Picture Perfect 56

Picture Perfect 56

“You need anything before we head out?”

“I got Hazel to pack us a lunch in case we need it. Plus she filled my travel mug.” He shook his Lyfend mug. He figured trail bouncing would be good test for it.

“I’m thinking the old Moose Trail won’t be too bad. Runs along the high ridge. Mostly rock too so shouldn’t be too mucky.”

Larry backed his SUV up then drove up a low hill near the entrance of the plot his tailer was on & directly into the woods. “I found this trail with the snowmobile the first winter I had one. One of my jobs is make sure this trail clear but not … too easy. The winter people like a bit of a challenge.”

The jeep rocked back forth as it negotiated the trail. Branches slapped at the roof, windows & the sides. Larry stopped at the brink of a steep downward grade. He grinned at Dan, released the clutch sending them bouncing down the side of the hill. Dan found himself grabbing the dash to brace himself.

“This is what I call driving.” Larry said happily.

“Now, I’m sure you aren’t queer.” Dan shook his head.

“What?” Larry laughed. “I could say the same thing about you.” 

“Me?”

“Yeah. Most gay guys spot my big feet within minutes. In my case it is true what they say. Why do you think I made sure you saw them before you changed into those boots?”

“Jesus! I just thought you were being … nice.”

“No, playing hard to notice. Gay’s not something to broadcast in these parts.”

“You’re kidding me. You’re gay?”

“More like bi.” Larry shrugged keeping a tight grip on the steering wheel as they bumped over the uneven trail. “You might have good gaydar but lousy bidar.”

“I only use gaydar when I think it’ll serve a ….” the left side of the jeep did a sharp dip then righted itself. “A purpose. You get much opportunity out here.”

“Summer mainly. I suggested, half-joking, to the management at the Tartan they should advertise for LGBT honeymooners. I was shocked they were willing to put up a rainbow flag. They don’t grasp that there is a generation that grew up watching queers on TV. It means nothing to them.”

He stopped the SUV. A tree had fallen across the trail. “We’re going to have to move that. It’s a two man job. Think you can manage.”

“Is that a dare?”

They got out of the truck. 

Larry walked around the tree peering into the trunk on either side. “I’m seeing where we would best put it.”

“Put it!” Dan tentatively lifted the part of the fallen trunk nearest him. “We’ll need a … I don’t know what to move this. It must weigh a ton.”

“Not a bad estimate.” Larry laughed. “We will have a little help.”

He went to the back of the truck and pulled out two steel spars about five feet in length. He gave Dan a pair of work gloves.

“You’ll need these. Let us … try over there first. You see where that other tree has been broken under this one.”

“Right.” Dan pulled on the gloves.

Larry showed him how to ram the spar under the tree as he did the same.

“Press down gently.”

They bounced the fallen tree trunk a few times.

“That’s good news. It is not lodged in that deeply. Now we go to here.” He jabbed under the tree. “No. the soil is too loose. We need bedrock.” He moved a few more feet along. “This boulder should suit us.”

They both pushed their spars under the trunk.

“Lift a moment, now push as hard as you can.”

The trunk felt immobile to Dan. “It’s like trying to move a sofa with a tooth pick.” He said.

“Yes. One of those situations that lube won’t solve. Stop for a moment. Once more. All your weight.”

For a split second Dan’s feet left the ground. He lost grip on his spar as the trunk moved a fraction then slewed off and away from them. While it did Larry pushed him to the ground. Freed from he weight of the tree his spar bounced into the air where he had been.

“What the …” Dan sat on the wet ground staring at the tree trunk. “I can’t believe we just moved that fucker.” His hands were stinging from the pressure he had been applying. “I have never done anything like that in my entire life.”

“I guess you don’t get to handle such big lumber in Toronto.” Larry lit a cigarette. “You handled that quite well for such a little guy.”

“Luckily your feet didn’t get in the way.” Dan started to stand but he was washed by a wave of dizziness. Spots danced before his eyes.

“Easy there.” Larry reached down to help him up. “All that exertion caught your body off guard.”

Dan let himself be led to the truck.

Larry went to the back and brought out a six-pack of beer & a plastic bag with some bananas in it.

“Time for a breather.” He offered Dan a beer.

“No thanks, I’ll stick to caffeine until we’re back on solid ground” He got the mug from the front seat. In the bouncing around the camera had been turned on. He resisted checking what footage it may have captured. “There’s a comfort station here after all.” 

They tossed their banana skins into the brush.

“Ready to push on?” Larry asked.

“Yes.”

The the next couple of miles were as rough but Dan was accustomed to the sway and lurch of the truck.

“There here is the old logger road.” Larry steered the ATV down a steep but short incline to a wider dirt road marked with tire ruts. “This will take us directly to the highway. How you doing there? Haven’t had much to say since we did right by that tree.”

“Thinking about what makes a man a man. A male a male.”

“Ah. There is more than one way to be who we are, right. I’m sure not your typical gay. Least ways not the type you usually meet in Toronto.”

“That’s for sure.”

“You are not quite what I expected. All I see are men who want to marry men, or who want to have sex with any man who is available. Available! They think it’s a challenge, their right to … corrupt the staff.”

“Corrupt!”

“You didn’t find it easy to see me as gay. They see me as the bulky, heterosexual, staff. A challenge to get in the sack. You’re not like that.”

“Let’s face it, we’ve been too occupied for me to think about anything else but why I am here & how to get to where I’m supposed to be.”

“In the movies the hero always has a hard-on for the random women in his moment of crisis. Sometimes it is all they seem to think about. The bomb is about to go off – let’s make out. Here we are.”

The road ended at the highway. 

“Great.” Dan was hoping the forest drive would last longer. After being surrounded by the trees the highway on either side of them was empty. 

“You know where we are headed?” Larry asked.

Dan turned and pulled his shoulder bag from her back seat to the front. He got out the Cold Case itinerary. “We’ve been booked into the Wickham Arms.” 

“It’s a decent b’n’b. Older than the Tartan though. I’ve stayed there myself.”

“Me too. But I’m sure it’s changed since the eighties.”

Dan wondered if Baxter had picked the Wickham in particular because he knew this was where Dan had stayed at the time of the disappearances. 

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Picture Perfect 54

Picture Perfect 54

In the morning Dan rolled his suitcase out to the back of his rental SUV. Baxter, then Roberto were piling their bags beside the trunk of Baxter’s compact car. Baxter had insisted on the sporty two-seater for himself because he doing a lot of running around.

“You’ll have no trouble finding space for that.” Baxter said looking from his car to Dan’s.

Both he and Roberto had two large suitcases.

“Can’t you load some of that in the remote truck?” Dan said.

“I suppose I could but …” he nodded at Glaucia. “She has another suitcase yet to come.”

Glaucia stood at her cabin door nodding at him with her white beats headphones firm in place.

“I can take a hint.” Dan laughed. “If you wanted to swap cars why not come right out and say so. Oh, I forgot, asking is not your style. Let me just my crap out of the front seat.” He checked to make sure there was nothing of his in the glove compartment or under the seat. “You can have the Hippo Dog sticks.” he said giving the keys to Baxter.

“Thanks.” Baxter said. 

Dan fit his suitcase into the trunk of the smaller car, then put his shoulder bag on the passenger seat.“Pays to travel light.” he said to Baxter.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Baxter said as he heaved the first of the suitcases into the back of the bigger car.

Dan surveyed the dashboard of the car. He’d driven it once already. It had all the latest electronic stuff they could squeeze into a car and keep it affordable. As he pulled out of the parking lot the built in GPS asked:

“Destination please.”

“Stellerton. Nova Scotia.” He said.

“Follow route 2. You will need gas in an hour. Next comfort stop is …”

“Thank you.” He found the control for turning the GPS voice off. He left the map portion turned on so he could see how far along he was on the route he had opted for which he was sure the GPS would argue with him about. Sometimes going ‘the wrong way’ got him to where he was supposed to be.

Then he went into the Waterside diner for breakfast. His was already on table where he usually sat.

“I told George you’d have the usual.” Stephanie said. “Hope you don’t mind? Saves time.”

“Fine,” Dan said sitting at his spot. The toast was still warm. “It’s going to hard leaving these perfect breakfasts behind.” He said to George as George put a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him.

“It’s going to hard not racking up these tips.” George said. “You’ll be back?”

“Maybe.” Stephanie said. “We may want to do some pick up shots, as they say. Never know what information may lead us back here.”

‘There’s always the Circus Museum.” Dan said. “I think it would be an ideal spot for an interview.”

“Or a birthday party.” Baxter said. “Maybe we’ll have the wrap party there once the shoot is done.”

“We best get going,” Roberto said. “That storm looks like it’s going be rolling in soon.”

“So no one’s coming with me.” Dan asked?

“No,” Baxter answered. “She’ll be driving with me and Roberto.”

“Then I’ll be on my own?” Dan said. “Cool. I can turn the radio up as loud as I want.”

He went back to his cabin to use the bathroom one last time. As he had officially checked out he asked George. 

 “Is the old Conner route still being used?”


“Oh yeah. That Trans Canada by passed a passel of places along the shore there. Not as well kept as the Trans but good enough. Make sure got a full tank o’gas before you head along there. No comfort stations.”

“Will do.”

The Conner would take an hour longer so it was avoided by the transfer semi’s that hogged the Trans Canada. His Dad hated those monsters and so did he. The less stress driving was the better. The fewer comfort stops the better too. That would mean more scenery and glimpses of the ocean.

The rain didn’t start until he turned east at Shediac. Seemed fitting that as he got closer to the Strait that the sea should rise up to meet him. When was the last time he’d thought that phrase? It was one his Dad would use in really heavy rain. He stopped to fill the gas tank. This stretch of highway was seeing more use thanks to the Confederation Bridge. He was tempted by the signs pointing the way to the bridge. Maybe if it wasn’t raining so heavily he’d be tempted. Something for after the shoot or next summer. 

At Port Elgin he crossed the Gaspereau River, was spun round on an unexpected highway round about, lost his sense of direction in the rain but managed to head in the right direction to stop at The Proud Tartan Bar and Grill for lunch. The place had wifi. First thing he checked was the weather report.

“Storm’s not going to stop soon.” The waitress said. “I can tell you that. Rather my left knee can tell you that.”

“I was afraid of that, Hazel.” Dan glanced at her name tag then the menu. “What would to recommend.”

“Good time of year for the speckled trout. Can’t go wrong with the burger either. Local beef. Ground fresh here.”

“Dig your own spuds for the fries too I suppose.”

“Yeah,” she laughed. “But no, though they are … hand-crafted by our skilled chefs.”

“Burger appeals. Fries too.”

“Want a Kiefers to go with that. Local micro-brewery.”

“Sure why not.”

He was the only customer in the restaurant. His table give a decent view of the river across the street. The sky darkened even more and a crack of lightening illuminated the other shore. Heavy fall of rain followed. He could hear it on the roof of the bar. Soon he couldn’t see past the parking lot.

“Roof is solid,” Hazel said as she put his beer on table along with a schooner glass.

He tipped the bottle to pour it into the glass and was amazed as the deep red of the brew.

“I love to see that look.” she said. “This is the one beer we always let the customer pour. Gently now, so there’s not too much head.”

Dan did as directed. He took a sip.

“Strawberry?” he said.

“Right.”

“And hay?”

“Right again. This is the end of their summer brews. The other is … ”

“Blueberry Beer?”

Hazel brought his burger. “Hope you don’t mind the onion roll.” she said as she put it on the table. “None of t’other.”

“It’ll be fine.” another one of these too. He tapped the Keifers bottle.

“Two’s the limit you know” she laughed. “Unless to got designated driver.”

“This storm keeps up and …”

There was another flash of lightening followed by a deep rumbled of thunder. The lights in the bar flickered off for a minute then came back on.

“That can’t be good.” Dan said.

“Nope. I’ll check the TV and see what I can find out.”

There were no more electrical problems while Dan ate his burger. He declined a third beer though. 

“If you’re fixing to stay the night you best get your kit from your car. You’ll have your choice of rooms here.”

“Here?”

“B’n’B upstairs. We don’t put the sign out until the season really starts.”

“Thanks.” Dan said. He paid for his lunch and added an equal amount as tip. Quintex would be paying so he could afford to be generous.

“Much appreciated Mr. James. I’ll get Joe to get room … 101 ready for you.” 

“Joe?”

“You don’t think I cooked that hamburger for you.”

He went out to the the covered porch of the Proud Tartan. Did he really want to get his suitcase? The rain was so heavy Dan couldn’t see across the street. The wind was shaking the flag poles along the parking lot. 

“Here.” Hazel gave him a heavy rain poncho. “You’ll have get your own luggage.”

He dashed out to the car to get his suitcase. His jeans & shoes were soaked by the time he got back. 

“Don’t remember it raining this hard since I was a boy.” He sat at a table to take off his wet shoes.“Hurricane Francis, I think.”

“You from a round these parts?” Hazel handed him a towel.

“Yes. Grew up on the Cape. New Waterford.”

“Francis was some storm. Waves washed cars off the Causeway that year.”

Dan’s cell rang.

“I better answer this. It could be my crew wondering where I am.”

“Hello.” It was Stephanie. “What … I’m okay … Baxter had Roberto and Glaucia with him. That’s right he took the SUV I had been driving … Right now I am at …” he looked to Hazel “What’s the b’n’b called?”

“Tartan Beds.”

“Tartan Beds at the Proud Tartan. It’s in Port Elgin. It’s as far as I got before the sea rushed up to meet me … okay … I’ll let you know when I’m heading out of here but I don’t expect it will be until morning.”

“Bad news?”

“Yeah.” Dan walked to the front window to look out at the storm. The wind was whipping the various flags around. “The car my boss Baxter was driving lost traction on the highway and flipped. He’s been taken to a hospital in Halifax. He had two other passengers. They aren’t sure if they’ll survive.”

“You were close to these people?” 

“I hardly really knew them. I didn’t know Baxter until a few months ago. I liked them if that’s what you are asking. Close? No.”

His cell rang again. “Sorry.”

This time it was Peter. “I’m alright. … no I wasn’t in the car … you tell Sanjay everything is okay … yeah I’m sure he’s concerned … no I don’t know how this will affect the shoot but trust me Baxter will make the most of it. … yes, I’ll … okay … bye.” He put his phone on the table. “My house sitter. News report was that a TV film crew from Toronto was in traffic accident. He was sure I was dead.”

“Room’s ready.” A grizzled man in an apron tossed a key on the table.

“Thanks Joe.” Hazel said.

“I’m going to up to my room and slip into some dry clothes.” Dan pushed himself up from the table.

Halfway up the stairs there was a loud crash from outside & the power went out.

“First door on your left, Mr. James.” Hazel called up to him. “First door on your left.” 

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Picture Perfect 53

Picture Perfect 53

Dan pulled into the Waterside parking lot and it looked unusually empty. It took a moment for him to realize that the mobile war room was gone. As he got out of his rental he spotted Baxter waving to him from the motel’s breakfast diner.

Baxter opened the door for Dan to enter. 

“We’re about done here so I’ve sent the portable to Stellerton.”

“I thought we’d be here another day?” Dan said.

“Well we’ve been given a nudge to move along.” Warszawa said. “I’ve already been in touch with the Division Captain in Truro and he sound much more receptive to cooperation than the unit here. I’m not sure what you did to them, Baxter, but they are really pissed about something.”

“I didn’t do anything? Stephanie Carter made the initial contact with them when we filmed the initial cold case show last year. We didn’t even leave the studio to put that one together. Did we?” he asked Stephanie.

“No. I made a few phone calls to newspapers in the region, then the families. Everything was done that way. Electronically not face-to-face. We had a local crew shoot some location footage. I did talk to … ” she checked her pad  “… a Staff Sergeant McKillop from the subdivision here. He was more concerned with how I got their number than anything else.”

“So you showed up here last week without alerting them that you were coming?” Warszawa asked Baxter.

“Not my department. All the travel arrangements were made by Stephanie and Harold Carmichael. I have enough to do without that to deal with.”

“That might be part of their issue. I’ve looked at that initial broadcast. You don’t show the RCMP in a good light. They feel you ambushed them.”

“That’s a part of what the show is supposed to do.” Stephanie said. “We present facts and put them in a context. We can’t help it if that context throws a negative light on the investigators. We found all too often that many cases go cold because of something at that level. Evidence being tainted or lost. Focus on one suspect at the detriment of other avenues.”

“We had Dorothy O’Connor’s family to interview here.” Dan said.

“Still do but Mrs. O’Connor has been hospitalized. Heart.” Roberto explained. “So we decided to move on to the next stage. We will come back and hopefully she’ll be up to it by then.”

Roberto then ran through the next several days of their itinerary. “Our next major set up will be Stellerton. From here we’ll travel to the Nova Scotia interviews. After those we’ll head to Cape Breton for the the last of them. Once they’re in the can we’ll do the O’Connor interview. Any questions?”

Dan went to his cabin to pack. A job that took him less than ten minutes. He checked in with the Depot in Toronto. Next was Peter. 

Peter was only wearing a black jockstrap when he appeared on the screen.

“You like, sir?” Peter said stepping so his bulge filled the screen.

“What do you think?” Dan got hard instantly. 

“Perhaps you’d prefer this view.” He turned sideways to offer Dan a profile of the pouch. “Or this is more to Sir’s liking.” He turned again so his bare ass filled the screen.

“Don’t bend over.” Dan said. “I don’t have anything handy to clean my screen with.”

“Yes, sir.” 

Dan watched as Peter walked away from the screen. The close up of his ass making way for more of the room.

“Hope you didn’t mind.” Peter said facing the screen.

“I’m not complaining.” Dan said. “Now put some clothes on before I catch my death of frustration.”

“Yes, sir.” Peter pulled a hoodie over his head. “That better.”

“Better, no, less distracting, yes.”

Dan quickly went through the day’s events. Peter nodding or laughing every now and then. 

“Hippo Dogs!” Peter said. “Sounds … phallic. Was Chamberlain as mouth watering?”

“You know, I didn’t even give him a thought. There was enough in the Museum to occupy me. He certainly didn’t give off that vibe though.”

“He is a fine arts major.”

“How do you know?”


“Web site. You aren’t the only one who can do instant research you know. Face pic is okay. Long shots he’s overdressed and … they aren’t highdef so he pixilates if I zoom in for close ups.”

“Someone must be horny to be pixilating curator crotches.”

“Super horny.” Peter stood with his cock pushing its way out of his jock strap. “Staying at your place is cool but having all your things around me is frustrating. Your undies without you in them. Your bed without you in it.” He was massaging the underside of his cock with two fingers so Dan could see it. “Yes, that is my precum, sir.”

Dan moved his chair back from the desk and adjusted the laptop so that his cock was on screen. His eyes went from the smaller inset of what his camera was relaying to Peter, to the bigger view of Peter’s cock. 

“I’ve never watched myself jerk off on camera,” Dan said. The voyeur watching himself.  “Do you think porn stars jerk off watching themselves jerk off?” he asked Peter.

“I could google that for you, sir.” Peter gasped, his fist rapidly jerking his cock, his balls held in the cup of the jock strap.

“Show me your balls.” Dan said. He felt his own climax approaching.

“Yes, sir.” Peter shoved the jock lower to free his nuts. “Like that sir.”

Dan came. “Exactly like that.”

“Did you come, Sir?” Peter asked.

Dan licked sperm off the back of his hand. “Yes. Doesn’t taste as good as you, though.”

“As good as a Hippo Dog?” Peter laughed.

“Not as salty.” Dan grabbed a motel towel and wiped his hand on it. It wasn’t the sight of Peter’s balls that got him off, it was Peter’s obedience.

In the month after Sanjay moved out & Dan worked out the Quintix contract Peter had become more than just a diversion. Not quite a lover. Dan felt Peter was too young for a long term relationship, even though Peter was sure he was. 

“Anything to report?” Dan brought the call back to his purpose.

“Nothing, sir. Business is good at the Depot, according to Brenda that is. Maybe some changes at the Carafe though. Jill’s thinking of moving on.”

“What! Competition from a cross the street too much for her?”
“Actually quite the opposite. Business is doing too well for her. Thanks to that friend of yours she can’t keep up with the demand for the scones.”

“Friend of mine?”

“Moxham.” Peter said.

“Do I note a tone of attitude? He is just a friend you know. Not that that is any of your business.”

“Sorry, Sir. I know I agreed not to get …”

“Enough! If I want an emotional weather report from you I’ll ask for it!”

“Yes, sir.” Peter took a breath. “Mr. Moxham has come into the cafe regularly since you’ve been gone. He always brings someone with him – his millionaire clients, I guess. One loved the vanilla bean & oatmeal scones that his company has been ordering a large quantity every day.”

“That sounds like a good thing.”

“Jill figures she should go into full time baking. Which means no time to manage a cafe.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I could get Sanjay to take over.”

“What the fuck!” Peter exploded.

“Just kidding. Which is what I think Jill is doing too.”

“I’m not sure.”

“I’ll talk to her when I get back there next weekend. I better double check these schedule changes.”

“No, he didn’t ask about you.”

“Who?”

“Mr. Moxham. He was all about the scones.”

“Peter, enough.”

“Yes. sir.”

“I’ll call tomorrow. It’ll be a different room, thank God. Can’t imagine it being much worse than this one.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

The screen went to blue. 

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Picture Perfect 52

Picture Perfect 52

“Fascinating, isn’t it.” 

Dan was startled to find Winston beside him

“Yes. I didn’t realize there were three Hippos.” Dan said. 

“Yes, most children didn’t think that largely. Your interest seems to be more than casual.”

“I hope you don’t mind me taking pictures?”

“Please, that’s what we’re here for. To bring back memories while preserving them as best we can. Do you want to take one of me shoving a pie at you.” He mimed pushing a pie into Dan’s face.

“Really?”

“Oh yes. Not that’d I’d say no to doing it but pie in the face is a professional service not a freebie.” Winston laughed.

“This museum an amazing concept.”

“Convincing the government was more amazing. My folks had all this stuff in storage all over the place. The storage fees were eating up any money they made and were truly eating up my inheritance when they passed away. I had a useless MA in fine arts and the debt to go with it. One bleak morning I got a bill from a storage depot. My synapses pop and eureka out popped Museum.

“To be honest I had spent some time at the Ringling Brothers Museum in Sarasota. I thought I was going to do a book on circus art but there was enough them already. One of curators there said I should think regional. When she heard about my background she sent me packing back here.” He held hands up in a ta-da motion. “So what about you? What family links bring you here?”

“Family links?” Dan asked.

“Off-season visitors don’t just wander in.”

“I’m here as part of the Quintex team.”
“The missing children? I thought you looked a bit familiar. Dan James? Right.”
“Yes.”

They shook hands.

“I was wondering if you would drop by. Not that we know anything about those disappearances but your dad is Richard James?”
“No denying that. He took a picture of your high-school graduating class?”

“No but … What you see here represents only a tenth of the materials I’ve unearthed so far.” Winston explained. “Let’s go my office. I’ll just let my assistant know where I am.” He sent a text.

Dan followed him through the Carnie Food Land.

“Hold on.” Dan said. “I really have get one of those Hippo Dogs.” 

“Original recipe.” Winston laughed. “this is a training test batch. Not to difficult?” Winston asked a young woman who carefully took one of the Hippo Dogs out the deep frier.

“And still cholesterol free too I bet.” Dan said biting into the deep fried shell of the battered hot dog. “Mmmm better than I remembered.” He then dipped the Dog into a little plastic cup of catsup and ate another piece of it. “Mmmm.” He went to wipe his mouth on his jacket sleeve when Winston handed him a paper napkin.

“Thanks.”

“Still our biggest seller. They are better now you know. Original batter recipe but the quality of meat has improved. Trust me though, they are still no better for you. But …” he stopped.

“But what … the contain traces of cocaine to addict people?”

“No. One of the files I found contained endless complains about the old Hippo Dogs. I was shocked at the numbers off people who got sick from eating them. I don’t mean over-eating. There was some toxin in them one year that literally made some people very very sick. Law suits were settled out of court. Seems my Mom put a lot of energy into dodging local public health officials.”

“Oh! oh!” Dan groaned, rolled his eyes and rubbed his stomach.

“Not any more. These are beyond public health standards. I’ve found some the butcher store bills for the old dogs and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were made of old dogs.”

“Considering what hot dogs are supposedly made of that wouldn’t surprise me.”

“If it wasn’t the dogs it was the oil. Seems that was changed every other location stop.”

Winston’s office walls were covered with more flyers and photographs of various barkers, rides and performers.  Hen took a folder out of the filing cabinet in the corner. Dan recognized the James Photography logo on the envelope. “I found these not too long ago. Both my parents were pack rats you know but with no sense of organization. They needed a curator then. I’ve found items from the 1950’s mixed in with stuff from the ’20’s. Nothing annotated with anything helpful like dates or locations.”

“My Dad was the opposite. You should see his travel records. Dates, distances, money in, money out. How many cups of coffee ha’d had. But sometimes I still don’t know what he’s recording.”

“The parental secret code. These at least have dates on them.” Put linen gloves on and slid the photos onto the desk. “These seem to be the only record of the number two show in the summer of 1983.”

He handed Dan a pair of the gloves.

“Thanks.” Dan forced himself to look carefully at each picture. He fully expected to see the woman in the s and m pictures he had discovered.

“Do you recognize anyone in these?” Winston asked.

“I was only a kid at the time.” Dan said. “He didn’t take us kids on this shoot either. He sometimes did take us, if he thought we’d behave and have fun too.” He checked the date stamp on the outside of the envelope. “I was still in school. These were taken in April.”

“Just before our season really started.” Winston said. 

Dan took his loupe from his shoulder bag to examine the pictures more carefully. Some were of men and women sitting around a table, others were of the same men tossing balls or aiming rifles at various games of chance. Others were of the the women being balanced overhead either horizontally or vertically.

“I figure these were the special for the number three. That year the Flying Romonovs were touring with show three. It was the biggest of the shows.”

Dan was making double sure that none of these were the people in the smut shots. He was pretty sure they weren’t.

“We could do facial recognition if you want?” he said.

“Facial recognition?”

“Yeah, my sort of magic. I can scan these and then run them through a program that’ll match them to any other faces in the known world. It’ll take a few hours.”

“Your sort of magic?”

“I work in photo restoration and forensic examination, which means I find information in photos beyond what you see.”

“What do these tell you?”

“This was informal. No one is wearing white shirts, ties or even dress shoes. The location isn’t a house but could be like a hotel ball room. Something like that. The carpeting just isn’t house style. Nor are those tables in the back ground.”

“Cool.”

“You have more like these?”

“Not that I’ve found yet. But there are another two storage lockers yet to be dealt with. They’ve been opened and emptied into a container that is here in the basement waiting to be really cracked open.”

Dam checked his cell for the time. “Crap I have to get out of here. I was slipping away for the morning, not the whole day.”

“Here’s my card.” Winston gave him his business card. “Call me. I’d be happy to show you more of the hidden collection.”

“I’d like that. I’d also like to see more of what you already have in the exhibits too. But I can’t say when. Maybe I can talk the producers into doing something here?”

“Sounds good. But be warned Cross-Canada Cooks is doing an episode here this summer. Though camera crews fighting for shots would make great three-ring clown act.”

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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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