Detective Rivers stood leaning against a set of heavy green metal double doors. He puffs on a cigarette despite the No Smoking sign posted on the wall right beside him. When he saw Will coming, he took a deep drag and then snuffed the butt out on the linoleum with his heel.
“Hey, kid,” said Rivers. “You settling back in okay? Seeing old friends yet?”
Will ignored his questions and eyed the doors.
“He’s in there? My dad?” Will asked.
Rivers nodded. “Want me to come in with you?”
Rivers opened the door for him and stepped aside.
Inside, a man in a lab coat waited beside a body on a gurney covered by a white sheet. He held out a gloved hand to Will as he approached and then pulled off the glove to shake hands.
“Good to see you home again, Will,” he said.
Will shook his hand. “Hi,” he said, and then remembered the man as one of his dad’s old friends. “Dave, right?”
He nodded. I’ll make this as quick as I can,” said Dave. “You ready?” He pulled back the sheet.
Will looked down. For a long moment he felt nothing. He didn’t blink. He didn’t breathe. He didn’t cry. Even his heart didn’t seem to beat.
That was his dad on the table. He looked the same as he had a couple of years earlier, but a little smaller, as if dying had made him shrink. A pang of guilt ripped through Will.
“Is this your father, William Homer?” asked Dave.
Will swallowed hard. “Yes,” he said.
Dave replaced the sheet and pulled out a clipboard. “Sign here,” he said.
Will signed with a trembling hand and then dropped the pen. He ran his hands through his hair and clasped them behind his neck. He spoke in a strangled voice. “What will it say in your report?” he asked. “The cause of death? Will it be suicide?”
“That is not certain,” said Dave. “I know what killed him, but I’m not sure if it was intentional,” said Dave.
Will stared at him. “Tell me what you found. Please.”
Dave hesitated. “Look, things aren’t what they seem around here, and it won’t do any good at this point.”
“I’m not the same kid I used to be,” said Will.
Dave sighed. “It wasn’t suffocation in the sulfur that killed your father, but it was the sulfur at the same time.”
“I don’t follow,” Will said.
“Cleanup crews found a flask in the sulfur long after police had cleared the body. The flask had his initials on it. You know the one?”
Will nodded. “I know the one.”
“And there wasn’t only alcohol in it,” said Dave. “There was something else mixed in.”
“What?” asked Will.
Dave’s face grew tight. “It’s a new drug the kids are taking around here,” he said. “They call it Hell’s Gate.” Powerful narcotic.” Dave paused. “It’s a sulfur-based compound,” he continued. “There was enough in there to poison him.”
There was a long pause as the two stared at each other. Will felt like he was about to throw up, but he fought it off.
“Sulfur. Of course it would be sulfur,” he said. “But wouldn’t my dad have known?”
“Not with how drunk he’s been getting,” said Dave. “You know, Bill and I kept in touch. I went to see him once a week. To check in, you know. He missed you. But he was proud. And,” he added, “he was killing himself with booze.”
“Listen,” said Dave. “I have no allegiance to the cops in this town. Not after the way they did your dad dirty, and the awful stuff from before. I’m close to retiring. My job is to see the bodies through the door, but this one…I can’t let go. Bill was a real friend. And you deserve to know that this business about his death being a suicide is wrong. Call it laziness, sloppy work, whatever. I couldn’t stand you not knowing.”
“Thank you, Dave.”
If there’s anything I can do…your dad, well, he was one of the good ones.”
Will slipped out the door past Rivers. Several more spend cigarette butts were on the floor.
Will Homer has been hiding in the city for a couple of years after the death of his home town’s richest businessman, Mr. Sullivan. Will was implicated in his death as well as in Sullivan’s missing stash of gold. Suspicions surrounding Will’s dad, a security guard at SulCorp and a retired police officer, caused Will to flee his home town of Hope, British Columbia. Will never intended to go back to Hope, but, after getting word that his father died a suspicious death at the SulCorp mine, Will has to go back and face everything, including the love he left behind, Eve.
When Will arrives in Hope, he’s greeted by Detective Jim Rivers who worked with Will’s dad when he was a police officer. Rivers tells Will that his father’s death was a suicide, but Will won’t believe it even though he knows his father had been an alcoholic for years. Will also learns that Sullivan’s son, Aaron, is now in charge at SulCorp, and, with their angry past, Will knows things are just going to get worse the longer he stays in Hope. Will wants to get things settled and then to get out of Hope as quickly as possible, but first he has to identify his father’s body.
Rivers meets Will at the hospital and offers to go with him, but Will wants to go in alone. He speaks with the coroner and learns that they found a flask in the sulfur mound beside his dad’s body. There was alcohol in it but also a new street drug called Hell’s Gate, which is powerful, deadly, and has a sulfur compound as its base. The coroner assures Will that this was no suicide, and, as a friend of Will’s father, he wanted Will to know that. Will needs to find some answers and decides to inquire around town to see if he can find out what really happened.
In the local pub, Will sees some of his old friends, including Toby, who welcome him in. Will decides to ask Toby about how he can get his hands on some Hell’s Gate, hoping that this may lead him to answers around his father’s death. Toby mentions that Eve waitresses at the pub and asks Will what he’s going to do when he sees her. Will doesn’t want to get involved with Eve and just wants to leave their past right where it is, in the past. But when they meet later on, their devotion to each other is still there.
Will goes back to his father’s apartment to get a few things, and, just as he is about to leave, Rivers is at the door. They speak briefly and Rivers asks Will about where the missing gold might be, the gold that was present when Mr. Sullivan was murdered. Will insists he doesn’t know anything about the gold. Rivers thinks that Aaron Sullivan might be connected to the lost gold and asks Will to go to a meeting with him the next night. Rivers says both he and Will want to find answers and, perhaps, Aaron Sullivan might have them.
Rivers and Will make it to the SulCorp mine and meet with Aaron Sullivan. It doesn’t take long for Rivers and Aaron to let Will know that they’re looking for some kind of map that shows the location of the missing Sullivan gold bars. Will says, again, that he doesn’t know anything about a map his dad might have had. The meeting ends, and Rivers drives Will to the motel where he’s been staying. There’s still more that needs to get figured out, and Will decides to call on his old friend, Nigel, to help him.
At first, Will is furious with Nigel because he has been posting information about Will, about Eve, and also a video showing his dad dead in the sulfur pile. Nigel explains that he’s just covering the news and wants to help Will as much as he can. After attending a party together to find the source of the Hell’s Gate drug, Nigel and Will come up with a plan to spy on Aaron Sullivan and what’s going on at SulCorp. They drive to SulCorp and Aaron finds them. Nigel and Will accuse Aaron of running Hell’s Gate through his company rail line, but Aaron shows them this isn’t true. Aaron admits that he, too, would like to stop the drug because it’s bad for his business.
Nigel and Will drive back to town and stop in at the Armoury Pub. They learn that Toby’s been shot, his house was filled with Hell’s Gate, and Eve is missing. The plan that Will’s been working on to get to the bottom of everything is ready. He asks Nigel to drop him off at SulCorp.
When Will gets to the main office, he sees Aaron sitting at his desk, Aaron’s bodyguard shot on the floor, Eve tied up with a bag around her head, and Detective Bill Rivers holding a gun. Rivers demands the map but can’t get any answers. Will makes himself known, but Rivers won’t stand down. After Rivers admits that he was involved in Mr. Sullivan’s death as well as Will’s dad, he shoots Aaron, and this action prompts Eve to admit that she’s the map and will take him to the gold as long as he doesn’t hurt Will. They find the chest empty, and Rivers is irate. Just as Rivers raises his gun, Nigel screeches through the gate and hits Rivers with his car. Rivers gets up from the sulfur pile and shoots Nigel in the stomach. Will and Eve rush to Nigel, but Rivers isn’t far behind and knocks them both out with the butt of his gun. Will comes to and finds they’re all in Nigel’s car and teetering on the top of a hill. The car goes over. After the crash, Will is able to undo the seat belt he got around him and Eve, and, although Nigel is in bad shape, the air bag saved him from certain death.
In the hospital, Will knows that Rivers was arrested by the FBI, Nigel and Eve are going to recover, and SulCorp has burnt to the ground. Will and Eve are able to be together now without fear, even though they know what it cost. The answer to the mystery of the stolen gold is in the rest of this story as well as much, much more.
Carter’s storytelling is well-imagined and includes several surprises and turns. For a short novel, the story is quite robust and provides enough detail to fill in all of the gaps and then some. The dialogue is believable and adds depth to the characters. It is not lost on the reader that the setting is in the town of Hope when it seems there is no hope for the characters in this story. At the close of the story, however, there is closure and a look to a better future. Carter’s Sulfur Heart would be well received by readers who enjoy puzzles and adventure.
Miss Penta Ledger is a teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, Ontario