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Authors: Scott Mackay

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Cold Comfort

BOOK: Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

Detective Barry Gilbert [1]

Scott Mackay

Canada (2015)

In the midst of a record-cold winter, the stepdaughter of a government
official is found dead on a snow-swept pier at the harbor. Overworked
and underpaid Detective Barry Gilbert is called to investigate. The
Metropolitan Toronto Police Force is already beset by political
maneuverings that threaten their jobs, and the sensitive nature of this
case may increase that risk to the point where detectives from Gilbert’s
own squad are chopped. All of this is before the victim’s autopsy
reveals a seemingly unsolvable enigma: the victim froze to death first
and was shot later, after she was already dead.
So begins a treacherous trail of evidence that leads Gilbert to the coldest zones of the human heart.
As the investigation takes unexpected and baffling turns, he at last
suspects an outside manipulator, and must use all his skill to untangle
clues that at first defy explanation. Probing deeper in the victim’s
dark past, he discovers the terrible secret she's hidden all her life.
He's forced to confront his own values, and learns that even the most
superlative detectives can lose their judgment at the most critical
moments—often with the deadliest of consequences.              
Cold Comfort
A Detective Barry Gilbert Mystery
Scott Mackay
Table of Contents

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1008
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 1998 by Scott Mackay
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

For more information, email
[email protected]

First Diversion Books edition April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62681-810-1

Also by Scott Mackay

The Barry Gilbert Series
Fall Guy
Old Scores


I would like to gratefully acknowledge Staff Inspector Ken Cenzura and Detective Mark Mendelson of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force Homicide Squad for their kindly given advice, information, and time.

I would also like to thank Lawrence Nabozniak for his superb information on firearms ballistics; Ken Doggett for his thoughts and information on government tendering processes; Kent Carroll and Adam Dunn for their excellent editorial support; Joshua Bilmes, my agent; and Janet Hutchings, of
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

Finally, thanks to J. D. Singh, of The Sleuth of Baker Street Book Store.

Author’s Note

Though most of the places and institutions in this book have real-life counterparts, the characters and events are solely the products of the author’s imagination. The author has the highest regard for the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, its Homicide Squad, and its detectives. His fictional counterparts, though based on real life, are still imaginary, and shouldn’t be construed to represent actual real-life organizations or persons.


Detective Barry Gilbert stood with his hands in his pockets, his collar up to protect his neck from the frigid north wind, and stared at the body. A young woman, around thirty, lying face down, knees partially bent, her blonde hair blowing across her left cheek. February 18, the coldest day so far, with a windchill of minus 40 Celsius, and the woman was frozen solid, no telling when she died, no wallet, no purse, no coat or hat, wearing a baggy sweatshirt, black exercise tights, and running shoes. He looked up. He knew the uniforms wanted to get back into their patrol cars. He gazed across the icy expanse of the harbor where he saw the city—the sleek bank buildings, the Skydome, the C.N. Tower. The harbor was ice-bound. Most of Lake Ontario was ice-bound. There hadn’t been a winter this cold in a long time.

He took a few steps back then went around to the other side of the corpse. He looked up the pier road to Cherry Street. Where was that detective from Auto Squad? The pier road was blown bare by the wind, but tongue-like drifts of snow with tire tracks through them extended here and there from the ditches. Tony Malcolm from the Forensic Identification Unit photographed the tracks.

Gilbert squatted. He looked at the woman’s left hand; a ragged gash about two inches long gaped from the fleshy side of her palm. Frozen open. How did she get that gash? It certainly wasn’t a defense wound. A bite mark? Cause of death wasn’t readily apparent. The young woman had been dumped here after the fact, on the edge of the pier, next to the looming silos of the Dominion Malting Company.

His partner, Detective Joe Lombardo, walked across the gravel parking lot from the adjoining offices of Dominion Malting. He hopped over the shallow ditch and came to the edge of the pier.

“He’s inside,” said Lombardo. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Where’s Auto Squad?” asked Gilbert.

Lombardo shrugged. “Are we going to roll her?” he asked.

“Not yet.” Gilbert pointed to the barley silos. “I want to go up there. I want to see what things look like from up there.”

They both looked at the nearest silo; a zigzagging fire escape went to the top.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Lombardo.

Gilbert stared at the fire escape. “I’ll take my chances,” he said.

He walked across the parking lot to the silo. His eyes strayed over the ground. The ground here was bare, landfill, added inch by inch over the years to what used to be marshland. He stooped.

Barley kernel studded the ground. He glanced back toward the body. Kernels were frozen into the ground everywhere. Also, the ground was darker. Like it had old coal mixed in with it.

“Hey, Tony, I want you to take some of this dirt back,” he called.

Tony nodded.

At the foot of the metal stairs he again looked back at the body and calculated a rough distance. Always taking distances, as if death were something that could be measured. He began the climb. Lately he felt tired, and he was having a hard time remembering which murder was which. The wind whistled through the steel slats of the steps. His footsteps clanked dully. This one might stand out. Frozen solid. A young woman, as yet unidentified. He felt sorry for her, whoever she was; she looked like a real victim. And she looked so alone on the edge of the pier like that, so cold and abandoned, with the snow drifting against her body. Crazy thought, but he somehow wanted to comfort her, maybe because she reminded him, with her blonde hair, of his daughter, Jennifer. He wanted to take his coat off and drape it over her frozen form.

When he reached the top of the silo, he clutched his collar tightly to his throat. The wind needled him with polar intensity. The sun, a taut white ball, shone far to the south. The L-shaped archipelago of the Toronto Islands sliced the inner harbor. Lake Ontario was an infinite windswept expanse of white. The coldest day of the year. Gilbert wondered if there was any significance to that, if the weather had played a part in this murder. He looked down at the crime scene. Two patrol cars, their own forest green Lumina, and Tony Malcolm’s van were parked a good distance from the body. He looked at the pattern the tire tracks made through the intermittent drifts of snow. Over the wind, he heard the hum of the morning rush hour on the Gardiner Expressway. He concentrated on the tire tracks nearest the body, traced them through the intermittent drifts of snow to Cherry Street. Most tracks turned left, back toward town. One set, however, turned right, past the Knob Hill Food Terminal. Toward Cherry Beach.

He and Lombardo got in the Lumina and drove toward Cherry Beach while the uniforms waited for the Auto Squad man to come.

“How’s that girl working out?” asked Lombardo.

Gilbert pushed the heater right to the top, but it didn’t make much difference; they were both freezing.

“Which girl?”

“The one that’s staying at your house. The exchange student. The one from Denmark.”

The area around Cherry Beach was desolate; boarded up warehouses lined the street, abandoned equipment dotted vacant fields, and condemned lakers, their hulls rusted out and their windows smashed, floated frozen in the ice.

“She’s not from Denmark,” said Gilbert. “She’s from Germany.”

“Yeah, her. What’s her name?”

“Joe, if you have any ideas…she’s going to be gone the first week of March. And as far as I know she’s got a boyfriend back in Frankfurt. She’s way too young for you. She’s only nineteen.”

“Who said anything about having ideas? I just wanted to know her name.”


“Valerie,” said Joe, testing the name in his mouth. A frown came to his face. “That doesn’t sound German to me. What’s a girl from Germany doing with a name like that?”

Gilbert ignored the question, leaned forward, looked for the tracks in the intermittent snowdrifts. “I don’t see them,” he said. “I think we lost them.”

Lombardo shifted forward and peered out the windshield. “They’re over there,” he said, pointing to the beach road turn-off. “You see them?”

Gilbert nodded and turned left. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

The car bounced over the dirt road. Tall poplars lined either side of the narrow single-track road. The track dead-ended at a small parking area at the beach. The lake was no more than twenty-five meters away, flat, bleak, with snow ghosts prancing everywhere in the wind. Gilbert stopped the car at the entrance to the parking lot. They both could immediately see that there was only one set of tire tracks in there. He looked at the volleyball net, the swings, the teeter-totters; these were the things of summer, yet now they were frozen in deepest winter.

They got out of the car and walked over to the far side of the parking lot, careful not to disturb any of the tracks. The tracks stopped abruptly at the edge.

“This is where he parked,” said Gilbert.

They looked at the impressions in the snow: footprints, one on top of the other, especially around the trunk, all made by the same pair of boots.

“Looks like he dropped her here,” said Lombardo, pointing. “That’s a head and that’s an arm.”

The two detectives crouched. The impression in the snow reminded Gilbert of a modern sculpture, like one of the Henry Moore’s at the art gallery, with the figure’s component parts reduced to the bare minimums: the head was now no more than a ball, the torso a tapering wedge, and the hip an oval.

“So our suspect’s a man,” said Lombardo.

Gilbert glanced over at the footprints; men’s boots, snow boots, with a deep tread. “I would say so.”

“And he dropped her here at the back of the car.”


“But she didn’t struggle. There’s no marks, nothing that indicates movement. She was already dead when he dropped her here.”

Gilbert stood up and looked at the pattern the tire tracks made. He parked here, he dumped her here, then for one reason or another he put her back in the trunk, drove her to the pier and dumped her there. Why? He scanned the scene. Immediately before them, the snow had been swept bare from the frozen sand. But where it started again he now saw footprints leading down to the edge of the beach. He pointed.

“Let’s go check this.”

They walked toward the beach. They followed the footprints all the way to the lake; the wind was much stronger here and the prints weren’t as good. At the end, another body impression, this one a bit different, the hips flaring much wider.

“She was on her back here,” said Gilbert.

“Is that blood?” asked Lombardo.

The detectives again crouched. Rust-red patches blotched the snow, not much, hardly the copious amounts of blood one would expect from a fatal knife or bullet wound.

“You think he killed her here?” asked Lombardo.

Gilbert stood up and gazed out at the lake, his eyes squinting against the snowy brightness. What a place to die. The way the wind teased the snow out on the ice shelf reminded him of desert sand; the snow was piled into drifts and sculpted into ridges, like a scene from the Sahara, only everything was white.

“We’ve got to get that blood,” he said. “We’ll send Tony down.”

Back at the pier, the Auto Squad Detective still hadn’t arrived. The uniforms had coffee now. One of them was just finishing up with the yellow crime-scene tape.

“Benny Pompa’s probably getting tired of waiting,” said Lombardo.

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