EXCERPT

PROLOGUE:

Dawn

 

Sunday, Nov. 25, 1990. First light was brightening the sky to pewter-grey when Larry Hartwig jumped from his car and ran up the walk, his breath a steaming trail of vapour. “Sandy!” he called, bursting through the door. “Where are you?”

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Constable Larry Hartwig in 1991

“In the kitchen, coffee’s on!” his wife called. The petite blond, a Saskatchewan farm girl, could have been a model, but she preferred the gruelling work of an RN. In addition to the toll extracted by shift work, she was six months pregnant with their first child, and exhausted.

“How are you two feelin’?” he asked, pulling a chair up to the gleaming pine table.

“We’re a little tired,” she said, lazily stretching her arms out to him. “Busy shift? Gosh, Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Got to tell you,” he said. “Worst thing I’ve ever done.”

“Oh, no! What happened?” During their two-and-a-half years of marriage, Sandy had become accustomed to trading stories-without-names with her police officer husband. She had seldom seen him so upset.

“Just one of those crazy, crazy Saturday nights where we were going from call to call to call and then my partner and I – tonight I was partnered with a guy named Brad Senger, brand new constable, still on probation – we had   to

 

The Cold, Hard Facts of Neil Stonechild’s Freezing Death

 

um ….” Pressing his lips together, he blinked rapidly.

“Horrible!” Sandy murmured, pouring his coffee, squeezing his hand, stirring in cream.

“RCMP asked us to notify a woman that her estranged husband, when he took their boys out for a visitation … he actually … he shot their sons. Murdered them both.”

“Oh Larry!”

“Can you imagine telling that to their mom? Both sons dead? She was so distraught and I felt so useless ….”

Sandy let him talk. “Not only that, the father was going to kill himself, too, but then he flinched when the gun went off and he wounded himself. He was found outside his house, alive but ….”

After she calmed him down, Larry  went  to  bed  but  couldn’t  sleep, so she listened some more. He went over what he had said trying to assist the traumatized woman and he asked what he could have done better.

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Constable Brad Senger in 1991

Neither of them would ever forget the conversation. But it was a completely different call that Larry, 31, and Brad, 26, had taken that same bitterly cold 1990 night – a routine call that Larry hadn’t even mentioned to her because nothing happened since he and his partner had been unable to find the youth they were dispatched to look for – that 10 years later would somehow, impossibly, transform their vital young lives.

Sometime that same night, a strikingly handsome teenager with shiny, coal-black hair had gone missing. He later found himself miles from the detention home to which he had been sentenced, stumbling through knee- deep snow in an empty lot in Saskatoon’s industrial north end. His cheeks white with frostbite, faculties numbed with cold, bare hands pulled up into the sleeves of his unzipped jacket, he felt like a hot iron was pressing his skin. Somewhere he had lost a running shoe, but he kept on going. An indentation in a snow-filled ditch revealed where he had fallen earlier. Urged on by all the life-seeking instincts in his strong young body, he crawled out of the ditch, but was unable to return to his feet. Finally, he could move not one inch further. The snow was a cool, clean sheet. Sinking onto it face-first, he pulled his arms up against his chest, breathed a quiet sigh, and drifted off to sleep.

Discovered later in a pocket of his faded jeans, a creased and worn clue may help solve, finally, the decades-old mystery: why was that youth out in that part of the city? And how did he get there – miles from home, miles from anywhere?

~ ~ ~

The notice of identification of the youth, Neil Stonechild, appeared in the Dec. 1, 1990 edition of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Above it was the report of the murders:15

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