ONE MAY SMILE AND SMILE
People ask me where I get my ideas. They come so fast I have to duck.
When I lived for nearly twenty years on Lake Wanapitei north of Sudbury, the first neighbour I met was a lonely man about fifty with a gorgeous property at the end of the road. Rumour had it that he had been accused of molesting his nephew ten years earlier but got off with a fine and probation. The "kid" was a liar and a thief, and opinions were divided as to whether "Ted" was guilty or not. Putting my mind in neutral, I observed him over the coming months.
People liked his generosity loaning tools and volunteering his backhoe, tractor, or snowplow. Eager to chat, he was also fond of issuing spur-of-the-moment invitations for steaks and wine or a boat ride. The problem was, he began "befriending" a poverty-stricken young single mother and her son at "church," miles away. Ted spoke often about the young woman's challenges without a husband for her boy. Visiting on many weekends, first with his mother, then alone, the "young lad" would be seen driving Ted's truck, motorcycle, and snowmobile. That's when I started to pull back, like Fran in the story, whose husband Larry is only too happy to find reasons to use Ted's gear and who insists that Ted be judged innocent without "ocular" proof.
"Don't be silly. What has anyone ever seen?" he tells his seething wife. The fact that Larry was falsely accused himself by a female student biases his opinion.
The ending of the story finds justice served during a raging blizzard. In actuality, the real Ted died alone after months in hospital with multiple health problems, and despite his wealth, his body was never even claimed by relatives. Like most child molesters, he was a perfect gentleman, kept an immaculate house, never swore, and looked like a senator. Hide in plain sight sums it up. What is imagined can be much worse than reality. Ted did make good burritos, though.
From "No Crime"
They saw the pair a month later as they took the garbage up to the box. Luckily Ted, not the boy, drove the Dodge. She had planned to make a remark. The old man addressed himself to Larry. "Gettin' on to winter. Guess Stevie and I'll have to put the bikes up." The boy was unsmiling, fiddling with the radio as a baseball game faded in and out. An expensive down parka had replaced his shabby coat.
Larry grinned so broadly that Fran's stomach tightened. "I'd like to use your grinder to sharpen the maul. Good dry oak, but some chunks need more splitting."
"Bring her up to the truck. Be jim-dandy tomorrow. Oak, eh? Thought you was a poor pensioner like me," Ted said. "Maybe Stevie can give you a hand with the piling. Make a real bushman out of him. Hey, did I tell you we're buyin' another snowmachine? I promised Stevie we'd see some country. Maybe follow the trails as far as Michigan. Right, Stevie?" The boy nodded vaguely and wiped at his nose. His eyes met Fran's briefly, then closed for a moment. How many times did the old man have to say the name? Like the cadences of a prayer.
Ted leaned over the seats to retrieve an Arctic Cat folder. You two ought to be thinkin' about gettin' one yourselves. See what you think of the 600cc. Real comfortable. One-up seat. Reverse. No bullwork. Al's you need is ...." He wriggled his right thumb on an invisible throttle.
While Larry ran like a puppy to fetch the tool, Fran stood awkwardly by the truck. Although she couldn't see into the high cab, the mirror had tipped when Ted reached back, and in its reflection she watched the man's strong hand snake toward the boy's. Stevie's face flushed, and his lip quivered. Ted's icy blue gaze was untroubled as he searched her face. "Any plans for Christmas, my dear?"
With a Ph.D. dissertation on Christopher Marlowe, the murdered English Renaissance spy, Lou Allin came naturally to a love of crime stories. Now retired from teaching police Report Writing and Presentations to Criminal Justice students at Cambrian College in Northern Ontario, she has left behind a plow truck, two snowblowers, two scoops, and five shovels, and resides in Sooke, BC.
Next... Kay Stewart