Nothing bad could ever happen on Madonna Road. It curls around the
western shore of a small lake just outside Algonquin Bay, Ontario, providing
a pine-scented refuge for affluent families with young children, yuppies
fond of canoes and kayaks, and an artful population of chipmunks chased by
galumphing dogs. Its the kind of spottranquil, shady, and secludedthat
appears to offer an exemption from tragedy and sorrow.
Detective John Cardinal and his wife, Catherine, lived in the smallest
house on Madonna Road, but even that tiny place would have been beyond their
means were it not for the fact that, being situated across the road from the
water, they owned neither an inch of beach nor so much as a millimeter of
lake frontage. On weekends Cardinal spent most of his time down in the
basement breathing smells of sawdust, paint, and Minwax, carpentry affording
him a sense of creativity and control that did not tend to flourish in the
But even when he was not woodworking, he loved to be in his tiny house,
enveloped in the serenity of the lakeshore. It was autumn now, early
October, the quietest time of the year. The motorboats and Sea-Doos had been
hauled away, and the snowmobiles were not yet blasting their way across ice
Autumn in Algonquin Bay was the season that redeemed the other three.
Colors of scarlet and rust, ocher and gold swarmed across the hills, the sky
turned an alarming blue, and you could almost forget the sweat-drenched
summer, the bug festival that was spring, the pitiless razor of winter.
Trout Lake was preternaturally still, black onyx amid fire. Even having
grown up here (when he took it completely for granted), and now having lived
in Algonquin Bay again for the past dozen years, Cardinal was never quite
prepared for how beautiful it was in the fall. This time of year, he liked
to spend every spare minute at home. On this particular evening he had made
the fifteen-minute drive from work, even though he only had an hour,
affording him exactly thirty minutes at the dinner table before he had to
Catherine tossed a pill into her mouth, washed it down with a few
swallows of water, and snapped the cap back on the bottle.
Theres more shepherds pie, if you want, she said.
No, Im fine. That was great, Cardinal said. He was trying to corner
the last peas on his plate.
Theres no dessert, unless you want cookies.
I always want cookies. The question is whether I want to be hoisted out
of here by a forklift.
Catherine took her plate and glass into the kitchen.
What time are you heading out? he called after her.
Right now. Its dark, the moon is up. Why not?
Cardinal glanced outside. The full moon, an orange disk riding low above
the lake, was quartered by the mullions of their window.
Youre taking pictures of the moon? Dont tell me youre going into the
But Catherine wasnt listening. She had disappeared down to the basement,
and he could hear her pulling things off the shelves in her darkroom.
Cardinal put the leftovers in the fridge and slotted his dishes into the
Catherine came back upstairs, zipped up her camera bag, and dumped it
beside the door while she put on her coat. It was a golden tan color with
brown leather trim on the cuffs and collar. She pulled a long scarf from a
hook and wrapped it once, twice, about her neck, then undid it again.
No, she said to herself. Itll be in the way.
How long is this expedition of yours? Cardinal said, but his wife
didnt hear him. Theyd been married nearly thirty years, but she still kept
him guessing. Sometimes when she was going out to photograph, she would be
chatty and excited, telling him every detail of her project until he was
cross-eyed with the fine points of focal lengths and f-stops. Other times he
wouldnt know what she was planning until she emerged from her darkroom days
or weeks later, clutching her prints like trophies from a personal safari.
Tonight she was subdued.
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