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Blood Lines Chapter 4

By Ed Staskus

   JT Markunas was stationed in Charlottetown with the Queens RCMP detachment. He was a grade above constable, but still pulled service in a police pursuit vehicle. He didn’t mind the car he had drawn today. He could have done without the blue velour interior. It was plenty fast enough, though. It was a Ford Mustang.

   He rented a two-bedroom farmhouse in Milton. It was small but the appliances had been updated and it sported a new roof. He planted a root garden. His parents were pleased when they saw the photograph of beets, turnips, and carrots that he mailed them. JT was from Sudbury, Ontario and Prince Edward Island was his third assignment since joining the force. His first assignment had been at Fort Resolution in the Northwest Territories. He missed Sudbury but didn’t miss Fort Resolution.

   When he was growing up, the Canadian Pacific hauled ore on tracks behind their house. When the trains wailed, he wailed right back. When he was a boy, astronauts from the USA trained for their moon landings in the hinterland, where the landscape resembled the moon. After he grew up, he trained for the RCMP at a boot camp in Regina. He was surprised to see women at the camp, the first ones ever allowed on the force. They kissed the Bible and signed their names, like all the recruits, and wore the traditional red serge when on parade, but they wore skirts and high heels and carried a hand clutch, too. 

   He was sitting in his blue and white Mustang Interceptor. Even though Ford had built more than 10,000 of them since 1982, the RCMP had only gotten 32 of the cars. He had one of the two on the island. There were lights on the roof, front grille, and rear parcel shelf. He was in Cavendish, on the other side of Rainbow Valley. He was watching for speeders, of whom he hadn’t seen any that morning. He was thinking of stopping somebody for whatever reason if only to justify the pursuit car. He was also thinking about his second cup of coffee but waiting until he started yawning. He thought it was going to happen soon. When it did, he would 10-99 the radio room and take a break from doing nothing.

   Cavendish was Anne’s Land. It was where the book “Anne of Green Gables” was set. He had never read the book, but doubted it had anything to do with what he could see in all directions. The amusement park across the street was named after Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1919 book “Rainbow Valley.” It was waterslides, swan boats, a sea monster, monorail, roller coasters, animatronics, castles and suspension bridges, and a flying saucer gift shop. The paratrooper ride might have been everyone’s favorite, at least if they were children who didn’t know what fear meant.

   Earl Davison, the man behind Rainbow Valley, was looking for a roller coaster when he found the paratrooper ride. He was in Pennsylvania searching for a bargain at a park that had gone bust. The coaster seemed to fit the bill at first sight.

   “It’s a terrific ride, but you’ll need to have a good maintenance team to keep ’er running,” the Pennsylvania man said with unexpected candor.

   When Earl hemmed and hawed, the man suggested his paratrooper ride instead. “It’s the best piece of equipment I have. I will sell you that for $25,000 and we’ll load it for you.” By the end of the next day Earl had written a check and the ride was ready to go for the long drive back to Prince Edward Island. He flipped a coin about it fitting on the ferry. It came up heads.

   Earl dreamed up Rainbow Valley in 1965, buying and clearing an abandoned apple orchard and filling in a swamp, turning it into ponds. “We borrowed $7,500.00,” he said. “It seemed like an awful lot of money at the time.” When they opened in 1969 admission was 50 cents. Children under 5 got in free. Ten years later, he bought his partners out and expanded the park. Most of the attractions were designed and fabricated by him and his crew.

   “We add something new every year,” Earl said. “That’s a rule.” The other rule-of-thumb was smiles plastered all over the faces of children. “Some of the memories you hear twenty years later are from people whose parents aren’t with them anymore. But they remember their visits to Rainbow Valley and that lasts a lifetime.”

   When his two-way radio came to life, instructing him to go to Murphy’s Cove to check on the report of a suspicious death, JT hesitated, thinking he should get a coffee first, but quickly decided against it. Suspicious deaths were far and few between in the province. Homicides happened on Prince Edward Island once in a blue moon. This might be his only chance to work on one. When he drove off it was fast with flashing lights but no siren. He reported that the address was less than ten minutes away. 

   Conor Murphy saw the patrol car pull off the road onto the shoulder and tramped down the slope to it. Some people called the RCMP Scarlet Guardians. Most people in Conor’s neck of the woods called them Gravel Road Cops, after the GRC on their car doors, the French acronym for Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Conor didn’t call them anything. He had been on the force once and didn’t mess with what they might or might not be. 

  JT put his cap on and joining Conor walked up to where Bernie Doiron was waiting beside the tractor. When he saw the arm handcuffed to the briefcase, he told Conor and Bernie to not touch anything and walked back to his pursuit car. He wasn’t sure what code to call in, so he requested an ambulance, and asked for the commander on duty. He described what he had seen and was ordered to sit tight.

   “Yes sir,” he said.

   It wouldn’t be long before an ambulance and more cars showed up. They couldn’t miss his Mustang, but he turned the lights on top of it back on just in case and backtracked to the tractor.

   “Who found this?” he asked, pointing at the arm. 

   “I did,” said Bernie.

   “Is it the same as you found it?” JT asked. “Did you move or disturb anything?”

   “No, we left it alone,” Bernie said. 

   “And you are?” JT asked Conor.

   “I’m across the street in the green house,” Conor said. “These are my fields. Bernie came down and got me when he found this. A fox has been at the arm.”

   “I see that,” JT said, even though he didn’t know what had happened to the arm. He rarely jumped to conclusions. It was flayed and gruesome, whatever had happened. He wasn’t repulsed by it. He was patient and objective. The quality that made him a good policeman was that he was patient. He waited with Conor and Bernie for reinforcements to show up. None of the three men said a word.

   JT looked at the ground around him ready for the growing season. There was no growing season where he grew up. His father worked the nickel mines in Sudbury his whole working life, never missing a day. He had been an explosives man and made it through his last year last week last day unscathed. The long-time miner had always known there was no one to tap him on the shoulder if he made a mistake.

   His mother raised four children. She dealt with powder burns every day. Her brood were firecrackers. They were among the few post-war Lithuanians still left in Sudbury. The rest of them had worked like dogs and scrimped and saved, leaving for greener pastures the first chance they got. His parents put their scrimping and saving into a house on the shores of Lake Ramsey and stayed to see Sudbury transition from open pits and wood roasting to methods less ruinous to the land they lived on.

   An ambulance from a funeral home in Kensington was the first to arrive, followed within minutes by two more RCMP cars. A pumper from the North Rustico Fire Department rolled to a stop, but there wasn’t anything for the volunteer firemen to do. They thought about helping direct traffic, but there was hardly any traffic to speak of. The summer season was still a month away. They waited, suspecting they were going to be the ones asked to unearth the remains. They brought shovels up from their truck and leaned on them.

   A doctor showed up, and bided his time, waiting for a commissioned officer to show up. When he did there were two of them, one an inspector and the other one a superintendent. They talked to JT briefly, and then to the fire department. The firemen measured out a ten-foot by ten-foot square with the arm in the center, pounded stakes into the ground, demarcated the space with police tape, and slowly began to dig, opening a pit.

   They had not gotten far when the arm fell over. It had been chopped off above the elbow. One of the firemen carried the arm and briefcase to a gray tarp and covered it with a sheet of thick translucent plastic.

   “Has anybody got a dog nearby?” the inspector asked.

   Most of the firemen farmed in one way or another. Most of them had dogs. One of them who lived less than two miles away on Route 6 had a Bassett Hound. When he came back with the dog, he led him to the pit. The hound sniffed around the perimeter and then jumped into it, digging with his short legs, barking, and looking up at his master. The fireman clapped his hands and the dog jumped out of the pit.

   “There’s something more there,” he said. “Probably the rest of him.”

   They started digging again carefully and methodically. When they found the rest of the man twenty minutes later and three feet under, he was a woman. She was wearing acid wash jeans and an oversized tangerine sweatshirt. She was covered in dirt and blood. One of her shoes had come off. What they could see of her face was ruined by burrowing insects. She was decomposing inside her rotting clothes.

   The doctor stepped up to the edge of the pit with the two men who had come in the ambulance. “Be careful, she’s going to want to fall apart as soon as you start shifting her weight,” he said. 

   The two men were joined by two of the firemen. When all four were astride the dead woman they slowly moved her into a mortuary bag, zipped it up, and using the handles on the bag lifted it up to two RCMP constables and two more of the firemen. They carried the bag slowly down the hill, the dog following them, placing it on a gurney and inside the ambulance.

   The constables went back up the hill to join the rest of the RCMP team, who were getting ready to sift through the pit looking for evidence. They would scour the ground in all directions, to the tree line and the road. JT had gotten his Minolta out of the trunk and took photographs. When he was done, he joined them. They spread out and with heads bowed started looking for anything and everything.

   The ambulance was ready to go when Conor came down to the shoulder of the park road. He stopped beside it and tapped on the driver’s side window. When it rolled down, he pointed up the slope.

   “Don’t forget the arm,” he said.

Excerpted from Blood Lines at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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Blood Lines Chapter 3

By Ed Staskus

   Seen from outer space Prince Edward Island can hardly be seen. The solar system is a speck in the galaxy. The earth is a speck in the solar system. Prince Edward Island is a speck on the earth. When the sky is clear and the sun is shining, it is a red and green pastoral speck surrounded by blue, except when it is cloudy and stormy. Everything then goes hazy and gray.

   The land formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Creeks and rivers deposited gravel, sand, and silt into what is the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Before the last ice age, Prince Edward Island was part of the mainland. After the glaciers melted it wasn’t a part of it anymore. It went its own way. The Northumberland Strait became what separates it from the rest of Canada.

   It’s one of the country’s Maritime provinces, the others being New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Newfoundland and Labrador were on their own, the way they wanted it. It is 225 kilometers from one end of the island to the other. It is 3 kilometers at its most narrow and 65 kilometers at its most wide. It is almost twice as far from the island to Walt Disney World in Florida as it is to the Arctic Circle. Walt Disney World is for pretend. The Arctic Circle is for real.

  There are farms from stem to stern. There are so many of them the province is called the “Million-Acre Farm.” When the French ruled the roost it was called Île Saint-Jean. Jacques Cartier discovered it in 1534 and Samuel Champlain claimed it for France in 1603. The Micmac’s tried to explain they had been there for more than 10,000 years, but all they accomplished was to make themselves hoarse. They switched gears and tried singing some of their Top 10 songs. They sang ‘The Eagle Song’ and ‘The Honor Song’ and ‘The Gathering Song.’ Samuel Champlain finally said, “Try singing ‘The Giveaway Song.’ You know the words.” 

   The Micmac glowered. The French reached for their swords. They were more savage than the savages and were hell bent to prove it.

   When the British took over they changed the name to St. John’s, then changed it to New Ireland, and again on the eve of the 19th century to Prince Edward Island. It was named after Prince Edward who later became the father of Queen Victoria. He visited the island five times, even though it took eight to ten weeks to sail one way.

   It became a separate colony in 1769 and the seventh province of Canada in 1873. The capital is Charlottetown, named after the wife of King George III. Charlotte barely spoke English and never visited the capital city. She stayed home in Buckingham House and played her harpsichord. She stuck to chartbusters like Bach’s ‘Concerto in the Italian Style in F Major’ and Handel’s ‘Keyboard Suite No. 5.’

   “She ain’t no beauty, but she is amiable,” George said about his wife.

   The slender crescent of sandstone is the smallest and most densely populated Canadian province, although outside of Charlottetown and Summerside where half of everybody lives it is spread out far and wide. It is more secluded than it is crowded. Forest once covered all the island. By 1989 trees still covered half of it. The red oak is the official tree. There are pine, maple, beech, and spruce. There are no deer, moose, or black bears. There are many skunks, weasels, muskrats, and plenty of foxes. The red fox is the official animal. In early summer pink and purple lupins, weeds that are an invasive species, line fields and ditches. The Lady Slipper, an out-of-the-way orchid that grows in damp shady woodlands, is the official flower.

   Farming is the number one way of life, followed by fishing, and some tourism. There are cows everywhere in sight, their snouts in the turf. There are a boatload of herring, tuna, clams, mackerel, lobsters, scallops, mussels, and oysters to be had. Tourism was growing and Flynn Murphy and his Japanese girlfriend were building cottages on family land to get in on the summer trade. They stayed at Sandy’s Surfside Inn most of the time. Flynn was one of William Murphy’s descendants, 130 years after the triggerman from the Old World landed on the island, his Beaumont-Adams revolver tucked into a sailor’s bag. 

   In 1989 the pickings were good for the Liberals, and they swept the elections. Andrew, the Duke of York, and Sarah, his once wildly popular duchess, visited, flying in on a Canadian Armed Forces Boeing 707. George Proud, one of the new Liberal members of Parliament, stood on a bench for a better view of the royals as they were driven up University Ave. “We’re the commoners, and they’re royalty, and I think people in a strange way must secretly like that,” he said. “It’s a great day,” declared John Ready, the mayor of Charlottetown. A woman in the crowd groused, “I was talking to a friend this morning who said, ‘I don’t know why we should have to curtsy to a person who a few years ago was living with a race-car driver.’”

   The duchess climbed over a rope barrier to talk to a group of senior citizens. “What are these ropes for?” she asked. “I can’t believe you’re penned in.”  

   Scouts Canada held their annual jamboree on the island that year, honing their outdoor skills and running riot in the woods. They had a rousing early summer week. The TV series “Road to Avonlea” went into production. The last train on Prince Edward Island made its last run, coming to a dead stop in living time. The tip-to-tip railway had been operating for one hundred years. One minute later it was done for good.

   “Look Away” by Chicago was the top song of the year with Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” hard on its heels. Malcolm “Monk” Kennedy was the thorn on the island that year, but nobody knew it until the Boy Scouts had all gone home. They were always prepared, it being the scouting motto, but nobody was prepared for Monk, or Jules and Louise, the Montreal killers who came to the island looking hunting for him.

   Jules and Louise didn’t know they were going to end up paddling upstream. Monk Kennedy didn’t know two million dollars was going to wrap him up. They didn’t like it when they found out, but by then they had picked their poison. The Crick was going to flow into the ocean, no matter what. They were going to have to find that out for themselves. They weren’t prisoners of fate. They were prisoners of their own minds. Monk couldn’t change fate because he couldn’t change his mind. Jules and Louise wouldn’t change their minds, no matter what.

   Hunkered down on a rock shelf at the bottom of the ocean not far from shore, Louie the Large sized the three of them  up. Monk was scrawny. He was off the dinner table unless there was a famine. Jules looked better. He had some meat on his bones. Louise looked the best. He wouldn’t mind getting his claws into her, not at all. They shared a name. He liked that. He would like it even better if they shared some flesh and blood for real.

   Louie loved the ocean, deep and blue, the tides rising and falling, where life came from. He had a high regard for it. And the fear of it, too.

Excerpted from Blood Lines at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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Blood Lines Chapter 1

By Ed Staskus

   The week started by raining Monday and Tuesday, harder the second day than the first day. The wind picked up, gusting by nightfall on Monday. The rain turned into a thunderstorm and lightning crisscrossed the sky. Bernard Doiron had breakfast and lunch and took a nap. He did the same thing the next day. Wednesday morning it was in the low teens at sunrise. There were only scraps of cloud left in the sky. He had ham and eggs and coffee and fired up Conor Murphy’s Massey Ferguson tractor. It was more than twenty years old and clean. Conor took care of it personally, since his father bought it new and paid almost ten grand for it. 

   A good two-horse team could plow two acres a day back in the day. Bernie plowed with a five bottom in the fall and a 490 disc in the spring and could do 60 acres from one end of the day to the other end of it. He was going to start across the street from the white house, what was Sandy’s Surfside Inn, and work his way to the right. He would have lunch before noon, since he was getting an early start.  

   The spring planting was running late because of rain and cold. Setting day for lobster was running late, too, because of the rain and cold. Fishermen were anxious to get out on the ocean. Lobsters were on the move. Farmers were anxious to get out on the land. Seeds were ready to sprout.

   Bernie steered the tractor to the road on the side of the ocean and up the far slope at a steady 15 KPH. It was nearing eleven o’clock when he saw the red fox. It was thirty-some meters ahead of him, sniffing and digging at something. He slowed the tractor and stopped where the fox was, who retreated, stretched, showed his teeth, and sprang into the nearby trees.

   He had plowed the field in the fall, straight furrows that stayed straight through November bluster and snow that buried the island from mid-December to mid-April. It wasn’t usually that snowy, but it had been a bad winter. He stayed snug in his small house on the far side of Anglo Rustico, opposite the North Rustico Harbor. The house was more than a hundred years old, built with island cut lumber and island made shingles. Birch bark was the insulation between the outer wall and the shingles. It cut the wind where it was always windy. He had an oil furnace and a fireplace in the living room and the house kept itself cozy without even trying.

   There was some ground mist. Crows he couldn’t see cawed from nearby trees. He could see a briefcase on the ground on the other side of his front wheels. It was open and attached to something. He hopped off the tractor and walked around to it. The over-sized hard-sided briefcase was empty. The inside lining was torn. There was mud and dried red goo all over it.

   It was attached to a bony wrist grasping the handle. The wrist was wearing a watch and was attached to an arm that was half-buried in the ground. The watch band was gold-colored stainless steel.

   “Ce que ca?” Bernie whispered to himself.

   He knew the arm was attached to a dead man. He looked at the watch dangling loosely on the wrist again. The face of it was cracked. It read three-ten. He knew he was done plowing for the day. He started walking back the way he had come, to the green house, a stone’s throw from the white house. He stopped and walked back. He looked at the arm and the briefcase again. The fox had ripped into what old flesh was left on the arm. He hadn’t imagined seeing it, not that he thought he had.

   The white house had a phone, but if Sandy was the only one at home, he could be deliberately deaf in the morning, not answering the door no matter what. Bernie didn’t see Flynn or Mariko anywhere. Conor didn’t have a phone yet, but he always answered the door when he was at home and had a fast car to get to a phone fast. It was a 1987 Buick GNX, two years old. It wasn’t sleek or refined, but next to the twin-turbo Chevy Corvette it was the fastest car in North America. 

   Looking for sophistication? Don’t get the GNX. Looking for max boost? Get the GNX. Looking for a pool table ride? Go with the Corvette. It doesn’t matter whether your car bounces on potato roads like nuts and bolts in a blender? Go with the GNX. There were two of them on the lot at the first Chevy Buick dealership he saw in Burlington, Vermont the day he went shopping for a new car. One of them was silver and one of them was black.

   “Do you have any other colors, like red?” he asked the salesman.

   “You can have any color you want as long as it’s silver or black,” the salesman said.

   Bernie drove a 1965 VV Beetle. It was red accented with reddish rust spots. It didn’t look like much and ran full speed ahead on forty aluminum-magnesium horses. It sounded like a lawnmower. It ran like a charm. Chubby’s wanted it, but they weren’t going to get it.

   Conor drove to Shearer Chevy Buick down the street and found out they had the same colors on the lot, which were silver and black. “How about red?” he asked.

   “Sorry, sir, it doesn’t come in red. GM hasn’t built many of them. When they’re gone, they’re gone for good. If you can’t decide, I can tell you the only one we have on the lot is silver and black both.” 

   “How long have you been in business?”

   “Since 1929, sir.”

   He bought it, trading in his 1977 Chevy Impala, which was losing oil and wheezing. When he reached an empty stretch of I-87 south of Champlain, he took the car up to 175 KPH. It was outfitted with a turbocharged V6 engine with horsepower to spare on top of a boatload of torque. It was an automatic but could get to 95 KPH in less than five seconds. When he saw a car a kilometer-or-so ahead he backed off his one-man drag race.

   Bernie was wearing almost new insulated rubber boots. By the time he crossed the Gulf Shore Parkway they didn’t look almost new anymore, even though they still were. Standing on the shoulder of the road he stamped most of the mud off. The road didn’t look new anymore, either, but Bernie doubted the National Park was going to be doing anything about it anytime soon. When summer came tourists would be parking on the shoulders, leaving their cars behind to gape at the cliffs and walk along the undulating coastline. In the meantime, the natives would be slowing down, keeping an eye out for loose kids and happy-go-lucky dogs.

   They never should have laid it down with shoulders in the first place, he thought.

   The National Park on Prince Edward Island went back more than fifty years. It was a watercolor landscape in the flesh of green over sandstone and shale. There were sand dunes and sandy beaches. There were salt marshes and barrier islands farther east. There were white spruce along exposed coastal spots. The Gulf Shore Parkway supplanted an older red dirt road along the coastline and cut through Murphy land, but the Murphy’s hadn’t sold any of their nearly four hundred acres to the National Park. The Ottawa men could appropriate land for the road, but they couldn’t take all of it with the wave of a pen. They were going to have to wait the Murphy’s out. They would try to buy it from a generation-or-two down the road. That was their plan, at least.

   Bernie banged on the back door of the house and waited.

   “What’s up?” Conor asked. “Did you run out of gas?”

   “No, nothing like that. Put some boots on and I’ll show you.”

   Conor was the only one living in what had been the Murphy family home. His parents were newly deceased, his mother dead by heart attack the day before Christmas followed by his father. After burying their mother, he and his sister and brothers watched their father give up day after day until he gave up the ghost. Conor gave his father’s clothes away and stored the rest of his belongings.

  He had been living in Montreal the past ten years, but after the funerals and burials moved back to Prince Edward Island. He moved into the green house, even though it was too big for him and needed work. He was the youngest of the five Murphy’s and didn’t know he had missed his birthplace until he returned to it. He made his old bedroom his new bedroom.

   Bernie and Conor walked across the road and up the slope. When they got to the tractor the fox was back. The animal glanced at them and snuck away. They stepped up to the briefcase and arm. It was nearly noon and warmer, breaking into the 20s. What clouds were left had scattered, and the sky was a robin’s egg blue.

   “Jesus Christ almighty,” Conor said. “How did this happen? I haven’t been up here since I came back. Would you have seen it if it was in the field then, when you did the fall plowing?”

   “I think so, but it’s hard to tell,” Bernie said.

   “It’s not anybody from around here, is it?”

   “We would know if it was.”

   “You stay here, watch nothing gets at it, and I’ll go phone the RCMP.”  

   “Should we dig it out?”

   “No, just stay here, and keep that fox away. I’ll drive over to Lorne’s.”

   He didn’t waste time driving to Rollings Pond, up then down Church Hill Road, past the graveyard and Stella Maris Catholic Church, to Lorne’s Snack Shop. He didn’t burn rubber, though. He reckoned there was no need to hurry. What was done was done. He parked the GNX as far away from the nearest car as he could.

   “What are ya at?” one of the two Newfoundlanders behind the counter asked when he stepped into Lorne’s. They ruled the roost spring summer and fall until they went home to Gros Morne. Lorne worked the shop winters. They made breakfasts and lunches in the small kitchen behind the counter, stocked and sold candy bars and cigarettes, rented out VCR movies kept in a back room, and cleaned whenever there was a need for cleaning. 

   “We’re finally getting some springtime.”

   “I know, I been rotten with the weather.”

   “I’ve got to use your phone”

   “You know where it is.”

   Conor dialed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They were federal police, but the provincial police, too, the past 50-odd years. They watched over all the communities on the island except Summerside, Kensington, and Charlottetown. They patrolled most of the land and served most of the population.

   “I’ve got a dead man on my property,” he told 911.

   “Do you need an ambulance?”

   “No, not unless he comes back to life, which isn’t likely.”

   “Are you there?”

   “I will be back there in five minutes.”

   “Where is there?”

   He told the dispatcher and hung up. The younger of the red-cheeked Newfoundlanders threw him an inquiring look.

   “I was some stunned when I overheard what ya said on the phone.”

   “Yeah,” Conor said. “I’ll be back, tell you all about it.”

   Back at the house he parked his car in the barn, walked across the street and up the slope, joining Bernie. A flock of long necked cormorants passed by overhead. They didn’t look down at the two men.

   “Do you have a smoke?” Conor asked.

   “I thought you gave it up.”

   “I did.”

   Bernie shook two smokes out of his pack of Player’s, lit his, and passed the matches to Conor.

   “You’re better off not smoking,” he said. “These things are getting crazy expensive. Ten years ago, a 25-pack cost a Loonie. Now they cost six dollars. I took another look at that watch, on the wrist, and I think it might be a woman down there in the ground.”

   “It’s not good, whoever it is,” Conor said.

   They stood leaning against the tractor, smoking in silence, waiting for the gravel road cops to show up.

Excerpted from Blood Lines at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Bird on the Wing

By Ed Staskus

   Some men are good at farming. Other men are good at fishing. Tradesmen keep them in gear and goods. Most men are good for something, although some are good for nothing. William Murphy wasn’t a man good at doing nothing. He didn’t know fishing or farming but was experienced at raising horses. He was going to make a horse farm and make his way that way.

   He stayed on the cove where he had landed, building a house. He cut limbed sawed trees by hand and split blocks with an axe. The wood would be ready for a stove and fireplace next year. In the meantime, he bought a load of coal from a passing schooner. He found dampness nearby and looked for an underground spring. When he found it, he dug it out for drinking water, saving himself the work and expense of digging a well. Whenever he could he cleared land. It was one stump at a time, pulling them out with a team of draft horses. Sometimes it seemed like it was all he did.

   “The islander making a new farm cut down the trees as fast as possible until a few square yards of the blue sky could be seen above. Roots and branches lying on the ground were set on fire and sometimes the forest caught fire and hundreds of acres of timber were burned,” is how Walter Johnson, who came to Prince Edward Island to start Sunday schools, described it.

   Bill Murphy put enough salted cod away to feed a God-fearing family of Acadians. When the weather changed for the worse, he smoked read ate slept through the season, living in his union suit. The dead of winter arrived near the end of January and kept at it through February. The daytime high temperatures were below zero, and the overnight low temperatures were even lower. After spring arrived and the Prince Consort proved true to his word, his land grant signed sealed and delivered, he continued clearing land and building his house.

   He wasn’t a food growing man, but he had to eat. His first task was putting in a root garden of beets turnips carrots and potatoes. They would store well the next winter. He made sure there were onions. They added flavor to food and were a remedy to fight off colds. Whenever he started coughing or sneezing, he stripped and rubbed himself all over with goose grease, stuffing a handful of onions into his underwear. He always felt better afterwards. Corn peas beans could be dried and stored for soup. A bachelor might even live on the fare.

   Rhubarb was a perennial and one of the earliest to come up in the spring. After a long winter it was the first fresh produce. He planted plenty of it. The island had a short although rapid growing season. He woke up before sunrise and worked until dusk. He kept at it every day. The Sabbath meant nothing to him.

   The Prince of Wales visited Prince Edward Island that summer during his tour of British North America, arriving in a squadron consisting of the Nile, Flying Fish, and three more men-of-war. The Nile accidentally grounded trying to enter Charlottetown’s harbor. Once the tide lifted it, the unlucky boat sailed away towards Quebec. Spectators cheered Bertie’s progress to Government House on streets decorated with spruce arches. 

   “The town is a long straggling place, built almost entirely of wood, and presents few objects of interest,” he wrote home to his mother Queen Victoria.

   It was a cloudy afternoon, but when it cleared, he went horseback riding. That evening there was a dress dinner and ball at the Province Buildings. The Prince of Wales took a moment to step out onto a balcony. “Some Micmac Indians grouped themselves on the lawn, dressed in their gay attire, the headgear of the women recalling the tall caps of Normandy.”

   When the squadron ferrying the noble party embarked towards the mainland it was in a heavy rain. No one who didn’t need to be on deck wasn’t on deck. There were no spectators in the harbor waving hats and kerchiefs. Even the Indians stayed away.

   “Our visit it is to be hoped has done much good in drawing forth decided evidence of the loyalty of the colonists to the Queen.” Colonial loyalty and the Queen’s confidence in her colonists were soon to be tested. It was for another day, but Confederation was rearing its head. The Prince of Wales played cards and lost money on his way to Quebec.

   Bill Murphy didn’t bother making the long trip into town, having already gotten what he wanted from the royal family. The Prince of Wales was a playboy. There wasn’t anything he could do for him. He didn’t care whether Bill Murphy lived or died. When he was able to at last move into his house, he started on a horse barn. It would be large, large enough for stabling animals, milking cattle, and storing tools. The haymow would hold more than forty tons to feed his animals during the winter.

   At the same time, he started looking for a wife. He needed help indoors so he could work the outdoors. He needed help planting crops to feed himself and a family. He needed help clothing himself. Life without a woman on Prince Edward Island was a hard life. He found her the same time his work bee was finishing the barn.

   He met her in the cash provision store in Cavendish. Siobhan Regan was 19 years-old, a few years older than half his age. She wasn’t pretty or well off but looked sturdy and round bottomed. He was sure she could bear children without killing herself or the infant. She could read, although she seldom did, except for the Good Book. She was ruddy cheeked with big teeth and was a quiet woman, suiting him, who used the spoken word only for what it was worth.

   They were married and in their new house, home from the wedding in a buggy retrofitted with sleigh runners, the night before the last big snowfall in April. She got pregnant on Easter Sunday and stayed more-or-less pregnant for the next ten years, bearing six children, all of whom survived. Her husband refused the services of the village’s midwives, refused the services of the doctor, and delivered the children himself. He threw quacksalvers out the door with a curse and a kick. He trusted them as much as he trusted the Prince of Wales. They peddled tonics saturated with moonshine and opium. He had had some of both, enough to know they were no good for the sick or healthy, more likely to kill than not. He never drank port, punch, or whiskey, rather drinking his own homemade beer. He liked to wrap up the day with a pint.

   He knew cholera and typhus had something to do with uncleanliness, although he didn’t know what. He had seen enough of it on ships, where straw mattresses weren’t destroyed after somebody died from dysentery while laying on them. He ran a tight ship, keeping his house and grounds in working order. He didn’t let his livestock near the spring at the house, instead taking them downstream. He had seen the toll in towns where garbage was thrown into the street and left there for years. He and his wife were inoculated against smallpox, and as the children got on their feet, so were they. He brooked no objections.

   The Irishman wasn’t going to throw the dice with the lives of his children. Six of his ten brothers and sisters died before they reached adulthood in the Land of Saints and Scholars. Their overlords had something to do with it, famine had something to do with it, and their rude lives the rest of it, putting them in early graves. One of them died on the kitchen table where a barber was bleeding him. He bled to death. They buried him in cold sod.

   Siobhan Murphy took a breather from childbearing towards the end of the decade. Her husband and she went to Charlottetown twice that summer to see shows at St. Andrew’s Hall. They saw “Box and Cox” and “Fortune’s Frolic,” both directed by the eccentric Mrs. Wentworth Stevenson, an actress and music teacher trained in London who had formed the Charlottetown Amateur Dramatic Club. 

   They stayed at Mrs. Rankin’s Hotel, having breakfast and dinner there, walking about the city, stopping for tea when the occasion arose, and spent their otherwise not engaged hours making a new baby. When they were done, they went home. The children weren’t surprised months later that another one of them was on the way.   

   Every farm on Prince Edward had a stable of horses for work and transport. Most farmers used draft horses for hard labor, the nearly one-ton animals two in hand plowing fields, bringing in hay, and hauling manure. It was his good fortune to know horses inside and out, whether big and small. The carrying capacity of his land was well more than a hundred horses. He wasn’t planning on that many, but a hundred would suit him well enough if it came to that. He was going to grow most of his own food and sell horses for the rest of life’s essentials and pleasures.   

   By 1867 when Prince Edward Island rejected joining the Confederation, even though it hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 where it was first proposed, he was well on his way to making his horse farm a going concern. Confederation didn’t concern him, one way of the other. Many islanders wanted to stay part of Great Britain. Others wanted to be annexed by the United States. Some thought becoming a dominion on their own was best. He kept his eyes on the prize, his family and farm.

   John D. Macdonald, the country’s first Prime Minister, who was always worried about American expansionism, tried to coax the island into the union with incentives, but it wasn’t until they were faced with a financial crisis that its leaders reconsidered John D’s various offers. It was when they put themselves into a hole that his efforts paid off.

   A coastline-to-coastline railway-building plan gone bad put Prince Edward Island into debt. It spawned a banking crisis. Parliament Hill agreed to take over the debt and prop up the financing needed to resume railway construction. There was demand for year-round steamer service between the island and mainland. Parliament Hill agreed to the demand. The province wanted money to buy back land owned by absentee landlords. Parliament Hill agreed to that, too. In the event, the wrangling went on.

   Bill Murphy was better off than many people on the island. He had a small amount of hard cash while most islanders had no cash to speak of and bartered almost everything. When the chance arose to make a killing during the horse disease of 1872, he took it. The pandemic started in a pasture near Toronto. Inside a year it spread across Canada. Mules, donkeys, and horses got too sick to work. They coughed, ran a fever, and keeled over exhausted getting out of their barns and stables. Delivering lumber from sawmills or beer to saloons killed them outright. They died like flies.

   “There are not a hundred horses in the city free from the disease,” a newspaper editor in Ottawa wrote. Another editor in Montreal wrote, “We have very few horses unaffected.” The only place the pandemic didn’t touch was Prince Edward Island.

   “When the disease was raging in the other provinces, our navigation was closed, and our island entirely cut off, in the way of export or import from the mainland, which in fact must have been the reason it did not cross to our shores,” wrote the editor of The Patriot newspaper.

   Bill Murphy drove forty horses to Summerside where they were loaded on two ships for crossing the Northumberland Straight. Once on shore they were walked to the railhead in New Brunswick and shipped by railcar to Montreal, whose money for the horses was better than all others. After he was paid, he hid the money inside his shirt with his jacket buttoned up to the collar all the way home.

   In 1873 the island’s voters were given the option of accepting Confederation or going it alone and having their taxes raised substantially. Most voters finally chose Confederation, voting their pocketbooks. Prince Edward Island officially joined Canada on July 1, 1873. The weather that day was foul and then a storm rolled in. Thunderbolts lit up the low clouds, followed a split second later by sonic booms. It was like fireworks. The fox in the fields lay low in their foxholes. It wasn’t fit for man or beast.

   It was two years later, as lightning again slashed the sky, that the prize horse on Murphy land spooked and kicked him in the head, knocking an eye out, breaking his jaw, and fracturing his skull. Everything he knew about horses, as well as the money from the sale of them the year before, which he had secreted away behind the barn, flew out the window with his soul. The gates of the Underworld and Heaven both opened wide to admit him. He tossed the Devil’s invitation away.

   Flags flew everywhere on the island that August when George Coles died in Charlottetown. He had been the first premier of Prince Edward Island and one of the Fathers of Confederation, which didn’t keep him from dueling with Edward Palmer, another Father of Confederation. He was a feisty man. He was convicted of assault over the incident. He spent a month in custody while still in the provincial government. His twelve children visited him and brought him beer every day. He had been a distiller and brewer earlier in life.

   Siobhan Murphy folded her flag and buried it with her husband in the Catholic burying ground. After the interment, her children gathered around her, she looked out on the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Church Hill Road. Her husband had crossed the briny deep at peril to himself to make his fortune, no matter what it might be. He was gone now but the land was still theirs. She would never give it up. It would always be theirs. Her children’s children would bear fruit there.

   Siobhan wasn’t going anywhere, no matter whether it was Canada or the United States or anywhere else on the island. She couldn’t raise the dead, but she could raise her children on the farm her husband made. She was determined none of them would ever forget their father. Murphy’s Cove would stay what it was and where it was.

   She started the slow walk home with her sick at heart brood back up then down the red road to the cove and their farm. The smallest of them, a girl her pigtails flapping, pulled at her mother’s dress.

   “Mommy, I have a secret to tell you.”

Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Rock Lobster

By Ed Staskus

   It wasn’t breaking news that Prince Edward Island was an island. It was old news that it hadn’t always been one. It was news to some folks who lived on the island, however. They weren’t overly concerned with the past. It wasn’t news to the lobsters who lived offshore. They had been around much longer than the fishermen, farmers, and townsfolk who plied their trade on sea and shore. The large crustaceans had seen it all.

   Lobsters didn’t have a trade or much else to do, other than eat anything and everything they could all day and night. They hated crabs and crabs hated them and it was the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s whenever the shellfish ran into each other. The lobsters were bigger badder more determined and three of their five pairs of legs were outfitted with claws. They usually carried the day. Might makes right.

   The land formed 250 million-some years ago, during the Permian period. Creeks and rivers deposited gravel, sand, and silt into what is the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Before the last ice age, Prince Edward Island was connected to the mainland. After the glaciers melted it wasn’t connected anymore. It went its own way. The Northumberland Strait became what separates the island from the rest of Canada. 

   The number one rock ‘n’ roll band among the island’s lobsters was the B-52’s. They were the house band in their part of the world. Every lobster knew the lyrics to their ‘Rock Lobster’ song. The band had released it ten years earlier and when they did it shot up the shellfish charts, even though every single crab scorned it as gauche.

   “We were at the beach, everybody had matching towels, somebody went under a dock, and there they saw a rock, it wasn’t a rock, it was a rock lobster!” 

   Whenever a crab heard the song, it spit sideways and cursed. They were happy to see the island’s fishing boats go after their country cousins every May. They showed up at every harbor for the blessing of the fleet on Setting Day and shouted “Godspeed!” when the boats broke the waves. There was no love lost between crabs and lobsters.

   Even though lobsters could be mean as bad neighbors, all they really wanted to do was eat and have some fun afterwards.

   “Havin’ fun, bakin’ potatoes.”

   Prince Edward Island was known as Spud Island. It was no small potatoes when it came to the tuber. It was the smallest province but the top potato producing province in the country.

   “Boys in bikinis, girls in surfboards, everybody’s rockin’, everybody’s fruggin’.”

   Lobsters couldn’t move fast enough to frug, but it didn’t matter. They got into the spirit of the song. They lived in concord among themselves ten months out of the year, except when one of them happened to eat another one of them. Two months of the year all bets were off. That’s when the island’s lobster boats went hunting for them. That’s when the angels sang. They didn’t like it but what could they do?

   There were about 1200 boats sailing out of 45 harbors. More than three dozen boats came out of the North Rustico harbor alone. Every one of them was out to get them. Once fishermen got them their fate was sealed. Every lobster knew it in its bones, even though all they had was an exoskeleton. Their inner selves had no bones. They were going to be boiled alive and there was nothing they could do about it.

   Traps have escape vents to let shorts leave while it is still on the bottom. The under-sized lobsters who overstayed their welcome were thrown back into the ocean. Egg-bearing females were also thrown back. The female carried her eggs inside of her for about a year and then for about another year attached to the swimmerets under her tail. When the eggs hatch, the larvae float near the surface for about a month. The few that survive eventually sink to the bottom and develop as full-fledged shellfish. For every 50,000 eggs generated two lobsters survive to grow up and go rocking.

   Some diners wearing bibs argued that lobsters didn’t have a brain and so they couldn’t feel pain. They had probably never seen their tails twitch like the mosh pit when they got thrown into a pot of boiling water. They weren’t twitching to the beat of the B-52’s. Their brains might not amount to much, but they had a nervous system. They reacted to pain physically and hormonally. The hormone they released when dying was the same one that human beings release when hurt. Cortisol is cortisol. They would have screamed if they could.

   “How about coming down here with the rest of us,” they wanted to scream from the red hot mosh pit.

   The Prince Edward Island seafood industry considered lobster to be their crown jewel. It was a gourmet delicacy known for its tender juicy meat. But that was like getting the Medal of Honor when you weren’t around anymore to bask in the glory. The only consolation lobsters had was that their harvesters took care to manage their resource carefully. They didn’t pull up over many of them in their traps and kept the surrounding waters clean.

   It was a small consolation though. It only meant the fishermen were in it for the long haul and weren’t going to change their minds about snatching them anytime soon. The only consolation a lobster ever got was when somebody reached for it and the lobster was able to get the outstretched hand in its crusher claw.

   “We were at a party, his earlobe fell in the deep, someone reached in and grabbed it, it was a rock lobster!”

   When that happened, there was no quarter given. The lobster was going to sell its life dear. The human hand was going to pay dear for sticking its nose where it didn’t belong. It should have stayed where it was before it ever came to the island. What lobsters didn’t know was that fishermen came from the same place they did way back when and weren’t ever going back, even if they knew how. The sooner they got that through their thick heads the better.

   “Lots of trouble, lots of bubble, rock rock, rock lobster.”

Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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The End of the Marco Polo

By Ed Staskus

   William Murphy, Jr. was 21 years old the day the Marco Polo was run aground 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 when the wind kicked up. 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. It was a gift to Queen Victoria from the colonial government. Pulling into its home port, the ship unfurled a banner claiming it was the “Fastest Ship in the World.”

   The gold was delivered to the queen by a fast coach guarded by the King’s Men.

   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 came 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 well enough or fast enough. The windmill blew away and the pumps gave a last gasp. Captain Bull decided to try saving 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. There were 25 of them, Norwegians Swedes Germans. They were tough men. There was a Tahitian, too. It was the beginning of only his 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 shiny fishhooks.

   Lucy Maud Montgomery 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.

   “I am Bill the Murphy,” Bill said.

   Teva was the only one of the crew who signed on to help salvage the ship. The rest 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 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. He and grandfather sailed and 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 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 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.”

   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 the Sailor 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 into August while the vessel decayed and fell apart piece by piece until a wild thunderstorm barreled up from the United States. It broke up along the coast, going down to the bottom of the sea, to Davy Jones’ Locker. 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 and 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 know anything about overfishing or the deep-seated fears of shellfish, and didn’t much care, either, 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 the Sailor 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 the garden path, but he was only a cat and didn’t know anything about the divine. When there was an easy way of doing things, that was always the way he took.

Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Good Ol’ Boy

By Ed Staskus

   Clyde Ferguson stumbled into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital mortuary room like he was seeing it for the first time, even though he had been the provincial pathologist for 11 years. He waited for the sharp stab in his left hip to go away. He felt unsteady. He steadied himself with one hand on the doorjamb. He was all right after a moment, as far as it went. His left heel wouldn’t flatten down to the floor. That leg had gotten shorter the past five years. He put his arms at his sides and breathed evenly.

   The hospital was practically new. It was still in its infancy. He was getting older by the minute, which bothered him. “Getting old is no problem,” is what Groucho Marx said. “You just have to live long enough.” But sometimes he didn’t feel like he was just getting old. He felt like he was getting old and getting crippled to boot.

   His hip hurt like hell and worse. He knew exactly what the matter was. It had finally gotten to be bone on bone. The day had always been coming. Walking and yoga and strong drink had forestalled the inevitable. But he had walked too much the past several days. When the weather had gotten better, he drove to Brackley Beach, and walked two miles back and forth three days in a row. That was a mistake. It wasn’t the same as his treadmill, which had arm rails he could support himself on. He had three months left before his retirement became official. When it was signed and sealed, he was getting an after-market hip the next day, going back to Tracadie, and staying there. He would break it in and in the evening cut up fillets rather than dead folks.

   He blinked in the fluorescent light, wondering why there were two tables set up for him. When he remembered the arm, he remembered he was going to have to do two post-mortems, one on the arm and one on the young woman who the arm belonged to.

   Her death was being treated as the result of criminal activity. If it was some place bigger than Charlottetown the post-mortem would have been performed by a forensic pathologist. They investigate deaths where there are legal implications, like a suspected murder. But it wasn’t some other place. It was Charlottetown, the smallest capital city of the smallest province in Canada. It would have to do, and he would have to do it.

   When he was suited up, Clyde stood over the dead woman and blinked his fly-belly blue eyes. She was on her back on a stainless-steel cadaver table. It was essentially a a body-sized slanted tray with raised edges to keep fluids from flowing onto the floor. There was running water to wash away the blood that is released during the procedure. The blood went down a drain.

   She hadn’t been shot or stabbed. Her face was a mess, though. It took him a minute to see what it was that had killed her. Her skull was fractured. Parts of the broken skull had pressed into the brain. It swelled and cut off access to blood by squeezing shut the arteries and blood vessels that supply it. As the brain swelled it grew larger than the skull that held it and begin to press outside of it into the nasal cavity, out of the ears, and through the fracture. After a minute it began to die. After five minutes, if she hadn’t called it a day, she would have suffered irreversible brain damage. One way or the other it was the end of her.

   He got down to the rest of his work, making a long incision down the front of the body to remove the internal organs and examine them. A single incision across the back of the head allowed the top of her skull to be removed so the brain could be examined. He saw what he expected to see. He examined everything carefully with the naked eye. If dissection had been necessary to look for any abnormalities, such as blood clots or tumors, he would have done it, but what was the point?

   After the examination he returned the organs and brain to the body. He sewed her back up. When he turned his attention to the arm, he saw clearly enough it had been chopped off with one clean blow. The axe, or whatever it was, must have been new or even newer. In any case, it was as sharp as could be. Her hand was clenched in a fist. He had to break her fingers to loosen it. When he did, he found a loonie in her palm. It was Canada’s one-dollar coin introduced two years earlier to replace paper dollar bills, which had become too expensive to print. Everybody called them loonies after the loon on the reverse side.

   Clyde looked at the spanking new coin smeared with old blood and older dirt. He put it in a plastic bag and labelled it. He recorded everything on a body diagram and verbally on a cassette tape. He put the loonie, diagram, and tape in a pouch and labelled it. When he was done, he washed up and decided to go eat. After that he would call it a day. The work had warmed him up and he wasn’t limping as much as he had earlier. He tested his hip, lifting his leg at the knee and rotating it. It felt reasonably ready to go. He would go to Chubby’s Roadhouse for lunch. They had the best burgers on the island.

   The phone rang. It was Pete Lambert, the Commanding Officer of the RCMP Queens detachment.

   “What have you found out, Clyde.”

   “I’m on my way out for a bite to eat. Meet me at Chubby’s. So long as the force pays, I’ll tell you everything I know.”

   “I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.” Chubby’s was 15 minutes from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and 20 minutes from the RCMP station. While he was driving Clyde thanked God it was 1989 and metallic hip replacements were as good as they had ever been. The first hip replacements dated back a hundred years to when ivory implants were used to replace the femoral head. Elephant tusks were cheap at the time and were thought to possess good biomechanical properties. That proved to not be the case. Men and women died right and left from infections and dislocations.

   Fifty years later an American surgeon performed the first metallic hip replacement. He designed a prosthesis with a large head made of something he called Vitallium. The implant was 12 inches in length and attached with bolts to the end of the femoral shaft. It worked like a charm. That same prosthesis is what he would be getting, except it was better and the implant would be inserted within the canal of the femur, where bone growth would lead to more permanent attachment. So long as he could wake up and walk upright first thing in the morning, instead of staggering and grabbing for support, he would be a happy man.

   Chubby’s Roadhouse and Bud’s Diner were next to each other in a pink and blue building on St. Peters Road in Dunstaffnage. They did brisk business. It was a popular pit stop for bikers on poker runs. It was why Pete Lambert had lunch or dinner there once a week, getting to know the riders. He kept his enemies close.

   “We serve burgers and fries and shakes, and fish and chips and clams and all that stuff,” Clarence Foster said. “But I think as far as the burger goes, the best, the one that everybody seems to like is called the Bud Burger.” Clarence was both the Chubby and the Bud.

   Dances were held in the back of the building with local bands. Haywire was a summer favorite. Teenagers with ice cream cones gathered around the pinball machines at the front. Drinkers stayed at the bar, drinking. The bikers ate their Bud Burgers outside during the day and drank inside during the night.

   “We have wedding receptions and things like that,” Clarence said. He told the bikers about them in advance, so that nobody ended up stepping on anybody else’s toes.

   The Spoke Wheel Car Museum was next door. Clarence and his father, Ray, shared an appreciation for old cars. They both liked to smoke but loved cars more. They gave up cigarettes to save money. Instead of going up in smoke their savings went toward buying heaps nobody else wanted and restoring them. They offered to buy Bernie Doiron’s VW Beetle, but he said, “It ain’t no antique.” By 1969, they had 13 cars, including a 1930 Ford Model A Coach that Clarence drove. It was how the roadhouse and diner came into being. 

   “People were coming to the museum and looking for a place to eat,” he said. “Since my dad was a cook in the army, we decided to build a little canteen and it just kept on growing.” 

   Clyde and Pete ate inside at a back table. It wasn’t the warmest day, although it was sunny. They had Bud Burgers and cold pints. There were only a handful pf people having a late lunch.

   “How’s the hip?” Pete asked.

   “Hellzapoppin’,” Clyde said.

   “Is that the official word?”

   “It’s how I feel. I’ve got two months and 29 days from now circled on my calendar.”

   They ate and small talked. “Find anything out?” Pete asked, finishing his burger and hand-cut fries. The food was good because the beef and potatoes came from the island. It would be a trifecta once islanders started up their own breweries.

   “It will be in my report tomorrow, but since you’re interested, I’ll summarize it. She died of a fractured skull. There was tissue not hers on her face and in her hair. I want to say she was hit by a fist that got scuffed up doing it. She had alfalfa on and in her clothes. More than a brush of silage, enough to make me think she was on a dairy farm long enough to roll around in it. She wasn’t killed on that field, although her arm was probably cut off there. The last cut there was in late August, so she was put in the ground sometime between then and no later than the end of October.”

   Thousands of acres of potatoes on the island the last fall were left in the ground. Heavy rain and cold temperatures put a damper on the harvest. There was too much rain and cold, freezing and thawing day after day, and it led to a deep frost.

   “Her arm was probably cut off by an axe, sharp as hell, clean as a whistle. Whoever did it, like the fist, is a strong man or woman. Why it was cut off, since she was already dead when it happened, is for you to find out. She had a loonie clenched in her missing hand. It was a 1988 issue. No prints other than hers on it.”

   “Are her prints in the report?”

   “Yes, what we could get, which wasn’t much of anything, but they will do.”

   It was shop talk. Pete knew everything and a batch of photographs would be part of the report.     

   “She wasn’t molested or abused. I don’t think she had eaten for several days. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her teeth, none missing, one filling. She was in her early twenties, five foot five, 118 pounds, green eyes, light brown hair, no moles, birthmarks, or tattoos. She was healthy as a horse.”

   “Anything else?”

   “One more thing. I think she might have poked somebody in the eye. There was retinal fluid and blood under the fingernails of the first two fingers on the cut-off arm. Her nails were 7 mm long and almond shaped, perfect for poking. It wasn’t her blood, either.”

   Blunt trauma to the eye can cause the retina to tear. It can lead to retinal detachment. It can require urgent surgery. The alternative is blindness.

   “If that happened, where would the eye have been treated?” Pete asked.

   “At a hospital or a large eye clinic.”

   “What happens if it’s not treated?”

   “Kiss goodbye to that eye.”

   “I see,” the police officer said, paying the bill when the waitress stopped at their table. What thin crowd there had been had cleared out. It was the middle of the afternoon. When the two men went out to their cars, they were the only two cars in the front lot. Pete was driving an unmarked police car, although it was clearly an official car. Clyde was driving a Buick Electra station wagon. He could lay a corpse out in the back if he had to. They shook hands and went their separate ways.

   Five hours later a biker riding a red motorcycle approached the roadhouse, swerving to avoid a fox. There was always more roadkill in the spring and fall. Skunks and raccoons were the most common, although foxes weren’t always as quick and slippery as their reputation. He pulled up, parked, and went inside. He left the key in the ignition. His Kawasaki Ninja had an inline four cylinder, 16 valve, liquid cooled engine with a top speed above 240 KPH. He had already made that speed and more. He knew nobody was going to mess with his bike because everybody at Chubby’s knew whose motorcycle it was. At the bar he ordered a Bud Burger and a cold pint.

   “How’s the eye?” the bartender asked. “It looks good. At least, no more pirate’s patch.”

   “Yeah, but I waited too long to get it fixed,” the biker said. “The doc says I’ll probably be more blind than not in that eye from here on. It doesn’t matter, I can still see enough out of the other one to take care of my business.”

   He ate fast and downed his beer. When he left, he paid cash with a new one-hundred-dollar bill.

   “Where do you keep finding these?” the bartender asked.

   “Pennies from heaven, my man, pennies from the main man” the biker said, leaving him a tip of a half dozen shiny loonies.

   Getting on his glam motorcycle in the dusk he thought, I’ve got to be more careful about that.

Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

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