A rich man and a poor man are found dead of gunshot wounds outside a seedy bar on Barrington Street in Halifax. The police declare it a murder-suicide, but bluesman/lawyer Monty Collins hired to represent the victims’ families suspects it’s a double murder. The case gets complicated when the police link the gun to the suspicious death of a high-flying lawyer named Dice Campbell. Helped by his friend Father Brennan Burke, and hindered by his femme fatale law partner Felicia Morgan, Monty explores the dark side of Halifax society: hookers, drug addicts, boozers, gamblers, and people desperate to cover up a series of parties that got way out of hand. Monty’s investigations lead him to a ruthless businessman with street connections, a preacher who’s been seen cruising for young people, and an oddball psychotherapist who may have overstepped the boundaries of therapy with more than one person in the case. As the story unfolds, Monty finds himself returning again and again to trade barbs with Dice Campbell’s hard-drinking widow, Mavis, whose motives are not as clear as they initially seem to be. But the murder isn’t the only thing on Monty’s mind. A secret from the past and turmoil with his estranged wife Maura, have Monty singing the blues, lashing out at his closest friends, and spending far too much time in the bars of Halifax.
About the Author
Anne Emery is a graduate of Dalhousie Law School. She has worked as a lawyer, legal affairs reporter, and researcher. She is the author of Obit and Sign of the Cross, winner of the 2006 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Read an Excerpt
Barrington Street Blues
By Anne Emery
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2008 Anne Emery
All rights reserved.
"Two Dead in Barrington Street Shooting"
— Halifax Daily News, January 13, 1991
"It's the end of the road. The dark end, down by the train tracks, where Barrington Street peters out after running its course through downtown Halifax. One man lies face down on the pavement, his canvas field jacket stained with blood, a Rolex watch glimmering on his wrist. The other, dressed in sweatpants and a windbreaker advertising Gatorade, lies on his side, a gun still gripped in his right hand. The first homicides in Halifax in 1991. The city averages eight murders a year. If, as police believe, this was a murder-suicide ..."
My client looked up from the newspaper clipping. "What's all this about their clothes? How's that news? They make it look like Corey was a bum, and him bein' dead doesn't matter as much as the guy with the watch."
"It's not a news story, it's an opinion piece," I told Amber Dawn Rhyno. "But never mind that. Your husband's death matters to us, so let's talk about him."
"Corey's not — he wasn't my husband."
"Common-law husband. How long did you live together?" "You mean when he wasn't in jail or the treatment centre? Me and Corey were together on and off for nine years. Ever since I had Zachary."
Zachary was her son. The whole time they had been in my law office, the boy had been sitting on my side table and falling off, sitting and falling. Each time he fell, he took a stack of my files with him to the floor. I tried to ignore him.
"All right, Amber. Tell me what happened when you first heard about Corey's suicide."
"I wasn't surprised at all. Not one bit. He blamed that place. Or, like, he would've if he didn't die. If he came out of it, he woulda said it was all their fault."
I studied Amber Dawn Rhyno, imagining her on the witness stand in a damages suit against the addiction treatment centre where Corey Leaman had been staying before he was found with a bullet in his brain. Amber Dawn was a short, skinny woman in her late twenties. She had a hard-bitten face, and thin brown hair that was straight for about six inches, frizzy at the ends. An acid-green tank top revealed a tattooed left shoulder.
"Who's Troy?" I asked her.
"Oh." She shrugged. "Just this guy."
"Someone you were involved with?"
"We weren't really, like, involved."
I let it go. It was not as if I would allow her anywhere near opposing counsel — never mind a courtroom — in a sleeveless top.
The child had picked up my radio, and was trying to pull the knobs off it.
"Put that down," I told him. "Now."
"You can't make me!"
"Yeah. I can." I got up and wrenched the radio from his hands. He began to howl.
"It's not his fault," his mother said. "The social worker says he has a problem."
"I'm sorry, Amber, but I have another client coming in. We'll get together again. In the meantime, I'd like you to write up a little history of your relationship with Corey Leaman, including what you recall about the times he was admitted to the Baird Treatment Centre."
"But I already told you everything."
"There's a lot more that you'll remember when you sit down and think about it."
My clients would never sit down and write. But I would worry about that later. Zachary's howling had reached a new, ear-splitting pitch. Time for them to go.
"Call me if you need anything. You have my number."
"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Ross."
"I'm Monty. Ross is the other lawyer working on your case."
"Sorry. Can I have your card? I already got Ross's."
"Here you go."
She read the card: "Montague M. Collins, B.A., LL. B. Right. Okay, bye."
I watched Amber drag her son out the door and thought about her case. Corey Leaman, her common-law husband, and another man, named Graham Scott, were found dead of gunshot wounds at five o'clock in the morning of January 12, 1991, in the parking lot of the Fore-And-Aft. This was a nautically themed strip joint situated across from the Wallace Rennie Baird Addiction Treatment Centre. The two buildings are the last structures at the bottom end of Barrington Street, which runs along the eastern edge of the Halifax Peninsula, from Bedford Basin in the north to the train tracks that traverse the south end of the city. The street had seen better days, and would again, I knew. But that was neither here nor there for the two men who had been found sprawled on the pavement at the end of the road.
The gun was in Leaman's right hand. He had apparently dispatched Scott with two bullets in the back of the head, then put a bullet in his own right temple. Leaman's drug addiction had landed him in the Baird Centre; he had been released shortly before his death. The police were keeping the file open even though the medical examiner had declared the case a probable murder-suicide. Now, three months after the deaths, my firm was representing the families of Leaman and Scott in a lawsuit against the Baird Centre. We claimed the treatment facility had been negligent in releasing Leaman when it knew, or ought to have known, that Leaman presented a danger to others and to himself. It was by no means certain that we could pin the responsibility on the treatment centre, but we would do our best.
* * *
The following night, Tuesday, I had left the world of drugs and guns and was seated in the choir loft of St. Bernadette's Church. Next to me was another unlikely choirboy, Ed Johnson. Ed and I were more accustomed to wailing the blues in our band, Functus, which we had formed in law school more than twenty years ago; the St. B's gig was something new. A much purer tone of voice was expected here. That wasn't going to be easy, given that Johnson and I had spent the previous night in a succession of bars around the city. But the choirmaster had ordained that we be present, and so we were.
"I hear you've got the Leaman case, Collins," said Johnson. "How much do you expect to rake in?"
"No idea. I've barely looked at the file."
Johnson claimed to hate working as a lawyer but, in reality, the law courts were mother earth to him. He was tall and thin with light brown hair and a bony face; his lips were set in a permanent sneer. Every guy has an old friend that his wife doesn't trust, someone she thinks is going to lead her husband astray in the world of wine, women and song. Or, as we know it today, sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. To all appearances, Ed Johnson filled that role nicely. But in fact, behind the seen-it-all, done-it-all façade, Ed was as tender-hearted as anyone I'd ever met. And, as far as I knew, even his own wife had nothing to worry about.
Ed was still talking about the Leaman case. "Well, I don't imagine you're talking big bucks for lost future income. It wasn't two brain surgeons who shot each other's lights out in the Foreign Daft parking lot."
"No, from what I understand, the families just want —"
"Don't tell me." He put his hand up. "Let me guess. It's not about the money. It's the principle of the thing, right? The families just want justice. So, is it going to be more trouble than it's worth, or what?"
"Could be. But I've got Ross Trevelyan working with me. He's a certifiable workaholic, so I won't be knocking myself out."
"Yeah, I heard. Rowan finally managed to reel him in. Well done."
Rowan was Rowan Stratton, the senior partner at my law firm, Stratton Sommers. Rowan had been trying to woo Ross away from Trevelyan and Associates, his father's firm, for years. Ross was the son of John Trevelyan, one of the city's most eminent barristers, who had recently been appointed a justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. John was considered Supreme Court of Canada material, and the betting was that he would soon be elevated to the Court of Appeal, where he would sit until a place opened up on the country's top court in Ottawa. The Trevelyan name was like gold.
"I thought Ross would be full of shit," I said, "but he isn't. He offered to help me with the Leaman case, among others, and he's doing all the discoveries for Rowan on the Sherman Industries file. So it's worked out well."
"Better him than you. I don't envy you trying to pin those two shootings on Wally Baird's detox. So they released Leaman; they thought he was all right. What else were they going to do, keep him in for the rest of his life? Defence counsel will stop at nothing to keep the floodgates closed on that one. And it definitely won't be about the money for them. Because there won't be much of a claim. They'll just want to avoid setting a precedent for every Tom, Dick, and —"
We heard a whisper hiss its way through the ranks of the boy sopranos on the other side of the choir loft. They straightened up and fell silent as the choirmaster appeared before us.
The Reverend Brennan X. Burke was tall, stern, and immaculate in his clerical suit and Roman collar. He had black eyes, black hair flecked with grey, and an Irish-looking mouth, from which emerged a voice tinged with the accent of the old country whence his family had come when he was but a lad.
"Good evening, gentlemen."
"Good evening, Father!"
"Welcome to the first rehearsal of the St. Bernadette's Choir of Men and Boys. Let us bow our heads and pray. Exaudi nos, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens ..."
"It's still in Latin?" Ed whispered. "I thought they switched —"
I kicked Ed somewhere between the ankle and the shin to instill in him the proper attitude towards prayer, and he lapsed into silence. Burke communed with God in Latin; that's all there was to it.
St. Bernadette's was a small neo-Gothic church at the corner of Byrne and Morris streets in the southeast part of Halifax, near the harbour. The light of a spring evening shone through the stained-glass windows, giving the church the appearance of a jewel box. More to the point for us, the acoustics were magnificent, which made it the ideal location for the choir school run by Father Burke.
We sight-read our way through a musical history of the Catholic Church, from thousand-year-old Gregorian chant to the multi-layered sound of the Renaissance to the Ave Verum of Mozart. The choir director listened to voices and the way they blended, and shuffled people around to get the sound he wanted. I was surprised at how good the younger boys were; their sight-reading and vocal abilities spoke well for the choir school. Johnson and I had the croakiest voices in the loft — no surprise there — and we were the subject of damning looks from the priest as a result.
But all was forgiven when we adjourned for a post-choral pint. Brennan Burke and I had become friends over the past year after I defended him — successfully — on a murder charge. He and Johnson had met the odd time, usually when the priest came to hear our blues band perform. We left the church and got into my car. There was no discussion of where to go; it was a foregone conclusion that we were headed for Grafton Street. The Midtown Tavern & Grill, with its familiar red and green sign and its unpretentious appearance, was an institution in the life of the city. Three draft were on the table before we'd settled in our seats, and the waiter didn't waste our time telling us about himself or about anything with raspberry coulis in, on, or around it.
"Can you believe the sound coming out of that little Robertson fellow?" Burke remarked.
"He's only nine years old. A little hellion but he's cute as a button."
"You're fond of young boys, are you, Brennan?"
"I am, Ed." Burke took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one, and blew the smoke away from the table. "Young girls, too. And grown women. I tolerate a few obnoxious middle-aged male companions as well. You sounded great, I have to say. A bit rough around the edges, but I may have a solo for you if I can catch you after an early night."
"How long have you and Monty known each other?"
"Long time," Ed replied. "When I met Collins I wanted his parents to adopt me."
"I can't imagine why they didn't."
"Neither could I at the time. Though it might have had something to do with my debt load in law school."
"Yeah, I was a little out of the adoptable category by the time I met them. I hear they took in a kitten instead."
"So, why Monty's parents?"
"Well, look at him! Did you ever see anybody more placid than this guy?"
"I don't know. I've seen him a little perturbed on occasion."
"Notable because so rare, am I right? His mother was always in pearls, and his father always had his head in a book. 'I dropped in to borrow the car, all right, Dad?' 'Sure, dear, go right ahead.' Dear! To his twenty-two-year-old son."
"He called us all dear. He was a sweetheart."
"See? What did your old man call you, Brennan?"
"'You little gobshite,' most of the time. But he meant well."
"My old man called me 'kumquat.' And he didn't mean well."
"He called you a fruit?"
"No, he called my brother a fruit. He called me 'kumquat' because he's such a dumb fuck he thought it meant something dirty. Probably still does. Ole Vinny ain't never going to be asked to serve on the Greater Halifax Literacy Council."
"Is your father here in town?"
"I hope not. So. Monty's working on a suicide case. Those guys can't be buried in consecrated ground, right?" Father Burke started to reply, but Johnson kept on: "I wonder if you can ratchet up the damage claim because of that. Mental anguish for the family."
"I've met the wife. I can't quite see her wailing and gnashing her teeth over a religious rejection."
"Then you're not doing your job, Collins."
* * *
"Moooooo." I looked up the next morning to see Ross Trevelyan standing in the doorway to my office. "Our milch cow just walked in the door."
"The girlfriend and, unsuspected until now, the wee tiny daughter of Graham Scott. Graham Scott who, his parents insist, was getting off drugs —" "Scott was on drugs too?"
"Off drugs, Monty, off drugs. Unlike Leaman, Scott was going clean and was practically on the road to medical school when his untimely death occurred outside the Fore-And-Aft."
"You say he had a daughter? How old?"
"And — and — any day now, the girlfriend is going to be delivered of a second little calf who'll never know her daddy."
"Yes. Dependency claim for millions. Two little girls who lost the guidance and financial support of a father who was almost certainly going to win the Nobel Prize for medicine.
So, Monty, do you want to meet them, or would you like me to handle it?" "You go ahead. Thanks, Ross."
"No problem. And his parents are coming in this afternoon. You may have heard of them. Alastair Scott is a clergyman, but they live well. They're sitting on a pile of old money. I'm going to be in court and may not be back in time for their appointment."
"I'll see the parents."
"Great. Meanwhile, I'll draw up the contingency agreements." We were required to register with the court the agreement between us and our clients to take thirty percent of whatever we recovered in our lawsuit against the treatment centre. Which, as Ross had pointed out, could now be millions.
Ross was in his late thirties. Short, trim, and handsome with thinning dark hair and a winning smile. He was one of those people who look better with eyeglasses than without; his tortoiseshell frames gave him an air of distinction. I had never met anyone who worked harder. He confided to me when he joined Stratton Sommers that he had never felt appreciated when he was toiling away in the middle ranks of his father's prestigious law firm. He was ready when Rowan made his latest offer of a partnership. I walked out to the waiting room and told Darlene, our receptionist, that I would be seeing Mr. and Mrs. Scott when they came in later in the day.
* * *
I had not even opened the Leaman and Scott suicide file yet, but, as I expected, Graham Scott's parents were not looking for information from me. They were determined to set the record straight about their son, and all I had to do was listen. Canon Alastair Scott and his wife, Muriel, were both tall and slim with blondish hair beginning to turn white. He appeared in a well-tailored business suit, but I could easily picture him in clerical collar and vestments. He was an Anglican priest with a doctorate in divinity. Muriel Scott wore a pale blue dress with a light tweed jacket and a string of pearls. I knew they were friends of my senior partner, Rowan Stratton. I doubted they had even been aware of the Fore-And-Aft before their son was found dead there.
Excerpted from Barrington Street Blues by Anne Emery. Copyright © 2008 Anne Emery. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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