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«Forty Words for Sorrow», Giles Blunt

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The first book in the John Cardinal series, 2000

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The following people all read earlier versions of Forty Words and made numerous suggestions for cuts and improvements or helped in other ways: Bill Booth; Anne Collins, my editor at Random House of Canada; my wife, Janna Eggebeen; my agent, Helen Heller; Linda Sandler; Staff Sgt. Rick Sapinski of the North Bay Police Department; and my editor at Penguin Putnam, Marian Wood. I am grateful to them all.

My thanks are also due to the Writers Room in New York, where much of this book was written.

IN MEMORIAM

Philip L. Blunt

(1916-2000)

 

1

IT gets dark early in Algonquin Bay. Take a drive up Airport Hill at four o'clock on a February afternoon, and when you come back half an hour later the streets of the city will glitter below you in the dark like so many runways. The forty-sixth parallel may not be all that far north; you can be much farther north and still be in the United States, and even London, England, is a few degrees closer to the North Pole. But this is Ontario, Canada, we're talking about, and Algonquin Bay in February is the very definition of winter: Algonquin Bay is snowbound, Algonquin Bay is quiet, Algonquin Bay is very, very cold.

John Cardinal was driving home from the airport where he had just watched his daughter, Kelly, board a plane bound for the United States by way of Toronto. The car still smelled of her- or at least of the scent that had lately become her trademark: Rhapsody or Ecstasy or some such. To Cardinal, wife gone and now daughter gone, it smelled of loneliness.

It was many degrees below zero outside; winter squeezed the car in its grip. The windows of the Camry were frosted up on both sides, and Cardinal had to keep scraping them with an ineffective plastic blade. He went south down Airport Hill, made a left onto the bypass, another left onto Trout Lake Road, and then he was heading north again toward home.

Home, if you could call it that with both Catherine and Kelly gone, was a tiny wooden house on Madonna Road, smallest among a crescent of cottages set like a brooch along the north shore of Trout Lake. Cardinal's house was fully winterized, or so the real estate agent had told them, but "winterized" had turned out to be a relative term. Kelly claimed you could store ice cream in her bedroom.

His drive was hidden by four-foot-high snowbanks, so Cardinal didn't see the car blocking his way until he almost rear-ended it. It was one of the unmarkeds from work, great pale clouds of exhaust blasting out from behind. Cardinal reversed and parked across the road. Lise Delorme, the Algonquin Bay Police Department's entire Office of Special Investigations, got out of the unmarked and waded through the exhaust toward him.

The department, despite "great strides toward employment equity," as the bureaucrats liked to phrase it, was still a bastion of male chauvinism, and the general consensus around the place was that Lise Delorme was too- well, too something for her job. You're at work, you're trying to think, you don't need the distraction. Not that Delorme looked like a movie star; she didn't. But there was something about the way she looked at you, McLeod liked to say- and for once McLeod was right. Delorme had a disturbing tendency to hold your gaze just a little too long, just a split second too long with those earnest brown eyes. Well, it was as if she'd slipped her hand inside your shirt.

In short, Delorme was a terrible thing to do to a married man. And Cardinal had other reasons to fear her.

"I was about to give up," she said. Her French-Canadian accent was unpredictable: One hardly noticed it most of the time, but then final consonants would disappear and sentences would sprout double subjects. "I tried to phone you but there was no answer, and your machine, it's not working."

"I switched it off," Cardinal said. "What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"

"Dyson told me to come get you. They've found a body."

"Got nothing to do with me. I don't work homicides, remember?" Cardinal was trying to be merely factual, but even he could hear the bitterness in his voice. "You mind letting me through, Sergeant?" The "Sergeant" was just to nettle her. Two detectives of equal rank would normally address each other by name, except in the presence of the public or around junior officers.

Delorme was standing between her car and the snow-bank. She stepped aside so Cardinal could get to his garage door.

"Well Dyson, I think he wants you back."

"I don't care. You mind backing out now so I can plug my car in? I mean, if that's okay with Dyson. Why's he sending you, anyway? Since when are you working homicides?"

"You must have heard I quit Special."

"No, I heard you wanted to quit Special."

"It's official, now. Dyson says you'll show me the ropes."

"No, thanks. I'm not interested. Who's working Special?"

"He's not here yet. Some guy from Toronto."

"Fine," Cardinal said. "Doesn't make the slightest difference. You gonna get lost, now? It's cold, I'm tired, and I'd kind of like to eat my supper."


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