In Spiked, hard-nosed crime columnist Kris Redner finds herself unravelling a political mystery that will shake institutional Ottawa to its core. The corruption trial of a disgraced former Conservative cabinet minister may be just what she needs to jumpstart her career, but Kris is quickly entangled in a secret world of espionage and ruthless political double-dealing. Who is the woman who falls to her death from the roof of Kris’s apartment building? How is she connected to what is being billed as the political trial of the century? Here’s an excerpt – the first in our August Intrigue local mystery book series – to whet your appetite.
Ottawa writer Randall Denley is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and National Post, and the author of four previous novels, including the debut Kris Redner mystery, One Dead Sister.
When I woke up, a dream about Sonny Sandhu was still fresh in my mind. I was interviewing Sandhu, which made sense because I am a newspaper columnist, but why were we drinking white wine at a restaurant beside a lake? The lake looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure if it was from real life or other dreams. It was a hot day with a stiff breeze and power boats were bobbing and clunking against the docks of the marina that the restaurant overlooked. Gulls circled overhead.
I didn’t remember a word Sandhu had said in the dream, just how he looked. He was a striking man with intense eyes, skin the colour of dark chocolate, perfect white teeth and hair that had been carefully mussed, then gelled in place. Sunglasses were perched atop his head and he wore a white linen shirt. When he reached out and ran his hand slowly along my forearm, I awoke.
I lay in bed, not quite wanting to let the dream go, although I found it disturbing. I was flushed, as if the moment had been real. I had never met Sandhu and now I was having a borderline sex dream about the guy, and this on the day when I was going to be covering his trial.
I was guaranteed front-page play in the Ottawa Citizen every day, but I hadn’t written a word in months and now I would be churning out stories on deadline. Somehow I was supposed to once again become Kris Redner, star crime columnist.
When I was on a major story, I often felt like the characters invaded me, took over my mind, and lived with me 24 hours a day. Although today was my first official day back at work, I had spent weeks researching Sandhu, reading every word written about him and looking at every picture and video clip. They told a story that was perplexing and totally out of sync with the mess Sandhu found himself in now.
Sonny Sandhu was about as far as one could get from the kind of deadbeats and losers I usually covered in the Ottawa courts. The member of Parliament from Brampton had been a media star and the new face of the Conservative Party. Sandhu was charming, quick with a quote, an entrepreneur and an immigrant. He was a pollster’s dream and it didn’t hurt that he looked like a Bollywood star. Conservatives saw him as a saviour who could rescue Canada from the charming Liberal prime minister.
And then Sandhu had got into a mess of a very surprising kind. In Ottawa, when a politician got into trouble, it was usually because he had expensed too many limos or made a drunken pass at a colleague. Sandhu was accused of taking money from a couple of business guys to grease the path to federal grants for a windmill project that sounded like a scam from the get go. The mystery was why he did it, if he did. Sandhu was a rich guy and all of this was over twenty-five grand.
The trial on influence peddling charges promised to offer the kind of entertainment that had been attractive to the public since the days of the guillotine. My job was to make sure that it did. I was guaranteed front-page play in the Ottawa Citizen every day, but I hadn’t written a word in months and now I would be churning out stories on deadline. Somehow I was supposed to once again become Kris Redner, star crime columnist. Colin, the editor, had told me it would be like riding a bicycle. I wasn’t so sure.
I shook my head to clear away the remnants of the Sandhu dream. At least it was a welcome change from my normal dream, the one where men with guns were chasing me through gloomy woods. I always awoke from that one just before they caught me. Too bad it hadn’t worked that way in reality.
I rolled out of bed and automatically reached to the night table for my cigarettes, then remembered that I was trying to quit. I had gone six days without a smoke. Not exactly a record, but a small step. Recently, small steps had been the only ones I had taken. After 20 years of covering crime in Toronto and Ottawa, I had thought I was tough, maybe even invincible. Then I went back to my hometown in the Adirondacks in a quest to get some justice for my sister Kathy, who had been murdered when I was still a child. I found that my little town had been taken over by men of overwhelming ambition, men who considered me an irritant to be eliminated. Let’s just say that things didn’t end well, and I had spent the last eight months figuring out of I could still be me.
I stepped into yesterday’s shorts and pulled on a T-shirt, then padded to the living room, the hardwood floors of the apartment cold on my feet. As usual, Ranger was whimpering at the door. The dog had a bladder the size of a thimble. If I didn’t jump to it the minute he started to complain, he just let loose on the rug.
Like the apartment, Ranger was a loaner. Both belonged to my friend Caroline Malloy, a CBC reporter who needed someone to house sit in a hurry when she had been posted to Syria. Never having owned a pet, I didn’t quite understand that it was like having a child, another choice I had never made. When Caroline had offered me the opportunity to move in, it had looked like a quick and graceful way to stop living with Colin. Ranger had been the only hitch. At the time, exchanging a troublesome lover for a troublesome pet had seemed a good swap, but I hadn’t taken into account Colin’s superiority in the area of continence.
The upside was that during my worst times, Ranger’s regularity had gotten me out of the apartment on days when I knew I wouldn’t even have gotten out of bed. I would take him for a walk today before heading to court, but I had to pull myself together first. I walked across the apartment and opened the door to the tiny balcony. Ranger followed, sticking his nose out and sniffing the fresh May air. I figured that if he was really desperate, he could go on the balcony and I could discreetly wash it off later.
I headed to the bathroom to see if I could start to make myself look human, and to assess the damage from last night’s bottle of cabernet sauvignon. I knew I should stop drinking, but I had already given up smoking and, apparently, sex. I had to keep at least one vice.
I found that the world always looked best when I was looking down on it from above, observing it but not really part of it.
I relieved myself, then stood and looked in the mirror. I saw a 40-year-old woman with garish, dyed-red hair cut short enough so that I could run my fingers through it and be ready to go. It was my new look. I certainly wasn’t cute or pretty, but I had sometimes been called handsome. I had never been sure if that was a good thing. I pulled at the little lines that were starting to form around my eyes, hoping that the skin would bounce back. Maybe after a shower.
For now, I would settle for a strong black coffee. I filled the stainless steel kettle and put it on the gas stove top, then measured out the coffee from a bag I had bought at the Bridgehead shop on the ground floor of my building. The coffee was called Bytown Boom and the bag assured me that it was both organic and fairly traded. I didn’t care as long as it had caffeine.
Once the water was boiled, I poured it through an old Melitta drip, then tossed the used coffee filter in the sink, where several of its predecessors were composting. I would have preferred the ease of a Keurig, but Caroline was one of those types who thought that the world could be saved one unbleached coffee filter at a time. I’d met Caroline while covering courts. Not even the parade of crooks and losers that we saw every day had dimmed her sunny view of life. But then, Caroline was 25. Let’s see how a couple of decades covering human behaviour would affect her.
Despite the powerful smell of the fresh coffee, I realized that the kitchen had developed a bit of a pong, perhaps due to the rotting bananas on the counter and the two-day old pizza box on the glass kitchen table. Pong. That was one of Colin’s words. Sleep with a Brit and you eventually start talking like one. But that was all past tense now. I was pretty sure of that. Colin had a different idea.
I took my coffee out onto the balcony and settled into the single plastic chair. The air was still cool for May and I thought about going back into the apartment to get the fluffy white robe I had boosted from the Royal York, back when Colin and I used to meet there for sex. I would appreciate the warmth, but not the memories. I really should throw the thing out.
I noticed that Ranger had left a wet spot on the corner of the balcony. That was one problem solved. I sipped my coffee and looked at the scene six storeys below me. I found that the world always looked best when I was looking down on it from above, observing it but not really part of it. I saw a placid early spring Ottawa morning, sunny, full of hope, the trees just starting to green. People sat on the Bridgehead patio, sipping coffee and looking at their devices. On Elgin Street, office workers headed purposefully past the bars, restaurants and small shops that lined the street, heading downtown to do something they thought was important. Good for them. In an hour or two I would try to pretend I was one of them.
I had just brought the coffee to my mouth when I saw a woman’s face right in front of me, followed by flailing arms. For a split-second, she stared straight at me, a look of horror in her eyes, her mouth open in a silent scream. Long black hair streamed behind her. I jumped to my feet, the coffee cup falling from my hand and shattering on the balcony.
By the time I understood that she had fallen from the apartment building’s roof just above me, she was gone.
For more information about this book, please go to: https://randalldenley.com/book-spiked/
What Randall Denley is reading…
“In a writing world dominated by novels and non-fiction, poetry has become the forgotten child, brevity the forgotten virtue. That’s why it was such a pleasure to discover Taste Life Twice, a new collection of poems by young Ottawa writer Jacqueline Bird. You can sample her work on Instagram.”
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