The Search for Strangler Sweeney

VERNON HOCKLEY July 20 1957

The Search for Strangler Sweeney

VERNON HOCKLEY July 20 1957

The Search for Strangler Sweeney

VERNON HOCKLEY

Running Hawk and I were finishing a game of cribbage when my little brother came with a message. “Red Wind,” said my little brother, “Constable Kilroy asks that you come quickly to assist him in tracking down a robber.”

“You must tell Constable Kilroy,” I said, “that I am sick in bed with a high fever. Fifteen-two.”

“But, Red Wind,” said my little brother, “this is a most desperate criminal who has robbed a bank in the city, and there is a reward of five hundred dollars for anybody who catches him.”

1 was now putting on my coat beside the door. “You will tell Mama,” I said to my little brother, “that I may be late for supper. It is after all my duty to help the police.”

I, Red Wind.

my friend Running

and Constable Kilroy

who could be expected to

do anything

what he did...

“You are a simpleton, Red Wind,” said Running Hawk, scowling at the cribbage board. “The reward will be paid only for the robber's conviction, not for his capture. Moreover, you have lost your game by default. You owe me two bottles of beer.”

“Constable Kilroy told me.” said my little brother, “that the robber took thirty thousand dollars in green paper money from the bank.” “As I mentioned, Red Wind,” said Running Hawk, pulling on his own coat, “you are a simpleton. However, since it is on my way, I shall accompany you to the policeman’s office.” He whistled up his dog, an enormous St. Bernard female who had been asleep on my bed. “Perhaps she will help us find the robber,” said Running Hawk as the dog pushed

us aside in getting out through the doorway.

Constable Kilroy, waiting beside his car, eyed Running Hawk with some restraint. "1 don't want the woods full of eager beagles,” he said. “All I want right now is one good tracker, like the kind you read about in books."

“This is Lionel Thomas,” 1 said, “whom we call Running Hawk. He is an excellent tracker. Also we have his dog Lucy, who could follow a scent to the ends of the earth."

“She won't have to go quite that far,” said Constable Kilroy. “A brakeman saw this fellow jump off a train just a little way down the track.”

We entered the car and were followed by Lucy, who climbed up proudly onto the front

Hawk...

his

intrepid

dog

Lucy...

were on the track of a

desperate

criminal...

seat beside Constable Kilroy. “Get that dog out of here,” he said. “.She can walk.” He pushed against Lucy with his shoulder, but the dog, taking this as a caress, only bent and licked his face so affectionately that his cap fell off.

“Let us be gone,” said Running Hawk. “Do you expect a dog to follow a speeding police car?” Constable Kilroy muttered something, wiped his face and sent the car lurching forward. We sped through the village and halted perhaps a mile away where spruce scrub grew thickly on each side of the railway clearing.

“Even if this big pooch can smell anything except herself,” said Constable Kilroy as Lucy pushed him from the car, “how' are we going to give her a scent to continued on page 34

The search for Strangler Sweeney

Continued from page 25

A faint noise made us flatten like frightened cats. Was the Strangler trying to cut us off?

follow? Or does he work by intuition?” “Let us examine the ground carefully,” said Running Hawk. “If your man leaped from a train there should be marks.” He walked slowly along the track and presently pointed at two long gouges that ended in definite heel prints. Lucy thrust her nose into one of the prints and held it there thoughtfully for a moment. Then she uttered a sort of moist roar and galloped into the spruce, where her coursings became evident from a violent agitation of tree-tops.

“Let us advance rapidly,” said Running Hawk, scrambling down the railway embankment. I followed on his heels and Constable Kilroy panted behind us. Running Hawk was muttering over his shoulder as we struck into the spruce.

“YVe must manage to lose Kilroy,” he said. “Let us choose places in which he will be likely to trip.”

Constable Kilroy followed sturdily for nearly a mile before Running Hawk’s treachery sent him blundering into a patch of rotting brush and mud. He called after us in pathetic fury, but Running Hawk only shouted vaguely and sped on between the trees. YVe came presently to a little clearing where, to my astonishment, Lucy sat comfortably as if waiting for us.

“She had her instructions,” Running Hawk said with a smirk.

HE SAT down beside the dog, handed her a piece of biscuit from his pocket and drew out a police folder that Constable Kilroy had given us.

“No doubt some callow urban degenerate,” said Running Hawk. “He will be in no position to drive a hard bargain.” He flipped open the page to expose the word “YVANTED” in enormous black type.

“ 'For theft,’ ” said Running Hawk, reading, “ 'fraud, embezzlement, blackmail, arson, robbery with violence, extortion, kidnapping, murder.' ” He frowned briefly. “ ‘Albert H. Finchley-Parsons, alias English Reynolds, alias Blackie YViggin, known to late associates as Strangler Sweeney.’ ” Running Hawk cleared his throat and glanced over his shoulder. “‘Age 40, weight 270, height 6 feet 4 inches. Face badly marked by knife scars, heavy cast in left eye, broken nose, prominent canine teeth. Expert pistol and rifle shot, usually heavily armed.’ ” Running Hawk coughed casually.

“What is the line in small type at the bottom?” I said.

“Merely instruction for policemen,” said Running Hawk. “It says, ‘Should be approached with caution. May be dangerous.’ ”

We avoided looking at each other for perhaps a minute. Then Running Hawk cleared his throat again and said, “Some things remind one that the true values of life are not to be measured in dollars.”

After a further minute I said, “I wonder where Kilroy is?” I had begun to think of all the good things about the constable, particularly of the heavy re-

volver he always carried at his belt.

“Let us return to where we lost sight of him,” said Running Hawk.

We found no sign of Constable Kilroy beyond the broken twigs and branches into which he had stumbled. Running Hawk searched intently for a trail.

“We have lost our senses,” I said suddenly. “We have only to give L.ucy the scent and she will lead us directly to the constable.”

Running Hawk stared at me. "You are right, Red Wind. We have indeed lost senses. When one is so concerned over the safety of a comrade . . .’’He whistled to Lucy, who snuffed obediently among the broken twigs, circled once or twice and set off confidently through the spruce.

“What a fool I am,” said Running Hawk. We trotted after Lucy. “And yet,” said Running Hawk, “it is strange that Kilroy should have failed to follow in the direction we ourselves took.”

I caught his sleeve and pulled him to a halt. He faced me and tried unsuccessfully to swallow. He tried to whistle to Lucy and was equally unsuccessful. “Call the dog. Red Wind,” he said in a whisper. “I have inhaled a seed, or perhaps the down of a thistle.” I called to Lucy and she returned with a puzzled look on her face.

“We must find a print, Red Wind,” said Running Hawk. “Search carefully in a wet place.”

Presently I found a sharply defined bootprint and Running Hawk inspected it critically. “Your weight is about the same as Kilroy’s, Red Wind.” he said. “Step carefully beside this print.” I did so, and Running Hawk's face, normally a dark chestnut, turned suddenly to the exact color of the keys on our old church organ. The print I had made was both smaller and shallower than the one beside it.

“I hadTorgotten,” said Running Hawk, “that Lucy has a one-track nose. Until she has found one thing she will seldom seek another.”

A peculiar hush had settled over the spruce forest. No branch stirred. No bird sang. Even Lucy, who had been scratching herself, sat uneasily still.

“We had perhaps better return to the railroad,” Running Hawk said in a low voice. “It is possible that Kilroy is already there, waiting in his car.”

A faint noise made us flatten like frightened cats. Running Hawk grasped Lucy by the muzzle and pulled her down. “That was a footstep,” he said, and swore under his breath. The noise came again, less faintly and from a different direction. “He will pass between us and the railroad,” said Running Hawk. “Do you suppose it could be Kilroy? It is of course quite impossible that anyone should be trying to cut us off.”

We now proceeded half crouched, like ancient braves on a warpath. Running Hawk turned after a hundred paces and glanced back. His eyes widened in alarm.

“Lucy! The misguided animal has left us.”

I resisted an impulse to run in all

directions. “Whistle to her,” I said. Running Hawk shook his head.

“It might only place her in greater danger. The monster described on Constable Kilroy’s paper would no doubt shoot her like a dog.“

“What will she do?”

“Locate him again and return either to us or to the rendezvous in the clearing.”

“Then she had found him before?” Running Hawk shuddered, nodded and groaned. “She has been taught not to close with a quarry alone. But she would

have led us directly to him. The kind spirit that made me read the paper first has now betrayed us.”

We turned hopelessly back. One may bring himself to abandon a policeman but not a dog. “What chance have we of overtaking her?” I said.

Running Hawk shook his head. “Perhaps one in a thousand. There is the possibility of her quartering widely.”

My sense of alarm was growing. We had moved from the young spruce into the shade of a few taller trees, and something seemed to stir in the undergrowth.

I imagined, that I heard a vague threatening grun'i

“We could approach ar ambush here,” f said in a whisper. "Let us move back into the thick, growth.”

A VOICE Hiddealy roared ahead of us and a giant rose among

the trees. “Run for your life!” said Running Hawk, pivoting like a dancer. Then he hesitated and seemed to laugh.

“Never mind. Red Wind,” he said. “It is only a bear. We have disturbed her children.”

1 halted with a feeling of tremendous relief. The bear was galloping toward us with her mouth open. Two little bears had climbed trees behind her.

“We had better climb a pair of spruce ourselves. Red Wind,” said Running Hawk, negligently reaching for a branch. “No doubt the mother bear will be shortly reassured.”

We relaxed about ten feet up in our trees while the bear snarled warnings from the ground. She gave each tree an admonitory shake and trundled off, growling back at us over her shoulder.

“She merely wishes to make sure that we stay here until the children are at a safe distance,” said Running Hawk. “I must confess that I find it a welcome interval. My nerves were badly in need of such a rest.”

The bears soon disappeared and our feeling of assurance went with them. We descended from our trees and skulked on. “The wind must be rising,” I said. “See the bush wave yonder.”

“Wind?” said Running Hawk. He peered at me anxiously before looking ahead. Then he straightened with a jump.

“It is Lucy! She is digging and has become excited. The waving bush is her tail.”

We reached Lucy just as she backed from a shallow excavation to drop a scuffed leather satchel at Running Hawk’s feet. He embraced her briefly and opened the satchel. It was full of green papermoney.

“The robber’s loot!” said Running Hawk, staring so closely at a hundreddollar bill that his eyes turned inward. He laid the satchel down, put his hat beside it and kneaded his forehead.

“Let us take it and be off,” I said. “This alone warrants our return to the police office.”

Running Hawk breathed hard and swallowed. “We must not permit ourselves to be overcome by panic,” he said in a mutter. “Here is matter that demands calm and unhurried thought. Let us act only after exploring all possibilities and opportunities.”

Here Lucy raised her head and growled softly. “We shall bury the stuff again." said Running Hawk, hurling himself to ward Lucy’s excavation. He pawed at th.. soil with his fingers.

“Wait, Running Hawk,” I said, “you are burying your hat instead of the satchel.” Running Hawk corrected his mistake, swearing in a steady hiss. We kicked dirt over the satchel and set off once again through the low spruce.

“Are we running in the right direction?” I said presently.

“Disregard trivial points like directions,” said Running Hawk. “The important thing is that we are running.”

At this moment we heard a blood curdling shout from behind us. “Tha: was no bear,” said Running Hawk, increasing his pace. I had been about to turn aside from a tree, and decided instead to hurdle it.

“We must pause for breath or expire,” Running Hawk said presently. “Surely by now we are beyond gunshot range.”

“And after all,” I said as we flung ourselves to the ground, “with the money restored to its hiding place the robber is unlikely to give further chase.”

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“He may even stop to count it,” said Running Hawk.

Ia was at this instant that Lucy tumbled up behind us, panting harshly, with the scuffed leather satchel again between her jaws.

THE vocabulary of our northern dialects contains several hundred words that express disapproval, and Running Hawk proceeded now to use all of them. Lucy, who had plainly expected praise, cringed and flattened with her muzzle groveling between her extended forelegs. Hei eyes showed like the peeled whites of hard-boiled eggs as she peered up in astonishment and humility. Running Hawk at last fell short of native words, added a few in French and finished with a variety of fierce motions in the air. Lucy raised her tail three inches from the ground and let it fall in pathetic hopeless appeal.

‘Running Hawk,” I said, “now that you have left off making so great a noise it is possible to hear a significant crashing of boughs back along our trail.” Running Hawk had become almost calm from rage, but the fresh alarm made firecrackers of his wits. “Of course.” he said, springing into collision with a tree, “the idiot of a dog must have made her course plain to anyone behind." He pawed spruce needles from his eyes and chose a fresh direction.

‘Running Hawk,” 1 said, “we must wait for Lucy. She still lies on her stomach, grieving because you scolded her.” Running Hawk returned frantically to Lucy, who only cringed closer to the ground. Although %our vocabulary contains also several hundred words that express endearment, Running Hawk had to use most of them before she rose doubtfully to her feet. By this time the ominous crashing of boughs seemed to have grown louder.

“The man must be mad,” said Running Hawk. “He has beyond doubt reached a state described in my latest copy of Crime Psychology Firsts, from the editors of which journal I have a small button to wear in my lapel.”

“Let us not trouble about states and buttons,” I said. “Let us rather get back to the village as quickly as we can.”

“In this condition,” said Running Hawk, following automatically with Lucy as I sprinted away, “the criminal, by his prime nature paranoiac . . .”

“We must run faster,” I said. “The man has turned; he runs abreast of us.”

We burst into a clearing below the village at the same instant that a gigantic figure vaulted from the spruce a hundred yards to our left. Running Hawk increased his pace so rapidly that for a moment his feet lost traction and spurned dust from the dry turf of the clearing.

“An ogre pursues us!” he said. “Can it be the same man? Kilroy’s folder gave the robber’s height as something over six feet. This behemoth's is at least eight.” “Save your breath,” 1 said. “The police office is in sight.”

Indeed Constable Kilroy’s little black door was so close that I could even see the white letters “RCMP,” which I myself had applied when the constable, after trying to renew black letters on a white door, gave up in despair and welcomed my suggestion that the smeared surface be finished all in black and the lettering added in white.

“Let us fall to our backs like dogs,” said Running Hawk. “The man can scarcely lack all mercy.”

Something strange had happened, yet in my befuddlement and exhaustion I failed for a moment to realize what it was. The man’s course had been converging on ours as we approached the office.

He had been gaining on us. Worse, he had overtaken us. But he had done more. He had passed us. He had leaped to Constable Kilroy's stoop and was pounding with both fists on the door.

"Open up. coppers!” he said in a voice like the bellow of a dying bull. “Rather be hung decent and proper by white men, I would, than be hunted and hounded and harried by a pair of blooming savages.”

NEVER heard of anything like it,” said Constable Kilroy, hanging a

pair of muddy trousers over the back of a chair. “Man’s in an absolute funk. Says he couldn't make a turn but you two were either following behind or waiting up ahead. Says he almost walked right under those trees you climbed. His nerve cracked altogether when you lost your temper.”

“When we lost our temper?” said Running Hawk.

The constable looked at him sharply. “When you broke out swearing. Man says if he ever heard murder in a voice it was then. All he could think of was to run

for the police as fast as he could.” Constable Kilroy carefully buttoned a fresh pair of trousers. “The one disappointing thing,” he said, “is that we didn’t get the bank's money. He’s buried it and he won’t tell us where.”

A slight glaze had appeared over Running Hawk’s eyes and he was licking his lips when something thumped loudly outside the office. Constable Kilroy made sure of his final button and opened the door. Lucy stood proudly on the stoop, tail wagging, a scuffed leather satchel in her mouth.