She was lying in that awkward pose only death brings, her body stiff, with a look of unspeakable terror fixed upon her frozen features. The compies had retreated some distance and were waiting for us to leave so they could continue feasting. Well, I had bad news for them!
My name is Magnon: Cro Magnon, Pea Eye, and I had a case I definitely didn’t want or need, but it was here, in my lap.
I turned to Fossey. ‘Pick her up and bring her along to Olchap. We have to show this to him.’
We set off along the jungle trail to Olchap’s headquarters. He came out as he saw us approaching. ‘I say, what’s this, then?’
‘Somebody found her in the jungle and called me: this is how I found her.’
‘She looks as if she was terrified,’ remarked Olchap.
‘She does,’ I replied, ‘But look at this.’ I turned her over and, aside from the few bites the compies had taken out of her, she was unmarked. There was no indication to show how she had died.
‘Strange, very strange!’ murmured Olchap. ‘How could she have died? She looks as if was still young and strong, so what could have killed her?’
‘That’s what I intend to find out,’ I said and stood up.
‘Well, I wish you good fortune in your endeavours.’ He really had a strange way of saying things. I made my way to my cave to start examining this case. I chiselled out a quick message to Pee Jin and then sent off a carrier pterodactyl with it. Death happened to everyone in Pangaea, even violent death, but this was something outside the scope of my experience.
Pee Jin turned up a while later. ‘You wanted to see me?’ Mr Small Talk.
‘Somebody came into Crashamanka today and told me of a girl who was dead on the jungle path and, when I got there, the compies had just started on her, but I have no idea how she died. There were no marks of any kind, and her face was a picture of terror. There’s nothing in this for me, but I have to find out what killed her, and how. Will you ask around for me?’
‘Sure thing.’ And, just like that, he was gone. And I was stuck with a puzzle.
I spent my night tossing and turning, my bedrock feeling as hard as granite. My first view of that poor young girl kept replaying itself in my mind, and I tossed and turned as I tried to think of how she could have died. Eventually, sometime before dawn, I fell asleep and, no sooner had I fallen asleep than my rooster went off. I rolled over and smashed him on the head, but he just carried on till I eventually got up and went to dunk my head in the stream.
Bleary-eyed, I made my way up to Crashamanka, the inside of my mouth tasting like a compie’s faeces. I hadn’t even had a lot to drink, but the bad night, combined with the look of sheer terror in that dead girl’s eyes, made for an all-round bad feeling and, when I got to Crashamanka, I went straight to my alcove, even though Skram was playing All Along the Watchtree, one of my personal favourites.
I sat back behind my deskrock and steepled my fingers in front of me. What could have caused that death? Death was something we took in our stride, even violent death because, let’s face it, with baboons and velociraptors running around, plus the assortment of really bad Neanderthals, it was bound to happen. This one was different, and that bothered me.
I thought of consulting Sheer Rock Caves, because he was the best detective in Pangaea, but that would be a last resort. And I would leave that up to Olchap; they came from the same area. Meanwhile, I had to wait to see what Pee Jin discovered. I didn’t have long to wait.
The zebra skin parted and Pee Jin appeared. ‘Bad news.’
I looked up at him. ‘What is it?’
‘Another body, killed in the same way, but she hasn’t been touched by compies yet.’
I picked up my velociraptor stalker and put it on. ‘Let’s go,’ I said. We made our way to a clearing in the jungle and there she lay, in a similar pose, but with that same look of unspeakable terror frozen on her features. I knelt down to examine the body, but there was not a mark to be seen anywhere.
‘That’s two in two days,’ I said. ‘Why kill them? It doesn’t make sense! There’s no sign of anger, no violence, no struggling, no sex, nothing.’ I pursed my lips and clicked my tongue, moving around the body. I told Fossey to pick her up and we made our way to Olchap’s headquarters.
He came out when he saw us. ‘Another one?’
I nodded. ‘Another one: No sign of how she died, but she died in absolute terror, you can see that.’
Fossey laid her down gently and Olchap examined her, as I had, from every angle. Nothing. He stood up and looked mutely at me and, I swear, a tear trickled down his smooth cheek. He turned his head and looked away, taking a deep, shuddering breath.
‘If you find the person who did this, Cro, you have my permission to deal with them in any way you see fit. This is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced and, from the look of it, the same applies to you.’
I shook my head in disgust. ‘You’re right, Olchap, I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I hope I never do again. Why kill someone in this manner? If she was killed, of course: there’s no sign of violence, there are no tracks I could distinguish. It was pretty muddy, though, in both cases. I’ll get to the bottom of this, never you worry!’
‘What do you mean, “If she was killed?”’, Olchap asked, obviously puzzled. ‘How else could she have died? Or the other one? They were both young and, if you look at their teeth, healthy, so what sort of thing could terrify them enough to kill them?’ He shook his head mournfully. ‘No, my friend, this is murder, pure and simple, we just have to find out how and why.’
I puzzled over this matter all the way back to Crashamanka and couldn’t see a reason for the killings, if there was a reason, and if they were, in fact, killings. Young girls, in the prime of their lives, terrified to death. The case was about to become even more puzzling, as I was about to find out.
Pee Jin turned up at my alcove that evening in his usual manner, completely unannounced and silent as a ghost. ‘More bad news,’ he said.
I narrowed my eyes and studied him. ‘Elaborate.’
‘Another body, same death, but this time it’s male.’
That made me sit up. ‘Male?!’
He nodded. ‘Yup. You better come and have a look.’ I put on my velociraptor stalker and we went out, leaving the joyous racket of Crashamanka behind us as we headed out into darkening day. The sky was turning purple and that big yellow thing that comes up at night was sitting right on top of the distant mountains.
We walked in silence till we came to the body, where Fossey and his gang were keeping the compies at bay. Three killings in two days, and again the look of stark terror etched upon his face. Something had killed them, of that I was sure: whether or not it was murder was another question entirely. I studied the corpse from every angle, but could see no signs of violence. I nodded to Fossey to pick him up and we made our way to Olchap’s headquarters, where he came out the moment he saw us.
‘Not another one?!’
I nodded grimly. ‘I’m afraid so, but I can’t find any signs of violence, and look at that face!’
Olchap studied the face grimly, shaking his head and muttering to himself. He then went over the body, bit by tiny bit, but there was no evidence of violence. Terror, yes, violence, no. It was more than just puzzling, it was enough to scare me, and I was pretty hardened to violent death by this stage.
I turned to Pee Jin. ‘You’re the only person I can trust to do this, but it’s going to be at risk to your own life. I need you to blend in and see what’s going on there, and why. Do you think you can do it?’
‘I can do it, but it’s going to cost.’
‘We’ll cover the cost,’ said Olchap.
‘Okay: twenty clams.’
Olchap winced, and I said, ‘We’ll go half on this. I want whoever this is nailed as badly as you do.’
Pee Jin nodded. ‘Okay,’ he said and made his way off, as silently as only he can. He disappeared into the jungle and out of our sight.
‘Amazing!’ said Olchap, who’d never seen his disappearing trick before.
‘Yeah, he is quite special,’ I said, as proud of him as if he were my invention. ‘I’m on my way,’ I said. ‘I need to catch some shuteye.’
Olchap nodded. ‘I’ll see you later,’ he said, and I made my way back to my cave, to try and sleep. It turned out to be easier than I expected. I put my head down and closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, the sun was shining. I got up and went over to the stream and dunked my head in it. Hygiene was important to me.
I made my way over to Crashamanka, where things were pretty quiet, with only one or two regulars in attendance. I went into my alcove and counted the previous night’s earnings. Not bad! I rolled back the stone from the hidey hole where I hid my clams and put last night’s takings away.
I’d no sooner put the stone back and sat down behind my deskrock, when Pee Jin appeared, closing the zebra skin behind him.
‘News?’ I asked. He nodded.
‘Good or bad?’
‘There’s a gang of Neanderthals hanging around that area and, when someone comes along, don’t ask me how, they bring out a velociraptor and, as he opens his mouth to bite them, they die. Just like that!’ He snapped his fingers.
‘That’s impossible!’ I cried out. ‘No-one’s ever managed to tame a velociraptor before and, don’t forget, I’ve seen what happens when a velociraptor attacks. There’s terror alright, but folks try to run; they don’t die of fright.’
‘I’m just telling you what I saw,’ said Pee Jin mildly. I looked at him and shook my head. This was impossible. And it still didn’t answer the question – why?
‘How many Neanderthals?’ He held up two hands, twice. Twenty! That was a lot, but we were going to have to find a way to end this curse, once and for all. ‘Gather Fossey and his whole gang, and make sure they all have heavy clubs, and meet me here. We’re going to surround that area tonight and finish them off, and find out why they’re killing folks.’
Later that afternoon, Fossey and about thirty-five other gorillas were there, with heavy-duty clubs. I told them what was afoot and what I was planning for us to do, and they listened in stern silence. Gorillas are not violent, but it’s not a good idea to get them angry.
We went down the path towards where the killings had happened, then climbed up into the trees to wait for them. The compies had just about stripped the body down to nothing, and our approach was so silent, that they were not even aware we were there. That was good. Someone was approaching and the compies dragged the body into the thicket and we waited.
I had my double-barrelled club and obsidian ready for this fight.
A young girl came along the path, a gourd of water on her head, when two Neanderthals jumped out in front of her. Where had they been? We’d sneaked along and not even been aware of them. The girl jumped back in fright. ‘What you want?’ she asked, and two Neanderthals grabbed her from the rear, but they had their hands wrapped in rabbit fur. That was why there was never any bruising.
She looked fearfully from one to another, when she heard a scream, the scream everyone knows if they live in these parts. A velociraptor! It approached her slowly and the sheer terror in her eyes had to be seen to be believed.
This was one clumsy velociraptor, I thought, as I watched it move in for the kill. That was when I saw the hand inside the velociraptor and knew what was going on. In the hand was a porcupine quill. I screamed, ‘Now!’ And jumped down from the tree, hitting the velociraptor alongside the head with the jagged end of the club, while Fossey and the gang made short work of the rest of the gang of Neanderthals.
I opened up the velociraptor and pulled out the unconscious Neanderthal. I looked up at the girl. ‘You’re free to go,’ I said, and she turned and ran. ‘Pee Jin!’ I said. ‘Tie these Neanderthal scum up securely, then cut them each a few times across their bodies. Fossey, take this one,’ I indicated the unconscious ‘velociraptor’ at my feet, ‘and haul him up into the tree, then tie him in place.’
We finished our business and waited, and we didn’t have long to wait. Two velociraptors, lured by the smell of blood, entered the clearing and tore into the Neanderthals, who screamed in terror as they died, pleading with us to save them. While the velociraptors were busy, dozens of compies came into the clearing and started taking bites out of the Neanderthals lying on the ground. Their screams would haunt my nightmares for a long time, I knew that, but I was repaying them in kind.
I turned to the Neanderthal up in the tree with us. ‘You’ve seen what happens to scum like you. Why did you do this? Why did you kill innocent folks for no reason?’
He rolled his eyes from side to side, desperately looking for a way out of this mess, but there was none. His head dropped down onto his chest. ‘What going happen me?’ he asked.
‘I’ll leave that to Olchap and the orang-utans. Now talk, or you join your friends.’ Many of the Neanderthals were still alive, and the compies were tearing bits of flesh off them and eating it while they slowly bled to death.
He looked at me in resignation. ‘Big gang of baboons, painted ones, killing triceratops and selling horn to Peking man. Peking man pay many clams for this horns.’
‘Painted baboons? What do you mean, painted baboons?’
‘Them got stripes, black, green and yellow, and they pay us to keep this path clear. This path is one they use to take horns to Peking man.’ I remembered now, the baboons we had shaven and painted, it seems they had formed a gang.
‘How many are there?’ I asked. He held up his hands four times. Forty; that was a fair number. ‘Where are they?’
‘Up by volcano, got free-standing caves.’
I nodded. I knew exactly what to do. The velociraptors had left, but the compies were still busy. No matter, they would move off when we came down from the trees, then come back and finish their meal.
Fossey was quite the strongest gorilla I’d ever seen, and he hefted that huge Neanderthal over his shoulder and descended from the tree as if he were carrying nothing at all. We made our way over to Olchap’s headquarters, who came out to greet us.
‘I say, what’s this?’
Pee Jin handed him the velociraptor skin, and I said, ‘Do you still have those bodies?’
‘Yes, of course! We haven’t had a chance to bury them yet.’
‘Bring them out, please.’
He called some of his cops to bring the bodies out and I showed him what we’d missed. The Neanderthal had pushed a porcupine quill up into their hearts and, the quill being so thin, it had gone into them and stayed there, leaving only the tiniest speck of blood, which would be absorbed by their bearskins. That was why we hadn’t been able to find anything. I told him what we had done with the others and he shook his head mournfully, but he had made a promise.
‘Can I ask you a favour?’ I asked Olchap.
‘Don’t crush this one’s head.’
Olchap looked shocked. ‘Why ever not?’
‘Put him in the smallest, darkest cave you have, and leave him there. Feed him, tend to his needs, but never let him see the light of day again. Crushing his head is too good for him.’ He nodded thoughtfully. ‘Now, we have to go and sort out the real bad guys, the ones who were paying them to do this.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, obviously puzzled, so I told him about those baboons we’d painted, who now seemed to take a perverse pride in their horrible colours. I told him how they had formed a gang and were killing the triceratops and selling the horns to Peking man.
‘What are you going to do when you catch them?’ he asked.
‘What I should have done last time,’ I answered. ‘Remember, you said if I solved this case I could dispense justice my way?’ He nodded. ‘Well, they’re going to the tar pits. If they grow in number, there’s no telling what they’ll do to Pangaea. We have to get rid of them now.’
He sighed heavily, then said, ‘Do what you must; I did agree.’ He shook his head sadly and turned to go back into the caves, two of his cops dragging the Neanderthal none too gently behind them. I felt really bad for him: he’d done such a good job and was justifiably proud of the work he’d done in cleaning up our part of Pangaea, but this was beyond him.
I turned to my guys. ‘Do you think we can take on and overpower forty baboons?’ There were thirty-eight of us.
Pee Jin stepped forward. ‘To get rid of these scum, we’ll tackle any odds.’ The others murmured in agreement and we went off to find the baboons.
Where the jungle ended, halfway up the slopes of the volcano, the baboons had built free-standing caves and had slave girls looking after them. I turned to Pee Jin. ‘We’ll wait until nightfall, when they’re all sleepy and off guard.’ He nodded, and we settled down to wait.
It was fully dark with only that yellow thing and those shiny things up in the sky, when we made our move. We overpowered them before they were even awake, then tied them up with lianas. We would wait for daybreak before we went to the tar pits: we didn’t want to take the chance of falling in ourselves.
We set the slaves free and settled down to wait for the sun to make its appearance. When it did and the baboons saw us, they started pleading with us, saying that they hadn’t been aware that what they were doing was wrong. I looked at them in disgust, covered on the ugly yellow, black and green paint.
We dragged them behind us and headed for the tar pits. The closer we came, the more they begged, then cajoled and finally, can you believe it, threatened us.
‘You think there are only us? There are many, many more than you can think of, and we will take over Pangaea and bring freedom to the folks! And then you will suffer. All of you!’
We ignored their ranting and finally, when we got to the tar pits, they were pleading again. But we threw them in, one by one, waiting for each one to sink, before throwing in another. They struggled and screamed, but the tar sucked them in. We left the leader till last.
‘Look, I’ve got triceratops horns worth more clams than you can dream of. Let me go, and you can sell them to Peking man and have the clams.’
I squatted down and looked him in the eye. ‘Are you serious? You would do that for me?’
He nodded vehemently, and I stood up. ‘Guys!’ I shouted, and they all turned to look at me. ‘This piece of dirt thinks he can buy me off with triceratops horns worth more clams than I’ve ever seen in my life.’ I winked at them. ‘Don’t throw him in the tar pits.’
‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ he blubbered, and Fossey picked him up with a puzzled expression on his face.
‘Come on guys,’ I said. ‘We have work to do and places to go.’
There was some grumbling at this and Pee Jin came up to me. ‘Are you really going to let him go, and keep all those triceratops horns?’
‘Wait and see, Pee Jin, wait and see.’ We made our way through the jungle to where the compies were still busy. They withdrew when we approached. ‘Dump him here, Fossey,’ I said, and he smiled wickedly.
‘No!!!’ screamed the baboon when he saw what his fate was.
‘You didn’t want to go into the tar pits, so I obliged. Enjoy the rest of your life.’ As we walked off, I heard him scream and turned to look. A compie had already taken a bite out of him, and more were approaching.
We made our winding way up to Crashamanka, and I shouted, ‘Drinks on the cave!’ then went into my alcove and collapsed behind my deskrock.
Pee Jin followed me in. ‘You don’t look happy.’
‘I’m not. But there are some things that have to be done, and this was one of them. I’m going to have to get drunk to sleep tonight.’ I went to my little hole in the wall and took out the clams to pay Pee Jin and the others. ‘Do you mind paying them, Pee Jin? I’m not really in the mood for company.’
He nodded and left and I sat there, massaging my temples. This had been the worst few days of my life, but I had solved the case without calling in Sheer Rock Caves. I had also dispensed justice in the truest sense, but I was not happy.Being a Pea Eye is great, but sometimes the responsibilities are more than one Cro can bear, and that was part of the job.