If looks could kill, p.9

If Looks Could Kill, page 9


If Looks Could Kill

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  “I remember him now,” I said. “A couple of years ago didn’t he win a huge settlement for the ex-wife of some computer billionaire.”

  “T’other way round,” Kev said. “MacIlroy represented the husband, one Parker O’Connor. Not worth quite as much as god or Bill Gates, but close. He holds the patent on some do-dad that virtually every computer in the world needs to make it work right. The ex-Mrs. O’Connor was demanding a truly indecent sum of money, but settled for considerably less. When last seen she was flogging cosmetics on late night TV. Why the interest in this particular shyster, may I ask?”

  “I’m hoping he’ll be able to shed some light on the whereabouts of an old friend.”

  “Good luck,” Kev said.

  I hung up, after promising to get together soon for a drink, and dialled the number Ginny had given me. I didn’t know whether it was his home number or his office number. A woman with a thick Eastern European accent answered.

  “May I speak to Mr. MacIlroy, please?”

  “No,” she said. “At office.”

  “Can you give me the number, please?”

  “No. You leave name, number. He call.” She paused, then added, “Maybe.”

  “Can you tell me the name of his firm?”


  “His office?”

  “You leave name, number. He call.” She paused.

  “I know. ‘Maybe.’ Thank you.”

  The phone clicked loudly in my ear as she hung up.

  There was a listing for MacIlroy & Raymond, Attorneys at Law, in the White Pages. I dialled the number. A woman answered. This one had an Australian accent. “May I to speak to Mr. Brian MacIlroy, please?”

  “Whom shall I say is calling?”

  “My name is Thomas McCall.”

  Pause, no doubt while she checked my name against the list of acceptable callers. Then: “Mr. MacIlroy isn’t taking any new clients, Mr. McCall.”

  “I’m not a client,” I said. “This is a personal matter. It concerns a mutual friend, Carla Bergman.”

  “Hold the line, please. I’ll see if Mr. MacIlroy will speak to you.”

  The phone clicked as I was put on hold. Every five or so seconds the line beeped to remind me I was still on hold, annoying but less so than canned music. I didn’t really think MacIlroy would agree to speak to me, but after about a minute the line clicked again and deep oily voice said, “Mr. McCall? Brian MacIlroy. Dierdre said you had a personal matter to discuss regarding a Carla Bergman. I don’t believe I know a Carla Bergman.”

  If he didn’t know her, why was he talking to me? I asked myself. Aloud I said, “It was four or five years ago. Black hair, pale skin, dark blue eyes.”

  “I’m sorry, I don’t recall.”

  “She remembers you,” I said, figuring it was probably true. “She was with you when you purchased a $15,000 Haida sculpture from a gallery in Gastown.”

  “I’ve purchased many pieces of Northwest native art, sir. It’s a particular passion of mine, but I don’t – wait a moment. Carla Bergman. Yes, I do recall meeting someone by that name a few years ago. I believe it was at my tennis club. Charming girl. But I would hardly call her a friend, Mr. Thomas.”

  “McCall,” I said.

  “Excuse me. Mr. McCall.”

  “Carla told me you were quite close,” I said.

  “I see. Let’s not waste valuable time, shall we, Mr. McCall. What is the purpose of your call?”

  “Has Carla been in touch with you recently?”

  There was a long silence. Finally, he said, “Are you representing Miss Bergman?”


  Another pause, even longer. A good habit, think before you speak. I made a mental note to try it. I resisted the impulse to break the silence, waited him out. “What is your interest in Miss Bergman?” he asked at last.

  “Uh, I’m a friend. I’m trying to find her.”

  “Does she wish to be found?” he asked.

  That was an odd question, I thought. I probably would have asked, “Why?” But MacIlroy was a lawyer, after all. “She was supposed to come to my home on Monday evening,” I said, “but she never arrived.”

  Another pause. It was unnerving, which was likely his intention. Probably a very effective courtroom tactic. I was about to ask him if he was still there, when he spoke.

  “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, Mr. McCall. I haven’t seen Miss Bergman in years.”

  And the phone went dead.

  It had been naïve of me to think that I could just call up a man like Brian MacIlroy and expect him to answer questions about an old lover, if, in fact, that’s what Carla was. People in MacIlroy’s socio-economic class made a fetish of privacy. You needed leverage. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any, nor did I know where to find any.

  I have a rotten memory and I’ve developed the habit of doodling and jotting notes in a steno pad whenever I talk to clients. It’s an unconscious activity, half the time I’m not even aware I’m doing it, which frequently makes the doodles difficult to interpret later. While talking to Brian MacIlroy I’d drawn a crude totem pole, then added stubby legs and sneakers and written the word “LOVE” below it. No problem. MacIlroy had said he’d met Carla at his tennis club. I wasn’t sure it was useful information, but it was something.

  There was a sudden muffled crash from the outer office that rattled the glass in my office door. Bodger’s head snapped up, tattered ears cocked. I got up and went into the other room.

  “What the hell was that?” I asked Mrs. Szymkowiak.

  “It sounded like it came from the lab,” she said.

  Bobbi came storming out of the lab, shoulders hunched and face livid.

  “Bobbi, what the…”

  “Not now,” she said through clenched teeth and slammed out of the studio.

  Chapter 14

  After dinner, Hilly and Beatrix and I checked the purple pump then went for a walk. The season was in full swing and there were the inevitable tourists on the boardwalk gawking at the funny floating houses, hoping to catch a glimpse of the strange people who lived in them. A middle-aged man in a yellow polo shirt and a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap aimed a video camera at us as we walked up the ramp. There was something odd about the way he held the little camera, then I noticed he was missing the two middle fingers of his right hand. I glared at him and he aimed the camera elsewhere.

  The cobbled streets were busy, thronging with tourists from Des Moines and Kyoto, locals from Kitsilano and the West End on the other side of False Creek, mummers, mimes, and the occasional mendicant. The gulls were making their last noisy forays before retiring for the evening (to wherever it was gulls retired) and soon the thousands of grackles or starlings or whatever they were would be returning en masse to their roosts under the Granville Bridge, an event that was spectacular albeit somewhat hazardous to behold.

  Beatrix didn’t like walking and rode Hilly’s shoulder instead, her small head constantly swivelling back and forth on her sinuous neck as she tried to take in everything going on around her. Our progress was slowed by the people who kept stopping us to admire Beatrix and I began to think that owning a ferret or some equally exotic pet might be a great way to meet people. The female variety, of course. Oh, what a darling little thing, what is it? It’s my pet wombat, Elvis. Sit still for the nice lady, Elvis.

  A group of teenagers – a “hormone” a curmudgeonly friend calls it – loitered around the entrance to the arcade next the Kid’s Market. The boys had a cloned look, hair shorn unevenly, dressed in baggy shorts, oversized T-shirts, and heavy-soled black shoes or paratrooper boots or sneakers that looked as though they’d been designed by NASA. The girls were dressed more individualistically, but only somewhat.

  The arcade was a new addition to the attractions on Granville Island, not an altogether welcome one to some. An unpleasant electronic racket issued from the garishly lighted interior, a cacophony of synthesized gunfire, screaming tires, roaring engines, shrieks, grunts, pows,
thuds, whirs, buzzes, boings and bongs.

  As we passed, one of the boys waved and called Hilly’s name.

  “Who’s that?” I asked.

  “A boy from the day camp,” she said. “Can I, Dad?”

  “All right,” I said reluctantly. I looked at my watch. It was a little before eight. “Be home by nine.”

  She said, “Thanks,” and ran to join them.

  I continued my leisurely circuit around the island. Unencumbered by a minor, I dropped into Bridges Pub for a quick beer. It was a mistake. Susan was sitting by herself on the terrace. Unfortunately, I didn’t see her until she’d seen me. By then I’d already picked up a beer at the bar and it was too late to duck out with dignity intact.

  “Tom,” she said.

  “Susan,” I said. “How are you?”

  “Fine,” she said.

  “Are you alone?” I asked before I noticed there was another glass on the table. It was a stupid question anyway; Susan never went to bars alone.

  “No,” she said.

  “Ah,” I said. “Well…”

  Just then her companion returned, a blandly handsome forty-something fellow named Colin Applegate. When he saw me he looked for a moment as though he was going to run, and probably would have if I hadn’t smiled my most disarming smile.

  “Tom,” he said.

  “Colin,” I said, remembering just in time to pronounce his name properly.

  Applegate was a suit, vice president of marketing or something. He lived in a condo in the West End, drove a BMW 735i, and kept a forty-five foot Hunter sloop at one of the marinas on the other side of False Creek. If Susan were husband hunting she could do worse, financially speaking, but I was disappointed in her; she could do a hell of a lot better than Colon Applejerk, as one of the waitresses at The Keg had dubbed him.

  “Well, enjoy your evening,” I said lamely.

  I took my beer back to the bar where I found a stool and wedged myself between a bulky gent who seemed to be coated in a thin patina of grey dust – I guessed he worked at the Ocean Cement plant – and broad-shouldered, muscular woman in frayed cut-offs and sleeveless denim shirt knotted below her breasts. I’d seen her around, but didn’t know her name. She was deeply tanned, but burnt on the tops of her shoulders, and her short hair was sun-bleached almost white. Her features were strong, almost masculine, but not quite.

  “How you doing?” she said. She was drinking a Granville Island lager from the bottle. Her hands looked capable of crushing rocks.

  “Can’t complain,” I replied.

  “That’ll be a refreshing change,” she said. “I hate men who whine.”

  “Well, you don’t have to be so brutally honest about it,” I whined.

  She saluted me with her beer bottle, drained it, and held up the empty for the bartender to see. “You live in one of those floating homes, don’t you?”

  “Yes, I do,” I replied.

  The bartender placed a fresh bottle of beer in front of her. I thought about offering to pay for it, but that’s all. She wasn’t unattractive, not by a long shot, but the muscular development intimidated me a little. Hell, it intimidated me a lot.

  “I heard one of ’em’s sinking,” she said. “Not that one, I hope.”

  “The very one,” I said.

  “Then I’d say you have something to complain about.”

  “What good would it do?”

  “True. Well,” she added, raising her bottle, “here’s to Archimedes’ Principle.” She knocked her bottle against my glass and we drank. “I’m Francine Janes,” she said, offering her hand. “I know it’s an awful name, but it’s better than Frankie. I’ll tolerate Fran, but prefer Francine. No one calls me Franny.”

  “Tom McCall,” I said, shaking her hand. As powerful as her hands looked, her handshake was gentle, almost timid. “People call me all kinds of things.” She smiled. She had very nice, very white teeth. “Do you work around here?” I asked.

  “At the dive shop,” she said. “I’m a general dog’s body and sometimes scuba instructor.”

  “That explains your knowledge of Archimedes’ Principle.”

  “Actually, no,” she said. “That would be my degree in marine engineering.”

  “What’s a marine engineer doing working as a general dog’s body and sometimes scuba instructor?”

  “I tried the nine-to-five routine,” she said. “But it didn’t suit my nature. Cousteau wasn’t hiring,” she added with a shrug, “so here I am.”

  “Jacques’ loss,” I said. We drank to his memory; he’d died just a couple of years ago.

  Colin Applegate’s bland image hove into view in the mirror behind the bar.

  “Oh-oh,” Francine said.

  “Can I have a word with you, Tom?” he said.

  “Sure, Colin,” I said, turning around. “What’s up?” Surely he didn’t want talk about Susan.

  “I want to talk to you about Susan,” he said.

  Francine said, “Maybe you boys ought to take this outside.”

  I leaned back against the bar and waited. When Colin realized I wasn’t going to say anything, nor suggest a change of venue, he said, “You aren’t going to be difficult about this, are you, old man?”

  “What do you mean?” I said. “Difficult about what?”

  “I know that you and Susan have been seeing each other for some time,” he said, “but she assures me that it’s now pretty much over between you.”

  I had more or less arrived at the same conclusion when she hadn’t returned any of my calls, but hearing it from Colin made me want to throw myself at her feet and beg for forgiveness. I restrained myself.

  “I mean,” Colin went on, “I wouldn’t want you to think that I – that is, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of – come between – well, I think you know what I mean.”

  “Susan’s a adult,” I said. “Who she goes out with is her business.”

  “I wasn’t asking your permission to go out with her,” he said. “I just want to be sure you understand.”

  “Understand what?” I said, refusing to let him off the hook.

  He stared at me for a few seconds, then went away.

  When he was out of earshot Francine said, “Did he really say ‘old man’? What did he think this was, an episode of Masterpiece Theatre?”

  I swivelled around. “I almost feel sorry for him,” I said.

  “Why’s that?”

  “Susan isn’t the type to suffer fools. I’m surprised she put up with me for as long as she did.”

  “Are you a fool?”

  “Sometimes I wonder.” I looked at my watch. It was almost nine. “I’ve got to go,” I said. “I told my daughter to be home by nine.”

  “Mind if I tag along?” Francine said. “My car’s parked in the lot near Sea Village and my three hours are almost up.”

  There is a three hour limit on free parking on Granville Island and they are strict about enforcing it.

  “Glad of the company,” I said.

  * * * * *

  We were standing on the boardwalk at the top of the ramp down to the docks. My house was easy to identify from the purple pump on the dock.

  “Still afloat, at least,” she said.

  “So far,” I said.

  “Are they built on pontoons or what?”

  “Reinforced concrete hulls,” I said.

  “And it’s leaking?”

  “So it would seem. Would you like the twenty-five cent tour? Maybe I could scare up a beer.” Smooth, I thought. Very smooth.

  “I wouldn’t turn down a cup of tea,” she replied. “Let me flip my car.”

  Her car was a battered Jeep Renegade with over-sized off-road tires. The free parking lot was full, as usual in the summer, so she scrubbed the chalk mark off the tire with the sole of her sneaker, then backed the Jeep out of its slot and re-parked it tail first.

  I checked the pump – it was still running – and the answering machine to see if my insurance agent or the salvage
contractor had called – neither had – then put on a kettle. While we waited for the water to boil, I gave Francine the twenty-five cent tour, during which she used the downstairs bathroom. It was not quite nine and Hilly wasn’t home yet. When the water was ready, I made a pot of herbal tea and we took it up to the roof deck. The tide was in and the deck was above the level of the boardwalk.

  “You aren’t worried about being alone with a strange man?” I asked when we’d settled into deck chairs.

  She laughed and said, “Are you strange?”

  “A little, but I’m not dangerous.”

  “I’m pretty strong,” she said.

  “Yes, you look it. Do you lift weights?” I asked.

  “Some,” she said, “but mainly I row.”


  “Sculls. I was on the Olympic rowing team a few years ago. Almost took the bronze medal in ’84, but I blew a muscle in my back.”

  I revised her age upward. If she’d competed in the 1984 Olympics she’d be my age at least, perhaps a year or two older. Rowing isn’t a sport for kids.

  “And now,” I said, “you’re a general dog’s body and sometimes scuba instructor with a degree in marine engineering.”

  “That about sums it up. What do you do?”

  “I’m a commercial photographer.”

  “What’s a commercial photographer?”

  “One who takes pictures of damned near anything for money, corporate vice presidents or helicopters.”

  “You must do all right,” she said, “to have a place like this.”

  “The house belongs to a friend who lives in Israel. I’m a sort of a full-time permanent house sitter. I pay the expenses.”

  “And it’s sinking? Poor you.”

  “Yes, it surely is. I’m hopeful, however, that the insurance will cover it.”

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