While working with the Alberta Police force, young Constable Katrina Randal has become a master at breaking through computer security in her pursuit of cybercrime but when the criminals behind the firewalls turn out to be villains from her past, her job takes on a much more dangerous tone.
Obsessed with haunting memories and wracked by emotions she can’t name, her nightmarish ordeal turns uglier as she ignores orders and takes to the street to lure the criminals from the shadows of cyberspace to face justice.
It’s not until her career is in shambles that she realizes that neither her war against crime nor her struggle with Post Traumatic Stress are battles she can win alone. However, the walls she’s built to protect her heart from pain and betrayal, don’t tumble easily. As she slides deeper into the darkness, she fears she’s waited too long to trust and love; her criminal associates from the past are stealing her future and Corporal Chad Leslie, who she’s loved since the beginning of time, is mere steps away from walking out of her life forever.
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"Sergeant Kindle wants us in his office," Syd said. The tension inside her coiled tighter. She glued her eyes to her computer monitor and slipped the black Jack onto the red Queen. Syd’s announcement ended her doubt; she was just moments away from losing her job. “Katrina?”
Concentrating intently on the game, she planned every move to the finish, touched her fingers to the mouse and rapidly clicked across the screen. As the fifty-two e-cards fluttered into place she leaned back and sighed. “Just take Sergeant Kindle a message. Tell him I quit.”
“This isn’t about your job. It’s about James’ new book.”
As if that news is any better. She slouched into her steno chair and nervously ran her eyes around the room. A serpentine row of a dozen desks curved toward the wall of windows. It stopped well short of the squares of morning light brightening the floor tiles because, Katrina surmised, computer geeks had evolved in dark basements and preferred not to bask in sunshine.
There were only a few police officers at their work stations, studying their monitors with fake intensity. Katrina was sure that they were all listening. Listening, speculating and inwardly mocking her—the tiny blue-eyed rookie who was mere minutes away from being booted from the force. “James is an idiot,” Katrina muttered. James’ book, her job, yesterday’s ethics session—it was all related and today she was taking a tumble.
A fellow officer folded his hands on his lap and gawked across at her. Katrina returned his stare, not blinking until he dropped his eyes back to his keyboard.
She was feeling as empty as the grey metal filing cabinets squatting between the workstations in the room. The cabinets were empty because computer people don’t store information in non-digital form. She was empty because death had stolen those she loved, and now Sergeant Kindle was set to steal her dreams.
They can’t fire me. They need me. Although she’d been here only a few weeks, she knew everything there was to know about the Computer Crimes Department and about the aging, pre-internet-era bosses who were trying to run it. She was aware of the dozen meetings addressing the lack of paperwork in the cabinets and the two dozen increasingly irate memos regarding the Computer Centre’s rampant and persistent disregard of the uniform dress code. Katrina and her fellow officers took it all in stride, well aware that even in a police detachment their specialized knowledge out-powered seniority. However, she could think of nothing that would give her power over Rusty James, ex-cop-turned-literary-bestseller.
When James had been Syd’s undercover partner on the streets of Calgary and she’d been a wayward juvenile, she’d tangled with him more than once. He was an idiot as well as a moron but today he held a pen. How the hell can I fight that?
“Well?” Syd asked. “Are you coming?”
“Is this book James’ millennium project?”
“The millennium was last year.”
“No it wasn’t! 2000 was the last year of the second millennium. We now start the third. It’s not a difficult concept.”
“Is it a difficult concept that Sergeant Kindle wants you in his office?”
“It’s a difficult concept that Kindle fears the lies James has written.”
“Don’t dismiss James so easily; he has believers this time around.”
“Why would anyone believe him?”
“I guess,” Syd said so quietly Katrina had to strain to hear, “the truth has a way of rising to the top.”
The truth? Is James gutsy enough to put the truth in print? When Rusty James promised the media his first book would reveal the identity of the Crown’s tiny blue-eyed child witness who’d brought down The Traz biker gang, the elite at police headquarters and a pack of high-priced tax-payer-paid lawyers led the fight against him, forced him to revise his book, and then legally changed her name from Katrina Buckhold to Felicity Randal. Although, all paperwork including her driver’s licence and personnel file carried her new legal name, to her friends and co-workers, she insisted on being Katrina. The bikers had stolen so much from her, she just couldn’t let them also take the name her father had given her.
“It’s never going to end, is it?” Katrina said, exiting the solitaire game and staring up at Syd. There was no sympathy on his face, just accusation. “Don’t give me that look! You’re the dirty one here. James’ story is your story, your dirty little story.”
“If nothing else,” Syd replied, “I was hoping you’d learned in yesterday’s session to accept responsibility. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
“Whoa, buddy!” Katrina slowly rose. At only five feet tall, it was a long way up to meet Syd’s green eyes. “Seems to me, this whole thing is boiling down to what you have never taken responsibility for.”
The young officer gave a quick nod. “Perhaps.”
“More than perhaps.” As Katrina stepped toward him, he backed away and nervously ran his fingers through his straw-coloured crew cut, obviously fighting a blush that was threatening to drown his freckles.
“Maybe it won’t end until we all come clean.”
“We all come clean? Excuse me, Syd. We?”
“You’re not an innocent victim.”
“Was it up to you to supply the evidence of that fact? None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t brought your damned King’s Ace surveillance photos up here to Sergeant Kindle. Where were you when the brains were passed out?” The photos had tarnished her reputation and nearly lost the Crown all two hundred-plus biker convictions. ‘Concealing evidence,’ the defence has said. But the worst part was the pictures had revealed she was a friend of the murder victim.
She jabbed her finger at her temple. “How stupid are you? How the hell did you make it through training depot? It doesn’t take a genius to realize which photos you should’ve deleted!”
“I couldn’t delete those photos! They were evidence in another investigation. Besides, you can’t seriously believe that you’d get away with testifying as an eyewitness at a murder trial and omitting the fact you were the victim’s friend.”
Victim... She shivered, remembering that cold, dark, October night in a metal shed on the Alberta prairie. Although Lukas was the only one lying lifeless when the sun rose over that Quonset, there’d been many victims in other ways...and much blame. When the media, the brass, and the entire nation began laying that blame on Shrug’s shoulders, she’d covertly stepped in.
Shrug may have wrongly recruited her into the gang to assist with the police sting, but he’d also saved her life, several times over. She owed him. Besides, at the time of his disciplinary hearing, she’d needed some good words to support her application to police training. It was then she’d asked Syd to leak some of his surveillance photos showing her trading crack for dollars or tossing back some Ecstasy—just a little something to prove that although Shrug may have involved a minor, it wasn’t an angelic, grief-torn orphan he’d invited onto the backseat of his Harley. Syd was not supposed to have shown Kindle pictures of her cavorting with Lukas, a friendship that could have remained secret to this day. Someone two desks over coughed—a stark reminder of many other dark secrets that must forever remain untold.
Katrina lowered her voice to a whisper. “No one needed to know Lukas was my friend. Besides, I never lied; no one ever asked if I knew him before he was murdered. Not even the defendants’ legal team and they could’ve—their clients knew.”
“Obviously Gator didn’t want the jury to hear that it was your boyfriend and not some random druggie that he’d forced you to watch get sliced to pieces—it would’ve made him look even more evil.”
“That was Gator’s decision, not mine. How can you say it was my fault?” Katrina took another step toward Syd.
This time, he held his ground. “For the sake of justice, it was something the court should’ve heard. Blame whoever you want for your troubles, Katrina. I’m past the point of arguing and past the point of thinking your problems are my fault.”
“But—” She clamped her mouth shut. Considering my job’s at risk, I need allies, not more enemies. Syd would be a strong ally; he was open and honest and respected by both those above him and below him. Plus, he still harboured remnants of guilt because of what had happened between them when she was a child on the street—he’d said as much in yesterday’s session.
“Rusty’s out to get me because I’m the reason he was fired.” She studied Syd’s reaction as she spoke. “He shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
“You weren’t the reason he was fired.”
“He used me to get information about the drug trade down at the King’s Ace.”
“So did I, and I’m not fired.”
“But he refused to admit he’d done anything wrong.”
“Exactly. So it’s his fault he got fired, not yours. It’s not always all about you.”
Katrina’s vision narrowed and her jaw tightened. “You’re right, it’s not about me; it’s about you! James would have had nothing more to write if you hadn’t….” She left it unsaid and locked her eyes on Syd’s. He shifted from one foot to another. A police radio crackled in the distance. A phone rang. “Or, do you believe that secret is somehow my fault, too?” The sun slipped behind a cloud and the room darkened.
Syd looked to his shoes and ran his toe along the grey grout hemming the worn tiles. The fluorescent fixture above them hissed and dimmed. “It’s going to be in James’ book,” Katrina continued. “I guarantee it. Rumour is he’s promoting a conspiracy theory. All the dirt will be there. He has nothing to lose by talking about it.”
Syd looked past her, over the humming monitors and clicking keyboards. Past the people straining to listen. He looked out the window. “Let’s not keep Sergeant Kindle waiting,” he finally said. “It’ll only make things worse.”