For Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty, the Syrian refugee crisis is about to become personal. Esa’s childhood friend, Nathan Clare, calls him in distress: his sister, Audrey, has vanished from a Greek island where the siblings run an NGO. Audrey had been working to fast-track refugees to Canada, but now, she is implicated in the double-murder of a French Interpol agent and a young man who had fled the devastation in Syria.
Esa and Rachel arrive in Greece to a shocking scene, witnessing for themselves the massive fallout of the Syrian war in the wretched refugee camps. Tracing Audrey’s last movements, they meet some of the volunteers and refugeesone of whom, Ali, is involved in a search of his own, for a girl whose disappearance may be connected to their investigation. The arrival of Sehr Ghilzaia former prosecutor who now handles refugee claims for Audrey’s NGOfurther complicates the matter for Esa, as his feelings towards her remain unresolved.
Working against time, with Interpol at their heels, Esa and Rachel follow a trail that takes them from the beaches of Greece, to the Turkish–Syrian border, and across Europe, reaching even the corridors of power in the Netherlands. Had Audrey been on the edge of a dangerous discovery, hidden at the heart of this darkest of crisesone which ultimately put a target on her own back?
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Rachel Getty had never expected to find herself at a state dinner at Rideau Hall, the governor general's residence. Even though she was at the tail end of the dinner, mingling with other guests, she found herself bemused, silenced by the splendor of the hall and by the amiability of the prime minister.
They'd left the long white dinner table with its golden candelabra and thickets of crystal glasses for an alcove under ivory arches, the whole scene illuminated by cascading chandeliers. It was pomp and circumstance on a scale familiar to most Canadians, gracious yet subdued.
That didn't stop Rachel from feeling overwhelmed, as she peered, tongue-tied, into the affable face of the strikingly young prime minister. Trying not to draw attention to herself, she smoothed her hands down the length of her black evening dress, cut simply, and had Rachel known it, showcasing her athletic figure to great effect. She wore a pair of dangling earrings given to her by her brother, Zachary, and had even taken the trouble to style her lackluster hair into a smooth chignon.
Earlier, during the photo opportunity portion of this unexpected evening, she and her boss, Inspector Esa Khattak, had posed for a photograph with the prime minister and his wife.
Rachel's sense of being out of her depth was diminished by the matter-of-fact welcome extended by both the prime minister and his wife, whose Quebecois accent fell charmingly on Rachel's ear.
A few moments later, Rachel found herself in the alcove with Khattak and the prime minister. The two men were discussing the current status of Community Policing, the division of law enforcement Rachel and Khattak worked for. Despite a period of trial, Community Policing was back on its feet. A recent parliamentary inquiry into a war criminal's death had exonerated Khattak of wrongdoing, and of late, CPS had been subjected to better press than usual. Khattak was back on the job with accolades in his file.
Rachel suspected this had more to do with a government contact they had assisted on a recent case in Iran than with any change to Khattak's approach to police work. His administrative leave was over, and the budget of their section had been enlarged — they had brought back two of their original team members.
Across the glittering table in the dining hall, Rachel caught the eye of Community Policing's tech supervisor, a burly middle-aged man of unfailing good cheer and deadpan wisecracking abilities by the name of Paul Gaffney. He raised his eyebrows, miming a la-di-dah gesture that made Rachel smile before she hastily schooled her features.
She listened to the pleasant timbre of the prime minister's voice as he offered assurances to Khattak.
"I want you to know how grateful we are for the work you've done," he was saying. "The portfolio we landed you with is a minefield. You haven't had the kind of ministerial support you're entitled to for being bold enough to take it on. As of now, that will change. You will still report to the minister of justice, but we will be amending the legislation that governs CPS's mandate to make it simpler and clearer. We don't want a repeat of what happened in Algonquin. I've also told the minister that you're to have a direct line to me in case of any ... obstruction." He flashed his charming smile at Rachel. "Should Esa be out of commission for any reason, it's been made clear to the minister that you are to have unfettered access."
Rachel expressed her thanks. In the politest politician-speak possible, the prime minister was letting her know that he thought the inquiry into their work had been a fiasco. What was the point of bringing on someone like Khattak only to constrain him at every turn?
She breathed a sigh of contentment. Rachel's personal philosophy was liberal in every sense. The prime minister didn't need to charm her — he already had her vote. She listened as Khattak thanked him in his deep, attractive voice. He was dressed in black tie, his dark hair smoothed back across his head. He looked more like a television star than a policeman.
"It was kind of you to invite our team to dinner."
The dinner was being held in honor of a delegation from South Asia, so Rachel suspected Khattak's presence served the government's interests, as much as anything else.
The prime minister hailed RCMP Superintendent Martine Killiam across the room. She didn't smile, offering a quick nod of acknowledgment. When her gaze landed on Rachel, one corner of her mouth quirked up. Martine Killiam kept her eye on promising women in law enforcement: Rachel was on her radar. Not quite sure what to do, Rachel sketched a nonmilitary salute that brought the prime minister's attention back to her.
"I see you know Superintendent Killiam," he said.
Rachel cleared her throat. Any mention of the murder at Algonquin Park would cast a dark cloud over a festive occasion, so her reply was cautious.
"She speaks very highly of you. And she's not the only one."
The prime minister raised a hand, inviting a latecomer to join their conference.
Rachel recognized him at once. It was Nathan Clare as she'd never seen him, formally dressed in evening wear, a serious look in his eyes.
The prime minister turned a rueful glance on Khattak. "Politicians always have ulterior motives. Our government owes Nathan a debt — one he's come to collect. I thought I'd make it official, so this time there's no confusion with regard to your involvement."
Rachel's sense of awkwardness fell away; she observed the prime minister with interest.
And then she looked at Nathan in alarm. He was Khattak's closest friend, a public figure very much in demand, but her attachment to him was personal.
He didn't look at her, his attention focused on Khattak.
"You have to help me, Esa. Something's happened to Audrey."
They moved their discussion to the Café France, a quiet bistro overlooking the canal. The three of them were seated in armchairs clustered around a wooden table, a hastily conjured pot of coffee placed at Nathan's elbow. Nate had pressed Rachel's hand, but otherwise ignored her.
She took out her notebook and began to make notes as she listened to the two men talk. Nate's pleasant face was tight with strain; one hand worked to loosen the bow tie from his neck. He threw it down on the table, and for a moment Rachel's thoughts were of her own preoccupations.
Nate had never seen her dressed in evening wear. She didn't kid herself that she was a heart-stopping beauty, but even her younger brother Zachary had taken a look at her trying on her dress and whistled his appreciation. She hadn't expected to see Nate tonight, but she thought he might have noticed the difference in her appearance.
She swallowed her disappointment. It was only right he was thinking of his sister.
"You've been away," Khattak said. "Searching for Audrey?"
"I should have shut down that NGO months ago," Nate said. "Part of this is Ruksh's fault."
Rukhshanda Khattak was Esa's sister. Their younger sisters were as close as Nate and Esa were.
Khattak didn't react. The panic beneath Nate's accusation was palpable.
"Start at the beginning. What can you tell us about Audrey's disappearance?"
"You've been away," Nate said impatiently. "Audrey got herself involved in the government's push to bring refugees from Syria to Canada. She wanted Woman to Woman to play a leading role in resettlement work. She went to Greece last December, to facilitate the intake process. There was a lot of pressure to meet the government's end-of-year deadline."
"I remember. Why are you so sure she's missing?"
"Let me tell it, then you'll know," Nate snapped.
Rachel poured him a cup of coffee and passed it across the table. He took a sip.
"Her e-mails and phone calls stopped. Lesvos was her last known location. No one has seen her or talked to her. No one knows where she is."
Khattak asked a blunt question. "How does this fit with Community Policing's mandate?"
Nate swore out loud. "You can't possibly be thinking of your jurisdiction, this is Audrey we're talking about."
"Nate." Esa laid a hand over Nathan's. "There's more to this, isn't there? That's all I'm trying to get at. There's a reason you have the prime minister's backing."
The same thought had occurred to Rachel. Their handsome young prime minister had his own reasons for asking them to the dinner.
Nate took a shallow breath. "Two people were found dead at Woman to Woman headquarters on the island of Lesvos. One was a French Interpol agent. The other was a young man from Syria whose case Audrey was supervising. Their bodies were discovered the same day she went missing. The Greek police believe there's a connection."
Rachel looked up from scribbling in her notebook. "So Audrey's implicated. They think she's responsible."
Nate's hands clenched around his coffee mug. He spoke to Khattak. "You and I know that's not possible. She's been taken. And I don't know what to do."
Rachel swallowed. There were tears in Nate's hazel eyes, and fine lines etched on either side of his mouth. He was drawing dire conclusions based on minimal evidence.
She knew this moment, this feeling — her brother Zachary had been missing for seven years. His absence had hollowed out her life, an agonizing period of dislocation between the stages of missing and returned.
She was overcome by a powerful surge of emotion. She wished she were alone with Nate. She wanted to show him she understood, in a way that Khattak couldn't.
Instead, she cleared her throat and said with forced cheer, "It's important not to give up hope." She meant to infuse him with her strength of belief, but he turned on her at once.
"Can't I? This isn't like Zachary going missing on the streets of Toronto by choice. This is Audrey in a camp on the islands, or dead somewhere in Izmir, or God forbid, taken hostage at the Syrian border. There's no reason for your optimism."
Khattak cut across this catechism. Rachel swallowed back her hurt. Nate's attack wasn't personal. He was thinking of his sister, just as she'd spent years thinking first and foremost of Zach. She focused her attention on her notebook, letting Khattak take Nate through his story.
* * *
Audrey had visited the island of Lesvos in her capacity as chief operating officer of an NGO called Woman to Woman, funded by the Clare Foundation. The NGO had been operating on Lesvos for a year, staffed by a young Canadian named Shukri Danner, herself a former refugee.
Audrey's visit was meant to assist in speeding up the intake process, identifying refugees with documentation from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Syrian refugees fleeing their country's civil war could be fast-tracked for resettlement in Canada, if they met certain criteria. Audrey had met with UNHCR representatives, with dozens of local volunteers, and with hundreds of refugees, not all of them Syrian. She'd spent time assessing Woman to Woman's needs; she had also evaluated Shukri Danner's effectiveness in her role as lead agent on the ground.
She'd been in Greece since December, and though she'd called and written her brother regularly, often about some aspect of the NGO's work, she hadn't returned to Canada in the months before her disappearance. Nor had Nate found the time to visit Greece. His last contact with Audrey had been two weeks ago.
"You spoke to Shukri yourself?" Khattak asked.
"To Shukri, to volunteers she passed me on to, to anyone I could get hold of by phone. No one will admit to knowing anything."
"Was Shukri at headquarters when the bodies were found?"
Nate gave a bitter laugh. "Do you know what headquarters consists of? It's a white tent with these plastic windows that ridiculously resemble the ones at our house. There's a logo, there's communication equipment, there's a few cots and desks, and a few boxes of paperwork that have nearly been shredded by rain. No, Shukri wasn't there. She was in Mytilene, the capital."
"Do you know why?"
Nate's expression became sullen. "She wouldn't tell me."
Small wonder, Rachel thought — if he'd spoken to Shukri Danner with the same combination of misplaced anger and blame he was using on Rachel, Shukri would have been reluctant to tell him anything. Though Nate had helped with their cases in the past, he wasn't a trained investigator. She wasn't sure he could recognize when a suspect was lying, or how to break through layers of defensiveness or fear.
She could see why the prime minister had given them carte blanche.
She was thinking of Shukri as a suspect, and that was the least of their troubles.
If a prominent Canadian's sister had disappeared while working to facilitate resettlement, it would bring the entire Syrian refugee program under scrutiny. There were persistent voices in Canada who'd decried the government's campaign promises from the outset. The prime minister had been accused of rushing the resettlement through without sufficient vetting of prospective refugees. This was the kind of ammunition needed to pressure a shutdown of the program.
The whole thing made Rachel's head ache. She had to remind herself that it was a Syrian who had been found dead, not Audrey Clare. It was a lesson in perspective, but she was a seasoned enough officer to comprehend the optics.
If the program went without a hitch and refugees were resettled in Canada without incident, it would shower the prime minister with glory. But if problems cropped up — a breach of national security, an unexpected drain on resources, the inability of newcomers to find suitable employment — the ensuing outcry could bring the government down.
The prime minister had staked a great deal on Canada's global reputation.
And on Canadian values, Rachel reminded herself. They had started all this with assistance to the Vietnamese in another era.
The response to the government's Syria initiative had been overwhelmingly positive. Ordinary Canadians had lined up to organize private sponsorships of refugees, angry at the government for not doing enough to alleviate the refugee crisis.
It had come to a head with the shattering image of a dead child on a Turkish beach. Aylan Kurdi had drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean with his family. When news that the Kurdis had applied for refugee status in Canada and been refused became public, it resulted in a national outpouring of support for the resettlement of refugees in Canada.
The voices in opposition had been silenced for a time, but their private outrage at the influx of refugees hadn't dimmed. Wherever possible, they used the term "migrant" instead of "refugee." And whenever an opening provided itself, they raised the specter of terrorists slipping through the net to wreak havoc on Canadian soil.
Khattak's sharp question cut into Rachel's reflections.
"Where is Shukri now?"
"She's been detained by Interpol in Greece."
Khattak's eyebrows went up. "She's alone?"
"Not quite. I found a local lawyer and interpreter to represent her."
That sounded more like the Nate she knew.
"We'll fly over at once, now that we've been asked to speak to Interpol. And we'll get Gaffney and Byrne to do some digging here."
Nate's gaze had drifted to the glow of lights above the canal. Now it returned to Khattak.
"I'm just wondering —"
It seemed to Rachel that Nate was consciously turning away from her. He hunched up his shoulders, shifting his long limbs in his armchair. "Before you take that step, there may be something worth pursuing in Toronto."
The warmth in Khattak's voice would encourage the most reluctant witness to come clean, Rachel thought. Nate was his dearest friend — there was no reason for him not to speak.
"Audrey wrote me about this boy from Syria, the one who was killed," Nate said.
"I thought a man was found dead at Woman to Woman."
"He's young so it's hard to say. It's sometimes difficult for refugees to collect the necessary documents. Audrey thought of him as a boy. She was hoping to establish he had family in Canada, otherwise his chances of getting through were slim."
"Were they difficult to find?" Rachel asked, wanting Nate to involve her. He directed his answer at Khattak.
"That's just it. When I tracked the family down, they denied knowing the boy."
"Couldn't that be true?"
There was a faint aura of tension in the café — Rachel knew it was due to how Nate was interacting with her. He was uncomfortable, even a little angry, as if he didn't want her there; maybe he'd speak more freely if she left.
She contemplated getting up and offering him some privacy. But there was a dogged persistence about Rachel: she'd worked hard at her relationship with Nate. She wasn't going to abandon it at the first hurdle. She cared about Audrey and she had expertise to offer, both as a police officer and as a sister who knew what it meant to search for a loved one.
Excerpted from "A Dangerous Crossing"
Copyright © 2018 Ausma Zehanat Khan.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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