If Looks Could Kill, page 18
“Nice tattoos,” I said as I got up to turn the volume down.
Their faces fell and they looked at each other.
“How did you know they weren’t real,” Hilly asked.
“They’re not real?” I said.
“Of course they’re not real.”
“That’s too bad,” I said. “I was really looking forward to the reactions of your respective mothers to real tattoos.”
“Oh, Daddy, you were not.” They exchanged looks again. “Were you?”
“No,” I said. “I wasn’t.”
“They wash off in a couple of days,” Courtney said.
“You hope,” I said.
* * * * *
“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” Francine said. Hilly was downstairs, watching a video, and Francine and I were sitting on my roof deck, eating a late supper and watching the sun go down over the dark silhouette of Granville Bridge. “Something on your mind?”
The little voice in my head gibbered, Tell her about last night. I stuffed a mental rag in its stupid mouth.
While I looked forward with considerable anticipation to seeing Francine, and enjoyed her company, I felt a certain apprehension about the suddenness of what was happening between us. I wondered if I wasn’t getting myself into something I might regret. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to do anything that would end it before it was even on the runway. Naturally, I didn’t say any of this.
I said, “No, not really.”
She wasn’t fooled, of course. “Look, I’m not going to throw a conniption if you tell me you think you’ve made a mistake. I’m a big girl.”
“A word my grandmother used to use.”
I reached over and placed my hand on hers. I ran my fingertips up her arm to her bare shoulder, her cheek. Her skin was warm and silky. Despite her physical strength and her self-confident manner, I sensed a certain vulnerability to her. “I haven’t made a mistake,” I said.
She turned her head and kissed the palm of my hand. “Glad to hear it,” she said.
“When I told you that you scared the heck out of me,” I said, “I meant your, well, physical development. I don’t suppose I’m the first man to tell you that it can be somewhat intimidating.”
“No, you’re not,” she said quietly.
“What did you mean when you said we were even because I scared you too?”
“I guess I meant that I’m afraid you’re the kind of man I could fall in love with.”
“Would that be so bad?” I said, feeling the adrenaline begin to rush through my veins.
“I’ve been in love,” she said, as if she was telling me she’d had food poisoning. “Someone always gets hurt.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” I said.
“So far, for me, it’s always been like that,” she said. After a pause, she added, “Look, you told me you like things simple. All right, let’s keep it simple. I like you, McCall. You make me feel good. I can relax around you, be myself. And I think you like me. So what’s the point in making it more complicated than that? It’s okay that you don’t love me, don’t feel like you’re obligated or anything. Besides, I’ll be moving on before long anyway.”
“Maybe if you didn’t leave,” I said, “if you hung around a while, things might be different.”
“Are you asking me to stay?”
“I would like you to stick around at least long enough to get to know you,” I said.
“I’m not leaving tomorrow,” she said. “But don’t you see, if I stay too long you might fall in love with me. Worse, I might fall in love with you and you might not fall in love with me.”
“I’ve fallen in love three times in my life,” I said. “The first time was with Elsie Heatherington, who sat in front of me in my seventh grade home room. The second time was with my ex-wife and the last time was with Carla Bergman. I got burned all three times. Elsie didn’t know I even existed in the same space-time continuum as her, my ex-wife ran dumped me for the fast food franchise king of Southern Ontario and Carla Bergman ran off with a lot of expensive hardware and a substantial chunk of my self-esteem. If I’m not careful,” I added, “I could get burned again.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“That I’m willing to take the chance,” I said, adding, “Would that I had a choice.”
“Maybe I’m not willing to take the chance,” Francine said, adding, “And I do have a choice.”
* * * * *
The next day, July 2, was more of the same. Locals and tourists still mobbed Granville Island. In a futile attempt to escape, I rented a C&C 25 and took Francine, Hilly and Courtney sailing on English Bay. It was a good thing Francine knew something about sailing. And it was likely her physique, not my diplomatic skills, that dissuaded the skipper of the boat we almost rammed from doing anything rash. On the way back to the marina I tried to explain to Hilly and Courtney that it is not polite to laugh at your captain.
On Sunday afternoon Daniel and I were playing chess on his roof deck when a long, dark grey limo rolled silently up to the embankment. The tide was out and Daniel’s deck was almost level with the boardwalk. Sam, nattily attired in a blue blazer and grey trousers, got out of the car and lumbered down the ramp toward the gate.
“Is that who I think it is?” Daniel said. I had been bringing him up to date on the latest developments.
“Yes,” I said. I got up and leaned over the railing. I could see Sam standing patiently at the gate.
“Should I buzz him in?” Daniel asked.
“I suppose,” I said.
He pressed the button on the remote control he’d rigged to release the gate from his deck. I could hear the distant rasp of the gate lock as it released. Sam opened the gate, stepped through, and carefully closed it behind him, although it would have shut automatically. He walked slowly along the main dock, examining each house with interest, smiling at some of the more idiosyncratic touches to which some of my neighbours are prone. He turned on to the finger dock and, when he passed below me, I called down to him.
He looked up and said, “I wouldn’t want to come home blind stumbling drunk some night. Especially in the winter.”
“You sober up fast when you hit the water,” I said. “Especially in the winter. Where’s your boss?”
“In the car. He wants to talk to you.”
“Is that right?” I said. “Well, he knows where to find me.”
“Would you mind coming to the car?”
I felt like telling him to tell Ryan to take a hike, but my curiosity got the better of me.
Ryan was alone in the back of the limo, although there was room enough for a basketball team.
“Howzit goin’?” he asked as I settled into a buttery leather seat facing him. Sam closed the door and waited outside.
I didn’t bother to answer.
“You get one guess why I’m here,” he said.
“I don’t need any guesses,” I said. “Yes, I’ve seen Carla. And, no, she doesn’t want to see you. I don’t know what’s going on between you two, and I don’t really care, but you’re an adult, you can live with the rejection. Forget her and get on with your own life.” I silently added to myself that I should try taking my own advice for a change.
“I can’t afford to forget her,” Ryan said. “When she left she took something. I need it back.”
“I figured as much,” I said. “But I don’t want to know about it.”
“There are some people who will be very unhappy if I don’t get it back.”
“Unhappy with her or you?” I said.
Ryan shrugged. “Both, but I can handle it.”
“I know about your wife. Is that what you mean by ‘handle it’?”
His face was suddenly very hard, eyes narrowing to unreadable black slits. I wondered if I hadn’t just made a serious mistake. I put my hand on the door handle.
“I didn’t kill my wife,” he said. “I loved h
“I’ve never met anyone who would hire someone to kill his wife,” I said, “so I have no frame of reference. Carla thinks you’re crazy enough.”
“And what do you think?”
“I’ll give you the benefit of doubt.”
“Innocent until proved guilty,” he said.
“You could put it that way.”
“I was never charged,” he said with a shrug. “But that could have been because cops fucked up, right? They’re just dumb simple servants after all. Look at that poor schnook O.J. Simpson. Even though he was acquitted, there will always be people who believe he got off because he could afford to spend millions on his defence. Reasonable doubt works both ways.” He pressed a button and a panel slid aside to reveal a small bar. “You want a drink?” he asked.
“No, thanks,” I said.
He poured three fingers of Jack Daniels into a cut glass tumbler and downed it in a single gulp.
“Carla hasn’t been herself for some time,” he said.
“Carla is never herself,” I said. “She’s always someone else.”
“Seriously,” he said. “I think she’s mentally ill. Paranoid. Delusional.”
“Oh, come on. She’s strung tight. Maybe too tight,” I added, pressing my fingertips to the tender spot on my cheek. “But in her line of work a little paranoia’s probably a good thing. Keeps her cautious. And if she’s suffering from a delusion, it’s a common one shared by a lot of petty criminals, that so-called straight society is for clowns and losers. What did she take from you that was so important, anyway?”
“I thought you weren’t interested?”
“Call it curiosity,” I said. “What was it? Not money. You strike me as a man who’s used to losing money.”
“That’s a funny way to put it,” he said, “but, yeah, I’ve gone from dead broke to swimming in the stuff back to dead broke so many times I’ve lost count. Some people jump out of windows. Me, I just dust myself off and jump back in. Making money’s easy. Almost as easy as spending it.” He poured himself another drink, sipped this one. “You’re right, it wasn’t money she took, but it was the key to making a lot of money. And I’ll be straight with you. I made some commitments to some people and now, thanks to Carla, I probably won’t be able to keep them. These aren’t the sort of people you want pissed off at you.
“But that’s only part of the reason I want to find her. Christ, McCall, you know her. You know the effect she can have. Sure, I can buy all the woman I want, but I know, inside, it’s just the money. With Carla, it was different. It wasn’t the money.”
Now who was delusional? I asked myself. “With Carla it’s always money,” I said. “Or a reasonable facsimile thereof. I’ve learned a lot about her recently, most of it I don’t like. She isn’t the person I thought she was and it’s a safe bet that she isn’t who you think she is. Maybe you really do care about her, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’re better off without her. Write it off to experience.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Fine,” I said. “But just leave me out of it.”
I opened the car door and started to get out. His hand clamped onto my arm. It felt as if my arm was caught in a vice.
“She’s out of her depth on this, McCall. So are you. She’s tough, but she’s not that tough, not by half. I don’t want anything to happen to her. I don’t want to see anything happen to you either.”
“Then I’ll just have to keep my distance,” I said.
“It may be too late for that. Losing is all part of the game, McCall. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. These people I’m involved with, though, they don’t understand that part of it. They didn’t earn their money, they just happened to own leases on the right chunks of the right mountains at the right time. They’re tough old boys, though, and used to taking direct action. There’s no telling what they’ll do if they get desperate enough. They’ve made commitments themselves to some even more serious people to whom losing is just plain unthinkable.”
“Good-bye, Ryan,” I said. “Don’t come back. I’m out of it.”
“I’m not sure it’s that easy,” he said as I got out of the car.
Sam nodded as he walked around to the driver’s side and got into the car. I watched the limo silently edge its way out of the parking lot, then started down the ramp.
A car horn blipped and I turned to see Mary-Alice’s little white BMW slip with a quick snort of exhaust into the space vacated by the limousine.
“We have to talk,” she said as she got out of the car.
“We talked last night,” I said. “Nothing has changed.”
“Tom, how can you be so, so uncaring? They’re our parents.”
“Plenty of people’s parents get divorced,” I said.
“They’ve been married for almost forty years.”
“I’m not happy about it, M-A, but I’m not going to Victoria with you to try to talk them out of doing something they’ve both decided they want. I know it’s hard for you to accept, but they are adults, after all.”
Her face grew red and blotchy. “You arrogant son of a bitch,” she said, jaw clenched, voice cracking with anger. “How can you just stand by and let them tear their lives apart? Goddamnit, I used to look up to you. My big brother, so smart and self-confident and self-sufficient. But now I see you for what you really are, a selfish, insensitive, uncaring bastard. You’re just like our father. No wonder Linda divorced you.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Linda told me you had a girlfriend, some woman at the paper.”
“Well, she was wrong. Mary-Alice, you aren’t making any sense. I don’t like what’s happening any more than you do, but it’s none of our business. Disapprove all you want, but keep your nose out of it. You won’t make it any easier for them by butting in. You’ll only make it worse. Believe me, they won’t appreciate your interference.”
“I prefer to think of it as intervention.”
“Call it what you will,” I said. “It’s still poking your nose where it doesn’t belong. They have a right to sort out their own affairs.”
Without another word, she got into her car and drove away.
* * * * *
“Check,” Daniel said as he blind-sided me with his Knight, catching me in a Queen-King fork. If I moved my King out of check, he’d take my Queen, and without my Queen the game was as good as lost; I was already down a Bishop and both my Knights.
I toppled my King onto his fat stupid face.
“Are you all right?” Daniel asked. “You don’t usually make it this easy for me.”
“If my house weren’t sinking,” I said, “I’d cast it loose and paddle to a deserted island in the South Pacific.” Daniel was setting up the pieces again. “No more for me, thanks. You could at least let me win one once in a while.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Just to be neighbourly.” I got up. “I need a change,” I said. “I’m going to call up Howie and tell him to find another baby-sitter for the house. Then I’m going to sell the business to Bobbi, if she wants it, pack up the Land Rover, and drive into the mountains, where I will grow my beard long and spend the rest of my life taking pictures of rocks. When I’m dead they’ll have a retrospective of my work. They’ll call it ‘McCall’s Rocks: Those That Weren’t in His Road Were in His Head.’”
“What about Hilly?”
“What about her? I’ll send her back to her mother.”
“And if she doesn’t want to go?”
“I’ll send her back to her mother. What do you mean, if she doesn’t want to go? Why would she want to stay? What has she been telling you?”
“She likes it here,” Daniel said. “With you.”
“That’s nice, but I don’t think Linda would let her stay.”
“I dunno. Child support isn’t so bad. Like other people’s dogs.”
“I like dogs,” I said. “As long as they belong to someone else.”
“Ah,” he said. “Responsibility.”
“Yeah, you don’t have to walk other people’s dogs.”
“Or scoop their poop.”
“You got it.”
“So what’s bothering you?”
“Jesus, what isn’t? My house is sinking and the guy who’s supposed to save it looks like a Hobbit and talks like Yosemite Sam and is taking forever to do it. The insurance company has gone belly up and my insurance agent has gone into hiding. My parents are getting a divorce and Mary-Alice insists that I do something to prevent it. What else? Oh, yeah. Hilly is running around with a pre-teen vamp who likes showing off her tits; Carla has me tied into knots, unable to stand her one minute, pounding the mattress with her the next; I am this close to losing my most important client; Bobbi punched out my lab tech; and, to top it all off, I think I am falling in serious lust with Miss Muscle Beach.”
“I’ll help you pack,” Daniel said.
Bobbi came by at eight Monday morning, the back of the Land Rover piled high with equipment. After delivering Beatrix to Maggie Urquhart and leaving a message for Bernard Simpson tacked to my front door, we set out for Whistler, stopping on our way through the city to pick up Courtney. Hilly had asked if Courtney could come with us and I’d said it was all right with me if it was all right with her parents. Unfortunately, it was. In fact, they seemed almost eager to be rid of her for a few days.
By nine-thirty we were on the Sea to Sky Highway, roller-coasting north along Howe Sound. A little less than an hour later we dropped back down to sea level for the last time outside the logging town of Squamish at the head of Howe Sound, a little more than half-way to Whistler.
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