Authors: Gail Bowen
Other Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries
by Gail Bowen
The Nesting Dolls
The Brutal Heart
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 © 2013 by Gail Bowen
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 gifted : a Joanne Kilbourn mystery / Gail Bowen.
Published simultaneously in the United States of America by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, P.O. Box 1030, Plattsburgh, New York 12901
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012956228
This is a work of fiction. Characters, corporations, institutions, and organizations in this novel either are the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously without any intent to describe their actual conduct.
McClelland & Stewart,
a division of Random House of Canada Limited
One Toronto Street, Suite 300
For Joanne Bonneville,
with love and thanks for the gift of her enduring friendship
As my husband, Zack, slipped into the roomy yellow silk pyjamas that would transform him from a Saskatchewan trial lawyer into Rex Stout’s brilliant, food-loving, orchid-growing detective hero, Nero Wolfe, he was one happy guy. Zack has been in a wheelchair since he was seven years old. His costume options are limited, but he loves Halloween and he loves parties and that night we were on our way to a Halloween party. After he finished dressing, Zack watched approvingly as I zipped the fly of the slick vintage suit that would change me from a retired academic into Wolfe’s tough, street-smart, confidential assistant and legman, Archie Goodwin.
“You make a very fetching Archie,” Zack said.
I bent over and slid a fresh Phalaenopsis aphrodite into Zack’s breast pocket. “Nero Wolfe has always been on my top-ten list of men I’d like to know carnally,” I said. “I am now speaking not as Archie Goodwin but as the woman in your life.”
“We’ll leave the party early,” Zack said. “I never say no to an intriguing possibility.”
The top floor of our building on Halifax Street is divided into two condos. One belongs to Zack’s law partner, Margot Hunter, and her stepson, Declan; the other belongs to Zack, me, our soon-to-be fifteen-year-old daughter, Taylor, our two dogs, and Taylor’s two cats.
Both our families have a small table for deliveries outside our front doors. That night there was a padded mailing envelope on our table. I picked it up and looked at the address label: “Joanne Ellard Kilbourn Shreve,” I said. “I haven’t used my birth name in thirty-five years.”
“Who’s it from?” Zack said.
“Ben Bendure – the filmmaker who did
The Poison Apple
, that documentary of Sally Love’s life.” I opened the envelope and slid out the contents: two
and a letter addressed to me. I scanned it quickly. “The
are of material that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film,” I said. “Ben says he’ll be eighty next month, his health is failing, and he thinks Taylor should have the footage of her birth mother.”
Zack moved his chair closer to me. “What do you think?”
“Since Taylor still refuses to watch
The Poison Apple
, I think getting her to look at these
will be a hard sell.”
Zack’s eyes searched my face. “But you think it’s worth a try.”
I nodded. “I do. Sally’s been dead eleven years, but there are always new posts about her on the Internet and Taylor faithfully checks
out. I wish she wouldn’t. It’s impossible for Taylor to get a fair picture of Sally from the comments people make about her mother online. Sally’s a polarizing figure. People either love her because she never allowed anything or anyone to get in the way of her art or hate her because she used people and when they didn’t have anything more to give her, she walked away.”
“Taylor may have inherited Sally’s single-mindedness
when it comes to her work,” Zack said, “but our daughter has a tender heart.”
“I know,” I said. “And that’s what worries me. She could be damaged so easily. Taylor’s trying to figure out who she is. The one thing she’s clear about is that she doesn’t want to be ‘a skank’ – as she says – like her mother, using sex to fuel her art. Sally did do that, but there was so much more to her. I wish Taylor would be open to learning about Sally as a whole person.”
“And you think the material Bendure sent might help Taylor gain some perspective.”
“I do, and to be honest, I could use a little perspective myself. The more Taylor’s life focuses on her art, the more I realize I’ll never be able to give her what Sally could have given her.”
“That’s bullshit, Jo. From what you’ve told me, Sally never had any interest in being a parent.”
“But she understood Taylor’s mind,” I said. “Sally would have known instinctively what to do with a daughter who’d inherited her talent. I don’t.”
Zack squeezed my hand. “You’re doing a great job, and Taylor loves you. Stop beating yourself up. Remember what Archie Goodwin says, ‘All that really matters is a dance, a chase, a fight, and a kiss.’ ”
I put the
and the letter back in the padded envelope and placed it on the table. “I’ll sign on for the dance and the kiss,” I said. “Now we’d better make tracks. When Mieka called, she said our granddaughters are chomping at the bit to go trick or treating, but they won’t set out till we see their costumes.”
The party we were attending, a forty-fifth birthday celebration for Lauren Treadgold, the wife of Zack’s longtime poker buddy Vince, was being held at the Open Skies
Country Club, a world away from our condo in the city’s Warehouse District. Our area is part of an urban renewal project called The Village. The developer’s mandate is to replace the wilderness of rattrap houses, abandoned factories, and condemned buildings with a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood of mixed-income housing, small shops, and green space.
Officially, our district is “an area in transition,” but the transition is just now inching towards our building. Surrounded by construction hoardings, mud, earthmovers, and the behemoth machines that every day upheave the past to make way for the future, our family lives in a kind of no man’s land. Until The Village is a reality, 325 Halifax Street, like the other expensively restored warehouses in our quarter, is a fortress protected against the violence of drug dealers, gang members, addicts, and street warriors by a fifteen-foot security fence topped with razor wire.
As we drove through the railway underpass at Saskatchewan Drive, I stared at the gang tags and wondered about the thought processes that would lead a person to stand in a dark, dank tunnel and spray-paint a wall. Seconds after we emerged from the tunnel something hit the hood of our car.
I yelped and Zack tightened his hold on the steering wheel. “Jesus Christ, what was that?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice shaky. “It could have been stones or chunks of concrete. Someone on the overpass must have thrown them at us.”
“Call the cops,” Zack said. “If kids are throwing stuff into traffic, they could cause an accident.”
As I picked up my cell and hit 911, I tried to count the number of times I’d called emergency services since we moved to 325 Halifax. Counting the wandering souls I saw threading their way through traffic stoned or drunk; toddlers
still in diapers, alone and shivering; fights where there was blood; and women and children who’d clearly been beaten, my average must have been close to once a week.
When I broke the connection, I turned to Zack. “The police are dispatching a car to the underpass; they have our contact information, and tomorrow we’ll call the station and get the case file number for our insurance.”
“Then I guess we just carry on,” Zack said.
I could feel the tension gathering in the back of my neck. “Zack, I’m never going to get used to this.”
Zack gave me a quick sidelong glance. “You shouldn’t get used to it. None of us should. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that whoever threw that rock or whatever it was is about thirteen years old. He’s pissed off because it’s Halloween. Halloween is supposed to be fun, but for him, it’s just the same old shit, so he picked up the weapon at hand.”
“And if the police catch him, he’ll be in serious trouble.”
“Yeah, and my guess is that it won’t be the first time that kid has seen the inside of police headquarters.”
“Sometimes I wonder if Racette-Hunter is going to make a bit of difference,” I said. For several months Zack and I had both been deeply involved in the creation of a centre that would address the needs of a downtown community feared and rejected by many in our city. “Do you really think a community centre is going to change anything?”
Zack was gruff. “Don’t go there, Jo. We have to believe that we can give people the tools they need to build a decent future. If we stop believing that, we might as well just hand that kid a bag of rocks and smashed-up concrete and tell him to have a nice life.”
As we moved towards our old neighbourhood, the tension in my shoulders relaxed. In the south end, shops and homes were festooned with orange lights and decorated with witches, skeletons, and the other talismans our ancestors
believed would deliver them from ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night. This was a world I knew.
When we turned onto my daughter Mieka’s street, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Mieka is a single mother. After her marriage ended, she and her girls moved back to Regina and into the house in which Mieka and her brothers had grown up. Zack and I had just married and retrofitted a one-storey house across the creek. For years Old Lakeview had been my neighbourhood, and driving down the tree-lined streets brought back memories of taking my own children trick or treating on nights when the air was sharp with the scent of wood smoke and the sidewalks were slick with wet leaves.