Destruction in Paradise

An excerpt.

Summer, 2019 / No. 43
George Pfromm

Policewoman Christine Marsh woke up with a start. She was lying on her side, on something hard. Was she in her bed? Her eyes were open, but it was still dark. She blinked. Her eyelashes brushed against something—a cloth was covering her eyes. She tried to speak, to call out, but couldn’t open her mouth. It was taped shut.

Fear spiked through her. She jerked upright, her head spinning with the movement, then immediately fell back down with a thump. Her wrists were tied together in front of her, her ankles bound. When she stretched out, she discovered her ankles were tied to her wrists by a short cord, further limiting her movement. Trussed like a pig going to market.

She breathed quickly through her nose, nauseated, panicking.

Calm down. She had to stay calm. If she threw up, she’d choke on her vomit. That thought frightened her even more.

Stop it. Breathe. Christine made herself breathe in and out through her nose slowly five times, loudly, trying to hear her exhales over the pounding rush of her heart.

She was a cop. She needed to figure out what was going on.

She swallowed again. The air was cool, a bit breezy; it must still be nighttime. Her last memory was of patrolling Hanlan’s Point, rattling the doors of the Island School to make sure they were locked.

She listened intently to the call of the birds, the loud chirping of the crickets, the buzz of a horsefly. She couldn’t say for sure, but she felt she was still on Toronto Island—she caught the swampy, sulphur smell of marshy water. Near Trout Pond? Long Pond? A lagoon?

She shifted her bound arms, feeling the sharp edge of stones underneath her limbs. The back of her arms, legs, and back felt wet, and sore, like they had been burnt or scraped.


What was she wearing? Where were her clothes? She panicked, wiggling knees into her stomach so that she had enough rope slack to push herself upright by pressing her knuckles into the ground. Her forearms rested against the bare skin of her legs. Where was her uniform skirt? She cinched in her arms, elbows touching her bare stomach. Her eyes blinked with tears underneath the binding. What had happened to her? What was happening?

Thank God. She felt the cotton of her underwear, then the nylon of her bra. At least she wasn’t naked. She concentrated on her body. Did he hurt her? Had she been raped?

No. She was O.K. Her head was killing her, pounding, like the headaches she’d had after being hit by that brick during the house demolition. The skin on her back, legs, and arms stung, but otherwise, she was O.K., nothing broken. She could move a bit under her bindings, but not a lot. When she lifted her hands, it pulled on her roped feet, jackknifing her knees.

Someone had knocked her out, removed her police uniform, tied her up, and taped her eyes and mouth shut. Why? And where had he put her? She wriggled her body over the stones, ignoring the chafing sting from her legs, until she was abruptly halted, her wrists and feet pulled into the air. She was tied to something. The cord was pulled taut. She wriggled the other way to give the cord slack, and felt something hard poke into her back. It was a step or ledge, made out of stone, its edge unfinished. She grabbed the cord tying her hands together and pulled herself up on the step. Her hip butted against something hard. She leaned her shoulder in, and her head whacked against something with a dull thud that sounded like wood. A door? Was she at someone’s house? The water filtration plant? The Island School? She banged her head against the wood several times, although each rap sent a dizzying flush through her head. She mustn’t pass out.

She listened for a response, a movement in the building. Her bangs had echoed, like no one was home, like the building was empty, unfurnished.

Christine had to get the tape off her mouth so she could call for help. But she could only do that if her hands were free. Inching back to the step, she leaned awkwardly against it so that the cord linking her hands and feet draped over the edge of the stone. She moved her arms back and forth, using the rough lip as a saw against the binding. It was hard work, and she couldn’t tell if she was making progress, but she continued through her dizziness, trying to bite down on panic and focus on the fraying spot on the rope.

After five minutes, she paused, exhausted, her breath heaving in and out through her nostrils. This was going to take all night. She counted ten breaths and started sawing again. A mosquito buzzed around her ear; she swung her head away and nausea rolled through her.

Fillingham! She paused her work. Her partner, Geoffrey Fillingham, would look for her when she didn’t show up at two o’clock at the station as scheduled. He might call her first over the radio, but if there was no response, certainly he would come looking. And if she was roped to a building door, a parks and recreation shed, the school, or a house, certainly someone else, if not Fillingham, would find her.

Unless he came back.

She froze. What if her attacker had dumped her here temporarily, but intended to come back. To rape or kidnap her, or something worse. Fear flooded her and she frantically rubbed the rope against the step, eyes tearing as she sawed back and forth.

Please don’t come back. Please don’t touch me. Don’t kill me. I’ve got my little brother and sister to think about. My mom to take care of. They need me.

She tried to slow down, be methodical, but she couldn’t help wondering if he was watching her, waiting, enjoying her frenzy, her attempt at escape.

A crunch of stones sounded nearby—she stopped sawing the rope. It wasn’t the police utility vehicle—no sound of a car engine. Someone was coming. Walking? Riding a bike? Was it her attacker? She swallowed a whimper. She didn’t want to die. Her mind scrambled, trying to form a plan. Maybe if she faked she was dead, he would leave her alone. If he approached to check if she was still unconscious, she could head-butt him, knock him out.

She scooted over to the place where she had woken up, lying down in the same curled fetal position on her side, facing outward from the door. Trying to control her trembling, she purposefully relaxed her limbs, her shoulders, her neck, to imitate the slack pose of unconsciousness. She was listening so hard it hurt her head.

Bang! Then the crunch of stones, which sounded loud, close by, a pattern of left foot, right foot. Faster, the person was running toward her. Her heart was beating in her throat. She closed her eyes, trying to keep her breathing shallow and even, although she felt like screaming in terror.

No. This can’t be it. It can’t end like this. Donna, Wayne, Mom. I love you.

She smelled him as he paused in front of her, a spicy clean odour she recognized from sitting beside him in the police car. Fillingham!

“Marsh!” he said.

She lifted her head up at the same time his fingers felt for the carotid artery on her neck.

“Thank God!” he said. “You’re alive! Christine. It’s me—Fillingham. I’m going to sit you up, lean you against the step. Can you do that?”

She nodded, swallowing her tears, trying to check the sobs of relief that were building in her chest. He gently pulled her up by the shoulders.

“I’m going to take the tape off your eyes. It’s going to hurt a bit.” Christine grunted as the tape pulled away some of her skin, then blinked rapidly in the yellow light, squinting as she spied the school to her right. She quickly looked over her shoulder. She was sitting on the step of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, tied to a metal ring on the arched wooden doorway, in a sepia circle of light.

She frantically looked around, scanning for her attacker, worried that he would get Fillingham when her partner’s back was turned and she was still tied up.

He touched her bare shoulder gently for a second, then let go.

“You’re safe now. Hold on. I’m going to take the tape off your mouth.”

He pulled it off quickly, like you would a bandage. Her face stung.

He pulled his police knife out of its sheath, carefully cutting away the rope binding her hands. She shook them out, rotating her wrists as Fillingham squatted at her feet, sawing away at her ankle bindings. Looking along the length of her body, he saw she had no hat, no uniform, no nylons, no shoes. Her police purse, utility belt, and radio were gone.

Her ankles pulled away from each other as the rope severed. Fillingham sheathed his knife and pulled his radio out. “I’ll call you an ambulance.”

“No!” she yelled, her voice a loud croak.

The radio paused halfway to his mouth.

“You’re hurt.”

Fillingham’s eyes travelled over the length of her body.

Christine looked down at her underwear and bra, acutely aware of her near nakedness, and crossed her arms.

“Do you need, I mean, did he . . . ?” he stuttered.

Christine knew what he was trying to ask. She had posed the same questions to dozens of women who had been assaulted when she worked at the Women’s Bureau.

She shook her head. “I’m O.K. I mean he didn’t do anything.”

She touched her head.

“He knocked me out somehow, covered my face so I didn’t see him. I guess he dragged me to the lighthouse when I was unconscious.”

“Let me check you out.”

Fillingham pulled a flashlight off his belt and knelt beside her.

“Can you move your arms and legs?”

“Yes, it’s just my head and some scratches along my limbs and back.”

He stood up and gently touched her hair, sectioning off parts, his fingers touching the front, side, then back of her scalp.

“The stitches from the brick are here at the hairline, right?” he asked.


She was trying not to nod, because that increased the pounding in her head.

“O.K., I can’t see any cut or swelling or bruising. Did he hit you with something?”

“I don’t know. One minute I’m walking by the pond, then everything went black.”

His light beam moved over her limbs, finding the long vertical scratches down her calf, and the back of her thighs, the scrape on her back she could feel but not see. After he examined the abrasions on her arms, the light settled on the smeared blood on her knuckles from sawing the rope against the step.


Fillingham unbuttoned his long-sleeve blue police shirt.

“Put this on.”

It was too small, given she was six feet tall, several inches taller than her partner, but she put it on anyway, holding it together in front as she sat on the step, knees together, grateful for the coverage.

He squatted in front of her in his white undershirt.

“Some of those abrasions are deep. And you’ve had some sort of head injury. You really do need medical attention.”

Fillingham pulled his radio out from the belt holster. Christine punched it out of his hand, sending it tumbling onto the stones.

“What the hell!” he said.

He started to get up to retrieve it; she clutched his left wrist with both hands, pinning him in a squat.

“You can’t call it in!” she said.

“What are you talking about?”

She swallowed, trying to talk, to formulate the words that would stop him.

“You were assaulted,” he said. “The marine police will take you to the mainland and a waiting ambulance.”


It was an anguished scream.

“Marsh. You’re not making any sense.”

He kneeled in front of her.

“You’re in shock. You need help. And we got to call for backup, so we can put a search out for whoever did this to you.”

She held onto his wrist tightly. “Nobody can know about this.”

“I don’t understand. Why?”

She eased up on the pressure from her fingers, but still held on. “I’ll get fired.”

He pulled back, his expression quizzical.

“Why would they fire you?”

“Deputy Darlow came to my apartment.”

“What? When?” he asked.

“After the demolition. He wanted to discuss the photo published in the Telegram—the one with blood all over me taken after I got hit with the brick.”

Fillingham waited.

“He said that if I got hurt again, then it’s obvious that the job is too much for me. That I’m not cut out for policing.”

Fillingham shook his head.

“The brass wouldn’t fire you for getting beat up. You saved someone from drowning that day, did they forget that? This is not your fault. I’ll tell them that.”

He pulled away from her loosened grasp, stood up and took a step toward the radio.

She launched herself at his back, flattening him on the stone pathway, stars exploding in front of her from the sudden movement.

He grunted as she landed on him like a crab, splaying him underneath her.

“Are you crazy?” he said, trying to get a knee under himself to push her off.

“I can’t let you call it in,” Christine said, a sob breaking her voice. “I can’t lose my job. I have to pay back my mom’s bookie.”

Fillingham stopped scrabbling and angled his head to look up at her.

She tried to control her voice.

“If I don’t get our regular payment in, I’m afraid they’ll take it out on my mom.”

She released his shoulders and he turned to look at her.

“What are you talking about?”

“My mom owes money to a bookie named George Ray. Big money.”

“How much?”

“Five thousand four hundred and twelve.”


“I’ve paid off almost two thousand dollars with overtime and savings over the years, but there’s still a lot to go. The interest keeps accumulating.”

She slid off him, aware that she was in her underwear, and clutched at the shirt to cover herself.

Fillingham turned over onto his backside, and leaned against the stone step.

“How did she get so in debt?” he asked.

Christine sat on the step beside him.

“She and my stepfather used to drink, bet on the races. They got into debt, couldn’t pay the bookie. They bet some more to try to win everything back, but their debt just skyrocketed with the interest. Then my stepfather took off, leaving my mom on the hook for it all.”

“Can’t you get a loan from the credit union to cover it?”

“What would I say it was for? And what collateral do I have?”

Christine swiped a tear away from her face.

“I’ve been paying the bookie back every week, almost all my paycheck. He knows I’m good for it.”

Fillingham looked away, shaking his head.

“There’s something going on here. Your attack doesn’t feel random. It doesn’t feel like the perp jumped the nearest women for kicks or a dare. It feels planned, like he’s sending a message. We just don’t know what it is. I don’t know if we should cover it up.”

“Please,” Christine whispered, a tear leaking out of the corner of her eye. Her job, her life, her family’s life, was in Fillingham’s hands.

“If I don’t call it in,” he said, “I’m complicit. I’m withholding information, interfering with an investigation.”

She remained silent. He was right. The Police Act demanded that all officers perform ethically in their role to serve and protect society. He could be disciplined. Or even lose his job.

“Why did the attacker choose you?” he asked, changing the subject.

Christine exhaled with relief.

“I don’t know.”

“What were you doing?”

She cleared her throat, getting her volume back.

“I had secured the school and was heading to Hanlan’s Point Beach. I stopped and got off my bike and walked toward Trout Pond.”


“I was looking for a spot where I could take my younger brother night fishing. I’d heard Trout Pond was good. I had just walked a couple of steps into the shrubbery on the northwest side of the pond, when everything went dark.”

“What could you see from where you were standing before you blacked out?”

She shook her head. “Not much. It was dark and I hadn’t reached the water. The shrubs blocked my view front and back.

“You got hit?” he asked.

She pondered this. “It was like a black curtain went up in front of my face. I smelled something sweet, but acetone, like nail polish remover. Then I woke up here, my wrists and ankles bound, blindfolded, my mouth taped.”

Fillingham put his hand under his chin.

“Why did he attack you? And why drag you here to the lighthouse? For that matter, why did he take off your clothes? He didn’t rape or kill you. What was his point?”

Christine had no answer. She was so glad to be alive her attacker’s motivation for hauling her to the lighthouse and leaving her here untouched wasn’t important. She just wanted to get cleaned up, go home, hug her family, and climb into bed with the cover over her head.

“You’re not just any woman out at night, you’re a policewoman on patrol. Your uniform was removed. You were tied to a historical building. He wanted you to be found. He wanted your humiliation public. Who would do that?”

“Lampry,” they both said at the same time. Christine could see Kevin Lampry, a self-​confessed agitator, enemy of the government, enjoying her degradation, getting excited by her fear. Was he watching them now? Would he look for the story in the morning news?

“O.K., one suspect noted,” he said. “Anyone else have a beef with you?”

“The police investigators,” she said, attempting a joke. Fillingham raised an eyebrow. Christine thought of Investigator Fenwick, and paused, a lump in her throat. If the investigators had discovered that she and Fillingham were looking into Ginny Rogers’ murder, butting in on their case, was this their message to back off? She remembered Fenwick’s pressure on her wrist when she had gotten too inquisitive about the case, the magenta bruising that blossomed on her hand. She shivered.

“You’re shaking,” Fillingham said. “Enough talking. Let’s get you back to the station. Where’s your bike?”

She blinked, trying to remember where she had left it, but she was so overwhelmed with the realization that he wasn’t going to call dispatch, she found it hard to think.

“Your bike?” he asked again.

“I left it on the grass, near the pond,” she said, pointing north.

He looked over his shoulder, then back at her. “I don’t want to leave you here to look for it, or go back to the station and get the police car. Do you think you can ride my bike? I could hold on and steady you.”

She nodded.

Fillingham jogged over to get his bike. He helped her to a standing position and held the handlebars as she mounted. She was wobbly at first, like a child learning how to ride, and the abrasions on her leg made her grimace in pain as her legs pumped up and down. Fillingham held onto the handlebars and seat to steady her. After she got the hang of it, he jogged beside her.

As she turned the corner on Lakeshore Avenue, she looked back at the school. Who had done this to her? Kevin Lampry? The investigators? Someone who disliked women cops?

“There may be a silver lining,” Fillingham said as he ran beside her, his breath even.

The bike wobbled.

“To my attack?” she asked incredulously.

He grabbed her handlebars to stabilize her. “It could be him.


“Ginny Rogers’ killer.”

She stopped pedalling and stared at him.

“He knows we’ve been asking questions,” Fillingham said. “We must be getting close. He’s worried. This is his signal to back off. He’s trying to scare us. He’s trying to shut down our investigation.”

“If that’s true,” Christine said, “then he’s after you too.”

Dianne Scott is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. Her first stab at the mystery genre, Devastation, won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished crime fiction. She has contributed to the magazine since 2001. Last updated summer, 2019.