Nastos returns on the case of a missing teen, a sadistic abuser, and a race against time Nastos built his police career by channeling his own shadowy instincts to hunt dangerous predators. Now disgraced and off the force, Nastos reluctantly agrees to work with the brash lawyer who cleared him of murder charges. Their job? Track the whereabouts of Lindsay Bannerman, a troubled teen whose wealthy family fears the worst. As spiteful former colleagues try to derail him, and his wife urges him to stop chasing the darkness, Nastos must fight to keep the promise he made to Lindsay’s father to find her before it’s too late.
About the Author
R. D. Cain is an author who has worked for the last 18 years in the emergency services as a paramedic, firefighter, and police officer. He is the author of "Cherry Beach Express." He lives in Scarborough, Ontario.
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A Steve Nastos Mystery
By Richard D. Cain
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2012 Richard Cain
All rights reserved.
Thursday, September 27
Lindsay Bannerman lay in a heap, half-covered by a rat-gnawed blanket in a corner of a windowless basement that stank of musty potatoes, dampness and old things that had been stored for too long and forgotten. Afraid to move and almost too scared to breathe, she scanned the area. Concrete block walls and dirt floor. The ceiling was exposed floor joists and thick metal piping within arm's reach over her head. The only lighting came from a night light plugged into a receptacle that had been attached to the side of a joist above. There was another pile of filthy blankets at the far corner of the room with two distinct, human-sized humps beneath it.
She had no idea how she had come to be there. Her last memory was walking home from the bus to Abby's house; they were going to meet up with some boys, then go to a movie. If I could just clear my head and remember ...
The feeling she had was familiar, high and weightless like vapour floating in infinite blue sky. She had tried oxys before and this felt similar. It was a warm, cozy feeling, like being wrapped in a warm blanket and having every inch of her body hugged by someone she loved. This kind of drug didn't appeal to her — she preferred the vitality and confidence that cocaine provided and stayed far away from opiates and the itching arms that came on their rollercoaster ride down to earth.
Summer school let out at noon, which was early. She rode the Lawrence Street bus to Meadowvale then walked north, oblivious to the crisp fall air, listening to her iPod. While scanning the songlist for Rihanna's "Disturbia," she caught a glimpse of the street ahead and for some reason, her heart dropped a beat. It was desolate, like always. This far east in the city had no commuter traffic, even during the morning rush. Something struck her as odd.
Before the song started she barely registered that there were kids in Wanita Park to her right. This part of Scarborough was like a disaster movie, where all of the people were dead and the streets vacant. Now she remembered thinking that exactly.
It was the van.
Something out of the '90s — beat up, powder blue with tinted windows. A rear tire was going flat. The van looked derelict and out of place, but there was no one around and Abby lived just up the street on Jean Dempsey Gate. Lindsay caught movement out of the corner of her eye and decided it was nothing, maybe a swaying tree, though the winds were calm.
She continued up the street, closing the gap between her and the van. The side windows were darkly tinted as well, making the back glass impenetrable. Hair on the back of her neck stood up as she passed the vehicle, and she let out an involuntary sigh of relief when she passed it, seeing that there was no one in the front. She remembered shaking her head and reaching into her pocket for her cell phone, but as the song on her iPod ended, there was a noise and she turned back to the van. The side door had slid open and the figure lunged out at her, arms reaching forward. Her knees buckled and she fell backward on her ass, head hitting pavement, and then he was on her. His second punch knocked her unconscious.
* * *
Now, she reached again for her cell phone, finding her pocket empty. She shoved off the filthy blanket, stirring dust, searching for her bag although she already knew it would be gone too.
"Hey," a voice said.
Lindsay felt a jolt of fear, then watched as a young girl emerged from under the canvas blanket across from her.
Lindsay asked, "Who are you? Where are we?"
The girl's eyes darted furtively before she whispered an answer. "I'm Rebecca Morris. Some freak's keeping us here. What's your name?"
"Lindsay. What's yours again?"
"Rebecca. Don't worry; it takes a while for your head to clear."
There was more movement from under another blanket. Another young girl's face appeared, blank, peeked her way and then sank back under the blanket. Before she could ask, the girl said, "Don't mind her. She doesn't talk much."
"How long have you been here, Rhonda?" Lindsay began moving to get closer to the girl. Her head and jaw were aching.
"It's Rebecca." She smiled. "I don't know. What day is it?"
"Thursday? The twenty-seventh?"
The girl looked up as she did the math. "Two days then for me." She spoke as if to herself. "Holy shit. I didn't think I'd slept at all. I guess I must have."
The girl crawled over the short distance, although it seemed to Lindsay that she could have walked. "You seemed okay, so I just let you sleep. You've been here a few hours. Did he drug you?"
"Yeah, just the once."
A feeling of intense fear welled up inside her. "Has he ... done anything to you?"
"No. I have no idea what the hell he wants, but it's not that. He opens the door and brings down food. He wears a mask — I've never seen his face."
Lindsay examined the ceiling. No creaking, no signs of movement. "Where's the hatch?"
"It's in that corner, but don't do it." The girl pointed. Her arms were stained with dirt, her nails filthy.
Lindsay crept in the direction of the hatch, squinting her eyes, slowly straightening her back.
"Don't do it." Rebecca said.
The night light plugged in between the floor joists cast a shadow over the hatch. She searched with her hands, wishing that her head was clearer. A joist had been cut away, making a flat area two foot square. The hatch was rough-cut lumber and there were sharp points, possibly exposed nails or screws.
When her hand grazed against the handle she felt the electricity rip through her arm. It was both cold and hot. She cried out, pulling her arm back and falling down to the floor.
Rebecca helped her sit up. "I knew you'd have to feel it for yourself. We're trapped here."
Lindsay stood, more determined. "I'm not staying here."
This time she was more careful. She traced her hands clockwise around the perimeter of the hatch, using the back of her finger, and the fingernail in the seam between the hatch and the frame, until she found what she was looking for: the electrical wires running a current across the bottom of the hatch. She slowly dug her fingers between the wire and the floor, splinters stabbing under her fingernails. Once she was past the second knuckle on two fingers she dropped her weight, pulling the wire down.
"Okay, here. Come and help."
The other girl stood next to her, peering into the darkness. "What do I do?"
"We're going to rip the wire right out so we don't get shocked when we open the hatch."
"I don't know. What if he's up there?"
Lindsay paused and listened. "I don't hear anything."
"Maybe it's just night and he's asleep."
Lindsay began pulling on the wire. "I want to go home."
Rebecca grabbed hold and put her weight into pulling. The wire sagged. Lindsay felt her way along and found a clip holding it in place. She put a hand on either side and pulled the wire sideways. It came loose and sagged halfway down to the floor. She repositioned again, this time bringing her foot up and stepping down on the wire. When it snapped, she nearly stumbled.
Rebecca asked, "Now what?"
"Now we work the handle." She tested the handle by grazing it with her arm; no shock, just metal, cold to the touch. She wrapped her hand around it and pushed and pulled. Nothing. Then she rotated it like the door to an airplane and it moved. She heard scraping and felt vibrations coming from the other side of the door. It was way too loud.
"He'll hear you," Rebecca said.
"Either he will or he won't — too late now."
Lindsay pushed the hatch up. She thought it would be heavier. The brightness from above stung her eyes. When she blinked, there were ghosts of every colour. She was too short to get the door to open far enough to keep it from falling back down again. It thumped back in place twice. Both times were loud.
"Rebecca, I need you to boost me up so I can —"
Heavy footsteps thundered over from the far side of the ceiling. The hatch was yanked open and both girls jumped back just in time to avoid being hit by the aluminum ladder that dropped down. A man groped his way quickly down the ladder. He was wearing construction boots, jean overalls and a bulky hoodie. Nylon was stretched over his face, distorting his features.
He never spoke a word, letting the cattle prod do the talking. Rebecca, immediately upon seeing it, ran to the far corner. Lindsay didn't know what it was until it was too late. More electricity ran through her body. It pushed her away from him, down to the cold earth floor. He charged two steps and pressed the prod against her throat, forcing her to lie down.
She had expected him to talk, to say something, but he didn't. Instead he breathed deeply, almost panting. He was jacked up and ready for a fight that Lindsay wanted no part of. She lay down and raised her hands in surrender. The man turned his attention to Rebecca, crouching down in her face and staring her down, but not before kicking Lindsay in the ribs with his construction boots. Lindsay couldn't control the yelp or the tears that followed.
The man turned back to the ladder and climbed up. The rattles and bangs of the ladder being pulled up after him echoed through the room, followed by the thump of the hatch slamming shut. The girls were left in near darkness. Heavy scraping and creaking from the floorboards above, moving toward the area of the hatch, shook dust from the joists. Particles floated weightlessly, reflecting in the nicotine-coloured light cast from the night light.
The scraping stopped; there were two thumps, then the sound of something rolling, piano keys struck accidentally, low ominous tones. The man had dragged a piano over the hatch.
Lindsay rolled over, clutching her stomach. "If I had spent more time thinking, if I'd been quieter, we might have made it."
"Not now. Now we'll never get out."CHAPTER 2
Monday, October 22
Steve Nastos sat in his home office hunched forward in a black leather swivel chair that creaked at the slightest movement. The walls were bare, his police memorabilia taken from the walls and shelves and deposited in the closet. The only evidence that he had been a cop was a photograph of him in his uniform, crouched next to his daughter, Josie, who was wearing his forage hat. Now he had his feet up on his desk and a phone to his ear; he'd been placed on Ignore ten minutes ago. Nastos entertained himself by reading the Toronto Tribune, the left-wing, cop-hating rag that made up as much news as it reported on. Only after the series of events that had led to his arrest for murder did he begin to consider that they weren't entirely wrong about their take on at least some of the city's cops.
The music on the other end of the line, a digital version of the latest Rihanna hit, stopped abruptly and the phone clicked. There was silence, then a woman's voice spoke to him. "MacPherson and Terrell Insurance, how may I help you?"
"This is Investigator Nastos; I need to do my monthly reconciliation."
He heard typing into a keyboard for what felt like an eternity. "And your reference number?"
"Your date of birth, SIN number and phone number, please?"
"What's the point of giving you my reference number if I just have to give you everything else anyways?"
"Mr. Nastos, I'm sure you understand the need for proper identification."
"Not really. I can't imagine there's a fraud ring going through my emails to get my reference number to report other fraudsters for committing whiplash frauds."
"Don't shoot the messenger, Mr. Nastos."
He provided the information. "Anyways, I just submitted the Ranatunga investigation. I sent it in last Friday, but haven't received the confirmation."
"Let me just take a look." She didn't put him on hold this time. He could hear chatter in the background, call centre noises.
"Yes, it's being sent back to you for completion."
"Pardon? I worked on that night and day for three weeks. It's complete."
"Actually, it's not, Mr. Nastos — you forgot to attach the new cover memo. Looks like you used the old one."
"You're kidding me, right? The only thing different is the date version of the form?"
"We try to pay attention to details, Mr. Nastos."
She was saying his name too much. She was a tightened-up bitch who'd be sure to say Mr. Nastos so she could think of herself as a consummate professional — too bad she didn't think it important to clear the contempt from her nasally voice. He opened the bar fridge and grabbed a Coke Zero. "Fine, I'll send the new one." He cracked the seal and took a sip after the hissing died down.
"Anything else, sir?"
"Yeah. How come I was only paid two thousand last week? I was expecting at least four."
She typed some more. "We've changed the remuneration schedule when there are only two vehicles involved."
"Are you kidding me? There were seven people in one of the vans."
"I sit in this ten-by-ten cell I've created for myself, investigating fraudulent auto accident rings. I'm here for ten hours a day, five days a week. Now, retroactively, you're telling me that my wage is being cut for no reason and I'm supposed to just sit back and take it?"
"This is bullshit."
"Mr. Nastos, we have a policy about abusive or aggressive language."
"You think the word bullshit is abusive?"
"Yes sir, any profanity is abusive, according to our harassment policy."
"Oh, really. So fucking bullshit would really be pushing it?" He slurped his drink loudly.
"Yes, it would."
"And motherfucking, bat-shit crazy bullshit would probably be cause for termination?"
"It might, sir; I'd have to check with Human Resources."
"Well, don't bother, 'cause I motherfucking quit."
He pressed the button to hang up, then tossed the phone behind him on the couch. The overwhelming relief was quickly replaced by guilt. Money had been tight since he was fired from the police service, and the wrongful dismissal lawsuit had no end in sight. His wife, Madeleine, had been carrying the bulk of the financial responsibilities, which was stressful for her since she was a real estate agent and the market was all over the place.
The phone rang. After a moment, he decided to pick it up; if they offered, he'd take the job back and apologize. But the call display said it was his lawyer.
"Mr. Carscadden, I presume?"
"You presume correctly. How's the insurance business?"
"Well, they pissed me off, so I just quit. As in two minutes ago."
"Hey, good for you. You hated it anyway."
The vision of bills piling up on the kitchen table came to him, Madeleine staring slack-jawed at a credit card statement that there was no money to pay. "Yippee, now we're broke. Maddy's going to kill me."
"Not so fast, buddy — how does ten grand sound?"
"You're not my type."
"Listen, I'll drop by. Put a suit on, we're going for a drive."
* * *
Nastos stared out the passenger window, watching people and houses whiz past while Carscadden drove. His stolen life was out of reach; twenty-five years of being a cop had gone by just as fast. And while losing the job had been one thing, the separation growing between him and his wife was even worse. Getting fired had gone over badly; quitting the insurance company was not going to go over well either. It might even be what would put them in divorce court, assuming they could afford it. Feeling Madeleine slipping away in slow motion was the worst part of it all. It felt like dying.
High Point Road wasn't a bad street to live on — in the Bridle Path. The meeting was with a guy named Bannerman. He'd worked his way up in one of the big five banks and was obviously making some serious money. Why Carscadden needed Nastos there he wouldn't say. Nastos, unfortunately, had a good guess. These types of people had different problems than most. Maybe they were getting harassing phone calls or wanted a security audit of the mansion. In any case, getting out of the house for a change was welcome.
They drove in past the security gate. The estate looked to be worth about twenty million dollars as far as Nastos could tell — although Madeleine had never listed or bought a property in this neighbourhood. The Bridle Path was well known as the most expensive area of Toronto. Police were never called here. Nastos felt out of place. There was a time he could have driven around a few patrol zones and pointed out where every drug-dealing reprobate in a ten-mile radius lived without knowing where any bankers, politicians or multimillionaires were hiding. Carscadden, though, looked like he could get used to this. He was smiling, taking it all in.
Excerpted from Dark Matter by Richard D. Cain. Copyright © 2012 Richard Cain. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Steve Nastos has had a rough go lately. He has lost his job as a police office. He has been working as a private investigator with an old friend but his wife keeps hounding him to retire. Then Steve is asked to look into the disappearance of wealthy girl Lindsay Bannerman. Against his better judgment, Steve agrees. But this case is going to be hard when Steve learns that Lindsay is adopted and has a history with undesirable people making the suspect list increase dramatically. This story bounces between several different points of view, from Steve to Lindsay to the killer and others in between which really kept the story moving. Steve is one of those people that move in the grey of right and wrong. He does things that many might consider excessive but he is someone that knows what needs to be done, pretty or not. And with these killers he is going to need every bit of that skill. I have not read Cherry Beach Express, the first book in the series but that has not affected reading Dark Matter. The killer is very twisted and gets what he deserves. I really liked this dark thriller and if this is the kind of books that you like I recommend you get your copy of Dark Matters today. I received Dark Matter for free from the author, a long time ago, in exchange for an honest review.