Picture Perfect 121
“Welcome home Mr. James.” Troy said. “Here’s a cup of coffee for you. Sorry if it isn’t as hot as you’d like. Ma said you’d need something. She and your friends are in the lobby.”
Dan sipped the coffee. He could remember everything he’d experienced in his trance. Why Dorothy he wondered.
“I think I need some fresh air.” Dan handed Troy the coffee cup & started to get up.
“Sure. I’ll gave you a hand.”
The parking lot outside was empty expect for one other car. Dan walked over to his car and leaned against the front hood. He rotated his shoulders to loosen the tension that had built up in them.
“Is this what the services are usually like here?” Jennifer asked Troy.
“We usually don’t get so many people.” Troy said. “When there are so many some are just gawkers. These all wanted to be here. Ma thinks it had something to do with the Mr. James finding of the missing children.”
Janis walked over to them once she had locked the building and turned the security alarm on. “You’re welcome to come to the Cafe. There’ll be fresh coffee. Scones baked fresh this morning too. We can talk there.”
“The lemon cranberry?” Dan asked.
“Of course.” Janis replied. “We can talk about what you had on your mind when you called me yesterday. Unless that was answered already by Silas.”
“Silas?” Peter asked.
“The cobra.” Janis answered. “We’ve had him the longest.”
“No answers but more questions.” Dan said.
“I’ll go ahead then. Troy I’ll wait while you double check everything.”
“Sure enough Ma.” Troy went back to the church.
Dan gave Peter the keys to drive the car & got in the front seat beside him. Jennifer got into the back. Cameron & Brenda took the other car.
“Is Troy her son?” Jennifer asked. “We weren’t actually introduced.”
“I don’t know. Could be ‘Ma’ one of those affectionate husband wife things?” Dan said. “You picking up anything from him or Janis.”
“Nothing much. She’s very guarded. Smells odd too.”
“Snake aroma therapy?” Peter said.
When they pulled into the small parking lot for the General Store and Cafe, Troy was already sitting on the front porch.
“How did you do that?” Peter asked.
“There’s a shortcut through a backroad. Figured you would just as soon take the scenic route.” He explained.
“You go on in. Got the coffee fresh perking for you.”
He opened the door. Dan let the others go in first & stopped Troy from going in.
“You’re an AuCoin. Janis is a Hadley. You call her Ma.”
“Kept went back to her maiden name after Da died. I was about six when he died from a snake bite. The creator wasn’t in him at that moment, Ma says. It happens like that sometimes. I’ve never been bitten. I was home schooled.”
“Yes.” Dan nodded.
“I don’t usually talk to people much. Ma says we need to be apart from the others. I like others well enough though. I’m telling you this because Silas trusted you.”
“I glad you trust me.”
“Ma, says I’m a bad judge of people because she protected me too much. She says there are people who like to spoil innocence. My Da had his own cathedral once outside of Montreal. He could heal people when the Lord was in him. But he could not heal himself. He could not heal me.”
“Heal you?” Dan asked.
“Yes. I … don’t think fast as other people. Ma, tells me I had a real bad fever as a child. It hurt my brain like breaking a leg.” He held the door of the cafe open for Dan.
Dan filled his travel mug & joined the others in the armchairs at the side of the self-serve coffee area. Janis came out a few minutes later with a plate of scones.
“What is it that brings you here?” She asked
“Do you remember who this is?” He handed her a picture capture from the documentary. “I know she was a tour guide for one of the Tut exhibits tour.”
“Cora.” Janis said with a heavy sigh. “Cora Murchison.”
“Cora! Queen of the King Cobras of course! I thought that was the name of the act not of a person. Do you know what became of her?”
“Dead.” Janis paused. “I’m thinking of where to begin. Seeing her face brings back so many memories of those summers with the Carnival. She was one of the old hands when I joined up in ’83.
“Something the Hippo archives won’t tell you is the number of disposable young women who worked there. Often paid in cash, you know, to evade taxes. They say it was because it was summer work, college kids who went on to other things after a thrilling and rewarding couple of months touring with the carnival.
“Take a close look at those records and you see the same men there year after year. Carnies, mechanics, cooks. The only woman who lasted more than than three years was Mrs. Chamberlain.”
“Cora was one of the disposable?” Jennifer asked.
“This one played her cards well. Old Mr. Chamberlain liked her a lot.”
“They were sleeping together.” Jennifer said.
“Yes. For some of the girls it was expected. If not with him with one of the other bosses. Playing hard to get made it harder for you to get tips or it might get you made redundant & disposed of without a penny. No girl from wanted to find herself hitching home.”
“I was no saint. But Cora showed me how to minimize my compromises.”
“How did Cora die?” Dan asked.
“Suicide. She’d had a row with Mrs. Chamberlain. Over the old man. Cora was sure they’d be married once Mrs. Chamberlain died, which everyone thought was imminent. Another of the old man’s lies.”
“Married?” Jennifer said.
“She was knocked up in this picture.” Janis said. “He had spoiled her. When Mrs. Chamberlain found out she had her fired and removed from the premises. Then we heard she was dead. Suicide.”
“Wow!” Peter said. “What a sad life.”
“If it weren’t for the snakes I’d’ve left the show then but I stuck it out for the end of that summer. It was the last week of the tour when I met Archie. Your Dad.” She playfully rubbed Troy’s head. “Being a parent changed everything. Don’t you think Mr. James?”
“I suppose. But I have not children. At least that I now of.” Dan laughed.
“Oh! I thought … well … I assumed Peter was your son. You look very much alike.”
“What!” Peter exclaimed.
Dan wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted. Did he look old enough to be Peter’s father? He did the quick math in his head & it wasn’t impossible for him to fathered a child when he was fifteen.
“No way!” Peter said. “The again is that why you didn’t want me to call you Daddy, sir.”
“Peter is my … partner.”
“In business?” Janis asked.
“No, in bed. We’re ….”
“I understand now. Mr James.” She stood. “How dare you come into my church, into my home with your degenerate lifestyles. Get out of here, all of you.”
They all stood & left quickly. Janis went to the porch & glared at them as they drove away.
“Peter, pull over at the first service centre.” Dan said as he texted the other car to do the same. “We have a few things to discuss while they are fresh in our minds.”
“Okay, sir. Thanks for what you said back there.”
“You said i was your partner. That’s a step above boyfriend, right, & even above lover.”
They parked at a service centre & gathered around Cameron’s car.
“Jennifer did you pick up anything in the store. I mean vibes?” Dan asked.
“The place is full of energy. They have so many things, I mean items they collected for the homey decor that I’d need to to actual handle them to to pick up anything specific.”
“There was a rainbow welcome at the Convergent Centre.” Peter said. “So that’s she’d be homophobic was unexpected.”
“That was an act.” Dan said. “I’ve enough experience to tell when someone is trying to distract from the truth.”
“You mean Cora Murchison?” Jennifer asked.
“Yes. There something there she didn’t want to either remember or delve into. Your camera was running during all that?” He asked Cameron.
“Of course.” Cameron said.
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