Read The Frailty of Flesh Online

Authors: Sandra Ruttan

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Espionage, #Suspense, #Thriller, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Detective and mystery stories, #Legal stories, #Family Life, #Murder - Investigation, #Missing persons - Investigation

The Frailty of Flesh

SANDRA
RUTTAN

THE FRAILTY
OF FLESH

LEISURE BOOKS
NEW YORK CITY

For Uncle Charlie, taken from us too soon, sorely missed.

CURIOUS BEHAVIOR

Ashlyn heard Richard Reimer mutter, “What the hell’s going on?” but he didn’t force the question. Tracy Reimer remained silent, as though there was nothing unusual about two plainclothes RCMP officers bringing her eleven-year-old son home.

Tain gestured at the door. “Perhaps it would be best if we spoke inside.”

Richard gaped at him for a few seconds before he turned and moved toward the house.

Ashlyn started to follow. She’d taken a few steps when Christopher said, “Jeffrey’s dead.” Then he ran inside.

Tracy Reimer just stood there, face blank and colorless. She looked from Ashlyn to Tain without so much as a shrug of her shoulders, a widening of her eyes or the tiniest hint of wrinkles on her brow.

Her husband walked up to her and said, “I’ll call the lawyer.”

Ashlyn saw Tain glance at her, and she gave a small shake of her head. Let Richard Reimer call. She wanted to know why he thought he needed a lawyer when he hadn’t even asked what had happened to his son.

Or where his daughter was.

“Nothing softeneth the arrogance of our nature like a mixture of some frailties; it is by them we are best told that we must not strike too hard upon others, because we ourselves do so often deserve blows; they pull our rage by the sleeve and whisper gentleness to us in our censures, even when they are rightly applied.”

—Sir George Savile,
Advice to a Daughter

CHAPTER ONE

“It’s just…” The woman’s gaunt face tightened as she clenched the muscles, twisted her jaw and blinked rapidly. She sucked in a sharp breath and continued, “Just not…right, somehow. You raise ’em. You don’t really think about buryin’ a kid.”

Her hands shook visibly as she pushed her strawlike hair behind her ears, then reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table. The trembling eased as she slipped a cigarette from the container, as though touch alone could transfer the nicotine into her system. Her motions were so fluid the cigarette was in her mouth within seconds, her eyes closed as the tension seeped out of her wiry body.

She almost smiled.

Then the facial muscles sagged again as she slowly removed the cigarette from her lips and stuck it back in the pack. Her actions had been instinctive and automatic when she was taking the cigarette out. Once she’d remembered the no-smoking ban in restaurants she’d devoted her full attention to the process of putting it back in the box, as though if she pried her gaze away for even a split second or dared to breathe it would break her concentration…as though tragedy might strike if she failed to replace the cigarette properly.

Craig Nolan processed all of this as he watched the woman who sat across from him. Before today he hadn’t heard of her. When she asked if he could meet with her to discuss an old case he’d suggested she talk to someone who handled cold case files, but she’d been insistent. Not that kind of case. An old case Steve Daly had handled, years before.

That was when it clicked. Lisa Harrington had received notification from the parole board. Her daughter’s murderer had applied for early release. Craig guessed Lisa had reached for the cigarettes first and the phone second. She’d called the Mounties in an attempt to locate Steve Daly, with no luck, until someone finally suggested she call Craig Nolan instead.

Someone who figured it was personal, not professional. Possibly someone too lazy to look up the name of whomever Steve had partnered with when he’d worked this murder.

Or someone who just couldn’t be bothered to ask Lisa what she wanted to talk to Steve about.

Craig wasn’t familiar with the case, but his present workload was light. His workload had been light for months, but that was a different issue. All that mattered was that there was no excuse for him to brush her off. It was just to grab a quick coffee, explain how parole hearings worked, and there was a niggling voice in the back of his brain that told him Steve would want to know he’d followed up on this. One small thing Craig could do to ease Steve’s guilt.

Guilt about so many things.

A waitress filled a mug of coffee in front of Lisa and reached for Craig’s cup, but he shook his head.

“You, uh, look kinda young,” Lisa said as she wrapped her hands around the mug. “I-I don’t remember you at all.”

“I didn’t work your daughter’s case.” He watched the truth hit home in her features as she set her drink back down abruptly. The question was forming on her lips as he raised his hand. “Steve Daly is teaching classes at The Depot.” Her face remained blank, so he guessed she wasn’t familiar with the name of the academy where Mounties went for their training. “Where they train new officers.”

She nodded, as though this all made perfect sense, but the way her eyes pinched with confusion told him it was so far beyond her focus right now that she couldn’t process it. Her mind was on one thing: Donny Lockridge.

Lockridge, the teenager convicted of murdering Lisa’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Hope.

Lockridge, who, despite being bumped up to adult court and given a twenty-year sentence, had served ten years and was now eligible for parole. Life sentences in Canada seldom meant life, and in most cases convicted murderers never came close to serving the usual maximum of twenty-five years.

Release after ten years wasn’t unheard of. Just another thing about the so-called justice system that made Craig’s stomach turn.

“Nobody tells me nothin’, you know? Just lock him up and move on. Steve, he was the only one who said much to me at all.” She lifted the mug with both hands, her gaze on the contents as she took a sip. “I don’t know what this means.”

“Do you have a lawyer?” Craig asked. The quick shake of her head confirmed what he should have already known. This was a woman who, barely in her forties, looked like she’d turned into a compulsive chain-smoker when she’d finally kicked other habits. The way she scratched at her arms, her skin-and-bones body, her gray pallor and the vacuous stare gave it away. She was a shell, someone who’d tried to fill the void with one substance or another, and her best years were well behind her, despite the fact that she wasn’t that old.

Lisa Harrington was someone who’d probably spent her life in and out of jail, dependent on court-appointed attorneys and government-assistance programs to make ends meet when she wasn’t on the wrong side of a prison sentence. Not that any of that mattered at the moment.

“They sent the letter to let you know he’s applied for early release. It tells you when the hearing is scheduled. You can choose to attend.”

Her head snapped up and a rush of color filled her cheeks. “Why would I want to see that filth go free?”

Craig waited until he felt she was calm enough to hear him. “He won’t be released right away. It’s a hearing.”

“W-why tell me?”

“The families of the victims are notified in case they’d like to participate. You can prepare what’s called a victim impact statement. It gives you a chance to tell the parole board how his crimes affected you.”

Lisa set the mug down. Her elbows were digging into the table as she reached back and smoothed the hair that was still tucked behind her ears. “What good does that do?”

“Well, you get to make sure they don’t forget about your daughter. He’ll be trying to show them how much he’s changed and that he’s a better person, and he’ll say he’s sorry and ready to rejoin society.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Will that work?”

Craig took a deep breath. “If he’s managed to stay out of trouble in prison and has good references, says he’s found Jesus or something, yeah. He just might persuade them. I won’t lie to you, it’s possible he’ll get out.”

Her face fell. Craig hadn’t thought it was possible for her to look worse than she did, but she managed to pull it off. Something about the way her cheeks sagged and how her bottom lip quivered…But the glint in her eyes told a different story.

It hinted at a woman on the brink of madness, of really, truly losing it. Probably the only thing holding her back was lack of energy. Her one small outburst seemed to have drained all her reserves. She didn’t look like she had the physical strength required to go off the deep end. Instead, she lay whimpering at the edge of the abyss.

“That’s why it’s important for you to go, make a statement. You have to tell them who Hope was. You have to make them see the daughter you lost, understand what he did to her and to you.”

“I just…just wish Steve would be there. Maybe he’d know the right thing to say.”

“He’s away right now, but he does keep his own notes on every case. I can take a look if you want, see if there’s anything in there that might be helpful.”

“Y-you could get those?”

Craig nodded. “They’d be at his house here. He’s just on a temporary assignment.”
I hope
, Craig thought.

She gaped at him for a moment, then forced her jaw up as she nodded. “Th-that would…Thanks.” Lisa lowered her gaze as she pushed herself up slowly and slid out from behind the table, visibly shaking. She picked up her purse and tried to open it.

Craig stood and put up his hand. “I’ve got it.”

Lisa kept tugging for a moment. The sharp jerks she was exerting on the zipper were probably the reason it had jammed and refused to yield. Craig reached out and touched her arm. “It’s okay.”

She released the zipper and took another deep breath while Craig took his wallet out of his pocket. He tossed a bill down on the table, removed a business card and passed it to her.

“I’ll look at his notes, see if anything might help. If there’s anything I can do, just call.” Hollow words. She would go home, think about her dead daughter, try to get it together for the parole board hearing and then pace the floor, chain-smoking until she got word of the decision.

He’d go back to work, move on to the next case. Different names, different faces, same look of shock surfacing behind their eyes as they came to grips with the destruction crime had wrought in their lives.

Most days, Craig hid behind the idea that he could at least catch the criminals and put them away. Meeting with Lisa Harrington had been the first time in his career he’d had to face a victim on the other side, dealing with the possible release of her daughter’s killer.

As he watched her walk away, shoulders hunched, gaze down, he realized he was kidding himself. He didn’t help heal wounds; he just put a Band-Aid on them while they festered.

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