THE TWISTED FATE OF CAMILLE POULIN
Many murders do baffle me as in why a man would murder another man, taking his life and able to live with that guilt for the rest of their born days. Over something like money, or a woman, or something trivial like a horse, a donkey or a piece of land. What make a man do such a thing to a fellow human? Is it bred in us since the dawning of time? Or is something pure evil within that person, something dark and forbidden that breaks through the surface, anger or jealousy that causes the person to lash out and murder their victim? The story I’m about to relate is about that: anger and jealousy, a mixture of two evils. Two of the deadliest sins.
My name is Harry Doyle. I’m a journalist for a small town newspaper but also I’m an amateur detective, a great reader of Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin. I like to try and solve crimes, fiction mostly but one crime, a real crime, came to hand. A crime with a twist. This, my dear friends, is the story I’m about to relate to you about the strange death of Camille Poulin.
It was the commotion outside on the street that drew my attention. I was breakfasting over an article I was composing when I heard shouting outside on the main street. I got up from the desk and took a look out of the window when I saw a man leading a packhorse with what looks to be a body slung over the saddle. Doctor Campbell, a Scotsman, came hurrying out of his surgery towards the horse. The man who was leading the horse stopped so Doctor Campbell can examine the stiff before pointing to the rear of the surgery. By this time I was out on my small verandah and crossing the snow filled street. Th wind blew in from the distance mountains; snow fluttered and started settling on my jacket as I cross the street. Doctor Campbell, a big red bearded Scotsman, saw me and nodded. He looked grimed as he stood there in his bear coat with snow powdering the collar and his hands dug deep into the pockets.
‘Who is it?’ I asked when I arrived by his side. I can see my breath in the fine morning air. Behind the buildings mist crowned the ice peaks of the mountains and snow casing the canopies of the firs that carpeted the mountain face. Campbell coughed gently and in a voice that sounded tired and a hint of sadness he spoke.
‘Camille Poulin, the fur trader,’ he replied in his thick Scots accent. ‘Found dead there while ago by Gerard Leblanc by the riverbank. Poor bugger, his throat was cut and was left for dead.’
‘Anything I can do?’ I asked. I knew it was a futile question but still needed to be asked.
‘Nae, not at the moment, boyo, except maybe pray for the poor bugger’s soul.’
I’ll do more than that, I thought inwardly, I’ll catch the bastard or bastards who did this. I watched Doctor Campbell enter his surgery before I headed back to my office.
You see, Camille Poulin was a well-liked character and he was also a good friend of mine. Over a few drinks we would share stories. I would share stories of my time in the American Civil War on the Union side as a reporter for the New Yorker and also on the Australian gold fields as a gold panner, and he would share his tales about his travels across Canada as a fur trader. He was born in France but came to Canada, the Eastern Seaboard, when he was just seventeen and became a fur trapper slash trader. Recently as I recalled he went in partnership with two brothers, Andre and Baptiste Girard, two shiftiest characters that walked the earth. I didn’t trust either of them as far as I could throw them, which isn’t very far. I have no idea where they came from or how Camille first met them but he somehow became friends with them and formed a partnership in fur trading. Andre, the eldest, had a bad reputation of being a bully, especially when he was drunk, which was almost all the time while his brother, Baptiste, was an abusive drunk who enjoyed fighting anyone who was weaker than him. The two brothers were hated throughout the town and surrounding villages. If there were anything fouler that walked this earth, it was those two.
I sat back in my chair, sipped my coffee as I thought more about the demise of Camille Poulin. I finished the coffee and went out in search of the man who brought Camille in. He was in the stables rubbing down the horses when he saw me. He was a small man with a pencil thin moustache, dark hair with matching dark eyes, sad eyes they were that seemed to have seen a lot in life. I’ve seen him around a fair bit but always by himself. He saw me and gave me a nod.
‘Monsieur Doyle,’ he said in a soft voice. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Monsieur Trembley,’ I answered back as I shook his hand. ‘May I speak to you?’
‘You are already speaking to me, Monsieur,’ he gave me a small smile. ‘But yes, you may.’
We found two seats and sat down facing each other. He poured some coffee and handed me one as he sat down. He took a leather pouch and looked at me. ‘You don’t mind?’
‘Please, go ahead, does not bother me. In fact, I might even join you,’ I answered.
He opened the pouch from the strings and poured a generous amount of tobacco out onto the rice paper then handed the pouch to me. ‘What do you want to speak about, Monsieur?’
‘About where you found Camille Poulin’s body,’ I handed the pouch back and accepted a light. ‘When and where?’
‘Ah, is this the scribbler asking or is it you the detective asking?’ He gave me that small smile again.
‘Both,’ I said, smiling. ‘Camille was a good friend of mine and I would like to know how he died and where he was found.’
Edouard Tremblay looked out at the falling snow, deep in thought. Smoke dribbling from his nose and forming a ghostly like mist in the stables. A small fire in the grate was keeping us both warm. He took the pot off the stove and filled our mugs up before replacing it back on the stovetop. He sighed.
‘I found Monsieur Poulin’s body by the riverside. It was strange, Monsieur Doyle. It was nowhere near where he and the brothers Girard would lay their traps. There are no beavers where I found him. It was strange. I was riding on the ridge when I saw something lying near the water edge. I made my way down and found a remain of a campsite. Strange part, Monsieur Doyle, was that there were no des oiseaux…um…birds. No birds. Nothing. Not even a bear. I found poor Camille lying there faced down. I turned him over and…’ he sighed and took a deep breath before continuing. ‘…And found he had his gorge sliced. His eyes were staring sightlessly, Monsieur. It was a sad sight.’
‘No one else around?’ It was a stupid question to ask but I had to ask. ‘I mean like no footprints? Hoof prints? What about his horses and trapping gear?’
‘Non,’ he said shaking his head. ‘Rien. Not even a shit from horses. His trapping gear I saw nothing off. Just poor Camille Poulin lying there at the water edge.’
I had my suspicions that it was the brothers but I can’t go around accusing someone. They might be…might be…innocent. I threw the remainder of the cigarette into the fire and stood up and shook Edouard’s hand. I went back out into the snowy day and made my way slowly to my office. Millions of thoughts rushing through my head like a train in the night. I was going to where Camille’s body was found. The mouth of hell.
‘Yer mad, boyo,’ Campbell said as he passed the glass of whiskey towards me. I told him about what Edouard told me and he shook his head. ‘Yer bloody mad. What if them two rascals, the Brothers Grim as I call them, are still lurking ‘bout? What if they catch yer unaware? Then what? Yer screwed that what, boyo. Think about it, Harry. I’ll git in contact with the Mounties, it their job, not yers. Fer Chris’sake, boyo, yer a bloody journalist not a bloody detective, not the way yer like tae think yer are.’
‘I’m doing it for Camille.’
‘Yer doin’ it fer yerself,’ he muttered. ‘Did Edouard tell yer exactly where he found Camille? Maybe yer should take him along with yer?’
‘I’ll get him to draw a mud map for me.’
‘What ‘bout the weather? It’s bloody minus twenty out there and yer freeze yer wee balls off.’
‘Leave my balls out of this,’ I grinned. ‘I’ll be fine, Jock. Nice of you to care about me.’
‘I wasn’t carin’ ‘bout yer. I was thinkin’ off havin’ to identify yer skinny wee body. Anyway, yer the luck of the devil. Survivin’ that war down South and the Australian gold fields as well. When are yer thinkin’ of leavin’?’
‘On the morrow,’ I replied.
‘Then better get yer gear ready. And God bless yer, boyo, yer gonna need it, ‘specially if them Girard bastards are still lurkin’ ‘bout.’
‘We don’t know if they did it, Jock.’
‘I’ll bet me granny wellingtons they’ve somethin’ to do with it.’
I left early the next day as the snow was coming in from the west bringing with it that cold wind that would tear the skin of a dead man…so to speak…Before I left, Campbell brought me into the surgery so I can have a last look at Camille’s stiff. He explained to me that whoever sliced the poor blighter’s throat did it with aggression. I noticed that the blade the killer used was a skinning knife. I frowned and leaned in a bit closer. Jock saw the expression on my face.
‘What’s wrong, Harry?’
‘The cut,’ I said pointing at it. ‘Notice it’s from the left?’
‘Meaning the killer is left handed and who do we know who’s left handed?’
‘Though doesn’t mean a thing but yes.’
‘The Girard Brothers murdered Camille,’ he exclaimed.
‘Maybe not,’ I said. ‘Who else we know who’s left handed?’
Campbell stared at me. ‘Me of course…hope yer not suggestin’ I killed Camille,’ his voice had a hard edge to it but I held my hands up.
‘Not suggesting anything, my old Scottish friend. I’m going to where the body was found and maybe away for a few days.’
He handed me a two bottles of whiskey. ‘Take care of yerself, boyo.’
‘As always,’ I smiled as I tucked the bottles into my saddlebag and left the surgery.
Throughout the day I rode my nag through the snow filled forest. Mist danced around me like ghostly lovers, chasing in and out the trees, now and then a white hare would appear before disappearing into the swirling mist. It was eerie traveling through that forest. The only sound was the horse’s hoofs crushing the virgin snow and the creaking of the branches from the weight of the snow. Now and then the high peaks above me would emerged from the firs majestically, towering over the plains before disappearing again among the mist and trees.
My mind was on Camille’s untimely demise. The cut on his throat was deep and I recall seeing how the blood froze from the dropping temperature. I have no idea how long poor Camille was lying there, alone by the river. Days, hours? Only the good Lord knows that answer. I stopped the horse and looked at the rough map Edouard drew up for me. I can hear the roaring of the river close by so I must be near the murder spot. I led the horse through the woods until we came to an embankment. The river was wild that afternoon. Water racing by, smashing against the rocks like fists pounding furiously in anger. I tied the horse near a silver birch and made my way down to where Camille was found dead.
It was a small beach that looked out over the raging river. I can see the other side surrounded by mist. Now and then ice would race by. I made my way along the shoreline until I came to the spot where Camille must have been found. I found a remnant of a fire and dried horseshit. I touched the ground and rubbed the dirt between my fingers before wiping my fingers on my trousers as I stood up. I suddenly heard snorting of a horse and swung around where I saw the ugly faces of the Girard brothers. They were seated on their horses, smiling evilly at me. Andre was the biggest. He was built like a brick outhouse with a dark beard covering his ugly face. His hair was dark and long with a beaver pelt hat perched on top, and he carried a Sharps 1867 Carbine rifle and had a Manhattan Navy tucked in his belt while the brother, who was equally just as ugly, had me covered with a Palmer 1865 model rifle. He too wore a beaver pelt cap with earflaps covering his big ears.
‘Why, look who it is, little frère,’ mocked Andre with a savage grin. ‘Why it’s the Scribbler…Doyle, wasn’t it?’ He hacked a spit and spat near my feet. I didn’t move. Their accent was strong, French-English. ‘What brings you here, Scribbler?’
‘Camille Poulin,’ I answered, hoping I didn’t sound frightened, which I was in a way. Behind me the river rumbled angrily as it smashed against the shoreline. I could feel the icy breeze from the water stroking my exposed neck like the fingers of death.
Andre looked puzzled, his left eyebrow cocked. ‘I non understand…Camille Poulin? What he got to do with you being here?’
It was the way in which he asked the question. It wasn’t asked in a mocking tone. It was asked as if he was baffled by what I said as if he didn’t understand it but I was still on my guard. I had to word what I was going to say next carefully or I’ll be joining Camille on a cloud plucking away at a harp.
‘Camille was found dead,’ I said warily. ‘His body was found near here with his…um…throat sliced.’
‘And you came here to?’
‘To investigate,’ I watched the reaction of the two brothers but detected nothing. Either they were bloody great actors or maybe they had nothing to do with Camille’s demise. Andre climbed off his horse but Baptiste still had me covered as his brother walked over towards me. He walked like a bear then stopped before me. I could smell dry sweat wafting from his unwashed body and wood smoke from his clothes. He had the rifle cradling in the crook of his arms. He towered over me and looked at me with them dark, bottomless eyes of his as if he exposing my soul for the world to see.
‘And you think that me and my frère murdered Camille Poulin?’ His voice thundered over the roaring river, bouncing off the cliff faces, echoing through the forest around us. It put the fear of God into my heart as he shoved the Carbine into my face. I squeezed my eyes tight but tried not to show fear, which was hard not to. ‘You insult me and my frère. Je m’en fou what you think of us but let me tell you, Petit homme, it is that tête rouge Filis de pute Scots man, the docteur you should be talking to. Ask him about where he was a few nights ago, eh?’ He spat near my feet.
I swallowed hard. ‘Why Doctor Campbell?’
Andre shoved his face near mine. I could smell the rottenness of his breath as it brushed against my skin as he spoke. ‘Because that homme has a dark secret. Camille stumbled upon that secret and Camp Bell killed him for it.’
‘And this…um…dark secret, what was it?’
‘He killed three women…he was an…what is that word of someone who kills fetus inside woman?’
‘An abortionist? Doctor Campbell is an abortionist? How did Camille stumble upon this?’
‘Because his sister was one of Camp Bell’s victims.’
‘Camille’s sister was…’
‘What?’ Andre looked at me in horror. ‘No, it was not his child. It was Camp Bell’s child. She was only seventeen when she was expecting the docteur’s child so he got rid of it and…killed her…Camille was heart broken. My frère and I wanted to kill Camp Bell for we knew Sabina. Beautiful Sabina. But Camille said he was confronting Camp Bell by himself. Baptiste and I decided we should leave area, go trapping and meet up with Camille here. Instead we meet you, Scribbler.’
I believed him for some reason. Campbell had been acting strangely. Especially yesterday morning when Camille’s body arrived. The body action I saw but took no notice. Out of the bag I took out one of the bottles of whiskey and handed it to Andre. He took it and nodded his thanks. ‘What are you going to do now, Doyle?’
‘Go back and confront Campbell myself,’ I replied.
‘Want us come back with you?’
I shook my head. ‘No, I should confront himself myself.’
He held out his hand. ‘Brave homme. I am sorry if we’d frightened you.’
I smiled. ‘I will have to change my long johns soon.’
The two men laughed and I gathered my things and climbed onto the horse but Andre walked over. ‘Maybe you stay the night?’
‘Better if I kept going, Andre. Take care.’
‘Oui, same with you, Petit homme. You will be our blood frère as you were Camille’s. He spoke highly of you, Scribbler, go and beard the filis de pute for us and for Camille and for Sabina.’
At that I rode off into the cold, swirling mist.
Campbell was standing on his porch when he saw me arriving early the following morning. He gave me a wave as I approached his surgery. I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic but I knew I had to play it carefully, play it by ear. I smiled and climbed off the horse and tied it up. He had his hand out and I shook it. It was like shaking hands with the devil himself.
‘How did it go?’ He asked as we entered the warmth of his office. A fire was blazing in the grate and a pot of coffee was sitting on the stovetop. He poured me a mug and handed it to him. I tried to read his body but guess I was tired so I sat down in the spare chair. ‘Did you find anything?’
‘Only a burnt out campfire,’ I replied. I didn’t want to alert him that I met the Girard brothers. ‘Not much else. Except it was bloody cold.’
‘Told yer, boyo, that it’ll freeze the bollocks off yer. Did yer manage to find them two brothers?’ A black look across his face.
‘No,’ I lied. ‘One thing I did remember while coming back. Camille had a sister, what was her name again? Sabina?’ I had to play my cards carefully. I saw something cross his eyes. ‘You knew her, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, I did,’ he said slowly. ‘What are yer implying, Doyle?’
‘Nothing,’ I said sweetly. ‘How well did you know Sabina?’
‘Well enough,’ again he said slowly. He placed his mug down on the table and folded his arms. ‘She was a beautiful young thing if that what you’re asking but I don’t see the point of this?’
I ignored the question. ‘Whatever happened to her?’
‘The blazes am I suppose to know that?’ He thundered, slapping his hands hard on the table. ‘She left town, that’s all I know.’
‘Calm down, Jock, calm down.’
‘Don’t tell me to bloody well calm down, damn yer eyes. Yer the one who’s askin’ these bloody questions. What are yer gettin’ at, Doyle?’
I decided to get to the point by pushing my luck. ‘Three young women vanished from here in the past three months. One was a young Blackfoot Indian, another was a young girl from another village and the other was Sabina, Camille’s sister,’ I really pushed the envelope here, ‘tell me about Sabina. How long were you bedding her?’
He shoved back his chair and stood up, pointing to the door. ‘Out, yer bastard! Out!’
I stay seated. ‘Is that guilt, Jock? Was it a few months before she fell pregnant to you? You tried to abort the child but killed her as well as the child. Same with the others? They were yours?’
‘Damn yer soul, Doyle,’ he pulled out a Navy Colt from the bottom drawer and had it pointed at my head. Twice in two days I had guns pulled out on me. He stood there with rage on his face. ‘Yeah, they were mine. I was screwing them girls and they fell pregnant to me. I had to rid them off them children. Think I was gonna support them, eh? I buried them out in the woods for the bears and the cougars and the wolves tae feast upon. Two were Indians. They won’t be missed and Sabina, ah dear Sabina, silly young girl she was. You know what young girls are like,’ he sneered at me, still with the Navy Colt aimed at my skull. Funny enough I didn’t feel fear. No life flashing before me kind of thing, just felt somewhat calm. I let him rave on. ‘Then she came tae me, like the other two silly hoors, saying that she was havin’ my child. I couldn’t have that. Not with my standin’ in town. Town’s doctor is an important position tae have. I couldn’t have a girl goin’ ‘round with me child. Imagine what the town elders would say, the council would strip me of my standing.
‘Yer know how long it bloody took me to get this far, Doyle? No yer wouldn’t because you’re just the journalist, a low rung on the society ladder. You just write for a yellow paper, a rag writer,’ he laughed at his description of me. ‘But I had a lot riding, my dear boy. An important standin’. I had tae git rid of the child and, of course, her. And I did. I thought I did a good job until Camille, the stupid bloody frog, came to town askin’ questions ‘bout Sabina. He knew, didn’t he? He knew so I had tae git rid of him so I did. Cut his throat down by the river. I arranged to meet him there and he waited. I crept up on him and cut his throat deep. Left him for the bears and wolves but that prick, Tremblay came into town with Camille’s body. I knew I was stuffed unless I blamed the Girard Brothers. Yer met them, did yer?’ I nodded.
He smiled cruelly. I thought my end was about to come as he stood staring at me with the Colt pointing at me then instead he turned the gun on himself. I had no chance as he shoved it into his mouth and pulled the trigger. The roar of the Colt deafened me and seeing Campbell’s skull exploding will haunt me for the rest of my born days. His body tumbled back as I stood mesmerized. I heard screaming and shouting outside and someone pushed the door open to find Campbell’s body lying on the floor and me still standing, blood spattered on my suit and face. Then my world went black.
I never did tell the full story until just then. I was at accused of murder but after a examination of Campbell’s body, it was seen as self inflected. I found where he buried Sabina’s body and made a marker for her grave. I had no idea where the other two were and nor did I learnt their names. I am now in my office writing this for my own journal. One day the truth will come out but at the moment is better it was kept secret. The two brothers I never saw again. They left the area and vanished into the great white wilderness. Wherever they are, hope they’re keeping themselves out of trouble. Me? I’ve still many more adventures ahead and still writing for the paper.