Bottled Water - Chapter 1
The past beats inside me like a second heart. - John Banville
Part 1 - First Trial - 2011.
The Judge peered over his glasses at the jury, adjusted the papers in front of him and started to read from his written script.
“As jurors it is your duty to talk with each other and listen to one another. Discuss the evidence, put forward your own views, and listen to what others have to say.”
After five weeks of trial, we were in the last stage of the proceedings. Both the Crown and Defence had presented their final arguments the day before. And now it was time for the Judge to summarize the entire case, isolate the crime and give instructions to the jury on how to decide whether the accused was guilty or not guilty.
There is something very sobering about the charge. The Judge’s charge was the last thing the jury would hear before they were sequestered for however long it would take for them to decide the accused’s fate.
The courtroom was full. We were sitting together, in a block, with our family and friends. There were also journalists, students and others guests in the visitors’ gallery.
The accused, Mark Edward Grant, was sitting in a large prisoner’s box right in the middle of the room with guards stationed on either side.
The Judge sat behind an elevated, oak desk, robed in a black gown with curious red and pink accents, and directly below him the Court Clerk – at a small desk. To his right sat the twelve jurors in a segregated tiered jury box. Before him the four lawyers, two Defence lawyers, and the two Crowns to the right.
The courtroom had been our home for five weeks. At first it had felt intimidating. The Judge’s robes, the hushed intimacy, the ceremonial practices, the seating arrangements are all symbols of a place where justice is to be reverentially exercised. But over the weeks it had all become familiar – like a home.
Now listening to the Judge’s charge, so perfectly crafted and delivered, was a time to reflect – a time to remember it all - from the very beginning
It brought me right back to that nightmare day when our daughter, Candace, who had been only thirteen years old, disappeared on her way home from school. After a massive city-wide search, her body had been found seven weeks later in a shed not that far from our place. She was found, frozen, her hands and feet bound. It looked as if someone, a stranger, had abducted her, taken her to the shed then abandoned her to die of hypothermia in the plunging temperatures of a Winnipeg winter.
Because there was no obvious explanation for her murder, no real leads, we were forced to live with the mystery for 22 years.
Then a call came out of the blue.
It was November 30, 2006 – the anniversary of her disappearance. Detective Sergeant Al Bradbury from the Cold Case Homicide Unit of the Winnipeg Police telephoned us “just to chat” he said.
We sensed something immediately.
After casually asking us how we were, he mentioned that their unit had received a sizable grant to reopen the cold case investigation of the murder of our daughter, then added that there were three other officers who wanted to meet with us soon.
At that time our relationship with the police force had not always been congenial. I checked my calendar. I was relieved that I had out-of-town trips lined up, back to back, for the next months. He accepted my excuses.
But he was not as understanding the next time he called. We had to meet, he insisted. None of my excuses dissuaded him. Apparently - we had to meet on or before February 9, 2007.
I had appointments, I told him, as did my husband, Cliff.
He would not relent. “Move your appointments earlier so we can at least meet towards the end of the day.” He would not be dissuaded.
“Is there anything we can do to prepare?” I asked tentatively – fishing for a reason.
“Yes, Candace’s diaries. Could we have a look at them?”
Something was definitely up.
The day of, I rushed home, found Candace’s diaries as I had promised, made coffee and set out six glass mugs on a silver tray ready for our four guests. I straightened the pillows on the living room sofa, glanced at the thin film of dust, barely visible on the end table, and decided to ignore it. It was a meeting after all – not a visit.
I began to pace. Cliff wasn’t home yet. We still hadn’t talked. All my fears started to surface. What if now – in desperation – they would accuse Cliff again of the murder? Their suspicion had always been lurking in the background. My mind was beginning to cycle. If it came up, we would need to call a lawyer.
I was just about to call Cliff on his cell when I noticed his van pull up on the driveway. He came in breathing heavily, carrying two large bags – basically his transportable office for his janitorial business.
“Have to shower,” he said, taking off his jacket and starting down the hallway to the bedroom. “I feel grimy.”
“No time to shower.” I followed him, picking up his bags and taking them to his office so they would be safely out of sight. “They are going to be here any minute. Put on something black.”
“No time to discuss it. Just wear something black.”
He was already taking off his shirt when I walked into the bedroom. “Black, always black. What is it with you and black?” he grumbled.
There was something in his tone that told me that he was as worried as I was.
“Confidence,” I said. “It’s all about confidence. And we need all the confidence we can muster for this visit.”
He picked out black trousers from his closet, a charcoal shirt. I nodded my agreement. “I’ve made coffee for them,” I said. “But I don’t have any bottled water. I forgot to pick some up.”
He smiled. “I forgot to pick up donuts,” he said, chuckling. “I promised them donuts.”
I winced. “No donut jokes. Please – no donut jokes.”
I sat down momentarily on the bed.
“But before they come, we need to have a plan,” I said. “We still haven’t chosen a secret word or some kind of code to use if we sense something is coming down. We need to be able to signal to each other if we are feeling overwhelmed – losing control – or if there is danger.”
“Argh,” he shrugged. “If I think we need a lawyer, I’ll just say so. What is so bad about that?”
It was hard to explain to him my fears. After all these years, still had no realization of the intense suspicions aimed at our whole family - and particularly him. “We might want to caucus in the kitchen before we confront them with calling a lawyer,” I insisted.
The doorbell rang.
“Green thumb,” I said. “The secret signal will be green thumb. If I say something about a ‘green thumb’ then you know we need to talk privately. I’ll head for the kitchen and you come help me with coffee or something.”
“Green thumb? You’ll never be able to bring that up naturally.”
I thought about it again. He was right. It did sound crazy. I had thought it might be easy to look at all our green plants in the living room, point them out and say something about Cliff’s green thumb. But our guests were going to be men. It would be hard to start talking about plants with four men….
“Bottled water,” I tried again. “We can use the words ‘bottled water’ for our secret code.”
“But we don’t have bottled water,” he said.
The doorbell rang a second time. I started down the hallway. Cliff was close at my heels. “Bottled water it is,” I said. “If I refer to bottled water – head for the kitchen.”
He said something but I was already at the front door.
There were three men standing there – tall – all dressed in black. I invited the officers into the living room, noticing that there were only three. I had been told there would be four. What did that mean?
I took their heavy leather jackets and hung them in the closet. They took off their black shoes. I protested but they did it anyway.
I welcomed them to come in and sit down.
“That’s quite a display,” I heard one of them say as I closed the door to the closet. I knew, without even turning around, that they were referring to the bookshelf filled with tiny figurines, toys really, an assorted collection of angels, soldiers, bears, lions – even two-headed dragons. Three shelves of colored symbols of life that we had picked up mostly from second-hand stores.
“It’s my son’s,” I said proudly, joining them as they stood admiring – or at least contemplating – my strange collection. “He’s studying psychology and one of the tools of his profession is to have clients tell their stories through sand trays.”
I pointed to the tray filled with sand on the bottom shelf. “He studied in California with one of the experts on sand trays. He’s excelled academically, even won a gold medal,” I said, boasting shamelessly.
I saw Cliff roll his eyes, but that didn’t stop me.
“He’s 25, and already in the Ph.D. program.”
I heard one of them mumble, “Twenty-five – wow.”
Good. They were duly impressed. My defenses were heightened. I needed them to know that we weren’t without supports. We also had a very capable daughter. I wanted them to think that we had professionals in the wings – waiting. We were not going to go through this naively – not like the first time.
They introduced themselves to us: Sergeant Kenneth Shipley, Detective Sergeant Al Bradbury, and Constable Jon Lutz.
Bradbury, whom we already knew from prior visits, made a point of making sure we knew that Sergeant Shipley was the man in charge. My heart sank – they had pulled in their supervisor. This couldn’t be good.
They made themselves comfortable in our tiny living room. There were five of us – all dressed in black – sitting in my predominantly white living room. It would have been a striking picture – a “Kodak moment” so to speak.
There was chit chat – but not much. Nothing they could have said would have made the tension less. I don’t remember the conversation word for word, but it went something like this, starting with Bradbury leaning forward.
“We found him,” he said.
It was exactly what I thought they would say. My heart began to sink. We just sat there.
I thought back to our first encounter with the police that first night, the evening of November 30, 1984. We had frantically called them to help us find Candace because we were convinced from the start that she had been abducted. But they hadn’t believed us.
In no uncertain terms those first officers had told us that they thought Candace was a runaway who would return in a few days. There was nothing we could say that would change their minds.
We knew that Candace would never have run away, especially not that weekend because her disappearance was sandwiched between seeing her two best friends, as she would say. She had a lot of best friends but these two were special
David had just given her a face wash with snow on the school grounds. Heidi, who lived an hour’s drive north, was coming in from Gimli the next morning – someone she hadn’t seen for months. Candace wouldn’t run away without seeing Heidi. I knew that. Candace had even called me just as she was leaving school asking for a ride, her voice full of excitement and anticipation. Even when I said I was busy and asked if she could walk home, she had said yes with a happy lilt in her voice. Nothing would have kept her away from coming home that day – simply nothing.
In response to my explanation, the officers told us it was quite common for teens her age to run away from home, and came up with a new theory. They suggested that it was my fault Candace ran away for not picking her up. She must have been upset with me, they said. It was hard to convince them, but eventually, they did take one of Candace’s pictures and promised to put out a local alert.
In hindsight, I know they were just doing their job based on their past experiences.
And as it turned out, they were right. Our situation wasn’t the norm. Most teens who didn’t come home from school on a Friday afternoon were runaways. But in our case, it was a stranger abduction – so both of us were right.
But the pain inflicted by those initial insults at that critical juncture in our lives still smarted, even after 22 years.
However it didn’t stop there. When Candace’s body was found seven weeks later, it began all over again. The police suspicion of us only heightened when Candace’s body was found in a shack not far from our house. Her hands and feet had been tied, and she had been left to die of hypothermia in temperatures that plunged to 25 below.
It was a crime scene that didn’t make sense to anyone, let alone us.
Their suspicion came out a few months later when the police told Cliff that he was a suspect. We were horrified. It was one thing to experience the murder of our daughter. It was another thing to have Cliff accused of her murder. At that time, Cliff took a lie detector test at their request because we knew it was the only way we could convince the police of his innocence. We wanted them to focus on finding the real killer while the trail was still fresh.
It convinced some, but not all. Some of the initial investigators who were convinced even apologized for their first reactions, which went a long way in healing some of our wounds. But not all of them were convinced. We tried to understand. There were relatively few stranger abductions – almost none in Winnipeg. The stats were against us.
After Candace’s body was found, the trail did get cold quickly. And we knew with time the possibility of solving the case became even less.
However, it was around the 20th anniversary of Candace’s disappearance that we began to hear hints from reporters and friends that the cold case detectives were going to renew their efforts to solve our case. It all sounded wonderful, but we knew that an investigation so many years after the fact can also be dangerous. Things change. Perceptions are different. Too much intention can lead to a wrongful conviction.
But the story that haunted us the most as we sat with the officers in our living room was that of one of Candace’s young friends, David Wiebe, who had been visited by the police shortly after the murder. The chief officer had started the interview gently and set the young person completely at ease. Then, as a ploy, the officer had told David that they knew who had done it.
David had been so relieved. “Who?” he had asked eagerly.
“You!” the officer had said. “We suspect you had something to do with it.”
It was a nasty curve ball the teen did not expect that knocked the wind out of him. Years later he could still tell the story as if it had happened yesterday.
I wondered if this would be the ploy they would use on us now. I wondered if we said, “Who?” they would say, “You!” And then I would say “bottled water,” grab Cliff’s hand and pull him into the kitchen to call a lawyer. They were not going to take my husband. They were not going to scapegoat him.
Now sitting in our living room, with the three officers dressed in black, was bringing it all back. Flashbacks, memories – and those dreadful feelings of betrayal and trauma.
Bradbury, completely unaware of my thoughts, waited then said it again, “We found him.”
I nodded and waited. They waited.
“We know who did it,” he said, watching us.
I still nodded. I still couldn’t say anything. From the corner of my eye, I knew Cliff was having as much trouble as I was – wondering what their next words would be. Our minds were racing in a million directions.
They were waiting for a response.
I just couldn’t ask “who” – and trigger the “you.”
But they were waiting….
“Are you sure?” I said finally.
I looked at each one of them separately. They all nodded. It was easy to tell that they were all united.
I still didn’t know how to move the conversation along, to hide our own fears and still release them to tell us more.
Finally, I thought of the perfect question. “Do we know him?”
“No, you don’t.” they said.
“Are you sure we don’t know him?” feeling the first wave of relief.
“Yes – we are sure. You don’t know him.”
“Are you sure?”
Bradbury leaned slightly forward. “And I just want to let you know… it isn’t anyone known to your family.”
The supervisor who was sitting beside me repeated, “It isn’t anyone you know.”
“No one we know,” I said in disbelief.
Maybe we were on safe ground?
They must have said it a dozen times in different ways before I was convinced this wasn’t some kind of trick.
“Aren’t you relieved?”
We nodded. Our poor, traumatized minds could not absorb it. It was hard to erase 22 years of careful solid defenses in one second.
They were starting to look disappointed – at our subdued reaction.
But as the message was sinking in – even though I was starting to explode inside with all kinds of joy and exhilaration of new hope– but I couldn’t express it… I was till too scared it was a ploy.
Then Bradbury shifted…. And started orienting us. “Actually, we don’t know if it’s someone you’ve met or seen – fleetingly. But we know it isn’t someone in your circle of acquaintances.”
As we sat, still stunned, they began a long description of what the process had been, how they had acquired funding, started to isolate the DNA and had finally made a match in December….
We began to ask questions about the person. Who was he?
They were guarded. They couldn’t tell us his name. The person himself did not know he was under investigation.
My husband asked the next important question. “If you know who did it, then you must know if we are in danger or not?”
“You are not in danger,” they assured us. “He is not inclined that way. There is nothing in his behavior that would suggest that you are in danger or that he would be violent toward you.”
“What about our children?”
“No, this person is without transportation. He doesn’t travel far from where he lives.”
Then they wanted to know what we needed – what our response was.
I began…. “If this person is guilty…?”
They stopped me there and made it quite clear that it wasn’t a matter of “if” or “when.” It was a done deal, a fait accompli. They had found him. It was just a matter of time and they would be arresting him.
“What are the next steps? Is there a plan?” we asked.
They told us that they would be picking him up in two to six weeks and that they had a team of 12 officers working on it. It was pending.
And slowly, very slowly, I began to realize the magnitude of their visit. There really was a person out there with a name who was soon going to be charged with the first-degree murder of our daughter. In time we would find out his name. We were no longer talking about theories and suspects as we had for the last 22 years. There was going to be an answer. We were no longer going to be part of an unsolved mystery. We were no longer a cold case. It had been solved. We would no longer have to answer those horrible questions.
They then went back to the beginning. They said that the first investigators had indeed done a good job. They had scooped up the entire shed and kept it in storage all of this time… so that the evidence had been waiting there for the science of DNA to catch up with the case.
They said they wanted us to know in case it leaked out and hit the press before they had a chance to warn us. “If anything should go wrong… and it leaked… we would want you to know – be prepared.” They warned us to not tell anyone.
Relief was still washing over us.
They asked about the diaries… so I gave them the two scribblers that Candace had used as diaries. They skimmed them quickly. The scribblers were thin with very little in them. They pointed at some of the names.
Then they passed the diaries back and forth to each other – skimming them. Candace’s idea of a diary was a running account of her friends. The last entries were sketchy – classmates, Mark, John and a Randy. These were the three I didn’t know about. Most of the others I did because they were all camp, school or church friends.
We again talked about the next steps. Who could we tell? No one.
Could we tell our adult children? We had two children, both married. Odia and her husband, Larry Reimer, lived in Altona, one hour south of us. Syras had married Natasha Fay six months before, and they lived close by in an apartment near Pembina Highway. Could we at least tell them?
Yes, they said. Then putting on their heavy leather jackets, their shiny black shoes, they shook our hands and left.
“Keep warm,” I said, as they walked out into the cold winter air. It was the only way I could express my appreciation at that moment. It was so inadequate. Many times since, I wished I could replay that visit to let them know how much we appreciated their work and their care of us, but right then it was as if we were living in a bubble lost in time, dealing with a thousand leftover issues.
I closed the door.
It was over. They had found him!
What a relief! It was only then that I remembered the coffee. I hadn’t offered them anything to drink – not even coffee.
Cliff sank down onto the sofa. “I’m not going to jail,” he said. He was sitting there, slumped, drained, and relieved.
I was surprised. “All these years – you always thought you might land up in jail?”
I was shocked at the level of our combined denial. I had not known how deep-seated our fears really were – in him and in me. Horrified that we had not known….
We sat like that for a long time, going over everything, comparing our understandings of what had just taken place and enjoying our new sense of relief and hope of closure.
And then we broke into peals of laughter as we recounted our crazy behavior beforehand, the dressing in black, the green thumb and then the reference to “bottled water.”
Ever since then the reference to “bottled water” has remained a code to “hold caucus in the kitchen.”
I wished we could call them back and truly celebrate.
When we told our adult children that the police had found the person responsible for the murder of Candace, Odia’s first response was, “We don’t need this. I don’t even want it.”
I understood; I agreed. She was saying what I had felt.
This dread of the justice system came from the many stories that we had read and heard about other crime victims who had encountered the Criminal Justice System. So often I had seen normal grief and murder trauma turn into something quite different after a trial. It seemed as if it would suck optimistic victims into its systems, trapping them in endless processes and then spewing them out at the end – like dried, dead bones – their spirit unrecognizable.
Yet I remembered William Shakespeare’s words in the Merchant of Venice, “Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.”
There was no avoiding this.
A blog….Embracing an Elephant: early January 2011
An elephant, it is an intelligent beast which has no natural predators. Lions may take their calves or other weak elephants in a herd, but the strong, male elephant cannot be defeated. In fiction, elephants are often portrayed as gentle giants, yet in reality elephants are among the world’s most dangerous animals. They can crush and kill any other land animal, even the rhinoceros. When they experience bouts of rage, nothing can stop them. An African proverb observes, “When an elephant steps on a trap, no more trap.”
The Criminal Justice System has no natural predators. When it moves against a perceived offender, there is nothing that can stand up to the decision of the judge. It is final. Once when I asked a judge who he answered to – he smiled and said, “No one.”
At first it was rather easy to ignore the elephant. It just kind of stood up – and then it started walking around and we had to avoid its large feet. Then it started to grow and grow, crowding us into a corner, demanding attention.
Now that the trial is looming – it is presenting itself to us. It is looking at us, watching us. It is truly unnerving.
I think to disengage right now is impossible so I need a new strategy. I can’t tame the thing; I can’t control the thing… there is no longer enough space to run away from it or avoid it.
We might as well just climb on board, embrace it, hang onto its flapping ears if we have to and ride the thing to the end.
An ocean traveler has even more vividly the impression that the ocean is made of waves than that it is made of water. - Arthur Stanley Eddington
PS. Thank you for reading this first draft. I do apologize for the formatting.
Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any comments - corrections, insights or alerts.
This chapter actually appeared first in "This Mortal Coil."
I am realizing as I am reworking it – how differently it reads now that we know the ending to the story.
We have a new perspective.
I am so glad I wrote it down when I did.