Tag Archives: crime

HMS Plumper and the Rowdies of Victoria

In 1857, Captain George Richards of the British Navy sailed to Vancouver Island on his ship the HMS Plumper. Richards was given instructions to chart the international water boundary as well as the coastline and nearby islands of Vancouver Island. Plumper carried a scientific library with reference books on botany and natural history. The ship’s surgeon was in charge of collecting and preserving specimens. There was also a team of navigation and surveying specialists.

HMS Plumper

HMS Plumper (on the right)

It wasn’t the sort of ship that was supposed to take part when a crisis arose, but there was at least one occasion when Captain Richards and the crew of the Plumper were called upon to help diffuse a situation. This was especially true in the early days of the Fraser River gold rush when Fort Victoria was overwhelmed with gold seekers.

In its August 9, 1858 issue, the Daily Alta California printed a letter from Victoria with the title “The Rowdies In Victoria”

Some excitement has been created here in consequence of a most daring outrage having been committed, by a band of rowdies, in rescuing a prisoner from the police, and rather roughly handling the Sheriff. At least three thousand persons were collected, and the police force being small in number, were compelled for the time being to let their prisoner slide. The circumstances being reported to the Governor, a dispatch was immediately sent off to the man-of-war.

At midnight, H. M. S. Plumper entered Victoria harbor, from Esquimalt, and landed one hundred men. On the following morning the Plumper anchored within two cables length of the town, prepared to give practical demonstration if any resistance was offered. A small police force re- arrested the man, who is now awaiting examination.

The proceedings on the part of the Government exhibited the fact—that will go far to preserve order for the future—that they are not only determined to put down rowdyism, but that they have sufficient strength to command obedience to the laws. The conduct of the Government in this instance has been cordially responded to by the entire community.

Missing in Plein Air part 2

The sun was several hours from setting but according to Captain Reynolds watch it was the last sailing of the evening and the rest of the crew were tired and thinking of a warm cot in the Soda Creek Hotel on the edge of the Fraser River.

There wasn’t any role call of passengers taken. It didn’t occur to the captain nor his crew to check that all passengers were still aboard.

The Soda Creek Hotel was short staffed too and while Elsie was just finishing preparing the rooms while Yun “Chip” Sang mostly struggled alone in the kitchen, his face reddened by the constant steam from the pots. Elsie Rankin chatted to the passengers while they ate in between checking the cook’s progress and eventually they retired to their rooms, one by one except the captain.

After the final pot was wiped down, Sang walked bleary eyed into the night and to his own living quarters; a narrow cabin that had been converted from a woodshed. He had been there a couple of years already but his days were kept so busy he didn’t have time to think about his future plans. He paused for a minute to look up at the sky. It was sprinkled with bright stars and with his finger he traced the constellations. He followed the ancient astrologers’ thinking that you could predict a type of event would occur by looking at the stars and where they had moved.

Probably because he was so tired that Sang didn’t perceive anything unusual in the stars patterns, but he had a sense of foreboding that kept him awake despite his fatigue. Frustrated, Sang rolled out of bed, put his boots on and went for a walk. The light from the stars was enough for him, but evidently not enough for someone else because he saw a yellow glow of light spilling out from under the stable door.

Walking closer, Sang heard the horses snort and the sound of hooves hitting the side boards. Sang had never been particularly fond of horses but feeding them was one of his jobs and they knew him well enough that they didn’t kick him. Someone inside the barn wasn’t as lucky it seemed. There was a loud crash and a stifled cry.

Sang walked around the barn to another door, undid the latch and quietly pulled it open so he could see what was going on. He could hear the swoosh of the horses tail and the clink of metal.

He couldn’t see who it was, he was tempted to call out but instead he grabbed one of the blacksmith tools. As he held it tightly in both hands, he could hear a man’s voice, barely above a whisper, cursing. Sang crept closer until he could see the ears of the horse, held straight back.

Suddenly, the gate opened and the rider mounted, his face in the shadows of the light. The horse, unaccustomed to this new rider, stumbled back a few steps and the rider who was holding onto the lamp, dropped it.

Sang could see it falling. It was precisely at the moment when the glass shattered on the dirt floor that Sang threw the tool and it landed square in the rider’s back. It wasn’t enough to knock him off the horse, but it made him turn around suddenly in the saddle.

He looked at Sang for an instant and the shadows fell across his face, disappearing into in dark recesses. Then, just as swiftly he turned back in his saddle and gave the horse a determined kick and out they went at a full gallop.

Sang stood transfixed for a moment before he realized the situation. A small line of flames were heading towards the barn wall like a row of fiery ants. Sang ran over to where the tools were kept, grabbed a shovel and threw dirt on the fire. Then he hit the soil with the back of his shovel. As he was banging his shovel down he heard the unmistakable sound of wood splintering.

There was enough moonlight that he could just make out the dark shape of a box. Fearing the worst, Sang gathered it up and hid it behind one of the bins.

About six hours later, Sang was back working in the hotel kitchen preparing breakfast. He had contemplated telling Elsie about the missing horse, but she appeared flustered and out of sorts when she came into the kitchen.

“Mr. Abbott is missing and Mr. Smythe is missing his belongings!”

Just at that moment, the Captain entered the kitchen as if it were his own home. “What about Mr. Sayers? We should find him before he disappears!”

They both trotted out before Sang had a chance to say anything. He wondered about the box he had found.

Traces and Tracks

Kyle was holding the piece of paper not sure what to do with it, not even sure why he picked it up.  It was about the only thing he could find on his father’s desk that didn’t look out of place. It was put under his father’s laptop.

It was a copy of a statement from a dry goods store called D. Hamilton & Son, “Dealers in Dry Goods, Boots and Shoes, Hardware and Groceries” The date was April 15, 1938.
Kyle’s father had gone missing the week before. He had headed out the door for his morning constitutional and that was the last anyone had seen of him; heading down the highway until he reached the park. Some people speculated he was a victim of a hit and run. “It’s a dangerous stretch of road around here.”

As soon as he got the word of his disappearance, Kyle drove south to the small coastal village of Overlook Bay, surprised by how much had changed since the last time he had visited was almost a year ago. There was another strip mall built and the road was being widened for extra traffic which seemed excessive but this was October and all the vacationers had gone home.

His father had been 77 and in good health. Kyle had come with him on a couple of walks but there was a lot more traffic than there used to be; he had lived in Overlook Bay for the past 10 years since he had retired and a lot had changed since then he had tried to tell him. But he was stubborn and besides he liked to walk; his black lab at his side. The dog had died two months ago.

For the past couple of days he had been driving around, hiking the same trails his Dad would’ve done, checking the rocks and beaches below for any sign that he would’ve slipped and fell. He dared not think of someone who might have tossed him in the back of their truck to dispose of elsewhere. He’d heard of stories of outwardly normal people who were determined never to be caught and going to great lengths to cover their guilt.

His father was the son of Dean Hamilton and he shared the same name. Kyle had never paid much attention to his father’s recollections of working in the store that was next to the fish cannery. It closed in 1950.

In the desk were copies of emails his father had printed out and filed away from a museum that had expressed interest in the “fonds” of the Talcan Cannery which had first opened in 1915 to process all kinds of salmon from sockeye to chum and redspring.

Kyle put the statement aside and sat down at the desk. There wasn’t much else except the laptop he’d given him on his 75th birthday. He turned it on and opened the email program.  Nothing was filtered out, not even spam and his father kept everything in the same folder marked “received” As he scrolled down, he saw one that read, “you have a new comment from…”

It took a minute before Kyle realized that his father had a blog on the web. Kyle was stunned, his father of all people; who warned him not to “click on the link.” A new page appeared asking him for a username and password which he didn’t have, but at least this way he found out that his father had a blog called Hamilton’s Rant.

He had been posting on a regular basis at least once or twice a week and he was getting lots of comments that seemed suppportive of his opinions which covered just about every topic affecting the good citizens of Overlook Bay.

Kyle wondered whether his father had told any of the other family members about his blog, maybe got one of his grandkids to set it up for him. It hardly mattered, he told himself.

The latest post was a recap of his week’s events; going to the legion, an outing with a hiking group called the Ramblers and the cost of food. The previous post was complaining about the lack of parking at the bank now that a new building was being constructed in town. Previous to that, he mentioned the demise of the old cannery.

Kyle turned off the computer and went to sleep on the couch.  This was the third day he’d stayed there in the house and each time he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open, as soon as he turned off the lights his brain started whirring around and prodded him awake.

It was about three in the morning when he woke up with a start. Rising up on his elbows, Kyle looked around trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. There it was again, a scrape against the window – probably that old arbutus tree. It was windy outside and half an hour later he put on his coat and pants and went outside. He thought he could just snap off the offending branch but arbutus trees were made of dense wood which required a sharp saw.
Kyle turned on the porch light to see what he was doing as he sawed the wood, back and forth.  It reminded him when he was a kid, and this bungalow was just a cabin the family would come to in the summer time. His father took everything very seriously, even chopping wood. Words echoed back as he the saw wobbled. He was ten years old and his father was telling him, “keep it straight, keep it straight!” Finally after about ten minutes the branch gave way and he picked up the fallen branch. The wood was good, it would’ve made a good walking stick.

The thought struck him as he was making coffee. What if his Dad hadn’t gone for a walk? His car was in the carport though. Someone picked him up? The odds were slim.

It was barely six o’clock in the morning when Kyle headed out to the site of the Talcan Cannery. The buildings were mostly torn down with just a few huts remaining. The boardwalk was mostly intact though; thick strips of fir had stood the test of time.
According to one of the old maps he’d found, D. Hamilton and Sons would’ve stood in line with the bluff which meant that it must’ve been the spot where only the foundations laid.
There were traces of broken bottles, old graffiti and burnt timbers. He walked along the rickety pilings and smelled the dampness that was trapped by the low clouds overhead. As he walked along, he noticed there was a small building at the end that looked like it was going to collapse any minute. Why had they left it standing? He ventured as far as he was willing but there wasn’t much to see. There was no door, it was just a black hole of emptiness.

Where had his father got all those documents for the museum? He wondered. Further down the boardwalk he came across another dilapidated wooden hut and this time he went inside. Part of the roof had collapsed but the wallpaper was still attached and on the floor  was an old newspaper article, brittle and water damaged about changes at the Cannery. You couldn’t see the date of the article or from what newspaper. Had his father seen this and decided to leave it?

There were some stairs that went down to a basement but he hadn’t brought a flashlight with him and somehow he couldn’t see his father venturing down there either.
Backing out of there, Kyle noticed recent tire treads in the soft earth that looked like they belonged to a large pickup truck. Curious, he walked on the other side of the tread marks, following them through a clearing and onto the road. The ground was deeply rutted and he could see the point where the driver had accelerated.
This was a dead end road so there weren’t too many reasons why someone would want to come down here.

At the other end of the cannery was a rocky beach. Kyle stood there with his hands in his pockets and looked out at the tide. Overlook was in a sheltered bay; at the end of a long inlet that rarely saw any storms. It would be a great place for a cabin, he thought.
Kyle drove into town and checked the missing posters that were attached everywhere. They were still there, untouched but ignored. He walked into the legion and sat down with a drink. There were a couple of watery eyed old men talking in the corner and one of them he recognized as Walter Malloy, one of the village counsellors.

“Sorry about your father,” Malloy said shaking his head. “I always said Dean, you’re too healthy for your own good, all that walking is going to kill you.”

Kyle nodded. “Did he ever mention anything about the Cannery?”

“What about it?”

If Kyle was surprised at the sharpness of Malloy’s tone, he didn’t show it. Malloy left and the other man, smaller and stooped over, leaned towards him. “Your dad was a good man, Kyle but he was always raising a raucus with that website of his.”

It was hard for Kyle to believe that his father raised a ‘raucus’ over anything; he’d had the same government job for over thirty years and had never railed against the powers that ran the department. But maybe his father had changed. Maybe he saw this was his opportunity to do something that he believed in.

Kyle went home and made himself some lunch and then sat at the computer and read his father’s blog for the next two hours. There was some heated discussion to do with a few problems like garbage pickup. His father argued that the village should provide garbage pickup at least twice a month. There were a couple of responses from a couple of anonymous readers that said they were happy with the status quo. Another blog post dealt with the setback for a new subdivision. His father attended a council meeting and declared the whole council was “under a spell” when it came to the ‘well-oiled’  developer named Dick Snowden.

It was Snowden who had built the latest strip mall. Kyle looked around the desk for a list of passwords and tried a few but nothing worked. He could tell by the anonymous person’s writing style it was the same person; same use of words and punctuation. He was curious to get their ip address.

It was heading towards three in the afternoon when Kyle headed out to the dump with some of the branches and leaves he’d gathered the day before. As he drove along the pitted narrow logging road, he saw a newer model truck pulled off to the side with a couple of garbage bags in the back. As a matter of habit, Kyle memorized the licence plate.

It was quiet at the dump so he took his time unloading the yard waste. The other garbage disposal was expensive. He asked the clerk who took his money about the garbage pickup in the village but she was reticent to talk about such a disputed topic. “Lots of folks are happy with the way things are run,” she said as she frowned. “Just the new people want everything different.”

As Kyle drove back he saw that the truck had gone. He pulled up just beyond and stopped. He wasn’t sure what had caught his eye until he walked around the back of his car and stood looking at the tracks left in the soft shoulder. He wondered how many trucks had the same tread as the one he remembered seeing at the cannery. This was certainly one.
Walking into the bush, Kyle surveyed the scene, noting the black garbage bags hadn’t been tossed far. Clumps of ferns were barely visible under the refuse. Ignoring the obvious junk, Kyle peeked inside one of the bags and saw a couple of water damaged bits of paper that looked familiar. Pulling them out, he recognized the name, “D. Hamilton & Son,” Phone: One long, two short”

Kyle walked back to the car and called the police reciting the licence plate from memory. Whose was it? He demanded to know. Someone would come soon he was told.

Fighting Crime with Bear Dog

John Blakiston Grey with two Tahltan Bear Dogs

John Blakiston Grey served with the BC Provincial Police in Telegraph Creek, British Columbia between 1938 and 1941.  He recorded and compiled birth records for various Tahltan dogs including “Koachan, granddaughter of Kicks and Boots, daughter of Laddie and Fly born 1937, sister of Tippi at Tahltan Village.” Grey was instrumental in having these unique dogs declared a distinct breed.

This is a fictional story.


John Blakiston Grey inspected the small two room cabin at the edge of Telegraph Creek and decided he had cleaned up the official residence of the BC Provincial Police as much as he could.

Grey paced back and forth and finally ventured outside, looking for any sign of the visitors he was expecting. It was his second week living here and still he was unused to the harsh cold compared to the southern part of British Columbia. His superior officer had told him that they would send an additional officer as soon as as possible. For now though, it was just him upholding the law.

Grey had been waiting anxiously to meet the Chief of the Tahltan people, a large tribe that lived in the land surrounding the Stikine River. The cabin was at the edge of town which itself could be pinpointed on the map where the much smaller Telegraph Creek joined up to the mighty Stikine River.

He was outside, rearranging the pile of firewood, when he saw Chief Quock.

Grey invited him inside from the cold and Quock graciously accepted, taking off a large moose hide front sack and placing it beside his snowshoes before stepping inside. Grey served some lunch in the spartan cabin while asking Quock as many questions as he felt he was able without coming across as too naive or nosy.

Quock seemed pleased enough with Grey and afterward they shared a pipe by the fire.

“I think you will be good here.” Quock said as he stood up. “I brought you a dog,” he said.

Grey put on his coat and boots and followed Quock outside just as Quock lifted a small black dog with fox like ears out of the moose hide sack. It was a small lap dog, barely 40 centimetres tall at the shoulder. Grey tried to mask his disappointment. Perhaps, the Chief thought he needed a pet, not a working dog.

“She’s a bear dog,” Quock said.

Grey looked at the small dog with the dark brown eyes. She had a peculiar upturned tail which curved towards her ears and two patches of white on her front paws, almost like a cat.

“It looks like an alert little fellow, what’s its name?”

“Koachan. She’s just a year old but you’ll find her useful as any large dog. She’s a good working dog. The Bear dog, we call them because we used to have them around to get bears and lynx. They’re good trackers too. In the old days when our guns weren’t so good we couldn’t kill the bears or lynx so easily, we used to bring these dogs along to bite them if the bear didn’t stay still. The bear would try to slap the bear dog but the dog was too quick. As my grandfather used to say, ‘he just got to sit or he get bit.'”

Grey knelt down and petted Koachan. He was good with dogs but this one didn’t want to lick his hand or wag her tail. She merely stood still and looked at him.

“When you’re done here, you can give Koachan back to me. She stays with her people.”

Grey stood up, “I will do everything to look after Koachan. Tell me though, does it prefer to be carried about?”

“It’s an old custom. When I was on my way to a hunt, I would carry the bear dog otherwise he would be too tired to do his job when needed. No sense bringing her here looking tired and worn out.”

Afterward, Grey settled into his chair by the fire and puffed methodically on his pipe while the bear dog sat ramrod still by the door. Interestingly enough, no amount of coaxing could bring the dog any closer to be petted and despite the wind outside Grey suspected that is where it preferred to be.

Over the next week or so, Grey became used to Koachan’s habit of sleeping outside in all kinds of weather and in the morning it would be waiting near the front door with nary a sound. It was sometimes hard to remember he even had a dog.

Then early one morning Grey woke from a deep slumber beneath his heavy wool blanket to the sound of howling. At first he thought he must be dreaming but as he pulled back the blanket, he realized the sound was coming from the door. Jumping out of bed, Grey opened the door to see Koachan sitting in her usual spot.

“What’ve you been up to?” Grey said and then he noticed the drops of blood on the snow behind the dog as far as he could see.

“You’ve cut yourself,” he said as if the dog understood.

He carried Koachan inside and put her near the still warm fireplace while he retrieved an old handkerchief and examined her paws, brushed them off and tied it around the one that was injured. Then he offered Koachan some scraps of meat while he got changed.

Koachan didn’t eat anything though, instead she stood facing the door as if wanting to be outside again.

Grey put on his coat and woolen hat and trudged outside, to split some firewood so he could start cooking some breakfast, when Koachan surprised him by tugging on his pant leg and jumping around in circles.

“What is it? You’re acting out of sorts today.”

The dog unleashed a howl that nearly made his hairs stand on end. Grey looked around, almost half wondering if some lynx or other creatures were now going to venture out of the woods. This was only his second week being up in this desolate cabin, as far north as he ever wanted to be.

Grey strapped on his snowshoes as Koachan trotted off in front, carefully planting her feet in the same tracks as before, pausing every so often to turn around and wait for Grey.

Suddenly, the dog halted.

Grey opened his mouth to say something but the words didn’t come. He looked at the dog and then at the body lying face down in the snow, his arms and legs splayed out. The man was dressed in well worn clothes, his head partially obscured by a heavy red scarf.

Turning him over, Grey wondered what it was that had killed the man and what was he doing over here. He recognized him immediately. It was McCleough, one of the trappers Grey had come across when he first arrived at Telegraph Creek. He’d been shot through the back of his coat by the looks of things.

After looking around, Grey noticed the lack of footprints. Someone had taken McCleough’s snowshoes in the process and his gun too. About ten feet away, Grey saw an empty sack with a few contents still strewn about, a plug of chewing tobacco and some playing cards.

Koachan approached the sack, sniffing as she did so. Then without warning, she started off in the direction of the bluffs that rose up from the Stikine River and onto a well worn trail.

As they kept climbing upwards, Grey grew increasingly concerned. He hadn’t brought adequate provisions for a hike like this and the sky was omniously dark with large inky clouds hanging overhead. With every step, the trail seemed to shrink in width to the point where it was barely wide enough for his snowshoe. In the distance, he could see Stone sheep on the other side of the river; white dots against the grey stone of the canyon walls.

Koachan slowed down until she was just a few feet ahead, all black except for the red handkerchief that stood out like a dot against the snow as she plod along as confidentally as a pack horse.

Just when it looked as though the trail was going to disappear into the sky beyond, the trail curved to the right and there was a plateau.

Here Koachan stayed perfectly still and Grey could see the footprints in the snow, some more deep than others. Another set of footprints came from the bush and seemed to collide with the first. At this point it was difficult to discern which footprints belonged to which person.

A few feet away, Koachan started digging at something in the snow.

“What do you have there?” Grey said as he walked over. Nudging the dog aside, he could see that someone had uncovered a leather sack that looked as though it had been partially buried. A cache.

Koachan whined until Grey pulled it out all the way. “There’s nothing left – oh wait, there is something.”

Grey felt the pouch and saw that it contained a set of keys, the kind that would be used for safes. This was both troubling and unusual. What would someone be doing with a set of keys like this?

He was debating what to do when snow began to fall. In a short time, all the tracks would be obliterated.

Grey picked up the leather pouch with the keys and put it in his pocket and looked carefully at the footprints that came from the bush.

Koachan stayed at his side as Grey followed the footprints towards the bush and around a boulder. Suddenly, Koachan tugged on his pantleg.

Around the corner came a man outfitted like a trapper with a thick coat and gloves wrapped around a gun. Grey crouched behind the rock, looking around the side and waited. His own service revolver was of no use from such a distance and he’d rather not alarm someone who looked so volatile.

The trapper kicked the ground as if in frustration. After a few minutes of loitering around, he left in the opposite direction. It was starting to snow now and Grey was getting cold.

Koachan held back as they made their way back along the trail from where they had come. Just as they were on flat ground again, less than a mile from the cabin, Koachan yelped. Grey turned around and saw the trapper coming up behind.

The man waved a friendly hello as he approached.

“I hear you’re the new constable,” he said.

Koachan growled.

Grey nodded, “Constable Grey.”

“Bad day to be heading out, the snow storm is coming on faster than I thought. Figured I could get the next sternwheeler to Wrangel.”

“The sternwheeler won’t be coming for another day or two. You could always try the inn. What’s your business here?”

“Just checking my lines.”

Grey stomped his feet. “I’d best be heading back. Good to meet you, Mister – ?”


Koachan’s tail was shaking like a squirrel’s and Grey wondered if she was just getting cold.

Grey started on his way again and Martin followed, asking him questions about the provincial police.

“I’ve got a cousin named Smithy in the force. Do you know him? Used to be in the Chilcotin for a while.”

Grey shook his head, they were almost at the door to the cabin and he was too famished to think of a better reply. Koachan, who had stayed at his side the whole time, promptly disappeared.

It was against policy to let in visitors, but Grey didn’t feel like eating by himself again so he invited the man inside.

Grey took off his coat and boots and was putting them aside when Martin hit him in the side of the head and he crashed to the floor.

Dazed, he saw through blurred vision that Martin was ripping through his coat and packsack. What did he want? The keys! He remembered suddenly.

Just as he was about to get up, Martin grabbed the leather pouch and ran out the door, leaving it wide open behind him.

A flash of black fur appeared suddenly from around the cabin and chased after Martin, climbing up his back and biting him until the man yelled and staggered.

Grey grabbed his truncheon and headed out with only his boots on, his feet sinking into the snow up to his knees with every step.

Martin wasn’t going anywhere. “Get that dog off me!” he yelled almost plaintively.

“You’re under arrest!” Grey replied and brought his truncheon down hard on the man’s head.

Days later, Grey learned that Martin had been wanted in Alaska for the robbery of a sternwheeler’s safe which was eventually found hidden along the Telegraph Trail. Both Martin and McCleough had been aboard that fateful journey.

Later that Spring, Grey made the trip to Fort Fraser and met the post commander who presented Grey with a letter of commendation and with it came a new job offer that held the promise of more money and prestige. Grey was reluctant to leave so soon though to the surprise of the commander.

“Think about it Grey,” he told the younger man as he stepped outside and onto the cool sunlit ground just beginning to thaw.

Grey lifted the moosehide sack and two black fox like ears poked up above the top as Koachan raised her head and looked dreamily around.

The disappearance of Aeaneas Dewar


This is a fictional story based on the true account of the disappearance of Aeaneas Dewar, a gold commissioner and the mysterious death of a Chinese miner known as Smart Alec.

Sometime during the early morning hours of a warm summer day, Hubert Cuthorn  spotted the gold commissioner’s horse wandering homeward with its saddle under the horse’s belly.

Cuthorn approached the horse and noticed its skittish behaviour at once. “What’ve ye done to Aeneas Dewar?” he said as he reached up and patted the horse.  Its ears were way back and Cuthorn could feel the sweat under his mane.  As Cuthorn pulled on the saddle to right it he was surprised to discover that it hadn’t come loose, it was cinched tight.  Whoever had done so had done it on purpose.

Cuthorn checked the saddlebags and found them completely empty.  Only a few papers remained but Cuthorn was unable to read any of them.

While a search party was underway for Aeneas Dewar, Ellis Pilcher arrived at the gold commissioner’s cabin by horseback two days later at the request of Mr. Lambly to retrieve any and all documents.  While he sent Cuthorn to retrieve the forms he had found in Dewar’s saddlebag, Pilcher looked around the cabin.  Pilcher noticed some nails on the floor and a couple of nearly empty glass bottles.  His clothes were carefully folded into a trunk at the foot of his bed but there were no forms, none whatsoever.

Once a month, the gold commissioner was sent to collect the poll tax from the Chinese miners along Pelandale Creek.  As straightforward as it sounded, it was a rather poor paying job and to supplement his income, Dewar also sold supplies to the miners including his own square toed boots that he had made himself.

Dewar was a former miner and when Pilcher first met him at the Cherry Hotel, he seemed like the solid sort of person who was well prepared for the conditions that he was about to face.

In the days that followed, Pilcher stopped and inquired at all of the miners cabins of which numbered seven and inquired as to the whereabouts of the gold commissioner, Aeneas Dewar.  All the Chinese miners were adamant that they had paid their dues and most if not all of them had kept their own records as proof that they had paid old Square Toes.

In the ravine behind cabin number seven Pilcher was told he would find a dead miner named Chi Wan Li.  He was lying there on his back as with a bottle next to his hand.  As Pilcher bent down to have a closer look, he saw that it was a small blue bottle as one would get from an apothecary.  The cabin itself was bare of anything except an overturned table and a token.

Pilcher picked up the token and saw that it was for the Cherry Hotel.  It had been renamed a few times since by subsequent owners but they still honoured the old tokens.    As the crow flied, the Cherry Hotel was about 80 miles from Pelandale Creek.  Pilcher slipped it into his pocket, curious at finding the token in the abode of someone who had probably never set foot in the Cherry Hotel.

There wasn’t much else he could do for the man except to give his permission for his remains to be transported back home to China.

The ghosts of the two men, one missing and one dead, kept him preoccupied for the remainder of the day as Pilcher rode his horse in the direction of the Cherry Hotel.  Too tired to ride any further, he settled down on a blanket on the ground, staring at the stars.  Soon he went to sleep and the image of the Chinese man wearing the square toed boots kept reappearing in his dreams.

Collins was standing behind the counter when Pilcher walked into the Cherry Creek Hotel.  Pilcher put the token onto the counter and shoved it towards him.

“Is this one of yours?”

Collins looked at it without picking it up.  “I reckon it is.”

Pilcher watched him in the mirror as Collins poured out some ale in a glass.  He detected perspiration on his bald head.

“What brings you around here?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.  What brought you around to the camp the other week?”

Collins frowned, “what do you mean?”

Pilcher watched him as Collins turned his back and started stacking some of the shot glasses.  His movements were stilted and he almost caught himself from dropping one of them.

“Cuthorn said you and Dewar went over to have some dinner with one of the miners.” Pilcher said.  What happened after that?  Did you have a game or something? When did you last see him?”

Collins turned around and started wiping one of the glasses with his apron.  “What is it that you’re after? Lambly sent you to collect the poll tax, did he?”

Pilcher narrowed his eyes.  The mention of Lambly made him down the rest of the ale and head out.

He was about to retrieve his horse when he caught sight of the barbershop down the way.

Joe was sharpening one of his razors when Pilcher walked into his shop and sat down on the chair.

“What do you think could have happened to Dewar?” Joe said.  Everyone knew Pilcher was sent by Lambly.

“Haven’t a clue.  Maybe he rode off with the poll tax money, I don’t know.”

Joe applied some greasy lather on Pilcher’s face. “Dewar?  He was too honest for that.  Besides, he always claimed to be so self sufficient he would have no need for money.”

Pilcher closed his eyes until Joe had finished with the shave.  Then he opened his eyes and looked at all the glass bottles in the window.  He couldn’t help but think how similar they looked to the bottle found next to the dead miner.

“Are those all empty?” Pilcher asked.

“They are.  I should just toss them out like most people but there’s always a use for them.  Dewar himself took a few empty ones, said he was going to get them filled up with something at the druggist.”

Pilcher thanked Joe and went across the street to meet the druggist, a bleary eyed man with an overgrown moustache.

There wasn’t much point in beating around the bush, nor was there any room. Besides, Pilcher figured the druggist wouldn’t balk at anything.

“Dewar came here with some empty bottles.  What did he have them filled with?”

“Strychnine.  He said he needed some for the rodents.”  Pilcher nodded in understanding, strychnine was a poison that was common in these parts.

As he left the druggist’s store, Pilcher thought about it and it didn’t make sense.  The dead Chinese miner, the missing gold commissioner and the dreaded poll tax payments all gone.

If the miner had committed suicide, who had taken the poll tax payments? Where and how had Dewar disappeared?

The more he thought about it, the more Pilcher was certain. Someone had something to gain from these turn of events.  He walked to the claims office and was told that ‘all the claims, past and present were sent to the capital.’

There was nothing Pilcher could do except follow the stagecoach to the capital.  First, he would have to inform Mr. Lambly.  Three days later, he rode into Enderby and informed Lambly who promptly fired him before Pilcher even had a chance to sit down and rest.

“I sent you to get the poll tax money. That’s what our contract was for!”

Pilcher turned his back on Lambly.  He wasn’t sure where he would go to next but he decided to ride to the next town.  There was no point in pursuing the mystery of Aeneas Dewar anymore, Pilcher would have to focus on trying to make his own money.  As it was Pilcher just had enough money to bunk in at the roadhouse.

Three weeks later, Collins hired some miners to work his claim; the one previously given to Chi Wan Li.  Dewar was never seen again.

On May 11, 1987 while working on a mining claim, a backhoe uncovered the remains of Aeneas Dewar, a gold commissioner, near Cherryville, British Columbia. The bones were located in an area under the confines of an old cabin that had once belonged to a Chinese miner. Dewar had been murdered.

Desert Sun: The Hippie

July 1972

Ed Ironmonger was close enough that he could smell the scent of fresh fish cooking intermixed with the smells of marijuana. From where he was hiding, there looked to be around fifty or sixty young men and women, some sitting and standing. Ironmonger wondered which one of the long haired guys with the loose togas was Cyril Lacourse.  The guy at the general store said he called himself Desert Sun.

It was almost sunset and it had taken him the better part of five years to track down Lacourse. Ironmonger was hot and tired but determined but he wasn’t going to do anything rash. He was going to get his share of the haul from the museum heist one way or another.  There were a few cottages scattered around the lake and he found a spot to pitch his tent where no one would notice. Or so he thought.

Ironmonger retraced his steps along the goat trail overlooking Mystery Lake below, the sun glinting off the blue water. Nice place for a hippie commune.

As Ironmonger was sliding down the bluff, Lacourse was sitting behind the wheel of his car leaving the village of Tetzla. Next to him was a young guy from Nebraska who had heard about the commune from another traveller.

“Whatever takes, as long as I’m heading north, I don’t care. As long as nobody knows who I am, it’s okay, right? It’s hot here too.”

Lacourse had heard similar stories before. Most of them were Americans, avoiding the draft to Vietnam.

The guy kept talking, relieved that someone had finally picked him up. He’d been walking for the better part of an hour, carrying a piece of cardboard on which he’d drawn the peace symbol and  ‘Mystery Lake’ above his head to prevent the heat from knocking him out.  His old metal canteen was half full of water that had become so hot it almost burned his lips every time he took a sip.

A half hour down the road, they picked up another hitch hiker. His name was Joe Raspberry, an elder of Six Arrows First Nation who was born and raised on the Mystery Lake Indian Reservation.

The two lane highway veered off and Lacourse followed a secondary gravel road.
“What’s going on?” The young guy sat up in the seat at the sight of  some natives  sitting on a couple of cars next to the road. One of them had a rifle but it was loose in his hands.

“They want to expropriate some of our land on the south end of the lake where the river comes in – it’s no good.” Raspberry said.

“What for?” The young guy asked.

“A gravel pit.”

The heat was almost creating the illusion of waves in the road. Lacourse rolled down his window as a tall man wearing a sweat soaked bandana approached. He said a few words to Raspberry and then told them they could proceed.

“You see those limestone cliffs?” Raspberry said a few miles down the road. “That’s what they want for making cement.”

The young guy lowered his head so he could look up at the cliffs, even then he couldn’t see the top. Lacourse said nothing, just made a few sounds of agreement.  Several miles down the road, Mystery Lake came into view with its various shades of blue contrasted with the green mountains.  It was an image that stopped conversation.

Lacourse slowed down when they got to a fork in the road, “I’ll drop you guys off here if that’s okay. I’ve got to drop something off down the road.”

The two of them got out and Lacourse drove on, his grip firm on the wheel despite the quiet. He’d heard the news when he gassed up in town. Another visitor in town, this one looking for someone named Cyril Lacourse. Lacourse knew it had to be Ironmonger, everyone else called him Desert Sun.

As he drove along the cottage road, he thought about the last time he had seen Ironmonger. It was 1964. The police were chasing after them and they were running. Lacourse was mad because in the middle of taking the items, Ironmonger had started arguing about how they were going to split the loot. It was a miracle they had both escaped without getting caught but Lacourse couldn’t trust Ironmonger ever again. In the middle of the night Lacourse took the stolen paintings from where they’d been cached and started a new life from there as a student.

As he came to the end of road, Lacourse did a u-turn then cut the engine. He listened despite his own heavy breathing. Pretty soon he started to hear sounds but they were all natural. He hadn’t seen a car parked anywhere but that didn’t mean to say Ironmonger hadn’t hidden it somewhere.

Lacourse knew all the names of the cottage owners, having come down on a regular basis last summer with different crafts and food to sell. It was in his nature to want to know everything about someone. Normally, they would’ve all been here by now but the blockade had kept them all away.

A flash of something yellow in the distance caught his attention. It was a canoe on the lake. Lacourse moved under the shade of a tree and squinted through the foliage. A man by himself, sticking close to shore, looking in his direction.

Lacourse backed up slowly. It was hard to tell if it was Ironmonger. A person could change a lot in eight years or not at all. He went back to his car and took the gun out from under his seat. Then he walked back towards the water.

Constable Naomi Clearwater of the Six Arrows Tribal Police, turned down off the gravel road onto the cottage loop road. It was eerily quiet without anybody at the cottages. No water skiers or fishing boats. Just quiet.

She parked her truck at Stan’s Lodge. He was there sitting on the porch with a glass in his hand and gave a half-hearted wave as she approached.

“I hope you’re not going to ask how business is,” he said. “But it’ll surprise you to know that I rented a canoe today.”


“Better than good. He’s renting it for a couple of days. Willing to pay cash up front, more than the damn thing is worth. Doesn’t look like he knows how to paddle but I told him he’s got three days to learn anyway. Just hope he doesn’t sink it.” Stan laughed.

Clearwater smiled. “Is he staying here?”

“Said he’s staying at the Dodingham’s cabin. I’m pretty sure that’s the one he was referring to – says he’s a friend of the family.”

Clearwater wished him well and walked back to the truck. The Dodinghams weren’t regular visitors at Mystery Lake but it wouldn’t hurt to check things out. She could see the fresh tire marks on the road ahead. Two distinct treads. Slowing down she radioed in her whereabouts to Wen at the band office that doubled as the dispatch.  Clearwater got him to write down the license plate of the car in the bush as she drove slowly past. Something wasn’t right, she told herself.

Tribal police weren’t allowed to carry guns but nothing prevented her from removing her hunting rifle and taking it with her.  She heard the creaking of a wharf as she approached. Hiding behind an aspen, she looked down the sloping driveway and saw a man pulling on something. The yellow canoe was there, tied up.

The wind started to gust, creating small waves. Clearwater jogged closer, careful that he wouldn’t see her. Coming around the other side of the cottage, Clearwater looked through one of the cabin windows and saw the blood seeping along the wooden slats of the dock as the man dragged a lifeless body closer to the boat.

As his arms were locked under the limp shoulders of a long haired man, Clearwater came around the cottage and surprised him.

“Drop it. Put your hands up above your head.”

He smiled at her as if she had made some sort of joke.  “Alright, I’ll drop it,” Ironmonger said as he slowly lowered Lacourse.

Suddenly he straightened and fired two shots from his handgun.  Clearwater was hit in the shoulder and the shock knocked her off balance. Tripping, she fell just as two bullets hit the boards behind her. With a splash Ironmonger jumped into the canoe and started paddling.

Still lying on her stomach, Clearwater raised her rifle to her good shoulder and took aim at the back end where he was sitting. She fired and watched the lake swallow the canoe.

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