Going for Gold (L)

In the greeting hall of Vancouver’s Canada Place cruise ship terminal, twenty-nine-year-old Amy Sinclair tapped her toes like an Irish step dancer in training. More than twenty minutes had elapsed since the last passenger had walked the plank, and to say she was irritated would be an understatement. Her grandmother, Evelyn, insisted on announcing her exits as well as her entrances, so she made it a point to be the first to disembark. Fortunately, it was Saturday, and Amy hadn’t needed to request time off work to meet her grandmother. She imagined a scene where Evelyn was accompanied by staff laden with luggage her grandmother had refused to set outside her cabin door the night before. “This isn’t the navy, and I’m paying for this trip. If I want my luggage in my cabin, I’ll have it there.” Evelyn was the definition of high maintenance.

Amy glanced up at the sparkling white behemoth occupying birth two. Wasn’t that Evelyn hanging onto a railing and waving at her from a deck three floors up? She recognized one of her grandmother’s signature sari-length silk scarves caught in an updraft and billowing out toward the Pacific like an aspiring wind sock. She was reminded of the actress Isadora Duncan who had died ninety years earlier when her long scarf became caught in the wheel of her convertible. Evelyn didn’t drive. She had a granddaughter for that.

Amy approached the security guard to ask him if she could collect her grandmother, still waving. “Sorry, Ma’am. Only passengers are allowed beyond this point.”

“Then perhaps you could see if she needs help with her luggage?”

“I’ll phone for someone. You keep on with your Morris dancing, miss, and we’ll bring her down to you.”

Amy watched as ship’s security approached Evelyn. Lips were moving but little else, and her grandmother was shaking her head vigorously. This was not simply a need for help with luggage, and Evelyn was not about to disembark until she got her way. In time, the security officer would figure that out. Whatever it was she wanted seemed to involve Amy since she pointed towards her several times. Amy sighed. Nothing was easy with Evelyn. Her grandmother had raised her after her parents had died in her early teens. She loved her to bits, but their views of what was important in life were about ten generations apart, not two.

Evelyn was disembarking from her third cruise along the beautiful British Columbia and Alaska coastlines. It wasn’t the glaciers, gold fields or grizzly bears that lured her north. She cruised so she could dress up and play with the one-armed bandits in the ship’s casino. She claimed to be too old and too smart to bother with the two-armed ones. She also enjoyed music that was decades past it’s top ten date but popular with the older demographic on board the Alaskan Adventurer. If she wasn’t mistaken, Fly Me to the Moon was playing over the speakers in the hall.

This particular voyage had special appeal for Evelyn because it was advertised as a “period cruise” with the theme of the gold rush days in Alaska and the Yukon around the turn of the twentieth century. Passengers could rent costumes for the formal nights with women outfitted in dance-hall costumes that revealed more than one might wish to see of slack and mottled flesh. Men could dress as miners or dog-sled drivers although most were incapable of doing either in their prime. The brochures suggested bringing your own costume which was Evelyn’s choice, naturally. She dubbed her costume The Wife of the Mayor, a euphemism for Belle of the Ball. Dining rooms were decorated as dancehalls, bars sported brass spittoons, and tents and dogsleds were hung from walls. To Amy, the whole thing sounded ghastly, especially the dressing up part. Long days spent at the bank wearing fitted black suits and white shirts made her leery of anything called formal wear. She’d prefer jeans and a tee any day.

The security guard listened to his phone for a moment then told Amy she could go up to her grandmother. “What seems to be the problem?” Amy asked.

“Someone’s missing, ma’am, and your grandmother wants you to find her.”

 

Evelyn hugged Amy, and in the process, entwined her in her scarf and dusted her with face powder. She introduced her to Armando Vargas, Head of Security aboard the Alaskan Adventurer. Armando would have been gorgeous without that dark scowl, but Amy could forgive anyone a scowl caused by Evelyn. His black eyes gleamed into her blue ones.

“Your grandmother, she refuses to leave the ship until her friend is located. I’ve told her we have half the crew looking, and if the woman is aboard, we will find her.”

“It’s Diana Walsh,” Evelyn said, confiding in Amy. “She was in the next cabin and I saw her last night before the formal dinner. I was seated early but she chose the late seating so we didn’t dine together. She was wearing the most wonderful dress, Amy, and we both loved the pageant of it all. Believe me, Diana did not leave the ship, or jump off it, at least not voluntarily.”

“I’m sorry, Madam,” said Armando, “but you have only known Ms. Walsh for ten days. You may be mistaken about her state of mind.”

Evelyn ignored Armando and continued talking to Amy. “I know this woman as well as I know you, and she did not jump from this ship. I just wish I’d checked on her last night. Something’s happened to her, and I want you to find out where she is.” She turned to Vargas, arms crossed over her chest. “I’m not leaving until we do.”

Amy exchanged a look of commiseration with Armando Vargas. Did Evelyn really know this Diana as well as she knew her own granddaughter? She could try to dissuade Evelyn, but years of experience had taught her to capitulate to save time and stomach acid. Amy was forever searching for things Evelyn had misplaced, although usually it wasn’t a person. “Mr. Vargas, would it be alright if I have a quick look around Diana’s stateroom and the public areas. I assure you, it will be much faster if I do.” Vargas looked ready to object, but Amy’s smile must have changed his mind. Sometimes it could do that.

“I’ll take you to her cabin,” he said, broad shoulders sagging. His sigh echoed down the corridor. Before they reached the elevators, a crewman ran up and drew Vargas away. When he returned, he looked concerned. “They’ve found Diana Walsh.”

“Thank goodness. Where is she?” Evelyn was pressing her breast bone as if the action would shove her heart back into neutral. Armando looked at her, lips turned up in a most appealing way. He was probably anticipating jettisoning the cargo, in this case, Evelyn.

“I should not tell you this before the next of kin are notified, but Ms. Walsh is dead. There is no reason to believe that her death is suspicious.”

“How convenient for the cruise ship company,” Evelyn said, looking white around the cheeks in spite of layers of makeup and blush. “I must see her body before I disembark. Besides, you need someone to confirm her identity.”

“As she is the only passenger missing, and her cruise card has her picture, this is hardly necessary,” Armando said. Her grandmother was displaying her squinty eye look, and it was a little scary. Time to capitulate again, Amy thought. A long pause ensued. “All right, I will let you identify your friend, but then you must disembark immediately. Do you agree?” He waited until Evelyn said yes.

Ah, Amy thought, terms were established. Armando learns quickly. He led them to the top deck and into the spa where cleaning staff were liberally applying disinfectant to surfaces in the reception area and spa cubicles. The door to one of the cubicles was closed and a security guard stood outside. She straightened up when she saw Armando, then stepped aside.

“You must not touch anything, just look,” Armando said, blocking the door with his arm until they agreed.

“Why? Are you collecting evidence for a natural death? Amy attempted to look innocent. She could see Armando studying her as if wondering if he had two difficult women on his hands. Not much to wonder about there, Amy thought.

“The police will be here soon. I’d like to tell them that aside from the ship’s doctor, no one has touched her body.”

“Fine,” Evelyn said, now impatient to have it over. “Just let me confirm it’s her.”

Diana Walsh was lying on her back on a massage table. Her legs were outstretched, toes pointed. and her hands lay over her stomach as if prepared for a casket. Her location and her body position were hardly natural, Amy thought. Moreover, she was dressed as a miner, complete with wool pants, red plaid shirt and a pleather vest, all several sizes too large. No gold nuggets were visible, but diamonds dotted her fingers and lobes.

“That is certainly not what she was wearing last night. Her outfit is ridiculous!” Evelyn said.

At that moment, the police arrived. Two RCMP officers stood in the narrow hallway glaring in at them. “What’s going on here?” the taller one said, looking at the two women as if they were paparazzi.

“This passenger refused to disembark before she saw her friend,” Armando said, indicating Evelyn. “She has identified the body for us.”

It sounded like a pretty weak excuse to me, but the police didn’t seem concerned. They took contact information and suggested both passengers leave the ship. Armando was about to escort them to the gangplank when Evelyn turned to the detective and asked for his name and telephone number.

“I may need to contact you,” she said, in a conspiratorial whisper. The detective looked at her curiously and handed her his card. As they walked down the hall, they heard the detective phone for a Coroner. Good, Amy thought, he’s questioning natural death.

 

Amy went to check on Evelyn the next day, and they reviewed the circumstances surrounding Diana Walsh’s death. “Perhaps her murderer exchanged costumes with her,” Amy said, helping herself to a cookie.

“It was a beautiful dress,” Evelyn sighed, “but not worth killing for.” She reached for her tea cup and passed Amy another cookie.

“Perhaps her death was natural, but we’re being misled by the costume. There needs to be evidence of foul play for an autopsy.”

“That miner outfit is evidence enough, I should think,” Evelyn said. “In fact, I’m going to call that detective again and see if he’ll divulge any useful information.”

“He’s not likely to do that,” Amy said.

“Oh, I have my ways of making people talk.” Evelyn left her to find a phone, and Amy smiled. How many times had Evelyn wormed out all her secrets, typically under the guise of helping her with her problems? No doubt that ploy would work just as well on others.

When Evelyn returned to the living room, she was looking satisfied. “Such a nice fellow, that Detective Arnold. He says I can call him Roger. Yes, there will be an autopsy. He was kind enough to agree to give my name to Diana’s niece who will be handling the arrangements for her memorial service. Shelly’s the one from Vancouver, I think, but Diana has more in common with Monica. Also, depending on the results of the autopsy, there may be an inquest, and I will have to attend.”

Evelyn looked as excited by a summons to an inquest as an invitation to her favourite opera. She was probably considering what to wear. Amy chastised herself for the mean thought. Her grandmother was amazing. Most people would simply go on with their lives after such an event, but Evelyn wasn’t one of them, and she wouldn’t rest until she had her answers. That meant Amy wouldn’t rest either.

 

Later that week, Shelly contacted Evelyn to invite her to her aunt’s Celebration of Life on Sunday afternoon. Evelyn insisted that Amy accompany her to the memorial service, and Amy didn’t need her arm twisted. She was intrigued by the coroner’s conclusion that cause of death was suspicious and she hoped to learn more from the niece.

Amy entered Wimple’s Funeral Home with Evelyn clutching her arm. The room was organized like a wedding reception with small bites of tasty morsels and bottles of wine on tables along one wall and festive gathering tables in the centre. Shelly was standing at the entrance of the room, receiving guests and accepting condolences. “Is your sister here today?” Amy asked, studying Shelly who wore black beautifully. Shelly was about ten years older than Amy, blonde like Amy, but several inches shorter. It was obvious she was not enjoying the gathering. Her lips were pressed over her teeth as if anticipating a root canal. Fewer than a dozen people meandered around the room, enjoying a glass of wine or cup of tea.

“I suppose I should have submitted an obituary to the Sun, but I had my aunt’s email address book and I contacted local people, the ones I knew. I expected more to attend,” Shelly commented, her mouth forming a moue which was an improvement on the root canal look.

“Your sister?”

“Monica’s lives in London. She’ll be here in a couple of days.”

“You couldn’t delay the memorial for her?” Amy said, getting a scowl from Evelyn. She could imagine her grandmother saying, “Don’t be impolite, Amy.”

“Monica doesn’t believe in Celebrations of Life.” This was delivered rather spitefully, Amy thought. She tended to agree with the sister, especially with the small turn-out. There was a short eulogy by Shelly who said a few words about her aunt, praising her for her being caring and generous and providing a good role model for her nieces. According to Shelly, there were no other relatives attending, only a few work colleagues not one of whom shed a tear during the memorial. Who was Diana, and what had she done for a living, Amy wondered.

“Guess what, Amy. Up at the front table, there’s a photo of Diana wearing the dress!” Evelyn whispered.

“The dress?”

“The one she was wearing the night she died.”

“I thought it was a costume night?”

“Her dress wasn’t a period costume, but it was a floor-length, lovely dark green silk damask, fitted at the waste, with beautiful embroidery too, so it didn’t appear out of place that evening.”

Amy worked her way up to the table and studied the photo. It wasn’t a shipboard photo but was taken at some other event, perhaps a work-related affair. Dining tables were visible in the background with people sitting and imbibing. As she stared at the photo, a man came up behind her and coughed as quietly as a cat dislodging a fur ball. The image left her mind when she became engulfed in a wide smile.

“I thought you and your grandmother might attend.” It took Amy a moment to recognize Detective Arnold out of uniform and wearing an attractive dark gray suit. Those eyes of his missed little, she thought.

“I’m glad we came when so few others are here. What did Diana do for a living? Evelyn said something about working in research?”

“Ms. Walsh was CEO of a pharmaceutical company. They had several patented drugs and two are now used routinely in the clinic to treat certain types of cancer.”

“That’s Big Pharma. I’m surprized her niece didn’t mention that fact in her eulogy.” The involvement of pharmaceuticals rang a Big Bell for Amy who could imagine many reasons for removing a CEO in an industry that placed the price of shares far above that of rubies or a good woman. But was Diana a good woman, Amy wondered.

“I think it was a sore point with the nieces. Their mother, Diana’s sister, died last year from pancreatic cancer, and Diana’s new drug couldn’t save her. Shelly blamed her and wondered if her mother might be alive today if she’d received conventional treatment rather than a drug that was new on the market.”

“Clearly Shelly had no problem voicing her anger to you,” I said.

“Actually, it was her sister Monica who told me,” Roger said.

“You haven’t told me how Diana died,” Amy said.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the pathologist. That detail was released to the family yesterday.”

“How odd. Do you know how it happened?”

“No, and the time of death is turning out to be a problem. She was in sea water for a while after she died.”

“She went overboard?”

“The pools use sea water.” The detective’s smile fell short of a chortle.

“You’re telling me Diana Walsh, a powerful and wealthy woman wearing a lovely evening gown, is poisoned, unburdened of her gown, thrown in a pool, pulled out, dressed as a miner, and laid out in a spa cubicle on the Arctic Voyager.” It reminds me of a poem by Robert W. Service —

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

      By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

      That would make your blood run cold;

 

“Something like that.” Roger Arnold was not bothering to suppress his laughter. Amy turned her back on him and went to find Evelyn. It was time to leave.

 

Outside Evelyn’s condo building, Amy parked the car so they could exchange thoughts.

“There are three pools on that ship – small ones, mind you,” said Evelyn. “And they were drained just before arriving in Vancouver because they always do that between cruises. I’d bet she was in the pool outside the spa.

“It’s like someone was washing her. A good way to remove trace evidence.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, we’ve been invited to meet with Shelly and her sister in a few days. We’ll know more by then.”

Amy gave her a sideways glance, wondering what her grandmother expected her to investigate. In the past, she’d toyed with the idea of putting parental controls on Evelyn’s TV channels that featured crime dramas. “You remember that I work all week at the Royal Bank?”

“I’m sure they’ll be time time for, what do you call it, surfing the web? Look into her business affairs and find some dirt, why don’t you.”

“Why don’t you try to recall everything you know about your best friend Diana, and write it down?” She kissed her grandmother and agreed to call if she discovered anything. Amy pitied poor Detective Arnold who would have to tolerate Evelyn phoning him for daily updates until the mystery was solved.

 

On Thursday evening, Amy received a call from the luscious security officer, Armando. The Arctic Adventurer was docked in Ketchikan, and he had phoned to let her know the missing green evening dress had turned up. She wondered why she was receiving the call rather than Evelyn, but his invitation to meet him for dinner when he was next in port answered that question. He’d already informed the Vancouver police about the dress.

The dress had been dry-cleaned and left sitting in the housekeeping lost and found. She mulled over the reasons the dress had been removed from Diana. Did the miner costume hold some significance for the killer? Armando told her they’d also identified the passenger who had rented the miner’s costume Diana was wearing. The fellow had been confined to his cabin with a stomach virus and he had never had a chance to show off his outfit.

Eventually she felt obliged to do some online research. Diana Walsh was CEO of OnKor but her background was in business, not chemistry. Trying to understand why a gold rush cruise might be related to Diana’s death, she found a tenuous link to OnKor’s development of gold nanoparticles to treat cancer, and a stronger link between Diana’s great grandfather who made part of his fortune mining gold in the Yukon. Was that why someone had dressed Diana as a miner, or was the costume completely unrelated to her death? Without more information on how she was poisoned by carbon monoxide, who she might have known on board, and who would benefit from her death, she could go no further. Now she’d have Evelyn nipping at her heels every day until some answers came in.

 

“No one will miss Aunt Diana, I can tell you that,” Monica said sullenly. Her sister Shelly nodded in agreement. The four of them were seated in a hotel bar that overlooked the cruise ship terminal. Mid-week, none of the berths was occupied. The two sisters weren’t anything alike, Amy thought, and not just in appearance. Monica was hard where Shelly was soft, inebriated where her sister was sober, self-absorbed where Shelly was open and giving, tall and dark where Shelly was rounder and blonde. Evelyn was giving Monica her squint-eyed look which didn’t bode well.

“I’m surprized that Diana wasn’t well liked.” Evelyn said. “I enjoyed my time with her a great deal, but she may have behaved differently at work.”

“To be honest, she was a bitch,” said Monica, taking a sizable swig of Chablis that was half-price on Wednesdays. “Always demanding the impossible.”

“From people at work?”

“She had no head for the realities of business or drug discovery. And she was hard on us too, eh Shelly?”

Shelly shrugged. “Neither of us lived close to her, so I’m not sure why Monica is complaining. We rarely saw her.”

“But those incessant emails interrogating us on our lives?”

“She said was doing that for Mum—making sure we were living up to our potential.”

“Whatever, but I can’t say I’ll miss her.”

“You’ll miss her yearly cheque,” Shelly said, smirking.

“Surely Diana will leave you girls something in her will?” Evelyn asked.

“We get her jewelry, that’s all,” Shelly said.

“Who gets the rest?”

“Charity,” Shelly said. “I never asked which ones.”

“I did,” Monica said, and she gave an odd bark-like laugh. Monica finished her Chablis in a gulp and motioned to Shelly that they should leave.

“You will let us know what you learn, won’t you?” Evelyn said.

“Learn?” Monica asked.

“Who might benefit from your aunt’s death?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll call you after we meet with the lawyer,” Shelly said quietly, no doubt uncomfortable with her sister’s sour attitude, Amy thought.

After the sisters left, Evelyn looked decidedly glum, a rare descriptor for a vibrant older woman who let little get her down. The two people who should have been most interested in learning who had killed Diana seemed indifferent. Amy sighed, realizing she would have to find a way to support Evelyn’s mission to solve the murder. It was time to call in the troops.

 

Marvin answered his phone after the first ring. “What’s up, boss?”

“Marvin, you’re my dog walker. You don’t need to call me boss.” Amy said.

“Just practicing for when I get a real job.”

“You’ve a few more years of university, don’t you?”

“Summer job, then.”

“And I’ve got a perfect interview lined up for you. I need information about a local drug company called OnKor. They’re advertising for summer students with programming experience. I thought you could get an interview and snoop around a bit.”

“Are you talking undercover work?” Marvin didn’t try to disguise the excitement in his voice. He was as bad as Evelyn. In fact, that’s how she’d found Marvin. Evelyn’s poodle, now deceased, had been Marvin’s first client. Amy didn’t know whether Evelyn or Marvin was the enabler of their mutual fixation on crime drama. Listening to the two of them try to identify the culprit in a Midsummer Murder episode was better entertainment than the show itself.

Marvin was in his first year of university, and he had a passion for attention-grabbing clothes. To help support his lively habit, he’d taken up dog-walking and he also made extra cash by helping impatient adults set up their new computers. He’d been walking Oatmeal for the last two years. Amy’s feisty Norfolk terrier was named after the cookie it inhaled, not its caramel coat colour.

Marvin was also willing to take on assignments, as long as he found them interesting, so Amy made sure they sounded interesting. He loved challenges and he’d like this one too. As she explained Diana’s death, Marvin’s eyes popped open at the sequence of strange on-board events. Then she told him her theory that someone at OnKor might have wanted Diana dead.

“If the murderer was on a cruise with her, he must be really old. That limits things.”

“You can start with the list of executives, and we can compare the names with those on the passenger list.”

“Won’t the police have done that?”

“They’ve been busy checking into the pump and hunting down the fellow who rented the miner costume Ms. Walsh was wearing.”

“Could he have done it?”

“Not likely since he was confined to his cabin with norovirus. While you’re in for the interview, see if you can get a tour of the place and talk to anyone who worked with Diana.”

“You don’t need to tell me. I’ve studied Evelyn’s tricks for wheedling out information, and I can hang out in the cafeteria.”

The two of them came up with a list of questions they’d like answered, including who else was away for the ten days that Diana was gone, who took over as CEO, and whether any new changes had taken place that Diana might not have supported.

“I may get a summer job out of this.”

“That’s the idea, Marv. I’m doing this for you.”

 

The next day, Evelyn swayed into the Royal Bank during the noon hour rush and waited dutifully in the seating area until Amy was available.

“I finally got something out of the detective, and all it took was a fresh batch of my scones.”

“Any left?” Amy’s stomach was grumbling like a 7.5 quake.

Evelyn ignored her request. “The fellow who rented the miner costume, Walter, didn’t have gastroenteritis after all. He had mild carbon monoxide poisoning. It turns out it causes nausea and vomiting too.”

“Where was he exposed to carbon monoxide?”

“He spent the afternoon panning for gold.” Evelyn took one look at Amy’s eyebrows that had merged with her hairline. “Don’t give me that look. The crew made a pretend creek using one of the inner hallways next to the spa area. They fitted it out with a plastic pipe cut in half so water could flow. A gas-powered pump was used to circulate the water, and they seeded their river with pebbles painted gold.  The passenger who could pan the most nuggets in a given period of time earned a prize. Anyway, the engineers on the ship figure there could have been a build-up of carbon monoxide because the water pump was used in a partially enclosed space, and that’s what poisoned Walter because he spent all afternoon in there. No one else was that dedicated to the game.”

“That doesn’t explain Diana’s death. Somehow I can’t see her in her lovely green dress panning for fake nuggets in a fake creek.”

“Yes, that’s puzzling.  Besides, Roger said the doors to the display were locked before the first seating for dinner.”

“If the pump was left running and the doors locked, carbon monoxide would build up to toxic levels,” Amy mused. “Maybe Diana was shoved in there? You’ve got your sea water and carbon monoxide both in one place. No need to drop her in a pool. Why didn’t the police or Armando figure this out right away?”

“The display was dismantled later that evening, so when Diana was found the next morning in the spa cubicle, no one made the connection,” Evelyn said. Except the person who moved her body, Amy thought.

A tap on Amy’s shoulder was a reminder that she was at work. “Your one-o’clock is waiting, Miss Sinclair.” So much for her lunch hour, and she didn’t even get a scone.

 

Amy spent the few minutes of her free time that afternoon mulling over how Diana ended up in a miner’s costume. The only scenario she could come up with was that the miner outfit in Walter’s room was sent off for cleaning. It was left in a dry-cleaning bag somewhere, and whoever removed Diana’s dress found the bag and used it for Diana’s gown. But why change her clothes? Why move her? She decided to give the detective a call. It would make a change for him to listen to her rather than Evelyn.

As soon the detective answered the phone, she told him that she knew about the miner display and had a theory. “Suppose I was in charge of locking the doors to the gold panning display and I left the pump running by mistake,” she said. “Later, when I go to remove the display, I find a woman’s dead body in the water, and I realize what I’ve done. To avoid losing my job, I move the body into a spa cubicle, take off the wet dress which would be a giveaway, and put her in a miner’s outfit that I find in a dry-cleaning bag. Then I go back and clean up the display.”

“Why don’t you pass out when you open the door to the display?” Detective Arnold asks.

“Good question. Maybe I hear the pump running and realize there might be a huge gas build-up in an enclosed space. But even so, I suffer the same symptoms that Walter developed.”

“I’ll find out who was in charge of the pump, and if one of the engineers went to the infirmary complaining of nausea and vomiting.”

“That doesn’t help with motive or killer. Do you have any leads?”

“Still following the money.”

 

Evelyn phoned Amy that evening with a bee in her bonnet she had to share. “Remember when Ivy Monroe left all her money to a Victoria rabbit retirement home?” Evelyn said. Amy recalled laughing at the time, but Ivy’s daughter was furious. A court battle was fought for years, and the daughter eventually got what money was left, minus a large chunk to the lawyers who had also multiplied like rabbits.

“Are Shelley and Monica contesting Diana’s will?” Amy asked

“No. The lawyer convinced them they had no grounds.”

“What about the beneficiary? Is that person likely to kill Diana to get their bequest?”

“I’m waiting to hear from Detective Arnold. I don’t know who inherited her estate.”

“The motive could have more to do with her position as CEO.”

Marvin must have been listening because he appeared at just as she ended the call, pulled in by Oatmeal who ran to Amy and slobbered on her hands. He always did that because she smelled of cookie crumbs.

“How did your interview go?” Amy smiled at Marvin’s attire – today a bright red shirt and tightly-fitted black trousers.

“Looking good, but they won’t tell me if I got a summer studentship until March.”

“But did you get a sense of how her co-workers viewed Diana’s death?”

“Her secretary, Lily, was the only one who gave up any gossip. It seems Diana isn’t missed except by Lily who is unhappy with her new boss. She says, and I quote, “He’s an incompetent dolt.”  This Matthews was an inside promotion and is “acting” CEO. Lily thinks they’re looking outside the company for a permanent CEO. I guess that means no one was waiting to swoop in and fill her position.”

“What about any changes in projects that Diana might have opposed.”

“You’ll have to talk to Matthews about that, and I doubt he’d say much to you. Maybe the detective could question him?”

“Detective Arnold doesn’t exactly take me seriously,” Amy said. “I’ll get Evelyn to call him. What do you think? Scones, muffins, or brownies?”

“What’s wrong with donuts?” Marvin asked.

“Too cliché.”

Marvin shook his head vigorously as if trying to dislodge a thought to help him interpret Amy’s comment. “We’re treating him like a paid informant, Marvin,” Amy said, hating to disillusion the young man. Amy tossed him an Oreo. They were the only cookies Oatmeal refused to eat so had become a staple of Amy’s diet. Marvin tossed it back.

“Eat something healthy, will you! You’re a bad influence on your dog.”

 

The next day after work, Amy, Marvin and Evelyn were squashed on folding chairs on Amy’s small balcony overlooking other condos with better views. The sun was setting, but the October air was still warm thanks to the urban heat island effect. “What do you mean? There’s nothing left. No shares, no condo? No car, even?” Amy stared expectantly at Evelyn but her grandmother shrugged and continued sipping her chamomile tea, which was, purely by chance, Hercule Poirot’s favourite.

“No to the first, mortgaged to the second, and leased to the third. Not much jewelry left for the nieces either.”

“Diana must have had investments. Where did it all go?”

“Roger is trying to identify a hidden vice, like one of the 3Gs.”

“3Gs?”

“Gambling, gigolos, and generosity. That last one is when you give all your money away which I don’t consider a vice, although her nieces might. She had a substantial salary of course, so she certainly wasn’t destitute,” Evelyn said.

“It sounds as if someone was blackmailing her,” Amy said. There was an ominous silence while they listened to Oatmeal crunch down on a cookie.

“A miner, perhaps?” Marvin piped in. The boy insisted on tying up loose ends, like any crime drama aficionado. Amy and Evelyn ignored him.

“Why would a blackmailer kill his victim?” Evelyn said.

“Maybe she threatened to go to the police?  I’ve got another question,” Amy said. “Monica laughed when she said she knew who her aunt left her money to.  If there was no money left to bequeath, why did Monica pretend to know the beneficiary?”

“Maybe Monica knew Diana was being blackmailed,” Marvin said.

“Ah,” Evelyn and Amy said in unison as they savoured the idea.  Amy had to admit how much she’d enjoyed this last ten days. Why the hell was she working at a boring job in a bank?

“OK, Evelyn. Could you ask Detective Arnold if he’s considered blackmail, and whether Monica might have some information.  Tell him how she admitted to knowing the beneficiary.

“And have him look at Walter the miner more carefully, since he may be in the frame for blackmail.” Marvin said.

“He asked if you could call him next time, Amy,” Evelyn said.

“Why?” Amy wondered if her grandmother had become too irritating.  No, Roger seemed to actually enjoy Evelyn, but he would have a hard time saying no to her and might think he’d do a better job manipulating Amy, which he would.

“Maybe Roger wants a change of scenery.” Evelyn was being obtuse.

“We’re talking about a phone call, not video-chat.”

“I don’t know, Amy. Just phone him.”

 

Amy phoned Roger Arnold and they agreed to meet at her favourite bakery — Sweet Passions. She had been slowly eating her way through their list of two dozen delectable deserts, but had chosen chocolate hazelnut zucotto one day and never felt obliged to move further down the menu. Roger opted for an apple pecan muffin, and they sat on rickety chairs at a table outside the bakery.

“For someone with such a trim figure, you manage to consume a lot of calories,” he said.

“I blame Oatmeal. Offering cookies as a reward was the only way I could train him.”  Amy looked down at her dog who was noisily chomping on a cookie she’d bought to distract him from her zucotto.

“He’s trained?”

Amy ignored the remark. “We, that is, Evelyn and I, and my dog-walker, Marvin, were wondering if someone could have blackmailed Diana.  It would explain her estate, or lack of one.”

“We had a good look at her finances, and there were no large money transfers and none consistent with a recurring payment.  But she did sell her company stocks late last year. We’re trying to find out where those shares went.

Amy explained that Monica knew more than she was letting on about her aunt`s will, and Roger agreed to ask her if she knew where her aunt’s money had gone.  When Amy asked about Walter, the so-called miner gassed with carbon monoxide, Roger couldn’t see the connection. She explained that they were looking for someone blackmailing Diana, who she might want to kill.”

He was smiling at her again. “Most people don’t try to kill the blackmailer after they’ve paid the ransom.”

“Wouldn’t that depend on what the blackmailer was threatening to reveal?”

“What would you kill for?”

Amy glanced down at the crumbs of the zucotto. “I think maiming is more my style.”

“Good to know,” Roger said, smiling and brushing the muffin crumbs from his attractive craggy face. “But if her secret was about to be leaked, that leaves suicide a possibility.”

“Evelyn won’t like that idea. Besides, why not jump overboard?  And who changed her dress?”

“I’m not sure I should tell you this because it might swell your head, and I like it the way it is.” Damn, Amy thought. He was laughing at her again and she wanted to pound him. “The engineer in charge of the pump denied having anything to do with Diana’s death, and he swore he didn’t leave the pump running.”

“You believe him?” Amy tried to imagine being interviewed by Roger.  She’d tell all, she thought.

“Yeah. I do because I don’t see a motive and he wasn’t sick. I’ve had a headache all afternoon,” Roger said, rubbing his temples. “The only way this might be resolved is if the blackmailer, assuming there is one, reveals Diana’s dark and dirty secret, and somehow it leads us to him.”

“There may be another way,” Amy said, twirling the end of her ponytail.

 

When Armando arrived in port mid-week, Amy met him for a lovely dinner at a downtown Vancouver restaurant where the waiters were inconspicuous until the wine level in their glasses grew low. Armando let her know that the gold panning display had been permanently shelved to avoid more “accidents”. Amy nodded, appreciating that it would be company policy to assume no blame, and without an arrest, it would be difficult to prove Diana hadn’t died accidentally. She asked Armando if he could give her the green dress.

“Yes of course. The police aren’t interested after it was dry-cleaned, so I was planning to have it sent to the nieces, but if you could take it to them, that would be appreciated.”

“Had you met Diana before the last day of the voyage?”

“No. I generally only meet people when they’re in trouble.”

“Does that include me?” His eyes smiled all by themselves. How did he do that?

“Would you like to tell me your troubles, Amy?”

“I think that will require another bottle of wine.”

 

True to his word, Armando had the dress delivered to Amy the next day, dry-cleaned and pressed. Evelyn was sitting on her sofa, and they had just finished eating Thai take-out that Amy had picked up on the way home.

“You honestly don’t expect me to wear this dress after she died in it?” Evelyn was fingering the silk and studying the sequins and embroidery. From the look on her face, she was ready to leap into it.

“You said you loved this dress. Of course, we’ll need a makeup artist and the perfect wig to match Diana’s hair. Marvin has connections.”

“I’m supposed to appear in the dress and make people believe Diana is alive?”

“Why not? Believe me, people are gullible. Monica’s back in England, but Shelly will play along. We’ll say it was misidentification of a miner.”

“Where does this “viewing” occur?”

“At the perfect occasion for the dress, of course. OnKor is hosting a gala tomorrow night to introduce their new CEO.”

“That was quick. I thought it took ages to negotiate a contract like that.”

“Someone was waiting in the wings after all.”

“I still don’t understand what you hope to accomplish with this charade.”

Amy studied her savvy grandmother whose bright eyes were focused on hers.  Should she tell her she hoped to lure out the killer? “Why do you think we’re doing this?”

“To give the murderer another opportunity to kill me, of course.”

“Exactly. But Roger, Marvin and I will be right there, and you’ll be in disguise for a few minutes, and only seen from a distance.”

“Long enough to aim and fire?”

“The killer may not even attend the gala, but he’s going to hear about it because I’ve alerted a journalist friend of mine that something interesting will happen.”

 

“I thought Monica went back to England,” Marvin said. Below them in the atrium, Monica was weaving her way around the packed room at the OnKor gala, shaking hands and stopping to chat.

“Damn. What’s she doing here? She could ruin everything. I’ll see if I can find Shelly to tell her what we have planned.”

“Too late. They’re about to announce the new CEO.”

From the second-floor balcony overlooking the atrium, Marvin and Amy were watching the crowd mill about and then stop in place.  The Chair of the Board was at the podium and had started with a lame joke —scientists were making progress in cancer research every day by discovering something new that caused it. He had a few kind words to say about Diana, but Amy noticed that he failed to mention she would be missed. Then he launched in on new company directions and the type of person they now needed as CEO.  Amy saw Roger pointing vigorously at the other end of their balcony.

Evelyn, dressed in the notorious green silk dress with convincing make-up that included a new nose and a streaked gray and blonde wig, was poised at the top of the circular staircase.  Her grandmother’s timing couldn’t be worse. No one would look at her when the new CEO was being introduced.  Amy wasn’t paying attention when Monica moved to the podium and thanked the Chair for his introduction, but when the clapping died down, it was her grandmother who stole the show.

“A little premature to replace me, isn’t it, Monica?” her voice boomed out from the top of the staircase. A hush fell over the crowd. The name “Diana” was whispered by several in the audience, and there were a few camera flashes.

“Diana’s dead!” Monica said, her response amplified by the microphone.

“Sorry to disappoint.” Evelyn had dramatically changed the tone of her voice, but would it be good enough to fool Monica?

Monica was visibly shaking. “I know you’re dead.”

Detective Arnold made his way to the podium through a hushed crowd. He gently took Monica’s arm and led her away.

 

“Monica’s is not admitting to anything,” Evelyn said. “Roger says she’s lawyered up and isn’t saying a word. Now he’s looking for evidence that she was on board the Arctic Adventurer.

“She must have been on that ship,” Marvin said. He sliced an ambrosia apple while Amy licked the icing from one side of a Oreo.

“Detective Arnold’s examining the cruise ship photos. If she had a really good disguise, maybe she could fool the facial recognition software, but most things, like hats or fake noses, are easy to spot,” Marvin said.

“I heard Monica was on vacation in the wilds of Scotland when Diana died and has receipts to prove it. Isn’t that alibi good enough?” Amy asked.

“We’ve forgotten all about shore excursions.” Evelyn said. There was a long pause while everyone considered this possibility. The killer didn’t need to be onboard. He or she could meet the ship at any port of call.

“Did you and Diana take any excursions together?” Amy asked.

“We went to a museum in Skagway and had our picture taken with a stuffed bald eagle. I snapped a few photos with my cell phone. Want to look?”

Amy took the phone and flipped through the photos, hoping to see Monica lurking in the background. No such luck. She did find a curious picture of a burning building.

“Oh. I forgot about that. We’d been sitting in that tea shop right before it exploded. They said it was a natural gas leak. Diana was freaked out but fortunately no one was hurt.” Evelyn paused and looked at the dropped jaws on Amy and Marvin. “OK, we were both a little shaken.”

“Any other near-death experiences?” Marvin asked, eyes fixed on Evelyn.

“Now that you mention it, I talked Diana into a canoe trip on Chilkoot Lake. We were near the middle of the lake when I heard a ping and water started coming into the canoe through a small hole. I put my bum over the little hole, and we paddled back, safe and sound, except for me with a frozen bum, looking like I’d peed my pants.”

“I don’t suppose you found a bullet in the canoe?” Evelyn shook her head and looked bereft. Amy gave her a comforting hug.

“These could have been accidents, you know,” Evelyn said.

“Then we have nothing,” Marvin said, rubbing his eyes as if that would help conjure up ideas.

“I hate to ask, but did Diana tell you about any other ‘accidents’, maybe when you weren’t with her?” Amy asked. Evelyn pondered a bit.

“There’s one more possibility.” Evelyn was oddly quiet under their scrutiny.

“She took a helicopter tour to a glacier. A bit too rich for my blood, and I’m not a fan of slippery ice anyway. Diana said there were only six people on the tour, and one of them, a woman, almost knocked her into a crevasse. She thought it was an accident, but these mishaps seem to be adding up.”

“Only six people on the tour? We can get their names,” Marvin said. “And there could be group photos.”

“I’ll call Armando,” Amy said, smiling as she recalled their last evening together. She’d tell him she was in trouble.

 

Roger Arnold led them into his inner sanctum at work when they told him they had new information about Diana’s death.

“Why didn’t you mention this before, Evelyn?” the detective asked. “It would have been useful to know there were other attempts on her life.

The three of them were perched around his cluttered desk like a posse, and they’d taken turns explaining some of the odd occurrences during the shore excursions. Roger kept shaking his head, but it didn’t stop him from taking a large bite from one of Evelyn’s cranberry scones. “They all looked like accidents,” Amy said. “Even the cruise ship is calling her death an accident.”

“Who is this person?” Roger asked. He was holding a picture sent by Armando that showed a group of six people beside a helicopter, one head circled in red ink.

“There’s Diana, and there were two other women on the glacier tour with her. One of them tried to push her into a crevasse. But only one of the two women was also on the canoe excursion. She pointed to a shorter woman in sunglasses and a cap, the one with her head circled in red. This woman is Min-Jee Park, and she doesn’t look at all like Monica.”

“Shelly!” Evelyn shouted, attracting the attention of the other officers in the room.

“No way. This woman’s Korean.” Marvin said.

“She’s about the same height and size as Shelly. She could be using makeup and wearing a black wig,” Evelyn said.

“That outfit looks Korean – mid-calf, a floral sort of romantic pattern, high neckline. Not something I’d expect Shelly to wear,” Marvin said. Amy gave him a thumbs up. That boy knew his fashion.

“Shelly said she was in Vancouver the week of the cruise,” Roger said. “She does free-lance work for various publications, and works mostly from home, and she showed me an article she’d submitted that week.”

“Submitted from where? Ketchikan?”

“Good question.” Roger was quiet, lines forming between his brows. “Pushing Diana into that hall would have made Shelly sick too, and that was their last night aboard ship. I went to inform her about her aunt’s death the next day, and she was under the weather. She said she was getting over the flu.”

“Ha,” Evelyn said. “Flu my eye.”

“Circumstantial,” Marvin said, causing Evelyn to dismiss his comment with a wave of her manicured fingernails.”

“Still, if we could prove she was on the ship…” Amy said.

“Not good enough,” Roger said. “Monica has taken Diana’s job, which is motive, but I can’t see a motive for Shelly, unless the sisters did it together.”

“We need a confession.” Amy said.

“That would simplify things,” Roger said, smiling and about to laugh at her, again.

“What? Evelyn can extract secrets from a mummy,” Amy said.

“I am pretty good at wheedling out information from the unwary. But it would have to be Shelly, not Monica. Monica is too astute.”

“Are you saying I’m not astute?” Amy said, poking her aunt in the arm as she recalled how often her grandmother had wrested information from her. She knew what the opposite of astute was, and she didn’t like it.

“I mean crafty and cunning which comes from being a CEO. Shelly’s a writer, and you, my dear, work in personnel relations in a bank.” Amy looked somewhat mollified, more so when she realized how much information her grandmother had managed to wring from Detective Arnold.

Evelyn said she would find out what she could, and Roger offered to supply her with a small tape recorder. “This isn’t admissible, but you might learn if Shelly is hiding something.

“I may be old, but I can still remember things,” Evelyn said haughtily. “Keep your little machine.”

 

“How did you know where I live?” Shelly asked. Amy and Evelyn were standing in the doorway of Shelly’s apartment. Shelly was dressed in a black silk shirt and pants, probably because she looked good in them, not because she was mourning her aunt.

“That nice detective gave me your address when I told him I wanted to return Diana’s dress to you,” Evelyn said.

Shelly took the dress from Evelyn but made no move to invite them into the apartment. “You never explained that little charade of yours at the gala,” Shelly said. “Why would you do that? It’s so—rude— and cruel.” Shelly looked more hurt than angry, Amy thought.

“I’m sorry about that, but you see, someone killed your aunt, and Monica had the best motive.”

“Monica didn’t need to kill Diana to get her job. She’d been promised it for more than a year. It was all hush-hush of course. Companies like to keep that kind of thing under wraps. My aunt gave Monica her company shares last year.”

“Did Monica tell you that?”

“Yeah, and why shouldn’t I believe her?”

“I’m sure your aunt must have said something to you about giving Monica such a big gift. That doesn’t seem fair. Did you receive anything comparable from her?”

“No. I expected something in her will, but she died unexpectedly.” Shelly sighed, opened the door wider, and invited them in.

“I’ve been told it was probably an accident,” Shelly said. “Do you know something more?”

Amy eyed Evelyn. Shelly was pretty good at wheedling out information herself, so she was curious what her grandmother would say.

“The miner outfit she was wearing when she was found has now been explained. It was that outfit that made me question accidental death in the first place,” Evelyn said.

“So now you think it was an accident?”

“No, my dear. Now I’m convinced it was murder. Someone locked her in that display with the pump running and left her to die.”

“Why?”

“Maybe Monica was tired of waiting to be CEO. Or maybe you, dear, were angry that your aunt hadn’t helped you out financially, the way she did your sister? Is that why you killed her, Shelly?”

“Of course not. I had no interest in killing Aunt Diana, but I’m not sorry she’s dead.”

“You have no idea who wanted her dead?” Evelyn asked.

“If you ask me, she wanted herself dead. Why do you think she gave her shares to Monica? I think she was planning on dying.”

“Did she talk to you about this?”

“No, but I knew something was up. She acted strangely when I dropped her off at the Cruise Ship Terminal. The way she said goodbye was odd, hugging me for a while, as if I wouldn’t see her for a long time. It wasn’t like her.”

 

“Just because she was acting out of character didn’t mean she was planning to kill herself. She could have been considering eloping or starting a new life.” Evelyn was perched on the lump in the backseat of Amy’s car so she could talk more easily to her grand-daughter and Marvin.

“That’s true,” Marvin said, twisting around to pat Evelyn’s hand. “She might have been planning an escape.”

“Who escapes on a cruise ship going to Alaska?” Amy asked.

“OK, a cruise to Rio would make more sense,” Marvin said.

“I just don’t buy Shelly’s idea of suicide,” Amy said.

“I thought it was Roger’s idea,” Marvin said.

“He only considered that because of the blackmail angle, but now we know she gave the shares to Monica,” Amy said.

“Sorry, but that’s Shelly and Monica’s story. We don’t have Diana’s.”

“Evelyn’s right. Shelly might be feeding us a bunch of lies, including the idea that she acted strange at the Cruise Ship Terminal,” Marvin said.

“And we haven’t even considered a hired killer,” Evelyn said.

“Someone who knew exactly what amount of carbon monoxide would kill, and how to make it happen. It was the last night of the cruise, so the last chance to do her in,” Marvin said.

“You need to get back on that ship, Amy,” Evelyn said.

A round of arguments followed with Amy asking why was it up to her to do anything. What more could she expect to learn, and why didn’t Evelyn go herself if it was that important to her? Amy began with the upper hand but ended up with the scissors when her grandmother already had a firm hold on the rock. Marvin kept well out of it, so paper didn’t come to her rescue. Evelyn always won their arguments, but one of these days…

 

Armando met Amy at the top of the gangplank after the last of the passengers had disembarked on Saturday. “You couldn’t wait until tonight to see me?” he said, smiling with those beautiful eyes of his.

“You are a difficult man to wait for,” Amy said, attempting to bat her eyelashes but suspecting she looked more like she had soot in her eyes. “But I had another reason for being here early. I’m curious about the hall with the gold panning display.”

“There’s nothing to see but walls and carpet now, however, I’m happy to show you.” He led her to the fifth floor, walked through the spa and into the hallway.

“Were both doors locked before dinner?” Amy asked, pointing to the doors at either end of the forty-foot hall.

“That order was given, and the engineer, Eduardo, swore he turned off the pump and locked the doors.”

“Then where does this lead?” Amy asked, pointing to a door half-way along the corridor.

“Ah, this is the storage closet where we keep the pump and spa chemicals.” Armando tried the door and found it locked. He pulled his key chain from his belt loop, found the key he wanted, but he couldn’t unlock the door. “Strange. I’ll get someone with the key up here. He’ll be able to explain the ventilation system we used for the pump.” Amy was confused, thinking the pump lacked proper ventilation, and that had caused the problem in the first place.

Within minutes, an engineer appeared and apologized for changing the lock. “Supplies for spa going missing,” he said. His voice sounded a bit shaky, and he gave a somewhat obsequious smile.

“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” Armando asked, his neck reddening. “Come and talk to me after your shift.” Eduardo nodded, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. Armando turned to Amy, introduced her to the engineer, then asked Eduardo to explain how the pump and ventilation system worked. Then Armando excused himself saying he was needed in the security office.

Amy walked into the closet. Cleaning chemicals and spa supplies occupied three shelves on both sides of a small room. An 8-horsepower gasoline-driven water pump sat on the floor against the far wall, and several feet of black rubber hose were looped beside it.

“Did water flow through this pump into the gold panning display?” Amy asked.

Eduardo nodded, and demonstrated that the two one-inch diameter hoses connected to the pump would fit through the two holes cut through the bottom of the door. “Was that to keep the exhaust fumes in this closet?” Amy said, confused by the system. Again, he nodded and he pointed to a grill at the back of the closet next to the pump.

“Vent,” Eduardo said. Amy put her hand next to the grill and felt the room air being efficiently sucked through to somewhere, and she wanted to see how this was accomplished.

“How did the carbon monoxide build up in the hall if the pump was in this closet, the door was closed, and the exhaust goes out there?” Eduardo shrugged, looking confused by her question. “Can you show me where the gas was vented? All I see is a grill behind the pump.”

“Follow, please.” Eduardo left the storage room, walked back through the spa and along a parallel corridor. He unlocked the door to a smaller room that apparently backed onto the one with the pump. The engineer stood with his back against the door when Amy moved into the small space and squatted down to examine the grill on the far wall. A metal cowl vent faced the grill, and a fan inside the vent ran with a vengeance. The suction pulled out her pant legs out and made it difficult to hold her position. The suction seemed more than adequate to pull the carbon monoxide from the adjoining room. Even so, a woman had died and a man was made ill from the exhaust. When she asked if the fan was always running, Eduardo looked puzzled, answering again with a shrug. Surely the carbon monoxide would build up in the other cupboard if the exhaust fan were turned off. “Is there a switch that controls this fan?” she asked, pointing to the exhaust pipe with its fan. She mimed turning on and off the light switch and then an imaginary switch next to the fan, and when that didn’t work, she mimicked the noise of a fan going on and off. She finally got a response.

“Fan run always.” Eduardo stood still as if becalmed, his forehead beaded with perspiration in spite of the rapid movement of air into the venting system. He was nervous about something, Amy realized. “Where is the electrical panel that controls the exhaust fan in this closet?” Again, she rephrased her question several times, finally saying a word that he understood.

“Ah, breaker?” He rubbed his chin, then pointed down the hall. “I ask. You stay.”

When Eduardo left, the door closed behind him. Amy went to open it and realized she was locked in. Had Eduardo done that on purpose, or did the door automatically lock when closed? He had been standing against it, as if knowing it would close. She felt trapped and pounded on the door. “Open this door. I’m locked in.” When the exhaust fan stopped, she relaxed thinking he’d located the breaker switch and would be back soon. But as she stood waiting for him to return, she heard noises in the adjoining room and the sound of the pump running. She prayed that Eduardo was trying to prove something to her, or perhaps he didn’t realize she was locked in and would breathe in the fumes that she could smell coming through the grill. She pounded on the wall, then the door, and kept shouting. A few minutes went by, and she began to feel dizzy and nauseated, but she never stopped pounding and shouting. To her immense relief, the door suddenly opened and Armando pulled her out of the room. She shouted, “Eduardo tried to kill me.” Then she fell into his arms and sobbed.

 

That evening, Amy was curled up on her sofa, smiling at the concerned faces around her, especially Oatmeal’s. She’d lost interest in eating anything since her carbon monoxide exposure, and the dog was worried that cookies were not on the menu. “I knew something was off about that engineer,” Amy said.

“Yeah, he offed the exhaust fan and could have killed you.” Marvin said, frowning. She’d explained everything to Marvin and Evelyn, who kept patting her hands fondly and asking what they could do for her.

“You said Eduardo had a new key cut for that pump closet,” Marvin said. “I imagine he was hiding something in there. My guess would be illicit drugs, maybe something he could sell to passengers.”

“Does it matter what Eduardo was selling if Diana stumbled onto his secret and she had to be silenced?” Evelyn asked.

“Would you two please stop talking about this,” Amy said. She knew the police had caught Eduardo at the airport and had him in custody. Eduardo was still maintaining that Diana’s death happened by accident, but Detective Arnold was thrilled to inform us that he had followed the money — not Diana’s as it turns out, but Eduardo’s. He’d amassed a small fortune working on that ship and selling something illicit from that closet that the detective wouldn’t reveal to Evelyn.

Roger had also told Evelyn that Diana was probably locked in the pump closet, not the panning display area or the room with the exhaust fan. Eduardo killed Diana by leaving the pump running and turning off the breaker switch for the exhaust system. That way he could avoid being exposed to the exhaust fumes himself. All he had to do was wait, then turn on the exhaust fan, turn off the pump, and move the body. The police had found a couple of sequins from Diana’s dress under the coiled hoses. Filled with water, the hoses were responsible for soaking her in sea water.

 

The doorbell rang, and Marvin went to answer. Detective Arnold clutched a colourful bouquet of flowers.

“I thought you’d all like to know how Diana died. Eduardo overheard Diana talking about drugs to one of his customers, so he took her to his stash in the pump room to see if she’d buy from him. Unfortunately, she’d been talking about C drugs as in cancer, not C as in cocaine, and when she threatened to expose him, that’s when he locked her in the pump room and turned off the exhaust fan.”

“I thought he was denying everything,” Marvin said.

“He couldn’t deny traces of several illicit drugs in that room,” Roger said, “And he couldn’t explain why he was the only one with a working key.” He handed the bouquet of gerbera daisies to Amy with a conciliatory look. “I’m sorry about your exposure to that gas, but without your determination, we never would have caught Eduardo.”

“Oh, Roger. You can thank me for that,” Evelyn said, sidling up and almost simpering. “I convinced Amy to check out that pump. Of course, I didn’t expect her to become another victim.”

Amy rolled her eyes on hearing the subtle recrimination for getting herself locked in that closet. “Evelyn gets the credit for everything,” she said.

“Now I suppose I’ll have to apologise to the nieces for suspecting them,” Evelyn said, staring fixedly at Amy, a hopeful smile on her lips.

“Oh no you don’t. If you’re going to take the credit, you can be the one to say you’re sorry to those two women,” Amy said.

“Well, in that case,” Evelyn said, reaching for the bouquet, “I’ll take these.”

 

***

Dissonance (S)

“What have you brought me?”

Ella’s grin and inability to stand still told me she was excited by her find. I would always congratulate her even when she brought me junk I couldn’t use because she needed the motivation to keep hunting. I’d tried to communicate what I wanted but it wasn’t easy because I didn’t always know until I saw it. The plastic bones from a Halloween skeleton ended up being re-buried, but the rusted lobster shell crackers found their purpose in “Daniel’s Bounty” as part of a life-sized tractor. I’d spent a lifetime creating art from discarded objects and had received accolades in my youth.

When I look at my art, I find it difficult to separate the overall idea from the function of the individual parts. I see lobsters where others see only metal. None of the children had seen a lobster and few believed me when I told them the tools were made to crack open their hard shells which turned red after boiling. Compared to these children, I’m ancient, and who cares what I know about the past anyway. It’s all useless, silly information. Even so, the kids seem hungry for more stories. I’ve become entertainment, but maybe that’s not so bad.

Ella slowly brought her arms around in front of her. Now I was fidgeting. When I saw it, my first guess was a salad spinner, just another useless device that made little sense in today’s world. Who would waste water washing lettuce? There was a scratched metal base and a lid with a handle and clamps at the edges. Ella looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to tell her what she held in her hands.

“I’m not sure yet. Let me have a look.”

Ella nodded and held out the bowl. She wanted a story for her efforts. Sometimes I made one up for her, but as she grew older, she knew when she wasn’t hearing the truth.

I worked hard to separate the lid from the bowl. If there was a basket inside, I could use it as a strainer. I looked up, and Ella’s tongue was sticking out the side of her mouth, mimicking mine as I concentrated. I closed my mouth and the lid finally squeaked off. No basket inside.

Instead, there was a carefully folded, yellowed newspaper. Maybe it was used for packing something important? I gently pulled it out of the bowl and unfolded it, but there was no hidden treasure. Ella sighed. She never spoke much, but her sighs were a language I’d learned to interpret.

“You’ve found a salad spinner, or part of one,” I said, explaining the purpose and watching her shake her head in disappointment. “The newspaper may say something interesting.” I tried to sound hopeful. “Look, it’s from 1918, almost 180 years old.” This elicited another sigh. “I’ll read it and I’ll tell you if I find something interesting, OK?” With a shrug, Ella wandered towards her friends.

After their chores were done, I’d watch the five of them playing, without words for the most part. Only Daniel spoke to me at length and had shown an interest in learning how to read real books. That meant I wouldn’t have to share the newspaper. I carefully refolded it and carried it into the shed. I spent too much time maintaining my small living space, but what else could I do at my age? The two boys had built their own shed over the hill, still within shouting distance, but the three girls were still pre-teens and would stay with me a while longer. I enjoyed their company but had to remind myself that lack of conversation gave me more time for peaceful contemplation.

I cleared off the breakfast dishes and lay the newspaper on the table. I’d found other papers, of course, but rarely a whole section. I read an ad that made me laugh. “The missing link of Darwinism has never been discovered, but we can tell you where some real good link-sausages can be found.” Usually the ads would amuse me for an hour or more, but today I was hungry for information or at least stories I could share with the kids. Neither was easy to find. Facts were considered boring, and fear sold newspapers. Eighty years later, nothing had changed in that regard except there were no more newspapers, just tweets born largely of unfocused imagination, not research.

I scanned the pages, my eyes alighting on an article that included a hazy reproduction of a drawing from a much earlier era. It described a séance, apparently in vogue in the early 1900’s, where the host of the séance practiced “table tipping”. The tipping or rotation of a small table was used as evidence of communication with the spirit world. Later it was attributed to unscrupulous behavior or, more generously, to unconscious muscular action by the spiritualist. The fascination with communicating with the dead was discussed at length in the article. I wondered what the children would think of this? All had lost their parents in the epidemic which is how I came to take on the role of grandmother. Bereavement could do strange things to the brain, but I suspected these kids would add this story to their list of reasons why they’d never want to go back to the so-called golden ages. Daniel had asked me why everyone was so crazy back then, as if we’d all been subject to a brain plague. I asked him if he thought I was still crazy. His shrug was non-committal.

As I flipped over the pages, I realized I was searching for stories to make them yearn for the past, the way I did. But who did that serve? I couldn’t tell them how to live on a devastated planet, or what to value and protect because my generation had been hopeless at that. The kids knew sharing got them further, and they rarely argued over tools or toys the way I had as a child. The concept of “mine” didn’t seem to exist for them. Funny, they were teaching me far more than I could teach them, but it was coming too late for me.

I continued turning the brittle pages, searching for insights. There was a short article on overcrowding in cities, and how it initially made people more tolerant of differences but later led to gang violence. No need to worry about overcrowding these days, I thought, but would the scenario keep playing out as it did in the wild? Prey and predator levels were rarely in balance. The next page held a gold mine. In 1900, A man named John Elfreth Watkins  predicted what the world would look like a hundred years later. He saw only improvements, and was able to predict digital photography, mobile phones, television, pre-prepared meals and hot house vegetables. Perhaps I can get the kids interested in imagining what their world would look like in a hundred years.

After dinner, I read the article to the children. Daniel asked to look at the pictures, and Ella gave me her usual frown. “What are all those things?” She placed emphasis on things since she saw them as useless.

“They came before the internet, Ella. Watkins didn’t predict the internet. But remember, it was a time when few had electricity. Can you imagine how things might change over the next century?”

“Change?” Daniel echoed. “Why do things have to change?”

“Improvements make our lives easier, more interesting.”

All the children were scowling now. Did they fear change?

“You tell us we must work in harmony with nature to survive,” Daniel said, “yet you talk about change as if it is a good thing. Change can be bad when it isn’t in harmony.”

I blushed. He’d hit on something I’d pushed from my mind. Humanity’s constant striving for novelty and our inability to contemplate limits to growth had disastrous consequences for the planet. Could these children avoid those mistakes?

“Daniel, I saw you make an irrigation system using buckets and tubing. Isn’t that change, and an improvement over watering by hand?”

“Yes, but first I thought about whether it was in harmony with nature, and it was.”

“But you, Ella, didn’t you make a net to catch more fish than you could with a rod and line? What if you take too many fish with your net?”

“Now I only fish once a week instead of every day. We all talked about eating too many fish, but we keep careful watch. If I catch fewer fish, I’ll stop fishing for a while till they come back.”

“Stop? What if people on the other side of the lake keep fishing? They will have food, and you won’t.”

“Why would they keep fishing? It’s like eating the seed potatoes.” Why indeed, I thought. I’d instilled my values, or some of them, but had I prepared these children for what they might encounter? Now it was my turn to frown. “We aren’t like you, Grandma,” Ella said quietly. “And the children across the lake think the way we do.”

“Did someone teach them?”

“We teach each other.”

I was confused. If they rarely spoke among themselves, how did they teach each other?

“We show each other and we think before we do things,” Ella said, correctly interpreting my silence. She took my hand and led me outside to the lean-to. The other children followed. Together we stared at my sculpture of useless bits and pieces that had no obvious function. I thought of pack rats and bower birds who fabricated elaborate nests of found objects in hopes of luring a mate. What was my purpose in creating this art?

“We don’t understand why you use your time this way,” Daniel said, looking down and shuffling his feet.

“It doesn’t hurt the planet,” I said, trying to justify myself. “Besides, I feel satisfied when I make a sculpture out of garbage, but I can’t tell you why.” Was creativity a bad thing for the planet, I wondered?

“Oh. We thought it was like a making a stone over a grave — something to remember the before-time,” Ella said.

“Or maybe it’s a warning not to make garbage in the first place,” Daniel said. The other children nodded in agreement.

Of course, I felt sad. Who wouldn’t if they viewed their life’s work through the eyes of her grandchildren. The tractor ended up being my last sculpture, but I still took pleasure in looking at it. Perhaps it was nostalgia, but if I tried to explain that concept to the children, they would scoff. They’d wonder why I would want to return to a time when people ate their seed potatoes. Still, the children have given me hope that we are moving in the right direction, and that, too, is change.

***

Happy Birthday, Sis

“Citizen Ralph, we must go to the guillotine.  Today, there are spry and energetic – if somewhat aged – bourgeois, my favourite. And we must buy a wrinkled, pathetic turnip and week-old wine for our supper.”

“I also, Citizen Margaret, enjoy the shopping with a little chopping. Ha Ha. But perhaps we might steal something on the way and make a feast of it. I am rather fond of a good Bordeaux.”

“Do not get above your station, Citizen. Be satisfied with what you may find in the hands of the 1 percent. Personally, I’m hoping for a claret, and perhaps a chicken, but I’ll take what providence and your bludgeon provide.”

“It is a merry life we have, is it not Citizen Margaret, in spite of being three score years and ten?”

“It is indeed, Citizen Ralph. We have many years of enjoyment ahead. HO HO. Did you get that, Citizen? A HEAD!”

“Very drole, my dear, very drole. Onward.”

*

This scene was inspired by a postcard depicting an old man and woman, perhaps during the French Revolution, deep in conversation. In honour of my birthday, my brother, Ken, wrote  les mots amusante to accompany the drawing. Definitely the best birthday card ever.

Graceland (S)

Why were the care aides whispering about him when he lay on his motorized bed not five feet away? Just because he didn’t understand what they said didn’t mean he was hard of hearing. He was only waiting for them to say something that made sense.

Jack felt relaxed enough to drool. Over-medicated, he’d heard them whisper. His dog bothered them because he wasn’t hygienic. Sure, Elvis sleeping on his bed wasn’t completely safe, but it was fine if he spent the night in soiled adult nappies.

“You wouldn’t mind if we take Elvis for a short walk, would you, Jack.”

“Try it, and you won’t like what happens,” Jack said, letting his evil smile loose. The two care aides jerked back when he displayed a new set of poorly-made false teeth that seemed too big and brilliant for his puckered mouth. He’d even scared himself when he smiled in the mirror. “Elvis stays with me.” He imagined delivering this line in a resonant bass voice, but his old man quaver didn’t cut it. That meant using the toothy grin, the weapon he saved for dire situations. Both aides narrowed their eyes and shrugged, deciding it wasn’t worth risking a bite from his choppers.

Jack patted Elvis and watched his pet’s adoring eyes turn towards him and blink several times before closing for a nap. There was an audible doggy sigh as contagious and satisfying as a yawn.

 

Someone had absconded with Elvis two nights ago, and Jack had worked himself into an uncharacteristic state of agitation.

“Where’s Elvis?” Jack shouted at the aide, his scrawny arms crossed over his pajamas. It was difficult to appear menacing in pjs, especially ones with silhouettes of Elvis dancing across his chest.

“You haven’t eaten your breakfast. It’s your favourite – poached egg.”

“Not eating until you bring me Elvis.”

“He’s in for repairs. I told you yesterday.”

“I told you yesterday that I wouldn’t eat until you brought him back.”

He could hear the two women whispering at the door. “How can he remember even owning that bloody dog?” the grumpy one said.

“His memory must be a lot better than we thought,” the pretty one said. Jack watched them leave, wondering if he was risking an injection of something nasty by acting up.

 

“Here you go, Jack. Elvis is back.” The grumpy aide tossed a plush collie on his bed.

“Hey! That’s a stuffed dog. It’s not even the same breed. What do you take me for, a senile old man?”

 

“Jack, I understand you haven’t been eating.” The doctor was pretending to care, pouting like his old Mum when he wouldn’t eat his peas.

“Your people stole my dog.”

“You have a dog? In a care facility?” Now the doctor tried to look shocked, but that didn’t hit home either.

“Don’t play games, Doc. You know Elvis came here with me two years ago.

“When you arrived, you thought Elvis was real. Do you still think so?” Jack frowned and squinted up at the doctor. Maybe they should trade places.

“I know Elvis is a robot, but he’s my robot and I want him back.”

“Do you mind if I run a couple of tests.” The doctor pulled out a little computer and started poking at it.

“Darn right I mind. No Elvis, no tests.”

 

“Here’s your dog, you old fool.” The grumpy aide dumped Elvis on the bed. “You got us all into trouble.”

“As if I care,” Jack said. He ran his hand over Elvis’s stomach, felt the comforting heat radiating from the battery pack, and checked to see if the dog’s eyes turned to look at him adoringly when he stroked him. For the first time in days, he could relax and enjoy being pampered. Lunch was a mystery but it never tasted better.

 

Then the doctor showed up with his tests and asked a bunch of meaningless questions. Can you remember three items from that picture I showed you? Can you tell me the time from this clock face? Jack shrugged and waited until the doctor said something that made sense.

“Jack, I can’t help wonder if you’re playing games with me. Yesterday you were lucid. Today you can’t answer simple questions.” Jack’s eyebrows were hitting each other. He couldn’t understand a word.

Elvis moved his head to look at Jack, blinked his eyes, closed them, and sighed. Good plan, thought Jack, and he imitated the dog’s actions and fell asleep in an instant.

 

“What do you mean, the dog’s doing it?” The doctor banged his pen up and down on his iPad as if it were a bongo drum. He was glaring at the pretty aide.

“I tell you, Jack’s a zombie when that dog’s around. Take it away and he’s almost normal.”

“That’s ludicrous.”

“Sure, but I’d bet I’m right. Try it and see what happens.”

 

Jack sensed something was up. The aides were snickering and saying things that made no sense. He heard the word Elvis, and something in his brain clicked. He started to shake. His hand wobbled on the warm battery pack, and he stared into Elvis’s glossy black eyes, looking for help. Slowly his shaking subsided and he felt a lovely calm descend. When the doctor entered with the pretty aide, Jack was asleep. They took Elvis.

 

“He’s not upset?” the doctor asked.

“I wouldn’t say that. He’s stopped eating again, but he’s not talking rationally the way he did last time. He just sits there drooling.”

“You’ve changed his routine. That’s why he’s not eating. Now I’m worried about your mental state. Really? Suggesting the dog was making him senile?”

“Sorry, but I thought Elvis was affecting his brain.” There was a long silence when Jack wanted to open his eyes and see what was happening.

“Can we give him back his dog?”

“Why not? See if he starts eating again.”

Jack heard it all, but he didn’t let his face muscles tense or his eyes react. Funny thing was, he enjoyed listening to them talk. He could tell there was a budding relationship between the doctor and the pretty aide. He wanted to know more, but if he let on he wasn’t senile, everything would change for the worse because they’d evict him from the care home. Whatever it took, he wasn’t going back to that filthy hostel to fend for himself, and no way would Elvis turn him into a drooling idiot, either. That care aide had the brains to figure it out.

 

“Everything’s back to normal,” the pretty one said. “Jack’s eating again, so the doctor was right. We must have upset his routine. Funny though, Elvis has stopped doing his companion thing – you know, wiggling, blinking and sighing. I offered to change the batteries, but when I tried to take Elvis away, Jack bared those awful dentures and growled at me.”

“If he doesn’t miss that bogus pet affection, why should we care? Let him enjoy his plushy germ-ridden toy.” The grumpy aide shrugged and left the room with Jack’s empty dinner tray.

After they had gone, Jack wondered how Elvis had managed to make him act demented. He knew it had something to do with the battery he’d removed and shoved in the diaper pail. What really bothered him was not being able to remember which one of his wretched relatives had given him the dog as a present. Jack released a big sigh which was almost as satisfying as hearing one from Elvis.

 

***

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wed, Nov 29, 1911

As someone anxious about the near-future, I find it odd that my husband is developing an addiction to  Ancestry.com. However, many people are obsessed with searching for their ancestors on-line. If you don’t believe that, a quick web search will reveal someone who describes himself as “the Walter White of family trees, always looking to build a better meth lab”. Perhaps these people are incipient tech addicts or wanna-a-be detectives, but hours can disappear while researching your roots, only to be buried in dirt. For those wondering if you have the symptoms, I’ve included a (partial) list below taken from the Geni.com website.

You might be addicted to genealogy if…

  • You’re more interested in what happened in 1815 than 2015
  • You spend your vacations visiting cemeteries, courthouses and archives
  • You introduce people as “my aunt’s husband’s second cousin once removed”
  • Your doctor asks about your family history and you ask, “how many generations back?”
  • You know more about your friends’ family history than they do
  • The pharmacist asks you to decipher the doctor’s handwriting

For me, uncovering dates of birth, death, marriage etc. of my ancestors is so dry as to require a drink. I crave those important details that bring a life to life, and, rarely, that  happens. My husband found this wonderful newspaper article about his great-grandfather who moved from Quebec to Alberta in 1903. It’s too good not to share.

Ananie Durand, 56 years old and father of nine children, came 2000 miles from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, to St. Louis to find a wife. He arrived Thursday. He was introduced to Mrs. Mattie White of IOC614 O’Fallon street Friday, sampled her cooking Saturday, proposed and was accepted Sunday, bought a wedding outfit for her Monday and engaged a priest Tuesday to marry them Wednesday afternoon. Mrs. White is 53 years old and has two grown children. Her husband died last February. Durand’s wife died last March. Durand says he has a $100,000 farm In Alberta and he is sure his bride will like to live there, although he has warned her that the temperature sometimes drops to 50 degrees below zero. This being a mild winter it was only 14 below when he left home, he says.

“I don’t mind the cold,” says the prospective Mrs. Durand. “I always did want to live on a farm.” Durand wrote to friends in St. Louis several weeks ago, telling them he was looking for a wife. He will not divulge the names of these friends but says that after looking over the matrimonial field there they advised him to come to St. Louis and take his pick of their selections.

Durand went to the Alcazar Hotel, 3127 Locust street, and then called on eligible widows whose names had been furnished by his friends. “I didn’t let them know what I wanted, though,” he said slyly. “Some of them kept rooming houses. I would ring the bell and ask to see a room. They would show me through the house and I would note whether they were tidy housekeepers. Most of them were not, and I went away without telling them I wanted a wife.”

I liked Mrs. White’s looks when I was introduced to her. I found her house neat and clean. I came back the next day and ate dinner with her and learned that she was a fine cook. The meal was so good that I came back for a Sunday dinner. No man ought to marry a woman who can’t cook.  In order to marry It was necessary for them to get a dispensation from Archbishop Glennon, as Durand is a Methodist and Mrs. White a Catholic. “Religion makes no difference if the cooking is good” said Durand, Wednesday. Mr. and Mrs. Durand will depart on their 2000-mile journey to Alberta next Wednesday evening. After arriving at Red Deer, they will drive 30 miles in a sleigh to Durand’s farm.

 

 

[Any news article published in the United States before 1923 is in the public domain and can be reprinted or republished without any copyright concerns.]

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