This feels like a bad one....
This is the feeling on Cam Clay- a seasoned detective in the Calgary Police's Violent Crimes Division- as he approaches an unassuming house in the city's northwestern suburbs. It is his first day back at work after thirty days of forced vacation, and nothing can prepare him for the grisly crime scene inside. A mother and child lie brutally murdered. Still reeling from the horrific events that led to his "vacation," Clay must try and remain calm as he pieces together the scattered facts: the victim's husband is in jail for battery; her brother, out of prison on parole, is discovered at the scene, but there is no physical evidence to tie him to the crime; and a registered sex offender who lives on the street is found to have had a suspiciously close relationship with the deceased.
However, just as the investigation seems to progress towards resolution, everything unravels into more confusion and violence. People continue to die, and it's clear that someone will do whatever it takes to ensure the truth doesn't get out. Determined in his pursuit of justice- and endangering aspects of his sanity and romantic life along the way- Cam Clay becomes embroiled in this bloody plot in order to solve the crimes. His tireless work soon catches the eye of the unidentified killer, who then turns his murderous sights on Clay and everyone he holds dear.
Detective Sergeant Cam Clay took a deep breath and exhaled through a clenched jaw. It was hot for April, and he felt the heat of the afternoon sun scorching the back of his neck. He withdrew a red handkerchief from his front pocket and wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. This was his first day back on duty after a thirty-day forced vacation: thirty days of nothing to do but think about everything that was wrong in his life and feel sorry for himself. And now here he was back at it, whether he was ready or not. Whatever happened to getting back into the flow slow and easy?
This feels like a bad one, he thought as he and Mitch Raines, the young detective he had just met that morning, approached the door of the two-story white stucco house in what had been, until today, a quiet neighborhood. The cul-de-sac in the hilly northwest quadrant of Calgary with a view of the Rocky Mountains would more easily be associated with barbeques and soccer moms—not a place a man like Cam Clay would be normally summoned to as a detective in the Violent Crimes Division (VCD) of the Police Service. Raines kept nodding his head like a rear-window bobblehead and running his hand through his short blonde hair: reliable signs of his impatience. He had reported seeing what looked like blood when he did a walk around and peeked through a few windows. A gray Prius was parked in the driveway, but no one was answering the door.
At the door, they split up. Clay stepped left with Raines taking position on the right side of the white-paneled door. Clay felt the handle of his Glock 22 revolver in his holster and hoped that it would stay there. He glanced across the doorway into the younger detective’s eyes and thought he saw fear there, but he dismissed it as anxiety. Yeah, tell me about it, kid.
Clay gave a slow nod and Raines reached for the doorknob. It was not locked, and he slowly pushed the door open a few inches while Clay leaned his head towards the gap. Why had no one tried it before now?
“Calgary Police, show yourselves,” he shouted. Come out, come out, wherever you are. No response. The air was heavy with silence. A sinister chill rushed up his spine. It was a sensation Clay knew well; this job carried a heavy toll. He tightened the straps of his black Kevlar vest.
They’d been called to this scene after two young boys heard a scream as they approached the front door to collect newspaper dues. Now they sat with Jack Sanderson in his police cruiser. Two impressionable and frightened young boys spending time with old and crusty Sanderson was enough to make Clay cringe; hopefully, their mothers would arrive soon.
What was first reported as a possible domestic situation was now stone-cold quiet. He nodded towards Raines and signaled him to move by pointing at the door with a shake of his thumb. Raines pushed the door open further, and it swung silently in. The smell of death immediately assaulted his nostrils: that funky, coppery smell of something’s wrong in there. The door stopped short of opening all the way, and they heard something clatter to the floor. Clay peeked through the crack in the door and saw a small fishing rod lying there. Two more were leaning against the wall, along with an overnight bag, a small backpack, and two blue sleeping bags. It looked like someone had packed for a camping trip.
“Hello, this is the police,” Clay shouted. No response. They stepped inside.
The house was typical of one its size, and Clay knew the layout without having to think about it. It was much like the starter home he had lived in during his marriage. The front door opened to a small boot room that led to an open-concept living area. The kitchen and dining room were towards the back through an archway. To the left was a staircase that led to a second floor with two bedrooms and a bathroom. The entrance to the basement was near the back door.
Scanning the congenial front room, Clay saw that a TV room was set up in the far corner. Family photos were displayed on shelves and the wall. Clay stopped when he saw red blood smears on the wall between the flat screen television in the corner and the archway that led to the kitchen. A green leather couch faced the TV corner, the back of it tormenting Clay to imagine what was on the other side. He motioned to Raines with his hand, and they moved to the living area and crisscrossed; Raines went left towards the staircase, and Clay walked towards the couch.
“Room by room, let’s clear this place,” he told Raines. He motioned by making circles with an index finger above his head. Raines frowned, but continued on without speaking.
Clay crept towards the back of the green couch. He winced at the stains slinking down the wall near the television. With one hand on his revolver, he leaned over the back of the couch and flinched in shock.
Blood was everywhere, and it was soaking into what was once beige carpeting. A petite young woman wearing blue Capri pants and a white tank top—the shirt now stained almost completely red—lay on the floor, wedged between the couch and a glass-topped coffee table. There were too many slices and cuts to count. Blood splatter spread from where she lay to the wall. Clay held his breath and felt his heart rate rise. As the first responder, he knew that his first duty was to determine if the victim still required medical attention. He hurdled over the couch, moved the coffee table out of the way, and kneeled beside her to check for signs of life. His first impression was correct: she was dead.
The victim had been repeatedly stabbed, and the disfigurement of her head and the amount of blood still dripping out of her crushed skull made it difficult to ascertain her hair color. The back of her head looked like a rotted pumpkin a week after Halloween. Her death mask was of complete terror, eyes open and pleading for help.
Clay placed a hand on the back of his neck, looked towards the ceiling, and tried to stretch the kinks out. From his knees, he dialed a number on his Blackberry.
“Sanderson, we have a body in here. Call for backup, and seal this place up,” he said.
“You got it,” Sanderson said before the line went dead.
Clay edged away from the couch, treading with caution in an effort not to step in any of the blood splatter. He was crawling on tiptoes and fingers, stretching awkwardly as though he were playing a bizarre, solitary version of Twister. He grimaced when he noticed that his fingertips and the left knee of his brown Dockers were stained with blood.
When he had backed up to the other side of the couch, he stood up, took a deep breath, and had a closer look at the family photos. There were three side by side that showed an attractive blonde woman holding a young child, each seemingly taken a year apart, from infant to young toddler. Another showed the same child proudly displaying a green soccer uniform. He shook his head when he realized that same woman was now lying on the floor dead. But where was the child? He heard footsteps above him and looked up at the ceiling. He hoped Raines would have good news.
He moved to the kitchen. The room was clean and tidy, except for blood smears on a wall-mounted telephone and a bloody handprint on the window. It looked as if someone had made a call and looked out the window, hoping for help to arrive. Or it could have been someone with blood on their hands, watching for police. Clay pulled blue plastic gloves out of his inside jacket pocket and stretched them over his hands.
What struck Clay’s eye then was the high chair in the corner. It was clean, as if it hadn’t been used in a while, but it was another sign that a child lived here. To further punch the point home, on the counter were two large glasses and a child’s plastic Disney cup beside a pitcher of what looked like iced tea. He stood at the fridge, taking in the scene and trying to catch his breath when his thoughts were interrupted by Raines shouting his name.
Clay raced up the stairs where he found Raines standing at the threshold of a bedroom. “It’s a kid,” Raines whispered. In that moment, Raines looked too young for the job—like a troubled teenager who wasn’t able to cope. The cocky and confident kid Clay had met a few hours ago was gone.
In the bedroom with blue wall paint was a young boy, perhaps three years old, lying on a small bed on top of a red Calgary Flames comforter. The child’s throat had been slashed deeply, and his pillow had transformed into a pool of his own blood. His small head lay at a grotesque angle, as though nearly detached. In the corner of the room was a train set covered in a large spray of blood that went halfway up the wall.
Clay slumped against the wall as Raines crept towards the boy and kneeled in front of the bed. He placed a hand on the boy’s chest, and then he grabbed at his stomach as if he was going to be sick.
With a trembling voice, he said over his shoulder, “What the fuck happened in here?”
“It’s our job to find out.” Clay approached from behind and put his hand on his partner’s shoulder. The distant wail of sirens was getting closer. This scene looked like a typical murder-suicide. But where was the suicide? Where was the killer? Or was it a bold home invasion in daylight hours that went dreadfully wrong? “Come on, our backup is on their way,” he said.
They walked down the stairs and were heading towards the front door when Clay heard something and felt a presence behind them. Footsteps? The basement—we didn’t check the damn basement, he thought. This scene—a dead lady and child, and now his concern over his new partner’s emotions—had distracted him. They were not alone in this house.
“Hold it, did you hear that?” he asked while he stopped Raines with an outstretched arm. Raines nodded.
In one smooth motion, the detectives spun around as they withdrew their Glocks from their holsters. Raines dropped to a knee and Clay stood behind him. They had their weapons poised, fingers on triggers. This can’t be happening, Clay thought. Fuck no, not today.
“Don’t shoot, officers,” said the young man, who was standing under the kitchen archway with his arms held above his head. He dropped to his knees without being told to do so. “My name is Danny. I’m very sorry.”