Once Upon a Time. Barbara Fradkin

Once Upon a Time - Barbara Fradkin

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delicately boned, with deep-set blue eyes and a finely pointed chin.

      “How do you do, Inspector? I’m Ruth Walker. How may I help you?”

      Green was not an authority on British accents, but he had watched enough Masterpiece Theatre productions to recognize this one as rich, precise and public school. The tilt of her head and the grace with which she extended her hand made him feel shabby. He drew out his notebook and summoned all the dignity his cheap parka permitted.

      “First of all, let me extend my condolences on the death of your husband. The way he died so unexpectedly must have been a shock.”

      She eased herself stiffly into a heavy velvet chair opposite him. Her blue eyes held his, but he thought they moistened.

      “Yes, it was. Although I suppose I ought to have seen it coming. I’ve known for some time he wasn’t well.”

      “In what way? Dizzy spells?”

      “Not exactly. More shortness of breath.”

      “Had he ever fallen before?”

      She hesitated, and in her instant of discomfiture, the surly son-in-law snorted. “Lots of times. He always had one bruise or another. It means nothing, detective.”

      Green kept his eyes on the widow. “Had he seen a doctor recently?”

      Ruth looked across the coffee table at him. Through the veil of grief, he saw a faint smile. “One didn’t take Eugene anywhere. If he chose to go, that was fine. But he didn’t choose to.”


      “I expect because he didn’t want to hear the bad news. He was from the old country, Inspector. They’re rather more fatalistic than you are over here. When it’s time, it’s time. No use fighting it with pills and machines.”

      “Do you think he was depressed?”

      “No, not exactly depressed. I mean, he was ready to go. I think he had…” A spasm crossed her face but disappeared before he could analyze it. “…made his peace.”

      “Almost as if he were waiting for death?”

      Her eyes fixed his intently. “Exactly. It was always Eugene’s dream to retire to the country, and once he did, he rarely left the house. He spent most of his day in his chair, just looking out the window.”

      He smiled. “Dreaming about Trafalgar Square, probably. Or his favourite country pub.”

      Out of the corner of his eye, Green saw Margaret open her mouth, but Ruth shot her a quick glance which silenced her. “Eugene liked to say that his life began when he came to Canada,” Ruth said. “All that happened before was best put behind us. He never talked about it.”

      It jarred with the picture Green had begun to paint. He thought of his own father, who also spent his days sitting in a chair, but who had his own reasons for not wanting to relive the past. Green wondered what Walker’s reasons were, and if Ruth’s glance at Margaret had been meant to silence her. “Odd,” he mused casually. “Most elderly people love to reminisce. Sometimes the old days are all they talk about, especially if, like your husband, they have little else they can do now but sit in a chair.”

      She didn’t rise to the bait. “Yes, a disheartening way for a strong, proud man to spend his last days.”

      There was a quiet finality to her words, as if she were closing the door. Respecting that, he moved on. “Can you run through what happened yesterday?

      At this point the surly son-in-law, who had subsided in the corner, re-entered the fray. “Inspector, I really don’t see the point in this. Ruth, you don’t need to put yourself through this.”

      “I don’t mind, Don. He has a job to do.”

      Green admired her quiet dignity. With barely a quiver, she recounted the events of yesterday from their departure to her discovery of the body at one o’clock. Only when she described the sight of him did she falter, pressing her fingers to her lips. Green sensed Don beginning to rise, and he held up a warning hand.

      “Where was he in relation to the car?”

      “I’m not sure. He—” She broke off, her hands fluttering up to her face at the memory. “He…he was lying alongside the car, his head towards the front wheel, I think.”

      In perfect position beneath the side mirror, he thought. “Driver’s side?”

      “Oh, no, passenger’s side. Eugene hadn’t driven in years.”

      “I’d like to look at the car. Is it one of the cars outside?”

      “Yes, Don fetched it.” She turned. “Don, could you…?”

      Seeming relieved to be rid of him, Don led Green outside to the Dodge Aries. Despite its age, there was little rust, but mud coated its sides. Salt stains from the recent drive into the city formed an irregular splatter pattern over the mud, but there were no unusual marks on the passenger side of the car. Nor were there any protruding edges; even the door handles were recessed.

      But even more importantly, because it was such an old car, it had no mirror on the passenger side.

      September 2nd, 1939

      The sun is sinking, soon the village will stir.

      She curls in the nook of my arm,

       her hips soft against mine,

       And her skin like silk beneath my touch.

      Copper tassels of cornfield dance in the sunset

       And a breeze ripples the birches overhead.

      Far off I hear muffled thuds,

       catch a glint of silver in the sky.

      Then a plume of smoke, a second, a third.

      She lifts her head. “Our village?”

      No, what would they want with our village?

      “I don’t remember nothing about no fucking cars, man!

      That was the worst day of my life! I remember the body— fuck, I’ll never forget the body. Worst nightmare you could ever have, finding a stiff in your own lot. I was so freaked, I don’t remember nothing else.”

      Green’s small mid-morning break had now extended into his lunch hour, and he knew the clock was ticking on his freedom. He had traced the parking lot attendant to a small clapboard shanty on a narrow, crowded back street of Mechanicsville. The young man had called in sick to recover from the upset of yesterday, and he ushered Green into the dingy living room, kicking newspapers and clothes aside to make a passage. The sweet odour of marijuana clung in the air. He gave a nervous whinny.

      “It’s my brother’s place. I’m just staying here till I can get my own.”

      It took some coaxing, and a small shot of the whiskey Green found on the counter, to get Chad Leroux to retrieve his scattered memories. The young man rocked back and forth on the couch, smoking incessantly and talking in staccato bursts.

      “I was checking a couple of cars. Out, like. It was fucking cold, booth’s got no heater. Had my hood on my parka up, so I couldn’t see shit. This guy in the car—he pointed out the old lady to me.”

      “Was the lot busy?”

      Chad shook his head vigorously. “Most days noon is really busy, but nobody was going out that didn’t have to. ’Cause of the storm, you know? The lot was plowed, but it was still tricky.”

      “Was it slippery?”

      “Was it ever! And you never knew where, with the snow on top. I saw one poor old guy with a cane go right down on his ass earlier.”

      One more

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