Authors: Brenda Chapman
no notice of me,” Kala said to Jucinda Rivera. “I’m getting a feel of how this place operates, so please carry on as normal. If I have questions, I’ll be sure to ask.” She pointed to the couch. “I’ll set up there.”
“Great.” Jucinda grimaced. She looked down at the textbook she’d been reading and used her feet to turn her chair so that her back was to her desk and the couch. Kala found the childish gesture non-productive but amusing. Probably a passive-aggressive personality, if she remembered her psych classes. She wouldn’t have pegged this surly girl who dressed like a street walker in a low-cut top and black bra to be a counsellor. Someone answering a sex phone talk line maybe, but not talking university kids through their problems.
The phone on Jucinda’s desk rang and she was forced to turn her chair back around. She reached out a manicured hand to pick up the receiver. Her eyes rolled toward the ceiling as she said, “Queen’s Help Line. What can I do for you?” She leaned forward and cradled the phone receiver against her ear. Within seconds, her body language changed from disinterested to attentive listener as the caller spelled out their problem, which involved binge drinking as far as Kala could determine. Jucinda doled out information and choices in a cool but professional tone. Her eyes focused in on Kala as she hung up the phone. She shrugged.
“First year away from home, they’re like babes in the woods.” She opened a program on her computer and typed a notation into the log. Kala walked over to have a look.
“Do you log every call then?”
“We don’t have call display and the caller remains anonymous, but we do enter time and length of call, problem, and advice given. We also get to know the repeat callers, although not by name. We give them a number, see? The last caller is new so I’m making a note of that.”
Mark Withers, manager and wannabe beach boy, walked through the front door carrying two coffees. “Jucinda, sorry I’m late, but you wouldn’t believe …” He cut off whatever else he was going to say when he spotted Kala behind her. “You’re back,” he said. “I guess that means you haven’t caught Leah’s killer.”
“We handed over Leah’s computer and notes already.”
“The lab is going through them. I’m just here to re-interview everyone and watch how this place functions.”
“Don’t you need permission from us to spend the day here?”
“This is a murder investigation. We don’t need your permission, no.”
Mark looked back at Jucinda. “New top?”
“Nice.” He put a coffee on her desk. “Nate will be in around ten and Gail and Wolf will be in at six for the night shift.”
“I thought Wolf resigned from the help line,” Kala said.
“He’s doing a few shifts until we hire somebody to replace … well, Leah.” Mark and Jucinda exchanged glances. “So, do you want to come into my office to ask me some questions?” Mark asked Kala.
“Not yet. I will in good time.” Kala wanted them all off balance, outside their comfort zones. Waiting all day to be interviewed would heighten their anxiety.
“Well, suit yourself. I have paperwork to do.”
He walked into his office, leaving his door open wide enough so that he could hear what was going on. Jucinda pointed toward his office and said under her breath, “Usually he shuts the door.”
“Do you always sit at the same desk?” Kala asked.
“Yeah, unless I’m replacing someone and the other counsellor is staying on. Leah sat at that desk. Gail replaced her on late shift as a rule.”
“Did you notice anything different about Leah the last month before she died? Anything or anyone bothering her?”
“Gail’s the one you should be asking. She treats the rest of us like specimens for her research. I swear to God she takes notes.”
“What did you think about Leah? Did you like her?”
“I didn’t know her that well.”
“You must have had an opinion. You worked on the same shift.”
“She was okay. A little holier-than-thou, maybe.”
The phone picked that moment to ring. Jucinda held a finger up in Kala’s direction and took the call. Afterward, she typed notes into the computer. Kala waited until she was finished before repeating her question.
Jucinda sighed and rolled her eyes, something she did as regularly as breathing, Kala observed. “Leah acted nice, you know? Really concerned about people and generous. I bought it for a while.”
“What did she do that made you change your mind about her?”
“I confided in her that I was interested in Wolf. He’d only started working here and it was before they started dating, so of course I felt like an idiot when I found out they’d become a couple. She gave me some explanation about how it just happened and she felt so bad, but bottom line, she could have had anybody and she picked Wolf even though she knew I was hot for him. Then I find out she’s sleeping around on him. I was so mad …” Jucinda pulled herself back and blinked at Kala. “I didn’t kill her. I was angry, but not
“Anyone would be upset. Do you know who she was seeing on the side?”
Jucinda glanced toward Mark Withers’s office. “I couldn’t say for certain.”
“But you could guess.”
“It wouldn’t be right. I just saw them together from a distance.”
“She might have been with Wolf then.”
“Wolf was working the late shift when I saw Leah with the other guy. It was a month or so ago. I left Wolf talking to someone on the phone and started walking home. Leah was in a car a few streets over, sort of away from the street light in the shadows. I’m not even sure why I walked down that street. Fate, maybe. At first I thought I was hallucinating. I stood back in the shadows and watched for a while. It was definitely her but I never got a good look at the guy. She was on top of him. Kind of riding him, if you get my drift.”
“What did you do with the information?”
“I told Wolf. He deserved to know the truth.”
“And how did he react when you told him his girlfriend was cheating?”
“He didn’t thank me, if that’s what you’re asking. He got real quiet and then acted like I hadn’t said anything. They broke up the next day though. I did the guy a favour.”
“Did Leah ever find out that you were the one who told Wolf?”
Jucinda shook her head. “She never acted like it.”
Nate came for his shift soon after and Kala sat out of the way on the couch, taking in the rhythm of the day. If Mark was the beach boy and Jucinda the spiteful princess, then Nate struck her as the preppie academic. She approached his desk when Jucinda left to fill their sandwich order. She spotted the platinum wedding band on his finger. He looked up at her, his face impassive.
“My notes say that you work as a TA for Professor Dino Tadesco, is that correct?”
“I do. Dino’s a good guy.”
“He keeps this place afloat as well, I understand.”
“Yeah. Without him we’d have closed our doors.”
Kala rifled through her notebook to have Nate think she was refreshing her memory. It gave her time to study him. “Leah was in his class?”
“Did you work with her?”
“She was in the seminar class that I’m a TA for and I graded her papers.”
Like pulling teeth.
“What kind of a student was she?”
“Conscientious. Not brilliant, but she worked hard and did what she had to do to get decent marks.”
“From the photos I’ve seen of her, she was very attractive.”
Nate’s eyes didn’t waver from hers. “She was. Kind, too.”
“I see you’re married.”
“I’m not the one Leah was sleeping with, Detective.”
“Do you know who was?
“Not a clue.”
“Surely you must have your suspicions.”
“I only found out about it because Jucinda felt she had to share.”
“What about Wolf? Was he still into Leah?”
“They were friends. Other than that, I don’t know. Neither was much good at sharing their innermost feelings.”
“Is your wife a student, Nate?”
“My wife?” For the first time, Kala heard his voice tremble with real emotion. He glared at her. “Trisha has nothing to do with this.”
“I never said that she did.”
“She works as a prison guard at the women’s pen.”
“Yeah. Trish was on nights when Leah went missing. I’m sure you have that in your notes already too.”
“Actually, I don’t, but thanks for clarifying.”
His ears turned crimson at the tips and angry red patches stained his cheeks. Otherwise, his gaze remained level.
I’ll bet you hate your body giving you away like that,
Kala thought. Hard to control the flush of blood to your face.
She returned to her spot on the couch and watched Nate for a while. If he knew she was studying him, he never let on. She bet he hid his emotions well for the most part. Like everyone who worked here, he knew the tricks of telling a believable lie and the tells when spinning a story. The psychology of the psychologists. Might make for an interesting study.
Kala’s phone buzzed and she reached into her pocket. She checked the number before holding the phone to her ear. “Yes, Vera?”
“Sergeant Rouleau would like you to come to the station for one o’clock. Leah Sampson’s parents will be here then and he wants you to speak with them. Gundersund will be here as well.”
“Okay. I’m on my way.”
checked his rear-view and saw Stonechild make a left turn behind him into the lot. She followed him down the row of parked cars and slid into the empty space next to him. He waited for her to get out of her truck and join him where he stood checking his phone. When he looked up, she was as unreadable as ever, her body language distant. They fell into step and started for the main doors.
“Rouleau wants us to meet him in the lounge on the first floor. He and Fiona are with Leah’s parents and will hand them off to us to carry on with the interview.”
“They came in on their own?”
“Yeah. Mrs. Sampson’s been sedated most of the week. They said they were finally feeling up to talking about their daughter.”
“Okay.” She tucked her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “Get anything new on Bobby Hamilton?”
“He was up on assault charges twice. The first time he received a suspended sentence.”
“And the second?”
“Hamilton spent six months in the slammer. He got into an altercation with a guy who rear-ended his car. Hamilton chose to settle the matter with his fists even though the other guy was older and didn’t put up any resistance. The judge ordered an anger management course, and Hamilton now tells everyone he’s cured.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“His boss in city garbage said he shows up on time and does his job without complaint. Keeps to himself.”
They kept walking. Stonechild had her head down, keeping pace with his long strides.
“Who did he assault the first time?” she asked.
They’d reached the main entrance and Gundersund leaned past Stonechild to grab the door. “The first time he beat on his mother. She tried to drop the charges, but the judge wouldn’t let her. Bobby was high at the time of the assault and mad she’d turned down his music.”
“Makes me glad I never had a kid.”
“A teenage stoner kid anyhow.”
They waited without talking outside the lounge. Gundersund checked his messages and kept a watch on Stonechild out of the corner of his eye. She leaned against the wall next to him with her arms folded across her chest. Her eyes were closed and she looked to be sleeping.
Ten minutes later, the door swung open across from him. Stonechild was instantly at attention. Rouleau and Fiona walked out together. Gundersund could see the Sampsons sitting together on the vinyl-covered couch against the far wall. They were a tiny couple, grey-haired with faces lined in grief.
Fiona had her game face on: lips a straight line, eyes evasive, no emotion to be seen. He knew from experience that she could play any role required of her. There was a reason she won at poker. She looked from Stonechild back to him. Her lips curled slightly upward as her eyes seemed to assess what he knew she’d consider a threat. It had taken him a while to understand the depths of her jealousy. She may not want to be married to him, but she didn’t want anyone else to be either.
“Detectives,” Fiona said looking at him. She nodded at Rouleau as he took his leave. She stepped closer to Stonechild and held out her hand. “You must be my husband’s new partner. I’m Fiona Gundersund.”
Stonechild reached out a hand and shook Fiona’s. “Kala Stonechild,” she said. Stonechild was as good a poker player as Gundersund’s wife. She waited until Fiona had disappeared down the hall to glance his way. Gundersund’s expression was apologetic and slightly amused.
“After you,” he said, stepping back for her to enter the lounge.
Mrs. Sampson did all the talking while her husband sat next to her.
“Leah was the type of kid who brought home stray animals and people. She had such a big heart. We worried she’d get taken advantage of.” Mrs. Sampson patted her husband’s knee as she spoke. “We lived in Brockville, so Leah grew up in a small town with everyone knowing everyone. Kingston would have been a big city to Leah but she was determined to come here.” Mrs. Sampson shook her head. “She wanted a career that helped people and there was no university in Brockville. We believed this was a safe town and were happy that she decided to stay close by.”
“Did you know she was dating Wolf Edwards?”
“Of course. She adored Wolf but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to settle down. Even as a child in Brockville, she wanted to see the world. We didn’t have a great deal of money and our vacations weren’t exotic. Camping in the province, mainly. Once we made it to Nova Scotia, remember dear?” She kept talking without waiting for a response. “We had to scrape to send her to university. We took out a loan and of course Leah worked and took out student loans. She had to work very hard at her schoolwork. It didn’t come easily. We moved into an apartment in Montreal after Leah left. My brother owns the building and is giving us a discount in exchange for us looking after the property. Leah wasn’t happy about it. Thought it was beneath us, but we have to live somehow. She has a lot of friends in Brockville though. She could always find somebody to stay with.”
Stonechild leaned forward to capture her attention. “Do you know of anybody who might have wanted to hurt Leah? Did she say that anything was troubling her lately, or was there a change in her behaviour?”
“Oh my, no. Everybody loved our Leah. She had different boyfriends but they always parted friends. She didn’t have a nasty bone in her body, did she dear?”
Mr. Sampson seemed to have waited for this cue to speak. “Leah called last month and said she wanted to come visit. Said she was going to finish her classes and take some time away to think. That was a change in pattern,” Mr. Sampson said.
“Of course, she’d broken up with Wolf,” Mrs. Sampson took the floor again. “I thought it was just the breakup that sparked her needing a change of scene.” For the first time, her eyes clouded over and she reached over to grab her husband’s hand. “Maybe we missed something. Leah might have needed help and we should have seen it. I should have listened to you when you said you wanted to come see her last month. If only we had.”
Gail had stopped for an extra large cappuccino on her way to work and the kid behind the counter took his sweet time frothing the milk. It didn’t help that he was a trainee and his orders were already backed up. She’d been late leaving home so an extra twenty minutes wasn’t the end of the world. She made it to the call centre at six-thirty, half an hour late. Juicy had already left at five and Nate was antsy to leave.
“It might help if you could be on time for once. That way I wouldn’t be late getting out of here every night.” He scowled at her before gathering up the student papers he’d been reading. He stuffed them into his burlap bag.
She crossed to her desk and dropped into the chair. Nate was usually such a level, pudding personality. His file was a study in boredom. Something had to be up. “Who’s my partner tonight?” she asked.
“Wolf, but he’s going to be late. He called ten minutes ago.”
“And where’s Mark?”
“He left with Tadesco. They had a meeting with a possible funder.”
“Are you sure the two of them weren’t meeting up with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam? They seem to be spending a lot of time chumming it up in the pub lately.”
Nate tightened the straps on his bag. He swung it over his shoulder and walked closer. “They wouldn’t be pleased to hear you smearing them. Be careful what you say, Gail. Sometimes I think the walls have ears.”
“I’m not scared. If they want to fire me from this low paying, thankless job, I wouldn’t stand in their way.”
“Tadesco’s applying for department head and he’s a little protective of his reputation right now. I’ve seen him angry a few times and he can be vindictive.”
“Well, I’m not the one he needs to worry about.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You must have heard the rumours.”
“What, that he’s gay? That’s just people talking.”
“You know what they say about where there’s smoke.”
Nate held up a hand. “You go too far sometimes, Pankhurst. Stop spreading this shit or you’re going to get into trouble. That female cop was here all morning, by the way.”
“She’s observant and smart. Looks at you with those bottomless black eyes and gets you to say things you never meant to. I’d look out if I were you.”
“Sounds like a threat.”
“Hell, do whatever you want. Just don’t say you weren’t warned when it blows back. I’m late meeting Trish so I’m going to shove off.”
“I consider myself warned.”
He slammed the door behind him and Gail put her feet up on the desk, clasping her hands behind her head. It was satisfying to have one of her human experiments turn out as predicted. She’d made up the rumour about Tadesco a month ago, but only told Juicy, who predictably told Nate. Half the campus probably had heard by now that Tadesco was bent. One improbable little lie with no proof told to one person and it goes viral. Tadesco was even well liked, proving nobody was immune to malicious gossip. She felt a flush of guilt at the thought of what she’d started but pushed it away. She hadn’t forced Juicy to tell anybody; in fact, she’d asked her not to. Tadesco wouldn’t find out anyway and if he did, he’d laugh it off. He’d never know the rumour began with her.
She looked toward the front door. Nate was supposed to lock it on his way out, but she didn’t remember hearing the click. He’d been in a big hurry and might have forgotten, or maybe he left it unlocked because Wolf was on his way. He should have known better though. The rule was not to leave a female counsellor alone in the unlocked office on evening shift. Gail put her coffee cup on the desk and swung her feet onto the floor, brushing away the feeling of unease.
I’m just jumpy because of Leah,
she thought. It’s only normal to get paranoid when your co-worker’s been murdered.
She was halfway to the door when the phone rang on her desk. She looked back and hesitated. Should she keep going and risk missing the caller or sprint back to her desk? By the time she made it to the door, the caller would probably have hung up and that could lead to trouble. A student thinking about suicide might be reaching out one last time. She’d talked one down just last week. There was really only one decision.
She managed to pick up the phone in time, sinking into her chair as a girl’s tearful voice filled her ear. The door would have to wait, and Wolf should be here in a few minutes anyway. No point getting herself in a knot for the sake of ten or twenty minutes. What could it hurt to have the door unlocked until then, if it even was.
“Take a deep breath and start from the beginning,” Gail said, putting her feet back up on the side of the desk. “We have nothing but time to sort this out.”