TW: dead bodies, implied abuse
Let’s be perfectly clear here. There is nothing special about LeBreton Flats. There’s a museum about how we’ve learned to kill people the most efficiently through the years. In the summer, a bunch of sweaty preps get together and think they’re cultured because they watch pop stars pretend to be country singers. One time, a stage collapsed on some aging eighties band. That is the extent of excitement in this neighborhood. Population: three-hundred-something.
You’d think Gurjas would have the decency to get killed somewhere interesting.
Gurjas hadn’t had the decency to do much, though. He didn’t want to tell me anything useful, it appeared, and once I’d pulled the lying trick on him, I wouldn’t be able to trust anything else he said. As a result, I was stuck with an entire neighborhood to canvass.
Still, I did know three very important things.
One. The home address Mrs. Chaudhury had given me was in Nepean—way, way south of here.
Two. So was the Civic Hospital. I knew my bus routes. This led me to the inescapable, very, very interesting Three—that whatever Gurjas had been doing here, he hadn’t been on his way home from work.
I pulled out my phone and managed to grab a decent map of LeBreton. At least he hadn’t gotten killed somewhere busy. LeBreton was mostly flatland and construction, which didn’t leave a lot of potential dumping grounds. Or a lot, depending on how you considered it, but if you didn’t want your murder victim coming up in pieces via bulldozer… “What do you think had him all the way out here?” I asked slyly.
Johara gave me a hurt look, clearly coming to the same conclusion I had—and rejecting it. “I’m sure he had a good reason.”
“Like a mistress.”
“He wouldn’t,” she pronounced with a glare.
I snorted and aimed my grin at the ground. “Aw. Jumping to his defense already.” Jo had a soft spot for lost souls, dead or alive.
“He’s a nice man! He didn’t deserve what happened.”
I paused at that. “Nobody does. Whether he had a mistress or not doesn’t change that.” I sighed and glanced up at the construction zone next to the museum. The summer had been filled with all sorts of grand plans and ideas for what to do with the place. Libraries. Arenas. But all I could see was an empty stretch of torn-up earth, dead and wasted space, criss-crossed with tire-marks and withered grass. “Well, his body’s somewhere in here. Look for disturbed earth, anywhere where there might have been digging, stuff like that.”
“Over all of this?”
“Yeah. Get started.” I gave her an amused glance. “Hey, you wanted to come.”
She drifted off without further comment, and I shook my head. Typical. I stepped out onto the broken field, and started taking measured paces, using my phone as a flashlight. It probably would have been easier during the day, but the construction workers would all be here during the day, and every other teenager playing hooky from school, and people in the museum… Besides, three days later, Gurjas probably wasn’t looking his best.
I licked my lips and tried to ignore the voice. I could see another ghost at the edge of my vision, oily silver with the kind of fuzzing around the edges that really old ghosts get. Like old Polaroids. If I pretended I couldn’t hear them, they’d go away. See, they can’t tell that I’m a medium until I acknowledge them. Sometimes ignoring your problems does work.
They drifted around me curiously as I kept my steady pace, searching for a sign. I nearly stuck my foot in a puddle, I was so focused on not looking at them.
“I like your hair.”
Why were they talking to me? Were they so old and lonely that they were talking to everyone or—
“Don’t worry, she’s just crabby,” Johara said cheerfully. “Jamal, she thinks she knows where—”
“Goddamit, Jo!” I burst out, circling on her. She recoiled, doe eyes blinking, but I wasn’t fooled. She knew exactly what she was doing. “Twice? Twice in one day?”
“You can’t just ignore it!”
“I can do whatever the fuck I want, thanks.” I was so tempted to throw my phone at her, but it’s not like that would have done anything anyway. I ran my fingers through my hair and groaned in frustration—and, my secret having been spilled, turned my attention reluctantly to the second ghost I’d had to deal with that day.
She was young. Older than me, but that didn’t mean much—I was practically a baby compared to most of the ghosts I ran into. I couldn’t imagine how long she’d been dead, though—the dress she had on was the kind of thing you saw in museums and ancient photographs, the wide collar almost hidden under the spill of her singed, pale hair. She was fat, too, which was weird with ghosts sometimes – you got used enough to all the movies with skinny perfect people wearing historical costumes that you forgot that it didn’t work that way.
I took a deep breath. “Okay, what was Jo talking about?”
The ghost blinked, translucent eyelashes long and fluttering against her patchy, age-stained cheek. “Are you looking for a body?”
I nodded, not trusting my voice. At least Gurjas had been recently dead. The older ghosts freaked me out on a completely different level. How many years has she been here? Wandering around half-alive, waiting for somebody to keep her company? I pushed the thoughts away, but the existential terror refused to budge.
“He’s buried in the riverbank,” she said quietly.
“The bank? Did you see what happened?”
She shook her head. “I saw the girl, though.”
I paused, and my heart skipped a beat. Then I yanked my pad out of my pocket. “A girl?”
“Yes. There was a young girl with him – she got away.”
I stared at the white paper for a moment, then back up at her. “Okay, young girl is vague. Are you talking twenties, teenager, toddler?”
“I… I’m not sure. Eighteen? Nineteen? Maybe younger.” She smiled softly. “Everybody looks young.”
I swallowed. “Did she—seem scared?”
“A little. He wasn’t being rough with her, though. Was he her father?”
I took a deep breath. “No. No, I don’t think so.” Gurjas’s daughter was six. Whoever he’d had with him, it hadn’t been Sulha Chaudhury. “Did you see where she went?”
“She ran off…that way.” She pointed downtown. That wasn’t the most helpful direction, but I jotted it down anyway. “She was… thin, too thin. Not just thinner than me, the kind where you know she hasn’t been eating. Bones sticking out. And something wasn’t – right.”
“That’s not exactly specific,” I murmured. “Anything else?”
“Oh! She was – er, an immigrant? Not white? One of those?”
“One of-“ I sighed. “Anything specific?”
Great. So all I had is that this girl wasn’t white, and a reminder that old people were racist. I scribbled it down, reminding myself with tongue firmly stuffed between my teeth that she was over a hundred years old, white and dead. Still, though.
“Take us to the bank where he is. We need that body.”
The ghost nodded. I had the feeling I was being rude, and awkwardly, I added. “What’s your name?”
She paused, a photograph in the dark. Then she murmured, “I don’t remember. ”
I first noticed the smell a few metres from the riverbank, and it only got worse as I got closer. Johara wasn’t bothered, and actually gave me a concerned look as I held the sleeve of my jean jacket to my nose. Of course. Ghosts couldn’t smell things.
It was the smell of rotting meat. Our guide stopped, well back from the disturbed earth. I kept going. The turned soil was conspicuous if you were looking for it, too far back from the actual running water to be a consequence of the river.
I wondered if I should just call the police now. But a patch of dark ground wasn’t enough, even with the smell. I looked around, found a branch, and tried not to gag as I pulled my sleeve from my nose. Slowly, swallowing the bile rising up my throat, I started scraping the soil aside.
“Jamal, I’m scared,” Johara whimpered quietly.
A snarky response bubbled in my head—what did you think looking for a body would be like—but I pushed it away. “It’ll be okay. He’ll be at rest. We’re doing the—” I swallowed. “The right thing.” I’d seen enough ghosts in various stages of decomposition. This couldn’t be any worse.
The stick hit something—and sank into it. My stomach roiled, and I threw myself away, emptying my stomach into the bushes. My head wouldn’t stop spinning, and Johara was crying softly behind me. “I don’t wanna look, Jamal, please, please—”
I closed my eyes. “Jo, you’re dead. And so is he. We’ve talked to him.”
“Yeah. It is.”
I wiped my mouth, taking a shuddering breath. I shouldn’t be snapping at her. She had more reasons to be scared of death than I did. I didn’t even remember what she’d looked like after the car had hit her—it was buried deep in the back of my head where it couldn’t hurt me—but I had a feeling she did. I’d never asked her. We didn’t talk about it. Understandably enough, I felt.
I turned back to the grave and fought off another wave of hysterical nausea as I realized the branch was sticking straight up into the air. Poor Gurjas. I hoped it wasn’t his face. I took a hold of it, yanked it out—
I heard a breath behind me. There was somebody else living, there with me and the dead.