Authors: Brenda Chapman
left the station and drove slowly down Princess Street toward downtown. Rounding the curve south past the Division Street intersection, he took in the shops and cafés that lined the busy street. Far in the distance he glimpsed the sparkling blue of Lake Ontario, just past the Holiday Inn at the bottom of Princess. Traffic was stop-and-go but not as bad as it would be in the Ottawa core at this time of the evening. He rolled down the window and rested his elbow on the door frame. A hot breeze ruffled his sticky shirt and gave the illusion of relief. The temperature had risen over the afternoon and clung to the city like heat from a sauna. Finally reaching Ontario Street, he hung a right. The road paralleled the waterfront, his father’s condo building with a view of the harbour several blocks farther on. The Royal George, where his father lived on the seventh floor, protruded awkwardly, a green glass tower of modernity, the last in a series of high rises that included an upscale hotel.
Rouleau pulled into the visitor parking lot and turned off the engine. He sat for a moment, looking toward the lake, visible over the tall grasses that lined the property. He attempted to let go of the stresses of the day to find the reserve of patience now required. His father, a normally calm, methodical man, had become irritated by the limitations surgery had wrought on his body. The last few days he’d sunk into a worrisome depression, a state so foreign to him that Rouleau could barely bring himself to think about what it foreshadowed. The urge to find his own place to live was eating at him, but he wasn’t sure if he should leave his father alone just yet.
Rouleau exited his car and took the elevator to the seventh floor. He used his key to enter and was surprised to hear his father’s hearty laughter coming from the living room. A woman’s voice joined in and Rouleau’s heart lightened. His father had refused visitors, so this was a good sign.
Rouleau walked down the short hallway lined in bookcases and rounded the corner. Both faces turned to smile up at him: his father stretched out on the couch, and surprise of surprises, Kala Stonechild in a chair facing him. A black Labrador retriever lay at her feet, its alert eyes following his every movement. The dog looked friendly but on guard. Rouleau crossed to the empty easy chair and dropped into it. He reached across to squeeze Stonechild’s shoulder and the dog’s eyes followed him. “You’re here,” Rouleau said, leaning back. He grinned wryly at having stated the obvious. “So you got my messages then?”
“I did.” She shrugged and her lips curved upward. The smile almost reached her eyes. Almost, but not quite. She was dressed in a white cotton blouse, gauzy and unbuttoned to just below her collarbones, and faded jeans. A turquoise, white, and red beaded belt was threaded through the loops. Her ebony hair hung in two braided pigtails to her chest. She’d taken her sandals off at the door and her bare feet were tucked underneath the coffee table.
Rouleau glanced over at his father. His blue eyes had recovered some of their brilliance. “You’re looking better, Dad.”
“I’ve had good company today,” his father responded. “I hope you’re about to pour us each a little of the Glenfiddich before dinner.”
“Of course.” Rouleau stood. “Ginger ale, Kala?” he asked. He knew she didn’t touch alcohol. She nodded and he walked into the kitchen. When he returned with the drinks, Kala and his father were deep in conversation, as if they’d known each other a long time instead of a few hours.
Rouleau sat down and took a sip of the single malt. It burned pleasantly all the way down. He looked at Kala and waited for her to tell him why she was sitting in his father’s apartment. She raised her eyes to his and smiled as if fully aware of his impatience for her to commit to his job offer. She took her time, letting his father finish talking about his research at the university before responding.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be staying in Kingston. I’ve come to check out the town on my way to Ottawa. Grayson is waiting for me to join the unit again.” She shrugged. “I thought I’d resign in person.”
“Where would you go if not here?”
“Not sure. My old job in Red Rock is still open.”
“Is that where you really want to be?”
“One place is as good as another.” Again the slight lifting of her shoulders. The defiant tilt of her jaw he’d seen before. “I’m not ruling out your offer. I’m just saying that I don’t know what I want to do yet.”
“How did you find my father’s apartment?”
“I’m a detective, remember?” she said. “You left a trail of bread crumbs as wide as Highway 417.”
“I’d like you to come work for me.”
“I gathered that from your phone messages.”
“You’ll like Kingston. It’s a welcoming kind of town.”
“I don’t know yet if this town is for me. Honestly, I feel more at home in the North.”
“The Criminal Investigations team is small, and you’d be working with another inspector named Paul Gundersund. He’s good. We also have a solid in-house forensics team and cold case unit in our division. Think about it. That’s all I ask.”
She nodded, but her eyes were evasive. Rouleau had the uneasy feeling he’d oversold the job.
“Will you stay for supper?” his dad asked her. “Jacques will be cooking some steak with baked potatoes. We’d be delighted to have you.”
“Thank you, but I really have to be going. Taiku needs a walk and I have to check in with my friend.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Just west of the city but this side of Bath. My friend owns a house on the water. She’s expecting me sometime today.”
“At least finish your drink before you go,” his father said. “It’s been a long time since I had a young woman come to call.”
Kala’s eyes swept the room and Rouleau’s eyes followed behind. It was the lair of a long-time bachelor with few feminine touches. The parquet floor was typical of the apartment buildings built in the eighties, now in vogue again. The oak furniture was solid, functional, but not pretty. His dad kept piles of documents and textbooks on the floor and scattered across the dining room table where he worked on his computer in front of the balcony window. An anemic vine had taken over one wall, surviving god only knew how on sporadic watering and inattention. His dad’s ten-speed bicycle leaned against the wall behind the couch, put out to pasture until the cast came off his foot.
“How long have you lived here?” she asked him, lifting her glass.
“I moved into an apartment near the university campus after Jacques took his first job in Ottawa. What was that, son, twenty years ago now? I moved into this condo when it was built a few years ago.”
Rouleau’s phone rang in his pocket. He reached for it, saying, “One minute, Dad. I should get this.”
It took a few seconds to assimilate the facts from the dispatcher. A young woman had been called in dead in an apartment just off campus. He was needed on site as soon as he could get there. It was certainly murder. Gundersund would meet him there. She rhymed off the address and repeated it to be sure.
Rouleau slipped the phone back into his pocket and looked at Kala and his father. Both sets of eyes watched him expectantly, one set liquid black and the other a crystal blue. They’d overheard his side of the conversation. There was no point hiding his destination.
He stood. “A murder just off campus. I have to go.”
“Should I come along, sir?” Kala asked. She’d already pushed herself to her feet. “It might help me decide to come on board.”
Rouleau thought about it for a nanosecond before he nodded. Perhaps all wasn’t lost with Stonechild after all. This case could very well tilt her decision in his favour.
followed closely behind Rouleau in her truck. Taiku sat in the passenger seat, his nose through the open window. She reached across the console and ruffled the fur on his back.
“So what do you think, boy? Is this a town you’d like to spend time in or should we keep moving?”
Taiku pulled his nose from the window and turned his head toward her, his pink tongue lolling to the side of his mouth. He stared at her as if considering her question.
Kala laughed before turning back to the road. Sometimes she thought Taiku was a human disguised as a dog. He was smarter than most people she knew and was considerably more dependable.
They were heading east, but only for a short distance before Rouleau turned north on Gore. The grey limestone houses dated back to Sir John A. Macdonald’s time. It was a pretty city with mature oak trees and wide streets flanked to the south by Lake Ontario. This felt like a town you could breathe in. She was surprised to find herself looking forward to a few days at her friend’s place.
Rouleau pulled left onto Sydenham and she followed a few car lengths behind. A busy scene greeted them a few blocks in. Police cars and an ambulance with red lights flashing filled the street. The target house was toward the far end of the street and they had to park and walk a short distance. Kala left Taiku locked in the truck parked under a shady oak with the window open and an order to stay. He immediately lay down on the seat, his shaggy head resting against the passenger door, his black eyes watching her walk away.
Rouleau stood waiting for her on the sidewalk next to his car. He looked tired, his eyes sadder than she remembered. The connection she felt to him was odd. Uncomfortable and uncharacteristic. She’d felt it in Ottawa the short time they worked together. It was the reason she’d detoured on a last-minute whim off the 417 to find him. She’d been surprised that he’d sought her out for this job. She hadn’t decided yet whether to trust him.
Rouleau filled her in as they walked. The house was divided into apartments and rented as student housing. The woman’s body was found in the basement by the upstairs tenant. Apparently there was a lot of blood. They passed a couple of beat cops in navy uniforms on their way inside the limestone house. The officers appeared to know Rouleau and let her inside only because she was with him. One cop directed them to the basement.
Rouleau introduced Paul Gundersund, who met them at the bottom of the stairs. She felt dwarfed by the size of the man. He was over six foot, close to two hundred pounds, and appeared slightly out of shape. A scar marked the left side of his face, giving him the look of a street fighter. His blue-grey eyes were surprisingly pretty for a guy with a face like his. She shook his outstretched hand, his fingers long and slender.
“It’s not good, boss,” he said as he led them down the dark hallway. Kala’s eyes lifted to the unlit bulb hanging from the ceiling socket, obviously not working. It would have given the attacker cover as they waited, if that’s what they’d done. She made out the squat shapes of a washer and dryer angled deeper into the gloom. Gundersund stopped and handed them white suits and covers for their shoes. Kala stepped into the suit and shivered as the cool dampness seeping from the basement’s concrete walls wrapped itself around her bare arms. She quickly pulled the suit up over her shirt.
The apartment door stood open, the putrid smell of death getting stronger as they approached. Down the length of the hallway, the forensics team in white suits worked in the bedroom. She could see a trail of dark blood on the floor, pooled in spots, where the woman looked to have dragged herself toward the apartment door.
Kala stepped closer and saw that the blood trail detoured left. She carefully negotiated the blood splatter as she followed behind Rouleau and Gundersund into the living room. They stepped aside to make some space for her. She looked from their grim faces to the floor near the coffee table where the coroner kneeled next to a woman lying face down, one of her arms stretched in front of her as if she’d been trying to swim away using the front crawl. A purse had spewed its contents onto the carpet; a blood-covered cellphone lay near the woman’s curled fingers.
Kala swallowed back the urge to gag. Congealed blood covered the woman’s face and matted the long, dark hair on the back of her head. It had seeped from her body and surrounded her in sticky globs. It had spread from her midsection in a circular pool. The smell of rotting flesh and blood and feces was overpowering.
Rouleau touched Kala’s shoulder and motioned her to take a few steps closer. A photographer who’d been taking pictures of the body signalled that she’d gotten enough. The coroner looked from her to Rouleau.
“I’m ready to turn the body,” he said.
Rouleau’s eyes swept the scene, ending with a long study of the woman. Finally, he nodded and the coroner rolled the woman onto her back, her one arm remaining awkwardly extended above her head. Kala looked past the bruising, discoloured skin and dried blood and saw that the girl had been attractive: late twenties, masses of black hair, medium height, with a muscular physique. Someone had gone to great lengths to disfigure her beauty. The coroner held up the palm of one hand.
“Her fingers are broken.” He traced upward along the underside of her arm. “Cigarette burns.” He turned to the photographer.
“Make sure you get close ups.”
“How long…?” asked Rouleau.
“It’s a guess, but I’d say twenty-four hours based on the rigor mortis. I couldn’t say how long she was tortured in the bedroom, but I think it went on a while, judging by the burns and wounds. Her attacker used a knife.”
Kala saw Rouleau’s jaw clench. Her own felt as tight as a fist.
“Can you isolate the wound that killed her?” he asked.
The coroner pointed to her stomach where blood had stained her shirt almost black. “The assailant drove a weapon into her midsection. I can’t say with complete certainty until we do the autopsy, but she almost definitely bled out from there.”
They stood quietly for a moment, contemplating the strength of will it had taken for the dying woman to drag herself this far. Kala glanced at Rouleau. His eyes were hard, unflinching. She lowered hers to search for clues in the carpet and the woman who’d died while reaching for her phone.
Rouleau said, “Have you got her name?”
Gundersund nodded. “Yeah. Leah Sampson. I’ve got somebody checking for her next of kin. We should find out more about her within the hour.”
Kala looked around the stifling living room. She already knew a lot about Leah Sampson. She was a struggling student who lived alone, although she was close to her sister and parents. Their faces smiled at her from two framed photos on a table next to the couch. Horses were a passion, judging from the other photos. Leah read murder mysteries when she should be studying. The stack of paperbacks next to her unopened textbooks was a giveaway. What secrets had she kept that were worth dying over?
“I’m going to look in the bedroom,” Kala said abruptly.
“I’ll come with you,” Gundersund said.
Rouleau didn’t turn or look away from Leah’s body. “I’ll stay with her until she’s ready to be moved.”
“Okay boss,” Gundersund said.
He and Kala walked sideways down the narrow hallway, stepping on their toes past pools of congealed blood. Kala made a cursory check of the bathroom and galley kitchen off to the right. Neither room appeared to be part of the crime scene. The bedroom was another story. Three officers from forensics noted their entry and carried on with their work. Two were dusting for prints and the other was taking samples from the chair where Leah Sampson had been tied.
Kala lifted her eyes from the pink rosebud-patterned duvet in a heap next to the bed to the one-eyed stuffed teddy bear leaning against the mirror. Silver and gold costume jewellery lay in front of the bear, scattered in shiny heaps across the top of the dresser. A silky blue housecoat hung on a hook next to the closet door. The bed was rumpled, unmade. A spray of blood crossed the sheets as if from a garden hose. Nobody had mentioned sexual assault yet, but the coroner would be looking for signs. Gundersund broke into her thoughts.
“We can’t do anything here until forensics is finished. I’m going to talk to the person who found her. Maybe they heard something. Coming?”
“Sure.” Her eyes fixated on the bloody chair for a moment before she turned to follow him.
They retraced their steps down the hallway. Rouleau was still with the coroner and Leah Sampson’s body. They let him know they’d be upstairs starting interviews.
“Hell of a welcome to the team,” Gundersund said with his foot on the bottom step. “Rouleau speaks highly of you, by the way. He wasn’t sure you’d be coming to Kingston though. Glad you changed your mind.”
“I just dropped in for a visit,” said Kala. She gave Gundersund a quick sideways grin. “Guess I’ll be sticking around for a few days.”