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Authors: Brenda Chapman

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BOOK: Butterfly Kills
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Chapter Seventeen

stove clock buzzer gave its long, piercing signal. Gail Pankhurst jumped up from her chair, grabbed her rooster-shaped oven mitts, and pulled open the oven door. She slid out a pan and pushed on the nearest muffin with her index finger. Satisfied that they were ready, she grabbed the two tins and dumped the carrot muffins onto trivets she’d already arranged on the counter. While the muffins cooled, she changed into purple shorts, slightly tighter than she’d have liked, and an orange tank top that showed off her garden of tats. No use having them if nobody could see them.

She scrawled a note for her roommate Elaine on the back of an envelope, promising to clean up the mess upon her return. She added that she was on an errand of mercy that couldn’t wait. Elaine would get herself into a snit over the mess anyhow, Gail knew, but she’d deal with it later.

She’d wearied of Elaine’s cold shoulder and snide jabs. The animosity had all started when she’d announced to Elaine that she was gay and open to experimentation, probably not her best move in hindsight. Soon afterwards, they’d agreed that this would be the last year they roomed together. The main battle was yet to be fought, however. Gail would give up the Court Street apartment over her own dead body. Elaine had tried to claim it, as if she’d forgotten who found the apartment in the first place. So much for high school friendship surviving university. Gail filed their relationship into her mental folder on human behaviour under the dysfunctional category. She’d go over their broken friendship later when it didn’t sting quite so much. For now, it took all her energy to act like she was all for the split. She would not buckle and beg Elaine to stay. She would not.

Gail arranged the muffins in a tin that she placed into her knapsack. She searched under her bed for her sandals, then gathered the clothes that were scattered across the floor into one big heap. She tossed the lot onto her bed and kicked a stray bra into the corner. The clothes could damn well wait too.

She locked the apartment door and clumped down the stairs, taking the back exit into the yard where she retrieved her bike from the shed. Well, Elaine’s bike really, but she never used it. Gail smiled and snapped her fingers, wiggling her hips before putting on her bike helmet. “You got it going on, sister,” she said. A little self-mockery helped keep the blues away.

Exiting the driveway, she turned north on Barrie Street. The route would take her past Leah Sampson’s apartment, but she felt ready to face the scene of the crime. She’d been more upset by the idea of a murder than Leah’s death, although images of Leah kept coming back and disturbing her sleep. It was just the normal part of grieving, she told herself. Her job was to remain objective.

The gathering clouds were worrisome, but it was still a hot day with a cooker sun. Her hair would be plastered in sweat under her helmet by the time she reached her destination. As if she needed anything else to make her look less of a winner. She’d accepted that she’d never be a beauty and gone with the eccentric look, but she admitted to moments of model envy. “Ah screw it,” she said out loud. She rubbed her Popeye tat, the greatest cartoon character of all time. “I y’am what I y’am.” She hoisted her knapsack onto her back and swung a leg over the bike seat, giving herself a running start with her other foot.

She paused at the corner of Johnson and Barrie and looked a block to her right at the yellow tape surrounding the house where Leah had met her end. Her eyes misted over for a moment but she blinked away the tears.
Stupid cow
. She meant herself, but Leah deserved the moniker too. She must have done something totally asinine to get herself killed. A woman full of secrets and way too attracted to the male species. Her wandering eye had likely gotten her killed.

Gail had been keeping a file on Leah and Wolf for months. She put them under her “romance at work” category, detailing their relationship and then the breakup. She’d particularly liked that they grew up down the street from each other in the same town but didn’t find love until they left Brockville. She’d sensed trouble several weeks before it happened. Not on Wolf’s side; strictly on Leah’s. Leah had always been evasive, disappearing for so called appointments.
more like, and if Juicy was right, assignations with a married man.

As part of her research, Gail had begun charting Leah’s comings and goings and snippets of conversations. How in the hell could she have missed that Leah was sleeping with someone else? Gail shook her head, disappointed with herself for overlooking such basic human behaviour. She’d always believed Leah and Wolf belonged together. Call her a romantic. Losing that dream was almost as bad as never seeing Leah again.

She put her bike back into gear and continued on her journey. The tires had to be soft because pedalling was more work than it should have been. Sweat was dripping off her forehead and her shirt was dark under her armpits. Another twenty torturous minutes winding in a northwesterly direction through neighbourhood streets and she found herself in front of Wolf’s place. His little blue Volvo was in the driveway so she’d likely caught him at home. At last, something was going right.

She leaned her bike against a tree and climbed the steps to his front door. He didn’t answer her ring right away, but she didn’t give up. After the third time leaning on the buzzer, the door finally opened.

“I suppose telling you to go away won’t work,” Wolf said wearily, stepping aside so that she could enter.

“I brought muffins,” she said with as much bounce in her voice as she could manage. She trailed after him into the kitchen. She took the baking out of her knapsack and put the muffins on the table before taking it upon herself to make coffee. She glanced at Wolf every so often. He’d sat in the chair near the window and slumped down with his chin on his chest, his long legs stretched out in front of him. His hair was uncombed and wild as if he’d spent the morning running his hands through it. His eyes were closed.

She leaned over the counter and pushed the window open. “Smells like a brewery in here. A brewery in a boys’ locker room. Have you left the house at all this week?”

Wolf raised his head to watch her pour two cups of coffee and arrange muffins on a plate that she took out of the cupboard. “Why are you here?” he asked.

“Because you’re in trouble and I can help.” She’d decided that only the semblance of truthfulness would work with Wolf. “You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think the police have you squarely in their sights for Leah’s murder. The scorned ex is always the prime suspect. You need to pull yourself together and figure out who killed Leah. I want to help.”

“And why would you want to do that?”

“Let’s say that I have a psychologist’s interest in solving this atrocity. Leah was always kind to me. I know I’m not your traditional woman, but she never made me feel small. You never did either. In my world, that means a lot.”

“And how can you be so certain I didn’t kill her?”

“Because I’m a good judge of character.” She paused to give him time to mull over her offer, her eyes never leaving his face. She’d have to rely on her memory to make notes in his file later.

“I told the police that I met a friend at the bar.” His voice was flat, disinterested.

“And did you tell the truth?”

“I was supposed to, but by the time I arrived, he’d already been and gone.”

“What time was that?”

“Near closing. I came back here first after I walked Leah home. I’d forgotten my wallet. Then I thought about some wording for my thesis and stopped to jot it down. Time got away.”

Wolf had a reputation for being late, much like herself. Gail found his story plausible. “So after the police talk with your friend …”

“They’ll be right back here I imagine.” He bared his teeth in what could pass for a grin. “I’m fucked, as they say.”

“Not if I say you came back to the centre after you dropped off Leah.” Gail watched to see if he’d take the out she was offering him.

“You’d be lying.”

“Just helping an innocent friend.” She smiled. “We have to stick together.”

“I don’t know. On those police shows, lying never seems to work out very well.”

“It might keep you out of jail long enough for us to figure out what happened.”

He studied her. “It also gives you an alibi,” he said. “If you’re telling people I was with you, that means nobody saw what you were up to either.”

“I was working the phone line.”

“Only until eleven. Did anyone see you during the weekend?”

Gail stopped short of responding. Elaine had vacated their place Friday after class and returned Sunday evening.
. He was right. She didn’t have an alibi either, but then, she didn’t exactly need one.

“Do you have any idea who Leah was seeing before she died?” Gail asked. “I could do some digging.”

Wolf looked at her, his mouth clamped shut. The silence lengthened. She tried not to back down from his gaze. Somehow, she’d lost control of the interview. When it became clear that he didn’t intend to answer, she grabbed a muffin and took a bite. While she chewed, she stood and grabbed her knapsack and bike helmet. She paused in the doorway.

“You know where to find me,” she said. “If you want me to say we were together part of the weekend, I’ll back you up. You just have to let me know.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

“Then be prepared for what’s coming. The cops misinterpret evidence all the time to make it fit their theory. They can make square pegs fit into round holes if it suits them.”

“Thanks, but I’ll take my chances.”

“Suit yourself.”

She opened the door and saw that the clouds had closed in overhead like a grey blanket and the pavement was black and slick with rain. She’d be soaked through biking home, but at least it was a warm rain. It would feel better than sweat running down her body.

Her trip hadn’t given her much that would inform her working files, but perhaps down the road there’d be something about Wolf’s aversion to having her give him an alibi that she could work into a paper for one of the journals. His reaction had to be an anomaly. Most people she knew would do anything to avoid being charged with murder.

She’d begun a study of infidelity and would give anything to know what Wolf’s reaction had been to Leah fooling around on him with a married man. Hopefully, he’d start thinking of her as an ally and would begin opening up. All she needed was to find proof that he couldn’t be the killer. She’d present it to him and the police, and the rest would follow naturally. He had to spill his guts sometime and she was a good counsellor. Listening and observing were her specialties.

“See you later, Wolf,” she said. “I’m always around if you need to talk.”

She stepped outside and craned her neck way back to let the rain strike her face. If she was going to get wet, she may as well make the most of it. She looked back into the kitchen as she closed the door. Wolf was still sitting at the table, the full cup of coffee cooling in front of him, the carrot muffins untouched on the plate. He was one miserable sight and she hesitated. If he’d been at all receptive, she’d have gone back into the house and offered some comfort in a heartbeat, but he knew as much if not more about counselling as she did, and something told her he wouldn’t appreciate her return.

Her hair and tank top were completely soaked by the time she reached the spot where she’d left her bike leaning against a tree. If she sped up her ride, she’d have just enough time to make it home and have a hot shower before heading to the help line for the evening shift. She’d be working alone for part of it and would use the opportunity to dig around the office files on Wolf’s behalf. He’d owe her big time when she cleared his name, even if he didn’t realize the trouble he was in yet. It might mean he’d help with her research and thesis down the road. She could live with having someone in her debt, especially someone brilliant like Wolf who was going places … that is, if he managed to stay out of prison.

Chapter Eighteen

tucked his chin into his jacket collar and ran the two blocks from where he’d safely parked his Camero on a side street to the Merchant Tap House, dodging puddles and narrowly avoiding being drenched by a speeding car. As he rounded the corner onto Princess Street, he spotted Stonechild’s black truck idling a few blocks up, waiting for a blue van to pull out of a parking spot.
Good timing,
he thought.
Stonechild and I seem to be getting onto the same wavelength more quickly than normal for new partners.
He believed in that uncanny sense of one another that partners developed over time. Stonechild was prickly and liked working alone, but the intelligence in her eyes was undeniable. It would take time to find out more about her history. He bet it would explain a lot.

He walked to the bar and ordered a beer for himself and cranberry soda for Stonechild, taking both drinks into the smaller room to the right of the entrance. It was becoming their debriefing spot. The lighting was low and the room was empty of other patrons. It was the perfect place to talk over their separate interviews without being overheard. Stonechild soon joined him, shaking the rain from her hair. The dark strands glistened in the soft light from the overhead lamps. Her eyes glittered like black onyx. Gundersund, realizing he was staring, lowered his eyes and looked into his beer.

“Thanks for the drink,” she said, pulling up a chair kitty corner to him. “Kingston weather sure changes fast. The temperature must have dropped ten degrees.” She slipped out of her rain jacket and turned to hang it over the back of her chair. “So what did you find out about Wolf’s drinking partner Rick Carlson?”

Gundersund swallowed his mouthful of beer, then said, “Wolf never showed. Carlson waited an hour for him and then went home.”

“Jucinda and Mark from the help line both told me that Wolf walked Leah home that night. Wolf had motive and now it looks like opportunity. He might have lost it and killed her if she rejected him again that night. It never fails to amaze me how people think they own each other.”

“If I can’t have you, nobody can.” Gundersund was surprised to hear the bitterness in his own voice. Stonechild’s bottomless dark eyes held his for a moment before flicking away. He took a breath and continued in a less strained tone. “I talked with the bartender on shift in the bar where Wolf said he met up with Carlson. Bartender says Wolf made it in just before closing. Looked around as if he was searching for someone and then left.”

“That doesn’t prove anything. He might have put in an appearance and then rushed back to Leah’s apartment where he had her tied up.”

Gundersund drank from his beer. “We don’t have enough evidence yet to bring him in.”

Stonechild nodded. “Besides, he’s not the only one who could have done it.”

“You got something more out of the housemates?”

“The girl upstairs, Becky, said that Leah used to come to her apartment to chat after her shifts a few times a week, but the last few months she’d stopped the visits.”

“Any reason?”

“Becky thought Leah was evasive, as if she was hiding something that troubled her.”

“That’s about the same time that she and Wolf broke up.”

Stonechild nodded. “I thought the same thing, but Becky said it was more than that. Leah was sad about Wolf but blamed herself. She said that Wolf believed she was having an affair and it was easier just to let him.”

Gundersund took a drink of beer and thought over the possibilities. “Perhaps Wolf isn’t the only one who felt like he owned her. A lover could be equally as possessive.”

“Becky said the only reason she could think of that Leah wasn’t more forthcoming was that she was having an affair and the man was married. She said it wasn’t like Leah to be secretive.”

“I think we need to get back to the help line tomorrow and ask more questions.”

“I agree, but it’ll be better if I go and work my way into their confidences. Two of us will just intimidate them.”

Gundersund observed the defiant tilt to Stonechild’s chin and the obstinate glint in her eyes that met his without flinching. Rouleau had warned him that working with her would take a careful hand.

“I still have to check out Leah’s other housemate, Bobby Hamilton. I thought I’d visit his workplace and talk to his boss and coworkers. I’ll get on that first thing while you continue ingratiating yourself at the help line.”

Stonechild’s features relaxed. She finished her drink and set the glass on the table. “Well, I’m going to push off. I have a hungry dog waiting for me at home. See you tomorrow, Gundersund.”

“Until then.” He tilted his beer glass in her direction and watched her walk away. She turned before she reached the door.

“If you don’t have dinner plans this evening,” she said, “I might just have an idea.”

The rain slipped down the window pane and pooled on the open sill. Dalal put her index finger into the cool water and traced Joe’s name and her own, encircling them in a heart. Today he’d pretended to avoid her because she’d warned him not to talk to her when anyone was around, but he had slipped her a note just before recess. He’d wanted to walk her home from school.

She’d met him in their usual spot near the fence at the back of the school property, out of sight of prying eyes. He’d held her hand for the briefest of moments before she had pulled hers away. His grasp had been warm and comforting, reminding her of the one time he’d dared to hug her. They’d been playing on the monkey bars and he’d grabbed her around the waist as she jumped onto the ground. Up close with his breath warm on her cheek, his eyes had been as blue as her mother’s good china. They’d made her heart pound hard and had taken her breath away. Today, she’d been firm.

“I can’t walk home with you. It’s not safe.”

“Could you come for supper on Friday? My mother said it’s okay and she’ll make her famous pizza. You could say you’re doing schoolwork at a friend’s. You can even call me Josephine if it helps.” He’d grinned.

“I can’t promise anything.” She’d started walking away from the fence, from him. “I wish I could.”

There was a noise in the hall and Dalal turned to see Meeza jump across the floor toward her. Meeza was dressed in her best abaya, a deep sapphire blue. Her hair was tightly braided. She leaped onto the window seat and snuggled into Dalal.

Dalal laughed. “You seem happy,” she said, looking down into her sister’s glowing smile. She gently chided, “But why are you wearing your good clothes? Mother won’t be happy if she sees you.”

“It was Mother who told me to put them on. She’s taking me to meet someone special. I’m to smile and only talk if he asks me questions.”

Dalal’s heart went as cold as frost on a January morning. Meeza reacted to the look on her face, her own eyes widening in fright. “What is it Dalal? Is something wrong?”

“No, no, I’m sorry if I scared you. Everything is just fine.” Dalal paused, trying to still her racing fear. “Did you hear the name of this man you’re going to meet?” she asked as casually as she could.

Meeza’s face relaxed and she giggled. “I think she said his name is Mr. Khan. I have to go now. I wasn’t supposed to tell you where I’m going, but I tell you everything.” The happiness in her eyes disappeared, replaced by worry. “You won’t tell Mother that I told you?”

“Of course not. You are my sister and I will always look out for you. This will be between you and me, Meeza. I’ll see you when you come home.”

Meeza leaned her lips close to Dalal’s ear. “I love you, Dalal.”

Dalal turned her lips toward Meeza’s ear. “And I love you, little sister,” she whispered.

She watched Meeza skip from her bedroom. Her mother’s sharp voice scolded Meeza at the bottom of the stairs, telling her to put on her hijab and show some modesty. Just what was she thinking going out of the house in such a fashion? The sound of a sharp slap carried upstairs. Meeza’s whimper was more than Dalal could bear. She jumped off the window seat and made it to the door before common sense made her stop. Defending Meeza would only make her mother angrier. The anger would make her hit Meeza harder while Dalal watched. It would not be the first time.

Dalal forced herself to stand motionless. She clenched her hands against her chest until she heard the front door slam and she knew they’d gone. She stepped forward and silently closed her bedroom door. She could hear Ghazi’s music thumping through the wall, but she had to take this chance.

The diary was right where she’d hidden it in the bookcase. She listened for her brother’s footsteps before carefully sliding the book out from its spot between two hardcover books. She crouched down and opened the cover. It took her several tries before she found the right page. The words swam before her eyes and she had to blink several times before she could see.

Mr. Khan is pure evil. I’ll run away before they force me to marry him. I hate him, hate him, hate him. I would rather die than sleep with such an ugly old toad.

Dalal slowly lowered the diary onto the floor. What was she going to do now?

BOOK: Butterfly Kills
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