Daily Archives: December 27, 2006

Case File No. 37

Frozen hands shoved deep into the pockets of my jacket, I strode toward the centre of the ByWard Market. The walk warmed me up some and, when I stepped into the Moulin de Provence, coffee-laden steam made me forgive myself for going out in the half-freezing rain. I punched through the fog and smiled. Aromas of cinnamon, chocolate, and apple battled with the smell of white wine and hot milk. I decided I’d have a piece of apple pie with the coffee. After all, it was that kind of day.
I was squashing the last crumbs of the crust with my fork when I saw a tan coat and two legs covered in checkered olive green and yellow pants beside my table. I didn’t bother raising my head. Only one person had the talent to dress that badly. “Hey, Terry. How are you?”

“Should ask you the same thing,” my friend answered. He pulled out the chair across the table from me and sat down.

“Are you following me?”

“No. I saw you through the window. You look like shit warmed over.”

“Try to sleep on a run-down couch for a few days, you’ll see what it does to your mood.”

“No apartment yet, huh?”

“Haven’t really looked. Besides, my office has all the amenities.”

“Yeah, but you’re living where you’re working. That’s not healthy. What you need is a holiday.” He tapped his pockets for a cigarette. I pointed to the no smoking sign and he winced. “Yeah,” he continued. “A nice holiday in the country.”

Terry’s left eye twitched. Something was going on. “And you have a suggestion,” I said.

The eye twitched some more. “Yeah.”

“So you were just walking in the Market and happened to see me sitting at this table.”

“Okay, fine. I was looking for you. Winston said you’d most likely gone for your regular coffee fix. Knowing you, it had to be around here. I lucked out.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“It’s Betty’s sister. She needs a good PI.”

“Who twisted your arm, Betty or her sister?”

Terry chuckled. “That’s what I like about you, Jack. Your powers of deduction. They both hammered at me last night. There was no friggin’ way I could win.” He took a sip, grimaced, then dumped three packets of sugar and two creamers into his coffee. I waited him out. Patience was the way to get Terry to talk.

“Laura, my sister-in-law, bought the Mill Inn in Wakefield about six months ago. Classy place, killer setting, regular customers from all over the world.”

“A winner.”

“Yeah, seemed like it. She sunk all her savings into the project. The thing is, the Inn’s starting to get a reputation.”

“Laura’s renting rooms by the hour?”

“Ha-ha. No, the rumour is that the Inn is jinxed, maybe haunted.”

My mouth fell open, so I took a sip of coffee.

Terry grimaced. “Friggin’ dumb story, but weird things have happened. A man died of a heart attack; two weeks earlier, his doctor gave him a clean bill of health.”

“It happens. You and I know a few people who just keeled over. Remember Sam? He ran two marathons a year. Bam, he’s gone.”

“Sure. That’s exactly what I told Laura.”

“Did someone off the guy?”

“Autopsy revealed an aneurism. QPP ruled accidental death.” He stared out the window. The rain still came down pretty hard. “After the guy’s death, noises started at night,” he continued, his voice so low I had to lean over the table. “Laura says they sound like screeching monkeys. The cops can’t find where they’re coming from. Last week some kind of noxious gas leaked into the dining room and made everyone throw up for two days. They couldn’t find the source. Day before yesterday, someone poured acid into one of the washing machines. Ruined a pile of linen, plus the machine, of course.”

From where I sat, the whole story sounded like an elaborate scam designed to discourage Laura and convince her to sell in a hurry. I wondered if she’d had any offers. Despite myself, I felt a stab of interest. “You’re one of RCMP’s finest. Why don’t you help her? You know, keep it in the family and all.”

Terry stared out of the window, looking uncomfortable. “I can’t get away at the moment.”

“In other words, your boss said no.”

“Yeah.”

“What can I do the Quebec cops can’t?”

“The local is bright enough, but he’s got no experience. It’s his second year on the force. He might be missing clues. You’re good at reading people.”

“One of the staff?”

“Laura says no.” He took out his cigarette pack and flipped it around in his hands. “She can’t pay you much,” Terry continued, “but she’ll give you room and board for as long as it takes.”

“Or until she decides to sell, whichever is earlier.”

“Picked up on that angle, did you?”

Terry took a card from his wallet and shoved it under my nose, his eyes pleading. “Could you at least call Laura?”

“Nah. Call her yourself. Tell her I’ll be there tonight.”

* * *

The Mill Inn’s parking area was a well-lit, puddle-strewn, gravelled area sandwiched between the main building and an escarpment. It was empty except for the five cars that seemed to huddle together against the nasty weather. Just for the hell of it, I squeezed my cheap rental between a Porsche Carrera and a BMW Z8. Both cars had a coat of ice half an inch thick.

I turned off the ignition with relief. Just before the turnoff for Wakefield, I’d been stopped by the QPP who’d warned me all the roads were closed until further notice. I didn’t need the blast he gave me for risking my neck; I’d been giving it to myself all the way in. The highway had been slick with ice and I’d nearly taken the ditch five or six times. My wipers and the heater had run full speed, barely able to keep up. The beam of my headlights had been blurred and fell only a couple of meters from the hood. The hill down to the village had also been hairy. I was certain I’d end up driving straight into the Gatineau river, but some generous soul had sanded about thirty meters up to the stop sign.

The dark-panelled wood of the lobby entrance made the original beams and Y-posts stand out. The young man with dyed blond hair behind the registration desk grinned a welcome. The name tag stated his name was Roger.

“Bienvenue au Moulin Wakefield, monsieur,” he said.

“Hi.”

“Lousy weather, tonight, isn’t it?” he continued in impeccable English.

I nodded. Curious about the place, I turned left and found myself in the lounge, an impressive place that showed the age of the Mill. Recessed, multipaned casement windows set off the three-foot thick stone walls, left bare. The original scarred wood floor was covered with Persian-style carpets. The fire in the two-way fireplace in the center of the room diffused welcome heat and warmed the atmosphere. In addition to the traditional round tables, a few couches surrounded the fireplace, giving the space a living-room feel. The bar counter itself was a magnificent piece of gleaming mahogany. Heavenly smells wafted up along with the sound of voices from a stairwell in the corner of the lounge. I went down and found myself in the dining room, which also had a similar fireplace and stone walls, but plush carpets instead of wood floors. Patrons peppered the tables on one side of the room.

Against the wall at the back sat a man and a woman, both thirtyish. The woman had a powder-white face topped by spiky black hair and wore funky, expensive clothes. The man was lean, more sedate in appearance. At the next table sat a woman alone. Two words to describe her: stunning and scary; slinky black pant suit painted onto perfect curves, jet hair, fire-red claws that matched the tint on her voluptuous mouth, hard eyes.

Two men sat near the wall in the centre. Fiftyish, incipient beer guts, off-the-rack suits, polyester ties, loafers. One had a gray brush cut, the other a three-strand combover that started above the left ear. They both had thick, stubby fingers.

The last pair, sitting beside the fire, was a gray-haired, fleshy, corseted woman and a man currently talking in a loud voice to the server, his speech a bit slurred. “Take it back. No garlic I said. You want to kill me? No, all I want is the bill, and don’t charge me for your mistake.”

The man, about sixty, wore an expensive three-piece suit with a gray silk tie over a corpulent frame. He looked like the kind of bully that took pleasure in ruining everyone’s meal. I sent a sympathetic grin to the harried server then climbed the stairs and returned to the registration desk.

“Is your boss in?”

Roger lost his grin. “Your name, please?”

“Jack Meter.”

The clerk regained his high beam. “Ah, Mr. Meter. I thought you might be another reporter. Miss Laura’s expecting you.” He pointed down a corridor. “Second door to your right.”

I knocked then pushed the door opened. A thin, dark-haired woman in a fuzzy pink sweater sat at the desk. She would’ve been quite attractive without the kangaroo pockets under her eyes.

“Laura? I’m Jack.”

Relief flooded her face. She rose and shook my hand, a good, strong handshake, not the girly type with just the tips of her fingers. She motioned to the seat across from her desk.

“I’m glad you could make it, even in this weather.”

“All the roads are now closed.” I recounted my trip to the Inn.

She winced. “I’d better make arrangements for the dinner guests.” She was about to pick up the phone when Roger burst into the office. “Madame, madame, v’nez vite. Something ‘orrible happened. He’s dead.”

“Dead! Who?” Laura rushed around her desk and through the door. I followed behind them.

“Monsieur Chartrand,” Roger said. “In there.” He stopped and gestured toward the lounge. I stepped inside, right on Laura’s heels.

On the far side of the fireplace, a pair of shoes pointed to the ceiling. A woman sobbed loud enough to shake the old windowpanes. Guests and staff moved aside at Laura’s request and huddled in two distinct groups. I turned to Roger. “Call the cops, and don’t let anybody leave.” Roger nodded.

The man lying on his back was the bully in the dining room, his wife bawling beside him. Besides them, I counted eleven people. Two wore white uniforms and aprons, and I surmised they were the chef and sous-chef. The maître d’ and two waiters were also there as well as the bartender, who held a bottle of vodka in his trembling hand. That left the five guests, who’d finally sat down, on the opposite side of the fireplace.

I sidled to the bartender, whose name was Louis according to his tag. He jumped and stared at me. Louis’s clothes hung on him; his thin mustache and his long hair caught in a ponytail gave him the look of a starving artist.

“What happened?” I said.

“I don’t know. I poured him a glass of vodka on ice, then five minutes later he started choking. Is he dead?”

“Laura’s checking now.” I picked up a paper napkin from a nearby table and took the bottle from him. “I think we’d better keep this in a safe place.”

Louis gaped. “You think there was something in the vodka?”

“We’ll let the cops decide.”

Someone cleared his throat behind me. Roger looked distressed. “All the phone lines are down.”

“Cell phone?”

“I tried, but the lines at the police station must be down, too. I called the hospital in Gatineau. Two of their ambulances went off the road. They said they’ll have to wait until the roads are less dangerous. They’ll call the QPP for us.”

Laura appeared before me. She was whiter than her cook’s uniform. “He’s definitely dead. We have to call the police.”

I explained the situation to her. She slumped on a bar stool. “What are we going to do?”

“He looked pretty healthy to me minutes ago.”

I walked over to Chartrand’s wife, squeezed her arm. It was like sinking into a marshmallow. “Could I have a look at him?”

She sniffled. “Are you a doctor?”

“I’m a private investigator.” She blinked a couple of times. “Why don’t you sit down on the couch behind you?” I pulled her up and she offered no resistance. Once she was seated, I leaned over. “What happened?”

“He started choking and gagging then fell over.”

Her face crumpled. Laura sat beside her. I gave her a short smile of thanks and turned to the stiff. I leaned over his face; his tongue had thickened as if he’d gone into anaphylactic shock, his eyes bulged out. Over the stench of loosened bowels, the smell of garlic was overpowering. I got up and walked over to the server I’d seen at Chartrand’s table. About five-four, twenty years old, her only striking feature was fine, blond hair that fell down to her waist.

“You served Mr. and Mrs. Chartrand?”

“I did.”

“He told you he was allergic to garlic?”

She nodded. “He had a salad, plain, no dressing, then broiled fish, with scalloped potatoes and vegetables. He didn’t eat from his plate, though. He said he could smell the garlic.”

The oldest of the white-clad kitchen staff sniffed. “Of course zere was no garlic. I do not pollute fine cuisine wiz’ garlic in everyzing, like some people do because zey are so unskilled, zey have to use it to flavour zeir bland concoctions.”

“Thanks,” I said before he got into a rave. “Why don’t you all sit down. Don’t go back downstairs until the police get here.” I walked back to Mrs. Chartrand, kneeled beside her.

“I need to ask you a few questions.”

“Really, Jack,” Laura said.

“That’s okay,” Mrs. Chartrand said. She sniffled.

“Was your husband allergic to garlic?”

“Yes. It gave him bad headaches.”

“That’s why he sent back his fish?”

“He got really upset when servers didn’t pay attention. It ruined his appetite. We came upstairs so he could get a glass of vodka.” She visibly swallowed. “He hated wine.”

I glanced at the corpse again. He wasn’t getting any prettier. Laura seemed to come to the same conclusion. “I’ll find something to cover him.”

A guy keels over after he has a drink. He looks like he died from an allergic reaction, smells of something he adamantly refuses to eat. I wondered if there was a poison that gave off that scent.

I walked over to the five guests huddled on the sofas. I pulled over a chair and sat down.

The young couple sat glued to each other. She was weeping into his shoulder; he had an arm around her and looked uncomfortable. The cat woman sat beside them.

The other two men sat on the opposite couch.

“Hi,” I said to the group, shook my head. “What a night.”

“Who are you?” the combover said.

“Jack Meter. You?”

“Cliff Moore.”

“I’m Hank Kennedy,” his companion said. “I saw you with the manager. What’s going on? Why aren’t the Paramedics here already?”

I explained about the roads. “Looks like we’re all stuck here for a while.”

“I’m Amira,” the cat woman said in a purr. She uncrossed and recrossed her legs. Kennedy and Moore eyed her movement. I waited to see if they’d drool, was disappointed when it didn’t happen. Amira caught my eye, gave me a small mocking smile.

“I’m Sean Baxter. My wife, Nicole. We’ll have to get a room.”

“Did you know the guy who died?”

Sean shook his head. “Never met him before.”

“It’s so horrible,” Nicole said. “The poor man. He sat right near us with his wife. Now he’s dead.” She started crying again. Sean cradled her head in the crook of his shoulder and murmured to her.

“How about you, Hank? Cliff?”

“I knew of him, recognized him. Guy Chartrand is one of the biggest developers in the National Capital Region.”

Their hands were heavily callused. “You guys in construction?”

“Yeah. Partners. Kennedy-Moore Construction.”

“Did you talk to him at all tonight?”

They both shook their heads.

“You’re full of questions,” Amira said.

“I’m a naturally curious guy. How about you? Did you know the dead guy?”

Amira pursed her lips. “I suppose I did. I own a dozen health spas. Amira Mar?” When she saw I didn’t recognize the name, she pouted. “We were in negotiations. I wanted to place my spas in his high-end condos.”

“You weren’t eating with them.”

“I don’t like eating and dealing. Bad for the digestion. We were going to meet up here after dinner, although I doubt if we would’ve done much business.” At my raised eyebrow, she continued. “Let’s say he was on his way to feeling no pain.” She turned her head in the direction of the prone form, a slight smile on her lips. “Looks like he should have skipped that last vodka.”

I found it interesting that she knew what he was drinking. “Did you talk to him before he died?”

“Except to say hello in the dining room, no. He came up here before I did.”

Nicole was still crying. Sean shifted, placed his left hand on top of her head. His index finger and thumb were missing.

I must’ve been staring, because he looked down at his hand then back at me. “Hunting accident,” he said.

I remembered the damage a bullet had done to my gut. “Me, I stay away from guns. They have a tendency to go off.”

Sean nodded. “I know what you mean, but I’m addicted. I bagged a deer this season.”

“Really,” Kennedy said. “Where?”

I left them chatting about butchering innocent animals and walked over to the maître d’. You could have grown mushrooms in the crags of his face, they were so deep and dark.

I pointed to the guests. “Did you notice any of these people speaking to Chartrand?”

“The young couple only said hello in passing. Ms. Amira stopped and chatted, the two gentlemen as well.”

So Kennedy and Moore had lied. “Did any of them bring him a drink?”

“No, sir.”

“His wife said he didn’t like wine. Did he stick to water?”

“No.” The maître d’ hesitated. I waited him out, remembering the slurred quality of Chartrand’s voice. “Mr. Chartrand partook of his own supply.”

Cheap bastard. “How long did they spend eating?”

The maitre d’s lip curled. “No more than half an hour, sir.”

On the face of it, the possibility of Chartrand being poisoned seemed thin. He’d brought his own booze, no one but the kitchen staff had access to his food. But my skin was itching, a sign I usually paid attention to. The smell of garlic kept bugging me. That and the fact that Amira knew that Chartrand drank only vodka. So I went with the premise that Chartrand had been poisoned. The first thing I had to find out was what kind of poison mimicked anaphylactic shock and reeked of garlic.

I went into Laura’s office, mentally bracing myself for the call I was about to make. I sat in Laura’s chair, took out my cell and dialed Claire Foucault’s work number. I was pretty sure Claire would send me to hell on a skateboard before she’d talk to me, but I had to try. She picked up after the first ring.

“Dr. Foucault.”

“It should scare you that I know you so well I was sure I’d find you at work. It sure scares me.”

She gasped, and I could imagine her stiffening up, like I’d rammed a poker up her nether regions. “Give me one reason why I should talk to you.”

“Murder.”

“Unless it’s about yours, I’m not interested.”

“Okay, garlic, then.” She said nothing but stayed on the line. I could always count on Claire’s professional curiosity. “I’m stuck in Wakefield, all the roads are closed and a guy just croaked. I think he was poisoned.”

“And you’re calling me? I’m not a goddamned toxicologist.”

“You’re a biochemist. That’s the closest to a toxicologist I know. I need you to find out if there’s any poison that gives off a strong scent of garlic after death.”

“Goodbye, Jack.”

“Claire, wait. I know you hate my guts and Annie will always be between us. But there’s a woman here who’s mourning her husband. I’m not the one who needs answers; she does.”

Claire hung up. “Damn.” I raised my head when I sensed movement in the doorway.

Amira leaned on the doorjamb, her slight smile in place. “So, you think Guy was poisoned. By one of us, no less. Who are you, Jack? I don’t read cop on you.”

“I told you, I’m a friend of Laura’s.” I leaned back in the chair. “Interesting to know you can make a cop out of uniform.”

Amira laughed. “The shoes or the haircut usually give it away. Your hair’s too long and cops don’t wear handmade Italian shoes.”

My cell rang. “Selenium,” Claire said without preamble. “It takes less than 500mg to kill someone with it.”

“How long does it take for it to work?”

“Thirty to forty-five minutes.”

Chartrand would’ve been in the dining room downstairs, then. “Where can you find it?”

“Does anyone you questioned have flakes? It’s in dandruff shampoo. Selenium sulfide.”

“I doubt the chef used Head and Shoulders as a sauce.”

She grunted. “There’s also selenious acid. It’s colorless and odorless. Comes in crystal form, is soluble in water and alcohol. It’s used in gun-bluing compound. When either the sulfide or the acid are ingested, they give off a strong smell of garlic.” With that, she hung up.

I stared at my phone. “I guess that’s all she had,” I said.

“Friend of yours?” Amira said.

I’d forgotten she was still there. “Not quite.”

She seemed to hesitate then moved inside the office, closed the door and leaned against it, arms behind her back. The position set her perfect body to best advantage. It made me instantly wary.

“There’s one person in our group,” she said, “who didn’t admit an acquaintance with Guy. Nicole.”

I’d noticed that, too. “She was busy crying.”

“She works for the man. I saw her a few times in the office. Sean may not have known Guy, but it’s improbable he didn’t know who his wife’s boss was.” She crossed her arms. “Then there’s Kennedy and Moore. I heard they lost a bundle when Guy cancelled one of their contracts.”

“Are you always this helpful?”

“Someone deprived me of a very lucrative deal,” she said in her usual purr. “I’m pissed.”

Or you’re turning the attention away from you. “Let’s go back to the bar,” I said.

Once there, I noticed someone had covered Chartrand with a tablecloth. His wife sat in an armchair on the same side as the rest of the group. While Amira slunk back to the couch, I whispered instructions into the maître d’s ear. I thought I knew how Chartrand had been killed and by whom, but not why. I went back to the gang of five, straddled a chair, leaned my forearms on the back and proceeded to find out the motive.

“Is it true Chartrand was poisoned?” Kennedy asked.

I shot a glance at Amira. “I think so,” I said. “I heard about the pile of money you lost because of Chartrand. You two must’ve been pretty peeved.”

A bead of sweat rolled down Kennedy’s temple. “I swear, man, we had nothing to do with that. Chartrand was a real SOB, and I personally hated his guts, but not enough to kill him.”

“You both talked to him, though.”

“Tried to,” Moore said. “He was packing it in, so we thought we’d wait until he was sober enough to remember the conversation.”

“Nicole,” I said, switching gears, “you seem to be taking his death pretty hard.” She stared at me. “I asked Sean if he knew Mr. Chartrand, but I didn’t ask you. Did you?”

“Y…yes.” She avoided my eyes, flushed, twisted her hands. “I worked for him.”

I followed my instincts. “You did more than work for him, didn’t you? You slept with him.”

Sean bristled. “Are you crazy? You insult my wife like that again, I’ll break your neck.”

Nicole had paled. “I never slept with Mr. Chartrand.”

I shook my head. “If it wasn’t sex, then it must’ve been money.”

She gasped. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do. I have a feeling that, when the cops look at your bank account, they’ll find a few extra deposits.”

“Wait a minute,” Sean said.

I ignored the husband, kept my eyes on Nicole’s face. She chewed her lower lip, threw a glance at Mrs. Chartrand, then took a deep breath. “I was blackmailing him,” she said in an undertone, “but I didn’t kill him.” She turned to Sean. “You’d lost your job. I know you said it was temporary, and it was, but we had so many debts, you refused to sell the Beamer, I was scared. I didn’t want to lose the house, end up in the street. I asked for a raise. He laughed, said that I wasn’t in a position to bargain since I was the main breadwinner.” She rubbed her eyes with her fists, smudged her eyes black. “Then I found out he was having an affair. I threatened to tell his wife unless he gave me money.”

“You lied to me,” Sean said in a strangled voice. “You said it was a big promotion.” He pushed away from her as far as the arm of the couch could let him.

“That was impressive, Sean. Overplayed a bit, though. What happened? Chartrand decided to stop paying and you decided to punish him?”

Sean’s head swiveled toward me. “I had no idea. Besides, I don’t know anything about poison.”

“You use bluing compound for your guns?”

He frowned. “Yeah, so?”

“There’s selenious acid in there. It’s highly toxic. I bet there’s a skull and crossbones on the bottle big enough to scare even a pirate.”

He flushed. “I didn’t kill Chartrand. Besides, these two also hunt.”

“That’s true , but they’ve already said they didn’t kill him.”

“You believed them, didn’t you? Well, I didn’t kill him either.” He sounded like a spoiled child.

The maître d’ caught my eye and nodded. I nodded back. “I believe you. They say poison is a woman’s weapon. Isn’t that right, Nicole? When you realized that Chartrand wasn’t going to give you any more money, you decided to stick it to him with Sean’s bluing liquid.”

“No, that’s not true . I didn’t kill him. Sean, tell him I couldn’t kill anyone.”

“You had the motive,” I said, “and a handy poison.”

“But no opportunity,” Amira said.

I scratched my beard. “Now, that’s where it gets sticky. I can’t figure out when you administered the poison.”

“I don’t care,” a hard voice to the right of me said. Mrs. Chartrand lumbered to her feet, rage in her eyes. “Let the money-grabbing thief pay for what she did.”

“So you’re sure it’s Nicole, Mrs. Chartrand.”

“I know all about her. Guy said she had the mental capacity of a stone. He was going to fire her on Monday.”

“Did your husband hunt, Mrs. Chartrand?”

Moore snorted. “You bet he did. He bragged enough about it.”

I studied the woman beside me. The last piece had just fallen into place. “I have another theory about your husband’s death. You’re the one who poisoned him.”

Rage changed to fear then to rage again. She pointed a finger at Nicole. “This tramp did it, not me.”

“She had no opportunity, but you did. See, the maître d’ told me your husband was already drunk when you arrived, and that he continued to drink during dinner. He didn’t, however, order anything from the bar, but drank the vodka he carried in a flask in his pocket. You filled that flask yourself, topped it off with bluing compound or selenium acid. He was already three sheets to the wind; he wouldn’t have noticed a change in taste. You didn’t need much.”

“That’s ridiculous.” She threw a glance in her husband’s direction.

“Don’t bother checking. The maître d’ already extracted the flask from your husband’s pocket. Since he’s wearing gloves, I think we’ll find only your fingerprints and your husband’s.”

“That means nothing.”

“On the contrary. If there’s poison in that flask, it means a great deal.”

Fear jumped back into her eyes. “Why would I want to kill Guy?”

“You must’ve found out he was having an affair, and that he was being blackmailed. You decided to punish him, and Nicole at the same time by pointing the blame to her. Of course, you didn’t count on the roads being closed, or having me around. You wanted an investigation, which would’ve revealed the payments your husband made to Nicole. In the meantime, you would’ve had time to retrieve the flask, thus removing the murder weapon.”

She stared at nothing for a moment then shook herself. “They both deserved it,” she said, her voice low and feral. “Do you think I was going to stand there and watch him fritter our money away because that vieux maquereau couldn’t keep his pants zipped? What happened to ‘til death do us part and shared assets? He had it coming to him.” She glared at Nicole. “Maybe I’ll go to prison, but I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re going there, too. I’ll make sure of it.”

A commotion in the lobby made us turn around. Two QPP officers and a med team entered the bar. “Someone called the police?” one of them said. I glanced at Laura. She squared her shoulders and hurried to greet the officials.

Two hours later, with Chartrand’s body taken away and Nicole, Sean and Mrs. Chartrand escorted to the police station, I remembered the question I wanted to ask Laura. “Tell me, was Amira ever here before?”

“Yes, she’s come at least once a week for about two months. She keeps saying we have the ideal spot. I hope she’ll want to come back after all this.”

“Win some, lose some, but I bet the publicity will do wonders for your bookings.”

She sat down at the desk with a sigh. “As long as the other problems I’ve had don’t plague us again.”

I smiled. “Oh, I don’t think they will. Trust me.”

I went back to the lounge, where Amira was sipping a brandy in front of the fire. Kennedy and Moore had decided to stay the night and had already gone upstairs. I sat across from her.

“Were you waiting for me?” I said.

“Maybe.”

“Or maybe you’re waiting for everyone to go to bed.”

Something like worry flitted in her eyes. “I was just about to go up. I need my beauty sleep.” She leaned forward, showing a nice bit of cleavage. “Would you care to join me?”

I smiled. “No, thanks.”

She pursed her lips and set her glass on the table. “Good night, then.” She rose and strolled away, showing off the wares I’d turned down.

“Oh, Amira,” I called out just before she left the lounge, “no funny sounds or sabotage tonight. Or any other night, for that matter. Laura has the ideal spot, and it won’t ever belong to you.”

I could almost see her hair rise like an angry cat’s. I grinned. He breasts heaved while she struggled to calm down. “That’s why you came to the Inn.”

“I told you, Laura’s a friend of mine.”

“She has clever friends.”

“Nah. I’m just an old bloodhound with good instincts.”

“Maybe I’ll go back to Ottawa tonight after all,” she said. “There’s nothing of interest for me here anymore.”

“One last thing. I expect the Inn to receive a generous monetary contribution. Otherwise, I might just dig deeper into Amira Mar Spas and their owner.”

She said nothing, just left with her head high.

I got up and watched her through the window. The freezing rain had changed back into rain. Fur coat over her shoulders, oblivious of the wet, she made her way to the Porsche, then turned and spotted me. For the first time, her mask slipped. Fury swept over her face, hardened by the harsh lights of the parking lot.

It was a safe bet that, if I wanted a massage, I wouldn’t use Amira Mar. I had a feeling Amira’s spas had just become dangerous to my health.

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