Picture Perfect 54

Picture Perfect 54

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

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

Both he and Roberto had two large suitcases.

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

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

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

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

“Thanks.” Baxter said. 

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

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

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

“Destination please.”

“Stellerton. Nova Scotia.” He said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Is the old Conner route still being used?”


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

“Will do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Burger appeals. Fries too.”

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

“Sure why not.”

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

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

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

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

Dan did as directed. He took a sip.

“Strawberry?” he said.

“Right.”

“And hay?”

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

“Blueberry Beer?”

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

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

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

“This storm keeps up and …”

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

“That can’t be good.” Dan said.

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

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

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

“Here?”

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

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

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

“Joe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan’s cell rang.

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

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

“Tartan Beds.”

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

“Bad news?”

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

“You were close to these people?” 

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

His cell rang again. “Sorry.”

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

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

“Thanks Joe.” Hazel said.

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

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

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

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Picture Perfect 52

Picture Perfect 52

“Fascinating, isn’t it.” 

Dan was startled to find Winston beside him

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

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

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

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

“Really?”

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

“This museum an amazing concept.”

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

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

“Family links?” Dan asked.

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

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

They shook hands.

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

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

Dan followed him through the Carnie Food Land.

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

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

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

“Thanks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He handed Dan a pair of the gloves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Facial recognition?”

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

“Your sort of magic?”

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

“What do these tell you?”

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

“Cool.”

“You have more like these?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture Perfect 49

Picture Perfect 49

Miss McKay slid a door open at the far end of her mobile home. Dan caught a glimpse of a bed with a lighthouse print coverlet before she slid the door shut again.

“She can’t get many visitors.” Glaucia said. “To go on like that.”

“Gift of the gab is more like it. My Aunt Sissy is just like that.” Dan said. “Great scone though.”

“Too healthy for me.” Glaucia nibbled another corner of hers. 

Dan was tempted to tease her about the vibe she was getting from the scone but was still not sure to make of her. On the drive to Miss McKay’s Glaucia had refused to talk about the meeting lest his preconceived notions interfered with her getting clear images when they arrived. She didn’t even want the radio on for the same reason. She sat beside him in the car with her headphones on listening to ‘white beats.’ He’d have to look those up when he got a chance.

Miss McKay put an oversized accordion file folder on the coffee table.

“I set these aside when school started that year. I mean, I don’t have files on all my students. Only the ones that were promising.”


“They were promising students?” Dan asked.

“Oh, no. Not a bit. They were average. Ordinary. If they hadn’t disappeared I would have shredded this stuff five years after they’d left the school. Sooner perhaps. I was expecting to be contacted at some point, you know, as the investigation went on. But no one ever asked me if I knew anything that might help.”

“Did you?” Glaucia asked.

“I don’t really know dear. Their mother did have a bit of a reputation.” she dropped her voice. “Loose. The bother and sister didn’t look that much alike. You’ve seen the pictures so I’m sure you noticed that.”

Dan closed his eyes to visualize the the school photos and compare them. He could see enough resemblance to make them bother and sister.

“Some of us thought … well anyway when we heard about that other boy in Pictou county going missing it was clear that, well … the Forestier’s had nothing to do with it.”

She took out some large manilla envelopes. “I’ve kept these safe and dry all these years. I hadn’t looked at them until I saw that show and heard on the radio that you were looking for information about what happened. I kept all the clippings from the papers. Even the ones from the Halifax Herald. My, but that reporter was harsh on our lads. They were doing all they could but didn’t seem to be enough for some.”

Dan glanced over the various clippings. Some he had seen before from the Quintex research files.

“You said you had some personal material of the children’s?” Glaucia said.

“Oh yes. These.” From one of the other envelopes she spread out two groups of crayoned drawings and paintings held together with paper clips. Under one clip was a school photo of Madeline, under the other a school photo of Gerrard. 

Glaucia took the group of Madeline’s and slid out one of the middle pictures and placed it face up on her lap. “I need one that hasn’t been handled too much by others.” she explained. “The ones on the top and bottom have been exposed the most and hence have dissipated more of their ethereal information.”

“How thrilling.” Miss McKay squeezed her arms to her sides in delight.

“Shhh.” Glaucia commanded.

They sat in silence as Glaucia held her hands about four inches over the water colour painting. It was of a boat with a trawling net trailing from the side into the ocean with the sun setting behind its mast. The water was choppy brush strokes and the clouds look like they had been sponged on.

“Interesting” Glaucia said before turning the picture over.

The other side had a pencil sketch of the waves and part of the boat on it. Madeline’s name was printed neatly in the lower right corner along with a date.

“Madeline signed that herself.” Miss McKay whispered.

Glaucia ran her fingers over the printed signature. “She was a happy girl when she did this drawing.” Glaucia said. “She wasn’t happy with the way the net turned out though.”

“I have a their class photos from that last year too.” Miss McKay said taking pictures out of the other manilla envelope and handing them to Dan.

They were the standard shots of rows of children talks ones in the back. Neither child stood out in the pictures.

“These were taken outside?” Dan said.

“Oh, yes. The school at that time didn’t have a gymnasium or even an auditorium.”

“Warm day too. None of them are wearing coats.”

“I don’t recall the exact day.” She took one of the pictures and turned it over. “My! My! I didn’t even write the date on the back. 

“It was early in October.” Dan said.

“How can you tell?” Glaucia asked.

“Drawing of smiling Halloween pumpkins in the class room windows behind them.”

“Oh, how clever,” Miss McKay said. “You must have driven your teachers crazy.”

“Maybe.” Dan didn’t recall much of his school days on the east coast other than the pictures his Dad had taken of him on the first day of every school year, then on the last day of every school year.

They next looked at some drawings and letter work that Gerrard had done when he was one of Miss McKay’s students. The pictures were in crayon. The letter work was Gerrard practicing his printing and struggling to stay between the lines.

“So many of them found that hard to learn, you know.” Miss McKay said. “It was always so rewarding to see them gain the … manual dexterity to print on the lines. Gerrard learned how to do that pretty quickly.”

Glaucia looked through the drawings and picked one  of a scribbled streams with similarly sketched in pine trees on one side to scan with her hands.

“Well?” Dan asked.

“He was a happy child.” Glaucia said. “This is on their property. The stream and the trees.”

“Now, here’s one other thing for you. I know it wasn’t right of me to keep this but it just seemed right to have it with this other stuff.” she handed a small envelop to Glaucia.

Glaucia opened it. Quickly looked over the letter it contained then read it aloud. “Dear Mrs. Hollerhan … ”

“Gloria Hollerhan was the principal at the time. She retired a few years later.”

“Dear Mrs. Hollerhan ..” Glaucia began again. “Please excuse Madeline Forestier from Miss McKay’s class and Gerrard Forestier from Mrs. Simpson’s class this Thursday and Friday as we are taking them with us to my sister’s wedding in Halifax. 

Thank You

Mrs. Forestier”

“The two of them were so excited. Madeline even had new shoes and wore them to school that day along with the prettiest dress. It was one her mother had made for her. In fact she rarely had store bought clothes you know. That Mrs. Forestier was an accomplished seamstress.”

“This is everything to have about them?” Dan asked. None of what she offered them added anything new to what they already knew. Rumours about the parents were interesting but weren’t helpful

“Yes Mr. James. I didn’t know the other little boy and we didn’t even know about all the others until that show. It came as quite a shock. Made me scared for the children. I can imagine how threatening it would have been for parents at that time, not knowing if your child might be next.”
“What do you think happened to Madeline and Gerrard?” he asked her.

“Oh …” she shook her head. “It’s impossible not to speculate, is it? It’s not the sort of thing that happens in a place like this, you know. I found it awfully suspicious that it took those parents so long to report them missing. Others did too. If I was a mother I would have been out all night calling for them to come home.

“That inspector didn’t tell us much. No news conferences the way there is these days. He was from the mainland too and acted as if we were too backward to be told anything. As I said, the fact there were other children involved was news to me.”

“You don’t mind if we take these drawings with us?” Dan asked. “I’ll see to it that they get returned once we’ve made copies of them.” He was sure Baxter would want to work them into the show somehow. “We have to get back to our headquarters.”

“Certainly. You take care.” Miss McKay stopped Glaucia. “A good mother wouldn’t just wait, would she.”

“I believe you,” Glaucia said patting Miss McKay’s forearm as she opened the door for them. 

Outside Dan took a deep breath as they waved goodbye to Miss Glaucia. He hadn’t noticed how stuffy her home was. In the car he turned to ask Glaucia what she thought of the interview but she already had on her headphones protecting herself with white beats.

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Picture Perfect 48

Picture Perfect 48

Back in his motel room Dan logged on for a video call with Peter

“How is it going sir.” Peter asked.

“Good. Great. Now I nave a cohost though.” Dan typed Glaucia Vidro into search. Peter was able to see the results too. 

“A psychic!” Peter said. “At least she doesn’t have a 1-800 number for instant tarot readings. What did she tell you about the case?”

“Nothing much but we’ve only just started. She seems … grounded enough though. Didn’t take any bs from Baxter.”

He told Peter about the war room and the list of suspects.

“Alien abduction? You have to be kidding. I … miss you, sir.”

“Good.” Dan found it hard to be so curt with someone else’s emotions. Sanjay was expressive at any opportunity. Love wasn’t about asking permission. Peter was the opposite. Asking him to housesit had been a no brainer. 

“How are things there?”

“Nothing I can’t deal with sir. Mr. Kumar has come to the house twice to pick up his mail. I denied him entry as you instructed. I didn’t have to use the court order either. Just mentioned the name of your lawyer.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. I don’t think he was prepared for me to be so … truculent, as he called me. He did threaten to kill me if we ever got married though.”

“No worry on that count Peter. It’s proving hard enough to rid myself of a man I wasn’t married to. Makes me grateful that I never tied that knot.”

“I understand. There is nothing to report from the Depot either. I stopped in at lunch and again before I came to ther house. Sandy says things are running smoothly but not as smooth a they would if you were there. “

“Sounds like Sandy.”

“Are you still planning to come back at the end of next week?”

“Yes. We’ll be moving the centre of operations, as Baxter calls it, to Stellerton after the first ten days. It’s more central to the other incidents. I’m sticking to my role as air personality as much as possible. If I’m not around there’ll no chance for them to get me to lug anything.”

“Heard anything more from Corporal Tyler?” Peter said. He pulled off his tee shirt. “Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just your eyes?”

“Nothing further from them. Warszawa has talked to the regional Staff Sergeant. I know enough about the politic of divisions that they’ll be more circumspect in future. He said they aren’t divulging anything about the tip that brought them to my door though. He’s not sure if there was a tip. They would have gone from cabin to cabin until they found the Daniel James they were looking for.”

“What!” Peter slid off his belt. “Why would something like that?”

“Probably pissed about the original Cold show that found connections they hadn’t realized where there. The studio didn’t alert them to it either.”

“So they found out the same way you did. When the show first aired?”

“Nope. When it was rerun a week later. Qunitex was forced turn over everything they had on the cases. Which wasn’t much as it turned out.”

Peter slowly unzipped his fly.

“Not yet.”

“Yes sir.” he pulled his fly back up. 

“It’s nearly time for me to check in with my sister.”

“She hasn’t been to the Depot since you left.”

“Perhaps not in the flesh. Put your tee shirt back on.”

“Yes, sir.” 

“I’ll call later if I get a chance.”

“Yes, sir.”

The screen went blank. Dan tapped the icon for his sister. He had made sure he would have electronic access to all transactions at both shops. Severing the contractual connections between the two branches wasn’t going to be as simple or as inexpensive as expected. 

Looking over the figures he found himself nodding off. 

…….

Dan stood to the left and just behind Glaucia as she rang the door bell to the trailer. It took him a moment to realize that the foghorn sound was coming from inside. He could hear a radio or TV being turned down. The lace curtain in the door widow was pulled aside and a face peered out at them. The face smiled and the door opened sightly.

“You’ll have to step back for the door to open.” 

He and Glaucia stepped down two steps to let the door open. 

“Sorry about that.” The woman said. “Who ever designed this model didn’t think it through. Come in.” She held the door open for them. “Sometimes the wind will catch it and whack it against the trailer. That’s why there’s so many dents there. If I had known, about the wind, I mean, I never would have settled in here.”

Followed by Francie and Mike they squeezed past her and into the trailer.

At the front end there was a living room area with a couch, an armchair and a TV. The TV was on the weather channel but muted. 

“I get all the news I need from the weather channel.” The woman sang. “Paul Simon – before your time I guess.”

“Yes.” Dan said sitting in the armchair. The couch was just large enough for two people. He didn’t want to be that close to Glaucia.

Clearly Stephanie hadn’t checked Mrs. McKay’s trailer for filming. 

“Mrs. McKay, we’re from …” Glaucia began to explain.

“It’s Miss and I know, from the cameras, you’re from that TV show. I was told you were coming. My that’s a lovely shawl you have there Glaucia. I can call you Glaucia can’t I. I’ve read some of your articles in the Mystic Gazette. Is it from Richter’s. They make such lovely things there.”

“Yes, it is.” Glaucia answered.

“You must be Daniel James? You don’t look much like your father though. Then again, second-borns usually don’t. The first often do though. He’s passed away I gather.”

‘Yes but …” Dan began.

“Here, I’ve made us all some tea.” She stepped past Mike to the kitchen area of the trailer. “I baked scones. I do prefer the savoury ones, so I hope you don’t mind. It make them feel less like desserts. These are spinach and rosemary.” She put a tray on the coffee table.

Dan bit into one of the scones. It was still warm.

“You knew my Dad?”

“Not too well but he did come to McDonald Secondary for many years taking those student portraits. I only remember because the company that he sold out to sent such an idiot the next year. That man was a drunk. You know, he would show up smelling of alcohol at that time in the morning. He’d snap at the kids to behave when all they were doing was being kids. He only lasted that one year. So many of the schools complained. I don’t remember his name though. Your dad was so professional. Knew how to treat the children. I guess that came from being a father. It took us ages to get the pictures from the new company, too. They must that been sending them away to Scotland to be developed. Your Dad did his own work, most of the time, though maybe he sent stuff off too because there would have been thousands of him to look after so he wouldn’t have time, right.”

“Right.” 

“You certainly like lighthouses.” Glaucia admired the lighthouse sun-catchers in the window.

“Oh, yes, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to live in one.”

There were various lighthouses around the trailer. Paintings, throw cushions embroidered with them, door handles on the kitchen cabinets, woven into the rug, even the table lamp in the corner.

“I know, it’s such a Maritime cliche but so am I, really. The spinster school teacher who never went further than a hundred miles from where she was born. It’s not that I didn’t want to travel mind you but once I graduated with my license I thought this is where I needed to be. I had parents to look after anyway. Plus I really did like the children. I couldn’t imagine moving away to leave these families behind. I mean, I did get to know the families. Often taught the mother, the father then the children, then the children’s children. Goodness me I knew some of them better than their own relatives.”

“How do remember them all?” Glaucia nibbled at her scone.

“Oh Glaucia I don’t. I only remember these because of what happened to them. It was terrible. When school started again that year the other children were so … scared … I tried to get them to talk about it but, well, we didn’t have any way to offer them emotional support. Things have changed, haven’t they, with all those school shootings in the States. Why one of the girls in my class started crying one day. Turns out her family was moving to Arizona and she was afraid she’d get shot in school. Imagine.” She got up, brushing crumbs off her lap onto the floor. “Don’t worry making a mess. Cleaning up will give something to do later.” 

She went toward the back of the trailer. “I’ll get my file for you.”

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Picture Perfect 46

Picture Perfect 46

In the morning Dan packed his suitcase for the drive to their next location. Storm clouds overhead made him hope they could reach Wolfville before a real storm broke. He locked his stuff in the trunk of the car & went to the Waterside Diner for breakfast.

“The usual?” George called to him as he sat with Roberto in one of the window booths.

“Good morning Mr. James.” Roberto said.

Before he could answer Baxter came into the Waterside diner.

“What happened to you?” Dan asked rubbing his eyes.

“What do you mean?” Baxter asked.

Instead of his customary vivid green or purples with the latest in athletic footwear Baxter had on dark grey jeans with an equally toned down sweater, & conservative suede slip-ons. He’d even swapped his bright red framed glasses for solid black frames.

“Oh this?” Baxter gestured to his clothes. “We’re following up on the leads our ads have brought in. I know how to dress so as not to distract people. I even have a different business card for this persona.”

He handed Dan a plain white card with “Curtis Baxter, executive Producer Quintex Studios” printed on it.

“Not promoting Baxter Bits?” Dan said. “I am impressed.”

“I wish I could say the same about your interview yesterday.” Baxter sat at the table. 

“I thought you said it was smooth and went well.”

“It did. Too smooth. Too well. The editors in TO went over it & we, frankly, are very hard pressed to find anything in it.”

“In it?”

“We were expecting more of you studying the photographs & than saying ‘she’s very pretty.’ His dissing the RCMP is pretty tired stuff too.”

“I don’t know it was my job to script things for him to say?”

“I know I know but, fuck, there has to be more there, right?”

“You wanted me to sweat a confession out of him? This isn’t a hot pursuit crime show. It’s not COPS. Or were you expecting some sort of e.s.p trance as I wavy hand over the photos as I say ‘I sense of dark presence?’ That’s not how photo forensics works.”

“It’s not that but ..”

“I can’t make looking at a photograph more exciting than it is.”

“I realize that but I was expecting you to find more in them.”

“They were a bunch of very ordinary family photos. It’s not as if I was examining crime scene photos or ones being used for some sort of blackmail. They were ordinary photos of a family party. Of kids growing up. That’s all. None of them had visible bruises.”

“That’s not enough to keep the viewer interested.”

“Isn’t that the editors’ job? Oh! I suppose you expected me to see where the children were … to see the reflection of their abductor in their eyes? That would take more than the naked eye given the quality of those pictures, anyway.”

“Ooh that would be great. Or say, the perp lurking in the background of one of those party pictures. It is possible isn’t it? In a mirror, say? Even if there isn’t, you can act as if there is.”

“This is how reality gets rewritten so truth becomes irrelevant?”

“It has to be heightened in someway. Didn’t you pick up anything from handling those pictures?”

“Look, I can tell you lots of stuff, but none of it is relevant to why those kids disappeared. I can tell you things like the time of day the pictures were taken, what make of camera was used, possibly even the model. If there is a reflection in the children’s eyes it would be of the photographer not their abductor.”

“So who took these pictures?”

“According to Forestier it was a family friend. These were duplicates. They were taken by with ordinary Kodak. Trust me there wasn’t anything unexpected in them.”

“But surely you got some vibe from them?”

“I’m not the Long Island psychic Baxter. I’m a forensic photo examiner. Do you really know what that means? It is a science not e.s.p.”

“Okay, okay. I didn’t mean to get you riled. We expected more from you. Do you think Dad is holding anything back about what happened?”

“He seemed to be telling me everything he remembered. I believe him when he says he has no idea what happened. If he was implicated the RCMP would have found out.”

“Would they? They didn’t even know there were others. Did they?”

“They couldn’t have, according to the timeline of these cases. This was the first one. So they would have had nothing to connect it to.”

“Yes, but even so, when there were others, those dots still weren’t connected.”

“You just said ‘dissing the RCMP is pretty tired.’ Even today that sort of dot connecting can take time. Then they didn’t have the communication network we have today. Fax isn’t the same as Twitter. Besides these provincial divisions were more experienced with bootleggers than the abduction of children.”

“Okay, okay I get the picture.” Baxter’s cell phone rang. “Great! We’ll be over in five.” He turned it off. “Come on the War Room has finally arrived.”

“War room?” Dan followed him to the parking lot. There was a second, slightly larger cube van parked next to the one that housed the remote studio.

The driver came to the back, pulled a stairway out from under the chassis of the truck. He made sure it was firm then walked up it to roll up the back door of the cube. He stepped to one side and into the back of the truck gesturing for them to enter.

Dan followed Baxter up the stairs. Inside was a mock up of a police investigations room. One on wall was a map of the Maritime provinces with pins stuck at the various locations where children had gone missing, from each pin were drawn lines that lead to pictures of the children.

The pictures were spread across in the order of their reported disappearances. Under the pictures was pertinent information: their ages, exact dates of when they vanished, who lead the local investigations. On the other wall were the same pictures but with more information under each – descriptions of clothing, who saw them last, who of their families was still alive & willing to talk to Qunitex studios.

In the middle of the room was a conference table with six chairs around it. From the ceiling hung various cameras, lights. At the very front was a small control panel.

“Everything is done with the computer.” Baxter explained. “Voice and motion activated to follow what goes on in here.”

“And what will go on in here?” Dan sat at the table. The chairs were very comfortable. He could swivel in it but not move it. It was bolted to the floor. As was the table. In front of each chair, embedded the the table top was a tiltable touch screen. He glanced down at it and there he was looking back at himself. “Creepy.”

“This is where we’ll meet to discuss the day’s investigations. Things that we don’t want to discuss in front of the families.”

“But which they may get to see when the series gets broadcast?”

“If they follow the live vblog on line. Don’t let that keep you from saying what’s on your mind. Sometimes there can be as much drama here as out there. We’ve been broadcasting live since the door opened.”

“Who’ll be taking up the other seats?”

“I will, at times, to fill you in on what we learn from the tipsters. Stephanie most of the time. Any of the RCMP who are willing to appear with us and …” he pressed his cell. “Okay, Glaucia we’re ready for you.”

“Glaucia?” Dan asked?

“Dan you startled me when you said psychic earlier. For minute I thought you were one yourself. Ah …”

A thin, red-haired woman came up the stairway into the war room. She was taller than either Baxter or Dan. Minimal make up. Long, flowing skirt, mainly black with iridescent blues and red swirls, pale white blouse and a dark red, fringed shawl. She reached her hand out to Dan.

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Picture Perfect 38

Dan waited ten minutes for FairVista shuttle that dropped him off at the nearest subway station. One change, a streetcar ride and he was back at the Depot in less than an hour.

Maybe it was time to make the store completely independent of each other. The corporation originally only included the building and the Depot business. He’d have to check into that before the end of the business year so each could start a fresh in the new. 

The Depot was busy when he got there. They were having a night of quick sales. Fifty percent of certain items for only an hour. Different items every hour. Much like the trade-in sale, when customers felt they were saving big, they were willing to spend more than they intended. It was always rewarding to see the shelves empty and sometimes even to sell out on an item. The sort of sale that could never happen at FairVista. This sort of sale was considered déclassé at the high-end mall. The lease allowed for a Boxing Day sale with discounts of no more than 10%. Rather than give a discount his sister opted for a ‘we pay the tax’ special. Evading tax was in their millionaire clientele’s DNA.

An electronic bell sounded the time to change items. Some items had deliberately limited qualities that the display board would tick off as each was sold. 

Dan enjoyed the retail end of the business. Talking to people, slyly getting them to commit to more than they intended. He didn’t sell them extended service contacts, that he left to Ushio. Dan knew most people ever used them so he felt bad palming them off on them. If there was any repair work to be done it would fall to Ushio anyway.

The last sale bell went off at 10 p.m. This was the extra hour of savings where floor samples or slow products that had proved to be hard to sell ,but kept off the floor till now would be brought out. All offered at sixty per cent off. They’d lose a bit of money on some but that was always made up for by accessories like the perfect camera bag, or spare computer cable in case you lost the one that came with the camera.

His eyes began to ache by then and he was happy when the ten minute bell rang. If you hadn’t paid for your item by eleven you’d have to hope it showed up next year. They allowed an extra five minutes grace period.

Dan was setting the back security for The Depot by eleven-thirty. Bushed by the long day he wasn’t all that eager to go home to Sanjay. The rift in their relationship showed no sign of being healed over the past week. He half-hoped Sanjay wouldn’t be home.

“In a hurry?” A voice came from the nook behind him.

Dan spun around in a fighting stance. There had been more than one assault in that back lane.

“Who is it?”

A figure stepped into the light. It was Peter.

“Fuck, you trying to give me a heart attack?” Dan said.

“Sorry, sir.” Peter kept his eyes down. “I haven’t seen you at the Carafe the last couple of days.”

“I’ve been pretty busy. How is your Dad?”

“He’s well. I was afraid you were displeased with me, sir.”

“Save sir for the bedroom” Dan looked at the shadow on the nook. Was this a good time for catching some real action on the security camera. He glanced up at the camera. His eyes ached, his feet were tired from standing. No they’d do that another night.

“The Depot was super busy tonight.” Peter said.

“Too busy.” Dan rubbed around his eyebrows.

“I was afraid you were avoiding me at the Carafe. You’re usually in a couple of times a day.”

“Things got hectic.” He didn’t want to admit to Peter that he was right.

“Yes, Mr. James.” Peter stepped further into the light. “I … can I give you a lift, sailor?”

“Got room for this?” He lifted his bike briefly.

“We can find out.” Peter’s grin almost made Dan change his mind about getting nook footage. He had never posted himself on the V-Files.

With a little wrestle the bike fit into the back seat of the car. He was about to get in when a nearby parked car started and its headlight came on. Dan recognized it as it pulled up behind them and the passenger window wound down. The driver leaned out. It was Sanjay.

“I thought I’d come for you.” Sanjay said. “It looks like you are already been well taken care of.” Sanjay stopped the car and got out. “How are you tonight, Peter. It is Peter isn’t it?”

“Uh … yes.” Peter glanced from Dan to Sanjay. “But now that you are here you’ve saved me a trip.”

“Right.” Sanjay began to pull the bike out of Peter’s back seat. “My car is a better fit for this. We bought it with bikes in mind. Didn’t we, dear.”

“Cool,” Peter said.

Dan could see how bewildered Peter was. He was just as unsure of how to handle the situation.

“Thanks for the offer Peter.” Dan said.

“Any time Mr. James. At least any time I have my Dad’s car.” He got into his car and drove off.

“His Dad’s car.” Sanjay sniggered as he got back behind the wheel. “Sounds like a line out of some high school movie.”

“I suppose it does.” Dan got in the car. “But waiting outside in the dark to spy on what’s going on is out of an equally bad movie.”

“I was not spying. I had just pulled up and was waiting for you to come from the laneway with your bike when I saw Peter go back there. Is this were you usually meet your tricks?”

“I do not meet tricks period. Any where.”

“Yeah sure. With all the surveillance equipment ready for your next V-Files home movie. You do have quite a collection there. Mostly hetero though. That is a bit disappointing. I never suspected you might be bi. You aren’t bi are you?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not really. Here we are.” Sanjay pulled into their drive. “Home, not so sweet, home.”

They went into the house.

“I’m going to turn in.” Dan said.

“Any developments on the Quintex project?” Sanjay rubbed Dan’s shoulders.

“The proposal gets presented Monday morning to the Quintex people. If they like it, which is possible, then it’ll be a go.”

“Much of a time commitment?”

“You want to turn house into an air b’n’b while I’m out of town?” Dan joked.

“No. I’ve been so caught up in the restaurants I’ve lost track of what is going on in your half of our life.”

Dan moved away from Sanjay and sat on the couch to take off his shoes. He reached for the remote but changed his mind. He was too tired to relax in front of the TV. He pushed himself up front he couch and started up stairs.

“How long are we going to go on like this?” Sanjay stopped him at the bottom of the stairs. “We can’t live like miffed room mates like this for much longer. Avoiding each other in the morning.”

“If you aren’t here when I get up I can’t be avoiding you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“You not working up country this weekend?”

“I decided not to, not while we have things that have to be worked out.”

“Things like your buy in?”

“No!” Sanjay pulled Dan towards him.

“I’m tired. Really.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t have said that to your … what is he?”

“Your competition.” Dan laughed, as he shrugged out of Sanjay’s grip.

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Picture Perfect 1

1

“You’re not listening to me.” Sanjay took the remote from Dan and muted the TV.

“I was.” Dan grabbed the remote. “You said my sister had a good point.”

“But you are going to ignore her?” Sanjay tried to get the remote back before Dan could turn the sound back on.

“Some thing don’t change.” Dan  blocked Sanjay’s hand looked him in the eyes and kissed him. “If I had listened to her, we would not be together. You know she thought that you weren’t a point in my favour.”

“So you keep telling me.” Sanjay pushed Dan away from him, got up from the couch and stood in front of the TV.

“Sanj, If you want to distract me you’ll have to drop your drawers.”

“We’re talking a lot of money, Dan. A lot of money.”

“I’m not paying for you to drop them. Now, step away from the TV. I was watching something.”

“You’re always watching something when I want to talk to you. You’ve recorded this anyway, so you can go back to it.”

“You asked me to clear things off the pvr, remember. Now that I’m trying to, you want to talk me.” Dan hit pause. “You’re the reason I don’t think we need a cat.”

“What?”

“Cats ignore you until you are trying to do something and they are all over you and whatever you are trying to do.”

“You wish.”

“This is nearly over anyway. Ten minutes.” he unpaused. “Step aside?”

He pressed the back button to rewatch what he’d missed talking to Sanjay.

“What’s it about anyway?” Sanjay sat beside him.

“Missing kids on the east coast.”

“I should have known.”

“Yeah, everything is homework for … hey! That’s me!” Dan hit the pause button.

It was a photo of two boys on the front steps of a house. Arms over each other shoulders, grinning at the camera.

“You sure aren’t missing.” Sanjay said.

“Yeah yeah I know. It’s the other boy Timmy Dunlop. I guess.”

“Guess? I thought you were watching this.”

“You mean, trying to watch. My Dad took this picture. I remember it. It’s been years since I’ve seen it though.”

“Yeah, right. How many photographs have you seen?”

“Enough, but some you remember. I sort of had a crush on Timmy. We played doctor a couple of times. When we moved I kept hoping to hear from him but nothing.”

“I guess you know why now.” Sanjay stretched his arms over his head. “I’m heading for bed. I will leave you to your homework.”

Any reality show dealing with crime was considered Dan’s homework. He saw things in photographs that most didn’t see. His eyes had been trained to discover and recognized what might appear ordinary to the untrained eye.

He went back to the beginning of the program ‘Canada Cold’ that looked at cold cases across Canada. He’d worked such cases when he was with the RCMP and that had solidified his interested in them. This episode was about the disappearance of several children in the Maritimes in the mid-80’s. Dan had no recollection of this case at all. His family had moved when he was eleven, the same summer of these disappearances.

As he watched he jotted down the names and locations of the children. None struck a chord with him expect Timmy’s. The place name were familiar, Stellerton, Digby, Wolfville in Nova Scotia; Small Town & Port Something in New Brunswick. His Dad had been an itinerant photographer, “Photos By James”, who travelled from school to school, taking class pictures and individual portraits. For summer’s he would take the family with him, spending a day or two, or up to a week in various small towns. 

Dan pulled himself out his reflective daze. Replayed the ending of the show again and wrote down the number one was to call if they had any information. He’d call once he had found those photos. Stellerton had been one of the longer stays and one of the last as he recalled. 

They’d been there long enough for him to renew his friendship with some of the boys he’d palled around with the previous summer. His family left pretty quickly. He remembered being pretty pissed because the Happy Hippo Carnival had just set up and he wanted so badly to go it. 

Moving to Toronto wasn’t as important to him then as seeing the sideshows. Even his sister was nosily disappointed, but that was because she was seeing some guy their mother didn’t approve of. He figured that was why they were really moving and for years blamed her for ruining his childhood.

“You coming up or am I coming by myself?” Sanjay called from the top the stairs.

In the morning Dan ate without noticing what he was eating. His folks must have known about Timmy disappearing. Why hadn’t they told him. He’d written Timmy letters from Toronto but never got a reply. Did those ever get mailed? 

“He must have been something special?” Sanjay nudged Dan’s shoulder as he offered to refill his coffee cup.

“Who?” Dan waved the coffee away. “I’ve had enough.”

“The lad in the picture. You are thinking about him, aren’t you?”

“Some, but more about why I didn’t know what happened until now. I was so heartsick about him but I let my folks think I was homesick for Cape Breton.”

“How old were you?”

“Only eleven.”

“Still carrying that flame?”

“No! I haven’t really thought about Timmy or those days until last night. I’m surprised I recognized his face.”

“It was yours that you recognized first.”

“Yeah, well, there were so few pictures of me, I mean just of me, without Linda lurking in the background. She invented photo bombing because they was no way Dad could take a picture if she was around without her getting in on it. Nearly all my baby pictures show either her or my mother holding me.”

“So, that’s when the rivalry started.”

“Oh yeah, I wasn’t out of the womb before she was making sure she got as much attention as she could. I better get going. Time to open shop. I’m seeing Warszawa this afternoon. I’ll ask him what he thinks I should do.”

“The RCMP do come in handy sometimes.”

“You working today?”

Sanjay was a pastry chef at two different restaurants and Dan was never sure which one he was working at on which day. Neither was Sanjay somedays.

“If I was I’d been gone by now, right?”

“No. You work evenings more and more.”

“Miss me?”

“You know I do.” He pulled Sanjay tight for a long kiss.

“Today’s the day the animal people are coming. Raccoon in the eaves.”

“Right. What’s that going to cost us I wonder.”

“At least a week of night shifts for me.”

“And two high-end digitals for me.”

“I thought your sister had that commission market cornered.”

“So she does but you know what I mean.”

Dan finished his coffee.

“I’ll be biking today so you can use the car.”

He leaned over Sanjay, kissed him while sliding one hand down his chest to squeeze his partner’s balls.

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