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Dead Politician Society
A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel
By Robin Spano
ECW PRESS Copyright © 2010 Robin Spano
All rights reserved.
Clare Vengel tossed a leg over her Triumph and kicked it into gear. The sun was shining, the mayor was dead, and Sergeant Cloutier wanted to meet with her. As she sped along Dundas Street, weaving too quickly through traffic, visions of her first undercover assignment danced in her head.
Would she be a political assistant, juggling a BlackBerry and iPad as she raced after some swelled-chested councillor? Would she be a reporter with a press pass, entering City Hall's backrooms to give incisive exit interviews? Or would she be given a menial role, like a janitor, with after hours access to computer files and fax records?
She pressed her horn at a Kia SUV that was sloooow to make a right turn. The driver, a blond yuppie in a ponytail, poked her head out the window and gave Clare the finger. Too many yuppies in this neighborhood, pushing out the railway workers, furniture makers and meat packers and who had founded it. Clare zoomed around the Kia and smiled at the lady as she passed. She was in too good a mood to let a social climbing yoga mom ruin her day.
If she could choose her assignment, she'd take a background role, a fly on the wall. Harder to screw up cleaning toilets than mingling at cocktail parties, pretending to know the difference between a law and a bylaw. But as long as she was undercover and out of uniform, Clare was game for any job on offer. Anything to break the monotony of petty crime response. Technically each day was different but really they were all the same — My bike was stolen — don't you cops even care about personal property? Or: That gang vandalized my garage — again. You'd think you'd patrol the area to catch these graffiti artists red-handed. And Clare's favorite: Are you even old enough to be a cop? And if the calls weren't tedious enough, the paperwork after each visit was enough to keep Visine in business.
She patted her gas tank with affection. Rust lines were forming around the cap, but one day Clare would have wrinkles, too. Signs of age were signs of life well-lived.
At Dundas and Dupont, she found the donut shop where Cloutier had told her to meet him. She would have thought he'd choose a diner or a food court. Even Starbucks would be less stereotypical as a cop shop. But maybe the best cover was plain sight. One thing Clare knew: she still had everything to learn.
She pushed open the door into a blast of air conditioning. There he was, already seated, the heavy man who had only ever grunted at her in passing. Her new boss, at least for now. On his table were two enormous paper cups. Clare hoped one was for her, and full of coffee.
"So." Clare flashed her brightest smile as she slid into the cushioned booth. She set her helmet beside her. "Who am I?"
Cloutier pushed one of the coffees toward Clare. He pulled a dutchie from a white paper donut shop bag. He said, "I'm not pleased to be using you."
Clare nodded. That was fair. She was as green as they came. She vowed silently to please him with results.
"We need a face that looks young. We also need a wise cop with field experience. Apparently in this enlightened age it's the packaging that counts."
She sipped her coffee. Piping hot, which meant he hadn't been waiting long. What was she supposed to say?
Cloutier nodded to some sugar packets in the center of the table. "Not gonna use those?"
Clare wrinkled her nose. "No, thanks."
He took one and added it to his own coffee.
"You're going back to school." He slid a plain white envelope across the table. "You're a third year political science student."
"Political science?" Clare opened the envelope and discreetly observed a student ID, driver's license, credit card, and other documents in the name of Clare Simpson. "Is that more like politics or science?"
Ugh. Dead mayor. Duh. She wished she could take back the question.
Cloutier shook his head and muttered, "Politics."
"Okay." She'd prefer science — more straightforward than the heady word games of history and social sciences. But she'd pull all-nighters to get up to speed. A student would be easier to play than a reporter or a political assistant.
"I'm not sure it is okay." Cloutier frowned, which made his thick jaw go slack, like an oversized pug dog. "You're taking your life in your hands when you go undercover. I told the brass to get someone older. Could've sent them in as a mature student."
Clare said, "Is there a reason I'm only half undercover, using my real first name?"
"To avoid one classic rookie tell — if you don't react on impulse when your name is called."
"I won't —"
He put a hand in the air to stop her. "We're sending you into a job where we think you'll be socializing with a killer. Our first priority, always, is to bring you back alive."
"Thanks." Clare wasn't sure whether to feel protected or insulted.
"You're also keeping your apartment, your wardrobe, and everything about your regular life except your backstory. Again, this is non-traditional. And frankly I think it's a mistake too. But it's a rush job. You're being thrown in fast so no more politicians die. If possible."
"I'll do my best."
"This isn't a permanent transfer." Cloutier broke a piece from his donut. "Screw this case up and it's back to petty crime."
"I know." Again, fair. Most cops had to put in years in uniform before their first undercover case. She'd been on the force three months. "So how did the mayor die?"
His eyebrows shot up. "Do you live on this planet?"
Clare eyed Cloutier's dutchie, the doughy chunk of raisins and flour and sugar. She wished she had one of her own, or something greasy, like bacon or sausage, to soak up her mild hangover. But last night's man had been worth it. Kevin. An electrician whose hands could work her body like a fuse box. She let his memory satiate her stomach-grumbling hunger.
Cloutier said, "Hayden Pritchard died at last night's Working Child benefit. You may have heard of it — the fundraiser gala held each September to soak up donations from stars in town for the film festival. He collapsed in his own vomit. It was all over the news."
"I know where he died. What I meant was, have we ruled out natural causes? Was it poison? Something else?" Clare tried to keep the edge from her voice, but it was hard when this growling giant seemed compelled to let her know how ineffective she was, before she'd even had a chance to prove herself.
"Just read this." He passed a printed email across the stained Formica table.
Hayden Pritchard: July 27, 1954-September 6, 2010
We hereby launch our campaign to create a political utopia for the real world. Hayden Pritchard made a dramatic exit from life last night, facilitated by the poison we slipped him.
Pritchard became mayor thirteen years ago, at which point he began to skilfully destroy the city's economy. He spent piles of money to cultivate all kinds of fringe votes, and when he went over budget, he simply raised taxes to compensate. Small business owners closed up shop or moved to the suburbs in response to punishing tax hikes, and Toronto was ranked the worst place in the Western world in which to do business.
Higher taxes would have been more tolerable if the money had been used to feed inner city children or green up the world in any way, but as far as we've observed, society's problems have remained intact.
Pritchard and his staffers don't care: they've all received a fifty percent pay raise.
With another election three long years away, we've decided to free taxpayers from Pritchard's socialist nightmare.
This has been a message from the Society for Political Utopia.
Clare wasn't sure why her fingers trembled when she handed the page back to Cloutier. It was only a printout, but she felt like she was touching evil. Was she naive to think she was ready to take on a killer?
Cloutier slid the page back into his tattered vinyl briefcase. "This email was sent to Annabel Davis," he said. "Assistant obituary editor at the Star."
"Obituaries?" Clare rolled her eyes upward and saw that the drop ceiling was badly in need of repair. "I guess there isn't a homicidal rants editor. Has this gone to print already?"
"The paper's agreed to hold back for now."
"Do we know who sent the email?" Clare asked.
"Yeah. That's why we need the investigation."
Clare wanted to groan, but reminded herself to stay positive. If she wanted this transfer to be permanent, she'd need a good performance report from Cloutier.
"The sender used a wireless network." He peeled back the top of a creamer and tipped it into his coffee. He didn't stir it in, just watched it swirl. "A laptop, or one of those fancy internet phones. The address was nicknamed 'Utopia Girl.'"
Clare searched for something intelligent to say. "I presume we know that the mayor's death was caused by poison."
"You don't need to do any presuming. We have detectives for that. But yes: the medical examiner found massive internal damage consistent with a few common poisons. Pritchard's genitals and urinary organs were congested with blood."
"You mean his cock was hard," Clare said, and immediately felt morbid.
Cloutier looked Clare in the eye. "Pritchard's death was painful and miserable."
"Sorry. Of course it was." She tried another tack. "Have they looked into Viagra? I've heard if you mix it with heart medication, or other drugs — like ecstasy — the result can be deadly."
"Thanks for your medical opinion. We'll check the late mayor's social calendar to see if he attended any raves."
Clare tried to take a sip of coffee but ended up dribbling most of it down her chin and onto her favorite T-shirt.
"Your job is basic, Vengel: go to school, play nice with the other kids, and keep your eyes and ears open. When you get a lead, come straight to me and I'll tell you what the next step is."
So basically, she was being treated like a baby. "I meant ... it's possible that this group — this Society for Political Utopia, if it exists — might be cashing in on a natural death to make a point. Like, they're pretending to take credit. Doesn't every nutcase and his brother pop out of the woodwork when a famous person dies?"
"The inspector clearly thinks there's something more here."
Clare leaned forward. "Which inspector?"
"Detective Inspector Morton is the genius who thinks you should get this job."
"Cool." Clare liked Morton. He'd hardly been encouraging when she'd told him she wanted to work undercover. But unlike the others Clare had approached, he hadn't dismissed her out of hand. "Can I ask one more question?"
"Can I stop you?"
Clare stroked her helmet, smooth and cool on the seat beside her. "What's the connection to the university? Is that where the email originated?"
"Looks that way." Cloutier popped the last of his dutchie into his mouth and stuffed his crumpled napkin into the bag. "Your first class is at eleven a.m., but it's your two o'clock that interests us most. It's on a weird schedule: Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings. It's called Political Utopia for the Real World."
Clare remembered that phrase from the obituary. "Is it a large class?"
"Twenty students plus you. Now go. You have pencils and notebooks to buy."
"Can I invoice the station for school supplies?"
"Of course. Just don't buy anything fancy."
"Do I look like I'd want anything fancy?" Clare picked up her helmet.
"No." Cloutier smirked. "You don't. Have a good day at school."CHAPTER 2
Matthew Easton leapt aside to avoid the tattooed adolescent cycling full speed down the footpath. He cupped a protective hand around his full, steaming coffee and waited until the kamikaze student was three buildings away before he brought the drink to his lips for a long quaff.
On another day, he might have snarled at the kid, thrown him a sarcastic comment about being more considerate. But today was Matthew's favorite of the year: the first day of school. Students rushed around campus, energizing the footpaths and green space with their flurry of self-centered activity. The Gothic buildings were regal in the late summer's light. Matthew himself felt natty and hip in designer blue jeans and his retro tweed jacket. It would take more than a socialist on a bicycle to knock him off his perfect cloud.
Since he'd been a child in Scarborough, he'd always loved the first day of school. All the kids in their new JC Penney clothes — or Roots if they were rich kids from the Bluffs — looking around to see whose face had broken out in pimples, which girls had started wearing bras. Before the fresh pencils had been sharpened, all cliques had some give in them — to make room for a new kid, or some loser who had become cool over the summer. Each year, from kindergarten through high school, Matthew felt like the coming year could be the great one. He could be voted school president, win an essay contest that had Oxford knocking on his door, or Mariana Livingstone might finally recognize his je ne sais quoi and fuck his brains out behind the bleachers.
It had taken thirty-eight years, but now Matthew's great year had come, at last and to stay. He arrived at his office building, the concrete and glass block that was home to several departments, including his own, political science. He climbed the wide stone staircase to Sidney Smith Hall.
On the steps, a group of teenage girls held a campus map. They were arguing and pointing. Turning the map around and looking again.
"Can I help you?" Matthew asked them.
One girl — would she be the leader in a week? — said, "We're looking for Robarts Library."
"Other side of Harbord." Matthew flipped the map right side up and pointed. Then he pointed in real life — north across the next intersection.
"Told you!" a different girl said as they scurried off.
First-year students. They were at their adorable best in September. They still dressed well and they hadn't yet padded their curves with the Freshman 15. And they loved one-on-one time with their professors. They made up for all the Mariana Livingstones who never had given Matthew the time of day, behind the bleachers or anywhere else.
He continued up the stairs, but only made it one step before an eager voice accompanied light footsteps running up the staircase behind him.
Matthew swiveled to see a student from his intro class a few years back. She was a stunning girl — tall, fair-complexioned — and full of original ideas.
"Jessica. How was your summer?"
She scowled. "I spent it with my sick grandmother in her gloomy old mansion."
"How depressing." Jessica shifted the faded leather bag on her shoulder. The Freshman 15 had never hit her, but the young intellectual fashion trend — to dress like clothes didn't matter — sure had. "I was supposed to go tree-planting out west, which I was totally stoked about. My dad did that in one of his summer breaks and he loved it. My grandma thought I was nuts to go — that I was chasing ghosts or something. Anyway, her health conveniently cleared up right at the end of the summer."
"Well, that's ... good news?"
"It is." Jessica sighed. "And I'm thrilled to be taking Poli Real World this year. All the other profs want us to memorize and regurgitate, and you actually encourage us to have strong opinions."
"I'm delighted to have you." Matthew reached for the door handle. "I look forward to your contributions in class."
"I'm just so angry sometimes with the whole system. Do you ever feel like politicians are the new mafia? Running the show and lining their pockets and leaving the rest of us a bunch of crappy options?"
Matthew smiled. "Interesting parallel. I hope you channel that frustration into your course work. Last year, when we submitted the Poli Real World collective course conclusions to our local representative, he took two of those ideas to the table in parliament."
"Yeah?" Jessica seemed rooted to the steps. "Did it change any policy?"
"Not this time. But we'll get there. The first step is getting their ear. Was there anything else?"
Excerpted from Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano. Copyright © 2010 Robin Spano. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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