If looks could kill, p.23

If Looks Could Kill, page 23

 

If Looks Could Kill
 


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  “I am a busy man, Mr. McCall,” MacIlroy said.

  I said, “You’ve got Carla’s money?”

  “Of course,” he said, indicating the slim buff envelope.

  I placed the Jiffy pack on the desk and slid it toward him. It stopped about two thirds of the way across, well within his reach, but he didn’t touch it.

  “Don’t you want to check it?” I asked.

  “It’s not necessary,” he said. “It’s really just a symbolic gesture. I have no doubt Carla has kept a copy as a guarantee of good faith.”

  I picked up the envelope.

  “You look disappointed,” he said.

  “I expected a bigger bundle.”

  “It’s a cashier’s cheque,” he said.

  “Oh,” I said.

  I slipped the envelope into the inside pocket of my jacket. I felt I ought to say something snappy, but settled for, “Well, I won’t take any more of your time.”

  He surprised me then by coming around the big desk and walking me to the door. He opened the door. “Good day, Mr. McCall,” he said.

  “Ah, thanks,” I said and we shook hands. If he expected to get anywhere in politics he was going to have to do something about his handshake.

  The door closed silently behind me. I looked at the sweet-smelling receptionist and sneezed suddenly.

  “God bless you,” she said and offered me a box of pink tissues.

  I didn’t waste any time on evasive tactics this time and drove straight north on Commissioner toward Stanley Park and the marina. As I turned onto Cardero, the telephone burbled, startling me so thoroughly I almost side-swiped a truck. I’d had a cellular telephone installed a few months ago, after a breakdown had stranded Bobbi and me close to the middle of nowhere. I paid the minimum monthly fee and used it for emergencies only. So far none had arisen and I’d forgotten all about it. And almost forgotten how to answer it.

  I fumbled at the hands-free switch. “Yes, hello,” I said. “Hello.”

  “Don’t shout,” Bobbi said. “Boss, you’d better get home toot sweet.”

  Panic closed an icy fist around my heart. I pulled off to the side of the road and stopped, ignoring the bleat of horns, shouts and upraised digits. “What is it? Is it Hilly?”

  “No, Hilly’s fine. It’s your parents. They – your father – your mother says she caught him with another woman.”

  “Give me that,” I hear my mother snap. “Thomas, is that you?”

  “Yes, of course it’s me. What’s going on?”

  “It’s your father,” she said. “He’s – I’ve never been so humiliated in all my life.”

  “Oh, for god’s sake, Eleanor,” I heard my father say. “Will you for once in your life shut the hell up and listen.”

  Bobbi came back on the line. “Boss,” she said imploringly.

  “I’ve got something to take care of,” I said. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

  “I don’t think this can wait,” she said. “Oh, god.”

  “What?”

  “Your sister’s here.”

  Chapter 34

  It was after midnight before my parents and my sister left. I checked on Hilly – she and Beatrix were fast asleep – then went into the kitchen. Bobbi was removing dishes from the dishwasher and putting them away. I’d tried calling Carla, to reassure her that all was well and that I’d be there as soon as I could, but Chris Hastings’ number was unlisted.

  “I’m sorry you had to put up with all that,” I said. “Thanks for taking Hilly out.”

  “I like your family,” Bobbi said. “But your mother is silly and self-indulgent and your sister isn’t much better.”

  “Neither of them has had much opportunity to be anything else,” I said.

  “And your father,” she added. “My dad is bad, but your father is so stiff-necked he must have to sit down to pee.”

  “They’re quite a pair,” I agreed.

  “Do you think either of them has ever really listened to what the other was saying?”

  “Probably not? But at least Maggie got them to agree to see a counsellor.”

  “Do you think he was having an affair with her?”

  “No,” I said. “I think she really was doing his astrological chart.” I looked at my watch. “Look, I know it’s late, but I’ve got an errand to run. Will you be all right?”

  “Of course,” Bobbi said. “Go do your errand.”

  * * * * *

  I drove to Coal Harbour, parked in the near-empty lot at the Northeast corner of Devonian Harbour Park near Denman and walked to the Harbour Ferries marina. It was half past midnight and the still waters of Coal Harbour were ablaze with reflected light. The bulbs strung from the masts of the sailboats in the marina swayed with the slow roll of the boats. Dance music drifted across the water from the brightly lit clubhouse of the Vancouver Rowing Club, perched on stilts above the harbour.

  Pendragon showed no lights, but there was plenty of light spilling from the other boats and the low lamps along the docks. I went aboard and into the pilothouse. The hatch was partly open, light shining through the gap. I knocked and waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming, I knocked again, harder, and said, “Hello. Is anyone there?”

  There was still no answer. I opened the hatch and went below.

  The only light came from a single bulkhead-mounted lamp in the galley, but I could see that the main salon was a mess. The books and magazines and newspapers that had covered every flat surface were now mostly spilled onto the deck. The little TV was half buried, face up, screen cracked, tape slot door torn off. The galley and chart lockers hung open, contents strewn across the carpet of paper. There was no sign of Carla, nor of Hastings or Reeny Lindsey. Something glowed greenish amid the paper. I bent and picked up Hastings’ little cellular telephone. The keypad was still illuminated but the flip down microphone hung by a short length of flat ribbon cable and the liquid crystal display screen was cracked and blackened.

  It seemed reasonable at this point to start worrying, and even maybe get a little scared. So I did. Both.

  “Carla,” I called out, unconsciously lowering my voice. Louder, I called, “Hastings.” There was no answer from either.

  I went forward, picking my way through the sea of paper, magazine and book spines cracking underfoot, to the passageway that led to the staterooms. I found a switch on the bulkhead near the passageway and flipped it. An overhead fluorescent flickered to life. The additional light revealed nothing but more mess. Someone had made a very thorough search of the boat.

  The passageway was barely wider than my shoulders and maybe ten feet long. There were two narrow louvered doors on the left, storage lockers on the right, and another louvered door at the forward end. The deck of the passageway was littered with clothing, probably the contents of the lockers. I carefully opened the first door. The room beyond was dark, but my nose told me it was the head. I turned on the light. There was a stainless steel toilet, seat up, a stainless steel washbasin built into the bulkhead, and a shower stall the size of a telephone booth. I slid the shower curtain aside. No dead bodies. No live ones either. I turned off the light and closed the door.

  The next door opened onto a small stateroom, containing a built-in berth, rumpled and unmade, a small dresser-cum-writing desk, a wooden captain’s chair, and a narrow wardrobe. I turned on the lamp over the desk. Except for the unmade bed, the stateroom did not look as though it had been used much lately. There was a thin film of smudged dust on the top of the desk. The drawers under the bunk were open and empty.

  I returned to the passageway and went to the door at the forward end. The skin of the back of my neck felt as though it was being pricked by a million tiny hot needles and my hand was slick with perspiration as I gripped the handle. With a pounding heart and dry mouth, afraid of what I would find, I turned the handle.

  They were on the wide double berth, back-to-back, wrists and ankles bound together with silver-grey duct tape, arms outstretched and
secured with loops of tape to the head of the berth, ankles likewise secured to the foot. Chris Hastings lay facing me, a length of duct tape wound around his head, covering his mouth. His eyes were closed. Reeny Lindsey’s long blond hair spilled across his shoulder, limp and stringy.

  I stood rooted in the doorway of the stateroom, trying to get my mind around the scene before me, but it was as if I had suddenly become incapable of processing sensory input, of translating the data collected by my eyes into an image my brain could understand. Something was wrong, I knew that much, but it took me a few moments to realize what. Then I became aware of the sour reek of urine.

  I moved to the edge of the bed and tried to remove the tape from Hastings’ mouth. At my touch his eyes half opened and he thrashed weakly, breathing noisily and messily through his nose. Without regard for his comfort, I found the free end of the tape and quickly unwound it from his head, taking a hank of hair with it. When I tore the tape from his face he opened his mouth wide and breathed with great heaving gasps.

  Leaning over him I unwrapped the tape from Reeny’s head. She whimpered fretfully when the tape pulled her hair, like a child awakened from a disturbing dream, but otherwise did not respond.

  “Is she all right?” Hastings asked, voice hoarse.

  “I don’t know,” I said as I started to unwind the tape from their wrists. “I think so.” Their hands were white with reduced circulation and cold to my touch. Their fingers were intertwined.

  When I’d removed the tape from their wrists, Hastings sat up and tried to free their ankles, but his fingers would not co-operate. I did it for him. Once free, he lifted Reeny in his arms, stroked her hair with clumsy fingers, and spoke her name. She moaned fitfully, but did not rouse. Her lips were dry and cracked and the skin of her face where the tape had been was an angry red. The crotch of her faded jeans was dark with urine.

  “What happened?” I asked. “Where’s Carla?”

  “They took her,” he said.

  “Who?”

  “Two men.” He rubbed Reeny’s pale hands, trying to restore circulation. She made small mewing noises of complaint.

  “You should call an ambulance for her,” I said. “And the police.”

  “No police,” he said.

  I helped him lay her down on the bed and elevate her feet. Her breathing was regular and her colour was good, except for her hands.

  “What happened here?” I asked again, following him to the main cabin.

  “Christ,” he said, when he saw the mess. He picked up the cellular telephone from the table where I’d placed it, punched the buttons, then tossed it aside.

  “Hastings, for crissake. What happened?”

  “Two men came aboard,” he said as he kicked through the paper on the deck. “It was about ten o’clock, I guess. Reeny and I were in the wheelhouse. Carla was in her cabin. One of the men took Reeny and me to the stateroom and taped us together. Ah,” he said, finding the cordless phone.

  “Chris?” Irene Lindsey called. “Chris? Where are you?”

  He hurried to the master stateroom. I followed. Reeny was sitting up, looking dazed, eyes heavy-lidded and a little crossed. Hastings went to her.

  “Are you all right?” he asked.

  “I have an awful headache,” she said, words a little slurred. “And I wet myself.”

  “C’mon, let’s get you cleaned up,” Hastings said. He helped her to her feet. She was wobbly, but managed to stand on her own. When he started to strip her clothes off, I left the room and waited impatiently in the saloon. I began picking up books and magazines, stacking them on the table.

  Chapter 35

  The clock in the radio display read 2:44 as I pulled the Land Rover into my parking space and turned off the engine. I sat in the quietness, staring at the iridescent glow of the city lights on the other side of False Creek. Chris Hastings hadn’t been able to tell me much more about Carla’s abduction. The men who’d boarded Pendragon hadn’t spoken much, save to order Hastings and Reeny below. They hadn’t shown guns and when, with more bravado than good sense, Hastings had demanded to know what they wanted, one of them had simply grabbed him and thrown him through the hatch as if he were made of straw. Not that it was likely to do me much good, but Hastings and Reeny were able to give me a good description of them: big, rough-looking white men, one of whom had had a surgical patch over one eye. Both were in their late forties or early fifties, outdoor types judging from their deep tans, very hard and strong. The man without the eye patch, who’d taped them to the berth, had had hands like hardwood, Reeny had added. And unpleasant body odour.

  When I’d asked if they could have been loggers, Hastings had looked at me curiously for a second of two before answering. “More likely sailors or dock workers,” he’d said. “They used words like ‘below’ and ‘berth’.”

  I locked up the Land Rover and walked toward the ramp. It seemed a safe bet that they’d been looking for MacIlroy’s video tape. Their timing had been off, though, so they’d taken Carla instead. Why? Or had she gone with them willingly? They, or she, had gone to the trouble of packing her belongings. Hastings’ little pistol was also missing.

  As I walked down the ramp a sudden chill sent shivers up my spine. Something moved in my peripheral vision and I jerked around, heart in my throat, but it was my own shadow, cast by the lamp over the gate. With nervous fingers I punched the code into the gate lock and twisted the knob. Nothing happened. I took a deep breath and tried again. This time I got it right. Closing the gate behind me, I walked quickly along the dock toward my house, taking my keys out of my pocket. I fumbled and dropped them. They skittered along the rough surface of the dock, stopping just inches from the edge. I stooped quickly to pick them up and almost knocked them into the water. Straightening, clutching the keys in my fist, I almost ran the rest of the way to my house.

  “Get a grip,” I said aloud as I tried to insert the wrong key into the lock. I found the right key and inserted it.

  A hand clasped the back my neck and shoved my face against the door. Something hard pressed painfully into the small of my back.

  “Don’t do anything stupid,” a soft cold voice said, the pressure on my neck increasing briefly.

  Great advice. Just too bloody late. It felt like I was being held by a huge pincer or the claw of some great bird.

  “Open the door,” the voice said. The pressure on my neck eased slightly, but the claw maintained its grip. “Slowly.”

  I turned the key. The dead-bolt thunked softly. “It’s double locked,” I said hoarsely. “I have to find the other key.”

  The claw released my neck, shifting its grip to my shoulder. “Careful,” the voice warned.

  My hands were shaking so badly now I almost dropped the keys again. Biting my lip to control the trembling, I finally got the key into the lock. I twisted the key and eased the door open.

  “No noise,” the voice said quietly as the pressure in the small of my back pushed me into the foyer. “Let’s not wake anyone up. Okay?”

  “No problem,” I said. The door closed behind me.

  Bobbi had left the vestibule light on. I looked to my right. In the decorative mirror on the wall next to the entrance to the living room I saw standing behind me a man of average height and ordinary appearance. He glanced into the mirror and smiled, a broad and friendly smile, but his eyes were quick and cold. The first time I’d seem him he had been on the boardwalk, aiming a video camera at me. Now he held a blue-steel revolver in his good left hand. All things considered, I preferred the camera.

  “Who are you?” I asked, turning around to face him. He backed up a couple of steps. “What do you want?”

  “I just need a few minutes of your time,” he answered quietly. His voice was different now, soft and well-modulated, slightly reminiscent of a CBC television newscaster, as bland and nondescript as his appearance. “I’m a private investigator,” he added, opening his jacket and snapping the revolver into a holster slung upside down under his
right arm. “Sorry about the melodramatic introduction, but I didn’t want you making a fuss out on the dock. My name is – ”

  “William Henderson,” I said, interrupting him.

  His face tightened, then relaxed. “Not bad,” he said. “You got the Avis office to run the licence plate number of the rental car I used in Whistler. I’m impressed. As a rule they’ll only do that for the police.” He shrugged. “Those are the kinds of variables you can never anticipate, makes this business interesting. Just in case you’re interested, Henderson isn’t my real name. My real name’s Jack Thompson.”

  “If you’re a private investigator,” I said, “you have identification. Let’s see it.”

  “Sure,” he said. He took out his wallet and showed me an official-looking card, complete with thumbnail-sized photo and Ontario provincial seal, that identified him as John Arthur Thompson, licensed investigator. With very little effort I could have made one up in the lab that looked just as authentic. He handed me a business card. It read, “J.A. Thompson, Investigations,” with a Toronto address.

  “Who are you working for?”

  He put his wallet away. “I’ve been retained by Margaret Giordini, Vincent Ryan’s former sister-in-law, to prove that Ryan is guilty of conspiracy in the death of Mrs. Elizabeth Giordini Ryan.”

  “So what do you want with me?”

  “How about we get comfortable?” He extended his claw-like right hand toward the living room. “Maybe we’ll have a drink. I don’t know about you, but I could use one.”

  “Just tell me what you want,” I said. “It’s been a long day and I’m in no mood to be sociable.”

  “I want you to tell me where I can find Carla Bergman,” he said.

  “And why would I do that?”

  “Because eventually Vince Ryan is going to catch up with her. When he does, he’s most likely going to kill her.”

  Chapter 36

 
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