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Authors: Peggy Blair

Hungry Ghosts (10 page)

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
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Charlie Pike sat on a red
vinyl bench in the deserted airport as he waited for the rental car to arrive. A hand-lettered sign over the drinking fountain read:
. Another poster tacked on a bulletin board said:

Pike smiled. This far north, there was no way of knowing if that was a typo or not.

A red SUV followed by a truck pulled into the parking lot and flashed its headlights. Pike shut off the light switches as the counter clerk had instructed and pulled the exit door closed. It didn't lock, but there wasn't much he could do about it. No one seemed to think there was anything thieves might want to steal from a small northern airport. If Pike had known that fifteen years ago, he and Sheldon would have cleaned the place out.

Pike settled the paperwork with the gas station owner and
accepted the keys to the car. He offered to drop the man off at the Esso station, but the man pointed to the truck and said his wife would drive him home.

Pike started up the SUV and drove away slowly, the way years on patrol had conditioned him. Speed was out of the question. The airport clerk was right: The roads were slick with black ice. You didn't know it was there until you applied your brakes and discovered there was nothing to grab on to.

On the way, he stopped at the old Tops Motel, glad he'd thought to call ahead and book a room. It was the only motel for probably a hundred miles around. It looked like the local OPP had brought in reinforcements to handle the blockade at the pulp mill. A dozen black-and-white police vehicles were parked in the lot, mostly SUVs and vans.

Polka music played in the cavernous Polynesian-themed restaurant as he walked up to the reception desk. He filled out the forms. He bought a pack of Players cigarettes and a pouch of tobacco for the elders he would likely run into.

The clerk asked him if he had a status card and Pike shook his head. Funny how he'd forgotten all about that down south. But the north was Indian Country. Whether you were a status Indian or not determined whether you paid taxes on your purchases, at least the ones you planned to use on reserve.

He climbed back into the rental car and headed west down the highway. A lot of homes along the 562 were for sale. There wasn't much industry anymore, not since the price of pulp dropped and the mills closed down. According to the news reports, the only one left was at the Wabigoon River, and now it was blocked by protesters.

Two black-and-white OPP vans were stationed near the exit from the 562. Pike was sure they were making note of every vehicle that travelled to or from the barricades.

Pike turned left at the sign to the Manomin Bay First Nation. His heart jumped a little when he pulled onto the gravel road.

A few hundred yards inside the reserve, a white truck was parked on the shoulder. B
was written in large letters on the driver's side door.

Charlie Pike swung his SUV around. As he pulled in behind the truck, his vehicle skidded. The all-season tires might as well be hockey skates, he thought, except it was easier to stop on those. Pike recognized the driver as soon as he climbed out of the truck. They grinned at each other.

“Good to see you, Charlie,” Sheldon Waubasking said. He clasped Pike's shoulder as he pumped his hand. “Wow, been a long time. Wasn't sure they could get someone up here today, with the storm coming. Chief asked me to stay till you got here. Thought I might have to sit here all night too.”

Pike wondered how Chief O'Malley had managed to get hold of Sheldon Waubasking. Then he realized Sheldon meant Bill Wabigoon.

The years hadn't changed Sheldon much. He was heavier. The thin moustache he'd tried to coax through puberty had finally filled in. But he had the same big smile as always.

A rifle leaned casually against the window on the passenger side of his truck. It surprised Pike that Sheldon had a rifle, given his youth record. But then it probably wasn't registered. First Nations peoples pretty much ignored the federal gun registry. Besides, the people up north all used rifles, not guns. The church in White Harbour wouldn't have to worry too much about anyone taking that typo too seriously.

“You here all by yourself?” Pike looked around. No vans, no cars, no technicians.

Sheldon shook his head. “Everyone was slowing down to look,
but after those guys left, no one stopped except my wife. She brought me lunch. You remember Jenny Akiwenzie? We lived together for a long time. We got married a few months ago. Went to Cuba for our honeymoon. Only place I've ever been where the housing was worse than ours.” Sheldon grinned.

Pike did remember. Jenny was the slim, shy woman who used to work at the tobacco stand every summer when the tourist season began.

“So I've heard,” Pike said. Ricardo Ramirez and he had turned out to have a surprising amount in common when the Cuban police inspector visited Ottawa in January and Pike escorted him around. “Congratulations, Sheldon. Any kids?”

“A boy and a girl. Seven and three. You?”

“None that I know about.”

“Must be a few around,” said Sheldon. “You used to be a handsome devil, you. What the heck happened?”

They both laughed. Pike's nose had been flattened a few times. Rugged, one of his kinder girlfriends had said. Definitely not handsome, although “devil” might still fit.

Pike shook his head. He pulled out the cigarettes, shook one from the pack. He offered the pack to Sheldon, who shook out another and handed it back.

“You should buy your smokes on-reserve, Charlie. It's cheaper. No taxes.”

Sheldon lit a match and cupped it in his fingers. He drew on the cigarette until it caught, then held his hands out with the match inside. Pike leaned over, lit his. They stood for a moment, backs to the wind, remembering.

“How long you been working bylaws?” Pike asked.

“About a month. Not much work up this way. Doesn't pay a whole lot, but it's tax-free, that helps. I think the chief just wanted to have someone to keep an eye on things, once he heard the APF funding was going under. What with the protest and all.”

“Funny seeing you in law enforcement,” said Pike. But then, Sheldon was Bear Clan. Bears were meant to be warriors.

“Didn't expect you to be the cop they sent here either,” said Sheldon. Pike had broken his clan's rules by joining the police. Northern Pikes were supposed to be peacekeepers and teachers, not carry guns, although Pike rarely carried his.

“You can blame O'Malley for that. He's the chief of the Rideau Regional Police Force now.”

“Still bald as a peeled egg?”

Pike nodded.

“So he talked you into joining the cops, eh?” Sheldon said. “Probably the last thing in the world I thought you'd end up doing.”

They looked at their feet, respectfully avoiding eye contact. Pike was sure Sheldon was remembering the alternative when they first met O'Malley. The Indian Posse.

“Where was she?” Pike asked.

“In there.” Sheldon inclined his head towards the woods. ­“
Niiwana'w ningwa.' Onaabanad wadikwan.
” He killed her first, then buried her.

“Guess that's better than the other way around,” said Pike.

“No kidding,” said Sheldon, chuckling. “That's good that you still speak the language.”

“Not that fluent anymore. Don't hear it much in Ottawa.”

“It'll come back. You know that
is an Ojibway word, eh? Means ‘can't hunt.' ”

Pike chuckled. “O'Malley said it was a boy who found the body. Pauley Oshig?”

“Molly Oshig's son. You remember Molly, eh? Oshig's her married name. Kept it after the divorce, I guess. They split up a long time ago. She disappeared a few weeks back. Hitchhiking to Winnipeg, looking for work.” Sheldon threw his cigarette on the ground and tramped it into the snow. The humour in his voice was gone.

Sheldon's high school girlfriend was the most recent of the
missing women who stared at Pike from the posters in the corridor outside his office. Their eyes pleaded with him to find their bodies. Pike hadn't known that Molly had a son. He didn't ask for details. Sheldon would tell him whatever he thought Pike should know.

“He's fourteen, but he's kind of slow,” said Sheldon. “He has FAS, eh?

He suffers in the mind.

Pike nodded slowly. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome often had learning problems. “Can he write out a statement if I ask him to?”

“I don't know. Have to ask him that yourself.”

“Did you caution him before you talked to him?”

Sheldon raised his eyebrows. “I didn't think he was a suspect.”

Pike didn't answer. Until he knew more, everyone was a suspect. Sheldon was a bylaw officer; his jacket had shoulder flashes. A defence lawyer would say that was a uniform. He could be considered by the courts to be a person in authority if it turned out that Pauley Oshig was involved in the woman's death. If so, nothing the boy said to Sheldon could be used as evidence.

“Any chance he did this?” asked Pike.

Fetal alcohol syndrome could make kids behave aggressively, even violently. A fourteen-year-old boy was almost full grown. At fourteen, Sheldon had almost killed a man himself. Billy Wabigoon probably still had the scars.

Sheldon shook his head. “I don't think so. But he gets bullied sometimes. I seen bruises on him.” He exhaled. His breath floated above them.

“He must have been scared, finding a dead body.”

“I think he was more scared about getting punished by Bill for skipping school. He's a funny one, him. He told me the crows showed him where she was.” Sheldon frowned. “You know, Charlie, it was the strangest thing I ever seen. There must have been a hundred of them, sitting in those big pine trees, not making a sound. Like they all got together for some kind of funeral.”


Inspector Ramirez walked Hector Apiro out
to the hallway. He returned to his office and checked with the switchboard for messages. Dominique Gatti had called; she told the operator it was important. He phoned the Hotel Nacional at once, but Señora Gatti was out. So was her boss, Lorenzo Testa. He left messages for both of them.

He riffled through Hector Apiro's report looking for clues. Nothing jumped out. The dead woman sat on one of Ramirez's wooden chairs, her long legs crossed at the ankles. She opened her compact and removed her lipstick from her purse. She looked in the tiny mirror and reapplied it carefully. She rubbed her red lips together. She snapped the compact shut and winked at him.

Where were you killed, Antifona? How can I find your killer if I don't know where your body is?

It's as if they're all invisible, thought Ramirez, as he walked to the exhibit room to get a bottle of rum. No fingerprints at the museum. No forensic evidence at any of the crime scenes, and Antifona
Conejo's corpse was still at some unknown location, waiting to be discovered. Random events, linked only by the complete lack of evidence.

He shook his head, frustrated. On his way back to his office, he found Detective Espinoza in the corridor chatting up an attractive night clerk. She excused herself when Ramirez approached them. Ramirez told the young detective about Apiro's revelation that the murdered woman wasn't Antifona Conejo after all.

,” Espinoza swore. “What a waste of time. I wasn't getting anywhere anyway. People say they recognize her, but no one has seen her for a while. There's a rumour she was taken away to a rehabilitation camp. And now you say she's not even our victim?”

“Apparently not. And Natasha hasn't made any progress finding out where the real Antifona Conejo lived either,” said Ramirez. “The occupants of the address on the histological card were evicted; there's no new address on record.”

Espinoza exhaled. “All right. I'll start going through missing person reports.”

“Any progress on the stockings?”

“Nothing yet,” said Espinoza. “Not even the hotels carry them. Too hot, the managers say. The tourists come here to wear shorts and sandals, not to dress up.”

Ramirez nodded. “Keep at it, Fernando. Something will turn up. By the way, I want to meet with Dr. Flores first thing in the morning to ask his opinion. Can you meet me out front, say at eight? Maybe you can sign out the exhibit boxes from the Prima Verrier murder. We'll need them, as well as the exhibits from this one.”

“Sure. Who's Dr. Flores, Inspector?”

Ramirez realized that Espinoza was probably in elementary school when Ramirez last worked with Manuel Flores.

“A criminal profiler. The ministry is loaning him to us to help us identify our killer's characteristics, his personal traits.”

Ramirez left Espinoza and returned to his office. He immersed
himself in routine paperwork—mostly requisitions for supplies that might as well be ghosts themselves.

The nine o'clock cannon fired at the Fuerte de la Cabaña, closing the harbour to boat traffic, even though the American cruise ships no longer came. Ramirez looked out the window and realized he'd lost all track of time. The sun had almost set. The azure sky rippled with orange, burgundy, and pink streaks. He dialed Dr. Yeung's number and hoped he hadn't missed her. He was relieved when she answered.

“It's Inspector Ramirez, Dr. Yeung. I apologize for calling you so late.”

“I was sent here to work, Inspector,” said Dr. Yeung. “I am only here for a few days.”

“I was calling about the insects Dr. Apiro found in our victim's remains. Do you know when your tests will be finished?”

“I should have results tomorrow, yes. The body's proximity to the airport has been helpful. Because daily temperatures are measured there, I can use meteorological data to calculate ambient temperatures.”

“That's excellent,” said Ramirez. “You know, Dr. Yeung, I don't know anything about forensic entomology. Can you enlighten me?”

“Don't worry, Inspector,” Yeung said. “It is very reliable. It dates back to AD 1235 in China, when a farmer was hacked to death with a sickle. A lawyer named Sung Tz'u told the suspects to put all their farm tools in the sun. The one that attracted flies had blood residue on it. All our provinces and municipalities have committees of experts in entomology to assist the police in their investigations.”

“How does it work?”

“There are three stages of decomposition. The first is when eggs are laid and the body is colonized by sarcosaprophagous insects. These are called
. Dr. Apiro found blowfly larvae in the
remains as well as skin beetles, which show up in the second period. The third stage is skeletonization. There are very few insects in the third stage because there is nothing left for them to feed on.”

Ramirez winced.

“But in this case, decomposition was still active. The stages of colonization can be calculated quite precisely. I should be able to tell you when death occurred almost to the hour.”

Ramirez could sense her excitement.

“I will call you when the time gets closer,” Dr. Yeung said. “We can see the last stage together.”

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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