In this blistering new novel from visionary author John Jantunen, three young men with a history of violence are on a collision course set against the idyllic backdrop of northern Ontario’s cottage country.
Rene Descartes, a recently released ex-con, is living in a ramshackle trailer only a short distance from Hidden Cove, a secluded paradise where the country’s rich and famous relax in opulent gated summer retreats. A savage attack against Rene by the son of the fourth richest man in the country spurns a brutal act of revenge that will ignite this paradise into a fiery vision of hell on earth. As the flames threaten to engulf rich and poor alike, only Deacon Riis, a small-town reporter haunted by his own past, suspects it wasn’t Rene who set Hidden Cove ablaze but someone with a far more sinister agenda: to write into life the apocalyptic world imagined by the late George Cleary, a local novelist who was convinced that the end of times is now.
About the Author
John Jantunen lives with his wife and two sons in Capreol, Ontario. His debut novel, Cipher, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize while his second, A Desolate Splendor, was also an apocalyptic thriller. No Quarter is his third book.
Read an Excerpt
He heard the first siren just after midnight.
A sharp declaration rearing through the window at his back, like an exclamation point on Nina Simone's desperate plea from the stereo that she was feelin' good. He was sitting on Rain's couch and she was straddled on top, her hips thrusting with the precision of a see-saw and her breasts flouncing a doughy-white within the open flaps of her kimono wrap. She was thirty-nine, fifteen years older than his own twenty-four, and wore every one of those in the lines fraying from the corners of her eyes, both pressed shut not so much in the throes of passion as meditative. He was rolling her nipples between his thumbs and forefingers and she was moaning a staccato burst — "Oh! Oh! Oh!" — which Deacon took to mean she was about to come.
He was on the verge himself and to hold out a moment longer he concentrated on the undulating wail rising from the road running along the base of the granite bluff cresting not more than a hop and a skip from Rain's back door. Her house was two stories of crumbling brick sided with press-wood slats, their sky-blue dulled and peeling, curls of paint clung to the spiderwebs spun beneath the eaves, its windows barricaded by thick curtains and dark, a neon sign in the mud room's window advertising Fortune Teller IN/OUT the only thing to say that anyone lived there at all. Not much, really, to recommend it except the widow's watch on its roof. It afforded as pretty a picture of the quaint little tourist town across the river as Deacon had yet to find and as he struggled to deter his own impulse towards climax he imagined himself standing at the wrought-iron fence enclosing the perch, watching the ambulance swoop onto the silver brace bridge below and wondering whose day had just turned foul.
The siren was then diffusing over the open space created by the river basin at the foot of the falls. For a moment it sounded hollow, remote, before it rose again, echoing against the walls of the red-brick canyon created by the string of storefronts along Main Street.
Rain was imploring, "Harder," and that snapped him back.
He pinched her nipples with renewed vigour and she gasped. He eased the pressure for one breath — her body clenching against his — and then squeezed again, this time holding and waiting for the gush, all thoughts of the siren banished as it washed over his pubis, the suction of her insides then pulling at him, making Deacon come too.
With a groan, Rain collapsed over top of him, propping her forearms on the back of the couch. One of her breasts hung limp across his cheek, as soft and flabby as a three-day-old balloon, its owner groaning every time he throbbed. In the distance, he heard the faint blast of an air horn: the pumper truck giving fair warning as it exited the fire station on Dominion, one block up from Main. It was shortly followed by the ladder and tanker trucks doing the same, and then he could hear two cruisers screaming down Entrance Drive, the main artery pumping traffic into town from the 11, a four-lane highway so packed with tourists between the May Two-Four and Labour Day weekends it had inspired the Chamber of Commerce to erect a sign on its shoulder proclaiming, Tildon, Your Gateway to Summer.
The police sirens reached crescendo as they came to the clock tower presiding over the intersection where Entrance dead-ended at Main, the cars taking a hard right and their furor fading as they chased the others northward.
Deacon finally went still and Rain let out a satisfied, "Mmm."
She leaned down, kissed him on the top of the head, and then pulled herself up and off. Cupping her hand over her bush to keep anything from leaking out, she grabbed a tea towel from the green steamer trunk she used in place of a coffee table, tossed it over Deacon's lap, and hurried towards the stairs rising to the second floor.
While he cleaned himself off, he could hear another siren growing louder from the east: a third cruiser, the celerity of its approach telling him whoever was at the wheel must have been snoozing behind a desk when the call came in and was now playing a game of catch-up. Discarding the towel on the trunk, he told himself he ought to go have a look-see at what all the fuss was about, as much because it would give him an excuse to make a quick exit as because it was his job, as the Chronicle's only full-time reporter, to take an interest in such things. He'd not yet stayed the night but, of late, his resolve had been slipping. It was only a matter of time before he'd awake in Rain's bed with the sun squinting his eyes. The smell of bacon would draw him down to the kitchen where he'd find her smoking restlessly over the stove, tending to his breakfast. Then, he'd be powerless but to sit at the table and pick up a fork.
And who knew where that future might have led?
He was tired, though, and a little drunk and even more stoned. With thoughts of bed teasing him through the haze, he thought about how nice falling into his own would feel. He could hear water running from the bathroom at the top of the stairs: Rain showering, which she always did after they fucked — her way, he reckoned, of keeping him from running off for at least a few minutes anyway.
Deacon played along by reaching for the tumbler on the trunk. It was half-filled with liquid the colour of rye, though it was mostly Coke and melted ice by then. He drank what was left in one gulp. Between his legs, his wilted manhood parted the flaps of his navy blue dress shirt. He tried to summon the verve to scrounge for his pants, but all of a sudden he was too tired to do anything but rest his head on the back of the couch, close his eyes, and drift off to the languid sway of the song whispering to him from the stereo of dragonflies out in the sun and butterflies all having fun (you know what I mean).
He was startled awake a short while later by Rain asking, "Who was that?"
Dinah Washington had since replaced Miss Simone and her angry demand of "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" lent its urgency to Rain's stride as she walked past, towelling off her hair. She'd gone grey in her twenties, and a couple of years ago she'd started dying it a murky blonde. When that didn't peel back the years, she cut it into a boyish bob. Last week, she cut it even shorter. She hadn't dyed it since and the blonde spikes, with their grey roots, had come to resemble a porcupine's quills.
"What?" Deacon asked, blinking against his drowse.
"On the phone."
"What do you mean?"
"Your phone was ringing."
"Pretty sure. Since I keep it on vibrate."
"I could have sworn I heard your phone ringing."
She scanned the room, then padded over to where Deacon's green corduroy jacket lay draped over her Reading Chair, the "reading" she meant having little to do with books though there were three — The Complete Astrologer, Signs for Trying Times, and A Medium's Guide to the Good Life — artfully arranged on top of a gypsy cloth beside an unlit candle, squat and pink, sitting on a tea cup's saucer. As she foraged through the coat's pockets, Deacon took up his boxer briefs from the couch cushion beside him. He'd got one foot into those when she was turning back, holding up his phone.
"There's twenty-four unanswered messages," she said.
"You don't say."
"The last was from Dylan."
"What time's it now?"
"How in the hell —"
Cutting himself off short because he knew there was no point in trying to get an answer out of Rain that did anything but make his head ache. He rooted about the floor for his jeans and had just snagged a leg when Dylan's voice rang out.
"— ey, Deke," he was saying through his cell phone speaker. "There's been some trouble at that rest stop off the 118, just past the rock cut west of Meeford Bay. You know the one I'm talking about. I'm going to be here all night. If you're heading this way, I sure could use a coffee." There was a pause, and when Dylan spoke again his voice had quieted, almost to a whisper. "Someone's been killed. Looks like —" Then there was an angry voice yelling in the background, too loud to be anyone but Sergeant Marchand.
"Oh shit," Dylan said. "I gotta go. See you if I do. Bye."
"Sounds serious," Rain said.
"Three cruisers," Deacon answered, pulling on his pants.
"That is serious."
She was smiling in her wry way, and it seemed a bitter rebuke against him thinking it was excuse enough to make another one of his quick exits. Lowering his eyes, he busied himself by foraging through his pants' pockets, a ploy that lasted until he'd found a stick of the gum he seeded his clothes with for such an emergency. When he looked back up, Rain was walking towards him and biting her lip, like maybe she'd read his mind and was now trying to think of something to assure him that it was alright.
He popped the gum in his mouth and she handed him his phone. As he slipped it into his breast pocket, she leaned close as if to kiss him goodbye. But it was his collar she was bound for. It had become tucked into his shirt.
"You okay to drive?" she asked, pulling it out and smoothing it with the flat of her hand.
"We could take my car."
Patting his breast, she trailed her fingers down his chest. The gesture had a scripted feel to it, like a mother, in some old movie, sending her son off to war, afraid she'd never see him again.
"You best be off then," she said.CHAPTER 2
Meeford Bay was a fifteen-minute drive west along the 118, its two lanes leading Deacon's Jeep Cherokee past lakes ringed with pine trees and pockets of swampland overgrown with cattails, ridges of granite looming over both, and nothing in between but hydro poles and the odd flicker of a porch light atop a lintel. Signs flashing by at intervals warned of deer and moose crossings and if the other signs reading Max 80 km/h weren't enough to keep his speed within the legal limit those were at least enough to keep it under one hundred.
His thoughts, as he drove, drifted on a collision course towards the word Dylan hadn't said, and he played a half-hearted game of fill-in-the-blanks to keep himself from thinking about what was really on his mind: how in the hell had Rain known his phone had rung? When his efforts proved futile, he muttered, "Tricks of the trade," like she was some sort of magician schooled in the finer arts of distraction.
Sleight of hand, that's all it was.
She heard the sirens just like you and slipped your phone from your jacket while you were cleaning yourself off with the towel, knowing that if it was something likely to make the news, Dylan would call to give you the heads-up. Waiting in the bathroom until the phone rang then coming out, the phone secreted in the pocket of her bathrobe, asking all coy, "Who was that?" on her way to slipping it back into your jacket, you playing along like some rube just off the farm.
Seemed outlandish, but then this was Rain Meadows he was talking about. Just another petty skirmish in the endless war she was waging against all reason.
The Welcome to Meeford Bay sign flashed by in the Jeep's headlights.
He propped the take-out coffee — black — he'd bought for himself at the twenty-four-hour Tim's drive-thru between his legs and fumbled a smoke from the pack in the cupholder beside Dylan's double-double. The Cherokee was drifting right as the flame touched tobacco and the jolt of its tires slipping off the asphalt startled the lighter from his hand as he fought to regain control. For a moment, it felt like he was going to end up in the ditch, but then he was back on the road, breathing hard and cursing himself for getting behind the wheel after smoking two joints — one on the walk over to Rain's and the other before they'd fucked, washing the latter down with a glass of rye splashed with Coke and ice.
And here he was going to meet a cop.
You should just turn around, he told himself. It's not like Dylan's expecting you. You could tell him you were asleep.
So, go on then, do it.
But keeping the unbroken yellow line ahead of him from blurring into two and recurring thoughts of the word Dylan hadn't spoken kept his foot heavy on the gas.
It had been three years since Larry Bidwell, an unemployed electrician, had kicked in the front door of the house he'd shared with his wife until she'd thrown him out, citing a history of abuse in the restraining order she'd later filed against him. At the time, Candice Bidwell had told her sister it had felt like the start of a whole new life, but a sheet of paper hadn't done a damn thing to stop Larry from returning two weeks later, just before midnight. She was watching television in her living room at the time. Larry had gut-shot her as she rose from the couch and then had taken a sharp right down the hallway leading towards the bedrooms. Candice's wound would prove fatal but not until she was in the trauma room at the South Mesaquakee Memorial Hospital so, as she bled out on her living room floor, she was alive to hear the next three shots — one for each of her two daughters, the third giving her every indication that Larry had then turned the gun on himself.
Dylan had called Deacon that night too. Deacon had been passed out in front of the TV and hadn't got the message until late the next morning. It was almost noon by the time he'd arrived at the scene to find a dozen reporters crowding the police tape strung over the Bidwell's driveway. All of them were from provincial and national news outlets, and Deacon had felt about as comfortable wandering amongst them as a rat would on a snake farm. That was the only time anyone had been murdered in Tildon since he'd started working at the Chronicle. It'd be two days before he'd be able to get news of this one into print — if that's what it was — but at least he'd have it up on their website before any of the other papers caught wind — a minor victory at best. But then, as a reporter for a small-town weekly, he'd long since conceded that any sort of victory was better than what he could hope to expect on even the best of days.
He passed Butter & Egg Road, the half kilometre of crumbling asphalt that led to the dozen or so cottages grouped around the Meeford Bay Golf & Country Club. Beyond that, the highway tilted into a canyon blasted out of a chunk of Canadian Shield the locals called Huckleberry Hill. On the other side of the rock cut, red and blue LEDs flared against a haze of smoke settled over the treetops surrounding a figure eight carved into the forest on the eastern shore of the Moose River.
Used to be there was a chip wagon planted where the lines of the figure eight crossed and a dozen or so picnic tables scattered along the loops. But Big Chief's Hot Dogs & Fresh Cut Fries closed years ago, and all that was left was the figure eight and a Commercial Lot For Lease sign nailed to one of the Jack pines framing the driveway. A police car was parked lengthwise between them and Dylan was standing at its trunk holding an orange neon traffic baton. Deacon eased his foot off the gas, gliding down the hill, taking care to activate his right turn signal and maintain his distance from the ditch as he pulled onto the shoulder lest a miscue might dispose Constable Cleary to asking a few questions he didn't really want to know the answers to. When the Jeep had come to a complete stop, he butt his cigarette in the already overflowing ashtray, then foraged his lighter from the floor before fishing a fresh stick of gum out of the pack in the glovebox.
He sat there chewing for a few moments, summoning the nerve to open the door. When he finally had, Dylan was talking through the window of a white BMW coupe stopped in the left-hand lane.
"Just some kids setting fire to an abandoned van," he said, as Deacon stepped onto the road. "Nothing to worry yourself about. You have a good night, now."
The BMW drove off and a honk alerted Dylan to the pumper truck pulling up to the cruiser that blocked the rest stop's entrance. He waved to it on his way over to his car, slipping into the driver's seat and backing it up onto the shoulder. The stench of burning oil hung heavy in the air. It tickled the back of Deacon's throat as he watched the pumper truck pass by, and then the ladder and the tanker too.
"Well, ain't you a sight?" Dylan said and Deacon turned, watching the other hustling towards him. "That coffee mine?"
Deacon held it out.
"You're a saint."
Dylan took it up and peeled back its tab with his teeth while Deacon tried not to pass more than a glance at the checkerboard of seared flesh covering the left side of his jaw and most of his cheek. The scar was a memento from the year and a half he'd spent in Afghanistan manning a Bushmaster cannon on top of a LAV III and he was real coy about how he'd got it. The one time Deacon had asked, Dylan had said that someone had bumped into him while he was shaving, though if that was the truth, he'd have had to have been shaving with a waffle iron.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No Quarter"
Copyright © 2018 John Jantunen.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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