CHAPTER 1

Of all the hard lessons I learned last June, fighting for my life in the Don River Valley, chief among them was this: the justice system can’t always protect those who need it most. I had taken a man’s life because I knew if I let him live, he would order my death, and others, from prison. It might have taken days, weeks or months-or more likely hours-and that would have been that. If the system couldn’t protect me, with the resources I had, I knew there were other, more vulnerable people out there who needed a different brand of justice, and someone to mete it out on their behalf.

And so I left Beacon Security, the only place I’d ever worked as an investigator. Left the employ of Graham McClintock, who had trained me, believed in me, mentored me like a seasoned horse breaker. I had to leave after the lies I told him, the actions I took, the absences I couldn’t explain. I made the most graceful exit I could manage and my friend Jenn Raudsepp opted to join me. I never asked her to: she had a good thing going at Beacon and my departure might even have opened up new opportunities for her. I knew my new agency, as it was forming in my mind, might prove a low-income, high-risk enterprise. But she volunteered to come aboard and I welcomed her. When she told me her parents had offered her $20,000 against the eventual sale of their farm, and she was willing to invest it, I was all over her.

She put up twenty per cent of the start-up costs and I put up eighty from the sale of a house I had owned with my ex-girlfriend. Which meant I got to name the company.

You could say we argued about my choice a little.

“No one will know what we do,” Jenn protested.

“That could prove useful. Help us stay under the radar.”

“Why would we want to?”

“Because of the kinds of cases we’ll be taking.”

“We’ll get all kinds of bogus calls.”

“We won’t answer them.”

“How will we know they’re bogus?”

“We’re investigators, Jenn. Trained by the best. We’ll separate the clients from the chaff.”

“What do you know about chaff, city boy? And why should we make it hard for clients to find a new business no one knows about?”

“If they need our kind of help, they’ll find us.”

I held fast and World Repairs is the name of our agency. Clients-especially well-paying ones-have proved somewhat elusive so far, so maybe Jenn had a point. She had suggested T.O. Investigations, T.O. being shorthand for both Toronto and tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world, making it a better place wherever you can.

I’m a cultural Jew, not a religious one, even though I was raised in an Orthodox home. As much as I love the comfort and rituals of the Jewish community, I haven’t felt God’s presence since I was fourteen. Might have been the onset of reason, might have been my father’s sudden death at forty-four that same year, but to this day I believe in God like I believe the Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup before my gums cave in.

But I do cling to the notion of tikkun olam and that’s more or less what Jenn and I practise, though she is descended from by-the-book Lutherans.

World Repairs: We do what we can do and fix what we can fix. Sometimes we’re messengers, sometimes mediators, and sometimes we forget to mind our manners. Our office was on the third floor of a renovated factory on Broadview Avenue: the same street I lived on, though at the extreme southern end, close to both Lake Ontario and the foul mouth of the Don River. Our neighbours included two ad shops, a photographer’s studio and a web design firm and, next to us, the PR phenomenon known as Eddie Solomon. I knocked on his door around nine-thirty that morning and he called out “Entuh!” doing his best Walter Matthau, circa The Sunshine Boys.

Eddie could have been fifty, could have been seventy. I pegged him as early sixties, but if even half his stories about celebrities he’s represented, befriended, bedded and brought to the brink of stardom were true, he’d have to be a hundred and six. He is taller than five feet, but not much, and weighs about two hundred pounds. His head is shaved and his face surprisingly smooth for someone who has spent so many late nights paving the way for the stars. With his ready smile and his twinkling eyes, he emits light like a candle: warm, bright, steady.

“Hail the conquering hero,” he cried when I entered his office. “My Jason! My Argonaut! Come here, you lumbering hunk, let me shake your hand for a job well done.”

“I haven’t even told you what happened.”

“You’re here, you’re smiling-that is a smile, right? It’s not gas or something?”

“It’s a smile, Eddie.”

“So tell me, bubeleh. Can I call Chelsea? Tell her it’s over?”

Chelsea Madison was an American TV star filming a movie-of-the-week in Toronto. Best known for playing the squeaky-clean mom of a group of wisecracking teenagers on the sitcom Den Mother, she had complained to Eddie that a photographer named Stan Lester had been stalking her sixteen-year-old daughter, Desiree, trying to get photos of her going in and out of a rehab centre that had accepted her into a day program while she accompanied her mother to Toronto.

“It’s done,” I told Eddie. “Lester won’t bother Desi again.”

“You sure? Some of these guys, they just won’t stop. Forget Desi, you should see them follow Chelsea around. She’s got another seven, eight weeks to film in Toronto and she’s got the mongrel hordes all over her.”

“I think it’s Mongol hordes,” I said.

“Not when you speak of paparazzi.”

“Well, Stan Lester is sidelined indefinitely,” I said. “Out for the season.”

“Do I want to know how?”

“No.”

“Come on,” he said. “Spill. Vicarious thrills are the only kind I get at my age.”

“That’s not how we work, Eddie. You only get to know the results.”

In truth, there wasn’t that much to tell. Lester had been in his car this morning outside the rehab centre, waiting for Desi. I was parked three spaces behind watching him. As soon as she exited the building, he levelled a camera with a long lens at her. I stepped between him and his target and all he got was shots of my jacket. A frank and candid discussion then ensued about his right to take her picture versus her right not to have her picture taken by him. In the end, he saw things my way. But not right away. Not before I grabbed his lens and drove the camera body into his face, opening a cut on the bridge of his nose, then banged the heel of my hand against his head behind the ear, hard enough to set his bells ringing. Then I told him if he came within a mile of Desiree Madison again, I’d give him a colonoscopy with the widest fish-eye lens I could find in his bag.

“Well,” Eddie said. “As long as I can tell Chelsea it’s over, and she can get back to blowing lines.”

“You can.”

“Well done, Prince Valiant. Well done.” He gripped my hand in a firm handshake and looked up at me with a grin. “To be your age, Jonah,” he sighed. “To be tall and strong like you. Christ, to have your hair! I’d have girls falling over me.”

“That’s nice of you to say, Eddie. But I’d rather have my fee.”

“Don’t worry, kid. I’m seeing Chelsea tonight at her hotel. I’ll bring it by tomorrow.”

“In cash, right?”

“Not a problem. You want a coffee, mighty one?”

“Can’t,” I said. “We have a ten o’clock client.”

“So go meet your client and send Jenn.”

“Don’t start, Eddie.”

“What? Start what? What did I say?”

“I can read it on your forehead like it’s a drive-in screen.”

“Can I help it if she’s gorgeous?”

“Not to mention gay.”

“The blonde hair, the blue eyes, the sweet face. And the body, my God, the body. The gayness just fades away.”

“Just don’t give yourself a heart attack before you get my money,” I said.

“And those legs.” He was panting, hamming it up now, dabbing his forehead with his tie. “She’s so tall, I’d have to go up on her!”

“Eddie,” I said. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Nothing,” he said, and laughed. “I’m too old to change and I’m too young to stuff and mount. Anyway, you know I’m kidding. Even if she was straight, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I’ve got daughters her age. I’m like a dog chasing a car, Jonah. What would I do if I caught one?”

“Just don’t let her catching you talk like that,” I said. “Come on. She’d know I was kidding. Wouldn’t she?” “She’d stuff and mount you,” I said. “Unfortunately for you, in that order.” Eddie was right. Jenn Raudsepp exudes a wholesome sexiness that’s hard to ignore, whatever her sexual orientation. Men and women alike take note when she dashes across a street or emerges legs first from her car or smiles or tosses back her blonde silk hair. Men stammer when they approach her. They mumble into their drinks. They become stupider than they were before the drinks.

I’ll never know her sexual side. That belongs to her longtime lover, Sierra Lyons, who’s a terrific match for Jenn and a good friend to me. Not to mention an ace nurse practitioner who can stitch wounds without commenting on how you look in your underwear. As an investigator, though, Jenn brings it all. She’s smart, she’s fun, she’s good with clients and she works as hard as I do. And as placid as she can seem when she wants, a whole other side emerges when she gets riled.

One night, we were leaving the office late and came across a guy beating a Native woman in the laneway where Jenn had parked her Golf. He was stocky and built but clearly drunk, and when I told him to get away from the woman, he sneered at me, “You wanna do something about it?”

“No,” Jenn said, stepping forward. “I do.”

And she did. Unfolded those lovely long legs of hers and dropped him with a spin kick, then broke most of his ribs with a roundhouse. From there, she did everything but make him eat his car keys. I could have done it quicker but no better, and it seemed important to her that this particular world repair be done by a woman. The Estonian wonder girl did indeed have a pot of coffee brewing, a continental dark, and once I had a cup in hand I told her how things had gone with Stan Lester, giving her the details I had spared Eddie Solomon.

“Eddie pay you?”

“Tomorrow,” I said. “A thousand in cash.”

“Today would have been better. Scary Mary called from the bank.”

I shuddered. Scary Mary is the assistant manager at our branch and a devout Christian with a phone manner so artificially nice, so honeyed with false promise that each of us usually tries to pawn her off on the other. I said, “So sorry I wasn’t here to take the call.”

“You should be. She likes you better, you know.” Then Jenn, a gifted mimic who’d once been a member of a comedy troupe, nailed Scary Mary’s breathless menace: “‘This is Mary McMurphy from Toronto-Do-min-ion calling. Is that Jonah? What a nice name. Isn’t that a Bib-lical name?'”

“Brrr. You do her better than she does.”

“Why, thank you.”

“If she calls back, tell her to relax,” I said. “We’ll have Chelsea’s thousand and a retainer from Marilyn Cantor.”

“How retentive a retainer?”

“My brother referred her,” I said. “If she knows him, she’s bound to have money.”

“She called, by the way.”

“When?”

“Ten minutes ago.”

“Please say she didn’t cancel.”

“Just confirming her appointment.”

“Phew.”

“You have two other messages,” she said, a wicked grin starting to form as she slid two scraps of paper across her desk.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Like hell.”

I looked at the two slips she’d filled out. The first was from my mother. The second was from the Homicide Squad of the Toronto Police Service.

I looked at Jenn, at the sunbeam of a smile lighting her face.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, you know. Homicide. Your mother,” she said. “Just wondering who you call first.”

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