Authors: Brenda Chapman
“They never are,” Rouleau said.
“So who do think is lying?” Gundersund asked. He took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Rouleau.
“My guess would be him based on the bruising. The photos in her file are brutal. No way she did that to herself. We should check with neighbours and friends to see if they observed anything nasty going on between them before this.”
“Their times are off. He says they had sex in the morning and she said the evening. Is it possible to prove either way?”
“She waited to go to the hospital, so it’s hard to tell exactly from the medical report.”
Gundersund grimaced. “They should have separated before things got this far.”
Rouleau nodded. “The problem is, they rarely ever do.”
Pankhurst stepped through the main door and removed one of her ear buds. It was hot in their little office space with only two fans mounted on the ceiling, rotating on full, uselessly moving the soupy air around and around. The university funded their help line but hadn’t coughed up any more money than necessary, budget restraints being the usual excuse for skimping on air conditioning. She stopped at Jucinda Rivera’s desk on her way to the vacant one near the far wall.
“Hey Juicy. Are you starting shift or finishing up? I thought you had today off.”
Jucinda flinched as she did every time Gail used the nickname, but she didn’t comment. Gail routinely poked her with the moniker, curious to see when Jucinda would react. So far, she’d kept any displeasure from reaching her lips. Gail had made Jucinda one of several unofficial subjects for her experiments in human psychology. She was particularly interested in how her guinea pigs dealt with upset or annoyances in social settings. Jucinda wasn’t alone in pretending that something that obviously bothered her wasn’t a concern.
Jucinda tossed her black hair, dyed fuchsia at the tips, over her shoulder and reached for the ringing phone. “Leah was supposed to be in but couldn’t make it. Mark worked this morning, but he had to leave after lunch for an appointment. I’m filling in until he gets back,” Jucinda said, picking up the phone.
“Great.” Gail tossed her bag under her desk and plopped into the chair. Adele was singing into her right ear and she left the other ear bud swinging loose. She could relate to the British superstar — criticized for being a little pudgy but her own woman nonetheless. Gail had learned not to give a rat’s arse what people thought of her. She’d let all that go when she had Mickey Mouse tattooed onto her right bicep. She’d had Betty Boop inked the length of her forearm right after she told her parents she was gay. Every tattoo marked another step in her emancipation. She now felt completely liberated, which was good since she was running out of available skin with the exception of her face and neck. She’d promised her mother to keep those ink-free zones.
It was an hour later before both she and Jucinda were off the phones at the same time.
“Busy afternoon,” Gail commented. She stood and stretched. “Would you like a cup of Earl Grey?”
“Sure,” said Jucinda. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a package of Fig Newtons. “I have these to go with it.”
They decided to drink their tea and eat the cookies standing directly under the fan near the window while they got the chance to leave their phones.
“Leah never takes the day off,” Gail said. “Do you know when she called in?”
“There was a voicemail message, or that’s what Mark said when he phoned me to replace her. He said the odd thing was that Leah left the voicemail early Friday night right after her shift ended saying she needed a day off, especially since he’d booked the Saturday off a month ago and so missed her message until he got in Sunday afternoon. If you ask me, she could have cleared it with him before she went home instead of leaving us short-staffed today. But
, that would have been too much trouble for our princess Leah. Anyway, Mark should have been back by now.”
“What about Wolf?”
“He’s studying. He has that board exam and then has to defend his thesis. He told me they have him slated in next month. Hard to believe he’s that close to a Ph.D.”
“Dr. Wolf. Has a nice ring. It’s too bad he and Leah broke it off.”
“He can do better.”
Gail looked more closely at Jucinda. Was that a blush under her swarthy colouring? If she didn’t know better, she’d say Juicy had eyes for Wolf. They said the cool, detached ones often held the most secrets. Maybe Jucinda had it going on. “You don’t think much of our Leah,” she said in a neutral voice. She studied Jucinda’s face.
“She’s a ho.”
Gail choked on a mouthful of tea. She wiped at the hot liquid dribbling down her chin. “Excuse me?”
Jucinda’s eyes flashed righteous anger. “I don’t respect that kind of woman. It’s hypocritical for her to be giving advice to university kids when she’s carrying on like a common whore with a married man.”
“Wow. I didn’t know you felt that way about her. I’m not sure I’d call her a ho, myself,” said Gail. “She’s more like a free spirit.”
“Only if free spirit is a euphemism for loose and easy. Anyhow, Wolf is better off without her.”
Gail was close enough to Jucinda to smell the sweet coconut scent of her hair when she flipped it back from her face. In the two years they’d worked together she’d always thought of Jucinda as virginal and placid, like a shallow green pond with nary a breeze stirring. Pretty, petite, and pudding-dull. This opening into the workings of Jucinda’s brain was unprecedented and a wee bit disturbing. Just what did Jucinda know about Leah and why hadn’t Gail picked up on it?
A married man?
They finished their tea and returned to their desks. Gail talked a boy through his urge to quit calculus all the while keeping one curious eye on Jucinda, who’d opened a biology textbook. She read it while twirling a long strand of hair around and around in her fingers, every so often lifting her head to look toward the front entrance as if waiting for someone. Gail found her own head turning toward the door in unison.
Mark Withers sauntered in as Gail hung up the phone. Jucinda glanced over at him and said hello, but her shoulders slumped and the smile didn’t stay on her face for more than a second.
So it’s not Mark you’re waiting for.
Gail looked across at their boss, the eternal beach boy dressed in his navy shirt with wide horizontal white stripes, khaki shorts, and brown loafers, worn sockless. His hair was a tousle of sun-bleached strands, cut like Robert Redford’s in that Butch Cassidy movie. You’d never know that Mark had a good ten years on the rest of them. He could have passed for early twenties.
“Hey ladies,” he said. “You can head out, Jucinda. Nate will be here in a few minutes.”
“Good. If Leah’s away tomorrow, maybe line up Nathan or Wolf. I have an exam in the afternoon.”
“No problemo. She hasn’t called in so I expect her back for her shift.”
Gail looked over his shoulder. Nate was coming through the door, carrying a large coffee and a box of doughnuts that he offered around. He and Mark were the only two married employees. He was also Mark’s polar opposite, quiet and observant, always dressed in jeans and shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He’d graduated the year before and worked part-time on the help line and part-time as Professor Dino Tadesco’s teaching assistant. Gail found Nate the most attractive of the three men on staff, not that she was into men.
She looked over at Jucinda to see if his entrance had brightened her up. She was biting into a cruller and it was hard to read her expression, but she didn’t look all aglow in Nathan’s manly presence. Gail hadn’t seriously thought Juicy would go for a married man anyway. That only left Wolf.
Jucinda stuffed the textbook she’d been reading into her purse and made her exit. Nate sprawled out in her desk chair and immediately took a call. Mark disappeared into his cubbyhole office to do some paperwork. He shut the door as per usual. Gail blew him a kiss that he would never receive.
Beach Boy, her pet name for Mark, had been complaining for weeks about all the forms he had to complete and the hoops he had to jump through to keep their grant. He had to defend all over again the need to have a help line when the university had face-to-face counselling available most weekdays and evenings. Even though kids needed an appointment to see a counsellor and the waiting list was getting longer by the day, the help line still had to justify its existence.
Try telling a suicidal student to book an appointment,
Go ahead and tell them to hold onto their anxiety until regular office hours that don’t include the weekends.
How many kids had phoned in and told their secrets and fears only because it was safe and anonymous? The help line was open seven a.m. to eleven p.m. seven days a week, and graduate psych students fielded the calls with Mark supervising and filling in as needed on the phone. They operated close to the bone, but they all believed in what they were doing. Professor Tadesco was their biggest supporter. Gail hoped he wouldn’t get tired of the politics and toss in the towel. They’d done a lot of good work and the need was great for both walk-in counselling and the anonymous help line.
She answered two more calls — a first-year student who’d broken up with his girlfriend and a fourth-year in teacher’s college who didn’t know if she could handle problem kids — and the shift was over. Mark would answer the phone for a couple of hours and Nate would close at eleven. They only had one person on the last two hours of the night and before lunch. They used to have full shifts but Mark made the cuts when their funding dropped the year before. So far they were barely coping with the demand.
The front door opened and Wolf entered. He looked from Gail to Nate and back again. “I thought Leah was on tonight. I must have got it wrong.” He walked over to Gail’s desk and picked up a wizened honey doughnut on his way by. Nate had the phone to his ear and waved in Wolf’s direction.
“Leah called in Friday night and said she needed the day off today,” Gail said. She looked into Wolf’s piercing green eyes and wondered if it was true that Leah had been sleeping around on him. She was a fool if she was, but it would explain their sudden break up. It would explain other behaviours she’d witnessed when silently observing Leah: uncharacteristic evasive responses to questions, sudden unexplained disappearances.
“Strange,” Wolf said. “She never called to cancel our plans. We were meeting up with classmates at the campus pub after her shift today before everyone separates for good.”
Gail tilted her head. “Maybe she got a better offer.” She lobbed the line out like a hand grenade and studied Wolf’s face, waiting for a crack in his armour. He didn’t react one way or the other. She was momentarily disappointed. “Well, time for me to head home,” she said cheerily when it was obvious he wasn’t going to play ball.
“I’m going to talk to Mark. See you later.” He smiled and strode across the office toward Mark’s closed door. She watched him knock and disappear inside.
, she thought as she gathered up her books and stuffed them into her knapsack. She looked inside Beach Boy’s office as she walked past on her way to the front door. He and Wolf were deep in conversation and didn’t notice her leaving.
I wonder what that’s all about
door was answered by a woman with a baby on her hip and a two-year-old clinging to her leg. Celia Paules was dressed in a purple tank top and black shorts, her feet bare with toenails painted bubble gum pink. Brown hair hung in damp curls to her shoulders. Rouleau judged her to be mid-thirties despite her teenage clothing so similar to Della Munroe’s. After carefully inspecting their badges, Celia invited them into a kitchen that looked like a whirling dervish had carved a path of destruction through. The heat from the day had landed squarely in this room. Her hand motioned them in the direction of the table as she turned to get a bottle of milk from the counter.
Rouleau cleaned a handful of soggy Cheerios from a chair and sat down. The two-year-old stood staring up wide-eyed at Gundersund, a thumb in his mouth and a blanket clutched in his chubby hand. The cloth diaper, his only bit of clothing, sagged dangerously.
“Sit, Gundersund,” said Rouleau. “He probably thinks you’re a giant from a storybook. Maybe that one at the top of the beanstalk.”
“Little kids love me,” said Gundersund, lowering onto a chair that looked like it might break into kindling under his weight. “They’re not smart enough to fear me yet.”
“Go play with your trucks,” said the woman to the boy. She patted his head on the way by. He didn’t have far to go. Toys littered every square foot of floor space. She shoved a pile of laundry onto the floor and sat in the chair with her back to the patio window. Cradling the baby on her lap, she popped the bottle into its mouth, then angled herself to look at them while keeping an eye on her son. “So how can I help you, detectives?”
“Della Munroe told us that she spent time over here talking to you this past year,” said Rouleau.
“Della’s okay, isn’t she?”
“She’s fine; but there’s been an altercation and we’re following up. How well do you know the Munroes?” Rouleau glanced at Gundersund. He took out a pen and slid his notebook from his pocket onto his leg.
“They moved in about two years ago. Della used to come for coffee.”
“Used to?” Rouleau asked.
“Up until about a month ago. She said Brian didn’t like her wasting time. They have a four-year-old boy, Tommy, and she was home with him in the mornings. Other than that, she takes a couple of university courses in the afternoons when Tom’s in kindergarten. Brian works at the Sunshine Bakery on Brock.”
“Would you say Brian and Della were happy together?”
“I thought so at first, but Della said Brian had to be into the bakery at four a.m. so it meant he was in bed by eight most nights. It was putting a strain on their relationship. Also, I don’t think they had a lot of income. She complained a few times about being stuck without a car. Brian thought the courses she was taking were a waste of time and she told me he didn’t want to pay for her to continue in the fall. She’s working on an undergrad degree in English lit with a psych minor.”
Rouleau accepted a race car that the child placed on his knee. “Any signs of violence, or did she ever say she was scared of him?”
Celia bit her lip. “Actually, she went out of her way to say everything was good at home. You know that saying: methinks she doth protest too much? One time she had bruises on her arm. When I asked about them, she laughed and told me she’d walked into the door. She said that she knew how that sounded, but Brian would never hurt her. She kept insisting. The last time I saw her, her left eye was black. She didn’t say how it happened, and I didn’t ask.”
“I didn’t need to. Della finally admitted that things weren’t going so well at home, but she was going to try harder to make it work. That meant stopping our coffee hour and spending more time cleaning the house. She really wasn’t very good at running a house from what I saw.” Celia looked around her kitchen and laughed. “Luckily, my husband doesn’t care what our place looks like.”
“How well did you know Brian?”
“I met him a few times, but he worked a lot. Maybe their different backgrounds put another strain on them. Della implied that race was the reason her parents disowned her.”
Rouleau wasn’t convinced that skin colour was a factor in the Munroes’ current marital problems but filed the comment in his possibility file. “And did you form any impression about him?”
“He was quiet, an introvert, I’d say. Della’s the opposite … or used to be. I wasn’t sure why they ever hooked up, well, except for their obvious good looks. Brian’s gorgeous, like a football player, and Della’s that outgoing cheerleader type. They were living in Toronto when they met. She was in her last year of high school and he was a few years older. She told me that he was a cook in a fast food restaurant and they saved enough to open this bakery. Della never said too much about it except that she was the one that did all the scrimping and saving; otherwise they’d still be living in some slum high rise. She got pregnant with Tommy right after they hooked up and said it was bad timing but she was always blessed to have him.” Celia shifted the baby onto her shoulder and began patting on its back. “Sex doesn’t carry you as far once the babies arrive if that’s all that’s holding your relationship together.”
“The long hours Brian had to put into his business must have been difficult.”
Celia nodded. “Especially with her mother dying and her father shutting her out. I just hope Della’s okay. She deserves someone better than Brian. From what I saw, he needs to control and she went along with it. He never should have made her leave Toronto. She wasn’t cut out to be a housewife in a town the size of Kingston. She was made for a bigger life.”
The afternoon sun was fading when Rouleau sat across the desk from his new Chief of Police, Malcolm T. Heath. Heath was forty, younger than Rouleau by ten years, but well connected according to Gundersund. He’d used his influence to rise quickly through the force to rank of chief at an age when most were a few levels lower. It hadn’t taken Rouleau long to figure out that Heath wasn’t particularly involved in the day-to-day and didn’t care for detailed reporting. He preferred to be told the big picture and relied on a solid media relations team with himself as spokesperson to keep the force well positioned in the community. Heath’s Achilles heel was scandal. Any whiff of a negative news story and he whipped his communications machine into a frenzy. Rouleau wondered how tenuous Heath’s appointment was and who he owed. He could live with Heath’s PR obsession, however, because it didn’t involve micromanaging cases. Heath left the heavy lifting to the detectives.
Heath ran a ringed hand through his greying curls and leaned back in his chair to look out the window. On their first meeting, Rouleau had been reminded of a cherub — plump cheeks and rosy complexion with curly hair that women spent serious dollars to achieve in the salon. His round, blue eyes usually focused on a point just beyond Rouleau’s right shoulder. Heath would appear to have drifted off, and then surprise Rouleau with an astute observation. Rouleau was curious to know whether the Columbo routine was for real or a carefully tuned act. He’d buy it, though, if it meant the hands-off approach continued.
Heath swung his eyes toward Rouleau. “Any movement on the new hire?”
“I have someone in mind but am having trouble reaching them.”
One eyebrow lifted. “Odd. Are they working now?”
Rouleau shook his head. “Kala Stonechild is on a canoe trip and out of range. I’d like to give her a few more days.”
“I want to be staffed up by the end of the month.” Heath glanced at his computer screen. “Any luck finding a place to live?”
“I’m still at my father’s apartment. He had foot surgery four weeks ago.”
“There might be vacant student housing but you won’t want any part of that. I’ll send your email address to a friend of mine in real estate. She should be able to come up with something suitable.”
“This Munroe case. You think it’ll get any media play?”
“Depends if it goes to court. The Munroes could battle it out in the press.”
“Keep me informed.”
“Will do.” Rouleau stood.
“I’ll be taking a holiday next week. If something urgent comes up, let Vera know. She has my coordinates.”
“You’re heading out of town?”
“Fishing trip in Northern Quebec. Rainbow and lake trout, pristine lakes, and blue sky that goes on forever. It’s my yearly pilgrimage to commune with nature.”
Rouleau looked closer at Heath. Heath’s eyes were guileless behind wire-framed reading glasses. Rouleau could picture him on a cruise or stretched out next to a pool with a martini in his hand, but definitely not tromping around the woods or sitting patiently in a boat waiting for fish to bite.
Rouleau stood to leave. Heath scribbled something on a writing pad and ripped off the top sheet. He handed it to Rouleau.
“Tell Laney Masterson that I sent you. You should have a place to call home by next weekend.”
“Thanks, I’ll give her a ring.” Rouleau glanced down at the paper. Heath had written Laney Masterson’s phone number from memory.
He stopped at Vera’s desk on the way to his own office. She lifted her unusual almond-shaped eyes from the computer screen and met his. They were the warm amber colour of his ex-wife Frances’s tabby cat.
“Question, Rouleau?” she asked, her eyes dropping back to her work. Her elegant fingers, loaded down with gold rings and glittering stones, flew across the keyboard. Rouleau had only seen her blond hair wound tightly into a bun at the nape of her long neck, at odds with her tight sweaters and pencil skirts that showed off her Marilyn Monroe body.
“Just wondered if the Chief goes to the same fishing hole every year.”
Vera raised her eyes. He saw amusement in their golden depths. “You thinking of taking up the sport?” she asked. “You should know that he’s quite protective of his secret spot.” Her voice was low and suggestive.
Rouleau smiled. “Night, Vera. See you tomorrow.”
She returned his smile. “Later, Rouleau.”