Authors: Gail Bowen
ACCLAIM FOR GAIL BOWEN AND
THE JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
“Bowen is one of those rare, magical mystery writers readers love not only for her suspense skills but for her stories’ elegance, sense of place and true-to-life form.… A master of ramping up suspense”
“Bowen can confidently place her series beside any other being produced in North America.”
“Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries are small works of elegance that assume the reader of suspense is after more than blood and guts, that she is looking for the meaning behind a life lived and a life taken.”
“Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility.”
“Gail Bowen got the recipe right with her series on Joanne Kilbourn.”
“What works so well [is Bowen’s] sense of place – Regina comes to life – and her ability to inhabit the everyday life of an interesting family with wit and vigour.… Gail Bowen continues to be a fine mystery writer, with a protagonist readers can invest in for the long run.”
“Gail Bowen is one of Canada’s literary treasures.”
OTHER JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
BY GAIL BOWEN
The Nesting Dolls
The Brutal Heart
The Endless Knot
The Last Good Day
The Glass Coffin
Verdict in Blood
A Killing Spring
A Colder Kind of Death
The Wandering Soul Murders
Copyright © 1991 by Gail Bowen
First published by Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1991
First M&S paperback edition published 1992
This edition published 2011
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Bowen, Gail, 1942-
Murder at the Mendel: a Joanne Kilbourn mystery / Gail Bowen.
PS8553.O8995M87 2011 C813’.54 C2011-900300-7
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by McClelland & Stewart Ltd., P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011925594
Cover image: Jakub Krechowicz/Dreamstime.com
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
For my grandmother, Hilda Bartholomew
my friends Maggie Siggins and Joanne Bonneville
If I hadn’t gone back to change my shoes, it would have been me instead of Izaak Levin who found them dying. But halfway to the Loves’ cottage I started worrying that shoes with heels would make me too tall to dance with, and by the time I got back to the Loves’, Izaak was standing in their doorway with the dazed look of a man on the edge of shock. When I pushed past him into the cottage, I saw why.
I was fifteen years old, and I had never seen a dead man, but I knew Desmond Love was dead. He was sitting in his place at the dining-room table, but his head lolled back on his neck as if something critical had come loose, and his mouth hung open as if he were sleeping or screaming. His wife, Nina, was in the chair across from him. She was always full of grace, and she had fallen so that her head rested against the curve of her arm as it lay on the table. She was beautiful, but her skin was waxen, and I could hear the rattle of her breathing in that quiet room. My friend Sally was lying on the floor. She had vomited; she was pale and her breathing was laboured, but I knew she wouldn’t die. She was thirteen years old, and you don’t die when you’re thirteen.
It was Nina I went to. My relationship with my own mother had never been easy, and Nina had been my refuge for as long as I could remember. I took her in my arms and began to cry and call her name. Izaak Levin was still standing in the doorway, but seeing me with Nina seemed to jolt him back to reality.
“Joanne, you have to get your father. We need a doctor here,” he said.
My legs felt heavy, the way they do in a dream when you try to run and you can’t, but somehow I got to our cottage and brought my father. He was a methodical and reassuring man, and as I watched him taking pulses, looking into pupils, checking breathing, I felt better.
“What happened?” he asked Izaak Levin.
Izaak shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was dead with disbelief. “I don’t know. I took the boat over to town for a drink before dinner. When I got back, I found them like this.” He pointed to a half-filled martini pitcher on the table. At Sally’s place there was a glass with an inch of soft drink in the bottom. “He must have put it in the drinks. I guess he decided it wasn’t worth going on, and he wanted to take them with him.”
There was no need to explain the pronouns. My father and I knew what he meant. At the beginning of the summer Desmond Love had suffered a stroke that had slurred his speech, paralyzed his right side and, most seriously, stilled his hand. He was forty years old, a bold and innovative maker of art and a handsome and immensely physical man. It was believable that, in his rage at the ravages of the stroke, he would kill himself, and so I stored away Izaak’s explanation. I stored it away in the same place I stored the other memories of that night: the animal sound of retching Nina made after my father forced the ipecac into her mouth. The silence broken only by a loon’s cry as my father and Izaak
carried the Loves, one by one, down to the motorboat at the dock. The blaze of the sunset on the lake as my father wrapped Nina and Sally in the blankets they kept in the boat for picnics. The terrible emptiness in Desmond Love’s eyes as they looked at the September sky.
And then my father, standing in the boat, looking at me on the dock, “Joanne, you’re old enough to know the truth here: Sally will be all right, but Des is dead and I’m not sure about Nina’s chances. It’ll be better for you later if you don’t ride in this boat tonight.” His voice was steady, but there were tears in his eyes. Desmond Love had been his best friend since they were boys. “I want you to go back home and wait for me. Just tell your mother there’s been an emergency. Don’t tell her …”
“The truth.” I finished the sentence for him. The truth would make my mother start drinking. So would a lie. It never took much.
“Don’t let Nina die,” I said in an odd, strangled voice.
“I’ll do all I can,” he said, and then the quiet of the night was shattered by the roar of the outboard motor; the air was filled with the smell of gasoline, and the boat, low in the water from its terrible cargo, began to move across the lake into the brilliant gold of the sunset. It was the summer of 1958, and I was alone on the dock, waiting.
* * *
Thirty-two years later I was walking across the bridge that links the university community to the city of Saskatoon. It was the night of the winter solstice. The sky was high and starless, and there was a bone-chilling wind blowing down the South Saskatchewan River from the north. I was on my way to the opening of an exhibition of the work of Sally Love.
As soon as I turned onto Spadina Crescent, I could see the
bright letters of her name on the silk banners suspended over the entrance to the Mendel Gallery: Sally Love. Sally Love. Sally Love. There was something festive and celebratory about those paint-box colours, but as I got closer I saw there were other signs, too, and some of them weren’t so pretty. These signs were mounted on stakes held by people whose faces shone with zeal, and their crude lettering seemed to pulse with indignation: “Filth Belongs in Toilets Not on Walls,” “Jail Pornographers,” “No Room for Love Here” and one that said simply, “Bitch.”
A crowd had gathered. Some people were attempting a counterattack, and every so often a voice, thin and self-conscious in the winter air, would raise itself in a tentative defence: “What about freedom of the arts?” “We’re not a police state yet!” “The only real obscenity is censorship.”
crew had set up under the lights of the entrance and they were interviewing a soft-looking man in a green tuque with the Hilltops logo and a nylon ski jacket that said “Silver Broom: Saskatoon ‘90.” The man was one of our city councillors, and as I walked up I could hear his spiritless baritone spinning out the clichés for the ten o’clock news: “Community standards … public property … our children’s innocence … privacy of the home …” The councillor’s name was Hank Mewhort, and years before I had been at a political fundraiser where he had dressed as a leprechaun to deliver the financial appeal. As I walked carefully around the camera crew, Hank’s sanctimonious bleat followed me. I had liked him better as a leprechaun.
When I handed my invitation to a commissionaire posted at the entrance, he checked my name off on a list and opened the gallery door for me. As I started through, I felt a sharp blow in the middle of my back. I turned and found myself facing a fresh-faced woman with a sweet and vacant smile. She was grasping her sign so the shaft was in front of her like
a broadsword. She came at me again, but then, very quickly, a city cop grabbed her from behind and led her off into the night. She was still smiling. Her sign lay on the concrete in front of me, its message carefully spelled out in indelible marker the colour of dried blood: “The Wages of Sin is Death.” I shuddered and pulled my coat tight around me.