Authors: Mary Jane Maffini
A Camilla MacPhee Mystery
Mary Jane Maffini
Text Â© 2005 by Mary Jane Maffini
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, digital, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.
Cover art: Giulio Maffini
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. We acknowledge the support of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation's Ontario Book Initiative
an imprint of Napoleon & Company
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2nd printing 2009
Printed in Canada
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Maffini, Mary Jane, date-
The dead don't get out much / Mary Jane Maffini.
(A Camilla MacPhee mystery)
ISBN-13Â Â Â Â Â 978-1-894917-30-8
I. Title. II. Series: Maffini, Mary Jane Camilla MacPhee mystery.
PS8576.A3385D42 2005Â Â Â C813'.54Â Â Â C2005-903468-8
Many people have been generous with their time, sharing information and memories that helped in the writing of this book. Special thanks to Ora Ryan Abraham, Dr. Peter Duffy, Alfonso Maffini, Sgt. Sheila Maloney, Sandra Ryan, Wayne Tupper, Leslie Weir and Brad White. Nano McConnell's wonderful book
We Never Stopped Dancing
was a revelation, as were the military histories of Mark Zuehlke. Any errors are my own, which should come as no surprise to anyone.
My father-in-law, Vittorio Maffini, left a legacy of stories of the Italian partisans, and my father, John Merchant, left a view of the times in one hundred and twenty-five love letters to my mother, Isobel Ryan Merchant.
Victoria Maffini and Linda Wiken offered very useful comments, and Giulio Maffini, as usual, offered more insight and support than I could ever hope for. My good friend Lyn Hamilton always made time for me.
The RendezVous Gang, Sylvia McConnell, Allister Thompson and Adria Iwasutiak, were splendidly resolute throughout the whole long process.
Here's the thing: this is a work of fiction. That means you make it up. This can involve inventing streets, restaurants and people as well as playing fast and loose with times and weather. I have taken liberties with historic Florenceâso don't waste your time in that wonderful city retracing Camilla's steps. Alcielo, Montechiaro, Pieve San Simone and Stagno Toscano are not real, although I wish they were. But you can find many other places just as intriguing throughout Italy as well as many fine meals.
21 Frank Street
September 12, 1941
Well, aren't you the one! The whole town is still talking about how you up and joined the army. I think it's just grand! You'd better hope the Canadian Women's Army Corps doesn't find out what a daredevil you are and send you packing home again. It would be a shame to miss a chance to see the world. Like me! Mum will hardly let me out of her sight in case I try to follow in your footsteps. That's not likely to happen. I'll never sign up, even with those smart uniforms. I am comfort-loving at heart, and I can't really leave Mum alone when her health is so poor. Anyway, you wouldn't catch me living in a tent with a bunch of other women. Now, I'll be lucky I don't break a leg climbing out my bedroom window after Mum's asleep. Make sure you keep that a secret!
I imagine you are enjoying your great adventure. People are saying that the gals who sign up are mostly stuck working as cooks and laundresses in the most dreary army towns in Canada. They don't know what they're talking about. How could anything be drearier than Chesterton? Especially now that we have rationing of gasoline and everything is getting pretty scarce, especially metal. Even if you have the money, you still can't find appliances. People have taken up stealing bicycles to get around. Last week, someone stole Mrs. Benton's sewing machine. They won't get far on that! Thank heavens we still have the movies, or I don't know how we'd keep smiling. I saw “Rebecca” last week at the Vogue. It gave me goose bumps, and the ending was such a surprise. You would have loved it. The other good news is that I got a lovely new hat for the Fall. Soft brown with a little feather and a brim.
All three of the Delaney brothers signed up last week. Mrs. Delaney hasn't stopped crying since, although people have been very good about bringing her peach and apple pies. We're all knitting socks at the Carry-on-Club. And if things get much worse, we'll be knitting them in the dark. Oh well, mine will probably turn out better that way.
Betty Cannot (Oops, I meant Connaught) left for Normal School last week. I just bet her mother is getting her spies ready in Toronto. There won't be much to find out about Betty. She's always been such a boring goody-two shoes. Not like her scamp of a brother, Perce. I can't say I mind Perce leaving, but I do miss you and Harry something awful. The town's not the same without you. I sure hope you are back here before Betty gets her teaching diploma and comes home to lord it over everyone.
Love from your best friend in the world,
P. S. Will you really be teaching the boys to drive trucks? You are the limit!
lose your eyes. Imagine this. You're stretched out on a cushioned lounge chair at the edge of an endless sandy beach. The sun warms your body. You smile as the gentle breeze ruffles your hair, and you wink at the passing waiter, which is all it takes to get another margarita. You sip the tangy drink, savour the salt and close your eyes in pleasure as the perfect turquoise sea laps at your toes. You feel very relaxed and maybe just a wee bit amorous. At that moment, you are the only person in the world who matters, except me, of course. And hey, there I am, lying beside you with the coconut-scented suntan lotion in my hand, awaiting your instructions.”
I shook my head and stared at the telephone receiver. “Who is this?”
I said, “Hello?”
“It's Ray, Camilla.” Oops, chilly tone there.
“Ray, that's great. Uh, what was that all about? I mean the sand and the sun and the amorous part?”
“What do you mean, who is this? Who else would be applying your suntan lotion?”
“No one. Especially in November. And, no offence, but what time is it?”
“About six thirty. I'm getting ready to go on shift.”
“Ah. You mean it's six thirty Atlantic Standard Time. Hmmm. Well, that would make it five thirty here in Ottawa Snoozing Time.”
“Not so fast, my friend, aren't you the queen of the three a.m. calls?”
“Oh, come on, Ray. Why would you say that?”
“Because I've gotten quite a few myself, and I'm not the only one. People talk, you know.”
“True, but most people don't talk to me at five thirty in the morning. However, I take your point. Goodbye now, Ray.”
“I can't believe you didn't know it was me. How many guys call you up and whisper sweet nothings about warm beaches and feeling amorous?”
“Don't forget the margaritas and the sea lapping at my toes. No guys call me to whisper sweet nothings. Nor are any guys whispering anything else, now that you mention it. Especially at five thirty a.m.”
“So what do you think?”
“I think this is probably just a dream.”
“It's real. And?”
“And what?” I tried to keep my voice pleasant, because Ray Deveau is the best damn thing to have happened to me in many, many years. He is worth working hard to be nice to.
you are stretched out on a warm beach, blah blah blah.”
“Actually, I am stretched out under a tumbled mass of duvet, which I seem to be sharing with a large, stinky dog. There's a calico cat licking my toes, and that actually seems a bit creepy. No one is filling my margarita, although now that I'm
awake at five thirty in the morning, I wish someone would bring me a cup of coffee before I head out into the cold, damp, miserable November morning to walk the smelly dog that has been awakened by the sound of the phone ringing.”
“So you're saying the beach does sound like an improvement.”
“Yes. Too bad it's not happening.”
“It should happen. We could take a holiday together. Wouldn't that be good after everything we've been through in the past couple of months? You never did have a proper recovery time following those concussions.”
“Me? What about you? You almost died.”
“That too. So, a holiday, well-deserved by both.”
“Are you the same Ray Deveau with the two teenage daughters you can't leave in the house alone?”
“Not to be picky, but are they part of the beach dream too?”
“Nope. That would be insufficiently romantic. Anyway, the girls will be in school.”
“How can you justâ¦?”
“All taken care of. My sister, Sharon, the one who lives in Dartmouth, has a few weeks after she moves out of her old house and before she moves into her new one. She's going to spend it here. As the resident guard.”
“Don't you want to spend time with her?” I said.
“Let's put it this way. Are there circumstances where you would opt to spend two weeks in a confined space with one of your sisters and a couple of teenage hormone factories?”
“I've got some holiday time coming, and it's use it or lose it. So I've been looking through travel brochures. I keep seeing your face in all the photos. How about Mexico?”
“I don't know, Ray.”
“Okay, Dominican Republic?”
“I'm not sure I can do it. I got so far behind in my work when I was recovering. I couldn't concentrate on anything. You know I haven't even reopened Justice for Victims since we got evicted. There are so many people who desperately need a service like ours when they're dealing with horrible situations and jackasses in the justice system. If I'm not there, who's going to ensure they're not revictimized by vindictive criminals and their bulldog lawyers?” I didn't mention cops, since Ray's a Sergeant in the Cape Breton Regional Police, and he might not want to be on a list with jackasses.
“Thanks for the lecture, but I already know what you do,” he said.
“And you also know people are counting on me.”
“Yeah. I think I might be one of them.”
“You know what I mean. How can I go away after I did nothing useful all fall?”
“When was the last time you had a break that didn't end in an emergency room? Leave everything with Alvin.”
“Alvin? You must be joking. How's he supposed to cope?”
“He'd be thrilled if you were out of the office. I mean, that's just a guess.”
“We don't have an office. We're going to set up in my new house, remember? Which is also not set up. There is junk piled up to the ceiling.”
“I am up to speed on what's been happening to you. We do talk every day, although I'll save you the trouble of saying ânot usually at five thirty in the morning'.”
“Then you know I'm not unpacked. And you should know I don't feel right about inheriting this house, or about anything else that happened. It's just a really bad time for me.”
“Do something pleasant for yourself for once. Think about swimming in the crystal blue water.”
“Small problem. Other people packed my stuff when I was in the hospital. I don't know where anything is, like, for instance, my bathing suit.”
“I'd be willing to spring for a bathing suit. At least, a small one.”
“And the idea of leaving Alvin in charge, that's just plain scary.” That would account for the way my heart was racing.
“Tell you what, I've got to hit the road. Think about where you'd like to go and call me,” Ray said.
“New plan, I'll call you.”
“Wait! Today's Remembrance Day. I'll be at the ceremonies.”
“No problem. I'll give you a ring tonight.”
“That'll be good,” I said.
I listened to the dial tone for a long time and reminded myself that Ray was the best. Why was I such a jerk sometimes?
* * *
As we reached the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, “O Canada” was followed by “The Last Post”. The goosebumps lasted after the notes faded. The cannon boomed, marking the beginning of the moment of silence. My personal silence was accompanied by a stream of icy water wending its slow way past my collar and down my back.
I was squeezed on the mezzanine terrace of the National Arts Centre, too many feet above the sidewalk, along with hundreds of strangers jostling to observe the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Below, thousands clustered in the rain to mark the moment. Somewhere on the far side of the throng, the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the military brass, the Silver Cross mother, representatives of every diplomatic mission and a busload of big shots were assembled.
I jockeyed for position with college kids, moms and toddlers plus one beagle busy nosing crotches. I was too close to a spiny shrub for comfort, and the crowd was so dense I couldn't raise my umbrella without knocking someone's eye out. At least I was close enough to the edge to have a decent view of the street below. I looked down at a sea of faces, young and old, white, aboriginal, black, Asian and combinations. Overcoats, jean jackets and rain slickers brushed shoulders with a wide variety of military uniforms: Canadian, British, American and lots I didn't recognize.
Somewhere on the parade route, my father, Donald Angus MacPhee, would be lined up to march with his fellow vets. I would watch him with pride as I have every Remembrance Day since I was old enough to toddle. I'm pushing forty, but I have trouble feeling like an adult when I see how stooped and frail he's become.
The last few years, I've been at the ceremonies to honour my friend, former neighbour and personal hero, Mrs. Violet Parnell. Mrs. P. would never miss a chance to squeeze into her Canadian Women's Army Corps uniform and march with her head high.
The crowd stretched as far as I could see, jamming the sidewalks on Elgin Street, around and past the War Memorial, spilling onto Wellington Street and up the grassy hill by the East Block of the Parliament Buildings. Every inch of the property surrounding the NAC had someone standing on it. People clung to the small ledges on the flag standards. Over their heads, Canadian flags fluttered, and the provincial and territorial flags cracked and flapped in the wind and rain. Thousands of poppies provided splashes of red.
I scanned the crowd for signs of my three sisters. They'd be wearing their designer sunglasses, like so many others, even though the sun never shines on Remembrance Day, and today the weather was particularly vile. Alexa, Edwina and Donalda would not be pleased if anyone spotted their Christian Dior mascara making black tracks through their high-end blusher.
I was not wearing sunglasses. In my view, if you can't shed a public tear at the Remembrance Day ceremony, what the hell is wrong with you?
Next to me, my so-called office assistant, Alvin Ferguson, stood uncharacteristically silent, his bony shoulders hunched in his black leather jacket, his ponytail drooping, his cat's-eye glasses fogged, droplets of rain glistening off each of his nine visible earrings. A bit of advice to anyone running a small non-profit: if you wish to avoid a lot of headaches, don't allow your aged father to saddle you with an office assistant with the temperament and inclination of a performance artist, the office skills of a chimpanzee and the attitude of a minor dictator. Just a suggestion.
When the second boom marked the end of the silence, Alvin opened his mouth. Whatever he was saying was drowned out as the piper struck up the Lament and four CF-18s roared overhead in formation.
Alvin may be an accomplished pain in the backside, but he has his positive points. He thinks the world of Mrs. Parnell, and rightly so. The feeling, for some reason, is mutual.
As the sound of the planes faded, Alvin said, with a catch in his voice, “Violet loves to see the planes.”
Alvin nibbled on a finger nail. “Do you think she's okay? It's a long way to march. And this is such friggin' revolting weather. What if she loses her balance?”
“We've been over this, Alvin. She's not going to trip. She's been doing strength and balance exercises and yoga for months just for this chance to march. She's in better shape than she's been in years. I'm really proud of her.”
“Yeah well, in this rain, she might get pneumonia.” In the last couple of months, Alvin had become extremely protective of Mrs. P. It's weird, considering he's in his twenties and singularly lacking in sensible behaviour, and she's well past the eighty mark without any help from anyone, thank you very much.
“She'll be fine. Mrs. P. is as keen on battle as she ever was.”
Alvin sniffed. “They have ambulances here. If anything happened, they'd rush out to get her. Wouldn't they?”
“Nothing's going to happen. She waits for this moment every year. The ceremony puts a spring in her step.”
“She sounded upset last night when I tried to talk to her.”
“Really? I didn't notice that she was upset.”
“You've been so busy crabbing about your house and your boxes of files, you haven't even seen her this week.”
All right, so that was true, although I'd called her practically every day. Alvin's not the only one who thinks Mrs. Parnell is something special. She'd saved my life on several dramatic occasions, and she's an entertaining conversationalist to boot, not to mention a first-rate strategist. What's not to love?
I lowered my voice. “This is a special moment. Don't spoil it by getting yourself all worked up over nothing, Alvin.”
Alvin continued to obsess in that irritating way he specializes in. His voice got higher with every sentence. “I thought she needed someone to walk with her. I offered to do it. She turned me down cold. She wouldn't even accept a drive. She took a cab to the meeting point.”
“Alvin, your concern is commendable, but Mrs. Parnell has been having the time of her life lately. We can't hold her back. She's getting exercise and fresh air. Been on trips, been up in balloons, might I remind you.”
Alvin said, “Been shot at trying to rescue you.”
“The last time was months ago, and anyway, I think she kind of likes that sort of thing. Takes her back to the war. Besides, she wasn't hit. She loved the adventure. She keeps reenacting it for anyone who'll listen.”
“I still say it would have been way better if I had been marching with her.”
“Shh. Listen to the speeches.”
“Hey, I wonder if I can get a good look at the Governor General's hat from here,” Alvin mused.
I will never understand that boy.
The speeches are always short and heartfelt, but if you ask me, all everyone wants is to see the planes fly over, to hear the gun salutes and the pipers and to applaud the vets. It's our opportunity to think about how goddam lucky we are.
“Every year, it's a smaller number of vets,” Alvin said before honking his nose.
I didn't answer. I was clapping for the passing vets along with everyone else. Anyway, what could I say? My father and Mrs. Parnell were both well into their eighties. I didn't like to think about where all that was leading.