Steve Harrison. Detective of the Occult - Robert E. Howard - ebook

Steve Harrison. Detective of the Occult ebook

Robert E. Howard



Steve Harrison is a police detective. His cases are not always easy but for sure very, very weird. Robert E. Howard delivers an impressive tour de force of weird fiction awesomeness with „Steve Harrison. Detective of the Occult! „. Three short masterful stories in the Steve Harrison series from one of the greatest fantasy writers of the 20th century, the uncontained, uncontainable, Mr. Robert E. Howard: „Fangs of Gold” „Names in the Black Book” „Graveyard Rats”. Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. He is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre.

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Liczba stron: 165

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“THIS is the only trail into the swamp, mister.” Steve Harrison’s guide pointed a long finger down the narrow path which wound in and out among the live-oaks and cypresses. Harrison shrugged his massive shoulders. The surroundings were not inviting, with the long shadows of the late afternoon sun reaching dusky fingers into the dim recesses among the moss-hung trees.

“You ought to wait till mornin’,” opined the guide, a tall lanky man in cowhide boots and sagging overall. “It’s gittin’ late, and we don’t want to git catched in the swamp after night.”

“I can’t wait, Rogers,” answered the detective. “The man I’m after might get clean away by morning.”

“He’ll have to come out by this path,” answered Rogers as they swung along. “Ain’t no other way in or out. If he tries to push through to high ground on the other side, he’ll shore fall into a bottomless bog, or git et by a gator. There’s lots of them. I reckon he ain’t much used to swamps?”

“I don’t suppose he ever saw one before. He’s city-bred.”

“Then he won’t das’t leave the beaten path,” confidently predicted Rogers.

“On the other hand, he might, not realizing the danger,” grunted Harrison.

“What’d you say he done?” pursued Rogers, directing a jet of tobacco juice at a beetle crawling through the dark loam.

“Knocked an old Chinaman in the head with a meat-cleaver and stole his life-time savings–ten thousand dollars, in bills of a thousand each. The old man left a little granddaughter who’ll be penniless if this money isn’t recovered. That’s one reason I want to get this rat before he loses himself in a bog. I want to recover that money, for the kid.”

“And you figure the Chinaman seen goin’ down this path a few days ago was him?”

“Couldn’t be anybody else,” snapped Harrison. “We’ve hounded him half way across the continent, cut him off from the borders and the ports. We were closing in on him when he slipped through, somehow. This was about the only place left for him to hide. I’ve chased him too far to delay now. If he drowns in the swamp, we’ll probably never find him, and the money will be lost, too. The man he murdered was a fine, honest old Chinaman. This fellow, Woon Shang, is bad all the way through.”

“He’ll run into some bad folks down here,” ruminated Rogers. “Nothin’ but niggers live in these swamplands. They ain’t regular darkies like them that live outside. These came here fifty or sixty years back–refugees from Haiti, or somewhere. You know we ain’t far from the coast. They’re yeller- skinned, and don’t hardly ever come out of the swamp. They keep to theirselves, and they don’t like strangers. What’s that?”

They were just rounding a bend in the path, and something lay on the ground ahead of them–something black, and dabbled with red, that groaned and moved feebly.

“It’s a nigger!” exclaimed Rogers. “He’s been knifed.”

It took no expert to deduce that. They bent over him and Rogers voiced profane recognition. “Why, I know this feller! He ain’t no swamp rat. He’s Joe Corley, that razored up another nigger at a dance last month and lit out. Bet he’s been hidin’ in the swamp ever since. Joe! Joe Corley!”

The wounded man groaned and rolled up his glassy eyes; his skin was ashy with the nearness of approaching death.

“Who stabbed you, Joe?” demanded Rogers.

“De Swamp Cat!” The gasp was scarcely audible. Rogers swore and looked fearfully about him, as if expecting something to spring on them from the trees.

“I wuz tryin’ to git outside,” muttered the Negro.

“What for?” demanded Rogers. “Didn’t you know you’d git jailed if they catched you?”

“Ruther go to de jail-house dan git mixed up–in de devilment –dey’s cookin’ up–in de swamp.” The voice sank lower as speech grew more difficult.

“What you mean, Joe?” uneasily demanded Rogers.

“Voodoo niggers,” muttered Corley disjointedly. “Took dat Chinaman ‘stead uh me–didn’t want me to git away, though–then John Bartholomew –uuuugh!”

A trickle of blood started from the corner of his thick lips, he stiffened in brief convulsion and then lay still.

“He’s dead!” whispered Rogers, staring down the swamp path with dilated eyes.

“He spoke of a Chinaman,” said Harrison. “That clinches it that we’re on the right trail. Have to leave him here for the time being. Nothing we can do for him now. Let’s get going.”

“You aim to go on, after this?” exclaimed Rogers.

“Why not?”

“Mr. Harrison,” said Rogers solemnly, “you offered me a good wage to guide you into this here swamp. But I’m tellin’ you fair there ain’t enough money to make me go in there now, with night comin’ on.”

“But why?” protested Harrison. “Just because this man got into a fight with one of his own kind–”

“It’s more ‘n just that,” declared Rogers decisively. “This nigger was tryin’ to git out of the swamp when they got him. He knowed he’d git jailed on the outside, but he was goin’ anyway; that means somethin’ had scared the livin’ daylights out of him. You heard him say it was the Swamp Cat that got him?”


“Well, the Swamp Cat is a crazy nigger that lives in the swamp. It’s been so long since any white folks claimed they seen him, I’d begun to believe he was just a myth the ‘outside’ niggers told to scare people away from the swamp. But this shows he ain’t. He killed Joe Corley. He’ll kill us if he catches us in the dark. Why, by golly, he may be watchin’ us right now!” This thought so disturbed Rogers that he drew a big six-shooter with an enormous length of barrel, and peered about, masticating his quid with a rapidity that showed his mental perturbation.

“Who’s the other follow he named, John Bartholomew?” inquired Harrison.

“Don’t know. Never heard of him. Come on, let’s shove out of here. We’ll git some boys and come back after Joe’s body.”

“I’m going on,” growled Harrison, rising and dusting his hands.

Rogers stared. “Man, you’re plumb crazy! You’ll git lost–”

“Not if I keep to the path.”

“Well, then, the Swamp Cat’ll git you, or them gators will–‘’

“I’ll take my chance,” answered Harrison brusquely. “Woon Shang’s somewhere in this swamp. If he manages to get out before I get my hands on him, he may get clean away. I’m going after him.”

“But if you’ll wait we’ll raise a posse and go after him first thing in the mornin’,” urged Rogers.

Harrison did not attempt to explain to the man his almost obsessional preference for working alone. With no further comment he turned and strode off down the narrow path. Rogers yelled after him: “You’re crazy as Hell! If you git as far as Celia Pompoloi’s hut, you better stay there tonight! She’s the big boss of them niggers. It’s the first cabin you come to. I’m goin’ back to town and git a posse, and tomorrow mornin’ we’ll–‘‘ The words became unintelligible among the dense growth as Harrison rounded a turn that shut off the sight of the other man.

As the detective strode along he saw that blood was smeared on the rotting leaves, and there were marks as if something heavy had been dragged over the trail. Joe Corley had obviously crawled for some distance after being attacked. Harrison visualized him dragging himself along on his belly like a crippled snake. The man must have had intense vitality to have gotten so far with a mortal wound in his back. And his fear must have been desperate to so drive him.

Harrison could no longer see the sun, but he knew it was hanging low. The shadows were gathering, and he was plunging deeper and deeper into the swamp. He began to glimpse patches of scummy ooze among the trees, and the path grew more tortuous as it wound to avoid these slimy puddles. Harrison plunged on without pausing. The dense growth might lend concealment to a desperate fugitive, but it was not in the woods, but among the scattered cabins of the swamp dwellers that he expected to find the man he hunted. The city-bred Chinaman, fearful of solitude and unable to fend for himself, would seek the company of men, even of black men.

The detective wheeled suddenly. About him, in the dusk, the swamp was waking. Insects lifted strident voices, wings of bats or owls beat the air, and bullfrogs boomed from the lily pads. But he had heard a sound that was not of these things. It was a stealthy movement among the trees that marched in solid ranks beside the trail. Harrison drew his .45 and waited. Nothing happened. But in primitive solitudes a man’s instincts are whetted. The detective felt that he was being watched by unseen eyes; he could almost sense the intensity of their glare. Was it the Chinaman, after all?

A bush beside the trail moved, without a wind to stir it. Harrison sprang through the curtain of creeper-hung cypresses, gun ready, snarling a command. His feet sank in slimy ooze, he stumbled in rotting vegetation and felt the dangling strands of moss slap against his face. There was nothing behind the bush, but he could have sworn that he saw a shadowy form move and vanish among the trees a short distance away. As he hesitated, he glanced down and saw a distinct mark in the loam. He bent closer; it was the print of a great, bare, splay foot. Moisture was oozing into the depression. A man had been standing behind that bush.

With a shrug Harrison stepped back into the trail. That was not the footprint of Woon Shang, and the detective was not looking for anybody else. It was natural that one of the swamp dwellers would spy on a stranger. The detective sent a hail into the gathering darkness, to assure the unseen watcher of his friendly intentions. There was no reply. Harrison turned and strode on down the trail, not feeling entirely at ease, as he heard, from time to time, a faint snapping of twigs and other sounds that seemed to indicate someone moving along a course paralleling the path. It was not soothing to know that he was being followed by some unseen and possibly hostile being.

It was so dark now that he kept the path more by feel than by sight. About him sounded weird cries of strange birds or animals, and from time to time a deep grunting reverberation that puzzled him until he recognized it as the bellow of a bull alligator. He wondered if the scaly brutes ever crawled up on the trail, and how the fellow that was shadowing him out there in the darkness managed to avoid them. With the thought another twig snapped, much closer to the trail than before. Harrison swore softly, trying to peer into the Stygian gloom under the moss-festooned branches. The fellow was closing in on him with the growing darkness.

There was a sinister implication about the thing that made Harrison’s flesh creep a bit. This reptile-haunted swamp-trail was no place for a fight with an insane Negro–for it seemed probable that the unknown stalker was the killer of Joe Corley. Harrison was meditating on the matter when a light glimmered through the trees ahead of him. Quickening his steps he came abruptly out of the darkness into a grey twilight.

He had reached an expanse of solid ground, where the thinning trees let in the last grey light of the outer dusk. They made a black wall with waving fringes all about a small clearing, and through their boles, on one side, Harrison caught a glimmer of inky water. In the clearing stood a cabin of rough-hewn logs, and through a tiny window shone the light of an oil lamp.

As Harrison emerged from among the growth he glanced back, but saw no movement among the ferns, heard no sound of pursuit. The path, dimly marked on the higher ground, ran past the cabin and vanished in the further gloom. This cabin must be the abode of that Celia Pompoloi Rogers had mentioned. Harrison strode to the sagging stoop and rapped on the handmade door.

Inside there was movement, and the door swung open. Harrison was not prepared for the figure that confronted him. He had expected to see a bare- footed slattern; instead he saw a tall, rangily powerful man, neatly dressed, whose regular features and light skin portrayed his mixed blood.

“Good evening, sir.” The accent hinted of education above the average.

“Name’s Harrison,” said the detective abruptly, displaying his badge. “I’m after a crook that ran in here–a Chinese murderer, named Woon Shang. Know anything about him?”

“Yes, sir,” the man replied promptly. “That man went past my cabin three days ago.”

“Where is he now?” demanded Harrison.

The other spread his hands in a curiously Latin gesture.

“I can not say. I have little intercourse with the other people who live in the swamp, but it is my belief that he is hiding among them somewhere. I have not seen him pass my cabin going back up the path.”

“Can you guide me to these other cabins?”

“Gladly, sir; by daylight.”

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.