The Dead Don't Dream
An Ian McBriar Murder Mystery
by Mauro Azzano
You are a Toronto police detective, lying in the gutter, shot by the man you were pursuing, and your life is slipping slowly away.
The Dead Don’t Dream takes you back to the year 1973 and the world of Ian McBriar, a homicide police detective, as he investigates the brutal assault on two young boys, one of whom is the son of a local underworld figure. Haunted by the deaths he has investigated and the lives he has seen destroyed, Ian struggles with the memories that make him who he is.
When he gets too close to the truth, the killer makes a desperate strike, and Ian ends up face-down in the street. Can he survive his attack and track down the gunman before more lives are lost?
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I had an urge to make chicken for dinner, with salad- a second trip to the grocery store.
I bundled up and went back out. Go left, pass five doors, left again into the store.
The street was nearly deserted now; the cold had forced everyone indoors. Drifting snow and a brisk wind kept me close to the buildings. I squinted, counting doors to the store.
The store was warm, but also deserted.
I picked up some chicken and salad fixings, then on a whim some Italian bread.
I squinted again, counting doorways heading home. Go past five doors, then turn right.
I’d passed two buildings. A small child stood at the doorway to the third.
He looked to be three, maybe four years old, well dressed, waiting for someone.
He hopped up and down on his front step, looking around and shivering in the cold.
He saw me and smiled. “Man, man. Mister. Hi?” He said. I stopped.
“Mister, are you a doctor?” It seemed like a casual question.
“No, I’m not.” I smiled, and kept walking. He looked sadly down the empty street again. That seemed wrong. I turned back.
“Why did you ask if I’m a doctor?” I asked him.
“My mom got a boo-boo.” He patted his head. “She went ‘OW’.”
“Where is your mom?” I asked, urgently. “Show me.”
He grabbed my hand and led me into the building.
He had to lift his legs almost to his chest to scale the stairs, but he climbed eagerly.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
We stopped at the second floor landing. Four doors faced me, one was open.
A woman lay sprawled on the floor beside a sofa, face down. I rested my groceries by the front door.
“Wait outside, Ethan, OK? I want to check on your mom.”
He stood at the doorway, peering in gingerly as I approached her.
‘Some vacation.’ I grumbled.
I bent down to check her over. She could have been sleeping, but for a gash on her forehead that said otherwise.
She had obviously tripped and hit the coffee table, then bled onto a rug under it.
A pool of red, the size of my hand, oozed over the rug and onto the wood floor.
I turned her over.
“Ma’am, are you OK?” I asked. Stupid question- of course she wasn’t OK.
I felt her hands- they were warm, and she wasn’t clammy.
She started to moan softly. I picked her up and lay her gently on the sofa.
“Ethan.” I called. He walked in slowly, hands behind his back.
“Where is your phone?”
“We don’t got a phone.” He shook his head.
“Stay here, OK, Ethan? Make sure she doesn’t fall off the sofa.”
I went to the nearest apartment and pounded on the door. No answer. I was deciding which one to try next, when one of the doors opened a crack. A grey, wrinkled face poked out at me. I held out my warrant card.
“Police: do you have a phone?”
The face faded back and I walked in. The owner of the face, an ancient man in a plaid shirt and suspenders, pointed to a black phone on the wall.
“Thank you.” I said. He smiled silently.
I got the ambulance operator, gave her the information, and told her I’d wait.
The old man watched me, wordless.
“Thank you.” I said.
He whispered something in a language I didn’t recognize and nodded.
The woman was still unconscious, but now groaning restlessly.
The boy was patting her hand comfortingly.
“Ethan,” I said, “Would you please wait out front? An ambulance is coming, and they need help finding your apartment.”
He smiled and ran back downstairs.
I moved the coffee table and slid the bloody carpet aside. It was my first chance to get a good look at this woman.
She was very pretty, in her twenties, with curves in all the right places.
Her hair was shoulder length and auburn; her makeup was subtle but flattering, and she had no rings or bracelets, but she did wear dangly earrings. She was tall and slender, with the legs of a dancer. Her face was oval, with a slightly bulbous nose and high cheeks.
Not quite centrefold material, but very far from unattractive.
I realized I’d seen her before, on the street. She’d been with the boy, so I didn’t approach her- I figured she was married. I hadn’t seen her close up before.
I did remember seeing her walk away, watching her hips sway.
She had on a navy skirt and a white blouse. Too cold to walk in today, I thought.
I found a coat and a shoulder bag hanging behind the door.
I checked the bag and found her wallet; one door key, three dollars, a subway token.
The coat pockets were empty, except for some gum and a transfer from Union subway station, issued an hour ago. So, she worked downtown somewhere, and she had a son.
A pounding of footsteps got my attention. Two men in white pants and heavy white jackets clogged up the stairs, lugging a first aid kit and an oxygen tank. I called to them from the sofa. They raced in and squatted beside me.
“We’ll take it from here. Stand back.” One said. He had a baby face, curly red hair and freckles to match. The other, somewhat older, had collar length dirty blond hair.
A stethoscope dangled from his neck.
The older one took the woman’s pulse, checked her for fractures and looked into her eyes with a flashlight. He poked his chin out.
“Your wife have an accident?” he sneered.
I pulled out my ID.
“I was passing by. Her son stopped me.”
He read the warrant card.
“Oh, jeez, sorry. I didn’t mean..” his voice trailed off.
He looked at my badge again, then smiled at his partner.
“Hey, Carl. Remember the news- that cop and the restaurant robbery?”
His partner looked up.
The first one nodded at me.
“This is the cop.”
“Really? You’re Officer McBarr?”
“No,” I corrected, “I’m Detective McBriar.”
They seemed suitably impressed. The red haired one bandaged the woman’s forehead while the blond one ran to the ambulance and radioed the hospital.
He came back a minute later, winded from the stairs.
They spoke quickly in medical jargon, indicating that said she was not badly hurt.
The woman had woken up by now. She looked around, bewildered.
She tried to get up, flailing at the coffee table to roll upright.
The red headed one put his hand on her shoulder.
“Listen, honey, you fell and hit your head. Do you know where you are?”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m home. Who are you? Where’s Ethan?” she sat up fast and staggered back, woozy.
“He’s fine. He’s right here.” The blond one checked her pulse again and nodded, satisfied.
“What day is it?” he asked.
She thought for a moment.
“What’s today’s date?”
“March seventh, nineteen seventy three.” She was angry now. It was a sexy look.
The blond one nodded and turned to me.
“Listen,” he started, “I called the resident on duty: she just has a mild concussion. We can take her to Branson, but the ward’s full and she’ll sleep in the hall. If someone can check on her here, we can leave her home.”
I turned to the woman.
“Do you want to go to hospital?”
She shook her head.
“No. I’ll stay home. I’m fine.”
“Do you have someone who can watch you?” I asked.
She shook her head. The blond one looked at his partner.
“We’ll bring up the stretcher and take you, then.”
“No!” She yelled. “I do not want to go to any hospital.”
He bent down and glared at her.
“We can’t leave you here alone.”
The woman stared at me, another sexy, angry stare.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” Now she was alert and indignant.
I showed her my badge.
“You hit your head. Your son stopped me; I called the ambulance.”
She looked at me with less suspicion. I smiled.
“Is your husband here?” She shook her head. I got a small thrill at that.
“Anyone else live with you?” She shook her head.
“Do you have a relative that can come over?”
Again she shook her head. Don’t say it, I told myself. Don’t say it.
“If you like, I could keep an eye on you until tomorrow.” I said, the words rushing out.
She shrank back a little,hesitant. Even that was attractive.
“I- OK, fine, yes, thank you.” She glared at the attendants.
“OK. That’s cool. Thank you. He can watch me. I’ll stay home.”
One man wrote a report as the other packed up.
She told them her name: Karen Prescott. It had a nice ring to it. I realized I was very strongly attracted to her. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I could feel I was. The man finished his report, then handed me an invoice for the call out.
“Wake her up every three hours and make sure she’s coherent. Call an ambulance if she’s unresponsive, delirious or confused, or if she starts to vomit.” The redhead said mechanically. They left, plodding slowly down the stairs. I turned to the woman.
“I apologize for intruding, but you were in trouble there.”
She smiled, which warmed me up inside.
“That’s OK. You were a real help tonight.” She stood, unsteady on her feet.
“Do I know you?”
“I live around the corner. Are you sure you’re fine?”
She nodded, hesitantly.
“Yes, I’m fine. Sorry, can I get you a coffee or tea?” She looked at her watch and tsked.
“Six thirty. Ethan- do you want dinner? We have Spaghetti-Os, and we have soup…”
I cringed at the menu. She misunderstood the expression.
“Oh, I’m so sorry; can I make something for you, too, officer?”
I grinned, elated.
“Tell you what. How about if I cook dinner for you? And the name is Ian.”
“Sure, yes. I’d like that.” The smile lit up the room.
I retrieved my groceries from the hall. Ethan stood on a dining chair, watching in fascination as I butterflied chicken breasts. We chatted about nothing- small talk.
She worked in a bank building on Front Street. The branch downstairs had been robbed once, and it’s probable I was one of the investigators who responded to the call.
I didn’t remember meeting her. I assured her I would have. She blushed.
Karen set her table, a small square one in the kitchen, with paper napkins and a faded white tablecloth. I sliced up cucumber and tomatoes for Ethan to snack on.
He sat on the counter, eating happily from a Tupperware bowl. Karen smiled at him.
“How is it?” she asked. He nodded and rubbed his stomach.
The chicken would be done in thirty minutes. That gave me time to clean up.
We lifted the carpet off the floor and washed out the blood stain in the tub.
I was puzzled by a hissing sound beside me. Karen read my expression.
“We have a noisy toilet.” She apologized. “And the tap leaks. I called the super a dozen times, but he’s always busy.”
“Mind if I look at it?” I asked.
“It’s not a big problem. You don’t have to.” She shrugged.
“It would be my pleasure.”
I lifted the cover off the toilet tank. The copper float was half full of water, letting a trickle run from the overflow into the bowl.
A wiggle confirmed that the washer in the hot water tap was loose. I got my coat.
“Tell you what; I need to grab some things- I’ll be right back.”
Ethan ran up and grabbed my leg.
“Don’t go, don’t go. Stay, please?” He pleaded.
I looked at his mother with embarrassment.
“I’ll be back in no time- I promise- and you can help me out after we eat, OK?”
He giggled happily. I turned to Karen again.
“By the way, do you want wine with dinner?”
She smiled and nodded. I warmed up again.
“And dessert?” I added.
Ethan jumped up and waved his arms in the air.
The walk home was far more pleasant than it had any right to be.
I often had this feeling when I dated Melissa. Now it felt the same, only more so.
I pulled my tool bag out of the closet, put a bottle of wine in the bag, and ran to the store before it closed. I bought some pastries, then raced back to Karen’s.
Ethan opened the door, straining to reach the knob. He grinned at seeing me again.
I gave Karen the wine.
“Keep this cool, if you would.” I smiled.
I placed the pastries on the kitchen counter and handed Ethan my tool bag.
“Listen, sport, can you put this in the bathroom? Thanks.”
He struggled with the straps, dragging the bag along the floor to the toilet.
The smell of baking chicken and tomato sauce filled the apartment.
Karen and Ethan watched, fascinated, as I rinsed the lettuce.
“Do you eat many salads?” I asked him. He shook his head.
“Do you like salad?”
I looked at him slyly.
“Do you eat worms?” He laughed.
Karen smiled. I smiled back.
As I shredded, she picked at random bits of lettuce on the counter.
“Where did you learn to cook?” she asked.
“I worked in my dad’s restaurant till I moved to Toronto.”
“What made you move from… where’d you move from?” She asked, curious.
“Esterhazy, Saskatchewan. Not the centre of the galaxy. I wanted to see the big city.”
“Do you ever miss it?”
“Not the place.” I shrugged. “I miss family. We lost my mom, but my dad’s still there.”
“Any brothers and sisters, a big family?” she asked, picking lettuce from the bowl.
I shook my head.
“One older brother- he went to Montreal to be in a jazz band.”
“Don’t you have a wife or girlfriend at home?” She reached for wedge of tomato and I smacked at her hand, playfully. She grinned.
“Just me.” I said.
“Why the police force?” She frowned. “Did you always want to drive a squad car, what?”
She seemed amused by me now. The bandage on her forehead seemed almost invisible.
It was all I could to stop from bending down to kiss her. I shredded lettuce, looking away.
“I was studying to become a priest.” I almost mumbled it.
She put a fist in front of her mouth to stop from giggling. I frowned.
“Yeah, I know. Me, a priest?”
“So, what happened?” she asked.
“I came to St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. I figured I’d be a parish priest or run a soup kitchen or cure polio.”
Stop talking, I told myself, just stop talking, stupid.
“My mom was killed by a drunk driver. He blasted past our house as she crossed the street. My faith said I should forgive him, but I only wanted to kill him. I realized then that I wasn’t cut out for a pastoral life, so I became a policeman.”
Karen put her hand on my arm and looked sadly up at me.
“I’m so sorry.” She said.
I felt a warm rush. Ethan ran up.
“When can we eat?” He smiled.
Karen sat at the table, Ethan beside her on a thick pillow.
She poured wine for us and milk for Ethan, while I served dinner.
She ate politely, but heartily. Ethan was not so subtle.
Tomato sauce covered his face, and lettuce stuck to his bib like medals on his chest.
We talked between forkfuls of food and sips of wine, pleasant nothing conversation.
After dinner, Karen made coffee, apologizing that it was instant.
“That’s OK.” I lied. “I like instant coffee.”
I set out the pastries. Ethan scanned the treats.
“What’s that? “He asked, pointing to a cannoli.
“Well.” I started, very serious. “You know some spiders make tubular nests?”
He nodded, not knowing at all, but agreeing anyway. I held the cannoli up.
“This tube is the nest from the Amazonian cannoli spider. They find these in the Amazon jungle, kick the spider out and fill it with mascarpone cheese and spider venom.”
I nodded sternly.
He stared for a moment, then laughed loudly.
“No! You’re fooling!”
He laughed again. Karen was smiling at us.
“You’re very good with children.” She said.
“You’ve met my partner?” I answered.
Ethan decided he would brave the spider venom and eat a cannoli.
He wanted to help with the plumbing repairs, so he dragged my tool bag out. I replaced the toilet float, and the noise stopped. I repaired the hot water tap. This fascinated Karen.
“Now I can take showers without the whistling.” She said.
I felt another rush as I imagined her bathing. Ethan helped me pack up.
By now, it was after his bedtime, and he was tired.
Karen excused herself to put him in pyjamas. They came out of the bedroom a minute later, and Ethan wrapped his arms around my neck to hug me.
“Thank you for dinner.” He said, politely. Karen nodded approval.
“Can you make food for us again?” He asked. She gasped, embarrassed.
“I guess that depends on your mom.” I looked up at her.
“Let’s ask Mr. McBriar next time you see him, OK? Say goodnight.”
The words ‘next time’ gave me a shiver. Ethan staggered off to bed.
Karen closed the bedroom door and sat beside me on the sofa.
“I really want to thank you. But, you don’t have to stay, honest. I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m sure you have to work tomorrow.”
It sounded like a plea to prove her wrong. I smiled softly.
“I promised to watch you, and no, I don’t have to be anywhere.” I said. “I’ll sleep on your sofa. Give me an alarm clock. I’ll check on you every few hours.”
She studied me, deciding something.
“OK.” She said. “But no funny stuff.”
I held up three fingers.
We chatted until after eleven o’clock. She disappeared into the bedroom, returned with a blanket and pillow and wished me a good night.
I lay on the couch, wide awake, wondering just what I was getting into.
Mauro Azzano was born in the Veneto region of Italy. He grew up in Italy, Australia and eastern Canada, finally settling on the West Coast, near Vancouver.
When he's not writing he can be found teaching college or running half marathons.
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