'The Bearcamp River Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever, lovers, are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies take a holiday and find a fisherman.
Note:— The Bearcamp River, and its surrounding geography, is true to life; but particular locational details may be slightly exaggerated.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.
"This's the Bearcamp River, ain't it?"
Fiona, still juggling with one of the tent-ropes, took a second to glance over to the other side of the small campsite where her inamorata was messing around with something.
Alice carried on this solitary procedure silently until Fiona could stand the strain no longer.
"What, lady, what?"
"Oh, just thinking—"
"Take a step or two further along that there trail, lover, will ya—you're kind'a stuck in the mud, as it is."
"Ho-ho—what I'm trying to tell you is, if this's our camp—"
"—which it is—"
"—I was only wondering, where'd the dam' bears come in, is all?"
Having tied-off the rope, tried the tent itself for steadiness, and sighed happily at a job well done, Fiona turned to more unimportant things, like the state of her lover's mental processes.
"Ya feelin' the sun, dear?"
Alice, on her part, took this question personally.
"Har, idiot, there ain't anything wrong with my noggin, lady; not like some wwrwwii oootrteh lkos—"
Fiona screwed her whole frame into a listening attitude, one hand to her ear.
"Didn't quite get that last part, dear."
"Oh, that's alright, then."
The birds twittered in the fir trees all round the site; the river itself, a wide shallow example of its kind, tinkled merrily some 20 yards to their right; the sky was greyly overcast, though with hopeful jagged lines of blue showing here and there; the ground underfoot, short grass and bare earth, smelt delicious in the late August morning; and the air held an aroma of high mountains, cold snow, and sharp scents of fir and undergrowth. Ten yards away, at the edge of the trail which had brought the women to this spot, their Dodge sedan sat comfortably ready to take them back to civilisation whenever required.
"Did ya get that bottle of milk and extra blanket, dear; when we stopped at Tamworth, like I asked?"
"Yeah, in the sedan." Alice finished whatever she had been doing and skipped lightly over to stand by her lover's side. "My, you got the dam' thing up. Who'd a thought."
"Not you, fer one, ducks." Fiona laughed as she put an arm round her partner's waist. "That attempt ya made, half an hour since, was pathetic."
"Oh, thanks mightily. Where are we precisely, by the way." Alice raising her blonde eyebrows in an engaging manner. "Just so's I know which direction to run in to civilsation, when the bears do come visiting."
Ignoring her partner's eyebrows Fiona went for the harsh realistic outlook.
"As we presently stand here, doin' nuthin' useful, we're about exactly half-way between Whittier an' Bennett Corners; Tamworth bein' some few kilometres further north of Whittier. That put ya right, doll?"
"It'll do, I suppose." Alice turned to retrace her steps to the actual camp-fire, as yet unlit. "Got those long matches? For the fire."
"I'll give ya the packet, if'n ya promise not t'start a dam' forest fire?"
"Oh, ho-ho. Gim'me."
Fiona paused to look around the area they had chosen for their temporary camp. The Bearcamp River was here about 20 yards wide, though shallow enough for fishermen and women to wade safely across and along its length; though the bed was impeded by rocks and boulders, the water current in some places running quite fast as it thrust past these obstructions, leaving white frothing tails behind. The sound of the river's movement not truly a gentle tinkling, but more of a subdued growl. On both sides the wide forest of firs ran close to the banks; the only thing cutting through the vast forest, in fact, being the river itself and the accompanying Highway running more or less parallel along its lower border. Where the ladies had camped seemed the wild back of beyond, but civilisation was actually not far away in every direction, if you had a car. All the same, their present situation gave the ladies all the atmosphere of adventurers in the wild, without most of the dangers inherent in the real thing.
"God, you'd hardly think the Highway was only half a kilometre or so away." Fiona assuming a listening attitude to emphasise her remark. "Can't hear a thing; not the least noise of an engine or whatever."
"Well, that's why we came out here, ain't it?" Alice taking the realistic attitude in her turn. "All the sense of the wild outback, with only ten per cent of the danger. That's the way I like my holidays, lover."
"And the ten per cent is represented by—?"
"I shouldn't have asked." Fiona shaking her head at her own idiocy. "Al, put all thought of the local bear population out'ta your head. There's around a thousand or so square miles of fir-covered wilderness round here; and the number of bears therein is exactly one—and it's, as we speak, lying moaning in its den eighty miles to the nor-west suffering from stomach-ache after emptying an abandoned two-week old rusty tin of mackerel fillets in tomato sauce left behind by some tourists. We got this place all to ourselves, doll."
"Easy t'say, lover."
The campfire was sparkling merrily as the twigs gathered by Fiona crackled in the flames. She had been careful to build the fire-surround of flat stones; not make too strong a fire; and had placed a plastic canister of water from the river nearby to douse the fire later. They had been given a couple of leaflets covering this area of knowledge when visiting the Tamworth Police Department, to show their certificates and licenses for their coming stay in the forest spreading all round this area. But right now, in the dim glow of late evening, Fiona had something much more personal to attend to.
"Right, lady, let's take a look at those plasters. You haven't been picking at 'em again, have ya?"
Just over a week ago the women had been engaged in a shooting-match at a stake-out during which they had confronted some armed burglars. As a result Alice had sustained several shrapnel wounds to her face, consisting of thin ragged splinters of wood from a pile of planks close to her which had taken a bullet hit. The hospital doctors in Delacote City had patched her, more or less, superficial wounds and allowed her to go; though primarily wrapped in so many bandages she looked like an Egyptian mummy astray from Universal Studios. Now, though, she simply sported a few plasters on her facial wounds; the worst aspect of which to her presently being Fiona's constant, and determined, attentions thereon.
"Of course I haven't been messing with them." She sighed heavily, but leant her face upward to her personal nurse standing over her. "And don't rip the long one off, like you did the last time; there's pain, babe, and there's bloody screaming agony—just warning you."
Fiona had all the necessary medical bits and pieces to hand in a small carrying-case. Bandages by the roll; cardboard cartons of plasters of varying types; bottles of antiseptic; tubes of antiseptic cream; bottles of sedative pills; bottles of painkiller pills; some needles and thread, which both women ostentatiously pretended didn't exist; and a small bottle of laudunum, 7% solution, only to be taken in extreme emergency as per doctor's orders.
"Are you sure the Doctor said I shouldn't use soap on my face for the next month?"
"She surely did, I was there by your side when she said so."
"Oh. Well, what do I use, then?"
"Nuthin', jest warm water, an' only a smidgin o' that."
"God, I'll be filthy before you know it."
"And you can't sleep on your side, either; only on your back like you've been doing the last week. Stop fidgeting, I wan'na peel this small plaster off gently. If it hurts, don't cry, I'm a sensitive soul."
"Very funny. Oouch!"
"Aah. See, didn't I jus' say?"
"Fool, get on with it."
"Oh, dear, some people just ain't appreciated."
"Good Grief, what d'you want? A kiss for your services?"
"Wouldn't go astray."
"Hah, well, go gentle, and who's t'say what your reward might not be."
The next morning, around 7.00am, Alice had disappeared into the surrounding tree cover, bears' or no, to perform a personal activity of a somewhat physiological nature; taking a small spade to dig the requisite hole so needed; while her partner, already chirpy as all get-out, was scrabbling around in the sedan's capacious boot, looking for the fishing-rods packed therein.
In good spirits after accomplishing an activity of an wholly satisfactory nature Alice returned to the camp a new woman; swinging her light spade like a cheerleader's staff.
"What's fer breakfast?"
"Oh, yeah? When'd we buy them? I don't rem—"
"We're gon'na catch 'em ourselves, ain't we?" Fiona surfacing from the tumbled interior of the car boot with certain implements in hand. "That's what fishing-rods are for; at least, after you fit the pieces together."
Alice dumped her spade, took a couple of strides to stand beside her partner, and frowned at her, at the pieces of fishing-rod, and the world in general.
"Me, fit fishing-rods together? How? I mean, how? It's a mystery t'me."
"God, woman, how hard can it be? Go on, I got'ta light the camp-fire an' put the water on t'boil an', oh, all sort's a'other things." Fiona looked at her paramour, raising her eyebrows meaningfully. "Good grief, the pieces clip in'ta each other; like putting a child's toy t'gether. Surely it ain't so hard even you can do it?"
Alice, clearly, had her doubts on this score; eyeing the pieces in question as if they had something catching.
"We-ell, don't harangue me as I go, is all; this may take an hour or two—maybe three."
In fact, much to her own surprise, Alice finished fixing the rods together in something under 15 minutes, then went looking for Fiona again, to boast about it.
"Where'n hell are you, doll? Fay? Fay?"
"Over here, downstream; mind the stones."
Stepping over to the river-bank Alice stepped down onto the dry stony edge of the riverbed itself, here merely a foot or so below the grass-line. Less than two feet distant the full current rolled by, inexorably, as rivers do; she, glancing in the required direction, saw her partner further along the narrow beach, taking account of her surroundings. A minute later Alice stopped by her lover, hands on hips.
"We better get to finding these fish pronto, lover; my appetite's fit t'kill me right now. What're you doing?"
"Marking the lay o'the land, ducks; jest as any serious explorer should."
"Hah, who'd you think we are? Lewis and Clark, and Sacagawea? You can be Lewis; Clark can take care of himself."
"Doll, I worry about ya more'n more, these past few months; especially since last week." Fiona turned to look down at her lover, smiling the while. "That facial wound's affected ya, is what."
"Idiot. What about the dam' fish, I'm starvin'."
"Oh, alright; seeing it's a matter of life or death."
"It will be for the dam' fish, if either of us can operate these dam' rods." Alice sniffing indecorously. "So, where's the best place to fish; and, exactly how do you fish, only asking."
The ensuing hour, both women standing up to their shins in the cold fast-running water, was somewhat hit and miss, mostly the latter as far as fish went. But finally, after the loss of a great deal of sweat and very cold feet, even in their rubber boots, both women retired to the campsite replete with three fish, of unknown species, each.
"What are they?" Alice asking the pertinent question as Fiona crouched low doing arcane things to the fire and wide frying-pan. "Just asking, 'cause I don't know."
"Who cares what they are precisely; they're fish, is what, and as specimens of said tribe, I'm perfectly happy."
Half an hour later saw two very satisfied women sitting back, belching decorously, and smiling happily after a good meal.
"Mmm, they were delicious."
"Not bad, not bad."
"So, what's next on the agenda?"
Pushed to it, Fiona took account of their next step for the morning.
"Lem'me see, we could go for a stroll along the river; get t'know the lie o'the land."
"Or, we could wash our breakfast dishes in the river, an' generally tidy up our surroundings. Don't wan'na leave the place looking like a county tip, do we?"
"We could take the sedan in'ta Tamworth, an' do some more shopping."
"Or, we could make a raft of logs an' set sail downstream, ravishing the land as we passed, raiding all the villages like the pirates we are?"
A pregnant pause followed while this amazing suggestion percolated into the inner dark corners of Alice's mind.
What happened next is best left to the imagination—oh, alright, if you all insist—Alice darted over to her paramour, pushed her down on the short grass, put a leg over her chest and sat thereon like a conquering hero, holding her prisoner's arms down each side of her head the while, champion of all she surveyed.
"Now I got you, baby."
They had both tidily cleaned the camp, putting all those bits and pieces of rubbish which seem to accumulate from nowhere in paper bags, depositing them in the sedan's trunk for future disposal. They had gotten up to some very satisfying hanky-panky, right out there on the grass by the riverside, in the open air with the blue sky above, and the small patches of white cloud passing overhead the only observer's of their play. Then, refreshed, they had decided to take a short stroll along the riverbank, to see what there was to see, and enjoy the aromas and scents of being out in the wild wilderness, or enough of such to gratify their present needs.
Ten minutes later Alice began to realise there were more comfortable methods of travelling, a DeSoto sedan for instance on a nice smooth tarmac road.
"Hell, this dam' stream bends an' buckles from right ter left like a snake with St. Vitus' Dance."
"It's the real true countryside, darlin', is all; ye'll get used to it."
"With only this pebbly foreshore as a sidewalk?" Alice was having none of this inefficient thinking on her partner's side. "I'm trippin' over bloody boulders every dam' step I take; an' it's just as bad tryin' to walk up by the shore; those trees come almost t'the waterline. You'd need'ta be a fish to navigate this dam' river."
Fiona had her own ideas on this subject, however.
"It ain't nowhere's near being what the Australians call the Outback, dear; not even close ter same; buck up, fer Goodness' sake. After all, the water's only around a foot deep at most, no chance o'drownin' here."
Alice meanwhile, something suddenly having caught her attention, had stopped to bend down, examining the pebbly rock-strewn edge of the water-course they were presently walking along. Straightening, she looked with some intentness further along the thin line of beach.
"Yeah, what? Gnat bit you, or something?"
"See this brown stone by my boot?"
Fay, always willing to humour her partner, stopped to gaze at said piece of the local landscape.
"What about it?"
"Jest, it ain't a stone, it's a brick, weathered some, but still a house brick. N' there's another, an' another. 'Fact, the whole o'the edge o'the river, here's, strewn with 'em. So much for living in the wilderness; civilisation round the next corner, by the look's of it."
"Or the wreckage of same." Fiona nodding as she surveyed the foreshore with a sharper look than before. "Must come from some building that used to lay by the side of the river, an' some flood or such swept it away, God knows how long since."
"Yeah, the Highway's still only around haf a mile off, as it is." Alice acknowledging the realities of life. "Could'a been some hut or other erected when the road was under construction, meb'be."
"Yeah, you could—"
Both women stopped in their tracks, heads up, searching for the source of the gunshot.
"Some'ers over t'the left, beyond the next bend," Fiona shading her eyes, trying to see through the intervening banks of thickly growing undergrowth and tall firs. "Dam', can't tell for sure—all these dam' bushes an' trees. See anyone, lover?"
Alice had also been examining the immediate area; to no good end, however.
"Nah, nothing moving anywhere, not even a bird." She glanced all round, interpreting the lie of the land close by. "The bed of the stream's quite wide here. We can walk along it dryshod, in our boots, an' see if there's anythin' round that bend, there? Coming?"
"Lead on, MacDrever."
"In fact, lady, while's I thinks about it, that was a gunshot—"
"Firearm, then." Fiona thinking about the consequences apparent in the new situation. "An' we ain't armed, our weapons bein' back in the sedan."
"Aah, got'cha, babe." Alice hitting the mark first time. "Better we go back an' tool up with our own roscoe's a'fore venturing t'discover new lands round that there bend? Good thinkin', lover.
Ten minutes later they had returned to the same spot where the gunshot had brought a close to their idle stroll.
"Here we are, that's the bend, sweepin' left, right ahead. You going first?"
"God, what a woman!" Fiona made a face then set off in the lead, going carefully over the rocky dry edge of the riverbed. "Just mind you don't accidentally shoot me in the back with that dam' buffalo gun, is all."
Fiona had her .45 automatic in hand, while Alice, though carrying her own .38 revolver in her jacket pocket, had also brought the Winchester .30 they had earlier purchased before leaving Delacote City for their holiday.
"I can shoot same, I can hit my target, I can fire straight an' true—I think." She had opined as they left the gunshop, Fiona having expressed doubts, far too late in the day.
They approached the bend ahead with some caution, having no idea what might confront them past it.
"Stand easy, there. " Fiona waving a cautious hand back at her partner. "Lem'me take a quick look."
"Jest don't get your head blowed-off, is all." Alice showing her nerves in her sarcastic utterances. "Think of the mess I'd have t'clear up?"
"Fool, gim'me room. Lem'me see what's up. God, fer Goodness' sake, keep yer head down; you're makin' like a target at a fairground shootin'-stall."
Fiona, standing close by the tall, though thin, bole of a fir near the riverbank edge, took a slow cautious look past its trunk; taking in the stretch of river which had opened up to her view.
"Jes' the same as what we've jes' come along." She paused to sweep the area again. "Nah, nuthin' in view; that's movin', anyway."
"Meb'be some local out ter shoot a rabbit for his dinner?"
"Could be." Fiona had focussed on something far ahead. "Wait a bit, though. There's somethin' about sixty yards along this same side, lying on the pebbles near the firs. Looks like a bag o'some sort. An', dam' me, there's somethin' big stuck in the river itself, the water flowin' by an' over it. I think—, I think—Jeez, come on, gal, someone's lying prone in the water."
Two minutes later, after some dangerously fast scrambling over the rough loose stones and boulders, the women had reached a point level with the object on the stony beach, and that out in the stream itself.
"It is a bag, hunter's pouch by the looks of it."
"An' that's the hunter, his'self, out there. Come on, mind yer step in the water."
Wading carefully out to about mid-stream Fiona leant over the dark bundle being washed by the current, then glanced back at Alice.
"Come on, help me get a grip under his arms. If we can turn him sideways, ya might be able t'grab his boots; then we can get him out'ta this."
Three hard-pressed minutes later they had their cargo on dry land, or at least the dry pebbles of the river-edge.
"A man, in his fifties, quite well turned out, nice clothes." Fiona going into her professional manner. "Let's see—uurrh, aah, eeiirph—nah, he's dead, dam'mit."
"Any sign o'how?"
Fiona bent down, kneeling by the man's side. She felt all over his torso, under the thick tweed jacket and up and down his arms.
"Help me turn him over—thanks, babe—ah, there it be. Bullet-hole in his back."
"Probable murder, then." Alice straightened, glancing all round the immediate area. "Trees too thick t'see much; anyone could still be hidin' nearby; we better watch our own back's, lady."
Fiona finished her brief examination and rose to her feet, helping Alice do likewise.
"I fancy the culprit's long-gone; it being almost fifteen minutes now since the shot we heard." She shrugged her shoulders expressively. "What we have now, dear, is a question of ethics an' proper conduct."
"Yeah, I follow ya." Alice nodding as they stared down at the unmoving object which had been a breathing living human being not so long since. "Do we move the poor fella some more, to a more comfortable position—which'd be against police procedure; or leave him where he is now, an' get the real cops."
"That about covers it." Fiona wiped her brow with her left hand. "Let's see, we can't go off huntin' the culprit—that'd just be silly, in this terrain an' tree-cover. We shouldn't move the body any further, or the cops'll take umbrage, entire. An' we can't let one of us stay, while the other goes by herself fer the cops; too dangerous in the circumstances. So—"
"So, we leave him as he is, now, an' go t'gether for the cops?"
"You got it, babe. Come on, let's get back t'the sedan; you keepin' an eye peeled, with that Winchester, jes' in case, as we proceeds."
"Got'ya, lover; rely on me. Watch that boulder there, covered in slimy moss; don't want a broken ankle, as well as everything else."
The Tamworth Police Department being only some 5-6 kilometres away to the nor-west along Highway 113, Tamworth itself simply a grouping of small dwellings spread-out either side of the road, it took them only some quarter of an hour to reach it. On arriving they found it consisted, as they exited their DeSoto, of a single-storied building much like the other houses on either hand; except for the two police-cars parked out front, and the medium-sized flatbed truck close to the main entrance, with Police logos on its doors.
"Well, here we go, lassie; this's gon'na be fun." Fiona raising her chin in the air, like a Valkyrie bravely facing the worst, as they entered the office.
Five minutes later they were both in the Lieutenant's office, surrounded by what must have been most of the other members of the Tamworth Police Department.
"Name's Lieutenant John Bairrings; what'd ye say yours' both were, again?"
Note was duly taken of these important details.
"And your story is—?"
So they told the officer what they had discovered, more notes being taken the while; after which Bairrings glanced at one of his juniors, nodding slightly.
Harry then precipitately left the conference, both Fiona and Alice knowing perfectly well why—to corroborate their tale.
"I remembers you both from, what was it, jes' yesterday." Bairrings still not sounding as if he was happy. "Told us, then, you both were trippers, out to spend some time under canvas. Believe's you showed your camping certificates, and other items? Are you both, or either, armed with firearms, might I ask? You are, both? A Winchester rifle, a point thirty-eight Smith and Wesson revolver, and a point forty-five Colt automatic, and enough spare ammo to start a small war. You thinking of decimating the local wildlife, or what? I dis-remembers you showing any hunting licences, yesterday."
Due note and cataloguing of this arsenal having been duly seen to Lieutenant Bairrings addressed another of his constables.
"Sam, if'n you please."
Sam now going off on his mission of mercy; the ladies realising he was in the course of taking into custody their entire stock of firearms.
"So, where does this leave us then, ladies?" Bairrings settling himself behind his desk for the long haul. "You say you heard a gunshot; you say you investigated, and pulled a man's dead body from the Bearcamp; you say you then hot-footed it right along here; you, on the other hand, are both armed with enough fire-power to make the US Army scratch their chins, and think about being worried about it. Where's that leave us, ladies? In the way of people being shot; and people being able to shoot?"
Fiona and Alice both had, more or less literally, taken this diatribe sittting down; but now they both, as one, lost the last of their individual cools—Alice coming out fighting first.
"There's a fair few answers to those questions, Lieutenant." She fixing him with her newly polished No.1 scowl. "First, should we answer any more o' them before our lawyer shows up an' puts a stop to your ramblings? Or are you clear-headed enough to understand what's taking place, and adopt the proper professional attitude? Or have you already disappeared so far up your own fundament it'll only take the gentlest of further pushes for you to vanish altogether?"
"Have you made any effort to telephone Delacote City? To get in touch with the Fifth Precinct, like we asked at the front desk? Inspector Jacob Fletcher? He'll vouch for us both at the drop of a hat, the first query you ask about us—then he'll proceed t'tear a strip off you that'll have you still cryin' in your soup a month from now. And, anyway, young Sam, there, will soon be coming back with our firearms and, probably, our Private Detective Warrants and firearm certificates—we both being private dicks of long-standing and reputation in Delacote City. We being able to provide commendations of our worth and character from important persons of such almighty altitude in New Hampshire Society it'll make your hair stand on end. Oh, here's Sam returned; an', look, more certificates an' licences, an' what'all. You goin' to break out the kosher attitude, or continue makin' like the Dead End Kids some more, or what?"
An hour and a half later, back at their camp-site at the Bearcamp River, a dual atmosphere was in progress; Fiona and Alice were in the process of breaking camp, previous to moving somewhere more salubrious—like Jamaica, Alice growled in hearing of the many officers also milling around in the vicinity: these same officers going about their required duties studiously ignoring the presence of the two women, as if they both had something catching. Due enquiry had been made to the 5th Precinct; due ripping apart from an angry Inspector Fletcher had duly ensued, he never liking friends being given the bum's rush; and finally Bairrings had agreed to let them go—though hanging onto the Winchester, and almost all their spare ammunition; just allowing them to keep their pistols, and that only because they had all the duly required certificates and licences—it not being a happy parting when the ladies finally left the station.
"What're the chances of Bairrings making any progress in this case, d'you think?"
"What chance is there of anyone finding out what happened to the crew an' passengers on the Mary Celeste, Al? Dam' none, is the answer."
"Hu-umph. So, where're we headed?"
"Thought we might go back down t'Whittier, branch off along Bryant Road t'as far along the Bearcamp as it goes a'fore turnin' north. We can leave the sedan there, at the corner, an' trek a coupl'a kilometres along the north shore o'the Bearcamp till it joins the Swift River. Judging from the maps there's a fine chance o'peace an' quiet an' some good fishin' thereabouts, at the confluence."
"Be a change if there is."
At the sharp 90˚ bend, where Bryant Road left the north bank of the Bearcamp and set out for pastures unknown directly north, the ladies found a small single-storey house who's owner, one Henry Langan in his forties, was happy after a payment of $20, to look after the DeSoto sedan till such time as the women became disenchanted with camping under the stars and came back to rejoin civilisation.
"Thet bein', oh, some time t'wards this comin' week-end, ladies?"
"We were thinkin' of makin' it some in'ta next week, as a matter of fact." Alice unfolding plans that were actually still more hope than reality. "Keep the ol' DeSoto safe till, oh, I don't know, whenever."
"Har, don't worry, she'll be comfortably set in my big garage, specially as my truck's off ter Bakers' gettin' a new big-end put in. See ya, ladies."
Within half an hour, and half a kilometre, of starting on their foot journey along the north bank of the Bearcamp Fiona and Alice discovered that toting enough equipment between them to set up a camp was going to be no easy task. Their sleeping blankets, clothes, extra boots, eating utensils, and some back-up food in the form of bacon and beans; as well as the tent itelf, along with its fixings, not to mention their firearms and depleted ammunition, all added up to more than a soldier on a foot-march might reasonably expect to carry.
"God, this rolled-up tent's dam' heavy." Alice breaking out in criticism some forty minutes after they had started. "Look at it; the river on one side—listen to its tinkling, only its actually laughing at us. And the forest on the other side; fir trees an' undergrowth as thick as pea soup. And this g-dd-m tent's increased in weight about three times since we started out."
"Quit whinin' gal." Fiona, struggling for breath herself, having no truck with slackers. "I got the blankets, the utensils, the food supplies—God, I got about three times the weight you're complainin' of; give it a rest, an' pick your feet up, we got another two kilometres, easy, yet a'fore the junction of the Bearcamp an' Swift turns up."
"By which time ye'll be on yer own, darlin'; me having succumbed t'sunstroke, heat-rash, an' general collapse about a kilometre an' a half in your rear." Alice's voice echoing, in its whining tremolo, all the strain she felt she was under. "Remember me."
"Remember ya? How can I forget ya—all this constant carpin', Jeez?"
Two days later their camp, on the wide flat grassy ground by the junction of the two rivers, seemed to have been their home for years; they having settled into a happy contented way of life neither wished disturbed by outside events.
"That's great, Fay, you actually caught two fair-sized trout—great."
"Yep, think I'm beginnin' t'get the hang o'fishin', finally."
"Mind you, fish fer breakfast, lunch, an' dinner fer two days in a row's startin' t'pall, y'know." Alice wrinkling her nose, like a dis-satisfied customer at the Ritz Grill. "Thank Goodness I decided t'bring the bacon an' beans."
"Ho, thought that was my idea, youngster?"
"In your dreams, lady."
"I could go out in the woods, someways, an' see if'n I can't kill a deer? I can take my Colt; that should be heavy enough t'do the job, even at some long range."
Alice darted to her feet, incensed at this cold-blooded offer.
"Fay, you'll do no such dam' thing. Nobody's killin' deer on my watch, an' that's dam' final. Put all thought of such right out'ta your head, or I'll be mighty angry—an' you know fine well how mighty angry I can get, when I puts my mind to it."
"OK, OK, was only a suggestion, anyway; keep yer shirt on. Talkin' of which, how about some nude swimmin' in the river; it bein not very fast nor too deep round these parts. An' bein' far enough beyond the borders o'civilisation to allow of all the privacy we could want. Come on, gal, whip 'em off—last one in the water's a loafer."
The following late afternoon, somewhere around 5.00pm, found the campers lazing by their tent enjoying the silence, or what passed for such out there in the wild forest.
"That was a hawk screaming, just there." Alice's ears alert for any slightest noise in their vicinity.
"It was a bird, sure."
"Hear that? Fish rising in the river." Fiona bucked up sharply, leaning on her elbow where she lay beside Alice. "I feel like takin' the rod an' chancin' my luck."
"Fishin's all very well, but there can get t'be too many fish in the world, y'know." Alice making a face at the suggestion. "I think I've just about had my fill of fish, these last three days. One more, an' I'll be able t'breath through my gills from now on when swimming."
"Oh, thanks. Still, think I'll make do with bacon an' bean hash tonight."
"Mm-mph, I could go out, under the firs, an' see if I can find any mushrooms; it's the season, y'know?"
"Fay, you go an' find just as many mushrooms as you like; only thing, I dam' well won't be eatin' any o'them, not bein' a complete amateur."
"Fay, you know, an' I know you know, an' I know you know I know, you couldn't tell the difference between a mushroom an' a toadstool, or any edible or poisonous variety of either, if you tried for a year." Alice twisting round to give her loved partner the benefit of her glare. "You may bring a mushroom back; you may say it's edible; you may eat it, 'cause I dam' well won't; then I'll have the necessity o'drivin' yer to the nearest hospital t'have your stomach pumped. That ain't my idea of a pleasant evening's entertainment."
Fiona, knowing she was pushing a lost cause, gave in gracefully.
"Oh, please yerself, Lady Fine an' Dandy." She waxing lyrical because she was in that kind of mood now. "Ord'nary fare not good enough for some, anymore; you'll be bewailing the absence of caviar an', what's that other crap called?—oh, yeah, pâté de foie gras, next, ha-ha."
The following tussle on the grass was very well in its way for exercising the heart muscles and getting the lungs in order, and for working up a good appetite for the coming bacon hash; but it also resulted in something of a sweat on the part of both parties' concerned.
"Hu-ur, hu-ur, enough, I gives up, entire; you win, Leddy."
"I always do, lover." Alice smirking in triumph yet again. "God, I'm sweating like a pig."
"I feel a little damp under the arms, myself; think a wash n'brush-up by the river's in order, a'fore we start in on makin' the hash?"
"With you there, lover."
A few minutes later, bare from the waist up, they both crouched on the pebbly strand at the edge of the Bearcamp, some way short of where the Swift joined its tinkling waters. They had bars of soap, small towels, and a curious wish to attend to each other's cleanliness before they're own. While they were engaged in this giggling match something out of the ordinary occurred in their vicinity to grab their attention away from even this delightful occupation.
"Jee-sus, who's shootin'?" Alice first to rise from her semi-recumbent position, throwing down the soap she held and looking around keenly. "That ain't game shootin', that's wild personal shootin', with intent; someone shootin' at someone else, an' not in a good way. Where's it comin' from? Pretty near."
"Too dam' close, darlin'." Fiohna taking command as was her wont. "Grab yer shirt, let's get back t'the tent an' our own weapons. I think it came from along the path that we took coming from Bryant Road."
"Jeez, closer." Alice now on her knees scrabbling in the tent. "OK, here's your Colt, make sure it's loaded. Here's a spare mag."
"You got your revolver?"
"Yeah, here. Gim'me half a minute t'load it. I'll put some loose cartridges in my jacket pocket. OK, I'm with you; where away?"
"Still from Bryant Road direction, but much closer along the riverbank." Fiona had been taking careful note of the shots so far fired. "Those are carbines, firin' against an automatic, an' they're all headin' straight for us, ducks. Come on, get behind these two firs; the boles'll give us some protection. When whoever it is makes their appearance, give 'em one shout of warnin' then, if they don't take no notice, open up with everything you've got. I ain't gon'na let some bum shoot me 'cause I'm too uncertain t'shoot back."
"Me neither, lover." Alice nodding as she got into position behind the fir a couple of feet to the left of her partner. "Right, I'm set; wait till he appears, you shout, then we both open up on him. You know, the standard procedure."
"Har, too right, lover."
The next moment what they had prepared themselves against came to fruition.
From the trees almost coming down to the river's edge, in the direction of Bryant Road, a figure appeared darting through the firs and undergrowth, taking short swift glances to his rear as he came on. Then stopping for a couple of seconds, he raised his right hand and the women heard the crack of his firearm as he fired at some unseen target behind him.
He then turned, keeping bent low, heading now right for Fiona and Alice in their hiding-places.
"Hoi, you! Stand still, an' drop your weapon; we're armed an'll shoot, otherwise. Drop it."
He paused, sliding to halt on the short slippery grass, raising his head to peer ahead, searching for the source of this unwanted advice. Seeing nothing, in his excited state, he raised his pistol and got off two more wild shots, more or less in the womens' direction.
Fiona opened up first, with her .45 Colt automatic, closely followed by Alice's only slightly less powerful .38 Smith and Wesson revolver; they putting down a barrage on the man, whom they had both expertly pin-pointed, similar to an artillery barrage on the Somme.
Both being out of ammunition they paused, peering through the haze of gunsmoke they had caused, then saw their victim now lying prone and unmoving on the ground some thirty yards away, one arm spread out on the grass. They both held their fire for another few moments before Fiona, still cautiously, came out from the cover of the fir she stood beside.
"OK, gal, think it's all over; looks like he's well an' truly down. Oh, look? Here come the cops; too late, as usual. Better drop yer piece, Al, in case they decide they ain't had enough shootin' practice this evening, yet."
Fiona following her own advice by letting her automatic fall on the grass by her feet.
"Hey, you two women! Stand clear, raise yer hands, an' don't make no fancy movements. Harry, go left, Sam, t'the right. Right, ladies, we're a'movin' in on ya; any untoward motions an' ye'll regret it, is all."
"Jee-sus Chr-st, what a dam' fool."
"With you there, Al. Jes' keep calm, an' we may stand a good chance of getting out'ta this fiasco in one piece."
"Glad y'think so, lover."
The premises of Drever and Cartwright, Private Dectectives, in the Packer Building, on the corner of 12th and Rosemartin, Delacote City, NH, never looked more inviting to the two inmates of the private office therein. Fiona had made them both a revivifying cup of coffee each, and they were now settled on hard chairs at the long desk, contemplating their so-called holiday of a couple of days since.
"Well, glad I'm out'ta that."
"Me too, Al." Fiona nodding as she took a gulp of her coffee. "That fool of a Lieutenant, back at Tamworth, ain't got much future in the force if he carries on his game like he's done so far."
"Yeah, Amateur Night isn't in it." Alice agreeing wholly with her loved partner. "Imagine the gall? Locking us up as accomplices? Man's a fool."
"Good job Inspector Fletcher had the sense t'come up in person, t'see what the hell was goin' down along the Bearcamp." Fiona wrinkling her nose in disgust at these details. "Got us out'ta stir quick enough, Thank God."
"Should'a put that idiot, Bairrings, in the cell in our place." Alice holding grudges, as was her nature.
"Hah, if only."
"So, what was it all about, in the end?"
"Well from what Fletcher told me, as he drove back with us, yesterday—you bein' asleep in the back seat of the DeSoto the whole while—"
"I was tired out, lady."
"Sure." Fiona pretending to be unimpressed with this excuse. "Anyway, he said it was all just one of those classic triangles."
"Well, now keep note o'this, darlin', it bein' mighty complicated—"
"Thin ice, lady, thin ice."
"Hah. So, Mr C. was happily in love with Mrs C.; Mrs C., on the other hand, was happily in love with Mr D.; Mr C. discovering this iniquitous behaviour on the part of his beloved wife does what you'd expect—"
"Goes after Mr D. with a gun, not his beloved wife?"
"You got it, babe." Fiona impressed with her partner's understanding of the tale. "So, he treks up t'the Bearcamp, where his beloved wife has told him her lover is taking a holiday—"
"Which just goes to show how much she loved him—Mr D. that is."
"Hu-rumph." Fiona getting back in her stride. "So, being the gentlemanly heroic man-about-town that Mr C. is, he stalks his prey to a private bend of the Bearcamp, where nobody else could possibly be—"
"Yeah, exactly." Fiona passing over this uncomfortable fact with the merest glance. "Then he bushwhacks Mr D., with a bullet in the back, an' high-tails it out'ta there, before we two could get our selves organised enough t'grab his shirt-tail, an' drag him along t'Lieutenant Bairrings' strong-hold at Tamworth. That's the upshot, forgivin' the expression, of the whole sorry story."
"Why didn't he just grab his car an' make tracks for wherever he came from, and freedom?
"Apparently his engine wouldn't start, no-how. He thought it too dangerous to go to a local garage for help in case people started asking questions, Mr D. havin' by this time been dragged out'ta the river." Fiona shaking her head sadly at the incompetence of amateur criminals. "He tried, final, to steal a car two nights later; having got'ten fed up scrawlin' around in that there forest with only a coupl'a sandwiches he'd brought with him from civilisation and too scared by then to come out in the open to buy more food. But he was met with a shotgun blast by the irate car-owner, and so Bairrings an' his men got on Mr C.'s track—"
"Who, out'ta sheer kindness, eventually led the cops straight to us; mayhem then ensuing for all concerned?
"You got it right there, babe."
A silence wafted through the office, leaving no trace of its passing behind.
"Ful'la questions this bright mornin' ain't yer?"
"Where's this leave the incomparable Mrs C., just askin' out'ta curiosity, an' cold mean-mindeness on my part, is all."
"Har, well, far as I can gather she's in the clear." Fiona sighing gloomily at the iniquity of some."
"Mr D. bein' well out'ta her hair; she's probably lookin' around as we speak for a replacement." Fiona showing all her far-famed reproachful nature at such goings-on. "And, of course, Mr C. being out'ta contention for the rest o'Eternity; 'ceptin' for his life insurance policy, which Mrs C's probably cashed-in days since, if allowed to do same, preparin' t'live the light fantastic in every possible way, no doubt."
Another short pause in the existence of everything filtered through the long well-lit office, then—
"You're nearest the pot; gim'me a refill of this here coffee, will you."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.