Authors: John Brady
Tags: #book, #Fiction, #General, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Austria, #Kimmel; Felix (Fictitious Character), #FIC022000
McArthur & Company
First published in Canada in 2006 by
McArthur & Company
322 King St.,West, Suite 402
Copyright © 2006 John Brady
All rights reserved
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Poacher’s Road : an Inspector Kimmel novel / John Brady.
PS8553.R245P63 2006 C813’.54 C2005-907851-0
Design and composition by Mad Dog Design Connection Inc.
The publisher would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Development Program,
The Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Government of Ontario
through the Ontario Media Development Corporation Ontario Book
For Hanna, with love
And in memory of Chris and Mary Brady,
and Michael Crowe.
What thou lovest well remains
The rest is dross
What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lovest best is thy true heritage.
Peter Rossegger, from unpublished journal entries for
Geschichten aus der Steiermark
Tales from Styria
St. Kristoff is approached by minor roads. It was on one of those roads little wider than a cow-path, one of the many byroads known locally as a Wildererweg or poacher’s path, that I came down off the mountains one evening many years ago. It being late, I beheld the last remnants of the dying sunset over the crags and forests above the village as the darkness descended, but not before I perceived the splendid views of an innumerable multitude of hills to the southeast.
It is a farming village and its people retire early. But as I plodded up one of the narrow lanes that leads to its church, I heard voices within, and soon the tones of an organ. The sound of that instrument has from childhood filled me with a strange mixture of mirth and foreboding, and that night this sensation descended upon me again as though the decades of living in our cities had vanished, and I was a child again, listening.
It was expertly played, and the old hymns that had sounded here for centuries floated out on the night air to me. Soon they were joined by voices, both men’s and women’s, and I passed a strange and not unhappy half-hour. Around me was the sweet scent of woodsmoke from houses unseen, and the smell of the earth with its autumnal exhalations. I fell into a reverie, where the events of the long day arranged themselves alongside tender thoughts of my wife and little ones awaiting me back in Vienna. Such were the exertions of the day in these mountains as wild and remote as any on the continent, that in a matter of minutes I passed from reverie to sleep there on the grassy bank below the church.
It was with a violent fright that I awoke not long after, and in the manner of a primitive ancestor awakening in terror at the cave-mouth where he stood guard over his clan, I was on my feet before being quite awake. I was not alone, and for several of the longest moments of my life I remained in that world of the Grimms where the woods are ever deep, and they harbour fantastic beings. In front of me was a monster, I thought, with huge shoulders and horns askew. Is this even the great Wotan, I wondered, that ravening god that has been with us Germanic folk since we became a people.
The monster spoke.
“Good night,” it said, in an accent that would be studied amongst my colleagues at the University as though its owner had descended from another planet.
“Good night,” I believe I replied.
The dark shape of the monster began to yield some form. Soon I saw that this was one of my own, a human, a hunter, who had brought in a young deer on his shoulders. But it came to me that he was in all likelihood less a hunter than he was a poacher. It is long a custom here for those facing hardship to enter the forest and take a deer without the permit of any of the local nobility or the rich who own the rights here. This, along with the custom of mountain treks that last for days and even weeks by men who must feed their families, walks that neither know nor respect the lines drawn on the bright maps our little ones learn in their schoolrooms.
“You are a hunter,” I offered then.
To this he made no reply or gesture.
“I was passing the church and heard the music,” I said. “I must have dozed off.”
At this, the monster nodded and shifted his load. I saw that he had a rifle on his back. I began to wonder, and then to marvel, at how this man could have hefted this not inconsiderable load home from the forest.
“You are a traveller,” he said.
“That I am.”
“Everyone is a traveller,” he said. “On God’s earth.”
I thought to ask him what he might mean by this but something in this man’s demeanour, or perhaps his way of speaking, told me that would be an impertinence.
“You are late in from the woods,” I said instead.
“That’s how it is,” he said. “One must wait for the right time.”
Seeing that the monster was but a man, and that he was in all likelihood a villager here, I was emboldened to try a little mischief.
“You are not afraid of the spirits in the forest?”
“The spirits?” he said after several moments. “Which would they be?”
“The ones we hear of, ones in the old tales. Perhaps you don’t believe in them then?”
“That hardly matters,” he said after a moment. “They are
there all the same.”
This silenced me, and to this day, I do not know why his sparing words should have had such an effect. I knew immediately that he was not being mischievous with his words, and it galled me that I had no words to address him further on this, so strange was his pronouncement.
Perhaps it was the air of the mountains, or the long day’s hiking in the woods and over moors and valleys, but the words did not come. He then asked me if I were looking for a place that I might have an evening meal. I was indeed, I told him, and a simple Gasthaus where I could spend the night. He directed me to one, and we then parted.
I retired that evening after a hearty meal, full sure that my sleep that evening would be the soundest sleep possible, and perhaps the only dreams would be those of the skies and trees, and the bright sun that had guided me all day. Instead I passed several hours pondering our meeting, this hunter and I, and I resolved to tell my colleagues of this man who seemed to live a life no different than one of centuries past. How is it possible, I wondered, that a man in the age of telegraphs and trains can believe as he did?
We all have our trove of stories, do we not, of bijou events and ‘characters’ that we collect and later relate, to show the rich variety of our world and society? The retelling so often makes our pleasure keener, we believe, especially if they raise a smile or a laugh, and such tales as we collect and retail serve to make us more sociable and to enhance our own public selves while they make those occasions more entertaining.
But now, all these years later, I cannot conceal from others how I have tired of those coffeehouses and dinners, those lectures and conferences. For all the learning of my colleagues and friends,I find my thoughts returning to that small village of St. Kristoff, high up on that hill, with the forest around it, so remote from the bustle of life here. I returned to the village several times over the years, and it had altered not a whit. Yet I have never been visited by any desire to inquire for my hunter there. For a time, I halfbelieved that I had not met him at all, but that he had come out of my dream. I still remain undecided on the matter.
I told no one of my meeting that evening so long ago, but committed it here to this journal instead, to consider its meaning yet again.
HE DAY BEFORE THE TWO BODIES TURNED UP IN THE WOODS
, Felix Kimmel was staring at the grasses by the side of a road. This klamm, as Styrians call these narrow mountain roads, had all the steep grades and sharp turns that visitors remember long after their travels in this southern province of Austria. Even sophisticates from Vienna who come for the Apfelfest and its potent ciders soon stop comparing the endless rows of hills and green mountains here to the Alps, or to their own summer escape of Semmering, with its picturesque views and cool heights, and its sudden, but few, green valleys.
Felix had spotted a bird hopping about amongst the spring growth. It had had a worm in its beak, and he was waiting for it to hop into view again. Even thinking about this bird was better than listening to his sister Lisi, in whose car he sat now, hungover and listless. Too many of her stray, random thoughts had been spoken aloud. She’d been nervous, he understood, and sad. Talk was her way of dealing with it. But there was nothing to be done about the day really, just to get it over with.
He looked up again at the lumber truck that had blocked the road ahead. It was reversing laboriously from a muddy road that led into the woods. The driver had misjudged a metre of ground by one of the wheels. The soil here was still saturated, and for several minutes now he had been gingerly edging the vehicle out onto the roadway. He’d let the truck back a few metres in a controlled roll, and try to coax it back up again. His eyes stayed locked on the rim of mud that was pushed up higher by the rear wheel.
“You’d think the idiot would know,” Lisi said.
“You suppose? Didn’t you recognize him right away?”