The End of the Road

A man walks into a bar...

Inspector Wiley looked at the dossier before exiting his vehicle.  He rubbed his face, weary from the drive.  Four hundred and seventeen kilometres to Gentle Harbour, pretty much the end of the road.  The village of perhaps 200 people clung to the rocky shore, houses lurching steeply up from the harbour.

Wiley unclipped a photo from the dossier cover and tucked it in his shirt pocket.  Then he reviewed the warrant information again.  Joseph Gulliver King, formerly of Harrison Street, Buckthorn, but in recent years of no fixed address.  The list of misdemeanors on the warrant wouldn’t have normally justified the long drive to execute it.  The unstated reason was King was wanted for questioning on a recently-revised cold-case murder investigation.

Sounds like a busy guy, Wiley thought.  He hauled himself out of his unmarked car and stretched.  Looking around, he noticed a pub near the waterfront.  Good place to start, and maybe they’ll have coffee, he thought.

Jingling bells announced Wiley’s entrance into the pub.  The place was deserted, but a bearded man soon came from the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel.

“Help you?” the man said, looking Wiley up and down.  It was a bit late in the year for tourists.

“Got any coffee?”  Wiley replied.  “It’s been a long drive.  Just came up from Milltown to take some photos.  Of the harbour.”

“Sure.”  The man poured a mug of coffee and pushed it across the bar toward Wiley.

“I also thought I’d look up the son of a former co-worker while I’m here.  Haven’t seen him for years, but I heard he moved out this way somewhere.  I suppose you probably know everyone around here, right?”

“Most,” said the man behind the bar.  “What’s his name?”

“Heh, heh,” Wiley rubbed the back of his neck.  “I’m getting old, can never quite recall his name.  Jim or John or something.  I’ve got a photo of him.  It’s not that recent but maybe you’ll recognize him.”

Wiley drew the photo out of his pocket, lay it on the bar, pivoted it around, and slid it over to the barkeep.

The man studied the photo carefully.  “Nah, don’t know him.”

“You sure?” asked Wiley.  “I thought he moved out here a while back.”

“Positive.  Never seen him in here.”

Wiley drank most of the rest of his coffee, leaving the dregs in the mug.

“Okay, thanks anyway.  What do I owe you for the coffee?”

Outside the bar, Wiley paused to look around.  He noticed a marine-engine repair shop nearby.  The shop’s door was open and Wiley heard the unmistakeable sounds of air tools and expletives.

Wiley found the proprietor cajoling an outboard motor to please-for-the-love-of-jaysus-turn-over.  The man looked up when Wiley’s shoes came into his view.

Wiley gave him the son-of-an-old-friend spiel and showed him the photo.

“Huh,” the man said, rocking back on his heels.  “Pretty sure I’ve seen that guy at the pub.”

“The barkeep at the pub said he’d never seen him,” said Wiley, his eyebrows arched.

“Maybe he hasn’t,” replied the engine man.  “But I’m sure I have.”

Wiley returned to the pub to talk to the owner again.  He asked him to take a better look at the photo.

“Nope,” said the owner.  “Definitely have not seen this guy come in here.  How’s your photography going?”

Wiley grabbed the photo and left the bar again.  This time he went to what appeared to be a small pharmacy.  A sign out front indicated this was also the postal depot for the village.

He showed the photo to a lady behind the counter.

“Oh yes,” she nodded.  “I know this face.  He’s usually at the pub.”

“No,” answered Wiley, a bit exasperated.  “The guy at the pub swears he’s never seen him.”

The lady reached across the counter and patted the back of Wiley’s hand.  “That may be what he told you, but I’m sure he’s joking.”

Some joke, thought Wiley.  He bought a postcard from the lady, then left the shop.  He tried the florist’s shop, but it was closed.  Wiley trudged down to the docks and pretended to take some photos.

Noticing two fishermen loading gear on a boat, Wiley approached them, holding out the photo for their inspection.

“Sure,” said one of the fisherman.  “You’ll find him at the pub.”

Wiley felt defeated.  After a few more stops with the same result, he headed back to his car, which was further away than he had remembered.  When he passed the pub, he paused to catch his breath, pretending to take a photo of the pub’s exterior.

He glanced through the pub’s window, and he could see there were now people in there.  He decided to give it one last try before giving up.

At the bell’s tinkle, the pub’s customers all looked toward the door.  Wiley noticed the marine-engine guy there, and the lady from the pharmacy, and some other faces he recognized.  The engine guy pulled his newspaper in front of his face and studied it intently.  One of the fishermen studiously cleaned his fingernails with a folding knife.  The pharmacy lady stifled a giggle behind her hand then dashed to the ladies’ room.

There was nobody here that Wiley hadn’t already shown the photo to.  He turned to the door and reached for the handle.  Then paused.

Wiley spun around, then marched up to the bar.  The barkeep didn’t move, just stood there with his hands spread on the bar.

“You’re him!” gasped Wiley.  “You’re Joe King!”

Joseph Gulliver King took his hands off the bar and nodded.  Not at Wiley, but at the men in the pub.

Wiley’s body later turned up a few miles along the coast.