The K-car merged onto the 401 westbound and onto the lane heading toward the Don Valley Parkway/404 turn-off. Sharp took the DVP and headed south, toward Toronto. Her heart was racing from her undercover adventure at Iverson Devotionals. You could get into real trouble doing that, an inner voice told her. Another one told her she already was.
When she entered her apartment and locked the door, a rush of relief flooded through her. She moved through the rooms, unzipping parts of her Bible study group disguise and discarding them in a trail that led from the front door to the cupboard where the scotch was kept. After pouring three fingers, she collapsed, half-naked, on the couch — drink in hand.
“Claire’s family runs a religious supplies outfit,” she said out loud to the world — not that anyone was listening. “And Mark Taylor’s an ass,” she added. Sharp sighed and thought to herself: So what? What does it all mean?
She closed her eyes for the second time that day and wondered what she was doing, getting herself mixed up in a police case. She also wondered what was behind Mark Taylor’s strange behaviour. Was it just that he didn’t want to deal with eccentric-looking Bible study secretaries? (Though she had tried her best with her outfit.) Or was there more to it? He’s hiding something, Sharp thought. Then she smiled to herself, realizing that most people were hiding something or other.
A moment later, she noticed the red light blinking on her answering machine. She reached across the arm of her couch and hit the message button.
It was Meg. How sad that the only phone calls I get are from my ex, Sharp thought as she listened to the long beep that signalled a recorded message.
“Hi Sid, it’s me. Look — we should get together and figure out when to move the plant. I’m going to be at Julie’s tonight at about 10 o’clock. Why don’t you come by and we can plan another moving date and also just, you know, get caught up,” she said. She paused before adding: “It would be nice to see you. For old times’ sake, anyway. Let me know.” Beep.
Sharp deleted the message and downed the rest of the scotch. Actually, that would be fun, Sharp thought to herself.
She picked up the receiver, dialled, and waited for the beep.
“Hi Meg, got your message. I’ll see you tonight.” Sharp smiled to herself, then added, “And I’ll be there. I promise."
After a hot shower with her bandaged hand safely wrapped up inside a plastic bag, Sharp turned her attention to her modest wardrobe. What to wear? She thought as she examined her closet full of second-hand men’s shirts and suits and other oddities. She settled on a new-old red shirt, jacket and jeans. She looked in the mirror and assessed herself. She felt good. She felt like herself. Sure, she looked like a guy, and her outfit only sealed the deal. Sharp shrugged at her reflection.
She picked up her scotch glass from the side table where she’d left it by the answering machine and carried it into the kitchen. There was a thin finger left in the bottle. She poured it into a glass and tossed it back. She breathed in the scent of her freshly applied cologne, and the image of Neal Mowbray flashed before her eyes. Claire’s boyfriend. As much as Sharp didn’t like the idea of Claire and Mowbray together, she liked the guy, she had to admit. Smiling to herself, she grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. Two knocks on the other side of it of it made her stop.
Sharp checked her watch — 10:10 pm. Another late-night visit from Kevin Lee? She pulled open the door, still smiling.
“Hi . . . huh?” Sharp said as her smile vanished.
Two men stood in the hall — one average height, the other a much shorter than his friend. The shorter one was wearing a gold ring that cut open Sharp’s lip when it landed straight on her face. The last thing she remembered before total darkness settled over her consciousness was the short man’s goatee as he peered into her eyes. A moment later he was gone — and so was she.
The hazy contours of Nurse Hall’s face came into view, causing Sharp to shrink back into her pillow. Her again? Sharp thought, realizing where she was — again — and why. Two men in her apartment doorway. A gold ring. Why? It hurt to think. She closed her eyes again.
“We meet again,” Nurse Hall said, smiling like nothing was wrong.
“Face numb,” Sharp mumbled through a wad of gauze in her right cheek.
“Open up,” Nurse Hall ordered. She pulled out the blood soaked gauze and dropped it into a garbage pail.
“Numb . . .” Sharp blurted out again. She couldn’t feel part of her cheek, which made talking difficult. Saliva was collecting at the corners of her mouth.
Nurse Hall kept right on grinning, “The doctor should be with you shortly. He’ll fill you in on . . . the damages!” She let out a loud, sharp laugh, and then turned and left the room.
Sharp looked around. This time, she was in a normal hospital room, instead of the previous blue-curtained enclosure. She held up her right hand. Her bandage had been replaced by a much smaller one that wrapped, unobtrusively, around her hand. She could bend her fingers, hold a pen and unscrew the cap from a new scotch bottle — all good things.
Just then, the red-headed doctor appeared. “We meet again, Ms Sharp,” he said, making Sharp think that the hospital staff must have a limited number of approved opening lines at their disposal.
“Yes,” Sharp said, adding for the third time, “I can’t feel my cheek.”
The doctor shrugged. “I’m not surprised. Now would you mind telling me what happened — this time? The truth, please,” he said, folding his arms across his chest and gazing down at Sharp. Nurse Hall stepped up quietly behind the doctor. She peered forward, with eye brows raised in anticipation.
“I was,” Sharp began, trying to think of what to say but coming up blank. She decided on the truth. “I opened my door and a man hit me in the face. I went out. That’s all I remember.”
“Who was this man? A friend?"
“Best friend,” Sharp said rolling her eyes. At least they still worked.
“Well, you seem to lead an unusually violent life. I don’t pretend to know the whys and wherefores, but I would recommend you report this attack to the police. You’ve suffered nerve damage to your cheek — that’s the numbness you’re feeling.” He leaned into her face. “And a cut, resulting in a swollen lip, though that should go down in a day or two.”
“Great,” Sharp said thickly.
“What’s even greater is that your nose wasn’t broken. Nurse Hall?” he said without turning.
“Yes, doctor?” she answered, demurely.
Why does she put on that baby-doll voice with him? Sharp wondered, suddenly mad at the world and everyone in it.
“Help the patient prepare to leave.”
"Of course, doctor,” she breathed seductively.
“Your body’s had a shock,” he said, looking hard at Sharp. “You need rest and quiet, do you understand? And I do not want to see you in here again with some new wound.” He turned and left the room. The door clicked shut behind him.
Neither do I, thought Sharp, closing her eyes. They opened again when she remembered she wasn’t alone. Nurse Hall stepped up to the bed, clasped the edge of the thin blanket that covered Sharp’s body . . . and pulled it free.
For the second time in as many days, Sharp wondered, What’s her problem?