People were of two minds about Reginald (“Call me Reg”) Montgomery. They either hated him or thought he was the best thing to happen to this town in years. He never spoke when a shout would do, and never shouted when a bellow would do even better. Slighter men had been heard to complain that a slap on the back from Reg could send them head first across the room. And as for the women, most of them had learned to take a step backward, out of hugging range, at Reg’s approach. His suits were too loud, his face red and dotted with beads of sweat regardless of the temperature, and his handshake too strong.
But he made a point of shopping at the local stores, rather than the Wal-Mart in Nelson, eating out regularly, usually at family-owned restaurants, and tipping well. Ellie, his wife, had her hair done at Maggie’s Salon on Front Street, bought her clothes from Joanie’s Ladies Wear and contributed generously, in time as well as money, to the hospital and the seniors center.
Reg and Ellie had only been in town for a few months, but in that time he had managed to make a few friends and a good number of enemies.
And, apparently, one person who hated him enough to kill him.
Constable Molly Smith had eaten curried tofu for supper. In retrospect that was a mistake: spicy bile rose into her throat and she swallowed heavily, trying to keep the food in her stomach, where it belonged.
She had seen plenty of traffic injuries, including fatalities. After the first few times, she’d learned to control her stomach and let her mind throw up a shield behind which she could hide from some of the ugliness that was the human body exposed to violent, unexpected death. But she’d never seen anyone who appeared to have been killed by another human being, and for some reason that made it harder for her protective armor to settle into place. Reg Montgomery lay in the alley; urine stained his beige slacks and blood and brains stained the pavement. He was lying on his back, facing the long twilight of a gentle summer’s evening.
Smith turned away and fingered the radio at her shoulder. “Go ahead, Officer.”
She pressed her hand to her chest, and took a single, deep breath. “I’m…” The word came out as a frightened squeal, and she coughed once to clear her throat. “Smith here. I’m in the alley behind Alphonse’s Bakery on Front Street. That’s just west of Elm. I have a Code 5, suspicious circumstances, and need assistance.”
“Someone will be there shortly, Constable Smith.”
A small animal rustled in the green garbage bags behind the convenience store beside the bakery. She rested her hand on the butt of the Glock at her side and cast the light from her flashlight around the bags. Her nerve endings tingled. If a rat ran out of the shadows, she’d scream. But the garbage fell still.
The scent of the day’s baking lingered around the edges of the alley, blending with the odors of garlic, caramelized onions, and cooking spices from the restaurant on the other side of the bakery. Lights were on in the kitchen, the blinds only partly drawn, and Smith could see the cooks working—a flurry of barely controlled chaos. It was coming up to nine o’clock, on a Thursday night in the middle of tourist season. Feuilles de Menthe, the popular French restaurant, would be in full service frenzy.
The kitchen windows were open and the clatter of crockery, shouted orders, and bursts of laughter poured from the restaurant along with light and the smell of good food cooking. The rest of the alley was quiet.
Smith realized that she was gripping her gun, and forced her fingers to relax. She wiped her palms on the seat of her trousers and told herself she had nothing to fear. If the person responsible for Montgomery’s death had been lingering in the alley, he’d have jumped her before she radioed for help.
She looked up. It was a two-story building, bakery on the street, probably an apartment above. The upper windows were closed, curtains drawn. If he’d fallen, if it had been an accident, he wouldn’t have closed the window behind him. Suicide? No one wanting to kill himself would try a two-story drop, would he? More likely to end up with a broken leg than dead. At a quick glance Smith could see nothing that might have been used as a weapon, and she knew better than to start poking around before the detectives and scene-of-the crime officers arrived.
It had to be murder. There hadn’t been a murder in Trafalgar since she’d joined the police. The average annual murder rate of Trafalgar, British Columbia, was zero.
She stuffed her hands in her pockets to keep them from touching anything, and dropped to her haunches to take a good look at the remains of Reginald Montgomery. She’d seen him around town, glad-handing everyone in sight—you’d have thought he was running for mayor. He’d made a point of being friendly with the entire Trafalgar City Police. She’d heard that he was angling for a place on the police board when an opening next came up. In life, Montgomery hadn’t been an attractive man: a belly that made him look nine months pregnant, thin, badly cut grey hair, a bulbous nose that testified to copious quantities of liquor. In death, now that he was no longer trying his hail-fellow-well-met routine, his face had taken on a repose that almost suited him.
Proud of herself for keeping her stomach contents in place, Smith dared not look too closely at the seepage from the man’s skull: just close enough to see that the blood was still wet, glistening in the poor light from the back of the restaurant.
She started at the blast of a siren, straightened up, and pulled her hands out of her pockets. Headlights flooded the alley; heavy doors slammed. Paramedics unloaded their stretcher and pushed it toward her. A bulky figure passed in front of the ambulance lights.
“Smith,” Chief Constable Paul Keller said, “what have you got here?” His clothes smelled, as always, as if they’d been hanging in a tobacco barn when it caught fire.
“It’s Reginald Montgomery, sir. Of Grizzly Resort?” Her voice squeaked as it always did when she was nervous.
“I was having dinner with my wife and daughter when the dispatcher called. Said you told her suspicious circumstances?” Oh, God. Let it be so. If I’ve dragged the CC away from his dinner en famille because Montgomery tripped over his shoelace I’ll be finished.
“Looks that way, sir,” she said.
“Definitely dead,” one of the paramedics said, “visible grey matter.”
The Chief Constable stepped forward to have a closer look. The investigating detectives wouldn’t be short of suspects.
There were two camps in Trafalgar—everyone in town over the age of two either belonged to the group that hated Reg Montgomery, or the one that loved him.
Smith pushed aside the thought that her mother could be counted prominently among the haters and tried to look as if she knew what she should be doing now.
Not long before Constable Molly Smith walked down Elm Street heading for the alley, Rosemary Fitzgerald flipped the sign on the shop window to “closed” with a happy sigh. It had been a good day. A long day, but a good one. She owned a small store on Front Street, between Mid-Kootenay Adventure Vacations and Wolf River Bookstore. The perfect location for her business: making homemade foods suitable to take camping. She also sold a wide selection of packaged and freeze-dried meals and ready-to-eat trail snacks. She and her husband, Ben, had often talked, while sitting around a campfire, or paddling across a lake, about the day when they’d pack their corporate cube-farm jobs in and move to a wilderness town. They’d vacationed in the interior of British Columbia ten years ago, and Ben announced that he’d found his own heaven on earth. But Ben had died, only a year later, struck down by a heart attack working late at the desk he hated. Rosemary continued to dream their dream, and last year she’d retired with a small pension and moved to Trafalgar. She loved her shop, loved being her own boss, and scarcely had time to miss her children back in Toronto.
Rosemary grabbed her backpack, checked that the oven was off, turned down the lights, and let herself into the alley. She locked the back door and turned to get her bike.
The blue bike lock lay on the ground. Rosemary stared at it. Where was her bike? The blue-grey mountain bike had cost more than she wanted to spend, but the town was situated at the bottom of a mountain, so she needed a good, sturdy bike.
She looked around. The stores along the same stretch of Front Street as hers were closed, shadows deep in the darkening alley. A couple of cars drove by on Elm Street; to the west light spilled from the restaurant Feuilles de Menthe. Leaves of Mint. The scent of garlic and roasting meats drifted toward her. Two shapes stood under the light at the back of the restaurant. Rosemary started toward them, intending to ask if they’d seen her bike, perhaps noticed anyone suspicious hanging around. She soon saw that they were arguing; voices were raised and the fat one was punching his fist into his other hand.
She retreated and let herself back into her shop. The comfortable closeness, the scent of the day’s cooking, the shine of the countertops, the neatness of the cans and packaged goods stacked on the shelves, even her pride in owning her own business, had diminished in the few minutes Rosemary’d been in the alley.
Her car was at home. She didn’t want to waste money on a cab, but it was too far to walk. And tonight, for the first time since she’d driven over the big black bridge across the wide Upper Kootenay River, Rosemary Fitzgerald didn’t feel safe in Trafalgar.
# # #
“I think,” John Winters said to the woman across the table, “that if I had to live my life again, I’d meet you in kindergarten so I wouldn’t waste all those years without knowing you.”
The woman laughed and tilted her glass to watch the swirl of red wine move across the sides of the bowl. “You do go on, John.” She leaned back to allow the waiter to slide a plate in front of her. “Thank you.”
Winters scarcely noticed as his own plate was placed on the table. His dinner companion was a highly sought-after model. Men’s heads had turned as they entered the restaurant. Men’s heads always turned when she walked into a room.
She slipped a plump oyster between her pink lips and chewed with delicate bites of white teeth. They were in the dining room of one of the best resorts in the British Columbia Interior, a place well out of the budget of a Sergeant in the Trafalgar City Police. But Winters was determined to make this a very special evening. Wasn’t that why credit cards had been invented? He cast a silent prayer to the god of banking that his card wouldn’t have reached its limit. He’d bought the diamond necklace just this morning, so the charge shouldn’t have been placed on his card yet. He was planning to present her with the gift over dessert, and it would spoil the mood if a sneering waiter rejected the card.
The words slipped out. “You are so beautiful.”
“Oh, John, how you do go on.” She looked at him through sea-green eyes over the rim of her glass.
He was the luckiest man in the world. While most of his colleagues sat at home with their dumpy hausfrau wives, he was dining in one of the best restaurants in the area with a woman who was regularly photographed for women’s magazines. If his credit card could take the load of this dinner, he’d be scoring tonight.
The waiter cleared the appetizer dishes. He was young, blond, buff, handsome, yet he almost melted under the force of the smile from John’s date.
Their main courses arrived. She’d chosen the poached wild salmon; he’d wanted the filet mignon but at forty bucks a pop it was too much, so he settled for a T-bone. Potatoes and vegetables cost extra; the cash register in his brain clicked up the numbers. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about how much this meal was costing? He looked into the woman’s deep décolletage. That took his mind off the price of the meal. “Shall I order another bottle of wine?”
“I’m game if you are,” she said. She winked.
Winters’ arm shot up to summon the waiter. At the same moment his jacket rang.
“Oh, no,” he said.
“John,” she said. “Not tonight.”
He pulled the phone out of his jacket pocket and pointed to the empty bottle of wine in the cooler as the attentive waiter slid up to their table.
The woman across the table threw sea-green daggers at him. He put the phone back without daring a glance at her. “If you want dessert,” he mumbled, picking at mashed potatoes running with yellow butter, “we should have time. I told them I’ve been
drinking so they’re sending someone to pick me up.” “John…”
“Oh, by the way, I bought this.” He fumbled in his pocket for the small blue box, and handed it across the table.
She took it in perfectly manicured fingers. “It’s for you,” he said.
She gave him a soft smile. A smile full of love, yet tinged with disappointment at the failure of their evening. She opened the box.
His phone rang again. He said no more than two or three words before hanging up. “The car’s here already, there was someone nearby.” He got to his feet and walked around to her side of the table. “Enjoy your dinner, have dessert, call a cab, you’ve had as much to drink as I have. Take your time, and know that I love you.” He pulled out his credit card. “I’ll tell them to cover anything.”
She laughed. “I wouldn’t trust that card to pay for a pack of gum. Now get going. I haven’t finished my meal yet. Call me when you get a chance.”
He bent over and kissed her.
Another promising night ruined. “Sorry,” he said.
Eliza Winters watched the man she’d been happily married to for twenty-five years walk out of the restaurant. How much longer, she wondered, would he be able to keep at his line of work? Retirement was getting closer, even as he tried to ignore the passing of time. They’d moved to Trafalgar because he was burning out, fast, in Vancouver. Crushed by the despair of life in the Downtown Eastside. Consumed by guilt at what he saw as failure. Drinking far, far too much. The move had been good for him; the old John was coming back to her. She hoped tonight’s call wouldn’t amount to anything too serious.
Eliza twisted the necklace around her fingers, letting it catch fire from the candlelight on the table. She signaled to the waiter to bring the bill and dug into her bag for her credit card.
# # #
Christa Thompson let all of her frustrations out on the phone table.
“Damn, blast, and hellfire,” she yelled. “Leave me alone.” The table jumped.
He’d called her again. As always, sweet and kind and con- siderate. Is there anything I can get you, Chrissie? I’m heading to Nelson. I’ll stop at Wal-Mart if you want. Can I pick up anything? Let me help you, let me care for you, let me watch over you, let me, let me….
Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?
She buried the phone under a pile of sheets in the linen closet. She knew the routine. He’d call every fifteen minutes, “just checking that you’re okay.” After an hour or two, he’d suggest coming over with a pizza, or picking up a DVD. She’d tried to be nice, to be friendly. To explain that she’d eaten dinner, thank you. That she was tired and ready for bed. Always being polite, always saying thank you.
But tonight she’d told him straight out not to bother her again, and buried the phone where she wouldn’t have to listen to it ring. Would he get the message at last?
She carried a cup of tea into the living room-dining room-study of her apartment and sat down at the computer table. Her essay on the Romantic Poets (20% of the final mark!) was due next week and she’d barely started it. She looked out the window. The lights of town twinkled in the valley and crawled up the lower slopes, getting thinner and thinner until the mountains were nothing but dark shapes against the deep purple sky. Koola glacier was wrapped in darkness.
She sipped at the tea and reviewed her notes. She’d always loved Wordsworth the best. Could his name, perfect for a poet, have contributed to his art? That might be an idea to pursue if she decided to go for her master’s in English Lit. She was reading An Evening’s Walk, Addressed to a Young Lady, settling into the mood and the love of the words, when the loud knocking at the front door yanked her back to her cramped apartment. She occupied the top floor of a house so decrepit it was a wonder that one board still supported another, and her downstairs neighbors could be nasty if she made the slightest noise.
Abandoning Wordsworth, Christa ran down the narrow staircase. She threw open the door.
Charlie stood there. He was well over six feet tall, thickly muscled from hours spent at the gym, with a head as round and bald as a bowling ball. His running shoes filled the mat at her door.
“Gosh, Chrissie, your phone isn’t working. It rings and rings but you don’t pick up. Suppose you had to call 911 or something. I came over right away.”
“Please, please. Leave me alone, Charlie. Just. Go. Away.” She slammed the door shut. She leaned her back against it and wept as his fists pounded on the thin wood. “Chrissie. Let me help. I can fix your phone.”
“You don’t shut your friend the hell up, I’m reporting this to Mr. Czarnecki,” the downstairs neighbor screamed through the wall that separated their living room from Chrissie’s staircase. “He’ll have you out of here on your skinny ass if I have anything to say about it. My kids are tryin’ to get to fuckin’ sleep.” A dull thud as a shoe hit the wall.
“Chrissie? I can’t get the door open. You’ve locked me out by mistake.”
She ran up the stairs, blinded by tears.
# # #
Everyone called her Lucky, but at this moment Lucy Smith didn’t feel lucky in the slightest. She was nothing but disgusted. Disgusted at the pile of petitions on her kitchen table. Disgusted at her husband who appeared to have gone over to the dark side—such a cliché that, but highly appropriate. Disgusted at the people filling her house who were great at rhetoric, but not so good at getting down to solid, productive work.
“This cranberry loaf ’s delicious, Jane. Can I have the recipe?” Norma McGrath was digging out a pen.
“It’s so easy, you won’t believe it,” Jane Reynolds replied. “Two cups of flour….”
“Please, can we get back to business,” Lucky said.
“We have to forget about the Grizzly development and concentrate on the garden,” Nick Boswell mumbled around a mouthful of cranberry loaf.
“That Rob Montgomery has to be stopped,” Norma said. “His resort will kill the bears.”
“Reg. Reginald Montgomery.” Lucky restrained a heavy sigh. “But it is a free country, at least for now, and we can’t put out a contract on him, can we? So let’s concentrate on where we can be most effective. And that’s the Commemorative Peace Garden. Once we’re sure its future is secure we can turn our attention to the resort development.” Sylvester, the big, goofy, good-natured golden retriever lying at her feet, yawned. Sylvester was used to groups of people gathering, and arguing, in the Smith kitchen.
“I agree with Lucky,” Michael Rockwell said. “If we fly all over the map we don’t make an impression on anything. And so we achieve nothing.” He smiled at her and Lucky felt something move in her chest.
“The garden has to come to pass.” Barry Stevens choked on the words. Lucky turned away from Michael’s friendly smile and looked at Barry. Lines of pain, always there in one degree or another, dragged at his face. His left hand was white against the arm of his chair. His right sleeve hung empty at his side. His eyes, pale, pale blue, filled with water. “It has to. Where’s Andy, anyway? I’d expect that Andy, of all people, would be part of this.”
“Problems at the store,” Lucky said, studying the pattern of the wood in her kitchen table. “He sends his apologies.”
“Apology noted,” Barry said. “We can start with a letter insisting that the town council stick to its original decision and proceed with the construction of the Commemorative Peace Garden. To use the estate’s bequest to fund the garden, and that the garden be specifically dedicated to Vietnam War resisters.” “Now that the fate of the garden’s in doubt, trouble’s brewing,” Jane said. “Fox News ran a piece on it. I’ve been told it
“Fox News!” Barry’s mouth twisted to one side and for a moment Lucky thought he was going to spit on her ceramic floor. “Let the chickenhawks come.”