The Lucky Elephant Restaurant
Chapter 1

“You ever look for a missing kid before?” Harper sat up straight as a high-school principal in a grey sports jacket and matching pants. Their black Chevy crested a hill on John Laurie Boulevard. On their right, Nose Hill Park rose two hundred metres to a plateau of prairie where the city people walked their dogs and kept an eye out for coyotes. To the left, and below, houses were hidden behind a grass-covered sound barrier between the roadway and homes. The treetops were a collage of oranges, yellows, and greens. Over Harper’s left shoulder, the downtown high-rises were headstones along the Bow River.

On the western horizon, the Rocky Mountains were white-tipped. In a couple of hours, the sun would drop behind them leaving about thirty minutes of twilight.

“Lane, have you ever looked for a missing...?” Harper said.

“Once,” Lane said, finally. “This time, the mother says the child has been missing since yesterday afternoon.” He shifted his weight. Looking down the long slope of the road, he spotted a green pickup parked on the shoulder. “Better slow down. Wouldn’t want to get your picture taken.” There was a white Multi-Nova flash after a speeding Honda passed the truck.

“Should’ve known.” Harper braked. His bear-like hands made the steering wheel look tiny.

They passed the truck. Lane caught a glimpse of the officer waving from the driver’s seat. Lane lifted his left hand in return. With his right, he adjusted a purple silk tie. A glimpse in the right mirror assured him that the Windsor knot was at the exact centre of his grey collar. His hand moved to brush white lint from black wool slacks.

“What else do you know about this case?” Harper asked.

“Not much. The father is missing as well. Apparently, he moved out of the house nine weeks ago. He’s a welder who travels from job to job. Estranged wife says he went on a holiday. She claims he was angry at her for not letting the kids go with him on a camping trip.”

Harper accelerated up another hill.


Lane shuddered. A flashback shivered up his spine and filled his nose with the stench of decay. He saw a length of fence. The boards were sun-dried grey. White paint peeled from the wood. It curled into flakes and coated back-alley dandelions. A galvanized trashcan had its side creased with a dent. Lane leaned over the can. His fingernails picked at a knot atop a green plastic garbage bag. It opened. There was a matted mess of curly blond hair. He’d been told the child’s eyes were blue but death, and the light shining through green plastic, changed that. They were a colour he’d never seen before, or since. He stuffed his nose into the crook of his elbow. His voice sounded disconnected. “Over here! Oh, Jesus! Over here!”

He stared down at one blue strap of a pair of denim coveralls looped over the child’s shoulder. His heels crunched on gravel. He backed away from the horror and stench of a body swollen by summer heat.

Lane had been there when detectives confronted the father. He’d been drinking. He yelled at Candy. She wet her pants. The father kicked her so hard, she flew into the wall. He put the body in a garbage bag and dropped her into the trash.

Lane remembered getting home that night and throwing his clothes in the wash. Then he scrubbed and shampooed his body till the shower ran cold. For weeks afterward, he smelled death on his clothes, in his hair, and on his hands.
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