Read Fifth Son Online

Authors: Barbara Fradkin

Fifth Son

Cover

To special children, including my own

Acknowledgements

As always,
Fifth Son
is a collaboration between my imagination and the sober second opinion of those who read the various drafts, and I'm grateful to the ongoing advice of my critiquing group, Madona Skaff, Jane Tun and Robin Harlick, as well as my agent Leona Trainer, my publisher Sylvia McConnell and my editor Allister Thompson.

I am also indebted to a number of experts who answered my call for help in getting the facts right. For their help with dead bodies and the like, I'd like to thank Dr. Jerome Cybulski, Curator of Physical Anthropology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, who cheerfully answered my questions about the appearance and excavation of bones, and Dr. Douglas Lyle, who helped me understand the science of estimating time of death. For their help with police methodology and equipment, I'd like to thank Inspector Mike Shanford and Staff Sergeant Mel Robertson of the Ottawa Police, and Sergeant Tim Spence,
ERT
co-ordinator of the Eastern Region of the Ontario Provincial Police, as well as other
OPP
staff who gave of their time and expertise.

And a very special thanks to Constable Mark Cartwright of the Ottawa Police for his continuing advice and editorial input in matters of police procedure and realism. Any errors that occur in the story, whether accidental or deliberate, are mine alone.

Fifth Son
is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is unintentional. Although the rest of the locales in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario are real, the village of Ashford Landing is a fictional composite of several small river villages within the City of Ottawa's boundaries.

One

K
yle
McMartin loved shiny things. The sunlight danced on them and prickled his eyes, making him look away and then pulling him back again. At home he had a whole bookshelf of them; bits of broken glass, bottle caps, fishing lures...stuff everyone else just threw out. His mother had given up taking them away, because then he'd have to start all over again, and she was probably afraid he'd cut himself going through everybody's garbage.

But this afternoon he wasn't even thinking about shiny things as he hid in his magic spot with the tall red trees all around and his Sens cap pulled down low against the sun. He was thinking about his new teacher. Hannah. Not really a teacher, Mrs. MacPhee said, just a helper, but even so she'd already taught him a lot. Like how to find his classrooms in the big new high school, how to copy from the board, even how to print her name. And each time he got it right, she'd give him that big, beautiful smile that crinkled her eyes.

Hannah had blue hair, sparkly gold eyelids and so many shiny things in her ears that he couldn't count that high. Mrs. MacPhee had made her take out the one in her nose, but Hannah had a secret one in her belly button that she'd shown him once. “Sh-h,” she'd said, winking her sparkly eye and putting her finger to her lips. He had never told on her.

He thought about her all the time. She loved shiny things just like him, and she was more beautiful than anyone he'd seen on
TV
. Every night, he looked forward to going to school the next morning, just so he could see her. He hated the weekends, because there was nothing to do in Ashford Landing, and all his old friends were going to a different high school now, and they wouldn't let him play with them any more. Like right now, he could see them through the trees, playing roller hockey on the village square, yelling and using bad words. He didn't know how to roller blade, and he could never keep up with them anyway. By the time he saw the ball, it was already in the net, and they all got mad at him.

It was more fun to sit in his magic place and watch. He could see the whole world from here; the squirrels stuffing their cheeks with nuts, the geese honking by in the sky, the gravestones in the churchyard by the square. He wasn't supposed to come here, but if he ran right home when the bell on the white church rang, then Mom and Dad would never know.

The graveyard always gave him a scary feeling, like the dead bones were going to poke up through the ground, and he'd slide his eyes away as fast as he could. Usually, there was nobody there, and the grass grew so high you could hardly see the stones. But this time that bad man was there, peeking out through the stones, watching the kids in the square. Hiding, Kyle thought, just like me.

A little shiver ran through him, and he looked away. Right beside him was the biggest, reddest tree of all. Perfect red leaves floated all around, so bright they almost glowed. He slid down from the rock and swished his new sneakers through the deep leaves. They tumbled and crackled, almost like they were laughing. Then he saw the sun winking at him from a little nest of leaves near his foot. Curious, he bent down. Something lay on the ground, shining gold. He reached into the leaves and picked it up, held it by its chain up to the sunlight. Watched it spin and dance. His heart beat faster. This was more beautiful than the pennies or the shiniest fishing lure, more beautiful even than Mom's special ring. He put it in his pocket, excited and swelling with pride as he climbed back to his magic place for one last look at the man in the graveyard.

Hannah will love this.

Two

I
n
the Criminal Investigations Division of the Ottawa Police, Inspector Michael Green's Monday mornings usually began with an update from his
NCO
s on the disasters the weekend had wrought. Normally he arrived at his office by eight o'clock, in order to have all the reports completed by noon, but this Monday, at eight o'clock, he had not even escaped his house. Five minutes before departure time, the morning had still been progressing typically enough. His two-year-old son was running through the halls, practising his newfound speed and his newly acquired vocabulary to protest his departure for the day care. Sharon was in hot pursuit, gulping coffee, juggling an overflowing diaper bag and shoving her feet into shoes as she ran. Glued to her side, bouncing and barking at the melee, was Modo, Humane Society refugee, who had neither grown in beauty nor diminished in size since she'd been thrust into their lives three months earlier.

Green's daughter Hannah, another recent addition to the household, was propped obliviously in the kitchen doorway with her cell phone wedged against her ear, arranging her social life as she added purple stripes to her black finger nails. As usual, metal glittered in every imaginable orifice, and probably in some he'd rather not imagine. Still, she was going to a school of sorts, she was coming home at an hour which could still be construed as night rather than early morning, and she occasionally even let a smile sneak across her face. When she thought he wasn't looking.

All this chaos would have been routine, brought to a merciful halt when he climbed into the sanctity of his new Subaru and tuned the radio to his favourite rock station. But on this morning, before he could make good his escape, the phone rang. He ducked into the bathroom and covered his free ear so he could hear. To his regret.

“Uh...yeah. Bob here.” The elusive kitchen contractor.

“Hi, Bob.”

“Uh...yeah. There going to be anyone there today?”

“When?”

“Don't know. Uh...this morning?”

“What for?”

“To take the cabinets out, eh?”

“Oh, good. So the new ones are ready?”

“Well, almost.”

“Almost?”

“Uh...yeah. We have to take the old ones out, eh? Before we can put the new ones in?”

“But I don't want to be sitting here with no kitchen cabinets for two weeks, Bob.”

“Oh, it won't be two weeks.”

Green bit back a snide retort, for they still needed Bob. They had moved into their home over a month ago, and the place was now in pieces. Sharon had relinquished their brand new suburban house under protest, so each new crisis that surfaced was Green's fault. He had wanted character and history. What they had acquired was a dignified brick antique with character in spades but not a single room that could be spared the contractor's hammer. Furniture was stacked in the halls while they waited for the hardwood floors to be installed. Fresh patches of plaster blotched the walls, and the stairs still listed dangerously, despite numerous calls to the carpenter.

Green glanced out into the hall long enough to glimpse Sharon's expression as she wrestled Tony into some clothes. Bob would be the last straw.

“Look, Bob, when the cabinets are all ready, we'll work out a time. But we need a few days' notice.”

“Hard to do. Depends on the weather, eh? We should at least get the cabinets out.”

Green sighed. Five years ago, he'd been a bachelor living in a tiny downtown apartment and accountable only to himself. His only obligations had been weekly visits to his father and monthly child support payments to an estranged daughter on the other side of the country. Now he had a wife, a toddler in full terrible twos, a traumatized mutt, an instant teenage daughter with a disposition as black as her nails and a decayed monstrosity of a house that was consuming every penny he earned.

He glanced at his watch. “How long will that take?”

Bob assured him at the most two hours. Green said he would wait if they could get there in the next fifteen minutes.

Bob's van, trailed by a dusty pick-up and an elderly Cavalier, pulled into the drive an hour later, and Green ensconced himself in his study on his computer while Bob's hammers banged beneath his feet. The noise was so loud, he didn't hear the doorbell and vaguely became aware of someone shouting his name over the din. A minute later, Sergeant Brian Sullivan clumped up the stairs and shoved his head in the doorway.

“Fuck, I told you you should have let me help you, Mike! Those guys are massacring the place.”

Sullivan's massive bulk filled the doorway, and it took Green a minute to register the grin on his ruddy, farm-boy face. Green was surprised to see him. Although the two men had been friends since their rookie days on the streets together twenty years earlier, their friendship rarely spilled over into their homes. Green knew there had to be a reason for the call. He glanced at his watch, which said eleven o'clock. Had he forgotten some crucial meeting?

“What's up?” Sullivan shrugged.

“Nothing much. I'm on my way to Ashford Landing.”

“Ash-what?”

“Nice little village down on the Rideau River about thirty kilometres south of here. Now part of our megacity.”

“What's in Ashford Landing?”

“A body. Probably nothing, but Ray Belowsky, one of the
NCO
s out there, is a hockey buddy of mine, and he wants Major Crimes to take a look at it.”

Green perked up. Anything to escape Bob and his hammering. “What's so special about it?”

“Well, the guy seems to have fallen out of a church tower in the middle of town. Has folks a bit upset.”

Green's hopes deflated. People did fall off things on a fairly regular basis, even in the country, so it seemed hardly a reason to call in Major Crimes. “They're sure he fell? Didn't jump off to escape the minister's sermon?”

Sullivan chuckled. “Could have. But they said it looked like a chunk of the stone wall at the top gave way. They found a piece of his jacket caught on the edge.”

“That doesn't mean much. How old is the church?”

“I don't know yet. My buddy didn't feel comfortable just leaving it to the General Assignment investigators. Besides, they've been trying really hard to make sure the folks out there have confidence in our policing.”

The alienation of the rural wards was the popular
crise du
jour
not only in Ottawa City Hall but also in the senior offices of the Ottawa Police, which had tried to address the problem by creating rural community police centres and fostering links with local leaders. However, specialized services like Criminal Investigations remained under the thumb of downtown headquarters on Elgin Street, with much of their efforts geared towards the inner city crime wars. But Sullivan was an experienced investigator used to running his own cases, no matter where they took him. It was quite unlike him to come to Green for permission on such a routine matter, but when Green said as much, Sullivan gave an easy shrug.

“I thought you might like a drive in the country. See the fall colours, smell the cows. Get to know the rural side of our new amalgamated police force.”

Green chuckled. Sullivan knew damn well that he was a confirmed inner-city boy with a passion for exhaust fumes, noise and decaying corner stores. But just as he was about to beg off, he heard a renewed burst of hammering downstairs. If he could trust Bob not to destroy the house in his absence, perhaps even cows might be a welcome alternative. As he logged off his computer and prepared to go downstairs to check with Bob, he felt that old quiver of excitement that always accompanied the hunt.

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