Book Excerpt:Blue Star (Alex Desocarras Mystery Series Book 1) by Valerie Van Clieaf

From the Blurb:

Formerly published as End of Innocence

Blue Star, a gripping series opener, introduces Detective Sergeant Alex Desocarras, an Indigenous RCMP officer stationed in the town of 100 Mile House in British Columbia’s beautiful and rugged South Cariboo.

Alex Desocarras has been a police officer for fifteen years. His solve rate is legendary, but his latest case has his gut in a knot.

Carey Bolton, a Gits’ilaasü girl, is kidnapped one night after soccer practice. An anonymous tip that she was taken to an address in Vancouver, BC –1,200 kilometres from home, proved to be a dead end when the VPD reported the house empty.

When the kidnapping of Anishinaabe filmmaker, Morgan O’Meara, lands in Desocarras’ jurisdiction, Sergeant Jeri Fernice, VPD Missing Persons, reaches out with evidence that links the O’Meara and Bolton kidnappings.

Following his first real lead, gleaned from a tweet meant for O’Meara, Desocarras is forced undercover when he identifies yet another victim and a high-ranking RCMP officer becomes his main suspect.

CHAPTER 1

The soccer team from Kitimat was merciless. Every time #19 got the ball, she tore down the field with Carey Bolton right behind her. She’d already scored twice, and they weren’t going to let that happen again. The coach called a time out and put Roxanne in the game and Carey came off for a break. That’s when she first noticed her new friend was on the other side of the field. He was an older guy who had just moved to Terrace with his mom. They were living in Thornhill, not far from Terrace. He was handsome, but Carey knew he was too old for her. Her mom wouldn’t even let her date yet, never mind let her date a guy his age. Still, it was nice to get attention from an older guy and he was sweet, kind of like an older brother. Kelsey had just scored a goal and they needed that goal to tie the game. It made her smile to see he was clapping with everyone else.

By half-time, Carey’s knee had started to ache, just a bit. If coach noticed, he wouldn’t let her play, so she was careful not to limp. It worked and she took to the field for the second half with the rest of the team. #19 was relentless and she could run like the wind. Carey would have given anything to be able to run like that. She did her best to keep up, but it wasn’t long before she started to limp and coach noticed, so he sidelined her, much to her embarrassment. She didn’t like to be treated like a baby.

Carey was coming off the field when she noticed that her new friend had moved to the bleachers behind her team. He gave her a friendly wave and she waved back. After a while, he came and stood behind her and asked her why she was limping. She told him her knee was sore. She definitely didn’t tell him that she’d worn a leg brace for years. He would think she was so uncool. He quietly offered to drive her home when the game was over. She felt her cheeks go red and she hoped he didn’t notice.

After the game, Carey’s cousin Beth asked her if she was coming over for dinner, like she usually did after their Tuesday game. Beth was on her team and her family lived close to the soccer field.

“My knee’s pretty sore,” said Carey. “I’m getting a ride home. Mom’s working late tonight and I’ll be able to get dinner ready for her.” She nodded in the direction of her new friend. Her brother was staying at a friend’s tonight and it would be just her and her mom. She’d be getting home from work soon.

“Mom’s making mac and cheese,” said Beth, eyeing the guy behind Carey with interest.

“Oh no! I love Auntie Estelle’s mac and cheese! Tell her I’ll take a rain check.”

“Your loss, Carey,” said Beth, with another look at the young man. She leaned over and whispered, “Who’s the guy? He’s cute.”

Carey flushed again. “A new friend,” she whispered back. “Just moved to town. I’ll tell you about him tomorrow.”

“Okay. See you at school.” Beth headed for home with anticipation. Her mom’s mac and cheese was one of her favourite meals.

Amelia Boudreau lived in residence on Burnaby Mountain at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She was two weeks into her first semester. It was the first time she’d lived away from home, but she’d really lucked out with her roomie, Taliah. She was Hesquiaht and had grown up on Vancouver Island. It was her first time away from home too.

It was close to midnight when her mom, Estelle called. According to Amelia’s sister Beth, Carey had taken a ride home after her soccer game with some guy that no one knew. She wasn’t home when her mom got home. That was about 8:00 pm but Rosaline wasn’t worried because Carey usually went to Estelle’s for dinner after soccer. It was only two blocks away. When Carey wasn’t home by nine, Rosie called over to Estelle’s to tell Carey to shake a leg. She had school tomorrow. But Carey wasn’t at Estelle’s. She didn’t come over after the game. Rosie called everyone she could think of, but no one knew where Carey was.

The game ended five hours ago, and everyone was worried. Carey was everyone’s ray of sunshine and unstoppable in her enthusiasm for all things. She was only eleven, but she was a smart, responsible kid and Amelia knew that she hadn’t just wandered off and gotten lost or decided to visit a friend or forgotten to call.

“Carey seemed to know the guy she took the ride from. Beth didn’t know him, but said he seemed like a nice guy and that Carey was going to tell her about him tomorrow.”

“Did Auntie Rosie call the police?”

“Cpl. Cumberland dropped by a while ago. He was very reassuring and the fact that she seemed to know the guy,”

“Meant no amber alert?” guessed Amelia.

“No amber alert. Not till she’s been missing for 24 hours.”

“How could she know the guy when no one else seems to know who he is?”

“I don’t know honey.”

“Geez mom. This is scary. How’s Auntie Rosie?”

“Not so good. I’m staying with her tonight. She doesn’t want to leave the house, in case Carey comes home.”

After Amelia and her mom said their goodbyes, Taliah made a pot of tea and sat up with her. When she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer, she begged off and went to bed. Amelia curled up on the couch, but sleep wouldn’t come, so she got up and brought her laptop back to the couch. She did a search on missing kids in BC. Clicked on the RCMP stats on missing persons. This led, inevitably, to looking at the stats on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and more clicking as she followed the links calling for a federal inquiry.

Amelia was thinking about majoring in Criminology, maybe becoming a police officer, or working in the justice system in another way. She admitted to herself that maybe she wanted to pursue a career in criminology so that the statistics wouldn’t twist her gut into a knot like they always did. Like they were doing now.

The sun was up. It was about 8:30 am and Amelia was still awake when Taliah’s cousin George Evans dropped by to see if she wanted to go for breakfast. George was a sophomore at SFU, majoring in business and he lived in another residence on campus. He’d been spending a lot of his free time with Taliah and Amelia. He was fond of his cousin, who he’d basically grown up with, but it was Amelia that had him showing up at their door like a homing pigeon.

Taliah didn’t have any classes this morning and they didn’t want to wake her. Amelia and George walked over to the student building for breakfast. She told George about her cousin’s disappearance the night before. If Carey wasn’t found by tonight, Amelia had already decided she’d get the midnight bus up to Terrace, but George offered to drive her up instead.

“You’ll get there sooner if I drive you up,” he insisted. “And you won’t be so tired. That bus ride would be brutal.” It was a kind offer as it was a long, 18-hour drive up to Terrace, close to the coast—in British Columbia’s north. By bus, more like 24.

“It’s a long way. Do you think your car will make it okay?”

“No problem,” said George.

“That’d be great. But only if she isn’t home yet.”

Amelia called her mom at supper time. Still no sign of Carey and the RCMP had put out an amber alert. She told her mom she had a ride and was coming up that night and to let Auntie Rosie know they’d be there by tomorrow late afternoon.

George had some errands to run and didn’t pick her up till 10:00 pm. Amelia had made some sandwiches and filled up her water bottles. George had a large thermos of coffee and snacks, so they only had to stop for gas. As the miles stretched behind them, they found they had a lot to talk about. He told her stories about his summers working on his uncle’s fishing boat. Like the one time they’d all nearly drowned when an ocean liner came within a few feet of them late one dark night, full out, but no lights and how its waves had rocked their boat from side to side like it was a toy and they’d had to fight like hell to keep from sinking and them screaming at that fucking liner for all the good it did. They talked about their families and growing up stories. George encouraged her to talk about Carey and how she was feeling, and he totally understood that she was shit scared by now and couldn’t help it when she started crying.

By four in the morning, they were past Prince George. Amelia was so tired she didn’t remember dozing off. When she woke up, she had a blanket over her knees. They were in Hazelton and George had stopped for gas. They drank some of the coffee which was still warm and a little sweet. Then they took off again. After a while, they talked about university life and George shared war stories about finding his path through real and imagined white expectation and genteel and not so genteel racism. Amelia listened to these stories closely. She’d just started down that path and had already dodged a few curve balls and watched other brown folks dodge them too—or not. It was different for the sisters and brothers.

Amelia told him about the Nisga’a student in her Spanish class, picking up a breadth requirement so she could graduate and how the prof was trying to get them all to say: ‘I am Canadian’ in Spanish and Sharon says, ‘I am Nisga’a’ and the prof stops her because she’s not sure what she’s talking about and the prof says ‘Aren’t you Canadian’ and Sharon says ‘I’m Nisga’a first. Sometimes I’m Canadian too.’ And how the prof was cool about it and nodded her head like she’d just learned something. But how Amelia was surprised some of the other students were kind of embarrassed.

“Oh. You mean like we’re not one big happy family, us Canadians,” said George. And they both laughed. When they weren’t talking, the silence was companionable.

They arrived at Amelia’s parents in time for dinner on Saturday. There was still no sign of Carey.

“It’s been two days George. I don’t know what to say to them,” Amelia said, hanging back in the mud room, trying not to cry, afraid of her own feelings—afraid for all of them. He gave her a careful hug; their first.

“Your being here is what counts,” he whispered as they hung up their coats.

George was right. Everyone seemed so lost and she wanted to comfort, but the helplessness in the room stole the air. She gave everyone a hug before taking a seat beside George at the table.

Auntie Rosie had dark circles under her eyes and her face was blotchy from crying.

“They wouldn’t listen to me. I told them, she’s only eleven years old. She would never just take off with a boy. Who is this boy, this stranger that took my girl? I can’t believe that nobody recognized him! Someone must know him! All those people at the soccer game and he just took my girl! It’s been two days. She could be anywhere!”

Elwin sat beside his mom. He was Carey’s younger brother, normally quite rambunctious and a real joker. He was sad and scared and picked at his food. Beth was sitting beside him. Amelia watched as a few lone tears slid down her sister’s cheeks.

“I’m so sorry Auntie,” Beth said, so quietly she could barely be heard. “I shouldn’t have let Carey get into his car. I didn’t know he was a bad person.”

“No, no honey. It’s not your fault,” said Rosie.

Amelia’s dad, Geoff, was nearly in tears himself. “Beth, sweetie, please don’t cry. There’s no way you could have known.”

By now, Beth s tears were an uncontrolled flood. Estelle took her into the living room and sat with her, holding her close until her tears were spent.

Uncle Michael arrived soon after and Amelia got up to give him a hug. She was so glad to see him. Uncle was a lawyer who lived in Vancouver. His area was intellectual property rights and he worked with a lot of artists and musicians. He sat down across from Amelia. Her dad got up to get him some food.

“Hey, Amelia, I called you last night, but your roomie said you were already on the way. I was going to fly you up this morning, but I see you have the situation in hand.” Michael smiled at George, quiet and a little shy next to her.

“Uncle, this is my friend, George Evans.”

“Michael Bolton. Good to meet you, George. Thanks for bringing our girl up.”

“My pleasure. I mean, no problem,” said George. “Good to meet you too Michael.” George was more than a little flustered. Amelia stole a glance at him.

“Try to eat something Michael,” said Geoff, Amelia’s father. “Amelia and George, you as well. You must be hungry after such a long drive.”

“Where were you, Uncle?” Amelia asked.

“At the RCMP detachment.”

“Who’d you talk with?” Geoff asked.

“Cpl. Graziano initially, then Cumberland. He was helpful, but I didn’t find out much that we don’t already know.” 

“The RCMP did a house-to-house search in the area surrounding the soccer field where Carey was taken. They went to St. Jerome’s the next morning and talked with the principal, teachers, some of the students. There is one thing, but they’re not sure if it’s connected to Carey’s disappearance. She was seen talking with a young, Indigenous man on the school grounds last Tuesday. One of the teachers, whoever was doing yard duty that afternoon, didn’t recognize him, so approached them both, but he left before the teacher could question him, though not in a hurry, she said. He kind of ambled off, got into a car and drove away. When the teacher asked, Carey told her the guy was new in town and just talking.”

“Bill Cumberland told me about him yesterday,” said Rosie.

“We asked Beth,” said Geoff. “Whoever he is, she didn’t see him talking to Carey in the school yard, so she didn’t know if he was the same boy that took her.”

Beside Amelia, an exhausted George was falling asleep over his plate, so her dad hustled him off to the spare bedroom for a nap. She picked at her food and listened to the others talk, saying little; strung out on too much coffee and a lot of fear. While she waited for George to pick her up last night, she’d once again pulled up the statistics on missing children in British Columbia. Over 7,000 children were reported missing last year. 65% of these reports were removed within 24 hours; almost 90% within the first week. After the first week, about 950 children—most of them runaways or missing for unknown reasons—were still missing. Eight children were reported as abducted by strangers—like Carey. But did the police really know? What about all those kids missing for unknown reasons.

Women were targets of violence everywhere, but Indigenous women and girls were targeted in numbers that scared Amelia—by close family members, but also by men they only knew in passing and so many by strangers. Not just in Canada. It was the same for sisters in the US. And for African American women too—so many missing. She looked at her Aunt’s haunted face. No one would know these stats better than Auntie Rosie. For eight years, she’d been the Director of a shelter for Indigenous women and their children fleeing violence.

“Did she have her cell with her Auntie?” Amelia asked.

“It’s not here, so she must have had it. It goes to voicemail.”

Michael put a protective arm around Rosie. Nobody voiced the obvious. If Carey wasn’t answering, her phone was most likely lying on a roadside somewhere. Cells are easy to track.

“It’s gonna be okay, Rosie. They’re going to find her and bring her back to us, safe and sound.” Michael’s words, hollow, bounced off the walls. Bill Cumberland hadn’t mentioned Carey’s cell. Michael would call and ask him about it after dinner.

Amelia had always felt safe, even when she moved to Vancouver, on her own for the first time in her life. The pressures of university life aside, it was exhilarating, not scary. But Carey had been taken in a public field, surrounded by her teammates, Beth right beside her, her mom at the women’s shelter only three blocks away! And they didn’t even know the name of the guy she got in the car with. She knew this kind of thinking wouldn’t help Carey. She had to do something. But what? She decided to go see Kate Brennan as soon as she got back to campus. Kate was a PhD Criminology candidate and the lecturer for the Introductory Crim course she was taking. Kate was awesome and smart. She’d have some idea what Amelia could do to help find Carey.

***

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