Authors: Gail Bowen
ACCLAIM FOR GAIL BOWEN AND
THE JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
“Bowen is one of those rare, magical mystery writers readers love not only for her suspense skills but for her stories’ elegance, sense of place and true-to-life form.… A master of ramping up suspense.”
“Bowen can confidently place her series beside any other being produced in North America.”
“Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries are small works of elegance that assume the reader of suspense is after more than blood and guts, that she is looking for the meaning behind a life lived and a life taken.”
“Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility.”
“Gail Bowen got the recipe right with her series on Joanne Kilbourn.”
“What works so well [is Bowen’s] sense of place – Regina comes to life – and her ability to inhabit the everyday life of an interesting family with wit and vigour.… Gail Bowen continues to be a fine mystery writer, with a protagonist readers can invest in for the long run.”
“Gail Bowen is one of Canada’s literary treasures.”
OTHER JOANNE KILBOURN MYSTERIES
BY GAIL BOWEN
The Nesting Dolls
The Endless Knot
The Last Good Day
The Glass Coffin
Verdict in Blood
A Killing Spring
A Colder Kind of Death
The Wandering Soul Murders
Murder at the Mendel
Copyright © 2008 by Gail Bowen
First M&S paperback edition published 2009
This edition published 2011
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced,
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system,
without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of
photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian
Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Bowen, Gail, 1942-
The brutal heart : a Joanne Kilbourn mystery / Gail Bowen.
PS8553.08995B78 2011 C813′.54 C2010-908084-X
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada
through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that
of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development
Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the
support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts
Council for our publishing program.
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by
McClelland & Stewart Ltd., P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011925597
Cover art: © VClements |
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
For Suzanne North and Don Buckle
for the gift of Anglin Lake
My husband’s birthday is May 1, the day when Mother Nature officially declares the garden of earthly delights open for the season. It’s a good fit for a man with a lusty heart and the greatest passion for life of anyone I’ve ever known. When we began to plan the barbecue we were hosting to celebrate Zack’s fiftieth, I reminded him that the rule for the number of guests at children’s parties was the child’s age plus two. Undeterred, Zack kept adding names, and we mailed out seventy-five invitations. It promised to be a lively crowd: our family, Zack’s law partners and associates, friends of mine from the university and politics, people we simply wanted to get to know better. On the afternoon of the party, Zack came home early and together we made a last pass through the house, making sure everything was where it should be. As we checked out the rented crystal in the kitchen, Zack was impatient. “Come on,” he said. “If there aren’t enough glasses, people can drink out of the bottles. There’s something I want to show you outside.”
“I’m all yours,” I said.
He grinned. “And I’m all yours. Now come with me.” He steered his wheelchair across the deck onto the ramp that led to the side of the house. Before we turned the corner, he reached up and took my hand. “Prepare to be dazzled,” he said. And I was dazzled. Sometime during the day, our forsythia had burst into full golden bloom. It was the first splash of colour from the summer palette, and for a moment we stood, hand in hand, simply letting the brilliance wash over us.
“My God, that’s a beautiful sight,” Zack said. “I love that bush. I love this house. I love our life, and I love you – not in that order, of course.”
“Of course not.” I leaned down and kissed him. “It’s good to have you back,” I said. “Since Ned died, you’ve been pretty unreachable.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. There was something I had to take care of, and I was trying to keep you out of it.”
“Zack, I don’t want to be kept out.”
He met my eyes, and I could see the pain of the last two weeks etched on his face. “Who was it who said that it’s the loose ends of our lives that hang us?”
“Do you want to talk about what’s been going on?”
“Nope, because the problem’s gone. I’ve taken care of it – at least I hope I have.” He took out his pocket knife, cut a twig of blossoms from the bush, and handed it to me. “For you,” he said. “The dark days are over. Let’s get back to having the time of our lives.”
I stuck the forsythia in the buttonhole of his jacket. “I’ll drink to that,” I said. “In fact, why don’t you mix up a couple of Ned’s Bombay Sapphire specials and we’ll christen those snazzy new martini glasses I gave you.”
Zack made the drinks, and we took them to the deck and waited for our guests to arrive. It was a five-star afternoon – filled with birdsong and blooming. Signs of new life were everywhere. The trees along the creek banks fuzzed green, the Japanese lilacs against our fence were in tight bud, and the first bright shoots were pushing through the perennial beds. As I sipped my martini and turned my face to the sun, I could feel myself unknot. When our guests began arriving, it seemed that they, too, were shrugging off the heaviness of winter. Free at last of the burden of boots and jackets, our granddaughters raced around the fishpond, thrilled by the possibility that a careless step could send them into the shining waters where they could splash with the koi until responsible hands plucked them out. The adults were equally light-hearted. Shoes were kicked off and sweaters abandoned. The bar was well stocked, the appetizers were piquant, and the arrival of a surprise political guest set the freshets of rumour and innuendo rolling.
Our country was in the midst of a federal election that was too close to call, and one of the tightest, dirtiest battles was being waged in our riding. The incumbent, Ginny Monaghan, had stopped by to wish Zack many happy returns, and no matter their political stripe, our guests were riveted by her presence.
Six months earlier, I had interviewed Ginny for a television project I was working on about women in politics. We met at her Regina constituency office at the end of what must have been an exhausting day for her. She’d flown from Ottawa that morning and been in meetings all day, but as she swept the remains of someone else’s fast-food chicken dinner into a wastebasket, put her feet up on the newly cleared desk, and discussed her future, Ginny exhibited the same energy and unshakeable confidence she’d shown twenty years earlier when she’d been the ponytailed captain of the Canadian women’s basketball team. The night of the interview, it seemed that nothing could alter the smooth trajectory of her plan to become Canada’s next prime minister.
From the moment Ginny’s team medalled at the Olympics, she hadn’t taken a false step. She had hired a sports agent, who negotiated the endorsement deals that turned her bronze medal into gold. Then, without breaking a sweat, she finished her degree in marketing; signed on as the public face of an investment conglomerate; married Jason Brodnitz, the handsome and ambitious vice-president of a rival conglomerate; produced engaging twin daughters; and ran successfully for the Conservatives, the party currently in power. Grudgingly accepting the fact that he had a rising star in his caucus, the prime minister appointed Ginny minister of Canadian heritage and the status of women, and she was on her way. It had been a flawless performance, but then Ginny and Jason’s marriage had imploded, and the personal became political.
For months, Ginny’s supporters had been gleeful at the prospect of an election that would allow her to display her intelligence, showcase her appealing family, and position herself for the leadership race ahead. But when the writ was dropped, Ginny was not shaking hands and burnishing her profile, she was closeted with her lawyer preparing for a court battle for custody of her fourteen-year-old twins. Any confirmation in court of her rumoured sexual rapacity and her seeming indifference to her children might cost her not just custody of her daughters but her political future. Sean Barton, a young associate at Zack’s law firm, was representing Ginny. He was good, but his case was not. Ginny had been careless. Like many people on whom the sun has steadily shone, she believed she was invincible. Jason Brodnitz had been smarter. He was a player, but he was a player who appeared to know how to cover his tracks. He also knew how to hire a private investigator. Ginny was in big trouble.
As she picked up a drink and began to circulate, there were whispers; there was also the subtle shifting away that pack animals exhibit when a member is wounded. I was relieved when Sean Barton joined Ginny and the two found privacy in the shelter of the lilacs.
My daughter Mieka and I were bringing out appetizers, and she nudged me as Sean and Ginny leaned towards each other and began what appeared to be an earnest conversation.
“I’d give a shiny new penny to know what those two are talking about,” Mieka said.
“I’ll take your penny,” I said. “Ginny’s preparing to do a meet and greet, and Sean’s filling her in on who’s worth approaching.”
As Ginny strode across the lawn towards Zack and my younger son, Mieka chortled. “Bad start. Zack’s worth the attention, but unless the Honourable Ms. Monaghan wants to hear how law school has opened new neural pathways for Angus, she’s going to be bored spitless. Plus, Angus doesn’t even vote in this riding.”
“But he is part of this family,” I said. “Ginny’s presence here is strategic. Falconer Shreve Wainberg and Hynd is showing our little corner of the world that the firm is behind Ginny Monaghan all the way.”
After the obligatory few minutes with Zack and Angus, Ginny moved towards my elder son, Peter, who’d taken charge of the barbecue. Peter would rather have been pecked to death by a duck than make small talk with strangers, but he beamed as Ginny chatted and peered with interest at the boneless prime rib roast turning on the spit. Clearly, she hadn’t lost her touch.
She hadn’t lost her sense of timing either. Peter was only the stepson of a senior partner in the law firm representing her, so she didn’t tarry. She did, however, take her leave with the charming reluctance I’d seen in other skilled politicians who knew how to make voters feel they would have stayed forever had pressing commitments not called them elsewhere. As it turned out, Mieka and I were Ginny’s pressing commitment, and as she made her way across the lawn towards us, Mieka braced herself theatrically. “Batten down the hatches,” she whispered. “It’s our turn to be seduced by power.”
Ginny was not a beauty, but at a shade over six feet with a body blessed by good genes and constant training, her powerful physicality had made her equally appealing to both genders. When I held out my hand to her, she took it with the firm, dry grasp of a politician at the top of her game.
“It’s good to see you again.” I said. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Joanne Kilbourn. I interviewed you for a
project I was working on.”
“Of course,” she said.
“Political Women and the Media
. We talked about whether the landscape had shifted and the media had begun treating female politicians the same way they treat men.”
“And the answer is …?” I asked.
There was an edge to her laugh. “Only in our dreams,” she said. “But given my widely rumoured political demise, it might be time to revisit your topic.”
“You’re prepared to do another interview?”
“Why not?” she said. “I may be finished, but my old coach always told us you can learn as much from a loss as you can from a win. Now, let’s talk about something that matters.” She turned to Mieka. “Sean tells me that basil dip you’re holding is amazing.”
Mieka held out the tray. “Decide for yourself.”
Ginny spooned the appetizer onto a cracker and took a bite. “God, that
good,” she said. She popped the rest of the cracker into her mouth and fixed herself another. “Do me a favour, Mieka. Keep the dip close.”
“I have a few dozen other things I should be attending to,” Mieka said, offering the tray. “What happens to the dip from now on is between you and it.”
“In that case,” Ginny said, “I’m going to pour myself another drink and sneak into the bushes with this. I’m tired of introducing myself to people who’ve just finished telling a joke where I’m the punchline.”
I slipped my arm through hers. “Stick with me,” I said. “I’ve never been able to remember the punchline to a single joke.”
That afternoon, people I’d known for years surprised me with their reaction to Ginny. A month earlier, they would have been falling over themselves for the chance to chat up the woman who might become the next prime minister; now they were coolly courteous, making only the briefest eye contact and moving on after a perfunctory greeting. Ginny was stoic, but I empathized. My late husband had been a politician, and I knew how it felt to realize you were going to lose an election.
When Ed Mariani came across the lawn towards us, my spirits rose. Ed was the head of the school of journalism, but despite a lifetime of teaching students how to deal with people determined to reveal the best and conceal the worst, he was optimistic about his fellow beings. There was something else. By a coincidence that proved, once again, that the gods are puckish, Ed and Ginny were wearing silk garments in the same shade of buttercup. Ginny’s dress was designed to reveal an athlete’s toned limbs, and Ed’s shirt had been custom-made to hide his considerable girth. As I introduced them, Ed beamed.
“Clearly, we’re cut from the same bolt of cloth, Ms. Monaghan. I’m Ed Mariani, and I’ve wanted to talk to you for ages. Is your dance card filled?”
Ginny’s voice was husky and mocking. “It’s your lucky night, Mr. Mariani. Not a soul at this party wants to dance with me.”
“In that case, let’s find ourselves a table for two and get acquainted,” Ed said, and when he offered his arm, she took it. Ginny Monaghan had never been a woman who needed rescuing, but as I watched her being led to safety by her portly knight, I was relieved that chivalry was not dead.
When we sat down to dinner, I invited Ginny and Ed to sit with Sean and our family and one of Zack’s partners, Kevin Hynd. Like all the partners in Falconer Shreve, Kevin and Zack had been friends since their first year of law school, but five years earlier, obeying an instinct that told him the law was not enough, Kevin had walked away. His trek had taken him through Bhutan, India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, and Thailand. I hadn’t known Kevin before his journeys, but Zack said he had returned a changed man: purged of ambition, focused on using the law to attain a greater good. Angus, who at twenty-two believed the law
the greater good, thought Kevin was a flake. So, I’m certain, did Sean, who made no secret of his ambition. Mieka, however, who was twelve years older than her brother, knew about quests. Hers had led her to leave her marriage to search for answers at the very point when Zack and I, after years alone, decided the answers we sought could best be found together. Add Ginny Monaghan, who had been so confident of her ability to climb to the top that she hadn’t checked her footing, and Ed Mariani, who had found true contentment with his partner, Barry, for a quarter-century, and the conversational possibilities were wide-ranging. Given that we were celebrating a birthday, it wasn’t surprising that we soon settled on the topic that mattered to us all: happiness.
It was good talk: spirited and inclusive, but by the time the last scrap of prime rib was eaten, a topic even more pressing than happiness presented itself. The temperature had begun to drop; the stillness that comes before a storm settled over us, and the family dogs skulked towards the basement – a sure sign that falling weather was on its way. Mieka had handled more than a few outdoor parties, and as we headed in to get the dessert, she eyed the low dark clouds rolling in. “Time to move inside?” she asked.
I glanced back at our table. Another of Zack’s partners, Blake Falconer, had joined the group. Angus was telling a story. When he steered clear of the legal information sluicing down the new neural pathways from his brain, my younger son was a funny guy, and everyone, including Blake, who had seemed preoccupied all evening, was enjoying him. After Angus finished his story, Zack clapped him on the shoulder and gave one of his deep, full-body laughs.