Today

The Friday Fillip: Snark Hunt

For the next while the Friday Fillip will be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, usually followed by a reference you might like to pursue. Both this chapter of the book and the whole story up to this point can be had as PDF files. You may also subscribe to have chapters delivered to you by email.


 

MEASURING LIFE
 
Chapter 18
Snark Hunt

“It’s murder.”

“Take it easy, Nancy. Simmer down.” Ronnie Dabord moved the plastic stirring stick through his coffee in desultory circles.

Tomasini, wired as usual, said in a rush, “Dr. Mukhuti took another look yesterday and I got the call today. He sent it on to the big leagues. He wouldn’t do that unless he had a good basis for it.”

“And got some artful prodding too, maybe.” Dabord let go of the stirring stick and it made a half turn on its own before falling against the side of the paper cup. He pulled himself upright in his chair, like a man come to a decision. “How long before we get the forensic pathology results?”

Tomasini shrugged. “Could be as long as a couple of weeks, I guess. But it’s gotta mean that the fatal head wound came from the back and that the impact with the windscreen was intended to cover that up. You know: whack the kid in the head and then pose him in the car and make it ram into a tree. Mash things up so it looks like a frontal impact. That and the stick we got that was used to jam the accelerator mean it was deliberate. Murder. It’s all about coup and contrecoup, right? Figuring out which injury to the brain was —”

“— I know what it means, Nancy. I’m not stupid.”

“God, no, sorry Chief.” Tomasini had the grace to blush. “It’s just that I get . . . ” She slowed to a stop.

Dabord nodded. “Yeah, I know. Carried away. It’s one of the things I like and don’t like about you.”

“So what do we do?”

“What’ve you got on Jevvers’ recent activities?”

Tomasini frowned. “Not a helluva lot. He quit — or got fired from — his job at Cross Corners. Just stopped showing up. His mother says he spent a lot of time in his room doing nothing. She thinks he was scared of something. I looked at his cell phone. It’s a real cheapie so there’s not much on it. Couldn’t even text on his, you know, pay-as-you-g0 plan. Found a couple of numbers that called him that trace back to two different Petro-Canada burner phones. City area code, though. So it looks like the boy was into something on the fringes of the big time. Drugs most likely.”

“You know,” said Dabord, slowly — he pulled out the stirring stick, sucked the coffee off it, flexed it, and shot it into a corner of the room — “I’m thinking it’s tied up with this attack on Gladys. I don’t know how. But we’re not talking about impulse crimes here. This is planned. Both were planned. And that’s way too much planning for a small town. Even for a coincidence.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Tomasini, coming to the edge of her seat. Charging up again.

“Go spend some time with Gladys. The provincials took the investigation away from us, but she’s a citizen of our town and she needs protection.”

“Babysitting?” Tomasini’s face fell.

Dabord looked displeased. “Serving and protecting,” he said with some emphasis. “It’s what we do.”

“But they’ll have already put a detail on her. And they’ve got the resources for round the clock. We’ve got you, me, and Leroy. And sometimes what’s-his-name.”

“Franklin. And he’s on stress leave, which you know damn well. So don’t give me that shit.”

“Right, Franklin. So why bother?”

“Because they can’t stop us from providing what limited protection for one of our own we’re able to within our budget.” Dabord waited for the filament over her head to start glowing. “And if it happens that —”

“— We learn something —”

“— Well that’s just the way it goes.”

“Yes. Yes. Right. I’m on it. Yes. Right.” She was up out of her seat. Practically hopping.

Dabord pushed his chair back from the desk. “Nancy.”

“Huh?”

“How to put this?” Dabord ran a hand over his thinning hair. “I hear things. It’s my job to . . . stay in touch.” He found her eyes and held her gaze. “I don’t want you to leave us. You’re a really good cop. You’ve got a future here. I know we’re small town. That’s what we are. And I wouldn’t stand in your way if you really wanted to go . . . up to the show.” He sought more words and gave up, shrugging. “Just that,” he said.

He watched her bounce out of the room on springs. And then he reached for the phone and dialled the number he had for Dean Nabel.
 


 

RANGEL BANGED ON THE DOOR in the main building. When that did nothing she tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. She walked along the front and went up on her toes to peer in through both the grimy windows, seeing nothing. Mitman had his phone out and was hunting up the number for Backton Aggregate. He dialled and they heard the phone inside make a faint ringing noise. Some standard message came on and he clicked off.

“Try his home phone,” said Rangel. She had a large streak of dirt down one side of her face.

“Unlisted.”

“Stupid idea anyway. The whole thing.” She rubbed her face and spread the streak around.

“Well, it’s pretty clear,” said Mitman, “that he’s central in some way. Cue the boner, as we say.”

“Cui bono,” said Rangel, not really paying attention. “But that’s just it. He benefits from Jared’s death, sure. But not so much if Gladys dies. I mean, she’s going to die sometime soon anyway. Likely.”

Mitman saw that dusk was creeping up on them. “Can we have this thinkfest after I have a shower and a beer in my hand?”

“Sure,” said Rangel, tired and a bit absent. She looked around at the bleak scene. “Sorry about the . . .”

“Snipe hunt?”

“Snark hunt, more likely. There was a barrister in that, wasn’t there?”

“There was,” said Mitman, smiling. “Here goes, Mr. Godson — my fantastic grade ten English teacher.” He cleared his throat theatrically: “‘They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care; They pursued it with forks and hope . . .’ If you’re the Barrister, I’m the Beaver. The Beaver makes lace, you know.”

Rangel gave a wan smile and shook her head as if to clear it. “Let’s go,” she said. Which was when they heard a soft, far-off ‘whump.’ They looked at each other. “Someone working the site?” Rangel said.

Looking in the direction the noise had come from, they now saw a column of black smoke rising into the air.
 


 

“NOT FAULTY WIRING this time,” said Rangel. A crowd stood around contemplating the scorched mess that had once been an electric blue pickup truck.

Fire Chief McKnight had caught the call. “No,” he said. “Arson, pure and simple.”

They looked over at the man being held in cuffs. He was shaking his head and talking insistently to Ronnie Dabord.

“What’s going on?” McKnight asked Rangel, who shrugged.

“Someone doesn’t like me,” she said softly.

“Him?” McKnight nodded his head towards the man in custody.

“Tom . . .” said Mitman. “The man I gave your card to.”

“Withers,” Rangel supplied. “Tom Withers. Could he be that stupid?” Rangel asked no one.

“Not our Tom,” Mitman said. “I think our little snark hunt has found more than it wanted. ‘For the snark was a boojum, you see.’”
 


 

THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE provincial police were located next to the highway about an hour outside the city in an agglomeration of concrete structures done in the brutalist style, a legacy of the 60s, and known locally as the Castle. As might be expected in a severely hierarchical organization, the king of the Castle had a suite of offices on the top floor that opened out onto a patio of sorts, offering a fine view of a thin slice of sky above a high privacy wall that sported all manner of antennas, repeaters, and dishes. At the moment, the Commissioner was out on the patio having an illegal cigarette in the corner that shielded him best from the wind. The various electronics above him set off a collection of humming noises that he found quite soothing.

The Deputy Commissioner and Commander Finch, the organized crime specialist, slid open the glider and joined him, forming a huddle. “We were right,” said Finch. The Commissioner lifted his eyebrows. “Gang war. Two dead in Watford.” Watford was a suburb of the city where over the last decade monster homes had sprouted from modest bungalow lots.

“‛Ndrangheta?” asked the Commissioner, not bothering to try for anything like a proper pronunciation. Organized crime didn’t deserve it, he figured.

The DC and Finch both nodded. “We go inside, Jack?” said the DC. The Commissioner flicked his cigarette away. Finch made to walk over and step on it but stopped when he realized that nothing anywhere near them could possibly burn. He hurried after them.

“Who’s the other side?” asked the Commissioner, as they went for their appropriate chairs.

Finch said, “That’s the thing. We’re not sure. We’ve ruled out the triads, who were never in contention with ‘ndrangheta anyway.” He gave it the Calabrese pronunciation, using a zed where the ‘dr’ should be. “We’re looking at the Punjabis and some new combo of a branch of the Serbian mafia and the Macedonians. And the Vietnamese too.”

“What’s the connection with the trouble up in . . . ?” The Commissioner palmed some paper around his desktop, looking for a report.

“Backton,” said the DC. “And we don’t know.”

“Some little old lady, right?” asked the Commissioner.

“Right. And we just got a report of what looks like a second arson attack on a local lawyer there.” The DC flipped open his small notebook. “Gregoria Rangel.”

“Connected?” asked the Commissioner.

The DC and Finch looked at each other. “We don’t think so,” said Finch. “This last thing, about an hour ago — someone torched her truck — looks like labour unrest. Bunch of pissed off workers shut out of a gravel mine. Figured her for the lawyer for the owner, maybe.”

“We’re looking into it,” said the DC. “She’s a better bet for a connection. Little old ladies are scary but lawyers and organized crime, well, that’s a fit.”

“Huh,” said the Commissioner.

 
© Simon Fodden

Fits and Snarks

If there’s anything better than good sense it’s nonsense. If you see what I mean.

And when it comes to nonsense, few in English are better than Lewis Carroll, whose Adventures of Alice in Wonderland overshadows everything else he did. (Tomorrow, as it happens, Oxford celebrates Alice Day.) It’s worth paying attention, however, to his Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits, a medium length stretch of doggerel that was, in the original, accompanied by wonderful illustrations from (not Tenniel this time but) Henry Holiday.

Because it’s hard for us to leave nonsense alone and resist the temptation to “insense” it (How do you “threaten a life with a railway-share”?), you might wish to pray in aid the Annotated version, with scholarship and erudite commentary by the great Martin Gardiner. If this sort of expansion and expatiation reminds you of commentary on the law as she is written, so much the better.

Carroll himself has been something of a conundrum to our post-Victorian sensibilities. Should you like to learn more about him, you might take a look at The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, on the Public Domain Review website.

Comments are closed.