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LATER that same afternoon, Jack parked his car along Ben’s route home and began to walk. Reluctant to confront the boy so soon after the emotional outburst that morning, he knew he had to start somewhere. Thinking of ways to approach, he watched Pharo mosey back and forth along the boulevard, outing peculiar odours and relieving himself over top of them. Every so often, he’d gaze back at Jack, either checking on him or looking for praise at his research. One block later, Pharo suddenly dashed ahead and took a flying leap at Ben, yodelling in pleasure. Laughing, Ben hugged him until he realized Pharo couldn’t be alone. He straightened and watched Jack approach, rebellion front and centre.

Jack stopped in front of him and kept his voice neutral. “Can we talk?”

The boy pulled his mouth down, a picture of teenage bad temper. “My mom won’t like you bugging me.” He shifted his backpack, then let his arms hang straight, hands clenched in fists.

“I’m not stalking you, Ben. Your Mom would understand.” Jack knew Ben would tell her, and he sincerely hoped that it was true. Still, it was necessary. Jack spread out his hands to show he meant no harm. It didn’t work.

“If it wasn’t for you, my dad would still be alive.” His voice changed mid-sentence to a croak. “I hate you.” Close to tears, the young vulnerable face looking up at him twisted Jack’s insides.

“I loved him too, Ben. Inside, you know that. And I’ll find out what happened if it’s the last thing I do. You can help.”

Ben looked at him sideways now, his curiosity overcoming the rest of his animosity. “How?” His body slumped. Perhaps now that he had rid himself of his pent-up rage, he might feel better.

In sympathy with Ben, Jack tried to look relaxed, hoping it would help him do the same. “Your dad’s notebook. Your mother says you have it.”

Ben’s face reddened and set in mulish revolt. He made to shove past Jack. “No! It isn’t yours, no matter what you tell me. Besides, I don’t have it. I threw it away. Honest.”

If someone assures you he is honest, Jack wanted to tell him; it surely means he isn’t. The boy’s raised eyebrows emphasized the lie.

Jack sighed. “Ben, this isn’t a game. Holding on to it can be dangerous. What if someone comes looking for it? That person won’t give up, and you and your mom will be in real trouble. At least, if I have it, I can investigate any clues it might hold.”

“Get away from me!” Ben’s shrill cry echoed across the street. A couple on the other side looked over in alarm. The man stepped towards them as if wondering whether he should intervene. Ben took the opportunity and escaped. Jack grinned at the couple, raised his shoulders and spread his hands in the exaggerated lament parents give about kids and their quirks. Satisfied, the couple moved on.

Ben’s figure shrank farther down the street, along with Jack’s hope of getting the notebook. “Want to go to the park, Buddy?” At the magic word, the dog did his dance of anticipation. Less sure, Jack hoped the bushes wouldn’t include someone pointing the business end of a rifle at him.

On returning from a thankfully uneventful outing, Jack stopped at Woodward’s for much-needed groceries. More from habit than enthusiasm, he added a tray of geranium pots from the gardening stand to his cart before he joined the cashier’s lineup. Stowed away in the trunk, the pots with a few lonely red blossoms didn’t seem as cheerful. So a liquor store was next—never mind the medical cautions about mixing medications and alcohol.

Back home, and under Pharo’s expectant eye, Jack chopped up a piece of liver, cooked it, and put it in the steel bowl, trying not to make a face. He added chopped raw carrot to the dog’s pungent dinner and placed it on the floor while Pharo pushed his nose between his legs to get to it.

“Hey, easy. You know better than that,” Jack chided, stepping over his dog, who had already forgotten he was there. A smile threatened to crack his serious demeanour, but the feeling was short-lived. He shuffled over to his LP vinyl collection and sorted through them until he found Billie Holiday and popped it on the turntable. He took a bottle of Pilsner outside, leaving the door open to hear God Bless the Child, hoping the music would inspire fresh ideas.

Investigation of a crime was like engaging in gossip, peeling back layers of wickedness to expose the guilt behind a target’s smoke and mirrors. He should follow the same technique now.

Jack lowered himself into the dusty chair on the balcony, both him and it groaning. The answers were out there, but he needed to know who had them.

“Would you recognize any helpful answers even if you asked the right questions?”

“Who knows until I ask?” he shot back out loud, then clamped his lips together, hating that he was answering an imaginary partner.

Well, no mistaking today’s answers, he thought after a moment. Nobody was interested in searching for Brodie’s actual killer while they already had him in their lineup of one. The attempt on his life had to be connected to Brodie’s death, and planning an offence was the best defence. But what offence? He had to find a crack in the story.

“Or cause a crack and see what comes tumbling out.”

“Sure, Brodie. Suspension may be permanent,” Jack replied, accepting the idea he was losing his mind.

“So what? You favour the alternative? Or just sit around and wait for the inevitable decision?”

Brodie was right. A void closed in at the prospect, threatening to take not only his survival but the essence of his life. Pain up the back of his neck signalled the start of a headache. He gave up thinking and took Pharo outside for his nightly bathroom break.

Inside, he dragged his body into bed and inspected shadows on the ceiling, planning his war.

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