Authors: Vicki Delany
Also by Vicki Delany
Scare the Light Away
Burden of Memory
In the Shadow of the Glacier
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright © 2007 by Vicki Delany
First Edition 2007
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2007924786
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
To the C&F Friday gang:
Mary O’Brien, Helen Brown, and Jan Toms.
Your loving enthusiasm has made me strong.
The town of Trafalgar in British Columbia has no existence outside of my imagination, and places, people and events set there are entirely fictional (with the notable exception of BC/DC who drop in from their real lives to perform in Trafalgar). However, if you’re looking for a piece of paradise on Earth, you couldn’t do much better than to visit Nelson B.C.
I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Brita Wood and Detective Paul Burkart of the Nelson City Police for answering my many, many questions with patience and a sense of fun while giving me valuable insight into the workings of a small Canadian police department, and to Alex Delany, who provided information on paramedic and firefighting procedures. Any errors are entirely mine. Thanks are also due to Alex for the idea; to Gail Cargo, Julia Vryheid, and Karen Wold for reading the manuscript, providing much-appreciated suggestions, and pointing out glaring errors; to Tomas and Jim, Don and Wendy, and Rose, for letting me play with their names; and to Barbara Peters, Robert Rosenwald, and the dedicated staff at Poisoned Pen for believing in me. Thanks also to Cheryl Freedman and Rick Blechta for the incredible job they do for all of us at Crime Writers of Canada, and to CWC for being such a supportive community.
Many times I’ve been struggling late at night to come up with the right line, and stopped for a few minutes of Warfish to clear my head—thanks to everyone who’s played Warfish with me.
People were of two minds about Reginald (“Call me Reg”) Montgomery. They either hated him or thought he was the best thing to happen to this town in years. He never spoke when a shout would do, and never shouted when a bellow would do even better. Slighter men had been heard to complain that a slap on the back from Reg could send them head first across the room. And as for the women, most of them had learned to take a step backward, out of hugging range, at Reg’s approach. His suits were too loud, his face red and dotted with beads of sweat regardless of the temperature, and his handshake too strong.
But he made a point of shopping at the local stores, rather than the Wal-Mart in Nelson, eating out regularly, usually at family-owned restaurants, and tipping well. Ellie, his wife, had her hair done at Maggie’s Salon on Front Street, bought her clothes from Joanie’s Ladies Wear and contributed generously, in time as well as money, to the hospital and the seniors center.
Reg and Ellie had only been in town for a few months, but in that time he had managed to make a few friends and a good number of enemies.
And, apparently, one person who hated him enough to kill him.
Constable Molly Smith had eaten curried tofu for supper. In retrospect that was a mistake: spicy bile rose into her throat and she swallowed heavily, trying to keep the food in her stomach, where it belonged.
She had seen plenty of traffic injuries, including fatalities. After the first few times, she’d learned to control her stomach and let her mind throw up a shield behind which she could hide from some of the ugliness that was the human body exposed to violent, unexpected death. But she’d never seen anyone who appeared to have been killed by another human being, and for some reason that made it harder for her protective armor to settle into place.
Reg Montgomery lay in the alley; urine stained his beige slacks and blood and brains stained the pavement. He was lying on his back, facing the long twilight of a gentle summer’s evening. Smith turned away and fingered the radio at her shoulder.
“Go ahead, Officer.”
She pressed her hand to her chest, and took a single, deep breath. “I’m…” The word came out as a frightened squeal, and she coughed once to clear her throat. “Smith here. I’m in the alley behind Alphonse’s Bakery on Front Street. That’s just west of Elm. I have a Code 5, suspicious circumstances, and need assistance.”
“Someone will be there shortly, Constable Smith.”
A small animal rustled in the green garbage bags behind the convenience store beside the bakery. She rested her hand on the butt of the Glock at her side and cast the light from her flashlight around the bags. Her nerve endings tingled. If a rat ran out of the shadows, she’d scream. But the garbage fell still.
The scent of the day’s baking lingered around the edges of the alley, blending with the odors of garlic, caramelized onions, and cooking spices from the restaurant on the other side of the bakery. Lights were on in the kitchen, the blinds only partly drawn, and Smith could see the cooks working—a flurry of barely controlled chaos. It was coming up to nine o’clock, on a Thursday night in the middle of tourist season. Feuilles de Menthe, the popular French restaurant, would be in full service frenzy.
The kitchen windows were open and the clatter of crockery, shouted orders, and bursts of laughter poured from the restaurant along with light and the smell of good food cooking. The rest of the alley was quiet.
Smith realized that she was gripping her gun, and forced her fingers to relax. She wiped her palms on the seat of her trousers and told herself she had nothing to fear. If the person responsible for Montgomery’s death had been lingering in the alley, he’d have jumped her before she radioed for help.
She looked up. It was a two-story building, bakery on the street, probably an apartment above. The upper windows were closed, curtains drawn. If he’d fallen, if it had been an accident, he wouldn’t have closed the window behind him. Suicide? No one wanting to kill himself would try a two-story drop, would he? More likely to end up with a broken leg than dead. At a quick glance Smith could see nothing that might have been used as a weapon, and she knew better than to start poking around before the detectives and scene-of-the crime officers arrived.
It had to be murder. There hadn’t been a murder in Trafalgar since she’d joined the police. The average annual murder rate of Trafalgar, British Columbia, was zero.
She stuffed her hands in her pockets to keep them from touching anything, and dropped to her haunches to take a good look at the remains of Reginald Montgomery. She’d seen him around town, glad-handing everyone in sight—you’d have thought he was running for mayor. He’d made a point of being friendly with the entire Trafalgar City Police. She’d heard that he was angling for a place on the police board when an opening next came up. In life, Montgomery hadn’t been an attractive man: a belly that made him look nine months pregnant, thin, badly cut grey hair, a bulbous nose that testified to copious quantities of liquor. In death, now that he was no longer trying his hail-fellow-well-met routine, his face had taken on a repose that almost suited him.
Proud of herself for keeping her stomach contents in place, Smith dared not look too closely at the seepage from the man’s skull: just close enough to see that the blood was still wet, glistening in the poor light from the back of the restaurant.
She started at the blast of a siren, straightened up, and pulled her hands out of her pockets. Headlights flooded the alley; heavy doors slammed. Paramedics unloaded their stretcher and pushed it toward her. A bulky figure passed in front of the ambulance lights.
“Smith,” Chief Constable Paul Keller said, “what have you got here?” His clothes smelled, as always, as if they’d been hanging in a tobacco barn when it caught fire.
“It’s Reginald Montgomery, sir. Of Grizzly Resort?” Her voice squeaked as it always did when she was nervous.
“I was having dinner with my wife and daughter when the dispatcher called. Said you told her suspicious circumstances?”
Oh, God. Let it be so. If I’ve dragged the CC away from his dinner
because Montgomery tripped over his shoelace I’ll be finished.
“Looks that way, sir,” she said.
“Definitely dead,” one of the paramedics said, “visible grey matter.”
The Chief Constable stepped forward to have a closer look.
The investigating detectives wouldn’t be short of suspects. There were two camps in Trafalgar—everyone in town over the age of two either belonged to the group that hated Reg Montgomery, or the one that loved him.
Smith pushed aside the thought that her mother could be counted prominently among the haters and tried to look as if she knew what she should be doing now.
Not long before Constable Molly Smith walked down Elm Street heading for the alley, Rosemary Fitzgerald flipped the sign on the shop window to “closed” with a happy sigh. It had been a good day. A long day, but a good one. She owned a small store on Front Street, between Mid-Kootenay Adventure Vacations and Wolf River Bookstore. The perfect location for her business: making homemade foods suitable to take camping. She also sold a wide selection of packaged and freeze-dried meals and ready-to-eat trail snacks. She and her husband, Ben, had often talked, while sitting around a campfire, or paddling across a lake, about the day when they’d pack their corporate cube-farm jobs in and move to a wilderness town. They’d vacationed in the interior of British Columbia ten years ago, and Ben announced that he’d found his own heaven on earth. But Ben had died, only a year later, struck down by a heart attack working late at the desk he hated. Rosemary continued to dream their dream, and last year she’d retired with a small pension and moved to Trafalgar. She loved her shop, loved being her own boss, and scarcely had time to miss her children back in Toronto.
Rosemary grabbed her backpack, checked that the oven was off, turned down the lights, and let herself into the alley. She locked the back door and turned to get her bike.
The blue bike lock lay on the ground. Rosemary stared at it. Where was her bike? The blue-grey mountain bike had cost more than she wanted to spend, but the town was situated at the bottom of a mountain, so she needed a good, sturdy bike.
She looked around. The stores along the same stretch of Front Street as hers were closed, shadows deep in the darkening alley. A couple of cars drove by on Elm Street; to the west light spilled from the restaurant Feuilles de Menthe.
Leaves of Mint. The scent of garlic and roasting meats drifted toward her. Two shapes stood under the light at the back of the restaurant. Rosemary started toward them, intending to ask if they’d seen her bike, perhaps noticed anyone suspicious hanging around. She soon saw that they were arguing; voices were raised and the fat one was punching his fist into his other hand.
She retreated and let herself back into her shop. The comfortable closeness, the scent of the day’s cooking, the shine of the countertops, the neatness of the cans and packaged goods stacked on the shelves, even her pride in owning her own business, had diminished in the few minutes Rosemary’d been in the alley.
Her car was at home. She didn’t want to waste money on a cab, but it was too far to walk. And tonight, for the first time since she’d driven over the big black bridge across the wide Upper Kootenay River, Rosemary Fitzgerald didn’t feel safe in Trafalgar.
“I think,” John Winters said to the woman across the table, “that if I had to live my life again, I’d meet you in kindergarten so I wouldn’t waste all those years without knowing you.”
The woman laughed and tilted her glass to watch the swirl of red wine move across the sides of the bowl. “You do go on, John.” She leaned back to allow the waiter to slide a plate in front of her. “Thank you.”
Winters scarcely noticed as his own plate was placed on the table. His dinner companion was a highly sought-after model. Men’s heads had turned as they entered the restaurant. Men’s heads always turned when she walked into a room.
She slipped a plump oyster between her pink lips and chewed with delicate bites of white teeth. They were in the dining room of one of the best resorts in the British Columbia Interior, a place well out of the budget of a Sergeant in the Trafalgar City Police. But Winters was determined to make this a very special evening. Wasn’t that why credit cards had been invented? He cast a silent prayer to the god of banking that his card wouldn’t have reached its limit. He’d bought the diamond necklace just this morning, so the charge shouldn’t have been placed on his card yet. He was planning to present her with the gift over dessert, and it would spoil the mood if a sneering waiter rejected the card.