Ah, yes. A regular Dupin, that one. A certified Cuff. Strolled into town with nothing but a sunny disposition and a worn business card that he keenly withdrew into his coat as soon as the mayor got a look at it. We concluded he only had the one card on his person and, to keep sidetracking to a minimum, we found that to be the truth not a week later.
Georges Armadale—such was the moniker he proclaimed before the Copperopolis city council—was a former police detective out of Sacramento, riding the tides of fate until he beached upon his vouchsafed shoreline.
Such were the circumstances under which Armadale arrived in the autumn of 1899, having heard of our rather unique situation from a Turlock-bound trader at the covered bridge.
“I can tell you this much,” said Armadale, “the sheriff and his deputies are ill-equipped for such a challenge as the one your town faces. After having seen the brand of criminality in places like Sacramento, Modesto, San Francisco, this is a new kind of beast, born in the cities, that has now seen fit to test your borders.”
He received a unified gasp from the council. In the back, Jonah Marks followed it all up with a pained, “Oh, no!”
“And gasp you should,” said Armadale, removing his hat. “Many’s the time I’ve arrived upon a scene, blood painted across the walls in a style fit for the Loo-vree Museum, entrails removed and stuffed into mason jars, faces removed and stitched into quilts. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the type of animal that hounds your gates, and will continue to hound them should you spare the rod I bring in tow.”
“How did ye get out here?” asked Mr. Broley.
“How did ye get out here? Ain’t no train today, ain’t no carriage. Where’s yer horse?”
“I brought no horse.”
“I am not, sir.”
“ ’Bout near thirty miles to Knight’s Ferry. It would take the day a horseback, a few days a foot. Them shoes a yers ain’t much acquainted with the road.”
“The means by which I conveyed myself to your town are hardly so interesting as to detail.”
“But them shoes—”
“I offer my services at the rate of ten dollars a day,” said Armadale. He was just clear of the mayor’s surprised reaction: spitting out his water into a fine mist. “For that, you will have your killer before the week’s end.”
“Why can’t ye get ’im now? Save us some money.”
“Investigation and detection are required to assail this menace.”
“Yes, both. Would that you could skip the sowing and the watering and skip right to the harvesting, but such is the road we must walk.”
That analogy was received more agreeably by the townsfolk, though most of the men in town were miners or ranchers, not farmers. Barely a straight line in the valley to plant anything substantial beyond dynamite.
Armadale replaced his hat. “Shall we look to the crime scene?”
We hadn’t agreed to any terms during the meeting, but no one saw fit to mention that as he marched from the building, down the steps and out past the armory. The crowd dispersed from there, though the mayor, Jonah Marks, Linda Morris, Eve McCoy, and myself followed him up to the Congregational Church where a Calaveras sheriff and his two deputies were still perched on the steps.
“The H--- is all this?” The sheriff ducked his head a bit and grimaced as if he expected the Lord Hisself to take a swing at him. “Apologies.”
“Really, Sheriff? Blasphemies on the church steps?” said the mayor.
“Beg yer pardon.”
“You had best visit the bishop before the ride back.”
“Apol—It’s just the heat, is all. Got more water than shade.”
“Sheriff, this is Mr. Georges Armadale, a police detective out of Sacramento.”
Armadale removed his hat again and held out a hand. “A pleasure.”
The sheriff looked down at the proffered hand, then past the detective to the mayor. “Apparently po-lice detectives travel faster than rumor. How the—?” He ducked his head again, flinched. “How did word of the murder reach a Sacramenty detective barely three hours after it happened?”
“It was coincidence and circumstance, I assure you,” said Armadale.