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A SUITABLE EPITAPH







Roxana Nastase



May 2017

Toronto, Canada







© 2017 by ROXANA NASTASE

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author, with the exception of a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.


All characters in this book are fictive, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, places or events is coincidental.


The book doesn’t portray the Canadian police system.




Toronto, Canada











Dedication:



To Marian, for his appalling patience





Acknowledgement:



I want to thank

Dr. James P Henley Jr

For all his help in improving the quality of this book.

It couldn’t have been done without him!









A Suitable Epitaph


Klavdiya was born on the shore of a small lake in Russia forty years ago...

The woman got married in spring when the cherry trees were in blossom. She was eighteen at the time. She got divorced in autumn when the harsh rains washed the soil and the fallen leaves. She was only twenty-three and she had a young boy attached to her skirts.

Klavdiya died on the shore of another lake and on another continent... She’d come into the world restless and with a thirst to exceed the limitations of the world she’d been born to and she died without finding her peace.









PROLOGUE – AXEL’S VISION





The woman had been flirting with him for over fifteen minutes before he invited her to accompany him in the garden for some fresh air. Glancing out the patio doors into the darkness, she smiled. That was exactly what she’d been aiming for and she consented freely to follow him outside.

After all he was a very well built man. Maybe quite too well, she thought when she noticed him for the first time. Her mouth watered while her eyes perused the expanse of his broad shoulders and strong hands.

She needed a man. It had been some time since a man’s strong hands aroused her. Probably, too long, if she considered the flutter in her belly.

The physical desire had been compelling enough, but the signs hinting to his wealth had been more important and decisive for her. The man was wealthy enough for her tastes. His suit wasn’t a cheap imitation but a true Armani. She’d always had an eye for such things.

They strolled leisurely along the gravel path as she clung to his sturdy arm. He murmured some inconsequential things and she didn’t bother to listen.

The power she could feel under her fingers was as exciting as the heavy smell of the roses lining the one side of the trail. She smelled romance in the air and smiled.

A few more steps and the roses made way to berry bushes. The smells changed and the heat of the summer night enveloped them in a humid cocoon.

The shingle path disappeared and she stumbled when her foot stepped on cracked soil. Both chuckled although embarrassment powdered her cheeks with a slight blush. He silently provided more support to her and a giddy feeling bubbled in her veins.

When he hastened his steps, she giggled softly and commented playfully on his haste. He was watching the trees, distracted, and didn’t give any sign that he’d heard.

That determined her to bring a halt to their fast advancement through the garden. It might have been romantic, yet it didn’t seem very wise. She was alone with a man she’d just met and didn’t know anything about him.

It was her first time there and she hadn’t been aware that the garden grounds were so extensive and secluded. Besides, while she had all intentions to flirt with him, she didn’t have any intentions to succumb to his charms that night.

It was never a good idea to give in too soon. She wanted much more than a tumble in the hay and that meant that she had to play hard to get for a while. Men liked the hunt. They enjoyed the scent of their prey and the efforts that came with their chase.

The huge man glanced at her. His eyes showed understanding and he allowed her to move at a slower pace. She was wearing stilettoes and her feet thanked him. When she put on her high heels that evening before the party, she hadn’t meant to wear them on that hard ground.

Once they were about forty meters away from the house and in the shadow of the trees lining that side of the garden, the man grabbed her arm and nudged her to a deserted corner. He put enough strength behind his action and the brutal move startled her.

A shiver played on the back of her neck and sent tentacles along her spine and the back of her legs. A spine-chilling feeling replaced her light-hearted mood from before, but she didn’t take it lying down.

She tried to reason with him at first. She preferred to assume that maybe he was too anxious to be alone with her and that was why his attitude changed. Her well-chosen words fell on deaf ears though, and she stopped pretending. She began to oppose him but it was as if she’d been trying to stop a river flow.

Indifferent to her pleas, he dragged her for a few more meters. She continued pleading with him because she didn’t see any other solution, but her attempts failed. She replenished her efforts to fight him and tried to dig her heels in the ground, but the soil was too dry and she couldn’t get any traction. She just stirred a cloud of dust that rushed to find a home in her pores.

Her legs turned to jelly and she barely kept herself upright. Something was definitely wrong with what was going on there. Both her self-confidence and sense of safety had slowly skulked away during the forced walk through the trees.

Tinges of electrical shocks ran through her arms. She panicked and tears burnt her cheeks. She felt ashamed of her weakness and tried to hold them back, but the cold fingers of fear kept squeezing her heart in an iron fist, and her breath became ragged.

Probably sick of her puny attempts to detangle herself from him, he finally stopped and moved to stand before her. Through the stream of her stubborn tears she surveyed the man’s stony face with dread. The man wasn’t even blinking and that disconcerted her more. He was just staring at her with dead eyes which quashed her hopes.

She tried to say something again, but now she didn’t find the strength to push the sounds past her lips. Her throat refused to work and her mouth was drier than the soil she felt under the thin soles of her fancy shoes.

She glanced back to the house with renewed albeit premature expectation but the trees hid it from sight. Her lips quaked when she realized that no one could see or hear her.

A corner of the man’s mouth lifted in a satisfied smirk, and that sneer was a splash of cold water over her face. Even though her anxiety was climbing and reaching new heights, she understood that what he felt for her was nothing else but contempt.

That came like a shock. Not the first that evening to be sure, but this one packed the power of a live wire and her mind scattered looking for an explanation.

She’d always been certain that men admired and even worshipped her. She’d basked in their burning glances often enough and she knew that she didn’t delude herself.

She stared back at him with tired eyes. She tried to decipher what lay there behind the mask but her intuition had taken cover somewhere and didn’t offer any help.

The sturdy man studied her for a few moments and then, he reached out and fisted his hand over her silk blouse. His touch brought her back to the reality which had twisted a pretend romance into a horror movie. Fear bubbled near the surface now and, as her brain scrambled the signals, she was about to burst into a hysterical laughter.

In that frozen moment, that soft blouse which caressed the curve of her breasts became the most important thing in her world. She was very proud of that top as it was one of the symbols she attached to the life she’d built for herself. She’d turned that expensive piece of silk into a tangible proof that she’d exceeded both her and other people’s expectations but, more important, that she’d escaped her birth circumstances, which had confined her to the working class.

The sight of that dark and threatening hand on her precious top brought a glimmer of dread but also made her see red before her eyes.

The beefy hand jerked hard and the flimsy blouse fell apart rendered to rags. Her dismay and the pressure of her fury at the sight of her prized chemise ruined ruthlessly, pushed a warlike cry past her quivering lips.

She abandoned any rational thought and jumped the man. Her shoes found soft spots in his shins and made him grunt. Her nails targeted the handsome and ruthless face she’d admired just minutes before and left blood in their wake.

He fought her back. The slap of his backhand unbalanced her. She stumbled back and cried out again and not only because of the pain. This cry echoed the terror that had swiftly creeped into her bones and fried all her neuronal cells. The man was strong and she didn’t have the ability to defend herself against that brutal show of force.

Her cry died soon, though. Another man grabbed her throat from behind and his fingers gripped her as a vise and smothered the sound.

She questioned and berated herself. In the heat of the fight she’d failed to hear the other man’s steps. Still, she promised herself to go down swinging.

She tried to claw into his skin but he didn’t show that he registered any kind of pain. Running on instinct only, she directed her stilettoes to his shins but she couldn’t say for sure if she succeeded. His fingers burrowed harder into the delicate skin and left bruises behind that marred the flawless whiteness of her epidermis. Her air pipe constricted and the woman slid slowly into unconsciousness.

Before she blacked out, she had just enough time to feel other fingers knotted in her hair. She was beyond terror and anxiety. Her impotence overwhelmed the solitary corner of her mind that was still functioning. The last thought that passed her mind was that she couldn’t buy or fight her way out of that. She’d lost the game and that was her night.

The slight flicker of life in her body just made it interesting for the men around. The third man who’d grabbed her hair, threw her on the hard ground in the shadow of a bush pregnant with red drops. Her skirt climbed up and the whiteness of the exposed skin of her legs lit the darkness.

The three of them were still looming over her. They stared at her fallen body for a few seconds.

One of the attackers smirked with satisfaction, his eyes going from her body to the red berries. The ugliness in his sneer showed that he knew that the beauty of the red fruit went hand in hand with their poison and he found it befitting the situation. The woman was about to get what she deserved. Poison deserved poison.




Axel woke up with a jerk and his half-lidded eyes surveyed the bedroom. The light of the moon reflected in the glass panels of the south wall and filled the room with shadows in the corners.

His heart pounded in his chest. For one brief but agonizing moment, he’d feared that he was there with those men, who were still staring at the woman’s body, which was lying in the shadow of that bush.

Now, wide awake, he breathed deeply and closed his eyes in relief. He was still in his house.

Axel’s relief was short lived. He’d scarcely closed his eyes, that he had another vision of the woman’s broken body.

She was lying down on that hard and dry ground which he’d seen in his dream. Now, a monotonous rain whipped her mercilessly and washed the pattern in blood which had been painted on her body, feeding it to the dehydrated soil.

The vision was so in-depth that Axel could even see the rain drops clinging to the woman’s eyelashes. The light in her eyes had dimmed at first and then vanished. The lines on her forehead had deepened and marked her passing years on her face.

A few hours earlier, that face had been flawless. Now it was marred with an x high on her left cheekbone and her features showed weariness, pain and despair.

Axel flexed his fingers and wiped his damp palms off on his thighs. Axel’s visions weren’t always so detailed, but there were exceptions, such as the one that he’d had that night.

When the image finally blurred, Axel exhaled in a whoosh and then breathed in deeply. He wiped his forehead and noticed that his fingers weren’t as steady as he knew them.

Axel shook his head and got off his bed and tried to stand. He had to lean on the night table for a few seconds before trying his wobbly legs again.

In the usual course of events, the man wouldn’t have needed help to find his bearings. Axel knew his lair as well as the back of his hand and could find his way through the rooms even if he hadn’t pulled the curtains aside to have the room bathed in the light of the moon. Still, that night, he needed the support of the walls to reach the bathroom.

There, he leaned on the lavabo and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Staring didn’t help though. He turned on the tap and filled his fists with cold water which he liberally splashed over his face.

When the trepidation had left his body, Axel drank a mouthful. His mouth had been dry and his tongue was almost stuck to the roof of the mouth.

It wasn’t enough. He brushed his teeth and only then he left the bathroom. He started towards his terrace but hesitated. He was restive and needed something more than to just listen to the owls in the night and the sounds of the lake.

With a shrug, he turned around and left his bedroom. He needed a glass of his best whiskey to wash away the metallic taste of death which still lingered in his mouth. His toothpaste hadn’t succeeded in chasing it away. He also needed to make a decision.

Axel didn’t know the people in his dream, but he knew the house. He’d seen that garden before. He’d strolled around it many times in the past and knew exactly where to find that pregnant bush.

Now, he had to decide what to say to the police and how. He didn’t want to reveal how he knew about the crime but they would ask and he needed to plot a strategy.






CHAPTER 1 – A SUITABLE EPITAPH





Klavdiya was born on the shore of a small lake in Russia forty years ago. The information on Leah’s pad didn’t show it but it was raining the day Klavdiya came into the world.

The woman got married in spring when the cherry trees were in blossom. She was eighteen at the time. She got divorced in autumn when the harsh rains washed the soil and the fallen leaves. She was only twenty-three and she had a young boy attached to her skirts.

The young woman migrated to Canada the following summer where she’d already found work in a childhood friend’s company.

She raised the boy to stand on his own two feet and when he left home to follow his path, she started looking around ready for the hunt.

Finally, it was her time and she wanted a man and the money that came with him. She wouldn’t give any man the time of the day unless he met her expectations. He had to be well-dressed, well-behaved and with a rich portfolio.

Klavdiya died on the shore of another lake and on another continent. Her life had completed a full circle. She’d come into the world restless and with a thirst to exceed the limitations of the world she’d been born to and she died without finding her peace.

Leah sat on her haunches and looked at the battered and broken body lying at her feet in the shadow of the bush. She thought that that was a suitable epitaph after all.

She knew that she was harsh in her judgment but what she’d sensed when she touched the lifeless body made her remember a friend’s words, Some people are just walking calls for trouble. Most of the time, trouble eventually answers their call’.

Leah shook her head and scolded herself. No one would ever ask for what that woman got.

She stood up and turned off the pad in her hand. Then, she glanced at the coroner who meticulously discarded the surgical gloves and cleaned his hands with disinfectant.

Why he would do that, it was beyond her comprehension. Yet, she’d watched Dr. Connelly perform the same ritual every single time he was called at the scene of a fatal event.

The detective had known him for a number of years and the doctor’s little quirks never ceased to astound her. Right from the beginning of their acquaintance, he stirred her curiosity, but he also pulled at her heart.

Leah’s empathic skills were highly triggered whenever she looked at that gloomy old man. She’d found out that the doc wasn’t a day over sixty, yet whenever she thought of him she had the feeling she would smell an old piece of parchment. That was why she got into the habit of thinking of him as an old man.

“Any word, doc?” she asked the doctor nimbly.

Leah always asked that question. She supposed it was the force of habit. The detective was compelled to inquire even though she knew that he wouldn’t answer to her. Doctor Connelly was the only coroner in the force who never hazarded to give COD before completing the post mortem.

Leah turned to him just in time to catch his scowl and a small smile lifted the right corner of her mouth. Leah knew his reactions by heart and could predict them with accuracy. She actually took joy in every one of them and even found a perverse delight in yanking his chain. His answers would always make her day.

“Detective, when I have a COD, you’ll be the first informed,” he sternly replied with his hawk-like eyes trained on her.

His displeasure was evident in the tight curve of his mouth. His tone might have been stern but he also had a way of dragging his words which made the interlocutor aware of the sarcasm that dripped off his words like molasses in the water.

Yet, Leah felt warmth beneath the clipped words and bestowed him with a catlike smile. Her blue-green irises intensified the effect of her smile and made her seem eerie. The doc shuddered and brusquely turned and left the scene after he barked an order to the two men waiting on the side to take the body away.

Leah glanced at Klavdiya one last time. Now, no sensation came from the body. As the last drop of warmth had left the corpse, the lingering feelings and occasional thoughts from the victim vanished as well.

Leah pictured the victim’s body in her mind as a shell and it wasn’t for her to take care of that shell. Her role was to vindicate the victim and bring balance back into the world.

One thing that was certain about Leah was that she had a very strong sense of responsibility and she never shrunk her duties. Her innate sense of justice had pushed her on that difficult road to her family’s dismay.

Leah came from a long line of empaths. Some of them had stronger abilities than others but all of them were able to sense something and read people based on those readings.

For four generations, already, her family members numbered several psychologists and counsellors, and she’d been expected to follow in their steps. Tradition was very important for her kin. They’d hoped until the last moment and hadn’t resigned until she took her oath as a policewoman.

Leah was aware that she’d been a disappointment of sorts for her folks and yet, she knew she would do the same thing all over again if she’d had to choose once more.

She’d chosen to become a detective and to keep her skills hidden. The police work was chaotic enough and she didn’t need to add more suspicion and stress to her colleagues’ lives.

People wouldn’t react favorably if they heard that she knew how they felt and sometimes why they felt the way they did. People needed to take comfort in the knowledge that they could count on the privacy of their thoughts and feelings.

Leah might have been a disappointment to her family in the beginning, but they’d passed over their displeasure fast enough. She knew that they felt a measure of contentment because at best she hadn’t chosen another line of work.

There have been cases in their clan when some of the members embraced a life of deceit and cunning. They had the skills and could pull the wool over people’s eyes with ease. It wasn’t a difficult career for them to pursue. All the cards were up their sleeves.

After the first three years of her career, her parents came to terms with her profession and relented in their efforts to make her change her profession. They also felt that Leah was meant to bring a sort of balance into the world and they were satisfied to see that she had a deep respect for the responsibilities they had to uphold.







CHAPTER 2 – WOMAN VS POLICEWOMAN




The policewoman walked to her car with long strides. Now that she’d finished there, she was in a hurry to get back to the office and check on a few things.

She especially wanted to verify the emergency call that told them where to find the victim. The caller described the surroundings and events with too much accuracy and that couldn’t be qualified as a coincidence.

Leah was certain that the man must have witnessed everything first hand and considered the man an obvious suspect. Her palms were itching with the desire to retain him and ask him some questions.

When she opened the car door, Leah noticed that Mark, her partner, was already sprawled in the passenger seat and she grimaced. She’d been looking for him earlier but she hadn’t seen him. He had a talent of making himself scarce. What astounded her was that he managed to do his job despite his sneaking and she couldn’t understand how.

Mark glanced at Leah and relaxed back in his seat. His hand, which held the pad he was reading when she opened the car door, fell in his lap.

Leah noticed Mark’s rebel lock of hair and a twinkle appeared in her eyes. That was so Mark. His distinctive sign, she thought. Had she been asked to describe the officer she’d have begun with that.

Mark was over thirty but that particular lock of hair made him look much younger. He’d always blow it away because it hindered his sight but it had a life of its own and stubbornly fell back on the exact same spot. Mark seemed completely unaware of his behavior. He’d done that so many times that it became a habit he couldn’t shake off.

That absent-minded gesture amused Leah and yet puzzled her at the same time. The young woman failed to understand why Mark didn’t merely change his haircut to get rid of the pesky lock. It was obvious that it bothered him a lot and in her book when something didn’t work it was time for a change.

Leah shook her head and put the thought at rest. It wasn’t for her to tell Mark what to do. She’d learned early that people disliked nothing more than unsolicited advice. Besides, they had more pressing things to discuss and she’d already wasted enough time ruminating on things with no relation to the case they had to solve. Time didn’t stand still for anyone, Leah recalled.

The woman sat in her car seat and closed the door with a resounding thump. She made a weary face when she heard the sound reverberate inside the car. Leah rarely allowed her dissatisfaction to control her attitude and every slip seemed like a slap in her face.

“Tough day, boss?” Mark asked with a reluctant smile on his lips.

Leah glanced at him and noticed that he seemed unwilling to provoke a discussion or, worse, a scolding, even though Leah rarely showed her claws. That didn’t mean she didn’t have any. The policeman had felt those claws a few times over the years and, apparently, didn’t feel like repeating the experience.

Leah cast a stern look in his direction. While it was true that she outranked him, she never got used to his calling her ‘boss’. She’d asked him to use her name several times and expected him to have learned his lesson by then. The detective was weary of reminding him about it all the time and sometimes, she wondered if he didn’t do it on purpose, just to test her restraint. Yet, the strain around his eyes and the vibes that came from Mark disagreed with her assumption and she preferred to let it go.

She looked out the window and saw that the sun had already reached up in the sky, a definite sign that the morning had come to an end. A black bird, maybe a hawk or a raven, sailed above with its wings outstretched and a piercing shout followed.

Leah knew very little about birds, maybe just that they flew and ate worms. Her eyes followed the arrogant bird for a few seconds and then, her eyes swept over the people gathered about twenty paces away from the yellow band.

Leah could read a broad array of feelings from the small crowd. She felt dismay, fear, pity and there it was, smug satisfaction.

It wasn’t unexpected. Despite the saying ‘Never speak ill about the dead’, there was always at least one person who disliked the dead with a passion and the satisfaction at the news of the victim’s demise overrode their common sense.

Leah never frowned upon such a discovery. She understood people better than normal people did and she allowed room for such petty thoughts. She’d come to terms with the knowledge that humankind was actually anything but kind.

Still, there was something else there. The sensation was indefinite. It was just a probing tentacle which touched her mind and aroused her restlessness.

The young woman scanned the faces again carefully with the trained eyes of a police officer. At the same time, she tried to probe their minds, as well, using the skills she’d honed over many years.

A man turned his back to her slowly before her eyes could have reached him and seen his features. He started towards the house and she could see that his fists were clenched in the pockets of his white linen cotton pants. His stride was long and lazy as if he hadn’t a worry in the world. Still, Leah would have bet the shirt on her back that tension defined the lines of his back muscles.

Her eyes lingered on his back and she tried to assess him objectively, yet she couldn’t note anything distinctive but his curvy raven hair, which reached the collar of his white shirt, and the strong line of his shoulders. She didn’t fail to notice the movement of his muscles under the loose shirt, though.

The man reminded her of an elegant and yet, ferocious feline cut loose out in the wild, absorbed in the mission of checking out its personal hunting grounds.

Leah focused on him until he disappeared behind the line of decorative trees. She hadn’t watched him with the eyes of a woman and yet, to her distress, she had to admit that, unwillingly, the woman inside her had peeked.

That thought formed a line between her eyebrows and that line deepened when the woman realized that she hadn’t felt anything from the unknown man. She’d experienced some tension and the peripheral edges of worry but nothing else.

Now, Leah worried. That had happened to her only once in the past, when she’d been confronted with a psychopath during her first years in the police force.

She’d been puzzled at the time as well but then her mother showed her that the explanation was at hand. It was perfectly normal not to sense a thing from a psychopath. They don’t experience any kind of emotions, and therefore there are no vibes for Leah to catch.

She’d made her business to know everything about psychopaths at the time and nothing she’d learned encouraged her when it came to dealing with such people.

That was Leah’s main concern here. Her inability to reach out to that man’s emotions could mean only one thing and that wasn’t very encouraging.

“Shouldn’t we be going, Leah?” Mark asked. At the same time, his eyes were surveying the garden. He was trying to find out what had upset Leah so much that she’d frowned like that and forgotten about leaving the premises.

Leah glanced at him and barely managed to hide her surprise when she heard his voice. She’d been so lost in her thoughts that she’d forgotten about Mark.

She glanced back in the direction that the man had taken but of course he’d already disappeared. She showed Mark a crooked smile and nodded.

“Yeah, I think we should be going, Mark,” she agreed and then started the car.

Leah followed the alley leading to the other end of the garden, her eyes attentive to the curves in the road. Yet, her mind was still on the man that she couldn’t read and that had swiftly disappeared before she could see his face.








CHAPTER 3 – DIRTY DISHES IN THE AFTERMATH OF A PARTY




When she got back to the office with Mark in her tow, the detective squad was full of noises and movement as always. Anyway, Leah had learned to ignore the cacophony of sounds. She would surround herself in a bubble of isolation and concentrate on her own conversations or on the research she had to do at a certain moment. She’d stopped noticing what was going on around anymore. It was just background noise.

She was content, in any case, that by then, smoking on the squad floor had been forbidden. She could still remember the smog and smell that always lingered around a few years back at the beginning of her career. Her eyes would turn red and watery for days and sometimes she had bouts of coughing that required a lot of coercion to go away. She’d drunk so much raw egg yolk that she was afraid she would start cackling one day.

Working in those conditions had never been too easy. Of course, people had grumbled and protested the new rules but to no avail.

Leah respected other people’s rights as much as the next person. However, she expected that her rights to breathe clean air be respected as well.

She hadn’t gotten involved in any of the arguments at that time, though. She’d known that the new smoking rules would be in force without her contribution and that was why she kept quiet.

It turned out to be a very wise decision. Leah thought that her reserve was the reason everyone still spoke to her.

Those heated discussions divided people that had been friends for eons. They broke into two fighting camps and many of a friendship dissolved and never mended in the aftermath of the boisterous war.

Anyhow, two years back, Leah quietly snuk into one of the corner offices. That was what she thought at least but in reality, her tenacity and audacity in solving cases had helped her advance in the ranks and affirm her competence in the field.

The rank of lieutenant opened the door of that office, not Leah’s ability to talk her way in. The policewoman might have entertained the belief that she was an accomplished diplomat but her empathic abilities didn’t give her the necessary skills to grease her way up the ladder.

Not that she had too much tact. There were moments when she was far too direct and liked to give people a piece of her mind. People’s memories were long and they never forgot.

Once in her office, Leah signaled Mark, who’d followed her, to close the door behind him. She didn’t think of hiding something from the detectives in the squad anyway because the entire wall to the squad was glass. Still, that glass was thick enough and represented a barrier of sorts for the omnipresent clamor. She needed that buffer as she wanted to start on the case without any kind of inconsequential interruptions.

The young woman sat down and turned her computer on. As she knew that the computer liked to take its sweet time to run the initial software, she turned her pad on as well and waved Mark to sit in one of the chairs before her desk and do the same.

Her office was functional. There wasn’t an object in there that didn’t fulfill a practical function. Leah wasn’t too fond of frills when it came to her working space. She’d found out that she preferred them at home where certain people didn’t have access and couldn’t catch a glimpse into her psyche.


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