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GHOST IN THE WINGS

If you love ghost stories, this is a great read. If you like mysteries, this is a book you can spend happy time with. If you like mysteries with ghosts, get set for this one. Ghost in the Wings is set in downtown Toronto. There is an old, beloved theatre called Massey Hall that is currently undergoing a facelift. This story creates another, similar theatre which is scheduled for demolition. The developer who is going to rip down the landmark is murdered in his office. Shortly after, death strikes again at the demo and rebuilding site. Who is the killer and what does he/she want?

Inspector Cameron Rande, head of the Toronto Police homicide team, takes on the investigation. He is supposed to sit at his desk collecting stats and issuing orders to his detectives. Instead, Rande is working beside his best ‘Ds’ and playing host to his visiting daughter as she debates returning to ‘TO’ to attend university. He’s a busy man but can he find time to visit the tomb of the theatre’s first manager. Has he got the time to meet the manager? Has he got the imagination to consider the theatre’s ghosts as suspects?

Read Chapter One of Ghost in the Wings:

CHAPTER ONE

As head of the Homicide Unit of the Toronto Police Service, Rande worked out of Police Headquarters. The H.Q. was in Toronto’s downtown not far away from the crime scene but was a 12-floor, 50-metre-high building buried amid the newer skyscrapers towering over the area. Rande didn’t often get to the sixtieth storey of a new skyscraper, especially one where the CEO of a well-known company lay in a pool of blood soaking into the imported nylon carpet.

Rande knew the carpet was made of nylon because the office manager had gone on about the problems she would have cleaning it. Her reaction to the death of her boss had been tepid at best with the usual words of shock and horror delivered without emotion. Her comments about the effects on her were truly outraged.  

“You can’t clean that with cold water and salt,” Valerie Bauer complained in her high, strident voice. “I’ll have to get someone in. That’s a Danish rug, you know.” 

Rande didn’t understand the connection. Did Mrs. Bauer have to bring in a squad of carpet cleaners from Denmark? Was a nylon carpet from Denmark that special? It took the inspector less than 30 seconds to decide Mrs. Bauer was a waste of time as a witness. He told her she could go back to work and she huffed off with a determined stride, leaving Rande to inspect the body and the view through the windows. 

Rande stepped back as the forensic team entered the room. There were three of them but the forensic people, Rande, and his two detectives didn’t take up a fifth of the space in the grand office. The medical examiner and his assistants clustered around the body. One of them shot video of everything. She began taking pictures as they came through the door and she continued to fill up the memory of her digital camera as Rande moved well out of frame. Rande noted that the photographer took care to capture every yard of the carpeting from the door to the body and around the corpse. Like Rande and the others in the room, the forensic officers wore paper booties. But this trio also wore full, white, paper coveralls and hairnets as they worked. Rande knew they would blot and vacuum the pricey carpet before they finished processing the scene. 

“Bauer was in here when we arrived.” Detective Sergeant John Stanwood said as Rande turned to the two detectives who responded to the call from uniformed officers. The uniforms were first on the scene after a panicked call was taken by a 911 dispatcher at 7:52 a.m. DS Stanwood and Detective Constable Barbara Greene had responded to the call at 8:35 a.m. and had been in the office for less than 60 minutes, five of those spent with the office manager. 

Rande knew the sergeant was covering his butt. The office manager should not have been in the office at all since she might contaminate the scene – by accident or on purpose. But enforcing what people should do in a situation like this was impossible and ridiculous. The police couldn’t do anything about a witness being at the scene of a crime before they arrived. 

“Don’t worry about it, John,” Rande told his frowning detective. “If she found the boss spitting on the carpet she might have done him in. Otherwise…” The inspector smiled briefly and Stanwood looked relieved. The interaction reminded Rande of the man he had replaced as head of the homicide unit. That man had been old-school and dogmatic, the kind who would ream out any lower ranking officer for the most trivial infraction, real or imagined. Rande had tried hard for more than a year to let his detectives know he was a different breed of boss. Old habits die slowly, especially since the former homicide inspector, Walter Shoemaker, was still around and still intrusive as head of Human Resources.

“Neat holes.” 

“What does that mean?” Rande looked down at the speaker. Dr. Ben Rowan, the medical examiner, looked up with his trademark wide eyes and wrinkled brow and repeated himself. His voice was slightly muffled by the mask covering his mouth and nose but it was loud enough to be clear. “Little hole in his chest. One, not much bigger, in his back. Shot through the heart is my guess. Heart bled until it stopped pumping – maybe 30 seconds or so. A through-and-through so we’ll search the room to find the slug.”

Lawrence T. Kaiser, the late CEO of Kaiser Developments, was lying on his back when his corpse was discovered by his secretary who called 911 within a couple of minutes. The detectives would find out that this action by the secretary had drawn a sharp rebuke from Valerie Bauer. The office manager believed she should have been called first. She had been on the subway at that time but the secretary should have kept calling Bauer so she could approve the call to the cops. The secretary’s woeful tale went into Stanwood’s notebook. 

So far, the police work involved with such a death was going like clockwork. The uniforms and detectives arrived within minutes of being called, due to the fact they were coming on shift and working out of nearby offices in the dense downtown of North America’s fourth largest city. Rande couldn’t find anything wrong with procedure unless, of course, he considered his presence at the crime scene.

Rande shouldn’t be here. He should be at his desk at H.Q. working on budgets, equipment allocation, crime stats, scheduling of his several dozen detectives plus half that number of civilian staffers, and other duties that were slowly driving him insane. He had been promoted to head of homicide a little more than a year ago after an outstanding run as a detective sergeant in the drug unit and special assistant to the chief during a year-long crisis over illegal guns from the U.S. flooding the Canadian market. Since his promotion, Rande had been looking, for the first time, at early retirement or quitting to join another police force where he could get back to some useful activity. 

Rande felt a presence at his side. Detective Constable Greene was close to him, scribbling in her gray-covered notebook. She was recording Dr. Rowan’s description of the wound in Kaiser’s body. 

Rande had assigned himself, a few months ago, to a high-profile murder of a billionaire couple in Toronto’s west end. His success with that case made it difficult for the chief to insist Rande stay chained to his desk. But Rande didn’t want to overplay his new freedom. The chief could tighten the reins again. This murder scene, however, was one that was hard to resist. The killing of the top executive of a large property development company in one of the fastest-growing cities in the world was definitely high-profile but Rande would risk the ire of the chief by abandoning his deskwork. 

Dr. Rowan’s minions had opened Kaiser’s white dress shirt to disclose the bullet wound in his chest. The man’s chest had a sparse covering of brown hair that was now matted with blood. The shirt was also bloody well beyond the small bullet hole. Kaiser’s heart must have pumped desperately for the last minute of his life judging from the amount of blood that had made it onto the costly carpeting. 

The shooting probably happened early this morning, Rande thought. He noted the pin-striped, dark blue suit jacket draped over a visitor’s chair in front of the desk. It looked as though Kaiser had placed the jacket there after coming into the room. The man’s trousers retained a sharp crease as though he had put them on today instead of wearing them through the previous day. As well, the man’s tie was still knotted at his neck as though he put it on only a few hours ago. The forensic staffers had left the tie and collar button as they found them while opening the shirt lower down to expose the neat hole identified by Dr. Rowan. One turned the body on its side and pulled up the shirt back so Rowan could look at the exit hole but, once he had seen it, the aide lowered the body back to its original position. 

Rande pointed to the suit jacket on the chair. “You might want to note that, Barbara.” Rande used the woman’s first name instead of her rank. Rande made it a point to deal with his staffers as informally as possible unless they took advantage of the new freedoms in the unit. 

Greene hurriedly added a line to her notes. 

One of the forensic team members called to Dr. Rowan. The examiner stood and moved away from his inspection of the dead body. Rande moved carefully around the victim and his desk to where Rowan and his aide were now standing in front of a shelf of books. The books formed a background for the desk and chair of the dead executive. There were a number of volumes on the glass and metal shelves that rose from near the floor to within a foot of the 10-foot-high ceiling. Most of them had titles like Property Development & Investment and Real Estate Law. 

The three men were joined by a second photographer, a young man dressed in white coveralls, booties and hairnet but carrying a camera with attached lights. He hand-held the camera and took several pictures of the bookcases and, then, of a particular shelf. Finally, he changed a setting on his lens and took more shots of a single book. 

Rowan took the book off the shelf. Rande saw a hole in the spine of the book. It had taken a sharp eye to find the volume that had been hit by the bullet after it passed through Kaiser’s heart. 

“Nice work, Taylor,” said Rande. Taylor Sharpe nodded at Rande and the eyes above the mask showed the man was smiling. 

“Thanks, Inspector.”

Dr. Rowan handed the book to Sharpe. “You found it, Taylor. You do the honours.”

Sharpe carefully opened the book and began to turn pages, a few at a time. Halfway through the book, he found the prize. 

“That’s strange.” The quiet exclamation came from Dr. Rowan as he peered at the slug lying on a page of the book held open in Sharpe’s hands.

 “What do you see?” Rande squinted and leaned toward the book. 

Rowan stepped back to let Sharpe move to the desk where he laid the book on the glass top. Wearing cotton gloves, Taylor lifted the bullet and dropped it into an evidence envelope. He sealed the envelope and wrote a description on the label. 

“I could be wrong but I think that’s a .303 slug.” Rowan took the envelope from Sharpe.

“And…” Rande asked.

“I haven’t seen one in a very long time,” said Rowan as he peered through the envelope at its contents, but I think it’s a bullet that was used until the 50s, mostly by the military. It would have a cupro-nickel covering that looks like this. I think the tip inside is aluminum with lead and antimony farther down in the slug.”

“Jesus. You know your ammunition, Doc,” said an impressed Inspector Rande. 

Rowan chuckled. “My dad used to blab on for hours about this stuff. He had an old Lee-Enfield rifle that his grandfather used in the First World War. He had a .303 shell he kept under lock and key that he would haul out every so often to show to me. I couldn’t tell a cannonball from a bowling ball but I knew a .303 when I saw it. But I haven’t seen another one since my dad died in 1990 and I’ve seen a lot of bullets since.”

“So, it’s unique?” Rande took the envelope and studied the bullet inside. “That might help.”

“Don’t take my word. It will have to be checked by the ballistics people but it certainly would be unique. There can’t be more than a few millions of these things left in Canada.”

“Very funny, Ben,” muttered Rande, handing the envelope to Detective Greene who had joined the group around the desk. “Now, Taylor, get the book back to the shelf and make sure you fingerprint this surface after you take the book away.” Rande pointed at the glass desktop where the book rested. 

Inspector Cameron Rande looked down at the body lying on the expensive carpeting in front of the ultra-modern carbon-fibre and glass desk. He lifted his head and looked, again, at the view through the huge windows that made up two entire walls of the corner office suite. He felt a twinge of acrophobia but shrugged it off as his eyes took in the cluster of buildings leading to the dominant CN Tower and beyond to the blue waters of Lake Ontario. 

About Sandi Ralph

I am an artist living and working in Toronto. My work can be seen at Oeno Gallery, Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada House Trafalgar Square, London U.K. I am a member of Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, Open Studio, Toronto and Centre 3, Hamilton Ontario

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