Sharp left Paul Carol’s home and walked back to the K-Car. Why would the guy take junk? she thought to herself. She drove over to the other burglary victim, who was listed in the phonebook as “O. Kraus".
When Sharp arrived at the first-floor heritage home, she found out that the O was short for Olaf, Irene Kraus’ recently deceased husband. Mrs. Kraus lived at 12 Isadora Avenue, which was two streets south of Donald and one north of Crossley. Her apartment was hit three days after Paul Carol’s and she was still reeling.
"He took my television and my radio — my kitchen radio. Why did he take it? Answer me that? It’s not a special radio. It’s not worth a lot of money but it was a present from my husband. It means so much to me,” she said, her confusion showing in her thin, lined face. “Maybe you find my things?"
Sharp left her, after telling her that she’d try her best, then walked back to her car and climbed in.
Looks like our East End Burglar is a junk collector, Sharp thought to herself as she started the engine and drove over to Church Street, where she turned right and headed south, back to her office. She waited for the lights to change at Church and Crossley. She stared at the word, “Crossley” on the street sign; it just as easily could have read, “Claire… Iverson.” The cross around her neck the night she met her, the prayer book–and Claire, herself, standing in the chapel entrance way flashed before her eyes.
A horn blaring behind her let Sharp know the lights had changed several seconds ago. She drove through the intersection, then pulled up next to a modern, open-air public telephone. With her good hand, she hoisted the yellow pages, which were hanging on a chain, up onto the small metal shelf. She thumbed through the book, found what she was looking for, and then returned to her car.
At Carleton Street, instead of continuing south to the Sharp Detective Agency office, she turned right and headed back to her apartment. She drove fast, too. She had an idea.
A decade earlier, the land would have been a farmer’s field. Now, it was a street lined with low-rise office buildings, factories, warehouses and, always, parking lots. Clusters of spruce trees and uneven lines of cement blocks divided up the parking areas between businesses.
The lot in front of Iverson Devotionals was half-full when the beige K-car joined the group. The driver’s side door opened and a woman’s heeled shoe, followed by a nyloned leg, stepped out and onto the pavement, all wrapped in a light cloth coat tied at the waist. Sharp pushed her auburn, shoulder-length hair down tight on her head and walked carefully towards the front door. Even though it made it throb, she held her bandaged hand down at her side so that it was partly hidden under the cuff of her coat.
Sharp took a deep breath, pulled open the chrome-framed door, and stepped inside.
She blinked to make sure that what she was seeing was real. Even then, she couldn’t be sure. She was in a dark, wood-panelled room and her heels were submerged in pale gold, plush, wall-to-wall carpeting. A corner sitting area was defined by a trio of puffy, plaid club chairs. Reading lamps stood on side tables casting oval pools of warm, comforting light. Looks like a funeral chapel, Sharp thought to herself as she put on a smile and stepped up to a woman in her fifties who sat behind a wooden desk, hands hovering over an electric typewriter. The woman had gray curls and her blouse ended in a ruffled collar high-up around her neck. She asked, “May I help you?"
"I hope so. You see, I’m the secretary for a downtown Bible study group and I’d like to enquire about outfitting our group — we’re 50 or so people depending on the time of year. Anyway, we need Books of Common Prayer, Bibles — you name it, we need it,” Sharp smiled at the woman who stared back at her like she had three heads. Sharp pressed on, “Is there someone I could speak to? A sales representative, perhaps?"
It took the secretary a few moments to realize Sharp had asked her a question–and what the question was. She wetted her lips with some difficulty then said: “We — usually deal with larger orders, but let me call Mark. One moment."
"He’s certainly got the right name to work here,” Sharp said, grinning, but didn’t get a response.
The woman held the receiver to her ear, cupped the mouthpiece, then said, “There’s a new customer here. Church group, small order. Could you please speak to her? …Uh-huh,” she put down the receiver. “He’ll be right with you. Please have a seat."
The secretary stood up and directed Sharp into a small meeting room behind the reception desk. “In there,” she ordered.
"Thank you,” Sharp said as the door closed behind her. She glanced around. Hanging on the walls were framed photographs of churches — 100-hundred-year-old, traditional stone buildings, as well as modern, mega-churches surrounded by parking lots. Sharp was staring at a Kansas mega church, frowning, when the door opened and a man entered — late twenties, with the square jaw, wavy hair and the muscular body of varsity quarterback.
"Mark Taylor, nice to meet you Miss…?” He held out his hand.
Sharp shook it, saying, “Cook. Janet. So nice to meet you Mr. Taylor."
He sat down across from her and laid some pamphlets on the table. “Agnes tells me you run a church group?” he asked, feigning interest.
"Bible study group, yes, and we need religious materials. I was recently at Grace Chapel and saw that Iverson Devotionals supplied books for their congregation, which prompted my making this enquiry."
Taylor’s face hardened, slightly, at the mention of Grace Chapel. “I see,” he said, then pushed the pamphlets over to Sharp. “Here’s a price list and inventory of the products we carry. Perhaps if you take these with you and–.” Just then the door opened.
"Rand Iverson. How do you do?” Another large, male hand was thrust at Sharp, this time, by a man in his sixties with tightly-cropped white hair and striking green eyes set in a pink, boney face. Sharp knew those eyes. They were Claire’s.
"Jane Cook, hello.” Sharp replied, unnerved and momentarily forgetting her alias.
"As president, I like to personally welcome all new clients into the Iverson Devotionals family. I’m sure Mark here will take excellent care of you. Have a good day, and I hope to see you again, soon, Miss Cook. And God bless you,” he bowed and closed the door.
Mark raised his eyebrows in distaste, which Sharp suspected arose from being interrupted by the boss as much as having to speak to a Bible study group secretary. “Is there anything else?” he said, clearly hoping the answer would be no.
Sharp gathered the pamphlets together with her good hand. “I’ll have a look at these and I’ll call you if I have any questions. How’s that?,” Sharp said, smiling, as she stood up to leave.
"That sounds like a plan,” Mark said without interest as he reached for the door knob.
"Oh, and I also wanted to express my condolences. I was so sad to hear about … Claire,” Sharp said, carefully.
Mark stiffened. “And you knew her — how?” he asked just as carefully.
"Through our Bible group. She had expressed interest in joining. The city is just not as safe as it once was, I’m afraid. Very sad business."
"Yes. Yes, it is,” he said, opening the door and directing her into the reception area.
"Thank you for your help, Mr. Taylor. I’ll be sure to call you with my order,” Sharp said as she stepped toward the door.
"I’ll look forward to that,” Mark said, stone-faced.
Sharp slowly pushed open the front door. In its polished chrome frame, she could see Mark and Agnes staring at her — and Mark snatching up the telephone receiver.
Outside, Sharp walked to her K-car as quickly as her pumps — and her pump-wearing inexperience — allowed. The roar of the nearby 401 highway set Sharp’s teeth on edge, and the grey swirling storm clouds overhead didn’t help. A cold feeling was crawling through her; she wanted to get out of there, fast. She bent her head over her handbag and searched for her car key as a blue Buick turned into the driveway and disappeared behind the building.