Picture Perfect 51

Picture Perfect 51

Dan could smell popcorn even before he had opened the front door of the Maritime Circus Museum. As he opened the door, calliope music announced his entry. Man, that must get irritating for the people who work here, he thought.

The inside lobby was a ceiling to floor front of a circus tent – a ticket booth in the middle, a partially opened tent flap, & two large canvas posters on either side of the ticket booth. They had to be at least twelve foot high. The ones on the left were for ‘Cora! Queen of the King Cobras’ – it showed a wide-eyed, smiling woman clad like a bellydancer, charming a king cobra by staring into its eyes. ‘Cora can charm the most dangerous of poisonous snakes. Think of what she can do with mortal man.’

Beside it was one for ‘Sharko – The Fish Man’  A thin man in bathing trunks was half twisting to show the fin on his back, his legs were covered with scales and there appeared to be gills under his jaw. ‘See his scales, his fin. Watch as he dives deep and stays underwater longer than humanly possible.’

On the other side were posters touting first, ‘Fireball.’ It showed a man putting a flaming touch into his mouth. He was wearing a flame painted costume with a what appeared to a lighting bolt of flame flashing from his crotch. Beside the ‘Fireball’ was one for ‘Madama Cabanalla’: a Gypsy woman staring out at him with a crystal ball floating over her palms. ‘Madama Cabanalla sees all! Tells all!’

A sign on the ticket booth invited him to ring for service. An arrow pointed to a rope that he followed with his eyes as it went through a series of pulleys to a fire-station type bell on the wall behind him. A group came in the door as he was about to pull the rope. Two adults and six children.

Dan pulled the bell rope. The alarm rang loudly for a minute and then res & yellow balloons shot up from the roof of the ticket booth with a loud bang. The children screamed and laughed. Dan shook his head in amazement.

A man dressed in a red blazer, with a striped yellow vest and black check pants stepped out from the tent entrance.

“Welcome! Welcome.” He reached his hand out to one of the adults. The adult was leery and squinted as if expecting a hand buzzer as they shook hands. Nothing happened.

“Welcome one and all to Chamberlain’s Maritime Circus Museum. I am Winston Chamberlain. The Happy Hippo Travelling Circus has been in my family for several generations since 1899 when Grant and Isabelle Hill started it. It toured the Eastern Provinces changing with the times over the years until it could no long keep up with the times.”

“You are free to explore the exhibits and the grounds as you want to for free, or you can take a guided tour with ME.” He pulled a bouquet of flowers out of his coat sleeve and presented it to one of the young girls in the family group. “The cost of the tour is your soul … just kidding. It’s a mere $10.00 each.”

“How long will that take?” One of the adult asked. “An hour.” Winston answered. “An hour you will never forget.”

“Can we Daddy?” one of the children asked. “Can we?”

“Is there a children’s rate?” The man asked.

“Only if their feet never touch the ground.” Winston answered. “And their hands don’t touch an exhibit, unless instructed to.”

Dan laughed at Winston’s spiel. He saw that it disarmed the parents of the children, who reluctantly paid the admission fee. 

“And you kind sire?” Winston asked Dan.

“I think I’ll explore a bit first. It might be quieter.”

“I hear you.” Winston nodded. “If you want the printed guide to the exhibits that’ll be $5. Which you can pay to my lovely assistant right though here.”

He lifted the tent flap wider and tied it back so they all could enter.

“That included with the tour Mac?” The dad asked.

“Nope.” Winston said. “But you each do get a free bag of popcorn.”

Dan went into the tent and bought the guide. The assistant was an automation pirate that dropped the booklet down a slot & out into his waiting hand. The museum was divided into several areas. One that dealt with the history of it, one that had a display of the various flyers, posters, costumes; another that devoted the various carnival games and food; in an out door area were rides dating back to the first years of the circus. Not all of them were functional and the ones that were would cost $10.00 each to ride or any three for $20.00.

“We’ll start with the Carnival Food Fair,” Winston said to the family, who were joined by several other people. 

Dan went in the opposite direction to the first of the exhibit rooms. The guide book gave a concise time line of the carnival, explained the difference between a carnival and a circus. A circus always had animals, lions, tigers; always had performs like clowns, trapeze or tumblers; rarely had rides. Whereas a carnival had more games of chance; rides; some would have freak sideshows such as The Fish Man; large ones might have simple animal acts like dogs or the occasional snake charmer like Cora. Animals always slowed down travel time and over the years were phased out as the rides became a bigger draw.

The exhibit hall Dan went into had a map of the Maritime provinces filling one wall. There were different coloured and sized circus flags representing the decades and places various carnivals had traveled to when they were on tour. The Happy Hippo was the only one based the wartime’s but a couple of the bigger ones, like the Conklin, sent touring midways to Halifax every summer. The larger the flag the more frequently it visited a particular town or city. 

Some would get an annual visit, others every two or three years. It would rarely stay longer than a week at any one place unless there some other festival or event going on at the same time. 

There where three Happy Hippo touring shows. Dan hadn’t realized this before. He’d always assumed that there was just the one he recalled from his childhood. Each of them had different rides, games of chance. The larger the town or city the larger the carnival would be, hence the three different shows. It also meant three of them could be on the road at the same time and participate in more than one local festival at a time.

There was a computer interface with the map where one could input year, month and see what locations which show was performing. It would also tell you what rides, sideshows and specials where appearing with it, how long it stayed. But not how much money it made.

Dan typed in the month they had left for Toronto. All three shows were on the road. The one nearest Stellerton was the smaller number 3. It played in Truro the week before and had moved on the day after his family left. He saw that a Madam Cabanalla was featured in all three shows. So there must have been more than one of her. Though perhaps her psychic power allowed her to appear in three places at the same time. He’d have to ask Glaucia if the was possible. The Truro special was Cora Queen of the King Cobras in the Court of King Tut. He took pictures of the various pages before they disappeared.

Was Cora why he was so disappointed in not getting to the circus that last weekend? He had been so into Tut that summer for some reason. Following links on the computer screen he found a flyer for that area’s carnival. It also said that the actual flyers could be found in Exhibit Hall two. He consulted he guide to see where that hall was.

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Picture Perfect 50

Picture Perfect 50

The week old newspaper headline read. “RCMP Pranked”

A local detachment was sent to that ratty hotel on a goose chase. Ha! That comes as no surprise does it. They were never that bright. Whoever it was picked the right bunch to annoy though. These Quintex snoops. Maybe that will discourage them because they aren’t going to find anything. I made sure of that. If the Mounties didn’t find a trace of their man then these TV snoops will never find anything now.

That summer it was such fun watching McKillop and his half-assed deputies asking questions. When they interviewed me I knew they were desperate, clutching at straws. I did tell them the truth. Perhaps if they asked the right questions I might have told them more but they were just as bad as the other men though.

Sick minded men who wanted children for their own twisted needs. I could see that. I could feel that in their touch, when I let them touch me, that is. It was amazing to see how they stopped thinking when they got aroused. How they’d let their guards down and tell me anything. Fools that were so easy to fool.

But it doesn’t look that being made fools of will stop them from snooping around. Digging up all these old memories from people who have put the past aside, left it wherein belongs. It’s not as if they can bring those children back to life. Resurrection isn’t possible. At least not in the flesh. That flesh is gone but there are their faces again in the paper, on the TV. 

I wonder who they’ll find all that willing to talk about what happened? Because there is no one who knows. They couldn’t find anyone then could they. Sure they talked to parents. The guilt they’ve lived is what they deserve for being so careless as to let their children wander, let them out of their sight long enough for me to scoop them up.

It was so simple too. So trusting in those days. Not gullible but eager for distraction. All so willing except for that one boy. He knew I was up to something. I could see it in his eyes but he took the challenge. Thought he could out smart me. None of them could out smart me. I knew that by then. 

The Mounties were too caught up in their little turfs, their own precious little pastures, to even trust one another. They made it so easy to hide anything from them. Hide it right under their noses. 

How kind of Quintex to make their plans so public. This map shows where they’ll be each step of the way. Digging and interviewing. I suppose they end up talking to cousins, school teachers? Yeah, a lot of old bats by now. 

I see they’ve brought in some psychic. What a con that is. Like that Madama Cabanalla in the circus that year. I saw her two times and she didn’t even recognize me the second time. Told me crap about tall, dark strangers, money from an unexpected source and travel.

I knew exactly where the money was coming from, he wasn’t tall or dark, but she was right about the travel. I was so happy to get out here when that summer was over. So happy to leave everything & everyone behind.

It must be true there is no way you can escape the past, it always catches up to you. At least I can see it coming back and heading it off wouldn’t be that difficult. 

Dan was surprised to see Robert Warszawa in the war room.

“After talking with the district commander it was decided that a liaison between the force and Quintex was needed. Someone not in the employ of Quintex, I might add.”

“And you were nominated.” Dan said.

“With the case being officially reopened, the force wanted some one with an unbiased eye to step in. So this is your war room” Warszawa walked around the table and sat at the head of it. “Someone’s been watching too much TV.”

Curtis Baxter & Glaucia Vidro came into the room. 

“If it’s going to be on TV it has look like it always does on TV.” Baxter explained. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Curtis Baxter. ” He reached out and shook Warszawa’s hand. “Stephanie told me you would be arriving. I hope there is no … animosity between out show & the RCMP.”

“Nothing that can’t be dealt with. And this is?” Warszawa nodded to Glaucia.

“This is our psychic advisor Glaucia Vidro. I take you already know Daniel James?”

“Yes we’ve worked on a few cases in the past.”

“Let’s get down to business.” 

They all sat around the table.

“What did you find out from Miss McKay?”

Glaucia filled them in on their meeting with the school teacher. Dan nodded in agreement. Adding a few details here and there.

“One thing I wondered about.” Dan said. “Is this lack of communication with the communities. I’m sure the sub-divisions weren’t that isolated from each – so isolated that they didn’t have any idea what was going on. Would there be any reason one would withhold information from the others?”

“You mean deliberately to obstruct the investigation?” Warszawa asked Dan.

“I didn’t want to say it that directly.”

“You mean the officers here might not have wanted the suspect caught?” Baxter said. “Why?”

“It could have been someone they knew. Someone they felt they had to protect?” Glaucia said. 

“That’s a wild accusation.” W said. “Allegations like that need more substance to be taken seriously.”

“It would make some sense though,” Dan said. “The cases got buried fairly quickly.”

“The fact that they couldn’t find anything doesn’t mean they were buried, Dan.” Warszawa said.

“How do we know that?” Baxter said. “It wouldn’t be the first time evidence was lost or falsified to protect someone.”

“Who was the lead investigator for the case?” Dan asked Warszawa. 

“All I know is who was serving during that time. Most of those records have been warehoused. You know that Dan.”

“I know.”

“Warehoused? A good way to bury something, wouldn’t you say?” Baxter said.

“It’s standard procedure. We’ve been through that already. Everything eventually gets funneled to Ottawa for archiving. Paper gets shredded after so many years. Yes, they were using paper in those days. Not bytes.

“It could be on microfiche.” Warszawa suggested. “They had started do that in the late 70’s when it was clear there was more paper coming in & none going out. Now that the cases have been reopened they’ll be looking through the archives for what they can find.”

“How quickly can that happen?” Glaucia asked.

“If my memory serves me well,” Dan said, “We’ll be using when filming the sequel. Years probably.”

“We do know some of the officers are still alive though and we’re already talking with them to see what they recollect. Sometimes they keep their notes from cases that don’t work out. They want to get their man.”

“Great.” Dan said.

“Can you give a day to coordinate with other detachments in Nova Scotia. It will be efficient if they are prepare to cooperate than me showing up at their stations flashing my badge.” Warszawa said.

Baxter consulted the interview schedule on the wall.

“Okay. I can get Stephany can contact the one we have scheduled for tomorrow. We can pick it up later.”

“That’ll give me a chance to check out the Circus Museum.” Dan said.

“Circus?” Glaucia said.

“Yes. The one me and Timmy had planned to see the day before … we left.” 

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Picture Perfect 49

Picture Perfect 49

Miss McKay slid a door open at the far end of her mobile home. Dan caught a glimpse of a bed with a lighthouse print coverlet before she slid the door shut again.

“She can’t get many visitors.” Glaucia said. “To go on like that.”

“Gift of the gab is more like it. My Aunt Sissy is just like that.” Dan said. “Great scone though.”

“Too healthy for me.” Glaucia nibbled another corner of hers. 

Dan was tempted to tease her about the vibe she was getting from the scone but was still not sure to make of her. On the drive to Miss McKay’s Glaucia had refused to talk about the meeting lest his preconceived notions interfered with her getting clear images when they arrived. She didn’t even want the radio on for the same reason. She sat beside him in the car with her headphones on listening to ‘white beats.’ He’d have to look those up when he got a chance.

Miss McKay put an oversized accordion file folder on the coffee table.

“I set these aside when school started that year. I mean, I don’t have files on all my students. Only the ones that were promising.”


“They were promising students?” Dan asked.

“Oh, no. Not a bit. They were average. Ordinary. If they hadn’t disappeared I would have shredded this stuff five years after they’d left the school. Sooner perhaps. I was expecting to be contacted at some point, you know, as the investigation went on. But no one ever asked me if I knew anything that might help.”

“Did you?” Glaucia asked.

“I don’t really know dear. Their mother did have a bit of a reputation.” she dropped her voice. “Loose. The bother and sister didn’t look that much alike. You’ve seen the pictures so I’m sure you noticed that.”

Dan closed his eyes to visualize the the school photos and compare them. He could see enough resemblance to make them bother and sister.

“Some of us thought … well anyway when we heard about that other boy in Pictou county going missing it was clear that, well … the Forestier’s had nothing to do with it.”

She took out some large manilla envelopes. “I’ve kept these safe and dry all these years. I hadn’t looked at them until I saw that show and heard on the radio that you were looking for information about what happened. I kept all the clippings from the papers. Even the ones from the Halifax Herald. My, but that reporter was harsh on our lads. They were doing all they could but didn’t seem to be enough for some.”

Dan glanced over the various clippings. Some he had seen before from the Quintex research files.

“You said you had some personal material of the children’s?” Glaucia said.

“Oh yes. These.” From one of the other envelopes she spread out two groups of crayoned drawings and paintings held together with paper clips. Under one clip was a school photo of Madeline, under the other a school photo of Gerrard. 

Glaucia took the group of Madeline’s and slid out one of the middle pictures and placed it face up on her lap. “I need one that hasn’t been handled too much by others.” she explained. “The ones on the top and bottom have been exposed the most and hence have dissipated more of their ethereal information.”

“How thrilling.” Miss McKay squeezed her arms to her sides in delight.

“Shhh.” Glaucia commanded.

They sat in silence as Glaucia held her hands about four inches over the water colour painting. It was of a boat with a trawling net trailing from the side into the ocean with the sun setting behind its mast. The water was choppy brush strokes and the clouds look like they had been sponged on.

“Interesting” Glaucia said before turning the picture over.

The other side had a pencil sketch of the waves and part of the boat on it. Madeline’s name was printed neatly in the lower right corner along with a date.

“Madeline signed that herself.” Miss McKay whispered.

Glaucia ran her fingers over the printed signature. “She was a happy girl when she did this drawing.” Glaucia said. “She wasn’t happy with the way the net turned out though.”

“I have a their class photos from that last year too.” Miss McKay said taking pictures out of the other manilla envelope and handing them to Dan.

They were the standard shots of rows of children talks ones in the back. Neither child stood out in the pictures.

“These were taken outside?” Dan said.

“Oh, yes. The school at that time didn’t have a gymnasium or even an auditorium.”

“Warm day too. None of them are wearing coats.”

“I don’t recall the exact day.” She took one of the pictures and turned it over. “My! My! I didn’t even write the date on the back. 

“It was early in October.” Dan said.

“How can you tell?” Glaucia asked.

“Drawing of smiling Halloween pumpkins in the class room windows behind them.”

“Oh, how clever,” Miss McKay said. “You must have driven your teachers crazy.”

“Maybe.” Dan didn’t recall much of his school days on the east coast other than the pictures his Dad had taken of him on the first day of every school year, then on the last day of every school year.

They next looked at some drawings and letter work that Gerrard had done when he was one of Miss McKay’s students. The pictures were in crayon. The letter work was Gerrard practicing his printing and struggling to stay between the lines.

“So many of them found that hard to learn, you know.” Miss McKay said. “It was always so rewarding to see them gain the … manual dexterity to print on the lines. Gerrard learned how to do that pretty quickly.”

Glaucia looked through the drawings and picked one  of a scribbled streams with similarly sketched in pine trees on one side to scan with her hands.

“Well?” Dan asked.

“He was a happy child.” Glaucia said. “This is on their property. The stream and the trees.”

“Now, here’s one other thing for you. I know it wasn’t right of me to keep this but it just seemed right to have it with this other stuff.” she handed a small envelop to Glaucia.

Glaucia opened it. Quickly looked over the letter it contained then read it aloud. “Dear Mrs. Hollerhan … ”

“Gloria Hollerhan was the principal at the time. She retired a few years later.”

“Dear Mrs. Hollerhan ..” Glaucia began again. “Please excuse Madeline Forestier from Miss McKay’s class and Gerrard Forestier from Mrs. Simpson’s class this Thursday and Friday as we are taking them with us to my sister’s wedding in Halifax. 

Thank You

Mrs. Forestier”

“The two of them were so excited. Madeline even had new shoes and wore them to school that day along with the prettiest dress. It was one her mother had made for her. In fact she rarely had store bought clothes you know. That Mrs. Forestier was an accomplished seamstress.”

“This is everything to have about them?” Dan asked. None of what she offered them added anything new to what they already knew. Rumours about the parents were interesting but weren’t helpful

“Yes Mr. James. I didn’t know the other little boy and we didn’t even know about all the others until that show. It came as quite a shock. Made me scared for the children. I can imagine how threatening it would have been for parents at that time, not knowing if your child might be next.”
“What do you think happened to Madeline and Gerrard?” he asked her.

“Oh …” she shook her head. “It’s impossible not to speculate, is it? It’s not the sort of thing that happens in a place like this, you know. I found it awfully suspicious that it took those parents so long to report them missing. Others did too. If I was a mother I would have been out all night calling for them to come home.

“That inspector didn’t tell us much. No news conferences the way there is these days. He was from the mainland too and acted as if we were too backward to be told anything. As I said, the fact there were other children involved was news to me.”

“You don’t mind if we take these drawings with us?” Dan asked. “I’ll see to it that they get returned once we’ve made copies of them.” He was sure Baxter would want to work them into the show somehow. “We have to get back to our headquarters.”

“Certainly. You take care.” Miss McKay stopped Glaucia. “A good mother wouldn’t just wait, would she.”

“I believe you,” Glaucia said patting Miss McKay’s forearm as she opened the door for them. 

Outside Dan took a deep breath as they waved goodbye to Miss Glaucia. He hadn’t noticed how stuffy her home was. In the car he turned to ask Glaucia what she thought of the interview but she already had on her headphones protecting herself with white beats.

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Picture Perfect 48

Picture Perfect 48

Back in his motel room Dan logged on for a video call with Peter

“How is it going sir.” Peter asked.

“Good. Great. Now I nave a cohost though.” Dan typed Glaucia Vidro into search. Peter was able to see the results too. 

“A psychic!” Peter said. “At least she doesn’t have a 1-800 number for instant tarot readings. What did she tell you about the case?”

“Nothing much but we’ve only just started. She seems … grounded enough though. Didn’t take any bs from Baxter.”

He told Peter about the war room and the list of suspects.

“Alien abduction? You have to be kidding. I … miss you, sir.”

“Good.” Dan found it hard to be so curt with someone else’s emotions. Sanjay was expressive at any opportunity. Love wasn’t about asking permission. Peter was the opposite. Asking him to housesit had been a no brainer. 

“How are things there?”

“Nothing I can’t deal with sir. Mr. Kumar has come to the house twice to pick up his mail. I denied him entry as you instructed. I didn’t have to use the court order either. Just mentioned the name of your lawyer.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. I don’t think he was prepared for me to be so … truculent, as he called me. He did threaten to kill me if we ever got married though.”

“No worry on that count Peter. It’s proving hard enough to rid myself of a man I wasn’t married to. Makes me grateful that I never tied that knot.”

“I understand. There is nothing to report from the Depot either. I stopped in at lunch and again before I came to ther house. Sandy says things are running smoothly but not as smooth a they would if you were there. “

“Sounds like Sandy.”

“Are you still planning to come back at the end of next week?”

“Yes. We’ll be moving the centre of operations, as Baxter calls it, to Stellerton after the first ten days. It’s more central to the other incidents. I’m sticking to my role as air personality as much as possible. If I’m not around there’ll no chance for them to get me to lug anything.”

“Heard anything more from Corporal Tyler?” Peter said. He pulled off his tee shirt. “Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just your eyes?”

“Nothing further from them. Warszawa has talked to the regional Staff Sergeant. I know enough about the politic of divisions that they’ll be more circumspect in future. He said they aren’t divulging anything about the tip that brought them to my door though. He’s not sure if there was a tip. They would have gone from cabin to cabin until they found the Daniel James they were looking for.”

“What!” Peter slid off his belt. “Why would something like that?”

“Probably pissed about the original Cold show that found connections they hadn’t realized where there. The studio didn’t alert them to it either.”

“So they found out the same way you did. When the show first aired?”

“Nope. When it was rerun a week later. Qunitex was forced turn over everything they had on the cases. Which wasn’t much as it turned out.”

Peter slowly unzipped his fly.

“Not yet.”

“Yes sir.” he pulled his fly back up. 

“It’s nearly time for me to check in with my sister.”

“She hasn’t been to the Depot since you left.”

“Perhaps not in the flesh. Put your tee shirt back on.”

“Yes, sir.” 

“I’ll call later if I get a chance.”

“Yes, sir.”

The screen went blank. Dan tapped the icon for his sister. He had made sure he would have electronic access to all transactions at both shops. Severing the contractual connections between the two branches wasn’t going to be as simple or as inexpensive as expected. 

Looking over the figures he found himself nodding off. 

…….

Dan stood to the left and just behind Glaucia as she rang the door bell to the trailer. It took him a moment to realize that the foghorn sound was coming from inside. He could hear a radio or TV being turned down. The lace curtain in the door widow was pulled aside and a face peered out at them. The face smiled and the door opened sightly.

“You’ll have to step back for the door to open.” 

He and Glaucia stepped down two steps to let the door open. 

“Sorry about that.” The woman said. “Who ever designed this model didn’t think it through. Come in.” She held the door open for them. “Sometimes the wind will catch it and whack it against the trailer. That’s why there’s so many dents there. If I had known, about the wind, I mean, I never would have settled in here.”

Followed by Francie and Mike they squeezed past her and into the trailer.

At the front end there was a living room area with a couch, an armchair and a TV. The TV was on the weather channel but muted. 

“I get all the news I need from the weather channel.” The woman sang. “Paul Simon – before your time I guess.”

“Yes.” Dan said sitting in the armchair. The couch was just large enough for two people. He didn’t want to be that close to Glaucia.

Clearly Stephanie hadn’t checked Mrs. McKay’s trailer for filming. 

“Mrs. McKay, we’re from …” Glaucia began to explain.

“It’s Miss and I know, from the cameras, you’re from that TV show. I was told you were coming. My that’s a lovely shawl you have there Glaucia. I can call you Glaucia can’t I. I’ve read some of your articles in the Mystic Gazette. Is it from Richter’s. They make such lovely things there.”

“Yes, it is.” Glaucia answered.

“You must be Daniel James? You don’t look much like your father though. Then again, second-borns usually don’t. The first often do though. He’s passed away I gather.”

‘Yes but …” Dan began.

“Here, I’ve made us all some tea.” She stepped past Mike to the kitchen area of the trailer. “I baked scones. I do prefer the savoury ones, so I hope you don’t mind. It make them feel less like desserts. These are spinach and rosemary.” She put a tray on the coffee table.

Dan bit into one of the scones. It was still warm.

“You knew my Dad?”

“Not too well but he did come to McDonald Secondary for many years taking those student portraits. I only remember because the company that he sold out to sent such an idiot the next year. That man was a drunk. You know, he would show up smelling of alcohol at that time in the morning. He’d snap at the kids to behave when all they were doing was being kids. He only lasted that one year. So many of the schools complained. I don’t remember his name though. Your dad was so professional. Knew how to treat the children. I guess that came from being a father. It took us ages to get the pictures from the new company, too. They must that been sending them away to Scotland to be developed. Your Dad did his own work, most of the time, though maybe he sent stuff off too because there would have been thousands of him to look after so he wouldn’t have time, right.”

“Right.” 

“You certainly like lighthouses.” Glaucia admired the lighthouse sun-catchers in the window.

“Oh, yes, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to live in one.”

There were various lighthouses around the trailer. Paintings, throw cushions embroidered with them, door handles on the kitchen cabinets, woven into the rug, even the table lamp in the corner.

“I know, it’s such a Maritime cliche but so am I, really. The spinster school teacher who never went further than a hundred miles from where she was born. It’s not that I didn’t want to travel mind you but once I graduated with my license I thought this is where I needed to be. I had parents to look after anyway. Plus I really did like the children. I couldn’t imagine moving away to leave these families behind. I mean, I did get to know the families. Often taught the mother, the father then the children, then the children’s children. Goodness me I knew some of them better than their own relatives.”

“How do remember them all?” Glaucia nibbled at her scone.

“Oh Glaucia I don’t. I only remember these because of what happened to them. It was terrible. When school started again that year the other children were so … scared … I tried to get them to talk about it but, well, we didn’t have any way to offer them emotional support. Things have changed, haven’t they, with all those school shootings in the States. Why one of the girls in my class started crying one day. Turns out her family was moving to Arizona and she was afraid she’d get shot in school. Imagine.” She got up, brushing crumbs off her lap onto the floor. “Don’t worry making a mess. Cleaning up will give something to do later.” 

She went toward the back of the trailer. “I’ll get my file for you.”

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Picture Perfect 47

Picture Perfect 47

“Glaucia Vidro.” she said with a slight accent. “You should believe him, Curtis. There is nothing in those photographs.” Keeping Dan’s hand in her’s she sat next to him. “You do have more than good vision though, my friend. Not what you called e.s.p though perhaps b.s.p.”

“Glaucia, I asked you to call me …”

“Curtis, I will only use your real name. The other means nothing to anyone but annoyances. I am glad to see that you have also stepped outside of those other annoyances. The ones you wear to prepare people to be annoyed.” She released Dan’s hand.

“Okay, okay, enough about me.” Baxter sat opposite them at the table. 

Dan resisted the temptation to wipe his hand on his pants & looked his desk screen. There was a split shot of the three of them looking a little lost. “Is this our first conference?” Dan asked.

“In a way.” Roberto answered. “Everything in the war room is recorded automatically. Right Harold?” 

A fourth face appeared on their screens. “That’s right. Oops one more little fix.” 

Instantly under each head appeared their names and locations. Harold Carmichael was in Toronto. 

“As you can see we can use this for face-to-face conference calls just like CNN.” Harold explained. “Perhaps I should introduce myself. Harold Carmichael. Stephanie’s assistant researcher. I was almost a criminal lawyer but research suited me better.”

“Who’s paying for all this?” Dan asked. He knew at a glance this was not the standard issue equipment in their remote studio.

“Our … Asian sponsors …” Baxter said. “We are going to be a demonstration of their latest technology.”

“I see,” said Dan.

“Glaucia, what can you tell us from your meeting with Mr. Forestier, before we look at the footage of it.”

“Much like Mr. James, I found him to be direct and clear with his emotional feelings. He had no objects that belonged to the children, so I was unable to gather any vibrational information. The school photos did have a residual of their energy but not enough to form an image. 

“It was clear to me that they are, in fact, no longer with us. If they were still alive somewhere I would have sensed that energy.”

“So, you sensed nothing.” Baxter said. “The editors we have their work cut out for them.”

“I did tell him that they hadn’t suffered. It was as if they went to sleep. There was none of the energy turbulence that comes from violent ends. I walked the path they took to the nearby farm and the one it was presumed they walked home.”

“Interesting.” Dan said.

“How so?” Baxter asked him.

“If … don’t take offence … what she says is true about no violence, they might have known their abductor. Someone they trusted enough to go along with willingly.”

“Like a parent?” Harold said.

“Yes, but not in this case.” Glaucia answered. “That energy was not there.”

“Or perhaps someone they had met a fews time before?” Harold asked. “Like … say … a tourist who had stopped to buy apples from their roadside stand a few times.”

“Yes.” Dan said. “That’s possible but not probable. Did they have a roadside stand?”

“Sounds like we have more questions to ask of Forestier before you move on to the next family.” Roberto said.

“See?” Baxter was beaming. “This is how the war room works. We share information and new ideas are produced.”

“New to us, perhaps,” Dan said. “But I’m sure the division looked into things like passing tourists.”

“We won’t know that unless we can see their original  investigation notes.” Harold said.

“Fat chance.” Dan said.

“We’re working on it.” Roberto said. “It’s more a matter of finding where those notes might be. Dan you should know how much record keeping has changed since the 80’s. Things get misplaced, lost, even disposed of, that’s how they become lost cases not merely cold cases.”

“True. Small subdivisions only have limited storage space for old files or backups even. Non-active files more than five years old get shipped out to the regional centre, then those get subsequently shipped to the national depot where they are archived and often never seen again.”

“So the chances of finding them doesn’t depend on Staff Sergeant McKillop in any way?”

“Probably not. Digging up files that old presents its own challenges. But McKillop probably won’t be one of them. We’d have to pay the RCMP to have thos records searched. Unless …” 

“Unless what?” Baxter asked.

“They decide to reopen the cases themselves. So Baxter what did you learn from your tipsters?”

“How little people really remember after thirty years. Stephanie and Roberto met with Dave Jeans. His family owned one of the orchards near the Forestier’s. He was a teen at the time and went on about how all the guys were so eager to fu … meet Mrs. Forestier. She was much younger than her husband. He was a part of one of the search teams that went through the orchards. They were all sure the father had something to do with it. He had a reputation for being hard on his pickers and they figured he was equally as hard on his family. 

“You can watch the interview if you want. We may get a few thing out of it. The idea is to misdirect the viewers a little before reminding them that these weren’t the only children who went missing.”

“So the idea is to cast suspicion at every turn, at everyone, regardless of lack of substantial evidence.” Dan said.

“We present what evidence we may find not cast suspicion, as you put it. As far as any of us know now, any of these parents could be involved.”

“Or Martians?” Dan suggested. “Has any of your researchers checked out that angle? Strange lights in the sky on the days of the disappearances?”

Glaucia began to laugh. “He has you there Curtis. You could market the show to one of UFO markets as well. A simple re-edit for different ‘experts.’ I know of at least one couple in Digby who have been kidnapped by aliens and returned to their beds.”

“Okay.” Roberto went over to the area on the wall with ‘Suspects’ at the head of an empty space. He wrote UFO on it with a grease pencil. “While we’re at it let’s see if we can brainstorm any other sort of suspects. People who the children might trust.”

“School bus drivers.” Dan said.

“Whoah!” said Harold. “That is a good one. There’s a slant we had never considered.”

“Teachers. Priests.” Glaucia said.

“Ice-cream trucks.” Baxter said.

“Get serious.” Dan said. “We’re talking fairly rural areas. I can’t recall ever seeing an ice cream truck anywhere.”

“Doctors. Veterinarians.” Glaucia said.

“Vets!” Harold shouted. “I bet they travelled from farm to farm when called for, right. Did the Forestier’s have any animals? Cows. Horses?”

“None in the photos.” Dan said. “A couple of dogs.”
“Roberto you working on those leads right away. I’ll bet the local constabulary didn’t look for these sort of leads.” Baxter said.

“They were too busy looking for the children.” Dan said. “That was enough work for them.”

“Fuck, Dan give it a rest. We know how limited their resources were then. Maybe we can make up for those limitations now. Anything else?”

Both Dan & Glaucia shook their heads no.

“We’ll try to meet like this every night for a wrap up. Tomorrow we arraigned for the two of you to do an interview together.” He handed them each a folder. “It’s a Mrs. Laura McKay, a grade school teacher who taught both of these children, in different years of course. She says she has her records from the time. Put them aside when she heard news of the disappearances.”

“Records?” asked Glaucia.

“I don’t know exactly what. That’s up to you find out. Maybe she has essays, test papers. Stuff like that. Things the children handled for you Glaucia. Also more class pictures for you Dan.”

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Picture Perfect 46

Picture Perfect 46

In the morning Dan packed his suitcase for the drive to their next location. Storm clouds overhead made him hope they could reach Wolfville before a real storm broke. He locked his stuff in the trunk of the car & went to the Waterside Diner for breakfast.

“The usual?” George called to him as he sat with Roberto in one of the window booths.

“Good morning Mr. James.” Roberto said.

Before he could answer Baxter came into the Waterside diner.

“What happened to you?” Dan asked rubbing his eyes.

“What do you mean?” Baxter asked.

Instead of his customary vivid green or purples with the latest in athletic footwear Baxter had on dark grey jeans with an equally toned down sweater, & conservative suede slip-ons. He’d even swapped his bright red framed glasses for solid black frames.

“Oh this?” Baxter gestured to his clothes. “We’re following up on the leads our ads have brought in. I know how to dress so as not to distract people. I even have a different business card for this persona.”

He handed Dan a plain white card with “Curtis Baxter, executive Producer Quintex Studios” printed on it.

“Not promoting Baxter Bits?” Dan said. “I am impressed.”

“I wish I could say the same about your interview yesterday.” Baxter sat at the table. 

“I thought you said it was smooth and went well.”

“It did. Too smooth. Too well. The editors in TO went over it & we, frankly, are very hard pressed to find anything in it.”

“In it?”

“We were expecting more of you studying the photographs & than saying ‘she’s very pretty.’ His dissing the RCMP is pretty tired stuff too.”

“I don’t know it was my job to script things for him to say?”

“I know I know but, fuck, there has to be more there, right?”

“You wanted me to sweat a confession out of him? This isn’t a hot pursuit crime show. It’s not COPS. Or were you expecting some sort of e.s.p trance as I wavy hand over the photos as I say ‘I sense of dark presence?’ That’s not how photo forensics works.”

“It’s not that but ..”

“I can’t make looking at a photograph more exciting than it is.”

“I realize that but I was expecting you to find more in them.”

“They were a bunch of very ordinary family photos. It’s not as if I was examining crime scene photos or ones being used for some sort of blackmail. They were ordinary photos of a family party. Of kids growing up. That’s all. None of them had visible bruises.”

“That’s not enough to keep the viewer interested.”

“Isn’t that the editors’ job? Oh! I suppose you expected me to see where the children were … to see the reflection of their abductor in their eyes? That would take more than the naked eye given the quality of those pictures, anyway.”

“Ooh that would be great. Or say, the perp lurking in the background of one of those party pictures. It is possible isn’t it? In a mirror, say? Even if there isn’t, you can act as if there is.”

“This is how reality gets rewritten so truth becomes irrelevant?”

“It has to be heightened in someway. Didn’t you pick up anything from handling those pictures?”

“Look, I can tell you lots of stuff, but none of it is relevant to why those kids disappeared. I can tell you things like the time of day the pictures were taken, what make of camera was used, possibly even the model. If there is a reflection in the children’s eyes it would be of the photographer not their abductor.”

“So who took these pictures?”

“According to Forestier it was a family friend. These were duplicates. They were taken by with ordinary Kodak. Trust me there wasn’t anything unexpected in them.”

“But surely you got some vibe from them?”

“I’m not the Long Island psychic Baxter. I’m a forensic photo examiner. Do you really know what that means? It is a science not e.s.p.”

“Okay, okay. I didn’t mean to get you riled. We expected more from you. Do you think Dad is holding anything back about what happened?”

“He seemed to be telling me everything he remembered. I believe him when he says he has no idea what happened. If he was implicated the RCMP would have found out.”

“Would they? They didn’t even know there were others. Did they?”

“They couldn’t have, according to the timeline of these cases. This was the first one. So they would have had nothing to connect it to.”

“Yes, but even so, when there were others, those dots still weren’t connected.”

“You just said ‘dissing the RCMP is pretty tired.’ Even today that sort of dot connecting can take time. Then they didn’t have the communication network we have today. Fax isn’t the same as Twitter. Besides these provincial divisions were more experienced with bootleggers than the abduction of children.”

“Okay, okay I get the picture.” Baxter’s cell phone rang. “Great! We’ll be over in five.” He turned it off. “Come on the War Room has finally arrived.”

“War room?” Dan followed him to the parking lot. There was a second, slightly larger cube van parked next to the one that housed the remote studio.

The driver came to the back, pulled a stairway out from under the chassis of the truck. He made sure it was firm then walked up it to roll up the back door of the cube. He stepped to one side and into the back of the truck gesturing for them to enter.

Dan followed Baxter up the stairs. Inside was a mock up of a police investigations room. One on wall was a map of the Maritime provinces with pins stuck at the various locations where children had gone missing, from each pin were drawn lines that lead to pictures of the children.

The pictures were spread across in the order of their reported disappearances. Under the pictures was pertinent information: their ages, exact dates of when they vanished, who lead the local investigations. On the other wall were the same pictures but with more information under each – descriptions of clothing, who saw them last, who of their families was still alive & willing to talk to Qunitex studios.

In the middle of the room was a conference table with six chairs around it. From the ceiling hung various cameras, lights. At the very front was a small control panel.

“Everything is done with the computer.” Baxter explained. “Voice and motion activated to follow what goes on in here.”

“And what will go on in here?” Dan sat at the table. The chairs were very comfortable. He could swivel in it but not move it. It was bolted to the floor. As was the table. In front of each chair, embedded the the table top was a tiltable touch screen. He glanced down at it and there he was looking back at himself. “Creepy.”

“This is where we’ll meet to discuss the day’s investigations. Things that we don’t want to discuss in front of the families.”

“But which they may get to see when the series gets broadcast?”

“If they follow the live vblog on line. Don’t let that keep you from saying what’s on your mind. Sometimes there can be as much drama here as out there. We’ve been broadcasting live since the door opened.”

“Who’ll be taking up the other seats?”

“I will, at times, to fill you in on what we learn from the tipsters. Stephanie most of the time. Any of the RCMP who are willing to appear with us and …” he pressed his cell. “Okay, Glaucia we’re ready for you.”

“Glaucia?” Dan asked?

“Dan you startled me when you said psychic earlier. For minute I thought you were one yourself. Ah …”

A thin, red-haired woman came up the stairway into the war room. She was taller than either Baxter or Dan. Minimal make up. Long, flowing skirt, mainly black with iridescent blues and red swirls, pale white blouse and a dark red, fringed shawl. She reached her hand out to Dan.

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Picture Perfect 45

Back at the Waterside Motel after the day’s shoot Dan was reviewing the raw footage in the remote truck. He looked more relaxed in the shirt he had been given to wear. The blue looked less vivd on camera & brought out the blue of his eyes. He was pleased to see that he didn’t tug at the collar once.

He was pleased at how unaware he or Forestier appeared to be of the cameras. Any awkwardness disappeared after the first few seconds as Mark responded to his questions. Even though Dan was never an investigative officer, he had taken the various courses on interrogation. He found it more comfortable to get information from pictures than from people.

During the interview he hadn’t even been conscious of how the cameras moved around, of the lenses zooming in and out for closeups. All the security cameras in the Depot had definitely trained him well.   He was curious how he looked when he had come across the class pictures his Dad had taken. He had Cliff replay that section.

For a few beats he was silent on the screen as a questioning look furrowed his brows and mouth then it was gone.

“We’ll edit that out.” Cliff said. “Looks fine, mind you, but doesn’t add anything to the plot, as they say. It could be an okay shot for the opening credits though. That puzzled look sets the mood nicely.”

“Right. Thanks, for the reassurance. That’s a wrap for me.” He said as he exited the truck. 

Walking back to his cabin he patted his pockets for his cellphone. He’d turned it off before the shoot started that morning & wasn’t sure where he had put it. He found it in the front pocket of his shoulder bag.

His cell was flashing that he had messages. Three from Sanjay. One from Peter. One from Baxter. Baxter could wait until morning.

He hadn’t bothered to return Sanjay’s call that came when the RCMP were searching his room. He called Sanjay.

“You called?” He tried to sound casual. 

“Took you that long to get rid of your boyfriend?”

“That was one Sergeant John Tyler from the local RCMP detachment, if you must know.” He wasn’t going to explain what had happened to Sanjay. “What can I do for you?”

“Nothing that he isn’t doing for you.”

“If this is why you called I’ll say good night and turn my phone off again until morning.”

“I can’t help it Dan.”

“You saying you miss me that much? Or miss your punching bag.” Dan’s rib was still sore from where Sanjay had struck out him in a rage last week when he confront Dan about the changed locks on the house. It was that scene that had confirmed for Dan that this reality show circus was a better choice than staying in Toronto.

“Don’t start. I said I’m sorry.”

“You started it with that boyfriend remark. You said there was nothing left for us to talk about. According to you it’s now all in the hands of lawyers.”

“It wouldn’t be, if you’d just be fair with me.” Sanjay said.

“Fair! I had my business before I met you. I only bought that house because you didn’t want to live over any fucking camera shop.”

“I’m not denying any of that. Besides we’ve been through this shit already. I … just called to make sure you had arrived okay.”

“Yeah, right. Look, you’re not on the insurance policy anymore.”

“I’m trying to be decent.” Sanjay said. “Why are you being so obdurate.”

“Why are you being so suspicious? You think I flew here to the east coast for this crime show so I could fuck the first guy in pants who came busting into my motel room to arrest me! Sanjay!”

“Sorry. Actually I’m calling about the car.”

“What about the car?” Dan said. “It’s your car period. It always was. You made that clear when you bought two years ago. Remember. You wanted something that was in your name, paid for, mostly, by your own money.”

“No, I mean about the insurance for it. You had been paying that and now you aren’t?”

“Yeah, well, when I changed my life insurance policy I also had them change that too.” Dan let himself into his motel room.

“Without telling me! What if I’d had an accident?”

“There was a grace period. They said they’d notify you of the change.”

“Notify me? Where? My mail is still coming to the house, you know. Your boy toy won’t let me in the house to get it.”

“I told you Peter would be house sitting for me. I’ll remind him to forward any mail that comes until you get that change of address stuff looked after.” He held his cell under this chin & began to undress. “Clearly you found out anyway.”

“Once again it’s all my fault, isn’t it, Dan. You sleep around and it’s my fault for being too trusting.”

“I stop being your banker and now you get to use whatever you can against me to get me to be your banker again. It’s not to going to work.”

“Back to the same old circles. You don’t want to take any responsibility for your actions, do you, Dan. Morality doesn’t mean anything to you.”

“How are you and Papoulias getting along? Those weekends up in Bob country organizing those menus? Interviewing promising sou chefs?”

“He’s in his sixties, married with grandchildren.”

“San, that sounds like your dream for yourself. When we first hooked up, you told me all about eventually fulfilling your family’s plan for you. Or did you forget wanting to make grandchildren for your folks.”

“My values changed over the years. Yours haven’t if you see me meeting you that first time as a hook up.”

“Sanjay I have to go.” He turned the shower on so Sanjay could hear it in the background. “It’s nearly eleven here and I have a busy day tomorrow.” 

“Whatever.” 

His cell went silent. Why had Sanjay called the other night & again? They hadn’t spoken for the past couple of weeks. Hardly spoken at all once he had Sanjay moved out of the house. A move which Dan had forced himself not to oversee. All he did was make sure there was nothing Sanjay might claim in his study. That door he had locked. Perhaps Sanjay had hoped Baxter to answer when he called so that his suspicions of Dan’s constant infidelity were proved once more. 

He texted Peter one word. “Vid?” A few seconds later came a smily face reply. He opened his laptop & logged onto a video chat site, a few seconds later Peter was on his screen

“Good evening, sir.”

“I told you save that for the bedroom.” Dan joked.

“You’re in one now.” Peter was pulling off his tee shirt.

“Yes but … you can remain clothed Peter. This isn’t one of those calls.”

“Oh!” He pulled his tee back on. 

“Maybe in another week though.”

“How is it? Baxter keeping his distance?”

“He’s deep in his element here. He knows what he’s doing & how to get things done. Under that flashy surface is true producer. How are things there?”

“Nothing to report. I re-introduced myself to your neighbours. Don’t want anyone calling the cops on me. You’re the only one who can put me in handcuffs.”

“Stop that. Don’t get me going.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“That’s more like it. Sanjay called me to remind me to remind you to forward his mail.”

“Ah yes, all those flyers for the hospital’s win this house lottery.”

“Time for me to turn in.”

“Nice to see your face, sir.”

“Nice to see your’s too.” He logged off the site. 

He stepped into the shower. Low water pressure but at least it was hot and wet. Quickly drying himself he piled all but one of the pillows on the floor, tugged the comforter off the bed and untucked the sheets. Even after his request not to make the bed the staff made his bed. He rolled over to his left side and dropped off to sleep.

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Picture Perfect 44

Picture Perfect 44

“You’re doing great Dan.” Baxter came out from behind Cliff. “I dropped by to see how things were going.”

“Thanks.” Dan said. He wasn’t going to let Baxter know how difficult it was to stick to the ‘script.’ “I feel for this guy.”

“If you care then the viewers will too.” 

“We were just getting to these.” Dan gestured to the photo album. “After all, this what you’re really paying me for.”

“Thats’ right the photo whisperer.” Baxter snapped his fingers. “Fuck that’s a great title of the show. What do you think? Better than East Coast Cold.”

“I think we can take the interview outside.” Stephane said. “The back porch has a postcard view onto the orchard. The sun is amazing. It’ll give the viewers a real feel for the location. Kitchens are fine but this is even better.”

“Too bad we can’t have apple pickers in the back ground.” Dan joked. “Or cows. It is still a dairy farm isn’t it?”

The back porch floor boards creaked underfoot. 

“Not too noisy?” Dan asked.


“You’re going to sit out here.” Stephane said. “Not do a hoedown. These chairs’ll be perfect.”

There were two rocking chairs on either side of a small round table.

“I’ll see if I can find a couple of pillows for them, something for the backs too, so they won’t look too rural. Come with me.” she said to one of  the crew. They went back into the house.

“Where did our Dad go?” Baxter asked.

“Last I saw, Cameron was on his trail.” Dan put the photo album on the table.

“Anything in there?” Baxter asked.

“Haven’t looked yet. Or have you planted something?”

“Us? No! We might set the scene a little to make it easier for our audience to get a feel for the location. But that’s it.”

“This is part of setting the scene, right.” Dan pulled at his shirt collar. “Did you supply his shirt as well?”

“Just yours. Looks good on you.” Baxter reached out to help.

“Not going to happen.” Dan swatted his hand aside.

“Okay! Okay!” Baxter stepped back.

Mark came around the corner of the house with Cameron walking beside him. 

“I’m ready. Like I was saying it’s been ages since I really thought about those days, this month’s when all this happened.”

“It can’t be easy,” Baxter put his arm around Mark’s shoulder. “You’ll never forget.” He guided Mark to one of the rocking chairs. “But maybe this can help put some of those … ghosts … to rest.”

“That’s what I’m hopin’.”

“We all set to continue?” Baxter called into the house.

It took another twenty minutes to get the camera to rest on the porch, to get the furniture staged to Brenda’s satisfaction. Lace doily for the table. The redistributed weight of cameras and crew kept the floor boards from creaking as much.

“I’ll leave you to it.” Baxter said. “I’m heading on to the next location.”

“You have some more photos of your children you’d like me to see?” Dan asked.

“Yes.” Mark opened the album. “They were taken just a few days before, you know.” He handed an envelope of photos to Dan. “We didn’t have them developed for months later. We forgot we even had them, you know.”

Dan turned the pictures over one at a time.

“They were taken at Ma G’s birthday picnic. There’s a mess of people there I hardly remembered. Over a hundred. All her other nieces and nephews.” He leaned over to pause Dan at one picture. “That’s me and Marie.”

“She’s very pretty.” Dan peered the photograph. “Too bad it has that matte finish though. I never really understood why people liked this grainy quality.” Mark was smiling at the camera with Marie leaning on his chest in front of him, her head on his shoulder. She was holding her hand out so the two of them could see something on one of her fingers. 

“I’d won some sterling silver ring with a real opal at the circus the day before. Some spin and win game.” Mark laughed. “The ring turned her finger black and the opal fell out when she was doing the dishes.”

“You both look happy.” Dan said. “That’s Madeline reaching up?”

“Oh yeah. She was always one for attention. This is one of the few pictures without the kids all over us.”

Dan looked at the pictures. There was nothing in them beyond being photos of a fun family time. He reached for the album “What else do we have in here?”

“Not much really. We weren’t picture takers. Might hav been if we had a camera an’ time to use it. Ones you just saw were taken by someone else at the party. Some wedding pictures. Baby pictures of Madeline and Gerrard.” He handed the album to Dan.

Dan opened to the middle where there was some loose prints. He recognized them from the back as ones his Dad had taken.

“Hey! School picture days.” He said turning them over.

“What a day that was.” Mark said. “Marie spent the morning trying things on. She settled on that daisy dress Marie made for her.”

Dan hadn’t seen any of his Dad’s school pictures since they had moved from the east coast. There was no mistaking the backdrop his Dad carted from town to town. 

“It’s the same one she was wearing when she … left us.” Mark said. 

There was a large version of the picture as well as a page with four wallet-size pictures. Gerrard’s had the same standard set. The pictures were crisp. Gerrard had a lopsided grin, dark curly hair and scar on the cheek under his left eye. They didn’t tell Dan anything though, nothing new that might lead to more. They were relics not clues. 

“Were these taken that summer.” Mark said.

“After school was finished for the year?”

“Nope. It was the last week of classes. There are a couple of the whole class too.”

“What about the scar on Gerrard?”

“Happened when he was about three. Fell. Climbing trees. He was a climber. Love ladders.”

So, his Dad had had some contact with these children. Like Timmy Dunlop. But he wasn’t in this area when they disappeared. Was he? 

Dan tired to remember the dates in his Dad’s travel notes.

“The worse of it was later though.” Mark went on. “When things quieted down after the searching didn’t find anything. When we stopped being suspects. We hadn’t heard about them other kids either. If we’d known maybe they wouldn’t have thought was us. The neighbours I mean. They acted as if we’d done it for years. That’s what did Marie in.”

“Let’s take a break,” Stephane said. “There’s fresh coffee from Tim’s for you Mr. Forestier. Not as strong as what I made.” 

Mark went into the house.

She took Dan aside. “What was with those school pics?”

“Nothing.” Dan said.

“You changed when you looked at them.”

“I did? My … There were taken by my father’s company. James Scholastic School Photos.” He didn’t want to say that they were taken by his Dad personally. 

“Really!”

“They did that all over the Maritimes in small places like this. Class pictures, weddings, funerals, banquets. That sort of thing.”

“He surely wasn’t the only one doing that, was he?”

“No. I recognized the paper. The pose was one of his favourites as well. Not quite staring into the lens so they’d look less like mug shots and more like kids who just didn’t want their pictures taken in the first place.”

“So you recognized those kids?”

“No! He took thousands of these. Used to send them away to get developed, then, to save money, began to process them himself. I’d help out in the dark room.”

“Can we get back on with this.” Mark Forestier said. “I do have things to do around here.”

They sat back on the porch.

“When was Ma G’s birthday?” Dan asked to get the interview going again.

“About a month before they …”

“Was there anything else going on around at the time.”

“There was the Agricultural Fair in St. John. I went on my own. We used to take the kids but they were at an age where they took too much attention when I was wanting to see about dairy stuff, they’d want to be doing something else.”

“What do you think happened to them?”

“They was took and …” he began to sob. “I never wanted to think about what happened. I wanted to think about them being brought back to me. I’d dream Ma G was at the door with Gerrard wrapped in a blanket to keep him warm, with his face covered and Mad hiding behind her because she felt bad about letting them get lost. I’d try to move the blanket so I could see his face. But it was too wet for me hold. It would slip between my fingers. I had that dream for months.”

“Did your cousin keep you informed of what the Mounties were doing?”

“He said he wasn’t supposed to talk much to me to keep from influencing things. Conflicts of something.”

“Conflict of interest.”

“Yeah. He didn’t help us much. Like no one ever said to us they were sorry about what happened. Just to be hopeful. Hope didn’t keep Marie alive, you know.”

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Picture Perfect 43

(finally have this chapter in the right place)

Stephane quickly re-introduced Dan and Cliff, the camera person for this interview, then to Mark Forestier the father of Madeline and Gerrard the first children reported missing. 

“I’ll let you two talk a few minutes,” she said. “We won’t really start shooting for about half-an-hour. Brenda is still setting up the kitchen for the real interview.”

As she left Cliff stayed behind with his shoulder mount camera aimed at Dan and Mark.

“She said we’d be alone?” Mark asked.

“Yeah, yeah. But this is to get you used to being on camera. After awhile you’ll forget I’m here. Trust me.” Cliff explained.

Dan shrugged apologetically. “They never say what they mean. You’ve lived in the Valley all your life?”

“Yep. Place has been in the family since I don’t know when.” Mark began. “Once was more of it though. You know parts got sold off over the years till this is all we have fer now. Was the biggest dairy farm in d’region. Now all been took over by the big corporations. You from around these parts?”

They walked around the yard with Cliff following them.

“I was born in Cape Breton.” Dan said. “Moved to TO when I just a kid.”

“So yer da’s from here too?”

“Yes. My mother too. She was a McPhee from Dartmouth. Then she met my Dad.”

“Marie was a Beaudroux. Her mom was from Dartmouth.” Cliff sighed. He pulled a small flask out of his coat pocket and took a long swig. “She died a few years back. Never got over the loss of our kids, you know. Even though we had another, she was never the same. Left me, you know. Blamed me. Wasn’t my fault, you know.”

“I understand.”

“You understand? What the fuck do you think you understand?” Mark looked away from Dan. “Weren’t your life, was it.”

Cliff ’s camera followed Mark’s head as it turned. He nodded encouragingly at Dan. 

“No. I just meant that it must be hard to lose something, someone like that.”

“We’re ready for you.” Stephane called to them from the back door.

They went into the kitchen.

“This such a great room Mr. Forestier. Big and bright.” Brenda said. “You must cook up a lot of great meals in here. I hope you don’t mind we moved a couple of things around for better lighting.”

She sat them at a wooden kitchen table with a bowl of apples in the middle of it. There was photo album beside the bowl.

“I made you fresh coffee. Should be better than Tim’s. Hope it isn’t too strong. Now you don’t have to drink it, really, but take a stop every now and then to bring it to your mouth. It’ll make this more casual. How does that look?” She asked Cameron, the other camera man. 

“Good frame.” he replied.

Dan sipped the coffee. It was strong. He glanced over his shoulder and on the kitchen counter behind them there was a couple of green glass vases placed to catch the sun.

Mark fidgeted in his chair, took another swig from his flask, then settled down.

“Place never look this tidy.” He said. He leaned over to whisper to Dan. “Stopped usin’ it much of late. Only when Stacy comes over.”

“Stacy?” Dan glanced down at his notes. “Right, your  other daughter. The one you had after …”

“Yeah, we though it might help us get over things but it didn’t. Nothing helped.”

“Okay,” Stephane said. “We’re all set. Don’t worry about pausing to think we can edit all that out to make it smooth. You don’t even have to make sense. That’s our job.”

Dan took another sip of his coffee and looked to Mark for a sign that he was ready to start. Mark smiled back.

“Thank you for letting us into your home Mr. Forestier.”

“I wish I could say it was a pleasure but no one likes to reach back into the past for unpleasant memories. But if this’ll help solve what happened I’m willing to try.”

“How old were your children that summer?” Dan asked.

“Mad was nine and Gerrard was seven. They got along so sweet, you know, fer bother and sister, that is. She’d help with his school work even though he didn’t want help. We thought she might …” he hesitated, “to grow up to … ” he wiped a tear away, “ … to be a school teacher.” He started to get out his flask, stopped and took a sip of his coffee.

“Take your time.” Dan said. He wondered about the nature of memory. How would his Dad have described his relationship with his sister Linda? All he could remember was how distant she was when she wasn’t tormenting him.

“You have some photos of them?” Dan asked. “I’ve only seen these pictures.” He put copies of the Unsolved Cold photos on the table.

“That’s the sundress Marie made for her. Man she loved them flowers. Daisies.” He looked Dan in the eyes. “That was taken just a few days before … whatever happened. They had been down at Ma G’s.”

“Ma G?” Dan consulted his notes. 

“My mother’s sister. She owned the farm over by ours. Raised me. More like a grandmother than an aunt. My mother died giving birth to the one after me.”

“They visited Ma G often?” Dan asked.

“They were always going over there when they could. Marie and I had so much to do around here, you know, we really didn’t have that much time to keep on eye on them every minute. Not that we ignored them or neglected them you know but we’ll … we let them run loose. That’s how I was brought up around here too you know. My folks had ten kids so there wasn’t always an eye on us anyway. You come from a big family?”

“No. There was just me and my sister. Unlike your Madeline, she hated to mind me. Came a time when she couldn’t even be bribed to babysit me.” I was so happy when that torment ended.

“Ma G was happy to do that. It wasn’t that far a walk there fer them. Short cut through the orchard took less than five minutes to get there. The road’ll take twenty minutes, at least.”

“They didn’t take the shortcut that day?”

“Nope. If they had it might have been different, you know. But the rain had made the stream into a swamp. Heavy rain always did that. It’s since dried right up. Thanks to … well, that’s a different thing isn’t it. How modernizing hasn’t really improved things much.”

“About that day.” Dan saw that he was going have keep this interview on track. “You didn’t realize they were missing right away?”

“No, they often stopped overnight with Ma G. So often, nothing need to be said. Ma G didn’t take to the phone. Christ, it was the 80’s, right. Anyone without a phone was just stubborn. If she had one we might have found out sooner. Different these days with cellphones and such.”

“Right.”

“Once we knew that wasn’t here we got ahold of Dave down in Shediac.”
“Dave?” Dan looked at his notes.

“My cousin Dave Forestier. He was in the RCMP there. They come over right away. Asking us lots of questions. Made me feel like they thought we knew more than we were saying. Making it seem it was our fault, or that we had done it. You know. Did away with our own kids.” He punched the table and the coffee mugs bounced into the air. Dan kept his from spilling over. 

“Sorry about that, still gets me steamed up. Dave was no help to us. Said those trained from the mainland felt they knew better than locals. I figure if they had done started a search faster instead of asking us questions and questions they might have found them. Gerrard was so excited about getting back to school you know. I can’t remember me ever being that excited about school. I hated it.”

“They didn’t find anything?”

“Nothing. No one saw them on the road or the highway or anywhere. It was as if those kids never existed. Except they did. I … it wasn’t until those Cold Canada people got in touch with me that I even looked at these.” He flipped open the photo album.

“Not that I forget what happened but after decades life goes on. Marie never did get over it though. She blamed me for trusting Ma G too much. What was I supposed to do? They’re both dead now, too. Ma G died of grief, I’m sure, before the end of the year. She never forgave herself. Never.” He got up from the table, yanked out his flask and drank. “I need to take a break.” Mark left the house. Cliff followed him.

The camera lights shut off. Ma G’s death was not in Dan’s notes. He knew Marie had died but there was nothing about the family after the disappearance. The part of picture you never get to see – where the people go after the wedding photo shoot.

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Picture Perfect 42 (reboot)

Picture Perfect 42 (reboot)

Dan parked his rental in the parking lot across from the sub-division station. It was clearly one of those make-work government aluminium and slab boxes that went up fast during the 90’s. Post offices, Canada Manpower and RCMP buildings erected to ratify local communities, get votes in a coming election to repay voters for sticking with them. Utilitarian structures he always suspected were designed by engineers or siding salesmen, not architects. 

Many of the post offices had been closed down and Canada Manpower was renamed & then had branches shut down as well. Not so with the RCMP. The number of officers serving each had been reduced. He had been a bit surprised to see four officers show up at the Waterside the night before.

Corporal Tyler was behind the desk in the small reception area. There was a closed room on either side of the room.

“Manning the fort on your own?” Dan said as he approached the desk.

“What do want?” Tyler looked up him.

“Here’s the Quintex shooting schedule for the next two weeks. Where we’ll be, who are expecting to be interviewing.” He held out the pages for the Corporal.

“We have that information already.”

He didn’t take the pages from Dan so Dan laid them on the desk.

“My cell number is there too. In case you need you contact us.”

“We have a contact numbers already. Stephanie Carter gave us her’s. As did Mr. Baxter.”

“I see. Is Sergeant Coster in today?”

“No. She’s not stationed here.”

“Oh!” So Dan was correct in assuming this was a sub-division. “She’s at the Moncton detachment?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“I don’t want to tread on the wrong boot toes.” Dan joked. “I’ve been through enough of that when I was in the ranks.”

“More like treading on the wrong jockey shorts in your case.” As Tyler stood up he raised his voice. “It didn’t take much for me to check you out Mr. James.”

“The past is the past. If you checked me out you’d know the tribunal found nothing to justify the charges.”

“Look,” He leaned towards Dan. “We both know how that system works. You were wise not to stick around after you were found so innocent. Even if you were innocent we don’t need pervs like you representing the Force.”

“If that’s an issue for you then I’ll recommend some sensitivity training for the division.” Dan wished he had been able to keep his mouth shut but whenever he hit this not-so-hidden hostility he found himself lashing out instead of being rational.

Tyler took a deep breath and came from behind his desk. 

“Sensitivity! You big shot assholes come down here looking for publicity not for anything more.” He was about to push Dan in the chest with his index finger but stepped away. “It’s a fucking TV show out for ratings, so don’t act as if you have anybody’s interest in mind expect your own. Paid for by sponsors who don’t care about completion or whatever you want to call it.” He went behind his desk. “Digging up old memories that’ll upset people who have learned to live with the past just to make a couple of bucks.” 

Dan stepped back as Tyler was nearly spitting on him.

“You doing this job because you have deep spiritual compassion & care about people or for your pay check?” Dan asked. “At least I’m not wasting tax payers money. It is them that pays your salary. Right?”

“You say we’re wasting tax payers money! You’re like every tourist who comes down here looking for quaint and then getting pissy with us for not wanting to to put on our dress reds and pose with you.”

“Look, just because you were led on some wild goose chase is not my fault. I know you had to follow up that tip. Now I’m trying to set things on the right track.

“As for the the dress reds I know that drill. I was stationed in Saskatoon for two years as a part of my training. There isn’t enough money to protect the public the way it thinks it needs to be protected by the fucking musical ride. That’s nobody’s fault.” Dan lowered his voice. “Sorry I didn’t mean to shout at you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not sorry I did. Anything else I can do for you?”

“No. I’ll keep you posted if there are any last minute changes to this.” I tapped the production schedule he had put on the desk. 

“Don’t expect me to thank you.”

“I don’t. By the way did you hear the tip that was brought you to the Waterside?”

“I’m not privy to that information. If I was I wouldn’t be allowed to divulge that to you.”

Dan went back to his car. The time he put in at Saskatoon was still fresh enough in his mind that he understood some of Sgt. Tyler’s irritation. The press would frequently question their procedures as if they knew better than the RCMP how to conduct an investigation or how to deal with criminals in general. Always clambering for services that there wasn’t money or manpower for, or that the Charter of Rights didn’t allow for in the first place. Every crime became the force’s fault for not preventing. 

He could also imagine how he would have felt if some amateur film crew showed up to investigate something he had already looked into. Not that he was an amateur. Any new information they did uncover wouldn’t make the local forces look good for missing. All the more reason not to keep stepping on the wrong toe boots.

Sgt. Tyler must have been on his own in there. No one came out to see what they were shouting about. Even the sub-stations always had two officers on duty at the station at all times. As he pulled out he saw the branch SUV pull in to the division’s parking area. 

Corporal Coster and another officer got out of the car. The man was probably the area staff sergeant. Did he want to talk with them? No. That was enough cooperation with the authorities for one day.

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