MISSING PERSON

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Chapter 30

The house at the corner of Crowfoot Avenue and Arbour Lake Way had a well-tended garden and an SUV in the driveway. The former was pleasant to look at; the latter was reassuring. When dropping by for a surprise visit, it helps if there’s someone to surprise.

I pulled my phone out of my backpack, and sifted through the call logs until I found the 403 number I was looking for. On the second ring, a familiar voice answered. I forced a smile in order to get into character, but this time, the effort was minimal. I was having fun already. “Hello, Ms. Willingdon,” I greeted her. “We spoke the other day, about your employment at Heartland of Alberta. I need just a little more information from you about your time there. Is now a good time?”

She didn’t answer immediately, and I wandered around the side of the house. Through a large window, a jungle of hanging plants separated me from a blonde woman who with her back to me at a kitchen table, cradling a phone under her chin. She had a newspaper in one hand and a mug of coffee or tea in the other. “Ms. Willingdon?”

I saw her back stiffen. “Yes, now’s fine, I suppose. What do you want to know?” She spoke with a wariness I hadn’t detected during the previous call.

“I’m afraid this can’t be handled over the phone. I’d like to arrange for an in-person visit with you, as soon as possible.”

“Oh.” She set the newspaper down, trying to figure out how play this. I grinned. “You mean today?”

“Yes, now would be ideal.”

“Now.” She stood up, and I moved away from the window. “I’m sorry, I can’t come in to the office now.”

“That won’t be necessary, Ms. Willingdon. We can come to you.”

She sat down again, and I counted out a full seventeen seconds before she spoke again. “I phoned the EI office yesterday,” she said at last. “They hadn’t even looked at my application. And they don’t make house calls. Who is this?”

I relaxed my facial muscles, and my voice plummeted half an octave as my smile dissolved. “Oh, gosh, you’re right, I never bothered to introduce myself. How embarrassing. My name is Kathleen Kovalevsky. I can tell you a bit about myself, if you’re interested, but I think you already know the important parts.”

She shifted the phone from one hand to the next, and I wondered if she had a way out of this one after all. I waited for her reply in silence. “I see,” she said at last. “Well. And you want to meet with me.”

“Yup. Right now.”

“Oh, well, I’m not home at the moment–”

“Yes you are.” I stepped back in front of the window and rapped on the glass. She turned around, startled. I wiggled the fingers of my free hand. Even with the plants partially obscuring my view of her face, I could see her scowl. “Listen, I came here all the way from Vancouver, just to see you.” I saw no reason to mention the other errand. “The least you can do is invite me in for coffee and a chat,” I continued. “What do you say?”

“What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about the nature of your work at Heartland of Alberta.” I ambled back to the front of the house, and leaned on the doorbell. “Beyond what you told me over the phone last week.”

“I don’t have to tell you anything.”

I gave an exaggerated sigh. “No, you don’t. You have a choice. You can talk to me or you can talk to the CRA. Or the RCMP. To be honest, I don’t know who the first point of contact is for cases where money laundering is involved, but I’m sure I can find that out easily enough. But that’s beside the point, because it doesn’t have to come to that. Listen, I’ll make a deal with you: if you tell me everything you can – everything – then I won’t involve anyone I don’t have to. What do you say?”

I waited out a few heavy breaths until they started to bother me, at which point I put my phone on speaker and set it on the mailbox while I tied my shoe. “Why should I believe you?”

I sighed, and then picked up the phone and sighed again for her benefit. “Here’s the thing: you can trust that if you don’t invite me in, then my next phone call will be to someone who actually knows how to investigate this shit properly, and believe me, they’ll learn more than I can. Is that good enough?”

I heard a click, and I moved to redial. But before I could, the door slid open a few inches and a green eye squinted at me from above a chain. “What do you know?”

“What do I know? I know that you made a lot of money editing and promoting unreadable books that didn’t sell. I know that your company paid you even as it bled money off what it’s registered as doing. I know that your real income was coming from something else, and at least two women associated with your company have va–”

The door slammed shut. The ball on the chain scratched against the keeper, and then the door swung open. “Come on in.”

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