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About the Author

Gail Bowen

Gail Bowen’s bestselling mystery series featuring Joanne Kilbourn will number an even dozen titles with the publication of The Nesting Dolls in August 2010. The first six books in the series have appeared as made-for-television movies with world-wide distribution. Winner of both the Arthur Ellis Best Novel Award and the Derrick Murdoch Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Crime Writers of Canada, in 2008 Bowen was named ’Canada’s Best Mystery Novelist’ by Reader’s Digest. She was selected as oneof "The 100 Most Popular Contemporary Mystery Authors" for an upcoming Library Unlimited reference book.

Books by this Author
12 Rose Street

12 Rose Street

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
also available: Paperback
tagged : women sleuths
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A Colder Kind of Death

Three minutes before the Hallowe’en edition of Canada This Week went on the air I learned that the man who murdered my husband had been shot to death. A technician was kneeling in front of me, adjusting my mike. Her hair was smoothed under a black skullcap, and she was wearing a black leotard and black tights. Her name was Leslie Martin, and she was dressed as a bat.
“Check the Velcro on my wing, would you, Jo?” she asked, leaning towards me.
As I smoothed the Velcro on Leslie’s shoulder, I glanced at the TV monitor behind her.
At first, I didn’t recognize the face on the screen. The long blond hair and the pale goat- like eyes were familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Then the still photograph was gone. In its place was the scene that had played endlessly in my head during the black months after Ian’s death. But these pictures weren’t in my head. The images on the TV were real. The desolate stretch of highway; the snow swirling in the air; the Volvo station wagon with the door open on the driver’s side; and on the highway beside the car, my husband’s body with a dark and bloody spillage where his head should have been.
The sound was turned off. My hand tightened on Leslie’s shoulder. “What happened there?” I asked.
Leslie turned towards the monitor. “I just heard part of it myself, but apparently that guy with the long hair was killed. He was out in the exercise yard at the penitentiary and someone drove past and shot him. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
She stood and moved out of camera range. “Two minutes to showtime,” she said. Through my earpiece, I heard the voice of the host of Canada This Week.
“Happy Hallowe’en, Regina,” he said. “What’ll it be: ‘Trick, or Treat’?”
Beside me, Senator Sam Spiegel laughed. “Trick,” he said.
“Okay,” the voice from Toronto said. “We’ll start with NAFTA.”
Sam groaned. “Why do we always have to talk about NAFTA?”
The host’s voice was amiable. “Ours is not to wonder why, Sam. Now, I’ll go to you first. Is the fact that environmental regulations aren’t being equally enforced by our trading partners having an impact on investor confidence up here?”
Sam looked cherubic. “Beats me,” he said.
Another voice, this one young and brusque, came through the earpiece. “This is Tom Brook in Toronto. Washington, is there any sign of Keith yet?”
I looked over at the monitor. The image of my husband’s body had been replaced by images of Keith Harris, the third member of the Canada This Week panel. Keith was late, and as he slid into his chair and clipped on his lapel mike, he grinned apologetically. “I’m here. In the flesh, if not yet in the spirit. We’re in the middle of a storm, and I couldn’t get a taxi. Sorry, everybody.”
The sight of Keith’s private face, unguarded and gentle as his public face never was, stirred something in me. Until three weeks earlier, Keith had been the man in my life. At the outset, he had seemed an unlikely choice. We had both lived lives shaped by party politics; philosophically, we were as far apart as it is possible for reasonable people to be.
Somehow, after the first hour we spent together, that hadn’t mattered. Keith Harris was a good man, and until he had taken a job in Nationtv’s Washington bureau at the beginning of summer, we had been happy. But distance had divided us in a way politics had not. Passion became friendship, and when Keith came to Regina for Thanksgiving he told me he had met someone else. I was still trying to sort out how I felt about that news.
The monitor switched to a picture of Sam and me. Through my earpiece, I could hear Keith’s puzzlement. “Sam, what are you doing in Regina?”
“I came in with the prime minister yesterday and decided to stay over. I thought it would be fun to be with Jo in person for a change.”
“Wise choice,” Keith said. “I wish I was with you guys. It’s colder than a witch’s teat down here.”
“Nice seasonal image, Keith,” said the voice in my earpiece.
“Okay, here we go.”
In our studio, the man behind the camera, sleek in a spandex skeleton costume, held up five fingers, then four, three, two, one, and the red light came on. We were live to the East Coast. I felt as if I had turned to wood. I missed my first question, and Sam Spiegel gave me a quick, worried look, then picked up the slack. When we broke for a commercial, he touched my arm. “Are you okay, Jo?”
“I think so,” I said. “I just had a shock.”
On the monitor, Keith was saying, “Come on, Jo. It’s starting to sound like the Sam Spiegel show out there. The only reason I showed up tonight was to hear your voice.”
“Five seconds,” said the man in the spandex skeleton suit.
He held up five fingers and started to drop them again. Sam touched my arm. “I’ll set you up. Tell about that screw-up with the microphone when the P.M. was in town yesterday. It’s a great story.”
The red light went on. Sam turned the discussion to the prime minister, and I told the story of the microphone that picked up some of the P.M.’s private and earthy musings about the U.S. president and broadcast them province- wide. My voice sounded odd to me, but Sam was right, it was a great story, and as I finished, the moderator’s laughter rumbled reassuringly through my earpiece. We moved to other topics. I could hear my voice, remote but seemingly assured, suggesting, responding. Finally, the man in the skeleton suit held up his fingers again, and the red light on the camera in front of me went dark. It was over.
I turned to Sam. “Thanks,” I said. “I was glad you were here tonight.”
The producer, Jill Osiowy, came out of the control booth and said, “Good show, guys.” Then she looked hard at me. “God, Jo, you look whipped. Is something wrong?”
I unclipped my microphone. “The monitor picked up the last few minutes of the news before we went on,” I said. “Kevin Tarpley was shot today.”
“And you were sitting here watching. Shit. Is there anything I can do?”
“Get them to run that tape with the sound, would you? All I saw was the pictures.”
She looked at me dubiously. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
She sighed. “I’ll get Leslie to set it up.”
We went into an editing room and stood behind Leslie Martin as she brought the five o’clock news up on a monitor. It was a surreal moment. The woman in the bat suit conjuring up the image of my husband’s killer.
When the boy with the goat’s eyes appeared on the screen, I had trouble absorbing what the news anchor was saying. His words seemed to come at me in disconnected units.  “Convicted murderer Kevin Tarpley . . . twenty- five . . . assailant unknown . . .”
He was twenty- five. He had been nineteen at the trial. When he stood up for sentencing, his hands were trembling, and I was filled with pity. Then I had remembered what those hands had done, and it hadn’t mattered how young he was. I wanted him dead.
I had wanted him dead, and now he was.
More words came at me from the TV screen. “Police are baffled . . . model prisoner . . . born again . . . spent days and nights reading the Bible . . .”
The goat- eyed boy vanished, and the snowy highway filled the screen again. The polished voice of the news anchor continued, and I tried to make myself focus. He was talking about my husband. “Twenty- eight when he was named to Howard Dowhanuik’s cabinet . . . the country’s youngest attorney general . . . believed by many to be the man who would succeed Dowhanuik . . .” The anchor’s handsome face filled the screen. Leslie Martin looked up. Jill nodded and the screen went blank.
“Come on,” Jill said. “I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve got to get home. Taylor’s waiting to go Hallowe’ening.”
Jill put her arm around my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’ll walk you to the door.”
The lobby of Nationtv is a three- storey galleria with a soaring ceiling and glass walls. In the daytime, the area is filled with natural light, and the elm trees on the lawn outside make shadowy patterns on the terrazzo floor. But that night as Jill and I came upstairs from the TV studio, the sky was darkening, and the leafless trees were black against the cold October sky.
All Hallow’s Eve. Reflexively, I shuddered. A man and two women came through the entrance doors into the lobby. I knew them; they had been in the Legislature with my husband. They were all out of politics now, but it was politics that brought them to Nationtv. Politics and auld lang syne. The year before, after ten years in the wilderness, we had won the provincial election. People were feeling good about the party again, so it was time to raise money. The following Wednesday, we were holding a roast for the former leader and one- time premier, Howard Dowhanuik. After he resigned as leader, Howard had moved to Toronto to teach constitutional law at Osgoode Hall. It was a long way from the rough and tumble of Saskatchewan politics, but Howard hadn’t forgotten that even successful election campaigns have to be paid for. Despite his loathing for testimonials, he was coming home. I was emceeing the dinner, and I’d asked Jill to arrange for some of the members who’d served in the Legislature with Howard to tape a segment of a local show called Happenings to publicize the event. The taping was that night.
For a beat, Howard’s former colleagues stood in the door - way, unbuttoning jackets, accustoming their eyes to the light. Then Craig Evanson spotted me and started across the cavernous lobby. The others followed.
Craig was fifty years old, but he still moved with the loose- limbed shamble of an adolescent. When he reached out to take my hand, his fingers grazed my shoulder.
“You saw the news report,” he said. I nodded.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I will be,” I said.
 “This is all wrong, Jo,” he said. “You and Ian were so close. Julie always called you ‘the legendary couple.’” I didn’t know what to say. Craig and his first wife, Julie, had been a legendary couple, too. Craig was the most uxorious of men, but Julie was poison. Before she had surprised everyone by divorcing him two years earlier, she had come close to destroying Craig’s life. The day the divorce was final, it was Craig’s turn for surprises. He resigned his seat in the Legislature and married one of his constituents, a twenty- five- year- old midwife named Manda Traynor, who had come to Craig’s office asking him for help in organizing a campaign to legalize midwifery. Now Manda was expecting their first child, and as Craig stood holding my hand, it was obvious that it was his new wife who filled his thoughts.
“I’m just beginning to understand what you lost when you lost Ian,” Craig said simply. “If anything were to happen to Manda . . .” His voice trailed off.
The woman standing behind Craig grunted with annoyance. Tess Malone looked exactly as she had on the day she’d been elected twenty years earlier: her hair was still a helmet of honey curls; the lines of her corsetted body were still bullet smooth. She looked impenetrable, like a woman who woke up every morning and prepared herself for combat. It was not a fanciful image. Tess’s life was a battle.
She had run for office four times, and she had won four times. Her slogan was always the same: Trust Tess. To an outsider, the words seemed sentimental and empty, but Tess’s supporters knew the slogan was a covenant. The people who voted for Tess knew that they could trust her to be at their daughters’ weddings, their babies’ christenings, and their grandparents’ funerals. They knew that Tess would be their champion if they needed to get their mother an appointment at the Chiropody Clinic, their son into drug rehabilitation, or their wife’s resumé into the hands of a bureaucrat who might actually read it.
There was one other matter on which friend and foe alike knew they could trust Tess. Everyone who knew Tess Malone knew she would fight the right to an abortion till the day she drew her last breath. Ian had liked and admired her, but when he had been attorney general, he and Tess had fought bitterly about our government’s policy on reproductive choice; after we lost, they still spent hours quarrelling over what he called Tess’s life- long love affair with the foetus. The month after he died, Tess resigned her seat in the house to devote herself full time to a pro- life organization called Beating Heart. She said she quit politics because she was frustrated at our party’s refusal to change its stand on abortion. I always thought she just missed her old sparring partner. As she stood looking up into Craig Evanson’s face, speaking in the rasp of an unrepentant two- pack- a- day smoker, I felt a surge of affection.
“Don’t be an ass, Craig,” she said. “And don’t chase trouble. As Jo can tell you, trouble finds you soon enough. You don’t have to send up flares.”
Tess turned to me. Rhinestone flowers bloomed on the frames of her glasses, but the eyes behind the thick lenses were clever and kind.
“What can I do to help, Jo? One thought . . . I’m sure you already have your talk for Howard’s dinner organized, but if you don’t feel like standing in front of a room full of people, I could be the emcee . . .”
Jane O’Keefe, the other woman in the group, raked her fingers through her short blond hair. “Not while I’m capable of rational thought,” she said. Jane was an M.D., and the past summer she and three other doctors had opened a Women’s Health Centre in which abortions were performed. There had been some ugly reactions in the community, and Tess had fanned the flames. She’d been on every talk show in town denouncing the Women’s Centre and the women who staffed it.
“Gary can do it,” Jane said. She turned and looked out the door towards the parking lot. “If he ever shows up, that is.” Tess moved towards her, “Jane, you yourself said . . .” “I know what I said. I said I wanted a woman to emcee Howard’s dinner, but if Jo backs out, you and I are the women, and I don’t want you and you don’t want me. That leaves Gary and Craig, and Craig is a lousy public speaker.” Craig made a little bow in Jane’s direction. “Thank you, Jane.”
Oblivious, Jane sailed on. “Don’t be touchy, Craig. You’re capable of keeping your pants zipped, which is more than I can say for my brother- in- law.”
Right on cue, Jane O’Keefe’s brother- in- law burst through the door of Nationtv.
In the women’s magazines of the fifties there were love stories with heroes whose physical characteristics were as formulaic as those of a knight in medieval romance. With their rangy bodies and rugged features, they leapt off the pages into our female hearts. Gary Stephens had those kind of good looks, and once upon a time he had been a hero, at least to me. When I knew him first, Gary was a reformer out to transform the political landscape. Then, he changed.  It seemed to happen overnight. One day he just stopped fighting the good fight and became a jerk and a womanizer. The political world is fuelled by gossip, and for a while there was hot speculation about Gary, but the explanation most of us finally accepted was supplied by his sister- in- law. Jane O’Keefe said that, in her opinion, Gary simply lost his death struggle with the id. Whatever had happened, Gary Stephens wasn’t a hero anymore, at least not in my books.
“Apologies for being late,” he said. “I was . . .”
Jane smiled at him. “We understand, Gary. Everyone knows it takes a man longer after he hits forty.”
Gary shrugged. “For the record, I was with a client.” He turned towards me. “I heard about Kevin Tarpley on the radio coming over here. I’m sorry, babe. All those painful memories, and Ian was the best.”
“I always thought so,” I said, and I could hear the ice in my voice.
Jane O’Keefe looked at her watch. “We should get inside. Considering that not one of us was on time today, I don’t think we should risk re- rescheduling.” She touched my arm. “It was good to see you again, Jo. Hang in there.”
Gary leaned forward, gave me a practised one- armed hug and kissed my cheek. The others said goodbye and headed towards the elevators. As the doors closed behind them, I reached up and brushed the place that Gary Stephens’s lips had touched.
“Why would he kiss me?” I said to Jill.
She shrugged. “‘Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.’”
“That’s a comforting thought,” I said.
“Thomas Aquinas was a comforting kind of guy,” Jill said. “You’d know these things too, if you’d had the benefit of a Catholic education.”
When we stepped through the big glass doors into the night, Jill breathed deeply. The air smelled of wet leaves and wood smoke.
“Hallowe’en,” she said, hugging herself against the cold. “Good times.”
She grinned at me, and the years melted away. She was the shining- eyed redhead I’d met twenty years before when she showed up unannounced at Ian’s office the day she graduated from the School of Journalism. She had handed him her brand new diploma and said, “My name is Jill Osiowy, and I want to make a difference.” Ian always said he hadn’t known whether to hire her or have her committed.
“I’m glad Ian didn’t have you committed,” I said.
“Nothing,” I said. “You’d better get back inside. It’s freezing out here. Call me if you hear anything more about Kevin Tarpley.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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A Killing Spring

In the twenty-five years I had known Julie Evanson- Gallagher, I had wished many things on her. Still, I would never have wished that her new husband would be found in a rooming house on Scarth Street, dead, with a leather hood over his head, an electric cord around his neck, and a lacy garter belt straining to pull a pair of sheer black stockings over his muscular thighs.
I was on my way to my seminar in Politics and the Media when Inspector Alex Kequahtooway of the Regina Police Force called to tell me that the landlady of the Scarth Street house had found Reed Gallagher’s body an hour earlier and that he wanted someone who knew Julie with him when he broke the news. Although my relationship with Reed Gallagher had not been a close one, I felt my nerves twang. Alex’s description of Reed Gallagher’s death scene was circumspect, but I didn’t require graphics to understand why Julie would need shoring up when she heard about the manner in which her husband had gone to meet his Maker.
On the Day of Judgement, God’s interest might lie in what is written in the human heart, but Julie’s judgements had always been pretty firmly rooted in what was apparent to the human eye. Discovering she was the widow of a man who had left the world dressed like RuPaul was going to be a cruel blow. Alex was right; she’d need help. But when he pressed me for a name, I had a hard time thinking of anyone who’d be willing to sign on.
“Jo, I don’t mean to rush you . . .” On the other end of the line, Alex’s voice was insistent.
“I’m trying,” I said. “But Julie isn’t exactly overburdened with friends. She can be a viper. You saw that yourself when she paraded you around at her wedding reception.”
“Mrs. Gallagher was being enlightened,” he said tightly, “showing everyone she didn’t mind that you’d brought an aboriginal to the party.”
“I wanted to shove her face into the punch bowl.”
“You’d never make a cop, Jo. Lesson one at the police college is ‘learn to de-personalize.’”
“Can they really teach you how to do that?”
“Sure. If they couldn’t, I’d have been back on Standing Buffalo Reserve after my first hour on the beat. Now, come on, give me a name. Mrs. Gallagher may be unenlightened but she’s about thirty minutes away from the worst moment of her life.”
“And she shouldn’t be alone, but I honestly don’t know who to call. I think the only family she has are her son and her ex-husband, and she’s cut herself off from both of them.”
“People come together in a crisis.”
“They do, if they know there’s a crisis. But Alex, I don’t know how to get in touch with either Mark or Craig. Mark’s studying at a Bible college in Texas, but I’m not sure where, and Craig called me last week to tell me he and his new family were on their way to Disney World.”
I looked out my office window. It was March 17, and the campus, suspended between the bone-chilling beauty of winter and the promise of spring, was bleak. Except for the slush that had been shovelled off the roads and piled in soiled ribbons along the curbs, the snow was gone, and the brilliant cobalt skies of midwinter had dulled to gunmetal grey. To add to the misery, that morning the city had been hit by a wind-storm. Judging from the way the students outside my window were being blown across the parking lot as they ran for their cars, it appeared the rotten weather wasn’t letting up.
“I wish I was in the Magic Kingdom,” I said.
“I’m with you,” Alex said. “I’ve never been a big fan of Minnie and Mickey, but they’d be better company than that poor guy in the room upstairs. Jo, that is one grotesque crime scene, but the media are going to love it. Once they get wind of how Reed Gallagher died, they’re going to be on this rooming house like ducks on a June bug. I have to get to Julie Gallagher before one of them beats me to it.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“I know you aren’t crazy about Mrs. G.,” he said, “but I’ve been through this scene with the next of kin enough times to know that she’s going to need somebody with her who isn’t a cop.”
“I was just on my way to teach,” I said. “I’ll have to do something about my class.” I looked at my watch. “I can meet you in front of Julie’s place at twenty after three.”
“Gallagher’s identification says he lives at 3870 Lakeview Court,” he said. “Those are the condos, right?”
“Right,” I said.
After I hung up, I waited for the tone, then I dialled Tom Kelsoe’s extension. This was the second year Tom and I had co-taught the Political Science 371 seminar. He was a man whose ambitions reached far beyond a Saskatchewan university, and whenever he heard opportunity knocking, I covered his classes for him. He owed me a favour; in fact, he owed me many favours, but as I listened to the phone ringing unanswered in his office, I remembered that this was the day Tom Kelsoe’s new book was being launched. Today of all days, Tom was hardly likely to jump at the chance to pay back a colleague for past favours. It appeared that our students were out of luck. I grabbed my coat, stuffed a set of un - marked essays into my briefcase, made up a notice saying Political Science 371 was cancelled, and headed out the door. When I turned the corner into the main hall, Kellee Savage was getting out of the elevator. She spotted me and waved, then she started limping down the hall towards me. Behind her, she was dragging the little cart she used to carry her books.
“Professor Kilbourn, I need to talk to you before class.”
“Can you walk along with me, Kellee?” I asked. “I have to cancel the class, and I’m late.”
“I know you’re late. I’ve already been to the seminar room.” She reached into her cart, pulled out a book and thrust it at me. “Look what was on the table at the place where I sit.”
I glanced at the cover. “Sleeping Beauty,” I said. “I don’t understand.”
“Read the note inside.”
I opened the book. The letter, addressed to Kellee, detailed the sexual acts it would take to awaken her from her long sleep. The descriptions were as prosaic and predictable as the graffiti on the wall of a public washroom. But there was something both original and cruel in the parallel the writer had drawn between Kellee and Sleeping Beauty. Shining fairies bringing gifts of comeliness, grace, and charm might have crowded one another out at Sleeping Beauty’s christening, but they had been in short supply the day Kellee Savage was born. She was not more than five feet tall, and misshapen. One shoulder hunched higher than the other, and her neck was so short that her head seemed to be jammed against her collarbone. She didn’t bother with eye makeup. She must have known that no mascara on earth could beautify her eyes, which goggled watery and blue behind the thick lenses of her glasses, but she took pains with her lipstick and with her hair, which she wore long and caught back by the kind of fussy barrettes little girls sometimes fancy.
She was a student at the School of Journalism, but she had been in my class twice: for an introductory course in Political Science and now in the seminar on Politics and the Media. Three times a week I passed her locker on the way to my first-year class; she was always lying in wait for me with a question or an opinion she wanted verified. She wasn’t gifted, but she was more dogged than any student I’d ever known. At the beginning of term when she’d asked permission to tape my lectures, she’d been ingenuous: “I have to get good grades because that’s all I’ve got going for me.”
I held the book out to her. “Kellee, I think you should take this to the Student Union. There’s an office there that deals with sexual-harassment cases.”
“They don’t believe me.”
“You’ve been there already?”
“I’ve been there before. Many times.” She steeled herself.  “This isn’t the first incident. They think I’m making the whole thing up. They’re too smart to say that, but I know they think I’m crazy because . . .” She lowered her eyes. “Because of what?” I asked.
“Because of the name of the person who’s doing these things to me.” She looked up defiantly. “It’s Val Massey.”
“Val?” I said incredulously.
Kellee caught my tone. “Yes, Val,” she said, spitting his name out like an epithet. “I knew you wouldn’t believe me.” This time it was my turn to look away. The truth was I didn’t believe her. Val Massey was in the Politics and the Media seminar. He was good-looking and smart and focused. It seemed inconceivable that he would risk an assured future for a gratuitous attack on Kellee Savage.
Kellee’s voice was thick with tears. “You’re just like the people at the Harassment Office. You think I’m imagining this, that I wrote the letter myself because I’m . . .”
“Kellee, sometimes, the stress of university, especially at this time of year . . .”
“Forget it. Just forget it. I should have known that it was too good to last.”
“That what was too good to last?”
She was crying now, and I reached out to her, but she shook me off. “Leave me alone,” she said, and she clomped noisily down the hall. She stopped at the elevator and began jabbing at the call button. When the doors opened, she turned towards me.
“Today’s my birthday,” she sobbed. “I’m twenty-one. I’m supposed to be happy, but this is turning out to be the worst day of my life.”
“Kellee, I . . .”
“Shut up,” she said. “Just shut the hell up.” Then she stepped into the elevator and disappeared from sight. She hadn’t taken Sleeping Beauty with her. I looked at the face of the fairy-tale girl on the cover. Every feature was flawless. I sighed, slid the book into my briefcase, and headed down the hall.
Class was supposed to start at 3:00, and it was 3:10 when I got to the seminar room. The unwritten rule of university life is that, after waiting ten minutes for an instructor, students can leave. I had made it just under the wire, and there were groans as I walked through the door. When he saw me, Val Massey gave me a small conspiratorial smile; I smiled back, then looked at the place across the table from him where Kellee Savage usually sat. It was empty.
“Sorry,” I said. “Something’s come up. No class today.”
Jumbo Hryniuk, a young giant who was planning a career hosting “Monday Night Football” but who was saddled nonetheless with my class, pushed back his chair and roared with delight. “Hey, all right!” he said. “We can get an early start on the green beer at the Owl, and somebody told me Tom Kelsoe’s publishers are picking up the tab for the drinks at that party for him tonight.”
Val Massey stood and began putting his books into his backpack. He imbued even this mechanical gesture with an easy and appealing grace. “Tom’s publishers know how to court students,” he said quietly. He looked at me. “Are you going to be there?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Students aren’t the only people Tom’s publishers know how to court.” Then I wrote a reading assignment on the board, told them I hoped I’d see them all at the launch, and headed for the parking lot.
There was a cold rain falling, and the wind from the north was so fierce that it seemed to pound the rain into me. My parking spot was close, and I ran all the way, but I was still soaked to the skin by the time I slid into the driver’s seat. It was shaping up to be an ugly day.
As I waited for the traffic to slow on the parkway, I looked back towards the campus. In the more than twenty years the new campus of the university had existed, not many politicians had been able to resist a speech praising their role in transforming scrub grass and thin topsoil into a shining city on the plain. I had written a few of those rhetorical flourishes myself, but that day as I watched the thin wind-driven clouds scudding off the flatlands, I felt a chill. Set against the implacable menace of a prairie storm, the university seemed insubstantial and temporary, like a theatre set that could be struck at any moment. I was glad when there was a break in the traffic, and I was able to drive towards the city.
Wascana Park was deserted. The joggers and the walkers and the young mums with strollers had been forced indoors by the rain, and I had the road that wound through the park to myself. There was nothing to keep me from thinking about Julie and about how I was going to handle the next few hours. But perversely, the more I tried to focus on the future, the more my mind was flooded with images of the past. Julie and I shared a quarter-century of memories, but I would have been hard pressed to come up with one that warmed my heart. C.S. Lewis once said that happy people move towards happiness as unerringly as experienced travellers head for the best seat on the train. In the time I’d known her, Julie had invariably headed straight for the misery, and she had always made certain she had plenty of seatmates.
Craig Evanson and my late husband, Ian, had started in provincial politics together in the seventies. In the way of the time, Julie and I had been thrown together as wives and mothers. From the first, I had found her brittle perfection alienating, but I had liked and respected her husband. So did everyone else. Craig wasn’t the brightest light on the porch, but he was principled and hardworking.
When we first knew the Evansons, Julie had just given birth to her son, Mark, and she was wholly absorbed in motherhood. The passion with which she threw herself into making her son the best and the brightest was unnerving, and when the unthinkable happened and Mark turned out to be not just average but somewhat below average, I was sure Julie’s world would shatter. She had surprised me. With - out missing a beat, she had cut her losses and regrouped.
She withdrew from Mark completely, and threw herself headlong into a campaign to make Craig Evanson premier of the province. It was a fantastic effort, and it was doomed from the beginning, but Julie’s bitterness when her plans didn’t work out came close to poisoning Craig’s relationship with everyone he cared for. The Evansons’ eventual divorce was a relief to everyone who loved Craig. At long last, we were free of Julie.
But it turned out that Julie had some unfinished business with us. Two months before that blustery March day, several of Craig’s friends had found wedding invitations in our mailboxes. Julie was marrying Reed Gallagher, the new head of the School of Journalism, and the presence of our company was requested. For auld lang syne or for some more complicated reason, most of us had accepted.
Julie had been a triumphant bride. She had every right to be. She had married a successful man who appeared to be wild about her, and the wedding, every detail of which had been planned and executed by Julie, had been textbook perfect. But as I turned onto Lakeview Court and saw Alex’s Audi parked in front of 3870, I felt a coldness in the pit of my stomach. Five weeks after her model wedding, Julie Evanson-Gallagher was about to discover the cruel truth of the verse cross-stitched on the sampler in my grandmother’s sewing room: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
As soon as I pulled up behind the Audi, Alex leaped out, snapped open a black umbrella, and came over. He held the umbrella over me as I got out of the car, and together we raced towards Julie’s porch and rang the doorbell. There was a frosted panel at the side of the door, and Julie’s shape appeared behind it almost immediately, but she didn’t hurry to open the door. When she finally did, she wasn’t welcoming.
“This is a surprise,” she said in a tone which suggested she was not a woman who welcomed surprises. “I was expecting the caterers. Some people are dropping in before Tom Kelsoe’s book launch, and I’m on a tight schedule, so, of course, I’ve had nothing but interruptions.” She smoothed her lacquered cap of silver-blond hair and looked levelly at Alex and me. She had given us our cue. It was up to us to pick it up and make our exit.
“Julie, can we come in out of the rain?” I asked.
“Sorry,” she said, and she stepped aside. She gave us one of her quick, dimpled smiles. “Now, I’m warning you, I don’t have much time to visit.”
Alex’s voice was gentle. “This isn’t exactly a visit, Mrs. Gallagher. We have some bad news.”
“It’s about Reed,” I said.
Her dark eyes darted from me to Alex. “What’s he done?”
“Julie, he’s dead.” I said. “I’m so very sorry.”
The words hung in the air between us, heavy and stupid. The colour drained from Julie’s face; then, without a word, she disappeared into the living room.
Alex turned to me. “You’d better get out of that wet coat,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to be here for a while.”
From the appearance of the living room, Julie’s plans had gone well beyond some people dropping in. Half a dozen round tables covered with green-and-white checked cloths had been set up at the far end of the room. At the centre of each table was a pot of shamrocks in a white wicker basket with an emerald bow on its handle. It was all very festive, and it was all very sad. Less than an hour before, Kellee Savage had sobbed that her twenty-first birthday was turning out to be the worst day of her life. It was hard to think of two members of the sisterhood of women who had less in common than Reed Gallagher’s new widow and the awk - ward and lonely Kellee Savage, but they shared something now: as long as they lived, they would both remember this St. Patrick’s Day as a day edged in black.
Julie was standing near the front window, staring into an oversized aquarium. When I followed the line of her vision I spotted an angelfish, gold and lapis lazuli, gliding elegantly through a tiny reef of coral.
Julie was unnaturally still, and when I touched her hand, it was icy. “Can I get you a sweater?” I asked. “Or a cup of tea?” She didn’t acknowledge my presence. I was close enough to smell her perfume and hear her breathing, but Julie Evanson-Gallagher was as remote from me as the lost continent of Atlantis. Outside, storm clouds hurled themselves across the sky, wind pummelled the young trees on the lawn, and rain cankered the snow piled beside the walk. But in the silent and timeless world of the aquarium, all was serene. I understood why Julie was willing herself into the peace of that watery kingdom; what I didn’t understand was how I could pull her back.
Alex was behind us. Suddenly, he leaned forward. “Look,” he whispered. “There, coming out from the coral. Lionfish – a pair of them.” For a few moments, the three of us were silent, watching. Then Alex said, “They’re amazing, Julie.” They were amazing: large, regal, and as dazzlingly patterned as a bolt of cloth in a street market in Jakarta. They were also menacing. Spines radiated like sunbursts off their sleek bodies and, as they drifted towards us, I instinctively stepped back.
“They’re my favourites,” Julie said.
“Have you ever been stung?” Alex asked.
Julie dimpled. “Oh yes, but I don’t care. They’re so beautiful they’re worth it. Reed doesn’t like them. He wants a dog. Imagine,” she said, “a dog.” For a moment, she was silent.
Then she said, “Was he alone?”
It seemed an odd first question, but Alex was unruffled.
“He was when the landlady found him.”
Julie flinched. “Where was he?”
“At a rooming house on Scarth Street.”
“I want to see him,” she said. Her voice was lifeless.
“If you want, I’ll take you to him,” Alex said. “But I need to know some things first. Could we sit down?”
Julie gestured to one of the tables that had been set up for the party. Alex took the chair across from her. He was silent for a moment, watching her face, then he said, “When did you last see your husband?”
Julie’s answer was almost inaudible. “Last night. Around eight-thirty.”
“Was it usual for you to spend the night apart.”
She looked up defiantly. “Of course not. We’d just had a disagreement.”
“What was the disagreement about?”
Julie shrugged. “I don’t remember. It was just one of those foolish quarrels married people have.”
“But it was serious enough that your husband didn’t come home. Weren’t you concerned?”
“No . . . Reed was angry. I thought he’d just gone somewhere to cool off. I went to bed.”
“Did you try to locate him today?”
Suddenly Julie’s eyes blazed. “Of course I did. I called his office, but he wasn’t there.”
“And that didn’t surprise you?”
“He’s an important man. He doesn’t have a silly little job where he sits at a desk all day.” She leaned forward and adjusted the green bow on the wicker basket. When the ribbon was straight, she looked up warily. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”
“The circumstances of your husband’s death were unusual.”
Alex’s tone was matter-of-fact, but I could see Julie stiffen.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, for one thing, he was dressed oddly.”
Julie’s eyes widened. She was wearing a silk shirt, a cardigan, slacks, and sandals, all in carefully co-ordinated shades of taupe. She glanced reflexively at her own outfit as if to reassure herself that, whatever her husband’s eccentricities, her own clothing was beyond reproach.
Alex leaned towards her. “Was your husband a transvestite?” he asked softly.
Julie leaped up so abruptly that her legs caught the edge of the table. The crystal wine goblet in front of her leaned crazily, then fell. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she snapped. “I don’t know why they’d send someone like you out here in the first place. What are you, some sort of special native constable?”
“I’m not a special anything, just a regular inspector who happens to be Ojibway.”
“I don’t care what kind of native you are,” she said.
She disappeared down the hall, and when she came back she was wearing a trenchcoat and carrying an over-theshoulder bag. “You can leave now,” she said. “I’m going down to the police station to find someone who knows what he’s doing.”
As he zipped his windbreaker, Alex’s face was impassive.
“I’ll give you a lift,” he said. “I don’t think you should be driving right now.”
“I’ve got my car here,” I said. “I can take her, Alex.”
She shot me a venomous look. “So you can relay all the details to your friends? No thanks.”
She headed back into the hall, and I followed her. There was a mirror near the front door and she stopped and checked her makeup.
“Julie, there has to be something I can do,” I said.
Her mirror image looked at me coldly. “Always the girl guide, aren’t you, Joanne? But since you’re so eager to serve, why don’t you phone my guests and tell them the party’s cancelled. The list is by the phone in the kitchen.” Beneath the mirror there was a small bureau. Julie opened its top drawer, took out a key and handed it to me. “Lock up before you leave,” she said. “There was a break-in down the street last week. Put the key through the letter slot when you go.” “I’ll make sure everything’s safe,” I said.
She laughed angrily. “You do that,” she said. Then she opened the door and vanished into the rain.
Alex turned to me. “I’ll call you,” he said. “Right now I’d better get out there and unlock the car before Mrs. G. gets soaked.”
I drew him towards me and kissed him. He smelled of cold rain and soap. “My grandmother used to say that every time we turn the other cheek, we get a new star in our crown in heaven.”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “Let’s hope she’s right. I have a feeling that before Reed Gallagher is finally laid to rest, his widow is going to give us a chance to build up quite a collection.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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An Image in the Lake


The event had been a triumph, but an old political friend once warned me that when a campaign appears to be going too well, somewhere there’s a dragon crawling out of its lair, heading towards your candidate with bedlam on its mind.

Our dragon wasted no time making its appearance. Alison may have been a political novice, but she could judge when applause had reached its peak. When she was handed a John Deere cap, she donned it, waved one last time to the crowd and started towards the back of the stage. There was a tangle of wire cables on the floor. Alison did a quick check to make sure her path was clear, then someone in the crowd called her and she turned towards them. When Alison’s attention shifted, a young blond man in a spiffy golf shirt leaned against the edge of the stage and pushed the tangle of cables into her path.

What happened next was a blur. When Alison turned in the direction that would take her off stage, her foot caught on the wires, and she fell forward. It was a hard fall and for a few agonizing seconds, she was motionless. Maisie handed Colin to Zack, and pushed herself onto the stage and knelt beside Alison, murmuring her nameThe man in the golf shirt pulled out his phone and started taking pictures of Alison lying face down on the stage. Jill had her phone out too, but her camera was pointed at the man, and she was moving towards him.

When she was close enough to be heard, Jill said, “Delete that video,” and her tone was flinty. As soon as I saw the young man’s face, I knew he was Clay Evanson. His likeness to his mother was remarkable, but where Lori’s face radiated innocence; her son’s face was dark with arrogance and anger. He had a press pass on a lanyard around his neck, He grabbed the pass and flashed it at Jill. “I’m a journalist with MediaNation,” he said.

“That’s a coincidence,” Jill said, pulling her photo ID out of her purse and waving it at Clay. “I work for MediaNation too. Delete the video.”

Clay Evanson held his press pass closer to Jill. “Read the name of this ID.”

Jill glanced at the name and shrugged. “I heard you had a summer internship here, Clay. Those internships are a great opportunity for professionals to assess what an intern could bring to our profession. Our CEO would be very disappointed to see that video of you deliberately obstructing Alison Janvier’s path, so you could create a clip that shows her falling flat on her face.”

Clay was sputtering. “Hugh Fairbairn is the CEO, and he’s also my grandfather. I could have you fired.”

Jill’s voice was even. “Hugh and I go way back,” she said. ”He’s a pragmatist He would never fire a colleague for showing him that one of his budding journalists needs a refresher course in ethics. Do yourself a favour — delete that tape.”

Clay’s peaches and cream complexion was mottled by anger. “You really are a c-nt,” he said.

“Strike three,” Jill said, and she touched her phone’s keypad. “Time to let Hugh see you in action.”

Clay’s mouth twisted. “Don’t,” he said. He tapped his keypad. “There. It’s deleted. Now you delete yours.”

Jill was derisive. “No way,” she said. “First rule of journalism: Preserve the evidence.”

Clay spat out the word ‘c-nt’ again, then stalked off.

“A limited vocabulary,” Jill said mildly. “He’ll have to work on that.”


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Burying Ariel

Burying Ariel

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The nails on the fingers that reached out to grab my arm as I left the Faculty Club’s private dining room were bitten to the quick, and the cuticles were chewed raw. The hand belonged to a man whose rage was so fierce he had taken to ripping his own body, but it had become as familiar to me as my own. It was ten minutes to one on the Thursday afternoon before the Victoria Day weekend. The celebration of the old Queen’s birthday may have been a signal to the rest of Canada to unbutton and unwind, but Kevin Coyle’s private demons didn’t take holidays.
“I thought I was going to have to go in there and get you,” he said. “I have news.”
“Kevin, there’s a celebration going on, remember? Today’s the luncheon for Rosalie.”
Behind the Coke- bottle lenses of his horn- rims, his eyes glittered. “Does a party for an old maid who’s finally managed to snag herself a man take precedence over murder?”
By his own assessment, my former colleague in the Political Science department hadn’t drawn a wholly rational breath since a group of female students had accused him of attitudinal harassment two years earlier. I removed his hand from my arm. “Put a sock in it, Kevin. It’s a holiday weekend. I’m declaring a moratorium on tortured metaphors. I don’t want to hear how your reputation as a gentleman and a scholar has been murdered.”
He shook his head. “This murder is no metaphor, Joanne. It’s real, and I’m certain it’s connected to my case. A young man from the library just came up to the Political Science office. He’d been sent to find Livia. Of course, our esteemed head wasn’t there; nor were any of the rest of you. As usual, I was alone, so he delivered the news to me.”
“And the news is . . . “”
“A woman’s body has been found in an archive room in the basement of the library.”
I felt my nerves twang. “Was she a student of ours? Is that why the man was looking for Livia?”
Kevin took off his glasses. I’d never seen him without them. He looked surprisingly vulnerable. “Not a student, Joanne. A colleague. It was Ariel Warren.”
For a moment, I clung to the grace of denial. “No! I just saw her this morning. She was wearing that vintage band jacket she bought to wear to Rosalie’s party.”
“The jacket didn’t protect her,” Kevin said flatly. “I wish it had.” He swallowed hard, as if empathy were an emotion that had to be choked back. “Our profession is a cesspool, but she was a decent young woman.”
Kevin’s reference to Ariel in the past tense had the finality of a tolling bell. I felt my knees go weak. “She was only twenty- seven,” I said.
“Too young to die,” he agreed.
On the other side of the door, there was a burst of laughter. I closed my eyes. I’d known Ariel Warren since she was a child. My first memory of her was at a Halloween party we’d had for my daughter Mieka’s sixth birthday. Ariel had come as a sunflower, with a circle of golden petals radiating from her small face.
“There could be a mistake,” I said, but my voice was forlorn, bereft of hope.
Kevin put his glasses back on and peered at me. “Are you going to cry?”
“Not yet,” I said. “Right now, I’m going over to the library to see what I can find out.” I looked hard at him. “Kevin, I don’t think either of us should say anything more until we’re sure we know the truth.”
His laugh was a bark of derision. “The truth. You’ll never find out the truth about this. Mark my words. They’ll cover up the connection between this death and my case the way they’ve covered up everything else. Either that, or they’ll rearrange the facts to implicate me.”
On a good day I could pity Kevin, but this was not a good day. I had to struggle to keep my composure. “Try to look at this the way a person with an ounce of decency would,” I said. “Someone has been murdered. This isn’t about you.” “That’s where you’re wrong,” Kevin said. “Ariel wouldn’t be in our department if it weren’t for me. And I know for a fact that she’d unearthed something that would exonerate me.”
“Exactly what had she ‘unearthed’?”
He shrugged helplessly. “They killed her before she had a chance to reveal what she’d found. That little coven that set me up will stop at nothing.” He patted my arm. “Tread carefully. I had only three friends in this department, and now it appears that two of them are dead.”
As I watched him disappear down the stairs, I felt the first stirrings of panic. Kevin might be obsessive, but there was nothing wrong with his math. When the charges against him had surfaced, I was one of two people in Political Science who had sided with Kevin Coyle; the other had been Ben Jesse, our department head. Ben was a thoroughly decent man who feared unsubstantiated complaints, however serious, more than confrontation and nasty publicity. It was an ugly time for our department and for our university; it pitted us against one another and ended longstanding friendships.
A man governed by expedience would have thrown Kevin to the wolves, but Ben was a person of principle. He defended Kevin because he believed in fairness and due process. His refusal to cave in to political bullying cost him dearly. In the midst of a lengthy and rancorous encounter with a group of students, Ben suffered a heart attack. He was, they told us later, dead before he hit the floor. Now there was another death.
I reached the library just as a half- dozen police officers were coming through the door from outside. I was in luck; one of the officers was Detective Robert Hallam, the fiancé of Rosalie Norman, our department’s administrative assistant and guest of honour at our luncheon that day.
Robert was a small, dapper man with a choleric temperament and an unshakeable belief that the world was divided into two camps: the good guys and the bad guys. I was both a friend of his beloved and a woman who had chosen a cop for her own beloved, so I had made the cut. In Robert’s estimation, I was one of the good guys, and as soon as he spotted me, he came over.
“You’ve heard about this already?”
“News travels fast at a university,” I said. “I need a favour. Can you tell me the name of the woman who was killed?”
He shook his head. “I just got the call.” Robert scanned the lobby, then pointed to a man in a grey windbreaker who was taking photographs of the area around the elevator.
“Eddie will have some answers,” he said. Robert walked over to the elevators. He and Eddie exchanged a few words; then Eddie handed him some pictures. Robert shuffled through them and came back to me.
 “The identification in the dead woman’s wallet belongs to Ariel Warren,” he said. “The deceased died as a result of a knife in the back. One wound, but it was a doozy. We’ve already sent someone to talk to the next of kin.”
“Are those photographs of Ariel?” I asked.
“They’re of the dead woman,” he said. “I never had the pleasure, so I can’t say for certain that Ariel Warren is the woman in the pictures.”
“Could I see them?”
He hesitated. “They’re graphic, but there’s one that’s not too bad.” He shuffled through the photos again, then held up a Polaroid. My throat tightened: the dark blond hair of the woman slumped on the table had fallen forward, but I could see the curve of her cheek and the shoulder of the scarlet band jacket she’d chosen to celebrate Rosalie’s joy.
“It’s her,” I said.
Robert Hallam’s face was grim. “I figured it was,” he said.
“But when the deceased is a friend of a friend, you always hope you’re wrong. My Rosalie was very fond of that girl.”
A thought occurred to me. “Rosalie still doesn’t know. None of them do. Robert, is it all right if I go back and tell them what’s happened, before the media get the story?”
“You can tell them. Nobody should find out news like this from some jerk with a microphone.”
“I agree,” I said. “This is going to be tough enough. Ariel had a lot of friends in our department.”
“I’m sure she did.” Robert looked thoughtful. “Joanne, tell people to stick around, would you? We’ll need to talk to everybody who knew Ariel. She may have had a lot of friends, but she obviously had at least one enemy.”

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Deadly Appearances

For the first seconds after Andy’s body slumped onto the searing metal of the truck bed, it seemed as if we were all encircled by a spell that froze us in the terrible moment of his fall. Suspended in time, the political people standing behind the stage, hands wrapped around plastic glasses of warm beer, kept talking politics. Craig and Julie Evanson, the perfect political couple, safely out of public view, were drinking wine coolers from bottles. Andy’s family and friends, awkward at finding themselves so publicly in the place of honour, kept sitting, small smiles in place, on the folding chairs that lined the back of the stage. The people out front kept looking expectantly at the empty space behind the podium. Waiting. Waiting.
And then chaos. Everyone wanted to get to Andy. Including me. The stage was about four and a half feet off the ground. Accessible. I stepped back a few steps, took a little run and threw myself onto the stage floor. It was when I was lying on that scorching metal, shins stinging, wind knocked out of me, chin bruised from the hit I had taken, that I saw Rick Spenser.
There was, and still is, something surreal about that moment: the famous face looming up out of nowhere. He was pulling himself up the portable metal staircase that was propped against the back of the truck bed. His body appeared in stages over the metal floor: head, shoulders and arms, torso, belly, legs, feet. He seemed huge. He was climbing those steps as if his life depended on it, and his face was shiny and red with exertion. The heat on the floor of the stage was unbearable. I could smell it. I remember thinking, very clearly, a big man like that could die in this heat, then I turned and scrambled toward Andy. The metal floor was so hot it burned the palms of my hands.
Over the loudspeaker a woman was saying, “Could a doctor please come up here?” over and over. Her voice was terrible, forlorn and empty of hope. As soon as I saw Andy, I knew there wasn’t any point in a doctor.
Andy was in front of me, and I knew he was dead. He looked crumpled – all the sinew and spirit was gone. For the only time since I’d known him, he looked – no other word – insignificant.
The winter after my husband died I had taken a course in emergency cardiac care – something to make me feel less exposed to danger, less at the mercy of the things that could kill you if you weren’t ready for them. As I turned Andy over on his back, I could hear the voice of our instructor, very young, very confident – nothing would ever hurt her. “I hope none of you ladies ever have to use this, but if you do, just remember abc.” I was beginning to tremble. Airway. I took Andy’s chin between my thumb and fore finger and tilted his head back. His flesh felt clammy and flaccid, but the airway was clear. Breathing. I put my ear on his mouth, listened, and watched his chest for a sign of breathing. There was nothing. I was talking to myself. I could hear my voice, but it didn’t sound like me. “Four quick rescue breaths and then c. Check circulation.” I bent over Andy and pinched his nostrils shut. “Oh, I’m sorry, Andy. I’m sorry,” and I bent my mouth to cover his. abc – but I never got to c.
There was a smell on his lips and around his mouth. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Something ordinary and domestic, but there was an acrid edge to it that made me stop. Without forming the thought, I knew I had smelled danger. Then I looked toward the podium and saw Rick Spenser filling the glass from the black Thermos. I didn’t hesitate. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely hold the glass. Water was splashing down his arms and on his belly, but he must have filled his glass because he raised it to his lips. Suddenly the world became narrow and focused. All that mattered now was to keep him from drinking that water. I opened my arms and threw myself at Rick Spenser’s knees. It was a surprisingly solid hit. He fell hard, face down. He must have stunned himself because for a few moments he was very still.
The next few minutes are a jumble. The ambulance came. Spenser regained consciousness. As the attendants loaded Andy on the stretcher, Spenser sat with his legs stretched in front of him like the fat boy in the Snakes and Ladders game. When I walked over to the podium to pick up Andy’s speech portfolio, my foot brushed against his.
In the distance I could hear sirens.
That last day of Andy Boychuk’s life had started out to be one of the best. In June he had been selected leader of our provincial party, and we had planned an end-of-summer picnic so that people could eat, play a little ball and shake hands with the new leader of the Official Opposition.
Simple, wholesome pleasures. But in politics there is always subtext, even at an old-fashioned picnic, and that brilliant August day had enough subtext for a Bergman movie. Nomination fights can be intense, and Andy’s had been particularly fierce because odds were good that we would form the next government. The prize had been worth having. And for more than a few people in the park that day, watching the leadership slip into someone else’s hands had been a cruel blow. Soothing those people, making it possible for them to forgive him for winning, was Andy’s first priority at the picnic, but there was another matter too, and this one was going to need skills that weren’t taught in Political Science 100.
For years, there had been unanswered questions about Andy Boychuk’s domestic life. His wife, Eve, was odd and reclusive. There had been a dozen rumours about her strange behaviour, and now that Andy was leader we had to put those stories to rest.
So behind the homespun pleasures of concession stands selling fresh-baked pies and corn on the cob or chances on quilts and amateur oil paintings, there was a deadly serious purpose. That day we had to begin to lay to rest Andy Boychuk’s ghosts. It wasn’t going to be easy. I had driven into the park earlier that morning to check things out. Two hardmuscled young women had been stringing a sign across the base of the truck bed we were using as a stage. It said, “Andy Boychuk Appreciation Day,” and when I saw it, I crossed my fingers and said, “Let it work. Oh, please, let it be perfect.” For a while it was. The day was flawless: still, blue-skied, hot, and by noon, the fields of summer fallow we were using for parking areas were filled, and we had to ask the farmer who owned them to let us use more. All afternoon the line of cars coming down the hill continued without a break. In the picnic area, the food was hot, the drinks were cold, and the music drifted, pleasant and forgettable, from speakers hung on the trees. Everybody was in a good mood.
Especially Andy. On that August day so full of politics and sunshine and baseball, he was as happy as I had ever seen him.
I’d watched him play a couple of innings in the slo-pitch tournament, and he’d been sensational. He’d come off the field sweating and dirty and triumphant.
“The man can do no wrong today,” he’d said, beaming.
“It’s never too late, Jo. I could still be a major-leaguer.”
And I had laughed, too. “Absolutely,” I said, “but there are five thousand people here today who want to hear this terrific speech I wrote for you, and –”
“And I have to sacrifice a career with the Jays to your vanity.” He grinned and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
“That’s about the way I see it,” I said. “Remember that line from your acceptance speech about how it’s time to put the common good above individual ambition? Well, your chance is here. There’s one bathroom in this entire park that has a functioning hot-water tap, and Dave Micklejohn said that at three-thirty he’ll be lurking there with a fresh shirt for you, so you can get up on that stage and give the people something to tell their grandchildren about.” I looked at my watch. “You’ve got five minutes. Forget the Blue Jays. Think of the common good. The bathroom’s just over the hill – a green building behind the concession stands.”
Andy laughed. “Okay, but you just wait till next year.”
“You bet,” I said, and I stood and watched as he ran up the hill, a slight figure with the slim hips and easy grace of an athlete. At the top, he stopped to talk to a man. I was too far away to see the man’s face, but I would have recognized the powerful boxer’s body anywhere. Howard Dowhanuik had been premier of our province for eleven years, leader of the Official Opposition for seven, and my friend for all that time and more. He was the man Andy succeeded in June, and there was something poignant and symbolic about seeing the once and future leaders, silhouetted against the brilliant blue of the big prairie sky. Even from a distance, it was apparent that their talk was serious and emotional, but finally the crisis seemed resolved, and Howard patted Andy’s shoulder. Then, in the blink of an eye, Andy disappeared over the top of the hill, and Howard was walking toward me, smiling.
“You look happy,” I said.
“I’ve got every reason to be,” he said. “I’m with you. The weather’s great. I managed to get over to the stage in time to hear the fiddlers and I got away before those little girls started dancing. What is it that they call themselves?”
“The Tapping Toddlers,” I said, “and I doubt if they chose the name. My guess is that the parents who let those kids wear hot-pink satin pants and sequinned bras are the ones who came up with it. Sometimes I don’t think we’ve come very far.”
“Sometimes I agree with you.” He shrugged. “Come on, Jo. It’s too nice a day to despair of the human race. Let’s go over and watch the chicken man. I’ll buy you an early supper.” I groaned. “I’ve been eating all day, but I guess the damage is already done. As my grandmother always said, ‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’” And so we walked over to the barbecue pit across the road from the stage. A man from the poultry association was grilling five hundred split broilers.
Up and down he moved, slapping sauce on the chickens with a paintbrush, reaching across the grill to adjust a piece that didn’t seem positioned right, breaking off a burning wing tip with his thick, callused fingers.
Howard’s old hawk’s face was red from the sun and the heat, but he was rapt as he watched the poultry man’s progress.
“Jo, the trouble with politics is that it doesn’t leave you time to enjoy the little things. Look at this guy – I’ll bet he’s cooked two thousand chickens today. He’s a real artist. Go ahead and smile, but see, he knows just when to turn those things. That’s what I’m going to enjoy now that I’m out of it – the simple pleasures.”
“Going to find time to smell the roses, are you?” I said, laughing. “Howard, you’re a fraud. Two days ago you told me that anybody who doesn’t care about politics is dead from the neck down. I don’t think you’re quite ready to trade the back rooms for a bag of briquettes.”
Across the road, the entertainment had ended and the speeches had begun. The loudspeakers squawked out something indecipherable. In the field in front of the stage, the crowd roared, and the man of simple pleasures was suddenly all politics again.
“Whoever that is onstage has really got them going,” he said.
I linked my arm through his. “Are you going to miss all this?” I asked, indicating the scene around us.
“Yeah, of course I am.”
“You could change your mind and run again, you know, or just stay around behind the scenes. Andy could use somebody who knows how to keep things from unravelling.”
“No, I wasn’t cut out to be an éminence grise – lousy fringe benefits.”
The man from the poultry association was taking broilers off the grills now, grabbing the tips of the drumsticks between his thumb and index finger and giving his wrist enough of a flick to propel the chickens into an aluminum baking pan he held in his other hand.
“How about you, Jo? Have you thought any more about running? That guy who won Ian’s seat in the by-election is about as dynamic as a cow fart.”
“Not a chance, Howard. I’m happy right where I am. I think I’m over Ian’s death. The kids are great, and I finally have some time to do what I want to do. This year off from teaching is going to be heaven. And, you know, the speech writing I’m doing for Andy is going to fit in perfectly. It’ll give me some good examples for my dissertation. If I get it done in time for your birthday, I’ll give you the first copy. Want to read a scholarly treatise called ‘Saskatchewan Politics: Its Theory and Practice’?”
“God, no. I might find out that I’ve been doing it wrong all along.” He looked at his watch. “Time for the main event. Let’s grab a plate of chicken. Incidentally, guess who I strong-armed into giving the warm-up speech before Andy comes out.”
“His wife?”
Howard winced. “I’m not a miracle worker, Jo. Although Eve is here today. I saw her in that little trailer thing they’ve got in back of the stage for Andy’s family and the entertainment people.”
“How did she look?”
“The way she always looks when she gets dragged to one of these things – like someone just beamed her down. Anyway, you’re wrong. Eve isn’t introducing Andy. Guess again.”
“Not Craig Evanson.”
Howard pointed at the stage across the road and smiled.
“There he is at the podium.”
“You underestimate yourself,” I said. “You are a miracle worker, especially after that terrible interview last night on Lachlan MacNeil’s show. I can’t believe Andy isn’t more worried about it. I tried to talk to him, you know, but he says people will forget about it in a week, and besides, since everybody knows what MacNeil’s like, no one’ll take it seriously.”
“Julie Evanson’s taking it seriously,” Howard said grimly. “She tracked me down this morning and told me Andy should either resign or be castrated – I think she felt that as the aggrieved party, Craig should have the option of selecting the punishment that fit the crime.”
“Well,” I said, “if Craig decides on castration, I might volunteer to hold his coat. Didn’t you ever take Andy out behind the barn and tell him the boys and girls of the press can play rough? He should have known better. Craig and Julie had just about gotten over Craig’s losing the leadership and what does Andy do? He tells Canadians from coast-to-coast that if we’re elected, Craig had better forget about being deputy premier or attorney general because he’s too dumb.”
“Be fair, Jo, that shithead MacNeil really drove Andy into a corner. All Andy said was that when we’re elected he’ll find a job for Craig that’s suitable to his talents. And you know as well as I do that Craig isn’t the brightest light on the porch.”
“Oh, God, Howard, I know. We all know Craig’s limited, and I’ll even grant you that he shouldn’t be deputy premier or a-g. But he’s a decent man, and more to the point, he almost won. Andy only beat him by ten votes. That’s not much. I wish MacNeil hadn’t made Andy run through that list of all the serious jobs and say Craig wasn’t up to any of them. And I really wish that Andy hadn’t risen to the bait when that twerp asked him to name a job Craig would be capable of handling. Minister of the Family? My dogs could handle that one. No wonder Julie was mad. Speaking of . . . we’d better get over there. Julie’s always been able to look at a crowd of five thousand people and know exactly who wasn’t there to hear her Craig.”
The man from the poultry association opened a metal ice chest, pulled out the last bags of fresh broilers and began laying them on the grills. It was a little after four o’clock. The ballplayers were coming off the diamonds tired and hungry. The poultry man wouldn’t be taking any chickens back to the city with him tonight. For a moment Howard was still, watching, absorbed. Then he shrugged and grabbed my hand.
“Let’s go, lady,” he said. Hand in hand we crossed the road and moved through the crowd toward the stage. When we got close, Dave Micklejohn ran out to meet us. He had been Andy’s executive assistant for as long as I could remember, and his devotion to Andy was as fierce as it was absolute. No one knew how old Dave was – certainly he was past the age suggested for the retirement of civil servants, but he had such energy that his age was irrelevant. He was fussy, condescending and irreplaceable.
That day, as always, he was carrying a clipboard. Also, as always, he was immaculate. He was wearing white, white shorts and a T-shirt imprinted with a picture of Jean- Paul Sartre.
“I like your shirt,” I said.
“I tell everyone he’s running for us in the south end of the province,” he said. “You two were certainly no help. I run my buns off getting that bunch up there at the same time –” he waved at Andy’s family and friends, sitting like kindergarten children on folding chairs along the back of the stage “– and you two vanish into thin air.”
“Howard wanted to watch his hero, the chicken man,” I said. “Anyway, we’re here now. Did you find Andy to give him the fresh shirt?”
“Of course,” he said, “I’m a Virgo. I know the importance of details.”
I reached over and touched his hand. “Dave, don’t be mad at us. You’ve done a wonderful job. How did you ever get Eve to come?”
I could see him thaw. Then, unexpectedly, he looked down, embarrassed. “Well, it wasn’t easy. I had to agree to sneak a piece of quartz onto the podium today. She says the electromagnetic field from the crystal will combine with Andy’s electrical field to erase negativity and recharge energy stores.”
“Oh, God, Dave, no.”
He squared his shoulders, and Sartre rippled defiantly on his chest. “She’s here, isn’t she? And look.” He held up a sliver of rose quartz that glittered benignly in the sunlight. “You can put these things in water, you know. Eve says they charge up the people drinking it and bring them into harmony with their environment. Actually, we had quite a nice talk about it.”
“Why don’t you make Roma a nice cup of water on the rocks?” I pointed to the far end of the stage, where Andy’s mother, Roma, was sitting stiffly, as far away as she could get from her daughter-in-law. “She looks like she could use some harmonizing. Actually, what we probably need is a slab of quartz dropped in the water supply for the whole city – take care of all our problems.” Beside me, Howard gazed innocently in the direction of the ball diamonds.
Dave snapped the clip on his clipboard. “You don’t have to be such a bitch, Jo. In fact, if you could manage to let up a little, I could tell you about our real triumph.” He smoothed the crease of his shorts and looked at me. “Rick Spenser’s here today.”
I was impressed. “What’s he doing here? I know this is big stuff for us, but it’s penny ante for the networks. Why would those guys at cvt send their top political commentator to cover a little picnic on the prairies?”
“I don’t know,” said Dave, “but I’m ecstatic. There are a lot of nice visuals here today – all the little kids guessing how many jellybeans are in the jar, and the old geezers throwing horseshoes and reminiscing. How many points do you think all this heartland charm will be worth in the polls, Jo?”
“You’ll have to ask Howard. He’s the expert.”
But Howard was heading behind the stage, where the major players, as they liked to think of themselves, were talking politics and drinking warm beer out of plastic cups. It didn’t matter. We couldn’t have heard Howard anyway because Craig Evanson had finished, Andy was walking across the stage to the podium, and the crowd was on its feet. They had waited all afternoon for this, the moment when Andy would stand before them. Now he was here and they were wild – clapping their hands together in a ragged attempt at rhythm and calling his name again and again.
“Andy, Andy, Andy.” Two distinct syllables, regular as heartbeats until throats grew hoarse and the beat became thready. We could see Andy clearly now. He was wearing an opennecked shirt the colour of the sky, and when he saw Dave and me, he grinned and waved his baseball cap in the air. The crowd cheered as if he had turned stone to gold. Finally, Andy raised his hands to quiet them, then he turned toward Dave and me and made a drinking gesture.
“Water,” I said.
“Taken care of,” said Dave, and he ran behind the stage and came back carrying a tray with a glass and a black thermal pitcher. When he went by me, he stopped and pointed to a little hand-lettered sign he’d taped to the side of the Thermos: “for the use of andy boychuk only. all others drink this and die.”
I laughed. “So much for the brotherhood of the common man.”
Dave passed the tray to the woman who was acting as emcee for the entertainment. She was a big woman, wearing a flower-printed dress. I remember thinking all afternoon that she must have been suffering from the heat. She handed Andy the tray with a pretty little flourish, and he took it with a gallant gesture.
I moved to the side of the stage. There was a patch of shade there, and it gave me a clear view of Andy and of the crowd. They were arranging themselves for the speech – trying to find a cool spot on their beach towels, pouring watery, tepid drinks out of Thermoses, slipping kids a couple of dollars for the amusement booths that had been set up. Afterward, even the police were astounded at how few people had any real memory of what they saw in those last moments. But I saw, and I remembered.
Andy filled his glass from the Thermos, drank the water, all of it, then opened the blue leather folder that contained the speech I’d written for him. It was a sequence I’d watched a hundred times. But this time, instead of sliding his thumbs to the top of the podium, leaning toward the audience and beginning to speak, he turned to look at Dave and me. He was still smiling, but then something dark and private flickered across his face. He looked perplexed and sad, the way he did when someone asked him a question that revealed real ugliness. Then he turned toward the back of the stage and collapsed. From the time he turned until the time he fell was, I am sure, less than five seconds. It seemed like a lifetime.

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Gail Bowen Bundle

Gail Bowen Bundle

A Collection of Charlie D Mysteries
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Gail Bowen Ebook Bundle

Gail Bowen Ebook Bundle

A Collection of Charlie D Mysteries
tagged : crime
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Gail Bowen GoReader

Gail Bowen GoReader

An Unabridged Audio Collection of Charlie D Mysteries
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also available: Paperback
tagged : women sleuths
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Love You to Death

Love You to Death

Book #1 of the Charlie D. Series
tagged : classics
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Murder at the Mendel

If I hadn’t gone back to change my shoes, it would have been me instead of Izaak Levin who found them dying. But halfway to the Loves’ cottage I started worrying that shoes with heels would make me too tall to dance with, and by the time I got back to the Loves’, Izaak was standing in their doorway with the dazed look of a man on the edge of shock. When I pushed past him into the cottage, I saw why.
I was fifteen years old, and I had never seen a dead man, but I knew Desmond Love was dead. He was sitting in his place at the dining-room table, but his head lolled back on his neck as if something critical had come loose, and his mouth hung open as if he were sleeping or screaming. His wife, Nina, was in the chair across from him. She was always full of grace, and she had fallen so that her head rested against the curve of her arm as it lay on the table. She was beautiful, but her skin was waxen, and I could hear the rattle of her breathing in that quiet room. My friend Sally was lying on the floor. She had vomited; she was pale and her breathing was laboured, but I knew she wouldn’t die. She was thirteen years old, and you don’t die when you’re thirteen.
It was Nina I went to. My relationship with my own mother had never been easy, and Nina had been my refuge for as long as I could remember. I took her in my arms and began to cry and call her name. Izaak Levin was still standing in the doorway, but seeing me with Nina seemed to jolt him back to reality.
“Joanne, you have to get your father. We need a doctor here,” he said.
My legs felt heavy, the way they do in a dream when you try to run and you can’t, but somehow I got to our cottage and brought my father. He was a methodical and reassuring man, and as I watched him taking pulses, looking into pupils, checking breathing, I felt better.
“What happened?” he asked Izaak Levin.
Izaak shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was dead with disbelief. “I don’t know. I took the boat over to town for a drink before dinner. When I got back, I found them like this.” He pointed to a half-filled martini pitcher on the table. At Sally’s place there was a glass with an inch of soft drink in the bottom. “He must have put it in the drinks. I guess he decided it wasn’t worth going on, and he wanted to take them with him.”
There was no need to explain the pronouns. My father and I knew what he meant. At the beginning of the summer Desmond Love had suffered a stroke that had slurred his speech, paralyzed his right side and, most seriously, stilled his hand. He was forty years old, a bold and innovative maker of art and a handsome and immensely physical man. It was believable that, in his rage at the ravages of the stroke, he would kill himself, and so I stored away Izaak’s explanation.
I stored it away in the same place I stored the other memories of that night: the animal sound of retching Nina made after my father forced the ipecac into her mouth. The silence broken only by a loon’s cry as my father and Izaak carried the Loves, one by one, down to the motorboat at the dock. The blaze of the sunset on the lake as my father wrapped Nina and Sally in the blankets they kept in the boat for picnics. The terrible emptiness in Desmond Love’s eyes as they looked at the September sky.
And then my father, standing in the boat, looking at me on the dock, “Joanne, you’re old enough to know the truth here: Sally will be all right, but Des is dead and I’m not sure about Nina’s chances. It’ll be better for you later if you don’t ride in this boat tonight.” His voice was steady, but there were tears in his eyes. Desmond Love had been his best friend since they were boys. “I want you to go back home and wait for me. Just tell your mother there’s been an emergency. Don’t tell her . . .”
“The truth.” I finished the sentence for him. The truth would make my mother start drinking. So would a lie. It never took much.
“Don’t let Nina die,” I said in an odd, strangled voice.
“I’ll do all I can,” he said, and then the quiet of the night was shattered by the roar of the outboard motor; the air was filled with the smell of gasoline, and the boat, low in the water from its terrible cargo, began to move across the lake into the brilliant gold of the sunset. It was the summer of 1958, and I was alone on the dock, waiting.
* * *
Thirty-two years later I was walking across the bridge that links the university community to the city of Saskatoon. It was the night of the winter solstice. The sky was high and starless, and there was a bone-chilling wind blowing down the South Saskatchewan River from the north. I was on my way to the opening of an exhibition of the work of Sally Love. As soon as I turned onto Spadina Crescent, I could see the bright letters of her name on the silk banners suspended over the entrance to the Mendel Gallery: Sally Love. Sally Love. Sally Love. There was something festive and celebratory about those paint-box colours, but as I got closer I saw there were other signs, too, and some of them weren’t so pretty. These signs were mounted on stakes held by people whose faces shone with zeal, and their crude lettering seemed to pulse with indignation: “Filth Belongs in Toilets Not on Walls,” “Jail Pornographers,” “No Room for Love Here” and one that said simply, “Bitch.”
A crowd had gathered. Some people were attempting a counterattack, and every so often a voice, thin and self-conscious in the winter air, would raise itself in a tentative defence: “What about freedom of the arts?” “We’re not a police state yet!” “The only real obscenity is censorship.”
A tv crew had set up under the lights of the entrance and they were interviewing a soft-looking man in a green tuque with the Hilltops logo and a nylon ski jacket that said “Silver Broom: Saskatoon ’90.” The man was one of our city councillors, and as I walked up I could hear his spiritless baritone spinning out the clichés for the ten o’clock news: “Community standards . . . public property . . . our children’s innocence . . . privacy of the home . . .” The councillor’s name was Hank Mewhort, and years before I had been at a political fundraiser where he had dressed as a leprechaun to deliver the financial appeal. As I walked carefully around the camera crew, Hank’s sanctimonious bleat followed me. I had liked him better as a leprechaun.
When I handed my invitation to a commissionaire posted at the entrance, he checked my name off on a list and opened the gallery door for me. As I started through, I felt a sharp blow in the middle of my back. I turned and found myself facing a fresh-faced woman with a sweet and vacant smile.
She was grasping her sign so the shaft was in front of her like a broadsword. She came at me again, but then, very quickly, a city cop grabbed her from behind and led her off into the night. She was still smiling. Her sign lay on the concrete in front of me, its message carefully spelled out in indelible marker the colour of dried blood: “The Wages of Sin is Death.” I shuddered and pulled my coat tight around me. Inside, all was light and airiness and civility. People dressed in holiday evening clothes greeted one another in the reverent tones Canadians use at cultural events. A Douglas fir, its boughs luminous with yellow silk bows, filled the air with the smell of Christmas. In front of the tree was an easel with a handsome poster announcing the Sally Love exhibition. Propped discreetly against it was a small placard stating that Erotobiography was in Gallery III at the rear of the building and that patrons must be eighteen years of age to be admitted.
Very prim. Very innocent. But this small addendum to Sally’s show had eclipsed everything else. To the left of the Douglas fir, a wall plastered with newspaper clippings told the story: Erotobiography consisted of seven pictures Sally Love had painted to record her sexual experiences.
All the pictures were explicit, but the one that had caused the furor was a fresco. A fresco, the local paper noted sternly, is permanent. The colour in a fresco does not rest on the surface; it sinks into and becomes part of the wall. And what Sally Love had chosen to sink into the wall of the publicly owned Mendel Gallery was a painting of the sexual parts of all the people with whom she had been intimate. Erotobio - graphy. According to the newspaper, there were one hundred individual entries, and a handful of the genitalia were female. Nonetheless, community standards being what they are, the work was known by everyone as the Penis Painting.
The exhibition that was opening that night was a large one. Several of the pictures on loan from major galleries throughout North America had been heralded as altering the direction of contemporary art; many of the paintings had been praised for their psychological insights or their technical virtuosity. None of that seemed to matter much.
It was the penises that had prompted the people outside to leave their warm living rooms and clutch the shafts of picket signs in their mittened hands. It was the penises the handsome men and women exchanging soft words in the foyer had come to see. As I walked toward the wing where Nina Love and I had agreed to meet, I was smiling. I had to admit that I wanted to see the penises, too. The rest was just foreplay.
The south wing of the Mendel Gallery is a conservatory, a place where you can find green and flowering things even when the temperature sticks at forty below for weeks on end. When I stepped through the door, the moisture and the warmth and the fragrance enveloped me, and for a moment I stood there and let the cold and the tension flow out of my body. Nina Love was sitting on a bench in front of a blazing display of amaryllis, azalea and bird of paradise. She had a compact cupped in her hand, and her attention was wholly focused on her reflection. It was, I thought sadly, becoming her characteristic gesture.
That night as I was getting ready for Sally’s opening, I’d heard the actress Diane Keaton answer a radio interviewer’s question about how she faced aging. “You have to be very brave,” she’d said, and I’d thought of Nina. Much as I cared for her I had to admit that Nina Love wasn’t being very brave about growing older.
Until Thanksgiving, when she had come to Saskatoon to help care for her granddaughter, Nina and I had kept in touch mostly through letters and phone calls. I’d seen her only on those rare occasions when I was in Toronto to check on my mother.
Illusions were easy at a distance. I was discovering that up close they were harder to sustain. Nina had aged physically, of course, although I suspected the process had been smoothed somewhat by a surgeon’s skill. There were feathery lines in the skin around her dark eyes, a slight sag in the soft skin beneath her jawline. But that seemed to me as inconsequential as it was inevitable. She was still an extraordinarily beautiful woman.
The problem wasn’t with Nina’s beauty; it was with how much of herself she seemed to have invested in her beauty. I couldn’t be with her long without noticing how often her hand smoothed the skin of her neck or how, when she passed a store window, she would seek out her reflection with anxious eyes.
That night at the Mendel as I watched her bending closer to the mirror in her cupped hand, I felt a pang. But Nina had spent a lot of years assuring me that I had value. Now it was my turn. I walked over and sat down beside her. “You’re perfect,” I said, and she was. From the smooth line of her dark hair to her dress – high-necked, longsleeved, meticulously cut from some material that shimmered green and purple and gold in the half light – to her silky stockings and shining kid pumps, Nina Love was as flawless as money and sustained effort could make a woman. She snapped the compact shut and laughed. “Jo, I can always count on you. You’ve always been my biggest fan. That’s why I was so worried when you were late.” Then her face grew serious. “Wasn’t that terrifying out there?”
Our knees were almost touching, but I still had to lean toward Nina to hear her. Sally always said that her mother’s soft, breathy voice was a trick to get everyone to pay attention to nothing but her. Trick or not, as I listened to Nina that winter evening, I felt the sense of homecoming I always felt when I walked through a door and found her waiting.
At that moment, she was looking at me critically. “You seem to be a little the worse for wear.”
“Well, I walked over, and as my grandfather used to say, it’s colder than a witch’s teat out there. Then I had an encounter with someone exercising her democratic right to jab me in the back with her picket sign.”
“Those creatures out there aren’t human,” she said. “It’s been a nightmare for us. Stuart’s phone rings at all hours of the day and night. I’m afraid to take the mail out of the mailbox. Even Taylor is being hurt. Yesterday, a little boy at play school told Taylor her mother should be tied up and thrown in the river.”
“Oh, no, what did Taylor do?”
“She told the boy that at least her mother didn’t have a mustache.”
I could feel the corners of my mouth begin to twitch. “A mustache?”
“According to Taylor, the boy’s mother needs a shave,”
Nina said dryly. “But, Jo, I’m afraid I’m beyond laughing at any of this. I really wonder what can be going through Sally’s mind. First she leaves her husband and child, then she makes a piece of art that outrages everyone and puts Stuart in a terrible position professionally.”
“Nina, I don’t think you’re being fair, at least not about the painting. I don’t know much about these things, but from what I read Sally’s a hot ticket in the art world now. That fresco must be worth a king’s ransom.”
“Oh, you’re right about that, and of course that’s what makes Stuart’s position so difficult. He’s the director, and the director’s duty is to acquire the best. But he also has a board to deal with and a community to appease. Sally could have painted anything else and people would have been all over the place being grateful to her and to Stuart. As they should be. She’s an incredible artist. But she has to have her joke. And so she gives the Mendel a gift that could destroy it. Jo, that fresco of Sally’s is a real Trojan horse.” Nina reached behind her and pulled a faded bloom from an azalea.
“I guess I don’t have much sense of proportion about this. It’s been so terrible for Stuart and, of course, for Taylor.”
“But at least they have you, dear,” I said. “I’m sure Stuart would have broken into a million pieces if you hadn’t been there to make a home for Taylor and for him. You didn’t see him in those first weeks after Sally left. He was like a ghost walker. She was the centre of his life . . .”
Nina’s face was impassive. “She’s always the centre of everybody’s life, isn’t she? Right from the beginning . . .”
But she didn’t finish the sentence. Stuart Lachlan had come into the conservatory.
“Look, there he is at the door. Doesn’t he look fine?” she said.
Stu did, indeed, look fine. As I’d told Nina, his suffering after Sally left had been so intense it seemed to mark him physically. But tonight he looked better – tentative, like a man coming back from a long illness, but immaculate again, as he was in the days when he and Sally were together. He was a handsome man in his late forties, dark-eyed, dark-haired, with the taut body of a swimmer who never misses a day doing laps. He was wearing a dinner jacket and a surprising and beautiful tie and cummerbund of flowered silk. When he leaned over to kiss me, his cheek was smooth, and he smelled of expensive aftershave.
“Merry Christmas, Jo. With everything else that’s been going on, the birthday of the Prince of Peace seems to have been lost in the shuffle. But it’s good to be able to wish you joy in person. Your coming here to teach was the second best thing to happen this year.”
“I don’t have to ask you what the first was. Nina’s obviously taking wonderful care of you. You look great, Stu, truly.”
 “Well, the tie and the cummerbund are Nina’s gift. Cosmopolitan and unorthodox, like me, she says.” He laughed, but he looked at me eagerly, waiting for his compliment. I smiled past him at Nina, the shameless flatterer. “She’s right, as usual. Do you have time to sit with us for a minute?” “No, I’m afraid it’s time for me to make my little talk and get this opening underway. I just came in to get Nina.”
Then, flawlessly mannered as always, he offered an arm to each of us. “And of course to escort you, Jo.”
It had been a long time since I’d needed an escort, but when we walked into the foyer, I was glad Stuart was there for Nina. The picketers had come through the door. They couldn’t have been there long because nothing was happening.
They had the punchy look of game show contestants who’ve won the big prize but aren’t sure how to get offstage. The people in evening dress were eying them warily, but everything was calm. Then the tv cameras came inside, and the temperature rose. Someone pushed someone else, and little brush fires of violence seemed to break out all over the room. A woman in an exquisite lace evening gown grabbed a picket sign from a young man and threw it to the floor and stomped on it. The young man bent to pull the sign out from under her and knocked her off balance. When she fell, a man who seemed to be her husband took a swing at the young picketer. Then another man swung at the husband and connected. I heard the unmistakable dull crunch of fist hitting bone, and the husband was down. Then the police were all around and it was over.

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One Fine Day You're Gonna Die

One Fine Day You're Gonna Die

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Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries
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The Brutal Heart

My husband’s birthday is May 1, the day when Mother Nature officially declares the garden of earthly delights open for the season. It’s a good fit for a man with a lusty heart and the greatest passion for life of anyone I’ve ever known. When we began to plan the barbecue we were hosting to celebrate Zack’s fiftieth, I reminded him that the rule for the number of guests at children’s parties was the child’s age plus two. Undeterred, Zack kept adding names, and we mailed out seventy-five invitations. It promised to be a lively crowd: our family, Zack’s law partners and associates, friends of mine from the university and politics, people we simply wanted to get to know better. On the afternoon of the party, Zack came home early and together we made a last pass through the house, making sure everything was where it should be. As we checked out the rented crystal in the kitchen, Zack was impatient. “Come on,” he said. “If there aren’t enough glasses, people can drink out of the bottles. There’s something I want to show you outside.”

“I’m all yours,” I said. He grinned. “And I’m all yours. Now come with me.” He steered his wheelchair across the deck onto the ramp that led to the side of the house. Before we turned the corner, he reached up and took my hand. “Prepare to be dazzled,” he said. And I was dazzled. Sometime during the day, our forsythia had burst into full golden bloom. It was the first splash of colour from the summer palette, and for a moment we stood, hand in hand, simply letting the brilliance wash over us.

“My God, that’s a beautiful sight,” Zack said. “I love that bush. I love this house. I love our life, and I love you — not in that order, of course.”

“Of course not.” I leaned down and kissed him. “It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Since Ned died, you’ve been pretty unreachable.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. There was something I had to take care of, and I was trying to keep you out of it.”

“Zack, I don’t want to be kept out.” He met my eyes, and I could see the pain of the last two weeks etched on his face. “Who was it who said that it’s the loose ends of our lives that hang us?”

“Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”

“Nope, because the problem’s gone. I’ve taken care of it — at least I hope I have.” He took out his pocket knife, cut a twig of blossoms from the bush, and handed it to me. “For you,” he said. “The dark days are over. Let’s get back to having the time of our lives.”

I stuck the forsythia in the buttonhole of his jacket. “I’ll drink to that,” I said. “In fact, why don’t you mix up a couple of Ned’s Bombay Sapphire specials and we’ll christen those snazzy new martini glasses I gave you.”

Zack made the drinks, and we took them to the deck and waited for our guests to arrive. It was a five-star afternoon — filled with birdsong and blooming. Signs of new life were everywhere. The trees along the creek banks fuzzed green, the Japanese lilacs against our fence were in tight bud, and the first bright shoots were pushing through the perennial beds. As I sipped my martini and turned my face to the sun, I could feel myself unknot. When our guests began arriving, it seemed that they, too, were shrugging off the heaviness of winter. Free at last of the burden of boots and jackets, our granddaughters raced around the fishpond, thrilled by the possibility that a careless step could send them into the shining waters where they could splash with the koi until responsible hands plucked them out. The adults were equally light-hearted. Shoes were kicked off and sweaters abandoned. The bar was well stocked, the appetizers were piquant, and the arrival of a surprise political guest set the freshets of rumour and innuendo rolling.

Our country was in the midst of a federal election that was too close to call, and one of the tightest, dirtiest battles was being waged in our riding. The incumbent, Ginny Monaghan, had stopped by to wish Zack many happy returns, and no matter their political stripe, our guests were riveted by her presence.

Six months earlier, I had interviewed Ginny for a television project I was working on about women in politics. We met at her Regina constituency office at the end of what must have been an exhausting day for her. She’d flown from Ottawa that morning and been in meetings all day, but as she swept the remains of someone else’s fast-food chicken dinner into a wastebasket, put her feet up on the newly cleared desk, and discussed her future, Ginny exhibited the same energy and unshakeable confidence she’d shown twenty years earlier when she’d been the ponytailed captain of the Canadian women’s basketball team. The night of the interview, it seemed that nothing could alter the smooth trajectory of her plan to become Canada’s next prime minister.

From the moment Ginny’s team medalled at the Olympics, she hadn’t taken a false step. She had hired a sports agent, who negotiated the endorsement deals that turned her bronze medal into gold. Then, without breaking a sweat, she finished her degree in marketing; signed on as the public face of an investment conglomerate; married Jason Brodnitz, the handsome and ambitious vice-president of a rival conglomerate; produced engaging twin daughters; and ran successfully for the Conservatives, the party currently in power. Grudgingly accepting the fact that he had a rising star in his caucus, the prime minister appointed Ginny minister of Canadian heritage and the status of women, and she was on her way. It had been a flawless performance, but then Ginny and Jason’s marriage had imploded, and the personal became political.

For months, Ginny’s supporters had been gleeful at the prospect of an election that would allow her to display her intelligence, showcase her appealing family, and position herself for the leadership race ahead. But when the writ was dropped, Ginny was not shaking hands and burnishing her profile, she was closeted with her lawyer preparing for a court battle for custody of her fourteen-year-old twins. Any confirmation in court of her rumoured sexual rapacity and her seeming indifference to her children might cost her not just custody of her daughters but her political future. Sean Barton, a young associate at Zack’s law firm, was representing Ginny. He was good, but his case was not. Ginny had been careless. Like many people on whom the sun has steadily shone, she believed she was invincible. Jason Brodnitz had been smarter. He was a player, but he was a player who appeared to know how to cover his tracks. He also knew how to hire a private investigator. Ginny was in big trouble.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Early Investigations of Joanne Kilbourn

For the first seconds after Andy’s body slumped onto the searing metal of the truck bed, it seemed as if we were all encircled by a spell that froze us in the terrible moment of his fall. Suspended in time, the political people standing behind the stage, hands wrapped around plastic glasses of warm beer, kept talking politics. Craig and Julie Evanson, the perfect political couple, safely out of public view, were drinking wine coolers from bottles. Andy’s family and friends, awkward at finding themselves so publicly in the place of honour, kept sitting, small smiles in place, on the folding chairs that lined the back of the stage. The people out front kept looking expectantly at the empty space behind the podium. Waiting. Waiting.

And then chaos. Everyone wanted to get to Andy.

Including me. The stage was about four and a half feet off the ground. Accessible. I stepped back a few steps, took a little run and threw myself onto the stage floor. It was when I was lying on that scorching metal, shins stinging, wind knocked out of me, chin bruised from the hit I had taken, that I saw Rick Spenser.

There was, and still is, something surreal about that moment: the famous face looming up out of nowhere. He was pulling himself up the portable metal staircase that was propped against the back of the truck bed. His body appeared in stages over the metal floor: head, shoulders and arms, torso, belly, legs, feet. He seemed huge. He was climbing those steps as if his life depended on it, and his face was shiny and red with exertion. The heat on the floor of the stage was unbearable. I could smell it. I remember thinking, very clearly, a big man like that could die in this heat, then I turned and scrambled toward Andy. The metal floor was so hot it burned the palms of my hands.

Over the loud-speaker a woman was saying, “Could a doctor please come up here?” over and over. Her voice was terrible, forlorn and empty of hope. As soon as I saw Andy, I knew there wasn’t any point in a doctor.

Andy was in front of me, and I knew he was dead. He looked crumpled — all the sinew and spirit was gone. For the only time since I’d known him, he looked — no other word — insignificant.

The winter after my husband died I had taken a course in emergency cardiac care — something to make me feel less exposed to danger, less at the mercy of the things that could kill you if you weren’t ready for them. As I turned Andy over on his back, I could hear the voice of our instructor, very young, very confident — nothing would ever hurt her. “I hope none of you ladies ever have to use this, but if you do, just remember ABC.” I was beginning to tremble. Airway. I took Andy’s chin between my thumb and forefinger and tilted his head back. His flesh felt clammy and flaccid, but the airway was clear. Breathing. I put my ear on his mouth, listened, and watched his chest for a sign of breathing. There was nothing. I was talking to myself. I could hear my voice, but it didn’t sound like me. “Four quick rescue breaths and then c. Check circulation.” I bent over Andy and pinched his nostrils shut. “Oh, I’m sorry, Andy. I’m sorry,” and I bent my mouth to cover his. ABC — but I never got to C.

There was a smell on his lips and around his mouth. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Something ordinary and domestic, but there was an acrid edge to it that made me stop. Without forming the thought, I knew I had smelled danger.

Then I looked toward the podium and saw Rick Spenser filling the glass from the black Thermos. I didn’t hesitate. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely hold the glass. Water was splashing down his arms and on his belly, but he must have filled his glass because he raised it to his lips.

Suddenly the world became narrow and focused. All that mattered now was to keep him from drinking that water. I opened my arms and threw myself at Rick Spenser’s knees. It was a surprisingly solid hit. He fell hard, face down. He must have stunned himself because for a few moments he was very still.

The next few minutes are a jumble. The ambulance came. Spenser regained consciousness. As the attendants loaded Andy on the stretcher, Spenser sat with his legs stretched in front of him like the fat boy in the Snakes and Ladders game. When I walked over to the podium to pick up Andy’s speech portfolio, my foot brushed against his.

In the distance I could hear sirens.


That last day of Andy Boychuk’s life had started out to be one of the best. In June he had been selected leader of our provincial party, and we had planned an end-of-summer picnic so that people could eat, play a little ball and shake hands with the new leader of the Official Opposition. Simple, wholesome pleasures. But in politics there is always subtext, even at an old-fashioned picnic, and that brilliant August day had enough subtext for a Bergman movie.

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The Endless Knot

The Endless Knot

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
also available: Paperback
tagged : women sleuths
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Chapter 1
As I bent down to cut the last of our marigolds on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I was as happy as I could remember being. The stems of the flowers were cool against my fingers, and their sturdy beauty and acrid scent evoked memories of marigolds hastily picked by my kids and carried off, stems sheathed in wax paper and anchored by elastic bands, to be given to a teacher or abandoned on the playground. It was a morning for remembering, as filled with colour and ancient mystery as a Breugel painting. Above me, skeins of geese zigzagged into alignment against the cobalt sky. The high clear air rang with their cries. A north wind, urgent with change, lifted the branches of our cottonwood tree, shaking the leaves loose and splashing the lawn with gold. Beneath my feet last week’s fallen leaves, bronze and fragile as papyrus, crackled into the cold earth.

For the first time in a long time, there was nowhere I had to be. I was on sabbatical, expanding an article I’d written about the emerging values war in Canada into a book. It was an open-­ended project that I found easy to pick up and easier to put down. My three grown children were living independent lives marked by the usual hurdles but filled with promise. They were all strong and sensible people, so I crossed my fingers, enjoyed their company, and prayed that the choices they made would bring them joy. Since my son, Angus, had enrolled in the College of Law in Saskatoon the month before, my younger daughter and I had been alone in our house. We missed Angus, but Taylor was just about to turn eleven, and the world was opening up to her. Listening as she spun the gossamer of unexplored possibilities was a delight neither of us ever wearied of.

Freed from the tyranny of a timetable, I read books I’d been meaning to read, gazed at art with an unhurried eye, listened to music I loved, and revelled in the quiet pleasures of the season Keats celebrated for its mist and mellow fruitfulness.

Best of all, there was a new man. His name was Zachary Shreve and he’d brought with him a piercing happiness I’d forgotten existed. But I had just celebrated a birthday. I was fifty-­six and as I walked back into the house, my joy was edged with autumn’s knowledge that nothing gold can stay.

The kitchen phone was ringing. I dropped the marigolds in the sink and picked up, expecting to hear Zack’s voice. For the last eight weeks he’d been putting in twelve-­hour days — first on a case involving the death of a homeless man who had the bad luck to seek shelter in a warehouse on the night the warehouse owner set his property on fire, and now on a high-­profile case of attempted murder. Zack called often — mostly just to talk but, if we were lucky, to arrange time together. My caller ­wasn’t the man I loved. It was my old friend, Jill Oziowy, who, after a heady New York experience, had decided to return to the relative sanity of Toronto and her old job as producer of Nationtv’s Canada Tonight. As always, Jill ­didn’t waste time on preamble.

“How would you like to go once more into the breach for Nationtv?”

I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear, picked up the vase on the counter and started filling it with water. “Not a chance,” I said.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Further Investigations of Joanne Kilbourn

A Colder Kind of Death

chapter 1

Three minutes before the Hallowe’en edition of “Canada This Week” went on the air I learned that the man who murdered my husband had been shot to death. A technician was kneeling in front of me, adjusting my mike. Her hair was smoothed under a black skull-­cap, and she was wearing a black leotard and black tights. Her name was Leslie Martin, and she was dressed as a bat.

“Check the Velcro on my wing, would you, Jo?” she asked, leaning towards me.

As I smoothed the Velcro on Leslie’s shoulder, I glanced at the tv monitor behind her.

At first, I ­didn’t recognize the face on the screen. The long blond hair and the pale goat-­like eyes were familiar, but I ­couldn’t place him. Then the still photograph was gone. In its place was the scene that had played endlessly in my head during the black months after Ian’s death. But these pictures ­weren’t in my head. The images on the tv were real. The desolate stretch of highway; the snow swirling in the air; the Volvo stationwagon with the door open on the driver’s side; and on the highway beside the car, my husband’s body with a dark and bloody spillage where his head should have been.

The sound was turned off. My hand tightened on Leslie’s shoulder. “What happened there?” I asked.

Leslie turned towards the monitor. “I just heard part of it myself, but apparently that guy with the long hair was killed. He was out in the exercise yard at the penitentiary and someone drove past and shot him. He was dead before he hit the ground.”

She stood and moved out of camera range. “Two minutes to showtime,” she said. Through my earpiece, I heard the voice of the host of “Canada This Week.”

“Happy Hallowe’en, Regina,” he said. “What’ll it be: ‘Trick, or Treat’?”

Beside me, Senator Sam Spiegel laughed. “Trick,” he said.

“Okay,” the voice from Toronto said. “We’ll start with nafta.”

Sam groaned. “Why do we always have to talk about nafta?”

The host’s voice was amiable. “Ours is not to wonder why, Sam. Now, I’ll go to you first. Is the fact that environmental regulations ­aren’t being equally enforced by our trading partners having an impact on investor confidence up here?”

Sam looked cherubic. “Beats me,” he said.

Another voice, this one young and brusque, came through the earpiece. “This is Tom Brook in Toronto.

Washington, is there any sign of Keith yet?”

I looked over at the monitor. The image of my husband’s body had been replaced by images of Keith Harris, the third member of the “Canada This Week” panel. Keith was late, and as he slid into his chair and clipped on his lapel mike, he grinned apologetically. “I’m here. In the flesh, if not yet in the spirit. We’re in the middle of a storm, and I ­couldn’t get a taxi. Sorry, everybody.”

The sight of Keith’s private face, unguarded and gentle as his public face never was, stirred something in me. Until three weeks earlier, Keith had been the man in my life. At the outset, he had seemed an unlikely choice. We had both lived lives shaped by party politics; philosophically, we were as far apart as it is possible for reasonable people to be. Somehow, after the first hour we spent together, that ­hadn’t mattered. Keith Harris was a good man, and until he had taken a job in Nationtv’s Washington bureau at the beginning of summer, we had been happy. But distance had divided us in a way politics had not. Passion became friendship, and when Keith came to Regina for Thanksgiving he told me he had met someone else. I was still trying to sort out how I felt about that news.

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The Gifted

The Gifted

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
tagged : women sleuths
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The Glass Coffin

If ever in her short life Linn Brokenshire had prayed for a good death, God hadn’t been listening. When she leapt from the top floor of Hart House on a bright October afternoon, bystanders said that midway into her plunge she seemed to change her mind, screaming the word “No” as she plummeted through the gold autumn air. No one who witnessed Linn’s fall would ever forget the anguish of that single word; nor would they forget how, hands clutching her worn copy of the New Testament, body trim in college-girl tartan, Linn had smashed into the pavement below. At her funeral, a lifelong friend eulogized her as a girl whose mind had broken when she couldn’t reconcile what university taught her with what she had learned in Sunday school. The eulogist was a simple man whose eyes welled when he said that Linn was the gentlest, most considerate girl he had ever known and that if she had ever imagined her death would hurt so many people it would have killed her.
Seven years later, Annie Lowell met death in a manner that also seemed unnaturally cruel. Her life had been an act of defiance, a middle finger raised at the black spikes and slow waves that characterized the brainwave pattern she shared with Dostoevsky, Van Gogh, Napoleon, and millions of other epileptics. Wild at the post- production party of a film that later proved to be her breakthrough as an actor, she had pocketed the keys of a fellow guest, slipped down to the parking garage, and driven his Porsche at a speed the police clocked at 200 clicks before she ploughed into an oncoming semi and was decapitated. Free at last of the endless procession of doctors who had peered over her electroencephalograms and grimly pronounced her fate.
Linked by the tragedy of dying young, Linn and Annie shared another bond. Both had been married to the same man, a filmmaker named Evan MacLeish. When the first two Mrs. MacLeishes had departed this world at an age well short of their Biblical allotment of three score and ten, Evan hadn’t wasted any time shaking a fist at the heavens; instead, he had kept his video camera rolling. The artist as alchemist, he had transferred his video to film and in so doing transformed the tragedy of his double loss into the gold of careerbuilding movies.
As I flicked off the vcr in my family room that chilly December morning, I had to admit the movies were brilliant. My admiration for the work did not extend to its maker. In my opinion, Evan MacLeish was a scumbag who, in violating the trust of two women who had loved him, had established himself as the lousiest choice for a life partner since Bluebeard.
But my friend Jill Osiowy hadn’t asked my opinion. In thirty- six hours, barring cosmic catastrophe, she would become the third Mrs. Evan MacLeish. I am by nature an optimistic woman, but I wasn’t counting on a shower of meteorites.
When it came to men, there had never been any happilyever- afters for Jill. She was a terrific woman: loyal, generous, honest, and, like Winnie the Pooh, unobtrusively at your side when you needed her. She was also a consummate professional who for twenty- five years had succeeded in the airkissing, daggers- drawn, axe- grinding, ego- driven world of network television without sacrificing either her sense of humour or her integrity. Simply put, she was amazing, but her built- in radar for bullshit flamed out as soon as a man came into her life. The best of Jill’s men were stud- muffins, big, tall pieces of man-candy whose Speedos were better filled than their noggins; the worst were drinkers, slackers, stoners, gamblers, liars, and, during one of the darkest periods of both our lives, a sociopath who abused her trust and her body. When she analyzed her history of romantic disasters, Jill had 20:20 vision. She had, she would sigh, been dumber than dirt. Those of us who cared for her sipped deeply from whatever we were sipping and remained silent. There was no point in arguing with the truth. Now Jill was in love again, and this time she was apparently convinced that the object of her affection was not just Mr. Right Now but Mr. Right.
To be fair, the rest of the world would have seen Evan MacLeish as the answer to a maiden’s prayer. His documentaries drove critics to cringe- making clichés like “darkly nuanced” and “soul- shatteringly intimate.” Serious film fans deconstructed his oeuvre in earnest Internet chat rooms. Most importantly, he was on the A-list of every agency that cut the cheques that make movie production possible. No doubt about it, Evan’s future was, in the words of the hit song, so bright, you had to wear shades, yet when Jill had called from Toronto, where she’d been working as an independent producer, to announce her surprise engagement, she had been oddly reticent about the man she was going to marry. As she discussed her plans for a wedding in Regina with all her friends around her, she had fizzed with enthusiasm about Evan’s seventeen- year- old daughter, Bryn, but when I’d pressed her for details about Bryn’s father, she’d stonewalled, finally e- mailing me an interview with Evan MacLeish that had appeared in the New York Times. The writer, himself a young filmmaker, had clearly been awe - struck in the presence of the great man. The toughest of his questions were soft lobs, and Evan hit them out of the ballpark. As he discussed an upcoming retrospective of his work, Evan was thoughtful and articulate. He was also, if the tiny photo on my computer screen was to be believed, as craggily handsome as the hero of a Harlequin romance. Looking at him, I could almost understand how Jill had convinced herself that she had caught the brass ring; what I couldn’t understand was how she could have missed the smear of blood on her shining prize.
The Times article had been hagiography, but the subtext of the dead wives alarmed me enough to phone Jill back and ask if Evan’s track record didn’t raise any red flags for her. She’d dodged the question. “Just be happy for me,” she said. “Then give me a break,” I said. “Fill me in on the man who’s going to be guiding your hand as you slice into the wedding cake.”
“If you want to know about Evan, look at his movies,” she said.
I’d come up empty at our local video stores, but I found a distributor on the Internet who promised to rush order the two films I was keen to see: Leap of Faith, Evan’s documentary about the life and death of his first wife, and Black Spikes and Slow Waves, Annie Lowell’s story. The distributor’s definition of “rush order” apparently gave him a lot of wiggle room. The videos hadn’t arrived until the day before Jill’s wedding, but despite the fact that I had beds to make and bathrooms to clean, I’d hunkered down to watch.
It had been a mistake. There was no disputing the value of the movies as art. Evan MacLeish had been a graduate student when he made Leap of Faith, and it was clear from the grainy images and jerky transitions between scenes that the movie had been shot on the fly and on the cheap. That said, it was a coolly professional piece of work without a single extraneous frame or moment of self- indulgence. Evan’s portrait of a woman whose mind had shattered when it collided with rationalist teachings inimical to her faith was the work of a mature artist who set his sights on a target and hit it.
But the very assurance of the film raised an unsettling question about Evan’s relationship with his subject. In theory, his was the camera’s eye, unblinking, dispassionate, yet Linn continually addressed the man behind the camera, pleading with him, arguing with him, begging him to see her truth. In the scene before her suicide, she stared directly into the camera’s lens and sang the children’s hymn, “Jesus Bids Us Shine,” which ends with the image of a personal saviour who wants nothing more than to look down from heaven and see his followers shine “you in your small corner, and I in mine.” Eyes red from weeping, Linn begged her young husband for something to replace the Jesus who had been ripped from her heart. Evan didn’t even offer her a tissue. To my mind, that suggested a detachment bordering on the monstrous.
Evan MacLeish’s film about the life and death of his second wife was the work of a man at the top of his game. He had learned many lessons in the decade between Leap of Faith and Black Spikes and Slow Waves, but apparently he hadn’t mastered compassion. Annie Lowell was an actor by profession and she clearly knew her way around a camera, but Evan’s betrayal of her was as complete as his betrayal of her sweet- faced predecessor. As I watched his meticulous recording of Annie’s attempt to embrace all of life pleasures before the screen faded to black, I wondered how the filmmaker could have subsumed the husband so completely. Annie was clearly a woman bent on self- destruction. Why hadn’t the man who loved her stopped her?
I had tried all day to banish the images of Evan MacLeish’s wives by busying myself with the Mrs. Dalloway rounds of a woman planning a party, but the agony of these two very different women had burned itself into me. As I stood by the front door waiting to meet Jill and the man whose camera had captured those images, I had moved beyond concern to dread.
It was the night before the winter solstice. When I had offered to hold the rehearsal dinner at our house, my eighteen- year- old son, Angus, who was habitually short of cash but long on inspiration, put himself in charge of producing a seriously great event. It had taken him many hours at the computer to ferret out traditions that weren’t flaky, but as I watched him sprint down the walk in his cut- offs and Mr. Bill sweatshirt, igniting the pine tar and paraffin torches that he had wrapped and hand- dipped, I knew that at least one of his decisions was a knockout. Within seconds, a dozen flames licked hungrily at the thin winter air and the scents of smouldering pine tar and peat smoke drifted towards us.
My eight- year- old daughter leaned over the porch rail to watch the flames. “Angus says people used to build bonfires and light torches on the longest night of the year, so the spirits of the dead would stay away and the sun would remember to come back, but Mr. Kaufman says the dead don’t have spirits and the sun just appears to come back because the earth starts to tilt the right way.”
“What do you think?” I asked.
Taylor traced a pattern with her toe in the skiff of snow on our front porch. “I kind of like Angus’s story better,” she said.
 “So do I,” I said. “But, of course, I still believe in gnomes and pixies.”
Taylor grinned. “Is that why you stayed in the garage with Angus when he was making his torches?”
I drew her close. “Nope,” I said. “I just wanted to make sure there was someone there to drag him out if that tar and paraffin he was heating exploded.”
“I heard that!” Angus twirled his torch triumphantly in the air. “As you can see, I’m still here. You worry too much, Mum.”
“Just about the people I love.”
“And that includes Jill,” Angus said. He peered down the street. “Hey, there are two taxis headed our way. This party is finally ready to rock and roll.”
“Not without me, it isn’t.” Taylor jumped off the porch and ran down the walk. I followed her.
As the first cab pulled up, Angus gave me a searching look. “You could try smiling,” he said. “You’re so weird about this wedding. Is there something the matter with this Evan guy?”
“I hope not.”
“Give him a chance. That’s what you always tell us.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll keep an open mind.” But the power of positive thinking was no match for the lingering intensity of the images captured by Evan MacLeish. Clearly, he was one hell of a filmmaker. As the second taxi slowed in front of my house, I knew in my bones that neither science nor dancing flames would keep the spirits of Linn Brokenshire and Annie Lowell from the party celebrating the marriage of one of my oldest friends to the man who had once been their husband.
As Evan MacLeish eased out of the taxi, I felt my nerves twang. There was no denying the fact that he was a stunningly attractive man, but he had the kind of physical presence that intimidates. He was tall, well over six feet, with a body so powerful that the exquisite tailoring of his handsome winter coat couldn’t disguise it. He bent to help Jill out of the car, then stepped towards me. His mane of greying hair curled onto his collar, a Samson image of potency, and his features were strong: heavy eyebrows, a large nose, full almost feminine lips, a cleft in his chin. For a beat, he looked around, taking in the scene, then his gaze settled on me. He had a sentry’s eyes, icy and observant. “The matron of honour,” he said, and he opened his arms to me.
My response was atavistic and unforgivable. I froze, drawing my arms against my sides like a child steeling herself against the embrace of a loathsome relative. It was a gesture of stunning rudeness; one of those jaw- dropping episodes that offers no possibility of a graceful recovery. Evan raised an eyebrow. “Fearful of the villain’s clutches?” he said.
I was fumbling for an answer when Jill joined us. Tall and lithe, Jill was born to wear clothes well. She was not a classical beauty. Her hazel eyes were a touch too close together, and her smile was endearingly crooked, but that night, in her full- length hooded cloak, she had the timeless elegance of the heroine in a medieval romance.
Her face glowing with cold and excitement, she threw her arms around me. “Jo, it is so good to see you. And look at those torches! Absolutely spectacular!”
“You’re looking pretty spectacular yourself,” I said shakily. “That cloak didn’t come from Value Village.”
“My soul is still Value Village, but this is a gift from my mother- in- law- to- be. She wore it to her wedding.”
“A woman who appreciates you,” I said. “I can hardly wait to meet her.”
“Maybe some day,” Jill averted her eyes.
“She’s not coming?”
“She doesn’t travel,” Jill said.
 “Not even for her son’s wedding?”
“Caroline MacLeish is a complicated woman,” Jill said. “But let’s not talk about her now. I just want to enjoy being here in Regina with you and your family. I know you must be swamped this close to Christmas.”
“That’s why I stepped in,” Angus said airily. “So Mum could just do all that cooking and stuff she likes to do at Christmas.”
Jill rested a hand on each of his shoulders and gave him an assessing look. “You know when you were a kid, you were a wild man, but you’re improving with age.”
“How about me?” Taylor said.
“Still a question mark,” Jill said with mock gravity, “but definitely showing promise. Now, let me introduce you to my prize.” Jill brushed past her husband- to- be and held out her hand to the girl still waiting inside the taxi. “This is Bryn MacLeish,” she said.
I was watching my son’s face as Bryn got out of the car, and I knew that while the calendar might say we were on the cusp of winter, Angus had just been struck by the summer lightning of love at first sight. At seventeen, Bryn made the cut when it came to the criteria for junior goddess: shoulderlength raven hair, centre- parted, pale translucent skin, huge watchful eyes, wide generous mouth. She was wearing a vintage A- line coat, claret with a black Persian lamb collar – demure, yet sexy, the kind of outfit Audrey Hepburn might have worn in Roman Holiday.
Jill touched my arm. “Wasn’t she worth waiting for?”
I was surprised at the tenderness in her voice. “Discovering the joys of motherhood?” I asked.
Evan MacLeish answered for her. “As if she’d invented it,” he said. “But to get the child, Jill must take the father.” His tone was matter of fact, that of a man stating a simple equation.
The three other members of the wedding party had sent off their cab and trailed over to the sidewalk, waiting to be introduced. Jill was oblivious. Her eyes hadn’t left Bryn’s face. “She’s worth it,” she said. “In twenty- four hours, I’ll have a daughter.”
Jill’s intensity about Bryn unnerved me, and I tried to lighten the moment. “Without stretch marks, labour pains, or jeopardizing your status as a size six,” I said.
For a split second, the mask of the radiant bride slipped. “Nothing good is free, Jo. You know that.” Jill gave me a thin smile, straightened her shoulders, and turned to the other members of her wedding party. “Time to get festive,” she said. “Everybody has to meet everybody else, and given what’s ahead, we could all use a drink.”
Angus, who had never made a halfway commitment to anything in his life, had transformed our house into an oasis of New Age serenity: yellow and white candles dispelled darkness and promised new beginnings; pine and cedar boughs filled the air with the sharp green scent of renewal; crystal bowls glittered with chips of quartz for courage and chunks of rich blue sodalite for old knowledge. Taylor, a skilled artist and a romantic, had made place cards in which exotic birds carried laurel wedding crowns in their beaks. My contribution to the bliss had been Bill Evans’s Moonbeams, my personal conduit to transcendence. As far as I could tell, we had made all the right choices, but five minutes into the party I didn’t need Angus’s Enlightened Web sites to tell me the energy in the room was spirit- suckingly negative.
Our party was small, just six people besides my family. There had been a mix- up about luggage at the airport, and Felix Schiff, Jill’s business partner, had stayed behind to clear up the tangle. As I was hanging up coats and ushering people into the living room, Jill introduced me to Evan’s sister, Claudia; his second wife’s twin sister, Tracy Lowell; and the best man, Gabe Leventhal. One way or another, they shared a lot of history, and if the emotional undercurrents that eddied around us were any indication, there was nothing in that history to inspire a Hallmark card.
Most of the tension in the room sprang from Tracy Lowell. My throat had tightened when I saw her in the light of the front hall. Her resemblance to her twin was uncanny: the same dark bangs, artfully fringed over the high forehead; the same spiky- lashed round eyes and spoiled cherub’s mouth. There was, however, a significant difference. In Black Spikes and Slow Waves, Annie Lowell was luminous with the glow of youth; time had drained the lustre from her sister’s face. Both women were as frenetically fragile as hummingbirds, but unlike her twin, Tracy had lived to reap what she had sown.
With her sequinned white shirt, Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals, fluttering hands, and hard- edged trilling laugh, she had the mark of a woman who would become dangerous with drink. I was relieved when she rejected liquor in favour of good old Colombian coffee. But as she knocked back cup after cup, I began to wish she’d switch to Jack Daniel’s. Halfway through the cocktail hour, Tracy had enough caffeine in her to jump- start a Buick.
Taylor was wired too, but her adrenaline rush came from the purest of sources. She was wearing a swooshy dress; she was going to be up long after bedtime; and the next day she was going to get her hair styled by a real hairdresser and be the flower girl in a wedding. She had also discovered that passing around the canapés gave her an excuse to get upclose- and- personal with everyone else at the party. She’d already swung by to report that Jill and Claudia were on the back deck smoking cigarettes; that Mr. MacLeish and Mr. Leventhal were arguing; that when Mr. Leventhal talked, he sounded like Columbo on A&E; that Bryn was super- shy; and that Angus was acting like a total dweeb trying to make her like him. By the time my daughter swept through with the smoked trout rolls, she had stumbled upon some really big news. “You know what?” she stage- whispered. “That lady with the sparkly top is on tv. She’s the Broken Wand Fairy on ‘Magictown.’”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The Last Good Day

The Last Good Day

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
also available: Paperback
tagged : women sleuths
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The cosmos should send forth a sign when a good man approaches death, but the night Chris Altieri joined me in the gazebo to watch the sun set on Lawyers’ Bay, there was nothing. No fiery letters flaming across the wide prairie sky; no angels with bright hair beckoning from the clouds. The evening was innocent, sweet with summer dreams and the promise of life at a cottage in a season just begun. It was July 1, Canada Day. The lake was full of fish. The paint on the Muskoka chairs was crayon bright; the paddles, sticky with fresh varnish, were on their hooks in the boathouse; and the board games and croquet sets still had all their pieces. September with its tether of routine and responsibility was a thousand years away. Anything was possible, and the gentle-voiced man who dropped into the chair next to mine seemed favoured by fortune to seize the best that summer had to offer.

Bright, successful, and charming, Chris Altieri was, in E.A. Robinson’s poignant phrase, everything to make us wish that we were in his place. Yet this graceful man wouldn’t live to see the rising of the orange sun that was now plunging towards the horizon, and when I learned that he was dead, I wasn’t surprised.

I was a newcomer to the small community of Lawyers’ Bay, renting the cottage that belonged to my friend Kevin Hynd, who was spending the summer exploring the mystical Mount Kailas in Tibet. My trekking days were over. Kevin’s cottage, on a lake seventy kilometres from Regina, with good roads all the way, was adventure enough for me, as it was for my daughter Taylor, my son Angus, and his girlfriend, Leah. We’d been at Lawyers’ Bay less than a week — long enough for me to master the idiosyncrasies of the motorboat and the ancient Admiral range in the kitchen, not long enough for me to know much at all about my new neighbours, the privileged group who, until he walked away, had been Kevin’s law partners and who were still his friends. When they met twenty-five years ago in law school, they called themselves the Winners’ Circle; the name stuck, but Kevin hadn’t mentioned whether the group’s members saw it as a source of pride or irony.

So far I had met the members of the Winners’ Circle only in passing. My family and I had arrived the previous Sunday afternoon, when the partners at Falconer Shreve were just packing up to go home. I’d spoken briefly to Delia Wainberg, the sole female partner in the firm, but the others had only had time to wave and call out a welcome before they headed back to the city and the demands of a high-powered law practice.

The Canada Day party that Falconer, Shreve, Altieri, and Wainberg threw every year to celebrate our nation’s birthday was legendary in cottage country, and I had counted on it as my chance to get to know my new neighbours better. There’d been no shortage of opportunities. I’d water-skied with Falconer Shreve’s juniors and clients, kayaked with Falconer Shreve friends from the city, and played beach volleyball with the cottagers who lived on the other side of the gates that separated Falconer Shreve families from the lesser blessed. Faces glowing with the soft sheen of summer sweat, we fortunate few had spent the last twelve hours savouring the newest, the fastest, the finest, and the freshest that money could buy.

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The Nesting Dolls

Chapter 1

There is not much stillness in my husband’s life. He is a trial lawyer and a paraplegic – two factors that don’t contribute to longevity. So, that Saturday afternoon in December, when I walked into the family room and found Zack and our mastiff, Pantera, gazing at the ten-foot Nova Scotia fir we’d chosen the day before, I felt a frisson of joy. Outside, the wind howled, the trees swayed and creaked, and the sky was dark with the threat of snow; inside, a fire burned low in the grate, the air was pungent with the sharpness of evergreen, and the man I loved was at peace with his dog beside him. It was over three weeks until Christmas, but our fourteen-year-old daughter, Taylor, had jump-started the season by hang ing her collection of crystal stars in the windows, where they sparkled, evoking memories of other Christmases, other lives. I placed my hands on Zack’s shoulders and rested my chin on his head. “‘The house and the hall were lit with happiness,’” I said. “‘And lords and ladies were luminous with joy.’”
Zack covered my hands with his. “Now that is beautiful,” he said.
“It’s from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I bought a copy last year and tucked it in with the Christmas decorations, thinking we could read it to the granddaughters when they’re older.”
“We’re older,” Zack said. “We could read it now.”
“You’d like it. A green knight with a green beard rides his green horse into King Arthur’s court at Christmas. The green knight takes out his axe and offers it to whichever of Arthur’s knights will cut off his head.”
Zack turned his chair around to face me. “The green knight wants somebody to cut off his head?”
“There’s a catch. Whoever wields the axe must agree to be struck in return.”
“By the guy whose head he just lopped off?”
“That’s the challenge.”
Zack chortled. “Blood in, blood out – my kind of story.”
“In that case, when we get back here after the concert, we’ll warm up some soup, build a fire, and start reading.”
Zack held out his arms. “Who has more fun than us?”
“Nobody,” I said. “Nobody has more fun than us.”
It’s not easy for a man in a wheelchair and an able-bodied woman to embrace, but Zack and I had had practice. When my husband ran his hand up my leg, he groaned with pleasure. “You’re wearing the black slip,” he said. “God, I love this slip.”
“I’m wearing it because we have a party to go to. ’Tis the season, remember?”
“The Wainbergs’ party, then the choir thing,” he said.
“Speaking of the choir thing,” I said, “I have something for you.” I handed him a manila envelope. Zack opened it and grinned. “Hey, that’s the photo that was in the paper.”
“It is indeed,” I said. “And having a copy made and enlarged cost more than it should have.”
Zack put on his glasses and assessed the photo. “Money well spent,” he said, and he was right.
Taylor’s high school, Luther College, had been rehearsing its yearly Christmas choral concert, and she and her two best friends were in the junior handbell choir. The local paper’s photographer had caught them in mid-ring. It was a seasonal photograph on a slow news day, and the layout person had given the picture pride of place on the front page.
In their Luther sweatshirts, blue jeans, and spotless white cotton gloves, the girls were an appealing trio. Gracie Falconer, athletic, big-boned, red-haired and ruddily freckled, was beaming, transported, as she always was, by the sheer joy of action. Isobel Wainberg’s springy black curls had escaped the silver headband with which she had tried to tame them, and her fine features were drawn in concentration. The standards Isobel set herself were high; she would not easily forgive herself a mistake in performance. Taylor’s expression was rapturous. She was a girl who lived life more deeply than most – her pleasures were more keenly experienced; her pains, sharper-edged. The photographer had captured Taylor at a moment when her private wellspring of joy overflowed, and it was a lovely sight.
As Zack’s eyes remained fixed on the photo, I marvelled at how completely he had metamorphosed into a family man in the two years we had been together. He was forty-eight when we met, and he’d spent a lifetime travelling fast and light. There were two passions in his life: the law, and his legal partners, whom he’d loved since they gravitated to one another midway through their first year of law school and committed themselves to share what they were certain would be a golden destiny. There had been many women in Zack’s life, but few had been invited to stick around for breakfast.
When we met, I was a widow with three grown children: Mieka, who was newly divorced, the mother of two young daughters, and the owner-operator of UpSlideDown, a café/ play centre for young families; Peter, who had just graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine; and Angus, who was at the College of Law in Saskatoon. Taylor was the only one of my children still at home. When her mother, the artist Sally Love, who had been my friend since childhood, died suddenly, Taylor was four. There was no one to take Sally’s daughter, so I adopted her. It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made.
I was content with my life and then Zack came along. As our relationship grew serious, everyone who cared for us felt compelled to wave a red flag. We ignored them. Six months to the day after we met, Zack and I stood at the altar of St. Paul’s Cathedral and exchanged vows. When I’d leaned down to kiss my new husband, he’d whispered, “This is forever, Ms. Shreve. We made a promise, and a deal’s a deal.” Since that grey New Year’s morning, we’d never looked back. Ours was not an easy marriage, but it was a good one.
As he propped the photo on the mantel, Zack’s voice was wistful. “Think we’re looking at the next generation of partners at Falconer Shreve and Wainberg?”
“Let’s see,” I said. “Gracie is planning to be a professional basketball player, so she’s out, and we both know that Taylor wants to make art – the way her mother did.”
Zack frowned. “You’re Taylor’s mother, Joanne. Blood ties are significant, especially when the birth mother is someone as extraordinary as Sally Love, but Taylor’s your daughter, our daughter, and we have the papers to prove it.”
“Spoken like a lawyer,” I said.
“Spoken like a lawyer who knows that in these cases smart people make themselves bulletproof, and we are bulletproof.”
I felt my nerves twang. For a man who’d spent forty-three years in a wheelchair because he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, Zack was remarkably sanguine about the vagaries of fate. I needed to return to safe ground. I took the photo from the mantel. “Isobel’s your best hope. She’s smart and focused – ”
“And way, way, way too hard on herself,” Zack finished. “Izzy’s just like her mother who, incidentally, is driving me crazy these days.”
“What’s the matter?”
Zack extended his hands, palms up in a gesture of exasperation. “Beats me. Delia never – and I mean never – makes mistakes, but lately she’s made some doozies – forgetting meetings, not returning phone calls, and last week she almost missed a critical filing deadline. Luckily, the associate she’s working with picked up on it, but it was a close call, so I went to Dee’s office and asked her what the hell was going on.”
“Did she have an explanation?”
“Nope. She told me to back off and said that it wouldn’t happen again.”
I examined the jumbo box of Christmas-tree balls Zack had bought that morning to replace the ones Pantera had eaten the year before. They were all red – Zack’s favourite colour. “Do you think Delia and Noah could be having problems?” I said.
Zack raised an eyebrow. “Apart from the fact that Noah worships Delia, and she treats him like a piece of furniture? It’s been that way for twenty-seven years, and they’re still together.”
“Maybe Delia’s met a man who’s more than a piece of furniture to her.”
Zack’s snort was derisive. “Nah – Delia’s not built that way.”
“We’re all built that way,” I said.
“Not Delia. The only thing that makes her heart pound is a real red-meat case. What would make you think she’s having an affair?”
“I didn’t use the word ‘affair,’ but something’s disturbing her. A couple of days ago when we were waiting for the girls to get out of rehearsal, Delia got a phone call. I was sitting beside her so I couldn’t avoid hearing her end of the conversation.”
“What did she say?”
“Not much – just ‘Can’t I at least see you? I’ve done every thing you asked.’ The person she was speaking to must have broken the connection. Delia tried to blow it off – told me she’d been talking to a dissatisfied client who was moving to another lawyer. I guess that’s possible.”
The furrows that bracketed Zack’s mouth like parentheses deepened – a sure sign that he was troubled. “Delia’s clients never leave her,” he said. “They may be dunderheads but they’re smart enough to realize they’ll never get a better lawyer than Dee.”
“She’s that good?” I said.
“She’s better than me,” Zack said, “and that’s saying a lot.” “Time to get ready for the party, my self-effacing love,” I said. “It starts at 2:00. It’s come and go, but we should be there early because we have to get the girls to Luther by 3:45, and I need time to make a good impression on the guest of honour.”
“You’ve already made a good impression,” Zack said, “Justice Theo Brokaw has agreed to appear on the show you’re doing for Nationtv and explain the workings of the Supreme Court to eager Canadians from coast to coast.”
“Correction. Theo Brokaw’s wife says he’s agreed. I haven’t dealt with the Justice himself. It was Myra Brokaw who wrote volunteering her husband’s services.”
“And I’ll bet Theo was standing over her shoulder telling her exactly what to write. Stepping down from the bench must be tough for a guy who’s accustomed to having people hyperventilate when he enters the room.”
“So you think Theo Brokaw’s looking for some ego-stroking?”
“You bet he is, and you’re offering him exactly what he needs, Ms. Shreve. Explaining how the court works while modestly enumerating his many contributions to Canadian jurisprudence will keep Theo’s opinion of himself robust while he writes his memoirs.”
“You don’t like him?”
“Not a lot,” Zack said. “I realize this sounds hypocritical coming from me, but I find Theo’s passion for public notice unseemly, and he’s never got his hands dirty actually practising law. He’s an academic.”
“I’m an academic.”
“Yes, but you actually went out and worked in political campaigns. You understand that politics is complex, dirty, and occasionally noble. And your career as an academic stalled because of your involvement in party politics. You paid a price for knowing what you know. Theo never paid the price. He thinks people like me are hired guns and that people like him are the conduits through which God dispenses justice to Canada.” Zack made a gesture of disgust. “The hell with it. This is a stupid discussion.”
“Actually, since you’re the only one talking, it’s more of a soliloquy,” I said.
Zack flashed me a vulpine smile. “That’s probably why I scored all the points. Fuck it. Nothing ever changes. It’s Christmas. Let’s go to the party.”
The Wainbergs lived in a neighbourhood of carefully restored early-twentieth-century homes stylistically faithful to the classical rules of proportion, balance, and symmetry. Delia and Noah’s house, designed by an adherent of the Late Modernist school of architecture, was a daringly cantilevered skin-and-bones affair that thumbed its nose at its genteel neighbours.
The house had a history of one-sided passions. According to my friend Ed Mariani, who was an intimate of the man who designed the house, the architect’s dream had been to live in the house with his partner, a chef, until death did them part. Fate intervened. While preparing his signature lobster diablo for the housewarming, the chef gave himself a nasty cut. He cabbed to the nearest clinic, where a young doctor with eyes the colour of jade stitched the wound. The doctor’s touch was gentle. When the wound was wrapped, the doctor’s hand lingered, and in that instant, the chef knew he wanted the doctor’s hand to linger forever.
The next morning the architect put his dream house on the market, where it remained for months before the newly wed Wainbergs bought it for a song, and Noah set about making it their own.
Noah was a talented woodcarver, and there were striking pieces of his work throughout the house and grounds. Among the most intriguing were three life-sized oak bears positioned on the lawn by the path leading to the entranceway. The bears were astonishingly realistic, with foreheads sloping back suddenly from behind their small eyes, broad, prominent muzzles, heavily muscled bodies, and claws that were sharp enough to defend or attack. All three bears were standing on their hind legs: the large male was in front; behind and flanking him were two smaller bears, one an adult female, one a cub. The placement of the bears conveyed a powerful truth about the Wainbergs: Delia was the legal star, with her high six-figure income, but it was Noah who was the family’s protector.
As we arrived at the Wainbergs’, the wind, already fierce, picked up and filled the air with dry, granular snow that swirled as it fell. We were in for a blizzard. “Shit,” said Zack. “Sweet,” said Taylor. On the drive over Taylor had been pensive, wrapped in her own thoughts, but the prospect of a storm was a catalyst for one of those quicksilver mood changes that mark adolescence. As soon as we stopped, Taylor leapt from the car. Arms outstretched, she ran to the centre of the Wainbergs’ lawn, spun exuberantly, then sprinted to the house, anxious to see her friends.
Zack touched my hand. “A blizzard’s a small price to pay to see her like that again.”
“Taylor’s fine,” I said. “Her hormones are just kicking in.”
“Henry Chan says that as long as Taylor’s keeping the lines of communication open and taking an interest in life, the brooding is nothing to worry about.”
“You talked to our doctor about Taylor?”
“He’s a professional. I thought maybe there was something we should do.”
“Zack, she’s a perfectly normal fourteen-year-old, and we’re doing what the parents of a perfectly normal fourteen-year-old are supposed to do: we’re there, we’re watchful, and we’re letting our daughter figure out who she is.”
Zack’s lips twitched in amusement. “That’s exactly what Henry said.”
“You could have saved yourself a trip to his office.”
“Actually, the consultation occurred just as I’d drawn to an inside straight. I figured I’d get his advice before I cleaned his clock.”
“Ever the family man.”
“Don’t be dismissive. I won $400 from Henry that night. Now, if I’m going to get up to the house under my own steam, we’d better boogie.”
In the course of an average week, Zack unfolded his wheelchair and transferred his weight from the driver’s seat to the chair dozens of times. Most times the manoeuvre was smoothly executed, but the snow complicated everything. I knew enough not to offer help, but the visibility was poor, so I was quick to move to Zack’s side of the car, and when he started up the pathway, I stayed close behind. My husband’s upper body was powerful, so despite the snow his progress was steady. But as we reached the oak bears, the snow caught his wheels. Zack uttered his favourite expletive and I stepped in front of his chair to kick his wheels free. That’s when I realized that we weren’t alone.
A woman carrying a baby car seat was coming up behind us. I stepped onto the lawn.
“Play through,” Zack said, but the woman didn’t move.
“Is this the Margolis-Wainberg residence?” she asked.
“It is,” I said. The lower half of the woman’s face was covered by her scarf and the hood of her jacket was pulled up. I glanced down at the baby seat. The cover was zipped against the weather. “Is there actually a baby in there?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Better get him or her inside,” I said. “It’ll be fun to have a baby at the party.”
“There’s a party?” she said. She repeated the word ‘party’ as if it were a noun from a language she’d forgotten, then turned abruptly and started back down the path. I watched until she and her child disappeared into the swirling snow.
“What do you suppose that was about?” I said.
My husband didn’t answer. His focus was elsewhere. The Wainbergs’ home, like the homes of all of Zack’s partners, was fully accessible, but snow had drifted onto the ramp leading up to the front door. “Look at that,” Zack said. “Sorry, Ms. Shreve, but you’re going to have to push me up.”
I’d just pulled the chair back, so I could take a run at the incline, when Noah Wainberg appeared at the front door. “Since Taylor arrived, I’ve been watching for you,” he said. He zipped his parka, picked up the shovel leaning against the house, and cleared the ramp. We were inside and warm within minutes. Zack removed his toque and glanced up at Noah. “I owe you one.”
“No, you don’t. You gave me a chance to get out of the house.” Noah nodded in the direction of the party. “I hate these things, but Delia wanted a party . . . ”
“And what Delia wants, Delia gets,” Zack said.
Noah didn’t smile. “If it’s within my power – yes.” He removed his coat, revealing an impeccably tailored two-button pinstripe and a claret Windsor-knotted tie. He was dressed for the part and he would handle his duties as host without complaint, just as he unquestioningly handled everything that came his way.
Few people realized that Noah was a lawyer who had been in the same year at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law as the members of the Winners’ Circle. He had been an indifferent student, and after graduation he had spent a year articling with a lacklustre firm, waiting for Delia to come back from Ottawa where she was clerking for another outstanding graduate of the College of Law, Mr. Justice Theo Brokaw.
The partners of Falconer Shreve Altieri Wainberg and Hynd marked the day they opened their first office as the beginning of their real lives. Noah was not the Wainberg of the firm’s name, but as someone who knew the law and could be trusted to be discreet, he played an invaluable role in managing sensitive information and sheltering clients who didn’t want to advertise their need for legal advice.
His services to Falconer Shreve went beyond the professional. All the partners owned cottages on a horseshoe of lakefront property that was less than an hour’s drive from Regina. The community on Lawyers’ Bay was gated because the cottages were often used for meetings and, occasionally, as a safe haven for clients who needed time away from prying eyes. Noah made certain the properties were kept in running order. Quietly and efficiently, within the office and outside it, Noah took care of what needed to be taken care of and that included the Wainbergs’ only child, Isobel.
Delia and I weren’t close, but because of our girls’ friendship, Noah and I were often together. He was quiet and easygoing, and I always welcomed his company. That night, after a young woman in a crisp white blouse, black mid-calf skirt, and sensible shoes appeared and took our coats upstairs, Noah gestured in the direction of the party. “Shall we join the others?”
“Not so fast,” Zack said. “Joanne and I want to hear about the guest of honour. Stripped of his ceremonial red robes and ermine, is he as much of a preening turd as he was on the bench?”
Noah shrugged. “Beats me. He’s not here.”
Zack glanced at his watch. “Two-thirty. The party started at two, so the guest of honour is half an hour late. One of the perks of being on the Supreme Court is making everybody hang around awaiting your dramatic entrance. I guess Theo still savours the moment.”
Noah made a fist and slapped it into his palm. “This isn’t the Supreme Court,” he said tightly. “It’s Delia’s party, and Theo Brokaw should have the decency to show up on time.”
“Agreed. But by definition, egoists set all clocks to their own time.” Zack patted Noah’s arm. “Now if I remember correctly, you make a fine martini. I wouldn’t mind testing my memory.”
“Follow me,” Noah said.
The Wainberg house was designed for entertaining, with expanses of glass that offered guests a panorama of the ever-changing prairie sky, and a large open-plan reception area where deep couches beckoned and servers with trays of food and drink could move with ease. The party had moved quickly to a rolling boil – voices were vibrant, laughter exploded percussively against the cool riffs of a jazz pianist, and the air was heady with the blend of perfume, cologne, and body heat.
Most of the guests were people Zack and I would see many times before the old year ended. By then, we would be able to finish one another’s stories, but the Wainbergs’ party was an early one. The season had not yet lost its shine, and there was still real pleasure in seeing old friends and hearing news. When the servers brought out Noah’s signature mesquite-smoked turkeys, there was a round of spontaneous applause. It was a good party. Everyone was having fun except Delia.
Striking in black dress pants and a sleeveless white sequined shirt that showcased her admirably toned upper arms, Delia roamed, tense and distracted, seeking the guest of honour who was yet to arrive. Noah’s eyes seldom left his wife. Finally, he came over to the fireplace where Zack and I were trapped by a Falconer Shreve client named Roddy Dewar, who was rich, litigious, crazier than a bag of hammers, and hence much prized by the firm.
As always, Noah was quick to read the situation, and he knew that Zack and I had wearied of Roddy’s fulminations. Noah gave the man a conspiratorial wink. “They just brought in the smoked turkeys. Better move fast. Those birds have a way of vanishing.”
Roddy’s food lust was legendary. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” he said. Then he snatched the last cheese blintz from a passing tray, popped it in his mouth, and bolted for the birds.
Zack watched his progress, then raised an eyebrow at Noah. “Did you know that the soul leaves the body four minutes and seventeen seconds after death? Roddy was just about to provide Joanne and me with scientific proof. Once again, we are in your debt.”
Noah’s smile was rueful. “And payback time is here already. The Brokaws still haven’t shown up and Dee’s making herself crazy. Could you talk to her, Zack? She’ll listen to you.”
“Sure.” Zack’s eyes scanned the room. “Where is she?”
“Outside on the deck, freezing and smoking and trying to track down the guest of honour on her cell.”
Zack was clearly exasperated. “What’s with her lately? People forget parties all the time, and the Brokaws aren’t young. Theo didn’t wait for mandatory retirement, but he’s got to be past seventy.”
“Seventy-two,” Noah said.
“So it slipped his mind. Big deal. Now that he’s moved back to Regina, he and Delia can sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ any time they want.”
Noah’s expression was weary. “Tell Dee that, and remind her that she doesn’t have to sneak outside because she wants a cigarette. This is her house and people are damn lucky to be in the same room with her.”
Zack patted Noah’s arm and headed for the deck. It wasn’t long before he and Delia rejoined the party. I wasn’t surprised. Communication was never a problem between them. Noah appeared with a plate of smoked turkey and a glass of wine for his wife, and when she rewarded him with her three-cornered, cat-like smile, his relief was palpable.
Fuelled by alcohol, the party followed the inevitable trajectory from good cheer to raucousness to the loss of inhibition that teeters on danger. The discreet appearance of servers with pots of coffee and trays of honey cake, cheese, and fruit saved us from our baser selves. Soon, restored to civility by caffeine and one last bite, people began brushing one another’s cheeks with their lips and moving along. It was time for us to leave too. Gracie’s father, Blake Falconer, and Noah and Delia would be attending the afternoon concert on Sunday, so this afternoon Zack and I were responsible for shepherding the three girls. The choirs were to be robed and ready fifteen minutes before the concert started. But I was currently mired in conversation with a sad-eyed wispy woman, expensively dressed in a leather blazer and slacks the exact shade of her stiffly lacquered platinum ponytail and her platinum cuff bracelet. She was weaving slightly, and her eyes seemed to be focused somewhere past my right ear. She was complaining about her only child who apparently brought her neither comfort nor joy.
“I’ve been trying to remember my last good Christmas, and I cannot.” She shifted her eyes to meet mine. “Don’t waste your time trying to think of something to say. I’m a solo act.” When I saw Zack wheeling towards me, I exhaled. I had never learned how to extricate myself gracefully from a conversation that was heading towards a land mine, but Zack always seemed to know how to make a smooth exit. I was in the clear.
My solo act hadn’t volunteered her name, but Zack knew it. He took her hand. “As always, you look lovely, Louise,” he said.
She shook an admonishing finger at him. “You’re the only remotely interesting person at this party and you let that little toad monopolize you.” She cocked her head. “The toad’s name eludes me, but you know who I mean – the one who looks like the fat boy on the Snakes and Ladders board.”
Zack laughed. “Nothing wrong with your powers of description. His name is Roddy Dewar.”
“Well, let Roddy Dewar find his own amusement,” Louise said. “I long to talk to you.”
“Unfortunately, my wife and I are just leaving,” Zack said. “Our daughter, Taylor, and her friends are due at their Christmas concert.”
“At Luther College. I am due at that too,” Louise said, “but I’m too drunk to go.”
“There’s another performance tomorrow,” Zack said. “Enjoy the party and hear the carols when you’re more in the mood.”
Louise leaned down and kissed Zack. She missed his face and hit his shirt. “You’re worth every penny my ex-husband pays you,” she said. She frowned. “There’s a smear of lipstick on your collar, and I fear I put it there. Next time you send Leland a bill, add a couple of hundred for a new shirt.”
Zack took her hand. “No payment necessary, Louise. I’m honoured to have your lipstick on my collar.”
“Jesus, you’re sweet,” she said, and she swayed off towards the bar.
I squeezed Zack’s shoulder. “You are sweet, you know,” I said.
Zack raised an eyebrow. “Hang onto that thought the next time Pantera chews up one of your grandmother’s Christmas-tree ornaments.”
Taylor, Isobel, and the third member of their triumvirate, Gracie Falconer, breezed in, already dressed for outdoors. Gracie and Isobel had grown up together. They were the same age; both were only children and both had a parent who was a founding partner of Falconer Shreve. Their ties were close, but when Zack and I married, Gracie and Isobel had embraced Taylor. Now the three girls were inseparable. That afternoon at the Wainbergs’, they had found the food and politely endured questions about school and holiday plans from their parents’ friends, but as Gracie flung her scarf around her neck, she made it clear they were ready to move along. “Let’s make tracks,” she said.
Isobel frowned at her wristwatch. “We have to hurry,” she said. “We’re supposed be there in ten minutes, and the weather will slow us down.”
I handed Taylor the car keys. “Why don’t you girls go to the car? We still have to get our coats.”
Delia and Noah walked with us to the door and waited while the young woman who’d taken our things retrieved them.
“I was surprised to see Louise Hunter here,” Zack said. “Leland says she’s become a recluse.”
“How would Leland know?” Noah said. “He’s never around.”
Zack shrugged. “Leland’s company is involved in some serious international deals.”
“And that excuses everything,” Noah said mildly. Our coats arrived, and Noah held out mine. “Anyway, I thought Louise might enjoy a party, so I added her name to the invitation list.”
Delia cocked her head. “I didn’t realize you and Louise Hunter knew one another.”
“Life sometimes gets too much for Louise and she calls me.”
“And you take care of her till she sobers up,” Delia said.
“Peyben is one of the firm’s biggest clients,” Noah said quietly. “And Louise was once married to Peyben’s owner.”
Delia linked her arm through her husband’s. “You take care of a lot that we don’t know about, don’t you?”
“Thanks for noticing,” Noah murmured.
It was a nice moment, but like many nice moments, it was interrupted by the outside world. When the doorbell rang, Zack was closest to the door and he reached over and opened it.
Theo and Myra Brokaw were standing on the step. The storm was still in full force, and the Brokaws had linked their arms, presenting a united front against the elements. Zack pushed his chair back, and Theo and Myra stepped past him into the safety of the entrance hall, frowning in concentration as they stomped their boots and brushed the snow from their shoulders.
Like many couples in a long marriage the Brokaws had grown to look like one another. Both were tall and lean with thick eyebrows, deep-set dark eyes, and strong features. That afternoon, both were wearing ankle-length grey cashmere coats with festive red scarves knotted around their necks. For people who were late for a party in their honour, they were remarkably unperturbed, but they had an explanation for their tardiness. “I’d forgotten how challenging a Saskatchewan winter can be,” Myra Brokaw said. “We had quite the adventure getting here.”
Zack moved his chair aside, and extended his hand to her. “I’m glad you triumphed,” he said. Then he turned to Myra’s husband. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Judge Brokaw.”
Theo Brokaw’s chiselled features were transformed by a smile that was surprisingly winsome. “Do I know you?” he asked.
“I’ve appeared before you many times,” Zack said. “Obviously, I didn’t make much of an impression. I’m Zack Shreve.”
“And you’re a lawyer,” Theo Brokaw said, and his tone was self-congratulatory.
“I am,” Zack agreed.
“Well, so am I,” Theo Brokaw said. “At least I used to be.”
For once, my husband was flummoxed. Myra smoothed over the awkward moment. She touched Theo’s elbow, and he moved smartly towards the Wainbergs. Delia opened her arms in greeting, but her eyes were anxious as she scanned Theo’s face. “Welcome. I’m so glad you could come.”
Theo Brokaw stared at her, his forehead creased in bafflement. “You’ve gotten old,” he said. Before Delia could react, he bent towards her, buried his face in her neck, and breathed deeply. “Ah, but your fragrance is the same,” he said.
Until she disentangled herself, Theo clung to Delia in a way that was both passionate and strangely youthful. The situation was awkward, but Delia handled it with grace. “I’ll have to send Chanel No. 5 a thank-you note,” she said. She turned to her husband. “Noah, why don’t you pour the Brokaws a drink, so we can all celebrate their arrival in Regina.”
Zack shot his partner an approving look. “I wish we could join you, but Joanne and I will have to take a rain check. We need to get the girls to their Christmas concert.”
Myra’s eyes widened in recognition. “You’re Joanne Kilbourn,” she said.
“I am,” I said. “And I was looking forward to talking to you and Justice Brokaw, but we’re already late.”
“I understand,” Myra said. She stepped closer to me and lowered her voice. “We’ve made an unfortunate first impression, but I would like to talk to you about our project. It has merit and I believe it’s still feasible. May I call you?”
My heart sank. Theo was clearly no longer ready for prime time. “Of course,” I said. “You have my number.”
Theo Brokaw had been watching his wife and me with interest. “We live over a store,” he said brightly.
Myra’s voice was gentle. “It’s one of the new condos in Scarth Street Mall. We wrote Ms. Kilbourn about it, Theo.”
“Well, whatever you call it, it’s still rooms over a store,” Theo said. “And it’s handy for me because it’s close to the courthouse.” He gave Zack a conspiratorial wink. “You know how important that is.”
“I do,” Zack said. “Have a pleasant evening.” He opened the door and wheeled out into the wild weather.
With Noah’s help we made it to our car, but the weather was growing increasingly ugly. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first snowfall means that everybody in town forgets how to drive. When the first snowfall is a blizzard, the potential for skids, fishtails, and rear-end collisions rises exponentially. Our trip to the school was a white-knuckler. Zack was driving. Steering the car through the drifts on Leopold Crescent demanded strength and attention, and we didn’t exchange a word until we hit Albert Street. City crews were on the job there; Zack’s shoulders relaxed and he shot me a quick glance. “Wouldn’t want to do that every day,” he said.
I reached over and rubbed the back of his neck. “Better?”
“Thanks. What do you think is going on with Theo Brokaw?”
“Whatever it is,” I said, “it explains his sudden retirement from the bench.”
“He’s not exactly compos mentis,” Zack agreed.
“Yet the e-mail exchanges we had were perfectly lucid,” I said. “Myra must take care of their correspondence.”
“Promise me something,” Zack said.
“If I ever get like Theo, tip me into the nearest snowbank.”
By the time we pulled up in front of the school, we were late. Gracie and Taylor were sanguine but Isobel, whose standards for herself were high, bolted from our vehicle before Zack had come to a full stop.
The parking lots at Luther were chaos. Everybody was in a hurry, but nobody was getting anywhere. Seemingly every parking space but the one with the handicapped sign was taken. We had a disabled persons’ ID parking card, but unless a client’s needs were urgent, Zack never used it. My husband and I glanced at the seductive space and then at one another. Handbells were waiting to be rung. I rummaged through the glove compartment, found the card, and propped it on the dashboard. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
Gracie and Taylor dashed through the snow towards the gym, and Zack and I followed behind. It was tough sledding, but we made it. As we stood inside, brushing off the snow and checking out seating possibilities, a good-looking boy with blond dreadlocks and a tentative smile approached us. His manner was breezily confident, but his voice was uncertain. “Hey Zack. How’s it going?”
“No complaints,” Zack said. He gestured towards me. “This is my wife, Joanne. Jo, this is Declan Hunter.”
The boy extended his hand. “I recognized you from the picture in Zack’s office. Nice to meet you, Ms. Shreve.” His eyes darted past us towards the door. “You didn’t happen to see my mother in the parking lot, did you? She might need some help getting in.”
Zack’s voice was gentle. “She decided to come tomorrow, Declan. I guess she didn’t have a chance to let you know.”
Declan’s face tightened. “The big news would have been if she showed up.”
Zack wheeled his chair closer. “Your mother really did want to come today.”
“Right.” Declan gave us a small wave and turned away. “See you,” he said and started towards the crowd.
“Wait.” Zack didn’t have to raise his voice to get a response. Declan pivoted and took a step towards my husband. “If you’ve got some free time during the holidays, how about an evening at the Broken Rack,” Zack said. “When we went there on your birthday, I thought you showed definite promise.”
This time, Declan’s smile was open. “I beat you,” he said.
“I had an off night,” Zack said. “So are you in?”
“I’m in,” Declan said.
“Good, I’ll call you and we’ll set up a time.”
I watched Declan sprint down the hall towards the gym. “You will call him, won’t you?” I said.
“You know me – can’t stand to lose, and this time the evening will be on our dime.”
“The last time wasn’t?”
“Nope. The last time was strictly business. It was Declan’s sixteenth birthday and his father, whom you have no doubt deduced is Leland Hunter, decided his son needed a man-to-man talk.”
“Doesn’t a father usually do that himself?”
“It wasn’t that kind of talk. Leland thought Declan needed a clearer understanding of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. So we shot some pool. I told Declan that while Section 3 says the Act is to be liberally construed, it doesn’t mean sixteen-year-olds get a free pass, and I sent his father the bill. Hell of a note for a kid’s birthday, eh?”
“It is a hell of a note,” I agreed. “So did Declan need reminding?”
“He did,” Zack said. “Jo, you know the drill about confidentiality. That’s all I can say about that.”
Every effort had been made to transform the gym for the carol service. The shining wooden floor on which so many heart-stopping basketball championships had been played was safe under protective floor covers; giant sparkly snowflakes were suspended from the rafters by lengths of fishing line that would, in theory, cease to be discernible when the lights were extinguished; artificial trees twinkled in every available space, and silvery garlands were looped and duct-taped along the sides of the bleachers.
My husband took in the decor. “You can’t say they didn’t try,” he said, and began wheeling towards what quickly became the last spot in the room to be occupied.
“Shit,” he said.
The expletive conjured up a student usher. “We have special seating at the front,” he said. “Just follow me.”
As he always did when he was singled out because of his paraplegia, Zack bristled. I touched his shoulder. “This place is already packed. We can stay here and stare at the back of people’s heads, and I can stand for the whole concert, or you can swallow your pride and we’ll have the best seats in the house.” Zack gave me a sharp look but he wheeled off after the young man.
We had just reached our places when the lights dimmed and the processional began. As the student orchestra played the familiar opening of “Adeste Fideles,” the audience rose and the choirs entered, wearing academic gowns with satin yokes in the school colours, black and gold. The choirs sang in Latin, and their young voices stirred memories of my own school days. The service of lessons and carols was a familiar one to me, but Luther College had a large number of international students and so the selections from the Gospels were read in the first languages of students from Germany, Poland, China, France, Japan, Nigeria, and Korea, and the carols sung were those that had been sung for generations by celebrators of Christmas in those countries. When the bell-ringers moved into place on stage, Zack took my hand.
Gracie rang with ebullient loose-limbed grace; Taylor was surprisingly focused; but Isobel, her mother’s daughter, shook her bell with furrowed brow and tight lips, bent on a perfect performance. As they finished, Zack whipped out his camera and snapped three forbidden photographs before I batted down his arm.
“Against the rules,” I said.
“I’ve only been a father for two years. I have to make up for lost time.” He snapped a couple more pictures, then returned the camera to his pocket.
The service ended. Students began moving down the aisle with baskets of candles, which they asked the person at the end of each row to distribute. The students then lit the candles of the people with aisle seats and invited them to light the candle of the person next to them. Faces softened by candlelight, the audience joined the choirs in the recessional “Joy to the World.” It was a transcendent moment but, as Robert Frost knew, nothing golden can stay. The last line of the carol was sung; the candles were extinguished; the gym lights were flicked back on, and we were, once again, fragmented into our separate selves.
Despite the blizzard, no one seemed in a rush to leave. The adults were chatting; students were clinging to one another with the desperation of those who knew it might be five minutes before they could start texting again. Finally, I spotted Isobel, Taylor, and Gracie. They’d changed back into their street clothes and were standing near an exit, laughing and surrounded by friends. I pointed them out to Zack. “Now there’s the picture I want.”
“Let me get a little closer,” he said. He pushed his wheelchair forward and began snapping. He was just in time to capture a disturbing tableau. The woman we’d seen that afternoon on the Wainbergs’ front path approached the girls. She had the baby seat with her; she appeared to say something to Isobel, then she handed her the baby seat and disappeared through the exit.
We were with the girls in seconds. “What’s going on?” I said.
Gracie was the first to speak. “That woman just gave her baby to Isobel.”
Isobel shook her head. “She didn’t just ‘give’ the baby to me. She made sure she knew who I was first. She asked if my mother was Delia Margolis Wainberg, and when I said yes, she said, ‘Tell her I couldn’t do it. This child belongs with her.’ That’s when she handed me the baby seat.”
I looked down at the child. He was dressed in a Thomas the Tank Engine snowsuit, and his toque was pulled down over his ears. He was perhaps six months old with the kind of intelligent gaze people tag as “alert.” I squatted down beside him. “How are you doing, big guy?”
He raised his arms and kept his dark eyes focused on mine. I unbuckled him and picked him up.
Taylor came close. Her adolescent cool had deserted her. “His mother is coming back, isn’t she?” she said, and her voice was small and scared.
As Zack wheeled in for a closer look, he squeezed Taylor’s arm, but he didn’t answer her question. My husband was more charmed by children than many men I knew, but when he gazed at the baby, he wasn’t smiling. His eyes moved to me. “Let me hold him, would you?” Zack took the child, removed his toque, and ran his hand over the baby’s springy black curls. He held the child out in front of him and examined him closely. “Did you girls get a good look at the baby’s mother?” he asked.
“Not me,” Gracie said. “I was too busy watching Declan Hunter embrace Taylor with his eyes. Sooooo romantic.”
Taylor shot Gracie a look that would have curdled milk, then turned back to us. “I saw the mother,” she said. “She looked like Isobel.”
Isobel’s blue eyes were troubled, but as always, she was precise. “Not the way I look now – the way I’ll probably look when I’m older.”
Then, for the second time that night, the gym was plunged into darkness. This darkness didn’t inspire awe – simply confusion. There was a moment of stunned silence, some sputterings of nervous laughter, and then, obeying a response that had become second nature to us all, we reached for our cells. Within seconds, the gym was dotted with rectangles of light that darted through the gloom, fireflies for our electronic age.
The baby began to cry and I reached down and took him from Zack. The child’s hair smelled of Baby’s Own soap.
“This certainly complicates matters,” Zack said, and I could hear the edge in his voice.
“They’ll get the power back,” I said. “We’ll just have to sit tight.”
“Great advice,” he said. “Except while we’re sitting tight, that child’s mother is going to disappear without a trace.”

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The Shadow Killer

The Shadow Killer

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The Thirteenth Rose

The Thirteenth Rose

tagged : crime, suspense
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The Wandering Soul Murders

When my daughter, Mieka, found the woman’s body in the garbage can behind Old City Hall, she called the police and then she called me. I got there first. The sun was glinting off the glass face of the McCallum- Hill Building as I pulled into the alley behind Mieka’s catering shop. It was a little after eight o’clock on a lush Thursday morning in May. It was garbage day, and as I passed the chi-chi pasta place at the corner of Mieka’s block, the air smelled heavily of last night’s cannelloni warming in the sun.
It wasn’t hard to spot the dead woman. Her body was jackknifed over the edge of the can as if she was reaching inside to retrieve something. But the angle of her body made it apparent that whatever she was looking for wasn’t going to be found in this world. Mieka was standing in the shadows behind her. She seemed composed, but when she put her arms around me, I could feel her shaking.
“Come inside,” I said.
“I don’t want to leave her out here alone,” Mieka said, and there was a tone to her voice that made me realize I’d be wise to go along with her.
Without a word, we stepped closer to the garbage can. It was a large one, industrial- size. I looked over the edge. I could see a sweep of black hair and two arms, limp as a doll’s, hanging from the armholes of a fluorescent pink tank top. The space Mieka was leasing for her shop was being renovated, and the can was half filled with plaster and construction materials. The plaster underneath the body was stained dark with blood.
I stepped back and looked at Mieka.
“It’s the woman who was helping with your cleaning, isn’t it?” I asked.
Mieka nodded. “Her name’s Bernice Morin.” She pointed toward the lower half of the body. “Why would someone do that to her?” she asked.
“I guess they figured killing her didn’t debase her enough,” I said.
Mieka was gnawing at her lower lip. I felt like gnawing, too, because whoever had murdered Bernice Morin hadn’t been content just to take her life. As an extra touch, they had pulled her blue jeans around her ankles, leaving her naked from the waist down. She looked as though she was about to be spanked or sodomized. Sickened at the things we do to one another, I turned away, but not before I saw the tattoo on her left buttock. It was in the shape of a teddy bear.
“My God,” I said. “How old was she?”
“Seventeen,” said Mieka. “Still teddy bear age.”
And then the alley was filled with police, and a seventeenyear- old girl with a teddy bear tattoo became the City of Regina’s latest unsolved homicide. I stood and watched as the crime scene people measured and photographed and bagged. And I listened as Mieka told her story to a man who had the sad basset eyes of the actor Donald Sutherland and who introduced himself as Inspector Tom Zaba.
Mieka’s story wasn’t much. Bernice Morin had been cleaning for her under the city’s fine- option program. It was a way people without money could work off unpaid fines for traffic tickets or minor misdemeanours. The building in which Mieka was leasing space was city property, so she had been eligible to get someone from the program. Mieka told the inspector that Bernice Morin had been working at the shop for a week. No one had visited her, and there had been no phone calls that Mieka knew about. Bernice hadn’t appeared to be upset or frightened about anything, but Mieka said they hadn’t spent much time together. She had been in and out, dealing with glaziers and carpenters, and Bernice wasn’t much of a talker.
When the inspector asked her when she had last seen Bernice Morin alive, Mieka’s jaw clenched. “Yesterday,” she said, “about four- thirty. My fiancé’s mother brought his grandfather by to take me out to their golf club to arrange for our wedding reception. I told Bernice I was coming back, but then Lorraine, my fiancé’s mother, decided we should all stay out at the club for dinner. If I’d come back . . .” Mieka’s voice trailed off. She was looking down at her hands as if she’d never seen them before.
Inspector Zaba took a step toward her. “Keep your focus, Miss Kilbourn. You were at the country club. Did you call Bernice Morin to tell her you’d be delayed?”
Mieka seemed wholly absorbed in her fingers, but her voice was strong. “I called a little before six and asked Bernice if she’d mind locking up when she left.”
“And your premises were locked when you arrived this morning at . . . “”
“At around seven- thirty. I’m an early riser. And, no, the shop wasn’t locked. The front door was closed, but the deadbolt wasn’t on, and the back door, the one that opens onto the alley, was open. There was a pigeon flying around in the store. And there were bird droppings on the counter.”
Inspector Zaba looked at Mieka expectantly. Mieka shrugged. “I chased the pigeon around for a while until it finally flew out, then I cleaned up and I brought the dirty rags out here to the garbage. That’s when I found Bernice. I went inside and phoned you and then I called my mother.”
A female constable came outside and told Inspector Zaba that there was a phone call for Mieka. He nodded and told Mieka she could take it, but when she went into the building, he followed her.
I stayed behind, and that’s when I heard two of the younger cops talking. One of them apparently knew Bernice pretty well.
“She was a veteran,” he said. “On the streets for as long as I was in vice, and that was three years. She was from up north; she used to be one of that punk Darren Wolfe’s girls.” The other man looked at him. “Another Little Flower homicide?”
“Looks like,” said the first cop. “The bare bum’s right. The face didn’t seem mutilated, but maybe they’ll pick up something downtown.”
The young cops moved over to the garbage can and started bagging hunks of bloody plaster. They didn’t seem to feel like talking any more. I didn’t blame them.
When Mieka came out, it was apparent that the brutal reality of the murder had hit her. Her skin was waxy, covered with a light sheen of sweat. I didn’t like the way she looked, and apparently Inspector Zaba didn’t, either. He came over to me and lowered his voice to a rasp. “I think we know what we’ve got here, Mrs. Kilbourn, and your daughter looks like she’s had enough. Get her out of here. We’ve got all we need from her for the moment.”
Grateful, I started to walk away, but I couldn’t leave without asking. “What do you think you’ve got?” I said.
Inspector Tom Zaba had a face that would have been transformed by a smile, but I had the sense he didn’t smile often.
“An object lesson,” he said. “In the past year, we’ve had four of these murders.” He looked thoughtfully at Bernice Morin’s body and then at me. When he spoke, his voice was patient, the voice of a teacher explaining a situation to an unpromising student. “We’ve got some common denominators in these cases, Mrs. Kilbourn. One, all the victims were hustlers who’d gone independent. Two, all the girls walked out on pimps who don’t believe in free enterprise. Three, the faces of all the victims were mutilated. Four, all the dead girls were found with the lower halves of their bodies exposed.” He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t have to be a shrink or a cop to get the message, do you?”
I looked at Bernice Morin’s body. Her legs were strong and slender. She must have been a woman who moved with grace. I felt a coldness in the pit of my stomach.
“No,” I said, “you don’t have to be a shrink or a cop to get the message.”
Victoria Park looks like every other inner- city park in every other small city in Canada: a large and handsome memorial to the war dead surrounded by a square block of hard- tracked grass with benches where people can sit and look at statues of politicians or at flower beds planted with petunias and marigolds, the cheap and the hardy, downtown survivors.
Mieka and I sat on a bench in front of Sir John A. Macdonald. It was a little after nine, and we had the park pretty much to ourselves. In three hours, the Mr. Tube Steak vendors would be filling the air with the smell of steaming wieners and sauerkraut, and the workers would spill out of the offices around Victoria Park and sit on the grass in their short- sleeved shirts and pastel spring dresses and turn their pale spring faces to the sun. But that was in the future. The only people in the park now were the sad ones with trembling hands and desperate eyes who had nowhere else to go.
And us. We sat side by side, not saying anything for a few minutes, then Mieka started to talk. Her voice was high and strained. “I only ever really talked to her once, Mummy, and it was here. One morning we came over here so Bernice could have a smoke. We talked about her tattoos. She was so proud of them. She had a snake that curled around here.”
Mieka traced a circle around the firm flesh of her upper arm. “Bernice was wearing a tank top that day, and she caught me staring at the snake. I was embarrassed, so I mumbled something complimentary. Then she just opened up. Told me she’d gotten the snake done down in Montana, and she thought it was so hot, she’d had a rose done on the other arm. She said all the people she hung with thought the snake and the rose were the best, but that was because they hadn’t seen her private tattoo.
“Then she did something strange. We were sitting over there by the swings. Bernice looked around to make sure we were alone, then she turned away from me and hiked up her tank top. On her back was a picture of unicorns dancing. “I knew it was an honour that she was showing me the tattoo, and I knew I should say something, but I just choked. Finally, Bernice pulled her shirt back down and laughed. ‘Knocked you out, eh?’ she said. Then she said she wanted me to see her back so I’d know she wasn’t just somebody who did cleaning.
“I didn’t mean to ignore her, Mum. You know I’d never be mean deliberately, but I guess I was just so busy I didn’t pay much attention to her . . .”
I put my arm around my daughter’s shoulder and pulled her toward me. “It’s okay, Miek,” I said. “It’s okay.” But I knew it wasn’t, and so did Mieka.
Her eyes were filled with sadness. “I haven’t told you about the unicorns. Bernice dreamed about them one night after her boyfriend beat her up. The next morning she made the drawing, then she took the bus up north to a tattoo artist she knew who could do the design right. She said it took three hours and it just about killed her, especially the parts on her shoulder blades, but she said the unicorns were so beautiful they were worth it.”
“Let’s go home, baby,” I said.
She shook me off. “Do you know what she told me, Mummy? She said she liked unicorns because they were the only animal that refused to go on the ark with Noah, and that’s why they’re extinct. She said her boyfriend told her it was because they were so dumb, but Bernice said she thought it was because they were too proud to get intimidated.”
Mieka’s face was crumpling in pain. “That’s what she said, Mummy. Unicorns died out because they were too proud to get intimidated.”
Finally the tears came, and I took my daughter home. She slept most of the morning, but when I came back after picking up my youngest child, Taylor, from nursery school, Mieka was sitting at the kitchen table and there was a plate of sandwiches in front of her.
“Peanut butter and jelly for Taylor and salmon for us,” Mieka said. She bent down and gave Taylor a quick hug.
“Sound good to you, kiddo?”
Taylor beamed. “Look,” she said, “I made you something, too. I did it at school.” It was a painting. In the centre of the page, a baby lamb nuzzled its mother and a chick cracked the top of an egg. The rest of the page was alive with red tulips. They were everywhere: bursting through the grass on the ground and the clouds in the sky. A corona of them shot out in a halo of red around the yellow sun. On the top, in the careful printing of the nursery school teacher, were the words “new life.”
I tapped the words with my fingertip. “Life will go on, you know,” I said, looking at Mieka.
She smiled and said quietly, “I know. It’s just hard to think that it won’t go on for Bernice. Seventeen is too young.”
“Too young for what?” asked Taylor.
“Too young to miss the spring,” Mieka said, turning away.
“Now, come on, T., what’s the drink of choice with peanut butter and jelly?”
After lunch, Mieka said she had some errands she should do, and she’d feel better if she was busy. Taylor and I drove to the nursery to buy bedding plants. It felt good to stand in the sunshine, picking up boxes of new plants, smelling damp earth and looking at fresh green shoots. As we drove home, Taylor was still curling her tongue around the names: sugar daddies, double mixed pinks, sweet rocket, bachelor’s- button, black- eyed Susans. By the time we pulled into the driveway her lids were heavy and she came in, curled up on the couch and fell asleep. I covered her with a blanket, poured a cup of coffee and dialled the number of a friend of mine from the old days before my husband died.
Jill Osiowy was director of news at Nationtv now, but when I met her, in 1971, she’d just been hired as a press officer by our provincial government. It was her first job, and she was very young. We were all young. My husband was twenty- eight when he was elected to the House that year, and when we formed the government, he became the youngest attorney general in the country.
In those days, Jill’s hair was an explosion of shoulder- length red curls, and she wore Earth shoes and hand-embroidered denim work shirts. She was smart and earnest, and her face shone with the faith that she could change the future. By the time we lost in 1982, Jill’s hair was sleek as the silk shirts and meticulously tailored suits she bought in Toronto twice a year; she was still smart and she was still earnest, but she’d had some bruising encounters with political realities, and the glow had dimmed a little.
She had used the first years after the government changed to go back to school. She got two graduate degrees in journalism, taught for a while at Ryerson in Toronto, then came back to Regina and her first love, tv news.
That afternoon, when she heard my voice, Jill gave a throaty whoop. “Well, la- di- da, you’re back in town. I’d heard rumours but since you never actually phoned me, I didn’t want to believe them.”
“Believe them,” I said. “And as susceptible to guilt as I am, you can’t guilt me on this because we’ve only been back in Regina two weeks. We’re not even unpacked yet.”
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll come over and help you unpack. That’ll guilt you.”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Sure. I’m just poring over our anemic budget trying to find some money that didn’t get spent. Depressing work for the first five- star day we’ve had this month.”
“Come over then. It’d be great to see you. But listen, I was calling for another reason, too. Have you heard anything about a case called the Little Flower murders?”
Jill whistled, “I’ve heard a lot. One of our investigative units is putting together a feature on it. I can bring over some of their tapes if you like.” She was quiet for a beat. “What’s your interest in this, Jo?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. Listen, I bought a new house. Same neighbourhood as I lived in before I moved to Saskatoon, but over on Regina Avenue.” I gave her the address. “Twenty minutes?”
“Fifteen,” she said. “I’ve been cooped up here long enough. I’m starting to wilt.”
When I saw her coming up the front walk, she didn’t look like a woman who was wilting. She looked sensational, and I was conscious of the fact that I hadn’t changed since I’d grabbed my blue jeans and an old Mets T- shirt out of the clean laundry when Mieka had called that morning. Jill’s red hair was cut in a short bob, and she was wearing an orangeygold T- shirt, an oversize unbleached cotton jacket, short in the front and long in the back, and matching pants. On the lapel of her jacket she had pinned a brilliant silk sunflower.
“You look like a van Gogh picnic,” I said, hugging her.
“Where did you get that outfit?”
“Value Village,” she said. “It’s all second-hand.”
“How come when I wear Value Village it looks like Value Village?”
“Because you’re too conservative, Jo. You’ve got to force yourself to walk by the polyester pantsuits.” She stepped past me into the front hall and looked around. “My God, this isn’t a polyester pantsuit kind of house. You must be doing all right.”
“Well, I am doing all right,” I said, “but not this all right. Come on, let me give you the grand tour, and I’ll tell you about it.”
Even after two weeks, I felt a thrill when I walked around our new home. It was a beautiful house, thirty years old, solid, with big sunny rooms and lots of Laura Ashley wallpaper and oak floors and gleaming woodwork. I loved being a tour guide and Jill was a wonderful companion: enthusiastic, flattering and funny. When we walked out in the backyard and she saw the pool glittering in the sun, she said, “This really is sublime.” Then our dogs came out of the house and ran down the hill. Sadie, the collie, stopped dead at the edge of the pool, but Rose, the golden retriever, jumped in and began doing laps.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Verdict in Blood

Verdict in Blood

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery
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When the phone on my bedside table shrilled in the early hours of Labour Day morning, I had the receiver pressed to my ear before the second ring. Eli Kequahtooway, the sixteen-year-old nephew of the man in my life, had been missing since 4:00 the previous afternoon. It wasn’t the first time that Eli had taken off, but the fact that he’d disappeared before didn’t ease my mind about the dangers waiting for him in a world that didn’t welcome runaways, especially if they were aboriginal.
I was braced for the worst. I got it, but not from the quarter I was expecting.
My caller’s voice was baritone rubbed by sandpaper. “This is Detective Robert Hallam of the Regina City Police,” he said. “Am I speaking to Hilda McCourt?”
“No,” I said. “I’m Joanne Kilbourn. Miss McCourt is staying with me for the weekend, but I’m sure she’s asleep by now. Can’t this wait until morning?”
Detective Hallam made no attempt to disguise his frustration.
“Ms. Kilbourn, this is not a casual call. If I’d wanted to recruit a block captain for Neighbourhood Watch, I would have waited. Unfortunately for all of us, a woman’s been murdered, and your friend seems to be our best bet for establishing the victim’s identity. Now, why don’t you do the sensible thing and bring Ms. McCourt to the phone. Then I can get the information I need, and you can go back to bed.”
Hilda was eighty-three years old. I shrank from the prospect of waking her up to deal with a tragedy, but as I walked down the hall to the guest room, I could see the light under her door. When I knocked, she answered immediately. Even propped up in bed reading, Hilda was a striking figure.
When the actress Claudette Colbert died, a graceful obituary noted that, among her many talents, Claudette Colbert wore pyjamas well. Hilda McCourt shared that gift. The pyjamas she was wearing were black silk, tailored in the clean masculine lines of women’s fashions in the forties. With her brilliant auburn hair exploding like an aureole against the pillow behind her, there was no denying that, like Claudette Colbert, Hilda McCourt radiated star power. She leaned forward. “I heard the phone,” she said.
“It’s for you, Hilda,” I said. “It’s the police. They need your help.” I picked up her robe from the chair beside the window and held it out to her. “You can take the call in my room.”
She slipped into her robe, a magnificent Chinese red silk shot through with gold, and straightened her shoulders.
“Thank you, Joanne,” she said. “I’ll enlighten you when I’m enlightened.”
After she left, I picked up the book she’d been reading. Geriatric Psychiatry: A Handbook. It was an uncharacteristic choice. Hilda was a realist about her age. She quoted Thomas Dekker approvingly, “Age is like love; it cannot be hid,” but she never dwelled on growing old, and her mind was as sharp as her spirit was indomitable. While I waited for her, I glanced at the book’s table of contents. The topics were weighty: “The Dementias”; “Delirium and Other Organic Mental Disorders”; “Psychoses”; “Anxiety and Related Personality Dysfunctions”; “Diagnosing Depression.”
Uneasy, I leafed through the book. Its pages were heavily annotated in a strong but erratic hand which I was relieved to see was not my old friend’s. The writer had entered into a kind of running dialogue with the authors of the text, but the entries were personal, not scholarly. I stopped at a page listing the criteria for a diagnosis of dementia. The margins were black with what appeared to be self-assessments. I felt a pang of guilt as sharp as if I’d happened upon a stranger’s diary. Hilda wasn’t gone long. When she came back, she pulled her robe around her as if she were cold and sank onto the edge of the bed.
“Let me get you some tea,” I said.
“Tea’s a good idea, but we’d better use the large pot,” she said. “The detective I was speaking to is coming over.”
“Hilda, what’s going on?”
She adjusted the dragon’s-head fastening at the neck of her gown. “The police were patrolling Wascana Park tonight, and they found a body sprawled over one of those limestone slabs at the Boy Scout memorial. There was nothing on the victim to identify her, but there was a slip of paper in her jacket pocket.” Hilda’s face was grim. “Joanne, the paper had my name on it and your telephone number.”
“Then you know who she is,” I said.
Hilda nodded. “I’m afraid I do,” she said. “I think it must be Justine Blackwell.”
“The judge,” I said. “But you were just at her party tonight.”
“I was,” Hilda said, stroking the dragon’s head thoughtfully.
“That book you’re holding belongs to her. There’d been some disturbing developments in her life, and she wanted my opinion on them. I left your number with her because she was going to call me later today.”
“Come downstairs, and we’ll have that tea,” I said.
“I’d like to dress first,” Hilda said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable receiving a member of the police force in my robe.”
I’d just plugged in the kettle when the phone rang again.
It was Alex Kequahtooway. “Jo, I know it’s late, but you said to call as soon as I heard from Eli.”
“He called you?”
“He’s back. He was here when I got home.”
“Oh, Alex, I’m so glad. Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. When I walked in, he’d just got out of the shower. He went into his room and started taking fresh clothes out of his drawers. Jo, he didn’t say a word to me. It was as if I wasn’t there. At first, I thought he was on something, but I’ve seen kids wasted on just about every substance there is, and this is different.”
“Have you called Dr. Rayner?”
“I tried her earlier in the evening. I thought Eli might have got in touch with her, but there was no answer. Of course, it’s a holiday weekend. I’m going to call again, but if I don’t connect, I’m going to take Eli down to emergency. I hate to bring in another shrink, but I just don’t know what to do for him, and I don’t want to blow it.”
“You won’t,” I said. “Eli’s going to be fine. He’s come a long way this summer. Most importantly, he has you.”
“And you think that’s enough?” Alex asked, and I could hear the ache.
“I know that’s enough.”
For a beat there was silence, then Alex, who was suspicious of words, said what he didn’t often say. “I love you, Jo.” “I love you, too.” I took a breath. “Alex, there’s something else. About ten minutes ago, Hilda got a phone call from a colleague of yours. There was a murder in the park tonight. It looks like the victim was Hilda’s friend Justine Blackwell. I’m afraid Detective Hallam – that’s the officer who’s coming over is going to ask Hilda to identify the body. I don’t want her to have to go through that.”
“She shouldn’t have to,” Alex said. “There are a hundred people in this city who know Justice Blackwell. Someone else can make the id – I’ll take care of it. And, Jo, pass along a message to Hilda for me, would you? Tell her not to let Bob Hallam get under her skin. He can be a real jerk.”
“I’ll warn her,” I said. “Alex, I’m so thankful that Eli’s back.”
“Me too,” he said. “God, this has been a lousy night.”
As I poured boiling water into the Brown Betty, Alex’s words stayed with me. It had been a lousy night, which had come hard on the heels of a lousy day. The problem was, as it had been so often in the past few months, Eli.
He was a boy whose young life had been shadowed by trouble: a father who disappeared before he was born and a temperament composed of equal parts intelligence, anger, and raw sensitivity. Driven by furies he could neither understand nor control, Eli became a runaway who spattered his trail with spray-painted line drawings of horses, graffiti that identified him as definitively as a fingerprint. His capacity for self-destruction seemed limitless. He was also the most vulnerable human being I had ever met. Alex told me once that when he’d heard a biographer of Tchaikovsky say that the composer had been “a child of glass,” he had thought of his nephew.
From the day he was born, the centre of Eli’s life had been his mother. The previous May, Karen Kequahtooway was killed in a car accident. Eli had been sitting in the seat beside her. His physical injuries healed quickly, but the lacerations to his psyche had been devastating. The child of glass had shattered. For weeks, Eli’s anguish translated itself into a kind of free-floating rage that exploded in graffiti and hurled itself against whoever was luckless enough to cross his path. On more than one occasion, that person was me. But as the summer days grew shorter, the grief and fury that had clouded Eli’s life began to lift. For the first time since Karen’s death, Eli appeared to be seeing a future for himself, and Alex and I had allowed ourselves the luxury of hope. Then everything fell apart.
At first, it seemed as if the gods were smiling. When she arrived for the weekend, Hilda surprised Alex and Eli and my kids and me with tickets for the annual Labour Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. As we settled into our seats on the fifty-five-yard line, Alex and I grinned at each other. The seats were perfect. So was the weather, which was hot and still. And on the opening kickoff, the Riders’ kick returner broke through the first wave of tacklers and scampered into the endzone for a touchdown. All signs pointed to a banner day.
From the beginning of our relationship, Alex and I had been careful not to use the fact that Eli and my son, Angus, were both sixteen as justification for asking them to move in lockstep. We had hoped for the best and left it to them to find each other. That Sunday, they were sitting a few seats away in the row behind us, and as their game patter and laughter drifted towards us, it seemed our strategy was working.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Angus announced that he and Eli were going to get nachos; they bought their food and started back, but somewhere between the concession stand and their seats, Eli disappeared. There were twenty-five thousand people at Taylor Field that day, so looking for Eli hadn’t been easy, but we’d done our best. After the game, we checked the buses on the west side of the stadium. When we couldn’t find Eli, we went back inside the stadium and waited until the stands emptied. There was always the possibility that he had simply lost track of where we were sitting. But we couldn’t find him, and as we walked through the deserted parking lot it was clear that, as he had on many occasions, Eli had simply run away. The rest of the day was spent in the dismally familiar ritual of checking out Eli’s haunts and calling the bus station and listening to a recorded voice announce the times when the buses that might have carried Eli away from his demons left the city. Now, without explanation, he was back, and it seemed that all we could do was hold our breath and wait until next time.
Detective Hallam arrived just as I was carrying the tray with the teapot and cups into the living room. On my way to the front door, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the hall mirror and flinched. I was tanned from a summer at the lake, and the week before I’d had my hair cut in a style which I was relieved to see fell into place on its own, but after I’d talked to Alex, I only had time to splash my face, brush my teeth, and throw on the first two items I found in the clean laundry: an old pair of jogging shorts and a Duran Duran T-shirt from my oldest daughter’s abandoned collection of rock memorabilia. I was dressed for comfort not company, but when I opened the door, I saw that Hilda’s caller was dapper enough for both of us.
Robert Hallam appeared to be in his mid-sixties. He was a short, trim man with a steel-grey crewcut, a luxuriant bush of a moustache, and a thin, ironic smile. It was a hot night, but he was wearing meticulously pressed grey slacks, a black knit shirt, and a salt-and-pepper tweed jacket. He nodded when I introduced myself, then walked into the living room ahead of me, checked out the arrangement of the furniture, dragged a straight-backed chair across the carpet and positioned it next to the couch so he’d be able to look down at whoever sat next to him. He turned down my offer of tea, and when Hilda came into the room, he didn’t rise. As far as I was concerned, Detective Hallam was off to a bad start.
He motioned Hilda to the place on the couch nearest him. “Sit down,” he said. “Inspector Ke-quah-too-way has informed me that we don’t need you to make the id any more, so this may be a waste of time for both of us.”
Hilda remained standing. From the set of her jaw as she looked down at the detective, I could see that she had missed neither Robert Hallam’s derisive smile when he mentioned Alex’s rank nor the exaggerated care with which he pronounced Alex’s surname. She shot him a glance that would have curdled milk, then, with great deliberation, she walked to the end of the couch farthest from him and sat down. The flush spread from Robert Hallam’s neck to his face. He stood, grabbed his chair, and took it to where Hilda was sitting. Then he perched on the edge and pulled out a notepad.
“I’ll need your full name, home address, and telephone number,” he said tightly.
After Hilda gave him the information, he narrowed his eyes at her. “How old are you, Ms. McCourt?”
“It’s Miss McCourt,” Hilda said. “And I don’t see that my age is germane.”
“The issue is testimonial capacity,” he snapped. “I have to decide whether I can trust your ability to make truthful and accurate statements.”
Hilda stiffened. “I assure you that you can,” she said.
“Detective, if you have questions, I’m prepared to answer them, but if you wish to play games, you’ll play alone.”
Detective Hallam’s face was scarlet. “How did Mrs. Kilbourn’s phone number get in the dead woman’s jacket pocket?” he rasped.
“Justine Blackwell put it there herself,” Hilda said.
 “Yesterday I drove down from Saskatoon to attend a party celebrating her thirtieth year on the bench. Afterwards, at Justine’s invitation, I went to the hotel bar and had a drink with her. Before we parted, she asked for a number where she could reach me. I gave her Mrs. Kilbourn’s.”
“How would you describe your relationship with Justine Blackwell?”
“Long-standing but not intimate,” Hilda said. “She rented a room in my house in Saskatoon when she was in law school.”
“And you’ve kept in touch all these years?”
“We exchanged holiday cards. When either of us visited the city in which the other lived, we had dinner together. But as I said, we were not intimate.”
“Yet you drove 270 kilometres on a holiday weekend to come to her party. That’s a long drive for a woman your age.”
Hilda’s spine stiffened with anger, but she didn’t take the bait. “I came because Justine Blackwell telephoned and asked me to come,” she said.
“How was Judge Blackwell’s demeanour at her party?”
Hilda didn’t answer immediately. Robert Hallam leaned towards her, and when he spoke his tone was condescending.
“It’s a simple question, Miss McCourt. Was the judge having the time of her life? Was she miserable? In a word, how did she seem?”
Hilda sipped her tea thoughtfully. “In a word, she seemed contumacious.”
Detective Hallam’s head shot up.
Hilda spelled the word slowly for him so he had time to write it in his notepad. “It means defiant,” she added helpfully.
“She was defiant at a party celebrating her accomplishments?” Detective Hallam was sputtering now. “Isn’t that a little peculiar?”
 “It was a peculiar party,” Hilda said. “For one thing, Justine Blackwell threw the party herself.”
Robert Hallam cocked an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t it have been more natural for the other judges to organize the tribute?”
“In the normal run of things, yes.” Hilda said. “But Madame Justice Blackwell’s thinking had taken a curious turn in the last year.”
“Describe this ‘curious turn.’”
“I can only tell you what Justice Blackwell told me herself.”
“Justice Blackwell had come to believe that her interpretation of the law had lacked charity.”
“After thirty years, this just came upon her – a bolt from the blue?”
“No, she’d had an encounter with a prisoners’ advocate named Wayne J. Waters.”
Detective Hallam narrowed his eyes. “That man is lightning in a bottle. What’s his connection here?”
“Justine told me he’d accosted her after a young man she’d sentenced to prison committed suicide. Mr. Waters told her that he held her personally responsible for the man’s death.”
“I suppose the lad was as innocent as a newborn babe.”
Hilda shook her head. “No, apparently there was no doubt about his guilt. But it was a first offence and, in Mr. Waters’ opinion, Justine was culpable because she had failed to take into account the effect the appalling conditions of prison would have upon a sensitive young person.”
“Justice without mercy,” I said.
My old friend looked at me gratefully. “Precisely. And according to Mr. Waters, that particular combination was Justine’s specialty. He told her that her lack of compassion was so widely recognized that prisoners and their lawyers alike called her Madame Justice Blackheart.”
 “That’s a little childish, isn’t it?”
Hilda nodded. “Of course it is, and considering the source, the appellation didn’t bother Justine. She’d been called worse. But she was woman who held herself to very rigorous standards, and she needed to prove to herself that the charge was unwarranted. She went back to her office and began rereading her old judgments. When she saw how uncompromising her rulings had been, she was shaken.”
“Wayne J. had scored a bull’s-eye?”
“He had indeed.”
“Was Mr. Waters at the party last night?”
Hilda nodded. “Oh yes. He and Justine had an ugly confrontation.”
Detective Hallam’s eyes narrowed. “Describe it.”
“It was at the end of the evening,” Hilda said. “I’d gone to the cloakroom to pick up my wrap. By the time I got back, Justine and Mr. Waters were in medias res.”
“In the middle of things,” Detective Hallam said.
This time it was Hilda’s turn to look surprised. “Exactly. Mr. Waters was accusing Justine of failing to honour some sort of agreement. He stopped his diatribe when he saw me, so I’m not clear about the nature of the transaction. But his manner was truly frightening.”
“Did Justice Blackwell seem afraid of him?”
“I don’t know. The incident was over so quickly. But it was an unsettling moment in a very unsettling evening.”
“Go on.”
“Over the past year, Justine had made an effort to get in touch with everyone with whom she felt she had dealt unfairly. She’d sent some of them money and offered to do what she could to help them re-establish themselves. Last night was supposed to be the final reconciliation.”
“Sounds like the judge got religion,” Detective Hallam said.
Hilda ignored his irony. “Not religion, but there was an epiphany. Detective Hallam, in the past year, Justine’s entire way of looking at the world had altered. She even looked different. She’d always been a woman of great style.”
“A fashion plate,” he said.
“Hardly,” Hilda sniffed. “Fashion is ephemeral; style is enduring. Some of Justine’s suits must have been twenty years old, but they were always beautifully cut, and her jewellery was always simple but elegant. I was quite startled when I saw her last night.”
“She’d let herself go?” he asked.
“To my eyes, yes, but I don’t imagine Justine saw it that way. She was wearing bluejeans that were quite badly faded and one of those oversized plaid shirts that teenagers wear. Her hair was different too. She’s almost seventy years old, so for the last couple of decades I’ve suspected that lovely golden hair of hers was being kept bright by a beautician’s hand; still, it was a shock to see her with white hair and done so casually.”
“Was her hygiene less than adequate?”
Hilda shook her head impatiently. “Of course not. Justine was always fastidious – in her person and in her surroundings.”
Detective Hallam’s pen was flying. “Have you got the names of any of the other people at the party?”
Hilda looked thoughtful. “Well, Justine’s children were there. She has three daughters, grown, of course. There was a man named Eric Fedoruk, whom Justine introduced as a friend of long standing. There were perhaps seventy-five other guests. None of the others was known to me.”
“What time was it when you last saw Justine Blackwell? You can be approximate.”
“I can be exact,” Hilda said. “It was midnight outside the Hotel Saskatchewan. We’d had our drinks, and Madame Justice Blackwell came outside and waited with me until a cab pulled up.”
“When you left her, did she give you any indication of her plans for the rest of the evening?”
Hilda shook her head. “She said she was tired, but she thought she should go back inside to say goodnight to a few people before she went home.”
“And that was it?”
“That was it.”
“Is there anything you’d care to add to what you’ve already told me?”
For a moment, Hilda seemed lost in thought. When she finally responded, her voice was steely. “No,” she said. “There is nothing I would care to add.”
Detective Robert Hallam snapped his notepad shut and placed it in the inside pocket of his jacket. “Thank you for your time, Miss McCourt. You’ve been very helpful.” He bobbed his head in my direction and headed for the door.
After he left, I turned to Hilda. “You were helpful,” I said.
“Surprisingly so, after you two got off to such a rocky start.” Hilda shuddered. “The man’s an egotist,” she said. “But I couldn’t let my distaste for him stand in the way of the investigation of Justine’s murder. This news is so cruel. It’s barbarous that Justine should die not knowing . . .” She fell silent.
I reached over and touched her hand. “What didn’t Justine know?”
A wave of pain crossed Hilda’s face. “Whether she was in the process of losing her mind or of finding a truth that would make sense of her life,” she said.
“That book on geriatric psychiatry you were reading tonight was Justine’s, wasn’t it?”
Hilda nodded. “She gave it to me last night. Joanne, the information I gave Detective Hallam was accurate but not complete. Out of deference to Justine’s reputation, I didn’t divulge the nature of our final conversation. It was a deeply distressing one. Justine said she didn’t know who to trust any more. Certain people, whom she did not name, were concerned about her mental competence. She wanted me to read through the diagnostic criteria for a number of conditions and, in light of what I’d learned, tell her if I believed she was in need of psychiatric help.”
“She wanted you to reach a verdict about her sanity?” I asked.
“That’s exactly what she wanted. And she wanted to make certain I had the evidence I needed to reach a just verdict.” Hilda slipped a hand into her pocket and withdrew a cream-coloured envelope. She took out a single piece of paper and handed it to me. The letter was dated the preceding day, handwritten in the same bold, erratic hand I’d seen in the margins of the book on geriatric psychiatry.

Dear Hilda McCourt:
As you know, I have become increasingly concerned about my mental state. I require your assistance to determine whether I am still mentally competent. Therefore, I am concurrently executing a Power of Attorney appointing you as my attorney with all necessary powers to investigate and examine my past and current affairs, including the right to access and review all financial records, personal papers, and any and all other documents that you deem relevant in order to determine my mental competency. Further, should you determine that I am not mentally competent, then I authorize you to apply to the court pursuant to the Dependant Adults Act to have me declared incapable of managing my personal affairs, and furthermore, to have you appointed as both my personal and property guardian. Incidentally, my trusted friend, I want to inform you that I have previously executed my will, appointing you as my Executrix.
The signature was Justine Blackwell’s.

I felt a coldness in the pit of my stomach. “I can’t think of many things more frightening than not knowing if I was losing touch with reality.”
Hilda’s voice was bleak. “In all the years I knew her, I never saw Justine unsure of herself until last night. When she handed me this letter, there was something in her eyes I can’t describe – a kind of existential fear. From the moment I heard about her death, I haven’t been able to get that image out of my mind. There’s a story about Martin Heidegger.”
“The philosopher,” I said.
Hilda’s nod was barely perceptible. “A policeman spotted him sitting alone on a park bench. He appeared so desperate that the officer went over to him and asked him who he was. Heidegger looked up at the man and said, ‘I wish to God I knew.’” Hilda’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Joanne, can you conceive of a fate crueller than dying without knowing who you are?”
I thought of Eli Kequahtooway, the child of glass. “Only one,” I said. “Living without knowing who you are.”

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Wandering Soul Murderers

Wandering Soul Murderers

A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery #3
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