Unredeemed
175 pages
English

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Unredeemed

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175 pages
English

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Description

Just when everything is going well in her life, researcher Jamee Blair is forced to become an amateur detective after the live-in caregiver hired for her sister’s medical crisis, vanishes. To track down the truth of the missing caregiver, Jamee enlists the help of modern day highlander, Samuel Craig, a politician appointed investigator into human trafficking links to international organized crime. Together, Jamee and Sam embark on a disturbing search for Odessa and, as the mystery unfolds, they find themselves navigating the twists and turns of Canada’s seedy underground immigration. Jamee’s comedy filled one-line zingers, aimed to keep Sam at arms distance, become a second chance at happiness. When a casino chip is found with the body, Sam suspects more than a simple homicide, and when a second crime scene is discovered on a suburban Calgary beach, the search leads to so much more. In this romantic thriller, the unlikely pair uncover a conspiracy that involves murder, assassins, spies and espionage. If you like Janet Evanovich's one-line zingers or David Baldacci's fast-paced style, you'll love the romantic suspense and intrigue of Unredeemed by J M Dolan.

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Publié par
Date de parution 19 juin 2018
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9780228603054
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

1Unredeemed

By J M Dolan
 
Amazon Print 978-0-2286-0308-5
BWL Publishing Print 978-0-2286-0309-2
 

Copyright 2018 by Dawn Flaata
Cover Art Michelle Lee
Photo Credit Jacki Flaata
 
All rights reserved. Without limiting therights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publicationmay be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without theprior written permission of both the copyright owner and thepublisher of this book
 
Dedication

To My Family and Friends
For their support, love, and wealth ofmaterial
 
 
Isaiah 43:1 “Do not fear, for I have redeemedyou.
I have called you by name, you are mine.”
 
 
 
BWL Publishing Inc wishes to acknowledge the Province ofAlberta for its financial support.
 

 
 
 
Prologue
 
Void of witness, the reverberationtemporarily muted the wail of siren and interrupted the relentlesshum of city traffic. The horrifying scream lasted a full fivecounts — then stopped — dead — on a slab of sidewalk.
A lone man stood on the steps of the homelessshelter, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched. The nighttimetemperature had dipped below freezing and an icy wind was blowing.It was going to be heartlessly cold. He was glad to have found abed for the night. That wasn’t always the case.
The illusive echo caught at his attention.More like something he thought he’d heard than a recognized sound.He waited to hear it again, but it was lost to him. Yet still hepaused. There was something nagging about the displaced air.Probably late-night bar patrons making their way to their vehicles.He shivered in the relentless cold. Giving in to the demands of hisbody, he pulled a hand from his pocket and hit the buzzer. Thefamiliar drone would signal someone to let him in. His only thoughtnow to get inside.
Chapter One
 
 
The late-night traffic on the QE II wasbrutal, made worse by the icy downpour. Long lines of vehiclesjockeyed for position intensifying the vicious pounding in Jamee’shead. Maybe it wasn’t pain, but pressure. Like her brain was cavingin. Deflating; folding into itself like a cake taken from the ovenprematurely. She considered the calming effects of yoga breathing,mantra chanting or simply bawling her eyes out. Downside was, shemight feel marginally better, but her current problems weren’tlikely to disappear. Buck up girl, she thought and pulled intoairport parking. With the skill of long practice, she maneuveredthe 66 silver Mustang with red interior into an empty space.
She’d bought the car on the cheap, the yearafter graduating college. Then, with desperate determination hungonto it, despite ongoing mechanical issues. A number of times shecould have sold it for a bundle, but driving it gave her a sense offreedom, and there was always the chance that someday she’d haveserious money to go with the classic.
Not today, though. Today, her mission was tocollect the European caregiver who was enroute and deliver thewoman to Jamee’s sister, Abi.
Hiring a live-in care-giver was thebrainchild of her low life brother-in-law, Jeff. Abi’s medicalproblems precluded the end of their marriage. The promise of insickness and in health hadn’t meant a thing to him. The grandgesture of providing a caregiver presumably assuaged any guilt hemight feel for abandoning Abi and his kids.
Jeff was fond of saying his job as a drillerin the patch meant he was never home anyway. Jamee suspected it wasJeff’s way of justifying his actions as the jerk had taken off, theminute plans were finalized.
Even in parting Jeff made little effort tohelp the family; just used his money to hire a woman from someoverseas agency. The jerk took off the minute the divorcefinalized.
With Jeff’s arse scarce, Jamee had scheduleda few days off to help get everyone settled. Sis and kids weremoving in with her at the Blair family homestead.
Her long stride ate up thedistance to the Arrival and Departures board. A luggage carrouselwas assigned to Ukrainian flight, Condor DE5094 and a second,stacked flight out of Toronto’s Pearson International.
Comfortably seated next to the arrival’sdoor, Jamee passed the time answering emails, mostly business, plusone from Abi. A glance at the electronic board showed the flightcoming from Ukraine to Calgary via Toronto looked to be a bit late.Family and friends waiting for news of the arrival had started togather. It was a comfortable enough place to linger and presented agreat people watching opportunity.
The cadence of a smattering of Ukrainianwords reached Jamee from the waiting crowd. She imagined herself intheir place. Would she have what it took to succeed in a culture sodifferent from her own? Jamee pondered the question of herresilience, grateful she didn’t have to test it.
Iconic images of the Canadian west displayedthroughout the terminal represented both the indigenous people andthe first settlers. One of Jamee’s favourites was a striking statueof four wild horses. They reared and plunged in pewter colouredmetal, hooves striking the air, manes and tails flying. Nearby,painted across the arch of a doorway, neon ponies ridden by FirstNations warriors in war bonnets and cowboys with twirling lariatspranced through an iridescent blue river.
Without warning, the dormant luggagecarrousel abruptly came to life. The lumbering mechanical clamorand yellow strobe light beacon alerted the bystanders thelong-anticipated flights had landed. An elevated chute disgorgedcontents unloaded from the belly of the plane. Bright and dullcoloured baggage tumbled over itself and onto the moving platform.Without preamble, the rumble of the automatic door opening its mawtugged Jamee’s attention from the clutter of luggage. Long-awaitedflyers surged into view welcomed by a burst of multi-lingualgreetings.
Now came the hard part. How to pick the caregiver out from the crowd? On cue, makeshift signs clutched in eagerhands rose like a beacon. Jamee opened the file Abi had providedand wished she’d thought to bring a sign with the woman’s name onit. Jamee studied the enclosed picture. Odessa Nadiya Koval was awoman in her late thirties with mousy brown hair arrowed straightback in a severe mannish style. Her high cheek bones and triangularshaped face sported a prominent nose. The sharp, tapered chin andsaggy jaw line showed signs of a jowly future. Short-lashed andnarrowly spaced deep-set eyes, peered out from below heavy brows.The picture was in odd contrast to the communications from the ladyherself. Odessa’s letters were well written and humorous, the flowlilting and descriptive. From her voice on the phone, Jameepictured Odessa as a much younger woman, no more than mid-twentiesat the oldest. But despite her youth, Abi had been very impressedby Odessa’s résumé and their phone conversations.
Movement of the crowd toward the carrouselpulled Jamee away from her thoughts. She chose a spot against anearby pillar. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed she’d beenjoined by a man with the same intention. He studied each femalepassenger intensely then passed them over as they were eithergreeted by others or rushed forward on their way to retrieve theirbaggage.
Eventually, there was a lengthy break in thedeparting, and with no new faces to study, Jamee was at a bit of aloss. Had everyone deplaned? Could she possibly have missed seeingOdessa? A slight movement caught her eye and she turned to theolder man on the other side of the pillar. He scrutinized thepicture in his hand.
“Didn’t see her?” Jamee enquired in a helpfulvoice. He peered at her with a “mind your own business kind oflook”, so she tried out a friendly smile to see if that mightchange his mind. She was rewarded as his surly look moved tohopeful and he turned the picture towards her.
“No,” he said. “I don’t see her yet. Anychance you might have recognized her coming through? I sure hopeshe didn’t miss the flight.”
Jamee leaned in to take a better look. Thewoman in the picture was young, mid-twenties to his mid-plussixties. A daughter perhaps? She was fairly attractive with awide-eyed look that seemed appealing in an “I’m a little helpless”kind of way. It made her think of puppies and kitties.
“I don’t think I saw her. Your daughter?” sheasked, putting as much politeness in her voice as possible, alittle afraid of the answer. She held out her hand for a closerlook and he offered her the picture to study.
“No, my wife,” he replied. “She was going tocome as my live-in companion, but Sofiya’s the marrying kind ofgal. I’ve waited two years for her to be allowed entry to Canada.It’s just insane. Immigration claimed it wasn’t a bona fidemarriage. What do they know,” his voice rose with indignation, “dothey need a camera in the bedroom?”
Jamee tried to hide her revulsion. The guywas old enough to be the woman’s father, for heaven’s sake, she’dhoped she was a relative or friend of his daughter’s. At the sametime, a sense of foreboding had warned her to expect the answerhe’d given. He peered at her over his glasses. “I know her in thebiblical sense. If you get my drift.” He raised one eyebrow. “Ofcourse, it’s a real marriage,” He seemed to be speaking to someimaginary audience.
Jamee swallowed and looked away from theintense gaze while she struggled for something polite to say. “I’msure Immigration needs to be very careful in their decisions, thewhole world looks on,” she said deliberately. “But I can understandhow frustrating it must have been to both of you.”
Losing some of the antagonism he sighed andglanced at the picture in her hand.
“Who are you waiting for?”
“My sister’s caregiver,” Jamee replied a bitwarily. Some people had problems with the hiring of foreignworkers, though she doubted it would be this guy.
The Arrivals door opened once more, savingJamee from further conversation. The woman he’d been waiting forstepped out.
“Sofiya, Sofiya,” he called out and hurriedtowards her, arms outstretched. “I thought something had gonewrong. You worried me,” he admonished. “It doesn’t matter, you’rehere now. That’s all that matters.”
In the unbecoming glare of the florescentlighting his Sofiya looked worn and travel weary. The nineteen-hourflight out from Kiev was unflatteringly etched on her face. Jameesuspected the heavy makeup was an attempt to look older. It alsohelped to explain her conservative attire. Jamee looked her overskeptically. Is she even eighteen? Birth certificates couldbe forged, especially foreign ones.
The older man pulled his mail-order wife intoa tight embrace and planted a clumsy kiss on her mouth. The womanlooked over his shoulder right at Jamee. Sofiya quickly averted hergaze but not before Jamee recognized the revulsion she struggled tohide.
Why would a young woman like that want tobe tied to a man who was nearly seventy? Jamee suppressed ashiver of distaste. How desperate did a person have to be, topeddle her body in the hope of a better life. It was tough forthose that came and for those they’d left behind.
Steering her towards Jamee, the man broughthis new wife over.
“Sofiya, have a look at this picture. Do youremember seeing this woman on your flight? This is her employer andshe’s worried that she missed meeting her.”
The young wife carefully studied the photoJamee held out. A flash of something Jamee couldn’t quite identifycrossed her face. Fear, recognition, near panic? Jamee wasn’t sure,and perhaps the woman was just nervous and tired.
“I am sorry, husband.” She bit her lip. “I donot remember her.” Sofiya’s reply was carefully polite. She avoidedlooking at Jamee and her voice was shallow with an underlyingtremour. The woman was obviously uncomfortable with the question.Odd.
With a nod to Jamee the couple turned towardthe luggage carrousel, his grasp still firm on the young woman’sarm. “Good luck,” Jamee called after them. Her sentiment aimed moreat the woman than the man clutching her arm.
The planes seemed to be out of passengers andthe grinding luggage carousel was now deserted and empty of bags.As though to make that point it lurched to a complete stop and thelittle amber light winked out.
Odessa hadn’t shown.
Chapter Two
 
 
Jamee needed to think about her next move andwondered what the chances were she could speak with someone fromthe Canada Border Services Agency — CBSA. Probably slight. She hadher doubts about how much help she would get from that department —arrogance and platitudes and little else, she suspected.
The immediate difficulty was that the centraloffice was not available to the public until morning. Contact infosaid it was open to public enquiries for five hours starting ateight a.m., although that was seven days a week. Jamee hadto admit one missed flight did not an emergency make.
For the moment Canadian Air TransportSecurity Authority — CATSA — might be a better bet. Perhaps theycould be persuaded that a little help was required, moreuser-friendly so to speak.
Jamee, in her role as a multi-careerspecialist, fancy title for — lots of jobs — lots of experience,was currently working freelance as an Analyst and SolutionOperations expert. Through government contract work she’d becomeaware CATSA operated screening services to private securitycompanies as well as government. Maybe they would have someinsights or suggestions.
Jamee checked her watch. It was late, moremorning than night now, but she hated to leave until she made sureshe had explored all the options. She wouldn’t want some kind ofmishap on her conscious such as a tragic ending to a missed pickup.
Using directional signage, Jamee made her wayto Security on the off chance they could determine where OdessaKoval actually entered the country. Maybe she’d missed recognizingher, or maybe the woman came in on an earlier flight. She shouldhave held up a sign to make sure all the bases were covered butthat sign thing made her feel foolish. Hindsight was 20-20 —foolish — would have been better than panicked.
The airport was quiet now. Few flightsarrived during the graveyard shift. Only a skeleton staff remainedand the result, after the earlier pace of hurry up activity, waseerie.
Jamee’s scouting brought her to SecurityScreening Point One where two uniformed officers, a man and awoman, lounged behind the desk of a utilitarian styled officespace. Lots of white walls and phony wood trim. The taxpayer’smoney was not being splurged here, that’s for sure.
The uniform was semi-formal. Equally the maleofficer and his female counterpart were wearing white shirts withepaulets. The CATSA logo evident on the shoulder and above the leftbreast pocket.
Jamee looked over her two choices. It wasdifficult to determine who would be more sympathetic to thesituation, a woman asked to help out another woman, or a manlooking at a pretty face. Supposedly, a Security officer shouldn’thave prejudice one way or another. Jamee decided to take herchances with whoever looked up first.
Pulling out Odessa’s file to review thedetails from the live-in caregiver’s application, she stepped up tothe desk. “Hi, sorry to bother you, but I’m hoping you can help melocate someone”. They both looked up, giving her the once over.
“What you got there?” the male officerenquired.
“I’m looking for a female passenger, Ms.Odessa Koval. This is her information. She was supposed to be onthe Condor DE5094 from Toronto to Calgary, originating in Kiev,Ukraine. The flight was scheduled to land at twenty-three fifty-onein Calgary but was about forty minutes late.” His expressionindicated that, so far, he didn’t understand the problem. Sheprepared to elaborate.
“I was at Arrivals and the designated luggagecarrousel when the passengers started coming through. Allpassengers have disembarked, including the crew. I hung around fora while until the luggage was all claimed, but I couldn’t findher.
“It’s quiet there now, not a creaturestirring, it would seem. I was hoping you might be able to confirmif she was on the flight or not.” Jamee set the file on the counterand flipped open the cover. The top sheet was a copy of theconfirmation of Odessa’s ticket and itinerary.
Officer Helpful, scanned through theinformation, picked up the sheet and shifted over to the nearbycomputer. He gave the mouse a wake up wiggle.
“What’s your connection to the passenger?” heenquired, his tone polite, his eyes on the screen.
“Odessa Koval is arriving to take a positionas live-in caregiver to my sister and her children.” Jamee kept hervoice level and light. “I received a call from Odessa yesterday andconfirmed the flight plans. That was the last I heard from her, buttonight she didn’t show. I don’t think I missed her.”
Moving over to study the paperwork the womanofficer suddenly decided to take an interest. “You need to checkwith CBSA, not here.” She put some emphasis on the negative.“They’re the ones responsible for Temporary Foreign Workers,” hertone was a disdainful dismissal. She gave her colleague a pointedlook that said he shouldn’t be bothering with her. He shrugged hisshoulders, but he handed the page back to Jamee with an apologeticmurmur. She took it easily and flashed him another quick smile thatsaid no injury, no foul.
In a move that surprised them both, the womanreached forward and pushed the file towards Jamee. The decisivemanner said the discussion was over. Jamee looked at her directly,her expression calm and still.
“I thought probably, there’d be little thatcould be done tonight,” she paused, “but I didn’t want to simplyleave and end up with some kind of security incident.” Jamee, foundherself trying hard to offer up Rule Number One as she looked atthe woman. Show a nice plain side so people don’t getannoyed She’d try once more.
“Here, this is Odessa’s full name, passportnumber and date of birth,” she said and adjusting the order of thepapers inside, slid the open file over so her collaborator couldtake another look. Officer Helpful positioned the file, studied theinfo and started typing.
“I don’t see anything on the system underthis name” he said, “but my co-officer is right, you do need tospeak with someone at Canada Border Services Authority.” He spokethe words, without the bite.
“Thanks.” She smiled her appreciation,keeping her gaze on him. “I sure appreciate your help.”Jamee gathered up the file and left the office.
As she walked away, Jamee consoled herselfthat she’d known help from CATSA had been a slim shot. Normalpractice when any person, or persons, entered Canada they wererequired to proceed to the CBSA checkpoint. There at the PrimaryInspection point, a border service officer would examine theirDeclaration Card, identification and other travel documents.Newcomers to Canada to visit, study or work were asked to provideadditional documentation. If Odessa had gotten off that plane, CBSAshould be able to make confirmation.
First thing in the morning, she’d be at themain CBSA office, but she had her doubts as to how much immediatehelp she’d get. The CBSA were known to be sticklers for modusoperandi . She would likely have to jump through several hoopsbefore she’d have her answer. And then in the end, might still haveto seek the assistance of a third party. The first inkling thatsomeone wasn’t where they were supposed to be should send up redflags but the CBSA was all about rules and compliance. Theirenforcement arm had an especially long reach. They also didn’tanswer to the general public. It wouldn’t be the first time someonehad to go to their government representative to get even thesimplest of answers from the CBSA. Additionally, those answers wererarely straight forward when they did come. The CBSA was not in thebusiness of providing a road map on how to enter the country.
It had been a long night and a disappointingoutcome. Jeff’s solution of providing a caregiver had just becomeone more problem.
Chapter Three
 
 
Samuel Duncan Craig sat at his antique,finely-finished oak desk, an open yellow file before him. He hadstarted with his usual preliminary — once through. It was a ritualhe followed. Scan, clear the mind, and then review with new eyes asecond time through. Once he had a feel for the sequence of eventshe would read the RCMP summary report, and only then, allow himselfto ponder what relevance if any, this particular case might have tohis current assignment.
The file arrived that morning from HQ, sentover in the daily government courier bag. Sam, meticulous bynature, was diligent in combing through each new case. He woulddetermine whether the crime outlined in the file had any connectionto his investigation into human trafficking. The RCMP detectiveassigned to the case must have thought it might or he wouldn’t haveforwarded it. The job was new to Sam, and by that measure, onlynewly created. Everything was put together late last year afterdiscussion and decisions made at the annual National PolicingConference. Action on the agreed upon motion had come into forcewhen the RCMP and other police forces, were instructed by theAttorney General to filter specific case files to speciallyappointed investigators, one for each province. The recentlyformed, quasi-judicial force had been granted broad-ranginginvestigative powers enabling the investigators to meet thechallenges presented to them. Sam was one of those specialinvestigators. He had been chosen to spearhead the new initiativein the Province of Alberta — a sort of army of one.
The goal of this current assignment was togive the government a realistic picture of the profundity and humancost of illegal immigration into Canada.
Ever since 9/11, Canada had been under themicroscope, specifically in regard to criminal activities relatedto immigrants and visitors from foreign countries. The span ofSam’s investigation ran the gamut from the use of fraudulentdocuments and the hop-scotching of illegals in and out of thecountry, to any possible link between immigration and the growingthreat of organized crime in the area of human trafficking.
 
Sam was eager touncover the source of human trafficking pipelines and theincreasing incidence of fraudulent visas. Both were showing up atan alarming rate. It was always possible the next case he reviewedmight be the next piece in the puzzle.
The yellow office file in front of himcontained an RCMP and coroner’s report outlining the discovery of awoman’s body, deemed deceased under mysterious circumstances. Thebody turned up the previous night on Stephen Avenue in downtownCalgary. Stephen Avenue Walk was Calgary’s National Historical District,an area full of shops and restaurants and a popular touristdestination site.
The deceased woman was described in thereport as middle aged, eastern European in appearance, and modestlybut well-dressed. Strange, particularly this time of the year, thewoman had been shoeless. The body bore no distinguishing marks norhad she been wearing jewellery. She was carrying a work visainserted passport, a casino chip and a cash card inside a smallleather handbag found under the body. The coroner’s report stateddeath was likely the result of a fall. A determination Sam found inkeeping with the fact, the body was discovered at the base of theStephen Avenue parkade. The RCMP were continuing to investigate thecrime as a suspicious death. Speculation was probable suicide, buthomicide hadn’t yet been ruled out.
A soft chime sounded three bells, bringingSam’s head up to glance at the silver framed ornate clock thatgraced a prominent space on his large oak desk. The clock was agift from his sister, chosen for him as a special keepsake on oneof her many forays into the north. It had been presented in thankswhen he’d lent a hand to Iqaluit , theremote Inuit community she favoured. Sometimes when he studied theInuksuk, which was part of the clock, he thought of pathways markedby stones and recognized he had yet to find contentment in hispersonal life.
Found his way, or still searching — now whatput those thoughts into his head? Lately his feelings changed likeleaves blowing in the autumn breeze. Perhaps it was the fact he’drecently reached his mid-forties, or more likely it was the phonecall he’d taken early that morning. The name from his past had himthinking how sometimes life’s path was like a meandering creekturning back onto itself.
The quiet knock on the door signalled hisunexplained caller had likely arrived. Sam swiveled towards thesound as the door pushed open and his assistant poked her head pastthe entrance.
“Yes, Nancy?”
“Sam, your three o’clock is here.”
“Please show her in.” He slid his chairback.
Nancy pushed the door wider then steppedaside, beckoning to the visitor to enter. Sam rose to his feet, hissix foot plus frame towering over the desk.
Sam watched as Jamee Blair stepped insideoffering a polite “thank you” to his assistant. He noted herdiscrete perusal as she quickly took stock of her surroundings.
The bank of windows on the long west walloffered a striking view of the foothills and looming mountains,while the southern windows showcased the progressive and prosperousgrowth of the Calgary skyline. Lots of oak trim, full bookshelfbuilt-ins and comfy dark leather combined to make for a feeling ofauthority and importance.
He hid a smile. Both the ambience of thespace and the view exuded an undeniable self-assurance that evokedconfidence and trust. It was impressive. It suited him.
“Hello,” said Sam, “you must be Ms. Blair. Wespoke on the phone this morning. I’m Inspector Sam Craig. Please,take a seat.”
Sam moved from around the desk and motionedto a nearby, less formal sitting area. Adjacent to the magnificentcorner windows, the two snug upholstered chairs in subdued tartanand a complementary black glass table made a cozy nook. Jameecrossed the room. Sam couldn’t help his appreciative appraisal. Thewoman was upper class chic, stunning, even without the striking redof her suit and shoes. The outfit hit all the right professionalnotes, but hinted that the wearer was not mainstream conventional.Jamee extended her hand and Sam held out his own. He could see fromher serious expression this was not a social visit. He quashed hispurely male appreciation of the woman before him, flirting was notwhy she was here.
Sam’s warm hand engulfed her much smallerone. His handshake steady, he kept his expression encouraging, openand sincere.
“Jamesina Blair,” she said.
Her voice had a deep musical cadence thatreminded Sam of the blues.
“Please call me Jamee. Everyone does.” Shesmiled. “Jamesina’s a bit of a mouthful,” she declared and moved tosit in the chair Sam held out for her. “Thank you for taking myphone call, Inspector Craig,” she said graciously.
“Happy to,” agreed Sam. “I’ve been lookingforward to meeting you since we spoke. I’ll admit, you have piquedmy curiosity.” He gave her a friendly smile. “It was a surprise tohear from anyone connected to Jeff Swynia. It’s been a long whilesince I worked with Jeff, or heard the name,” he admitted. “Yousaid you were connected to Jeff through marriage — his wife,right?” Sam paused in consideration, “That would make Abi your —sister?”
“Yes,” Jamee took up the thread, “Jeff was mybrother-in-law. I believe you and Jeff worked together as swamperson the rigs. For several summers, as I understood it.” Jameecrossed her legs and settled back into the chair. “I’m guessingthat was mostly before Jeff and Abi married.” Jamee leaned forward,looking for signs of recognition. “I thought you might have met Abiduring that time.”
“I do remember Abi.” A rumble of laughteraccompanied his words. “We all teased Jeff that Abi was much toogood for him. Out of his league. It puffed him up like a regularrooster.”
“That would be Jeff,” Jamee replied. “Alittle too cock-sure I always thought.” Jamee paused before adding,“I should mention, Jeff and Abi are recently divorced, part of thebackground and reason why I’m here.”
Sam shot her a sympathetic look, “I’m sorryto hear that. They seemed happy together back then, and he was nutsover her.”
“I think at the time they were,” agreedJamee.
Sam moved to a sideboard. “Can I get yousomething to drink? My caffeine level is running a bit low.” Hegave her a look of apologetic guilt. “I hate to admit, I’m a slaveto the three o’clock pick me up, but it’s true.”
“Sure,” Jamee responded, “that’d be great.Just whitener, if you have it.”
Sam brought the coffees to the table on atray, along with a plate of cranberry pecan, toffee-edged biscotti.Nancy made sure there were snacks for the nights when he workedlate. He unloaded the tray and set it aside before settling himselfcomfortably. Patiently, he waited for Jamee to broach the objectiveof her visit.
Jamee took a taste of her coffee then glancedat the biscotti as though eyeing up the enemy. Observing her glare,brought a small amused smile to the corner of Sam’s mouth. Memoriesof his passing acquaintance with Jeff and Abi filtered back tohim.
“I remember a little something about youtoo,” said Sam, relaxing into the conversation. “Jeff mentioned asister of Abi’s from time to time. He paused, as though recallingpast stories, then raised eyebrows as in mock surprise. “I supposeyou’re Jamee, the naughty one.”
Jamee almost choked on her coffee. She forceda swallow. “I’m not so sure I was naughty,’ she replied in haughtyfashion. “I just have a very curious nature and an inquiringmind.”
Now it was time for Sam to sputter. He letout a soft chuckle.
“And of course, there is Rule Number Three,”she said.
“What’s that?” Amusement coloured Sam’stones.
“Don’t try to be good,” drawled Jamee, “try not to be bad.”
Her comment brought a surprised laugh fromSam.
Sam watched the smile tug at the corner ofJamee’s lips as she fought to hold back the grin. Looks andpersonality, he thought — awesome on both counts.
“So, Jamee how can I help you.” Sam settledback and smiled.
Jamee set her china mug back onto the table,leaned forward and launched into her story.
“Abi was recently diagnosed with MultipleSclerosis. If her symptoms flare up she can be periodicallybedridden. As much as she hates to give into it, when that happensshe can’t look after the kids. I’m trying to help out where I can,and the kids are great at pitching in, but times are tough. Jeff,the little puissant, vamoosed right after the divorce finalized.Abandoned the troops so to speak,” Jamee attempted to disguise thecatch in her voice.
“MS, that’s rough.” Concern and understandingwas evident in his eyes. “It breaks my heart,” he said “to think ofAbi that way. Marriage sometimes can become a charade, an illusionwhere everyone around it believes one thing to be true when it’snot.” He briefly laid a large warm hand over Jamee’s incomfort.
“Jeff made arrangements to hire a live-incaregiver for Abi and the kids,” Jamee said crisply. “They havethree — two girls and a boy, ages thirteen, eleven and seven. Ithink Abi’s MS diagnosis precipitated the split up,” she explained.“The kids try hard to look after their mother,” pride was evidentin her voice, “but the addition of a caregiver will be a blessing.”Whatever else there was to say about how things were was veiledbehind eloquent eyes, shadowed by disappointment and grief.
“Christ,” swore Sam vehemently, “Jeff’s, thekind of guy that gives the rest of the male species a bad rep. Iguess it goes with that arrogant attitude of his. He could be ajerk, that’s for sure. The first day we met, he asked me for acigarette, then said, ‘Christ man, you’re no good for nothing,’when he found out I didn’t smoke.”
Despite the years that had passed, Sam’smimicry pegged Jeff bang on. The story brought a grin to Jamee’sface.
“Yep, the little shit always had a lot to sayabout other people” she said, “but never seemed to see himself theway the rest of world does.” Jamee lost the grin and becameserious, drawing back to the reason for her visit.
“Abi has her good days and her bad days” shepersisted. “A live-in caregiver would sure go a long way to gettingher life back in order, but I have a situation with the caregiverJeff hired.” Her name is Odessa Koval, she’s from Ukraine. I wentto pick her up at the airport last night, but she didn’t show up asscheduled. It’s going to throw a wrench into everything ifsomething’s gone wrong.”
“It can’t be easy,” said Sam. “I am trulysorry to hear about their troubles.”
“Thank you,” said Jamee. “Luckily, Abi canwork from home when she needs to. My sister has a great job andshe’s been at it for a while. It’s allowed her to have the securityof benefits and a satisfying career. Abi works for a pharmaceuticalcompany as an IT specialist. Their main office is here inCalgary.”
“Good job,” said Sam. “I’m glad to hearit.”
“Yes,” agreed Jamee, “it’s a blessing.”“Continuing to work, and having the kids around, is what keeps herfrom going crazy. It’s very important to me that they have the mostnormal life they can and I’m hoping to help out with that.” Jameeran a hand back through the bangs on her forehead.
Sam suspected it was a habitual gesture.
“I’ve asked Abi and the kids to move in withme,” she continued. “With one other person to help we should beable to make out okay;” Jamee paused, “that’s why the live-incaregiver was so important. When she didn’t show up as scheduled, Iassumed we’d had a communication mix-up, or maybe a change of mind,but as of this morning things don’t seem that simple.”
Sam started to speak but the subtle shift ofJamee’s hand temporarily halted his interruption. He waited for herto continue.
“Today I received this email. Now, I’m trulyworried.” Jamee dug around in her large all-purpose handbag andproduced a file folder. Pulling a sheet of white paper from thefront of the folder, she handed it over to Sam to read. Sam scannedthrough the message then looked to Jamee for clarification.
“This says your caregiver is beinginvestigated for illegal immigration by the Fraud InvestigationUnit of Kiev. The email is from an Aleksey Volkov. I’m guessinghe’s the lead on the investigation.”
He could see from the strain on her face, andfrom the angle of the conversation, Jamee had decided to shoulderthe burdens left by Jeff’s desertion.
“I stopped at the CBSA office this morning,”she said. “They weren’t very interested in my missing caregiver orthat email.” Jamee’s words were measured.
“I confess I got a little panicked which iswhy I looked you up and called. I heard through my work for thegovernment that you were with the Attorney General’s office. Wordis you’ve been investigating immigration fraud. I might be readingway too much into this, but I’d like your thoughts on thesituation, if you’re willing,” Jamee waved a hand at the email.
“I’m not liking our chances of actuallyemploying Odessa Koval, and I’m troubled by Abi’s connection tothis mess.” She took a deep breath. “I came here hoping to get yourhonest option — is there any risk to Abi?” Jamee looked at himstraight in the eye. Her expression was outwardly serene, but theworry was there, deepening the fine lines at the corner of mouthand eyes.
“Sam, do you think there are possibleimplications of wrong doing on our part. Jeff hired the woman andI’m not sure of the details, but as I said before, its Abi’s nameon the contract.”
Sam had been reading the one-page email asJamee spoke. Now he looked up with a thoughtful expression and aflicker of incredulity. There was one other name in the email thatstood out. Jamee had just provided the name of the deceased womanfrom this morning’s RCMP file.
“Bloody hell,” he swore softly, “You sayCanada Border Services Agency wasn’t interested in this?” He heldup the page for emphasis. The paper crackled as if to make apoint.
“They sure didn’t appear to be,” said Jamee.“They told me to go home, show a little more patience and waituntil I heard from Odessa. Otherwise,” the modulation of Jamee’svoice took on the haughty tone of the CBSA officer, “I shouldcontact the overseas agency, and Odessa directly, before I comerunning to them.” It was a passable imitation. “Too early for themto be involved was the message,” she said dropping theimpersonation.
“Interesting that it’s too early for the CBSAbut not this guy, this — Volkov,” Sam motioned to the email, “he,on the other hand is on it before your caregiver scarcely failed toappear.” Sam sat back in consideration.
“Tell you what, Jamee,” he offered. “I’llmake a couple of inquiries. I’d like to run this situation and theemail by an old friend of mine first. Then go from there.” Sam rosefrom his chair and Jamee mirrored the action. They’d finished theircoffees there was no reason for her to stay.
“Sounds good to me, Sam. Anything you can doI’d sure appreciate the help. Keep that copy and please give me acall. I’ve left my contact information with your assistant.”
She moved away from the table and Sam placedhis hand on her elbow as he saw her to the door. He’d seen theexpression of worry on Jamee’s face when she’d shown him the email.He could guess where some of that concern lay. “Have you shown theemail to Abi yet?”
“No, I don’t want to cause her any stressuntil I have something concrete,” Jamee admitted and paused to drawa deep breath, “There’ll probably be hell-to-pay over that — thenot telling her right off part. After all she’s the bigsister.”
Sam smiled sympathetically. He had a notionabout that hell-to-pay part too. It was called full disclosure andhe was already feeling uncomfortable. He didn’t even know Jameeyet, but he could guess she wouldn’t like being intentionally leftout of the loop. The death and identity of the woman in the yellowfile came to mind. “Try not to worry,” he said. “I’ll be in touchvery soon.”
He closed the door behind her and returningto his desk picked up the phone. It only required the push of onebutton before the deep voice of his friend and mentor, Thomas Averyanswered.
“Hey Sam, what’s up?”
“Thomas, are you familiar with the OdessaKoval file the RCMP sent over this morning?”
“Sure, what about it?” Sam could hear therustle of paper as Thomas dug around on a desk more often than notlittered with files and documents. He cracked a grin. There wasnothing Sam liked better than to cause a little pestering when itcame to Thomas. He had the utmost respect for the man, but tidinesswasn’t his strong suit.
“The RCMP report says immigration documents,specifically a visa inserted passport were found with the body,correct?” queried Sam.
“Aye,” Thomas affirmed. “The paperwork saysthe woman is Odessa Koval. She’s here in Canada under the live-incaregiver program. I have someone checking with CBSA to find outwho the employer is. Why?”
“No need to wait,” said Sam. “I just had avisit from the employer’s sister, Jamee Blair. She’s brought me aninteresting piece of the puzzle. It’s an email. I’ll send it rightover.” Sam paused briefly thinking of his meeting with Jamee and ofhow to present the situation to Avery.
“I’d love your take on this Thomas. Jameesays the CBSA was disinterested when she spoke with them thismorning.”
“Really? So, I’m guessing your instincts arepoking at you. And it’s already Jamee, is it?” Thomas asked.
“We have a family connection” said Sam. TrustThomas to find something to needle him about in even the simplestconversation. “I’ll fill you in later.”
Sam hung up thephone , and popping open the lid of the scanner, threw theemail onto the glass. He thought about what Jamee saidregarding CBSA’s reaction to the puzzling email. His probing mindmarried it to the information contained in the RCMP file. Somethingin his gut told him there was a connection between the two. Thequestion was — what. Hell of a coincidence that his new case filedealt with the same woman hired by his old acquaintance, JeffSwynia and his wife Abi Blair-Swynia.
Sam scanned the document, attached it to anemail for Thomas Avery, and hit the Send key. His thoughts shiftedto his friend and career associate. Avery’s expertise lay in thelofty hierarchy of Public Safety Canada. Thomas was himself animmigrant to Canada. Arriving from the United Kingdom as a youngman on a work visa, he had fallen in love with his adopted country,persevering to receive his permanent residency and then proudly hisCanadian citizenship.
Sam met Thomas through mutual governmentissues and they developed a working relationship that had at somepoint, morphed into a close friendship. Sam respected the integrityof the man. But at the same time, he was becoming ever more awareof the distain and willy-nilly attitude rampant in one ofthe agencies Thomas Avery monitored — the powerful CBSA.
The CBSA was one of several agencies underthe umbrella and direction of Public Safety Canada. Along with theRCMP and CSIS, it kept Canada safe from a range of risks thatspanned natural disaster to crime and terrorism.
Under Sam’s current project, illegalimmigration and criminal activity in Canada, he was required tocoordinate with all three agencies and that made Thomas Avery hisgo to guy. Sam pushed the email forward for easy access and quicklyscanned through it again.
 
 
From: Aleksey Volkov
To: Abi Blair-Swynia
Subject: investigation of illegalimmigration
Hello Mrs. Swynia,
I would introduce myself. I am AlekseyVolkov, investigator from the Kiev Prosecutor’s Office, Ukraine. Weare investigating regarding fraudulent visas and illegalimmigration and came across documents particularly relating toOdessa Koval. Our investigation indicates that Odessa Kovalprovided fraudulent information on her papers. She has noexperience caring for children, does not have any medical training,and had no intention of working as your caregiver. All phoneconversations between you and Koval were set up. The main purposeof the fraudulent group we have uncovered is illegal entry to yourcountry
Mrs. Swynia, my main purpose in contactingyou is to request your help in the investigation. It is imperativewe locate Ms. Koval and expose this criminal scheme. It is in yourbest interests to assist us in this investigation.
Sincerely,
Aleksey Volkov
Fraud Investigation Unit
Kiev Prosecutor’s Office, Ukraine
Sam’s concentration was broken by thepiercing ring of his phone’s direct line. He punched the speakerbutton leaving his hands free to shuffle papers. Avery’sdistinctive rolling baritone came through loud and clear.
“Bloody hell,” said Thomas, “that’s someemail.”
“Yup,” Sam quipped, “it piqued my curiosity.Jamee says, she was supposed to collect Ms. Koval from the airportlast night, but the woman didn’t show. When she met with CBSA thismorning they were very casual and suggested she wait and see. Anythoughts?”
Avery’s voice came through loud andclear.
“Ay, old mucker, lax border officials springsto mind. Heard that story?” queried Thomas.
“Shoot” said Sam.
“Story is CBSA border guards, at a crossingin Manitoba, are under investigation after a celebrity’s friendswho allegedly had criminal records and are therefore ineligible,were issued temporary resident permits to perform in Canada.
“I’m guessing the press ran with that, bigtime,” said Sam.
“You can believe it,” confirmed Thomas. “Thiskind of thing makes everyone look bad and won’t be tolerated. Theonly people we want working for us are those who can demonstrateintegrity for the placement of public trust, every single day.”
“And the fall-out?” queried Sam.
“A professional standard internalinvestigation is underway,” revealed Thomas, “and last week, theCBSA issued a strongly-worded memo to remind staff that breaches ofpolicy will not be tolerated. The memo specifically cited amongother things, accepting gifts, hospitality and other benefits,abuse of authority and engaging in preferential treatment arereasons for dismissal.”
“That case involved American citizenscrossing into Canada,” said Sam, “a misjudgment absolutely, butBlair’s missing caregiver and her name in connection to aninvestigation into fraudulent visas, involves the Ukraine. I thinkthere’s more going on here than just the good will of a couple ofCBSA officers.”
Sam allowed for a short pause as heconsidered the links from the RCMP file to Jamee’s missingcare-giver and Avery’s story about a lax CBSA border crossing.
“I’d be curious to learn what the RCMP thinksabout Koval,” said Sam. “How is it that Blair’s live-in caregiver,supposedly on a flight from the Ukraine, ends up dead on StephenAvenue hours before her scheduled arrival time?”
“Good question. I’ll set up a meeting withyou and the appropriate person. Likely the man already on theground will get you the best info. I’ll see if I can side step thebureaucracy and contact the RCMP investigator assigned to thecase,” Thomas spoke briskly. “Today soon enough?”
“You know it,” responded Sam. The easy backand forth flow of dialogue mirroring their excellent teamwork. “Inthe meantime, I’ll see what I can find out about Aleksey Volkov. Ineed to get back to Jamee soon. I haven’t revealed to her that hermissing caregiver was found dead this morning. It’s going to be ashock.”
“Good luck with that, old bloke. You soundlike you’re in a hurry to help the lady out Already on a first namebasis, she must be a looker.” Thomas hit the disconnect buttonbefore Sam could voice the mild curse on the tip of his tongue.
Sam let out the quiet expletive. He didn’tmind Tommy Boy’s good natured ribbing. His friends were alwaysgiving it to him about his bachelorhood and Jamee was indeed alooker — Sam couldn’t deny the fact.
Jamee reminded him of ginger honey, warm andgenerous with an odd mix of sweet and spicy. She had an aura thatinspired confidence and trust, a kindness and generosity ofspirit.
She’d been creative and shown good commonsense in getting the email to him. There was more to Jamee thangood looks. Sam had a strong feeling he ought to check into whatkind of work, she’d been doing for his government.
Chapter Four
 
 
Jamee left Sam’s office full ofdetermination. It appeared Sam had done well for himself. But thenagain, you would expect the special investigator for the AttorneyGeneral to have an impressive space. Some might say he’d beenlucky, but Jamee’s Rule Number Two came to mind — luck looked an awful lot like hard work. Plus he had some chutzpa andJamee liked that in a man.
She had her own calls to makeand some creative and talented internet searching to do. She wouldtap into her sleuthing experience — a formidable weapon. Over theyears, Jamee had compiled an extensive network of contacts. It wasan impressive list of the who’s who in the country. Ones, thatworked in the background, not necessarily the ones getting thepress. All of which had helped to earn her a solid reputation thatshe was a gal who got the job done.
Supplementary to herwell-developed list, her arsenal of talent included an uncannyability to surf the internet for information. Jamee was a puzzler,a skill that resulted in the evolution of Rule Number Four: successin life is measured by our ability to solve problems. Jamee simplycouldn’t resist problem solving.
Originally she’d tried themainstream method and sought the proper channels. Now it was timeto pull a rabbit out of the hat and make a call to her source atthe CBSA.
As Jamee remembered it, the jobof the CBSA was to control the movement of people and goods intoand out of Canada. In recent years, changes had been made tostrengthen the system. To that end, advance data on new arrivalswas now a requirement.
The premise was that bettermanagement at air and sea ports meant less risk to nationalsecurity. Jamee speculated a deeper look at that advance data mightjust net results in solving the mystery of her missing caregiver. Agood place to start would be to determine if the woman even enteredthe country. Tracking was in order.
It puzzled her the email fromInspector Volkov said Odessa never intended to come to work for herfamily. In fact, everything about his email was an enigma. Sheplanned to take the communication apart piece by piece until shefound the answers to a whole lot of questions. She’d start with acall to her contact.
Jamee had managed the four blockwalk to where she’d parked her car, but her feet weren’t happyabout the high heels. Parking spots near Sam’s office building, oranywhere downtown for that matter, were at a premium. With reliefshe slid into the splashy red interior of the silver mustang andpulled her cell phone from her purse. Bringing up the contact list,Jamee scrolled down until she spotted the familiar name she’dlinked to the CBSA entry. Pressing the hands-free mode she let thesystem dial. She could have asked Siri to do it, but she hated thatelectronic little bitch and her superior attitude.
She was just turning into traffic whenshe heard the familiar voice. “ Bonjour , André,” she answeredback. There was genuine pleasure in her voice. “It’s Jamee Blair,how’s it shak’n?” She put a little back spin on the last word.
“Jamesina, mon amour ,”was the warm reply, “how wonderful to hear from you.”
The deeply masculine voice wasfull of French-Canadian charm. It was hard to resist the appeal ofthe seductive accent and André had been born knowing it. With mocksorrow he said, “ Ah oui, but once again, will you break myheart chérie . My guess is your call means you have somequestion for me, not an answer to my standing proposal?”
“Aye André, you see rightthrough me. But, if I was looking for a paramour you’d be eye-candyon my arm in a minute. Likely you’d have to run it by your wifefirst though since Colette’s a bestie of mine. Sad to say, the mostyou might hope for is a ménage á trois , but I very muchdoubt Colette will share.”
“Ah, but I live for the possibility.Today though, how can I help,” asked André. There was less teasingnow in his tone.
“The live-in caregiver Abi hiredwasn’t on the flight last night. I have been trying all day toreach either the woman herself or the agency Jeff hired through.I’d like to determine if she was on any of the flightscoming out of Ukraine in the last two weeks. It’s possible,although not likely, I was given an erroneous date.”
“Jamee, I comprehend you arecautious and suspicious by nature, but even for you, is this not abit paranoid — or at least over reacting?” The sentence ended on asigh. “It’s only been a day,” he added.
Sometimes, André could make herfeel like a child he was patting on the head with solicitousattention. It was one of his least endearing qualities. Jamee putoff the smart-alecky remark that came to mind, in favour ofpatience.
“Less, actually,” said Jamee,“but Abi received a rather bizarre email from the Kiev Prosecutor’sOffice saying they’re investigating our caregiver for being inpossession of a fraudulent visa. No point in sitting aroundcounting grey hairs while waiting for answers. I’m jumping all overthis.”
“That is disconcerting, machérie ,” agreed André. “Send me the information and I’ll seewhat I can do.”
Jamee could hear the wheels turning inthe deliberate drawing out of André’s words.
“If nothing else, it’s unquestionably abizarre coincidence,” he concluded.
Yep, there was more to the man than asexy accent and a charming manner.
Jamee clicked off and punchedthe accelerator, grateful for reasonable traffic. She quicklycleared the city and was soon traveling north to Airdrie, then eastonto Yankee Valley Boulevard. The horsepower of the Mustang ate themiles and before long she was off the township road and hadtraversed the long lane of her personal driveway. Back home, in thefamiliar surroundings of her farmhouse office, she set the coffeeonto perk and prepared to dig in for a good couple hours ofwork.
The cozy traditional farm houseand quarter section had once belonged to her grandparents. Thisland had been in the Blair family since her father’s fatherhomesteaded the quarter at the turn of the century. Luckily enough,Jamee had made a deal with one of the great nephews to buy it. Thehouse was hers to do with as she wanted, and the pasture land sheleased back to him at a very reasonable price.
Maybe once Abi and the kidsarrived she’d consider more animals. A couple of well trainedhorses would be nice, but for now it was just her and the dog. Shefound herself looking forward to the move. Maybe she was gettingtired of her own company. There was a harbinger of truth there.
Jamee stepped into the comfortof her office and noticed the red light on the answering machinewas blinking like Morse code with insistent persistence. One glanceto the call display and she recognized André’s direct line.
The three of them, André,Colette and Jamee had been musketeers all through college. Afriendship that only grew richer with age. The kibitzing back andforth between Jamee and André was a standing joke. The truth was,André only ever had eyes for Colette. It was still love at firstsight for them. A love, they considered enriched by fifteen yearsof marriage and four children. Their devotion to each other wasabout the only thing that kept Jamee believing in the idea ofhappily-ever-after. Not that her parents hadn’t been happy. Thelove her parents shared had spilled over into an idyllic childhoodfor her and Abi. They had been a great family until the caraccident that had changed that. Abi was newly married at the timeand she’d been in college. It was years now, but Jamee still missedthem every single day.
Jamee listened to the brief message onthe machine then hit the redial and waited for André to answer.
“Hey André, mercy me that was fast,lighting fast. What – the coppers after you?”
“Touch of a button, chérie , just touch of a button,” said André for once humble.“I’ve pooled the passenger lists back over the last two weeks andwill send them by fax once we’re off the phone. I am aware you doconsulting for government all the time but I’d just as soon nothave an electronic trail. A fax to your number wouldn’t seemunusual in an audit.”
“Thanks, mo charaid , my friend,”Jamee’s voice was soft. The Gaelic phase displayed her affection.“I’ll keep you in the loop.”
“ Merde! I’m counting on it,” hesaid. “If there’s crime, I say arrest the trouble makers.
Jamee laughed at André’s wonky attemptto mimic a crime fighting hero. His forte was the computer.Thankfully, he left the crime fighting to the professionals, andoccasionally to Jamee. He claimed, she enjoyed being up on her soapbox.
Good to his promise, within seconds thequiet of the office gave way to the hum of the fax machine, warmingto receive the incoming call. An impressive number of pagesejected.
Jamee got up from hergreat-grandfather’s ebony stained desk to retrieve the pages. Thedog, asleep on his cedar bed, opened liquid velvet eyes to followher path across the room.
She loved her office and haddecorated the entire house to reflect her Scottish heritage, buthere in this room it shone through most clearly. From themulti-paned glass windows draped in tartan, to the same covering onchairs and love seat, the theme was well defined. Perhaps nowheremore so than in the Scottish thistle stained-glass ceilingfixture.
Rich dark woods accented keypieces but nothing was more stunning than the wall unit of tigeroak. It was massive and sturdy. From floor to ceiling the unitfilled an entire wall. The fixture dated back to the late 1800’s.It held family keepsakes, pictures of captured memories and hermost favoured books.
Gathering up the faxed pages,she poured a new cup of coffee then settled herself behind the deskto begin compiling data. For the next couple of hours, she wenthard at it. With the use of a special spreadsheet program, she wasable to reference and cross reference, the numerous flightsoriginating out of Kiev with the corresponding passenger listsAndré had provided. Her perseverance appeared to have paid off whenshe found Odessa’s name on a flight manifest. The results wereunexpected and did nothing to dispel her fears Odessa might be inreal trouble. The flight Odessa took from Ukraine was dated a fulltwo weeks earlier on one of the last sheets André sent. Then hername appeared again on a domestic flight twelve days later. No newanswers, just more questions. It looked like the wheels on the buswere turning but they weren’t going anywhere.
It was time to give Sam acall.
Jamee dialled his office number.Nancy asked her to hold briefly while she arranged the transfer toSam’s private line.
It wasn’t long, and Sam’s deep,distinctive baritone came over the line.
“Hello Jamee, you saved me a call.”
Hearing his silky smooth voice, itdidn’t take much to have her visualizing the handsome face andstrong, sexy physique. Making sure to put some professionalism inher tone, Jamee spoke.
“Sam, I apologize for callingfirst, and so soon after our meeting.” It came out in a breathyrush, despite her firm resolution. “I know we agreed you’d call me,but I have some additional information. I’d like you to see it, ifpossible.” Now, that she had him on the phone, she felt a littleridiculous. She couldn’t figure out why he rattled her, but sheintended to get over it. Where’s your confidence, girl?
Sam’s reply was quick. “Sure, Ican make that work. I’m just going into a meeting related to yourinquiry. Once I’m done here, the rest of my day is open.”
“Any chance you feel like adrive?” asked Jamee. It wasn’t what she’d planned to say, but itseemed her mouth had a mind of its own. The words simply poppedout. “If you’re interested, we could split the distance and meetfor supper in Airdrie. Or, might I interest you in some countrycooking? I’ll give you directions and you could come out to thefarm.”
“Hard to pass up home cooking.”Sam’s retort was immediate and without reserve. “And a chance toget out of the city with a drive in the country is right down myalley. One condition though, and it’s not a deal breaker, do youhave a barbecue?”
Jamee blew out a little breath.“Is the Pope catholic?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Samlaughed. “Let me bring the one-inch steaks and a bottle of wine.You can add the sides,” Sam paused, “a glass of wine okay withyou?”
“I repeat, Pope — catholic?Plus, Alberta girl here — never meet a medium rare I didn’tappreciate.”
“Great, it’s a date.”
There was just a bit too much happy in Sam’s voice for Jamee. She decided to bring theconversation back on track. Besides, she wasn’t about to be had fora one-inch steak she’d likely have to cook. A girl shouldn’t haveto do all the work.
“It’s a business meeting.” She kept hervoice crisp. But remembering how much he intrigued her she softenedher tone, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.”
“Right back at you,” said Sam. “See youat seven.”
“Okay dokey,” replied Jamee.
 
* * *
 
Sam heard the click of the phoneon the other end and powered off. He’d stepped away from the RCMPmeeting Thomas Avery arranged and into the hallway to take Jamee’scall. By mutual agreement they’d decided on Sam’s office to keepthe number read-in, to a minimum.
Sam re-entered the room. Walkingto his desk he assessed the man seated opposite. With twenty years’experience on the force and a touch of grey in his platinum blondehair, Dunbar, a Staff Sergeant with the Calgary RCMP CriminalInvestigations Unit, was an old hand at law enforcement.
Introductions were dispensedwith, and the Odessa Koval file lay open on the desk between them.The staff sergeant was focused on consulting an electronic tabletto jog his memory for the facts. The veteran officer, had a ‘mentor— kick ass attitude’ that Sam respected right from their initialhandshake. Everything about him said, let’s get’er done. A good guyto know, thought Sam.
“Sorry for the interruption,” heapologized.
“No problem, Inspector Craig,”Dunbar said. “I’ve been asked by the office of the Minister ofPublic Safety to review this case with you, and to provide whateverelse you might need.” Dunbar shifted in his seat, narrowing hisfocus back to the file.
“The discovery of the dead womanwas made by a homeless male leaving the city centre shelter.Shortly thereafter, he reported the incident to the Calgary PoliceServices. They did the initial crime scene evaluation then broughtin the coroner for removal of the body and pending autopsy,determination of cause of death. CPS turned the case over to theRCMP once they learned the victim was here on a Temporary ResidentVisa.”
Sam nodded. “Which is part ofthe reason the file was directed here.” Since a foreign nationalwas neither a citizen, nor a permanent resident of Canada,jurisdiction of the case fell to the Federal Government.
Dunbar continued, “I spoke withthe coroner on my way over and he emailed me his final report. I’vecc’d this to you and asked your assistant to print it off forinsertion to your file.”
“Very efficient,” commented Sam. “Sowhat does it say?”
“Well, we’re not ruling outhomicide,” said Dunbar, “but at this point we’re calling it asuspicious death. The coroner’s report details a fractured skull,crushed cervical vertebrae, massive trauma to the organs andmultiple broken bones. It appears she may have fallen or jumpedfrom one of the upper levels of the Stephan Avenue Parkade. Theinjuries are deemed consistent with a fall. Either of the first twoinjuries would have caused death within minutes.”
“Any idea how she fell?” askedSam.
“Not much in the way of cluesthere,” stated Dunbar. “Police took the witness down forquestioning, but he could only provide details of when he found thedeceased. I met him myself and he seemed sincere. I didn’t find anyreason to doubt his story. He swore he hadn’t touch the body or anyof the evidence.”
Dunbar leaned forward to consulthis notes.
“He entered the shelter shortlyafter midnight…left early the next morning…four-thirty-two for hisjob at a bakery – Molly’s Marvels. He does prep and cleanup.
“She was obviously dead was hisstatement — no need to look further.” He continued to read. “Didn’tleave the scene. Had a pay and talk cell phone, called 911 from thescene.
The Staff Sergeant straightenedto make eye contact. Sam felt it was now his turn to bemeasured.
“Strangely, we found a pair ofleopard print, spike-heeled ladies dress shoes on the fifth levelof the parkade,” said Dunbar. They were thrown up against theconcrete barrier wall near where we think the woman went over. Adrop from that height would have been fatal. I’m inclined to tiethem to the deceased as she was bare foot when found.”
“Assumptions aren’t normal policepractise,” Sam commented. Dunbar struck him as a by the bookoperator. “So why would you say that?”
“Without much to go on, I agree I’mreaching here,” said Dunbar. “I’ve included some copies of photosof the scene and other possible evidence that we’re still lookingat. I should add, the shoes were the deceased woman’s size.”
Sam decided to push a little. “I realizeit’s early. Any idea what direction the investigation istaking?”
Dunbar shot Sam a measured lookthen cleared his throat. “I hate to quote ‘gut instinct’, butsomehow I have a vibe that my suspicious death case file, mightbecome a murder book. We are canvassing the area, talking to thelocals, but so far no leads. It could be suicide — it could bemurder. At this point, it’s going down as an unexplaineddeath.”
Sam put down his pen. He’d madea few additional notes in the margins of the pages. “I appreciateyou taking the time to meet with me, Staff Sergeant.” He held out abusiness card. “Here’s my personal contact information. Ifanything, new develops, I’d appreciate hearing from you, no matterhow vague it might seem.”
Dunbar rose following Sam’slead.
They shook hands and Sam walkedhim to the door. He paused, one last thing on his mind.
“Thomas Avery in the Minister’soffice may have told you I’m purposely looking into anything thatwould tie specific criminal activities to illegal immigration.Should anything come to your attention, please don’t hesitate tocontact me.”
“You can count on it,” Dunbarpromised.
Chapter Five

 
The drive to Jamee’s was superb.If Sam was looking for a way to cheat the encroachment of winter,it was hard to beat an Alberta Indian Summer day. Using hisvehicle’s GPS unit, he was soon headed down the township road eastof Airdrie and up the intersecting range road to the Blair farmgate.
Typical of Alberta’s southernprairie, the terrain was slightly rolling and vast. Near a cattlegate and the turn to Jamee’s long driveway the earth split to openform a coulee. Golden, waist-high prairie wool suddenly transformedinto tufts of grass and sprigs of willow owing to spring watertrickling slowly through the hummocked hollows. The earth fissurestarted near the west end of the property, passing close to oneside of the farmhouse before being swallowed back into the earthand finally closing near the east fence. As coulees went, it was agreat one with enough space and water to pasture livestock andprovide protection from the elements.
A pump house had been set upbelow an outcropping of slate ledges which joined to form a naturalbasin. Sam guessed the spring provided water for the house and thepump lifted it, adding the necessary pressure.
A twelve foot Caraganashelterbelt ablaze in fall amber separated the pasture land fromthe farm yard. The two-story, square and four traditional farmhousewas nestled within the hedge’s windbreak.

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