The Resurrectionists – Ch 1

This is a preview of the first chapter of my new book, The Resurrectionists, which is slated to appear later this fall. If you would prefer to hear me reading the chapter aloud, a video preview may be found by scrolling to the bottom.


final week of april, friday night

The sudden death and subsequent resurrection of Riley Moynes—-more a serendipitous circumstance than a major miracle—-unfolded an hour before dusk under a cloudless sky on an empty stretch of northern Ontario highway.

Behind the wheel of a battered pickup truck of dubious vintage, Moynes appeared on his way from nowhere to who-knows-where, drinking and smoking as he drove.  He’d fought alcoholism and a pernicious three-pack-a-day habit for forty years, losing the battle every step of the way.  With no family or friends he knew of, he was truly a solitary wayfarer.  

But right now, for the first time in what seemed like forever, he found himself on a long-awaited, clear path to salvation. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Six years ago, Moynes had been the getaway driver for three armed robbers who made off with a half-million dollars from a trucking firm east of Toronto, a firm owned by the Beaumanoir crime family in Montreal.  The money—from a series of drug deals, fifty packs of recently-issued polymer hundred-dollar bills—had been freshly-laundered through the firm.  Security guards had shot two of the thieves during the robbery—one of whom died minutes later in the car.  His comrades left him there when they transferred to a second vehicle they had stashed. Hours later, the second robber had also died after they reached Kingston.  He, too, had been abandoned when Moynes and the ringleader switched cars yet again.  None of the four had known each other long, so neither of the survivors wasted time mourning the departed.

The plan had changed dramatically, however, when Moynes’s accomplice decided he no longer needed his driver.  On the darkened, deserted highway near Cornwall, he’d pointed his gun at Moynes, still behind the wheel, and ordered him to pull over.  Climbing out the passenger-side, he told him to shut off the ignition and get out of the car.  Moynes, no genius, nevertheless knew what would happen if he complied, so he didn’t.

When he stamped on the accelerator, the passenger door swung violently shut, knocking the gun from the man’s hand.  Gravel sprayed as the  car rocketed from the shoulder, careening wildly on to the asphalt.  Seconds later, Moynes thought he heard gunshots, but nothing hit the car.  And then he was free, the sole custodian of more money than he’d ever dreamed of.

But there were two flies in the ointment—the robber he’d left behind, and the crime family whose money he had.  Moynes knew the man wouldn’t rest until he found him and dispatched him for good.  And he knew about the Beaumanoir mob; they’d be no less relentless until they reclaimed their money.

The good news was the money was untraceable.  The police might investigate for awhile, but they’d have no leads and the case would dry up.  All Moynes had to do was disappear until everything settled down.

Never the bravest of men—hence, his role as driver, rather than gun-toting robber—Moynes had gone to roost.  But not in the Maritimes, which had been the plan.  In a used pickup he bought in Cornwall after ditching the getaway car, he’d headed randomly north and west instead, arriving by chance in the tourist town of Port Huntington on the shores of Georgian Bay.  After skimming twenty-thousand dollars from the take, he deposited the rest in two large safety-deposit boxes in a local bank. 

As he’d expected, the robbery was headline news for a couple of weeks, the initial daily reports eventually giving way to weekly rehashes, and finally nothing at all.  Moynes avidly scanned the newspapers and kept a few clippings until the story disappeared.

A few months later, leaving his meagre belongings in a locker in the fleabag rooming-house where he’d been living—spending frugally, trying to be invisible—Moynes had headed north to Thunder Bay, hoping to find work.  Knowing his erstwhile accomplice was still on the loose, and fearful of the Beaumanoir gang, he judged it too risky to start spending the bulk of the stolen money. 

He paid his landlady to store some belongings, promising to send her a stipend each month.  He also prepaid the bank for the boxes, ten full years.  When he left, he’d taken a further thirty-thousand dollars with him, not knowing when it would be safe to come back for the rest.  He had to be sure he would not be found.

Within a few weeks of his arrival in the Lakehead, he’d found work as a drug mule, moving product from the city’s main supplier—the Midwich Bloods, a local biker-gang—to neighbourhood dealers.  Three months later, he’d learned to his horror that the leader of the Bloods was named Armand Beaumanoir, a nephew of the Montreal crime boss whose money he’d helped steal.  It had scared the bejeezus out of him, but he’d kept a low profile, working with the man’s underlings, never meeting him face-to-face, biding his time until he could safely reclaim the stolen stash.

Five interminable years later, after hearing on the TV news that the surviving robber had been shot to death in an underworld slaying in Quebec, he’d reckoned it was finally time.  Elated and relieved, he had left Thunder Bay, headed for Port Huntington, ready to reclaim the riches of his felonious past.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

At the moment, however, he wasn’t feeling good.  His chest was tight, his jaw ached, and he knew he’d piss himself if he didn’t stop soon.  Even as the thought crossed his mind, a scenic-lookout parking area loomed ahead on the right.  Pulling in abruptly, he didn’t notice a hitchhiker slouched on the guardrail at the entrance to the ramp.

The hitchhiker saw him, though—-saw the vehicle skid to a stop, saw the brake lights flash and go dark, saw the driver’s door open, saw Riley Moynes fall out of the truck on to the pavement.  And lie quite still.

With a glance at the empty highway, the hitchhiker grabbed his two backpacks and trotted the hundred meters to the truck, its engine still idling.  He reached inside to turn it off, stepping over Moynes as he did so.  The interior of the truck smelled like booze, cigarettes, and something really bad.  The only sounds the hitchhiker heard were the wind sighing in the dark valley below the lookout, the pinging of the truck’s engine as it cooled, and his own breathing.

Kneeling down, he pressed his finger against the fallen man’s neck, felt nothing.  He waited several seconds, glancing again at the highway.  In more than two hours, this was the only southbound vehicle to come by, and he’d been resigning himself to another cold night under the stars.

With the light fading quickly, the hitchhiker made up his mind.  Despite a measure of distaste, he went through the dead man’s pockets, found a battered wallet containing one credit card, still active, and thirty-five dollars.  An Ontario driver’s licence and provincial health card, both valid, provided the hitchhiker a name and address.  Their embossed pictures of the skinny, bearded man bore a very slight resemblance to the hitchhiker, currently sporting his own five-day growth—close enough that he figured he could pass for the guy if necessary.  There was also a government card with the man’s social insurance number, and what appeared to be two safety-deposit box keys stashed under a small flap.

In the man’s windbreaker pocket, he found two envelopes, one with a letter inside, which he tucked away to read later.  The other contained a small, plastic baggie holding a dozen white pills.  Stuffing everything into a pocket on one of his backpacks, the hitchhiker turned to the truck. 

The stench inside was so thick that he went around to the passenger door.  After some tugging and screeching of metal on metal, he got it open, allowing the nighttime air to flow through the cab.  The glove compartment was chock-full of junk, most of which he piled on the seat, until he found the vehicle ownership and insurance certificate he was looking for.  He grunted with satisfaction when he saw the truck was registered to the same name on the driver’s licence.

Next, he scoured under the seats—warily, because something really stank.  A styrofoam box of partially-eaten food was the culprit, and he dropped it on the pavement.  A moment later, he found a crumpled bag containing almost five thousand dollars, mostly in fifties and twenties.  That, too, went into his backpack. 

The man’s flip-top cellphone lay in the cluttered console.  A quick check showed no contacts, no favourites, no recent calls, and the hitchhiker slipped it into his pocket.

It appeared luck might finally be breaking his way.  He’d been on the run for four days after his landlord in Thunder Bay, the leader of a motorcycle gang, had discovered the hitchhiker had been sleeping with the man’s girlfriend.  And indeed, that was how it had started, two attractive people drawn to each other.  But their affair had quickly escalated to something more serious, and the two had been planning to run off together. 

Their bad luck in being discovered changed the plan somewhat, but she was waiting to hear from him when he landed somewhere safe.  Knowing the guy would enlist his biker-friends to exact revenge, the hitchhiker had hit the road.  Between rides, he’d been increasingly worried about being caught on foot, far from anywhere.  Until right now.

Spying a metal waste-can by the guardrail, he trundled it over to the truck.  The accumulated garbage from the cab went into it, including a nearly-empty mickey of rye, a crumpled pack of cigarettes, and the box of spoiled food.  After a moment’s hesitation, the man retrieved the baggie containing the pills from his backpack and added it to the can.

The can itself then went over the rail.  It took several seconds before its noisy descent down the cliff-wall was halted in the forest below.

That left only the dead man and the truck.  With some effort, the hitchhiker hauled the dishevelled body to the edge, humped it over the rail, and let it go.  It made much less noise as it fell than the metal can had. 

He kept the phone, figuring if someone tried to locate the man by pinging its location, it would be better to dispose of it somewhere else.  The truck, of course, he commandeered, along with the dead man’s identity.  By driving with the windows down, the smell was tolerable, and he was soon a long way down the road.  At a gas station where he stopped for a pee, he broke the phone in half and tossed it in a drainage ditch.  He also read the letter, apparently from a former landlady, telling the man she’d be getting rid of the stuff he’d left with her if he wasn’t in touch by the end of the month.

Her return address was the same as the one on the man’s driver’s licence, River Street in Port Huntington.  By midnight, the hitchhiker was halfway there, driving south, figuring an anonymous rooming-house in a small, rural town was as good a place as any to hole up.  He spared no thought to the two men he had left behind—the hitchhiker-on-the-run he had been until recently, and the dead man who’d been dropped unceremoniously over the cliff. 

In one fell swoop, the hitchhiker had effectively managed his own disappearance, eluding a beating or worse from a vengeful boyfriend; and Riley Moynes, a desperate man on the cusp of realizing his dreams, had died and been resurrected.

The author, reading Chapter 1, as part of his Reading Out Loud series

Eight Families

More years ago than I like to think, I was born right here in Canada.  Both my parents were born here, as well, in the mid-teens of the twentieth century.  Before them, in the waning years of the nineteenth century, their parents were also born here—making me a third-generation, native-born Canadian.

When I hearken back to the fourth generation of my predecessors, however, I encounter people I never knew—my great-grandparents, people who were not born in Canada.  Their surnames, patronyms from eight separate families, give some clues as to their country of origin.

On my maternal side four generations ago, a female McDonald married a male McKinnon, and a female Duck married a male Roche.  Some years later, a female McKinnon would marry a male Roche, thereby positioning themselves to eventually become my grandparents.

On my paternal side in that same generation, a female O’Dell married a male Smyth, and a female Thompson married a male Burt.  Much later, a female Smyth would marry a male Burt, thus also setting themselves up to become my grandparents. 

That last surname, of course, was passed down the patriarchal lineage to me, the first-born grandchild on both sides, when a female Roche, my mother, married a male Burt, my father.

All eight of my great-grandparents’ families, so far as I know, hailed originally from the United Kingdom or northern Europe.  But there were more differences among them in the beginning than similarities.  The eight who became my great-grandparents were born in Scotland, France, Ireland, England, or the still-young United States of America, to parents whose families were of anglo-, celtic, germanic, and franco- backgrounds.  They were schoolteachers and tradesmen, milliners and small business owners, clerks and farmers; they were Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Anglican.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, these eight people emigrated to the new land that would later become Canada, all of them in the company of their own parents—sixteen people of whom I have no knowledge.  Although all arrived directly from their respective homelands, the two born in America were known thereafter as United Empire Loyalists, for having returned north to the British sphere of influence. 

After settling in this new land, and marrying as I have described above, each of the four new couples, none of whom knew each other, settled in what was then Upper Canada—which became the province of Ontario after Confederation in 1867—living in what is now Perth County, the Niagara Region, and Toronto.  Each couple began their own families, spawning eighteen children who survived to adulthood, among whom were my grandparents.

Despite the myriad differences among them—birthplace, ethnic heritage, occupation, religion—there was one striking similarity; every one of them was white.  None of them were slaveowners, of course, that practice having been constrained by the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, and abolished outright in 1833.  Nor were they members of the wealthy, landed gentry, the people who came to govern the land in a fashion modelled after the British parliament.

Rather, they were part of the faceless but industrious wave of immigrants who bent their efforts to making a modest place for themselves in their new home.  Although my great-grandfathers had the right to vote from the time they arrived, it was not until 1917 that my great-grandmothers were legally able to vote provincially, and 1918 before they could do so federally.  

In fact, though, some of them would have waited even longer because of their husbands’ unwillingness to allow them the opportunity (male primacy).  I imagine one or two might have passed away without ever having exercised that right. 

Although I recognize the kinship I have with my four great-grandfathers, I fear I would not like them (if I could travel back in time), because the values and attitudes they espoused—in keeping with prevailing mores of that period, to be sure—would be in stark contrast to my own, cultivated and nurtured by a more enlightened era.

Still and all, without those women and men, I would not be here to reflect on the lives they lived.  So I try to honour them for their fortitude and perseverance, and celebrate them for the genetic legacy they passed down through three generations to my mother and father.

Across all those years, bearing all those names, eight people became four couples, who produced four people who became two couples, who produced my parents, who produced me.

And now I, having long ago become a couple with my wife, have produced two children who became couples, who have produced our five grandchildren—extending us now to six generations. None of my grandchildren has yet become part of a couple, but if family history is any indicator, they will, I’m sure. 

The joining of eight families here in Canada, four generations ago, an intricate dance that began circa 1840, has lasted into 2020, 180 years in all.

And the beat goes steadily on.

The Movie Critic

During my long-ago university days, a friend and classmate in our journalism programme enticed me on several occasions to skip classes and spend our days in the local movie theatres.  Curtailed by our austere budgets, we patronized the seedier of those—the Biltmore, the Rio, the Roxy—often getting three features, two cartoons, a newsreel, and a couple of previews for the price of admission.

After being indoors from shortly after nine in the morning until well after four in the afternoon, lunching on salted cashews and soda, I frequently saw the journey home on public transit through squinting eyes, and with a flickering headache.

Such reckless behaviour did not seriously impede our academic progress, happily.  Despite our truant ways, both of us managed to graduate on schedule, thanks to the great gift of being able to write well and on deadline.  I soon enrolled in a teacher-training programme, which led me to the path I followed for the next thirty-years-plus. 

My friend, on the other hand, sought and gained immediate employment with a small city newspaper where, among other assigned duties, she quickly established herself as the resident movie critic.  I was never sure how stringent the requirements were for that role, though, because most of the films we enjoyed had featured such luminaries as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff, starring in such films as The House of Usher, The Raven, and Pit and the Pendulum.

Not exactly boffo hits at the box office!

On the occasion of my friend’s retirement a few years ago, I sent her a sincere note of congratulations and remembrance, hearkening back to those golden school days of yore where she had received the best training for her work as a critic from the most unlikely of sources.

And just for fun, to show her the havoc that would have ensued had I followed that same career path, I sent along my imagined synopsis of several award-winning movies from the 1920s to the 2010s, picking one from each decade.  My list is reproduced below, including the names of their respective directors—

1920s   The Kid   (Charlie Chaplin)

A woebegone tramp, homeless and alone, finally finds happiness living in an abandoned boxcar with a baby goat.

1930’s   City Lights   (Charlie Chaplin)

An impoverished, old lamplighter in 1890s New York almost changes history when he tries to discourage Thomas Edison from inventing the lightbulb.

1940s   All the King’s Men   (Robert Rossen)

The king of a faraway land finds that neither he, nor any of his men, can repair his breakfast egg that was accidentally broken when it fell off a high wall.

1950s   Twelve O’Clock High   (Henry King)

Jack Kerouac writes a literary masterpiece after discovering the joy of smoking dope continuously as soon as he wakens every morning.

1960s   Some Like It Hot   (Billy Wilder)

A young chef in the czarist court discovers that, although the czarina does not like pease porridge hot—preferring it nine days old and cold—some do.

1970s   Carrie   (Brian De Palma)

In a remake of Birth of a Nation (1915), the birth and early activism of Carrie, a radical member of the temperance movement, is chronicled. 

1980s   Full Metal Jacket   (Stanley Kubrick)

In a film adaptation of the classic tale of Ivanhoe, a solitary knight in shining armor sets out on a quest to gain entry to King Arthur’s Round Table.

1990s   Men in Black   (Barry Sonnenfeld)

Two undertakers, known as the fishin’ morticians, enter a salmon-fishing contest, spawning a host of jokes when their prize catch is already embalmed.

2000s   There Will Be Blood   (Paul Thomas Anderson)

A food critic in Los Angeles learns what else he will find on his plate when he orders his prime-rib extra-rare.

2010s   Spring Breakers   (Harmony Korine)

Two grossly-overweight friends find work in a mattress and box-spring factory, testing new products before they go to market.

Some time after sending off my note, I received a lovely reply from my old friend, assuring me of her continuing regard, but with no commentary on my list.  It may be that, despite her job, she had never reviewed the films I cited, and so accepted my synopses at face value. 

Or, more probably, she assumed I have taken leave of my senses.

But that’s alright.  I always wanted to be her friend, but I never wanted to be a movie critic!

The Resurrectionists

The Giller Prize long list was announced last week, and wouldn’t you know it, my seventh novel, The Resurrectionists, is not yet off the press and ready for distribution!  Talk about bad timing! 

But the good news is that it’s due out later this fall.

A half-million dollars in stolen money is being laundered by two desperate lovers on the run from a criminal gang. 
To evade the pursuers hunting them, the woman resurrects a name from her past and disappears into a First Nations reserve near Port Huntington, a tourist town on Georgian Bay.  Her lover, after a chance encounter with a dying stranger on a lonely, northern highway, takes on the man’s identity. 
Despite these efforts to escape their pursuers, the newly-resurrected lovers find the gang still hot on their trail, even as new problems arise with their money-laundering scheme.  Unable to flee without being discovered, they turn to Maggie Keiller and Derek Sloan for help, and a series of grisly murders soon follows. 
Maggie and Derek, quickly drawn into the ensuing police investigation, help to unmask a large, international drug-smuggling ring.  At the same time, Maggie is working to rescue a teenage girl who is being sexually abused in her home by one of the smuggling ringleaders. 
As the threads of these events weave together, Maggie and Derek find themselves in mortal danger from the criminals they are attempting to bring to justice. 
And as the story reaches its climax, two wicked surprises unfold, shocking everyone involved.  

I’ll be sure to let everyone know when the book does appear, and will shortly publish a preview of chapters 1 and 2 right here on my blog.

Watch for that announcement.