Authors: Brenda Chapman
is a Muslim name,” Kala said to Gundersund. She scrolled through the list of girls’ names on the site. “From India,” she added.
Gundersund looked up from his computer. “There can be serious family issues in their communities. Girls aren’t regarded the same as boys in some immigrant families from that neck of the world. We had some cultural sensitivity training last year. Bit of an eye opener.”
“Do we have any database that would help us to find this family if we did a search of the name Nadirah?”
“Depends on whether Nadirah had a driver’s licence or police record. It’s still tough without a surname. She might have been a prostitute. That might explain why the little sister doesn’t know where she is. I’ll run a check.”
“Sure,” Gundersund said. “The family could be abusive and the little sister’s in trouble now that her sister has taken to the streets.”
Kala rubbed her forehead. She smiled as a thought broke through her fatigue. “Nadirah must have been a student at Queen’s if she called the help line. I could call records to check.”
“I’ll get someone on that too,” Gundersund said. “You look like you need some lunch.” He checked his watch. “It’s going on three.”
“Maybe that’s why I’m feeling light-headed.” Kala stood. “Can I get you anything?”
“I ate at one so I’m good, thanks.”
“I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”
She took the stairs to the cafeteria and ordered a roast beef sandwich and a coffee. On second thought, she asked the girl to add a salad. It had been a while since she’d eaten anything green and leafy.
She found a spot out of the way of traffic and sat down to eat. She wanted to take a break from work but the kid’s voice on the help line phone that morning was still playing in her brain. It raised disturbing images of Dawn on the run with Lily and her con boyfriend. Two innocent young girls in trouble and all Kala could do was search through databases and spin her wheels. The inaction was driving her crazy. She was chomping to do something to somebody. The feeling that time was slipping away while trouble brewed like a gathering storm was getting tough to shake.
Gundersund found Stonechild staring out the window, sipping on the last of her coffee. He stood for a moment just inside the doorway to the cafeteria and watched her unseen. She was deep in thought in the middle of a room filled with chatting officers and clinking dishes, the only one sitting alone. She didn’t appear bothered by her solitary lunch. The stillness of her features was Zen-like.
He heard his name and glanced to his left. Fiona was waving to him from the far corner of the room where she sat with some of the forensics team. She wore a blue dress that he’d bought for her the summer before she moved out. It was silky, the top tight and flattering while the skirt fell away from her waist just enough to hint at her curves as she moved. He hadn’t seen her wear it all year. Her hair was loose and her lips painted a creamy red. She motioned for him to join them, but he pointed to Stonechild and mouthed the word “working.” Fiona’s gaze shifted toward Stonechild and her smile evaporated.
He crossed the floor and squeezed past two tables to where Stonechild sat oblivious to his approach. He waited for her to focus in on him.
She blinked. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Sorry to interrupt your lunch but we’ve got to move. Call from the hospital just came in. They’ve brought Gail Pankhurst back to the land of the living and the doctor says we can speak with her for a few minutes.” The relief on Stonechild’s face made him smile.
She jumped up. “Let’s go. I’ll drive.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Fiona as he followed Stonechild toward the door. The unguarded look on her face could have turned water into ice. One part of him didn’t like to think where her jealousy, no matter how misplaced, could lead. The other part was secretly pleased that she even cared.
Dr. Blais warned them that they’d only have a few minutes, if that. “Gail started waking up in the night but we waited until now to call you.”
“Has she suffered any brain damage?” Stonechild asked.
“Not that we can tell. The swelling has gone down and she’s stable. Barring any setbacks, I expect her to fully recover. She could have headaches and dizziness for some time, but we’ll have to wait and see. The recuperative powers of the young are amazing.”
“Has she said anything about the attack?” Gundersund asked.
Dr. Blais shifted her tired eyes to his. “No. She might not remember any of the trauma.”
He nodded. “That’s my fear. I’ve had other people who survived horrific events blank out chunks of time.”
They took places around the bed. Gail was a large mound under the white sheet. Her arm was hooked to an intravenous drip and a machine monitored her vitals. Gundersund thought her Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop tattoos made her look young and vulnerable. Colourful cartoons with her as canvas. She was a girl crying out for attention if he’d ever seen one. “Have any family members been to visit her?” he asked Dr. Blais.
“No. Her mother calls twice a day.”
Stonechild shook her head and met his eyes. He could see that they were on the same wavelength.
They’d agreed that Stonechild should ask the questions since Gail had already met her. Gundersund had suggested that his size and gender might frighten the girl after what she’d been through. Dr. Blais picked up one of Gail’s hands and rubbed it gently between both of her own. “Gail, you have visitors. Officer Stonechild would like to ask you a few questions if you’re up for it.” She waited until Gail started coming around before stepping back.
Gail’s eyes blinked open. They were faded blue but vivid against the paleness of her skin. She turned her cheek into the pillow where Stonechild stood squarely in her line of vision. “’Kay,” she said.
“Gail, do you remember what happened to you?”
“Someone at the door. Wolf. I opened it and then … I can’t remember.” Her face contorted as if she was about to cry.
Stonechild touched her shoulder. “It’s okay. Nobody can hurt you anymore. We’re here to keep you safe. Was it Wolf who was at the door?”
“Waiting for him. Don’t know.”
“The person who knocked you on the head took your laptop. I understand that you were keeping notes on people. Did you keep any notes on Leah Sampson?”
“My laptop? Experiments. For my thesis.”
“Did Leah mention a caller named Nadirah? Think hard, Gail. This is important.”
Gundersund watched memories flit across Gail’s face as she strained to place the name.
“No. But Leah took long breaks. Left early. Once, gone overnight … never knew where.”
“You recorded all this in your files?”
Dr. Blais held up a finger. They had one more minute.
Stonechild looked at Gundersund. Her eyes asked if he had a question. He nodded to let her know that she was doing fine.
“Did you keep notes on everyone at the help line?”
“Did you notice anybody else leaving early?”
It took longer this time for Gail to respond. Gundersund thought they’d lost her to sleep when she said, “Nate. Gone sometimes.”
“Thank you, Gail. We’ll let you sleep now. You’ve done great.” Stonechild lifted a hand and lay it against Gail’s cheek with great tenderness.
Gundersund’s breath caught in his throat.
Dr. Blais straightened the sheet around Gail’s waist and checked the IV. She motioned toward the hallway and they followed her out.
“I don’t expect she’ll be awake much the rest of the day,” she said. “It could take her a long time to remember what happened.”
“An officer will stay with her to make sure she’s not targeted again,” Gundersund said. “No visitors except family for now.”
“If any family come,” said Dr. Blais with a sideways smile, “I’ll be more than happy to let them see her.”
expected to see Meeza sitting on the couch watching television when she came home from school, but the living room was silent and empty. Nobody was in the kitchen or the backyard either, not even her mother. She knew that Ghazi was off somewhere doing whatever it was he did after school. She wasn’t altogether sure what, but she was relieved to have him out of the house. She climbed the stairs and listened for sounds of her mother. Her parents’ bedroom door at the end of the hall was closed, so her mother was likely having an afternoon nap. Meeza’s door was also closed.
Dalal silently crossed the carpet and knocked lightly. When Meeza didn’t answer, she tried the door knob. The handle turned easily and the door swung open. Dalal stepped inside and closed the door shut behind her. Meeza’s bed was made and the window was wide open, a breeze billowing the curtains into the room. Boo and Meeza’s two favourite dolls sat on her pillow, their glassy eyes seeing all and seeing nothing. The dolls were well-loved, their hair frizzy and sparse from too many brushings. There was no sign of her little sister.
Dalal left Meeza’s room and was near the head of the stairs when she heard the front door open and then slam shut. She froze in place and craned her neck to look over the banister. The top of Meeza’s favourite violet-coloured head scarf was directly below. Her mother’s shrill voice travelled up the stairwell.
“You go up to your room and don’t come out. I don’t want you talking to your sister. I’ve left a suitcase next to the closet. Pack up all your clean clothes. Mr. Khan will be coming for you on the weekend. Now get moving.”
“I don’t want to go with Mr. Khan,” Meeza’s voice, a childish whine.
“You stupid, ungrateful girl. He’s being very generous taking you off my hands. If we wait much longer, you won’t be worth anything.”
“But he’s mean. He hits me.”
“He only hit you because you didn’t do as he asked. You will do what he says from now on, do you hear me, Meeza? I will not have you do anything to damage the family’s reputation. Mr. Khan will be your husband soon. You will obey him as you obey me.”
Dalal stepped away from the stairs and tiptoed to her room. She shut her door before Meeza’s heavy footsteps made their way up the stairs to her own room. Her heart beat as if a small bird was trapped inside her chest.
What to do? What to do?
Her eyes searched the bedroom. Tears filled and threatened to overflow. The room turned blurry.
“Dalal!” Her mother screamed up the stairs.
She must have spotted Dalal’s shoes by the front door. Dalal dove for her bed, grabbing a book and pencil from her desk on the way by. She had her eyes closed pretending to be asleep with the open book on her stomach when her mother flung open the door.
“Sleeping at this hour of the day. You lazy girl,” her mother said, but her eyes darted around the room, more assessing than angry.
Dalal sat up and yawned. “Sorry, Mother. I was studying and must have fallen asleep. Do you need me to make supper?”
“No. You study. I’ll make supper tonight.” She started to pull the door closed but stopped and said, “Meeza has the flu so we’ll let her sleep tonight. Stay away so you don’t catch it.”
Dalal’s heart turned.
How many other lies?
“Okay, Mother. I hope she feels better soon.”
Her mother’s eyes searched hers and Dalal kept her expression innocent of bad thoughts.
“I’m sure she’ll be better soon. With any luck, the rest of us won’t catch what she’s got.” Her mother’s lips curved upward in a smile. She backed out of the room, pulling the door closed behind her, but not before Dalal saw the hardness in her black eyes.
After she’d gone, Dalal hugged her legs to her chest and lay one hot cheek against her knee. At the same time, she yanked the elastics from her hair with her right hand and flung them onto the floor. Her hair, freed from its braid, fell around her to her waist. Rage and despair flooded through her. Her mother had talked about Meeza as if she were a bug under her foot.
Dalal sobbed into her pant leg. She’d tried to be the good daughter after Nadirah had abandoned them. She’d swallowed all of the insults and cried away the slaps alone in her room. She’d done everything asked of her, but not anymore. Her mother’s smile as she made fun of Meeza had let Dalal finally see the truth. Whatever she did would never make her mother love her or Meeza.
Dalal wiped her tears and breathed in deep gulps of air until she felt calm enough to think. Now was not the time to break. Meeza needed her.
She stood and walked on silent feet to the closet. She wouldn’t be able to take many clothes, but that didn’t matter. When they found Nadirah, they’d buy new clothes. She caught sight of herself in the mirror above the dresser. She almost didn’t recognize the face that looked back at her. Her eyes were huge and blazing, not those of a child any longer. They sparkled with unshed tears. She tightened her lips together in a tight line. The time for crying was over. She would stop letting her family do things to her and Meeza, even if it meant never seeing them again. If Nadirah could find the strength to do it, then so could she.
Kala waited until Gail’s eyes opened before standing to look down at her. “How’re you feeling?”
Gail grimaced before smiling. “Okay. More questions?”
“No. I’m just a visitor this evening. I wanted to make sure you were doing okay, and I brought these.” Kala lifted up a vase of daisies and mums.
Gail’s eyes brightened. “Nice,” she said. Her voice was weak, the words slurring. “Any news…?”
“On who hurt you? No, not yet. We’re working on it though, rest assured. Are you thirsty?” Kala picked up the glass of water and directed the straw to Gail’s lips. She managed a swallow before her eyes closed again and she drifted back into sleep. The nurse had warned Kala that Gail would fall in and out of consciousness for a while yet.
Kala sat back down and pulled a slim book of poetry from her bag. Dylan Thomas. She didn’t understand half of what he was saying, but she loved the beauty of his words. She began reading aloud to the sleeping girl, hoping the sound of her voice would bring comfort. She’d once read that even patients in comas were aware of people talking to them or music playing. At least it gave loved ones the sense that they weren’t helpless.
It was peaceful in the room, only one lamp turned on to give her enough light to read by. Kala read several more pages aloud. She lifted her eyes periodically to look at Gail’s face turned toward her on the pillow. The girl looked so pale, like a lost child. Kala found the cartoon characters adorning her arms touching in a way that surprised her.
A tap at the door and Kala turned. The uniformed officer Cal was standing just inside.
“I’m back from dinner. Thanks again for spelling me off.”
He ducked back outside and Kala stood and stretched. She gently squeezed Gail’s hand before following him out of the room. Cal had already settled in his chair, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. He looked up.
“Thanks, Stonechild. It was good to have the chance to eat. You’ve been her only visitor, by the way, aside from us.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“If it was my kid in there, I’d move heaven and earth to be here.”
“It can be a sad world.”
She carried on down the hall to the elevator and pressed the down button. The bell dinged and the door slid open. Nate stepped out, holding a bouquet of pink roses from the grocery store. His eyes met hers and shifted toward the floor. His personal details flipped through her mind. The good-looking, quiet one, married three years, and Tadesco’s Ph.D teaching assistant with a masters in psychology. She watched a bright red work its way up his neck and into his face. Kala let the elevator descend without her. She started walking alongside him toward Gail’s room.
“You won’t be able to visit, I’m afraid,” Kala said.
“I’ll just leave the flowers then.” His voice was low, defensive.
Nate’s discomfort intrigued her. She stood behind him while he gave the bouquet to the nurse on the desk. He straightened his shoulders as if about to face the firing squad before he turned. This time, his eyes held hers without wavering. “I guess we need to talk.”
“Let’s get a coffee in the cafeteria.” She nodded to Cal, who’d stood and was watching them with interest from his post.
She paid for their coffees and they found a table away from the hospital staff lingering over their meals. Nate took his time pouring packets of sugar and plastic containers of cream into his coffee.
Kala waited without comment. She’d had time to guess at what was triggering his guilty conscience. If true, she owed Professor Tadesco an apology.
“This isn’t something I’m proud of,” he began at last, as if reading her mind. “I wasn’t going to say anything until I’d told my wife.” He stirred his coffee so hard that it slopped onto the table.
“My job isn’t to judge you.”
“Yeah, well, you couldn’t think any worse of me than I already think of myself. She came into my office a few months ago to discuss a mark I’d given her on her paper. She thought it was too low.” He took a slurp of coffee. The red was back, creeping up from his shirt collar. Kala drank from her own cup but stayed silent.
“She shut the door. I remember thinking I should go over and open it. Maybe I had a premonition. Anyhow, I didn’t and the next thing I knew, she was on my side of the desk, pulling her shirt over her head. I was looking up at her and she bent over so that her bare breasts were inches from my face. She had my zipper down before I’d recovered from the shock.”
“Just to confirm, this is Della Munroe you’re talking about?”
. We got it on a few times in my office, but I kept thinking somebody was going to walk in and I told her it had to stop. We met once in a washroom. I realized the insanity of what we were doing and ended it after that. Plus, I could hardly live with the guilt afterwards.”
“Did you try it in a car?”
“No. That wasn’t me.”
“I would have remembered.”
Kala had been willing to bet that Della was the mystery woman in the car now that Leah was vindicated. Had she guessed wrong? “I understand how you might have been blindsided the first time, but why the other times?”
The corner of Nate’s mouth rose in a half-smile. “I’d like to bedazzle you with psychological insight, but it was just my dick overriding my brain.” He groaned. “She knew how to work it.”
With effort, Kala kept her eyes on his face and no lower. She cleared her throat. “Did Della ever mention her husband Brian?”
“Not really. I got the impression she was getting ready to leave him though.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Just that when I told her it wasn’t going to work, she said no problem. She wasn’t going to be around much longer.”
“She said that?”
“She was mad. I don’t think she meant to say it.”
“So, when you heard that she killed her husband, what did you think?”
Nate rubbed his forehead. “I didn’t know what to think. My first thought was that he was a first-rate asshole and that’s why she was fooling around with me.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“Della Munroe seduced me to get a better mark on her paper. I have no doubt about that now. I accept that I screwed up big time and could lose my job if this comes out. Right now, all I care about is fixing my marriage.”
“This might not have to come out.”
“I don’t want my wife embarrassed. She just told me she’s pregnant.” Nate’s face crumpled and he covered his eyes. “Christ, I’ve been an idiot.”
Kala knew exactly what he was speaking about. She’d been the other woman not so long ago. The difference was that she’d really loved the man. She’d left town to give him a chance to fix his marriage.
“You can make it work,” she said, “if you both want to.”
“Maybe. I’ve done a lot of damage.”
“I have another question about Gail’s files on her co-workers. You read them and gave Gundersund what you remembered. I read your notes back at the station and found the details a bit skimpy.”
“That’s because I skimmed her files. They weren’t exactly scintillating.”
“Can you remember any more details about her file on Leah Sampson?”
He pondered for a moment. “Gail recorded every tidbit of information she knew, right down to favourite foods and what we did in our time off. Boring stuff. She also liked to lance grenades and see how people reacted.”
“She’d toss out something outrageous and hurtful, then wait to see how we reacted. We all knew she was doing it. For instance, Gail might say to Leah that she saw Wolf in the bar talking to another woman. Then she’d record Leah’s reaction. Childish.”
“She made up lies?”
“More like fibs. The others used to have a laugh about it when she wasn’t around.”
“Did she write anything about Leah and Wolf’s relationship?”
“I skipped over most of what Gail wrote about them because it felt, I don’t know, sick having them under Gail’s microscope. I remember she wrote about them coming from Brockville. There was nothing about Leah cheating on him though. And nothing about me with Della. I had to be sure.”
Kala thought for a moment. “Did Gail record anything unusual about Leah and any of the callers in the last month before she died?”
“Like a stalker?”
“Maybe, or anybody giving her trouble over the phone, no matter how minor.”
“Not that she ever said. A caller wouldn’t have known anything to identify Leah by anyway because she wouldn’t have shared any personal information. We’re not allowed to give them our name or to ask them theirs. If we think we know the caller on the other end, we’re supposed to give their call to our partner and erase it from our memory bank.”
“That’s what I’ve heard.”
And I’d buy it
if it weren’t for the fact that one scared little girl who’s desperate to find her sister knows Leah Sampson by name.