There are so many possibilities for this little vignette. But I’m getting tired of writing it and I don’t have the mental stamina even to go back and tighten up what I’ve written. Instead, I’ll leave it as a foundation for a future stab at writing a full-fledged story. This is what happens when one encounters insomnia, again, in the wee hours of the morning.
Once upon a time an old man by the name of Codger McDougal lived in a cabin in the backwoods of the Canadian north country. Codger built that cabin when he was a young man with a different identity and a promising future. Back then, when he was just thirty years old, he went by the name of Jeremy Chag. He had been an apprentice metal fabricator or fitter, well on his way to becoming a journeyman, when his life appeared to have come apart at the seams.
Jeremy’s cabin, which was to be a hunting and fishing retreat, was almost finished when things started to go haywire. One Sunday afternoon, upon returning to his home in the town of Orilla on Lake Simcoe, he was met at his front door by officers of the Ontario Provincial Police.
The stone faces of Sergeant Major Conner Stipple and Detective Sergeant Leona Bywaters suggested the purpose of their visit was grave. And indeed it was.
“We’re here to ask you some questions about your relationship with Mary Margaret Embra,” Stipple said.
“Yes, what of it?” Chag responded.
“When did you see her last? And where?”
“Oh, I dunno. Maybe last Wednesday or Thursday. What’s this about?”
“We’ll ask the questions,” Bywaters piped in, “and then we’ll fill you in on what you need to know.”
Stipple continued. “Where did you last see her?”
“At work. I checked in at the head office to get my assignment and she was there. She gave me my assignment and I left.”
“And that was last Wednesday or Thursday? Try to be more specific. Was that the last time you checked in to get an assignment?”
“Yeah. I took some time off in lieu. I have quite a few banked hours, so I took some. I went to spend some time in the woods.”
“You didn’t answer my questions. What day did you go spend time in the woods? And what do you do when you ‘spend time in the woods’? Are you a hunter?”
“I guess it was Thursday. So I must have been to head office on Wednesday. That would have been the last time I saw her.”
Bywaters chimed in again. “But you first said it was Wednesday or Thursday. How could you have thought you might have seen her Thursday if that was the day you took off for the woods?”
“I don’t pay much attention to the calendar. I just work when I have to and go out in woods when I can. Would you tell me what this is all about?” Chag’s voice was louder than before and his cheeks had begun to flush with pink.
“Well,” Stipple said, “Ms. Embra has disappeared. And we’ve been told you were in a relationship with her. Is that true?”
Chag’s eyebrows snapped at Stipple’s words. “No…well, I wouldn’t call it a relationship. We spent a little time together is all. And that’s been a while back. Wait, you say she disappeared? Like vanished?”
“Let’s just say no one has come forward to tell us where we might find her. We were hoping you might be able to help.” The edge had gone from Bywaters’ voice.
“When did she disappear?”
“She hasn’t been seen since last Wednesday morning, about the time you say you checked in for assignments.” Bywaters’ hesitated for a moment, then continued, ” That’s not to say you had anything to do with her disappearance.”
Stipple shot a sideways glare at Bywaters.
Thanks to a sloppy investigation and inept investigators, the OPP developed no evidence that a crime had been committed, but the rumors and innuendo surrounding Jeremy Chag did not need evidence. Even though the investigation was eventually abandoned, the stories about Chag’s relationship with the woman did not die. And those rumors made it impossible for Chag to stay on the job. Even after he left his employer, the rumors followed him. He couldn’t get work. Less than a year after the visit by the OPP, Jeremy Chag changed his name legally to Codger McDougal.
Even though the former Jeremy Chag had considerable experience as a metal fabricator, he opted to return to the Ontario College of Trades as Codger McDougal and become an entry-level apprentice. But that did not work out. Codger began drinking heavily. First on weekends, then weeknights, and finally whenever he thought he could swallow a swig without being seen. But, of course, he was seen. And, after wasting too many opportunities to turn his life around, losing job after job after job, he was out of choices.
Codger McDougal never told anyone he was building a cabin. When he said anything about his treks into the north country, he said he was going camping. “Spending some time in the woods,” was his refrain. He finished his cabin six months before he lost his last job, during one of his rare sober periods. During the course of construction, before the meltdown, he had dug a well, installed solar panels, and built a septic system, making his little cabin in the woods a fully functioning, self-reliant home. Once the last bit of trim was installed, he returned to his house in Orilla, loaded his belongings into a borrowed panel truck, and moved lock, stock, and barrel to his hermit’s getaway. By that time, he was four months in arrears on his mortgage (still in the name of Jeremy Chag) and six months behind on the payments on his very expensive Ford F-150 pickup. He couldn’t take his house with him, but the following day he drove his pickup to his cabin and disappeared into the woods outside Sahanatien, Ontario.
About the same time Codger McDougal skipped out on his financial obligations, Detective Sergeant Leona Bywaters was placed on administrative leave for an infraction the OPP kept confidential. Whatever it was, the offense was sufficiently serious that her employment with the OPP was terminated without fanfare three months later.