Authors: William Deverell
Tags: #General Fiction
The pact of silence between Stairs and Sanchez has been broken. They wilted after being threatened with public mischief, with aiding and abetting by their silence. The watchman and the maid confessed to having been in her room, between the sheets, on the night of the double murder. Regularly, late in the evening, Sanchez lets Stairs in through a back door.
But Stairs has betrayed me to DeWitt, telling him I was asking about specific dates. He hadn’t thought there was anything wrong in that – they’d been chatting one evening, and Lyall had asked a few questions. An awareness that the boss’s son is of interest to the police has finally penetrated the thickness of Stairs’s skull, but too late.
It was Dotty who urged me to take this extended holiday – these guys were capable of anything, she said, they might evade detection, commit bloody piracy on the
. It hadn’t escaped me that another factor had influenced Grundy to copy
the script of Victoria’s novel – it was a means of taunting the author’s son, his nemesis, his trustee, his prospective jailer.
I hadn’t intended to call Sally – we haven’t talked since I spotted her leaving Cousineau’s apartment – but since I’d prevailed upon Churko to cover my former home around the clock, I had to let her know.
I was official and grave, biting back my despair. I gave her a resumé of recent events. I told her there’d be an unmarked police vehicle outside her house. I urged her to keep her antennae tuned for danger. I’d be spending a few days on this training run. When I ran out of pronouncements, there was a momentary silence.
“You know,” she said.
“Sure. Take care.”
I had to hang up for fear I would disassemble. A dream of her came back, her words:
Even if I’m bad, you’ll always be my friend, won’t you?
Once again, I found myself struggling for the courage to admit I’d lost her, that she’s better off without me. To accept is to heal. To forgive is to heal. But can I really do that? Cousineau! How insulting, how demeaning.
When the phone rang a few minutes later, I thought, hoped, it was Sally with more to say. It was Vivian.
“Timothy? Oh, thank God. Don’t hang up,
. If I take that polygraph, it will only get you in deeper, so I have an idea. We tell them we’re seeing each other socially. If we’re having a romance, that puts the whole thing in a different light …”
I hung up and went for sushi.
A moon is out, weaving ghostly patterns. The lights of a village flash by. A glimpse of a boy at a second-storey window, waving at whoever will wave back. I think of Lyall blowing the kiss. Now comes an illuminated billboard advising the wages of sin is death – it brings back the worst of my nightmares. It
came after that night’s dinner of slightly tainted tuna in the sushi, complicated by withdrawal pangs.
I’m standing in a meadow. A fortress fills the horizon, a mental hospital – I can hear the cries of the distressed from within. (No … now as I reflect, that was no meadow but a pitch-and-putt course, and the forbidding structure represented the manse of The Tides.)
I’m frightened when I see, rising from the gloom, men in white robes smeared with blood. They’re coming toward me. I run for the nearby trees, but my flight is sluggish, and I realize my feet are tangled in rope; there are ropes everywhere, around my ankles, my wrists, my neck, and I become horribly aware that they’re meant for me, for my hanging …
I exploded from sleep to find my sheet tangled about my neck. I stilled the tremors and took my bearings. I was in my bunk in the
, the boat rocking silently in the wake of a passing boat.
It was easy enough to connect the dream to the hanging death in
When Comes the Darkness
. But my mind was racing beyond that: I was buffeted by a deep sense that a hanging had actually occurred.
I thought back, a week ago, to my encounter with Grundy and Lyall at The Tides. I’d picked up something from them, from the very smell of them – the hint of a fresh kill? I couldn’t get rid of the notion; it was itching at me, flitting like a bat in the dark caves of forgotten nightmares.
I played with words from this nightmare: rope, hang, tree. Hadn’t Grundy and Lyall said something similar? Seemingly innocuous words maybe, but used because they’d been rattling about in their minds following a significant event. Then it came to me, a word association that might win the applause of Freud himself. When I surprised Grundy at The Tides, his response had been this:
What are you doing in this neck of the woods?
And later, Lyall DeWitt’s offhand remark:
You plan to hang around much
Neck, hang, woods … They had committed another murder, by hanging, probably in a wooded area.
The heat I’d sensed emanating from them came not from sexual lust but the lust of murder. That was the reason Grundy begged off seeing me that day: they’d just returned from the kill, and planned to celebrate with Löewenbräus and Jossie Markevich.
Why had no body been found?
I imagined Churko trying to follow my thought processes, grappling with psychoanalytic deduction, free association, the concept of sense-perception. Maybe he’d buy into it, though. He hires soothsayers.
I told him anyway, the next morning in his office. I’d been proved right before, so he wasn’t prepared to scoff.
“Read my mind, Doc. It’s asking, Where’s the body? Where’s the opportunity? Grundy was in school that day.”
Investigators had already established that on that Thursday, the second day of October, he attended two hour-long classes at SFU, an eight-thirty and a ten-thirty. Lyall DeWitt was likely on campus too. He’s been allowed to audit a physical education course to fill time while he waits for Grundy. Otherwise, he usually stays in the van or drives aimlessly about.
Churko said if I turned out to be right he’d back me to the tune of two hundred dollars in
le prix de Okanagan
. But I couldn’t persuade him to send search parties into the forest that surrounds the university.
It is midnight, and our train has just pulled out of Ashcroft after taking on a young woman, now seated across the aisle, piercings and tattoos, a small pack. She has pulled out a fat novel, a romance saga. Maybe she’s off to pick fruit in the Okanagan orchards.
Victoria hadn’t lied about that part …
I’m sure, Allis, you’ve concluded I begged off talking about Peter because I wasn’t able to grapple with Victoria’s many
versions of him – I could never be sure if she’d embroidered a rhapsodic version of her lakeside romance, but I was satisfied with that, wasn’t interested in hearing a less palatable version.
Let’s get into it then. Let us go to the Victoria’s little house in Grandview. Saturday evening.
I bundled my groceries into the kitchen, where Victoria was perched on a stool beside a nearly overflowing ashtray, a wreath of smoke around her. She was fidgeting, seemed anxious. (As was I: this was my second day of abstinence.)
I had no intention of raising the issue of the copycat killings or her novel’s unintended role in them. That would put her even more on edge. Instead, I opened by asking how her romance with the mountain climber was faring.
“We’ve gotten beyond base camp.”
Victoria said they were planning to spend the long weekend in a mountain chalet. I wanted to meet this arts producer, to size him up. I’m trying not to judge: he may be the right man for her. If so, I don’t intend to be the pebble in the shoe of this romance.
I found a large pot, arranged my working space.
“I hope you know what you’re doing. I didn’t raise my son to be a cook.”
“I think you’ll find this very interesting. What gives it uniqueness is the Pernod.”
I fussed about, washing my hands, finding pots and utensils. Victoria chain-lit a cigarette.
“You’ve got two packs worth of butts in that ashtray.”
“Please don’t lecture.”
There was no point in stalling. “Victoria, it’s time I was taught the facts of life.”
“So says your shrink. Very attractive woman. I suspect her interest in you goes beyond the professional, by the way. She dropped a bomb on me – it seems I’ve been lying to protect myself, not you. I’m sorry, Tim, I haven’t rehearsed this very well.”
“Like a drink?”
“No, I’ll just get soused.”
I opened a beer for myself. While I cooked she talked, staring at her hands, fiddling with her cigarettes, occasionally glancing at me for my reaction.
“I thought my stories about Peter would help you feel good about yourself. I suffered so much mothering guilt, Dr. Epstein says, guilt about having brought you into the world fatherless, guilt that I wasn’t there for you a lot, guilt at working, studying, writing, when I should have been with you. There was love, there was always that, but I felt I hadn’t been a great mother. Once, some kids locked you in a trunk when I was upstairs writing. You don’t remember that, you were very little, but I was a long time finding you, and you were extremely upset. I lived with that, and I hated myself …”
“I remember it, Victoria. It wasn’t your fault.”
Her shoulder bag was sitting beside her, and she reached into it and produced her old diary.
“I went back into that old trunk the other day.”
“I thought you lost the key.”
“I hid it from you. Some notes about my night with Peter are in here. I’m afraid that what I told you … well, I embellished the truth a little, Tim.”
“Okay, I can handle it.” Was I being honest?
“I was in the Okanagan, picking peaches, trying to earn enough for school – your grandparents were helping with money too. But basically, I was playing a fairly stock part for the times, hippie chick, peace and vibes, sex and drugs, rock and roll. I was discovering life, gorging on it – I was free, I was cool, I was seventeen.”
Her work in the orchards done, money in her pocket, Victoria hitchhiked to Nelson to attend a rock concert in a baseball park. That’s where she met Peter.
“I was attracted to him. He was tall and sinewy and handsome, if you can forgive the scraggly beard. He’d been hanging around third base, surrounded by girls, and I thought, Who is
this guy – some kind of movie star? When I got closer, I realized he was hawking grams of hashish.”
When he was finally alone, she came up behind him and said in a low voice, “You’re busted.” He froze, started running, glanced behind, then stopped abruptly when he saw Victoria laughing. They talked, connected. He said she was the most beautiful creature he’d met since escaping prison. At first, she thought the prison reference was a joke.
“I don’t know how old he was, early twenties. He was American, from Portland. A deserter, he went AWOL. His story’s all in here, I wrote it down. Don’t read the poems.”
For God’s sake, I thought, a dope dealer, an army deserter, and, if his initial reaction of running from Victoria meant anything, a coward.
“Pete, he called himself, though I preferred Peter. I don’t think he wanted me to know his last name – he was, to put it bluntly, wanted by the law, at least in the States. He lived in the Kootenay Valley. Just hanging around and moving about, he said. Currently, he was following a band called Brain Damage from town to town.”
“A local version of the Grateful Dead.”
A smarmy entrepreneur, a rock-and-roll tent-follower setting up shop at every stop. My recurring dream came back. The town square, the longhairs playing music on the bandstand, their scraggly beards hiding the different faces of Timothy Dare. The smell of marijuana.
“Did he play a banjo?”
Victoria almost jumped. “Yes. My God, where did
She looked puzzled, shook it off, continued: “We got on like a damn volcano. We went for a walk by the lake, and we … Well, we got stoned on his hash, and I invited him into my sleeping bag.”
Proof that the product of their union was damaged – high-THC spermatozoid cell meets high-THC egg, creating an unstable life form.
“And we tripped.” She waited for me to respond.
“Tripped, darling. On
“Four hundred micrograms a hit.” While Brain Damage played on.
I stopped stirring the bouillabaisse. “Victoria, can I ask you another question?”
“Was this before or after I was conceived?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want the clinical details? I can’t remember the number of times we made love.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Willingly, on your part?”
“Of course. My God,
She seemed astounded by the question.
I’m relieved that Victoria wasn’t raped, but the truth was harsh enough. I was conceived during a hallucinogenic high, my two fusing cells ripped on eight hundred micrograms of acid. It is a miracle that I’m not a drooling ghoul with five eyes.
“He was bright, Tim. He had his B.Sc. He wasn’t a medical student, but he hoped to be one. I had a backgammon set in my pack, and we played it, and he beat me – I thought I was a bit of an expert. He was politically committed. He got fairly garrulous, and began telling me his history. He’d joined the U.S. Marines, and he was politicized in Vietnam. After he made the run to Canada, he helped organize an underground group helping draft dodgers cross the border. He was selling pot to finance it.”
As I doled out the bouillabaisse, I found myself softening to Peter – he was anything but a coward, held ideals that I didn’t find unworthy. Victoria had told her story cleverly, the bad news first, the psychedelic impregnation that she’d gone to such pains to withhold. I understood now why she shied from the subject while I was in my teens.
Victoria and Peter parted the next day. She had to return to Vancouver, to register at
. Peter was heading off to the bush, the undefended border, to smuggle in a couple of Californians. He offered no forwarding address, though Victoria gave him hers.