Why Was Rachel Murdered?
Rachel Lisgar walked off the plane with a long list of tasks and not enough time.
She’d picked up a faint whiff of trouble in the back pages of a routine SEC filing by Hudson Ventures, an investment firm in midtown Manhattan. The hair on the back of her neck had risen. She followed the trail as far as she could in the official sources, then continued the hunt through a series of evermore obscure online data banks. Now she had an ugly problem.
Devising the right solution preoccupied her while she cleared customs at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport. The terminal’s glass doors slid closed behind her as she finished a phone call with a grunt of satisfaction, then texted her client, Janos Pach, asking for a meeting ASAP.
It was August and steam-bath humid along the waterfront. She had grabbed the first flight that morning to New York to confirm her suspicions about Hudson Ventures. Now, night had fallen, and she was coming home with even more questions. Her townhouse, a blessedly cool oasis of calm where she did her best thinking, was within easy walking distance.
She tucked an errant curl of frizzy hair behind her ear. Her grey-green eyes narrowed. Should she call Carole? She really didn’t want to. Damn. But she’d feel worse if she didn’t.
Rachel keyed in the number.
“Hey, it’s me. Yeah, it’s been a while. Anyway, there’s something you need to know. It’s important. Obviously. I wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t. Get back to me as soon as you can.”
She shrugged her shoulder until her laptop bag rode more comfortably and set off with a mile-eating, graceful gait, heading home along a familiar route, her brain running numbers. A sickening weight grew in her chest. Despite everything else, she didn’t want to accept what the data revealed.
The sidewalks were crowded with locals, mostly young professionals enjoying the summer Friday night. On the narrow streets, runners and rollerbladers slipped around parked cars and turning cabs. A guy in a tight T-shirt and shorts checked her out as he ran by. She spotted a cyclist, a fit-looking woman wearing yellow spandex racing gear, resting on a bench. For a fleeting moment, Rachel considered getting out her bike and going for a ride. Fresh air and exercise would probably help clear her head, but a few more hours of online research would be more productive. And a cold beer would be a lifesaver.
Rachel reached her quiet cul-de-sac and approached her townhouse. She waved to a neighbour across the street who was trimming his rose bushes. She envied his devotion to the tiny front garden. He was a nice enough old guy, but tonight she had no patience for gossip. She twisted the key in her front door lock and stepped inside. Wonderful cool air washed—
She was yanked off her feet and slammed into the wall.
Shock and pain engulfed her. She panicked. A huge hand roughly grabbed her hair. Fingers like claws shoved her face to the wall, holding her there. Her right arm was wrenched up behind her back. Hot, fetid breath scorched her neck.
She heard the front door lock click shut. The foyer was instantly pitched into a murky half-light.
Her rage erupted. Chest tight. Acid bile in her throat. With a fierce burst of anger, she wrenched herself away from the wall. He slammed her back into it. She twisted. A mirror crashed to the floor and shattered. She blindly stomped back with her heel, but he was quick as a hunting cat.
She opened her mouth to scream. He jacked up her arm. Pain burned through her body. White light exploded across her vision.
“Not a word,” he growled, his voice steady, his control unrelenting.
Rachel dragged in ragged gulps of air. She stood on her tiptoes, off balance, shivering in the darkness. Adrenalin raced through her body. A nightmare trapped her.
Silence except for the hoarse rasp of her breathing. He shifted his weight. Broken glass crunched under his feet.
“Your name is Rachel Elizabeth Lisgar. You are a professor of advanced mathematics. You hold the Canada Research Chair in Social Analytics. You also provide consulting services to the Emergent Investment Fund.”
Still gasping for air, now totally confused, her mind spun. How did he know all this? Who was he? “What—”
“Shh,” he whispered, bumping her forehead against the wall. “Your parents are dead. You have a sister, Carole. She lives in Ottawa. I can give you her address.”
“Quiet,” he snapped, smashing her face into the wall. She groaned in pain and confusion. Her eyes watered.
“We know everything,” he hissed. “Where you work. Where Carole lives. Don’t say a word, but nod if you understand.”
Trapped, Rachel nodded.
“Okay,” he said more calmly. “You and I are going to walk slowly over to your front window. You need to see something. Don’t try to escape. Don’t try to see my face. You’ll only get hurt. Do you understand?”
She bowed her head. She clamped down on her anger. How dare he do this? Stop it, she told herself. Now’s not the time. Breathe. Keep it together. Live to fight another day.
He pulled her away from the wall. He pushed her towards the front room. Together, they shuffled to the window.
Across the quiet street, her friendly old neighbour had interrupted his rose trimming to chat with a cyclist, the woman in yellow spandex racing gear she had seen earlier. A helmet and wraparound sunglasses hid her features.
“Pay attention,” said the voice in her ear. From his pocket he pulled a laser pointer. He flashed it once out the window.
The cyclist, without interrupting the conversation, reached into her bike pannier and pulled out a silencer-equipped pistol.
Rachel gasped. Her neighbour froze in shock.
The cyclist, in one smooth motion, raised the weapon and shot the gardener in the face. His body crumpled to the sidewalk.
The cyclist threw one leg over the bike’s crossbar, leaned down and shot two more rounds into the body. She slid the gun back into the pannier, then rode away at a slow, steady pace.
The street was deserted.
Rachel, moaning, collapsed to the floor, numbed by the brutal murder.
He knelt beside her, grabbed her hair with one hand and her face with the other, holding her steady so she could not see him.
“I’m going to ask you a question. You need to tell the truth. If you lie, I will hurt you. Do you believe me?”
Rachel, her heart racing, gasped, “Yes.”
He leaned closer, whispering. “Earlier today, you were given a flash drive—”
Her eyes widened in shock. How could they know? How did they find out? Without thinking, she started to turn her head.
“Don’t.” His grip on her tightened. He dug his bony knee into her back. He yanked on her hair and brought his mouth down close to her ear. “The flash drive. Where is it?”
“In my bag!” She squeezed her eyes shut. Hot tears of frustration and pain leaked out.
He increased the pressure. “Did you copy the files?”
“Only onto my laptop.” Her voice broke in despair.
“Where else?” he demanded, his mouth so close his dank breath brushed her cheek. “The truth. Or Carole dies.”
“No copies,” she sobbed. She thought she might choke. The bastards. Why do they always fucking win?
He stroked her hair. “I believe you,” he murmured.
Her panic began to ebb. Her ragged breathing eased. A glimmer of relief sparked hope. Maybe that’s all he wants. Maybe this will soon be over.
Then he tightened his two-handed grip on her head.
He twisted it violently. Right. Left. Her neck snapped. Fragments of C1 vertebrae were driven into her brain stem. He dropped her head and watched her eyes as Rachel’s life faded to nothing.
In one fluid motion, he rose. He checked his watch. He had one more stop to make.
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