In the Line of Duty: Pt. 3 – Confrontation

Barbara Roden's narrative of Special Constable Isaac Decker and the train robbers in Ashcroft continues.

Isaac Decker, sworn in at Ashcroft as a Special Constable only a few hours earlier, stood overlooking the Thompson River, a .22 rifle cradled under one arm. The robbers who had held up a CPR train near Kamloops only a week earlier were still on the loose, and while many held that the men had almost certainly long since left the area, Decker – a retired policeman – knew that he could not afford to be too cautious. Chief of Police Joe Burr had passed along a report of a small green boat stolen from Kamloops a few days ago, and now a girl on horseback had reported seeing two men in a green boat coming down the river towards Ashcroft.

He had immediately reached for his gun, then cursed softly as he realized he was not carrying one. The possibility that the bandits would be seen in or around Ashcroft had seemed to him so remote that he had not thought to wear a gun. The idea of confronting the men in the boat without some sort of weapon was ludicrous, and for a moment he considered running back to the police station, where he might also find some backup. But that would take too much precious time, and the men might slip through the net while he was gone.

There was a faint commotion behind him, on the road leading into Ashcroft, and Decker turned. A young boy was driving a small herd of cattle, and Decker could see that the lad was carrying a single-shot .22 rifle.

“I’m Special Constable Decker, son,” he said, “and I’m here on some very important business. If you could give me the loan of your rifle for a little while, I’d appreciate it.”

“Sure,” the boy agreed readily. He handed Decker the rifle, then fished around in one of his pockets and pulled out a handful of cartridges. “Take these too, if you want.”

Decker held out his hand. Even as he did so, he hoped he wouldn’t have need of them; for if he did, the odds of having time to reload would be slim. Still, he thanked the boy, adding that he’d return the rifle later that evening.

“You don’t have to return it tonight,” the boy said. “I’ll get it at the police station tomorrow.” And with a nod he turned and headed in the direction of town, the cows plodding away ahead of him.

On the far side of the river eight-year-old Tommy Cumming and his friends Ernie Graham and Billy Munro were packing up their fishing gear, ready to call it a night. It was close on 6 pm, and the boys were getting hungry. Tommy and Billy would have been home a quarter of an hour ago if it hadn’t been for Ernie, who was convinced a whopper of a fish was on the point of being hooked, and kept insisting on just a few more minutes.

It was Ernie who, as he pulled his line out of the water for the last time, glanced to his left and spotted something on the river. He gazed at it for a moment, unsure what he was seeing, then called out to his friends.

“Look, fellas, there’s a boat coming down the river with two men in it!”

It was a strange thing to be seen on the river in Ashcroft, and the three boys climbed the bank in order to get a better view. The boat was rounding a bend about a half-mile upstream, and the trio sized it up for a time. Finally Tommy spoke.

“I think we should head for home,” he said, mindful that they were on the opposite side of the river from town, and safety. “And I think we’d better let people know about it,” he added.

“You’re right,” said Billy. “After all, it might be . . .” His voice trailed off, as if he were afraid of saying the words. “Come on.”

They hurried along the bank and crossed the bridge, back towards town. On the far side of it was a man who none of them recognized, carrying a rifle tucked under one arm. The boys stopped, uncertain what to do.

“I’m Special Constable Isaac Decker, sworn in under Joe Burr today,” said the policeman, sensing their nervousness. “You’ve seen the boat, I take it?”

“Yes, sir,” said Tommy. “Who are the men?” He eyed the rifle. “And what are you going to do?”

Decker shook his head. “You boys shouldn’t be here right now,” he said quietly. “You beat it for home, fast as you can.” When the trio didn’t move, he added, “They might be the train robbers from near Kamloops. I’m going to see what they have to say for themselves. Now run along.”

Billy and Ernie needed no further urging, for the mention of the words “train robbers” had galvanized them into action, and within seconds they were pounding their way into town. Tommy Cumming, however, seemed paralyzed with fear, and stood rooted to the spot as Decker moved away from him towards the river.

The boat was momentarily hidden from view by the bridge, and it wasn’t until it came out from behind one of the piers that it could clearly be seen. It was in the centre of the river, and two men could be seen within it. Decker hailed them.

“I’m Special Constable Isaac Decker, and I order you to come ashore in the name of the law and identify yourselves,” he called out.

There may have been an answer, but if there was it was drowned out by the sound of rushing water. The vessel paused briefly in its course, and the two men inside it appeared to confer briefly. Then the boat turned towards the shore, on an angle that would bring it aground only a few yards upstream from where Isaac Decker waited patiently.

To be continued

Barbara Roden