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Authors: Joan Boswell

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BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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TWENTY

Hollis, who seldom used an alarm clock, realized she should have set hers when she opened her eyes and saw the time. Coping with an excess of adrenalin released by Cartwright's threatening visit along with the time spent deciphering the entries in Mary's diary had kept her sleepless until the early hours. She rushed to get the girls up and fed, the dogs out, and the whole tribe off to school on time.

Crystal smiled when she came into the kitchen, but not Jay, who stomped into the room, glared at Hollis, and clomped to the table.

“Sorry to rush you but I slept in,” Hollis said as she provided cereal, milk, blueberries, and juice. That done, she foamed milk and poured herself a cup of coffee. Everything always looked brighter after that first rejuvenating cup.

“You'll both eat lunch at school today,” she said, whipping together tuna sandwiches and tucking them, along with an apple and a granola bar, into their backpacks. I'll pick you up after school.”

“You told us we'd come home for lunch until the police solved the murder,” Jay said in an accusing voice. “You never do what you say you're going to do,” she added.

“I did say that, but I have to go out this morning and I'm nervous that I won't be back in time to collect you.” She wanted to defend herself against Jay's accusation, but trying to change minds already made up was pointless. Putting herself in Jay's place, she knew how disappointed she would have been about the cancellation of a visit with her father.

With the dogs walked and the girls safely at school, Hollis went first to the office to deal with any issues that had arisen overnight. To her relief no one hovered at the entrance and no demanding messages waited on the machine. She swung away from the door and watched the screens from the security cameras as she punched in the number for Ms. Young, her contact at the CAS.

Pleasantries dealt with, she said, “I've received information that Jay's father's background may make him and her and possibly me a target for violence. If this is true I should have been told.”

“We didn't believe it was true,” Ms. Young said.


Didn't believe?
You
knew
there was a possibility?” Hollis heard the outrage in her own voice.

“A remote one, and had we learned that anything had changed we would have told you,” the woman said huffily. “We do not put our wards at risk, but we also don't want their foster parents to worry unnecessarily or to refuse to take them because of perceived risks.”

“What was it that Brownelly did or does that makes him a risk? Furthermore, why didn't you tell me that you removed Jay from his home?”

“I'm sorry, but that confidential information could endanger him if we told you and you happened to tell someone else. As for Jay's removal, it was not his bad parenting but because we felt the circumstances were not conducive to bringing up a child in a healthy way.”

Hollis clenched her teeth. Bureaucratic gobbledegook. How she hated a runaround. “Not good enough. I have to know what we need to fear, what I'm protecting Jay from, where the threat comes from. It appalls me that you would allow me to walk blindly into a situation endangering Jay and me.”

A pause at the other end. “I'll speak to my supervisor and get back to you.”

Always
the supervisor
. Like buying a car and the salesperson's charade that he could make no decisions about giving you a deal without consulting the manager. Not that they ever gave you one, but they liked to make you feel you might get one.

“I guess that will have to do. I'll be here.” Hollis slammed the phone down.

“Problems?” Fatima said. Wearing black tights and a loose, patterned silk top with metallic dangling earrings, she balanced on high-heeled sandals in the doorway.

Hollis wondered how much of the conversation she'd heard. “Fostering children is challenging. Always something to worry about,” she said. “What can I do for you?”

“But lucky for them there are women who will care for them,” Fatima said. “Have the police finished with Ginny's apartment?”

Hollis shrugged. “I don't know.”

“Too bad about the other murdered woman,” Fatima said.

A rush of adrenalin placed Hollis's body on high alert. “What woman?”

Fatima took a step back. “Sorry. Didn't mean to shock you. As a news junkie, I always think other people share my passion. I heard on 680 News radio that the police fished a woman's body from the water at Cherry Beach and suspect foul play.” She pivoted into Cartwright, who'd come up behind her as she spoke.

Hollis did not want to deal with him again this morning. “Fatima, come in and sit down, don't rush away.”

One of Fatima's eyebrows rose quizzically and a small smile curved her lips. A quick study, she recognized a cry for help when she heard one. In one fluid motion she entered the office and perched on a chair. “Our talk is long overdue,” she said and turned to gaze meaningfully at Cartwright.

His head swung from side to side as he looked from one woman to the other. His thick black eyebrows lowered and his eyes narrowed. “I came to talk to
you
,” he said to Hollis.

“Come in this afternoon,” Hollis replied, hoping he'd choose the time she collected the girls. “I have several appointments between now and then.”

“Goddamn it, why the fuck should I have to make an appointment to talk to the fucking building super,” he said.

“Because other people also need to talk to me,” Hollis said, meeting his angry gaze.

“Don't screw around with me,” he threatened and lumbered out of sight. Hollis watched him reappear in the camera monitor focused on the elevator.

“Mr. Charm,” Fatima muttered.

“One of your clients?” Hollis asked.

Fatima nodded. “Twice. Blacklisted now. A bad client, and we don't do business with men we dislike,” she said.

“Thanks for staying. He scares me.”

“I'm here to tell you Ginny moves today.”

What if Ginny had been the real target? Would the killer strike again?

Hollis wished Ginny would postpone her move back into her own apartment until the police nabbed Sabrina's murderer. However, she could do nothing to stop her, and it was none of her business. Indeed, as the saying went, she had other fish to fry. Time to text Norman and find Mary.

“I know Mary tries to rescue Aboriginal women from drugs and the street. I'm guessing she ran afoul of someone who did not want this to happen to one particular girl. Have you contacted her and do you know when she plans to return?”

Hollis laid her BlackBerry on her desk, where she'd see the light flashing to indicate the arrival of a message. While she waited, she caught up on office filing. Minutes later the light alerted her.

You've got it right. I talked to Mary, who contacted one of her boarders, Alice Meness, who was visiting family in Golden Lake. Mary told her not to return to the apartment. The threat still exists, so Mary will stay on the reserve. She asked me to thank you for looking after Crystal.

Two women lived with Mary.

What happened to the other woman?
she typed.

Hollis filed more papers while keeping an eye on her phone.

Mary repeatedly called her cell phone and left messages. The last time she called she didn't even get the answering machine.

Hollis made the connection. This must be the woman the police had asked her about. The one on the security camera who seemed to be shouting for help.

Tell me her name?

Mary didn't say. She told me nothing else. Are you watching your back, not taking risks?

I am.

Time to call Rhona Simpson.

First she needed the number. She fumbled through a raft of business cards she kept in the top drawer of her office desk. As she thumbed through them, she wondered why she'd saved some of them. Why had she thought a company that sold restaurant equipment specifically geared to vegetarian restaurants would interest her? Or the card for skydiving. What had she been thinking?

She located Rhona Simpson's card near the bottom. Once she placed it on the desk in front of her, she had second thoughts. How would she phrase her call?

First, she'd tell Rhona that Mary Montour in apartment 202 tried to rescue Aboriginal women from the streets and had two tenants and her eleven-year-old niece, Crystal, living in the apartment. Hollis could almost hear Rhona sizzle and demand to know why Hollis hadn't given her this information earlier. Hollis would say Rhona should wait until she finished, and then she'd know. That would be part one.

In part two she'd say that Mary and the two tenants had disappeared, left Crystal behind, and later Mary phoned, leaving a message asking Hollis to care for Crystal. Apparently, Alicia Meness and Mary were okay. Alicia had left to visit her family but someone had threatened Mary, who'd run away without the other tenant, who remained unaccounted for.

“May I speak to Detective Rhona Simpson?”

Voicemail, bloody voicemail. She couldn't recite the story on voicemail.

“It's Hollis Grant. I have information that I believe might help you with your investigation.”

That should do it. Now all she had to do was keep the girls and herself safe until Rhona and her sidekick arrived.

TWENTY-ONE

The two detectives headed back up Cherry Street, along the lakeshore, up University Avenue and Avenue Road, turning off into the maze of streets north of St. Clair. Inside 68 Delisle, they buzzed Hollis.

“You got my message?” she said.

“What message?” Rhona said.

“I have information that might help you. I don't think it's related, but I'll leave it to you to decide.”

They collected in Hollis's office. She waved them to the visitors' chairs and plunked down behind the desk.

“Information for us. How long have you been keeping it?” Rhona grumbled. “Tell us.”

Hollis related the story of Mary Montour and her one-person campaign to save Aboriginal women addicted to drugs, and told Rhona about her disappearance.

Rhona didn't comment immediately. Instead she glowered at Hollis and pursed her lips. Finally she spoke. “Where
is
Mary Montour?”

“She's gone to ground but she's okay,” Hollis said, and from the look in Rhona's eyes, she wished she hadn't decided to tell them.

“How do you know she's okay?”

“As I said, she phoned and asked me to take care of Crystal until she returned.”

“That was a couple of days ago. How do you know she's okay now?”

Hollis knew she mustn't blow Norman's cover. In his situation he didn't need the police swooping down on his apartment, drawing attention to him. She shrugged. “A friend told me.”

Rhona steepled her fingers and contemplated Hollis. “A
friend
. That's the kind of information we like to get. A
friend
. Could you be a little more specific?”

Crunch time. “No. I can't reveal his name. He lives a very private life and found this information for me as a great favour. I'm sorry, but I can't.”

Rhona and Hollis glared at one other.

“What about the unknown woman in the apartment?” Ian intervened.

“I don't know about the other woman. As far as I know, I never saw either one of them.”

Ian's phone rang. He listened. “I'll come to the front door.” He stood up. “The photo's here. I'll collect it.”

After he left, Rhona considered Hollis. “Why did you wait so long to share this information?”

“As I said, I was afraid if I told you, you'd feel compelled to have Crystal taken into care, and I didn't want that to happen. She's had an unsettled life and Mary bolting upset her terribly. My foster daughter lost the foster mother she'd lived with for years, and since she's only recently moved in with me, I wanted to give both girls stability and continuity.”

Rhona's expression softened. “I understand that, but you've got to stop making decisions that aren't yours to make.”

Hollis said nothing.

Ian appeared and handed Rhona an envelope. She opened it and removed several photos.

“Not a brilliant job. A half-blind person could tell that this woman is dead,” she said.

“Very dead. Do you really think we should post it in the elevators?”

“Here? In the elevators here?” Hollis said.

Rhona nodded. “And go door to door.”

Hollis reached for a copy. “My God, she looks awful. Why are you putting up her picture here?”

“We saw her on the security tapes we ran yesterday. You saw them.”

“I didn't recognize her. Why don't you freeze the frame from the tapes and make a photo from that? It would look like her and not like this gruesome thing,” Hollis said, waving the photo.

Ian nodded. “Good suggestion. This photo,” he flipped it over, “belongs in the morgue.”

“Don't know why we didn't think of that,” Rhona admitted. “Okay Ian, over to you, get it done as fast as you can.”

“Many of the people who live here are out during the day. You'll have better luck getting an ID when they arrive home from work or college,” Hollis said. She stared at the photo. “Do you know her name?” she asked.

“Not yet.”

“It could be Veronica,” Hollis said.

“Veronica? Where did that name come from?” Rhona asked.

“The other woman living with Mary left a necklace on her dresser with the name Veronica on it, and Mary hasn't been able to reach her.”

Rhona rose. “Let's see that apartment.”

Hollis grabbed her master keys. In the elevator she said, “I checked it and it looked okay.”

“Did you change anything?”

Hollis sniffed. “I'm not stupid. Of course not. The apartment remains exactly the way I found it.”

“You didn't
think
to report this to the police?” Rhona said.

Hollis heard the accusation in Rhona's voice. Since she had considered it but had refrained because of Crystal, she understood the detective's exasperation.

“I didn't have enough information to report anything. If I had I would have done it.” Hollis thought about her search through the apartment without wearing gloves and concluded she'd made a mistake.

After Hollis let them into the Montour apartment, she stood back as the two detectives slipped on gloves and booties. Rhona waved her dismissal. “We'll deal with this,” she said.

Hollis turned but didn't leave. Instead she drifted along behind them. Going through the apartment, she watched them discover the same things that she had, particularly the difference between Mary's two boarders.

“This one, Alicia Meness,” Ian indicated the tidy side of the bedroom, “seems to have been on the road to a normal life.” He flicked through the methadone pamphlet as he spoke. They'd already spotted the drug in the refrigerator. “Anyone allowed a week's supply is well on the way to conquering her addiction.”

Rhona patted the top of the bureau. “Alicia Meness. Her clothes, her tidiness, and the methadone indicate recovery. The other bureau tells a different story.”

Ian pointed to the necklace spelling “Veronica” that lay on the bureau.

“If that belongs to her, we've moved a step closer to identification,” Rhona said as she went systematically through the contents of the half-open bureau drawers. She found many credit card receipts but no documents, nothing personal.

“We can find out who she is using these,” Rhona said, holding up the slips of paper.

Ian examined the cupboard contents. A pile of dirty or discarded clothes lay on the floor. He picked through them. “She was one messy lady,” he said.

From his use of the past tense, Hollis realized he'd decided the police had found Veronica, the missing woman, in the harbour that morning. He reached up and checked each hanger's clothes. He stopped at a black leather jacket, removed it from the hanger, and laid it on the bed to examine it more closely.

“Look at this,” he said.

Rhona noticed Hollis hovering in the hall. “Police business. This is a crime scene,” she said, waving a hand dismissively and shutting the door.

Ian pointed to patches sewn on the jacket. “These indicate she was the girlfriend of someone in the Black Hawks,” Hollis heard him say as she left.

“Living with Ms. Montour, she was trying to escape from him or from drug addiction or from both,” Rhona said.

“This could be the reason for her murder, but it's hard to believe. These men don't like women leaving them, but I don't think I've ever known a biker to kill an ex-girlfriend for that reason.”

“Maybe he intended to rough her up and ended up killing her,” Rhona said.

“There had to be more to it than that.” Ian picked up the jacket. “Do we have infiltrators in the gang who could tell us anything about the girlfriends? Usually they aren't important.”

“The force protects the identity of the undercover guys, but Frank could channel our questions.”

“We have the security video. How did he get in? Hell of a lot of chutzpah to walk in, nab her, and walk out knowing the security tapes would record it.”

Rhona nodded. “We need to take another look at the garage tapes and see if we see them leaving. If we don't that means he walked her out the front door without anyone being any the wiser and without her screaming for help.”

“A gun in your side gives you a big disincentive to yell,” Ian said.

“Time to go downtown and check out the tapes, but first we'll ask Hollis a few questions.”

BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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