“It was in 2013 that Phillip Boudreau was dropped – allegedly – to the bottom of the sea, but his neighbours would not be entirely surprised if he walked out of the ocean tomorrow, coated in seaweed and dripping with brine, smiling.
“After all, Phillip had often vanished for long periods during his forty-three years, and he always came back to where he’d grown up – Alderney Point, at the edge of the Acadian village of Petit de Grat, on Isle Madame, Nova Scotia. Afterwards it would turn out that he had been in prison, or out West, or hiding in the woods. Perhaps the police had been looking for him and he’d have tucked himself away in other people’s boats or trailers, or curled up and gone to sleep in the bushes of the moorland near his family’s home, his face coated with droplets of fog. He and his dog often slept in a rickety shed outside his parents’ home, where the narrow dirt road ends at the rocky shore of Chedabucto Bay. He’d even been known to hollow out a snowbank and shelter himself from the bitter night in the cold white cavern he’d created.
“He was a small man, perhaps five-five, with a goatee and a ready smile. He usually dressed in jeans, sneakers, a windbreaker, a baseball cap. Whenever he was released from prison, word would go around Isle Madame: Phillip’s out. Lock the shed, the barn, the garage. Phillip’s out. If your boat’s missing, or your four-wheeler, talk to Phillip. If you want a good deal on a marine GPS, an outboard motor, a dozen lobsters, check out the Corner Bridge Store and Bakery. Phillip likes to hang out there. He ties up his speedboat, Midnight Slider, at a little dock nearby.
“Some people loved Phillip. He could be funny, helpful, kind. He was generous to old people, good with animals, gentle with children. Other people hated and feared him, though they tended to conceal their feelings. If you crossed him he might threaten to sink your boat, shoot you, burn down your house. He could make you fearful for the safety of your daughter. Would he actually do anything violent? Hard to say.
“If you went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in nearby Arichat, they would tell you they couldn’t do much until he actually committed an offence. Perhaps they’d tell you that you could get a peace bond, a court order directing Phillip to stay away from you and your family and your property. From time to time the Mounties would arrest Phillip for “uttering threats” – or for any of a dozen other offences – and send him back to prison. But he’d be out again soon enough, and if you’d helped put him inside, watch out.
“So most people quietly avoided Phillip, carefully steering around him the way a lobster boat navigates a rocky shoal.
“He did a tidy little business in hallucinogens and was available as a vandal for hire, particularly with respect to lobster traps. An Isle Madame lobster trap is a baited wooden cage weighted with rocks and lying on the sea floor. It’s tied by a long slender rope to a buoy that floats at the surface. The fisherman hooks the buoy, hauls up the trap, and removes his catch; then he rebaits the trap and drops it overboard again. The trap is worth about $100, but the value of the lobster it catches can be in the thousands of dollars.
“Nothing prevents a poacher from hauling someone else’s traps in the middle of the night and selling the lobsters as his own. And if the buoy rope is cut off, the owner can’t even find the trap. If I have a grudge against you, what better way to harm you than to slide out at midnight and cut a bunch of your traps? But if you catch me at it the outcome won’t be pretty. So I don’t want to take a chance on doing it myself, I can always hire Phillip.
“Phillip Boudreau was by no means the only man who ever cut traps in Petit de Grat, but he was the dominant figure in that line of work. He would also take credit for things he hadn’t done, just to bolster his reputation as a crafty rascal operating by stealth and beyond the reach of the law. A Fisheries officer who confronted him had the tires of his car slashed. When he bought new tires, those were slashed too. Phillip? Try to prove it. If you confronted him, he’d just smile.
“Phillip could make your life a misery – but if he was your friend and thought you needed something he would provide it, whether or not he owned it. So you had to be careful about idly voicing your desires.
“And then, from time to time, he would disappear – for days, or weeks, or months. But he always cropped up again.
“There had been attempts to kill him – conspiracies, even. But on June 1, 2013, he was said to have drowned – and not by thugs or druggies but by highly respected local fishermen. A lot of people thought the very idea was ridiculous. Phillip was wily and resilient and swam like a seal. Trying to drown him would be like trying to drown a football. No doubt he was hiding out again.
“But he was never seen again.”