On a pleasant morning in early June, Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police was taking some time off to drift around the glassy surface of Sparrow Lake.

She guided the eight-foot pedal boat along the shoreline without thinking very much about it. Her feet moved slowly, pushing down on the left pedal a little more than the right in order to keep the boat about twenty metres out.

She looked at large, flat rocks that shaled up out of the water onto a narrow strip of beach rimmed with bushes. Beyond the bushes were trees, and through the trees she caught a glimpse of a trail cut by someone to use as a walking path along the edge of the lake.

Layers—water, rock, sand, bushes, trees, a gap created by human intervention, more trees beyond that.

Ellie noted the discovery of the walking trail with only passing interest. It was on the opposite side of the lake from her four-season cottage home, and so it posed no security risk to her property that she could imagine. It was just another piece of information about her neighbourhood to file away for future reference.

She unzipped the front of her life jacket and took out her cellphone. It was 9:34 am. She had a strong connection. There were no coloured symbols indicating unread text messages or missed phone calls.

Her plan was to spend the day on paperwork. As a major case manager for the OPP in the East Region, her work assignments varied depending on the investigations ongoing within the territory for which she was responsible, which covered over 43,000 square kilometres and included seventeen different detachments. At the moment there was nothing happening that was deemed to be a major case. No homicides, sexual assaults, abductions, or active missing person occurrences that required her time and attention.

She looked up at the sky. It was cloudless, a deep blue. Several birds drifted around, probably seagulls, going about their business. They were mere specks, high above her.

As she turned the pedal boat away from shore, the wind puffed in her ears. She began to move out across the lake, on her way back home. The water rolled beneath the plastic hull with a pleasant gurgling sound as she picked up speed.

The boat belonged to her next-door neighbour, Ridge-way Ballantyne. He kept it tied to his dock and encouraged Ellie to take it out whenever she liked. It was the first time this year that she’d done so, and she hoped she’d be able to paddle around in it again before the summer was over. She found it relaxing, a fairly rare thing for her, and a good form of low-stress exercise.

As she crossed the lake, she realized that Ridge was sitting in a lawn chair on his dock, waiting for her to return. She propelled the boat across the water on a reasonably straight line toward him. Only a few birthdays short of eighty, Ridge was still active as a professional musician, and he spent much of his time in the sound studio on the main floor of his lodge. Taking a break, he must have spotted her on the water and decided to come out to tease her about slacking off from her own work.

As she drifted toward the dock, Ridge slowly stood up. She coiled the painter in her hand and, as she came alongside, tossed it up so that he could secure it to the heavy iron ring embedded in one of the pilings.

“Nice morning for a paddle, Ellie?”

“Definitely.” She pedalled backward to bring the boat to a stop alongside the dock.

Ridge took a step toward the rope. As he was about to bend down to pick it up, he paused. His eyes lost focus and his mouth opened as if to speak. No sound emerged. He leaned to one side and his hands dropped. He remained motionless for a moment, then fell face-first onto the dock.

“Jesus!” Ellie propelled herself out of the boat. In an instant she was at his side, fingertips probing his carotid for a pulse. She found it and turned him over.

Blood oozed from a small abrasion on his cheek where it had struck the dock. His eyes searched for hers and he tried to say something, but it came out as an inarticulate gargle.

“Can you raise your arms, Ridge?”

His left arm moved an inch or two, but his right arm lay across his abdomen like a dead weight.

“Smile, Ridge. You’re dogging it, now. Smile for me.”

The left corner of his mouth twitched, but the right side of his face sagged like wet modelling clay.

Fumbling for her cellphone, Ellie dialled 911.



It was only a small office, little more than a cubbyhole, but Detective Constable Kevin Walker still couldn’t believe the mess that John Bishop had managed to create in the very short time he’d been here.

Wearing latex gloves as a precaution, Kevin crouched on his hands and knees, pulling trash out from under the battered metal desk and shoving it into a garbage bag. He found balled-up fast food wrappers, half-empty bottles of water, take-out coffee cups, wads of soiled paper towel, ballpoint pens, a white-pages directory for Smiths Falls and environs, and various assorted items of half-eaten food, including a well-gnawed pepperoni stick and a partially consumed hamburger. With extra onions and pickles.

The office was at the far end of the hall in the Rideau Lakes satellite office of the Leeds County OPP detachment. Located a few kilometres south of Smiths Falls, the facility served as home base for eight patrol constables, a sergeant, civilian employees, and a detective constable dedicated to Rideau Lakes Township. For the past six weeks that detective had been Bishop, who’d shifted from the Elizabethtown-Kitley detachment hub office when Detective Sergeant Tom Carty shuffled everyone’s assigned responsibilities.

Tossing the remains of the hamburger into the garbage bag, Kevin sat down on the floor, leaning back against the wall. Moving Bishop to Rideau Lakes had been an act of kindness by Carty on one level, as the detective and his wife had just purchased a new house near Delta, a small hamlet within the township. The change in work location would keep Bishop fairly close to home. On another level, though, Carty was removing a personal source of irritation from his immediate presence, as everyone knew that he and Bishop didn’t get along.

So here was Kevin, covering Rideau Lakes while Bishop was on vacation to move into his new house, and spending his first morning trying to establish a beachhead within all the trash and disorder.

His cellphone buzzed. He took it out, checked the number on the display, and answered. “Walker.”

“Got a call for you.” Carty’s voice was typically brusque. “Bones dug up on Rideau Ferry Road.”

“Bones?” Kevin raised his eyebrows. “Human?”

“Apparently.” Carty rattled off the address. “Ident and the coroner are already there. You’re only a few minutes away.”

“Yeah.” Kevin got to his feet. “Man, you should see this office. What a mess.”

“I don’t want to hear about it.” Carty had been the Rideau Lakes detective constable before his promotion. Consistent with his past experience as a military police officer, he’d kept the cubbyhole in proper trim. “Get moving.”

“Yes, sir.”

The address Carty had given him was in fact only eight kilometres from the satellite office, and before he knew it he was parking his motor pool Ford Fusion on the shoulder of the road and walking down to the barricade at the end of a long paved driveway.

The property had at one time been a small farm, with a stone house set back from the road and scattered outbuildings on either side. There was a barn on the left of the driveway, close to the road, and behind the barn was a backhoe that had evidently just begun to dig up the ground when the bones had appeared. Crime scene tape was strung from the corner of the barn around the backhoe and on out of sight.

Kevin found Identification Sergeant Dave Martin in his white hooded coveralls, mask pulled down and tucked under his chin, talking to one of his forensic constables.

“So, they’re definitely human bones?” Kevin asked.

“Definitely human,” Martin replied, “and they look like they’ve been there for a while.”

“Not that long,” a voice interjected, “as I keep trying to make clear, Sergeant Martin.”

Dr. Fiona Kearns, coroner for Lanark-Leeds, walked around the end of the backhoe toward them, hands on her hips. A small woman, she wore blue coveralls with the hood pushed back. Her shoulder-length auburn hair looked as though it had been sprayed in place. Her mouth was set in a thin, hard line.

Martin rolled his eyes. “Did I say they were prehistoric?”

“Don’t be absurd. All I’m saying is that professional intervention is absolutely necessary.”

Kevin turned around as Ellie March walked up the driveway to join the group. She wore a suit jacket and pants he’d seen many times before, black with a pinstripe, and a black long-sleeved T-shirt. Her preferred crime scene apparel when the temperature was above 20 degrees Celsius, as it had been for the past week.

“Detective Inspector March,” Kearns said, “I’m glad you’re here. We have an intact skull, obviously human, turned up by the initial excavation efforts of this bulldozer, and a humerus long enough to have belonged to an adult.”

Ellie glanced at Martin, who said, “Undamaged. The kid had just started to dig.”

Kearns folded her arms. “I’ve made a decision to call in a forensic anthropologist. It appears to me as though the remains are completely skeletonized, which means they’re at least five years old. We won’t have a clue about the actual post-mortem interval until they’re removed and examined, and I won’t have anyone disturbing them without a qualified anthropologist here to manage the scene and supervise the entire process.”

“I see.” Ellie glanced at Kevin. “Shall we take a look?”

“I have calls to make.” Kearns stalked away, cellphone in hand.

The backhoe was a typical tractor with a large bucket on the front and a smaller one on the back at the end of an articulated arm. Kevin could see that the operator had removed only four or five scoops of soil with the back bucket before turning up the bones. The skull, half-filled with dirt, perched on the top of the pile, and a long bone jutted out underneath it. Down in the narrow hole, he could see another bone that had been partially uncovered.

“The kid’s waiting over there,” Martin said, pointing toward the house where the responding uniformed officer stood with two other people. “He’s pretty shaken up. The property owner’s there, too.”

Ellie frowned. “How old do you think the bones are?”

“Not more than fifty years, probably. There’s a shotgun pellet lodged between two upper teeth, I can see fillings, and there are other pellets visible in the soil.”

“I agree with her decision to bring in a forensic anthropologist,” Ellie said.

Martin shrugged. “Yeah, I know.”

Kevin asked, “Any idea who they might send?”

“There’s one who works full-time for the OFPS,” Martin said, referring to the Ontario Office of Forensic Pathology Service, “but mostly they use fee-for-service consultants. It’ll probably be one of them.”

The group fell silent for a moment.

Kevin glanced at Ellie. “How’s Ridge doing these days?”

“Coming along.”

“He’s recovering?”

“In stages.”

“I understand it was a stroke,” Dave Martin said.

Ellie nodded.

“All right,” Kearns announced, rejoining them. “OFPS is sending out one of their consultants this afternoon, Dr. Ashton Latimer. He’s being helicoptered from Peterborough, and he’ll arrive at the Rideau Lakes Flying Club aerodrome at 1400 hours. Do you people know where that is?”

“Sure,” Kevin said. The small airfield was located just outside Westport, a few kilometres away.

“He’ll be contacting you very shortly,” Kearns said to Martin, “to explain what he wants ready for him when he arrives.”

Martin threw a sarcastic salute.

Kearns rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Keep me fully informed.”

They watched her march up the driveway, passing Carty, who was just arriving.

Kevin briefed his sergeant on the situation. The four stood in an informal circle. Kevin towered over everyone at six feet five inches; Carty was the next tallest at six two; and Ellie and Dave Martin stared up at them like a pair of elves who’d wandered out of the forest.

When Kevin was done with his update, Carty gave him a curt nod. “You’ve got this. Stick with it. God knows where it’s going to go.”

“No problem, sir.”

“Make sure Dr. Kearns knows exactly what’s happening.”

“Okey doke.”

Ellie said to Kevin, “I’ll stop by later and we’ll pick up this consultant when he gets in.”

“Sounds good.” Kevin took another look at the skull and then excused himself, walking across the yard to see what the backhoe operator and the property owner could tell him.

© 2019, 2023 Michael J. McCann

No Sadness of Farewell: An Excerpt