The Cannibal of Pang Yang
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Adcock
Six months following the Nativity incident and disastrous raid on the Binnewaters, Oscar Jukes laid out a goodly sum of cash to engage a land surveyor and attorney from Poughkeepsie, one Nelson Forbath. The transaction surprised Kingstonians and untouchables alike, for it was Jukes’ habit to conflate most legal niceties with evil incarnate. As he often ranted, “The Devil makes his Christmas pie with fookin’ lawyers’ tongues.”
Handsomely remunerated, Forbath commenced professional examination of Jukes Peak, acknowledged as the unquestioned estate of the unquestioned patriarch of Pang Yang——and general in charge of boulder armories.
Jukes’ motive in hiring Forbath would soon excite the late Simon Van Dyne, a short bachelor with a twisted spine that caused him a heavy limp. Van Dyne was the sole dentist and oral surgeon in Kingston, though he longed to cede the monopoly; ironically, he held his craft in abhorrence, no matter that it endowed him with security and modest wealth. The problem was, if Van Dyne were to abandon dentistry at his relatively young age——thirty-eight years——his accumulated capital could not support him beyond a few decades.
Eager to forego medical practice, Van Dyne’s only option was to invest his savings. Famously handicapped by naïveté, he underwrote one derelict venture after another in pursuit of an elusive jackpot.
Van Dyne’s capitalistic preoccupation worked against the better interests of his patients——and himself. The ivory denture plates he constructed for his own mouth were so ill fitting as to inflict his speech with an unfortunate lisp.
Schooled in the ancient methods of geometric and trigonometric calculation, the surveyor Forbath determined the precise Earthly position of Jukes Peak, the contours of its landmass, and its terrestrial liaison to the Heavens. From these measurements, the attorney Forbath drafted a geographical and geological map in accordance with lawful specification.
For his part in the enterprise of warranting homestead rights and privileges, Oscar Jukes constructed a windowless shanty of maple limbs and castaway planks. The austere household consisted of a cook stove and stone chimney, a round table and chairs, and a bed wide enough for two. The heavy door had a peephole of two-inch circumference, and an inside rack for axe storage. Here, Oscar and Prunella dwelt in “a state of paganist depravity,” as adjudged by W. Clement Barlow in remarks from the altar of Calvary Methodist soon after the crime in question.
With Forbath’s official documentation, Jukes registered his acreage and domicile, unseemly as it was, with the County of Ulster. Thus did Jukes Peak become deeded, and taxable as real property.
Among other benefits of the formality in which he participated, wholly out of character, Jukes gained licit ownership to what he claimed lay buried in precious lodes of prodigious quantity beneath his property.
But, how to garner funds for mining the loot?
Jukes hit upon a stratagem to draw the moneyed Van Dyne to his aid, as fly to spider. He knew better than to initiate contact with a burgher for the aim he had in mind: Pang Yangers could no more promote business dealings with Kingstonians than they could hope to enroll their children in the public schools. Jukes was left to bruiting it about town that he and Nellie lived atop a veritable mountain of money.
Then, all Jukes had to do was wait for the gold bug to bite Simon Van Dyne.
Deep into his cups one evening at the Green Parrot, Jukes struck up a conversation with an important-looking gent standing next to him at the rail. Unbeknownst to Jukes, this was the very man who would eventually send him to the gallows.
Said Jukes to Jasper Haight that fateful night, “Them little elves livin’ underground they tol’ me gold’s buried all over my fookin’ land. Most of it deep down, though, but available fer the takin,’ all right. Yessir! So I dug down some, two-three feet down through a mess of rocks the size of red skin potatoes. And oh my——Joseph, Mary and Jesus on a stick!——don’t you know I come up with a couple nuggets. Care to see ‘em?”
Haight very much cared, on account of rumors he had heard since boyhood of gold deposits somewhere in the forbidding mountains guarded by the disreputable likes of the tippler beside him, whom he knew to be Oscar Jukes. Most everyone in Kingston knew Jukes on sight.
Jukes dropped three flinty specimena into the uptilted pink of Jasper Haight’s left hand: charcoal gray and black pellets, sparkled with ochre.
Haight said to himself, Well now, this sure enough looks to be flecks of gold in the ore. But elves, this one says? Pshaw! He’s been drinking that mushroom tea.
When a passing customer caused a puff of air to pass over Jukes’ slicked hair, Haight thought further, My lord, but this Jukes fella smells putrid!
Said Jukes, between Haight’s scoffing ruminations, “Trouble is, see, I ain’t got the money what’s needed for takin’ up the gold.”
“Look here, sir,” said Haight, introducing himself by name and his title of public office, “it happens that I am a man of position. Now, if you feel you can——“
Jukes interrupted. “You the same Haight related to the fat Kluxer gal got her head just about knocked off by a rock somebody flung?”
The district attorney affirmed Opal Haight as his wedded wife, though he seemed unpleased in saying so. He returned to the more important matter of his truncated query.
“Please leave one of your nuggets with me,” said Haight. “Will you do that? You can trust in me. I’ll have it scientifically analyzed.”
A few weeks later, the state assayer’s office down in New York found bona fide gold content in the nugget sent by Jasper Haight’s secretary. Having only the mildest anticipation of positive result, Haight was astonished. And somewhat rueful, for he had begun mocking Oscar Jukes all over town as the “Mad Miner.” Most of his cronies enjoyed a good laugh at the recounting of an imbecilic Pang Yanger’s claim that elves had certified a genuine gold mine. How absurd!
Simon Van Dyne was not among the laughers. Since he was a lad in short pants, he, too, was aware of legendary gold deposits in the hills beyond Kingston. And now, here was assayed proof.
The Mad Miner’s ploy had come to fruition.
Induced by payment of ten dollars, the publican of the Green Parrot sent word to Van Dyne on the very next occasion of Oscar Jukes’ thirsty visit. Duly informed at four o’clock of a Friday afternoon, Van Dyne made short work of a widow woman suffering from gingival abscess and stumped his way up Kingston’s main stem to the courthouse, then around the corner to the Green Parrot. He sidled up to Jukes at the bar. Minus any chatty preliminaries——he was dealing with a Pang Yang imbecile after all——Van Dyne offered himself as investor and fiduciary in a mining partnership, profits to be divided at the ratio of twenty to eighty in his favor.
“Th-ash becosh I’ll be sh-taking a gamble of consh-iderable enormity,” explained the dentist with the self-induced speech impediment.
“Well, fook, I dunno,” said Jukes. “How ‘bout you gimmie a week, thereabouts, so’s to ponder the idea?”
“Sh-ure, partner, sh-ure.” Van Dyne removed an envelope from the inside breast pocket of his four-button sack coat. Bulged with currency, the envelope contained a hundred crisp green bills, each one bearing the engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton. “Here-sh a thoush-and in the meantime. Advan-sh against royal-tish. Count it. Go on, count.”
“Meh-bee you got yerself a deal, Mister,” said Jukes, knowing he need not bother to count, knowing that a naïf like Van Dyne would take declination as an act of courtesy and trust.
Jukes stepped back from the rail and made way to the door. Before departing, he waggled the envelope at Van Dyne and said, “Bring more of this here stuff——two weeks out from t’day, right about this same time. Meh-bee then I give yuh the good word.”
In the interval, an excited Simon Van Dyne contracted with an Albany firm for delivery of a cable hammer tractor and a dragline excavator. He also arranged for two teams of oxen to power said equipment, lumberjacks to clear pathway inclines to Jukes Peak, and journeymen carpenters to build treaded skids——one going up, another down. A third path would be cleared and hard-packed for trafficking oxen.
At four o’clock on the follow-up day cited by the properly registered owner of the mine site, Simon Van Dyne showed up at the Green Parrot. Oscar Jukes did not. Worried to a sweat about the costs he had incurred in hiring machinery, beasts of burden and standby tradesmen, Van Dyne waited an agonized wait. An hour passed, and another. Finally, at a quarter past seven o’clock, Oscar Jukes strode up to the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey.
“Good to sh-ee you, partner,” said Van Dyne. “We are partner-sh, right? You and me, friend. A geezer off the mountain hooked up to a go-getter like me, with brain-sh and money to in-vesht? That-sh a fine combina-shun. Wouldn’t you sh-ay?”
Not having been reprimanded about the rudeness of his tardy arrival, or even mildly questioned, Jukes correctly understood that he held the confidence man’s upper hand. He silently congratulated himself for another uncharacteristic expenditure, that being a certain further legal service from Nelson Forbath.
“Partners?” said Jukes. “You got a envelope for me?”
Once again, Van Dyne handed over a bulge of ten-dollar bills.
“That make-sh it a total of two thou-shand bucks worth of down payment on partnership, my friend.” Van Dyne placed more money atop the bar and motioned for a bottle. “Let-sh have a drink to shell-a-brate.”
Jukes produced an envelope of his own, containing articles of incorporation for the Jukes Peak Mining Company, courtesy of Forbath.
“One thing,” Jukes said. “My lawyer he says our split’s gotta get me thirty percent, not no twenty.”
“Sh-ure, you bet.”
Through that fall of 1901 and several mild days into the New Year of ‘02, the tractor and excavator pulled up some nineteen hundred pounds of rock to the surface of Jukes Peak. The haul was loaded into carts and sent by rail to the state assayer’s office.
On stolen horseback, Oscar Jukes preceded the train’s downstate journey. By way of questionable certificates written by Forbath, Jukes sold ersatz stock in the mine to anyone he came across. Sales earned him enough to enjoy a weekend of rich food, expensive liquor, fine cigars, and debauchment with female adolescents at a brownstone residence in West 27th Street, home to an establishment known as The Ladies’ Seminary. He felt it unnecessary to tell Van Dyne of how he financed this pleasure.
On returning to his shanty, where in all respects young Prunella kept a grown man’s home, Oscar Jukes tutored his co-habitant in refined behavior and Tantric methodology, as practiced by the girlish seminarians of West 27th Street.
Meanwhile, the assay process went forward——under the new system of cupellation, wherein rocks were treated under high temperature to separate corrosion and oxidation-resistant gold from worthless base material. Once again, testing indicated positive result: to be sure, there was gold. But in terms of corporate outlook, the bottom line was negative: nineteen hundred pounds of ore, mined at a cost so staggering as to result in treacherous palpitations in Simon Van Dyne’s heart, contained only small amounts of profitable content.
Van Dyne was forced to withdraw his equipment, animals and manpower from Jukes Peak. Meanwhile, Jukes quietly sold off the property’s wood rights to an out-of-state investment syndicate as naïve as Kingston’s dentist and oral surgeon. Jukes neglected to tell his partner of this, too.
But it did not take long for Van Dyne to discover that Jukes had pocketed ancillary funds. Thus began a short feud, ended by the events of 5 January 1902.
On that day, a farmer named Thaddeus Lanchester was on alert for chicken-stealing youngsters from the Binnewaters. In seasons past, he had discharged buckshot at many, injuring some, though not fatally; not yet.
On that day, a mild one at the onset of the usual January thaw, Lanchester was able to hold fire. This greatly relieved him. He disliked the sound of howling children, even if they were Pang Yangers. More than that, Lanchester disliked the violent threats Oscar Jukes heaped upon him whenever he had need of filling a young chicken thief’s backside with shot. Anyone would fear those threats, and Jukes’ physical power: angered, the patriarch of Pang Yang was as strong as a man half his age.
The first time Jukes had retaliatory reason to call out Lanchester was on the occasion of a Pang Yang boy’s ear blasted clean away, along with bits of his temple. With no indication of displeasurable objective, Jukes walked up to Lanchester and calmy attacked him in the hog pen. He raised the blunt end of an axe and smashed it into the farmer’s right shoulder. Lanchester crumpled into a puddle of manure. Jukes then spent several long minutes stomping Lanchester’s stomach and legs with his hobnail boots, after which he kicked the farmer’s head bloody.
“Listen close, Lanchester, yuh rotten fook. Shoot one of my young again and I’ll sic a gang red Mohicans on yer arse.” Jukes’ breathing was perfectly steady as he said this, whereas Lanchester flailed in the muck, gasping for air.
“Them injuns, boy, they’ll scalp open yer fookin’ head so’s yer wet brains is bug food. That’s what kills yuh slow——brain eatin’ bugs, or else buzzards come flyin’ down to peck yuh dead. And after yer gone to Hell, Lanchester yuh fook, I’ll get one of us Pang Yangers knows the alphabet real good. My Nellie. She’ll write yer obituary in weasel’s piss.”
This day, thankfully, the only thing Lanchester saw was Simon Van Dyne hiking the up-skid pathway at mid-morning. Van Dyne was never seen again, at least not in one piece.
At five o’clock, Jukes came calling. There was much expression to his face this time, as Lanchester would later testify at trial: “Oscar was highly agitated. I never seen him fear anything, but he sure looked a fright then.”
District Attorney Haight pressed his most important witness for the prosecution, “And the reason for Oscar Jukes’ agitation, Mr. Lanchester?”
“He was searching for that jailbait gal of his, he told me. Name of Nellie, short for Prunella. Asked if I seen Nellie come down off the mountain. I told him I only seen Simon Van Dyne go up in the morning, about ten.”
And come the five o’clock dusk?
“I realized I never seen the dentist walk back down, and I got to worrying about him up there in Pang Yang by himself. Also I realized there was a lot of smoke from up there. It was rolling down the hills in a cloud. Never seen nothing like it.”
“Smoke? Please tell the court.”
“I thought, could it be that fool Oscar Jukes accidentally set his cabin on fire? I don’t care about him burning up, but I hold nothing against Nellie. So in a couple days, me and some deputies we went on up to the peak for a look-see.”
“What did you find?”
“Found the door to Oscar’s shanty wide open to the cold, and him standing in the back over a stove. There was something sizzling on top, something burnt to stink. Oscar, he was agitated again, like when I seen him in the morning.”
“You inquired as to what was cooking?”
“Oscar, he says, ‘Oh, I got some pork rinds I throwed on the stove and forgot about them.’ Made me mad because I got a hog missing from the pen, and it’s no doubt because one of his thieving young made off with it. And now here I’m talking to a goddamn Pang Yanger who don’t even know how to cook a hog hide right——“
“Objection!” interrupted defense attorney Nelson Forbath. “Prejudicial! Immaterial!”
“Sustained,” said Judge Barlow, who could be objective and fair-minded on occasion.
Haight’s wife nodded her agreement with the judge’s call, as if she, too, was of occasional ecumenical impulse. Opal Haight sat in her wheelchair, adjacent to the last observer’s bench in the courtroom. Being judicious, she was not wearing her white robe and matching peaked hat.
The judge admonished Lanchester, “I beseech thou, sir. You must exercise Christian tolerance in speaking of the defendant, though he may be of idiotic demeanor and repulsive appearance.”
Haight took the point, and queried further of the witness, “And what of Mr. Van Dyne? Was he there in the shanty with the defendant?”
“Nope. Oscar says him and Van Dyne talked business some. I should think so! Just look at Oscar and them brown teeth of his, what’s left of them. He surely could use a dentist!”
“Mr. Lanchester, I beseech thou further!”
“Yes, sir, your honorable,” the witness said.
“Anyhow, judge, Oscar says when him and Van Dyne was all done talking, Van Dyne says he’s going down to New York to see some bankers and he won’t be coming back ‘til March sometime.”
Haight asked, “But you never saw Van Dyne return from the mountain?”
“Nope, and I even said that to Jukes. ‘Strange I never seen Van Dyne since the morning,’ I told Oscar. Oscar, he says back to me, ‘Well, Lanchester, yer eyeballs ain’t too sharp t’day. My partner, he surely did leave here. About one o’clock it was when he walked back down the skid. You missed him, that’s all. Better get a pair of specs.’ That’s just about his exact same words.”
Forbath scratched a note about this portion of testimony, as possible use in cross-examination challenge to the prosecution’s chief witness. Forbath wrote, Lanchester——poor eyesight?——dusk and smoke——witness impeachment——question on earlier alleged assault.
Haight continued his direct examination of Lanchester, asking, “Now, are you telling the court that you’re quite sure you had to have seen Van Dyne if, indeed, he returned from Jukes Peak on the day in question?”
“Sure as I know my hunkers are set down flat in the witness box, sir. Actually, I would have heard him. There’s a lot of stomping and clomping involved in walking those skids, you know. I was outdoors with my animals and chores the whole day. Couldn’t of missed seeing anything move on those skids——or hearing something move, which I would’ve looked up to see what was going on, see. So there’s no way I missed Van Dyne on any return trip. Besides, my wife didn’t notice Van Dyne coming back neither.”
Haight moved on. “Did you have reason for a subsequent ‘look-see’ up on Jukes Peak?”
“Yes, sir. The next day, there’s another smoke cloud like the one before come rolling down off the mountain. By then I was highly suspicious of Oscar Jukes.”
“Well, apart from Van Dyne disappearing, I remember I never seen Nellie in the shanty back on my first trip up to Jukes Peak. Like I said, Oscar come looking for her that first time, nervous like.”
“And what did you do about your suspicions?”
“By and by, I went and got the sheriff to give me some men to go with me back up there to Jukes Peak.”
Hier geht’s zu Teil 1.
THOMAS ADCOCK is a novelist and journalist based in New York City. Winner of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by Mystery Writers of America, his books and articles have been published worldwide. Writing as Tom Dey, he is currently completing a new novel titled “Lovers & Corpses.” Mehr zu Thomas Adcock hier und hier.