The K-car pulled up at the end of the block, away from the four police cruisers, a crime unit van, a handful of policemen and a crowd of gawkers standing on the opposite sidewalk.
Sharp climbed out of her car and started walking. The rain was coming down in pellets now, striking her face and running down under her collar. Up ahead, police tape hung limp and glistening across the front of 23 Crossley St and around the shallow front lawn. A cop that Sharp didn’t recognize crouched on the wet grass, looking for something. She stared at him for a minute, wondering what he expected to find on that sodden patch of yellow lawn. And then she looked up.
Her feet stopped moving. She stared at the bright yellow light shining out of the windows of apartment 3B. She could see men moving around inside.
“Sid? What the hell are you doing here?” Detective Kevin Lee climbed out of a battleship-grey Dodge parked at the curb and stepped over to her. He looked vaguely worried, as if Sharp were the physical embodiment of one more problem on his already problem-strewn plate.
“Me? I . . . I just heard the news,” Sharp stammered.
Lee looked at her sideways. “So? What’s it to you?”
“What was her name?” Sharp asked, urgently.
“The girl? Iverson, Claire Iver — look what is it?” Lee grabbed at Sharp’s elbow as she turned away, hiding her face. “You didn’t know her — did you?” Lee asked, incredulous, before adding under his breath, “Just my luck.”
Sharp wiped the rain and sudden tears from her face and looked back at him, forcing herself to smile. “We were . . . just friends. It’s . . . upsetting. That’s all.”
“Murder usually is.” Lee dropped Sharp’s arm.
“Classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“How do you mean?” Sharp persisted, vaguely irritated.
“I mean, it looks like she surprised the West End Burglar. He broke in and didn’t expect to find anyone home. He panicked, grabbed the nearest thing he could find, which was a heavy ceramic dish — likely used for storing pennies, judging from the pile on the floor.”
Sharp instantly pictured the side table set with a black rotary phone, a dish full of pennies and the stack of letters — unopened and handwritten in marker with the word “Claire” across the front — and the electricity bill on top.
“What’s the matter with you, anyway?” Lee peered at her.
Sharp shrugged, trying to appear as casual as possible. “Nothing! But how do you know it’s the West End Burglar?” She glanced up at Claire’s apartment. It was still crawling with police.
“The scene has his MO all over it. Besides, he was due for another heist. His last two were exactly three nights apart and so’s this one. Wait — why am I telling you all this?” Lee shook his head, mad at himself.
Sharp smiled, grateful for Lee’s informative ramblings. “Are you free for a beer later tonight? No shop talk. I promise.”
Lee shook his head. “I got a burglar-turned-murderer on the loose and my kid’s got whooping cough. No can do.”
Sharp patted his arm. “Another time, then. Take care of little James — and yourself. See you ’round.” She turned and headed back to her car.
Lee watched her walk away. A tiny smile slid over his face.
Breathing heavily, Tony Minetta sidled up next to Lee and stuck his goateed chin in Sharp’s direction. “Who’s that?”
“Her? Oh, just . . . a friend. Look, let’s get back to headquarters, huh? We’ve got a ton of paperwork.” Lee marched off toward the Dodge, scowling.
“That’s a chick? Could’ve fooled me.” Minetta followed Lee, chuckling loudly.
Lee rolled his eyes, climbed into the Dodge and slammed the door hard.
At the end of the block, Sharp sat in her K-car, slumped back and closed her eyes. Why? Her clenched fists pressed hard against her forehead.
A few minutes later, she looked around. The rain had stopped. The crowd was thinning now, too. Just a dozen people, staring, hoping for some salacious tidbit, a bloody object, anything. Two old men in raincoats and felt hats, a small kid standing under an umbrella marked with The Harbour department store logo, five teenagers in sodden jean jackets and one in a brightly coloured vinyl poncho, and several older women in plastic rain coats and hats. They all eyed Sharp as she drove past.
They’d seen her talking to Lee. They knew she was part of it — somehow.
It took Sharp’s eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness in the bar. Shapes began to emerge: tables, chairs, a wooden bar propped up by a handful of businessmen. A couple sat huddled together at a corner table. Probably having an affair, thought Sharp. The woman wore a floral-patterned dress made of some synthetic material prone to static cling. She sat, thrilled, in front of a mixed drink with a couple of cherries floating on top. He was in shades of brown — tie and suit with thick, wavy hair brushed back from a centre part. He sucked on a bottle of Blue and grinned at whatever she said.
Strains of disco music drifted up from the basement dancefloor. The woman nodded to the beat, hoping to give him an idea. He was trying hard not to notice.
It was just after 5pm; the dancefloor would be empty. During the day, The Gateway Bar was a place for a drink after work — or during work — before heading home. But at night, after the business people had gone home to the suburbs, it turned into a gay bar or women’s bar or dyke bar — whatever anybody wanted to call it.
For Sharp, it was the bar where she had met Claire, just two nights ago.
Sharp sat on a bar stool and pulled a bill out of her wallet. She knew one thing for sure: she needed a drink.
A man in his 50s with silver hair, a round, grizzled face and wearing a short-sleeved white shirt appeared in front of her.
“I’d like a scotch, please. On the rocks,” Sharp said.
“Bar scotch?” he asked.
“Sure,” she replied, as another wave of sadness washed over her.
The bartender nodded and turned away.
In the mirror behind the bar, Sharp could see the man and woman from the corner table. They were heading for the stairs and the basement dancefloor. The woman slipped her hand into his and led him, playfully, toward the music.
He followed her down the stairs, shaking his head and grinning as if to say, “What? I have to dance, too?” But Sharp could tell he wasn’t joking. She figured he wanted to go straight to the hotel — and that it was the woman’s idea to go to the bar first.
She also figured that the affair would be over in a couple of weeks and that the woman would salvage only one good memory from it: the day she and her lover sneaked off to The Gateway Bar and danced alone in the afternoon.
Sharp gave a silent toast to every woman trying to turn a lie into love.
And then she thought about Claire.
She tossed back the scotch and let it seep into her body. She glanced at the bartender; he got working on the next one.
On Sunday morning, Sharp had left Claire in bed in a tousle of warm skin and white sheets. They hadn’t talked about getting together again; it was obvious that they would. They both felt it — something special. Something like love.
But it was Monday night now and Claire was dead.
Sharp’s head sunk into her hands. She thought of Claire, alone in her apartment. Did she hear footsteps, a creaking floorboard, the wooden thrust of a window being forced up? Or did she arrive home and surprise the West End Burglar — unlock the front door and there he was, standing in the middle of the living room, just like Sharp had done 48 hours earlier? If only I had been there to protect her, Sharp thought, squishing shut her eyelids to stop the tears, but it was no use.
How could this happen? she thought. Who would kill Claire? Stealing a purse or a stereo — that’s one thing, but killing someone. Taking a life. That would take a different kind of person altogether.
Sharp looked up. The bartender recoiled at her pained expression.
“I . . . thought you wanted another one?” he said, cautiously placing a fresh tumbler of scotch in front of her.
“I do. Thanks,” Sharp said quickly, reaching for the drink. “But I just don’t get it,” she blurted out. “It doesn’t make sense!”
Sharp wagged her finger at the bartender like he knew what she was talking about. “There’s more to this. I just know it.”
“Sure, lady. Sure there is,” he said, backing away to his corner of the bar.