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Authors: Nick Wilkshire

Thin Ice

BOOK: Thin Ice
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Cover
Dedication

For Matt, as you open a new chapter …

PROLOGUE

He hadn't run a step but was already sweating in the cool morning air, his heart racing as he stood on the Somerset footbridge and scanned the jogging path on the other side of the canal. To the north, the bridge was barely visible through the mist that obscured the copper rooftops of the Château Laurier beyond. To the south, he could make out the deserted path to where it snaked right, following the bend in the canal. The chirping of the birds and the distant sound of traffic were all that punctuated the silence.

Maybe he's not coming….

He fought the creeping desperation as he leaned on the railing and watched a dislodged pebble fall into the water below, momentarily absorbed by the echo of the splash and the simple perfection of the circles floating outward from the entry point. Looking up toward the dogleg in the path, he spotted a form rounding the corner, five hundred metres off and heading toward him. He set off over the bridge, and as he reached the other side, the figure came into focus. It was definitely a man, of average height, wearing a running jacket and baseball cap.

It's him!

His heart rate kicked up a notch as he hurried down to the lower path and headed south, glancing across the water at the empty walking path on the other side of the canal and the deserted roadway above. Looking back down the path in front of him, he noted the other jogger was closing fast. The sound of the approaching footfalls were muffled by the shroud of mist, but he felt each one shudder through his spine as they grew closer and he reached into the pouch of his hoodie for the knife. When he looked back at the oncoming runner, he knew something was wrong — the gait and the proportions were all off. He released the knife and slid his hand back out as he passed within a few feet of a man in his forties who flipped him a wave. He lowered his head and kept going until the next bench, looking back over the ground he had just covered, and the other runner's progress past the pedestrian bridge. Glancing at his watch again, he noted the time — six fifteen. Pretty soon, the path would begin to fill with the morning crowd.

If he's not here in the next five minutes …

He headed back toward the bridge at a trot, with the occasional glance over his shoulder to scan the deserted trail. He had only seen two cars on Colonel By Drive in the past ten minutes, but he knew that would soon change. He could feel the air growing warmer as the sun threatened to burn off the morning haze and light the still-murky path.

He was crossing back over the bridge when he spotted another runner at the curve down by Waverly Street. Even from this distance it was clear the guy was
moving
, and would cover the half-kilometre to the bridge in seconds. He turned and set back off down to the path. As he began to jog, he adjusted his hood over the peak of his hat and glanced toward the oncoming form, noticing the purposeful, athletic stride and the wraparound sunglasses, despite the morning mist. He increased his pace as they neared each other, and at about fifty feet he made out the training camp logo that removed any doubt as to the other man's identity. He took a firm grip on the concealed knife and edged closer to the centre of the path as they both entered a shadow cast by one of the larger overhanging maples. As the other jogger wiped some sweat from his brow, he lunged.

The knife plunged deep between the ribs over the upper left chest, the force of the collision thrusting the blade sideways as it tore through flesh and cartilage until it stuck fast in solid bone. Apart from the sickening tearing sound, there was only a muffled groan as the victim reeled off balance and clutched at his chest, disoriented by the sudden attack and unable to counter the powerful momentum that propelled him backwards until the top rung of the iron railing hit the small of his back, gravity suspending him for an instant before toppling him over. Leaning over the rail, the breathless attacker watched the futile attempt to dislodge the knife as the slap of water shattered the silence on the deserted path. He watched with relief as the brownish-green waters of the canal enveloped his wide-eyed victim, with only a succession of ugly, irregular ripples to disturb the calm of the surface and suggest that he had ever existed.

CHAPTER 1

Jack Smith sat on his balcony in the warm morning air, sipping his coffee and trying to ignore the little voice telling him to head down to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. It had been over two weeks since he last smoked, and he had been telling himself he was over the worst, but the same thought had been occurring each morning lately, with increasing intensity.

Why not just have one?

He was almost out of his chair before he recognized his addictive mind's familiar ruse and, knowing he would never stop at one, decided to focus instead on the Saturday paper. He scanned the front page and started reading a story on the Ottawa mayoral race, but soon lost interest. It was a humid morning, with summer lingering into late September with what was likely the final heat wave of the year, an occasion he planned to celebrate in his own way. He was on call for a few more hours, after which he was headed to Toronto, where he would meet up with a bunch of his university buddies to relive the excesses of more carefree times. He smiled as he considered extending his trip by a day or two. He had worked a lot of extra hours over the summer and this would be the first time he had really cut loose in months. He was overdue.

Smith traded the front section of the paper for the sports page, and the latest on Ottawa's off-season coup — the signing of the number one overall pick in the spring draft, Curtis Ritchie. Ever since the announcement of the blockbuster acquisition on draft day, the whole city had buzzed with the possibilities; from a significant boost to the score sheet, to a guaranteed playoff berth, maybe even a shot at the Stanley Cup. At the very least, the deal had ruled out the possibility that the young superstar might end up in Toronto, playing for Ottawa's archrival down Highway 401. As the summer passed and training camp approached, rumours started flying that Ritchie wasn't ready for the big leagues yet, and would be better off developing for a year with the farm team. But whether it was this year or next, there was no doubt he was going to have a major impact.

So he should
, thought Smith,
given the proven players and future draft picks Ottawa had sacrificed to land him
. Ritchie's rookie salary was capped by the league just shy of seven figures, but despite the threatened phasing out of signing bonuses in the next collective agreement between the league and players, Ritchie had gotten a substantial one — rumoured to be several million. That was peanuts though, compared to the long-term, multi-million-dollar contract predicted by the pundits once his first couple of seasons were out of the way — and he was only eighteen years old. No wonder the press had tagged him “Ritchie Rich.”

Smith had always loved hockey, and though his skills on the ice got him considerable respect at the frequent police tournaments, Junior B in St. John's was the highest level he had ever achieved. He had been invited to a couple of feeder camps as a teenager and been given a look by some scouts, but nothing concrete had ever developed. Part of the problem was that his size and ability to handle himself with the gloves off made him more attractive as an enforcer than the type of player he had aspired to be. But even with any dream of turning pro long gone, Smith still followed the game with interest. He was reading the latest training camp gossip when the ring tone of his cell shattered his peace. At seven thirty on a Saturday morning, it could only be one person.

“Three hours,” he said, after reaching in and plucking his cell phone off the kitchen counter. “That's how long I've got before I hit the road, you hear me?”

“Relax, Smitty, I'm sure your little boozefest won't be affected, but we do have a call.”

“What is it?”

“Body in the canal.”

“Really? Some homeless guy?” Smith knew it wouldn't be the first.

“I'm headed there now, about five minutes away from your place.”

Smith looked out at the grey clouds forming in the distance, threatening to spoil an otherwise perfect day. It was unlike his partner not to have more information, which could only mean they would be first on the scene.

“See you downstairs.”

“So what have we got?” Smith said, sliding into the passenger seat as David Marshall pulled the car away from the curb. Although the two had only been partners for a few years, they enjoyed a familiarity that suggested a much longer connection. As the most senior investigator in the Major Crimes Unit, Marshall had seen more than his fair share of murder and mayhem in his years with both the Toronto and Ottawa police forces. Jaded by office politics and plagued by a long-standing back injury, he had been considering early retirement around the time Smith arrived in Ottawa, just over three years ago. He had watched the troubled integration of the Unit's newest arrival with interest, as Smith had fought for acceptance among his peers — a process made more difficult by the quirky Irish brogue that had followed him all the way from Torbay, Newfoundland. He had been impressed by Smith's abilities as an investigator, but mostly with his pluck; especially when the outsider had put a decisive end to a series of Newfie jokes in a brawl that had netted his tormentor a busted lip and a bloody nose. Smith may have made an enemy or two that day, but the jokes had stopped, and everybody stuck to “Smitty” within his earshot, which seemed to suit him just fine. Whether it was because he felt a duty to mentor the new kid, or just because of the vicarious energy Marshall seemed to derive from the arrangement, he hadn't resisted being partnered with Smith and had decided to stick around. Most days, he seemed glad he had.

“I was in Mechanicsville when I heard the traffic and called in myself. I figured maybe we can rule ourselves out early if it's some boozer who took his last dip.”

“And save my trip — good thinking.” Smith offered a package of gum. “What were you doing down there, anyway?”

“Hockey, what else?” Marshall snapped out a piece and popped it in his mouth. “Bobby's got sort-outs all weekend at Tom Brown Arena.”

“I guess it's that time of year.” It seemed odd to Smith to be playing hockey when the mercury was still hitting the thirties.

They made their way quickly through the light weekend traffic to the west side of the Rideau Canal and parked at the end of Somerset, where the path was cordoned off and a uniform stood guard.

“What have we got?”

“Just pulling him out now,” the young constable replied, escorting them through a thin crowd clad mostly in running gear. “A jogger noticed a body floating upside down, twenty feet from shore, and called it in.”

“He's here?” Marshall asked, as they made their way down to the lower path, to where the divers were pulling the body toward the iron railing that lined the canal.

“Waiting for you up there, when you're done.”

“There goes my homeless theory,” Smith said, as they approached the railing and the victim's lower half came into view.

“What do you mean?”

“Look at those shoes. They're the new Nikes. They're, like, two hundred bucks.”

“Could still be an accident,” Marshall said. “Maybe he was stretching by the rail and …”

“Holy Shit,” the uniform blurted, as the divers turned the body over to pull it up over the rail, and the knife handle came into view, buried to the hilt in the victim's chest, above a large stain in the light grey T-shirt.

“You might want to rethink your trip to T.O., Smitty,” Marshall said, as Smith moved closer, staring open-mouthed as the diver pulled back sodden strands of hair from the victim's face.

Marshall was intrigued by his partner's reaction, given that they had both seen enough bodies over the years to have developed a healthy detachment.

“What's the matter?”

“Mother of Christ,” Smith gasped, as he looked from the victim's face to the official training camp T-shirt, half of the logo stained in blood. “It's him.”

“Who?”

“It's Ritchie Ri —” he stammered. “It's Curtis Ritchie.”

BOOK: Thin Ice
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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