Tag Archives: Prince Edward Island

Blood Lines Chapter 11

   When the Chevy pick-up in front of him swerved suddenly to the left, JT Markunas pushed down on the brake pedal of his police car. The pick-up stopped on the shoulder on the left side of Route 6 just as JT saw what it was that had made the driver swerve. It was a woman in a Mother Hubbard house dress crossing the road, looking steadily ahead but not for approaching traffic. She looked unsteady. He pulled off and turned on his flashers. The pick-up driver was leading the woman by the elbow away from the road.

   “She almost walked right into my truck,” he said.

   “Do you know who she is?” 

   “No, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m making a delivery to French River, coming up from Stratford. I thought I would go along the coast. Christ, I almost hit a dog down by Oyster Bed Bridge and now this. Next time I’m taking the highway.”

   JT put the woman in the front seat of his car and radioed that he was going to try to find out where she lived and get her back to her home.

   “How are you feeling?” he asked.

   “Good, but I’m cold,” the woman said.

   He turned the car’s heating on, directing the vents at her.

   “Where do you live? Here in South Rustico?” 

   She pointed up Route 243 in the direction of St. Augustine’s. He swung his police car around, turning in a tight circle, and drove slowly up the road. 

   “Along here?” he asked.   

   “No,” she said. “Up that way.”

   When they got to the church he stopped and asked again.

   “I don’t know,” she said. “Somewhere that way,” pointing to their left.

   “What color is your house?”

   The woman looked at the church, ignoring his question. “Everybody went to church back when I was a girl. Especially here in a small community like this. My goodness, we all went. I just walked up the road from home to the church and the school. It was the same way we walked to the beach and went swimming. My teachers were Mother Saint Alphonse, Mother Saint Theodore, and Mother Saint Cyril, who was sort of icky. Kids came to our school from all over, from Hope River and Oyster Bed Bridge.”

   “You have a good memory,” JT said.

   “Oh, yes,” she said. “My school was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Most of them came from the islands.” The Magdalen Islands are an archipelago not far away in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “There were four classrooms and eleven grades. The nuns were one hundred percent French. My French is fluid to this day.”

   South Rustico is where Route 6 and Church Road cross. There is a beach on Luke’s Creek, which is a bay on the far shoreline, near the National Park. The Rustico lands were some of the oldest communities established in La Nouvelle Acadie after the Treaty of Paris in 1763. 

   “I once went to mass at St. Augustine’s twice in twelve hours,” Archie Thomson said. He spoke from the hereafter. He was the woman’s dead husband. “We were dating, I was on the island, and her mother insisted we go to church Saturday night before stepping out. So, OK, that’s it, we go. Sunday morning, they wake me up and say it’s time to go to church again. I say, what, did I die? When I did, I thought, I got to be desperate for a girlfriend.”

   “You must have really liked me,” his sweetheart said.

   Built in 1838, the oldest Catholic Church on the island, St. Augustine’s was an old church when Ida and Archie got married there in 1941. “Her foster mother hosted our dinner at the Charlottetown Hotel and the party afterwards was at their house,” Archie said. “The barn was behind the house, and they brewed homemade beer. Ida and I didn’t have ten cents to rub together, but we were young and ready to go.”

   Ida Arsenault was born at home in 1917. She grew up in what became the Barachois Inn on the Church Road. A barachois is like a bayou, a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by a sandbar. But the home she grew up in wasn’t where she was born, nor were her parents the parents she was born to.

   “When my twin sister and I were born, our mother died the next day,” she said. “It was too much for her.”

   Her father, Jovite Arsenault, a farmer with nine children, owned a house behind the church and the croplands between Anglo Rustico and the red sand shore. “Where the new school was built,” said Ida, “that was once part of his fields.” Suddenly a widower, he was unable to care for the newborns.

   Ida and her sister, Elsy, were placed with foster families. Her sister went to Mt. Carmel, on the southwest end of the island. Ida became a ward of the Boucher’s, a husband and wife in their 50s, who lived down the street, on the front side of the church. “It was just a few minutes away,” she said. “I saw my brothers and sisters, and my father, all the time, and my new parents made sure I saw my twin sister now and then.”

   The Boucher’s were islanders who had long worked in Boston as domestics, saved their money, and returned to Prince Edward Island, buying a house and farm. They kept cows and some horses. They were childless. “I was spoiled rotten since I was their only child,” Ida said. “They were older and well-to-do. We had a car, a black Ford. I didn’t do too much, although I might have milked a cow once-in-a-while.”

   Before mid-century most of the roads on Prince Edward Island were dirt or clay, muddy when it rained, dusty when it was dry. The first paved road, two miles of it, was University Avenue in Charlottetown in 1930. “They eventually paved the road up to the church,” said Ida. “We used to say, ‘Meet me at the pave,’ which was where the pavement ended.”

   One of her aunts lived a few miles away in Cymbria on Route 242. She washed clothes by hand in a washtub and dried them on the line. There were thirteen children in her family. They didn’t have running water or electricity. They had an outhouse. “When I went out to the well and pulled the bucket up, there was meat and butter in the bucket. That was their refrigeration.”

   “When did they get power and plumbing?” JT asked.

   “In the 1950s when they moved across the street into an old schoolhouse,” Ida said.

   “Where were you going when I found you on the road?”

   “I don’t know,” Ida said. “Maybe I was going to visit my auntie, but I’m not sure.”

   Archie was born in Thorold, Ontario a year after Ida. “My father worked on the boats all the time, Montreal to Thorold, where the locks are, and that’s where we moved,” he said. From Montreal the passage is down the St. Lawrence River and across the length of Lake Ontario to Niagara. The Welland Canal at Thorold, sitting on top of the Niagara Escarpment, is ‘Where the Ships Climb the Mountain.’ Standing on viewing platforms, anybody can watch cargo ships pass slowly by at eye-level barely an arm’s length away.

   He enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy on his twenty-first birthday. It was 1939. During World War Two Canada commanded the fifth largest navy in the world. Archie met Ida when she was in nursing school in Halifax, where he was stationed with the fleet. “I was working a little job at the Charlottetown Hospital,” said Ida. “A friend of mine told me about the nursing course in Halifax. Right away I got the bug.” She and her friend enrolled, and her friend’s father drove them to Nova Scotia.

   After graduating, as part of her scholarship agreement, she worked at the Christie Street Veterans Hospital in Toronto. It was a Collegiate Gothic building originally built as the National Cash Register Company factory in 1913. “They gave us $45.00 a month to live on.” She and Archie dated long-distance by mail and phone. They got together when they could. When they did, they jumped into each other’s arms.

   “Whenever I got leave, I would pick her up in Toronto and take her to visit my parents in Thorold. That’s how I introduced her to my family.” At the same time, Ida was introducing Archie to Prince Edward Island. “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression,” Archie said.  It was a long drive alone to the far coast. He practiced making a good first impression.

   “I took the S. S. Charlottetown across the strait when we were dating,” Archie said.. “You had to sleep in your car if you missed the last one. We would be lined up single file down the road. There would be a hundred cars full of frozen men inching along in the morning trying to get on the first ferry.”

   In the steel gray of winter, crossing the Northumberland Strait from Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick, to Port Borden, Archie stood bundled up against the cold wind, hands stuck in mittens, leaning over the bow watching as the heavy boat broke through thick ice.

   “It would crunch ice into big blocks and turn them over like ice cubes as it went across,” he said.

   One afternoon, making his way from Halifax to South Rustico, coming off the ferry in December and driving up Route 13 from Crapaud, he was brought up short by a snowdrift in the road. “The road went down a valley and there was five feet of snow piled up,” Archie said. He reversed his 1935 Chrysler Airflow back to where the rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road. “I hit the gas as hard as I could, went as fast as I could, hit the snow, everything disappeared, and I came out the other side. By the time I did the car was barely moving. I shut it off and caught my breath.”

   Archie gave Ida a ring. She gave him a stack of books for his next sea voyage. They hardly saw each other after that as her man sailed back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. In June the S. S. Charlottetown sank on her way to a dry dock in Saint John for an overhaul. The boat was four miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. The crew rowed to safety in their lifeboats. Two tugs tried to get to the vessel but had to turn around in the heavy fog. When she was finally refloated the flow of water into her couldn’t be stemmed. It was the end of her.

   “We were in Lisbon when I got a message from Ida that she and my mother had decided on December 8th for our marriage,” Archie said. The executive order said to be ready. “I went to the radio communications on board and sent a telegraph confirming my agreement.” They were married the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.

   “Stay in the car, Ida,” JT said. “I’m going to the church for a minute.” He was hoping to find somebody who would know where she lived. But there was nobody to ask. All the doors were locked, and he didn’t see any vehicles anywhere. He went back to his police car.

   “That’s where I live,” Ida said pointing through the windshield at the Barachois Inn up the street from the church.

   “That’s a hotel,” JT said.

   “That’s where I live,” Ida repeated.

   When JT knocked on the door with Ida standing behind him, a woman wearing an apron answered. She was drying her hands on a dish towel.

   “Can I help you?” she asked until she spotted Ida. “Where did you find her?”

   “Trying to cross Route 6,” he said.

   “Oh, dear.”

   “She said she lives here.”

   “She did when she was a child.”

   “Do you know where she lives now.”

   “Yes,” the woman said, and gave him directions, describing the house. “She has a neighbor by the name of Bernie Doiron. He tries to keep an eye on her, but he’s a farmhand and works most days.”

   “Thanks for your help. If you don’t mind my asking, how old is this house? It looks like it has been restored.”

   “It was more than a hundred years old when we bought it,” the woman said. “It was built by a merchant back then, a man by the name of Joseph Gallant, so we call it the Gallant House. My husband and I had planned on living here, fixing it up, which we are still doing. It is an unending job. We converted it into a bed and breakfast to help with the bills.”

   Back in the car Ida said she was hungry.

   “We ate fish, mussels, potatoes, carrots, and turnips when I was a girl. That was about it. Whenever we went to Charlottetown we ate at a Chinese restaurant, but that was as much as I ever knew. Before I got married, I never had Italian food. After I got married, my cousin and a friend of hers said, we’re coming over to make dinner. We’re going to make spaghetti. I thought, yippee, what’s that?”

   JT found her house easily enough, helped get Ida inside, and boiled water fin a kettle for tea. He waited until she was resting easy in her easy chair before leaving. He shot her a two-finger salute off the brim of his cap.

   “Thank you, Mr. Policeman,” she said. “Can you come back soon and take me for another walk?”

Blood Lines Chapter 12

   “Mommy, you know how those men dug a hole for daddy because he wasn’t alive anymore?”

   “Yes, Maggie.”

    “I saw daddy dig a hole behind the barn and bury something in it.”

   “When did you see that?”

   “I saw it when he came back.”

   “Came back from where?”

   “When he left with all the horses that time and came back.”

   Siobhan rubbed her hands clean on her apron. “Show me where that is,” she said. The widow and her daughter walked out of the kitchen, across the yard, and behind the barn. It was early in the morning, the bottom half of the sun still on its way up out of the ocean.

   “Look mommy, there’s a fox digging near where daddy buried his treasure.”

   A red fox was digging, stopping, listening, and digging again. He had long, thin legs, a lean lithe frame, pointed nose and bushy tail. They ate everything, rats, mice, voles, lizards, rabbits and hares, birds, fruits, and bugs. The foxes on the shoreline ate fish and crabs. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t grist for the mill.

   “What is he doing?” Maggie asked, watching the fox listening.

   “When he stops to listen, he’s listening for a rat or a mouse digging underground,” Siobhan said.

   The fox cocked his head. “I know you’re down there,” he said to himself. “You can’t get away.” He dug deeper, not trying to be quiet. He knew he could dig faster than whatever rodent was soon going to be his breakfast could scurry.

   He was the size of a medium-sized dog. He was a tod. The vixen was probably in the nesting chamber with their pups. They lived in the dunes, in burrows they dug for the family. There were three four five ways of getting into and out of the den in case predators snuck in trying to eat the pups. The fox husband and wife stored groceries there, pushing it under piles of leaves, spending most of the day in the safe and sound, searching for more food mostly at night.

   The fox looked up at Maggie and Siobhan. She knew they could see as well as cats, their vertically slit pupils glinting. If he yipped and turned to go, he would be gone in a flash. They were practically the fastest animals on the island. Many people thought they were cunning. Some people thought they had magical powers. Whatever spells they could cast never helped when a coyote was tracking them.

   When the fox got his Norway rat, he trotted off with it. Siobhan went into the barn and brought back a shovel. Maggie pointed at the spot where to dig. Ten minutes later her mother had a dirty leather tobacco pouch in her hands. She knocked the loose dirt off it and walked to the house, Maggie trailing behind her. They sat on the porch facing Murphy’s Cove. When she opened the pouch and reached inside, her hand brought out money in bundles held together by elastic bands. She had never seen elastic bands before and never seen that much money, either. When she finished counting it there was $7,000.00 in her lap.

   It was all in fifty-dollar Dominion of Canada bills. The god  Mercury was on the front holding a map of British North America, along with a harbor, ships, and a train in the background. “50 Dollars Payable at Montreal” was printed on the back. Montreal was where her husband had sold his horses.

   “Look mommy,” Maggie said. “Somebody is coming.”

   A two-man horse and buggy was coming down the road, except there were three people in the buggy. There were a man and a woman and a one-year-old girl.

   “It’s Clara and Hugh come down from Clifton with their new-born,” Siobhan said as the buggy got closer. Her children were on the porch watching. She stuffed the cash money back into the leather pouch and handed it to Billy, her oldest son. “Go to my bedroom and wait for me there. Keep this in your hands on your lap until I come for it.”

   “Good day,” Siobhan said as the buggy came to a stop. Clara handed the child to her. Hugh walked around and helped his wife down to the ground. Lucy Maud Montgomery looked up at Siobhan and smiled. Siobhan smiled back. The baby girl cut cheese, and Siobhan gave her back to her mother.

   “Lucy is a lovely name, but she looks like an Annie to me,” Siobhan said.

   “That’s odd, because you’re the second person who has said the same thing,” Clara said.

   “We wanted to stop and pay our condolences,” Hugh said.

   “Thank you,” Siobhan said.

   “William was a good man.”

   “Yes, he was.”

   Hugh fed and watered the horse. The grown-ups sat and talked on the porch. The children played with the child. When the sun started to set Hugh and Clara got ready to go to North Rustico where they planned to spend the night with relations.

   “Come and have dinner with us,” Clara said.

   “I would love that,” Siobhan said and that is what she did, but not before walking upstairs with Sean, her second-oldest son. “I won’t be back tonight,” she said to him and Billy. “Put the children to bed once it gets dark. Don’t light anything and keep this bag in bed with you tight between the two of you until we decide what to do with it tomorrow.” She kissed her sons, and the other children downstairs, and once outside walked alongside the buggy towards town. She carried the baby, cooing at the girl as they walked past the burying ground.

   The next morning, she made breakfast for her children and when they were done eating, she and the girls cleaned up while the boys tended to their chores. Michael was too small to do much, but Billy and Sean were strong boys who knew their way around animals and farmland. Next summer she would add on to the house, adding two bedrooms so when the boys and girls grew up, they could have separate bedrooms. She would improve the fields and fences. She would hire a farmhand, but not increase the size of her herd overmuch. Her husband had wanted to keep a hundred horses, but she didn’t think the land would keep that many. She would devote three hundred acres to the horses and thought fifty-or-so of them would be best. 

   She didn’t believe in continuous grazing. Horses had a bad habit of grazing their favorite grass close to the ground, then returning to eat the regrowth as soon as it came back. As the year went on there wasn’t enough of it left to capture sunlight. It had to use stored energy to regrow, and if horses kept eating in the same place, energy stores ran out and the grass died.

   Horses liked orchard grass, smooth brome, and timothy the best. They could eat it all day long down to the bare earth which was when weeds started to grow in their place. Siobhan had heard of rotational grazing and that was what she was going to do. She would move the horses to one pasture and let the other pastures recover. Each of the pastures would be left empty for at least several weeks at a time. That was how long it took for forage regrowth after grazing.

   She had four paddocks connected to a sacrifice lot. The lot had a shelter, a feeder, and a water source so that the paddocks didn’t need to have their own. The horses could get to the sacrifice lot anytime they wanted. They liked it that way. Siobhan was determined to keep draft horses. She wasn’t a racing horse woman. Prince Edward Island was a farming island and farmers needed draft horses more than anything else.

   When Friday came and before it went, she told the children they would be going to Charlottetown the next day, and staying overnight, so they could buy clothes shoes boots tools small barrels utensils dishes a new table and chairs and as many household necessities as they could carry back. Winter was coming soon enough.

   Her team could trot at 15 KPH if they had to and get them to Charlottetown in two-and-a-half hours or die trying. The road wasn’t especially rough or hilly, but it wasn’t smooth and flat, either. If the team walked, they could get to the city and live to tell the tale, although it would take them five hours-or-more. She would take the four youngest children with her and leave the two oldest behind. She stood Billy and Sean on brown paper and traced their bare feet. She rolled the paper up and tied it with a string. She measured their arms and legs and height twice.

   The five of them going all together would weigh less than 400 pounds. They would be heavier coming back, but the horses could pull ten times and more that weight with no trouble and do it all day if the distance was slow and steady. She hitched the horses to their farm wagon and started before dawn. Maggie and Michael, the two youngest, sat up front with her. Biddy and Kate knelt in the back on the floor of the wagon leaning on the tailgate, looking back from the way they were going.

   When coming into Charlottetown she asked the children if they wanted to see Fanningbank. “Yes, please!” They were unanimous that they did. “Our teacher told us it is the Government House,” Biddy said when she saw it. “Why do you call it Fanningbank?”

   “It’s because a hundred years ago Edmund Fanning, who was going to become the governor, set this land on the riverbank aside for the building of a residence for the governor,” Siobhan said. “The land was his and known as Fanning Bank then, and that is what it has stayed to this day.”

   Fanningbank was a large Georgian style house. It was the kind of architecture popular in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Georgian style valued classical balance. John Harvey was the second governor to live there. After the start of the new year of 1837, in the dead of winter, he held the first dress-up party in the elegant house. 

   “An entertainment upon a splendid scale was given by Sir John and Lady Harvey at Government House on Thursday evening last. As this was the first occasion upon which the rooms were thrown open to a large evening party, no pains were spared to give full effect. At ten o’clock dancing commenced, which was continued with great spirit and animation until after one o’clock. The rooms were brilliantly lighted, and this, added to the crown of beauty and fashion with which they were thronged, exhibited their handsome proportions and striking appearance to peculiar advantage,” the Royal Gazette reported.

   The dancing mingling gossiping and back-slapping took place in the Grand Ballroom, a large high-ceilinged room surrounded by eight columns. When the party was over His Excellency and Lady went upstairs and rooted around under the covers in the Sovereign’s Bedroom. The party was the talk of the season that year.

   In 1864 the delegates to the Charlottetown Conference came to the house in the evening for an official dinner and dance given by Governor George Dundas. They had a grand time excited by their grand ideas, although none of them had any illusions about what it would take to make their ideas come true.

   “Mommy, why do they call them excellencies?” Maggie asked.

   “I will tell you when you are a little bit older,” Siobhan said.

   They went on to the south side of Queen Square, one of Charlottetown’s main commercial streets. It was where Siobhan knew there was tailoring, the selling of dry goods, and the manufacture and sale of rubber boots and furniture. What she didn’t know was that a fire had swept through the section destroying all but one building on the corner of Richmond and Queen. Where wood had stood brick was being laid, but nothing there was ready yet to provide her with what she wanted and needed.

   Charlottetown was a small city but with big enough business, and she had no great difficulty finding the clothes and goods she was looking for elsewhere. One merchant’s loss was another merchant’s gain. The first merchant she visited was the shoemaker Thomas Strangman and Sons. A shoe stitching machine had been invented by an American in 1856. It was known as the McKay Stitching Machine and Thomas Strangman was the first man on Prince Edward Island to have one. Sole cuts tailored to fit the right or left foot were still on the way. In the meantime, it was make them shape up on your own.

   When she was ready to pay for the shoes and boots for her children and herself, she showed one of the fifty-dollar bills to Tom Strangman.

   “Is my money good here?”

   He looked at the front and back of the bill.

   “Yes, ma’am, your money is good here.” He would take it next door to the dry goods store, which was also an exchange bank, among other things.

   She bought rice, sugar, and coffee. She bought cotton socks wool socks undershirts under garments shirts denim pants and blankets. She bought rolls of calico, brown shirting, domestic gingham, and bleached cotton. She bought a heavy plaid shawl for $3.00. She bought a dining room table and eight chairs for $45.00. 

   On the way back to Murphy’s Cove the following Sunday morning the children sat on the chairs at the table in the back of the farm wagon all the way home, waving to everybody they saw, pointing out a cross-eyed cow, and singing songs. They took turns sitting at the head of the table. They sang parlor songs and minstrel songs. They sang “The Maple Leaf Forever” and “The Red River Valley.” They sang loud and long and off-key.

   “From this valley they say you are going, I shall miss your bright eyes and sweet smile, for alas you take with the sunshine, that has brightened my pathway awhile.”

   Siobhan kept her eyes fixed on the path ahead of her while her children sang.

Blood Lines Chapter 13

   Jimmy LaPlante’s neighbors either didn’t know a thing about him or thought he was a mean recluse with a nice dog. The dog was a Labrador Retriever, young and friendly, willing to chase any stick thrown by anybody into the bay. Jimmy didn’t especially like dogs, but he had gotten the black puppy last fall to keep him company and be a bow wow alarm. He wasn’t worried about his neighbors. He was worried about Montreal. Jimmy was from Montreal but had lived on St Peter’s Bay the past eleven years. He kept himself to himself.

   Nobody except his dog and his neighbors and his niece knew where he lived. Now it was only the Lab and the neighbors. He had made sure Montreal didn’t know where he was. He had made absolutely sure of it. He was sure they still didn’t know. He was careful talking to them on the pay phone outside the down the road fish and chip shop, never talking for long. He knew they knew how to trace calls.

   He hadn’t been close to his niece, but he didn’t like it when he read in the newspaper that she was dead. Now at least he knew something. Until then all he had known was that Becky was gone. She had been found buried in a potato field up around Rustico. What was she doing there? The cops weren’t saying much. The newspapers weren’t repeating much.

   What the hell happened? She had delivered the hundred grand of good cash from Montreal and long since was supposed to have delivered the two million dollars of bad cash to them, although he knew all winter she hadn’t. He wasn’t returning his hundred grand, though. He told Montreal that and told them to find the girl themselves. He had done his part. When they found her, they would find their money, he said. They didn’t like it and told him so. He told them to drop dead and hung up with a bang. He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but what could he say? 

   He knew somebody would be showing soon enough, nosing around, looking for him and their money. The newspaper said she had been found with a briefcase but no identification. It didn’t say anything about what was in the briefcase. He knew without thinking about it that it had been empty just like he knew from now on he was going to have to be careful. That’s the way the Quebecois men were. He didn’t think they would find him but started sleeping with his dog at the foot of the bed and a Colt .38 Super under his pillow.

   Jimmy was 16 years old when he made his first counterfeit bill. By his late teens he was making fake c-notes that his friends spent everywhere without any of them bouncing. By his early 20s he was flooding the market with so many of the fakes that many businesses stopped accepting them. The Bank of Canada was forced to change the design to put their currency back on the right track.

   He got good at reproducing security holograms on banknotes and earned the nickname of “Hologram Tom.” His middle name was Tom. When he took a break from forgery, he took up impersonation. He masqueraded as a pilot for Air Canada so he could fly on courtesy passes. Over the next five years he pretended to be a doctor and a lawyer, among other things. One man died and another man was disbarred, but he left his mistakes behind him when he moved on to bank checks. In the end he went back to hard cash. It was what he knew best.

   What had happened to his niece? It had to be something to do with that dickhead biker, who he disliked and distrusted the minute he saw him and whose name he never got. He thought he was probably an islander, although he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know where he lived, but guessed it had to be Summerside or Charlottetown. He didn’t even know what kind of motorcycle the ferret rode, although he knew it was red.

   If push came to shove, he might tell the men from Montreal what he knew but make sure he told them from the back end of his handgun. He wouldn’t let them get their hands on him. If they did, he stood no chance. He knew that as well as he knew anything. He wasn’t planning on moving or leaving Prince Edward Island. There was no point to it. It would just make them testy and not believe anything he might tell them later. He would sit tight until if and when they showed up. He had moved to Prince Edward Island to get away from the life of crime, although crime was how he made his living. He knew the everyday risks, which was why he left Quebec for Atlantic Canada. The past years had been peace and quiet, the occasional phony bag of loot keeping him in plenty of spending money.

   It had blown up in his face, but he put a brave face on it and took his dog for a walk. He wore a pair of knee-high rubber boots. His house was just past Bay Shore Rd. where it turned toward Greenwich Rd. The dog and he walked on the thin strip of beach on the bay past some cottages until there weren’t any more cottages.

   St. Peter’s went back to 1720 when the village of Saint Pierre was established. It was one of the most important settlements on the island then because it had a good harbor and good fishing grounds full of clams oysters quahogs lobsters trout and schools of salmon. Many of the frogs considered it to be the commercial capital of Isle St. Jean. When the Fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton surrendered to the British it was the end of Isle St. Jean. The French were all deported in 1758 and the English poured in. The land became Prince Edward Island. St. Pierre became St. Peter’s. 

   The British weren’t overly interested in fish. They were more interested in boats. They turned St. Peter’s into a booming shipbuilding community, building 27 big craft between 1841 and 1850. There were three shipyards, all controlled by Martin MacInnis and William Coffin. They couldn’t launch their ships fast enough because the north shore was a graveyard for ships.

   Passenger steamers between the mainland and Prince Edward Island sank all the time. When they did new ones had to be built. In 1859 the Fairie Queene from Nova Scotia didn’t make it. The bells of Saint James Church in Charlottetown tolled eight times on their own on the morning of the disaster, foretelling the deaths of the eight passengers on board the steamer.

   “Keen blows the bitter spirit of the north,” is what everybody said.

   The Turret Bell was driven ashore by a violent storm in 1906 at Cable Head. It stayed beached for more than three years and became a tourist attraction. Picnickers sat in the dunes staring at the rotting hulk, eating apples, drinking cold tea, and chatting. Their dogs ran up and down the beach barking up a storm.

   Jimmy lit an Export-A and blew smoke out through his nose. He wasn’t interested in the past. He was only interested in what was in front of him. A seagull flew past looking for scraps.

   The first sawmill was Leslie’s Mill near Schooner Pond. There were lobster factories on the northside. A starch factory opened in 1880 and stayed open until 1945. A trotter track opened in 1929. It was still there. Jimmy wasn’t a betting man and never went there. He liked horses but disliked trotters. If God had meant horses to pull two-wheel carts for sport, he would have created two-wheel carts. If Jimmy had gone to the track, he wouldn’t have bet real money, anyway. 

   Jimmy and his dog went as far as Sunrise Ave. and took a break. Sitting on the sand leaning back against a mound he watched the Lab run into the water after a stick. Whenever a stick went flying into the ocean the dog became a creature of habit. He watched a man and a woman coming his way. They were both in shorts. The man had a camera slung around his neck. It bounced on his chest with every step he took. He looked fair and sunburned. The woman was slightly taller than the man. She didn’t look fair. She carried a kind of messenger bag over her shoulder. She could have carried three or four more of them. She was a hefty gal.

   Tourists, Jimmy thought.

   They stopped a few yards away and watched the wet dog lunge out of the water and run up to Jimmy. He shook himself dry, the water spraying on all three of them. The woman reached into her bag. She pulled a Colt .38 Super out of the bag and shot the dog twice. He cried yelped groaned staggered backwards and fell over, shaking uncontrollably until he stopped.

   The dog’s last thought before giving up the ghost was, “What did I ever do to you?”

   Jimmy tried to get up.

   “Stay where you are. Don’t be the dog.”

   “Jesus Christ, why did you do that?” He was shaken.

   “Dogs are a man’s best friend,” the woman said. “I’m not a man. He wasn’t my best friend.”

   She threw the gun down at his feet. “That’s yours.”

   In that second Jimmy understood they were from Montreal. He understood they had found him. He understood his life was in mortal danger. He didn’t reach for the handgun. There was no point in trying. If he tried, he would be dead as the dog in no time flat.

   “What you need to do, Jimmy, is print another batch of bills for us,” the man said, taking a picture of the counterfeiter with his camera. “If you don’t, what happened to your dog will happen to you. The sooner you print them, the better. In the meantime, we are going to find whoever stole our first batch and take care of that business. When we do, we will be back to get what is ours before we leave. Do you understand?”

   “I understand,” Jimmy said.

   “If anybody asks about the dog, just say he dropped dead,” the woman said. “And put that gun away somewhere safe, so nobody else gets hurt on this shitty island.” They walked away, going up the bay the way they had been going. 

   “You’ve had a hell of a bad attitude ever since we got here,” Jules said as they walked away. “There was no need to shoot the dog. What is the matter with you?”

   “Shut the fuck up,” Louise said.

   “And that’s another thing. You’ve been cursing up a storm everywhere we go. You’ve been cursing in Portuguese in your sleep.” Louise was Quebecois, like Jules, but her grandmother had been Portuguese. She cursed like a sailor and taught Louise everything she knew. The two killers shared a motel room with two queen beds. He avoided her bed the same as if a rattlesnake had been under the covers. “Tone it down. We’ve got to stay low profile.”

   “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she muttered, sullen and satisfied.

   Waiting until they were mites in the distance, Jimmy stood up and looked down at the dead dog. “Goddamn it,” he said to himself, and turned around to go back the way he had come. When he was gone gulls and crows started nosing around the still warm Lab. A fox crept out of his burrow to investigate. Flies put the word out and were soon gathering. Jimmy came back and waved them away. He pushed the dead dog into the bay. By that night the carcass had floated past Morell, Greenwich, and the lighthouse. When the moon came out, he was far out to sea.

   The next day Jimmy drove to a farm outside Saint Catherine’s and got a new dog. It was a Pit Bull almost full grown and trained to bite on command. It took a week, but he taught the dog to hate guns. When he was done, the Pit Bull knew full well to bite off any hand not Jimmy’s that had a gun in it.

Blood Lines Chapter 14

   Conor Murphy’s brother Flynn was living with his Japanese girlfriend in a trailer parked beside the barn. They spent some of their time at Sandy’s Surfside Inn. They spent the rest of their time at Conor’s house, where they usually had breakfast and dinner. They were helping resurrect Sandy’s place. The trailer was small and only fit for sleeping. After dinner Conor and Flynn often shared a joint, sitting on the side porch. Mariko didn’t smoke, weed or tobacco or anything else, staying straight, sitting up straight with a book in her lap.

   She looked over her shoulder to where the dead woman had been found. She was still disturbed about it, especially since the woman had been in the ground frozen stiff all winter. None of them knew it then, but they knew now, and it clouded the memory of her first year on Prince Edward Island. She had been told before she came from Osaka that there was little crime on the island and murders were almost unheard of. Yet, a murder had been committed in her own backyard.

   Flynn was planning on building three cottages that summer up the slope from the cove and living in the first cottage, which would be winterized. The other two cottages were going to be seasonal. He would start taking reservations for them in the winter once he knew how far along he was.  If all went well, he would build two or three more in the next couple of years and live off the fat of the summertime.  

   In the meantime, he ran Andy’s Eatery in town, next to the post office, where they made man-sized sub sandwiches, poutines, and pizza baked in a brick oven. A drunkard delivered phone-ordered pizza pies on his bicycle, one hand balancing the box which never went out of whack and the other hand on the handlebars. When it rained, he wore a windbreaker and slipped the boxes into a 30-gallon black trash bag for safekeeping. When he was done for the day, he rode home, put the trash bag away, and got juiced for the rest of the night.

   Conor’s oldest brother Danny operated the Blue Mussel, a seafood café at the far end of Harbourview Drive. He opened it in the morning and closed it at night. He was the cook and bottle washer. He carried out the garbage and cooked the books.  He had a pack-a-day habit and a motel tan. Conor’s sister Fiona left the family home the day she turned eighteen and moved to Charlottetown, got married soon enough, and bought a small bakery in the capital city, where she was keeping her nose to the grindstone trying to turn it into a thriving concern.  

   Hugo was Conor’s other older brother. He lived in nearby Rusticoville. His lobster boat was one of forty-some in the harbor at North Rustico. “It will bring tears to a grown man’s eyes,” he said. He was talking to Mariko about lobster claws. They were all on a big blanket at a picnic she had laid out. Flynn was rubbing her neck. “The bite force of a dog is about 500 pounds. A good-sized lobster’s crusher claw is about 1000 pounds. I had a claw on my hand one morning, he was squeezing my finger, and not letting go. He’s got you and you think, that’s it, he can’t go no more, but then he’ll squeeze some more. My stern man Paul had to take a screwdriver to it. Paul is a big man, and he had a big screwdriver, but it still took him a few minutes to pry it off my finger.”

   A 27-pound lobster was caught off the coast of Maine a couple of years earlier. The feat was widely written up in Atlantic Canada. The claws were so large they would “break a man’s arm,” said Elmer Bezos, a Down East man. Louie the Large laughed when he heard the news. He was at least ten pounds bigger. “We don’t catch those kinds of monsters here,” Hugo said. “The biggest one I ever caught in my traps was maybe 7 pounds. But that’s a whopper, a foot-and-a-half long.”

   Tens of millions of pounds of lobster were harvested on Prince Edward Island every year. The province accounted for more than half of all Canada’s landings, just like Maine accounted for more than half of America’s landings. Most of the catch ended up in the United States, anyway, some shipped live by air, the others live by land. It was a one-way ticket either way. 

   Many of the shellfish were pulled up from the north shore, ranging from Malpeque to St Peter’s. The Rustico fisheries were roughly the axis of the lobster world on the island. Besides North Rustico, there were the towns of Rustico, South Rustico, and Rusticoville, all named after a pioneer by the name of Rene Racicot, a French Norman who came to Prince Edward Island in 1724. Racicot became Rustico among the settlers.

   The reason the north shore was settled in the first place was fishing. After the deportation of the French by the British in 1758, and the eventual return of those who had made themselves scarce, survived drowning and shipboard epidemics, living to tell the tale, fishing was what meant life or death for their families.

   “We cook lobster on the boat sometimes,” Hugo said. They were a fast boiling fast-food late breakfast.

   Although fishing in North Rustico dated back more than two hundred and fifty years, groundfish stocks fell sharply by mid-century. “I’m no fortune teller, but a moratorium is coming, mark my words,” Hugo said. “No more white fish. All we’re going to be allowed is crawlers, although I hear we’ll still be able to catch our own bait, like mackerel and herring.” 

   Lobster got the blue ribbon. Their landings almost tripled in the decades after 1960. Except for a dozen he dropped off at his brother’s eatery, Hugo took all his takings to Doiron Fisheries in town. “I come in, pull up to the wharf, and they unload every lobster I’ve got. I might start to buy my bait from them, too.” Doiron Fisheries got its start when Aiden Doiron bought his first fishing boat in 1957. One day, when a man asked him for a cooked lobster, he said, “I’ll be right back.” He grabbed a lobster, a pot, and cooked the lobster on the spot. The Doiron’s sold fresh fish to townsfolk out of a shanty on the wharf.

   Hugo usually bagged his own bait for lobstering, late at night. “There’s a freshwater run about 2 or 3 kilometers down Cavendish Beach, where the gaspereau come up from the ocean, smell the fresh water, and spawn there. When they come back down, we catch them in nets.”

   Alewife is a herring called gaspereau in Atlantic Canada. Catching them meant waiting for them to swim back to the ocean with the tide at night. “We net them by hand, in waist-high water. When we get them on shore they flap around and there’s sand flying everywhere. We fill up 40 or 50 boxes and carry them back to our pick-ups.“ No motor vehicles nor horses were allowed on the National Park dune lands, which is what Cavendish Beach was. “We ice them up for the morning, get home by 2 o’clock, and then back up out of bed a couple of hours later, 6 days a week in the season.”

   Some of the boats in the harbor were wood and some were fiberglass, the hull of choice for more than a decade. Hugo co-owned a  state-of-the-art boat fitted with a diesel engine and electronic gear with Paul Doucette, a man he’d known since first grade. They dropped out of high school on the same day of 9th grade.

   “The word boat is really an acronym,” Hugo said. “It means break out another thousand.”

    All lobster boats were once wood, ran on 6-cylinder gas engines, and most of them didn’t come with a cabin to stand inside of. It wasn’t until about the same time that John Glenn orbited the planet that windshields were added for protection against the elements.

   “In the winter in the old days motors were removed and taken home,” said Norman Peters, who everybody called the Bearded Skipper, even though plenty of skippers had beards. “Boats were hauled to a field and turned upside down to keep rain and snow out. I remember playing under the boats and finding bits of fishing line to use for flying kites.”

   “Our boat is the Flying Squid,” Hugo said. “It was built in Kensington, so it’s called a Provincial. It’s a great boat, very dependable, although a little on the rocky side. It’s good going into it on the water, but it doesn’t like being turned. It throws you around a bit. The best thing about fiberglass is it don’t leak. Except, if it does leak, it won’t float, not at all, not like wood. If you put a hole in the hull, it will sink pretty much instantly.” 

   Lobstermen start their day early. “He gets up at 4:20 in the morning,” Hugo’s wife Kathleen said. “He’s gone before 5. I go back to bed and sleep a little more.” 

   Hugo captained the Flying Squid and Paul was the stern man. Both were in long johns through May and sometimes into June. “On top of that I wear insulated overalls and when I get to the boat I oil up,” Hugo said. “We put on oilskins, a full bib, and a jacket. It’s so you can stand in the rain for hours.”

   After clearing the North Rustico harbor the first thing Hugo did was turn on his electronics to locate their traps. “The guy I fished with before I got my own boat only had a compass,” he told Mariko. “But it never really worked right. They fished by strings back then, by their compasses and landmarks. You would probably find your buoys, but on a dirty morning, no. They’re only so big floating in a bigger ocean out there.”

   Mariko took a bite on a fried scallop. She came from her own island where there were plenty of fish and shellfish. She could shuck oysters. Clams opened when she said, “Open sesame.” She had bled and gutted fish when she was a girl.

   Lobstermen were limited to several hundred traps by the law of the land. It wasn’t always like that. In the early 19th century lobsters were so abundant they washed up after storms. Islanders used tongs to pick them up, although many were ashamed to be seen eating them because it was thought of as a poor man’s dinner. There used to be no rules about harvesting lobster. But, by the 1890s there were problems with less and less of them in the land of plenty.

   “Many fishermen had more than a thousand traps,” the Bearded Skipper said. In the second half of the 20thcentury the fishing season was shortened, lobstermen had to be licensed, and taking spawners wasn’t allowed anymore. Old traps were put out to dry and sold to tourists.   

   The island’s coastline I s mostly ledge and sand. When the frozen waters thaw in April lobsters move in from the deeper ocean. They come back to warm shoal water for egg-bearing females to hatch and release in springtime and early summer.  

   Once out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence the Flying Squid looked for its traps. “We’ve got 37 bunches of 8 traps and one of 4,” Hugo said. Traps are connected by a line, eight of them on a stringer, and attached to buoys with a unique color for easy identification. “There’s 8 traps between buoys and that’s called a set, or a full trawl. They’re all numbered, and we pick them up every morning.” 

   “How do you know where the lobsters are going to be when you go after them?” Mariko asked.

   “Hard rock is what you want for lobsters, rock that looks like mountains,” Hugo said. “Sometimes they’ll cross sand. Most of the time the sand is full of crabs and crabs hate lobsters. When lobsters cross it, they bully the crabs away and you can have a tremendous catch the next day. You’ve got to think like a lobster, about the depth of the water, how warm it is, and when you think they’re going to be there.”

   When the fishing was good, they hauled one lobster after another out of the ocean, slipped rubber bands over the claws of the keepers, loading them into onboard tanks, and re-baited the traps. As they were lowered back into the water the most important rule for stern men was to not step on rope, get caught in the rope, and get dragged overboard. 

   “Lots of guys will get caught for a second, but the last guy who drowned out of this harbor was Jackie Arsenault twenty years ago. He got his leg caught and was gone, just like that, and stayed gone overnight. He was a goner. The tide worked him loose the next day.”

   Lobster fishing on Prince Edward Island could be but usually wasn’t dangerous, but it was always hard work, in more ways than one. Everything on a boat is hard. “Everything’s hard as steel,” Hugo said. “Or it is steel. No matter, whatever you bounce off hurts. I come out of the cabin one morning, coming up the steps, when something came off the sea and threw me out of the cab. The momentum of the boat picked my body up like it was weightless. I banged on the bulkhead and just like that you’re on the ground, hurting, black and bruised.”

   Boats bob and toss on the water since the ocean is never steady like dry land. “I’ve been hurt every year I’ve fished, banged up like an old man.” Working on a lobster boat means working on a moving wet platform in weather that is bad as often as it is good. Men sometimes drown in bathtubs. Fishermen are faced with open water as far as they can see. 

   Unlike most fishermen on Prince Edward Island, the Murphy’s didn’t come from a fishing background. The first Murphy came to the north shore from Ireland on an errand for the Prince Consort. When he got the job done, he was given land on the cove. They raised horses and later the family bred black silver foxes for their pelts. When fox furs went out of fashion Conor’s grandfather and father both farmed mixed crops, turnips, barley, and wheat.

   “I have three brothers and they all became fishermen, even your boyfriend,” Conor said. Mariko blushed in mid-bite of a scallop. “We weren’t fishermen, but it might have been in our blood. We were all at ease on the water. None of us got sick. Still and all, Hugo is the only one who still fishes. It can be hard on you.”

   In season the Flying Squid went after lobster every day it could. Some days, like after a storm when the 7 kilometers of line they carried was tangled and needed to be untangled, they were out for up to 12 hours. “Gear starts to move. Before you know it, everything is all snarled, mine and everybody else’s. You’ve got to pull it up, bind it up, and that’s some donkeywork.”

   Lobster cages weigh about 20 pounds without the 44 pounds of concrete ballast in them. When they are wet, they are more than 100 pounds. “Thank you to the man who invented hydraulics,” Hugo said. “Years ago, it was all hauled up by hand. The forearms of those guys in Rustico back in the day were like Popeye. I was out of fishing for a year. The next year I thought I was going to die. It was a tough spring. There was crappy weather every day. I was bouncing around like a cork and going to bed at 7 o’clock, just all beat up.”

   Ancient oceans are more ancient than anything, including mountains. Men have fished for more than 40,000 years, from about the time modern men and women wandered into Europe. More than a 1,000 kilometers of shoreline ring Prince Edward Island, some of it sand beaches, some cliffs, all of it surrounded by the deep blue sea.

   “I’m going to keep fishing, at least as long as I’m on this side of the sod,” Hugo said. “If I die, I hope it’s out there, not like that poor lass up the hill.”

   Mariko gave a start, dropping a scallop which was halfway up to her mouth. She was suddenly down in the dumps. “Ittari nani ga okotta nda?” she whispered. She waved her hand back and forth in front of her face. Something felt like an evil spirit was nearby.

Blood Lines Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Slept together?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Lines Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Lines Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   He turned to the friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “That’s too bad,” the man said.

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

   “Is she an islander?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “How’s the leg?”

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

   “Peace officer.”


   “So, what happened to your leg?”

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

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

   They both said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Lines Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Uphold the right,” JT said.

   “What’s that?”

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

   “Were those the only reasons?”


   “Are you from here?”

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

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

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

   “Because I’m from Sudbury, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

   “What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Junior’s got cancer.”

   “Oh, that’s terrible.”

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

   “Of course, I won’t, poor man.”

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

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

   “It’s a long story.”

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

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

Blood Lines Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Of course,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Siobhan was amazed and said so.

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

   “What’s their secret?” Siobhan asked.

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

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

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

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

   “Charlie’s got watchtowers.”

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

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

   “What does he feed the foxes?”

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

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

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

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


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

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