If Looks Could Kill, page 10
In the dim light of the string of ten-watt bulbs around the perimeter of the roof deck I became acutely conscious of the pale glow of her sun-bleached hair, the unfathomable depth of her eyes, the sculpted curves and angles of her cheekbones and slightly square jaw, the swell of her breasts beneath her shirt, the powerful length of thigh and calf. The breeze shifted momentarily and carried to me the salty musk of her. It hit me like pheromones must hit a male luna moth, taking my breath away and producing a rush of desire that was almost overwhelming in its intensity. Adrenaline raced through me like an electric current.
I took a deep, unsteady breath and looked at my watch: nine-twenty. Where the hell was Hilly?
Francine stood and said, “I guess I should go.”
I stood also, thankful for the poor lighting. “My daughter was supposed to be back from the arcade at nine.”
I walked Francine to her car, where she said, “See you around.”
I said, “You bet.” She smiled and drove off.
I walked to the arcade and went into the bright, noisy glitter. I found Hilly at one of the machines with a different group of kids. These looked older, fifteen or sixteen, although sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially with the girls, they try so hard to look older. Hilly half-heartedly apologized for losing track of the time and we walked home with Beatrix asleep inside her shirt.
After Hilly went to bed I sat on the roof deck, lights out, and thought about man’s (do not read “humankind”; I have a limited perspective on the needs and motives of the female of the species) need for companionship, sex, intimacy, not necessarily in that order.
Susan was good company, a solid and reliable friend, someone with whom you spend a quiet evening at home, take to a concert or a play, who makes you chicken soup when you have the flu and soothes your brow when life gets you down. In short, the mother substitute every man is supposed to secretly desire (a theory to which I’ve never subscribed).
What I had felt for the muscular Francine, on the other hand, had been lust, pure and simple, unadulterated by any honourable motives. Well, not much, anyway; I was, after all, a hopeless romantic. Francine was the kind of woman with whom one climbed mountains, rode the white water, sailed the blue oceans and explored the dark jungles. She was an equal partner, maybe slightly more than equal, who relieved the male of the species of the heavy responsibility of being the so-called stronger half.
Which brought me to Carla. Two and a half years ago, bushwhacked by the sheer heart-stopping beauty of her, unable – or unwilling – to see the danger, I’d fallen in love with her. Since my divorce from Linda, despite the show I’d put on for my friends and family so they would stay off my case and leave me alone, I’d been running on inertia, just going through the motions as the flywheel slowly spun down, waiting for the energy to be dissipated so I could stop and lie down. Life simply wasn’t worth the effort. Not that I ever considered doing anything about it. I simply wasn’t going to work very hard at living. Then I met Carla. Suddenly I felt really and truly alive for the first time since the break up of my marriage and it was wonderful. Life was wonderful. The world was a wonderful place to live. I must have been insufferable.
And then, as suddenly as she had come into my life, she was gone (along with my stereo, computer, et cetera). I crashed in flames. For a few weeks the aching emptiness was overwhelming, the pain seeming worse by an order of magnitude than what I’d felt after my divorce. However, one morning not long afterward I woke up, looked around and realized, with some amazement, that I was still alive and, remarkably, it didn’t hurt any more. It was that simple. Of course, the world didn’t look quite the same as it had. At first I thought it was the world that was different, but I soon realized that the difference was in me, that I’d changed. It was as though my internal camera was now properly focused. Maybe I’d grown up. A little, at least. But I knew that I was definitely not the same person I’d been before Carla. And I’d learned something crucial. That I was in control. Over some aspects of my life at least. Me. No one else.
And for that I was indebted to Carla. For that I still loved her. In a way. But I wasn’t bewitched by her now. I knew she was trouble. I’d stuck my finger into the bright blue flame and I knew it was hot. I wasn’t fireproof, not by a long shot. Was the debt I owed her reason enough to risk getting burned again? A damned good question for which I had no reasonable answer. Nor even an unreasonable one. Notwithstanding the lack of answers, reasonable or otherwise, it was probable, however, that I would continue to look for her, even though I hadn’t a clue what to do next.
But I had other things to think about, and not just my incredible sinking house or my plummeting bottom line. A few minutes earlier I’d found a tampon applicator in the upstairs bathroom wastebasket. At first I thought it might have been Francine’s, but she’d used the downstairs bathroom. It had to be Hilly’s. Wonderful. Great. Just what I needed. It was little consolation that at least she evidently knew how to use one.
I woke at seven-thirty on Friday morning and went out to check on the pump. I found it still thrumming away, discharging a steady stream of scummy water into the harbour. It had stopped stopping, which meant that the leak had worsened and that the house was taking water faster than the little purple pump could suck it out. I knelt on the dock and looked at the side of the hull to see if the crud line was still visible. It was, but just.
“Everything okay?” Daniel called down from his roof garden.
“Oh, yes, fine,” I said, standing, looking up at him. “I’ll just paint the fucking thing yellow and rename it the Titanic.”
“You’re mixing metaphors again,” Daniel said.
“Simpson Marine & Salvage,” I said. “You’re sure they’re still in business? I called yesterday morning, but haven’t heard from them yet.”
“As far as I know they’re still, ahem, above water.”
I fixed Hilly pancakes for breakfast, breaking out the last of my genuine Quebec maple syrup. I thought it would be a nice treat for her, but coming from the East she was blasé about such luxuries. When she finished she carried her dishes to the dishwasher, then said, “Do you think Beatrix will be okay if I leave her home today? We’re going to Science World.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”
The phone rang and Hilly picked it up. “Hello?” She listened for a moment, then said, “It’s for you.”
It was Wally Hoag, my insurance agent. “Hang on a sec, Wally,” I said. “This won’t take long,” I said to Hilly. “Then I’ll walk you to the community centre.”
“I can find my own way,” she said.
I kissed her good bye, saw her out the door, then went back to the phone. After I explained the situation to Wally, he told me I didn’t have anything to worry about, he was certain the policy covered me against sinking, but he’d get back to me later in the day with the details. I’d no sooner hung up when the phone rang again.
“Thomas McCall?” a gruff voice said.
“Yes. I’m Thomas McCall. Who’s this?”
“Bernard Simpson.” Said as though it was supposed to mean something to me.
“I’m afraid – Did you say Simpson? Of Simpson Marine & Salvage?”
“That’s me. Sorry ’bout takin’ so long t’ get back t’ ya, but the machine’s bin actin’ up.”
“The answerin’ machine. Since the wife passed away I haven’t had anyone t’answer the phone. My son gave me this machine, but lately the consarned thing ain’t bin recording properly or somethin’. I git only parts of messages. I was finally able to make out yer name, but hadda look you up in the book. Lucky there ain’t too many T. McCalls. Yer house is sinkin’, you say? Live in one o’ them floatin’ houses on Granville Island, do ya? I kin be there ’round eleven. That okay with you?”
I pressed the switch hook then dialled the studio number and left a message with the answering service that I’d be late. Pouring myself another cup of coffee, I got out the Yellow Pages and looked up tennis clubs. It was a long shot – Carla may have been a guest when MacIlroy met her at the tennis club – but it was the only lead I had. There were a dozen private clubs listed, as many public. I figured I could ignore the latter for now; MacIlroy would probably belong to a private club. I focused on the clubs in West Vancouver, reasoning that he would choose a club close to home. That narrowed the list down to three. I started with the West Vancouver Tennis Club.
I took a couple of deep breaths and dialled.
“Pro shop, please….Hello. My name is Dennis O’Toole of Law Today magazine. Are you familiar with our publication? You’re not? Understandable, I suppose. Our readers are almost all legal professionals. The reason I’m calling is that we’re doing a profile of a prominent local attorney named Brian MacIlroy for our October issue and we understand he’s a very good tennis player. He once considered turning pro – Pardon me? You don’t know him? He’s not a member there? I see. Well, our research department screwed up again. Sorry to bother you.”
I hung up. Strike one. I dialled the number of the Hollyburn Tennis Club, but he wasn’t a member there either. Perhaps it wasn’t yet time to consider a career change.
The last number on the short list was the Capilano Canyon Tennis Club.
“Yeah, hi,” I said after asking for the pro shop. “I’m Dennis O’Toole of Law Today magazine. We’re doing a profile of prominent local attorney Brian MacIlroy for our October issue and we understand he’s a very good tennis player. He once considered turning pro – Excuse me? Oh, he’s not that good? Middlin’ fair for a recreational player? I see. I guess we won’t include it in the profile, then. Sorry to trouble you. Thanks.”
I hung up.
“Well,” I said to Beatrix, who was wrestling with an old rolled up sock, “that was easier than I expected.”
The telephone rang. I jumped, startling Beatrix, who scampered under the sofa.
“Tom, we need to talk.” It was Mary-Alice.
“We do? What about?”
“Mother thinks Dad is having an affair.”
“You heard me. Dad is having an affair.”
“You said, and I quote, ‘Mother thinks Dad is having an affair.’ What makes you certain he is?”
“What are you going on about? Of course I’m not certain.”
“All right, what makes Mom think Dad is having an affair?”
“I don’t know,” Mary-Alice said. “When she called last night she was crying, so it was a little hard to make out what she was saying, but she told me she’s sure Dad is having an affair.”
“With whom?” I asked.
“Your next door neighbour.”
“What? That’s absurd. She thinks Dad’s having an affair with Daniel?”
“Not Daniel, goddamnit. Some woman he met last weekend.”
“Maggie Urquhart? Don’t be silly, Mary-Alice. They spoke for all of three minutes.” Despite what I’d told Daniel about my father’s reaction to Maggie Urquhart, I did not for one minute believe there was anything to my mother’s suspicions.
“Thomas,” Mary-Alice said in her sternest, schoolmarm voice. “Do you want to talk about this or don’t you?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t.”
“They’re our parents. Doesn’t it matter to you that they might be getting a divorce?”
“Mary-Alice, just because Mom thinks Dad is having an affair doesn’t mean they’re going to get a divorce. Even if Dad is having an affair, which I seriously doubt, that doesn’t necessarily automatically lead to divorce either.” At least not right away, I added to myself. “Hey, M-A. Relax, all right?”
“Easy for you to say,” Mary-Alice said. “She doesn’t call you up every other day and go on and on about Dad and how much she gave up for him.”
“Better you than me,” I said. “Look, they’re going through a rough time. You’ll just have to endure.”
“Right, sure. Endure. Thanks heaps.”
“I’m fine, by the way, thanks for asking.”
“What? Oh, sorry. How are you? Hilly arrived safely, I guess. How is she?”
“She’s fine too.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing her. Why don’t you bring her to dinner tomorrow? And Susan, of course.”
“Ah, well, I guess Hilly and I could make it. But Susan and I are – we broke up.”
“Oh, Tom. I really thought you and Susan – I’m sorry.”
We chatted for a few more minutes, then Mary-Alice said, “Look, why don’t I take Hilly shopping on Saturday? Do you think she’d like that?”
“She’s female, isn’t she?”
“I’ll ignore that,” Mary-Alice said. “I’ll pick her up at ten. Then we’ll have dinner here. Say around six. David will barbecue some salmon. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds great,” I said.
* * * * *
At ten forty-five I was outside on the dock watching the little purple pump. It was working very hard, valiantly but vainly trying to keep the hydrosphere where it belonged, rattling and rasping and sounding as though it was about to suffer an infarction of some kind. Perhaps I should call Gwen the Purple Tool lady and get a bigger one, I thought. Just then a bright electric-blue step van pulled up to the boardwalk on the embankment. The driver’s side door slid open and Frodo Baggins stepped out.
“You McCall?” he called down to me.
It wasn’t Frodo Baggins, of course. It was Bernard Simpson, of Simpson Marine & Salvage.
* * * * *
After I’d explained the problem to Mr. Simpson and he’d assured me that I needn’t worry, I was in good hands, I got out the Porsche. Twenty minutes later, I turned the Porsche onto Taylor Way in the Municipality of West Vancouver and began the winding climb up Cypress Mountain toward the Capilano Canyon Tennis Club.
According to the CAA street map, the Capilano Canyon Tennis Club wasn’t far from the Capilano Golf and Country Club, smack in the middle of the residential area known as the British Properties, perhaps some of the most expensive and exclusive real estate in the country, despite the fact that most of it is damned near vertical. I had worried that I might find it hard to talk my way in, but I just gave the uniformed flunky at the gate my name and address then drove through and parked in the visitor’s parking lot. Driving a classic Porsche probably didn’t do my credibility any harm. And I’d dressed for the occasion in a sport jacket, shirt and tie, and pressed tan Dockers in lieu of jeans.
I asked directions to the pro shop from a middle-aged woman wearing a tennis skirt that went almost to her knees. I’d given what I’d say some thought during the drive out here, finally arriving at the conclusion that a more or less straightforward approach was best. Despite my success on the telephone, I didn’t have much faith in my abilities as an actor or confidence man. I’d also decided to stick with the winning formula. The pro shop staff was likely to be less suspicious of inquiries into the social lives of the club’s prominent members than the front office.
In the pro shop I asked a well-tanned pre-cancerous chap who looked like Troy Donahue gone to seed if the club pro was available. He told me that the pro was on vacation, but that the assistant pro was around. “She’s on the courts right now, though, giving a lesson. Nancy Petersen, with an ‘e.’”
There were a dozen courts and all were in use. Two-thirds of the players were women but most of them were either too old, too young, too fat or simply not good enough to be a professional. I finally narrowed the choices down to two: a lean and angular woman in her mid to late thirties who served with savage intensity, face contorting and grunting explosively as she blew ace after ace by her hopelessly outclassed opponent; and a compact brunette about thirty w
I asked a distinguished grey-haired gentleman in white slacks and a blue blazer with the club crest emblazoned on the breast pocket (looking more like he belonged at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club) which of them was Nancy Petersen.
He said, “Neither one. That’s her over there.” He pointed toward a court on which a somewhat severe-looking woman with a dark flying pony tail exchanged slow volleys with a gnarly old woman with pink hair that clashed with her forest green sun visor and pale blue tennis outfit. Finding a table from which I could watch Nancy Petersen and her septuagenarian opponent, I waved to a white-jacketed waiter and asked if it was possible to get a drink without being a member.
“Certainly, sir. We have a cash bar.”
I ordered a club soda with a twist of lime. It set me back five bucks, not including tip.
The pro and the old lady rallied back and forth for a while longer, then knocked it off. As I stood up to intercept Nancy Petersen on her way to the clubhouse, the woman with the spring steel legs called out to her.
“Nance, how ‘bout it?”
Nancy Petersen said, “Sure, Liz,” and they went at it.
Looking at them, I would have placed my money on Liz of the Spring Steel Legs, but Petersen blew her off the court. Not that she had an easy time of it. Liz was inhumanly fast and her smashes damned near caused a sonic boom. However, Petersen played with a greater economy of style and more focus, forcing her opponent to chase the ball and giving her little opportunity to use her smash. After Liz lost the sixth straight game, she flipped her racket end over end into the air and cried, “Uncle! Uncle!”
They shook hands and as they left the court I heard Nancy Petersen say, “You shouldn’t give up so easily, Liz.” Both women looked at me warily as I approached.
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