Authors: Brenda Chapman
took her sister’s hand and gently traced the lifeline carved into her small palm. They lay side by side in the hammock between the two fir trees, rocking gently in their cooling shade and the swaying light that slipped like liquid gold through the leaves.
“You will have a long life, Meeza, and I see two boyfriends in your future. One will be tall and rich and the other will be a poor, handsome boy who truly loves you. You will be very happy if you follow your heart.”
Dalal pulled her hand away and let her arm rest across her forehead. Her long black hair was tied back with a purple silk scarf. It was desperately hot but they both wore skirts to their ankles and long-sleeved blouses.
Meeza giggled and ran her index finger along the line her sister had just traced. “Do you think I will live with you and your husband when I get married? I don’t think I’d want to be in a house if you aren’t there.” Her eyes changed like quicksilver, from dancing stars to pools of misery.
Dalal lowered her arm and grabbed Meeza’s hand firmly in hers. “Don’t worry, little sister. I won’t ever leave you. Besides, you are only twelve years old and we’ll be living together for a long time yet.”
“But you’re fifteen and so much older than me.”
“Fifteen in six months. I have three more years of high school before I go to college. I’ll probably still have to live at home even then.”
She didn’t dare think about the work it was going to take to convince her father to let her study to become a nurse. Already she’d begun dropping hints. Nobody had said no to her wishes and she took this as a good sign.
“I don’t like it when people leave.” Meeza pouted and moved her leg away from Dalal’s.
“I don’t either.”
They lay quietly, letting the wind rock them and trying not to think about the event that they were not allowed to talk about. Meeza began singing a song she’d learned in school and Dalal knew she’d gotten over her sadness of a moment before. The thing about Meeza was that she never held a thought or emotion for long. Dalal closed her eyes and felt her body relax. The soothing motion of the swing and the warmth of the sun even in the shade were making her drowsy. She was almost asleep when Meeza stopped her chant and poked Dalal in the side.
“I heard a car door. Daddy’s home.”
“We’ll have to start supper.”
Dalal felt the lurch of the hammock as Meeza launched herself onto the lawn. She watched Meeza race toward the back gate to head off their father before he made it to the front door. Meeza might be nearly twelve years old but she had the mind of a much younger child. The teachers had been telling her parents for years that Meeza needed to go into a special class. They’d called her a simple child with special learning needs. After her report card and a late afternoon call from the school, her parents and older brother Ghazi had huddled together like plotting generals. They’d gone for a meeting the next day and returned without saying what had happened. Dalal knew her parents wouldn’t allow Meeza to bring dishonour, whether real or imagined, to the household. Sure enough, Meeza remained in the same class and was promoted at the end of the year without any more phone calls from the teacher.
Dalal reached into her pocket for her cellphone and checked her messages.
A text from Joe!
She read it quickly before erasing it and tucking the phone back into her pocket. It wasn’t safe to answer him back.
Her father and Meeza came through the gate a few seconds later, Meeza holding onto his hand and skipping at his side. Her father looked sternly in Dalal’s direction as if he sensed her guilt.
“Ghazi will be home from his course in half an hour and he’ll be hungry. What are you doing lying there without supper started?”
Dalal jumped to her feet. “I’m sorry, Father. I’ll get it going right now.”
“See that you do and take Meeza with you. She needs to learn how to prepare a meal.”
Dalal hurried across the lawn, but an unsettling thought made her stare at her father as she neared him and Meeza. What were her parents and Ghazi hatching now for Meeza? Were they going to send her to be a helper for another family? Dalal wouldn’t put it past them. She held out her hand to Meeza as she walked by.
“Come, Meeza. You can make the rice tonight.”
“Oh goody,” said Meeza, clapping her hands. She leaped into the air and twirled on one foot before reaching for Dalal’s hand.
Dalal turned at the door and looked at her father again. He stood tall and motionless in the full heat of the sun, watching them with laser-beam eyes. Dalal smiled in his direction, but a sudden cold tingling up her spine made her hand slip from the door knob. She banged her shoulder against the door before she managed to twist the handle open. Meeza squealed when Dalal yanked her into the kitchen away from their father’s piercing stare
The bad stuff’s not over yet,
And I have no idea how to stop it.
introduced Kala to the rest of the team first thing the next morning. She shook hands with Ed Chalmers and Zack Woodhouse, then took a seat next to Gundersund. They were in a small boardroom down the hall from their offices. Kala had already been taken on a quick tour after getting a temporary building pass and signing some paperwork that made her an auxiliary officer on loan from the Ottawa force.
Rouleau watched Vera cross the room in her tight pencil skirt and six-inch heels with Kala’s paperwork in hand and thanked whatever deity had brought her to the chief’s door. She’d performed bureaucratic miracles all before eight-thirty in the morning. Her head tilted toward him and she winked just before stepping outside and pulling the door shut behind her. Rouleau noticed that Kala had witnessed the exchange but her face remained impassive. Rouleau was happy to be a man who didn’t blush easily. He looked directly at Kala. “Right. Chalmers and Woodhouse have been brought up to speed about Leah Sampson’s murder. What you don’t know is that we’re also working on a spousal rape case, so we’re spread thin this week.”
“Where would you like me?” asked Kala.
“You’ll be teamed with Gundersund and leading on the Sampson murder. However, Chalmers and Woodhouse might need you to help on the rape case, so be prepared to go between the two, if necessary.” He broadened his gaze to include the others. “Everyone is going to have to be flexible, so keep up-to-date on both files. We’ll have debriefs every morning at seven-thirty. I’ll be coordinating both and dealing with media, needless to say, with Heath’s assistance.”
“His forte,” said Woodhouse. The others smiled at some inside joke. Kala guessed that the unmet chief must fancy himself a media star. The knowledge might come in handy down the road.
“Calls have been coming in. The
and the CBC are probing the murder story. We’ve even had calls from the
What Rouleau couldn’t say was that he had little faith in Ed Chalmers, who was close to retirement and dogging it. Woodhouse was in his early forties but had shown little initiative. The two men even looked alike — both balding with middle age paunches. Woodhouse was taller and wore glasses, but aside from that they could have been brothers. Around the station they were known as Lazy and Lazier.
“So, Chalmers and Woodhouse, start interviewing neighbours and co-workers — anyone who knew Brian and Della Munroe. We need evidence to back up Della’s story if it’s true.”
“We’re on it,” said Chalmers.
Rouleau wished he could find faith in Chalmers’s words, but failed. “Gundersund, can you sit in on the Sampson autopsy this morning?”
“We’ve located her parents in Montreal and they’re on their way, and the autopsy is scheduled for right after they see her. Stonechild, I want you to check out the staff where Leah worked. Her murder could be tied into her personal life or the help line. The killer might have been a stranger, but if so, why torture her? See what you can find out and bring along Officer Marquette. He’s waiting at his desk for you.”
“Check in as you go and I’ll let you know next assignments.”
Everyone stood and started for the door. Gundersund fell into step with Kala.
“Do you have the help line address on campus?”
“No, but it shouldn’t be hard to track down.”
“I’ll call you when the autopsy’s done to find out where you are. Can I have your cell number?”
She recited the number and he jotted it down in his notebook.
Gail Pankhurst lurched forward a step and dropped into the empty chair facing Jucinda and Nate sitting on the couch. Jucinda’s melodramatic announcement that Leah had been murdered kept repeating in her brain like a news bulletin stuck on replay.
“I can’t fucking believe it,” Nate said. “No fucking way.” His face was the colour of whipped meringue. He slumped back and held onto his chest as if he’d been shot.
“Well believe it,” said Jucinda. “The cop in there talking to Mark and Professor Tadesco is 100 percent certain. Plus, Leah missed her shift yesterday and again today, so that would appear to clinch it.”
“Where’s Wolf?” asked Gail, her head swivelling around the office. “Does he know?”
Jucinda shook her head. “Mark called him to come to the centre but didn’t tell him why.”
The two women exchanged looks and the expression on Jucinda’s face sent a jolt through Gail’s nether regions. Juicy was smiling, her lips lifted at the corners, with a smug look in her eyes as if someone had handed her a gift. Gail recalled her vitriolic condemnation of Leah the day before and her interest in Wolf. She squirmed at a sudden rush of guilt at her own part in the conversation. For God’s sake, Leah might have already been dead when they were discussing her loose morals, her spirit hovering in the room, listening to herself being called a slut. Surely Juicy had nothing to do with Leah’s death, but her smile was disturbing. Gail swung her eyes back toward the office.
“Who’s that with Beach Boy and Tadesco?”
“It’s a detective. Stonechild, I think she said her name was,” Nate roused himself to respond. “And she brought along a police officer.”
“Christ,” Gail said. Her stomach rolled and she swallowed hard. Sweat was making her armpits wet. She was glad she’d worn a sleeveless white top that wouldn’t show the dark stains.
Mark’s office door opened and the detective crossed the floor in their direction. Gail stared over: an Aboriginal, about their age, younger than thirty anyhow. She had long black hair tied back in a ponytail and black eyes that were drinking them in, assessing and processing. Dressed in navy slacks and a white shirt, the detective looked lean, muscular, and confident, everything Gail knew herself not to be.
“Hello, I’m Detective Stonechild,” the woman said upon reaching them. “I know the news of Leah’s death has come as a shock, but it would help our investigation if I could speak with each of you individually.” She looked down at her notepad. “I’ll start with Jucinda Rivera. Please follow me into your supervisor’s office. Gail Pankhurst and then Nathan Anders will follow. Officer Marquette will stay with you. I’d appreciate it if you do not discuss anything about Leah amongst yourselves. Thanks.”
Wow, no messing around.
Gail felt that sick feeling back in her stomach. They were actually being interrogated, like on a police show, but this was no work of fiction.
The detective turned and Jucinda rose to follow, throwing a rolling eye glance in Gail’s direction. Lucky for her, Marquette had his back turned. He was leaning against Gail’s desk and pulled out his cellphone as she passed by him. Mark and the professor joined Nate on the couch.
“Well, this wasn’t what I was expecting today when I got dressed for work,” Gail said. Nobody smiled and she couldn’t really blame them. Making light when their colleague had just been murdered was in extremely bad taste, but she had to cope somehow. Every inch of her body felt like it was burning up with fever. She even smelled rancid, fear changing her body odour to something putrid and disgusting.
A curious thought came to her as she looked at the three stooges — Tadesco, Nate, and Mark — lined up as if they were facing a firing squad. Juicy had said that Leah was sleeping around with a married man. Could it be one of these three? She studied them to see if any was more broken up than the others, but had to admit they all looked devastated. Tadesco won out in the red-eyed category though. She looked at him again.
Immaculate blue suit and open-necked shirt the colour of daffodils, tall with jet-black hair gelled back, and a Mediterranean complexion. Attractive enough if you liked the Italian-prince-slash-
look. He was the hotline’s staunchest supporter and considered a socialist — a handicap the wealthier right-wing students overlooked because his psych classes were so interesting and he was such an easy marker. His wife, on the other hand, was an unpopular English prof. Medieval lit major, a horsey face, and expensive silk dresses labelled her elitist and stuck up. Rumour had it that she was cold in the sack. There might have been enough dissatisfaction in their marriage for Leah to move in on Tadesco. As Gail watched, Tadesco leaned into Mark. Gail shifted forward to hear their exchange.
“I have to get over to the president’s office. He’ll need to speak with media and put out a news release. A murder on campus could create mass hysteria if not handled properly,” Tadesco said quietly.
Mark and Tadesco both lifted their heads to look at the officer, who was just tucking his phone into his pocket.
Mark nodded. “You’ve already given a statement so it should be okay.”
“I just feel helpless sitting here when I know time is of the essence for keeping this contained.”
Tadesco stood and strode over to talk with Marquette. Tadesco was the kind of man who strode, not walked. Gail thought he was a self-confident son of a bitch and maybe colder than his wife, if his words were anything to go by.
Marquette and Tadesco discussed his departure in low voices and then Tadesco called across the room to Mark. “I’ll talk to you later. I’ll be available by Blackberry if you need to reach me.” He broadened his look to include Nate and Gail. “We’ll get through this. Stay strong, kids, and I’ll be back later so we can talk.”
Gail felt she should pump her fist in solidarity but instead waved a hand in his direction and wondered why his promise for a
sounded like a warning. The person he probably should be telling to keep quiet was Juicy, but she was already spilling her guts to the detective. If Tadesco was the married boyfriend and Juicy knew it, things could go badly for his marriage and career. The university was strict about enforcing its rules regarding professors fraternising with students, especially if the student was in their class. Leah had been in Tadesco’s this year and last.
Gail felt a surge of excitement replace the horror and dread. She itched to get out her laptop to start a new file about the murder and the players in Leah’s life. This could turn into the biggest psychological study ever and she was going to have a front-row seat. At least making this into another human experiment would take her mind off the horrible end that Leah had suffered. It might help her to make sense of the unfathomable
it could turn into a thesis that might get her published. What was that saying? Every cloud has a silver lining. It might sound crass, but life had to carry on and you had to make the most of whatever bounty fell your way.