Dead in the Water

By Ed Staskus

   Jimmy LaPlante’s neighbors either didn’t know a thing about him or thought he was a miserly recluse with a nice dog. The dog was a Labrador Retriever, young and friendly, willing to chase any stick thrown by anybody into the bay. He didn’t especially like dogs, but he had gotten the animal last fall to keep him company and be an early warning alarm. He wasn’t worried about his neighbors, although he was worried about Montreal. Jimmy was from Montreal but had lived on St Peter’s Bay the past eleven years. He kept himself to himself and his only friend on Prince Edward Island was the Lab.

   Nobody except his dog and his neighbors and his niece knew where he lived. Now it was only the Lab and the neighbors. He had made sure Montreal didn’t know where he was. He was sure they still didn’t know. He was careful talking to them on the pay phone outside the fish and chip shop, never talking long. He knew they knew how to trace calls.

   His niece hadn’t been his friend, but he didn’t like it when he read in the newspaper that she was dead. Now at least he knew something. She had been found buried in a potato field up around Rustico. What the hell was she doing there? The cops weren’t saying much so the newshounds weren’t saying much.

   What the hell had happened? She had delivered the hundred grand of good cash from Montreal and long since was supposed to have delivered the two million dollars of bad cash to them, although he had known all winter she hadn’t. He wasn’t returning his hundred grand, though. He told Montreal that and told them to find the girl. When they found her, they would find their money, he said. They didn’t like it and told him so. He told them to drop dead and hung up. He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but what could he say? 

   He knew somebody would be showing up soon nosing around. The newspaper said she had been found with a briefcase but no identification. It didn’t say anything about what was in the briefcase. He knew without thinking about it that it had been empty just like he knew from now on he was going to have to be careful. That’s the way the Quebecois boys were. He didn’t think they would find him but started sleeping with his dog at the foot of the bed and a Colt .38 Super under his pillow.

   Jimmy was 16 years old when he made his first counterfeit bill. By his late teens he was making fake $100.00 Canadian notes that his friends spent everywhere without a single one of them bouncing. By his mid-20s he was flooding the market with so many of the fake c-notes that many businesses stopped accepting them. The Bank of Canada was forced to change their design to improve security.

   He got skilled at reproducing security holograms on banknotes and earned the nickname of “Hologram Tom.” His middle name was Tom. When he took a break from forgery, he took up impersonation. He masqueraded as a pilot for Air Canada so he could fly on courtesy passes. Over the next five years he pretended to be a doctor and a lawyer, among other things. One man died and another man was disbarred, but he left his mistakes behind him when he moved on to bank checks. In the end he went back to hard cash. It was what he knew best.

   What had happened to his niece? It had to be that goddamned biker, who he distrusted and disliked the minute he saw him and whose name he never got. He thought he had to be an islander, although he wasn’t sure. He didn’t know where he lived, but he guessed it had to be Summerside or Charlottetown. He didn’t even know what kind of motorcycle he rode, although he knew it was red.

   If push came to shove, he would tell the men from Montreal what he knew but would make sure he told them from the back end of his handgun. He wouldn’t let them get their hands on him. If they did, he stood no chance. He knew that as well as he knew anything. He wasn’t planning on moving. There was no point to it. It would just make them testy and not believe anything he might tell them. He would sit tight until if how when they showed up. He had moved to Prince Edward Island to get away from the life of crime, although crime was how he made his living. He knew the everyday risks, which was why he left Quebec for Atlantic Canada. The past eleven years had been quiet, the occasional phony bag of money keeping him in plenty of spending money.

   It had blown up in his face, but he put a brave face on and took his dog for a walk. He wore a pair of knee-high rubber boots. His house was just past Bay Shore Rd. where it turned toward Greenwich Rd. The dog and he walked on the narrow strip of beach on the bay past some cottages until there weren’t any more cottages.

   St. Peter’s went back to 1720 when the village of Saint Pierre was established. It was one of the most important settlements on the island because it had a good harbor and good fishing grounds full of clams oysters quahogs lobsters trout and salmon. Many of the French considered it to be the commercial capital of Isle St. Jean. When the Fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton surrendered to the British it was the end of Isle St. Jean. The French were deported in 1758 and the English poured in. The land became Prince Edward Island. St. Pierre became St. Peter’s.

   The British weren’t interested in fish. They were interested in boats. They turned St. Peter’s into a booming shipbuilding community, building 27 big boats between 1841 and 1850. There were three shipyards, all controlled by Martin MacInnis and William Coffin. Whatever others there were, were at the mouth of the Midgell River. They couldn’t build their ships fast enough because the north shore was a graveyard for big ships.

   Passenger steamers between the mainland and Prince Edward Island sank all the time. In 1859 the Fairie Queene from Nova Scotia didn’t make it. Everybody said the bells of Saint James Church in Charlottetown tolled eight times on their own the morning of the disaster, foretelling the deaths of the eight passengers on board the steamer.

   “Keen blows the bitter spirit of the north,” is what everybody said.

   Jimmy lit a Players and blew smoke out through his nose.

   The Turret Bell was driven ashore by a big storm in 1906 at Cable Head. It stayed beached for more than three years and became a tourist attraction. Picnickers sat in the dunes staring at the rotting hulk, eating apples drinking cold tea and chatting. Their dogs ran up and down the beach barking up a storm.

   The first sawmill was Leslie’s Mill near Schooner Pond. There were lobster factories on the northside. A starch factory opened in 1880 and stayed open until 1945. A racetrack opened in 1929. It was still there. Jimmy wasn’t a betting man and never went there. He liked horses but disliked trotters. If God had meant horses to pull two-wheel carts for sport, he would have created two-wheel carts. If Jimmy had gone to the track, he wouldn’t have bet real money, anyway. 

   Jimmy and the Lab went as far as Sunrise Ave. and took a break. Sitting on the sand leaning back against a mound he watched his dog run into the water after a stick. Whenever a stick went flying into the ocean the dog became a creature of habit. He watched a man and a woman both in summer shorts coming his way. The man had a camera slung around his neck. It bounced on his chest with every step he took. He looked fair and sunburned. The woman was slightly taller than the man. She didn’t look fair. She carried a kind of messenger bag over her shoulder. 

   Tourists, Jimmy thought.

   They stopped a few yards away and watched the wet dog lunge out of the water and run up to Jimmy. He shook himself dry, the water spraying all three of them. The woman reached into her bag. She pulled a Colt .38 Super out of the bag and shot the dog twice. He cried yelped groaned staggered backwards and fell over, shaking uncontrollably until he stopped.

   The dog’s last thought before giving up the ghost was, “What did I ever do to you?”

   Jimmy jumped trying to get up.

   “Stay where you are. Don’t be the dog.”

   “Jesus Christ, why did you do that?”

   “Dogs are a man’s best friend,” the woman said. “I’m not a man. He wasn’t my best friend.”

   She threw the gun down at his feet. “That’s yours.”

   In that instant Jimmy instantly understood they were from Montreal. He understood they had found him. He understood his life was in mortal danger. He didn’t reach for the Colt. 38. There was no point in trying. If he tried, he would be as dead as the dog in no time flat.

   “What you need to do, Jimmy, is print another batch of bills for us,” the man said, taking a picture of the counterfeiter. “If you don’t, what happened to your dog will happen to you. The sooner you print them, the better. We are going to find whoever stole our first batch and take care of that business. When we do, we will be back to get what is ours before we leave this shitty island. Do you understand?”

   “I understand,” Jimmy said.

   “If anybody asks about the dog, just say he dropped dead,” the woman said. “And put that gun away somewhere safe, so nobody gets hurt.” They walked away, going up the bay the way they had been going. When they were specks in the distance Jimmy stood up and looked down at the dead dog.

   “Goddamn it,” he muttered, and turned around to go back the way he had come. When he was gone gulls and crows started nosing around the still warm lifeless Lab. A fox crept out of his burrow to investigate. Maggots and flies put the word out and were soon gathering. Jimmy came back and waved them away. He kicked pushed the dead dog into the bay. By that night the carcass floated past Morell, Greenwich, and the lighthouse. When the moon came out, he was far out to sea.

   The next day Jimmy drove to a farm outside Saint Catherine’s and got a new dog. It was a Pit Bull almost full grown and trained to bite on command. It took a week, but he taught the dog to hate guns. When he was done, the Pit Bull knew full well to bite off any hand not Jimmy’s that had a handgun in it.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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