An Unexpected Gift: Part Two of Two

white picket fence one

An Unexpected Gift
A Short Story by B. B. Wright

Two months had passed since Tom’s death and, like a leech, the numbed emptiness Sylvia felt continued to suck out purposefulness from her life; while the humdrum of her daily life had become imprisoned within a brew of forlorn desperation and debilitating remorse. Life’s self-scripted past echoed its hallowed naked emptiness and negative untruths while it subversively gained unheralded success and, unwontedly, supplanted what should have been the bright promise that adheres to a day’s sunshine with the unlit, windowless cellar of a cloud-filled soul that stumbled about looking for its light.

Two days from what would have been their 10th wedding anniversary, she knew this happenstance meeting with Thackeray, their family lawyer, would have profound impact. There were practicalities that had to be addressed surrounding Tom’s will. But with those practicalities came finality; Tom’s finality; their finality. They were practicalities for the moment she felt a need to shun. Now that there was a strong likelihood that those smothering practicalities were about to invade, she steeled her mind to push back. She needed more time. Time to preserve memories of Tom and her and to keep them fresh a little longer before time’s kneading and transformative nature stole them and unceremoniously dropped them into its evolving mystic dream-scape.

Recognizing that it was pointless for her to hide from Thackeray, she took in a deep breath and marched down the beach to where he was helping Pepper dislodge something from between the rocks.

“Pepper! Get over here!” She commanded, pointing down to her side.

Thackeray was a very lean and tall individual who always had a sullen look pasted on his long, hollowed-cheeked face and a sneering smile that easily discouraged open friendliness. Known as a ‘bit of a snore,’ his colleagues nicknamed him ‘Sealy’ because of his ability to put the courtroom to sleep during dissertation.

Thackeray pulled down his toque tightly over his ears and pushed up his high-back collar as he turned to meet Sylvia. “I’m pleased that Pepper had the foresight to finally bring us together,” he called out, reproachfully.

“Your point is taken, Thackeray,” Sylvia said coldly, coming to a full stop a few feet away and snapping her fingers to get Pepper’s attention. “Get over here!”

“Sylvia? You…did get my calls?”

Pursing her lips, she glanced up at him as she attached the leash to Pepper’s harness and straightening up she let out a long exasperated sigh. “Time, Thackeray! I need time! Surely, you of all people understand that. Susan’s been gone—How long?—a year…a year and a half?”

Susan was Thackeray’s late wife.

“Actually, it’s been almost three years,” he quietly replied, looking away.

When his attention finally returned to her, there was earnestness in his expression and in his voice.

“Sylvia, we must talk.”She stared at him in silence.“I don’t mean here…at my office.”

Sylvia shook her head and began to walk away ignoring Pepper’s resistant tugs on the leash.

“Sylvia! At least let us set a time!” he implored, picking up his pace but choosing to remain a short distance behind her.

Stopping, she turned to face him and said: “What can be so urgent about a mundane will? Damn you! Can’t you let me grieve a little longer?”

“His will is by no means mundane, Sylvia,” he retorted. He cleared his throat. “As you know, the month before Tom’s death he added an addendum to his will.”

“I…I…didn’t…” She could feel her shoulders sag from his unexpected revelation.

“Oh…he told me…I thought…hmm… You and Pepper finish your walk. After you’ve taken him home, drop by my office. Say, two o’clock?” He mustered up his best empathetic smile before continuing: “An hour should give you enough time, don’t you think, Sylvia?”

His closely set eyes mounted on either side of his beak-like nose stared intensely at her as might a hawk relishing his prey. “Well?”

Sylvia stared at him in dismay and slowly shook her head. “You haven’t heard a damn word I’ve said…I need more time to…”

“Three, then… There, it’s done,” he insisted, ignoring her entreaty.

No longer a moot point from his perspective, Thackeray tipped his head and said “Goodbye” and abruptly headed off in the direction of his office on Slaughter Circle.

Slaughter Circle was home to a cluster of high-end office towers at the far end of the Park on the other side of Sykes Street and running perpendicular to it. His office was in the tallest of five office towers closest to the main street.

Dumbstruck and transfixed in place, Sylvia watched as Thackeray’s beanpole of a figure quickly diminished to no more than a dot in the distance.

Fifteen minutes before the appointed time for her meeting with Thackeray, Sylvia—as per usual—bypassed the elevator and began to ascend the back stairs to his fifth floor office.

The stairwell was encased in glass on three sides with each section providing a different view that blended seamlessly into the next; one section contained a portion of the Town of Milsburg; the next section highlighted the rough hewn beauty of the surrounding landscape; while the last section contained the awesome expanse of Georgian Bay sandwiched between the carved out rocky shore and distant skyline.

In the past she would have raced to the fifth floor, like she and Tom often did; but, today she found it a tough slog. It wasn’t that she was incapable of a faster pace; it was that her heart wasn’t into it.

Since it was a weekend, the building and stairwell were vacant and, as a result, it afforded her a degree of quietude for reflection before meeting with Thackeray. As she looked out onto the panoramic view from the third floor landing, she began to revisit the possibilities for Tom’s decision to change his will when she was distracted by the intrusion of a metal door slamming shut on one of the landings above her and someone sobbing.

Silence.

Though the vista beyond the windows redirected her attention like a magnet, it could not dispel the growing discomfort over her meeting with Thackeray and what the changes to Tom’s will would mean. But, as quickly as those concerns arose they just as quickly dissolved because of her trust in Tom and their inviolable love for each other. It was as if he had whispered into her ear: “Everything will be okay, Sylvia. Don’t worry.”

Taking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out, she refocused her attention on the surrounding landscape and felt uplifted by its renewed clarity and freshness; a consciousness that had eluded her since Tom’s death.

The intrusion of the unmistakable echo of high heels quickly descending the steel staircase tarnished this moment for Sylvia. Pursing her lips, she leaned against the rail and, folding her arms across her chest, awaited the unwelcome interloper.

A young woman in black skinny jeans and red pumps and who was not older than twenty came into view. Her dark brown hair was crimped pomp and tightly locked in braids which flared out copper-like feathers on the end. A tattoo on her neck peeked out from her white cowl cold shoulder top. In her arms she carried her coat and a legal sized folder.

Preoccupied and oblivious to Sylvia’s presence, she walked into her almost knocking her down, dropping both folder and jacket in the encounter. “Are you alright? I really didn’t see you there. I’m really sorry,” she said scrambling to pick up her folder and coat and warding off assistance from Sylvia. Her thick black upper eye-liner and dots on the lower lash-line had coalesced to give the appearance of raccoon eyes.

Sylvia had barely said “I’m alright” when the girl preempted further discussion by descending the next flight of stairs.

From the smudged makeup, Sylvia was certain that that was the person she had heard sobbing earlier and, as she watched her disappear below the next landing, she could not help feeling that there was a familiarity about her but, no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to put a finger on it.

Well at least she said she was sorry, Sylvia begrudgingly thought.

When she heard the first floor door open and close, Sylvia shrugged in resignation with the current unlikelihood of recalling the girl’s name or the how, when, where, and why of an earlier meeting—another priority ill-afforded at the moment—and continued on to her meeting with Thackeray.

“Sylvia? Sylvia?! Are you listening?!”

“Huh? Oh…my mind must have drifted elsewhere. I’m sorry Thackeray.”

Her cheeks flushed from embarrassment, Sylvia shifted uncomfortably in the green leather chair opposite him trying to regain her composure. Tilting slightly forward she picked up the gold coin that Thackeray had pushed across his desk to her and began to examine it. Uncertain of what to say next, she returned it to his desk and looked at him quizzically:

“Um…what’s that coin… have to do with Tom’s will?”

“A lot,” he replied. And for a long moment he looked at her long and hard. “You really didn’t hear a thing I said?” He sat back in his chair and folded his hands together. “What if I were to tell you that that coin you were just holding may be worth a million dollars. Ah! Now, I finally have your attention.”

“Surely, you can’t be serious?!”

“I’m very serious.” Sitting forward, he rested his elbows on his desk and planted his chin on the hand over fist platform formed by his hands. “Tom found a whole cache of uncirculated mint condition coins a month before he died. He found them on the trail on your property. You know: the one that leads into the woods and down to the shoreline.”

“I…never knew…”

“That may have been more my fault than his.” He stood up and walked over to the window behind his chair and looked out. “Tom thought that they were probably worthless. Fake. And, quite frankly, so did I.” He turned to face her. “I mean, what are the odds of going for a walk along a path you’ve used for years and finding a can poking out of the ground that’s a treasure trove of gold coins? Come to think of it…I guess pretty good odds,” he chuckled with a shrug. Regaining his seat, he rocked back and forth a couple of times before continuing. “Tom knew his time was short. That’s why he made that change to his will just in case the coins had value. He swore me to secrecy until we heard back from the Canadian Numismatic Association. Unfortunately, I didn’t notify them until a week or two after Tom’s death.”

“So they’ve been appraised?”

He nodded: “They have.”

“Earlier you said that Tom had found ‘a whole cache’ of coins?”

He cleared his throat, coughed and said: “There are exactly 1427 coins with an estimated worth of 10 million dollars.”

Speechless and dumbfounded, Sylvia’s lower jaw dropped leaving a gaping hole normally occupied by her full lips.

“Would you like a glass of water, Sylvia? Or…maybe something stronger?”

“Wa…water will do… just fine, Thackeray.”

He left the room and quickly returned with a glass of water and carefully placed it into her hands before returning to his chair.

Silence reigned between them until Sylvia finished the water and placed the glass on his desk.

“Now, you’re not to worry about your share of those coins. I’ll take care of that.” Adjusting his reading glasses, Thackeray turned to the next page in Tom’s will and perused it before looking up at her over the rim of his glasses. “Sylvia?” He bit on his lower lip before continuing. “Are you okay?” She nodded. “Um…He did include another change that I’m about to read out. It will be disconcerting to say the least.”

“I’m still trying to get my head around those coins,” she chortled. “I doubt that there could possibly be anything more unsettling.” Smiling at him, she said jokingly: “So go ahead, Thackeray, and give it your best shot.”

And give his best shot he did.

An hour later, head slung low, Sylvia walked up the walkway to her house and onto the porch. She was devastated by what Thackeray revealed. She could hear Pepper barking excitedly on the other side of the door as she put her key into the lock.

A girl’s voice called out from the shadows on the porch: “Mrs Canfield?”

Startled, Sylvia spun to confront her. “Who are you?! Step out so I can see you!”

When she stepped into the glow of the porch light, Sylvia immediately recognized her as the person in the stairwell.

Sylvia drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “It’s been awhile since you last saw Pepper.”

“It has. I remember the day you first came to visit him.”

“Your… dad… planned that carefully.”

“I didn’t know who he was until today.”

“I know.”

“Come in and get reacquainted with Pepper. We have much to talk about.”
.

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‘An Elemental Moment’ by B. B. Wright

An old crib dock

The image of this crib dock is courtesy of http://www.lescheneaux.org

 

“That’s where the crib dock used to be,” he said, pointing at the single, well-worn cedar post that reached upwards from a rock cluster on the shore. “Your great-grandfather made it with the help of his neighbours.”

His chair faced the large living-room picture window that overlooked the fresh waters of the rocky shoreline of Georgian Bay, two hours north of Toronto. On the arm of his chair sat his 8 year old granddaughter, Emma, whose arm was draped across his shoulders.

When he looked up at her, he could tell by his granddaughter’s expression that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Do you see that photo album on the top shelf of the bookcase, Emma?” he asked, nodding to the right. “The one second from the left? Would you please get it for me? It contains a picture of what used to be there. It will help me explain what a crib dock is.”

Photo albums, tightly squeezed together and sequentially positioned according to year by a homemade insert in each binder’s spine, occupied the entire top shelf of the white, 3-shelf bookcase that ran half the length of the wall.

Emma tugged at the album several times before finally dislodging it. Wrapping her arms around the heavy binder she began to walk back when a number of photos held together by string fell onto the floor. “Ugh!”

Seeing her hesitation and understanding her dilemma, her grandfather stood up and walked over to her and picked up the package of photos. Squinting, his thumb gently brushed across the top photo. “That’s strange.”

“What’s strange, grandpa?” Emma asked, lifting her knee for the umpteenth time to help keep the binder in her grasp.

The tips of his fingers glided across the photo in silence before her question finally registered. “Eh?”

“Are you alright, Grandpa?”

“Uh-huh,” he acknowledged, still preoccupied with the photo. “It’s just that I… thought these were lost. Strange they would have been in there. I wonder…?”

The binder Emma was carrying crashed to the floor startling him.

“What the…Oh!…How thoughtless…I’m sorry, sweetheart…I should have…” Dropping to one knee, he wrapped his arms around her.

In part, he wanted to hide the tears that washed across his eyes but more importantly he needed to hold the single most important gift that encapsulated the daughter he once had.

“Silly old grandpa…silly me,” he whispered and only when he felt her begin to squirm under his hold did he finally let go.

Placing the package of photos on top of the binder, he stood up and returned to his seat.

Regaining her position on the arm of the chair, Emma wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. “I love you, grandpa.”

“Me, too,” he replied, pressing her arm between his shoulder and face to hug her back, his eyes never leaving the packaged photos atop the binder on his lap.

Emma reached across him and picked up the photos. “Who’s the baby, grandpa? Is it me?”

Retrieving his reading glasses from the side-table he put them on and gently took the photos from her. “No, it’s not you, sweetheart. That’s your mom!”

“My mom?” she asked, incredulously.

Undoing the string, he gave her the photo so that she could scrutinize it more closely.

“Who’s the young man holding her?”

“That’s me, sweetheart,” he chortled.

She gave him an askance look before looking at the photo again. “Where was it taken, grandpa?”

“Here…that is to say, further down the shoreline.”

He put the album and the loose photos along with the string on the coffee table in front of him and invited her to sit on his lap.

“Your mom was almost two years old then and I remember I wasn’t in your grandma’s good books that night.” A smile creased the side of his mouth.

“Why?” she asked, snuggling up to him.

“It was a wild and rainy night and your grandma didn’t want me to take her out,” he chuckled. “I appeased your grandma by wrapping your mom in that blanket over there on the back of the couch.”

“So, who took the picture?”

He looked at her with a big smile and expressive eyes and waited for her answer.

“Grandma?”

Nodding, he said: “Uh-huh. You see, the sheer size and roar of the waves as they thundered ashore that night were the biggest I’d ever seen on Georgian Bay and I wanted your mom to experience it. I guess I must have made a pretty good case for it because your grandma relented and came along.”

He gently tweaked the end of her nose eliciting a giggle from her.

“The truth is that your grandma didn’t need much justification. She saw it as an opportunity to test her photographic skills. As you already know, she was a well known photographer in the area. Some of her work still hangs in the gallery in Meaford City Hall.”

Emma sat straight up on his lap: “Could we go see them tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Letting out a satisfied sigh, she snuggled back down with the picture held close to her face. “Tell me more about that night, grandpa.”

“Well…together, the three of us laughed for pure joy when those thundering white capped waves threw great handfuls of froth at us. We could barely hear ourselves speak. I think we all shared the same spine-tingling thrill of the power of nature that night. Many years later, your mom told me that she looked upon that night as her first real adventure in life.”

“Can we do that some time, grandpa?”

“If you’re here and the timing’s right.”

“Phone me. Dad will drive me straight up. Please.” She pleaded.

Hesitating, he remembered her mom as an adult telling him how that night had taught her to accept the world’s elemental things and not to be afraid of the wind, the darkness and the roaring surf.

“That’s a long trip for your dad driving up from Toronto. But, if it’s okay with your dad.” And, he nodded.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on his cheek.

For a moment they sat in silence until Emma turned over the photo. On the back was written: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world –R.F.

“Who wrote this grandpa?”

“From the handwriting, it was your mother. The initials R.F. tell me it was probably taken from something Robert Frost wrote, one of her favorite poets.

Subliminally, on that stormy autumn night when she was almost two, her mother had begun a journey to learn the lesson that we all must learn and that she had exhaustively tried to teach others. Namely, that we all play a part in the mysterious partnership within life’s complex cycle of events and knowing that made us responsible as part of its community to protect it. Though she had reached the highest levels within her field, she had found it the most difficult lesson to teach.

It’s funny, he thought, how when you’re dead people start listening.

“I wish I had known her,” Emma replied, sadly.

“Me too sweetheart…me too. Maybe this album and the others on the shelf will go a long way in helping you do just that.”

“I’d like to be a marine biologist just like her some day, grandpa?”

“Well then, we had better get started. Get your coat and boots on and let’s discover what lies along the shoreline.” He noticed her eyeing the binder and loose photos on the coffee table. “I haven’t forgotten. They too will be part of your adventure.”

 

An Unexpected Gift: Part One of Two

white picket fence oneAn Unexpected Gift
A Short Story by B. B. Wright

November’s rain and bone chilling dampness blanketed the Town of Milsburg in the Region of Grey-Bruce. For many inhabitants of this Region which was located two hours north of Toronto on the fresh waters of Georgian Bay, the Grey part of the Region’s name had taken on a life all of its own. Grey days outnumbered sunny days twenty to one and sunny days fell into that apocryphal meteorological category of overcast with some sunny periods. That is, sunny periods seen in the blink of an eye that heavily depended on whose blink you were talking about.

Cozy in her blue, soft brushed polyester pajamas, bought for her by her late husband, Tom, Sylvia Canfield snuggled down in bed and, turning onto her side in a fetal position, she pulled the comforter tightly up around her and chided herself for not programming the thermostat to come on earlier.

Beside her, Pepper, her black terripoo dog, stood up, shook himself out, turned around a couple times before flopping down with a hard thud against her back.

Once assured that Pepper had settled into his cozy spot, Sylvia closed her eyes and began to slowly drift off to sleep.

On the edge of REM sleep, she was jolted awake by Pepper who had become annoyingly restless.

Plying his doggie thing of standing up, turning around and slamming up against her with increased frequency, Sylvia turned intending to throw him off her bed when Pepper jumped off and ran to the bedroom door and began to scratch frantically at it.

“Ugh! Okay! Okay, Pepper! I’m getting up,” she said, disgruntled by the thought of leaving her warm bed.

She pushed her thick blonde hair back from her face and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

In her mind, the intent and urgency of Pepper’s plea left no doubt that time was of the essence.

But, by the time her feet on her five foot-two frame hit the cold wooden floor searching for her Haflinger woolen slippers, Pepper had managed to nose the door open and was on his way downstairs.

“I don’t know where you think you’re going without me,” she grumbled as one hand searched for her slippers which had somehow got kicked under the bed while the other hand fumbled in the darkness for her dressing gown that should have been draped over the chair at the end of the bed but was found instead on the floor.

One sleeve of her dressing gown in place, she rushed through the open bedroom door while unsuccessfully attempting to snag the other sleeve. Switching on the hall light and gathering up her gown so not to trip, she bounded down the stairs to the kitchen after Pepper.

“A dog in need could be an accident indeed and this morning isn’t going to be one of them,” she murmured repeatedly, hoping her words would provide inspiration and reassurance.

Moments later, Sylvia let out a long satisfied sigh as she adjusted her robe in place and watched Pepper rooting about outside searching for the best place to do his business.

He seems so undeterred by this foul weather, she thought. And, she envied him for that.

Forcing her hands into the side-seamed pockets of her blue, full snap-front robe, her shoulders crunched inwards to a sudden chill.  A burst of warm air from the vent she stood beside traveled up her leg and she moved closer to it.

By the time her toast popped up in the toaster and the whistle on the kettle heralded, Pepper was back in the house shaking off the rain drops and looking for something to eat.

Savoring each morceau of generously spread homemade strawberry jam on her buttered toast, she leaned forward slightly at the kitchen table to watch Pepper eating from his chow bowl.

Though still tired and sleepy, Sylvia felt a sense of comfort and satisfaction as she watched him.

Putting down her slice of toast, she picked up her tea mug and blew across the tea’s surface and welcomed the warm, moist steam on her face and the heat from the cup cradled in her hands.

Her attention drifted to the kitchen window and the inclement weather and she hoped that Pepper wouldn’t pester her too much for his ritual walk.

In the background, the weather report from the radio assured its listening audience that the rain would stop late morning; the clouds would lift and sunshine was expected for most of the afternoon.

Winds off Georgian Bay could be biting this time of year but the promise of sunshine was the trump card that made her walk with Pepper that much more palatable and likely.

Unnoticed by her, Pepper had finished his meal, slurped down some water, and, leaving a trail of water droplets behind him from his soggy beard, made his way across the room to her and sat on the floor in front of her.

A single soft bark was all Pepper needed to get her attention.

“Good Pepper! You used your quiet voice just like we taught you.” And, she fed him a small piece of her toast to reward him. Placing her cup on the table, Sylvia adjusted her position on the chair and patted her lap to encourage him to jump up onto it.

Immediately, she regretted her invitation because his wet face, licking tongue, and affectionate energy were overpowering until she got him to settle down. Once she could comfortably pat him, she became more accepting of his occasional gestures of affection.

_____

Tom had first brought her to meet the litter of terripoo puppies during their third year of marriage.

It had been 3 months after her miscarriage.

Shortly after the miscarriage, an invisible curtain had fallen between them as she struggled against the depression that had seeped into her life. Laughter—a constant companion before the miscarriage—had become silent and foreign.

She often looked back on this period and wondered if she would have survived without Tom’s steady support.

On the day he took her to meet the puppies, intuitively she knew why he had taken her.

As the six puppies cavorted around her while she sat on the floor, she found it impossible to remain aloof from their unconditional loving natures; slowly she began to interact with them.

Mysteriously that day, laughter, that had been so unattainable and deeply buried within her, bubbled to the surface.

While playing with the puppies, she noticed for the first time that a black one had already carved out Tom’s attention.

Later, she learned that Tom had already named him Pepper.

Pepper, Tom’s first dog, had not only brought out the endearing little kid in Tom but Pepper that day, alongside his brothers and sisters, had helped to initiate her road to recovery and her reconnection to Tom.

Sylvia looked upon the next seven years as the happiest in her life. Though she had learned that she would be unable to have children, somehow it no longer mattered as her life had become filled to overflowing with travel, teaching, writing her first novel and being with Tom. She and Tom had even discussed adoption.

Then, last summer arrived and with it Tom’s diagnosis.

When Tom was dying of cancer neither she nor Pepper left his side.

Pepper, normally a quiet dog except when strangers came onto the property, had become unusually restless during Tom’s final hours.

When Tom finally died, Pepper’s prolonged forlorn howling sent a soul-chilling dagger through the night.

_____

Sylvia’s eyes bubbled up with tears as she recalled that night two months ago and she cradled Pepper closer and buried her face into the soft, downy fur on his head.

She knew it was just her imagination but, for a brief moment, she could have sworn that she had felt Tom’s presence. And, she held Pepper even closer.

As the morning dragged on, the rain finally stopped as it had been forecast and the sky cleared up.

Placing Pepper on the floor she said: “Well little friend, if we’re going for a walk I’d better wash up and put on warmer clothes.”

Pepper playfully zigzagged in and out around Sylvia, occasionally leaping up at her, while she pretended to try and catch him. This continued for several minutes until he bounded up the stairs barking and headed in the direction of her bedroom.

Two hours later, Sylvia was glad she wore her ankle-length black Spanish Merino coat as she walked along the pebbly beach at Macleod Park, roughly ten minutes from where she lived. The sunshine had brought a handful of people to the park but most, she surmised, were discouraged by the cold north wind blowing off Georgian Bay.

She pulled the long hair Tuscany collar, that doubled as a hood, over her head and watched Pepper running ahead, sniffing this and that as he went along.

Normally, she would have had Pepper on a leash but, with so few people in the park today, she thought it would be safe to let him run free.

Pepper rarely ran too far ahead. Often, he would scurry back with some prize or other he had retrieved and laid it at her feet. Occasionally, Sylvia would gather up his newly found toy and play fetch and retrieve but more often than not, she deflected his attention elsewhere while she discarded it.

She was glad that she had decided to wear her woolen mittens as the cold wind nipped at her cheeks.

Picking up a flat stone from the beach she tried to skip it in the rough water but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, she tried several more times until one stone completed a triple skip.

And, she giggled like a young girl.

Looking around for Pepper, she found him further along the shoreline than usual and, with his nose planted so close to the ground she surmised he was following the scent of something.

_____

The Town of Milsburg began to change about ten years ago. Whether it had changed for better or worse was open to debate. The local bakery coexisted with Tim Horton’s—contrary to expectations—and the tax base was given a sizable boast from the influx of people from the Greater Toronto Area hungry for land on which to build their dream home. Those who came had come for a chance of respite and an opportunity to play in at least one of the four seasons. This would have been all fine and dandy if the outsiders had been willing to leave well enough alone. But, when the smell of money to be had reeked across the landscape, the tenor of country living—though kicking and screaming—was corralled in and redesigned to give a contrastingly new meaning to what was meant by country living.

Country living had become defined along narrower lines that emphasized the self-centered blindness of entitlement. This philosophical shift irked the locals to their very core as they felt these city dwellers had bullied their way into their life-scape.

Real-estate that had once been enjoyed by all—especially along the shoreline—became prime real-estate gobbled up overnight, only to be traded for a hefty price-tag when the time was ripe.

Three new high-rise condominiums had been completed along the shore-line last spring so that there were now five: two at one end of Macleod Park and three at the other.

The number of upscale shops along Sykes Street which ran parallel to Macleod Park had tripled. These shops mainly catered to seasonal dwellers and tourists; while the locals stayed with the familiar to support their friends, their family and their way of life.

Begrudgingly, the locals slowly came around to tolerate these unwelcome changes and to accept them as part of life’s natural flow which included  the unfortunate  disappearance of familiar faces and the arrival of strangers in their place.

At the corner of Sykes and Lombard was a century old Tudor-style building, the Boar Inn and Pub where the  locals—mainly the fifty plus group—came for a few pints, a game of darts, a good chin-wag and sing-along, and plain good food, usually British fare. The younger group on Friday and Saturday nights wouldn’t be caught dead there and willingly drove the forty minutes along the coast to the joie de vivre atmosphere of the Town of Collingwood to celebrate the weekend at the Admiral’s Post Pub, Lounge 26 and the Copper Blues.

Gregarious people, Sylvia and Tom were easily assimilated into this community and had become staunch contributors to the community’s cohesiveness.

Though Sylvia and Tom had come from the city, they were part of the melt of local citizenry who looked upon the urban influx as nothing more than pesky insects that defined one of the four seasons

_____

Pepper was busily trying to pull some sort of object out from between two large boulders on the shoreline with the help of a man.

If Sylvia could have disappeared she would have that very moment. The man helping Pepper was none other than Thackeray Thomson, their family lawyer.

Tom and she had always been on good terms with Thackeray but she was embarrassed by not having returned his many phone calls. His voice messages had been very clear and explicit: “…There is a pressing matter with respect to Tom’s Will. Please call as soon as you hear this.”

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Five

Part Five Brown Envelope

My apologies to those of you who have been following this story. I had hoped to get it out sooner but I am presently undergoing radiation therapy for cancer and as a result my energy and concentration levels have not been up to par. If all goes well Part Six should be up by the end of the weekend. Thank you for your understanding and support.

Now, I introduce for your reading enjoyment  When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Five by me, B. B. Wright.

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Louise nibbled on a small piece of garlic bread as she watched Ethan clear the table and load the dishwasher. A pleasant enough dinner, she thought, but… uneventfulDefinitely not what I expected. Putting down her garlic bread, she picked up her half filled wine glass and, sitting back in her chair, she folded her arms across her chest.  “Ethan?”

“Uh-Huh.” Placing the last dish into the dishwasher, he picked up his wine glass from the counter in front of him and turned to face her. “I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far?”

“I have! Very much!  But…Ethan…I think you’re here for more than just feeding me a great meal and talking over old times. Huh?  What’s the real reason for your visit?”

Ethan bit on his lower lip and looked at her long and hard before finishing the wine in his glass. “I kind’a hoped we’d get through dessert before…we discussed that.”

Taking a sip from her glass, she smiled and, raising her eyebrows, replied: “Then, maybe we should have started with dessert.”

He breathed deeply and let it out slowly. “Maybe… we should have.”

Placing his empty wine glass on the table, he disappeared into the living room and returned a few seconds later with a large brown envelope tucked under his arm. Sitting in the chair opposite her, he placed the envelope beside him and offered to refresh her drink from the partially finished wine bottle in front of him.

She waved off the refill and, with haunting undertones, asked: “Is it that bad that I need a drink?”

He poured an ample portion of wine into his glass and slid the envelope toward her and began massaging his chin as he watched her reaction. “In a word…yes, I think it is.  I’m sorry, Louise, for what’s about to happen.”

“What’s ‘about to happen’? What is this?” Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized his face looking for an easy answer. Seeing none, she abruptly sat back in her chair as if the envelope was a viper about to strike.

“It’s an autopsy report. To be more precise, it’s Tom’s autopsy report.”

Bug eyed, she retorted: “Tom’s?  Why? How? There was no autopsy report. I would have known.  He…died from complications due to his prostate cancer. No! Whatever you’re about to show must be a lie.” Tears swelled up in her eyes as she stood up and walked into the kitchen for a tissue. “Why are you doing this to me, Ethan? Maybe you should go. NOW!”

He wanted to comfort her but at that moment he knew it was best to keep his distance. Too many unpleasant questions had to be asked and if he hoped to crack open his investigation some of them had to be asked tonight.

“Louise…please…Come back. After you’ve read it, you’ll understand why I can’t just pick up and leave.”

Several moments passed in silence before Louise returned to the dining room with a box of tissues and sat down. Dabbing her eyes with a balled up tissue, she eyed the envelope that lay a short distance from her. Her hand crept across the table and her fingers touched its edge tentatively.

“Ethan, how did I not know there was an autopsy report?”

“It was arranged through CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) working with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police).”

“What was Tom working on?”

“He had been working on some highly classified stuff before his death. I know that doesn’t answer your question but in time you’ll learn.”

“You’re one sonofabitch, Ethan. You know that, don’t you? Once I’ve read it, I want you out of here. DO YOU HEAR ME? OUT OF HERE!”  She pulled the envelope toward her and spilled its contents onto the table. Picking up the report, she had barely started to read it through her teary eyes when she looked up at Ethan quizzically. “What’s lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome?”

“It means that Tom was murdered,” he replied, dolefully.

“Murdered?” Slack-jawed, her mind agonized over what she had just heard and the questions she knew she had to ask; her eyes feverishly skirted the room looking for readymade answers only Ethan could supply. “Are you telling me he didn’t have cancer?”

“No…Louise, he had cancer. I’m telling you that…someone wanted him dead before he had a chance to talk to me. And, whether you know it or not, you may have the clue to who did it.”

“But…murder?”

“What twigged us into the possibility that Tom was murdered was the Alexander Litvinenko case a few years back. I don’t know if you remember it because it got scant coverage on our news.” She shook her head in the negative. “Well, he escaped persecution in Russia by obtaining asylum in the U.K. It turned out he had been working for British Intelligence, namely for both MI5 and MI6. Litvinenko wrote two highly controversial books accusing the Russian secret service of staging Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts in order to set the stage for Vladimir Putin regaining power.

We were aware that Tom had prostate cancer, Louise, but we were also aware that it was not life threatening. Two weeks before he suddenly got sick, he alerted us that he had come across some highly sensitive material. Based on the symptoms exhibited in your doctor’s report and comparing it to Litvinenko’s death, the clandestine autopsy was ordered.” Feeling the tension gathering in his neck and shoulders, he stood up and stretched.

“Did you ever find out what the sensitive material was that Tom had discovered?”

“We went to his usual drop-off location with the hope of finding it there but came up empty. So, either someone else got to it or else Tom hid the information in a different location.”

“But Ethan, how would I have the clue to who killed Tom? Or to anything else? How?” Standing up, she began to pace back and forth. “I don’t understand. How could I possibly know such a thing?” She stopped and glared at him.

“Louise, no matter how I looked at it, unraveling this puzzle always came back to you.”

“Ethan, what are you saying?” She rounded the table and headed toward him.

“I’m saying…”

A bullet shattered the ceiling fan light in the living room on its way to its mark and within seconds the frame splintered at the bolt of the outside door to the kitchen sending the door smashing against the wall.

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Four

Country Home B

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow by B. B. Wright
Chapter Four

It was 3:20 in the morning when Louise switched on her night-table light and sat up in bed. Placing her pillow and the one beside her at her back, she picked up the novel “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman from the table, leaned back and tried to read.

Disturbed by her movement, Pepper stood up, circled a couple of times before plopping down hard against her and resuming his sleep.

She struggled to finish the chapter she was reading but her mind kept drifting back to her conversation with Ethan the previous day. Inserting the bookmark, she closed the book and placed it on the table. Pepper was now snoring beside her. The running shoe he had retrieved from the rocks at the beach lay beside his head.

Though she and Ethan had spent three hours over lunch catching up on old times, she had been unable to elicit any information about what he knew about the case Tom had continued to work on shortly after he and Ethan had gone their separate ways.

Or did they go their separate ways? I never thought about that possibility until now, she mused.  “Hmm.” Tom became so distant then. Why?

Uncharacteristically, Tom never discussed anything related to his new position in 33 Division even when he returned home one day with a badly bruised cheek. Often, he would disappear for weeks at a time. “It’s police business,” he’d say. “So don’t fret, dear, it’s not another woman. But, I can tell you this. When this case breaks wide open there’s going to be a few high level heads rolling.” It was the only time she remembered him breaking his silence.

Louise recalled how thankful she had been that Sheila, Ethan’s wife, had continued to be friends. Sheila’s friendship had been a boon during Tom’s long absences. Not a day went by that the two of them hadn’t been out on some kind of an excursion whether to buy new clothes, attend live theatre in Toronto or Thursday morning breakfast at the nearby Tim Horton’s. Then, one day—a year later—it had all ended with a call from Sheila. The conversation on the phone had barely lasted twenty seconds. No explanation! Caput! Finished! Nothing!

Consternation and remorse still easily bubbled up in Louise whenever she thought about that day. Friends, she thought, don’t just pick up and disappear like that…unless… she really wasn’t a friend.

Begrudgingly, she had come to accept that for all of the time she and Tom had spent with Ethan and Sheila she had really never known them. A conclusion easily reached when she learned that Sheila had run off to Vancouver with Ethan’s new partner who became the head of the newly formed Drug Investigative Unit there.

She reflected: How does that John Lennon quote go? Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Her conversation with Ethan the other day about that time troubled her because he had treated the whole thing so nonchalantly. He had been unwilling to divulge so much as a modicum of information that might have shed some light on what had happened. When she had pressed him on it, his demeanor changed dramatically and he became quite defensive. So much so she had to quickly back off. Their conversation had remained strained for a time afterwards but by the time they parted any hint of it had clearly subsided. His reaction, though, continued to confuse her and—to her way of thinking—there was something that just didn’t add up. But, what it was, for the moment, eluded her.

She glanced over at Stedman’s novel on her side-table and let out a long, forlorn sigh. Tom was the name of one of the main characters in her book and she couldn’t help but feel that her life, similar to that of Isabel’s, Tom’s wife in that novel, was about to unravel. She wished she hadn’t agreed to have supper with Ethan this evening. But, curiosity had got the better of her. Unfortunately, she remembered what curiosity had done to the cat. What bothered her the most occurred when Ethan had admitted their meeting in the park had not been an accident. She wondered what was up his sleeve. Would he drop it on me during the main course or during dessert? She mused. She guessed dessert. Life’s short, eat dessert first, she thought with a smirk. For me, it’s the time of greatest flavour.

Easing herself out of bed so as not to disturb Pepper, she headed downstairs for a glass of milk and the last slice of chocolate cake from a bridge party she had hosted the previous week.

As she sat at the kitchen table looking at her reflection in the window, she wondered what it was that Ethan needed to show her and why he felt it was so important that it be shown in privacy. Picking up her fork she cut through the triple layered wedge of chocolate cake and savored the morceau in her mouth before downing it with a drink of milk.

She glanced at the wall clock. It was 4:30. Getting up, she walked over to the cordless phone and brought it back to the table along with her address book and sat down. After she finished the remainder of the cake and milk, she opened the address book, found the phone number she wanted, punched in the numbers on her phone and waited for the pickup at the other end. She didn’t have to wait long.

“This had better be good Louise,” said the gruff, groggy voice of Jeffrey Deaver, the recently retired Captain of 33 Division, who picked up on the first ring. “You know what time it is?”

Louise smiled: “Of course I know what time it is.” She quickly discerned she was talking to empty air.

“Good! You didn’t wake up Meredith! Now what’s up?”

“I bet you were snacking in the kitchen like me. Old habits don’t die easily even in retirement,” she sniggered. “How’s that wife of yours handling you being underfoot?”

“Meredith’s doing just fine. But, why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me why you called.”

“Do you remember Ethan Cranston?” She shifted the telephone to her other ear and stood up and walked into the living room. “Your silence is deafening Jeff.”

“Yeah… I remember him. So?”

“He’s in Meaford and it’s no accident.”

“Fuck!” He mumbled under his breath. “He’s always been a lose cannon. And Tom knew that especially…”

“My sentiments too, but you have such a poetic way of saying it.” She opened the candy dish and popped a chocolate in her mouth and sat down on the couch. “What were you about to say?”

“Nothing, nothing important. Did he tell you why he’s there?”

“He says he’s investigating a murder, if that’s what you’re asking?”  She turned on the table lamp when Pepper came down the stairs and jumped onto the couch and settled in the corner opposite her.

“Hmm… Did he say what murder?”

“I guess I’ll find out this evening.” Patting her side, she looked over at Pepper to invite him to snuggle against her which he readily acceded to.

“This evening?” Jeffrey queried with more than a hint of astonishment in his tone.

“Uh-Huh. He’s coming here for supper. Even bringing it,” she replied smugly as she ran her hand softly along the top of Pepper’s head and down his back. “By the way, how’s retirement?”

“Okay…I guess.”

“Just okay? What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m going to bed,” he retorted.

“Wait! Help me out here. Ethan hanging out here has opened old wounds. Whatever happened between him and Tom?” Silence greeted her ears. “Nothing? You’re saying nothing?”

“Are you okay with inviting me to supper?”

“It depends.”

“Just say yes or no.”

“Yes,” she replied, unable to hide a tinge of reluctance.

“What time?

“Six.”

“You’d better tell him to bring lots because I’m bringing Meredith, too.”

 

 

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Three

Tudor PubWhen Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow by B. B. Wright

Chapter Three

Louise strained her eyes to identify the man who was trying to help Pepper but came up empty handed.

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Gregarious people, Louise and her late husband, Tom, were easily assimilated into the community and, as a result, quickly became either fast friends or familiar with most whom quite rightly so called themselves permanent residents.

Staunch in their cohesiveness as a community, they learned to endure the onslaughts from the city as nothing more than pesky insects defining a season.

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“Hey Pepper! What are you doing? Get over here,” she commanded, pointing down to her side. That’s not like him not to come, she thought, as she marched toward him.

The man who had been helping Pepper began to walk toward her. His toque was pulled down tightly over his ears and his high-back collar partly obscured his face. He smiled at her as he approached and slowed down, tipping his head in her direction as he passed. “Cute dog you’ve got there.”

She smiled and nodded back. He seems familiar, she thought.  “If you think disobedience is cute,” she chuckled, pointing in the direction of Pepper who stayed his distance while playing with the running shoe he had retrieved from between the rocks.

“What can I say?” he replied, laughing. “He’s got the curiosity of a perpetual two year old. But, he’s still cute.” And, he began to pick up his pace.

“Ethan? Is that you?”

Stopping, he turned and slowly walked back toward her with a wide grin on his face.

Pepper dropped a soaked and muddied running shoe at her feet and attempted to get her attention.

“Shss.”  And, she kicked the shoe away. “My god, Ethan! Is it really you? This is the last place on the face of the earth I’d expect to meet you. Take off that silly toque and let me have a good look at you.”

About to remove it, he hesitated. “Why don’t I keep it on until we find warmer surroundings?”

“Then I’d recommend the Boar Inn.”

When Pepper returned with the shoe in his mouth she bent down and grabbed him by the collar and hooked on the leash. Unable to dislodge the shoe from between his teeth she gave up and, placing her arm under Ethan’s, the  two of them toddled off toward the Inn with Pepper leading the way.

“You know, you look pretty good for an old fart,” she said teasingly.

“Thanks,” he chortled, patting his stomach. “I’ve put on a few pounds there

since the old beat.”

“Tell me something. Would you have just kept on going if I hadn’t called out?”

“Louise…I know you’re still grieving over Tom. Timing…well…I didn’t want to intrude until…”

“Oh, Ethan! “  Why would you even think that?” She gave his arm a squeeze. “You and Tom were so close.”

“Yes…at one time we were. But, if you remember, he and I didn’t part under the greatest of circumstances.”

They crossed the street in silence and stopped outside the pub’s entrance.

“Ethan, all I knew back then was that you two were no longer partners. He never spoke about it…at least not to me. I’ve never held any rancor toward you.”

“Louise, I know that.” He sighed deeply. “Look, he was sworn to secrecy. Just like me. Few people knew. That’s the way the department wanted it played out.”

“Wanted what played out?”

“Let’s get in out of the cold,” he replied, opening the door. “Should we tie him outside?”

A smirk formed at the side of her mouth. “No…Pepper’s a regular like me. Anyway, he’s got a special in with the owner.”

A few minutes later they were sitting in a booth with hot coffees between them. Lying on the floor beside the table was Pepper with the running shoe tucked between his paws.

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face that you don’t want to talk about what went on back then between you and Tom. I’ll buy that for the moment.  But, can you at least tell me why you showed up here after all these years?”

Ethan blew across his coffee and took a sip before answering.  “I’m here investigating a murder.”

When Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow: Chapter Two

Meaford Shorline AWhen Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow by B. B. Wright

Chapter Two

As the morning dragged on, the rain finally stopped and the sky began to clear up.

Placing Pepper on the floor she said: “Well little friend, if we’re going for a walk I’d better wash up and put on warmer clothes.”

Pepper playfully zigzagged in and out around Louise, occasionally leaping up at her, while she pretended to try to catch him. This continued for several minutes until he bounded up the stairs barking and, at the top, he  turned and looked down at her panting.  She could have sworn he was smiling at her but before she could blink twice Pepper’s wagging tail disappeared around the corner, heading toward her bedroom.

As she ascended the stairs, the sun burst through the clouds transforming the bathroom at the top from a solemn grey to a blinding glow of hopeful possibilities. And, she smiled.

Louise was glad she wore her ankle-length black Spanish Merino coat as she walked along the pebbly beach at Macleod Park, roughly ten minutes from where she lived. The sporadic sunshine had brought a handful of people to the park but most, she surmised, were discouraged by the cold north wind blowing off Georgian Bay.

She pulled the long hair Tuscany collar, that doubled as a hood, over her head and watched Pepper running up ahead, sniffing this and that as he went along.  Normally, she would have had Pepper on a leash but, with so few people in the park today, she thought it would be alright to let him run free. Anyway, he never ran too far ahead and often scurried back with some prize he had gathered to lay at her feet. Occasionally, she’d gather up this newfound toy and play fetch and retrieve with him though, more often than not, she deflected his attention elsewhere while she discarded it.

She was glad that she had decided to wear her woolen mittens as the cold wind nipped at her cheeks. Picking up a flat stone from the beach she tried to skip it in the rough water but was unsuccessful. Undeterred, she tried several more times until one stone completed a triple skip and she giggled like a young girl. Looking around for Pepper, she found him further along the shoreline than usual, pulling at something between two large rocks at the water’s edge.

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The Town of Meaford began to change about ten years ago. Whether it had changed for the better or worse was open to debate. The local bakery coexisted with Tim Horton’s—contrary to what was expected—and the local tax base was sizably increased from the influx of people from the Greater Toronto Area hungry for lands on which to build their dream homes. Many who came, came only for a chance of respite and an opportunity to play in at least one of the four seasons. This would have been all fine and nice if these outsiders had been willing to leave well enough alone. But, when the smell of money to be had reeked across the landscape, the tenor of country living—though kicking and screaming—was corralled in and redesigned to give a contrastingly new meaning to what was meant by country living. It was now defined along more narrow lines that emphasized the self-centered blindness of entitlement. This philosophical shift irked the locals as they resented to their core these city dwellers who bullied their way into their lifescape. Real-estate once enjoyed by all—especially along the shoreline—became prime real-estate and was gobbled up overnight, only to be traded the next day for a hefty price-tag. Three new high-rise condominiums had been completed along the shore-line last spring so that there were now five: two at one end of the park and three at the other. The number of upscale shops along Sykes Street running parallel to the park had tripled. Closed between seasons, these shops mainly catered to seasonal dwellers and tourists while the locals stayed with the familiar to support their friends, their family and their way of life. They were begrudgingly coming round to tolerate that that unwelcomed change was part of life’s twists and turns that entailed familiar faces disappearing and strangers arriving in their place.

At the corner of Sykes and Lombard was a century old Tudor-style building, the Boar Inn and Pub where the  locals—mainly the fifty plus group—came for a few pints, a game of darts, a good chin-wag and sing-along, and plain good food, usually British fare. The younger group on Friday and Saturday nights wouldn’t be caught dead there and willingly drove the forty minutes along the coast to the joie de vivre atmosphere of the town of Collingwood to celebrate the weekend at the Admiral’s Post Pub, Lounge 26 and the Copper Blues.

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“Where is that dog?” she grumbled under her breath as she looked around for him. “Pepper!”

At the far end of the shoreline, Pepper was busily trying to pull some sort of object out from between the rocks with the help of a man.