Sharp in the Dark
6 min

Sharp in the Dark, Part 6

A face in the night

Sharp turned onto Glenfield Lane and immediately pulled up behind a parked Volvo. She killed the engine and reached for her notebook. Half a block ahead, Mintz was locking the door of his Ford. He walked up the front steps of number 17 and disappeared inside.

Sharp noted the time of Mintz’s return: 6:07pm. Her notebook page was filled with date and time details: when Mintz left his home, when he left his office, what time he arrived at 141 Fulgrove — and how long he stayed there. Sharp frowned. Something didn’t add up. Three and half hours spent with his lady friend! Who spends that long? Sharp wondered. In her experience of tailing cheaters, an afternoon rendezvous was usually about an hour. No more. Something didn’t smell right about this set-up. Sharp pulled at her lower lip.

A moment later, she closed the notebook, tossed it on the seat beside her and started up the K-car. At least I’m getting paid, she thought, as she U-turned and drove away, leaving the inhabitants of 17 Glenfield Lane to their own devices.

The K-car moved haltingly through the clogged, evening traffic. As Sharp waited for the lights to change, cars ahead of her to turn and pedestrians to clear the crosswalks, her mind rolled over the problem of Mintz’s mysterious love life — and the horror of Claire’s murder.

She looked around, startled. Like a homing pigeon, the K-car had taken her to Crossley Street! She pulled over to the side of the road and cut the engine.

It was dark now. And cold.

She climbed out of the car and walked along the quiet street — quieter than the night before. Only one police car was parked in front of number 23. Inside it, a uniformed officer bit into a submarine sandwich and stared down, preoccupied with a newspaper or something else, out of sight.

Yellow police tape still hung limply around the building, though it was torn in one place and flapping gently in the wind.

Sharp walked along the sidewalk opposite Claire’s building. She stared up at the window of apartment 3B. It was dark and empty. Sharp filled her lungs with cool October air.

“You a friend of hers?” A voice spoke from behind Sharp. She started. A young kid stepped forward out of the shadows. In the light from the street lamp, Sharp realized he wasn’t a kid after all. He was a young man, probably in his 20s. Sharp’s age. There was something about him that was familiar, too.

“Yeah. I knew her,” Sharp offered.

“Me, too. She was my girlfriend,” the kid-man said.

“Oh yeah?” Sharp swallowed.

“You were here yesterday,” he said. “Talking to the detective.”

“So were you. Under the Harbour umbrella,” Sharp answered, suddenly remembering the kid standing in the rain with the other gawkers.

Today there was no umbrella, just a black velour blazer over a pink-and-white vertically striped shirt tucked into high-waisted designer jeans. Black pointed shoes finished off the outfit.

He gave a short bow, acknowledging that she was, indeed, correct. He then settled his gaze again on 23 Crossley St. A melancholy silence settled over his fine, delicate features.

Claire didn’t have a boyfriend, Sharp thought to herself. No way!

She had to know more. “There’s a coffee shop on the corner. Want to get out of the cold?” Sharp asked, plastering a smile across her face.

“Ah — sure. All right,” he said and added, shrugging. “I’m Neal, by the way. Neal Mowbray.”

“Sidney Sharp,” she said as they turned and started walking.

In the cruiser, the officer squinted at the two departing figures.

Couple of queers, he thought to himself as he fingered a piece of onion from between his teeth.

He wasn’t half wrong, either.

*

Mowbray ordered tea. Sharp frowned. A tea drinker? She checked herself. Keep an open mind.

He warmed his hands over the miniature stainless steel teapot the waitress had placed in front of him, next to a cup and saucer fitted with a creamer, packet of sugar and a teaspoon.

Sharp sipped her black coffee while Mowbray carefully prepared his beverage. She was halfway done before he even tasted his tea.

“I met her at the Harbour about a month back. She was testing perfume.” He smiled at the memory. “I sprayed some samples on her until we ran out of wrists.”

He blew on his tea, then sipped some more.

Can a fella work at the perfume bar of the Harbour Department store and not be gay? Sharp wondered.

“Claire thought I was gay.” Mowbray seemed to read her mind. “But I just like perfume. And helping women find that perfect scent.”

“I prefer cologne,” Sharp said, without thinking.

Mowbray smiled like he was indulging a child’s unusual whim, and then continued on. “I moved here from Calgary about a year ago. I wanted to be an actor. I took some courses and worked at the Harbour part-time. But it’s hard getting a career going in acting. Then they offered me a full-time job, so I took it. I’m really happy working there,” he said. Sharp suspected he was trying to convince himself.

“But the best thing about the job was meeting Claire,” Mowbray said as he emptied the last of the tea into his cup, then dressed it with cream and sugar.

“We went on a few dates. She let me kiss her, but she didn’t want to go further. At the time, I was confused. I wondered, why not? And then a week ago, she called it off. Just like that. Said she just wanted to be friends.”

He looked up at Sharp, his face drawn from the memory.

“So in the end we were ‘just friends.’ Funny thing was, we had a good time together — even though we weren’t, you know, very romantic. I still can’t believe she’s gone. I keep asking myself, why?”

“Me, too,” Sharp said, recovering from the glimpse into Claire’s other life.

“Say, how did you know her?” Mowbray asked.

The waitress poured a heater in Sharp’s cup. “I met her at a bar. I fell in love with her. Just like that.”

Mowbray didn’t say anything for a moment, then, “I guess that makes sense. She did seem to have other — interests on her mind.”

Like women, Sharp thought. Just say it.

“What can a guy do, right?” Mowbray set down his empty cup and sighed.

Sharp had some ideas, but she didn’t say anything. She liked Mowbray. The kid was genuinely torn up.

#

The K-car rumbled through the dark, leaf-strewn streets. Sharp had said good-bye to Mowbray outside the coffee shop. She’d offered him a lift, but he wanted to walk. Sharp was glad. She needed to be alone. Her head was still spinning from the thought of Neal Mowbray and Claire kissing.

She backed the K-car into the last parking spot beside The Briar. Mowbray had spent a lot of time with Claire. He’d even had dinner at her parents’ house. “They live in this mansion in the Beaches,” he’d said. “Right on the water. Nice house, sure, but what a family.” Sharp asked what he meant by that. “They’re strict,” he replied.

Sharp climbed the stairs to the third floor, remembering Mowbray’s expansion on the idea of strict: “Back in Calgary, we used to have Sunday dinner and relatives would show up. Kind of a tradition, right?”

Sharp entered her apartment and walked into the kitchen. She opened a cupboard, found her bottle of scotch and poured herself a couple of fingers.

Mowbray’s voice echoed in her head: “And the Iversons do the same thing. Sure, they have Sunday dinner, too, but it’s not just a get-together. It’s called a ‘meeting of the clan.’” Mowbray had looked at her, wild-eyed. “Claire missed it once — it was my birthday and I wanted to go out for dinner. Her father didn’t speak to her for days.”

Sharp unlocked the door to her apartment’s balcony, pushed it open and stepped outside. She leaned against the railing and looked out at the dark city. Claire must have been at the meeting of the clan on Sunday night. Then she came home and encountered . . . the killer.

She took a sip of scotch and let the liquid burn down her throat. She had to let go of Claire or the memory — the tragedy — would haunt her forever. Eventually, Lee will catch Claire’s killer, Sharp thought. And eventually I’ll meet someone new. Sure, she won’t be like Claire — but she’ll be wonderful in her own way.

Sharp closed her eyes and silently made her decision. She tossed back the last of the scotch and wondered if it was the scotch or her vow to move on that suddenly made her feel so good. She smiled out at the world below — at the cluster of spruce trees in front of The Briar, at her K-car tucked in among the other cars in the parking lot and at the grid of silent, sleeping houses that spread out around her.

That’s when she saw a blue Buick parked in the driveway, three floors below her — and the face looking up through the car’s rolled-down side window. It was a woman’s face. Sharp leaned forward. They stared at each other — eyes locked — then the person swiftly withdrew inside the car. The Buick lurched forward, turned and roared off down the road.

Sharp staggered back from the railing. Her breath came in short gasps. A dark feeling, like a hand, crawled up her spine.

Part 7 >>