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Authors: Giles Blunt

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The Delicate Storm

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PRAISE FOR
The Delicate Storm
“It’s Blunt’s sense of place that is unique,
that assures us he can join the select group of writers—
such as Ian Rankin and Tony Hillerman—who can
locate their readers in a fictional universe as physically
real as the chair they inhabit.”

The Observer
“Giles Blunt dazzled us with
Forty Words for Sorrow
. Now he
has done it again with
The Delicate Storm
. Don’t miss it.”
—Tony Hillerman
“A book that could be a contender for both the Arthur
Ellis Award and the Stephen Leacock Medal.”
—Jack Batten,
Toronto Star
“[Blunt] has an excellent grasp of the issues
and history and does a great job of working
them into the plot, and he never lets go of the
characters, which is where he really shines.”
—Margaret Cannon,
The Globe and Mail
“It’s almost a crime how beautiful Blunt’s prose is …
[The Delicate Storm]
tests positive on Blunt’s descriptive
skills, which are undiminished. You are preternaturally
there with these characters, crunching across frozen
parking lots, shivering at stakeouts in the woods—
ordinary cop scenes that in the hands of a stylist like
Blunt become means of ratcheting up suspense.”

Quill & Quire
“In a genre where writers often compete to create vile,
loathsome villains perpetrating outrageous crimes,
Blunt stands as a master craftsman who shows us
not only darkness, but also decency.”

Publishers Weekly
“Giles Blunt combines a massive ice storm,
the conservative Ontario political scene and
the FLQ crisis of 1970 into a crackerjack
of a mystery novel…. This book is a
compulsive and intelligent page-turner.”

The Chronicle-Herald
(Halifax)
“Wry humour, understated storytelling,
and a sensitive understanding of how lives can be
shattered by a single mistake … It is a multi-layered,
elegantly written story that manages to transform
ancient politics into unput-downable reading.”

Calgary Herald
ALSO BY GILES BLUNT
Cold Eye
Forty Words for Sorrow

For Janna

It is that these distant pawns
Breach this human wish,
Crashing as they do
Upon so particular a heaven
.

—Donald Lorimer,

“The Delicate Storm”

1

F
IRST CAME THE WARMTH
. Three weeks after New Year’s and the thermometer did what it never does in January in Algonquin Bay: it rose above the freezing mark. Within a matter of hours the streets were shiny and black with melted snow.

There wasn’t a trace of sun. A ceiling of cloud installed itself above the cathedral spire and gave every appearance of permanence. The warm days that followed passed in an oppressive twilight that lasted from breakfast to late afternoon. Everywhere there were dark mutterings about global warming.

Then came the fog.

At first it moved in fine tendrils among the trees and forests that surround Algonquin Bay. By Saturday afternoon it was rolling in thick clouds along the highways. The wide expanse of Lake Nipissing dwindled to a faint outline, then vanished utterly. Slowly the fog squeezed its way into town and pressed itself up against the stores and the churches. One by one the red brick houses retired behind the grubby grey curtain.

By Monday morning Ivan Bergeron couldn’t even see his own hand. He had slept late, having drunk an unwise amount of beer while watching the hockey game the night before. Now he was making his way from the house to his garage, which was less than twenty yards away but totally obscured by fog. The stuff clung in webs to Bergeron’s face and hands; he could feel it trailing through his fingers. And it played tricks with sound. The yellow bloom of headlights glided by, dead slow, followed—after an otherworldly delay—by the sound of tires on wet road.

Somewhere his dog was barking. Normally, Shep was a quiet, self-sufficient kind of mutt. But for some reason—maybe the fog—he was out in the woods and barking maniacally. The sound pierced Bergeron’s hungover skull like needles.

“Shep! Come here, Shep!” He waited for a few moments in the murk, but the dog didn’t come.

Bergeron opened up the garage and went to work on the battered Ski-Doo he had promised to fix by last Thursday. The owner was coming for it at noon, and the thing was still in bits and pieces around the shop.

He switched on the radio, and the voices of the CBC filled the garage. Usually, when it was warm enough, he worked with the garage door open, but the fog lay in the driveway like some creature out of a nightmare and he found it depressing. He was just about to pull the door down when the dog’s barking got louder, sounding like it was coming from the backyard now.

“Shep!” Bergeron waded through the fog, one hand out before him like a blind man. “Shep! For God’s sake, can it, willya?”

The barking changed to growling, interrupted by peculiar canine whines. A tremor of unease passed through Bergeron’s outsize frame. Last time this had happened, the dog had been playing with a snake.

“Shep. Take it easy, boy. I’m coming.”

Bergeron moved with small steps now, edging his way forward like a man on a ledge. He squinted into the fog.

“Shep?”

He could just make the dog out, six feet away, down on his forepaws, clawing at something on the ground. Bergeron edged closer and took hold of the dog’s collar.

“Easy, boy.”

The dog whined a little and licked his hand. Bergeron bent lower to see what was on the ground.

“Oh my God.”

It lay there, fishbelly white, hair curling along one side. Toward the wrist end, the flesh still bore the zigzag impression of a watch with an expandable bracelet. Even though there was no hand attached, there was no doubt that the thing lying in Ivan Bergeron’s backyard was a human arm.

If it hadn’t been for Ray Choquette’s decision to retire, John Cardinal would not have been sitting in the waiting room with his father when he could have been down at headquarters catching up on phone calls, or—better yet—out on the street making life a misery for one of Algonquin Bay’s bad guys. But no. Here he was, stuck with his father, waiting to see a doctor neither of them had ever met. A female doctor at that—as if Stan Cardinal was going to take advice from a woman. Ray Choquette, Cardinal thought, I could wring your lazy, inconsiderate neck.

The senior Cardinal was eighty-three—physically. The hair on his forearms was white now, and he had the watery eyes of a very old man. In other ways, his son was thinking, the guy never got past the age of four.

“How much longer is she gonna make us wait?” Stan asked for the third time. “Forty-five minutes we’ve been sitting here. What kind of respect does that show for other people’s time? How can she possibly be a good doctor?”

“It’s like anything else, Dad. A good doctor’s a busy doctor.”

“Nonsense. It’s greed. A hundred percent pure capitalist greed. You know, I was happy making thirty-five thousand dollars a year on the railroad. We had to fight like hell to get that kind of money, and by God we fought for it. But nobody goes to medical school because they want to make thirty-five thousand dollars.”

Here we go, Cardinal thought. Rant number 27D. It was like his father’s brain consisted of a collection of cassettes.

“And then you’ve got the government playing Scrooge with these guys,” Stan went on. “So they become stockbrokers or lawyers, where they can make the kind of money they want. And then we end up with no damn doctors.”

“Talk to Geoff Mantis. He’s the one who took the chainsaw to medicare.”

“They’d make you wait, anyways, no matter how many of them there were,” Stan said. “It’s a class thing. Class not only must exist, it must be seen to exist. Making you wait is their way of saying, ‘I’m important and you’re not.’”

“Dad, there’s a shortage of doctors. That’s why we have to wait.”

“What I want to know is, what kind of young woman spends her day looking down people’s throats and up their anuses?
I
’d never do it.”

“Mr. Cardinal?”

Stan got to his feet with difficulty. The young receptionist came round from behind her desk, clutching a file folder.

“Do you need some help?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Stan turned to his son. “You coming, or what?”

“I don’t need to go in with you,” Cardinal said.

“No, you come too. I want you to hear this. You think I’m not fit to drive, I want you to hear the truth.”

The receptionist opened the door to the consulting room and they went in.

“Mr. Cardinal? Winter Cates.” The doctor couldn’t have been much more than thirty, but she rose from behind her desk and came round to shake hands with the brisk efficiency of an old pro. She had fine, pale skin that contrasted sharply with her black hair. Dark eyebrows knit themselves in a quizzical look now, aimed at Cardinal.

“I’m his son. He asked me to come in with him.”

“He thinks I can’t drive,” Stan said. “But I know my feet are better, and I want him to hear it from the horse’s mouth. How old are you, anyway?”

“I’m thirty-two. How old are you?”

Stan emitted a quack of surprise. “I’m eighty-three.”

Dr. Cates gestured at a chair facing the desk.

“That’s okay. I’ll stand for now.”

The three of them stood there in the middle of the room, Dr. Cates flipping through Stan’s chart. Her hair was held in place by a clip; without it, it would be springing out all over the place, wild and black. She radiated a sense of enormous vitality, barely held in check by the seriousness of her profession.

“Well, you’ve been a healthy guy up until recently,” the doctor said.

“Never smoked. Never drank more than a beer with dinner.”

“Smart guy, too, then.”

“Some people might not think so.” Stan shot a glance at his son that Cardinal ignored.

“And you have diabetes, which you keep under control with Glucophage. You’re self-monitoring?”

“Oh, yeah. Can’t say I enjoy pricking my finger every five minutes, but yeah. I keep my blood sugar right in the normal range. You’re welcome to check it.”

“I plan to.”

Stan looked at Cardinal. His expression said, “Is this woman being rude to me? By God, if this woman’s being rude to me …”

“And Dr. Choquette notes you had considerable neuropathy in your feet.”

“Had. It’s better now.”

“You were having trouble walking. Standing, even. Driving must have been out of the question, right?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that. My feet just felt—not numb, exactly—but like they had sponges on ’em. It didn’t slow me up much.”

Please don’t let him drive, Cardinal was thinking. He’ll kill himself or somebody else, and I don’t want to get that phone call.

Dr. Cates led Stan to a door off to the right. “Just take a seat in the examining room. Remove your shoes and socks and shirt.”

“My shirt?”

“I want to listen to your heart. Dr. Choquette noted some arrhythmia and referred you to a cardiologist. That was six months ago, but I don’t see any results here.”

“Yeah, well, I never got to see that cardiologist.”

“That’s not good,” Dr. Cates said. There was a note of flint in her voice.

“He was busy, I was busy. You know how it is. It just never happened.”

“You have heart failure in your family history, Mr. Cardinal. That is not something you ignore.” She turned to Cardinal. She had the kind of cool gaze he found sexy in a woman, no doubt because it was meant not to be. “I think you’d better wait out here.”

“Fine with me.” Cardinal took a seat.

There was a rap on the door and the receptionist came in. “Sorry. Craig Simmons is here. He insists I tell you he’s still waiting.”

“Melissa, I’m with a patient. I have patients lined up all day. He can’t just drop in like this.”

“I know that. I keep telling him. I’ve told him fifty times. He won’t listen.”

“All right. Tell him I can see him for five minutes after this patient. But this is the last time…. Sorry about that,” Dr. Cates said when her receptionist had gone, her dark eyes no longer cool. “Some people can’t take no for an answer.”

She went into the examining room and closed the door. Cardinal could hear their voices but not what they said. He looked around at the consulting room. In Ray Choquette’s day it had been all chrome and vinyl. Now there were leather chairs, a ceiling fan and two glass-fronted bookcases crammed with medical texts. A deep red Persian rug gave the place a warm, inviting feel, more like a study than an office.

Fifteen minutes later Dr. Cates came out of the examining room, followed by his father, who was looking thunderous.

She pulled out her pad and spoke while she wrote. “I’m giving you two prescriptions. The first one is a diuretic; that should help keep your chest clear. And the other one is a blood thinner, to keep your blood pressure down.” She tore off the scrips and handed them to Stan. “I’m going to call the cardiologist myself. That way we’ll be sure to get you in. My assistant will call you to let you know what time.”

“What about the driving?” Cardinal said.

Dr. Cates shook her head. A strand of black hair came loose and curled around her neck. “No driving.”

That did it for Stan. “Goddammit. How would you like it if you had to call someone every time you wanted to go out? Thirty years old, what do you know about anything? How do you know what I can or can’t feel—in my feet or any other damn place? I was driving twenty years before you were born. Never had an accident. Never had so much as a speeding ticket. And now you’re telling me I can’t drive? What am I supposed to do? Call
him
every five minutes?”

“I know it’s upsetting, Mr. Cardinal. And you’re right: I wouldn’t like it at all. But there’s a couple of things you might want to keep in mind.”

“Oh, sure. Now you can tell me what to think, too.”

“Let me finish.”

“What did you say to me?”

“I said let me finish.”

Good for you, Cardinal thought. A lot of people were cowed by Stan’s bluster—including his own son some-times—but this young woman was holding her own.

“A couple of things to keep in mind. First, this neuropathy will probably get better. You’ve been looking after your blood sugar, and that’s the best thing you can do. Three or four more months might make all the difference. Second, everybody depends on other people. We all have to learn to ask for what we need.”

“It’s like being crippled, for God’s sake.”

“It’s not the end of the world. Frankly, I’m far more worried about your heart. I’m hearing a lot of fluid in your chest. Let’s get that looked after and then we’ll worry about your driving, all right?”

When Cardinal and his father stepped back into the waiting room, a man got out of his chair and brushed by them. Something about him was familiar—the combination of blond hair and the gym-rat physique—but he entered the consulting room and closed the door before Cardinal could place him.

Cardinal waited while the receptionist explained a referral form to his father. Angry voices issued from the consulting room.

“Dr. Cates get many patients like that?” Cardinal said to the receptionist.

“He’s not a patient. He’s a—well, I don’t know what you’d call him.”

“Can we please get out of here?” said Stan. “Believe it or not, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a doctor’s office.”

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