Private investigator Sidney Sharp pushed her bangs back from her eyes. She needed a haircut. The standard: longer on the top, but not too long, and shorter on the sides, but not too short. She knew she looked like a guy. She was mistaken for one often enough. Sure, it bothered her, but she had to admit that she wasn’t doing much to make her gender apparent; everything she wore was from the men’s department — except her bra.
Sharp had been mistaken for a guy ever since she could remember. At 15, she went to the Charles School of Hair Dressing, where cheap haircuts were available from hairdressers-in-training. She sat under a plastic cape with her head tilted forward and her mind happily wandering. Suddenly, her eyes shot open. Her hairdresser had uttered a word that made Sharp freeze. She said, “I’ll take my break when I finish with this young man.” Sharp’s cheeks flushed hot red. If she made it clear that she was, actually, female, what could her hairdresser-in-training possibly do? Judging from the heap of dark slices on the floor, it was already too late. Her hairdresser might panic and give her some lopsided salad bowl of a cut, making her look neither male nor female, just — strange. She rolled her shoulders forward to conceal her breasts and waited, silently, for the torture to end. But she could sense the hairdresser looking at her curiously, wondering.
* * *
Sharp sat in her beige K-car watching a detached, three-storey house in the middle of the block: 17 Glenfield Lane. A flowerbed fringed the front of the property and a maple sapling, newly planted, held itself up in the centre of the front lawn.
It had been a few weeks since Sharp had had any cases, so she was grateful when the call came in. Mrs Geraldine Mintz was under the impression that her husband was having an affair. She wanted Sharp to follow him around for a few days.
“I want to know where he goes, who he sees. He’s up to something. I know it. I just know it.” Mrs. Mintz’s voice was sharpened by the pain of suspicion.
“Has your husband been coming home late?” Sharp asked.
“That’s just it. He always leaves for work at the same time and comes home at the same time. But I can tell he’s up to something. There’s — a quality to him that’s different.”
Sharp thought that was about as vague as it was helpful, but she didn’t say so to Mrs Mintz. Instead, she agreed on the terms and hung up.
Two people stepped out the front door of 17 Glenfield Lane — a woman in a pink housecoat and a man in a brown suit. They pecked each other’s cheeks, then the suit walked over to a silver Ford parked in the driveway and climbed in. The Ford backed up, turned and drove off down the street. The housecoat waved at the departing vehicle, then looked around, wondering where her private detective was hiding, what in heaven’s name she was paying her for anyway, et cetera.
Sharp put the K-car in drive and followed the Ford. As she passed 17 Glenfield Lane, Sharp glanced in the rear-view mirror. Mrs Mintz was still peering around, her hands on her pink chenille hips, her face set hard.
No one suspects a beige K-car of anything, thought Sharp.
Dark clouds rolled across the bone-coloured October sky above Sharp’s K-car as it crawled through mid-morning traffic. Up ahead, the Ford slipped in and out of view — then disappeared. Sharp turned onto Bathurst and clocked the Ford parked in front of a low-rise office building. She parked a few car-lengths ahead and grabbed her binoculars from the glove compartment. The sign on the building read All Trust Insurance. An insurance man, thought Sharp. Classic.
Mr Mintz walked briskly up the front steps.
Sharp frowned. This could take hours, she thought to herself. She spied a coffee shop half a block up. She could keep an eye out for Mintz and satisfy her endless need for coffee. She climbed out of the car and started walking. As she pulled open the door of the coffee shop, the Ford sped past her.
“Damn it!” she cursed and raced back to her car.
A furniture truck slammed its brakes as Sharp U-turned in front of it. She waved an apology that wasn’t accepted and hit the gas hard. The Ford was heading south, toward Lake Ontario. It turned right on King. Sharp did the same. The Ford was far ahead now and moving fast. Sharp saw something silver turn left.
Sharp waited at a traffic light. When it turned green she sped forward to where she had last seen the Ford and turned left onto a narrow, residential street that, amazingly, allowed parking on both sides of the street. She braked hard. In front of her, a cement truck in mid-pour blocked the street. A handful of cars waited for the sludge to roll down the shaft and into the sidewalk’s wooden framework. Sharp pressed her forehead against the K-car’s steering wheel and groaned.
By the time the vinyl cover on the wheel had embossed a deep, red and slightly painful pattern on her forehead, the cement pour was over and the car’s transmission was once again in drive. Sharp squinted up and down the street; there was no sign of the Ford. She figured Mintz wouldn’t have entered the rough-edged Parkdale neighbourhood unless he had a reason to. If he’d wanted to go to the highway, he’d have taken Jameson, the next left, but he’d turned into Parkdale. He was in here somewhere; she was sure of it. All she had to do was find him — in a 10-block radius.
Pursing her lips, Sharp scanned each block. No silver Ford. One more block to go — she turned onto Fulgrove.
Mintz strode across the porch of a three-storey house — white paint peeling over brick — and disappeared inside. The place was divided into apartments: Sharp could tell from the multiple buzzers next to the front door and from the rusted-iron fire escape that zigzagged up the side. Overflowing trash containers stood in the driveway and a mattress lay sprawled on the front lawn, stains and all. Now we’re getting somewhere, thought Sharp. She shoved her floppy bangs straight back off her face. 141 Fulgrove, the home of Mintz’s lady friend. Sharp scratched down the address and time in her notebook.
Sharp leaned back against the K-car’s bench seat, closed her eyes and let her mind drift where it wanted — and it wanted Claire. She had reluctantly left her in bed, naked, the day before. Sharp called her that afternoon, but there was no answer. She wouldn’t call again, she decided. She didn’t want to appear desperate or madly in love, although that was precisely how she felt. Instead, she left a cheerful and restrained phone message that sounded both desperate and mad in its own way.
It was Monday morning. Sharp decided she would “drop by” Claire’s Crossley Street apartment on her way home, after she followed Mintz back to his. She imagined Claire opening the door, her face, her smile . . .
Across the street, a man wearing a distinctive, pin-striped navy suit — and whom Sharp would have recognized as Mason Crane from a recent newspaper story on Canadian bank executives’ salaries if she hadn’t been daydreaming — pulled open 141 Fulgrove’s metal front door, looked both ways and stepped quickly inside.