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A Door in the River
A Hazel Micallef Mystery
By Inger Ash Wolfe
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2012 Inger Ash Wolf
All rights reserved.
Monday, August 8, 10 a.m.
Emily Micallef was refusing to smile. Her daughter, Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef, had got her to agree to the photo session and to get gussied up in a fine dark-blue summer dress, and even to stand in the garden, but she wouldn't smile. The photographer, Jonas Greenlund, had resorted to sticking a quarter to his forehead, but all that won from Emily was a scornfully raised eyebrow and the rejoinder that she wasn't a fourteen-year-old in her first bra. She was a woman of eighty-seven who was entitled to look any way she pleased. And she wanted to look respectable. Serious.
"But you look stern, Mother."
"It's steely intelligence."
"But this picture is for me. If Martha or Emilia want a picture of you that looks like you've been constipated since The Beatles, then they can pay for it."
"Oh for the love of Mike," said Emily, and she bared her teeth in mockery of a smile, sticking her face forward on her neck. Her face looked white and drawn, a wilting flower on a dried-out stalk. Greenlund took a shot.
"If you don't give me a natural smile, Mrs. Micallef," he said, "I'll put you on my website."
The phone rang. "I'll get it," said Emily, practically leaping toward the house. "I may be back."
"We might as well do me," said Hazel. "She'll probably creep out the front door and drive to town." She took her position in the garden and stood turned one-quarter away from Greenlund. She'd decided against having her picture taken in uniform, as the Port Dundas Police Department already had an official photo for the station house, and it had been a while since a good likeness of her had been taken. If these turned out, she thought, each of her daughters could have one, and even her ex-husband, Andrew, might like one for his house. (She imagined it pinned to the wall, sharing space with screwdrivers and hammers, over his workbench in the basement. She merited that much.) Greenlund was waving her a step back and telling her to relax her shoulders. Hazel had dressed in a black blouse and forest-green cotton skirt that hung down to her shins. She was wearing her best shoes as well: a pair of black Italian flats she'd bought from Bally three years ago, on sale for $120. That these were her best shoes spoke volumes about her, and Hazel knew it. Not merely that she was frugal, but that she could never have seen herself in $500 shoes, no matter the occasion. She could never have carried it off. But this was one of the things about growing old successfully: you came to learn your own personal price points. She could spend more on trousers than tops, for instance (her legs were long for her height), but no matter what she spent, she could not wear bracelets, and every kind of hat but her OPS cap made her look like she'd taken the wrong advice from someone.
This ensemble (total cost: $385) was just right. It had the kind of elegance she could plausibly display, and she was comfortable in it. Greenlund had her turn this way and that, coming close and then backing away, firing off pictures. "These are going to be heirlooms!" he exclaimed and then took two quick pictures of Hazel's skeptical smile.
They were still playing with angles when Emily appeared at the back door, holding the phone at her side. She hadn't changed her clothes. "It's Melanie from the station house."
Hazel took the phone. "What is it?" she said to her secretary (whose actual title was executive assistant).
"Have you heard about Henry Wiest?"
"What about him?"
"He's dead. He had a heart attack on the reserve."
"Jesus. What time did this happen?"
"Midnight or thereabouts."
"In Queesik Bay?"
"Right. Cathy Wiest phoned Jack Deacon. Someone on the band police called her at home and told her they had her husband in the hospital on the reserve. They didn't tell her he was in the morgue until she got there. She agreed to let them do the autopsy."
"Why didn't she call anyone up here?"
"Isn't Deacon her uncle?"
"Maybe. But ... god! Dead?" Both her mother and the photographer swivelled their attention to her. "And what was he doing in Queesik Bay?"
"Skip, I don't know!" said Cartwright. "Maybe he was going to the casino. But they found him in the parking lot of one of the smoke shops on the 26."
Hazel stood with the phone to her ear, shaking her head.
"You there?" said Cartwright.
"Funeral's Thursday. I expect the whole town will be at the service."
"I bet," said Hazel. "Okay, Melanie. Thanks for telling me."
Hazel hung up and stared at the phone in her hand. "Henry Wiest is dead," she said, like it was a question. "Had a heart attack. At a smoke shop on Queesik Bay Road."
"Oh, poor Cathy," said her mother. Henry and Cathy had been married for fifteen years and everyone in the two Kehoes – Glenn and River – as well as in Port Dundas knew who they were. They were almost a famous couple, known by name to just about everyone who lived in those towns, and many more besides.
Hazel was retreating into the house. "We'll have do this another day," she said to Greenlund.
"I understand completely," he said. "I wonder if my wife knows." He put the lens cap on his camera and took out his phone.
The autopsy done on the reserve gave the cause of death as cardiac infarction brought on by extreme anaphylaxis. He'd been stung by a bee. That made it the second fatal sting of the summer. There had been news in May of a new strain in Ontario and Quebec and it'd been spotted for the first time in Westmuir in July. Every week now the papers had another story of kids stung on a camping trip or someone having a bad reaction to a sting in a village garden. All the local paramedic teams had tripled their stock of EpiPens and there were editorials on how to deal with the invaders and avoid their stings, from wearing shoes outdoors at all times to defensive soda drinking ("Keep the opening on your pop can covered at all times! Bees love sweet things and will crawl inside your sugary drink only to, possibly, sting you inside the mouth! Ouch!").
The one death had occurred in Fort Leonard, in the middle of July – a camper on a portage had been stung repeatedly while carrying his canoe – and Wiest was the second. It was impossible to know if you might have an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. The problem with anaphylaxis was that you could receive six bee stings in your life (or eat a dozen peanuts, or wear latex gloves twenty times) before the deadly reaction kicked in. And, sometimes, a series of mild anaphylactic reactions would lead to a fatal one.
Henry Wiest owned the hardware store in Kehoe Glenn – called, simply, Wiest's – and at one time or another most people in a fifty-kilometre radius had called on him for some reason. The family-owned hardware store in Port Dundas had closed in 2001 when the Canadian Tire had moved into town from the highway and expanded, and Wiest's reputation for driving out to fix a lock or get a chipmunk out of a wall was, by that point, legend. There were plenty of contractors and electricians, roofers and excavators in the region, but small jobs tended to flow Henry's way: he was reliable, friendly, and cheap, and he never did anything that wasn't necessary.
His wife, Cathy, owned Kehoe Glenn's best-loved café, The Frog Pond, which apart from having an excellent breakfast and lunch menu also boasted the best coconut cream pie in all of Westmuir County. Both husband and wife were the kind of local celebrities only small towns have: he could fix anything; she made amazing pies. Between the two of them, a childless couple, they made a fine living, but they lived in almost obsessive modesty. Sometimes people had gossiped that Henry Wiest had more than $5 million in savings. Yet they had occupied that pretty house on Church Road since 1986, the year they were married, and it was no bigger a house than two people needed. Henry drove the company pickup on business and otherwise drove a used Camry. Cathy drove a new one. Her Camrys eventually became his used Camrys and then they'd buy her a new one. Every five years, when the warranties ran out.
In the afternoon, people were going to pay their respects. Hazel went home first to change into civilian clothes and then continued on to Kehoe Glenn. The Wiest house was set back a ways, against a ravine, and there was a beautifully kept garden in the front. The smaller second storey of the house sloped down asymmetrically over the garage. Huge orange day lilies nodded against the front of the house below a big bay window, and blue delphinium, echinacea, and foxglove stood tall in their beds leading away from the house in serpentine patterns. Soft tufts of lamb's ear lined the edge of the bed. Hazel went up the walk, her attention drawn to the riot of colour and scent, and felt especially sad that Henry's widow had to cope with his death in the context of such rude and splendid life.
The house was already full of people – friends, relations, townsfolk – and Cathy's employees had brought over a groaning board's worth of food from the café. In a cynical part of herself, Hazel wondered how many of those who'd come to give their condolences hadn't just come for the food.
She gave a wide berth to the buffet. How people could eat at a time like this was beyond her. Cathy was sitting at one end of a couch, receiving people. She looked to be in shock a little, but it hadn't caused her natural warmth to flag. She was a beautiful, capable woman of thirty-six, and it was hard to imagine anyone bearing up with as much grace as she was.
There was a clutch of people standing around Cathy and not talking so much as they were emoting to each other. Professional criers, Hazel recalled, had once been hired by mourners to bring the proper gravity to a sad situation. It seemed the performance came naturally to some. She threaded her way eventually to the couch and took Cathy's hand in hers. "I don't know what to say."
"What is there to say?"
"I thought he was indestructible."
"Apparently not. It's unimaginable to me that he could have fallen off as many ladders as he did but be killed by something that tiny."
"Why was he down there?"
"He told me he was going to Mayfair to pick up some filters. Maybe he got a call on the way back. I don't know. I didn't talk to him after he left the store."
"It's awful, Cathy. Just awful."
Hazel hung back for a while after that, and shook hands, and made the appropriate gestures to the family. She overheard quite a few Henry Wiest stories that she already knew. The time he came in the middle of the night and enticed a family of raccoons out of Robert Moss's attic with nothing more than a net and one of The Frog Pond's meatballs. His uncle was talking about how Henry had three wild years in his teens when nobody thought he'd ever settle down. He was obviously never going to take over Bill's store. His father, my brother, said the uncle, pausing. But there was always a lot more to Henry and he wanted to be able to be with that woman, there, he said, pointing at the couch. Hazel watched people coming up to the uncle, smiling and touching him. She'd never heard of a wild version of Henry Wiest, and she'd known him from babyhood. The Wiest family went as far back in Westmuir as the Micallefs. Hazel had been fifteen when Henry was born; maybe his wild years coincided with her childrearing years. She filed it away, though. She had her own collection of stories. Her ex, Andrew, had once needed a hand to help trim heavy branches hanging over their roof: Henry had insisted Andrew go back inside and watch the football game, it was a two-man job he could do on his own. And once, when Martha was fourteen and alone at home, an attempt at teaching herself to drive had found her backsliding down the hill behind the house in their 1982 Volvo station wagon. Henry had answered her panicked call for help and he came to winch her back uphill and show her how to fill the tire tracks in the snow with cedar switches. (Martha told them the truth, anyway. They debated whether the elder Wiest would have approved of Henry's abetting. He'd been a Calvinist type, William Wiest.)
Both of them had been fixtures in the town. Cathy had sat on town council. If someone was having a party in Kehoe Glenn, there was a good chance they were at it. Henry had been fun to know. A party they'd had once at the house in Pember Lake had gone so late he'd fallen asleep on the couch with a blanket over his head. They'd left him there until noon the next day, tiptoeing around, and then decided to wake him. But when they pulled the blanket back there was a pile of pillows under it and a note that read, Keep it down, please.
She was going to miss him.
When people began to leave (and when the vittles began to dwindle), Hazel went up to Cathy a second time, to say goodbye. "There were a lot of people here," she said. "He was well loved."
"Thank you for coming, Hazel. You know it was your father's generation that set the example for Hank, once he was ready to come around to it. His dad, yours, all those nice old guys who used to curl together at the bonspiel ... they were the template. I wonder what this place is going to be like when their influence is finally gone."
"Well, it's up to us to keep it alive. Henry was the best example of it, though."
Cathy half smiled at Hazel. "Thank you for saying that."
Hazel gave the mourning woman a huge hug. Then, gently, she said, "Do you mind if I ask you something, Cathy?"
"Like what?" Hazel's tone had put her on alert.
"I'm just wondering if Henry smoked."
"Oh, he quit years ago. But he bought the occasional pack. I sometimes found them."
"Do you think he would have gone down to Queesik Bay to buy a pack of cigarettes?"
"I know," she said, "Sorry. Force of habit."
She squeezed Hazel's hand and turned her reddened face to the next well-wisher. Hazel went back to her car. She drove home with the radio off, thinking. Why had Henry Wiest parked far in the back of the smoke shop? There was a drive-through there if he'd wanted to be subtle about it. But he'd parked. So maybe he hadn't gone for smokes. She sincerely doubted that he'd gone for souvenirs, either.CHAPTER 2
Things were changing at the Port Dundas Police Department. Years of talk about amalgamating some of the region's smaller shops was turning into a reality, and the Port Dundas detachment was about to experience that in the form of Ray Greene returning to his old shop as the new commanding officer. Supposedly this was the beginning of a renaissance for Port Dundas: the detachment was going to grow, become more central to Westmuir operations. She wondered what Ray was going to be called. Probably superintendent. It made her skin itch to think of it. He'd been gone for almost a year, after quitting the force over Hazel's methods, as his CO, and now he was coming back, not as her deputy but her boss. Ray himself had informed Hazel of Commissioner Willan's decision in person back in May: he was going to be installed in January. So she had five months, five more months to do things her way.
After the gathering at the Wiest house, she called down to Queesik Bay to get a copy of the band police report on the discovery of the body, and a copy of the autopsy. The report was faxed up from the reserve police department. It was detailed and unprovocative. Under the details of time and place, the reporting officer, a Lydia Bellecourt, had written:
I responded to the location at 12:35 a.m. in regards to a report of a body in the rear of the parking lot behind Eagle Smoke and Souvenir. Upon arrival at the time noted above, a customer of Eagle Smoke and Souvenir, full name LOUIS PETER HARKEMAS, directed me to the location of the body, which he first saw when he was parking his car and his headlights illuminated it. He reassured me that no one had touched or moved the body from when he first saw it. The victim was found lying on his back, on the gravel of the rear parking lot, between a red, 2003 Ford F-150 pickup with the licence plate AAZW 229, and a grey 1997 Volkswagen Jetta with no plates. The victim was dressed in jeans, a blue shirt, and was wearing black Blundstone boots. The victim had vomited.
Excerpted from A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe. Copyright © 2012 Inger Ash Wolf. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this book a very good read . It did not have that exciting scary element found in the first two books, but I also could not stop reading . I'm waiting for book four in the series. Daisy
I was not sure it was the same writer as the first two books.