Authors: Michael E. Rose
The snow in Montreal covers a multitude of sinsâ¦
MICHAEL E. ROSE
McArthur & Company
First published in 2003 by
McArthur & Company
322 King St. West, Suite 402
Toronto, Ontario M5V 1J2
Copyright Â© 2003 Michael E. Rose
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Rose, Michael E. (Michael Edward)
The Mazovia legacy : the snow in a Montreal winter covers
a multitude of sinsâ / Michael E. Rose. â Mass market ed.
I. Title. II. Series: Rose,Michael E. (Michael Edward).
Frank Delaney mystery series.
PS8585.O729M39 2004 C813'.6 C2003-906282-1
Cover design and composition: Mad Dog Design
Author photo: Matt Dunham
The publisher would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) and the Canada Council for our publishing activities. The publisher further wishes to acknowledge the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation's Ontario Book Initiative for our publishing program.
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I do not like being moved: for the will is excited
and action is a most dangerous thing.
I tremble for something factitious,
some malpractice of heart and illegitimate process.
We're so prone to these things,
with our terrible notions of duty.
Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.
Montreal, Quebec â Winter 1995
he snow in an overlong Montreal winter covers a multitude of sins. It covers the dirty pavement and gives the more rundown of the city's houses and apartments a postcard appearance that they don't always deserve. A heavy snowfall muffles sounds, blanketing busy streets in eerie silence at unexpected times of the day or night. Cars and buses glide noiselessly by. The sky takes on a leaden hue and the sun is just a circle of slight, white light somewhere above the bare black branches of trees.
People take no pleasure in their winter walking in Montreal. In a heavy snowfall, they move quickly, bundled up against the wet flakes and the cold. The colour of their clothing is muted by the weak light. Collars and scarves are held up against faces that rarely look left or right. The walkers wish only to hurry forward, careful not to slip on icy sidewalks or stumble over banked-up snow, the sooner to remove their heavy coats and boots in the warmth of office, shop, or home.
It was on a January day like this that Stanislaw Janovski, a very old but still very sturdy Polish Ã©migrÃ©, got off the Number 24 bus at the corner of Sherbrooke and Claremont streets in a neighbour hood called Westmount. It was midweek, a Tuesday, and getting on to late afternoon. The light was fading even faster than normal because of the thickness of the grey clouds overhead and the snowflakes falling steadily. Claremont begins to rise sharply north of the Sherbrooke Street shops, and Stanislaw faced a treacherous, slippery uphill walk under a row of aging elms to Chesterfield Street and then left to his solid red-brick house on the quiet cul de sac.
He paused before beginning the climb and looked around. Many men in their eighties, as he was, might have done the same after the long bus ride he had just finished, needing a breather and taking their bearings before attempting the final few hundred snowy metres toward home. But Stanislaw was not stopping to catch his breath. Instead, he intently scanned the crowds and the cars.
That brief survey of the terrain appeared to satisfy him somehow and he adjusted his scarf and his old-fashioned Russian-style fur hat.
he said to himself as a former military man might. His long tweed overcoat added to his somewhat military bearing, even though he was far too short to fit the quintessential image of the soldier, the Polish soldier. He turned his attention to the way ahead.
He carried no walking stick, but clutched a small, scuffed leather briefcase with no handle, as he always did on his excursions, inside which could be found the latest edition of
. He always carried newspapers with him to read while riding on buses or the MÃ©tro, or while waiting for the few old acquaintances who were still alive to join him for their now infrequent lunchtime reunions.
It was from one of these lunches that he was returning on that January day. He thought about it as he trudged up Claremont Street, with the snowflakes gathering as they always did on his bushy grey eyebrows. The meeting place, as usual, had been the
Brasserie des Sources
in the city's east end across from the tower that housed the CBC. All the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation services were in that tower, in both an English and a French incarnation, like so much of Canadian life.
Stanislaw had spent many years working for the Polish short-wave service in that tower of broadcast babble. He had loved the highly charged atmosphere at Radio Canada International â an atmosphere created whenever expatriates from dozens of political and social backgrounds are thrown together somewhere in the world and required to broadcast information to their former homelands.
In those years, the short-wave service had been hungry for speakers of foreign languages who were literate, reasonably sane, and could at least make a good pretence of objectivity in their broadcasts. Not that any except the most naive of the Canadian producers expected the Polish Service, for example, to be sympathetic to the Communist regime installed in Warsaw after the war. Nor did they expect the broadcasters to be able to forget their grievances and their family histories and their dashed personal hopes. Stanislaw had met many expatriate Poles at the CBC, many with stories more or less like his own â a hurried exit from Poland when the Germans attacked in 1939, refugee status, and family tragedy as they made their way to France and eventually to Britain to join the Polish forces assembling there. Parents and other loved ones left behind. Comrades killed along the way. Stanislaw's story was not unique. But to be around people who could even begin to imagine such stories was a small comfort for him in the lonely days of his Montreal exile. And those lonely days were frequent with his wife now gone for almost fifteen years.
The lunches at
Brasserie des Sources
were invariably surrounded by the hubbub of dozens of journalists and technicians who hurried over from the tower each day to eat and drink and argue and scheme. Until recently, there would have been three or four other Poles of Ã©migrÃ© vintage with whom Stanislaw could have had a sensible conversation. They would have talked of the war or the betrayal at the Yalta peace conference after the fighting ended and the recognition of the Communist regime that followed. They would certainly have argued about that Solidarity peasant electrician Lech Walesa who had proved such a disappointment as president since the Communists were thrown from power in 1989. But most of Stanislaw's older colleagues no longer came for lunch.
There were, of course, the younger Polish broadcasters, who had not been born when the war began and who had grown up under the Communists and somehow ended up in Montreal. These young men wore their Solidarity lapel pins like war decorations. They found it amusing to bait the older ones who had fought with rifles or bomber planes for their country, rather than having marched with the pickets in Gdansk or Warsaw. But the young ones could never really know what Stanislaw and his comrades-in-arms had done for Poland from many miles away, in France, in Britain and, yes, even in Canada.
Even the young ones, though, shared Stanislaw's deep concern for the way things were now going in Poland â the repeated changes of prime minister, the financial crises, the persistent rumours of Walesa's authoritarian bent and of his shady advisers, the worries about the second post-Communist presidential election that was to come later in the year. Walesa looked certain to lose that election, they all agreed. But what might befall Poland if a Communist president took power once again?
Stanislaw was drawing nearer to his house now and his breathing was heavier, not because of the climb, although this had been more of a challenge in recent months, but because these thoughts weighed heavily on him. The lunch today had ended on a jolly note as usual, with young Kwiencinski or someone else laughing off all the unkind or unthinking things that had been said, with another round of draft beer, with more steaming plates of Quebecois food brought to the table, with no one, apparently, meaning any harm.
“All friends here, Stanislaw,” Kwiencinski had said. “Good loyal Poles one and all.”
But now, as he approached his house, Stanislaw felt his cheeks heat up with regret. He wished that his oldest friend, his brother-in-arms F.O. Navigator Zbigniew Tomaszewski, were here to talk to, rather than old and alone in Paris. Letters and brief telephone calls were now their only connection. How could young fools like Jerzy Kwiencinski or, for that matter, drunken fools of retirement age like Pawel Bazlyko ever know, while they ate their lunches and drank their beer, the truth of what he, Stanislaw, had done for his country? Zbigniew, his friend and his navigator, knew. He knew all that Stanislaw had allowed him or anyone else to know.
An intense memory of a freezing bombing run over Europe, as the Mazovia Squadron headed out once more from Scotland to pound smoking German cities, filled Stanislaw's mind and grasped at his heart. Zbigniew, not thirty, and Stanislaw, just as young, together on a Wellington, fighting from the air for Poland. The Polish Air Force, regrouped and reborn.
Tears threatened, when in the past such memories only brought pride or adrenalin.
Not to cry in this cold,
Stanislaw ordered himself.
You are becoming an old fool
Soft and full of tears.
This ambush by emotion stirred other feelings as he paused for a moment in the falling snow. He looked apprehensively over his shoulder once again, as he had done when getting off the bus. He remem bered why he had to remain vigilant and he wished even more fervently that Zbigniew were closer, that someone could help him now in this very difficult matter. He wished even for his dear wife to be back on this earth â poor Margot who had always longed so desperately for Poland, who could never accustom herself to Montreal or to the French Canadians. Though he would never have involved her, never have put her in the way of anything like this, he wished she could be inside the house this afternoon, turning on lamps and putting on the kettle.
Even his niece, Natalia, so dear to him she was like the daughter he and Margot had never had, was not in the city today for at least a coffee and some small cakes to cheer him up.
Natalia will be shortly back,
he thought as he turned into Chesterfield Street. As he walked the final few paces home, he thought:
We will talk then, a little, I think. Maybe Natalia and I will talk of these matters a little.
At his doorway Stanislaw paused again. The snow had covered his black fur hat and the old tweed on his shoulders. He shook white flakes from his briefcase and then unzipped it to find his key. The light was failing quickly now and the storm showed no sign of stopping. He sighed heavily and put the key into the heavy brass lock. As he stood on the snow-swept stairs he suddenly looked very much the old, lonely, and frightened man of eightythree that he was.
As he stepped inside he was careful not to tread with his wet boots on a scattering of mail on the vestibule carpet. Without taking off his boots or hat or coat, he stooped to gather the envelopes and eagerly checked them all. “Nothing,” he said out loud.
He tossed the sheaf of mail onto a small, white shelf that held a variety of gloves and hats and an old wooden-handled clothes brush, and he sat down on a stool to remove his boots. He carefully shook and hung up his coat and lovingly brushed the black sable of his hat before placing it on a rack in the corner. As he always did on such days, he warmed his hands briefly on the hot-water radiator just inside the door and then put his feet into a pair of maroon corduroy slippers before moving on into his house.
It was a solid comfortable place, with high, white ceilings, carved wooden banisters, and stained glass in the windows. Stanislaw and Margot had bought the house many years ago, when displaced people like themselves could still afford homes in this part of lower Westmount. Even though Margot had been gone for many years, Stanislaw still kept the house in the spotless, obsessively tidy condition she had preferred, and which, if the truth were known, he too had always preferred despite his protests at the hours she spent cleaning and polishing.
Stanislaw moved to the living-room window and looked out furtively between the heavy brown drapes and white curtains his wife had made with her own hands. Then he pulled the drapes all the way across, and he went back to the front door to make sure it was securely locked.
It was too early for supper and, in any case, he was not going to be hungry after the large meal he had eaten at lunch. So he wandered, as he often did, enjoying the quiet of the house and examining the bits and pieces from his past that were set out lovingly on tables, mantels, and shelves. Later, he thought, he would listen to his old short-wave radio and then read and smoke a little.
It was the pictures he liked to examine the most in these wanderings inside his own home â pictures in shiny frames that lent the images the respect and attention they deserved. There was the one of himself and Margot with his brother and his wife at some lakeside beach in the 1950s, soon after they had married.There was their wedding picture, taken outside the stone church in Saint-Sauveur, the Laurentian village north of Montreal where they had all had so much joy skiing and hiking.
Beside the wedding picture was the one of Stanislaw and some Radio Canada International colleagues standing in front of the newly opened tower on Dorchester Boulevard. And beside that was a much older photo of him and some comrades in the Mazovia Squadron, a very faded 1940s image in shades of grey and burnished yellow. It showed them in Scotland, all standing near a large bomb on a wooden roller before it was loaded onto an aircraft. One of the squadron was crouching to write some Polish threat or vow in chalk on the side of the bomb and the others were smiling and clasping each other around the shoulders or making V-for-victory signs.
Not such a good photo to have had perhaps in our peaceful living room all these years
, he thought.
. There was another picture of himself in a leather flying helmet, sticking his head out the small pilot's window of a Wellington, with the red-and-white-checkered square of the Mazovia Squadron painted on the side just above the images of bombs that indicated how many runs the plane had survived. In this photo there were twenty-three such little images.
Then there were the photos of Natalia â many photos, large and small, everywhere. Natalia as a baby with her parents, Stanislaw's brother and his wife; others of her as a lovely young woman just before her parents died, suddenly and together; still more photos of her as a university graduate with Stanislaw and Margot standing beside her as proud as her parents would have been. The most recent photograph showed Natalia now, when she was almost forty and a psychologist, a very good one, an intellectual â Dr. Janovski, just as Stanislaw's own father had been Dr. Janovski at the University of Krakow before the Nazis killed him.