By the time Detective Michelle ‘Mickey’ Mantle arrived, the Homicide Team had the street cordoned off. The narrow tree lined streets of Vancouver’s Southlands-Dunbar were a stark change from the usual homicide calls of the Lower East Side. Mickey took a moment to assess the area. Cars parked on both sides of the street; ‘Residence Parking Only’ signs at each end of the block; a few empty parking spaces; fall leaves had settled on the remaining cars.
Constable Brian Carson is talking to the coroner Jim “JJ” Johnson. Mickey joins them.
“Brian–JJ, what have we got?”
Brian reads from his notes. “Colin Franklin, thirty-four, unemployed, married with one son. Some noise complaints from neighbors and a warning for domestic violence.”
“Unemployed?” she queried. The upper middle class area was mainly home to young professionals or retirees who had been here for decades.
“The wife inherited the house.”
“Did she find the body?”
“Neighbor. The kitchen window in the house across the alley looks into the backyard. She saw the body and called it in.”
“At school. Family Services are taking care of him.”
“Where was the wife?”
“She was just coming back from shopping when the first patrol car got here. She’s in the living room. Do you want to interview her?”
“In a few minutes. I want to see the body first.” Turning to JJ. “Cause of death?”
“There was a paring knife in his hand and a wound to the upper abdomen.”
“No, there are signs of a struggle. I think he was stabbed, and he then pulled the knife out.” JJ shook his head. “There’s a chance he might have lived if he hadn’t pulled it out.”
“Yes. If you wanted to stab me with a paring knife, how would you hold it?”
She thought about it “No hilt guard, so in a clenched fist with my thumb over the top of the handle so my hand wouldn’t slip onto the blade.”
JJ nodded. “Yes, that is how he was holding it. But it is risky. The blade is pointing toward you. It also limits how you can stab me, either downward or straight on. I won’t know until the postmortem, but the wound looks like it was an upward thrust just under the sternum.”
JJ took out his pen and handed it to Mickey. “Try to stab me with this with a downward motion. Slowly, I’m not as fast as I used to be.”
As she brought her hand down, JJ took a slight step back, his left hand slapped the top of her hand, pushing it down, twisting it slightly. As her hand reached the button of its arc, he pushed it up and back towards her with his right hand.
Mickey was impressed, “That isn’t part of any self defense course I’ve ever taken.”
“It’s not. It is extremely risky. . . . You are looking for someone with extreme confidence in their ability and trained to kill rather than defend and disarm.”
Mickey went to the backyard to see the body.
A gate on a path at the side of the house led from the front yard. There was a five foot fence around the yard; a gate at the back of the yard opened to the alley; a small porch extended out from the house with a single step down to the path.
Colin was of average height. He had two days of stubble, a dirt encrusted pair of jeans and a tattered shirt. There was a cut on the back of his head where he had hit it on a flower pot when he fell. The body was curled into a fetal position. The smell of the mixture of shit, piss and blood still hung heavy in the air.
I’ll never get used to the smell, Mickey thought. She tried to reconstruct what had happened in her head.
Sitting on the edge of the porch. Half full bottle of rye on the porch—no glass, a heavy drinker. Pumpkin, mouth and one eye carved—someone interrupted him. Puts down the pumpkin, but not the knife. . . . He is afraid—why? . . . Stands up, confronts the intruder. . . . Stabbed falls back, hits his head, pulls out the knife. Could be the other way round. . . The intruder leaves. . . . Front or back?
“Make sure you dust the back gate.” She yells to no one in particular. There is something wrong with the scene. She just can’t put her finger on it.
She looks at the pumpkin. Short and squat, the burnt orange color matching the drying mixture of blood and urine. A caricature of Cinderella’s carriage, with its wide toothy grin, it seemed to mock her. I know what happened. Do you?
“OK, I’ve seen enough here.” Turning to JJ, “You can take the body. I’ll see you in the morning.”
JJ growls, “I have other cases you know.”
“Yeh, but you want to know about that wound as much as I do. . . . Don’t forget to check the blood alcohol.”
Mickey and Constable Carson go onto the porch and through the back door into the kitchen. From the porch Mickey can see into the neighbor’s yards. The yard on the left is lawn with a gazebo and a firepit, on the right she can see a well kept garden with some tomatoes and squash. A small bag of groceries is on the kitchen counter.
They make their way through the house to the living room. Mrs. Franklin is there with a woman constable. Carson introduces Mickey.
Mary Franklin is a heavy set woman, four years younger than her husband, she looks much older. Her shoulder length hair is graying. She is wearing a long sleeved blouse, but Mickey can see signs of bruising on her wrist.
Mickey starts the interview, Carson takes notes. Usually quite blunt, she takes a softer tone this time.
“I am sorry for your loss. I am afraid I have to ask you some questions.
“When was the last time you saw your husband?”
“This morning. He said he went out to get a pumpkin to carve. Our son wanted to put a jack-o-lantern in the window. . . . He came back with a bottle and a pumpkin.”
“Then you went shopping?”
“How long were you out?”
“About three hours. . . . I try to stay out of the house when he is drinking.”
“Did he often drink during the day?”
“No, but yesterday was Welfare Wednesday.”
Mickey nodded. Welfare cheques come out on the last Wednesday of the month. Everyone that way inclined could afford a bottle or two.
“That is all I have for now. . . . Do you have anyone you can stay with?”
“My aunt lives out in Burnaby.”
Gesturing to the woman constable, “Pack whatever you and your son will need for the next few days. Constable Merriweather will take you to pick up your son, then drive you to your aunt’s.”
Then to the constable. “Alice, please get the aunt’s contact information for me.”
Mickey and Constable Carson go outside.
Mickey asks, “Did you talk to the neighbors?”
Indicating the house with the gazebo in the backyard. “A retired couple, Tim and Jackie Olsen. He was a professor. She’s a nurse. On the other side, Claude Boulanger, also retired. Sounds American. He was the one that complained about the noise. . . . Do you want to interview him first?”
“No, let’s do the Olsens first.”
After being invited in for the compulsory cup of tea, other than Franklin was a mean drunk, Mickey determined the Olsens couldn’t add anything new to the case. She asks about Claude Baker.
“The neighbor on the other side complained about the noise.”
“Tim answered, “Claude. Claude is a pussycat. He won’t take any guff, but just a real gentle man.”
“He makes the best pumpkin pies.” Jackie piped in. “Each year at this time, he bakes pumpkin pies and hands them out to the neighbors. They are better than anything you can get in the store.”
Tim laughs. “He used to be a baker. Says his name determined his profession.”
Mickey got the joke, ‘boulanger’ means ‘baker’ in French.
After finishing their tea and a few more stories of life in the neighborhood, Mickey and Constable Carson went outside.
“Have the pumpkin dusted for prints. It’s a long shot, but you never know. Make sure they have some closeup shots of the pumpkin, then take it back and put it on my desk.”
Carson looks puzzled. “You OK?”
“Not really. I have to go for a walk. See you back at the shack later.”
She walks down towards Broadway and finds what she is looking for, a green grocer about a block past the liquor store. A display of pumpkins is out on the sidewalk. Some ghost pumpkins, the rest jack-o’-lantern pumpkins, not what she wanted. The owner remembers Mrs. Franklin coming in for groceries, but not Mr. Franklin.
The next morning Mickey is in to work early, doing a background check on Claude Baker. It is what she had guessed, he had been a Green Beret. The pumpkin Carson had put on her desk wasn’t mocking her any more. If anything, it was commiserating. She spends an hour clearing off some paperwork and another over a long coffee before going to see JJ.
“Christ Mickey, I have barely got him open.”
“That’s OK, pretty sure I know what you will find. He was drunk, and the wound was upward, like you said.”
“Are you psychic?”
“If he had left the knife in and got help, would he have lived?”
“In my opinion, yes.”
“Shit. . . . Talk to you later.”
Mickey went back to the office and found Constable Carson.
“Meet me at the Franklin place. We’ve got an arrest to make.”
Claude met them at the door.
“I wondered how long it would take you to show up. . . . Come on in.”
Mickey starts to introduce herself.
“I know who you are. Jackie told me all about you.”
“Then you know why we’re here. . . . Claude Baker, I am arresting you for the murder of Colin Franklin. You have the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. You are not obliged to say anything, but anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”
Carson reaches for his handcuffs. Mickey shakes her head-no.
“Yes, I understand my rights. . . . I have two pies in the oven. Can you wait until they are out?”
Mickey nods. They all go into the kitchen. Mickey sits at the kitchen table, Carson remains standing.
“Coffee?” Baker asks.
Mickey answers, “Yes, black.” She looks at Carson, he looks uncomfortable, this is not how arrests are supposed to go. He says “The same.”, then sits down.
Baker pours their coffee, then cuts three slices of pumpkin pie. “I was going to give this one to Mary. I don’t think she would want it now.”
He sits down across from Mickey.
“When did you figure it out?”
“I knew there was something wrong about the pumpkin, but it wasn’t until Jackie said you baked the best pumpkin pies that I finally twigged. . . . Cinderella pumpkins make the best pies.”
“I would have given him the pumpkin if he had asked. . . . He trampled everything when he took it.”
Mickey cautioned him again that he didn’t have to say anything. He just shrugged.
“I just went over to talk to him. . . . He jumped up and came at me with that damn paring knife. Suddenly it was like I was back in ‘nam with a VC coming at me. It was instinct. I didn’t think, just reacted.”
He stops and takes a sip of coffee. “When he fell to the ground, I realized what I had done. . . . I told him to leave the knife in, I would get help. . . . But he pulls it out.”
He pounds the table. “Why the hell did he pull out the knife? As soon as he did it I knew he was a dead man. . . . I don’t remember much after that.”
The kitchen timer dings. He gets up, takes the pies from the oven, puts them on a cooling rack, then sits down and finishes the last of his coffee. Just sitting there staring into his empty cup. “Fifty years—fifty fucking years and the nightmares are back.”
Composing himself. “Those pies have to cool for half an hour. There are four more in the fridge. They are for a bake sale at the church on 10th and Crown. Could you have someone take them over?”
Mickey nods. “I’ll do that.” Then to Constable Carson. “Take him in and start the paperwork. I’ll go over and let Mrs. Franklin know what happened.”
“Would you tell Mary how sorry I am?”
Three hours later Mickey is back at her desk. She finishes her paperwork and sends the report to the Crown attorney with a recommendation of manslaughter. Then she goes to tell JJ what has happened.
She slumps into the chair beside his desk. “You still have that whiskey at the back of your drawer?”
JJ pulls out the bottle, two plastic glasses, and pours a shot for each of them. Handing her a glass, “Get the bad guys?”
“Sometimes there aren’t any bad guys. Just good people doing bad things.” She tells JJ what she found out.
“You still coming over for Halloween?” he asks.
“Yeah. Tell Mom I’m bringing a pumpkin pie.”