The nails on the fingers that reached out to grab my arm as I left the Faculty Club’s private dining room were bitten to the quick, and the cuticles were chewed raw. The hand belonged to a man whose rage was so fierce he had taken to ripping his own body, but it had become as familiar to me as my own. It was ten minutes to one on the Thursday afternoon before the Victoria Day weekend. The celebration of the old Queen’s birthday may have been a signal to the rest of Canada to unbutton and unwind, but Kevin Coyle’s private demons didn’t take holidays.
“I thought I was going to have to go in there and get you,” he said. “I have news.”
“Kevin, there’s a celebration going on, remember? Today’s the luncheon for Rosalie.”
Behind the Coke- bottle lenses of his horn- rims, his eyes glittered. “Does a party for an old maid who’s finally managed to snag herself a man take precedence over murder?”
By his own assessment, my former colleague in the Political Science department hadn’t drawn a wholly rational breath since a group of female students had accused him of attitudinal harassment two years earlier. I removed his hand from my arm. “Put a sock in it, Kevin. It’s a holiday weekend. I’m declaring a moratorium on tortured metaphors. I don’t want to hear how your reputation as a gentleman and a scholar has been murdered.”
He shook his head. “This murder is no metaphor, Joanne. It’s real, and I’m certain it’s connected to my case. A young man from the library just came up to the Political Science office. He’d been sent to find Livia. Of course, our esteemed head wasn’t there; nor were any of the rest of you. As usual, I was alone, so he delivered the news to me.”
“And the news is . . . ?”
“A woman’s body has been found in an archive room in the basement of the library.”
I felt my nerves twang. “Was she a student of ours? Is that why the man was looking for Livia?”
Kevin took off his glasses. I’d never seen him without them. He looked surprisingly vulnerable. “Not a student, Joanne. A colleague. It was Ariel Warren.”
For a moment, I clung to the grace of denial. “No! I just saw her this morning. She was wearing that vintage band jacket she bought to wear to Rosalie’s party.”
“The jacket didn’t protect her,” Kevin said flatly. “I wish it had.” He swallowed hard, as if empathy were an emotion that had to be choked back. “Our profession is a cesspool, but she was a decent young woman.”
Kevin’s reference to Ariel in the past tense had the finality of a tolling bell. I felt my knees go weak. “She was only twenty- seven,” I said.
“Too young to die,” he agreed.
On the other side of the door, there was a burst of laughter. I closed my eyes. I’d known Ariel Warren since she was a child. My first memory of her was at a Halloween party we’d had for my daughter Mieka’s sixth birthday. Ariel had come as a sunflower, with a circle of golden petals radiating from her small face.
“There could be a mistake,” I said, but my voice was forlorn, bereft of hope.
Kevin put his glasses back on and peered at me. “Are you going to cry?”
“Not yet,” I said. “Right now, I’m going over to the library to see what I can find out.” I looked hard at him. “Kevin, I don’t think either of us should say anything more until we’re sure we know the truth.”
His laugh was a bark of derision. “The truth
. You’ll never find out the truth about this. Mark my words. They’ll cover up the connection between this death and my case the way they’ve covered up everything else. Either that, or they’ll rearrange the facts to implicate me.”
On a good day I could pity Kevin, but this was not a good day. I had to struggle to keep my composure. “Try to look at this the way a person with an ounce of decency would,” I said. “Someone has been murdered. This isn’t about you.” “That’s where you’re wrong,” Kevin said. “Ariel wouldn’t be in our department if it weren’t for me. And I know for a fact that she’d unearthed something that would exonerate me.”
“Exactly what had she ‘unearthed’?”
He shrugged helplessly. “They killed her before she had a chance to reveal what she’d found. That little coven that set me up will stop at nothing.” He patted my arm. “Tread carefully. I had only three friends in this department, and now it appears that two of them are dead.”
As I watched him disappear down the stairs, I felt the first stirrings of panic. Kevin might be obsessive, but there was nothing wrong with his math. When the charges against him had surfaced, I was one of two people in Political Science who had sided with Kevin Coyle; the other had been Ben Jesse, our department head. Ben was a thoroughly decent man who feared unsubstantiated complaints, however serious, more than confrontation and nasty publicity. It was an ugly time for our department and for our university; it pitted us against one another and ended longstanding friendships.
A man governed by expedience would have thrown Kevin to the wolves, but Ben was a person of principle. He defended Kevin because he believed in fairness and due process. His refusal to cave in to political bullying cost him dearly. In the midst of a lengthy and rancorous encounter with a group of students, Ben suffered a heart attack. He was, they told us later, dead before he hit the floor. Now there was another death.
I reached the library just as a half- dozen police officers were coming through the door from outside. I was in luck; one of the officers was Detective Robert Hallam, the fiancé of Rosalie Norman, our department’s administrative assistant and guest of honour at our luncheon that day.
Robert was a small, dapper man with a choleric temperament and an unshakeable belief that the world was divided into two camps: the good guys and the bad guys. I was both a friend of his beloved and a woman who had chosen a cop for her own beloved, so I had made the cut. In Robert’s estimation, I was one of the good guys, and as soon as he spotted me, he came over.
“You’ve heard about this already?”
“News travels fast at a university,” I said. “I need a favour. Can you tell me the name of the woman who was killed?”
He shook his head. “I just got the call.” Robert scanned the lobby, then pointed to a man in a grey windbreaker who was taking photographs of the area around the elevator.
“Eddie will have some answers,” he said. Robert walked over to the elevators. He and Eddie exchanged a few words; then Eddie handed him some pictures. Robert shuffled through them and came back to me.
“The identification in the dead woman’s wallet belongs to Ariel Warren,” he said. “The deceased died as a result of a knife in the back. One wound, but it was a doozy. We’ve already sent someone to talk to the next of kin.”
“Are those photographs of Ariel?” I asked.
“They’re of the dead woman,” he said. “I never had the pleasure, so I can’t say for certain that Ariel Warren is the woman in the pictures.”
“Could I see them?”
He hesitated. “They’re graphic, but there’s one that’s not too bad.” He shuffled through the photos again, then held up a Polaroid. My throat tightened: the dark blond hair of the woman slumped on the table had fallen forward, but I could see the curve of her cheek and the shoulder of the scarlet band jacket she’d chosen to celebrate Rosalie’s joy.
“It’s her,” I said.
Robert Hallam’s face was grim. “I figured it was,” he said.
“But when the deceased is a friend of a friend, you always hope you’re wrong. My Rosalie was very fond of that girl.”
A thought occurred to me. “Rosalie still doesn’t know. None of them do. Robert, is it all right if I go back and tell them what’s happened, before the media get the story?”
“You can tell them. Nobody should find out news like this from some jerk with a microphone.”
“I agree,” I said. “This is going to be tough enough. Ariel had a lot of friends in our department.”
“I’m sure she did.” Robert looked thoughtful. “Joanne, tell people to stick around, would you? We’ll need to talk to everybody who knew Ariel. She may have had a lot of friends, but she obviously had at least one enemy.”
Excerpted from Burying Ariel by Gail Bowen. Copyright © 2011 by Gail Bowen. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.