EDITOR’S NOTE: The Manitoulin West Recorder is publishing the pilot episode of a mystery serial, ‘Murder in Twin Bluffs Harbour’ told by news reporter Zak Vancura, written by Donald Harry Roberts (of Barrie Island) this week. He has based his locale, Twin Bluffs Harbour on Gore Bay, duly disguised with fictitious characters and renamed streets and businesses.
by Donald Harry Roberts
Coffee. In this business you need lots of it because it keeps you going when you are burning the candle at both ends—which is about all the time—and you gotta have a callused heart and an iron soul because if you don’t have these, sometimes the stories you write for a small town newspaper like The Twin Bluffs Harbour Mirror will shred you like so much unwanted documents and spit you out like a mouth full of bad meat.
But no matter how tough you get there is always one that comes along, grabs you by whatever, turns you inside out with awe and grief and dumps what’s left in the psycho trash.
Sometimes you don’t figure out where a mystery actually begins until it’s solved, or nearly solved, and when you do it all seems so simple, but until that moment of eureka, it ties the neurons in your brain into a massive Gordian knot; and if you’re like this reporter you can’t let it go until you find that elusive loose end that unravels the whole ugly mess. When the first shard of the mystery surfaces, like an iceberg, all you see is the surface. When that shard rises out of twisted fibres of intrigue in the form of a body in the cold dark water of Twin Bluffs Harbour the veil of innocence suddenly flares in a fire ball of suspicion.
It was that grandeur occasion of New Year’s Eve. I think everyone in town old enough to be out for such a gala event had arrived, with a few trickling in who had been celebrating the night at private functions, probably drawn by the loud music emanating from the stage built especially for the extravaganza at right angles to the harbour front pavilion which houses the Squirrels Den Bistro, re-opened for the night serving a variety of finger foods and hot drinks. The theme of the night was music popular during the Big Band era, though there was some aimed at the younger folk, generally considered ear shattering hoopla. A beer tent was set up in the tennis courts along Water Street.
In the grassy area, currently packed under a foot of snow, were food vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pulled pork as well as sweets and hot apple cider. And of course people were everywhere. No one seemed to be bothered with the cold and the good cheer was volcanic.
No one really notices Zak Vancura wandering around with his camera. He’s always there at events snapping pictures, asking questions now and then and then collecting information for this article and that for his newspaper, The Twin Bluffs Harbour Mirror. I pick up a lot of conversation that people would rather not be overheard, but most of it gets tucked away in the memory archives, mostly of which eventually gets permanently deleted. But sometimes I dig them up, when something reaches out to my curiosity.
I would have forgotten the argument between Sy Thanford and Collin Wakens, and the shadowy tryst of Llewellyn Thanford and Weldon Markly, and a few other not so cheerful conversations that often occur when the world is celebrating such events with champagne and other libations tucked away in secret pockets. I chuckled at the antics at the time but….
I went about, almost dashing in fact, trying to capture as much of the night as possible, snapping pictures and getting people to chat a little about the year being left behind and the one about to be born. Mostly I got resolutions that would never be kept and some well-meaning folks talking about making big changes in town. My little recording device clipped to my coat caught, including the not so amiable snaps and snarls going about.
I had taken pictures of just about everything, but as I walked a ways along the board walk I decided maybe some shots of the harbour, and the harbour lights reflecting off the ice and bits of water that managed not to freeze up. It was a fortunate decision in some ways but tragically unfortunate in others. It was something that would change the mood of the night and Twin Bluffs Harbour forever.
It was unfortunate that my eyes had not caught that night what the camera lens did. Maybe things would have started rolling sooner, but as it happened it wasn’t until two days later that one shot reached out at me like the curved talons of the Grim Reaper’s claw.
I spent Thursday morning at my computer, a relic of a desktop, but good enough for what I used it for, flicking through the hundreds of photos stored on the SD card out of my camera. I was being impressed with myself at some of the angles and interesting effects I had managed, mostly by chance. I am a reporter, not a photographer.
It was almost dark when I spotted something in one of the shots I took of the harbour, a close up of the water around one of the docks that had not frozen over.
I thought at first it was just a shadow or maybe an optical/photo illusion, but it wasn’t.
Small town news reporters fight every issue to keep the paper full and interesting. When you are the editor, the reporter and the ad sales rep it’s your whole life. But small town or not you still go looking for that one story that gets you playing in the sandbox where all the big shots play, maybe even a Pulitzer.
I zeroed in on the shadow and enlarged it. My jaw dropped, my head spun, and my gut churned. It was not just what I saw, it was who. Frozen in the ice I could see a right arm that seemed to be waving at the camera, a shoulder, and half a face, a face I knew.