In advance of the publication of The Devious Kind at the end of the month, I will be publishing a few excerpts online. What follows is the third chapter of the novel:
As he turned the car around and headed back to the Johnstone house, he reported the murder to the detachment in Hanna, requesting backup if they had it. The woman in the detachment office told him that all the officers from Youngstown and Hanna were dealing with an accident on Highway 9, but once they were done there they could send someone along. One of them was supposed to be coming anyway, with Lara leaving for the week yesterday, but obviously circumstances had delayed that. She would also put in a request for a forensics team from Calgary to be sent as soon as possible. The way the storm was going, none of them might make it, he thought.
He pulled up in front of the house, stopping behind Leonard’s truck, and sat for a moment, unwilling to start this just yet. Why the hell had Lara picked this week for her vacation? The one time when he actually needed the backup, she was visiting her in-laws in BC. He put his hand to his temple as if to stave off a headache, and thought briefly about having a smoke. Lara had told him he should quit, though, and he was trying for her. That thought got him moving again up to the house.
It was the standard sort of ranch house one saw in these parts, a long single-story with a basement. There was a deck extending off one side that led to a back door and porch, which was where he entered. There was a front door, but Martin knew the only people who used it didn’t get let in. The Johnstones’ dog raised its head from the mat as he took off his boots, quietly slapping its tail against the floor. There was a row of hooks filled with jackets above the mat, and Martin put his there, taking his hat off as well. Wayne stepped into the porch and gave him a thin smile.
“Come on in, Martin,” he said. Martin nodded and noticed that the rubber gloves were still on his hands. He stuffed them in his pockets and followed Wayne down the hall to the kitchen, where Leonard and Diane were waiting for him in awkward silence. He smelled coffee and banana muffins.
“Would you like some coffee, Martin?” Diane asked from where she was busy at the counter. She was a small, bustling presence, with short-cropped dark hair that was speckled with grey she did not bother to hide.
“Please,” he said, as he sat opposite Leonard at the kitchen table. Wayne hovered between the counters and the table, unsure where he should put himself.
“Put the muffins out,” Diane told him, which he did while she gave Martin his cup of coffee.
He poured a bit of milk in and, while he stirred it, said to them, “I’m going to have to open a formal investigation, obviously, and I’ll have to ask you some questions, you understand.”
“Of course,” Diane said, while the other two nodded.
Martin pulled out his notebook and caught himself for a second imagining Lara’s meticulous, careful handwriting. She would be much better suited to these circumstances than he was.
“You checked those cows last night?”
“Yeah,” Wayne said, “At ten and just after midnight, and then six. I didn’t see anything then, not till this morning, anyway. Don’t know that I would’ve, though.”
“You hear anything at all?”
“No—no shots, anyway,” Diane said, “We don’t hear cars driving by anymore either, just sleep right through it.”
Martin raised his cup, blew on the coffee, and took a sip. “Anything else that you can think of? Maybe you saw something unusual yesterday or this morning? Anything could be important.”
Both of them shook their heads, and Martin nodded. “All right. I think that’s all for the moment. If you could give me a minute with Leonard.”
“Sure,” Wayne said, looking relieved. “Diane, I could use some help with the chores.”
Martin and Leonard both looked at their coffee, listening as Diane and Wayne put on their boots and jackets and went outside. Martin waited until the door had shut. “I’m sorry about this, Leonard. I know this is no time for this, but you understand.”
“Of course,” Leonard said. He was, Martin guessed, in his early forties, with narrow features, made more so by the absence of hair atop his head. His expression was one of perpetual reserve, that now was tinged with wariness.
“Is Clarissa home yet?”
“Yeah, she is. Came back for the weekend and decided to stay a couple of extra days before she heads back to classes. I haven’t even told her.”
Martin smiled, hoping it looked reassuring. “I won’t keep you long. Kristi wasn’t at home last night, then?”
“No, no. She went into town early. And she had a school board meeting at 6:30, I think.”
“She didn’t come home after?”
“No.” Leonard winced as he spoke, his face going a little red.
Martin leaned back in his chair. There had been talk, of course, even he had heard it, about the nature of Leonard and Kristi’s relationship. There would be more now. “You know what she was doing?”
“No. No.” He paused, and a rueful smile twitched across his lips. “I figured something must have kept her late, and she’d just stayed in with Karen or Carol. She’s done that sometimes before.”
Martin nodded. Did Leonard genuinely believe that, or was it one of those lies that he had chosen to accept, to make livable a situation that otherwise would not be? The latter, Martin suspected.
“How come she was at the school board meeting?” Martin asked. Clarissa was their only daughter and she had gone to university the year before.
“She decided to stay on for another year after Clarissa left. It’s hard to find people to volunteer for these things anymore.”
Martin paused, framing the next question in his mind before asking it. “How’ve things been lately in general? Kristi have any problems with anyone? Any sort of difficulties? That type of thing.”
“No. I’m— Everything was normal. I just don’t understand.”
Normal—an interesting choice of words, Martin thought. “The shop with Carol was doing fine?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. Good as can be expected.” Leonard shrugged.
Martin nodded and peered down at his notebook. “You notice anything out of the ordinary yesterday? Was she acting differently at all?”
Leonard sounded tired. “No, it was just—just the way it always was.”
“Clarissa was home last night?” Martin glanced up from his notebook, and Leonard gave a single nod. “Nobody else stopped by? Anybody call?”
“I talked to Mike Dzaowoski a bit after supper,” Leonard said. “Say, maybe around eight.”
“Oh, he had some questions about the REA.”
“You’re the president, right?”
“Not for long if Atco gets its way,” Leonard said with a grimace.
“That was it. No one else called?”
Leonard shook his head. Martin drained the rest of his cup and got up to refill it. He held the pot out to Leonard, who waved him away.
“What about Clarissa?” Martin said as he sat back in his chair. “She home all night, or did go somewhere and meet up with some friends?”
“She was home all night. She made supper, actually. And then she was in her room the rest of the night. I think she had some paper she was working on.”
Martin set aside his pen. “All right. I think that’ll do for now. I’ll probably have some more questions when it’s a little clearer what happened and when. You better go let Clarissa know. I’m going to have to talk to her too, you understand. I need to confirm your alibi. But I’ll give a half-hour to tell her first.”
They both stood, and Leonard gripped his hand. “Thanks. Thanks. Catch whoever did this, all right?”
“Of course, of course.”
They went outside together into a world turned almost entirely white. The wind picking up swirled the falling snow so that it seemed to swallow everything around them. In the face of the cutting wind, both of them hunched their shoulders and ducked their heads.
Leonard turned to Martin and said, “I’d better call Kevin too, I guess.”
Martin was about to tell him not to, that he should be the one to inform Kevin and every other potential suspect, but he realized it was futile. Leonard was not asking for permission; he was telling Martin he was going to do it. People’s obligation was to each other out here, not to some constable who had been stationed here the year before and would be gone in five.
“That’s fine. I’ll have to talk to him today too. I’ll be by in about twenty minutes to talk to Clarissa.”
As they both went to their vehicles, Diane pulled up in a truck. “You guys done in there?”
“Yeah,” Martin said, walking over to her. Leonard went to his truck and drove out to the highway, going very slowly. “Thanks for everything, Diane. Thank Wayne too. If either of you thinks of anything else, give me a call. I’d just ask that none of you talk to anyone about this just yet.”
“Anything we can do to help, Martin,” Diane said.
He nodded his thanks and got into his car. As he let it warm up, he checked in with dispatch on the status of his backup, and was told that there had been multiple fatalities and that the highway was shut down. Of all the days for this, he thought.
They’d be lucky to make it here by tomorrow, especially if the storm lasted all day. For all intents and purposes, then, he was on his own.