Two Shots in the Night

Constables John Power and Patrick Cahill––troopers of the Clermont Gold Escort––lie in a drugged stupor near the remnants of their campfire. These are their final moments.

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They have been riding for three days to get here, before spending the day drinking and bathing, letting their horses rest. The camp is down by the Mackenzie River, about a hundred yards from Bedford’s bush hotel. As the night closes in, their last drinks carry an opium tincture through their bodies––assuring their final rest is complete, while the murderer waits to carry his plan forward.

He watches them, his head quite still but his eyes shifting to and fro between the sleeping men. There are tears in those eyes, but not many. He wipes them with slow fingers, while his other hand quietly draws the revolver from its holster.

Griffin stands, still watching Power and Cahill as he adjusts his back and shakes the ache from each leg in turn. He walks a few yards in the direction of the hotel, stopping when a stick cracks loudly beneath his heel. He checks the men again––undisturbed, unmoving––and turns his head back towards the deep darkness between the camp and Bedford’s pub, waiting more than a full minute without any movement, the pistol pointed to the ground. He returns to the campfire, and squats beside the fading coals, peering at each man in turn as he holds the pistol in his left hand and wipes his right palm on his shirtfront.

He stands decisively and steps forward, taking the weapon in his gun-hand and bringing it down to an inch from Power’s skull. The thunderous percussion of Power’s death rouses Cahill, who groggily attempts to sit up before Griffin’s boot knocks him down. Griffin places the muzzle close to Cahill’s temple and fires again.

He steps back, surveying the dreadful scene, and then stumbles away from the camp into the bush for maybe twenty or thirty yards before the retching brings him to his knees. He coughs and vomits, spitting out bile before standing again and taking a few steps to sit on the trunk of a felled ironbark tree. Griffin wipes his sleeve across his mouth. His hand is shaking too much to re-holster his gun, so he sits with it laid across his lap––alone in the night while he listens for anyone who might be approaching.

Witnesses could not agree as to how many shots they heard, nor when they heard them. Sleeping minds are prone to additions as much as they are omissions, but two shots at least were fired between midnight and the dawn. Two good men, gone to that far forever place so that another could try to avoid admitting his errors and losses.