Windsor, Ontario Inspector Andy Blake finds herself with time on her hands, thanks to a stab wound that lands her in the hospital and an ensuing two month R&R. She reluctantly uses the time to return to her home in Northern Ontario, where she left for college, twenty-five years ago.
Things have changed on St. Joseph Island, but not everything. Grant Stacey, the boy she left behind, is still there, still in love with her. They begin rekindling their feelings, until a murder is committed on his property.
Counterfeit drugs being smuggled into the nearby state of Michigan through its porous border with the Island soon becomes evident as the motive.
The customer for the bogus drugs is a white supremacist commune using the enormous resale profits to fund the establishment of other, similar communes. They promote their skewed vision of the Lebensborn program, a remnant of Nazi Germany, to encourage a pure Aryan population.
Andy becomes involved with the local police in her quest to counter suspicion of Stacey, until her own doubts arise. Her efforts to solve the murder become enmeshed with finding the Island’s mastermind of the smuggling ring.
The beauty and culture of St. Joseph Island, Ontario, is the backdrop of this topical novel.
Inspector Andy Blake gets more than she bargains for when she returns to her Island home for R&R – a murder, and her old flame is in the thick of it.
Grant Stacey’s Ford F-450 Crew Cab trucked south on the Island’s A-Line Road, pulling a trailer that supported a John Deere Model 110TLB backhoe. Shortly, he turned into a long driveway leading up to the house of Daniel Torlot, who was clearing more grazing land for his flock of Cheviot sheep. He’d run into a larger than expected outcrop of boulders in the already stony landscape his old tractor couldn’t quite handle. Stacey was leasing him one from his equipment yard near Bruce Mines, a town a half hour away on the mainland down 17 East, toward Thessalon and Sudbury.
He looked out of place, climbing down from the truck in his suit and tie. A day in Sault Ste. Marie wrangling with bankers over a new equipment loan gave him no time to change before picking up the backhoe.
Torlot, a dark-haired, slightly built man and acquaintance since high school, walked out to meet Stacey as he was unhitching the trailer. “Looks brand new,” he said.
Stacey unbent to his six foot-two height, and held out a hand to shake. “The bucket is, but no, it’s a year old.”
“That’s new, as far as I’m concerned. I appreciate the rate you gave me and the service.”
Stacey shook his head. “No problem. I had to come home this way, anyway.”
Torlot didn’t protest. Stacey knew he’d already borrowed heavily to build up his stock. He was watching his dollars. “Grant, I really appreciate this. I’ll have it back to you in a few days, that’s all.”
Stacey changed the subject. “I guess the syrup season was only fair to good.” Maple syrup, that and dairy, was about the largest industry on the Island, and always a subject for discussion. He knew Dan’s former brother-in-law had several acres of maple trees he worked. Stacey’s own family had once been in the business.
“Yeah--mild winter.” Torlot said what both men already knew. They exchanged a few more observations.
Finally, Dan Torlot surprised Stacey. “There’s some talk Andy Blake’s back.”
Stacey said nothing, but stiffened slightly.
Torlot waited, then, “Not sure, just talk.”
Stacey, again, said nothing for several seconds, then walking to his truck said, “I don’t guess you’ll have any trouble with the hoe, Dan.” He tore off a sheet from a pad on the truck’s visor; scribbled on it. “Here’s my cell number if you have any trouble. Just let me know when you’re through with it.”
“No, I’ll deliver it back to your yard over in Bruce by Saturday.”
Stacey nodded, and without another word turned the big truck back down Torlot’s drive and headed south toward ‘the mountain’ and his house on the P-Line, thinking.
It had been years since her folks had died, months apart, and he had not talked to her then, even though they’d shared glances at the first funeral. Stacey had been away, unable to attend the other. Why hadn’t he walked up to her then?
He slowed, took a sharp turn down a narrow slit in the trees--one would miss unless familiar with it--down a crushed stone road through mature maples. After fifty yards, the drive opened to expose a modern, ranch-style home at the top of a rise. Sharing a wide parking area stood a spacious building that served as a garage and workshop.
Stacey pressed the remote on his visor, raising a double garage door. Inside stood a late model Audi A4 sedan. He pulled the truck inside and sat back behind the wheel without moving to get out.
Why did this unnerve him so? How, after--he counted--twenty-five years? How could this get to him? He was so in control of his business life, but knew his personal life was crap. And how was it he had made such a mess of it?
He’d wasted years on two perfectly lovely women in affairs that went nowhere for them or himself--always because he was comparing them to Andrea Blake? As far as he knew, Andy had become something far different from the girl he remembered.
He wondered if he still harbored an idealized vision of the Andrea Blake of twenty years ago. He’d had a crush on her since the seventh grade. She was never a tomboy, but a star hockey player just the same, even mixing it up with the boys in pickup games at the Desbarats rink.
Her ability intimidated most of the boys, but Grant Stacey was smitten. He screwed up his nerve to ask her to an eighth grade party. They became inseparable all through high school, though he was a year ahead.
Grant was an indifferent student before Andy’s academics began to influence him. He’d get his homework done at her house, making the ten kilometer bike ride every night, weather permitting. To Andy’s parents, he became like part of the family.
Not that the Blakes could afford another mouth to feed. Earl and Millie Blake barely eked out a living on their farm, too small to warrant anything but weekend sales of vegetables in town and sweet corn for the short August season.
It seemed nothing would ever come between Grant and Andy until her last year of high school. Grant had graduated, deciding against university in favor of running his family’s successful maple syrup business. They were in the height of the season when Andy got the news: a full scholarship to the University of Toronto. Her near perfect grades and athletic skills on the ice were the reasons. Andy knew the free ride was the only way she could afford university, anywhere.
Grant, who thought she would find a way to attend a local school, was incredulous, never imagining them being apart. Andy begged him to come to Toronto, to enroll in a school there. He argued he’d committed to take over the family business, his father getting too old to run it alone. He felt betrayed. They argued about it all summer.
In the end, she left. The next year passed, a poor syrup year. Grant’s father decided to get out of the business, selling a large portion of his acreage to a competing farm. With part of the proceeds, he helped Grant buy a used grader and backhoe to start his own business clearing lots and maintaining township roads.
The next thing he knew, Andy had gotten married. He was crushed. Several times prior to that, he had thought about driving down to Toronto, only to change his mind, thinking—what? What had he been thinking?
He became involved with the first of two affairs after his widowed father retired to Florida. Slowly, the torch for Andy cooled. He saw her once after that, at her mother’s funeral. She was there with her two older sisters and their families, a little boy in her arms. He couldn’t bear seeing her again and left without speaking to anyone.
Now, after seeing her—the raven hair touched with gray, the perfect mouth and eyes accented with smile lines—he wondered if she was the same person he knew. Logic told him she couldn’t be. But the old feelings rose up in his chest, telling him he still loved her.
He stepped from the truck, walked through the shop and out into the yard, where an odd looking mixed-breed dog ran to meet him. The bird feeder had fallen. He replaced it, walked into the unlocked house, throwing his keys on the kitchen table. The clock on the oven blinked on and off--12:00, indicating the damn power had gone out again with this afternoon’s wind storm
From the refrigerator, he extracted some leftover lasagna and tossed it in the microwave. Grant Stacey slumped into a kitchen chair as the microwave hummed in the otherwise silent, darkening house. He stared at the blinking oven clock, his mind on Andy Blake.