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The Protector

A Dirty Diane Mystery

© 2018 Curtis Walker

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the author’s written permission. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

Table of Contents

It had to be done.”

Your phone or mine, dear?”

We are the law.”

Who the fuck are you?”

A vicious character assassination.”

What the fuck is he hiding?”

A city that works for those who choose not to.”

So filled with hope and promise.”

But what do I know? I’m just a fucking detective.”

This is completely unacceptable.”

You need to seriously think about your position here.”

Two Victims in Senior’s Disappearance.”

Sounds like you got butt-fucked.”

Any closer to finding Doreen?”

An ace up his sleeve.”

Big fucking, hairy deal.”

A Native community leader.”

Wouldn’t be able to go for a shit in peace.”

No one deserved a trip to jail more.”

Cement shoes?”

Under attack once again.”

If looks could kill.”

A busy weekend.”

The missing link.”

Just where he wanted her.”

I knew something was fishy right away.”

Extraordinarily proud of himself.”

Trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Far out in the middle of the sticks.”

Smelling pizza and chocolate.”

Exercising God’s will.”

He wailed like a stuck pig.”

Game’s over, numb nuts!”

Give it to me straight.”

Shall we immortalize the moment?”

About the Author

“It had to be done.”

Sunday, July 15, 3:12 AM

He had no choice. It had to be done.

Still, it grated on him as he sped down the dark, deserted highway back to the city. He didn’t want it to come to this. Lord knows he tried everything he could to avoid it.

They had become so close. Like brother and sister. Mentor to pupil.

He had done so much to help her over the years. He had practically become part of the family. She had hit rock bottom more than once and it was only his loving care and support that had kept her going. But in the end, she had become another traitor to him. This was the thanks he got for all he had done for her and her daughter. Even at this point, with all the evidence he had, he still had a hard time believing she could turn on him this way. But there was no doubt. He had seen the proof with his own failing eyes.

He couldn’t help going over their last encounter in his head. Maybe he could have made one last attempt to reason with her. But there was no going back now. Besides, it might have been the best thing for her in the long run. She had suffered so much. When they meet again, she will thank him.

This evening had been particularly hard on him. He had surprising physical strength for someone in such frail condition, but this was a time he needed every ounce of it. On this night, the sticky Manitoba summer heat he normally thrived in had become a curse. The cool breeze off the lake proved to be such a blessing.

He was still sweating profusely, but thankfully he had remembered to bring a towel that covered up the front seat. This was the one time he wished the relic had air conditioning. Opening the windows did little but stir up the few remaining greasy gray hairs left on his scalp. Though a pleasure to drive and built like a tank, the burgundy sedan was so old it would likely fail an emissions test.

This was the one time he was relieved the former NDP government had not followed through on its promise to mandate emissions testing on older-model vehicles like this one. It was an item on the party’s platform he had helped draft, all part of an aggressive climate-change strategy progressives across Canada were applauding.

With everything over and done with, he could at last relax, wipe the sweat off his brow and take the time to enjoy driving once again. It had been a long time since he had been behind the wheel of a car, but like a bicycle, once you learned how, you never forgot. He so wished he could afford to rent a Mercedes or a BMW for a weekend joyride. A Chevy Malibu just wasn’t the same.

As he cast a glance down at the speedometer, he suddenly realized he was getting too carried away. The needle was well past 70 and he instantly remembered that the car had been built before Canada had adopted the metric system. Gently applying the brakes, he brought it under 60 as he passed the sign for Clandeboye, where the speed limit was 50. Kilometers, not miles, per hour.

Still racing through the tiny village, the last one before Selkirk, Winnipeg’s largest bedroom community, he was doing a mental calculation as to how much more he would have to reduce his speed. Not that he suspected any cops were out there in the boonies at that time of night, but a friend had once told him the threshold at which a garden-variety speeding ticket was elevated to a reckless driving charge. He had never forgotten it and always tried to keep his speed below that level.

He had always liked the feeling of driving fast and though he enjoyed the work he had done over his career, he had dreamed about becoming a professional driver for one of the big German automakers when he was growing up. They needed people like him who could maneuver through the test courses at high speeds on their proving grounds.

He was still puzzled as to how he crashed his precious Dodge Dart over a decade ago. It was true that he was technically speeding, but he wasn’t going that fast. Yet the investigators seemed determined to pin all the blame on him despite the fact that he was the real victim. He was still surprised the city didn’t send him a bill when the Jaws of Life had to pull away the wreckage to get him out. What a bunch of buffoons.

Making the turn south from Selkirk, he knew he had to keep it closer to the speed limit since there was much more of a police presence on this stretch of highway. It wasn’t that he was afraid of another speeding ticket on his driving record, nor the fine he could hardly afford. It was the extra time it would have cost him. There was still a lot of work to be done.

First, he needed to fill up with gas. Not just fill the tank, but he needed to leave exactly the same amount as was there when he left his friend’s house. Normally, he always made sure to give his friend a little extra for the use of the car. But not this time. This was the one time he didn’t want him to know he had borrowed the car. It was such a blessing that his friend had opted to take a taxi to the airport rather than drive.

It was why he needed to know precisely how far he still had to go and how large the tank was. He had planned the entire route using Google Maps, and a few weeks ago, when he last had the car out, he drained the tank at a station, then filled it up so he could get the true figure as to how much it held. Sure enough, the specifications in the owner’s manual were off. Not by much, but just enough to skew the numbers.

Based on the kilometers per liter he had been getting both in the city and out on the highway, he made a mental calculation to determine how much he would need. He prided himself in still being able to do all that in his head without using a calculator.

The bigger challenge was finding a station that was open at this hour. Hardly any were open anymore for fear of being robbed.

Luckily, he found one and even called ahead before leaving to make sure they were going to be open. He couldn’t imagine how tough it would be to get staff to take the night shift. Even a gun-toting muscle-bound soldier like Rambo would not feel safe.

There was also the matter of rolling back the odometer, and he took his right hand off the wheel for an instant to feel the long soft-tipped needle in his breast pocket. It would have been easy enough to lose amid all the commotion, but thankfully, he had it tucked away safely. For that task, he would wait until he got back into his friend’s driveway. There, he would enjoy the cover of darkness and the canopy covering the carport.

On older models like his, it was a ridiculously easy task. But just to make sure he had all his bases covered, he had gone to a scrap yard last week to try it out. As expected, it worked like a charm.

The smug smile of satisfaction on his face began to fade as he crossed the Perimeter Highway, the beltway that encircled the city. The “Welcome to Winnipeg” sign just before the second traffic light removed it entirely.

He had lived there ever since his parents immigrated to Canada following the war. He never really loved the city, though he grew to tolerate it and even appreciate some of its finer qualities in spite of the long and harsh winters, which had been especially hard on him. It was only in the last few years where he truly began to despise Winnipeg. It had been unspeakably cruel to him in ways he could never have dreamed. In so many ways, it was hardly the same city anymore.

He so badly wanted to leave. His longing for the Maritimes, with its moderate climate and friendly folk, so welcoming and neighborly, almost consumed him at times. There were also other places he could have and would have wanted to move to, but right now, there was no hope. For the time being at least, he was stuck in this hole where seemingly everyone had it in for him.

But this was not the time to dwell on the past. It would only cause him more mental anguish. He needed to stay focused on the present, especially since the gas station was only a few blocks away. Once he had filled the tank, it would be all downhill from there. With any luck, he would be back in his apartment before the sun came up.

This evening, he’d make sure no one even knew he was gone. He would just have to do some creative editing on the video from the surveillance camera. He tried it out with a copy he had taken a couple of weeks ago and the new software he bought made it so easy. All that was left to do was to copy the edited video back onto the disk and no one would ever know it had been replaced.

He probably didn’t even have to bother duplicating the key to the room where the video equipment was set up, but he was leaving nothing to chance. Even without a key, it would hardly be a problem. He could easily jimmy the latch off the hook if he had to.

Once all that was done, he could take care of the police.

“Your phone or mine, dear?”

Monday, July 16, 2:32 AM

Brrrrrt. Brrrrrt.

Seconds later, snorts of disgust emanated from Diane’s nostrils. Buck naked and lying flat on her back with the top sheet having again been kicked down near her ankles, she turned to her right and saw her phone on the dresser flashing like a searchlight. That and the glimmer from the distant streetlight peeking through their second-floor window was all that was keeping the loft bedroom from being engulfed in total darkness.

She’d much rather have let it continue to ring and lie there snuggled up with her wife on this hot, sticky summer night and try to get back to sleep. The air conditioning was again on the fritz, and the repairman said they had to order in parts from out of town. It would take the standard four to six weeks. Likely longer. Just in time for the first snowfall. And another battle with the new home warranty program.

But she strongly suspected the caller wasn’t a pollster or some teenage kid in Bombay with only a tenuous grasp on the English language looking to sell her a low-interest credit card. In all probability, it was a call she had to take.

“Your phone or mine, dear?” asked Vera, whose head of thinning gray hair was tightly nestled underneath Diane’s armpit.


You’ve got the “Solidarity Forever” ringtone, remember?

After peeling off Vera’s left arm that was snugly wrapped around her chest, Diane slithered over to the side of the bed. As expected, her boss’s name and number were there in big, bold letters. There was even a tiny mug shot in the center of the display, just in case she needed further confirmation. Then she turned back to her scrawny wife, lying there in a semicomatose state without a care in the world and almost purring like a kitten. Remind me again why I let you talk me into applying for this fucking job?

Switching back to the buzzing phone, she grabbed it and thrust her finger at the answer button with enough force to crack the glass.




“It’s Irene.”

As if I didn’t know. Get to the point and tell me why you’re calling at this ungodly hour.


“Inspector, we got a call about a missing person.”

“Tell me you didn’t just wake me up at two-thirty in the morning so I could run after another fucking Indian kid who got strung out on drugs and passed out in a dumpster.”


Memories of a case she had just finished with involving a teenage Aboriginal girl were still fresh in her mind. Too fresh, in fact. In what had become an all-too-familiar storyline during her short tenure in the homicide unit of the Winnipeg Police Service, the girl’s naked, mutilated and sexually assaulted corpse had been found washed up on the banks of the Red River near the Alexander Docks. Like most parts of the city’s downtown core, it was an area where even armed police officers were scared to venture at any time of day, let alone after dark.

She hardly needed the autopsy and toxicology reports to tell her the victim had been a heavy drug user. There were more holes in her arm than in a block of Swiss cheese. If the three boys she knew from Pukatawagan hadn’t killed her, any combination of the cocktail of illicit drugs and alcohol in her system would have.

She had turned to prostitution to support her drug habit and given her choices of lifestyle and occupation, it was remarkable she made it to her 17th birthday. Despite having only been on the job for less than a year, Diane had already seen a laundry list of kids just like her who hadn’t been so lucky.

Diane again refused her superintendent’s order to use the phrase “involved in the sex trade” or “street-involved woman” in her report. The kid was a prostitute. A whore. A drug whore. She had no use for the politically correct euphemisms so adored by the higher-ups, especially the good-for-nothing chief. The former chaplain, Amiir Gunawardena was little more than a social worker who had made law enforcement a thing of the past at the WPS. Another shining testament to the wonders of Affirmative Action. Or the Employment Equity Program. Whatever they called it these days.

Not long after the bloated body was discovered, as if on cue, in came the grieving family. They shed so many crocodile tears she was surprised they didn’t need to use the Floodway to keep the Red River from overflowing its banks like it did naturally every spring. Flown in from Pukatawagan and The Pas at taxpayers’ expense, they played the part better than any Academy Award winner while the media lapped it up like thirsty little puppy dogs.

No one dared ask why the girl’s own mother hadn’t even cared enough to make contact with her for the past two years. Or mention that most of the so-called grieving family hadn’t even known their dearly departed relative. Instead, they blamed the cops and Child and Family Services. The CFS worker who had found her in an alley a month earlier should have done more. The cops who talked to her a week before her body was found just let her go. It apparently didn’t occur to anyone to lay the blame at the feet of her killers.

The perps at least made Diane’s job ridiculously easy. She did seem to have a talent for the job, but anyone with half a brain could have found them in a heartbeat just as she did. The three of them seemed quite proud of having “bagged” the poor girl when they posted the gruesome and incriminating pictures on Facebook. It was more proof as to how the social network was more concerned with censoring politically conservative viewpoints than stopping thugs from using their service to brag about a murder.

Of course, with Manitoba’s catch-and-release justice system, it made her wonder why she even bothered to send a unit to pick them up. They didn’t spend more than a couple of days behind bars, and she knew that when the judge eventually heard the sob stories about their bad upbringing, even without the Gladue principle that gives Aboriginals special treatment, they’d probably get off. At worst, they’d be sent to one of those healing lodges for a month or two.


“You know you can’t say things like that!”

“Doesn’t make them any less true.”

The two had been down this road before, so rather than beat her head against a stone wall, Superintendent Irene Porter settled for letting out an exaggerated sigh before giving Diane the details on the case.

The missing person was Doreen Halverson, a 61-year-old Caucasian female who lived on the ninth floor of Jamison Manor, a low-income block where many of its residents were on welfare. Or what the Manitoba government more euphemistically called Employment and Income Assistance because it was less stigmatizing.

Diane punched up the address on her phone as Irene was speaking. It was located at the northeast corner of Munroe and Watt in North Kildonan. Across Munroe to the south was the Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Church, whose steeple was almost as tall as the 12-storey block itself. Across from the church to the west was their parish center, which, in reality, was a bingo hall. Bingo was a bigger business to some of those churches than religion.

To the west across Watt from the block was the yard for an elementary school, and to the north was a maintenance yard for the city’s parks branch. The whole area was backing a small industrial park to the east whose most prominent tenant was a window factory.

The surrounding neighborhood was one of many hotspots in the city for residential break-ins, with the 7-Eleven down the street acting as Ground Zero for the perps. There, they gathered openly to plan which of the nearby tiny but well-kept single-family homes they would break into next. All while guzzling down Slurpees and puffing on cigarettes, the latter of which Diane needed to do urgently as soon as she got off the phone.

Break-ins had become so commonplace in Winnipeg that they hardly even qualified as a reportable offense anymore. Long gone were the days when they actually used to send a black and white out to the house. Today, homeowners were just directed to submit a form online so they had something to give their insurance company.

But it wasn’t just the break-ins that made it an area of specific interest for Diane, a data analyst and criminal profiler for the WPS before getting the job in homicide. There were the muggings. Particularly disturbing was the increase in the number of seniors getting pushed off their wheelchairs and walkers and stripped of their pension money before being savagely beaten.

With the light industry nearby, commercial robberies were also regular occurrences. As indifference within the WPS rose like a tidal wave, many shop owners across the city had begun taking the law into their own hands. Even Diane’s dentist openly kept a baseball bat next to the chair ready to knock some scumbag out of the park.

Naturally, rather than focus their attention on the criminals, justice officials instead went after those who had the audacity to defend themselves. Diane almost cried when she heard that the North End convenience store owner who fought back against some thugs who tried to rob him had been jailed.

In addition, there were plenty of robberies at nearby apartment blocks and, of course, the usual rash of auto thefts. Without question, Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of North America. A car left on the street overnight in Harlem was probably safer than it was on Langside or Furby at any time of the day.

The ever-increasing number of stolen vehicles sprung Manitoba Public Insurance, the Communist Crown corporation with a monopoly on auto insurance, into action. The army of bureaucratic empire-builders running the province’s most reviled organization figured it could make auto theft a thing of the past by forcing every car owner to have an immobilizer installed. At their own expense, of course. Anyone who refused was simply not allowed to insure or register their vehicle.

To no one’s surprise, it hadn’t worked. In fact, it barely made a dent in the figures. But it was no skin off their noses. As long as their monopoly wasn’t threatened, they could have cared less.

All in all, it was the medley of crimes that made the area particularly fascinating to someone who loved to crunch numbers as she did. And still does and would much rather be doing than listening to her superintendent’s voice at this hour of the morning.

Jamison Manor was also just only a few blocks away from where her ex-mother-in-law still lived. Someone she only wished would go missing one of these days once she was able to engineer an airtight alibi. With all the bad blood between herself, her ex-husband and his family, she’d be the prime suspect if something happened. Maybe even the only suspect.

Doreen had apparently been last seen on Friday night. She had gone to a Goldeyes baseball game at the downtown ballpark, then called some guy in the block after she got back. When she hadn’t called over the weekend, he went to check her apartment and called police when he didn’t find her there.

Normally, this would have been a case for the missing persons unit, but homicide got the call when there was a vulnerable person involved. The only thing the WPS were masters of was covering their asses, so when in doubt, think murder. And the guy who called it in made quite a stink. Bent the duty officer’s ear for over an hour. The poor woman was so distraught she went home crying.

So now I’ve got to find the missing woman and deal with this nutbar too. Remind me again why I let you talk me into applying for this fucking job?

After getting a few more details, Diane hung up, put the phone back on the dresser and reached for her pack of cigarettes. Export “A” was her favorite. The green packs. Full flavor. Strong. But like every other smoker, she had to settle for whatever she could find. Life as a smoker was growing increasingly difficult. She was sick of the lectures. She knew smoking was bad for her. But she couldn’t give it up. Nor did she want to.

As she lit up and drew her first puff, Vera snuggled up behind her and again wrapped her left arm around Diane’s firm, toned upper body. One that was indicative of someone who spent a fair bit of time working out. With her right arm, Vera reached up and began stroking her wife’s jet-black hair. That and her olive skin were dead giveaways of her pure-blood Italian heritage.

“Oh, dear, I wish you’d quit,” said Vera while unsuccessfully trying to suppress a cough as the first wave of the thick, acidic smoke began invading her nostrils and lungs. Being a human chimney for so long had left Diane’s lungs so coated that her doctor said it was as if she’d inhaled a bucket of tar. But it was a different story for Vera. She had not smoked since she was a teenager. Despite having lived with Diane for almost three years now, her lungs were still fighting back.

“Bite me.”

“Mmmm. Can I?” asked Vera as she drew ever closer alongside her wife, nuzzling her cheek against the smooth skin on Diane’s back.

Diane recoiled slightly while drawing another puff. “Don’t.”

“So do you have to go?”

“Yeah. A woman went missing. They think something happened to her.”

“Oh, dear. I hope she’s all right.”

If she is, I’ll kill the bitch for getting me out of bed so fucking early in the morning.

While again cursing the rigors of her new job, Diane plied Vera’s arm off her for the second time, then swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Sitting upright, she began madly puffing away, making up for lost time while she was asleep.

“Mmmm. Wish you didn’t have to go,” said Vera while stroking her wife’s back.

Diane sure didn’t want to go either, but she knew she had to. Well, maybe not had to. She was in a position where she didn’t have to work, as there was more than enough money in their portfolio for the two of them to live on comfortably for the rest of their lives.

In addition to her savings, Vera made out like a bandit when her husband passed away thanks to his life insurance policy. If that wasn’t enough, there were the gold-plated pensions she was drawing from her more than 30 years as a career politician. “Public service” as she preferred to call it.

She first spent four terms as a cabinet minister under the Parker government in Manitoba. “Pastor Parker” they called him. Put people to sleep as he rambled on and on with that whiny voice of his. But it was his penchant for acting like a tin-horn dictator that finally drew the ire of Manitobans. He was seemingly the only one in the province who was shocked when the NDP was ultimately annihilated at the polls.

Vera didn’t seek re-election that year so she could run federally. It was a decision she immediately regretted. The NDP was practically an institution in Manitoba and despite the stinging defeat, it would be just a matter of time before they were back in power. It was almost as if the party had some mystical hold over the masses. But it was a different story at the federal level, where they weren’t a major player and likely never would be. As the perpetual third party in the House of Commons, the best they could hope for would be to tip the balance of power in a minority government.

The feds certainly paid well and she was in a safe seat in Winnipeg’s North End, so job security wasn’t a problem, but she grew tired of what amounted to a dead-end job and eventually stepped down.

Vera had talked on-again, off-again about the possibility of the two of them retiring to the Lake of the Woods. She had her eye on a small estate sitting on its own island south of Kenora. The current owner, one of Vera’s old party comrades, was in ill health and had promised to give her first crack at it before putting it on the market. Vera knew as well as anyone how much Diane would love the chance to race around the lake on her Jet-Ski or, better yet, in a brand-new speedboat.

But even at the age of 64, Vera wasn’t ready to give up the political life quite yet. Which was why she was going to be announcing her candidacy for mayor that evening, much to Diane’s consternation. Vera said she would try not to put in long hours at the office if she was elected, but Diane knew she would not be able to keep that promise. She was too much of a goody two-shoes not to burn the midnight oil trying to “help” everyone she could. Worse yet, Diane hated the spotlight and as the mayor’s wife, she’d be getting plenty of it. And even if it was her wife, the last thing this shithole of a city needed was another bleeding-heart socialist in public office.

Nonetheless, Diane couldn’t argue too vehemently. She understood the feeling. At 43, she was hardly ready to be put out to pasture herself. She still wanted, maybe even needed, some semblance of independence and wasn’t quite comfortable with the concept of being a kept woman. At least not yet. So for the time being, she did have to go.

“In case I don’t see you later, don’t forget the campaign launch tonight,” said Vera as Diane got up to put on some clothes.

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

That was a lie. More than a white lie. She’d love to miss it, if only she could. She wanted to spend another evening with a bunch of left-wing loonies like she wanted to take a walk down Furby Street at this time of night without her Glock.

In all probability, it was going to be just like their wedding a year ago April turned out. The day she became Mrs. Vera Wilson turned out to be one of the most miserable days of her life. And she was still sore about it.

This marriage was so much more special than her first one. She was only 21 when she married her husband and it turned out to be such a mistake. Thank God she had gotten the abortion. The last thing she needed was a kid to complicate the situation.

This time around, she had wanted to mark the occasion with a stately, tasteful service with a few friends and family present. She would have loved the small flower garden at Birds Hill Park. But instead, it turned into a political rally. A socialist revival. Vera said there was only going to be a few political types there, but there was such a crowd they could have filled the convention center downtown. She should never have agreed to let Vera’s former campaign manager do the planning.

All but disowned from her staunchly Catholic family, her younger brother Vinny was the only one there from her side. According to them, homosexuality was a sin that would send her straight to Hell. She couldn’t imagine what they would have said if they knew about the abortion. Not that she really would care either. There was a part of her that wanted to tell them just to piss them off. But she thought better of it and decided to keep her mouth shut. For all she knew, they might just show up at her house one night in white sheets and burn a cross on their lawn if they found out. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

The rejection from her parents though, stung and still bothered her, though was loath to admit it. Even to Vera. Especially to Vera. She was livid when she heard Vera had gone behind her back and tried to convince her parents to attend the wedding. Thank God they didn’t.

It was that rejection that made her decide to change her name when she married Vera. Best to cut those ties.

While getting dressed, Diane didn’t need the weather app on her phone to tell her the humidex was well above 30. According to the forecast, it was supposed to get above 40 again and as a result, Winnipeg was still under a heat warning. But as uncomfortable as the sticky, oppressive heat was, at least there wasn’t a mountain of snow on the ground.

In terms of climate, Winnipeg was a city of extremes. When it wasn’t steaming hot, there were whole months during the winter when the wind chill values stayed below −40. The snow became frozen like a rock. Ice fog filled the air. It was yet another reason she kept asking herself why anyone, including her, still lived there.

She strapped on her shoulder harness over top her white, short-sleeved T-shirt, then pulled out her .40 caliber Glock 22 from the dresser drawer and stuffed it inside the holster. Like with the American Express card, she didn’t leave home without it.

She then grabbed her purse from on top of the dresser and felt inside to make sure she had her badge and car keys. In Winnipeg, the badge was effectively a license to break the law and do as you please. And act smug about it. Somewhere, buried deep in the WPS Police Officer’s Code of Ethics, she was convinced there was a provision requiring all WPS personnel to be rude to the public.

As Diane leaned over to do up her jeans, Vera reached over the side of the bed and pulled her wife in close for a goodbye kiss.

“Do you love me?” asked Vera.

“Of course I love you.”

“Do you really love me?”

“After last night, do you really need to ask?”

“Ooooh. You gotta point there.”

“That’s why you call me ‘Dirty Diane.’”

As much as Diane wanted to pursue the line of conversation further, reality bit once again when her phone buzzed. Another text message from Irene. Yeah, yeah, I’m coming!

“Gotta go to work.”

“We are the law.”

Monday, July 16, 2:51 AM

Diane made a quick pit stop in the en suite bathroom to take a piss, comb her hair and put on some makeup, then headed downstairs to the attached two-car garage. She punched in the four-digit code on the keypad to disable the security system, and after hearing the steel rods behind the door snap back, she turned the handle and went inside. Once the motion-sensor light came on, she listened for the familiar hum indicating that the six-inch-thick retractable stainless steel bollards in front of the garage doors were sinking back into the ground.

Naturally, as someone who still naively believed in the fairy-tale goodness of every living being, Vera thought the whole security system was overkill. Especially when she saw the bill from the contractor. But as Diane knew, you could not lock things down enough in that neighborhood. It wasn’t as bad as Wolseley, Vera’s first choice, but Crescentwood, where they were, wasn’t far off.

Not surprisingly, at least as far as Diane was concerned, their sparkling new domicile, built on the site of a rooming house that was torched by some teenage arsonist some years ago, was a popular target for break-in attempts. In an area filled with badly neglected and derelict older homes that a good gust of wind could blow over, theirs stood out like a sore thumb. It was only the elaborate security system Diane insisted on installing that foiled the scumbags. So far.

That security system wouldn’t have been complete without a battery backup system. The solar panels on the roof kept the cells fully charged just in case there was a power failure. Or more appropriately, when there was a power failure. For all the abundance of hydroelectric power in the province, the flaky infrastructure made it seem like they were living in some goddamned third-world country.

It was no different with the phone system in Manitoba. It had almost gotten to the point where she was surprised every time she picked up the phone and got a dial tone. Yet “Greasy George” Sabourin, the recently deposed premier and Vera’s brother-in-arms, always bragged about Manitoba’s great public services. They were part of the “Manitoba Advantage,” he said.

Of course, the only ones who benefited from the “advantage” were moving companies. Under Greasy George’s heavy-handed reign, Manitoba led the nation in losing people to interprovincial migration.

In addition to all she had done in the garage and in the house, Diane also desperately wanted to add some booby traps. She would always froth at the mouth when seeing clips from the History Channel showing the traps the North Vietnamese laid for the Americans in the jungle. Nothing turned her on more than the thought of some thug with tattoos up and down his arms squealing like a stuck pig after having a rusty nail go right through one of his balls.

Sadly, with the justice system in Manitoba and throughout Canada geared toward protecting criminals instead of victims, booby-trapping was illegal. So much so that you could earn a trip to jail for it, something that was genuinely hard to do in Manitoba. It was hard enough to get convicted of anything, even when all the facts pointed to an obvious guilty verdict.

Last year, there was a case of a man driving recklessly through a construction zone who killed a young woman flagging at the site. A blind man would have been able to see all the activity from miles away on that desolate prairie highway, yet the guy didn’t slow down at all and instead plowed right into her. The worst part was that the judge let him off scot-free, saying that his conduct didn’t represent a marked departure from the normal standard of care expected of motorists. Didn’t even give the son of a bitch as much as a speeding ticket.

Just getting the WPS to take a report was enough of a challenge. Diane just happened to be at the District Four station recently when a senior came in. The guy told the officer he was walking down the sidewalk when someone pulled out of his driveway, knocked him down and came within an eyelash of killing him. The lard-ass at the desk couldn’t even be bothered to put down his donut. Told the poor guy it wasn’t a reportable offense and sent him out the door with his tail between his legs. As the WPS slogan says, “Building Relationships.”

But being a cop, Diane had much less to fear than the average citizen for booby-trapping her property. As many WPS officers proudly boasted, “We are the law.” Just ask the family of that poor woman who was killed by a stone-drunk cop a few years ago. The officers on the scene deliberately botched their investigation to get their colleague off the hook, and even though they were later charged with obstruction of justice, they eventually got off thanks to a corrupt judge. Another fine example of justice in Manitoba.

In Diane’s case, however, there was a bigger problem than the law. Her wife. Vera would never permit having her house booby-trapped. Not only did it fly in the face of everything she and her NDP cohorts held dear, but it would be tremendously damaging politically for her if word got out. After all, Winnipeg, at its core, despite its population of over 700,000, was still a small town. So Diane had to cave in on that one. Very grudgingly.

Nonetheless, that didn’t mean she couldn’t turn the garage into Fort Knox. Vera’s old, beat-up Toyota hatchback was hardly worth stealing. A thief would probably be doing her a favor by taking it. But the same could not be said for Diane’s silver Beemer. An M6 Gran Coupé with 600 horses under the hood. Just like the salesman said it would, it could go from zero to 60 in just under four seconds. 3.87 to be precise. Not that she was timing it or anything.

Diane hopped in, punched in the code on the remote control to open the garage door and started up her pride and joy. She just loved to sit there and take in the subtle roar of those 600 horses waiting to be unleashed. It was sure better than anything on the radio and almost as good as the Van Halen and Def Leppard tunes she had on her phone.

She backed out, pressed the button to close the garage door, then opened her window and cranked up the volume full blast. Fuck the neighbors. Let ’em try calling the cops again. Working for the WPS did have its advantages now and then.

Peeling out onto Hugo Street, she made her way north and turned east on Wellington Crescent, otherwise known as Obnoxious Joggers Alley. Joggers were a plague on streets throughout the city, but no more so than on Wellington, which seemed to draw them like flies. There were plenty of dedicated off-road paths for them in the area in addition to wide sidewalks. But they still insisted on running on the road. The heavier the traffic, the better. More attention that way. Getting hit and severely injured or killed wasn’t important. What was important was to be noticed.

Running on the road was also illegal, though that little detail hardly mattered to the WPS. No officer would dare issue a citation to a jogger. The WPS even regularly issued advisories asking motorists to watch out for their golden children. In effect, helping them break the law.

The WPS. An accredited law enforcement agency. Working for you.

Worse yet, emboldened by police inaction, they had become even more smug and arrogant than Greasy George ever was. A driver who didn’t move far enough out of their way was “challenging their rights.” Rights they didn’t actually possess.

Every time she was on Wellington, she couldn’t help but remember the case of a jogger who was hit and nearly killed by a punk driving a stolen car a few years ago. After narrowly avoiding getting creamed four separate times within an hour, instead of using the pathway in the middle of the boulevard, that genius went right back on the road where the punk finally got him on his fifth try. The guy practically set himself up for the kill.

When the news media got a hold of it, instead of blaming the jogger for his own stupidity, they made him out to be some kind of martyr and fawned over him like he was the second coming of Jesus Christ. They even called him a “victim of auto theft.”

He remained defiant even after such a close brush with death. Lying in his hospital bed with a skull fracture and several other broken bones, he vowed to get right back on the road as soon as he was able. In its own perverse way, Manitoba justice may have actually worked when the Crown chose not to lay charges against the punk who hit him.

Meanwhile, the poor sap who had his car stolen, the only true victim in the whole affair, was conveniently forgotten. No doubt, he likely got the shaft from MPI as well.

Fortunately, not even the joggers were out at this time of night, so Diane was able to put the hammer down and head for the Osborne Bridge without fear of denting her Beemer if she happened to hit one. After crossing the Assiniboine River, she made her way down Broadway through downtown.

With the downtown core’s violent crime rate double that of Compton, California, one of the cities made famous from the Rodney King riots, she didn’t dare stop, not even for a red light. But she did have to watch her speed. Not for fear of being stopped, but because of all the potholes rattling her Beemer.

Winnipeg streets were notoriously bad and it was by far the number one topic of conversation around town. Anyone running for mayor or council always got an earful at election time, but instead of listening to voters and taxpayers, the city kept spending wildly on big white-elephant boutique projects. Like the expensive Rapid Transit debacle that did little more than shave two minutes off a southbound trip from downtown to Fort Garry. It was the equivalent of building a pool in the backyard of your house when the foundation was cracking.

Diane turned left and proceeded north along Main Street, passing by the city’s most famous intersection at Portage Avenue before getting in the right-hand lane after City Hall to take the turn for the Disraeli Freeway. A freeway that wasn’t actually a freeway. Just a big bridge over the Red River.

She cast a curious glance in her rearview mirror just before getting onto the bridge and watched as a car turned southbound onto Disraeli from a side street. In one of the northbound lanes. Sadly par for the course in Winnipeg.

With a handful of cars approaching in the distance behind her, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that an accident was soon to follow. For a second, she thought about calling it in to the traffic division, but they’d just have cussed her out for interrupting their beauty sleep. So she decided instead to let the accident investigators deal with it in the morning. They’d be happy as a clam because it would give them an excuse to shut down the road for a day or two and collect a shitload of overtime while they were at it.

Overtime was the biggest racket going in the city for cops and firefighters, allowing many to nearly double their salaries. One police constable racked up so much overtime last year that he made more than the chief. And it was all because of the unions. Not surprising, given that, in Manitoba, the NDP was almost always in power. A party founded by and still controlled by unions. It was like having the fox in charge of the hen house. To hell if the government went bankrupt. Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong.

Leaving what was soon to become an accident scene behind her, she sped over the bridge and didn’t even take her foot off the gas pedal as she blew through several red lights and made a sharp right at Munroe Avenue. A block later, she caught sight of Jamison Manor peeking above the canopy of trees. Despite the hour, there were a handful of lights on. Likely because of all the ruckus going on in the block. The joys of apartment living.

Approaching the light at Watt Street, she spotted a couple of cruisers parked on the opposite side of the street. Facing traffic, of course. Just because they could. The parking faux pas was hardly a surprise, but she was shocked they hadn’t cordoned off a five-block radius around the area. Not that they needed to. But her colleagues loved pissing people off and flaunting their authority. It was one of the best parts of the job. She suspected they were just waiting for the morning rush hour coming in just a few hours time.

She pulled up behind the cruisers, butted out what little remained of her cigarette, grabbed her purse and stepped out of her Beemer.

Game time.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Monday, July 16, 3:35 AM

No more than a microsecond after shutting the door, Diane reached out to swat a mosquito that had bitten her on the forearm. “Another one looking for Italian smoked meat,” she often joked whenever she was bitten by Manitoba’s unofficial provincial bird.

The flying pests with ravenous appetites for human blood were another sad fact of life in Manitoba during the summer months. Like virtually every other municipality in the province, Winnipeg regularly sent trucks out to gas the little buggers, but not nearly enough for her tastes. She only wished they would go back to aerial spraying, the way they used to. Fuck those tree huggers. Yeah, the chemicals are toxic carcinogens. So what. Deal with it. Anything’s better than being eaten alive.

Inside the main doors, an old fart with more wrinkles than a California raisin who she presumed was the super met her and showed her to the elevator. A hunchbacked figure likely not more than 5-foot-2, he was dressed only in a pair of baggy pajama bottoms with pink and purple Zubaz stripes. So 90s. Just like his age.

After extending one of his creaky limbs to motion for her to come with him, he led her into the elevator, where he somehow found the strength to press the button for the ninth floor. As they slowly ascended, she couldn’t help but notice his special talent for growing long, straggly gray hairs out of every part of his upper body. Everywhere except for his scalp.

Then she caught a glimpse of his hairy, droopy boobs. Without the hair, they might have been attractive on one of her own kind. But not on a 90-year-old man. This was a visual she knew she would be desperately trying to scrub from her brain for the next few months.

The faint bell announcing their arrival at the ninth floor couldn’t have come fast enough and she leaped out of the car the instant the door opened wide enough for her to slip through. She then turned to her left and marched down the hall, where a uniformed officer was stationed outside suite number 905.

“Who the fuck are you?” asked the snarky brat.

Ah, such a friendly, professional greeting. Exactly what you’d expect out of the Service.

Diane dug out her badge and thrust it in her colleague’s face. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Constable Nelson. Or so it says on the shiny, new nameplate they gave you when you graduated from the Academy a couple of weeks ago. Your mommy must be proud.

Nelson’s eyebrows arched when he saw the name.

“Oh, my!” bellowed Nelson, feigning awe over her credentials. “Inspector Piasenti. Good morning, sir, er, ma’am.”

“Inspector Wilson.”

“Oh right, your married name. I forgot. They let dykes do that now,” sneered the constable, stepping aside as Diane shoved her badge back inside her purse.

She’d been through it a million times before and she’d had just about enough of the snide remarks and name-calling. Especially at this ungodly hour of the morning. For all that the chief preached about inclusiveness and diversity, the WPS was still just one big good old boys club.

But as much as she wanted to pistol-whip Nelson right across the face, it was not the time or the place. She took a mental note and would go to HR and the city’s diversity coordinator about it. Put it on the record and make sure the kid got in some hot water. With any luck, they would send him on one of those brainwashing sessions they called “sensitivity training.”

Done with the constable for the time being, she stepped through the half-open door and into what she presumed was Doreen’s suite. No one had actually told her, but it was a safe guess that they wouldn’t have a badge standing guard outside unless it was.

The lights were already on and a middle-aged man in a freckled brown suit was standing over by the window.



Not that Diane cared much for his feelings, but she knew how much using that title with her must have hurt since Detective Gordon Paslowski had been up for the inspector’s job Diane got. He certainly had the seniority, but when it came down to making the selection, he didn’t have the right body parts. Maybe being gay or a member of another privileged minority group would have leveled the playing field for him, but being a lesbian still would have stacked the deck in Diane’s favor.

“I live close by. Irene thought I might be able to help,” said Paslowski, answering Diane’s unasked question.

“Been here long?”

“Just got here a few minutes ago. Some guy was sniffing around and giving me the business. Couldn’t stop yakking. Told him to buzz off.”

Hmm, must be the nut Irene mentioned. At least Norm made himself useful for once. But I suppose I’ll have to talk to him eventually.

“Norm” was what everyone in the department called Paslowski, since he was practically a spitting image of the Cheers character of the same name. Balding. Heavy-set. Late 50s. Perfectly suited to a bar stool, with a beer belly that made him look like he was about eight months pregnant.

Not unlike most civil servants, a group that made up about 98% of the total workforce in Winnipeg, he was counting the days until the Rule of 80 kicked in. The Golden Rule. The magic day when his age plus years of service reached 80 so he could collect his full pension.

Based on the overpowering and unmistakable stench of beer that was filling the suite, Doreen was either one hell of a heavy drinker or Norm had just got out of his favorite watering hole. She was betting on the latter.

Norm was known to frequent the nearby Riverside Hotel, right by the Louise Bridge. It was one of those grand old hotels with a proud history dating back to when horses and buggies reigned on the dirt and mud paths that Winnipeg streets were at the time. It still had the magnificent Victorian-era façade, but whereas the Fort Garry downtown had been renovated and was still a majestic landmark, the Riverside went into the gutter, just like the surrounding neighborhood. Over the last few decades, it had become nothing more than a sleazy bar where lowlifes drowned their troubles and picked up prostitutes.

Any idiot would have known that his blood-alcohol level was well past the legal limit, but Diane need not have bothered asking if Norm had driven there. Now that enough time had elapsed since the inquiry involving that poor woman who was killed by a drunk cop, drinking and driving was again an entitlement Winnipeg cops could enjoy more openly. Just as she had done many times herself.

There was one night a few years ago when she drove home after a wild night at the Rainbow Club. Since it was two o’clock in the morning, she didn’t think anyone would be out, so she thought it would be safe. Until she ran into that pedestrian with the IQ of a gerbil.

She just clipped him a little, but the article in the paper said he had a broken pelvis and a concussion. No doubt it was another case of media sensationalizing. So what if she was drunk. That didn’t mean he shouldn’t have looked both ways before crossing the street. It was his own fault. But that didn’t stop the Daily News from sympathizing with that suicidal idiot and laying all the blame on the “heartless” driver. Thank God she didn’t stop. They’d still be dragging her through the mud.

Luckily, it was dark and there were no other witnesses who could identify her or the beater she was driving that night. Just to be on the safe side though, she laid low for a few days and kept the beater in the garage. Then she Googled how to pound out the big dent in the hood before selling it to a scrap dealer up near Teulon. Gave him a fake name and got paid in cash. To make sure it couldn’t be traced, she ground off the VIN etched into the door jamb. It was a shame to let it go, but she probably shouldn’t have been driving it anyway. It was doubtful if it would have passed a safety test.

“Notice anything strange?” asked Diane.

“Everything seems in order.”

Except for that nut I’m going to have to deal with pretty soon.

From an initial cursory glance of the room, everything did seem in order, though Norm wouldn’t be able to spot a clue if someone dropped one in his beer. And as Diane was well aware, not everything was as it seemed.

Standing in the entranceway, she started looking around more carefully. To her left, lying on the linoleum floor, was Doreen’s queen-size mattress shoved up against a small, dark wooden headboard, all nicked up on each side. It looked like something she had picked up at a thrift shop. Or that someone had left on a curb to be taken away.

In front of the headboard were a couple of pillows, meticulously placed side by side. Perfectly fluffed with no creases. No sign of a head mark on either. Probably hadn’t been slept on that night. On the mattress was only a fitted sheet and a thin white bedsheet, tucked tightly around each side of the mattress. Just the way they taught you at summer camp. It was all accented by a big, furry white teddy bear with a dark red ribbon around its neck perched against the pillow to her left.

It almost had the idyllic look of someone staging her unit to be sold or rented out. There was even a faint odor of paint in the air. The faded pale blue walls looked anything but freshly painted, but maybe someone had come in to do some touch-ups. Diane would have to check with the super.

Turning around the corner, nearly clipping a calendar taped to the wall on her way by, she poked her head inside what was an unremarkable bathroom. Hospital white from floor to ceiling. A sink and a bathtub with ancient fixtures that might even have predated the block. But it had all been left spotless. As if she had just cleaned it.

Opposite the bathroom on the other side of the mattress was the back of what looked to be an entertainment unit, which served as the unofficial delineation between the bedroom and what constituted her living room. Walking past the kitchen on her right, she saw an older-model television inside. One of those big CRT televisions that must have weighed a ton. On top was a VCR and a DVD player. Cords were dangling from the dusty DVD player, which probably wasn’t hooked up. DVD must have been too advanced for her. Maybe somewhere she still had an eight-track player. And a rotary dial phone. Black. Other colors cost more.

On either side of the television were several VHS movies in dog-eared boxes. It’s a Wonderful Life. Bambi. One Magic Christmas. All Dogs Go to Heaven. A Simple Wish. Lassie Come Home. It was safe to suggest Doreen was not exactly a big fan of action flicks like Rambo or The Terminator.

Against the wall facing the TV was a sofa. Low to the ground with a dusty afghan draped over the back, a pillow tossed in each corner and covered with various knickknacks. Remotes for the TV and VCR. The TV guide from Saturday’s paper, opened to Sunday’s page. A few grocery receipts. God, she sure loves her Diet Pepsi and Swanson TV dinners.

Looking down through the thick cushions, she could also see enough crumbs to feed a family of rats for a month. The sneeze triggered by getting too close to the dusty cushions startled Norm, who was busy staring out the window and milking overtime. Watching that Rule of 80 clock.

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