By Ed Staskus
The first day of summer wasn’t any different than the day before the first day of summer. When JT Markunas checked the weather report, it looked like it wasn’t going to be any different the next day, either. He sat outside his rented house in Milton and thought it was like the murder he was investigating. It wasn’t any different today than it had been yesterday and looked like it wasn’t going to be different anytime soon.
The difference was nobody could do anything about the weather. The RCMP could do something about the murder in North Rustico. They knew where and how the woman with the empty briefcase was killed but didn’t know why. They still didn’t know who she was, nor did they have a solid clue about who might have done it. The more days and weeks went by the more it got pushed back in everybody’s minds. It was starting to become a cold case. Nobody had seen or heard anything in the fall and by the time anybody knew something had happened, winter was over, and it was springtime.
It was a hell of a shame, he thought. Nobody should get away with murder. Murders are often a spur of the minute mistake, but what happened in Conor Murphy’s field wasn’t a mistake. It was deliberate. It rankled him to think whoever did it thought they could get away with it. It was usually poor slobs who didn’t get away with murder. They got locked up. The rich hired somebody to talk their way out of it. They walked away free. JT thought what happened had to involve money, and lots of it.
An execution is justice, but assassination is murder. There was no justice in taking the law into your own hands. There was money in farming and fishing, which Prince Edward Island did a lot of. Farmers and fishermen rarely shot each other, or anybody else. At one time lenders got rough when it came to collecting debts, but that time was gone. Criminal gangs shot first and didn’t ask questions whenever they were crossed, but there were no criminal gangs like that on the island. There were some folks with criminal minds. That’s why the force existed. He thought it was likely that whoever did the shooting was a lone wolf. That meant whoever it was, was likely to keep to themselves. Whoever it was, he was going to be hard to find. JT wasn’t holding his breath. He was a patient man, though. He took the long view. He would get his man.
It was going to be a tough nut to crack but it was a nut that would have to keep. It was his day off. He tossed his bicycle into the back of his pick-up. The bike was a Specialized Rockhopper, nothing special, but virtually indestructible. It went up and down farm roads and tracks just fine and rode smooth enough on pavement. He lived about 10 kilometers from Charlottetown and the RCMP station. Brackley Beach was about 20 kilometers away. He drove to Brackley Beach.
JT parked at the west end of the beach. It was 15 kilometers to Dalvay. He was going to keep going another 5 kilometers farther on to Grand Tracadie, stop and stretch and his legs, and ride back. Forty kilometers in the saddle would be enough for him. When he started the wind was at his back and the living was easy, until he realized it would be in his face on the way back. He thought he would find somewhere in Grand Tracadie to have a scone and a cup of coffee, maybe two cups.
He rode past the Harbor Lighthouse, some cottages, Ross Beach, some more cottages, Stanhope Beach, Long Pond, and stopped at Dalvay. He rode to the front steps, parked his bike, and walked down the sloping lawn to a set of red Adirondack chairs. He was sitting there looking out at the ocean when somebody walked up and asked if he would like tea and biscuits.
“Black tea and plenty of butter,” he said.
He need not have asked for butter. If there was anything plentiful on the island, it was homegrown butter. There were enough cows in all directions that everybody on the island could go on an all-butter diet if they wanted to and there still wouldn’t be a shortage.
Dalvay By the Sea was a big house and seasonal rooms. Before becoming lodgings, it was only a big house. The Gilded Age American industrialist Alexander Macdonald built it just before the end of the 19th century on grounds of 120 acres. The lower half of the house and all the fireplaces were island sandstone. Windmills supplied power and water. He kept horses and carriages and a cohort of grooms to look after them. He and his wife entertained all summer when they weren’t riding and at the end of every summer hosted a lavish dance for the locals. They were like patroons from another age.
By 1909 Alexander Macdonald was dying. At the beginning of fall, he stood on Long Pond for the last time staring at his house. He died the next year. After his children squandered the family fortune, Dalvay was sold to the man who had been tending it. William Hughes contacted the family to ask what should be done with the 26-room place. They said, “You can have it for the back taxes.” He bought it and all the furnishings for less than $500.00. Fifteen years earlier it had cost more than $50,000.00 to build. The furnishings were gotten during family travels to Italy, France, England, and Egypt. They were transported to Prince Edward Island by ocean steamer. Nobody knew what all of it had cost.
William Hughes turned around and sold the house for a tidy profit. The last owner went broke and sold it to the government in 1938, which turned it over to Parks Canada, which under a concession had been operating it for the past fifty years as a summer hotel.
JT finished his biscuits and tea, saddled back up, and buckled his helmet. Before he got started, he saw two young women on bicycles going his way. They were noodling it. He rode past them givng them a wave. They waved back. He thought they were both good-looking, one more than the other. He had a job, a house, and a bed, but he didn’t have a girlfriend. His job was the problem. It was a Catch-22. Most of the women he met who liked policemen, he didn’t like them. Most of the women he liked didn’t like policemen.
There were no coffee shops in Grand Tracadie. There wasn’t much other than houses and fields. He rode as far as MacDougalls Cove and turned around. At first, riding back to Brackley, the breeze was at him from the side. Once he got back on the parkway, though, it was in his face. It wasn’t a hurricane, but it wasn’t a powder puff, either. He dropped his bike into a lower gear and plodded on. He rode the bike for fun and fitness. The ride back to his pick-up was going to be about fitness.
He had just passed Cape Stanhope when he saw the two young women on their bicycles ahead of him. It almost looked like they were riding in place, although he could see they were peddling. He was fifty-some yards behind them when a red motorcycle went past him fast. JT hadn’t heard the motorcycle and was taken aback when it hummed zipped by him. It was going 140 KPH for sure, maybe faster on a road where the speed limit was a third of that. When the Tasmanian Devil passed the women ahead, the rider wiggle waggled his motorcycle at them and was gone.
The women were riding on the shoulder. The one closest to the road got shaky unnerved see-sawed lost control and fell over. She bounced on the shoulder and bounced off sideways onto the sand. Her friend stopped and ran back to her fallen friend.
“Son of a bitch,” JT cursed under his breath. If he had been working, he could have caught the motorcycle, maybe. It had to be a Jap bike. They made the quietest motorcycles. He hadn’t gotten the plate, but he knew high-tech when he saw it. It looked new and might have been faster than his Ford Mustang pursuit car. He stopped where the fallen woman was rolling over and sitting up. Her hands and forearms were scraped and bleeding. There was sand in the blood. She had broken her fall with them. Both of her knees were scraped and bleeding, one of them worse than the other.
He put his hand on her shoulder and pressed her back down when she tried to stand up.
“No, don’t do that,” he said. “I’m with the RCMP. Stay where you are.”
He turned to the friend.
“Don’t let her get up until I come back. It should just be a few minutes.”
Some gulls came up from the beach to see what was happening. They made a choking ha-ha-ha sound. After they saw there was no food to be had, they flew away.
He rode back across the bridge the way he had come, raced down Wharf Rd., and stopped at the first deep-sea fishing shack on Covehead Bay that he saw somebody at. He telephoned for an ambulance and rode back to the two women. They were where he had left them, except a man and wife had stopped to help. Their Ford Taurus with Massachusetts plates was half on the road and half on the shoulder behind the women, its flashers blinking.
“I run a tow truck operation back in Boston,” the man said.
When the ambulance had come and gone, the man said, “She’s got road rash all over. What happened?”
“Some jackass on a motorcycle went past like a scorcher and made a veer at them before cutting away, and she lost it, went down.”
“That’s too bad,” the man said.
JT stopped at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital the next morning. It was almost new, the biggest hospital in the province, having replaced both the Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island hospitals in 1982. He was told the woman had been treated and released.
“Is she an islander?” he asked.
The woman at the desk checked. “I don’t know, but she lives here in town,” she said.
An islander was anybody who had been born on Prince Edward Island. The designation was closely watched. When a woman who was brought to the province as a baby died 90 years later her obituary in the newspaper read, “Woman from away died peacefully in her home.”
Some said you had to be conceived on the island to make the grade. A boy living in Souris was flummoxed when he found out he might not be an islander, even though both his parents were, and he was born on the island. It turned out he was sparked into existence on an impulse in a dark corner of the ferry crossing the Northumberland Strait. “He was not conceived on the island so he’s not an islander,” his uncles and aunts pointed out, their noses out of joint. His parents took the argument to his father’s father.
“It all depends on whether the ferry was going away or coming back,” his grandfather said.
The woman’s name was Kayleigh Jurgelaitis. JT got her address and went to work. After he was done wasting his time arresting a teenaged dishwasher smoking pot behind a dumpster, he clocked out at the end of the day, changed his clothes, and went looking for the address. He didn’t have far to go. She lived near Holland College. It was a two-year trade school, home to the Culinary Institute of Canada and the Atlantic Police Academy.
He recognized the friend when she opened the door and she recognized him. When Kayleigh limped out of a hallway into the living room, she was limping up a storm.
“How’s the leg?”
“Better than yesterday, believe it or not. I couldn’t even walk. You’re the cop, right?”
“So, what happened to your leg?”
“They said I have a slight meniscus tear in the knee,” she said sitting down and elevating her bad leg. “I’m supposed to keep it up and put ice on it every couple of hours. They think I should be back on my feet in a week or two.”
“I’m glad to hear it. So long as I have it on my mind, did either of you get the license plate of that biker?”
They both said no.
“Neither did I,” JT said. “He was too far ahead, and it happened too fast. We might be able to find him, but probably not, except by accident.”
“If I never see him again it will be soon enough,” Kayleigh said.
“I couldn’t help noticing your name,” JT said. “Are you Lithuanian?”
“Yes and no,” she said. “My mother was Irish, from here, and my father was Lithuanian, from there. I’m half of the one and half of the other. Why do you ask?”
“Because my name is Justinas Markunas,” JT said.
“I was wondering if I was the only Lithuanian on this island among all the Irish, Scots, and Frogs,” Kayleigh laughed. “Now I know there are two of us.”
Before leaving, pausing at the door, JT asked, “Since it’s just the two of us, we should have lunch or dinner sometime and toast our native selves.”
“I think we should, and I think I will take you up on that,” she said.
Excerpted from “Blood Lines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”