Become a Fan
By steve wheeler
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
All is not as it seems.
I swallowed a piece of gristle, cut into the lamb, smiled at Mrs. Ready. She was old, with a glitter of intelligence in her eye. I worked my way through the big meal gratefully, home-made food was good. I watched Mrs. Ready fussing with the potatoes. Surely, when we’d eaten our way through the lamb, potatoes and vegetables, had our dessert, chocolate cake, and coffee, surely, then, she’d get around to it.
I was investigating the disappearance of the cop who came here to investigate the disappearance of her nephew Cecil. We usually don’t eat and drink with the people involved in an investigation, but she’d insisted. Cecil was a small time hustler, sold anything he could get his hands on. It wasn’t just to support one habit, Cecil was into everything. He drank, drugged, gambled and whored like a sailor on shore leave in a wide open port.
There were a hundred Cecils, but this one happened to have a beer one night with Louis, a money launderer from Gatineau, across the Ottawa river. They were boyhood friends, met at a strip joint once. The brass insisted that Cecil was worth watching. When he went missing, they wanted detectives on the case. My partner, Dave Speller and I were fresh out of uniform. It was because we had recently been in uniform, dealing with scumbags on the street, that we were familiar with Cecil.
We cruised around Cecil’s usual hangouts, the taverns and strip joints, nobody had seen him. We forgot about it. There were murders, blackmail and more cases of white collar crime than ever before. Then one day a message landed on Dave’s desk. I was on the way to court. He was reading the note, and I said, see ya, so did he. He shouted to me,
“Hey, Cecil went to visit his aunt”
I ran to catch the elevator, those were the last words I heard Dave say.
Nobody thought much of it when Dave didn’t show up for work the next morning. His wife Jackie called at noon. Dave was missing.
At first, we kept it quiet. His car was parked a few blocks from Mrs. Ready’s house, in a shopping centre. Forensics went over it with a fine tooth comb, but couldn’t find anything significant to point us in a direction. The house to house questioning, with Dave’s picture and that of his car, produced nothing. Nobody had seen the car stop at the shopping centre. Nobody had seen who was in it, who got out of it.
We traced all the cases he was involved with, braced whoever could possibly have had the remotest grudge against Dave. It wasn’t hard to do, he’d only been a detective for a year. All of the suspects had an alibi or were in jail.
Mrs. Ready’s was one of the first places we checked. She was a perfect, little old lady, white hair in a bun, pink pant suit and sneakers. Yes, she was Cecil’s aunt, but hadn’t seen him for years, until the one visit. Yes, Detective Speller had come to ask some questions. He was such a nice boy, even had some cookies and a cup of tea with her. She was distressed to hear that Dave was missing. It was all over the newspapers, tv and radio.
Jackie phoned me twice a day, at least. I was in shock, but not as badly as Jackie. A dark foreboding hung in the background when I went through Dave’s effects again. His desk held no clues. My own piled up with ignored work. Even Cal Davis pulled out all the stops, called in all the favours, made the men return to their snitches, once again. It didn’t matter how hard we pushed, we still turned up nothing.
I sat in my apartment, on a Friday night, with some rented videos and a bottle of rye. I was stumbling by the time I went to bed. In my drunken reasoning, I had resolved to return to the scene of the last sighting of Dave, Mrs. Ready’s. The instances of someone attacking or kidnapping a city detective were rare, in Ottawa. There were lots of threats made in courts and jails but no one ever followed through. Until Dave. I had the feeling, it grew every day, that Dave was dead.
Mrs. Ready mentioned supper when I called her. I had a bunch of paperwork to tackle, the never ending court appearances. I stopped off on my way home from a long, frustrating day. Seeing her gingerbread house brought back painful flashes of Dave. She lived in a quiet neighbourhood in the west end of Ottawa with manicured lawns and overhanging trees. The house itself was well maintained, painted, roses grew over the trellis at the side. Mrs. Ready’s sensible Toyota sat in the lane way.
I left my tie and jacket in the car, knocked on the door. It opened immediately.
“Detective Sloan, come in, come in” Mrs. Ready was small, about five foot three. She held the door open for me.
“Hi, Mrs. Ready. Thanks” As I followed her into the living room, my eyes fell on the chair which had been last used by Dave. Before that, Cecil, himself, had used the chair, when he came to beg.
In the dining room was a table set for two. I would have disappointed her, if I had not sat down. I had no intention of eating a big supper there. She insisted that we have a snack at least. She served me slices of lamb with home made peppermint sauce and a glass of wine. She ate everything on her plate, which was as big as mine. The mashed potatoes were creamy, smooth, the cauliflower and carrots, steamed just right. Mrs. Ready looked like a little, white haired sparrow, but she ate like a vulture.
We downed the glasses of wine, ate the food with gusto. She asked me all about Jackie. I asked her if there was anything about Dave’s visit that was strange. She replied, as she had, no doubt, a hundred times before, that there was nothing.
I ate the chocolate cake and ice cream which she served for dessert and we sat with our coffees. I couldn’t get past the fact that Dave had been here last. Mrs. Ready looked interested and concerned but she said that he’d left after a few, brief questions about Cecil. She let me walk around the living room.
I sat in the easy chair, looked at the spotless, hardwood floors, the doilies on the tables beneath the antique lamps. I hadn’t seen doilies since the family went to my grandmother’s house, years ago. I attempted to think like Dave. Where would I go next?
Mrs. Ready wrapped up some slices of lamb for sandwiches, gave them to me on my way out. I drove home depressed.
Reporters called, occasionally, inquiring about Dave. There was no point in trying to hide it, we were honest with them. We told them that we were as mystified as everyone else.
I finally got a little hope when I went back over the reports made by the team who questioned people, in nearby houses, on Mrs Ready’s street.
It was a real longshot. The people across the street from Mrs. Ready were noted, by the canvassing officer, to be ‘out of town’. When I called their number, in desperation, I got a teenager named Brent who told me that he was in the house the day of Dave’s disappearance. His parents were out of town, he wasn’t. He seemed, like most teenagers, unaware of anything around him which didn’t directly involve loud music, drugs and girls. The loud music in the background signalled to me that he was home alone, again. He remembered because he and some friends were “getting ready” for a concert that night, at the Corel Centre, sitting in the living room. He had seen Mrs. Ready drive Dave’s car away. Brent called her “old lady Ready”
I was stunned. I had called Brent from my cell phone, on the way home. I decided on a short detour to Mrs. Ready’s house.
Mrs. Ready was pleasant when she answered the door, asked me in. I couldn’t stick to my plan of trying to trick her into talking, I just blurted it out. I asked her, why she had driven Dave’s car, where was Dave? What had happened?
Mrs. Ready insisted on a little wine, when we sat down at her kitchen table. I didn’t see any harm in it. I had a glass with her, waited for an explanation. I wasn’t sure that Brent’s tip was true , it sounded outrageous.
When she finally got around to it, she laughed at Brent’s accusations. She said that he and his friends were so stoned, they couldn’t be relied on. Even Brent’s parents left their house from time to time, to get away from him. Brent didn’t like her because she called the city when his dog did its business on her lawn.
She kept talking, I began to feel dizzy. I remember trying to get to the sink, Mrs. Ready pushing a chair in front of me. The perfect kitchen moved. I remember hearing her giggle. I fell to the floor. Something was wrong, then there was blackness.
Everything was swirling when I woke up. My hands were behind my back, fastened with my own handcuffs. My feet were tied together, my mouth taped shut. I was as surprised as I was groggy. Light leaked into the room, produced visibility. I was at the bottom of some stairs, I could feel the scrapes I’d gotten on my face. She must have pushed me down them.
It was a cellar. I could make out a furnace, the outlines of a washing machine and a dryer. I was laying on a concrete floor near a drain which didn’t smell good. There had been something powerful in the glass of wine. I heard a phone ring. The conversation above was muffled by motors running behind the furnace. I squirmed and wiggled my way to see that the motors belonged to two old fridges at the far end of the room.
The door opened at the top of the stairs and the light went on. I could see only her feet, at first. Then I turned my head and Mrs. Ready appeared.
She was dressed like a surgeon, even wore a mask. She floated around the cellar talking to herself, humming, gathering implements: meat cleavers and saws which she placed on a rough counter.
I tried to signal her by bugging out my eyes, wiggling like a fish, but Mrs. Ready ignored me. She got two card tables from the darkness, set them up. Then she opened a case to inspect the scalpels and knives within. I watched her plug in a skill saw, start it up. That was the only time she looked at me. Our eyes met when she depressed the trigger of the saw and the sharp teeth revolved at high speed. She giggled beneath the mask then looked me over, as if gauging the height and weight of a piece of meat.
Mrs. Ready picked a deadly looking knife from her case, set it on the table. She looked into the drain in the floor, tested the hose attached to the laundry sink then took a sip of wine from the glass she carried. She approached me and made a sound which I’ve heard people use to calm upset children, but it wasn’t working with me. I wasn’t soothed when she tried to stab me in the heart.
I turned away at the last second and felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. She raised the bloody knife again. I was backed up against the wall, nowhere to go. I forced myself to look at her. I could hear her starting to giggle. The wet knife came closer. Suddenly there was a cry from behind her. A tall, bulky form pushed her against the wall. She crumpled easily, dropping the knife on top of me. It was Cecil. Broke again, he’d crawled out of whatever hidden cave he’d found to ask for more money. Even this jaded lowlife was shocked by the scene. Eventually he found the keys to my cuffs. I called the department.
I sat in my car in front of Dave and Jackie’s apartment building. Forensics had verified that Dave and some other unidentified males, had been in Mrs. Ready’s cellar. Parts of them were found in her fridges and the drain. Maybe she saw Dave as a convenient victim to feed her habit. The investigation was continuing.
I went up to Jackie’s to break the news. She was relieved that, at least, Dave’s remains had been found. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that the DNA results also confirmed that I had eaten part of Dave. It was probably the big muscle in the thigh which Mrs. Ready served as lamb. There were still some slices in my fridge.
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|Reviewed by Ronald Hull
|That was a bit Ed Geinish, if not ghoulish. Strange what things happen in quiet little towns like Ottawa. I suspected the lamb from the very first… You were signaling.
While crime stories aren't my genre, I enjoyed this one because it brought back memories of many little old ladies I shared coffee and cookies with.
|Reviewed by Budd Nelson
|a fine read