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Homicide in Hollywood North

Dave Horton

Homicide in Hollywood North

another Mike Claymore Mystery: Maxine





BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
80331 Munich

Chapter 1 Wednesday, March 5/97

Today Mike’s glad to be home. Swinging his feet around and thumping the side of his head to clear out the noise of the humming diesel he rests one arm on the open window of the open door on his K100 Kenworth. He lets his feet dangle and rubs the back of his neck with his left hand. Shaking his head he stretches and swings on around in the seat to step on the ledge of flooring by the door then steps around the seat. He kicks the seat ahead to rest against the steering wheel. Placing one hand on the console he boosts himself up and over into the sleeper.

He flicks on the light and starts to work cleaning up in the cubicle. Dirty clothes go into his laundry bag followed by soiled sheets and bedding from the bunk. He reconsiders and pulls the two sheets out to do separate at the laundry mat. They are still fragrant with the perfume of Beatrice who accompanied him to Calgary from Penticton and back. He reminisces on the fact that she is nearly the age of Trudy when they first met.

In those days Trudy was free to go with him whenever he had a run and she was always full of vigour and wild enthusiasm. Trudy had been a truck stop waitress, young, blonde and enticing. She had never been satisfied with their occasional sexploits so she had wheedled her way into his heart and become his mistress. She was also very canny at security work and became his partner in Claymore Security Investigations. Now she runs his Chilliwack office and they have two fulltime investigators as well as two part timers out of her office (home) on Clarke Drive. She is too busy with business and their daughter she bore him eight months ago to travel with him now.

He puts the soiled sheets into a fragrant pillowcase. He chuckles and thinks, “I must ask Bea to cut down on that perfume. It’s gonna be the death of me if Marlene smells it.” Mike is thirty-two now and Marlene is thirty-one. They have a home in Abbotsford and four children. The pride of Mike’s eye is their first born, Richard who is twelve now. Next are the girls: Shelly of the fair skin and blue eyes so unlike her parents, then Janet. They are ten and nine respectively. Last and far from least is the recent newborn daughter, Emma Nancy Claymore who is three months old.

Day before yesterday he had called Bea in Penticton to see if she was working. She took a day off and joined him to make the run to Calgary. Two nights in the sleeper with her had suited him to a tee since they enjoyed a lust filled relationship without strings. She had sense enough to keep out of sight in the sleeper while Mike visited his brother in Golden.

Mike’s brother, Terry lives in Golden and is the co-owner of a new ski resort scheduled to open this fall. His common-law wife is the wife of Mike’s one time friend, Jeff Hart of Markham, Ontario. Her name is Nina and she has borne Mike’s children twice. She has one-year old identical twins, Anne and Cathy Claymore-Hart and in January she had Shawn Jeffery Claymore-Hart. Mike does not like to think about frail Shawn, a child suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. He even hesitates to visit them because he sees the guilt in Nina’s eyes when he regards the child.

Mike has put off the talk he knows he must have one day with Richard about his half-brother Shawn. His joy of hearing about another son had been short lived when he learned the truth of his new son’s condition. He hadn’t had time yet to fully absorb the information himself. Scenes of the oversized bulging eyes watching him from the still frail body haunt him.

Mike puts garbage into a litterbag straightening up his bedroom on wheels then sweeps and finishes by vacuuming the area. Satisfied with the results he climbs back over the padded console and swings out the open door lowering himself to the ground by the ladder rungs hung down from the cab. He stretches again and heads for the parking lot of the Pacific Terminal of Canadian Pacific Express Transport (CPX) in Port Coquitlam (Poco), British Columbia (BC), Canada.

In the parking lot he checks the oil and starts up his ’69 Candy Apple Red Mustang convertible. While its warming up he puts down the top and walks all around the vehicle checking that no one has scratched it while he’s been away. It’s only two-o-clock so he plans to enjoy the afternoon sun on his way home.

He pulls into the yard along side his K100 cab over Kenworth. The cab is painted in the royal blue of CPX with white lettering on the side. It reminds one of a huge square box on wheels but to Mike it is his home away from home, his companion over thousands of miles, his ship of adventure over which he has stewardship. He hauls the laundry down from the cab along with the garbage that he tosses in a nearby bin. The laundry goes in the car and he is ready to head for home after bleeding off his air brakes. With the blue monster hissing behind him he pulls out for home waving at the yardman as he goes towards the exit.

On Kingsway he debates whether to go by the Mary Hill by-pass and the freeway so he can stop in at his new Langley office of Claymore Security Investigations (CSI) headed up by a former investigator, Lilly White. She and Jack White had worked for Mike out of the Chilliwack office until Trudy and Mike had seen the need for a Langley office. The couple had surprised everyone by getting married right after Mike put her in charge of the new Langley office. Another old friend of Mike’s that had worked for him, Chuck had been their best man so now Lily heads up the office and has Chuck and Jack working for her. It seems to be working well so far since they already have quite a bit of Langley area work in hand.

On the other hand he would very much like to zip home via Maple Ridge and Mission to Abbotsford to see his newest daughter and wife. That is what he decides to do and swings left off Kingsway and out to the Lougheed Hwy. Following the Lougheed for half an hour brings him into Maple Ridge and it doesn’t take half an hour to get to Mission, where he swings south to Abbotsford. Pulling in home to his condominium on Marshal Road just around the corner from the hospital he parks by his wife’s Buick station wagon. He gathers his laundry (except the pillow case with the sheets that remain in the trunk) and heads to the side entrance.

Marlene sees him coming through the side window overlooking the drive. She’s at the sink washing vegetables for supper. She waves and greets him with a big smile then as he comes in the door rushes to kiss him. “I’m glad you came right home. I thought when you called you might take the afternoon to go out to Langley.”

“I thought about it but decided it can wait. I don’t have any more runs this week according to Jerry.” Jerry is the dispatcher at CPX. “Of course, something might come up but there’s nothing for now.”

“I think Trudy is over there today teaching Lily about skip tracing. Lily got a call from Household Finance about doing some work for them.”

Mike nods as he heads for the living room and a basinet set up just inside the door. Shelly is there doing homework at a small table set up by the basinet. She smiles up at her Dad as he comes in. “How is my youngest daughter doing?”

Shelly whispers, “She’s sleeping, Dad.”

Marlene whispers by his elbow, “I was talking to Dad today. He expressed his appreciation we named her after his mother, my grandma Emily.” Mike slips his arm around Marlene’s waist and rests his other hand on Shelly’s far shoulder. He thinks back to when he first saw that tiny head appear and then heard her first cry.

“I’m so glad I was with you for Emma’s delivery, love.” Marlene smiles at his words. She had been thrilled to have him there for the birth as well since he had been away for the birth of the other three. He goes on, “You explained why not Emily, did you?”

“Yes and he understood. I told him we wanted to call her Nancy for your sister and Emily Nancy didn’t sound as good as Emma Nancy. I also told him we had considered Emily Nance but we both liked Emma so that’s what she ended up as. He said grandma McRae would understand, too.” She goes on in a low voice, “You killed two birds with one stone with the Nancy, didn’t you?”

Mike grins, “Yeah, it’s not only my sister but also your mother’s name. Every little bit helps.” He’s referring to Marlene’s mother who dislikes the situation of Mike’s having a mistress with a child of his, as well. Nancy McRae holds back nothing of her bitter feelings over his ways so Mike avoids visiting his wife’s mother’s home unless absolutely necessary. Her father is more tolerant and even considers his daughter has made a good choice in Mike. They get along quite well.

Marlene beckons and they go to the kitchen. “Did you see Nina and Terry this trip?”

“Yes, I stopped for an hour or so. Terry was home so we talked extensively about the new ski lodge they’re putting up.”

“How was Nina?”

“Says she’s good but she looks worn out.”

“Do you mean she’s having a hard time dealing with Shawn?”

“I’m not sure but I think so. He bites her when he’s nursing. She’s had to wean the twins.”

“Her own damn fault! She couldn’t wait to get you into bed again and so she got pregnant far too soon. Oh well, what’s done is done.” She looks at him calculatingly, “Are we gonna have another one? I started on the pill again this week.”

“It would be nice to have another one with Emma but only if you feel you can cope with two.”

She grins a lopsided grin, “Not gonna give me twins, eh?” She pours coffee and extends a cup to him, “Let’s give it a few months and then maybe.”

Mike muses, “I hope Nina is on the pill again.”

“Mike!”

“No, I mean I hope Terry doesn’t do the same thing we did.”

“You bugger, you wouldn’t screw your brother’s wife, would you?”

“Of course not! I have work to do.” Mike goes down the stairs to his basement office. His wife has no idea how her suspicions have cut him. He thinks it over as he paces. He had never had any qualms about bedding Nina when she was Jeff’s wife but then he knew Marlene was messing with Jeff on the side so he felt vindicated.

He lifts down his most recent acquisition from its display case on a shelf, a 16th Century Claymore sword. Combining great size (56 ½ inches overall) with graceful lines, these swords were used with devastating effects by the highlanders of old. The distinctive drooping quillons, quatrefoils and pommel are complemented by a long ebony handle for wielding with two hands. Mike has gotten this item through a friend of a friend.

An RCMP sergeant named Janine has befriended a weapon’s master on the Highlander series being filmed in Vancouver and when she told Mike, he right away saw a chance to get this sword. Highlander is one of his favourite TV films anyway so he has gotten her to promise to introduce him around the movie lots. Mike is greatly looking forward to that.

He cuts a pass and another in the air then puts the sword away, standing to admire the workmanship on it. Rick comes quietly into the office and stands by his Dad, “I thought I heard you come in, Dad. Mom said for you to come for supper any time. Jan is getting washed up now.”

Mike glances at his watch. “Five-o-clock already. Okay son, are you washed up yet?”

“Yep.”

Mike follows him up the stairs and goes on upstairs to wash up. He comes down right behind Jan. Marlene calls softly to him from the couch, “Can you help Shelly put supper on? I’ll be another ten minutes or so nursing Emma.” Mike nods to her.

Jan says, “I’ll help her, Dad. Can I?”

Mike shoos her along ahead of him, “We’ll see. Let’s eat.” He calls back to Marlene, “Can I bring you anything, love?”

She shakes her head.

Mike catches Shelly’s eye as he enters the kitchen and he pulls her aside to whisper, “Try to find something for Jan to do to help you, okay?”

She nods and calls to her sister, “Jan, can you help me here?”

Jan perks up and rushes to help her. Mike and Rick take their places at the table. Rick asks, “Did you see Handsome Mountain this time?”

Rick is referring to Mike’s brother, Terry. Terry and Mike are half Scottish, half Mohawk. Mike’s mother was a Mohawk clanswoman of the wolf clan who married a Scottish Indian Agent named Duncan Claymore south of Montreal.

“Yes, I saw your uncle. We discussed the new ski slopes and lodge in Golden. He’s doing well there. They’re gearing up to open this fall. They already have a number of reservations from Calgary.”

“Wow, that’s great! Did you see Shawn?”

“Yes, I saw him.”

Rick senses his Dad’s reluctance to say more so he doesn’t press the subject. Instead he changes the discussion, “Are we going to take the trailer out to Sunny Meadows again soon?”

“Have you been cleaning it out?”

“As much as I could. After supper I’ll show you.”

Mike nods and they start eating. Marlene joins them, as they are finishing up. She takes some food on her plate and everyone slows down to allow her to catch up. Once again Rick asks, “Do you suppose we could take the trailer out this weekend, Dad?”

Marlene says around a mouthful, “He’s been slaving on that trailer. I think he wants to get away this weekend.” And then to Rick, “You have any special reason, son?”

He turns colour a bit and mumbles, “Nope, just thought it would be nice to check the club out. Spring is in the air.”

Mike nods, “The weather has been warm here in the valley. This last trip I was in snow most of the way to Calgary. It sure is nice to come back to the valley and find everything green.” He asks Marlene, “Could you manage Emma out at the club?”

She lowers her eyes, “Not for another month or two, lover.” She brightens up, “But you and Trudy could take the kids out this weekend, I suppose.”

“I’ll check with Trudy.”

The side door opens and a voice calls, “Hey, anybody home?” Mike lifts a hand to caution Marlene to stay seated and finish her supper as he gets up to welcome Crystal and Trudy with the baby. He catches Crystal up in his arms and hugs her then catches Trudy on one arm and kisses her over the baby’s head. He takes Shannon from her arms and allows her a chance to greet everyone else and get her jacket off.

Shelley and Jan excuse themselves and run off upstairs with Crystal. Trudy sits down at the table to chat with Marlene while Mike and Rick amuse Shannon trying to get her to smile. She gurgles up at her father and half-brother but soon tires of that and cries from hunger. Trudy takes her and starts nursing her. “I was going to feed her over at Lily’s but I thought I might be able to make it home. No way, we were coming up on Abbotsford and she started fussing.”

As Mike and Rick excuse themselves Marlene says, “Is she eating much solids yet?”

“Oh yeah, quite a bit but she still prefers a little tittie now and again.”

“Are you…?”

“No, nothing this month and I think its too late now. Maybe next month.” She nods towards Mike as he and Rick go out the side door, “Do you suppose he’s worn it out?” They laugh together and Mike lets on he doesn’t hear them.

Rick asks him, “Do they always tease you like that, Dad?”

“Yeah son, its their way of showing me their independence. It’s all in good humour but they are making it clear that they are individuals, not property. I encourage that in a woman. They are our equals in every respect.” He climbs the steps into the trailer in the driveway. “Well, you’ve done a good job in here. It’s clean as a pin.”

He sits at the table and Rick sits across from him. “Can we take it out this weekend then?”

“I suppose. What’s your hurry?”

Rick looks at his hands on the table, “Aw Dad, just to get away for the weekend. Can Julie come with us?”

“Julie, eh?” Rick looks uncomfortable. “What happened?”

Rick murmurs, “Her Mom caught us on the couch.” He hesitates and goes on, “I don’t know how long she was watching us but Julie said she told her after I left. We don’t have any privacy here in town.”

“I thought Julie had decided to wait until she was older?”

“We were going to but we both got jealous, I think. She thought I might be doing it with someone else and I thought she might do the same so we decided we better do it with each other. Her Mom has her on the pill.”

“How long have you two been doing it?”

“Couple weeks now. Usually in her bed when her Mom is working. She came home early night before last.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t been in the trailer here?” Rick glances up at him and Mike nods, “Oh, you have.” Rick nods. “It sounds like you two have been pretty busy.”

“She wants it two or three times a night, Dad. We go under the bleachers after school or in the cloak room after everyone has gone but we almost got caught there once. Then when I get her home after school if her sister is out its up to her bed. She always asks me to come over later before bedtime and we use her bed again since her mother is never home before about three in the morning.”

“Whew! That’s pretty heavy schedule, son. Aren’t you tired out all the time?”

“No, not at all. I used to masturbate twice or three times after school. It’s a lot better than that.”

“Are you sure she’s enjoying it?”

“Oh wow, she goes crazy every time. Just after school under the bleachers she is so wet I hardly touch her before she starts having orgasms. That’s real neat! I love to see her enjoying it so much.”

“Well, I realize you both are likely too young to do any harm but I think you’re jumping the gun. Sex at your age on a regular basis will cheapen the experience for you when you’re older. I only hope you both grow tired of it before long and decide to leave the cheap thrill until it has meaning for you. All the same I’ll ask Sadie about her coming out with us.”

“You better not let Mom or Trudy catch you talking to her Mom. I heard them talking about her and they don’t like you being around her. Is that because her Mom’s a stripper?”

“Maybe I better just call her then.”

“I think that’d be best, Dad.” They grin at each other.

“Don’t you be letting your sisters find out about you and Julie; I don’t want Shelly thinking she has to keep up with you.”

“Don’t worry Dad, I don’t tell them anything.”

“Okay, we better go in now. I guess you have homework and Trudy will be wanting to see me.” They close up the trailer and head into the house.

Trudy and Marlene have a catalogue out on the counter and are poring over it. Mike inquires, “Where are the babies?” Marlene points into the living room and Trudy beckons him closer.

“Which booties do you like best, Mike?”

“For which one?”

“Emma, of course!”

“I’d prefer doeskin moccasins or leggings.”

“Oh Mike!” she swats his shoulder, “You would!”

As he chucks Trudy under the chin Marlene murmurs, “I knew he was going to say that.”

Mike asks Trudy, “How’s Lily making out?”

Trudy is enthused, “She’s doing terrific! She catches on so fast. I guess its all that training she got in the orient before coming to Canada.” Lily worked undercover for the police in Singapore and Hong Kong on the drug squad so she has a good grounding in security. “I only had to explain the methods I use for skip tracing once to her and she grasped the ideas and even improved on a couple techniques I use. I’m dying to try them out myself.”

“Have you got much right now?”

“I’m pretty well caught up but there will be more next Monday, I’m sure.”

“How are your new people working out?”

“The one from the MP’s at the base, that’s Werner, he’s excellent. I’m not too sure on the other one, he may be too young.”

“Attitude?”

“Uh huh.”

“He knows he’s on probation?” She nods. Mike shrugs, “You call the shots. You have to work with him.” He winks at her, “Any other problems?”

“We have competition in Langley… stiff competition.”

“New people?”

“Old company, Spartacus from New Westminster, they’ve added quite a few people to their Langley operation and they are advertising heavy. I have some of their ads.”

“They’re just uniform guards.”

“Not any more.” She produces two ads from her purse, “See, Spartacus Protective Services, uniformed guards, home security systems and undercover investigations. The investigations are new.”

Mike studies the ads. “Well, we’ll have to keep an eye on them.”

“That’s what I told Lily.”

“What about The Commissionaires from Vancouver? I understand they have some clients in Langley.”

“They’re not pushy like these guys.” She taps the ads. “Most of these are kids! The Commissionaires are retired cops and veterans, real gentlemen and pretty tough. Pricey like us, though. I’ve worked with them out at the base in Chilliwack.”

“They’re at the airport here in Abbotsford, too.” He thinks a moment. “And CPX has them in our yard down at Poco. So far they’re not into investigations, just security.”

She asks quietly, “You coming down soon?”

“I’ll try.” He glances at Marlene who lets on she is really interested in the catalogue but he knows she’s listening. “If I don’t get a call for a run tomorrow I’ll come down for the night. How’s that?”

Trudy is all smiles. “I’ll call that Jerry and tell him to stick any runs where the sun don’t shine.” She giggles and Mike shakes his head. She looks contrite, “You know I wouldn’t.”

“It’s only Wednesday though,” he cautions. “One other thing, would you like to go out to the club this weekend? I was thinking of taking the trailer out there and Marlene doesn’t think it’s wise to take Emma out there yet.”

“Oh, that’s better than tomorrow night! You bet!”

“Okay, so I’ll stay here until Friday then take the trailer out Friday night. We’ll have to come home Sunday night because the kids have to be in school Monday morning.” He looks again to Marlene and asks, “Does that sound fair to you, love?” Tight lipped she nods.

Trudy gets the kids around and leaves for home in Chilliwack with the promise that Mike will see her at the club Friday night. Marlene and Mike wave to her as she leaves in her ‘86 Chevy ‘Sprint’ with Crystal holding the baby in the passenger seat. Mike wanders over to the trailer and Marlene paces him close behind.

“You know why he’s been cleaning it up, don’t you?”

Marlene mutters, “Julie?” When Mike nods she continues, “I saw them come out of the trailer the other night. He hinted she was helping him with the cleaning. I gather there was more to it than that.” He nods again. She looks worried now, “She’s not… she’s okay, isn’t she?”

Mike reassures her, “Oh yes, Sadie has her on the pill.”

Noticeably relieved Marlene retorts, “That was smart of her!” then she calms and follows it with, “I guess she’s got her hands full with two girls that age and her having to work half the night.” Pensively she asks, “When are you going to take me to see her act?”

Mike shies away from the question, “Rick feels they have no privacy at her place or here. I don’t advocate they experiment but kids will be kids and they have to find their own way. I’m sure he won’t do anything to harm her…”

“We did it, didn’t we? Of course we were older.” She looks thoughtful, “Was I sixteen?”

“I think you were seventeen. But I wasn’t the first, was I?”

“You know who was the first.”

“Yeah, Ken. How old were you?”

“Fifteen, it was my freshman year in high school. Ken was two years ahead of me and was the ‘catch’ for the seniors. I thought I had to go all the way with him to get his attention and hold it.” She giggles, “It worked until you came along and then I didn’t care anymore.”

Mike says softly, “Do you still have a thing for him?”

Marlene laughs mischievously, “Wouldn’t you like to know.” She follows that comment up with, “You and Trudy have both hinted that I might be seeing Ken for six months now. I think she even thinks I might be seeing Jeff.” She laughs outright now.

“I know Jeff’s in Toronto. That’s ridiculous!”

“Is he?”

“Of course he is… or he was the other day when he called. Is he out here?”

Marlene looks contrite, “He’s in Vancouver, if you must know. He has been for about three months now.” She glares at Mike, “Yes, he wanted me to come to him but I told him a long time ago it was over and I meant it.”

“I see.” Mike thinks this through. “He’s had all his calls to our place routed through his office phone in Toronto, eh?” Marlene bites her lip. “Why would he do that?”

“You know why. He wants me to go back east with him.”

“He can’t accept a ‘no’? He has to keep calling?”

“He’s persistent.”

“I’d call it obnoxious!” He lifts her chin, “You’re enjoying the attention!” he accuses. She shrugs. Mike adds, “And what about Ken?”

She snaps, “None of your business!” She turns her back on him and starts to leave. He catches her arm and turns her back to face him.

“Why is it none of my business?”

“Do you level with me?” She pushes her face right up to his. “Are you gonna be with Sadie tomorrow night or maybe Janine? Who did you sleep with last night? How many more that I don’t even know about? You can just fucking worry about Ken, for all I care! That’s why it’s none of your business!”

Mike backs down and shrugs, “So I am what I am.”

“I know that Mike, I accepted that a long time ago. I don’t want to fight with you when we could be enjoying each other’s company. Let’s just leave it alone.”

Mike agrees and they go into the house.

Shelly is rocking a cranky Emma so Marlene takes her and paces rubbing her back gently. Shelly watches her Mom. Finally Marlene decides she will have to give her some more nurse or she isn’t going to settle down. She’s been trying to get her to wait up to four hours between feedings but so far without much success. Mike watches Shelly help her mother get settled on the couch. He says he is going down to do some work in the office.

“I won’t be long, I’ll bring you down coffee when I’m done feeding her.”

“Thank you.” He heads downstairs where he checks his fax machine and ‘in’ box. Quite a pile so he sets to work on it. It’s nearly eight when the phone rings.

“Hello.”

“Mike?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“When did you get in?”

“Just after lunch to the yard, home by three I guess.” He can hear the noisy crowd in the background. “Busy tonight, are you?”

“Really a good crowd for a Wednesday. What are you doing?”

“Just into paper work. There’s a pile of it. Same thing every time I go on a run. Why do you ask?”

“Is Marlene there?”

“Not right here but not far away.”

“Oh.”

“She’s not in earshot, if that’s what you mean?”

There’s quiet on the line with just background noise then, “Mike, Rick wouldn’t run off with Julie, would he?”

“Huh? No, I don’t think so. Sadie, they are just kids!”

She waits a long time again, “I guess I scared them the other night. I came home early and they were screwing on the coach. It caught me off guard, I thought they had quit and agreed not to do it any more until they were older.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Mike, I didn’t say anything. I just stood there and watched them.”

“So why do you think they might run off then?”

“I asked Julie about it the next day and she acted angry that I watched. Then I see today when I got up she has a bag packed. She hid it but I chanced on it. I didn’t say anything but…” she sounds real worried.

“Okay, I think I might know what it is. Rick and her have been cleaning up our trailer and Rick asked me to take it out to the club this weekend. He also asked if I would speak to you about Julie coming out with us.”

“Do you think that’s what it is?”

“That would be my guess.”

“Hi Dad.” Mike swings his chair around to find Rick behind him at the door. “Just going over to Julie’s. I thought you might tell Mom. She’s changing the baby upstairs.”

“Oh, okay Rick. Don’t be too late, you have school tomorrow.”

“I know, Mom says eleven.”

“I spoke to Julie’s Mom so she can come with us this weekend.”

“Great Dad, see you later.” Rick goes up the stairs two at a time.

Mike speaks into the phone again, “It is okay for her to come with us, Sadie?”

“You know it is, Mike. You don’t have to ask as long as you let me know.” She goes on after a short break, “Will I see you soon?”

“When you least expect it.” He chuckles.

“Not soon then?”

“Afraid not. I’m pretty busy this week.”

“Oh well, I just thought I would ask…” Her voice trails off wistfully.

“Shady Sadie, you’re gonna get me in big trouble, you know. I have to be discrete here around town.”

Her voice is sad, “Okay, I know Mike. Take care then and thanks for setting my mind at ease.” The phone clicks before he can reply so he goes to hang it up then hears her saying something more. “I know she’s safe with you folks.”

“We’ll look after her, no problem. You take care now. Good night.”

He hears her hang up and listens. Finally Marlene’s voice says in his ear, “I thought you were on the phone a long time. What did she want?”

“Why don’t you hang up and come downstairs. I’ll tell you.”

The phone goes dead with a click and Mike hangs up the receiver. He pushes his paperwork to one side and goes up to the kitchen. Marlene is just coming down from upstairs so he pours coffee for two. He puts her cup where she usually sits and pulls out a chair beside her.

She doesn’t sit; she stands with hands on hips and says, “Well?”

“She called because she was afraid Julie was planning to run off with Rick. She found a bag of Julie’s packed today.”

“And you let him go over there tonight? After she told you that?”

“Sit down love,” Mike feels tired. “Rick is not running off with Julie.”

She glares at him, “How do you know?”

“Hon, she has just packed a bag for the weekend out at the club, I’m sure. Have a little faith in our son. Do you think he would do something like that?”

“He might… I don’t know, he’s so much like you! Damn Mike, you would if it came into your head when you were his age!”

“Maybe, but I didn’t have a father to talk to like he has. I’m sure he’s not planning on doing anything like that.” He pats the chair, “Will you sit down, love?”

She sits on the edge of the chair, “Damn, you don’t know what its like to be tied down now with the baby. When you’re away I have to count on Rick and Shelly because I can’t just jump up and go to their rescue. I haven’t been tied down this way for years. I’ve forgotten how to do it.”

“I’m here, love.” He rubs the back of her neck and her shoulders.

She tries to push him away but it’s a weak effort. She mumbles, “Until CPX calls or Trudy calls or Lily or who else…” Her shoulders relax as his hands work their magic. Finally she reaches for her coffee and sips it. He turns his chair so he can work his thumbs both sides of her spine down her back. She melts in the chair murmuring, “Oh Mike, its so good to have you home again.”

Mike picks up his coffee and drinks some. Mike hears someone at the side door and then Rick comes in looking glum. Mike checks his watch. “What’s up, sport? Your in awfully early.”

“Nothing.”

“Care for a hot chocolate?”

Rick shakes his head, “Naw, I’m heading up to bed. Good night Mom, Dad.”

“Hey, hold on Rick,” Mike nods for him to come back. “Why you looking so down?”

“Julie may not be going with us this weekend.”

“Did you two have an argument?” Marlene is beaming.

Richard glares at her. “You don’t like her, do you?”

“It’s not that obvious, is it?” Marlene still looks happy.

Mike interrupts, “Did you have a disagreement with her, son?”

“She’s crazy! She wanted me to run away with her! That’s so foolish and she can’t even understand why it’s foolish. I told her she has it real good at home and no one is picking on her. She says her mother and sister are both watching her all the time. She’s paranoid!”

“So what do you think she’ll do?”

“If she doesn’t take off tonight I think she’ll cool down and forget it… I hope she forgets it.”

“And if she takes off tonight where will she go?”

“Likely to Blatherwick’s; her and Shannon are buddies at school. She lives just behind the Savoy out towards the airport. I forget the street name.”

“That’s all the way out the other end of Clearbrook. How would she get out there?”

“Walk, I guess. She’s not scared to walk the streets after dark.” He looks belligerent, “I’ve told her over and over again that’s dangerous! She never listens to me!”

“Did you tell her that her mother said it was okay and she’s welcome to come with us to the club?”

“Yeah, she sounded happy about that when she cooled down.”

“Okay son. Let’s hope she has enough sense to stay home tonight.”

Rick lifts the coffee pot, “Can I?”

Mike looks at Marlene and she nods. Rick pours himself two thirds of a cup and fills it with milk then adds some sugar. He sits down with them. “Dad, when are you going to take me out again with the rifle?”

“You got the money for some ammo?”

“I’ve been saving some up. How much is a box of shells?”

“I’m not sure but I bet 30-30 shells are about ten bucks a box.”

“Can’t I get half a box?”

Mike grins, “What am I gonna do with the other half box?”

Looking up hopefully, “Hang on to them until I save up enough for them?”

Mike laughs but then asks, “Why is this so important? You know how to use the snare and the bow. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”

Rick lifts his head up high, “Those things don’t protect a home. They’re for hunting.”

“Son, we have the police and firemen to protect our home.”

“Yes Dad, most of the time.” He looks straight at Mike. “If you are white they work for you much better.”

Mike is shocked! “What do you mean, you know many metis who are police officers in both the local Matsqui police and the RCMP.” He studies his son, “Have you had trouble at school?”

“Nothing I can’t handle, Dad.”

“How long have they been giving you a rough time?”

Marlene puts an arm around him protectively. He looks his Dad in the eye and speaks directly, “There always has been a core group. I have always watched out for Shelly and Jan and warned them what to watch for.”

“Why have you never said anything?”

“I can care for myself and have always felt I could look after them… but the bullies are getting bigger and harder to avoid. Some are joining gangs and the day might come when I need to have help.”

“Here? In Abbotsford? I’ve never seen this.” He thinks this over, “What would you do if you needed ‘help’?”

Rick looks away and says nothing.

Mike continues, “I hope your plans include calling 911. You know what I’ve always said about taking the law into your own hands.”

Marlene pipes up, “Of course he would call 911. He knows that!”

Mike looks thoughtful and then asks, “Rick, do you carry a weapon? I mean a weapon of any kind?” Rick stubbornly looks away. “Son! Empty your pockets on the table!” Mike’s voice is stern.

Marlene throws her arms around her son and glares at Mike. “You have no right to quiz him like that! He’s a good boy and you leave him alone!”

“Marlene, go tend to your daughters and leave the men to their business!”

Rick glares at him, “You can’t talk to her like that, she gave me my tribal name and she…”

Mike speaks directly to Marlene in a low cool voice, “Don’t come between us.” Marlene snaps out of a daze of sorts and looks at them both then turns to run from the kitchen. Mike stabs the table with a hardened finger.

Rick looks him straight in the eyes and flashes a long wicked blade open as he pulls a knife from his pocket. He slams it down on the table. Mike asks, “Is that all?”

“It’s enough for now!”

“And you want me to train you on that rifle? Tell me truthfully, do you have shells for that rifle?”

“No!”

“Then put that blade away in your pocket and sit with me.”

Rick does as he asks. Mike thinks of the old chief out at Agassis whose son was so bitter and hard to manage when he was investigating Pauline’s murder. He had never thought the same future could be here in his own home but he recognizes that this is how it starts.

He hardly knows where to start. “Richard, you are Stout Willow of the Wolf clan and will be a man one day. You won’t be a warrior or a gang member, I hope. You will be a man. Do you see the difference?”

“I am a warrior! I look after my own!”

Mike shakes his head, “We who have chosen to follow the white man’s ways and take advantage of the benefits of it, like a good education and the opportunity to run a business: we have to follow the white man’s laws as well. I very much suspect that blade exceeds what is legal. You’re on a borderline now of taking actions that might be considered illegal. Doesn’t your school have rules about carrying a knife like that?”

“Yes, but no one has seen it.”

“Why carry it then?”

“If I need it, it’s there.”

“Let’s say you had to use it one day. What then?”

“They’d know enough to leave us alone!”

“Would they? Now think about it. What would they do?”

He looks triumphant, “They’d hide when they saw me coming.”

Mike speaks sharply, “Stop that! Look at me! What would they do?”

Rick looks at him directly and thinks for a moment. He shrugs, “I guess they’d call the police.”

“Oh, and would the police say we are not going to approach him, he has a big knife?”

Rick looks at the table, “No.”

“Son, have you ever saw me carry a gun even when I am chasing murderers?”

Rick looks up at him, “No and I wondered why you don’t.”

“Son, I can only explain it in terms of respect. I respect the law and the law in turn respects me. It was hard at first to earn their respect and even yet there are times when it doesn’t work but I am a man of his word and they treat me that way. It becomes a way, what I call ‘the way of a man’ and it carries me through dangers. The best policemen understand it. You carry yourself with pride because you are a man of your word. It’s been enough.”

“But you’ve been shot at and threatened. They ran you off the freeway.”

“Only as a last desperate resort because they knew they were going to get caught. I’ve survived because I know I’m right and they know I’m right. If I stooped to their tactics and indiscriminate use of force, do you think they would respect me? They would regard me as just another crook.”

“But how can I do that?”

“You said no one knows you have that knife, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“So what has kept them from attacking you or your sisters so far?”

Rick thinks about that. “I don’t know, just lucky I guess.”

“You don’t think they have any respect for you?”

“Oh sure, my friends do… and some of the bullies, I guess.”

Mike says quietly, “You don’t need the knife, Rick.”

Rick shakes his head slowly.

Mike goes on, “You’re backup is here.” He taps his head. “You’re very intelligent.” Sotto voce he says, “You get it from your mother. Don’t tell her I said that.” He goes on, “You can out think those guys and as a last resort you can call on the police. It is their job to keep the peace.”

Rick puts the knife on the table. He murmurs, “I’m not sure about this, Dad. I hope you’re right. I’ll try it your way.”

Mike invites his son to follow him downstairs to his office. He opens a drawer and flips a small finger size basket weaving on the desk. Rick reaches for it asking, “What’s that, Dad?”

“That’s an example of using your head to cool someone down.” He takes it from his son, “It was invented by the Chinese.”

Rick grins, “That?”

“Slide your finger into that.”

Rick puts his finger in one end. Mike steps forward and takes the hand with the weaving on the finger quickly around behind his back grabbing the other hand and jamming a finger into the other end of the woven tube. He steps in front of Rick and sees the surprise grow in his son’s face as he tries to free himself. “What the… it’s stuck… I can’t get my finger out… Dad?”

“That’s true, it’s a Chinese finger cuff. It’s not meant to be a permanent device, simply a means to slow an angry individual down, give them time to reconsider what they might have been going to do. As they cool down they will figure out how to remove it. Have you?”

“I think I can get some slack in it by moving it with my other fingers but it’s difficult. Wow, and that’s just a little piece of tubing.”

Mike steps around behind him and releases the woven tubing. Rick looks it over and tries putting his finger back into it tentatively in front of him. He tries it a few times and sees how it works. He remarks on it, “The harder you pull the tighter it grips you. That’s really something!”

“That’s true, but it shows how little it takes to stop someone. It doesn’t take knives and guns, just a little leverage and thought. It’s just an example of other ways to do things, son. I will show you something else now but you must promise to not play with this. See this?” He pulls from the drawer a nylon electricians’ tie. “See how this works?” He puts the free end into the tiny hole on the other end and invites Rick to try and remove it.

“Wow, it’s stuck in there. How do you get it back out, Dad?”

“You don’t. You have to cut it off.” He takes another one and shows his son the tiny metal tongue inside the hole. “Electricians use these to tie up bundles of wires so they can be arranged neatly, like in aircrafts or automobiles. But they can also be used as handcuffs. I carry them in my briefcase and sometimes in my belt if I am in a serious situation.” He shows Rick the tiny cut in his belt and slides a couple of the ties between the plies of his belt. They disappear except for the lumpy heads, hardly noticeable at his waist.

“Now the reason I caution you about these is that they can be tightened too easily and if used by someone inexperienced can cut off the blood flow in a hand. Again remember the only way to loosen them is to cut them off. They can’t be loosened so I don’t use them unless I have a knife. If I get one too tight I put on a second one a bit looser and then cut off the one that is too tight.”

“Those look real neat, easy to hide and really strong.”

“They work equally well as leg irons but that really is dangerous. You have to understand that a person’s ankles swell as they put their weight on them so they have to be much looser without being loose enough to pull the legs out of them. I would only use them for leg irons on a person I knew was not going to be standing because once an ankle starts to swell the tie will cut off the circulation more and cause more swelling. They could easily lose a foot over that if extended for any length of time. Do you see how serious that is?”

“I understand, Dad. I won’t play around with anything like that.”

“You say that now and you mean it but keep in mind, if you ever do use something like this that you must keep a close eye on anyone with them on. You can’t go away and leave them like that. It could mean a hand or a foot loss in a very painful way. It’s important you understand that.”

“It’s like a snare and I know how deadly they are. I understand, Dad.”

“So now you understand a little bit about why I never carry a weapon. I use my head with attitude, posture, stance, confidence and a backup of delaying tactics like the wire ties, quick reflexes and sometime brute strength. Everything in it’s place and everything a matter of degree, the least possible force to meet the current situation. The less an opponent knows of my arsenal the more likely they are to work.”

“But what if they are shooting at you with a gun?”

“Doesn’t happen all that often but use your head, pull the rug out from under them, toss something to distracts them, make unpredictable moves or retreat. Never forget to watch for an out when you get into a tight situation. You use your head and reflexes. The most deadly weapon is right there in your head.” He raps a knuckle on Rick’s scull. They break up laughing.

“It must be just about your bedtime, sport.”

Rick and his father head up to the kitchen. Marlene is there and she watches Rick head on up to bed. “The girls are done in the bathroom, son. You can get your shower now. Good night.”

“Good night, Mom.”

Mike sits down beside her and she slides the knife over to him. She asks in a low voice, “Why, Mike? Why does my son think he has to carry a knife to school?”

“I’m not sure, love, it’s something new to me as well.” He shakes his head. “I had no idea he was having any kind of problems with bullies.”

“Why should we be any less respected in this town than my Mom and Dad? The McRae’s are respected members of this community. You work with the law community in a respectable position. Why this harassment of the kids?”

“Kids can be cruel to any that are different from them. Rick and Jan’s dark skin like mine could be the reason.”

Marlene shivers, “Is Emma going to have to face that, too?”

Mike rubs her shoulders, “Best to not dwell on that, love. Only time will tell.” He kisses her neck, “Where is Emma?”

She chuckles, “Just behind you there in the living room in her basinet.” She reaches back and caresses his face. “Why, would you like to take me to bed?”

For an answer Mike brings his hands around to caress her heavy breasts and she whispers, “Easy lover, you’ll have me leaking.” She gets up taking his hand and leading him to follow her into the living room. They look down on their sleeping daughter. Mike gently lifts up the basinet and heads for the stairs as Marlene checks door locks, lights and powered appliances. She follows him up to their bedroom.

They strip off their clothes and look into the basinet again. The tiny mouth puckers and the lips work, as the eyes remain closed. A tiny brown hand clenched into a fist rests beside the jet-capped head. They tip toe to the bathroom and turn on the shower. Showering together they frolic in foreplay but Marlene has one end of the enclosure cracked open so she can glimpse the basinet at a glance.

Patting each other down and quietly rushing they roll together on the bed and seek to bring pleasure, each to the other for the briefest of time before a tiny whimper is heard. Mike slips from the bed to bring Emma to Marlene and she nurses her as Mike watches. Marlene’s creamy white skin seems so pale compared to her daughter’s definite brown. Emma is darker skinned than Mike even and with her jet-black hair and chestnut eyes there’s no mistaking her heritage. She reminds Mike of his mother and he thinks she’s beautiful.

Once the baby is settled for the night, Mike leads Marlene along a path of exploration and passion. He sees her through a few orgasms first before throwing himself into the action and they arrive at the heights together in exhaustive spasms of orgasmic delight. Wrapped around each other they sleep fitfully waiting for the tiny cries in the night from the basinet. They both know they will make love again in the night after tending to Emma.

Chapter 2 Thursday, March 6th/97

Mike wakes and watches the basinet over Marlene’s shoulder. He blows lightly a few inches from her ear and strands of her brunette hair scurry across her neck. She stirs restlessly in his arms and scrunches her body closer sliding her arm a bit farther around him and tightening the tendons in the leg thrown over him. This makes Mike suddenly conscious of the fact that they are totally nude and her pelvis is pressed against his. He almost groans as he feels his manhood spring to life insinuating itself in Marlene’s pubic hair as it slides over her labia.

He doesn’t want to wake her knowing she is tired from getting up to feed the baby twice during the night so with an iron will he holds himself perfectly still listening to the sounds of the house. He wonders what has awakened him then hears the sounds from the kitchen. Rick and Shelly must be getting Jan some lunch and Shelly has likely seen to their breakfast. Glancing at his watch he realises they will soon be going to school. He hears Jan’s voice whining and someone shushes her.

Presently Rick comes to the door and peeks in. Mike waves a finger to him. He waves goodbye and Mike waves the finger. Rick grins and takes off downstairs leaving Mike to chuckle as he tries to go back to sleep. He hears the doors close downstairs and the house is quiet. Marlene stirs again and undulates her bottom a few times against his hard erection sighing in her sleep. Mike does groan this time. He can’t help but tighten stomach muscles and move his hips to rub her moist opening.

Frantically he tries to think of other things, things he should get done today and things that have to be done in the near future. He feels liquid trickle down his chest and knows she is having erotic dreams as she clutches him with the arm closer and rubs herself on his erection moving her hips and spine. He can’t take it anymore and kisses her forehead, nose and then her lips.

Softly at first, his lips almost caressing hers and then with more pressure as hers move hungrily on his. She cries out, “Oh Michael, oh God Michael! Please do me now!” She kisses him quickly, “Please Mike! Oh God, yes, yes, yes! Oh yes!” She kisses him over and over. She can feel his hot flesh slipping through her velvety moistness and when he hesitates to let her generate more lubricant then backs up a fraction of an inch she feels a desperate need to have more of him inside her now. She tightens her grip with her legs around his and thrusts her pelvis against him. She shudders all over feeling a thrill go through her and she desperately wants to feel that thrill again and again. She squeezes his organ with her internal muscles and tries her best to give this wonderful man she loves so much all the thrill she can.

She calls out his name momentarily forgetting the baby or even where she is. She feels the thrills and the shuddering moving in her spine and her hips as she raises herself higher on his hips to get him farther inside. She feels on fire and ice in her loins at the same time. Suddenly she gushes out her love for this man, this wonderful caring patient lover of hers. She feels the tension snap and she floats above him feeling him remotely moving in her. As she floats she realizes he is coming with her, he is raising her up high on the mattress and clutching her. It sets blinding colours flying in a pinwheel in her as he erupts with her. She has to caress his face and his chest and his hips, she crouches on him to be closer, to be one with him as they float back to earth together.

She whispers in a rasping voice, “Did you hear the baby?”

“Mmm, not a sound.”

“Do you think she could sleep through that?” She grins.

Mike strokes her hair, “You were rather vocal.”

“Vocal! I must have screamed out your name!”

“Hmm.”

Reluctantly she climbs off him and slips out of the bed. “Oh Mike, look at the time! The kids will be late for school. Come on, get up and help me!”

“They’ve gone already.”

Mike joins her by the basinet. “Hi papoose, you been listening to your mother?” Emma looks like she is laughing at Mike. She waves her hands and seems to chuckle spitting slobber all over her chin. He plays with her with a finger, “You look like you’re gonna be a more oral lover than your mother.”

Marlene slaps his arm with a whack and says, “Michael! You’re awful!”

Mike rubs the arm with a grin, “Do you wanna use the bathroom and I’ll keep her occupied until you get back?” Mike lifts her up into his arms and says, “Uh oh, better bring a diaper back with you.” He cradles her on one arm and follows Marlene into the bathroom. She’s rinsing a wash cloth with hot water and getting ready to use it to clean herself up when Mike says, “Hey, let’s pull off her diaper and take her in the shower with us.”

Marlene’s eyes go soft and she says, “Wonderful idea, lover. You get her diaper off and I’ll get the shower going.” When the water is just right Mike takes the baby in the end away from the shower and Marlene starts to wash her gently with her wet hands. They play with her getting her wetter and wetter. She laughs with them and pats the water on Mike’s arm. Of course she pees again and it runs down Mike’s belly but he laughs and Marlene splashes water on him careful to not splash Emma. Marlene washes Mike down and then herself.

She steps out and takes the baby from him then he steps out and pats the baby down along with her mother. As she takes Emma back to the bedroom he dries himself off. They don robes and Mike carries Emma downstairs with them. Marlene watches as he sets the baby up on a chair between them at the table. She has coffee poured for him and has a frying pan on the burner ready to pop some leftover potatoes into after she slices them.

Soon fried eggs on golden fried potatoes are on the table and she manages to get a bite down before Emma lets her know it is her mealtime. Mike helps her get the baby nursing and he feeds her the rest of her breakfast.

“Do you want me to use a napkin on your mouth or shall I lick it off?”

Saucily she replies, “Up to you, lover.”

He gets around and goes downstairs to check his fax machine for today’s duties. Trudy has a couple of clients for him to see in Abbotsford and one she would like him to check about half way to Chilliwack. Only one in town is urgent so he marks it then picks up the phone.

He dials CPX and gets dispatching on the line. “Jerry, it’s Mike. Anything?”

“Not now Mike, maybe later today or tonight.”

“Okay, have a good day.”

“Hold on, Mike.” In a few minutes Jerry is back. “Got a run for Calgary Sunday night again. You up for it?”

“I guess. Did the shop do anything about that burned out driving light?”

“Hang on, I’ll check.” After a few minutes, “They’re gonna try and get it done this afternoon. They have some checks they want to run on your rig anyway. Should all be done for the weekend.”

“Sounds good. You got anyone else is case?”

“Patty could take it, she’s next after you.”

“Did she get a run this week?”

“She’s on one now. Lethbridge and the Hat. Should be back late tonight.” He’s referring to Medicine Hat, Alberta.

“How’re the roads that way?”

“Good winter condition, they say.”

“A mixed bag, eh?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, give me a buzz if you need me.”

“Have a good day, Mike.”

“Same to you, Jer.”

Mike then calls Trudy. “Good morning, sweet thang.”

“Oh Mike, what’re you doing this morning? You gonna see those two new clients today?”

“The urgent one for sure: likely the other one, too. What’s this John Servant out on number Three Road? That’s Chilliwack territory.”

“I know but I hesitate to send the kid out there. He has a business here in Chilliwack and I don’t want any one messing it up. It could be repeat business.”

“Okay, I’ll try to work it in. Werner is busy, eh?”

“Yep, got him on a store break-in. Business is not happy with the police report and frankly, neither is his insurance company.”

“Good grief, don’t aggravate a situation with the chief out there.”

“He’s giving us his blessing and says he’ll cooperate with us. He says the client is a fussbudget. He’s glad to have us do it for him.”

“So what’s the kid’s name.”

“Bradley.”

“If he’s not busy send him over to meet me on number Three Road. I’ll check him out.”

“Okay, what time?”

“Send him out now. He can meet me there.”

“Okay, but don’t fire him. That’s my decision.”

Mike laughs with her and they discuss a few other things before he hangs up. He takes his briefcase and goes upstairs. Marlene is quietly cleaning up in the kitchen and getting ready to mop the floor. Mike waves and blows her a kiss on his way out. “I’ll try to make it home for lunch. Call you if I can’t.”

He checks the oil and warms up the Mustang. It’s a heavy overcast sky so he leaves the top up. Whistling a merry tune he heads out to the freeway and towards Chilliwack. He swings off on number Three Road a few miles out of Abbotsford and angles east for Yarrow. Just about into Yarrow he starts watching house numbers and almost misses the machine shop built into the ground floor of an old barn. He turns in and parks by the display window. Looking around he doesn’t see any other car so waits for Bradley.

After a while a tall young fellow in black leather jacket comes out of the shop door pulling on leather gloves. He has a motorcycle helmet hanging from his belt and approaches Mike.

“Hey, are you Mike Claymore?”

Mike looks him up and down, “Yes, I am. Who are you?”

With obvious impertinence he answers, “Bradley. What’re you doing sitting out here?”

Mike counts slowly to ten under his breath before saying, “I was waiting for you to show up. Shall we go inside?”

“Ah, not much point, he doesn’t want us. He needs a cowboy.”

“Let’s just go in and see.”

Mike gets out and finds the lad is eye to eye with him. He nods towards the door as he goes that way. Bradley eyes him up and down. “Aw shit, okay.” He follows along.

Mike stops at the door and says, “Aw shit, what?”

“I’m gonna quit! It was bad enough with niggers and women but now I gotta work with a half-breed. To hell with it!”

Mike speaks quick and sharp, “Nope, you can’t quit! You know why?”

“I can do whatever the hell I want!”

“You can’t quit if you don’t work for me, lad. Tell Trudy to make up your cheque and I’ll do your references for the job. Clear out now. You’re fired!”

Mumbling and grumbling, he climbs on a fast looking street machine and swishes out of the lot. Mike grins after him then goes inside. He goes back to a worn counter and asks if John Servant is about. A young fellow at the counter says to wait a minute and calls on an intercom. “Fellow here looking for you, Dad?”

Mike sees a man of about fifty coming from the house and asks, “Is that him?”

“Yep.”

Mike goes out to meet him. He calls out extending his hand, “Hi there, you must be John. I’m Mike. My gal told me you needed some help.”

They shake hands and he says, “I don’t know Mike, who you with?”

“Mike Claymore Security and Investigations.”

The fellow looks him over and grins. One of your fellows was just here, Mike.”

“Well, yes and no. You see he was one of our employees but he no longer works for us. Seems he doesn’t like our employment.”

John gets a twinkle in his eye and says, “Come on in, Mike and sit a spell. Got some mighty good cold cider if you’ve a mind.”

They go inside and John offers Mike a chair at the kitchen table. As he gets the cider he starts in, “You know I figured it might be a broken fence or maybe a coyote but I lost me another heifer last night and called the cops. They say it’s out of their jurisdiction but they will keep their eyes open. Now that doesn’t help me. That’s the third heifer since August so I figure about one every two months. I think someone is rustling them.”

Mike sips on the cider. “What’re they worth, John?”

“Maybe couple hundred each, I guess.” He sits down with Mike.

“You know, I could do a spot investigation, check out the situation and give you my opinion for a couple hundred but if you wanted me to catch them it would cost you a lot more. I’m being honest with you.”

“How be you do the spot investigation and then I make up my mind if I want more? Is that okay?”

“I was going to suggest that. I think it’s most practical that way.” He adds, “Mighty good cider, John. Your own apples?”

“Naw, came from the Okanogan. Got a bunch last fall and the ones the wife couldn’t put down or we couldn’t eat we squeezed. Got me a cider press out behind the shop.”

“Is that right, I didn’t know anyone had a press around town. Can I take a look at it?”

“Sure can as soon as you finish that cider there.” He downs his. Mike does likewise and they go out towards the barn/shop. Mike notices he has a new barn on the other side of the house behind some trees. They enter a back door and inside it is dark and cool. John clicks on a light and they go to one corner of the room. Under some burlap bags smelling of vinegary spice he uncovers the old hand press.

“Wow!” Mike exclaims, “I haven’t seen one of these since I was in Ontario years ago.” He spins the large wheel that lifts the press head slowly. “That thing is lubricated to work like when it was new, too. You really look after this baby.”

“Yep, sure do.” His chest puffs out. “Nothing works like these old hand operated machines. No pieces of peelings or seeds in our cider; nothing but the pure juice. You suppose that fella in Ontario still has his? Hard to find parts for these old timers.”

“I don’t know, I can give you his name and address if you’d like to try to contact him. He was an old Russian immigrant named Eli, Eli Karpov. He lives in a small village called St. Williams.”

John is writing with a pencil stub on a piece of brown paper, “Eli Karpov in St. Williams, eh? I’ll give him a try. Can’t hurt.”

“I have no idea the postal code, I imagine the post office can give you that. Likely only one code for the whole village.”

Mike starts covering the machine again. “John, if you’d like to show me where the cows were that you lost, we could see what we can see. You say it was only last night when the last one was taken?”

“Yeah, okay Mike. Come on, we’ll take the pickup.” They leave the barn/shop and drive back a laneway. John gets out to open a gate and Mike says for him to go on through and he will latch it up for him. Mike comes to join him in the cab and they drive across a field. As they top a rise Mike spots cattle ahead. John stops and says the heifer was taken from here.

“John, did the police come out to search for prints or anything?”

“Nope, just took a report up at the shop.”

“Okay, where was the other two taken?”

“That first one last August was here too but the second one was from the back pasture. We were away that weekend so I didn’t find out until Monday. My son was home but he was out a lot too. We figured it might be a coyote since that pasture is right up on the woods back there. In fact there was some talk of a cougar on the loose back here but we are quite a ways from the wild lands on the mountain, must be five miles at least and lots of farms between us and the brush up there.”

Mike rubs his chin, “Well, let’s go down by the creek passed the cows and take a look. I imagine they water there each night.” John nods as they get out and walk around the herd of cows and heifers.

Near the creek Mike asks, “Is that the road out there, John?”

“Yep, there’s a small bridge over the creek. That’s number Three Road.”

“How do you keep the cows from going under the fence across the creek, John? Do they ever get out on the road that way?”

“They used to, that’s why we have that strand of electric fence a few feet off the water. Can you see it?”

“Oh yeah, I see it. I’m gonna go down that way and check for prints. Be right back.” He heads down towards the water and as he suspected the sand is littered with hoof marks from the cattle coming to water at the creek the previous night. There is a widening of the creek where the cattle have worn a path across to the other side. Mike moves towards the fence and the cow prints become less. He watches the ground and soon grins. He stoops to inspect a print and then another.

He shakes his head and works his way right up to the fence. Ducking down low he finds he can lift the fence enough to slide under the electric line and comes out on the side where the road is. He inspects the ground here and nods. Retracing his steps he comes back to John.

“That one was taken away alright. Looks like right under the fence down there and loaded up by the bridge into a truck or van. I suspect it was a horse van. Quite low to the ground.”

“You found out that quick? Wonder who it was?”

“John, you might find this hard to believe but it was two women, one a bit slighter than the other.”

John slaps the side of his head. “Oh Lord, what do I owe you?”

“You know who it is?”

“Yep. I never would have thought it.”

“Do you want me to see them and turn them in for you?”

“God, no! That’s just fine.

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