Authors: Michael Blair
A Joe Shoe Mystery
A Castle Street
Copyright Â© Michael Blair, 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.
Editor: Barry Jowett
Design: Alison Carr
Copy editor: Marja Appleford
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Blair, Michael, 1946-
Â Â Â Â Â Â The dells / Michael Blair.
(A Joe Shoe Mystery)
Â Â Â Â Â Â I. Title. II. Series: Blair, Michael, 1946-. Joe Shoe mystery.
PS8553.L3354D44 2008Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C813'.6Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C2007-904680-0
1Â Â Â Â Â 2Â Â Â Â Â 3Â Â Â Â Â 4Â Â Â Â Â 5Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 11Â Â Â Â Â 10Â Â Â Â Â 09Â Â Â Â Â 08Â Â Â Â Â 07
We acknowledge the support of
The Canada Council for the Arts
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books
, and the Government of Ontario through the
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
program, and the
Ontario Media Development Corporation
Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
J. Kirk Howard, President
Printed and bound in Canada.
Printed on recycled paper.
Gazelle Book Services Limited
For Hugh Fairlie Blair (1921â2006)
Many of the locations used in this story exist, but not exactly as portrayed. All events and characters, however, are completely fictional, and any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Friday, August 4
There were things Joe Shoe missed about Toronto; August was not one of them. The moment he stepped out of the refrigerated interior of Terminal 1 of Toronto Pearson International Airport the heat and the humidity hit him like a truck. There was not the slightest breeze and the air hanging over the airport, trapped by the invisible bowl of a temperature inversion, was the colour of thin chicken broth. It tasted bitter on the back of his tongue, and he imagined he could feel it eating away at the lining of his lungs.
“Welcome to the Big Stink,” muttered a man who had been on the same flight, to no one in particular.
Shoe removed his jacket and slung it through the shoulder strap of his carry-on. Despite the stench of engine exhaust, hot rubber, and sun-baked concrete, he caught the faint, delicate aroma of Muriel's scent, still clinging to the material. Five hours earlier, as he and Muriel Yee had stood outside the security gate in the
departure concourse of Vancouver International Airport, she'd put her arms around him as she'd raised herself up onto her toes to kiss him.
“Have a safe flight,” she'd murmured against his mouth. “And have a nice visit with your family. I will miss you, you know. A bunch.”
Shoe wasn't convinced she would miss him at all. She wouldn't have time. Since Patrick O'Neill's and Bill Hammond's deaths the previous December, Muriel had become Hammond Industries' vice-president of corporate development. The job kept her busy and she loved every minute of it. They had tried living together for a while, but had kept getting in each other's way; both had lived alone for far too long to adjust easily to cohabitation. They spoke every day, tried to see each other at least once during the week, and Muriel usually spent weekends at Shoe's ramshackle old house in Kitsilano, when she wasn't working â or when he wasn't. They both pretended the arrangement suited them.
To his left, a car horn blared. Shoe turned, expecting to see Hal, his older brother. A woman with pale blond hair yahooed shrilly over the roof of a dusty black Volvo. She wasn't yahooing at him, but at the man standing next to him. Shaking his head and smiling self-consciously, the man grasped the handle of his wheeled suitcase and dragged it toward the Volvo.
“Taxi, sir?” asked a dishevelled, turbaned attendant, beads of perspiration on his bearded cheeks. “I'm sure I got one big enough,” he added, looking up at Shoe's lanky six-foot-six frame.
“Not yet, thanks,” Shoe replied. He'd give Hal another ten minutes.
He'd told his brother on the phone the week before that it would not be necessary to pick him up, but Hal had insisted. “There's something I need to talk to you about,” he'd said.
“We're all having dinner together the day I arrive,” Shoe had said. “Can't it wait till then?”
“Not really,” Hal had said impatiently. “I want to talk to you before Rae does.” Rae was their younger sister, Rachel. A long pause, then: “She hasn't called you, has she?”
“No. What's this about, Hal? Is everything all right?”
“Of course. Why wouldn't it be?”
“You sound a bit stressed, that's all. What is it you want to talk about?”
“I don't want to go into it on the phone,” Hal had replied. “I'll see you at the airport.” Then he'd hung up.
Shoe gave Hal fifteen minutes before signalling the attendant to get him a cab. Forty minutes later, the cab deposited him in front of his parents' house on Ravine Road in the northern Toronto suburb of Downsview. As the cab pulled away, Shoe stood for a moment at the foot of the driveway, one of the few on the block that was still unpaved. A bright yellow Volkswagen New Beetle was parked in front of the garage. Rachel's car, he assumed. Since getting her first VW at eighteen, she'd driven nothing else: the original Beetle, a Karmann Ghia convertible, a Rabbit, and two Golfs. She'd owned more cars than Shoe had owned suits.
He looked at the house in which his parents had lived for most of their married life. It was an unassuming three-bedroom bungalow, with an attached single-car garage, a red-brick facade, white wood trim, and aging grey-green asphalt shingles, patched here and there with newer ones. At one time it had been virtually identical to every fourth or fifth house on the street. Over the years, many of the other houses, those that hadn't been replaced altogether, had acquired new facades, bigger garages, covered verandas, even second stories and dormer windows, but Shoe's parents' house had hardly changed
at all in the forty years since his father had enclosed the exterior porch to create a larger vestibule.
The front yard was surrounded by an old barberry hedge, badly in need of a trim. It was a nasty, spiny thing, Shoe knew, from having fallen into it on more than one occasion while growing up, and many municipalities had banned them, which likely explained why his father, ever the curmudgeon, hadn't long since uprooted it. The lawn hadn't been mowed in some time, and it was thick with bright dandelions and pale clover. While he was visiting, he could make himself useful and cut the grass.
Slinging his carry-on over his shoulder, he made his way past Rachel's car and along the uneven flagstone walk between the garage and the house next door to the backyard. Larger and even more raggedly unkempt than the front, the backyard sloped down into the thickly wooded ravines of the Black Creek Dells conservation area, popularly known as the Dells. The properties on either side of his parents' yard were surrounded by hideous chain-link “Lundy” fences, cutting them off from the neighbours and the woods, but his parents' yard was still open to the woods. A post at the bottom of the yard marked the start of an old footpath. The path crossed a shallow drainage ditch via a narrow bridge of greying two-by-ten planks, then ran for fifty metres or so alongside the crumbling fieldstone wall that partly surrounded what was left of the Braithwaite estate, out of which the subdivision had largely been carved in the early fifties.
Shoe saw movement in the woods, figures atop the rise near where the footpath from his parents' yard merged with the wider path that skirted the far side of the Braithwaite property. Dappled by the afternoon sun through the trees, they looked like uniformed police, half a dozen or more, and two men â Shoe assumed they were men â in suits, standing off to one side. As he watched, other figures appeared from the far side of the
rise, ghost-like, clad head to toe in pale blue disposable coveralls. Just beyond the crest of the rise, Shoe could see what appeared to be the peak of a white tent. A camera strobe flashed, flashed again, then a third time, lighting up the interior of the tent.
He turned at the sound of approaching footsteps. Two uniformed police officers emerged from between the garage and the house next door.
“Sir,” said the older of the two, a greying, round-faced senior constable whose name tag read “R. Smith.” There was a sheen of perspiration on his upper lip, and beneath the lightweight Kevlar vest the underarms of his blue shirt were sweat-stained. “We'd like to ask you some questions, if you don't mind.”
“Certainly, officer,” Shoe replied.
“Can I have your name, please, sir?”
“Joseph Schumacher,” Shoe replied.
“Do you live here, Mr. Schumacher?” he asked, eying Shoe's carry-on. “I mean, in this house?”
“No. It's my parents' house. I live in Vancouver.”
Without waiting to be asked, Shoe took his Vancouver boarding pass from the side pocket of his carry-on and handed it to the constable. The constable examined it, then handed it back.
“I guess I don't have to ask you where you were last night between midnight and 2:00 a.m.,” the constable said. “For the report, sir, would you mind giving me your home address and contact information?” Shoe did. The constable scribbled in his notebook, then looked up. “We'll need to speak with your parents, if that's all right.”
“Does this have to do with the crime scene in the woods?” Shoe asked.
“Yes, sir. The body of a man was found early this morning by a woman walking her dog. We're canvassing the neighbourhood to see if anyone saw or heard
anything suspicious. If we could speak with your parents â¦ ”
The back door was unlocked. It opened onto a small landing from which a half-flight of stairs led up to the kitchen. Another stairway led down to the basement, from which there came a muted mechanical thumping. His parents' old washing machine, perhaps, Shoe thought, as he preceded the constables up the stairs into the kitchen. The house was centrally air-conditioned and the relief from the heat and humidity was instantaneous.