I spent Saturday at Word on the Street, a literary festival that happens annually in a number of Canadian Cities. Several of us were there to promote the Evergreen Writers Group‘s two short story anthologies (see my Evergreen Writers Group page) and our own books. Success, to say the least, was limited.
I had lots of time to consider my efforts to sell A Body in the Sacristy, the first of my Barrettsport Mysteries. I haven’t sold many books, but I was pleased with the early going because I had online sales from Australia, United Kingdom, US, Canada, and one from an unidentified foreign sale on Amazon.com. It was nice to imagine the dots all over the globe where I’d sold books.
Since those heady early weeks, almost no sales.
I now have ten reviews/ratings (average rating is 4.4) and only two were ones I solicited for my back cover. So, I seem to be doing okay on the reviews front.
As a next step, I’ve decided to post another chapter here. You can read the first four chapters on Amazon by accessing the ‘Look inside’ feature for the ebook. Here is Chapter Five. To read the remaining thirty chapters, you’ll have to buy a copy. Hey it’s a steal at $3.35.
After midmorning coffee in the parish office, Simon ventured to Hunter’s Creek to interview John Harvey.
Simon considered Jim Ellis’s comments on local society as he strode to his car. Barrettsport’s population was proud of its participatory democracy where citizens made important political decisions at open town meetings in the elaborate hall dominating Second Avenue. The town hall and adjacent civic offices were formal and impressive, much like the ostentatious church, but inconsistent with the realities of a modern town. This political foundation may have been solid like the fabric of the church, but a much less democratic reality lurked behind the façade.
The descendants of the original five families ran everything. The mayor and three town councillors, called selectmen in a New England tradition, had always been family members. No outsider ever held public office. Town businesses appeared stuck in the 1920s with the old family estates, and hotels, restaurants, and fancy shops catering to upper-class tourists.
The families also dominated the town’s social life. It centred on the exclusive Barrettsport Yacht Club and a series of large formal parties open to the families and their carefully chosen guests.
His route took Simon along Second Avenue past the town hall and police station to the causeway joining Barrettsport to the mainland. The unincorporated commercial area between the causeway and the coastal highway was known as Upper Barrettsport. A right turn at the highway and a short drive through forested land took him to another right turn and the village at the mouth of Hunter’s Creek. Along the way, he’d skirted an eighteen-hole championship golf course hidden in the forest.
The community of Hunter’s Creek, population 600, was a fishing village nestled behind a spit guarding the creek’s mouth. A government wharf provided the terminus for a water taxi service between Barrettsport and Hunter’s Creek and protected berthing for twenty vessels, most of them inshore fishing boats. Lobster traps and other paraphernalia typical of an east coast fishing village cluttered the wharf. Hunter’s Creek was only two kilometres across the harbour from Barrettsport, and less than thirty kilometres away by road, but it inhabited a different world.
John Harvey was cooking an enormous pot of chili when Simon arrived at eleven thirty. The big, burly, full-bearded man appeared comical standing over the kitchen stove wearing his wife’s frilly apron.
“Lunch and dinner for the next week,” John replied when Simon asked why he was making such a large batch. “If you stay for lunch, I’ll be stuck with it for one less meal.”
Simon laughed from his position leaning against the doorjamb. “Then, I should help you deplete the stockpile.”
“Be ready in ten minutes. Meanwhile, how can I help you?”
“You presumably know Reverend Leslie found a baby girl’s body tucked away in the church.”
“She told me Jim Ellis discovered the body.”
Simon scowled, thinking John was splitting hairs. “True. Jim found a bundle of cloth, and Reverend Leslie decided it could contain human remains before I became involved. But that’s not the point. I need information on the church history to help me determine when and how the baby ended up where it did.”
“In the sacristy, according to Reverend Leslie.”
“In a sealed space under a counter. I need construction dates for the church and the history of renovations to the sacristy. They tell me you’re the expert.”
John continued to stir the chili after opening two bottles of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, a brand popular in Nova Scotia. He passed one to Simon. “I suppose I am. Since I retired from my career as a school teacher and moved here, I’ve devoted my life to local history, starting with the impressive-looking church.”
Simon gazed at a sepia-toned illustration hanging on the wall behind the kitchen table. It showed a child in prayer. “So, it’s not devotion to the Anglican faith?”
“My wife and I go to services, but that’s not my motivation. I studied and taught history, and now I’m doing amateur historical research.”
“My sources suggest your book is very professional.”
“Thorough rather than professional if you ask me, and it’s a work in progress. My computer has the only up-to-date copy.” John stopped stirring and had a large swig of beer. “You say you’re most interested in the sacristy, and the history of its furnishings?”
“Correct. I’d appreciate a broader history lesson at another time, but right now, I must focus on the sacristy and that cabinet.”
John paused with head cocked to one side while tapping the wooden stirring spoon on the pot’s rim. “Church construction started in 1898 and finished in 1901 although the building wasn’t consecrated until the spring of 1902. Interior finishing in rooms like the sacristy, chapels, and other small rooms happened in 1901. The room has not been altered except for the sink beside the cabinet you’re focused on. The original separate pedestal sink was replaced by the built-in one in the 1960s.”
“I noticed that,” Simon said, before sipping his beer. He should avoid chugging too many before returning to the office. “The sink cabinet doesn’t seem as old as the rest.”
“Or well constructed. The renovator wasn’t as skilled as the workmen who built the church.”
“Did your research reveal why they didn’t use the space under the counter for a cupboard or drawers?”
John shook his head. “It puzzled me, but I found nothing that explained why they built it the way they did.”
“And work on the cabinet? Any indication it’s been altered?”
“Only the modifications to the sink, and they shouldn’t impact your cabinet. The invoice describes the addition of a new cabinet with sink to the existing one.”
Simon raised an eyebrow. “An actual invoice? Someone must have been a meticulous record keeper.”
“They’ve always kept good records. It’s made my job easier.”
“This suggests the baby was placed there in 1901 by someone with access to the building. He must have deposited the body before the cabinet was closed in without anyone noticing her.”
John bustled around the kitchen, grabbing bowls from an overhead cupboard and more beer from the fridge. He dumped a baguette on a cutting board. “You’re thinking a workman was responsible?”
“I don’t know enough to focus on anyone, but I should learn who worked on the project or had access for other reasons.”
“Then, you need my book because it has a comprehensive discussion of the people involved. But first, we should eat. I hope you’re okay with beer with your chili because I’ve opened two more, and I have French bread.”
Simon tipped his first bottle and gazed at the level. It was half full. “Sounds good, and after lunch, you can lead me through your book. But what about your wife, will she be joining us?”
John laughed as he dished out the meal. “Visiting relatives in Ontario. If she were here, I would never make a week’s worth of chili at one time.”
After lunch, the search for someone with access to the sealed cabinet beckoned. And he had another problem niggling at his subconscious. John Harvey’s bonhomie appeared forced. He and Jim Ellis were friendly and helpful. Their curiosity may have been just that, curiosity, but Simon couldn’t shake the feeling they were too interested in his investigation.