Back in my office I uploaded the photos to my computer and looked at them as a slide show, where they told the entire story in three-frame bursts.
For three frames Mr. Stanton turns. For three frames he throws away his crutches. For three frames he begins running across the porch. For three frames his leg gives out and he tumbles forward. For three frames he rolls down the top steps. For three frames he comes to a stop at the bottom.
The next four sets of frames are identical: a man lying unconscious on the walkway.
I’d stopped taking photos as soon as I realised what had happened and ran over to him, but Paula got there before me. Together we tried to get a response, but the only sign of life was his breathing. We called an ambulance, which arrived within ten minutes. By that time Mr. Stanton had regained consciousness. As the paramedics bundled him into their vehicle he thanked us profusely for showing such kindness and coming to his aid.
I watched the slide show again then switched to the email I’d been writing to the insurance company.
“My full report and photographic evidence are attached,” I wrote. “I know that I have no authority in this matter, but my advice? Give him the damned money.”
I clicked on “send” and sat back.
Paula had asked me to go to her apartment after the fiasco with Mr. Stanton. She said she was still shaking from the experience and hugged me so I could feel her body tremble. I could definitely feel her body, but I couldn’t tell which one of us was trembling. I almost agreed, but I had to write up my report for the insurance company — a process they made far more complicated than it needed to be, so I declined. She then suggested that she come back to the office with me. I would have loved that, but the report really did require a lot of concentration, and I always find it difficult to concentrate when she’s around. Especially in that dress — the light fabric one with nothing on underneath. I reluctantly told her we’d better not.
She’d accepted my decision, but seemed miffed when I dropped her off at her place.
It was now around five in the afternoon. I made my call to Mr. Robinson, giving him the full details of the meeting with my gangster that morning. Like many people who believe that detective movies reflect real life, he suffered from the belief that being threatened with a sever beating would make me even more determined to continue. It took me a while to convince him that, strange as it may seem, the being threatened with a severe beating actually made me more determined to quit.
I wrapped up the phone call around 5:30. I had a meeting with a potential client at seven, so I headed out to grab a bite to eat at the King’s Plate Open Kitchen across the street.
Back when the Eclipse building beside me had housed the newly-born Toronto Sun, the King’s Plate had been a favourite eatery for the Sun staff, especially Paul Rimstead who wrote that “you can buy a beef steak pie for 50 cents.” Well, you couldn’t do that any more, but I didn’t care. I was just happy the place was still in business. It was another one of those incursions from an older time with no right to still be around.
After dinner I would be heading out to meet with my new clients.
My new rich clients. Mr. and Mrs. Whitewater. Even their name sounded rich.
They lived in the north end of Toronto on Millionaire’s Row — more formally known as the Bridle Path. Their daughter, Bridget, had taken an interest in a young man, and they were worried he may not be suitable. It seems she was well on her way to becoming a concert pianist and they didn’t want some ne’er-do-well to screw up her life.
Mr. Whitewater actually said that. “Ne’er-do-well.”
He didn’t say “screw up her life,” though. His exact words were, “We’re afraid the lad may have the potential of adversely affecting her career chances.” (I gave him points at least for not saying “impacting her career chances.”)
It felt a bit tacky, but all I’d really be doing is digging into the guy’s background a bit and following him around for a while to get an idea of his life-style and the kinds of people he hung around with. If he frequented pubs we could knock back some beers and chat amiably while I pulled in the best paycheque I’d had in ages.
Yes, the money was going to be good. A handsome retainer and a very generous weekly rate (which, thankfully, they didn’t call an “allowance”).
I finished up my dinner at the King’s Plate around six and headed out to my van. It struggled for a while after I turned the key, but reluctantly started after I muttered a quick prayer — although not without a bit of overly-dramatic wheezing and coughing. About 40 minutes later I arrived at the Whitewater’s residence where they graciously invited me into their drawing room.
Yeah. They were rich.
After bringing out tea and finger foods, they got down to business. The young man’s name was Henry, and while he came from a good family, there were disturbing rumours that he hung with a rough crowd. It wasn’t that they were trying to control their daughter’s life, they each assured me, but with such a promising future ahead of her — well, they were worried. She’d been playing piano since she was three, and had started winning prestigious awards before she was six.
“Hear that?” Mr. Whitewater asked, nodding his head at one of the speakers presently playing Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto softly in the background. “That’s Bridget,” he said with some pride. The pride seemed well-placed. The Second is one of my favourite piano concertos and the pianist was flawless. I was even more impressed when he told me that Bridget had made the recording when she was only seven.
As we talked I started to feel better about the job. Despite their stuffiness, the Whitewaters were really nice people, and they seemed honestly more concerned in their daughter’s emotional and professional safety than keeping her on some kind of leash.
“At the moment,” said Mr. Whitewater, “Bridget appears destined to become a significant figure in the world of classical music. But that, of course, could change. She may discover that she truly isn’t comfortable with the life of a concert musician and change careers. She may even,” he added, with a sly look at his wife, “decide that Rachmaninov, Schubert and Beethoven are not for her and turn her talents to more popular music.”
“I certainly hope not,” said Mrs. Whitewater, but she smiled as she said it.
Truth was, I could see their point. Young people often get involved with the wrong friends, and a stupid decision early on can destroy what could otherwise have been a very successful and happy life. She would be graduating the next year, they said, and while they wanted her to have a normal social life, they didn’t want her studies to get sidetracked by someone who had no plans of his own.
“It’s not that he’s not likeable,” explained Mr. Whitewater, who seemed almost anxious not to paint too bad a picture of the young man, “in fact he’s quite charming.”
“But he’s also very aimless,” sniffed Mrs. Whitewater, with no effort to hide her disapproval.
I got out my notebook and began collecting the information I would need to start checking up on Henry.
His full name was Henry Reginald Fortbright. His address turned out to be just down the road from the Whitewaters. I wasn’t familiar with the places they listed as his hangouts, but then I don’t move in the same circles as these people. I was just about to ask about the make and model of his car when Mrs. Whitewater, who had excused herself a few minutes earlier, came into the room and placed an open book in front of me.
“I’m afraid we don’t have a good photo of him,” she said, “but perhaps this would help.” The page to which it was opened showed a kid in his early teens with a goofy smile and a pencil hanging from each nostril. The caption underneath read, “Once again Clown Prince Henry proves his worthiness to his title.”
I blinked. Looking at the cover I found that it was last year’s yearbook for an exclusive Montessori elementary school.
I closed my notebook.
“And Bridget is — how old?”
“Oh, she’s 11, but she’s in Grade 7 because she was so bright she skipped a grade,” said Mrs. Whitewater proudly. “She’ll be graduating into high school after next year.”
“Yes,” added Mr. Whitewater. “That’s part of the problem. Henry is not only a year ahead of her in school, but he’s a full two years older. Almost three, really, because he’ll be turning 14 next month.”
My visions of earning a well-padded paycheque by knocking back beers with an amiable rogue were replaced by visions of mug shots and criminal charges.
There are notes to this chapter, which can be found by hovering over the “Story Notes: No spoilers” tab at the top of the page.
Warning — Read the chapter first, otherwise the notes may be an inadvertent spoiler.
This is my sixth entry in the February writing challenge, “30 Minus 2 Days of Writing: III” (or 30M2DoW) issued by We Work for Cheese, the rules for which, such as they are, I am completely ignoring — except the attempt to post each day during the month.