Authors: Gail Bowen
ACCLAIM FOR GAIL BOWEN AND
THE JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
“Bowen is one of those rare, magical mystery writers readers love not only for her suspense skills but for her stories’ elegance, sense of place and true-to-life form.… A master of ramping up suspense”
“Bowen can confidently place her series beside any other being produced in North America.”
“Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries are small works of elegance that assume the reader of suspense is after more than blood and guts, that she is looking for the meaning behind a life lived and a life taken.”
“Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility.”
“Gail Bowen got the recipe right with her series on Joanne Kilbourn.”
“What works so well [is Bowen’s] sense of place – Regina comes to life – and her ability to inhabit the everyday life of an interesting family with wit and vigour.… Gail Bowen continues to be a fine mystery writer, with a protagonist readers can invest in for the long run.”
“Gail Bowen is one of Canada’s literary treasures.”
OTHER JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
BY GAIL BOWEN
The Nesting Dolls
The Brutal Heart
The Endless Knot
The Last Good Day
The Glass Coffin
A Killing Spring
A Colder Kind of Death
The Wandering Soul Murders
Murder at the Mendel
Love and Murder)
Copyright © 1998 by Gail Bowen
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Bowen, Gail, 1942-
Verdict in blood : a Joanne Kilbourn mystery / Gail Bowen.
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by
McClelland & Stewart Ltd., P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011925609
Cover design: Terri Nimmo
Cover image: Verdateo/
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
June 12, 1913 – April 9, 1997
Hazel Wren Bowen
June 12, 1914 – February 26, 1998
Madeleine Wren Bowen-Diaz
Born Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998
With thanks to Jennifer Cook, R.N. and Mickey Rostoker, M.D., for advice on medical matters; to Heather Nord, B.A., LLB, for wise counsel on the law, and to Ted Bowen, for thirty years of friendship, laughter, and love
When the phone on my bedside table shrilled in the early hours of Labour Day morning, I had the receiver pressed to my ear before the second ring. Eli Kequahtooway, the sixteen-year-old nephew of the man in my life, had been missing since 4:00 the previous afternoon. It wasn’t the first time that Eli had taken off, but the fact that he’d disappeared before didn’t ease my mind about the dangers waiting for him in a world that didn’t welcome runaways, especially if they were aboriginal.
I was braced for the worst. I got it, but not from the quarter I was expecting.
My caller’s voice was baritone rubbed by sandpaper. “This is Detective Robert Hallam of the Regina City Police,” he said. “Am I speaking to Hilda McCourt?”
“No,” I said. “I’m Joanne Kilbourn. Miss McCourt is staying with me for the weekend, but I’m sure she’s asleep by now. Can’t this wait until morning?”
Detective Hallam made no attempt to disguise his frustration. “Ms. Kilbourn, this is not a casual call. If I’d wanted
to recruit a block captain for Neighbourhood Watch, I would have waited. Unfortunately for all of us, a woman’s been murdered, and your friend seems to be our best bet for establishing the victim’s identity. Now, why don’t you do the sensible thing and bring Ms. McCourt to the phone. Then I can get the information I need, and you can go back to bed.”
Hilda was eighty-three years old. I shrank from the prospect of waking her up to deal with a tragedy, but as I walked down the hall to the guest room, I could see the light under her door. When I knocked, she answered immediately. Even propped up in bed reading, Hilda was a striking figure. When the actress Claudette Colbert died, a graceful obituary noted that, among her many talents, Claudette Colbert wore pyjamas well. Hilda McCourt shared that gift. The pyjamas she was wearing were black silk, tailored in the clean masculine lines of women’s fashions in the forties. With her brilliant auburn hair exploding like an aureole against the pillow behind her, there was no denying that, like Claudette Colbert, Hilda McCourt radiated star power.
She leaned forward. “I heard the phone,” she said.
“It’s for you, Hilda,” I said. “It’s the police. They need your help.” I picked up her robe from the chair beside the window and held it out to her. “You can take the call in my room.”
She slipped into her robe, a magnificent Chinese red silk shot through with gold, and straightened her shoulders. “Thank you, Joanne,” she said. “I’ll enlighten you when I’m enlightened.”
After she left, I picked up the book she’d been reading.
Geriatric Psychiatry: A Handbook
. It was an uncharacteristic choice. Hilda was a realist about her age. She quoted Thomas Dekker approvingly, “Age is like love; it cannot be hid,” but she never dwelled on growing old, and her mind was as sharp as her spirit was indomitable. While
I waited for her, I glanced at the book’s table of contents. The topics were weighty: “The Dementias”; “Delirium and Other Organic Mental Disorders”; “Psychoses”; “Anxiety and Related Personality Dysfunctions”; “Diagnosing Depression.” Uneasy, I leafed through the book. Its pages were heavily annotated in a strong but erratic hand which I was relieved to see was not my old friend’s. The writer had entered into a kind of running dialogue with the authors of the text, but the entries were personal, not scholarly. I stopped at a page listing the criteria for a diagnosis of dementia. The margins were black with what appeared to be self-assessments. I felt a pang of guilt as sharp as if I’d happened upon a stranger’s diary.
Hilda wasn’t gone long. When she came back, she pulled her robe around her as if she were cold and sank onto the edge of the bed.
“Let me get you some tea,” I said.
“Tea’s a good idea, but we’d better use the large pot,” she said. “The detective I was speaking to is coming over.”
“Hilda, what’s going on?”
She adjusted the dragon’s-head fastening at the neck of her gown. “The police were patrolling Wascana Park tonight, and they found a body sprawled over one of those limestone slabs at the Boy Scout memorial. There was nothing on the victim to identify her, but there was a slip of paper in her jacket pocket.” Hilda’s face was grim. “Joanne, the paper had my name on it and your telephone number.”
“Then you know who she is,” I said.
Hilda nodded. “I’m afraid I do,” she said. “I think it must be Justine Blackwell.”
“The judge,” I said. “But you were just at her party tonight.”
“I was,” Hilda said, stroking the dragon’s head thoughtfully. “That book you’re holding belongs to her. There’d been some disturbing developments in her life, and she
wanted my opinion on them. I left your number with her because she was going to call me later today.”
“Come downstairs, and we’ll have that tea,” I said.
“I’d like to dress first,” Hilda said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable receiving a member of the police force in my robe.”
I’d just plugged in the kettle when the phone rang again. It was Alex Kequahtooway. “Jo, I know it’s late, but you said to call as soon as I heard from Eli.”
“He called you?”
“He’s back. He was here when I got home.”
“Oh, Alex, I’m so glad. Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. When I walked in, he’d just got out of the shower. He went into his room and started taking fresh clothes out of his drawers. Jo, he didn’t say a word to me. It was as if I wasn’t there. At first, I thought he was on something, but I’ve seen kids wasted on just about every substance there is, and this is different.”
“Have you called Dr. Rayner?”
“I tried her earlier in the evening. I thought Eli might have got in touch with her, but there was no answer. Of course, it’s a holiday weekend. I’m going to call again, but if I don’t connect, I’m going to take Eli down to emergency. I hate to bring in another shrink, but I just don’t know what to do for him, and I don’t want to blow it.”
“You won’t,” I said. “Eli’s going to be fine. He’s come a long way this summer. Most importantly, he has you.”
“And you think that’s enough?” Alex asked, and I could hear the ache.
“I know that’s enough.”
For a beat there was silence, then Alex, who was suspicious of words, said what he didn’t often say. “I love you, Jo.”
“I love you, too.” I took a breath. “Alex, there’s something else. About ten minutes ago, Hilda got a phone call from a colleague of yours. There was a murder in the park tonight.
It looks like the victim was Hilda’s friend Justine Blackwell. I’m afraid Detective Hallam – that’s the officer who’s coming over – is going to ask Hilda to identify the body. I don’t want her to have to go through that.”
“She shouldn’t have to,” Alex said. “There are a hundred people in this city who know Justice Blackwell. Someone else can make the
I’ll take care of it. And, Jo, pass along a message to Hilda for me, would you? Tell her not to let Bob Hallam get under her skin. He can be a real jerk.”
“I’ll warn her,” I said. “Alex, I’m so thankful that Eli’s back.”
“Me too,” he said. “God, this has been a lousy night.”
As I poured boiling water into the Brown Betty, Alex’s words stayed with me. It had been a lousy night, which had come hard on the heels of a lousy day. The problem was, as it had been so often in the past few months, Eli.
He was a boy whose young life had been shadowed by trouble: a father who disappeared before he was born and a temperament composed of equal parts intelligence, anger, and raw sensitivity. Driven by furies he could neither understand nor control, Eli became a runaway who spattered his trail with spray-painted line drawings of horses, graffiti that identified him as definitively as a fingerprint. His capacity for self-destruction seemed limitless. He was also the most vulnerable human being I had ever met. Alex told me once that when he’d heard a biographer of Tchaikovsky say that the composer had been “a child of glass,” he had thought of his nephew.