Back from Norma’s, Harry hurried through the atrium of his office building. As always, the plush, blue carpeting and the marble, with its gold fittings, enlivened his step. He entered the glass elevator and rose through a profusion of greenery and flickering light and shadow. It was a huge change from the dark, dank offices he had inhabited less than a year ago, where the sight of chipped windowsills and rusted fire escapes depressed him. The wash of sunlight from the skylight banished for a moment his dark thoughts of Norma and Katrina.
Sarah, the receptionist, welcomed him. Her warm voice and smile further raised his flagging spirits. But the grim staccato of Miss Giveny’s typewriter, blasting from her office, set him on edge. Clearing his throat, he stood at her door. She scarcely took time to nod in his direction.
“You know, this Dinnick business is very strange,” he began. “She’s hallucinating that there are tenants above her.” He sighed. “God save us from the vagaries of old age.”
The typewriter ribbon broke. Miss Giveny, hunched over the machine, muttered under her breath.
“Why don’t you use the computer?” Harry asked. “Then you wouldn’t have to mess with ribbons.”
She glared at him over the tops of her glasses, which had slid to the tip of her nose. “This is a form. I can’t do it on a computer. Besides, is my work not satisfactory?”
He shrugged. Although her stubborn resistance to technology annoyed him, he backed off. “Do as you please.” Still compelled to talk about Norma, he added, “She says she hears them only at night and that they listen on her phone.”
“How do you know they’re not?” Miss Giveny asked crossly.
With strained patience, he said, “Because I went up to look and there wasn’t a stick of furniture in the place.”
“Maybe someone is playing tricks on her. I can think of one person who wants to see her gone.” She tapped out an impatient rhythm on her typewriter. “Maybe you should take her complaints more seriously. That Archie Brinks is up to no good.”
“That much is obvious!” He began shuffling through the mail.
She stopped her typing. “Mr. Jenkins, why would Jeremy want a copy of Mrs. Dinnick’s will?”
Harry paused. His junior, Jeremy Freemantle, appeared highly competent, yet something about the boy him nagged at him. “No idea. Did you ask him?”
“Yes. I found him rummaging through your filing cabinets. He said he needed it for a precedent.”
That’s probably the reason.” Harry turned to go.
Miss Giveny said, “Did you check his references when you hired him?”
“Yes, of course.”
She glanced at him balefully as she adjusted her glasses. “Well, I wouldn’t trust him to look after a goldfish.”
Harry shrugged. “I’ll ask him about the will myself.” He started down the hallway.
Miss Giveny called after him. “But about Archie Brinks. Mr. Crawford always said he was trouble. Mr. Crawford would have …”
Harry did not wait. He could fill in the blanks. Mr. Crawford was an excellent judge of character. He would put a stop to such nonsense.
Richard Crawford was Harry’s deceased law partner, who lived on in Miss Giveny’s mind as the paragon of virtue, intelligence, and wit. Undoubtedly she thought the firm was sliding into a yawning void without Mr. Crawford at the helm. Of course, she overlooked the fact that he was an unrepentant womanizer and had dropped dead at Harry’s feet, overcome with lust for his client, Marjorie Deighton. It seemed no female was entirely safe alone with him. Muttering, Harry marched into his office and firmly closed the door.
Sinking into his chair, he surveyed his desk. After the morning, he welcomed the few hours of tedium ahead. Dismissing Norma as delusional made him feel momentarily guilty, but the problem still remained; how to remove non-existent tenants? When he glanced out the window, he saw huge, soft snowflakes wafting down.
A knock came at the door. Jeremy, his junior, entered.
“Got a minute, Harry?”
Harry nodded and motioned him to take a seat.
“This won’t take long.” Jeremy sat on the edge of the chair.
Uneasily, Harry thought the boy’s keen glance and tilt of the jaw gave him a calculating appearance. In the initial interview, his humility had charmed him. His references checked out, except for one who could not be tracked down. But lately, Jeremy’s boyish modesty seemed barely to conceal an unsettling arrogance.
“Something about the Parrish estate?” Harry prompted.
“No. Not that sort of thing.” The boy flashed a smile.
Jeremy sighed and bent his head. “It’s about my uncle, Peter.”
Harry knew the folly of acting for relatives. “What’s the problem?”
“Seems he’s in some trouble professionally at his law firm, Blackburn and Swanson.”
“You mean, Peter Saunderson, Bencher at the Law Society?” How strange, thought Harry. He had heard little from his roommate over the past twenty years, and now, after his musings, his name was cropping up. He watched as the boy gnawed a thumbnail. Odd behavior for someone usually so composed. “Go ahead.”
Jeremy’s gaze was level and appraising. Shoving a lock of his dark hair to one side, he asked, “This is confidential, isn’t it, Harry?”
“Not precisely. It depends on what you tell me.”
His junior squirmed in his seat and said, “He’s gay.”
Harry shrugged. “So? That’s no crime these days.”
Jeremy shook his head impatiently. “That’s not the problem. I think he’s being blackmailed.”
Harry considered the tilt of the jaw and the cool, appraising eyes. “By whom?” he asked.
Jeremy threw up his hands in futility. “Who knows? I think he’s also got some pretty unsavory connections. Ever heard of George Pappas?”
Harry sat up straighter. Norma had mentioned the name Pappas this morning. “I don’t think I know …”
“Sometimes he’s in the papers. But nothing ever sticks to the guy.”
“Listen, Jeremy. First you tell me he’s gay—which is, of course, an entirely private matter. Then you say he’s being blackmailed. And as if that’s not enough, you’re suggesting he has underworld connections.”
“Yes,” said the junior stubbornly. “But here’s the worst. I think he’s dipping into trust funds to pay them off.”
The tale was growing more outrageous by the minute. Next Jeremy would be accusing his uncle of murder. “Pay off whom? His alleged gangster friends?”
Jeremy stared at the floor. “I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me.”
“How do you know all this?” Harry asked quietly.
“From his wife, Bronwyn. She says he’s experiencing weird mood swings …”
Jesus! Yet another connection! Now Norma’s goddaughter was involved in this mess, thought Harry. It was also another reason for Jeremy to look at Norma’s will. He said, “Allegations about trust funds and underworld connections are extremely serious, Jeremy. A solicitor is required to report them to the Law Society.”
“You won’t, will you, Harry? His eyes were pleading. “I wouldn’t have said a thing, if I’d thought …”
“All you have is hearsay? Nothing concrete? Or have you?”
Jeremy rose swiftly from his chair. “No. Nothing. Bronwyn’s probably worried about nothing.”
“Then I suggest you be extremely careful. You can’t make wild accusations. If you have substantial proof, then you must report it to the Law Society.”
At the door, Jeremy nodded vigorously. “That’s good advice, Harry. I’ll say nothing more.”
Harry nodded and said, “Miss Giveny says you wanted to make a copy of Norma Dinnick’s will. Did you?”
“Yes. It’s a good precedent for the McWilliams will I’m drafting.”
“Then you know your aunt Bronwyn is mentioned in it. You understand that information is privileged and must not be divulged to anyone under any circumstances.”
Jeremy appeared shocked. “Of course, Harry. Absolutely. I’d never do that.”
“Good. Just be certain you don’t”
Jeremy flashed a smile and backed out the door.
Harry stared up Bay Street at the old City Hall clock. After such an odd conversation with Jeremy, he felt all the more wary of the kid. Why had he not given his uncle as a personal reference?
Although he never cared much for Peter Saunderson, he could not help but pity him. One night, years back, Harry had been rushing to get ready for a date with Katrina and had banged on the bathroom door.
“Peter! When the hell will you be out of there?”
“Go away.” Peter groaned.
“Just tell me. How long?”
“Fuck off, Jenkins!”
Harry leaned hard into the door. “I want to brush my teeth and shave.” He banged again. “Let me get my stuff, and I’ll use the kitchen.”
“Open the fucking door yourself, asshole!”
Harry turned the knob, and the door swung open.
Peter, shirtless, was bent over the sink. Straightening up, he lowered the towel from his face and turned to Harry.
“Jesus, Peter,” Harry whispered. “What happened?”
Peter’s face was black and bruised. Blood flowed from a slash on his cheek. His chest was covered with nasty welts. He sat heavily on the toilet seat.
“What d’you think? I was beaten up.”
“Let me take you to the hospital.” Harry moved toward him.
“Stay the fuck away!”
“Who did this to you?”
A sob broke Peter’s voice. “The whole goddamned fucking world did this.” He held out the blood-soaked towel. His face was swollen into a Halloween mask.
Harry wet another towel and began to dab Peter’s forehead. “What are you talking about?”
“Couple of guys in the park jumped me. One held my arms back, and the other beat the shit out of me.”
“But why? What were you doing?”
“What the fuck do you think? I was doing absolutely nothing. I cut across Queen’s Park to get to class. They called me a pervert, a queer.” Peter stifled another sob.
“Did you tell the cops?” Harry began to work around the bridge of Peter’s nose.
“That’s really funny. The cops would probably give them a medal.”
“I think you need stitches.”
Peter shoved his hand away. “Don’t try to play the Good Samaritan, Harry. Most of the time, you treat me like I’m some piece of shit, that’d pollute your pristine self.”
“But I don’t mean …”
Peter’s laugh was ugly. “You know, I don’t get it,” he began quietly as he dabbed his lip. “Guy like you sees a girl, and right away you get a hard-on. The whole fucking world says, Great guy! Go get laid. I can’t help it. Same thing happens when I see some guy. Then everybody yells sicko! Pervert! Then they beat the shit out of me.”
Peter turned to Harry. Tears ran down his bruised and swollen face. “And it’s not the first time, either. Is that fair?”
Harry had no words. He just shook his head.
Giving Harry the finger, he said, “So, Jenkins, get your stuff out of here and leave me alone.”
Torn from his recollection, Harry stretched back in his desk chair. Being gay certainly had made Peter’s life hell, at least in the early years. Maybe it was the pain, all bottled up, which had made him so vicious and cunning. He just knew Peter had a lot to do with Katrina’s leaving—the end of his first serious love affair. He shook his head, wondering if life had become any easier for him since then.
Scanning his list of calls, he brightened. Natasha had called this morning. He had not heard from her for three or four days. Picking up the phone, he thought of Madame Odella’s prediction.
“Harry, I’d love to see you. Are you free tonight?”
“Of course. Should I come over?”
“Yes, please. Be sure to come hungry. Say around seven? Ring up from the desk.” Her laugh was warm and inviting. “And I will let you in.”
With a grin on his face, Harry hung up. Only with great effort could he immerse himself in the stack of files on his desk.
Ten minutes later, Miss Giveny interrupted him. “A Mr. Claus Oldenburg is on line one. He says it’s urgent.”
Harry frowned and snatched up the receiver. “Jenkins here.”
“Is Stanley Jenkins your father?”
“Yes, he is.” Harry held his breath.
“I’m his neighbor. I was wanting to borrow his snow shovel, and I found him unconscious at the bottom of the cellar steps.”
“You called an ambulance?”
“Of course. They’re taking him to the Toronto General.”
“Thanks very much for calling. Was he all right when they left?”
“He was still unconscious. They bandaged up his head.”
There was a silence on the line. Then Oldenburg spoke. “I didn’t know your father owned a gun, Mr. Jenkins.”
“He had it in his hand when he was lying on the floor. I gave it to the paramedics.”
“Thank you, Mr. Oldenburg, I’m very grateful.”
Harry’s anger mounted as he raced up University Avenue in a taxi. His father had fought his way out four retirement homes in the last three years. For the past few months they had tried his living at home, but Harry could never stop worrying.
Nobody’s going to push me around, his father would say to the nurses. Dad was like a troublesome kid getting kicked out of schools. Nothing seemed to work, but the thought of the gun frightened Harry. He couldn’t spend all his time worrying about him. No more nonsense! They’d have to make something work.
Harry was told to sit in the emergency waiting room. Impatiently, he flipped through magazines. Sitting off to his far left, a man dressed in a suit and tie was pressing a bloody towel to a gash on his forehead. Harry picked up an old issue of Car and Driver. A loud bark made him jump. What the hell? They’re letting dogs in? He lowered his magazine but saw no animal. When he returned to his magazine, a long, pained howl arose, filling the waiting room. The man with the towel bared his teeth and growled. Spittle flew everywhere.
A nurse and an attendant rushed out from behind double doors. “Mr. Franklin,” the nurse said, “the doctor will see you now.” With a few yips, the man consented to be led away. Harry suppressed a smile. Surely not a clever ploy to jump the queue?
Finally, he was ushered into cubicle four. Expecting to find his father awake and looking rather sheepish, he was shocked. Harry entered the cramped, darkened room to see his father lying motionless in a snakelike tangle of wires and tubes. A green line bleeped across the heart monitor with little enthusiasm. Underneath the flimsy hospital sheet, his father lay shrunken and shriveled, like a broken bird. When a low growl came from the next cubicle, Harry winced. Must be Mr. Franklin in his lair.
“Dad? It’s me, Harry. Can you hear me?” He waited for a flicker of the eyes. Nothing. Next door, Mr. Franklin began to howl. In a welter of that man’s pain and his own, Harry felt his annoyance mount. Next he’ll be looking for a lamppost! Why in hell don’t they give him a sedative?
“Please, Dad, talk to me,” Harry whispered urgently. He suddenly felt clammy. Good God! Maybe this time, he’s really done it.
He reached for his father’s hand. “Dad? Say something.” This obstinate man, reflected Harry, accused his son of trying to run his life, when he was only trying to keep him safe. Always having to worry about him. Harry touched his own cheek and was surprised to find it damp. Next door, Mr. Franklin had settled down to a low but persistent whimper.
The curtain was torn back. The doctor stood silhouetted in the hall light. Harry introduced himself.
“I’m Dr. Patterson.” They shook hands.
“Your father lives alone?”
“Yes. He’s very stubborn. He’s been in and out of retirement homes. Nothing seems to work.”
The doctor nodded sympathetically. “He’s suffered a blow to his head, apparently from a fall down the basement steps. All his signs are normal, but I’ve ordered a CAT scan.”
“Can you do anything to waken him?” Harry asked.
“Simple things sometimes work. Talk to him. Touch him. Sometimes a familiar voice helps a lot. I’ll call you when we have the test results.” The doctor turned back. “Mr. Jenkins, did you know your father had a gun?”
Harry’s chest constricted. “Not until today. The neighbor said so.”
“Do you see your father often?”
“At least once a week. Sometimes more.”
“Has he seemed depressed lately?”
Harry shook his head. “No, not particularly. No more than usual.” His father had been so depressed since Harry’s older sister Anna died that he hardly ever spoke.
The doctor rattled off his list. “Any complaints of sleeplessness, fatigue, change in appetite, or unusual behavior?”
“No. No more than usual.”
“Do you have a close relationship with your father?”
Irritation flared in Harry. “As close as he would allow.”
The doctor gazed at him for a moment and made a note. “I’ll let you know when we have all the results.” Then he was gone.
Flooded with shame at his own anger, Harry sank into the chair beside the bed. Little snorts and wheezes came from underneath the sheet.. For moments, he willed his father to open his eyes, but to no avail.
“Dad! Please talk to me.” Ironic, Harry thought. They could never talk even at the best of times and now he expected words from a comatose man. He tried to hum a few tunes from childhood, songs he remembered his mother singing. Exhausted, he rested his cheek against the cool metal bed rail and closed his eyes.
When Harry’s sister had died of polio at thirteen, his father had slipped into a dark silence. Now, fifty years later, they had found him at the foot of the cellar steps with a gun in his hand. Jesus! Was he intending to end it all?
Except for a few low growls, all was quiet in Mr. Franklin’s cubicle. If only his own father would make a sound, give some evidence of life! At last, Harry checked his watch. Almost six o’clock. Leaving his cell number at the desk, he headed out.
At seven, he was a t Natasha’s door. She commanded his sweetest fantasies, but nothing compared to the real thing. Marveling at her shining black hair, he reached out to touch it. Her pleasure at his presence widened her deep brown eyes, and when she brushed against him with a light kiss to his lips, her soft voice was filled with promise.
“Harry! Come in.” With a smile, she took his coat. He felt his shoulders lighten and his breathing slow. Her kiss was long and searching.
Holding him at arm’s length, she asked, “What’s wrong, Harry? You’re troubled.”
Following her into the kitchen, he slid his arm around her waist. “Not anymore,” he said simply. Even after almost a year, she had a tremendous hold on him. In her thrall, he thought with a smile.
Reaching for the wine bottle, she moved away from him. “Would you pour the wine? Dinner is almost ready.”
He handed her a glass of wine and sat at the counter. “I spent the afternoon at the hospital with my father.”
“What happened?” She set down the salad bowl and turned to listen.
“The neighbor found him unconscious at the foot of the cellar steps.”
“Do you know how it happened?”
“No. Nothing.” Harry shook his head. “I’m running out of places for him. He’s been kicked out of four homes in three years.”
“He cannot live alone?”
“He forgets stuff.”
“Like turning off the stove and opening the mail… oh, and not getting groceries or cooking proper meals.”
“Is it possible to get someone in to help?”
“He won’t allow it.”
“Natasha, when they found him, he had a gun in his hand.”
“Oh, Harry.” She set down the soup ladle and came to him. “You think he was trying to …”
Harry shrugged. “What else?”
She laid her hand on his arm. “How is he now?”
He looked at her sadly. “Still unconscious.”
“Do you want to go back to the hospital? We can eat now, and you can go back.”
“No. I’ve got my cell phone. They said they’d call if he woke up.”
At the table, Harry poked at his veal and pasta. He sipped his wine. “For some reason, sitting around in hospitals sure takes it out of you.”
Natasha set down her fork and looked at him carefully. “You sound resentful.”
“Yes. Do you need to straighten anything out with him?”
Harry sighed. “The doctor asked if I had a good relationship with my father.” He shrugged. “I guess it shows.”
“A bit. But there is a real touch of sadness.”
Abruptly, Harry rose from the table to gaze out the living room window. Except for a few pinpricks of light out at the Island Airport, all he saw was darkness and himself reflected back into the room.
He spoke rapidly, almost to himself. “He says I don’t really give a damn about him. That I’m trying to run his life, just so he can’t cause me trouble. Then he says just to forget about him. Get the hell out of his life because he doesn’t want me meddling in his and ordering him around.” He rubbed his neck and squinched his shoulders in pain.
Moving behind him, she said, “I know it hurts when someone you love seems unreachable.”
“Hmmm …” He did not turn to her.
Then she whispered in his ear, “You’re all knotted up, Harry,” She held him close, and he felt the warmth of her breasts as they grazed against him. “Would you like a massage? I mean a real one.”
Her low, intimate tone always inflamed him. His eyes widening with pleasure, he drew her close to him and whispered, “That would be fabulous.”
She took his hand and led him to the bedroom. She was gone only a moment and when she returned, she said, “Lie on the bed, Harry.”
“Your wish is my …” he smiled.
“Quiet!” she teased, her tone severe. She turned her ankle for him to see her shiny, leather boot.
Grinning, he reached for her and asked, “What else has my mistress planned for me?”
She shrugged. “You shall see what lies in store!”
Momentarily, a strange guilt crept over him. How could he celebrate such wild passion when his father lay comatose? Too much thinking! Life surged in him. His excitement rose swiftly as he stripped off his shirt and trousers and stretched out on silk sheets. Someday he would lie where his father now lay, but not yet. Not for a long time. When she straddled him, he was conscious only of the intense pleasure from the pressure of her thighs and the smooth coolness of her leather boots on his legs. Gently, she smoothed oils on his skin. With deft fingers, she coaxed the tightness from his shoulders. As she slowly worked far down his back, he thought he would swoon with pleasure.
He twisted around to see her smiling above him. She was naked and in the light and shadow, so desirable, she took his breath away. Life throbbed within him.
With his teeth, he pulled down the zippers of her polished boots and slid them slowly off one by one, caressing her legs as he went. He pushed back her hair and felt her quiver as she pressed against him. He kissed her neck just beneath her earlobe and, slowly sliding his tongue along her shoulder and down her breast, he memorized, all over again, each taste and texture of her skin.
When she ran her fingers across his chest, he marveled at the energy her touch created within him as if their bodies were one. Why did this woman, his spirit guide, draw him so forcefully that he scarcely knew where he ended and she began?
And then he laughed at himself as he slid beneath the covers. No sane man would question such free and voluptuous pleasure, as if it could only be valued through thought. Only an idiot or a fool would try to analyze love and passion.
She sighed deeply, and when she was ready, she turned for him to enter her. Every time they made love, he experienced a dark and mysterious world he had never found anywhere else. At last they fell together on the bed, laughing and panting, and marveled at the utter satisfaction flowing through them. Then she rose and wound her robe about her. He dressed and shuffled into his shoes. In the kitchen, she made coffee.
For Harry, Natasha was always part fantasy. He did not know what was missing, what made her seem to drift beyond his reach. One moment, she was so close and warm that he thought they might melt together in bliss. Next, she was drifting into her maddeningly remote world beyond his reach. He longed to secure her in his world, but did not know how to do so.
Sipping his coffee, he said, “Natasha, you know how much I love you.”
She only smiled.
“Now that I’m downtown, do you think we could try living together?”
She set down her mug carefully. “Perhaps, Harry, sometime.”
“But it’s silly to have all these expenses, when I’m here so much. My place is big enough for the two of us.” They had discussed the question before. He knew expenses were not the real issue, but he could not bear rejection over any serious ones.
She smiled and touched his cheek. “We can think about it.” He heard coolness creep into her tone, and he hesitated to push further.
His cell phone rang. “Jesus!” He snatched it up. “Yes.”
“Mr. Jenkins? I’m calling from the hospital.”
“About my father?”
“Yes. Just to let you know, he’s been moved to Room 509 in the Eaton Wing.”
Harry sank with relief. “Is he awake yet?”
“No, but he’s muttering a few words we can’t make out.”
He hung up and turned to Natasha. “He’s okay. At least he’s making some sounds.”
“Good. Can you stay with me tonight?”
He drew her close. “Indeed I can.”