Read Negative Image Online

Authors: Vicki Delany

Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction, #FICTION / Mystery & Detective / General

Negative Image (3 page)

BOOK: Negative Image
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“So the guy was a pervert.”

“That picture was taken with film, not digital. I’d say it’s about thirty years old. They haven’t made a carpet like that since the 70s, and her hair’s cut in that shaggy mess you don’t see any more.”

“So he’s been a pervert for a long time. I don’t see…”

“Look at it, John. Look again.
Look
at the woman.”

He looked. Her lips were moist, her mouth partially open, the tip of her pink tongue trapped between her small white teeth. The pupils of her eyes were large, the gaze unfocused. Cocaine probably.

She was young and beautiful, with thick dark hair, long slim legs, and a narrow waist. Her eyes were the color of olives in a very dry martini.

Those green eyes. The first thing he saw every morning.

His whole body shuddered.

The woman in the picture was Eliza, his wife.

C
HAPTER
T
HREE

At the small office in the back of Mid-Kootenay Adventure Vacations, Lucky Smith whacked at the letter ‘e’. Miserable computer. Something was stuck in the keyboard and the ‘e’, the most used letter of them all, wasn’t responding properly.

“Eeeeeee”,
the screen screamed, and Lucky swore with gusto. She’d been told many times not to eat at her desk, or at least to put a plastic screen over the laptop’s keyboard. She was normally too busy to take a meal break, and she didn’t have a plastic screen, or know where to get one. She eyed the keyboard, wondering how hard it would be to lift up the keys and clean underneath.

“I’m going for lunch, Lucky, want me to bring something back?” Flower stood in the door to the cramped office that was little more than a closet in the back of the store. She’d done half her brown hair in cornrows, tight braids with colorful beads at the ends, and left the rest hanging straight. She looked like an interrupted vacation, which Andy complained wasn’t exactly the impression they wanted to give at Mid-Kootenay Adventure Vacations. Lucky reminded her husband that this was Trafalgar, where individual expression was the rule rather than the exception. He still muttered under his breath whenever Flower’s beads swung. Lucky suspected that the hairstyle would be gone by now, if not for Andy’s obvious disapproval.

Now that Lucky and Andy no longer had children living at home, they still had petulant young employees to deal with.

“If you’re passing Eddie’s, I’d like a slice of carrot cake.”

“Back soon.”

Flower told Andy she was off, and he said, “See you.” The bell tinkled over the door to the street.

Lucky made a tentative stab at the ‘e’. Only one letter appeared on the white page of the screen. The computer beeped to tell her she had an email. She pulled it up, grateful for the chance to delay writing her letter to a wayward supplier. The message was from the young man Andy had hired to work as a kayaking guide over the summer. She read quickly. The letter mumbled something about “opportunities” and “career goals”, and Lucky suspected he’d got a better offer. Andy would not be pleased.

She heard a loud noise from the storefront as something heavy fell over. One of the advantages of owning an outdoor adventure store: very little they stocked was breakable. Then crashing and banging as a pile of what were probably skis and poles clattered to the floor.

“If you’ve got a minute, can you come in here, dear,” Lucky called. “I have to show you something.”

No answer.

Lucky listened. All was quiet. If the shop was empty perhaps Andy had followed Flower onto the street and was exchanging the time of day with passersby. It was early April, a slow time for business as the ski season had ended and the summer tourists were yet to arrive.

A moan, full of pain, had Lucky jumping to her feet and running.

Andy lay face down in the middle of the floor, in the midst of a jumble of reduced-rate skiing equipment. He moaned again as Lucky fell to her knees beside him. “Andy, are you all right?” She shoved the skis aside and rolled him over. It wasn’t easy with all the weight he’d put on over the years. His face was horribly white and drenched in sweat. Round frightened eyes looked into hers.

She jumped to her feet. She ran to the counter. Couldn’t find the phone. It had to be here somewhere. She tossed papers and tourist info pamphlets and Flower’s mountain bike magazine into the air. She knocked a stack of B&B brochures to the floor.

“What’s happened? Can I help?”

Lucky whirled around to see a man standing in the shop doorway. He had a cell phone in his hand.

“My husband. 911. He’s fallen. Please.” She ran back to Andy. She felt the man cross the floor, heard his voice. He put a hand lightly on her arm. “They’re on their way,” he said. “Try to stay calm.”

It was only later that Lucky found her own cell phone in her sweater pocket.

***

Molly Smith shifted her feet. It was quiet in the hotel corridor. The coroner had been and gone, the body following; the RCMP forensic team was busy inside. Detective Lopez had left the room in a heck of a hurry, but was soon back, and gave her a shake of his head, although she didn’t know what that meant.

Occasionally she heard people on the stairs, but no one tried to come through the door. Meredith had retreated, ready to pounce at the next opportunity. Smith knew Sergeant Winters was questioning the hotel staff, and phone and computer lines were no doubt burning up as they tried to get background on the dead man and everyone who knew him.

She studied the painting on the wall opposite. It was an old painting, of some old guy, all whiskers and starched shirt and arrogance. She stuck her tongue out at him, wondering if anyone would notice if she lay down on the nice thick carpet for a nap. That made her think of Adam and she grinned. The old guy in the painting did not return her smile. They’d been together since New Year’s Day. They’d spent the winter skiing Blue Sky, although she was a far better skier than he, and snowshowing on the old railroad trail in the woods behind his property, while Norman, Adam’s police dog, ran on ahead. They watched the Space channel on TV, ate bowls of stew and crusty, rustic bread in front of the big fireplace in his house, or Thai take-out in the small kitchen of her apartment. And they made love. A lot. She grinned again.

The old guy in the painting didn’t look as if he ever got any.

They were happy, she was happy, but one small cloud lingered on the horizon: Adam simply didn’t seem to understand how much it mattered to Molly that their relationship be kept out of her professional life. He was always dropping around where she was working and trying to grab a quick kiss or whisper lewd suggestions into her ear.

Her little toe throbbed, and she shifted her feet again. God, but this was boring.

Her cell phone vibrated, and she checked the display, glad for something to do. “Hi, Mom, what’s up?”

The voice at the other end was so full of tears, it was difficult to understand.

“I’ll get there soon as I can. Try and stay calm, Mom, you know Dad’s a tough old bugger.”

“Problem?” Ray Lopez stood in the doorway. Despite his surname, the detective was red-haired and freckled, and very fond of a pint of Guinness.

“That was my mom. Dad’s had a serious fall; they’re at the hospital. She said it’s really bad, but I’m hoping that’s just her being scared.”

“Go,” he said. “I’m in the way in there anyway. Call the office and tell them I’ll watch the door until someone can get here to take over.”

“Thanks, Ray.”

***

John Winters stared at the photograph. The empty-eyed woman looked back.

Eliza. This couldn’t be Eliza.

But if it weren’t she had a twin.

The picture looked to have been taken twenty-five, thirty years ago, when Eliza would have been in her late teens. The woman in the picture was around that age, certainly not much over twenty.

They’d met when she had a break-in at her home. The young uniformed Constable John Winters had taken the call. She had been beautiful, extraordinarily beautiful, confident and poised beyond her twenty-two years. She lived in an apartment that he first assumed belonged to her parents. But it was hers, as were the expensive, although not ostentatious, furnishings, the original watercolors on the walls, the Haida yellow cedar carving on the coffee table, the designer clothes in her closet.

She was a model, had been since she’d been discovered as a sixteen-year-old in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She’d had some big contracts, major magazine covers and European runways, and made a lot of money. Any randy young cop would have wanted her, but what made John Winters love her, and had kept him in love with her for over twenty-five years, was her strong, down-to-earth streak of Prairie common sense. Even back then, she was rational and pragmatic and managed her money with great care. She took courses in finance, invested well, and resisted the urge to spend-spend-spend. To friends and family on both sides, theirs seemed a strange relationship, but they each went about their professional lives knowing they had love and support behind them. They’d always spent a lot of time apart, as Eliza continued to travel for work, but the marriage had worked out well. Perhaps because neither of them felt obliged to make sacrifices in their careers.

Eliza, their marriage, was the foundation of his life.

These days she worked when it suited her, although as she approached fifty good jobs were getting increasingly hard to find. They’d moved to remote Trafalgar less than a year ago, his career choice, not hers. She bought a small condo in Vancouver to use when she needed the bright lights and the big city, to meet with her agent, to go to stockholder meetings, to work.

He thought he knew her.

Stunned into silence by the photograph in his hand, he looked at Ron Gavin.

“You don’t want that thing being passed around the station, John.”

“Were there any…other pictures?”

“The guy was apparently a professional photographer. Lots of shots of mountain ranges and the river. Pretty girls in town going about their business. Nothing else like that one.” Ron gestured in disgust. “No more porn, and nothing that old either. It’s one of a kind, unless there’s a drawer I haven’t found yet. Do what you want with it, but I never saw it.” He eyed Winters. “I’ll be ready for a meet around five. We getting any help?”

“What?”

“Is anyone coming to give us a hand with this?”

“Chief called IHIT. They’re sending a couple of guys tomorrow.”

Gavin went back to the hotel, leaving Winters alone in the alley.

His first instinct was to rip the picture up, toss the pieces into the wind and the hotel refuse. Instead he put it in his pocket, and went to get his car.

***

A magazine lay open on Lucky’s lap, but she hadn’t read a word. She looked up as footsteps stopped in front of her cubicle.

“Where’s Dad?” Moonlight, Lucky and Andy’s daughter, asked.

“They’ve taken him for some tests.”

Lucky stood up and let the girl envelop her in a deep hug. Andy was tall, Lucky short. The children had inherited their father’s height and towered over their mother. Moonlight wrapped her arms around Lucky.

Lucky broke the hug and stepped back. Her daughter had come straight from work. She was blond, like her father, and slight, definitely not like her father. To Lucky she always looked intimidating, alien, in the blue police uniform.

“What have they told you?”

“Pretty much nothing.”

“Sounds normal. Is someone at the store?”

“Flower had gone for lunch when your dad…when it happened. I left a man I’ve never seen before minding the place until she gets back. I hope we don’t find he’s stripped the store down to the walls.”

“Mrs. Smith?” A man in a white coat stood in the door.

Lucky’s heart leapt into her chest. “That’s me.”

“Hi, Molly,” he said.

Moonlight said, “Hi,” and for some reason Lucky thought of the night her daughter was born. It had been winter, and a full moon bathed the snowy woods, and Lucky knew that Moonlight would be the baby’s name. Twenty years later she rejected the hippie name and started calling herself Molly. Lucky hated it.

“I’m Doctor Singh,” he said. “We’re going to be admitting Mr. Smith.”

Lucky put her hand to her mouth. She felt Moonlight touch her arm.

“Your husband broke his hip when he fell. It looks as if he fell against several objects?”

“Yes. I think he tripped and crashed into some skis and poles. They were all over the floor.”

“It’s possible he had a very minor stroke that brought the fall on and we will be looking into that.”

“A stroke?”

“That’s just a possibility we’ll be investigating. However, we will have to operate on the hip.”

“He’s going to be all right?”

“He’s resting comfortably at the moment, and you can go upstairs. We have tests to run and should be able to operate on the hip in a day or so.”

“And then he’ll be back to normal?”

“A broken hip requires a fair amount of recovery time, so Mr. Smith will be laid up for a while.”

“His hip,” Lucky said. “That’s something that happens to old people. Andy’s only fifty-seven, same age as I am.”

The doctor gave her a sad smile. “Bones can break at any age. But your husband is considerably overweight, Mrs. Smith, and I suspect he doesn’t get much exercise.

“Why don’t you let Molly take you upstairs? The nurse will tell you which room.”

His footsteps sounded on the floor as he walked away. In another alcove a child cried.

“I’ll call Flower,” Moonlight said, “check everything’s okay. You’ll need extra help in the store until Dad gets back, so I’ll call that friend of yours who helps out when you’re busy. What’s her name?”

Lucky couldn’t remember the name of the woman who’d been her friend for almost twenty years. She shook her head.

“Never mind. Have you told Sam?” Moonlight asked, referring to her older brother.

“I don’t want to worry him.”

“You’re worried, so I’d say he can start worrying. Let’s go see Dad and then you can call.” Moonlight took her mother’s arm, and gently guided her out of the emergency room cubicle.

BOOK: Negative Image
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