Tag Archives: North Rustico PEI

Chapter 21

   At the time Monk Kennedy thought it was a good idea. All at once was how he did things. He didn’t think he would burn through what he had stuffed into his pockets 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. Thomas Edison was the only hero he ever had. 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 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 stealth bomber.

   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 his contrivance wasn’t allowed but Monk told him in a low 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 night 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 and followed on Conor’s heels 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 seventeen 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 would overhear 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 full well 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 on the way back. A rabbit pretended he wasn’t there. He exchanged suspicious glances 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 stray mutt might have coughed up. Snaps stood stock still, almost invisible inside 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 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 full-grown man.

   He stopped when he heard digging sounds. He got low and looked around the corner of the barn. He had heard 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 in early spring 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. He wasn’t a thinking man’s cat, but he knew full well what mattered when it came to home and hearth.

Chapter 22

“When Britain is at war, Canada is at war,” Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier said in 1910. “There is no distinction.” Four years later when Britain entered World War One, Canada signed on, too. In August 1914 the Governor-General of Canada vowed that “the Canadian people will be united in a common resolve to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honor of our Empire”

The blood and guts credo was easy for him to say. He wasn’t going to be doing the sacrificing. He had the guts. but it was going to be somebody else’s blood. Empires are made by savaging and slaughtering. They are always sure of the rightness of their cause. They never go down without a fight. It doesn’t matter if there’s any honor in the fighting, or not. They plow straight ahead. Stay out of the way or get plowed under.

Canada had no air force, a navy fit only for a bathtub, and an army of 3,000-some men. By the end of the war more than 600,000 Canadians had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight for King and Country and more than 400,000 of them served in Europe, out of a population of fewer than 8 million souls.

   “The Empire Needs MEN” is what the posters said. “All answer the CALL! Helped by the YOUNG LIONS the OLD LION defies his foes. ENLIST NOW!”

   Everybody wanted in on the fight because everybody thought it would be over by Christmas. Canadians lined up to support the British Empire and collect pay of $1.10 a day. The harvest that year was bad, and unemployment was soaring. The army was a steady paymaster. But machine guns fired ten times as many bullets a minute as they were paid pennies a day. Hundreds of thousands on all sides were slaughtered day by week by month by the new rapid-firing weapons on the Western Front.

   At the beginning of the war, it was better to be killed than wounded. The wounded were taken off battlefields in horse-drawn wagons or on mules with baskets on their sides, the baskets soaked and dripping with men bleeding to death. There wasn’t any such thing as immediate lifesaving. If they made it to a train station, they were transported to hospitals. “One of those trains dumped about 500 badly wounded men and left them lying between the tracks in the rain, with no cover whatsoever,” said Harvey Cushing, the head of volunteer doctors at the American Ambulance Hospital of Paris.

   Nearly 60,000 Canadians were killed, the result of enemy action and disease, and more than 170,000 of them were wounded. Almost 3.500 men and one woman had at least one arm or leg amputated. Private Curley Christian lost all four limbs but survived.

   During the Battle of Vimy Ridge he was unloading cargo from a truck when an artillery shell hit next to where he was, trapping him under debris for several days. When stretcher bearers tried to reach him, they were killed by more artillery. When he was finally rescued, he was transported to a military hospital and from there to London. His arms and legs had gone gangrenous and all four were sawed off. When he got back home, he was fitted with prosthetic limbs and married Cleopatra McPherson. He deigned his own prosthesis for writing letters. Cleo and he had a son who twenty years later served in World War Two.

   More than 7,000 Prince Edward Islander’s enlisted. Five hundred of them were killed and more than a 1,000 wounded. Tommy Murphy went overseas with a siege battery in 1915. Before he went, he got married to Freya O’Sullivan and got her pregnant. He got word of his son Danny’s birth by telegram while taking a break in ankle-deep water sheltering in a trench during the Third Battle of Artois. 

   He had spent eight days at the front and was due for four days in a reserve trench and then four more days at a rest camp. When the bloodletting went on and on and the ranks thinned out, he never made it to the reserve trench much less the rest camp. It was that kind of a war. The Allied and Central Powers fought the same battles over and over. It was every man for himself and God against all.

   The British, French, and Canadians assembled seventeen infantry and two cavalry divisions for the offensive at Artois, backed by 630 field guns and 420 heavy artillery guns. During the fighting the field artillery fired 1.5 million rounds and the heavy artillery 250,000 rounds at the Germans. Tommy Murphy barely slept for days. Whenever he took a break, he felt like his arms were going to fall off after loading shells until there weren’t any more to load. He knew he had sent his share of Germans to their makers even though he never saw one of them die.

   When the Allies tried to advance, they suffered horrific losses. The battle went on from late September to mid-October when it ground to a halt in the middle of a never-ending autumn rainstorm and mutual exhaustion. By that time both sides were conserving ammunition because they were running out of it. They spent the rest of the month burying their dead, tending to the wounded, and withdrawing.

   Tommy was a cannon man because he was taller than five feet seven inches and burly enough to do the heavy work of feeding artillery. He didn’t have flat feet or bad eyesight, He didn’t have the greatest teeth, but explained he was enlisting to fight Germans, not bite them. He could have begged off the war because he was married, but he was patriotic and wanted to do his fair share. Money from the Canadian Patriotic Fund helped his wife keep the home fires burning.

   His battery had a lance corporal sniper attached to it. Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow was an Aboriginal who could split a bullseye nobody else could even see. He had more than 300 kills to his name. He roamed No Man’s Land at night for them, seeking out enemy snipers and forward spotters. He always came back in the morning. The other side never made it back to their side.

   Peggy wore moccasins instead of army boots, chewed dead twigs whenever he sensed danger, and always carried a medicine bag. “When I was at training camp on Lake Superior in 1914, some of us landed from our vessel to gather blueberries near an Ojibwa settlement,” he said. “An old Indian recognized me and gave me a tiny medicine bag to protect me, saying I would shortly go into great danger. The bag was skin tightly bound with a leather throng. Sometimes it seemed to be hard as a rock, at other times it appeared to contain nothing. What was inside of the bag I do not know.”

   Tommy had signed up for short service and when 1915 was over and done and it was April 1916, he was done with his one year on the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His commanding officer tried to convince him to re-enlist, but he had a wife, a child, and a farm that needed him. He didn’t need to kill anymore Germans. He was sick of the butchery. Three men from North Rustico were already dead. He didn’t want to be next one. He knew if he re-enlisted it was only a matter of time before he went home in a pine box to be buried on Church Hill Rd.

   He got out when the going was good. The next year enlistments dried up as men near and far began to realize the toll the new style combat on the Western Front was taking. Machine gun and shell fire were murderous. On top of that there was poison gas. The dead were left where they fell. They were left for the rats. In May 1917 the government announced conscription through the Military Service Act. The rats stood up and cheered.

   It was easier getting into the army than it was getting out. However, he finally found a ride on a troop transport from Calais to Dover, took a train to London, and spent the night at a whore house with a razzle dazzle girl. He took a steam bath the next morning and had lunch at a corner fish and chip shop, cod with a splash of vinegar and a pint at his elbow. He followed the first pint with a second one and was happy for it. He had a ticket for passage to Halifax, but the voyage was a week away. His grandfather had come from Ireland, or so the family story went, and done something big for the Crown, who rewarded him with 400 acres of PEI shoreline. He unfolded a map and located Dublin. It was directly across the Irish Sea from Liverpool.

   He bought a train ticket to Liverpool and the next morning landed in Dublin. It was Easter Monday. The Easter Rising had happened yesterday. The Easter Rising was happening today. Tommy was unaware of the hubbub until he walked into it.

   After landing at Dublin Port, he followed the River Liffey, making for Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His plan was to find a room for a few days and have dinner. He would explore the rest of the city after a good night’s sleep. He was wearing his Canadian Army uniform over a pair of Spring Needle underwear and carrying a rucksack. He had his toiletries, four pairs of clean socks, his rolled up military wool overcoat, and a paper bag full of Huntley & Palmer biscuits in it. The biscuits were so hard they would crack a man’s teeth at the first bite if not soaked in tea beforehand.

   His papers and money were in a travel wallet attached to his belt. He had his Colt New Service revolver on his belt, too, for what it was worth now that his war was over. An hour later he was glad he had it, after he got it back from the rebel lasses, although he wasn’t sure if he was going to need it to protect himself from the Irish or the British.

   Dublin Castle was in the middle of the old part of the city. The city got its name from the Black Pool, the ‘Dubh Linn,’ where the rivers Liffey and Poddle met. It was where the castle was. It had been a Gaelic ring fort in the beginning, a long time ago. Later, after the Vikings showed up, it was a Viking fort. For the past 700 years it had been a British fort, the seat of their rule in Ireland. 

   Tommy didn’t have anything against the British, but after a year of serving in their army, he thought the Irish might be better served ruling themselves. They couldn’t do worse. During the year he served on the Western Front three quarters of a million Jacks and John Bulls were killed. It made him sick to think of the men he had seen obeying harebrained orders to attack barbed wire and machines guns across open fields. A few million men went wounded and missing. The wounded might survive, but he didn’t think the missing were coming back anytime soon.

   He was glad to be out of it. It hadn’t ended by Christmas of 1914. It still wasn’t over by Christmas of 1915. The next Christmas was in eight months and the talk was it would take a half-dozen more holidays to either win or lose the war. He meant to say a prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral before dinner. 

   He didn’t get a chance to say a prayer, find a room, or have dinner. He lost his chance when he came across the bridge leading to Trinity College, turned the corner towards Dublin Castle, and found himself face to face with a Mauser semi-automatic pistol. He knew exactly what it was. He stood stock still where he was. The hand on the firearm was a woman’s hand. She was wearing an old military hat and a yellow armband.

   “Hand’s up and on the wall, boyo,” she said, a second woman coming up behind him. The second woman was wearing a bandolier laden with half dozen hand grenades. She had a revolver. It looked like it came from the Middle Ages. He did what she said. She patted him down and took his Colt.

   “Who are you and what are you doing here?” she asked.

   “Tommy Murphy, Canadian Army, from Prince Edward Island by way of a year in France,” he said. “I’m here to take in the sights before going home. Now that we’re talking, I thought Ireland was sitting the war out.”

   “We ask the questions,” the woman wearing the bandolier barked.

   “Come on,” the woman with the Mauser said, poking him in the small of the back with the barrel of the gun.

   The streets leading to the city center were barricaded. When they got to the General Post Office, he saw there were two green flags flying in place of the Union Jack. They said “Irish Republic” in gold letters. He knew there was no such thing as an Irish Republic. 

   “What’s going on?”  

   “We’re rocking the casbah,” the grenade girl said.

   There was a man outside the post office reading from a broadsheet. It was the “Proclamation of the Irish Republic.” There were copies of it pasted on walls. Newsboys were handing them out to anybody who wanted one. Not everybody wanted one. Most of the onlookers didn’t understand what was happening. They went about their business, shopping, stopping for lunch, gossiping. The grenade girl handed him a copy. “Read this,” she said. There were men with rifles and shotguns on the roofs of buildings overlooking bridges.

   “Who’s this?” said a man wearing a scrap of paper pinned to his breast. It said “Citizen Army.”

   “We found him down the street, Sean.”

   Sean was Sean Mac Duiarmada, one of Commander-in-Chief Patrick Pearce’s right-hand men.

   “He’s Canadian,” Sean said pointing to Tommy’s regimental badge and the “CANADA” title at the end of his shoulder straps.

   “We thought he was a Brit.”

   “They’ll be here soon enough,” Sean said.

   There were 1,200 rebels waiting for 20,000 British troops to show up.

   A shot rang out in the distance and Margaret Keogh fell down dead. She was a 19-year-old nurse tending to a wounded Citizen Army man. She was the first person to die during the Rising of Easter Week.

   A team of Volunteers trotted past on their way to the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park. They took all the weapons and ammunition they could carry and blew up the rest. When the son of the fort’s commander tried to raise the alarm, he was shot dead. He was the second person to die.

   “You’re free to go,” Sean said to Tommy. “Best you leave Dublin all together.”

   “What about my firearm?”

   Sean nodded to the grenade girl, and she handed Tommy’s Colt back to him.

   When a contingent of the Citizen’s Army approached Dublin Castle, the police sentry James O’Brien ordered them to halt. He was shot dead even though he was unarmed. He was the third person to die. When British troops showed up the rebels retreated to City Hall, barreled up to the roof, and fired down on the troops in the street. The man commanding the rebel contingent, Sean Connolly, was shot dead by a sniper, the first rebel and fourth person killed.

   Tommy carefully made his way back to the docklands. He boarded the same boat he had come on. An hour later the boat was steaming out of Dublin Bay on its way back to Liverpool. Eight hours later he was asleep in a room of a boarding house on the waterfront, not far from the Three Graces.

   The next morning was cold and damp. Women were out in the streets with their long-handled push brooms. They were called Sweepers. Others were in homes cleaning and scrubbing. They were called Dailies. Many more were at work in munitions factories. They were called Munitionettes. Liverpool’s men were on the Royal Navy’s battleships and in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. They were called Cannon Fodder.

   Tommy found a greasy spoon near the port and ordered breakfast, eggs back bacon sausage baked beans a fried tomato fried mushrooms fried bread and black pudding. The Liverpool Daily Post headline screamed “REBELLION!” There was no need for him to read about it. He thought he might have this same breakfast at midday and tonight. Somebody once said, “To eat well in England you must have breakfast three times a day.”

   He put the newspaper aside. Pushing himself away from the table, he checked his ticket for Canada. He tucked it securely away with his service revolver. Tommy Murphy was going to keep himself safe and sound until his boat sailed for home. Once he was out of the frying pan that was sizzling on another man’s stove, he was going to make sure he stayed out of it the rest of his born days.