Authors: Joan Boswell
“It's bad news, or you wouldn't be here. I haven't heard a word from Claire for almost seven years. Not because I wouldn't have liked to, but when she left here the last time, she said she never wanted to see us again. I tried to trace her but didn't succeed.” Her hands gripped her knees as she looked from one to the other. “Tell me,” she ordered.
“I'm sorry to bring bad news, but Claire is dead,” Rhona said, knowing Ian, despite his years of police work, would have a hard time with the bare, brutal fact.
“How?” Her knuckles white and her fingers indenting her navy trousers below her knees, Mrs. Trepanier gave the impression she was willing herself to hold together.
“She was murdered,” Rhona said, hating the words.
“Murdered. Claire was murdered. Who would do such a terrible thing,” the woman whispered. Her face had aged since they delivered the news.
“Do you live alone?” Ian asked.
She stared at him as if she'd forgotten he was there. “I do. My husband died not long after Claire left. It sounds melodramatic, but I think his heart was broken. We did the wrong thing but our intentions were good. To lose your only child is a terrible price to pay. He said he couldn't live with himself and I guess, literally, he couldn't.”
“Do you have a relative or friend we could call to come and be with you?”
“I have Duchess,” she said, bending to stroke the dog's ears. “She was Claire's dog and when Claire left without taking Duchess, I knew how serious the situation was. As you can see, Duchess is old, almost eleven, and for the last seven years I've hoped that if Claire wouldn't come home for us, for me, she'd come back for Duchess.” Unshed tears brightened her eyes. “I hope it was quick, that she didn't know. Please don't tell me some sadist tortured her.”
Ian leaned toward her. “We can tell you that with absolute confidence. She died almost instantly. Unfortunately, as her next of kin, we have to ask you to come with us to Toronto and identify her.”
It was as if Ian hadn't made the request. Certainly Mrs. Trepanier didn't respond. Instead she said, “Where did she live?”
Rhona couldn't imagine the pain this woman had suffered not knowing where her only child lived, let alone how she was or what she was doing.
“In mid-town Toronto, an apartment on Delisle Street.”
“So close, it breaks my heart.”
Rhona had to ask the questions that would bring back painful memories, but to identify Sabrina's killer, they had to do it.
“What happened that caused your daughter to cut all connections with you?”
Mrs. Trepanier continued to pat Duchess and didn't look at the detectives. “It's a long, sad story.”
She'd wear off the dog's fur if she continued. “We have to know because there may be a connection to her murder.”
The woman's hand stilled. “He wouldn't have done that.”
Mrs. Trepanier raised her head and gave a lung-emptying sigh. “Okay. If it will help.”
She stared into space as if organizing her words before she spoke. “My daughter was a beautiful child and she matured early into a beautiful young woman. Boys and men found her irresistible and she liked their attention, although she wasn't particularly interested in any one boy. When she was fifteen she told us she was pregnant and asked our permission to have an abortion.” She twisted her hands into a knot. “Abortion was a sin for us. We asked who the baby's father was and if there was any possibility they could marry.”
She lifted her head and appeared to be looking at a mental image burned into her mind. “I remember her exact words. She said, âNo, and if you won't help I'm going to charge him with rape. I'll stay here, go to school, and have this kid.' Claire's voice when she said it made me shiver. I realized she would do exactly what she said. To her father she was still his little girl and he didn't believe her. He asked why she wouldn't stay with my sister in Calgary and have the baby. I'll never forget it. She stood in the kitchen doorway with her hands on her hips. She said, âEither you agree that I can have an abortion or you have ten seconds before I call the police.' Her dad tried to placate her but she counted down. When we didn't respond she grabbed the phone book and punched in the number for the police. We were so stunned we just sat there like dummies while she told them she wanted to press charges against a teacher who had raped her.” Mrs. Trepanier stopped speaking and peered down at her hands now clenched in her lap.
“What was his name and what happened to him?” Ian asked.
“David Jones. Two other girls supported Claire's charge and he went to jail.”
“And your daughter?” Rhona asked?
“She did exactly what she'd promised to do. Stayed and finished her year. Had the baby in July. We asked if we could raise him as our own but she sneered and said no way, that she intended to give him to young parents, not rigid fanatics like us who put God before their own daughter. She gave him, our only grandchild, to the Children's Aid, and left. She said she would never forgive us, would never contact us again, and she never did.” Mrs. Trepanier began to cry. “How could we have been so stupid?” she sobbed.
“I'm sure you did what you thought was right,” Rhona said. She waited for Mrs. Trepanier to compose herself. “When you're ready, we'll drive you to Toronto and have a car bring you back.”
Could the baby's father be Sabrina's killer?
The next morning while the girls hoovered up waffles and blueberries, Hollis thought about the CAS and their reaction if they found out about Crystal. Enough that there'd been a murder in the building. That would be bad, but if they discovered she was harbouring Crystal, all hell might break loose. In her heart she knew it was the right thing to do, but officialdom tended to think rules should not be broken.
“Girls, I think it would be better if you don't say anything about Crystal's aunt going away. But if you do happen to mention it, you may say Mary asked me to have Crystal stay with me.”
Crystal put her fork down. “Social Services would take me away, wouldn't they?”
Jay examined Crystal. “Not Social Services â the Children's Aid. That's who's in charge of me. Hollis is my foster mom but the CAS makes the big decisions. I know for sure that if your foster mom complains about you, they move you to another home. Mrs. Cooper always told me if I didn't behave that's what would happen to me. She said some foster homes were awful and if you didn't work out there, they dumped you in a group home where a bunch of bad kids lived. I don't ever want that to happen to me.”
Hollis was horrified. Eleven-year-olds shouldn't have a conversation like this. Her respect for Mrs. Cooper dropped like a felled tree. What a terrible threat to hold over a child's head.
She stepped away from the counter, where she'd been feeding waffles into the toaster, and patted Jay's shoulder.
“I solemnly promise I will never ever make a threat like that,” she said.
Jay looked up at her. She didn't comment but her raised eyebrows told Hollis she didn't believe her.
“I never tell anyone anything about my life, not that anyone cares,” Crystal said flatly.
This statement also shocked Hollis. Her friends' children tended to talk non-stop and to reveal details of their own lives, and even more interesting and often surprising information about their parents' lives. Crystal's assertion revealed how her life differed from other children's.
Barlow gave the short assertive bark that meant he had to go out. Time for all of them to leave.
As they walked toward the school, Hollis said, “I'm visiting the restaurant where your Aunt Mary worked. Did you ever go to work with her?”
Crystal stopped. “No,” she said.
“I thought I'd talk to the people there and ask if they have any idea where she might be. It seems like a good place to start.”
Barlow spotted another dog, barked, jumped up and down, and yanked on his leash. Conversation stopped as Hollis pulled his collar toward her and administered an open-handed grab on his back, simulating his mother's corrective bite when she taught him manners. Barlow stopped momentarily and Hollis again reined him in.
“Come on girls. I can't let him get away with this behaviour. Keep walking. He has to reach the point where he passes another dog without making any fuss.”
“He has a long way to go, doesn't he?” Jay said.
“He does. He's not any easy dog to train. He wants to be the boss, the alpha dog, but he isn't going to be,” Hollis said.
When they approached the school, they met other dogs accompanying mothers, fathers, or nannies walking children to school. Busy controlling Barlow, Hollis didn't have another opportunity to question Crystal.
Home again, she let herself into Mary's apartment, opened the refrigerator, and removed the methadone prescribed for Alicia Meness. Why had she been so anxious to learn the name? The pharmacist would know only what she knew â that Alicia lived in this apartment. The information wouldn't help her find Mary.
Back downstairs Hollis booted up her computer and connected to Google. She typed in a number of search terms that she hoped might lead to people who knew Mary but didn't find anything useful. Then she tried Aboriginal Health Toronto and found sites. Several didn't give their location, which seemed odd. If a person desperate for help wanted to see someone face to face, it wasn't possible without making a phone call.
Wild goose chase. Back to plan A: a visit to Mary's workplace.
A quick Mapquest search located the Golden Goose, on Jarvis Street close to Queen. She shouldered her bag, and at the Yonge and St. Clair subway station two blocks east of the apartment building she trotted down the stairs and jumped on the last car as the door closed. She exited on Queen and as she walked, she planned what she'd say.
The restaurant, which advertised all-day breakfast, was a bare bones diner. On one side chrome-and-red-plastic stools ran alongside a scarred Formica counter. A mirror on the wall above the counter gave anyone sitting there a good view of the entire restaurant. Hollis wondered how the restaurant had passed the city health inspection, as cleanliness did not seem to be a priority. Dirty black and white floor tiles, crumb- and food-bedecked tables, and the smeared mirror raised her suspicions about the state of the kitchen, as did the aroma of stale grease and burned toast. A waitress and a waiter, both in black pants and white shirts, scurried from table to table while a man in a black satin windbreaker sitting at the table closest to the kitchen did paperwork and occasionally growled at one of the staff.
At ten thirty the place was hopping. Hollis picked a spot at the counter where she could observe the clientele, slid onto a stool, and ordered coffee and a doughnut. While she sipped she watched the other patrons. At one table, three tired-looking women with long hair, red nails, short, tight skirts, high heels, and leather jackets made desultory conversation as they worked their way through orders of pancakes and bacon or sausages swimming in syrup. The tallest girl had kicked off her red satin stilettos and repeatedly rubbed the arch of each foot with the opposing heel. As Hollis watched her, the woman's cell phone rang. The others fell silent as she spoke briefly, clicked off, hastily stuffed a strip of bacon in her mouth along with a forkful of pancake, and stood up. She collected a gigantic silver handbag ornamented with studs and crystals, fished inside, and passed a bill to the other women before she left.
At an adjacent table, two women, one black and one Aboriginal, similarly dressed, drank coffee, ate greasy fried eggs and toast, and said nothing to one another. None of the women were accompanied by men and no man in the restaurant looked like Hollis's stereotypical conception of a pimp â no bling, no half-unbuttoned shirts or heavy shades. She guessed that most, whether East Indian, black or white, were shift workers, maybe taxi operators or night watchmen.
A heavy-set waitress with deep lines bracketing her mouth, too much blush, and dark blue eye shadow that emphasized the crepey texture of her eyelids, wore a badge identifying her as Bridget.
Hurray. She'd found the woman who'd left the message on Mary's machine. She was one step closer to finding Mary. When the demands on Bridget lessened somewhat, Hollis crooked a finger.
“What else can I get you?” Bridget asked.
“Nothing in the way of food, but I think you can help me.”
“In what way?”
“I'm looking for Mary Montour. I listened to the message you left for her, and I hope you can tell me where to find her. She disappeared before she picked it up.”
Bridget assessed her. Hollis recognized an astute women who had dealt with all manner of people and wasn't easily taken in.
Chin jutting forward and eyes narrowed, Bridget said, “Who are you and why are you looking for her?”
Hollis dug into her denim shoulder bag, extracted her driver's license, and offered it.
“Sorry, I should have introduced myself. I'm the super in her apartment building and have a daughter Crystal's age. Mary left a message asking me to take care of Crystal. As you can imagine, Crystal is pretty upset.” Hollis took back the license and tucked it in her purse. “I don't know anything about Mary other than she paid her rent on time and kept to herself. Her niece won't tell me anything but thinks something bad happened to her, because when Crystal got home, her aunt was gone and the apartment door was unlocked. Crystal said her aunt would
have left the door like that. There was a threatening message on her machine. Mary hasn't come back. That's why I'm here.”
Bridget listened but also kept an eye on the other patrons and the man at the back table, who'd raised his head to watch her. “I can't stop to talk right now.” She glanced up at the wall clock that hung on the mirror. “I have a break in ten minutes. I'm a smoker, so if you can stand the smell, join me out back and I'll tell you what I know.”
Progress. Hollis ordered a second doughnut to celebrate and waited for Bridget to take her break. When her BlackBerry buzzed, she pulled it out and read a text message from Willem.
Would Mary be mixed up in the drug trade? I don't think we should be involved in this but I feel sorry for Crystal. That scream was bloodcurdling. How are you going about your search?
She tapped her answer.
Only beginning. In the restaurant where she worked. Waiting to talk to a co-worker when she takes her break.
Willem replied immediately.
Be careful. If someone abducted her, she was messing with bad people.
Touched by his obvious concern, Hollis vowed to be careful, to go to the police if she suspected a crime had been committed.
Bridget waved before she swung through the kitchen door.
Hollis shrugged into her denim jacket and headed outside, down a smelly, garbage-choked alley to the back of the building.
Bridget, who'd wrapped an old stretched Christmas cardigan around herself, perched on a makeshift seat made of plastic cartons, pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her worn black plastic purse, and lit up.
“I keep trying the patch but I always give up. My kids are at me all the time but quitting is hard.”
Hollis nodded. Giving up anything you liked doing was difficult and knowing it was bad for you didn't really help. When she'd decided to deal with being overweight, she'd taken up running and given up many foods she liked. It had been and continued to be a major struggle.
“It's tough and everyone makes you feel guilty if you don't succeed. What can you tell me about Mary?” she said, positioning herself away from the smoke.
“I still don't know if I should. Some things I don't know for sure. I guessed she was doing something that might be dangerous. When I confronted her she didn't deny it, but didn't say she was.”
“What kind of thing?”
Hollis felt ambivalent. The more she knew, the more likely it was that she'd have to take action. From past experience she realized this could lead to trouble. With Jay, Willem, Barlow, MacTee, and now Crystal in her life, she mustn't endanger them.
The kitchen door banged open. The man who'd been doing paperwork stepped outside.
“Bridget, your husband is here again. If you don't do something about him, keep him from turning up, I'll fire you.”
Bridget jumped to her feet. “Stan, I'm sorry. He has so many problems. Life overwhelms him.”
“I run a restaurant. I don't give a fuck about his problems. Get him out of here,” he ordered and slammed back inside.
Bridget smiled apologetically at Hollis. “Sorry, my husband has mental health issues. I have to go. Come back again. I'll see what I remember and try to put it together for you.”
“Thanks. I will. I hope he's okay.”
“He'll never be okay. He's better when he takes his meds, but he says they turn him into a zombie,” Bridget said, taking the card Hollis handed her as she disappeared into the kitchen.
Nothing. She was no further ahead. Maybe the Aboriginal prostitute or the waiter could tell her something.
By the time Hollis covered the distance to the front of the building, pulled open the heavy glass door smudged by hundreds of dirty hands, and went inside, Bridget was gone. Again Hollis settled at the counter and surveyed the room. No one seemed upset by whatever had happened, but in this part of Toronto inhabited by prostitutes, drug users, and derelicts, dramatic encounters must happen frequently. The black woman finished eating, rose, tossed a couple of toonies on the bill, and left her friend focused on spreading a thick coat of jam on a second helping of toast. Perfect timing.
Hollis picked up her white china coffee mug and moved to the woman's table.
“Mind if I join you?” Hollis said.
The young woman stopped chewing. She'd added neon red highlights to her long dark hair and wore matching red plastic dangling earrings. Although she'd applied makeup with a heavy hand, she'd failed to disguise her youth or completely cover the triangular scar over her right eye. Hollis guessed she might be in her mid-teens, certainly not yet twenty.
“Why? Who are you?” the girl said, edging farther into the booth away from Hollis.
“Whoa, I'm not here to ask questions about you,” Hollis said and realized as the words escaped that she should have phrased the sentence more carefully.
The girl gathered her things.
“No, no. Stop. You don't understand. I'm looking for a waitress who works here, Mary Montour, and I thought maybe you'd talked to her or knew something about her.” She held out her hand. “I'm Hollis Grant and I'm anxious to find her, because she's left her little girl behind.” She pointed at the nearly empty coffee mug. “Can I buy you another coffee or more toast?”
The girl shrugged into a worn leather jacket that could have come from Goodwill or Value Village. Her dark almond-shaped eyes regarded Hollis suspiciously. “No, I've had enough. Why did you decide to pick on me?”
“No particular reason. I guess because you're here and I had to start somewhere. Do you have a name?”
“Not that I'm going to tell you,” the girl said.
Hollis shrugged. “It's easier to talk to someone if they give you a name. May I sit down?”