When a prisoner is shot to death in the exercise yard of a Saskatchewan penitentiary, Joanne Kilbourn finds herself haunted by a part of her past she wished had never happened. The dead prisoner is Kevin Tarpley, the man who six years earlier had brutally killed her politician husband, Ian, in a seemingly senseless act alongside the TransCanada Hig …
Three minutes before the Hallowe’en edition of Canada This Week went on the air I learned that the man who murdered my husband had been shot to death. A technician was kneeling in front of me, adjusting my mike. Her hair was smoothed under a black skullcap, and she was wearing a black leotard and black tights. Her name was Leslie Martin, and she was dressed as a bat.
“Check the Velcro on my wing, would you, Jo?” she asked, leaning towards me.
As I smoothed the Velcro on Leslie’s shoulder, I glanced at the TV monitor behind her.
At first, I didn’t recognize the face on the screen. The long blond hair and the pale goat- like eyes were familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Then the still photograph was gone. In its place was the scene that had played endlessly in my head during the black months after Ian’s death. But these pictures weren’t in my head. The images on the TV were real. The desolate stretch of highway; the snow swirling in the air; the Volvo station wagon with the door open on the driver’s side; and on the highway beside the car, my husband’s body with a dark and bloody spillage where his head should have been.
The sound was turned off. My hand tightened on Leslie’s shoulder. “What happened there?” I asked.
Leslie turned towards the monitor. “I just heard part of it myself, but apparently that guy with the long hair was killed. He was out in the exercise yard at the penitentiary and someone drove past and shot him. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
She stood and moved out of camera range. “Two minutes to showtime,” she said. Through my earpiece, I heard the voice of the host of Canada This Week.
“Happy Hallowe’en, Regina,” he said. “What’ll it be: ‘Trick, or Treat’?”
Beside me, Senator Sam Spiegel laughed. “Trick,” he said.
“Okay,” the voice from Toronto said. “We’ll start with NAFTA.”
Sam groaned. “Why do we always have to talk about NAFTA?”
The host’s voice was amiable. “Ours is not to wonder why, Sam. Now, I’ll go to you first. Is the fact that environmental regulations aren’t being equally enforced by our trading partners having an impact on investor confidence up here?”
Sam looked cherubic. “Beats me,” he said.
Another voice, this one young and brusque, came through the earpiece. “This is Tom Brook in Toronto. Washington, is there any sign of Keith yet?”
I looked over at the monitor. The image of my husband’s body had been replaced by images of Keith Harris, the third member of the Canada This Week panel. Keith was late, and as he slid into his chair and clipped on his lapel mike, he grinned apologetically. “I’m here. In the flesh, if not yet in the spirit. We’re in the middle of a storm, and I couldn’t get a taxi. Sorry, everybody.”
The sight of Keith’s private face, unguarded and gentle as his public face never was, stirred something in me. Until three weeks earlier, Keith had been the man in my life. At the outset, he had seemed an unlikely choice. We had both lived lives shaped by party politics; philosophically, we were as far apart as it is possible for reasonable people to be.
Somehow, after the first hour we spent together, that hadn’t mattered. Keith Harris was a good man, and until he had taken a job in Nationtv’s Washington bureau at the beginning of summer, we had been happy. But distance had divided us in a way politics had not. Passion became friendship, and when Keith came to Regina for Thanksgiving he told me he had met someone else. I was still trying to sort out how I felt about that news.
The monitor switched to a picture of Sam and me. Through my earpiece, I could hear Keith’s puzzlement. “Sam, what are you doing in Regina?”
“I came in with the prime minister yesterday and decided to stay over. I thought it would be fun to be with Jo in person for a change.”
“Wise choice,” Keith said. “I wish I was with you guys. It’s colder than a witch’s teat down here.”
“Nice seasonal image, Keith,” said the voice in my earpiece.
“Okay, here we go.”
In our studio, the man behind the camera, sleek in a spandex skeleton costume, held up five fingers, then four, three, two, one, and the red light came on. We were live to the East Coast. I felt as if I had turned to wood. I missed my first question, and Sam Spiegel gave me a quick, worried look, then picked up the slack. When we broke for a commercial, he touched my arm. “Are you okay, Jo?”
“I think so,” I said. “I just had a shock.”
On the monitor, Keith was saying, “Come on, Jo. It’s starting to sound like the Sam Spiegel show out there. The only reason I showed up tonight was to hear your voice.”
“Five seconds,” said the man in the spandex skeleton suit.
He held up five fingers and started to drop them again. Sam touched my arm. “I’ll set you up. Tell about that screw-up with the microphone when the P.M. was in town yesterday. It’s a great story.”
The red light went on. Sam turned the discussion to the prime minister, and I told the story of the microphone that picked up some of the P.M.’s private and earthy musings about the U.S. president and broadcast them province- wide. My voice sounded odd to me, but Sam was right, it was a great story, and as I finished, the moderator’s laughter rumbled reassuringly through my earpiece. We moved to other topics. I could hear my voice, remote but seemingly assured, suggesting, responding. Finally, the man in the skeleton suit held up his fingers again, and the red light on the camera in front of me went dark. It was over.
I turned to Sam. “Thanks,” I said. “I was glad you were here tonight.”
The producer, Jill Osiowy, came out of the control booth and said, “Good show, guys.” Then she looked hard at me. “God, Jo, you look whipped. Is something wrong?”
I unclipped my microphone. “The monitor picked up the last few minutes of the news before we went on,” I said. “Kevin Tarpley was shot today.”
“And you were sitting here watching. Shit. Is there anything I can do?”
“Get them to run that tape with the sound, would you? All I saw was the pictures.”
She looked at me dubiously. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
She sighed. “I’ll get Leslie to set it up.”
We went into an editing room and stood behind Leslie Martin as she brought the five o’clock news up on a monitor. It was a surreal moment. The woman in the bat suit conjuring up the image of my husband’s killer.
When the boy with the goat’s eyes appeared on the screen, I had trouble absorbing what the news anchor was saying. His words seemed to come at me in disconnected units. “Convicted murderer Kevin Tarpley . . . twenty- five . . . assailant unknown . . .”
He was twenty- five. He had been nineteen at the trial. When he stood up for sentencing, his hands were trembling, and I was filled with pity. Then I had remembered what those hands had done, and it hadn’t mattered how young he was. I wanted him dead.
I had wanted him dead, and now he was.
More words came at me from the TV screen. “Police are baffled . . . model prisoner . . . born again . . . spent days and nights reading the Bible . . .”
The goat- eyed boy vanished, and the snowy highway filled the screen again. The polished voice of the news anchor continued, and I tried to make myself focus. He was talking about my husband. “Twenty- eight when he was named to Howard Dowhanuik’s cabinet . . . the country’s youngest attorney general . . . believed by many to be the man who would succeed Dowhanuik . . .” The anchor’s handsome face filled the screen. Leslie Martin looked up. Jill nodded and the screen went blank.
“Come on,” Jill said. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve got to get home. Taylor’s waiting to go Hallowe’ening.”
Jill put her arm around my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll walk you to the door.”
The lobby of Nationtv is a three- storey galleria with a soaring ceiling and glass walls. In the daytime, the area is filled with natural light, and the elm trees on the lawn outside make shadowy patterns on the terrazzo floor. But that night as Jill and I came upstairs from the TV studio, the sky was darkening, and the leafless trees were black against the cold October sky.
All Hallow’s Eve. Reflexively, I shuddered. A man and two women came through the entrance doors into the lobby. I knew them; they had been in the Legislature with my husband. They were all out of politics now, but it was politics that brought them to Nationtv. Politics and auld lang syne. The year before, after ten years in the wilderness, we had won the provincial election. People were feeling good about the party again, so it was time to raise money. The following Wednesday, we were holding a roast for the former leader and one- time premier, Howard Dowhanuik. After he resigned as leader, Howard had moved to Toronto to teach constitutional law at Osgoode Hall. It was a long way from the rough and tumble of Saskatchewan politics, but Howard hadn’t forgotten that even successful election campaigns have to be paid for. Despite his loathing for testimonials, he was coming home. I was emceeing the dinner, and I’d asked Jill to arrange for some of the members who’d served in the Legislature with Howard to tape a segment of a local show called Happenings to publicize the event. The taping was that night.
For a beat, Howard’s former colleagues stood in the door - way, unbuttoning jackets, accustoming their eyes to the light. Then Craig Evanson spotted me and started across the cavernous lobby. The others followed.
Craig was fifty years old, but he still moved with the loose- limbed shamble of an adolescent. When he reached out to take my hand, his fingers grazed my shoulder.
“You saw the news report,” he said. I nodded.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I will be,” I said.
“This is all wrong, Jo,” he said. “You and Ian were so close. Julie always called you ‘the legendary couple.’” I didn’t know what to say. Craig and his first wife, Julie, had been a legendary couple, too. Craig was the most uxorious of men, but Julie was poison. Before she had surprised everyone by divorcing him two years earlier, she had come close to destroying Craig’s life. The day the divorce was final, it was Craig’s turn for surprises. He resigned his seat in the Legislature and married one of his constituents, a twenty- five- year- old midwife named Manda Traynor, who had come to Craig’s office asking him for help in organizing a campaign to legalize midwifery. Now Manda was expecting their first child, and as Craig stood holding my hand, it was obvious that it was his new wife who filled his thoughts.
“I’m just beginning to understand what you lost when you lost Ian,” Craig said simply. “If anything were to happen to Manda . . .” His voice trailed off.
The woman standing behind Craig grunted with annoyance. Tess Malone looked exactly as she had on the day she’d been elected twenty years earlier: her hair was still a helmet of honey curls; the lines of her corsetted body were still bullet smooth. She looked impenetrable, like a woman who woke up every morning and prepared herself for combat. It was not a fanciful image. Tess’s life was a battle.
She had run for office four times, and she had won four times. Her slogan was always the same: Trust Tess. To an outsider, the words seemed sentimental and empty, but Tess’s supporters knew the slogan was a covenant. The people who voted for Tess knew that they could trust her to be at their daughters’ weddings, their babies’ christenings, and their grandparents’ funerals. They knew that Tess would be their champion if they needed to get their mother an appointment at the Chiropody Clinic, their son into drug rehabilitation, or their wife’s resumé into the hands of a bureaucrat who might actually read it.
There was one other matter on which friend and foe alike knew they could trust Tess. Everyone who knew Tess Malone knew she would fight the right to an abortion till the day she drew her last breath. Ian had liked and admired her, but when he had been attorney general, he and Tess had fought bitterly about our government’s policy on reproductive choice; after we lost, they still spent hours quarrelling over what he called Tess’s life- long love affair with the foetus. The month after he died, Tess resigned her seat in the house to devote herself full time to a pro- life organization called Beating Heart. She said she quit politics because she was frustrated at our party’s refusal to change its stand on abortion. I always thought she just missed her old sparring partner. As she stood looking up into Craig Evanson’s face, speaking in the rasp of an unrepentant two- pack- a- day smoker, I felt a surge of affection.
“Don’t be an ass, Craig,” she said. “And don’t chase trouble. As Jo can tell you, trouble finds you soon enough. You don’t have to send up flares.”
Tess turned to me. Rhinestone flowers bloomed on the frames of her glasses, but the eyes behind the thick lenses were clever and kind.
“What can I do to help, Jo? One thought . . . I’m sure you already have your talk for Howard’s dinner organized, but if you don’t feel like standing in front of a room full of people, I could be the emcee . . .”
Jane O’Keefe, the other woman in the group, raked her fingers through her short blond hair. “Not while I’m capable of rational thought,” she said. Jane was an M.D., and the past summer she and three other doctors had opened a Women’s Health Centre in which abortions were performed. There had been some ugly reactions in the community, and Tess had fanned the flames. She’d been on every talk show in town denouncing the Women’s Centre and the women who staffed it.
“Gary can do it,” Jane said. She turned and looked out the door towards the parking lot. “If he ever shows up, that is.” Tess moved towards her, “Jane, you yourself said . . .” “I know what I said. I said I wanted a woman to emcee Howard’s dinner, but if Jo backs out, you and I are the women, and I don’t want you and you don’t want me. That leaves Gary and Craig, and Craig is a lousy public speaker.” Craig made a little bow in Jane’s direction. “Thank you, Jane.”
Oblivious, Jane sailed on. “Don’t be touchy, Craig. You’re capable of keeping your pants zipped, which is more than I can say for my brother- in- law.”
Right on cue, Jane O’Keefe’s brother- in- law burst through the door of Nationtv.
In the women’s magazines of the fifties there were love stories with heroes whose physical characteristics were as formulaic as those of a knight in medieval romance. With their rangy bodies and rugged features, they leapt off the pages into our female hearts. Gary Stephens had those kind of good looks, and once upon a time he had been a hero, at least to me. When I knew him first, Gary was a reformer out to transform the political landscape. Then, he changed. It seemed to happen overnight. One day he just stopped fighting the good fight and became a jerk and a womanizer. The political world is fuelled by gossip, and for a while there was hot speculation about Gary, but the explanation most of us finally accepted was supplied by his sister- in- law. Jane O’Keefe said that, in her opinion, Gary simply lost his death struggle with the id. Whatever had happened, Gary Stephens wasn’t a hero anymore, at least not in my books.
“Apologies for being late,” he said. “I was . . .”
Jane smiled at him. “We understand, Gary. Everyone knows it takes a man longer after he hits forty.”
Gary shrugged. “For the record, I was with a client.” He turned towards me. “I heard about Kevin Tarpley on the radio coming over here. I’m sorry, babe. All those painful memories, and Ian was the best.”
“I always thought so,” I said, and I could hear the ice in my voice.
Jane O’Keefe looked at her watch. “We should get inside. Considering that not one of us was on time today, I don’t think we should risk re- rescheduling.” She touched my arm. “It was good to see you again, Jo. Hang in there.”
Gary leaned forward, gave me a practised one- armed hug and kissed my cheek. The others said goodbye and headed towards the elevators. As the doors closed behind them, I reached up and brushed the place that Gary Stephens’s lips had touched.
“Why would he kiss me?” I said to Jill.
She shrugged. “‘Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.’”
“That’s a comforting thought,” I said.
“Thomas Aquinas was a comforting kind of guy,” Jill said. “You’d know these things too, if you’d had the benefit of a Catholic education.”
When we stepped through the big glass doors into the night, Jill breathed deeply. The air smelled of wet leaves and wood smoke.
“Hallowe’en,” she said, hugging herself against the cold. “Good times.”
She grinned at me, and the years melted away. She was the shining- eyed redhead I’d met twenty years before when she showed up unannounced at Ian’s office the day she graduated from the School of Journalism. She had handed him her brand new diploma and said, “My name is Jill Osiowy, and I want to make a difference.” Ian always said he hadn’t known whether to hire her or have her committed.
“I’m glad Ian didn’t have you committed,” I said.
“Nothing,” I said. “You’d better get back inside. It’s freezing out here. Call me if you hear anything more about Kevin Tarpley.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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