Blood Lines Chapter 15

   William Murphy, Jr. was 21 years old the day the Marco Polo was run aground by its captain at Cavendish. She was a three-masted three-deck clipper ship built at Marsh Creek in Saint John, New Brunswick 32 years earlier. During its construction the frame got loose in a storm and was blown all over the shipyard. The skeleton had to be reassembled. After the shipbuilding was done the launch didn’t go well. The boat grazed the bank of the creek while sliding down the slipway, got stuck in a mudflat, and went over on her side. A week later a high tide lifted her up, but she got stuck in the mud again. Two weeks later she finally floated free and was fitted with rigging.

   The big boat carried emigrant men and women from England to Australia for many years. She set the world’s record for the fastest voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne, doing it in 76 days. More than fifty children died of measles on her maiden voyage and were buried at sea. Coming back, she carried a king’s ransom in gold dust and a 340-ounce gold nugget. The nugget was a gift to Queen Victoria from the colonial government, although she wasn’t able  to pull rank and keep it under her mattress. Pulling into its home port, the ship unfurled a banner claiming it was the “Fastest Ship in the World.” Men with swords and guns were waiting.

   The gold dust and the big nugget were delivered to London by a fast coach guarded by a company of the King’s Men. There wasn’t going to be any Great Coach Robbery. They unloaded it at the Bank of England. One man after another carried the loot inside and stashed it in the vault. When they were done they locked it up tight and posted a sign saying, “Keep Out.”

   During the gold rush the ship carried loads of standing room only men to Australia. Nobody died of measles, although some of them died of bad moonshine and fights. Fire is the test of gold. Many of the men died of typhus, what they called ship fever, burning up in their hammocks in the South Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Tasman Sea. Many of the original settlers laying claim to aboriginal land, the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent with the least fertile soil anywhere, got there on the Marco Polo. 

   When she was retired from the passenger trade, she was refitted for the coal, timber, and bat shit trade. The hull was rotting and wasting away. Chains were wrapped around it and drawn tight trying to keep it together. A windmill-driven pump was installed to send leaks back where they were coming from.

   It was a late July morning, clear sunny warm after the storm that had driven the ship to Cavendish. Bill Murphy was in the dunes watching the crew wade ashore. They had been on the way from Montreal to England loaded with pine planks when they got caught in a gale. They plowed ahead but started to take on water. Two days later wind and waves were still pommeling them, and they were still taking on water. The ship was flooding from stem to stern and the hands couldn’t plug the leaks fast enough. The windmill blew away and the pumps gave a last gasp. Captain P. A. Bull decided to save the crew and cargo. He put the clipper into full sail and wheeled it straight at Cavendish’s sandy beaches.

   The closer they got the better their chances looked until, three hundred feet from shore, he ordered the rigging cut. The masts groaned wanting to snap and the bottom of the boat scraped the bottom. Everybody stayed where they were, staying awake all night, until dawn when the storm finally wore itself out and they rowed ashore. T

   Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “The crew, consisting of 25 men, found boarding places among the settlement and contrived to keep the neighborhood in perpetual uproar They were lively times for Cavendish The crew consisted of Norwegians, Swedes, Spaniards, Germans, and a Tahitian.” They were rollicking tough men. It was the beginning of the Tahitian’s second sea voyage. He was barely half-tough but looked tougher than he was. He was speckled with tattoos and wore his hair in long braids tied up at their ends with small fishhooks.

   Lucy was a pale slim 8-year-old girl, her long crimson hair in braids with choppy bangs, when she and everybody else in Cavendish watched the crew abandon the boat. She wore a white flower hairpiece on one side of her head and took notes on scraps of paper. Nine years later her short story “The Wreck of the Marco Polo” was published. Sixteen years after that her book “Anne of Green Gables” was published.

   Bill Murphy was hired by the salvage company stripping the boat. It was welcome work before harvest time. As soon as they started on the grounded vessel, another storm rolled in. Bill was on the boat and had to stay where he was. Trying for the shore was too dangerous. They battened whatever hatches were still left and spent the night being battered. Captain Macleod from French River showed up the next morning. The wind beat him back the first time he tried to reach the Marco Polo, but he made it the second time, saving all the men except one. He and his shipmates got gold watches for their courage. Bill went home wet as a wet dog.

   He didn’t go home empty-handed, though. There were twin figureheads of Marco Polo, depicting the boat’s namesake, spearheading the boat. A man from Long River hauled one of them away and hung it in his barn. Bill hauled the other one away and hung it in his barn. It was the end of the road for the far-ranging ship.

   Bill was back on the boat two days later as the salvage work went apace. He was taking a break on the poop deck leaning against a gunwale above the captain’s cabin when a young dark-skinned man joined him.

   “I am Teva the Tahitian,” he said. “We are dead in the water.”

   “I am Bill the Murphy,” Bill said. “You are copper-bottomed now.”

   Teva was the only one of the crew who signed on to help salvage the ship. The rest of them stayed in Cavendish drinking and chasing farmgirls. The Tahitian and the Irishman worked together for the rest of the week and into August. Teva told Bill he was putting his purse together to get to Maine and sign on as a whaler.

   “My grandfather Queequeg was a harpooner,” he said. “He was the best in the world. You could spit on the water, and he could split your floating spit from the deck with one throw. He shaved with his harpoon and smoked from a tomahawk. He was a cannibal, but his favorite food was clam chowder.”

   “He was a cannibal?” Bill asked, taken aback. 

   “Him, not me,” Teva said. “I don’t eat my own kind. I never met him, but my father told me about him before he went whaling. He never came back, either.”

   “They both went to sea and never came back?”

   “Both, never. A friend of my grandfather’s stopped on our island when I was a boy and told us about what happened to him. He was a white man. His name was Ishmael. He and grandfather sailed and slept together.”

   “Slept together?”

   “In the morning his arm was thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner,” Ishmael said. “You had almost thought I had been his wife. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian, I always say.”

   Teva asked the white man sailor what his grandfather had been like, what he was about.

   “There was no hair on his head, nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead, large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had a creditor. His bald purplish head looked for all the world like a mildewed skull. His body was checkered with tattoo squares. He seemed to have been in a war, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more, his legs were marked, as if dark green frogs were running up the trunks of young palms.”

   Teva lapped up water from a barrel with his hands, gulped, and spat on the deck.

   “Grandfather saved Ishmael’s life when their ship was head-butted by a white whale they were hunting. The coffin they had built for him when he was dying during the hunt was thrown overboard and Ishmael hung on to it like a buoy. He was the only sailor who survived when Captain Ahab the crew my grandfather and the Pequod all sank to the bottom.”

   “Since your father and grandfather both went whaling and never came back, why are you going southways to take up whaling?” Bill asked

   “It’s in my blood,” Teva said. “There will be blood, our kind says.”

   Every day when the day was fair and the sun shining families picnicked on the beach at Cavendish, watching launches with two-masted ketch rigs go back and forth, taking what they could to Alexander MacNeill’s for auction. It was a Sunday when Sinbad the Sailor walked up to Bill Murphy, looked him up and down, and meowed. “They say our boat had no rats the whole last year,” Teva said. “This cat drove them off and those who thought they could stand up to him, they disappeared.” Teva tossed a piece of salt pork at Sinbad, who snagged it midair and gulped it down.

   Sinbad was a two-tone Norwegian Forest cat. “One of the Vikings brought him aboard,” Teva said.

   Sinbad was a twenty-pound bruiser with long legs and a bushy tail. His coat was a thick, glossy, water-repellent top layer with a woolly undercoat. It was thickest at the legs, chest, and head. His ears were large, tufted, wide at the base, and high set.

   “He’s a good climber, very strong,” Teva said. “He can climb rocks and cliffs.” When he leaned on Bill and reached up stretching flexing his front legs, his claws extended themselves slightly. They were sharp as razors. Bill rubbed Sinbad’s head. 

   “He’s big enough to be a man-eater,” Bill said. “What’s going to happen to him when our work is finished?”

   “I don’t know,” Teva said. “The Viking left him behind.”

   That evening, when Bill was walking back to the rude shelter he had thrown up for himself behind the dunes, Sinbad followed him. Bill put a bowl of fresh water out for the cat but left breakfast lunch dinner up to him. He was sure Sinbad was not going to starve. He was a vole shrew deer mouse snowshoe hare red-bellied snake widow maker. Even racoons, coyotes, and foxes gave him a wide berth.

   Sinbad went back and forth to the boat with Bill the rest of the month and the next month while the vessel fell apart piece by piece until a thunderstorm barreled up from the United States. The ship broke up along the coast, going down to the bottom of the sea. It was the end of the Marco Polo. 

   When Bill packed up his bedroll and shelter and walked home, Sinbad walked beside him the five miles back to Murphy’s Cove and North Rustico. Biddy and Kate were shucking oysters on the porch, a pot at their feet. The oysters were from Malpeque Bay. Hundreds of boats were in the fishery there and at St. Peter’s Bay. Until the 1830s oysters were plentiful but few people ate them. They were spread over land as fertilizer. The shells were burned, too, for the lime they produced.

   After the Intercolonial Railway got rolling in 1876 new markets for Prince Edward Island oysters opened in Quebec and Ontario. But oyster stocks started to fall and kept falling as more boats joined the harvesting. Oysters fled for their lives. They didn’t like being eaten alive. Biddy and Kate didn’t give much thought to overfishing or the deep-seated fears of shellfish, so long as they got their fair share.

   “Oh my gosh, what a beauty!” Kate exclaimed when Bill walked up to the porch with Sinbad beside him. 

   “He landed here on the Marco Polo,” Bill explained. “The ship broke up yesterday in the storm and he needed a new home, so here he is.”

   Sinbad walked straight past the girls to the pot and started pulling oysters out, gulping them down without a single word of hello.

   “Hey, stop that,” Biddy scolded, covering the pot. “You’ll ruin your appetite, silly goose.”

   Sinbad’s ears pricked up. He had taken goose for dinner last Christmas, and it was delicious. He shot a look in all directions. He didn’t see any birds, but had no doubt there had to be one or two somewhere nearby. He was by nature a nomad, but as there was a pot full of oysters and silly slow geese to eat, he thought, I’ll stay for the time being.

   He was a back door man, but when the front door was wide open, that was the door he went through. God might or might not still believe in destiny, but he was only a cat and didn’t know anything about the divine. He didn’t believe in the garden path, but when there was an easy way of doing things, that was always the way he took.

Blood Lines Chapter 16

   Aksel was a Norwegian rat, although it would have been a matter of contention if anybody told him that. He thought he was a Norman rat since his forebears had come to the New World aboard a French ship that sailed from Bayeaux long ago. It had been more than a hundred generations of his family saga ago. He had no idea about Norwegians. He didn’t even know where Norway was.

   He knew where Rolling’s Pond was. He  didn’t know he was on Prince Edward Island. He had no idea he was on the North American continent, although if he had known it wouldn’t have mattered. Home is where the heart is. The pond was where he spent most of his time. During the day he slept in the basement of the Stella Maris church. He didn’t own anything, not even a fork, knife, or bedroll, but it was cozy. He stored food there and had a nest of straw and a small pillow.

   He wasn’t a farmer, instead foraging for food. He went gleaning far and wide. He ate anything and everything. He thought he had probably eaten thousands of different foods in his lifetime.. He ate any discarded human food he came across as well as all crops from all fields. He ate all the time, snacking on whatever came his way. Some people said he was a glutton. He preyed on lizards, chicks, and other rodents. He caught fish on Fridays. The pond had all the fresh water he wanted.

   His mother had let it slip one day that their kind lived about two or three years. His eyesight wasn’t going bad. It had always been bad. He needed glasses. He was colorblind, too. His other senses, smell taste touch and hearing, were outstanding. He wasn’t especially agile, but he could run jump climb and swim enough to keep life and limb together. He used his face whiskers to feel the world around him. He could wiggle each one of them individually, unlike cats like Snaps from Murphy’s Cove who were always messing with him. He and Snaps were going to have it out one day. The beast was forever laying low for him. He had to find a way to neutralize the cat’s claws, which were razor sharp and deadly. He had the scars to prove it. 

   Except for Snaps, cats rarely bothered Aksel. He was too big and nasty for most of them, feral or otherwise. Snaps was on a different order of things. He was a dangerous son-of-a-gun. They were a stop-and-go dance in the dark  When Aksel stopped the cat stopped. When he started up again the cat was on his heels again, intent stealthy menacing.

   Nobody ever called Aksel by his name. Instead, they called him sewer rat, wharf rat, and street rat. Some called him Hanover rat and Parisian rat. He didn’t like it whenever he was called a dirty rat. He was fastidiously clean. He washed and groomed himself ten times a day. He was a brown rat with a white underside. He was big boy, his body length almost a foot long with a tail slightly shorter than a foot. All he had to do was smile and wiggle his tail at passersby to make them jump.

   One day he met one of his kind in the dumpster behind the Co-op next to Amanda’s. After giving each other the secret handshake, after which both rats were sure the other one was legit, they gossiped while they ate. His new-found friend, it turns out, had come off a cruise ship in Charlottetown, gone on a self-guided tour, been late getting back, and was now stranded until the next boat rolled in.

   “I can hi-jack myself on to any boat,” he said. “You know those big round things they attach to mooring lines, what they call rat guards, and they coat them with grease? I suck up the grease. I spit it out over my shoulder when I go over the rat guard.”

   Cruise ships had been coming to Charlottetown since just after the turn of the century, pulling into port to hearty welcomes. They let loose hundreds sometimes thousands of tourists all at once to eat drink lick ice cream stretch their legs see the sights and buy “Anne of Green Gables” dolls and effigies.

   It was after midnight when Aksel and Your Yeoman Purser, what his  friend called himself, went their separate ways. “I know I’m just a rat and a mug, to boot, but I have got to say this place here is something else, just beautiful, and everywhere I look there is food.”

   Aksel was more nocturnal than not, so when Bernie Doiron found the woman dead in the ground on the other side of the hill from Rolling’s Pond and every cop car, ambulance, and fire truck in the land descended on his landscape, the noise that morning woke him up. He had just fallen asleep. He coughed and cleared his throat, blinking. He was curious and made his way the back way to the top edge of the field where it was all happening to see what was going on.

   Aksel had a love hate relationship with human beings. On the one hand, he preferred living near them since they were a rat’s number one fast food outlet. On the other hand, they were always trying to kill him. They were always checking his droppings and tracking him by them. They were always putting out traps and bait stations. Whenever they found his nest they gassed it. He was cautious. He knew full well what glue boards and snap traps were about. It didn’t matter if they were baited with his favorite fish and cereals. He gave them a wide berth.

   “My mama didn’t raise no fool,” he grumbled to himself.

   He saw what Bernie had seen and what the cops were seeing. It was an arm that had been chopped off. He guessed the rest was still in the ground. It looked like they were digging her up, although why was beyond him. He knew they weren’t going to eat her, so what was the point? What human beings did baffled him more often than not. 

   Aksel quickly lost interest. There wasn’t going to be a free meal in it for him anytime soon unless somebody dropped some food. That was something else that puzzled him. They seemed to not want to pick up food they had dropped. In his world no rat did that. They ate everything in sight, no matter what. 

   He sprinted  across the open ground behind him. He could run faster than any man alive. He could run six times his body length in a single second, but he couldn’t keep it up for long. When he got to the tree line and was out of sight, he slowed down and caught his breath. When he got to Church Hill Rd., he looked both ways before crossing. There was no sense in being run over on his own doorstep by some potato truck.

Blood Lines Chapter 17

   The first day of summer wasn’t any different than the day before the first day of summer. When JT Markunas checked the weather report, it looked like it wasn’t going to be any different the next day, either. He sat outside his rented house in Milton and thought it was like the murder he was investigating. It wasn’t any different today than it had been yesterday and looked like it wasn’t going to be different anytime soon.

   The difference was nobody could do anything about the weather. The RCMP could do something about the murder in North Rustico. They knew where and how the woman with the empty briefcase was killed but didn’t know why. They still didn’t know who she was, nor did they have a clue about who might have done it. The more days and weeks went by the more it got pushed back in everybody’s minds. It was starting to become a cold case. Nobody had seen or heard anything in the fall and by the time anybody knew something had happened, winter was over, and it was springtime. Now it was summer.

   It was a hell of a shame, he thought. Nobody should get away with murder. Murders are often a spur of the minute mistake, but what happened in Conor Murphy’s field wasn’t a mistake. It was deliberate. It rankled him to think whoever did it thought they could get away with it. It was usually poor slobs who didn’t get away with murder. They got locked up. The rich hired somebody to talk their way out of it. They walked away free. JT thought what happened had to involve money, and lots of it. But the rich didn’t swing hand axes to get what they wanted. They had fountain pens for that.

   An execution is justice, but the deep-six is murder. There was no justice in taking the law into your own hands. There was money in farming and fishing, which Prince Edward Island did a lot of. Farmers and fishermen rarely shot each other, or anybody else. At one time lenders got rough when it came to collecting debts, but that time was gone. Criminal gangs shot first and didn’t ask questions whenever they were crossed, but there were no criminal gangs like that on the island. There were some folks with criminal minds. That’s why the force existed. He thought it was likely that whoever did the killing was a lone wolf. That meant whoever it was, was likely to keep to themselves. Whoever it was, he was going to be hard to find. JT wasn’t holding his breath. He was a patient man, though. He took the long view. He would get his man.

   It was going to be a tough nut to crack but it was a nut that would have to keep. It was his day off. He tossed his bicycle into the back of his pick-up. The bike was a Specialized Rockhopper, nothing special, but virtually indestructible. It went up and down farm roads and tracks just fine and rode smooth enough on pavement. He lived about 10 kilometers from Charlottetown and the RCMP station. Brackley Beach was about 20 kilometers away. He drove to Brackley Beach.

   JT parked at the west end of the beach. It was 15 kilometers to Dalvay. He was going to keep going another 5 kilometers farther on to Grand Tracadie, stop and stretch his legs, and ride back. Forty kilometers in the saddle would be enough for him. When he started the wind was at his back and the living was easy, until he realized it would be in his face on the way back. He thought he would find somewhere in Grand Tracadie to have a scone and a cup of coffee.

   He rode past the Harbor Lighthouse, some cottages, Ross Beach, some more cottages, Stanhope Beach, Long Pond, and stopped at Dalvay. He rode to the front steps, parked his bike, and walked down the sloping lawn to a set of red Adirondack chairs. He was sitting there looking out at the ocean when somebody walked up and asked if he would like tea and biscuits.

   “Black tea and plenty of butter,” he said.

   He need not have asked for butter. If there was anything plentiful on the island, it was homegrown butter. There were enough cows in all directions that everybody on the island could go on an all-butter diet if they wanted to and there still wouldn’t be a shortage.

   Dalvay By the Sea was a big house and seasonal rooms. Before becoming lodgings, it was only a big house. The Gilded Age American industrialist Alexander Macdonald built it just before the end of the 19th century on grounds of 120 acres. The lower half of the house and all the fireplaces were island sandstone. Windmills supplied power and water. He kept horses and carriages and a cohort of grooms to look after them. He and his wife entertained all summer when they weren’t riding and at the end of every summer hosted a lavish dance for the locals. They were like patroons from another age.

   By 1909 Alexander Macdonald was dying. At the beginning of that fall, he stood on Long Pond for the last time staring at his house. He died the next year. After his children squandered the family fortune, Dalvay was sold to the man who had been tending it. William Hughes had contacted the family to ask what should be done with the 26-room place. They said, “You can have it for the back taxes.” He bought it and all the furnishings for less than $500.00. Fifteen years earlier it had cost more than $50,000.00 to build. The furnishings were gotten during family travels to Italy, France, England, and Egypt. They were transported to Prince Edward Island by ocean steamer. Nobody knew what all of it had cost.

   William Hughes turned around and sold the house for a handsome profit. The last owner went broke and sold it to the government in 1938, which turned it over to Parks Canada, which under a concession had been operating it for the past fifty years as a summer hotel.

   JT finished his biscuits and tea, saddled back up, and buckled his helmet. Before he got started, he saw two young women on bicycles going his way. They were noodling it. He rode past them giving them a friendly wave. They waved back. He thought they were both good-looking, one more than the other. He had a job, a house, and a bed, but he didn’t have a girlfriend. His job was the problem. It was a Catch-22. Most of the women he met who liked policemen, he didn’t like them. Most of the women he liked didn’t like policemen.

   There were no coffee shops in Grand Tracadie. There wasn’t much other than houses and fields. He rode as far as MacDougalls Cove and turned around. At first, riding back to Brackley, the breeze was at him from the side. Once he got back on the parkway, though, it was in his face. It wasn’t a hurricane, but it wasn’t a powder puff, either. He dropped his bike into a lower gear and plodded on. He rode the bike for fun and fitness. The ride back to his pick-up was going to be about fitness.

   He had just passed Cape Stanhope when he saw the two young women on their bicycles ahead of him. It almost looked like they were riding in place, although he could see they were peddling. He was fifty-some yards behind them when a red motorcycle went past him fast. JT hadn’t heard the motorcycle and was taken aback when it hummed zipped by him. It was going 140 KPH for sure, maybe faster on a road where the speed limit was a third of that. When the Tasmanian Devil passed the women ahead, the rider wiggle waggled his motorcycle at them and was gone. 

   The women were riding on the shoulder. The one closest to the road got shaky unnerved see-sawed lost control and fell over. She bounced on the shoulder and bounced sideways into the sand. Her friend stopped and ran back to the fallen woman.

   “Son of a bitch,” JT cursed under his breath. If he had been working, he could have caught the motorcycle, maybe. It had to be a Jap bike. They made the quietest motorcycles. He hadn’t gotten the plate, but he knew high-tech when he saw it. It looked new and might have been faster than his Ford Mustang pursuit car. He stopped where the fallen woman was rolling over and sitting up. Her hands and forearms were scraped and bleeding. There was sand in the blood. She had broken her fall with them. Both of her knees were scraped and bleeding, one of them worse than the other.

   He put his hand on her shoulder and pressed her back down when she tried to stand up.

   “No, don’t do that,” he said. “I’m with the RCMP. Stay where you are.” 

   He turned to the friend.

   “Don’t let her get up until I come back. It should just be a few minutes.”

   Some gulls came up from the beach to see what was happening. They made a choking ha-ha-ha sound. After they saw there was no food to be had, they flew away.

   He rode back across the bridge the way he had come, raced down Wharf Rd., and stopped at the first deep-sea fishing shack on Covehead Bay that he saw somebody at. He telephoned for an ambulance and rode back to the two women. They were where he had left them, except a man and wife had stopped to help. Their Ford Taurus with Massachusetts plates was half on the road and half on the shoulder behind the women, its flashers blinking. 

   “I run a tow truck operation back in Boston,” the man said.

   When the ambulance had come and gone, the man said, “She’s got road rash all over. What happened?”

   “Some jackass on a motorcycle went past like a scorcher and made a veer at them before cutting away, and she lost it, went down.”

   “That’s too bad,” the man said.

   JT stopped at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital the next morning. It was almost new, the biggest hospital in the province, having replaced both the Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island hospitals in 1982. He was told the woman had been treated and released.

   “Is she an islander?” he asked.

   The woman at the desk checked. “I don’t know, but she lives here in town,” she said.

   An islander was anybody who had been born on Prince Edward Island. The designation was closely watched. When a woman who was brought to the province as a baby died 90 years later her obituary in the newspaper read, “Woman from away died peacefully in her home.”

   Some said you had to be conceived on the island to make the grade. A boy living in Souris was flummoxed when he found out he might not be an islander, even though both his parents were, and he was born on the island. It turned out he was brought into existence on an impulse in a dark corner of the ferry crossing the Northumberland Strait. “He was not conceived on the island so he’s not an islander,” his uncles and aunts pointed out, their noses out of joint. His parents took the argument to his father’s father. 

   “It all depends on whether the ferry was going away or coming back,” his grandfather said.

   The woman’s name was Kayleigh Jurgelaitis. JT got her address and went to work. After he was done wasting his time arresting a teenaged dishwasher smoking pot behind a dumpster, he clocked out at the end of the day, changed his clothes, and went looking for the address. He didn’t have far to go. She lived near Holland College. It was a two-year trade school, home to the Culinary Institute of Canada and the Atlantic Police Academy.

   He recognized the friend when she opened the door and she recognized him. When Kayleigh limped out of a hallway into the living room, she was limping up a storm.

   “How’s the leg?”

   “Better than yesterday, believe it or not. I couldn’t even walk. You’re the cop, right?”

   “Peace officer.”


   “So, what happened to your leg?”

   “They said I have a slight meniscus tear in the knee,” she said sitting down and elevating her bad leg. “I’m supposed to keep it up and put ice on it every couple of hours. They think I should be back on my feet in a week or two.”

   “I’m glad to hear it. So long as I have it on my mind, did either of you get the license plate of that biker?”

   They both said no.

   “Neither did I,” JT said. “He was too far ahead, and it happened too fast. We might be able to find him, but probably not, except by accident.”

   “If I never see him again it will be soon enough,” Kayleigh said.

   “I couldn’t help noticing your name,” JT said. “Are you Lithuanian?”

   “Yes and no,” she said. “My mother was Irish, from here, and my father was Lithuanian, from there. I’m half of the one and half of the other. Why do you ask?”

   “Because my name is Justinas Markunas,” JT said.

   “I was wondering if I was the only Lithuanian on this island among all the Irish, Scots, and the French,” Kayleigh laughed. “Now I know there are two of us.”

   “Spud Island is immigrants through and through,” JT said. “Everybody here came from somewhere else. I’ve run into a few Jews, Swedes, and Hungarians, not to mention the Indians. There aren’t many of them even though they were here first. I’ve even heard some Asians are thinking of setting up a Buddhist community in Kings County, which will probably make everybody’s heads spin when they do their meditating.”

   Before leaving, pausing at the door, he asked, “Since it’s just the two of us, we should have lunch or dinner sometime and toast our native selves.”

   “I think I will take you up on that,” she said. “In the meantime, I’ll try to remember whatever I can about the rat who ran me off the road.”

Blood Lines Chapter 18

   It wasn’t two weeks or even a week later that JT Markunas and Kayleigh Jurgelaitis got together for dinner in Charlottetown. Kayleigh healed fast when dinner on the town was on the table. It was half-a-week later when they sat down to eat at the Canton Café on Queen St. It was early evening. The sky was clear, but the stars weren’t out, yet. The town was lit up.

   “Homegrown is the best,” Kayleigh said, “but it’s fun to globetrot now and then.”

   “I’ve had nothing but next-door eggs and bread for breakfast and white fish mussels potatoes and rhubarb pie for dinner the past two weeks,” JT said. “I’m ready and willing for something off-shore.”

   The Canton Cafe had opened 19 years earlier. George Lee and Ken Wong both came from Nowheresville in China to Prince Edward Island in the 1950s. Whenever they heard the words “Chairman Mao” and “Land Reform” they spit out the back door. They had their reasons. When they got tired of working at other people’s restaurants, they put their heads together and scrimped and saved and bought the Lotus Café. They renovated it and renamed it and opened it with themselves in the kitchen and at the cash register. Ken Wong retired in 1980, a new cook getting acquainted with the tongs whisks utility knives, spatulas and skimmers, sushi kits and bamboo steamers, dumpling makers, and the dozens of woks. George Lee stayed behind the cash register, a fixture at the front. 

   “They have got great egg rolls,” JT said.

   The Canton Café had a Canadian menu, too, a short list of hamburgers, hot sandwiches, and French fries. Nobody ever ordered the Canadian menu, except for tourists who stumbled in by mistake. When they were done, they usually knew they had made a mistake.

   “Why would you have French fries when you could have this?” Kayleigh asked, biting into an egg roll.

   “Policemen usually say everything happens for a reason. What I say about ordering fries here is that sometimes things happen for no good reason,” JT said.

   “I want to thank you again for stopping and helping me in the park.”

   “Uphold the right,” JT said.

   “What’s that?”

   “That’s the official RCMP motto. The unofficial motto is ‘They always get their man.’ We might get that guy on the bike but I’m not holding my breath until I see his motorcycle again. Anyway, I thought you were a tourist, and part of our mission is making sure tourists want to come back.”

   “Were those the only reasons?”


   “Are you from here?”

   “No, I’m from Sudbury, which is a mining town in Ontario.”

   Kayleigh didn’t say anything for a minute until she said, “Are you messing with me? Did you check up on me?”

   “No, of course not. Why would I do that?”

   “Because I’m from Sudbury, too.”

   JT sat back pursed his lips and whistled. “I don’t believe in coincidences, but that is a hell of a coincidence.” His chopsticks lay on the table untouched. He wasn’t going to touch them and risk going hungry. He ate with a knife and fork. They ordered dumplings and roasted duck and shared their plates. He snared his dumplings deftly and easily with tines. They talked about chance and taking chances. 

   A wiry young man walked it and waited at the counter. George went to the kitchen and brought back a take-out order in a brown bag. The man paid with a one-hundred-dollar bill and walked out nibbling on an egg roll.

   They were sipping their green tea and unraveling fortune cookies when Kayleigh sprang up from her seat facing the front window, “Hey, there’s the motorcycle!” The red Kawasaki wheeled away from the curb. By the time Kayleigh and JT, followed by George, were out the door, the bike was out of sight. They looked up and down the street. George shrugged his shoulders. They heard its whine somewhere in the distance. It was impossible to tell where it was or where it was going.

   “Goddamn it, that is the second time that has happened,” JT cursed.

   “Can you put an APB out for him?” Kayleigh asked.

   “What’s that?”

   “An all-points bulletin like in the movies.”

   “It doesn’t exactly work that way, but it will be on a report tomorrow and a bulletin board after that.”

   After they determined the motorcycle was long gone not to be found, George went back to his cash register, JT paid the bill, and suggested they stop at a bar on the waterfront. “Talk about coincidences,” Kayleigh said walking up to the bar and looking at the sign that said JR’s Bar. “JT and JR. Are you two the abbreviation brothers?”

   “Now that is a turn of the cards,” JT said. “I never gave it a thought. This place has probably been here before I ever saw the light of day. They’ve got some good draft beers and a dance floor in the back. The tunes are always terrific, whether they’re local or otherwise. Junior has had his share of music makers come through here, Anne Murray, John Allen Cameron, and Stompin’ Tom Connors. Stompin’ Tom even wrote a song about the place.”

   When they walked in Johnny Reid behind the bar gave JT a wave, waving him to the bar. “Long time no see, been a month, eh?” He was a short man wearing big glasses and a ratty short-sleeved shirt. He had a bar towel stuck in his pants pocket. JT ordered two pints of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale. 

   “He doesn’t look that good, like he’s sick,” Kayleigh said while their beers were being poured.

   “Junior’s got cancer.”

   “Oh, that’s terrible.”

   “Don’t say anything to him about it. He’s afraid he might have to close.”

   “Of course, I won’t, poor man.”

   “He’ll pull through. Junior’s no snowflake. He’s in it for the duration, whatever that might be.”

   They sat in silence for a few minutes until Kayleigh said, “Tell me about yourself and how a Sudbury boy ended up here.”

   “It’s a long story.”

   “I’ve got all night,” Kayleigh smiled, touching the tips of her fingers under her chin.

   “Me, too,” JT said, “so long as you don’t do the handgun steeple.”

Blood Lines Chapter 19

   The night Siobhan Murphy died in 1901 was the same night Queen Victoria died more than five thousand kilometers away. Siobhan’s head got smashed when Father Georges Belcourt’s one-seater fell on her. The horseless carriage killed her just as fast as the horse who kicked her husband in the head many years before killed him. 

   Her last thought was of the first day she met William Murphy in Cavendish, of her first look at him. She knew in a flash what he was about when he looked her up and down and knew what her answer would be. After her last thought in this life before meeting her maker she went down into the darkness. She saw a bright light ahead of her.

   Siobhan lay dead under the steam-powered car in her barn all day before anybody noticed. She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She knew she wouldn’t be forgotten. Flies buzzed around her. Her cat wandered in and lay down beside her. There was nothing he could do except keep her company. The sun went from one end of the sky to the other. Queen Victoria died in Osborne House of a stroke in her sleep, in a palatial bed surrounded by her family. The moon rose when she died.

   Father Belcourt bought the car that killed Siobhan from a man in New Jersey in 1866. It was unloaded at Charlottetown and pulled to the Farmer’s Bank in Rustico by a team of horses. Nobody except the priest knew how to work the self-propelled wagon. He had a letter explaining its operation. He was keeping it close to the vest in the meantime.

   “Be careful,” one of his parishioners said pulling him aside. “The devil could be in that tank.”

   If he was, he was hunched over and hot as hell. The steam chamber was four feet high, and the motor was connected to the wheels by a chain. The car had no suspension, no windshield, and no roof. Father Belcourt kept it in a shed beside the bank. The Farmer’s Bank was organized by him soon after he arrived there in 1859. One of the first things that jumped out at him was the economic hardship of his flock. What he did was establish a Catholic Institute to bring parishioners together. Everybody had to agree to be teetotalers. The second thing he did was create the credit union to provide loans to farmers at Christian rates of interest. The third thing he did was buy the car to be able to get out to see the sick and homebound.

   The priest was from Quebec and had been in the business of saving souls for more than thirty years before arriving in Rustico. He led missions in Manitoba and North Dakota and fought it out with the Hudson’s Bay Company over their compensation to the natives who delivered furs to the trading company. But when he demanded the savages swear off liquor as a condition of conversion, they were unwilling to give up their company-supplied booze.

   He didn’t give up working for them, working up a petition for redress of wrongs. He persuaded a thousand of the savages to sign the petition about the company’s selfishness and discrimination, a petition he meant to send to Queen Victoria. Earl Gray, the Colonial Secretary, tore it up and threw it away and had Father Belcourt arrested for inciting discontent. The Archbishop of Quebec had to step into the fray. He got the charges retracted but sent the priest far away to the east to Prince Edward Island. 

   Father Belcourt retired as the pastor of Rustico in 1869 and moved to Shediac, New Brunswick, but couldn’t get islands off his mind. He pled to be allowed to pastor a parish on the Magdelen Islands. It wasn’t long before he was on a boat out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the Archbishop of Quebec’s blessing. Before he sailed, he asked Siobhan Murphy if he could store his steam-powered car on her farm. 

   “Of course,” she said.

   The horseless carriage had forgotten how to get up and go and had to be towed there by a team of horses. It went into the barn. It was pushed into a corner. Everybody forgot about it.

   Siobhan had gotten into the habit of burying her money in a hole at the backside of the barn. When the bank got going, she dug up her savings and put it in the bank. She didn’t know it, but she was one of the biggest holders at the credit union. In 1893, a year before the bank closed, after her son Bill told her the bank would be closing soon, she withdrew all her money and buried it in the ground again. 

   She had raised six children on her farm outside North Rustico. She raised them by herself. Siobhan knew the value of a dollar better than most. She wasn’t a miser, but she was frugal. When the shipbuilding business in Atlantic Canada collapsed in the 1880s and her son Sean was thrown out of work, she paid for his passage to the United States, where he joined Michael, her youngest. 

   Half of the island’s economy disappeared when shipbuilding disappeared. Thousands of islanders migrated to the Boston States looking for work in factories and domestic service. By the time Siobhan died more than a third of everybody on the island was gone. She never saw Sean and Michael again. Her three daughters all married, one of them going to Summerside, one to Acadian land, while Biddy stayed nearby in Stanley Bridge. She married a fisherman who was good at getting eels. They had seven children by the turn of the century.

   In the mid-1880s, unhappy that their winter mail and passenger service was still relying on iceboats, islanders started demanding a fixed link to the mainland by way of a railway tunnel.

Siobhan rarely got mail and never left the island and didn’t care if there were iceboats, tunnels, or bridges. The tunnel never got built, no matter how many folks demanded it.

   In 1895 Robert Oulton and Charles Dalton become the first men on Prince Edward Island to successfully breed silver foxes in captivity. They brought a litter of foxes with a vein of silver in their fur to maturity near Tignish, on the west end of the island. They did it by mating red and black foxes. After that the gold rush was on. They shared the secret of their success and their breeding stock with a small circle and before long the small circle was getting rich. When word started to get out, the fox boom was on. When Bill Murphy heard about it, his ears pricked up. It was early fall 1900. When he told his mother about it, she dug up the family money buried behind the barn and laid it out on the kitchen table.

   She knew there was a livelihood and even a fortune to be made from fur. The explorer Samuel de Champlain was in the fur trade three hundred years ago. Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to go cross-country and reach the Pacific Ocean, was in the fur trade. John McLaughlin, who built forts in Vancouver and established the Oregon territory, was in the fur trade.

   The Hudson’s Bay Company and North-West Company were in the business of hunting and killing bears, beaver, fox, deer, buffalo, mink, otter, and seal for their skins. Every Victorian woman in the Americas and Europe coveted a fur coat, but as the century raced to a close there weren’t enough wild animals left to answer the demand. Fur farms became the answer.

   “Charlie Dalton and another man have got a fur farm out on Cherry Island,” Bill said. “They’ve been raising foxes in pens and have somehow got it so that the females stay quiet. They sold two breeding pairs to Silas Rayner up in Kildare and he’s making it work, too. Bob Tuplin bought a breeding pair for $340.00 and has gone into a partnership with Jimmy Gordon at Black Banks.”

   “That is a bushel full of money,” Siohhan said.

   Farm hands on Prince Edward Island made about $25.00 a month. After a year they might have been able to buy one breeding fox, but it takes two to tango. Bill leaned across the table. “Charlie sold one of his pelts in London for almost two thousand dollars.”

   Siobhan was amazed and said so.

   “Charlie and the Raynor’s and some others are setting up what they call the Big Six Combine. They plan on keeping their secret a secret, not produce too many pelts, and keep the price sky high.”

   “What’s their secret?” Siobhan asked.

   “One of their secrets is the wire they use, which they import from England. The foxes don’t seem to mind it. Charlie builds his pens with it. The wire stays free of rust and stays shiny. It seems to make a difference. They keep one breeding pair in one wire pen with a wooden kennel.”

   “How do they keep the foxes from climbing or digging their way out?”

  “They build sidewalls slanting in and add overhangs. To keep them from burrowing, they dig trenches and bury wire in the ground. They put catch boxes in corners and along the guard fences to trap any of them trying to escape.”

   “I would build a watchtower, valuable as the animals seem to be.”

   “Charlie’s got watchtowers.”

   “It must be hard on him if a fox does escape.” 

   “He pays schoolboys to hunt them down on weekends. There might be a boy or two who ends up going to Saint Dunstan’s with that money.”

   “What does he feed the foxes?”

   “He mixes fowl livers, junk fish, raw horsemeat, tripe, and offal with water. They eat about the same as a cat does, about a half pound a day. If a vixen can’t make milk for her pups, he brings in a nursing cat. He keeps the pups in good health, making sure they don’t have mites or worms.”

   “How do they go about taking the pelts without damaging them?”

   “Charlie pokes poison into their chest cavities when the time comes. I hear he might be getting a stunner from Norway, which kills the foxes on the spot. He’s got a fleshing machine that cuts the flesh from the pelt and sucks the fat into a tank. He cleans the pelt by putting it into a spinning drum filled with corn grit. Then he dries it on a wood board cut through with ventilation holes.”

   “Do you think you can make it work like Charlie’s done?”


   “How do you know all this about farming fox furs?” Siobhan asked.

   “It’s a secret,” Bill said to his mother, from whom he had never been able to keep a secret. He spilled the beans.