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Authors: Joan Boswell

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BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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Brownelly leaned back, steepled his fingers and stared at her. “We should try this on a trial basis.”

The social worker spoke up. “Nothing is ever permanent. People and circumstances change. We want our charges in happy homes and we believe stability is important, but sometimes things don't work out. We will be keeping an eye on Jay and assessing her situation.”

Now Willem reached over and tapped her knee. “Come back, come back, wherever you are.”

Hollis shook her head. “Sorry, I was thinking about Jay's dad. He made me uneasy. They're supposed to have supervised visits at the CAS offices.”

Willem rubbed his chin and regarded Hollis. Then he held up his hands and used one finger to tick the fingers on his other hand.

“First, you want to keep Jay safe. Second, you're not comfortable about her father.” He tilted his head to one side as if listening to a speaker Hollis couldn't hear. “He
is
her father, so he has the right to see her. We don't know why the CAS wants them to meet in their offices. And, unless the CAS knows something they haven't told you, I'm assuming he could take her back at any time.” He tapped a third finger. “There are predators who hang out in the Eaton Centre.” He placed his hands in his lap. “There is no way you or anyone else should allow an eleven-year-old to go there alone.”

“Thanks. That's what I think too, but I'll park that problem until I figure out what to do about Crystal and Mary. How can I persuade Crystal to talk about her aunt?”

“If she doesn't want to she won't, but we have to wonder why. What secret is she hiding?

He'd said
we
. He'd bought into the problem.

“Where does Mary work?” Willem asked.

“A restaurant on Jarvis Street where she's been for years. If she's a good waitress I wonder why she hasn't applied to a more upscale place where she'd make more money and get better tips.”

“Interesting question. If she ever comes back you should ask. Which First Nation does she belong to?”

“There's a huge poster of an Indian chief in her apartment, but I don't know who he is or where he comes from. Maybe Crystal knows.”

Willem got up and refilled Hollis's glass. Hollis looked surprised. “Boy, I swilled that down, didn't I? Better slow down or I won't be able to talk, let alone think.”

“Should Crystal stay with you? What did her aunt say?”

“I'll play it for you. Come out to the kitchen.”

After they heard the short message, Willem, fresh beer in hand, said, “I agree. You must keep her for a few days. As a man about to attend law school, I'd hazard a guess that the message protects you for a while. It gives you breathing room.”

“Thanks. That's what I thought. Enough about me and my problems. On Sunday you planned to tell your family about your decision to turn your life around and become a lawyer. Tell me how they reacted.”

Willem poured cashews from the container into his hand. He shook his head. “I can't resist these. How do you think they reacted? They're Eastern Europeans and extremely proud of their son, Herr Doktor Professor. They can't accept that I believe I can do more good as a lawyer. My mother cries and my father says nothing.”

“Do you still believe it's the right decision?”

“I do. Let's sit down.”

This time they didn't talk. Safe in his embrace, Hollis felt the day's tension slip away. She'd worry about Mary later.

Hollis and Willem moved from the couch to Hollis's bedroom, where they jettisoned their clothes before collapsing into bed.

“You're beautiful,” Willem murmured as his hands explored her body.

A scream from the second bedroom stopped all action. They jumped apart.

“What the heck?” Hollis said.

A second scream ripped the night's silence.

Hollis slipped out of bed, reached in the cupboard for her terrycloth bathrobe, and hurried from the room.

In the girls' room she flipped on the light and found Jay hugging Crystal, who sobbed uncontrollably. Jay looked up when the light went on.

“She's scared,” she said.

Hollis lowered herself to the trundle and gathered the girls into her arms. The three of them rocked and Hollis patted their backs for several minutes until Crystal's sobs slowed. Hollis released them and sat back.

“I had a terrible dream,” Crystal said.

“Do you want to tell us about it?” Hollis asked.

“I don't think so. It will make it seem even more real.”

“Or not so real,” Jay said.

Crystal shook her head. “No. It was awful.” Her face crumpled and she hugged herself as tears flowed down her cheeks. “I saw my mother.” She couldn't say more.

Hollis rocked the two girls until Crystal's sobbing turned into hiccups. “Maybe we should go in the kitchen and see if a mug of hot milk would help,” Hollis suggested.

Crystal nodded. “I'm afraid to go to sleep, afraid I'll see it happen again.”

Happen again! What had the poor child seen? Her mother was dead. Could she have seen her die? Hollis didn't want to press, didn't want to stir up any more memories.

“Let's go. Nothing like a midnight snack to drive away bad dreams.”

“Is Willem still here?” Jay asked.

As she spoke Willem appeared in the doorway, fully dressed. “I am and I'm on my way home.”

“Join us for a glass of warm milk,” Hollis said.

Willem made a face. “Not my drink of choice, and it's time I headed home anyway. Big day tomorrow.” He stepped into the room, bent down, kissed Hollis, patted the girls' shoulders and left.

So much for their romantic evening. Hollis hadn't factored in what having an eleven-year-old living with her would do to her sex life. When she and Willem decided he wouldn't ever stay overnight, because if he did Hollis wouldn't be a good role model for Jay, Hollis hadn't considered the price. The decision was one thing but the reality was another. Hollis hated having him depart after they'd made love and missed overnights at his apartment. She was going to have to work something out, but now was not the time to solve the problem.

By midnight the girls were back in bed. Hollis didn't feel like sleeping and wished she could return to Mary's apartment, but, like all the dogs she'd ever owned, MacTee and Barlow went off duty at nine. Even had she turned on the monitor and the dogs took on guard duty, she couldn't leave the girls when Crystal's nightmare might return.

She curled up on the couch and planned the next day's activities. After she walked the girls to school she'd visit the restaurant to see if Bridget, the woman who'd left the warning message on the answering machine, worked there. She crossed her fingers, because if Bridget wasn't there, she couldn't imagine how to find her. If Bridget couldn't tell her anything useful she'd trek to the Anishnawbe Health Centre looking for information. Her best source would have been Crystal, but unless the situation changed, Hollis wouldn't get anything from her.

A light flashed in her brain. She hadn't closely examined the methadone container, which had to have the user's name on it. Once she looked at it she'd float the name past the women working in the restaurant and at the Native Friendship centre.

Someone had to know something.

TWELVE

Opie's snoring woke Rhona at six. She opened her eyes to see Opie's head inches from hers on the pillow. She pushed the cat to the floor and clambered out of bed. He stalked off, back high and tail swishing.

Showered, dressed, and makeup applied, with a travel mug of high-test coffee in hand, she headed for the office. When she turned up at seven expecting to have the homicide office to herself, she found Ian at his desk and several other detectives also there.

Ian waved as she crossed the room.

“Any leads?” Rhona asked.

“I've contacted the RCMP in North Battleford to ask for any information they have on Ginny Wuttenee and Donald Hill. It's earlier out there, so I don't expect anything for several hours. Should know if any of the apartment tenants have a record in a few minutes.”

“I'm going to the coroner's office at nine, want to come?”

Ian shook his head. He'd never admitted to Rhona that he felt squeamish at autopsies, but Rhona suspected he did. He had opened up enough to admit that he and his mother had identified his brother who'd been killed in a car crash, and ever after Ian had trouble visiting the morgue.

“I'll go. You keep checking. When I come back we'll examine all the security camera records and solicit help to identify as many people as possible.”

“Sabrina's journal or notebook. You or me?” Ian asked.

“I'll start it now before I attend the autopsy,” Rhona said. “I'll mark any puzzling notations and later we'll interview Ms. Nesrallah and Ms. Wuttenee to see what they can tell us.”

Rhona filled her coffee mug at the departmental coffee centre, glad they'd all chipped in and bought a decent machine that dispensed one cup at a time. She didn't approve of the waste using one metal and plastic container for each cup of coffee, but she suppressed her guilt because the coffee was good and she needed those jolts of caffeine to keep her going. Sucking down several mouthfuls, she savoured the flavour and the revitalizing effect before she began Sabrina's diary and made notes for her interview with Ms. Nesrallah.

Here again Sabrina exhibited the level of organization they'd observed in her bedroom. Sabrina had slipped a photo of a quilt, not a traditional quilt but what Rhona had heard described as an art quilt, inside the plastic cover. Having seen Sabrina's detailed plans for her business, Rhona suspected the photo was a constant reminder of the reason for working as an escort and a motivation to do whatever it took to maximize tips.

Rhona began with the most recent entries. On the evening before she was murdered Sabrina had written,
‘Dave - opera - Carmen - dinner at Carlu. Pink silk dress and pink coat. Bone up on the opera.'
The security tape would show their return and Dave's departure.

In the afternoon Sabrina had marked
‘12 - Brian.'
Nothing else. Rhona flipped through the book. Brian visited every Monday. A regular on his lunch hour.

Three days before the murder she'd noted
‘John?'
with a black “x” next to the name. This encounter had not been a success.

Ian, on the phone, covered the mouthpiece and held up two fingers. “Two with records,” he said and returned to his conversation.

Rhona continued making notes.

“Guess which two have had brushes with the law,” Ian said after he hung up and sauntered over.

“Too early for twenty questions. Tell me.”

“Barney Cartwright, the blustery man who huffed and puffed because he had a plane to catch.”

“What was the charge?”

“He's in that motorcycle gang, the Black Hawks, and was charged with money laundering. Did two years less a day,” Ian said.

“The Black Hawks. They're in a territorial fight to the death battle with the Hell's Angels. The guns and gangs squad have its hands full.”

“True. I hate to say this, but if they kill each other that's one thing. But it's the innocent bystanders that pay the price. Remember when a middle-aged woman was killed in the crossfire when the two gangs shot it out on a downtown street at noon. They've kidnapped, tortured — it really does seem to be a fight to the death. “

“High stakes. Big bucks to be made,” Rhona said.

“A Black Hawk. Interesting. He said he only recently moved in. I wonder why? Can't see him murdering Ms. Trepanier. Bigger fish to fry but we'll keep him in the picture.”

“Who was the other one?” Rhona asked.

“Tim O'Toole.”

“The night man. I'd guess he was charged under the voyeurism or trespassing at night provisions.”

“Right on. Trespassing at night and photographing through windows. I'd guess he told us he goes out at night because he knew we'd check, and it was better if the information came from him,” Ian said.

“Years ago I would have said that wouldn't lead him to worse things, but not any more, not after the murder convictions of that former military commander at Trenton,” Rhona said.

Ian tapped his pen on the desk. “That was a case study, wasn't it? Charged with assaults and two murders, and apparently his crime spree began when he stole underwear. Never wise to assume a peeper won't progress to more heinous crimes.”

“O'Toole. Ordinary-looking guy but who knows,” Rhona said. “For the moment he stays on the list.” She glanced at the wall clock. “Time for the autopsy.”

No last-minute change of heart for Ian.

The pathology facilities were located in the basement, well away from the daily business of police headquarters. Rhona traipsed from the homicide office to the elevator to the basement and along a lengthy unadorned concrete hall until she reached the unmarked door and entered.

The chill always caught her unawares, and she'd come to associate that particular dank cold with the unpleasantness of the autopsy.

The pathologist, thin, angular Dr. Lee, greeted her and preceded her into the room, where a sheet-shrouded figure awaited them. Dr. Lee had laid out his assortment of scalpels, clamps, and saws. He uncovered the body, turned on his microphone, and began his meticulous inspection of what had been the beautiful Sabrina Trepanier.

“She died instantly. I'd say he clamped a hand on her head to keep her still. That would have woken her, but before she could react he slashed her throat from ear to ear.

“Right- or left-handed?” Rhona asked.

“Definitely right.”

“Have you established the time of death?”

“Impossible to be precise, but between one and two in the morning.”

Dr. Lee removed and weighed the victim's organs. That done, he examined the stomach contents.

“She ate two or three hours before she died,” he said.

For Rhona his information confirmed that Sabrina and her escort had eaten dinner after the opera.

Dr. Lee made more observations on Sabrina's good health and carefully tended body, and Rhona's attention wandered as she considered Sabrina's quilt shop.

“She had a baby several years ago, probably when she was still a teenager. It was a difficult birth.”

A baby. Where did that fit into the pattern of Sabrina's life? Was that the reason she was estranged from her family? Did it relate to her murder?

Back in the homicide office Rhona shared the autopsy results with Ian. Knowing that Sabrina Trepanier had died in the early morning helped, as did the information that the killer was strong and right-handed. Whether Sabrina having borne a child was relevant would only become apparent as the investigation continued.

“I heard from the Mounties. Hill has no record with them nor, does Ginny Wuttenee, although the officer I talked to said she could have been picked up many times for being drunk.” Ian frowned. “He was really dismissive about Aboriginals. No wonder they have problems out there if there are many officers like him.”

“It was early. Maybe he had a bad shift, had a crying baby that kept him up all night. People sometimes say things they don't really mean.” Even as she spoke Rhona acknowledged to herself that she knew what he meant. She remembered summers on the reserve. She'd felt embarrassed when the storekeeper or the Indian agent spoke rudely to them. When she'd asked why her grandmother didn't tell them to mind their manners, her grandmother said, “They don't know any better. There's no point trying to change them.”

Ian chewed on his lower lip and shook his head. “I don't think there was a reason. He sounded mean. As if he had no use for Aboriginals and hated the policing that he did in Battleford.”

“The Sisters in Spirit report claimed that deep-seated prejudice is one reason so many missing women haven't been found and the killers of murdered women haven't been caught.”

Ian leaned back, clasped his hands behind his head, and stretched. “Easy enough for them or for us to say, but you've been a beat cop. You know what it's like to pick up drunks who puke all over the car, themselves, and you if they get the chance. It tends to prejudice you against whoever is doing it and in western Canada …” He shrugged. “Anyway, bottom line, he wasn't any help as far as learning anything about Ginny Wuttenee, but he told me he'd ask around and to phone him again.”

“Too bad, but maybe he'll turn up more info. I'm writing up what we've done so far.” Rhona was bent over her paperwork — the unavoidable bane of a police officer's life. She pulled the stack of documents requiring her attention out of her in basket and booted up her computer. Thankfully, computers lessened the burden.

“I used Canada 411 to locate Trepaniers in the Oakville area. She may be listed under her husband's name if she has one, but I found two possibilities. Both with the initial M. I've shot off an inquiry to Motor Vehicles, so we'll soon know if a Marie France Trepanier lists either address on her driver's license. The guy I spoke to said he'd get back to me pronto,” Ian said as his phone buzzed. “Thanks, got that, very helpful. Thanks again.”

He stood up. “Got it. Time to go, although I hate doing this. You ready or do you want to put it off?”

“I'm always ready to postpone paperwork, although I agree with you that informing the next of kin is one of the worst parts of the job.” She swivelled to face Ian. “Waiting won't make it any easier. We'll pick up an unmarked from the pool.” She opened a file folder on her desk and removed Sabrina's photo.

“I
really
hate this,” Ian muttered as they took the elevator downstairs.

“You remember your brother,” Rhona said.

“I do. It's a painful experience and everyone's first instinct is to deny, to say that it can't possibly be true, that we've made a mistake.”

“If Mrs. Trepanier has been estranged from her daughter for years it will be even more harrowing, because she'll have to face the fact that she'll never have the opportunity to make things right.”

As they approached the car Rhona suggested Ian drive out and she drive back. Traffic at nine a.m. would be heavy, not that it ever slacked off much. The Gardiner Expressway and Queen Elizabeth Way, commonly referred to as the QEW, ground to a halt during the morning and evening rush hours but seldom flowed freely. Construction season had begun in May and they could expect delays.

“Maybe on the way home we'll take the Lakeshore. It's stop and go through every little burg, but at least it's close to the lake and it's pretty.”

“This isn't bad right here,” Ian said, waving an arm at what they could see of Lake Ontario. “The city fathers and mothers sure screwed it up, didn't they? We could have had a lakefront like Chicago instead of railway lines, expressways, and high rises blocking access and the view.”

Away from the downtown they made better time, and by ten they'd exited on Ford Drive and headed south toward Lake Ontario and Mrs. Trepanier's home.

When they buzzed the Trepanier condo, Rhona half-hoped no one would be there, although they required information if they were going to solve the case. The chief had emphasized the need for speed.

“Yes?” A woman's voice boomed through the speaker.

“Marie France Trepanier?”

“Yes.”

“Toronto Police.” Rhona located the security camera and held up their warrant cards, although there would be no way the woman could read them.

“Yes.”

“May we come in?”

“What is this about?” the voice asked suspiciously.

To tell or not to tell her over the intercom? “Do you have a daughter, Sabrina?”

“Oh my god,” Mrs. Trepanier whispered and buzzed them in.

They walked up the steps to an already open door on the second floor, where a woman and a white-muzzled Golden Retriever awaited them. At one time the woman must have been as beautiful as her daughter. Her hair, shining silver, was twisted into a French knot. Her oval face, remarkably unlined, and her clear dark blue eyes fringed with long black lashes looked very like the photo of Sabrina. Rhona enjoyed magazine articles, usually published to coincide with Mother's Day, of mothers and famous daughters. If Sabrina and Marie France had appeared in such an article, there would have been no doubt about their relationship.

“What has happened to her?” Mrs. Trepanier asked as she continued to block the doorway.

“You are Sabrina's mother?” Rhona said as they clustered around the door.

“I am. We call her Claire.” She appeared to realize that they couldn't conduct the conversation where they stood. “Come in.”

Followed by the dog, she ushered them through a hall into a bright living room overlooking Lake Ontario. A stiff May wind whipped the water into whitecaps, but, despite this, a few brave and hardy sailors piloted their boats through the waves.

“Please, sit down.” She indicated two cream sofas facing one another on either side of a fireplace.

Rhona, conscious as ever about her height, chose a small rose-coloured wing chair while Ian and Mrs. Trepanier sat opposite each other on the sofas. The dog lay at her feet.

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