January 25, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

Murder in the Great Big Playground 

A tale of real estate, murder, politics, and really great powder: Chapter One

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Minerva “Minty” St. James was AWOL. Her usual seat at The Girls’ table in the Mallard Room was empty for the first time in nearly five years. Not that the other “girls”— a group of women who were pushing 60 — really minded. No one really remembered how Minty, the self-styled “realtors’ realtor”, had ended up joining their group of fundraising all-stars, but all agreed she tended to be a pain in the ass.

“I haven’t heard from her in days,” said Jean Jones, who admittedly had done nothing to chase her down.

Jean, who had the most imitated highlight/lowlight bob of any local, also had the distinction of being the ex-wife of a Whistler council member, an SLRD representative and an MLA. She figured she was more than ready to throw her hat into the November mayoral race, and had been counting on Minty to exert her substantial influence. Not to mention, to host a few glad-handing receptions.

“I thought I would have seen Minty at the ‘Keeping Young, Keeping Fun’ Sunny Seniors’ seminar at Meadow Park,” noted Patti Peterson, sipping her third Blueberry Tea of the afternoon, figuring the green tea base would keep her personal trainer mollified about the amount of booze she’d quaffed before 3 o’clock.

“Maybe she was with her mystery man this weekend,” suggested Jean. “Has she told anyone who he is?”

“Some kid in his thirties. He’s a builder or a planner or something… I fired off a bunch of names, but she wasn’t biting,” said Carly Hughes, toying with her empty espresso cup. “All she wanted to talk about was her plan to build a staff housing compound in Pemberton. Kind of like a warehouse for Aussies with a shuttle to Whistler every two hours.”

“She never told me about that,” sniffed Patti. Patti’s husband, Ralph, had made it big covering Vancouver and Sun Peaks with cheaply made condos, supported by ironclad contracts that always left the owners holding the bag.

Carly sighed. Patti’s constant jockeying to find a way to add more money to the Peterson millions was tiring. It was so un-Whistler. And Carly knew Whistler. As only a one-time clerk of the municipality, co-founder of the Garden Club, and on-call Critical Incident Stress Debriefer could.

Love her or hate her — and mostly people loved her — everyone agreed that Carly Hughes was as consistent in Whistler as an American Thanksgiving mountain opening and locals who only dine out during the shoulder season’s cheap specials. She was a legend.

As she contemplated ordering another espresso machiatto (she loved the way the baristas made the froth resemble a relief of Whistler and Blackcomb) she considered the fact that nobody had heard from Minty in four days — a record — and it crossed Carly’s mind that perhaps Minty might be missing. Maybe it was worth calling Hiroshi at Search and Rescue. She quickly dismissed the thought as a side effect of watching too much Without A Trace and not having properly processed the last on-mountain tree-well death, and got down to the delicate business at hand.

“I’ve been thinking about your idea, Patti — I’m not sure that fondue boats are the best dinner concept for a fundraiser for the sewerage station…”

As The Girls were working out how to sell naming rights to the Waste Water Treatment Plant without agitating the local chapter of Whistler Water Watch, Hiroshi Steinberger was dropping his helicopter into a hover over the upper Joffre Lake. A vivid splash of red on the stark white snow had stopped him in his tracks. And though the film production house who’d hired him to scout for locations for the grizzly bear chase scene in their Lost in Alaska movie were expecting his call pronto, the volunteer SAR in him overrode commercial considerations. He dropped his altitude. He could make out the shape of a human being. He brought the machine into land.

As he stood over the body of a man who appeared to be in his mid-30s, Hiroshi gasped. It wasn’t the amount of blood on the snow the pilot found shocking, it was the fact that someone had stuffed purple potatoes into the dead man’s mouth, contorting his face so grotesquely that Hiroshi could barely recognize him.

But when he saw the pearl-covered iPhone, he knew. He’d flown the dude up and down the valley months before, while Chuck “Mess-up” Jessup snapped photos of the lay of the land on his iPhone, made phone calls to his “business partners” and scribbled notes to himself.

Hiroshi, like most of Pemberton’s post-1990 population, was a Whistler real estate refugee. But flying enough missions with the local search and rescue chapter had caught him up to speed on the local lore, and he knew snippets of the Jessup family history — enough to know that it had rained snails when the family’s slow-talking patriarch, Spuds Jessup, died. And enough to know old Spuds would be a-rolling in his grave if he could see his fast-talking grandson mentally dividing up the fifth generation family land, able to sniff out a few investment dollars as easily as a lounge lizard could find a girl with low self-esteem during last call at Buffalo Bill’s.

Chuck “Mess-up” Jessup had claimed to be a land developer, but the only thing he’d managed to develop so far was an ulcer — constant battles in the courts, the municipal council chambers and the parking lot of the Pony Espresso took their toll. Mess-up survived by playing the margins, skewing the angles, and generally avoiding using any of his own money in his questionable business deals. Not that there was all that much money left after the old man died. All they had was land — hundreds of acres that some wag in Victoria had decided would forever be condemned to growing potatoes. And if there was anything Chuck Jessup had hated more than Victoria bureaucrats during his 36 years on earth, it had been potatoes.

The din by the airport baggage carousel made it nearly impossible to hear, but Janna St. James hit the redial on her cell phone anyway.

Her grandmother’s voicemail, again. “Gammy Minty. This is the seventh message that you haven’t answered. When we were in Calgary for Christmas, you seemed happy that I was coming to visit. So could you answer… the damn… phone?”

Finally, the tall, blonde, and aerodynamically-proportioned teenager saw what she’d been waiting for — her skis. She snappd her phone shut, and, grabbing the 250 cm planks, headed for the Perimeter bus. If she couldn’t track down Gammy, she’d just chain herself to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Information Centre in the village and start her hunger strike. That would show the world what fascists the IOC were. But first, she’d pick up a box of Timbits for the bus ride.

Rory McDougall broke down in sobs at Tapley’s when he found out Chuck had been found dead at Joffre Lake. They had been boyhood pals until Rory got serious about snowboarding. Ten years and 20 pounds ago, Rory had made it all the way to the Olympics. But things hadn’t panned out, and since nobody wanted an Olympic motivational speaker without an actual medal he had spent most of the last decade driving a backhoe for the muni.

As he sipped his Kokanee, Rory noticed the logo for the 2010 Olympic Games on a sign in the village. He had an idea that could help him lose the nickname “The No-Go at Nagano” and honour Chuck’s short life at the same time. But first he had to finish his beer.

Will Minty St. James be found? What’s the connection between the sexed-up senior and the spud-stuffed corpse? Will Rory McDougall recapture his former glory as snowboarding’s Red-Headed Wonder? And will Janna St. James’ one-woman ski jump protest give the Mayoral race its defining issue? For the answers to these questions and many more, come back next week to see inside Murder in the Great Big Playground .

This is the fourth year for the Whistler Collective Novel Experiment, a literary collaboration of local writers put on by the Whistler Writers Group, The Vicious Circle. Each week the latest chapter will be published in Pique Newsmagazine, and posted online with the other chapters at www.piquenewsmagazine.com/collectivenovel/.

Cindy Filipenko is currently up to her eyeballs in animation scriptwriting. She dreams of one day penning an Oprah's Book Club selection.

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