The Frailty of Flesh

CHAPTER ONE

“It’s just…” The woman’s gaunt face tightened as she clenched the muscles, twisted her jaw and blinked rapidly. She sucked in a sharp breath and continued, “Just not…right, somehow. You raise ’em. You don’t really think about buryin’ a kid.”Her hands shook visibly as she pushed her strawlike hair behind her ears, then reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table. The trembling eased as she slipped a cigarette from the container, as though touch alone could transfer the nicotine into her system. Her motions were so fluid the cigarette was in her mouth within seconds, her eyes closed as the tension seeped out of her wiry body.

She almost smiled.

Then the facial muscles sagged again as she slowly removed the cigarette from her lips and stuck it back in the pack. Her actions had been instinctive and automatic when she was taking the cigarette out. Once she’d remembered the no-smoking ban in restaurants she’d devoted her full attention to the process of putting it back in the box, as though if she pried her gaze away for even a split second or dared to breathe it would break her concentration…as though tragedy might strike if she failed to replace the cigarette properly.

Craig Nolan processed all of this as he watched the woman who sat across from him. Before today he hadn’t heard of her. When she asked if he could meet with her to discuss an old case he’d suggested she talk to someone who handled cold case files, but she’d been insistent. Not that kind of case. An old case Steve Daly had handled, years before.

That was when it clicked. Lisa Harrington had received notification from the parole board. Her daughter’s murderer had applied for early release. Craig guessed Lisa had reached for the cigarettes first and the phone second. She’d called the Mounties in an attempt to locate Steve Daly, with no luck, until someone finally suggested she call Craig Nolan instead.

Someone who figured it was personal, not professional. Possibly someone too lazy to look up the name of whomever Steve had partnered with when he’d worked this murder.

Or someone who just couldn’t be bothered to ask Lisa what she wanted to talk to Steve about.

Craig wasn’t familiar with the case, but his present workload was light. His workload had been light for months, but that was a different issue. All that mattered was that there was no excuse for him to brush her off. It was just to grab a quick coffee, explain how parole hearings worked, and there was a niggling voice in the back of his brain that told him Steve would want to know he’d followed up on this. One small thing Craig could do to ease Steve’s guilt.

Guilt about so many things.

A waitress filled a mug of coffee in front of Lisa and reached for Craig’s cup, but he shook his head.

“You, uh, look kinda young,” Lisa said as she wrapped her hands around the mug. “I-I don’t remember you at all.”

“I didn’t work your daughter’s case.” He watched the truth hit home in her features as she set her drink back down abruptly. The question was forming on her lips as he raised his hand. “Steve Daly is teaching classes at The Depot.” Her face remained blank, so he guessed she wasn’t familiar with the name of the academy where Mounties went for their training. “Where they train new officers.”

She nodded, as though this all made perfect sense, but the way her eyes pinched with confusion told him it was so far beyond her focus right now that she couldn’t process it. Her mind was on one thing: Donny Lockridge.

Lockridge, the teenager convicted of murdering Lisa’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Hope.

Lockridge, who, despite being bumped up to adult court and given a twenty-year sentence, had served ten years and was now eligible for parole. Life sentences in Canada seldom meant life, and in most cases convicted murderers never came close to serving the usual maximum of twenty-five years.

Release after ten years wasn’t unheard of. Just another thing about the so-called justice system that made Craig’s stomach turn.

“Nobody tells me nothin’, you know? Just lock him up and move on. Steve, he was the only one who said much to me at all.” She lifted the mug with both hands, her gaze on the contents as she took a sip. “I don’t know what this means.”

“Do you have a lawyer?” Craig asked. The quick shake of her head confirmed what he should have already