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Lost Girls

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Lost Girls

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Author: Andrew Pyper
Publisher: Orion Books, 2013
Simon & Schuster, 2013
HarperCollins, 2002
Dell Publishing, 2001
Macmillan Publishing, 2000

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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When hotshot young attorney Barth Crane is shipped off into the backwoods town of Murdoch, Ontario to try his first murder case, nothing is as it seems. First of all, there are no bodies.

Two teenage girls have disappeared and although their bodies have not been found, their English teacher has been arrested and charged with murder. Crane, a city lawyer with a burgeoning cocaine problem and disdain for the bumbling townspeople, is convinced he can successfully defend his client, Thomas Tripp, in the absence of hard evidence--let alone a body.

But Tripp is not forthcoming with his lawyer and the locals are just as wary of Barth Crane as he is of them. And faced with increasing isolation and whispered legends of the town's infamous ghost--the Lady of the Lake--not to mention his own drug-fueled paranoia, Crane finds himself less confident as the trial wears on and the lost girls demand to be heard... seemingly from beyond the grave.


There is nothing more overrated in the practice of criminal law than the truth. Indeed it's something of a trade secret among professionals in the field that the facts alone rarely determine the outcome of a trial. What's overlooked by the casual observer is the subtle distinction between the truth and the convincing of others to accept one of its alternatives.

Allow me to make reference to current events:

Later today I'm expected to complete the defense's case in a sexual assault trial where the facts are clear and they all disfavor the position of my client, a Mr. Leonard Busch. To make matters worse, counsel for the prosecution is as skillful, determined, and ambitious as yours truly. A constipated-looking young woman whose eyebrows form a piercing V when she speaks and whose every word vibrates with accusation, qualities that contributed to the splendid job she did in her exam-in-chief of the complainant. When the tears started in the middle of the girl's recounting of the night in question my opponent stepped helplessly toward the witness box, leveled a vicious glare at my client, and shushed the girl with "It's all right, Debbie. You don't have to look at him," while at the same time stabbing a trembling index finger at my man Lenny. It was a beautiful move: theatrical, maternal, prejudicial. The effect was so damaging that I was tempted to leap to my feet and make an objection against what was so obviously a purely tactical maneuver. But in the end I remained seated, met the prosecution's eyes with what I hoped was a look of indignation and held my tongue. It's important at such moments to remember one of the first rules of successful advocacy: sometimes one has to accept small defeats in the interest of capturing the final victory.

But victory for Mr. Busch (and more important for his lawyer, Bartholomew Christian Crane) did not appear to be an imminent outcome of the trial. In fact, as the Crown's evidence was paraded plainly before the court, the prospect of an acquittal seemed a fading likelihood unless our defense could come up with an ace. Nothing short of a miracle would do, judging from the set faces of the jury who, although thoroughly screened to exclude socialists, feminists, and those who believed O.J. did it, knew a bona fide creep when they saw one. So as I raise my head from the pillow and blink my eyes open to the abusive light of a Toronto September dawn. I search my mind for a savior for the otherwise doomed Leonard Busch.

And nothing comes to me. But this is not unusual, given the time of day. The left ear buzzes, the right ear hums, my brain swollen inside its skull. Roll my head from side to side and let the whole mess slosh around. It's on occasions like these (i.e., the beginning of every day) that I thank God I live alone, for the fact is I find it difficult to tolerate close contact with others under the best of circumstances, and utterly impossible before nine. This may have to do with my particular habits and addictions, or it may not. But no matter if I've been drinking the night before or sipping herbal tea (if I ever have sipped herbal tea), I have woken with hangover symptoms every morning since I started practicing law. That was five years ago. Waking up in a state of physical and mental suffering is simply a side effect of my vocation. And just as the butcher endures his bloody aprons or the garbageman his stinking fingers, I have learned to live with it.

I raise myself stiffly from the white expanse of a singly occupied king-size bed and scuff over to the kitchen counter where, piled into a crystalline white anthill, my inspiration sits. Reduce its mass to a circle of powdery residue in two sinus-burning whiffs and with this I am able to swiftly conclude that the only chance Leonard has is Lisa, the accused's eighteen-year-old girlfriend.

Leonard Busch himself is fifty-two, barrel chested, butter nosed, and the owner of Pelican Beach, a nightclub located in a former auto parts warehouse stuck beneath the cement buttresses of the Gardiner Expressway next to the harbor. It's one of those hangar-size places that boast "coed" beach volleyball in February, wet T-shirt contests in April, and Ladies' Night every Tuesday (a free rose and half-priced tequila until midnight, at which point the "ladies" are in generally good enough shape to be hauled back to a stranger's futon). Leonard ran the whole vile affair from his office suspended above the dj booth with mirrored windows overlooking the seething dance floor. It was there that he conducted his business, where business means the counting of receipts, the consumption of Ballantine's on the rocks, and the interviewing of girls seeking waitress positions. Early evidence from a number of them indicated that Leonard took these opportunities to ask questions of dubious purpose ("Are you wearing any underwear right now?") and to squeeze bottoms in the interest of determining the applicants' qualifications.

All of these details, however unseemly, were not of any particular concern to me. But Leonard's fondness for plying certain female staff with liquor, taking them for early morning drives down to the docklands, and heaving himself on their half-comatose bodies was substantially more troubling from a legal perspective, especially given that one of his dates came forward the next day and insisted that Leonard Busch, her employer and friend ("At first I thought he was kinda sweet"), had taken his pleasure with her without her consent. Indeed, as she testified, she would've been unable to voice her permission even if she'd wanted to, as her brain had been made so mushy with booze, she could only slap her palms against his back and try to remember the names of the teddy bears in her old bedroom at her parents' house.

Shower, shave, stick a hastily assembled margarine sandwich into my breast pocket for the rare moments that hunger visits, and head up Spadina and over Queen Street to the courthouse. The air is unseasonably chilly but I only half notice, concentrating instead on the approach to take with dear little Lisa. More stupid than the prevailing standard among mall vixens of her vintage, she was not only foolish enough to be Leonard's sole long-term lover, but to be in love with him as well. Attended every day of the trial, finding a place in the back row and trying to make eye contact with her beloved every time he rose to be shackled and led away to his cell. Initially I thought the girl might be a potential asset to our case, but when asked about it, my client dismissed the idea.

"Forget it. She's fuckin' nuts. Besides, my wife don't know about her," was Leonard's exact phrasing.

It wasn't clear to me how Mrs. Busch would be more upset over the disclosure of a mistress than the conviction of her husband as a rapist, but I said no more about it.

Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Pyper


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