Victim Impact, page 1
Text © 2008 by Mel Bradshaw
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an imprint of Napoleon & Company
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
12 11 10 09 08 5 4 3 2 1
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Bradshaw, Mel, 1947-
Victim impact / Mel Bradshaw.
For my friends
Oh, membranza sì cara e fatal!
Oh, memory so fatal and so dear!
(libretto of Nabucco, opera by Giuseppe Verdi)
As late as mid-afternoon, Ted Boudreau thought he had plenty of time. He lingered over waxing and polishing the painted surfaces of his second-hand Yamaha. He replaced the spark plugs. Then he found he had a burned-out headlamp and had to go back to the shop. He still would have been in good time if he hadn’t, at the last moment, had to remove and patch a tire. On the first motorcycle-riding day of the 1998 season, he was to attend a recital at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
This disorganization was not like Ted, but then neither was it like him to be looking forward to an evening of Beethoven cello sonatas. Bill Nikolic’s son Dan was playing the piano accompaniment, and Bill had heard from Dan that the cellist was pretty. Ted had been in town nine years, as graduate student and lecturer at the University of Toronto, and had dated intermittently over that time. Currently, though, he was between girlfriends—as his colleague Bill Nikolic well knew.
Once the wheel was back on the bike, Ted had to shower and dress. His parents owned a dry cleaners in Montreal, in which Ted and his siblings had all at one time worked. None had escaped with an indifferent attitude to clothes. What, Ted wondered, would a cellist playing at the Royal Conservatory be wearing? He thought back to pictures of the Queen in floral print dresses with matching jackets and feathered hats. That called at the very least for grey flannels and a blue blazer. It was only March, however, and he was riding a motorcycle, so Ted settled on dress chinos, a turtleneck sweater and a ski jacket.
The recital was well begun by the time he arrived, and he was asked to wait outside the auditorium till intermission. All the printed programs had by this time been handed out. Ted prowled the Conservatory halls pretending to look at the hanging photos of past directors.
When the doors opened, Ted spotted Bill by the piano in conversation with a young man still seated at the keyboard and a breathtaking red-haired being from another planet. Pretty didn’t begin to cover it. Why, Ted wondered, was everyone in the room not staring at her? It couldn’t be that the first half of the recital had already given them their fill. Maybe they were just too polite to deny her a break from non-stop admiration. He tried to rise to the occasion and go meet her. She was wearing a full, floor-length black skirt and a sleeveless, high-collared gold lamé top that fastened somehow in the back and made the most of her trim figure.
Introductions were made. Introductions were repeated. Ted took in nothing the first time, so busy was he apologizing for being late. To get over his nervousness, he half-seriously remarked that Beethoven was his favourite classical composer after ABBA. Unfortunately, ABBA was the serious half.
Karin looked him over with cool green eyes.
“Which Beethoven do you particularly like?” Dan asked.
“Oh, everything. The lullaby, The Barber of Seville . . .”
Bill came to the rescue by taking some photos with his digital camera. Dan and Karin made an attractive pair. To avoid feeling extra, Ted offered to snap the other three. They put Bill in the middle, his head rising above the musicians’ like a snow-capped mountain peak, and Karin laced her arm through his. Ted liked the way these pictures turned out when he checked them on the screen.
Lights in the auditorium and corridors were flicked on and off a few times to signal that the recital was resuming. The room was high-ceilinged but narrow and intimate, with rows of wooden chairs in place of fixed plush seats. Bill had saved Ted a chair and lent him his program. Sonata No. 3 in A Major, it seemed, was to be the featured work of the second half.
For Ted’s taste, it got off to a slow start. The long first movement was marked Allegro, ma non tanto. He guessed he’d have liked tanto better, though every so often there were passages of higher energy, interludes he began to look forward to. At the same time, the sound of Karin’s cello—an instrument he’d never paid any attention to—was stealing into his gut and setting up home there. Not doing much yet, just announcing its presence.
The second movement, Scherzo (Allegro molto), was more like it. Red hair was starting to fly around the soloist’s face. Ted thought he had a handle on Beethoven now. Wasn’t Beethoven the one that always gave you a storm if you waited long enough? Now the interludes were the slow bits, and here the rumbling strings could really churn you up before the tune raced off again in all directions.
In the end, though, the most memorable thing about this movement was not that in these five minutes Ted became a cello fan. It was, rather, that some ass three rows in front of Ted set off a camera flash in Karin’s face. Her attention was diverted momentarily. Her eyes narrowed. Soundlessly, she mouthed a word, which Ted from where he sat was sure was “prick”. At the sudden light and his partner’s movement, Dan looked up from the keyboard. Neither musician what you’d call allegro—molto or otherwise. It could have been a disaster. True performers that they were, however, neither one missed a beat. Ted squirmed nonetheless. He would have considered the interruption adequately dealt with if only Karin had been staring down the shutterbug when she said what she said. But, dazzled and distracted as she’d been, Ted was sure she hadn’t found the right face in the crowd, and the offender had not suffered the sting of her disdain. The man didn’t take any more flash photos of Dan and Karin, but that was more likely because he had what he wanted than because he had any consciousness of what he’d done.
The sonata’s third movement again featured alternating tempi, but for Ted the music passed in a blur. At the recital’s end, he borrowed Bill’s camera and armed the electronic flash while threading his way between slower audience members to the door. Once there, he turned. It was perfect. The shutterbug was struggling into his overcoat. He was a big man in a tight suit, and tall. He grimaced as he pulled the tight Burberry over his broad shoulders. The camera caught an unflattering expression.
He lumbered forward, still not entirely into his coat. “What did you take my picture for?” he demanded.
“For the Conservatory,” said Ted. “They’re compiling a gallery of boors. You know, so they’ll know who not to admit to future recitals.”
He considered snapping off one more shot of the hot, angry face at close range, but the point after all had been made.
“Bite me,” bleated the man, attracting scowls from the departing music-lovers.
He looked ready to push Ted down, but Ted slid out of the way and back to Bill, Dan and Karin. When he showed them the photo, K
She sat and drew her honey-coloured instrument between the the folds of her full, black skirt. Then she tossed off a few bars of “Chiquitita”.
Ted felt he’d been blown a kiss.
When Karin told her violist friend Nancy that she had met a guy, they were strolling to The Coffee Mill after a lecture at the Conservatory. Nancy Malik née Gallo—a clear-skinned Rubenesque goddess, peerless authority on men, and recent bride—naturally wanted to know what he was like.
“Kind of short,” Karin answered. “Well, my height, actually. Short for a man.”
“Yeah.” Karin dragged the word out and gave Nancy a “well, duh” look. Would she be telling her about Ted if he weren’t cute?
“So? What’s he like?”
“Okay.” Karin’s hands started moving, as if she were conducting a group of Ted’s features, bringing each one in when required. “Nice hair—wavy, brown. Slightly cleft chin, not too much. Great smile—reserved, but warm. I mean, his eyes are this mysterious taupe colour, but they really look at you. Rides a motorcycle, without all the leather. Quiet dresser, well-pressed. Nice flat gut.”
Karin touched the tips of her middle finger and thumb to make a zero. “A potential listener.”
“I can’t be hearing this.” Nancy raised her arms and eyes to the heavens. “Funny?” she ventured.
“He has a mischievous side.”
“Dare I ask his age?”
“Uh-oh. Older or younger?”
“Nance! Would I waste my time with teenagers? He’s a prof or assistant prof of criminology, so I figure with that and the way he looks, he has to be around thirty. That’s only six years’ difference. Hey, you know that book I was reading on Chinese astrology for westerners? I’d say he fits the Tiger profile much better than I do, even if the calendar says he’s a mild-mannered Sheep.”
“A quiet dresser in orange and black? That would be a stretch, even over a flat gut.” Nancy’s hoots of laughter turned heads on both sides of Bloor Street. She enjoyed razzing Karin, but was happy for her as well. Her new husband was an academic also, so she couldn’t take too hard a line in that area. “Criminologist, eh? What’s his specialty?”
“He tells me he has a number of irons in the fire.”
“Huh, man of mystery. As you say.”
Ted looked at the chalkboard a little longer than usual on his way to the table the hostess had picked out for him. Most weeks he just had to confirm that the Friday night special of barbecued Atlantic salmon with snow peas had not changed, but today was Thursday, and an unfamiliar dish was posted. Toulouse bean casserole.
He had the server explain that to him—navy beans, pork rinds, leg of goose, a few carrots, garlic sausage—before Karin arrived. The printed menu was the same as always, but there seemed to be a new wine list, with even fewer whites by the glass. And most of those Chardonnays. Quirk wouldn’t be pleased about that.
The first time he’d heard it, at the Beethoven recital, he had thought her name was K-a-r-e-n, but when he’d written down her phone number, she’d taken the pen from his hand, darkened in the loop of the e, and added a dot over top to make it an i. “It’s a quirky spelling,” she said with a grimace of embarrassment he hadn’t seen on her face in the eight years since. She later told him she had been irrationally afraid he wouldn’t like her.
The server asked Ted if he’d like a drink. He thanked her, no. He always said no, because one glass was all he ever managed in an evening, and he preferred to wait for Karin before starting in on it.
While waiting, he enjoyed the familiar surroundings. Aside from the fact that there were fewer diners at seven on a weekday, the view from the usual table was as usual. The bistro had a steeply pitched cathedral ceiling, from which bright floral-patterned banners hung. Posters of lavender fields in Provence punctuated the yellowy, rough-plastered walls, and each table sported a vase containing a fresh white carnation. The scene was set, Ted reflected; bring on the star!
Then he saw her. Karin was standing at the lectern where they kept the reservation book, talking to the hostess. His sense of anticipation quickened. He watched the woman he loved toss her head of red-gold hair, saw her smile blossom into a laugh, watched her long, lean body sway a little as she shared the joke with the hostess. Ted liked her friendliness, believed—with arrogance he readily forgave himself—that happy people like Karin and him ought to spread their joy. He waved at her, but she didn’t see. She had turned to speak to one of the servers. Fine, fine. Now she could come laugh with him. He didn’t want to lose another moment. While she was turned, Ted admired her from a distance. Quirk, he thought, not for the first time, has a sweet butt.
He realized his lips had been moving. Lately he had caught himself saying this mantra aloud, and he looked around to see if anyone was within earshot. No, his reputation for sanity was intact.
Here she came, in a yellow sundress showing a lot of cleavage and shiny red sandals. Ted sprang to his feet to kiss her. Her lips were warm, the skin around them moist with perspiration. He was glad they had nothing planned for after dinner—except that he’d have to spend a half hour reviewing his notes for tomorrow’s panel discussion.
“Did you hear?” said Karin. “Giovanna’s come top of her year in Commerce.”
“Was that the girl you were just talking to?”
“No, Ted, that was Fairuza. Giovanna’s the one that serves this table.”
He wondered how she kept them straight. The servers didn’t even wear name tags. They were identified on the checks, of course, in print and sometimes in a signed handwritten thank-you accompanied by a smiley face. Perhaps Quirk went through his wallet when he was asleep.
He passed her the diminished wine list without comment and braced for a change in her mood. About some things—housework, for instance—she could be bohemian enough, letting matters slide then pouring effort into a mammoth, occasional cleanup. She was invariably flexible and downright classy about sudden developments in Ted’s life. His volunteering to fill in for a colleague at the conference over the long weekend, for instance, and the consequent change in their weekly dinner at the Bouquet Bistro. But there were spheres to which her tolerance did not extend. She had a passion for precision in string playing, for punctuality at lessons and rehearsals. And, a recipe for frustration this, for consistency and continuity in her urban environment. There would be no point in Ted’s saying the proprietors might have found that most Bistro patrons liked oaky Chardonnay. Public taste shouldn’t be pandered to, she had shot back at him in similar circumstances; it should be educated. Didn’t Ted believe the same thing, after all, in the matter of capital punishment? At this point, Ted would likely say something conciliatory. He wasn’t the champion of market forces so much as of economy of emotional effort. The writing, teaching, and administration work of an academic career kept him as occupied as he wanted to be with external issues. A compact circle of family and friends soaked up another block of his energy. The bulk of his passion, all that remained, was reserved for Quirk.
“We could order a whole bottle tonight,” he offered. “There’s a Chablis they don’t do by the glass.”
“Only if you had a really rough day and can drink it all yourself. I’ll have Perrier.”
Giovanna—a short, solid girl with shiny black corkscrew ringlets—was back hovering over their table. “Are you guys ready to order, or would you like another couple of minutes?”
In the bustle of congratulating the server on her marks and getting the drinks ordered, the significance of what Quirk had said hadn’t quite sunk in. Then Karin and Ted enjoyed a private chuckle over the possible adverse effect of bean casserole on the evening’s erotic potential and decided on steak frites all round. It was only when Giovanna returned with the green Perrier bottle and Ted’s usual glass of Beaujolais that suspicio
“I was wondering how long it would take you,” she teased.
“ ‘Take us’, you mean.” Three years of the in vitro song and dance, he reflected, and the four years before that trying everything but.
“To figure it out, silly.”
“Good thing intelligence comes from the mother.”
“This mum says it would be smart to keep it quiet for a while. It’s only two weeks—if you can imagine knowing so early. Lots can still go wrong.”
She must have seen from the way Ted was looking around the Bistro that he was dying to tell all the Giovannas and Fairuzas. But her words settled him. He stared at her wondrous, lightly freckled face. “Yippee,” he whispered.
“So, did you book our flight to St. Vincent today?”
Damn. For over a week now, Ted had been promising to make arrangements for their Boxing Day to New Year’s getaway. Today, the conference had distracted him, but he really had no excuse.
“Yep,” he said. “All set.”
“You did not, you goof. You forgot.”
“Not at all.”
“Show me the tickets then,” Karin playfully demanded.
“They’re paperless tickets. I booked over the Internet.”
“Pants on fire! You’ve never bought so much as a CD over the Internet.”
“I’ll get them tomorrow.”
“I’m not swallowing that one either, Ted. You and I will go together to the travel agent on Tuesday. You know, if anyone ever actually believed any of your lies, I’d haunt your dreams.” She must have noticed that that made him smile, for she added, “And not in a nice way.”
By the time they started home, Ted had already made up his mind to go downtown early the next morning and do his conference preparation then. A ten minutes’ walk brought them from the Bistro to the house, their second in this west Mississauga neighbourhood. It was bigger than their first, a vote of confidence in their future family, and was situated on a street that wound quietly to a dead end. It had more rooms than they needed, than they had needed up till now. The master bedroom seemed almost too big for two. They had joked about having a duty to leave clothes strewn around the floor so the place wouldn’t look so empty. Ted found himself wondering where they’d put the crib. There was room on either side of the queen-size bed.
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