Chapter 1 - The Road Goes Ever On and On by A.J. Hall
Sean and Bernadette turned up to meet me at the gate at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. They had a placard and a bunch of roses and a teddy bear and everything. My first sight of Canada came through a blur of tears.
Christ, Canadians are hospitable. Every neighbour they had must have been paraded though their home to say hi to the visitor from England. Every last one of them brought a bottle or a plate of food or something. It was like a pot-luck UN. And not only did I not know Sean and Bernadette from Adam, they hadn’t even known Caro, who wasn’t with me and never would be, not any more.
I’m not going to talk about it here, by the way. In case you were worrying. And I know it is worrying. Grief, I mean. You get caught between the ones who are petrified to say anything and the ones who can’t stop talking about what they think you feel. And when you’ve got past those two, then’ll you’ll find OICCU. There’s a Kipling line about “bathe in tropic waters, where the lean fin dogs the boat.” He must have met OICCU in the aftermath of an abrupt death in college.
Caro’s Mum’s best friend married a Canadian in 1974. Caro — who’d never met either of them — always claimed he was a Mountie. That was Sean, and his wife was Bernadette. They had a house towards the northern edge of Toronto, somewhere called North York.
I don’t even remembered writing the apologetic note, explaining why, in the circumstances they might not want to extend hospitality to someone with an even more tenuous connection than they’d originally thought. I must have done, though. They’d replied to say it made me even more welcome. I suppose the impromptu welcome party was their way of showing they meant it.
I’d been tired enough to die by seven pm, but by midnight, as the last of the guests wandered off into the night, I was starting to revive. By two in the morning I was wired. I got up from the bed in my basement bedroom, ostensibly in search of the bathroom and a glass of water, but really because I knew where things were going to go, if I stayed in bed once sleep wasn’t an option.
At the far end of the basement I spotted the glow of a computer screen and, beside it, a desk lamp.
I wasn’t the only sleepless one in the house.
Sean looked round as I approached. I had bare feet and wasn’t conscious of making a noise on the thick carpet, but I suppose a career in the Toronto police makes you hyper-sensitive to people creeping up behind you. He’d laughed like a drain when I’d asked him whether he really was a Mountie. “No, not RCMP. Toronto Metro, for forty years. 52 Division. Only retired three months ago.”
When he saw it was me, he beckoned me over and gestured hospitably with the big insulated coffee jug. I nodded, and he poured me a mug. I pulled up a chair and glanced over his shoulder at the screen. Oddly enough, it was showing a blown up newspaper picture of Wills and Kate shaking hands with a massive, grey-haired man I didn’t recognise. Actually, he reminded me a bit of Ian Botham; he’d got that look of a man who’d been an athlete in his day, and would still look more at home in sports gear than a suit.
“Who’s that?” I asked. I didn’t mean Wills and Kate, obviously.
Sean grimaced. “If you were from round here, you wouldn’t have to ask. Name’s David Martyniuk. Very big man in this province. Justice of the Ontario Supreme Court — headed a Royal Commission into First Nation land rights — outside bet for Governor-General a couple of years ago, they said.”
The level of unimpressed in his voice could have etched glass. Maybe that’s what caused me to short-cut all the niceties. Or maybe it was the jet-lag talking.
“Why do you hate him?”
Sean turned to face me, properly. He scrutinised my face, up and down. I could see, now, he’d been a detective. If I’d been concealing a guilty secret I’d have started confessing on the spot.
Rather than answer straight away, though, he pulled out a drawer in the filing cabinet next to his computer desk. It was full of those hanging cardboard files, and by full I mean stuffed.
There were newspaper clippings, lots of handwritten notes on yellow, lined paper, and documents obviously typed on old-fashioned typewriters, most of which were so old their staples had started to bleed rust. It was only when I spotted the rectangular, red, official stamps on the front of some of the documents that I realised what I was looking at.
“This is a police file?”
“Sure is. Or was.” Sean resumed glaring at the man on the screen. It wasn’t particularly hard to work out that police officers probably don’t get to choose their pet files to take with them into retirement. Those papers had no business being in that filing cabinet, in this basement. And, if the prime suspect was this Martyniuk character, with the sort of clout that he sounded to have, I couldn’t begin to imagine the trouble Sean would be in if anyone found he’d got them.
Oddly enough, the thought perked me right up. One thing no-one (none of the books I’d read, anyway) tells you is that pain and grief are agony, yes, but they are also inexpressibly tedious. There’s a muffling grey fog and somehow it drains all the energy out of you so even if the fog might be thin enough to poke through, you don’t have the strength to do it.
The news that my host, whom I’d met all of eight hours earlier, happened to be sitting on a filing cabinet full of political dynamite was like a shaft of sunlight. I pulled my chair closer to the screen.
“Can you tell me about it?” I nearly added, “If you’re allowed to” but bit it back as futile. Nothing about this was allowed.
Sean gave a short barked laugh. “You sure? There’s plenty of guys in the Force — or used to be — who’d tell you the last thing you want to do is get me onto is the Martyniuk business.”
He topped up his own coffee mug and gestured enquiringly with the jug. I declined.
“The older guys always said to the cadets just out of Aylmer, ‘There’s always going to be one or two cases that strike harder than the others, for whatever reason — what place you’re in when they crop up, what the outcome is, something about the people involved. Watch those. If you aren’t careful, they’re the ones that will take over your life.’”
He looked back at the screen. No points for guessing Sean hadn’t been careful enough. Another shaft of light. After Caro, everyone around me had become panicky about risk, as if that would have prevented anything. She’d been the one who’d insisted on buying antiseptic wipes for the house in the Iffley Road and scrubbing fruit to within an inch of its life. Even the choice of Canada rather than (as I’d have preferred) South-East Asia for our post-Finals trip had been based on her fears about Far Eastern plumbing. (The first time I encountered an authentic thunder-box, in a Provincial Park up on the shores of Georgian Bay, I thought of Caro and laughed till I cried. And then vice versa.)
“What happened?” I asked.
Sean interlinked his hands behind the back of his neck and leant back in his chair. “Well. It goes back a long way. And parts of it are pretty nasty.”
I nodded. It was hardly likely a tough cop would have been driven to obsession over a decorous, Miss Marple-style murder in a shrubbery.
He summoned an image up on screen: a girl, wearing a shiny blue satin evening dress, smiling over one bare shoulder back at the camera.
“Jennifer Lowell. Pretty kid, wasn’t she?”
He was understating like fuck, and both of us knew it. Despite the poodle perm and ABBA-style frosted-blue eyeshadow (no doubt which decade that photo belonged to) she was gorgeous. Film-star gorgeous, provided you picture one of the haughty stars of the black and white era. Hedy Lamarr or Greta Garbo. Despite the smile, there was something of Garbo’s isolation about her.
Sean made a face. “Was, is? I don’t know. All I know is no-one’s seen her since 1979.”
He brought his clenched fist down onto the computer table, so that the mouse and the keyboard both jumped, and I looked upwards, expecting Bernadette — Bernie, she’d told me to call her — to be down on us in an instant.
“I don’t fucking KNOW if Jennifer Lowell is dead or alive. Nor does her father. Nor does her mother. Nor does the priest who baptised her. But there’s one man who does know. That bastard. Martinyiuk. He knows.”
I gulped down a mouthful of cooling coffee. I had no clue how to deal with emotion like this. All I knew was that I was — God forgive me! — excited beyond measure to be feeling anything — anything — at all.
He nodded. “Somewhere in Europe. England, probably.” He lifted out one of the hanging cardboard files. Inside it was a set of official looking airline forms together with ticket stubs and suchlike. “April 1979. Five people fly to England. Tickets booked the day before, no indication from any of them they were planning a trip. Martyniuk practically quit his articling job on 24 hours notice to make the flight.”
“Yup.” His hand moved to the mouse, and three photographs flicked up on screen. “Five people fly out, two fly back. These three — have never been heard from since.”
Jennifer Lowell again, this time in cap and gown. Two blokes, also in academicals. University yearbook photos, graduating class. Presumably it’s the quick way for cops to get hold of professionally done, full-face photos when something happens to anyone my sort of age and class.
The first man, whose photo was labelled “Paul Schafer”, was a tall guy, with a dark, intense face. He reminded me of a first year from Keble I’d met at a party once, who’d been at Ampleforth or Downside, or somewhere else massively Catholic. He’d spent the evening getting progressively drunker from a flask of vodka tucked into his trench coat pocket, which he’d shown no signs of sharing. Eventually, he’d stormed out into St Giles, declaiming, “I hate fucking women!” Personally, I thought chance would be a fine thing, but who was I to judge?
I forced myself to recall that “Paul Schafer” had probably been the victim of a deranged killer, thirty years ago, and tried not to hold his lookalike against him.
The second bloke was a different proposition entirely. He was blond, and smiled at the camera as if he would probably have it charmed into bed before the exposure time had elapsed. Something about his sleek, floppy hair (even more seventies than Jennifer Lowell’s perm, if possible) and terrifically North American teeth set my internal alarms jangling. I imagined the female students of University of Toronto swapping stories about him, the kind that are part safety valve and part warning. “Kevin Laine” was his name, and I certainly wouldn’t have trusted him in a taxi.
“And the fourth one?” I asked. “The one who did make it back?”
Sean clicked his mouse again, and the screen went back to the Wills, Kate and David Martinyiuk photo. This time, though, one of people in the general background was circled with a red ring. He zoomed in and I saw a white-haired woman wearing a Jackie O sort of outfit and a fixed social smile. I imagined her thinking what a faff this event was, and what a waste of time better spent in her lab, or operating theatre or — just conceivably — in some Top Secret cryptography and analysis facility. To be honest, she reminded me of the Principal of my old college.
“Who is she?”
“Professionally? Doctor Kimberley — Kim — Ford. In her social capacity? Mrs Martyniuk, though I’m not sure she uses his name. I said they both came back from Europe, didn’t I? What I didn’t mention is that they came back married.”
I let out a low whistle; Sean seemed to expect it. He nodded.
“Funny thing, you know. I said Martyniuk is a legal heavyweight now. But, back when this all happened, I spoke to his professors at UofT Law School and he hadn’t been anything much out of the ordinary; middle of the class, hard worker, kept his head down in class — not like Laine, who spent all his time partying, but still swept all the prizes in his year.”
The more I heard about Laine, the less surprised I was that someone seemed to have killed him.
Sean’s tone had demanded a “but”. He smiled.
“In his final year, Martyniuk surprised everyone. Pulled his grades up a whole lot. And —” he paused for a moment “Took the prize for Evidence.”
They don’t teach Evidence in the Oxford Law course — they leave it for whichever professional course you end up on afterwards — so my knowledge is based primarily on detective stories. But I’ve read a lot of detective stories.
Spousal immunity means a wife can’t give evidence against her husband. The man who’d taken the prize for Evidence in his year must have known that. But, by the same token, he must have known how a sudden marriage would look to the police. So was this a sudden marriage?
“Had they known each other long?” I asked. I didn’t bother with “Were they engaged?” or “Were they going out together?” The Iffley Road house had turned into musical beds by the end of our second year, and no-one could have predicted at the outset who’d be kissing whom when the music had to stop.
Sean made a face. “To the best of our knowledge, Kim Ford and David Martyniuk met for the first time the night before Jennifer Lowell was raped.”
I supposed I should have expected that; he had warned me parts of the story were “pretty nasty” in a tone of voice which would definitely have told me sex crime if I’d been paying attention.
Rattled, I blurted out, “Who raped her?”
“If I’d ever found that out, I might have had more luck solving her disappearance, the year after.”
I hoped the anger in Sean’s voice was directed more at the unknown criminal than at me, but still, I mentally kicked myself for not having had more tact. The mere presence of these papers in this basement so long after the fact should have told me that this case was an unhealing wound and I’d just gone and emptied a salt cellar right into it.
“‘M sorry. How did they all meet?”
Sean rubbed his hand across his face. “Kim Ford was Jennifer Lowell’s housemate. Jennifer dated Kevin Laine for a short while, but it didn’t work out.”
Too much competition over who was the prettier, would be my guess. Or perhaps Jennifer kept stealing Laine’s hair product.
“Laine and Schafer went way back — they were in the same undergraduate program, and on sports’ teams together. Also, accordingly to Laine’s father, his son saw a lot more of Schafer after he lost his girlfriend, kind of looking out for him, making sure he didn’t do anything silly.”
” ‘Lost’ his girlfriend?” I asked, making the inverted commas obvious. I was, I’m afraid, still identifying Schafer with his double, the Catholic dickhead from Keble, so I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself when Sean pulled up some more newspaper scans, and I discovered this woman — Rachel Kincaid, a music student — had not, as I’d suspected, run screaming into the night to get away from the endless angst but died in a car crash, Schafer being the driver.
Knowing what I do about grief and guilt, I wouldn’t have wished that even on the Keble angst merchant. Nevertheless, I also couldn’t help reflecting that, even by the standards of Iffley Road, this mob seemed to create Eastenders levels of drama wherever they went. Sean, apparently, must have thought the same, because he added gruffly, “We checked, obviously, but there was nothing suspicious about Rachel Kincaid’s death, not so far as we can tell.”
I nodded. “So those four knew each other? What about Martyniuk?”
“Ah!” The way Sean said it, made me think I’d passed some sort of test. “What about Martyniuk? He was two years below Laine at law school, so it’s not likely they’d have been that close in school. He’d played basketball with Schafer and Laine, but not for long — Martyniuk was university standard, could have turned pro, but Schafer wasn’t a team player at all; his best game was squash.”
His fingers danced over the keyboard, and another document came up on screen. I had to strain my eyes to read it but when I did, I wasn’t much the wiser.
“Second International Celtic Conference, 23 May 1978,” I read, along with a list of panels and lectures which, to be honest, sounded like the sort of fluffy bunny rubbish Caro used to call “Mythic Mixed Biscuits”. Being Welsh, she’d intense disdain for people who assumed that simply having family ties to Scotland, Ireland or Wales conveyed spiritual superiority and heightened connection to the supernatural.
About half way down the page a name I recognised sprang out.
“Vincent Martyniuk? Any relation?”
“Yup. Older brother. Now a professor at some university in Australia. Not close to his brother, though he does remember that conference. Rather well, actually. And David Martyniuk was certainly at it, and left it in the company of Laine, Schafer and the two women.”
I must say, I raised my eyes at that one. I can count on the fingers of one hand — and, yes, I am being pedantic about the status of thumbs, here — the number of times my own sister has even remembered my birthday unprompted, let alone which randos I’d left a lecture with, years ago.
Sean grinned. “I know. But Vincent Martyniuk had a particular reason for remembering. You see, they also left with this guy, here, the one guy he’d been banking on talking to that evening. Vincent sounded pretty sore about it.”
He indicated a name on screen: Dr Lorenzo Marcus, the keynote speaker.
“But — that can’t be his real name,” I blurted out.
Sean swung right round on his office chair, his eyes blazing. “You’re right, it’s not. But how did you know?”
I suppressed the urge to recoil before his intensity. “Because it’s a city in Africa. Or was, anyway.”
The Iffley Road house had been banned by at least two pubs in Oxford from competing in their quizzes; we liked to claim it was because we made the other teams look bad. Actually, Daniel and Iain were the worst for arguing with quizmasters, and word got round. Anyway, colonial-era names of African cities is the sort of knowledge you end up absorbing by osmosis if you’re a regular and serious quizzer. State capitals, too.
“It’s a pity we didn’t have you around back then. Could have saved steps. Could have saved a lot of academics getting egg on their face, too.” He flicked up an article from Macleans, dated some time in the early 90s, and headed The Great Lorenzo Marcus Hoax.
Guessing, I expect, that I’d be some time getting to grips with it, Sean surrendered his own seat to me and wandered off with the coffee pot in the direction of the kitchen.
It was one of those densely written pieces, spreading over pages and pages. Basically, it turned out that Marcus hadn’t merely been a fake; he’d been a syndicate. Back in the ’60s, a group of friends had set out to make a point about the credulity of North American academia when it came to Celtic woo-woo. In creating Dr Lorenzo Marcus, they’d succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They’d kept him going for years, and only been rumbled by one bloke’s hard work, intuition, persistence and sheer luck.
It was, to be fair, a pretty impressive bit of investigative journalism, even if the author sounded as if he was trying a bit too hard for a Pulitzer in places. Of course, he did have personal skin in the game.
Basically, he’d been an emo teen in a smallish town in Alberta, obsessed with Tolkien. No-one understood him, yadda, yadda, until an elderly and eccentric librarian had recognised him as a cross between a kindred spirit and an acolyte (and yes; the words “My Obi-Wan Kenobi” were used). The librarian had pushed him in the direction of “Celtic mythology” and he’d stumbled across this Lorenzo Marcus character as the author of a book of essays on Cerunnos and the other Celtic gods he’d got on inter-library loan.
After that, he was hooked. Naturally, he’d hitched to Toronto in 1978 to hear the great man speak.
That, apparently, had proved quite an experience. Lorenzo Marcus clearly possessed star quality: glamour, I suppose I should call it in this context. Sean told me later, everyone he’d found who’d been at the Conference had said the same. Terrific speaker, best thing they’d heard in a lecture hall ever — and none of them could recall a single word Marcus had said.
I turned a page, and another familiar name caught my eye.
After the formal proceedings closed, our hero had been loitering near the front, hoping to get a word with his idol and, with luck, wangle his way into the post-conference cheese and wine. However, Marcus’s secretary, Dr Matt Sören, had unexpectedly shown up with a young woman in tow, whom he’d introduced as Kim Ford, Dr Marcus’s niece. Marcus, pleading “family before functions”, had swept out with her, Sören and her friends, leaving a very disgruntled bunch of academics and fanboys spitting tacks in their wake.
That evening proved a turning point. The article’s author had read every word Lorenzo Marcus had ever written. Marcus hadn’t been forthcoming about biographical details, but he’d let slip he was an only child and had never been married. Number One Fanboy formed the (doubtless accurate) opinion that Kim Ford was as much the great man’s niece as he was.
A charismatic don acquiring an unexpected “niece” at an overseas conference? No surprise there. As for Sören’s role in rounding her up, the article described him as “playing Oddjob to Marcus’s Scaramanga”. Even making allowances for sour grapes, it sounded dead on the money. Sinister, sleazy and as seventies as Paul Schafer’s sideburns.
Still, it must have been a pretty big disillusionment for someone who’d hitchhiked halfway across Canada to meet his hero. You didn’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work out why the author had listened when, at another conference a few months later, a fellow fan had come up to him with a list of discrepancies he’d noticed in Marcus’s papers.
I skimmed through the description of how he’d pulled trailing ends and got through to the surviving men behind the hoax (one had been lost in Vietnam, one to a heart attack and another had dropped off the grid.)
However, one fact brought me up short. The hoaxers had admitted practically everything — except sending anyone posing as Lorenzo Marcus to the Second Celtic Conference in Toronto. Or, for that matter, any knowledge of Dr Matt Sören. Reading between the lines, they obviously thought they’d missed a trick in not giving their Lorenzo Marcus an enigmatic Dwarf henchman. Yes, honestly.
But that meant that there were two Lorenzo Marcuses, or, at least, that someone had piggy-backed on the original hoax for their own ends. Which meant whoever had done it had to have known, or gambled, on its being a hoax. Which in turn meant — no, I didn’t have a clue what it meant. But it was important. I was sure of that, at least.
There was a light “clink” as Sean put a plate of food left over from the shindig next to my left hand. Plainly he’d worked out we were there for the duration. My head jerked up; I hadn’t been conscious of his return until then. A small smile twisted about his lips.
“You remind me of someone,” he said.
“When exactly was Jennifer Lowell raped?” I’d got that mental picture of Sören as Oddjob lodged in my head.
“She was brought into emerg at the Gen on the night of 24 May — well, early in the morning of the 25th, really. She was — she was a mess.”
I had no desire to hear any details. Except, that is, for one. Marcus had swept off for drinks with Kim Ford and the others on the 23rd, after the conference’s closing session.
“So — Marcus couldn’t have had anything to do with it?” I let my voice go up at the end of the sentence, as if in a question, but I was fairly sure of myself, actually. Sean had been sorting through blind alleys for decades, so I suspect if this one had ended in a blank wall he wouldn’t have wasted my time on it.
With one mouse click Sean brought up a scan of a hotel bill. “‘Marcus and Sören stayed at the Park Plaza on Bloor during the conference. Booked in for two nights. Paid cash. Nothing charged to the rooms. Checked out on the third morning. The 25th.”
Which put Marcus and Sören still in Toronto at the relevant time.
A flash of remembered pain, terror and an overwhelming sense of driving responsibility hit me out of nowhere. I spoke fast and a bit too loud, to drive the demons back down where they lived.
“Who brought her in to A&E?”
His face changed, as if I’d asked a question he hadn’t realised he’d been hoping for. It wasn’t the question I’d intended to ask, either.
“Paul Schafer. He said the five of them had all been out together earlier in the evening, but they’d split up. Very late, she’d called him from a payphone near Varsity Stadium.”
I must have looked blank, because he flicked up a street map on screen. You didn’t have to think in blocks to realise that Varsity Stadium and the Park Plaza Hotel were blindingly close to each other.
Something sick and dark stirred within me. Blindingly close on a map, maybe. An Everest to climb for a girl broken, in pain, driven only by the adrenaline rush that told her at all costs Get away. But people climb Everest. Without oxygen, sometimes.
There’d been two things I’d wondered about the night Kim Ford and her friends had gone off with Lorenzo Marcus and Matt Sören. First, what would induce any woman to pose as the niece of a complete stranger on two minutes’ acquaintance? Secondly, if Marcus really had been on the shark that night, why go for Kim Ford when Jennifer Lowell had been standing right beside her?
Now, I thought I had an answer to both questions. An ugly answer, but I supposed that came with the territory. The dream of being the Chosen One feeds off disappointment; that’s why it’s at the root of almost every fantasy ever spun. The merchant to conceal his treasure/Conveys it in a borrowed name/Euphelia serves to grace my measure/But Cloe is my real flame. Oxford Mods, Caro revising.
“What did Jennifer Lowell say about who’d attacked her?” Even that was a less painful topic than the other.
“Nothing, for a good long time. Eventually, when I — when we started to make progress she did say something.” He grimaced. “You will never find him, and if you did he is more powerful than you can possibly imagine. He would not even ask your name before he had you killed.”
No wonder this case had seized hold of Sean and not let go.
“Did she mean ‘Lorenzo Marcus’?” Normally, I find that finger-wiggling air-quotes gesture inexpressibly irritating, but there are some times when it’s the only option. This was one of those times.
“She didn’t say. But who else could it have been?”
I had no answer to that.
Lorenzo Marcus. Lourenço Marques, capital of Portuguese East Africa before the revolution. However you spelt it, the name spoke of sweat and blood diamonds; indolent European administrators taking bribes and ordering floggings; mercenaries running shipments of East German-made AK47s to rebels in the jungle; dark hot nights on the waterfront, and a tropical storm building over the Indian Ocean.
He may have only nicked the name from someone else, but it suited the shadowy, villainous figure I’d started to shape in my imagination.
“There’s a couple of other things you ought to know,” Sean said. Actually, the expression on his face suggested he thought he’d already spilled too much. Bless the sunk cost fallacy, he continued after a short pause.
“First, when I interviewed her, she was pregnant. Seemed determined to keep it, too.”
Sean and Bernie were Catholic, of course. There was even a Sacred Heart picture hanging above the bed in my room. Bernie had apologised, in case I found it too gruesome, and I hadn’t had the heart to tell her I’d not noticed it until she’d spoken. Whatever my personal views, I was a guest here. I composed my features into a politely neutral expression.
“Pretty courageous, huh? At least, that’s what her priest told me.” Neutrality hadn’t been required; Sean sounded almost as disgusted as I felt. “Me, I’m a cop. There’s courage, and there’s stupidity. And when you’re dealing with a guy like that one —”
He left the sentence hanging, thankfully.
Jennifer Lowell had vanished over eleven months after that phone call. Vanished after flying to England on no notice with three blokes and her flatmate. Which left one blindingly obvious question.
“So, what became of the child?”
Sean spread his hands out in a blank gesture. “Who knows?”
Apparently half a drawer in the filing cabinet was dedicated to hospitals and other health care facilities in the Metropolitan Toronto area. And, according to Sean, every single scrap of that evidence could be summarised as the medical establishment saying, “Us, squire? No way! Never heard of her.”
Sean knew he’d seen a pregnant woman when he’d interviewed Jennifer Lowell for the last time in late September 1978. Four or five months gone, maybe.
By that time, the hunt for Lorenzo Marcus (who would not be exposed as fictional for some ten years) had gone cold. Jennifer Lowell’s case dropped to the bottom of Sean’s pile. It only made its way to the top again when Jennifer Lowell disappeared the following April. Someone in the missing persons team looked through the file, spotted Sean’s previous involvement, and asked him to go along and renew his enquiries in the neighbourhood.
Naturally, Sean asked the next door neighbour what she’d noticed, not just immediately before the disappearance but at any time since he’d last seen Jennifer Lowell. His interest was piqued on hearing that some time in November — about a week or ten days after Halloween, she thought —
someone fitting Paul Schafer’s description had turned up at Jennifer Lowell’s door and left with Jennifer on his arm. The next door neighbour commented that she looked well along, if nowhere near sprogging (I paraphrase). She had not seen them return, but when she next saw Jennifer Lowell a day or so later she formed the impression she was no longer pregnant, an impression which was confirmed as the weeks progressed. (Next door neighbour? Pathological voyeur, if you ask me.)
She’d not been slow to give her opinions of the matter (and of Jennifer Lowell) to Sean, but Sean, who’d spoken to Jennifer only weeks before and seen her clear eyed, steely determination, begged leave to doubt.
I mean this child as an answer to what was done to me she’d told him. (I said Sean was the sort of person who had people spilling the beans at the drop of a hat, didn’t I?) A woman who could say that wasn’t likely to walk off for a late term, almost certainly illegal abortion. Either there’d been serious medical complications (but why draw a blank on Lowell’s medical records and her health insurance claims, if so?), or she’d been under major pressure from somebody. And I thought I could guess who.
After that, though, nothing much of interest happened for months. Kim Ford and Jennifer Lowell had continued pottering on much as usual, though the neighbour did observe that Kim Ford’s hair had suddenly gone white. ( “Overnight”, the neighbour claimed, but obviously she must have just been being melodramatic. I’ve watched Brainiacs. People’s hair doesn’t really go white overnight, like it does in Victorian novels — it’s a medical condition, alopecia something, and it takes weeks.)
And then had come that hurried springtime departure of the five to England, after which Jennifer Lowell, Kevin Laine and Paul Schafer had never been seen again.
The yellow lamplight had paled to white; dawn was coming and I suddenly felt absolutely and utterly exhausted. Sean saw it too; he made a shooing direction towards my bedroom. I collapsed into bed and didn’t emerge until mid-afternoon. The worst thing for jet-lag (as Bernie didn’t hesitate to remind me) but the longest uninterrupted sleep I’d had since I couldn’t remember when.
But the story of the Five stuck with me and wouldn’t let go. I found myself tracing the route they would have taken from the Lorenzo Marcus lecture to the Park Plaza (it’s an apartment block now.) I went into the public library and looked up everything I could find on David Martyniuk, even reading his report on First Nations land rights. Oddly, he came across in that as fair, intelligent and positively smouldering with hatred towards injustice, pettiness and bigotry of all stripes. That got me wondering, to be honest. It wasn’t that I didn’t think a man of obvious high principles could have killed someone — half the major wars of the world seem to be started by one bunch of people with high principles coming across another bunch with principles equally high and in the opposite direction. But it certainly affected the kind of murder it might have been.
My original intended length of stay — just a day or so, while I worked out what I was doing next — lengthened imperceptibly into a week. Every night Sean and I gathered in his basement study to swap theories. Sean’s retirement was hitting him hard. Even though they’d had nothing new on the case for over a decade, the thought that something might come in and him not be on the spot to draw conclusions and highlight discrepancies was eating away at him. I could tell.
And that was when I had the inspiration.
“What we really need,” I said, “is to talk to the man. After all these years, he’s perhaps let his guard down a bit. You never know; he might let something slip.”
Sean shrugged. “That’s all well and good but I can’t just go waltzing up to him and say ‘Hey, buddy, remember me? I’m the cop who couldn’t nail you on those three murders’. He wouldn’t let me in the door.”
“No, but I could,” I said.
Caro had given me Howard Marks’ Mr Nice for Christmas. Apart from wondering how his Oxford could be so completely different from the one I’d experienced forty-odd years later, and yet so recognisably its own bonkers self, it had impressed on me that going to Oxford immediately bumped you about two degrees of separation closer to practically everybody with clout in the whole world. Even when (as in Howard Marks’ case) one happened to be immured inside a high-security prison in Indiana.
Everyone with clout, that is, including David Martyniuk, judge of the Ontario Supreme Court and expert on First Nations land rights.
Last Michaelmas Term I’d entered a university essay prize competition, for the sole reason that if I won, the £250 first prize would come in useful on our trip to Canada. The only problem was that the essay had been set on land law, which wasn’t my strongest subject by a long shot, and bored me to tears, to boot. Public law being my real thing, I’d ended up with an essay comparing growth of out-of-town shopping centres with the common land enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was called something hopelessly pretentious, like “Beyond Title Deeds: Trustee v. Ownership Models of Land Use and their Impact on Rights of Assembly and Protest” and the examiners liked it well enough to award me third prize and a £25 book token.
More importantly, it was exactly the sort of credentials which could get me in to see David Martyniuk, judge of the Ontario Supreme Court and a man with his own very marked views on land uses and abuses. All I needed was the right strings to pull, and college had practically begged me, when I was leaving, to call on them for anything and everything I needed. A letter of introduction to a Canadian legal bigwig would be a piece of cake.
I dropped an email to my former tutor, who responded by return. Armed with that, I penned exactly the sort of ingenuous, polite request judges of the Supreme Court of Ontario probably get all the time and I sat back and waited.
In the meantime, Sean and Bernie set out to show me round, which. like everything they did, they did wholeheartly.
I haven’t talked about Bernie much, which makes me look as if I treated her as a nonentity, which she absolutely wasn’t. In fact, she’d been a senior nurse in a couple of big hospitals in the Metro Toronto area, which meant she was at least as streetwise as Sean and probably knew more ways to kill you. Also, there was a sort of still depth about her. When we went up into the Muskokas, canoeing and camping, and I looked up for the first time at a starry sky uninterrupted by light pollution I thought of Caro, and how she ought to be beside me, seeing this, and how FUCKING ANGRY I was that she wasn’t. Angry with her, angry with myself, angry about the driver who’d created a tail-back on Headington Hill so we didn’t get to the JRII in time, angry with God for not having the fucking courtesy to exist, so I could then be angry with him for not providing a convenient miracle to save her —
Suddenly there was Bernie’s warm dry hand, gripping mine. No words. We sat there on the lake shore, listening to the loons making their eerie noises, with the whole fucking miraculous Milky Way spiralling insanely above our heads. For hours. But I still couldn’t cry. Before Caro’s — before that, I’d cried at everything — at the arrival of the Riders of Rohan in The Return of the King, at Tennyson’s Revenge, at British Olympic victories in sports I’d never heard of.
Never since. I could tell she wanted me to, that she thought it would be better for me if I did (how often had I heard those words? But with Bernie, I saw the point.)
Still: dry eyes. Nothing I could do about it.
And she’d never said a word about it afterwards.
Any sane Council of the Wise would choose Bernie as their first pick to take the Ring to Mordor, no kidding.
Nevertheless, Bernie was twitchy about the Jennifer Lowell business, and I could see why. However solid your marriage is, having your husband obsessed with a gorgeous blonde (even one presumed dead for thirty years) must chafe. Especially since Bernie was no more than five foot two and more than a little on the tubby side. (That said, she was formidably fit. She invited me to play tennis one sweltering evening. I couldn’t take more than two games off her in five sets.) Also, the mystery had been so much a part of Sean for so long, anyone could be forgiven for wondering whether he would be the same man after he’d solved it. How do people cope when the wish of their heart is granted?
Which was why, when we got back from the wilderness trip and found the friendliest possible note from David Martyniuk, inviting me up to see him in Ottawa when I could make it, and mentioning that as his sixtieth birthday barbecue was coming up, I’d be very welcome to join his family then, the absolute worst thing was breaking the news to bernie.
She and Sean had a stand up, drag out row which went on for hours. I think, to be honest, Bernie wondered if her obsessed husband had browbeaten their grief-stricken visitor into some absurd folie-à-deux.
But in the end she agreed I was entitled to do what I liked, and, also, that I knew what I was doing, as much as anyone can. She even promised to light a candle for us in the cathedral in Toronto (she baulked at accompanying us to Ottawa.)
Martyniuk’s house was a substantial, elegant affair in what was obviously Ottawa’s equivalent of Hampstead. Sean parked up somewhere round the corner (I hoped he’d be able to fend off the local neighbourhood watch), gave me a list of instructions as long as my arm, most of which boiled down to “Trust your gut and run if there’s a hint of trouble” and then waved me off.
It was odd; I was walking in through the garden gates of someone who might well have murdered three people, and yet my dominant feeling was a sense of shame that I was abusing his hospitality.
There were a couple of well-muscled guys in tight white T-shirts checking off names at the doors; they both had walkie-talkies and an air of unassuming efficiency which reminded me of Sean. Tight but unobtrusive security seemed to be the watchword. I produced my invitation and they waved me through with an injunction to have a good time.
Once I rounded the corner of the house I walked into a scene that was so joyously family it hurt. My own family are misanthrophic curmudgeons, but this reminded me of Caro’s twenty-first, back in May.
A string quartet on the terrace was just tuning up. The smell and sizzle of roasting meat filled the air, reminding me how absurdly, ravenously hungry I was. Children leapt and splashed in the pool, yelling with sheer pleasure. One of the waiters circulating with trays of drinks offered me a choice of red, white or sparkling. I chose white, on the basis that drinking someone’s champagne when you’d come on an underground mission to trap him really was a bridge too far. For me, anyway. Bond wouldn’t have hesitated, in fact, he’d probably have been rude about the vintage.
I heard someone say my name, and I turned. It was the white-haired woman from the photograph, Martyniuk’s wife, Kimberley Ford.
“So you did come,” she said. Her pleasure at having a random stranger gatecrash her barbecue looked so genuine I felt worse than ever. I muttered something — I can’t remember what — and then she strode forwards and took my face between her hands. I was so taken aback I barely uttered a squawk of protest, but she dropped her hands at once.
“I’m sorry to startle you, but it’s just that —” She paused for a moment, fiddling with the bracelet encircling her wrist, a rather lovely bit of Celtic silver work set with a green stone like an emerald. “My dear, I’ve waited so long to see you.”
So long? A fortnight ago I’d never heard of her. Or her husband. Or, for that matter, of Jennifer Lowell, Kevin Laine or Paul Schafer.
The hair rose on the back of my neck. Sean had been wrong, all along. Spousal immunity cuts both ways. Martyniuk hadn’t married Kimberley Ford to prevent her giving evidence against him. She was a murderer — she was insane — I’d walked straight into a trap —
For one split second panic overwhelmed me, and then the physical world rushed back. The sun was hot on the back of my neck, the stem of my wine-glass a welcome chill between my fingers.
However mad she was, she could hardly murder me in broad daylight amid her entire family. My mobile phone was in my handbag, fully charged, and Sean was waiting in his car just round the corner. I only had to face out the next five minutes and help would be at hand.
I raised my head and looked her in the eyes, fixing a slightly puzzled smile on my lips. “But — how can you have done? I didn’t even get your husband’s invitation until a couple of days ago.”
Kimberley Ford’s grey eyes held a profound, ageless sadness. Despite the white hair, I’d not thought of her as an old woman; her bearing and skin made her look younger than my own mother, which, according to Sean’s files, she was. Nevertheless, she looked like someone who had watched aeons pass before her, while she stood on some high place, powerless to intervene.
“My dear,” she said, “I dreamed you. Over thirty years ago.”