“That redbrick on the corner,” directed Detective Patrick O’Reilly, pointing to a circular driveway curling toward double entrance doors and a garage.
Two children’s mountain bicycles leaned against the doublewide garage door. Patterned red brick reached from the ground to the bottom of the house’s wide picture windows where it turned into barn flagstones and merged into a roof capped by green chateau shingles. A deep front lawn recently mowed and several over-sized, weed littered gardens separated the house from the sidewalk. Detective John Sands acknowledged his partner’s directions and steered the dark, four-door sedan onto the lower driveway. An older couple out walking a frisky Scott’s terrier waited for the detectives’ sedan to pull into the driveway. The longhaired Scotty jumped and pulled at the leash yipping and yapping at the car and its passengers.
Parted to the side, John Sands’ light blond hair had not touched the top of his ears since his eleventh birthday. If Sands was vain about anything, it was his hair. Not a speck of grey in it. At thirty-nine years old, he enjoyed his physical prime. Standing six-foot-three-inches tall, his thirty-six-inch waist enhanced much wider muscular shoulders. Come drought or blizzard, Sands ran three miles four days a week. He was a natural mesomorph. Thick bands of muscles rippled beneath a thin layer of skin.
From as early on as Sands recalled, he wanted to be a paratrooper. On his nineteenth birthday, he enlisted in the Armed Forces. From basic training onward, he acquired marksmanship awards. Superb reflexes and natural eye-to-hand coordination let him group a cluster of lead in a two-inch radius at 400 meters. If some people were born to fly and to shoot, Sands was a member of that elite segment of the population. Six years into a military career, he realized that he never wanted to rise above sergeant. He was a hands-on guy who enjoyed the comradeship found in a tightly woven unit. Sitting in an office meant a slow, certain death. For the next five years, he instructed jump school and collected marksmanship awards as though they were hockey cards. To keep busy during the lulls of rotation, he enrolled in advanced self-defence training, terrorist identification and takedown tactics and finally, night school criminology and law enforcement studies.
At his fifteen-year mark, a university degree in hand, Sands retired from the military and joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His military experience, his ability to be a team player, his intelligence and a set of strict work ethics catapulted him from rookie to constable to first-grade detective and finally to full detective in record time. Along the way, he earned a reputation as an easygoing hard-ass who did not take any shit. Sands refused to bend rules for friend or foe. Everyone wanted him covering their six. The only people able to run roughshod over Sandy were Chantal, his wife and Cheryl-Lynn, his spunky eight-year-old daughter on whom he unabashedly doted.
Beneath his physical attributes, boy-next-door clean-cut good looks, easygoing attitude and no bullshit patience with lawbreakers, lived a never resting intelligence that was constantly at play. Sands loved to learn, could not resist solving a puzzle, buoyed by a love for history that would have made him a history professor in another life. Sands considered himself a slow and meticulous thinker. He searched for motive beneath the first interpretation pursuing subtle cultural stimuli that had shaped history. He enjoyed mulling over historical events, chewing on them from various perspectives to locate the more likely truth than what the victors inked into the history books. Sheer determination generally unearthed the seemingly insignificant piece of information that set him on truth’s path.
Truth was everything.
Justice, truth and patriotism were the principles upon which Sands modelled his life, his military experience and now, a law enforcement career. The intellectual traits that would have complimented a career in academia transferred nicely into law enforcement. Sitting beside him in the car, Sands’ partner was carved from different stock.
Of Irish descent, veteran Detective Patrick O’Reilly stood an inch short of six feet tall and tipped the scales at 250 pounds. Grey flecks peppered thinning black hair cut short enough to reveal the bumps on his pate. At forty-two, O’Reilly wore perpetually baggy circles beneath his light brown eyes. Except for his powerful barrel chest, all indication of his college football years had disappeared. Too many fast-food meals, too many buffets, too many hours lounging in his leather recliner watching sports, beer in one hand and pizza or wings in the other, produced a beach ball gut that pushed at his waistline. He constantly hitched up his belt while claiming it was high time that he hit the gym. Somehow, he never managed to drive down the right street.
During his first year of a master’s program in marketing, a heroin addict had killed his father, Constable Sean Murray O’Reilly, in the line of duty. Constable O’Reilly had stopped to help a stranded motorist when a strung-out addict, speeding to his next fix, swerved out of control. Constable O’Reilly was thrown ten feet into the air and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Petty crimes and drug possessions peppered the driver’s rap-sheet. Patrick dropped out of university and joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with one agenda: to subject lawbreakers to the maximum penalty under the law. This obsession ruined his six-year marriage when he became a workaholic dedicated to locating, arresting and jailing lawbreakers.
No ifs. No buts.
Straight to lock-up.
Nine years into his law enforcement career, known as Patty by all, he now enjoyed detective status in the serious crimes squad. Now he was positioned to go after the worst of the worst. His mandate remained the same, to cleanse the streets and save lives. By his estimation, liberal reformers had killed his father. Had the heroin addict received jail time, instead of a conditional sentence to seek addiction treatment, he would not have been driving and his father would still be alive. For the past nine years, he had earned a bookcase filled with citations. No matter how many awards he earned, his grief festered like a hangnail that refused to go away, announcing its presence with each step. What the Irish refused to demonstrate on the outside drove them on the inside. The Irish had long, long memories; and Patty was very, very Irish. Thus, when word reached him about a hard-hitting paratrooper turned detective who could shoot a dime out of a tree, or knock Mike Tyson out with Armed Forces combat training, O’Reilly ensured Sands became his partner. It was only logical.
Now three years into their partnership, O’Reilly had never regretted his decision. Not once. To date, they had always gotten their man, had never failed to solve a case. Garland’s manslaughter conviction declared him the kind of cesspool scum who needed their unique, culturally sensitive attention. First, they had to locate Garland. Then it would be takedown time. No kid gloves for this hardened convict.
Forty miles northwest of Toronto, in a small and quiet rural township, Valerie Kincaid answered the doorbell, unsurprised that two men wearing extra short haircuts, both garbed in dark suits with black shoes, stood on her stoop. Summoning a friendly expression, while noting the dark four-door sedan with the domed, shiny chrome hubcaps, Valeria smiled. Courage and fortitude let Valerie hold her head high. Sibling loyalty firmed her resolve.
“Hello. How may I help you, officers?”
The detectives saw a woman with night-black hair that reflected shades of iron blue. Blemish-free, marble-white skin was in stark contrast to her shoulder-length, jet-black hair. Aquamarine eyes below arched, neatly plucked eyebrows looked down along a narrow nose with a delicate point to give Valerie an unearthly, spectral beauty. When she smiled to reveal large and straight pearl-white teeth, she almost seemed fragile, until one heard the tenor and the power in her throaty voice.
Topping five-foot-nine inches, Valerie managed to keep her body lithe after bearing three children. Thanks to tennis, biking in the summer, skiing and skating with her children in the winter, she wore evening gowns without feeling too much her thirty-eight years. But it was her voice and demeanour, not her trim and fit build people found memorable. Her naturally throaty voice, laced with steely undertones, stole the stage. Overlaid with quiet confidence, her shrewd intelligence stripped away the overburden, and struck to the heart easier than a deep core diamond drill chewed sandstone. Most people were well satisfied to call Valerie a friend.
“Mrs. Kincaid? Mrs. Valerie Kincaid?”
“Yes, I am she.”
“I’m Detective John Sands and this is Detective Patrick O’Reilly, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Serious Crimes Section. May we take a moment of your time and have a few words with you inside?”
Sands appraised the residence, as yet unaware that the contemporary, practical and elegant decor matched the owners’ personalities. Textured tiled floor stood up well to running, falling, chasing, scrambling children and to George, the family Saint Bernard. He spotted a large kitchen table constructed out of nearly indestructible Douglas fir with bench seats on three sides. The table doubled as the communal homework station, where Gary, Valerie’s husband, amongst numerous questions and much calamity, worked at his landscaping paperwork in the evening while Valerie curled up around a book in the sunroom.
“Mommy. Mommy,” Kimberly called out running down the hallway to finally grip her mother’s leg. “Mommy, look at me.” Discovering that her appeal went unanswered, Kimberly proceeded with much four-year-old enthusiasm to tug at a pant leg. Before acknowledging her daughter, Valerie bestowed the detectives with a silent plea conveying the importance of dispatching Kimberly. “Mommy, you said we could go outside and play.”
Blessed with her mother’s bone structure and night-black hair, all resemblance stopped there. Kimberly Anne had her father’s olive skin tone, his chocolate brown eyes and his crackling zest for life. Four-year-old Kimberly was a self-proclaimed Tomboy with a frightening slap shot. She also had the propensity to cart home any creature with more than two legs for mommy to see, pet, feed and to eventually house. Kimberly’s dollhouse often became home to displaced frogs and garter snakes, newts, praying mantises, and triage for wounded baby birds.
“In a bit. Be a sweetheart and go downstairs. Mommy will be along shortly.”
“Hello. My name is Kimberly. I’m four years old and two days.” Kimberly tucked in her thumb with her other hand so four fingers almost poked straight upwards as she addressed the two men. “Everybody calls me Kimmy, except Billy Wilson next door who calls me Kiwi, but he’s allowed cuz he gave me a real hockey puck used by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Its gotta chunk missing. You can call me Kimmy. What’s your names?”
“Happy Birthday plus two days, Kimmy. My name is John and this is my friend Patrick. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“I scored a hat-trick yesterday; that’s three goals in one game. Hi Patwick. How long is a bit, Mommy?”
Kimberly recommenced her tugging without waiting for O’Reilly’s answer.
“When the big hand reaches the one,” Valerie said smoothing a rogue lock of hair that had broken free of Kimberly’s red barrette.
“But it’s after lunch Mommy,” and threw a look of kindergarten displeasure at the detectives, certain their appearance robbed her of her favourite time of day: playtime, which was code for ball hockey.
“I know it is, honey, but mommy has guests. When mommy’s guests leave, we’ll go to the park and rollerblade. You can bring your hockey stick and a ball along.”
“Cross your heart?” Kimberly asked, and shot the detectives a look begging rapid deployment. “Can John and Patwick play?”
“If they have the time. Now be a good girl and go downstairs and watch the other kids for mommy, please.”
“’Kay. Bye,” Kimberly sounded off, and with the same flurry of churning legs that had brought her upstairs, she departed to reign over her unsuspecting subjects below.
“My girlfriend and I teach kindergarten-plus art classes. Won’t you have a seat?” she invited, indicating the living room’s salmon chesterfield and chairs, off-limits to children and pets alike. “May I offer either of you a coffee or tea? Bottled water?”
Sands took in the modest room, noted the chesterfield, matching loveseat and two armchairs grouped around an ebony and ivory marble coffee table. Three Rocky Mountain wildlife oils graced the wall behind the chesterfield. In the right corners of the oil paintings, he discerned Valerie’s signature. On the wall between the two armchairs, shown prominently, hung a large and glossy picture of the entire family. Individual family photographs ringed the large photograph like orbiting satellites. Several of the photographs included their subject, Bruce Garland.
“No, thank you,” Sands declined for him and his partner seating himself on the chesterfield. Valerie sat in an armchair across from the detectives clasping her knees to stop them from trembling. “Mrs. Kincaid.”
“Please, it’s Valerie.”
“Of course, Valerie. Do you know why we’re here?”
“He didn’t do it. He couldn’t have done it.”
“That’s part of the reason why we’re here today. When’s the last time you talked to your brother?” Sands asked while O’Reilly flipped open his leather-bound notebook.
“On the phone?”
“No, at breakfast. Bruce came by the night before for Kimberly’s birthday party. Before six Sunday afternoon. We talked until it was late, around midnight. I invited him to spend the night. He left for work at five in the morning. So, you see, he couldn’t have committed the crimes the news reports said he did because he was here,” Valerie reported, taking courage and conviction from the surprised looks the detectives exchanged.
“All night?” O’Reilly asked, employing a doubt-ridden policeman’s voice. “You’re certain?” He bestowed a well-practised Detective’s glare that said, ‘It would be wise to speak truthfully.’ “Do you need a moment to reconsider those times? Perhaps you were mistaken.”
“Are you calling me a liar? How dare you! It was my daughter’s birthday party. Ask my husband if you must, but imply that I’m lying once more and you’ll leave my home until such time as you produce a judge’s order directing me to answer another question! I’m not on parole. And I won’t put up with rudeness and false accusations.”
“We’re sorry Mrs. Kincaid,” Sands apologized and granted his partner a look of mild reproach. “We had to be certain. You can understand that.” Wearing a professionally polite expression, he asked, “Can you tell us how he seemed? Was Bruce nervous? Did he behave unusually?”
Appeased by the apology, Valerie relaxed. Her brows furrowed.
“He was very upbeat. We talked about ― about personal things he and Odera were working through.”
“I’m sorry if it seems like I’m prying, but can you be more specific. It might help us to locate them without anyone getting hurt, especially him. You do want that, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She chewed her bottom lip. “We spoke about Odera’s attack. How it complicated their relationship. They went to see a psychologist last week for what Bruce called rape therapy.”
“Their relationship? Are you certain?”
“I’m not surprised you didn’t know. Bruce was concerned his parole officer would intrude into his life more than he does already. They kept it a secret from Odera’s parents as well. She told her father Bruce was gay. They’ve been friends for a long time, but during the last few months things just kinda sparked.” At the uncertainty painting their faces, Valerie said, “You can speak to Mrs. Wilson, Bruce’s landlady. Odera introduced herself as his girlfriend. It was a funny story.” After a thoughtful pause, she said, “Odera has been very good for him.”
“Hmm, yes. Thank you. We will. Do you remember the name of the psychologist?”
“No. I’m sorry. I don’t.”
“Can you tell us why he ran if he didn’t play a part in her disappearance?”
“Wouldn’t you if you were being blamed for something that you didn’t do? if you thought you’d go to jail? Do you have proof? or did the police go after him because of his old crime? News reports make it sound as though he opened fire on police. No causalities were reported, so I know from that bit of information alone that the news report was a big fat lie. When my family pulls the trigger, something goes down.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Kincaid, but we’re not permitted to comment on active investigations when the answers may jeopardize its outcome.”
“Of course not, because you don’t have proof, do you? What kind of people steal a person’s freedom for no reason and then make them look guilty on the news? You think you know him because he was in prison, but you don’t. Have you any idea of the harm those allegations have caused my family, have yet to cause my family? The questions I must field? The looks and whispers around my kids? My parents won’t leave their house!”
“Mrs. Kincaid, we weren’t involved with the decision to arrest him. Neither can we control the media. Right now we’re trying to learn his whereabouts and to ensure Ms. Mansbridge’s safe return.”
“So, you do think he’s involved with Odera’s kidnapping.”
“Part of our job is to consider all the possibilities until we find the truth. Will you help us locate the truth? It could lead to eliminating Bruce as a suspect.” At Valerie’s nod, Sands asked, “Have you met Ms. Mansbridge in your brother’s presence or otherwise?”
“No, but we planned to. My husband and I were going to take a trip into the city on the weekend to have dinner with them. Odera and Bruce had decided to tell her folks about their relationship together, and…now she’s been kidnapped and he’s on the run,” finished Valerie as tears formed.
“Did Bruce ever hint that he might be taking a trip or leaving the country?”
“No,” Valerie answered composing herself.
“Did he have debts? Perhaps debts because of drugs or gambling?”
“Detective, he doesn’t use drugs, nor does he gamble. He might own a credit card, but I’ve never seen it.”
“Did he make or receive telephone calls when he was here?”
“Yes. Odera called him on his cell around seven. We all said ‘hi’ on the speakerphone and then we Skyped.”
“Can you recall anything else about the call?”
“Did Ms. Mansbridge sound nervous? Did they seem uneasy? Was there tension between them?”
“No. Nothing like that. Odera sounded happy. Laughed a lot. She was warm and fun. Kimmy won her over immediately and made her part of the family.”
“Did he leave the room to talk to her privately, out of your hearing?”
“Not that I saw.”
“Did she call back or did Bruce call her later?”
“I don’t think so. Not that I’m aware of anyway.”
“Do you own a computer?”
“Two of them,” Valerie said in a wondering voice.
“Did he use one or both of them that night or in the morning?”
“No, not after we Skyped.”
“How did he return to Toronto?”
“I drove him to the Go-Train station early Monday morning.”
“I have to be thorough. I’m sorry Mrs. Kincaid, I know this is hard for you, but I must ask. If you hear from him, you will let us know, won’t you?”
“He won’t call me.”
“Why not? You two sound pretty close.”
Sands raised an eyebrow at his partner.
“That’s why he won’t call. Detectives, Bruce would never bring me into his trouble nor would he ask for my help. Even though I would help him if I could. He’s probably long gone by now,” said Valerie in a bitter voice.
“Where could he go? Wherever he is, we’ll find him,” predicted O’Reilly.
“He could be anywhere. He won’t do what you expect him to do. Detectives, if he decides to run, you can be sure that he won’t inform anybody of his destination. The best I can hope for is a postcard when he’s settled and safe. And before you ask, I’ll let you know when he does, for all the good it will do you.”
“You mean he won’t give away his location? Not even to you?”
“Especially to me. The only reason he’d send a postcard is to let me know that I don’t have to worry. I would anyway but that’s how he’d see it. And Bruce knows I’d turn the card over to you. I’m sure he’d joke about your presence to me if he phoned right now. He knows you would stop here as part of your investigation.”
Sands asked, “Then why are you telling us all this? Aren’t you betraying him?”
Sands and O’Reilly were prepared for an angry outburst filled with recriminations, but not for her deep and throaty laugh.
“Don’t be absurd. Bruce would never share that much information; never directly involve me. He knows I’ll truthfully answer all questions. He’s counting on me to do that. That’s how I’m helping him. Innocent people have nothing to fear from the truth. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. You just have to ask.” Valerie stopped to listen to sound floating up from downstairs. “No, detective, I’m trying to tell you Bruce is not the kind of person to kidnap anyone. Besides, wouldn’t he be the first person you suspected? I’m positively certain that Bruce is entirely innocent. He loves her.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“No. But I can tell. He thinks he’s hiding it, but it’s plain to see for anyone who cares to look closely. He adores the ground she walks on.”
“Is that what you think he’s done, then, left the country?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps. Whatever he does, he’ll do it quickly. As well as I understand my brother, he’s impulsive. That’s how he got into trouble in the first place.”
“But not impulsive enough to have kidnapped Odera?” O’Reilly persisted.
“No. He just wouldn’t do it. Believe me, detective. Look for another suspect before it’s too late for both of them.”
“Thank you for your time. If we have more questions we’ll be in touch, but I think we’ve covered the basics for now. Call us day or night if you hear from him,” instructed Sands and gave Valerie his card.
Valerie walked them to the door and closed it behind them.
“Well, what do you think?” O’Reilly explored on the way to their car.
“I’m not sure, Patty. Mansbridge said his daughter told him Garland was gay. If he stayed the night and his landlady confirms the girlfriend thing, I just don’t know. Let’s get the counsellor’s name from Mansbridge. Could be that Kincaid’s right. Request surveillance on her telephone anyway. And pull Garland’s phone recs: landline and cell. Let’s confirm regular contact with Mansbridge and confirm or deny some of Kincaid’s claims. She sounded pretty credible.”
“And he sounded obsessed. You heard Kincaid, ‘He adores the ground she walks on.’ He’s our boy alright. You think he’ll call?”
“Perhaps. If he calls, it might be for the reasons his sister gave. Could be he doesn’t intend to leave the city for good if he calls from another city. He’s wily,” Sands theorized. “He’s smart enough to have removed the battery from his phone and he’s probably purchased a burner by now. Pull a contact list from the last twelve months and we’ll go from there. Cross-reference it with known perps and from anyone he may have served time with. Retrieve the GPS markers from his phone usage for the past year. Note the top ten most visited locations. See what shakes out.”
Patty said, “Sticking around wouldn’t be very bright. I think he’s long gone now that we’re wise to him. Convict dirtbag like that probably figured he could get away with grabbing the broad; that we wouldn’t suspect him because he was the obvious first choice. Too fucking obvious to have kidnapped the boss’s daughter, that’s what he’d say in his defence. His sister was already singing that tired song. Straight, gay or bi, makes no fucking difference to his motive in my book. If he formed a friendship with the victim, money was the reason. It ain’t a complicated formula.”
“Perhaps, but my gut’s twisting up. I don’t think this case is gonna cheer us up, partner. Not one bit. He had to of known Beck would immediately suspend his parole as a precaution. If he’s in on it and if he realized we’d consider him first, why did he walk into work with all those city cops present? Why turn tail and bolt after downing a constable, which ensures we’d double our efforts to find him quickly?”
Patty said, “You don’t think this fuck-up might be innocent? Don’t tell me you got sympathy for a mutt whose been dishonourably discharged? If he fucked one honour code, what’s to say he won’t fuck over every other code?” O’Reilly ducked into the car. “Once you start down that road, there ain’t no return. If Garland managed to keep their relationship hidden for so long, who’s to say he isn’t being deceptive about other things? He ran. Innocent people don’t assault police officers and rabbit for the hills.”
Sands acknowledged his partner’s words with a nod and replied, “That foreign currency seems too obvious now. Leave the description alert up, but I don’t think we’ll find him using airports or the docks. Send alerts to train stations and border crossings as well.” Sands rubbed his jaw. “He’s trying to stretch our manpower. He knows we have to run down each credible lead. Classic disinformation tactics against limited resources. He’s using our own protocols against us. He’s drawing on his limited military training. This tango will challenge us.
“If I were in his position and if I was guilty, I’d sit tight till things cooled off. Then I’d quietly leave the province. According to Garland’s parole officer, he’s got two published novels and a third awaiting release. Yesterday morning he withdrew over twenty thousand dollars. That’s a lot of coin. Maybe his sister is correct about him being impulsive, but I think she’s wrong. Given what’s happened since Monday morning, I think he’s sticking close. I don’t see jackrabbit written on this guy’s jacket.”
Patty shook his head, unconvinced.
“So what. Her old man is loaded. As motives go, greed is prime. Maybe he was working the woman, trying to marry into the family and Mansbridge soured on him. Millions are a far fucking cry from twenty-some Gs. Let’s track his bank usage for the past six months. See if he was financing the snatch or maybe he was receiving regular payments from someone else to set it up. Maybe our guy was playing the slow con.”
Sands nodded. “Copy that. Cover our bases. The more lines we have in the water, the better chance we’ll get a nibble on one of them. His sister said he was happy, seeking to improve their relationship. And now we learn they attended rape therapy together. When did Mansbridge sour? Let’s go see his landlady. Perhaps she can shed some light on how well they got along.”
O’Reilly indicated assent asking, “How do you explain finding his fingerprints plastered over five windows and every curtain and blind in Mansbridge’s condo was pulled closed? The joint was shut up tighter than a coffin. Looks to me like he prepped the victim’s home for late-night entry. Looks to me like he set her up. And there wasn’t a piece of male clothing anywhere. Not even a sock. They can’t be that hot for each other. Not a single piece of hard evidence indicates boyfriend/girlfriend.”
“Affirmative. No hard facts yet,” Sands agreed. “You’ve raised some points that need closer examination. Let’s stay open-minded. There isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to discount any scenario. At first glance, several items line up nicely, but they fall apart when we dig deeper. I prefer cut and dry, and this case is quickly becoming messy and torn.”
“Five bucks says we catch him either fleeing the province or out of province. Maybe even trying to cross the border.”
“Easy money, Patty. My gut tells me this jailbird never flew the coop. We got a bit of time before we speak to the landlady. Let’s swing by Hidden Oaks first and then check in on the Mansbridge’s. I also want another look-see at the Vic’s condo. Put a rush on those phone recs and send Bitterman and Nelson to Garland’s apartment to look for anything that links Garland to Mansbridge: emails, MSN chats, Facebook, day planner notes, the works. Look for female clothes, even a goddamned extra toothbrush. Keep Bitterman and Nelson away from the landlady and the neighbours. We’ll conduct those interviews ourselves. I want to bring this guy in quickly and quietly.”