The beige K-car pulled up outside Sharp’s office on the corner of Ontario and Gerrard Streets. She climbed out and walked toward the building’s entrance, then switched directions and headed down the block, instead.
Coffee first, then work, she thought to herself, suddenly feeling much better.
“Hello stranger,” Doris said as she set a coffee down in front of Sharp. “You want anything to go with that? Maybe a friend? You must be lonely always on your own.”
“Just the coffee is fine and thanks for your concern but I’m not always on my own.” Sharp replied then took a sip of coffee that was too hot to drink but she did anyway.
“I never see you with anyone. You know what I think? I think you’re one of those loner types.”
Before Sharp could respond, a couple entered the coffee shop and Doris wandered off to help them.
Do I need to be psychoanalyzed by a waitress? thought Sharp, irritated. She set down the coffee cup and sent half the burning liquid into the saucer.
Sharp daubed the spilt coffee up with a napkin from the table’s dispenser. Maybe I am alone too much, she thought, frowning. I do have friends, though. Some. But at that moment she couldn’t think of anyone she wanted to spend time with.
She carefully took another sip of coffee, set down the cup and closed her eyes. Besides, she had more pressing issues than her non-existent social life to consider — like crime, like murder.
What I know is that someone in the Iverson clan sent those thugs to beat me up, thought Sharp. But who, and why?
“Ms Sharp?” A voice said.
Sharp’s head jerked up and her eyes shot open.
“Huh? Oh — hi?”
Neal Mowbray hovered beside Sharp’s table. He was wearing a black turtleneck, jeans and the same black velour blazer Sharp had seen him in earlier in the week. He had a canvas, army surplus knapsack over his shoulder.
“I’m just on a coffee break,” he said.
“From The Harbour? You must really like the coffee here,” Sharp said, smiling.
“Oh I’m off today. I was just at the library. I love libraries.”
He was still hovering. Sharp waved to the empty bench opposite her. “Join me?” she asked.
“Thanks.” Mowbray set down his coffee and slide into the seat. He shoved his knapsack into the corner beside him.
Just then, Doris arrived at the booth holding her ever present glass coffee pot. She reached over and refilled their cups.
“Well, what do you know?” she said, winking meaningfully at Sharp, then added, “wonders never cease.” She laughed to herself then wandered off in search of other empty cups.
“What was that all about?” Mowbray asked.
“Forget it,” Sharp said, rolling her eyes. “So, how’ve you been?”
“Oh, you know, all right,” he said, then added, “I keep checking the papers but there’s no news about Claire’s murder. I wondered what’s going on with the investigation?” He reached into the pocket of his blazer and pulled out a pack of Vantage cigarettes along with a lighter.
“Smoke?” he offered.
Sharp shook her head and watched as Mowbray sucked on his cigarette until the end burned orange. He flicked his butane lighter on and off a few times, then stopped playing and put it back in his pocket.
“They’ll find out who did it,” Sharp said. “The police always get their man — or woman.”
Mowbray grinned, “Yeah, well, I hope so. I miss her so much. Can’t stop thinking about her.”
“I know the feeling,” Sharp said. She drank back the last of her coffee.
“And what’s next?” Mowbray said, dramatically, eyebrows raised in concern.
Sharp looked at him questioningly. “What do you mean?”
“Well, he’s gone from break-ins to murder. What’s he going to do next?” Mowbray blew out a cloud of smoke.
“Hopefully he’s not going to get a chance to do anything,” Sharp said glancing at her watch. She suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that she was late — for something.
“It’s been nice talking to you — but I have to run,” Sharp said, standing up.
Mowbray stubbed out his cigarette. “Let’s get together again,” he said, again, rummaging in his knapsack. He pulled out a pen and notebook, ripped a page out and scrawled on it. “Here’s my number. Call me sometime,” he said, sliding the piece of paper across to Sharp.
“Thanks, I’ll do that.” Sharp folded the paper and slipped it in her jacket pocket. She dropped a two-dollar bill on the table and stood up.
“Oh I almost forgot. Here,” Mowbray passed a two-inch long plastic vial to Sharp. “I remember you like cologne,” he said. “I get these samples for free.”
Sharp breathed in the vial’s musky scent, thanked Mowbray, then left.
A moment later Sharp was out on the street and walking fast. Her late feeling had grown into full-on panic.
Sharp reached the top of the single flight of stairs and turned down the corridor towards her office door, which was the last one on the street side of the building. The corridor was empty. Sharp reached her door, unlocked it and entered. She hadn’t been in her office in three days and the air was still and dry. The whiff of a banana skin lying brown and shrivelled at the bottom of the metal trash can under her desk lingered in the air.
Sharp peeled off her jacket and hung it on the chair.
“Hello? Detective Sharp?”
Sharp spun around.
Mrs. Mintz peered into the office.
“Come in,” Sharp said, transferring a newspaper, file and jacket from the guest chair to her desk.
Mrs. Mintz sat down in the chair. She wasn’t smiling.
“So, I hope you weren’t waiting long.” Sharp’s heart was beating fast and her cheeks were flushed.
Mrs Mintz cleared her throat. “No, I wasn’t waiting long — today.”
“I can explain—.”
“That’s quite all right. I think I’ve heard enough explanations — or should I say, excuses. Here’s what I owe you,” Mrs Mintz said as she placed a cheque on Sharp’s desk. “I am sure this will be more than enough to cover whatever expenses you may have incurred.”
“But I haven’t finished the case yet.”
“Have you even started? I don’t begin to know your methods but it’s been a week since I hired you and I have received no reports, save for the one I had to pull out of you myself.” Mrs Mintz threw her hands in the air then quickly placed them again, one on top of the other, on her lap.
“As well, I would like you to destroy any files you may have pertaining to my — husband,” she said, pushing back her chair. She was on her feet now and heading for the door.
“Wait!” Sharp said, coming around to the front of the desk. “Let me tell you what I know so far. A lot has happened since we last spoke.”
Mrs Mintz paused, mid-step. She wanted to leave but she also wanted to hear anything at all about her husband’s affair.
“I went to the Fulgrove house — the one I’ve seen him go into. I went inside to get evidence but someone came in and I had to run out and I cut my hand open on the fire escape. Anyway, that’s not important, but if you could please give me a couple more days, I am sure I can get the whole thing wrapped up.”
Mrs Mintz’s mouth twitched but no sounds came out.
“Your husband is a good man. Perhaps it isn’t what you think, after all. I just need a few more days to find out.”
Mrs Mintz stretched her neck out, shoved her chin into the air and said, finally, “All right. Fine!”
Sharp nodded, “Thank you.”
But Mrs Mintz wasn’t listening. Instead, she was eyeing the two-day-old newspaper on Sharp’s desk. It was folded open to the local news section that started with a report on the investigation into Claire’s murder. Above the article was a studio photo of her — college graduation, maybe.
“Beautiful girl. Such a tragic, senseless thing,” Mrs Mintz said, almost to herself.
“I loved her,” Sharp said, quietly. The graduation photo had caught Sharp’s attention, too.
Mintz looked from the newspaper to Sharp. Her head turned slightly. “You mean, you’re a lesbian? You like women?”
“Well, not all women. I mean, some. Her!” Sharp blurted out, flustered.
Mrs Mintz eyed Sharp carefully, then she rubbed her forehead, pained.
“Just like you love your husband. Desperately!”
Mrs Mintz jumped, startled. “Of course, it’s none of my business, is it?” she said as she gathered up her handbag and turned to the door. “I’ll expect my report in two days.” The door clicked shut behind her.
Ten minutes later, Sharp was sitting in her chair re-reading the newspaper report on Claire’s murder. She leaned back in her chair, swung her legs up on her desk and yawned. Her eyelids slide shut — then shot open. She blinked. Her legs shifted off her desk back to where they belonged. Her chair clunked forward; now all four feet were on the floor. Her breath came in long pulls through her nostrils. Her eyes glanced around the room but she didn’t move her head. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular. She was thinking — about the pieces that were missing — and the ones that were finally starting to fit together.