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Rachel Getty had never expected to find herself at a state dinner at Rideau Hall, the governor general’s residence. Even though she was at the tail end of the dinner, mingling with other guests, she found herself bemused, silenced by the splendor of the hall and by the amiability of the prime minister.
They’d left the long white dinner table with its golden candelabra and thickets of crystal glasses for an alcove under ivory arches, the whole scene illuminated by cascading chandeliers. It was pomp and circumstance on a scale familiar to most Canadians, gracious yet subdued.
That didn’t stop Rachel from feeling overwhelmed, as she peered, tongue-tied, into the affable face of the strikingly young prime minister. Trying not to draw attention to herself, she smoothed her hands down the length of her black evening dress, cut simply, and had Rachel known it, showcasing her athletic figure to great effect. She wore a pair of dangling earrings given to her by her brother, Zachary, and had even taken the trouble to style her lackluster hair into a smooth chignon.
Earlier, during the photo opportunity portion of this unexpected evening, she and her boss, Inspector Esa Khattak, had posed for a photograph with the prime minister and his wife.
Rachel’s sense of being out of her depth was diminished by the matter-of-fact welcome extended by both the prime minister and his wife, whose Quebecois accent fell charmingly on Rachel’s ear.
A few moments later, Rachel found herself in the alcove with Khattak and the prime minister. The two men were discussing the current status of Community Policing, the division of law enforcement Rachel and Khattak worked for. Despite a period of trial, Community Policing was back on its feet. A recent parliamentary inquiry into a war criminal’s death had exonerated Khattak of wrongdoing, and of late, CPS had been subjected to better press than usual. Khattak was back on the job with accolades in his file.
Rachel suspected this had more to do with a government contact they had assisted on a recent case in Iran than with any change to Khattak’s approach to police work. His administrative leave was over, and the budget of their section had been enlarged—they had brought back two of their original team members.
Across the glittering table in the dining hall, Rachel caught the eye of Community Policing’s tech supervisor, a burly middle-aged man of unfailing good cheer and deadpan wisecracking abilities by the name of Paul Gaffney. He raised his eyebrows, miming a la-di-dah gesture that made Rachel smile before she hastily schooled her features.
She listened to the pleasant timbre of the prime minister’s voice as he offered assurances to Khattak.
“I want you to know how grateful we are for the work you’ve done,” he was saying. “The portfolio we landed you with is a minefield. You haven’t had the kind of ministerial support you’re entitled to for being bold enough to take it on. As of now, that will change. You will still report to the minister of justice, but we will be amending the legislation that governs CPS’s mandate to make it simpler and clearer. We don’t want a repeat of what happened in Algonquin. I’ve also told the minister that you’re to have a direct line to me in case of any … obstruction.” He flashed his charming smile at Rachel. “Should Esa be out of commission for any reason, it’s been made clear to the minister that you are to have unfettered access.”
Rachel expressed her thanks. In the politest politician-speak possible, the prime minister was letting her know that he thought the inquiry into their work had been a fiasco. What was the point of bringing on someone like Khattak only to constrain him at every turn?
She breathed a sigh of contentment. Rachel’s personal philosophy was liberal in every sense. The prime minister didn’t need to charm her—he already had her vote. She listened as Khattak thanked him in his deep, attractive voice. He was dressed in black tie, his dark hair smoothed back across his head. He looked more like a television star than a policeman.
“It was kind of you to invite our team to dinner.”
The dinner was being held in honor of a delegation from South Asia, so Rachel suspected Khattak’s presence served the government’s interests, as much as anything else.
The prime minister hailed RCMP Superintendent Martine Killiam across the room. She didn’t smile, offering a quick nod of acknowledgment. When her gaze landed on Rachel, one corner of her mouth quirked up. Martine Killiam kept her eye on promising women in law enforcement: Rachel was on her radar. Not quite sure what to do, Rachel sketched a nonmilitary salute that brought the prime minister’s attention back to her.
“I see you know Superintendent Killiam,” he said.
Rachel cleared her throat. Any mention of the murder at Algonquin Park would cast a dark cloud over a festive occasion, so her reply was cautious.
“She speaks very highly of you. And she’s not the only one.”
The prime minister raised a hand, inviting a latecomer to join their conference.
Rachel recognized him at once. It was Nathan Clare as she’d never seen him, formally dressed in evening wear, a serious look in his eyes.
The prime minister turned a rueful glance on Khattak. “Politicians always have ulterior motives. Our government owes Nathan a debt—one he’s come to collect. I thought I’d make it official, so this time there’s no confusion with regard to your involvement.”
Rachel’s sense of awkwardness fell away; she observed the prime minister with interest.
And then she looked at Nathan in alarm. He was Khattak’s closest friend, a public figure very much in demand, but her attachment to him was personal.
He didn’t look at her, his attention focused on Khattak.
“You have to help me, Esa. Something’s happened to Audrey.”
Copyright © 2018 by Ausma Zehanat Khan