Dez Pallaton froze with the phone to his ear.
“We’ve got one of yours.” The voice of Detective Mark Hanson grumbled through the receiver. “She’s been strangled.”
“What makes you think she’s mine?”
“She’s about fifteen, looks streetwise—she’s Native. How soon can you get down here?”
“Give me twenty minutes.” Dez set the receiver in its cradle and stared, unseeing, at the funding proposal on his desk. Had somebody killed one of his kids? His cop friends were always preaching detachment. How in hell was he supposed to do that? Dez understood these kids. His mom was Ojibway and he considered himself Native, even though his dad was one of those Irish, Indian, French mixtures that Canadians referred to as Métis. The Native kids trusted Dez, which was a lot more than they did most white men.
I need a coffee. Dez left his desk and headed for the lunchroom. Annie, the Friendship Centre’s receptionist was inside taking her morning break. She greeted him with a wave.
“How’s it going?” Dez noted the bulge in Annie’s cheek and the half-eaten donut in her hand.
She flashed her eyes at him and he laughed. Even though Dez kept his black hair neatly braided, and dressed office casual, his good looks and toned body drew a lot of sultry looks from female co workers.
Taking the coffee back to his desk Dez picked up his pencil and focused on the proposal. Twenty minutes later, he stopped at Annie’s desk with an envelope. “Dim Sum’s on me if you’ll get this typed and on the Director’s desk by three o’clock.”
Annie giggled. “I’ll hold you to that,” she told his retreating back.
* * *
Vancouver police headquarters covered two full blocks and finding a parking space took fortitude. Dez circled, made a sharp turn onto Cordova and hit the brakes. An old wino stepped in front of the Jeep and flipped him the bird.
Dez shook his head and laughed. Yesterday was Welfare Wednesday. The old boozer would be back in the soup line tomorrow, but today he had a bottle of cheap wine clutched in his hand and change jingling in his pocket. Today he was King for a day.
A VW Beatle pulled away from the curb and Dez slid into position. It took some doing to snug a Jeep into a spot left by a Bug, but he’d had plenty of practice. Moments later, he locked the doors and crossed the street.
Inside the double doors, Dez stopped at the front desk. “I’m going up to see Hanson.”
The desk clerk looked up from a magazine, nodded his head and went back to reading.
As usual, Dez bypassed the elevator and took the steps to the third floor. At the end of the hall, he stopped in front of a corner office, knocked once, and stepped inside.
“Good, you’re here.” Detective Hanson motioned to the wooden chair fronting his desk. “You remember Carver?” The detective indicated the tall, dark skinned native who stood with his shoulder propped against the window frame.
“Sure. How’s it going, Frank?”
Carver nodded in return.
“Well, now that you’re here.” Hanson hoisted his 240-pound frame out of the chair, pulled open a file drawer and removed a glossy black and white. “See if you recognize this girl.” He handed over the photo and Dez found himself looking at a bruised and bloated face dominated by sightless dead eyes.
His stomach clenched. “She doesn’t look familiar but it’s hard to tell from this. Where’d they find her?”
“One of the guards checking out the west-end of the Park where the bums bed down, stumbled across her body. Doc says she was killed somewhere else and dumped.”
Hanson nodded. “We figure an Indian killed her.”
“They found her stripped and staked out like she was an offering in a ritual. Her arms and legs had been tied with buckskin and she had this card stuck to her breast.”
Hanson held up a pale blue card. “Carver says it’s a Medicine Card.” He turned the card to reveal a picture of a rattlesnake curled around a nest of eggs.
“That’s a Medicine Card, all right.” Dez took the card out of Hanson’s hand. “That still doesn’t explain why you think the killer is Native. You can buy these cards at every New Age shop in the city. Besides Indians are superstitious and messing with the Medicine Cards is taboo.”
“Well, killing people’s taboo, too, and this bastard didn’t mind that.”
Hanson reached out his hand for the card and Dez held it back. “You said the card was stuck on her. How?”
“With this.” Hanson reached into the envelope and pulled out a kitchen knife. “Carver says these Medicine Cards mean something. You know anything about them?”
“No, but I know someone who does. Let me take him the card and see what he says?”
“Are you nuts? This is evidence. If the Sergeant found out I let you take a card out of evidence he’d have me back on the street handing out parking tickets.”
“Easy money.” Dez chuckled at the vision of Hanson’s belly stuffed inside a uniform. Then he cut the grin. “Seriously Mark, I’d like Spirit Water to look at this. He reads the Medicine Cards.”
Hanson scowled. “Bring him in then.”
Dez shook his head. “Spirit Water’s one of the old timers. His memory goes back to the days when white cops beat the shit out of Indians for entertainment. I can’t say he’s never been inside a police station, but if so, it wasn’t his idea.”
“Damn fools.” Hanson shook his head.
Dez, not knowing whether Hanson meant Spirit Water or the white cops, kept silent.
Finally, Hanson grunted out of his chair and walked over to the photocopy machine. “I’ll make a copy for you. Take it along to the old man and see what he says. I’ll expect a report.”
“Thanks. I’m going to take a run out there this weekend. I’ll let you know if he has any ideas.”
Once outside of headquarters Dez retrieved the Jeep, stopped by the Friendship Center to make sure Annie had turned in his proposal, reiterated his promise to take her for Dim Sum, and headed home.
The details of the girl’s murder had Dez worried. It took a lot of juggling to maintain harmony in a large multi cultural city like Vancouver. The way the press would play this up if they got any hint of a ritual murder could spark the kind of racial tension that would make his job even tougher than it already was. The Native community remembered all too vividly the routs of the 1950’s when the Canadian government —hell-bent on reforming savages—gave their Indian agents instructions to round-up Native kids, take them away from their families, and force them into residential schools. The divide between Indian and White ran deep. Most Natives would read about the murder in the media and immediately jump to the conclusion that, yet another Native brother was being set up to pay for a white man’s crime.
Dez drove along Commercial Drive to Adanac and turned into the alley behind an attractive two-story colonial. The square frame and brick structure housed a Chinese grocery on the ground floor and a pair of condos on top. Dez had purchased the property before the latest boom had sent Vancouver’s housing skyrocketing. The double garage attached to the property had sold him on the place. It was a decision he’d never regretted.
Until recently, Dez had lived in one of the condos and kept the other vacant. That had changed three months ago when the Friendship Center hired a young Métis woman from Quebec. Director Sandstone, mindful of Vancouver’s housing crisis, pleaded with Dez to rent his second condo to their new associate. Dez resisted at first, unwilling to relinquish his privacy, but then he’d met Martine.
Silky black hair hung long and straight to her waist and Dez’s eyes followed miles of leg from the hem of her mini-skirt to the strappy leather sandals on her feet.
“Dez. This is our new associate Martine LaChance. I’ve told her you might be able to help with finding accommodations.” Director Sandstone had brought Martine into Dez’s office and stood there with a smug smile on her lips when Dez’s face took on the startled gaze of a deer caught in headlights.
“Hi.” Martine fixed her melting chocolate eyes on Dez’s coal black orbs. Stunned by the fire in his belly and the tangle of his tongue, Dez stuttered through introductions and arranged a showing of his condo.
Remembering the rest of that day still had Dez squirming. He’d taken Martine through the condo and they’d gone to his place to work out the details. Dez gave her the lease and while she read it over, he admired her obvious assets. When Martine finished reading, she signed her name, and handed the lease back to Dez. Then she let out a long-suffering sigh. “Just so there’s no misunderstanding,” she’d said. “I’m flattered by your obvious interest, but I never get personally involved with my co-workers.” The look on her face and the flash in her eyes left no doubt that she’d observed his scrutiny.
Mortified. Dez added his signature to the lease and promised to provide her with a copy back at the office. That had been a month ago. They’d developed a good working relationship, friendly, uncomplicated, and platonic, at least on Martine’s part.
Dez unlocked the downstairs door and let himself into the foyer. Removing a couple of circulars from the mailbox, he dropped them in the trash and double-stepped up the stairs. At the top, the door on the left led to Martine’s unit, the door on the right to his.
Martine’s door stood ajar. Right from the start, she’d been open about sharing their common areas. Too bad, she wasn’t so open about other aspects of their lives.
Whoa! Dez tamped his libido as he let himself inside his own condo and headed for the living room. If the lady in question knew what I was thinking she’d have my scalp hanging alongside yours. Dez told the hairpieces hanging from one of the antique belts in his collection.
Dez’s living room décor reflected his cultural heritage and his passion for traditional oddities like the scalp collection. Against the wall stood a six-foot oak cabinet with heavy doors and stained-glass inserts. Inside a beat-up leather case lined with faded blue velvet cloth held Dez’s most cherished possession. Wrapped in a swatch of rabbit’s fur lay the sacred pipe that he had carved back when he’d been sweating drugs and alcohol out of his system.
Taking the pipe out of its case and strolling out to the patio, Dez settled into a chair and lit the pipe. He needed to offer prayers for the young girl’s spirit and remind the Creator that getting respect had been a hard struggle for his people. Vancouver was a major improvement over the small Ontario town where Dez and his sister grew up, but the line between white man and Indian never quite went away. Having a brother accused of a ritual sex crime would be a major setback.
After making his offering and saying his prayers, Dez packed the pipe back in its case and stood up to lean against the railing.
Down below an ethnic mix of Caucasians, Natives, Asians, East Indians and Africans strolled past the pasta houses, delis, coffee shops and fruit stands lining Commercial Drive. Hands of every shape and size picked through boxes of plump red tomatoes, measured sacks of onions, and pinched the flesh of red, yellow and green peppers. Pungent strings of garlic hung from wooden rafters and fresh cut flowers poked their heads out of baskets and tubs lining the sidewalks.
Dez’s patio door slid open and the spicy scent of Opium perfume floated to him on a current of air. He turned his head to meet a pair of eyes the color of rich dark chocolate. Dez lost his equilibrium and stumbled back from the railing.
“What’s wrong?” Martine touched his arm.
Dez shook his head and thanked his ancestors for blush free olive skin, at least it kept her unaware of the effect she had on him. Somehow, she managed to reduce him to a love-struck fool without so much as an intimate glance. “Hanson called this afternoon,” he quickly changed the subject from his clumsiness to the missing girl. “They found a dead girl in Stanley Park and he thought she might be one of mine. I didn’t recognize her.”
Martine’s face turned white. “I hope it isn’t Shannon.” Instinctively she reached for Dez’s hand.
“One of the girls from my circle. She didn’t show up Monday night and I called her brother Alex. He hadn’t seen her since the weekend, and the house mother at Evergreen house hasn’t seen her since Monday afternoon.”
“Maybe she went home?” Most of the girls in Martine’s circle came from the reservation, and it wasn’t uncommon for one of them to quit the city without telling anyone they were leaving.
She shook her head. “Shannon and Alex are alone in the world. They were in foster care on Vancouver Island. When Alex won a track scholarship to the University of British Columbia he moved over here. Within a month Shannon followed him. He lives in a dorm, so he brought Shannon to the Friendship Centre and we set her up at Evergreen House.” Martine turned back and crossed to the patio door. “I’m going to phone and see if he’s heard anything.”
While Dez waited for Martine’s return, he watched an old geezer in a sweat-stained cowboy hat who had stopped in front of the liquor store. The musician lifted a guitar out of a battered case and propped it open an invitation to passing shoppers to salute the tunes with coins. Then the old timer swung the guitar over his shoulder and started strumming the opening bars to Roger Miller’s King of the Road.
Dez leaned on the railing and listened while keeping an ear out for Martine. It sure seemed to be taking her a long time. Damn, I hope the girl has been found. However, it appeared there’d be no such luck when minutes later Martine stepped through the doorway and the look on ...