Picture Perfect 89

Picture Perfect 89

“You are right. There isn’t much residual energy of her here. Too much testosterone in this room since she was last here.” Jennifer went to the window. “Is that the tree she liked.” A tall maple dominated the view from the window. “I mean the one behind the maple. That maple wasn’t there when she was here.”

“What about the leaf in the envelope?” Dan asked.

“One of the twins put that there.” 

“Seal.” We planted two maples when they were born. We cut one down. But I …I don’t think she had a favourite tree. Paula was more an indoor child. Now that you mention, it I don’t think she had a favourite anything. No dolls or stuffed animals she had to have near her. Same with her clothes. What she wore was never a big thing.”

“Until the Banshees.” Dan said.

“Yes. That last year she became more … I guess the word is ‘aware’ of herself as a woman. She knew how much it aggravated her step-mother as well.”

“She wanted the attention.” Jennifer said. “I doubt if she was a real fan of any band. This one worked. If it hadn’t she might have tried Madonna to get the reactions she wanted.”

“I need a break.” David said and left the room.

“This is a wrap for now.” Brenda said. “Take, say, an hour. I’ll talk with Mr. Morrison and see what’s up.”

The camera crew went downstairs. Brenda motioned Dan & Jen to stay in the room.

“Do you think we’re getting anything here. I mean neither of you seem to be picking up any vibes or clues. No new information.”

“Perhaps not but he does confirm the ineffective way the constabulary dealt with things.” Jennifer said.

“We already know why these children were never found. That isn’t strong enough.”

“So we’re back to stretching things out for 90 minute episodes.” Dan said. “You want me to accuse him of molesting his daughter which forced her to run away.”

“My God.” Jennifer paled. “You mean she might not be one of the victims after all?”

“Abuse is something the RCMP would have suspected. They do that in all cases of missing children.”

“Now they do. Did they back in the eighties?” Brenda asked.

“I’d have to see the actual case file. You know, the files that the division has been unable to locate. I don’t get that vibe from him.”

“I don’t get that from the house either.” Jennifer said. “But the minute you suggested that it give me the sort of chill I get when an ugly truth is revealed. Someone was seriously traumatized in this house. Perhaps this room. But the weird shape of this house does things to energy.”

“He’s right about pyramid power?”

“Oh yes. This shape attracts and channels an energy your average house doesn’t.”

“I’m for talking with him some more.” Dan said. “At least to find out who saw her after she left here. Maybe, she did go the reserve. She’s the oldest of the children that went missing and was clearly more involved in a world outside of the home and school.”

“I’ll talk with Mr Morrison and see how he feels about going on.”

“I’m going to take a stroll around the grounds.” Jennifer said. “Do your eyes only work on photographs?”

“No. It took me a few years after I left the force to stop seeing all rooms as crime scenes. I don’t know if I want to get back into that head set.” 

They walked down to the first floor & outside.

“Did you ever wonder why it is your photo eye is so acute?” Jennifer asked. “You’ve had specialized training but you make connections that go beyond training.”

“You suggesting I might have some psychic powers?”

“Strong intuition …”

“I just remembered something.” David Morrison joined them. “Follow me.” They walked over to one of the domes. “When the RCMP decided to follow up on our fears they found her bicycle at her cousins. That’s when they concluded she had run away with them.”

He opened the door into a dome. 

It was stacked with plastic storage boxes, chairs, sofas, a covered rack of clothing, gardening equipment. He stepped aside to let camera man into the dome to take a shot of the interior.

“It’s back here. Give me hand with this.” With the help of the other camera person he slid the covered rack away from the wall.

Dan coughed with the dust and left the dome when the dust got into his eyes.

“It’s been decades since I moved anything around this far back in here.” David said. 

Dan’s eyes began to water as he sneezed repeatedly.

“You alright.” Jennifer asked him.

For a moment he couldn’t see anything. “I’ll be okay.” He blinked his eyes but they didn’t clear up. “I think I better wash my eyes out. That dust has done a number on them.”

Brenda lead him to the remote truck. “I’ll see if they have any water.”

“Bottled.” Dan said, “I don’t want to risk the well water.”

“How does that feel?” Brenda asked.

“Better. The stinging is gone.” He blinked tentatively. Things were clearer. One of the crew handed him a towel. He carefully dried his face and around his eyes. He could hear coughing and hacking as the others exited the dome. 

“Sounds like I’m not the only one.” he said.

“No.” she said. “Everyone had to get out of there thanks to that dust or whatever it is.”

“I hope it isn’t toxic.” He opens his eyes more fully. He took a deep breath. His heart was no longer racing. Cameron was placing a wet cloth over his eyes.

“Fuck!” David sat on the bench beside him. “Sorry about that. I guess there had been some pesticide stored in there. But I did find the bicycle.” He sneezed & his nose began to bleed. “Shit!” He dashed into the house.

“Maybe we should call it a day.” Stephanie said. “I’ll check with Morrison to see if he’s ready to go on.” She went into the house & came back a little later.

“What did Morrison say about continuing the interview?”

“If we can wrap it up today. Seal will be here tomorrow, Wolf the day after. It’s their birthday and this year they’re coming home to celebrate. Neither wants cameras around.”

“Let’s do it then.” Dan said.

He & Jennifer went into the house with the camera crew behind them. 

“Mr. Morrison.” He called out.

“Up here Dan.”

Morrison was in the glass peak of the house reclining on a day bed with a pyramid awning to protect it from the sun. It was in the centre of the room.

“I come here to focus the energy on me.” he said though an iceberg on his nose. “It works.”

“What about the bike?” Jennifer asked.

“I was found close enough to Whycocomagh for the investigators to assume she had been there before she took off. They also thought the guys were lying – you know the way native’s can’t be trusted. Talk to them.” He got up carefully.

“You might want to talk to her cousins.” Morrison walked down the stairs.

“The one she supposedly ran away with?” Dan asked.

“Yes. By the time they came back to the reservation no one wanted to question them about her. They did tell the RCMP that she wasn’t with them. They hadn’t see her that day either.”

“I’ll suggest that to the producers. We still have another family to interview. Once they are all done we’ll see where things stand for needing more information.”

“Okay. Stay in touch regardless.”

“Before we go I was wondering if you had any school photos of Paula. You know those portrait sets.”

“I don’t think so. I’ll ask my boys when they get here. They were so keen on her. In fact Seal has her notebooks. So he might have those pictures too.”

“Stephanie will be in touch with you if we need more for the interview. You touched on the same things the other parents did. The lack of cooperation on the part of the RCMP seems to come up a lot.”

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Picture Perfect 88

Picture Perfect 88

“Do you have any other photos for me?” Dan asked.

“There’s albums full of them. Most after the boys where born. Madeline wasn’t fond of pictures where as Rosemoon was.”

“Can you remember if there was there anything going on at that time. In the area I mean.” Dan asked as he looked over the family photos.

“Festivals.” Jennifer explained. “That sort of thing.”

“Happy Hippo?” Dan stopped at one of the photos. It showed Paula being helped into a ferris wheel seat. The helper was Winston Chamberlain.” 

David took the album from him to check the photo. “That was in Sydney. Hippo never stopped at small places like this. They’d put up flyers as they drove through but never pitch a tent. This was the summer before anyway. I don’t even remember if they came through that summer.”

“If they had we would have skipped it anyway. We did go back to Sydney though but for a couple of funerals at Eskasoni.”

“The reservation outside of Sydney?” Dan asked.

“Yes. Some teens were found dead. Alcohol poisoning we were told. Come to think of it they had been reported missing too but were found in the woods a few weeks later. Rosemoon knew the family.”

“I sort of recall that incident myself.” Dan said. “We lived in New Waterford. My mom said ‘let that be lesson about drinking’.”

“Break time.” Brenda came into the house.

Dan glanced at his cell. He didn’t realize how much time had passed. He stood and stretched.

“They are right.” David said. “You forget about the cameras quickly.”

“If it’s a good interview you also forget about the passage of time. How do your sons feel about their past?”

“They were cool about it. Wolf started to write a book about Paula. The truth about the past made him too uncomfortable and so it turned into Gone Sister.”

“Yes I’ve read some of it. More about a sister who was never there than one who vanished.”

“Yeah. For me that was the one weakness about the book. You never knew anything about her. How she disappeared. Not even what happened after she disappeared. It felt incomplete. But critics loved it. The anti-mystery one of them called it. I found it anti-climactic and told him so.”

“I’ll have to read it for myself.” Dan said. “How much of break do we get?” He asked Brenda. 

“Half-an-hour. We’re changing the set up for another location.”

“I’ll be outside if you need me.” Dan walked around the green-house domes. He contacted Warszawa.

“Robert can you find information about child deaths in eight-four? I don’t mean just suspicious ones but for any reason? …. It’s just a hunch but maybe missing children aren’t the only ones this killer came in contact with …. And could we find out about native children? Would they be included or are their records kept separate? … Yeah I know too many toes to tread on. I’ll be getting our researchers on it too.”

He went back to the porch. This time they were set up outside with a couple of the domes in the background.

“You going to tell people what these are?” Jennifer  asked. “Otherwise they’ll think we’re on the set of some scifi movie.”

“All we need is an eye superimposed over the pyramid we’ll look like we’re on the American dollar.” Cameron said.

“True but the proportions are wrong.” David said. “The Eye of God on the dollar only takes up about tenth. My roof is exactly a third. It is the only part of the house that maintains the Egyptian ratio. The base isn’t pure. But the house does keep my razor blades sharp.”

Dan looked at Cameron then Jennifer for some sort of understanding of what David had just told them.

“What no one here up on their pyramid power?” David laughed. “Beside channelling energy to make plants grow, to keep me from growing older any faster than I am, true pyramids supposedly keep razor blades sharp.”

“How about your piano playing?” Jennifer asked.

“I don’t … oh I get it you’re pulling my leg.” David giggled. “Good one.”

After a fast dusting by make-up they were ready to continue.

“You were telling us about the days before Paula vanished?”

“Other than the tiff between Rosemoon and Paul it was fairly routine. Looking after twins was more of a challenge than we expected. Paula was too young to be of real help. The boys were squalling and sleepless. Paula had been much easier to bring up.

“It wasn’t any worse that their usual set to’s. I had become used to them by then and had learned not to come between them but to take the boys out of the house. Doors were slammed and Paula left the house. Her last words” … he faltered … “were ,’You never see me again.’ We never did.”

“Do you have any of her things? Clothes. Toys. Doc Martins?” Jennifer asked. “Dan can read photos, so can I to a certain extent. But it helps to be near things she actually handled.”

“Sure.” David got up. “I should have thought of that. The boys took over her room. Some of the furniture is still there. Bookshelves. Her desk. It took me a couple of years to dispose of her clothes. Even if she came back they wouldn’t fit her anymore.”

“That must have been difficult.” She followed him into the house.

Cameron hoisted his camera to follow them. Dan followed Cameron with Francie on camera behind him. On the wall by the stairs leading up to the second floor was a large framed photograph of a picnickers at a table by a lake over shadowed by a sheer mountain ledge. It was very familiar to him. None of the faces were distinct. The clothes set it in the later 40’s, as did the car parked on the grass. 

“You coming up?” Cameron called down to him.

“You see something” Francie asked. She got a good shot of the photo.

“Not sure.” Dan shrugged. 

<>

“Paula’s old room is where my sons stay when they visit.” David opened the door.

Jennifer ran her hands along the bookshelf then sat at the desk. It looked out over the grounds.

“Much there?” David asked. “It’s been decades and lots of other butts and books have been in and out of this room.

“The desk used to be over there.” Jennifer said. “She liked it in that corner facing the door and the window. She needed to see who was coming into the room.”

“Right.” David said.

She pulled the desk away from the wall to look at the back of it. “This would have faced into the room.” She gently brushed that side of the desk. “Can I?” she sat and pulled out one of the drawers. It didn’t come out completely. She ran her hand on the underside.

“Paula liked to hide things, didn’t she. She needed her secrets.”

“Don’t we all.” David said. “She became more … introverted after her mother died. That’s one of the reason I remarried.”

“Find something?” Dan asked.

She pulled out an envelope. It was sealed. 

“May I open it?” She asked David.

“Sure.”

The two camera operators swooped down to her hands as she opened it.

‘Oh.” She frowned & shook the remains of a maple leaf into the palm of her hand.

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Picture Perfect 87

Picture Perfect 87

Morrison’s farm was a mile or so north of St. Peter’s in a wooded area. The dirt road to the house wound around a pond so that the house was unexpectedly revealed. Dan didn’t think the reveal was accidental. The building was a perfect pyramid with a deck along all four sides. Each face of the pyramid had its own entrance way set inside a triangle that was also perfect. Each entrance was was roofed with solar panels. The top third of the house was glass. Around the house were random domed sheds. Some fully covered. Two larger ones that could have been houses.

“Wow! I’ve never seen pyramid house like this before. Amazing.” Dan said.

“Not quite what I thought when I first saw it.” Stephanie parked the car by a domed shed to the left of the house. “I thought how much weed is that man smokin’.”

The remote truck was already there. A tall thin man came out of the back of the truck to greet him.

“You must be Dan James.” Laughing he shook Dan’s hand. “Over to you John. David Morrison. You guys are certainly well equipped. State of the art two years ago. Get QTel to invest in the Chrox image processors.”

“Uh … I’ll do that.” Stephanie said.

Dan knew from the bio information Morrison was nearing 80 but he looked like he was in his 50’s. 

“I’ve been reading your Cabot Trail book” Dan said. 

“Thanks. I had to do something to keep up with my sons.”

“This is some house.” Dan said as they walked up the steps to the porch.

“Thanks. I’d say I designed it myself but I think the Egyptian influence is undeniable.” He laughed. “It didn’t start out this large when I moved here in 66. Followed some draft-dodger pals of mine who wanted to get back to the land.”

“That was a big thing then, wasn’t it.” Dan said.

“Oh yeah. We were dreamers who woke up hard. I stayed. They went back when their folks cut off their credit cards. I had no folks to speak of so I stayed.”

He lead them around to what Dan supposed was the back of the house. The entrance here lead to a kitchen. The crew was set up there for interview.

“When did you expand to this?” Dan asked.

“Started it while Madeline was pregnant with Paula. We do a lot of the carpentry ourselves. I had a real construction background, unlike my buddies who came with dreams. Since then I’ve become a master carpenter, electrician.”

“And published writer.” Stephanie added.

“You aren’t here to talk about me.”

“No” Dan said. “This house deserves a show of its own.”

“It has in fact. H&G Canada were here two years ago. I wasn’t so keen myself but anything that brings people to Cape Breton is a good thing. That host, what’s his name …. nope … escapes me now … was more interested in his camera time. Or he was spooked by my anti-American blather. Draft dodger’s is a different show.”

“Are you ready to start?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure.” Dan took a deep breath to relax while his face was made right for the camera. He still wasn’t used to being fussed over in this way. 

“We’ll start in here.” Stephanie walked into the living room. “We can make the most of this amazing light.”

The light from the multi-coloured glass roof was almost spectral thanks to the fog that hadn’t dissipated yet.

“We’ll start with the camera directly up to the peak while you three are talking. Is that enough light for you Phil?”

“It’ll be fine.” Phil muttered.

“I’m here in Cape Breton with Jennifer Devereaux.” Dan began motioning for Jennifer to join him

“We’re on Cape Breton Island with David Morrison. Father of the missing child Paula Morrison. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us.”

“I can’t say that it’s my pleasure, Dan, but I am happy to see that someone is finally taking an interest in this case.”

“I’d like to start by asking you if you remember anything about that day.” Dan knew the key to getting the details they needed was a direct start. 

“First, Dan & Jennifer I’d like you to tell me what you see in these pictures. I have never shown them to anyone. Not even my sons.”

He put four photos on the coffee table between them.

“Polaroids.” Dan said immediately. “We’ll need gloves to handle them though. As they age the surface gets more subject to cracking.” 

One of the crew handed him and Jennifer thin rubber gloves. While Dan was put his on the camera

Cameron moved behind him and over his shoulder to allow the viewers his point of view. 

Dan leaned over the pictures without touching them. “They are all of the same girl. This is Paula.” He moved one into a better light. “I recognize her from the police file photos.” The four picture were progressively closer to her, with changes in angle. “She’s showing off her oversized t-shirt I’d say, or maybe it was the haircut.”

“Both.” David said.

“She doesn’t seem too thrilled by one of them.”

“Or perhaps by how someone was reacting to them?” Jennifer said.

“Bingo.” David said.

“These were taken shortly before she went missing.” Jennifer said.

“Right again!”

“She a bit young to be a fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees.” Dan said.

“Wow!” David sat back. “I don’t think I ever told the investigators about that. How …”

“Eye shadow, haircut very early Goth look. Siouxsie was one of the first Goth bands to make it big.” Dan said. “Hair and makeup don’t go with her age though. Suggests conflict.”

“Rose didn’t approve at all. Thought it was too …  morbid for a girl that age.”

“And you?” Jennifer asked.

“Personally, I was happy she didn’t go the Madonna slut route. These were taken the day before she was abducted.” He said abducted with conviction.

“There’s some doubt about that?” Dan asked.

“At first no one was willing to connect her with the others. Though even we didn’t realize there had been as many as you’ve brought to light.”


“Willing?” Dan asked.

“She had a history of … I don’t want to call it running away … but when she got upset she’d take off to her cousin’s in Whycocomagh.”

“This happened after the boys where born?” Jennifer said.

“Earlier. When I remarried. I wanted her to have mother. I didn’t really understand father complexes. She was hostile from the get go.”

“You aren’t my mother!” Jennifer blurted out.

“Exactly.We realized after a week she was actually gone and not with her cousins. We called the RCMP. We’d contacted them once before and they were convinced she had run away. Perhaps with with a couple of the boys who were gone from the reservation.”

“Reservation?” Dan asked.

“Oh yes. I figured you knew that. Madeline was Mi’kmaq.”

“Hmm.” Dan studied the face closer. “Hard to tell here. None of the other photos I’ve seen show that sort of genetic marker. There’s usually something around the eyes.”

“My genetics are pretty strong. The boys other the other hand look more like their mother.”

“Your second wife, Rosemoon, was also native?”

“Oh yes. I have some in my background too. Grandmother who was Blackfoot. I also thought a native mother might be good for her. As it turned out it wasn’t. They fought about everything. The last fight was about her need to change her name. She wanted to become Raven Stone.”

“I wanted to change my name when I was her age too.” Jennifer said. “I was sick of people calling me Jenny. I wanted a name that couldn’t be shortened.

She wanted to fit in somehow.”

“Fit in?” Dan asked.

“Seal. Wolf. Raven. Not Paula.” Jennifer said.

“Right again!” David shook his head. “You guys are good.”

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Picture Perfect 86

Picture Perfect 86

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

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

“Fine. Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His cell beeped with a text alert.

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

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

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

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

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

“Stephanie has your interview set for tomorrow.”

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

“Interesting.” Jennifer flipped through the book. 

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

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

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

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

“Sister Gone?” Cameron asked.

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

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

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

“Is it about this abduction?” Baxter asked.

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

“Will Morrison know?” Dan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

<>

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

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

“Two more interviews to go.” Jen said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry I didn’t mean to sound so ….”

“Cynical.” Jen said.

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

“Only repeating what I’ve heard.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or plants them on us.”

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

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

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

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

“Other things?” Brenda asked.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had to stop the car until their laugher subsided.

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Picture Perfect 85

Picture Perfect 85

“Paula Morrison. 12 years old. The oldest of the girls to disappear. Father: David, step-mother: Rosemoon. One word.”

“Rosemoon?” Cameron asked.

“Hippy days.” She shook her head.

Dan nodded as Stephanie read the file to him. He’d gone over it several times already. He kept his eye on the road as they approached the Canso Causeway.

“How much more of this do you want to hear?” She asked.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve heard enough.”

“She’d been a runaway since the dad remarried two years earlier. Birth mother, Madeline, died of breast cancer. Father an American draft-dodger, birth mother from Whycoak …”

“Whycocomagh.”

“You say that like a native.” Cameron repeated the name.

“One of those place names that stuck with me. It’s a Mi’kmaq word means Head of the Waters.’” Dan repeated the name. “Feels good to say it too.”

“I suppose. Anyway she died and he remarried several years later. Paula was an only child until Rosemoon had twins.”

“Which was when the runaway business started?”

“Yes. Rosemoon has since passed away. Breast cancer again. Must be something in the water.”

“That’s a different investigation, Stephanie. I’m sure there’s some report buried somewhere that shows an alarming coincidences of cancer and the water in the area.”

“Un-huh. Her twin half-brothers, Seal and Wolf no longer live in the area.”

“Seal! Wolf!” Cameron giggled. “More of that hippy draft-dodger stuff?”

“Probably. Wolf is in BC and the other …” she read the file. “Is in Hollywood! Seal Morrison. The director! He’s from around here!”

“Yep. I’m not the only famous person from the backwaters of Nova Scotia.” Dan said.

As they drove under Welcome to Cape Breton sign on the Causeway, Dan half-expected to hear his mother say “Turn down the radio so we can listen to the waves.”

“Will you look at that!” Dan was tempted to roll down the car window & stick out his head.” I haven’t seen the Causeway since we left here. It was always a mini-adventure to drive across it. One year a storm blew waves over our car. Mom was terrified but Dad kept on going. All he said was roll up the windows.” Dan rolled down the windows to hear the waves.

“You sure that’s wise?” Cameron took a deep breath. “Don’t want to get lung cancer.”

“Very funny.”

Cameron followed the curve of the Causeway to the other side. 

“Pull off at the Souvenir Shop. Your first act here has to be one of shopping.”

“Dan this is not my first time at this .… cèilidh. You know we’ve already pre-interviewed people before you got here. Right?”

“Yes, yes, but did you drive across the causeway or fly into Sydney on the Quintex private jet?”

“As if a producer that insists ‘no four star accommodations’ could afford a jet.” Stephanie said.

Dan got out of the car. “What a view.”

“Yes.” Cameron said. “Just like a post card.”

Memories of Dan’s last summer there became clearer as he watched the waves breaking against the rocks that lined the roadway. Men fishing dotted the piers.

“I wonder what they’re catching?” Stephanie asked.

“Squid. Sometimes mackerel.” Dan said.

“You’re kidding?” Cameron laughed. “These are the squid jiggers like in the song? I gotta try that myself.”

The gift shop was a clutter of tartan objects. Coffee mugs made in China, tee-shirts from Bangladesh. One wall was devoted to local handicrafts and there was shelf of books about the area.

“Looking for something in particular?” The clerk came over.

“You have something without the Cape Breton tartan or a lighthouse on it?” Stephanie joked.

“Something like this?” The clerk handed her a roll of toilet paper. The wrapper said: ‘Cape Breton ass wipe doesn’t take shit from nobody.’

Dan laughed. “Maybe we should get a dozen for the crew.” He pulled out one of the books titled ‘Cabot Trail Mix Trivia.’ “Collected by David Morrison!”

“Let’s see?” Stephanie took the book from him.

“Is this the David Morrison from St. Peter’s.” Dan asked the clerk.

“Could be.” The clerk replied. “All of the books on that shelf are by locals.”

“It is.” Stephanie said. “According to the bio he’s a life long resident of St. Peter’s who had always been fascinated by local history. He is the proud father of Wolf and Seal.” She flipped to the inside front cover. “And it’s autographed.”

“Nice.” Dan took the book back. “You have many copies of it?”

“Just these three. We don’t tend to stock a lot of that sort of thing. Books, I mean.”

“Maybe if it had a kitten in a kilt on the cover. It would sell better?” Cameron said.

Dan bought all three copies. In the car he read through one of them. It was, as the title said, a collection of anecdotes, jokes, short historical facts about the area. No index and apparently haphazardly arranged.

“Wonder if he’ll sign them again?” Stephanie asked.

Cameron pulled into Amethyst Court, a motel just past the welcome to St.Peter’s sign. The remote truck was parked at the far end of the cabins. 

“I never thought I said this but thank God for a normal drive.” Dan got out of the car. “I was beginning to think these highways were jinxed for me.”

“If they were you know it would be part of the show anyway. Baxter expects you at six to go over the next week of shoots. You’ll see Mr. Morrison in the morning. 10 a.m. sharp.”

“Right.” He glanced at his cell for the time. “Give sme time to freshen up. Which cabin is mine?”

“Not sure. I’ll check with Brenda. She’s doing the production coordinating here.” She texted Brenda.

Brenda came out of cabin 3. “Took your time. We’ve been here since morning.”

“Dan took his time,” Cameron said. “A little shy after recent highway to hell events.”

“Highway to heck, is more like it.” Dan said as Brenda gave him a door pass card.

“Cabin 10. Baxter is in 9.”

“Yikes.” Dan winced. “Hope he keeps it down. He must be deaf from all that loud TV.”

“Whatever.” Brenda said. “I’ve done two series with him and I never knew how he could keep track of everything. Must in the volume.”

Dan grabbed his suitcase, shoulder bag and went to his cabin. It smelled so strongly of lavender when he opened the door, he propped the door open with a chair to see if he could air it out. He put his laptop out on the tiny writing desk. He wondered why these desks were always smaller than the TVs. At least the Court offered free wifi. He tried it but the signal wasn’t as strong as his Lifend connection.

He had email from both this lawyers. The one dealing with his sister, the other dealing with Sanjay. He made the Skype connection with the Depot.

“Hey Sandy.”

“Good afternoon boss. You’ll be pleased to hear that there is nothing major to report. Weekend sales were good. ‘While the boss is away’ made for a great promo.”

“More than good Sandy.” Dan looked over the sales figures. “Maybe I should stay away more often.”

“Please don’t.” she said. “You are our visible shield of protection from that sister of yours.”

“She been sniffing around again?”

“Nope. In fact the silence is ominous.”

“She has her hands full with the new contracts anyway. Thanks for the update.”

“I hope we can hold on until you get back boss. We can manage here without you but things go a lot better when you are on the premises. At least when you are in the city.”

“Go on. You angling for a raise?”

“Any more … rough spots?”

“No. I’m a bit surprised that the families we interviewed were so cooperative. I didn’t think their memories would be so clear about events so long ago. I know mine aren’t. Each day something new comes back to me about growing up here.”

“Such as?”

“Fishing. I look back on my childhood and all I recall is tagging around with my Dad, setting up cameras. But when we stopped earlier today I saw people fishing off the piers near the Causeway.”

“Fishing! Safe to eat?”

“It was back then. My Dad would sometime stop for a day there just to fish. He called it his summer vacation. Mackerel and sometimes squid. My mother hated the squid.”

He got a beep that someone else wanted to talk to him on Skype.

“Keep me posted. I’ll get in touch again in a couple of days.”

“Let us know when you’ll be back so we can have a ‘The Boss Is Back’ sale.”

“Will do.”

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Picture Perfect 84

Picture Perfect 84

“Other thing, which in fact was what lead me here.” Dan stepped back from Janis.

“Yes?” she cradled her hands over her stomach.

“We received several tips regarding a snake man.”

“Snake man?”

“They were about a man who would visit various farms buying baby pigs to feed to snakes.”

“Oh my.” Janis rubbed her hands. “There was always an issuing keeping the snakes fed. The Hippo never suffered from mice or rats while it had the snakes but I suppose they … Wait! Now that you mention it I remember some of the set-up crew would bring fresh …uh … food for the snakes. I never asked where it came from. I supposed it was from local butchers.”

“I see. If you recall anyone in particular us know.”

“Here.” Cameron handed her a business card. “This is a more direct line than that tips line.”

“I’ll do that.” Janis read the card.

<>

“I can drive for awhile.” Dan started to get into the driver’s side.

“Okay.” Cameron strapped his shoulder camera unit in the back seat. “Don’t forget we’re heading back to the Truro.”

“We are? Since when?”

“Got a text from Stephanie to get things back on schedule.”

“We’re not that far behind.” He glanced at the GPS. “It’ll take an hour or so to get there.”

“Don’t hurry on my account.” Cameron gave a little laugh. “What did you make of the good Rev?”

“Interesting lady. I think she was holding something back.”

“Besides that snake on her belly.”

“So that’s what that was.”

“Hard not to see it … rippling under her clothes.” Cameron shuddered. “It’ll fit in nicely though even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

“My buddy Timmy was excited about seeing those snakes when the Hippo came to town. All we’d ever seen were glimpses of ring-necks.” Dan thought a moment. “So seeing real live snakes would have been great.”

“Maybe you’ll get your chance if Baxter wants you take in a Nova service.”

“You don’t sound too enthused.”

“I’ll have nightmares tonight. Trust me I almost dropped the camera when that one slithered out from her sleeve. Didn’t it bother you?”

“I found it a bit weird.”

He dropped Cameron off at the crew’s motel & continued on to the Warwick.

In his room he checked his cell phones to see if he had missed any calls or messages while they were talking to Reverend Hadley. The updated shooting list had families to interview in Cape Breton.The Sheldons were new to the list but there was no background information. 

He played back the footage of the interview with Hadley. Cora suicide? Who was Cora? Winston Chamberlain hadn’t mentioned any suicides. He didn’t recall seeing more mentions of Cora in the Museum either, just the side-show banner.

<>

In the morning Warszawa was in the Wickham lobby as Dan came down for the breakfast part of the b’n’b.

“I have the the initial report on the cars.” Warszawa said.

“That was fast.” Dan shook his hand.

“Having me here gives them reason to be quick. They aren’t pleased with any internal investigation. You know how that is.”

“Yeah. Anything in the report.”

“Possible but not confirmable tampering.”

“Big help.”

“Possible is a code word for probable, ‘not confirmable’ means they know it happened but don’t know how it happened. Not enough to take to court.”

“I know how that is.”

“Part of the problem is the fact that the cars are rentals. No way of knowing if this was an unnoticed malfunction that was triggered by the rain storm.”

“The other cars?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Small consolation for Vidro family.”

“None to speak of. Brother in Calgary. That’s it.”

“So, I’m not a suspect?”

“Suspect! More like target. You switched cars at the last minute, right.”

“Yes. But this isn’t news. What do you actually have to tell me?”

“You turned off?”

Dan double -checked his body camera. “Yep. Let’s go up to my room so I can get this stuff off.” 

They went up to his room. 

Dan draped the apparatus carefully on the back of a chair. “Feels good to take that off. I forget that I’m wearing it but I feel so much lighter when I take it off.”

“I want do to this off the book until we have something concrete.”

“I know! This isn’t the first case we’ve worked on.”

“Yeah, but the first one where you’ve been so directly involved.”

“Right.”

“The detachment has a file on Winston Chamberlain.”

“Underage girls?”

“You knew!”

“Not about the file. More than one person has mentioned his predilections.”

“There wasn’t much they could actually do. He was underage himself. They brought him in after the father of one of the girls insisted. Thought he was an adult. Didn’t believe he was only fifteen.”

“I believe that.” he showed Warszawa the picture Teresa had given him. “That’s him there.”

“Hmm. There was more than one complaint mind you. But no one was willing to press charges. He was an oversexed, underaged kid – no law then against that. His parents said they’d see to it that he got treatment for his problem.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. They sent him to Toronto to see some specialist child psychologist. He was gone less than a month. Two of the disappearances happened while he was away. Visiting an aunt.”

“So he has family in Toronto?”

“At the time.”

“He kept out of trouble when he returned from Toronto.” Warszawa said. “At least as far as the RCMP are concerned.”

“I feel he’s holding something back though.”

“That has to do with the missing children?” Warszawa asked.

“A gut reaction. We’ll have to ask Jennifer Devereaux. She’s the seer, I’m the … actually I’m not sure what I am. A photo reader investigator. Does the local detachment have anything on the Nova Convergent Centre?”

“I did a check when you said you were going there. A few complaints. Every time someone gets scared by a garter snake they point at the Nova cult. But other than that they’re pretty quiet for such an odd bunch. Apparently there are several religious communities through out the Maritimes. Catholic retreats, an Ashram or two, Sisters of Isis.”

“What about importing snakes? Aren’t there laws about exotic animals, that sort of thing.”

“No one’s made that specific complaint. You think it’s worth checking out?”

“No harm. I was just wondering. Where did the original Tut snakes come from? You can’t pick them up like … dogs or parrots.”

“Parrots?”

“The Hippo had a parrot show at the time.”

“You think they shipped those children off in trade or something?” Warszawa laughed lightly. “You are starting to sound like Baxter.

“All things considered that may not be so far fetched. If you can smuggle snakes into the country, smuggling a child out would be easy enough.” Dan said. “Anything on Janis Hedley?”

“Picked up for grass a couple of times. She pressed charges against some guy who roughed her up when she worked at the Hippo. She didn’t want to charm his snake and he took it personal.”

“I’ve seen some of the snakes she now handles. Not many men would compare.” Dan said. “And if there is one who does, I don’t want to meet him.”

“Not even to take a peek?” Warszawa laughed.

“Not even.”

“I’m heading back to Toronto tomorrow. Sergeant Coster is the official show liaison, She’ll will be on hand to help should she have to.”

“We’ve got one more real interview to do over in Cape Breton in St. Peter’s. I’ll be spending a few days in New Waterford. I haven’t been back since my Dad moved us to to Toronto.”

“I wish I had it so easy. The I.S. unit is looking into the travel photo cases.”

“Oh!” Dan had forgotten about the case. There’s been developments?”

“Another one murder, last week. In Edmonton. ”

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Picture Perfect 83 

Picture Perfect 83 

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

“Okay, dear.” Cameron grunted. 

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

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

“This is the turn.” Dan nudged Cameron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. We always expect seekers.”

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

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

“You were the Cobra Queen as well?”

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

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

“Recorded?”

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

“Of course. Record away.”

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

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

“You are unafraid.” she said.

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

“Come. It is cooler inside.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The fortune telling?”

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

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

“Asp?” Cameron said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Word?”

“About those missing children.”

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

“What became of the original Cora?”

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

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

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

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

She walked to their car with them.

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

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

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

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Picture Perfect 82

Dan hopped into the cab & directed the cabbie to the Mirabel. He sat back tor relax a bit & decided to double check his flight departure & saw to his dismay that his flight to Halifax was out the Trudeau  in Dorval.

“Merde. Arret. Arrêt.” He swore. 

“Pardon?” the cabbie said looking for somewhere to stop.

“Wrong way,” Dan’s French failed him. “I have to go to the Pierre Trudeau in Dorval!” 

“Ah!” The cabbie raised his hands in frustration & slowed the car looking for an exit ramp.

Dan wondered how many idiots made the same mistake & missed their flights? Did they have as much swirling around on their minds as he did? 

He gave his driver a tip equal to the fare when he got out of the cab at the airport with five minutes to spare. Breathless he gave his flight printout to the steward at the boarding desk. 

“Ah, sir! You are Daniel James?”

“Yes! Yes.” He pulled out his driver’s licence. “I headed to the wrong airport.”

“It happens. I haven’t missed my flight have I?”

The clerk scanned Dan’s ticket & typed into the computer.

“Non, monsieur. Your flight to Moncton leave in an hour.”

“Moncton! My ticket is for Halifax!” He took the ticket from the steward. 

“It appear there has been a change in your plans.”

“What!”

“Telephone for Monsieur Daniel James.” Came over the public address system. “Telephone for Monsieur Daniel James.”

“Maybe that will be the news you are expecting. You can take your call in the Salon Or privé.”

“Uh … thank you.”

As he followed the signs to the lounge he pulled out his Quintex phone & turned it on & saw that there were dozens of voice mails & an equal number of texts.

He walked into the lounge.

“Over here Mr. James. We were expecting you.” A young Asian steward waved him over to the phone.

“How did you know who I was!”

“Back to you, John.” She laughed lightly.

He took the phone. It was Baxter.

“Where the fuck have you been! We’ve been trying to get ahold of you all day. All fucking day. That house boy of yours was no help & your sister is a piece of work. Even Lifend wouldn’t take my calls.”

“You’ve met your match. What do you want!”

“You’re going back to Moncton to follow up on Snake Man. Stephane has sent you the information. I’ve texted you the information. We took the liberty of changing your flights.”

“So I discovered.”

“When we couldn’t a hold of you we what I thought was necessary. If you had bothered to check your messages you would have known. This is hot & we have to act on the wave.”

“I see without consulting me.”

“Dan we tried. Cameron is already on his way to meet up with you in Moncton.”

He hung up.

“Back to you, Tiffany.” He read the name on the woman’s tag. 

She laughed & took the receiver.

“This way Mr. James.” Another steward took his carry on & lead him to a semiprivate spot. “Mr. Moxham has sent instructions for us to make you are comfortable as possible. He also apologizes for this last minute change in your plans.”

“Merci.” 

There was a pot of coffee, muffins & a smoked meat on rye sandwich at the table.

“Anything else sir?” The attendant asked.

“No. This will be fine. Leave my carry on.”

“Of course sir.”

Alone in the quiet nook Dan took a deep breath. He poured a cup of coffee, had a bite of the sandwich & scrolled through the messages on both his phones. 

On his private cell his sister didn’t appreciate being pestered by Baxter;  Sandy didn’t appreciate being annoyed by that arrogant git Baxter; Jeremy apologized but for some reason Baxter thought he had more influence over Dan than he did; Peter sent lol Baxter says get in touch.

On the Quintex cell it was the series of increasingly urgent calls starting in the morning at eleven from Baxter, Stephanie, even Harold from the Toronto office. A for moment he regretted leaving the phone off then was thankful he hadn’t been caught up in the distractions.

He read through his updated travel itinerary & once again a reservation for him has been made at the Waterside. A car would be ready for him to pick up at the Moncton airport. Cameron would meet him in the morning & they would follow up a lead to Nova Convergent Centre near Maccan in Nova Scotia.

<>

Cameron turned off the road into the dirt lot in front of a store so Dan could consult the google map.

“I think we took a wrong turn somewhere outside of Amherst.”

“That I know already. Where the fuck are we?”

“Single isn’t that strong wherever we are. Let’s not be men for a minute & actually ask for direction.”

He got out of the car and went to the store. 

It was like stepping into a vintage photo, all that was missing were a couple of gas pumps out front. 

Cameron hoisted his camera to his shoulder to get footage of the rusted sign swinging above the door said “Welcome to Flannery’s” over an advert for ‘Nutsy Nougat’ a chocolate bar. A dingy card board sign dangling midway behind the glass said “Open” in fancy script.

Dan cupped his eyes and peered through the dusty door to see if the sign was right. He tried the handle, it wasn’t locked and bells clanged as he pushed the door open. The clang was a toneless metal like a cow bell. Cameron on his heels. 

Inside was dim until lights were turned on. A young man came from behind a curtain at the back of the store. 

“Don’t turn lights on unless we got a customer.” The man wore an unbuttoned white shirt with a plain grey tee-shirt under it “Ma won’t let us use that motion sensitive stuff. Hope it didn’t scare you too much. Them coming on like that.” 

In the man’s arms was a nearly matching grey cat that leapt to the floor and came over to sniff that Dan’s, then Cameron’s shoes then hopped to the window sill.

“Cod doesn’t take to strangers.” The man stepped behind the counter, brushed cat hair off his shirt sleeves. 

The store was larger than it appeared from the outside. It could have been a 7/11 from the layout, right down to a coffee island in the middle of the floor near the front window. Only this one had a couple of comfy chairs like a coffee shop.

“Bottled water at the back. That’s usually what people’re looking for when they stop here. But we’re prepared. Coffee fresh this morning. Columbian we roast and decaf, none of the flavoured nonsense. Coffee only. We’re not Tim’s.” The man laughed. “Ma bakes the cookies and scones. Fresh. Daily.”

“You’re certainly fixed for any tourists.” Cameron picked up a cookie with his free hand.

“Locals like us. We’re the closest thing to a coffee shop that isn’t Tim’s in these parts. Self-serve for the coffee.”

Dan had stopped for directions only but he couldn’t resist the man’s invitation. “Smells good.” He said as he filled a large take-out cup.

The man went one to one of the coolers. “Whole milk or cream? Can’t help you if you’re intolerant.”  

“Cream’ll be fine.” Dan stirred the cream into the coffee and put on a lid. “I’ll take one of those scones.”

“We got cranberry lemon or broccoli cheddar.”

“Really?” Cameron said putting a lid on his coffee.

“Oh yeah, just because we’re not city doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s selling.” The man held Dan’s gaze. “It’s pretty clear you’re with that TV film crew that’s been talking to people around here?”

“Yes.”

“I’d rather you didn’t film me, you understand.”

“No problem.” Cameron turned his rig off & slid it to the floor.

“Dan James.” Dan reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Cameron Carter cameraman extraordinaire.”

“Trey AuCoin.” 

“Not Flannery?” Cameron asked.

“Nah. That was the sign when we bought the place years ago. They weren’t Flannery’s either. Didn’t aim to rewrite history. We figured it would better to fit in some. We call ourselves Flannery’s General Store and Cafe.”

“So you’re not from here?” Dan sipped his coffee.

“Ma was. I’s born in the States. Price was right and so far we’ve managed to break even.”

“You know the area well?”

“Lost are you?”

“Sort. As long my g.p.s works I’m safe but the single is weak out here. We were looking for the Nova Convergent Centre.”

“You mean The Slythies.” Trey laughed. “Oh man those people are strange.”

“Slythies?”

“That’s what some around here call it. The snakes and all. From Harry Potter?”

“I see. It may be part of the show we’re doing. Thought I’d check it out. Research you might say.”

“Then you already know about them and the snakes.”

“Not much that’s why we’re here.”

“Yours is that TV show about the missing children, right? Weird about that psychic that got killed. I’m surprised it’s still going forward with it.”

“Nothing stops the news.” Cameron chuckled.

“You think it might be connected?”

“With Slythies?”

“I mean her accident. The guys responsible for those kids might not want to be caught all these years later. Maybe she was in psychic contact with the killer.”

“Anything is possible.” Dan opened the door to leave. “Good coffee.”

“You didn’t let me tell you how to find the Slythies place. Isn’t far.”

“Right. The coffee was so good I forgot.”

“You just follow this road and turn left when you get back to Maccan. It’s on the left about ten minutes down the other road.”

“Thanks again.”

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Picture Perfect Pause

The rough drafts of Picture Perfect were written as a part of NaNoWriMo over a three year span – 2015-16-17. So far I’ve edited & posted 2015 & 2016. I’m about to start in of the 2017 drafts & have been reading though the nearly 75,000 words I wrote to bring the seemingly endless story to a big finish. 

I’m making sure I have the sequence correct, that I haven’t missed any of the major scenes & to get an idea of what will be cut – trust me lots will get cut. At least one whole distracting subplot with get chopped. I also found that one big confrontation isn’t there! Oh my, but that can fall into place when I get to where I know it needs to be.

So I’m taking a brief pause to sort though this last set of scenes, notes & loose ends. Be assured a couple of those loose ends will not be tied up – but you will know what happened to the missing children – unless I get a better getter idea by the time I get to that revelation.

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Picture Perfect 81

Picture Perfect 81

Once he got out of the taxi Dan double checked the address for Joviet J. Inc. he had written down. He was on the right street according to the GPS. Avenue Vert. Both sides were lined with three or four-story warehouse spaces, some of which had been converted to lofts, others appeared to be abandoned. Many didn’t have street numbers just names: Place de Hebo; Masion Au Moire. 

The area had been part of the Ahuntsic garment district at one time but as imports brought prices down many of the side-street shops closed. There were some printing companies listed on the outside of some of them between the ‘a louer’ signs. He was tempted to ask a passerby but didn’t trust his French enough to approach anyone. His time in the RCMP had sharpened his reading & writing French skills but his conversational was never good enough to even order in a coffee shop.

There were a couple cafes & ground floor shops open – direct to public sales – with clothing, ceramics, paintings, in the windows. None with books or magazines. The door to Marcel’s Photocopie Plus was slightly open so he went in. A bell tingled. He took pictures of the various sized advertising cards printed in different languages, French, English, Cyrillic, Japanese, Hindi that were along the walls.

“Ello?” The clerk came out from a curtained room behind the counter & adjusted his toque. “Nice camera.” The clerk said pointing to Dan’s Lifend.

“Thanks. I was wondering if you could help me.”

“I would be most happy to try.” The clerk’s English was slightly accented.

“I’m looking for this address.” He handed the clerk the page he’s written the address on.

“Ah …” the clerk stepped to the door where the lighting was better. “This is a ‘b’ number. Which means it is not a front building but a back building. The fronts are all ‘a.’”

“It would help if even the facades had numbers.”

“I have often felt that way myself. Come … I will take you. I know where this one is.” He started down the sidewalk.

“You leaving your store open like that.”

“I shut the sign.” He reached around Dan, flipped the Overt sign to Ferme. “If they need copies they will come back. Come … ”

He lead Dan past a couple of the shorter buildings to a laneway between two of them. “It is down this lane & to the left.”

Even in the afternoon sun the laneway was dark. Reflected light gleamed at the far end & he could see there was another building.

“Thank you.” He turned and the man was gone. Dan started down the lane. His eyes adjusted quickly. A blow between his shoulders send him face first to the ground. He put one arm up to protect his face and clutched his shoulder bag to his stomach. A foot between his shoulder blades held him to ground. He felt something pulling at his camera strap. He tried to move.

“Be still stupid man or this knife might slip to do real damage.” The pressure on the camera strap increased. 

Dan took a deep breath, flicked the strap’s catch so it came loose. He remained flat on the ground. He wasn’t too concerned about the camera. It was fingerprint protected. Only he could use it. Releasing the catch would send a signal to alert Lifend.

He waited another five minutes after the footsteps had run from the laneway. He pushed himself up slowly, brushed debris from his pants and jacket, got his cell phone and called the police. He gave directions as best he could and waited on the sidewalk by the laneway entrance. He checked the camera’s gps & saw that whomever had it was still a few block away. Probably trying to figure out the Lifend.

When the officers arrived he told them who he was, showed them his special constable card.

“A secret service man!” the older of the two said shaking Dan’s hand. “I am Lucas Fortin and this is my partner Tai Zhang. You are here on a case?”

“No a little pleasure.” He explained his camera’s theft features as they walked back to the print shop.

A man rubbing his head staggered out of the shop. 

“Des voleurs. Voleurs. C’est la troisième fois ce fucking mois-ci.”

After the man had been calmed down it was case of break & enter. He had been for a little lunch & was turning off the security system at the door when this ‘fuckin’ voleur’ had pushed him through it, to the counter  & bashed him in the head. Dan had walked in before the ‘fuckin’ voleur’ had gotten anything. 

Dan checked the camera’s gps & saw that it was no longer in motion.

“He’s abandoned my camera in this area.”

He pointed it out to the store owner.

“A park not too far from here” Lucas Fortin laughed. 

“Place de Drogués.” His partner echoed the laugh. 

“Come, we will take you to it.”

The camera had been stuffed into one of the park trash barrels. It was covered with rotting orange peels.

Dan took it over the fountain, dunked it under the water & rinsed it off.

“Waterproof?” Zhang was impressed.

“More that that.” Dan smiled. “Pretty much indestructible. He turned the camera on to make sure it had survived. “Take a look. Sudden motion sensitive too.”

He played back the footage the camera had automatically started filming when he had undone the strap buckle: the sidewalk as the thief was running & dodging between parked cars, down a laneway & stopping at the park to shake the camera as he tried to turn it on. 

“Shitty shit shit camera.” The thief was saying as he tried to catch is breath. “… buttons do nothin’. Shit why that asshole come in just then.”

Then the camera was shoved into the trash barrel. There were several good quality shots of the thief’s face.

“C’est Clarence.” Zhang said. “Crackhead we know well.”can 

By the time his statement had been taken it was too late for Dan to continue his investigations. He told the police he was there taking photographs and someone had suggested the area and building at 641B Jaccent.

“Is gone.” The shop owner explained. “It was in a big fire last summer, or was it the summer before that? Torn down & soon to be condos.”

“Thanks.” His cell chimed. “That’s my reminder to get to the airport. I have a flight to catch.”

“You catch a taxi fast at the next lights.” Zhang said.

“Thanks.”

“I’ll tag along,” Fortin said. “Just to make sure you don’t get more troubles.”

“Sure.”

A few steps along Fortin said. “641 was a hot spot & not because of t’fire. No one would suggest it as a photo op. What are you looking for here?”

Dan took a deep breath. “I was hoping to track down Joviet J. Inc. in connection with a case I’m working on.”

“Oh?”

“Sorry that is all I can tell you.”

“Understood. The place had biker connections & no one was sorry to see it go, expect the insurance company.”

“I see.” Dan hoped the officer would tell him more.

“There’s a cab.”

As Dan got in Fortin handed him a card. “Get in touch if you want to know more about Joviet. Unofficially.”

“Understood.” 

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