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The Very First Detective: The Killing Stone
About the Author: Nik served in the Royal Navy. He has been writing for over 40 years; he sold his first short story in 1971 and over 100 since, plus many articles, cartoons and illustrations. He sold his first book in 2007. His latest books are Continuity Girl and Mission: Khyber. Many of his short stories have been collected in a series of themed books. He lives in Spain with his wife Jennifer.

Being a translation of a series of controversial prehistoric paintings on stone tablets recently discovered in a secret cave complex in the Pyrenees.1

Wailing and the gnashing of teeth went out from the side of the river as I strolled the bankside with my old friend. In a trice, Olmes took in the scene and shouted, “Do not touch a thing!”

Although eight or nine summers older than I, he was decidedly sprightly, his deerskin robe billowing out behind him. My bones ached as I lumbered down the earthy slope in his wake, aggravated by my battle-wounded leg. I found it quite difficult to negotiate the jumble of large pebbles in my thin hide sandals.

The washerwomen stepped back to let us both pass.

Sprawled on the ground was Mus, a young man of our clan. I knelt down by his head, which had been bashed repeatedly with something heavy and blunt. “He’s dead,” I said. I should know, as I was the clan’s medicine man. Beside him were the remains of a fire encircled by blackened stones. I recalled that Mus was on watch duty last night. Not so long ago in the counting of our ancestors’ days, it would have been a great sin to let a fire go out. But that was before Festus brought firemaking to our clan with the aid of my lifelong friend. Now, at least two clansmen are entrusted with the special stone that creates sparks on flint.2

“There’s the weapon,” Olmes said, pointing.

Indeed, one of the stones from the hearth lay close by, a side stained by blood. I reached out for it but Olmes said, “Nobody is to touch that stone just yet.”

Olmes’s face was long and drawn, without any chin hair, unlike myself. I regularly used a flint knife to trim my chin’s growth; I have never noticed Olmes resort to such an implement. He would not divulge how he remained so clean-shaven. The nostrils of his beaked nose tended to flare whenever he was about to arrive at some discovery. His body was gaunt and wiry, while I am prone to carry more weight than was good for me, or so my woman berated me.

His dark eyes narrowed and he looked at each washerwoman in turn. “Who found the body?”

“I did, Olmes,” said L’Parr, a woman of pleasing appearance in white wolfskins and a girdle of fox teeth. Her eyes were tear-filled. “I was to be given to Mus at the next full moon,” she explained.

“You have my condolences, L’Parr,” I said.

“Thank you, Otsun,” she said.

“When did you last see Mus,” Olmes asked her.

“At the feast, just before he left to relieve Mar’ti on watch duty.” Her face crumpled. “Who would do such a thing?”

She had a point. We were a small community, numbering forty-six, so every single person was important to us. Our chief, L’Strad says that in numbers there is strength.

“I have my suspicions,” Olmes said and removed a square of hide from a pocket in his furs. Carefully, he enveloped the killing stone in the hide and carried it carefully as we walked away from the river.

“Leave Mus for now,” I told the women. They nodded docilely and made their way further downriver to complete their washing chores. “I will arrange for the burial ritual.”

“If you must,” Olmes said sourly as we climbed up towards the cave of our clan.

Our community has lived in this big cavern for as far back as memory can go. Our memories have been passed on by word of mouth, handed down generation to generation. I do not trust this way of preserving what has gone before. I have devised this means of putting my thoughts into pictures on these stone tablets in the hope they will be understood long after I have joined my ancestors. In much the same way, Olmes keeps track of the days, seasons and moon phases by marking dots and lines on a number of long bones.3

Olmes is our clan’s inventor and thinker, and highly revered for his skills. It was he who developed the spear-thrower. Until then, a spear was only as good as the man throwing it. Now, the thrower can exert more force and accuracy and the spear can cover greater distance. Olmes said it seemed a simple idea to him, based on a fulcrum, whatever that is.4

This story appears in our OCT 2018 Issue
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