Thanks to Shade’s work at the NHL draft last season, he gets to hold on to his job as scout for L.A.—at least for now. But a journeyman’s work is never done. Shade is checking out the talent in Regina with his old friend and teammate “Chief.” But when they learn of the suicide of an old teammate from their playing days in L.A., they take a sometimes violent detour through the dark side of a small town with no shortage of secrets it wants kept at almost any cost.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A hangover laced with dread had Derek Jones in a crushing headlock and drenched in a cold sweat as he crawled and lurched across the empty streets of Swift Current in an F-150 that had rolled off the dealer’s lot sometime late in the previous century. It was minus twelve outside and the truck’s heater sighed uselessly. Jones’s blood had thinned over four years of waiting tables and banging waitresses on a Caribbean cruise ship and it hadn’t thickened since coming home six weeks before. His breath, redolent of mouthwash, frosted the windshield and his lone working headlight left the world ahead a black void. At every stoplight and stop sign he worried that his truck would conk out and strand him. He needed this job like he needed the other two just to get by, and if he was fired for showing up late and half in the bag, his old man would kick him to the curb.
Jones wiped a tiny porthole on the windshield to peer out. It was about the size of a bar coaster, and when he wiped his dripping nose afterward on the sleeve of his lumberjack jacket he thought he could smell Jack Daniel’s and his last pack of duty-free Marlboros. His head and eyelids dipped and he drifted into the wrong lane, a couple of raced heartbeats away from a head-on with an oncoming car. He swerved hard and took a deep breath. Ice pellets bounced off the windshield like a thousand rounds of frozen machine-gun fire and reassured him that he was, in fact, still alive, even if under siege. It could have ended right there, he thought, and he let himself be buoyed by the notion, previously unimaginable, that things could be worse.
Jones was the morning man at the full-service gas station at the town’s easternmost exit on Highway 1, and he was twenty minutes late to open up. Six A.M. Sunday wasn’t a quiet shift like it would be in other jurisdictions. He could count on the Sabbath rush, locals who had morning appointments with redemption at one of the thirty-two churches in Swift Current, locals who were going to be awaiting his arrival with their pickups idling and righteous indignation revving. He meditated as his one-eyed rustbucket fishtailed around the last corner: If the parishioners were as righteous as they played it, they wouldn’t complain to the proprietor. They’d just say a prayer for him that might land him once again and forever after in tanning butter.
When Jones finally pulled into the station, he didn’t have to touch the key in the ignition, the motor intuitively stalling just as he skidded into his parking spot out front. Three pickups were sitting by the pumps, engines running and windows fogging up. Three farm families in their Sunday best watched Jones jog across the lot with his collar up against the wind and unlock the front door. The wind howled, but he wasn’t worrying about what was blowing so much as the blowback. If he had been on time, 5:50, he’d have done a quick check of the premises, just to make sure that the night man had left the washrooms in acceptable shape and the back doors were shut. And he would have counted out his till in the station’s main building. In that time inside the station, the little space heater in the booth out by the pumps would have kicked in and made it almost fit for human habitation. This was a routine that had been instituted with good cause, and the boss insisted on compliance to the letter and minute. But Jones was only getting used to it. He skipped the warm-up. His customers’ reserve of patience was about to hit E.
It was 6:40 before a window opened for Jones to make his rounds. The first thing he did was hit the lights for the sign out front. It glowed red. Six storeys tall, it was Swift Current’s highest free-standing structure. The second thing he did was turn on the radio in the station. The singer sounded familiar but before his time, he figured. He didn’t know it was another Jones, George, and didn’t recognize “Still Doin’ Time.” He was thankful that the gospel stuff wasn’t going to crank up until the top of the hour. He listened to a couple of verses and started to go about his rounds. Only then did it occur to him that the guy who closed the night before had failed to set the alarm. Jones was going to have to call it in to the security company and his manager. Someone else was going to land in the shit, he thought, and for that he felt a sense of undeserved relief.
Flush with this wishful schadenfreude, he worked through the checklist. The washrooms were acceptable. Everything seemed to be in its place up at the front desk. There were a couple of coffee cups in the sink in the closet that passed for the lunchroom. A Taurus had been a guest for the night on one hoist in the two-car repair bay. The other hoist was down and unoccupied. That figured. Saturday was overtime for the guys wielding the wrenches and grease guns. Overtime was done in half days. The mechanics had checked out and there’d been no one in the bay since noon Saturday. Jones checked the back door. It was secure. He unlocked it and peered out into the snow drifting around the dumpster and old wrecks left to rust out back.
There were three other cars parked close to the door, out of sight from the road. The nearest was a snow-covered Volkswagen microbus of a Summer of Love vintage. It needed some TLC and STP and maybe even an EKG. Farthest from the door was an old Impala that was acned with rust. The microbus and the Chevy had been there since Jones worked his Friday night shift, left in auto-repair limbo while their owners mulled over the costs versus benefits of throwing more money into their geriatric rides. Between them was a car that had only a thin sheet of ice over the trunk. First impression, it had been on the empty hoist, had been serviced, and had been left in the back for the owner to pick up after hours, the keys under the visor or floor mat.
The keys weren’t in either place, though. They were in the ignition and the engine was running, eight cylinders on a low rumble. Jones didn’t realize that right away. He couldn’t see the exhaust. The wind would have been blowing it down the Trans-Canada and across the prairies at the speed limit. Even if his toque hadn’t been pulled down over his ears, the wind drowned out the low, finely tuned hum. Jones recognized the car. It was his boss’s ride. Jones dry-heaved. Busted for showing up late, for sure.
On closer inspection, though, looking through the thoroughly defrosted and even sweating window, he took faint hope. His boss’s head was tilted back, like he was asleep. Jones walked over to the driver-side door and tapped on the window. His boss didn’t respond. He tapped a little harder. Still nothing. Not even when Jones opened the door. And only when Jones opened the door did he notice the hose running into the passenger-side window. And only when Jones walked around the back of the car did he see that the hose was hooked up to the exhaust.
Fifteen minutes later the snow was speckling a corpse as the pair of medics lifted it into the back of the ambulance and Jones was telling a couple of veteran Mounties exactly what happened, right down to the song on the radio, even though he couldn’t name the singer and didn’t recognize the song. He tried humming a couple of bars. He was a good-looking kid, too good-looking to be smart. Looks didn’t deceive. He had smoked enough dope to leave behind a dozen IQ points at various Caribbean ports of call.
But he was telling them what they already knew. They would have recognized that old Mercedes 280SE anywhere.
So would I.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Code:
“One of this continent’s master craftsmen of sporting prose”…as fine a writer as can be found in any field.”
“This thriller has enough juice to satisfy those who’ve never been to a rink.”
“[Joyce’s] knowledgeable, engagingly cynical perspective on hockey should prove compelling even for those readers with no interest in the sport.”
"Part CSI, part L.A. Law, part Hockey Night in Canada—Gare Joyce deserves a championship ring for his uncanny portrayal of Brad Shade, the earthy, educated hockey scout sleuth. This is sports writing, crime writing, and just plain writing as good as it gets." —Roy MacGregor
"The Code is surely one of the great 'insider' fictions of the professional hockey world. Funny and full of dirty fights both on and off the ice, it delivers an astringent look into big league machinations and the human costs of playing the game."
—Andrew Pyper, author of The Guardians
“For an amateur-detective story to work, the main character, the non-cop investigator, has to be well-drawn and engaging. Shade is both, and it's his clever rapscallion personality that propels the story.” —Winnipeg Free Press