If there is one time of the year I have mixed emotions about, it’s the month of November. There is a distinct nip in the air. Overcast days can bring anything from a bone chilling rain that freezes on the ground upon contact to a feverous snowfall. The malls have swung into full Christmas shopping sales; although, in my opinion, the holiday sale season doesn’t officially get underway until after the annual Santa Claus Parade has taken place. And for the eclectic few that I have come to know three years prior, they are within the throws of creative abandon as they toil away at their keyboards in an attempt to hammer out a fifty thousand word novel within the span of thirty days. While, I confess that I still attempt the challenge in the years since I had been introduced to the aforementioned motley crew, my days lately have been spent behind my desk; writing up reports on whatever case I have been working on, or pounding the pavement with my partner-slash-girlfriend. On this particular day, I happen to be toiling more on the former.
My professional -- and personal -- colleague and I had recently been finishing up a case where we rounded up a couple of hoodlums responsible for some thefts in the St. Lawrence Market area. While I admit there are some interesting wares that could be stolen from the rustic shopping complex, I rarely saw the appeal for some black market grocery items. Logic would have dictated the thieves would have targeted the art gallery in the upstairs portion, but our investigation uncovered that the culprits were working their way up to it; using the deli meats and cheeses as a rouse to throw us off the trail before they hit the big ticket items. Thankfully, we were able to arrest these sets of sticky fingers before any real valuable assets were lost.
Now, here I was, stuck behind my desk, filling out my reports on the matter. I’ve really had to clean up my work ever since I was on the brink of losing my job of the past 27 years a couple of months ago. Apparently, my superiors and the fine detectives with the Special Investigations Unit did not take too kindly to the manner I captured a trio of break-and-enter artists; who also had weapons and drug offences attached to their rap sheets. Granted, I do confess that I didn’t inform of the proper departments beforehand when my partner, a couple of Constables, and myself stormed their dwelling in Regent Park to arrest the scum. For that lapse of procedure, I had been suspended for two weeks. It was the wake-up call I needed because I had really lost my rational judgment in recent years. I had heard it from all angles after I had gotten called out onto the carpet: the S.I.U. detectives, my superior officer, my partner, and the worst of them all… the spirit of my dearly departed fiancée.
So, here I was, at my desk, doing the necessarily procedural duties. I was so engrossed in filling out my report that I didn’t notice my partner, Detective Jessica Amerson walk by my desk, with the aforementioned specter in tow with her.
“Please tell me you’re not working on your novel writing project, Celdom,” Jessica cautioned.
“Negative, Amerson,” I assured. “I’m just finishing up the reports on the St. Lawrence Market bust.”
“A likely story, Gary,” the spirit of Karen Prairie scolded. “You’re probably jotting down some plot notes just before we came in.”
“Look for yourself,” I challenged. “I highly doubt people would write a novel where a stolen block of Havarti and a kielbasa is a focal point in the narrative.”
“Gary,” the ghost countered, “this is the same event where people discuss urinal cakes and free shrimp dinners in their exploits. Deli items can’t be that far off.”
My partner looked over my shoulder and confirmed, “He’s speaking the truth this time, Karen. I can see he’s using the proper forms for this.”
“And why wouldn’t I?” I chuffed. “Do you two think I want another suspension without pay after Detectives Johnson and Dyakowski from the S.I.U. reprimanded me over the Saunders arrest back in September?”
“Well, no,” my girlfriend attempted to reason, “but, I know how wrapped up you get sometimes during the novel writing challenge when November rolls around.”
“Jessica, Karen,” I sighed, with a hint of exasperation, “I’ve skated on thin ice way too often in recent years. I don’t want to risk crashing through the surface and throwing away a long career in the process.”
“So, the changed Gary Celdom act is still going on,” the spirit jovially mocked. “I’m surprised you’ve been able to keep it up for this long.”
“As am I,” Jessica added. “I would’ve thought you would’ve been called out on the carpet by Lt. Davies or someone higher up on the food chain by now.”
Normally at this point I would have blown up at the two females before me; however, I just gritted my teeth and took their doubt with a grain of salt. Given the history I’ve had, I don’t blame them for giving me the gears. I had been beating myself up ever since the suspension for a fortnight, and Jessica and Karen have never let me forget it. I guess it was their way of testing my mettle to see if there were any chinks in my newly formed armor. I had been good so far, but I could understand why they would be so skeptical after all this time.
“I see what you two are doing,” I shook my head, “and while I do commend you for your effort, it’s not going to work. Besides, I can’t really let my frustrations show. Remember, Amerson, if I’m cut loose, you’re going to have to start working with someone else on the beat. And do you really want to endure working with someone who might not be as tolerable as I am?”
Jessica began to backtrack over my suggestion. She liked working with me, and it was because of the rapport she and I shared we had developed the romantic relationship outside of work the previous August when I was caught in the midst of a hostage standoff at a fan convention in Yorkville. If I was not around on a daily basis, that foundation we had established might have begun to deteriorate, and it was not something she wanted to risk throwing away; not after she had harbored such deep-rooted feelings for a while.
“I apologize, Gary,” she retracted. “You know I only grill you because I care about you, as does Karen. I do have to commend you for the progress you’ve made so far in cleaning up your act. I can imagine it hasn’t been easy for you to make this change.”
“It has been quite an adjustment, I do admit,” I conceded, with a bit of a chuckle. “However, I am committed to working here for at least a few years more. You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”
“I’m relieved to hear that,” my partner smiled. “I don’t want you to leave anytime soon. Besides, like you said, there are a couple of things on your career ‘bucket list’ you want to cross off before you hang it up.”
“The main one,” Karen chimed in, “I’m still waiting to happen after 20 years.”
“And like I’ve told you before,” I explained to the specter, “I need to overcome the psychological and emotional block I have within my psyche before I can do that.”
“At least you have Knoblach to help you through that,” Jessica cited.
“Believe me,” I nodded, “I am very thankful Lt. Davies assigned me to see her regularly over the past three years. My sessions with her have really helped.”
Ever since the aftermath of a difficult case where my previous romantic interest ended her long-distance relationship with me, my superior officer felt I was not in the right emotional mind to be an effective member of the Toronto P.D. Fortunately for me, Lt. John Davies saw there was still a solid detective residing within me, so he suggested I start seeing the police psychologist, Ann Knoblach, in a bid for me to get my id under control. It would be during my one-on-one sessions with her that I was able to get to the root of my problems: I had not been able to overcome the psychological and emotional trauma I experienced two decades ago when Karen was assassinated right before me on the day we were to vow to spend the rest of our lives together. It was a traumatic experience I had never been able to let go of, and it is because of that, I continued to see and have conversations with her ghostly spirit in the years since the tragedy. Fortunately, I now have Jessica who could empathize with the inner turmoil I have endured all of these years. My partner knew of my plight and the difficulties I had on a daily basis ever since Lt. Davies assigned us to each other two years ago; however, Detective Amerson did not really grasp the full scope of it until Karen revealed herself to my now girlfriend during the hostage siege a mere three months ago. What’s more, in a move that shocked both Jessica and yours truly, the spirit gave her blessing for us to enter into a personal relationship outside of the confines of our workplace. It was a new dynamic the two of us have since embraced, and we are thankful Karen has stuck around to be a good friend and guise throughout the weeks since.
After a little bit more banter, Lt. Davies came out of his office and called out to us, “Amerson, Celdom, in my office now.”
“Uh oh,” the specter worried, “looks like you two are in hot water over something.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” I deflected. “It might be to talk about this robbery case.”
“Shall we, partner,” Jessica asked with a wry grin.
“I believe we shall,” I smiled sarcastically before turning to Karen, “excuse us, please.”
My partner and I made our way to our superior’s office and closed the door behind us.
“You wanted to see us, Lieutenant?” my partner enquired.
Lt. Davies was a man in his late 40s. He had been assigned to our Division 10 years ago after the retirement of Lesley Polanski who had really given me a rough time under her tenure. I can’t say I blamed her, though. I was the type of detective back then who would rip her hair out over my recklessness, and she made sure I heard about it. When Lt. Davies took over, he was more understanding of my foibles; however, my antics started to wear thin on him over the years. It had been a Division legend that the grey hairs on his head were attributed to having to deal with me during the past decade. I’ll admit I haven’t been the most tolerable detective, but at least he’s willing to put up with me. It’s thanks to him that I have the support circle in Jessica and Dr. Knoblach, and why I haven’t been told to turn in my badge and hang it up after 27 years of service.
“Yes, Detectives,” he addressed, as he leaned forward in his chair; clasping his hands on top of his desk.
“We just got a report over the wire that there had been a couple of bodies found on the university campus near Hoskin and Devonshire. I want you and Celdom to go help in the investigation.”
“Are they students on the campus?” I quizzed.
“That’s undetermined at the current juncture,” he explained. “That’s why I want you two to check it out and see what you can turn up.”
“We’re on it, sir,” Jessica assured, as we turned to leave his office.
“Finally, some action,” I commented, as we walked towards our desks to grab our coats. “It’s been a while since we’ve worked on a homicide. I was beginning to get tired of all the petty thefts we’ve been dealing with lately.”
“You and me, both,” my partner added. “While it does get some bad guys off the street, I prefer the real glamour cases too.”
What the two of us didn’t expect is that these would be the first in a string of dead bodies that would turn up over the following week.