Thursday, July 8
"We want you to work with Nigel Li," Harper said.
Lane studied Deputy Chief Cameron Harper before answering. Cam's height and athletic physique filled the office. Behind his black moustache, now sprinkled with grey, his round face was a mask.
Chief Jim Simpson's more delicate features were similarly blank.
Lane looked down at the round table in Harper's office and then at the triangle formed by the chairs they sat in. His eyes focused on the mochaccino in the white paper cup. He could smell the chocolate. Now it all makes sense. He looked at Harper and Simpson again and sensed their discomfort.
"Think about it. " Simpson wore his uniform jacket with all of the necessary braid. His blond hair was trimmed short.
"For a day. " Harper lifted his coffee with hands that made the cup look like a child's.
"We were hoping to hang on to Detective Saliba. " Simpson studied Lane's face. "The RCMP wouldn't listen to us. They said that her particular skill set was required elsewhere. "
"But we understand why she moved down east to get a fresh start. " Harper put his cup down, sat back, and squirmed in his dress uniform.
"And it's important that we continue the process of passing on your skills, your techniques, to a younger detective. " Simpson looked sideways at Lane.
Lane was surprised at his annoyance with their use of the word we and thought, Get to the point. Both of you are so worried about following the rules that you've handcuffed yourselves. "Who is Nigel Li, and what are you holding back?" He raised the mochaccino, took a sip, and smiled. "Don't think you can buy me with one good cup of coffee. "
Simpson blinked and smiled. He stood up, loosened his tie, took off his uniform jacket, and hung it on the back of his chair.
Lane spotted the darker blue patches under Chief Simpson's arms.
Harper stood up, took off his jacket, and rolled up his sleeves. "Li is a colossal pain in the ass. "
"And a brilliant one. He speaks English, Spanish, and Mandarin. " Simpson sat down again and reached for his coffee. He used his left hand to hold back his tie as he sipped.
"So, which is it? Is he brilliant or a pain in the ass?" Lane looked at the liver spots on the backs of his hands.
"Actually, he's both. " Simpson smiled as he gauged Lane's reaction.
Before Lane could ask his next question, his phone rang. He raised his hand, pulled the phone from his jacket pocket, and read the name on the display. He looked at the men in front of him. "It's Lori. I have to take this. " He pressed a button. "Hello?"
"Tell those two bigwigs that we need you," she said.
Twenty minutes later Lane pulled up behind the Forensic Crime Scene Unit on a residential street. The unit was a white box with ribbon-like blue stripes and a blue-and-white cab up front; its nickname was Big Mac. It was parked out front of a new home being built on an old lot in Hillhurst, one of the more established districts near the river and on the edge of downtown Calgary.
Lane got out of his Chev and walked toward the house. Stepping over a chunk of two-by-six with nails sticking up out of its splintered end, he looked up at the house with its fresh grey coat of stucco. It was two storeys high with a two-car garage around back. A man in a white crime-scene bunny suit stepped out the front door. "You're okay to enter the main level. And the steps into the basement are okay. I'm working on the top level next. " He moved aside so the detective could enter.
Lane climbed the front stairs and walked inside where his footsteps echoed on the unfinished floors and uninsulated walls. He followed the familiar stink of rotting meat to the basement door and started downstairs. The steps swayed. They were suspended about a foot from the gravel floor. The wood creaked as he stopped on the bottom step. The concrete walls glowed from the hurricane lamps focused on a spot near the centre of the floor.
A woman in a bunny suit knelt, clearing away gravel with a brush. An ever-expanding section of blue tarp was visible. A man in a matching bunny suit stood behind the woman, videotaping the process.
The kneeling investigator pulled at the tarp to lift away more of the gravel. A bloody hand and forearm came into view, and the stink of rotting meat intensified.
The investigator with the camera stopped, turned, and looked at Lane. The detective met the eyes of the camera operator and recognized him. Lane nodded. "Colin. "
Dr. Colin Weaver, the head of the Forensic Crime Scene Unit, was nicknamed Fibre, despite that he was completely unaware of the moniker and equally unaware of the effecthis Hollywood face had on women who met him for the first time. "We're just getting started. You're welcome to watch or wait upstairs. "
Lane turned and went back to the main floor. He turned left into the kitchen and saw two men sitting on the back step. One had his head shaved so it shone. He wore a red-and-black-checked work shirt and khaki bib overalls. He stared into the backyard and sipped from a stainless-steel thermos. The other, his back to Lane, had short black hair and wore a blue sportcoat. He talked with his hands, each of which held a paper coffee cup.
Lane turned the doorknob. Do it quietly and listen, he thought as he opened the back door.
"So you're saying that the body had to have been buried last night, because you just finished levelling the gravel yesterday afternoon?" the young man with the coffee cups asked.
The man in the work clothes turned to look at Lane. There were lines across his forehead and his brown eyes were weary despite the fact that he looked about eighteen.
"Detective Lane?" The other man turned, stood, and offered a cup to Lane.
Lane asked, "Who are you?"
"Nigel Li. " He continued to hold the cup in front of Lane. "Are you going to take it or not? Lori told me what you liked. Don't worry, it's still hot. "
Lane took the cup, held it close to his nose, smelled the chocolate, and took a sip. "Perfect. " Does everyone think they get on my good side by buying me a mochaccino? He took another sip. They're probably right.
"She said it would be a good icebreaker," Nigel said.
Lane took a close look at Nigel's freckled round face, unruly black hair, and brown eyes. He stood easily six foot two. Lane offered his hand, and Nigel took it with a smile. He looks relieved, Lane thought.
Nigel glanced at the man in the work clothes. "This is Jim. He discovered the body. "
Lane looked at Jim, who stood up and offered his hand. Lane felt the calluses on Jim's hand as their palms and fingers gripped.
Nigel continued. "He says he finished up work at about six o'clock last night, then came to check on the job this morning before the concrete was poured. He noticed that . . . "
Lane thought, However you react, it will probably make or break your relationship with Nigel. He put his hand on Nigel's shoulder. The young officer gave Lane a puzzled look. Lane smiled at Nigel, then turned his attention to Jim.
Jim stared into the backyard.
Lane sat down on the step and waited for Jim to do the same.
Nigel stepped down onto the dirt. He watched the older detective and the witness.
Lane glanced up at Nigel, then looked to see what Jim was staring at. He saw that the garage door was open. There was darkness behind the open door.
"Do you know who it is?" Jim's eyes turned away from the garage.
"Not yet," Lane said.
Jim nodded, looked at Lane, and sat down next him. "I finished up levelling off the basement last night. This morning I could tell someone had been there afterward. I went to level the floor again. That's when my rake hooked on an eye at the corner of the tarp. There was that smell. It's been so hot lately, and it was hot in there yesterday. "
Nigel opened his mouth.
Lane silenced him with a glance, a slight shake of the head, and a smile.
"I saw his face. His eyes were wide open. " Jim focused on Lane. "He's from Mexico, right?"
"At this moment, you know more than I do," Lane said.
Jim nodded and turned back to staring at the shadow behind the open garage door. "Mexican. Some of the Latino guys come up here to work construction. "
Lane glanced at Nigel, who appeared to be intently studying the conversation.
"When I lifted the tarp, I caught a glimpse of his face. His mouth was open. So were his eyes. I dropped the tarp and went back upstairs. Called 911 from my cell phone. " Jim turned to Lane. "From the look on his face, he died in agony. "
Fibre pulled back his hood and said, "It's going to be hot today. I'll get the results of the autopsy and our other findings to you as soon as they come to me. " He turned his back on the detectives and walked toward the cab of the FCSU vehicle.
Lane got into the Chev, waited for Nigel to do the same, and watched the van pull away.
"How come you did that?" Nigel asked.
"Did what?" He heard a measure of defensiveness in Nigel's tone, but it was overshadowed by curiosity.
"You put your hand on my shoulder to stop me talking. " Nigel looked forward.
He's asking you a direct question. Give him a direct answer. "I got the feeling he was ready to talk, so I put my hand on your shoulder to give him that opportunity. "
Nigel nodded. "I do have a bad habit of saying too much. "
Now see what he thinks. "I have a habit of saying too little. What impressions did you get from the scene and from Jim?"
Nigel regarded Lane with a hint of disbelief. "You want my opinion?"
"The victim was killed elsewhere and wrapped in the tarp. The killer -- I'm assuming it was a he because of the size of the body and the strength required to carry it into the basement -- looked for a place to dump the body where it wouldn't be found. The location was probably picked at random. It's close to a major traffic artery so it's a reasonable assumption that he turned off of Crowchild Trail and found a house with a basement floor waiting to be poured. If Fibre's initial finding is correct, then the victim was probably shot in the back with a hunting rifle. The enlarged exit wound is consistent with that. " Nigel crossed his arms as if he were preparing for Lane to lecture him.
You sound very sure of yourself, but your body language contradicts that, Lane thought.
The street was heavily treed, and they moved in and out of shade as they headed for Crowchild Trail. Nigel watched the bicycle traffic rolling along between the Chev and the sidewalk. A young woman rode a neon-green bike with wide handle bars. Her skirt was tucked between her knees. She wore a neon-green helmet and sunglasses. "Do you ride a bike?"
Lane shook his head. "I walk a dog. "
"What kind of dog?" They slowed and stopped for a red light. The woman on the bike passed them on the right.
"She's a mutt," Lane said.
"Like me," Nigel said.
"Me too. "
"No, not like me. Look at that!" Nigel pointed at a black pickup truck travelling north on Crowchild Trail. The truck had a semi's cab, a pickup's box, and tires that would fit a tractor. The vehicle stood at least three metres high. "Now there's dumbspicuous consumption. "
"What?" Lane asked.
"You know, conspicuous consumption that's dumb. " Nigel turned and held his earlobe, then pointed at Lane. "What happened to yours?"
"Violent spouse in a domestic dispute," Lane said.
Nigel nodded. "A lot of that going around. "
"You'd better be nice to him. " Lori sat behind her computer monitor and shook her finger at Lane. She was the detectives' blonde receptionist and something of a mother to them all. "Some of those so-called tough guys gave him a rough ride. Just between you and me, I think they thought Nigel should shut up and do as he was told. The problem is, he has a mind of his own. " She leaned closer. "And he's quicker than all of them. "
Lane opened his mouth, closed it, and indicated that he had surrendered by turning his palms up.
"Nigel is smart. I know he talks a lot, but he has a lot to say if you take the time to listen. " Lori stood up, continued to wag her finger, and smiled. She wore a black dress, red cowboy boots, a black Stetson, glasses with rainbow frames, and real freshwater pearls. "So you'll have to tangle with me if I hear that you're giving Nigel a rough time. The kid hasn't had it easy, you know. "
"What do you mean?" What's the story here?Lori cocked her head to the right. "Not my place to say. "
"So I'm supposed to fly blind on this one?" Lane took a long breath and shook his head.
"You're the detective. Do a little digging. I can't do all of the work around here. " She winked at Lane and raised a pink bottle of bubble solution. "If you're nice, I might even blow a few bubbles your way. " The phone rang. She smiled, winking at him, and turned to answer it.
Lane walked to his office. He had an office of his own since being promoted and put in charge of major crimes. He soon found the promotion meant more headaches to go along with a wee bit more money after taxes.
He sat down behind his computer and looked at the family photograph of his partner Arthur, nephew Matt, niece Christine, her boyfriend Daniel, and Roz the dog.
He logged in and checked his police service e-mail, then switched to his personal account. Spotting Keely Saliba's name, Lane opened a message.
From: Keely Saliba (janebond@cmail. com)
Sent: July 08, 9:28:40 AM
To: Lane (PLane@cmail. com)
CC: Cam Harper (cam. harper@cmail. com)
Sorry it took so long to get back to you.
I like my new job, and I'm one of the lucky ones who gets to work with some really talented individuals. And, as usual, they know how to get the job done despite the way the system works. The problem is that they all work hard, and I have to work harder to catch up.
Dylan loves law school here. I think it's not that he loves the school so much; it's more likely the result of us moving three thousand kilometres from my father. The problem is we miss so many other people who are still in Calgary.
You must be wondering if I'll ever get to the point. I have a favour to ask. There have been some unusual incidents in your city. When the government isn't threatening us with being thrown out of the intelligence business, it's ordering us to actively share information with CSIS and other agencies. I got this tip because I have Calgary connections. Apparently sales of glycerine are up in Cowtown, especially in the northwest. Also, fifty litres of sulphuric acid were stolen from a chrome-plating business in the southeast. Nothing else was touched including some cash in the secretary's desk. If there is a similar theft of nitric acid, you may have trouble headed your way. Of course you know that glycerine, sulphuric acid, and nitric acid are used to produce nitroglycerine.
It appears that you and I are destined to deal with explosives. Just keep me in the loop if any news about these ingredients comes your way.
Oh, and I've used your personal e-mail addresses just in case there are any Scotch drinkers hacking into your work accounts. I guess old habits really do die hard.
"You're not going to leave him back there in those cubicles, are you?" Lori stood in the doorway with the index finger of her right hand pointed at him. She tipped her Stetson back with a thumb. She looked from left to right at the expanse of his office. "There's room for two desks in here. "
"What are you talking about?" Lane looked around his new office. Oh shit. I just got comfortable here. What is she planning?
Lori stepped inside the office and closed the door behind her. "Nigel doesn't fit back there with the good ol' boys and girls. Most of them still think Smoke was a great chief. You and I both know it was because he promised each of them some kind of promotion down the road. He made those promises with no intention of ever following through with them. " She frowned at Lane and crossed her arms.
Lane recognized the significance of her crossed arms. Uh-oh. When she does that, either I'm about to hear bad news or she already has her mind made up about something. "And?"
"I think Nigel should move in here with you. "
"Ohh. " Lane took a long breath.
"So, it's okay with you if I get another desk moved in here today?" Lori crossed her right boot over her left and leaned her back up against the door. The implication was clear: she wasn't leaving until Lane went along with her plan.
"Do I have any choice?" Lane asked.
"Of course not. " Lori opened the door, then turned to face him. "There's a red file folder on my desk. It contains articles and court documents. You need to read them. Just to make your job a little easier. " The heels of Lori's boots announced her departure.
Donna Laughton stood on an upturned plastic milk crate as she tightened up the last of eight spark plugs. She grabbed a loose wire, then snapped the wire onto the top of the plug. "Now you'd better run, you son of a bitch. " Her garage smelled of grease, gasoline, and decomposing automobile.
Donna backed out from under the white hood of her panel van and stepped down from the crate. Leaning back, she put her fists against the small of her spine. She closed her eyes and turned her neck to work out the inevitable kinks resulting from contorting herself to operate within the van's cramped engine compartment. She gathered her tools to return them to their various drawers in her red Snap-on toolbox. Donna checked the knuckles of her right hand, saw a flap of skin, and sucked at the blood of a skinned knuckle. She grimaced at the taste of blood mixed with motor oil.
After she walked around the side of the van, Donna undid the front of her blue coveralls, wiggled them down over her shoulders, and let them fall around her knees. The hinges on the van's door complained as she opened it and sat down on the floor. She worked her feet out of the coveralls and hung them over the top of the door.
She hauled her compact frame into the seat. The seat back was angled at about fifty degrees. Donna turned the key. The engine coughed, then caught.
She let the engine idle while she climbed out and walked alongside the van, careful not to rub her grey T-shirt against the rust that was working its way along the side panel. Donna reached for the garage door opener and tapped the button.
When the door opened, she looked at the second panel van. It was grey and ready for its trip up the hill into the district across John Laurie Boulevard. She looked over the roof of the van. The cream stuccoed walls and red-tiled roof of the Eagle's Nest Christian Church looked down on the houses of Donna's neighbourhood. The church's sign proclaimed:
GOD THE SON
GOD THE FATHER
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT
THE ONE TRUE GOD
You bastards don't understand that this is how wars start!Donna thought. She looked to her right and down the street. A ten-minute walk from her house was the Ranchlands Islamic Centre, located in a strip mall across from the Catholic school. "Maybe we can put a stop to this war of words. "
"Sorry?" a man said.
Again she looked to her right. The man stood on the sidewalk. Donna recognized him immediately. Standing six foot one and weighing about one hundred and eighty pounds, the man wore a neatly trimmed black beard with a hint of grey and had handsome yet nondescript features -- except of course for the missing chunk of earlobe. His companion, an Australian cattle dog mixed with border collie, was predominantly black with some tan on its belly and a white patch at its throat. Donna smiled. "Just talking to myself. How's Roz this evening?"
Lane smiled back. "Raring to go. "
She watched Roz drag him past the grey panel van, down the sidewalk, and across the street. What is that guy's name?
Donna went back inside the garage to shut off the van. As she closed the door, she looked at the cases of glycerine stacked against the wall. Above the cases was a picture of her sister Lisa wearing a beret, a camouflage jacket, and a smile.
Lane opened the front door, bent to unclip Roz's leash, wiped her paws, and slipped out of his shoes. Roz scampered for a drink of water.
Lane looked into the living room. Arthur sat with his feet tucked up on the couch. His generous belly curved above the elastic waist of his black yoga pants.
"Hello, Lane. " Next-door neighbour Maria sat dwarfed by the chair-and-a-half that lounged in front of the windows. Her strawberry-blonde hair was cut short, and she held her right hand atop a five-month baby bump.
"How are you feeling?" Lane asked.
"The baby kicked today. " Maria smiled.
Lane sat down in the easy chair. When we first met you were wearing something from Victoria's Secret, locked out of the house with lasagna in the oven. "That's exciting. "
Arthur put his feet on the floor. "She's worried about what happened at the Islamic Centre. "
Lane turned to Maria. "What happened?"
"Somebody fired paintballs at the windows. "
"So things aren't cooling off," Lane said.
"Not since the murder in Hawkwood. " Arthur pointed with his finger in the general direction of the neighbourhood to the north.
"The father and brother have been charged," Lane said.
"I know," Maria said. "Apparently, the minister at the Eagle's Nest Christian Church has been stirring up the congregation. "
"And the family of the murdered girl are members of the Islamic Centre?" Lane asked.
"I wasn't involved in that investigation or the arrest. I do know that the father and brother confessed at the scene. " Lane heard a key in the front-door lock.
Roz barked, the front door opened, and Christine stepped inside, followed by Daniel. She was six foot two; he, six five. They were the tallest people in the house.
"How was the movie?" Arthur asked.
Christine rolled her eyes, kicked off her pumps, and bent to greet Roz. "How's my baby?"
"She didn't like the movie," Dan said.
Christine stood, pushed back her black hair, spotted Maria, and stepped closer to give her a hug. "How are you feeling?'
"Finished with the nausea. Finally. " Maria stood up. Her head didn't quite reach Christine's chin.
Turning back to Arthur and Lane, Maria continued, shrugging her shoulders. "I'm just worried about what's happening in this neighbourhood. Feelings are running high, and I think paintball guns are an escalation. "
"Paintball guns?" Christine asked.
"Someone shot paintballs at the Islamic Centre," Arthur said.
Lane looked at Arthur. "I'll see what I can find out. "
"Where's Matt?" Dan asked.
"Asleep," Arthur said.
"He's turning into a hermit," Christine said.
Dan tried to smile, looked at Lane, and frowned. "He really is, you know. "
Chris Jones pushed the vacuum back and forth on the carpet. As the machine heated up, it smelled of burnt rubber and singed dust.
He was working in the corner of the president's office, which was situated at the front end of the eight-thousand-square-foot building that housed Foothills Fertilizers. Chris smiled at the way the plush pale carpet revealed his work with subtly different shades of blue where the vacuum left its mark.
Chris looked at his watch, shut off the vacuum, listened for the sounds of other human activity, and undid the buttons on the cuffs of his shirt.
He watched his watch work its way to exactly ten o'clock. The desk phone rang.
Chris waited for three rings before he picked up the receiver with his right hand, which he'd covered with the fabric of his cuff. "Christopher. " If he had said, "Chris Jones," it meant they were not free to talk.
"How are things?" John A. Jones asked.
An insight struck Chris like a camera's flash in total darkness. His voice. It's God's voice, he thought. "I'm good. "
"The inventory is complete?" his father asked.
"Almost. " Chris felt himself begin to shrink inside his two-hundred-twenty-pound frame.
Chris reacted to the disappointment, the note of accusation in the one-word question. "One more litre, and the inventory will be complete. "
"Good. The deadline is approaching. The only way to win this war is to bring the battle to the city that creates the filth," John A. intoned.
"I understand. " Chris patted the muffin top over his belt.
"God will protect us. "
"He will. "
"Your mother sends her love," John A. said.
Chris frowned and thought, My mother is dead. "I know. "
"I will call again tomorrow night. "
Chris hung up, did up his sleeves, and restarted the vacuum.
Matt blinked in the darkness and stared at the luminous dial of the alarm clock.
He kept his eyes open as he swung his legs off the bed and walked to the light switch. He looked at his toes when he turned on the light.
With the palm of his hand, he touched the sheen of sweat on his chest. He closed his eyes and again saw the man in the devil mask, felt the cold of devil's handgun against his forehead.
He opened his eyes and headed for the bathroom and a shower. It's ninety minutes before I have to be at the golf course, he thought as he opened the bathroom cupboard and looked for a fresh towel.