Nestled between the Columbia and Cascade mountain ranges in south-central British Columbia, the Okanagan valley is both a geologic oddity and a paradise.
Formed by the massive receding glaciers of the Pleistocene Epoch over ten thousand years before the coming of humankind. The long valley is flanked on either side by rolling hills and stepped plateaus and cut through its middle by a chain of long lakes carved out by the glacier's meltwater and sustained by the thousands of creeks that drain the snow caps each spring from the two mountain ranges.
The lakes, from Swan and Kalamalka, through the eighty-four mile long Okanagan and south through Skaha, Vaseux, and Osoyoos lakes, are interconnected by the Okanagan river that eventually finds its way to the mighty Columbia.
The resident natives of the Sylix nation who used the valley's lakes and river as a highway to follow game and forage in their sturgeon-nose canoes, call the valley 'sookanhkchinx', which translates as; 'transport toward the top end'. The valley was their home until the white men came and discovered its rich silt and sand soil was exceedingly valuable for rangeland and orchards and its surrounding hills laced with enough placer gold to tease but never satisfy.
To the south lies Canada's only true desert; the northern tip of the Mexican Sonora with sand as soft as talcum powder whose swath can be followed all the way to Mexico itself. The scrub pines and cottonwoods that grow through the arid, semi-desert hills above Okanagan lake give way to cedar and hemlock in the north.
It is the desert that gives the Okanagan its unique weather.
All summer long, a slow northerly flow of hot, dry air wafts up from Mexico until there comes a day each year in early October when the frigid outflow from the Bering sea overpowers it and brings frost to the valley. It's said that spring and autumn go by so quickly there are really only two seasons in the valley; summer and winter. It grows warm in April, hot in May, then inexplicably, the rainy season occurs every year in June. July and August remain scorching hot when the lakes become popular destinations.
The McBairn ranch is spread across one of the plateaus above Okanagan lake, the original log cabin porch having a spectacular view of the lake from Penticton through Summerland and Peachland located where the lake bends slightly on its way to Kelowna. The McBain land was once a working ranch, its outbuildings now blackened and twisted tombstones of the industry of the previous century. The only buildings still maintained are the large log cabin and the patchwork barn that is home to Random, the only working horse left along with the hay and oats that feed him in winter. The barn doors are rarely closed, so Random can come and go as he sees fit and spends most of his time grazing the grasslands of the ranch and drinking from the natural spring that feeds the clusters of pine and cottonwood trees that give him shade.
The spread is also diligently patrolled by Chance, Devil McBairn's mongrel dog who harasses the whitetail deer that share the grazing land with Random and alerts Devil if anyone crosses the ranch's property lines.
Devil McBairn heard the clattering ring of his phone early on that Thursday morning in late April, nineteen thirty-four, but made no move to run to the cabin to answer it. He knew the caller would give up by the time he got there and so continued to pour out the bag of oats in the trough was Random chomped beside him.
"They'll call back." Devil told Random, "They always do."
But just after the phone stopped ringing, the squawk of the two-way radio in Devil's 1929 Buick Master Six sedan patrol car told Devil it was police business. With a sigh, Devil crushed the empty oat sack and dropped it in the burn barrel on his way to his car parked at the side of the cabin.
"Base to Chief." came the crackling voice of his deputy, Will Smalls, "Base to Chief, come in?"
The sun had already started to bake the interior of the Buick when Devil slid into the driver's seat and picked up the microphone.
"Go ahead, Will."
"We've got a situation here, Chief."
"What sort of situation?"
"We ... Deputy Rutledge found a lady wandering Cage Creek road on his way in this morning."
"And how is that a situation?"
"She's ... well, she's naked."
"Did you get a name for this naked lady?"
"She ain't talking, Chief."
"Get Carl to run her over to the clinic. She might need a Doc more than a cop."
"We've got her in the cell, Chief. She's ..."
"She's what, Will?"
There was a pause, then;
"She's covered in blood, Chief."
"I'm on my way." Devil said and hung the microphone back on its hook.
"Mayor Brusker wants so see you first thing. He's been calling."
"To hell with Brusker and any horse that would carry him." Devil muttered to himself as he got out and held the door open. He let go a shrill double-whistle and called; "Chance!" and waited while his white and grey mutt came bounding across the nearest field and leapt into the car, taking his usual station in the passenger's seat.
"No rest for the wicked." Devil told her as he got in behind the wheel. Devil pushed in the clutch and slid the Buick into second gear before releasing the handbrake. Like he always did, Devil had parked the patrol car facing down the incline that led to the ranch's main gate on account of sometimes the radio drained the battery. He let the car pick up some momentum and turned the ignition on before popping the clutch. The old Buick lurched and coughed and came to life as Devil drove it down the hill through the gate and down Arawana Road toward town.
The town of Arawana was actually a district that covered a wide expanse of territory that spread out like a fan above the lake. Aside from the Constables in Penticton, Summerland, and Kelowna, Devil and his two deputies were the law on this side of Okanagan lake and were responsible for the safety of a wide variety of people; the small Syilx families that lived off the reservation, the poor and wealthy orchardists and ranch owners, and the lone and sometimes ornery placer miners who were scattered far and wide between the valley and Bridesville.
As Devil rolled off Arawana road onto Main street, the town was just waking up. Marta was flipping the Closed sign on Ruby's Diner to Open which meant the coffee was already perked, Harold was sweeping the sidewalk in front of Ritchie Hardware and Lumber, Mister Fitch was lowering the fabric awnings over the windows of the Arawana General Store, and Lance Gilbert was propping open the fold up wooden front of the Gilbert Fruit and Vegetables shack.
Devil parked where he always did at the mouth of the alley beside the brick Police Department building, backing in to take advantage of the slight slope in case the battery died again. Then together, he and Chance walked around the corner and in through the front door.
"Morning Chief." Stuckey Brusker said as he limped past him toward the radio desk with his half cup of coffee. Stuckey was once a deputy but now filled the role of Dispatcher having a fused hip-joint from taking the bulk of a double-ought buck shot during an eviction in '29.
"Morning, Stuck." Devil greeted him as he pushed through the swinging gate that separated the front complaints counter from the operational area of the station, "I heard your nephew wants to see me. Know anything about that?"
"Most like it's about that Provincial Police nonsense." Stuckey strained as he lowered himself into his swivel chair, "All the individualism is being sucked dry out of us. We should never have joined the Confederation."
"That was a fight that was done before either of us was born, Stuck." Devil said, "The only constant is change." Then to Deputy Smalls who stood nervously in the centre of the bullpen, "How's our naked lady, Will?"
"Still hasn't said a word, Chief. We got her a blanket, but she won't wear it."
Devil turned the corner and looked at the woman in the cell. She was in her mid-thirties, dark hair and eyes the colour of aged whiskey, body slightly gone plump with silver stretch marks laced across her belly and sides of her breasts. Her nails were short and her hands calloused, and like Will had said over the radio, her hands, arms, and face were covered in dried blood.
"Any of that blood her's?"
"I couldn't see any wounds, Chief." Will told him.
Devil studied her emotionless face as she stared back at him and noted the pinched sides of her eyes, the pug nose, and heavy eyebrows.
"Carl?" Devil said, still studying her face.
"Yeah, Chief." Carl looked up from his desk where he was writing his report.
"Run down to Simpson Sawmill and ask Kirill Sokolov to come back here with you."
"What are the charges?"
"No charges. I think our lady here might be Russian." Devil said and noted that the naked woman reacted to the word, "Maybe she'll talk to him."
Devil walked toward his office passing Stuckey in the way.
"Stuck, your wife is about the same size as her, think she can part with something she can wear?"
"I'll call her." Stuckey said, picking up the phone.
Chance was already curled in her favoured armchair in Devil's office when he walked in and hung his coat and stetson on the coat tree inside his door. He had to get to the overnight reports called in from the other Police stations in the surrounding area and see what went on in Arawana according to Carl who'd been on-call. It was usually the first thing he did, barring any naked ladies covered in blood.
"Will?" Devil called as another thought came to him.
"There any picker camps that over-wintered up Cage creek way?" Devil asked and by the time he sat down, Will was in his office door.
"Some of the Chinese stayed down by the creek over the winter, and Carl said there was another one that just went up in March further up the road." Will reported.
"Chinese or caucasian?"
"Find out, will you?"
"I'll get on it."
"Chief?" Stuckey called him from his desk trying to keep the wear and tear on his hip down.
"Irene's coming in with some old blue jeans and a flannel shirt. She's gonna bring some drawers as well."
"Send him in." Devil leaned forward and looked at Carl's call report.
"'Morning Constable McBairn." Harold said as he entered Devil's office and huffed as he sat in one of the wooden chairs in front of the desk. The chair creaked alarmingly.
Mayor Harold Brusker was a soft man who'd edged past chubby after he married Abigail Simpson five years before. He fancied himself a progressive frontiersman and sported polished western boots that had never seen a stirrup, a white stetson that had never seen rain, and a rodeo buckle he'd bought from a pawn shop in Penticton.
"I guess you know why I'm here."
"Not a clue, Harold."
"Come on, Devil. Ignoring it isn't going to make it go away."
"What is it I'm supposed to be ignoring?" Devil asked as he underlined an entry on the local overnight report with a pencil, set it aside and looked up.
"Detective Sergeant Locke from the British Columbia Provincial Police Boundary District is arriving tomorrow to evaluate my Police services."
"Your police services?"
"Arawana's police services." Harold said and Devil saw the colour rise in his cheeks, "We may be overstaffed and Sergeant Locke will look to keep some of you on. Then again, he may consider replacing all of you with one or two of their Constables trained up in Victoria."
"How long will this evaluation take?"
"Hard to say." Harold said, rubbing at a smudge on the toe of his right boot, "He'll want to interview all of you one on one and observe your department in the field."
"Alright." Devil nodded, then stared at Harold a moment, "Anything else?"
"Well, while I'm here I might as well collect your Chief Constable badge."
"You have a copy of the last District Council meeting minutes with you?"
"No, I do not. Why do you ask?"
"So you can show me the vote on the motion to remove me from office."
"I'm the Mayor."
"Yes, and I'm Chief Constable until the Council votes otherwise."
"I'm the Mayor, god damn it."
"So you keep reminding me, but you didn't hire me, the Council did."
"You're on your way out, Devil."
"Maybe. But right now you're on your way out."
"I'm not leaving without that badge."
Devil made a soft double-whistle and Chance - who'd been napping quietly in her chair - lifted her muzzle and growled softly at the Mayor.
"You're going to sic your mutt on me?" Harold's voice rose an octave as he scrambled from his chair.
"She's deputized and more than willing to show you to the door."
"This isn't over, McBairn." Harold sputtered and stormed out of the office.
"Nothing ever is." Devil said softly to himself as Chance lowered her head onto her paws, watching the doorway with suspicion.