If looks could kill, p.6

If Looks Could Kill, page 6


If Looks Could Kill

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  “You guess?”

  “I do have a lot on my mind,” I amended.

  “Do you want to talk about it?”

  “There’s really nothing to talk about.”

  “Does it have anything to do with us?”

  “No,” I said.

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes, I’m sure.” Lying to her made me feel like a bastard, but if I told her where I really wanted to be was at home in case Carla called, I didn’t think she’d understand. In fact, I was certain she wouldn’t understand. I didn’t. Not really.

  “Why did you come here if you didn’t want to be with me?” she said.

  “I didn’t say I didn’t want to be with you.”

  “Not in so many words,” she said.

  “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just not very good company tonight.”

  “Maybe you should go.”

  “Maybe you’re right.”

  “You don’t have to be so bloody accommodating.”

  I almost said, “Sorry,” but bit it back. I was sick of hearing myself say that word.

  “I think we have to talk,” she said.

  “About what?” I asked, pouring myself another glass of wine from the bottle on the deck of the balcony.

  “We’ve been seeing each other for almost a year now,” she said. “I think it’s time we made some plans.”

  “What kinds of plans?” I asked, playing stupid, which for me wasn’t at all difficult sometimes.

  “You know what I’m talking about,” she said.

  “Marriage,” I said, drinking some wine.

  “Well, yes,” she said. “Eventually, but not right now. I was thinking more along the lines of an engagement.”

  “Like with a ring and all that.”

  “All that?”

  “Figure of speech.”

  “I see. Yes, I would expect a ring.”

  “Um. How long would this engagement be for?”

  “A year is not uncommon.”

  “And then we’d get married.”

  “That’s generally the idea.”

  I emptied my wine glass, refilled it, and drank half. “Commitment,” I said.

  “Pardon me?”

  “You want some kind of commitment from me.”

  “Is that expecting too much?”

  “No, I guess not.”

  “After all, neither of us is getting any younger.”

  “God, Susan, you’re only thirty-two,” I said. “And I’m only thirty-seven. Not exactly ready for retirement.”

  “You know what I mean.”

  “You keep saying that.”

  “Well, you do, don’t you?”

  “Children,” I ventured.

  “Yes, I want children,” she said. “You do want more children, don’t you?”

  “I hadn’t really thought about it,” I lied.

  “What’s to think about?”

  “Lots,” I said. “Plenty,” I added. “Lots of plenty. Hilly’s a good kid, but I think the human gene pool can get along without further contributions from me.”

  “You aren’t taking this very seriously,” she said, voice frigid.

  “On the contrary,” I said. “I’m taking it very seriously.”

  “What is it? Children? Being married? Being married to me?”

  “I was married once,” I said. “It didn’t work out well at all.”

  “I’m not your ex-wife.”

  I almost said, “Not yet,” but my instinct for survival was strong. “No,” I said. “You’re not. But that’s not the problem.”

  “What is the problem then?”

  “I’m not ready to get married again,” I said. “Or engaged.”

  “I see.” She stood up and walked to the railing. When she turned around to face me there were tears on her cheeks and when she spoke her voice was thick. “I don’t think you’re being entirely honest with yourself,” she said. “I think you’re just making excuses.”

  “You may be right,” I granted. “But I’m happy with my life right now, the way it is. It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable with myself. I want to enjoy it for a while longer.”

  “I think you’re just afraid you’re going to get hurt again so you won’t let yourself get emotionally involved with anyone.”

  “Well, what’s wrong with that?” I said. “Look, maybe we’re after different things here. You want commitment, marriage, a family. I’m not sure I do. Not yet, anyway. And it isn’t going to help if you start pressuring me.”

  “I’m not pressuring you,” she said.

  “It sure feels like it.”

  “I just want to make sure you understand how I feel.”

  “I understand.”

  “No, I don’t think you do.”

  “I wish you’d stop telling me what I think or feel. How can you be so certain? You’re not a mind reader. Maybe you want me to be afraid of commitment.”

  “That’s ridiculous.”

  “Is it? I can get over fear of commitment, but I can’t get over not wanting to commit to you.”

  “I thought you loved me.”

  So there it was. The cards were on the table. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Who’s going to be the next big loser?


  Say something, you idiot. Don’t just sit there with your brain hanging out. Tell her the truth. You don’t love her, not the way she needs to be loved.

  “I guess I was wrong,” she said, voice soft and full of hurt.

  I felt like an absolute shit, unworthy to breathe the same air she did, walk the same planet. On the other hand, I’d never told her I loved her, never said the words. I stood up.

  “There’s someone else, isn’t there?”


  “You’re in love with someone else.”

  “No, I’m not in love with anyone else.”

  “You were a little too quick to answer. I think there is someone else.” She turned her back. “Good bye, Tom.”

  * * * * *

  Susan’s condo was a fifteen minute walk from Granville Island. The last couple of glasses of wine had given me a headache, but the cool night air cleared my head. It was a beautiful evening, the air clear and sweet, but I was in no mood to appreciate it. If the Big One hit tonight, swallowed me up and buried me under a million tonnes of rock and a hundred metres of seawater, I was ready. I deserved it. I had committed the single unpardonable sin in my personal rulebook: I had hurt someone I cared about. Perhaps it had been unavoidable, but that didn’t change the way I felt. To make matters worse, I was already beginning to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Bertrand Russell said that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt, but he didn’t know me. I was both stupid and full of doubt.

  I was so wrapped up in my self-pity that I didn’t notice the long dark limo parked by the ramp down to Sea Village until the back door swung open, the interior lights went on and a man said, “McCall.”

  I jerked around and almost lost my balance.

  The man climbed out of the car. “Hey,” he said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.” But I could see the gleam of teeth in the dark face.

  It was Vincent Ryan.

  The driver’s window whined down and the blond beach boy type who’d picked Carla and Ryan up at the airport said, “Should I wait?”

  “Yeah,” Ryan said. “This shouldn’t take long.” He turned to me. “Where’s Carla?”


  “You heard me,” he said, large head thrust aggressively forward on his thick, powerful neck, hands balled into grapefruit-sized fists at his sides. “Where is she?”

  “How the hell should I know?” I said, unsettled by his belligerent manner. I had four inches on him, and a slightly longer reach, but he outweighed me by a good twenty pounds, and not an ounce of it looked like fat. He also looked as if he knew how to handle himself in a fight, whereas I hadn’t been in a fist fight since high school, and I’d lost that one.
br />   “Don’t fuck with me,” he said. “I know she came to see you yesterday.”

  Did he, or was he just guessing? “Yes,” I said. “But I haven’t seen her since.”

  “I know all about you and Carla,” he said.

  “Is that right?” I said. “What do you know?”

  “Enough. I’m no chump, McCall. I’m not going to fall for any two-bit hustle.”

  “If you’re being hustled,” I said, “it isn’t by me.”

  “I’m supposed to believe you?”

  “Believe what you want,” I said. “I’m not interested.”

  “Maybe you ought to get interested,” he said. The implied threat was left to my imagination.

  “I’m not helping her hustle you,” I said.

  “Why’d she come to see you then?”

  “It was a personal matter.”

  “I want to look through your house.”

  “Forget it,” I said.

  Predictably, he said, “She’s in there, isn’t she?”

  “No, she isn’t.”

  “Then you won’t mind if I look around.”

  “Damned right I mind. My daughter will be in bed.”

  “Bullshit,” Ryan said. “She’s next door with the little chink.”

  What was with this guy? Hadn’t he heard that it wasn’t politically correct to use terms like chinks and Nips? Not to mention distasteful. “You’re still not searching my house,” I said.

  “And who’s going to stop us?”


  “Sam,” Ryan said. “Get out of the car.”

  “Leave me out of this, Mr. Ryan,” Sam said. “You pay me to drive, not beat up on people or break into their homes and scare their kids.”

  “Fuck you, asshole. You’re fired.”

  “Fine.” Sam started the car.

  “You son of a bitch. Turn off the engine. I’m paying a hundred and a half a day for that heap.”

  “Take a cab,” Sam said. “I’ll leave the car at the hotel.” The car lurched as he put it in gear.

  “All right already,” Ryan said. “Shut off the goddamned engine. You’re not fired. Shit. You know I can’t drive the fucking thing.”

  Sam turned the engine off and got out of the car. I backed up a little. He looked even bigger and beefier than he had at the airport.

  “I’m going to take a walk,” he said. “Maybe get a beer at that pub we passed. You two sort this thing out between yourselves.” He started to cross the parking lot, then turned to me. “He can be a complete pain in the ass sometimes, man, but help him out if you can.” To Ryan he said, “You might attract more flies with shit than with honey, but no one will love you for stinking up the place.”

  Ryan and I both stared at his broad back as he walked away from us.

  Ryan turned to me. “He’s a vegetarian,” he said, as if it explained Sam’s behaviour. “All right, look, he’s right, I shouldn’t have come on so heavy.” He stuck out a blunt hand.

  “No problem,” I said, disconcerted by the sudden shift in mood. Tentatively, I took his hand, readying myself for his crushing grip, but he just gave my hand a brief squeeze and let go.

  “You have no idea where she might be?” he said.

  “None. But if it’ll make you feel any better, she did the same thing to me a couple of years ago. I suggest you go home and count the cutlery.”

  He slumped against the fender of the car. “You wouldn’t have a cigarette, would you?”

  “I don’t smoke,” I said. I realized I felt sorry for him. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. “You can come inside for a drink if you like, as long as you promise to not insist on searching through the place.”

  “I can’t promise not to sneak a look through any open doorways.”

  “Fair enough.”

  Inside, I fixed him a double vodka over ice. I had club soda.

  “Nice place,” he said, looking around the sunken living room. “Not very big, though. How many bedrooms?”

  “Three,” I said. “Go ahead,” I added with a sigh. “Look around if you like.”

  “Naw, it’s all right. She isn’t here.”

  “How do you know?”

  “I’d’ve smelled her perfume.” I must have looked sceptical. He said, “Someone here uses some kind of floral scented stuff, probably your daughter. It’s popular with the kids.”

  I had no idea what sort of perfume Hilly used. I was not aware that she used any at all. Perhaps Ryan smelled my mother’s perfume.

  “You’ve got a pet skunk or something.”

  “You smell my daughter’s ferret.”

  “The rat thing I saw at the airport?”

  I nodded. “It’s a domesticated weasel.”

  He breathed in slowly through his nose, said, “You’ve had salmon within the last few days…”

  “Last night.”

  “…and you’re using some kind of musk deodorant, not an antiperspirant.”


  “I’ve got a hyper-sensitive olfactory system,” he added.

  “I’ll bet that’s unpleasant sometimes.”

  “Damned right. I hate Paris.” He tossed back his drink. “Mind if I have another? I’m not driving. Can’t. Tunnel vision. You may have noticed that I swivel my head a lot.”

  I hadn’t noticed. Nor did he seem to. I fixed him another drink.

  “Can I ask you a favour?” he said as I handed him his drink. He sat down on the sofa and crossed his legs. He immediately uncrossed them.

  “You can ask,” I said.

  “Would you help me find her?”

  “No, I don’t think I can do that.”

  “Well, at least you gave it some thought.”

  “I don’t need to,” I said. “I don’t want anything to do with it. I’m sorry she ran out on you, but you’re probably better off without her anyway.”

  “I disagree, but that’s not your problem. So, what was this personal matter she came to see you about?”

  I looked at him and he looked back. His eyes were very dark and hard and he had undoubtedly lost very few eye-contact contests. But I’d long ago lost any self-consciousness about staring at people. He finally shrugged and looked away, probably not so much because I’d won the contest but because he’d realized it was a waste of time.

  “All right, fine. Don’t tell me. How much do you want to help me find her?”

  “I told you,” I said. “I’m not going to help you. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to look.”

  “She still has friends here,” he said. “You could just ask around.”

  I shook my head. “Talk to them yourself.”

  “I don’t know who they are.”

  “That’s going to make it difficult,” I said.

  “You’re not being very co-operative,” he said. His voice was smooth and level, but his face was tight and his hard, dark eyes were narrowed to slits. “That’s not smart. You got a nice set up here, McCall. Nice house. Nice kid. Nice life. Things happen, though. You never know.”

  My pulse raced and my chest was tight with anger. I was suddenly very conscious of the physical presence of this man, the powerful width of his shoulders and chest, the bulge of muscle beneath the fabric of his shirt sleeves, the thickness of his wrists. He frightened me little, perhaps more than a little, but I was damned if I was going to let it show.

  “It’s been nice talking to you,” I said, going to the front door and opening. “Don’t bother finishing your drink.”

  “You’re stupider than I thought,” he said, casually downing the rest of his drink and placing the empty glass on the table in the hall.

  “Take out replacement value insurance next time.”


  “Never mind. Good night.”

  He reached into his shirt pocket and handed me a business card. “In case you change your mind,” he said.

  I dropped it onto the coffee table. “Don’t hold your breath,” I said.

I’ll be seeing you,” he said.

  “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

  “You don’t,” he said as I closed the door on him.

  Chapter 10

  “Do I have to?” Hilly said at breakfast the next morning. “It’s boring. Anyway, I thought Susan was supposed to take me to the science centre today?”

  “Something, uh, came up,” I said. “You’ll have to come to the studio, I’m sorry. I don’t feel right about leaving you alone all day.”

  “Mom does it all the time,” Hilly said, feeding Beatrix a shred of toast.

  “I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I said.

  “Why not?”

  Why not indeed? What harm did it do? So what if Beatrix learned to expect to be fed at the table? I recalled my mother telling me not to feed Ginger, her standard poodle, at the table. Ginger hadn’t whined or begged or pawed, he just sat hopefully beside my chair, waiting with doggish patience. If it had bothered her so much to have him hanging around the dinner table, why hadn’t she just banished him to the other room? But it had nothing to do with feeding Ginger at the table. My mother had been simply exercising parental authority for the sake of exercising parental authority, because she had it. As I was now.

  “Forget it,” I said. Returning to the subject, I said, “Does your mother really leave you alone all day?”

  “Well, maybe not all day, but a lot. Like when she goes shopping or does her volunteer work at the hospital. And usually Mattie is there.”

  “Mattie? Who’s Mattie?”

  “The maid.”

  “Your mother has a maid?”


  I wondered how much of my child support payments went to help pay for the maid. “Well, I don’t have a maid,” I said.

  “No kidding.”

  “And, besides, I don’t really care what your mother does. I don’t feel right about it. You’re too young to be left alone all day and I can’t impose on Daniel or Maggie all the time. You’re sure you won’t change your mind about the community centre? The day camp sounds like fun. They do all kinds of interesting things.”

  “Sure,” she said. “Like visit museums and take nature hikes.”

  “You were looking forward to visiting Science World with Susan.”

  “Did you break up with her?”

  “Quit trying to change the subject.”

  “Well, did you?”

  “My social life is not open to discussion.”

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