Authors: Martin Crosbie
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
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For my teacher, my friend, Ed Griffin.
The streetlamp lit up the body as though it was displayed under a spotlight. In a macabre irony of nature, blood had pooled around the man’s head in a semicircle giving the impression that he was wearing a halo. Drake hadn’t seen the man go down, but he knew the sound it would have made. He’d heard it before. There’s a popping sound a head makes when it hits concrete. It wasn’t the body lying on the sidewalk with the skull split open that made him wince. It was the memory of the sound – the familiar sound. That was what made him turn away.
A rustle from the two young men behind him, maybe even a laugh, he couldn’t tell. He let it go. They’d found the body and called it in. He was first attending and backup hadn’t arrived yet. There was no point causing a scene. He learned a long time ago where and when to pick his fights. The body was curled on its side and lay at the edge of the sidewalk, close to the road. He crouched down and put his fingers on the man’s neck. From the amount of blood and the way the back of his head was cracked wide open, he knew there was no life left in him, but he had to check.
The wailing of the sirens had begun as a muted noise in the distance. Gradually they became louder. One short, final blast sounded, and moments later two paramedics trudged toward the body, each carrying a bag of medical equipment. Rempel, the older of the two, led the way with his heavy sighs and exaggerated movements while Rose, his female partner diligently followed. Drake had met both of them previously. Rempel always seemed to be in a bad mood and often tried to antagonize Drake. Hope was a small town. There were only eight or nine regular ambulance attendants, unless they called for additional manpower from one of the surrounding towns, so they often bumped into each other.
“What’s this, a dead saint?” Rempel eyed the halo of blood around the man’s head. He stood over the body, grinning, waiting for someone to laugh while Rose checked for vital signs and went through the ritual of confirming that the man was dead.
Drake wasn’t supposed to be here. He’d been working a shift and a half covering for one of the other officers. He’d been on duty since noon, and when the evening shift began at six p.m., or eighteen hundred hours, as the police referred to it, he kept going. He was partnered with the other rookie – Brandon Van Dyke, the real rookie, the twenty-four-year-old new police officer, not the thirty-eight-year-old rookie. Van Dyke was in the bathroom when the call came in. He was often in the bathroom with some kind of fecal problem. That’s what he called it. Officer Brandon Van Dyke was the most polite man to wear a uniform that John Drake had ever met.
Drake had been scanning a flyer from one of the two pizza restaurants that delivered food to the station – one of the only two that were open at eleven o’clock at night. He was rubbing his eyes, trying to stay awake, and attempting to understand why the pepperoni pizza cost less than the plain cheese pizza. Brandon told him it was the restaurant’s special deal and they were known for it. People ordered from them because of the lower price on pepperoni pizza. Then as though the thought of a slice of greasy pizza was enough to get his bowels moving, Brandon’s eyes widened and he spun around. Just like every time, he acted as though it was the first time it had occurred, and he couldn’t understand what was happening. His mumbled apologies could be heard all the way to the station house bathroom.
Drake was weighing up whether to pay the extra three dollars to get what he really wanted – his beloved cheese and cheese only pizza – when the call came in. A man’s body had been found on Cobalt Street – a few blocks away from the station. Cobalt Street was old houses and empty lots; he’d attended calls there many times. The closest patrol unit had been called out to investigate some kids drinking down by Coquihalla Lake, and it would take them twenty minutes to respond, but Drake could be there in less than ten. He yelled to Brandon that he should catch up to him, and because it was only a short drive he was the first police officer on scene.
He recited to the paramedics what he knew – which was nothing, or next to nothing. “No pulse, white male, fortyish, skull cracked.”
“You have a talent for observing the obvious, Drake.” Rempel bullishly leaned over the body, pointing a pen-sized flashlight at the man’s head while Rose moved to the other side and kneeled beside Drake.
This didn’t happen here. In Hope, people died in their beds, or in the local hospital. A few months earlier, a man had made it to the Goldminer Pub just before last call. He ordered a pint of beer, and once it was set in front of him, he took a sip and then keeled over and died from a heart attack. In this town they kept their dead bodies indoors; this was unusual.
Brandon had caught up and was behind him, apologizing again for being indisposed. “I’m sorry; it keeps happening. I don’t know what it is.” Then he saw the body. “Holy, is that a halo? Did he fall?”
Drake had been an RCMP member for four months longer than Brandon Van Dyke, and he was almost fifteen years older than him. It wasn’t much experience in terms of seniority, and he had never taken advantage of it before, but tonight it seemed as though someone should take charge.
“Brandon, take a statement from those two boys over there. They called it in.” A handful of men and women had gathered. They were standing a few feet down the road, smoking, gesturing toward the body, and laughing nervously. “And call for assistance. We need to move these people back.”
Brandon was having trouble taking his eyes off the dead man. Drake waved him away and radioed for another patrol car himself. He pulled on a pair of latex gloves and reached inside the man’s back pocket. “A driver’s license and some business cards – Michael Andrew Robinson, born nineteen fifty-four. He’s local. He lives on Coquihalla Road.”
He looked over at Rose for an answer, knowing that she’d grown up in the area. “I know there are some Robinsons out on the Indian reserve, different Robinsons of course.” She shook her head and gave a sad little smile. “I don’t know him. There are some nice houses out on Coquihalla though. I’ll bet somebody is waiting for him to come home.”
Drake read from one of the business cards that had been in the man’s pocket. “Sales Representative, Mike Robinson. It’s from a car dealership; he sells cars.”
“A saint who sells cars; I mean a dead saint,” said Rempel.
Rose and Drake ignored him and continued analyzing the situation. “That’s quite a bang on his head,” she remarked. “It’s like he fell from a distance.”
The man was short – thin and slight. Drake looked up and down the street. There was nothing there. The body lay on a stretch of sidewalk in front of an empty lot. There was nothing above him – no building to fall from.
“He’ll turn out to be drunk as a skunk and have tripped over himself.” Rempel signaled to an attendant from the other ambulance to bring a stretcher and take the body away.
“Hold on a second.” Drake halted him. It didn’t look right. Rose’s analysis was close, but it still didn’t seem right. He might not have fallen from a distance, but it looked like someone or something had struck him. Drake leaned over the body again. The man was curled in a fetal position. His head had a deep split in it and his hands were in front of his chest – together, as if in prayer. “That’s a hell of a pounding to take from just a fall.”
“I can smell the booze on him, Drake. It’s an accidental.”
The rain had been threatening all night. As Drake stood up it began to rhythmically hit the ground, pitter-pattering on them, and gently all around them. This was Hope, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. October was their in-between month – too early for snow, and too far away from summer to be warm. It might start as a light shower, but it never ended that way. There was only one type of rain here – heavy, relentless downpours, and it was just beginning. He let out a tired sigh. In this situation seniority meant nothing. It didn’t matter how long Rempel had been a paramedic. Drake was the police officer on the scene, and although he’d only been in this uniform, in this little town for barely a year, he knew the call was his.
“I’m declaring this a crime scene until I know what happened here. I’m calling GIS in.”
He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio, giving instructions to the E-Comm operator to alert the General Investigation Service. Rempel swore at him and made his way back to the ambulance. In his agitated state, his voice was high-pitched, nasally. “Do you realize what this means? We wait for the cowboys to come from Chilliwack, or who knows, maybe they’ll consider this is a major crime and drive in from Vancouver. While we’re getting our asses soaked. Rookie, you’re making a mistake.”
He’d always be a rookie to Rempel. If he were on this job for another ten years, and the old paramedic was still climbing in and out of ambulances, he was sure he’d still be admonishing him the same way. Rose looked at the body again and then at Drake. He’d met her on calls a few times. Once, they’d spoken in veiled terms about the bedside manner of her partner. She’d stayed loyal but let it slip that she never enjoyed being assigned to work with him.
“I think you’re right. It’s worth checking,” she said in a low voice. She unfolded a yellow emergency blanket and put it over the body as another police cruiser pulled up and his sergeant and another officer emerged.
There was no going back. He’d made a decision that couldn’t be undone. He was the attending officer, and it was his responsibility to determine the severity of the incident. There was no nearby bar that the dead man might have stumbled from. It might just be a residential street, but it was still a dangerous street. Most of the houses were rental properties with families living in basements or upper floors, or young men and women living in groups sharing a place together. He’d been up and down the street several times investigating domestic disputes or drunk and disorderly complaints. He could point to some of the homes and list who lived there and how many times he’d visited. He knew who hit their wives and who hit their husbands. It was an easy street to read. The man might have been buying drugs from one of the houses or drinking with some of the residents, but when he wandered out onto the sidewalk he didn’t go down this hard by himself. Drake was sure of it.
Drake had heard Sergeant Joseph Thiessen’s story more times than he cared to remember. His commanding officer routinely retold his story to the men working under him. Thiessen’s family had been RCMP officers for three generations. He’d grown up in Chilliwack, the closest major town that neighbored Hope. For years, Thiessen’s father or older brothers, and before that his grandfather, had made the drive into Hope whenever there was a problem. Five years ago when the satellite location was funded and a full-time detachment was opened, Thiessen was the first policeman through the door. And he was the station’s first detachment commander. He hadn’t grown up in this town, but he’d been close, and he’d made it his own.