On my twenty-first birthday, I confronted Dad about the murder of my mother when I was eight years old, and reminded him of the vow I made to catch her killer. This time I wouldn’t let it go, even when he yelled at me to stop. It turned into a total disaster. Dad wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. That ended my birthday celebration.
— From the diary of Rebecca Sarah Bradley (May 7, 2004)
Constable Rebecca Bradley didn’t usually go home at lunchtime, but she had a headache today, and she was afraid she might lose her job. She hurried into her condo and went straight to the living room, where she turned the TV on and lowered the volume. A steamy romance novel lay open on the coffee table. Flexing her stiff shoulders, Rebecca eyed the book. What she needed right now was something to distract her mind, just for half an hour, until she had to be back at work. Detective Inspector Sykes, her boss at the Criminal Investigation Branch, was a stickler for punctuality.
Rebecca worked at the Ontario Provincial Police office in Orillia, Ontario. The previous day had started well. She had closed out an investigation — her first homicide case since solving the Abigail McBride murder just over two months ago, in which she managed to catch serial killer Jackie Caldwell and was rewarded with a long hoped-for transfer to the CIB. She was pleased to start her new job on a domestic murder, which involved a woman who had cheated on her husband with her next-door neighbour, and who was subsequently run over by the jealous husband. A perfectly straightforward investigation — or so Rebecca had thought.
Over coffee at a local diner, she had revelled in the praise of her newfound friend and colleague, Detective Constable Hadi Jafari. She was eager to work on her next investigation, hopefully with Hadi as her mentor. But when she returned to the office, she found that complications had arisen. New evidence came to light which indicated that the neighbour’s son was in fact the lover, and his father had shouldered the blame in order to protect his fifteen-year-old boy from discovery. It cost the man his life. But when she dug deeper, Rebecca discovered more. Apparently, one of the son’s school friends had also had sex with the woman, and it looked like other boys were involved too. The whole case spiralled out of control. DI Sykes was furious, especially as one of his top detectives, Chad Williams, was leading the investigation, with Rebecca as his rookie assistant. He too had pegged the case as a straightforward homicide, and he hadn’t supervised her as he should.
Now Chad was in the doghouse, and Rebecca felt bad about it. It was her fault in a way, since she’d figured she was smart enough not to need his help. But Chad wasn’t blameless either. He’d made unwelcome advances to her and she’d told him to back off, then insisted that he leave the investigation to her. Only later did she realize he probably let her go it alone because he was afraid she’d file a harassment complaint if he refused. She wouldn’t have, but that was a moot point. Now DI Sykes had arranged a meeting with her in his office at four o’clock this afternoon. What would he say? What if he sent her back to doing routine constable duties, her budding career brief as the life of a mayfly? And worst of all, it would take her mission of finding her mother’s killer right back to square one. She was desperate to become a homicide detective so that she could learn how to catch the murderer. She also wanted to find the person who had killed her grandfather, Steven Bradley. She had been too young to remember him, but it was still important to her. Neither of those murders had ever been solved.
Shaking her head to clear it, Rebecca settled onto her divan and picked up the romance, in an attempt to block out her thoughts of the upcoming meeting. Her headache eased as she became immersed in the risqué story, dimly aware of the television murmuring in the background. Global News was on.
Just as she was starting to relax, she heard an item on the newscast that made her toss the book aside. She leaned forward and the novel landed with a thud on the hardwood floor. She turned up the volume just in time to catch the closing words of the clip.
“. . . daring escape from prison, which tragically ended the life of Tara Ripley and resulted in a second guard taken hostage. Stay tuned for more as this story unfolds. Now, to other news . . .”
Rebecca squeezed her eyes shut. She knew without hearing the name who it was that had killed the guard — Jackie Caldwell. A vicious and delusional woman who, according to police psychiatrists, believed that she wielded some kind of arcane force. She also harboured a pathological hatred of Rebecca because of a gold mining scam that more than two decades ago, Rebecca’s grandfather had pulled off in Jackie’s home town of Conroy. This scam had ruined Jackie’s father and destroyed her family. After an absence of many years, Rebecca showed up several months ago and solved the murder of one Abigail McBride, which resulted in the arrest of Jackie and her reluctant lover, Kingsley McBride. They were charged with money laundering and murder, though Kingsley was now out on parole.
Rebecca groaned. She grabbed her cellphone and found Regional Superintendent Cartwright’s private number in her contacts, praying he was in his office. Her call went to voice mail.
She tried DI Sykes’s office next, and he answered on the first ring.
“I’ve been expecting your call, DC Bradley. You’ve no doubt heard about Jackie Caldwell. The blasted media knew of it almost as soon as I did. Someone must have leaked it. Anyway, you’re on the search team. We need every hand we can muster.”
“Right away, sir.”
“And, Rebecca, watch out. Keep your gun loaded and at hand. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you why.”
He did not. She was Jackie Caldwell’s number one target. She suddenly realized that Sykes had called her by her first name. He must be really concerned about her. She hoped he wouldn’t be too protective. At least her dreaded afternoon meeting with him would have to be put off, forever, she hoped.
She considered phoning Hound, her friend in Conroy, the town where she’d solved the case. Hound had helped her capture Jackie Caldwell, and he would need to be told about her escape. But with nothing except the news broadcast to share, Rebecca decided to hold off calling him. Anyway, he would hear about Jackie soon enough, if he hadn’t already. Conroy must be buzzing with it.
Rebecca buckled on her holster, her SIG Sauer 229p pressing reassuringly against her hip. She hurried to the front door and skidded to a stop, recalling DI Sykes’s warning. She peered out and scanned the parking lot before making for her car. Her sporty Mercedes convertible had been a twenty-fourth birthday present from her wealthy gold mining father. With a squeal of tires, she raced from the lot.
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