Tag Archives: Blood Lines

Blood Lines Chapter 3

   Seen from outer space Prince Edward Island can hardly be seen. The solar system is a speck in the galaxy. The earth is a speck in the solar system. Prince Edward Island is a speck on the earth. When the sky is clear and the sun is shining, it is a red and green pastoral speck surrounded by blue, except when it is cloudy and stormy. Everything then goes hazy and gray.

   The land formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Creeks and rivers deposited gravel, sand, and silt into what is the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Before the last ice age, Prince Edward Island was part of the mainland. After the glaciers melted it wasn’t a part of it anymore. It went its own way. The Northumberland Strait became what separates it from the rest of Canada.

   It’s one of the country’s Maritime provinces, the others being New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Newfoundland and Labrador were on their own, the way they wanted it. It is 225 kilometers from one end of the island to the other. It is 3 kilometers at its most narrow and 65 kilometers at its most wide. It is almost twice as far from the island to Walt Disney World in Florida as it is to the Arctic Circle. Walt Disney World is for pretend. The Arctic Circle is for real.

  There are farms from stem to stern. There are so many of them the province is called the “Million-Acre Farm.” When the French ruled the roost it was called Île Saint-Jean. Jacques Cartier discovered it in 1534 and Samuel Champlain claimed it for France in 1603. The Micmac’s tried to explain they had been there for more than 10,000 years, but all they accomplished was to make themselves hoarse. They switched gears and tried singing some of their Top 10 songs. They sang ‘The Eagle Song’ and ‘The Honor Song’ and ‘The Gathering Song.’

   Samuel Champlain finally said, “Try singing ‘The Giveaway Song.’ You know the words.” The Micmac glowered. The French reached for their swords. They were more savage than the savages and were hell bent to prove it. The Micmac mumbled and drifted away. They thought they could make it right later. They were wrong.

   When the British took over they changed the name to St. John’s, then changed it to New Ireland, and again on the eve of the 19th century to Prince Edward Island. It was named after Prince Edward who later became the father of Queen Victoria. He visited the island five times, even though it took eight to ten weeks to sail one way.

   It became a separate colony in 1769 and the seventh province of Canada in 1873. The capital is Charlottetown, named after the wife of King George III. Charlotte barely spoke English and never visited the capital city. She stayed home in Buckingham House and played her harpsichord. She stuck to chartbusters like Bach’s ‘Concerto in the Italian Style in F Major’ and Handel’s ‘Keyboard Suite No. 5.’

   “She ain’t no beauty, but she is amiable,” George said about his wife.

   The slender crescent of sandstone is the smallest and most densely populated Canadian province, although outside of Charlottetown and Summerside where half of everybody lives it is spread out far and wide. It is more secluded than it is crowded. Forest once covered all the island. By 1989 trees still covered half of it. The red oak is the official tree. There are pine, maple, beech, and spruce. There are no deer, moose, or black bears. There are many skunks, weasels, muskrats, and plenty of foxes. The red fox is the official animal. In early summer pink and purple lupins, weeds that are an invasive species, line fields and ditches. The Lady Slipper, an out-of-the-way orchid that grows in damp shady woodlands, is the official flower.

   Farming is the number one way of life, followed by fishing, and some tourism. There are cows everywhere in sight, their snouts in the turf. There are a boatload of herring, tuna, clams, mackerel, lobsters, scallops, mussels, and oysters to be had. Tourism was growing and Flynn Murphy and his Japanese girlfriend were building cottages on family land to get in on the summer trade. They stayed at Sandy’s Surfside Inn most of the time. Flynn was one of William Murphy’s descendants, 130 years after the triggerman from the Old World landed on the island, his Beaumont-Adams revolver tucked into a sailor’s bag. 

   In 1989 the pickings were good for the Liberals, and they swept the elections. Andrew, the Duke of York, and Sarah, his once wildly popular duchess, visited, flying in on a Canadian Armed Forces Boeing 707. George Proud, one of the new Liberal members of Parliament, stood on a bench for a better view of the royals as they were driven up University Ave. “We’re the commoners, and they’re royalty, and I think people in a strange way must secretly like that,” he said. “It’s a great day,” declared John Ready, the mayor of Charlottetown. A woman in the crowd groused, “I was talking to a friend this morning who said, ‘I don’t know why we should have to curtsy to a person who a few years ago was living with a race-car driver.’”

   The duchess climbed over a rope barrier to talk to a group of senior citizens. “What are these ropes for?” she asked. “I can’t believe you’re penned in.”  

   Scouts Canada held their annual jamboree on the island that year, honing their outdoor skills and running riot in the woods. They had a rousing early summer week. The TV series “Road to Avonlea” went into production. The last train on Prince Edward Island made its last run, coming to a dead stop in living time. The tip-to-tip railway had been operating for one hundred years. One minute later it was done for good.

   “Look Away” by Chicago was the top song of the year with Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” hard on its heels. Malcolm “Monk” Kennedy was the thorn on the island that year, but nobody knew it until the Boy Scouts had all gone home. They were always prepared, it being the scouting motto, but nobody was prepared for Monk, or Jules and Louise, the Montreal killers who came to the island looking hunting for him.

   Jules and Louise didn’t know they were going to end up paddling upstream. Monk Kennedy didn’t know two million dollars was going to wrap him up. They didn’t like it when they found out, but by then they had picked their poison. The Crick was going to flow into the ocean, no matter what. They were going to have to find that out for themselves. They weren’t prisoners of fate. They were prisoners of their own minds. Monk couldn’t change fate because he couldn’t change his mind. Jules and Louise wouldn’t change their minds, no matter what.

   Hunkered down on a rock shelf at the bottom of the ocean not far from shore, Louie the Large sized the three of them  up. Monk was scrawny. He was off the dinner table unless there was a famine. Jules looked better. He had some meat on his bones. Louise looked the best. He wouldn’t mind getting his claws into her, not at all. They shared a name. He liked that. He would like it even better if they shared some flesh and blood for real.

   Louie loved the ocean, deep and blue, the tides rising and falling, where life came from. He had a high regard for it. And the fear men and women had of it, which he encouraged with every click clack of his claws.

Blood Lines Chapter 24

   “There used to be plenty of trains here,” Junior said. “They ran from Tignish to Summerside, through here and on to Georgetown. We had the first diesels in Canada, to save on coal, ten years before anybody else. But when truckers started hauling potatoes, it was the beginning of the end. Now all we’ve got is a train museum in Elmira.”

   Neither JT Markunas nor Kayleigh Jurgelaitis had ever seen a train on the island. They had never heard of the museum, either. JT knew where Elmira was, although he had never been there. Kayleigh had never been on a train in her life. Junior refilled their pints. They were at JR’s Bar in Charlottetown.

   “By the way, have you seen a guy in here who rides a red motorcycle?”

   “What kind of bike?”

   “I don’t know, but it looks and sounds new.”

   “No, not no new one,” Junior said. “There’s a guy who rides a red Indian, but it’s a 1970s, before they went bankrupt.”

   “No, this one is new. I think it’s a Jap bike. If you do see it and get a chance to get his plate, let me know, will you?”

   “Will do,” Junior said. He pushed a bowl of old pretzels their way and went to the other end of the bar where a loose group of locals looked thirsty. Their pretzel bowls were empty. He refilled them to the brim.

   “Time to spill the beans,” JT said. “How is it you are from Sudbury like me?”

   “The war, just like you,” Kayleigh said. “My father Gediminas was born in 1916, in the Ukraine. My grandfather and grandmother were living in Poltava, insanely far from Marijampole, their home in Lithuania.” She meant the 700 miles was insanely far given the state of Russian roads and railroads. The Eastern Front, where millions of men were slaughtering each other at the time, was closer and easier to get to.

   “He was a professor, teaching there during the war.” 

   The school was the National Technical University. It was founded by the wife of the governor-general of the province, the granddaughter of the last native strongman before the Russian Empire absorbed the country in the 18th century. For hundreds of years Polish and Lithuanian freebooters had controlled the Ukraine and were a law unto themselves. They were no match for the Cossacks, however, who later were no match for the Russians.

   After the war the family, including three-year-old Gediminas’s older brother and sister, who were twins, went back to Lithuania. His father taught school in nearby Marijampole, and they lived on a farm. His mother’s family were well-off property owners. After the state-sponsored revolt in Klaipeda was signed sealed delivered, the country competed in the Summer Olympics for the first time, and Gediminas’s older brother suddenly unexpectedly died. The next year his mother was shot dead at a wedding. Hot blood soaked the cool white bodice of her best dress.

   It had been Russian imperial policy to leave the country in a non-industrial state. The inheritance system that was implemented after the land reform of 1863 forbade the partition of land plots. It was similar to what the British tried to make happen on Prince Edward Island. There were many landowners at the reception. They stuck together socially, friends neighbors families bound by the old time way.

   “A group of Communists, people who wanted land, came to the wedding, started a fight, started shooting guns, and my grandmother was accidentally shot and killed,” Kayleigh said. The Communist party of Lithuania was formed immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution. They were out for the blood of capitalists. There is only so much land to go around in small Baltic-like countries.

   “It’s a lot like here, only so much ground to go around,” JT said.

   “My father grew up, got married, had a daughter, and was planning on going to school to study medicine, but then the war happened,” Kayleigh said. “My grandfather was shot and killed in his living room by fifth column men. My father joined the Lithuanian Army, and then the Reds invaded. “

   It was never a fair fight. In mid-June 1940 a half-million Red Army troops poured across the borders of the Baltics. Within a week they were overrun, one week before France fell to Nazi Germany. Josef Stalin blew his nose into his walrus mustache. Adolf Hitler did an awkward jig grinning behind the misplaced eyebrow under his nose.

   “My father took to the forest, joining a group of partisans, staying in the fight for the next year. He had been working in the fields when his father was killed, which is why he wasn’t shot. They were killing landowners. They would have killed him that winter if they had been able to hunt him down.”

    A year later Lithuania was invaded by Germany. Most Russian war planes were destroyed on the ground. The Wehrmacht advanced rapidly, assisted by Lithuanians, who saw them as liberators. They helped by guarding railroads, bridges, and warehouses. The Lithuanian Activist Front and Lithuanian Territorial Corps formed the native backbone of the anti-Soviet fighting.

   Gediminas joined the German Army, assigned to a Baltic Unit. Three years later he was having second thoughts. The Russian summer offensive of 1944 was in full swing. An NCO by then, he and his company were ordered to man the front line and hold it at all costs. It was costing them dearly every day. “The rich Lithuanians were our officers,” he said. The rich men weren’t in the trenches getting their heads shot off. “The enlisted men were the men getting killed.” They were trying to stay alive. They didn’t care anymore who was right or wrong.

   An airstrip for reconnaissance and resupply was nearby. Junker 52s were flying in and out with ammunition first aid food and hope in the grim hopelessness. Gediminas and three men from his unit were unloading one of the planes at a side door by means of a ramp, the front and wing-mounted engines roaring, when they made up their minds to steal it and fly to safety.

   Two of the men rushed up the ramp and threw the German pilots out the door, while the other man and Gediminas kept watch, guns at the ready. Gediminas was the last one to scramble into the plane and was shot in the back of his foot by a stray slug just before he slammed the door shut.

   “I was playing on the floor one day,” Kayleigh said. It was the late 1960s. “My dad was relaxing, shoes and socks off, sitting on the sofa in the living room reading a newspaper. I saw a scar on his heel and asked him what it was. He said it was a bullet wound. He rolled up his pants and showed me three more on both legs.”

   One of the Lithuanians returned the incoming fire with a MG15 machine gun from the dustbin turret, while the other two dragged Gediminas to the cockpit. None of them had ever flown an airplane. He was the only one of them who had ever even driven a car. How hard can it be? Gediminas thought. With bullets slamming into the aluminum fuselage, he found out it wasn’t hard at all. He pushed on the throttle, got the Junker going as fast as he thought it would go, pulled the wheel back, and ‘Iron Annie’ lifted up into the air.

   They quickly came up with a plan, planning to fly to Switzerland. They got as far as the German border when they ran out of gas. The plane wasn’t the fastest, 165 MPH its top speed, and it could go about 600 miles on a tankful. When they went down, they were headed in the right direction. All they needed was another full tank.

   It solved their landing problem, since Gediminas had already told his countrymen he had no idea how to land the plane. The Junker hit the ground hard and every part of it broke into a thousand pieces. When he came back to life he was in a field hospital. He never found out what happened to his comrades.

   The doctors asked him who he was and what happened. He answered them in High German. “My father spoke Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and German.” He was wearing the right uniform when found, was speaking like a householder, and they assumed he was one of them. He bit his tongue about who he really was, thanking God for his good fortune.

   After he got out of the hospital he was deemed not fit enough for combat and ordered to the motor pool. Soon after he drew a lucky number and was assigned to be the driver for a general. It was lucky enough until several months later, early one morning, in the middle of winter, when he got a wake-up call from one of his sidekicks.

   “Don’t come to work today,” the man said.

   “What does that mean?”

   “Your general died late last night. One of the first people the Gestapo will want to talk to is you.”

   He knew it was true. He knew what had happened to anybody and everybody involved in the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler earlier that July. Nearly 5,000 people were executed. He would never be able to stand up to scrutiny. 

   His general was probably out carousing in their Tatra 87, slid on ice and smashed into a tree. The Tatra was the car of the war years. Sleek futuristic BMW-engine fast and high-tech as could be, it was the vehicle of choice for German officers. Unfortunately for them, it was sloppy, handling like pudding, killing its drivers right and left. Gediminas always kept it under 40 MPH. It was the vehicle of choice of the Allies, too, but for their mortal enemy. They thought of it as a secret weapon, killing more highly placed German officers than died fighting the Red Army.

   None of it mattered. It didn’t matter whether the general died in the arms of his mother or was assassinated. His goose was cooked if the Staatspolizei got him. They literally cooked people to death. He jumped to his feet, threw on a coat, and fled his room. Making his way to the motor pool, he found a truck with keys in the ignition and a full tank of gas. There were plenty to go around. Opel manufactured 95,000 of the 2-ton 4 x 4 Blitz Utility trucks during the war. He quickly signed it out, turned it over, and drove away. He drove straight for the front. His plan was to break through the line and surrender to the Americans. When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

   He didn’t get shot by either side and when he got to the American side, he surrendered. He was confident that the war was over for him. But by the time the war did end, the Nazis raising the white flag, he was in his third army. At least he was finally on the winning side.

   “My grandfather was a big guy,” Kayleigh said. “He was six foot four. My father was five nine and maybe one hundred forty pounds.” Being on the small side doesn’t matter. In the end, what matters is what you do. Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of what he called “the whole shebang” in Europe. He knew there was more to winning the war than armor. “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” he said.

   At the beginning of 1945 the Allies on the Western Front had 73 divisions ready to go. The Germans had 26 divisions. Adolf Hitler held a meeting with his top men, instructing them to hold the Americans and British off by any means. By that time, however, his top men were flat tires. The Fuhrer boarded a train and never went back to the Western Front. At the end of January, he gave the last speech he was ever to give. He tried to rally the troops. It didn’t do any good. 

   After surrendering, Gediminas spent time in a DP camp, until being recruited by the Yanks. They were looking for men who spoke multiple languages and he fit the bill. At war’s end he was in Nuremberg, where war crime trials were being conducted. The top dogs who propagated the National Socialist German Party either committed suicide, were executed, or locked up in solitary for a long time.

   As the decade wound itself down, Gediminas snuck aboard a tramp freighter and sailed to North America, finding work as a lumberjack near North Bay, Ontario. “It was an indentured servant kind of job,” Kayleigh said. More than two-thirds of the Canadian province is forest, in land area the equivalent of Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy combined. “He was never quite sure where he was out there,” Kayleigh said. “He wasn’t, at least, a mile down in Sudbury’s nickel mines.”

   “Yeah, my dad worked in the mines his whole life,” JT broke in.

   “Going a mile down into the ground takes its own kind of courage,” Kayleigh said.

   Making it work in a company town is unlikely. Since there is no competition, housing costs and groceries bills are exorbitant, and workers build up large debts they are required to pay off before leaving. It can be slavery by another name. Gediminas determined to find another way, his own way. “He and some other Lithuanians pooled their resources, found a broken-down car, scavenged parts from other wrecks, filled the tires with rags to get them to roll, and hit the road. They didn’t tell anybody where they were going. He ended up in St. Catherine’s, near Niagara Falls, and later, finding a chance to go to the United States, took the chance and settled down outside Buffalo, where he stayed the rest of his life.”

   “What did he do there?” JT asked.

   “He got married to an Irish girl. He never found out what happened to the Lithuanian wife and daughter he left behind.” The Iron Curtain had slammed shut. “My mother Sadie taught school. They raised a family. My father went to work as a butcher in the meat department of a grocery store. He never missed a day until the day he died.”

   Kayleigh’s father built a house on three acres of land. One acre of it was devoted to a garden. “My brother pushed thousands of wheelbarrows of manure as a child. Whenever our car parts factory neighbors went on strike, he and I delivered food to them in the morning before school. Sometimes my father would hang from his heels in the garage to prove he could still do it. He smoked and drank with his friends at the local Italian and Polish social clubs.”

   “He must have been a strong man, being in three armies, one of them twice, and fighting with a guerilla group,” JT said. He wagged two fingers at Junior for two more pints. “Your father had more lives than a cat.”

   “He did, but once he was done, that cat never enlisted in another man’s army ever again.”

Blood Lines Chapter 25

   There are more than 6,000 kilometers of two-lane roads from one end of Prince Edward Island to the other end. There are some fast roads, like the Trans-Canada Highway, but most of them are not. The highway is the world’s longest national road, extending from Vancouver Island in British Columbia to Newfoundland. The island’s stretch of the fast road is the shortest in the country.

   Tractors cows dogs slow the going down. About two thousand of the six thousand kilometers are unpaved and even slower, even if it was a sports car or a Jap motorcycle trying to get up to speed. The ruts and chuckholes would make short work of them. The unpaved roads are red dirt. At night they are dark as pitch black.

   Prince Edward Island is layered over sandstone bedrock. Sandstone is dug up by backhoes simple as ABC. When roads were first built beach sand was mixed into the concrete. Wet weather transforms unpaved tracks into what some call baby poop. The sandstone is leavened with iron oxide, or rust, giving the land a red color beneath blue skies overlooking green fields. The Indians who lived on the island before European colonization called the island Epekwitk. They thought Glooscap, who was their god, after he finished making the rest of the world, with a final flourish mixed all his colors and made their land.

   “When I was a kid most of the roads around here were dirt,” Conor Murphy told JT Markunas. “Sometimes after a bad winter storm you couldn’t go anywhere for a day-or-two.” He took a bite of his fish sandwich. They had picked them up at Carr’s Shellfish Market and were sitting on the front deck of the Sterling Women’s Institute, what everybody called ‘The Hall.’ Carr’s chuck wagon was down the hill on the Stanley River.

   “I see kids jumping off that bridge down there all the time,” JT said.

   “That’s been going on for a long time,” Conor said. “Generations, if you want the truth. Parents show their kids how to jump the same way they were shown.”

   “Don’t they worry about their kids getting hurt?”

   “Those that worry, their kids are never on that bridge. Those that don’t worry don’t have anything to worry about.”

   “Maybe they just say a prayer and leave it at that,” JT said.

   Stanley Bridge was settled in the mid-eighteenth century. It took a hundred years for the first church to be built. It was a Presbyterian congregation. It lasted twenty-five years before a new one needed to be built for the expanding flock. It got back to saving souls in 1895, became the United Church in 1925, burned down four years later, and was replaced by its likeness the next year. When the Presbyterians moved out of the building, they kept the deed in their pockets, and rented the upstairs to the local Masonic Lodge, who bought it in 1920. When they did, they rented the lower part of it to the Sterling Women’s Institute. When the Masons ran out of steam, they sold the building to the Institute in 1978.

   “What do the women do?” JT asked.

   “I don’t rightly know,” Conor said. “Probably something to do with good works.” He took a pull on his bottle of Red Rock Lager. He had brought one for JT and one for himself.

   “This isn’t half-bad,” JT said. “I don’t think I’ve seen it around.” 

   “That’s because it’s not around. I have two or three cases of it, which is probably the last of it. My brother Danny runs a pit stop down on the waterfront and he gave them to me after the brewer went out of business.”

   “They brewed it here on the island?”

   “Yeah, right in Charlottetown,” Conor said. “The Island Brewing Company got started a few years ago, the first brewery to operate on the island since around the turn of the century. There used to be dozens way back then. They hired an English brew master who had worked for Bass. Old Abby, his first draft, was a big hit. They couldn’t keep the kegs filled. They invested in a bottling system two years ago and launched Red Rock Lager. It didn’t go too well, don’t know why, and a year later they were out of business They sold all their equipment to an outfit in Ontario and that was that.”

   “That’s too bad.”

   “You know we had Prohibition here from the turn of the century until 1948.”

   “No alcohol?”

   “Total ban on alcohol.”

   “There must have been some serious bootlegging going on.”

   “We had some smuggling, you could say.”

   “I’ve heard there are drinkers hereabouts.”

   “Some, sure, but the other half of it was the money. I remember a guy by the name of Roy Clow from Murray Harbor, my dad knew him, who couldn’t make a living selling his crops and his fish, so he put his mind to running booze. There was real money in that.” Real money meant enough money to feed clothe house your family.

   “We’d sell our turnips in the fall. The Newfoundland schooners would come in and we’d get 15 cents for a two-bushel bag of turnips,” said Roy Clow. “Potatoes was 10 cents a bushel, some years less.” He got two and a half cents a pound for his lobsters.

   “There is an older man right here in Stanley Bridge, Tommy Gallant, whose family did more than their fair share of bootlegging,” Conor said.

   “My father Henry drank heavy,” Tommy said. “He done all the things and more in them days that he thought was going to make money. He bootlegged some serious.” There were 11 children in the family. Money was tight. Their salt cod sold for one cent a pound. A gallon of rum sold for four dollars. “As we started to grow up, we thought we should sample it. And we did. We could steal it from our father easy because he had it everywhere. Those were the days when the runners were off Cavendish all the time.”

   Henry Gallant hid his 10-gallon kegs in nearby woods or in the ocean. His children knew all his hiding spots. “On his way home with a load of rum, he would run a long line and he’d put all this steel on it and tie the kegs on it. And, of course, it’d all go to the bottom. He had a landmark and at night he’d take a dory out and pull up one end and he’d take a keg ashore.” When the kegs were empty, he used them to salt mackerel.

   “Us young fellas were schooled by our father. We had a big tree in the woods, probably 80 feet high. My father used to tell us kids ‘If the RCMP is here before I get home, one of you boys go up that tree and wave a flag three times, when I’m coming up the bay, so I can see that plain, and I’ll know they’re there and I’ll sink the rum in the bay.’” 

   “That’s a lot of trouble to go to for a drink,” JR said. “I’ll bet everybody except for the bootleggers were happy when Prohibition was repealed.”

   “They were, the way I hear it, but it didn’t get all that much easier to have a drink in peace. As soon as the ban was over a Temperance Act was made law.  If you were an islander, you had to get a permit to buy liquor. Even then you could buy only so much of it. If you were a tourist, you had to get a special temporary permit. Maybe you didn’t if you were staying at Dalvay-by-the-Sea.”

   “Why is that?”

   “Back in the 30s and 40s it was owned by Captain Eddie Dicks, the number one rumrunner on the island. They might still have some of his Irish whiskey left over. They might still be serving it, for all I know.”

   The first roads on Prince Edward Island were built in the late 1760s. At the turn of the 20th century cars were banned on most roads most of the time, especially on market days. It didn’t have anything to do with drunk driving. There was hardly any booze on the island, anyway. A law was passed ordering there be a man at the front of every car with a red flag, ready to wave it just in case a horse or wagon or human was in the way. Everybody who had a car got sick of the flags soon enough. Twenty years later the law was thrown out, the red flags were put away, and cars went anywhere they wanted, so long as there was a throughway that they could handle without breaking an axle.

   “I grew up on a mixed farm,” Conor said. “It wasn’t anything elaborate, basically turnips, which is a rutabaga, and we grew grain, barley, and wheat. My father was the farmer.” Conor Murphy’s father Brody farmed 100 acres, although they had 400 acres. “My dad rented most of our land out, the same as I do now. They had seven fields on our 100 acres, but I’m going to shave it back to three fields. I don’t want potatoes growing on my land.”

   “Why not?”

   “Too many pesticides.”

   By the early 1900s most of Prince Edward Island’s wall-to-wall forest had been cleared and ninety percent of the land was being farmed. There were more than 15,000 farms, almost all of them less than one hundred acres. The land was sub-divided by dikes, walls built of rocks dug up from the fields.

   “All around those dikes was full of berries,” Conor said. “Our mom used to send us back in the fields with buckets. We’d come back with them full of wild raspberries and blueberries.”

   After World War Two technology and machinery led to bigger farms and one-crop planting. By the middle of 1989 there were just 2,500 working farms on the island and more than half of them were growing potatoes. It had gotten so everybody called it Spud Island. “Fields were smaller thirty years ago,” Conor said. “Maybe it should have stayed that way. Now the dikes are being ripped out and sprays kill all the wild berries. It’s a shame to see.”

   Brody Murphy and his wife Eimear were the only Murphy’s who ever farmed. “My great-great-grandfather was from Ireland,” said Conor. “It was on his sailing to the New World that he landed hereabouts and stayed. He did something so that the Queen, or somebody, granted him land, and two shore lots. We’ve still got his British Army handgun from back then.”

   “Does it work?”

   “I don’t know. I’ve never shot it. My dad kept it cleaned oiled wrapped up and locked up. There are some bullets for it, but God knows if the powder is still any good.”

   By 1850 a quarter of the people on Prince Edward Island were Irish. The last wave of immigrants came from County Monaghan. They paid their own way and made their own way once on the island, rather than tenant farming. The freeholders farmed and controlled livestock. By then the island was exporting surplus foodstuff to neighboring provinces, the USA, and Europe. The Murphy’s, however, raised horses and propagated thoroughbreds. Later the family got into the fashion trade and bred black silver foxes for their pelts.

   The secret of breeding foxes was solved by islanders in the late 19th century. Twenty years later single pelts sold for as much as $2,000.00, at a time when farm laborers were lucky to make a dollar a day. In 1913 the provincial government estimated foxes were worth twice as much as “all of the cattle, horses, sheep, swine, and poultry” on the island. But, after the Second World War the business was wiped out. It fell out of fashion. Many farmers lost their shirts, although they stayed warm wrapped up in fox furs. 

   “When they went out of style my dad let all our foxes loose and he became a farmer.”

   Conor went to the Stella Maris School, across the street from the Church of Stella Maris on Church Hill Rd. The school was built in 1940 and burned to the ground in 1954. “We stood looking utterly helpless in our misery,” a nun at the nearby convent wrote in her diary. The village re-built their school the next year. “It is the most modern fourteen room school in the province,” the Guardian newspaper noted in its feature article.

   “I went grades one through nine. Almost everybody my age quit in grade nine. It was the 60s. There was no need of education around here. Fathers would tell their kids, you’re not going to do anything in school, get to work in the boat or the fields. We all said we’ve got better things to do and banged out of there.” But he wasn’t ready for work, roaming Lower Canada instead, and moving to Montreal. He sowed a bushel full of wild oats, later joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After he left the force, he ran restaurants.

   “When I was growing up and even now, she was lean here. There was no money around for years.” All through the 1980s the gross domestic product of Prince Edward Island was the lowest in Canada, just a whisker more than 50% of the national average. Next to Newfoundland, the province had the least income in the country. 

   “Back then all the fishermen around here had a gasoline engine in an old wooden boat. Everything was done manually, except for hydraulics to haul gear off the bottom. The steering was even done by chains. Now everything is going fiberglass, and everything is going diesel.”

   Fish men going door-to-door selling cod was a way of life until the 1980s, when a ban on the taking of ground fish was put in place. Fish stocks had been over-exploited up and down Atlantic Canada for a century and were depleted. “Everybody was baiting all the hooks they had, and they was trawling for halibut, haddock, and cod. They took all they could get. Then the moratorium came in. After that, all they were allowed was lobster.”

   “Every harbor I stop at, what I see are lobster traps,” JT said.

   “You want lobsters you got to have traps,” Conor said. “They’re as simple as mousetraps, which this island has plenty of, too, mice, I mean, but you can’t eat them.” Like mousetraps, they almost always get the job done. Invented just more than one hundred years ago, they had changed little since. Even though entrances to the traps are one-way, any lobster that tries to escape can get away, if it has a mind to. They hardly ever get away, though.

   “My thought is there are two ways lobsters get caught,” Conor said. “One way is what I call simplemindedness.” Lobster brains are about the size of the tip of a fountain pen. “They won’t usually back out the same way they’ve come in. They crawl up the net, there’s a flap on it, and once they’re in that they can’t go back. The other way they get caught is they just stay in the trap all day eating bait, and when they’re jerked out of the water they get tossed into the back, by the sheer momentum of getting pulled up with the hauler.”

   Lobsters spend most of their time racking their brains about where their next meal is coming from, crawling on their walking legs to get to the table, and finally eating all the crabs, mollusks, fish, and even other lobsters they can get.

   Conor’s brothers all fished at one time or another. “We weren’t farmers, not exactly, but we weren’t fishermen, either, although I think it was naturally in our blood, since every one of us is at ease on the water.”

   Flynn Murphy fished for several years before marrying and moving to Ontario to start a family. After he zipped it up, he brought his new family back to Prince Edward Island. He was one of the few men who came back to work and live on the island. Most men left to work and live somewhere else. He opened Sandy’s Eatery across from Lorne’s Snack Shop in North Rustico. 

   “Danny had rubber boots and oil gear and he went out, too, but then he got into TV’s.” He was one of the first satellite television providers in the province. When he left the boob tube behind, he transitioned from catching lobsters to serving them at the Blue Mussel, his new seasonal seafood restaurant, at the far end of the North Rustico harbor.

   “In the 1960s my parents ran a small restaurant in Cavendish,” Conor said. “It was 7 cents for pop, 30 cents for a hamburger, and 17 cents for fries back then. That was the kind of money you made in 1964. There were five kids in our family. Some of those French Acadian families had a dozen births. It was no different for anyone. Maybe we were all in our separate boats, but we were all in the same pond.”

   Hugo Murphy spent some years as a hand on local boats, and after that got to working on his own boat. “He’s an able man behind the wheel.” Conor said. “He fishes with Paul Doucette, his partner, out of the North Rustico harbor. Their boat is the Flying Wave.” It was a nearly new, high-bowed fiberglass craft built in nearby Kensington. “Paul, that’s my buddy, that’s my partner in crime,” Hugo said “He’s roundish, built like a buoy, strong as can be, even though he drinks a bit too much beer. He lives right here in the Crick.”

   North Rustico had long been known as the Crick. “There is a creek that runs right through the village,” Conor said. “Some people from Charlottetown didn’t know what a creek was, or misunderstood, being from the city, and ended up calling us the Crick, so we ended up being nicknamed that.”

   “I’ve heard fishing can be rough tough work,” JT said.

   “You can get black and bruised on a boat, for sure,” Conor said. “When it’s rough, you do everything slower, no matter how strong you are. You need to be more careful with your gear, your traps, and the rope under your feet when the ocean is up. You have got to watch your P’s and Q’s.”

   “You’re right in the National Park,” JT said. “How did that happen, that the land stayed in your hands?” Murphy’s Cove and the family’s land were in the National Park but weren’t part of the National Park. The park was established in 1937 and encompassed more than 5,000 acres of coastal headlands, sand dunes, and beaches. The Murphy’s didn’t sell their land when the park was being formed on the north shore of Prince Edward Island.

   “We didn’t sell an acre,” Conor said. “But they have the patience to wait everybody out. That’s the beauty of the National Park. You don’t want to sell right now? That’s fine. Your son will want to sell, and if he doesn’t want to, his son will. If it takes two hundred years, we will get you out of this park.”

   “But you’re staying?”

   “Yeah, I think so, so long as no more bodies get dug up on my property.”

   “It’s a hell of a thing,” JT said. “It doesn’t happen often. There was a man murdered in Charlottetown last year, but the homicide rate here on Prince Edward Island, next to the Yukon’s, which is zero, is the lowest in Canada.”

   The young man who was strangled and stabbed to death in the bedroom of his home on a quiet street in Charlottetown less than a year earlier was Byron Carr. “I will kill again,” was scrawled on the wall in purple crayon block letters. The killer was never found. He hadn’t killed again, not that anyone knew.

   “When I got back from Quebec, I seen there’ve been a lot of changes around the island, but it’s nice to come home and say it hasn’t changed much right here,” Conor said. “That’s another beauty of the National Park. It stays pretty much the same. Only the rabbits and trees get bigger, and the roads get better. When I was kid there wasn’t much of a road. When the National Park got around to it their new road cut our farm in half, but none of us complained. Before that it was a hillside. When it rained in the early spring or late fall, and especially when it rained all day, it turned into a slippery slope. Sometimes no road will get you where you want to go, but a good road under your feet is the way to go in the right direction.”

   Conor and JT finished their sandwiches and lukewarm beer.

   “Do you think you’ll get whoever done it?” Conor asked about what was on both their minds.

   “If he’s still on the island we’ll find him sooner or later,” JT said. “Unless they’re contract killers. The pros are hard to catch. Most killers, though, are amateurs and don’t know where they are going, which means every road they’re on goes nowhere. They all end up killing time, one way or another.”

Blood Lines Chapter 26

   Monk Kennedy thought it was a good idea at the timer. All at once and right now was how he did things. He didn’t realize he would burn through what he had stuffed into his pockets when he  was in Montreal last fall, but he did and now he needed more. That meant going back to North Rustico and the barn beside the green house and digging up his stash.

   It was the last place he thought anybody would look for it. Now, it was the last place he wanted to go, ever since the girl had been dug up. That was a mistake. He should have tied her to an anchor and thrown her in the ocean. He wasn’t going to make himself miserable about it, though. Trial and error were the way he did things. It was how Thomas Edison had done things. The Wizard of Menlo Park had invented light bulbs, the movies, record players, and electricity to make it all work. Monk could live without light bulbs and the movies but not electricity or Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest.

   Monk lived in Charlottetown on Dorchester St. in a yellow two-story two-family house with front doors as far apart as they could be. There was no front yard and barely a back yard. There was just enough yard to park and chain his motorcycle out of sight. He kept his shades drawn night and day and never answered the door. He didn’t have any relatives or friends he wanted to see and kept it that way.  

   The Confederation Centre of the Arts was two blocks away. It opened the year he was born. The Queen of England officially dedicated it. He had never gone there and didn’t plan on ever going there. The year after it opened the musical “Anne of Green Gables” opened. It had been playing every summer since then. He hated Anne, even though he had never read the book or seen the show. He hated everybody who went to see the show. If he could have, he would have modified the pipes on his motorcycle and roared up and down Queen St. whenever it was playing. As it was the Kawasaki was as quiet as a mouse.

   The Olde Dublin Pub was a block away and he ate there once a week. They had a “2 Can Dine for 1” special on Wednesdays. He ate alone but ordered for two. He took the leftovers home. One of the waiters told him the contrivance wasn’t allowed but Monk told him in a menacing way where to go and after that nobody ever bothered him when he ate by himself at a corner table. Even the managers gave him a wide berth.

   After he scouted out the green house, he realized he wouldn’t be able to dig up his stash during the morning noon or evening hours. It would have to be the middle of the night. It didn’t matter to him. He hardly ever slept, anyway. He lay in bed on his back with his headphones on listening to heavy metal on his portable CD player.

   Conor Murphy’s cat Snaps slept most of the time. The rest of the time he prowled around, except when he was eating. Sleeping and eating came first with him. Everything else paled by comparison. He got his name the day he showed up at the green house and followed Conor into his kitchen.

   “What have we got here?” Conor asked. “Where did you come from?”

   Snaps told him but Conor didn’t understand. The cat knew the language he spoke, and the language people spoke, were worlds apart, but it didn’t hurt to try. Conor rubbed his head and put some cold chicken on a plate for him. Snaps wasn’t especially hungry, but since he usually didn’t know where his next meal was coming from, he wolfed it down. 

   “There’s no collar on you, even though you’re a healthy-looking son of a gun.”

   Snaps was a black Maine Coon just shy of fifteen pounds. If he had been a house cat, he would have been bigger, lazing around, but being a rolling stone, he stayed lean and mean. Being a Maine Coon, he wasn’t by nature mean, but he knew how to take care of himself. He had beaten off foxes and coyotes in his time. Dogs were no problem, unless they were Pit Bulls, which he avoided.

   Being a black cat could be a problem, a riddle he had trouble working out. Sometimes when he crossed somebody’s path, he overheard them saying black cats were bad luck. He was alive and kicking and considered himself a lucky dog. When he tried explaining that he was only going somewhere, and that luck had nothing to do with it, nobody seemed to understand what he was saying.

   Conor made himself a bowl of Rice Krispies and sat down at the kitchen table. The cat finished his chicken, licked his chops until he was clean as whistle, hopped on the chair opposite Conor, and sat there staring at the bowl of cereal. “That’s not for you, Snap Crackle Pop,” Conor said. “Maybe that is what I will call you.” The name was too long to say, so Conor called him Snap, although the cat liked Snaps better, and got his way.

   Snaps was opportunistic at the best of times but understood that what Conor was eating was his and wasn’t his to try for. He knew how to bide his time. He slept in the shade on the porch the rest of the day and that evening slipped back into the house. When Conor put another plate of cold chicken and a small bowl of water on the floor for him, he ate all the chicken and lapped up half the water. That night he slept curled up on the floor at the foot of Conor’s bed. The next day it was like he had always been there.

   It was the middle of the night the night Monk parked his Kawasaki at Cape Turner and walked down the Gulf Shore Parkway to Murphy’s Cove. The sky was overcast, and the full moon was a missing man. If he had seen headlights or heard a motor, he would have ducked into the pine and spruce that butted up to the shoulder. But he didn’t see any cars or pickups coming from either direction. What he didn’t see either was Snaps coming back from Rollins Pond, where he had been hunting frogs. He tore their legs off and ate them first thing, considering them a delicacy.

   The cat had fallen asleep under a holly bush after dinner and slept through lights out. He was getting acquainted with the bush because he knew that although the orange berries were poisonous to people, they were prized by red squirrels, ruffed grouse, sparrows, and ducks. He wasn’t going to mess with squirrels but everybody else was fair game.

   When he pawed at the door of the kitchen but found it locked, he made a night of it, exploring and reconnoitering. Rollins Pond was almost a mile away. It was as far as he ever went. He and a red fox skirted each other. A rabbit pretended he wasn’t there. He exchanged suspicious looks with a racoon.

   He saw Monk the second he darted off the road and crept toward the barn. The man looked like a hairball some mutt might have coughed up. Snaps stood stock still, almost invisible in a dark shadow. He didn’t normally over think anything, but he thought whatever was going on had to be sketchy. When Monk ducked out of sight, Snaps followed. He moved slowly, ever alert, and vigilant. He knew full well people could be dangerous. He had good teeth and razor-sharp claws, but he was out of his weight class going up against a man.

   He stopped when he heard digging sounds. He got low and looked around the corner of the barn. He knew curiosity killed the cat, but he wasn’t the suspect tonight. The man doing the digging was the suspect. He had a garden spade and was using it to dig at the base of the barn. The soil was loose, and it didn’t take him long. He pulled a canvas bag out of the ground reached in removed some banded money cinched up the bag returned it to where he had found it filled the hole and smoothed the dirt over to make it look undisturbed. He put the money he had taken into a paper bag, rolled it up tight, and walked back to the road towards Cape Turner.

   “What is this all about?” Snaps wondered, although he knew some kind of cat was out of the bag.

   Monk had been planning on taking all the money with him, but at the last minute decided to only take some of it and leave the rest where it was. He had to hide it somewhere, anyway, and the scene of the crime was as good a place as any, probably better. Who would ever think of looking there? It had been ridiculously easy getting what he wanted. He could do it again anytime he wanted. He had enough in the bag to last him the rest of the year, and maybe longer. Once the heat was off, he would get the rest of it and leave Prince Edward Island for good. He had been thinking of going to the States, to New Orleans for a while, and from there to Mexico.

   He could live like the King of the Jungle in Mexico.

   Snaps was still watching the road from the base of the roadside mailbox when he heard the Kawasaki coming. He backed up into high grass. When the bike was gone in the direction of North Rustico, he cautiously came out and made a beeline for the house. The kitchen door was still locked. He followed his nose to the holly bush and got comfortable for the rest of the night.

   He would have to tell Conor in the morning about what he had seen. He made a mental note of it. He wasn’t a thinking man’s cat, but he knew full well what mattered when it came to home and hearth.

Blood Lines Chapter 27

   Every morning before breakfast Snaps walked to the cliff behind the house, lay on his stomach like a sphinx, and watched cormorants in the sky and fishing boats on the sea. The birds were looking for food and the fisherman were looking for food, too. Until a stroke of good luck landed him at Conor’s house, Snaps had always been on the prowl for his daily bread. He was never not dreaming scheming about where his next meal was coming from. Now he didn’t have to forage and fight for it. It was in a bowl in the kitchen. Whenever he wanted to eat, he went and ate. If his food or water bowl was empty, all he had to do was find Conor and pester him. It worked like a charm except when Conor was gone God knows where, in which case Snaps had to bide his time.

   Biding his time was no problem. He was so good at it he could spend all day doing it. He had heard a farmer say good things come to those who wait when he was a kitten and had adopted the old man’s point-of-view as his own. That was the way he looked at it from them on, even after the farmer did his best to drown him. He never knew what happened to his brothers and sisters, but he clawed his way out of the burlap bag weighted with rocks and swam to shore.

   His fur was water repellent enough that he didn’t get waterlogged. He didn’t know how he knew how to paddle, but that is what he did. After he made it to shore, he was on his own. The first year was hard. He almost starved to death. He found an abandoned fox den and lived in it through the winter. There were some scraps of mummified vole left behind. He lived on the occasional mixed-up mouse and old root vegetables. The vegetables gave him diarrhea, but it was better than dying.

   When he heard the Conor’s Buick GNX coming up the parkway he stretched and beat feet to the kitchen. He was a hungry hound. After he ate, he would show Conor what he had seen. The householder emptied the clothes washing machine while Snaps ate and hung clothes on a line outside. He had a dryer but didn’t use it when the weather was fair. The breeze and summer sun did the trick better than electricity, anyway.

   It took a few minutes of meowing and suggesting, but Snaps finally convinced Conor to follow him. He headed straight for the barn, looking over his shoulder to make sure Conor was getting the message. When he got to where the nighttime man had dug up and buried something, he pointed to the spot with his forepaw, pretended to dig, and backed away. Conor didn’t seem to understand what he was saying, so he repeated the pantomime.

   “There’s something there?” Conor asked. Snaps motioned with his nose leather one more time.

   “All right,” Conor said, humoring the cat.

   When he took a closer look, he realized the dirt was loose. It looked like it was recently loose. He went into the barn and came back with a shovel. Snaps sat on his haunches and watched. It didn’t take long before Conor unearthed a black plastic trash bag. He pulled it out of the ground, puzzled. 

   “Jesus Christ,” he said under his breath when he looked inside the trash bag. It was full of money, lots of money, more money than he had ever seen in his life. He got on Sandy’s telephone, called the RCMP, asked that JT Markunas call him, and left his name and number. He sat on the porch within earshot of the telephone and waited. It took an hour before JT called him back.

   “I’ve got something to show you,” he said.

   “What is it?”

   “I’ll show you when you get here.”

   “I’m over in New London,” he said. “I should be there in a half-hour or so.”

   An hour later when JT walked up to his porch Conor pointed to the trash bag.

   “Something in there?”

   “Something in there, yes.”

   “I’m going to assume this isn’t yours,” JT said after looking inside the bag and whistling.

   “You would be right about that,” Conor said.

   “Where did you find it?”

   “Buried beside the barn.”

   “In the ground?”


   “What made you look there?”

   “The cat,” Conor said pointing to Snaps, who was snoozing nearby. “He pointed the spot out to me and more or less said dig there.”

   “The cat?”

   “The less we say about that the better,” Conor said. “I don’t like it any better than you do.”

   “So, you dug it up?”


   “Can you show me where?”

   “Come on.”

   The two men stood beside the barn and looked down into the foot-and-a-half deep hole.

   “Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking?” Conor asked.

   “Yes,” JT said.

   He went back to his car and radioed headquarters.

   It took another hour before an unmarked police car pulled into the yard and parked behind the barn. Two men in summer clothes got out and waved. They walked up to the porch, and everybody went into the kitchen. Snaps stayed where he was. He had done his part and wasn’t interested in anything that might happen next. He had better things to do.

   A half hour later the four men walked out of the kitchen. One of the plainclothes men went to his car, got a backpack, came back, and put the black trash bag inside it. “We are going to come back tonight and bury it where you found it. In the meantime, we will have a man here watching, at least until we get back. If you don’t see him, he’ll be doing his job. We’re hoping the moneyman hasn’t seen any of this and won’t see us when we come back.”

   The two policemen looked down at Snaps who half opened his eyes and squinted back at them. They looked harmless so far. He closed his eyes again. He was starting to regret his good deed.

   “If you weren’t former RCMP I’m not sure how we would take this,” one of the men said. “As it is, we’re going to take your word for it. Whoever he is if he comes back don’t interfere with him. We will want him to take the trash bag. When he does, we’ll be able to find him.” Conor didn’t ask how. He knew electronics had come a long way. He knew they had their own way of doing things. It was partly why he wasn’t with them anymore. He nodded at the two men.

   “By the way, we saw the patch of weed you’ve got growing back there. Is it for your personal use?”


   “All right, that’s fine, we don’t mind about that.”

   “Thanks,” Conor said. “I had juvenile arthritis. It’s in remission now, but the damage has been done. The weed helps.”

   “Like I said, we don’t mind so long as you keep it to yourself.”

   “Is that right about the arthritis?” JT asked when the two policemen were gone.

   “Yeah, I’ve got some permanent joint pain, especially in my knees. It didn’t bother me much when I was a kid but when I got into my late 20s, they started to ache. So long as I smoke some pot every day, I feel all right.”

   “Nothing else helps?”

   “I’ve tried everything else.”

   “Is that why you’re not with the force anymore?”

   “I couldn’t go around arresting teenagers for pot when I was a pothead myself. Besides, they would have been found out sooner or later and I would have been given my walking papers.”

   “You’re right about that,” JT said. “The force wasn’t and isn’t with you on the weed thing.”

Blood Lines Chapter 28

   Conor Murphy’s house on Murphy’s Cove and the shore road running past it had both been there a long time, except as the 20th century unrolled, they changed places. The road used to be on the cliff side and the house at the base of the fields. Nearing the end of the century it was now on the cliff side, and the road had been moved away from the ocean.

   “What became our house was on the property but maybe a few hundred yards away,” said Brody Murphy, Conor’s father, said. “It wasn’t even a house, but we made it into that after we hauled it down to the water.” It was because his new wife refused to live in the family home that the green house ended up where it was, just barely within earshot of its counterpart. “I had it in the back of my head that my mother and wife would get along, but they were both strong women,” Brody said. “Too damn strong. They just couldn’t live in the same house. They were both determined about that.”

   When Brody Murphy and Eimear Walsh married in 1947, both in their early 20s, he native to the island and she from Boston, they moved into the big white family house on the cove. It was built in 1930. It was the family house Brody grew up in. “The only place to live was living in the white house,” he said. “It was for us.”

   The house is on the ocean side of North Rustico, on the north side of Prince Edward Island, near the entrance to the harbor, two-story clapboard with a dozen windows, two dormers, and three porches on the side facing the water. A broad lawn slopes down to the cliffs. “The first house was bigger,” Brody said. It had been bigger, but it was nearly sixty years gone. It went gone in a half-hour. It happened shortly before midnight on a winter’s night.

   Brody’s parents, Tom and Freya, were having dinner and playing cards at a neighbor’s house one night in 1929. It was wintertime, cold and snowbound. Their friends lived about a mile away. At the end of the evening, going home in their horse-drawn sled, they came over the crest of an icy hill. A red glow lit up the sky and flared over the ocean below them. 

   The dark sky was lit up like it was on fire. Their house was on fire. They had left seven children behind in the care of the eldest. Brody was the youngest, four years old. “It was a flue fire,” he said. “Our house burnt down because of the stove.” By the time the horses raced down to the house, the parents finding all their children safe and sound, there wasn’t much Tom and Freya could do. There were no neighbors nearby to help and there was no fire department. Tom was able to drag some furniture from the first floor of the house out the front door and saved as many fox furs as he could.

   The house was rebuilt the next year and finished the following year. “The furs my grandfather saved from the fire built the new house.” Conor’s grandfather was a fox farmer. He sold the pelts he saved from the fire, and they went to pay for the work of the nomadic tradesmen who built the new house. “Nobody knew them,” Conor said. “They were immigrants. They weren’t from around here. They did good work, though.”

   It took the Great Depression a year to get to Prince Edward Island, but when it did it disrupted farming, which was what the island did for a living. In 1930 island farmers had a bumper grain and potato harvest. They never had problems selling to their markets, but by then their markets were disappearing. For the next couple of years, no markets were buying. By 1933 average net farm income on PEI fell to twenty dollars a year, selling fruits, produce, vegetables, and cattle.

   Although agriculture and the fisheries crashed, tourism and fox farming boomed during those years. It was how many natives kept their heads above water. One in ten island farmers were involved in keeping foxes, so supporting their families. There were 600-some fox farms on the island in 1932. Five years later there were double that. By the end of the decade ten times the number of pelts went to market as had the previous decade.

   “When my mother married my dad, she didn’t get along with my grandmother all that well,” Conor said. The extended family was living all together in the family house. “My mom and grandmother liked each well other enough, but not enough, not by far, to live in the same house. She finally said to my dad, ‘Brody my good man, you better build me a house, or I’ll be seeing myself back to New England.’”

   It put Brody on the spot. There wasn’t the money for a new house, even though they had the property. “Dad had a choice to make, either lose your wife, or build a house,” Conor said. “He couldn’t build a house, so he improvised. I don’t know what kind of a building it was originally. It was probably a barn, so I hear. It was few hundred yards away. He hauled it down the hill to the cliffs and turned it into a house, even though he had his hands full farming at the time.”

   Moving a building is no small effort. Fortunately, the building was on the small side, there was a short clear path, and there weren’t any utility wires that had to raised. There was no electricity or plumbing to disconnect, either. Still, wooden cribs had to be inserted to support the building inside and out, jacks had to raise it at the corners and lower it the same way, and it had to be pampered to its new foundation, between the barn and the family home.

   “The house, or whatever it was, was going on eighty years old when my dad moved it,” Conor said. “It was half the size of what it is now. When I grew up in it, it was darn small. They built onto it in 1964 when I was eight years old. We spent that winter in my grandmother’s house while our house was being renovated. It was a long winter.”

   The Murphy kids, Danny, Hugo, Conor, Flynn, and Fiona grew up in what became a two-story, gable-roofed, green-shingled house, even though it was never big enough for all of them. There were never enough bedrooms. “It wasn’t bad, since there was a fifteen-year difference between the youngest and the oldest. We all left the house at different times.” The doors were made for walking.

   Tom Murphy died in 1948, soon after Brody and Eimear’s marriage, leaving Conor’s grandmother Freya a widow. She started taking in tourists, putting up a sign that said Surfside Inn. She planted and harvested a garden for the B & B’s breakfasts. “My grandmother filled all the rooms every summer. Some Canadians came, and some Europeans, and there were lots of Americans because they had lots of money.” 

   She ran the inn for more than twenty years. “She got a little bit ill around 1970 and lived alone for six or seven years until my dad moved her into the senior’s home in the village. After that nobody lived in the house for some years.” In the mid-1980s Sandy Murphy, Conor’s uncle, took it over, rechristening it Sandy’s Surfside Inn. “It was a rambling old house with large rooms and a spectacular view,” said a woman who came from Montreal. “The best thing was having breakfast in the morning with all the guests around one table. One summer it was with mime artists from Quebec, an opera singer from Holland, and another lady from Switzerland. A dip in the cove outside the front door was a must before breakfast. There were lovely foxes gamboling outside in the evening.”

   “It was neat when I was growing up,” Conor said. It was the 1960s. “There were ducks, geese, and sheep, and a white picket fence. Freya had plenty of tourists from Europe, speaking all kinds of languages. We were just kids, all these little blond heads running around. I started meeting people from overseas. I found out there was more to the world than what I could see in front of my nose.”

   Up the hill from the bottom of the pitch in the 1970s there was a Scottish summer camp for clansmen kids. “They called it ‘Love It Scots.’ There wasn’t a tree up there then. A couple hundred kids from around the Maritimes would come and they would teach them music and their heritage. We could hear bagpipes being played every night on our farm down here. After that it was a campground, two or three hundred families up there.”

   Nobody knows who invented bagpipes. Some say they were inspired by a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm and squeezing every few steps. Some say they were inspired by a man choking a goose. Others simply say they are a public nuisance.

   When the campground closed for good, trees started to grow back until it looked like the trees had always been there, rimming out the horizon, alive with damp and shadow. Weasels, red squirrels, and red foxes lived there. The foxes hunted mice and rabbits. The blue jay, the provincial bird, stayed above the fray.

   Provincial poobahs opened a Buffalo Park in the 1970s after getting a herd of bison as a gift. “They look like bigger, uglier cows with a beard,” one of them said. Bison is not native to the island, but nobody wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth. Tourists lined up to gape at the car-sized animal with horns curving upwards. Bison can run three times faster than people and jump fences five feet high. Fortunately, they were behind six-foot fences, and nobody had to run for their lives.

   “Back then tourists came here with a different attitude. They liked the humbleness of everybody, the way of life that was honest and down to earth. Prince Edward Island wasn’t like the rest of the world. The Maritimes were kind of cut off from the rest of the world once the Merchant Marine was taken away. We kind of fell behind.”

   The tourists of the 1960s into the 1980s were mostly young couples travelling with children. Some were older couples from the American east coast. There were nature lovers. There were artists. Some of them were bohemians. Others came because Prince Edward Island was the “Cradle of Confederation.” They carried history books in their backpacks.

   “It wasn’t no cradle here. It was a dump when I was growing up, to be honest,” Conor said. “Everybody had an outhouse and a pig in the backyard. There were rats everywhere. It wasn’t all that nice in Rustico, but a lot of artists, writers, photographers, people who liked nature came here. It took a long time to come back, in the 70s and up to now, before it became looking like a real village.”

   In the 1970s the provincial government invested in tourism and stayed invested. It partnered in a resort near Georgetown and another one near Mill River. Both included golf courses. “Everything started to get sterilized,” Conor said. He grew up on a saltwater cove, though. It didn’t get on the sterilization bandwagon. After storms the beach and slabs of sandstone were usually choked with seaweed, stinking for a quarter mile. Some old-school men collected it as fertilizer for their gardens while others banked it against their house walls as insulation for when the cold winter weather settled in.

   Everybody in North Rustico went to the school in town. After school Conor and his friends didn’t have to go far for fun. “Between the pool hall and the rink, those were my social events, before I could drink. We grew up in the pool hall here.” The pool hall was down and around the corner from Church Hill Road. A boatbuilder had some shops there and one of his sons converted one of them. The shop that became a pool hall was blue and yellow. “There were a couple of pinball machines up front and eight tables in the back. it was the spot for boys and girls on weekends.”

   By the time he was 16 years old and finished with 9th grade, Conor was finished with school. Many boys did the same thing, going to work with their fathers, or simply going to work. Conor went to Quebec the first chance he got, but when he came back to Prince Edward Island, the green house he had grown up in was still there. It was still Murphy Land, from the edge of the ocean to the edge of the trees.

Blood Lines Chapter 29

   Monk Kennedy had been an impulsive child, then an impulsive teenager, and an impulsive adult ever since. He never thought anything out. Every choice he made was slapstick. He went with the flow, although he couldn’t have said what the flow was. He was unable to control his thoughts and so was unable to control his actions. He was always looking for something that wasn’t there and doing what didn’t have to be done. It was why he needed all the excuses he could make. 

   The funny money he had been living on since last year made him even more impulsive. Whenever he wanted to, he could stuff his pockets with it and have fun, except there was hardly any fun to be had on Prince Edward Island. He hated the place. Most people were hard-working while he wasn’t. The rest were tourists. He hated them, too. He had to be careful in Charlottetown and anywhere else there might be a cop nearby. What was the point of having two million in one-hundred-dollar bills if it was always a pain in the ass spending it?

   Even most of the girls were a pain in the ass. He shouldn’t have killed the one who was free and easy with herself, and her money, too. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though he hated second guessing himself, it might have been a bad idea. He would never know so he dropped the dismals. Never look back is how he looked at it.

   He decided at the drop of a hat that he was leaving, the sooner the better, before it started getting windy cold snowy again, for sure. Bad weather wasn’t far off. He could pack and be gone in an hour. The island was a great place to ride his Kawasaki so long as he didn’t mind parking it for eight months. But he did mind. His motorcycle was the only friend he had. When he had it between his legs he felt like a man.

   The Kawasaki and he had to find a new home. Atlantic Canada was out. What the hell would he do in Moncton or Saint John? Quebec was out for sure. There was no future for him there unless he was looking for an early grave. As it stood, he was sure somebody was either on his way from Montreal to the island or already here looking for somebody like him, or him personally. He knew there would be no complaining or explaining. Contract killers never listened to reason or reasons. 

   Out west was out, too, flat, endless, and pointless. Toronto would fit the bill for the winter. It was big enough to get lost in and he could spread his hundreds around, collect and save all the legitimate money he got as change, change it into greenbacks in the spring, and go to the United States. What was left over he would squirrel away somewhere, maybe even in a bank. At the border all he needed was his driver’s license. He would say he was going on a road tour for the summer, pointing to his saddlebags.  He would flash his Easy Rider smile. He would have to remember to throw his dope away beforehand. The border guards had dogs who could sniff out anything. Once he was safely across, he would head to the deep south. The farther away the better.

   He thought New Orleans was his kind of place. The Confederacy was the place for him. That’s where he would go, he decided. The Big Easy was his style, babes and bourbon, all day and all night, zydeco when he wanted to relax. Why wait, he thought. I’ll get the rest of the money tonight and catch the ferry in the morning. He would have to circle around Montreal and stay overnight somewhere near Ottawa. There was no sense in tempting fate. He could be in Toronto the next day. He could stay in a motel for a week-or-so and later find a room in a boarding house. He would have to behave himself. It would be hard, but he thought he might be able to do it for six months. He had trouble thinking that far ahead, but he could try. After that he would be home free.

   He got his bags, laid them out on the bed, and started packing. He was a slapdash man, but neat when it came to packing and traveling. There was only so much he could carry, and he parceled it together. When he was done, he changed into leather pants and a leather jacket. He had a Candee Red Outlaw Bandit helmet. It matched his motorcycle, although he rarely wore it. He tucked it under his arm and walked out to his Kawasaki. He secured his bags, secured his helmet on the back with a bungee cord, and straddled the motorcycle. He felt good. He felt like going. He got going. 

   I may have my faults, he thought, but changing my mind when I’ve made it up isn’t one of them. It was too early to go up to North Rustico, so he headed for Chubby’s instead. He would grab a double burger and a pint, hang around, and shoot the shit until night fell. He would go when it got good and dark. They rolled the sidewalks up early in North Rustico, but he would wait until they were all sweet dreaming. He would have his money in five minutes and be on his way. He could sleep rough somewhere outside Borden until the first ferry left in the morning.

   Port Borden was a small village that got bigger after World War One when Prime Minister Robert Borden located a ferry terminal there at Carleton Point. In the 1920s, after the use of automobiles was legalized on the island, the roads leading to the terminal were improved. Still, most of the ferry traffic was still rail cars. That changed in the early 1960s when the Trans-Canada Highway was built. A new automobile-only ferry was built in 1962. All through the decade automobile traffic saw record growth. The Abegweit, a new ferry put into service in 1982, was the biggest vessel to ever operate out of Port Borden. It was the boat Monk planned on taking on his way to new life.

   Chubby’s was full to the gills. Monk took his burger and pint outside and found a spot at a picnic table. The parking lot was full of motorcycles. The island was a great place to ride a bike in summer, chock full of rolling country roads. American Motorcyclist magazine was even advertising six-day tours of PEI and Newfoundland. Monk couldn’t stomach riding in a group. He always rode alone.

   “Look at this piece of Jap trash,” he heard a thick-set man wearing colors say, looking down his nose at his Kawasaki. Monk’s good eye got shiny and sharp as an icepick when he heard the comment. He didn’t like it and said so.

   “Who are you, anyway?”

   “I’m the man who rides that,” Monk said.

   “That’s too bad, sonny boy,” the man said. “You should try riding something real.” He nodded at a nearby Harley Davidson. “Something like that.”

   Monk saw red, jumped to his feet, and reached for the switchblade in his back pocket, flicking it open.

   “Whoa there, son, whoa,” the man said, backing up. 

   “Take it back.”

   “Are you serious?”

   “I’m serious as hell, which is where you’re going. Take it back.”

   “I’m not taking anything back. Put that knife away.”

   “Give it up, man,” another biker said. “Only crazy people take themselves seriously.”

   “All right, all right, I’m sorry about what I said. Does that make you happy?”

   Monk slid back into his picnic table seat without saying anything, put his switchblade away, and took a swig of beer. His mouth was dry. He kept his head down finishing his burger that had gone tasteless. He kept his sense of smell on the big man. He fired up his Harley and roared away, but not before spitting on Monk’s Kawasacki as he went past it.   

   “Son of a bitch,” Monk muttered to himself, wiping the slobber off the gas tank. Nobody who had seen what happened said anything. Monk got himself together and sped off. He took Route 6 to Grand Tracadie to Oyster Bed Bridge to North Rustico. The ride took him a half-hour. He zipped past Conor Murphy’s house and barn, surprised to see the barn doors wide open and the barn lit up like a jamboree. He parked at Cape Turner and walked down to the Murphy homestead. There was a party going on inside the barn. It was packed full of people dancing to a record player. There was food and drink. There was a banner. It said, “Congratulations Prince Edward Island Teachers.”

   “What the hell?” Monk asked himself. “Fucking teachers?”

   He had barely spent a minute in any school room. He wasn’t home schooled. He was self-taught. He prided himself on being like Thomas Edison, even though he knew next to nothing about the inventor. Most of the lessons he had learned were learned the hard way. He had the bumps and bruises to prove it. He backed away from the barn a few feet into the trees and the darkness and waited. He could be patient as a snake when he absolutely had to be.

   Snaps wasn’t far away. He watched Monk. “What does that skunk want?” he asked himself, keeping his distance. He knew a bad smell when he saw one. He adopted his Corgi pose, relaxed and watchful. The party went on long and loud. There were no neighbors to disturb so there was no need to be quiet. The teachers were busting loose. Monk yawned, yawned again, propped himself up against a tree trunk, and fell asleep. When he woke up the party was over. It was near dawn.

   He waited while the morning wore on. He saw Conor come out of the house, get into his car, and drive away. He didn’t notice the black Maine Coon watching him. Snaps could be stealthy as the devil when he had to be. Monk waited ten minutes, walked to the barn, dug up his money, and walked back to Cape Turner. Snaps watched him go, flopped over to the side, licking his butt clean, and sauntered to the oceanside. He was going to stretch his legs, go for a long walk, and do some exploring. He might mess with the odd mouse to keep life interesting.

   Monk stuffed the trash bag full of cash into one of his saddle bags and rode away towards Cavendish. He kept strictly to the speed limit, which is what he was going to do all the way to Toronto. He could outrun any police car, but he wasn’t about to invite trouble, not with millions of dollars of counterfeit money on his hands. When he got to New London, he was going to take Route 8 to North Bedeque and from there to Port Borden. When the ferry arrived, he would take it to New Brunswick and head for Ottawa. He would be in Toronto soon enough, safe and sound.

   It was all going to go wrong at Stanley Bridge, but he didn’t know that, yet. He was going to find out all the things that could go wrong in about ten minutes. It was Murphy’s Law. In the meantime, he was like a gay blade who has gone off a high cliff. He was halfway down, and there was no problem, so far. It was a great view and the farther down he went the better he could see out of his one good eye. What he didn’t see was the transponder the RCMP had put in the trash bag full of bad cash.

Blood Lines Chapter 30

   Adam the Earthworm was a worm, at least until the day he became two worms. What happened was that Monk Kennedy, when he was digging up his counterfeit money at the side of Conor Murphy’s barn, sliced Adam in half with his shovel. He didn’t know he was doing it when he did it. The worm never knew what hit him. When it happened, even though he didn’t have ribs to speak of, the two new parts of him became two Eves, Edwina and Edith. 

   He took a deep breath, breathing through his skin, and tried to make the best of it. He didn’t have lungs. His breathing was shallow getting over the shock. Adam’s body was a cylindrical tube-in-a-tube. His face looked the same as his rear end. He didn’t have arms or legs. All worms have both male and female genitalia. He was a rain worm. He thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t an angleworm, which are used as fishing bait. In any case, his one-man worm days were over.

   Times could get tough for worms in an instant. Everybody remarked about the good luck of the early bird but never the bad luck of the early worm. The early worm gets eaten. Their one consolation was that God gave every bird its worm, but at least didn’t throw it into the bird’s nest. Their other consolation was that worms were going to inherit the earth. The unbroken circle was worm to frog, frog to snake, the snake to pig, pig to man, and all men and women, sooner or later, back to worms.

   Edwina and Edith tried to thank Monk, but the words wouldn’t come. By the time they did, Monk was gone. They looked around for him, wanting to wave goodbye, except they didn’t have eyes to see or hands to wave. They wiggled greetings to each other and began to burrow back into the ground. It was what they did best. They squinted, the morning light hurting their eyes.

   They didn’t have eyes, but they could sense light, especially at their front end. They might become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long. It was bad enough that rats, toads, and birds were always eating them. There were up to a million of them in every acre of land. By Adam’s calculations there were about one trillion four hundred billion worms on Prince Edward Island, plus one more now that he had been split into two. Nothing was going to eat them all anytime soon. Besides, they were good for the island’s well-being. He didn’t understand why they didn’t rule the world.

   They tunneled into soil and brought subsoil closer to the surface mixing it with topsoil. Their slime contained nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient for plants. The sticky slime helped to hold clusters of soil particles together in a form called aggregate. It was hard work, straining their five hearts, but since they breathed through their skin, they never ran out of breath. They were always eating and digesting most of their body weight every day.

   When Edwina and Edith joined the worm world they joined a world that was older than dinosaurs, who were around 230 million years ago before a giant asteroid put them out of commission. Worms went back 600 million years. The giant asteroid might have killed all the giant dinosaurs, but the little worms shrugged it off.

   “Did you know the famous scientist Charles Darwin spent almost 40 years studying worms ?” Edith asked Edwina.

   “No, I didn’t know that,” Edwina said. “Why did he spend so many years studying us? I mean, we are as simple as raisins.”

   “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures, the worms,” Charles Darwin said.

   “Lowly? I resent that,” Edwina said. If he had still been alive, she might have sent her South African cousins after him. They could grow to be as long as 22 feet long. Charles Darwin would have to take the “lowly” crack back or the big squeeze would be coming his way.

   Worms weren’t the fastest things on Prince Edward Island. They  had to wiggle like crazy to get anywhere. They were just about the slowest moving things on the island. They could go as far as 150 feet a day if they kept it up all day. No worm did that. They stopped to eat and defecate all the time. They stopped to rest and talk all the time. They stopped to look around. When the two Eves did, poking up out of the ground, they saw a storm coming in. It looked like a whopper of a storm.

   Rain hitting ground usually made worms think moles were after them. When that happened they made a beeline for the surface. But they were on the surface  of the ground already, so they weren’t worried about any moles. When soil got soaked was when it was migration day for worms. A soaking rain enabled them to move gracefully over the ground. Edwina and Edith slithered to the crest of the sloping croplands. From there they had a good view. They looked down on Murphy’s Cove, where waves were hurling and breaking themselves to pieces on the shore. The sky was half-dark in the middle of the day.

   “I hope the man who made us what we are doesn’t get wet on his motorcycle,” Edwina said.

   “Some men ride in the rain, others just get wet,” Edith said mysteriously.

   “Rain is wet, but who am I to judge?” Edwina said.

   “I wonder what kind of man our man is?” Edith asked.

   “I think he is going to be a wet and cheerless man soon enough,” Edwina said as rain began to fall.

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.