Once Upon a Time. Barbara Fradkin

Once Upon a Time - Barbara Fradkin

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the same, did you check motives?”

      A scowl flitted across Sullivan’s face as he turned to Green. Standing, he was at least five inches taller and almost twice as broad. His linebacker physique had expanded to hang slightly over his belt, and high blood pressure was just beginning to mottle his handsome face. “How long since I made detective, Green? Twelve years? You think I don’t cover the bases? The guy had no enemies and no money to brag about. But he was a drunk, it was written all over him. He probably stepped out of the car, passed out and never knew what hit him. End of story.”

      “End of an old man, too.”

      “I know that. I’m just reporting the facts, I’m not passing judgment.” Sullivan’s scowl softened. “It’s fifteen below out there today. You know better than anybody what that kind of cold can do to someone with heart disease. He might have gone outside, taken a deep breath and dropped like a stone. I’m telling you there’s nothing here. This is just another sick old drunk whose number finally came up.”

      Maybe so, thought Green. Disembowelled dead bodies were not his favourite part of a murder investigation, but by tomorrow morning, when the autopsy was scheduled, he might be in need of a small break from his paperwork

      * * *

      Dr. Alexander MacPhail was a tall, rangy Scot with a shock of wild grey hair atop a long, pockmarked face. He grinned as he pulled off a pair of surgical gloves, tossed them into a bin nearby and clapped Green on the shoulder. His rich Scottish brogue boomed in the empty basement hall of the hospital.

      “Hello, there, laddie! I haven’t seen you in a while. How’s the air up there in the upper echelons these days?”


      “Aye, hot air tends to be.” The pathologist cast him a mischievous glance. “So would you just be down here for the fun of watching me work, or would you be wanting something?”

      Green grinned. “You know what I think about your work.”

      “A dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

      “I’m just curious about the old man in the Civic parking lot yesterday. Any information on him yet?”

      MacPhail gestured to the closed door marked MORGUE but painted an unlikely lime green. “Do you want to come in and meet him? I’ve just sewn him back up.”

      “No thanks.” Green hoped he didn’t sound too hasty. “What does it look like?”

      “Well…actual cause of death was hypothermia. But the old bugger had a whole book full of medical problems. Chronic hypertension, arteriosclerosis in both coronary and cerebral arteries, cirrhosis of the liver, some atrophy to the brain. Any one of his parts could have failed him temporarily at that moment.”

      “What about the contusion? Brian said he had a gash on his forehead.”

      MacPhail chuckled. “Sorry to disappoint you, laddie, but it wasn’t enough to kill him. Stun him, perhaps. He could have slipped in the snow and struck his head. In a man his age, that might have been enough to disorient him. He may have lain there resting, not even aware he was cold.”

      “Was it a fresh wound, then?”

      “Inflicted shortly before death, yes.”

      “What kind of instrument? Sharp, blunt, big, small?”

      “A smooth, rounded object about an inch wide.” MacPhail used his hands to demonstrate the size and shape. “Not much bleeding, and it didn’t get any chance to swell before he landed face down in the snow.”

      “Is it consistent with someone trying to strike him?

      The pathologist’s eyes twinkled. “More consistent with hitting his head against a hard object—probably the car mirror—as he was falling.”

      Curiosity outweighed his distaste. Bracing himself, Green nodded towards the morgue door. “Can I see him?”

      The morgue was a brightly lit room painted the same incongruous chartreuse as the door and filled with huge stainless steel receptacles. MacPhail had the consideration to pull a sheet over the body, but Green could tell from the contours of the sheet that the man had been big, probably once muscular. MacPhail had replaced the cranium expertly, but the face was mottled red and white. It was a large, beefy face topped by thinning strands of white-blonde hair. Glazed in death, the eyes were a pallid brown run through with red. Green focussed on the gash on his forehead.

      “Strange shape for a car mirror.”

      “Car mirrors come in all shapes. Laddie, trust me. This one is a natural causes.”

      Probably, Green acknowledged, but he’d seen enough blunt instrument traumas in his career to feel a twinge of doubt.

      * * *

      It wasn’t much to mark the passing of a life—a name, age, address and next of kin. Eugene Walker, eighty. Home was a rural route number in the rolling farmlands of the Ottawa Valley between Renfrew and Eganville, about a hundred kilometres west of Ottawa. But MacPhail’s notes indicated that until the funeral, his widow was staying at her daughter Margaret’s home here in the city.

      Even when he pulled up to Margaret Reid’s elegant westend home, Green wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for. Three cars stood in the double drive—an aging Dodge, a small hatchback and a shiny silver BMW. He extracted his police badge and held it in readiness, but even so, the look of surprise was blatant on the face of the man who answered the door. Green suppressed a smile. He never tired of that look, which reassured him that he was not growing staid and inspectorish. He was forty-one years old, but because of his light build, his youthful face, and the fine spray of freckles across his nose, he looked barely thirty. His baggy trousers and navy blue parka gave more the impression of a city postman than a high-ranking police investigator. Green had learned to cultivate this lack of physical presence. Like a good spy, it allowed him to move and observe unseen.

      Still, at times he would have appreciated a more authoritative bearing. As now, when grieving relatives needed someone to lean on, although the relative standing before him did not appear about to crumple into his arms. The man looked in his mid forties, dark-haired and probably handsome at one time, but now baggy-eyed and gone to seed. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, but that was his only concession to grief. He frowned as if Green were a pesky vacuum salesman interrupting his busy day.

      Green introduced himself briskly, apologized for the intrusion and asked to see Ruth Walker.

      “Is this really necessary, Inspector? She’s resting, and she already spoke to a police officer yesterday.”

      “Yes, Sergeant Sullivan. I’m just following up. Your name is?”

      “What’s this for? The old man had a heart attack, he’s dead. It was quick and painless. What else is there to know?”

      “Routine. Are you Donald Reid, his son-in-law?”

      “I don’t see why you need to know, but yes.” He blinked several times. When Green continued to stand in the doorway, he stepped back with a scowl.

      “Very well. Come in.”

      Mrs. Walker took about five minutes to come downstairs, and in the meantime Green absorbed impressions about the house. It was a quiet house, not just hushed in grief, but constrained. Everything had its place. The living room was furnished in expensive woods, testimony to the family’s material success. Colour-coordinated watercolours adorned the walls, and china figurines sat on the mahogany table tops. Not a room for children, Green thought, although he had glimpsed a flash of teenage boys in the kitchen as he passed by.

      When Mrs. Walker entered, she was leaning on a younger woman whom Green assumed to be her daughter. Dressed in red slacks and a red and white striped sweater, with not a strand of her cropped black hair out of place, Margaret Reid was the image of her living room. She perched emotionless on the edge of her chair.


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