Authors: Brenda Chapman
signed the document Vera placed in front of him with a great sense of relief. It meant some human resources work and a party to plan, but Vera had assured him that she was way ahead of him. She’d already booked a venue and purchased the gift, a silver watch with Ed Chalmers’s name engraved on the back.
“After this week, Ed is taking the next two weeks as holiday leave. Once that’s done, one half of the dynamic duo will be officially in retirement.” Vera smiled as he handed her the folder. “I’ve put the word out that we’ll soon have an opening and there’s already been a few nibbles.”
“Any word from Heath?”
“He doesn’t like to be in contact when he’s on his wilderness retreat. How was your real estate appointment, by the way?”
“The house wasn’t quite what I was after.”
“I wouldn’t worry. Laney will find what you want if it’s out there. She’s got her finger in most pies.”
“How do you know Laney?”
“She’s my cousin. We grew up on the same street. Chased the same boys.”
The downward turn in Vera’s mouth when she spoke Laney’s name spoke volumes. Rouleau refrained from probing deeper. Discretion appeared the wiser course. He’d save his questions for Gundersund. He checked his watch. Just past six o’clock and time to call it a day.
Vera left with the file but kept the door ajar. He heard her speaking with someone in the hall. Less than ten seconds later, she tapped lightly on the door before stepping back inside his office, an apologetic look on her face. “The defence lawyer Suzie Chen insists on seeing you now. I can tell her you’re busy if you like, but she’s adamant that she has to talk with you right away.”
“Send her in.” He was curious to hear what Brian Munroe’s lawyer would have to say about his death at his wife’s hand.
Vera moved aside as Suzie blew past her into Rouleau’s office. Vera nodded at Rouleau and shut the door behind her as Suzie strode across the room to sit in the chair opposite him. Angry energy crackled from her like static electricity. Underneath her perfectly coiffed page boy haircut, her face was humourless, her black eyes shooting sparks. She slapped a file folder onto the desk and said, “Della Munroe murdered her husband. I believe that with every fibre of my being.”
“There’s nothing to back up your claim, unless you have evidence that we don’t.”
“You know I can’t repeat what he told me even if he’s dead. You need to keep looking at Della. She’s as cold-hearted a bitch as they come and it kills me to think she’s going to get away with this.”
“Let me play Devil’s advocate. The facts so far as we’ve been able to discern are that Della was raped. She says by her husband, even though he denied it. She had injuries that could not have been self-inflicted, from both the rape and last night. Brian broke into the home after she’d taken out a restraining order. He was on his way upstairs to take their son. According to Della, he said that she would never see their child alive again.”
“The word according to Della.” Sarcasm dripped from Suzie’s glossy red lips. “Don’t you find it just a wee bit convenient that there were no witnesses? Nobody to testify about this
“Munroe admitted to bruising her arm.”
“On one occasion, I grant you, but she provoked him.”
“Della’s friend Celia Paules backs up her claims of physical abuse and his attempts to isolate her.”
“Again, all the stories begin with Della. Look Rouleau, you appear to be a logical, dedicated sort of cop. I’m beseeching you to look at the events from Brian Munroe’s side in this he said/she said. He’s not here any longer to tell his version, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.” She stood abruptly. “I won’t even bother running this request past Heath since there’s nothing political or sexy about a poor black man being taken in by a psychopathic white chick, so his interest will be nil. I’m hoping you have the sense of decency that I think you have and give this a second look.”
“And where would you have me start?” he asked.
“I’ve brought you Brian’s notes to me that he wanted me to use in his defence.” She pointed to the file she’d tossed onto his desk. “I feel safe letting you review them, but please, do not share with all and sundry. I’m putting myself out on a limb here, Rouleau. That lets you know how convinced I am about Munroe being set up for the rape and his own death.”
Rouleau picked up the file. Chalmers and Woodhouse had plodded through the evidence, but they lacked intuition and initiative. Stonechild hadn’t had time to do more than scratch the surface. “I’ll give it another look. I can’t promise any more than that.”
Suzie Chen smiled for the first time. “Hiring you might just be the smartest thing that asshole Heath ever did. I wonder if he has any idea that he hasn’t recruited another useless yes man.” She bared her teeth in what passed as a smile. “Let me know what you find out. I’m counting on you to get to the truth, Rouleau. I’d really hate for Della Munroe to get away with what she did to that man.”
The front door of the Sunshine Bakery was locked with a sign printed in black magic marker hanging in the window that read, “Closed until Further Notice.” Rouleau peered through the glass and spotted a showcase of pastries and muffins with a half-filled coffee pot near the cash register. Baskets of breads and rolls filled the back wall behind the counter, each a forlorn reminder of Munroe’s untimely death. The store had been left locked and deserted for nearly a week. Someone would need to clean out the food soon or it would get ugly. The room was small, the walls painted a canary yellow with large framed photos of lilacs and tulips filling the spaces. The cheeriness made Rouleau depressed. A woman called to him from the sidewalk and he turned.
“It’s closed because of a death,” she said. “You might want to try the Tim Hortons down the street.” She looked like a student, early twenties, hair in two blond braids, T-shirt, red shorts, and sandals. A knapsack was slung over one shoulder. Her clear grey eyes regarded him sadly.
“Were you one of their customers?” he asked.
“I worked here part time. I was hoping someone would have opened up by now.” She walked next to him and looked through the window. “Nothing’s been moved so I’m guessing not.”
Rouleau pulled his police ID out of his pocket. “I’m one of the detectives looking into Brian Munroe’s death. I wonder if you have a few minutes to talk.”
“I don’t really know anything about how he died.”
“I’m more interested in his life. Can I buy you a coffee at that Tim Hortons?”
“Sure. I never turn down a free cup of joe.”
Erin MacDonald was a third-year business student at St. Lawrence College. She was holding down two part-time jobs: Tuesday to Thursday evenings at the bakery and Friday and Saturday lunch hours at a mall restaurant.
“My parents don’t have much,” she confided to Rouleau between bites of the jelly doughnut he’d bought her to go with the coffee. “I’m supporting myself, but that’s okay. I’ll just be a poor broke student one more year.” She smiled, showing off deep dimples. She licked the powdered sugar from her lips. “So what do you want to know?”
“How long did you work at the Sunshine Bakery?”
“Brian hired me at Christmas last year. I just walked in with my resume and he hired me on the spot. He was swamped with orders and understaffed.”
“What did you think of him? Was he a good employer?”
“He worked hard and he always treated the staff fairly. I never saw him get angry or heard him raise his voice, except toward the end when he spoke to his wife on the phone. I think he was feeling the strain of whatever was going down between them. He really loved his little boy. Talked about him all the time. He had the photos of his son and wife on his desk in the little back office.”
“Did you know he’d separated from his wife?”
“Yeah. He was sleeping on a couch in his office. Sad.”
“Did you meet Della or see them interact?”
“She came by the bakery a few times.” Erin fidgeted with her coffee cup, looking uncomfortable. “Very pretty.”
“It’s just that while she seemed all friendly and nice on the surface, I just got this feeling she wasn’t.” Erin shrugged. “That’s not evidence of anything.”
“I’m wondering what gave you that feeling.”
Erin tilted her head and watched a woman fit her baby into a high chair at the next table. She glanced his way. “Phoney. The way she spoke to Brian and their kid. It struck me that she was acting lovey-dovey. Everything she said was loud and sweet. Dripping saccharine. Brian looked uncomfortable every time she opened her mouth.”
“Had she been by the bakery recently?”
“No, but two weeks ago she called just after I started my shift and asked to speak with Brian. At first he told me to tell her he was busy, but then he changed his mind and took the phone. I didn’t hear what he said, but I could tell he was upset when he hung up.”
Erin finished her coffee and looked apologetically at Rouleau. “I’m sorry, but I have a class and I’m already going to be late.” He nodded and she stood, grabbing her knapsack from the back of her chair. She hesitated. “I liked Brian, Detective, and his death sucks, big time. Whatever was going on in his marriage, he didn’t deserve to die that way. We’re all really going to miss him.” She tilted her head again as she thought about something else. Rouleau waited silently until she focused her eyes on him again. “The really odd thing is that the university girl who was murdered last week used to come into the bakery too, at least the last few months. I know it was her because of her photo in the paper. Leah, that’s her name. We spoke a few times when I served her. Crazy that I know two people who died the same week.”
Rouleau’s pulse quickened. “What did you talk about?”
“Just school and the weather mainly. We weren’t close or anything. She talked more to Brian, but only because he was around more often.”
“Did she come into the bakery with anybody?”
“She was always alone. She’d take a table and I saw her get into conversations with people at other tables. I hadn’t seen her for a while though.”
“Here’s my card with my phone number and email. Contact me if anything else comes to mind, no matter how insignificant it seems.”
Erin took the card from him and tucked it into the pocket of her bag. “I will, but I really don’t know anything else.”
She left and Rouleau took his time finishing his coffee, thinking about what he’d learned from Erin and Suzie Chen. Neither had proof that Della was lying, yet each believed in Brian’s worth. If Della had schemed to kill him, she’d done a good job setting up the scenario and covering her tracks. Rouleau wasn’t entirely convinced she’d gone to such lengths. He remembered how traumatized she was after the rape and her devotion to her son. The physical evidence so far backed up her version of what happened the night she killed her husband. Brian might have been the devious one, spinning the image he wanted to project.
Rouleau drained the last of his coffee. Odd that Leah Sampson and Brian Munroe crossed paths and they both died within days of each other. Coincidence, or was something else in play? He was going to have to pull in Gundersund and Stonechild to see if they had any other connections between the two.
He looked toward the counter. His dad might like muffins for breakfast. He’d buy a half-dozen, since the line at the cash register had disappeared for the moment. Rouleau checked his watch. Quarter after seven. His dad would be itching for company and waiting for his supper. Rouleau promised himself that he’d think more about the two cases later in the evening. For now, he had to put some energy into taking care of commitments on the home front. His father had been a worry at the back of Rouleau’s thoughts all day. He’d been alone too long without someone to check in on him.
time Rouleau heard three voices when he stepped through the apartment door: his father, another man, and a woman. Oscar Peterson was spinning on his father’s prized turntable, soothing jazz to calm the troubled day. Puzzled, Rouleau inhaled the smell of garlic, onions, wine, and tomatoes and heard the sounds of banging pots coming from the kitchen. His confusion was short-lived. Gundersund met him at the end of the hallway with two glasses of red wine and a big grin. Rouleau accepted one and looked over Gundersund’s shoulder to see his father sitting on a chair in the kitchen and talking to Stonechild, who was stirring something on the stove. Her Lab Taiku lay at his father’s feet. Rouleau felt the tightness in his chest loosen.
“You giving cooking lessons, Dad?” he asked.
His father stopped whatever he was saying to Kala and they both looked in his direction. Taiku lifted his head and thumped his tail against the floor.
“It’s a dirty job,” his dad smiled, the same gentle smile Rouleau had known since childhood. It was the smile of a man at peace with the world
Rouleau felt some tension lift.
My father’s back to himself.
Kala waved a wooden spoon in the air and turned back to the stove. “You men take a seat,” she said. “Except for you, Gundersund. I’ll dish it up and you can deliver.”
“That’s about all I’m good for when it comes to the kitchen,” Gundersund said.
“Unlike Stonechild, who is demonstrating hidden talents,” Rouleau added. “Kala, you’re now officially my most valuable detective.”
“You won’t get any argument from me.” Gundersund set down his glass and took the tossed salad from the fridge. He grabbed a plate of rolls from the counter on his way past Rouleau to the dining room table.
Rouleau retrieved his father’s crutches for him and they made their way into the dining room. The table was set, complete with table cloth, crystal goblets, and centerpiece of fresh cut daisies. Rouleau whistled.
Gundersund set down plates of spaghetti. “Not only can Stonechild cook, she classed up the joint.” He picked up a pack of matches lying on the hutch and lit two yellow tapers in silver holders. “Can I give you a refill, Henri?” Gundersund asked.
“I wouldn’t say no.” Rouleau’s father held out his glass.
Rouleau watched Kala smile at his dad as she took her seat next to him. He lifted his glass to her and she bowed her head. Gundersund’s eyes were also on her, unreadable but clearly intrigued. Rouleau might have been worried if he thought Kala returned Gundersund’s interest, but he knew her well enough to doubt in the likelihood. Her black eyes met his. He saw uncertainty. It echoed in her voice when she said, “I phoned to speak with you but Henri said that you’d called that you’d be late. We thought a real home-cooked meal might be in order. I hope you don’t mind our intrusion.”
“On the contrary. You’ve kept my father company and relieved my mind. I had no idea what I was going to cook tonight.”
“This has been a marvellous surprise,” his father added. “The three of you are working too hard with this murder investigation and deserve a few hours to unwind and think of something else.”
Gundersund said, “To clarify, Stonechild was the brains behind this operation. I’m beginning to believe she can do anything she turns her hand to.”
“Not everything.” She picked up her fork.
Gundersund took a bite of the pasta and rich tomato sauce. “Is that ever good. Family recipe, Stonechild?”
Rouleau saw pain flash in her eyes before her face closed like a light shutting off. “No, not really,” she said.
Rouleau exchanged glances with Gundersund. He’d caught her reaction and was aware of his blunder. Silence descended on the table.
Rouleau’s father reached out a hand and touched Stonechild’s wrist. She looked across at him. Something unspoken passed between them and the tension in her face softened. She returned his smile.
Henri picked up his wine glass and raised it in her direction, then in Gundersund’s. “A toast to our guests and to a fine meal. An old man could not ask for better company.”
“I second that,” said Rouleau. “And for the duration of the meal, we’ll take a break from our work and enjoy Stonechild’s cooking.”
“Good by me,” Gundersund said, clearly relieved that the conversation had moved on.
Later, when Gundersund and Stonechild had gone, Rouleau sent his father to bed while he cleaned up the dishes. He filled the sink with soapy water to wash the good crystal, handed down through his father’s family. The pots took a bit of scrubbing. The rest of the dishes and cutlery went into the dish washer.
After he left the pots to air dry in the rack, he poured two fingers of Scotch and took it outside onto the balcony. He leaned against the railing and looked out over the lake, a band of darkness with a cone of silvery light across its surface where the moonlight reflected off the water. The cloud cover had blown out as quickly as it had arrived.
He’d managed to fill in Gundersund and Stonechild about his talk with Erin MacDonald and the curious interaction between Leah Sampson and Brian Munroe. They’d accepted the information with the same guarded logic as his own. Kingston was a small enough city that people’s paths crossed all the time. It might just be a coincidence that the two of them knew each other and died in violent ways within days of each other. On the other hand, their deaths could very well be related and needed to be checked out. The information gave the team renewed focus.
He sipped at the amber liquid. It burned the length of his throat, an old friend he rarely revisited. He’d let it worm its way into his nightly routine after his wife Frances left, but that had only lasted a short time. Whisky could drown a lot of pain, but it was not an answer in the long run.
His thoughts returned to Stonechild and Gundersund. She was a loner and a product of foster homes and frequent moves throughout her childhood. He could only guess at what lay behind the scars he’d glimpsed in her eyes in unguarded moments. Gundersund was separated, but Fiona was still in the picture from the stories he’d heard around the water cooler. Word was Gundersund would do anything to get her back.
“May I join you, son?”
Rouleau turned to see his father on his crutches beside the open sliding glass door. He jumped over to help him. “Of course, Dad. Can’t sleep?”
“Just needed a drink of water.” His father manoeuvred outside and leaned against the railing next to Rouleau. “Nice night.”
They stood side by side without feeling the need to speak. After a few minutes of silence, Henri said, “I think it’s time you found your own place, son. I’m managing well now and you don’t need my daily upkeep to add to your responsibilities.”
“I like being here for you.”
“I know, and I appreciate all you’ve done, but it’s time. I start back at the university on Monday. They’re loaning me a research assistant for a few months. Grad student. He’ll be able to do my heavy lifting. I intend to put in some late evenings.”
“You’re booting me out.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Rouleau could picture his dad’s smile in the darkness. He reached an arm around his father’s shoulders. “Thanks, Dad,” he said.
“No, son. Thank you. I know how much pressure you’ve been under to spend these last months looking after me while settling into a new life. I’m much better now and ready to get back on my feet, if you pardon the expression.”
“Then I’ll start seriously looking for real estate.” He’d find a bungalow where his father could move in once he could no longer live on his own.
His heart lightened. It would be a chance to contact Laney Masterson again.