Twelve hours later, Sharp opened her eyes. Her bed was next to the window. She peered through the wooden slats of Venetian blind that hung over her bedroom window. It was still dark outside. She crinkled her nose and fell back against her pillow.
The travel clock beside her bed read 8:47pm. She’d slept the whole day since being dropped off by a cab that morning. She remembered telling the cabbie to drive as fast as he could away from Toronto Police Services Division B. He looked into his rear-view mirror and said, “Everyone I pick up here says the same damn thing. And they all think they’re the next David Steinberg. After the hundredth time, it ain’t that funny.”
Sharp pushed off the covers and prepared to face the day — at least what was left of it. A few minutes later, she was gingerly stepping over the debris-strewn floor of her apartment. I’ll get to that later, she thought, rubbing her eyes.
That’s when she noticed the blinking red light on her answering machine. She pressed the message button and walked into the kitchen. She flinched at the sound of Meg’s voice — again.
“I don’t know why I even bother!” she sighed dramatically. “All I want is my plant. That’s all! Pretty simple, actually. But no, you have to make everything so, so — complicated.” There was a long pause, then she inhaled like she was going to say something — and then the line went dead.
Sharp walked into the living room and punched the delete button. She bit her lip and frowned uneasily.
Then she paused as an idea entered her mind. It’s Friday night. Meg always goes to the bar on Fridays. I’ll surprise her, she thought to herself as she walked over to the mirror. The swelling was almost gone from her lip, but her face was still a bruise with eyes. At least it’ll be dark in the bar, she thought, then headed for her closet to choose an outfit.
Under the front awning of the Victorian house-turned-dyke bar, Sharp brushed away some raindrops that had beaded on her turquoise-blue, sharkskin jacket. She straightened the open collar of the bright white shirt she wore underneath and pulled at the front door. A cloud of dance music pulled her inside. New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” was on the turntable. Every time she went to Julie’s it seemed to be playing.
Inside, Sharp scanned the dance floor, looking for Meg. Just then, someone pulled the dry ice lever and clouds of white smoke drifted around the dancers and up their legs. There was no sign of Meg in the sitting area or on the dance floor. It didn’t make sense. Meg always came out on Fridays with her little posse of admirers.
Sharp frowned at what she was about to do. She had no choice; she would have to talk to Carol, who worked the bar. She was a stocky woman in her mid-30s and right then she was wiping up beer circles with a dirty, gray towel. She looked at Sharp, her face set hard. Carol was Meg’s ex — before Meg had met Sharp. It was pretty clear she was still in love with Meg — and that she felt the opposite way about Sharp.
“What happened to your face?” Carol asked.
“I walked into a wall.” Sharp leaned against the bar and glanced over at the dance floor — relieved to be able to look away. The dry ice had evaporated. Meg was nowhere in sight.
“You got to watch that.” Carol was smiling now. She liked that Sharp was hurt. This was something she could get behind.
“I’m looking for Meg. Have you seen her around?” Sharp asked, trying to keep her voice as casual as possible.
“She was here earlier,” Carol folded her arms over her chest and added, slowly, as if she was in some western B-movie. “But she left.”
“Do you know where she was going? I’m supposed to meet up with her,” Sharp lied.
“Right.” Carol sneered, nailing Sharp’s lie to the wall like a ribbon for coming in last. “Meg told me she’s had enough of you. Oh and you know why she left?”
“No, I don’t.” Sharp replied, quietly.
Carol leaned in close to Sharp. “She figured you’d come looking for her. She left to get away from you. That’s what she told me. She was really upset, too. You’ve done it this time, Sid. Oh, and you know what else?”
Carol grinned unpleasantly. Sharp noted that her gums were receding — right along with her grasp of reality.
“She said: you can keep the plant. She doesn’t care about it — or you!” Carol’s voice shot up an octave. Her cheeks flushed pink with victory, and perspiration dotted her forehead.
Delivering the deathblow was more excitement than Carol had had in a long time.
Outside on the street, Sharp wondered again what Meg had ever seen in Carol besides a few free drinks.
Then again, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Sharp put her K-car in gear and turned into the street. Talking to Carol had put her in a bad mood. Her face ached, too. She drove south on Parliament, then turned right on Carleton and headed west towards her apartment. At the last minute, instead of going through the light at Sherbourne, she flicked on her right turn signal. Before she reached the intersection and Bloor Street, she pulled over and parked the K-car. Across the street, was the entrance to The Gateway Bar. She needed a drink.
A few minutes later, Sharp was carrying a tumbler full of scotch toward an empty corner table. Her mouth creased into a lopsided, bittersweet grin. It was the very same table she’d sat at last Saturday night when she met Claire. She recalled how she’d been staring into her hands, thinking about Meg and trying to devise some way to get her back. Sharp sipped her drink and let her mind go back to that night — only six nights ago.
It was the scent she had noticed first. An intoxicating burst of Guy Laroche perfume floated up through Sharp’s nostrils. She knew the scent was expensive, and she opened her eyes to see who had the money to wear it. That’s when she saw the blonde. She was standing a couple of feet from Sharp’s table, holding a glass of white wine in her hand and looking lost.
Sharp pegged her for a first-timer. The Gateway was full of them. It was known as a haven for experimenters: teens from the suburbs, curious housewives, the shy, the questioning. The place had a strained, secretive atmosphere, like it really was illegal to be there. It also had a functioning bar, which appealed to Sharp. But the main attraction for Sharp was that Meg never went there; it was somewhere to go and think, away from her usual crowd and her usual problems.
The expensive scent took control of Sharp and made her feel reckless. “Hey?” she said, without trying to formulate a better opening line.
“Pardon yes?” the blonde turned to her. Something flashed in the woman’s eyes. Sharp knew that look. She’d seen it on the faces of people who came to her office: it was the look of fear.
“Want to sit? Down? The chair’s free. I mean, I’m alone.” Sharp felt her cheeks warm up. She pulled at her collar.
“Thanks,” the blonde said, and sat down. She set her drink on the tiny circular table next to Sharp’s empty tumbler, still glistening with the last drops of The Gateway’s passable house scotch. Her hand trembled and shot forward knocking her wine glass sideways. Sharp caught it. “Phew, that was close.”
The woman smiled and pulled her glass closer to her, once Sharp set it right on the table.
“So, you come here often?” Sharp asked. She knew it was a worn-out line but she’d had luck with it before. She delivered it with irony, hoping the blonde would relax and forget whatever was on her mind. Her plan worked.
The blonde’s mouth broke into a soft smile. “I’ve never been here, actually. It’s my first time.”
“First timer, eh?” Sharp kicked herself. Keep it clean. No double meanings!
“In this bar,” the woman clarified, cooly. She smiled at Sharp, then cast her eyes away and took a sip of wine. Her hand was still trembling but Sharp wasn’t looking at her hands. Her eyes were sliding down the woman’s smooth, even features.
She comes from money, Sharp thought, as the woman’s blue eyes turned to her. She knew she was being watched.
Sharp nodded, half grinning, trying to come up with something to say. She pulled out her wallet, flipped it open and found a $20 bill.
“Can I get you a drink? I mean, you could have it for when you’re finished that one — .” Sharp rubbed her forehead. She was the one that needed a drink. If I have another drink, I’ll be more charming and less of an idiot, she thought to herself but she couldn’t get any further with her plan. The blonde’s fingers — all ten of them — were moving across Sharp’s thigh.
The blonde leaned forward. Her lips grazed Sharp’s ear. She was saying something.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Sharp gulped. “Sure. Okay,” she said as she stood up and the back of her chair hit the floor.
She bent over and righted it, gesturing with her thumb over her shoulder, “I planned that.” She looked around, grinning stupidly.
The woman was gone.
Sharp squinted into the darkness but all she saw ware couples turning slowly to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” heads resting on each other’s shoulders. Others had given up on the pretence of dancing and just stood on the dance floor kissing.
Sharp spied the blonde across the room, nearing the exit. Sharp stared at her slender figure moving quickly towards the door. A worried look clouded Sharp’s face. She knew what was happening; she was falling in love.
Sharp grabbed her jacket and headed into the darkness.
Except it wasn’t dark anymore. Someone had turned on the house lights. They were sending a message to the stragglers, like Sharp, that it was time to go home.
Sharp stared into her empty scotch glass and thought, I saw Claire with my own eyes. She’s still alive! She bit her lip. But if she’s alive, who was murdered? And why wouldn’t she talk to me when I saw her at the chapel?
Sharp grabbed her jacket and headed into the darkness.
Image credit: Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Thinkstock