Detective Constable Kevin Walker of the Ontario Provincial Police looked up from his notebook in surprise. “He broke in where, again?”
Rony Haddad came out from behind his cash register and led the way through the store to an open door at the back. “Here. Through the window.”
Kevin frowned at the tiny washroom which he’d used once, about a year ago, while passing through Rockport on his way to somewhere else. Sure enough, the window had been used to gain entry into the convenience store. Someone had broken the bottom pane, reached inside, unlocked the window, swung it in, and squeezed through an opening of about twenty-five inches by twenty.
“How high up is this window on the outside?”
“About seven feet. He dragged the trash bin from the front and got up on that.”
“Have you been in here? Touched anything?”
“No, Kevin. I watch TV like everybody else, you know. There might be fingerprints and DNA.”
Kevin put his notebook in his jacket pocket and used his cellphone to take photographs of the window, the broken glass on the floor, and the smudged shoeprints on the toilet seat. “And it was just cigarettes? That’s all they took?”
Haddad led the way up to the front of the store. “Six cartons. Everything that was left on this shelf.” He pointed at a cabinet behind the cash register where his cigarettes were stored. Ontario regulations prohibited the open display of tobacco products, and like most merchants Haddad kept his stock in a metal storage unit with top-hinge flip-up covers. “It was like that when I got here this morning to open the store.”
“Just the cigarettes,” Kevin repeated, taking a few pictures of the cabinet and the empty shelf. Someone had used a crowbar or other similar tool to pry open the cover of one of the shelves, breaking the lock in the process.
“Yep, that’s why I know it was the Lawson kid.” Haddad had already explained his theory to Kevin. Last evening he’d turned away a thirteen-year-old boy who lived with his mother at the edge of the hamlet. The kid was constantly pestering him for cigarettes, which were illegal to sell in Ontario to anyone under the age of nineteen, and this time the confrontation had gotten a little loud. The kid stormed out of the store with an unpaid chocolate bar in his hand, but Haddad had waved it off, knowing he could get the money from the boy’s mother, since it had happened before.
Kevin set his phone on the counter and jotted down a few more notes. He thought a thirteen-year-old might be able to make it through the small washroom window where a fully-grown adult might not, and so he wrote down the boy’s name, the mother’s name, and the street on which they lived.
“What time last night was he in?”
“Seven fifty, seven fifty-five. Right about then. Just before closing.”
Kevin was writing this down when his cellphone began to buzz. He checked the call display and answered it. “Walker.”
“A body on the Thousand Islands Parkway,” said Detective Sergeant Tom Carty, commander of the Leeds County Crime Unit. “Probable homicide. What’s your twenty?”
“I’m still in Rockport. The B-and-E at Willard’s Convenience Store.”
“Okay, that’s good. You’re the closest. First responders have secured the immediate scene, and EMS is on site. We’re shutting down the Parkway, so make sure the west perimeter is set before you go in. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”
“Where are you closing the Parkway?” Kevin asked.
“Between Larue Mills and Rockport.”
“You don’t need to close it this far down, do you? You could do it at Narrows Lane Road.”
“Less disruptive. Fewer complaints.”
“All right, Walker. That’s fine. Now get your ass in gear.”
“Uh, okay. Listen, Tom.” Kevin hesitated, thinking quickly. Unlike the previous shoplifting incidents, which Rony Haddad had overlooked, the convenience store owner had called in this break-and-enter, so it couldn’t be smoothed over with a warning. Kevin hated to see a young person’s life derailed by a criminal conviction, but he knew of several cases in which this kind of trouble had become a life-changing occurrence for the better instead of for the worse. “Let’s get a cruiser and a SOCO down here on the B-and-E. I think we know the kid who did it. I’d like something in my pocket before talking to him and his mother.”
Having a scenes-of-crime officer come down to the convenience store to collect fingerprints and other physical evidence would hopefully give Kevin enough leverage to convince the boy that he should admit what he’d done and accept the consequences. It might be the first step in turning around his life before he travelled too much farther down this particular road.
“Okay,” Carty said. “Leave it with me and get moving. Make sure the perimeter’s set on the Parkway. Go.”
“Yes, sir.” Kevin ended the call. “I have to leave,” he told Haddad, “but someone will be here shortly. I’m going to have to ask you to stay closed this morning.”
“Shit. I was afraid of that.”
“Don’t touch the washroom or go around the side of the building before they get here. They’ll look for shoeprints and whatever else. All right? We’ll try to get you open before noon.”
“Damn it, all right.”
Fumbling for his car keys, Kevin hurried out.
The Thousand Islands Parkway was a forty-kilometre stretch of two-lane highway that ran along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River from Gananoque up to Butternut Bay, just west of Brockville. Bypassing the extremely busy Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, also known as Highway 401, the Parkway provided a scenic route along the river through the Frontenac Arch biosphere, which featured ancient granite ridges and a forest region that was home to a wide range of plant and animal life.
Just a few minutes west of the village of Rockport at Ivy Lea, the Thousand Islands Bridge connected Hill Island to Wellesley Island on the American side of the river. Proximity to an international border crossing in the middle of this picturesque stretch of the St. Lawrence meant that traffic on the Parkway was often a mixture of local and American travellers. Thankfully, however, it was only the third week in April and cottage season was still a month away, so tourists and visitors right now were at a minimum.
When Kevin arrived at the intersection of the Parkway and Narrows Lane Road, he found that OPP traffic units dispatched from nearby Lansdowne had already set up a barricade on the far side of the intersection, blocking eastbound access to the Parkway. A cruiser was parked sideways across the road. In front of the vehicle stood an eight-foot rail barricade on A-frame ends. A sign in the middle of the rail said:
By Police Order – Section 134 H.T.A.
Kevin pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and got out. Looking around, he spotted a uniformed officer with three stripes on his sleeves standing in a knot of constables next to the cruiser. The meeting broke up as Kevin walked across the intersection. Seeing him, the sergeant nodded and stepped forward.
“Kevin, what took you so long?” The sergeant, whose name was Melken, threw him a firm handshake. “How’s the baby? A boy, right?”
“That’s right, Sarge. He’s fine.”
“You won’t get a good night’s sleep for the rest of your life.”
“Tell me about it.” Kevin looked around. “Everything okay here?”
Melken nodded. “There was mist early this morning, coming off the river. It’s pretty much all burned off now, so visibility’s better.”
“Yeah, it was foggy up my way, too.” Kevin pointed across the intersection at a bait shop and convenience store on the northwest corner. The store had a giant replica of a smallmouth bass perched on its roof. “They have pizza by the slice in there, don’t they?”
“Yeah, but it’s shit.”
Kevin squinted at the short dogleg that ran beside the store up to Old River Road, which was a narrow gravel strip that paralleled the Parkway right past their crime scene. “What about up there? Should we block it off, too?”
Melken shook his head. “Houses. Local traffic. We need a bypass. We can’t send everybody back to the 401.”
“It gets pretty close to the Parkway at some points.”
“Relax, Kevin. There’s two hundred metres of brush between it and our crime scene. I’ve got a cruiser posted up there to make sure no one tries to get nosy.”
Kevin thanked him and went back to his car. He eased around the barrier and the cruiser and accelerated up the empty highway.
A kilometre later he parked at the end of a line of vehicles and walked up to the barricade marking the inner perimeter of the crime scene. He showed the officer his badge and identification, signed the log, and approached Provincial Constable Nancy Wyndham, the first responder to the scene.
“EMS checked,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “but there’s no doubt. You can see some of the stab wounds without even going down into the ditch. We’re waiting for the coroner.”
“Who called it in?”
She pointed at a nearby tan-coloured Subaru Outback. A bicycle was secured to the back of the vehicle on a trunk mount. The Subaru was parked inside the barrier, which meant that it was currently being treated as part of the crime scene. “Old guy was riding his bike on the path with his dog. Name of Garvey, Edward H. DOB twenty-eleven-forty-nine. He lives on Front Street in Rockport. The dog spotted the body and started to bark, so Garvey came over and found it.”
Kevin glanced over at the paved bicycle trail that ran alongside the Parkway on its northern edge. At one time this stretch of road had been part of the four-lane 401 freeway, until a different route was constructed through Lansdowne and this portion was downgraded to a two-lane secondary highway. The unused westbound lane was eventually converted into a thirty-seven-kilometre-long bike path. The man, Garvey, would have been out getting his morning exercise when he came across the body.
“How’d the car get here?”
“He called his wife. She drove up to see what he was talking about. Then they called 911.”
“Where’s the dog?”
“In the vehicle, with them. It’s registered to the wife. The vehicle, I mean. Patricia Mary Garvey.”
Kevin turned around at the sound of someone arriving at the far barricade. He watched Tom Carty slide out of his OPP SUV and make his way into the crime scene. In the absence of Scott Patterson, who was currently filling in as operations manager at regional headquarters, Carty was acting as the supervisor of the Leeds County Crime Unit, which was mandated to investigate all criminal complaints within the detachment’s jurisdiction.
“Tell them I’ll be with them in a few minutes,” Kevin said to Wyndham, nodding at the Subaru.
Kevin met Carty at a spot where a mixture of cedar trees and winterkilled bulrushes hid the view of the river. The shoulder was paved to a width of about four feet, a legacy of the old freeway, after which it dropped down into a ditch filled with the remnants of last year’s Queen Anne’s Lace and wild parsley. The body lay face down in the ditch, stiffened into an odd position with its knees pulled up under the torso and the arms partially extended, hands out, fingers spread wide.
It was female and nude. As Wyndham had said, Kevin could see several puncture wounds between the breast and hip bone facing him. The pale, bare flesh was marred by dark blood smears. The victim had been small, only a few inches more than five feet tall and about one hundred pounds. The straight, blond-brown hair was somewhat longer than shoulder length. The head was turned slightly away so that he couldn’t see her face, but he had the general impression it was someone he might have seen before. Not someone he knew well, but someone he might have met once or twice.
It was the time of year when puddles were covered first thing in the morning by thin skins of ice that melted away before noon. The sun was warm in the blue sky as it shone on Kevin’s exposed face and neck, but the air was cold when it stirred. The wind gusted off the nearby river, making him shiver as he studied the body from the top of the ditch. He glanced over his shoulder again at the bike path. It was maybe fifteen yards away. It was too cold for putrefaction to have gotten very far, but the odour of the body would have easily carried that far on the wind to the dog, with its powerful sense of smell, as it trotted past behind its owner.
“Is that a purse?” Carty said, pointing.
“Looks like it.” Kevin had also noticed the large black handbag half-hidden in the rushes a few feet from the corpse’s outstretched hand.
“No clothes, but a purse.”
They both turned and took a step back as a large white cargo van pulled up to the barrier next to Carty’s SUV. Kevin watched Identification Sergeant Dave Martin tumble out of the passenger seat and open up the back door of the van. Identification Constable Serge Landry got out on the driver’s side and joined him as they grabbed large black kits and hurried over to the constable at the barricade to get signed in.
Kevin moved away, across the road to the far side, to give the forensic specialists plenty of room to do their work. Carty showed them the location of the body, pointed out tire marks he and Kevin had carefully avoided while having their own look, and then retreated in Kevin’s direction, eyes down, hands shoved into the pockets of his OPP-issue parka.
“It’s been at least three hours,” Kevin said, thinking about the rigor mortis.
Carty nodded, his eyes narrowing as he looked up and down the Parkway. “Where the hell did she come from?”
Kevin said nothing, trying to think of where he might have seen the victim before.
© 2018, 2023 Michael J. McCann