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Authors: Howard Engel

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BOOK: A Victim Must Be Found
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“Hello?” It was Alex Favell at last.

“Mr. Favell, it’s Benny Cooperman again. I’d like to talk to you.” It was just five o’clock. I was hoping to irritate him enough to expand my knowledge of the puzzle. I wasn’t sure how he might do it, but I hoped that I would be ready for him.

“You! Cooperman. I have nothing further to say to you. Why don’t you try to get honest employment, Mr. Cooperman? Why don’t you get off my back? I can’t talk. I’ve an appointment and I’m just leaving. I’ve no time for you. Goodbye!” The phone went dead with a loud click in my ear. The voice that had suddenly vanished from the other end recalled to me that earlier meeting. I could see his face, the bald dome several inches above my own head. He worried me. People who live at the edge of their tempers worry me. Favell either lived a very restricted life or he was angry a good deal of his time.

And there he was. Just as I’d hoped, right on time. I’d made my call from a booth with a good view of the front door of the executive entrance of the paper mill. He came out puffing like he’d just run up three flights of stairs and the ladder of success. His Lincoln was in the most preferred parking space. It came with a salute and bow from the parking attendant. It was either a bow or he was making sure it was Favell who was driving off in the familiar car.

It wasn’t hard following Favell’s Lincoln from Davis Road to the highway. He was a steady driver; it almost seemed that he was a chauffeur driving on somebody else’s instructions: “Forty-five miles an hour, James, and please raise the temperature to sixty-five. Vents open, please.” I kept well to the rear, letting some rush-hour Fords and GMs come between us. He turned off at the tunnel road and I followed him under the Welland Canal and up again into the light on the other side. After another mile, he took the right lane that took him smoothly to Highway 406 heading north. I was still behind him as he raised his speed to the limit when he went over the Glendale Avenue bridge. Now the six-lane road dipped into the ravine of the old canal where it entered Grantham through a back door. Quickly we curved around the backs of the stores along St. Andrew Street, then found ourselves already well up Ontario and crossing the old canal near Welland Vale. Here, Favell abandoned the 406 and returned to Ontario Street for the drive through the industrial confusion before reaching the QEW, the Toronto highway. I couldn’t figure out why he chose the crowded two-lane road at rush-hour over the six-lane freeway, until he pulled into a service station for a fill-up. I took a right turn at the first opportunity and found myself at a family restaurant offering coffee with artificial cream and no doubt pancakes and waffles with artificial maple syrup. I didn’t have time to order either of these, but I did pick up a fresh pack of Player’s Medium. I was back in the car with my motor running when the Lincoln went by me with its windshield freshly washed and the fuel supply restored.

Favell took a left turn at the Embassy, a hotel and pub that featured the same country music that sometimes played the City House. As I came around the corner, I recognized some of the names on the crooked sign. Favell took the road over the old canal bridges into Port Richmond with its views of lighthouses and piers. The boats in the marina were tucked under canvas where they would stay for another few weeks before the summer would claim them. Marie’s Lobster Restaurant had its sign illuminated already. I read the notice that said the place would be closed on Good Friday. I guess that was coming up on the morrow. I was glad I wasn’t in Dublin. Frank Bushmill had often told me what a fearsome place Dublin is on Good Friday. “A man could starve to death,” he’d said. “Everything’s closed up tighter than a Kerryman at a wake.” Favell turned from Canal Street into Lock and went up the hill. Traffic was thinner here, so I didn’t get too close. I was glad of that, because in a moment his brakes lit up and the car came to rest at the curb near the intersection of Lock and Main. I slipped over to the curb as well and turned off the motor.

In my rear-view mirror, I could see the harbour below me and part of the remaining section of Lock One of the old canal. In the fading light it looked rather forlorn and neglected. Ahead of me, Favell was looking up and down the street to see if he’d been followed. I was getting more and more interested all the time. So were the seagulls, which slid down to the sidewalk looking for crumbs, acting like they were pigeons. Favell walked up the hill another four or five houses and then turned in to a pebbledashed bungalow with green trim around the windows and a screen door that went back to those pre-war days when everything cost five cents and there was no sales tax. I pulled out a sketching pad and a hat from the back seat of the Olds and got out. Working the stiffness out of my legs, I walked down to the waterfront. I sat on an ancient bollard from where I could see what was going on up the hill and attract little attention. The streets were as bare as the marina was of aluminum masts riding at anchor. A character reeled out of the beverage room in the Mansion House at the end of Canal Street. He ignored me and the rest of creation until he came to rest in some bushes behind an abandoned freight shed. Here he urinated loudly against the galvanized siding. Nobody noticed him either.

Favell was inside the house up the street for forty-five minutes by my watch and three lame attempts to render the yacht club across the harbour. When the door opened and he came down the steps, I was ready to follow him again, and I would have, except for the fact that the woman in the silk dressing gown who followed him out onto the porch waving goodbye was Mary MacCulloch. Favell got into his car and drove off, Mary watched him go and returned to the house. I stayed put. I smoked a row of cigarettes, waiting with my eyes fixed most of the time on the quiet bungalow up the hill.

Opposite me, a coal barge was unloading across the slate grey water Gulls were grabbing at something dead in the corner of the harbour where garbage collected. I didn’t want to see what it was. For the first time I noticed a tiny wooden hut on the top of the old lock. It must have been a shelter or summer lock-keeper’s hut—a stone house across the road was the restored residence of the lock-keeper. The shelter was a simple structure with tidy lines and I became fond of it at once. I tried a sketch and then another. It helped to pass the time. My old art teacher, the one I had a handful of lessons from when I was in high school, was also an expert on the canal. He knew where each of the old locks had been, and what the land looked like before the roads were relocated to accommodate four successive Welland Canals. He knew where there were tunnels under abandoned locks and bridges with grown-over roads running under them. Some of these places made great swimming holes when summer heat lowered standards of hygiene and raised the need to cool off. Nowadays the kids swim in public swimming pools, and the old weir and the place we called “The Showers” are left to birdwatchers and hikers.

I was on the point of calling it a day here in Port Richmond. If I wanted to attend the
at the Contemporary Gallery, I should be making plans to have a shower and change. I didn’t know what people wore to things like that. I had one suit that had to do for all fancy social occasions. I put away the sketchbook and took a last friendly look at the shelter by the lock and got up, unexpectedly stiff, from the bollard. I was about to cross Canal Street, when a dark Volvo parked near Marie’s Restaurant. Paddy Miles got out. I felt a little peculiar seeing him, since his shindig at the gallery was the most recent thought in my head. It was almost as though my thought had drawn him into the picture.

I stayed with my feet on the curb, for all the world an admirer of the fine line of restaurants and stores that faced the harbour. Today they were pubs, bookstores and eateries; a hundred years ago they were ship chandlers and hotels for homesick sailors. Miles walked up the hill and turned in to the bungalow I’d been watching. He was carrying a narrow brown paper bag in his hand, the sort men take when they go calling on women they are not married to. I crossed the street and kept the line of parked cars between me and Paddy Miles as he rang the doorbell. After a few seconds, through a windshield decorated with plastic religious symbols and two parking tickets, I saw a startled Mary MacCulloch open the front door. Miles waved the paper bag, Mary grinned and both went inside. I unlocked my own car and made myself comfortable in the front seat.

For half an hour I played with some chess problems in a book I kept in the glove compartment. There is a lot of waiting around in this business. That’s why I liked watching private eyes in the movies. They never have to wait for anything. And TV is just as good. From the opening credits to the last commercial or the fadeout, the hero is on the run and never even has trouble finding a parking space. In real life, investigators tend to put on weight because of all the sitting around and waiting we do. The chess problems helped me pass the time, and I never remembered the solutions from one long wait to the next. “Black to move and mate in three.” I tried it out in my head, while beginning to work down the second row of cigarettes in my pack. Just past the thirty-minute mark, which made this a short wait, the door opened on the front porch and Paddy Miles came out. He wasn’t exactly running, but he was going at a fair clip for a man having just made a social call. Then I remembered that he had his gallery opening to get to. He walked down the street, missing the chance to catch me by looking straight ahead of him as he went, and got in the Volvo at Marie’s. He drove off in the only really useful direction: back to Grantham.

For a moment I thought of following him, but as I replaced the chess book, I knew I could catch him again if I wanted him. The more interesting prospect was right on the street. I climbed out of the car and locked it, then walked up the front steps and rang the doorbell of Mary MacCulloch’s little hideaway.

There must be thousands of houses like this one in the Grantham area. It was tiny by any standard, but with the pebble-dashed stucco exterior and the brave little front window, it looked like somebody’s dream of independence and enterprise. I liked the echo of my feet on the wooden porch as I put in the minutes waiting for Mary to come to the door. I rang again. No answer. It wasn’t as if she had miles of corridors to hurry through and stairs to run down: it was a bungalow. The bell was in working order, I could practically hear it echo from across the street. I tried again, and still there was no response from inside. I must have tried the bell seven or eight times before I started getting those old radio program worries that come with unanswered doorbells. I thought of earlier this week, finding Pambos. That’s when I decided to try the door. It was practically broad daylight, so I couldn’t be charged with Breaking and Entering. I don’t think so, anyway. Besides, I knew the occupant. And what was I going to steal? I was just doing my job. Mary was one of my suspects and I thought of a whole horror movie of things that might have happened to her while I was trying to get black to mate in three moves. The door came open in my hand to a little pressure. My stomach was beginning to feel vulnerable. I closed the door behind me and walked along the cheaply decked out corridor towards the light coming from the back of the house. The feeling at the back of my knees and below my rib-cage signalled trouble. So why was I still walking down the hall towards the kitchen?


She was sitting at the kitchen table wearing a pink T-shirt two sizes too small and bikini panties with a Sony FM Walkman clipped to her hip. There was a lot of Mary MacCulloch showing. The silk dressing gown covered convention and little else. There was a drink on the table in front of her. Most of it had disappeared into the woman now moving in time with the rock music that spilled out of her headset. She was having a ball all by herself. She didn’t even look up when I came into the room.

“Mrs. MacCulloch? Mary? Are you okay?” She looked up with a happy smile on her face. For a moment her forehead creased as she plumbed her memory for my name, and then the grin returned.

“Benny! How the hell are you?” she said, shaking my hand formally. “Come in and join the faculty wives. We’re very, very informal tonight. Let me get rid of the earphones.” She removed the headset and placed the Walkman on the white vinyl table top. “What did you say?” The music spillover from the headset stopped abruptly as she clicked off the radio. “Tell me,” she asked, “could you use a drink? You look cold. Like a man who could use a little stimulation.” The bottle Paddy Miles had brought was standing half-empty on the table. She pulled down a tumbler from a shelf above her without having to get up, and filled it with about three ounces more rye than I consume in as many weeks.

“Didn’t that old charmer Paddy Miles have a drink with you? I just saw him leaving.”

“Sure he did,” Mary said. “We even drank a toast. What was it? What the hell was it? ‘To …’ What was it to? Ah, I remember,” she said, lifting high her glass once more, “‘Here’s to crime!’ That’s what he said. Here’s to crime, Benny.” I lifted my glass and joined in.

“To crime,” I said, but I didn’t drink from my glass yet. Something wasn’t right here. Paddy Miles had brought the bottle, he and Mary had consumed most of it, and now there was no sign that he had been there at all. Why would he clear away his glass, wash it up and return it to its shelf?

“Benny, drink up!” she admonished me from her side of the table, while trying to pile her hair back on top of her head with her free hand. It wasn’t working, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Benny, what’s another toast? Give us a good one.”

“Here’s to Wallace Lamb,” I offered and it didn’t even make Mary blink. She seemed in a world of her own. If it included me, it was at a distance. She looked at me like I was sitting across a ballroom. Something was funny about the set-up.

On the table in front of Mary I found a scrap of notepaper. It had been torn neatly both above and below the writing, which read:
Ending it all.

“Do you like sushi, Benny?”

“Sushi? What’s sushi?” She was leaning with both elbows on the table and her head wobbled towards the middle of the table. “Mary, where did you get this scrap of paper? Is this your handwriting?”

BOOK: A Victim Must Be Found
2.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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