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In bestselling Deverell’s latest hilarious mystery, Arthur Beauchamp moves to Ottawa, and all hell breaks loose
Arthur Beauchamp has followed his wife, the leader and first elected member of the Green Party, to Ottawa. But he hates it there: the cold, the politics, and his place in his wife’s shadow. So when a delegation of government officials from Bhashyistan is blown sky high on Bronson Avenue and the shares of a Calgary-based oil company promptly drop like a stone, Arthur is...
In bestselling Deverell’s latest hilarious mystery, Arthur Beauchamp moves to Ottawa, and all hell breaks loose
Arthur Beauchamp has followed his wife, the leader and first elected member of the Green Party, to Ottawa. But he hates it there: the cold, the politics, and his place in his wife’s shadow. So when a delegation of government officials from Bhashyistan is blown sky high on Bronson Avenue and the shares of a Calgary-based oil company promptly drop like a stone, Arthur is only too happy to jump to the defence of the missing suspected assassin.
Deverell’s latest Arthur Beauchamp novel cranks the wily old lawyer’s adventures up several notches, and then some. It’s wildly imaginative, utterly Canadian, and irresistibly funny.
"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that . . . that thing over there, that statue or whatever you want to call it, is what the Criminal Code calls a disgusting object. Guilty as charged." As Judge Wilkie stammered through this verdict, his unbelieving eyes were fixed – as they'd been through much of the trial – on Exhibit One, a twelve-foot sculpture of a winged, serpent-necked anthropoid with its head halfway up its rear end.
Arthur Beauchamp, Q.C., hadn't expected to hear any brave and stirring tribute to artistic freedom, not from this clubby former small-town practitioner. In all honesty, he himself was repelled by his client's artificium – he'd even found himself nodding at the prosecutorial rhetoric: "Is this something you'd allow your five-year-old to see?" Arthur knew he should hold modern, liberal views, but one has to be true to himself, and the hopeless truth was he was a stodgy old fart. Even in his youth he'd been a stodgy old fart.
He was annoyed at losing, of course, but mostly because of the blow to his pride – the judgment had brought his long string of victories, thirty-eight, to an ignoble end. A porno trial. If he were going to end his career at the bar – and he was determined this would be his last case – he'd have preferred to crash in the flames of a good old-fashioned murder.
The venue for this entertainment was Garibaldi Island's unfinished community hall – the framing and siding were done, the roof in place, but windows not. Papers rustled in the balmy breezes from without, a late-September day on warming planet Earth. A few score of the local mobile vulgus sat grinning on foldup metal chairs, amid sundry press and international art fanciers.
"Extraordinary." That more satisfactory verdict had been whispered in awed tones by a museum curator during a break. "Breathtaking," said a Boston gallery owner. "Such raw energy," said a buyer for a California collector. Enthusiasts of the bizarre, they'd arrived on Garibaldi like aliens from some planet whose dwellers were required to be outfitted with Armani suits, Rolexes, and Prada bags. Arthur felt like a rube in his comfortable rumpled suit.
"That leaves the matter of sentence, Mr. Beauchamp."
Arthur turned to Hamish McCoy, sitting at his elbow with his leprechaun grin, a pixie mix of Irish and Scots with a Newfoundland brogue. He'd been an artist of middling renown until he unveiled this work two years ago on Ferryboat Knoll. Now, thanks to all the tittering publicity and Internet traffic, he'd been discovered; his pieces, mostly giant mythical creatures, were fetching respectable prices.
McCoy had intended the statue as satire – it was his penance for an earlier crime, a grow-op, two hundred kilograms of Orange Super Skunk, a scheme to pay down his mortgage. Judge Wilkie had granted him a discharge conditional on his erecting a sculpture near the ferry landing, a tourism enhancer. All through the trial, the motions, the arguments, the drone of testimony from art experts, the judge had been in a sulking fury. Out of court, he'd been overheard fulminating about how he'd given McCoy a break only to be mocked.
"A suspended sentence would admirably reflect the gravity of this victimless minor offence," Arthur said.
Wilkie sat back, offended. "A slap on the wrist? For this obscene garbage?" He again fixed his obsessive gaze upon the statue, a study in stilled motion: looped, whorled shapes, a great round belly, a serpentine neck coiled downward and up like an elephant's trunk, a rat's face seeking entry into that most inelegant of orifices. Plaster over forms, rebar, and chicken wire. McCoy's preferred medium was bronze, but that would have been hugely expensive, given this flying rodent's girth and ten-foot wingspan, its humanoid legs with splayed bare feet. Wilkie may have found the tiny penis and testicles especially insulting.
"If it's garbage, it's worthless," Arthur said. "Sentence should be commensurate with that."
"There are victims. It is the duty of the courts to protect those who may be morally corrupted by such filthy displays."
That would probably include every man, woman, and child on Garibaldi, given it had been stored in the RCMP's fenced compound, open to view through binoculars on well-tramped Chickadee Ridge. Stoney and Dog, Arthur's occasional handymen, had earned handsome tips guiding tourists there.
Wilkie unhitched his eyes from the sculpture, turned to McCoy. "I ought to send you to jail, that's my first impulse. But I've decided society should not be burdened with the cost of your upkeep. Fifty-thousand-dollar fine, six months in default."
McCoy looked like he was about to blow his top. "Fifty . . ."
Arthur bent low to his client's ear. "Zip it."
"How much time does he need to pay?"
"I suggest fifteen years."
"Payable in six months. Now what do we do with this thing? I don't see anything in the Code about disposing of such items."
"Exactly, Your Honour. It remains the property of the defendant. But maybe not for long." Arthur turned to the gallery. "I understand there's some interest in this unique abstraction."
A pony-tailed gentleman in a double-breasted frock coat: "I represent an interested party."
"Who might that be?" Arthur asked.
"The Shockley Foundation. I hold a certified cheque for eighty thousand dollars."
Up jumped a bejewelled older woman in a chic pantsuit. "Manhattan Contemporary Gallery. Ninety thousand."
Wilkie looked aghast.
"Thank you, I have ninety," Arthur said. "Do I hear a hundred?" A hand was raised, the Armani suit.
"Mr. Beauchamp! This court is in session!"
"I beg forgiveness."
"Please take your business outside."
Arthur bowed solemnly to the judge, motioned to the bidders to join him on the lawn.
"Call the next case," Wilkie said, his voice cracking.
"Regina versus Robert Stonewell. Thirteen counts of operating businesses without a licence, one count of maintaining unsightly premises."
Wilkie blanched as Stoney shuffled forward, holding his tattered copy of the local bylaws. "Not guilty, Your Honour. These here charges deny my fundamental right to earn a livelihood." He was an experienced hand at this, a pettifogging amateur lawyer.
Outside on the grass, under a hot fall sun, Arthur kept the media at bay while bargaining continued, the piece finally fetching a hundred and sixty thousand. McCoy would see a quantum sufficit of that, but Arthur wasn't going to let him welsh on the fees this time. He had driven up his stock considerably.
McCoy shook hands with the winning bidder, the Armani suit, a German gallery owner. Arthur accepted a certified cheque for half, scribbled out a contract. As part of the deal, McCoy would enjoy an all-expenses trip to Berlin to oversee installation.
If only out of principle, the conviction would be appealed, but not by Arthur – let the Civil Liberties Association take it. He was at an age when most lawyers were packing it up, retreating to hobby farm and lakeside cottage. He'd undertaken this case only as a reprieve from Ottawa, from which he regularly fled to perform in another scene of this stop-and-go trial. Ottawa was his unhappy home away from home since his beloved wife won a federal by- election thirty months ago. Margaret Blake, diva of the environmental movement, Parliament's sole Green Party member and its leader.
Another bitter Eastern winter looming. The apartment they'd rented was dismal, though well located near the Rideau Canal. But it was four thousand miles from his farm at Blunder Bay, from the gentle, forgiving winters of the Salish Sea.
On his every return to Ottawa, Arthur would endure ribbing from the reporters and politicians he'd befriended. McCoy's opus foedus was the subject of much hilarity in the corridors of Parliament, even among normally censorial M.P.s, though they would don pious masks when in the chamber, pretending shock and offence, demanding an end to federal grants for such salacious art.
Arthur wondered if he'd been born with an abhorrence for politics, though likely it had been instilled early by his close-minded, right-wing, iconoclastic parents. He saw politics as a Machiavellian game of clandestine deals and low intrigue. To his dismay, Margaret enjoyed it, enjoyed her underdog role in the Commons, had proved herself agile at it, despite a tart tongue and an impatience with the eco-hypocrisy that pervaded the House.
She'd been isolated by the old boys' club, orphaned to a rear seat on the Opposition side, but she was the poster girl of the Green set, darling of the liberal press, whom she worked with jokes and sound bites. Two decades younger than Arthur, vigorous, trim, and comely. Sort of a political sex object, her gams boldly displayed in that recent Maclean's profile. (When had she taken to wearing such short dresses?)
Sauntering from the hall came Robert Stonewell, fresh from beating his bylaw charges. Most of his illegal businesses were autorelated: motor mechanics, a taxi service, and rentals and sales from his sprawling used-car lot, Garibaldi's infamous Centre Road eyesore. But Stoney ran other illegal trades, including a specialty crop called Purple Passion. By now, in late September, his plants will have budded out.
"He finally gave up."
Wilkie, he meant, who'd probably developed one of his migraines trying to deal with Stoney's convolutions. An imminent ferry departure had also played a part: judge, prosecutor, and staff were rushing for their cars, with the local constable, Ernst Pound, escorting them, emergency lights flashing.
"Stoney, I hate to offend you by asking, but when am I going to see my truck again?" Arthur's venerable Fargo had been sitting for a month in the reprobate's yard, awaiting a transplant. It was Blunder Bay's sole vehicle, other than a tractor, Margaret having sold the half-ton diesel. Arthur had been making do by walking or hitching.
"Well, I was gonna surprise you, but you spoiled it by asking. I found a skookum rebuilt trannie in Victoria which I plan to acquire maybe as early as tomorrow. Those babies don't come cheap no more."
The traditional bargaining ceremony followed, one that would not have been out of place in a Cairo souk. Finally, Arthur bowed to the inevitable, greased his palm.
The hall was emptying out. Arthur must get back to the farm. Assuming the caretakers weren't in one of their squabbling modes, he would have a few more days' repose before flying to Ottawa to serve as loyal consort to the member for Cowichan and the Islands.
"Listen, man," Stoney said, "it's that time of year, and a certain individual is in the process of getting his crop off, and this could be a chance to make a advantageous investment. The party I represent needs a little front money."
Arthur looked quickly to his right and left, toward the hall, saw no one close enough to hear this criminal offer.
"Hundred per cent purple Thai, man." Stoney lit a joint, as if in demonstration. "Sweet." The fat rollie gave off an intense aroma.
"Stoney, I do not do drug deals."
"Heaven forbid that I would sully the name of our respectiful . . . respectable town tonsil. In case you ain't aware, Arthur, I am addressing my brother here, my long-time soulmate who has just come into some tall money."
Arthur looked down to see a horny, muscular hand reaching for the joint. Hamish McCoy, a foot shorter than Arthur and below his radar during his lookabout, was right under his beaklike nose.
McCoy took a drag. "Yiss, yiss," he said after a moment, "a fine vintage, b'y."
The two rogues went back to the hall to celebrate and scheme, and Arthur headed off to the trail to Eastshore Way, which led ultimately to Potters Road and home. A two-mile hike, getting his strength up for another snowbound Ottawa winter.
He was limping as he cut across the high pasture – his feet didn't like these stiff city shoes. Blunder Bay unfurled below, a ridge of arbutus and Douglas fir above a scallop-shaped inlet, a rickety dock with his forty-horse runabout. Greenhouse, barn, deer-fenced garden, goat-milking shed, and two grand old farmhouses. The weary-looking one with the slumping veranda was lived in, and the other was being refurbished: the former home of the neighbour he'd wooed and won.
That was eight years ago, after he'd made a break for freedom, vowing forever to retire from the odious practices of the law. The courtroom had taken a cruel toll: the artifice, the duplicity, the games that he'd despised himself for excelling at. The bloodletting, the acrimony. Dragging the innocent through the mud, painting the brutish client as the angel of innocence.
No one had been surprised as much as Arthur by the prowess he'd displayed in court. A classical scholar, a shy and gentle soul plagued by self-doubt, by an overwhelming sense of inadequacy (blame his merciless parenting), he had magically transformed each time he'd put on his robes.
Maybe it was a dissociative disorder, a double personality. Mildmannered Arthur Beauchamp becomes his opposite, dons the armour of the Greek and Roman heroes glorified by his beloved Homer and Virgil. He'd astonished himself by winning his first twelve murders, tying Hercules' record of twelve labours, besting the savage Cretan bull that was his own felt impotence.
And then he became a jealous cuckold and a drunk . . .
He carefully closed the gate, manoeuvred around the thick coils of excreta left by Bess, their Jersey milk cow, and Barney, their old stallion, who was grazing by the fence, blind and deaf, only mouth and anus working. In contrast, Homer, their two-year-old border collie, had everything working – he'd seen, heard, and smelled Arthur's coming, was bounding so fast toward him that he overshot his target by ten feet.
Arthur treated him to a shoulder rub, then ordered him back to work. Homer bounded off to the lower pasture, where the young goat they'd named Papillon had escaped the pen again, was hiding out amid the sheep, trying to look inconspicuous.
Directing this light entertainment was the vivacious Savannah Buckett, eighteen months out of jail for an act of eco-sabotage against a high-end logging operation. She waved, looking a little helpless and flustered – a city woman, a street-smart radical, unused to the travails of country living. As was her partner and fellow parolee, Zachary Flett, who was out there too, sealing a hole in the goat pen.
Arthur paused to look at his flourishing garden, its fattening pumpkins and cabbage heads and wilting potato tops with their promises of bounty below. He will fork some up as soon as he gets out of this sweaty suit and into a uniform more rustic.
Zack had added more solar panels to the roofs of the house and barn – he was a fair hand with green technology. ("We're going to take you off the grid, big boy," Savannah had said, patting his farmfed belly.) They'd been reviving Margaret's 1920s frame house as well, and planned eventually to move into it.
He mounted the creaking steps to his veranda, sat down on the rocker, kicked off his shoes, massaged his feet, and watched with approval as, with Homer working right point, his caretakers finally arrested the goat while loudly blaming each other for its bolt to freedom.
At first, Arthur hadn't minded sharing his house with this pair. It was spacious, three bedrooms, a large parlour off the living room, funky gingerbread details. But they were constantly at each other over the most trivial transgressions – mislaid toothpaste, underwear and socks lying about, compost not taken out.
Savannah, Zachary, and three other activists of what the press dubbed the Quatsino Five had canoed by night into a log-booming grounds below a hotly debated old-growth clearcut, armed with acetylene sets in backpacks. They'd cut through the boom chains, and by morning several hundred logs were afloat on the Pacific Ocean. Gourmet timber, yellow cedar, forty-thousand dollars per raw log in Japan. Much was salvaged, more pirated by scavengers.
A vicious and ruinous act of eco-terrorism, snarled the judge, getting his headline. He gave each defendant four years, and each served two and a half, unrepentant.
Others had answered Blunder Bay's ad for caretakers, but Margaret made the politically precarious choice of these two newly sprung parolees. She believed in peaceful protest, she assured the press, and disagreed with what they'd done, but they'd paid the price and deserved a chance. Arthur echoed her loyally: rehabilitation not retribution.
Zachary and Savannah were in their early thirties, both from Vancouver, where they'd met and coupled a decade ago. Zack came out of prison wrathful and bitter, but Savannah somehow had taken it in stride, harboured little rancour. In the end, theirs was not a lost cause because half the ancient cloud forest they'd fought to save – a habitat for threatened marbled murrelets – was made a reserve.
"Sometimes a little serious monkeywrenching works," Zack had said. Such musings made Arthur nervous, hinting of anarchist attitudes. He sensed Zack revelled in the role of hero to the more rambunctious elements of the environmental movement.
Though tenderfeet, both were intelligent and industrious, if cynical, and firm subscribers to an organic lifestyle. Neither owned cars, out of principle, relying on bicycles, but Zack seemed adept enough with the tractor and the Fargo, when it was on the road. And it was a break to have someone to talk to other than the layabouts at the General Store. However, they did tend to patronize Arthur, with his square, traditional world view.
Arthur ascended briskly to the second floor, his floor, with its own den, its ample bedroom and bath, its expansive ocean view: the San Juan Islands and the distant snowy Olympics. Might he bring out rods and tackle this evening? Bait some crab pots? So little time, so many things to do.
Clad in rough farm wear, he went down to find Zack barefoot in the kitchen, washing up. Of middling height, gaunt, angular. "Papillon pissed on my boots." He swept a swatch of untrained coal-black hair from his dark sad eyes.
Savannah examined him critically from the doorway. "Jeez, Zack, change your pants while you're at it. Lesson learned. Don't stand behind the livestock."
Arthur picked up a gamy, sweaty smell as she bussed him with pouty lips. A modern woman, brash and tart. Taller than her boyfriend, thick blond curls, a busty, eye-catching figure. Arthur had got used to her nighttime roaming – a sleepwalking disorder had plagued her since childhood.
She continued to scold Zack. "When are you going to get a damn haircut? You look like a palm tree in a hurricane."
"Yeah, right, I'll head right down to the nearest salon."
"You need a weed whacker, pal." She turned to Arthur. "So who won today's battle between good and evil?"
Arthur regaled them with Judge Wilkie's show of dismay as his punitive fine was dwarfed by later, generous ransoms.
"Sounds like the judge we drew," Zack said. "Another guardian of the dying order. Maybe telling him to go to hell was a strategic error. Did Wilkie really think it was a caricature of himself?"
"I'm afraid that's rather typical of the self-absorbed."
"Reminds me of someone else. A pork-bellied flightless ostrich with its head up its patoot – who am I thinking of?"
"Huck Finn," Savannah said.
The Conservative prime minister, she meant, Huck Finnerty. Whom the member for Cowichan and the Islands, in one of her more acidic sound bites, had accused of having his head up his exhaust pipe.