If looks could kill, p.5

If Looks Could Kill, page 5

 

If Looks Could Kill
 


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I thought about that for a few seconds before answering. “Because I hoped you’d come back.”

  “Would you have taken me back, after what I did?”

  “Yes,” I said. I didn’t have to think about that one.

  “Poor Tommy,” she said. “You shouldn’t care so much.”

  “I guess it’s my nature,” I said.

  “Do you still care?” she asked, reaching out and placing her hand on mine.

  I jerked my hand away from her touch. Her eyes clouded and a pale flush highlighted her cheekbones.

  “Sorry,” she said in a small, hurt voice.

  I felt something inside me break. I took her hand. An alarm went off in my head, but I ignored it. Her hand was soft and warm and yielding.

  “Are you back?” I asked, looking into her deep blue eyes, pulse throbbing in my throat. What would I do if she said yes?

  “I don’t know,” she said quietly. She squeezed my hand quickly and let go.

  “Why did you want to see me?”

  She took a long time answering. “I need your help,” she said at last.

  “What kind of help?” I asked, wary in spite of myself. “Do you need money? Your friend Ryan looked loaded to me.”

  “No, I don’t need money. But I do need a place to stay for a couple of days.”

  “You’ve got to be joking.”

  “It doesn’t have to be your place,” she said. “Actually, I’d prefer if it wasn’t your place. Vince might look for me there. Your friend Daniel, does he still have his house up the coast? Maybe you could arrange for me to stay there for a while.”

  Daniel had a house in Halfmoon Bay, near the town of Sechelt, about two hours up the Sunshine Coast. With two bathrooms and a hot tub it wasn’t exactly a cabin in the woods, but it was fairly isolated. He’d let me use it from time to time, when I needed to get away. I’d taken Carla there once.

  “What’s going on, Carla? Why do you need to hide from your boss? Exactly what do you do for him anyway? I don’t recall that you demonstrated much in the way of business skills.”

  “There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

  “I’m sure that’s true,” I agreed. “All right, I apologize for stereotyping you as a brainless gold-digging bimbo getting by on her looks, but you can hardly blame me, can you? You still haven’t answered my question. Why do you need to hide from your boss?” I hit my forehead with the heel of my hand. “Of course. How stupid of me. You stole something from him too, didn’t you?”

  “Jesus, Tommy, let it go, all right? They were just things. I never realized you were so materialistic.”

  “Materialism has nothing to do with it. With the exception of the stereo, they were the things I used to earn my living.”

  She started to speak, but I put up my hand.

  “You’re right,” I said. “They were just things. It wasn’t the loss of them that hurt me, it was that you stole them.”

  “Look, I’m sorry. Okay. I – ”

  I raised my hand again. “Forget it, all right? Forget it. So, if you didn’t take anything from him, why do you have to hide from him?”

  “He is more than just my boss,” she said.

  “No kidding.” She scowled at me. “Sorry,” I said. “Go on.”

  “After I left you I realized that I had to get myself together and do something with my life. After all, the big three-oh was creeping up on me. I decided to go back to school and finish my business degree. Don’t look so surprised. But I needed a job so I answered an ad on the school bulletin board. Companies are always looking for business students to do scut work and Vince’s office wanted someone to work a few hours a day cleaning up files and entering data. After a few weeks Vince offered me a full-time job as his executive assistant.”

  “Impressed by your superior typing skills no doubt,” I said.

  “At first I thought it was a come-on too,” she said, “but he travels a lot and needs someone to look after airline bookings, car rentals, hotel reservations, caterers for business meetings, that sort of thing. I don’t think I would have got the job if I didn’t speak French, though.”

  “You speak French?” I said.

  “Bien sûr,” she said. “I grew up north of Montreal and hardly spoke any English until I was ten or eleven. God, you don’t know how hard it was to get rid of my accent. Anyway, Vince heard me speaking French to the guy who delivered spring water to the office and asked me if I wanted the job. He told me French wasn’t essential but helped in Europe and Asia. I jumped at it.”

  “So he started out as your boss,” I said. “When did that change?”

  “About a year ago,” she said. “We were in Germany when the office called and told him his wife had been killed by a hit and run. They’d been separated for a couple of months but were in the process of getting back together and he was really broken up about it. When we got back there were a lot of loose ends to take care of and we were together quite a bit and, well, things led to things. I guess it just happened.”

  “Like it ‘just happened’ between us,” I said.

  “You have a right to be angry with me, I suppose,” she said. “But I never meant to hurt you.”

  “Never mind,” I said. “Go on about Ryan. It’s over now, right?”

  She nodded. “But he doesn’t want it to be over.”

  “Neither did I,” I said. “Did you hide out after you left me?”

  “I left town.”

  “What’s stopping you from leaving town now?”

  “There are some things I have to take care of,” she said. “Nothing to do with Vince. Please, Tommy, it’ll only be for a few days. A week at most. Vince isn’t like you, Tommy. He frightens me. He has to have total control of things. Our relationship isn’t over until he says it is.”

  “He doesn’t own you.”

  “Don’t be naïve. Most of us are owned one way or another, we just aren’t aware of it, any more than that old cat that hangs around your studio knows you own it.”

  “I’m not sure that I do own him,” I said. “But people aren’t cats or dogs, Carla. What’s Ryan going to do? Send his burly blond beach boy to drag you kicking and screaming home again.”

  “Sam? That’s a laugh. No, Vince has other people he uses for that kind of thing.”

  “You’re serious? You really believe he’d try to keep you against your will.”

  “Damn right I do.”

  I shook my head. “Sorry, Carla. I don’t buy it. If Vince Ryan has that kind of hold on you, it’s because you let him. Look, you’re here now, aren’t you? You’re obviously not being held prisoner. You’re free to come and go as you please. You want my advice, forget whatever you think you have to do and get on a plane. You said you didn’t need money, but if you do I suppose I can let you have enough for the airfare home at least. If you fly stand-by. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go.”

  “I don’t need your money,” she said. “I have money. Or I will, once I’ve taken care of my business here. That’s why I need the time. Just a few days, Tommy. That’s all. Then you’ll never see me again. I promise. I’ll be out of your life completely. If that’s what you want.”

  I knew as she spoke the words that that wasn’t what I wanted at all. There was something unresolved between us and maybe this was an opportunity to put whatever it was to rest once and for all. Or perhaps a part of me believed we could put the past behind us and try again.

  “All right,” I said. “I guess I can speak to Daniel.”

  “Thanks, Tommy. I knew I could count on you. You aren’t the type to nurse a grudge or turn your back on a friend.”

  “Don’t make me regret this,” I said.

  “I won’t,” she said. “Look, I’ve got a couple of things to take care of. Can I come by your place later? You haven’t moved, have you?”

  “No.”

  “I’ve got to use the ladies’ room,” she said, standing up. “I’ll see you around supper time, all right.”

 
Fine,” I said and she left.

  I paid the bill and took another cab back to the studio, wondering all the way what I was getting myself into.

  Chapter 8

  “Maybe you should consider yourself lucky,” Daniel said. “I know I do.”

  It was early Tuesday evening, thirty-odd hours since I’d agreed to help Carla hide out from Vince Ryan. Daniel had agreed, readily but without any great enthusiasm, to let her use his house in Halfmoon Bay. But she still hadn’t shown up.

  “I really shouldn’t care,” I said. “If Vince Ryan wants to lock her in a cellar and feed her cold Kraft dinner once a day, let him. She probably deserves it. But…” I shrugged.

  “You do care.”

  “Stupid, huh?”

  “Not stupid,” Daniel said. “Unwise.”

  “I try to tell myself it’s not personal,” I said. “That I care about her the way I care that there are too many homeless people on the streets, too many teenage whores, too many drunk drivers, too much violence on television, and that you can’t buy a decent bottle of wine for under ten bucks anymore. But it doesn’t work.”

  “Of course not.”

  “Fuck it,” I said.

  “That’s a little bitter, Thomas,” he said.

  “I think I’ve earned the right to be a little bitter, after what she did.”

  “What did she do? She screwed you silly for six months then swiped a few trinkets.”

  “Have a little sympathy, please,” I said. “She broke my heart.”

  “Think of it as a learning experience. You haven’t suffered any permanent damage, have you?”

  “No,” I conceded. “Except for slightly elevated insurance rates. A Hasselblad and a Macintosh laptop are hardly trinkets.”

  “While she isn’t exactly my type,” he said, “many men might think it was worth it.”

  “Well…”

  Hilly was off somewhere. Daniel and I were sitting on his roof deck amid a forest of potted trees and shrubs and ferns and flowering vines. All that was missing was the sound of jungle birds.

  Daniel stood up. “Do you want another?” he asked, indicating my drink.

  “Gee, I dunno. Two club sodas is about my limit. Oh, what the heck. Why not?” I handed him my glass. Daniel didn’t keep anything stronger than tea in the house. He went to the little mobile bar parked under the awning at the rear of the deck.

  “Has it occurred to you that she might have been less than truthful with you?” he said as he fussed with ice and lime twists.

  “She does have a tendency to, ah, dissemble,” I said.

  “Dissemble,” he said. He shook his head, refusing the challenge. “Not today, Thomas.” He handed me my drink.

  “Two lime twists,” I said. “I can barely control my excitement.”

  “Oh, shut up.” He returned to his seat. “So you think that she stole something from her employer-cum-boyfriend and came to you because she needs a place to hide out till the heat’s off, so to speak.”

  “I’d say it was a safe bet.” Nor had she actually denied it in so many words.

  “Why did you agree to help her then?”

  “Because she might be telling the truth.”

  “And you’re still a little in love with her.”

  I saluted him with my drink. “Unwise, huh?”

  “No,” he said. “Stupid.”

  “Thank you.”

  “How are things going between you and Hilly?” he asked, changing the subject.

  “Oh, you know,” I said with a shrug.

  “Actually, I don’t.”

  “I’m beginning to wonder if I made a mistake, agreeing to take her for the whole summer. She tries hard, but it’s pretty obvious she’s bored out of her mind at the studio. There isn’t a whole lot to do, especially when we get busy, which isn’t often enough lately, but does happen occasionally. The community centre has a day camp program, she could meet kids her own age, but when I suggested it she that those places were for geeks and dweebs. I never knew there was a difference. We got into a bit of a row over it this morning.”

  “Give her some slack, Thomas. She’s a good kid.”

  “She’s a great kid,” I agreed.

  “She needs some time to adjust,” Daniel said. “She’s likely just homesick. She misses her friends, her own room, her things, her mother. Don’t take it too seriously if when she’s upset she tells you she wants to go home.”

  “I worry about her,” I admitted. “She did something during our row this morning that she’s never done before, at least with me. She turned off her hearing aids.”

  “Did you never stick your fingers in your ears when you were a kid?” Daniel asked. Of course I had. “Just give her a chance,” Daniel said. “Yourself as well.”

  “Yeah, but it ain’t easy. It doesn’t help that I’ve missed so much of her life. Damned near half. It’s like having a stranger in my house.” I drained my glass of club soda, chewed on a sliver a lime. “Have you heard the music she listens to? It sounds like the inmates of a lunatic asylum destroying musical instruments with hockey sticks. Groups with names like Tossed Cookies, Toe Jam and On the Rag. And that bloody ferret. It’s cute as hell, but it gets into everything. The other day I left my sock drawer open and it ripped up a whole box of condoms.”

  “You keep condoms in your sock drawer.”

  “Of course. Where else?”

  He shrugged. “I suppose it serves you right for leaving your sock drawer open.”

  “And it smells.”

  “Your sock drawer?”

  “The ferret, damnit. A little like a skunk.”

  “Maybe you could leave the cage out on your deck, under the awning.”

  “I thought of that, but Hilly would have a fit.”

  “Ah, parenthood,” he said. “I’m grateful I was spared the experience. Most of the time I am, anyway.”

  “You mean sometimes you aren’t?”

  “Not too often, but, yes, I sometimes regret not having children. Today it’s possible for same-sex couples to adopt.” He shuddered. “God, I hate that expression. But when I was younger homosexuality was still illegal in many places, which made it difficult to have a family. Ah, at the risk of opening a rather nasty can of worms, the police busted some kids dealing dope around the market. Have you talked to Hilly about drugs?”

  “Yes. Some. I don’t think I have too much to worry about in that department. She’s a pretty sensible kid. But who knows?”

  “How about sex?”

  “Christ, Daniel, she’s only twelve.”

  “Age isn’t relevant, physical and emotional development is. And she’s starting to develop physically, or hadn’t you noticed.”

  I admitted I had. “The last thing I need is to have to talk to Hilly about the birds and the bees,” I said.

  “I’d offer my services,” Daniel said, “but – ” He shrugged. “Speaking of parenting, I spoke to your father briefly on the weekend. How is your mother?”

  “Hasn’t changed,” I said.

  “I wouldn’t wait,” he said. “Your father seemed somewhat down in the dumps.”

  “Hilly thinks they’re getting a divorce. She told me they’re acting just like Linda and I did before our divorce.”

  “Unfortunately it happens,” Daniel said.

  “If they do,” I said, “my sister will go absolutely ballistic.” I pitched my voice an octave higher. “‘Tom, my god, this is awful. We can’t let them do this. There must be something we can do.’ Mary-Alice is pathologically incapable of minding her own business.”

  “How do you feel about it?”

  “I’m not sure,” I said. “What are your views on astrology?”

  “Pardon me?”

  “Astrology. Y’know, birth signs, zodiacs?

  “I had a Zodiac once, but it sank.”

  “Not that kind of zodiac. The Age of Aquarius kind of zodiac.”

  “Yes, of course. Personally, I don’t have much use for it. Why do
you ask?”

  “Did you know that Maggie Urquhart was studying to become an astrologer?”

  “No, I didn’t.”

  “She came over for lunch on Sunday to meet Hilly. My father could barely contain himself. He was actually charming. It was embarrassing.”

  “Embarrassing? Why were you embarrassed, Thomas?”

  “He was making a fool of himself.”

  “And you’ve never made a fool of yourself over a woman.”

  “Of course I have. But it’s not the same thing. He’s my father and he’s being disloyal to my mother.” I sighed heavily. “I guess we always tend to relate to our parents as if we were still children. It’s difficult, maybe even impossible, to see them as ordinary people.”

  “Try, Thomas.”

  I looked at my watch and stood up. It was five-thirty and I was supposed to be at Susan’s at six. “You’re sure you don’t mind looking after Hilly? I shouldn’t be late.”

  “No, of course not,” he said. He walked me downstairs.

  At the front door I said, “If Carla shows up, would you mind entertaining her until I get back?”

  “Not at all. It will give me an opportunity to practice my sleight of hand. By the way, is Susan thinking about moving out of her condo?”

  “Not to my knowledge,” I said. “Why?”

  “It may be nothing,” he said, “but I ran into her the other day in front of the Island Realty office. She was looking through listings of bungalows.”

  Chapter 9

  “Ground control to Major Tom,” Susan said, tapping me gently on the side of the head. “Is anybody in there?”

  “Uh, sorry,” I said.

  “You could at least pretend to be interested,” she said.

  “Sorry,” I said again.

  We were sitting in the gathering dark on the balcony of her Kitsilano Point condo, watching the lights of the freighters anchored on English Bay. Debussy drifted through the open door from the stereo in the living room. I knew it was Debussy because Debussy was Susan’s favourite composer.

  “If you’d rather be somewhere else,” Susan said, “don’t let me keep you.”

  “I’m just a little preoccupied,” I said. “I guess I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

 
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