The street seemed to have changed in the four days since Sharp had last been there. Already the inhabitants of Crossley Street had pushed the murder from their minds and returned to their daily activities. Cars roared up the street, ignoring number 23 completely. A woman in a pink jogging suit panted past without a glance at the crime scene. Even a local tomcat lay on the steps leading up to Claire’s apartment building, stretched-out and half asleep in the sun — and comfortably on top of a section of torn police tape.
People have died here before, the street seemed to be saying. Claire’s death wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last.
But Sharp didn’t care what the street seemed to be saying. A nerve pulsed in her cheek and her mouth was set hard as she walked up the path to the front of the building.
The tomcat eyed her cautiously, then crawled up and disappeared into the bushes under the first floor apartment’s bay window. Sharp pulled open the wooden and brass-edged front door and stepped inside. Police tape fluttered in the wind like streamers in her wake.
The small, stone-tiled vestibule smelled like cold dirt to Sharp. She wrinkled her nose as she eyed the directory. The name, Iverson, C was still there — typed on white paper next to its intercom button.
But that wasn’t the name she was looking for.
“Yes?” said a male voice. Sharp detected in it an equal measure of cheerfulness and caution.
She leaned down and spoke clearly into the intercom. “I’m looking for an apartment. Do you have any vacancies?”
A moment passed then the voice replied, “I may. Come up to the second floor. Apartment B.” Then a bolt of electricity shot through the lock and it released with a sustained, sharp buzz. Sharp stepped inside and disappeared up the stairs.
The man whose voice Sharp had heard a moment earlier was standing in the second floor hallway holding open the door to his apartment with one hand. His other hand was shoved into the pocket of his brown polyester-blend trousers. Brown seemed to be his favourite colour as he was clad in it almost completely, except for a thin white shirt that had been through the wash cycle a few times too many. He suddenly brushed back the fringe of blond hair that fell across his early-50s forehead.
“Lovely day,” he said, smiling.
“Beautiful!” said Sharp, flashing her best smile.
He offered his hand. “Frank Davies,” he said. “Nice to meet you, Miss-er?” Davies glanced down Sharp’s body. Sharp felt her cheeks redden. Why hadn’t she worn a tight shirt instead of the loose, vintage men’s shirt she was wearing?
“Sharp,” she said, shaking his warm, bony hand. “Sidney Sharp.”
Frank Davies pursed his lips, then stepped back to let Sharp pass. “Right this way, Miss . . . Sharp.”
Sharp wedged herself into the crowded, dusty living room of apartment 2B. Davies, who was behind her, stepped easily around the collection of mismatched furniture, South American artifacts, past issues of the Toronto Star and National Geographic. Sharp found a squat red and black painted footstool made from a solid piece of wood. She bent down to sit.
“Not there!” Davies said breathlessly, his eyes widening in horror.
“Huh?” Sharp shot back up and looked around helplessly.
“Very rare, those stools — and of course they aren’t strong. Can’t bear much weight. Not that you’re fat. I mean — just not wise to test them, see? Here, sit here.” He pushed aside a stack of newspapers and a well-worn issue of TV Guide and made a small clearing on the couch.
Sharp sat down, gently, on the edge. Davies was brushing some dust off the head of a dog-shaped statue — also part of the South American collection. He wasn’t looking at her. A few moments passed.
Sharp inhaled. “So — I really like this area,” she said, “and I was wondering if you might have any vacancies.”
He kept right on dusting the wooden canine, eyes cast away from Sharp. “I suppose you don’t read the newspaper. Young people these days seem to concern themselves less and less with the goings on of the world, let alone their very city — and neighbourhood. You say you like the area. I wonder.”
“Well, I sometimes read the — ” Sharp began but didn’t get any further.
“Murder! Does that shock you?” He looked up at her, gravely.
“Miss Sharp, there was a murder in this building. A woman was attacked. Killed. She was a tenant. Now she’s dead. So, yes, there is an apartment available. If you want it — and if I want you.”
Sharp wetted her lips and swallowed. “Ah, okay. Wow.”
“Wow, indeed.” Davies stood up suddenly and turned towards the door.
“I’m anxious to rent it just as soon as I’m told I can do so by the authorities. Follow me.”
In the hallway, Sharp walked behind Davies to the stairwell. He limped slightly and climbing the stairs to the third floor was a one-step-at-a-time process.
On the third floor, Sharp felt a pang in her stomach as they neared Claire’s door. Davies stuck a master key into the lock and turned. The deadbolt slid open.
“I only rent to working girls. No couples or families,” he said as he walked through the doorway. “And no boyfriends, understand?”
Sharp allowed herself a small smile, “Yes sir.”
He stood in the front of the room and frowned at the floor. He didn’t want to see any problems with the unit; he just wanted to collect the money.
“Well, do you like it?” he asked, suddenly restless.
“Yes, yes, it’s — really nice,” Sharp said, trying to keep her voice steady. “Can I look around?”
“Be my guest,” Davies said with a sigh. “Apparently it happened right there. By the table.” He pointed to a plain wood coffee table standing in the corner.
“Huh?” Sharp stuck her head out from her inspection of the galley kitchen.
“Oh, right,” Sharp swallowed.
She stepped into Claire’s bedroom. The bed was stripped bare and all her personal items were gone. The place was just a wood and plaster shell but Sharp still breathed in deeply, sure she could detect a trace of Claire’s scent.
In the living room, Davies was talking. “She was a nice girl. In the beginning, anyway. Then I heard some things.”
Sharp walked out of the bedroom and locked eyes with Davies. “What things?” she asked.
“Noises! The kind that don’t become a nice young lady. I tell them again and again, no boyfriends, but they sneak them in just the same. They think I don’t know but I hear them. I hear everything.”
Sharp’s mind flashed back to her night with Claire and wondered if Davies had his ear to the door the whole time. She pushed down the anger that rose inside her and looked at what remained of the living room.
Davies droned on.
“Even this one had boyfriends though she seemed like such a nice young lady. Yes, I saw a stream of men leaving her place — and quite often in the morning. If you take my meaning.”
Davies grinned at the floor, thinking about all the interesting things he’d heard and seen.
“First there was the young kid then there was an older fellow— maybe 35 or 40. A good decade older than her, anyway.” Davies shook his head at the immense age difference. “You could hear them shouting at each other. Why you know what he said to her? He said, ‘You shouldn’t be living in a place like this.’ I mean, really! This is decent apartment building full of quiet, single, working girls.” Davies jammed his hands in his pockets, then added, “That’s how they start out, anyway. I can’t control everything. I can’t help it if they turn bad — like the young lady that lived here. That was murdered.”
Sharp looked around the room, frowning. She wished the man would just stop talking so she could think and remember . . .
“’Course there was another boyfriend, after the old fellow. Strange looking kid. Kind of a — pretty boy. I guessed they were just friends until I heard the noises . . .” Davies nodded, smirking.
Then the smirk slid away from this face and his left eyebrow rose. He was staring at Sharp who was staring at the corner of the room next to the front door. Her eyes were half closed in concentration.
“Is — something the matter?” Davies asked.
“Huh?” Sharp looked up. “Oh no, I’m fine,” Sharp said, turning to him and smiling.
But he wasn’t smiling back.
Davies’ forehead creased together and his head tilted to the side. “Say, you seem awfully familiar now that I get a good look at you.”
Sharp wetted her suddenly dry lips. “Me? Oh, I don’t think we’ve met before.”
Davies’ mouth turned down at the corners. “I didn’t say we’d met, I said, you looked familiar.”
Sharp tried to change the subject. “So how much for the apartment? How much is rent?”
Davies tore his eyes away from her and cast his gaze to the ceiling for a moment like he was making up a number, then said, “Five-fifty a month plus utilities and I require first and last month up front.” He scratched his head and gazed at her, “I’ve seen you before. I know it . . .”
Suddenly Davies thrust his face up to Sharp’s and said, “I’ve seen you here! In this building.”
“I — don’t think so. Anyway, I’ll call you about the apartment — if I’m interested,” Sharp said, starting for the door.
“Now wait just a minute—” Davies yelled after her.
But Sharp was already taking the stairs two at a time.
Image courtesy of Blablo101/iStock/Thinkstock