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Authors: Joan Boswell

Cut to the Bone

BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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Cover
Dedication

For Nick, Katie, Francis, Trevor, Christy, Brendan, and Tyler

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Allister Thompson and Sylvia McConnell at Dundurn for their support and editing as well as my writing group, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini, Sue Pike, and Linda Wiken, who carefully read the manuscript before it was submitted. Also thanks to my family for always being there for me.

ONE

Hollis Grant slumped in her uncomfortable office chair thinking that she hadn't expected her life to turn out this way. When she'd read the advertisement in the
Toronto Star
, it had seemed like the answer to a prayer.

“Immediate vacancy for mid-size apartment building superintendent. Salary and two bedroom apartment.”

She'd rationalized that the job wouldn't be as time consuming as being a community college professor, her former occupation. It would give her time to paint as well as providing a bedroom for her eleven-year-old foster daughter, Jay Brownelly. She'd grabbed the bait like a hungry trout and signed a year's contract without investigating further. That had been in February. Now, three months later in early May, she hoped she'd made the right decision.

The apartment building had surprised her. Four years earlier a developer had bought the elegant but aging eight-storey building and begun renovations working from the roof down. He'd completed work on the top four floors, where he'd ripped out walls to create large apartments and added upscale bathrooms, granite countertops, the best of the best. To match their luxury he'd upgraded the lobby, the gym, the party room, the guest apartment, the office, and the security system — all located on the first floor. But he'd gone broke before he reached the lower floors. The next owner sold the renovated apartments and charged high monthly maintenance fees.

Initially, all the building's balconies had been condemned as unsafe, and those on the top four floors had been refurbished. Now, scaffolding festooned the lower floors and a Dumpster squatted on the ground below a chute for the disposal of the disintegrating concrete.

Small rental apartments crowded floors two, three, and four. The super's apartment on the first floor across the hall from the spiffy office retained its original fixtures. The tenants, a mix of seniors, students, and middle-class single women, lived in cramped quarters and frequently needed tradespeople to attend to their decaying wiring and plumbing. Hollis found that responding to the tenants' demands took up more time than she had hoped.

The building reminded her of an aging movie star. The surgery, the Botox, and the hair extensions couldn't conceal the aged hands, the thickening waist and ankles.

Hollis hadn't envisaged being quite as busy as she was, and every day she rose hoping for a few hours to dedicate to painting. Sitting in her office she thought longingly of the half-finished painting on the easel in her apartment. Should she play hooky and ignore several phone messages from tenants? Not a good idea. Reluctantly, she left the office door open and anchored a baby gate in the apartment doorway to allow her two dogs, Barlow and MacTee, to see her.

She played the machine's messages, dealt with them, answered mail, called the plumber to arrange an appointment for a second-floor apartment's blocked toilet, and leaned back. She glanced at the wall clock and pushed herself away from her desk, a large, ostentatious chrome and mahogany job bought by the high-end renovator.

Eleven thirty. Could she spend time on the painting before she collected Jay? She ran her hands through her curly blonde hair and repositioned her red-framed glasses on her nose. More than three hours before she leashed her over-exuberant Flat-coated Retriever puppy, Barlow, and her Golden Retriever, MacTee, and walked to Jay's school. She believed the child was more than capable of walking home, but Jay's father, still playing a role in his daughter's life, insisted that she be accompanied to and from school. Hollis used the walk for her own and her dogs' exercise.

Barlow and Jay, both recent additions to her life, provided an equal measure of pain and pleasure. Given the constraints imposed by the job, the dogs, and the child, it seemed likely that the year she'd allotted to establish herself as a full-time artist might not be enough to provide a true test.

“Sorry to bother you,” a voice said.

Both dogs barked.

Hollis looked up to see a slim, brown-eyed young woman clutching a green plastic shopping bag hovering in the doorway. Her long, shiny black hair framed an anxious face.

Ginny Wuttenee, a new tenant on the fifth floor, had dropped in several times before to talk to Hollis and ask for information about Toronto.

“No bother. What can I do for you?” Hollis asked.

Ginny caught her lower lip between her teeth and frowned. “I have a problem….”

“Tell me,” Hollis said, hoping it would be a simple one. She might just get in an hour on the painting if nothing else intervened.

Ginny stepped into the room, leaned on the doorframe, and looked ready to bolt momentarily. “The painters are doing Sabrina's living room.”

Sabrina. Hollis ran through the photo gallery of tenants she knew and fastened on a long-legged, blue-eyed brunette who also lived on the fifth. Sabrina Trepanier loved dogs and had dropped in several times to pat MacTee and Barlow.

“Yes, I know Sabrina.”

“Her apartment is being painted. She's allergic, so she slept in my small bedroom last night. This morning when I got up I didn't hear her. I went out to buy croissants and groceries at Bruno's.” She chewed on her lip. “I didn't take my key. I figured she'd be up by the time I got back, because we'd agreed to go shopping and have a late lunch at a Japanese restaurant, because I've never eaten sushi. Sabrina has been really nice to me since I moved in.” She placed the bag at her feet. “I've rung the buzzer, phoned her cell phone, tried the land line, and I don't get an answer. I guess she must have gone out early, but I can't imagine why. Will you let me into my apartment?”

“Of course. And don't worry about bothering me. That's what I'm here for and you're not the first person to leave without taking a key.” Hollis stood up, unlocked a wall cabinet, and removed a ring of keys, relieved that the problem was nothing more serious than a forgotten key.

“Maybe she's a heavy sleeper. Give her another call,” she temporized.

Ginny whipped out her cell phone, tapped in the number and listened. She snapped it shut. “I get
not available, leave a message
.”

“Give me a minute to lock up.”

“I'm really sorry to bother you,” Ginny said, again shifting her bag from hand to hand. “It's probably nothing. Maybe Sabrina was up really late and took a sleeping pill. I do that sometimes. You have to sleep, and since they started work on the balconies there's banging and crashing all day. When will they finish?” She grinned ruefully. “The truth is I shouldn't complain because I hate absolute quiet. When I moved in it surprised me and made me happy that the builder wired every room for sound. I play CDs or leave an easy listening station on night and day.”

“Why don't you like the quiet?” Hollis asked as she removed the baby gate and shut the dogs inside the apartment.

“I don't know. I guess I always listen to see if something or somebody is creeping up on me. I know it's weird, but I've been like that for a long time. I come from Saskatchewan and sometimes when the wind stops blowing, it's so quiet the silence hurts your ears.”

“Lucky for you that you have the music. The balconies should be repaired by the end of July,” Hollis said, leading the way to the elevator, where she pushed the button for five.

Ginny followed Hollis into the elevator and set the bag on the polished floor. “I really like Sabrina and we have fun. Since I moved in she's taken me shopping and we went to see George Clooney's last movie. She's been really, really nice,” she said as if this explained something.

They exited at five and moved silently along the thickly carpeted hall. At Ginny's door Hollis rang the buzzer. Musical tones but no response. Hollis knocked and turned to Ginny.

“Probably you're right. She remembered something she had to do and didn't want to wake you,” she suggested as she fitted the key in the lock and pushed open the door.

TWO

The homicide office was stifling. Toronto was experiencing an early season, late April mini heat wave, and Rhona Simpson wished the department would turn on the air conditioning. Sweat dripped down her back, and she worried that the dye in her new black-and-white silk blouse would run.

She should be grateful for the weather bonus. But she wasn't grateful — she felt grumpy and unpleasant as she finished up the paperwork on her current case. Again, she and her partner, Ian Gilchrist, had fingered the perp, and she felt confident they'd lined up the evidence and would be a match for any overenthusiastic defence attorneys.

But it wasn't the heat or the tediousness of her task making her cross. Rather it was an article in the morning paper reporting that the Sisters in Spirit, a Native women's organization devoted to uncovering and drawing attention to the numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, had published an update on their previous year's report. She'd gone online and read their 2009 report. The statistics shocked her. How could so many women, more than five hundred, have disappeared or been murdered without being found or their killers apprehended? The Sisters in Spirit charged that mainstream society regarded First Nations women as dispensable throwaways and the police devoted minimal time to finding the missing women or their killers. The Sisters in Spirit had amassed statistics clearly showing that the solution ratio for crimes involving Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal was heavily skewed. They demanded that police forces take action.

If there was an upside, it was that Ontario had not figured largely in the report. Nevertheless, Rhona knew opposition members of the legislature would raise the issue and journalists would join them in demanding a provincial investigation. Although the Toronto Police maintained an upfront website where they identified and detailed both current and unsolved cold cases, Rhona didn't want to be paranoid but suspected that if her department launched an inquiry, she'd be front and centre. As a woman of colour, even if the colour was only one quarter inherited from her Cree grandmother, having her in charge of an investigation would look good.

Rhona believed she'd find cases where the police had paid perfunctory attention to an investigation. In her dealings with other officers she'd seen evidence that prejudice existed against Aboriginal women, prostitutes, and drug addicts. She had heard officers articulate their feelings that these men and women got what they deserved. No senior officer condoned this attitude, but it existed.

She asked herself if she shared the feeling that low-life wiping out low-life saved the taxpayers the cost of incarceration. She hoped not, but often she found it hard to defend First Nations and their problems. In fact, she avoided all such discussions, as she didn't want to become a “spokesperson” for Native affairs.

Partly she wondered if she felt both sad and guilty because in another life situation she could have turned out like these women. Again, in her heart, she thanked her loving grandmother who'd brought her up to be the strong woman she was.

Her feelings shamed her, particularly her refusal to proudly claim her Aboriginal heritage and her desire not to have genetics given as the reason for assigning her to any case. It was hard to acknowledge, even to herself, that she felt that way, but she did. She had to face the fact that she was prejudiced and move on.

Rhona stared at the computer. Her acknowledgement of her feelings shocked her. For years she'd half-heartedly considered volunteering in the Aboriginal community, thinking that she could be a role model, a woman who'd pursued an education and joined the police, but she hadn't done anything about it. Now she decided that the time had come. Moreover, contact with others in the community might help her deal with her issues.

Time to act.

She went online and found a health unit on Queen Street and a centre on Dundas where homeless First Nation people received help and counselling. She felt a faint shudder of distaste. Not the way to go. Her professional dealings with the down-and-out First Nation people had shown her that this wasn't the way to counteract her prejudice. Rather, she'd begin her search for a role in the community at the Native Friendship Centre. Located on Spadina Road north of Bloor Street in the heart of the Annex and the student ghetto, this meeting place pulled in students and newcomers in the city looking for other upwardly mobile Aboriginals. Perhaps she could act as a mentor, a support for bewildered young people making their way.

Ian Gilchrist, her partner, touched her shoulder and made her jump. He looked at her computer screen. “What's going on?” he asked.

Rhona held out the morning paper. She tapped the article about the Sisters in Spirit and their need to receive promised federal funding. “I think the boss is going to respond to this.”

He scanned the article. “How so?”

“I read their report. Most of the missing and murdered women came from western Canada, but Ontario is not exempt.”

“So?”

“There's sure to be an investigation. Sometimes our reports identify women by race, but I suspect the chief will want us squeaky clean as far as unsolved cases go. I bet he puts us on this right away, since I'm the token Aboriginal and a woman.”

As Rhona spoke her phone buzzed. She picked it up. It was their superior, Frank Braithwaite.

“Frank wants to see us in his office. Boy, that didn't take long,” Rhona said.

Ian shrugged. “Unless you're clairvoyant, we really don't know why he wants us.”

“You'll see.”

In his office Frank stood by his window lifting weights. He set them on the floor when the two officers entered.

“Getting the biceps in shape,” he said. “Juno and I are going on a two-week wilderness canoe trip following old fur trade routes in the barren lands, and I need to toughen up.”

Considering that he went to the gym as often as he could, rode his bike to work from his condo in the Distillery District, and watched his diet and weight obsessively, Rhona thought it must be an “extreme sport” trip.

“I didn't know you could take dogs on trips like that,” Ian said.

“Juno isn't just
any
dog. I thought after my ex-wife hijacked Bailey that I'd never find another dog like him, but Juno is remarkable.” He smiled. “I've cleared it with the tour leader. Even have a backpack for Juno so he can carry his own dehydrated food.”

“Sounds great. When will this happen?” Rhona asked, thinking it would be absolutely horrible, and she couldn't even imagine the mosquitoes, the rain, the discomfort.

“July, but it takes a while to get really fit.” Frank moved behind his desk and picked up the newspaper.

Rhona resisted the urge to give Ian an “I told you so” look.

“Did either of you read this article on the Sisters in Spirit report?” Braithwaite asked, waving the paper in the air.

“I did and told Ian about it,” Rhona said.

Frank tried a “cute” or perhaps a “coy” smile, which he didn't do well. “So you figured out why I wanted to see you?”

Rhona played dumb. She didn't want this assignment. Sifting through files, following up on cold cases, talking to families who had lost hope, was not what she wanted to do. She shook her head. “No.”

Wisely, Ian said nothing.

Frank waved the paper. “To follow up on each and every Toronto case which involved an Aboriginal woman and make sure we've done everything possible to find them or the perp that killed them.” He slapped the paper on the edge of the desk. “According to this, there aren't many cases in Ontario, let alone Toronto, so it shouldn't take you long, especially with two of you working on it. I want to be able to tell the police commissioner and the mayor that we have a perfect record, that we do not neglect any of our citizens.”

He must be hoping for a promotion or at least a commendation from the city.

BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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