If looks could kill, p.12

If Looks Could Kill, page 12

 

If Looks Could Kill
 


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  I’m not sure what the architect had in mind when he designed the Bridgepoint complex. It sprawled over a couple of acres of river front, the predominant colours grey and red. The public market, vacant as the day it was built, resembled an unhappy marriage between a discount food mart and a New Age church. There was even a clock tower, starkly angular and completely superfluous, looking as though it had been added as an afterthought. We need a clock tower, the developer had said, and, lo, there was a clock tower. A separate building, looking as though it had been lifted bodily from the set of Miami Vice, lots of smoked glass and blue neon, housed a restaurant/bar and the offices of Bridgepoint Yacht Sales

  I locked up the Porsche and went into the sales office. Behind the counter, a florid-faced middle-aged woman in slacks and a sweatshirt that read “PMS: Putting up with Men’s Shit” was pecking something out on an old IBM Selectric typewriter. I asked her if Frank was around.

  “Frank?” she said. For a second I was afraid she was going to say, “Frank who?”, but she said, “Yeah, he’s around. Probably in the bar. You can go through that way.”

  I went through the door she’d indicated. It led to a narrow hallway at the end of which was a door labelled “BAR”. It opened into a dimly lit lounge that smelled of pine scented cleaner, frying bacon, fresh coffee, and stale cigarette smoke. A dozen or so customers, mostly boat people judging from their attire, drank coffee and stared wistfully out the windows at the rain. Two men in business suits sat at the bar. Do boat brokers wear suits? I wondered. One of them was drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. The other was talking to the bartender.

  A thin young woman in a pseudo French maid’s uniform sat at the end of the bar, smoking a cigarette and reading a fat Stephen King paperback. She had a mass of streaked and teased hair and small breasts mashed together in the middle of her chest by some kind of sado-masochistic lift-and-shape brassiere in a futile attempt to form cleavage. She had very good legs, though, which her short skirt showed off nicely indeed. When I asked her if Frank was around, she nodded toward the man talking to the bartender.

  Frank was about my age, but his arteries were probably ten years older. He was thirty pounds overweight and his clothes smelled of cigarettes. His suit needed pressing and I thought his hair might have been store-bought.

  “Best goddamned blowjob I ever had in my life,” he was saying to the bartender. “My ex-wife was okay, but this broad was fan-fucking-tastic. I kept hearing this weird whistling sound, then realized it was air being sucked in through my asshole.”

  The bartender laughed hollowly. I didn’t think it was very funny either.

  “Excuse me,” I said. “Frank?”

  He swivelled toward me. “That depends,” he said. “You buying or selling?” The bartender moved down the bar to where the waitress sat.

  “Neither,” I said.

  “You’re not buying and you’re not selling,” he said, lighting a cigarette with a disposable lighter. “What’re you doing?”

  “I’m looking for a friend,” I said.

  “Sorry, pally,” he said, blowing smoke. “Boats I got, friendship I can’t help you with.”

  “Her name is Carla Bergman,” I said.

  He looked at me for a long time, then said, “You a cop?”

  “No, just a friend.” I handed him a card.

  He read it, looked at me, and said, “You take pictures for skin mags or something?”

  “No.”

  “What makes you think I know her?”

  “She told me she used to work for a boat broker at this marina.”

  “I’m not the only one sells boats around here.”

  “Frank Something, she said. That you?”

  “Yeah, I guess that’s me. Frank Poole.” He tucked my card into his shirt pocket. “Okay, so she used to work for me,” he said. “That was a long time ago. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years.” He took a hard drag on his cigarette, shortening it by half an inch. “I’ll say this, pal, she was a truly world class piece of ass,” he said, smoke dribbling from his mouth. “If looks could kill, she’d be a mass murderer. But I can’t tell you the grief she caused me.”

  “What sort of grief?” I asked, trying hard to keep my voice neutral.

  “Coupla years ago she showed up outa the blue lookin’ for a place to crash. I said, sure, for old time’s sake, and let her stay on one of the boats. But three days later she was gone, along with fucking near everything on that boat that wasn’t nailed down, and some that was.”

  I was beginning to see a definite pattern. A blind man could have seen it.

  “Billy,” he called to the bartender. “Bring me a rye-and-ginger, would you?” He lit another cigarette from the butt of the first, which he then ground out in the ashtray. The bartender gave him his drink and he downed half of it in one shot.

  “How long did she work for you?” I asked.

  “About two years, on and off, whenever I had a boat to deliver or pick up.”

  “Why did she quit?”

  “She didn’t. I fired her.”

  “What for?”

  “I had my reasons. Look, what’s this all about, anyway? Let’s see some real ID. Anyone can have a fucking business card printed up.”

  I took out my wallet and showed him my driver’s licence.

  “All right, so you’re who you say you are, that doesn’t prove anything. You could still be a private cop or an insurance investigator.”

  “I could be,” I said, “but I’m not. I told you, I’m a friend. I’m just trying to find her?”

  “Tell you what, pally.” I didn’t have to be psychic to know what was coming. “Things have been kinda slow lately and I’m getting fucked by my ex-wife more now than when we were married. If you were to come up with, say, a hundred bucks, I might be more inclined to answer your questions. I’ll bet there are a few things I could tell you about Carla.”

  He’d put me in an interesting position. Was it worth a hundred dollars to find out what he could tell me about Carla? What if, despite his claim, he didn’t have anything worthwhile to tell me? I could hardly ask for my money back. Besides, my cash flow situation was lousy. I’d come this far, though, there didn’t seem to be any point in turning back now.

  “I don’t have that much cash on me,” I said. “Will you take a cheque?”

  “I don’t think so,” he said sarcastically. “How about this? You got a credit card. Pay off my bar tab.”

  “And how much is that?” I asked.

  “Hey, Billy. What do I owe you?”

  Billy opened the cash register and took out a small spiral-bound notebook. He flipped it open. “A hundred and sixty plus change.”

  I took out my MasterCard. “Put a hundred of it on this,” I said, hoping there was sufficient credit available.

  Billy took the card.

  “And I want a receipt,” Poole said to Billy.

  After I signed the credit card slip, Billy wrote our a receipt and handed it to Poole. “Ask away,” Poole said, tucking the receipt into his shirt pocket.

  “When did you meet her?”

  “I dunno. A while back. Six or seven years. She liked hanging around boats and the people who owned ’em.”

  “Was that in Mexico?”

  “Christ, she tell you I’ve got a ten inch dick too?”

  “No,” I said.

  “Yeah, I met her in Mexico. Acapulco. I was down there to pick up a boat and she was hanging out at the marina. My guy got drunk and broke his fucking leg and I needed help bringing the boat back. She needed transportation out of there, so we made a deal. Man, that was some trip. She knew all the tricks. Goddamned near had cardiac arrest a half a dozen times.”

  To say that I did not like Frank Poole is putting it too mildly. I do not like walnuts or situation comedies or junk mail. Frank Poole was a detestable cretin and was pushing all my buttons. Or maybe it was just that he was telling me things about Carla I didn’t want to know.

  “Afte
r we got back here,” he said, “she hung around for a while, crewin’ and screwin’.” He laughed at his attempt at poetry.

  “Why did you fire her?”

  “She’d become, y’know, unreliable. Never knew when she was going to be available for either.”

  “Do you know where she lived?”

  “No one particular place,” he said. “For a time she was shacked up with this guy who had an old Bradley custom sloop out of one of the marinas in Coal Harbour.”

  Coal Harbour was on the eastern flank of Stanley Park. It was home to a couple of public marinas, as well as the Vancouver Rowing Club, the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina, and the winter quarters of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.

  “Do you remember his name?”

  “No. He was an over-the-hill hippie type. Must’ve had money, though, otherwise Carla wouldn’t’ve been interested.”

  “Do you remember the name of the boat?” I asked.

  “The Dragon, I think it was. Yeah, something like that. Pretty thing. Sixty footer. But getting a little long in the tooth.”

  The telephone behind the bar warbled. Billy the barman listened for a second, hung up and said to Frank Poole, “Irma says you got a call in the office.”

  Poole stood up. “Gotta go.” He was taller than I expected him to be, well over six feet. He started to leave, turned back. “You think of any more questions, you know where to find me. Just don’t forget your plastic.”

  “Sure,” I said.

  On my way out, the waitress with the nice legs looked up from her book, smiled and said, “Have a nice day.” It was a warm, friendly smile and she sounded as though it genuinely mattered to her that I have a nice day.

  Chapter 18

  The rain had stopped by the time I drove back across the Oak Street Bridge and there was blue sky to the west. I spent the remainder of the afternoon at the studio, wrestling with the design for a brochure advertising our services. The only way we were ever going to be able to afford to borrow the $60,000 to $70,000 needed for a decent digital set up was to significantly increase our revenues. (If you want weekends off, work for someone else.) At four o’clock I concluded that I wasn’t going to be able to avoid spending the money to have a professional graphics person design the brochure. I packed it in and headed home. I’d walked half way to the Hornby Street ferry dock before I remembered the Porsche.

  When I got home there were two electric-blue Simpson Marine & Salvage vans parked by the embankment, taking up four parking spaces between them. The little purple pump sounded as though it wasn’t long for this world and the list had worsened. Two divers were doing mysterious things in the water under my house, god knows what, and the dock was cluttered with metal pipes and rubber hoses, wire-rope cables and shackles, and what looked like gigantic reinforced plastic garden bags. I assumed they were the flotation bags to which Bernard Simpson had referred. Their presence wasn’t reassuring.

  The message light on my answering machine was blinking furiously, indicating that there were four messages. The first was from Mary-Alice, reminding me about dinner. The second was from Ginny Gregory, wondering if I’d had any word from Carla. The third was from Mr. Oliphant, Sea Village’s self-appointed guardian of taste and decorum, complaining about Simpson’s trucks and the mess on the docks around my house. The last message was from Bobbi, informing me that the Stanley Park shoot was on for tomorrow morning, weather permitting.

  I opened a can of Kokanee beer, took it and the cordless phone up to the roof deck, flaked out in a deck chair and did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I thought about Linda, my ex-wife. I thought about her for all of ten seconds, then I must have dozed off, because the next thing I remember was being awakened by the warble of the telephone.

  It was Mary-Alice, wondering where the hell I was, it was almost six-thirty. I apologized and told her I’d be there in half an hour, then went into the bathroom to grab a quick shower. When I turned the water taps, nothing happened.

  On my way out I noticed the yellow Post-it note stuck to the mirror in the front hall. It read: “Had to disconnect the water. BS.”

  * * * * *

  Mary-Alice and her husband David Paul lived in the community of West Bay, on the north shore of English Bay, about six kilometres west of the Lions Gate Bridge. Their house clung precariously to the rocks above Marine Drive and seemed to be constructed mostly of glass so as to take best advantage of the view. As I parked the Porsche between a pair of steel cantilevers next to Mary-Alice’s little BMW 325i – Mary-Alice may have had poor taste in husbands, but I approved of her car – I wondered if there was a limit to the number of guests Mary-Alice and David could entertain at any one time; the cantilevers didn’t look that thick.

  David answered the door. He was tall and slim and very distinguished, with thick grey hair and a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. “Hello, Tom,” he said, offering a pale, long-fingered hand. “Glad you could make it. Come in.” He had a deep, wet voice that always made me want to clear my throat. “Mary-Alice is in the living room with Hilly,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll put the salmon on.”

  Hilly and Mary-Alice were sitting side-by-side on the huge curved sofa that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hotel lobby. In fact, I was certain there was one just like it in the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver. They were surrounded by shopping bags and fancy flat boxes and an almost palpable aura of satisfaction.

  In our society it’s not generally acceptable to have incestuous thoughts about one’s sister, so I don’t, but if there ever was a sister to have incestuous thoughts about, it would be Mary-Alice. They’d saved all the good genes for Mary-Alice, as my father was wont to say; I was just a trial run. The only thing average about Mary-Alice was her height. The rest of her was definitely superior, from her fine golden hair to her rounded calves and trim ankles. Of course, Mary-Alice worked at it. Hard.

  “Hello, Tom,” she said, standing and kissing me lightly on the cheek. “You look like shit.” Mary-Alice only looked as though she wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful.

  “Daddy,” Hilly said, “look at the neat stuff Mary-Alice bought me.” She stood up and held a pair of jeans in front of her hips. They looked like they’d been run through a paper shredder. “Aren’t they great?”

  “You bet,” I said. “Let me know the next time you go to the Salvation Army, though. I’ve got a couple of bags of old clothes I’ve been meaning to give them.”

  “Oh, Daddy.” She tossed the jeans aside and picked up a scrap of black fabric.

  “Why don’t you model them for your father,” Mary-Alice said.

  “Be right back,” Hilly said, grabbing her jeans and dashing upstairs before I could stop her.

  “I hope you didn’t spend too much,” I said to Mary-Alice.

  She shrugged. “Of course I spent too much. What’s the point otherwise?”

  At the risk of being accused of sexism, likely justifiably, I don’t understand the pleasure my sister and other women I’ve known derive from shopping. Most men I know hate shopping. I do. I don’t mind browsing through photographic supply stores or bookstores, but that’s different. And I know a guy who loves hardware stores, especially the power tools section. When he travels he visits hardware stores like other people visit museums or historical sites. But shopping as recreation is a mystery to me. There are undoubtedly women who dislike shopping, but I don’t know any, leastways none who admit it.

  “Do you want a drink?” Mary-Alice asked.

  “No, thanks.”

  Hilly came back downstairs dressed in her new jeans and a lacy black strapless brassiere-like garment.

  “Hilly,” I said. “Put a shirt on, for god’s sake. You can’t walk around in just a bra.”

  “Oh, daddy. It’s not a bra. It’s a bustier.” She pronounced it boost-yay.

  “It sure looks like a bra.”

  “Well, it’s not.”

  “I’m relieved,” I said. “It makes me feel a lot
better that you’re parading around in something that only looks like a bra. Don’t let me catch you wearing it outside of the house, though.”

  “Tom,” Mary-Alice said. “Aren’t you being a bit stuffy?”

  “You bloody damn well betcha I’m being stuffy,” I said. “If Linda ever found out I let her wear something like that in public, she’d think me to death all the way from Toronto.”

  “Mom lets me wear stuff like this,” Hilly said.

  “Fine,” I said. “Save it for when you’re at home.”

  Hilly turned and ran upstairs.

  “Way to go, Tom.”

  “At least I didn’t say anything about the make up,” I said. Hilly’s eyes had been made up, none too subtly, either, and there had been too much rouge on her cheeks. “Did you buy her that too?”

  “Tom,” Mary-Alice said. “Hilly told me she’s started her period. I know it probably frightens you, but it’s a big thing for a girl, you know. She’s turning into a young woman and there’s nothing you can do about it. You might as well learn to live with it.”

  “Easy for you to say,” I said. “The only thing you ever raised was a sweat.”

  “Just goes to show how much you know,” Mary-Alice said. “I don’t sweat.”

  David announced that the salmon was ready and we sat down to dinner. The meal was served by Doris, Mary-Alice’s tiny Filipino maid. Her name wasn’t really Doris, but Mary-Alice couldn’t pronounce her real name. After dinner Mary-Alice and Hilly went back into the living room, leaving me alone at the table with David. I refused brandy and a cigar, pouring myself another cup of very good coffee from a beaten silver thermos.

  “Mary-Alice hates it when I smoke these things in the house,” he said as he lit up.

  “Why do it then?” I said.

  “Women need something to complain about,” he said. “Otherwise they are not happy.”

  I couldn’t comprehend what Mary-Alice saw in the man. I’d once asked her and she’d told me stiffly that he was a kind and caring person who was very good to her. I could name half a dozen men who would be more than happy to be very good to Mary-Alice.

 
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