Chapter Five: CRYSTAL LULLABYE
Sarah Nealon looked surprisingly well-put-together for a meth addict. Safely enrolled in a government-sponsored rehab program, she was one of the lucky ones who hadn’t ended up on the streets or working as a hooker. Instead, she lived in a bright public-housing unit and was well-dressed, with her hair done and fingernails painted. Dan sat watching her butterfly-like movements as she toyed with a tea set in a slow-motion parody of a homemaker’s routine: put tea in the pot then smile at your guest; pour water from the kettle then smile at your guest; offer your guest his cup then smile again. Everything seemed designed to reassure him that all was well and she was fully in control of her situation, despite the unnatural sheen in her eyes.
A sun-catcher dangled over the table. She reached up with spidery fingers to spin it. The coppery faces reflected light haphazardly throughout the room, random acts of beauty in a harsh and unpredictable world. It tinkled softly, dispelling gloom while keeping the world and its demons at bay.
Dan was familiar with meth users. Most of them wanted a good time, not a self-destructive ride to hell. Unfortunately, the latter was more often what they got — a never-ending trip that ensnared everyone around them, the people who watched in disbelief as a wonderful friend/co-worker/brother/sister/son/daughter/spouse turned into an abusive monster/liar/thief who needed desperately to support a habit that had started out as just an escape from the humdrum routine of life. Why do nine-to-five when you could get five-to-ten instead? But Sarah Nealon was lucky, in a manner of speaking. Her addiction meant she could exist on a disability pension that would extend her life of purgatory and pay for her habit for as long as she wanted.
“Do you mind if I ask where you were over the weekend?” Dan said.
“When Jeremy disappeared?”
She smiled again, her movements light as a feather, as though she were trying to avoid making contact with anything more tangible than the air surrounding her.
“Oh, I was here,” she said, brushing the hair from her forehead and cradling her tea. “I’m always here.”
Watching her, Dan doubted whether she would have been capable of plotting and pulling off an abduction on her own even if she’d wanted to. Then again, addicts were surprisingly tenacious.
“I’m not supposed to leave.” She showed him her ankle monitor. “They always know where I am. It’s part of my probation agreement.”
“I understand you got off surprisingly easy.”
“It’s because of the pregnancy.” Her face twitched at some memory reaching through the fog of her brain. She unconsciously patted her swollen abdomen. “When the judge heard I was pregnant, she took pity on me, I think.”
“Three months is a very light sentence,” Dan agreed.
“Oh, but there’s still my probation,” she said, as though he might be considering that the judge had been too lenient. “It’s for another two years. After that, we’ll see.”
Dan wondered whether her probation would be rescinded if the judge learned she was using meth again. Then again, with the city’s restricted budgets most felons were self-reporting under the new rules. And so the system failed them again.
“I’m also not allowed to have credit cards or enter a bank without supervision.” She watched his every movement, her eyes focused on him as she sipped from her cup.
“It’s probably for the best,” he said.
“Oh! I wouldn’t do it again. I know better now.” She gave a light laugh. “I really believed I was on a mission to end world hunger and poverty. I was convinced God sent me to that bank to ask for funding.” She smiled. “Isn’t that crazy?”
“It’s a nice thought,” Dan said. “If all the banks around the world put their resources together they probably could do just that.”
“I know — that’s the crazy thing. My thinking wasn’t that far off. It was just …”
She reached up. The sun-catcher tinkled again. She smiled at it as if it were a friend calling her name.
“Your method of going about it?” Dan asked.
“Yes! I thought I was asking for a contribution to help end world hunger, but they thought I was robbing the bank.” Her expression darkened. “Though I guess that’s what I was doing, really, when you think about it.”
“Sadly, yes,” Dan said.
She turned back to him. “Why are you here again?”
“I came to ask you about Jeremy Bentham. He’s been abducted.”
“That’s terrible. I didn’t know.” She paused. “Or did I? I don’t remember. It seems to me I did know it, but then I forgot.”
“Do you remember asking his mother, Janice, for money after Jeremy’s birth?”
“I do remember that. She was very nice. She gave me money when I explained that giving birth to Jeremy made me turn to …” She frowned and shook her head. “The fertility clinic fired me. After that I went away and promised not to ask her for more.”
“And did you stop asking?”
“I …” She looked away for a moment. “Janice was very nice to me. She promised to help.” She smiled sadly. “I’m getting better.”
“That’s good.” Dan considered. “Do you know of anyone who might want to harm Jeremy or take him from his mother?”
“No! Why would anyone harm a child? Did someone tell you I did?”
“No. No one told me that.”
“Good, because I would never.” Tears formed in her eyes. “There was an accident once, though. It was terrible.”
“Oh, no. Not with him.” She shook her head. “Something terrible happened to a boy I knew.”
“One of the children you were carrying for someone else?”
“Oh, no.” She looked relieved. “Another boy. It was very sad. But I don’t really remember it now.”
“How did you learn where Jeremy lived?”
“I wasn’t supposed to know!” She suddenly looked mischievous, a child who had done something naughty but clever. “It was at the clinic. When they told me my services were no longer required, the doctor was distracted for a moment. I looked down at my file and saw the address. I still remember it!”
“And when you went to ask Janice and Ashley for money, did you think you were helping end world hunger again?”
She stared at him for a moment then stood. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me. Marjorie is coming soon. She’s my social worker. I have to get ready for her.”
Dan stood. “Thank you for seeing me.”
She saw him to the door.
“I hope they find Jeremy.” She unconsciously reached down to feel her stomach. “I love children. I’d hate to see any of them hurt. I’m going to have my own soon. My mother is very happy she’s going to have a grandchild of her own.”
Dan nodded, wondering how long a drug addict and convicted felon would be allowed to keep a child. The door closed behind him. A young woman was coming along the sidewalk toward him. Her clothes were prim, her look officious. The social worker.
“Are you Marjorie?” he asked.
“Yes.” She looked at him uncertainly. “Who are you?”
“My name is Dan Sharp. I’m a private investigator.”
She gave him a shrewd look. “About the missing boy, Jeremy, I suppose?”
“I doubt I can tell you anything, but ask me whatever you like.”
Dan shook his head. “No, I wasn’t going to ask you anything. I’ve just had a visit with Sarah.”
“The police were already here.”
“Yes, I know.” Dan hesitated.
“What is it?”
“I just wondered if you knew that Sarah is getting high while pregnant.”
For a second, Dan thought he detected a smirk on Marjorie’s face.
“She’s definitely high,” Dan said.
Her expression softened. “No, I meant she’s not pregnant. She uses a pillow to make it look as though she is.” She gave a rueful little smile. “But yes, she very likely is high. That’s a given, sad to say.”
She opened the door and disappeared inside.
A case brings PI Dan Sharp to the northern Ontario wilderness, where he has to face his own dark past.
When a four-year-old autistic boy disappears on a camping trip, his mother is reluctant to involve the police. Instead, she calls in private investigator Dan Sharp after a ransom demand arrives.
On investigating, Dan learns there are plenty of people who might be responsible for the kidnapping. Among them are an ex-husband who wrongly believed the boy was his son; the boy’s surrogate mother, now a drug addict; the boy’s grandmother, who has been denied access to her grandson; and a mysterious woman who unnerves everyone with her unexpected appearances.
A trip to Lion’s Head in the Bruce Peninsula, where the boy disappeared, brings Dan unexpectedly into contact with his own brutal upbringing. But when a suspected kidnapper is found dead, Dan suddenly finds himself chasing the ghosts of the present as well as the past.
Find out more about author, Jeffrey Round
- I am the author of fifteen published books. These include seven volumes of my Lambda Award-winning Dan Sharp mystery series and four volumes of the comic Bradford Fairfax series. I am also an award-winning filmmaker, television producer and song-writer.
- My most recent book is Lion’s Head Revisited (February 2020.) Seventh in the Dan Sharp series from Dundurn Books, it tells of Dan’s efforts to rescue an autistic boy kidnapped on the Bruce Peninsula.
- Its predecessor, Shadow Puppet (2019), is a fictional recreation of the real-life serial killings that took place in Toronto’s gay community from 2010 through 2017. The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Cannon wrote, “…this is as good a whoddunit as we will see this year.”
- Endgame, a stand-alone mystery, was called a “brilliant recreation” of Agatha Christie’s best-selling And Then There Were None, giving the original what one critic called a “punk-rock reboot.” It became my publisher’s best-selling ebook in the US in 2016.