User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active


     The grizzly old man watched through the window as a Jeep Cherokee approached along the pathway leading to his cabin.  He had no clue as to who the visitor might be, although the person had been there many times before.  Sadly, the old man was suffering from a breakdown of the synaptic transmissions in his brain, which resulted in confusion and short term memory loss.  A label could be applied to describe his condition, but suffice to say he wasn’t connecting the dots and his physical body was being ruled by the addled mind of a stranger.  The affliction was progressive, but at this point the man could still function marginally, although he often forgot to do simple things like close the refrigerator door or turn off the element on the stovetop.  His greatest frustration though, was trying to figure out why he was here in this desolate cabin and why he couldn’t leave.

     The dog barked after being awakened by the crunch of the vehicles tires.  The animal was as old as his master, in dog years, and spent most of its time sleeping on a padded mat.  The old man muttered, “It’s OK Oliver,” as he walked across the room to the door.  When it swung open, he faced a tall good looking man who was holding a cardboard box.  The visitor boomed out, “Hello Sebastian, it’s good to see you again!”  Sebastian Cox starred at him with a puzzled look.  He thought to himself, who the hell is this guy? Cox was still trying to remember the face, when the man brushed past him and deposited the heavy box on the kitchen table.  He turned and said, “C’mon Sebastian, you must remember me.  I’m your old pal Bobby Carmichael.  Look, I’ve brought you something.”  He reached into the box and extracted a 1.75L bottle of Crown Royal.

     The old man’s eyes lit up when he saw the whiskey.  Licking his lips, he took the bottle from his visitor’s hands and examined it like it was a sacred object.  Carmichael thought, this old buzzard’s got a serious thirst.  He extracted two glasses from the kitchen cabinet and said, “C’mon, let’s have a drink.” He took the bottle, broke the seal and poured two stiff shots.  Carmichael had noticed another whiskey bottle in the trash; it must be the one he had dropped off a week earlier.  He thought, I bet that’s been empty for more than a few days! Sebastian Cox tossed back his drink and then slammed the glass down on the table.  Carmichael cautioned, “You better go easy, this bottle has to last until next weekend.” Cox squinted at him and asked, “What’s your name, again?”  The man repeated his name and then added, “I’m the guy who delivers your cigarettes and booze.”   

      Carmichael unpacked the cardboard box which contained various frozen food items, as well as cans of dog food and a carton of Du Maurer cigarettes.  Sebastian Cox was currently subsisting on cigarettes, whiskey and Hungry Man TV Dinners.  It wasn’t the healthiest of diets, but Carmichael figured this gig wouldn’t last much longer and he could really care less about the old man’s long-term health.  He looked around the large one-room cabin and thought, what a bloody pigsty!  The man’s bed was unmade, garbage was overflowing and there was clutter everywhere. To make matters worse, the place reeked of cigarette smoke.  When he arrived, Bobby had also noticed that the front yard was a virtual minefield of dog shit.  Cox wasn’t looking after the everyday chores, but apparently he was taking care of business.  Mounted on an easel near the window was a recently finished painting.

     Carmichael went over and examined the painting carefully and then exclaimed, “Well done Sebastian!  Is it ready to be delivered to the gallery?”  Cox walked up to the easel and stared at the painting with a blank look.  Suddenly, he brightened and said, “Yes, I just finished it yesterday.”  Bobby Carmichael thought the painting was magnificent.   It was a typical Sebastian Cox depiction of a Quebec winter scene, complete with church spire, horse and sleigh and bundled up habitants.  He’d never understood how Cox, who was basically out-to-lunch mentally, could still produce such amazing work.  He thought that whatever the explanation, it was working in his favour. Carmichael was certain this painting would sell for top dollar.  The trick now was to keep Cox producing and to milk the situation for as long as possible.

     Bobby Carmichael carefully stowed the painting in the rear seat of the Jeep and prepared to leave.  The old man had wanted to go with him, but Bobby explained there was no where he could take him.   He lied and said, “Your family wants to commit you to a nuthouse, and get rid of the dog.” When Sebastian had become agitated, Bobby pulled a pint of whiskey from his back pocket and proffered it to the man to help smooth over the situation.  Having already determined there were sufficient art supplies on hand, he encouraged Sebastian to begin work on a new painting.  He offered to reward the artist with two large bottles of Crown Royal when he returned the following weekend, and he would also bring a box of Cuban cigars.  As Carmichael pulled away, he mused that he had always been a con artist, but this scam with Sebastian Cox was the high point of his career!


     Any blue ribbon list of prominent Canadian painters would include well know names such as Emily Carr, Paul Kane, A.Y. Jackson and Sebastian Cox.  Cox was famed for his abstract impressionist paintings depicting mid-nineteenth century rural Quebec.  One of his most famous works entitled ‘La Maison de Charlevoix,’ was on permanent display in the National Gallery in Ottawa.  Sebastian Cox came from a family of British Empire Loyalists who had taken refuge in New Brunswick in 1783, later relocating to Montreal.  Coming from a line of wealthy merchants, Cox had enjoyed a privileged upbringing, and after developing an extraordinary talent with pencil and sketchpad, he was sent to study at the Royal College of Art in London, England.  After graduating, Sebastian was drawn to Paris where he spent his salad years living a bohemian lifestyle while continuing to refine his artistic style.

     After achieving notice among the colony of Parisienne artists, Sebastian was invited to exhibit his sketches and paintings in a Paris salon.  Soon afterwards, at the age of twenty-four, he returned to Canada and began to establish himself among the competitive Francophone artistic community.  By the 1980’s he had achieved widespread recognition and was by then regarded as something of a Canadian icon.  Serious collectors began to acquire his paintings which were displayed by the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal.  This renowned gallery was a mecca for fine art, and attracted buyers from all over North America.  The value of Sebastian Cox’s paintings soared and set new records for contemporary Canadian artwork.  In 2014 Cox was presented with the Governor General’s Award for artistic excellence, and two years later he was awarded the Order of Canada.

     Sebastian Cox was not an advocate of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’  He was a gay man and made no bones about it.  As such, he mingled freely among the upper-crust of society in Montreal, New York and various European capitals to which he was a frequent visitor.  There was never any hint of scandal or tabloid speculation that might sully his reputation, as he kept his personal life carefully under wraps and focused most of his energy on his work.  As his paintings sold for increasingly lofty prices, Cox began to amass a considerable fortune.  This permitted him to live extravagantly; he was a member of the Mount Royal Club, drove expensive automobiles, and lived in a beautiful Upper-Westmont home on Av. Sunnyside.  He travelled extensively and life was very good for Sebastian, until finally it wasn’t.  It was in his early seventies that he became aware of some concerning changes in his mental acuity.

     It had first begun in the form of annoying memory lapses, just little things like forgetting an appointment or where he had left the car keys.  Sometimes he would walk into a room and not remember why he was there.  This happens to everyone occasionally, but with Sebastian it had become a common occurrence.  Increasingly he grasped for words during a conversation, words he had used previously a thousand times over.  And trying to remember names was embarrassingly difficult.  Friends who knew Sebastian found that he was now impatient and quick to anger.  These were traits foreign to the personality of the man they knew so well.  As his mental capacity continued to decline, Sebastian became more reclusive and avoided social situations in which he had always been a celebrated raconteur.  He was drinking more, and this only exacerbated the problem.

     Sebastian finally went to see his family physician and reluctantly explained the symptoms he was experiencing.  The doctor asked him some penetrating questions, and then had him complete a 5-minute cognitive test.  Sebastian had a lot of difficulty with this, and was only able to recall three of several simple images that had been shown to him minutes earlier.  In another test, which involved counting backwards from one-hundred by three’s, he also stumbled.  The concerned doctor referred him to a psychologist for a comprehensive cognitive assessment and MRI.  The results were not favourable.  The specialist informed Sebastian that he was in stage-4 of moderate decline dementia, and would soon require assistance in order to remain independent in his home.  After leaving the doctor’s office, Sebastian thought, I better get my affairs in order, before I’ve totally lost my marbles.

     Monsieur Michel Coté, his lawyer and business agent was shocked when Sebastian explained his medical condition, but was somewhat reassured when he read a note from the doctor stating that at this time his patient was still capable of making coherent and licit decisions.  They reviewed his will and made a few minor revisions in support of a number of charities, but the principle beneficiary remained his niece who would ultimately inherit the bulk of the estate.  Sebastian made a number of other calls, and when he felt that his ducks were in order, he packed up his Mercedes G-Wagon with art supplies, food and a case of his favourite whiskey.  Then, accompanied by his dog Oliver, he set out to drive to his chalet which was located near Mont-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships.


     Bobby Carmichael was a thirty-seven year old grifter from Chattanooga, Tennessee, who contributed absolutely nothing to the common good, other than spending the money he extracted from other people’s pockets.  Life for him was often at the extreme of either feast or famine.   And right now his bankroll was a little thin.   Bobby was sitting on the gunwale of a sailboat anchored just off shore on Lac-Mégantic, Québec.  He selected a lime from a bowl and cut it up to garnish two glasses of vodka and soda.  Bobby handed one of the drinks to the young woman who was sunbathing naked on the deck.  They had met in the village a few days earlier, and had been partying hard ever since.  He squeezed another lime over the girl’s breasts and watched with fascination as her nipples hardened.  As he sipped his drink he thought, it’s almost time to cut her loose.  Later, he would take her in the dingy back to the village.  He had to get back to work.

     To Bobby, work was four-letter word and he avoided it like the plague.  As a result, he had something of a chequered past which included a three year stint in the West Tennessee State Penitentiary for the crime of felony burglary.  More recently he had been arrested in Nashville for passing counterfeit cheques.  While awaiting his court date, he decided it would be a propitious time to skip town and distance himself from the long arm of the law.  Bobby had thought, there’s no bloody way I’m going back to prison!  He travelled by Greyhound bus north to Maine and, although he had no passport, was able to cross the porous U.S./Canadian border and enter the Provence of Québec.   After bouncing around for a few days, Bobby rented a sailboat at the Lac-Mégantic Marina, and then chameleon-like, assumed the guise of a well-to-do American on summer vacation. 

     Bobby was standing in the check-out line of the Marché Public grocery store a few blocks from the marina.  He had picked up a six-pack of Corona and a ribeye steak for his dinner that evening.  A few moments passed and he looked up to see what was taking so long.  The old codger ahead of him was having trouble with his credit card, and the cashier was babbling at him in French.  Bobby stepped forward and said, “Excuséz-moi.”  He took the credit card from the man and scanned it over the electronic payment terminal.  The purchase was accepted, and the old man mumbled his thanks as Bobby palmed the card.  When the old-boy had left, the clerk shrugged her shoulders and said, “C’est un peintre trés célèbre.  Trés riche!”  Bobby got the gist of what she was saying, and his antenna started to rise.  He followed the old man out to the parking lot and saw him open the door of a very expensive Mercedes G-Wagon. 

     Bobby watched for a few minutes and wondered why the man was just sitting there.  Finally, he walked over and tapped gently on the window.  A dog in the back seat lunged at him and started to bark furiously.  The old man just turned and looked at him with a dazed look.  When he lowered the window, Bobby said, “Hi, remember me?  Is there anything else that I can help you with?”  The man responded in English, “I want to go to the SAQ, but can’t remember where it is.”  Bobby looked up the street and could clearly see a sign that advertised Societé dés alcools du Québec.  He thought, there’s something very strange going on here.  He said, “I was just going there myself.  If you let me jump in the front seat, I’ll point the way.”  A few minutes later they pulled up in front of the liquor store and Bobby said, “What do you need?  I’ll go in and get it for you.”  Ten minutes later they were headed back to Sebastian’s chalet for a drink.

     The chalet was situated about twenty kilometers from the village, in a rugged heavily wooded area near the approaches to Mont-Mégantic.  Sebastian remained mostly silent during the drive, other than to respond to Bobby’s occasional efforts to make conversation.  They proceeded along a poorly graded secondary road, with thick forest bordering closely on both sides.  Finally, Sebastian slowed and turned into a barely discernable laneway.  They followed twin ruts through the trees for several hundred metres, before arriving at their destination.  It was a ramshackle log affair that was in desperate need of some TLC.  They got out of the vehicle and the dog immediately made a huge deposit near the front door.  Bobby thought, I’ll watch out for that later!  He also wondered, how in Christ’s name will I get back to the marina?

     The inside of the chalet reflected the same shabby condition as the exterior.  Bobby wondered, what the hell is a guy who’s driving a G-Wagon doing in this dump?  They sat down at the kitchen table and Sebastian cracked a fresh bottle of Crown Royal.  Lubricated by a couple of drinks, the old-boy haltingly spilled his whole story.  He had a 20 year lease on the property, with a trust company who administered the estate of the deceased owner.  Sebastian had paid the entire amount of the lease up front, and the arrangement included all hydro costs for the duration.  He had paid a premium amount on the condition of complete anonymity.  Even the lease was registered in a bogus name.  None of his family or friends had any clue that the place even existed.  It was Sebastian’s secret hide-away where he occasionally came for solitude and to paint.  As Bobby Carmichael digested all of this, a plan began to formulate in his mind.


     When Bobby pulled away in the G-Wagon, Sebastian was passed out with his head resting on the table.  While they had been drinking the old man had repeatedly asked, “Where do I know you from?”  He had blurted out the whole sad story about his medical condition, and said that he had come here to get away from it all.  Apparently no one knew about the existence of this place, or Sebastian’s current whereabouts.  Bobby had cautiously lifted the man’s wallet, key fob and cell phone.  Inside the wallet he found several hundred dollars in cash, and a piece of paper where the old fool had written down the pin numbers for his bank and credit cards. After a brief search of the chalet he found Sebastian’s bank statements and a book of blank cheques.   Bobby thought, I’ve just struck gold!  His next move would be to drive to Montreal where he could dispose of the G-Wagon. 

      Montreal is a well-known point of embarkation for stolen vehicles, and with Bobby’s criminal instincts he would have no trouble connecting with the underworld elements involved in that trade.  It was almost midnight when he cruised up to valet parking at the Ritz-Carlton.  He checked into a $700 per night room, and immediately ordered a steak sandwich from room service.  After downing two vodka ‘sparkplugs’ from the mini-bar, he decided to search the data in Sebastian Cox’s cellphone.  Up until then he had no idea of who the guy was.  From what he had seen, there was nothing remarkable about him except his flashy ride.  The information contained in the cellphone told a different story.  Bobby discovered that Sebastian was a renowned Canadian artist, and in the cell’s photo gallery there were pictures of paintings that had sold for millions of dollars.

     A few days later, Bobby made contact with a local crime family.  He was told that they were in the business of stealing cars for shipment overseas, not purchasing them.  But, one of the crime bosses might be interested in acquiring the Mercedes for his personal use.  They would require the vehicles remote key fob, the signed-off ownership and a forged bill of sale.  The offer was for $20,000 dollars in cash.  Bobby knew that he was being scalped, but these people wouldn’t budge on the price and he finally agreed.  Later he went to the main branch of Sebastian’s bank, and using the man’s ID and banking information withdrew several thousand dollars from his chequing account.  Bobby then went to Hertz and arranged for the extended rental of a Jeep Cherokee.   On the drive back to Lac-Mégantic he began to consider his next move.  He had seen a partially completed painting on an easel in Sebastian’s chalet.  If he could encourage the man to finish it, he might be able to sell it for big bucks!

    Bobby returned the sailboat to the marina and took a room at the Microtel Inn & Suites in downtown Lac-Mégantic.  The following day he purchased a bottle of Crown Royal at the SAQ and drove out to pay Sebastian a visit.  At first he had difficulty finding the place, but after several drive pasts he discovered the well-hidden laneway.  He arrived there around four o’clock in the afternoon and the old boy greeted him, but didn’t have a clue who Bobby was.  The whiskey bottle was his ticket in the door.  Sitting once again at the kitchen table, Bobby observed that Sebastian already had a drink on the go. The bottle from just a few days earlier was almost empty.  When Bobby did the math he figured that 1.75L was 60 ounces of booze.  Christ he thought, this guy’s a real lush!

     Sebastian Cox expressed concern about his Mercedes G-Wagon, which had mysteriously disappeared.  Bobby spun a tale about Cox’s licence being suspended due to mental incompetency, and that the police had appropriated the vehicle by order of the court.  He also claimed that Sebastian’s family wanted him committed to a psychiatric facility, but Bobby had intervened on his behalf and was now acting as his agent.  He told Sebastian that as long as he remained at the chalet, he and the dog would be protected.  Bobby added, “If there’s anything you need, just ask me and I’ll get it for you.” Sebastian said that he was almost out of cigarettes and there was no dog food.  Bobby said he would pick up supplies and return the following day.  In the meantime, he urged the old man to resume his painting.  He told him, “It’s the only thing that might convince people that you are still competent.”

     Bobby wondered if the old man was still capable of producing a decent painting.  The one he had seen on the artist’s easel was partially completed and looked promising, but who knows?  He knew from the information in Sebastian’s cellphone that his lawyer usually acted as his business agent.  And apparently, previous paintings had all been sold through the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery in Montreal.  Bobby knew there was no way he could just show up at the gallery with a new painting.  There would be too many questions, and lots of potential for things to go wrong!  No, he thought, he would have to find another way.  Somehow he would have to bypass the gallery and sell directly to a prospective buyer.  Maybe it could be done through the dark web, where he could remain anonymous and untraceable.   He thought about it further, and then came up with an idea.


     Gail Drummond got off the elevator on the 42nd floor at 1000 Rue De la Gauchetière, in downtown Montreal.  Gail was Sebastian Cox’s niece, the daughter of his late sister and his only surviving relative.  She walked along a well-appointed hallway until coming to an oak door with stylish brass letters which spelled Michel Coté, Avocat.  She opened the door and stepped inside.  A bespectacled woman behind a desk smiled and said, “Bonjour Madam.”  Gail explained that she had an appointment with Monsieur Coté, and moments later was ushered into the inner office.  Monsieur Coté came from behind his desk and bowed slightly as he took her hand.  Another man who had been sitting across from him also stood, awaiting an introduction.  Coté said, “Ms. Drummond, this is Captain Charles Burton.  I have asked him to join us today to discuss your uncle’s mysterious disappearance.”

     Captain Burton was a former intelligence officer with the Canadian Airborne Regiment.  The Airborne had been a specialized Regiment within the Armed Forces that went ‘off the rails’ during a 1993 humanitarian peacekeeping mission in Somalia. An unfortunate incident occurred, when two members of the Regiment beat a local man to death.  The subsequent scandal led to the dissolution of the Regiment in 1995 at the hands of the weak-kneed Liberal Government.   Captain Charles Burton thought this was an outrageous overreaction and promptly resigned his commission in protest.  He left the forces and applied his intelligence expertise to establishing Burton Investigations.   Burton didn’t think of himself so much as a detective, but rather the purveyor of discrete inquiries.  He had worked with Michel Coté on previous occasions with considerable success.

     Burton was a tall rugged looking man, with a deep baritone voice.  When he spoke and smiled at Gail, the tension in the room dropped by several degrees.  Michel Coté promptly took charge of the meeting and related the known facts.  Namely, that Sebastian Cox who suffers from early onset dementia had been missing for almost five months.  He was last seen by his household staff departing his residence in a new Mercedes G-Wagon.  His credit cards had been used during this time in both Lac-Mégantic, Montreal and points in between.  As well, a large withdrawal had been made from his chequing account.  And disturbingly, an obituary announcing his death had appeared in the Montreal Gazette and La Presse, and this had been picked up by news organizations across the country.  Recently, an advertisement offering Sebastian Cox’s last completed work of art had been posted on the World Wide Web.

     The Captain pointed out that it was bizarre that an obituary notice had been placed in the newspapers by an unknown third party.  He felt there was something nefarious afoot, especially as Sebastian’s unauthenticated ‘last work’ was being offered for sale by an unknown agent.  Gail thought it odd that, according to his VISA statement, Sebastian would stay for three nights at the Ritz-Carlton when his residence was so close by.  And she had no idea why he would be visiting Lac-Mégantic.  Gail added that her uncle habitually called at least every second week, and this prolonged silence was totally out of character.  Michel Coté cautioned that given Sebastian’s fragile mental state, virtually anything was possible. He gave Charles Burton a directive to investigate Sebastian Cox’s disappearance with the greatest urgency.  Meantime, he would petition the court under the Absentee Act and request that Gail be granted interim powers to administer her uncle’s affairs.   

     Gail Drummond met Captain Burton at Sebastian Cox’s home in Upper-Westmont.  As they walked from room to room, Gail explained that her uncle had given his valet and the housekeeper three weeks of paid vacation.  He told them that he was going on an extended road trip.  Gail observed that her uncle’s toiletries were not in their usual place, and that his suitcase was missing from the walk-in wardrobe.  The house was in good order and there was nothing to suggest that he might have left under any duress.   They sat in the main salon and Gail answered Burton’s questions about Sebastian’s friends, routines, finances and the state of his health.  She gave him the collection of mail that had accumulated over the past five months, including bank and credit card statements. Gail also provided a recent photograph of her uncle. The Captain recommended that she contact Detective Lieutenant Gauthier of the Montreal Police Department and file a missing person’s report.

     Captain Burton next visited the Mercedes dealership where Sebastian had purchased his G-Wagon.  He called ahead and spoke to a Monsieur Floquet, who owned and operated the dealership.  The man was well aware of Cox’s reputation as a famous artist, and in any case was unlikely to forget the name of someone who had recently purchased a $450,000 vehicle from him.  He was very concerned to hear that Sebastian was missing, and said that he would assist in any way possible.  Floquet said that the G-Wagon had a Thatcham S5 tracking system and that he should be able to determine the vehicle’s location by accessing the dealerships computer.  When the attempt was made, it was unsuccessful.  The car dealer said, “Someone has obviously tampered with the system and rendered it inoperable.”  He suggested that Burton contact the police and report the vehicle stolen.


     Charles Burton had encountered the head-of-security for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel numerous times over the years.  Robert Heinz was a former cop, and not a bad guy really, but he was a firm believer in getting something-for-something.  Burton explained that he was attempting to locate the missing artist Sebastian Cox, who had stayed at the hotel a few months earlier.   After he slipped Heinz a couple of one-hundred dollar bills, the man was happy to assist.  He said that all activity in the lobby and the parking area was covered by CCTV surveillance, and the images were retained permanently in the Cloud.  They went to Heinz’s office and he pulled up coverage for the date in question.  After running through registrations for the entire day, they could find no visuals of Cox checking in.  However, when they correlated the footage with Cox’s credit card number, an image came up.  But, it wasn’t Sebastian Cox!

     The CCTV footage for the hotel’s valet parking showed that when the Mercedes G-Wagon arrived out front, this same mystery man had stepped out of the vehicle.  Burton wondered, who is this guy? Robert Heinz explained that the hotel’s computer makes note of each vehicle upon entry and exit.  So, without any reference to time or date, he was able to pull up footage of when the G-Wagon left the underground parking.  This time there was a different driver, with another unknown man sitting beside him.  Heinz froze the image and exclaimed, “Holy shit!  Do you know who these guys are?” The Captain responded, “I haven’t the slightest.”  Heinz told him that the man in the passenger seat was the nephew of Vincenzo Cotroni, the head of the Montreal Mafia.

     Burton drove his Range Rover through the gates of Vincenzo Cotroni’s estate in Outremont, and followed the gravelled driveway up to the portico at the front entrance.  He stepped out of the vehicle, and directed a hard look at the thug who was standing by the front door.  Captain Burton was dressed in his usual attire of a well-tailored dark suit, blue shirt, and no tie.  In his left lapel was a small silver pin with a parachute, wings and the insignia of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. At six foot three inches in height, and with a scowling face that would stop a clock, he made a formidable impression.  He walked up to the front door and told the man that he had an appointment with the Don.  The guard made like he was going pat him down, but Burton said, “Put a hand on me and I’ll break your fucking arm.”

     The man stood aside as Burton entered the front door of the house, where he was confronted by two additional men.  They were standing in an expansive foyer in front of closed double doors.   He immediately recognized them from the picture Robert Heinz had showed him at the Ritz.  He said sarcastically, “Well boys, how did you enjoy riding in the G-Wagon?” One of the men snapped open a blade and moved towards him.  Burton backed off a couple of steps and quickly whipped the belt from the loops around his waist.  Wrapping the belt twice around his hand, he flicked the buckle-end towards his attacker.  One end of the buckle had been filed to a razor sharp edge, and when it finally connected, it cut a deep gash across the man’s face.  As a fountain of blood gushed from the wound, the injured man instinctively brought his hands up and almost stabbed himself in the eye.  Charles Burton rotated two steps and kicked him hard, shattering his knee.

     The second man had moved up and was about to shank Burton from behind.  The ex-soldier spun around to block the thrust, and jammed four fingers into the man’s throat.  The entire fight had taken just twenty seconds.  As Burton opened the double doors, Vincenzo Cotroni was already half-way across the room, coming to investigate the commotion.  The Don rushed back to his desk and opened a drawer.  As he raised a 9mm Glock, Burton’s belt flicked out and the pistol clattered to the floor.   Cotroni nursed his hand as Charles Burton picked up the Glock and pulled back the slide.  Cotroni begged, “No, don’t shoot!”  Burton snarled, “Tell me everything you know about the Mercedes G-Wagon.”  Cotroni related the whole story about the slick American named Bobby Carmichael who had stolen the vehicle from some old guy with dementia. 

     Burton told the crime boss that the man who owned the vehicle was missing, and possibly being held under duress.  He said, “Your possession of the G-Wagon makes you a possible accessory to kidnapping.  I’m sure the Organized Crime Commissioner would be happy to discuss the details with you.”  Cotroni shook his head and said “No, let’s just straighten this out!” Burton said, “I want the vehicle returned to the Ritz Carlton and left with valet parking.  If that happens, maybe we can forget the whole thing.” The Don said, “Consider it done.”  Burton added, “OK, but if you send your goons around looking for me, I won’t be so easy on them next time.  And I’ll have to pay you another visit!” As Captain Burton pulled out of the driveway he thought, I’m beginning to get an idea of what has happened to Sebastian Cox.  His next stop would be the town of Lac-Mégantic. 


     Charles Burton’s cell phone buzzed as he was driving back to his office in downtown Montreal.  It was Michel Coté, who related that he had just read an article about a man in Toronto who had recently purchased Sebastian Cox’s last known painting.  Seymour Waterman was a wealthy business owner and collector of fine art.  Burton said he would follow it up, and immediately called his secretary and asked her to obtain Waterman’s contact information.  An hour later he had the man on the phone and explained that he was conducting an investigation into the artist’s mysterious disappearance.  He also called into question the possible false rumour of Cox’s death.  Waterman was appalled at this news and the possibility that he might have purchased an expensive piece of art under illicit circumstances.  The Captain said he would book the next flight to Toronto.  They had agreed to meet early the following morning. 

     Burton met with Seymour Waterman at his elegant home on the Bridle Path in Toronto.  The man took him on a tour of his art collection, which included the recent addition of a Sebastian Cox.  Waterman had been a devotee of Cox’s art for some time, and owned two other of his paintings.  He had been saddened to hear about the man’s death, but then was pleasantly surprised when a local art dealer called to say that Sebastian Cox’s final work was being offered for sale.  Waterman had acquired his earlier paintings through the Walter Klinkhoff Gallery in Montreal.  The fact that this painting was being offered by a third party agent had given him some pause, but the Toronto dealer insisted that he had done his due diligence and the painting was authentic.  He had completed a thorough forensic analysis of style, pigmentation, brush strokes and even the artist’s signature.

     Waterman removed the painting from the wall and turned it around.  On the back, written in pencil was the date, the artist’s signature and the title of the work, “Near Chelsea Québec.”  They compared it with the signature of another of his Cox paintings, and it was clear that the writing, signature and the graphite impression of the pencil were identical.  The chagrined Waterman asked, “What’s going to happen now?”  The Captain replied, “We won’t know until the investigation is complete.”  He suggested that they get the Toronto art dealer on a Zoom call and ask him some questions.  The dealer was shocked when they explained the situation.  He identified a photo that Burton held up, and said it was an American art dealer named Robert Carmichael, the very person that he had handed over a bank draft in the amount of 2.7 million dollars.  When Burton asked him how carefully he had looked into Carmichael’s professional credentials, the art dealer lowered his eyes in embarrassment.

     He said he was given a tip to the availability of the Sebastian Cox painting by a computer geek who cruised the dark web.  These obscure websites were only accessible through several layers of specialized networks and provided security and anonymity to users who often offer products of dubious provenance.  The geek had previously unearthed rare works of art that were otherwise not available to the regular market.  The art dealer had responded to this offering, as he knew of Mr. Waterman’s particular interest in the artist.  After much communication, a man delivered the painting to his studio in Yorkville.  He said that he was a dealer specializing in the secondary markets and was based out of Knoxville, Tennessee.  The man was well dressed, elegant and offered an embossed business card introducing Robert J. Carmichael, Rare Art & Antiquities.

     The 2.7 million dollar price tag was a bargain compared to the price recently commanded by a Sebastian Cox painting.  Robert Carmichael claimed to have had a personal relationship with the artist, and obtained this painting shortly before the man’s death. The Toronto art dealer figured he could broker the painting to Seymour Waterman for three million, and take a ten-percent commission for himself.  His valued client would avoid the usual fifty percent gallery markup and would be in possession of Cox’s final work.  After he completed his forensic analysis, the transaction was finalised.  Carmichael was handed a bank draft, his preferred method of payment.  Ten days later the draft had cleared and was deposited to a numbered bank account in Belize.  Carmichael had disappeared and so had the money.   

     Captain Burton was taking a cab to the airport when the art dealer called him on his cell.  The man excitedly informed him that another of Sebastian Cox’s paintings was being offered on the dark web.  He asked, “What should we do?”  Burton thanked him for the information and said that for now he just wanted to think about it.  Just before he boarded his flight he got another call, this time from Gail Drummond.  She wanted to know what he had learned from Seymour Waterman.  He gave her the Cole’s notes version of events and said, “Ms. Drummond, all of the signs seem to point towards Lac Mégantic.  I think that your uncle is still alive and is being manipulated by a man by the name of Robert Carmichael.”  He said, that as soon as he landed in Montreal he planned to go there to investigate.  Gail asked him, “Would you mind very much if I tag along?”


     During the three hour drive from Montreal, Gail Drummond and Captain Burton became well acquainted.  She learned that he was a graduate of the Royal Military College and was a 54 year old bachelor, dedicated to his work. In his spare time, he flew a vintage aeroplane and kept fit by working out in a martial arts dojo.  She on the other hand was a 36 year old clinical social worker, with a bad marriage behind her.  Her mother had died a number of years ago, and she hadn’t seen her errant father since she was a child.  Sebastian Cox was her closest relative, and they had always maintained a warm relationship. She was very concerned about his well-being.   They arrived at their destination about six o’clock that evening, and checked into rooms at a quaint lakeside motel.  The desk clerk directed them to a nearby brasserie, where they discussed strategy over dinner.

     The next morning they visited all of the places in town where Sebastian’s credit card had been used.  These included the Marché Public grocery store, the local liquor store and the Microtel Inn & Suites.  They showed numerous people photos of both Sebastian and Robert Carmichael.  Finally, the desk clerk at the Microtel pointed to the picture of Carmichael and said, “Yes, I’ve seen that man.” When asked for details, the man said he couldn’t comment about any of their guests.  Gail explained the situation and informed him that there may be credit card fraud involved.  The clerk shook his head, but when Burton slipped a couple of hundred dollar bills across the counter, he suddenly became cooperative.  He said the man was in room 14A and had been a guest for several months.  His Jeep Cherokee was parked right out front. Then he smugly added that the man was currently entertaining a female visitor.

     Captain Burton passed the clerk another hundred, and with a stern look said, “Please do not tell the man that we were asking about him!”  They got back into the Range Rover, and parked a short distance up the road.  About an hour later Carmichael and an attractive young woman left the room and drove off in the Jeep.  Burton pulled up in front of 14A and used a lock-picking tool to open the door.  The room was in disarray, but propped up on a dressing table was an impressive oil painting.  The signature inscribed in the right hand corner was S. Cox.   After a brief search, they found a small duffle bag stuffed with cash.  Burton suggested that they leave everything undisturbed and continue to stake out the motel from their previous vantage point.  A short time later Carmichael returned.

     Later that afternoon, Carmichael left the room again and drove off in the Jeep.  They followed as he stopped briefly at the liquor store, and then accessed a back county road leading towards Mont-Mégantic.  There was very little traffic, so to avoid being noticed, they followed at a discrete distance.   About 20 kilometers from town, as they were travelling through a thickly wooded area, they briefly lost sight of their quarry.  When they rounded a bend in the road, Carmichael’s vehicle had disappeared.   Burton asked, “Where the hell did he go?” Gail replied, “There must be a turn off back there somewhere.” They cruised slowly back and forth for several minutes before finding a well concealed opening in the trees.  They turned in and followed a faint laneway which ended at a clearing.  Carmichael’s Jeep was parked there in front of a ramshackle log cabin.

     Captain Burton parked beside the vehicle, and then reached across to remove a Glock 9mm from the glove box.  Gail gave him a strange look as he tucked the pistol into his belt.  A dog was barking as they approached.  Suddenly the door swung open and Robert Carmichael stood there with a big smile on his face.  He said, “Well, who do we have here?” Burton walked up to him and replied, “An unhappy surprise for you, Carmichael!”  The smile disappeared from the man’s face, while from inside the cabin a familiar voice asked, “Who’s there Bobby?”  Gail pushed past the men and entered the cabin to embrace her uncle.  It was a confusing reunion for Sebastian Cox.  He clearly felt no enmity towards Carmichael and had no comprehension of how he had been taken advantage of. 

     Carmichael claimed that he had been acting in Sebastian’s best interests, and had done nothing wrong.  Burton said, “Oh sure, like selling the old man’s G-Wagon to a bunch of crooks in Montreal!” Carmichael said nervously, “Look, I’m out of here.” Captain Burton responded, “Go ahead, I have no authority to stop you at present.  But, if that painting is no longer at the Microtel when I return, there is nowhere on earth you can hide where I can’t find you.”  After Bobby Carmichael left, they packed up Sebastian’s things and loaded him and the dog into the Range Rover.  Gail made a call to Michel Coté, to Sebastian’s valet and his housekeeper to arrange for his homecoming.

~                         ~                         ~

     Bobby was packing up his things and was about to blow out of town.  The scam with Sebastian Cox had clearly run its course.  Suddenly there was a heavy knock on the door.  He thought, for Christ’s sake, now what!  When he opened it, two tough looking men were standing there.  They were emissaries from Vincenzo Cotroni in Montreal.  Bobby Carmichael had almost three million dollars socked away in a numbered account in Belize, more money than he had ever dreamed of.  But he would never spend a penny of it.

By Michael Barlett


Donate a little?

Use PayPal to support our efforts:


Genre Poll

Your Favorite Genre?

Sign Up for info from Short-Story.Me!

Stories Tips And Advice