Introducing Inspector Stark of the B.C. Police, a new fiction detective, solving the first of a series of mysteries
IT WAS said of Inspector Morgan Stark by the constables of his district that the Old Man kept his leather brighter, and could smell murder farther, than any other officer of the British Columbia Police. Gaze riveted to the inspector’s glistening Sam Browne, young Constable MacLeod ended his account. Misery was patent in his voice. He was crimson to the ears, and sweating through his khaki uniform shirt.
“That’s all I know, sir. I charged Larsen with Polchuk’s murder right after the inquest, and took him back to his cell. He was there when 1 checked at midnight, squatting in a corner with his face in his hands. When I looked in again, at two o’clock, with a plug of tobacco for him, the cell door was open and he was gone. Somebody let him out, but darned if I can figure who.”
“I let him out,” Inspector Stark said.
MacLeod’s head jerked up as if drawn by a cord. “Sir?”
“You heard me correctly. I let him out, with your keys. It doesn’t necessarily follow that because Polchuk was found with a bullet in his skull his partner killed him.”
The inspector lounged behind the desk in the little Provincial Police office at Roche de Boule. His lean whipcord legs were crossed, and he buffed absently at one ruddy boot top with a chunk of ivory cupped in his left hand. His eyes, the blue of glacier ice, in a severe face gaunted and seamed by north country weather, held what an optimist might define as a twinkle.
“At ease, constable,” he said. “Did you really believe Larsen was the murderer?”
“But all the evidence, sir! That battle they had
before Christmas, and Larsen liquoring up and telling Atkinson, the hotelman, he’d get his revenge. And the slug Doc Burgoyne dug out ot Polchuk when he was making his autopsy. That was fired from Larsen's rifle, sure enough.”
“A rifle,” Inspector Stark observed casually, “which Larsen testified was stolen from their trap line cabin before the fight.”
“Couldn’t he be lying, sir?”
“He could be, but it’s extremely unlikely. I didn’t drive down from headquarters to theorize, however.” He slipped the ivory buffer, a yellowed round the size of a hockey puck, into the side pocket of his tunic, and
stepped out from behind the desk. “Your report left a good deal to the imagination, constable. Still it contained meat enough to make me wonder what the devil goes on in this corner of the district. Now get some sleep. You’re going to need it. In the morning make it known that Larsen has escaped and that we’ll be taking to the hills after him.”
“Yes, sir.” Looking puzzled but mightily relieved, MacLeod tugged his Stetson forward on his black hair. The inspector’s precise voice stiffened him in the doorway.
“One other thing, constable. It is unwise to leave your keys hanging in plain sight over your desk. Remember it.”
inspector Stark waited until the clacking of the constable’s heels on the boardwalk had died away, then he switched oil the light, latched the outside door behind him, and strolled west along Roche de Boule’s single street. The town was deep asleep, the May night was warm about him, and when he paused to light a cigarette the match flame burned golden and unwavering in the windless air. He finished his smoke on the hotel steps and went inside, wrinkling his nostrils at the odor of musty carpets and stale cooking.
He pressed the desk buzzer three times before Atkinson came waddling down the stairs, barefooted, his striped nightshirt taut over his ample paunch. His growled protest trailed away, and a spurious heartiness took its. place.
“Well, inspector! I wasn’t lookin’ for you up here, specially at this time of night. What’s doing?”
“Larsen escaped. He got hold of the constable’s keys and took to the hills. I’ll have my usual room if it’s not taken.”
“Sure, inspector.” Atkinson showed the whites of his eyes, and his tongue circled his blubbery lips before he spoke again. “Got away from you, huh? That’s bad. People here won’t feel very safe with a crazy killer hangin’ out in the jack pine.”
“He won’t hang out for long. We’re going after him
tomorrow. By the way, I gathered from the inquest evidence that Polchuk had been peddling liquor to the Indians over the river.”
“Yeah, Larsen did say somethin’ like that, all right.” Atkinson’s eyes slid away from the inspector’s chilly regard. “But he was talkin’ pretty wild, and a lot of what he said just didn’t make sense . . . I’ll light you upstairs.”
“Before we go . . .” Inspector Stark unbuttoned a breast pocket and drew out a folded scrap of paper. Atkinson brought his lamp closer, peering at the childish scrawl. His lips shaped the words: “I know who kill my pardner. I going tear him apart.”
“Like I said, he’s crazy.” Fear, undisguised, squeaked in the hotelkeeper’s voice. “I sure hope you pick him up quick!”
The lamp shook in his hand, waking an eerie dance of shadows on the walls as he padded up the stairs.
Alone in his room Inspector Stark turned the key in the lock and dropped to the creaking bedstead. He tugged off his boots, letting them fall to the ratty carpet with spaced thumps. Then, quietly, he crossed to the window. The curtain screened him from outside observation, but he commanded an unobstructed view of the street. He drew the ivory disc from his pocket and rubbed softly at his holster flap, watching the street while the luminous hands of his wrist watch crept toward four o’clock.
Dawn was still something better than an hour away when he sensed, rather than heard, movement in the corridor. He did not turn. Presently, from below, he caught the faint screak of the hotel door opening. A pale circle, disembodied, bobbed along the murky street, and the inspector’s mouth corners tilted in a dour smile. That circle he recognized as the top of Atkinson’s bald head. He got one clear glimpse of the hotelman as he moved out of the shadow of the buildings and crossed to the opposite boardwalk. Atkinson was jogging at a labored trot, and he carried a rifle over his arm.
Inspector Stark waited till he heard the subdued thud-thud of a gas-boat engine receding west up the river. Then he smoked another cigarette, hung tunic and belt on the back of the single chair, and disposed himself on the bed to cat nap till morning.
When he went downstairs he found MacLeod waiting. Atkinson had returned from his predawn errand, and the constable was talking with him in the lobby. The inspector was not in the best of humors; he had been forced to shave in lukewarm water, and had twice nicked his lantern jaws in the process. He responded to the hotel proprietor’s greeting with a curt nod.
“I’m hiring your boat for the day, Atkinson,” he said. “Have it ready by 10 o’clock, will you?”
MacLeod followed him out of the hotel. The inspector brusquely vetoed his rather diffident suggestion of breakfast.
“For the next hour I’ll be with Dr. Burgoyne. In the meantime you’re to eat at the Golden Pheasant Café. Elaborate on Larsen’s break. And here—show this around in a guarded way.”
He produced the scribbled note. MacLeod’s eyes widened. “I missed that one, sir,” he said apologetically.
“Of course you did. I wrote it myself after you cleared out. Those are all your present instructions, constable. Except, when you go down to the launch take Larsen’s rifle with you.”
MacLeod blinked, opened his mouth as if to speak, changed his mind, and saluted. He tramped off toward the restaurant. Inspector Stark crossed to Dr. Burgoyne’s office, conscious that a good number of Roche de Boule’s 400 residents were watching him covertly from windows and doorways.
While his hand was raised to tap on the office door, he heard Burgoyne’s clipped, pleasant “Come in!” Apparently the doctor had spotted him, too.
“Just shove those magazines off the chair and sit down, inspector,” Burgoyne invited. “You’re not a frequent enough visitor.”
“I dislike this town,” Inspector Stark told him. “Dislike it intensely. I’ve often wondered, doctor, why you stay on here.”
“I’ve been asking myself the same question,” Burgoyne replied, with his quick, slightly sardonic smile. “Three years now . . . Well, if my present plans come to anything I’ll be leaving shortly. And gratefully.”
THERE was more than a hint of the aristocrat about Burgoyne, the inspector reflected, settling himself comfortably in the leather-upholstered armchair by the filing cabinet. Something about his thin, high-bridged nose, and his well-shaped head with its shock of greying hair. His was the professional mind, too, incisive as one of his own scalpels. Inspector Stark admired a mind of that type, perhaps because his own was so similar.
“This isn’t an official call,” he said. “You sat as coroner on the Polchuk inquest. I read MacLeod’s report and formed my own opinion. Now I’d like to have yours.”
Burgoyne pushed his hands into his pockets and stretched long legs in front of him. He was frowning, and his bright grey eyes were narrowed in concentration. “I suspect my opinions match yours,” he said at length. “It’s obvious that Larsen didn’t kill his partner—the inquest only strengthened my conviction.”
Inspector Stark nodded. “That’s what brings me to Roche de Boule. I turned Larsen loose last night. You might keep that to yourself, though.”
“A smart move. Quite the smartest you could make.” Burgoyne’s spectacles glittered, and his smile was appreciative. “I’d hazard a guess that Larsen, stupid as he is, knows more than he gave in evidence. In fact I’ve a persistent feeling that he knows the actual killer.”
“Perhaps. We’ll be keeping an eye on him.” Inspector Stark shrugged, and permitted himself one of his rare smiles. “I don’t doubt you’ve watched a horned owl at its business one time or other, doctor.
The mouse that squeaks and runs is the mouse that gets caught.”
Burgoyne leaned forward in his chair. “You may not wish to answer this question. But have you noticed any . . . squeaking and running so far?” “Yes. A fat mouse I’ve had in my comeuppance book for some little while.”
“Our views coincide again,” Burgoyne chuckled. “Polchuk was smuggling liquor into the reserve across from his trap line, but obviously he was no more than an agent. There must have been a supplier somewhere. Atkinson?”
“He’s a smooth operator. Too smooth for us so far, I must admit. About Larsen—do you think he was in on the deal?”
The inspector waited, polishing abstractedly at his boot top, while Burgoyne deliberated.
“Larsen has the mind of a child,” the doctor told him soberly “—well, perhaps a little more. His feeling for Polchuk was that of a dog for its master. He’d do what Polchuk told him, whether it was to cut firewood or tote a pack board of liquor across the river. He was reliable that way. He obeyed orders. Larsen may have threatened revenge after their fight, but if so it was merely his liquor talking. Anyway we have only Atkinson’s word that a threat really was made. Polchuk was a pretty bad actor, you know. I helped straighten him out after one of his drunks last fall, and I formed no pleasant impression of him. I think he simply beat Larsen up out of an excess of meanness, just as he’d have beaten a dog. Larsen couldn’t explain their fight, except to mutter that he felt badly because Polchuk left him alone too much, and had given him what for because his rifle was stolen. Lord, he’s no murderer! I’m something of a psychiatrist, inspector. If Larsen did kill, it would be a hotblooded business, done with his hands or his boots in a fit of passion. Certainly he isn’t the man for a deliberate bushwhacking. My opinion is that scoundrels fell out, and that the greater scoundrel killed the lesser.”
Burgoyne got up and began to pace to and fro in front of his desk, irritation plain on his face.
“I agree with your analysis,” Inspector Stark told him. “Larsen could kill. For instance, he’d rip the life out of whoever did Polchuk in, if he got him within reach of those gorilla arms of his. But if Larsen had killed his partner he’d have been bawling on my young constable’s shoulder before the day was over. His rifle was found in the river, wasn’t it?”
“I was with Constable MacLeod when he recovered it. A plant, and if I may say so, a clumsy one!” Burgoyne tapped a cigarette on his thumbnail in an impatient gesture. “Clues scattered broadcast!” “There’s an old elevator shaft in the penitentiary,” Inspector Stark said quietly. “We know Larsen is innocent, but unless we can supply proof I’m reasonably sure the fellow will go down the shaft with a knot under his ear. I’m having MacLeod run me up the river. Watch here for me, will you?”
He rose from the armchair. Burgoyne’s, “One moment, inspector,” checked him at the door.
WHILE you’re here . . . one confidence deserves another, and I’ve been saving a bit of news for you. I told you I hoped to leave Roche de Boule soon.” He opened his desk drawer and produced a fist-sized, reddish chunk of ore. Turning it over, weighing it in his hand, Inspector Stark whistled softly, “Cinnabar! Mercury ore. High-grade, too, I’d judge.”
“I’ve had a few samples assayed. They ran higher in mercury than even the Pinchi Lake deposits. As you know I’m something of a geologist in an amateurish sort of way. I stumbled on an outcropping last fall, up the river a few miles past its junction with Tamahous Creek. Ina very few weeks now I’ll be in a position to offer my claims to Consolidated Mining.” “And after you sell?” the inspector asked, still hefting the ore sample.
Burgoyne’s even teeth flashed in another smile. “Why, then I’ll get out of this hole. Build the laboratory I’ve longed for, spend my time in pure research . . .”
He broke off, and they laughed together, the inspector somewhat rustily from lack of practice. He nodded good-by and strode out to the boardwalk, the taste of the interview still pleasant in his mouth. It had been refreshing, after MacLeod’s naïveté and Atkinson’s greasiness, to meet with a sharp mind.
He found MacLeod on Atkinson’s launch at the river landing. The constable crouched over the engine, hair rumpled and grease smears on his face. He scrambled to his feet, reaching for his hat.
“Something wrong here, sir,” he said. “I can’t get a kick out of her.”
“Curious! It was running well enough eurly this morning. You might lift off the distributor cap and have a look inside, constable.”
MacLeod followed orders. He whipped erect. “Well, what d’you know! Say, the distributor arm’s missing.”
“At the moment I imagine it’s in Atkinson’s pocket. The outboard rig on the other side of the float belongs to Burgoyne. He won’t mind if we borrow it for a while.”
He settled himself amidships, and spoke only once during the two-hour run. That was to warn MacLeod sharply from a snag whose tip broke the smooth green current. Presently the river narrowed, winding between rocky banks of spruce and pine. Half a mile ahead a white riffle told where Tamahous Creek boiled out of its canyon to strike into the main stream.
MacLeod swung the skiff out of the current, pointing it for a long, willow-grown bar close in to the west bank.
“Here’s the place,” he said. “I found Polchuk lying in the brush a few feet from the north end. That jack pine clump all by itself on the bank—that’s where I found the spent cartridge.”
“Yes. I read your report, constable. Keep going.” “You — you don’t want to land there, sir?” MacLeod’s voice reflected his surprise.
“No. Keep on to the mouth of the creek.”
BELOW the rock promontory where creek and river met, MacLeod beached the skiff. Inspector Stark clambered over the bows and set off along the trail that paralleled the creek, leaving MacLeod to tug the boat up the narrow strip of sand.
“Bring the bailing can with you,” he ordered over his shoulder.
He set a fast pace—his ability to hit a brisk clip and hold it was one of his few vanities—and at the end of the first mile the constable was breathing heavily behind him.
“Side trail there, leads in to Polchuk’s cabin,” MacLeod panted. “That way, sir?”
“No. Straight on. You need more exercise, constable. I’ll have to see that you get it.”
He halted, half an hour later, on a low bluff overlooking a bend of the creek. A log jam spanned the stream in a chaotic tangle of roots and bone-white timbers. From where they stood they could hear the sullen subterranean muttering of the creek as it fingered a way through the interstices. Behind them the woods made a last stand above the bare granite. Inspector Stark studied the jam for the length of a
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cigarette. Then, without haste, he turned and stalked back toward the tongue of timber. Inside the fringe he stepped across a rotting log and faced back toward the creek. He looked, as through a window frame, directly to the jam. Its key log, humped over the lesser timbers, made an arch for the natural bridge.
“Fill your can with sand,” he instructed MacLeod. “Take it down to the jam and set it on top of the large white log. Then move into the clear. Leave the rifle with me.”
He knelt, waiting until MacLeod appeared, a figure lessened by distance, on the jam. MacLeod set the can in place. The inspector allowed him time to return to the bank, then settled himself behind the log.
He rested the barrel of Larsen’s rifle on the mossy surface, sighted and fired. A clean miss. Impatiently he raised the rear sight a notch and sighted again. At the crack of the carbine the can disappeared.
“Pick it up,” he called to MacLeod. “Bring it back here.”
His ears, trained to alertness, caught no sound, but he sensed, and had sensed for some minutes, that he was being watched.
“All right, Larsen,” he said, without turning his head. “Come out of there.”
THE ragged creature who shambled out of the timber was little more than five feet tall, but immensely wide of shoulder. His face was so heavily covered in curly brown beard that his eyes seemed to peer out of the tangle, soft brown and anxious, like the eyes of a dog. The inspector motioned him to sit down, and squatted on his heels beside him. He brought a plug of tobacco from his pocket. Larsen seized on it eagerly, burying strong yellow teeth in it and worrying off a cheekfilling cud.
“You did as I told you?” the inspector asked him, kindly enough.
“Yah, Mister.” Larsen nodded his head vigorously, speaking around his chew. “All morning I work out dere. Get pretty wet, too.”
“What did you find?”
“I find Polchuk’s pack board, down in de log jam under de water.” “Loaded?”
“Yah. I don’t take de tarp off. It’s in de cabin. You want see it now, Mister?”
“Not yet. That was good work, Larsen.”
MacLeod toiled up from the creek. HLs shirt was torn and he had a long scratch across his forehead, but he swung the can by its wire handle. Inspector Stark examined it carefully, turning it over in his hands. His second shot had perforated one side cleanly but hadn’t so much as dinted the opposite wall.
“Sit down, constable,” he ordered. “You’ve earned a breather and a smoke. Give Larsen his rifle and the rest of the cartridges. We won’t be needing them any more.”
MacLeod, wooden-faced, complied. “Sir,” he said, “can you give me an idea what this Ls all about, before I go nuts wondering?”
THE inspector frowned at the marred polish of his boots. “Polchuk was shot in the hack of the head,” he said, reaching for the ivory disc. “If the bullet had been fired where you found the spent cartridge it would have blown out his forehead. The range to the bar wasn’t more than 50 yards.”
Buffing gently at the side of his boot,
he continued, while Larsen hunkered behind him, chewing contentedly, and MacLeod stared at him with cigarette unlit between his fingers. “The slug was recoveredby Burgoyne. That meant it was fired at extreme accurate range, which would be something like 250 yards. What do you make it to the crown log in the jam—about that?” “Yes. Just about, sir.”
“The jam is a natural bridge. A man crossing from the far bank with a heavy load, on a pack board say, would stop at the log. He’d set his pack board on top, climb over, then turn to lift it down. Polchuk had just turned when he was bushwhacked, exactly from where you’re sitting, constable.” MacLeod shifted as if the moss had grown suddenly hot under his breeches.
“But how do you know, sir?” he demanded.
“Because Larsen found Polchuk’s pack board under the jam this morning. It’s in their cabin now.”
“Killed him here, and lugged his body down to the bar in the river! Whoever did it used his head, sir. More than I’ve been using mine, I guess. So we know how it was done, but not why, or who by.”
“I suspect the answer to both your questions is waiting for us, constable. 11 should be inside the tarpaulin on Polchuk’s pack board. The river was running high when he was shot, and the killer wasn’t able to recover the board. He did the logical thing— jremoved the body to a spot well away from the log jam.”
A heavy hand dropped without ceremony on the inspector’s Stetson, shoving him down. A small wind soughed past, and a jack pine spray settled on MacLeod’s leg. The following crack of the rifle came to them, like the snapping of a whip, from the dense timber across the creek.
“Thank you, Larsen,” Inspector Stark’s tone was only mildly ruffled. “Man, you have arms like one of the greater apes!”
“I see him!” Larsen rumbled, eyes gleaming through his jungle of beard. “Fat man from hotel — Mister Atkinson!”
“This place ain’t healthy, inspector,” MacLeod said urgently. “Let’s highball out of here, sir!”
“In our own time,” Inspector Stark reproved him, correcting the dents in his hat. “The law should move with a certain majesty, constable, even under fire. Anyway 1 think that was simply a warning shot. The man who killed Polchuk wouldn’t miss unless that was his intention. Just to be sure, Larsen, you might give us a five-minute lead, then follow us in to the cabin, off trail.” They reached the trappers’ cabin, squatting in its irregular clearing, without incident. Inspector Stark pushed at the leather-hinged door. The single*window was blind with dirt and cobwebs, and it was a full minute before their eyes became accustomed to the gloom.
THE dead man’s pack board, a curved Yukon-style frame with broad rawhide shoulder straps, lay on the lower of the two sapling bunks. They peered down at it. The canvas of the covering was rotting away, but the pack rope still held it in place.
“Weighs a ton,” MacLeod commented as he boosted it to the table under the window. “Shall I broach it, sir?”
“By all means,” said Inspector Stark.
MacLeod flicked his jackknife open and slashed the cord. He yanked at the canvas—and loosed his breath in a long sigh.
“As I told you,” the inspector remarked, bending closer over the
bunk, “the rest of our information is here, the why and the who that you mentioned, constable . . . Larsen, you can consider your neck safe. But you must tell me where Polchuk hid his liquor, and who gave it to him. Tell the truth, mind, and remember it when you’re on the witness stand.” “My friend Polchuk kept de hooch in hole under floor,” Larsen told them. “She’s all gone now, mister. I look first t ing dis morning when I come here. He got it from Mister Atkinson, same as last year and year before dat.”
Which explains why Atkinson nearly foundered himself rushing out of Roche de Boule in the small hours, and why he followed us today,” the inspector said. “The liquor is probably in a new cache not far from here. You’ll have to come back and locate it later, constable.”
“We going to take this down with us, sir?” MacLeod asked, jerking his thumb at the pack board.
“No. Larsen, you’re to stay here. You aren’t to let anyone in the cabin, Atkinson or anyone else. Have you a watch?”
For answer Larsen tugged a large, old-fashioned timepiece from his raintest coat. He dangled it proudly by its moosehide thong. “Was my gran’fader’s, back in Old Country.”
The inspector wound it, synchronized it with his wrist watch, and passed it back. “At eight o’clock in the morning,” he instructed, “you’re to leave the cabin. At eight, mind—no earlier, no later. Come straight to the blazed spruce at the end of the cabin trail. Now constable, we’ll get out of this. We’ve kept the doctor’s boat too long as it is, and I know he likes an hour or two of trout fishing of an evening.” Current aiding, they were back at the Roche de Boule landing in an hour. Atkinson’s launch was not at its berth, and when Inspector Stark went up to the hotel he saw no sign of the proprietor in the lobby. He crossed to Burgoyne’s office, where he found the doctor with his hat on, locking the door.
“I’m going to need you tomorrow,” he said. “We have two men in the hills now: Larsen and Atkinson.”
Burgoyne’s high-colored face looked almost boyish. “Glad to go with you,” he said heartily. “It was true, then, that Atkinson skipped town? 1 doubt I’ll be much help, but I’ve always retained a juvenile hankering to be in on a manhunt.” He hesitated, pocketing the key. “By the way, I heard Larsen wrote a note to the effect that he knew who killed his partner. You don’t think we might find Atkinson too late?”
“Later I’ll tell you more about that note,” the inspector said. “Larsen is less stupid than he appears, by the way. Right now I’m off for a bath, if the hotel can supply one, and a sleep.
HE DID not bathe, however, since the hotel’s water supply had retrogressed from lukewarm to icy. Nor did he sleep; instead he sat in the chair by the window, rubbing absently at his Sam Browne while his precise brain worked toward an evaluation of the case. He thought of Larsen in the cabin, waiting with the dull patience of an animal, and of Atkinson, skulking somewhere within rifleshot of the creek trail. Tomorrow gave promise of being an interesting day. In fact, he reflected wryly, there was a substantial chance that neither he, MacLeod, nor perhaps Burgoyne would be alive when it ended.
MacLeod’s guarded knock broke the inspector’s reverie. He turned away from the window, studying the constable with a gimlet eye.
“Haven’t cleaned your boots yet, I
see. You can tell a good policeman by his leather. Look to it before we leave in the morning.”
“Yes, sir. Where do we head for this time?”
“Back up the river. Burgoyne will be with us—there may be a definite need for a coroner. You understand, constable, that it’s a dangerous mission?”
MacLeod grinned, and flexed his arms. “I could use a change from headwork, sir.”
“Yes, no doubt you could. Well, I have a strong feeling that you’ll get it. That’s all, constable.”
Atkinson did not return that night. When the inspector went down with Burgoyne to the landing at daybreak he noted that the hotelman’s launch was still missing. He made no comment, replying to Burgoyne’s glance of enquiry with a nod. MacLeod was already in the skiff. The doctor started his outboard and they putted into the river mist.
They beached the skiff at the start of the creek trail. MacLeod in the lead and Burgoyne bringing up the rear they jogged along the winding, brushy path. Their boots made no sound on the black earth; the woods were very still, pressing in on them with a hostility that was almost tangible.
Once MacLeod turned his head. Tension, increasing with every step, had tightened his square-jawed face. “Sir,” he breathed, “I don’t run to hunches, but I figure he’s watching us right now!”
The inspector did not answer. Burgoyne’s voice, a trifle husky, but steady enough, came to them from behind. “It’s not a happy feeling. I begin to wish I’d brought a rifle after all.”
They tramped on, climbing a little. The sun climbed with them, striking down through the spruce tops to lighten the early morning chill. The inspector glanced at his wrist watch. Ten minutes to eight.
“Not far now,” MacLeod said. “I can see the blaze by the cabin trail.”
They drew level with the blazed tree. MacLeod turned into the illdefined pathway. Through the timber they could distinguish the weathered grey shakes of the cabin roof. Of Larsen there was no sign.
“Not that way,” Inspector Stark said. “Straight ahead, constable. We’ve going to the log jam.”
“Why there, inspector?” Burgoyne asked.
“I found something under the jam yesterday. Something I want you to see. Polchuk’s pack board.”
HE HEARD Burgoyne’s quick indrawn breath, and added casually, “It was loaded with ore, doctor. Cinnabar ore.”
MacLeod had turned and was staring past him. “Hey! What goes on . . .” His hand leaped to his revolver holster, but Burgoyne’s voice, swift and deadly, checked him.
“Hold it! Get your hands up. You too, inspector.”
The amaze on MacLeod’s face was so ludicrous that Inspector Stark could not suppress a grim smile. Hands raised, he turned. Burgoyne had halted six feet away, back to a spruce trunk. In his right hand, held at waist level, was an automatic. The round black eye of the muzzle did not waver.
“It seems I’ve underestimated you, inspector,” he said with his quick, thin-lipped smile. “I won’t again. This time, I can assure you, no bullets will be recovered.”
His grey eyes were narrowed to slits. They were fever-bright. It occurred to the inspector that he had overlooked one possibility, and with that realiza-
tion came a chilling of his palms, familiar from other tight spots in which he had found himself. Studying Burgoyne, stalling for time, he spoke softly, almost regretfully.
“You’re mad, Burgoyne. I should have guessed . . . Constable, where you find murder look for madness. Often the two go together.”
“You think so?” Burgoyne eased away from the tree. “As a doctor 1 question your diagnosis. We simply think in different dimensions, inspector. Polchuk was a worthless fool. His fool’s luck steered him to the cinnabar outcropping, and his fool’s mouth babbled his secret to me, when he was drunk in Roche de Boule, before he’d even staked a claim. Of course I killed him! You know what he’d have done with his money. Well, inspector, I can do better. At the expense of three lives I can save a multitude. I can build my laboratory, get on with my experiments . . . There is only one point Pd like to settle before we end this little comedy. What brought you to the log jam?”
“You did,” the inspector told him. Larsen was overdue. But if he could keep Burgoyne talking, challenge his madman’s vanity, there might still be a chance. “You made one miscalculation. It was obvious that Polchuk wasn’t killed on the bar. The range was much too short. So I simply continued onto the logical place. But I suspected you sometime before that, doctor. You were altogether too eager to shift the guilt to Atkinson.”
“Clever, inspector, but not clever enough. Atkinson will be held for three murders instead of one, otherwise the picture hasn’t changed. I’m disappointed in you, inspector. I realize your intelligence has its limits, but I never thought you’d blunder into your own trap!”
“There’s some doubt as to who’s trapped,” the inspector said. “Do you know that Larsen is heading straight for you through the brush?”
Burgoyne laughed, showing his even teeth. “That trick is older than these hills around us . . . constable, your thoughts show on your face. Keep your hands up!”
Behind Burgoyne, in the timber, a twig snapped. The hand holding the automatic wavered for an instant; but the muzzle steadied again. The smile faded from Burgoyne’s mouth, leaving it bleak and hungry.
Deliberately Inspector Stark lowered his left arm. He ignored Burgoyne’s sharp warning and reached into his side pocket for the ivory disc. Gently, abstractedly, he rubbed at his belt.
“A stupid mannerism,” Burgoyne snapped, biting hard on his words. “I suppose when I kill you your hand will go on in that foolish motion!”
“It’s an interesting speculation,” the inspector told him, “but you’ll never know the answer. Larsen is a literalminded fellow, doctor, and he loved his partner. Like a dog, I think you said. Remember his note? When he
reaches you, which will be in a matter of seconds, he’ll tear you apart. You haven’t lead enough to stop him.”
THE brush rustled, close behind Burgoyne. The doctor’s grin was fixed and horrible. His head turned, swift as a snake’s, and the automatic swung away. Larsen shambled out of the timber, huge shoulders hunched forward. One hand gripped his rifle around the barrel, trailing it like a club.
Even as Burgoyne levelled on him, the inspector’s hand swung up. The ivory disc, flung hard, took Burgoyne on the temple, staggering him as he fired. MacLeod lunged forward. His hand clamped on Burgoyne’s wrist, and the automatic thudded to the trail. The inspector heard the metallic “snick-snick” of handcuffs.
“Dear me!” he said reprovingly. “That really wasn’t necessary ! You must learn not to be melodramatic, constable.”
Larsen stood shaking his shaggy head in puzzled fashion. “Why’s he shoot at me?” he rumbled in his large, mild voice. Then, hopefully to the inspector, “You got it, tobacco, Mister?”
Inspector Stark extracted a plug from his tunic. His eyes were probing the tangle beside the trail, and he looked both irritated and worried.
“What are my orders, sir?” MacLeod asked him. “What about Atkinson?” “Don’t be continually asking for orders,” the inspector snapped. “Atkinson will come in when he gets hungry enough. In the meantime it’s up to you to find his liquor cache and be ready to charge him. Here—don’t stand gawking. Pitch in and help me locate it. My ivory buffer! It’s somewhere in this mess of brush beside the trail.”
“Be like hunting for a needle in a haystack, sir,” MacLeod said, staring at him with an expression compounded of exasperation and worship.
“Well? A good policeman would find a needle in a haystack if he had to take it apart straw by straw.” The inspector’s hand moved to his belt, checked, and shifted to beat an agitated tattoo on his holster. “Stay here and find it if it takes you a week, constable,” he barked. “Dammit, man, I’m nothing but a bundle of nerves without it.”
“Sir!” MacLeod’s tone was urgent. The inspector was already striding down the trail, with Burgoyne three paces ahead of him. “What do I do with the cinnabar?”
“Save it for evidence,” Inspector Stark told him without looking back. “Our medical friend here would have taken three lives, but I doubt if he’d have salvaged any. If either of you bothered to read the mining news, you’d have realized the yalue of those claims. Now that the seas are open we’re getting more than enough mercury from Spain . . . Doctor that ore you murdered Polchuk fo’ isn’t worth its freight to railhead!” r