If Looks Could Kill, page 26
“I’ve been thinking about finding another line of work,” she said. “Maybe I’ll even settle down. What do you think, Tommy? Do you think you could love a one-time thief, drug smuggler, killer, blackmailer?”
“Not to mention stripper, whore, con artist and pirate. Yes, I suppose I could. But I don’t. Not any more.”
Jack Thompson came down the companionway.
“Looks like I’m late for the party,” he said.
“Who the hell are you?” Carla said.
“I could be a friend,” Thompson said.
“I don’t need any more friends,” she said.
“Is she all right?” he asked me.
“She’s got a splinter of plastic or fibreglass in her eye,” I said. “From the hatchway combing.”
“Who’s the dead guy upstairs?”
“His name’s Frank Poole,” I said. “Ryan killed him,” I added.
“I saw Ryan driving your Porsche,” Thompson said. “If you can call what he was doing driving. Don’t expect to have a clutch or a gearbox if you ever get it back. He was grinding the gears and laying rubber all over the place.”
Heavy footfalls on the deck over our heads signalled the arrival of the paramedics or the police. I helped Carla to her feet. Thompson stood aside as I guided her up the companionway.
A paramedic was hunched over Poole’s body. He spoke into a microphone clipped to his collar, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Another paramedic helped Carla to the upholstered bench at the stern.
“Let’s take a look at you,” she said, gently taking Carla’s right wrist and slowly removing her hand from over her eye. Thomspon hovered nearby.
A few minutes later, a pair of Richmond cops came aboard and for the next half hour I answered a lot of questions, most of them more than once, some of them three times, many of them silly. They weren’t happy that I’d thrown the guns overboard. I told them it was my personal form of gun control.
I stuck to my story. Who was going to tell them anything different? Not Carla, that was certain.
In the middle of the interrogation, Carla called me over as the paramedics strapped her into a gurney. She had a huge patch of gauze covering her right eye. Her left eye was bright, pupil dilated. The gash on her cheek was held closed by tiny butterflies of adhesive tape.
“I’m sorry I ever got you into this,” she said.
“Me, too,” I said.
“You really know how to fuck things up, don’t you?”
“Yes, I guess I do.”
“Y’know, maybe I will go home. Will you come and visit me?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
The paramedics lifted the gurney on the dock and locked the wheels down.
Thompson followed the gurney, not wanting to lose sight of her. I went back to answering questions.
On Monday morning I was at the studio bright and early. I packed Ron’s collection of girlie magazines and any personal items I could find into a couple of file cartons and shipped them, along with a cheque for three month’s pay, to his home. I then called a company that specialized in on-site disposal of sensitive documents and told them I had a file cabinet full of photographs and negatives I wanted destroyed. They said they’d send a man with a portable shredding machine first thing Tuesday morning. That night I lit a fire in the wood stove in the living room and burned Ron’s photos of Carla. I kept mine.
* * * * *
“Do I have to?” Hilly asked.
“Yes,” I said. “You have to. It’s only for a couple of weeks, then you’ll be back here until the end of the summer.”
“They’re not going to fight all the time?”
“No. I told you. They’re seeing a counsellor.”
“Grandma doesn’t like Beatrix,” Hilly said.
“She agreed to let you take her with you, though.” I scratched the ferret behind the ear. She seemed to like it.
“And you’ll bring Courtney for a visit next weekend?”
“Yes, Grandma said it was all right.”
“Let’s put it this way,” I said. “You spend a couple of weeks with your grandparents and I’ll help you smuggle Beatrix onto the plane when you go home. Your mother is your problem.”
“All right,” she said. “Deal.”
As I’ve said, you just have to be creative when it comes to raising kids.
* * * * *
“What do I have to do to get you to stop calling me that?”
“Give me a raise.”
“So call me boss. What is it?”
“Do you want the good or the bad news first?”
“Pacific Hotels pulled the plug.”
“That’s no surprise. What’s the good news?”
“Meg and Peg have a couple of new girls and they want comps done.”
“That’s good news?” In addition to his hardcore sideline, Ron had also been using our equipment and facilities to do publicity photos for exotic dancers and photographers’ models and to produce comps for Meg and Peg’s escort service girls. “Oh, well,” I said. “We can use the business.”
“If you want, I can take care of it.”
“No, I can handle it.”
“Yeah, I think I can squeeze it in.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s no trouble.”
“No trouble at all.”
“Have you heard anything from Francine?” she asked.
“Yeah, I got a postcard day before yesterday.” To change the subject, I said, “How’s the new apartment working out?”
“My upstairs neighbour is Bigfoot’s sister, I think, walks around like she’s wearing deep sea diving boots. And she feeds pigeons from her balcony. Other than that, it’s okay, I guess. I miss Hilly, though.”
“So do I, but she’ll be back from Victoria this weekend. Why don’t you come to dinner Sunday?”
“Uh, Sunday? Can’t. I’ve got a previous engagement. Remember Clint, the car rental guy in Whistler. He called. Rain check, though.”
* * * * *
Toward the end of July Jack Thompson called. He told me to keep an eye on the mail and on the news. The next day Brian MacIlroy accepted nomination as a candidate in the upcoming provincial by-election. That same afternoon two of his former clients held a press conference, at which they screened a video tape. The quality was not very good – it was a copy of a copy – but the actors were easily identifiable. The following day MacIlroy withdrew from the race.
A few days later an envelope arrived at the studio, postmarked Toronto and bearing the return address of J.A. Thompson, Investigations. Inside was a certified cheque for ten thousand dollars and a hand-written note that read: “Just to show there are no hard feelings, Carla. PS: Jack thinks I’d make a good private eye. Speaking of which, the doctors say mine will be good as new.”
The envelope also contained a newspaper clipping, a grainy black and white file photo of Vince Ryan. The article accompanying the photograph said that he was wanted by the police for questioning regarding the death of his wife. Swell. He was still out there somewhere. Not a cheery thought.
* * * * *
Two weeks later I was sitting on my roof deck trying to catch up on my reading, but I couldn’t concentrate. My eyes automatically scanned each line, but my brain seemed incapable of absorbing anything. I’d find myself at the end of a paragraph without any memory of what I had read. I finally gave up and just sat, heels up on the railing, head against the back of the chair, letting my thoughts drift where they may.
I’d received another postcard from Francine the day before in which she’d written that the job in San Diego was working out fine and she hoped to get back to Vancouver someday soon, for a
I’d spoken briefly to Reeny Lindsey a couple of days earlier and she’d told me she was doing all right, working again, but there was still no word from Chris. She was thinking about filing a missing person’s report.
The police had found the Porsche, at least what was left of it after Ryan had got through with it. He’d ditched it near the airport. Miraculously, the insurance company hadn’t given me a hard time with the claim in spite of the car’s age. As for the house insurance, the bankruptcy trustees had evidently recovered a little — very little – of the money the Pacific Casualty officers had absconded with and, according to Wally Hoag, I might actually get enough to cover the rental of the little purple pump.
And Linda had called. She and Jack were cutting short the Asian leg of their vacation – Jack had broken his arm falling out of a pedicab – and were going to be stopping over in Vancouver for a couple of days on their way home. Hilly, who had been on the extension, surprised me by asking if Jack was okay.
“Ask him yourself,” Linda had said.
“I’m fine, short stuff,” Jack had said, coming on the line. “Feel a bit stupid, though.” Lowering his voice to barely a whisper, he had then asked, “Beatrix behaving herself?”
“I miss you,” Jack had said.
“Me too,” Hilly had replied.
I closed my eyes and Frank Poole’s face materialized on the inside of my eyelids, so I opened my eyes and it went away.
The gate bell rang. Not really caring who it was, just glad of the company, I went down to the dock to answer it.
I almost didn’t recognize her. She wore snug-fitting black Spandex riding shorts and a bright orange top that showed her flat tanned midriff. Iridescent Oakley wraparound sunglasses dangled around her neck. She was wheeling a purple mountain bike, a tear-drop shaped helmet slung from one of the hand grips. Her riding shoes clicked on the surface of the dock.
“I was out for a ride, so thought I’d take the chance and drop by. You wouldn’t by chance have any club soda in your fridge, would you?” Bright beads of perspiration glistened on her upper lip and a vein pulsed slowly in her throat.
“I think I might be able to find some,” I said.
She leaned her bike on the kick stand and followed me inside.
“How’s Colin?” I asked as I took a big two-litre bottle of club soda from the fridge and poured a tall glass. “It’s gone a little flat I’m afraid,” I said, handing her the glass.
“Easier to drink,” she said, gulping down half the glass. “Colin is history,” she said when she came up for air.
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But don’t waste your sympathy. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite so self-absorbed. He wasn’t a total loss, though. He turned me on to cycling.”
“I wondered.” I looked her up and down. “You look pretty good in that outfit.”
She smiled, brightening the room. I’d missed that smile.
“You know I left Chez François,” she said.
“Yes, I’d heard. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to open my own restaurant.”
“That’s terrific,” I said. “I hope you haven’t come to me for advice on how to run your own business, though.”
She cocked her head and gave me a look of disbelief that said it all. I got a Kokanee out of the fridge and suggested we take our drinks up to the roof deck. As we started up the stairs, Susan stopped, looked around and said:
“Is it my imagination or is your house is still tilted?”
A number of people kindly and unselfishly contributed to this book. Thanks to Alan Annand, David Hanley, Aleli Balagtas and Hugh Blair for reading early drafts. Thanks also to Robbie Carson for the tour of his floating home and to Stuart Ramsey for making sure I had the streets of Vancouver going in the right directions. For their invaluable technical advice, thanks to Rob Bamford, Philip Mongeau, and Myke Wilder. All technical inaccuracies are, of course, my own. I am also indebted to Douglas Gibson, Dinah Forbes, Lisan Jutras, and the staff of McClelland & Stewart. And, finally, words are insufficient to express my thanks for the support and love of Pamela Hilliard.
A special thanks also to Erik Adler.
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it is not a lonely one.
Also by Michael Blair
A Hard Winter Rain
A Joe Shoe Mystery
Someone walked up to Joe “Shoe” Schumacher’s best friend, Patrick O’Neill, in a Vancouver restaurant and shot him dead. It looks like a professional hit, but who would want O’Neill dead? Was it, as the police believe, a “settling of accounts”? Was it Victoria, O’Neill’s beautiful but damaged wife? Or was it O’Neill’s boss, industrialist William Hammond, with whom O’Neill had a falling out and with whom Victoria had a short-lived affair. Former cop, chauffeur, and bodyguard Joe Shoe sets out to find Patrick’s killer, and along the way he uncovers dark secrets going back years – secrets some people will kill to keep.
“A well-written, well-constructed story with a couple of good twists.” – Globe & Mail
“Hard-hitting and punchy.” – The Record
“An exciting and atmospheric mystery.” – Canadian Book Review
A Granville Island Mystery
The sequel to If Looks Could Kill.
Just when Vancouver commercial photographer Tom McCall thought he’d got his life back on track, a complete stranger turns up dead on the roof deck of his floating home. No one seems to know who he is, he has no ID, and there’s not a mark on him. If that isn’t bad enough, a prospective new client seems to have had one Botox injection too many, his ex-wife wants to take his daughter off to Australia for a year, and someone’s leaving mutilated dolls on his front step. And, of course, he’s in lust again. No wonder he’s feeling a little overexposed.
“Terrific characters who really click in this slick, smart book.” – Globe & Mail
“A funny and solid entertainer, crisply written and eagerly read.” – Murder Out There
“Twisted and complex….five out of five!” – Telegraph-Journal
A Joe Shoe Mystery
For Joe Shoe, the return to his family home in north Toronto is more than just a trip down memory lane. No sooner does he arrive in his old neighbourhood than he is drawn into a murder that took place in the ravine behind his parents’ home. The victim is a man who lived in the neighbourhood 35 years earlier – and who moved away while still a suspect in a series of rapes that occurred in the very ravine in which he was ultimately murdered. The police investigation, and Shoe’s own inquiries, becomes intensely personal, as old friends, girlfriends, even family members seem to have connections to the victim, and reasons to want him dead.
“Complex, thoughtful and disturbing…” – Calgary Herald
“Deftly written, character portraits neatly drawn, tense plotting.” – Hamilton Spectator
“An insightful and evocative tale, with a tone reminiscent of Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. ” – Sherbrooke Record
Depth of Field
A Granville Island Mystery
Little does Tom McCall know how much he will regret accepting an assignment from the beautiful Anna Waverley to photograph her boat for a potential buyer. Double-booked, he turns the assignment over to his partner and best friend, Bobbi. When Bobbi is brutally beaten and left for dead, McCall is determined to find out who did it. When he learns that Anna Waverley doesn’t actually own the boat she was supposedly interested in selling, and in fact that the woman claiming to be Anna Waverley may have been an impostor, he t
“Blair has the goods, and just keeps getting better.” – London Free Press
“Serves up plot twists quick and plenty.” – Quill & Quire
“A thoroughly entertaining read.” – Murder Out There
A freelance writer, Michael Blair lives in Montreal, Quebec. If Looks Could Kill, his first novel, was a finalist for the inaugural Robertson Davies/Chapters prize, whose jurors deemed it the best of the many mysteries they received.
Michael Blair, If Looks Could Kill
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