Ontario Provincial Police Detective Constable Kevin Walker paused in front of the sliding doors at the main entrance long enough to remove his sunglasses. Trading them for the wallet in his jacket pocket, he took a deep breath and committed himself to the calculated gloom of the Thousand Islands Casino.

Two people were waiting for him in the reception area. One, a woman in a dark business suit and white blouse, stepped forward as he opened the wallet to display his warrant card and badge.

“I’m Karen Blanchard,” she said. “This is Toby Small. I don’t think they needed to send a detective.”

“There’s been an accident just this side of Gananoque,” Kevin said, putting away his wallet. “The responding officer and EMS were diverted to the scene. We’ve got another unit and a second EMS coming down from Brockville, but I was closer, so. . . .”

“Whatever. Toby will take you back.” Blanchard waved a hand and walked away.

“Okay.” Kevin followed Small out of the reception area and across the casino floor. The place was filled with noise and flashing coloured lights. It was just past three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in August, and there were already quite a few patrons at the slot machines and gaming tables.

Kevin wasn’t surprised, because he’d counted the cars in the parking lot before coming in, practising his observation skills, comparing the number of Ontario plates to those from Quebec and New York state. It never ceased to amaze him how popular these places were with people from all over the map who seemed to have nothing better to do with their time and money.

He followed Small into a broad corridor. “Seems busy.”

Small said nothing. Appropriately, he was short and balding, in his fifties, and he wore the stereotypic black trousers, white shirt, and fancy waistcoat of a croupier, which seemed to be a uniform of sorts for the employees who worked on the floor with the patrons.

If he had a personality, Kevin thought, he was certainly holding it close to his vest.

They reached a row of washrooms at the back. Small stopped at one of the doors where a beefy security guy stood guard.

“Let him in,” Small said.

The guy frowned at Kevin.

Kevin badged him with a friendly smile.

The guy pushed open the washroom door and stepped aside.

The man was lying on the floor in front of the sinks. He was curled up into a fetal ball, his elbows tucked in and his hands clasped together between his knees. Drool bubbled from between his lips as he snored.

He was in his late thirties, with thick brown hair trimmed short, a small jaw, and a five-o’clock shadow. He wore vomit-stained green pants and a khaki shirt in even worse condition. His stomach contents, which apparently had included a big lunch and a lot of liquor, were spewed across the floor.

“Is this where he was when you found him?” Kevin asked, ignoring the smell as he cautiously moved forward for a closer look. “You didn’t try to move him?”

No response.

Kevin looked around. He was alone. He’d thought Small had followed him in, but evidently the man had more important things to do than stick around while the cops attended to an unconscious drunk.

It was just as well. Kevin had recognized the man on the floor from a photograph he’d seen this morning. Avoiding the mess as much as possible, he knelt and felt the man’s neck to check his pulse.

There it was, strong and steady.

He checked the other stalls, but the washroom was otherwise empty.

He took out his cellphone and retrieved the message he’d remembered. It was a lookout bulletin for four inmates of the Collins Bay minimum-security institution who’d commandeered the van in which they were being driven to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Kingston. They’d overpowered the driver, a social worker employed at the prison, and disappeared.

Kevin opened the attached file containing the four mug shots. One of the faces matched the man lying on the floor in front of him: Leonard Peter Smith, a.k.a. Lennie Smith, a.k.a. LP, a.k.a. Long Play.

Kevin had taken a few minutes this morning to look into the backgrounds of the four men, and he remembered the details of Smith’s record. Thirty-four, Caucasian, a string of convictions for possession, drunk and disorderly, and a clumsy attempt to sell a bag full of street drugs to an uncover police officer. Bipolar. Childhood abuse. A history of suicide attempts and self-harm. An alcoholic and a drug addict.

Kevin patted Smith’s pockets, felt a wallet, and took it out. Inside was a driver’s licence in the name of Harold John Wilson, the social worker Smith and his cronies had bushwhacked and left on the side of the road. There was only a five-dollar bill left in the currency pocket. It would seem that Smith had gambled away the rest of Wilson’s cash while guzzling down too much of the casino’s booze.

Smith stirred, coughed, and subsided again.

Kevin stared at him for a long moment, remembering that this was someone’s son. A human being. An example of what happened when a person with mental health issues crossed over the line from health care into the judicial system. Court appearances and convictions and incarceration changed them from a patient into a criminal requiring correction as defined by the law and the judges who applied it. And although institutions might offer periodic counselling or therapy or even medication to address something like bipolar disorder, a guy like Lennie Smith was now viewed by the system first and foremost as a convict and as a sufferer of mental health problems second.

Kevin decided it might be a good idea to check the rest of the casino in case Long Play’s fellow escapees were also hanging around, trying their luck at the slot machines or the roulette wheel. He hadn’t seen a Corrections Canada van in the parking lot on the way in, though.

At that moment the washroom door burst open and a paramedic entered.

“His pulse is good,” Kevin said, standing up and moving aside.

The paramedic ran through his own checklist as his partner pushed in with a gurney. Behind him was a uniformed patrol officer that Kevin recognized as Provincial Constable Connie Coburn. She hovered just inside the door, watching the paramedics, as Kevin went over to her.

“Relax, Connie, there’s no one in here but him.”

She rolled her eyes.

Kevin called the contact number on the lookout and spoke to the individual with Corrections Canada handling the escape. The officer confirmed that an arrest warrant had been issued for Leonard Peter Smith and that a team was already on the road in the area. He would direct them to the casino and they’d take custody of the prisoner.

Kevin advised him that paramedics were already on the scene and that Smith might require further medical treatment.

“We’ll handle it.”

“All right, then.” Kevin ended the call. He forwarded the Corrections message to Coburn and opened his mouth to say something to her about the other escapees when his phone buzzed with another call.

“Preston Raintree, Kevin. How’s your luck holding out at the blackjack table?”

“The guy’s an escaped prisoner, Sarge. Corrections is on the way. Constable Coburn’s here. I was about to check around and see if the other fugitives are also on site.”

He raised an eyebrow at Coburn, who nodded and slipped out.

“Wow, an escaped con, eh? All right. Look, if everything’s under control there I need you to slide up to Lanark ASAP. The powers that be have ordered me to loan you out for a homicide, and who am I to say no to Detective Incredible March?”


Detective Sergeant Raintree commanded the Leeds County Crime Unit, of which Kevin was a member, but Lanark was a separate detachment covering the area immediately north of Leeds. Policing five rural municipalities and three towns within 3,000 square kilometres, and with a total population of about 59,000 people, Lanark had its own crime unit. Normally there was minimal crossover between the two jurisdictions.

“Resource depletion, Kev. They don’t have enough detectives right now for a game of bridge, so they’d appreciate a helping hand.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kevin said.

© 2023 Michael J. McCann

In These Disconsolate Woods: An Excerpt