Snow fogs the sky like a silken sheet shimmering in the wind. Piles of it litter the ground. No plows have cleared the way of either road or sidewalk. But it makes no difference. Gabriella floats through it in a cannabis-induced haze. Three joints of Electric Blue course through her system, dulling out the snow filling her boots. She pulls her coat tighter and smiles, not a care in the world.
Gabriella laughs, remembering Josh stroking her arm, whispering his request to accompany her home, but living just a few blocks from the Pot Land shop has advantages for her. She declined the offer, not wanting to have his hairy ass in her hands while he pumps himself into her. But still, once he did satisfy the emptiness inside. No, it’s better to be alone tonight and enjoy the buzz.
She glances at the houses on Taunton Road. Light from one building breaks through the snow only to be masked by the limbs of a tall bush. Small spots of light glisten and reflect off particles in the wind as she walks toward her basement apartment.
Gabriel shivers as the cold stabs, threatening to disperse the evening's two-hundred-dollar euphoria purchase. Wind masks all sound. Even busy Yonge Street is all but closed to traffic. Her phone buzzes and vibrates. Another warning of the storm raging across the GTA blazes across the screen and through her numbed mind. She stuffs the device back into a pocket.
She stops, rests a hand against the light pole, and lifts up her left foot. The heel is no longer attached.
“Fuck,” she mumbles, letting out an exasperated breath. She shivers as the bite of the cold hits her for the first time since leaving the pot shop. Her buzz wanes. The wind whips around her head, lifting loose hair. She pulls up the collar of the coat to protect the shaven sides of her scalp.
Headlights flood the streets as a cargo van turns down the un-plowed road. The slow pace allows it to push through the drifts. White paint against white roads. Black windows hiding the occupants.
Gabriella stares at her ruined boot. The van pulls up beside her, the side door slides open. Two hooded men in black jump out. Hands wrap around her arms with steel-like grips. A stab of pain hits her neck as a needle punctures skin. Fire swarms through her. Muscles go numb and lax. The euphoria scatters. Legs give out, but two hands grab her before she falls. The world darkens.
More hands grasp her around the legs. Vision blurring, Gabriella screams, but nothing comes out. She struggles to move her arms and legs, but they dangle like a rag dolls. The van’s side door is open. Her head lulls back, and an upside-down cavernous maw of darkness encompasses her. Acrid cigarette smoke fills her nostrils, and yellow tobacco-stained teeth that look like salt on the rim of a Margareta glass smile at her as the light turns dark.
* * *
The charge light flashes on the dash. The only twelve more kilometers of charge left before I’m walking. With the snow as high as it is, there’s no way I want to do that. Fucking winter. I’d replace the car’s battery, but they want over ten thousand for a new one. Plus, fees for disposal of the old one the environmental zealots in City Hall demand to feed the ever-increasing budget.
I stop before a bright orange holographic banner with the words “Police Barrier - Do Not Cross” projected in a holographic marque. The red and blue lights in the back of the car reflect off the glistening snow behind me. Better turn them off before they suck the last of the juice from the battery.
A knock on the window brings me out of the melancholy. A quick press of the button and cold January air steals all the heat out of the car.
“Roberts,” Shan says. The man looks as miserable as I feel. His pencil-thin mustache is peppered with white from frozen moisture. He’s swimming in an over-sized police-issued coat. A black band still covers the top of his shield from the funeral yesterday. His teeth chatter. He’s still not used to this climate even after twenty years.
The temperature gauge on the dash says negative twenty-two. Bitter cold in Toronto. The wind swirls around the car’s cab as I release my seat belt.
“Bad one?” I ask.
“Yes and no.” He waves at the road beyond the barrier. “Nothing except the heel of a boot.”
A bootheel? I’m here for something as mundane as that? I turn the car off. “So why call me in?”
“Eyewitness says a girl was taken.”
I press a button, and all the lights in the car go dark. The window automatically rolls up as I open the door. The wind catches my coat. I scramble to hold the edges together and button up at the same time. Winter sucks. “Kidnapping? Who’s the vic?”
Shan shakes his head. “No name. We’re canvassing the area to find more information.”
I thread the last button through its hole, but winter takes one last bite from my skin to make those little bumps swell up across my stomach. The station house will be warm, but I’ll need a good couple of hours to thaw. I push my phone, and it releases from the dashboard. With one hand on the Jesus handle, I pull myself fully into the cold grasp of winter. The wind snaps against my neck before I can raise my collar for protection.
Shan walks with me through the police barrier but hangs back. Not much to the scene. The heel of a boot. A woman’s clutch, open and empty. Nothing else. I stand back from the immediate area to let the forensic team recover things.
“Roberts, over here,” Shan says. He’s standing beside one of the investigators, motioning me to come over.
I hike up my collar a little more. The shadow of a beard scrapes against the rough material of my coat. “What you have there, Shan?”
“Little blood under the snow,” he says.
A few strides in his direction, and there they are—three small dots under the snow. I meet the gaze of the investigator who found them. Her dark brown hair twirls around in the wind covering part of her face. She wears glasses as if surgery to correct her vision is something beneath her. Thin lips are pursed together as she brushes away the covering snow off her find. Once revealed, she tweezers up one drop at a time and puts each into their own zip bag. Her name tag is obscured. I hate that. Now I have to wait until someone says her name.
“Run an analysis to ensure the blood is from the same person,” I say.
She lifts the bags and gazes at three spots. Her one eye is different than the other. Little lines of scar tissue disrupt the otherwise perfect skin at the corner of the lid. Her left iris is more bluish in color than the right. Text runs across her glasses. She’s an augy. Should have noticed that sooner from her ability to spot the blood.
“Already have.” She pulls out a marker and scribbles something on one bag. “Female.” The same pen dances on another bag. “Same here. Same woman.” She holds up the last bag. “Male.”
She puts the bags into her side pocket and smiles at me. Her gaze captivates my world until the weight of my wedding ring brings me around. Look away—no need to take in those high cheekbones and angular face. I break away from the uncomfortably long stare and look to the sky.
“Anything else you find?”
She takes in a long breath and lets it out. “No. We’re lucky to have found this.” With a turn, she motions up the street. “Plows were in here a few minutes before the report came in.” She stands up, her long legs putting her at eye level with me. “Besides, the wind did a good job of scrubbing everything before we got here.”
Shan touches my arm. “I’ll make sure everything is scanned. You’re not dressed well for the weather, might as well head back to the house.”
He’s a good man. I can trust him. “Thanks, but it’s not the cold…”
“It’s the humidity,” the woman says before Shan can finish the pun. “I’ll do a full analysis and upload it to your storage, Bruce.”
How does she know me? I glance at her again. There’s a little upward curve touching the side of her lip. Dwelling on such matters can drive a man insane. Instead, I nod and go back to the car. Maybe the house is the best place for me.
* * *
The lights on the car come on just as the battery drops. I turn off the automatic sensor that switched them on, and daytime runners give me just enough light to find my parking space. The car jerks slightly as the wheels turn into the spot. The city can pay for the charge today.
The garage heaters are blasting out heated air, but it’s still cold in the underground. Slush drops off the car adding to the already slippery floor. It almost takes me out, even with grips on the bottom of my boots.
The metal handle of the charging plug clings to my flesh like a long lost lover. Swear I’m going to leave part of my hand on it. But at least the car will be fully charged in two hours.
I take the elevator to the main lobby, flashing my badge to get past the metal detectors without a hassle. The elevator call screen wants my phone to scan the certificate in case I try to access floors I’m not cleared for. All I want is to go to the fifteenth and my desk. I hit the button on the screen, and it changes to the letter E. The elevator with that designation is already letting people on. I squeeze in with a muffled sorry.
The elevator stops a few times, leaving a few of us to stare mindlessly at the door. I catch a glimpse of an Asian woman. She’s easily the tallest I’ve seen in a while. Her hair is pulled back in tight buns, and an over-sized coat covers her body. She catches my gaze in the door’s reflection. There is no emotion, just a hard stare. My collar tightens, and a lump fills my throat as I look away.
A polite ding announces my floor, and the doors open. I step out with four other people but pay them no heed, heading right to my desk.
A five-level pyramid of shoe heels decorates the top of my desk. I sit down and open a drawer. Shoe heels are piled inside to the brim. As if cops have nothing better to do with their time but to pull jokes on one another.
A uniform drops a folder on my desk as he passes. It’s got to be another joke. I open the thing. Pictures of boots without heels adorn the inside of the envelope. Each with a printout describing an elaborate past from walking behind the elderly waiting to trip them to loitering without a wearer. All have the heels removed in the photos.
“Funny,” I say in a loud voice. “If you put as much care into your work as you do with the jokes, you’d be able to find the criminal with no problem.”
My phone vibrates. Helen’s name flashes on the screen. I don’t know if she’s home or at work. The fight last night had me sleeping on the couch. She left this morning without saying goodbye. It seems to be the norm in our relationship now.
“Detective Roberts,” I say.
“Bring home bread.” The tone is flat, but there’s the sound of the hospital in the background before the line goes dead.
Great, she’s still mad.
Not sure why things always revolve around me doing something that makes her mad. Lately, we argue about everything. It’s like I can’t move without pissing her off. Now I have to get bread. What type of bread? If I get it wrong, she’ll crawl up one side of me and down the other.
Regular white bread will have to do. She’s said it has less glutton.
Captain Braden Max is at the door to his office. His voice split the air so perfectly I couldn’t tell he was yelling.
I walk toward him. “Yes, Cap?”
He hates the short form of his title. Rather we call him Brad or Captain Max. Right now, I’m not in a placating mood.
Cap steps aside for me to enter his office. One foot in, and she is sitting there, back to me.
I can tell it’s her. She sits so perfectly straight. The bun on the back of her head is wound tight, and no hair is out of place. Her coat is off, and there are epaulets on her shoulders with two thick solid gold bars. She’s a captain.
“You caught the heel case,” Cap says. It’s a statement, not a question. “There’s more to it than just one missing girl.”
He walks to his desk and sits, motioning me to the chair beside our mystery guest. She focuses on the captain as I settle into my seat.
“Captain Max,” she begins. “I here only as courtesy. Interpol not interested in Toronto Police. They not take part in investigate lost woman. We autonomous, work with no interference.”
Cap taps a folder on his desk with one finger. His head tilts to the side, and a look of defiance crosses his face. “Captain Ling, Canada does not have a policing agreement with Interpol. If you want to investigate anything on our soil, it will be done with one of our officers. Especially if it involves a Canadian citizen.”
“Case far beyond boarders of you country, Captain.” She pushes her sleeve up a centimeter, and I catch a glimpse of the new wrist phones everyone is talking about. Small, out of the way, and fast. They say the reception is clear and the power immense. She taps a button, and an image comes to life around her wrist, floating a few millimeters above the skin. “Total been twelve abduction and twelve murder in GTA area. They start in Hong Kong and branch to Vancouver, US, Mexico, South America. If we no find soon, they reach across Europe. They target women and make money selling sensory data of sex act. It in report - on desk.”
Cap opens the folder and scans the contents. An eyebrow arches as he flips the pages. Our Interpol visitor doesn’t blink. I keep glancing between the two. Someone is going to break. Cap turns another page in the report.
“You missed something in your file,” Cap mumbles.
Our guest leans forward. “I miss nothing.”
“It says you need to follow the guidelines set forth by the country you investigate in if they do not use Interpol. We don’t.”
She leans back. “It my discretion.”
The corner of Cap’s mouth creeps up. “Actually, it’s up to my discretion, and I opt to have my man here shadow you. Understand?”
Not a flicker of emotion passes her face. She doesn’t frown or swear. No disappointment or relief. Just an unending stare.
“Very well,” she finally says. “I expect man keep with me.”
Cap nods at me. “Okay, then Roberts here is your liaison.”
“Can keep up?” Interpol asks me.
“You don’t need to worry about me,” I say.
She squints, and her head tilts a little. “Yes, do.”
“Roberts can take care of himself. I assure you.”
Her eyes don’t leave me. “I not want you assurance or man. I work alone. This”-she looks me up and down-” officer not look well to keep up anyone. What make you better than others in department? Or better, what make you special?”
I glance at Cap. “Nothing, I’m just a cop.”
“Just cop,” she apes. “Spoke like true American.” She turns her attention back to Cap. “He can keep up he can stay. He lag, I leave him.”
“Fair enough,” Cap says, reaching out his hand.
She stands and gives a slight bow, ignoring his outstretched offer.
* * *
My phone goes off in my pocket. I pull it out and see the caller's name just as Cap closes his office door behind me. The kid’s school. What the fuck is wrong now. I take a deep breath and accept it.
I start walking to my desk. “Hello?”
“Mr. Roberts?” A woman’s voice, possibly in her late forties or near it. There’s tension in her tone. No image transmission. Not a good sign.
“Lilly-Grace Pham from Markville Secondary School. Your daughter is here in my office. I need to see you concerning an issue.”
I look at my watch. 10:15. What the hell could Sarah have done now? I sit at my desk, resting an elbow on it and putting my head in a hand. “I’m at work. Have you called her mother?”
“Yes, I’ve called her mother.” There’s a deep breath at her end. “She told me to call you.”
I fixate on the bread. She wants me to pick up bread on the way home. Breathe, one in and one out. Take control of the situation. You’re at work. She’s at work. Who can pull off a visit on short notice. “What’s the problem?”
“We need to talk. In person.”
The car probably doesn’t have enough charge in it yet; better delay so I don’t get stuck. “I can be there in about an hour.”
“Fine. I’ll keep her in the office.”
A quick thumb tap and the call ends—another day in paradise. I need to get to the lab and then Markham. This and escort an Interpol officer around town. Not the best of situations when investigating a reported kidnapping.
A chair rolls up beside me. Phil, the detective whose desk is behind mine, leans back. He has a problem with personal space, in that he doesn’t believe in it. That and he wears some weird vanilla aftershave that aggravates my sinuses.
“Who’s the hottie you got paired with?”
“Interpol,” I say, just as the room goes quiet.
We both look up as everyone else in the room does; even the women are staring. Captain Ling walks toward me. Her uniform is no longer hiding everything. Long black hair is now braided into a ponytail that swings to the small of her back. There is a slight blue tint near the middle giving just enough contrast to be noticed but not enough to take away from the color. Almond eyes with near-black irises penetrate my soul as her gaze lands on me. A smile crosses perfect lips and disappears just as quick. The pants suit picks up a little shimmer from the lights. As she walks forward, the jacket opens to show a slim build. She walks like a predator. Measured and fluid paces bring her to the side of my desk.
“Show what have,” she demands.
Phil groans as he wheels back to his desk, mind going somewhere only he knows.