Authors: Brenda Chapman
watched Stonechild as he packed up his desk to head home. She’d started up her computer and was now hunched over the file that Rouleau had given her. He didn’t find her pretty in the regular sense of the word.
. That was the word he’d use. High cheekbones, dark eyes with so much hidden in their depths anybody could get lost just trying to find a way in, long legs, and a toned body. She looked unapproachable; an island unto herself.
She flipped a page and set down the file, typing her password on the keyboard. Her eyes skimmed the computer screen then lifted toward him. He was leaning back in his chair, hands folded behind his head.
“Did you need something?” she asked.
“No, but I thought you might like to grab a bite to eat.”
“It’s past suppertime, so yeah now.”
“I have to read up on this rape case.”
“Well, if you come eat with me, I can tell you what’s in the file since I wrote everything in it.” He smiled. “I can even tell you what I didn’t include.”
She studied him a moment longer, biting her bottom lip as she considered the offer. “I guess I could eat.”
“Then let’s go.” Gundersund stood and waited for her to pack up her bag and shut down her computer.
“Where are you staying?” he asked as they walked out of the building.
“Heading toward Bath, on the Old Front Road.”
He stopped for a second, then resumed walking as he said, “No kidding. We must be neighbours. I moved out that way about a year ago.”
“I’m staying at a friend’s. Marjory Littlebear.”
“The land claims lawyer?”
It was Kala’s turn to stop. “You know her?”
“I’m just down the road. She’d come over Sunday evenings and we’d walk my dog. I have a border collie named Minny.” He watched Stonechild’s face but couldn’t tell if the news pleased her or not. If he had to guess, he’d bet on the side of not. “What were the odds?” he asked smiling.
Her face closed down but not before he saw the grimace. “I like my privacy,” she said. “You might not find me as good a neighbour as Marjory. She’s gone for a month or so.”
“She told me last week she might be going North on short notice,” said Gundersund. “I guess you could be her replacement, seeing as how you have a dog needs walking too.”
They continued toward the parking lot. He shortened his strides to match hers. “Is that your truck?” he asked, pointing to a black Ford. When she nodded, he said, “Mine is the silver Camero over there. We can meet up at the Merchant Tap House at the bottom of Princess Street. I can lead if you like.”
“I passed by it in my travels.” She glanced over to his car. “Nice wheels. What year?”
“It’s second hand 2010. My pride and joy. See you in a bit then.” He started to cross the parking lot but stopped and turned when she called his name. She’d opened her truck door and stood with one foot on the riser.
“My dog Taiku doesn’t like other dogs much. You’re better off taking those Sunday walks without us.”
She slid into her front seat and slammed the door without waiting for his response.
The first dinner crowd shift had finished and the pub staff was regrouping for the nine o’clock rush. The hostess offered them their choice of seats. Gundersund followed Kala through the tables to the back corner in the smaller room to their right with a window overlooking Princess Street. Night had fallen and candles flickered on the tables.
They took a few minutes to read the menu and order: bangers and mash with a pint of Guinness for Gundersund; chicken burger, fries, and salad with a soda and cranberry for Stonechild.
Gundersund stretched out his legs under the table, angling them so he wasn’t crowding Stonechild. He liked this bar. It didn’t pretend to be anything but a place to drink. The food was basic too: no pretentious sauces or fancy presentation. Rock and roll pumped through the speakers. His kind of music. Tunes that never wore out.
“This place has a good feel,” said Stonechild, as if reading his mind. She leaned back in her chair and stretched out her legs alongside his.
He nodded his agreement. “So how long have you known Rouleau?” he asked. For the first time that day, the pinched look left her face and she smiled.
“Not long. We met last summer in Ottawa when I went to work on his team. We hit it off.”
Two peas in a pod as far as Gundersund could see — a twin set of loners. “I heard he was married.”
“Are you digging for dirt, Officer Gundersund?” asked Kala. Her smile widened.
He grinned back. “Maybe. It’s good to know who you’re working with.”
“Rouleau was married but now he’s single. His ex-wife remarried last year but she’s been ill. Rouleau doesn’t talk about it.” Her gaze studied him. “I found this out from my last partner in Ottawa. We’re detectives after all. So how about you? Married or single?”
“This job is tough on relationships.” He heard genuine regret in her voice.
“We’re cop clichés all right,” he said.
Their food arrived and they agreed to talk work after they’d eaten. Gundersund glanced across at Stonechild as she ate the food. She ate like a kid, not caring if anybody watched her devour every morsel, licking her fingers as ketchup oozed from the burger. A spot of relish dimpled her cheek. Gundersund grinned and bit into one of the sausages. The smoky taste laced with garlic, cayenne, and rosemary spread like fire across his taste buds.
Fiona had picked at the meals he’d cooked her, saying she wasn’t hungry, but he knew it was vanity driving her small appetite. She’d feared growing out of her size four clothes as if her worth was tied up in a dress size. She’d hated his complacency about putting on weight and getting old. When he knew their relationship was going south, he’d started going to the gym to prove he was open to changing for her. After she’d left, he kept going, hoping it would bring her home. At some point, he’d just given up the fight and stopped working out.
Kala pushed her empty plate toward the edge of the table and sighed contentedly. “So what’s the story on Chalmers and Woodhouse?”
Gundersund took one last bite of mashed potatoes and put his plate on top of hers. “Let’s say they’re not known for their relentless search for the truth. Rouleau was saddled with them as was the last series of inspectors in his job. Chalmers used to be good but he doesn’t care anymore. Retirement is on his horizon and he’s been easing into it for a while. Unfortunately, he and Woodhouse found each other. They share the same work ethic.”
“Hard to get rid of somebody, even if they’re not pulling their weight.”
“Woodhouse and Chalmers are banking on it. I give Chalmers another year at the most before he starts in on his pension. Maybe it’s not too late for Woodhouse to be re-educated once he gets a new partner.”
“There are just the four of us plus Rouleau?”
“With cut backs, that’s it for our investigative team. The city and region is just over a hundred and fifty thousand people and major crimes are usually low, although you wouldn’t know it by this week. Murders are rare.”
“What about the rape case? Della Munroe.”
Gundersund nodded. “This is a university town so we get rapes. A spousal rape is an oddity.”
“From what I read in the report, there’s physical evidence. Do you think Brian Munroe did it?”
Gundersund silently replayed the facts before answering. “Yes, I do. She had bruising inside her thighs as well as other places and he admitted to hurting her before. He’s adamantly denying the charges though. He sounded convincing, I have to say.”
“Great. It’s a he said/she said.”
“The prosecutor should be able to make a good case. Della had a girlfriend named Celia Paules who backs up the abuse and jealousy. It sounded like Della Munroe was going to divorce him, so their kid could become the issue. Any judge in their right mind is going to give her sole custody.”
Kala looked out the window, withdrawing into herself, a memory of something darkening her expression.
“It’s been a long day,” said Gundersund softly, sorry for whatever he’d said to make her mood change so quickly. “Why don’t we go home and get some rest, because tomorrow is going to be just as long.”
Kala turned her face toward him. “You’re right. Thanks, Gundersund.”
“No reason. Just thanks for inviting me to dinner and filling me in. I know you didn’t need to.”
“Anytime. We’re partners, don’t forget.”
padded across the deck and laid his head on Kala’s knee. She dropped her hand and rubbed him behind the ears while staring through the darkness in the direction of the lake. The full moon illuminated the woods enough to see the dark outlines of trees. Above the horizon, stars punched through the black velvet sky like polished diamonds. She could smell the grass and the perfume from sweet peas climbing the trellis below her feet.
“Can’t sleep either, boy?” Kala asked. She’d slept a few hours before waking disoriented, her heart pounding until she remembered where she was. After that, she hadn’t been able to relax enough to drift off. The Leah Sampson crime scene had played on a loop in her head. Imagining the girl’s last frantic moments was a disturbing image that kept bringing her back from the edge of sleep.
She pulled the blanket tighter around herself and closed her eyes. The breeze from the lake cooled her face and its soft buffeting soothed her. Taiku flopped down at her feet and rolled onto his side. His soulful chocolate-coloured eyes closed and Kala felt her own stresses begin to fade in rhythm to his slowed breathing.
When she next opened her eyes, streaks of pink and orange laced through an indigo sky and morning chill made her shiver under the blanket. She’d slept a few hours. Stiffness had set into her neck and shoulders and she rolled her head back and forth to work out the cricks. She looked around the deck. Taiku was gone, likely investigating the underbrush at the end of the property. He never strayed far from her and she wasn’t worried. By the lightness in the sky, she judged it to be nearly five a.m.
A rustling noise in the underbrush at the other end of the yard, and her eyes caught a flash of black streaking across the yard toward the side of the house. She stood and moved quickly toward the railing.
He’d disappeared in the direction of the road. Kala cursed and raced down the steps after him in her bare feet. The dew on the grass was a shock of cold on her skin. She hoisted the blanket up higher, trying not to trip as she ran. Underneath she was naked and wary of dropping her cover until she knew what had captured Taiku’s attention.
She reached the edge of the house and heard Taiku’s low growl. It was the threatening noise he made in his throat when danger was nearby. Kala paused. If Taiku had cornered another skunk or porcupine, she’d be best not to frighten either animal.
“Come, Taiku,” she called softly as she stepped round the side of the house. She stopped. A smile spread across her face.
“You never said you had an attack dog,” Gundersund said, his body motionless, caught in mid-stride. His white cotton shirt was strained under the tension in his muscles, as he’d readied himself for the dog to lunge. Six feet of muscular male suspended in a cartoonish pose.
“Come, Taiku,” Kala said firmly.
Taiku looked from her to Gundersund and back again. His shoulders dropped and he ambled over to Kala.
“Good boy.” She reached for her dog’s collar and held him while Gundersund wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Shit, Stonechild. Would your dog really have attacked?” Gundersund closed the gap between them. His eyes remained fixed on Taiku.
“He’s never gone after anyone before.” She shrugged. “There’s always a first time. What are you doing here anyway?”
“I got an early morning wake-up call. There’s been a death at Della Munroe’s house and we have to get over there. I phoned you a couple of times, but when you didn’t answer I came over to get you.”
“I fell asleep on the deck.” She followed the line of his eyes to the gap in the blanket that showed off a stretch of leg up to her thigh. She wrapped the blanket more firmly around herself. Gundersund’s cheeks reddened and he looked down at the ground. She would have liked to prolong his discomfort but there wasn’t time. “Did Brian kill her then?” she asked. Kala knew the odds of coming out alive when a partner turned violent. She’d lived in a few foster homes where she’d witnessed escalating abuse first-hand. This was a depressing start to the morning.
Gundersund shook his head. “Wasn’t Della who died. It was Brian. He’d ignored the restraining order and broken into their house. Della cracked his head open with a hammer. We have to go interview her now at the station. Rouleau’s at the scene with Woodhouse and Chalmers.”
Kala shook her head in disbelief. “Nothing showed up in the reports to make this a possibility.” She started back toward the house, signalling to Taiku to follow. “Man, I hate domestics. Give me a second to get dressed and I’ll follow you into the station in my truck.”
Rouleau watched while Fiona Gundersund finished her examination of Brian Munroe’s gaping wound. Munroe lay in a pool of blood on the top landing outside the master bedroom. Blood splatter painted one wall and the beige carpet. The hammer that caused the damage had already been bagged and sent to the lab.
Fiona stood slowly from where she crouched next to him, her hands on the small of her back. She rolled back her shoulders before she turned to look at Rouleau. The pain on her face reminded him that she’d been off work the month before with a lower back injury. A car had sideswiped her bike on a downtown street and she’d gone for a tumble.
“Della hit him with enough force to crack his skull. If that wasn’t enough, she hit him a second time. She made a real mess of his brain. The wife’s confessed, I gather?” Fiona’s blue eyes gave nothing away.
“She has. She’s claiming self defence. She’d taken out a restraining order just yesterday morning after she charged him with rape.”
“A marriage gone horribly wrong, I’d say.”
“Evidently. Safe to move him?”
“Yeah. I’ll be doing an autopsy first thing. You’re keeping me busy this week.”
“Not on purpose, believe me.”
“It’s unusual but not unheard of to have two murders back to back like this. Kingston isn’t known for its homicides.”
They started walking down the stairs together. Rouleau noted the angle of the sun slanting through the window on the landing. People would be up getting ready for work now. They’d been here close to four hours. He could use some sleep.
Fiona stopped at the bottom of the staircase and looked back up at him. Her blond ponytail had come undone and tendrils of hair fell loose. Fatigue lines on her face had deepened from the day before.
“Will Paul be working this one too?”
“He’s on his way to the station to interview Della.”
“I hear you finally snagged him a new partner. Word around the station is that she’s attractive … and young.”
“Kala Stonechild’s a good cop.”
“But not too good I hope.” Fiona flashed him a wide smile, but her eyes were giving a different message. She turned toward the front door without waiting for him to respond.
Rouleau followed slowly. He’d been unable to avoid the stories circulating around the station about Fiona’s treatment of Paul Gundersund. She’d left him the year before for a married doctor who’d also left his wife. Apparently, this hadn’t been her first extramarital fling, but it was the first time she’d left home. Odds in the office pool were weighted on the side of him taking her back by Christmas. Everyone agreed that he was better off without her. By what he’d seen in Fiona’s eyes, he wouldn’t bet against her if she decided to reel Gundersund back in.
Della Munroe’s hands shook as she lifted the coffee cup to her lips. She was wrapped in a blue wool blanket, sitting forward, her eyes staring at nothing. Kala nodded at the officer sitting next to Della on the couch and they exchanged places. Gundersund hung back near the doorway as he and Kala had agreed he would before entering the room.
Kala knew on paper that Della was young, but was surprised by just how young she appeared. Della’s long black hair hung loose around her face, her pale skin flawless and unlined. The blue eyes she raised to Kala were red from crying but still brilliant blue. Dressed in a white T-shirt, jeans, and sparkly pink flip flops, she looked closer to a teenager than a woman approaching thirty. Della would make for a sympathetic accused if the case came to trial. Kala had doubts that it would get that far given the circumstances.
“How are you doing, Della?” Kala asked. “Is there something I can get you? Anything you need?”
“I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, but I need you to tell me exactly what you remember about tonight and what led up to your husband’s death.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“No, we’re just trying to find out what happened at this point. Can you take me through your evening? Take your time. I need you to know that we are recording what you say. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Della took a deep, shuddering breath and hunched deeper into the blanket. “I put Tommy to bed around seven and crawled in to read him a bedtime story. I must have fallen asleep because next thing I knew, it was ten o’clock. I got up and checked that the doors were locked and poured some milk for Mr. Paws.” She smiled. “Tommy named him when we picked up the cat from the humane society.” Her face crumpled and she picked up the coffee cup, letting her hair fall across her face. She raised the cup to her lips and sipped. A portion slopped onto the blanket as she lowered the cup to her lap.
“You’re doing fine,” said Kala. “What happened next?”
“I had something to eat, I think a muffin and milk. I’d hardly eaten since the night before when Brian … when Brian raped me. I lay down on the couch in the living room and dozed for a while. A noise woke me up. It was glass shattering in the kitchen. At first I thought I was dreaming.” She stopped talking, and tucked her chin onto her chest.
“What did you do next?” Kala asked.
“I lay there for a few moments getting oriented. It was dark — I hadn’t turned any lights on before I lay down — and then I saw him in the hallway.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “Brian.”
“Did he see you?”
“Not at first. He started for the stairs and my first thought was Tommy. I got up and asked him what he was doing. He turned around and said he’d come to take Tommy away from me and not to try to stop him. I ran toward him and grabbed his arm, pleading with him to talk to me. He hit me across the face.” Della raised her face and pushed back her hair. An ugly bruise had spread across her forehead.
“Has that been tended to by anyone?”
“It’s nothing.” Della let her hair swing back across her face. “I fell on my knees and landed on the floor next to the hammer. I’d been putting up a mirror at the bottom of the stairs and left the hammer beside the hall table. I don’t remember picking it up, but I must have. I called to Brian to stop. We needed to talk, but he told me to go to hell. He said that he was done talking and now he and Tommy were going to disappear. He’d kill Tommy before I would see him again. I … I panicked. I climbed the stairs after him, but he refused to stop. He was going to take Tommy and maybe kill him. I swung the hammer at Brian just to slow him down.”
“You hit him twice on the back of his head.”
“He … he didn’t fall right away. I was scared. I don’t remember hitting him a second time, but I must have. I didn’t mean to hit him so hard.”
Kala looked across at Gundersund. He stood leaning against the wall near the door. He nodded his head, encouraging her to continue. She detected kindness in his eyes before his face cleared of expression.
“There was a lot of blood,” Kala observed mildly, looking back at Della.
“I know.” Della’s sobs began softly under the black curtain of her hair. “I thought he was going to take my baby.”
Kala waited until Della composed herself. “Only one last question for now, Mrs. Munroe, and then I think we should have someone check you over just to make sure your head is fine as you say. What did you do right after your husband was lying on the floor bleeding?”
“I called for an ambulance and the police from my bedroom as soon as I checked on Tommy. After I called, I went back to Tommy’s room and picked him up to take him downstairs. We waited on the couch after I unlocked the front door. Tommy didn’t wake up the whole time.”
“You didn’t try to stop Brian’s bleeding?”
“No. I just wanted to be as far away from him as I could. I was sure he was going to wake up and come after me again.”
“You didn’t check to see if he was dead?”
“I didn’t think I’d
him. I thought he’d wake up and come after me.” Della moaned and began rocking back and forth on the couch.
Kala turned off the tape recorder and looked over at Gundersund. He signalled to her that he was stepping outside to call for a doctor. They’d gotten what they needed but she still felt a twinge of disgust at herself for putting the woman through questioning when she’d just lost so much: a marriage that started out hopeful with love, and was now nothing but pain, loss, and that worm of guilt for no longer having to deal with an abusive husband. Kala reached over and touched Della’s shoulder, the only gesture of comfort she could allow herself as the constable investigating his death.
“So what do you think?” Gundersund asked. He set a cup of coffee on the desk in front of Kala. She looked up from her computer screen. Gundersund was sipping from his cup, looking at her over the rim. His eyes had that curious look in them again that she found unnerving.
“Thanks.” She picked up the mug and forced herself to focus on the case. “Della sounds credible. Combined with the alleged rape and bruises from this encounter after he broke in, I can’t see enough for a prosecution. What do you think?”
“Same as you. It probably won’t go to trial.”
“Rouleau should give this to Chalmers and let me get back to the Sampson murder.” She set down the coffee cup and resumed typing. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Gundersund return to his desk. He sat down and began talking on his cellphone. He swivelled his chair around so that he had his back to her. Kala lifted her head and watched him for a moment. Whoever he was talking to was causing him grief. His shoulders had hunched forward and the fingers of his right hand tapped staccato against the side of his desk. His voice rose angrily and she heard him tell the person at the other end to just let it go.