Child abductions, arson, and rapes. Three series of very different crimes are terrorizing the city. But the evidence suggests that they might all somehow be related.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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What Burns Within
By Sandra Ruttan Dorchester Publishing
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One SATURDAY
Her brother's fingers slide against her palm as the damp pool of sweat causes her to lose her grip on him. She relaxes her hold and grabs his wrist, yanking his arm. "Come on."
The force of her pull causes Nicky to jerk backward. He lands on his backside on the pavement. "I don't wanna go."
"Look, we're not wasting time at the silly old carousel." Taylor wipes her sticky palms on her jean shorts. "It's just plastic horses for little babies to ride. I want to win a big tiger. And get a new charm for my bracelet." She reaches down and helps him to his feet.
"But, Taylor ..."
"But nothing, Nicky. I'm in charge."
He screws up his face, cheeks puffing out in a pout, breaths coming hard and fast, like they always do when he's about to cry. "I wanna play at the park." Nicky's lower lip starts to quiver.
"You're such a whiner." It's one of those days when adults talk about frying eggs on sidewalks, and even their mother had nagged them about sunscreen and drinking water.
It's one of those days Taylor would rather be at the ocean or at least a swimming pool. Her best friend, Angie, had invited her, and she'd begged and pleaded, but her mom had refused.
Instead, she got stuck babysitting, at some dinky little mobile fair, surrounded by crowds, concrete and candy, listening to the carousel drone over and over. Even with her hair up in a ponytail her neck burns and there's a pool of sweat making her shirt stick to her back.
She drags her brother through the crowd, pushing a damp strand of hair out of her eyes, weaving between the clusters of people. The tinny sound of the carousel is overtaken by the bleeps of electronic games and shouts of enticement to try your luck to win a stuffed bear, unicorn, SpongeBob, or Pokemon knockoff.
That's, like, so yesterday, Taylor thinks.
Taylor spots a vendor's display filled with shiny, metal necklaces and charm bracelets and steps forward. Her brother's fingers slip until she's holding nothing but sweat and air. She wipes her palm on her shorts and turns to grab him.
The crowd fills the gap between her hand and Nicky's. He disappears into a forest of legs whizzing by. She stretches up on her toes and then squats down, peeking through the gaps between the people, trying to catch sight of him.
"Come get your face painted," a clown calls to her.
She's tempted to forget about Nicky, let him have a real good scare, but the thought of her mother prompts her to turn away from the clown. Stay with your brother. Don't you dare take your eyes off him for one single second.
There are women with babies in strollers, toddlers hoisted on the shoulders of adults, groups of children dragging weary mothers, mothers juggling balloons and cotton candy as they yell at their kids to stay together.
But no Nicky.
"Here, have a seat. Come on, doll." The clown moves forward, grabs her arm, tugging her toward the chair.
Taylor spins around and wrenches her arm free. She darts through the crowd, bumping backsides and taking an elbow for her trouble, muttering apologies under her breath as people curse at her, tell her to watch where she's going. She brushes hot tears away from her eyes.
"Nicky, Nicky ..."
The tune of the carousel beckons. Taylor sprints across the pavement. The music repeats. Her body trembles, her legs shake, and she swallows against the sob rising in her throat, then splutters a cough.
He isn't there.
What have you done, Taylor? What have you done? She bites her lip so hard she tastes blood, trying to think where Nicky would go, where he'd be.
"The park," she whispers. "That's it. The park."
With knees like Jell-O she moves toward the green space behind the carousel. He's there, he's there, he's got to be there. Please Nicky, be there.
Be there so Mom won't ever need to know.
She wasn't the type of woman he was interested in. Constable Tain knew that before he even set eyes on her. Everything from her tone of voice to her abrupt manner to the way she hung up the phone before she heard what he had to say bothered him.
Paranoid. That's what his friends would call him, if he had any left he could talk to. It had been a while since he'd checked, but he knew what they would have said before. That he'd been thinking like a cop for too long.
That if he saw a smiling toddler with a lollipop he'd assume the kid stole it.
His gut told him the woman had probably had her share of run-ins with the law, at best a negligent parent, at worst ... Well, he wasn't sure yet. Despite that, he noted the store-bought blonde might have been a looker if the layers of makeup hadn't cracked under her snarl.
"I'd better not hear you've been taking things," the woman hissed at the child, who cowered on the edge of the bench as she clip-clopped by on her three-inch heels.
Tain wondered how she could move in clothes that tight. He gestured to the open door as he identified himself. "Right this way, Mrs. Brennen."
She tossed her head, causing her multiple dangling hoop earrings to clink together, and marched past him. Once she reached the table inside the small, bland interview room she turned on her heel.
"Well?" Her right hand landed on her hip.
"Well?" Tain echoed, staring back. With heels she was about an inch taller than he was, and that was saying something. In bare feet she must have been 5'11".
The woman blew out a deep breath. "What's he done?"
Tain sat down on a chair. "He was found at the park near the fair just off the Lougheed Highway. Wandering around alone."
She blinked, and the lines around her eyes softened, but only for a split second. Everything about this woman bothered him, from the fact that her first instinct had been to assume her son was in trouble to the fact that she acted more like a suspect than a parent whose child had been found unattended at the fairgrounds, brought to the police station by a stranger.
"Mrs. Brennen, what-" "Jesus, what do you take me for? Is that what you're after, some sort of trumped- up neglect charge? Who are you anyway? Quota filler so the RCMP can look like an equal opportunity employer for Indians too? Oh, I mean native or aboriginal or First Nations or what ever the hell you people call yourselves."
Tain stared at her. No look of regret even flickered across her face. Her upper lip curled, and everything from the toe-tapping to the way she blew out her breath hinted at nothing more than annoyance and impatience. No trace of concern for her son.
Or evidence she felt any responsibility for the situation.
The woman finally dropped the hand from her hip, sat down and exhaled audibly as she crossed her legs to the side of the chair, her gaze leveled at the door instead of at the police officer across from her.
"He was with Taylor. His sister. When I get my hands on her ..."
She froze. After a moment the scowl slipped from her face. Tain started counting and hit five before she looked him in the eye.
"Where's my daughter?"
"I tried to explain when I phoned-"
She sprang from the chair and was across the room and out the door before he had a chance to stop her. He ran into the hallway.
"Where is she? Where's your sister?" Mrs. Brennen grabbed her son's shirt and shook him, lightly at first, then forcefully. Nicky's head snapped back dangerously close to the wall.
The boy started to cry as Tain pushed his way between them. "Let him go!"
She did just that and slapped Tain across the face, his skin burning from the blow. He grabbed her wrists.
"Take your hands off me." She jerked her arms back as soon as he released her. Tain unclenched his jaw and nodded to the officer who'd been watching Nicky.
"Please take Mrs. Brennen to an interview room."
Tain lowered his voice. "I can charge you with assaulting a police officer. You can cooperate, or you can cool off in a cell." He turned back to the officer. "And please find this young man a snack once Mrs. Brennen is settled."
Nicky had slid down under the bench, curled with his arms wrapped around his knees.
The next ten minutes were spent painfully watching the officer try to coax the boy out from under the bench. It was a curious thing to Tain. Sims was a clean-cut guy. He had an easygoing smile and looked sharp in his uniform, but the boy kept looking at Tain, wiggling back against the wall whenever Sims reached toward him, pulling his knees up to hide his chin.
Sims stood up, looked at Tain and shrugged. "Do you want me to pull him out?"
Tain wasn't great with kids, but he wasn't eager to have one dragged kicking and screaming down the hall either. Especially when the child was a witness he was responsible for.
He squatted down beside the bench and tried to offer a reassuring smile. "My friend will take you for cookies and find you something to play with." Nicky remained in a ball.
"We need to talk to your mom. It's okay. My friend will take good care of you."
For a moment they were locked in a stare. Tain wondered what was going through the boy's mind. If his own brief encounter with Nicky Brennen's mother was anything to go by, the child probably didn't have much of a reason to trust adults. Tain reached out his hand slowly.
Nicky unclasped his hands, unbending his legs one at a time. His eyes were huge.
"Are you gonna find my sister?" Nicky pulled himself out from under the bench. He looked at Tain's hand for a moment, his mouth twisted, and then he stood.
Tain pulled back his hand, his heart sinking just a bit as he contemplated what experiences would cause a child to be afraid to trust a police officer. He took out his wallet and handed Nicky a five- dollar bill. He whispered, "Make sure he takes you to get a treat."
Tain watched the boy glance at his mother, who had her back to them, arms folded across her chest, not moving. A hint of a smile curled the boy's lips as he clamped the money in his fist. He didn't take the other officer's hand either, but followed without argument.
As they walked away, Nicky turned back to look over his shoulder, those big eyes meeting Tain's gaze. The smile was gone.
Tain drew a deep breath. From the corner of his eye he saw someone approach him.
Sergeant Steve Daly was a little shorter than Tain, with sandy hair just starting to turn gray at the temples. Daly nodded at the boy. "What's the situation?" he asked.
Tain didn't have a great track record of getting along with his superiors, or pretty much anyone for that matter, but he respected the way Daly operated. The man was available without being intrusive. It didn't feel like Daly checked up on him, so much as checked in with him.
Most other officers would have punted Tain sideways, put him on desk duty or some marginal unit without much stress, tried to keep him out of the way. Instead, Daly had pulled him up for this case, getting him away from the routine humdrum assignments.
He'd even let him work alone. It had been the only thing Daly had hesitated over. In the end he'd agreed, as long as Tain understood that at the first sign the case was snowballing he'd have to deal with a partner.
Tain had hoped that wouldn't be necessary, although he had to admit it didn't look good now. He filled Daly in on how Nicholas Brennen got to the police station.
Daly's eyes narrowed. "Some guy drove him here?"
"Apparently he didn't want people to think he was abducting the boy. He didn't come inside. Just wrote this note and gave it to the boy. Kid came in on his own. We'll have to check the tape and see if we can get an ID."
"Now I've heard everything," Daly said.
"Not quite." Tain told him about the missing girl.
Something about the way Daly's cheeks sagged made him look like he'd aged ten years in that moment. "How old is she?"
"I was just about to ask when Mommy Dearest flew off the handle."
"Do we need to bring in social ser vices?"
"Already called them."
Daly blew out a deep breath. "Talk to the mother. I'll have Sims handle the background check. Report to my office as soon as you're done."
Tain nodded as he went to interview Mrs. Brennen for the second time.
When Tain reached Sergeant Daly's office twenty minutes later, Inspector Hawkins was already there. "Sir." Tain nodded.
Hawkins had a few years on Daly, but he was as fit as any man on the force. He was the poster boy for the respectable RCMP officers, the kind of man who embodied confidence and authority. Clean cut, with nothing more than a few laugh lines around his eyes and his rank to hint at his age. Few things rattled the inspector, but the fact that he was in Daly's office suggested to Tain that he was worried.
The inspector didn't acknowledge Tain's arrival. "What's the status?"
Daly answered. "Patrols are out canvassing now. We've got uniforms at every exit point from the fairgrounds, taking statements."
Hawkins frowned. "And the girl is the right age?"
Daly glanced at Tain, then nodded.
"Shit." Hawkins muttered the word under his breath, but not so far under that Tain didn't hear him.
Tain looked at Daly. "There's usually a news crew on the grounds filming, right?"
"We should get their tape, double-check it. Look for any known pedophiles, any sign of these kids in the background, anything."
"I'll call the patrols."
"I think we should reassign this case," Hawkins said.
"Respectfully, sir, I don't think that's a good idea," Daly said.
Hawkins turned to look at Tain. "Last month we recovered the body of Julie Darrens from a burnt-out shack at the industrial park near the Mary Hill Bypass. Isabella Bertini is still missing. The press will have a field day with this."
"I decided to have Tain respond to every arson fire since we found Julie Darrens," Daly said. "He's been working 'round the clock on the Bertini girl. No solid leads."
"Just crackpots and dead ends," Tain said. "We'll be getting more of the same when this hits the news."
Hawkins kept his gaze on Daly. "You can have Tain assist, but I don't think it's in the best interest of this department-"
"What about the best interest of this case?" Daly's eyes pinched with uncharacteristic anger. "Tain has been working in conjunction with Burnaby. He knows all the particulars. Pulling him off-"
"I didn't say to pull him off."
"No, just have him take a backseat so that Burnaby will think we softballed them, gave them a body just to shut them up because we don't take finding dead kids on our patch seriously."
Hawkins pointed at Daly. "Julie Darrens and Isabella Bertini may have gone missing from Burnaby, but Julie was found here, in Coquitlam, and now a child's been snatched from within our borders. I want our department handling this case."
"Then Tain will take the lead."
The two men stood staring at each other for a moment, until Daly's phone rang and he grabbed it. "Yes. No, I ... Thank you."
He hung up the phone and leaned against his arms, his hands planted firmly on the desk in front of him before he looked up again. "Industrial area just south of the Trans Canada Highway, right on the Fraser River. Not far from the fairgrounds where Taylor Brennen went missing. Another suspected arson fire."
For a moment the room was silent, Hawkins and Daly still locked in a match of visual chicken, waiting to see who would blink first.
It was Hawkins who turned, glanced at Tain, then looked back at Daly. "I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing."
He crossed the room, pulled the door open and slammed it behind him.
Constable Craig Nolan was familiar with the image of his partner, all business, from the straight skirt to the pressed shirt, straight brown hair clipped back in a ponytail looking like it knew better than to dare fall out of place, the touch of makeup that somehow emphasized the icy eyes.
She stopped at the steps to the house and turned to look at him. "You should let me handle this."
Craig unclenched his jaw. "Did I miss the memo?"
Her forehead wrinkled for a second. Lori Price was as pushy as she was tall, and she met Craig's gaze steadily.
"The one about your promotion, putting you in charge," he said.
Lori folded her arms across her chest. "It might be better for her if she deals with a woman. I didn't know you were so touchy."
Craig shook his head as he watched his partner turn, march up the steps, pause, then yank the door open. He counted to ten before he followed her silently, clenching his fists.
"I already told them," the low, hollow voice murmured from just beyond the hallway where Craig stood.
"Yes, but I need you to tell me now." Lori's voice failed to sound sympathetic. Instead, it sounded pushy. As usual.
Excerpted from What Burns Within by Sandra Ruttan Copyright © 2008 by Sandra Ruttan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
RCMP Constables Craig Nolan, Ashlyn Hart, and Tain (no first name) worked together on a case the year before that profoundly impacted all three. Since that time, they've not worked together. As the story opens, each is working a separate case: Nolan, a series of rapes, Hart a series of arson, and Tain a string of child abductions, one of which has turned to murder. As the separate investigations proceed, it becomes clear that they are linked in some fashion, bringing the three together again. What follows is a police procedural that meticulously follows the constables as they pursue leads, run down blind alleys, and eventually piece together the truth.WHAT BURNS WITHIN is built on procedure, and offers the readers a sense of authenticity in its depiction of interdepartmental interplay and politics as the police and fire departments must cooperate, and hidden agendas try to dictate the investigation within the RCMP itself. The characters are well-drawn and believable, human and fallible rather than omnipotent superheroes. The one small problem I had with this book is that too little information of the previous case with the three protagonists was given. A bit more detail would have been nice.That aside, this is an excellent book.
Set in the Vancouver area, several police officers/RCMP investigate a series of rapes, arsons, and kidnappings that seem to be related. The characterizations are good, although I got a little tired of the cryptic references to earlier case(s) and their aftermath. I gather there's a previous book with (some of) these characters; reading that one first might solve that problem. But I didn't enjoy this one enough to hunt down more by this author.
In Vancouver, British Columbia the three constables had worked a difficult case together last year that turned nasty each tacitly agreed to not see one another as a means of forgetting how dysfunctionally they performed. Now Craig Nolan looks into a serial killer case Ashlyn Hart seeks a serial arsonist and Tain works on a serial child abduction investigation.--------------- However, each soon realizes that the seemingly three different investigations connect. If they are to prevent the next rape, inferno and kidnapping from happening, they must work as a team, but emotions run deep as the memories of last years fiasco still burns in the professional souls of Nolan, Hart and Tain.---------------- This is a terrific Canadian police procedural that starts off with three distinct cases and the cops having a shared history that each wants to forget avoidance of the others is the psychological mechanism used, but out of sight out of mind fails them. When the cases intertwine none want to work with one another, but as professionals they know they must to prevent the horrros that have ouccured. Besides three lead police detectives, Sandra Ruffen merges her investigative subplots into an excellent police procedural.------------- Harriet Klausner