Picture Perfect 123 

Picture Perfect 123

In his Depot work lab Dan opened the calendar template and printed out a daily diary for 1984. He often found that working by hand – pen to paper – would make things clearer to him. The dates of events of that summer had become more & more unreal to him. He couldn’t figure things out in his head like the number of days between each abduction. He’d been through the information many times already he hoped doing it this way might reveal something he had missed.

Starting with June 1 he made notes of where his father’s travel journals placed him. Dan included the distances between places travelled & approximately how long it would take to drive those distances. He no longer believed his father had anything to do with the cases but these locations & distances would help in judging the actual locations.

He then entered where the Happy Hippo’s three carnivals had been during June, July & August. Next he put in the dates of the abductions as reported by the parents, as well as when they contacted the authorities. If there was Hippo near on those days he added a red plus sign & the distance between where the show was set up & the location of the abduction. He circled the date they left for Toronto. Finally he put in the dates when Cora was still in the carnival & the date of her death & the date of her obituary.

One fact jumped out him. All the abductions had taken place on a Wednesday. They were usually reported within thirty-six hours. Except for Paula which took seventy-two. Happy Hippo was within a hour’s distance from each of the abductions. The Wednesdays were all the second day of the Hippo’s run in an area. Most of the runs were for six days. A couple were for two weekends. Other than the Wednesday’s no other pattern appeared. It was never two Wednesday is a row. There was no relation to how long the Hippo was in the area. Six days or ten days. He’d need the Chamberlain records to know just who was performing at which of the shows. The fortune tellers, Tut handmaidens & belly dancers moved between the shows randomly. The records should tell him when Cora left the show. 

Would they also show when the various mummies were added to the Tut sideshow? Would they tell when Winston was doing repair work? Or did he move from to show constantly, not travelling with any one in particular? He did know when Winston was in Truro thanks to Teresa’s pictures. 

Even with data missing he saw that it was possible for someone with Hippo to do the abductions. Someone with transportation. Which Winston had. Someone with a motive. Surely making mummies wasn’t the driving force behind these acts.

Robert Warszawa came into the work shop.

“I thought you might want to see this.” He handed Dan a file folder.

“I have so much data now I’m not sure I can take any more. Give me some old wedding photos to restore for a change.”

“It’s the coroner’s report on Cora Murchison’s death.” 

Dan read it twice. “Self-inflicted?” he said. “How?”

“My thought exactly. There’s no toxicology report so I assume it wasn’t poison.”

“So she what? Jumped off a building? Cut her wrists?”

“There are some photos too. Not pretty. She’d been dead five days before they found her.”

“Okay.” They were standard black and white shots of Cora’s remains on the mortuary table. “No visible bruising. No bullet to the head. Water in the lungs?”

“Doesn’t say. The organs were sound.”

“Then how did he conclude it was self-inflicted.”

“There was a note.”

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted you to view these without that filter.”

“Fair enough.” He read the note. 

“Mom & Dad,

I’m sorry for the pain this will cause you both but you always wanted what would make me happy. I’ll be happy leaving all this behind.

Corrie”

“They made sure this was her handwriting?”

“Yes, they had her diary.”

“Diary? I’d love to see that.”

“No trace of it. It must have gone back to the family when they were done with it.”

Dan read the report again. “This doesn’t mention that she was pregnant.”

“Perhaps she had aborted. Bled out and died.” Warszawa suggested. “Wouldn’t have been the first time.”

“There’s no mention of vaginal tissue damage here. We both know that’s a must for any female corpse.”

“Right.” After a few minutes of silence Warszawa said. “They weren’t as through when there is no visible signs of struggle.”

“There’s always something missing.”

“Beside motive?” Warszawa said.

“Right. I have hope that I’ll find what I need to know if I look hard enough at what we have now.”

“Sometimes you see better when you stop looking so hard. Why don’t you take a break and get away from this for a little while?”

“I wish I could. When I’m not here, I’m at Quintex recording new voice overs for the show to work in what’s been discovered since we finished the shoot. They had me shoot a new intro for the old Cold Canada show that started it all. They’ll be repeating that episode before the new series airs. At least I talked them out of doing it in my living room as I watched that show. Seems like years ago.”

“I’ve had cases like that too. They take up so much of your thinking you lose track of what life you had at one time. Lose track of that life, lose track of that wife.” He took a deep breath. “Lose that wife.”

“Shit, yeah! That reminds me I promised to take Peter for a drink after work. Want to join us?”

“For a drink only.” Warszawa said.

“The Crown & Broken Anchor isn’t too far from here. It is straight enough for you, isn’t it?”

“It’s is called the Crown not the Tiara.”

<>

Warszawa only stayed for a beer at the Crown. Dan was sleepy after another one. Peter was ready for a third.

“I’m going to get us a cab.” Dan said. “I’m not waiting around for a street car feeling like this.”

“Feeling like what?” Peter laughed squeezing Dan by the forearm.

“I get the message.” Dan said. “I want the massage too.”

“Yes, sir.” Peter swallowed his beer. “All you have to do is ask.”

Dan couldn’t keep his hands to himself once they got into the cab.

“Dan! Sir, you should have a few drinks more often.”

“I’ve been cooped up with the Cold bunch for the last sex, I mean, six months, or is it weeks. Your trip to Moncton was pretty much pointless from a lust point of view. Jeremy is a tease. That guy in Sydney was like a bull and I was a china shop. Yes, so I’m ready to rumble.”

“What guy in Sydney?” Peter asked as they got out of the cab.

“I’ll ask the questions.” Dan opened the front door and pushed Peter into the house.

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s more like it.” He pinned Peter to the wall by the front door; undid both their pants and pushed his to his knees.

“Thank you, sir.” Peter kissed him

“This is how you thank me.” He refused the kiss and pushed Peter to his knees. “I haven’t showered all day. So better lick me clean first.”

“I will sir. I will.”

Dan held Peter there then pulled him to eye level and kissed him. While they were kissing he reached between Peter’s legs and Peter gasped. Pushing his fingers deeper Dan crouched and sucked the head of Peter’s cock. Peter tried to push it in further but Dan would only allow the head.

“Sir! Sir! I’m going to … oh.”

Dan let the come fill his mouth and without swallowing stood to kiss Peter again.

“Thank you, sir. That was so … unexpected.”

“Upstairs.” Dan slapped Peter’s ass, hard. “Now. Shower.”

“Yes.”

“Make sure your ass is washed before I get there.”

“What!” Peter stopped part way up the stairs.

“You heard me. I want something from you I haven’t had for awhile.”

“It’s all yours, sir.”

When his cell buzzed he was tempted to ignore it. He answered without even checking to see who was calling.

The connection was bad. “Dan! It’s Sergeant Coster. 

Inspector Robert Warszawa said to call you. Winston Chamberlain’s body has been found about an hour ago. There’s evidence with it about the missing children you have to see.”

“I can get there in the morning. If I can get a flight.”

“No! You must get here as soon as you can. There’s a flight in an hour.”

The line went dead.

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Picture Perfect 122 

Picture Perfect 122

The next morning they gathered for coffee in the Moncton airport before their flight.

“What exactly did you see in your trance?” Jennifer asked.

“That I was getting my picture taken. I was seeing things through Dorothy O’Connor’s eyes.”

“So you were the Dorothy as she appeared in the picture. You got no sense of what she did next or what she had for breakfast.”

“Nope, just the moments of the picture itself. I was worried about what I was wearing then the real me said she looked fine.” Dan said. 

“You mean you changed from her to yourself?” Peter asked.

“Yeah.”

“That must be why she reached out to you.” Jennifer said. “You had contact with her when she was alive.”

“When you sense things, Jennifer, what comes to you.”

“It’s like smelling something in a room. I put on the emotions like a sweater but I rarely see faces. It helps when I handle the objects. My connection is much stronger. If that’s what you mean. I can see the bruise but can’t tell what caused it.”

*******

The day after their return to Toronto Dan met with the RCMP task force. Sergeant Coster from the New Brunswick detachment was summarizing their progress so far.

“The Chamberlain records of the time have manufacturing information on the props, costumes for the Tut exhibit. The principle ones of Tut are both a wire fabrication. One of the others was a mannikin. They were made by a theatrical props company in Montreal. They arrived already attached to their stands or coffins. There is no mention in the records of mummies other than the principal ones.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “The other five contained human bones. Children’s bones that we in process of identifying. We can name two of them already. Dorothy O’Connor & Timothy Dunlop. Those families have been informed.

“Winston Chamberlain knows nothing about the other mummies except that they were delivered at random times and then they were integrated into the dioramas. As fr as he knows none of the women work in the exhibit had any contact with them. They were handled by the carnies.”

“The forensic team has examined the bones.” Warszawa took over. “Other than connecting wire frame the mummies of the children contained bones only. There was little flesh and scant traces of any other tissue. No internal organs, no brain matter. The coroner found cuttings in the skull that were similar to those found in actual Egyptian mummies.

“Most of the wrappings on each of the children were linen that had been cut into long endless strips from a single bed sheet. Each mummy was a different sheet. Different in weave. Fabric matches were found with different manufacturers. Apparently some of the clothing of the children was included in the wrappings”

As the reports were being read the profile of the killer was becoming clearer to Dan. It would have been an exacting process. Someone with surgical or butcher knowledge assisted in preparing the bones. Also someone connected in some way with the Happy Hippo. 

Dan felt that if he shook his head hard enough all this information would fall into the right place. The scattered pieces would form a face.

“Special Investigator Daniel James has some new information for us.”

Dan filled them in on his conversation with Janis Hadley about Cora Murchison.

“Why do you feel this Cora Murchison has something to do with the case?” Warszawa said as he read over the notes in Dan’s file. “An affair with the owner doesn’t actually make her a suspect.”

“It’s … call it a gut reaction. When I saw this footage of her …” He passed his pad around so they could see her performing with one of the snakes. “My gut responded. To her, not the snake.”

“Thanks Daniel.” Coster said. “We’ll look into this. Winston Chamberlain is a more likely suspect with his history at the time. It’s not a big step from underage girls to murder.”

“I’ve studied the timelines. Unless he was in two places at once that’s impossible.” Dan said.

“Perhaps he wasn’t working alone.” Coster suggested. “Cora was having the affair with his father, why not with Winston, too?”

“That’s possible.” Dan said. “While she was with the Hippo she was responsible for the Tut sideshows. They were her idea. Maybe she made those other mummies?”

“Have you tracked her down?” Costner asked.

“The Cold East research team has found an obituary for her. It did not spell out the cause of death. She was 32, born in Stellerton, left a father and mother.” Dan said. “Maybe they’re still alive.”

“What would the motivation be?” Warszawa asked. “The cases are so random. Only the fact that they were children links them together.”

“They were opportunity.” Dan said. “I don’t think they were selected. It isn’t difficult to find unprotected children in small towns. In farming communities.”

“What do you think Corporal?” Warszawa asked Costner. She had been studying the files. 

“I think we have reason to believe she is a person of interest in this case. I also find it curiously convenient that the carnival has such detailed records of its doings but then blank spaces for that summer. Mostly around the Tut exhibit. There is no record of where the snakes came from. No import documentation. Maybe they were smuggled into the country? No record of where the additional mummies came from. Cora Murchison is not on the payroll after 1983 yet she clearly is in those photos from 1984.”

“Nothing concrete.” Warszawa said. “We need more than gossip.”

“How about this?” Dan showed them a photo he had found in the Hippo archives of Winston helping a child onto her seat in the ferris wheel. “Here he is, at the time, with one of the missing children. I’m pretty sure that’s Madeline Forestier.”

“I wonder if this Cora affair is why Winston Chamberlain gets so defensive.” Dan said. “Maybe she did she sleep with father and son?”  

“Even if she did that doesn’t explained how or why the remains of the missing children showed up at the Happy Hippo.” Warszawa said.

“The connection between the Hippo tours and the children is now very clear.” Dan said.

Corporal Costner’s cellphone buzzed.

“Sorry,” she said then answered. “Corporal Costner here.” She listened a moment. “What! …. Yes I understand but … Okay I’ll return to the station on the next available flight.”

She put her phone on the table.

“That was Brian McKillop, my division captain. There was a fire at the Chamberlain Museum last night. Mainly in their archive storage.”

“Anyone hurt?” Dan asked.

“No but …. Winston Chamberlain can’t be found. His car is in the parking lot. His … uh …. personal effects are in his office – cell phone, car keys. Even his shoes. But no sign of him. They are currently searching the property & the surrounding woods.”

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Picture Perfect 121 

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.

“Thanks.”

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.”

“You …”

“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.”

“What?”

“You said i was your partner. That’s a step above boyfriend, right, & even above lover.”

“Okay, whatever.”

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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Picture Perfect 120 

Picture Perfect 120

“Thank you Margarette.” Margarette, adjuster her robe and stood with the help of a cane. A man in the front row got up to help her. It was Troy AuCoin from Flannery’s Cafe. He was not wearing a robe. His white shirt was buttoned to the neck.

“Before we start this special service I will ask you to turn off all electronic devices to silent. We do not want to any distractions or sudden noises to disturb the spirits as they manifest themselves amongst us through their envoys. Silent means silent, not vibrate. No recording devices are to be used.” Janis looked directly at Dan, then Cameron. “What we witness here today is only for our eyes & ears.”

“Amen.” several of the attenders said.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Janis began. A song was sung without musical accompaniment. The lyrics scrolled on the large screen TV beside her. In the songs and prayers that followed they affirmed their trust and assurance in the Creator as their protector. 

The congregation rose and sat at various points. Janis signalled for the TV to be removed. Troy from his side of the room and a man, also not wearing a robe, from the other side stepped up to roll it to one side. Behind the TV was a glass aquarium with snakes it. The top of the tank was about waist high. A light came on over the tank & the statue of Christ & the snake coiled around it appeared to be made of bronze.

“Lord. Creator. We are here in utmost humility to demonstrate our faith in your protection. We are here in utmost humility to allow you to demonstrate your protection for us.”

As Janis said each sentence the people repeated it in unison. Troy assisted Margarette back to the organ. She adjusted her green robe and began to play. The lights in the room dimmed except for those around the glass tank. The lights made the tank appear to float in the air in the dark.

“These envoys were sent by Our Creator to not tempt us but to challenge us.” Janis said as she removed the wire covering the top of the tank. “They mean us no harm. They are not of Satan but of the just God who made all good things Look upon God’s creatures with compassion and they will increase your compassion. Look upon them with fear and they will increase your fear.”

As Dan watched the snakes it was as if they were writhing in time to the music. The different skin patterns smoothly coiled and uncoiled around one another. Different patterns would be closest to the glass. One of the snakes was nearly white with pale green markings on its throat. The head would at times rise above the others and the snake’s red eyes would look directly into his. The glint in them was calling him.

“Yes.” He started to get up when a man behind him shouted out.

“I am ready.” The man rushed to the tank pulling off his robe, then shirt as he went up the aisle. When he reached he cage he removed his pants. “I am shedding what holds me from trust.”

“I am ready.” “I am ready.” Came from different parts of the room. Several people left their seats. They stood naked at the front of room. Their bodies bathed in the blue and green lights that illuminated the snake tank.

“It is good to see so many of you ready.” Janis intoned rising her arms to the ceiling as a snake twined around them. “I call upon the radiance of Your care to be here now with us. Be here now in this special service as we thank Daniel James for finding the bodies of those souls lost so many years ago. Souls that now can find peace and rest in Your everlasting Grace.”

Dan heard her say his name. It was like hearing it on a TV in another room. It was a name it wasn’t him. His saw the people around him, in front of him. Naked men. Naked women. Undulating slowly in the light around the tank.

“I am ready.” The first man reached into the tank and picked up a snake. The snake hissed and bared its fangs “I am protected by faith.” The man said as he brought he face of the snake closer to his. He touched his eyes with the snake’s nose. The snake’s tail coiled around the man’s arm then freed itself from his hand and slid back into the tank.

Others of the congregation did the same. Some naked. Some clothed. All fearless.

“I thank you Creator.” Janis chanted. The others joined in. 

The music and chanting stopped abruptly. Everyone sat. The room was silent except for the breathing of the people around him. He continued to gaze at the tank. At the constant shift of patterns. The lights gradually came up.

“It is good to see so many who were called but amongst us we have one who calls.” Janis said.

Dan felt her hand gently touch him on the forehead. There was a weight on his upper thighs. A white snake reared from his lap, the sides of it head flared as its red eyes looked into his. He heard Peter gasp.

“What do you see Mr. James?” Janis asked. “Open and see what you’re are shown.”

He turned his head slowly to look at the faces around him. Janis, Peter, Troy, the first man to undress. The room receded as returned the snake’s stare.

“I’m at school. My class is getting our pictures taken. The whole class. I told my mother about it. I hate this dress. It isn’t good enough. The other girls have nice dresses just for this picture. I don’t want to have mine taken. I won’t. I won’t.”

Dan was in the school auditorium where student photographs were being taken. There were children lined up waiting their turn. A part of him was Dan but part of him was Dorothy O’Connor. This was the day when his Dad was taking pictures at her school. Taking the picture of her that he had seen.

“The man taking our pictures is coming over to me. He says my dress is fine. Not to worry so much. He’s giving me some candy. He sits me in front the screen and goes behind his camera. I’m afraid to smile too much. He tells me to look over his shoulder. Then it is over. He says I was the best model he’s had all day.”

Dan repeats “All day” as he becomes aware of the room. The church is empty except for Troy who is sitting beside him. 

“You feeling like yourself?” Troy asked. “I’ve never seen anyone go so deep like you did. Dorothy O’Connor was one of the bodies you found?”

“Yes. She was the first to be reported missing.”

“Then she was the first you found.” Janis said from behind him as she walked in with Peter.

“He is good. Isn’t he Ma.” Troy said. “Silas sensed him.”

“Silas?”

“The white king cobra.” Janis said. “What are you thinking Mr. James?”

“My thoughts are all over the place. I don’t know where to start.” He braced himself on the back of the chair in front of him and pushed himself up. He was unsure on his feet. 

“Are you okay.” Peter held him steady.

“I just need some fresh air.” Dan said.

“The room is a little warm. It helps to keep the snakes docile.” Janis said. “Cold snakes tend to be unpredictable.”

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Picture Perfect 119  

Picture Perfect 119

Over the next forty-eight hours Dan with members of the task-force went through the unedited footage of the Cold East interviews to see what connections were made with the Happy Hippo. Others in the task force were going through the Hippo’s haphazard employment records. Many of the carnies & even the performers were, for tax purposes, considered part-time free-lancers so the Chamberlains weren’t required to keep detailed records. Often the only record was the newspaper adverts to flyers for the town where the carnival was appearing.

There was also no record of who made the props for any of the acts. Dan was discussing the lack of documentation with the Cold East crew as they prepared for some new interviews with the families.

“You might talk with Jane Poitier.” Jennifer suggest. “From the Wickham Arms. She was one of the touring Madama Cabanallas.”

“Right! We could also talk with Janis Hadley. She might have more on this Snake Man that we heard about.”

“Which first?” Cameron asked.

“Janis Hadley.” Dan said. “the Nova Convergent Centre is closer. Maccan, if I remember correctly.”

He found the business card for The Nova Convergent and called. The phone was answered on the first ring.

“Ah, Mr. James.” Janis Hadley answered before he could say hello. “I was expecting your call.”

“You’ve seen the news.” He said.

“Who hasn’t? What a sad sensation. Those poor, poor children. Come out in the morning & we can talk further.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Bring Jennifer Devereaux with you as well. I have a message for her.”

“We are talking to people who the few people we know who have been connected with the Hippo in the past. So I’ll be bringing a small crew with me.”

“The should be fine,” she said after a pause.

“Thanks again.” He ended the call. “Shite.”

“What?” Cameron asked.

“I have to take Peter to the airport in the morning. He’s flying back to Toronto. The other flight isn’t until like midnight.”

When he got back to the Waterside he explained things to Peter.

“Nova Convergent Centre?” Peter asked.

“Snake handlers. You know …”

“Yes! Yes! I know. I did a paper about them when I was at U of T.”

“About Nova?”
“No, sir. About the religion itself. As a kid I was fascinated by snakes.”

“First time you’ve mentioned it to me.”

“I always envied Whorey, I mean, Harry Potter & his ability to speak Parseltongue. Sshhuuchhk.” 

“Whatever.” Dan laughed.

“Besides it’s not something that ever came up. Hi, my name is Peter & I like snakes.”

“True.”

“Take me with you, sir, please.” 

“What! No! I’ll make sure you catch your flight. Jill’ll fire your ass if you don’t get back to the Carafe.”

“Not if you tell her I’ve been detained as a material witness by the task force.”

“Material witness!”

“Yes.” Peter pulled Dan’s fly open & put his hand in. “Or tell her I’ve been attacked by a trouser snake, sir”

<>

The equipment van with Peter added to shoot crew of Cameron & Brenda & Jennifer was crowded. 

“I wonder what sort of message the Convergent would have for me?” Jennifer said. “I’m definitely not be of their … um …. religious persuasion but it doesn’t matter you call the spirit, it remains the spirit.”

“Snakes usually speak with forked tongues.” Peter said.

“Yes.” “Jennifer said. “But spirit doesn’t. When I was near those mummies I could actually feel those bandages going smothering me.” 

“What about you Dan?” Brenda asked. “It wasn’t just a gut reaction?

“You are suggesting I have powers of observation that are supernatural? That I’m psychic?” Dan said.

“I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about it.” Jennifer said. “When you look at photograph you see a greater spectrum than normally sighted people do.”

“This is your way of telling me I have second sight?”

Dan laughed. “I hope this isn’t leading so some on-line university you want me to sign up to further develop my esp skills.”
“No!” Jennifer laughed.

When they reached Maccan Dan had Cameron pull over at Flannery’s.

A sign in window said ‘Sorry – Closed for the day.’ 

“Too bad. The scone here are nearly as good as the ones at the carafe.”

“We’ll have to face the snakes without another cup of coffee. Maybe an empty stomach is best.” Peter said.

The parking lot was full. There were people standing in groups chatting. He parked and got of the car. As he approached the front of the church Janis Hadley broke away from one of the groups and greeted him.

“Welcome Mr. James. Miss Devereaux. ” she extended her right hand from a slit in the deep emerald green velvet robe she wore. It was bordered with azure zig-zag embroidery. She shook their hands. “I’m so glad to see you again, Dan. Jennifer, this is the first time we’ve met. I know your mother from the Hippo days.”

“Oh!” Jen said.

“Yes. She took over as Madam Vanya when I left. The next summer she was Madama Cabanalla. The service for today is about to begin.”

“I … ” If he had known there was to be a service he would have opted for a later time.

“We can talk after the service.” Janis said.

Cameron hefted his camera to his shoulder.

“Mr. Carter you must remain at the back of the hall if you intend to film anything. No faces.”

“I understand.”

Organ music began to play from inside the building.

“Come the service is about to start.”

She put a hand on Cameron’s shoulder to guide him in. The other’s followed them in. She indicated the back row for him & aisle seats four rows from the front for the rest of them 

“You will have a good view from here but not feel too threatened.”

Jennifer went in first, then Peter, and Dan sat in the aisle seat.

Jennifer took a deep breath.

“You sensing something?” Dan asked her.

“I was checking to see if there was an a/c. It’s mighty stuffy in here.”

“If it’s too cool snakes aren’t that active.” Peter said. 

The seats were mental stacking chairs. Eight rows deep and eight rows across with the aisle running down the centre so there were four chairs on either side. Dan could see more stacks of the chairs at the far side of the room. There was a balcony on the opposite side of the room. 

The seats quickly filled up. Some of attendees wore robes similar to Janis’s. Several women in deep greens, a couple of men in indigo.

“This is one time I wish I was colour blind.” Jennifer whispered.

“I don’t know. I think Baxter would approve.”

Janis went to the front of the room. There a large flat screen to one side of her podium. On a pedestal behind her was a statue of a very dark complexioned  Christ standing with his arms reaching out to the congregation. He wore an actual robe. It was pure white with the same zig-zag stitching in gold. Around his arms were carved snakes whose heads were raised over his open palms. As far as Dan could tell they were carved but the eyes glinted red. Carved snakes also coiled around the pedestal.

“Historically correct Jesus.” Peter said quietly.

“I wonder if it’s anatomically correct?” Peter asked.

“Once again Baxter would approve.” Dan said.

“Stop!” Jennifer giggled.

The couple in front glanced and glared at them. Dan was flooded with a memory of being in church with another boy and the two of them being dragged out for giggling. A fly had been buzzing around and had landed on the nose of one of the statues and they couldn’t stop giggling. Who was that boy?

Janis nodded to the organist who stopped playing.

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Picture Perfect 118 

Picture Perfect 118

Back at the Waterside Motel Dan stretched out on his stomach on the bed while Peter massaged him. They were both watching the TV news coverage of the discovery of the bones. The segment ended with a shot of teddy bears and flowers by the ‘do not cross’ tape at the Museum.

“Wow, sir!” Peter said. “You are a different person when you really take charge.”

“Different?”

“Yeah. Like you are real policeman not a TV host or …”

“Or someone who is putty in your hands.” Dan rolled over to his back.

“That’s too hard to be putty, sir.” Peter laughed.

“That’s your doing. Now, you know here that putty gets putted.” Dan pushed his hips up.

<>

Just before noon the next day Dan got a call from Corporal Coster confirming that his ‘gut’ was right. There was to be a press conference at the division head quarters with the RCMP task force that afternoon & she hoped he could attend.

When he & Peter arrived the conference had already started. Corporal Coster had just introduced Senior Investigator Robert Warszawa who was heading the task force.

“Thanks to investigative work by Daniel James in connection with the Cold East show the RCMP had reopened these cold cases two weeks ago. We already had a forensic team on hand so we were able to quickly ascertain that some of remains found belong to Madeline & Gerrard Forestier. Dental records confirmed their identity.

“The remains in the other mummies were a mix of several other children. There are also two more pelvis bones than there were children reported missing. At this point cause of death is undetermined. We have no suspects at this time.”

“Inspector Warszawa how will the force treat these cases differently than they did originally?” A reporter asked. 

“State-of-the-art analysis equipment for one thing. We have real-time communications as well so that what one detachment discovers can be passed on to to others quickly. There is a national data base of investigative information that can make connections that we as humans may not make.” Warszawa answered.

“I might add,” Constable Coster said. “We already had dental records for most of the missing children & of course access to family dna samples that will make identifying these remains much quicker.”

“The task force has a mobile lab dedicated to the case.” Warszawa explained. 

“Is there any physical evidence from the original disappearances?” A reporter asked.

“No.” Coster shrugged. “We do have the reports that were filed but apparently, at the time, the divisions didn’t feel the need for anything beyond recent photographs. There was no suspicion of abductions.”

“So they were considered runaways?” A reported asked.

“That’s an assumption no one is prepared to make.” Coster said.

“Speaking of connections how did Mr. James connect the children to the mummies?”

“I believe he is here. Why don’t you ask him? Dan would you care to join us.” Warszawa nodded to Dan.

Cameras swivelled to follow him as he walked to the microphone.

“Thanks Inspector. As most of you are aware I have been immersed in this case for months now, so my brain was looking for connections. The Tut sideshow was touring that summer in the mid-80’s. I a grid of locations & dates for those shows & the abductions in my head in flash.”

“Can you remember the exact moment of that flash?” A reporter asked.

Dan was silent for a moment.

“It was when the museum guide said something about the servant mummies. No! He called them playmates. It was a leap of logic. Tut was a child only nine when he took the throne. I put the missing children together with playmates. Aha!”

“What comes next in the investigation?” One of the reporters asked.

“It’ll take a few weeks to sort the various bones and mate them properly.” Constable Coster took over. “Families are already asking when they would be released for burial. Thank you all for coming. You’ll be notified when we have more to tell the world.”

<>

Dan stepped away from the TV cameras relieved that the Happy Hippo was the connecting thread for the abductions. His Dad was not implicated after all. He itched for an opportunity to get into the Chamberlain archives to find out who made the mummies.

Warszawa walked with Dan & Peter to their car.

“How well did you know Roberto Hajla?” Warszawa asked.

“Beyond his being Baxter’s assistant nothing.”

“We’ve checked with Quintex Human Resources & they have no record of him. He wasn’t on their payroll. Baxter claims Roberto was assigned to him by Quintex.”

“Hmm? You think Baxter isn’t telling the truth?”

“Or perhaps Roberto wasn’t.” Peter said.

“How is that?” Dan asked.

“Do you know who I am beyond what I’ve told you?”

“No! You holding something back from me?” 

“He might have something there.” Warszawa said. “Do you think Baxter checked out Roberto when he arrived saying he was sent by Quintex?”

“I … I really don’t know. Knowing Baxter all he checked out was Roberto’s body not his credentials.”

“Immigration has no information on him either.” Warszawa said.

“An illegal?” Dan said.

“Perhaps. We’re running his information through international data bases. Keep in touch.”

“Yes, boss.”

In the car Peter asked. “Boss?”

“I’m part of the task force.” Dan said.

“Did you warn everyone before you interviewed them than anything they said …”

“I wasn’t investigating them as suspects.”

“Yes but …”

“No buts unless we talk about your butt.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Sometimes I want to think about something else, to talk about something else. It’s as if my life has become this one thing.”

“Is there a beach around here where we can fuck?” Peter asked.

Dan had to pull the car over to get control of his laugher. While they were stopped there was a call from Baxter.

“Hey Dan you must be super happy to beat the Force to the punch once again. This latest development will make Cold East the top show in North America. No other program that Quintex had produced had received such buzz before it premiered.”

“I wish I could share your enthusiasm. It is now a real case. The remains make it a real murder investigation. Are you sure we’ll even be allowed to run the show?”

“Don’t you worry about that. Legal is already working on that with the task force. This guarantees a second season.”

“Kilpatrick will be trilled to host two hit shows.” Dan said.

“Now Dan don’t be like that. QTel will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Plus your name in the title. Dan James’s Cold East.”

“Thanks but no thanks.”

“You gotten a better offer already! Let me remind you that your contract with us might get in the way of that.”

“Baxter no one has made that sort of offer to me. Though someone did suggest a … Picture of Delight.”

“What the fuck are you taking about.” Baxter said.

“Yeah a show about photographing food.”

<>

When they got back to the Waterside Jeremy was sitting in the bench in front of their cabin.

“I’ve come to take the two of you to dinner.” He said.

“It’s been a long day …” Dan started.

“Yes I’m aware of what’s been going on. Between Baxter & the Quintex back in Toronto it’s been like an ants’ nest flooded with water.”

Dan looked to Peter. “What do you think?”

“It’s bound to better than a donair, sir.”

“Yes.” Jeremy said. “It’ll be better than a donair, sir.”

“Okay. Okay.” Dan said. “Give us time to change.”

“Yes … uh … sirs.” Jeremy said. “I’ll wait right here.”

“Sir?” Peter caught Dan’s eye.

“No need Jeremy. You might as well come in & get out of the public eye.”

“You’re sure!”

“Yes.” Dan opened the door. “Get in here.”

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Picture Perfect 117 

Picture Perfect 117

They drove out the museum which was opened  for general pubic except for the area roped off for the banquet for the anniversary. Dan showed his guest pass and made sure his Lifend video flow was turned on as they made their way to the Exhibits Hall. 

There were dioramas for each decade complete with posters, mannequins in circus costumes, & in some cases performers recreating the sideshow acts. Knife thrower, sword swallower; crystal ball reader. The Tut-mania was the most elaborate of the 80’s. Snakes in glass tanks graced either side of its entrance. Behind them were live belly-dancers. It was a weird mix of Aladdin and Cleopatra. There was several people inside being given tour by one of the Museum guides.

“As you can see the centre piece is an approximation of the actual tomb of Tut. All the artifacts were created for our exhibit. There’s no claim that any of them are authentic.”

“So, that’s not real gold?” Someone asked.

“No.” The guide said. “The total weight of golditems and jewelry in his tomb was about 1200 kilograms. Worth over seven million dollars. So no this isn’t real gold.”

The group laughed.

“The mummies are fantastic.” A woman said. “I’ve seen some in Cairo and these look like the real thing.”

“We were painstaking about getting things as accurate as possible. That’s why we were all so disappointed when the Tut show was a flop. It took the wind out of the owners. They didn’t even want to tour the show the next year.”

“Where were they fabricated?” Dan asked.

“Some of the work was done by our own staff.”

Mummies of various sizes were posed as if worshipping Tut. A couple were on their own marble altars.

“These small ones.” The guide explained. “Were children who were sacrificed at the same time. They were sent so Tut would have playmates in his afterlife.”

The word ‘playmates’ jolted Dan. No!

“These are the original mummies fabricated for Tut-mania?” he asked.

“Oh yes. We’ve had them in cold storage. Costumes too. The mummies didn’t all arrive at once at the time. It took a few weeks to get them all.”

“Do you have any idea of how they were made?”

“You want trade secrets?”

“Just curious.”

The guide went to one of the playmate mummies. 

“Rest assured The Happy Hippo couldn’t afford real mummies any more than they could afford real gold. These are wire under-frames wrapped in gauze.” The lifted the arm of the mummy gently. It came loose and a real bone protruded from the unravelling gauze. The gauze was a mix of real gauze & various fabrics.

“That’s Timmy’s t-shirt.” Dan said involuntarily.
“Timmy?” The guide stared at the arm.

“Don’t drop it.” Dan commanded. “Put it gently on the floor.”

“Yes.” 

While the guide was putting the arm down Dan texted Robert Warszawa a top-priority code with his location at the exhibit.

“On my way.” Warszawa replied.

“Get forensic unit.” Dan texted.

“Will do.”

“What did you think you’re doing?” Another of the guides pushed people aside. “Oh it’s you! Not getting enough publicity for your stupid show. Get out of here before I call security.”

“They’re on their way.” Dan said.

“And put that camera down.” The guide turned to Cameron & tried to push him back.

“Too late.’ Cameron said, nodding at one of the news reporters with a camera on the other side of the crowd.

Jennifer stepped into the exhibit & held her hands over the shoulders of another of the mummies. 

“Another one.” She paled with the realization.

“Get out of there!” The first guide pulled her back into the crowd.

Warszawa arrived with Sergeant Coster with him.

“We’ve found them.” Dan said.
“Which them?” Coster asked.

“The remains of some of the children.” He pointed the the display. “Mummified.”

Sergeant Coster kneeled to inspect the arm on the floor. She stood. “That is a human bone. How can you be sure it is one of the children?”

“The fabric.” He pulled up the photo of him & Timmy sitting on the steps. “The same stripes. The same colours.”

“Okay.” she sighed deeply. “We’ll have to close down the exhibit to the public.”

“You can’t …”
“We can & we will.” She said.

“This is some cheap publicity stunt. How do se know you didn’t plant this here.” The guide stared at Dan.

“Ask your security cameras.” Dan pointed to one of them. 

“Everyone please exit the exhibit hall.” Coster & two officers escorted the public from the hall. “The forensics team require all the space they can get.”

“You can’t shut me down!” Winston Chamberlain strode into the hall. “Not now. With what’s going on!”

“Mr. Chamberlain, the Tut exhibit is closed to the public. The rest of the facility will remain open.”

“Just because one of these … props had a bone in it? You don’t even know if it’s a human bone. Or even a real bone.”

“I know it’s a real bone.” Sergeant Coster said.  “The forensic’s team will be here shortly. If it a human isn’t then you can reopen. Is this all of the mummies?”

“No. We left three in storage. There wasn’t enough space to put up the entire array.” Winston said.

“Okay, we don’t know for a fact that these are the remains of any of those children.” Warszawa said. “Mr. James, do you have any proof other than your fuzzy photograph?” Winston made air quotes when he said fuzzy.

“I trust my gut. This is them. Maybe not all of them but some of them.”

The forensic team arrived followed by some TV crews that had been covering the gala.

As they arrived a reported stepped to the entry of the hall.

“Stacy Molefski, here. We are interrupting the broadcast of the Chamberlain Gala with breaking news. Authorities have discovered human remains in one of the museums exhibits. Remains that may be a clues in the recently re-opened cold case of the children who disappeared in the 80’s …. Mr. James. Mr. James?”

Dan reluctantly went over to her.
“What can you tell me about this unexpected discovery?”

“Stacy you know about as much as I do. I can’t comment until we get confirmation for the Forensic team that these are actually human bones.”

“And if they are what can they tell about those missing children.”

“First they’ll need dna testing to ascertain identity. That could take up to two weeks.” Dan said. “It’s not like you see in TV crime shows where they put a drop on the bone, run that result through a computer & up pops photos of the victim.”

“Dan?” Warszawa waved from him to come back to the exhibit.

“As you can see I have official business to take care of.”

“Thanks for your time Mr. James.”

Dan walked over to Warszawa.

“You were right.” Warszawa said. “These are human bones. The examiner believes the size indicates the ones here are children bones. They’ve done a cursory check of the other mummies & there are bones of some sort in all of them.”

“They’ll all be taken to the regional hospital to be X-rayed before they are unwrapped though.” Costner explained. “They want to make sure before disturbing the uh …. remains unnecessarily.”

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Picture Perfect 116 

Picture Perfect 116

Peter followed Dan into the cabin “Who was that?” He asked as Dan opened the door.

“Someone who nows knows the power of the harness. That was hilarious.” Dan flopped on the bed with his hands behind his head.

Peter found a spot on the desk for the flowers.

“For the sweetest kiss.” Peter read the note. “Kiss?”

“Yes – in the parking garage.” Dan laughed as he explained it. “A lingering one mind you but that was all. I only enjoy public sex if there’s a hidden camera somewhere. Or if it had been you, we might have buckled a car hood or two.””

“Thank you, sir.” Peter knelt and removed Dan’s shoes. He undid Dan’s pants and pulled them off. “May I, Sir?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Peter buried his face in Dan’s crotch. Pulling and biting at Dan’s underwear. “Someone didn’t have time for a shower this morning.”

“You should know.”

“Sweaty but clean.” Peter pushed the head of Dan’s cock to just above the underwear waistband and began to lick and suck it. “Mmm.”

“Fuck, that feels so good.” Dan thrust his hips so that his cock was deep in Peter’s throat. 

Peter gagged on the sudden thrust.

“Choke on it.” Dan held Peter so he couldn’t pull away. “You like to choke on me, don’t you?” He loosened his grip on Peter’s head.

“Uh huh, Sir. I was dreaming about that the whole flight.”

“That’s not a harness. It’s a dream catcher.” Dan stood and kissed Peter.

His cell buzzed. It was Jeremy.

Peter unpacked his clothes and dangled things in front of Dan.

“I’m busy at the moment.” Dan attempted to grab the jockstrap Peter held up. “Yes the flowers arrived … I haven’t been avoiding you, just your fan base. I have to go. Yes I’ll be at the the premier this afternoon. Bye.”

He ended the call.

“Mr. Moxham I presume.” Peter said.

“Who else. He has his image to think of. I get that.  Hiding isn’t my style.”

“Aren’t you hiding me from him. My house sitter. My house mate. My coffee delivery boy.”

“I’m just trying to be tactful. Do you mind?”

“It depends on what you mean by mind. No. In fact I kind of find it a bit of a turn on to be your secret mistress. Especially when you’re keeping me a secret from a dashing millionaire playboy who is in turn keeping his own secrets. It’s like being in a soap opera written Escher.”

“At least I won’t panic with you beside me in a harness as my date. I can’t show up anywhere beside Jeremy as his date. Now where we?” Dan pulled Peter to him.

“About to hit the showers after my long exhausting cross country travels.” Peter said. “I can wash your back.”

“I hope they have enough hot water.” Dan dropped his shirt on the bed.

“I hope they have enough towels.” Peter followed Dan into the bathroom.

“If not I can use your jock straps to dry off with.”

<>

Quintex’s special showing of the 100 Years of Chamberlain was at the Cineplex on Trinity Drive. Invitation only. 

When Dan & Peter arrived the lobby was crowded with QTel executives. Baxter introduced him to the crew from the 100 Years. They were given bags of pop corn.

Jeremy as the executive producer of 100 Years said a few words about the production, about how much everyone enjoyed working on it, and how delighted he was to learn something new about the history of Canada. There was applause at the right moments.

He introduced John Kilpatrick who said pretty much the same things about how working with QTel was a great cognation of his history hosting Cold Canada. Then Winston Chamberlain said how was thrilled he was to share the magic the Chamberlains had created for the public over the last one hundred years.

The lights dimmed and the program started. After first few minutes Dan tuned out what he was seeing. If the calliope soundtrack volume was a little lower he might have fallen asleep. He sorted through his memories of the interviews, the pictures he had seen, the reports about death that summer, transient populations that summer, his family’s moves that summer. There had to be some connection he was missing. That everyone were missing. Or was there yet another piece to this puzzle.

His attention was pulled back to the show as the narrator said, “It was during the 80’s that the Carnival went though difficult times.”

He recognized the voice as Winston Chamberlain.

“Thanks to the popularity of video games, video movies, even video arcades – yes one could say Video tried to kill the carnival – attendance dropped off. We tried different themes each year. Some worked, some were unsuccessful but all were creatively satisfying.

‘In the summer of 1984 we toured the Tut-Mania side show.”

As Winston spoke there were home movie images of belly dancers, snakes, and the fake Tut exhibits. A sarcophagus with several mummies arranged around it, artifacts. “We dressed our tour guides as Cleopatra’s handmaidens.”

“That’s her!” Dan exclaimed aloud, then covered his mouth. It was the woman wielding the whip in his Dad’s photos. She was on screen for less than thirty seconds and never appeared again. 

The documentary came an end. It was more or less an advertisement for the Museum. The closing credits were so fast and cluttered he couldn’t see who at Quintex was the main researcher. He’d have to ask Stephanie is she knew.

“What did you think?” Cameron asked him as they left the theatre.

“Archival footage is always fascinating.” Dan said. “I always want more of that.”

“Makes them sound like one big happy family of saints determined to bring entertainment to the deprived people of the Maritimes.” Cameron said.

“What did you expect?” Stephanie asked. “It’s not an expose. We don’t do that sort of thing, anyway.”

“Unless there are children involved.” Dan said.

“Cold Canada is a different thing.” she said. “It digs for facts not conclusions.”

“Then the editors shape the facts to suggest conclusions.” Peter said. 

“At least they like to spread the blame around.” Stephanie said. “Legal won’t let us point directly at one person anyway.”

“Or Winston Chamberlain probably wouldn’t have been so eager to have this profile of the 100 years.” Dan said. “There was no mention of the hand-job maidens.”

“Was it you who said ‘that’s her?’.” Cameron asked. “Sounded like you.”

“Yes. I’m not sure but one of the pictures looks like a woman in one of the family photos I examined for the show. I can’t say for sure it was only on for a few seconds.”

“She’s significant in some why?” Stephanie asked.

“Perhaps.” Dan said. He hadn’t told anyone connected with the show about his Dad’s racy pictures.

“Our research department will have the original footage, so you can check with them for a better and perhaps more extensive look. The shows only use about twenty percent of the materials collected.”

“I’ll do that when we get back to Toronto. Let’s check out the exhibits at the museum.”

“We can check out the hand-job maidens.” Cameron said. 

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Picture Perfect 115 

Picture Perfect 115

Where is my memory? I’m not that old or am I? No matter how many times I look at those children’s faces I can’t remember them all. The ones I know, it could have been a week since I saw them last. How eager there were to follow me. I knew by their eagerness they had something to escape. I was the one who could lead them back to safety. Back to purity.

Now these men. Men, it’s always the men, who want to find these children. Men who I saved them from. Men who think they are smart enough to follow tracks, to follow traces that don’t exist. Looking for clues in photographs. Ha. 

I had to laugh when I saw him looking at those pictures that showed him nothing. He didn’t know I was watching. They probably thought I was dead too, that I was too old to have read the newspapers, to see them on television. To see them walking down the street. 

I wanted to stop them that day. Tell them they were wrong, but let them be wrong. My memory isn’t that bad. I saw children’s faces that I didn’t recall. I looked. I stopped the flow of pictures with the pause button but the image was blurred. Maybe that was why I couldn’t remember. If I pause my memory those faces blur.

What good would it do to tell them they are wrong. I don’t want to distract them from the wrong or they might get it right. No, they will never find me. They don’t know where to look because there is no where to look. Even when they were looking right it all those years ago no one saw what was there. Stupid men who only saw what they wanted to not what I had hidden.

All this fuss about the damn carnival has pushed that past out of sight for now. Happy Hippo! What a cesspool of abuse it was but now it’s some sort of temple for happy childhood memories. Children lured in to take their money, to strip them of their purity. No one will dare reveal it was mire of depravity that preyed on the innocence of children. That’s not entertainment.

As Dan found a spot to stand with his sign that said “Limo for Mr. Peter Eastgate” he thought it would a fun way to welcome Peter & perhaps get his picture taken by the press in the airport lobby taking shots of the famous arrivals. There was a mini-red carpet set up with a special backdrop for celebrities still arriving for the event.

From out of the crowd Robert Warszawa came over to him. 

“Robert, what are you doing here?”

“Extra security. You know the Prime Minster is arriving this morning. He worked at the Hippo one summer.”

“Oh! That never came up in our research.”

“So you’re covering the pre-circus circus.” Robert asked.

“I’m meeting Peter.” Dan said. “I happy just to observe.”

“Security’ll cost the tax-payers more than they will raise with their gala.”

“Mr. Eastgate! Over here Mr. Eastgate.” Dan shouted when he saw Peter come through the arrivals gate. 

Peter’s puzzled face lit up when he saw that it was Dan calling to him.

Peter was made to stop for pictures that were taken before anyone asked who he was. 

“Wow!” Peter came over to them. “That was something.”

“Peter, you’ve met Robert Warszawa. My Forces boss.”

Robert reached out & shook Peter’s hand. “I don’t think we’ve properly introduced. You were able to get out of the Carafe?”

“Uh, yes?” Peter said looking to Dan.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on Mr. Daniels since the bomb attack.”

“You mean I’ve been under surveillance?”

“Think of it as protection. Speaking of which the Prime Minster is debarking.”

Robert stepped away and blended back into the crowd.

“Surveillance?” Peter asked. “You don’t tell me you were also a secret agent man.”

“Let’s just say parts of my work life are classified confidential. You car is this way.”

The lot at the Waterside already full. Dan drove around twice looking for a spot.

“Porsche. Porsche. Lexus. Lexus LX.” Peter practically shouted that last one. “My fuck! You sure you’re allowed to even be here? Is that a Silver Cloud? Am I going to need a tux for this event? All I brought was a change of clothes and that black harness you like.” He pulled up his tee shirt to show Dan that he was wearing it. “Set off the alarm at Pearson. Told them I was performing at the gala. The black jeans?”

A flower delivery van pulled out and Dan took the spot.

“We will be skipping the formal dinner.” Dan quickly told Peter about the most recent run in with John Kilpatrick. “I decided it would best if I wasn’t there. If he spilled a glass of water he would probably accused me of somehow doing.”

“Then jeans will be formal enough.”

“I have check for messages.” He handed Peter the card for the cabin. “I’ll be right back.”

George was dealing with an irate, well-dressed man, in his mid-50’s. Thanks to Jeremy, Dan knew the difference between off the rack; between custom made in New York, Paris, Hong Kong or Milan. This man was wearing condo’s worth of clothing. Maybe more when he caught a glimpse of the man’s watch and cufflinks as he slammed his open palm on the front desk.

“We’ve been to every hotel, piss-stained motel and flea-bag b’n’b within a hundred mile radius. You must have something. You fucking jack-off’s hiking prices on top of everything else.”

“Ah, Mr. James.” Clerk said over the man’s shoulder. “There are two messages for you. Plus these flowers, that just arrived.” He put a large floral display in a heavy crystal vase on the counter. “I didn’t have time to get it inot your cabin.”

The man turned and gave Dan a once-over and was clearly about to dismiss him when his eyes stopped at the Lifend camera. He looked at Dan face.

“Can I help you?” Dan asked the man as he read the card. They were from Jeremy.

“Not much anyone can do Mr. James.” George said. “Everything has been booked solid weeks. Good thing QTel had that reservation for the four cabins. I could have let them twice for twice as much, too.”

“What’s taking you so long, sir.” Peter came into the lobby with his tee-shirt off. He sat in one of the lobby arm chairs.

“Here, Peter.” He nodded to the flowers. “Compliments of the Jeremy Moxham.”

Peter picked the vase up carefully. “He must have had this Baccarat flown in for you. I can’t see any local florist carrying them.”

Dan couldn’t stop laughing.

The rich man was confused for a moment. He sat in the other lobby chair and began to text.

“George how many of the cabins is QTel using this weekend.” Dan asked quietly.

George checked. He leaned forward. “Only three. You have one, Baxter has one, Cameron and Stephanie are in the other.”

“Then let the gentleman have that one. It is the one with the crappy a/c,shitty TV reception.”

“If you mean 11b then you’re right.”

“Also the one closest to the highway.” Dan said. He turned to rich guy. “Mr. ?”

“Clarkson.” The man said.

“As it turns out I won’t be using all the cabins I’ve booked. I’ve cancelled my reservation for one of them for the next three nights.”

“That’s most … How can I thank you?”

“Don’t throw the TV in the pool for one thing. Tip clerk well too.”

“Sure.”

“Peter.” Dan commanded.

“Yes, sir.” Peter stood at attention. 

“Flowers to the cabin.”

“Thank you, sir.” Peter picked dup the vase and followed Dan out.

As he left Dan heard Clarkson ask. “Who was that?”

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Picture Perfect 114 

Picture Perfect 114

Dan woke Saturday morning to loud knocking on his cabin door.

“One second.” he said as he shook himself awake. “Who is it?”

“Stephanie Carter.” was the reply. “I wouldn’t bother you but this is urgent.”

He pulled his pants on & opened the door.

“What’s so urgent?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” She was almost in tears. “But Harold Carmichael from QTel has flown in to talk to us.”
“Us?”

“The Cold East crew. He says we’ll be lucky to ever work again after what you did?”

“Did? What did I do?”

“Fuck! I have no fucking idea what this is all about. But he’s seen some video footage & well that’s all he’d say except he’d see us asap at the Regent.”

“Let me … get dressed anyway.”

“He also though you were at the Regent.”

“Whatever.”

A car honked.

“That’s Cameron with the rental. Come on.”

“Okay! Okay! Let me take a piss & get my shoes on at least.”

At the Regent Baxter met them in the lobby & took them one of the conference rooms. Jeremy Maxim & Harold Carmichael were already there with John Kilpatrick. 

“We’re all here.” Baxter said. “Now what is this all about.”

“Show them.” Kilpatrick said with a sneering grin as he nodded to a tech guy who turned on a laptop that had a TV monitor hooked into it.

I was the tail end of the press conference from the day before. It was Dan inviting John stage to talk about Carnival Canada. The camera followed them leave & one of them shouting “Back to you, John.”

“That was me!” Baxter explained. “Not Dan.”

“For once it isn’t about you Baxter.” Harold said. “But about Mr. James. Carnival Canada was strictly top secret. No one was to know about it until QTel made the announcement. No one. Yet here we have Mr James ….”

“Trying to make a fool of me once again. You trumped up nobody. First you steal my show idea, then make a fool of me on national tv & now this. After covering the civil war in Gualanda & getting, in case you don’t know, medal for heroism, I’m not going to step back from a fight with you.”

“I … I didn’t know that it was a top secret show. I’m didn’t even know Cold East episodes were being expanded to two hours each.”

“What!” Cameron said. “Since when!”

“How did you hear about Carnival Canada?” John demanded. 

“I told him.” Jeremy said. “What were you doing at the Cold East press conference John?”

“He was there to  make sure he got compensation for the idea.” Baxter said. “The idea for the series didn’t occur to me, & I repeat ‘me’ until after I had met with Dan for the first time. I checked his credentials & it was clear me he would be perfect to investigate these cases, for us.”

“But …” John began.

“I don’t recall consulting you about it.” Baxter continued. “What I do remember though is you telling me you were looking forward to a break at the wrap of season party.”

“That has nothing to do with this … breach of confidentiality.” John said. “Wasn’t there some sort of nondisclosure clause in the contact?”

“Only for people directly associated with the series.” Harold said. “Dan isn’t associated.”

“It is definitely my fault.” Jeremy said. “I mentioned in passing to Dan when we flew in the other day.”

“What happened after we left?” Jennifer asked. 

“Nothing.” The tech guy said. “I was part of that crew. Mr. Kilpatrick told what media remained that Mr. James was joking.”

 “Has there been anything in the press? On line?”Jennifer asked.

“I’ll find out.” Stephanie spoke to someone on her cell phone. “I’ll know in a minute.”

“Don’t bother!” Kilpatrick pushed the door to the conference room open. “Fucking the executive producer has privileges.” He glared at Dan as he left. “You’ll regret this you asshole.”

They stood in silence as the door shut.

“Breakfast anyone?” Harold said. “That seems to be settled.”

In the dining-room Jeremy steered Dan to a separate table.

“You haven’t returned my messages.” He said once they had ordered.

“In case you’ve forgotten this is weekend is a work assignment.” Dan took his pad out of his shoulder bag. “I have to check what’s scheduled for me today.”

“That’s avoidance. Is my interest in you that … unwelcome?” 

“No but there’s so much going on with there show, with my business. Its like a merry-go-round it only stops long enough for me feel dizzy. I don’t need anything more on it with me.”

The waitress brought their breakfasts.

“I could … oh shit …” Jeremy stared over Dan’s head.

Dan turned around. Della Kincade entered the dining-room & was walking direct to their table.

“Jeremy. The perfect breakfast companion.”

“Sorry Della but this is a business breakfast.” He held up Dan’s pad. “Before you go let me introduce you to Daniel James. Host of QTel’s Cold East.”

Dan stood to shake her hand. 

“Oh yes,” she said. “I have heard of you.” She glance around the room. “Oh there’s David, the PM’s right-hand-man.” She waved & started in the direction. “Nice to meet you. I guess it’s ‘back to Jeremy’ for you.”

“Sorry about that,” Jeremy said.

A teenage boy stopped at their table.

“I is him! I told you it was.”

“More of your fans.” Dan said.

“Can I get a picture with you.” The boy asked.

“I ….” Jeremy started to get up.
“No not you. Him. Back to you Dan we call you.” The boy was beaming at Dan. “My name is, you won’t believe this, but it really is John.” He shook Dan’s hand.

Another teenage boy came over the table. “Here take this Sam.” He handed Sam his cellphone.

“Okay.” Dan stood.

“Here’s the thing,” John said. “I just want you to say it.”

“Say it?” Dan asked.”Smile?”

“No. Back to you John. We’ll post it on my web page. Maybe it’ll go viral, you know.”

Sam held the cell up. “Okay.” he said. “Uh … action.”

Dan waited a moment then said his line.

“Wow.” John exclaimed. “That was amazing. You sound just the first time we heard it.”

“Yeah.” Dan said. “Life is sometimes amazing like that.”

“Thanks again.” The boys ran out of the dining-room.

Jeremy walked Dan out to the parking garage.

“You have any plans for after this?” Jeremy asked.

“I have a real job.” Dan said. “I honesty can’t wait to get back to my routine life. Things like this are fun, I guess, but I don’t feel showbiz is for me.”

“I don’t know about that I’ve seen roughs of the first couple of episodes & you are a natural.”

“No thanks. Once I’ve finished with Cold East that’s it for me & TV. I don’t think I want to be one of those talking heads either. You know those ones that show up in nearly any show being asked what they think about aliens building the pyramids.” Dan stopped to look the rental. “Fuck!”

“What!”

“Cameron drove us in for the meetings. We didn’t park in here.”

“Don’t worry I’ll that you get back.”

“Thanks.” Dan turned back to the stairs when Jeremy pulled him close & kissed him.

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