“As we found him, so we left him.”

“Why?”

“He does not belong to us. He belongs to Outiko.”

“Outiko killed him.”

“Eha.”

“Flayed the skin from his bones, impaled him upon a tree, and did this.” The monstrumologist dug into his rucksack and removed the organ that had once animated Pierre Larose. Sergeant Hawk gasped; he didn’t know Warthrop had kept it. Calmly our host accepted the macabre offering, cradling it in his gnarled hands as he studied it in the firelight.

“You should not have done this,” he chided Warthrop. “Wi-htikow will be angry.”

“I don’t give a tinker’s damn if he’s angry,” said the doctor. He gestured impatiently to Hawk, who had hesitated to translate the remark. Then he continued in a voice tight with indignation. “It is none of my concern what really happened to Pierre Larose. That is a matter for Sergeant Hawk and his superiors. I have come for my friend. Larose took him into the bush, and only Larose came out again.”

“We do not take what belongs to Wi-htikow,” said the shaman. “Did you leave the rest for him?”

“No,” replied Hawk. “We buried the rest.”

Fiddler shook his head, dismayed. “Namoya, say you did not.”

“Where is John Chanler?” persisted my master. “Does he belong to Wi-htikow as well?”

“I am ogimaa. If you are ogimaa, as Jonathan Hawk has told me, you understand. I must protect my people.”

“Then, you do know where he is?”

“I will tell you, monstrumologist Warthrop. Larose, he brings your friend to me. ‘He hunts Outiko,’ he says. And I tell your friend, ‘Outiko is not hunted; Outiko hunts. Do not look into the Yellow Eye, for if you look into the Yellow Eye, the Yellow Eye looks back at you.’ Your friend does not listen to my words. His atca’k is bent; it is crooked; it does not flow cleanly to misi-manito. They go anyway. They call to Outiko, but you do not call Outiko. Outiko calls you.

“I have seen this. I am ogimaa; I protect my people from the Yellow Eye. Your friend is not Iyiniwok. Do you understand, ogimaa Warthrop? Do my words reach your ears? In truth, I ask you: Does the fox raise the bear cub, or the caribou suckle the gray wolf?

“Outiko is old, as old as the bones of the earth; Outiko was before the first word was spoken. He has no name like Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow or Warthrop; ‘Outiko’ we have named him. His ways are not our ways. But our doom is his and his is ours, for when you wake on the morrow, will you say, ‘Since I have eaten last night, I need eat no more’? No! His hunger is our hunger, the hunger that is never satisfied.”

“Then, why leave him Larose to snack upon?” the doctor asked, and then he waved away his own question. “With all respect, Okimahkan, I have no desire to discuss the subtleties of your people’s animistic cosmology. My desire is far simpler. You either know what happened to John Chanler or you do not. If you do, I hope in the name of all human decency that you will share that information with me. If not, my business here is done.”

The ogimaa of the Sucker clan looked down at the lifeless heart in his hands.

“I will protect my people,” he said in English.

“Ah,” the monstrumologist said. He looked at Hawk. “I see.”

We were shown to a wigwam several hundred paces from Fiddler’s, a guesthouse of sorts—and a mansion compared to our quarters for the past two weeks, large enough for all three of us to sleep under one roof without rubbing against one another. The beds were made with fresh balsam boughs, and I swear no feather mattress could feel as soft or as comfortable after one has been marching double time through the wilderness; I was sorer and more tired than the most tender of tenderfoots. I fell upon my bower with a satisfied moan.

The doctor did not go to bed, but sat in the open doorway, hugging his knees and staring across the compound at the glow from our host’s abode.

“Do you think he’s lying?” asked Hawk, trying to draw Warthrop from his reverie.

“I think he isn’t telling everything he knows.”

“I could arrest him.”

“For what?”

“Suspicion of murder, Doctor.”

“What is your evidence?”

“You’ve been carrying it around in your rucksack.”

“He denies having anything to do with that, and neither the body nor the scene yielded anything to incriminate him.”

“Well, somebody killed the poor bastard. Within a day’s hike of this village, and in a way that no white man might do it.”

“Really, Sergeant? If you believe that, then you do not spend enough time around white men. I have found there is very little they’re incapable of.”

“You don’t understand, Dr. Warthrop. These people are savages. A man who boasts of killing his own people—boasts of it! Kills them to save them! Tell me what sort of person does that?”

“Well, Sergeant, the God of the Bible leaps immediately to mind. But I shan’t argue the point. What you do about Jack Fiddler is your business. Mine is discovering what happened to my friend.”

“He’s dead.”

“I’ve never had much doubt about that,” said Warthrop. “Still, our interview with the Okimahkan has raised the possibility . . .” He shook his head as if to chase away the thought.

“What? That Jack knows where he is?”

“Correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t it the practice of the ogimaa to isolate the victim of the Wendigo’s attack in the hope of ‘curing’ him? Are there not certain spells that must be recited, prayers and rituals and the like, before all hope is abandoned and the victim sacrificed?”

Hawk snorted. “Seems to me you’re clutching at straws, Doctor. He said it himself—he doesn’t care what happens to us. We’re not Iyiniwok.” He sneered the word.

“He would care if one of us endangered his tribe.”

“Right! So he strips off our skin and chops up our heart and sticks us on a pole in the middle of nowhere. No more troubles for the tribe. Larose is all the proof we need that Chanler’s dead.”

He threw himself onto the bed beside me. “Turn down your atca’k, Will,” he teased me. “It’s shining right in my eyes.” He glanced over at the doctor, who had not budged from his post.

“I’m quitting this godforsaken place at first light, Doctor, with or without you.”

Warthrop smiled wearily. “Then you had better get some rest, Sergeant.”

“You should too, sir,” I piped up. He looked twice as tired as I felt.

The monstrumologist nodded toward the orange glow flickering in the ogimaa’s wigwam.

“I’ll rest when he does,” he said softly.

NINE

“I Shall Carry Him”

I was awakened by someone roughly shaking my leg.

“Will Henry!” the doctor urgently whispered. “Snap to, Will Henry!”

I jerked upright, catching him unawares. Our foreheads smacked against each other in the dark, and he gave a soft involuntary cry of pain.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I muttered, but he had already turned away to roust Hawk, who lay snoring lustily beside me.

“Hawk! Sergeant! Get up!” Over his shoulder he growled, “Grab that rucksack, Will Henry, and the rifle. Hurry!”

“What happened?” I wondered aloud, but received no answer. Warthrop was busy trying to rouse our groggy companion. Through the doorway I saw a sliver of violet sky and the insubstantial gray landscape of dawn.

The doctor shoved a rifle into Hawk’s chest.

“What you are doing?” Hawk murmured.

“Clutching at straws, Sergeant. You said you wanted to leave at first light. I suggest you do so if you wish to remain in one piece,” Warthrop returned grimly. He threw Hawk’s rucksack at him and ducked out of the wigwam.

We scrambled outside. The doctor was already several feet ahead, trotting toward the water’s edge. A row of canoes lined the bank. Warthrop pulled the heavy rucksack from my hands and tossed it into the middle of a canoe, where it landed beside the prone body of a man, wrapped up in one of the clan’s blankets. Warthrop snatched the rifle from my hand and jabbed a finger toward the forward seat—Get in! Then he gave Hawk an impatient jab between the shoulders.

“Quickly, Sergeant!”

He waited until Hawk had plopped down before he pushed off, splashing for several lunging strides through the icy water before heaving himself on board. He dug in with his paddle. Hawk quickly followed suit, and soon we were sliding through the water with barely a sound. A loon exploded before the bow with an angry cry and took off across the lake, its wing tips caressing the glassy surface.

I looked down at the man whose head lay at my feet. Even in the dim light, I saw a face deathly pale and painfully thin. His eyes jerked beneath the closed lids, as if he were gripped by a feverish dream. I looked up at the doctor, who was looking past me toward our destination, the southern shore of Sandy Lake.

We had not reached the halfway point when our theft was discovered. Several men carrying what appeared to be rifles rushed to the water’s edge and leapt into canoes to give chase. Warthrop called for Hawk to quicken the pace, but the man needed no urging. He paddled furiously, glancing occasionally over his shoulder at our pursuers, who seemed to gain upon us with every expert stroke of their oars, their boats slicing through the water with the speed of downhill skaters, ghostlike in the thick morning mist. The doctor yanked the revolver from the pocket of his duster and tossed it into my lap, with the admonition that if I was forced to defend myself, I should make every effort not to shoot him in the head.

“We won’t make it,” gasped Hawk after a few frantic minutes. “Let’s turn here and make our stand.”

“I’d rather make it on a more substantial surface, Sergeant,” returned the doctor, pulling hard for air.

“They won’t dare hurt me. I’m a police officer, a duly deputized representative of the province! The whole village would hang.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’ll point that out to them right before they sink your bullet-ridden corpse to the bottom of the lake!”

The fog swirled around us, a gray shroud draped over the world, obliterating the canoes in our wake. To our left the rising sun was the palest of washed-out yellows. With no point of reference it was impossible to tell our speed or how far we had to go. The effect was unnerving to say the least—worse than hell, for even the souls in Charon’s boat could see the opposite shore!

“Please drop the barrel of that gun, Will Henry,” the doctor admonished. It was pointed directly at his chest. “And try to keep in mind that if we can’t see them, they cannot see us. They’re as blind in this soup as we are.”

“No, I’m a bit blinder, Doctor,” puffed Hawk. “They know what you’re up to.”

Warthrop did not respond. His gaze remained fixed over my shoulder, as if by virtue of the intensity of his stare he could part the mist and sight his goal.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com