-by Jake Doherty
Constable Exner had other priorities. A lanky man from northern Alberta who had come east when his banker father was transferred to Owen Sound, Exner had lived in the Bruce long enough to respect squall weather in winter. Offshore winds were already picking up. Roads would close, schools would shut down in the morning when nothing could move in the blinding blur of wind-whipped snow.
Even on a crime scene.
"If you'll pardon an old woman, Constable, sir," said Nellie, hands on her ample hips, looking out the window, "them bodies aren't moving out of here tonight, no hurry for the coroner now, so let's divide my gang into two groups and--"
"Nellie this is police business, and I wish you would find some coffee as Mike said or--"
By now Exner had begun to let his frustration show.
"Mike, er, Corporal, couple of quick suggestions if I--"
"You too?" said Erskine, looking at the anxious faces watching him and experienced enough to take advice, though not always easily. "Shoot, quick-like!"
Exner quickly surveyed the birders' reaction, and stepped into the center of the room.
"First does anyone have a camera here or a cell phone? Over there? Right on. If you would sir, take several shots of the bodies as they are now. The crime scene guys won't be here, perhaps until morning, and we should move the bodies into the back room, cover them somehow – I think I saw a tarp in there – and let the rest of us stay here...Two helpers over there? Good."
Nellie, never shy, intervened. "I got a marker pen in me purse. Can I trace the outline of the bodies first? That's what they do on TV and--"
"Get to it then," said Corporal Erskine, stepping forward to regain control. "Now Nellie, I need a small group of volunteers with heavy snow boots and jackets, well folks who can divide the perimeter, and move out for a hundred meters or so, within sight of the cabin anyway. If anyone out there needs help or...no assumptions that there are only two bodies here, just holler and..."
"Like this, HELP, HELP," Nellie blasted, full force into everyone's face," and just keep yelling HELP."
"Ooh Nellie, that's a bit... oh madam, yes you in the back, you've found candles. Great."
Within minutes, the birders organized themselves into a radial search. Most had flashlights of their own, stomping around with walking sticks. The two officers positioned themselves at the front and back of the cabin. No chatter at first, just the roar of the waves pounding ashore from Georgian Bay, and the first rush of squall weather through the trees. Except for Nellie, charging head down, hands shielding her eyes until she bounced off a big rock and then into a tree. "I need help. No, not that kind of help. Art, just lift me up."
Their giggling stopped abruptly.
"Over here," said a voice about five meters just to the left of them at the shoreline. "HELP, HELP. I've found a boat. HELP, HELP."
As had Sherry Wilkie from the Mar hamlet on Highway 6. She stood beside an old fishing boat, high and dry out of the water, long and low with high plywood sides.
Erskine reached her first. He looked inside. Nothing.
"At least we know where it's from," said Sherry, cleaning snow off her glasses to read the faint lettering on the stern: "From Upper Michigan. And it's name...let me take a closer look...Mekong Delta? What's that? Chinese?"
"No," said Nellie catching up. "Vietnamese. Me nephew died there."