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About the Book

About the Author

Also by John Niven

Title Page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43



About the Author

John Niven was born in Irvine, Ayrshire. He read English Literature at Glasgow University and spent the next ten years working in the UK music industry. He has written for the Sunday Times, The Times, Scotland on Sunday, Esquire and many other publications. He is the author of six novels including Kill Your Friends and Straight White Male. He lives in Buckinghamshire.

About the Book

A terrifying, evocative and gut-wrenching thriller – announcing the arrival of a major new voice in the genre.

Donnie Miller counts himself lucky. Living in a beautiful, spacious house in the wild and remote landscape of central Canada, he spends his days writing for the local newspaper, working on a film script, and acting as house-husband. After a troubled and impoverished upbringing in Scotland, he now has all he wants: a caring wife, a bright and happy son, a generous father-in-law. As the brutal northern winter begins to bite, he can sit back and enjoy life.

But his peace is soon broken. There are noises in the nearby woods, signs of some mysterious watcher. When the family dog disappears, Donnie makes a horrifying discovery. Is it wolves, as the police suspect, or something far more dangerous, far darker? What secrets has Donnie been keeping? And why does he have the terrible sense that his dream was never going to last?

A taut, shocking and visceral thriller that will leave you gasping for breath, Cold Hands is the first brilliant thriller by the remarkable John Niven.

Also by John Niven

Music From Big Pink

Kill Your Friends

The Amateurs

The Second Coming

Straight White Male

Cold Hands

John Niven

For my sister, Linda

A real girl

Had I thy brethren here, their lives and thine were not revenge sufficient for me. No, if I digged up thy forefathers’ graves, and hung their rotten coffins up in chains, it could not slake mine ire, nor ease my heart.

Henry the Sixth, Part Three


Coldwater, Florida; Present Day

IT´S WARM HERE, in Coldwater. I’ve lived in four different countries, if you count Scotland and England as separate countries – which most of us Scots would – but this is the first warm one. They say it’s good for what’s left of my leg.

Florida is a strip mall: stretches of highway lined with parking lots, the lots surrounded by eateries offering $3.99 breakfasts and Early Bird Specials, by drugstores bigger than the biggest supermarkets where I grew up: entire aisles of toothbrushes, walls of shampoo, the uncountable brands of mouthwash. Every hundred yards, it seems, there’s the Colonel’s face smiling down at you, or the blood-red, head-of-a-spot-yellow of another McDonald’s. It’s not the kind of place I thought I’d ever live but then, when I arrived here, just over a year ago, I didn’t really care where I ended up.

With the two-year anniversary coming up Dr Tan thought it might help if I could stand to write it all down. I don’t have to show it to anyone. Just put it all down on paper.

She thought it might help me to identify ‘specific areas’ I wanted to work on in our sessions. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘you used to be a writer, didn’t you?’ Well, I managed a laugh at that.

I’m writing this at the desk in the little ground-floor bedroom I’ve made my office. It’s really just a place where I come to read. The house is what they call ‘colonial’: lots of white oak, cool, light and airy. From my window I can see the jungly garden and the small egg-shaped pool. I can smell the azaleas, the beach. Cora, the housekeeper, comes every day. She’s cheerful, black, small and wiry. She straightens the place up and fixes supper.

I’m writing longhand – my left hand still hurts too much for typing on the laptop; the deep, savage scar on my palm, going red when I make a fist, gradually whitening as I unclench it. I am forty-three years old, but I feel, and look, older, like I really have lived two lives concurrently. In strands and streaks, grey is threading through my hair at the temples. The pouches beneath my eyes are now unrelieved by sleep. Taxi drivers will say, ‘You look tired, friend,’ and it doesn’t feel unusually rude. Finally, in the last two years, unable to exercise properly any more, flab has begun to pool and gather at my sides, at my waist. Lying in the bath the other day, straining forward to reach the taps, I found myself out of breath.

She said I didn’t have to show it to anyone, but it has to be written for someone. All writing is aimed at someone. So who is this for? Who is its ideal reader? Walt? Sammy? Maybe Craig Docherty? Strangely, I think it’s for her. For Gill. The account she was due. And where to begin? Where’s the jumping-off point? The ‘inciting incident’? (Ah, how fondly I remember those screenwriting manuals – Raymond G. Frensham, Syd Field, Denny Flinn – and their inscriptions: ‘Happy birthday, Donnie, love S XXX (Just do it!)’ Relics of a happier time.) I should really start in Scotland, all those years ago, but I can’t face going there right away. Better to start with the events that led up to that night. Which I think means starting with the dog.

We’ll start with the dog.


Saskatchewan, Canada; Two Years Earlier

‘DADDY, I CAN’T find Herby.’

Slipping my cellphone into my pocket I turned around on the deck that ran the front length of the house, coffee mug in hand, steam rising into the November air, and looked down at Walt. He had a hand raised to shield his eyes from the morning sun reflecting crazy-brilliant off the snow. He was wearing his beige parka with fur trim and a blue Ralph Lauren scarf with a little teddy bear on it. His mittens dangled on strings from his sleeves, hung men, ghost hands echoing the real ones. Walt’s thick fringe fell into his eyes, tea-coloured, an amalgam of his mother’s muddy blonde and mine: black as burnt toast. My son would soon be nine and, thankfully, so far, it looked like he was inheriting his mother’s hair, fine and silky, flopping naturally into a graceful parting. Not mine, this dry, wiry Scottish hair.

‘He’ll be around somewhere, Walt,’ I said, stepping towards him, the snow styrofoam-squeaking beneath my boots. ‘He’s probably with one of the neighbours.’

Part of this was an outright lie – I had just rung both the Franklins and Irene Kramer that morning. Herby, our caramel Labrador was definitely not with either of them – and the rest of it was said with an assurance I did not feel. While it was true that Herby had run off several times before (‘Saskatchewan is so flat,’ the old joke goes, ‘you can watch your dog run away from home for a week’) and it was possible that the dog was somewhere on our five-acre property, he had never made off in winter before. It wasn’t true Canadian winter yet – the temperature was still hovering above zero – but much worse was forecast for the weeks to come. We’d soon be into minus five and minus six and then the blizzards when the real winter began: fifteen, twenty below. Hoth.

‘That’s what Mommy said,’ Walt began. I could see Sammy through the glass behind him, crossing the huge kitchen, heading for the sink, one of the sinks, to rinse a coffee cup. (Sammy is fastidious.) ‘But what if –’

‘Well, Mommy’s probably right, huh? She usually is. Come on, let’s go back in. It’s cold and you’re gonna be late for school.’ I took a last look around the surrounding fields, hoping against hope to see the bronzed outline coming hopping towards us, tongue lolling. Nothing – just miles of snow.

The view from our deck was the reason Sammy wanted to build the house here; we’re up on a ridge, looking down the valley with Lake Ire in the distance, fringed with pine trees, burning silver. The Franklin property is a mile and a half to our right; Irene’s place, the old Bennett farmhouse, our closest neighbour, a half-mile to our left.

But nothing, no dog. (Thinking back now my memory keeps trying to add something; black shapes wheeling in the sky, crows circling a spot down at the end of our field, towards Tamora Road, the main route in to town. But I cannot be sure that I saw this at the time.)

I shepherded Walt through the sliding glass door – a door in an entire wall of glass that runs the length of the kitchen – and back into the warmth and scent of breakfast; toast, coffee and oatmeal, a bowl of which Sammy was finishing while she watched the small flatscreen TV that hung above the central island in the middle of the room. She was perched on the edge of the scrubbed oak table, her legs crossed at the ankles. Sammy was three years older than me, but looked several younger. (Lousy Scottish genes, I often thought, while being aware of the therapy cliché that when we blame our genes we’re really blaming ourselves.) She wasn’t conventionally beautiful and could quickly list you what she felt her defects were. Her teeth were too prominent, almost buckish, a trait she would hide touchingly by covering her mouth with her hand on the occasions when she laughed spontaneously and unreservedly. There was the faint tracery of acne scars in the hollows of her cheeks and the knotted furrow that appeared in the middle of her forehead when she was concentrating, or irritated. Sammy was tall, nearly six feet, a couple of inches taller than me, and, she felt, gangly. Self-conscious of this as a teen, she’d developed a slouching, stooped posture to try and disguise it, something she could still slip into now and then. She’d been a natural at sports, however – netball and lacrosse for her school – and still had something of the jock about her. She could beat me at a stroll on the tennis court: on vacation, at the club outside Alarbus, or at her parents’ place, with her graceful positioning, that slight pause before she whipped the racket through, brushing up the ball, imparting topspin, sending me skittering back on my heels.

That morning, in the kitchen, her lips shone from the honey that glossed her oatmeal and her hair was scraped back into a taut ponytail. She was wearing a dark grey wool suit over a black V-neck sweater: a look from the smarter end of her business wardrobe. (I have no business wardrobe. I work from home, sprawled in robe or sportswear in front of the TV or the laptop.)

‘Would you listen to this lying asshole?’ Sammy said, nodding towards the TV, some politician being interviewed on CBC.

‘Mommy swore.’ Walt said this matter-of-factly, un scandalised.

‘You look nice. Got a meeting on today?’

‘Advertisers lunch. Pain in the ass.’

‘Again.’ Walt.

‘Any luck?’ Sammy said softly, raising her eyebrows. She’d been watching me out there with the cellphone. I shook my head.

‘Any luck with what?’ Walt asked.

‘Do we need anything?’ I said, ignoring him, opening the fridge, the gleaming Sub-Zero. ‘I’m gonna take a run in to town this afternoon. Thought I’d pick up some fish or something for dinner and –’

‘There’s those duck breasts in there,’ Sammy said, pulling her coat on now. ‘Some wild rice in the cupboard. Might be nice.’ Sammy the editor, always editing.

‘Any luck with what?’

‘Have you checked the roads?’

‘They’re fine. Christ, you worry, Donnie.’

This was true. Over fifteen years out here and it still shocked me that Canadians routinely drove through weather that would have brought the army onto the streets of Britain.

‘Any luck with what?’ Walt said for the third time.

‘Nothing! Christ, Walt, if –’ I checked myself. ‘Look, maybe Herby’s in the house somewhere, eh? Having a wee sleep. I’ll look again after you’re at school.’

‘He’ll turn up, sweetie,’ Sammy said. C’mere . . .’ She knelt to embrace him, her car keys in one hand. ‘Daddy’s going to look everywhere, isn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, Sammy and I exchanging a look behind Walt’s back.

‘OK, see you boys tonight,’ Sammy said, straightening up. ‘Remember, we need that review by lunchtime.’

‘Yes, boss.’

She leaned in to peck me on the cheek and whispered close to my ear, ‘Check all the outbuildings and call the neighbours again, huh?’

I nodded and clapped my hands, turning to Walt. ‘Come on then, trooper. Front and centre right now or we’re gonna miss your bus.’

Looking back now, the sheer normality of that weekday morning – the three of us in the kitchen with our goodbyes, our last-minute instructions and half-eaten toast – seems utterly blissful.


WALT AND I waved to Sammy’s anthracite Range Rover as it vanished around the grove of pine trees at the bottom of the drive before we turned and took the path that ran along the woods bordering the Franklin place; the short cut we always used to get down to the bus stop on Tamora. Our Caterpillar boots crump-crumped through the ankle-deep snow, our breath wreathing behind us, the air so crystalline that breathing it in pierced your lungs sharply. Walt’s hot little hand in mine, snowdrifts stretching out ahead of us to the horizon.

I’d drifted here too. Scotland, then England, then Toronto, then on to Saskatchewan. Heading further north and west, further, always further away from home. Huge and landlocked, a long, rectangular slab of prairie land covering over 200,000 square miles but with only a million or so inhabitants, Saskatchewan contained the population of Birmingham spread over an area more than twice the size of Great Britain. Head south from Regina or Moosejaw and you’re soon into America – Montana and North Dakota. To the north – the gleaming icescapes of the Northwest Territories, subarctic once you get much further north than Prince Albert, where Canada’s coldest ever temperature was recorded: minus fifty-seven.

‘Land of Living Skies’ the licence plates say here. The skies didn’t seem to me to be living so much as endless. I felt tiny and irrelevant beneath them, like plankton, like krill in the fathomless Atlantic that now separated me from home. Sometimes, in the summers after I first moved here, before I met Sammy, I’d drive out of Regina into the country, heading north towards Saskatoon in the ancient Nissan I’d bought. I’d pull off the road, onto the dusty verge, and lie on the bonnet in the warm Chinook wind, surrounded by wheat fields or cattle, gazing up into those rolling clouds, knowing that if I kept going north for long enough the wheat fields and the cattle and the Chinook winds would all gradually disappear, giving way to the nothingness of the Northwest Territories. Beyond that, Greenland. The Arctic itself. The lemmings, musk ox and caribou. The North Pole. Permafrost. Oblivion.

I’d lie there with the thin car bonnet rippling and buckling beneath me, the metal warm through my shirt. I’d lie there and look north.

Later Sammy told me about the Inuit, the fearsome tribes of hunter-warriors who made their home in the tundra. They’d lived untroubled by the modern world until after the Second World War. Then we arrived, bringing the things we bring: the booze and the substances and the TV. Now much of what was left of the Inuit lived in housing projects in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, doing battle with depression and alcoholism and drug addiction.

Sammy said that the Inuit once believed that suicide purified the soul and made it ready for its journey to the afterworld. That the elderly who had become a burden upon the tribe would often request permission to take their own lives. They had to ask three times and family members could try to dissuade them but, at the third time of asking, the request had to be complied with. They would turn their clothes inside out, bring their possessions to be destroyed, and hang themselves in public. I often wondered about that third conversation. About the look on someone’s face when their mother or father approached them and began it. Listening, head inclined, knowing that the request now had to be acceded to.

I became aware that Walt was tugging at my hand, expecting an answer to something. ‘Sorry, Walt?’

‘I said, are you going to say the movie was good, Dad?’

Walt had only recently started experimenting with ‘Dad’, with the shortened form, and I was shocked at how diminished I felt when he used it, how grown-up those three letters made him sound and how old they made me feel. The loss of innocence they represented. I missed ‘Daddy’. Mommy was still always ‘Mommy’.

‘Uh, yeah. I guess so.’

‘You really liked it?’ Walt was talking about the movie we’d watched the night before; a DVD release I had to review for the paper: a hundred-million-dollar riot of fight sequences, implausibility and wooden dialogue. He’d loved it, despite finding the climactic battle a bit traumatic.

‘No, Walt, not really.’

His brow furrowed, like his mother’s, as he thought about this contradiction. ‘How come?’

I thought about the film, about its garish, sickening riot of colour, about how every inch of the screen had been filled to overloading. About its cardboard acting and howling exposition. ‘Um,’ I said, ‘I guess I didn’t really like the characters.’ I remember putting an arm around Walt to guide him up a couple of icy steps, onto a higher plane of ground. This was when you noticed it for the first time. Out of the corner of your left eye. The splash of colour. The hopping birds.

‘So,’ Walt said, still looking puzzled, ‘how come you’re going to say it was good?’

‘Well . . .’ How to explain the adult world of lies and compromise to an eight-year-old? The Regina Advertiser, the paper I wrote for and his mother edited, belonged to that branch of journalism that was basically an advertorial-cum-local-news service. The stories the paper ran were heavily regionally biased: the hockey teams, state political and financial affairs and human interest stories. (On the day Obama was elected the front-page leader was a story about a big government incentive for livestock farmers, with ‘NEW US PRESIDENT!’ crammed into a quarter-page box on the lower right.) How to tell him that the paper depended on the goodwill of the press offices of the studios who provided the review copies of the DVDs and the tickets to screenings and junkets in Calgary and Toronto? Who organised for me occasional phone interviews with B-list movie stars that would be buffed up into breathless ‘Star speaks exclusively to the Advertiser!’ features that shamelessly plugged whatever movie the star was selling. That, in short, the Advertiser was not the New York Times and I was not Pauline Kael at the peak of her powers.

‘Mommy’s paper doesn’t really print bad reviews of anything, Walt.’

He thought about this for a moment. ‘So you’re lying?’

‘It’s not a very big lie, Walt.’

‘Didn’t you like the bit where –’

Walt went on, watching his feet, talking to the snow, but I wasn’t listening any more.

There was a patch of red in the endless white, about twenty yards to my left, surrounded by three strutting crows, headmasterly in their black cloaks, wings like arms stiffly folded behind their backs.

‘And then the bit when they attack the –’

Walt hadn’t seen. I looked up ahead, we were nearly at the main road now, and saw Jan Franklin’s car parked there, the powder-blue BMW, Jan inside with her two boys, Ted and Andy, waiting for the bus, which was coming up Tamora, black and yellow against white.

‘Come on, Walt!’ I yelled suddenly. ‘There’s the bus!’ Playfully I scooped him up, turning him away from the slick of red, burying his face into my neck, Walt laughing as I ran the last stretch to the bus stop. The Franklin boys were getting out the car now, waving and shouting. I dropped him down and nuzzled a kiss as he ran to join his friends as the bus pulled up. Panting, hands on my hips, I waved to Jan as she pulled off. ‘See you later!’ I called after Walt and then he was gone, vanishing into the bus.

I waited a moment, waving, before I walked back, the crows flapping unhurriedly into the sky as I approached, settling down thirty or forty yards away to watch me.

I had to stuff a fist into my mouth to keep from yelling out. Herby lay on his back in a circle of blood; the blood had melted into the snow, turning it pink. He had been . . . eviscerated.

The dog’s hairless belly had been torn open from its genitals to its chin and the wound seemed to have been prised open, his ribcage snapped apart, the bones jutting skywards like the pipes of some mad organ. Entrails had been torn loose from the belly cavity and ran away into the snow. My gloved hand still in my mouth, fighting tears and nausea, I moved around to the head. The sockets were black and empty, fringed with blood – the crows had taken his eyes – and his teeth were clamped shut in a ferocious, agonised snarl, the tongue hanging out between them by a sliver, like he’d bitten it off in agony. I stumbled and collapsed, falling to my knees in the snow, my legs gone, shaking.

Suddenly the dog moved – his back left leg juddering and kicking. I scrambled backwards in terror.

A rat’s head appeared out of the base of the great tear in the belly, just above the genitals, its whiskers slick with blood as it shook its head in the morning sun. Sick with rage I lashed a boot at it and it jumped clean out of Herby’s stomach and darted off, trailing gore behind it.

I rolled over and it all came up, the toast and coffee sour and burning in my throat, spurting through my nostrils, hot and melting through the snow, spots and stars dancing in my vision as I retched, the sensation of vomiting in the cold open air, the gore-spattered snow, reminding me of something from long ago.


WE’RE IN THE clearing in the woods with the bucket full of frogs and toads, dozens of them, from the pond up at Foxes Gate, all squirming in the blue plastic bucket, writhing over each other, hopping up, trying to get out. Tiny little frogs no bigger than your thumb, bloated, oily toads the size of a grown-up’s fist. Tommy is throwing, kind of bowling, the frogs and toads to Banny, who stands there with a four-by-two cocked like a baseball player. He misses and misses, all three of us pissing ourselves as the bewildered creatures fly through the air, caught star-shaped, silhouetted with limbs spread out against the summer sky.

‘Fuck sake, man!’ Banny says. ‘Chuck them slower!’

And Tommy obliges, softly lobbing one of the biggest, fattest toads underarm. It floats up into Banny’s striking range and he’s already swinging the crude bat around hard. He connects and the toad explodes in a burst of viscera – showering me, my face streaked with its stinking blood and guts. Tommy and Banny are howling as, blinking, I fall to my knees and start vomiting chocolate and crisps into the warm earth.

Catching my breath I look up and see what is left of the toad a few feet away. The head and front legs are still trying to crawl, trying to pull themselves along. I start retching again and in the background I can still hear them laughing, hear Tommy saying, ‘Fuck sake! Did ye see that, man?! He just started boaking his fucking guts up, man!’ And I can hear Banny saying, ‘Look at the state of ye! Ya fucking fanny, ye!’

‘Their early cruelties,’ a report would later say, ‘were practised upon animals.’


I SHOWERED AFTER I’d cleaned up Herby’s remains: putting what was left of him into a green tarpaulin and dragging it round to the pool house, shovelling fresh snow over the gory mess so Walt wouldn’t see it when he came home later. I hung my head under the stinging needles and the thought ran over and over – What did that?

We often saw deer in the woods and I tried to imagine a stag ripping into Herby’s soft belly with sharp antlers. Ludicrous. A bear? But when had there last been a bear around here? Suddenly I latched onto the most likely explanation – wolves. Hadn’t Ben Dorian talked a couple of times about the grey wolves that raided the trash cans behind his bar now and then? The same wolves hunters sometimes said they saw running in packs in the high pines during deer season? Wolves. It had to be. I turned my face up into the spuming nozzle and let the water batter against my forehead, my temples, my neck.

After I’d dressed I tried Sammy’s office and was told she was in a meeting. I paced the house in jeans and T-shirt, damp and lightly sweating from the shower, and waited for her to call back.

Our house was built five years ago. It was designed by Lewis Foster, Canada’s leading contemporary architect, but built to Sammy’s exacting specifications: four and a half thousand square feet over two storeys. Upstairs, what is really ground level, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, my office and the kitchen family room are ranged around an enormous central living area. Downstairs, at basement level, there is a games room with a bar, antique pool table, jukebox and table-tennis table, laundry and utility rooms, a vast four-car garage and Sammy’s office. The construction is largely dark timber and glass, the glass (and there is lots of it – the glazier’s bill alone was well into six figures) with a bluish tint to it, to help combat the prism-bright sunlight that refracts off the snow for half the year.

Outside there is a heated swimming pool with a large poolhouse-cum-workshop and a tennis court. (Southern Saskatchewan’s winters are brutal, but its summers are warm and arid, often getting up into the high twenties for much of July and August, the time of pool parties and cookouts.) Several outbuildings remained from the old farmhouse we demolished to build the house; the stables, the old dairy, a potting shed.

We still had the apartment in Regina too: a two-bedroom condo in the redeveloped Warehouse District. The idea was that we’d use it for overnight stays when we went to the theatre, out to dinner, or to the odd Roughriders game. We didn’t do much of that stuff though. We turned into homebodies. Sam used the apartment occasionally if she had to work late when the paper went to bed, or if she had an early meeting.

All of this from sitting at home reviewing movies for the local paper? I landed on my feet, you could say. Lucked out. Won the lottery. Whatever expression you want to use.

The phone trilled into life and I actually jumped. I picked up the nearest cordless, the LCD flashing ‘SAM OFFICE’.

‘So?’ Sammy said briskly, in work mode. ‘Herby’s dead.’

A pause. ‘Oh no. Oh shit. Shit.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘What happened?’

‘I found him down by the path, near the bus stop –’

‘Fuck, did Walt –’

‘No. I managed to distract him. It’s . . . something must have attacked him. A wolf or something.’

‘A wolf? When did you ever see a wolf near the house?’

‘Well, I don’t know what else could have . . . it, it was pretty bad, Sam.’

Another long pause. ‘What are we going to tell Walt?’

‘Christ knows.’

‘What did you do with him?’

‘I wrapped him up, most of him, in a tarp and put him out in the pool house.’

‘Most of him?’

‘Like I said, it was pretty bad, Sammy.’

‘Oh Jesus, Donnie. Are you OK?’

‘Yeah. Just . . . poor dog. You know?’

‘Look, you’d better call the police.’

‘The police?’

‘Yeah. If there’s a wolf attacking animals on people’s properties they’ll need to know about it. The Franklin boys play down there all the time. You better tell them. And Irene.’

‘Right, I . . . I’ll call them now.’

‘OK,’ she said, and I could hear the catch in her voice. ‘I’m gonna go and have a little cry now.’

‘I’ll see you tonight. I love you.’

We hung up and I stood there looking out of those blue-tinted windows at the white beyond, thinking about what we were going to tell Walt. As I scanned the treeline fringing our property, I felt a growing sense of unease, as though I could feel the cold grey eyes of a predator still lurking out there, moving silently with sloped shoulders and panting tongue between the icy, dripping branches, its breath smoking in the winter air, blood staining its lips, flecks of meat between its teeth.

I reached for the phone. They say that a child can progressively understand the death of a pet, a grandparent and, finally, a parent. ‘Yeah?’ I said aloud to the empty house as I thumbed the button for information, for the number for the police station in Alarbus. ‘Who the fuck are “they” anyway?’


HECKOFA NICE DAY, huh?’ Officer Robertson said as we walked down the path towards where I found the dog. He’d asked to see that first.

‘Yeah, it sure is.’ Even after so long out here I still register mild surprise when I hear these Americanisms, Canadianisms, seeping into my speech, when I hear myself asking, say, where the ‘washroom’ is, rather than the toilet. I still have the accent though, a thick Ayrshire brogue that can get guttural when I am excited or angry. I tried to lose it, I tried very hard to lose it at one point, but it was impossible. It just refused to go.

Robertson was young, early twenties, nearly half my age, with bushy gingery hair spilling from under his peaked cap, his belt heavy with nightstick, flashlight, cuffs and pistol as he negotiated the snowy path. It took him just twenty minutes to get out here. Slow day at Alarbus PD I figured, picturing the three or four cops who worked at the small station fighting to take the call, to ride out here and break up the day. Alarbus was an affluent suburb of Regina; a pet-slaying probably ranked high in the excitement stakes. I used the twenty minutes it took Robertson to get here to write half of my DVD review. (‘This FX-drenched blockbuster that’s a thrill ride for all the family.’ It’s not a very big lie, Walt . . .)

‘OK,’ I said as we came up over the rise. ‘Right here is where I found him.’

There was still the imprint of Herby’s body in the snow, the ring of pink blood.

‘Right,’ Robertson said, pushing his cap back, sweat on his forehead and his hands on hips as he looked around, gauging the distance from here to the treeline that bordered the Franklins’ place. ‘Pretty close to the woods. Could be a wolf, like you say. Mind you –’ he looked back towards the main road, the bus stop – ‘he might have been hit by a vehicle, crawled over here and then, you know, a lot of the injuries would be post-mortem. Birds and rats and what have you.’

‘Really?’ I thought of Herby’s body, about that giant tear up the belly.

‘It’s possible.’

‘Do you get many cases of wolves doing this kind of stuff?’

‘Now and then. More in summer though. This time of year they tend to stay up in the mountains. There was a fella killed by one north of here, about, ooh, three or four years ago? A hunter. Up toward Saskatoon. But it’s . . . you know, it’s pretty rare.’ Robertson bent down, looking at something. He got a pocketknife out and dug in the snow, spearing something. He held up one of the dog’s kidneys.

‘Oh Jeez,’ I said.

‘Shame,’ he said, straightening back up, letting the kidney fall back into the snow. ‘Well, I guess we’d better go take a look at the animal, huh?’

‘Yeah. He’s out back in the workshop. We can go through the house. Would you like some coffee, Officer?’

‘I’d love some coffee.’

We started the trudge back through the snow. ‘I have to say,’ Robertson said, ‘heckofa nice place you got here, Mr Miller. Heckofa nice.’


‘And your wife’s the newspaper editor?’

‘That’s right.’ Here it comes . . .

‘Which would make Sam Myers your father-in-law?’

‘Yep,’ I said.

Robertson gave a low whistle that contained awe, admiration and a definite undercurrent of ‘you poor bastard’.

‘Yep,’ I said again and we both laughed.

Old Sam. About the only man with balls enough to name his daughter after him. There weren’t many people in the province who hadn’t heard of Sam Myers.

My father-in-law was the textbook self-made man. A real working-class hero. Born dirt poor he’d made his first few million in construction back in the late 1970s. His seed money had helped build Regina’s first retail mall on the outskirts of town. Then another. A decade or so later, when the city centre was dying on the vine because all the retail business had followed Old Sam’s money out to the suburbs, he started buying up cheap property downtown, which he redeveloped into condominiums like our apartment in the Warehouse District. He got rich at both ends. In the meantime he got into local media, buying up the Advertiser in the late eighties, right about the time Sammy graduated with her journalism degree.

She didn’t want to work for the old man at first. Went off and cut her teeth doing crime reporting on the Calgary Star. She was good too. But in the end the old man begged her, offered her crazy money and the chance to become editor by the time she was thirty. Sammy made a real go of the job though, overcoming the prejudices of a lot of hard-nosed subs and section editors in the process. She upped the circulation by 20 per cent over five years and dragged the paper out of the eighties and into the new technology of the nineties, hiring and firing quite a bit in the process.

I met Sammy at the college in Regina, back in 1998, where I was a mature student on the journalism programme. I’d been in Canada maybe five years then, Toronto first, then out here in Saskatchewan. Sammy came to talk to my class. Even though she was only a few years older than me she seemed impossibly sophisticated and assured, a real journalist, someone living the life I was aspiring to. She talked about the realities of writing for a local daily paper, about what makes a good story, about the role of the subs and the editor. She was good too; funny and self-deprecating.

After her talk, during the coffee and biscuits meet and greet, I’d awkwardly, embarrassedly, asked if I could maybe send her a sample of my work. (She told you months later, in bed, that she’d liked you right away because you were so unpushy, you didn’t seem to think you were the reincarnation of Tom Wolfe like so many other students she’d met.) She gave me her email address and was patient with my overwritten, adjective-spattered copy. Soon we were both inserting little jokes and did-you-read this? did you see that? things into the emails. Pretty soon we were emailing each other the gags without any copy attached. She started me on the review section; books, DVDs, records.

The first kiss – in the bar across from the office.