the window. Yes, it was daylight—
but we hadn’t put out the lamp yet. It’s kind of
darkish in here till quite late, what with only
the one window.”
“Yeah,” agreed Black John, “it would be.
You’re shore that Sherman shot before
Beauregard did?”
“Yes, I’m positive of that,” answered the
woman with a show of impatience. “Hell, I set
right there where the powder damn near burnt
my face when he fired!”
“Well,” replied Black John, “that seems to
be all there is to it, then. The coroner, here,
finds that the said alias Pierre Sherman come
to his death by means of bein’ shot above the
heart by alias William T. Beauregard, the said
Beauregard actin’ in self-defense. The case is
closed, an’ the coroner further orders the said
Sherman to be buried.” He paused and turned
abruptly upon the woman. “If you’ll rustle a
shovel, mom, me an’ Cush’ll help you with
the buryin’. It would be quite a chore fer you
to tackle alone, what with draggin’ him out,
an’ all. We won’t have to dig no grave.
Whiskey Bill must of left three, four old
shafts, an’ we’ll use one of them.”
HE woman’s sullenness had entirely
disappeared with the announcing of the
coroner’s verdict. She replied with alacrity,
“Seems to me I seen a shovel around here
somewhere—sure, over by that old windlass
there. An’ you might drop him right down that
shaft, too. A windlass fer a tombstone—that
B
T
SHORT STORIES 6
would suit Sherman fine! He was a hard
workin’ man—even if he didn’t never make
no strike.”
“We’ll look it over,” said Black John.
“An’ while we’re gone you better frisk
him, if he’s got anything on him you want—
like in his pockets.”
The burial over, Black John regarded the
woman speculatively. “What will you be doin’
now, mom?” he asked. “There ain’t no barpannin’ on this feeder, an’ you can’t do no
shaft work alone.”
“Never mind about me,” she replied. “I’ll
git along. There’s plenty of grub in the shack
fer a month or more, an’ in the meantime
maybe someone will be goin’ down to
Dawson that I can go along with.”
Black John nodded. “It shore looks like
you’re lucky—that is, I mean—havin’ this
here happen jest when it did. The goin’ an’
comin’s between Halfaday an’ Dawson ain’t
hardly ever advertised so you could connect
up with ‘em—but it jest so happens that me
an’ Red John are pullin’ out fer Dawson
tomorrow noon. You’re welcome to go along
with us.”
The woman frowned. “Well—er, that’s
mighty kind of you. But—I—well, you see—I
couldn’t hardly get ready so quick as that.”
Black John’s glance flashed about the
cabin. “It don’t look like you had much to git
ready. All you got to do is to pack yer blankets
down to yer canoe—an’ me an’ Cush kin do
that fer you, right now. Me an’ Red John’ll
have grub fer the trip to Dawson.”
“But,” objected the woman, “how about
all this grub? We laid in three hundred dollars’
worth, an’ we ain’t used up more’n half of it. I
ain’t goin’ to pull out an’ leave no hundred an’
fifty dollars worth of good grub in no cabin!”
“Yes, mom, that would be a shame,”
opined Black John. “But you don’t need to
worry about that. Cush, here, he’ll be glad to
take what grub you’ve got left off’n yer hands
at that figger.”
“Well, I don’t know,” objected old Cush,
his glance traveling swiftly about the room. “It
don’t hardly look like—”
LACK JOHN interrupted him abruptly.
“This ain’t no time fer quibblin’, Cush;
nor neither you ain’t the one to add to no
widder woman’s troubles.” He turned to the
woman with a smile. “He’ll take the stuff at
yer own figger, mom. I’ve know’d Cush a
long time, an’ I know that, in spite of his
penurious exterior, he’s as gentle an’ kindly a
soul as ever draw’d breath. But of course, if
you’d ruther stay around, an’ go back later
with the police, it ain’t nothin’ to me.”
“Police!” exclaimed the woman sharply.
“What do you mean—police? I thought you
said the police wasn’t wanted on Halfaday!”
“That’s right, mom. They ain’t wanted.
But they come every now an’ then without
consultin’ us. There ain’t none show’d up fer
quite a while, an’ one’s apt to drop in on us
any time. That’s why me an’ Cush wanted to
git the investigation over with an’ the corpse
buried. In the matter of shootin’s the police is
apt to git nosey as hell. So long, mom. If you
don’t want to go down with Red John an’ me,
that’s yer own business.”
“You say the police are apt to show up
here anytime!”
“Yeah, chances is one’ll be along before
long. We’ll send him on up, so you kin go out
with him. They’re s’posed to look after folks
that’s needin’ help. This ain’t no place fer a
lone woman. Somethin’ might happen to you,
an’ we might git blamed.”
The woman came to an abrupt decision.
“Listen,” she said. “I guess I better go on out
with you tomorrow. It’ll be better than waitin’
around for the police. But I’d like to spend
one more night here. It ain’t much of a place,
but it was home to me an’ Sherman. We was
happy here, an’ I hate to just walk off an’
leave it, like it was some place I never seen
before. You kin go on down an’ I’ll start early
in the mornin’ an’ be to the fort long before
noon. Meanwhile I’ll jest take that hundred
B
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 7
an’ fifty for the grub.”
Old Cush frowned. “I ain’t got no dust on
me,” he protested.
“That’s all right,” interrupted Black John,
producing a thick wallet. “I’ve got the money
here in bills. I’ll pay you now, an’ Cush kin
pay me back later. There you be—seven
twenties, an’ a ten. So long, mom. Be sure to
show up at the fort by noon.”
III
HEN the two were out of sight of the
cabin Old Cush turned on Black John
with a scowl. “It looks like yer damn free with
other folks’ money,” he grumbled. “If you was
so damn anxious to buy that woman out, why
in hell didn’t you take the grub she had left
off’n her hands yerself, instead of makin’ me
do it?”
“Well, it looked more reasonable. You’re
in the tradin’ business, an’—”
“I wouldn’t be in it long, if I was to make
more deals like that. I don’t believe there’s a
hundred dollars’ worth of stuff in the shack—
besides it’ll cost me an ounce to send someone
up to fetch it down.”
“We don’t want no wimmin on Halfaday,”
replied Black John. “Hell, man—it’s worth
more than that to us to git her off the crick!
And I know’d you’d ruther take the stuff off’n
her hands at her own figger than stand an’
haggle over the price with a pore widow
woman, which her heart’s all tore with grief-”
“I didn’t see nothin’ so damn griefish
about her,” snorted Cush. “An’ besides—why
in hell did you tell her that you an’ Red John
was hittin’ out fer Dawson tomorrow? You
know damn well Red John’s laid up with a
broken leg!”
“Yeah,” grinned Black John, “but she
don’t. He was the first one that come into my
head. Hell—I ain’t gain’ to Dawson, neither.”
“You ain’t goin’ to Dawson!” cried Old
Cush, a note of genuine alarm in his voice.
“Well, then, what in hell did you git her to
fetch her blankets an’ come down to the fort
tomorrow fer? Why couldn’t you left her
where she’s at? What am I goin’ to do with a
damn woman hangin’ around the fort?”
LACK JOHN chuckled audibly. “Well—
she’s a good lookin’ widder woman. You
might use yer own judgment. I done it fer yer
own good, Cush. Didn’t you hear me crackin’
you up to her—what a kind hearted man you
was, an’ all?”
“By God, I don’t want nothin’ to do with
her! She’s nothin’ but a damn hellion! She’s
got a look in her eye. I won’t let her in the
fort! When she shows up I’ll send her over to
your shack. You fetched her down there—an’
damn if I’m goin’ to have her on my hands—
her, ner no other woman!”
“You an’ me both,” laughed Black John,
enjoying hugely the other’s discomfiture. “But
we don’t need to worry none—neither one of
us. She ain’t goin’ to show up tomorrow, nor
no other time.”
“You mean, she’ll hit out alone?”
Black John shook his head. “No, not
alone. I’ve got a hunch that her an’
Beauregard’ll slip their canoe on down past
the fort sometime durin’ the night.”
“But—she hates Beauregard!”
“Yeah? Well, mebbe. Mebbe not.
Wimmin’s treacherous that-a-way. Somethin’
stinks up that feeder, but there don’t seem to
be nothin’ we kin do about it. Her claimin’
that Sherman shot first ain’t accordin’ to
Hoyle.”
“But hell, John—mebbe he did! We can’t
prove he didn’t. Mebbe she was tellin’ the
truth.”
Black John shook his head. “Not her. The
kind of a woman she is, if her man got shot in
a gun-fight, she’d claim the other one shot
first, no matter if he did er didn’t! There’s
somethin’ good an’ damn wrong up that
feeder. I sensed it the minute I got there. But
as long as she sticks to her story, we can’t do
nothin’ about it. I done the best thing that
W
B
SHORT STORIES 8
come into my head. We don’t want no sech an
outfit on Halfaday, an’ when I seen we
couldn’t never convict ‘em in miners’ meetin’
I scairt ‘em off’n the crick. You seen how
quick she changed her mind about stayin’
when I told her the police would be showin’
up, an’ I’d send ‘em up there. What’ll
happen—her an’ Beauregard’ll take what dust
Sherman had in his cache, an’ git to hell out of
here tonight.”
“Mebbe Sherman didn’t have no dust,”
ventured Cush. “She said they was pore
folks—that they wasn’t even takin’ out
wages.”
“The reason they wasn’t takin’ out
wages,” replied Black John, “is because, in the
time they’ve been there, they ain’t turned over
a shovelful of gravel. My guess is that
Sherman’s got a stake, an’ her an’ Beauregard
was out to git it. An’ when they located his
cache they knocked him off.”
Old Cush slanted the other a glance. “It
don’t look right that they should git away with
no sech a murder an’ robbery on Halfaday,”
he opined.
“It shore don’t. But we couldn’t up an’
hang either one, er both, on the evidence. It
wouldn’t be ethical. We can’t afford to git
slip-shod with our hangin’s, Cush, er
sometime we might carry one too far, an’ the
police might step in an’ raise hell.”
“I s’pose yer’e right,” admitted Cush, “but
it shore is sad to see ‘em walk right off under
our nose, you might say, with the proceeds of
a crime.”
“Shore is,” agreed Black John. “An’
ondoubtless with the proceeds of numerous
crimes, because if the stuff Sherman had in his
cache was honestly come by, what in hell
would he be doin’ on Halfaday? ‘Course they
ain’t off the crick yet. Somethin’ might turn
up.”
IV
T was late in the afternoon when the two
arrived at the fort to find Corporal Downey
of the Northwest Mounted Police standing at
the bar talking to One Armed John.
Black John greeted him effusively.
“Well—hello, Downey! Me an’ Cush was jest
talkin’ about you! I told him it was about time
you was showin’ up on the crick. Not that
there’s any malefactors amongst us, but a man
don’t like all his old friends should outgrow
him.” He paused and glanced across the bar
toward One Armed John. “What’s ailin’
you—broke your arm er somethin’? Shove out
the bottle an' three, four glasses. The house is
buyin’ a drink.”
“Did you get a moose?” asked Downey,
when the glasses were filled.
“Moose?”
“Why, yes,” replied the officer, just the
suspicion of a smile hovering at the corners of
his mouth. “One Armed John told me you two
were off on a moose hunt.”
“Oh—shore! I mean, no—we didn’t git
none. It wasn’t a good day fer moose. They
like it a little more cloudy. Drink up, an’ have
one on me. What with runnin’ them mooses
all over the hills, I’m dryer’n a post-hole.”
“You ain’t noticed a tall, lanky individual
with a couple of gold teeth, an’ a scar runnin’
from the corner of his eye, about half way
down his cheek, have you?”
“The outside corner of his right eye?”
asked Cush.
“That’s it.”
“An’ them gold teeth—was they in his top
jaw, a little to the right hand side of the
middle?”
“Yup. Where is he?”
But Cush ignored the question, being busy
issuing instructions to One Armed John. “Set
out a fresh bottle. Damn it, when you see a
bottle ain’t got no more’n three, four drinks
left in it, put it on the back bar an’ set out
another one! If you don’t, it makes the house
look stingy.”
I
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 9
“Where is this guy?” persisted the officer,
when a fresh bottle appeared on the bar.
“What guy was that?” asked Cush.
“Why—the one you jest told me about, of
course.”
“Hell, Downey—I wouldn’t know! It was
you tellin’ me about him. I was jest askin’
questions—like what eye an’ jaw it was, so if
I seen someone like that I’d know him.”
“What did this here party’s sin, if any,
consist of?” queried Black John.
“He robbed a Consolidated Minin’ an’
Dredge Company man a couple of months
ago, an’ got away with three thousand
ounces.”
“H-u-u-m—company gold, eh?”
“Yes, it was company gold,” replied
Downey, “but it was robbery jest the same.”
“Oh, shore—technically speakin’ I s’pose
it was,” admitted Black John. “But I can’t
seem to muster up no grief about it. Fact is,
Downey, yer man was here on Halfaday, but
he’s gone.”
“Gone! Gone where? I didn’t meet anyone
on the way.”
“No,” said Black John, “you wouldn’t of
met him. The trail he’s gone ain’t a trail he’d
ever meet anyone on. I wouldn’t say but he
might pass a few folks, if they was old er
crippled—but he won’t meet a no one. Where
he’s gone there don’t no one ever come back
from.”
“You mean he’s dead?”
“So pronounced by the coroner, here—an’
duly buried in accordance with his decision.”
“Did he die a natural death?”
“Oh, shore. There ain’t nothin’ more a
natural than to die after gittin’ a forty-five slug
where he got his’n. In fact, it would of be’n
onnatural if he’d of lived.”
“Who shot him?”
“A man know’d locally an’ onfavorably as
William Tecumseh Beauregard. The deceased
was buried under the name of Pierre Sherman,
him havin’ draw’d it out of the can.”
“A murder, eh?”
“Ondoubtless! But also, onproveable.
Sherman’s woman cleavin’ to the statement
that Sherman shot first, thus leavin’
Beauregard a clear case of self-defense.”
“Did this woman witness the shootin’?”
“So she claims. Her story is that her an’
Sherman was eatin’ breakfast along on the
edge of daylight, this mornin’, when all to
onct, Sherman stands up an’ fires out the
window with a thirty-eight pistol, an’ the next
thing she knows, there’s a shot from the
outside, an’ Sherman staggers back an’ drops
down agin the wall on the far side of the
shack, an’ she looks out the winder an’ see
Beauregard makin’ fer the bresh. Me an’ Cush
looks things over, an’ can’t find no way of
disprovin’ her statement. Sherman was lyin’
there dead, with a thirty-eight pistol, recently
fired onct, clost beside him on the floor, an’ a
hole above his heart where a forty-four er
forty-five slug ketched him. There’s the table,
with the breakfast things still settin’ on it, an’
two bullet holes through the winder. It could
be like she said. She claims it was that way.
So what the hell could we do?”
“We can investigate further,” said
Downey, firmly. “In the first place, the
woman was lyin’.”
“Oh, shore,” agreed Black John. “It’s a
safe bet a woman is—no matter what she
says.”
“But, Sherman, as you call him—he went
by the name of Scar Face Slim down along the
river—didn’t have any woman. By the way—
what does she look like? An’ this Beauregard,
too?”
“Well, her face ain’t so bad lookin’, in a
dance-hall way of speakin’ but she’s got a pair
of eyes that one good square look out of ‘em
would crack a plate. She’d stand somewheres
around five foot, six—an’ is shaped off pretty
good, fer as I could see, with what she had on.
Her hair is yallerish colored, an’ she cusses
kind of fluent an’ casual, like she didn’t have
to try.”
“Good lookin’ set of teeth—white an’
SHORT STORIES 10
even?”
“Well, they was good enough lookin’—
but hell, I don’t know if they was even er odd!
I didn’t yank her jaw open an’ count ‘em.”
“What does Beauregard look like?”
grinned Downey.
“He’s kind of heavy-set, with a pretty fair
stand of red whiskers. The back of his hands is
all covered with big brown freckles—like he’d
stood around too clost whilst somethin’
spattered.”
“I know ‘em,” said Downey. “An’ I’ll be
glad to get somethin’ on ‘em. She’s a gyp
artist—an’ plenty tough. The dope we’ve got
on her is that she drifted from Vancouver up
to Skagway an’ opened a fortune-tellin’ place
that was just a blind for takin’ whatever she
could, anyway she could get it. Then she
throw’d in with Red Ericson, the one you call
Beauregard, an’ come on through to Dawson.
They claim they’re married—an’ mebbe they
are. Anyway, they’re livin’ together in a shack
down back of the saw mill. They both hang
around Cuter Malone’s Klondike Palace a
good deal, lookin’ for what pickin’s they can
get. Mostly, Red steers some drunk up against
her an’ she takes him for what he’s got. We
haven’t got anything on ‘em yet, because the
victims are ashamed to squawk. But at least
one man has completely disappeared after
leaving the Palace with her. He was drunk, an’
accordin’ to the talk he had plenty of dust on
him. We think he’s in the river, but we can’t
prove it. Then this Consolidated man was
robbed, and when we couldn’t locate either
Ericson or the woman, we thought sure they’d
turned the trick. Ericson show’d up several
days later, and we arrested him and held him
for a couple of weeks, till the Consolidated
man came to. He’d been rapped over the head
with a club an’ left for dead about half way
between Dawson an’ Bonanza. Some of the
boys found him and brought him in an’ he got
off with nothin’ worse than a bad case of brain
concussion, an’ the loss of the three thousan’
ounces. Ericson swore he didn’t know
anything about the robbery, an’ when we took
him before the victim for identification, the
man swore he had never seen him before—
that he had got a good look at the robber, an’
then he described Scar Face Slim to a dot. But
of course Scar Face had disappeared. We
questioned Ericson about the woman, and he
claimed that he didn’t know where she was.
Said he’d gone off on a short prospectin’ trip,
an’ when he got back she was gone. So we
had to turn Ericson loose, an’ he disappeared,
too.”
LACK JOHN nodded. “The time
element, as a lawyer would say, checks
up all right with the arrival of these here
parties on Halfaday. Scar Face an’ the woman
come in about six, seven weeks ago, an’
Beauregard, er Ericson, I should say, come
along a couple of weeks later.”
“It’s plain to see,” continued Downey,
“that somehow or other, Ericson and the
woman knew about the robbery, and planned
to take Scar Face for the three thousan’
ounces.”
“Yeah,” agreed Black John, “an’ it kind of
looks like their plan was successful.”
“Not yet,” retorted Downey.
“I don’t know. If the woman sticks to her
story, you ain’t goin’ to hang no murder on
Ericson. An’ if they’ve got sense enough to
leave them three thousan’ ounces cached, you
nor no one else ain’t liable to find ‘em. At
that, it don’t look like you busted no gut
gittin’ up here after ‘em.”
“Knowin’ her Skagway angle, we checked
up on the river first,” replied Downey. “We
covered the downriver points, too. If they
didn’t go upriver, or down, the best bet was
that they came up here, an’ if they did, I knew
they wouldn’t be in any hurry to get away.”
“The reasonin’ seems sound,” admitted
Black John. “But what you goin’ to do, now
yer here?”
“I’m goin’ up to that shack an’ do some
lookin’ around. If a murder has been
B
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 11
committed, I’ve got a good chance of findin’ it
out. There’s no such thing as a perfect crime.”
“Mebbe not,” grinned Black John, “but
there’s a hell of a lot of ‘em that’s perfect
enough to git by. Me an’ Cush was up there
an’ looked the ground over thorough, an’ I’m
tellin’ you that, in the face of the woman’s
story, you ain’t goin’ to find nothin’ that’ll
convince a jury. The only way I kin see would
be to take that woman down an’ hammer the
truth out of her.”
“Nothin’ doin’,” grinned Downey. “Hell,
John—you couldn’t abuse a woman!”
“Well, mebbe not—jest pickin’ ‘em at
random. But there’s a half a dozen er so of
‘em that I could abuse somethin’ terrible—an’
still I wouldn’t be even with ‘em!”
Downey laughed. “You’re not exactly
what I’d call a lady’s man.”
“Not after the experience I’ve had. What I
claim, enough kin happen on a crick without
mixin’ up no wimmin’ with it. Cripes! I’d
ruther fry dynamite than fool with one!”
”How far is it up to that shack?” asked
Downey. “I guess I’ll be movin’ along.”
“It’s quite a piece. You couldn’t make it
tonight. Wait over till mornin’, an’ I’ll go up
with you.”
“But suppose they try to slip out in the
night? They might get suspicious—what with
knowin’ you know about the killin’.”
“They ain’t suspicious,” grinned Black
John, “but they’re scairt as hell. I told the
woman the police would be up here d’rectly,
an’ I’d send ‘em on up.”
“How did you know I was comin’?”
LACK JOHN chuckled. “I didn’t. Cripes,
I don’t have to know a thing to tell it. I’ll
lie like hell when I deem it advisable. I seen
she didn’t want nothin’ to do with no police,
so not wantin’ her hangin’ around the crick, I
told her the police was comin’. It wasn’t my
fault I didn’t lie—I aimed to.”
“Then, there’s no tellin’ where they’ll be
in the mornin’.”
“Not fer what you might call a right down
certainty,” replied Black John. “But I’ve got a
hunch that when you do yer dooty they’ll be in
the hole.”
“You mean the hole under the store-room
floor—where we held Abraham Davis that
time?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. They’ve got to pass
the fort here, goin’ out. They’ll come down
the crick in a canoe, figgerin’ to slip by in the
dark. But they won’t git by. We’ll slip down
an’ stretch a rope acrost about two foot above
the water in the rapids, at the footbridge. The
water’s pretty fast in the rapids there. The
woman’ll be paddlin’ the front end, an’ when
that rope ketches her she’s goin’ to do a flipflop that’ll turn the canoe over before Ericson
knows what hit ‘em.”
“But,” objected Downey, “won’t it drown
‘em?”
“Hell—no! The water ain’t over three,
four foot deep. It’ll roll ‘em right here to the
landin’, an’ we kin haul ‘em out an’ shove
‘em in the hole. Then in the mornin’ we kin go
up an’ you kin do yer investigatin’. It won’t
hurt ‘em none—an’ it might be that a good
duckin’ would soak the truth out of ‘em.”
“But how about the gold—that three
thousand ounces? They might be bringin’ it
out with ‘em.”
“Three thousan’ ounces runs up to near
two hundred pound,” replied Black John.
“When the canoe turns over the gold’s goin’
to the bottom an’ stay there. A man kin wade
them rapids, an’ in the mornin’ we’ll wade in
an’ fish it out. But I’m doubtin’ if they’ll try to
fetch out the gold. Believin’ there’s a chanct
of runnin’ onto the police, they’ll prob’ly
leave it cached till they see how the land lays
an’ then slip up later an’ try to git it.”
“You may be right,” agreed Downey. “Of
course I’d like to get ‘em with the goods—but
if I can convict Ericson of murder, even if I
have to let the woman go, it would bust up the
team, an’ be a damn good thing fer the
country.”
B
SHORT STORIES 12
“Shore it would,” agreed Black John.
“Hold on, while I go cut a len’th of rope, an’
we’ll rig our trap.”
Carrying the coiled line, Black John led
the way to the footbridge that spanned the
narrow stream some twenty yards above the
fort. Leaving Corporal Downey to make one
end of the rope fast to one of the spite
supports, he crossed the bridge and fastened
the other end, drawing the rope taut about two
feet above the water.
“There,” he said, as he surveyed the job
with approval. “I’m shore goin’ to delight to
see that woman when that rope ketches her.
It’ll be comical as hell. An’ Ericson, too. He’ll
be clawin’ minnies out of his whiskers when
we yank him out at the landin’. When it gits
dark, I’ll keep watch. You an’ Cush kin wait
in the saloon, an’ when they hit the rope I’ll
let out a yell. That’ll give you two a chanct to
git to the landin’ in time to fish ‘em out.”
V
ORD had passed that Corporal Downey
was on the creek, and those with Yukon
records refrained from showing up at the fort,
well knowing that, his business concluded, the
young officer would return to his post in
Dawson. Experience had taught them that
Downey was no snooper.
A few Alaska offenders dropped in,
whiled away an hour or so, and departed. Old
Cush and Downey settled themselves for a
long session of cribbage, and Black John lay
silently in the brush near the footbridge. Hours
passed. The young moon sank behind the hills
to the westward, and from the rapids gleamed
silver flashes of reflected starlight.
“Comin’ down!”
Old Cush paused in the pegging of a hand
as the stentorian voice of Black John roared
through the silence of the night, and the next
instant he and Corporal Downey were
plunging precipitously down the steep trail to
the little canoe landing placed directly in front
of the fort, at the foot of the rapids. Hardly
had they reached the river when an overturned
canoe shot out of the fast water to spin slowly
around in the eddy. Sounds came from the
rapids—sounds of mighty splashing, of halfchoked cries, and gurgling coughs. The
woman appeared, struggling, fighting wildly
for footing among the slippery stones of the
bottom, as she was pushed relentlessly onward
by the rushing, waist-deep current, finally to
thresh about in the deeper, comparatively still
water where Corporal Downey, kneeling on
the little wooden dock, reached down and
drew her ashore.
The man was rescued a moment later, and
hardly had he coughed the water from his
lungs, than he launched into a choking tirade
of profane abuse against the woman, who was
not slow in retorting in kind. The man blamed
her for overturning the canoe, and she raved
back that a projecting limb stub had swept her
backward, and castigated him for not being
able to balance the canoe despite the mishap.
Black John arrived on the scene, and
during the first pause in the tirade, Corporal
Downey shot a question: “Where’s the gold?”
“What gold?” asked the water-logged
Ericson, blowing a spray of fine drops from
his bushy beard.
“The three thousan’ ounces that Scar Face
Slim lifted off that Consolidated man.”
EFORE the man could reply, the woman
laughed harshly. “Try an’ find it!” she
taunted. “If you do, you’re a damn sight
smarter’n we was.”
“Oh—you tried then, eh?”
“I’ll say we tried! Tryin’ ain’t no crime.
You ain’t got a damn thing on us! I don’t
mind tellin’ you that we aimed to get our
hands on that three thousan’ ounces, one way
or another. But we couldn’t find it.”
“So you committed a murder for nothin’,
eh?”
“Murder! Who says it’s a murder? There’s
the coroner—ask him. He an’ that big black
W
B
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 13
whiskered stiff come up an’ investigated the
‘shootin’—an’ when they heard what come
off, they both claimed it wasn’t a murder. You
don’t think we’d be damn fools enough to
murder him before we located his cache, do
you? Scar Face shot at Red first, through the
window. We won’t make no bones about Red
snoopin’ around tryin’ to locate Scar Face’s
cache. I’d tried for six weeks to locate it—
livin’ right there in the cabin with him. I
couldn’t do it—an’ you ain’t got a damn thing
on us! Scar Face’s bullet nicked Red’s
shoulder right clost to his neck, an’ he shot
back in self defense—before Scar Face could
shoot again. Now, Cop,—what you goin’ to
do about that?”
“You’re a tough baby, ain’t you?” grinned
Downey.
“Yeah, plenty tough for a boob like you—
an’ what’s more, I know my rights. Now—
where do you go from here?”
“Well,” replied Downey, still smiling,
“first we’ll put you two away where the dogs
won’t bite you till I check up on your story.”
“You can’t check up nothin’ against direct
evidence,” sneered the woman. “An’ besides,
a cop can’t go around stickin’ folks in the jug
just because he feels like it. I wasn’t made in a
minute! What charge are you holdin’ us on?”
“General principles’ll do, till I get a chanct
to look around. I’m hopin’ to change it to
murder—with mebbe a robbery charge thrown
in for good measure.”
Despite violent and profane protest, the
two were lowered into the hole, a strongly
constructed cell beneath the floor of Cush’s
storeroom.
“You’ll sweat for this!” shrieked the
woman from the darkness as a pork barrel was
rolled onto the trap door. “You’ll be hauled up
for false arrest, an’ cruel an’ inhuman
treatment of prisoners, an’ wrongful search,
an’—”
“Everything but spittin’ on the sidewalk,”
remarked Downey as, carrying the forty-five
revolver he had taken from the person of Red
Ericson, he followed Black John and Cush to
the barroom.
“Here’s the other gun,” said Black John,
drawing the nickel-plated thirty-eight from his
pocket and turning it over to the officer. “I
plumb fergot about it. It’s the one that laid
there on the floor, clost beside Scar Face.
There don’t seem to be nothin’ else doin’ till
mornin’. S’pose we go on over to my shack
an’ roll in.”
Downey shook his head. “Guess I’ll put in
the rest of the night on the footbridge,” he
said. “If that damn hussy lied about findin’
that gold, it might be layin’ on the bottom jest
about where the canoe turned over. Three
thousan’ ounces ain’t goin’ to drift very far,
no matter how swift the current is. The empty
canoe was floatin’ too high, an’ too free for
the gold to be lashed to it.”
“That’s so,” grinned Black John. “But you
can’t do no good huntin’ it till daylight. Me
an’ Cush feels right pained that you don’t trust
us no more’n what you’ve got to set up an’
watch that there dust all night.”
Downey chuckled. “It ain’t that I don’t
trust you or Cush, in particular. It would be a
damn fool policeman that would go to bed an’
leave three thousan’ ounces of raw gold
unguarded in any community. Someone that
we don’t know about might have their eyes on
it, an’ there’s jest one chanct in a thousan’ that
them two might manage to break out of the
hole. That woman’s smart.”
“Yeah, but she can’t smart her way out
through log walls that’s a foot thick, an’ laid
right up agin the solid clay of that cellar.
Neither can she smart no two hundred pound
barrel of pork off’n that trap door. However,
mebbe it’s best you should guard that there
gold—then no one kin cast no aspersions on
the honor of Halfaday.”
VI
T
HOROUGH search of the creek bottom
the following morning produced only a
SHORT STORIES 14
rifle and a bag of cooking utensils, the latter
having been carried down some twenty yards
by the current and lodged between two rocks.
“She might have been tellin’ the truth,”
admitted Downey reluctantly, when every foot
of the creek bottom from the stretched rope to
the landing had been explored.
Black John shook his head. “ ‘Tain’t
likely.”
“I know it ain’t likely,” agreed Downey,
his brow drawn into a frown. “But it’s a cinch
that gold ain’t in the crick. It sure as hell
couldn’t be upstream from where we stretched
the rope—an’ we know it ain’t downstream. If
that was a murder up there, then it’s certain
that they did find Scar Face’s cache. Like the
woman said, they wouldn’t knock him off
until they had the gold. They’ve prob’ly recached it, figurin’ on pickin’ it up later.”
“Sounds reasonable,” agreed Black John.
“An’ the hell of it is, they’ll git away with it.”
“They haven’t got away with it yet,”
retorted Downey grimly. “I may never locate
their cache an’ recover the gold, but if that
was a murder, I’m goin’ to prove it!”
“I’m right with you on that,” approved
Black John. “I’ll go along an’ help, but like
she said—in the face of her direct evidence,
I’m afraid you’re goin’ to have a hell of a time
doin’ it. Come on—let’s go!”
Arriving at the shack that had been
occupied by Scar Face and the woman,
Downey went over the ground in its
immediate vicinity thoroughly. He pointed out
the faint tracks left in the earth by Ericson as
he stood before the window and exchanged
shots with the man inside. Near the doorway,
on the side opposite the window, he reached
down and picked up an empty forty-five shell.
“The woman lied all right,” he said as he
stood regarding it intently, and turned it over
in his hand. “Red Ericson didn’t slip away into
the bush, like she said. He came around here
to the door, an’ stood here, prob’ly talkin’ to
her, while he ejected his empty shell.”
“But, Cripes, that shell might have be’n
throw’d there a week, er a month ago!”
OWNEY sniffed at the shell, and shook
his head. “This shell has been fired
recently. It still smells of burnt powder, an’
there’s the light smoke stains near its open end
that don’t stay there long. Besides—look here.
See that gray, soapy deposit on the ground
here where I found it. It’s where the woman
was used to throwin’ her dish water. She’d
step to the door, like this—an’ give it a throw
out of the pan. This shell laid right on the top
of that gray film—you can see the mark it
made when it hit. It lit there since the last dish
water was throw’d out. I’ll bet we’ll find she
didn’t stop to wash up the dishes from that last
breakfast. Now, jest to make sure it was
Ericson’s gun that fired it.” The officer paused
and, drawing a small magnifying glass from
his pocket, examined the dented percussion
cap. Then passed shell and glass to Black
John. “You’ll notice,” he said, a slight
irregularity in the dent made by the firin’ pin.
I’ll fire a shot from Ericson’s gun, now—an’
leave it to you whether this other shell was
fired from that gun.”
He fired and ejecting the shell, handed it to
Black John, who examined it meticulously
with the glass.
“It’s the same gun,” he said. “You kin see
the same little place, where the firin’ pin ain’t
quite round. That proved he was here at the
door after the shootin’, all right—but it don’t
prove that he shot first. You can’t pin no
murder on him jest because the woman lied
about what he done after the shootin’.”
“That’s right,” agreed Downey, “but now
we know she was lyin’, the rest might not be
so hard to figure out.” Entering the shack, he
pointed to the unwashed dishes that littered
the table. “They didn’t take nothin’ out of the
shack,” he said. “The stuff they took with ‘em
was Ericson’s.”
Black John pointed out the chair facing the
window that the woman had told him was the
one occupied by Scar Face, when he stood up
D
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 15
and fired at Ericson. He also pointed to the dry
blood-stain on the floor, and described the
position of the dead man’s body. Corporal
Downey listened intently, his eyes taking in
every detail of the room, and then he stepped
over and for a long time stood gazing at the
windowpane with its two bullet holes.
“We kin go dig him up,” suggested Black
John, with a trace of impatience, when the
seconds lengthened into minutes, and the
young officer remained silent. “We didn’t
cover him very deep. It might be you’ll want
to look him over.”
Corporal Downey turned on him with a
smile. “It won’t be necessary,” he said. “The
coroner’s report will establish the fact of the
death, an’ I’ve got the proof right here that’ll
convict Red Ericson of the murder.”
“You—what?”
OWNEY’S smile widened at the other’s
evident astonishment: “Sure—simple as
rollin’ off a log. Anyone kin see, if they’ll stop
an’ think a minute, which one of them holes
was made first. See them little fine cracks that
radiate out from the forty-five hole—the lower
one? Well, follow ‘em with yer eye, an’ you’ll
see that they go on beyond the cracks that
radiate out from the thirty-eight hole—an’ see,
there’s one of ‘em that goes right on beyond
the hole itself. Now, look at the cracks made
by the thirty-eight-every one of the radiatin’
cracks that reaches one of them cracks made
by the forty-five, stops right at the crack.
There ain’t one of ‘em that goes beyond.
That’s because the forty-five cracks were
there in the glass, an’ the later cracks made by
the thirty-eight bullet ran right to ‘em—but
couldn’t go beyond. You can’t cross one crack
with another in a pane of glass.”
Black John leaned forward across the
table, and examined the cracks intently. “Well,
I’ll be damned!” he muttered in a tone of
profound respect. “That’s what I call
policin’!”
“Hell,” deprecated Downey, “it’s jest
lookin’ around, an’ usin’ your common
sense.”
“Yeah,” agreed Black John, dryly. “Me
an’ Cush looked around, too. But we mustn’t
of had no common sense, to use.”
“The forty-five hole, too, bein’ low down
on the pane like it is would tend to show that
Ericson slipped up an’ took a pot shot at Scar
Face whilst he was settin’ there eatin’—an’
then Scar Face jumped up, fired onct through
the window an’ started fer the door. But with
the wound he had, he couldn’t make it.”
“That’s right,” agreed Black John. “That’s
jest what come off. With that winder as
evidence, you’ve shore got Ericson where you
want him—but that don’t pin nothin’ on the
woman—except lyin’. An’ accordin’ to a strict
construction of the statutes, such as a law
court would give, you can’t hang even her fer
that.”
“No,” grinned Downey. “But with her
admission that she’d been livin’ with Scar
Face fer six weeks, an’ her reputation down in
Dawson, we won’t have no trouble in hustlin’
her out of the country as an undesirable
person. See if you can find somethin’ to pry
this window out with. I’m goin’ to take it
along, sash an’ all, fer evidence.”
After a long and fruitless search for the
cached gold, the window was removed and
carried carefully down to Cush’s where the
officer busied himself in crating it against
breakage.
HE following morning as he was about to
leave with his two manacled prisoners,
Black John called him aside. “You know,
Downey,” he said, “that up here on Halfaday,
we always work hand in glove with you. We
kind of like the way you go at things. Now I
know damn well that any one of the Alasky
wanteds would be glad to go down with you
an’ help with them prisoners. Them boards on
that crate is thin, an’ if one of them two was to
see a chanct to shove their foot through it, yer
evidence would be gone to hell, an’ you
D
T
SHORT STORIES 16
wouldn’t have a damn thing on Ericson.”
The young officer smiled. “I ain’t goin’ to
have no trouble with ‘em,” he replied.
“They’re jest as anxious to get to Dawson as I
am. I ain’t put no formal charge against ‘em,
an’ they think they’re goin’ to raise hell with
me when we get down there. They don’t know
what’s in the crate, an’ they don’t think there’s
a chanct in the world to pin a murder ‘onto
‘em. Much obliged jest the same. So long!”
VII
LONE with Old Cush, Black John picked
up the leather dice box from the bar and
peered at the cubes within. “Like I was goin’
on to say, Cush, before we was interrupted, if
we’d shake these here dice so the low hand
would win—”
“I wouldn’t be a party to no sech a damn
fool game,” interrupted Cush. “You’re one of
them kind of folks that don’t seem to gather
no sense as time goes on. If you want to shake
a game, like always, I’ll go you—but damned
if I’m goin’ to stand here an’ waste my time
tryin’ to make nothin’ beat somethin’.”
Black John grinned. “It’s old mossbacks
like you that retards civilization—never
willin’ to try nothin’ new. But come on—beat
them three fives in one, an’ we’ll go an’ fetch
in that gold.”
“What gold?”
“Why, them three thousan’ ounces that
Downey claimed this here Scar Face h’isted
off’n that Consolidated man.”
“Fetch it in!” exclaimed Cush. “You
mean, you found it when you an’ Downey was
huntin’ their cache—an’ shut up about it?”
“No, no! I wouldn’t do a trick like that on
Downey. If I’d found it up there I’d turned it
over to him—every damned ounce.”
“You mean you want that me an’ you
should go kihootin’ back up there an’ hunt fer
it till we find it?”
“No, I don’t figure it would be much use.
We’ll go down to the crick an’ see if we can’t
locate it there.”
“But, hell—Downey tromped around in
that cold water with his pants off till he damn
near froze, an’ never found it.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got a hunch that mebbe he
didn’t tromp around in the right place.”
“You don’t git me wadin’ around in that
cold water up to my belly. I’ve got my
rheumatiz to think about!”
“Come on along, an’ I’ll do the wadin’. It
would be too bad to leave all that dust layin’
there. It would weigh up right around twentyfour thousan’ dollars apiece.”
Locking the saloon, Old Cush followed as
Black John led the way to a point some fifty
yards upstream from the footbridge. “My
hunch says,” confided Black John, “that it ort
to be right along in here.”
“Yer crazy as hell!” exclaimed Cush, as
Black John proceeded to remove his clothing.
“How could that gold git up here, when the
canoe tipped over down to the footbridge
where the rope’s at?”
“That was Downey’s theory, too,” said
Black John. “But it’s erroneous. Trouble is
with most folks they go ahead an’ base their
conclusions on false premises.”
“What in hell’s that?” growled Cush,
sourly.
“They go off half-cocked—to you,”
grinned Black John. “Downey went on the
theory that there was only one rope—when, as
a matter of fact, there was two.”
“Two!”
“Yeah, you see, whilst I was sittin’ here in
the dark waitin’ fer the canoe to come along,
the thought occurred to, me that mebbe we
hadn’t art to pin all our hopes on one rope. So
I slipped into the storehouse the back way an’
cut me off another len’th, an’ I come upstream
to here an’ stretched it from this here tree to
that one over acrost the crick, figgerin’ that if
one rope didn’t do the trick, the other one
would. Well, as it turned out, the first one they
hit—the one I stretched last—done it. I waited
till I seen ‘em go sweepin’ through under the
A
CORPORAL DOWNEY CRACKS A CASE 17
footbridge, an’ then I let out my yell, an’
salvaged my rope, leavin’ the one at the
footbridge, so Downey could have somethin’
to go by when he started in huntin’ that gold.”
“Well—I’ll be damned!” breathed Old
Cush, as Black John stepped into the water. A
few moments later he called from the middle
of the stream.
“Here’s somethin’. I kin feel it with my
feet!” Reaching bottom necessitated a
complete submerging, and he came up
blowing the water from his whiskers. “It’s
shore heavy!” he cried. “It looks like we win!”
FEW moments later he deposited the
heavy burden on the bank, and opened
the mouth of the canvas duffel bag. Thrusting
his hand in he withdrew an article of feminine
wearing apparel which he held up for Cush’s
inspection. “Huh—pink ones, eh! Wimmin
shore run to the damndest colors! Here,
Cush—you kin have ‘em. But it shows them
Frenchmens was right, after all.”
“What the hell would I want with them
things?” cried Cush. “An’ what’s any
Frenchmen got to do with it?”
“Well, they’ve got a sayin’, ‘cherchez la
femme.’ It means search the woman.”
Reaching further into the bag, he withdrew
other feminine garments, and then sack after
sack of gold. “Yup, them Frenchmen had the
right dope, all right. I must tell Downey about
that sayin’. Sometime he might make use of it.
Come on, we’ll pack this over to the saloon
an’ weigh it up—an’ don’t fergit, you owe me
a hundred an’ fifty out of your share fer that
grub you bought.”
Cush’s keen old eyes were twinkling as he
regarded the pile of well filled sacks.
“Downey, he’d shore like to of found this
dust,” he said.
“Oh—shore,” admitted Black John. “But
he’d only turn it back to that damn
Consolidated Company. What I claim them
soulless corporations takes too damn much
gold out of a country, as it is. An’ Downey
had ort to be satisfied—he got him a murderer,
didn’t he? An’ he done a damn smart job of
policin’. It ain’t no good fer a young
policeman to accomplish too damn much all to
onct—it might go to his head.”
A

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