The room itself was spartan, though the bullet holes lent a more modern and macabre decor.
Hewn from one of the tunnels, the marks from shovels and pickaxes could still be identified in the room’s construction. It would have taken a lot of work from a lot of people, it being spacious enough to house three miners or god only knew how many Chinese people.
That one Chinaman had taken the room for himself spoke of high regard of respect or fear. But was it worth killing over?
The marshals Caine, Wilhem and Lightning entered, with Pinkerton Detective Lovelace close behind. John Henry Anderson, the mine’s foreman and his friend, Bill Boxer, hovered by the entrance along with the guards who had preserved the scene.
This was something Wilhem was grateful for. That and the cool conditions of the iron mine had done some minor thing for preserving the body itself. Still, it was vile odour that each lawman breathed and it may have been as much as for the smell as a sense of justice that had kept anyone from entering.
Wilhem began inspecting the body, a medical kit revealed in one of his chest components inside the iron armour. Lovelace watched in fascination, glancing away only to observe Caine checking for tracks or to listen to Lightning continue interrogating the foreman.
“Did the deceased have any friends?” Jack asked. “Anyone he hung around with?”
Anderson looked over at Boxer. The miner was boss of a mining crew, one of several bosses, and probably had seen more than the Foreman was allowed.
“Lotta people left him to himself. Did see two others that kept pretty close to him though.”
Wilhem was only paying half attention, his focus on the corpse. The body of Xuanzang was an impressive speciman. Very little fat on him and corded muscle that pulled tight with rigor mortis. Expected, Wilhem supposed, given the work, but it seemed that there had been more than back and shoulders at work.
“I zink ze victim vas a fighter. Profecient too” Wilhem announced
“Nimble fella, that’s for sure,” Caine replied. “That’s a whole lotta bullets just to get one guy.”
Lovelace looked at the walls and had to agree. There had to be a dozen holes littered in the room. “How many in the body?”
Wilhem continued his examination, muttering to himself as he made some notes. Finally he stood up.
“Four,” he announced. “Und only two of zhem vhere fatal. Ze others vould likely have slowed him down though.”
Jack turned from the miners. “That’s a whole lot of messy shootin’ for just one guy.”
“Agreed,” Wilhem responded. “Und ze bullets are from ze same calibre of gun, as vell.”
“He missed, reloaded and kept shooting?” Caine asked, his incredulity echoing about the stone room.
“Ain’t weren’t a break in the shootin’ marshal,” Boxer volunteered. “I told ya, it was like an army had opened up on him.”
“Agreed,” Wilhem replied. “Und it seems, given ze different scoring on ze bullets retrieved from ze late XuanZang, zhat zhere vere three different revolvers used.”
“Given the grouping of the bullets, it seemed the shooters had their work cut out for them, trying to aim,” Lovelace noted.
“Zhere is something else,” Wilhem added. “He vas in possession of zis!”
The Iron Marshal used one of his mechanical arms to offer a small bronze medallion. The writings on it’s octagon shape weren’t legible to anyone else in the room, so Wilhem translated.
“It is an icon ov religious significance. I suspect it may be Buddhism.”
The blank stares weren’t going away. Wilhem took advantage of the silence to ask another question.
“Herr Boxer, ze men in ze victim’s acquaintence. Vhere zhey built as hardy? Had there been displays of fighting from zhem?”
Boxer sucked in his breath in thought, and then coughed it out as the smell of the desceased hit his sinuses. “They looked pretty tough, marshal. I think I heard somethin’ about a couple of the boys givin’ them some trouble and then stoppin’ real sudden-like.”
“Indeed. I imagine zhen zhat zhey vere members of a fraternity or school. Perhaps in ze arts of fighting. I have heard of such places vhere oriental martial arts are practiced in conjunction vith religious scripture.”
“I’ve left plenty of people prayin after I hit em,” Caine said. “But I reckon we got a bead on one o’ the murderers. He was a midget!”
Blank stares where the only response he got. The Mountain Marshal continued.
“See them bullets,” he pointed to a grouping in the wall that, upon closer inspection, was lower than the other holes.
Jack spoke up. “Didn’t you say there was a circus that came a’callin?”
Anderson nodded. “Yes, but that was two weeks ago and surely you would have seen them when they arrived in Ascension?”
Jack shook her head. “Ain’t had no circus come by ou way.”
The Pinkerton Detective Agency had a rule for times like this. If the clues tell more than one story, it meant that there was still more to find. Lovelace found himself agreeing with it.
“We might need to keep looking,” he offered. The marshals agreed and each spread out in the room to see what more could be found. Aside from the odd mumbling or a grunt out of Caine, the investigation continued in silence. Then…
“It vas only one gunman,” Wilhem said while standing at the room’s entrance.
The others waited for the Iron Marshal to continue. He did not disappoint.
“All ze shots, regardless of height,” he said, glancing at Caine. “Are on a trajectory from zis very spot. The murderer used three guns to take the victim down.”
Lovelace interrupted. “Three guns? How?”
Jack replied before Wilhem could. “Mechanical arm,” she said. “Seen somethin’ like before.”
The other marshals nodded, remembering Harry Winsom’s hidden arm with gun attached.
Lovelace accepted it. “It would have to be attached around his waist,” the Pinkerton suggested.
“Did the circus-folk have anyone like that?” Caine asked. “Or a midget?”
“Plenty of midgets, some other strange things but nothin’ about an extra arm, mechanical or otherwise,” Anderson replied.
The marshals searched both room and minds for anything else that could offer a solution to this crime. Lovelace, though, zeroed in on something near the entrance where Wilhem had stood. Bending over, he retrieved something small and fine from the rock.
“The miner don’t keep pets, do they?” he asked.
“We only have the horses and they don’t come down here,” Anderson said, eyes squinting to try and see what Lovelace had between thumb and forefinger.
It was a coarse black strand of hair that didn’t have any place being on a human.
Each marshal took a turn trying to identify it, but even Wendell Caine, who had either fought, eaten or tamed every critter in the States couldn’t place it. Wilhem, last to examine it, did so under the gaze of a motley collection of magnifying lenses that sprouted from his armour.
“I believe,” he said slowly, “That it belongs to a gorilla.”
TO BE CONCLUDED IN PART 6