Book Excerpt:Red Paint (Alex Desocarras Mystery Series, #2) by Valerie Van Clieaf

From the Blurb:

An important crown witness in a case against a paedophile ring is found tied to a tree with his throat slashed, the officers guarding him shot dead. The ring operated undetected in British Columbia for years, part of a much larger operation about which the police know nothing.

The killer won’t rest till he destroys another man he’s convinced has the smarts to blow the hidden operation wide open.

Alex Desocarras has been an RCMP officer for 15 years. A brilliant detective, his solve rate is legendary. Pulling the only lead in the case from a cryptic tweet, he identified the involvement of a high-ranking RCMP Inspector in the paedophile ring and was relentless in his pursuit of the officer and his loathsome cohorts.

The Inspector’s arrogant exploitation of vulnerable children, among them, a young member of Desocarras’ Secwépemc Nation, and the abysmal failure of the police to protect the boy and others like him pains Desocarras deeply.

An Indigenous hacktivist seeking information about the case finds a coded message hidden on an RCMP server. He risks exposure to warn the man he has come to grudgingly respect, Alex Desocarras, of its chilling contents. Desocarras is pushed headlong into a nightmare chain of events that will test the limits of his endurance against a ruthless adversary, and ultimately, force him to choose where his allegiance lies.

Chapter 1

Alex Desocarras had been back a week from a much-needed holiday in Maui, and already his workload had ensured that memories of that sunlit idyll were fading fast. Weary, he leaned back in his chair and at that precise moment, the late afternoon sun slid below the underbelly of a mass of cumulus cloud and nearly blinded him. He got up and adjusted the shade.

He’d spent his morning in court, testifying in a spousal abuse case—an officer at his detachment charged with assault. He’d answered the call with his partner, Constable Eugene Munroe. It took the two of them to pull the man off his terrified wife. She spent a week in the hospital. The presiding judge gave her husband two weeks and suggested couples counseling. Alex remembered the wife’s face now, frozen in defeat. He knew she wanted to leave her husband. Munroe was away on holiday with his girlfriend, Annie, and wouldn’t be back till next week. He wouldn’t be happy about the light sentence. Not necessarily so with a few officers at the detachment who thought Eugene and Alex should have buried this case that put one of their own on trial. His afternoon hadn’t been much better, running down leads on a young boy who’d run away from home a few weeks back. One neighbour had his attention. There was something off about the guy.

His thoughts were interrupted by a soft ding; an email from Detective Jeri Fernice of the Vancouver Police. They’d worked a big case together a few months back, exposing a trafficking ring that targeted women and children. They were forced undercover when two police officers were implicated in the ring: one of them, Ford MacLeish, a high-ranking RCMP inspector with the Prince George RCMP; the other, Phineas Rhodes, a sergeant with the VPD. Others involved were members of BC’s elite, one of them a sitting judge; everyone in it up to their necks. Alex had been around long enough to know that most of them would find some wiggle room. But the police caught a break when Ange Batlan, a long-time member of the ring, made a deal with the Crown in exchange for testifying against the others. Alex clicked on Jeri’s email:

Just got word that Batlan was murdered. We didn’t get any details on the two officers guarding him. Have you heard anything?

My money’s on Gregori Kirigin. Are you in the office? I’m in a meeting till six.

“Dammit.” Just when he thought the day couldn’t get any worse. And what about the officers guarding him? Thanks to Batlan, MacLeish and Rhodes—both major players in the ring—were still in custody. Together, or separately, they were responsible for the deaths of four people that they knew of, three women and a twelve-year-old girl. Never mind the unspeakable misery they’d inflicted on many others; how many others was anyone’s guess. Memory of one girl, Georgina, would haunt him for the rest of his days. She’d tried to escape from the farmhouse where she was being held prisoner with six other children. The desperate kid had jumped from a second-floor window—an attempted escape gone horribly wrong. Alex’s gut told him that there were other bodies. But would they find them?

The night he and Fernice led the raid on Batlan’s place, one man got away. But in his haste to cross the border to the US, he was forced to leave his overnight bag at the Clarendon, a private club in downtown Vancouver. A dry-cleaning receipt attached to a sweater led them to a business in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a Sunday, and it took the police a few hours to run down the owner. He’d given them the cell number for a guy named Gregori Kirigin, and his address, a high-end estate on the outskirts of the city. The house was leased to Eric Severall.

By the time the local police arrived at the Bethesda address, Severall was gone, along with any incriminating evidence. Neither Kirigin nor Severall showed up on any database, not so much as a parking ticket. Alex’s thoughts were interrupted by two soft dings in rapid succession.

He’d been cc’d in a short email from Sergeant Whittaker. He worked out of the North Vancouver RCMP detachment office and was part of the team that arrested the gang members.

Two officers went to Batlan’s home to investigate when his protection team didn’t report as scheduled. The officers protecting Batlan were dead.

They found Batlan in the woods behind his house. He was tied to a tree, his throat slashed. Looks like a vendetta killing.

Alex’s phone buzzed. It was Inspector James Brandeis, head of RCMP E Division for BC and the Yukon. Brandeis was coordinating the case file against the paedophile ring.

“Alex. James here. You got the email?”

“Just finished reading it.”

“Batlan was our key witness and someone has silenced him. Two officers are dead. All Crown witnesses have 24-hour protection going forward. Vancouver PD has been notified and I am liaising with them. Surrey Pretrial has been alerted. MacLeish and Rhodes could be at risk. Both you and your wife could be at risk.”

“I’ll take care of that soon as I’m off the phone.”

“Good. I’ll be in touch when I have more information.” Brandeis hung up.

Alex called Gwen.

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi there. What’s up?”

“Bad news. I just got word that Ange Batlan has been murdered. Both officers guarding him were also killed.”

“Oh no, Alex!”

“I want you to take the usual precautions.”

“Of course. Batlan. That’s bad, isn’t it? Do you think his murder will hurt the court case?”

“It’s anybody’s guess. I think the Crown has enough to proceed, even without his testimony, but Batlan’s the only one that’s confessed to anything.”

“What about the rest of the witnesses? Alex, tell me someone is watching Morgan!” When Morgan O’Meara, an Indigenous filmmaker, got too close to the ring for comfort, MacLeish and Rhodes had ordered her abduction and murder. Alex and Gwen, fishing early one morning on Gustafsen Lake, about forty kilometers from 100 Mile House, had spotted her trying to escape her attacker and saved her life. Alex didn’t like to dwell on what complete serendipity that was.

“Don’t worry, honey. The VPD has Morgan covered. That’s one of the reasons I’m calling.”

“Thanks for letting me know. Think you’ll make it home for dinner? I’m going to pick up lasagna from Giorgio’s.” It was one of his favourites and they always had a big salad with it.

“That’s a great idea, but have it delivered instead and if you’re hungry, go ahead without me.”

“How long do you think you’ll be?”

“A few hours at most. I’ll heat it up when I get home.”

“Okay, sweetie. See you later.”

Alex pulled up the number he had for Morgan O’Meara. His call went to voicemail. Frustrated, Alex looked at his watch: 5:20 pm. O’Meara lived in Vancouver, which meant the VPD would be tasked with protecting her. He tried the number he had for her partner, Lucas Arenas. He picked up.

“Hi Lucas. It’s Alex Desocarras. Is Morgan with you?”

“No. She’s at a meeting with her production manager.” Alex knew Morgan had secured funding for a feature film a few months ago; he assumed the meeting had something to do with that.

“Where’s the meeting?”

“1680 Wall Street. The VPD just called wanting to know where Morgan was. The officer told me Batlan’s dead and all witnesses are getting around the clock protection. I gave them the address. She just messaged me that a patrol car is on-site.”

“Good. What about you? Are you alone?”

“I’m just leaving to join her.”

“Okay. Be careful, but I don’t need to tell you that.”

“Understood, Alex. I appreciate your concern.”

“You’re not in my bailiwick, but it doesn’t hurt to check.”

“Thanks, Alex. Later then,” said Lucas, hanging up.

Alex still had a few minutes before Jeri Fernice would be out of her meeting, and his thoughts returned to the ring. It was one of the bigger cases of Alex’ career, finding the link that blew the case wide open. It wasn’t often that the police had that a win against human trafficking, but there was little joy for Alex when it became clear that the BC portion of the ring was part of a much larger operation. About which, they still knew next to nothing.

His thoughts turned—as they so often did—to another of the ring’s victims, a young man named Seth Boyce, an Indigenous boy who’d been abducted by MacLeish eight years ago from his home in Prince George. It had been almost three months since his rescue from a mountainside in North Vancouver, hours after he wandered from Ange Batlan’s house. Lions Gate Hospital staff had kept him in an induced coma for two months, his mom by his side, all day, every day. It had only been a few weeks since they’d brought him out of the coma. He still wasn’t talking, and the prognosis for his full recovery wasn’t good.

Alex put a call through to the hospital and made sure there was an officer with Seth Boyce. He knew he was overreaching, but he didn’t care. MacLeish had befriended the boy as an elder at a church in Prince George, then victimized him, abducted him and together with other ring members, held him captive for years. The reality of this kind of behaviour sickened Alex. He didn’t have any answers; didn’t know what it would take for society to make the world a safer place for kids like Seth. But he knew the answer didn’t lie in preaching the love of a god that refused his love to some and not others; stood in judgment of some and not others; or in this particular case, hid the likes of Ford MacLeish under its saintly roof.

Seth was Secwépemc, a member of Alex’s nation, and the police had failed him utterly. Alex lived with that daily, a deep ache.

Alex and his older brother Manny grew up on Eagle Creek Reserve, under the umbrella of the Secwépemc Nation, north of Kamloops, BC. His grandmother, Gracie, left Eagle Creek when she fell in love with Rosario Desocarras, a miner. They got married and she moved to Kamloops to live with him. His dad, Ron, their first child, was born there. When he was still a boy, Rosie—as everyone called his grandfather—was killed when a mining shaft collapsed. Gracie moved back to her parents’ house at Eagle Creek.

While his dad was growing up, there had been a resurgence in the old ways and beliefs, including a renewed interest in their language, Secwepemctsín. He proved to be an apt pupil. By the time he was an adult, he was also a skilled dancer and drummer. Manny, his older brother, had followed in their dad’s footsteps. As for Alex, any kind of dancing was hopeless, and Gwen had given up on him long ago, but he did love to sing.

Manny left home when he finished high school and took a job at a gold mine just south of Kamloops. He still hadn’t settled down with one woman, and Alex doubted he ever would. He’d long ago abandoned the effort of keeping up with Manny’s love life.

In the late eighties, Simon Fraser University partnered with the Secwépemc to set up a satellite university on the Kamloops First Nation Reserve. His dad, with his mother’s support, quit his job at the band office and enrolled as one of the first students, eventually completing a degree in archaeology. His dad was in the unique position of discovering, studying, and documenting his own culture, a culture that stretched back thousands of years, with roots in an immense territory that included the town Alex ruminated in now. His dad loved Coyote U as the satellite campus was affectionately called. He especially loved the summer digs and was part of the first team to unearth a centuries old, ancestral pit house.

His dad had nearly finished his degree when his mom, Vera, started hers. At first, she was only going to take a few courses, just for fun, but in the end, she did a double major in English literature and First Nations studies and became, in his dad’s words, a formidable scholar. He expected the same from his youngest.

When Alex entered SFU, his plan was to follow in his mom or dad’s footsteps, but in the end, he chose a degree in criminology. He grew up watching his people suffer at the hands of the justice system. Too many ended up doing time—with or without trials—and he’d decided that the only way to change that reality was to work within the system. After graduation, he was accepted at the RCMP Depot police training academy in Regina.

For Alex, the choice had seemed so simple then. But eighteen years later, racism within the ranks of the force, in the courts, in jury selection and sentencing and the growing numbers of his people behind bars, had disabused him of the notion that working within the system was the answer. Lately, he’d found himself questioning his own participation.

As a young man, all his friends were from his home reserve, a united front at school and in town. When he moved to Vancouver to go to university, he did so alone. He had always been an excellent student and the work wasn’t difficult for him. He was fascinated by university life, a world peopled by so many who were so unlike him. While he was watching them, they were watching him. It didn’t take long for students from outside Canada to figure out his place in the social order.

As part of their grade for a criminology course Alex was taking, each student was required to do a presentation. The sessional instructor was organizing a list of who would present on which day.

“What about you, chief, does next Tuesday work?”

Alex stood and waited for the guy to look his way. When he did, Alex pushed back for the first time.

“My people have been here for eleven thousand years. You haven’t been here that long, so you wouldn’t know that traditionally, the role of chief is a great responsibility, not to be taken lightly. You can call me Alex. Next Tuesday works fine for me. “

He could still remember the instructor’s red face, and how hard it was not to laugh at a friend’s spontaneous whoop of pure joy. His thoughts were interrupted by his phone.

“Hi Alex.”

“Hey Jeri. How’s it going?”

“Okay. How was Maui?”

“We had a lot of fun. We both tried surfing. Gwen’s better at it. She had to rescue me twice.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Jeri laughing.

“It’s true, I swear. How’s Jas?” Jeri’s partner worked with kids in the foster care system.

“She’s good. She just got a promotion. It comes with a lot more responsibility, but a rather good raise, so she’s a happy woman right now. Did you get my email?”

“I did, and one from North Vancouver moments later.”

“So Batlan’s dead. Can’t say I’m surprised. I guess it’s too soon for you to have any information on the hit?” North Vancouver RCMP was handling the Batlan murder—their turf.

“Both officers guarding Batlan were killed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Alex, although we suspected as much. I mean, how else would whoever did this get to Batlan. Any leads?”

“Nothing yet. Forensics is on-site. Was your meeting about Batlan?”

“He was definitely a topic of conversation, but that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. Portchanal called the meeting. He’s reorganizing Investigative Services.”

Tal Portchanal was the superintendent of Investigations, and, as Alex knew, a certified prick of the first order.

“Reorganizing?”

“I’m to be relieved of my responsibilities at MPU.”

“No way! You’re kidding, right?”

“I wish I was. He’s moving me to Threat Assessment next month, and not as the head.”

“You don’t deserve that Jeri. Sounds like payback to me.”

“Oh, it’s payback. He’s been making a lot of noise behind my back about how I don’t trust the rest of the team, which is utter bullshit. Not to my face, of course, cause he’s a pompous coward. What he’s really ticked about is that he wasn’t part of the take down when we arrested the trafficking ring. Makes it look like I didn’t trust him, which I didn’t, and couldn’t.”

“We couldn’t trust anybody. The facts of the case support that. So, what’s his real agenda?”

“We’ve butted heads quite a few times. Gendered issues.”

“The Forceisn’t immune to those.”

“No kidding!”

“It’s embarrassing to a lot of us, Jeri. Really!”

“I know, Alex.”

“So, Portchanal’s a childish ass. We have our share of those too. You’re thinking of quitting?”

“I am. A guy named Sanjit Rory contacted me a few days ago. He works for an outfit called Summit Security. They have an office here and one in Toronto. Apparently, I’ve got a job if I want it. Interview’s a formality and the money’s a lot better than I make now.”

“How did he know you might be interested?”

“He’s got a connection here for sure; he knew about my move out of MPU before I did, for chrissakes. I’m disenchanted with the VPD. I guess disenchanted is putting it too mildly. I’ve been very vocal about what needs to change around here. Rory didn’t refer to any of that, not directly anyway.”

“Security firm. That’d mostly be contract work.”

“Lots of government contracts. I did a search on them before I spoke with Rory. It pulled up nothing useful and they’ve been in business for fifteen years. That’s probably tied directly to their clientele, but they keep that list pretty close to their chest.”

“Interesting. Wonder what they’re hiding.”

“Alex! Where’s the trust?” said Jeri, laughing. “They’re protecting their clientele. Rory did say they have contracts with Canadian Security Intelligence Services. I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go.”

“CSIS used to be a branch of the Force.”

“Yeah, until they got too hot to handle.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Alex, with a chuckle. “You could always work for yourself. I’ve been very tempted to make the switch a few times myself lately.”

“It’s not surprised to hear that, Alex. We have some Indigenous members. They’re not all singing the praises of the VPD.”

“There’s race issues for sure. But some of it is just the job and how hard it’s getting to get the Crown to put a case forward.”

“No kidding! I’ll admit, I’d prefer to walk out the door, but money would be tight for a few years, at least until I built up a clientele, and we’ve got a hefty mortgage. It’d be hard on Jas to keep us afloat on her salary, even with her raise. Living on the West Coast isn’t cheap.”

“You two do love the lower mainland.” Alex didn’t really get it. He and Gwen were small town.

“Call us crazy, but we do.”

Alex changed the subject. “I should tell you that I called Lucas Arenas to make sure Morgan O’Meara was covered. I’m not trying to second guess the VPD.”

“I’m sure Gwen insisted!”

“In my defence, she did.”

“Rest assured, going forward, all of the witnesses in our jurisdiction have uniforms on them around the clock.”

“I just put Gwen on alert. Speaking of Gwen, she wants me to invite you and Jas up for some ice fishing. We’ll have to wait on that now. That’s a shame.”

“Not really, Alex. Ice fishing is not my idea of a good time. I like to do my fishing without gloves.”

“The ice is half the fun,” said Alex.

“It must be an acquired taste,” said Jeri.

“We’ll have to have you two up for a visit when things quiet down. No ice fishing. I promise.”

“We’d both like that.”

Half an hour later, Alex was about to leave the office when James Brandeis called again.

“The tech guys are looking over Ange Batlan’s computer. There was some back and forth between Batlan and someone calling themselves razum, which I’m told means brilliant in Russian. Not unfriendly correspondence it would appear. That was just before we turned him.”

“The illusive Gregori Kirigin maybe,” said Alex.

“I wish we knew a lot more about Kirigin. And Eric Severall.”

“We turned Batlan a month ago,” said Alex. How the hell did Kirigin find out? We’re the only ones with access to the Crown’s files. Unless—”

“Someone talked,” Brandeis finished.

“But who? Someone wanted to send a message.”

“Sure looks that way.”

“Maybe Kirigin decided to do some of the heavy lifting?”

“Maybe. Your wife has been informed?”

“Soon as I heard.”

“Has Kennedy put a detail on her?” Staff Sergeant Kennedy was the 100 Mile House detachment head.

“Yes.”

“What about you?” said Brandeis. “If you hadn’t uncovered MacLeish’s involvement, we’d be completely in the dark about these bastards. You’re the one who exposed the ring. Be careful, Alex.”

“Understood.” As soon as they hung up, Alex left the office. He headed out to the parking lot and got in his car. It was nearly 7:00 pm. Gwen had called while he was talking to Brandeis. She probably wanted him to pick up something on his way home. He plugged in his Bluetooth, got on the road, and hit play. There was a recent message from her.

Will you be home soon?

Strange. Not like Gwen to check on him. He called her. The phone rang and rang before she finally picked up.

“Alex.”

“Gwen, everything okay?”

“Yes.”

“Have you eaten yet?” She hesitated a moment before answering.

“I ate earlier, the last of the steak we had last night. But I did get takeout lasagna for you, just like I promised,” she added brightly.

Gwen didn’t do brightly, but more important for Alex, they didn’t have steak last night; they went out for Thai food. Alex’s gut instantly knotted tight and he slammed the accelerator to the floor. It was a ten-minute drive from the office to their house; he was half-way there.

Assuming the phone was on speaker, he played along. “I’m nearly home, honey. See you in a few minutes.”

“See you then,” she said, hanging up abruptly.

Alex put a call through to Corporal Goodwin.

“Hi Alex.”

“I just spoke with Gwen. I think she’s in trouble. Something she said tipped me off. I’m a few minutes out. Where are you now?”

“We’re four houses west of your place.”

“How long have you been there?”

“Close to half an hour.”

“I’ll come to you. We’ll move on the house together.”

“Copy that.”

When Alex pulled in behind the unmarked a few minutes later, Marchand and Goodwin quickly joined him.

“I think someone’s with Gwen. We’ll approach my place via the forested area out back. I think my neighbor is on holiday. We’ll approach via his back yard. I’ll go in via a basement window at the side of the house. That’ll give me access to the stairway that opens onto the kitchen at the back of the house. You two cover the front and back doors. Don’t enter till I give the signal.” Both men nodded. They exited the car and quickly made their way down a lane beside one of the houses, crawling over a fence to get to the forested area.

Alex led the way, plowing through the snow that was waist high in places. He stopped abruptly, waiting until the others were beside him.

“We’ll go in here,” he said, pointing to the house beside his. Alex scaled his neighbor’s fence and made his way quickly to the corner of his place, Marchand and Goodwin right on his heel.

“Get into position,” he whispered. “I’m going in now. Wait for my signal to enter.” Wordlessly, Marchand headed between the houses to the front and Goodwin to the back entrance. Alex made his way to a side basement window close to the back. He hunkered down and took off his gloves. He pulled out his keys and using one of them as a wedge, managed to snap off the plastic clips that held the screen. He pulled it off and threw it to one side, then pulled out his pistol. He’d have to break the glass to get access to the lock.

The temperature had been well below zero for a week and he knew the glass would be brittle and easy to crack. He raised his gun to tap the pane on the edge, just above the lock, when the main floor bathroom window on his side flooded with light. Alex froze and waited until he heard the toilet flush, quickly followed by the window going dark. He waited another ten seconds, then tapped on the glass. A crack spread quickly to the centre of the pane. He tapped again. More cracks appeared but the pane still held.

“Alex,” Goodwin hissed from the corner of the house. Alex looked over.

“Gwen’s in the kitchen and someone’s with her.” Alex nodded, and Goodwin moved around back again. The kitchen was on the opposite corner of the house, at the top of the basement stairs, so there was little chance of him hearing glass break. Alex risked one heavy knock and the pane shattered, spraying the basement floor below. He yanked the lock open, pushed the window to one side, then quietly dropped through to the floor below. Listened. There was the sound of footsteps moving down the hall toward the front of the house. His was an older home and the basement was completely open. He stepped over the broken glass and ran for the stairs. Gun out, he quietly started up, eyes trained on the kitchen light that shone through the crack at the bottom of the door above him. A shadow moved across the light.

“He said he was on his way,” uttered a man’s gruff voice. “Where the hell is he.”

Alex was at the top of the stairs. He reached for the doorknob, turned it quietly, pulled it toward him. Gwen was tied to one of the kitchen chairs. The guy was at her side, his back to Alex.

“What difference does it make. You’re going to kill us both anyway.” 

“Shut up bitch.”

Alex was through the doorway and behind him in two quick strides. He planted his gun in the guy’s neck, grabbed him by his vest, whirled and pushed him face first against the closest kitchen wall. Holstering his own weapon, Alex yanked the guy’s arms back and quickly cuffed him, then relieved him of his gun and his phone, stuffing them into his vest pockets.

“On the floor!” Alex pushed him down.

“Fuck you!”

Alex rushed to Gwen and quickly untied her.

“Oh Alex! I wasn’t sure if you understood,” she managed to get out before she started to cry. “It’s okay! I’m alright. These are happy tears.”

“I got the message, honey, loud and clear.” He gave her a quick hug. “I’ll get Marchand and Goodwin. They can take this asshole to the detachment.”

“I heard him on the phone with someone; twice. I think they were arguing the second time.”

Alex nodded, but said nothing. He went over to the guy and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s go.” He marched him through the alcove, across the living room to the back entryway. He pulled the door open and waved to Goodwin, who bounded up to the back porch and moved inside.

“He’s all yours,” said Alex, handing the perp over. “I’ve got his gun and phone.” Goodwin grabbed the guy by an elbow and followed Alex, who’d headed down the hall to the front door and opened it.

“We got him,” said Alex.

“I’ll get the car,” said Marchand, heading down the block.

“Here’s his jacket,” said Gwen, coming down the hall and handing it to Alex. “I don’t want it in my house!” Alex searched the pockets and found a motel key card and a thin wallet.

“Slumberlodge,” said Alex. He handed the jacket to Goodwin and pocketed the wallet and key card.

Alex pulled out the guy’s phone and turned it on. No password.

“The second call was just before you got here,” said Gwen.

Alex checked the call log: two calls from the same number in the last hour and four texts. The last one: are they dead yet? Alex shoved the phone in his jacket pocket. Marchand arrived back with the cruiser shortly after.

“Let Kennedy know you’re on the way. He’ll want to take this interview. Tell him I’m right behind you, with Gwen.”

“Someone should check out his room,” said Goodwin.

“Kennedy will send one of you over.”

Alex and Gwen watched from the door as the two men hustled the guy out the door, down the walk and into the waiting cruiser, before shutting the door. He put his arm around her.

“Kennedy will want to interview you and we’ll need you to do a written statement.”

“I know.”

“Of course, you do.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder. “He was hired to kill us Alex,” she whispered. “Do you think we’re being targeted because we’re Indigenous?” She’d been adopted by a family in Halifax, Nova Scotia when still an infant and technically, knew nothing about her birth parents. But most people, including Alex, assumed she had some Indigenous heritage, including her adoptive parents.

Alex was silent for a moment. They’d dealt with threats before, but nothing like this. He was police, and Indigenous. It came with the territory. “No. I think this attempt on us is tied to the child trafficking case.”

“You, especially, are a threat to them,” said Gwen. “If it wasn’t for you—”

“He wouldn’t have been here at all.” He reached for her hands. “When did he get here?”

“About twenty minutes after I ordered takeout. He was carrying a paper bag. I just assumed he was the delivery guy with our lasagna order.”

Alex closed his eyes and shook his head slightly in warning. “Let’s get you to the detachment to give a statement.”

“Do we have to go tonight?” said Gwen, playing along.

“Kennedy will want to interview you ASAP.”

“Okay.” She got her coat and boots and put them on. They left the house and walked the short distance to where Alex had parked. Neither said a word until they were in the car. Alex motioned for her to give him her phone. She passed it over. He pulled the battery from her phone, then did the same to his.

Gwen was first to speak. “He knew I’d ordered takeout.”

Alex nodded. He started the car, backed onto their street, and headed for the detachment. Gwen turned to look at their house.

“What if our house is bugged. But how? I haven’t had any work shifts since we got home from holiday and with all this snow, I’ve hardly been out.” Alex said nothing. “Oh no, Alex! They could have planted anything they wanted when we were on holiday!”

“It’s either that, or our phones are being monitored. Or both.” Gwen looked at their phones, now resting in the caddy between them.

“Are we going back to the house tonight?”

“I need to arrange a sweep for cameras and that can’t happen till tomorrow morning. It’s best if we get a room.”

“You’re right,” said Gwen. “I doubt I’d get any sleep here anyway.”

When they arrived at the detachment, there was no sign of Kennedy’s car. Alex parked and accompanied Gwen to his office. She sat down and he got her a cup of tea and a muffin.

“It might be stale. This is all I could find.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll go see if Kennedy’s here.”

“Okay.” She took a sip of tea, leaned back, and closed her eyes.

Alex met Kennedy in front of his office door. They entered it.

“Christ Alex!” Kennedy was visibly shaken. “How’s Gwen?”

“I don’t know,” said Alex. “She’s in my office.”

“Thank God she’s safe. What about you?”

“I’m good.”

“I alerted the VPD and called Surrey Command. I left a message for Inspector Brandeis. I’d like to interview Gwen this evening if you think she’s up to it.”

Before Alex had a chance to answer, Kennedy’s phone rang. “It’s Brandeis,” he said, picking up. “Inspector, thanks for getting back. Sergeant Desocarras just arrived. He’s here with me. I’m putting you on speaker. There was an attempt on Alex and his wife Gwen less than half and hour ago.”

“Jesus Alex! Are you okay?”

“We’re okay,” said Alex. “Gwen is pretty shaken up.”

“What happened?”

“The perp knew Gwen had ordered takeout. He arrived at our door with a bag, pretending to be the delivery guy from a local Italian restaurant. Thing is, only Gwen and I knew she was ordering. Either someone is listening in to our phone conversations or our house is bugged, which would have been easy. We got back from holiday a week ago. Gwen managed to tip me off during a phone conversation and I was able to enter our house via the basement and disarm the perp. We took him into custody about twenty minutes ago.”

“Where are your phones?”

“I removed the batteries from both, just in case. They’re in my office.”

“Has anyone had a look at the perp’s phone?”

“I did. There are two recent calls from the same number,” said Alex, “which jives with what Gwen noted, and four texts in the last few hours from the same number. We’ll try pinging it now, but it’s probably a lost cause. If the house is wired, he’ll know we have his hire in custody. He’s probably ditched the phone.”

“I’ll send a team up first thing tomorrow morning to do a sweep of your house.” He spoke briefly to someone at his end and came back on the line. “They’ll be there by 8:00 am.”

“We’ll pick them up at the airport,” said Kennedy. “I’ll be interviewing Gwen and the suspect soon as I get off the phone with you.”

“Call me when you’re done.”

Kennedy hung up and looked at Alex. “Are you sure Gwen is up to talking?”

“I think so.”

“I’ll interview her first, then you can get lodgings for the two of you.

“I’ll do my report while you interview her.”

It was nearly ten o’clock when they left the detachment. They picked up take-out sandwiches at Tim Hortons. Next stop was the Red Coach Inn. Alex requested a room in one of the second-floor wings with a separate entrance. Goodwin and Marchand were on watch, one outside the room, the other at the side entrance. Once Gwen was settled in, Alex returned to the detachment. Kennedy was in his office.

“No joy,” said Kennedy, looking up as Alex entered. Nothing in the system from the perp’s ID. HE refuses to talk. Wants a lawyer. Something tells me he was involved with the hit on Batlan. Twelve hours later, the attack on you and Gwen.”

“Whoever is orchestrating this has definite revenge fantasies which seem to involve surprising his victims at home. We’re about 450 kilometres from Vancouver, only a five or six-hour drive and the weather’s been good for the last 24 hours. The perp had lots of time to be in town for both hits.”

“Brandeis has set up a room at E Division in Surrey.”

Alex nodded. “I want to be at my house when forensics do the sweep.”

“They’re flying up at 8:00 AM. You should probably try to get some sleep.”

“I could use a few hours.”

Morgan O’Meara and Lucas Arenas were cozy under a blanket on their living room couch, away from the front window.

“I’ll imagine it’s common to have trouble sleeping when you’re under 24-hour surveillance,” said Morgan.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Lucas with a smile.

“Do you think it was the blond guy that killed Batlan?”

Everyone was at the Clarendon in Vancouver the night their friend, Michael Bolton, had taken surreptitious pictures of the trafficking ring having dinner. They’d all had a good look at them. He was hard to miss.

“Crazies tend to stand out, don’t they,” said Morgan. “And he was the only one who got away.”

“He did have that look,” said Lucas.

“That ‘mess with me and you’ll pay’ look.”

“Exactly,” said Lucas. “That look.”

“On a brighter note, we have a shooting schedule for the film,” said Morgan.

“You must be excited.”

“I’ve gotta confess, I don’t feel quite ready.”

“You’ve been ready for a long time, Morgan. You’ll see. Once you start, everything will fall into place.”

“My blue-eyed handsome man. Always so positive.” Impulsively, she put her arms around him and gave him an exceptionally long kiss.

Lucas chuckled and pulled her closer.

They were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Really?” Lucas groaned. Reluctantly, he got up and peeked through the side of the curtain. “It’s one of the officers.” He moved to the front door and let him in.

“Sorry sir, ma’am. We just got word there was an attempt on Sergeant Desocarras and his wife up in 100 Mile House.”

“No!” Morgan sprang to her feet.

“Are they okay?” asked Lucas.

“They’re fine. I’m going to have a look around. Just a precaution.”

They watched him make his way to the back of their cottage, heard the back door open and shut.

“It’s not over, Lucas. I knew it wasn’t over.” Morgan moved to the couch and sat in one corner, pulling the blanket around herself protectively.

Just when they were finally getting back to something approaching normal, thought Lucas. He was angry at the interruption, but he was angrier that Morgan was scared and that the lowlifes were still in their lives when they so desperately wanted them out. With an effort he got himself under control and joined her on the couch.

***

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