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Authors: Norman Bogner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Snowman (5 page)

BOOK: Snowman
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"This is still unofficial, gentlemen, but we've got a medical oddity here."

"Shit, Sam, a gunshot wound's a medical oddity to you," Ashby complained.

Powell lit a cigar and then poured his guests large shots of Harwood's Canadian Whiskey. He sipped his drink reflectively, adjusted his glasses, and opened up a folder with Janice Pace's name on it.

"I've had a neurologist look at the remains of the skull and the chief of orthopedics examined the limb . . . which is all that we found. There's no way we can determine the cause of death. My first thought was that she somehow got caught in the chairlift machinery. But there are no traces of severing by a machine or a blade of any kind."

Powell carried his drink to a blackboard behind his desk and drew a head and an arm with its socket.

"If it was a bear, where are the teeth and claw marks? And then there are those star burns on the skin. No animal I know can inflict those, and it wasn't done with acid." He pointed to the blackboard. "All I can say for sure is that the poor girl had her arm
ripped
off at the articular cartilage here. As for the head, it was yanked off at the thyroid by something with incredible strength. This exposed the cervical nerves and the ganglia. The nerve centers were in shreds. Beats me how her head was taken off." He passed the bottle around, and the men refilled their glasses. He opened his desk drawer and took out a piece of string, then snapped it in half. "That's what happened."

Ashby had filled three pages of his notebook, and he stared at the new blank page.

"Sam," he asked, "do you have any theory, no matter how wild, about how she died?"

"Not a one. The head and arm were found almost thirty feet above ground on the tree branch. How did they get up there?"

"What's the death certificate going to say?" Garson asked.

"Misadventure."

The
Sierra Messenger
office was in a small wooden building on Canyon Drive, Sierra's main street. The paper had originally been a camping journal, listing backpacking routes, beauty spots and views for the amateur photographer, and desirable locations for hunting and fishing. In 1945, when Jim Ashby returned from four years in the Marine Corps, he had enrolled in a correspondence course in journalism given by the University of Missouri, and then taken over the paper. He was determined to provide the town he was born in and loved with a real newspaper, offering town and national news of interest to the locals.

He ran the paper with two printers and an elderly secretary who had been a librarian in L.A. before settling in Sierra. He was the paper's astrologer, art and book critic, cooking authority, financial analyst and political gadfly.

Unfortunately, the most popular column in the paper was one that he treated with contempt and had begun as a practical joke. It was called "Strange and Unusual Occurrences from the Unknown" and written by Ashby under the name "Mandrake." The material that appeared was invariably filched from the country's major newspapers.

At dinner that evening with Pat Garson at the Horseshoe, the two bachelors stared at their bowls of chili. The very act of eating seemed disgusting. They were both overcome by the horror of what they had witnessed. Ashby's mind had wandered over the events of the day. Several times he lost the thread of their conversation, and he sat distracted by the fire, staring at his brandy. His mind was attempting to focus on some elusive memory that tantalized him, and when he finally finished his drink, he knew he couldn't play the usual game of three-cushioned billiards with Pat. Specters of the girl's severed head floated through his consciousness.

He returned to his office, filled the potbellied Franklin stove with coal, and sat at his large roll-top desk with its covey of pigeonholes. It offended his sense of factual reporting to begin digging into the storage cabinet that contained the columns from the "Unknown." At his insistence, his secretary had never wasted her time organizing this material.

Ashby carried out stacks of dogeared yellowing files and patiently thumbed through them. At eleven that night he had reached the mid-1960s. His slipped disk was acting up, and he was forced to read standing at the printing press to relieve the pain. But he was convinced that somewhere buried in the pile was a mention of those strangely shaped tracks. Under a sheaf of papers, his eyes blurring and squinting, he found the columns for October 1966. Along with his original article, he located the sources for it. The first was from the Associated Press. It was headed:

DANIEL BRADFORD RETURNS
FROM EVEREST WITH
TALL SNOWMAN TALE

Daniel Bradford, the young anthropologist and Rhodes Scholar, recently returned from an expedition to Mount Everest. The expedition was funded by private sources from the Los Angeles Explorers Club. According to the club members the purpose of the expedition was a search for the Abominable Snowman or
Yeti
as it is known among Sherpas.

Bradford, 26, who was the Olympic Bronze Medalist in the downhill ski event at the 1964 Olympics, made a series of unsubstantiated claims.

He said: "We were attacked at the Lhotse Face by a Snowman. It was impossible to gauge the size of the creature because of the way he blended in with the ice. My guess is that he was twenty to twenty-five feet tall. We had followed his tracks from Nuptse across the Western Cwm of Everest. The tracks were enormous, perfectly symmetrical triangles which threw off a multi-colored light and there were horned marks within the tracks.

"The attack," Bradford continued, "took place during a blizzard at Lhotse. The snowman literally tore apart the members of the party and the Sherpa porters. He ripped their heads off, hacked their bodies and then began killing animals in a frenzy.

"His jaws were larger than a whale's and his mouth was filled with innumerable rows of sword-shaped teeth that were almost a foot long."

Apart from Bradford, the only living member of the party was his guide, Pemba, a Sherpa porter who unfortunately spoke little English. Both of them were rescued, Bradford said, by a cult of Buddhist lamas who lived in a cave and worshiped the Snowman, Bradford revealed a large black star-shaped scar on his right shoulder where he says he was clawed by the Snowman.

Bradford's account was met with skepticism by the members of the Explorers Club, and there were motions to censure him. One member, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "He ought to be expelled for insulting the membership with this outrageous justification of his panic and cowardice. Nineteen people died. He was the leader of the party and he ran out on them, and don't let anyone tell you different."

 

Chapter Five

After a sleepless night, Jim Ashby reexamined the files he had uncovered on Bradford. He sat down at his old Underwood typewriter and inserted a piece of paper; then he moved away from the table. There were of course similarities between the attack Bradford had alleged had occurred and the remains he had seen of Janice. But they did not constitute hard evidence. If the news were leaked, journalists from all over the country would descend on Sierra and the media with their teams of researchers would swallow Ashby's story. He had a proprietary interest in keeping his suspicions and the facts secret.

Under the guise of sleepy small-town newspaperman, Ashby concealed an intense ambition to excel, make a national name for himself. An exclusive story—one which he could control—would be worth thousands of dollars. He saw his byline in the
London Times
,
Le Figaro
, the
New York Times
; he would be a guest on all the major talk shows. Carson and Merv would listen raptly with mouths open as he related the story. He could become a celebrity. Fate had singled him out as the reporter to investigate what might turn out to be the single most important news event of his life. He had to find Daniel Bradford.

He wouldn't botch it. He returned to his typewriter and wrote two lines about Janice Pace being lost on the mountain and the coroner's verdict of misadventure. It would run in Saturday's edition. It would arouse too much attention if it were on the front page or beside the local TV listings, so he buried Janice in a squib below the obit section. His readers would pass quickly to Mandrake or the chilled-lamb-shank recipe.

He gathered his articles and the photographs of Janice which Pat had allowed him to study. He packed a suitcase, then put on his single city suit, a shiny blue serge, and his Marine rep tie. He'd change from boots to shoes when he got to L.A. He called his office and told his secretary that he'd be gone for a few days, but he would check in with her every evening.

He pulled the choke out on his Cherokee, listened to the engine's bronchial rumble, and set off on his mission with the stealth of an assassin. He drove past Pat's office and was tempted to stop for a moment. But his journalist's instinct of always listening to a confidence but never giving one made him push down hard on the accelerator.

The Explorers Club occupied a massive Tudor-style house on Rossmore in Los Angeles's serene Hancock Park area, and Ashby parked in the lot beside the house. A caretaker raking leaves squinted at him and said, "Safari?"

"No, I'm a climber. Himalayas." That as a backpacker in the summer he had never gone higher than four thousand feet along wide trails hardly mattered.

"I'll show you to Mr. Ravel's office."

According to one of the articles Ashby had seen, George Ravel had been responsible for Bradford's expulsion from the club. Ashby would have to be careful questioning him. He was led into a wide circular corridor. A display case held a variety of vipers, and he looked with interest at his first deadly krait snake. The heads of lions, tigers, panthers, and leopards were mounted on the walls. Beside Ravel's office there was a giant stuffed gorilla with a deep barrel chest. It all struck Ashby as quaint, remnants of a bygone era. People took cameras on safari nowadays, not rifles.

Ravel was one of those rosy-cheeked, heavy-set men with the bluff manner and capacity for earbending that Ashby had encountered among local fishermen. He'd spoken about the club for a good five minutes before Ashby was able to interject a word.

"I'm planning to climb Nuptse this summer and I need a danm good guide."

"Well, I can fix you up with some Sherpas in Katmandu."

"Any of your members interested?"

"No, they just like to shoot. I'II check our files. There is of course a fee if we put the party together for you."

"I assumed as much."

As Ravel went through a file of index cards, Ashby noticed that the caretaker was eavesdropping, dusting a display case at great length.

"I've heard about an American who's supposed to be good," Ashby said.

"Which one?"

"Daniel Bradford."

Ravel's manner changed abruptly. His anger was choleric, but he subdued it.

"You must be joking. That bastard lost his entire party in 'sixty-six. You might as well climb with a murderer."

"What makes you say that?"

"Listen, when nineteen people die on a climb and one comes back with a story that a ten-year-old wouldn't swallow, any normal man would be suspicious."

"I've read about Bradford. What's your theory?"

"I think he went crazy and murdered a few of the people with him, then he led the others to a point where they couldn't climb along Lhotse and he deserted them."

Ashby continued to prod the delicate nerve.

"But wasn't he the best climber we've ever produced?"

"That may have been, but the man was insane." He glanced at a card. "I can recommend Geoffrey Griggs. He was picked by Edmund Hillary for the World Book Expedition but broke his arm before they set off."

"When can I meet him?"

"When you arrive in Katmandu. Griggs lives there now. I can send him a cable and he can arrange everything for you—porters, equipment."

"I'd hate to fly all that way and find that we weren't compatible. At least if I had Bradford's address I could interview him and make up my own mind."

"You're just looking for trouble, Mr. Ashby. If you want Bradford, then I won't be the one to tell you where you can find him. I don't want you on my conscience."

"I'll think about Griggs."

As he walked back to his Cherokee, Ashby was aware that the caretaker was behind him. Ashby turned and suddenly felt uncomfortable. The old man seemed overtaken by an inexpressible fury. His hand quivered as he pointed toward the club.

"Don't believe that lying son of a bitch," he said. "He'd never accuse Bradford to his face."

"Then why—"

"They had an argument. Ravel was against Dan from the beginning." He took out a piece of paper and scribbled down a barely legible address and handed it to Ashby.

"What's he doing on an Indian reservation?"

"I don't know. I've forwarded his mail there for years. If you see him, tell him Andrew sends his regards."

"Was he really as good as the papers claimed?"

"Sherpas said he was the greatest climber who ever lived—better than Hillary."

Ashby's interest was deeply engaged. The conflicting accounts of Bradford he'd heard suggested that he was tracking a strange and extraordinary man. Why, he wondered, did a man of such accomplishments drop out of sight and settle among a tribe of Indians, banishing himself to a life of obscurity?

At Monte's insistence, Cathy had flown down to Los Angeles with him to discuss Janice's death with the board of Great Northern Development, the resort's parent company. The company headquarters were in Century City, on the twenty-sixth floor of one of those faceless towers which had sprung up in the last few years. The boardroom, a multiwindow affair with a hundred-and-eighty-degree view of the city, dazzled her, but when she saw the indignant expressions on the five men sitting at a long Italianate glass table, she ignored the view. The men did not bother to stand, and Charles Wright, the chairman, waved her to a seat between two secretaries. He simply nodded at Monte, who joined the others at the table.

BOOK: Snowman
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