Authors: Brenda Chapman
door was unlocked and the house was silent when Dalal stepped through the back door. Joe’s mom had dropped her off in front of the house but no eyes had been watching from behind the living room curtains. Dalal breathed a sigh of relief but the worry was still with her. Just what was her family up to?
Ghazi’s car was gone from the driveway but her father’s was in its usual spot. Dalal walked to the kitchen but her parents weren’t there. Dirty dishes and cooking pots filled the sink and spread across the counter. Her mother had made shrimp biryani by the smell of ginger, garlic, and chilies and the leftover basmati rice, cashews, and raisins in the serving bowl. Trust her to make Dalal’s favourite meal the one time she was away for supper. Dalal looked through the kitchen window. They were both sitting in the swing, her father reading the paper and her mother knitting. To anybody else, they would look like a normal family, spending quiet time together and enjoying each other’s company.
Dalal opened the door and called to them that she was home. The yell startled her mother. Her surprised look flashed guilt and anger in quick succession, and Dalal felt the worry in her belly growing. Her mother called her to come over. Her father looked up, saw her, and looked back at the paper. Dalal crossed the lawn to stand in front of them.
“Your project is finished?” her mother asked. Her mouth settled back into its familiar scowl.
“Yes. Thank you for letting me go to Meghan’s. We’ll get a good mark. I am sure of it.”
Her father grunted.
“Where’s Ghazi and Meeza?” Dalal asked.
“Ghazi is out with his friends.” That flash of something odd crossed her mother’s face again. “Meeza is in her room. She has the flu and went to bed early. Do not disturb her, whatever you do.”
Dalal found both curious. Ghazi didn’t have any friends that she knew of. Meeza had been fine that morning when they left for school together.
“I’ll go finish my other homework,” Dalal said, shifting her knapsack from one shoulder to the other. “If you don’t need anything, Mother.”
“Clean up the kitchen first,” her mother said.
She didn’t make it upstairs until eight o’clock. Meeza’s door was shut and Dalal paused before knocking. She put her ear against the wood and heard what sounded like a wounded animal crying inside: a keening wail that made the hairs on her neck stand on end. Dalal walked back to the head of the stairs. Her parents had come inside while she worked in the kitchen. They were watching a show on television and the volume was up high. Her father was going deaf but refused to go to a doctor. Dalal tiptoed back to Meeza’s door and turned the handle.
It must be locked from the outside. She knocked as loudly as she dared.
“Meeza? Meeza? Are you okay?”
The wailing quieted, but Meeza didn’t answer. Dalal waited as long as she safely could before crossing the hall to her own room. She shut the door and felt in her knapsack for Nadirah’s diary. It was time to do something. She prayed that she hadn’t left it too late.
team met in Rouleau’s office at eight a.m. the following morning. Vera had let him know on his way in that Heath was expecting a briefing at nine. Chalmers took the seat closest to the door, which Rouleau thought was a symbolic move in light of his pending retirement. Woodhouse and Gundersund sat next to each other and Stonechild picked a spot on the other side of room. They looked tired, or maybe he was projecting his own weariness.
“We need to make another stab at finding something on Della Munroe,” Rouleau began, and explained what he’d uncovered with her family in Toronto.
“She’s done a good job covering her tracks,” Chalmers said. “It’s her word against a dead man’s. We’ve got no definitive forensics proof either way, but what we do have points to her innocence.”
“Will her sister testify?” Stonechild asked.
“Yes, but it won’t be enough.” Rouleau looked at her. She’d been eager to tell him something when she first came in, but he’d wanted to get this case out of the way first.
“We could bring Della in and grill her again,” Woodhouse said. “Get her to contradict what she told us. She must have tricked Brian into coming by the house and set the whole thing up.”
“She sounds like one sick fuck,” Chalmers said. He looked across at Stonechild. “Excuse my French,” he added.
Rouleau decided to ignore him. “Right, so what have you got on the Sampson murder? Stonechild?” He nodded at her.
“We might be on the wrong track with her too. Turns out she wasn’t having an affair, at least not in the front seat of a car. Jucinda Rivera told Wolf that Leah was getting it on in the car without actually seeing her. Jucinda based her story on black hair and a white blouse, but after pressing her she admitted that she didn’t believe it was Leah when she told Wolf. Jucinda appears to have wanted Wolf for herself.”
“Same outcome though,” Chalmers said. “Wolf and everyone believed she was having it on with a married man. The motive’s still there.”
“Except,” Kala said, “that it rules out the lover as a suspect since there wasn’t one, and it makes me wonder why Leah let everyone believe she was cheating. From all accounts, she was still in love with Wolf. Doesn’t add up.”
Chalmers’s voice got more forceful. “It adds up. She was cheating with somebody else and thought she’d been caught. She broke it off with the other guy and he got even.”
“There’s no proof she was,” insisted Stonechild. “Plus, why would this phantom lover torture her? What would be the point?” They locked eyes.
Chalmers smiled out of the side of his mouth. “Women are natural-born cheaters. Just ask Gundersund.”
The room went quiet. All eyes turned as one toward Gundersund. He looked at Chalmers. “Speaking of sick fucks.”
Rouleau stood. “That’s enough. Chalmers and Woodhouse, go back and re-interview everyone who knew the Munroes. Gundersund and Stonechild, carry on with your lines of enquiry. I have to fill in Heath.”
Rouleau watched them file out and shook his head. Chalmers had offered to stay on a few extra days rather than use up all his vacation. It would have been better if he’d taken the full two weeks before his official retirement kicked in. Maybe with his partner gone, Woodhouse would fall into line. Hopefully a new partner would spark something in Woodhouse. The problem was that now Rouleau had to find Chalmers’s replacement. Good recruits weren’t exactly lining up at the door. Vera had vetoed all the applicants so far. She was going to have to work some magic.
Rouleau made his nine a.m. meeting with Heath, who looked rested and wind-burned after his fishing trip. He listened to Rouleau’s debrief of the two cases without comment. After a suitable pause, he steepled his fingers under his chin and said, “Sounds like you have it all in hand. Would be good to make an arrest for the Sampson murder soon since whoever killed her and beat up Pankhurst appears to be ramping up. The Munroe killing is more contained within the family. I understand you haven’t found a house to your liking?”
“Laney is good. She’ll find you something soon, I imagine. Chalmers’s party is set for next Friday night. Vera has made all the arrangements. You’ll put your cases on hold for a few hours of team-building.”
“If nothing else breaks open.”
“Granted. Is Stonechild planning to stay on the team?”
“She’s considering it. We haven’t any potential replacements for Chalmers yet.”
“Vera’s on the case. She has some new resumes for you.” The phone on Heath’s desk rang. “Anything else before I take this?”
“Not a thing.”
“Good. Be sure to keep me in the loop.”
“So what was that Chalmers dig about?” Kala asked Woodhouse when she met him in the hallway.
“You don’t know?”
“Would I ask if I did?”
“Touché. Gundersund’s wife left him to live with another guy. A doctor rolling in dough.”
“I saw her at Gundersund’s house the other night. They both seemed okay.”
“Word is the doctor wised up and dumped her. I’m not surprised she’s worming her way back in with Gundersund. He’s got this blind spot when it comes to Fiona. She’s good looking and all that but none of us can figure it out. The woman’s a barracuda in a lab coat. Well, see you later.”
Kala waited in the hall for Gundersund to finish in the washroom. They fell into step on their way outside. She felt uncomfortable walking next to him across the parking lot, knowing that she’d betrayed his privacy. He didn’t appear to notice her discomfort since he barely acknowledged her presence. His jaw was set and he wasn’t talking. They reached her truck.
“I’ll spend the morning at the help line and we can meet at the Merchant for lunch if you like. My turn to buy.” She knew it was guilt behind her offer. Maybe a bit of pity thrown in too.
Gundersund looked at her and saw something in her eyes that made him flinch. “Let’s leave it open. I’ll call when we get done talking to Della’s classmates.” He’d been given a uniformed sidekick for the morning who’d already started the car.
“Great. Let me know if you find out anything interesting.”
The only one answering the phones when Kala arrived at the centre twenty minutes later was Mark Withers. She took a seat at the empty desk next to him and waited for him to finish a call. She couldn’t help but tune in to his end of the conversation. He was talking a student into going to the hospital to get his depression meds adjusted. After a great deal of coaxing on Mark’s part, he hung up the phone and turned to face her. His surfer boy good looks were fraying. She threw him a smile. He looked like he could use it.
“My staff have all been killed, assaulted, or harassed by police. I’m forced to man the line until Nate, the only one left, I might add, shows up at noon. The university is threatening to cut our funding … and, oh yeah, my wife is getting pissed because I’m never home anymore. It’s been a bloody hard morning, and month for that matter.” He managed a bleak smile. “So what do you need from me today?”
“You seem close to Dino Tadesco.”
Mark shifted away from her, a subtle body movement but one that Kala read as resistance to her probing. He wouldn’t be telling her the entire truth.
“We hang now and then.”
“Did he also
with others on staff? Wolf or Leah?” She hated the word hang. It was so imprecise, it could have meant anything.
“Not so much. He wasn’t sleeping with either of them if that’s what you’re asking.” Mark laughed.
“Was he sleeping around on his wife with someone else? A student?”
“I have no idea.”
“But you must have insight into his fidelity, or lack thereof, since you spend a lot of time together in bars after work.”
Anger flashed across his boyish face, but only for a second. “You people really do check under every rock, don’t you? All I know is that we didn’t fool around on our wives when we were together and we never discussed doing it. Not every man screws around, Detective.”
“So you say.”
The phone rang, interrupting what he was about to reply. “Hello?” He turned away from her, but immediately turned back around, his expression puzzled. “Leah Sampson? May I ask how you got her name?”
Kala moved her chair closer. “Man or woman?” she whispered.
Mark covered the receiver with his hand. “Girl, young,” he mouthed. He uncovered the receiver. “So, this was how long ago?”
Kala put out her hand. “I’ll take it.”
Mark covered the receiver again with his hand. “Goes against our rules …”
Kala wriggled her fingers. “I’m overruling your rules. Give it here. Tell her you’re handing her over to Leah as requested.”
Mark tried to outstare her. He lost. After a few beats he said into the phone, “I’ll just pass you over. One moment.” He gave Kala the receiver without another word but his angry face spoke volumes.
“How can I help you?” Kala asked, Mark quickly forgotten. As hoped, the girl assumed she was speaking with Leah Sampson. Kala listened closely to the timbre of the speaker’s voice. She placed her at about twelve but she could have been older.
“I was told to call you if I needed to reach my sister.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
Kala listened to the in and out of the girl’s breathing. Finally, a deep inhale of air and, “My sister’s name is Nadirah. I need to speak with her.”
. The name sounded Middle Eastern or Indian. Kala spoke carefully. She couldn’t let on that she had no idea who Nadirah was or what her connection had been with Leah Sampson. “I wonder if you and I should meet … so that I can fill in Nadirah about why you need to reach her. It will help when I arrange for her to contact you.”
“Can you tell me your name?” Kala asked softly. “I’d like to help.”
“I can’t … not now.”
“Are you in school? I could come to you.”
“No, not here. Maybe I can meet you someplace. I’ll call you back after I check.”
“When will you call back?” Kala didn’t want to let her go. She felt in her gut that this child was the link to what had happened to Leah.
“I’ll know tomorrow. I’ll call around this time.”
“I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow at this same time,” Kala repeated.
Mark jotted something down and turned the paper toward her. She read the words:
Is she in danger?
Kala nodded in his direction.
“Are you safe?” she asked.
The breathing quickened on the other end of the line. “No,” the girl’s voice was just above a whisper. “We are not safe.”
Before Kala could respond, the dial tone hummed in her ear. She hung up the phone and tried to put together what had just happened.
“So?” Mark asked. “Did you get her name?”
Kala pulled herself back from the minefields and focused on his face. She felt the urgency to act, but felt completely helpless. Could she have done something to keep the girl talking? Had she let the opportunity slip away?
“No, she didn’t give her name, but Leah must have gotten involved in a situation that got out of control. You said that your staff don’t give out their names or make personal contact with callers, correct?”
“You got that right. If they did, they’d be fired. Anonymity on both ends is the foundation of the help line.”
“I think Leah might have broken your number one rule. This girl mentioned that her sister’s name is Nadirah. Does that ring any bells?”
“Never heard that name before. It’s unusual enough that I would have remembered if Leah had mentioned it.”
“Leah must have kept whatever she was doing to help this person a secret.”
They were both silent. Kala didn’t have to spell it out. Whatever Leah had done in secret had probably led to her death.
“Let’s hope the kid calls back tomorrow,” Mark said. “Hopefully she won’t find out in the meantime that Leah Sampson doesn’t exist anymore.”