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An Accountable Death: part 6

by

Tom Sheehan



Read Part 5 Read Part 7

Chapter 22

James Wasshaye Clockburn called out to his wife. "Melba, this dish of yours is practically disappearin', girl. You get us some more of that and I'll get some more beer. Our company is fit and ready, and appetizeable if I do say so."

Scattered around a comfortable room along with a handful of rugs of bright colors were enough of the principals in Hancock County's latest on-going murder cases.

And one old mystery that had never been solved.

All but the guilty party were there. Retired Hancock County Sheriff Jim Clockburn, current Hancock County Sheriff Cal Holender, Deputy Sheriffs Doyle Hagrider and Austin Tash from Hancock County, Harry Krisman, private detective and former detective of the BPD, and Kell Thorn, now a private detective partner of Harry Krisman and a former judge in the Massachusetts judicial system.

There were problems enough.

There were brains enough.

They were going to kick it all around to see what would come to light.

Jim Clockburn poured the beers.

Melba Clockburn brought out a cheese dish and loads of crackers. There were several kinds of crackers piled on several plates. All the palates would be appeased. Jim Clockburn poured beers for all the men a second time.

They entered a small-talk symposium of sports and hockey in particular. The Maine Black Bears came to light and the BU Terriers and the Bandley Falcons. It was like a sports bar down on Comm Ave, thought Harry Krisman. They joshed and cajoled each other on favorite teams and favorite players, and poked fun at the pros. Harry told the others of his meeting Jim Clockburn's nephew Dick, and they talked hockey for a while, passed on the Celtics in a hurry, mentioned the Red Sox and Patriots, drank a few more beers.

It was an old fashioned warming up period. It put them in shape for the long night each one of them envisioned to be ahead of them.

It was the old sheriff who started things off.

"Not to upset the apple cart, boys, but we got to get to some kind of reasonin' about all this. All I could think of was gettin' all us together and trading' punches and stories to see if somethin' would come out. We got three dead people involved and perhaps a fourth from so long ago that it might not tie-in but most likely does. I can tell you it's always bothered me about Miriam Maltby, and all this other stuff don't make it no better."

Sheriff Cal Holender, out of his trim neat uniform, wearing dungarees and a heavy Norwegian sweater with snowflakes knitted all across the front of it, sitting on a small bench, a beer in his hand, said, "It's all sure to tie in with it, Jim. Everything is too close together. Miriam. George. George's caretaker, Carlton Evers. Carlton's neighbor and long-time friend, Harland Grovers."

His honest pose was one of fretful anxiety. The lost look came and went across his face. He only sipped at his beer, looking over the top of the glass at each one of the others in turn, as each spoke.

Like a good sheriff he was always at the act of measurement and curiosity.

Kell Thorn, still resplendent in his attire, as if the night would be long before it was over, spoke from his deep chair beside the fireplace. He was a distinct presence in the log cabin even though the house was a large and sumptuous one. There was an impeccably neat grayness to his clothes, a fitness that called for attention. A moment earlier they might have been hanging on a rack, creased, neat, lintless, wearing promise in themselves as if stitched in by a tailor of elegance.

He stuck out like a sore thumb.

But nobody in the room seemed to mind.

Lamplight fell on his handsome features as he turned and spoke to them.

"I am convinced, as is Harry, and I suspect most of you, that all this does indeed go back to Miriam Maltby and her tragic death. I haven't been able to determine if she had any social history up here that might indicate a reason for what happened to her. Something has tied all these deaths together."

"When you say 'social history', Judge, just what do you mean?" Jim Clockburn said.

"Was she lover to more than one man," Kell Thorn explained. "Was there jealousy afoot when she was killed? Was there something unprincipled about her that death came from it, that grew on it? And what would cause it to erupt fifteen or so years later?"

"I dated Miriam for a spell," Jim Clockburn said. "She dated a number of fellers but never took one too serious. Never took me too serious, though we did get to it a couple of times. No different than anybody else." He had lowered his voice somewhat.

"Not that I'd want to tell someone else after all these years."

Harry Krisman coughed his introduction to the conversation. "We'll leave that as it is, Sheriff. I think her death was strictly an accident. A vehicle is rarely the weapon of murder. But her death does have a whole lot of weight in these other killings. I don't think there's a hell of a lot of question about that. It's part of the common denominator. It may be the whole of the denominator. None of us know that for sure, though we seem to be leaning toward that conviction. It's the string in it we have to find which ties them all together, a loop or knot bringing them all into the one picture somehow."

"Even to the professor's death way down there in Waltham?" Doyle Hagrider said, still in uniform, neat in it, looking good in it. He was not yet thirty, blond, heavy across the shoulders. He had a black birthmark in the fold of his right ear, which looked like dried blood. His smile was real and infectious.

"Yes, I think so," Harry Krisman said, sipping his beer.

"Then," Doyle Hagrider replied, "somebody from up here went down there and killed him?" He shook his head and stared at Harry Krisman. The questions raised seemed to go along with the stare.

"If he was killed because of his wife, and we, at least some of us, think it's the reason, then yes."

"Someone from up here went down there and did it with a knife and up here they did it with a rifle. It sure sounds like a different killer."

"That should be easy for you, Doyle," Cal Holender offered.

"How so, Sheriff?"

"Did you ever shoot a rifle off in a gent's room in a college building? Or even carry a rifle into a college building? Up here you can walk down the road with one over your shoulder or in the crook of your arm and no two people are going to look sideways at you. You can have your pockets bulging with ammo and nobody's going to think about you twice. Would you expect to fire one off in a gent's room and just walk away without a single person seeing you? That's what the killer did, but with a knife, just walked away after he did his deed, isn't it, Harry, Judge?" He swallowed the rest of the beer in his glass and handed it to Jim Clockburn who refilled it from a large golden pitcher.

Kell Thorn said, "No sound. No sight. No witness. As if he slipped in out of the dark and went right back into it. It sure wasn't like getting off a round or two in the night in the great wild outdoors. I've noticed since I've been up here a few times that sound gets swallowed up in trees or brush. Like it eats it whole. Some sounds leap and some get muffled and it's all because of the growth around the sound. Your neighbor can fire off a rifle some days and it sounds like it's right next door to you, carried as if on a wire, and some other times it gets sucked into the earth itself."

Jim Clockburn said, "Well, some of that's true, Judge, I won't say it ain't true. But lots of times a rifle shot is just like its part of the atmosphere around you. It's like it belongs there and you don't really hear it. Or you hear it and don't pay it any mind."

"So what we're hearing here," said Kell Thorn, "is that there is no possibility we can look for a witness to step forward and say he or she heard a shot and can pinpoint the time and the general direction of the shot."

"You're exactly right, Judge," Cal Holender said, "so I think we can let that possibility just go on out the window. There'll be nobody coming up to us and saying 'I heard a suspicious shot the other night.' "

Harry Krisman leaned over with his glass to Jim Clockburn and the old sheriff poured more beer in his glass. Harry was wearing a heavy tan sweater with a crew neck and his white shirt collar outside of the crew neck. He looked like a student down at Bates or Bowdoin.

"I think," he said, "we have to look at the method of the killings up here. It's apparent that the killer shot from outside both times. Leaving shells in the general area from where he took the shots. Some feet distant from his prey. Probably in the dark. Do we agree on that?"

All of the men sort of nodded in agreement. Some mouths were open, some were closed. If something was in question, it wasn't serious enough to bring into the conversation. They nodded, and waited.

"What does that say to us about the situation?" Harry Krisman had looked at each of them in turn, but was looking directly at Jim Clockburn as he asked the question.

Doyle Hagrider jumped right in. "He didn't want those he killed to see him."

"So there would be no witness in either case?" Harry Krisman said. "As he was about to, as they say in the commercial, kill them dead."

Jim Clockburn smiled at Harry Krisman. "I got to hand it to you, bird watcher. You learned the country and there's no question in my mind that you learned the people. And I full get the drift of where you're heading."

"I missed something?" Doyle Hagrider volunteered, putting a semi-sheepish look on his face. He looked at Cal Holender and then at the other deputy. The other deputy shook his head.

"What he's gettin' at," Jim Clockburn explained, "is that the killer didn't want Carlton or Harland to know that a friend was about to do them in. It may sound kind of crazy to you, but it's a little bit about respect. He could have walked right in those houses like a nightly visitor and been welcome and sat down and had a cup of tea with the rifle right in his hands and then shot both of them and nothin' would be any different. We'd have just about the same kind of view we have right now. One without a whole lot of answers. But he couldn't and wouldn't do that."

"But he killed them, Sheriff!" Doyle Hagrider exclaimed, his hands up as if waiting for rain, or the godly explanation. "What kind of respect is that?"

"Whoever he is that did the killin'," Jim Clockburn said, "must have figured he had some reason. Carlton and Harland knew somethin' or said somethin' that brought him to murder, or they did somethin'. But he couldn't let them know a friend was killin' them no matter what the reason. It was better they didn't know."

"Which means what to you, Sheriff?" Harry Krisman was standing by his seat, his eyes locked deep in thought, but staring at the old sheriff.

 

"That means both Carlton and Harland knew the killer for a whole lot of years. That means they would have spent some kind of time together in Franklin. In school or at work or at church or maybe just plain all-out whorin' in Bangor or drinkin' like we're doin' now. Friendly like. Slow and easy. Maybe cards or the like. Just kind of knockin' it around and about. As some of you fellers may call it fellership or some such. I just call it kaboozlin' kind of. It also means I know him more than likely and Cal knows him and these other youngers here probably heard of him if they don't know him, whoever he is."

"Well," Kell Thorn said to Harry Krisman and Jim Clockburn, "I'm damn glad you two gentlemen are getting on so famously. He hoisted his empty glass and Jim Clockburn filled it again.

The conviviality was getting contagious.

"Where I'd like to take this now," Harry Krisman said, "is in an entirely different direction." Smiling warmly, he added, "That's if you don't mind, mien host."

Jim Clockburn went into the kitchen to get another pitcher of beer. His face was reddened as if he had been up and about the whole day in the grip of the cold weather. At the moment, he was in the midst of party and business and both ends were making him feel better about life and himself. He was close to a giddiness but held back on celebrating.

"Go right ahead, bird watcher. I think I'm with you every step of the way." There was a look of delight on his face. "It feels good to be back in gear again."

He looked apologetically at Cal Holender. "If only for a short spell, Sheriff." The smile crinkled across his face.

He turned to Harry Krisman. "Step up to the plate again, bird watcher. It's all yours."

Harry Krisman said, "Let's get back to the professor again. And the reason for his murder." He hoisted his glass. "It goes from Miriam to her husband and to the others."

"That takes me right to the professor's rod," Cal Holender said. "For such a long time we treated it as some kind of eccentric activity on his part, walking all over creation with that seven pound rod in his hand. Hell, it almost weighs as much as an M-1 or an M-16, pick your war. In the first place, it appears the only physical activity he had was walking with the rod. Nothing else he did up here that I know of. Never went hunting or fishing. Not that he hated them or couldn't abide them. They were just not in his schedule. I'll bet down there at Bandley College he wasn't into gym work or workouts of any kind. From what you tell me, he was into his courses and his students and had nothing else left over to do. Just came up here every chance he had and walked all over creation with that rod. We just plain didn't take him too serious, whatever he was about."

"The rod is a great key to all this." Harry Krisman's voice was firm and level in its meaning. He turned to Call Holender. "Would you bring it in, Sheriff?"

Cal Holender returned from his vehicle with the rod, placing it on the center of one of the coffee tables.

They all looked intently at it. It was a formidable and endurable piece of steel. The tip still gleamed where thousands of probings had made it shiny and clean and almost deadly looking the way the end closed down to an abrupt point. There was an Arthurian quality about it. It was knightly, mostly black, over-finger thick the whole length of it and had been through some secretive campaign, through a crusade none of them yet could reach.

It had suddenly, with the advent of murder, become legendary.

All of them realized that the dead man had lugged it and probed with it through fifteen or so long years. Hill and dale. Swamp and meadow. Crest of crown and foot of gulch or gully. Maybe it was longer when it was new. Maybe it had been shortened by all its work. Maybe it had found at last gold or silver or some lost mine or had endlessly and fruitlessly searched for them. Maybe a forgotten foundation of an old house or a barn long since gone to mold and decay. Maybe in another time it could tell the strange story of its use and its existence.

Now it sat on a rugged coffee table in a log house in front of six men who scratched through their minds for the reason for its use.

No quick bulbs lit up as they stared at it.

"Let's agree," Jim Clockburn said, "that he wasn't looking for gold. Let's get that out of the way right off the bat.'

"Let's agree that he was looking for something that was not meant to be found," Cal Holender said.

"That it was something that was hidden," Kell Thorn said, turning and looking at Harry Krisman.

"That it was not hidden from everybody else in Franklin," Harry Krisman said, "because he was the only one we know who was looking for it.

"That it was hidden, then, from him, from the professor," Doyle Hagrider said.

In his stuffed chair he resettled himself. Light was on his face. He moved to the edge of his seat.

"He was looking for something, then," Harry Krisman surmised, "for about fifteen years.

"He's been looking for something since about the time his wife was killed," Cal Holender added.

"And he's been using this to plot his way," Kell Thorn said as he took the plot map from his coat pocket.

"We found this in his office at Bandley College. It was stuck in the middle of the only book of fiction in his whole office."

The plot map was placed on the coffee table beside the imposing steel rod. They stared at the differing elements in front of them. It was the white and the dark of the legend. It was the shape and the form of the legend. It was form and matter of the legend. It was the abstract and the concrete.

Jim Clockburn leaned over the table. He saw the bare letters marking off a property line. He saw the arrow pointing north. He saw the T of the merging roads at the foot of the well-worn, the oil or grease lined folds which evinced much handling, the hand-drawn lines which had been scratched with a variety of writing implements and inks over much of the surface of the paper.

"I'll be god-damned!" he said.

"What is it, Sheriff?" Kell Thorn was leaning over looking at the former sheriff, looking at the sign of intelligence coming over his face.

"That's Merchant Blore's land, every marked-up part of it. And this here piece too." He was pointing to a blank section on the far right hand side of the paper. "This section here belongs to Merchant also. This side over here is where Igoe and Wikson cut wood on Grayson land, forty or so acres comin' down to this small point."

"What the hell would the college professor be doing on Merchant Blore's land?" Doyle Hagrider said. "Why would he mark up the paper the way he did?"

"For just the reasons we been talkin' about, son." Jim Clockburn was now standing at his seat.

Hagrider looked querulous. "Looking for something to do with his wife's death? Well, he can't find no weapon in there because we know she was killed, not by a weapon, not by a rifle you couldn't find in a hundred years, but by a hit and run driver."

 

Just as the light had come on in the other end of the tunnel way down in Waltham, Massachusetts at the Pavilion of the Adamian Graduate Center at Bandley College, the light slowly crept down the tunnel in the log cabin home of retired Hancock County Sheriff James Wasshaye Clockburn on Route one north, Ellsworth, Maine.

First there was absolute silence.

Then there was recognition of recognition in each others' faces.

There was illumination.

Then there was deeper silence.

And more silence.

At length, Jim Clockburn said, softly, directly to Harry Krisman, "Remember I told you once I had forgotten some kind of detail that had bothered me from way back then? It was something I did not relate to her death. Now I remember what it was."

"Now you have to spill it, Sheriff," Kell Thorn said. "No more holding back." He was laughing a bit and had his tie opened at the neck and was reaching for the pitcher of beer, looking comfortable.

The pitcher was almost empty again.

"A few days after the accident Merchant Blore reported his Packard Clipper was stolen. It was a big red antique he was extremely proud of. Never surfaced at all and we suspected a collector had stolen it. Never once had a sign of it. Never once in all these years."

"Are you saying he hit and killed that woman with his car and buried it so that it would never be found?" Doyle Hagrider said, standing up beside his chair, the look on his face more than incredulous.

"That's exactly what we are sayin, young man, isn't it, Harry?"

"Then the professor knew who did it? Doyle Hagrider said. "He knew all along who did it and never said anything to anybody, didn't do anything?"

"We couldn't do anythin' now either, son," Jim Clockburn said seriously, "unless we had the car."

"If he couldn't find it in fifteen years, how can we?"

"For one thing," Harry Krisman said, "we don't have to use the professor's rod. We can use a metal detector. It will be a lot easier, a lot quicker. And we might assume that the land marked off on the plot has been pretty thoroughly checked by the professor, so we don't have to do that part. We've also got to assume that part of his passion was not leaving a stone unturned if I can use the expression. If he checked off a parcel of land, shaded it in, it's damn certain he went over it by the foot."

"Do you think the professor was getting close to finding it?' the other deputy, Austin Tash, said. He was younger looking than Doyle Hagrider, and blonder and more amazed at each succeeding revelation in his first big murder case.

Harry Krisman said, "Obviously the professor had some idea of what happened up there that time of the accident. That's what drove him on. What gave him the passion, as Max the Most refers to it. So he began to play around on all that property. Maybe discreetly at first, piecemeal, a walk at a time, a bird watch or blueberry picking or some other guise. He couldn't very well scream bloody murder without having some kind of proof, and that meant having the car, and for so long he was never getting close at all to finding it. Blore must have seen him all along and let him go on. The loony outlander looking for gold or foolish treasure. He could let it be the way it looked. Everybody up in Franklin thought old George was eccentric with that rod of his. Why not let it be. He was from away, as you say, not from Franklin, and therefore not really accountable."

It began to set in for real with all of them. They began to feel some of the professor's passion, some of his love, some of his loss. It existed. It had being. It had some measure to it. It floated loose in the room like a specter of sorts, almost cloudy, not quite, almost touchable, not quite, almost remedial, not yet. That was coming. That would have to be.

For the very first time, in a sudden clarity that went beyond explanation, James Clockburn felt a sudden pride in the inexhaustible efforts of George Hinckler. The man had been a marvel, had been an endless crusader. His love for Miriam Maltby was a thing of unexplainable beauty. For a moment of intangible grace he remembered the slim dark-haired girl of his youth, the sly smile, the lack of pretensions.

Harry Krisman continued. "To answer your question, Deputy, I'd guess he was getting pretty close to finding the car. That's why he was killed."

"Way down there at the college?" Deputy Austin Tash said.

"We could talk about that, Deputy," Kell Thorn said, "but I'd guess distance was a desirable element this time around. There was the great probability of the two never being connected, his death and her death, not after all this time. But Maxine was convinced and she convinced Harry and myself, and we came up here to check it all out. That's when he was busted from cover, as you might say. How or what happened, I can't say, but those two shells in the front room of the Maltby house make me think the caretaker sort of provoked something out into the open. I think he fired that old gun at someone, the killer obviously, out there across the road, up on the hill."

Doyle Hagrider said, "Why? For what purpose? For what provocation?"

"We might never know," Kell Thorn said, "but if we let some time string out on it, I'm betting Sheriff Clockburn or Sheriff Holender can come up with some pretty good explanations based on the character of the caretaker. In spite of certain complexities in character, there is the out-in-front attitude and acceptance of some things that the natives here exhibit rather well. Things that have to be done get done. There's not always a valid explanation forthcoming. Maybe inertia or momentum has something to do with it. But a cause has a reaction. The caretaker, and the other man, Grovers, were such men. That is," he tried to explain, "in the eyes of a man from away."

Sheriff Cal Holender rose from his seat. He set down his empty glass and said, "We'll meet here in the morning, gents, eight on the clock, and go on up to Franklin and see Mr. Merchant Blore. It's been a long time coming."

To his deputies he said, "Bring a couple of metal detectors along with you. I'll bring the coffee."

The pitchers were empty. The platters were empty.

The room was full of a mild elation.

Harry Krisman thought that Miller Lite or Budweiser or Coors or Red Dawg could have made a great commercial on the night.

They had missed a glorious opportunity for a Super Bowl time-out.

Chapter 23

In the Gray Birches Motel a short time later Harry Krisman dialed Max the Most's number in Waltham.

Through much of the day he'd been thinking of her. The visions kept coming, of her down in the Northeast Kingdom on what he referred to as Turkey Day in a most pleasant way, of her possibly eyeing him as he trailed her that day from the BPL, hidden as she was from the world for the very last time. Of course she had seen him. She had said so: You've been following me since the BPL. If it's personal, come on in. If it's otherwise, take off!! Of course she had seen him. She probably had seen him as soon as he had seen her. Now wait until he told her the latest. She will be thrilled, he thought. No person he ever knew could breed up such excitement and pleasure in things as she could. He had a sudden vainglorious acceptance of his eyesight, how keen it was, how it had spotted her out of all that academia, all that mass of books and mahogany and marble. Harry Krisman, bird dog; Harry Krisman, eagle; Harry Krisman, gyrfalcon.

How would he tell her? Straight out? Slyly, leading her on? No, he'd be honest and let it happen naturally. She was the natural woman anyway, wasn't she?

At the other end of a phone line about four hour's travel down the Maine Pike and 95, among other roads, she answered in a flurry of excitement. "I miss you. I've been dying to talk to you. Wait until I tell you what came out of my special class. You absolutely won't believe it."

 

Line by line she told him, the whole discussion, which had taken place. Not one beat was skipped, not one word was missed. Energy and exuberance made the move over the great distance with an absolute clarity. He saw pictures and visions of the class as she carried on. Colors and sounds came to him in her very words, sensible and alive in their own right, clawing for recognition, for being. He saw the faces of some of the students as she described them in her own inimitable way. Her energy was remarkable and contagious. It came through the long four hours of travel through the phone line. She sounded delighted and delightful when she began the story about the Caterpillar bulldozers.

She ended by saying, "Do you believe it, Harry? Two of them went off the base into the moors, he called it Heathcliff country, and only one of them came back. Do you know what that tells me? Isn't that amazing? Dear old George was a genius, Harry. A remarkable and stoical genius. And like an old bulldog. He just wouldn't let go! Oh, God, didn't he love that woman!"

Harry let her carry on, let her make the announcement. He said he'd check it out. He said that it was a bit of a mystery closed out in the halls of Bandley College, and Professor George Hinckler would be proud that the answers had come out of one of his favorite places in the entire universe. There'd be an investigation of the property up in Franklin. Of course there would. They would ferret and dig and prod it all over. Stem to stern, top to bottom, end to end, side to side. No stone or piece of ground would be left unturned. The plot plan would be used.

 

Everything would be searched. He'd arrange it all. He'd get back to her with any news.

He told her he loved her.

He couldn't tell her anything else.

Except he saw a Cape sable sparrow for the first time in his life, and had spoken to a man in a restaurant who had seen a pair of Zapata sparrows on a visit to Cuba earlier in the year.

It was enough for now.

Chapter 24

It was colder still in the morning. November had come in the wake of an October raw and cold in itself. Frost hung its talons on many surfaces. Its designs were lovely and varied as snowflakes. Now and then a distant gunshot could be heard as another season had opened.

Harry Krisman cringed when he thought of the loss of wing, the loss of flight. He could see grouse and partridge falling to the ground, the head-over-talons drop out of the blue, the sudden slackness of wings.

Harry heard the gunshots differently than Kell Thorn did.

He could feel them.

Overhead the sun was an obvious platter in the eastern sky, and glowed on the cool waters of the bays and inlets along Route 182. A few horses and a few cows were about. A few men moving to or from dark barns. Life seemed to echo what was happening all about it, a slow-down in process, a time for labored and slow breath.

A flight of birds winged high over the road, heading south. They were silent, pointing, taking leave. In the black Bentley Harry Krisman and Kell Thorn were at their coffee. Harry saw the flight of birds come over the crown of a hill and sweep over the roadway.

"They're on their way, Kell," he said pointing out the flock of birds. "Look at them go. On the way south and just in time. They'll be in the Everglades or Mexico or Central America in a few days, soaking up the rays."

"We can make the trip too, Harry," Kell Thorn said. "I think the winter here is going to be a tough one. It'd take an awful lot of doing to get by. Not my kind of country. At least, not in the winter."

They slowed as they came on a scene at the roadside. A pick-up truck was idling at the edge of a field, its exhaust swirling up into the cold air. A game warden was standing beside his car and talking to a man holding a rifle. The game warden was pointing into the field. Harry and Kell saw what looked like a deer against the tree line, a good hundred and fifty feet off the road. Half the deer's head was gone, but it was still standing.

"What the hell do you think that is, Harry?" Kell Thorn asked, slowing the car almost to a standstill.

Harry said, "Jim told me about this last night. It's a poacher's trap. The guy probably shot at that phony deer right from the seat of his car, which is illegal to say the least.'

"Man made a hell of a shot from there." He snickered, "I wonder if the truck was still moving. Now I know what can happen when a man has a rifle in his hands. There's a lot of good shots up here in Maine."

They left the argument in place, a pair of hands gesturing in the cold morning, the truck smoking, perhaps the rifle still giving off sharp fumes, the idea of strange deaths coming back into their minds. Coming back to them the persons of George Hinckler and Miriam Hinckler and Carlton Evers and Harland Grovers. Who knows who else?

Harry Krisman said, "Do you recall what Jim Clockburn said last night about our suspect?"

Kell Thorn smiled at Harry in the mirror. "That I do, Harry, that I do. It's what almost tickles me most, the remarkable grip they have on language up here. I know I say that as if this is another country, and I don't really mean that, but they are picturesque, and right to the point. There's no denying that. Whenever he said Merchant was 'sometimes numb as a pounded thumb' I thought I'd split my pants." The continuing laugh was still in his throat.

"Or when he said 'he was as graceful as a cow in a dory'," Harry added.

The two men laughed and were still laughing as they passed Audrey's Place. The morning scene at Audrey's began with the sight of six pick-up trucks in a variety of makes and colors and current loads, a Jeep that somehow seemed past death, a nondescript van, a large stake truck loaded to the brim with split logs. Steam and smoke, sometimes indistinguishable from one another, rose in the air from their various sources.

Harry Krisman said, "There's getting warm two ways, Kell."

"What do you mean by that, Harry?" said Kell Thorn.

Why, that load of wood. You get warm the first time by cutting it. You get warm the second time when you burn it."

"I'll take the second part, Harry. In a lodge with my friend Lucille from Gray. She does appreciate it being warm." He did not offer a smile in the mirror.

He slowed the car as they rounded the turn on Black's Pond Road, the more picturesque name of Route 182, and the white picket fence of the Maltby farm grabbed his eyesight. The Bentley crunched up the driveway between the house and the first barn.

The woodpile out behind the house loomed like a landmark as it seemed to crawl away from the house and go toward the second barn. Harry thought it looked like a breakwater he had seen someplace. He did not remember where, but knew birds must have been about. Max came to his mind as swift as a peregrine in flight.

Three other cars were there already. Sheriff Cal Holender's car, a deputy's car, and a car they did not recognize. It was a plain Dodge sedan with no markings.

Cal Holender waved them in from the door.

Coffee was brewing as they entered. The smell of it almost talked in the room. A plate of donuts was on the table. Deputies Hagrider and Tash were munching. Retired Sheriff Jim Clockburn called out his hello from the front hall where he was looking uphill.

Harry Krisman looked at the spot where Carlton Evers had lain down for the last time, more than likely dead before he had gotten all the way down. Again he thought of Max, and then George Hinckler and his wife Miriam, and then the man out there they had come to take.

Cal Holender introduced the other man. "This is Brynne Morgath from the University of Maine. He's a specialist in archeology among other things. He's spent a lot of time sounding for coffins and doing extrication of a variety of objects, big and small. I was telling him about our situation and he's expressed some interest."

Harry Krisman said, "How do you sound for coffins, sir? It sounds interesting. Is there a lot of work in that area?"

"Actually it's a kind of crude specialty. You use a special pole to pound the ground and the echo you get is the tip-off. A coffin, almost hollow if it's still in decent shape, and lots of them are, gives off that distinct sound that says hollowness to your ears. We get much of our work on land takings, sort of legal, if you think about it. Who owns what where. That kind of thing."

"Have you seen the professor's rod?" said Kell Thorn.

"Yes, I have," Brynne Morgath said. "That's getting right down to it, if I may say so. Anyway, the metal detectors in this case seem the most reliable and the quickest. I just wanted to use any site you turn up as a test case, a pattern of sounds that I can chart. For future reference, of course. Buried cars are almost a rare novelty even in my profession, if I do say so."

Kell Thorn said, "You've come across it before?"

"Only once, really. In Kennebunkport. But not once as a matter of fact. We had a multiple burial."

"Multiple?" Kell Thorn said.

"A millionaire didn't want to share his collection of old cars with anyone. He just couldn't stand the idea of them being enjoyed by anybody else. He gave all his money away, all his property, just about everything he owned. But not his antique automobiles. They were special. Had to be enjoyed by only the very privileged."

"And he didn't see any of them around? Even in his family?" Harry Krisman said.

"That's the decision he made," Brynne Morgath replied. "Gave everything away but his cars. They were down a long time before they were found. Someone who had to have helped him kept his secret it seems for a whole lifetime. Must have given him his word and kept it."

"That's a remarkable thing about the people up here," Kell Thorn said. "I came across that personally a few weeks ago. Gave me great insight to the people of the North Country. I stopped at a florist down there on Route 1, in Ellsworth. I had to pick up some flowers for a friend of mine down in Gray and I knew I'd find nothing on the Maine Pike. This old timer had a whole collection of all kinds of material out in front of his shop. I asked him how long it took him to bring everything in at night. He was kind of elderly and I wondered about it. He said he didn't bring everything in at night. I asked him if he was worried about that. He said, 'Worried about what?' I said, 'Worried about somebody taking them.' 'Nope, I ain't worried,' he said,''Tain't theirs.' "

All the men laughed. There was a good mood in the room. A long job was coming to an end. A piece of justice was going to be levied.

Harry Krisman stepped in to the conversation. "I can add to the observations of the outlanders. I saw something that pleased me a great deal. Up there at Audrey's Place last week. All the pictures of the kids in town are on display, on their own bulletin board of sorts, even down to the most recent baby. Kind of celebratory. His name was printed on the bottom of his picture. It said Jasper."

"That's a Down Maine name, Harry," Cal Holender explained.

"He's out there." Jim Clockburn was calling from the front hall. "He's up there behind a tree and he's got his rifle with him."

The old sheriff did not sound at all surprised. It was as if he had posted himself for what he knew would happen.

Harry Krisman and Kell Thorn looked at each other and smiled their appreciative acknowledgments.

All the men moved to the front of the Maltby house. Some of them were in the hallway, some were in the other two front rooms. A pair of field glasses was taken off the shelf in the hallway. They had hung directly below George Hinckler's old Hawking.

Each of the men, including Brynne Morgath, took turns in looking at Merchant Blore standing beside a large pine tree on the crest of the hill overlooking the Maltby farm. Each of them saw the rifle in his hands, saw the thin spiral of cigarette smoke or breath's steam rising from his mouth. Each saw the dark red and black lumberjack shirt Merchant Blore had worn since the cold had begun.

Each of them realized, without a doubt, that they were looking at a murderer.

Chapter 25

Goddamn flatlands straphangers, I thought they got done of this job! Should never have come back. Now we'll see how smart they think they are. The old man from the college couldn't find it in a hundred years. I should have left him be. They'll never think about a tree takin' all this time agrowin' on top of it. Right out of the swamp I got it in the first of spring. Growed like a weed it did. Can scare you the way some things get growed in a hurry. She growed right up in front of me. I remember when she had no darkness at all and then I saw it all comin' and she never knew once I was lookin' until that time. And that old woman down at the store drives me kind of crazy the way she carries on and never with me. Not in a hundred years with me and I never did her any hurt at all. Not once did I ever do her any hurt. And all them others just goin' on and talkin' about me I know and fillin' everybody's mind with a whole bunch of cow crap ain't worth shovelin' at all. Carlton should never have ought to shot at me the way he did and wantin' to miss on purpose 'cause I knowed he could hit a deer's eye at a two hundred yards if he cared to. All that time he must have knowed I was up here lookin' down there to see what was goin' on. And the old professor knowed all the time how it was buried up and neither one of them never told anybody anythin' and I can't figure that out. Or Harlan', the old fart, sittin' there judgin' just about anythin' that walked by includin' me. It just never dawned on me he was knowin' any of it, the way he just sat back lookin' at the world ever since his woman up and died on him the way she ought to 'cause he was just a bull anyway. Now they come in that little car that couldn't hold a second on to my old Packard Red Speeder. Damn shame it had to go like that, all dirtied up and sloppy like it was just an old sow in the slop pile. Sure was a shame it had to go get buried up. The big guy and the little guy and the little car from Boston, just spoilin' the whole goddamn thing. And this new guy the sheriff brang. I don't know who the hell he is. Now I don't know what's goin' to happen next, but it sure is goin' to get noisy if they come up here and get any closer than the old man ever got in all them years. One thing about him, he made her dance all right. Sure made her dance. Never saw no woman dance like he made her dance. All them years dancin' with the same man! Never saw her that time 'cause I was deep in thinkin' about her. And there she was and me thinkin' about her and I never saw her comin' not for one second and it was all over like that. And then he comes near to the tree one day and maybe in another day he finds it and I just couldn't let that be. It was just like weedin' a patch goin' way down there...pick your way and go until it's all got done and don't let nothin' get in your way.

Now what are they up to, spillin' out of that house like they was bees or hornets? And that little guy and the big guy with the funny little car who think they're so goddamn smart.

Now we'll see some noise if they get too nosey, if they get pokin' too close to where they ain't supposed to be.

I never seen that other guy before or his car. Wonder who he is or what he's up to doin'?

And what the hell are them things they're carryin' now, funny things in their hands that look like boxes on the end of a rod?

Shit! I know what them is!

They ain't foolin' me no more.

To be continued...
Read Part 5 Read Part 7






ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Sheehan is well known to our readers, with several of his stories and an interview already published in 3am Magazine (see the archives). This is instalment 3 of Tom Sheehanís exclusive novel, An Accountable Death. Be sure to read Tomís poem, Once Screamed to the Flag-waving Drunks at the Vets Bar, Late, in the Evening


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