Picture Perfect 111 

Picture Perfect 111

Over the following week Dan split his time between the QTel studio recording connecting material between the sections. Some was direct comment on the interview, some was analysis of the evidence in conversations with Jennifer & some with Robert Warszawa about the task-force’s progress. did some of the connecting material.

They also shot segments in Dan’s ‘lab’ at the Depot where he explained the various pieces of equipment or software he used to examine photos. More technical details would be available through the QTel website back slash East Cold Canada. He quickly became known as one take Dan by the director for these portions of the show. 

He visited Dr. Grey & the nerve damage was still present but thanks to his wet cloth routine it hadn’t gotten worse. The legal separation of The Depot from the Jamison’s Photography in FairVista was confusing, to say the least, to him. He had relied on Linda to deal with that end of the corporation but after the Cuppa manipulation he didn’t trust her. He signed nothing without having the lawyer double check them. The only person he hadn’t heard from was Sanjay’s lawyer. 

By the end of the week he felt at home in his house even though Peter had been busy preparing it for his move by purging what he found of the previous ‘consort.’

Dan’s was preparing for the weed-end’s ‘Boss’s Back’  sale when a courier delivered a shiny bright red envelope with yellow scalloped trim. 

Dan unsealed it. “The seal is an actual seal. As in baby seal.”

Inside was a parchment paper invitation.

“Mr. Daniel James is it our great pleasure to insure you and a guest to join us under the Big Top Sunday October 15 from twelve noon to 1 a.m. to celebrate the centenary of Chamberlain Happy Hippo Carnival Tours.” He read. He went through the list of the day’s events, musical guests. “Ah ha. I knew there was a catch. Gala dinner tickets are available for … get this …. $1500.00 each – funds are to support the expansion of the museum.”

“Sunday!” Sandy said. “That’s like next weekend.”

“Are you going boss?” Usiha asked. “We were just getting used to having you back.”

“I wish I could but …”

“Maybe certain millionaire playboy might offered to pay for the dinner?” Sandy suggest.

“Oh,” Dan feigned innocence. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

He shook another envelope out of the big one. He opened. In it were two dinner tickets & hotel reservations. He quickly read the note with them. “QTel has proved that for me. John Kilpatrick has produced a documentary for them about the history of the Carnival. It’ll be debuted at the anniversary.”

“How could you not know about that?” Sandy asked.

“We had enough to deal with without Cold Canada. For all I know we were told at some point. Or the memo got buried under the insurance papers for the car accident, for the fire, for the — well you get the picture.”

“You bragging or complaining.” Ushio said. “Sounds like you enjoyed all that a lot.”

“Guys, I’m enjoying my quiet life a lot more. I never through I’d say that but give me routine. I never want to go through another summer like this one. Never.”

“Who are you taking to ball?” Sandy asked.

“Cameron.” Dan said. “Baxter insisted as QTel only had so many tickets.”

Peter tapped at front door with his foot. He was balancing the coffees and muffins.

“Now that you are no longer understaffed I need two hands.” He said as he put the tray on the counter. “Oh wow!” He picked dup the invitation and read it. 

“Arcade Fire! Boards of Canada. What a line up!”

“I suppose, if you like that sort of thing.” Dan kidded him.

“I’m sure you and … Cameron! Will have a great time.” Peter said.

“I was joking. Of course I’ll take you.” Dan said.

“What! Me leave the Carafe on a weekend. Do you think? It’s next Sunday, right. We’d never get a place. All the hotels will be booked solid by now. You prick! You knew I couldn’t accept this, didn’t you? Why didn’t you say something before now?”

“It just arrived this morning. Hotel reservation included.” Dan held up his hand to silence Peter. “I’ll talk with Jill.”

“Thanks.” Peter left.

“Let’s get back to work. At least I didn’t plan another flash sale that weekend so you can relax without me here.”

“We appreciate that. Really we do. Now I have work to do.” Ushio went back to his work room.

“I’ll be in my office should you need me Sandy.”

“Business as usual.”

Dan stopped into Carafe for a sandwich before he went back to the QTel studios.

“Peter said you wanted to talk me.” Jill said as she made his sandwich.

“Yeah, I told him easy on the sprouts.”

“And …?” She took removed some of the sprouts.

“I have a spare invite to the Chamberlain extravaganza. I was hoping to take Peter, if you can spare him next weekend.”

“Let me check staffing for the next couple of weeks.” She went to the register computer. “Close to Halloween … Just as I thought … we have the Scary Monsters on the Friday. They wanted that date for their Bowie tribute.”

“Date?” Dan asked.

“Friday 13th.There’s a book launch the next night too.”

“How much will it cost to hire an extra hand or two?”

“You offering to pay? Quintex paying you that well?”

“No comment but …”

“You that serious about Peter?” She asked. “Men aren’t really adults till their 40’s.”

“Thanks Mom. Now that you ask, yeah, I think …”

Peter came out from the kitchen in back with a tray. “Croissants ready for the lunch crowd.”

<>

“That’s a wrap for this portion of the shoot.”  Stephanie said.

“I can get out of Toronto for good.” Jennifer said. “Not that I don’t like it here but miss my own space.”

“This portion?” Dan asked. “I thought this was the last of it.”

“No.” Stephanie said. “We’ll be back where we started in Moncton. Baxter thinks it would be good to end with the Happy Hippo Centennial.”

“Really?” Dan said. “Winston is open to this?”

“Most of it is a public event. They’ve recreated some of the classic side shows from over the decades as well. Magicians, jugglers, Tut-mania and even the Egyptian dancers.”

“Hand-job maidens?” Dan joked.

“Probably note.” Jennifer laughed. “But least one of the crystal ball readers. My mother can’t wait to get back into her Madam Z costume. I couldn’t believe she still had it.”

“Tut-mania.” Dan said. “Live snakes?”

“I don’t think they’ll go that far. I don’t Cleo & Tut were ever seen together. But they still had the sarcophagus and some of the attendant mummies.”

“I don’t think they mummified the attendants they were usually buried alive with them. The cats they preserved though.” Dan said.

“In the circus anything is possible.” Jennifer said.

“I hope they warned John Kilpatrick. I don’t want him to think I’m trying to outdo him.”

“He’ll have his hands full hosting the banquet with Winston.” Stephanie said. “You’ve all received your invitations? I’ve made sure our tables are out of camera range so unless John points us out we’ll be okay.”

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Picture Perfect 86

Picture Perfect 86

Dan clicked on his other caller. Sanjay came up on the screen.

“Back to you, John.” Sanjay laughed. “But seriously are you okay?”

“Fine. Why?”

“We heard about the accident. I was worried about you.”

“No need to worry. I wasn’t in that car.”

Most likely they made sure it got some press to create buzz for the show.

“I know. The first reports mentioned unnamed fatality. Unnamed until family was contacted.”

“The was awhile ago now. Quintex is using it to create buzz for the show.”

“Whatever. Dan it made me pause. I don’t want to lose you. I’ll drop all legal proceedings if you …”

“Sanjay speak to my lawyer.” Dan resisted the temptation to say yes. He could feel Sanjay’s hairy belly against his, as they pushed each other up against a kitchen counter. He could taste Sanjay’s tongue in his mouth. He was aroused.

“Every day I regret what I did. Hitting you was unspeakable. But I’m not the one who …”

“You hit me before Peter happened. You hit me because of the money not because of love.”

“No! It was because you didn’t believe in me, in my dreams, my possibilities.”

“Right. I said speak to my lawyer. Don’t force me to get a restraining order.”

“You can’t restrain this any more than I can.” Sanjay moved back so his cock and balls filled the screen. Dan ended the connection and hit the block caller button. He checked his cloud saved to make sure Sanjay’s call had been recorded and stored there. He considered contacting his lawyer. Did he want to escalate the friction between him and Sanjay. It wasn’t going to disappear but making it worse wouldn’t help things either. If he heard from Sanjay again he’d have to take some action.

His cell beeped with a text alert.

The text said: “Where are you? We’re waiting in cabin one for you.”

“On my way.” He replied as he left his cabin.

The production crew were using cabin one as their temporary conference room. It was the largest of the rooms with its own tiny kitchen. One of the king size beds was set up as a low conference table. It was already littered with pizza boxes.

“Hope I didn’t wake you from your beauty sleep.” Baxter said.

“You didn’t.” Dan sat on the edge of the second bed facing the improvised table. There wasn’t enough room between the beds for chairs. 

“Stephanie has your interview set for tomorrow.”

“Ten a.m. sharp. I know. I’m expecting Morrison to be different from the others.” Dan put a copy of Trail Mix Trivia on the table. “The man may have background information about the context of the case.”

“Interesting.” Jennifer flipped through the book. 

“Wolf and Seal Morrison are his sons.” Stephanie said. “I’ve done more checking on them. Wolf has also written a book. One you may have heard of – Sister Gone.”

“He wrote that!” Baxter said. “The movie option went for millions.”

“Right. And you know who is slated to direct.”

“His brother Seal. After his second Oscar nom last year he can afford to do what he wants.”

“Sister Gone?” Cameron asked.

“Yes.” Jennifer said. “It’s about a sister that vanishes one day.”

“But the boys were only about two years old when that happened.” Dan said.

“He didn’t write it then.” Stephanie said.

“Is it about this abduction?” Baxter asked.

“Not according to what I’ve read on line. Clearly it’s based on this even if it isn’t a case history. I’m sure he did his research.”

“Will Morrison know?” Dan asked.

“Now there’s something to ask him.” Baxter said. “It could the perfect way to start a buzz for the movie version. Does Quintex p.r. know about this connection?”

“I don’t know.” Stephanie said. “What if they don’t want a buzz. Do you think they might try to shut us down to protect their creative rights.”

“Maybe they have already.” One of the crew said pretending to steer a car.

“Please!” Dan said. “That’s not funny.”

“Exactly.” Brenda said. “Legal checked into this at the very start. Sister Gone is a work of fiction, we are investigating a work of fact, as it were. Besides if they were at all bothered we would have heard something by now.”

<>

Back in his room Dan downloaded a sample chapter of Sister Gone. It was not a true crime novel but one about a family’s sense of loss, not about the search for the sister. Poetic not hard edge or, at least in what he read, graphic. On-line reviews were about the emotional content, no mentions of violence, or of other missing children. The point of view was of the mother Moon Star, a full-blood Mi’kmaq. Was their actual mother Native? That would explain their names.

Brenda woke him in the morning with his freshly dry cleaned interview look. Colours that looked good but not commanding on camera. Jennifer was with her.

“Two more interviews to go.” Jen said.

“Maybe.” Brenda said. “We’ve been getting more and more contacts who think they have useful information. Stephanie and I have been pre-screening them for possible interviews too.”

“Seems we’re getting more than enough from the families as it is.” Dan said as he put on his shoes.

“You know Baxter. There is no such thing as enough. He’s hoping to expand the show to 90 minute episodes if he can get some sensational stuff.”

“You mean if we can find more of what the RCMP missed.”

“We’ve already done that haven’t we.” Jen said.

“Exactly! That’s why Quintex is taking him seriously about expanded episodes. They’ve already okay a starter at 90 and a finale at 90 as well.”

“Hmmm.” Dan said. “I’ll have to check my contract. I’m pretty sure it’s for 60 minute episodes.”

“Oops.” Brenda covered her mouth. “I wasn’t supposed to let the cat out of the bag so soon. But now that it’s out, QTel has been really really pleased with how things are going. “Back to you, John.” was a bonus. The deaths of Vidro and Hajla, didn’t hurt either.”

“I don’t think they enjoyed it.” Jen said.

“Sorry I didn’t mean to sound so ….”

“Cynical.” Jen said.

“Calculating.” Dan said at nearly the same time.

“Only repeating what I’ve heard.”

“Anything else you aren’t supposed to tell us?” Dan asked as they got in the car.

“No.” Brenda said as they pulled out of the parking lot.

It was an overcast morning. Fog clung to the motel sign and the telephone poles along the highway. The hills on either side were barely visible.

“I hope you had the brakes checked.” Dan laughed.

“You think?” Cameron paled as he tested them. “No, they’re fine. Lights are working fine, too.”

“We’ll be fine.” Jen said. “This’ll be more productive than your visit to Nova Pentecostal.”

“You know about that?” Dan said. “I haven’t talk to anyone other than Warszawa about it.”

“Baxter knows everything that goes on.” Cameron said. “He follows us with drones.”

“Or plants them on us.”

“What took you to the Nova Pentecostal?” Jen asked.

“You can’t tell me?” Dan challenged her.

“I knew you were going to say that.” Jen laughed. “I’m not a mind reader. I figured you knew the difference by now. If I were to guess it was following something to do with the Hippo.”

“Right. The Reverend Hadley worked for Hippo the summer of ’84. She was one of the crystal ball readers, amongst other things.”

“Other things?” Brenda asked.”

“Yes. According to Jane Poitier at the Wickham.” Jen said. “The carnival men got to drink, carouse, set up rides while the women got to cook, clean and fend the men off. She hated that the seers sex-appeal was bait. The money was good but some only lasted a summer with them.”

“They had to shimmy off stage?” Cameron asked.

“Yes and the fact that when they shimmy on stage they had to have enough to shake. Even if you were the best seer they had.”

“Sounds like one of those forties carnival movies where the real seer pretends to be a fake seer.” Dan said.

“And the barker who pretends to love her ends up falling in love with her.” Brenda said.

“But it’s too late because she’s in love the with high wire hunk.” Jen said.

“Mmm … with those tight spangly tights.” Dan said. “Or is it his trapeze bar that she really want to swing on?”

“Dan!” Jen swatted at him. “That’s hilarious. Hippo never went in for the high wire.”

“No wonder the women didn’t stick around.” Cameron said.

“I’m sure the randy clowns were enough for her anyway.” Jen said. “Jane told me about a balloon animal specialist whose creations looked like harmless elephants or dogs or whatever from one angle but like … aroused beasts from another. She dusted his balloons with alum and man did he pucker up.”

“So he couldn’t get his pecker up.” Brenda said.

They had to stop the car until their laugher subsided.

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Picture Perfect 83 

Picture Perfect 83 

“You drive.” Dan tossed Cameron the car keys. “I’m going to go over these notes Stephanie sent me.

“Okay, dear.” Cameron grunted. 

Dan opened his laptop & scrolled through the notes on the Centre that he had. One of the researchers had spoken with Winston Chamberlain who said that when Madama Cabanalla when left Hippo, she had purchased the the various snakes she used in her act. She tried a snake museum but when then didn’t work she founded the Centre which was a moderate success. 

Dan was slightly confused because he recollect the giant poster for Cora! Queen of the King Cobras. Or was she also one of the many Madama Cabanalla’s? He compared their faces on the photos he had taken at the Museum. They weren’t similar beyond both being female.

“This is the turn.” Dan nudged Cameron.

“Yes, I see it dear.” Cameron muttered.

They drove along & after five minutes over a crumbling roadway saw in a field a tall wooden Jesus in a field holding a snake with the snake’s head pointing to the Nova Convergent Centre. 

There was one car in the unpaved parking lot and Cameron pulled in close to it. He then checked to make sure his camera was on. “Visiting the Nova Convergent.” He said to mark the start of the recording.

They got out of the car. Dan taking photos of the sign, the dust trail still in the air where they had driven.

The silence was the first thing Dan noticed as he surveyed the area. Not even the whisper of wind from the field across the road.

The gravel crunch echoed as they walked to the Centre. A sign welcomed them to the Nova Convergent Temple of the Blessed Saviour. The Temple looked like a suburban strip mall. Siding that needed repair ran along the roof line. Stains mottled the wall that faced the roadway.

The dingy curtains behind one of the windows beside the door parted then closed as they approached the double glass doors. Dan assumed this was the entrance. The doors open out before he touched them.

A heavy set, tall woman greeted him. “Welcome, brothers.” 

She tucked in a stray tress into the bun of red hair at the back of her head. The bun seemed ready to explode in the sun. 

“I was expecting you. I’m Janis Hadley.”

“Us?” Even he didn’t know they were coming here in particular until it was decided that morning.

“Yes. We always expect seekers.”

“I see. uh … Winston Chamberlain mentioned that  Madama Cabanalla might be found here?” Dan felt there no reason to beat around the bush.

“Oh yes Cabanalla. That was me once upon a time. It’s now Janis Hadley. The Reverend Janis Hadley to be pretentious.” she laughed. “When I was Madama Cabanalla my gift was a parlour trick. It became real once I stopped playing with it.”

“You were the Cobra Queen as well?”

“Not the original! When Cora stepped down as queen I ended up with her subjects.” Janis shook her head sadly. “Poor Cora. Snakes & over-proof rum aren’t a good mix.”

“Before we go on I must ask your permission to be recorded.”

“Recorded?”

“Not for broadcast but to review what you tell us.” Cameron explained.

“Of course. Record away.”

“Winston told us a few thing about you. You started this?” Dan indicated the church.

“The snake handling? No. I’m merely continuing it. I am deeply grateful for the Happy Hippo that allowed me to discover the true muse.” She stretched out one arm and a green snake with orange spots slithered from under her loose sleeve. She turned her hand to support the snake’s body. It raised its head and looked directly at Dan.

“You are unafraid.” she said.

“On the contrary.” He keep his eyes on her even through the the snake seemed to be demand that he look at it. “I wanted to talk to you about the summer of ’84 when you worked for Happy Hippo.”

“Come. It is cooler inside.”

They followed her into the building. In the foyer there were two large glass cages, one on either end. She placed her snake into one of them that already held several others of different colours and sizes.

“They get along with each other despite their differences.” She said. “If only mankind were the same.”

“Winston tells me when the snakes didn’t do well as part of the carnival ….”

“His folks wanted to dispose of them. By dispose I mean destroy. They couldn’t be sold. They did try but no one wanted to buy them. No zoos wanted them. They weren’t rare enough or even dangerous.”

“Oh! One of the posters said something about deadly cobras.”

“Cobra’s yes, but they had been defanged. Couldn’t even eat properly as a result. Damned fools didn’t know what they were doing.” She pushed hair back into her bun. Dan noticed she was missing part of the baby finger on her right hand.

“Oh yeah. Lost this being careless myself. Just because a snake isn’t poisonous doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. But snake lore isn’t what you’re here for, is it?”

“You know I’m here about this missing children. We’ve been looking at … people who moved around a lot in the province during those months.”

“The Hippo was always on the move. There were three of them, you know, that traveled around. Some of us performers would be at one unit one night, and at another two nights later.”

“Yes I know that but … let’s start with how you became the snake charmer.”

She leaned back in the pew and looked at the ceiling. “I wasn’t afraid. I think that was the main reason. Oh yes, I was pretty enough too. That helped. I was at veterinary college you see and needed a summer job that worked with animals. I saw that the Chamberlain’s were looking for someone and I applied.”

“The fortune telling?”

“That, to coin a phrase, was a no-brainer. No one did just one thing you know. The fewer personnel the fewer people on the payroll. I was also the company vet. Snakes. Dogs. Remember the parrots? Nasty they were. I had to keep the wings trimmed so they couldn’t fly away. Thank God we didn’t have lions & tigers too.

“The snake act was really nothing. It was to compliment Cora’s Cleopatra. Cora! Queen of the King Cobras. All that Tut nonsense was just a gimmick to get semi-naked girls on stage. Chamberlain’s didn’t care about history or about snakes. Cora would shimmy and shake and the snakes would slither and slide. We took turns being Cleo by the way. Crystal ball gazing could be purchased after the show. Often it wasn’t crystal balls some of those men wanted gazed into. That was never allowed. I did use the asp more than one to ward off guys.”

“Asp?” Cameron said.

“It wasn’t an asp but who knew the difference?Certainly not these guys. I’d let it crawl down my arm and they were ready to crawl out of the tent. Even the Chamberlain boy, Winston, was afraid of them. Though I was too old for him then and I was just 20.

“The snakes where in pretty bad shape. No one knew enough to take proper care of them. It wasn’t as if such information were that hard to find either. When the Chamberlain’s realized they were more expensive to look after that they were earning they decided to get rid of them before the season ended. One of the Cora’s was some pissed because she had been making the act more elaborate by adding her own mummies. She was one weird lady.”

“So that’s when you started the … church?”

“Naw. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. There was about a dozen. There was some talk about a sort of snake-arium that people would visit like a zoo. Over the winter they all died. I couldn’t devote as much time to them, what with my studies. A few years back we were traveling in the south and came across the Pentecostal in Mississippi.”

“What was the word on the Hippo circuit that summer?”

“Word?”

“About those missing children.”

“The Chamberlain’s were worried about it affecting the box-office more than anything else. ‘Make ‘em smile but only after they’ve paid for it’ was their motto.”

“What became of the original Cora?”

“Suicide. I’d rather not talk about it.”

“I’m sorry. I’m surprised to see a snake handler church here though. Lobsters perhaps.” He gave a little laugh.

“People need something tangible to believe in. Communion wine is one thing but Nova brings the Bible to life.”

“No doubt it does. Thank you for your time Reverend Janis Hadley. Here’s my card if you think of anything.”

She walked to their car with them.

“Come by tomorrow for the service. The spirit is sure to reveal what you need to know.” She took a deep breath and held his left hand between her two hands. “What you’re seeking has nothing to do with those children. What you find will unlock one mystery but not the one you want to solve.”

“Thanks, I guess. I’ll check with the producers about the service. That is if you don’t mind real cameras.”

“We’ve been sensationalized before Mr. James. Hasn’t done us a bit of harm or even much good. That’s one of those fundamental truths. The spirit goes on. But that is never my decision.”

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Picture Perfect 73

Picture Perfect 73

A car pulled into the park lot. On the roof was an illuminated taxi sign that had been repainted with a crude rending of a donairs on one side and Dumphy’s on the other.

He paid for it, tipped generously, as it was Quintex money anyway. He sat at one of the picnic tables outside the breakfast diner and ate the meal. It tasted better when he didn’t have to see it. 

Cameron came out of the dark. “I’ll have to speak to Baxter about this place. Those cabins are rough. I don’t what it is about them but I can’t stand being in one for more than an hour before I’m ready to climb the walls.”

“Ditto.”

“Funny what people will do to get in the credits for a TV show.”

“How so?”

“Locations swung a deal with places. In return for discount, or in this case free, they get mentioned in the credits for the show.’

“Like catering by so and so.”

“Exactly but no catering service is stupid enough to give food away for credits that they know full well no one reads. Owners here didn’t know that. Baxter convinced them it would be good for the tourist trade. We have to shoot an interview here in return.

Dan laughed. “You should be filming me now eating out here. I can move so the sign is over my shoulder.”

“Don’t have a night vision camera.”

“One think to be thankful for or we’d be skulking around at night with Jennifer Devereaux looking for the emanations of the departed.”

“Keep that one to yourself or we’ll end up doing just that.” Cameron gave a little laugh. “Seriously, can I ask you something?”

“Uncut. Versatile?” Dan said.

“What!” Cameron laughed. “No. Never mix work with play. What do you think happened to those children? You always ask that question so I was wondering what you think?”

“I think they are dead.”

“Yes but I mean what happened to their bodies? One never being found I can understand but not this many.”

“Bones have been found in the strangest of places decades centuries after the fact.”

“So you think they are in some cave somewhere? Or in a freezer in someone’s basement?”

“That’s a question you should ask Jennifer. When I was in the Force I never dealt with a cold case of this type. Here we’re trying to make connections as we sift though data, not bones.”

“Baxter would crap his pants if we found remains somewhere though wouldn’t he? In some farmer’s field.”

“There are no unplowed fields in this area, trust me.”

‘Yeah, but you know what I mean.”

“Yes I know. Don’t give him any ideas though or some unidentified remains are likely to show up. There enough drama going on now.”

“Unidentified Remains – sound like a great show title.” Cameron got up from the table. “See you in the morning.”

<>

Winston Chamberlain was waiting for them in the Circus Museum parking lot.

“We’re closed on Monday’s” he said. “But Baxter was so insistent I said I’d talk with you today just to shut him up. We’ll go in the side way. Fewer locks to deal with.”

Inside he gave Cameron a quick tour of the various exit halls and the rides.

“Choice stuff. Let’s sit you two here.” Cameron said. “I can get that merry-go-round frmm one side of you, the Hippo Dog stand from the other.”

“This is to be an interview?” Winston asked. “I thought you just want to check this out for locations.”

“It shouldn’t take too long.” Cameron said.”We never know when we’ll get something we can use.”

“Don’t I have to sign some sort of release.” Winston brushed his hair flat. “How do I look.”

“I have release forms here in my equipment bag.” Cameron rummaged in it and pulled out some forms.

Winston read them over.

“Its really standard stuff.” Cameron explained. “We can’t use this in any other context except the show. If you divulge anything relating to illegal activities we have to inform the authorities.”

“Okay.” He signed where Cameron indicated. 

“Your family owned the Happy Hippo Carnivals?” Dan began.

“Yes.” Winston’s expression changed as the camera started. His irritated smile quickly became garrulous & inviting.

“This museum is a way of preserving them.”

“That’s right Dan. All of the exhibits come from my Father’s need to accumulate. He was a sort of circus hoarder. He couldn’t throw anything away.”

“You worked in the carnival as a boy?”

“Yes. I spent a few summers with the tours. I learned all about the Hippo from the ground up because my dad wanted me to take it over eventually. But, well, it went bankrupt before that could happen.”

“Did you enjoying working the midway?”

“Oh, yeah. I loved the games, the rides. The way the rides worked fascinated me. The gears and mechanics.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t become a mechanical engineer.”

“I did consider it but once the circus folded I didn’t see myself wanting to join any of the other carnivals. You know, move to Toronto to work at the CNE.”

“Does this bring back any memories for you?” Dan handed him a copy of the photo of him and Theresa.

“That’s me! Where did you get this! Man I look so young there.”

“You were young. Around fourteen.”

“I must have really dug that girl.”

“You don’t remember her? Stoney.”

He looked up from the picture. “Jesus. That’s right I used to call myself Stoney so no one would know I was the owner’s son.”

“Used to tell them you were nineteen as well.”

“I might have. Easier to get laid when you tell them you are nineteen.”

“There were rumours about you.”

“Such as?”

“You had a … hankering for younger girls. I mean younger than the one in this picture.”

“Fuck where did you dig that up.” 

“I didn’t dig it up. I wasn’t even looking for it when, there it was.”

“What was I thirteen or fourteen year old kid. I might have looked up the skirts of girls my age on the ferris wheel when I was checking their straps. Who didn’t do that. They weren’t that much younger than me.”

“Right.” 

Dan was amused to see how completely Winston’s camera personality disappeared as he become defensive.

“Are you trying to implicate me in this case?” Winston snapped.

“Not at all. Did you hear anything about them at the time?”

“Only that they had happened.” He took a deep breath. “That was after the fact too I might add. Didn’t know there that many either.”

“Apparently only one person did.”

“Who?” Winston asked.

“The abductor.” He looked to Cameron. “I think we’ve got enough here.” He glanced at his cell. “We have to get to the Moncton Municipal Hospital for the O’Connor interview.”

Cameron slung his shoulder mounted camera off and stored it in the equipment bag.

“Sorry I put you on the spot there Winston.”

“Sorry! You fucking accused me of being a child molester. If anyone ever sees that I’ll fucking sue you and Qunitex for everything you’ve got. Now march you asses out of here.” His shouts echoed in the hall. “In fact, if anything about the Hippos is mentioned in your fucking TV show I’ll shut you down so hard you’ll wish you’d never met me.”

<>

In the car Cameron shook his hand. “That was one of the best reveals I have ever witnessed.”

“Reveals?”

“He was so cooperative while the camera was on but the minute he thought it was off he went off.”

“Thought? You mean you got all that?”

“Oh yeah.” He took off his baseball hat. There was a wire from the front and circling the inner brim. “That Qunitex logo isn’t just for looks. The lens remote feeds directly into this baby.” He indicated his equipment bag.

“You’re as bad as me.” Dan turned up the collar of his interview sports coat to show the remote for his camera. 

“That’s not Q issue is it? Where’s the lens.” 

“No, it’s not and the lens is a trade secret. There’s something going on there though. And someone tinkered with my rental car the last time I was here. He wasn’t with me every minute I was here that time.”

“He certainly has something to hide.” Cameron said. “You might want to talk with that Theresa again. She had more to say. I could tell that when we left her at the park.”

“Yeah I’d like to talk with her again too. Now, back to Waterside then on to hospital.”

“Cut or uncut?” Cameron asked. “Winston I mean.”

“Winston? I’d say uncut. Why? Are you interested.” 

“I didn’t get such a good look at that picture of him before. You sure he didn’t have a career in porn.”

“That’s something I never thought to check.”

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Picture Perfect 71

Picture Perfect 71

“How is Teresa? I haven’t heard from her for centuries.”

“A bit rough for wear but …”

“We used to caller her Teresa Tear-Off-A-Piece-A. She tell you about that?”

“This wasn’t a … social meeting. I was interviewing her about Timothy Dunlop.”

“Is that why she gave you those pictures?”

“That was the context, yes. We did reminisce some. She had lots of pictures of that summer. Whatever become of the ones you took. I didn’t find any in Dad’s archives.”

“To be honest I never keep them for long. I gave most of them way to whomever was in them. Dad was appalled when I told him I had discarded all the negatives too. I never saw myself a photographer anyway. Least ways not like he was. I didn’t realize that I was going to stay in the business.”

“Oh?” 

“Yeah, there’s a lot you don’t know about me. I really wanted to get into fashion. Don’t laugh because I know what a cliche that is.”

“I wasn’t going to laugh. Teresa didn’t remember the names of the men in the photos. Do you.”

He took his tablet out and pulled up the photos.

“There’s this one of me and Kevin.” She pointed to the one that Dan had added to the group. “He was the older man that Dad was rescuing me from that summer. Mom really disliked him for some reason too. You sort of got along with him, didn’t you.”

“All I remember is his name. Kevin. What was his last name?”

“O’Neill. Big Catholic family. Maybe that’s why Dad didn’t approve. He never could get into the Catholic school system to do class photos. Catholics only were allowed to do that.”

“These others?” He scrolled to the picture of the girls with the circus guys.

“That’s Terry with one of those circus guys she was so crazy about. Rocky, no Stoney! or some such. They usually had forgettable names. I think this the guy with the …”

“Big … reputation?”

“Yeah. Heard some nasty rumours about him too. But you always heard that about the circus people in general.”

“I remember that Kevin was one of those circus people, too. That’s what you always told me after we moved here.”

“Did I now.”

“What about the one of you and this other guy?”

“You mean Kevin? He was some friend of Stoney’s.” She dipped foam out her coffee with her finger. “They ran one of games of chance at the Happy Hippo. Games of fat chance. They practically showed us how they were rigged.”

“Linda you are the most accomplished liar I have ever met. Even when I was on the force no suspect was as convincing as you are when you are evading the truth.”

“What did you mean?”

“This,” He pointed to the picture of her and Hank’s circus buddy, “is not Kevin O’Neill in the other photo. Not unless you dated two guys called Kevin O’Neill.”

He put the photos of the men side by side.

“They don’t even look alike.”

“Then I must be mistaken. I don’t know. That first guy is definitely Kevin.”

“According to Teresa this other guy is.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“This is the back of that picture. I think that’s your handwriting. It says: Me and Kevin O’Neill.”

“I …” she was silent.

“This is the man,” he pointed to the other picture, “you brought home. You told us he was Kevin O’Neill. He was not. And you wonder why I have lost all trust in you.”

“It was all so long ago.” she teared up. “I didn’t know what to do. I was … pregnant. The real Kevin refused to meet the folks, refused to do anything in fact.”

“So you thought bringing a substitute would make things better?”

“No, not better. I was going to say he’d left me. That getting married was too much for him to face. I did’t want to just be pregnant without … I was ashamed. You don’t know what it was like. For girls. Even Terry didn’t know. So I brought this guy over so they wouldn’t think I’d gotten knocked up and the the guy had run out me.”

“Which is what happened? The real Kevin deserted you.”

“No. He hung around but refused to marry me. While I was here and you were traveling to Toronto I lost the baby. Honest. I didn’t do anything to terminate the pregnancy.”

Dan got up. “Linda. I don’t know what to believe.” He glanced this cell phone. “I have a plane to catch.”

He had a taxi drop him off the his house and wait while he got his carry on. On the way to the airport texted Peter a goodbye. Approved the Depot plan to give a 15% discount to anyone with a hundred dollar gift card from the Carafe. Texted a thank you to Jeremy for the pizza. Switched to his Quintex cell & texted Baxter that he was on his way back. By the time got out of the taxi he felt he accomplished something over the past couple of days. When he got to his seat he put both phones to silent & put his sleep mask on & tried to stay awake.

When he exited the plane in Moncton Sergeant Coster met him in the arrivals lounge.

“Leaving the area during a criminal investigation is a chargeable offence Mr. James.” she said to him. “Obstruction of justice.”

“Only if one has been informed of their need to be present for said investigation Sergeant.”

“You’ve been in court too many times for me to put a scare into you.” She shrugged.

“Probably. Why are you here?”

“I wanted to say I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot last week.”

“I know protocol Sergeant. I know it too well to be that upset by what happened at the Waterside, Did you ever find out what was on those DVD’s in the bathroom ceiling.”

“Other than standard porn on the top three all the other’s were blanks.”

“Did you check the bathrooms of any of the other cabins?”

“Only yours.”

“Not the rest of the crew?”

“Yours was the only one specified in the tip.”

“I didn’t know which one was going to mine until I checked in. I hadn’t even opened my bag when you came busting in. So …”

“Whomever it was may have planted something in every empty cabin? That takes this beyond a crank call.”

“What investigation?”

“Huh?”

“The one I skipped out of?”

“The accident that resulted in Roberto Hajla & Glaucia Vidro’s death. It is now a double homicide case.”

“Right.”

“The evidence points to tampering with the electrical system. What happened to the vehicle was not a ‘manufacturers’ malfunction. Not was it caused by the storm.”

“Interesting.” 

“We’ve checked out all the other rentals and this is the only one that has been tampered with.”

“Targeted is more like it.”

“Clearly someone wants to derail this TV show.”

“Killing me wouldn’t derail the show.” Dan said. “Unsolved Cold is already running a promo with footage from the accident. My death would have turned into hype.”

Dan spotted Cameron entering the lounge.

“My drive has arrived.” He nodded to Cameron.

“We need an official disposition from you regarding the cars. How you ended up in the one you were driving.”

“I’ll try to get to the division as soon as I can. Can we do it on line?”

“That’s possible.”

Cameron came over to them. “Baxter was more than a bit ticked at the way you beat it out of Dodge. He sent me to make sure you did’t slip out of his control again. Car’s outside.”

Dan put his carry on in the back seat and got into the front passenger side.

“Is this the same car I left in Halifax?”

“That’s why I’m ticked, having to haul ass there to pick it up and get here for you was a lot of endless driving.”

“Sorry.” Dan said.

“We’re back at the Waterside for tonight. Hope you don’t mind?”

“Any schedule changes?”

“Nope. You’ll be talking with that guy from the Museum in the morning. Then we’ll meet Jennifer Devereaux at the hospital to interview Mrs. O’Connor.”

At the Waterside Dan was glad to be assigned a different cabin that he’d had the last time. He couldn’t resist checking the ceiling tiles in the bathroom. Nothing but dust.

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Picture Perfect 61

Picture Perfect 61

“It wasn’t something I thought much about, especially after the Mounties stopped coming around. We never understood why they stopped. Or why they never came back when there were others.”

“Have you remembered much?”

“More and more since your show contacted me. Silly stuff. Like what I was wearing. Those cowboy costumes you and Timmy loved to play in. Mama had to sew them back together nearly every other day. We couldn’t make you kids understand they weren’t really clothes. They were as real as the toy guns. You would be climbing trees, jumping off porches in them. Timmy would sometimes sleep in his chaps. He said that how real cowboys slept. I told him real cowboys didn’t hang around with their bare butts where coyotes could get at them in their sleep. He wanted to get a job as a sharp shooter at that circus. The Hippo something.”

“You mean the Happy Hippo?”

“What a crappy circus that was. It used to be so … exciting when I was your age but as I got older, it stayed the same. All that brought me and your sister to it was to see the freaks and the fellas that ran the rides. They wanted us to call them carnies but they weren’t much older than us and working for the summer and planning to go into the army or back to university. I always kept an eye and ear out for those college boys. Here …” She took the photos from him and sorted through to a couple of them. “These are of me and Stoney. He was already studying some sort of engineering at Dalhousie. He kept the rides in good repair. He was a better catch than just the guy who sold you tickets or turned the switch on. Not that he didn’t do those things too but he also knew stuff.”

Dan stopped walking to look closely at the picture.

“Yeah, that’s me he’s got his arm draped around. I looks so cute in that halter-top.”

The young shirtless man in the picture was leaning against a fence, legs crossed at the ankles, one arm around Teresa. She was looking up at him with her hand on his bare stomach. He was gawking at her cleavage. He was enjoying the view as he had an obvious erection barely contained in his faded jeans. The face was familiar to Dan.

“It can’t be.” he said.

“Real? Yeah, he was, as they say, hung like horse.”

“Not that but I think I know him.”

“Stoney?” Teresa asked?

“Or maybe it’s his son.” He did the math in his head. “If this is who I think it is he was probably only about fourteen when this was taken.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Turns out he diddled lots of the younger ones too. Wait fourteen! Then all stuff about Dalhousie was a load of bs?” She gabbed the picture back from him. “Nah, he was twenty. That’s what he told us anyways. Who do you think he is?”

“I’d rather not say anything until I know more for sure. Did you tell the RCMP about his diddling young girls?”

“No. Never occurred to me. He couldn’t have anything to do with those kids disappearing. Timmy was a boy. Stoney was sure weren’t no fairy.”

“Who?” Cameron angled in for a close up of the picture.

“I’d rather not say.” Dan said covering the photo with his hand. “No need to implicate someone rashly. Baxter’s Bits doesn’t want to face a defamation law suit.”

“I’m not sure about that.” Cameron laughed. “It would go well with stories of his recent brush with death.”

“This other one.” Teresa brought the attention back to her. “Is of your sister with that Kevin guy your parents was so steamed up about. O’Neill. Kevin O’Neill. I only know because he took me out a few times.”

“The one she blamed for us moving.”

“Huh?”

“For years she said that was why we moved. To break them up.” He took the picture. “That’s my sister but that isn’t Kevin. I met him a few times when she was supposed to be minding me. He was a red head. This guy is certainly not a red head.”

“Redhead? You sure? I don’t recall any redheaded fellas in our gang that year.”

They arrived at the park.

She lit another cigarette as they sat on a bench.

“What do you think happened to Timmy?” He asked.

“Like I said we were sure he’d run off, again. Maybe to follow you guys to Ontario. When it turned more kids had gone missing no one knew what to think. Aliens?”

“Aliens?” Dan laughed.

“Look they were gone without a trace, you know. Like not even a shoe left behind. How is that possible? What do you think happened to them?”

Dan looked at Cameron. “You know, I’ve never really thought about that. We’re so focused on who and when. I doubt if any of them are alive now.”

Teresa began to cry. “I just hate thinking about what ever was done to these kids when they were … taken.”

“Teresa, I think we’ve got enough for one day.” Dan said. “What do you think Cameron.”

“Whatever you say. I know Steph will be happy with what we have.”

“You can always call me if you want to do more. I got lots of the super 8’s from then too. Not sure who took them.”

“I’ll take these pictures and go through them. We’ll get them back to you.” 

They left her at the park and went back to the rental car. Dan had Cameron drive so he could look through the pictures more carefully, separating the ones he was most interested in. He studied the one of Teresa and Stoney. It had to be Winston Chamberlain. Much younger but there was no mistaking him. It made some sense that the owner’s son would know about the rides and would want to keep his identity a secret.

“Who is it?” Cameron asked. “Your Dad?”

“No! But another suspect. If this is who I think it is, he was practically a child himself at the time.” That is if he was right about Winston’s age. 

“How does it feel being back here in Stellerton.”

“Odd. Same streets but different buildings.”

“You ever miss it.”

“Timmy was the only thing I missed. My Dad kept us so busy with his business because it was a good way to teach us values. I never had much of a chance to make friends. We moved around a lot in the summer. This was where we stayed the longest.”

“So what did he say when you moved like that?”

“Enough Cameron. Asking questions is my job. Or are you filming this too.”

“You know it. Baxter said not to waste a moment. That isn’t a GPS you know.” He pointed to the unit on the dash with his elbow. “Dashboard camera.”

“In all the cars?”

“When ever possible.”

“I guess it picked up my panic in the storm.”

“Oh, no. That had been Baxter’s car you were driving. He wasn’t interested in being filmed. We didn’t have a chance to make a switch out for the camera. Good thing too because we have his accident. Can’t fake footage like that.”

“Would it show someone tampering with the car?”

“Only if they were in the car. It wasn’t set to see outside the car. We got nothing that shows that.”

He parked the car. “Steph will send someone to pick me up. This one be your wheels for the rest of the shoot.”

“Where’s the real GPS?”

“It’s an app on your cellphone.”

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