About the Author

Nick Wilkshire

Nick Wilkshire is a lawyer originally from St. John's, Newfoundland. He is a graduate of Memorial University and Osgoode Hall Law School. Thin Ice is his third novel and the first featuring Ottawa detective Jack Smith. It reflects Nick's combined interest in crime fiction and the game of hockey. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Books by this Author
A Foreign Affairs Mystery 3-Book Bundle

A Foreign Affairs Mystery 3-Book Bundle

Escape to Havana / The Moscow Code / Remember Tokyo
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Escape to Havana

Escape to Havana

A Foreign Affairs Mystery
also available: eBook Audiobook
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Prologue - December, 2014

If Charlie Hillier had known what the evening held in store, he might have done things differently. He wasn't one for melodrama, but he could have made a hell of a speech, flown into a rage, or maybe even broken something. Even a different outfit, which wouldn't have changed anything, would at least have allowed him to say he had done something to mark the end of his former life.
     As it was, he had barely given a thought to his usual uniform of a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie when he dressed that morning. The tie was more burgundy than red, with dots small enough not to offend his conservative nature. The charcoal V-neck had been a last minute flourish, regrettable now that he was standing in the drawing room of the Swedish ambassador’s residence, simmering in the collective warmth of more than a hundred guests. They stood eating and drinking in clusters, all sheltered from a late December wind that whipped the snow against the frosted panes of the Rockcliffe mansion that had been decorated with just enough red, green, and gold to reflect the season without looking like a holiday store window. The competing scents of gingerbread and mulled wine added to the festive atmosphere, as did the spirited chatter that rose above the soft chamber music playing in the background.
     Charlie stood at the edge of a knot of guests, half listening to the bow-tied man at its centre, but more concerned with the time as he checked his watch again and loosened his tie. He and his wife had been there for hours already, despite his hope for an early exit, which Charlie had been sure to mention several times on the short drive over from Foreign Affairs headquarters on Sussex Drive. She had seemed agreeable enough, and even mentioned feeling fatigued after a long day at the office. But Charlie had been to enough of these functions with her over the years to know better. Whereas he was content to put in an uncomfortable hour or two of face time and call it a night, Sharon LeClair-Hillier was a born networker. There was always one more peer to share the latest gossip with or an interesting new acquaintance to make from the up-and-coming set, and Charlie always seemed to find himself standing in an open doorway at the end of these occasions, like a department store security guard waiting for the last straggling shopper to leave at the end of a day-long sale.
     But tonight wasn’t Sharon's fault. They had been well on their way to the front door twice, only to be derailed by one encounter after another. First, it was the Swedish trade attaché that they had first met a week before, at the British High Commissioner’s reception. Charlie couldn't resist internally assigning him the moniker of 'Swedish Meatball' at the time, and nothing in tonight’s encounter had changed his initial impression of Lars Whatshisface. The attaché was young and freshly posted, but surely the Swedish government’s outgoing briefing should have given him a better grasp of Canada’s economic fundamentals. He could perhaps be forgiven for not knowing about Canada’s wealth of medical isotopes, but softwood lumber? As for Lars’s claim of being a former Olympic biathlete, Charlie interpreted it as a transparent plea for attention, and an attempt to compensate for some shortcoming; possibly intellectual, possibly farther south. Poor Lars’s actual experience, Charlie had thought, looking up at the young Swede as he boasted to Sharon, was probably limited to waxing skis for the real athletes.
     They had barely extricated themselves from the tiresome Lars when Charlie had found himself face to face with his former director, and, as the two men paused to talk shop, Sharon had slipped off and attached herself to the Swedish ambassador’s entourage. The last time Charlie saw her, she was in conversation with the Swedish number two, which meant she had a shot at the host himself and wasn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. That was almost an hour ago.
     Charlie dabbed at his forehead with a paper napkin and finished the glass of wine in his hand. He had lost count after four, and the cumulative effect of the warmth, wine and hors d’oeuvres was contributing to a fatigue that was becoming oppressive. He wasn’t sure how much alcohol Sharon had consumed but, judging by her bubbly demeanour, he knew they would be leaving her Volvo overnight. At least they had nothing on tomorrow morning, he thought, glancing out at the fat flakes of snow falling outside the living room window. They would sleep late; maybe have a little early-morning romp to work off the hangover and put some steam on their frost-rimmed bedroom window, before the short ride over from New Edinburgh in his Honda. On the way back, they might stop off at that new brunch place Sharon had been talking about. It was a recipe for the perfect, lazy Saturday morning and as he stood there, he could almost taste the eggs Benedict.
     A distant crash of glassware brought Charlie out of his reverie and, as he loosened his tie another inch, he tried to focus on the nearby conversation. The distinguished-looking man at its center was an architect, describing the various challenges he had faced in updating the structure of the heritage house in which they all now stood. Charlie was about to head off in search of his wife when he heard the man mention the secret passageways that had been uncovered when they started the refurbishment. Sensing the wave of skepticism among the huddled group, the architect gave an enthusiastic wave.
     “I’ll show you, if you don’t believe me.”
     He set off with his audience, an intrigued Charlie included, trailing behind him and led them out into the foyer and down the main hallway, following the curve of the staircase toward the rear of the house. He paused at a little alcove just to the right of the entrance to the kitchen, as his followers assembled in a pack around him and he placed his hand on a segment of wall paneling at the back of the alcove. With a theatrical flourish, he pressed on the wall and pulled his hand free to allow a door-sized segment of paneling to pop open as he turned to his audience.“Through here.”
     The architect paused at the widened eyes of the gathered crowd, and sensed the vacuum created by their collective intake of breath – puzzling since he had yet to reveal the door to the passageway that lay at the rear of the closet. He turned to follow the stares and saw two half-naked figures, frozen in horror and entwined at the waist, standing side-on in the little closet. Lars’s big paws were buried in the flesh of the woman’s buttocks, his pants around his ankles. Her blouse and skirt had converged in a rumpled tangle around her midsection, and most of one breast, including a partially erect nipple, protruded over the top of a lacy bra. The minimalist, lace-trimmed triangle forming the other half of the set was dangling from her left foot, and if Charlie had any trouble recognizing her – there was an unfamiliar glow in her cheek - there was no mistaking the lingerie he had bought for her on their brief trip to Manhattan just a few weeks before.
     Spotting her husband standing at the back of the gawking crowd, Sharon LeClair-Hillier’s guilty expression faded and her eyes narrowed as she addressed him in the tone she reserved for those rare occasions when he left the toilet seat up, or forgot to put out the garbage.
     “Will you close the goddamned door!?”

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Remember Tokyo

Remember Tokyo

A Foreign Affairs Mystery
also available: Paperback
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Chapter 1

Charlie Hillier followed the broad earthen path down its gentle slope, marvelling at the oasis of calm in the heart of a city of twelve million souls. The bustle of people, trains, and traffic that he had left behind just minutes before seemed to belong to another world as he glanced up to the canopy of old-growth trees sheltering the path from the midmorning sun. Whether heightened by the lingering effects of jet lag or not, an almost spiritual sensation gripped him as he followed the path onto a wooden footbridge over a babbling stream.

A few minutes later he was approaching a massive archway that led to the Meiji Shrine beyond, a Shinto temple built in honour of the beloved emperor. Passing through the first gate, he noticed a procession of some kind making its way from the main temple beyond. As he got closer, Charlie realized that it was a wedding party, its participants clad in traditional dress as they made their way to one of the side buildings. He paused with the rest of the crowd gathered in respectful silence to watch as the procession crossed the main courtyard. The bride and groom went first, sheltered from the sunshine that flooded the open space by an ornate umbrella and looking resplendent in their traditional wedding attire. While neither smiled overtly as they made their way past, Charlie envied the serene joy evident in their faces. The whole scene unfolded in orderly peace, and the reverent crowd waited until the wedding party had reached the other side of the courtyard before anyone dared to move or utter so much as a whisper. This was Japan, after all.

Continuing on toward the main temple, Charlie passed stalls selling little strips of paper and good luck charms to place on racks outside the temple. Reaching them, he paused to look at some of the handwritten scrawls in a multitude of languages, recognizing the French word for peace and a number of equally altruistic notions in English, as well as wishes for happiness and love. Not particularly superstitious, he nonetheless briefly considered making a wish before moving on to the temple instead, where some sort of official ceremony was going on inside. He watched it for a while, then toured the rest of the complex of buildings before checking his watch and slowly making his way back toward the main arch, or torii, and the path beyond.

Twenty minutes later, he had left the tranquility of the shrine to rejoin the throngs outside Meiji-jingumae Station. Spotting a familiar coffee sign, he stopped in for a cappuccino and took a seat by the window. Sipping the delicious coffee, he looked out the window at the passing crowds and resisted the temptation to rub his eyes. He had been in Tokyo for almost a week — in many ways it seemed much longer — but he was still waking up at five in the morning, his body clock not yet adjusted to the thirteen-hour time difference from Ottawa. Tomorrow would be better, he told himself. He was to start work at the Canadian embassy, and he was intent on getting himself into a routine as soon as possible. The move into his staff quarters would help with that, he was sure. The hotel where they had placed him temporarily was very nice, and not far from the embassy, but after six days of wandering its cavernous hallways at all hours of the day and night, he was finding himself a bit adrift in its enormity and keen to feather a nest of his own in the city he would call home for the next three to four years.

Charlie was just as keen to start work again, though he was a bit nervous about his looming first day, and wondered how his integration would go, it being months after the usual posting season. But he had already briefly met the ambassador the day after he had flown in, and he had felt somewhat reassured. Charlie’s old friend and mentor, Winston Gardiner, had nothing but good things to say about Philip Westwood, not that Charlie could afford to be picky. A few weeks ago, he had been weighing his options for the future in case the Department decided to find a way to let him go. At the very least, his future had seemed bleak, as was any hope of his being posted abroad again, ever. He couldn’t really blame his masters for wanting him gone, or at least safely tucked away in an Ottawa cubicle preparing reports that no one would ever read — not after the mess he had left behind in Moscow. And while he wished things had turned out differently in many ways, he had no regrets whatsoever about getting to the bottom of Steve Collins’s death. Charlie had been whisked out of Moscow in the middle of the night and, after a short debriefing in London, sent back to Ottawa to await further instructions. Days had turned to weeks, then months before he had been assigned to a desk at headquarters — a position that was an obviously temporary measure while they figured out what to do with him.

Then something unexpected happened. It began with a call from Steve Collins’s sister, Sophie Durant, to let him know about an upcoming story in the Globe and Mail on her brother’s death in Moscow. Reading the article, it was clear Durant had embellished the best parts of Charlie’s involvement in the case, and either completely omitted or given a favourable account of the worst. The next call he got was from communications, who wanted to remind him not to speak directly to the media about the Moscow affair, or anything else to do with his work. He didn’t, but the article had taken on a life of its own, and its flattering portrayal, not only of Charlie himself but of the whole department, seemed particularly welcome in the wake of a series of front page stories on consular cases that had ended badly in recent months.

In fact, Charlie had suddenly become something of a poster boy. Before the reporter making inquiries around Foreign Affairs discovered that the shining star of consular services had been relegated to toiling at entry-level work in the bowels of the Lester B. Pearson Building, Charlie’s months-old and dormant request for a posting had been hastily dusted off and revived. Before long, he found himself on a plane — not to one of the three locations he had put in his posting request, but to Tokyo. The fact that it was about as far as they could possibly send him wasn’t lost on Charlie, nor that it was a big enough mission that he could be absorbed without so much as a ripple on the surface. Whatever the reasons, he was grateful for another chance, and eager to show his employer that Charlie Hillier was capable of completing a full posting without causing an international incident. He had every intention of doing just that. Besides, didn’t they say the third time’s the charm?

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The Moscow Code


What am I doing here?
That was the predominant question in Charlie Hillier’s mind as he sat alone in the beating heart of a city of twelve million people. Roused from his introspection by the arrival of a server, he smiled as she deposited an elegant cup and saucer on the little patio table and the delicious aroma of fresh coffee filled his nose. It was late September and the days of eating outdoors would soon be gone, but no one seemed to notice on this glorious Saturday afternoon, when the unfiltered sun was still strong enough to ward off the chill of autumn.
All the restaurants and shops along the Arbat were bustling, and Charlie was well-placed to take in the passing crowd during a well-deserved respite from an afternoon spent touring the Kremlin. He had visited the armoury and a museum, then taken a guided tour of the grounds before ending up at the beautifully restored GUM shopping mall on the other side of Red Square. Formerly a state department store selling workers’ necessities, it now housed the most exclusive shops in Moscow, the windows of which Charlie could only peruse long enough for reality to kick in, and the prospect of spending two months’ salary on a coat had him moving on.
Sipping the rich coffee, he watched as a svelte amazon in stilettos glided by, marvelling at her ability to navigate the cobblestones on four-inch heels as though padding barefoot over the softest berber. He turned at the sound of laughter from a nearby table, where two women sat smoking over empty cups — no one around him seemed to be eating much of anything, which explained why everyone seemed so tall and thin. The women could both be fashion models, but so could half the people out on the Arbat. If there was one thing Charlie had realized after a few weeks in Moscow, it was that beautiful women were as ubiquitous here as their cellphones and cigarettes.
As he breathed in the potent mixture of Marlboros, perfume, and coffee, all tinged with the hint of gasoline that permeated everything in central Moscow, Charlie fought the instinct to reach into his pocket for a Cohiba, a holdover from the past two years, which he had spent in Havana. He had a sudden longing for the smell of the ocean, too — warm, pungent, and ever-present as it had been on that quirky little island. But that was the past. Moscow was home now.
His transition to his new posting had been pretty smooth. Since arriving in mid-August, he had quickly settled into his apartment near the Moscow River and found a shortcut that reduced his walking commute to the Canadian Embassy on Starokonyushenny from twenty to fifteen minutes. It was just as well that he had sold his car to a colleague before coming to Moscow, from what he had seen of the traffic here. As for the subway, he had taken it in the evening a few times, but the constant streams emerging from every Metro station along his daily route were enough to convince him to avoid it during rush hour; he had heard that eight million Muscovites rode it every day, and he could believe it. The embassy itself was located in a quiet street in the diplomatic quarter, and though the staff seemed to like the location, the former aristocratic residence was not well suited to a modern office layout, nor big enough to accommodate the ever-increasing complement of Canada-based personnel coming to Moscow each year.
Still, though his office was cramped and musty, and the wall plaster was a web of fissures, there was a certain character to the old building that Charlie found endearing. Unfortunately he seemed to be alone in that opinion, if the number of complaints on file was any indication, and it wasn’t even winter yet. He supposed that was when the reality of his first Russian winter would sink in to remind him that Moscow was a hardship posting, though for different reasons. For now, as he sat sipping his espresso and watching the endless parade of statuesque blondes on the defile of the Arbat in the bright fall sunshine, Charlie wasn’t feeling too hard done by.
Glancing at his watch, he directed his thoughts to the night ahead. It had been a few days since he’d received the email from an old high school buddy who was in town on business and suggesting a get-together. It had sounded like a good idea at first, but Charlie found himself questioning the wisdom of agreeing to the outing now that it was imminent. It had been more than twenty years since he had last seen Shawn Mercer, and it wasn’t as though they had been best friends, even back then. On the other hand, he had no other plans. And how often was he going to bump into a fellow Newfoundlander in Moscow?
From the brief email exchange, it sounded like Mercer was an executive of some sort with a Calgary-based oil company, married with kids. It seemed at odds with Charlie’s recollection of Mercer the party animal, but he supposed that people change. It occurred to him that he would have to gloss over, if not completely avoid, the topic of his own failed experiment in marriage, a thought that brought a frown to his face. But just as a gloom had begun to descend on him, it was dispersed by a cloud of Chanel that preceded a stunning brunette in a canary-yellow minidress and matching platform sandals. As she sauntered by Charlie’s table, she cast a fleeting smile that he could have sworn was directed at him. Hope springs eternal.
Picking up his newspaper, Charlie glanced at the image of a familiar face under the caption “The Duma’s Mr. Clean.” Even as a newcomer to Moscow, Charlie had heard plenty about Pavel Zhukov, the popular former Federal Security Service agent–turned-politician, and his highly public campaign to clean up politics in the Russian legislature. One look at the crooked grin, though, and Charlie had to wonder if the guy was legit. But that was the Russian contradiction, and not just in politics — the shadier you were, the more you were revered, at least from what Charlie had seen so far. His last-minute cross-posting, direct from Havana to Moscow — do not pass go, do not stop in Ottawa — meant that the usual pre-posting briefings and cultural and language training hadn’t begun until his arrival, and he was only now starting to get a sense of the city and how things worked here. Fortunately it had been a quiet summer at the embassy, and the new ambassador wouldn’t arrive until Monday. Charlie didn’t know much about her, other than the fact that she had been in communications and was a close friend of the Foreign Affairs deputy minister, which he figured could be good or bad. He would try his best to make a good first impression and hope that what he had learned on his last posting would take care of the rest.
Considering that he had been destined for a boring headquarters position in consular policy, Charlie felt lucky to be posted anywhere at all. There was a general shortage of qualified consular personnel, but the sudden illness of the previous candidate for the Moscow job had been a lucky break. Being a much bigger operation, here there would be half a dozen people doing the work that Charlie and his Havana colleague, Drew Landon, had shared in Cuba. He wasn’t entirely sure what area he would be asked to focus on, but Charlie was hoping for less administrative work and more consular. For now, he was content to try to fill in the considerable gaps in his knowledge of the mysterious and sprawling old city he would call home for the next two years or more. As for his former home, though there was little in Ottawa for him anymore, he had been buoyed to discover just a week ago that he would be returning in mid-October for a conference. Fall was his favourite time of year, and he hoped he wouldn’t be too late for the colours of Gatineau Park.
Abandoning his half-hearted perusal of the newspaper, Charlie stretched and stifled a yawn, drained after the long walk around the Kremlin. Looking at his watch, he decided he had plenty of time to head back to his apartment for a quick nap before meeting Mercer at seven. He felt a creeping unease as he weaved his way back toward the river, but wrote it off as fatigue and the gathering of clouds in the near distance. By the time he reached the now-familiar Obydensky Lane, the sun was gone, swallowed whole by an immense cloud dark enough to portend turbulent weather ahead.

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