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Clarion Call

Clarion Call

By Scriptorius

SUNSET STORIES : NUMBER ELEVEN

Clarion Call

Henry Burrows checked his appearance in the long mirror. Yes, he would do. Mid-brown hair well groomed, smart dark-blue jacket and trousers, white shirt, plain crimson tie and gleaming black shoes. Not that it mattered, as the meeting was informal. Still, it was as well to look good at all times. Of course, dress was only a part of the overall impression. The face was important too. And that was just right: clean-shaven, broad, a trifle florid, blue eyes radiating sincerity, overall expression mildly bonhomous. The deportment was perfect: stout, five-foot-eight body erect, bearing confident, movements unhurried, verging on the ponderous. All these things were big assets to a man in Burrows’ line of work. Plausibility was an essential tool for the confidence man.

The name also was complementary. It had been selected with care, calculated to sound solid and reassuring, and was far from the first the man had used since discarding his original one many years earlier. Not long ago, he had been Thomas Horton. That was in Colorado – a part of the world he had left hurriedly in circumstances he didn’t care to recall. Now it seemed like time to move on again. Perhaps he could stay where he was and continue to do well, but on balance it was better for a man in his business to change habitat frequently. A moving target is hard to hit and if a man stayed too long in one place he never knew what might happen.

Closing the wardrobe door, Burrows left the bedroom of his rented house and went downstairs to join his three partners in the living room. Although he had spent less than eighteen months in the High Plains community of Calooga, Burrows had become something of a socialite, cultivating the contacts pertinent to his trade and always affable in his dealings with everyone else. This evening, his visitors were Horace Lamb, Jack Benton and Elias Baldwin. Lamb ran the town’s only bank, Benton had a virtual monopoly of construction in the area and Baldwin’s general store was dominant in the retail sector.

The four men were business partners, though their association had been formalised elsewhere, when they had created a company at Rankin, forty-five miles north of Calooga. The declared aim of the new entity was to invest in real estate. So far it had done that on two occasions, in respect of which its quartet of executives had already seen handsome returns.

There was no gavel-banging at this or any other meeting of the company’s officers. Tonight’s get-together flowed from desultory conversation to a kind of order when Burrows asked his colleagues to take seats, after he had distributed French brandy and first-class cigars – nothing small-minded about mine host. He opened the discussion. “When we started this venture, we all knew we’d do well by way of . . . er . . . fees for our exertions, if for nothing else.” This brought chuckles all round.

“But,” Burrows continued, “I promised to come up with something a little more substantial. I think I’ve done that.”

“Spill it out, Henry,” said Benton, a rough fellow, not disposed to niceties.

“All in good time,” Burrows replied. “We have to consider others. Obviously, we’re all men of principle here” – more smiles – “and I must tell you that I have an informant whose incognito must be preserved.”

This was a strain for Benton, who preferred monosyllables. “Let’s hear it straight,” he grunted.

“So you shall. We accepted that I would be executive president and that any really big proposition would most likely be a land deal. It has taken time and I’ve had to call in a few favours, but I can now tell you that we’re in a position to clean up at once. However, if we do that, there might be a slight risk and my view is that we shouldn’t take any chances at all. If we wait a few days, we can push this through without hazard. There’ll be no way that anyone can touch us. However, my man is in a sensitive position and I’m not willing to endanger him. If you were in his situation, you would expect no less of me, and I hope you will understand that I would prefer that the details remain between this fellow and myself. So, immediately and there’s a possible hitch, or a matter of days and there’s none. The question is, are you willing to leave this to me?”

Burrows expected to get approval and he did. His three companions refrained from putting awkward questions. After the main – if somewhat vague – proceedings, more liquor went down, Burrows distributed further fine smokes and the atmosphere became euphoric. Present wellbeing did much to induce a sense of continuing prosperity.

Helen Verity was proprietor, compositor, printer and sole journalist of Calooga Valley’s press organ, the Clarion. Until two years earlier, she had been in the shadow of her father, who had presided over production of the newspaper. It was only after the passing on of John William Verity that people had realised the role Helen had played. For several years her father, a widower, had limited his work to the printing and distribution of the Clarion. During that period Helen had provided virtually all the material which so entertained the local populace. Whether it was news of births, deaths, marriages, arrivals, departures, knitting ideas, new goods or services, social and sporting events, or momentous occurrences from the world outside, nearly all the words had come from Helen Verity.

One of the mysteries in Calooga Valley was that Helen had never married. In an area short of women, there had been a fair supply of suitors. And there was no doubt about the desirability of the local newshound. She was five-foot-five, built in a way that was sure to attract the attention of the local males, had curly shoulder-length ginger hair, green eyes, a light sprinkling of freckles in a broad face, full of character, and an impressive fund of wit and humour – perhaps too much of the former for some potential swains. But it seemed that Helen Verity had a one-track mind. She was set upon keeping her business afloat and brooked no distraction.

Week in, week out, Helen toured the valley in her buggy, collecting items of interest. Often they were banal, but such was the lot of a journalist. Sometimes, the standard fare was spiced with news garnered from the railroad telegraph station at the northern end of the valley. Helen’s lot was a demanding one, requiring literacy and versatility, plus mental and physical stamina. Yet it was satisfying, giving her a good deal of scope for creativity and ensuring her independence.

The bell atop the street door of the Clarion’s premises tinkled. The proprietor, sitting at her desk at the rear of the office-cum-print room, looked up. Noting that the visitor was Edward Denny, she sighed, preparing herself for an irritating interview, which she intended to keep as short as possible. She had just started writing an article, and she hope that by keeping her pen poised she would convey to her far from welcome caller the message that she had little time.

Edward Denny was a pleasant enough fellow, twenty years of age, physically unremarkable and usually on good terms with most of the townspeople, but widely considered as not quite right in the head. In fact, he was not as deficient in that respect as commonly thought, but his view was that if people wished to regard him as a simpleton, they were welcome to do so.

Following the death of his mother four years earlier, Edward, who had no siblings, lived with his ailing father at the southern edge of town. His education had been rudimentary and a little tiresome for both him and his only teacher. Edward’s mental state, as perceived by others, precluded steady employment, so he made out as best he could, doing odd jobs for anyone who offered them. Even those chores sometimes proved difficult, as Edward was given to fits of forgetfulness and mind-wandering, often pausing for long periods midway through the most undemanding of tasks. Suspecting that he might be seeking work which she did not have to offer, Helen Verity did her best to appear even busier than she was.

Edward came forward diffidently, his hands twisting the brim of the old black hat he’d inherited from his father. “Morning, Miss Helen.”

“Good morning, Edward. Would you like to sit down?” She hoped he wouldn’t.

“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”

Having taken the only available chair, Edward sat for a long moment, looking at nothing in particular, apparently oblivious of the fact that the visit had been his idea. Even by his standards, that was odd. Helen was not the most patient of people. “Yes, Edward, was there something?”

Finally, young Denny gathered his thoughts. “Yes, ma’am. Do you think I’m crazy?”

Suppressing another sigh, Helen put down her pen and sat back. This was likely to take longer than she’d thought. “No, Edward, I don’t think you’re crazy. Why do you ask?”

Edward shuffled his feet, his knuckles whitening as he continued to savage the hat. “Well, I know what folks say about me.”

“What do they say?”

“Oh, maybe I don’t talk much, but I hear things all right. They say I ain’t normal an’ I’m below average.”

Helen passed a hand across her brow. “Edward, those words don’t mean much. Now, take average. If you have one man seven feet tall and one of three feet, their average is five feet, but neither of them is anywhere near that. Or take a genius and an idiot. You could say the average there is ordinary, but neither one is close to that. Do you see what I mean?”

It seemed like a struggle for Edward, but he got the point. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Very well. Now, as to normal. Is that how you’d consider me?”

“Uh . . . I guess so.”

“Well, I don’t. Let me tell you something, Edward. I’m thirty-seven years of age. I’ve heard that I’m considered not unattractive, yet I’ve rejected marriage proposals from three of the most eligible men in Calooga Valley. I work here alone, usually sixteen hours a day, six days a week and ten hours on the seventh day. In fact, I do nothing but work, eat and sleep. I haven’t been out of the valley for nearly twenty years. Would you call that normal?”

“Er . . . I don’t know. Maybe not.”

“All right. Now let’s think of, say, Mr Carswell. You know him?”

“Yes.”

“Right. So you’re aware that he’s a highly educated man, wealthy and well-connected, with no obvious problems. He shouldn’t have a care in the world. But he’s killing himself by drinking two bottles of cheap whiskey and smoking twenty of those vile cheroots every day. Do you think that’s normal?”

“I can’t say I do.”

“Good. Now think about Mr and Mrs Sloper, who live near you. Mondays to Saturdays, they behave like most people. Sundays, they are together in the same house all day and don’t speak a work to one another, on account of some belief they have. Does that strike you as normal?”

“Uh . . . uh . . . no, Miss Helen.”

“Very well. Now, in your case, sometimes you don’t think as quickly as some people and possibly not in such straight lines as they do. Does that make you any more abnormal than others?”

This was a new and refreshing idea to Edward. He wasn’t sure that he fully grasped what Helen was saying, but was comforted. “Well, I guess not, ma’am.”

“Then we’re clear so far, but I suppose that’s not why you came in here, is it?”

Edward had almost forgotten the purpose of his call. With a monumental effort, he pulled himself together. “No. There’s somethin’ else.”

“I don’t want to be impolite, Edward, but I’m up to my neck in work. What is it?”

“Well, first off, do you reckon it’s right for a man to tell about somethin’ secret he’s heard? I mean, could I tell you?”

“Edward, it is the duty of any citizen to report anything that might be for the public good. As for what you say to me, it’s what is called privileged information. It’s between you and me, just like what goes on between doctors, lawyers or priests and the people they talk to. What you have to say remains confidential to the two of us, unless you wish it to be otherwise.”

“Well, you know I get jobs here an’ there?”

“Yes.”

“This mornin’, I was workin’ for Mrs Lamb. You know her?”

“The banker’s wife. Yes, I know her.”

“Well, she asked me to chop some firewood an’ sweep out the yard.”

“And?”

“An’ there’s a shed built onto the store room at the back. Well, I did the wood, then looked for a broom. I went into the shed, which has a door outside to the yard an’ one inside to the store room, then at the inside end of the store room, there’s a another door to the dinin’ room.”

“I’ll take your word for that.”

“Well, I went into the outhouse an’ I couldn’t find the broom, so I opened the door to the store room an’ I noticed that the other door to the dinin’ room was a little bit open. I was goin’ to ask Mrs. Lamb for the broom when I heard them talkin’ in the dinin’ room.”

“Heard who talking, Edward?”

“Far as I could tell, there was three of ’em – Mrs Lamb, Mrs Benton, who’s married to the builder, and Mrs Baldwin, the storekeeper’s wife. They were talkin’ for a good while an’ I heard most of it.”

Helen Verity scented news. “Yes, I understand. Now, what did they say?” Edward’s recollection of detail was perfect and he told all.


The day after Edward Denny’s visit to the Clarion’s premises, Henry Burrows took the stagecoach north to Rankin. Shortly afterwards, the heavens fell, at least locally. Helen Verity changed the habits of two decades, when she prepared her buggy and departed, leaving a message with a neighbour and a note on the office door, stating that she would be absent for a few days and that that week’s issue of the Clarion would be combined with the one for the following week.

Helen was as good as her word, returning in the evening, eight days later. She paid a brief visit to her one and only confidante to assimilate the latest gossip, two items of which were of special interest. One was the arrival, a day earlier, of a hard-looking stranger who wore a six-gun, thonged to his right thigh. The other was the sudden disappearance of Edward Denny, who had vanished shortly after his visit to Helen. Perhaps because of relief of having spoken with her, he had called at a saloon, where he took a couple of beers more than his usual ration. His tongue had loosened, and among his audience had been a loyal employee of the construction boss, Jack Benton.

It was a thoughtful Helen Verity who returned to the Clarion office following the visit to her friend. Calooga’s newspaper chief was a woman who could put two and two together as well as anyone. She knew instinctively what was afoot. Leaving the office in darkness, she went to her bedroom and wrote a letter to the town’s only lawyer, Joseph Curry, then retired for the night.

Early the following morning, the indefatigable scribe was on her way north yet again, but not before she had rousted Curry from his bed, handing him a small package. That was a Wednesday. This time, Helen was absent until late on the Thursday evening. When she got back, the town was largely quiet and dark, the only noise and most of the light coming from the saloons. This was February and a biting wind discouraged unnecessary outdoor activity. Most people had settled for an early night, but that wasn’t Helen Verity’s way. She lit the lamps and the stove in the Clarion’s office, made coffee then sat at her desk. She had been there barely ten minutes when the doorbell sounded. A man came in, black-clad from head to foot.

The caller, seemingly in no hurry, pulled down the blind over the door, did the same with the one covering the window, then stepped forwards. “You Helen Verity?” he asked, in a flat tone.

“Yes,” Helen replied. “I was wondering when you’d come.”

“That’s funny. You don’t know me.”

“Oh, I don’t mean you personally, just someone of your kind. After all, you are a hired killer, aren’t you? What are they paying you for this one?”

“Five hundred dollars.”

“I’m disappointed. Considering what’s at stake, I’d imagined I would be worth more.”

Helen had indeed been expecting this call. To some extent she was prepared, having loaded her father’s old revolver, now in the right-hand drawer of her desk. She was a brave, resourceful, self-reliant woman, satisfied that she had done all she could in the circumstances and unwilling to enlist any further help than she already had summoned. But she was not familiar with the blinding speed and totally dispassionate attitude of men like her visitor. As her hand moved to the drawer, the man flipped out his gun and shot her through the heart, with no more compunction than he would have had in dealing with a rattlesnake.

As the chair and its occupant crashed to the floor, the man began a leisurely inspection of the office. He didn’t bother to examine the body – he’d done this sort of work before. To his mild surprise, he didn’t discover what he had expected – proofs of the Clarion’s latest edition, or at least the prepared printing blocks. There was just blank paper and the typesetting boxes were in their neutral positions. Still, there was no point in taking chances. He had been paid for the job and he would do it right. He gathered up the metals and tossed them into the stove. Maybe they wouldn’t melt, but they would surely be defaced. Then he took the sheets of paper and tore them into quarters. He wasn’t concerned about the gunshot. If anyone came to investigate, that would be too bad for them. Satisfied, he dowsed the lights and left.

Horace Lamb, Jack Benton and Elias Baldwin met the morning after the murder of Helen Verity. Outwardly, they were as horrified as anyone else in Calooga Valley. Among themselves, the mood was quite different. Lamb voiced the sentiments of all of them. “Just in time, boys,” he said. “That woman could have caused a lot of trouble. Now she’s gone – and that damned paper with her.”

Baldwin nodded. “You paid the man, Horace?”

“Yes. I don’t think we need to concern ourselves further with our . . . er . . . violent friend. He did his work well.”

“Good,” said Baldwin, “And nobody’s going to hear any more from the village idiot.”

“No,” said Lamb. “I fear Mr. Denny is no longer available to testify to anything. May he rest in peace. We had to pay for that, too.”

“What about Burrows?” asked Benton. “Where’s he?”

Lamb was accustomed to presenting a suave front, but he was more than slightly perturbed at the non-appearance of Henry Burrows. “Good point,” he said. “He was due back here three days ago. To tell you the truth, I’m just a wee bit concerned. He said he was connected with some fellow and I’m beginning to wonder what the two of them are up to.”

At the same time as the three men were talking, lawyer Joseph Curry was studying the document he had retrieved from his safe. There was a large envelope with, on the front, a message from Helen Verity, authorising Curry to make use of the enclosures in the event of any mishap to the Clarion’s boss. Having received the shocking news of Helen’s murder, Curry opened the envelope and read the letter he found inside. With it was a sheaf of currency – a thousand dollars in all. A quarter of this was Curry’s fee for carrying out Helen’s instructions. The remaining seven hundred and fifty dollars were to be conveyed to Rankin with all speed. Curry, being an honourable man, left town within the hour.


Throughout Saturday and – unusually – Sunday, there was high excitement in the valley. Having started out southwards on the Friday evening, accompanied by a group of youngsters, Andrew Philips, editor of the Rankin Journal and friend of Helen Verity, set out to do that for which he had been handed seven-hundred and fifty dollars by lawyer Joseph Curry. As he shared the deceased Clarion owner’s views, Philips would have done it anyway, payment or not.

By midday on the Sunday, almost everyone in Calooga Valley had received – for once, gratis – a copy of the double edition of the Clarion. The material was scant and mostly in the usual mundane vein. However, all that was overshadowed by the front page special, written by the Clarion’s proprietor, two days before her death. As always in her reports, Helen had used the ‘we’ form, though everybody knew that she was responsible for every word in the paper.

When banker Horace Lamb received his copy, it shattered his Sunday morning languor. He had been quite sure that the Clarion would not appear. In that, he had been confounded by Helen Verity’s arrangement with the Rankin Journal’s chief, for printing and distribution of the Calooga Valley Clarion in the event of the indisposition of its owner.

Ashen-faced, Horace Lamb went through the lead article a second time. It was no more comforting than at the first perusal. He read:

CLARION CALL

We apologise for the gap in production of the Clarion last week. As readers may surmise, there is a reason, this being that we have tidings of some consequence to residents of the Calooga Valley.

Until quite recently, this area was a relatively uneventful backwater. Your current editor and the preceding one have tried to inform and entertain you. Seldom have we had reason to emphasise any great issue, especially one of a scandalous nature. Regrettably, we must now do so.

Three years ago, our affairs were transformed by copper mining. Previously, we had been in a state of quietude. Then our lives changed, not least in the monetary sense. Once, a dollar was a tidy sum. Now it is less so. Who has benefited from this? Most of us have. However, inevitably, some have fared better than others. Let us examine the position.

We would remind readers that our bank is constituted on the mutual basis, meaning that it is owned by its members. Nowadays, investors receive an interest rate of three per cent, while borrowers are required to pay nine per cent, so the difference is six per cent.

This newspaper has made extensive inquiries of banks elsewhere, in order to establish the running costs of a normal one-branch mutual bank. The figures vary, but including a modest amount set aside to maintain reserves, is rarely over two and a half per cent of average assets. Everything else should accrue to the members by way of deposit returns, loan rates or some combination of the two. Therefore, one would expect the gap between those rates to be around two and a half per cent. As we have said, they are six per cent. What has happened to the remaining three and a half per cent? As a result of information received, we are able to tell you.

Our local bank’s financial year ends on December 31st. and there is little constraint upon the institution during the year. So long as it accounts correctly at the year-end, it can do more or less what it likes in the interim. It is required that the annual accounts appear by March 1, following each year-end. The average assets of our bank for the last three years or so have been around $800,000 and three and a half per cent of that figure is $28,000.

We cannot be precise to the penny, but It is now February and a little over a year ago – on January 1, to be exact – the bank transferred from its accounts the sum of $30,000. It did the same again on December 31st. last year. Not content with that, it did so once more on January 4th. This year. That is three times in the space of a year and four days – though technically, the three transactions took place in two separate financial years.

Where did this money go? It went to a mysterious body called the Okanga Basin Company. If you search for the Okanga Basin on your maps, you will do so in vain. The company in question originated in Rankin, north of Calooga Town and the formalities were handled by the local lawyer, James Goodman. Why this was necessary will emerge below. Readers will appreciate that we have a respectable lawyer here in Calooga.

The Okanga Basin Company (OBC) was formed legally, its purpose being to invest in real estate in a manner determined by its officers. To be brief, a total of $90,000 was passed from the Calooga bank to the OBC in the space of just over one year. So what has become of these funds? The Clarion can tell you. A total of $10,000 was paid to the officers of the OBC, in return for which no work of benefit to our community has been done. Of course, they don’t call this money wages, or even salaries. Such terms are too coarse. They are called ‘emoluments’. Sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?

What of the rest? Well, $40,000 was used to fund the acquisition and maintenance of two buildings. One, known as the Rocky Mountain Retreat, is near Denver. The other, a little way outside Laramie, is called the Plains Parlour. If you ask the relevant local authorities, you will be told that these places are recreational establishments. In fact they are dens of gambling and prostitution, producing at the last count profits of $30,000 for their owners. And who are these owners? They are the officers of the Okanga Basin Company – Horace Lamb, Jack Benton and Elias Baldwin, long-time stalwarts of Calooga Town, plus one of our more recent residents, Henry Burrows, and Rankin lawyer James Goodman.

How about the other $40,000 of the original funds? Here, matters become even more blatant. A few days ago, James Goodman disappeared eastwards. With him went $35,000 of the OBC’s money. At about the same time, Mr. Henry Burrows, late (we fear) of Calooga Valley, also vanished, along with the remaining $35,000 of OBC funds. Evidently these two gentlemen had their own plans, independent of those with their partners.

So there you have it. In just over a year, a total of $90,000, which should have accrued to you, as nominal owners of our local bank, was transferred to the Okanga Basin Company. Of this sum, $10,000 was paid to the OBC officers, in return for no service to you. A further $40,000 was used to buy two places of ill-repute. The profits of $30,000 from these establishments and the final $40,000 have disappeared, with advantage to Messrs Lamb, Goodman, Benton, Baldwin and Burrows, especially, it would seem, Goodman and Burrows. That is one Lamb, though not, you might think, to the slaughter, one Goodman, somewhat ironically named, many may feel, plus a Benton (or is it Bent’un?), a Baldwin and a Burrows. Three ‘Bs’ – you will no doubt interpret that to taste.

Lest the gentlemen named above should feign outrage, we would remind them of the libel laws in this country, which differ from those in some lands. Strictly speaking, we are not required to substantiate our words, though we are ready, willing and able to do so. It devolves upon the men in question to demonstrate not only that our report is untrue, but that it has malicious intent. They will have a hard time trying.

We have reason to believe that an attempt will be made to prevent publication of these words, so have taken steps to counter any such effort. Come what may, this edition of the Calooga Valley Clarion will appear. Our sincere thanks to readers for continued support.


The events following the murder of Helen Verity were not reported by the Calooga Valley Clarion, of which no further edition appeared. However, the position was monitored by the owner of the Rankin Journal, who did his best to fill the void. He produced a series of articles over the following months, the last one recounting the killing of Helen Verity and its aftermath. The text is given below:

VERITY’S CURSE

We have been in print for twenty-four years, but never expected to bring such strange news as we have on this occasion. They say that there is nothing new under the sun, though readers may now wish to judge.

After the murder of our valued colleague, Helen Verity, former proprietor of the Calooga Valley Clarion, no legal proceedings took place, the reason being that no-one saw the act, other than the lady herself and the killer, who vanished at once. It is noteworthy that as the late Miss Verity would have been the chief witness in any enquiry concerning her allegations of banking impropriety, there was no action in that matter either. Admittedly, our law-enforcement machinery is overstretched, but it remains the hope of the Rankin Journal that this affair will be fully investigated.

Now to the astounding developments that followed the gunning down of Helen Verity on February fifteenth, this year. Two days later, unable to face his social collapse, former banker Horace Lamb, named in Miss Verity’s final article, abandoned his intended flight and hanged himself in a local barn. Less than a week after that, the ex-Rankin lawyer, James Goodman, perished. He had reached New York, planning to embark on a ship for England. Barely ten yards from the vessel, he was attacked by waterfront ruffians and robbed, receiving in the process a fatal knife-wound.

On the same day that Horace Lamb departed this life, Jack Benton and Elias Baldwin fled from Calooga Town, both leaving wives and children. Benton headed south, Baldwin northwest. Fearing pursuit, Benton avoided main routes. A month after leaving Calooga, he stayed overnight with a prospector in Colorado. Suspecting that his visitor was in funds, the man concerned laced Benson’s morning coffee with a drug, took his money, then threw him down an old mineshaft, where he died. Later, in his cups, the prospector admitted his misdeed and was dealt with appropriately.

Elias Baldwin reached Seattle and there, two months after Helen Verity’s murder, became involved in a high-stakes poker game. He had the remarkable experience of being dealt a straight flush, the odds against this being over sixty thousand to one. With a pot of nineteen hundred dollars his for the taking, he was apparently overcome by excitement, perhaps compounded by his earlier exertions. He collapsed across his cards, dead of a heart attack.

A week after Baldwin’s demise, a man named Jack Vance, subsequently identified as Helen Verity’s murderer, was killed in a street gunfight in South Dakota. He was called out by a youth of seventeen and, anticipating another notch on his weapon, was shot in the back by the young fellow’s concealed accomplice.

Until a few days ago, we were disposed to consider Vance’s death as the end of the matter. One of the parties Helen Verity had accused in her famous revelatory article seemed to have disappeared, but we accepted that fate sometimes writes untidy scripts. However, we were to be as amazed as most readers undoubtedly will be, when what was surely the final and perhaps strangest act of this tragic sequence occurred.

On Thursday of last week, a man using the name Hubert Green was in a boarding house north of the border in Calgary, Alberta, about to keep an appointment with a local bank manager to whom he had promised a large deposit. On hearing a gunshot, the landlady rushed to the man’s bedroom, finding him lying on the floor, bleeding. On his bed was an open valise containing $35,000 in US currency. He was able to gasp that he had been loading a newly acquired handgun – his first firearm – when the weapon went off, causing a wound from which he died within minutes. Despite changing his identity, he had been imprudent enough to carry documentation confirming that he was none other than Henry Burrows, late of Calooga Town.

This newspaper does not make a habit of invoking the supernatural, but the chain of events described above is as odd as any we are ever likely to hear of. Within three months of Helen Verity’s murder, every conspirator in the matter died, all of them in extraordinary circumstances. Divine intervention, or a most astonishing example of poetic justice? Readers will decide for themselves.

* * *

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