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Authors: Suzanne F. Kingsmill

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Forever Dead

BOOK: Forever Dead
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FOREVER DEAD

FOREVER DEAD

A Cordi O'Callaghan Mystery

Suzanne F. Kingsmill

A Castle Street Mystery

Copyright © Suzanne F. Kingsmill, 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Editor: Barry Jowett
Copy-editor: Andrea Waters
Design: Jennifer Scott
Printer: Webcom

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Kingsmill, Suzanne
       Forever dead : a Cordi O'Callaghan mystery / Suzanne F. Kingsmill.

ISBN 978-1-55002-705-1

      I. Title.

PS8621.I57F67 2007        C813'.6        C2007-900087-8

1   2   3   4   5   11   10   09   08   07

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
and
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
program and the
Ontario Media Development Corporation
.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada      
www.dundurn.com

Dundurn Press
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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M2

Gazelle Book Services Limited
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Dundurn Press
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U.S.A. 14150

For:
John, Tim, and Jesse
&
Bill, Allison, and Dorion

Prologue

Jake Diamond eyed the angle of the sun and knew he'd never get out of the bush by nightfall. That he would never get out at all didn't cross his mind as he gripped the axe in his left hand and sliced the finely sharpened edge viciously downward, slashing a long, narrow strip of bark from the cedar. There were a hundred more such blazes snaking their way back behind him through the endless stand of trees.

Diamond surveyed the slashes with a mixture of satisfaction and frustration. He hadn't expected it to take so long, but then he hadn't counted on unwanted company either. Another dozen or so to go. He continued on through the heavy undergrowth toward the next tree. His deeply tanned arms glistened with sweat in the sticky summer sun, and his thick curly black hair lay matted at the line where it met his broad forehead. He had the chiselled features of a statue not yet finished, the
lines sharp and blocked out, the nose straight, the chin square, the eyebrows with a startled look, as if slashed on at the last moment by the sculptor. It was a face that would have aged well, given the chance.

“Come on, Paulie!” he called, searching the woods for his cat, knowing she was there, never far away — not since the day he'd been bullied by his four-year-old nephew into caring for the little three-legged cripple, and she had latched onto him.

She darted out of the tangled woods to his left and rubbed her long, lean, velvet black body against his leg, purring loudly as she looked up at Diamond with her startling yellow eyes framed by the black obelisk of her face.

“Easy now, Paulie. Easy, you'll rub all your fur away!” he laughed as he shifted the axe to his right hand and reached down to scratch the cat's ears. “Just a few more and we're done.”

The little cat raced off ahead of him as Diamond moved quickly, taking a compass reading after each blaze. He broke out of the woods onto the smooth, pale granite that formed the top of a cliff overlooking a lake. The shimmering blue of the water stretched beyond his sight to the north, and he could just make out the tell-tale white froth of the rapids to the south, their dull roar sounding like wind racing through the trees. Across the lake, beyond the first undulating mountain of evergreens, he could see a pale wisp of smoke coming from the new logging camp carved into this wilderness. For one nasty moment he thought he heard the distant buzz of a chainsaw, and the anger surged in him — sweetened only by the revenge that now lay within his grasp. But the buzz was only a dragonfly caught in a spider's web, wildly flapping its wings.

The clifftop where Diamond found himself was cleft in two from some great wrenching upheaval of the earth's
inner guts; a thin jagged tear ripped down the cliff face almost to the water's edge, along an area of weaker rust red rock. He carefully scanned the lake, looking for any sign of movement. Finding none, he turned back to face the woods, and, with one foot on either side of the narrow crevice, he took a quick compass bearing from the last blazed tree. Just a precaution in case something happened to him — he'd never forget how to get there. After all he'd been through, how the hell could he?

“Let's go, Paulie, or we'll never beat the sun back to camp. One more night, girl, just one more night.”

By the time they reached the campsite the sun was sinking into the water, its red eye bleeding into the clouds above, leaving behind a tangled whirl of angry purple and crimson swirls. Several large cedars stood shadowing his campsite, but all other brush and trees had long since been cut down or burned by other campers. Diamond threw his ratty green canvas backpack to the ground, sat down, and dug out his cup from one of the many pockets on his pack. He filled it from the water bag he had left hanging in the shade of one of the trees. The water was tepid and bitter from the chemical taste of the iodine tablets he'd used to purify it. He checked the impulse to spit it out and instead let it sluice down his parched throat and made a mental note to switch brands of tablet. This stuff was about the worst he'd ever tasted. Paulie jumped onto his lap trying to whisker away the water.

“All right, all right. There's a whole lake down there for you. Why do you want this horrible stuff, eh?”

But he let her lap briefly at his cup as he looked out at the setting sun. Normally he loved the solitude and beauty of the north woods, but tonight, for some reason, the quiet was almost oppressive — noisy in its silence. Jake suddenly found himself straining to listen to it, to catch it off guard and hear it by its very absence,
but he was puzzled to find that tonight instead of comforting him, it felt oddly menacing.

Paulie stopped drinking and with a sudden movement turned to look behind her, her body tense, ears quivering. Diamond followed her stare, wondering what it was that she was hearing, when he became aware of the trees moving in the newborn wind.

“Is that what's bothering you, girl?”

It was shuffling to life in the trees overhead, easing through their branches like a gentle, foreboding hiss. It felt obsequious, fawning, as it caressed Diamond's body, whistling a strange keening that made Diamond shiver. He was momentarily unnerved by the flood of feelings it released: a fathomless, inexplicable sadness and an unexpected, gnawing fear of something he couldn't identify. He shook himself like a dog, trying to dislodge the melancholy mood, and struck off into the woods to haul down his small food pack from where he'd left it hanging from the limb of a tree.

Diamond's last evening melted into a clear and warm night with the stars crowding the sky in a pointillistic masterpiece. He lay sprawled on his sleeping bag, belly full of beans, outstretched in front of the dying embers of the fire with Paulie nestled in the crook of his arm. His head was propped up on an old canvas pack, and he breathed in the smell of ten days of grime and soot, sweat, bug dope, cedar, woodsmoke, triumph, and the river's sweat on his clothes and in his mind.

A rustle in the woods made him roll his head lazily to one side and glance into the darkness beyond the golden circle of his campfire. Something was moving quietly through the underbrush. Paulie stirred beside him in her sleep.

“Just a coon, Paulie. You afraid of coons, girl?” The cat stretched out and burrowed up into his armpit, but
didn't wake up. Diamond laughed uneasily and scanned the woods again.

“All right, girl, maybe it's something bigger than a coon.” He scratched the cat behind her ears and gently extricated himself, watching her as she whimpered in her dreams. He'd never known her to be so tired that his touch failed to wake her up. He reached over for his backpack and brought it back into the warm circle of firelight, aware that he was strangely groggy and that sleep was stalking him in the way it does after a hard day of physical labour. He unbuckled an outer pocket and withdrew the flare gun he used to fend off the occasional curious bear.

“This ought to make you feel better.” He caressed the fine black fur, but still the little cat didn't stir. It made Diamond unsettled to see her so far away, and he suddenly felt very alone. He hefted the metal gun in his hand before cocking it and propping it inside his running shoe. He placed it ready, near his right hand. Its presence stilled a growing uneasiness that puzzled him more for its persistence than for anything else.

It was the distant thunder that woke Diamond, or perhaps it was the wind, now wailing through the trees overhead. Perhaps it was neither. The fire was dead, the bleak, black embers as cold as they had been warm. The wind had whipped the ashes around the clearing and there was a fine dusting on his clothes. His head was heavy and his limbs felt like lead pipes. He must have slept deeply to feel so groggy, like the heavy-headed feeling after an unearned afternoon nap, he thought. Diamond lay listening to the thunder, collecting his thoughts, sticky as molasses. The quiet between the distant thunderclaps and gusts of wind felt strangely ominous, as if the quiet was trying to tell him something. How long had he been asleep?

He saw that the crescent moon had moved through the sky and there were thunderclouds scudding past it, chasing themselves across its blinkered eye. As they darted across the moon, snuffing it out, it became eerily dark in the woods. He sat up slowly. He could hear the rapids in the distance, and he could smell the dampness of the water mixing with the pungent odour of the cedars and the cloying smell of fish, and something else. What? He shivered, held his breath, and listened to that endless, wild silence. The feeling of unease grew in him like a dull, gnawing pain, slowly coalescing into the first stirrings of fear.

“Goddammit, Diamond,” he said. “Pull yourself together. You're acting like Paulie. Afraid of your own shadow.”

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