Wry, forthright Home and Garden reporter Robin MacFarland has somehow gotten herself—along with her best friend and investigative journalist colleague Cindy—assigned by their newspaper editor to examine the deep rooted causes of homelessness in Toronto, Ontario. Their investigation quickly reveals that environmental racism not only created hydroelectric power, it harmed the environment and displaced a large population of Indigenous people. When the Premier of Ontario dies at Robin’s family cottage in Muskoka, Robin sets about proving that he was murdered against a tide of objection from Huntsville’s police force. Though she’s only supposed to be along for the ride, Robin MacFarland is honest to a fault, committed to justice and, though she’s always willing to laugh at herself, also always willing to look for the hard truth no matter where it’s hiding. Robin needs to figure out exactly how his death was disguised to look like an accident, what his part was in a dirty web surrounding the creation of more electric power, who knocked him off, and finally, how all this will impact her family.
PRAISE FOR THE ROBIN MACFARLAND MYSTERY SERIES:
“Robin MacFarland is a gutsy yet vulnerable heroine; she’s a mother, a daughter, a good friend, and a more successful career woman than she gives herself credit for. Her sexual musings are hilarious, as are her self-observations and honesty. This gripping whodunnit does justice to various Toronto neighbourhoods and is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I hope there will be many more MacFarland adventures to come!”
—Lisa de Nikolits, author of The Rage Room and Everything You Dream Is Real
“Our heroine is as un-heroine-like as ever, and just as hilarious, clever, and quick to rise to the sexist remarks of a small town police chief or the annoying habits of her class conscious brother. The baffling mystery will keep you guessing, but the banter between Robin and her newsroom pal, Cindy, will keep you laughing.”
—Jan Rehner, author of Just Murder and Almost True
From Chapter 15
I took yet another look. A gash like that must have been made by something really sharp. Maybe a chisel? Chisels have a pointed end and are much thicker than knives. The point wouldn’t break off. Something like a chisel could have made that mess of his head. I imagined someone striking his head and realized it probably wouldn’t work. A chisel doesn’t have quite enough heft, enough weight to it to permeate bone. I imagined a strike from a chisel would simply be deflected off his skull. Boing.
What about a pickaxe? Now you’re talking Robin. A pickaxe would do the job. Heavy. Sharp. Pointed. But was a pickaxe too unwieldy? Too heavy? Could someone aim one accurately? If you missed the head, you’d only wound, not kill. So if your intention was to kill, you’d have to be really strong to aim the pickaxe to strike the top of the head. And this gash was right at the top of his skull. So, a very strong murderer?
The other problem with a pickaxe was that it wouldn’t fit easily under a coat. There was no disguising it. A pickaxe was huge, with a very long handle and large metal head. The head of a pickaxe had a sharp blade on one end and a sharper point on the other. One couldn’t just saunter up to someone nonchalantly with a pickaxe in hand. The element of surprise would be non-existent. One would definitely see it coming. From a mile away. A guy like the Premier would be savvy enough to be careful about his security. He would run like hell to get away. Or maybe not, in his case, given his fat cat weight issues.
Hey Premier, did someone pick your brain? The giggles threatened to erupt again. Slap.
How long had I been under this tarp? Way too long. It was time to move on. But I sort of liked it under there. It was kind of cozy, if you forgot about the dead body. Kind of like a tent, or playing house. I dreaded going out into the melee. How should I act? It was just me against the whole group of them. How much credibility did a Home and Garden writer have with all these cops? I knew they despised all journalists, but maybe my subject matter made me a little more acceptable. Unlike Cindy, the crime reporter. Cops couldn’t stand her. Except for googly-eyed Kim. Kimmy.
Oops. I almost forgot. Before I left my little cocoon, I had one last thing to do. I dreaded it as well. It was time for me to put his head back to where it was. I looked under the tarp, saw no one approaching, and hooked my toe under his nose. God forbid I should touch him with my hands. I flipped my toes upwards but his damn head flopped about in the mud. Fuck. I tried again, but it jiggled right back to where I’d moved it. His eyes were staring at me and I felt my arms go a little weak.
Come one, Robin. He can’t see you. He’s dead dead dead. Gone from this world. Pushing up daisies. But what if there’s an afterlife. What if he’s watching me, like from above or something, God, he’d be so angry. No, that couldn’t be true. Could it. Oh no. Now I was going to throw up. Robin. Take a deep breath. Stay in the here and now, no more wandering into another universe.
I have to get out of here.
But how to put his head back? I had to do it; it was obvious that he’d been moved. But I refused to touch his head with my hands. I have a thing about dead things. I can’t touch them. When the kids were little, I always got my husband to fish out the dead fish. The dead hamster. The dead bird. I pick up a long twig and slid it under the Premier’s chin, digging one end into the mud under his cheek and placing the middle of the stick carefully so it’s embedded in the folds of his double chin. I leveraged the top of the stick and lifted it slowly and to the right until his head was back to where it sort of was. I didn’t think anyone would notice the centimeter difference in the angle. It’s not like anyone took photos of him, unlike me.
Photos! Just to make sure I’ve got the placement of his head right, I compared his body position with the photo I took when I first came under the tarp. It looked pretty good. I know I shouldn’t have moved the corpse, but hell, it’s not as if anyone else took his death seriously. And now, job done, I had to re-enter the world. I walked to the edge of the blue tarp, crouched down, and hoped for the best. While I duck walked under the edge of the tarp I decided to say nothing about my suspicions until I had more information.
The world appeared to be much the same as it did before I went under the tarpaulin. I looked left and right. It seemed as if I had wandered into a high falutin’ cocktail party, uninvited, with information that no one wanted to hear. People were milling about, chatting, eating donuts and drinking coffee, courtesy of Andrew. He was off in the far corner of the yard, yukking it up with some of the cops. I wondered what he was up to. Andrew wasn’t a social butterfly and I’m sure he had an ulterior method. For a moment I wondered how strong he was. Strong enough to wield a pickaxe? Ralph was in the centre of the yard, nodding wisely in agreement with one of Huntsville’s finest who was pontificating about something. Cindy and Kim were off by themselves, deep in conversations, their bodies too close for my liking. Was I jealous? I picked my direction and moved forward, heading away from the gruesome scene behind me. I did my best to look like I was merely sauntering over to the least formidable group, Kim and Cindy, and not racing. I set my face into the most impassive look I could muster. What me? I had no secrets.
“Hi, you two.”
Kim glared at me, was she jealous? while Cindy’s face broke into a wide smile.
“Hi, Robin,” she said. “Where’ve you been?”
She knew I’d been under the tarp. She was the one who’d organized it. Why did she ask that? Oh, for the audience. One of the cops in Ralph’s group was listening in, his head tilted slightly so he could hear better. That’s probably why Kim was staring at me, willing me to cover for her.
“Nowhere special,” I loudly lied. Kim’s fierce look softened when she understood that I understood and wouldn’t give away my location. Hmmmm, I thought, so darling Kimmy knew that she’d violated due process by letting me under the tarpaulin. My ethics had warped as I got older and started writing crime articles so I admired her subterfuge here. My low estimation of her went up a notch. But then it slid down again when I realized she was probably just trying to get in Cindy’s good graces by giving me permission. Whatever. Not my pig pen, not my pig.
My mother used to say that. Not my pig pen, not my pig. Her lips were usually compressed when she said it, highlighting her judgement of the situation, whatever it was. She doesn’t say that now. Now she hardly spoke. I was flooded with a momentary wave of sadness. She’d be devasted if she understood that there’d been two deaths at her beloved cottage, one a couple of years ago, and now another this spring.
My father would probably want to sell the place the minute he found out about this current death. It would be too much for him. How did I feel about that? It was complicated. My kids loved it. But still, I sure wasn’t comfortable going to the cottage anymore. It felt jinxed. Not that I believed in that voodoo stuff, I lied to myself. I knew Andrew wouldn’t allow it to be sold. He certainly didn’t have a finer appreciation for nature, that wasn’t the reason. He loved the status symbol of having a cottage in Canada’s most wealthy cottage country. He and his wife were like that. He’d hold onto it tooth and nail.
Cindy took my elbow and walked me away from the cops. Kim trailed behind. When Cindy was aware that she was being followed, she turned her head and said, “I have to talk to Robin about some confidential work stuff.”
Kim had the good graces to at least paste a compliant look on her face, but her voice betrayed her. “No problem, Cin.” She turned on her heel and headed over to the gaggle of cops, the edge of her voice cutting the air behind her. Kimmy didn’t like rejection much.
Cindy ignored the tension and kept walking me further away. Lucky trotted behind her obediently. I said, “What’s up?”
She lowered her voice. “That Kim is getting on my nerves and I needed a bit of distance.”
I didn’t resort to ‘I told you so,’ but I thought it. I did feel badly for Cindy. It was so hard finding a partner. “She’s awfully young and you do live miles away from each other. But someone will show up, someone who you’ll find really charming.”
Cindy looked off into the woods. “I don’t know, Robin. I’ve been single for so long now that maybe this is just my karma.”
“You can change your Karma.”
Cindy laughed, “No, you can’t. That’s what karma is. Fate. Whatever you might like to call it. It’s permanent, destined by the universe.”
“No, you can absolutely change it.”
She looked at me. “It’s one of those Buddhist things, isn’t it?”
I left it alone and said, “People usually get what they want.”
She started humming that old song “You can’t always get what you want.”
I laughed. “So, what were you two talking about?”
“Oh, nothing much. Just the death of the Premier and what’s going to happen next.
I told her that first of all, there’s going to be shitstorm of media interest and coverage. And then likely an election for a new leader of the Conservative Party.”
“It’s not an election year. The party will just have a leadership campaign and there’ll be a new Premier to fill in until the next election in a year.”
“Aren’t you the savvy one, knowing your politics.”
“Listen, Cindy, there’s something I have to talk to you about.”
“What? My relationship failures?’
“No, that isn’t my business. It’s about the Premier.”
“What about him?” She flicked her thumb over to where he lay under the tarpaulin. “He’s pretty dead. Good riddance. What’s more to say?”
I hemmed and hawed. Should I say anything? Talk about my suspicions?