FICTION

RIVER DEMON

Inspector Stark tackles a double problem—a murder and a honey blonde—and emerges with double honors

ARTHUR MAYSE May 1 1945
FICTION

RIVER DEMON

Inspector Stark tackles a double problem—a murder and a honey blonde—and emerges with double honors

ARTHUR MAYSE May 1 1945

RIVER DEMON

ARTHUR MAYSE

IT WAS the considered view of Inspector Morgan Stark that marriage was a luxury not to be contemplated by any British Columbia Police officer under the rank of sergeant. His mood, dour enough already, did not lighten as he realized that the highway patrol car which had just passed him at excessive speed with its siren wide open carried a girl of the sort whom his junior officers were continually marrying. The inspector stared grimly after the white patrol car, dust dulling his burnished boots and Sam Browne, his staff coupé on its side in the ditch behind him. This young spriggins—he would be Constable Kelly from Rainford—was obviously overdue on the district headquarters carpet.

A second dust cloud billowed over Inspector Stark’s lean khaki person as the constable braked the patrol car to a stop and ground it down the road in reverse. Kelly swung to the highway, Stetson pushed back, worry plain on his tanned, high-cheekboned face. The inspector’s chill blue gaze, which missed nothing, flicked briefly to the girl in the car. She was an arresting example of the type which he had heard described as honey blonde; a type, moreover, to which his leas seasoned constables were regrettably susceptible.

He returned Kelly’s salute with a crisp lift of his arm.

“You were hurrying, constable,” he observed in his precise voice. “No doubt you were on your way to a murder?”

Kelly stared at him. “I’ve heard you could smell

Inspector Stark tackles a double problem—a murder and a honey blonde—and emerges with double honors

’em, sir, but this beats me! It’s murder, right enough.

1 got a report not half an hour ago that old Chief Billy Starr was found by some new fisheries officer, name of Carson, dead in his smokehouse, with a salmon spear through him.”

Inspector Stark had anticipated no such answer, although he knew, and had known since Chief Billy’s laboriously printed note reached him lour hours previously, that the chief was a deeply troubled man.

The message, buttoned into his breast pocket, read simply, “Something very bad in my river. I think now I know what. Sir, you better come here quick.”

He had started out immediately. Chief Billy would never undergo the agony of letter writing for a trivial matter; also, he had been a notable police tracker in his younger years, and the service did not forget its own.

But since murder had long ago ceased to surprise the inspector, he accepted the situation calmly, turning his brain to the problem of what discovery, lethal to himself, Chief Billy had made.

“The fisheries people should have notified us of that change,” he said. “I thought Gregg Matheson was still their Mechitna man. This new fellow—Carson— did he turn in the report?”

“No,” Kelly told him. “It was that skinny buck they call Cultus Jim. He came busting out of the river road in a rattletrap truck and nearly ran us off the highway. He had a snootful of loganberry wine, and I couldn’t make out the half of what he jabbered. I radioed on to Roche de Boule, sir. They’ll hold him there.”

“Provided always that he doesn’t take to the bush first.” The inspector’s left hand strayed to the side pocket of his tunic. He brought out a disc of ivory, age-yellowed, some three inches in diameter. Absently, he rubbed it against his holster flap as he deliberated. “Cultus Jim, you say. A bad lad, that one, as I remember him. Comes from the band higher up the river. He crowded me into the ditch shortly before you and your . . . companion chanced along.”

Kelly moved his wide shoulders uncomfortably, and his ears reddened.

“This is Hilda Birnes, inspector,” he said. Then, with a certain challenge in his tone, “We’re engaged. I was giving her a lift in from the Canberra Ranch when we met Cultus Jim.”

Inspector Stark acknowledged the introduction with a nod. Miss Birnes’ glance at her fiancé, it seemed to him, was notably cool for a honey blonde who has ensnared a husky and not unhandsome provincial policeman. Her voice underscored this impression.

“Hadn’t you better be getting on to your murder, Mister Kelly?”

“An excellent suggestion,” the inspector agreed rather sardonically as he disposed himself beside her on the front seat of the patrol car. “You can tow my coupé out later. As we go you might try to recall Cultus Jim’s more coherent utterances.”

Kelly, ears still crimson, slid under the wheel. “Mostly he was giving out with Chinook, sir. I don’t understand that jargon. He was a pretty scared Indian.”

Hilda spoke, without turning her bright head, “He said a ha-alo tumtum, a bad spirit, came up from the river and killed Chief Billy.”'

“Spirits may have played a part in it,” the inspector conceded, “but I hardly imagine they came from the river . . . Constable, I note you wear an overseas ribbon. Were you by chance a Mosquito pilot?”

Kelly took the hint and let the accelerator pedal come halfway up from the floor boards. They swept over the crest of a hill. Abruptly the timber of the plateau was behind them; and far below, huddled beside the silver thread which was the Mechitna River in its roaring canyon, were the grey shanties and smokehouses of the fishing camp.

Chief Billy’s smokehouse, a flat-roofed rectangle almost falling apart from extreme dilapidation, squatted 200 yards east of the canyon lip, somewhat removed from the rest of the camp. Outside it, drawn into a tight group as if for protection against some obscure menace, were Chief Billy’s people. A white man stood a little apart from the group. He came through the sun-scorched grass to meet them, walking with an outdoorsman’s easy, loose-kneed stride. He was tall —taller even than the inspector—and burned almost as dark as an Indian. His blue denims were stagged above caulked boots, and sunlight winked from a badge clipped to the breast pocket of his grey flannel shirt.

“I’m John Carson, Dominion fisheries,” he said. “Been keeping an eye on things here. Nothing’s been disturbed.”

THE inspector swung the smokehouse door outward on its single creaking hinge. The older Indians clapped hands over their mouths and set up a low, uneasy moaning as he stepped inside. Constable Kelly followed him in, peering through the half-gloom, then said indignantly:

“The chief isn’t dead, sir!”

“The chief is dead!” said the inspector.

Kelly crowded past him. He gave a low whistle at what he saw.

Chief Billy stood with his back against a door post. His head drooped, and his straggly white hair had fallen forward over his incredibly wrinkled face. About him was a strong illusion of life, as if he had merely gone to sleep on his feet. But it was only an illusion. His chin rested against the shaft of a fish spear driven through the base of his neck with such force that his body, pinned to the post by the forked steel prongs, had been unable to topple. His clawlike hands were clenched around the shaft as if to tug the spear free.

“Look at the blood,” Kelly muttered huskily. “He’s up to his ankles in it! Whoever speared the poor old coot must have been waiting there by the fish racks. Got him just when he came in.”

The inspector turned to him. “Go learn what you can from the Indians. Miss Birnes, since you seem to understand Chinook, you’d oblige me by going with him.”

Alone in the smokehouse with Carson, Inspector Stark turned away from the body.

“I am not given to superstition,” he said, “but if I were, I’d incline to the native view.”

“That a demon from the river killed him?” Carson smiled, without mirth. “One thing—there’s no human powerful enough to drive a spear with that force in these quarters.”

“Of course not.” The inspector did not like being told his business, and he spoke with a touch of impatience. “It’s obvious that he walked into a trap. Look at the fish rack.”

Carson nodded. “I’d sized it up before you came.” The rack was composed of seasoned poles, their ends let into the planking of the side walls. It stood chest-high from the hard-packed earthen floor.

“That rear pole must have been wedged away from the others by a trigger stick,” Carson said. “The short piece lying there was the trigger, like as not.” He stirred a tangle of green seine twine with his boot.

“And here’s your trip line. The spear was fitted across the rack same as an arrow on a bow. When Chief Billy came in, half-blind the way he was, and tripped the trigger . . .” His shrug told the rest.

Inspector Stark approved Carson’s reasoning with a lift of his chin. “A primitive device, but effective. By the way, my constable stopped an Indian on the road to Roche de Boule. Got the first word of this affair from him.”

“Cultus Jim? He’s a hell-raiser, but I doubt he’d have the wits to dope out a setup like this.”

“Under instruction, he could at least execute it,” the inspector said. “I take it you’ve been reasonably close to the chief and his band. Has there been trouble lately?”

“Of a sort,” Carson admitted. “It was brewing when I took over from old Gregg Matheson a couple of weeks ago. The eternal squabble about fishing rights—I understood from Matheson that Chief Billy’s band and Cultus Jim’s crowd on the upper river have been bickering for years.”

“Quite true,” Inspector Stark agreed. “The fishing rights have been a bone of contention since this reserve was first established.”

He frowned at the spear, as if to learn from it the identity of the creature who had stolen in to lay a devil’s trap. His frown deepened as he reached out to finger the bright new wire that held the prongs to the shaft ... It would have been so much simpler to push the old man into the Mechitna’s wild white canyon. This killing was more than macabre; it was spectacular, and it grew upon him that the killer, with evil intelligence, had planned it that way. Chief Billy had known too much. It occurred to the inspector that not only his death but the manner of the murder

had been calculated to divert attention from that lost knowledge.

Not altogether lost, because someone, in the camp or out of it, knew the chief’s secret

“Well,” the inspector said, “we can do nothing more here, for now.”

THE INDIANS had returned to the salmon fishing which, in the course of two or three hectic weeks, would provide the bulk of their winter’s food. Constable Kelly and Hilda were sitting on a rock bluff at the edge of the shallow canyon. The inspector walked toward them, noting in the long brown grass the imprint of automobile tires. The more distinct set would mark where Cultus Jim, terror riding with him, had turned his truck back toward the river road. But the other, fainter tracks puzzled him. Kelly scrambled to his feet as the inspector approached. Hilda looked up, grave-faced; there was an air of cleanliness about her, a freshness to her starched white blouse and blue overalls, which Inspector Stark grudgingly approved. If she were a man and an officer she would keep her leather shining. He observed that Kelly’s boots and belt were in better trim than usual, and he wondered, quite irrelevantly, whether the girl had anything to do with that.

“They wouldn’t talk English, sir,” Kelly told him. “They just gobbled in Chinook, to her.” He added, heatedly, “And she won’t tell me what they said!” Hilda gave the inspector a grey-eyed and entirely disarming smile. She patted the rock beside her. Not for more years than he cared to remember had Inspector Stark sat on a sun-warmed bluff with a pretty girl, and his dignity bent as reluctantly as his knees. He addressed Hilda

Continued on page 47

Continued from page 9

brusquely. “Now no more nonsense, miss. What did you learn?”

“Among other things,” Hilda said, disregarding Kelly’s glare, “1 found out why your constable was against a June wedding or a September wedding —or any wedding at all, until he had three stripes on his sleeve. Did you know I was breaking our engagement when you flagged us down?”

The inspector reached for his ivory buffer. This situation was threatening to get somewhat out of hand.

“We can discuss that later,” he snapped. “At the moment, Miss Birnes, we have a more serious matter to consider. What did those Indians tell you?”

Hilda gazed down into the canyon. They were directly above the fishing stage which had been Chief Billy’s, a crude platform of planks dangling four feet over the river on wire cables. One end of a rickety pole ladder rested on the stage, the other end projected over the top of the bluff. On similar platforms up and down the canyon the Indians were reaping their harvest of plump, silvery sockeye salmon.

“I love to watch them,” Hilda said. “It’s a fascinating sight, isn’t it, inspector?”

“Utterly. See here, are you going to tell me what you learned?”

“Well . . . most of these people are afraid to talk much. They simply repeat Cultus Jim’s story, that a demon must have come up from the river and speared Chief Billy. Only one of them, a boy who’d been to mission school, had more to say.”

“Yes?”

“He said Chief Billy was worried. He’d been here since the middle of the month, you know, waiting for the salmon to run up from the Skeena. The rest of the band were still in their village at Mechitna Lake. The chief was worried because the river wasn’t right.”

“In what way?”

“Just . . . not right. He’d been fishing from this stage every season since he was a boy, and he knew the feel of the water. It was different this year, gone bad.”

The inspector considered, staring down at the racing flow 20 feet under their perch on the bluff top. “This is the best stage on the river,” he said presently. “One would imagine there’d be a scramble for it. But no Indian will come near it. Superstition, perhaps. Fear of something they can’t fathom.”

“Can you fathom it, inspector?”

“If I could,” Inspector Stark said, levering himself to his feet, “I would not be idling here, coaxing information from you.”

Behind him, as he strode away, he heard Hilda’s liquid chuckle. The girl might have a head on her shoulders but she was a vixen fqr all that, and no wife for a policeman!

HE FOUND Carson farther along the canyon, hands in his pockets and pipe between his teeth. The inspector lit a cigarette and they smoked in silence while the men on the stages yanked salmon after salmon from the boiling white water. Small boys and girls, scampering up and

down the perilous ladders like monkeys, relayed the fish to their mothers, whose bright kerchiefs made barbaric blotches of color against the grey rock. The women gutted the salmon, whacked off their heads and split them down the back, readying them for the racks. Other youngsters carried the catch on sagging poles to the smokehouses above. The children had already forgotten, if they’d ever really known, that their chief had been murdered; they made a game of their share in the communal task, frisking through the grass and over the rocks, shouting to each other in high-pitched voices.

“So far,” Inspector Stark told Carson, “we appear to have drawn a blank.”

Carson drew reflectively on his pipe. He asked, “Did the constable find out who was with Cultus Jim?”

“The Indians refused to talk.”

“I’d have told you myself, except I didn’t want to butt in on your show. Chief Billy went back to the village for supplies on Monday. While he was away Cultus Jim drove down in that haywire truck of his. He had T’silkamat with him.”

The inspector gave him a sharp glance. “T’silkamat? I’ve had that old devil in my comeuppance book for years. He’s a thorn in the side of the Indian agent—something of a witch doctor, I’ve been led to believe. What else?”

“Cultus Jim left the truck out of sight among the shacks. They stayed about an hour, then drove off. I didn’t see Cultus Jim again till this morning. He’d been drinking, and he said something about T’silkamat getting tough with him. Chief Billy ordered him out of the camp, told him to head back to his own band. He didn’t go. Chief Billy’s people came up about noon and started fishing. The chief went to his smokehouse to start his smudges and nobody saw him again until I opened the door and found him there.”

Carson applied another match to his pipe. His frown accentuated the boniness of his long face. “I’m glad Old Man Matheson left before this trouble, inspector. The way his heart was cutting up it would have been an awful jolt to him. He thought a lot of the chief.” He tossed the match into the river. “Well, I’m going up to the cabin for supper. If you folks get hungry you might drop around for a bite.”

Inspector Stark, walking slowly, returned to the bluff that overlooked Chief Billy’s stage. Hilda was still there and Constable Kelly stood over her, thumbs in his belt. Arguing with her, the Inspector thought—he was glad, frequently, that he had never taken a wife.

“Constable,” he called, “you’re to bring T’silkamat here from the upriver camp. Don’t charge him with anything. Just bring him down.”

“You think he did it, sir?” Kelly asked eagerly.

“He’s capable of it. Make the best time you can, within reason. And, constable . .

“Sir?”

“On your way radio this message to Roche de Boule.”

Kelly loped toward the patrol car. Hilda looked after him, poking at the moss with one slender finger. 11 was her ring finger, and with an unreasonable sense of dismay the inspector realized

that her engagement ring was missing.

“T’silkamat, eh?” Hilda said softly. “Chief Billy was always afraid of him. This is the best section of the river and they’d fought a lot over the fishing rights. Perhaps he thought with Chief Billy dead his people would be scared into moving away.”

“Possibly. It’s a pity Matheson, the fisheries man, isn’t here. He knows the background of that business thoroughly. Were you acquainted with Matheson?”

“I’ve known him since I was a little girl.” Hilda smiled, and again the inspector was reluctantly aware of her charm. “I’m sorry he’s gone to the coast. He taught me how to run a trap line, and how to pan the old placers above the canyon. Not that I ever found much!”

“Did he ever tell you anything, say anything about T’silkamat?”

“Just that he was a bad influence on Cultus Jim’s band. A sort of native racketeer, he called him.” Hilda rose. “Are you going up to eat with Carson, inspector?”

“No. I believe I’ll stay here. One moment, before you leave.”

HE CLAMBERED down the ladder, setting his boots cautiously on each precarious rung. Chief Billy’s fishing gear still lay on the stage, a 20-foot pole tipped with a sharp steel hook. He stooped for it, and stood balancing the pole in one hand, studying it intently.

“Are you going to try for the river demon?” Hilda enquired from above.

Without answering, the inspector slipped the gaff into the river. The current shoved hard against the shaft, fighting to rip it from his grasp. He moved it about aimlessly, letting another six feet of shaft slide through his hands. At last he withdrew it, dripping, from the stream.

Hilda was watching him curiously, almost apprehensively. Inspector Stark gave her a wintry smile, a mere tightening of his thin lips against his teeth.

“Go up for your supper now,” he instructed her. “You might let Carson know that we’re on the trail of Chief Billy’s ha-alo tumtum. 1 don’t wish to disturb you unnecessarily, but you’re in a position of some danger and will be till Kelly returns.”

The laughter went out of the girl’s face, but her voice was steady. “You mean from T’silkamat? I’ve felt danger ever since we came to this place!”

“I have a feeling that our friend the witch doctor isn’t far away,” the inspector said. “I never really expected that Kelly would locate him. He has probably been keeping an eye on us all ! afternoon and he may be watching us now. Stay close to Carson. If you can, have him come back here with you.” “I’ll be careful, inspector,” Hilda said soberly.

Alone with the river, kneeling on the plank platform in the bowels of the canyon, Inspector Stark again reached j for the dead chief’s salmon gaff. He ! lowered the hook into the frothing j eddies, holding it against the thrust of the current, poking and prodding patiently. The sky had deepened to apple-green in the west, and shadows were crowding into the canyon. The river voice swelled louder, sullen and strong, heralding the coming of night. Up and down the river the fishing stages were deserted; the Indians would be in their shacks, close to their fires, sheltering from the terror that had stalked through the camp when the sun was high, a power of evil that must seem all the more dreadful to them now that darkness was moving in upon them.

There was a moment when the inspector knelt perfectly motionless, the pole extended at an angle, its tip across his shoulder. He did not move when Hilda’s voice reached him from above.

“Climb down here,” he said. “Carefully!”

The stage creaked under the girl’s added weight.

“You’ve found something?” she asked.

“Yes. Where’s Carson—didn’t he come with you?”

“He’ll be down in a few minutes. He said someone was poking about in his cabin while he was out this afternoon and he wanted to see if whoever it was would come back.”

“Look up the river. The second stage. See anything?”

“There’s someone on it!” Hilda’s voice was a breathless whisper. “I’m sure it was empty a moment ago. Inspector, who is it? What is it?”

“Offhand, I’d say it was T’silkamat,” Inspector Stark told her.

“What do we do now?”

“Wait.”

Overhead, the sky was still bright with afterglow, but the canyon was now so shadowy that they could no longer make out the crouching figure on the other stage. The inspector lit a cigarette, the gaff’ pole still resting on his shoulder, the steel hook deep under water. He smoked, not speaking, while the river roared its endless threat below them.

Far up the valley a light glimmered. It blinked out on the instant, hut seeing it the inspector flipped his cigarette into the stream.

“Kelly, coming back,” he said. “For once I rather hope he’s driving with his usual abandon. 1 think we can get on with this now.”

The stage creaked and swayed as he got to his feet. He hauled on the gall’ pole, putting his shoulders into the effort. The hook was anchored solidly below. It did not budge. The inspector shifted his position, moving closer to the end of the stage. He pulled again and this time, slowly, the shaft began to emerge from the river. A dark, shapeless bulk rolled in the current. Hilda pressed the back of her hand against her mouth in a gesture curiously like that of the old Indians when they huddled outside Chief Billy’s smokehouse.

THEY were looking directly down into the pale, blurred oval of a dead man’s face, its features obscured by dusk and clotting foam.

“The chief was right,” Inspector Stark said. “I think he knew too much for his own safety. Something was bad in his river. There’s a car down under. I made out the shape of it when I was groping here this afternoon. The doors must have opened when it struck bottom.”

“Who is it?” Hilda whispered.

The inspector jammed the end of the pole between the wire cable and the rock. “1 can’t be certain until Kelly arrives to lend a hand. Can you see his headlights?”

“Yes. Closer. But he’s still several miles away.”

There was a stirring above them, half-heard under the pulse of the river, a slithering of wood against rock. The inspector snatched for the ladder, but it was already a foot beyond the limit of his reach.

They were marooned on the stage. Presently a new sound came to their ears, a steady, monotonous clinking. At the same time the platform began to vibrate, ever so slightly, under their feet.

“What’s that?” Hilda breathed.

“Our killer at work,” the inspector said. “From the sound, I’d say he was

trying to cut the cables to the stage.” He reached into his pocket for his ivory buffer. His back to the rock, rubbing abstractedly at his belt, he fitted the final pieces of the puzzle together in his mind. Reside him he could feel the girl trembling

“Do you think we could ride the stage through the canyon?” she asked.

“No. It will go to pieces as soon as the river lays hold of it. Even the planks will be battered to splinters. It’s unfortunate you should have chosen this day to ride with Kelly.”

“The car lights are much closer. He shouldn’t be more than five minutes away now.”

“Five minutes may be too much,” the inspector said. “I suspect this cable is copper wire from the old Telegraph Trail. Soft stuff. It won’t stand that pounding long.”

“You know who it is up there,” Hilda said. “Why won’t you tell me? At least, if I’m going to be killed, I’d like to know who by!”

“By whom,” the inspector corrected her. He lit another cigarette; the sight of his severe face in the match flare heartened her somehow. “It was the river that told me. Every other year the salmon have run upstream on this side of the channel. One can feel, them crowding by, knocking against the shaft of the gaff. It’s different now. The currents have changed, the salmon are following a new course, I suppose, for the first time since the river was young. That’s what Chief Billy discovered, and the knowledge cost him his life. Another thing—there were two sets of tire marks in the grass below the camp. Cultus Jim’s truck made one. The other was made by the car down there, when it was pushed into the canyon with a dead man in it.”

The clinking overhead took on a faster tempo, so that there was now something frantic about it, a racing against time.

“He’s seen the lights,” Hilda said shakily.

The patrol car was less than a mile away. Its headlight beam swept around a bend, bored down the river road at reckless speed. But a double twang, blood-chilling in its implication, reached them from above. Wires in the twisted cable were letting go.

“You up there,” the inspector called. “It’s no use. You might as well throw away your chisel or hatchet or whatever you’re using and give yourself up.” His only answer was a rain of blows on the cable that sent a new shiver the length of the stage.

The patrol car roared through the camp, its lights waking a glint of mica flakes in the bluffs on the far side of the canyon. The clinking stopped. They heard Kelly’s shout, “Hold it, you!” then the flat explosion of a service revolver.

The inspector sighed, pocketing his ivory disc. “I’m almost tempted to hope he got the fellow,” he remarked, “even though there are a few questions I’d like to put to him.”

Kelly’s flash bathed the fishing stage in white light, and his anxious bellow was music in their ears.

“Hilda—inspector—You all right down there? He was hacking the cables!”

“Don’t stand there bawling stale information,” Inspector Stark called irritably. “We know what he’s been doing. We’ve known it for 10 minutes, while you were dawdling on the road. Get the ladder over before this infernal stand gives way.”

Kelly lowered the pole ladder. “Up you go!” the inspector ordered. He waited till Hilda was safe on the bluff top, then, with dignity befitting a senior police officer, followed her up the shaky rungs.

“Thanks, Kelly,” he said. “Think you got him?”

“Winged him, I think. It was a long shot. He ran toward the camp. And l didn’t dawdle, sir. Soon as Roçhe de Boule came through with an answer to your message I highballed back here.”

HE BROKE off, peering into the gloom. There was a rustling in the grass, the sound of footsteps approached from the darkened camp. Kelly swung his flash. Clear in the beam, limping with head down, was a man even taller than the Inspector. Behind him, like a sinister shadow, stalked a short, heavy - shouldered Indian.

“Got a knife against his back,” Kelly muttered, gun in hand. “Say, that’s the fellow you sent me for. The witch doctor—T’silkamat!”

The inspector made a rusty noise in his throat, which might be taken for a chuckle. “He’s been skulking around, hoping to make capital out of the chief’s death, I imagine. If we’d landed in the river the old devil would have gone away happy. But when you galloped up, constable, T’silkamat decided to throw his weight on the side of the angels . . . Hadn’t you better take over his prisoner? Charge him with the murder of Chief Billy Starr. And of Gregg Matheson.”

“Matheson? I thought as much when the fisheries guy at Roche de Boule got your query and sent word he’d never heard of any Carson on this station. He didn’t know anything about Matheson retiring, either.”

“He was retired into the river,” Inspector Stark said, “by this fellow who calls himself Carson. He’s been living in Matheson’s cabin, eating a dead man’s food, wearing his badge, ever since he bundled Matheson into

his own car and ran it over the bluff.”

Carson raised his head. There was hate in his glare, and sullen fear while Kelly gave him the statutory warning.

“How was 1 to know his heart was that bad?” he said. “I was just having a look around his cabin when be came in. I only hit him once and he keeled over.”

“And when the chief discovered what was wrong in the river, you took care of him too,”}the inspector said. “You’ve already been warned you know anything you say may be used against you. What did you expect to find in Matheson’s cabin?”

“Gold,” Carson muttered. “Placer gold He’d been hoarding it like a pack rat for 20 years. I didn’t find his cache till yesterday. If you hadn’t stuck your nose in I’d have been over the border with it by now.”

“You’d never have cleared my district,” Inspector Stark told him. “D’you think my men are a pack of fools? Constable, take him away. You can put him in the smokehouse with the chief for now. Then roust out a couple of bucks. There’s a job to be done in the river.”

Kelly marched the prisoner oft'.

“You knew it was Carson all the time,” Hilda said. “Hut how?”

“It was the spear. These Indians don’t use spears— never have to my knowledge. They hook their salmon with gaffs. So when 1 saw the spear it was plain this was a white man’s job.” “You know,” Hilda said, “you’re pretty wonderful. There’s just one thing wrong with you.”

“Eh? What’s that?”

“Your views on marriage. I think it’s entirely unreasonable . . .”

“I will not argue the matter with you,” the inspector said tartly. “Nor will I change my views. I’ve been thinking, however, and it strikes me yours is a special case. Kelly needs smartening. If you feel you can make a better policeman out of him I’ll speak to him in the morning.”

Hilda’s laugh was soft music. Inspector Stark reached for his ivory buffer, his grim mouth struggling against a smile. He had just been kissed by a honey blonde, and while the treatment would be more effective on one of his spry young constables, it was still surprisingly easy to take.