All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Blood Lines Chapter 31

   Conor Murphy was seven years old the spring morning Father Leonard Ayers blessed the opening of lobster season at the North Rustico Harbor. Angus McLean, who was the Federal Minister of Fisheries, and everybody with a working boat in the harbor looked on. It was a wet cold day. It didn’t feel like springtime. Nobody who didn’t live and die lobsters was there. The men were in coats and most of them were wearing gloves. All of them were wearing hats.

   When the priest was done sprinkling holy water in all directions, including into some faces, he pulled a pistol from his coat pocket. He collected rare handguns. He had hundreds of them. They hung on his walls and cluttered his hallways, lying flat on side tables. He raised the gun, which was one hundred years old, and was loaded with a blank bullet. He fired it into the air. It was a parting salute to the boats and the men who went out on them.

   Father Ayers knew how to shoot straight. He didn’t always know how to set things straight, however. His aim wasn’t always true.

   “My dad and I went to see Father Ayers in the summer to see if there was any way a bus could pick me up to go to the Stella Maris school,” Marie Peters said. She needed a ride. “He had a gun on every chair in the room. I was scared to move any of them, and I certainly did not want to sit beside one of them.” She stood behind a chair. “In the end Father said I should get a bike and ride to St. Ann’s and meet the bus there. That would be five miles and included five good-sized hills each way. We asked our own parish priest for help, but he said he had no influence with busses and certainly not with Father Ayers.”

   The priest became the parish priest at Stella Maris in 1956. The church was unfinished, and he set himself to finishing it. The walls and ceiling of the building’s two wings, which had been built nine years earlier, were finished. New pews and a tile floor were added. Work was wrapped up on the basement. Thankful prayers soared heavenward.

   Father Ayers was a ham radio enthusiast. “He thought nothing of dragging some of the bigger and stronger kids out of school class to help him put his antennas back up when the wind blew them down,” Derrill Gallant said. “The nuns didn’t always appreciate his intrusions.” They stood scowling, although they didn’t rap anybody with their rulers.

   When he was an altar boy, Derrill once tripped over his cassock falling face first with the Holy Book in his hands. The Bible took the brunt of the fall. Looking down on him Father Ayres explained it was a divine warning. “It’s never been said, ‘Blessed are the clumsy.’” What about Thomas Aquinas? Derrill thought. “Everybody called St. Thomas a clumsy ox,” he said. In the end he had to stay after school and write 500 times, “Saint Aquinas was not a clumsy ox.”

   Father Ayers had a cannon he usually fired to jumpstart the lobster season, and that was what Conor had been expecting to see, but it was out of commission that spring. He had seen the pistol before. It was the handgun the priest used at the school’s field day events, its firing signaling the start of each race.

   The town was too small to boast a movie house, but feature films were shown in the church hall. “We went to the movies at the hall when they had them on Sunday afternoons,” Brendon Peters said. “It was fifteen cents to get in but one day all I had was twelve cents. I was short and the girl I was taking was looking me up and down. Father Ayers said, come over here, I’ll lend you three cents. Pay me back next Sunday.”

   It was where Conor saw “Shane” and “Johnny Guitar.” He saw “The Searchers” and thought ‘The Duke’ was the toughest cowboy ever. “Why don’t you finish the job?” John Wayne, who went by the name of Ethan Edwards in the movie, asked Ward Bond, who went by the name of the Reverend Captain Samuel Johnson Clayton, as he was shooting out the eyes of a Comanche warrior. “What good did that do ya?” the Reverend Clayton asked. “By what you preach, none,” Ethan said. “But what that Comanche believes, he ain’t got no eyes, he can’t enter the spirit-land. He has to wander forever between the winds. You get it, Reverend?”

   “I’ve got lots of guns,” Father Ayers told Conor. “The first one I ever saw was in a hardware store. I was about the same age as you are now. I thought it was the finest thing I had ever seen. The first gun I ever owned was a ball and cap Colt. It loaded slow but shot fast as lightning. Even so, I’ll tell you what I always tell myself, which is what my mother always said, guns are the Devil’s right hand.”

  “But why do have them, Father? Why do you have so many? Wouldn’t it better to not have any of them?”

   “That’s in God’s hands, son.”

   One day Conor asked his father if he could shoot the family handgun.

   “Dad, can I shoot the gun grandad left?”

   “You can shoot it when you’ve got something that needs to be shot at, but not before that.”

   “What about practice, so I can hit what I’m aiming at?”

   “You don’t need any practice, son. It’s easy as eating pumpkin pie. Just point it like you point your finger and pull the trigger nice and easy. The gun will do the rest. It’s like the movies. Let the costume do the work.”

Blood Lines Chapter 32

   “It was terrifying,” Johanna Ridder told JT Markunas about the first time she jumped off the town’s bridge into the Stanley River where it flows into the New London Bay. She was 12 years old back in the day. Her father had already jumped a minute beforehand. The hard flat blue of the bay was more than twenty feet below her.

   JT was parked his police car down at the wharf. He walked up to the bridge and was watching kids and teenagers heave themselves over the side. He was taking a fifteen-minute break.

   “My dad didn’t tell me much. I stood on the opposite side of the rail looking down at the water for probably an hour,” Johanna said. “I just couldn’t do it. I finally closed my eyes and jumped feet first. It took a lot of effort. After I hit the water I thought, Oh, my gosh, why couldn’t I have done that before?”

   The Stanley Bridge is a beam-style span on Route 6 where it crosses the Stanley River. It was built in the 1960s to replace a worse for wear overpass built of wood. It is made of steel with a concrete deck. There is a sidewalk on the jumping side. 

   “The first couple of times I jumped I screamed, but now I just get up there, crawl over the railing, and go.” Youngsters and some of their parents on the north central shore had been jumping the Stanley Bridge for as long as anybody could remember. “I used to jump off the bridge in the 1950s,” Harriet Meacher said. They jumped in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. “We all jumped off the bridge,” Phyllis Carr said. “My brother Leon was only 4 years old when he first jumped. It’s a tradition.” 

   The bridge at Basin Head, one of the island’s beaches on the east end, is the other launching pad popular with jumpers. The Basin Head Bridge crosses a fast-flowing boat run that can bum rush jumpers out into the Northumberland Strait, another way to get swept off your feet. Although signs prohibit all jumping, it is honored more in the breach. 

   “It’s one of those time-honored traditions here on Prince Edward Island,” said Rob Henderson. “Lots of people do it,” said Johanna, “especially from around here. My dad lives just up the road and used to jump all the time when he was younger.”

 “I dived since I was little,” her father said.

   “I remember seeing people jumping off of it ever since I was born,” said Johanna. “I told my dad, you forward dive, but I’ll jump feet first. I’m too chicken.” Some forward dive off the bridge, others back dive or back flip, but most leap feet first. They do it for good reason.

   “You can do a starfish, or a belly flop, but that hurts,” said Denver, Johanna’s 9-year-old cousin, who first jumped Stanley Bridge when he was 8 years old. “I pencil dive, like a pencil, feet straight in.” Flopping is the bane of jumpers. “You never want to belly flop,” Denver said.. It is always a slap of a bad time. The crack of a belly hitting the New London Bay is what everybody calls Frankendiving.

   “One day there were a bunch of tourists jumping, and a little boy, 7 or 8-years-old, was trying to jump with them,” Johanna said. “I was swimming back after a jump. He was going to dive, so I watched him, while I paddled around. Halfway down he decided he didn’t want to be diving and started to pull back. He belly flopped. We had to help him out because he was freaking. But it just hurt him at the time, and he was fine in the end.” Saltwater washed away hus tears.

   “It’s not exactly like falling on concrete, but it’s a similar sensation,” said a fisherman unloading oysters at the wharf. “Most of the time, other than ego and the skin, nothing happens.”

   The plucky brave curious come to Stanley Bridge from around the island, as well as from the rest of Atlantic Canada. They jump alone or with their friends. “Nothing says bonding like jumping off the bridge at Stanley Bridge,” Rika Kebedie said about jumping with friends.

   “When I was 13-years-old a lady was biking by,” said Johanna. “She had just gotten a cottage down the road, and we had a chat when she stopped on the bridge. She had her bathing suit on, so I said, you should jump off.” The woman gave it a thought. “OK, I’ll jump,” she said, leaning her bicycle on the railing and going over the side. “She jumped off the bridge and survived, and now she’s here every summer, and she said I was her first friend on Prince Edward Island.”

   Jumping the Stanley Bridge starts in late May once the water has warmed up. “Some people jump in early May. That’s too crazy for me. I usually start at the start of June,” said Johanna. “When it’s cold, it’s an instant shock, like someone dumping a bucket of ice water on you. You come up from under the water pretty darn fast.”

   Since the harbor on the bay side of the bridge is full of working fishing boats, and pleasure craft go up and down on the river, spotters keep an eye out for traffic. “I’ve heard someone once jumped and landed on the deck of a boat, but it could be a myth,” Johanna said. Besides passing boats and belly flops, jellyfish are the scourge of jumpers as they swim back to the break wall or the shoreline dock ladder. “They just float along, their tentacles floating behind them, and they hit you going by. Some days there are huge ones, as big as a pie plate.”

   Jellyfish are free-swimming marine animals and are called that because they are jelly-like. They have no brains and have been swimming the oceans from even before there were oceans. Crabs sometimes freeload a ride on top of the blobs, so they don’t have to exert themselves swimming to where they want to go. Jellyfish never give their crustacean cousins a second thought.

   “Every so often you can see them from the bridge, so you wait until they go by,” said Johanna. “When they sting you, it really stings. It can really hurt. What I do is take some mud off the ocean, rub it on the bite, and you’re good to go.”

   The sky was yellow gray. “It looks like that storm is just about here,” JT said nodding his head at the sky and reaching into his pocket for his pursuit car keys.

   “What storm?” Joanna asked. 

   “It’s the backside of Hurricane Dean, although it’s going to be more of a big storm than a hurricane since it wore itself out coming up from the Caribbean.”

   “I don’t like those storms,” Joanna said. “When the tide is wrong, the water gets pushed up the river, and when the tide goes out, there’s a rush of it back into the ocean. Sometimes it bangs the wharf up. We have to stay home when it gets bad.”

   The first step off the bridge into mid-air is a step into a second-or-two of complete freedom. It is where most people never thought they would be. Once you step off into space nothing in the world matters. In mid-air jumpers find out that they don’t know anything, only that they’re in the nothing of mid-air, even though there’s no such thing as nothing. Once you’re off your land legs there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. It’s only when you hit the water that you become something again.

   “Whenever you go out on the bridge it looks kind of scary when you look down,” said Denver. “The water will be 30 feet, even 40 feet down. The last time I jumped, when I checked, it was 29 feet. It felt like nuthin’.” The bravery of small boys can sometimes be larger than life, or not.

   “But you don’t want to belly flop, that’s for sure,” he added. 

   You don’t want to jump into a mass of eels, either. “We weren’t allowed to jump off the bridge, so we jumped off the wharf,” said Carrie Thompson about her early leaps into the unknown. “The current pushes the eels away from there. They are gross.”

   On hot days when there is a crowd on the Stanley Bridge waiting their turns, motorists honk their horns driving by, yelling, “Jump, jump, jump!” Sometimes friends encourage their friends to take the plunge, usually by daring them. “I dare you, they’ll say,” said Johanna, “and then they do it, even though they’ve never jumped from the top of the railing or done a back flip before.” 

   Sometimes the encouragement takes the form of a shove. “I wouldn’t push anyone I didn’t know or who was younger than me” Johanna said, “but if they were my friend, and weren’t going, weren’t doing it, I would just push them right in. The way I do it, I try it a few times, freak them out, and when they’re about to jump, I just push them.”

   The fear of nose diving can take an unlikely turn.

   “One of my friends from Bermuda was scared to go into the water because in Bermuda you can see everything, the water is so clear, but here it’s dark water. He was always bailing out. He eventually jumped the bridge, but he would only do it back-flipping so he wouldn’t see anything.”

   Joanna told JT she jumped the bridge every summer since she was 12 years old with her high school friends. “Pretty much everyone in my school did it. You could say, want to go bridge jumping, and somebody would go.” Now when her college friends visited they got into the action. “When it’s a nice day, but there’s no wind, and I’m hot, I will jump ten times, more-or-less. It cools you off instantly.”

   Heavy drops of cold rain started to fall on them.  JT dug into his pocket for the keys to his car. “You and your friends had better get going home,” he said, walking away. As he turned to his left towards the gravel parking lot, a red Kawasaki motorcycle whispered past him going the other way, over the bridge and up the hill towards Kensington.

   “Goddamn it,” JT swore breaking into a sprint to his Ford Mustang pursuit car.

Blood Lines Chapter 33

   Hurricane Dean came to life as a tropical wave and became Tropical Depression Five halfway between Cape Verde and the Lesser Antilles. The storm didn’t stay small for long. The next day it intensified into Tropical Storm Dean. It panted and puffed and spun counterclockwise and became a hurricane during the next two days. It was more of a cyclone, but nobody wanted to tell that to Dean, and nobody did. Hurricanes are hotheads and do whatever it is they want to do. When they blow their stacks, all bets are off.

   The palmetto trees shrugged. They had been there a long time and seen everything. They can sniff out hurricanes a mile away. Sometimes they were the only things left standing after one of the storms demolished the Caribbean. Weathermen love broadcasting their TV reports with palm trees bending in the wind behind them.

   The storm churned north, sideswiping Bermuda with 110 MPH winds before turning northeastward. Hurricane Dean thought Bermuda was in the Caribbean, its familiar stomping grounds, even though it isn’t. It’s nearby enough but sits just outside where hurricanes are at their most powerful. It is well protected from storm surges thanks to its reefs. Almost all the buildings and roofs on the island are built of concrete, just in case, to withstand wacko atmospheric pressures and high winds.

   When the hurricane finally made landfall in southern Newfoundland it turned itself inside out and became fierce winds and heavy rainfall. The storm bypassed most of Atlantic Canada, except for Prince Edward Island, where a lashing rain fell for two days. Everybody on the island who could stay home stayed home, making sure their doors and windows were shut tight and secure. All the foxes, rabbits, squirrels, weasels, muskrats, and skunks went to ground.

   The only skunk who didn’t duck and cover was Monk Kennedy. He didn’t know anything about hurricanes and didn’t care, to boot. If somebody had told him a hurricane was named Dean, he would have laughed in his face. The only Dean he had any use for was James Dean, who was long gone, just like he was soon going to be, gone down to New Orleans, never to come back to Prince Edward Island. He was sick and tired and had gotten scared of the place, nothing to do and always looking over his shoulder. It gave him the creeps. 

   What scared him more than anything was the ocean on every side of the island. He was deadly scared of drowning. He never went to any of the island’s beaches and never set foot into any surf. There was nowhere to go but down. He knew nobody ever drowned by falling into water. They drowned by staying there but knowing that didn’t make it better. Thinking about drowning was blood-curdling. Sometimes he couldn’t stop thinking about it. It drove him crazy.

   When he got to the United States, he would never step foot on an island again. He would stay safe and sound on the mainland in New Orleans. He might drown in strong drink, but water wasn’t going to get him, no sir, no way. The Big easy was on the mainland doing the mainline.

   What Monk didn’t know was going to get him messed up, one way or the other, sooner than later. No light bulbs were blinking on above his head and lighting his way. Sooner might be Hurricane Dean. It might be the Montreal bean counters and their hitmen after that. If he made it to New Orleans it might be a bogeyman the likes of which he had never seen. He was an open target on his red motorcycle.

Blood Lines Chapter 34

   “Goddamn it to hell,” Monk Kennedy swore resentfully when he saw the police car in his handlebar mirror. Why were things always going wrong? When he looked up the road again, he was coming into New London. It looked like the cop was on his tail but hanging back. He wasn’t blasting his siren or flashing his lights. It was an RCMP car. He hadn’t done anything to raise anybody’s hackles. He hadn’t even bumped into the speed limit. Besides, it was raining, and he was forced into going slow. What did the county mounty behind him want?

   JT Markunas knew full well he would not have been able to overtake the Kawasaki if the roads had been dry. But they weren’t dry. They were getting wetter by the minute. He could see the single taillight of the motorcycle ahead of him. He knew he was going to stop the biker sooner than later. Time was on his side.

   He called in the pursuit, his siren quiet and lights off, only firing a short burst of light whenever he came up on a car or truck ahead of him. “That’s your man,” he heard back. “We’ve got a strong signal on him. We’ll send another car up from Kensington.” Thank God there weren’t any tractors crawling along Route 6. They would have been the same as a roadblock. It didn’t take long before there weren’t any cars or trucks, either. Everybody had made a beeline for home. It didn’t take long before he was right behind the Kawasaki ahead of him.

   The rider was hunched over his handlebars, riding cautiously. JT wondered why he hadn’t pulled over, under a bridge or a leafy tree. What was the point of riding a motorcycle in a storm the likes of Hurricane Dean? Was he running away from something riskier than wiping out on slick concrete? Monk didn’t like that the cop wasn’t turning away or going away. He slowed down. The cop slowed down. Monk swore again.

   He took a right on Rt. 20, the other way away from Kensington. He didn’t want the cop to think for a minute he was headed for the ferry. If that happened, the approaches would be crawling with police in no time. They would make him on a red motorcycle in a heartbeat. He would be stuck on the infernal island forever. He went past Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace without noticing the house or the memorial sign and crossed the Southwest River. Standing outside but out of the rain, Lucy watched him go past, followed by an RCMP car.

   She knew who Monk was and who JT Markunas was and knew what the chase was about. She didn’t need “the flash” to know. She didn’t know how it was going to end. She knew how she would have written it, but her writing days were long gone, fifty years gone since she wrote her last book. She was long gone, too, even though she kept tabs on doings on Prince Edward Island. After she died in Toronto in 1942 the city placed an historical marker near the house where she lived the last seven years of her life. She made sure she wasn’t buried in Toronto, though. She was buried in the Cavendish Community Cemetery on the other side of Stanley Bridge.

   Lucy Maud Montgomery knew what she would have told Monk if he had stopped to listen. “We should regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into the future with us.” She doubted he would have listened. In that case, she would have said, “It’s so easy to be wicked without knowing it, isn’t it?” She doubted there was anything useful she could have said to JT, other than, “In this world you’ve just got to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and take whatever God sends.” She was sure he already knew that.

   He probably would have told her what she herself had said many years ago, which was, “Proverbs are all very fine when there’s nothing to worry you, but when you’re in real trouble, they’re not a bit of help.” Now that she was dead, she knew it better than when she had been alive. She remembered the clipper ship stuck on the shoreline at Cavendish a hundred years ago. Everybody said it was God’s will. That didn’t help the Marco Polo. When it broke up and sank there wasn’t a trace of it left for either God or the Devil.

   After the motorcycle and police car were gone, Lucy Maud Montgomery realized she had better get back to the graveyard. The powers that be didn’t like it when she roamed too far afield for too long. There wasn’t anybody out in the rain, so she thought she would walk instead of gliding back. She loved walking. It was when she did her best thinking. She took a step followed by another step.

   Monk rode north through Springbrook and French River. When the road curved to the west through Park Corner and Sea View, he followed it. He knew there were cottages on the shoreline before and after Thunder Cove. He was going to have to lose the son of a bitch behind him and ditch the bike. When he did, he would hunker down in an empty cottage and wait for the storm to pass. When it did, he would steal somebody’s car and head for the ferry again. What he had to do first was lose the cop.

   His handgun was in his saddlebag, but he didn’t want to shoot it out with a peace officer who carried more firepower than a handgun. He took County Line Rd. towards the ocean. The police car stayed on his tail and suddenly turned its lights and siren on. Monk didn’t bother looking in his mirror. He didn’t bother thinking about it or anything else except the road under his front tire. He rode as fast as he dared. The police car stuck to him like a barnacle.

   JT knew the other RCMP police car was coming up Route 102 from Kensington. Another one might be coming from Borden-Carlton. Whatever the man on the Kawasaki was up to, it was no good. He had turned his lights and siren on to give the man a chance to stop. If he didn’t all bets were off. Monk didn’t slow down or stop. He sped up. JT called in his location again. He was told that the car from Kensington was no more than five minutes away.

   “Stay close but wait for your back-up.”

   “Will do,” JT said.

   When the moment came, he didn’t need back-up. It dawned on Monk that he wasn’t going to be able to outrun the pursuit car. But if he got off the road, where there were no roads, he might be able to jack rabbit his way to safety. The cop car would turn into a stick in the mud. When he got to the County Line Beach Access Point, where the road ended, he kept going, veering to his left away from the beach, trying to stay steady on the grassy top of the dune.

   The Kawasaki wasn’t built for the off-road. When Monk tried to steer it away from the beach it started to slide. When he tried to correct the slide nothing good happened. It kept sliding. When he looked up the ocean was right in front of him. He never saw the tree stump stuck in the sand and when he did it was too late. He hit it and the bike went airborne. He was still in the saddle when the Kawasaki slammed into ten-foot-high waves. In the next instant he was in the water and the instant after that he was drowning. He didn’t know how to swim. His dark mind went black ink. He drowned in no time flat, his lungs filling with water. 

   The transponder that undercover RCMP men had concealed inside one of the cash bundles hiccupped and stopped sending its signal. The hand axe in Monk’s saddlebag started rusting the instant salt water touched it. The other saddlebag full of counterfeit money came unclasped and hundred-dollar bills were soon bobbing on the surf. When JT pulled up to where the road ended and jumped out of his car what he saw wasn’t a motorcycle, which had sunk, or Monk, who had also sunk, but money littering the waves, tossed onto the beach by the surf and wind, blowing away in all directions. Seagulls screeched and tried to snag the counterfeited bills for a snack, spitting them out when they realized they had come from a bad harvest.

   “Jesus Christ,” JT said as his back-up pulled up behind him.

Blood Lines Chapter 35

   Mariko Kobe wasn’t from Prince Edward Island. She was from Osaka, except she wasn’t. She had lived in the big city but was from a small village on the coast of Wakayama prefecture, near the Nachi Falls. The land in all directions was Japan’s fruit kingdom. It was where plums, kiwifruit, and persimmon were cultivated. It was mountainous in parts. The place was more-or-less a peninsula. There were massive ancient cedars on the hillsides that day and night refreshed the fresh air.

   Nature-worship and Shinto were on all sides of the hillsides. It was known as the “holy ground where the gods dwell.” The spirits of the departed, so long as they were devout, were believed to inhabit the forest. Mariko had never bumped into a spirit and didn’t want to. She wasn’t devout, but there was no sense in taking chances.

   Her grandfathers had both been farmers, her father was a farmer, and her brothers were all growing up to be farmers. She was the last child, a mistake they called her, and the only girl, which was another mistake. She was the only one of the family who ever left the village for greener pastures. Her mother dropped a dozen when she told her she was moving to Osaka and enrolling in college. Her father flew into a rage and forbade her to go. He kept his eyes on her and locked her up at night, but in the end, there was no stopping her.

   Her home was on the Kii Peninsula. The capital of the prefecture was the whereabouts of Wakayama Castle, set on top of a hilltop with city views. There are more than one hundred temples scattered among the peaks of Mount Kōya, where Shingon Buddhism is headquartered. All the rooms of her home except the kitchen and common room were tiny. Everybody had their own futons on the floor. All the doors were sliding doors.

   Mariko’s family and everybody she knew were conservative and hard-working. She was hard-working but not conservative. Her father ruled the roost. His word was law. He had served in the Imperial Army during World War Two, seeing ferocious combat during his tour of duty during the last year of the war, and somehow miraculously surviving. Most of the men in his infantry regiment had either been killed or committed suicide. By the time his time came he was too sick to do anything. He was captured by riflemen escorting flamethrower troops and brought back to life in a U. S. Army field hospital. After that, although he had no use for Americans, he always bit his tongue whenever they were being talked about. He never said a bad word about the western ocean people.

   He was a hard man, and the back of his hand was as hard as the rest of him. He hit her mother whenever he thought it was necessary or when simply lost his temper. Once Mariko grew up and was in her teens, he did the same to her. She never got used to it, although she learned what worked and didn’t work and he hit her less often the older she got. The last time he hit her, three sharp slaps to the face, was when she told him she was leaving home. “No, you’re not,” he said, his face in her face. After that she knew for sure she was leaving and never coming back.

   She left early one morning without saying goodbye to anybody. She walked to the train station in a fog and bought a one-way ticket to Osaka. The train went past the Wakayama Castle on its way north. By then the fog had lifted. She turned her head and watched the castle get smaller and smaller until it disappeared behind her.

   She attended Baika Women’s University which was set on a small hill in the north of Osaka prefecture. The school started up in 1878. She liked the way the grounds smelled, plum and cherry blossoms and Chinese hibiscuses. It was a Christian-based school, but she didn’t let it bother her. She read the Bible when she had to and threw it away after she graduated. “It is full of nonsense,” she told her friends. She studied English and by the time she was done could have moved to Kansas and made herself understood.

   During her senior year she read “Anne of Green Gables” in one of her classes. She loved the book, especially the plucky heroine, and found communion with the lay of the land. The summer after she graduated, taking a month off from everything, she read all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books featuring the redheaded girl. She discovered Anne was big in Japan. It hadn’t been that way before World War Two. Almost nobody in the country knew anything about the book until the day Loretta Shaw left the island nation in 1939.

   Loretta was a grammar school teacher in New Brunswick when she signed up with the Missionary Society of the Church of England of Canada and was sent to Japan. She taught at a school for girls in Osaka. She became head of reading and writing at the Christian Literature Society of Japan. She thought books were windows on the world. She looked through them day and night.

   Hanako Muraoka was from a hard-luck family of tea merchants. She left home at ten and went to a school in Tokyo founded by the Methodist Church of Canada. Her parents didn’t know anything about John Wesley but were glad to see her go. It meant one less mouth to feed and less talk about foreign beliefs. The neighbors had been talking and they didn’t like the gossip. Hanako got an English-based education. She married a man who operated a printing company, but it went bust after the Kanto earthquake in 1923. Everybody was too busy rebuilding to read a word of anything.

   When Loretta and Hanako met at the Christian Literature Society of Japan in the early 1930s, they hit it off and started the magazine “Children of Light” together. Hanako hosted a radio show as well, explaining current events to kids. She was known as Aunty Radio. The year World War Two officially blew current events all to hell Loretta gave Hanako a copy of “Anne of Green Gables” and went back to Canada. After Nippon attacked Pearl Harbor the Methodist missionaries in Japan all left the country, too. During the war Hanako secretly translated “Anne of Green Gables.” She made sure nobody knew what she was doing. It would have meant prison since her countrymen and the gaijin were at each other’s throats.

   After the war Hanako convinced a publisher to take a chance on Anne. When the book was published in 1952 it was called “The Red-Haired Anne.” It was a runaway best seller in no time flat. A native college professor said, “Japanese women admire Anne Shirley’s feistiness as an antidote to the passivity instilled in them.” Anne knew her way around passivity. Many Nip gals liked that.

   The book was distributed to Japanese libraries run by the U. S. State Department. In the 1970s, it was added to the country’s school curriculum. In 1986 the national obsession with Anne grew some more with the broadcast of Kevin Sullivan’s TV mini-series. A businessman with a brainstorm imported a boatload of potatoes from Prince Edward Island, believing that since they came from Anne’s Land, they would sell like hot cakes. They sold like hot cakes.

   Mariko was working two part-time dead-end jobs after graduation when she got the chance to be the last-minute fill-in translator for a tour group going to Prince Edward Island to see ‘Anne’s Land’ for themselves. At the end of her second go-around, she redeemed the flight back half of her airline ticket and stayed in Charlottetown. She found a room in a boarding house and a job as a waitress. She met Flynn Murphy, Conor’s younger brother, at a downtown pool hall.

   One nine ball in the corner pocket led to another, and when Flynn asked if she would move to North Rustico, to move in with him at what was Sandy’s Surfside Inn, and help him restore it, she said, “Yes, I do. Just don’t think of me as a geisha girl.”

   “Geisha girl?” Flynn asked. “What’s that?”

   She was filleting haddock at the kitchen table at Sandy’s when the Montreal killers burst into the house. It was raining. What was left of Hurricane Dean was all around them. The side door opened then slammed shut, there were angry voices, a grunt, and a thud. The two killers walked into the kitchen. They both had guns in their hands. The man looked at her. The woman kept her eyes on the living room.

   “You watch her,” Louise said. “I’ll deal with what’s left of the dumbass in the living room.” What she meant was the living room was going to become the dying room if Conor didn’t tell her what she wanted to know once he came to. She had pistol-whipped him. He had been on the sofa watching the news about the storm on TV. He was just coming back from the inky darkness at the bottom of the well. 

   “Is there anybody else in the house?” Jules asked, his gun casual as a lollipop. Mariko shook her head side to side without saying a word. Flynn was at the hardware store in town. The haddock she had been filleting lay quiet as a mouse on the kitchen table. When she was a girl Mariko shucked oysters and gutted fish at home. Those were some of her daily chores. She got good at it. She could snap open an oyster in no time flat, with or with a dishtowel. She hardly ever poked her off hand, rarely drawing blood.

   The Montreal killers Louise and Jules lived within blocks of each other in the city’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, but never saw each other unless it was related to their work. They fought like cats and dogs whenever they were together. It was an uneasy peace between them the rest of the time. But when it came to business, they were all business.

   Jules sat down opposite Mariko. The back of his hand lay on the table and the gun lay there like a lazy hunk of baloney, like it didn’t have a care in the world.  “Put that knife in the sink,” he said. The pot of clam chowder on the stove simmered. Mariko always liked the smell of chowder. When the man turned his head, glancing at a sound in the living room, Mariko in a flash lifted her fish knife and drove it into the man’s open palm. The force of the thrust drove the knife through his hand and nearly a half inch into the wood table top. Blood gushed out of the wound and the man jumped, still stuck to the table, his chair and the table going sideways and taking him with it. The gun went flying and skittered across the floor. Mariko grabbed for it.

   “I’ll kill you, you fucking chink bitch,” the man roared, crazed, spit flying, not believing what had happened, getting to his feet, grabbing for her with his free hand.

   Mariko shot twice at Jules, pointblank, at his face, the gun head high, one bullet whizzing harmlessly through an earlobe, the other bullet hitting his right eye, and exploding out the back of his head. Bits of his brain and shards of his skull were catapulted into the soup in the pot on the stove top. Jules went backwards, his legs like an Ice Capades comic trying to get a grip on ice. When he toppled over, he took the kitchen table with him, one of its legs breaking. 

   “What the hell is happening in there,” Louise yelled from the living room.

   From Mariko’s point-of-view it was all happening in slow motion. She watched the table leg crack and splinter. She watched the dead on his feet Quebecois man lurch and stumble and crash to the floor, the table going to pieces under him. Louise lunged into the kitchen. She fired her gun at Mariko. The bullets went past her head. She watched them go by. She could hear them hiss. Mariko raised the gun in her hand and pulled the trigger. There was an explosion. The bullet buried itself in the door jamb. Louise jumped back. Mariko pulled the trigger again and there was another explosion. The bullet flew into the ceiling. Jerking away, Louise shot blindly into the kitchen, bullets going every which way. She ran out of bullets and ran out of the house.

   Conor stumbled into the kitchen. Jules was dead on the floor, his head half gone, oozing a puddle of blood. Mariko had backed up to a wall, her back to it. Her outstretched arm still had the killer’s gun in its hand. Conor lowered Mariko’s arm and put the gun on a windowsill.

   “Are you all right?” he asked looking her over. She looked all right. Mariko shook her head from side to side. “The soup is ruined,” she lamented.

  “Call 911,” Conor said and turned to go.

   “Where are you going?” Mariko asked.

   “I’m going after the she wolf.”

   “No, don’t go, wait for the police.”

   “You wait here for them. I’ll be back soon.”

   “She could be anywhere, where you won’t see her,” Mariko said. “She’ll see you coming. Don’t go.”

   “I know where she’s going,” Conor said. “Stay here.”

   Conor knew whoever the hell she was wasn’t going anywhere on the ferry. He knew she knew she would never get off the island that way. There was only one way for her to go and there was only one way of doing it. He walked into the dining room, opened a drawer, and lifted his great-great-grandfather’s Beaumont-Adams handgun out. There was a moldy cardboard box of shells. The percussion revolver held five rounds. He pushed five cartridges into the cylinder. He was only going to need one of them, but the bullets were old, and he thought it best to load the gun to the gills in case there was a misfire.

   Snaps watched Conor run out of the house, like he had watched a madwoman run out of the house a minute earlier. He had seen her and some man skulking around earlier and then sneaking into the house. He was laying on his stomach in old hay in the loft of the barn and meant to stay there. He didn’t like the rain, or the gunshots, or everyone running around like there was something out to get them.

   Conor ran to his Buick GNX. He wasn’t altogether steady. His head hurt. The gash across his forehead was still bleeding, but he had made a headband with a handkerchief and none of it was getting in his eyes. The car came to life, and he drove towards the harbor. He was sure the woman was going to try to steal a lobster boat and try to get back to Montreal upstream on the St. Lawrence River. He knew some of the fishermen never took their keys out of the ignition and all Louise had to do was find one of those boats. Once she was out on open water in the rain and overcast she would be nearly impossible to find.

   He drove up then down Church Hill Rd., took a left at Harbourview Dr., and stopped at the North Rustico Harbor. There were 40-some lobster boats. The boats were being lashed by the rain and wind but were lashed tight and not going anywhere calamitous. Conor parked in front of Doiron Fisheries, got out of the car, and stuck the gun between skin and the waistband of his pants.

   He hadn’t gone a dozen steps before he was soaked to the skin. He hadn’t crept up to more than a half dozen boats before he saw who he was after. Louise was hunched over fiddling at the console inside the open cabin. She pressed the start button. The engine of the lobster boat she was stealing turned over. She tossed the lines aside. Conor waited until her back was turned again before he noiselessly hopped into the back of the boat. He stayed behind a stack of blue bins. Louse looked over her shoulder repeatedly. Conor stayed where he was. The boat was out of the harbor and on the open ocean in less than five minutes.

   When Flynn Murphy got back from the hardware store, he parked and walked into the house, glad to get out of the rain. Snaps watched him approvingly. Here was somebody who didn’t seem to have gone crazy. When he heard Mariko crying, and Flynn running back outside and racing away in his car, he realized he was wrong. Everybody on Murphy’s Cove had gone crazy. He curled up, wrapping his tail around him, and called it a day.

Blood Lines Chapter 36

   The boat was white fiberglass, with a single diesel engine, and narrow with barely a 12-foot beam.  It was 45 feet long with a low trunk cabin and a standing shelter. It bore witness to a springy sheerline. The rails sloped downward from bow to stern. It was equipped with a CB radio, VHF marine telephone, a depth sounder, and radar. It was as good as it got for harvesting inshore lobsters.

   Louise knew enough boats to be able to start it and steer it. She didn’t give a damn about the hydraulic trap hauler or anything else about the boat that wasn’t part of her last-minute plan of action for getting off the Atlantic Canada island and back to the island of Montreal. The boat had a high bow the better to shoulder aside the sea. That suited her fine. The sooner she was a gone girl the better.

   She flinched when she heard Conor Murphy’s voice but didn’t turn her head and kept her hands on the wheel. “Stay where you are,” Conor said in a loud voice. “Keep your hands where I can see them. Don’t do anything stupid.”

   Louise had stuck her semi-automatic Beretta 9mm in the back pocket of her pants. She could get it fast enough and wheel on the cop but thought better of it for the moment. If he was behind her with a gun in hand, she could do better picking a better moment. She decided on the spur of the moment to make the moment right now. She twisted the wheel to the right and the boat went up in the air and slammed back down, hit sideways by a wave that rocked it.

  Conor had been on plenty of boats in rough weather and stood his ground although he was thrown slightly off balance. Louise snatched for her gun and swung it towards Conor emptying the new 15-round box magazine she had hurriedly jammed into the grip after the fiasco at those sons-of-bitch’s house. She meant to kill him for sure, whoever he was. When she saw it was Conor and not a policeman, she kept shooting. It didn’t matter who he was. Conor threw himself flat and rolled away from the bullets. He brought his Beaumont-Adams revolver to bear and pulled the trigger. The bullet leapt out of the barrel and made a straight line for Louise. It plowed into her chest as she was squeezing off more shots. Her last shot went skyward as she was knocked backward. The bullet went straight up into the air and then straight down. When it came down it plunked her in the forehead where she had collapsed prone on the deck. She lay there, whatever milk of human kindness still left in her leaking out of her left breast. A bullet was stuck dead center in her heart. As soon as it stopped beating it started getting colder than it had ever been.

   The boat spun in a crazy circle. Conor hurried to the wheel and got it back on an even keel. When he looked at Louise to see if there was anything he could do for her, he saw there wasn’t anything to do. She was dead as a doornail. He stuck a wrench through the wheel to keep the boat on course and lifted Louse off the platform, draping her over the rail. He tied cement bricks to each of her feet. He got a grip on her legs and heaved her over the side. She sank like a stone in two seconds. Conor threw her Beretta 9mm into the ocean after her. 

   “Remember me?” William Murphy asked the sinking Louise from a century away, watching his chip off the old block tuck the Beaumont-Adams back into his waistband. “I’ve got better things to do than remember you,” she spit out. There was lots of trouble in her part of the world just then, between the devil and the deep blue sea.

   The lobsters will get her, Conor thought. They are probably right under the boat. They are nocturnal and eat everything dead or alive. If the lobsters didn’t get her, eels would. There wouldn’t be anything left to identify her. She would be a skeleton soon enough. After that she would be nothing. He eased the boat back in the direction of land and chugged into the North Rustico Harbor. He managed to tie the boat up, walked to his Buick GNX, and drove back to Murphy’s Cove. He pulled in as his brother Flynn, who had been driving around in circles, was pulling back in.

   “Are you OK?” Flynn asked.

   “Yeah, I’m OK,” Conor said. “Hey, let’s get in out of this rain.”

   “What happened?”

   “It’s a long story,” Conor said. “I’ll tell you later.” They walked up to the house as Sandy was coming down the stairs from his bedroom.

   “What was that racket that woke me up earlier?” he asked rubbing sand out of his eyes.

Blood Lines Chapter 37

   When a band of homeboys found Louise face down at the bottom of the ocean they started to eat her, but soon stopped. They didn’t like the taste of her. She tasted bitter and a lot like ammonia. They thought about trying again until they saw Louie the Large coming. When they did they backed off, wary and respectful. Good or bad, it was up to Louie to decide.

   He was just shy of 40 pounds and nearly 100 years old. Most lobsters are less than 10 pounds and less than 20 years old. All the fishermen who had ever seen him called him Jumbo. Unlike most lobsters, who are usually green or yellow, he was bright blue. Everybody could see him a mile away, which was a good thing for them. Louie had a fearsome temper and didn’t take guff from anybody. Lobsters can swim forward and backward. When it’s an emergency they scuttle away in reverse by curling and uncurling their tails rapidly. Louie never did that. He never went backwards. He always went forward.

   He had never been caught by any fisherman and was determined to keep it that way. He put his heart and soul into staying alive. He had no use for landlubbers trying to boil him. Whenever he saw a lobster pot in action he spit and went his own way. He wasn’t interested in herring laid out as bait. He ate everything but didn’t especially like herring, anyway. Even though he didn’t have lungs or vocal cords, he could talk when he had something to say. His voice sounded like a crackly violin. His brain was the size of the tip of a ball point pen. He didn’t do a lot of thinking. He didn’t have to. He pushed his weight around. That’s how he got things done. It was the way of the world.

   Fishermen used to throw the shells of lobsters into landfills. Somebody started making the core of golf balls out of the shells. It became the ball of choice for golfing on cruise ships. Whenever a shot got shanked into the sea, the ball biodegraded. The inventor won an environmental award. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster had happened three years ago, and the ecology movement was looking for good news.

   Louie had seen plenty of his friends and enemies biodegrading. He liked it better in the old days when his kith and kin were considered poor man’s food, even though they were so plentiful they were often used as fertilizer, feed for farm animals, and even fishing bait. They were eaten by servants and served to prisoners. Orphanages had more lobster than they knew what to do with. He liked it even better that Jews were forbidden to eat shellfish altogether. It almost made him a God-fearing crustacean.

   He went at Louise like he would any buffet. When he started eating her he kept eating until he was so bloated he couldn’t eat anymore. His teeth were in his stomach, right behind his eyes. He lay down on top of what was left of Louise and burped. He took a pee. Lobsters urinate through the green spots near their antennae. He went to sleep. He did his best digesting when he was asleep. He was going to be sleeping for the rest of the day. The other lobsters sighed and went away, looking for worms, crabs, mollusks, or anything.

   Louie stayed near Louise most of the rest of the week, eating, burping, and sleeping. When there wasn’t much of her left he moved on. He was always hungry and always looking for his next bite. He used his walking legs and his tail like a locomotive’s connecting rod to slowly crawl ahead. He never went the wrong way. He crawled away following a well-worn trail on a rock shelf. He was a rock lobster. He was slow motion in the ocean. He spent most of his life at the bottom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

   Louise was nobody when Louie got done with her. Nobody cared about her anymore. Before long nobody knew she had ever even existed.

Blood Lines Chapter 38

   “Did you get it sorted out,” Conor Murphy asked JT Markunas at lunch the afternoon of JT’s wedding to Kayleigh Jurgelaitis the third weekend of October. They hadn’t seen much of each other lately. They were at the Fisherman’s Wharf not far from the church. After two months of rolling in the hay JT and Kayleigh had decided there was no point in waiting. They wanted to get married outdoors on Brackley Beach where they had first seen each other but when the weather got bad towards the end of the month they changed their plans and got married indoors, in the Stella Maris Catholic Church in North Rustico. Neither of them were parishioners but both had grown up church-going Catholics and Father Arthur Pendergast had no objections to performing the service.

   Besides, he had more on his mind than joining two non-parishioners in holy wedlock. His mission that fall was to get artificial ice finally installed in the next-door North Star Arena. It was going to cost a quarter million dollars. The church had been helping with fund raising since 1986. Money hadn’t rained down from heaven, but the Rustico communities were doing their best to get it done.

   After the ceremony the small wedding party walked down Church Hill Rd. to the restaurant. The air was cool, but the sun was out, and it wasn’t raining anymore.

   “Just about, except for Monk and the two Montreal killers,” JT said. “They sorted themselves out.”

   “It was all about the money, was it?” asked Conor.

   “Yeah, that’s what it was all about. Monk had the bad cash. He killed the girl, Jimmy LaPlante’s niece, to get it. Montreal wanted it back and when that wasn’t happening, they sent the two contract killers to get it. The man and woman who attacked you, they thought Monk had hidden it somewhere on your property and believed you knew where it was.”

   Before the Fisherman’s Wharf was what it was, it was the Cosy Corner. Leo LeClair operated it on North Rustico’s main drag from the early 1960s, until he sold it to the Legion. A few years later they sold it back to Leo. He remodeled the restaurant and changed the name to Fisherman’s Wharf. He sold it to Albert Dow in 1975. Albert put up blue awnings, expanded the seating, and added a gift shop. His father was a sometime carpenter and built the gift shop.

   “I’ve never eaten here,” JT said.

   “Neither have I,” said Conor.

   “They’ve got squirters in the gift shop,” JT said.

   “It was our policy that any camping or pocket knife we sold to anyone under 16, they had to have the parent’s permission,” Albert said. “My dad wouldn’t allow any plastic play guns or water pistols that were shaped like a real gun to be sold in the gift shop, although we had tons of lobster water squirters.”

   “Why did Monk chop the girl’s arm off?”

   “We think he did that because he got mad when she didn’t want to give up the cash. He did it after the fact, though. The funny thing about it is, if he hadn’t we probably wouldn’t be talking about the facts right now. I think she would have stayed unseen and unfound in the ground.”

   “Where is Jimmy?”

   “He’s in the Provincial Correctional Centre for now. He’ll probably end up in Renous down in New Brunswick. Do you know I have his dog?”

   “No, I didn’t know,” Conor said. “I don’t know much about him, except what you’ve told me, including anything about his dog.”

   “It’s a fine young Pit Bull with one quirk. He hates guns. I have to put mine away the first thing when I get home. Otherwise, he goes ballistic.”

   “That’s not a bad thing,” Conor said. “You’ve got a companion and a bodyguard all wrapped up in one. Not only a dog, but a handsome wife, too.””

   “Kayleigh likes the fella, which is the most important thing.”

   “You sound like a married man already.”

   “It’s too bad that woman fell off the boat,” JT said.


   “You know, her body has never washed up. It’s like she just went up in thin air.”

   “Is that right?”

   “I wonder what happened to her body.”

   “That’s a good question.”

   “It would have been helpful to get her into an interrogation room.”

   “She didn’t have much to say after I shot her.”

   “Or found her remains so forensics could have a go at it.”


   “You don’t seem to care too much.”

   “I don’t care at all,” Conor said. “Besides, it’s past time I go give your wife a best man’s congratulations kiss.”

   “Don’t overstay your welcome,” JT said taking a bite on his lobster roll. “Remember, the real deal is sitting right here.”

   Just then a tall thin man wearing a mask and a red cape walked in. He strode up to JT and shook his hand. He walked up to Kayleigh and gave her a sloppy kiss. He saluted everybody else and ran out the front door.

   “What the hell was that?” JT asked.

   “The Red Rider,” Conor said. “He usually comes out after dinner, down the dump road, and roams around scaring kids. Stirling Peters was the first Red Rider. After that his brother Keith took over. After that it was different guys, like Ronnie MacDonald. I’m not too sure who it is these days.”

   “All right, but why is there a Red Rider in the first place?”

   “It’s the Crick, JT, don’t you know, the Crick,” Conor said.