Jack gave me the once-over.


He offered me his fancy case. I read Rameses II in blue ink on the oval cigaret I removed. Jack lit his own in the heat of a little oil lamp on the table. Convection. He hated wasting a match, I knew. The drinks steward came ’round.

“Claret,” said Jack.

We settled in and smoked and looked at what was offered in the table d’hote. A waiter minced by.

“Oysters,” Jack said, looking at me. “For starters.”

I shrugged.

“A clear soup, some cucumber, the roast beef with new potatoes, a celery, then the cheese and the rest. Sound good?”

I nodded. Wine soon appeared. The steward poured and Jack raised his glass. I looked through the ruby fluid to the flame.

“Your wealth and hell-being.”

We drank. A cart rolled by bearing a silver salver. I caught my distorted reflection in the metal, dark and sour. Compare and contrast with Jack. He was hale, full of vim and vigour. Jack ran a large hand over his carefully combed red hair. My next question formed itself.

“How’d you find me?”

Smiling, Jack exhaled plumes of smoke out his nose thirls. The answer poured over me like cold water. Only one person on this earth.

“Laura,” I breathed.

Jack raised his eyebrows. The oysters were set down.

“A good thing it was too,” went Jack. “You’re off the reservation. Tried the school, Smiler and the rest. Thought you might’ve skipped town.”

“I’m out.”

“How long?”

“Since the end of last term.”

“Smiler suspected as much,” Jack said. “What’s this place you’re staying now?”

“Rooming house. What is it Leacock says? ‘All rooming houses are the same rooming house.’ He’s right, as always.”

“Ran into him on campus as well,” said Jack. “You tell your old man yet?”

“No point.”

“And Laura?”

“Don’t ask. Where’d you see her?”

“Dance out at Victoria Hall. Pure chance. She was being squired about by some local likely. Stole her and took her for a spin or two myself.”

This wasn’t news I liked the sound of. Jack’s manner was bland and still. I knew better than to ask him anything, mostly because I didn’t want to know. Ever thus he played the amused monarch, nature’s aristocrat. As evidenced by the beaten man he’d left behind, power over others was Jack’s meat. Try not to let suspicion eat at you. Say something.

“Doesn’t matter now. She won’t have a thing to do with me.”

Jack smiled again, but did I detect contempt in his eyes? I toyed with a glass.

“So why’d you stay in town?” he asked. “Hike down to Hogtown or head back home. I would.”

“To face down the Pater? No thank you. Besides, I’m skint. And there’s something else.”

“You’re hung up on her. I understand. But where in the hell’ve you been since April? Could have used you before now.”

“It’s a fine question and I’ll ask you the same.”

“Ah,” Jack said. “There you go.”

A pause while we drank. Funny how quickly we returned to the shorthand of youth, a Pitman’s of our upbringing. At length I said: “I went to ground. Her people summer down in New England somewhere so I got a shack at Memphremagog and sweated it out.”

“Did the school push you or did you jump?” asked Jack.


“What was it?

Here I took a drink and lit another of Jack’s cigarets. He watched me. My hand remained steady. I breathed out slowly and told some of the truth. I’d been stealing morphine, mostly, from the hospital dispensary. They were never able to nab me outright but had come close. It was that and my grades. In the end I’d held a trump card and between the board of governors and myself was forged an understanding. I’d ducked a censure or quodding, but there’d be no medical degree for myself from McGill, and that was a fact everlasting.

There, I’d said it. It’d been bottled up long enough, and the confession was a relief, in its way. I drank more wine.

“How much did you pocket?” asked Jack after a spell.

“More than enough for me and to sell. You’d be tickled to hear my clientele. A few real hyas muckamucks. Some Chinamen from time to time. When I lost my entree I had to shift gears. It was none for them, then after awhile none for me. I had enough saved up for the shack by the lake. Read my Tacitus and had my fishing rod and thought I’d wait for her to come back in September to try again.”

“She’ll never marry you,” Jack said.

“I know.”

To counter the rising bile I swallowed more wine. Rancour. Jack squeezed lemon juice over wet bivalves. It was far better not to speculate on what you cannot control. That woman, the ache of my heart. Instead observe your present surroundings. Looming above were dark heavy beams bisecting white plaster. It was all cod-Tudor and pretense at the Derby, Old Blighty transplanted to the colonies. Best roast beef to be had, however.

“Look at this place,” I said. “Do you know what it reminds me of?”

Jack tipped an oyster into his mouth.

“Remember the Royal Ensign? Seventeen Mile House on the Island?” I asked.

Jack peered about.

“You’re right,” he said. “When was that now?”

“Boat race weekend it must have been. Why else would we have gone over? Six, seven years ago. Swiftsure.”

“We had bathtub gin with those two doozies, what were their names...”

“Elizabeth and Rebecca,” I said.

“Then borrowed Billy’s Ford and the keys to his pa’s cabin.”

“That cabin. Quel bordel,” I said.

“They got sick on the booze. You broke the gramophone.”

“You chopped down a totem pole in Sooke Harbour,” I countered.

Jack put his hand to his face in mock shame. “Ye gods.”


My elbow was on the spread cloth and I let my forearm fall. When my hand hit the tabletop it rattled the oyster shells on the plate. Heads turned: old buffers with mottled faces. I chewed over a bland smile. Seventeen Mile House was far out on the road to Sooke, western Vancouver Island. The shores of the Pacific, our home at the edge of the world. They’d been good times together, years ago now, fresh back from the war.

“Liz and Becky. You burned their knickers in the stove, didn’t you? Wonder where they are now,” I said.

“Probably knitting booties,” said Jack.

“Those were the days.”

“And look at us now,” he went.

We were back in the past for just a moment, until the soup came. We spooned it up. More wine. At last the meat arrived, good and rare and red. Spuds, celery as requested, squab and cress. Warmth coursed through me. A plate cleaned in steady, animal hunger, at last I leaned back, replete, and listened to other diners chewing. Heavy sterling fork tines squeaked on china. Gustatory grunts, a cork popping, a woman’s laughter, the human hum of

Вы читаете The Man Who Killed
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату