North Woods Manhunt (A Sugar Creek Gang Story)
North Woods Manhunt
NORTH WOODS MANHUNT
(A Sugar Creek Gang Story)
SCRIPTURE PRESS PUBLICATIONS, INC.
1825 College Avenue · Wheaton, Illinois
North Woods Manhunt
Copyright, 1948, by
All rights in this book are reserved. No part may be reproduced in anymanner without the permission in writing from the author, except briefquotations used in connection with a review in a magazine or newspaper.
Printed in the United States of America
I TELL you, when you just know there’s going to be some excitingtrouble in the next twelve minutes or less, you have to make your redhead do some quick clear thinking, if you can.
Not a one of the Sugar Creek Gang knew what was going to happen, butthe very minute I heard that outboard motor roaring out on the lake,the sound sounding like it was coming straight toward the shore and theold icehouse we were all in, I said to us, “Quick, Gang! Let’s get outof here and get this ransom money back to camp!”
Little Jim’s gunny sack had a lot of money in it right that minute,which we’d dug up out of the sawdust in that abandoned old icehouse.The gunny sack was nearly filled with stuffed fish,—the big andmiddle-sized northern and wall-eyed pike with thousands and thousandsof dollars sewed up inside.
I won’t take time right now to tell you all you maybe ought to knowabout how we happened to find that ransom money buried in the sawdustof that old icehouse, ’cause that’d take too long, and besides you’veprobably read all about it in the last story about the Sugar CreekGang, which is called, “Sugar Creek Gang Digs for Treasure.” I maybebetter tell you, though, that a little St. Paul girl named MarieOstberg had been kidnapped and the kidnapper had hidden up in theChippewa forest of northern Minnesota in what is called “The PaulBunyan4 Country,” where we were camping. Our gang had found the girlin the middle of the night and captured the kidnapper in an old Indiancemetery the next night, and then we had had a very mysterious andexciting time hunting for the ransom money in one of cuckoo-est placesin all the world to find money, and at last had found it in this veryold icehouse, and, as I told you, the money had been sewed up inside ofthese great big fish which we’d been digging up and stuffing into thegunny sack.
In maybe another seven minutes we’d have had it all dug up and stuffedinto the gunny sack and would have been on our excited way back tocamp, but all of a startling sudden we heard that outboard motorroaring in our direction from out on the lake and we knew that unlesswe stepped on the gas, we wouldn’t even get all of us climbed out ofthe opening and far enough away in the bushes not to be seen.
“What’s the sense of being scared?” Dragonfly, the pop-eyed member ofour gang, asked me right after I’d ordered us all to get going quick.“The kidnapper’s caught and in jail, isn’t he?”
“Sure, but Old hook-nosed John Till’s running loose up here somewhere,”I said—Old Hook-nose being a very fierce man who was the fierceinfidel daddy of one of the members of our gang. He had been in jaila lot of times in his wicked life and was staying in a cabin not morethan a quarter of a mile up the shore from where we were right thatminute.
Poetry, the barrel-shaped member of the gang, who knew one hundred andone or two poems by heart and was always quoting one, swished aroundquick, scrambled back across the[Pg 5] sawdust we’d been digging in, peepedthrough a crack between the logs toward the lake.
“Who is it?” I said, and he said in his duck-like squawky voice, “Ican’t tell, but he looks awful mad.”
Well, anybody knows anybody couldn’t see well enough that far to seeanybody’s face well enough to tell whether it had a mad look on it, butif it was John Till who hated us boys anyway, he’d probably be mad andwould do savage things to all of us, if he caught us in that icehousegetting the money.
So in another six or seven jiffies we were all scrambling as fast aswe could out of that icehouse and out into the open, carrying LittleJim’s gunny sack full of fish. We made a dive across an open space to aclump of bushes, where we wouldn’t be seen by anybody on the lake.
Circus, the acrobatic member of our gang, was with us, too, and hebeing the strongest one of us, grabbed up the sack, swung it over hisshoulder and loped on ahead of us. “Hurry!” we panted to each other,and didn’t stop running until we reached the top of a hill, which wedid just as we heard the outboard motor stop. There we all dropped downon the grass, gasping and panting, and tickled that we were safe, but Iwas feeling pretty bad to think that there were probably a half dozenother fish still buried in the sawdust in that old log icehouse.
“Quick, Poetry, give me your knife,” Circus ordered.
“What for?” Poetry said, and at the same time shoved his fat hand inhis pocket and pulled out his official boy-scout knife and handed itover to Circus, who quick opened the heavy cutting blade and startedripping open the sewed-up stomach of a big northern pike which he’djust pulled out of the sack.
6“There’s no sense in carrying home a six pound northern pike with onlya quarter of a pound of twenty dollar bills in it,” Circus said, and Iknew he was right, ’cause it was a long way back to our camp, and iffor any reason we had to run fast, we could do it better without havingto lug along those great big fish, especially the biggest one.
I didn’t bother to watch Circus though, ’cause right that second Istarted peering through the foliage of some oak undergrowth back towardthe lake, just as I saw a man come swishing around the corner of theicehouse and stop in front of the opened door.
“Hey look!” Dragonfly said to us, “he’s got a big string of big fish.”
And sure enough he had.
Little Jim, who was beside me, holding onto his stick which he alwayscarried with him when we were on a hike or out in the woods, whisperedclose to my ear and said, “I’ll bet he’s got a lot more money sewed upin a lot more fish, and is going to bury it in the sawdust where thesewere.”
I happened to have my high-powered binoculars with me so I quickunsnapped the carrying case they were in, zipped them out, raised themto my eyes and right away it seemed like I was only about one-third asfar away as I was. I gasped so loud at what I saw—or rather who Isaw—that my gasp was almost like a yell.
“SH!” Circus said to us, just like he was the leader of our gang, whichhe wasn’t, but I was myself—that is, I was supposed to be, ’causeour real leader, Big Jim, wasn’t with us, but was back at camp withLittle Tom Till, the newest member of our gang.
7“It’s Old Hook-nose, all right,” I said, and knew it was. I could seehis stoop-shoulders, dark complexion, red hair, bulgy eyes, bushyeyebrows, and his hook nose.
“What if he finds we’ve dug up part of the fish and run away withthem?” Little Jim asked in a half-scared voice.
“Maybe he won’t,” I said, and hoped he wouldn’t.
While I was watching John Till toss his stringer of fish up into theopening and clamber up after them, Circus was slashing open the fishand taking out the ransom money which was folded in nice flat packetsof oiled paper like the kind my mom uses in our kitchen back home atSugar Creek.
We also all helped Circus do what he was doing, all of us maybe moreexcited than we’d been in a long time, while different ones of us tookturns watching Hook-nose do what he was doing.
I knew that in only a few jiffies he would be out of that icehouseagain, and probably would go back to the big white boat he’d come toshore in, shove off and row out a few feet, and then there would be aroar of his motor and away he would go swishing out across the sunlitwater, his boat making a long widening V behind him. Then we wouldsneak back and get the rest of the money.
Everything was pretty clear in my mind as to what had been going on thelast day or two, and it was that John Till had maybe been what policecall an “accomplice” of the real kidnapper and it had been his specialjob to look after the ransom money. He’d decided that the best way inthe world to hide it where nobody would ever think of finding it wouldbe to catch some big fish, cut them open, clean out the entrails, foldthe money in packets of oil paper, stuff it inside the fish, and8 sewit up, like my mother sews up a chicken she’s stuffed with dressingjust before she slides it into the oven for our dinner. Then he woulddig down deep in the sawdust of the icehouse till he came to some ice,lay the fish on it, and cover it up. Nobody would ever think to lookinside a fish for money. Even if they accidentally dug up a fish, it’dbe covered with wettish sticky sawdust, and they wouldn’t see thestitches in its stomach.
Say, while I was thinking that and also watching the shadow of JohnTill through the door of the icehouse, all of a sudden there was aquick gasp beside me, and I said to Circus, “What on earth?” thinkingmaybe he’d found something terribly special, but he hadn’t. He droppedhis knife, leaped to his feet, and said, “You guys stay here! I’ll beright back.”
“Stop!” I said. “Where you going?” I remembered I was supposed to bethe leader, but say, Circus had his own ideas about that. He squirmedout of my grasp, almost tearing his shirt, on account of I had hold ofit and didn’t want to let go.
The next second there were only four of us left—barrel-shaped Poetry,kind-faced, swell Little Jim, pop-eyed Dragonfly, and red-haired,fiery-tempered, freckle-faced Bill Collins, which is me. Circus, ouracrobat, was streaking out through the bushes as fast as he could gotoward the lake and the icehouse, but not getting out in the open whereJohn could see him.
“What on earth?” I thought. I didn’t dare yell, or try to stop him bywhistling or something, or John Till would have heard me, and who knowswhat might have happened? I didn’t have the slightest idea what Circuswas up to until a moment later, when I saw him dart like a scaredchipmunk out from some bushes not far from the icehouse and make a divefor the open door.
9“Why the crazy goof!” I thought. “He’s going to try to—What was hegoing to try to do?”
And the next thing I knew, I quick found out. It happened so fast, Ididn’t even have time to think. But the very minute I saw Circus startto do what he was starting to do, I knew he was going to do it.
SWISH! Wham! A half-dozen fast flying movements, and it was all over.Circus grabbed that icehouse door, swung it shut, lifted the big heavybar and threw it into place, and Old hook-nosed John Till was lockedinside!
CIRCUS hadn’t any more than