Authors: Howard Engel
MURDER SEES THE LIGHT
is the creator of the enduring and beloved detective Benny Cooperman, who, through his appearance in twelve best-selling novels, has become an internationally recognized fictional sleuth. Two of Engel's novels have been adapted for TV movies, and his books have been translated into several languages. He is the winner of numerous awards, including the 2005 Writers' Trust of Canada Matt Cohen Award, the 1990 Harbourfront Festival Prize for Canadian Literature and an Arthur Ellis Award for crime fiction. Howard Engel lives in Toronto.
Also in the Benny Cooperman series
The Suicide Murders
Murder on Location
The Ransom Game
A City Called July
A Victim Must Be Found
Dead and Buried
There Was An Old Woman
Getting Away with Murder
The Cooperman Variations
East of Suez
Also by Howard Engel
Murder in Montparnasse
Mr. Doyle & Dr. Bell
A BENNY COOPERMAN MYSTERY
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Published in Penguin Canada paperback by Penguin Group (Canada),
a division of Pearson Canada Inc., 1984, 1985
Published in this edition, 2008
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)
Copyright Â© Howard Engel, 1984
Lyrics from “Mah Lindy Lou,” by Lily Strickland copyright Â© 1920 G. Schirmer, Inc., used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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For my brother, David,
who knows about canoes and loons
Patten looked at me, then again at the board. He hadn't expected me to move my Queen's Pawn. He'd decided I'd save my endangered Knight. Not a bad play for somebody who claimed to be in the ladies' ready-to-wear business in a small town. Maybe I should have taken a more conservative line, but what the hell, I had to make the guy like me. He had enough flunkies lying around. He didn't need another gofer. My appeal was to his intellectual side, such as it was.
He was wearing those reflecting sunglasses that should be outlawed by the rules of international chess. I couldn't see his mind working behind them, and I had the distraction of the lake, the first island, and the far shore to deal with. David Kipp was out in his custom-made canoe again. Gloomy George was running around the lake in his big outboard like he was King of Algonquin Park. George's motor was too big for him. Patten lit a black cheroot with a Spanish rope lighter, then let his hand hover over the white pieces. By now he could see that I'd opened up my Queen's Bishop. He moved his Bishop as I expected, and we sparred for a few turns. He snapped up a Pawn, and we each took a Knight. I could see sweat rolling down his tanned cheek into the wool of his beard. That was all the reassurance I needed. I put my Queen to work on my tenth move, forced a crisis, and declared mate on my twentieth move. Patten flicked the cheroot to the patio and leaned back from the rattan table.
“What do you call a game like that, fella? That's booklearned chess, that's not rough and tumble. I bet that's got a fancy name, Benny. What do you call it: the Shmata Defence? The Hebrew Gambit? What's its name, fella?” He took a tall glass with condensation blurring the effect of the orange against the white of his shirt or the blue of the lake and sipped aggressively. I didn't tell him it was the Scotch Gambit. It would only open up the territory to wider national slurs. I shrugged as though I'd just made up the game as I went along. Funny, he never got racial when he was winning at something. In the boat, for instance. He was the better fisherman, netting more fish and bigger ones than I hauled in. He could swim farther than I could, and I'll bet he could pump iron with the professionals. He didn't try me on tennis, golf, or tenting on the old campground, but I'd be willing to guess he'd walk over me. Luckily up here at Big Crummock Lake we were at least seventy miles from the nearest golf course, and tennis wasn't one of the approved sports inside the provincial park. In fact, he couldn't show off at sailing, because there were no sailboats. This was a wilderness area, or as close to at as the Ontario government and the lumber companies allowed it to be. Here the shore wasn't cluttered with cottages or trailer parks. That wasn't the style on Big Crummock. Nor did the far shore boast of colourful boathouses like the ones in Muskoka. Wilderness meant no large motorboats, and except for the big Rimmer cruiser and George's speedboat, the typical water vessel was the canoe. They came in various sizes and colours. I don't think pastels are allowed yet, but there are signs of softening on that point.
My big moment with Patten came when I pulled him off the burning front end of his motorboat. He was still holding the starting rope in his hands, and the stern end had completely disappeared. I dumped him into the lake to put out his burning shorts, then hauled him, sputtering, out of the shallow water to the dock. Since then he liked to have me around, even if I did beat him at chess. Hanging around the Woodward place suited me fine. Patten didn't need to know that I was being paid to keep an eye on him. I didn't just happen to be fishing two hundred yards off the end of his dock for the fun of it.
From where I was sitting facing Patten and the lake, the scene of our first meeting lay just over his shoulder. In fact the charred pieces of the boat could be seen bobbing in the reeds to the left of the dock. The blisters on Patten's face now looked like sunburn. Under the reflecting sunglasses you couldn't see his partially charred eyebrow.
Two weeks ago I'd got a call from Ray Thornton of Reeder, Ansell and Thornton, an old Grantham legal firm on Queen Street across from the post office. Ray had been at Edith Cavell School with me from kindergarten through to grade six. I lost sight of him for a few years, and then he turned up asking me to tail the wife of a client of his. That was just after I set up as a private investigator with a shingle waving over St. Andrew Street. That first report led to other assignments. Somehow, in those early days it always ended up in the divorce courts. Now they've changed the laws, so I take what I can get.
Ray met me for lunch at the United Cigar Store, just up the block and across the road from my office. There was nothing fancy about the United. It was fast and clean and didn't hide its mistakes under a sprig of parsley. I was already into my second bite of a toasted chopped egg sandwich when Ray dropped a clipping from
The Globe and Mail
on the green marble countertop. It was a wireservice story about how the former friends and colleagues of Norbert E. Patten were trying to find him. I'd heard of Patten, and from what I'd heard, I couldn't get excited about the fact that he'd got lost.
“How do you come into it?” I asked Ray
“I have a client who has sunk a lot of money into Patten's Ultimate Church, and he's very concerned about Patten's to-ings and fro-ings. Especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to render a decision on the tax status of the church. We should hear the judgement before the end of the week after next. So my client doesn't want his boy to slip away from the steely grip of the law, if that's what it comes to.”
“That's all Patten's good for. He's got more cute tricks in him than a magicians' convention.”
Patten, besides getting blown out of motorboats and losing his temper after chess, was the bright boy who linked up evangelism with the franchising techniques of modern business. He'd set up a world-wide corporate structure, collected millions, part of it in tax breaks, and become a well-heeled saver of souls with an amalgam of Zen, Spiritualism, and that old-time religion of the American Bible Belt. The Ultimate Church was more than just a cult, it was a super-cult. I shook my head thinking about the mixture of Bible-thumping and the American Way. “Didn't Patten slip out of California a year or so ago?”
“That's right. He left Burbank and surfaced in Chicago, as busy as ever.”
“That's my boy.”
“But he's not running the tight ship of yesteryear. There have been defections. Early this year his yacht was seized in Spain, and the crew members were arrested by the
Patten didn't raise a hand to help out.”
“And the defectors?”
“Princes of the church every blessed one of them. They couldn't sign affidavits fast enough. The picture I get from them is that Norbert E. Patten is much given to excesses and tantrums and has developed a sincere need to rule the world.”
“Everybody should have a hobby, Ray. And the world could use some of his money. Why do you want me to spoil it?”