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HILL OPENED Monday morning’s issue of the Halifax Chronicle Herald. Liverpool’s murder was fast becoming the most written about incident since the sinking of the Titanic and the Halifax explosion. News of the Perkins’ Ghost case had also reached well beyond the boundaries of the Province of Nova Scotia and figured in the most well-read newspapers across the world. The media were inspired by even the tiniest of clues and ran with it, like a hound on the scent of a rabbit. Guesswork was high and everyone became a detective. As interesting as public opinion was, there was no way that Hill was going to rely on the media to solve this case or allow them to warp his thoughts. He read the headline: Perkins’ Ghost Investigation – A Hangman’s Noose. After glancing at the photo that Craig, the local newspaperman, had taken of the dummy he didn’t bother to read anything more. He was tired of seeing that photo but it was the only one that the media had. He closed the paper knowing damned well that what was written was only hearsay and he did not want the media and their theories to steer him from the facts.
Mosher’s funeral was to take place later that day and Hill could think of a dozen places that he would rather be. Just then his phone rang.
“Golden here. I’m outside the Rossignol Cultural Centre. Briggs must have scaled the fence. He’s wandering around inside the gate and around Maud Lewis’ House.”
Hill looked at his watch. It was nine fifteen. The museum would not be open until ten o’clock and the gate would remain locked until opening time. “What makes you so certain that it’s him?”
“He’s wearing that same get-up that he wore in the play.”
“I’ll be right there,” Hill said, hanging up the phone and striding towards the door knowing full well that it could not be Briggs, as he had turned in his costume. “It’s probably some kid fooling around, and on a day like today, with David’s funeral about to happen,” Hill muttered to himself.
When he pulled his car up to the gate he asked, “Is there any way that we can get access to the yard?”
“I think Pauline has a key to the gate. She’s the full-time summer minder.”
“It might be a good idea to call her and round-up a couple of officers as well, just in case he decides to make a run for it.”
The old building, once a public school, had been restored and converted into a museum. Hill walked along the perimeter of the eight-foot fence. It had been recently installed to keep the vandals out. Right now it was also keeping the authorities out. Hill always felt that the chain-link fence took away from the beauty of the old building and now it further added a challenge to catching the trespasser.
He walked along the sidewalk and down the slope to the end of the museum property just as another cruiser pulled up. Golden sent the officer to guard the back of the fence that edged the grounds of the new school. There was no way that this guy was going to get away. Before long a crowd had gathered. ‘Good,’ thought Hill, ‘There is less chance that he’ll escape unnoticed with dozens of eyes on him’. Within five minutes Pauline pulled up and unlocked the gate.
Hill said, “Would you mind locking that behind us? All we need is for him to make a run for it when we’re looking the other way.”
One of the spectators pointed to the museum door and yelled, “I think he’s gone inside. I just saw somebody go up towards the main door.”
Hill was grateful for the tip as he ran towards the building, groaning as he thought that everyone wanted to be a detective. Suddenly he wondered how anybody could get into the museum with the security system activated and with the door locked. He looked back at Pauline, who shrugged and held her hands out indicating that no one other than she, and the owner, who was nowhere within fifty miles, had a key. Four officers were now covering the perimeter, including the library at the other side of the building. Hill had visited the museum enough times to know that there was a staircase that led to the lower level. He signaled for an officer to watch the other side of the building.
Two officers and Pauline were at his heels when he turned the knob on the main door. It was still locked. He stepped aside while Pauline nervously fumbled with the keys to unlock the door. She stopped and looked directly at Hill, “He can’t be in there. The alarms aren’t ringing.”
“Are you sure that you activated it last night?”
“Absolutely, it’s the last thing that I do before going out. I’d be in it very deep if I didn’t.”
Pauline turned the key in the lock and it clicked. Hill was first to step over the threshold and the alarm sounded loudly. Pauline simply raised her eyebrows indicating that she knew she had set the alarm. Hill motioned her inside to de-activate it. She turned the lights on in the corridor and walked down the long hallway. Hill was directly behind her. One officer remained at the door and the other walked down the hall towards the English Dining-room. Within seconds Pauline had silenced the alarm. Everyone stood motionless listening. Hill looked down the darkened hallway and was certain that he saw a shadowy figure move into the Fishing and Hunting Museum. Hill’s heavy footsteps echoed down the long corridor while the other officers stood on guard. Hill motioned for one officer to follow.
He flicked on the light-switch in the Hunting and Fishing Museum and everything seemed to glow in the fluorescent lighting. No one else was in the room. Hill moved directly to the hunter’s cabin and through the door that led to the Wildlife Museum. In the darkened area he felt something push past him and whispered loudly to the other officer, “I told you to stay back of me.” He waved his flashlight, casting unnerving shadows.
“I am,” he said, startling Hill.
There was not another sound apart from Hill’s footsteps and those of the officer who stayed well behind him. Hill flipped on the other light switch and the lights eerily lit the room full of animals: giraffes, lions, cougars, zebras, birds and many more that he did not even know the names of. Seeing all of those stuffed, dead animals was never Hill’s favorite part of the museum. They crept along the walkway to the exit. He turned back nervously towards Officer Tripp just as his cell phone played loudly its banal tune. He was receiving a message from Officer Howe. He read the message: He just entered the Mongolian Tent outside in the yard.
Pauline stood stock still as the officers left the building. Hill reached the Mongolian Tent and tried to turn the locked door just as another voice rang out. It was one of the spectators from the other side of the fence, “He’s gone into Maud Lewis’ House.” All the officers ran towards that building. Before they reached the door another voice yelled, “He’s gone down the hill now. I just saw him crossing Gorham Street at the theatre.”
Thoroughly confused, Hill and the other four officers raced to the gate to go after him but, as he had instructed Pauline, the gate was locked. Hill slammed his fist against the wire fencing in frustration, hating that fence even more as he caught a glimpse, through the crowd, of their quarry entering the side door of the theatre down the hill. “Damn,” he said through clenched teeth, wishing that he too could have caught a glimpse of the person’s face. It seemed that they were working a case of speculation.
Pauline hastily unlocked the gate and Hill would have raced down the hill to the theatre but truthfully he saw no point. If he could not catch him inside a locked fence there was little chance that he would catch up to him on the open streets, as he’d probably left the theatre already. With his fingers weaved through the chain-links he looked down the street knowing that whoever managed to get outside the gate without being caught was one tricky bastard.
By the time the officers had cleared the crowd from the sidewalk, on Church Street, the funeral cars had begun lining up in front of the Anglican Church for David Mosher’s funeral. Lots of chairs had been set up in the parking lot adjoining the graveyard beside the church, for the expected overflow of supporters. And a screen had been mounted to display the service. A few of the streets had been closed off. Tranquil music was fed through the speakers and nature pictures were being shown on the screen. Most of the chairs out in the parking lot were already filled.
Hill dreaded the thought of attending the service yet he knew that he was expected to be there. He headed towards the church. He knew that funerals had a way of drawing out emotions that told more than any interrogation could, and he wanted to ensure that he had a good angle to view the mourners inside the church. Pierce and Golden had been assigned to observe the congregation in the parking lot.
~ ~ ~
Hill chose a chair along the far side of the church. That gave him a good view of almost the entire congregation, as well as the ceremonials at the front. He was glad that he had arrived early for he got to see each mourner as they were entering. David’s coffin had been placed at the steps of the altar, and people were relieved to see that it was closed. Not wanting a repeat of the opening of Act III.
Reverend Babcock began the service by reading a short passage from the Bible. Following the modern, preferred practice, David’s life was to be celebrated not mourned. There was to be no gloomy lamenting of the loss of his life. Scarlett, together with Marc Cobb, Blair Matthews, Peter Bryce, Theresa Roy and the rest of the play’s cast members, heads bowed as they moved towards the front of the church like a group of monks.
Hill leaned forward curiously in his chair as Scarlett stood at the podium. She read from a paper that shook in her trembling hand, “We are here today to celebrate the life of David Mosher. As most of you know he had been actively involved with the theatre company.” Scarlett’s voice trembled with emotion and she choked back a sob. “We, the theatre group, would like to take a few minutes to walk you on a journey through David’s short life.”
Each of the actors took their places as the lights dimmed. All of the windows had been covered and the front of the church was dressed like a theatre set. A video projector displayed a scene on the back-drop that had been set up behind the altar. The same scene was being shown on the large screen outside the church. A spotlight shone on Theresa and Blair. Theresa was sitting before an easel and canvas. She had a paint brush in her one hand and a palette of colours in the other. Blair sat across from her and even though he sat with his back slightly turned to the audience there was no doubt that he was portraying David and having his portrait painted.
Theresa smiled at Blair and said, “David, talk to me while I paint. It will help you to relax and give me a much more natural pose.” She mimed dabbing her brush in the paint and began moving her arm as if she were making strokes on the canvas.
Blair wiggled in his chair in the same nervous way that David always had. “What should I say?” he asked.
“Why don’t you tell me the things that you like, and what you like to do?”
“Well, that’s easy. I love chocolate ice-cream. I usually order a triple crown.” The entire audience smiled, breaking the tense atmosphere. He went on to describe some of his other favorite things and the audience nodded, smiling broadly.
“Would you like to see your picture David?” Theresa asked, turning the portrait. It displayed David sitting on a railing with the sea behind him. In the picture he was smiling. There was not a dry eye in the audience. Blair and Theresa moved away but the light remained on the portrait. The scene changed.
Christian Briggs was dressed as David, depicting him as a little boy. He was wearing cut-off pants, a tee-shirt and had bare feet. He balanced himself on a set of crutches and was holding a fishing rod. He was mock-casting it towards the audience. Most of the locals had forgotten that at the age of ten he had broken his leg. He had fallen from a tree during summer-camp and after that had worn a cast and had hobbled around on crutches for weeks.
The lights faded on Christian and rose on Gary and Peter. Peter was dressed as David and together they mimed the paddling of a canoe.
“Look over there David. Do you remember when…?” Gary said. Doing the scene was hard for Gary for they were the best of friends.
Bryce finished the sentence for him, “When the current almost took us out to sea?” he laughed. “Yes I do. We couldn’t have been more than nine.” He pointed upwards, “And remember that time when we jumped from the old railway bridge? Who dared us?”
“If my memory serves me correctly I’d say we dared each other. I never did jump,” said Gary.
“Who cares? And I caught that sturgeon. Wasn’t it right over there?”
“Yes it was,” Gary said, as he and Peter mimed paddling down the river and off the set.
The spotlight faded again before shining on Marc and Alexis. They sat together on a blanket sharing a picnic. Alexis was dressed as David’s then girlfriend, Tiffany, the woman whom he had married just two years ago. Marc played the role of David. Marc handed her a bouquet of sunflowers. Kneeling on one knee he asked for her hand in marriage. She sat before him and together they spoke their marriage vows. They stayed in that position, hands clasping each other’s, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes as the reverend stepped up to the podium. He closed the service with a prayer before inviting the congregation into the church hall for tea and cakes.
Hill felt that he had missed something very important in this somewhat eccentric funeral-service performance. Was it sleight-of-hand or a trick of the eye? Even as sad as it was he would have liked another chance to view the performance. He remained in his chair for quite some time. He did not bother going in to the luncheon because he felt that there was more to be gained by watching the people trickle out.
He eventually left the church and stood leaning against his police cruiser watching as the people left the church hall. Very few left singly, possibly filled with the need to be with someone at such a time. He was still standing there when Scarlett and Marc left the church-hall together. They walked over to join him.
“That was quite a performance,” Hill said to Scarlett.
“It was the kind of thing that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.”
“I can make a copy of the DVD for you if you like. We recorded everything for the family. As a gift.”
“I’d appreciate that…they likely will too,” he said. “Thanks.”
Hill drove down to the theatre, knowing that the doors would be open even though no other productions were planned for three more weeks. Hill nodded to Corina as he stepped into the theatre. They were the only ones there.
“Would you mind putting the lights on for me?” he asked.
“No problem,” she said, unenthusiastically. It was obvious that she had been crying and he knew that she had attended the service. He had seen her leave the church. David’s funeral had everyone in a slump.
Even with all the lights turned on, the stage area was still dark. Corina shrugged at his questioning look and said apologetically, “Sorry, I don’t know how to run the lighting system.”
“That’s fine,” he said, taking his flashlight from his belt. Yellow police tape still cordoned off the stage area and the coffin had not been moved.
She left him to it and went back to her post. Hill turned on his flashlight at the foot of the stairs, throwing a beam of light across the stage, as if he was looking for lurking monsters. He climbed the stairs and went directly to the coffin, as if drawn to it like a magnet. He slowly raised the lid as if anticipating something jumping out. Coffins were such horribly symbolic things. He released a huge sigh when the light bounced off the white cotton sheet and satin pillow inside. Like a boy looking for his prized toy in a toy box, he began by removing the pillow, the sheet and the thin mattress to reveal a crudely made pine-wood bottom. He brushed his hands over the wood, and cursed as splinters were embedded into his palm. He shone his light around the inside of the coffin. He was not sure what had directed him to go to the theatre that day, maybe it was something that he had seen in the funeral play. And then there it was: the button from Samson’s jacket. He wondered how it got missed during the investigation, or had it been planted later…like the American soldiers’ button that had been left on the chair. He removed an evidence bag from his pocket and scooped up the button, like a miner who had just found a gold nugget.
“Voila,” he said, kissing the outside of the bag.
END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”