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The Dead Man

My memory tends to deceive me, claiming that no time has elapsed since the night of August 15th, 1980, and assuring me that I knew back then what I know now, that I haven’t spent twenty years patching it together. This deceiver tells me that on the night of Noble's death I’d witnessed the whole thing in one grand vision, the way the moon does. But of course the moon does not bear witness and I am not the moon; however, I do know what it would have seen.

I see it now, this gibbous moon looking down on three seemingly unconnected scenes: the mill building in which lies the mangled corpse of Sandy Noble, the naked and emaciated old man who hides in the bushes near the river, and the blood-smeared teenage girl who stands near the window in her apartment up on Secord Street.

At 9:50 p.m., a police car approaches the mill, its lights flashing as it races down 161, turns right on Cameron, left on Vimy, and then slows as it enters the gravel road. It skids to a dusty stop outside the administration building and Constable Ticky McGraw jumps out, leaving the motor running and the door wide open as he jogs to the long building that’s eerily quiet now that all the machines are shut down.

In his haste, McGraw fails to notice how the squat building is bathed in moonlight that spills across the surface of the river, looking less like light than the silvery backs of moonfish. No one who enters or leaves the building is inclined to look at light this way – no one, that is, but the naked old man who is crouched in the bushes and hiding from the beast that’s been hounding him for fifty-five years.

Both the girl and the old man have each witnessed something that will change their lives. While she takes her vision into the drowning depths of catatonia, he turns his over in his mind, trying to make sense of it before deciding if he will drown himself.
I tell you that this is what the moon sees, but what I call the moon is really only memory, trying to persuade me this has not been patched together over time but is happening now. That’s the way it is with memory, now is all it knows.

At the mill
On the way there, Ticky McGraw constructed a gory image of what he’d find, ignoring Montaigne’s warning (because he’d never read Montaigne) that imagination is not always a good thing. He believed that if he could imagine the worst he’d be prepared for the ugly scene inside the building. But reality is not so easily constrained, and when Ticky saw what his friend looked like, more like a bony fleshless monster than a human, he turned white and puked on the concrete floor.

When he was done tossing his cookies, he began his interviews. First he asked the supervisor to tell him how the in-feed to the Cambio debarker worked. Desjardins had to explain it a couple of times but eventually Ticky got it: this is the first machine along the line that the logs stop at; a chain link conveyor lifts them out of the hot pond outside and carries them inside; before entering the enclosed debarker three pineapple balls grab the log on the conveyor and position it so that it feeds in straight; once it’s inside the steel-encased machine, a circle of spring-loaded knives move in and snug up on the log as they spin around it, removing all the bark; the white barkless log emerges and is carried by the same conveyor to the next station where band saws at the headrig slice the round sides of the log, producing a cant. But Sandy Noble never made it that far. As he left the puke-green debarker he got tangled in the conveyor that spit him free and dumped the mess of clothes and bones onto the floor.

Doc Bonhomme examined the body and said Noble most likely died from trauma and loss of blood. McGraw asked him to confirm that Sandy would have died quickly but Bonhomme said he couldn’t guarantee he had. The old doctor showed no signs of emotion as he told this to the policeman, having seen too much death to be horrified by it. But McGraw looked pale and could not seem to get his thoughts going in a straight line, which made Bonhomme even more impatient than he was naturally inclined to be. When McGraw asked the doctor if he thought something bad had happened to Sandy Noble, the little pot bellied man snapped, “Bad? Isn’t getting peeled alive bad enough? What more are you looking for?” McGraw said that wasn’t what he meant. All he wanted to establish was whether Sandy might have been pushed into the conveyor.

“I’m going to Wheezy’s for a drink,” said Bonhomme. If McGraw wanted to talk more he could talk there.

Kelly had only been on the job a few weeks. During his interview he told the cop he found Noble near the end of the shift and reported it straightaway to the supervisor. Desjardins shut things down, roped off the area and sent Kelly to the office building to wait for the authorities to arrive. There were other workers hanging around, waiting for someone to tell them what to do, but none of them went anywhere near Kelly. They knew he was mixed up in this somehow.

The prodigal
Three weeks earlier Kelly appeared at the mill. The bookkeeper took one look at his filthy clothes and long ragged hair and she told him to leave, but he just stood there as if he couldn’t comprehend what she’d said. Probably drunk, she thought and threatened to call the cops. Sandy Noble heard the commotion and came out of his office. At first he didn’t recognize Kelly but when he did he broke into a wide smile and embraced him as if he were a long lost brother. When Noble let go, Kelly just stood with his head hung and asked for work. He’d worked at the mill before, but that was twenty years ago, and surely Noble knew the risks of bringing a booze-soaked bum into a place as dangerous as a sawmill. But what did Noble do but open his wallet, pull out four twenties and tell Kelly to get cleaned up, buy himself some work clothes and show up for work the next morning. Then, out of the blue, he asked Kelly if he had someplace to stay, as if he were about to open the doors of his home. But Kelly muttered something about living in Charlie Cormorant’s shack just upriver. Noble laughed and asked if Kelly remembered how the two of them would drink wine with the old man and listen to his stories, but Kelly just cast his eyes downward, as if a map of the world were drawn there and his life depended on him memorizing a way through some hidden passage.

“Never mind,” said Noble, slapping Kelly on the back, “We got lots of time to talk.”

But nobody has as much time as they think.

It took Kelly three days to get up the nerve to come into work. When he did, the bookkeeper gave him a look that said, You won’t last, even though he was cleaned up. She offered him a coffee but he refused, his hands still too shaky to hold a styrofoam cup. That first morning, Sandy Noble insisted on bringing Kelly around the mill himself, pointing out the hazards, showing him what clean up needed to be done around the debarker and telling Kelly not to use a D-ring handled shovel under the conveyor. The line might seem to be moving slowly, but if the shovel got caught it would be pulled in before he could let go, and if his hand were wrapped around the D he’d be pulled into the conveyor too.

As they walked through the mill Noble talked about the time they’d played hockey against each other, Kelly the ace for the Legion Spartans while he, Menard and McGraw played for the Noble Trojans. It was good hockey, said Noble, and for sure he and Kelly could have jumped to the NHL. Kelly did not reply and kept his eyes on the conveyors, as if they were just waiting to grab him.

The men’s league played all their games at the Blackhawk Community Centre, just across the lake from number five shaft. It was built by the mine in the early thirties when the rest of the county was in the grip of a depression. The brick building housed a gymnasium, curling rink, bowling alley, coffee shop and an arena modeled on the Gardens in Toronto. That was where Kelly had his accident, almost twenty-five years ago. Sixth game of the playoffs, he’d scored a hat trick and was leading a rush down the boards when Sandy closed in. He barely bumped Kelly but the next thing he knew he was in the hospital with his leg up in traction and his knee blown. Olenka and Katya were sitting at his bedside when he came to. Olenka said Menard opened the door to the players’ bench just as Sandy hit him. Kelly tried to remember but couldn’t. Olenka told him the whole building laughed when they saw him sprawled on the concrete, but Kelly could not concentrate on her words because a welding flash began arcing across the back of his head. He closed his eyes and went away somewhere. When he awoke, the girls were gone and he couldn’t be sure if they’d been there at all.

When Noble was finished with the hockey anecdotes he put Kelly to work. Steady afternoons. All he had to do was clean up a little and make sure the logs didn’t jam coming in or going out of the debarker ... that and stay sober.



McGraw spent an hour interviewing Kelly and six other workers, all who said they’d seen or heard nothing, but that wasn’t strange because most of them worked in booths. Denis Desjardins had said hello to Noble at about five and a couple of workers had waved to him. Then he left. Nobody saw him come back into the mill. Why was that? Ticky wondered, How could Sandy have entered the mill and made it all the way to the debarker without anyone having seen? No one saw Noble until he appeared dead beneath the conveyor. McGraw went over Kelly’s statement three or four times and couldn’t get a straight answer from him on how long the body might have been lying on the floor before he found it. Kelly said he’d gone out to make sure logs were coming in from the pond OK and when he came back in, some time around 9:30, he saw the body. Around midnight McGraw released Kelly and left, too. When he got home he poured a tall drink and called Juice Menard. It took only two rings for Menard to pick up but McGraw still asked, “Did I wake you?”

“What do you think?” snapped Menard.

“Hickey’s dead,” said McGraw using the old name, then added, “I mean Sandy.”

“I know who the fuck Hickey is.”

“He got caught up in machinery down at the mill. It’s really bad.”

“I already know, so I don’t need to hear it again.”

“I’m sorry, I thought maybe you didn’t …”

“Christ almighty, what do you expect me to do?” shouted Menard.

“I just thought …”

“You’ve seen the body?”

“Ya. It’s at the morgue now. Bonhomme will have a report later.”

“Did you confiscate the clothes?”

“There was just rags and boots.”

“Jesus. I’ll be there in the morning.”

“Hey Juice, what do you think happened? Do you think …?”

“Don’t start that. OK? Just don’t start fucking thinking. I said I’ll be there in the morning.” And he hung up on McGraw.


The man in the river

After Kelly had been released by McGraw he started back to the shack along the riverside path. Just as he was approaching the Secord Street Bridge he saw the pale, naked old man, ghostly in the moonlight, the skin under his arms hanging like sackcloth, his legs and buttocks wasted. The old man looked strange, not just because he was naked and emaciated but because he stood as still as a heron. Suddenly he bent, heron swift, scooped a handful of silvery water and tossed it with perfect randomness across the surface, letting each sliver of light fall exactly where the Lord of the universe had intended since the first moment of creation.

“I used to think they were pieces of silver,” said the old man, “but that’s not what these are. They’re pieces of light.”
Kelly recognized him now. Christ, it’s Latulippe.

Kelly had no energy for this. If there was a Lord of Mercy, He would have sent Kelly here ten minutes before Latulippe arrived, or ten minutes after he was drowned. But seeing him at this exact moment was proof that there was no All Merciful force ruling the universe.

Latulippe took two more steps into the water, bringing him up to his waist. Kelly turned his head and pretended he hadn’t seen, but in his mind’s eye he could still see the pathetic little man slipping deeper into the water. He called, but Latulippe didn’t respond.

Kelly waded in.

Damned old man.

Kelly grabbed the old man’s arm, appalled by how little flesh he felt beneath the skin. He tried to lead him back to shore but the priest resisted with unexpected strength.

“I’ll take you to the priest house,” said Kelly.

“No. It’s filled with demons.”

“Come along now, Father.”

“Not Father. I am a brother, Brother Sun.” He smiled, pleased he’d found his true identity so easily but then corrected himself, “Not Brother Sun but Sister Moon. No, I am Brother Moon.”
As Kelly led the priest through the water the old man babbled, “The moon only reflects what’s given to it. Just like me, a passive instrument of the light.”

But how much of an instrument of the light were you when Katya went to you for help? Kelly felt like holding the old man’s head under the water. But instead of murdering him, he tromped along the shadowy shoreline until he found the discarded black trousers and jacket. He gathered them but left the roman collar on the ground.

“Here, put these on.”

“I can no longer wear these. I need a habit, a Cistercian one. No, give me the white of the Mercedarians. I shall walk in white and take the fourth vow. I will give up my life in order to save others.”
When the small man was fully clothed Kelly led him further along the path. Latulippe lagged behind, but every so often stopped to look up at the stars or grasp a handful of cedar berries and bring them to his nose. Kelly urged him to stop dawdling.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To my place. But you have to promise me you’ll sleep.”

“I’ll sleep like a child. Who did you say you were again?”

“I’m nobody.”

“Ah yes, like Odysseus. Are you taking me to Ithaca?”

When they arrived at the two-room shack Kelly got the old man settled in the bedroom. Then he bedded down on the floor of the other room. Kelly lay there, looked out the window at the moon and thought about the blood-smeared girl he’d seen when he snuck out of the mill earlier that night.

“You won’t forget to bring a white habit,” shouted the old priest.

“Go to sleep.”

“OK but first I must confess something.”

“Te absolvo,” said Kelly, repeating the empty words he’d heard so often in the confessional, not knowing how they’d leapt into his mouth.
“I was going to drown myself. But I didn’t because I saw a vision. A man carrying a body. You want to know who it was?”
Kelly grew tense.

“It was the Archangel bearing the Body of the Dark One. He was taking him from the world. Secord Street has been set free.”

“Go to sleep,” Kelly said.

“I’ll sleep like the dead.”


Straightening out the past

It was after seven when Kelly woke to the sound of crows. He got out of bed quietly, so as not to wake the crazy old priest, pulled on his damp jeans and stepped out into the lingering mist. He stood with his back to the shack as the crows bobbed and nagged from the jackpines and a handful of gulls slipped in and out of the misty veil above the river. He relieved himself and watched the steam rise from the arc. Then he stood there and breathed deep the morning fragrance of pine. He thought about the girl again, assuring himself she was safe with Wheezy.

Ricky Canning came running, waving wildly and telling Kelly that Menard was at the mill looking for him. He followed Ricky and the two parted at the mill, Ricky heading back up Secord to Wheezy’s and Kelly going into the administration offices. When he entered the meeting room he saw Menard seated behind the oak conference table.

“Sit down,” he ordered then explained in an official tone that it was his job to see if anyone had violated any safety rules. He told Kelly to explain what his job was. Kelly said he basically did clean up and made sure the logs didn’t jam.

“That’s not real work,” Menard said. “Just a job Sandy created for you.”

Kelly hung his head. Menard asked him when he’d last seen Noble and Kelly mumbled that it had been near the start of the shift. Menard asked how he could have missed seeing Noble that evening – hadn’t he died just spitting distance from the debarker where Kelly supposedly spent most of his time? Kelly shrugged and said he didn’t know.

“You look like shit and you don’t know shit. That’s two for two.”

Menard said it wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened: Kelly had been drinking on the job as usual and then crawled off somewhere to go for a nap. Kelly said Menard had it all wrong. But Menard told him there wasn’t any other way it could have gone. Kelly had been a lush for years, so what else could he have been but drunk? He said Officer McGraw had detected alcohol on his breath last night.

“That’s not possible,” Kelly said.

“Why? You suddenly got religion? I’ll bet if I looked in the corners I’d find empty bottles.”

“You might but they wouldn’t be mine.”

“Of course not, they belong to the tooth fairy.”

Menard said Kelly should leave town like he did sixteen years ago … but this time stay gone. “You got that little girl’s death hanging over your head, and now you got Hickey’s. Who is number three going to be? Who’s going to die next?”

God-damn Kelly, thought Menard. He’d make him pay for this. But right now what he had to do was make sure McGraw didn’t go off the rails. When he got back to his office he’d call him.



The first thing Ticky heard when he picked up the handset was Menard barking, “You figuring on charging Kelly with something?”

“Do you think he was mixed up …”

“Do I think? Sixteen years ago he tried to shoot Hickey, didn’t he? Do I think!”

“Maybe I should charge him. Do you think there’s enough for a charge?”

“Enough? Where’s your witnesses? Nobody saw Hickey come in, nobody saw how he died, nobody saw Kelly do anything. As far as evidence goes, the body is so chewed up it can’t tell you anything. I checked with Bonhomme on the clothes and he dumped them into the hospital trash. So much for chain of evidence. You’ve got no witnesses or evidence. If you charge Kelly he’ll walk, then he and the girl will have the last laugh on us. Is that what you want?”

“No, Juice.”

“You and I will figure out what we’ll do later. For now, we call it an accident. The official story is that Sandy slipped into the conveyor.”

“I guess that’s what happened,” said Ticky. He became silent.
Menard knew this was the point where Ticky’s imagination would start spinning out of control, swiss replica watches so he barked, “He slipped. OK?”

“Ya, I guess that’s what happened. One thing for sure, Hickey wouldn’t have thrown himself into the machine. If he ever wanted to kill himself, he’d find a better way. Lots of people say freezing is painless – you just fall asleep and never wake up. Or you can lie in a warm tub and open your wrists, replica titanium band watches and let your soul drift away.”

“Are you fucking through?”

“A person’s got a soul, right Juice?”

“Get a grip, Ticky.”

“All I meant was … ”

“Will you fucking shut up for a second and just pull yourself together?”

“OK, Juice.”

Menard could hear Ticky taking deep and deliberate breaths.

“He slipped,” said Ticky.

“That’s right.”

“But if he slipped, how come Kelly didn’t see him?”

“Because he’d got a little drunk and took a nap. Right?”

“Did Kelly tell you that?”

“No. Your report did. You said you smelled booze on his breath.”

“My report’s not done yet.”

“It must be because I read it, and that’s what it said.”

Menard hung up and McGraw held on to the handset for a while, staring at it as if Juice would suddenly start talking again. When he was sure the line was dead he gently placed the handset in the cradle and looked at the clock. Almost five. He could use a drink. A few years back, Auger had sent McGraw on a course and the instructor had told them that finding the truth was a methodical process of interrogating not the witnesses but their memories. That line had stuck with Ticky and so he figured he’d do that with himself – interrogate his memory – and try to recall exactly what Kelly had told him during the interview. Now he saw that his hand was on the handle of the desk drawer where he kept the bottle. It was after five, but what the hell? As he gripped the Johnnie Walker and raised it from its wooden coffin he started to recall all the things Kelly had said, but as they settled into memory they started to bleed into the things McGraw had been thinking while Kelly had been talking, and into the swirl entered the things Menard had said. Damn, this business of interrogating memory was harder than the instructor had led him to believe. McGraw poured a little amber into a coffee cup that said World’s Greatest Cop. He swirled the magic liquid, closed his eyes and savoured the rich aroma. It set him free, conjuring a memory that, replica calfskin band watches like a fading dream, was just out of reach. But that smell … he closed his eyes, pressed his face to the mug and inhaled deeply. Now it suddenly came to him – he’d smelled booze on Kelly’s breath last night. Ticky McGraw smiled to himself at having been able to grasp such an illusive and difficult memory, and then he settled down to write his report.

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