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Authors: Joan Boswell

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BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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“Different people's,” Crystal said, not meeting Hollis's gaze.

“Let's have a look.”

Hollis opened the second bedroom door. Two bunk beds, one with bottom and top neatly made, contrasted dramatically with the tangle of bedding and clothing on the other. It was as if an invisible line divided the room. Order versus chaos. Hollis imagined how difficult it must be for the neatnik to live with her absolute opposite.

Hollis turned back to the girls who hovered in the hall. She pointed to the cyclonic confusion. “Crystal, is this half of the room always like this?”

“I don't know. I never come in. They keep the door closed.”

“Who lives here with you?” That was the first thing to determine. Then she'd find out what they'd been doing.

Crystal allowed her short-bobbed black hair to swing forward and partially hide her face as she scuffed her shoe and fixed her gaze on the floor. “Different people,” she muttered.

“That doesn't tell me much. Why did they live here?”

“Aunt Mary never said. I asked once and she told me it was better if I didn't know.”

Crystal's obstinate refusal to provide meaningful information irritated Hollis. “You must have wondered. Didn't you talk to them? Didn't you ask their names?”

Crystal shook her head. “Mary didn't want me to know and I stopped asking. I didn't want her to send me away.”

Send her away? What had gone on in this room? “I don't think we're going to find out anything here,” Hollis said, although she longed to search the drawers, lift mattresses, read clothing labels, and go through pockets. She might be the building's custodian, but until she had a few more answers, she'd be abusing her job if she succumbed to the urge

Stepping out of the room, she gently put her hand under Crystal's chin and raised her head until the girl finally looked at her. “Did your aunt have enemies?”

Crystal shook her head. “I don't know.”

“I don't understand any of this and you're not helping,” Hollis said.

The angry lines around Crystal's mouth and eyes disappeared. Her brown eyes filled with tears. “I'll never see her again,” she sobbed.

Not the time to give the child the third degree. Hollis pulled her close and hugged her. “I'm sure you will, but you must help me if we're going to find her. Let's have another look in your room and see if we can figure something out.” She released Crystal. With shoulders bowed like a prisoner facing execution, the child walked directly to the cupboard in her room, where she clutched a blue velour robe hanging on the back of the door, buried her face in the robe's soft folds, pulled it from its hook, and sank to the floor.

Jay squatted beside her, wrapped her arms around her friend, and rocked her. “You don't know she's gone for good. Hollis will find her. She's really smart and her boyfriend's smart too. Don't worry, we'll get her back.”

Tears filled Hollis's eyes. Given that Jay had lost her own mother when she was a young child and her longtime foster mother only months earlier, it was clear that she related to Crystal's pain. Maybe, if they could find Crystal's aunt, in some small way it might compensate Jay for her losses.

“I'll speak to the police at the door….” Her voice trailed away. What would she say? If there had been an abduction, how had the abductor managed to get a grown woman out of the apartment and the building without attracting attention? It seemed like an impossible task. Furthermore, unless there were clear indications of foul play, the police counseled waiting twenty-four hours before filing a missing persons report.

Crystal dropped the dressing gown, stopped crying, and stared wide-eyed at Hollis. “No. No police. Never. No police.” A shuddering sob. “No. Don't do that.”

Crystal might not know or admit that she knew whatever it was that her aunt was involved with, but she knew the police mustn't be called.

Whether she liked it or not, Hollis had a job: finding Mary Montour.

TEN

Rhona and Ian finished the tenant interviews at seven thirty.

“What have we got?” Ian asked as he swept the relevant documents into a pile on Hollis's desk.

“Not much. Those first interviews told us the most.”

“No one knew anything about Ms. Trepanier or her background. That has to be a priority. Her appointment book and her laptop may provide useful connections,” Ian said.

“First we need to eat. Let's walk over to Yonge Street and pick up a burger,” Rhona said, thinking that junk food was the police officer's secret enemy.

“Good idea. While we're there I'll tell you about the construction workers. One knew more about the fifth floor residents than he should have.”

Leaving officers to monitor, to take the names of any tenants to whom they hadn't spoken, and to caution them not to leave the area, the two detectives walked to Yonge Street and crossed to a pub.

Inside the door a sound wave smacked them. The place was hopping and the decibel level approached the auditory danger mark.

“We can't talk here. There's a Tim Hortons down the block, but it isn't conducive to quiet chatting. I wonder where else we can get a quick bite?” Rhona shouted.

“A friend of mine lives near here. We often eat at Terroni. Good Italian food. It's a block south of St. Clair.”

A friend? Male or female? Rhona longed to ask, but Ian would sniff disdainfully and ask her why she wanted to know.

Pedestrians thronged Yonge Street. People exited from the St. Clair Centre coming from the subway stop in the basement or from a thriving Goodlife Fitness Studio. Terroni proved quieter than the pub and they followed the hostess to a table that promised privacy.

Rhona informed the server that they were in a hurry. After taking a minute to survey the large menus, they chose the day's special, penne with a rose vodka sauce, and Verde salads. While they waited Rhona gave in to temptation and enjoyed the warm bread that she dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Ian refused the bread. As Rhona worked her way through the contents of the bread basket he said nothing, but she took his silence and raised eyebrows to reveal his contempt for her obvious lack of willpower.

Munching happily, she chose to ignore his attitude. Instead she said, “What about the construction workers?”

Ian sipped his water. “Most had no idea who lived in the building and only cared about doing the job.” He folded his hands in his lap. “But one young guy with dark hair and dark skin, maybe East Asian or Aboriginal, said he always looked in the apartments when they worked on the balconies. Didn't seem the slightest bit embarrassed either.”

“Did he admit that he knew any women on the fifth? According to Hollis, the owners replaced their balconies when they renovated the building a couple of years ago.”

“Said his boss worked on them but that was years before he was around.”

“Get any background on him?” Rhona asked as she reached in her bag to make sure she'd switched on her cell phone.

“He'd only been here a couple of weeks. When I asked him what he did before this job, he said he'd worked on high steel construction.”

The server delivered their meals. Both opted for freshly ground parmesan, and after the initial taste, agreed they'd chosen well and ate in silence for several minutes.

Rhona took the opportunity to study Ian. Although they'd now worked together on several cases, she wasn't any closer to knowing more than a few facts about him. Reticent didn't begin to describe her partner. To herself she acknowledged how appealing she found him, but he'd given no indication that he was attracted to her. Probably just as well. The department frowned on romances between detectives.

“Why are you staring at me?” Ian said.

“Sorry, I was thinking about what you said. Often Newfoundlanders and Iroquois work on high steel. They built half the skyscrapers in Manhattan and are famous for their ability and skill, and most of all for their lack of fear when cavorting around forty floors above the ground.” She popped the last morsel of bread in her mouth. “Was he an Aboriginal?”

“Could have been. Would that be important?”

“Might be. We don't know for sure that Ms. Trepanier was the real target. After all, Ginny Wuttenee usually occupied that bed, and Ginny's a Saskatchewan Cree. Could be a coincidence, but we'll follow up on this guy. What's his name?”

Ian pulled his notebook from his pocket and consulted it. “Donald Hill,” he said.

While Ian and Rhona waited for the bill, Rhona said, “Have you settled into the department?”

Ian eyed her as if measuring the reason for the question. “Pretty much.”

“You found a good place to live?” Rhona said.

“Twenty questions?” Ian replied.

“When you have a partner, it's good to know more about him than name and badge number. You certainly aren't the most forthcoming partner I've ever had.”

“I'm forty-two, unmarried, don't have any pets or plants, and like my job.”

Rhona sighed, “Okay, I get the picture. You want your life to be private. I accept but …”

Ian produced a grin, revealing very white teeth, lighting up his face and making him more attractive than ever. He pushed the shock of black hair off his forehead. “You feel that if one day a decision I make may determine whether you live or die, you'd be happier if you had background information.”

Rhona accepted the cheques from the server and nodded at Ian. “Something like that.”

“I love horses and horse racing but not enough to belong to Gamblers Anonymous. If I had time, I'd buy a horse but I don't. I like Thai and Indian food, hate KFC, and give the Swiss Chalet chicken an A rating. I like clothes, especially shoes, expensive shoes. I've furnished my apartment with antiques and I have a home gym,”

“Antiques?” Rhona repeated. She would have pegged him for a minimalist who loved modern.

Ian continued to grin. “Surprise, surprise. Early Canadian. I own a pine sideboard from the Eastern Townships, probably made around 1830, two corner cupboards, a spool bed in my guest room, and a settle in my living room.”

“A settle. What's that?”

“A day bed. Farmhouse kitchens had one so the farmer could have a lie down after the big noon meal, or anyone who was sick could recuperate in the warm kitchen.”

“I am surprised,” Rhona said as they stood and moved to the door. She wasn't going to find out anything else. Time to move on. “To change the subject, whoever killed Ms. Trepanier must have realized it wasn't Ms. Wuttenee, but maybe he was too out of control to stop or he was afraid if she woke and saw him he'd be caught. How much information about Ms. Wuttenee's background did you get from your interview?”

They'd reached the door. Ian held it open for Rhona. “Sorry. I know all about equality, but opening doors for women is a hard habit to break. About Ms. Wuttenee, I agree she may have been the intended victim. It's not too late to talk to her again. Why don't we tell her to come down to Ms. Grant's office and speak to us after we check out Ms. Trepanier's apartment? If we have time after that, we could go through Ms. Trepanier's appointment book.”

“Good plan. If the killer got the wrong girl, Ginny Wuttenee may be in danger, and the sooner we pin down her life story, the more likely we are to know whether or not she needs protection.”

“Ginny Wuttenee is staying with Ms. Nesrallah. We'll stop and tell her to meet us downstairs in the party room in an hour when we've finished in Sabrina's apartment,” Rhona said.

“Not Ms. Grant's office?”

“No. We've interfered enough in their lives. The party room will be fine.”

“We should have it to ourselves. No one will be partying right now,” Ian said.

Before entering Sabrina's apartment, they pulled on gloves and protective covers for their shoes.

“If we turn up anything significant, we won't have contaminated the site,” Rhona said.

The apartment reeked of paint.

“I thought the new paints didn't smell,” Ian said.

“Latex is better. They've used oil in here,” Rhona said, flicking on the hall light to reveal deep amber walls, the colour intensified by the amber shade on the overhead light. The effect was strange but attractive. From the hall they moved to the living room.

“Charcoal. Isn't it smashing,” Ian said. “The white woodwork, the ebony furniture — absolutely smashing.”

Rhona wasn't quite so taken with it, but it was a stunning room.

“I never considered charcoal. My pine furniture would stand out against it. I see a project coming on.”

Rhona reflected that if Ian had made that statement with any of his male colleagues, he would have been mocked, if not to his face then behind his back. Maybe the fact that he revealed so little about himself was a careful cover-up because he realized how he'd be perceived. Interesting. Maybe he wasn't the metrosexual she'd pegged him for. Maybe … but what did that have to do with anything.

“Nothing personal here. It could be a hotel,” Rhona said.

They continued to the master bedroom, also painted charcoal with a black iron bedframe and white linens. A well-stocked bar cart and the same mirrored ceiling they'd seen in Ginny's bedroom as well as a white floktari rug on the black-stained floor made a dramatic but impersonal impression.

Ian slid open the drawer of one bedside table.

“Anything?” Rhona asked.

“A selection of condoms,” he said and bent to open the cupboard underneath. “Sex toys to please almost anyone.”

“See what's in the one on the other side,” Rhona instructed.

Ian walked around the bed and checked. “Same kind of stuff, but there's more sadomasochistic things — a whip, handcuffs.” He probed further. “Leather masks and other things,” he said and shut the door.

“Tools of the trade, I suppose. Could be relevant — too soon to tell. We need to know more about her, who she is, and where she came from. Let's try the other bedroom. She must stash personal belongings somewhere. This room reveals nothing about her personality other than her dramatic taste in furnishings and colour and her willingness to do whatever her clients asked.”

She opened the door of the second bedroom and stopped to absorb the total contrast to the rest of the apartment. Soft rose walls, a white wooden single bed with a beautiful quilt. Four more beautiful antique quilts hung on the walls. On the white desk an open, ready-to-go, state-of-the-art sewing machine and a closed Apple laptop took up the space. Two tall white bookcases filled with rectangular white baskets and a series of black binders, a chest of drawers with a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and an armchair slip-covered in cream cotton with a footstool upholstered in rose-patterned chintz completed the furnishings. A multi-coloured rag rug on the floor added to the room's welcoming coziness.

“The
real
Sabrina Trepanier lived here,” Ian said.

“No photos, which may or may not mean she's totally alienated from her family. Some people don't like having photos around.”

“Because they think a photographer steals their soul? I remember learning in introductory anthropology that some tribes in the South Pacific believe that and won't have their pictures taken,” Ian said.

“Maybe that's their reason, but I think I've read that for some people photos remind them constantly of happier times, of the speed with which life is passing, of people they've loved who've died, and of their own mortality,” Rhona said.

“Interesting explanation. I'll think about that, because I don't display photos in my apartment. I have some stashed away but not on display.”

Rhona, who'd been about to open the top bureau drawer, smiled at Ian. “At last we have something in common. I feel the same way. Photos make me sad, and you won't find any in my apartment either. I do have photo albums. It's funny, people who visit always comment and their remarks always sound critical.”

Ian grinned back. “What do you know, something in common.” He turned to the desk, where he pushed the sewing machine to one side, opened the computer, and booted it up.

Rhona found a tidy selection of underwear in the top drawer of the bureau. On the left it was black, filmy, and sexy, and on the right utilitarian and unexciting. This woman certainly had compartmentalized her life.

“The computer doesn't require a password, which is not usually a good thing for us,” Ian said over his shoulder. “The user either has nothing to hide or doesn't think anyone else will ever look at it.” He folded himself onto the white wooden desk chair, which had a grey Obus cushion attached to its back, and began clicking away. “Speaking of family, I'll check the address book.”

A minute later he said, “No Trepaniers here. Now I'll pull up her emails.”

Rhona continued with the drawers. She felt underneath each pile of T shirts, sweaters, workout clothes, but found nothing. She then removed the drawers to check their undersides and the back interior of the bureau. Again she found nothing.

“We need to know if her real name is Sabrina Trepanier and if she has any family contacts. You may have to scan subject headings to figure that out,” Rhona said.

“I'm ahead of you. I've done a brief run-through. Most correspondence is with quilters, suppliers of fabric, and other people connected to sewing. Now I'm looking in her folders. None labelled family. One for friends in Toronto, one for passwords, one for Aeroplan.”

“Aeroplan. Check that one. If she ever travelled she had to have a passport, and it will have her birth certificate name.”

“Got it. Claire Sabrina Trepanier.”

“Mystery solved.”

“Now to find her family. I'll check filed information and the sent emails. Usually that list is shorter than received.”

“Is there a heading for clients? I thought that was how escort services operated,” Rhona said.

BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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