Sharp tried to lift herself up from the cold cement floor where she lay but blistering pain greeted every movement. The side of her head was damp with blood and it throbbed like a streetcar was rolling over it.
But her eyes still worked.
She peered around in the shadowy darkness trying to figure out where she was. A cellar, she thought, judging from the smell of musty, trapped air and dirt. But there was another smell, too. Sharp sniffed the air. Her eyes shot open. It was the dizzying, unmistakable stench of gasoline.
She crawled up to her feet in panicked, jerky motions. A sliver of moonlight through a small, ground level window helped her eyes get used to the dark. Her eyes scoured the room. A couple of gardening tools and shovels leaned in one corner and a pile of discarded suitcases from an earlier era were piled in the other — next to a stack of old paint tins.
There was also a door.
Have to get out of —
But she didn’t get any further with her thought. A blast of orange light scorched the room, blowing out the window and sending Sharp back to the floor under a blanket of broken glass. Flames licked hungrily into the room through the gaping window and sizzled the wooden frame. The sickening crackle of fire was everywhere and smoke slowly filled the room.
Sharp was on her feet again and began pounding her fists against the door.
“Help! Help! Let me out!” she cried, then stopped and listened, panting heavily. She could hear shouting but it was very faint. I’m in some remote part of the house. No one’s going to hear me, she thought, quickly giving up on the door and heading to the opposite wall.
A short stone staircase led up to a trap door. Sharp braced herself, grabbed the two handles that were attached to the underside of the door and pushed up as hard as she could. It wasn’t hard enough.
She exhaled, her body hanging slack, still gripping the handles. Suddenly she jumped up. Her eyes flashed with the beginnings of an idea.
She carefully placed a hand on the trap door.
“Yes!” She burst out. The trap door was made of wood — and the wood was hot. The flames will burn me an exit! She thought.
It couldn’t happen soon enough. Sharp pulled her jacked up over her mouth. The grey haze of smoke was making her eyes sting and her breath was coming in short gasps. She grabbed one of the shovels and rammed it against the trap door. It bounced off the wood, splintering it a little, but that was about it. She rammed it again, and again. The third time, the iron shovelhead busted through the wood. Sharp wrenched at the small opening trying to make it larger. The flames slipped in from outside, helping — and also creating a violent burning edge to her escape hatch. Sharp bit her lip, suddenly unsure if her idea would work. But it has to, she thought, ripping at the opening.
The shovel clattered against the stone floor. She couldn’t wait any longer. The smoke was thick now. Sharp covered her mouth with her jacket collar but a weary dizziness spread through her just the same. She staggered against the wall for support.
“Go!” She cried out loud. “Go!”
She grabbed one of the old suitcases, ripped it open and held it in front of her like a shield — then threw herself into the fiery slot.
Sharp cried out as the fire scorched her clothes and skin but her cries turned to tears of joy as she landed on the neatly cut back lawn of the Iverson mansion. She rolled over, kissing the green grass and gulping in the cold night air with relief.
Behind her, the fire was reaching up to the second floor but in front, away from the house, the light from the flames filled the garden with dancing orange-black patterns. Catching her breath, Sharp stared at the trees and undergrowth and thought how brilliant they looked under this sweep of illumination. She blinked and peered forward. Something moved in the trees.
“There she is! Get her!” Mark Taylor said as he came around the side of the house. His face was covered in streaks of sweaty soot and he was stumbling like he’d hurt his ankle, but he was coming after her just the same.
Sharp ran for the trees at the back of the garden.
“I’m going to kill you with my own two hands so help me god . . . ” Mark’s voice trailed after her, then was replaced by an eerie silence as Sharp forced her way through a dense thicket of evergreens and dogwood bushes. She folded back boughs and branches and burst forward into a clearing. She stopped, frozen on the spot. A bristling silence wrapped around her. Sharp looked down — and gulped. She was standing on the delicate edge of the Scarborough bluffs. Swirling 60 metres below her were the dark waters of Lake Ontario. She turned around and was about to take a step back when she was shoved to the ground.
Someone’s hands reached around her throat and pressed tightly. “No, please, Mark —,” Sharp croaked, hoarsely.
Then her eyes popped open. “Neal.”
The ground under Sharp’s knee fell away. “NO!” Sharp screamed, trying to wriggle away from the eroding cliff edge. But Mowbray wasn’t moving. He was crouched on top of her, gazing down at his captive.
His face was pale and tear-stained. “Claire loved me,” he whispered, through gulps of air. “She loved me!”
“You killed her,” Sharp panted. “Is that how you show someone you love them?” Her voice was hoarse in her throat.
Mowbray pushed his face up close to Sharp’s.
“If she’s not with me, she’s certainly not going to be with some invert —” He shoved his chin at her. “I saved her. I saved her from you!” Saliva dripped from Mowbray’s open mouth onto Sharp’s cheek.
They locked eyes. Wind from the lack curled around them. Sharp’s heart pounded in her ears. I’m not going to die straddled by a homophobic murder, she thought.
“No!” she cried out, heaving both her arms over her head. Her fingers grasped the air for a branch, a tree, a rock, anything to hold on to. She felt the sickening slide of her body being pulled toward the edge — both of their bodies, clasped together like lovers.
Mowbray felt the edge, too. His face contorted in horror. He twisted and grabbed at the air as Sharp swung her arm behind her. Suddenly, she felt the young circumference of a lilac root in her fingers. She grasped on for life as Neal Mowbray, suddenly weightless, slipped into the darkness.
The night was still except for Mowbray’s sharp cry, then the brief sound of his body hitting the rocks below.
The silence returned.
Sharp felt the dark, engulfing void around her legs. She would have called out for help but her mouth was parched and voiceless. Her hand was frozen around the lilac root. Sweat ran silently down her neck. She felt the branches bend and shift. A root tore out of the ground. The things that she regretted in her short life began parading through her head. She could have been a better daughter, friend, lover, detective . . .
The moon cast a path of white light over the curdling water and up the steep side of the cliff to where a small figure hung like a tear.
I’m going to die, thought Sharp. I am going to die.
The face of Kevin Lee appeared before her. I have died, she thought. So this is what it feels like, eh?
Then she felt hands gripping her arms and heard a voice — Kevin’s voice — saying, “You can let go of the lilac. I’ve got you.”
(Image credit: ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Thinkstock)