Fate's Last Turn

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Chapter 24

Ned Clayton was heading down the tree lined slope from the south, directly opposite the Kirby place, leading his mule Rudy. He was returning from another of his short excursions out in the mountains. He would have liked to have been away longer and gone a little further but the weather had looked like closing in and so, after two nights he’d decided to head home early. His old bones were beginning to ache more from the cold in recent years, only to be expected at his age he supposed. But as he was going to be passing close by he intended to call in to the Kirby place and introduce himself to Hank’s German nephew and of course grab a free coffee with whatever else was on offer while he was there. The likelihood was that he wouldn’t be out this way again until spring and didn’t want to leave it that long.

As he paused at the edge of the trees and looked down from a distance of about fifty yards, he saw Hank’s old pick-up truck pull out onto the highway and crawl away in the direction of Macadam. Squinting his eyes to focus, it looked to him as though there was just one of the Europeans driving it while the other two were standing on the drive waving him off. Taking his binoculars from their case which was slung around his neck, he put them to his eyes and looked closer. Ned recognised one of those on the drive as the Englishman he had met before, up near the Devils Dome Loop. The other was the woman supposedly partnered up with Hank’s nephew. Ned grinned to himself. Unknown to them he’d seen what they’d been getting up to out in the forest on several occasions. Going at it like a pair of jack rabbits, over and again, thinking nobody else was about. He had to admit, she was a fine looking young woman and he couldn’t blame the young fellow for dipping his wick. It was obvious to Ned that these assignations were secretly going on behind their friend’s back. He spat on the ground, muttering under his breath. People didn’t carry on like that in his day.

Turning his attention to the highway, Ned watched the old truck negotiate the first bend and disappear from view. Once it was out of sight the two remaining figures began messing about in the snow together and pretty soon they were at it once again. Ned moved a little closer, taking cover behind a large rock surrounded by shrubbery. He continued to watch silently, licking his lips as things became more interesting. He had a grand stand view but much to his disappointment the two love birds got up and went into the house. Damn! his cup of coffee would have to wait for another time, they obviously had other things on their mind and besides, it was really the Kraut he wanted to meet.

Ned clicked his tongue to get the mule moving and set off again on his weary way towards Macadam, keeping to the woodland trail running parallel to the highway. Within quarter of an hour, in the distance, he spotted the stricken truck. It was pointing at an angle off to the side of the road with one rear wheel in the air and the front obviously stuck in the ditch. Then he saw the other European, the Kraut he surmised, muttering unintelligibly to himself and stomping back up the highway in the direction from which he’d come. Ned let him go, remaining still and silent as the disgruntled German plodded past. He gave him a good few minutes head start and then followed discreetly. This was likely to get interesting he chuckled to himself.

Arriving at the workshop where there was no sign of life, Ned left the mule tied to a post out front and went around the back to the house. It was still quiet around there too. Taking his big heavy Bowie knife from the sheath on his belt, Ned reversed it in his hand and was about to knock the handle against the heavy wooden door. It was his usual habit. Old Hank had been a little hard of hearing in his later years and had always taken a bit of rousing whenever Ned visited. However this time, before he could rap on the door and much to his surprise it was flung open violently and there filling the space was the Englishman. He had on a bulky army issue parka and was carrying a webbing rucksack over one shoulder. The parka was spattered with what Ned assumed to be blood and despite the fact that the hood was pulled up over his head, Ned could see the guy’s face clearly within the snorkel. The eyes, which he’d noticed before to be quite unusually coloured, were ablaze with malevolence.

The hooded Englishman paused briefly, obviously surprised to see Ned standing there in all of his mountain man glory. Ned’s mouth opened but no sound emerged, so taken aback was he by the murderous expression on the Englishman’s face. Then the guy shoved old Ned hard in the chest, sending him backwards off the doorstep.

“Out my fucking way!” said the Englishman angrily.

Ned lost his balance and fell down awkwardly, landing on his back on the snow covered gravel. The Bowie knife spun out of his hand and landed a few feet away. His assailant looked directly at him, nailing him to the ground with those terrifying, blazing eyes before stepping over him and striding off in the direction of the chalets. Within a couple of paces the Englishman paused, his attention caught by something on the ground. Ned feared for his safety but the guy just stooped and picked up the Bowie knife. He studied it carefully, hefted the impressive weapon in his hand and then tucked it into his bag. Giving Ned one last glare he walked away without so much as a backward glance.

Ned watched him go, furious about losing his knife but too shocked and frightened to say a word. Once the bastard was out of sight and Ned thought it safe to do so, he got shakily to his feet. Turning his gaze from the direction that the Englishman had taken, his eyes settled on the scene revealed through the open front doorway into the house. There on the floor, sitting motionless with his back to the wall was the other European, the Kraut. His eyes were wide open, staring into oblivion but more noticeable was the vicious wound in the top of his skull. His head was split wide open and a shard of white bone protruded slightly above the crimson gore. Blood was running down his long dark hair and dripping onto the floor, pooling alongside him where lay a three foot long, heavy duty torque wrench from the workshop. It was also bloodied and obviously what had been used to bludgeon the poor fellow lying there against the wall, undoubtedly as dead as a door nail.

Ned backed away from the open door cautiously, further shocked and disorientated. It wasn’t the first corpse he had ever seen, in fact it was the second one he’d discovered in this very locality but it was by far the most gruesome. His legs were reduced to jelly and he was trembling, fearful that the murderer might return to eliminate any witnesses. He regretted not carrying his Winchester but it had been left in its holster strapped on Rudy’s back along with the rest of his stuff. Ned turned so that his back was flat against the wall of the house and gathered his wits, scrutinising the immediate area but there was nobody out there to be seen. There were no other new tracks in the snow, just the fresh set leading around the side of the chalets where the Englishman had gone.

Ned whistled as he breathed out a sigh of relief. If it hadn’t been for the loss of his Bowie knife he might have just fetched Rudy and walked away, leaving the horrific scene for someone else to discover and report. But he realised that he was involved as a witness whether he liked it or not. Besides, now that he had begun to calm down Ned was livid. It was the nonchalant way that the Englishman had just taken his Bowie knife without a word, as if he had every right to it. Not only that, even in Ned’s shocked state he was aware that the knife was proof that the two of them had met should the murderer be apprehended. Ned was going to have to call the cops and tell them everything he’d seen. Remembering that there was a payphone on the wall near the entrance to the diner he set off back out to the front of the complex. His first priority though was to retrieve his rifle.

Once the weapon was loaded and cocked Ned felt some of his confidence and bravado return. With rifle at the ready in one hand, holding the mule’s rein between his clenched teeth he made his way hurriedly towards the diner, desperately rummaging through his pockets with his free hand as he went, in search of a dime and trying to remember the number of the sheriff’s office in Macadam. As it happened he had no need of the dime or the number. Just a couple of years previously the new and free to call 911 national emergency number had been implemented locally, and when Ned reached the phone he spotted a bright white enamel sign with bold red lettering on the wall next to the phone which told him so.

Ned’s call was answered quickly by an operator and he spewed out the details to her as quickly as possible, talking in a hushed voice with eyes darting nervously from side to side, worrying about being surprised again by the murderer. His panicked recital of the facts was punctuated by interruptions from the operator who asked clipped and efficient questions about what had happened. As Ned answered them and continued his story he couldn’t help being a little more creative with the facts and by the time he’d finished, the operator had his name and location as well as what appeared to be the plot from a Clint Eastward movie.

“OK sir. I need you to wait right where you are now. Police officers will be on their way to you immediately.”

“No way lady!” Ned told her. “That bastard is still here about and he’s armed to the teeth including my Bowie knife! I ain’t staying here waiting to have my throat cut with my own knife. No way! I’ll wait down the road a piece until the cops get here.”

“But Sir.....”

“Don’t worry, I’ll hear them coming way before they get here and flag them down. Meanwhile that bastard ain’t going nowhere,” said Ned, tucking the phone under his chin, lifting the Winchester closer to the mouthpiece and levering a new shell into the chamber for effect.

With that and with the flustered operator in mid-sentence, Ned hung up, retrieved the ejected shell, grabbed the mule by its lead rein and made his way down the highway in the direction of Macadam until he found a place to hide in the undergrowth with an uninterrupted view of both the road and the Kirby place. He settled in to wait, keeping a constant watch with his binoculars.

Standing six feet two and weighing in at twenty stone, Patrol Deputy Donaghue was fat. Extremely fat. He was well aware that he had acquired the nick name ‘Doughnut’, his capacity for eating them was legendary and that is how he spent most of his day. He had been fat his entire life and had never cared what anybody thought about it. Working out of the Sheriff’s office in Macadam along with a complement of two patrolmen under his supervision, the shifts were usually very long and very boring. One of the troopers in the office who went by the name of Charlie Pitt was approaching retirement age, a scrawny chap who was just counting down the days having achieved next to nothing during his long service. The other was a youngster named Curtis Platt, fresh out of college and still possessing the enthusiasm of youth but wholly inexperienced and to be honest not the sharpest tool in the box. With only patrolmen Pitt and Platt for company there was little to keep the deputy’s mind off food and he made little attempt to do so. There wasn’t a lot of crime in the immediate area, nothing very notable anyway. The occasional drunk needed sorting out and there were always road traffic violations of course. A little more serious but not particularly interesting were the minor domestic violence incidents and lately he had been called out a lot to investigate illegal hunting and trespassing in the newly designated national park. He hated those calls the most. Deputy Donaghue was obligated to take the patrol car out into the periphery of the nearby wilderness accompanied by another officer, but it was always futile. The car could only get so far before the terrain became impossible to negotiate. No way was he going to proceed very far on foot so nothing much ever came of any of those calls. On the bright side, it always gave an opportunity to call in to a diner on the way back and treat himself to a fresh box of doughnuts.

Donaghue’s dark blue uniform shirt was stretched to its absolute maximum around his gut, making it uncomfortable to wear no matter how he had it tailored. Despite the cold weather he was permanently adorned with ugly sweat patches under his arms and under his boobs. Around his voluminous girth he wore a thick brown leather belt which had nothing much to do with holding up his trousers, that task was adequately carried out by a substantial pair of braces. The belt’s purpose was to carry a matching brown leather holster containing his most prized possession. Well, technically speaking it wasn’t his possession as he didn’t actually own it. It was issued by the Sheriff’s Department, it being his Ruger Security Six double action revolver, chambered for .357 Magnum cartridges and sporting a six inch barrel. The belt also supported numerous other pouches for spare cartridges, handcuffs and all the paraphernalia associated with being a cop.

In all of his time in Macadam, Donaghue had never fired his revolver in anger. The sheer presence of it when he withdrew the thing from its holster was always enough to deter the most lary of felons from resisting arrest. It often served to sober up drunks to a certain degree. This was the reason why he had opted for the long barrel as it almost always had the desired effect. There had only ever been one drunk who hadn’t been phased by the intimidating canon and a vicious whack across his skull with the barrel had soon remedied that situation. Donaghue often took the weapon from its holster when he was out on patrol to impress the folk who asked to see it. He loved that gun, however the only time he could unleash its devastating power was when he went to the practice firing range.

Deputy Donaghue was on duty when the call came in, and what a call it was. When he was informed that it was that old buzzard Ned Clayton who was the witness at the scene, he knew it was a genuine incident even though the operator told him that Ned was in a blind panic and screaming blue murder, literally. One thing that the deputy sheriff knew about Ned was that he didn’t mess about unnecessarily and could be relied upon to be truthful, even if a little creative. It didn’t mean that he had to like the man or have a lot of time for him though, finding his attitude and lack of respect for the authorities unacceptable.

The feeling was mutual. Ned had equally little affection for the sheriff’s office and avoided dealings with them as much as possible. However he’d been a massive help to the police on a previous occasion a few years ago when a child had gone missing in the forest. The parents, tourists out from Seattle, had feared the worst, thinking he might have been taken by a wolverine or coyotes, a bear or maybe even a cougar. The longer the search had gone on the more distressed the parents had become and the more imaginative the assumptions about the poor kid’s fate. Then Ned appeared on the scene, wandering nonchalantly down a mountain trail to see what all the fuss was about.

He’d listened to what the parents had to say about their little boy and made assumptions about how useless the cops were likely to be at finding him. Knowing how dangerous it would be for the kid if he wasn’t tracked down before dark, Ned wondered back up the trail on his own to see what he could find. He returned after two and a half hours accompanied by the kid who was happily riding on the back of the mule, oblivious to the panic he’d caused. Apparently Ned had been able to follow sign up to a point and then had just walked over to a likely area and sat on a rock playing his flute. After a while the lost kid had just appeared from out of the surrounding brush as if by magic.

Ned had received good publicity after that incident, finding himself being interviewed by all sorts of people. It was a popular ‘feel good’ story and never one to miss a photo opportunity it soon made the national press, producing a little more income for the never too shy Ned.

Donaghue wrote down all of the details quickly, scribbling as fast as he was able onto a notepad as the operator relayed Ned’s version of events. Once he had it all down he slammed the phone back into its cradle, pausing for a second to read back and absorb the facts and revel in his good fortune. A smirk played around his wet blubbery lips. Even allowing for exaggeration there was no doubting the fact that this was a serious situation and the most exciting thing that had ever happened during his career. He stood, hitched his trousers up and called his two subordinates away from their coffee.

“There’s been a murder up at the Kirby place. Suspect still in the vicinity. Armed and dangerous. Get your weapons.”

Deputy Donaghue was loving this. He picked the phone back up, called and relayed a summary of the details to his Chief over in Burlington but before any kind of orders could be given in return, he slammed the phone down again and shouted.

“Mount up! Let’s go!”

With that, the three of them hurried out to the patrol car and set off as fast as conditions allowed on State Route 20, out towards the Kirby place. On the way there the deputy considered the situation. He expected to meet up with Ned across the highway and down the road a bit from the scene in a position where it was hopefully safe. He’d get what extra information he could from the old buzzard and then approach the buildings carefully on foot. There was an opportunity to make a name for himself here. Within a few minutes Donaghue intended to be on the trail of a vicious killer, maybe even catch him before the Chief had time to arrive from Burlington and take over.

They stopped when they reached the stricken pick-up truck, cast a quick look over it and then proceeded with caution. On the bend before the Kirby place came into view they spotted Ned off to the side of the highway, waving an arm about to attract their attention. He had tied his mule to a tree and carried his old Winchester in the crook of his other arm. As they pulled over Ned began feeding shells into a spare magazine deliberately. His expression was thunderous. He answered the deputy sheriff’s questions with monosyllables, seeing little point in repeating what he’d already told the dispatcher on the phone.

After a few minutes, ordering Ned to remain where he was by the patrol car Donaghue led the other two officers away on foot in the direction of the murder scene. They moved with stealth, staying low, keeping to the side of the road in single file spaced about ten feet apart. Once close enough to the main buildings the deputy directed Platt, the younger of the two patrolmen to make his way under cover to the far end of the complex and then to close back in carefully from that direction. The idea was to cut off any escape to the east. Young Platt set off eagerly, lapping up the situation like a puppy on its first outing off the leash.

Ned completely ignored his instruction, giving them just a few seconds start before leaving the mule tethered where he’d left it in the undergrowth and tagging along behind them with rifle at the ready.

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