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 squad room.
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 and snow.
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 head back.
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 calendar business.
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 dishwasher.
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.
Excerpted from By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt. Copyright © 2007 by Giles Blunt. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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