When a brutal homophobic attack ended David Lloyd's career as a police officer, his life was changed forever. Five years later David is running his own private detective agency, where a missing person's case comes to his attention. Digging into the circumstances of her disappearance forces David to realize he has not dealt with what happened to him, and that he can no loner deal with his long-time partner's fear of being honest about their relationship.
Solving the case might not only bring peace to a shattered family, but could finally put David's own demons to rest.
June 10th, 1995
When David stepped through the back door of McBurney's Bar & Grill, his life changed forever. From the way Jeremy had watched him through the night he'd figured the man had finally decided to put his comments and innuendo into action. Walking to that door, he'd expected a confrontation, even a physical altercation of some kind, but never in a million years would he have expected the deliberate and vicious attack that waited for him.
The door to the alleyway stood open, an unusual circumstance in itself, but when he heard his name called he knew this was it. He'd either have to put up, or resign himself to countless years of harassment and alienation. He'd never been one to run away from a fight.
The sole of his shoe just touched the damp concrete when the first blow took him in the gut, the power of a large and fit man behind it. The impact forced a grunt of air from his body. David turned in the direction of the hit, wanting to strike back, but a second attacker came at him from behind. A heavy, solid object struck him in the back of the skull, and he went down. Bright pinpoints of light flashed before his eyes as agony exploded out and down through his torso. He hit the pavement, feeling a strip tear open along his cheek, and tasted dirt. The boot coming toward him caught him under the chin and spun him onto his back.
A large man landed on top of him, and a brutal series of punches smashed into his face and upper body. His left ear began to whine, then went numb. Another man joined the action, and when his foot connected with David's knee there was a sharp cracking sound that seemed to reverberate through the narrow alley. Hot pain screamed from his knee, and as he instinctively reached out his hands to cradle the injury, another kick crushed his fingers. He wasn't sure at that point if there were only two attackers or more.
He slipped into shock, the grey wave of unconsciousness filtering in past the pain. As he was about to pass out, he heard a voice that he recognized. He forced his eyes open, zeroing in on it.
At least he would live.
Crumpled balls of paper littered the carpet around the wastebasket, the castoffs of the better part of an afternoon spent playing office basketball and daydreaming of a vacation in the Caribbean. Business in the previous few weeks had been slow, nothing more than a few background checks and the surveillance of a possible cheating spouse. The background checks turned up nothing remarkable, and the wife had indeed been cheating-with the best friend of her twenty-two-year-old son. David had been glad to collect his fees on that one, thus wiping his hands of the messy situation. He just established the facts, he didn't deal with the aftermath of the painful (but truthful) revelations. Thank God.
The freezing rain beat an annoying tap-tap-tap staccato against his office window, an irrefutable reminder that winter still lurked outside, and there weren't any white-sand beaches or palm trees in the foreseeable future. Only dirty slush, bitter winds and chapped lips awaited. Truth be told, he rarely wandered far from Toronto's borders, and the only time he'd left North America had been for his honeymoon, almost ten years ago. David didn't like to think about that trip, as it inevitably led to thoughts of the subsequent dissolution of the marriage and the downturn his life had taken in the wake of that particular failure. One day, he thought, I'll be on a beach somewhere, drinking a cold Corona with a slice of lime and none of that shit will matter.
A peek at his watch told him it was creeping up on four o'clock, and being a Friday with no appointments on the books, it seemed an ideal time to call it a day. Setting his own hours and workload was one of the few perks of being his own boss. An intense workout at the gym and a pizza with the works beckoned.
He went about the usual closing shop procedures-locking files away, turning off the coffee pot-and was just about to pick up the mess of paper on the floor when there was a hesitant knock at his door. He took a swipe at the pile and dumped an armful of the paper balls into the wastebasket before answering. Just before his hand touched the handle he stole a quick glance down at himself, glad to see his shirt was still tucked in and his socks matched. First impressions could make or break a deal, and he was in desperate need of a new gig.
The door opened to reveal a nice looking woman, small, but soft in a motherly sort of way. She had sandy brown hair, shot through with generous streaks of grey, which she wore shoulder length and parted on the side. Her makeup was subtle but accentuated her features, in particular her cool blue eyes. She was dressed in a high-end wool coat, and he would bet money that her handbag cost more then his monthly mortgage. She offered her hand in greeting. He took it, pleased to find her handshake firm. Nothing irritated him more than a weak handshake, something he equated with wilting lettuce.
"Hello. Are you David Lloyd?" the woman asked, waiting for acknowledgement before stepping into the office.
"That's me," David said. "Please come in."
She moved past him, leaving a lingering aroma of expensive perfume and clean hair. She took the seat meant for clients, and he moved his lean, six-foot-two frame around the side of the walnut desk to his usual spot. His chair let out a soft creak as he sat. The woman waited until he made eye contact before speaking again.
She cleared her throat. "My name is Marjory Barrowman. I'm sorry for stopping by without an appointment. I pass by here often, and today I thought I'd just take my chances." He tried not to look at her hands, which were fluttering about like anxious butterflies on her lap, a telltale sign of discomfort. He smiled to offer reassurance that she should continue.
"I'm not interrupting anything am I?" she asked, stalling the point of her visit, as many new clients did. Pleasant circumstances generally didn't bring people to his office, and he'd learned to be patient with clients as they meandered their way to the purpose of coming to him.
"No, you're not interrupting." She looked about the space, taking in everything the room contained, including the small amount of paper still on the floor. She didn't comment. He was thankful the carpet had been recently cleaned and the furniture was good quality. Her presence reeked of money and affluence, and he felt psychologically demoted to a lower status because of it.
"Obviously I'm interested in your servicesâ€¦but now that I'm here I don't know if this is such a good idea. My husband is against hiring a private investigator, but this is more than I can handle on my own. And the police don't seem to be taking the situation very seriously." Her hands picked up tempo, a distraction difficult to ignore.
David leaned forward on his desk, giving her his undivided attention. He was a handsome man, he knew. It was just one aspect, but one that often worked to his advantage. It made men feel he was capable, a strong leader. With women, he just needed to put a little effort into making them feel as though their particular problem was the only thing that mattered to him, and then they were able to relax and trust that he could solve their problems. A little harmless flirting didn't hurt either. He sensed that Marjory Barrowman needed a sympathetic ear, which might or might not lead to an actual job, but considering the balance in his bank account, it was worth the time.
"Why don't you start at the beginning?"
She sighed, and her eyes welled up with tears. From her handbag she pulled a fresh tissue, dabbing at the tears before launching into her dilemma. "It's my daughter, Stella. She's missing."
David pulled a lined pad from the top drawer of his desk and started taking notes. This sounded like it might actually amount to something. "Go on. Give me the details about her disappearance. How long? Her age? What makes you think this is something to worry about?" He tried to keep his tone neutral and warm, hiding the natural enthusiasm he had for such situations. It'd been awhile since something like a missing persons case had come to his attention.
"Stella is twenty-three years old. She's been missing for about two months." Her lips set in a firm line, and he could see she was struggling with the information about to be shared.
"Two months is long time," he prompted. Marjory's eyes searched his face, starting an ache in his bones that told him something serious was going on.
An air of defeat came into her demeanour, knocking her well-to-do status down a few notches. It was obvious she was deeply troubled. "Stella has been in trouble for the better part of the last ten years. She has a drug problem, she's run away numerous times in the past. She usually turns to stealing or prostitution to maintain her drug habit, which is how her family gets back in the picture. We get called in when she's been arrested or taken to the emergency room. This time seems different. She always calls to try and con me out of money, but there hasn't been a peep from her. I'm worried that this time she's finally gone too far, and she's lying in a morgue somewhere."
That was a quite a bit to absorb. "How can you be sure she hasn't just run off again? Maybe she's found someone who's keeping her in drugs, or to take a positive spin, maybe she's drying out somewhere." David mulled over a few plausible scenarios in his mind.
Marjory blew her nose and managed a weak smile before answering. "She's tried stopping before. We've put her in a few different rehab programs, and she's tried going cold turkey, NA, you name it, but it never lasts. She's an addict, and there's more."
"Do you know what a borderline personality is, Mr. Lloyd?" she asked. Her tears had stopped, but her eyes were tired and red-rimmed.
David had a rudimentary understanding of the term from the mental health and addictions courses he'd taken in college. It had been a mandatory part of the curriculum for the Law & Security program he'd completed in his early twenties. After that he'd wasted a few years as an armoured car driver, before getting his act together and applying to the police department. Again, that was a time he didn't wish to dwell on. His hand rose to touch the small hearing aid he wore under his shaggy dark hair before he could stop himself.
"I have an idea, but please fill me in if this has some bearing on the case."
Marjory gave a humourless chuckle. "Oh, I assure you it does. Stella was diagnosed as a borderline personality at seventeen. Borderlines are known to be manipulative, unstable in relationships, quick to lash out in anger. Their behaviour affects everyone around them. They are impulsive and have a poor self-image, which often leads to thoughts of suicide or inflicting injuries on themselves. Stella liked to cut herself, and often complained about how ugly she was, even though she was a gorgeous girl, and I don't say that just because I'm her mother." She rummaged about in her handbag, pulling out a photograph, which she pushed across the desk's surface in David's direction.
David looked down at the picture. Stella was sitting in what looked like a dance studio, dressed in the typical attire: black leotard, tights and pick ballet slippers. Her sandy hair was pulled back, highlighting a face that could have been on the cover of any fashion magazine. Her lips were full and pouty, her cheekbones high. Bright blue eyes regarded the photographer. She wasn't smiling though, and her posture was tense, as though she were very conscious of how her image would appear.
"She's beautiful," he said, after examining the picture for a few minutes.
"Yes. She's sixteen there, a few months after her first round of rehab, and she was still more or less keeping her nose clean. As far as I was aware anyway."
"But she relapsed?"
"Yes, very shortly after that picture was taken. This had been after a number of troubled years, when we'd been to various counsellors, and dealt with endless problems at her school. Stella had been hit by a car when she fourteen, and that was really the start of it all, the drug problem anyway. She came through it fairly well, but it did cause some damage to her knee, which was a tough thing for a girl like Stella. Sorry, I'm not telling this right. I'm jumping all over the place. I should have mentioned that she was a dancer. It took a few months of therapy, but she got back to dancing. Truth was, it hurt her more than she led on, and she became addicted to the pain-killers she was prescribed. This led to her looking for relief from other sources, which unfortunately she found."
"Street drugs?" he clarified, starting to see where this was heading.
"Yes, which cost money. At first she got by on her allowance, but then the drugs became more than just relief from her pain, she was addicted. She stopped eating, had trouble sleeping, and it all took a toll on school, her relationship with her family, and she starting failing classes. It was a mess."
"And the borderline personality?"
"Well this came out in the second rehab we sent her to. She was enrolled in an intensive inpatient program to deal with her addictions and get her the counselling she needed to repair relationships, get her life back on the right track. She was diagnosed by the psychiatrist she worked with."
"And did the diagnosis help?" he asked.
"Not really. It just seemed to give her free reign to be even more difficult than she'd already been. It did explain a lot of things about her behaviour though, from even before the accident. Stella had always been difficult, never seemed to keep friends for long. She was very self-centered but also overly sensitive, and often thoughtless. I used to think it was because she was spoiled, but her brother was never like that, and he had the same advantages that she did."
"So there's a brother? Can you give me some information on him? And yourself, your husband, anybody else you feel might be helpful."
In the discussion that followed, he learned that Christian, the brother, was twenty-seven and had recently finished his Social Work degree. He worked for a non-profit agency in Toronto that counselled troubled youth. He and Stella had been close as children, and Marjory felt that Stella's problems might have influenced his choice of profession. He was hard-working, had a long-term girlfriend, had never been in any kind of trouble. In other words, the polar opposite of Stella.
George Barrowman was a high-ranking executive with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and provided a very nice income for his family. He had a good relationship with his daughter, according to Marjory, but worked a lot, so he was not always available to deal with the day-to-day issues. She also mentioned that he was a just a few years from retirement, which led David to assume the man was quite a bit older than his wife, who didn't look any older than her late forties. He made a note to check out their relationship, to see if any family stress might have been adding to Stella's already numerous problems.
The family lived in an affluent neighbourhood, the kids attended private schools, and the family vacationed in Europe and other places that David had never been. Outside of Stella's drug addiction and mental health issues, there were no family heath issues. Marjory was a program director at nearby York University, a position she'd been in for a number of years, and an organization she'd worked for since her mid-twenties. On the surface, nothing struck David as odd or sinister, but many families were adept at hiding the skeletons in the closet.
David took down a list of relatives and family friends, work associates of both George and Marjory. He asked about teachers and counsellors, dancers, school friends, people Stella may have met in rehab, even any names or places associated with her drug connections and other illegal activities. For the most part, Stella tended to stick around the Toronto area, though she had gone down east once, following a boyfriend to Vancouver, even ending up on the streets of New York City for several weeks.
When the name of a certain detective who'd picked up Stella on a number of occasions was mentioned, David almost snapped his pen in half. The Barrowmans had spoken with him when they'd filed a missing person's report the month before, and he'd been dismissive, assuming Stella had simply run away again. Since she was an adult, it wasn't a priority matter for the police. Marjory didn't think they'd put any effort into finding her daughter.
It was a name he loathed to think about, a face that had haunted his dreams for more months than he cared to admit, and hearing it out loud was a slap to the face. He started to sweat.
"Are you all right, Mr. Lloyd?" she asked, taking in the flush rising from the neck of his dress shirt.
"David, please, and I'm fine. I think I have all the background I need for now. I guess we just need to discuss the fees." David pulled a form from the lower drawer of his desk and started filling in the standard information. When he'd done all he could he handed the form over to Marjory. "If you can make sure to fill in any and all ways to contact yourself, your husband, your son, and the numbers or addresses of any of the other people we've discussed."
Marjory took the paper and skimmed over it briefly before filling in the missing information. Her hands trembled.
"As for the fee, I charge sixty dollars an hour plus expenses. Any out of the norm costs, like say having to fly somewhere, I would discuss with you beforehand, of course. Now, for a case that could take anywhere from a few days to many weeks, like this one with your daughter, I'd require a five thousand dollar retainer. Any money not used would be returned in full, but be clear that it may take two to three times that if she doesn't want to be found, or if something bad has happened to her."
Their eyes met and the implication was clear. "I understand, and money is not an issue. I just want my daughter back, or, if the worst has happened, I want to lay her to rest. I will stop by the bank Monday morning and get a draft for the retainer, and I'll drop it by for you about this same time?" She handed back the completed form.
"Perfect." He looked over the paperwork, then offered his hand across the desk. They shook. Marjory Barrowman fumbled with the bag in her hand for a few moments, looking like she wanted to say something else to him, but instead turned to leave.
At the door, she looked back. "Thank you, David."
"You're welcome." The door made a loud click as it closed.
He sat down to re-read the notes he'd taken, trying the gauge the best place to start the investigation. The drug associates seemed key, and any friends Stella had remained in touch with since her school and dance days. Time and time again his mind wandered back to Jeremy Black, to the point that anger throbbed through his arms and legs and anxiety tightened his chest. He needed to take a break, eat, and refocus. Hearing the name out of the blue like that had been a definite shock.
He was walking down the stairs to his car when his cell phone rang. The caller ID told him it was his younger brother Sean, and he smiled as he snapped the phone open.
"Hey Dave, what are you up to tonight?"
"I was just about to head to the gym, and then I was thinking pizza and a couple of beers, try and find a hockey game or something on the tube. Where's Cheryl?" he asked, pleased but surprised to hear from Sean on a Friday night. Cheryl was Sean's live-in girlfriend.
"She's out at some Pampered Chef party or some shit. I don't get why girls go to stuff like that and then complain about cooking dinner. Know what I mean?" Sean was a nice guy but clueless sometimes.
"Okay, so you're free for the night then?" The wind slapped him with gust of arctic air as he stepped out of his office building. He pulled the collar of his coat up to protect his naked skin.
"Yep. How about I meet you at your place around seven? Unless you have plans with Jamie?"
"Nope. Seven sounds good." The snow, having fallen with enthusiasm all afternoon, had turned to freezing rain, making the streets an icy, slushy mess. His shoe sunk in a freezing pocket of water, sloshing over the edge to the inside and leaving his socks damp against his skin. He rushed as quickly as he could without falling on his ass to his nearby car, the pellets of ice sharp against his face. By the time he was unlocking the door, tears were streaming down his face from the bitter cold.
In the locker room of the gym he slipped on the knee brace he'd been using for working out since the bar incident some years before. His bum knee and the partial hearing loss in his left ear were a constant reminder of what he'd gone through and survived. It could have been a lot worse, and would have been if Sean hadn't come looking for him. His whole life David had always looked out for his younger, smaller brother, but the one time he really needed someone himself, Sean had come through.
David was a strong, athletic man, having grown up playing hockey and football. He's gotten into boxing as a teenager and belonged to the track team in both high school and college. He liked to lift weights, and he still ran as much as his knee would allow. He'd been a good student, a good kid, never getting into more than the usual adolescent escapades: missing curfew, school pranks, or an occasional drinking bout with his buddies. Once his dad caught him with a bag of pot, and he'd been grounded for two weeks. He decided it wasn't worth the risk after that, and truth be told, he hadn't had that much fun smoking it anyway.
Sean was a few years younger and always trying to keep up with his big brother. He'd tag along whenever David would let him, copied his hair and clothes. He worshipped the ground his brother walked on, even after David's secret was out in the open. In fact, Sean had been one of the first ones he confided in, and to this day the brothers remained close.
As he went through the various exercises of his routine, memories of different people churned through his brain. Hearing Jeremy's name had scared loose a bundle of odd memories. He thought of Dana, his ex-wife, who despite the awful pain he'd put her though, still remained a friend. He thought of his parents and the long six months he hadn't spoken with his father. He thought of his buddies from the police force, most of whom had disappeared after the assault and subsequent investigation. He thought of his eighty-five-year-old grandmother whom he had dinner with every Wednesday night, remembering her support and confidence that his dad, her son, would eventually come around.
Eventually his thoughts drifted to Jamie.