The Language of Secrets – Ausma Zehanat Khan #blogtour

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I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour today for The Language of Secrets written by Ausma Zehanat Khan and published by No Exit Press. Many thanks to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour.

Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada’s Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he’s surprised when INSET, Canada’s national security team, calls him in on another politically sensitive issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year’s Day but their undercover informant, Mohsin Dar, has been murdered. Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he can’t let this murder slide, so he sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the unsuspecting mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin’s murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.

Ausma Zehanat Khan is a British-born Canadian living in the United States, whose own parents are heirs to a complex story of migration to and from three different continents. A former adjunct professor at American and Canadian universities, she holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law, with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as the main subject of her dissertation. Previously the Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl Magazine, Ausma Zehanat Khan has moved frequently, traveled extensively, and written compulsively. The Unquiet Dead is her first mystery novel featuring Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty. A follow-up is in the works.

BLOG CONTENT – The Language of Secrets, Chapter 3:
Rachel Getty was gripped by a glorious sense of freedom. She was in the basement of her parents’ house in Etobicoke, Ontario, on the west side of the Greater Toronto Area, or the GTA. Her dark brown hair was cinched high in a ponytail at the top of her head.
She squinted with furious concentration over the task of tending to her black leather hockey skates. She was a throwback in that way. The newer composite materials allowed for less moisture inside the boot, and less cracking, but Rachel’s skate boots fit her like a sleek second skin. They knew which way she would pivot on the ice even before she did, and were steadfast and sturdy around the ankles, much like Rachel herself.
She was sharpening the blades of her skates with a manual sharpener, taking a quiet pride in the task. The diamond-coated tusk smoothed out the rough spot on the skate with the bad edge, an imperfection fittingly labeled a trauma, and one that had cost her a goal in the previous night’s game. A broad grin crossed Rachel’s face, making her brown eyes spark with glints of gold. A missed opportunity here and there didn’t matter. She’d still been selected as a forward for the all-star game that would take place just after New Year’s.
And that was her Christmas present right there. She ran her fingers over both toe caps for one last check. Everything looked good, felt right. She wrapped the skates in a purple terrycloth towel – a superstitious practice that carried over from her first days in house league.
Keep your skates dry. Always protect the blades.
Advice that had served Rachel Getty well throughout her hockey career. That and the lessons in bluster and forechecking that Don Getty, her equally blusterous father, had taught her. Good lessons at the right time, when Don Getty was sober, but it didn’t mean she would miss him now. She probably wouldn’t miss him at all. Her boxes were packed and neatly labeled; the U-Haul van she had rented was parked on the curb outside her father’s house. Her skates were the last thing on her list. Perhaps because they were the first things in her heart.
Twenty-eight years in Don Getty’s house and now Sergeant Rachel Getty was striking out on her own. She trudged upstairs, cradling her skates as tenderly as a newborn. Don Getty was out at the pub, sparing her the necessity of a final goodbye. Rachel’s mother waited dry-eyed on the porch, bundled into a white down jacket that had seen better days. The color made Lillian’s pale skin seem ever paler, her lipstick the faintest remark on her lips. Lillian kneaded her unprotected hands together as Rachel loaded her skates into the van.
‘You should go inside, Mum. It’s too cold to be out here without a scarf and gloves.’
Lillian Getty shrugged, the thin cloud of her hair bobbing with the movement.
Everything about her mother was inconclusive, Rachel thought. Like an unfinished painting where the painter had daubed the outline in a hurry, forgetting to furnish the details. Blurry and smudged. Just as life had smudged out Lillian Getty. Rachel felt the customary pang of sorrow for her mother, but this time it was unaccompanied by that pervasive feeling of guilt.
There had been years of guilt, long slow months of worry and anguish, a constant state of turbulent existence for Rachel, who had floated along on the sea of her mother’s emotions without once thinking to fight the tide.
Rachel slammed the door of the U-Haul.
Those days were in the past. She had found her peace, found her way forward, despite the difficulties facing her team at work, including her boss, Esa Khattak, a man she had come to value and respect. Even the tension at work didn’t diminish the sunlight that felt as if it were flooding from Rachel’s veins to her heart. She had just bought her first home, a brand-new condominium off Bloor West Village, not close enough to the popular neighborhood to be out of her financial grasp, though its maintenance fees were considerable. Rachel had been saving her money since her first day in the police force. The promotion to Community Policing had included a sizable salary bump. And without her younger brother Zachary in her life for so many years, she’d had nothing to spend her money on. Moving day had been a long time coming.
The condo was small, but it was finished with discriminating taste and a decided eye for luxury. To Rachel, who had spent every winter of her life in cold and colder places, surrounded by dreariness, the new condominium was a breath of perpetual springtime. Nothing could dim her spirits today.
Her packing finished, she came to stand before her mother, forcing herself to meet Lillian Getty’s eyes.
‘You’ll be okay, Mum. You won’t even notice that I’m gone.’
Which was a kinder way of saying Lillian wouldn’t miss her at all.
Unlike Zach, who’d been mourned from the first moment to the last.
Or so Rachel had thought, unaware of the secret Lillian had kept until Rachel had discovered it for herself.
She touched a tentative hand to Lillian’s down-clad shoulder.
A touch without contact, either given or received.
‘Can I do anything for you before I go?’
She was eager to leave, afraid that Lillian would ask her to stay.
In the last few weeks, Rachel had put her anxiety over her decision to move out to good use. Repainting and weatherproofing the front porch, the stairs. Organizing and dropping off years of hoarded materials to various local charities: old clothes, old books, bits and pieces of broken-down furniture. She had replaced the ceiling mounts in the house with contemporary light fixtures, insulated the windows against the coming winter, and resealed her parents’ cracked driveway.
It was Rachel’s way of absolving herself for the unspoken sin of moving on with her life. For being excited about her job. For having made friends and allegiances that gave her a sense of worth. And for having found her brother.
Lillian answered her daughter after a lengthy silence, as if she had been picking over the words to use, wanting to set each one in the right place, like the shells of small creatures gathered on family trips to the lake, lined up with care on the sill of the kitchen window. Shells Rachel had left untouched during her exhaustive purge of her parents’ house, along with Lillian’s records and magazines. And the gramophone with the missing needle.
‘You’ve done more than enough, Rachel.’ She dragged the words out, her hands fastened together in a grip that left her knuckles white. It wasn’t the reproof Rachel took it for at first, because Lillian went on to add, ‘More than I thought you would do. More than either of us could expect.’
Lillian took a deep breath, and Rachel sensed that her mother had chosen this final moment of interaction with her daughter to bring up that terrible betrayal – the secret of Zachary’s whereabouts. Rachel didn’t want to hear it. Not now, at this moment of unlooked-for happiness.
‘You have a right to expect things of me, Mum,’ she said quietly. ‘Because I will come back. I will come back to see you.’ Lillian Getty nodded, letting Rachel prise her stiff hands apart and smooth them out. The winter chill bit at them both, the sound of the streetcar at the corner an intrusion into the moment.
‘Think about coming to the all-star game,’ Rachel offered. ‘I might make MVP this year.’
Lillian dropped her eyes. Rachel knew her mother wouldn’t come. She hadn’t come in years. But Lillian surprised her. She reached out and brushed her lips against Rachel’s cheek, her thin lips dry and cold.
‘Look for me there,’ she said. ‘Be happy, Rachel.’
Rachel hugged her once, quickly. As she turned to go, she said gruffly over her shoulder, ‘The gramophone, Mum. In case you wanted to use it, I replaced the needle.’

If you would like to follow The Language of Secrets Blog Tour, you can do so at the following dates:
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