Toronto’s newest homicide detective, Reggie Swann, seemed to have it all: her dream career, a handsome husband and plans to start a family, until she was framed for murder…
A cop has very few friends in prison. After surviving ten brutal years behind bars, Reggie’s conviction is finally overturned thanks to her tenacious mother, a new forensic test and a very clever lawyer. She quickly discovers that getting her old life back won’t be as easy as she hoped. To many, she was still as the media had dubbed her: ‘Black Swann – murderer and cop-gone-bad’. The Toronto Police Department still considers her to be a suspect, Reggie’s husband has remarried and the real killer is still on the loose.
Before Reggie can return to Toronto and solve the crime that ruined her life, she reluctantly agrees to investigate a murder in her home town of Penticton, only to discover the two cases which are separated by ten years and five provinces might somehow be connected. Will anyone believe the wild theories of the disgraced detective?
The real murderer does. He framed her once, this time Reggie Swann must die!
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Unlike Julia Roberts in Sleeping With The Enemy, I did everything but sleep with mine. I worked, ate and even watched the occasional movie with 250 people that wished me mortal harm simply because of what I had been—a homicide detective. Locked alone in my cell from ten pm until seven am was the only place and time I felt safe enough to let down my defenses and relax.
In the chow line, a quick look away by one and a sideways glance between two other inmates alerted me to impending danger. An attack was imminent, but wouldn’t likely take place in the cafeteria. There were too many eyes here. Three guards patrolled the perimeter during meal times, plus there were cameras. A diversion might fool the guards but not the video feed as several former provocateurs had learned the hard way.
Fighting resulted in an automatic thirty days in the hole, no exceptions. The hole was what we called solitary confinement. I’d done my share of time there and I could tell you it was no joke. No windows, no yard time, no contact with anyone, except for a few seconds per day when meals arrive. Some of the guards wouldn’t speak. Twelve hours of fluorescent light, twelve hours of pitch black. Time creeps by in prison, but in the hole, during the overwhelming darkness of night, I swore sometimes it stopped altogether.
I tucked under my arm one of the three magazines I kept on my person whenever I left my cell and carried my plastic platter of eggs, sausage patty, bran muffin and definitely not freshly squeezed orange juice to the table in the back where all the unpopular women congregated. I nodded to Wilma Mainfield, the closest thing to a friend I had inside these walls. We weren’t pals and didn’t hang around together, but her brother was a cop, so she didn’t hate me for my past. Taking my usual spot in the last row of the room, I sat with my shoulders brushing against the wall. With Wilma to my right, an empty chair to my left and my back protected I got down to the business of eating. I devoured the food, hungry after the hour and a half calisthenics routine I’d completed this morning before my cell door opened.
Most of the meals in this place weren’t bad, especially breakfast and spaghetti night, which was every second Thursday. I’d worked in the kitchen for two years and knew that the head cook, Roberta Pomodoro, made the spaghetti sauce from scratch—best I’ve ever had. Roberta, a lifer, owned several Italian restaurants in Ottawa with her husband. I heard a rumor that they had gotten involved in the drug trade and a cop had been killed during a raid, resulting in a life without parole sentence. She sang Italian songs while she cooked. Everyone liked her. She’d tolerated my presence in her kitchen until I tripped, spilling a large tray of chicken wings. The next day I’d been transferred to laundry.
“Watch your back,” Wilma whispered as I stood to leave. Wilma didn’t say much to anyone. Over six feet tall and built like a man, the farm wife had literally shaken the life out of her husband when she’d discovered he’d been cheating with her teenaged sister. Referred to as a gentle giant for most of her twenty-five years, ten minutes of blind rage had erased that persona forever. I think we shared a kinship in the belief that we didn’t belong in this place. Wilma kept to herself, and most of the prison population, including me, tried their best to give her no reason to get angry.
I winked at her as I picked up my empty tray and magazine. I wanted to get down to laundry services before there was a lot of activity in the halls. As I deposited the tray I noticed three empty chairs at Laynie Garcia’s table, hers included. The rest of her crew chatted and laughed and avoided eye contact with me. Naturally, it would be Laynie, I realized.
Now I knew who, and since they were already absent, approximately when. So be it. Cameras watched over the main public areas, including the social and work areas. The bathrooms, showers and lesser-used hallways had none. To get to the laundry facility I needed to traverse several of these hallways, passing the ‘C’ Block showers and two bathrooms en route.
There were few secrets in this place. Everyone knew that I was leaving for a hearing tomorrow morning. If you had a score to settle with me, today might be the last opportunity. Laynie felt that she did. Relatively new to the facility, she’d been hell bent to build her reputation. After picking several fights and winning them all, she’d gotten much of the respect she desired. I guess she’d decided killing a former cop would give her kingpin status, because six months ago, without provocation, she’d attacked me in the showers. Fortunately, I’d felt her coming and managed to grab my towel before she reached me. I wrapped my arm and used it as a shield against the sharpened piece of rigid plastic she’d forged into a knife. Once I got hold of her and turned it into a wrestling match, my superior strength turned the tide in my favor. I broke two of her fingers prying the make-shift knife away and gave her a nasty cut across her cheekbone. A knee to the solar plexus left her choking and gasping for breath on the wet floor as I walked away without a scratch. I’d spoiled her perfect record; she couldn’t let that stand.
When I was a cop, I’d thought I could take care of myself. My first year in prison I’d been severely beaten twice and shanked once. I eventually learned that if I wanted to live I had to fight back. I became hyper-vigilant and worked at getting stronger and tougher. The will to survive is buried deeply in each of us—you felt it when your back was against the wall. In here, my back was always against the wall. For the next few years I held my own, giving as much pain as I received. Then, on the day I’d received news that my father had died, my guard had dropped. I hadn’t seen the shank coming at all. As I lay there on the floor bleeding to death, not one inmate lifted a finger to help me. Before I passed out I saw the smirks, heard some laughter and the claps of more than a few high fives.
Somehow, I’d lived. I had one less functioning kidney, a missing molar and three broken ribs from kicks I don’t remember receiving. Months later when I reentered gen-pop I had a new attitude. If you came at me, you’d better kill me because I would hurt you if you didn’t. I had an ugly scar on my side as an eternal memory to remind me that I had no friends in this place. I don’t look for fights—I don’t have to—but I no longer run from them either, and after eight years I’m still here.
With a hearing tomorrow, I couldn’t afford to get caught fighting, and Laynie knew that also. I had to admit it was a good plan—kill me or get me thrown in the hole causing me to miss my hearing. I intended to avoid both eventualities, if possible. I needed to get to the laundry and its overhead cameras.
This would be my third hearing. The first one had been terrible. I’d been so optimistic—certain that my wrongful conviction would be overturned. I’d been crushed when it wasn’t. I’d been less hopeful during the second one, and yet utterly depressed for a month afterward. This time, I’d even refused to discuss the hearing strategies with my lawyer or mother. This was simply a thirty-six hour mini vacation from this place. I would savor the sights, sounds and the non-concrete and iron textures of the outside world. The hearing was for Mom’s benefit, not mine. I was ready, harboring no false hope.
I rolled the magazine tightly, until it felt like a baton. Never underestimate the power of the printed word, especially when written on glossy paper.
I knew Laynie’s MO. She and her pals would try to box me in. I walked past the ‘C’ Block showers, my sneakers squeaking loudly on the polished concrete floor. I slipped them off, tucked them into my waistband and crept back to the edge of the doorway, magazine at the ready. I heard whispered counting from inside. “Eight Mississippi, nine Mississippi, ten Mississippi.” Then a large homely face peeked around the frame. Hopefully for its cornea’s sake, the surprised eye blinked shut before my Entertainment Weekly collided with the force of a billy club against it. I’d swung with all my might. Stunned, Sarah Granger sank to her knees. I whipped around and administered a chokehold. I held tight until she went limp, then held for ten more seconds to be certain. I dragged her heavy ass back into the shower room. I removed her shoelaces and quickly bound her hands, then picked up the chair leg that had slipped from her slack hand. I recognized it as having been removed from the movie lounge. I expected to see two or three more just like it this morning.
I’d left the mess hall seven or eight minutes early and estimated that I was still five minutes ahead of schedule. I hoped to use that to my advantage. I raced down the hall to the next corner. I peeked and saw no one in the next corridor. I figured they would be waiting in the bathroom, ready to jump out when they heard me coming. I crept to the door-less entry and listened.
“Any minute now,” Laynie said from several feet away.
I took a chance and peeked in. I could only see their feet under the privacy partition. I skipped lightly to the other side of the doorway.
“Granger, what’s that in your hand?” I did my best to throw my voice down the hallway.
I heard scuffling feet and then a hand holding another chair leg appeared. I heard the distinctive snap of bone as my newly acquired weapon crashed down on a wrist. Laynie’s right-hand-woman yelped in pain just before my magazine struck her exposed throat. She fell back against Laynie, both ending up in a heap on the bathroom floor. I leapt in. Laynie recovered quickly, scrambling out of the way as I swung the rectangular bat at her. I kicked the choking woman in the ribs as I moved between Laynie and her fallen chair leg. Her back against the row of sinks, she was now only armed with a metal shank, or so I thought.
“I’m going to kill you, pig bitch,” she told me, her eyes blazing with hatred.
“Give it your best shot,” I retorted, through clenched teeth. Dirty Harry would have been proud.
She threw something at my head and bull rushed me. I ducked as a bar of soap flew past my forehead. She’d missed, but the distraction worked. We crashed to the floor. The chair leg clattered away and sharp steel came down at my face. I got my forearm up just in time. She had my magazine hand pinned. We struggled in that position for several long seconds. Lying on top of me like that, I couldn’t catch her with my legs. It was a stalemate, until Laynie turned the blade inward and began sawing at my arm. A sadistic smile broke out on her face as the blade cut through the sleeve of my sweatshirt. She raked the blade across my forearm. She laughed, but her actions had given me the opening I needed. I managed to sweep her knife hand off to the side and lifted my pelvis as high as I could.
“What?” Her eyes widened.
I wrenched my other arm free and swatted her face with my celebrity-filled baton. I twisted out from under her and slammed her hand against the floor until the shank came free. I was sorely tempted to pick it up and use it on her, but resisted and instead choked her into submission. I stepped over Irene, a dumb-as-a-hammer long-timer, as I left the bathroom and rushed down the hall. Just before entering the laundry area I put my shoes back on, ran my fingers through my short hair and tucked under the torn part of my sleeve until it wasn’t visible. I took a deep breath, unrolled my billy club and casually walked into the large room, reading a story about Brad and Angelina. I looked up at the large clock on the wall. It was a full two minutes before eight am.
There wasn’t always a guard stationed in the laundry area, but there was usually one present at the start of the shift. I was counting on it.
“Good morning, Joseph,” I said casually.
“Inmate Swann,” Guard Zabrowsky answered more formally.
I held the magazine toward him. “I’m finished with this one, would you like it?”
No thanks, not interested.” He shook his head. “Big hearing tomorrow I understand. Excited?”
“Not really.” I tried to downplay the event. “I’m not a big fan of courtrooms.”
“Gotta be better than here, though,” Joseph chuckled.
“I heard some groaning in the lavatory,” Betty, the laundry crew leader, informed the guard when she stepped through the doorway. “You might want to go check it out.”
He eyeballed Betty to see if she was on the level, then glanced at me. “I didn’t notice anything.” I shrugged, feigning a lack of knowledge on the subject.
Zabrowsky rushed out, speaking into his radio as he went. “Possible code three in the washroom between Cell Block C and Laundry Services.”
“Roger that,” his radio squelched.
Seconds later two more fellow laundry workers appeared at the doorway, though their eyes were glued to the guard who’d run past them down the hall.
“Somebody got hurt.” Betty joined them, then she turned and stared at me. “Did you see anything, Blackie?”
I shrugged and casually walked over to the water fountain. When she turned her attention back to the hallway, I slipped the rubber bands and magazines I’d wrapped around each of my forearms out from under my sleeves and dropped them into the nearby trash container. I wandered over to the nearest laundry basket and wheeled it to one of the large washers. I tossed dirty clothes into the machine until I came to a size medium sweatshirt like the one I was wearing. I tossed it beside the machine and continued filling the washer.
Betty and the others were still watching down the hall. I slipped beside the machine and quickly swapped sweatshirts. In three or four seconds, I stepped back into camera view, tossed the torn shirt into the machine and slammed the door closed.
Betty glanced over at me again. Betty was no idiot. I smiled as innocently as I could. She was no rat, either.
“Let’s get to work, ladies,” Betty told the others. “We’ll find out what happened at lunch.”
A short while later, while throwing clothes into another washer, a hand clamped onto my shoulder.
“Roll up your sleeves,” Zabrowsky commanded, as I turned to face him. Another guard held Laynie just beyond the laundry doorway.
“Blackie attacked us,” Laynie yelled. I could see the purple welt on her swollen face where Brad and Angelina had struck her.
“What’s this all about?” I asked Joseph.
“She and two others are claiming that you ambushed them and beat them without provocation.”
“I ambushed three of them?”
“That’s what they claim,” Zabrowsky said, though he looked dubious.
“You know about my hearing tomorrow,” I reminded him. “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
“I cut the bitch,” Garcia yelled again. “Check her arm.”
“I tend not to believe her account of the events, but she claims that she cut your wrist during the fight,” Zabrowsky said. “Show me your arms. If you’re not bleeding, the three of them will have thirty days in the hole to come up with a new story. If you are bleeding, your hearing will have to be postponed.”
“This is ridiculous,” I said, glancing toward Laynie.
“Just roll up your sleeves and we’ll be done,” Zabrowsky stated.
I rolled up my left sleeve and let him inspect my arm.
“The other one, now the other one,” Laynie shouted excitedly.
I held my right hand in the air and slowly pulled the sleeve down well past my elbow.
“Take her to the hole,” Zabrowsky yelled to the other guard.
“No, no, no,” Laynie Garcia screamed as she was dragged away. “I cut her, I swear. The pig bitch ambushed us…”
“Good luck with your hearing, Swann,” Joseph told me as he walked away.
Sixty cell doors rolled into place and locked shut on Cell Block A. I sighed in relief. I’d survived the day. Tomorrow morning at six am I’d be escorted to transport while the other inmates were still locked in their cells. I sagged back against my bunk and reread the letter I’d received. For almost ten years I’d been trying to figure out who had framed me for murder. As a former Toronto Police Department homicide detective I had enemies, like most cops, if we were any good at our jobs. Daniel Hamilton had been the last name on my list. He’d admittedly been a bit of a longshot. Now that he’d been cleared I had zero suspects left, unless you included the likes of Bag McNaughton.
In the third grade I’d gotten into a fight with Benny McNaughton while playing shinny hockey after school. He’d been pestering me all game. Mom later explained to me that he’d probably had a crush on me. I wish I’d known. After tripping me once and administering a cross-check that had stung, I’d gotten frustrated and had retaliated with a cross-check that had flattened him. He’d dropped his stick and charged me. A tomboy through and through, plus a green belt in Taekwondo, I’d been ready. We’d been the same size back then and Benny ended up with a fat lip and black eye. The next day at school he’d been teased mercilessly. ‘By a girl’ had become the taunt of the day. Unfortunately for Benny, we’d been learning about acronyms at that time. I never forgot that scuba stands for ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’ and in Mrs. Quill’s Grade Three English class bag now stood for ‘by a girl’. Bag became Benny’s nickname for life. Even his older brother and two sisters called him Bag.
In all seriousness, I didn’t really suspect that Bag had waited nearly eighteen years and then killed someone to get even with me. Besides the fact that he would never have done a thing like this, he had forgiven me. We’d even gone to a dance together in the ninth grade. Mom had been right—she usually was. Bag McNaughton and everyone else that I had ever arrested, angered or even slighted, going all the way back as far as I could remember, were listed in my suspect file.
You have lots of time for introspection when you spend most of your day in a seven by nine cell. Even the eleven-foot-high ceiling didn’t help to give it a spacious feel. I put the letter into the neat folder of papers beside me. The felons I’d put away while working homicide had been easy additions and simple for my one law enforcement friend to investigate. I had worked vice for three years before homicide and the list of pros, johns and pimps I’d arrested had been much longer and more difficult to track down, since many of the girls and pimps were transients.
Daniel Hamilton had been a john. He, like most johns, hadn’t spent any time in jail for his offense. However, when his name and the charges against him were published in the Globe and Mail, he’d apparently lost everything. Hamilton, the Vice President of Shale Refineries, his father-in-law’s company, was fired summarily. His wife of twenty-two years kicked him out of their house and began divorce proceedings, which she’d followed through with. His daughters, deeply embarrassed by the scandal, refused to speak with him for more than a year. His life had been ruined. Plenty of motive to want to ruin mine.
I shook my head in frustration and once again picked up the background report on Hamilton. The man had been in Dubai, working for another oil company for three months prior to and another month after the murder of Dr. Applegate. His younger daughter had moved there with him. By all accounts, he’d taken full responsibility for his indiscretions and had resurrected his life. There was no evidence that Hamilton had anything to do with the frame-up or indeed even blamed me for what had happened to him. A year ago, Daniel Hamilton had become President of ESA Oil—a company five times the size of Shale Refineries.
I took some satisfaction from the knowledge that someone had been able to rebuild their life. It was comforting to know that it could be done. I cautioned myself not to get my hopes too high for the evidentiary hearing my new lawyer had arranged. Regardless of the outcome, I would have at least one and a half days away from this place and I would get to spend several hours with my mother without bars or glass between us.
Someone had framed me and there had to have been a motive but I couldn’t find it.
There were only three people in all of Canada, besides myself, who believed that I was innocent without reservation. Robert Walters, a lawyer with CAJE—the Christian Advocates for Justice Enterprise—and also my mom’s boyfriend, had taken up our cause after re-examining all the evidence in the case against me. RCMP Staff Sergeant Jean Kirkwood, whom I’d worked with on several joint task forces, was the only law enforcement officer who had stuck by my side through the years. Jean did the legwork and provided me with reports like the one I was holding on Daniel Hamilton. Last, but certainly not least on the short list, was my mother, who had devoted her life to freeing me.
I guess there were four, if you counted the real murderer.
I put the report back into the folder and tucked it away under my bunk. Lights out would be any minute and I had a big day ahead of me in the morning. As I undressed, I tried not to think about how angry Laynie would be thirty days from now.