The intruder’s search through Andy Gowan’s living room was quick, methodical and neat. He wore gloves to avoid prints. He was careful to return objects to their rightful places. In the bedroom, he scanned the files in a black metal filing cabinet, until he heard the lock on the apartment’s front door click open. The intruder hurried across the room to a closet crammed with clothes, shoes, and stacks of boxes. Turning off his flashlight, he hid behind the boxes and waited.
Entering the living room, Andy switched on a lamp and a soft rock music station on the stereo, while Alex Bellamy opened his audit briefcase and scattered half a dozen files on the floor.
“This is great!” He sat among the files with his legs outstretched. “I’m surrounded by fraud. It’s all over your carpet, Andy.”
Andy massaged his aching left shoulder. “I wish you hadn’t dropped your end of the bookcase last weekend.”
“I know. I’m sorry. After three months in that townhouse, I’m still tripping over the threshold twice a week. I don’t understand it.”
Andy understood. The guy couldn’t survive two days at a campsite without hurting himself, but accidents had never dampened his enthusiasm for the outdoors. Last winter he’d wanted to try helicopter skiing but Andy hadn’t found the courage to go with him, and Alex was too smart to try it alone.
“Did you see the look on Sam Roche’s face when we showed up in his office?” Alex opened the nearest file and peered over his glasses at Andy. “There’s nothing like a surprise audit by Revenue Canada to suck the blood from a man’s face. Course, under the circumstances, I can understand why he wasn’t told we were coming.”
“I’m sure that Alfred Lin, as the owner of Ice Craft Jewellers, would have been warned. Whether he wanted his staff to know was another matter.” Andy loosened his tie. “Want a shot of Drambuie?”
“Since when do you keep liqueurs in the apartment?”
“Since my job promotion.”
Alex followed him into the kitchen. “Why do you think someone in Special Investigations took us off the audit?”
“Who knows?” Andy poured Drambuie into juice glasses.
“Strange that it happened right after we verified that the gems Roche bought on behalf of Ice Craft weren’t part of Ice Craft’s inventory.”
“S.I. never explains its behaviour to junior auditors, Alex.”
Alex ran his fingers through his tangled, golden-brown hair. “Especially if someone wants to cover something up.”
Andy handed him a glass. “You’re not serious?”
“Think about it.” He sipped the thick, sweet liqueur and nearly choked. He’d never been big on sugary alcohol, but every so often he wanted to see if his taste had changed.
“While Alfred was out of the country, Roche decided to buy a hundred and fifty thousand bucks worth of precious stones. He also made sure that Lions Imports, who sold the stones to him, was paid immediately.”
“So what if seller and buyer shared the gems and money with someone in Special Investigations? Which would be why an audit was suddenly stopped by their division without explanation.”
Andy swirled the liqueur in his glass. “You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“Maybe, but haven’t you wondered how S.I. found out about the audit so fast?”
“I assumed our supervisor told someone about it. Maybe S.I. was already investigating Ice Craft or Lions and didn’t appreciate our help.” Andy paused. “Or maybe the bookkeeper who worked for Roche contacted their division as well as ours. This investigation started because of her allegations about Roche’s rather unusual activities as Ice Craft’s controller.”
“Roche could have called someone in S.I. about us. Remember when we told him who we were, and he said he thought there’d been an arrangement?”
“He could have been talking about the timing of our arrival.”
“Then why didn’t he say so when I asked him what he meant?”
“Maybe it was the way you asked. You do get a little abrasive when taxpayers aren’t as cooperative as you’d like. Besides, don’t you think pulling off a fraud like that would be a little stupid? If Roche was ripping off Ice Craft, surely he’d have covered his tracks better.”
“Maybe the guy was too desperate for money to care at that point, which makes me wonder how Roche spends his pay cheques.” His eyes sparkled. “It could be fun to find out.”
The brighter Alex’s eyes shone the more worried Andy became. He remembered Alex at age fifteen, often annoying his teachers with endless questions. He didn’t do it on purpose, and the questions were intelligent, but he’d had a five-year-old’s curiosity and persistence. Worse still, he could never turn down challenges. In twelfth grade, he ran the school newspaper, played basketball, served on the student body, and still aced exams. When his grandmother died a month before his graduation, he nearly had a nervous breakdown.
“Whether Sam’s a crook or just incompetent,” Andy said, “he’ll have to care now. I imagine Alfred Lin isn’t happy about the way Roche handled things while he was away.”
Alex gazed at the lemon-yellow cupboard doors he’d helped Andy paint last year. He had hoped to talk Andy out of splashing bright colours on his living room walls, but interior design wasn’t his friend’s strong suit.
“I’ve heard about conflicts between staff members in Special Investigations,” Alex said. “Missing files and accusations of improper behaviour, whatever that means.”
Andy had heard similar rumours. This enigmatic division of Revenue Canada investigated taxpayers suspected of lying on their tax returns. He’d once thought about joining the division, but the work was tedious and often unrewarding. In complex cases, hundreds of thousands of bits of paper were analyzed to provide enough evidence for a conviction, and months of work were sometimes wasted because of crafty lawyers and pathetically light fines.
“I can’t believe our people would be involved in a cover-up, Alex.”
“Our people?” He grinned at Andy.
“You think that the possibility of Revenue Canada’s involvement in some sort of fraud conspiracy is funny?”
“I think it’s bizarre and possibly humorous, but so what? People cheat on their employers all the time. So who in S.I. ordered us off the audit?”
“I don’t know.” Andy swept strands of thick red hair out of his eyes. “I have a couple of friends in that division. They might know if anyone’s taken an interest in Ice Craft or Lions Imports.”
“Good.” Alex followed him into the living room. “I’ve been doing some checking on my own . . .”
“Is that why you disappeared this afternoon?”
“I went to see Tristan Wells. He’s the articling student I told you about. Works at Silby & Morrow.”
Andy slumped into a lumpy, green plaid armchair. “Ice Craft’s accounting firm?”
“Exactly. It seems we weren’t the only ones the company’s bookkeeper contacted about Roche’s activities.” He stepped over a file. “She also called Silby & Morrow’s senior partner, Les Silby, which is why Tristan’s appearance at Ice Craft was no coincidence.”
Andy sighed. He watched his friend restlessly survey the room and wished he’d sit down and relax. “Did you tell Tristan about the missing gems?”
Alex was the world’s biggest gossip. He was always the first in the office to learn who was pregnant, or divorcing, or changing jobs. Andy watched him stroll towards the bedroom.
“I told Tris enough to convince him I’m right about a fraud cover-up that involves someone in S.I.”
Andy gripped his glass. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Tristan thinks he can back my theory.”
“I’m not sure. He wants to check a couple of things before he says more.”
In front of the bedroom door, he lifted his arms above his head to stretch. Suddenly he stopped and turned around.
“What’s the matter?” Andy placed his glass on the floor and untied his shoe laces.
“Nothing. Just thought I heard something.” He poked his head inside the room and flipped on the light switch. “Oh, God!”
“Your room’s a mess! Don’t you ever clean it?”
“The last Sunday of every month,” Andy replied as he pulled his slippers out from under the chair, “if I remember.”
Alex turned the light off and returned to the files on the floor. He reached for one of the Lions Imports folders.
Andy watched him browse through the documents. “When I was at Tony Barker’s office, looking at Roche’s purchase from Lions Imports’ perspective, nothing in the records suggested anything unusual about the transaction.”
“Which is why I think he helped Roche cheat Ice Craft for a share of the profits. You told me Barker keeps tight control of his business. If he was innocent he would’ve questioned the size of Roche’s purchases.”
“How do you know he didn’t?”
“Because he would have had to call Alfred Lin, and Lin’s already confirmed that nobody called him about the purchase. His secretary had a phone number where he could have been reached. Besides, Alfred’s never bought that many precious stones over a two-month period before, and he’s never let anyone buy gems on his behalf.”
Andy thumbed through the TV listings. Casablanca was on soon and he never missed a chance to see the movie. “You shouldn’t have discussed the case with outsiders, Alex.”
“Les Silby’s glad I did.”
Long brown eyes quickly narrowed. “You didn’t tell him, too!”
“He looked interested when I told him my suspicion about a connection between Roche, Barker and Special Investigations. Even if he doesn’t believe me, Les knows something’s wrong, and since both Ice Craft and Lions Imports are his clients he wants to find out what’s going on.”
“I still don’t see why he’d discuss the situation with you.”
Alex gazed at him. “Did you know that every copy of Lions’ latest financial statements and corporate tax returns are missing from both our offices? You told me Barker couldn’t find his copy of the statements either.”
Andy nodded. “And?”
“Whole sets of statements wouldn’t disappear from three offices without a reason.” His eyes shone with excitement. “I think Les has doubts about Barker’s honesty, which is why he didn’t throw me out of his office when I talked to him this afternoon, and why he’s agreed to let me help him find out what the deal is between Roche and Barker.”
Andy’s face turned mauve. “You’re a Revenue Canada auditor! You can’t go around making special deals with public chartered accountants.”
“I think you should return all the files to our supervisor and let somebody more experienced handle this.”
“You worried about me, Andy?”
“Considering your past with hostile professors and employers, I should be.”
Alex tapped his thigh in time to a Billy Joel tune on the stereo. “If we proved that people used their positions to take part in a fraud, we’d make a name for ourselves pretty damn fast.”
“The opportunities and promotions will come, Alex.” Andy massaged his sore shoulder. “You’ve only been with Revenue Canada six months, and if you pry too much you could lose your job.”
“I turned twenty-six four weeks ago which means that, according to Bellamy tradition and expectation, I should have launched a promising career by now.”
“And a junior auditor’s job isn’t good enough when one’s brothers and sisters are running hotels and building financial empires?”
Alex glanced at the orange carpet and the bare beige wall. “It’s not exactly what I or my parents had in mind.”
“None of your siblings started out six thousand miles from home like you did.”
When Alex was seventeen, his parents moved to Montreal, leaving him with his ailing grandmother. It was Alex’s choice. When she died, he stayed in Vancouver. Again his choice. He rarely talked about the separation from his family. He’d never complained about his parents, though, and as far as Andy knew, he’d never quarreled with them.
“So, Andy, will you help me find out who’s behind the fraud?”
He watched Alex pace around the room, his eyes flitting from the low, makeshift bookshelves to the TV that sat on a card table. “I can’t afford to lose my job.”
He nodded. “I know, but now that you’re in a more senior position, maybe you can find out who’s been running things in S.I. over the last couple of weeks.”
Andy hesitated. “I’ll talk to my friends.”
“Thanks. Meanwhile, Les Silby’s secretary will be giving me some information on Lions Imports so I can learn more about the company’s financial history. The lady’s name is Jillian and I hear she’s gorgeous.”
Andy rested his elbows on his knees. He wanted to slip out of his suit and into his bathrobe before Casablanca started.
“There are less risky ways to get ahead in the world, Alex.”
Alex fiddled with a gold cross around his neck. “This is about stopping one scam in a fraud epidemic that’s already costing taxpayers billions. It drives me nuts to think that someone who’s paid to catch the cheaters is cashing in on their profits.”
Andy checked his watch. “Casablanca’s on in two minutes. You can watch it here if you want, provided we don’t talk about work.”
Alex removed his glasses and held them up to the light. “I should be going. Thanks for buying dinner.”
“Thanks for helping me celebrate my promotion.”
“It was fun. Does your dad still need help fixing his cottage this weekend?”
“Yeah, I’ll let you know when we’re leaving. Thanks, Alex.”
“Okay, and don’t worry about the audit. I know what I’m doing, sort of.”
“Where have I heard that before?”
Andy saw Alex out, then slid the brass chain across the door. He strolled down the hall, stopping to turn off the kitchen light. Paul Simon sang softly from the stereo. Andy eased his suit jacket off his sore shoulder. He thought about tossing it on the bed but this was his best jacket.
He switched on the bedroom light, took one step forward, and stopped. A man wearing a ski mask stood before him with a flashlight raised to shoulder level.
As Andy started to back up, the flashlight struck his jaw. He slumped forward, dropping the jacket. He tried to straighten up, tried to lift his arms to fight back, but the flashlight was too quick. It hit him on the side of his head. Another blow left him unconscious.
The intruder lifted him onto the bed and pressed Andy’s fingers around a brand new razor blade. He then bent his right hand back by the fingertips, exposing his wrist. With his hand firmly on the blade, the man swiftly sliced Andy’s wrist open. He cut the other wrist and left the blade by his left hand. Quickly, he stuffed his blood-smeared gloves into a plastic bag brought for this purpose.
Removing his mask, the intruder stepped away from the body. He’d have to keep Alex from talking to Jillian Scott, and from finding the Lions Imports financial statements.
As he turned the bedroom light out, the intruder shone his flashlight on Andy. His red hair looked orange next to the dark red blood. The kid was grotesque on the bed, torn and helpless. He smiled at the thought of doing the same to Alex Bellamy, then hurried out of the apartment, confident of reaching Alex before the young man spoke to another living soul.