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Authors: Judith Alguire

Pleasantly Dead

Pleasantly Dead

Judith Alguire

Doug Whiteway, Editor

© 2009, Judith Alguire

Print Edition ISBN 9781897109373

Ebook Edition, 2011

ISBN 9781897109-68-7

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, without the permission of the publisher.


Cover design by Doowah Design.

Photo of Judith Alguire by Taylor Studios.


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Manitoba Arts Council for our publishing program.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Alguire, Judith, 19–

Pleasantly dead / Judith Alguire.

I. Title.

PS8551.L477P53 2009 C813’.54 C2009-905736-0

Signature Editions

P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3M 3S7

To my dog, Bob.


The prison infirmary looked like heaven; the fluorescent lights reflected off the pure white walls, creating an aura that even the suggestion of an old man’s urine couldn’t desecrate.

Frank Conway lay propped up on three pillows, his nose skewed by nasal prongs. The hairs on his forearms seemed to have sucked out his strength, taking on a life of their own. They twisted long and dark against his pale skin. The humidification bottle bubbled in the background.

Garrett Thomas sat on his right, his knees pressed into the mattress.

“Are they treating you all right, Frank?”

“Sure they are.” He grinned, showing a mouth of chipped, ill-fitting dentures. “What would they want with beating on an eighty-five-year-old man?”

“The warden tells me you asked for a priest.”

“Imagine that.” Frank rolled his head on the pillow and winced. “You know what they say. When you know you’re near the end, you go back to where you came from.”

The visitor didn’t answer.

After a long silence, Frank said, “I guess you want to know why I sent for you.”

“You want your sentence commuted on compassionate grounds. I’ve started the paperwork.”

Frank shook his head, coughed. “That ain’t it.”

“You don’t want to die in prison.”

“I don’t want to die nowhere. But if I have to…hell, I’ve been here thirty-six years.”

“What do you want me to do?”

Frank hesitated, captured a breath. “It’s kind of a will. Except I don’t want nothing in writing.” He waved off the visitor’s frown. “You’ll know why in a minute.” He gathered his thoughts. “It’s kind of a way of thanking you for not walking out on me even though there wasn’t nothing in it for you.”

“Charlie liked you.”

“Yeah. Maybe I’m doing this for Charlie then. I guess I already did you a favour.”

Thomas shifted uncomfortably.

“So this is for Charlie. And since he’s gone, you’re entitled to it. As his heir.” Frank glanced toward the Plexiglas-enclosed nursing station. The nurse looked up, then returned to his paperwork. Frank rolled to one side, plucking at Thomas’ sleeve. “Listen, I already told Joe. I told him you was to get a cut. Twenty-five per cent. That should be a good haul. They was top of the line, the real…” The words tailed off into a paroxysm of coughing.

As Frank’s face turned from grey to purple, the nurse popped out of his booth to adjust the oxygen.

“Hang on, Frank. I’ll get you an inhalation.” He glanced at Thomas. “You’ve been talking too much.”

“We’re almost finished,” Thomas said.

The nurse left to set up the inhalation. Frank feasted on the oxygen. Finally, the fear left his eyes. “That’s it,” he said. “You work with Joe. He’s not too bright. You can’t trust him too much. But he’s my grandson, so that’s the way it is.” His eyes followed the nurse as he prepared the medication behind the Plexiglas. “The Ambre-Gris. They might call it something else now, but they’re still there…”

“I’m a lawyer.”

Frank choked out a laugh. “That don’t mean nothing.” He patted the visitor’s arm. “Joe knows. They’re right where we left them.”

Chapter One
Two months later…

Margaret Rudley, co-proprietor of the Pleasant Inn, faced her husband, Trevor, across the front desk. “Rudley” — her Yorkshire accent was polite but firm — “Frances wants an apology. From you. There’s no way around it. She won’t accept one from me.”

Rudley folded his arms and thrust his jaw forward. “When hell freezes over.”

“You know she’s sensitive about her flowers.”

“I’m sensitive about her flowers too, Margaret. I like them alive and in their natural colours. These looked as if she’d killed them, then tie-dyed them in poster paint.”

“You could have let it pass this once. Her flowers are usually splendid.”

“I could have, but I didn’t.” Rudley seized the register, rifled through it, then slammed it shut. “At any rate, it’s done and over with.”

“Apologize, Rudley.”

“I will not. No one ever apologizes to me.”

“No one ever needs to apologize to you.”

“I’ll let that go, Margaret. In the meantime, I remain firm. I’m a fair man. I compliment Mrs. Fusspot when her flowers are exceptional. These were not exceptional. They were not normal.”

“Rudley, you can’t go around insulting people. I want you to tell Frances you’re sorry.”

“I’m not sorry.”

Margaret gave him a long look. Finding him intransigent, she went into her purse and took out a brace of keys. “If you wish to speak to me, Rudley, I’ll be at the High Birches.” She sorted through the keys, put them back into her purse, closed it with a decisive snap, and left.

“I believe your wife has lowered the boom on you, Rudley.”

Rudley turned to see one of the guests leaning against the end of the desk. He cleared his throat. “Mr. Thomas. What can I get for you?”

Garrett Thomas chose to walk the three miles into Middleton. He stopped at the kiosk on the dock, purchased a bottle of green tea, and sauntered toward the wooded area at the rear. A middle-aged man in a Tilly hat, Hawaiian shirt, and khaki shorts sat at a picnic table, staring down toward the marina.

“I should have brought you a ginger ale.”

The man waved him off.

Thomas glanced around. “Pretty little town, isn’t it?”

“It will do.”

“I understand summer people account for ninety per cent of the population.”

“Cut to the chase, Garrett.”

“We can get keys.”

The man looked away from the water for the first time. “Tell me.”

“There are two sets of master keys. The innkeeper has one. His wife has the other.”


“They’ve had a tiff. The wife is staying at one of the cottages.”

“I see.”

“A hundred and fifty yards back from the inn. On the rise. Plenty of foliage.”


“Yes.” Garrett paused. “The cottages are fitted with single-tumbler locks.”


“I assume.”

“Assume nothing.”

“If not, the windows are easy. Old-fashioned screens held in place with wing nuts.”

The man was silent.

“It’ll be much safer if you have the keys.”

“Safer for you.”

“I imagine you can overpower a woman.”

The man shrugged.

“You’ll have to deal with Joe, of course.”

“Of course.”

“After, you’ll want to muddy the waters.”

“A distraction?”

“A distraction and an alibi.”

“An alibi for you.”

“For both of us, Ned.” Garrett avoided Ned’s stare. “The lady’s car is parked beside the cottage. There’s a place two miles east of here. The Whispering Pines. It’s half a mile in on a gravel road. The sign’s still up, but it’s abandoned.”


“Completely.” Garrett hesitated. “It’s not my intention that the lady come to any harm. You understand?”

“Of course. What do you take me for?”

Garrett Thomas didn’t answer.

Chapter Two

A cry slit the darkness. Joe froze. “Jesus Christ, what was that?”

“An owl.” Ned nudged him along the side of the building.

“That window looks good.”

“I don’t want to land in the bedroom.” Ned turned. “Come on, we’ll try the door.”

Joe trudged after him. “My feet are cold.”

“That’s your fault.”

The door had three small windows at the top, covered by a white lace curtain.

Ned glanced around. “Try your card.”

Joe took a Visa card from his pocket and inserted it between the lock and the frame.

“What’s wrong?”

“I think it’s hooked from the inside.”

“You’ll have to break the glass.”

“What if she wakes up?”

“Then we’ll deal with her.”

Joe gave the window a poke, winced as the glass shattered. “I think I cut my hand.”

“Get the lock.”

Joe fumbled, gasped with relief. “It’s just a hook and eye. I got it.” He unhooked the lock and eased the door open.

Ned slipped inside. Joe followed, holding his wounded hand to his mouth.

“Close the door,” Ned said.


“Because I don’t want a damned skunk wandering in behind us.” Ned took a flashlight from his pocket. The beam swept the floor.

“Where do you think she keeps them?”

Ned stood still, eyes darting over the room. “The usual places. On a hook, on the coffee table. In her purse.”

“What if she’s got them in her bedroom?”

“Then we’ll have to go in there, won’t we?”

The owl shrieked again. A nighthawk answered.

A floorboard creaked.

Ned gestured toward the kitchen. “Check the cupboards.”

“Can’t you do anything?”

“I’m watching your back.”

“They ain’t in the drawers. Nothing on the hooks. Are you sure they’re here?”

“Yes.” Ned eased toward the bedroom, peeked in. He beckoned to Joe.

Joe appeared beside him and pawed at his sleeve. “We’re going to wake her up.”

“Then be ready.”

The flashlight flickered over a lump in the bed, then lit on the bedside table.

“Try the drawer,” Ned whispered.

Joe tiptoed toward the table and reached into the drawer. “Got them.” He stepped back. His heel settled onto something soft and furry.

The cat shrieked and swiped at his ankle.

“Jesus Christ!”

The lump in the bed sat bolt upright.

“Get her.”

Joe clapped a hand over the woman’s mouth and gave her a whack on the side of the head. She sighed as she sagged against him. He looked over his shoulder to find Ned missing. “Where are you?”

“In the kitchen.” Ned returned with a roll of duct tape. He hacked off a piece, handed it to Joe. “Tape this over her mouth and tie her up.”

“With what?”

Ned went to the bureau and rifled through the drawers. He found two pairs of pantyhose rolled into tidy balls. He tossed them to Joe. “Truss her up. Not too tightly.” He grabbed a scarf from the top of the bureau. “Use this for a blindfold.” He poked the curtain aside with the flashlight and looked out. “Is she all right?”

“She’s breathing.”

“Good. Let’s get going.”

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