The Marked Field

Carl L. Biemiller's The Marked Field appeared in
Blue Book Magazine
October 1949, Vol. 89, No. 6

Please respect the copyright.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home


Bakerston’s Chief of Police was fat, fifty-five and fatherly. His force, five permanent men and ten assorted part-time monitors, coped ably with the exuberant forms of juvenile delinquencies, which passed for crime in the town. Major breaches of peace, especially those rarities which resulted in death, were handled by the Sheriff’s office in Iron City. That office, as Bakerston’s Chief Thornton frequently explained, worked with the State police and the metropolitan force. Thornton’s contribution to the Rogalski case was a sympathetic frown and a word of admonition to the driver of the ambulance, which took the body to the Iron City morgue. “Take things easy,” said Chief Thornton. “Go back to sleep, Pop,” said the Sheriff’s men. The State police lieutenant and two briskly efficient men ostensibly attached to the Iron City force said nothing to anyone at all, but they photographed and measured and probed for a hundred yards in each direction from where Rogalski’s body was found.

Later they returned to Iron City, where their preliminary findings were typed and laid on a desk in a small office where the lean gray-thatched Hamilton Connor thumbed through them. Shaw, Dane and the two men who had accompanied the State police lieutenant sat in a grave semicircle across his desk. They listened.

Connor had a face like a hawk’s with sharply defined angular planes that were emphasized by a pair of eyebrows slanting oddly upward, brows that stubbornly refused to relinquish their original black, and which now contrasted sharply with the gray of his sleekly brushed hair. His nose was sharp, made even more knife-edged when seen in profile, by his habitually compressed thin lips. He owned an abiding, almost implacable patience, which he frequently camouflaged by a waspish impatience for petty details, and a weary certainty of his own long proved ability. He owned also an evangelical surety in the department, and with it, a reputation for going to extremes both in using and in protecting his men.

“I don’t like coincidences,” he said. “It could be a perfectly plain instance of hit-and-run, an accident. It could have nothing to do at all with the reason we’re here. It could—but I doubt it. The boy was a football player. Our lead on the Commie drop involved a football player. Obviously no kid young enough to enjoy getting his brains thumped around with Central’s muscle men is going to have the sort of brains Joe’s organizers value in a really key position. But he could have given us a lead.”

“The first man you picked up?” queried Shaw softly. “Was authentically dangerous and able. The tests on the letter Dane told you about revealed a partial and badly smudged print that was not his, however. If your Rogalski’s prints match any part of it, all we have is a connection. If nothing matches, then all we have is a coincidence. I don’t like ‘em. Our best bet is to assume that this poor kid is still part of our picture, and dig back into every corner of his past for some other lead. If nothing turns up, then the whole thing is an accident, just as it appears to be--”

“With the exception of that skull wound,” interrupted one of the strangers, “and the lack of the sort of skid marks a sudden brake puts on a road.”

“Can’t tell about real accidents,” continued Connor. “That’s what makes them all different. But look at it this way: Suppose the kid was the man we were looking for, but not the man we really want. Call him just a poor dangerous indecision. Maybe grief, rage, anything at all because we picked up his brother…. His brother’s name was not Rogalski, incidentally. I don’t know, but if I were on the other side and efficiently entrenched here, I wouldn’t gamble. Maybe there’d be an accident.”

“You don’t think anybody could have tipped our hand?” asked Dane.

“Well, you always wonder. Frankly, no.”

“While we’re supposing,” said Dane, “lets just figure it’s been tipped anyhow, and that Rogalski is just a dead end sacrifice which would take us nowhere, and that the real guy is still playing football—that maybe there isn’t any head-man or head-men.”

“I like his better, said Shaw quietly, nodding his head at the thin man. “I’ve been looking at my kids a long while.”

“There has to be a reason, even for a plain accident,” murmured the Dipper. “If we’re still screened, then something new entered the situation.”

“Grief, rage, emotional stress—what do we know?” The lean man spoke crisply. “And if that old and always lousy thing coincidence—well, sometimes they catch hit-and –run drivers too. The ground work hasn’t been done on that end yet.”

The door to the office opened quietly. “Two fellows here from Chicago,” said the figure in the doorway. “They’re the guys the Department sent down to run the psycho tests on the football squad.”

There was a long moment of silence. It was broken by the man behind the desk. “It could be,” he said. “Why, dammit, it could be, at that.”

“The dean’s office notified Rogalski’s parents of the accident this morning,” said Dane. “His father is coming to Iron City.” He paused.

“We’ll look at him, “ finished the lean man. He nodded to the men in the doorway. “Come on in, fellows.”

The sun across his shoulders held no warmth, thought Shaw as he and the Dipper left the building, sliding into the pedestrian traffic on the busy street like human cards into an ever-shuffled animate deck. How long does a person know another person before realizing that all people conceal inviolate depths? Rogalski was an amiable twenty-three year old kid, a Polack puppy with an engaging grin. He had been on the squad three years, and if he had stayed around three more, he still wouldn’t have learned offensive blocking well enough to play Shaw ball, although he was a coach’s comfort on defense. Rogalski was a polite kid, a better-than-average student, a Sigma Nu, and a roughneck in the shower-room. Rogalski was a mine-country boy with an athletic scholarship and a part-time job in the library…. Rogalski was a corpse.

John Shaw found himself hoping the kid’s death was pure blind chance, a freak happenstance, unfortunate, but—he groped for the word—wholesome. Certainly kids held odd ideas today, or maybe not odd, just different from those held by other kids in other days. Why not? It was a world looking for an emergency exit; but maybe it always had been. He wouldn’t give a damn for a kid who didn’t believe, at twenty-one, in changing the universe. But tainted kids, youth working in the dark for darker purposes, those kids didn’t play games in the autumn sunshine, not rough, rock-em-team games like football. Nothing could convince him otherwise. He felt a twisted flare of anger at Dane, at himself, at the suddenly confronted knowledge that he, like millions of others, didn’t know much at all about the forces swirling through the times. Worse, he did; and like millions of others, preferred to ignore them as long as they did not encroach upon his own life.

“It stinks,” said Dane. “It always does.”

A sudden thought struck Shaw. “If Rogalski is the guy, your job is about over, isn’t it? I mean with the team.”

“You don’t know my boss Connor very well yet.”

Shaw visualized Connor that lean keen man behind the desk in the small room. “I guess not; but I’ve seen more like him.”

“Anyhow,” said Dane, “we don’t really know anything yet. We have to assume, especially when it’s the obvious thing to do. Besides I’m a real student out for the team—don’t forget that.” He paused delicately. “That is, if being something else besides a squad member doesn’t make it too tough—for you, I mean.”

There was diplomacy in the man, thought Shaw, a nice sensitivity, and it lightened the savageness of his mood. He forced a grin. “You’re looking pretty fair in there, Dipper,” he said. “Let’s move. I’ve got things to do back home.”

“I cut a class or two myself today,” remarked Dane succinctly.

They rode the twenty miles up the winding valley from Iron City to Bakerston in silence, with Shaw driving and Dane gazing fixedly at the rolling hills that had already begun to blaze with the yellows and oranges of the season. The tires buzzed on the black-top road with a hypnotic drone. Dane found himself remembering a half-forgotten instruction: waiting is ninety percent of the work. He let himself relax somnolently in the corner of the seat. From the corner of his eye he could see Shaw’s hands on the wheel. They were big, competent-looking, and at this moment, very steady.

It was late afternoon when they pulled up before the parking space adjoining the field house on Colwide. The squad had finished calisthenics, and was hard at work. “Hit the lockers,” grunted Shaw as he slid out from under the wheel. “Plenty working time.”

“Wait a minute,” said Dane, his eyes reaching beyond the driveway to the field house. “Isn’t that Miss Whittaker over by your office door?”

“It sure is.” Shaw paused. “You might as well come along. I know what she’s here for, and you can guess.”

The girl was grave as they approached. Dane noticed that her hair was tucked up out of sight beneath a rumpled felt hat, noticed also that a neat tailored gabardine suit gave her an almost spinsterish air which aptly confirmed her present gravity. She ventured an exploratory smile at Shaw, nodded to Dane. “It’s Rogalski,” she said. “Timmy wants a follow on the accident story for sports. I told him you might not like it, but he insisted.” She hurried her wards: “I did a peace on him two years ago, you know, one of the ordinary squad features, but maybe you could add a statement.”

“Come on in, Sally,” said the big man. “You too, Dipper. I want to talk to you later.”

They walked the short cleat-dappled corridors to Shaw’s office. The coach yanked at a straight chair for the girl, negligently indicated a wall, against which Dane promptly leaned. “You’ve got all the necessary background on Rogalski,” said Shaw. “You know as much as we do about the accident. The kid left the Sigma Nu house after dinner to take a little walk…. Well, he walked out Lincoln Lane and didn’t come back. That’s all we know. Whatever turns up you can get from the Iron City end later, if the police get anything. As far as football goes, you can say that Rogalski leaves a helluva lot of friends who’ll be thinking of him. The kid was a credit to the squad. He would have been a good, consistent performer this year, a guy we counted on in that line. I don’t know what else I can tell you, Sally.”

“Did he have any special friends on the squad? Fellows he sort of played around with more than others?”

“Sure—Ziborsky, another boy from Pennsylvania. Rogalski was Polish, and so is Ziborsky. Jeffers, I guess—the two were always clowning around. Peterson, Daniels—I imagine they were his best friends, but I’d rather you didn’t talk to them about it. Mention them if you want to, but after all, I can’t see where it adds much to your piece.”

“I understand his family is coming up to school,” said Sally.

“Check with the dean’s office or on your own end. I heard the same think; but after all, there are regular college officials who handle occasions like this, and they aren’t coaches.”

“Is Rogalski’s brother coming too? I imagine he’ll take it pretty hard. He thought a lot of his brother.”

“Did you know Rogalski’s brother?” asked Dane smoothly and evenly.

Sally turned in the chair to face him, a puzzled crease on her forehead at the interruption. Shaw dropped a big hand over a pencil on his desk and rolled it idly, silently.

“Why, no,” she answered. “I only met him once. He watched a practice here the day I talked to Rogalski two years ago. A skinny little man with a slight limp. I thought it was funny for him to have a football-sized relative, especially when he called him ‘little brother’.”

“I never met him,” said Shaw.

“Why should you?” she countered. “You were busy somewhere. But I remember the day. As a matter of fact, Jimmy Calhoun was with me. It was the same day he shot squad pictures, and I think he took one of the two Rogalskis. I had some idea of using a big and small shot, but the desk didn’t see it.”

“There wouldn’t be a print around your office, would there, Miss Whittaker?” asked the Dipper.

“Lord knows,” she replied. “Newspaper offices are full of useless pictures. I had a print once; maybe it’s in my desk; maybe Calhoun has one in some old bin. What is this?”

Shaw was silent. He stared at a picture on the wall. Dane made the decision.

“Some of us would like to know a little more about Rogalski,” he said simply. “I wonder if you’d mind if I rode back to Iron City with you. I’d like to pick up that picture if it’s available anywhere.”

There was undisguised surprise on Sally’s face. “Not at all, Mr. Dane,” she said.

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Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home