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CHAPTER NINE

HILL DROVE away from the seaside. Knowing that Geoff was out playing a game of golf and as much as he would have preferred to turn off at the golf course he kept the car pointed towards town. He decided that it was as good a time as any to have a chat with Katy, the costume lady. The town was abuzz with sights and sounds coming from the park. The events would be wrapped up after Canada Day celebrations and the population would shrink back into its own languid ways. Hill felt that it would be a relief and he looked forward to it. And, making matters even worse, were it not for this murder, he could be playing golf.

It had been weeks since Hill had last driven up to Moose Harbour and he was glad for the drive. He parked at the top of the hill and looked down upon the tiny harbour with its fishing shacks that lined the dock and the multi-coloured boats bobbing in the water. He loved living in that part of Nova Scotia, for at every turn there was beauty beyond words and until yesterday it was virtually crime free. Oh sure, there was the odd misdemeanor: kids sometimes took to breaking windows, Mrs. Downey’s flower pots had been thrown into the river early last summer and, on a dare, some teenagers had climbed up the mounted ship’s mast by the river. But for the most part it was minor stuff. The last time that there was a crime of any significance was when a guy from Cape Breton had stolen a car in the early hours of one Sunday morning in Liverpool. He had driven all the way back up to Cape Breton. The foolish lad’s own car had broken down and he felt he could not be late for work the following Monday morning. The stolen car was found in Sydney Mines parked outside the kid’s house, undamaged, and with a full tank of fuel. He was a very considerate thief.

Katy’s house overlooked Shore Road and Moose Harbour. A long row of flowers in bloom stretched along the drive and waved in the Atlantic breeze. She was just crossing the lawn from her potting shed when Hill drove up her drive. She gave him a wave.

Katy had been doing costumes for the theatre over the past three or four decades. On account of it her eyes had taken the strain and she wore large, red coloured, wide rimmed glasses. They were most often hanging on a chain from around her neck or propped on top of her head like a pair of extra eyes. Her apparel was so exotic that it left one wondering if she was doing a dress rehearsal for a particular role herself. That day she was wearing a wide flowing flowery dress that flapped at her ankles. Bangles decorated her thick arms.

Hill parked his car and met her half way across the yard. They could have passed for brother and sister, in their stature and in the way in which they walked, except that Katy was at least twenty years his senior.

“I’ve got coffee on, if it takes your fancy,” she said as she peered over the rims of her glasses.

“Thanks Katy, I don’t mind if I do.”

“Murder is a bloody sad way of getting you out for a visit.”

Hill felt the same way…murder was never good, regardless of the reason, or the day of week. “I’m glad for the visit anyway.”

“Just take a chair and I’ll be right with you,” Katy pointed to a table and two chairs in a shady area on the patio. He stood for a moment and watched the Atlantic washing the shores far below and listened to the gulls crying their raucous cries before he took the chair. Within a minute she had returned and placed the tray on the plaid coloured table cloth.

“Rain is forecast for Wednesday,” she said as she poured the coffee. Neither wanted to talk about David’s murder, though both knew that the subject would be discussed later on.

Hill added two sugars and a big splash of milk. “It would be a blessing, might cool it down a bit.”

Neither one said anything more until the coffee was gone.

“I was wondering about the costumes for the play and in particular the one for the dummy.” Hill had taken to calling it a dummy since his conversation with Freddie.

“What do you need to know?”

“I guess what I’m saying is that the dummy, the mannequin, is missing.”

“Oh, my!” she said, with surprise and great concern. She paused before continuing. “The costumes for the cast weren’t anything fancy. I had to do some alterations for most of the actors but the one for the prop was just taken off the rack.”

“Off the rack?”

“The theatre has an enormous room with a wide range of costumes, in the dungeon.”

“What do you mean the dungeon?”

“There’s a big room in the cellar under the theatre. It’s where we keep costumes and the smaller props.”

“I wouldn’t mind taking a look in there. Who has a key for it?” Hill said.

“Paul, the manager, and me of course.”

“I suppose I could get Paul to let me in.”

“I don’t mind, I have to run into town anyway,” Katy slowly stood.

“Thanks, I’ll meet you there.”

 

Hill parked on Gorham Street across from the theatre and before long Katy arrived. She parked behind him, directly across from the costumes-cellar door, which was on the outside of the building. When she got out of her car her big ring of keys rattled as she walked. At the cellar door she stood riffling through her collection of keys to find the right one.

Finally Katy said, “Well, isn’t that strange, my key isn’t here.”

“When is the last time that you used it?”

“Friday night, when we had done the dress rehearsal. I needed a thing for Alexis’ widow’s costume.”

“Did you come in here alone?”

“Yes, I did. We were all in the theatre, on stage, doing dress rehearsal and I ran down here. I remember now. I was only going down for a second and this lock always sticks so badly so I left the key in the door. Now that I think about it, when I came up my keys were on the steps. I was in a hurry and at the time I never thought about it one way or the other. Someone must have taken the door key and dropped my key ring. Isn’t that odd! I’ve had that key for thirty years,” she said sadly, as if she had lost her favorite dog.

“Didn’t you need it to lock up?”

“No I just slam the door and it locks.”

“I suspect that whoever took it knew that you wouldn’t need to get back in here until after the play was over,” Hill thought out loud. “I doubt we’ll learn much with fingerprints, with this door on the street as it is and how many thousands of people have touched it in the past hundred years or more.”

“I can get a key from Paul.”

“Right…good idea. I’ll wait here.”

Katy waddled up the stairs to the theatre. Hill watched her and considered phoning to request a team to gather fingerprints. He dismissed the idea, then, since Katy was still inside talking with Paul, he reconsidered again and phoned Detective Carter. He said he would be right over. Carter drove up just as Katy and Paul returned with the key.

“Katy’s key is missing,” Hill told Carter, “And I wasn’t sure if you wanted to have prints taken before we open it up.”

“It will hardly tell us much. It’s open to the street and all. No, just go on in.”

Paul wiggled his key inside the lock and, just as Katy had said, it was difficult to open. He jiggled it a bit before it finally made a loud click, enabling Paul to turn the lock. The stairs were made from carved stone and over time the center had worn smooth and had hollowed out from the thousands of footsteps that had trodden them. The headroom was limited and they had to bend their heads to descend the stairs, a reminder of how much taller people had become during the twentieth century. Hill hung back, disliking confined spaces. They stopped at the foot of another door. Although that one was not locked Paul had to manipulate the handle to open it. Hill looked at the old fashioned door latch as he passed.

“We used to keep this one locked but it needs replacing and honestly it just doesn’t seem worth the bother,” Paul said.

Beyond that door was a single light bulb hung from a wire. When Paul turned the light on the room looked like a torture chamber. All that it needed was a chair directly beneath the light. Hill and Carter looked at each other and smiled for they both thought the same thing. Another door led to a room filled with racks of clothes, shoes, hats, wigs and dummies. The floor was made of huge flat stones, as were the walls, looking just as they had done when built more than a hundred years before. Hill removed his flashlight from his belt and switched it on. The area felt close, musky and dark in the seven foot ceiling space. Light glistened from the spider webs and Hill would have rather been anywhere else. Paul and Katy stood back and waited. Their thoughts of the murder made them feel uncomfortable about being down in the dungeon-like place and they were anxious to leave.

“I can’t see anything here but I might need to come back,” Hill said, just as his light shone on what looked like the Perkins dummy.” He turned it over. It was of a woman dressed in black clothing. Disappointedly he tossed it back down.

They returned to the street and went their own ways, puzzling about the lost key.

 

Hill drove down to the waterfront, got out of his car and walked amongst the crowds. Privateer Days’ celebrations were still in full swing. Sounds from the midway and bandstand carried throughout the park. Children’s arms were filled with teddy bears and trinkets and their hands were clutching cotton candy and ice cream cones. Mayor Axworthy was on a podium announcing the logging competitions, which were to take place within the hour.

By mid-afternoon the park was hopping with activities and, surprisingly, the crowds had grown, even though the murder was still in the forefront of everyone’s minds. The volunteer Kings Orange Rangers must have fulfilled their contract for the year, for they were nowhere to be seen. Hill was reminded of Scarlett’s play and wondered what Perkins would have made of that; it seemed that Hill too would have welcomed the Rangers back in town, to aid in the investigation if need be. Dozens of locals were still decked out in privateer and eighteenth century costumes. Every time Hill saw someone dressed in a costume like Simeon Perkins he was reminded that he still needed to speak with Christian Briggs.

A long line of patrons stood outside the tattoo tent and a second sandwich board stood next to the temporary business. A new poster was plastered against it, announcing the opening of Gregore’s new, permanent tattoo parlor on Main Street. Hill smiled, business is business, and he was pleased to see that the last of the vacant shops would soon be filled. He was more than glad that it was not a pawn shop. That would not be a status symbol for the town.

Scarlett did have the right idea, with her play, about boosting tourism and putting Liverpool on the map. Too bad it hadn’t worked out the way she had planned. Hill, like many others, believed that Scarlett’s play, if repeated annually, was the ideal way of getting folks to visit Liverpool and to soak up some of its history, not only on the streets but also inside the theatre. Now they had a murder. ‘Would that bring in tourists too?’ he thought cynically or chase them away?

The two performers of Razzmatazz, the popular kids’ entertainers, were taking down their set, packing up for their next gig in Canso, many hours drive away. As quickly as they removed their stage-props, the space was being taken over for a children’s dance performance.

Wonderful aromas drifted in the air from the food stands, enticing folks to line up, whether they were hungry or not. Like many, Hill could not resist buying a hotdog. He nodded to folks in passing and they returned his greeting in the same fashion. As with most people he was eventually drawn to the water’s edge.

He stood, on the perimeter of the enormous circle of cobblestones that surrounded the sixty-foot-tall ship’s mast, now flying festive flags. A craftsman was selling model ships of a high order. Hill had an interest in ships so he was fascinated by that display of intricately fashioned, tiny yachts. After eating his hotdog he turned away. Shouts and cheers indicated that a variety show was in progress. He peeked in and saw a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat and wished that he could do the same with this murder investigation. Knowing that, even with a bit of magic-act training, he could never perform a miracle, he moved away from the crowds.

Hill always had a strong belief in his sixth sense and that was probably what drew him to Vadoma’s tent. Generally he had the ability to understand the subtle causes and effects that surrounded events and with a bit of dedication could connect dots that shaped the picture. For the past two days Vadoma had had a long line of waiting customers, and it continued still. Hill was less than twenty feet from her set-up when a young woman exited from the tent, looking dazed, and Hill wondered what she had just been told. Vadoma followed on her heels. She ignored her waiting customers, put out a ‘Closed for Lunch’ sign and approached Hill. It was as if he had scheduled an appointment.

Her craggy face was framed by the scarf that was tied tightly over her head. The woman was unknown to Hill and, truth be known, he was not even certain where she was from. She certainly was not a local. A thick band held her long, flowing hair in place, and her loose, ankle-length dress swept the grass. She moved hurriedly and he was worried that she would fall flat on her face by getting tangled up in the dress. She clutched Hill’s hand in both of hers.

“He walks among us,” she said in a raspy voice.

“Who…who walks among us?”

“The ghost,” she stated, as if that said it all, clinging to his hand and was dragging him towards her tent.

“Sorry ma’am, I’m on duty.”

She dropped his hand in irritation and said, “She’s stirred up the past.”

“Who?”

“That play writer.”

“Please, ma’am, I must be on my way.”

“He wears a tattoo.”

“Who?” Hill asked again, realizing that he was beginning to sound like an owl.

“The murderer,” she said, and her voice wavered.

Hill looked at her quizzically before turning to look at Gregore’s tattoo tent, deciding that he would rather be there, getting something pierced than to be dragged into Vadoma’s tent. Instinctively he trusted her, though he had no idea why, and at that moment he wondered if Gregore could offer some insight into the tattoo that Vadoma spoke of. But as usual the line-up was long outside his tent. He hated the sixth sense that he had. Then, not sure if it was her revelation, or his instinct, one or the other caused him to shiver. He turned away from her.

 

Beyond Gregore’s tattoo tent, and Vadoma’s fortune-telling set-up, the logging competitions were being held. Hill joined the crowd of folks who had gathered for it. When he got there he was pleased to see that the juniors’ Competitions had captivated everyone’s interests. He lingered. Much as he knew that he should get on his way he felt that there was more to be learned by hanging around the park. Was it his sixth sense again? By Tuesday it would all be over and too late then to learn anything. He wandered. All eyes and ears.

Near the bridge a design-set had been built to re-enact a street scene as it might have been when the early planters had arrived from New England in the eighteenth century. Similarly costumed men and women, who had earlier been at Fort Point Lighthouse, portrayed life in the past, offering bannock and beef jerky. Some were selling wares from shops. Barrels of food stuffs decorated the walkway and shelves were stocked with molasses, sugar, hardware and fabrics. A couple of men were sitting on rum barrels, closing a land deal. Gold was being weighed. A minister was reading from the bible. A spinster was renting rooms at her boarding house and contracts were being signed for logs and shipbuilding. Hill delayed moving on for he liked that laid back old fashioned feel. Women, holding parasols and wearing long dresses, swept past him along the boardwalk, many with young children in tow. He sat on a tree-stump and soaked up the scene. At the sight of who he thought was Briggs approaching the table, where gold mining plots of land were being sold, he jumped off his stump and went to his side.

“Briggs, I’ve been looking for you.”

The young man turned. He was a stranger to Hill.

“Sorry, I thought you were Christian Briggs. You’re wearing the same Simeon Perkins get-up.” Hill apologized and moved away. He took up his position again on the stump. It was so surreal that when his cell phone rang he was disoriented.

“Constable Pierce here. I’ve been going over the autopsy report that just came in and I thought maybe you’d like to know that Mosher’s fatal injury was likely caused with an old knife. There was rust on the wound.”

“An old, rusty knife? That’s odd.”

“There was also an old tattoo on Mosher’s body.”

“A tattoo?”

“Yes, on his right thigh.”

“I’ll be right there,” Hill said, thoughtfully.

Vadoma’s words, ‘He wears a tattoo’, came to mind. He realized that she must have been referring to the murdered man and not to the murderer.

Hill walked across the park and to his cruiser. He met a group of costumed locals on the sidewalk. He scrutinized their faces wishing that Briggs was one of them. Briggs was not in the group.

 

Constable Pierce sat across the desk from Hill. He had memorized every word of the autopsy report and knew exactly what Hill would next ask. Yet he waited patiently while Hill read the report.

“So what do you make of this tattoo?” Hill asked Pierce.

“In my opinion I would say that it was self-inflicted, made intentionally. It certainly appears to be an amateur job. Kids do that sort of thing. I’ve also heard that kids will do it together, like a pact between friends. A tattoo and a sharing of the blood kind of thing.”

“For what purpose?”

“To bond their friendship, or whatever they call it. It’s often done with a design of their own. It’s a kind of Boy Scouts thing.”

“Are you suggesting that someone else has a tattoo just like this?”

“Given its shape, I doubt that. But in my opinion kids do stupid things like making sworn oaths and promises, and then inside a year the friendship falls apart and they’re left marked for life. You know what it was like in school when you had a new best-friend every year. At least I did.”

“Quite an unusual shape, this tattoo. Curious location as well,” Hill went on to say, not fully understanding the reasoning behind a pact. He had never had that kind of close friend. As a matter of fact – he would never have worn a tattoo, for himself or anyone else.

“Yes it is unusual sir.”

Hill considered this for a few minutes before getting up to leave, and said, “Call me if anything else pops up. I’m going back downtown.”

 

The entire parking lot at the waterfront was chock-full, as well as all the metered parking along the streets. Hill had never seen such crowds for Privateer Days and he wondered if maybe Scarlett’s play was the drawing card, or at least the murder associated with it. He hoped it was for good reasons – rather than bad. Hill parked in front of the Tourist Information Centre. Peter Bryce, who acted Mr. Clopper in the play, was walking across the park and he waved to him. He and Bryce had gone to school together and knew each other very well. Hill signalled that he would like to chat. They met near a bench and sat. Neither said anything for a moment before Hill asked, “Did you ever belong to the Boy Scouts?”

“Boy Scouts? No, I never joined. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious. I knew it was popular in our day. Do you know of anyone who may have?”

“Maybe Gerry, Gerry Tole.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll give him a call.” Hill stood, having found a half-answer to his question he was eager to get on his way.

END OF CHAPTER NINE

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“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.”