Verdict in blood, p.1

Verdict in Blood, page 1

 

Verdict in Blood
 


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Verdict in Blood


  ACCLAIM FOR GAIL BOWEN AND

  THE JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES

  “Bowen is one of those rare, magical mystery writers readers love not only for her suspense skills but for her stories’ elegance, sense of place and true-to-life form.… A master of ramping up suspense”

  – Ottawa Citizen

  “Bowen can confidently place her series beside any other being produced in North America.”

  – Halifax Chronicle-Herald

  “Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries are small works of elegance that assume the reader of suspense is after more than blood and guts, that she is looking for the meaning behind a life lived and a life taken.”

  – Calgary Herald

  “Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility.”

  – Publishers Weekly

  “Gail Bowen got the recipe right with her series on Joanne Kilbourn.”

  – Vancouver Sun

  “What works so well [is Bowen’s] sense of place – Regina comes to life – and her ability to inhabit the everyday life of an interesting family with wit and vigour.… Gail Bowen continues to be a fine mystery writer, with a protagonist readers can invest in for the long run.”

  – National Post

  “Gail Bowen is one of Canada’s literary treasures.”

  – Ottawa Citizen

  OTHER JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES

  BY GAIL BOWEN

  The Nesting Dolls

  The Brutal Heart

  The Endless Knot

  The Last Good Day

  The Glass Coffin

  Burying Ariel

  A Killing Spring

  A Colder Kind of Death

  The Wandering Soul Murders

  Murder at the Mendel (U.S. ed., Love and Murder)

  Deadly Appearances

  Copyright © 1998 by Gail Bowen

  All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Bowen, Gail, 1942-

  Verdict in blood : a Joanne Kilbourn mystery / Gail Bowen.

  eISBN: 978-1-55199-614-1

  I. Title.

  PS8553.O8995V47 2011 C813.′54 C2011-900309-0

  We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.

  Published simultaneously in the United States of America by

  McClelland & Stewart Ltd., P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2011925609

  Cover design: Terri Nimmo

  Cover image: Verdateo/Dreamstime.com

  McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

  75 Sherbourne Street

  Toronto, Ontario

  M5A 2P9

  www.mcclelland.com

  v3.1

  For

  Bert Bartholomew

  June 12, 1913 – April 9, 1997

  Hazel Wren Bowen

  June 12, 1914 – February 26, 1998

  and

  Madeleine Wren Bowen-Diaz

  Born Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998

  ~

  With thanks to Jennifer Cook, R.N. and Mickey Rostoker, M.D., for advice on medical matters; to Heather Nord, B.A., LLB, for wise counsel on the law, and to Ted Bowen, for thirty years of friendship, laughter, and love.

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  About the Author

  CHAPTER

  1

  When the phone on my bedside table shrilled in the early hours of Labour Day morning, I had the receiver pressed to my ear before the second ring. Eli Kequahtooway, the sixteen-year-old nephew of the man in my life, had been missing since 4:00 the previous afternoon. It wasn’t the first time that Eli had taken off, but the fact that he’d disappeared before didn’t ease my mind about the dangers waiting for him in a world that didn’t welcome runaways, especially if they were aboriginal.

  I was braced for the worst. I got it, but not from the quarter I was expecting.

  My caller’s voice was baritone rubbed by sandpaper. “This is Detective Robert Hallam of the Regina City Police,” he said. “Am I speaking to Hilda McCourt?”

  “No,” I said. “I’m Joanne Kilbourn. Miss McCourt is staying with me for the weekend, but I’m sure she’s asleep by now. Can’t this wait until morning?”

  Detective Hallam made no attempt to disguise his frustration. “Ms. Kilbourn, this is not a casual call. If I’d wanted to recruit a block captain for Neighbourhood Watch, I would have waited. Unfortunately for all of us, a woman’s been murdered, and your friend seems to be our best bet for establishing the victim’s identity. Now, why don’t you do the sensible thing and bring Ms. McCourt to the phone. Then I can get the information I need, and you can go back to bed.”

  Hilda was eighty-three years old. I shrank from the prospect of waking her up to deal with a tragedy, but as I walked down the hall to the guest room, I could see the light under her door. When I knocked, she answered immediately. Even propped up in bed reading, Hilda was a striking figure. When the actress Claudette Colbert died, a graceful obituary noted that, among her many talents, Claudette Colbert wore pyjamas well. Hilda McCourt shared that gift. The pyjamas she was wearing were black silk, tailored in the clean masculine lines of women’s fashions in the forties. With her brilliant auburn hair exploding like an aureole against the pillow behind her, there was no denying that, like Claudette Colbert, Hilda McCourt radiated star power.

  She leaned forward. “I heard the phone,” she said.

  “It’s for you, Hilda,” I said. “It’s the police. They need your help.” I picked up her robe from the chair beside the window and held it out to her. “You can take the call in my room.”

  She slipped into her robe, a magnificent Chinese red silk shot through with gold, and straightened her shoulders. “Thank you, Joanne,” she said. “I’ll enlighten you when I’m enlightened.”

  After she left, I picked up the book she’d been reading. Geriatric Psychiatry: A Handbook. It was an uncharacteristic choice. Hilda was a realist about her age. She quoted Thomas Dekker approvingly, “Age is like love; it cannot be hid,” but she never dwelled on growing old, and her mind was as sharp as her spirit was indomitable. While I waited for her, I glanced at the book’s table of contents. The topics were weighty: “The Dementias”; “Delirium and Other Organic Mental Disorders”; “Psychoses”; “Anxiety and Related Personality Dysfunctions”; “Diagnosing Depression.” Uneasy, I leafed through the book. Its pages were heavily annotated in a strong but erratic hand which I was relieved to see was not my old friend’s. The writer had entered into a kind of running dialogue with the authors of the text, but the entries were personal, not scholarly. I
stopped at a page listing the criteria for a diagnosis of dementia. The margins were black with what appeared to be self-assessments. I felt a pang of guilt as sharp as if I’d happened upon a stranger’s diary.

  Hilda wasn’t gone long. When she came back, she pulled her robe around her as if she were cold and sank onto the edge of the bed.

  “Let me get you some tea,” I said.

  “Tea’s a good idea, but we’d better use the large pot,” she said. “The detective I was speaking to is coming over.”

  “Hilda, what’s going on?”

  She adjusted the dragon’s-head fastening at the neck of her gown. “The police were patrolling Wascana Park tonight, and they found a body sprawled over one of those limestone slabs at the Boy Scout memorial. There was nothing on the victim to identify her, but there was a slip of paper in her jacket pocket.” Hilda’s face was grim. “Joanne, the paper had my name on it and your telephone number.”

  “Then you know who she is,” I said.

  Hilda nodded. “I’m afraid I do,” she said. “I think it must be Justine Blackwell.”

  “The judge,” I said. “But you were just at her party tonight.”

  “I was,” Hilda said, stroking the dragon’s head thoughtfully. “That book you’re holding belongs to her. There’d been some disturbing developments in her life, and she wanted my opinion on them. I left your number with her because she was going to call me later today.”

  “Come downstairs, and we’ll have that tea,” I said.

  “I’d like to dress first,” Hilda said. “I wouldn’t be comfortable receiving a member of the police force in my robe.”

  I’d just plugged in the kettle when the phone rang again. It was Alex Kequahtooway. “Jo, I know it’s late, but you said to call as soon as I heard from Eli.”

  “He called you?”

  “He’s back. He was here when I got home.”

  “Oh, Alex, I’m so glad. Is he okay?”

  “I don’t know. When I walked in, he’d just got out of the shower. He went into his room and started taking fresh clothes out of his drawers. Jo, he didn’t say a word to me. It was as if I wasn’t there. At first, I thought he was on something, but I’ve seen kids wasted on just about every substance there is, and this is different.”

  “Have you called Dr. Rayner?”

  “I tried her earlier in the evening. I thought Eli might have got in touch with her, but there was no answer. Of course, it’s a holiday weekend. I’m going to call again, but if I don’t connect, I’m going to take Eli down to emergency. I hate to bring in another shrink, but I just don’t know what to do for him, and I don’t want to blow it.”

  “You won’t,” I said. “Eli’s going to be fine. He’s come a long way this summer. Most importantly, he has you.”

  “And you think that’s enough?” Alex asked, and I could hear the ache.

  “I know that’s enough.”

  For a beat there was silence, then Alex, who was suspicious of words, said what he didn’t often say. “I love you, Jo.”

  “I love you, too.” I took a breath. “Alex, there’s something else. About ten minutes ago, Hilda got a phone call from a colleague of yours. There was a murder in the park tonight. It looks like the victim was Hilda’s friend Justine Blackwell. I’m afraid Detective Hallam – that’s the officer who’s coming over – is going to ask Hilda to identify the body. I don’t want her to have to go through that.”

  “She shouldn’t have to,” Alex said. “There are a hundred people in this city who know Justice Blackwell. Someone else can make the ID – I’ll take care of it. And, Jo, pass along a message to Hilda for me, would you? Tell her not to let Bob Hallam get under her skin. He can be a real jerk.”

  “I’ll warn her,” I said. “Alex, I’m so thankful that Eli’s back.”

  “Me too,” he said. “God, this has been a lousy night.”

  As I poured boiling water into the Brown Betty, Alex’s words stayed with me. It had been a lousy night, which had come hard on the heels of a lousy day. The problem was, as it had been so often in the past few months, Eli.

  He was a boy whose young life had been shadowed by trouble: a father who disappeared before he was born and a temperament composed of equal parts intelligence, anger, and raw sensitivity. Driven by furies he could neither understand nor control, Eli became a runaway who spattered his trail with spray-painted line drawings of horses, graffiti that identified him as definitively as a fingerprint. His capacity for self-destruction seemed limitless. He was also the most vulnerable human being I had ever met. Alex told me once that when he’d heard a biographer of Tchaikovsky say that the composer had been “a child of glass,” he had thought of his nephew.

  From the day he was born, the centre of Eli’s life had been his mother. The previous May, Karen Kequahtooway was killed in a car accident. Eli had been sitting in the seat beside her. His physical injuries healed quickly, but the lacerations to his psyche had been devastating. The child of glass had shattered. For weeks, Eli’s anguish translated itself into a kind of free-floating rage that exploded in graffiti and hurled itself against whoever was luckless enough to cross his path. On more than one occasion, that person was me. But as the summer days grew shorter, the grief and fury that had clouded Eli’s life began to lift. For the first time since Karen’s death, Eli appeared to be seeing a future for himself, and Alex and I had allowed ourselves the luxury of hope.

  Then everything fell apart.

  At first, it seemed as if the gods were smiling. When she arrived for the weekend, Hilda surprised Alex and Eli and my kids and me with tickets for the annual Labour Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. As we settled into our seats on the fifty-five-yard line, Alex and I grinned at each other. The seats were perfect. So was the weather, which was hot and still. And on the opening kickoff, the Riders’ kick returner broke through the first wave of tacklers and scampered into the endzone for a touchdown. All signs pointed to a banner day.

  From the beginning of our relationship, Alex and I had been careful not to use the fact that Eli and my son, Angus, were both sixteen as justification for asking them to move in lockstep. We had hoped for the best and left it to them to find each other. That Sunday, they were sitting a few seats away in the row behind us, and as their game patter and laughter drifted towards us, it seemed our strategy was working.

  At the beginning of the third quarter, Angus announced that he and Eli were going to get nachos; they bought their food and started back, but somewhere between the concession stand and their seats, Eli disappeared. There were twenty-five thousand people at Taylor Field that day, so looking for Eli hadn’t been easy, but we’d done our best. After the game, we checked the buses on the west side of the stadium. When we couldn’t find Eli, we went back inside the stadium and waited until the stands emptied. There was always the possibility that he had simply lost track of where we were sitting. But we couldn’t find him, and as we walked through the deserted parking lot it was clear that, as he had on many occasions, Eli had simply run away. The rest of the day was spent in the dismally familiar ritual of checking out Eli’s haunts and calling the bus station and listening to a recorded voice announce the times when the buses that might have carried Eli away from his demons left the city. Now, without explanation, he was back, and it seemed that all we could do was hold our breath and wait until next time.

  Detective Hallam arrived just as I was carrying the tray with the teapot and cups into the living room. On my way to the front door, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the hall mirror and flinched. I was tanned from a summer at the lake, and the week before I’d had my hair cut in a style which I was relieved to see fell into place on its own, but after I’d talked to Alex, I only had time to splash my face, brush my teeth, and throw on the first two items I found in the clean laundry: an old pair of jogging shorts and a Duran Duran T-shirt from my oldest daughter’s abandoned collection of rock memorabilia. I was dressed for com
fort not company, but when I opened the door, I saw that Hilda’s caller was dapper enough for both of us.

  Robert Hallam appeared to be in his mid-sixties. He was a short, trim man with a steel-grey crewcut, a luxuriant bush of a moustache, and a thin, ironic smile. It was a hot night, but he was wearing meticulously pressed grey slacks, a black knit shirt, and a salt-and-pepper tweed jacket. He nodded when I introduced myself, then walked into the living room ahead of me, checked out the arrangement of the furniture, dragged a straight-backed chair across the carpet and positioned it next to the couch so he’d be able to look down at whoever sat next to him. He turned down my offer of tea, and when Hilda came into the room, he didn’t rise. As far as I was concerned, Detective Hallam was off to a bad start.

  He motioned Hilda to the place on the couch nearest him. “Sit down,” he said. “Inspector Ke-quah-too-way has informed me that we don’t need you to make the ID any more, so this may be a waste of time for both of us.”

  Hilda remained standing. From the set of her jaw as she looked down at the detective, I could see that she had missed neither Robert Hallam’s derisive smile when he mentioned Alex’s rank nor the exaggerated care with which he pronounced Alex’s surname. She shot him a glance that would have curdled milk, then, with great deliberation, she walked to the end of the couch farthest from him and sat down.

  The flush spread from Robert Hallam’s neck to his face. He stood, grabbed his chair, and took it to where Hilda was sitting. Then he perched on the edge and pulled out a notepad.

  “I’ll need your full name, home address, and telephone number,” he said tightly.

  After Hilda gave him the information, he narrowed his eyes at her. “How old are you, Ms. McCourt?”

  “It’s Miss McCourt,” Hilda said. “And I don’t see that my age is germane.”

  “The issue is testimonial capacity,” he snapped. “I have to decide whether I can trust your ability to make truthful and accurate statements.”

 
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