the bone settlement – part 1
by dm gillis
Stanley Park – October 31, 1949
Her failed attempts at stillness were behind her; she was an expert now. She could finally become the colour of the trees and stone. Now she needed to become a shadow.
From where she stood, she could hear children sing. A good sign. She was welcome. She took the small leather bag from her coat pocket and placed it on the ground, in the centre of the ring of trees, the Sisters, the precinct. It was a natural basilica that rose a hundred feet above the trail.
Looking up, she saw the stars and moon. There was movement all around. She closed her eyes and listened. They had purpose.
From the forest, a glowing form emerged. A small girl in the dark, surrounded by light.
“Thank you,” she said.
The items in leather bag began to shake and clatter.
Vancouver, October 20, 1949
It was 10:00 a.m. She sat at her desk with a switchblade in her hand. She pressed the trigger, and the blade appeared. Faultless and ready. Honed Damascus steel. Handle of ebony. Custom made for her in Paris, 1942. She closed it, and snapped it open again. It wasn’t like there was time to waste, but it helped her think.
She knew it was the wrong thing to do. The knife wasn’t made for it. But she wanted to throw it, and stab Nicky No Dice Cohen in the heart. He stood ready, dukes up, head down, classic boxer’s stance, on a fight poster on the far wall, next to the filing cabinets. She had nothing against No Dice. His record was clean. So was hers. He never took a fall. But he was an easy target, pinned to the wall. And hitting the target would let off some steam. Perhaps even be inspirational.
But the switchblade lacked the balance for throwing. It was made for close-in work. She smiled, remembering Paris.
The kid was ten, when he disaapeared. That was five years ago. The cops had given up. All Trudy Parr had to go on were old photographs, and a couple of grief-stricken parents with wild ideas. But they were clients, worthy of her respect.
“You’ll forgive me for saying it, Mr and Mrs Bellamy.” She’d tried to sound empathetic when they’d met in the Bellamy’s front parlour. “But the cops said they found nothing. You’ve hired other investigators in the past, without results. Maybe William is just gone. It happens.”
“No!” Mrs Bellamy began to sob. “Oh, Billy.”
Mr Bellamy looked wounded.
Trudy Parr was surprised there could still be such emotion after five years. Maybe that’s why she took the case. The cops would take her involvement badly, and be obstructionist. There were no leads. The newspapers had sensationalised the story, ignoring the facts. The trail had gone cold. But all the same, a cold missing person case was better than chasing cheating husbands and mutts on the lam for skipping bail.
Now, at her desk, she looked at the photograph again. Young William Bellamy, a smiling youngster. His image, fixed iconically and forever onto the very bones of his parents.
She closed the knife and pressed the trigger again.
The intercom buzzed.
“What is it, Gladys?”
“Some fella named Thomas Armbruster on the line,” Gladys said. “Says he’s with the Parks Board.”
“And?” Trudy Parr said, running her thumb crosswise over the sharp edge of the blade.
“And, it’s a little odd. He says he’s got troubles on the Stanley Park trails. He says it could be vandals but the cops looked and can’t find nothing.”
“Tell him we don’t deal in mischief calls.”
“Heck I know that, Trudy. I’d have blown him off three minutes ago, ‘cept he said something about the trail in question being haunted. And I know you and Crispin go in for that sorta thing, occasionally.”
Trudy Parr put down the knife and wistfully picked up a .45 cartridge that sat upright and gleaming on her desk blotter, next to a fountain pen.
“You still there, Trudy?” Gladys said.
She rolled the cold cartridge between her fingers for a moment. “Alright, put him through.” Her desk phone rang and she picked up. “Trudy Parr here. What’s the beef?”
“Oh, Miss Parr,” said the man on the line. “This is Thomas Armbruster. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I’m a commissioner on the Vancouver Parks Board.”
Armbruster sounded like he wore tweed pajamas to bed. Trudy didn’t like him.
“Sorry, I don’t follow village politics,” she said.
“Well, we’re having a bit of difficulty on a Stanley Park trail.”
“Yes. The police have investigated and found nothing. They’ve dispatched the Mounted Squad and they’re keeping an eye open, but….”
“It’s hard to explain.”
Trudy Parr lit a cigarette. “Do your best,” she said.
“Well, in a nutshell, several people claim to have been accosted by something very mysterious. Up round the Seven Sisters – that circle of tall trees on the Cathedral Trail.”
“Kids in white sheets? Halloween’s coming, you know.”
“No,” said Armbruster. “It’s not kids. Not according to the descriptions. Witnesses report a single free floating young girl, surrounded in purple light. Naturally, it’s fiction. Though the stories are consistent from witness to witness. The point is that it’s bad for business. The park needs to be safe.”
“And you need to get re-elected.”
“Well, yes. There’s that – just between you me.”
“This happen during the day or night?” said Trudy Parr, inspecting the bullet’s primer. It read Federal 45 Auto.
“Dusk, mostly. No one’s really on the trails after dark. Except for park hobos.”
“Has anyone spoken to them?”
“They claim the whole damn park is haunted,” Armbruster said. “They say a few spooks on a trail at dusk ‘ain’t nothin” compared to some of the goings-on elsewhere in the park.”
“What do you say to that?”
“I say that it’s the rotgut talking. Look, I just need a credible private investigator to back up what the police have already said, and put it in writing.”
Trudy Parr looked over at No Dice Cohen, peeking over his gloves. Never took a fall.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stroll on by the trouble spot this evening, and see what I see. Gladys will set you up with a contract, but for now we have a binding verbal agreement. Forty-five dollars a day plus overhead.”
“Wow. I, uh….”
“I know. You thought we work for peanuts because we’re having trouble with the rent. That’s what you read in your pulpy magazines, right? But I can assure you that The Dench and Parr Agency functions devoid of any threat of liquidation. There are other agencies in town that charge less. Want the list?”
“No, that’s fine.”
“Swell.” Trudy Parr hung up, and placed the .45 shell back on the desk blotter.
She found herself in Crispin Dench’s office. The Black Hawks and Red Wings were playing in Detroit that night. He was talking to a bookie over the telephone.
“What’s the spread?” Dench said. He paused to listen to his bookie. “Hawks, then. C-note.” He paused again. “Look, Maurice, don’t try to be my friend. Last time I let that happen, I lost a bundle.” Pause. “I know the Hawks stink. Hence, the point spread.” Pause. “Just do it, Maurice. Take it outta what you owe me, and save the histrionics for that hooker you’ve been dating.” He hung up.
“What’s rattlin’?” he said to Trudy Parr.
“Missing person,” she said. “Kid. Case, five years cold. He was ten at the time of his disappearance. Parents distraught but moneyed. Cops botched the initial investigation. Twenty bucks says you can’t guess the client’s name.”
Dench sat back in his reclining desk chair, and tapped his index finger on his chin. There was an unloaded .357 magnum revolver on his desk, next to a rag and a can of Hoppe’s Oil.
“In town?” he said.
“They live in town.”
“Where’d he disappear from?”
Trudy Parr smiled and kept mum.
“Boarding school or in town private?”
She remained quiet.
“Who was the flatfoot heading up the search?”
“Okay, I’ll give you this one. But only because he handles a lot of cases. You’ll have to narrow it down. It was Olaf Brandt.”
“Brandt? He’s actually a decent detective. Five years ago, huh? We were still in Paris. That makes it tougher. You giving odds?”
“Alright, in 1944 the two missing person cases Brandt was working on got dropped.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m a detective,” Dench said, “that’s how.” He lit a Gitanes, “I read case files, and associate with a desperate crowd. Both of the cases were abandoned because the new Police Chief at the time, Donald Bond, committed most VPD manpower to solving a string of bank robberies. Which never actually got solved, incidentally.”
“You’re killing me,” said Trudy Parr.
“One of the missing person cases was an old woman, named Edna Chang. She was over eighty. She’d gone a little batty, and likely wondered off into the wild blue yonder on her own. Never to be seen again. Garden variety misadventure.”
Dench drew on his cigarette, and made like he was pondering the possibilities.
“The other one?” said Trudy Parr.
She tried not to look surprised.
Dench checked his fingernails. “He may have been abducted. No evidence of kidnapping. Some sick prick probably ate him for breakfast. Which will be hard to convey to the parents. Better bring a priest with you. But you should know this, the cops may have found one piece of important evidence. The skinny street-side, and in one or two of the cop bars, is that Brandt found a shirt in Stanley Park, balled-up, tossed in a mud puddle.”
“William Bellamy’s shirt?”
“Rich family,” Dench said, with a shrug. “Custom made shirt. Label embroidered with the kid’s name, Billy. If it’s for real, then there’s a good chance it was his.”
“And they dropped the case?”
“A lot of kids named Billy in the world.”
“You know better.”
“Maybe. But you may remember, Donald Bond ran for Mayor in ’47. Lost to McGeer. But he ran on his reputation for being hard on major property crime, like bank robberies. The kind of thing he hoped might stir the hearts of local voters, but never did. So, when he was Police Chief, looking ahead to an honorable political future, the Bellamy evidence was ignored. It’s probably still in a box in a VPD Evidence Room. And William Bellamy is still missing.”
“Wonder how I make this information work for me,” said Trudy Parr.
“You’re one of the few who can,” said Dench. He absentmindedly picked up his revolver, checked the hammer action, and said, “You owe me twenty dollars, by the way.”