If Looks Could Kill, page 1
“If looks could kill, she’d be a mass murder.”
When Vancouver photographer Tom McCall’s former lover walks back into his life, he knows trouble can’t be far behind. She’s stolen from him in the past, taking much more than his heart. Now she needs his help. Can McCall resist? No. But when she disappears a few days later, McCall is left facing far worse danger than he’d ever imagined. He’s not the only one she has ripped off. Others are out to get her and they’re sure McCall knows where she is.
“Michael Blair’s If Looks Could Kill is, by turns, as darkly evocative as film noir, and as breezy as a spring day on Granville Island. There are many pleasures here: a witty hero obsessed with a woman as dangerous as she is lovely, a white knuckle mystery, and a lively cast of West Coast characters.” – Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn mystery series.
Praise for Michael Blair’s
If Looks Could Kill
“An auspicious debut.” – Globe & Mail
“Fast-paced and witty, If Looks Could Kill is an outstanding first novel.”
– The Telegraph Journal
“Completely entertaining.” – Edmonton Journal
“A fast, sprightly, well-written puzzle with a lively cast of characters.”
– London Free Press
“A real roller coaster ride of a mystery, full of hard-boiled snappy patter and generously laced with humour.” – New Brunswick Reader
Also by Michael Blair
A Hard Winter Rain
Depth of Field
If Looks Could Kill
A Granville Island Mystery
This is a work of fiction. Many of the locations in this book are real, although not necessarily as portrayed. All characters and events, however, are entirely fictional and any resemblance to real people and incidents is purely coincidental.
Published by Michael Blair at Smashwords
Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2012 by Michael Blair.
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Original cloth edition published in 2001
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.,
The Canadian Publishers
Table of Contents
Also by Michael Blair
About Michael Blair
Saturday afternoon around the middle of June, Harvey and I were in the Vancouver airport domestic arrivals concourse, waiting for Hilly’s flight from Toronto to unload and amusing ourselves watching the bright summertime bustle. Harvey sat beside me, resting on his elbows and leaning heavily against my leg, his big rectangular head swivelling slowly back and forth. I shoved him with my knee. “Sit up straight,” I said. “And quit drooling on the terrazzo.” He grinned stupidly up at me. Even on his elbows, the top of his head reached almost to my waist.
Harvey was a hundred kilograms of Harlequin Great Dane that belonged to Maggie Urquhart, one of my neighbours. Because Maggie didn’t drive I had agreed to pick Harvey up from the vet on my way to the airport. I had brought him into the terminal with me because when I tried leaving him in the car he had raised such a ruckus I was afraid he’d rip off a door and bust out. I didn’t know if dogs were allowed in the airport, but so far no one from airport security had tried to throw us out.
Harvey’s weight against my leg slowly increased until I had to brace myself to prevent him from falling over. I shoved him with my knee again. He straightened up with an indignant grunt. A woman standing nearby glared at me and moved warily away.
My arms were suddenly full of twelve year-old girl.
“Hey, scout.” I kissed the top of her head. Her reddish-blond hair smelled of sweet apples and recycled air. I held her at arm’s length. She seemed a foot taller than when I’d last seen her at Christmas, all elbows and knees and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She’d also had her nose pierced and wore a tiny silver ring through her left nostril. I thought she was still a bit young for that sort of thing — hell, I knew she was a bit young for that sort of thing – but I kept my comments to myself. It wasn’t easy, though.
“You’ve grown,” I said.
“You’ve shrunk,” she said.
“That must be it,” I said. “All this damp west coast weather.”
I noticed a tall, stern-faced woman waiting impatiently for the reunion to end. She was wearing a flight attendant’s uniform and holding a large carry-on. I looked at Hilly. She smiled innocently.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My name is Eunice Hackett,” the woman said. “Senior flight attendant. Are you this young lady’s father?”
“Yes, I am.” We didn’t shake hands. “Is something wrong?”
As if noticing him for the first time, Hilly exclaimed, “Oh, he’s darling!” and knelt beside Harvey. She petted his huge head. If he’d been a cat, he’d have purred.
It was a transparent ruse and brought a scowl to Ms. Hackett’s face. The expression did not look good on her. She held out the carry-on. I took it.
Disconcertingly, it writhed, as if alive.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said as I set it carefully on the floor and started to open the zipper.
“Be careful,” Ms. Hackett warned. “It may be vicious.”
“Oh, she is not!” Hilly said in a disgusted voice. “Let me. You’ll only scare her.”
Hilly unzipped the bag and a small black and tan and elegantly-whiskered wedge-shaped face thrust out, pink nose twitching, black button eyes curious and intelligent. The rest of the creature followed, flowing into Hilly’s arms, eighteen sinuous inches of silky fur.
“It’s a weasel,” Ms. Hackett said.
“Beatrix is not a weasel,” Hilly said emphatically. “She’s a ferret.”
“Whatever it is,” Ms.. Hackett said, “it terrorized your daughter’s seat mate. Fortunately, it didn’t bite anyone.”
“Beatrix only got upset because you tried to take her away from me,” Hilly said. “She doesn’t like being handled by strangers.”
Realizing he was no longer the centre of attention, Harvey woofed loudly. Ms. Hacket
“Shush, Harvey,” I said. “Is Hilly under arrest or something?” I asked Ms. Hackett. “Or do you want me to buy Beatrix a ticket?”
Ms. Hackett was not amused. “I don’t make the rules. Animals are supposed to travel in the cargo hold, not first class.“
“First class? I take back the offer to buy a ticket.”
“Sir,” Ms. Hacket said. “You don’t seem to be taking this very seriously.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I disapprove of her actions, of course. Smuggling her pet onto the aircraft was irresponsible and dangerous, although likely more dangerous to Beatrix than to the other passengers. But what would you have me do, Ms. Hackett? What would you suggest as an appropriate punishment?”
“They’d never have caught us except Beatrix couldn’t keep quiet. I don’t think she likes flying.”
“Hillary, pipe down.”
“I suppose grounding her till she’s sixteen would be too much to expect,” Ms. Hackett said hopefully, almost wistfully.
“A little extreme, perhaps,” I said, revising my opinion of her. Maybe she did have a sense of humour after all. “And not very practical, under the circumstances; my ex-wife has custody. I was thinking more along the lines of a couple of weeks of hard labour.”
“That would be acceptable,” Ms. Hackett agreed solemnly. Then she smiled. It looked good on her. “By the way,” she added, “did you know that, ah, Beatrix is trained as an aid to the hearing impaired?”
“No, I didn’t.” I looked sternly at Hilly. She had worn hearing aids since she was four, tiny devices that fit into her ear canals and were almost – but not quite – invisible. “A hearing ear ferret?”
“She is, you know,” Hilly said. “At home she wakes me up when I sleep without my hearing aids. Well, most of the time,” she amended.
I turned back to Ms. Hackett. “Make that two weeks hard labour and bread and water.”
Hilly snorted, a not-very lady-like sound. “Big deal,” she said. “You’re a lousy cook anyway.” She turned to Ms. Hacket. “The last time I visited he tried to poison me, I’m sure of it, but my mother wouldn’t believe me. I begged her not to send me this summer, but she wouldn’t listen. Do you know he’s wanted by the police in three states and at least one province? I’m adopted. I must be. What else could explain it?”
“I warned the doctors not to leave your test tube next to the microwave.”
“Thank you for flying Air Canada,” Ms. Hacket said. “Perhaps you could take the train home.”
“You flew first class?” I said to Hilly after Ms. Hacket made good her escape.
“Well, I hope she bought you a return ticket.”
“Cheapskate. Don’t worry, I’ve got it right here.” She patted the side of her carry on.
“Do you have any more luggage?”
“Do bears – ”
“Don’t say it!”
“You say it all the time.”
“Don’t do as I do…”
“…do as I say. I know. Hypocrite.”
We found the appropriate carousel and watched as luggage of every shape and size tumbled down the conveyor. We hadn’t waited long when a huge black suitcase plummeted down the conveyor and smashed a soft-sided suit bag against the rim of the carousel. A beefy man in a rumpled business suit jumped back in alarm.
“That’s mine,” Hilly said.
I apologized to the man as I manhandled the massive suitcase off the carousel. “Good grief,” I said. “Did you bring everything you own?”
“Mom packed for me.”
“It’s got wheels,” I said. “Where’s the engine?” Hilly did something and a handle popped out of one end. “Good thing I have a trailer hitch on my car.”
As I grasped the handle and started towing the suitcase toward the exit, I caught sight of a dark-haired woman standing at the next carousel and my heart seemed to implode in my chest.
There was a roaring in my ears and I couldn’t catch my breath, as if all the oxygen had suddenly gone out of the air. I wanted to run away, but I no longer had control of my legs. I just stood there, gulping air like a stranded fish and silently beseeching the bush league gods in charge of this corner of the universe to be merciful. Maybe it wasn’t her, I thought. Maybe it was simply someone who looked like her, a resemblance heightened by a trick of the lighting.
But it was her.
I moved toward her on rubbery knees.
“Vince, this is stupid,” I heard her say to the man with her at the carousel. “Where is Sam? He should be doing this, not you. You’ll only hurt your back again.”
“How the fuck should I know where he is?” the man answered. “And watch who you call stupid.” He was dark and hawk-featured, as squat and ugly as she was lithe and beautiful.
“I wasn’t calling you stupid, Vince,” she said. “What I said was – ”
“Yeah, yeah, never mind,” he said, waving away her reply.
Two years hadn’t changed her much. Her face was a bit fuller, rounder perhaps, and her black hair was worn more simply now, more elegantly. But her wide-set, slightly almond-shaped eyes were the same deep indigo blue I remembered and her ivory skin still seemed to glow with an inner luminescence. I could feel cracks starting to form in the fragile emotional shell I’d grown since she’d left.
“Carla?” I said, my voice dry and brittle.
She stiffened at the sound of her name, turned and looked at me, her flawless features composed and her indigo eyes as hard as glass. She stared at me for so long I became irrationally certain she could not place me, didn’t remember me. Then her expression thawed slightly and she bared her teeth in a smile.
“Why, Tommy McCall,” she said brightly. “What a pleasant surprise. How long have you been standing there?” When she stepped close and kissed me on the cheek, I almost backed away. “Be cool, Tommy,” she whispered close my ear as she not quite touched her lips to my other cheek. “Don’t weird out on me.”
“Vince,” she said, turning to her companion. “This is Tommy McCall. Tommy, Vince Ryan.”
Ryan stuck his hand out toward me. “McCall,” he said.
“Vince,” I said.
His hand was square and strong and he shook hands as though it was a test of strength. I gave back as good as I got, which brought a slight smile to his face.
Vince Ryan wasn’t really ugly, but no one would ever call him handsome. His square face looked as though it had been put together from parts no one else had wanted: small deep-set black eyes under heavy, overhanging brows; a great hooked beak of a nose that had been broken more than once; thin, bloodless lips; and a wide powerful jaw that bulged with muscle.
When he finally released my hand, I turned back to Carla. I had imagined this encounter many times in the months after she’d left, played and replayed what I would say to her in my mind, but all I could think to say now was, “You’re looking well.”
“I am well, thank you,” she replied. “And you? Are you prospering?”
“Prospering?” I said. It wasn’t the kind of word I expected from her. “I’m not sure I’d say prospering exactly.”
“It’s been, what, two years?”
“About that,” I said. It had been two years and four months, but who was counting? I became conscious of Hilly standing slightly behind me. “You remember my daughter, don’t you?” I said.
“Is this Hilly?” Carla said, surprising me by remembering Hilly’s name. “No, it can’t be. How are you, Hilly?”
“I’m okay,” Hilly said.
“You’re almost all grown up now.”
“I’m only twelve,” Hilly said.
Vince Ryan said, “Hiya, kiddo,” but at least he didn’t pat her on the head. Good thing. Hilly might have bitten him. “Hey, nice rat,” he said as Beatrix poked her head o
We all stood around in awkward silence. There were a million things I wanted to say to Carla, a million questions I wanted to ask, but my mind was a chaotic jumble of half-formed thoughts and feelings.
“What have you been up to?” I asked lamely. “Did you ever do any modelling?”
Carla shook her head and Vince Ryan laughed. It was a harsh, humourless sound, half bark, half cough. He placed his blunt, powerful hands on her shoulders, his thick fingers making deep impressions in the filmy fabric of her blouse, pressing into the soft flesh beneath. I bit back the urge to tell him to take his hands off her.
“Carla works for me,” he said. “She’s my gal Friday. Not to mention all the other days of the week,” he added with a broad wink. “What do you do, McCall?” he asked.
“Do?” I said, as if I didn’t understand. I find the question annoying, on a par with “What sign are you?” or “What was your taxable income last year?”
“Yeah, do,” Ryan said, his heavy brows descending in a scowl so that his eyes were mere dark slits.
“Tommy’s a photographer,” Carla said.
“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “Sometimes I forget.”
“A photographer, eh? All those gizmos the Nips are putting in cameras these days, almost anyone can take pictures.”
“Yes, indeed,” I said. “Almost anyone.” Had he really said “Nips”?
“Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting you all,” Ryan said, smiling with all the sincerity of a politician hustling votes in a suburban shopping mall, “but we’re going to have to cut it short. We’re on our way up to Whistler. If my bloody driver ever gets here,” he added, looking around.
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