by Morris J. Marshall
Krista Beauregard, a part-time college professor, is delayed in rush-hour traffic one winter morning. Toronto police have cordoned off the intersection of Yonge and King Streets, and a bloody tarp lies on the sidewalk. Krista discovers that this incident has a personal connection: Gavin McLeod, her former top student, has died in a fall from a nearby office building in which he worked. The police quickly close the case, contending it was a suicide, although one of the investigating officers suspects more is at play. Devastated by the suicide ruling, Gavin’s father asks Krista to help him discover what really happened.
Chapter 7: Digging In
Krista sat at her kitchen table late Sunday night, staring at her laptop screen, preparing her lectures for the upcoming week. In the morning, she was sluggish from taking her lithium the night before. At night she was in her zone. Her mind could concentrate with crystal clarity. The ideas for her lecture jumped effortlessly from her brain to her fingers as she typed.
The business news was playing on local talk radio. Economists were expecting an increase in the key interest rate at the Bank of Canada on Wednesday. There had already been two rate increases in the last three months. This would be the third as the Bank attempted to slow down an overheated housing market.
Krista wondered why the Governor of the Bank of Canada was moving so quickly. Another increase in interest rates would make it even more difficult for homeowners to pay off their mortgages. If they started selling their homes, housing prices would plummet and derail the economy.
The wind whipped over Krista’s balcony, kicking up puffs of snow, making groaning noises as it struck the outside walls and windows. As the wind was blowing through the wall vents down the hallway, Krista’s door bolt rattled. It sounded as if someone was trying to break into her condo.
She went to a search site, typed in “DBC Financial Planners” and pressed “enter.” Krista scrolled through pages of articles. Nothing. Only glowing testimonials about DBC Financial’s profits and cost-cutting measures. No, I’m looking for dirt, she thought.
Krista tried entering “Dead DBC Financial Planners” in the search space. Her breath caught in her throat when an article from the West Coast Examiner appeared among the top hits. It was dated September 26, 2014:
Peter Vendetti, a 45-year-old Securities Manager with DBC Financial in Vancouver, was found dead last night by his wife in their West Vancouver condo. She arrived home from work to find him hanging from a light fixture in the upstairs hall. He was still in his three-piece suit.
Krista scrolled through more pages. Lots of material on DBC’s investment options. “Win with dollar-cost averaging. Buy now while stock prices are low!” But she found nothing of any real interest.
She was about to give up and go to bed when she found an article from the Mid-Toronto Monitor dated November 20, 2014:
Thomas Chan, a DBC financial Planner, died in his Forest Hill Toronto home last night. His wife, Ellen, found him in the front foyer after arriving home from a movie night with friends. Witnesses reported seeing two masked figures fleeing the scene. Police have speculated that Mr. Chan may have surprised some robbers. The case is still open.
Three dead financial planners from the same firm in less than two years: Peter Vendetti, Thomas Chan and now Gavin McLeod.
Krista jumped as a sudden gust of wind rattled her front bay window. She was on the eleventh floor and knew no one could get in from outside, but she still walked over to check the balcony door lock.
Once satisfied, she returned to her computer and searched for “DBC Financial Planners Dead.” This time the results were more to the point. An article from the Toronto Tribune popped up on page one:
July 17, 2015 — Edward Vickers, 30, an intern financial planner at the Toronto firm DBC Financial, died last night after jumping from a Toronto highway overpass. Friends said he had consumed a number of drugs, including marijuana and fentanyl and that he’d been suffering depression for months.
Make that four dead financial planners. Individually, there was nothing unusual about any of them. Financial planners got depressed, committed suicide and were killed just like any other segment of the population. But four in the same company in three years? What were the chances that they weren’t in some way connected?
When Krista was twelve, her grandmother had taken her to the Art Gallery of Ontario for her birthday. They had looked at Pointillist paintings. In one, by Georges Seurat, all you could see up close was a mass of seemingly unrelated dots of various colours. But once you stood back, an image appeared of a young girl in a blue dress holding a parasol. Distance was the key.
I wasn’t there for him when he needed me most, she thought sadly. But now maybe I can redeem myself. Maybe I can discover the truth about his death.
Krista glanced at her cell phone. It was 12:15 a.m. She had to be up in five hours for her eight-o’clock class. As she powered down her laptop, it occurred to her that all she had to do was get Haiyuan to stand back far enough so that he could see the image. It wouldn’t be easy. She felt he had suspicions about Gavin’s death but was restricted by his boss’s ruling of suicide. Hopefully this new information would change his mind.
* * *
In spite of the jumbo coffee sitting on her desk, Krista was fighting to stay awake in her Monday morning class. The first topic on the whiteboard was “Demand/Supply Concepts and Toronto’s Housing Market.”
“How many of you are planning on buying a house someday?” she asked her students.
Several hands shot up.
“Does anyone know the average price of a detached home in Toronto?”
Jenny, one of Krista’s best students, kept her hand raised. “Is it a million dollars, Miss?”
“Close. The average price of a detached home in Toronto is one and a half million dollars. The supply of detached homes is low because zoning laws make it difficult to build more. Demand has stayed high due to immigration, foreign speculation and low interest rates. All these factors have raised the market price of housing.”
* * *
That evening, Krista sat down at her computer at just past eight. Simon, her cat, approached her and nudged her leg with his head. She went to the kitchen to fill his dish with Kibbles. She’d planned to have coffee with Dara, but her friend had taken her kids to a movie.
With extra time available and most of her marking done, she turned on her laptop and returned to the article about the DBC Financial planner who had been found dead in his home after a suspected robbery. Krista went to Facebook and typed “Ellen Chan” into the search bar. A number of entries appeared, only one of which was located in Toronto.
It must be her, Krista thought. She sent a friend request with an accompanying message: “Hi, I’m an economics professor at a Toronto college. One of my former students, an employee at DBC Financial, was found dead last week. Could we talk?” She left her cell number.
Ten minutes later, Krista’s ringtone sounded. “Hello?”
“Hi, Krista. It’s Ellen Chan. I just got your message.”
“Hi, Ellen. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I’m investigating the death of my former student, Gavin McLeod. He was a financial planner with DBC.”
“I see,” Ellen said.
“Four financial planners from DBC have died since 2014, three from Toronto and one from Vancouver.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Three classified suicides and one mysterious death: your husband.”
“The police claimed Thomas’s death was a botched robbery. They didn’t have any description of the suspects. And yet they found his wallet beside him, in the front hallway. The hundred dollars he had was untouched. If it was made to look like a robbery, it failed. But as for the real motive...”
Krista wrote down notes. “Please forgive me for being too forward, Ellen, but what was your husband like the week before he died? Did you notice any change in his behaviour?”
“He wasn’t himself. He’d come home depressed and, when I asked him what was wrong, he’d say he was overwhelmed at work. I just thought they were overworking him. I suggested we go on a vacation to relax, but we never got the chance.”
“Did he give any other details about what was going on at work?” Krista asked.
“Just that he was being asked to do something he wasn’t comfortable with, something that could get him into a lot of trouble.”
Krista finished writing in her journal and put her pen down. “My former student had a similar experience to your husband.”
“Could you call me if you find out anything else?”
“Once I figure out what’s going on, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“Thanks again for your help, Ellen. Good night.”
Krista hung up and looked at the time on her cell phone. She made one more call before going to bed.
Copyright © 2017 by Morris J. Marshall