Potter would have preferred to make his own way through Terminal One at Pearson International, but, knowing that he might have to walk for more than a mile by the time they reached their boarding gate, Jenna had insisted on a wheel chair. She’d arranged with June and Helen to locate one in the airport and to be waiting with it at the departure level when the limo she’d hired for her and Potter pulled up to the curb. The girls would accompany them until Jenna and Potter were checked in and had reached security. From there, a representative of Air Canada would take over, taking the couple first to the Maple Leaf Lounge and then, later on, to the gate for pre-boarding.
By the time they were safe in their pods, sipping a class of orange juice as the passengers destined for the cheap seats at the back of the plane streamed by, seemingly toting all their worldly goods with them in oversized carry-on bags, Potter was glad that Jenna had put her foot down about the wheel chair and that she’d made it impossible for him to opt out of using it. He would have been exhausted before they even got off the ground if he’d walked from a taxi to his seat, and he knew it.
The pod seat in business class gave Potter the room he needed to stretch his legs. He also welcomed the separation it gave him from his fellow travellers. There were no elbows or bags bumping against his arm as people made their way down the aisle to economy class. But it was like he was flying alone. To talk to Jenna, he had to look over his shoulder, across the console holding her personal screen and dining table, and almost shout. He’d miss her touch as they crossed the Atlantic together for the first time.
Dinner was reasonably good for airplane food when it finally came. But by the time he’d eaten and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, his watch read 9:00 p.m. The plane was scheduled to land at Heathrow in four hours. After saying goodnight to Jenna, Potter extended his seat into its flat position, pulled the blanket over himself and tried to sleep.
It was a week before Adam found himself back walking on the estuary road path with his Scotties. He’d been taking advantage of the nice fall weather and reduced tourist load to drive with his dogs down to the parking lot at Lincombe Cross, from which the trio made their way on foot down the path to Snapes Point. Adam loved the views out over Kingsbridge Estuary, and the dogs enjoyed the new smells they discovered along the route.
The woman with the Westie came into sight as Adam rounded a corner of the path. He remembered the name of her dog – Duffy – but had no recollection of hers, or if she’d told him what it was.
“How’s Duffy?,” he asked, when the dogs got within sniffing distance.
“Oh, he’s good,” said the woman, after a pause. “Full of energy these days, and so clever he can almost talk.”
“My guys are pretty good at communicating what they want, too,” said Adam. As he turned to continue his walk, he added: “Have a good day.”
As he walked, Adam found himself thinking about the woman. His morning ritual with Jock and Angus was his time for reverie. The views of the water, the wild flowers along the path and the antics of his dogs somehow made it possible for him to look back and remember the good things in his life. Things he and Jane had done together; the discoveries they’d made; the special days in their lives; and further back to his childhood pony; jumping in the fall leaves with his sister; the look in his father’s eyes when he learned that Adam had been accepted into Oxford to read law.
It had been a long time since he’d found himself thinking about present-day things during his morning walk, let alone contemplating a different future for himself.
Adam was smart enough to recognize that the physical attraction he felt for the woman did not equate to love and that it did not offer a solid enough foundation to support a lasting relationship. But it was a good place to start from, he thought, plus he liked the sound of her voice. The tone and timbre of it were pleasant in his ears. If she was willing to get to know him better, he’d go there, albeit one step at a time.
He resolved to introduce himself the next time they met. That happened a couple of days later, at about the same place on the estuary road walking path where they’d first come across one another.
“How’s Duffy today,” he asked, when she stopped to let her dog sniff his two.
“Oh, he’s good as always,” she replied.
“I’m Adam, by the way,” he said. “It seems silly that I can remember the names of the dogs I encounter on our walks, but not the names of their owners.”
The woman hesitated briefly, then said: “I don’t think I mentioned it the last time. We always focus on the dogs. I’m Sheila. Nice to meet you.”
“The boys – Jock’s the one with his tail up, Angus is the old grump – and me are new in town, up from London, and finding it hard to fit in. It’s great to chat with someone, however briefly. Thanks.”
“I know what that’s like,” said Sheila. “I’ve been here for months now and making friends has been a tough go. It strikes me that my neighbours spend more time talking about me than they do talking to me.”
“Maybe we should start a newcomers club,” said Adam, smiling. “You, me and the dogs.
“Anyway, have a good day.”
“You too,” said Sheila.
With that, man, woman and dogs went their separate ways.
Adam woke the next morning feeling better than he had in some time. His sense of loss was still with him, but it somehow did not seem to weigh quite as heavy on his heart as it did most mornings.
It was an important day for him. The case he’d spent months preparing was scheduled to be heard in The Law Courts at the Plymouth Combined Court Centre. His client, Timothy Linquist, was accused of brutally murdering his next-door neighbour, Jacob Cooper. The motive for the killing, according to the prosecution, was the affair that Cooper had been having with Linquist’s wife. Shortly before the murder, Linquist had been seen at the village pub confronting Cooper about it. He’d punched his adversary in the face and threatened to kill him before being pulled away from the man. Linquist had been ordered out of the establishment by the publican and told not to come back until he had his temper under control. A few days after that incident, Cooper’s lifeless and mutilated body was found in a laneway by a jogger. Linquist, perhaps with reason, immediately became the primary suspect in the case.
As his solicitor, Adam had meticulously prepared Linquist’s defence, which would now be argued before the judge and jury by the renowned barrister Anthony Fields. Adam and Fields had met on a number of occasions to review the case. Both were confident that the defence case was sound, but knew that it would likely not be enough to save Linquist from a long term of incarceration.
Adam wasn’t fully focussed on the case. He was thinking about the woman he’d met on the estuary road path. About how to take it further, whether he was really ready for that and if he really wanted to take that step. In his heart, he knew that he was still tied to Jane. But in his mind, he thought it was time to move on. He did not want to be alone for the rest of his life. He wanted a partner to share experiences and conversation with, as well as a sexual relationship built on the foundation of love.
And the only way to find out if the woman on the path might lead him to that happier place was to walk with her for a bit and see where they ended up going.
Adam arrived at the law courts an hour before his case was due to be heard. He’d arranged to meet with his client and Anthony Fields that morning to go over the details of the case one last time, just in case they’d missed something that could turn the tide in Linquist’s favour. Plus, he wanted to be sure that Linquist was fully aware of his options. While Adam was confident that he’d put together a reasonable defence, the circumstantial evidence that the Crown would present to the court was stacked against the man. If he was willing to plead guilty to manslaughter, Linquist might receive a shorter sentence. But Adam didn’t think his client would be willing to consider a guilty plea. He’d never faltered in claiming his innocence, and he was determined to clear his name.
Linquist was married and had two teenage daughters. So far, despite everything that had been reported in the press and the threats of violence made against them, the family had stuck together. They hadn’t waivered in professing Linquist’s innocence, even as he was being vilified by the press.
Brenda Linquist would be sitting in the courtroom later that morning, Adam knew, along with her daughters. He’d advised against it, but Brenda had wanted them to hear the testimony against their father firsthand, rather than through media reports or schoolyard gossip. She wanted the girls to be able to see their father’s face as the case against him was presented and during his own testimony. And she would rather they listened to the unfiltered version of the story, without it being slanted or pitched in one direction or another in the retelling. For the nature of the crime Linquist was accused of guaranteed that the trial would be widely reported on by the press and the subject of many a conversation on the street, in the pubs and around the dinner tables of not only Salcome but the entire West Country.
Jacob Cooper’s penis and scrotum had been cut away from his body and pinned to a nearby tree with an old hunting arrow. Media speculation about the arrow had been intense, in part because bow hunting had been banned in the UK since the mid-1960s, which would likely have made it difficult to acquire the arrow in question. It had been made in England according to the experts, based on its fletching, nock and tip. Animal blood, believed to have originated from a deer, had been found on the shaft, although police had been unable to determine when it had got there.
Linquist’s father had been a bow hunter, but Linquist had never hunted himself, possibly because he had been repulsed by the blood, gore and animal suffering he’d witnessed as a child when he’d been forced to accompany his father on the man’s meat quests. Clean kills with a bow were rare. It was much more common for the hunter to follow a trail of blood through the woods until the animal he’d shot could run no further.
A search of Linquist’s attic had turned up a bow and some hunting arrows tucked away in a corner. He claimed that he had not put them there and had been unaware of their existence prior to their discovery. Linquist had inherited and lived in his father’s house.
Adam knew that the people lining up to find a seat in the courtroom weren’t there because they wanted to hear about the origins of the arrow or about the evidence, if any, linking it to Linquist – no matter how damning it may prove to be. They wanted to hear, in vivid detail, about the indignities suffered by Jacob Cooper, and how the arrow had been used in that regard.
He anticipated that they would not have long to wait. The Crown would almost certainly call the detective who’d discovered the body as their first witness, followed soon afterwards by the pathologist. The Crown prosecutor, David Brockhurst, would want the jury to feel enraged by the brutality of the crime and the nature of the injuries inflicted on Cooper. It would almost certainly make the jury more determined to see the killer identified and punished, but more importantly it would colour how its members would hear the subsequent evidence against Linquist. Circumstantial evidence that might otherwise be viewed by them with a grain of doubt would take on more weight and validity.
Fields’ primary focus in the early stages of the trial, aided by the case Adam had assembled for him, would be to change the jury’s perspective by making them uncertain of what they were being told and shown by Crown witnesses. He had to make them feel a shadow of doubt that Linquist was guilty, and then build on that when he presented the man’s defence.
His job would not be easy. The male members of the jury would be enraged and scared by Cooper’s castration. It was a secret fear they carried within them – of torture being inflicted on their genitals. The woman would be horrified by the senseless wound inflicted on the victim’s body, that marring his body after death was almost as bad as killing him. That it demonstrated a depravity, a deviltry, that had to be stopped.
The bailiff called “all rise.” Adam stood up. The spectacle was about to begin.
Potter hadn’t looked at the newspaper he’d been offered and accepted at the outset of the flight. He’d been content to sip on a glass of wine, talk to Jenna over his shoulder, and watch the activity taking place around the plane through the window. It was only as the flight attendants started moving around the cabin in preparation for the breakfast service that he took the paper out of his seat pocket and unfolded it.
He was bleary eyed after less than four hours of trying to sleep, and he found himself skimming through the pages. It was only because the headline on page seven included the word Salcombe that he paused to look at the accompanying photo and read the story. But it was the image that first caught his attention. Taken from an angle, it showed a courtroom packed with spectators taking in a murder trial. The top right-hand corner of the photo contained a face that looked remarkably to Potter like Trish Montgomery’s. Her hair was styled differently, and it had been dyed, but Potter was almost certain that the face in the photo belonged to his former friend.
The details of the story made Potter think that he might be right. They described the brutal murder of a man who, the evidence suggested, had been unfaithful to his wife. The killer had castrated the victim and then pinned his genitals to a tree with a hunting arrow. It was too similar to the murder in Toronto, Ontario, which Potter now believed that Trish had likely committed, despite the police determination that Geoffrey Brown, her former lover, had been the killer.
Potter had not shared his thoughts on the Toronto case with his wife nor the detective who’d led the investigation into Jonathan Piggott’s murder. They’d seemed too outlandish at first, and he had simply not been able to accept that the woman who’d been one of his best friends since his teenage years was capable of such violence. Both of those assumptions had contributed to his decision, when Trish had become the prime suspect in the police investigation of her husband’s murder, to get involved in the case. He’d set out to prove Trish’s innocence, risking his marriage and physical safety. It was only later, as he’d been recuperating from the injuries he’d suffered at the hands of Brown, that he’d started to have doubts about the outcome of the case and whether Trish had committed the killing.
Now, looking at her face in the newspaper photo taken at Linquist’s trial, he wondered anew about her guilt and whereabouts. If she was in Salcombe, there was a chance he would find out. Potter and Lawson planned to spend four days in the village, after a sojourn in Clacton on Sea.
There were two reasons for the visit to Clacton. It had been featured in an Elizabeth George mystery that Lawson had enjoyed, and her uncle had been stationed there during the Second World War as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. John Smith had enlisted with the Canadians in early 1940, more than a year before the Americans entered the war, in the belief that Hitler must be stopped. He’d trained at a base located just outside the English seaside town before being posted to London as an antiaircraft gunner. Although he never talked much to his daughter about the war, he had reminisced fondly about Clacton and his wartime experiences there. Lawson had a hankering to walk in her father’s footsteps a bit. She’d never really felt that she knew him during his lifetime. Despite the love he’d bestowed on her, and all the time they’d spent together, there was always a part of himself that he never shared. With his health and memory both failing as he entered his mid-80s, she felt compelled to connect more fully with him.
Lawson also felt that the stop at Clacton would give her a chance to assess her husband’s capabilities before the couple headed to the hillier counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. She wanted to have a good sense of how he would cope with the walking they hoped to do, and how much of it he could do without experiencing pain or fatigue. It would, she hoped, allow her to structure their excursions in doable chunks, and to ensure there were places where Potter could rest along the way. The last thing she wanted was to end up on a footpath miles from their car or a convenient pub, with Potter having reached the point of exhaustion. Nor did she want him to feel that he was impeding her enjoyment of their holiday or holding her back in any way.
Being honest with herself, Lawson was also a bit worried about driving on the left-hand side of the road. She’d never done that before. The detective had received advanced training to enhance her road skills – she knew how to control a skid, turn on a dime and a lot of other high-speed manoeuvers – but none of it had been acquired sitting in the right-hand seat of a car, and very little had entailed driving down narrow country lanes. And while many of the British mysteries she’d read described picturesque drives down narrow roads, with drivers knowing instinctively where the nearest layby was situated, as well as how to back into it to let oncoming traffic pass, she was smart enough to know that her lack of familiarity with the roads and road habits in the West Country could prove both challenging and stressful.
So, Lawson wanted to do a bit of driving on what her Michelin map classified as M roads and A roads before she tackled the Bs and the laneways, even if it was just to get used to driving on the left. The route down to Clacton looked reasonable from that perspective. Plus, a few days of R&R in a seaside down would give her husband a chance to recover from the overseas flight and the jetlag that they’d likely both experience.
Despite having pictured herself driving on the left in her mind, Lawson felt slightly disorientated when they finally made it to their rental car. It had been a long flight. She hadn’t slept. The British morning found her feeling groggy. And the attempt by the rental car company agent to upsell her into a bigger vehicle with an automatic transmission hadn’t helped. All she’d wanted was to get the car she’d reserved, get on the road, and drive the two hours it should take them to reach Clacton if the traffic was good and they didn’t get lost.
Lawson had stuck to her guns and kept the smaller car that she’d purposely reserved. The last thing she’d wanted was to end up in a vehicle that would make her more antsy driving on the country lanes. When she finally had most of their luggage in the boot (only one case had to go on the back seat), and Potter was buckled into the passenger seat, she walked around to the driver’s side of the car.
Even opening the door and getting herself settled in the car felt disorientating. She took her time to adjust the position of her seat and mirrors, then, before starting the engine, depressed the clutch and moved the stick shift into each of the car’s five gears to familiarize herself with their position and get the feel of using her left hand to change gears. Finally, she took one last look at their Michelin map, and the road numbers she’d noted in ballpoint on its margins, put the map where she or Potter could easily reach it, depressed the clutch and started the engine.
The trick, she knew, was to stay focussed and stay on the left.
The B&B in Clacton-on-Sea was quaint. A brick detached home one street back from the ocean, it featured a small front garden in which the owner’s roses were making a valiant attempt at a third bloom as well as hydrangeas whose heads had faded from the bright colours of summer into a pleasing pale pink.
Lawson had found a parking space just in front of the establishment. The drive down on the M 25 had been largely uneventful, and by the time she had to navigate the narrower streets of the town the detective was feeling more comfortable about driving on the left. Still, when she turned off the ignition and pulled up the parking brake, she took a deep breath and let her underlying stress flow out of her body in a long exhale.
It was only ten in the morning, but with her stress-induced adrenaline high fading rapidly now that they had reached their destination, Lawson felt exhausted. Although Potter had nodded off once or twice during the drive down to Essex from Heathrow, Lawson could tell from his face and eyes that he’d reached his limit. She might have to help him out of the car and give him a shoulder to lean on until he regained his equilibrium.
Check in time at the B&B was four in the afternoon. She anticipated that their hosts would only just be finishing the breakfast service, and wouldn’t particularly welcome early arrivals, but she decided to ring the doorbell and see what sort of reception they got. Lawson was right. Several of the B&B’s guests could be seen in the dining room when Jean Talbot opened the door.
“Yes,” she said.
“Jenna Lawson and Larry Potter,” said Lawson. “We’re hours early, but I was hoping there might be a place where we can leave our luggage and relax a bit. The flight wasn’t that long, but we’re both feeling very tired.”
“You’re in luck,” said Talbot. “We didn’t have any guests in your room last night, and it’s ready for you. Have a seat in the front room for a few minutes while we get breakfast finished off, and I’ll get you settled.”
“You’re wonderful,” said Lawson.
Talbot directed Potter and Lawson to the left after they came through the front door.
“Find a chair that’s comfy. I’ll be with you in a tic,” she said.
Fifteen minutes later, she lead Lawson and Potter down the hall and around a corner, stopping in front of a natural oak door bearing a brass sign reading Garden Suite. Talbot opened the door and motioned them into the room. It was bright and spacious, with leaded windows and a Dutch door looking out on a small garden. There was a four-poster queen bed, oak desk, oak dresser and oriental carpet on the hardwood floor, and framed prints depicting riders taking part in a fox hunt on the walls. A brick fireplace – which Mrs. Talbot said had been converted to gas – was on the wall facing the bed. There was a vase of fresh-cut flowers on the mantle, which filled the room with a delicate fragrance. The space, like the front room of the house, was welcoming and cozy.
“The bathroom’s through here,” said Mrs. Talbot, pointing to a door that was slightly ajar. “There’s a closet and hangers in there as well. Breakfast is at nine. You’ve seen where. There’s bottled water in the fridge and a pot of coffee in the kitchen if you want it – just past the dining room. There’s tea as well, and a kettle. Help yourself. Your car is fine on the street, and we’re quite safe. My husband, Fred, will give you a hand with your bags, and then I expect that you’ll want to settle in.”
Mrs. Talbot gave Jenna the key. Jenna told Potter to rest, and followed her host back down the hall to the front door where Fred was waiting for her. When they got back to Lawson’s room, Potter was asleep in a chair. The Daily Mirror that he’d carried with him from the plane to the car to the B&B was on the table beside him.
Potter woke as Fred carried their cases into the room.
“Luggage racks in the closet,” he said. “Call if you need anything.”
After Fred had left the room and closed the door, Lawson hung the do not disturb sign on the outer doorknob, and suggested to Potter that they both try to get a couple of hours sleep before attempting anything else.
Potter slept fitfully. His brain swirled with a patchwork of dreams. Images of Jonathan Piggott’s murder, drawn from the lurid newspaper coverage of the crime, appeared in his mind’s eye. He saw the knife cutting around the edges of the banker’s scalp, and a bloody hand grab the man’s hair and yank the scalp from his head. But when he looked up at the face of the perpetrator, it wasn’t Geoffrey Brown that he saw, it was Trish Montgomery.
The spectre smiled at him.
“Stay straight and true,” it said, “or you’re next in line.”
Adam briefly surveyed the courtroom as he waited for the jury to be ushered in and the judge to make her appearance. He thought he saw Sheila’s face among the crowd packed into the spectators’ gallery, but there was no time to confirm whether or not it was her as the bailiff called “all rise” at almost the same moment.
From that point on, Adam’s attention was focussed on the trial. It began pretty much as he and Fields had predicted. Brockhurst’s opening statement outlined how the Crown would prove Linquist’s guilt, from presenting evidence of the threat’s Linquist had made against Cooper to the connection between the hunting arrow used at the murder scene and Linquist.
“The evidence we will present is convincing,” said Brockhurst, as he concluded his statement. “There can be no doubt that Timothy Linquist murdered Jacob Cooper in cold blood and mutilated the remains of his victim.”
Fields began his opening statement by reminding the jury that the test of guilt under English law was that there must be no doubt whatsoever, not even a shadow of doubt, in the minds of jurors that the defendant had committed the crime he or she had been charged with doing.
“We will present evidence that will not only bring that shadow of doubt into this courtroom, but will also make it clear that Timothy Linquist is innocent,” said Fields.
“I will digress for a moment to remind the jury of how critical it is to weigh the evidence in a trial such as this with an open mind. To make decisions based on proven facts rather than speculation drawn from circumstance. The list of men and women convicted of crimes they did not commit based solely on their physical appearance, their mental capabilities or their being seen in the wrong place at the wrong time is much too long.
“You have a duty to consider only the factual evidence presented to you in this courtroom, and to put all other matters aside, in reaching your verdict.”
Adam had mixed feelings about Field’s statement. Given that the Crown would largely rely on circumstantial evidence – based on what it had revealed to the defence team during the discovery phase of the case – highlighting the need to prove guilt beyond even a shadow of a doubt made sense. But it also might leave the impression in the minds of jurors that the defence wasn’t fully confident that it could prove Linquist’s innocence, and that it would instead seek to win the trial by attempting to sow the seeds of doubt.
It was a fine line, Adam knew. Which side of it the jurors fell on would depend on how convincingly the Crown presented its case, and on their perceptions of Linquist himself. Fields and Adam had spent considerable time working with Linquist in advance of the trial to help him avoid facial expressions and gestures that might turn the jury against him, but whether he would be able to stay calm during the proceedings remained to be seen. The man had a temper, he was clearly angry about what had happened to him and highly anxious about the outcome. Adam didn’t blame him. He’d be worried too if it looked like he might end up spending a long stretch in Her Majesty’s prison system.
Fields wrapped up his opening statement at eleven, nodded his head at the bench, and returned to his seat at the defence table. Judge Judith Marks looked at her watch, and asked if the Crown was ready to call its first witness.
“Yes, my lady,” he said. “The Crown calls Michael Hobson.”
One in the morning, January 1, 1945
Trish Johnson couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer.
The eight-year-old had been trying to stay awake, waiting for her parents to come home from the New Year’s dinner/dance they’d gone to that evening. She’d had a babysitter she liked to keep her company and fix her dinner. As a special treat for New Year’s Eve, she’d been allowed to stay up late to listen to the Fibber McGee and Molly show on the radio. It had been a bit beyond her – she didn’t get all the gags – but the experience of hearing it had been enough to make her happy.
After the show had ended, the babysitter had brushed Trish’s long blond hair for her, and read her a story before putting her to bed at twenty after ten.
Just as she was about to drift off, Trish heard the front door open. She opened her eyes and waited for the New Year’s morning kiss good night her father had promised to give her if she’d been a good girl for the sitter.
Martha was having trouble fitting in. She hadn’t counted on the parochial nature of the towns and cities that dotted the Devon countryside, nor understood how isolating it would be to live there as a newcomer. The people who had been friendly and welcoming when she’d visited their communities as a tourist had turned a cold shoulder to her when she’d bought a house in Salcombe and moved to the seaside village.
Although her new neighbour had Martha over for a cup of tea a couple of days after she’d moved into her new home, the socializing had been little more than a thinly veiled attempt by the woman to obtain information that could be turned into gossip and spread about. Indeed, Martha heard snippets of their conversation, albeit grossly distorted by the third or fourth telling, going on behind her back as she entered village shops or turned the aisle at the supermarket.
She was making an effort – joining the local church and staying behind to chat after Sunday services, going to the local pub for a glass of wine one or two nights a week, and asking dog walkers on the Southwest Coast Path where they’d acquired their pet.
A few months after her arrival in Devon, in response to an advertisement in the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Gazette, Martha drove up to Plymouth to inquire about purchasing a West Highland Terrier. She hadn’t expected the interview she’d been subjected to by the breeder. ‘How big is your backyard? What work are you in? Are you able to walk him three times a day? Have you owned a Westie before?’
Martha had never owned a dog, but she knew enough from talking to friends over the years to give the right answers to the questions and demonstrate that she knew what she would be getting herself into.
“I like Westies because of their personalities,” she said. “Stubborn as can be, but loyal and loving too. Full of energy. So smart they can almost talk. If you watch and listen to them, they communicate very well despite their lack of speech. They can tell you what they want and what they don’t. Plus they’re cute as a button.”
Eight weeks later and £1,500 shorter, she returned to Plymouth to take ownership of a pup she’d decided to name Duncan. She drove home to Salcombe with him lying in the dog crate she’d buckled into the passenger seat of her car, and a list of instructions from the breeder in her purse. Martha had been advised that her new pet should be put to bed in his crate at eight until he was at least six months old. She had been given a piece of his mother’s blanket and a toy the litter had played with to put in his crate with him. Plus he was to have a tablespoon of natural yogurt every night at 7:45 for the next six weeks to help his bones strengthen. That was in addition to the instructions on the quantities and brands of food Duncan should be fed, and when feeding should occur.
Duncan began to cry the moment Martha pulled out of his breeder’s drive. The pup, just 12 weeks old, was leaving his mother, litter mates, and the only home he’d ever known behind. The sound grated on Martha’s nerves. She tried to ignore it, tried to think of what little Duncan was going through, of how best to comfort him, but the images that played out across the window of her mind depicted a different, angry scene.
Martha eased the car over onto the verge, stopped, applied the parking brake, clicked on the four-way flashers and reached for the latch of the crate.
Larry Potter tried to keep from grimacing in pain as he used his arms to push himself out of his chair to his feet. He didn’t want his wife, Jenna Lawson, to have second thoughts about their planned trip to England’s West Country. She needed a break from what had become their new routine, and he needed to show her that he was capable of looking after himself.
Potter was on leave of absence from his job as the Ontario Racing Commission veterinarian at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. For two months, he’d been in a rehab centre in Hamilton, working to regain his leg strength and to live with the discomfort of the massive scarring on his lower legs. The tight skin that stretched over his calves, ankles and feet, the weak muscles in his legs, and the cramps. He’d been told by centre staff and his physician that he was making good progress, but there were days – like this one – that he didn’t believe it.
Lawson had been at the centre since six that morning. She’d been sitting at Potter’s bedside when he woke at 6:30, looking at his face. They talked about nothing for a while, with Potter telling her he’d had a good night and her describing their West Highland terrier’s antics, as well as what his stepdaughters had been up to.
Then Potter had to get up to use the bathroom. He swung his legs out of the bed and put his feet down on the floor, as Lawson placed his walker within easy reach of his hands. Standing and walking still hurt, no matter how hard he tried to hide it.
Potter had been prescribed hydromorphone, but he was reluctant to use the pills. It wasn’t only an innate fear of developing an opioid addiction that swayed him, but also a sense that it was better to know was causing him pain and how much. He wanted to avoid any activity that would hinder his healing process, or potentially cause lasting harm.
Lawson found it hard to watch her husband’s face and eyes when he flinched with pain, despite understanding why he was trying to get by with Tylenol. She constantly wanted to jump up and help him, to give him a strong shoulder to lean on, when he transferred from his bed to a chair or made his way to the bathroom. It wasn’t easy to stay in her chair and smile when she saw him hurting. But that wasn’t her only worry. Larry was a shadow of his former self. Skin and bone covering damaged organs, and he was still wasting away.
Potter’s breakfast arrived just as he’d got himself settled in bed again. While he ate the watery scrambled eggs and slightly burnt toast on his plate, Lawson gave him a brief overview of the cases she was working on and updated him on her research into accessible British bed and breakfasts.
Although he was determined to make it happen, Potter knew that Lawson didn’t believe he’d be well enough by fall to walk comfortably on his own – that there was no need to worry about whether their preferred B&B had a wheelchair ramp at the front door and ground-floor bedrooms. It was understandable, given that he wasn’t sure that he believed it himself.
At eight, as he did every morning now, Potter went for a walk around his ward at the rehabilitation centre. Lawson walked beside him as he took step after painful step, moving his walker forward, leaning his weight on it to fix it in place on the floor, then lifting and advancing his right leg followed by his left. He was able to make three circuits around the ward before pain and fatigue forced him back to his bed.
The walk always left Potter feeling low and uncertain about the future. It wasn’t only the lack of apparent progress in his rehabilitation, but also the sights he took in along his routes. The wheelchairs parked just outside patient rooms, sometimes with dejected-looking men or women sitting in them, sometimes empty and waiting; the hospital look of the place; the medical equipment and oxygen tanks.
Potter couldn’t see himself living that way. Confined to a wheel chair, dependent on others to help him get through his days, unable to do his job. Sitting at a desk all day long wasn’t for him. He loved working with animals, particularly horses, and using his knowledge, intuition and hands to help them. But unless he regained his strength and mobility, there was no way that he could return to his post as the track veterinarian at Woodbine Racetrack or continue to be a topflight equine surgeon.
He’d been diligent about doing the exercises prescribed by his physiotherapist and adopting the coping strategies recommended by his OT, but had not seen significant improvement in his physical abilities or pain levels. It was getting him down, and becoming increasingly difficult to hide his mounting depression from Lawson. The proposed trip to England’s West Country was a diversion he’d come up with to take her attention away from his current reality, and to give them both something to look forward to.
Part of Potter’s angst stemmed from the endless hours he’d had to think through what had happened to him. He was beginning to doubt that Geoffrey Brown had murdered Clement Montgomery and Jonathan Piggott, despite the trainer’s apparent confession. There was no question that it had been Brown who’d kidnapped Potter and been responsible for his injuries. It was also pretty clear that Brown had killed Robert Hall, although if the man was not a serial killer – which the police investigation had deemed him to be – there was no obvious motive for the killing. Brown and Hall had not known one another.
So what had the police got wrong?
The other thing on Potter’s mind was Trish Montgomery. She’d come to visit him in the hospital on the same day that she was released from prison, after all charges brought against her in relation to her husband’s murder had been dropped. For the first week of Potter’s hospitalization, Trish had spent an hour sitting at his bedside every day. The two had looked back on their long friendship, remembering different things they’d done together, and then talked about their plans for the future. That was when Trish wasn’t thanking Potter for his help or apologizing to him for his burnt legs and pain, which she rightly believed had resulted from his efforts to prove her innocence.
At the end of the week, there was nothing really left to say. Potter was improving slowly. His OT, PT and physicians were cautiously optimistic that he’d recover to a level where he’d be ambulatory and relatively pain free. He seemed OK. Trish said her goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, and returned home to her farm in Wellington.
Potter had not heard from her since her departure.
Days of despair and depression were gradually replaced by days of hope, then anticipation, as summer waned. It had been a long haul for Potter and his family. Jenna, Helen and June had all spent time with him at the rehab centre. They’d watched him wince with pain as he learned to walk again, grimace as he forced himself to complete one more repetition of the endless sets of exercises he’d been given to build up his strength, and wake groggy from anesthetic after still another surgery to mask the scarring on his legs.
There had been days when Potter might have given up, when the pain and stiffness he felt, and the disfigurement that he saw, had him so down in the dumps that he might have opted out of life. But just when he’d been at the breaking point, one of his stepdaughters or Jenna would come into his room and smile at him. Their love had given him new strength, forced him to carry on.
Potter got home in the middle of August. He no longer needed to use a walker or wheelchair to get around, although Jenna insisted that he carry a cane. She didn’t want him to fall and hurt himself. The cane would give him physical balance, she said. What she didn’t say, although Potter was intuitive enough to grasp her thought, was that the cane would give her the mental balance she needed to get through the day. Jenna could not be an effective police investigator if she always had a niggling worry about Potter in the back of her mind. She needed to focus on her job.
By the middle of September, Potter was using the cane more for show than balance. He’d gotten adept at moving it with military precision and style as he walked, and his walks had stretched out from the excursions around the block that were all he could manage when he left the hospital to three-kilometre, fast-paced circuits of old Oakville.
It was a big day for Potter. With Jenna’s reluctant approval, he planned to spend the afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack. She’d agreed to the outing in the belief that her husband would, after letting his former work colleagues get a good look at him, find a seat in the clubhouse. From there, she envisioned him sitting in the sun, reading the Racing Form, watching the races and possibly placing a few wagers.
Potter had other ideas. He intended the outing as a test to determine when he might be ready to return to his job as the track veterinarian at Woodbine. Plus, he wanted to be absolutely sure in his own mind that he was fit enough to enjoy the couple’s planned holiday in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.
The trip was just a month away and only a couple of days remained before the final date to cancel their B&B bookings with no financial repercussions. Jenna, like many Americans, had never travelled outside of the United States and Canada. Unless Potter was certain that he was truly capable of going up and down the stairs, cobbled streets and paths that their visits to the West Country’s towns, castles, estates and gardens would entail, without impeding her enjoyment of them, he’d propose delaying their trip until the spring.
So Potter planned to walk down from the clubhouse stairs to the paddock prior to each race, stand at the walking-ring rail to see the horses saddled and the jockeys given a leg-up onto their backs at the riders-up call, then walk back up the stairs to his seat. He figured that if he could make it through the day reasonably well, and his pain was manageable that night, it would be safe to let the cancellation dates for their booking go by with all their plans intact.
Elmo Marsden was waiting for Potter when the vet got to the grandstand gate. Potter had called him the day before to let the Woodbine security chief know what he was planning to do, and to ensure that his visit would not pose any concerns for his employer. He was still on short-term disability leave from his job and did not want to create a problem with the ORC’s insurance company. Nor did he want anyone to make a fuss over him, or to do anything that might disrupt the flow of the afternoon’s races. Marsden had promised that he would prepare the ground for Potter, and ensure that the Ontario Racing Commission was onboard.
June Lawson was relieved when Marsden smiled at her stepfather and welcomed him back to Woodbine. She’d driven Potter to the track and would have, despite his likely protests, spent the afternoon with him. Now she could do something of more interest to her, at least until it was time to pick up her stepfather. And with the way things had worked out, she’d have his car at her disposal for the afternoon. As Potter walked away with Marsden, she pulled her cell phone out of her purse and called Annie, hoping that her best friend would be on the University of Toronto’s campus hoisting a pint in the GSU Pub.
She’d have to be a bit careful, as she needed to be straight enough at the end of the afternoon to drive back to Woodbine and pick up her stepfather, but spending time with Annie in the pub would be more fun than going home to study, particularly as Helen would be at the house. June loved her sister, but the two girls were very different people who got on each other’s nerves and frequently argued.
June had pulled out of the Woodbine parking lot and started on her way to U of T when Potter and Marsden reached the gate to the grandstand. It had been slow going for the vet, in part because of the pace Marsden had set for them, but more because Potter was not used to walking in crowds. He’d never been that comfortable in large groups, whether at social functions or concerts, and was almost always the one to give way if he encountered someone walking down a trail or sidewalk toward him. Now he was finding that the changes of direction he was instinctively making to skirt around people on his way to the clubhouse were causing him a certain amount of discomfort. It was something he knew he’d have to work on before he and Jenna embarked on their English holiday.
Woodbine was packed with fans hoping to see Good Journey in the Atto Mile Stakes. The horse had found its stride after relocating from Europe to North America in the spring, winning the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park as well as the Firecracker Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs. Pat Day, one of the best jockeys in the world, would be in the saddle. As usual, several of the other contenders in the field also had impressive race credentials.
In fact, Potter had purposely chosen the date for his return to Woodbine to coincide with the date of the race, knowing that the track would be crowded on that day. He figured it would give him a true sense of how he’d cope with the crowds that he and Lawson would be likely to encounter touring the West Country. So far, things were not going well.
Marsden had noticed the challenges that Potter was having navigating his way through the throng of race fans. As the pair made their way into the grandstand and turned right toward the clubhouse entrance, the security chief manoeuvered himself so that he was walking slightly in front of Potter, then squared his shoulders and put on his don’t mess with me face. The result wasn’t quite like the parting of the Red Sea, but a passageway through the throng opened in front of them. Potter found the going easier once the security chief had cleared the way.
Marsden had not been quite true to his word. A greeting committee that included the chief steward, assistant track veterinarian, track announcer and several trainers was waiting for Potter at the bottom of the escalator going up to the clubhouse seats. Each of them shook his hand, wished him well and welcomed him back to Woodbine. Then the chief steward took charge, leading Potter to the elevator and the Woodbine Club Dining Room.
The afternoon was going much differently than he’d planned, but Potter opted to relax and enjoy himself. He hadn’t had an opportunity to eat in the club’s private dining room before, and he’d heard that the view as well as the food were the best on offer at the track. Plus, making his way through the crowd to reach the club house had tired him more than he’d anticipated. He needed to sit and recoup for a while.
The look in Duncan’s eyes stayed her anger and her hand. Martha had opened the door of her new pup’s crate on the verge of anger, at the point of slapping him into silence. Instead, she found herself taking him out of the crate, setting him on her lap and gently stroking his head with her fingers.
“There, there,” she said. “It will be OK. You’ll see.”
It took Duncan a few minutes to settle. When he had, snug in Martha’s lap, she pulled the car back onto the road and resumed her journey home. They made it back to the cottage safely, despite Martha moving one hand like a juggler from the gear stick of her standard transmission car to the pup’s head and back again, as needed.
The first few days and nights were challenging. Martha had created a space for Duncan in the hallway that joined the front and back halves of her cottage. One end of the hall could be closed off using the glass-panelled door, situated just past the laundry room and side entrance of the cottage. She used a baby gate to block the other end of the hall. The back of Duncan’s crate rested against the gate, the front was open to allow him free access into the home’s newly created puppy space. Martha put newspaper down over the area’s tile floor to manage any accidents the pup might have when she was out during the day or sleeping in the nighttime.
Her days developed a new rhythm. On waking, she’d rush down the stairs in her robe to let Duncan out into the backyard. She’d go out with him, watching as the pup snuffled in the garden looking for a good spot to pee. The two of them usually spent 10 minutes or so in the fresh air before going back into the cottage for breakfast. Duncan would have special puppy kibble, as recommended by the breeder, while Martha might have toast or cereal along with a coffee. Then Martha would shower, dress and take Duncan out for his first walk of the day.
She found herself talking to other dog walkers along the route. Usually inane conversation focussed on the age of her puppy and his characteristics, or the fact that the other dog owner had once had a Westie. But it broke the ice, and eventually lead to more engaging chats that might gradually lead to friendships should Martha choose to go there. It would be as simple as asking a fellow dog walker if he or she would be interested in dropping by for a glass of wine or meeting up at the pub.
Martha didn’t push it. When the moment and the person seemed right, she would feel something. Anxiety, lust, a flutter in her heart – something.
Adam Carlson was walking his Scotties down the estuary road path when he saw her. A blond woman, early 50s maybe, slim but seemingly well proportioned, moving toward him walking a westie. He looked at her face as she came up to him. Pretty. Worth a smile, perhaps a word, even if only to convince himself that he was still an attractive guy.
“Hi,” he said when the woman drew opposite him and was about to walk by. “What a handsome West Highland you’ve got. What’s his name?”
She paused, looked up, and told him the first Scottish dog name that popped into her head – “Duffy.”
“I had a Westie a few years back,” said Adam. “They’re wonderful dogs. Mine had such a personality, stubborn as could be, but loving too – not like these old grumps.”
“Mine hasn’t learned to be stubborn yet, maybe because he’s just a pup. We’ll have to wait and see how his personality develops as he grows,” she said.
Adam smiled, tugged lightly on the leashes in his hand, and said “Let’s go boys.”
As he did, sunlight reflected from his wedding ring, drawing her eyes to his left hand. Adam had already turned his head to look down the path and did not see her downward glance, nor would he have thought much about it if he had. He’d stood weeping by his wife’s grave six months before, after having watched cancer eat away at her for the previous year. She’d been skin and bone, wracked with pain, delirious on morphine by the time she’d gone. His tears that day came as much from relief as sorrow. Her suffering was finally over.
Adam’s own pain was easing with the passage of time. It had been a tough slog, first as a caregiver, then as a nearly constant daytime companion at the hospice. When Jane died, he had nothing to fall back on. His life for the previous year and a half had revolved around his wife’s illness. Driving her to the hospital for chemo and radiation; nursing her afterwards, coping with her fatigue and anger. With her passing, that routine vanished. In its wake, he briefly had felt a sense of relief, followed by a long period of loneliness and lassitude. He’d bought the dogs and moved out of the city to restart his life and discover a new sense of purpose.
The change helped. He didn’t miss his corner office with its view of the Thames out the window, nor the stress that came with being a topnotch barrister. In fact, Adam found that he preferred the slower pace of Salcombe. Perhaps it was his reputation, possibly his personality, but he found that clients sought him out. The pressure to hunt down new cases to prosecute or defend, the need to always be generating billable hours of work for the firm, was gone. He had time to think, to heal and to begin again.
The Westie had belonged to Jane. She’d had the dog when he’d met and subsequently fallen in love with her. Adam had been reading law at Oxford. He’d taken the train down to Wimbledon in early October, with the intent of treating his ageing mum to lunch at the Fox and Grapes, followed by a walk across the common and a visit to the High Street sweet shop.
Jane had been in the pub, along with several other cast members of Channel Five’s soap opera Family Affairs’. The program, filmed in Wimbledon, had only enjoyed middling success in Britain, but Adam’s mum was a fan. He knew that she loved to see members of the program’s cast in person, and that it wasn’t uncommon for them to frequent the Fox and Grapes. The day had been planned with that thought in mind.
Adam had walked from the train station to Edgehill Court. His mum still lived in the ground-floor flat where he’d grown up, but now she needed home help to make it through the day. No longer capable of going out safely on her own, she looked forward to his monthly visits and the freedom they offered from her day-to-day routine.
Although they usually talked at least once a week on the phone, Adam had only recently become aware that his mum regularly watched Family Affairs and that it was filmed in Wimbledon. He’d taken the time to research the program a bit, figuring that it would open up a new avenue of conversation for them to go down, and make a change from their usual trip down memory lane. Adam couldn’t remember where he’d seen the promo suggesting that fans of the soap opera might be able to meet their favourite cast members at the Fox and Grapes, but he’d been taken with the idea. It would add a bit of excitement to his mum’s life.
He’d been enthralled with Jane from the moment he’d sat his mum down at a table near the window, looked over at the bar, and seen her standing there in a group of fellow actors. Adam’s mum caught him out.
“She’s a new one on the program – Jane Campion,” his mum said. “Plays Anita Benton, a right little tart.”
“Oh mum,” said Adam. “I’m just looking. She’s a very attractive young woman. But very much out of my league.”
They looked at the menus and glanced over at the chalk board to see the daily specials on offer. After the usual back and forth of asking each other what they would have, Adam’s mum settled on the fish and chips with a half of Shandy. He opted for the steak and kidney pie with a pint of bitter.
Adam got up and went to the bar to place their orders. As he waited to be noticed by the publican, he looked around the pub, taking in the smoke-darkened wood panelling, the brass foot rail around the bar and the hunting scenes hanging on the walls. The place had atmosphere. It was the type of pub he liked, cozy with just a touch of edginess. He could see why the cast of Family Affairs liked the place.
As he picked up the drinks the publican had put on the bar for him, someone bumped into his arm causing him to spill half his pint down his jeans. Adam managed to restrain himself from swearing, but he couldn’t control his blush when the person who’d bumped him – Jane – grabbed a cloth napkin from the bar and began wiping off his legs.
Jane looked up at him and then blushed herself.
“Sorry,” she said. “I mean about this,” as she gestured at the cloth. “It was an instinctive reaction. Not something I would normally do with someone I don’t know.”
“It’s OK,” Adam managed. “Stuff happens, and if spilt beer and wet jeans are what it takes to meet you, it’s a small price to pay.”
Jane just smiled, said sorry again, and rejoined her fellow cast members.
Adam put his mother’s Shandy and what remained of his pint down on the bar and used another napkin to dry himself off. When he was satisfied that he was presentable, he picked up the drinks – his pint had been topped up by the publican – and returned to his table.
“Oh my,” said his mother. “What was she like?”
“We hardly spoke, Mum,” he said. “It was embarrassing more than anything.”
Adam and his mother spent the next hour reminiscing about her life and his childhood. Possibly because of the pub setting, her memories were largely about the war and the blitz. The roar of German planes flying overhead, the whistle of falling bombs, the explosions, the fires, and the sense of the freedom, even fun, that she’d felt as a young woman living through those years. She spoke of the piercing whine of the air-raid sirens, of choosing to stay in the pub every now and then, taking her chances with the bombs, rather than running to the confines of a claustrophobic air-raid shelter with the masses, of how she’d met his father on one of those long nights so full of trepidation and exhilaration.
His Mum’s outpouring of pent-up words was interrupted by Jane approaching the table as she and her companions were leaving the pub.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “The least I can do is buy you a pint some time. Here’s my number. See you.”
One thing lead to another, until just over a year later, Adam asked Jane to marry him. Now both she and Adam’s mum were dead. He’d become a lonely widower who depended on his dogs to stay sane and keep his grief at bay.
January 1, 1945
She heard voices from downstairs coming through her partially open bedroom door. Her father’s sounded loud, too loud. He was saying something about kissing in the New Year. Then a sharp retort from her Mother: “Winston, behave yourself. You’ve had too much to drink.”
The voices quieted. She heard the front door open and close, then the sound of heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. They paused at the top of the staircase, then she heard them coming toward her room. Another pause, then her bedroom door opened...
Look for the next installment in August, 2023....
T. Lawrence Davis grew up in Quebec and spent many summers as a teenager working as a groom at racetracks and on his mother’s Thoroughbred horse farm. He ran his mother’s farm for several years before becoming a journalist and, for a time, managing editor of Canadian Thoroughbred magazine.