Millions of years ago there was a huge lake the size of an ocean. At the end of the last ice age the lake drained almost entirely into the Atlantic Ocean. The remaining 7,300 square miles of water is known today as Lake Ontario, which is mostly in Canada. A huge escarpment of cliffs stands where the giant lake once ended and in the westernmost corner of this escarpment lies the small and picturesque town of Dundas. Dundas is not on the shores of Lake Ontario as its much larger neighbour, the city of Hamilton separates it from the huge expanse of fresh water. Just below the escarpment and within sight of the 165 metre-high Dundas Peak is the street where I live.
Although I could easily afford my own pad, Gran and I cohabit. Gran says she’s the brains while yours truly is the brawn. What the heck? There’s no harm humouring the old girl. Compared to my 220 pounds, Gran’s a little wimp of around 62 or 63 years old - she never actually admits to her age. Although officially we’ve gone metric I still like to use pounds and inches. It doesn’t sound right to say I’m 188 centimetres tall and 100 kilograms. I live with Gran because my parents died three years ago in 1997 and I got myself kicked out of university. After the fiasco on Fiend’s Rock the old girl and I have sort of been very close.
Freda Davis shot me on my own island and since then you could say I’ve grown up a bit. The experience changed me and caused me to see life from a different perspective. I don’t like guns and now if anyone should point one at me my temper just boils over and a deep, powerful urge makes me want to take the weapon and shove it down their throat.
Above Dundas, up on the mountain, as we call the upper part of the escarpment, are several large parks run by five different agencies and all are open to the public. Some are wild and some are manicured for your Sunday picnickers. Close to the edge of one park owned by the Niagara Escarpment Authority, a machine grunted and groaned as it scraped the soil, making way for a new house. The digger growled and strained as it pulled at the root-strewn soil and a huge, earth-filled bucket lifted from the ever-growing hole. Suddenly, the site foreman yelled and waved his arms at the backhoe driver. Foreman Roy jumped into the
excavation to examine what had just fallen from the earthen wall. He didn’t touch the skull as it lay staring at him through its empty eye sockets.
‘Somebody call the cops,’ he yelled.
It was late May in the year 2000 and school would soon break-up for the summer holidays. On this particular occasion, as I came down the stairs for my breakfast, Gran called me from the kitchen. ‘William.’ She always calls me William.
I parked myself on the chair opposite her. ‘What is it, Gran?’
She had the morning newspaper spread out on the table, her goggles balanced on the end of her nose. ‘They have found a human skull, while digging a basement for a new house, up near Tew Falls.’
‘So, William, doesn’t it interest you?’
‘I thought you were training to be a detective. Or is that just another one of your passing fads?’
‘Well no, Gran.’
‘Then I would have thought this would have interested you.’
‘So who is it, or was it?’
She shook her head in disgust. ‘Eat your breakfast and go to school, William.’
Last year we had a real adventure - Gran and me that is. Well, this year I enrolled in a law course at Mohawk College in Hamilton. The idea being that I should become a real detective; private that is. Money’s no problem as Uncle Edgar died last year and left me millions. What with that and old Fiend’s treasure you could say I was comfortably set for a while - a long while.
The trouble with Gran is she plants a thought in your head and allows time for it to fester. All day at school I couldn’t concentrate because of that skull found at Tew. I began to wonder, who it was. Why was it buried up there near the falls? It’s inherently difficult to study when your head is filled with other questions.
After a thoroughly miserable day at the college I drove back to Gran’s house in Dundas. Gran’s a real whizz in the kitchen, she could make a feast from a pig’s foot. The smell of food seemed almost overwhelmingly enticing as I walked in the front door.
‘Supper’s ready,’ she sang out from the kitchen.
‘Gee, Gran, it smells wonderful.’
‘By the time you’ve washed-up, I’ll have it on your plate. Now scoot.’
I was bursting to ask her about the skull, but it’s not good practise to cross Gran. If she says do something it’s best to do it.
On my arrival back at the dining table, I asked. ‘What about that skull, Gran?’
Knowingly, she smiled and sat opposite me. ‘My dear boy, I thought you were not interested in such things.’
‘Ah, come on, Gran. You know how I am in the mornings.’
‘Very well, William.’ She pulled her notepad from her pinafore pocket. ‘First, it has to be murder. There’s very little in the paper. You see, they don’t yet know who the victim is or how long the skull’s been in the ground. There is one interesting fact, though.’
‘It’s not the first one found there.’
‘Not the first? What d’you mean, Gran?’
‘William, for someone who’s twenty-first birthday is this year you give an excellent impression of a fool. Not the first means simply that there was one or more before.’
‘Sorry, Gran. I just, well ... I mean, er, like, who was the first?’
‘That is a much finer response, William. Some years ago a skull was found in the forest on the Dundas Mountain, somewhere close to the Bruce Trail.’
‘I bet they’re Indians.’
‘Well, William, you would lose your money. The skull found a few years ago was not that of an aboriginal American. It turned out to be a girl from Burlington that had gone missing some time before.’
I had to think about that for a few seconds. ‘If it was just a skull, how did they know where she was from?’
Gran opened her ever-faithful notebook, flipped a few pages and said, ‘There were several other bones there, too. Strangely, they were not human. The dental records identified her as Mary Elizabeth Bean. At the time of her disappearance she was 15 years old. That was in 1981.’
‘So you’re saying there’s a connection?’
‘There is no point jumping to conclusions, William. Though I personally find it rather suspicious that another skull should turn up in the same forest and not more than half a mile from the first one.’
‘It’s obvious, Gran, you’re leading up to something. What’s the plan?’
‘It’s very simple, William. You will be finishing school for the summer in a week or so. I think we should investigate this case ourselves.’
‘Don’t you think the fuzz would already have done far more than we ever will?’
‘Who solved the case of Fiend’s gold and after 200 years?’
‘Well, we did.’
‘Exactly, William. For almost 200 years it was a mystery until Reyner and Grantham put their minds to it. And I may add in the face of adversity, right under the nose of the police.’
As always she was perfectly correct. My mind was in a little bit of a spin. I didn’t want to come up against another load of dead people.
‘I really don’t want to get anyone killed, Gran. I’ve seen enough death to last a lifetime.’
‘It is not for us to choose, William. These murders are as they are. They have already been committed. Our job will merely be to catch the perpetrator.’
‘Or to get caught by him,’ I added wryly.
‘Pessimism does not become you. Now, William, I need your help when you’ve finished your meal.’
‘Sure, Gran. What?’
‘I want you to take this stuff down to the apple store for me.’
She had sorted out several small pieces of furniture, including a bedside table and a funny-looking cupboard thing with a rack of shelves at the top.
‘So where’s this apple store, Gran?’
‘Good heavens, William. I am beginning to think it’s a waste of time sending you to school. You act like a living brain downer. I think I could train a dog more easily.’
‘Now what did I say?’
‘You know very well where the apple store is.’
I shrugged my shoulders in resignation. I had no idea where this store is or was. ‘Sure, Gran. Whatever you say.’
Immediately after supper she started on me again. ‘Now help me with the chiffonier, William.’
She meant the thing that looked like a cupboard. It wasn’t all that heavy, but its size made it awkward to carry. We struggled with it all the way to the basement stairs.
‘How did you get it into the hall in the first place, Gran?’
With her eyes rolling upwards she replied, ‘It’s been standing in the hall for eighteen years.’
‘Oh!’ Funny, I’d never noticed it before. ‘Why are we moving it?’
‘It’s an antique. I don’t want it damaged by your clumsy friends. Now be careful.’
With great difficulty we managed to get the thing to the basement stairs. I could see that the real problems would start on the way down. In my mind’s eye I
could see the thing lying at the bottom as a heap of splinters.
‘I think it would be better if I took it myself, Gran.’
She looked at me as if I had suggested something rude. ‘How?’
‘Well if you have a good leather strap or belt, I can hitch it up on my back and carry it down easily, while you guide it from bumping the walls.’
Funny old girl, she could at least see the sense in my suggestion. I easily had the strength to carry both it and her down the steps - both at once, even, but my arms weren’t long enough to go round them. In a couple of minutes Gran came back with a large canvas strap. She handed it to me and scowled.
Together, we put the strap round the thing’s legs and then round my shoulders. Lifting it was easy. All I had to do was mind the doorframe. Gran barked the orders as I did all the work. It wasn’t really difficult. In the basement I awaited her to point out the apple store. She opened a door on the south wall, which led to a dark passage.
Gran led the way and turned on the lights as we proceeded. The passage was arched at the ceiling like a mine tunnel or something. At the other end, more than 7 yards, or 6 metres if you prefer, anyhow, a good distance away, stood a second one. It looked like the door to a furnace or something - all rivets and bolts. It creaked terribly as she opened it. Beyond lay a large room, almost as big as the living room upstairs. It looked to be filled with junk, though neat and tidy, of course.
‘What is this place, Gran?’ I asked, placing the chiffonier gently on the floor.
She unstrapped me so that I could stand up straight. ‘Your grandfather was a little bit of a pessimist. In the Fifties, they had this nuclear-war scare.’
‘So, poor dear, in order to protect us from the communists he had this fallout shelter built. I prefer to think of it as an apple store.’
It was my turn to shake my head. ‘Fallout shelter? What’s it for?’
‘Well, if there should be a nuclear attack you hide here until it’s safe to come out again.’
I looked around the strange room trying to understand why anyone would go to such extremes. ‘If there was a nuclear attack, how would you breathe?’ I asked.
‘Your grandfather spent a lot of money building this facility. I neither know nor care how it works. There are electric things that do something to the air, or something like.’
One wall looked like a library, with books and shelves. The opposite wall had the storage racks and a control centre. It was straight out of a science-fiction movie. It’s just amazing what people have in their backyards.
‘You can’t see this place from the outside, Gran?’
She smiled her approval at my question. ‘We’re underground, under the side garden. That’s the way out, though I have allowed it to become overgrown now. You have to use the house entrance. That door’s locked and I don’t know where the key is. Haven’t seen it in years.’
She’s a funny old girl with real peculiar ideas. Rather than have this antique stuff where you can see it, she brings it down here.
‘You amaze me, Gran, you really do.’
Jokingly, she cuffed me round the head and said, ‘Come-along, Sherlock, we have other work to do.’
About three days later I’d just driven home from school when Gran came out to the driveway all excited and bubbly.
‘William, William, my boy, guess what I have?’
I climbed out of the car and gave her a respectful grin. ‘Dunno, Gran what have you got?’
Her eyes sparkled with delight. ‘Come into the kitchen and I’ll explain.’
We walked into the house with me close on her heels. I know she often gets excited about things that don’t even bother me, but you have to go along with it, just to keep her happy.
‘Mary Elizabeth Bean,’ she said gleefully and handed me an old newspaper.
Still puzzled, I took the paper and sat. ‘So now what, Gran?’
She grabbed the paper back and spread it out on the table. ‘Listen, boy.’ She found the spot and began to read. ‘The skull found last week on the Bruce Trail is that of Mary Elizabeth Bean, a 15 year old who disappeared several months ago from the Burlington area.’
I could see that to her it was significant, yet I couldn’t see why. ‘That’s very nice, Gran. When’s supper?’
‘Don’t tell me you don’t see the importance of this.’
I shrugged and smiled. ‘Oh yeah, sure, Gran.’
‘William,’ she snapped sternly. ‘We know who and where, so now we only need to find out why and how.’
You know, if anyone in the world could confuse me, she could. ‘I don’t understand, Gran. So we know her name, then what?’
‘Mary Elizabeth Bean was a real person who disappeared in 1981. Then, fifteen years later, they find the girl’s skull, up here in the forest above
Dundas. She’s from Burlington. We can find her friends and interview them.’
‘But she died twenty years ago.’
‘True. Her 15-year-old friends will be in their mid thirties by now. All we have to do is find them.’
I sat looking at Gran and thinking. Man, this was crap. The last adventure was at least profitable. At length, I spoke. ‘Gran, I think we should look for something else. There’s no profit looking for a girl we know is dead. And where’s the adventure and the excitement?’
Silently, she folded the old paper and then sat glaring at me. You could almost see the cogs moving in her brain. ‘William, oh hapless William. Did we go to Saucer’s Island with the intention of having an adventure?’
‘Did we allow those people to die for the fun of it?’
‘Then buck your ideas up, boy. We have a mystery that needs our help. Think in a positive manner. This is a simple case and this time we are starting with every one already dead.’
I smiled at the thought. ‘Sure, Gran. So how do we solve a 20-year-old murder that the police have given up on? And what’s it got to do with a skull they found recently?’
‘Your school starts its summer break in a couple of weeks. It will be good legal and detective practise for us both. Think of it as a summer exercise. We’ll allow the police to solve the mystery of the new skull while we investigate history.’
I nodded in agreement. There’s never any point arguing with Gran. She always wins. It’s sort of funny, when you think about it. Poor Pete and Dee died last century, even if it was only last year. I was going to be a twenty-first century PI. Somehow, that thought gave me a smug feeling. So some 15-year-old broad got herself killed twenty years ago, then what?
The thought suddenly struck me. Mary Bean had been a real person, one who lived and breathed, but now she’s dead. I wonder why they only found her head. What happened to the rest of her? Why bury a head in the woods above Dundas? A shudder went through me as I thought about it. I could imagine some spooky individual creeping through the forest with a head under one arm and shovel under the other. How could he dig there in the half-light with that girl’s head watching every move? And what happened to rest of her? Gran walked back into the room and caught me daydreaming. She clapped her hands to shock me.
‘Where are you, William?’
‘Oh, Gran. I was thinking. Yes, yes, I reckon we should take this case. There’s a couple of points I don’t understand, though.’
She smiled and sat down again. ‘Good, I think it’ll make a perfect summer project for us. Besides, it’s nice and close.’
‘What do you think happened to the rest of her, Gran?’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know, William. The report said the police dug up a large area, but found no trace of anything useful.’
‘How do you suggest we start?’
‘The first thing to do is visit the library and dig out all the newspaper reports. Maybe we can find something concerning the time she vanished. We won’t know until we actually begin reading. Now, you be a good boy and finish your school. We’ll start on your very first holiday Monday. Alright?’
‘Well what about the skull they just found recently?’
‘One thing at a time. Let’s worry about Mary Bean first.’
Now, my granny Hubert is an amazing old girl. When she puts her mind to it, she can do anything. And when she says that’s the way it is, well, look out, because that’s the way it is. Although I can easily afford my own house, I live with Gran because she’s an excellent cook, housekeeper, alarm clock and general all-round neat person - neat in every sense. Her house is a really nice old Victorian place not far from what we call the Dundas Mountain, which as you already know is part of the Niagara Escarpment.
Dundas is a valley town right in the nook of the Niagara Escarpment. The highest point is Dundas Peak, about 530 feet; like 165 metres. Most of the escarpment is wild or parkland, with rivers and waterfalls. It’s a grand area to live, with nice and friendly people. I guess that’s what’s so shocking about finding a human skull up there in the woods.
I would hazard a guess that the person was murdered somewhere else and brought here because they figured it would never be found. Seems funny, though, this is the second one, and a head but no body. The more I thought about it the more spooky it seemed. Could the first head have anything to do with the second?
My school, Mohawk College, is on the escarpment right across the valley. They call that the Hamilton Mountain. I drive there every day in Gran’s car. Funny, with all my money you’d think I would buy my own. Maybe I will when school’s finished.
A strange thing happened about a week later, when I was in the college library just talking to one of the students - no one in particular. We were waiting
to check out some books for the summer, when Bobby, that’s the girl I was talking to, said, ‘What have you been up to over the weekend?’
‘Looking into the Mary Bean murder,’ I replied.
Bobby laughed. ‘Mary Bean. That’s a dumb name.’
Miss Norville, the library assistant, butted in. ‘Do you mean Mary Bean, the girl who was murdered some years ago?’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘You’ve heard of it?’
With an all-knowing smile Miss Norville said, ‘Everyone’s heard of poor Mary Bean. We’ve even got a book about her.’
‘You do?’ I said in surprise.
‘Certainly. I think it was written by some lawyer from Burlington or somewhere. Would you like me to look it up for you?’
She dickered around with the computer for a few moments, muttering to herself, and then suddenly, all wide eyed, she said, ‘Oh here it is. What Happened to Mary by Jethro M Goodie.’
‘Great,’ I encouraged. ‘I’d like to take it out.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, the book’s missing. You’ll have to try the downtown library.’
‘So what happened to her?’ Bobby asked.
‘Ah, well, I’m not sure. Someone bumped her off and buried her head up on Dundas Mountain.’
‘That’s terrible. Why would you want to read about stuff like that?’
‘You must be warped. What’s interesting about a murdered girl?’
‘I’m studying law, because I want to be a private detective.’
She laughed as though I’d cracked a real funny joke. I didn’t think it was funny at all. Not the dead girl Mary or becoming a detective. The way she’d laughed changed my outlook. Just to spite her, I felt it imperative to discover the answer to the secrets of poor Mary Bean. Her attitude made me all the more determined to find out everything there was to know about the dead girl. The great Bill Reyner was going to solve another ancient mystery.
Checking the time, I decided to go downtown to the main branch of the Hamilton library and get this book. We do have a library in Dundas, but it’s nowhere as big or complete as the main branch in Hamilton. You can still get everything there, but it just takes longer. Parking my car by the Copps Coliseum I walked along York Street to the library. You wouldn’t believe how popular that particular branch is. There were loads of people there at the main desk, mostly students.
‘Excuse me, miss, how do I take out a book?’ I asked the first librarian.
She smiled. ‘Look up the catalogue number on the computer, sir.’
Several computers were scattered around the large room but all were in use. The library assistant immediately saw my dilemma. ‘You could try the third floor, sir.’
‘Oh, sure. Thank you.’ The problem being, I knew the McMaster Library, but not this one. Walking through the entrance barrier the elevators were to the left and moments later I reached the third floor and walked to the not so busy desk. ‘Excuse me, sir; I’m looking for a book.’
The guy grinned. ‘You’ve come to the right place then.’
‘I’m looking for What Happened to Mary by J M Goodie.’
The guy played with his computer for a few seconds. ‘Oh, I see. This book is in the stacks.’
‘Stacks, where’s that?’
‘Hmm. Well it means the book has been withdrawn from the shelves. I can get it for you if you’re prepared to wait.’
‘Great, yes please.’
The guy picked up his phone and made a call to someone. Then he put the phone down and smiled at me. ‘It’ll take about half an hour, sir.’
‘Okay, I’ll come back. Do you want my name or anything?’
‘No, sir, just come to this desk and the book’ll be here waiting for you.’
The library is part of Jackson Mall and this would be a good opportunity for me to do a little looking around. Giggling to myself, I was thinking that maybe I’d buy a deerstalker and a magnifying glass. Imagine the expression on Gran’s face if I turned up looking like Sherlock Holmes!
Half an hour passed very quickly and I hurried back to the third floor of the library. The same guy was there and as soon as he saw me he grinned. ‘I’ve come for -’
He cut me off. ‘Yes, sir, Mary Bean.’
The book looked a little worse for wear, dog-eared and faded.
‘How do I check it out?’
‘Take it down to the main desk, sir. Do you have a library card?’
‘No. I’m a Mohawk student.’
‘No, problem they’ll sign you in and issue a card, sir.’
In the elevator I flipped through the pages. Gran would be amazed. I felt proud, as it was me who’d discovered the first facts. A quick glance at my watch told me that Gran wouldn’t be so pleased,
particularly if she’d cooked supper. Still, heads up, off we go. Then the thought struck me, “The heads up mystery”, would be a grand name for the case.