Picture Perfect 125 

Picture Perfect 125

As Dan regained consciousness he was blindfolded in a dim room. He was bound at the ankles to a chair, his hands were bound behind him. He knew the binding were flex cuff zips. He was naked except for his underwear. No socks no shoes. The floor under his feet was wooden. The rank smell of the Nova Convergent Centre was unmistakable. He heard a man behind him swearing.

“Damn! Damn! How the hell does this thing work.”

He couldn’t turn around to see who was behind him. He recognized the voice.

“Troy?” He said. “Is that …”

“Shut up, Mr. James.” A woman in front him said. “If you know what’s good for you. You’ve said enough already. Too much.”

“Janice?” Dan said. “What’s going on?” He tried to move the chair.

“Get him to tell how his damn fancy camera of his works.” Troy demanded.

“Finger print activated.” Dan said. He tried to move the blindfold by farrowing his eyebrows. The zip ties were cutting his circulation but tight enough that he couldn’t slip out of them

“Cool.” Troy grabbed Dan’s hand & began pressing each of the fingers to the start button until the camera beeped on. “Thanks.”

“We couldn’t take any chances that you had hidden cameras.” Janis said. “I know what you people are like. No respect for people’s privacy, for their sensitivities. You only wanted to exploit their heartbreaks.”

“Why?” Dan asked. “Why children?”

“To save them from men. Men who were compelled by their testosterone to to use them. Men like Winston Chamberlain. Like his father before him. As if being men gave them to right to take what they wanted.”

“How …” Dan shuddered as he felt something slither over his naked feet. 

“Keep still Mr. James.” Janis replied. “They alarm easily.”

“We lured the children so easily. What kid wouldn’t want to go the circus for free. Get free rides. Cora knew what venom to use to ease them out of this dangerous life.”

Dan saw a suddenly flash around the edge of his blindfold.

“Dammit Troy. Put that camera away.”

He heard a slap then the sound of his camera hitting the wall & falling to the ground.

“Ma! You better not have broken it.” Troy whined.

“I’ll break you.” Janis said. “Put it down now.”


He heard them tussle. He tilted his chair back enough to slip his feet from the chair legs. 

“Stop it Troy. Right now.” Janis commanded. “What was that?”


“Be quiet.”

Dan could hear movement from the lobby behind him. The lights in the room went out.

The door behind him opened. Dan shook his head to loosen the blindfold. It slid enough for him to see over the upper edge.

“Dan? Are you in here? Are you okay?”

It was Peter. The room was flooded with light. His blindfold was abruptly pulled off.

“What …?” Dan asked. He blinked in the light & looked around the room. There was no one there.

“How do I open these?” Peter fumbled with the zip ties around his wrists. “I was about five minutes down the road when I saw you left your shoulder bag on the car seat. I turned around & saw you drive off in a van & figured you & Costner were headed some place.” 

Dan flexed his hand as one of the zip ties came loose.

“I got your phone & called her to let you guys know I was right behind you. She was puzzled & we realized it wasn’t her that had called you in Toronto.”

“It was …” Dan started answer when the lights went off plunging them back into darkness.

“It was me.” A voice said in the dark, it changed to a whispered lower pitch. “‘Winston Chamberlain’s body has been found about an hour ago.’ You are as smart as the RCMP. Fooled them then & fooled you now. You were so eager for the lure you came running after it.”

The lights around the altar came on. Janie was wearing her ceremonial robe, as was Troy. A third robed figure was sitting on a chair behind the altar.

“What’ll we do ma. He was all we were expecting to deal with.”

“Same story Troy. They broke in & the snakes got’em. We’ll start with you first.” She stepped closer to Peter & a snake slithered out of her sleeve. It darted directly at Peter & bit his cheek. He collapsed to the ground. His body shuddered was still. 

Dan stood & holding the chair as best he could he swung it at Janis. It hit her on the shoulder & sent her into Tory & they both fell to the floor. He quickly released the remaining zip tie to free his other hand. 

He stooped to check Peter’s neck pulse. There was none.

A kick sent him sprawling into a row of the churche’s chairs.

“Troy bring him here.”

Dan rolled over & saw Troy standing over him with a nylon noose that he slipped quickly over Dan’s head. 

“Comes in handy when we have to deal with the bigger snakes.” Troy said giving the noose a yank. “Now get up”

Dan steadied himself on one of the chairs & push himself up slowly. He had to divert Janis & Troy long enough for Costner to arrive. 

He said the first thing that came to his mind. “You killed Cora didn’t you?”

“Oh! Mr. Smart knows more than he’s telling us.” She shouted. “Yes, I did. Another death no one suspected. I was the only one visiting her at the unwed mothers. Unwed mothers. Give me a break. Girls who were abused by men who refused to face the responsibility of their acts. Yes. Once the baby was born she was going to give it up for adoption but I made sure she died before she could.”

“Troy’s not your son, he’s her’s.” Dan said.

“What of it? She wanted to abort him, you didn’t know that, did you.”

“Your husband, too? Or were you ever married to any AuCoin.”

“That fat ass. He didn’t see the scripture as clearly as I did. He wanted to run things his way. I was guided to release the spirit of that millstone.”

“You …. You … aren’t my mother!” Troy gasped & let go of the cord around Dan’s neck.

“She was going against the will of the spirit.”

Dan pulled the noose from around his neck. There was blood on his hands from where it had cut into his skin.

Janis spread her arms wide and a snake came out from each sleeve. 

“It is time Mr. James.” She stepped toward him.

“No.” Troy grabbed her by the waist and turned her around. They stumbled to behind the altar & knocked the figure that had been watching them. Its hood fell back. It was Winston Chamberlain.

The two snakes fell to the ground. One of them slithered directly at Dan. He grabbed for one of the chairs & swung it at the snake but missed. It darted at him. The white cobra darted out of the dark to strike at it. The two snakes wrapped around each other.

“Look, see!” Troy shouted to his mother. “See. He is protected. The spirit is with him, mother, with him.”

The cobra released the other snake & turned to Janis.

She dropped to her knees before it, pulled open her robe. 

“Yes, spirit I am ready for you to take me. I have erred but only to further your work on here.”

The snake reared up to strike.

Dan grabbed the noose cord & slipped it over the cobra’s hood & pulled it away from her.

“You aren’t getting out of this that easily.” He said.

“Ma, the spirit wants you to face the consequences.” Troy said. “Thank you.” He knelt before Dan & placed Dan’s free hand on his head. “Thank you. Thank You, blessed one. Thank you.”

Dan heard sounds from the entrance. 


It was Corporal Costner.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

He took a deep breath.

“Yes Corporal Coster. I have things well in hand.”

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Picture Perfect 120 

Picture Perfect 120

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

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

“Amen.” several of the attenders said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Are you okay.” Peter held him steady.

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

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

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Picture Perfect 119  

Picture Perfect 119

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

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

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

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

“Which first?” Cameron asked.

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

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

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

“You’ve seen the news.” He said.

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

“Yes. Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

“What?” Cameron asked.

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

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

“Nova Convergent Centre?” Peter asked.

“Snake handlers. You know …”

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

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

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

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

“Whatever.” Dan laughed.

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


“Take me with you, sir, please.” 

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

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

“Material witness!”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh!” Jen said.

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

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

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

Cameron hefted his camera to his shoulder.

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

“I understand.”

Organ music began to play from inside the building.

“Come the service is about to start.”

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

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

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

Jennifer took a deep breath.

“You sensing something?” Dan asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Historically correct Jesus.” Peter said quietly.

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

“Once again Baxter would approve.” Dan said.

“Stop!” Jennifer giggled.

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

Janis nodded to the organist who stopped playing.

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Picture Perfect 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.”


“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?”


“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.”


“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.”


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?”


“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.”


“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 79

Picture Perfect 79

As the picture of him with Timmy faded to montage of the other missing child there was a gentle guitar with an equally gentle fiddle mixed in with it by the last child. A song started ‘I never knew him

he was long gone/before I came along/they were all long/before I came along.’ The song faded out to him sitting on the front steps of the Wickham Arms.

“This is where that photograph was taken. Timmy sat right here beside me.” The camera moved to the empty space beside him, after a moment a ghostly image of Timothy Dunlop appeared sitting there.

“Holy shit!” Dan said to Peter. “That gave me goose bumps. I didn’t know they were going to do stuff like this. I like the show even more now!”

The image faded away and Dan on TV continued. “Before I tell you what we’re doing let’s go back to the Canada Cold episode where I saw this image.”

The screen faded & the episode of Canada Cold began.

He pressed the record button on the remote & turned the TV off.

“You not interested?” Peter said.

“I’ve seen it.” Dan laughed lightly. 

“Well, I haven’t.” Peter turned the TV back on and put the remote behind his back.

“I had a repeat of something else in mind.” Dan kissed Peter & tried to get at the remote.

“No, you don’t.” Peter tried to squirm away.

“No, you don’t, SIR.” Dan forced the arm Peter was holding the remote from behind his back.

“Sorry, sir.” Peter relinquished the remote.

“That’s more like it.” Holding Peter’s gaze Dan realized his feelings for Peter were more than fuck buddy friendly. The young man wasn’t just a convenient house sitter but someone he looked forward to being with when he was in Toronto.

“Would you like to live here?”

“I am now, aren’t I.”

“I mean not as a house-sitter but as …”

“Your boyfriend!” Peter stood up wide-eyed. “I … I’d have to talk it over with my dad. He counts me, you know. Are you serious? I was, well, I was sure this was just …uh … something fun for a couple of months.”

“So did I but …”

“Okay. I’ll do it. Wait …” He sat again. “Are you trying to distract from the TV?”

“No!” Dan turned the TV back on.

“Sir. I don’t think I can concentrate on it anymore. I’m going to take a cold shower.”

“I’ll join you.”

After their shower Dan went to the TV & zipped through the Canada cCold broadcast to the credits at the end to see who was mentioned in them. He was disappointed not to see Jackson Meade acknowledged but there was thanks to The Atlantic Sentinel for their assistance. 

When ‘I never knew him he was long gone’ started up again Dan almost turned the TV but Kevin McLeod’s face loomed at the camera. 

“Stayed tuned at 9 for our live broadcast & to find out how Sally Sewell & yours truly wrote ‘Long Gone’ which not only won a Juno & a Grammy & is now the theme for Maritime Mysteries.”

“It’s almost 9! We have to see this, sir.” Peter said. “Please.”

“Kevin McLeod! Well, I’ll be.” Dan said.

“You know Kevin?”

“I worked on a couple of his videos. Post production stuff mostly. Some green screen. We almost did his wedding shoot at Pride this past summer but his label insisted on some big name rock photographer.”

“You sound more relieved than disappointed.”

“Let’s just say I’m not the Pride type. Too much hype & not enough shade.” Dan turned the pvr off & switched back to the actual broadcast. 

‘Behind the Mystery’ flickered across the screen ‘with John Kilpatrick’ underneath it.

“John Kilpatrick here live at Cora’s Place in Stellerton, Nova Scotia with Kevin McLeod & Sally Swell.”

John was sitting at a table, over his shoulder was Kevin & Sally on stage performing ‘Long Gone.’ Kevin playing an acoustic guitar & Sally a fiddle accompanied by a guy tapping a sort of handheld drum.

“What’s he playing?” Peter asked.

Dan consulted his phone. “I think it’s called a bodhram.”

“Thank you, sir.”

When they finished the song Kevin & Sally put their instruments down & came over the table to join John.

“First let me congratulate both of you on your Juno & Grammy wins.”

“Thanks John.” Kevin said. “It’s always great to get that sort of recognition. Just don’t call me this generation’s Bryan Adams.”

“Truly.” Sally said. “I’m definitely not the reincarnation of Anne Murray either. For one thing she’s still alive. Right?”

“You should know, Sally. You lured her back into the studio for a duet on your album.” John said holding up the CD case of the album. “So tell me how did you two come to write this song about David McPherson?”

“I was looking to do something outside of my usual hard rock box.” Kevin said. “I knew Sally was doing an lp of duets & I thought it was time to get back to my Celtic roots.’”

“I had the idea for the song last year. Before I knew anything about the cold case show.” Sally explained. “David was a decade before I was born so I didn’t really know much about him other than he sort of disappeared one day. My Gran used to scare us into being good & staying close to the house by warning us about how this kid went out to play one day & never came back.”

“Did she say what happened to him?” John asked.

“No. As I got older I didn’t really believe her, you know, I thought it was just some made up ghost story to keep us kids quiet. Once when I teased her about making it up she did say something about the Snake Man would get my tongue.”

“Snake Man!” Kevin laughed. “You never told me that when we were working on the song.”

“Did you know anything about David McPherson when you were still living on the east coast?” John asked.

“Not really. I was so wrapped up with being queer that I didn’t pay any attention to the news.”

Dan grabbed his note pad & scribbled down ‘snake man.’ As he wrote it got goosebumps.

“Something important?” Peter asked.

“I’m not sure. I just hope John has enough sense to follow up on snake man.”

When he saw that the interview was about their up-coming tour he became impatient.

“I think it’s time for you to treat us to another number.” John said.

As the camera followed them to the stage Dan saw that Stephanie Carter was at one of the tables. He got his Quintex phone & texted her. “We must talk. ASAP.”

A few moments later she replied. “Can’t it wait until this is over?”

“No! Get John to follow up on snake man.”

He saw her go over the table & kneel beside John who shook his head.

“He says to tell that asshole this is his interview.”

The song was over. Stephanie stood & walked over to Sally. The cell Dan was holding buzzed.

“Hello.” He answered.

On the screen Stephanie was handing her phone to Sally.

“There’s an important call for you Sally.”

Sally looked confused for a moment & took the phone.

“If you want this to go live on air press star three times.” Stephanie said.

She did. “Hello? Sally Sewell here.”

“Hi Sally this is Dan James chief investigator for Maritime Mystery.”


“Sorry to interrupt like this but something you said might be of some importance to the case. What can you tell us about snake man?”

“The snake man?” Sally gave a nervous laugh. “As best as I remember there was this old creepy guy who came around various farms to buy rabbits, piglets & the like to feed his snakes?”

“His snakes?” Dan asked.

“There was some snake museum for the tourists I guess & the snakes liked live … Oh God this sounds horrible. I never gave it much thought.”

“Thanks, Sally, You’ve told me enough, our team can take it from there. Back to you John.” He clicked his phone off.

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Picture Perfect 51

Picture Perfect 51

Dan could smell popcorn even before he had opened the front door of the Maritime Circus Museum. As he opened the door, calliope music announced his entry. Man, that must get irritating for the people who work here, he thought.

The inside lobby was a ceiling to floor front of a circus tent – a ticket booth in the middle, a partially opened tent flap, & two large canvas posters on either side of the ticket booth. They had to be at least twelve foot high. The ones on the left were for ‘Cora! Queen of the King Cobras’ – it showed a wide-eyed, smiling woman clad like a bellydancer, charming a king cobra by staring into its eyes. ‘Cora can charm the most dangerous of poisonous snakes. Think of what she can do with mortal man.’

Beside it was one for ‘Sharko – The Fish Man’  A thin man in bathing trunks was half twisting to show the fin on his back, his legs were covered with scales and there appeared to be gills under his jaw. ‘See his scales, his fin. Watch as he dives deep and stays underwater longer than humanly possible.’

On the other side were posters touting first, ‘Fireball.’ It showed a man putting a flaming touch into his mouth. He was wearing a flame painted costume with a what appeared to a lighting bolt of flame flashing from his crotch. Beside the ‘Fireball’ was one for ‘Madama Cabanalla’: a Gypsy woman staring out at him with a crystal ball floating over her palms. ‘Madama Cabanalla sees all! Tells all!’

A sign on the ticket booth invited him to ring for service. An arrow pointed to a rope that he followed with his eyes as it went through a series of pulleys to a fire-station type bell on the wall behind him. A group came in the door as he was about to pull the rope. Two adults and six children.

Dan pulled the bell rope. The alarm rang loudly for a minute and then res & yellow balloons shot up from the roof of the ticket booth with a loud bang. The children screamed and laughed. Dan shook his head in amazement.

A man dressed in a red blazer, with a striped yellow vest and black check pants stepped out from the tent entrance.

“Welcome! Welcome.” He reached his hand out to one of the adults. The adult was leery and squinted as if expecting a hand buzzer as they shook hands. Nothing happened.

“Welcome one and all to Chamberlain’s Maritime Circus Museum. I am Winston Chamberlain. The Happy Hippo Travelling Circus has been in my family for several generations since 1899 when Grant and Isabelle Hill started it. It toured the Eastern Provinces changing with the times over the years until it could no long keep up with the times.”

“You are free to explore the exhibits and the grounds as you want to for free, or you can take a guided tour with ME.” He pulled a bouquet of flowers out of his coat sleeve and presented it to one of the young girls in the family group. “The cost of the tour is your soul … just kidding. It’s a mere $10.00 each.”

“How long will that take?” One of the adult asked. “An hour.” Winston answered. “An hour you will never forget.”

“Can we Daddy?” one of the children asked. “Can we?”

“Is there a children’s rate?” The man asked.

“Only if their feet never touch the ground.” Winston answered. “And their hands don’t touch an exhibit, unless instructed to.”

Dan laughed at Winston’s spiel. He saw that it disarmed the parents of the children, who reluctantly paid the admission fee. 

“And you kind sire?” Winston asked Dan.

“I think I’ll explore a bit first. It might be quieter.”

“I hear you.” Winston nodded. “If you want the printed guide to the exhibits that’ll be $5. Which you can pay to my lovely assistant right though here.”

He lifted the tent flap wider and tied it back so they all could enter.

“That included with the tour Mac?” The dad asked.

“Nope.” Winston said. “But you each do get a free bag of popcorn.”

Dan went into the tent and bought the guide. The assistant was an automation pirate that dropped the booklet down a slot & out into his waiting hand. The museum was divided into several areas. One that dealt with the history of it, one that had a display of the various flyers, posters, costumes; another that devoted the various carnival games and food; in an out door area were rides dating back to the first years of the circus. Not all of them were functional and the ones that were would cost $10.00 each to ride or any three for $20.00.

“We’ll start with the Carnival Food Fair,” Winston said to the family, who were joined by several other people. 

Dan went in the opposite direction to the first of the exhibit rooms. The guide book gave a concise time line of the carnival, explained the difference between a carnival and a circus. A circus always had animals, lions, tigers; always had performs like clowns, trapeze or tumblers; rarely had rides. Whereas a carnival had more games of chance; rides; some would have freak sideshows such as The Fish Man; large ones might have simple animal acts like dogs or the occasional snake charmer like Cora. Animals always slowed down travel time and over the years were phased out as the rides became a bigger draw.

The exhibit hall Dan went into had a map of the Maritime provinces filling one wall. There were different coloured and sized circus flags representing the decades and places various carnivals had traveled to when they were on tour. The Happy Hippo was the only one based the wartime’s but a couple of the bigger ones, like the Conklin, sent touring midways to Halifax every summer. The larger the flag the more frequently it visited a particular town or city. 

Some would get an annual visit, others every two or three years. It would rarely stay longer than a week at any one place unless there some other festival or event going on at the same time. 

There where three Happy Hippo touring shows. Dan hadn’t realized this before. He’d always assumed that there was just the one he recalled from his childhood. Each of them had different rides, games of chance. The larger the town or city the larger the carnival would be, hence the three different shows. It also meant three of them could be on the road at the same time and participate in more than one local festival at a time.

There was a computer interface with the map where one could input year, month and see what locations which show was performing. It would also tell you what rides, sideshows and specials where appearing with it, how long it stayed. But not how much money it made.

Dan typed in the month they had left for Toronto. All three shows were on the road. The one nearest Stellerton was the smaller number 3. It played in Truro the week before and had moved on the day after his family left. He saw that a Madam Cabanalla was featured in all three shows. So there must have been more than one of her. Though perhaps her psychic power allowed her to appear in three places at the same time. He’d have to ask Glaucia if the was possible. The Truro special was Cora Queen of the King Cobras in the Court of King Tut. He took pictures of the various pages before they disappeared.

Was Cora why he was so disappointed in not getting to the circus that last weekend? He had been so into Tut that summer for some reason. Following links on the computer screen he found a flyer for that area’s carnival. It also said that the actual flyers could be found in Exhibit Hall two. He consulted he guide to see where that hall was.

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