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Authors: Joan Boswell

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BOOK: Cut to the Bone
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The other bureau with its half-open drawers spilling gaudy clothes couldn't have been more different. A clutter of spilled makeup, open jars, lipsticks along with necklaces, bracelets, and earrings covered the surface. Hollis spotted a gold necklace that spelled out a name —
— new information to feed into the mix.

In one drawer she viewed a mishmash of lace and nylon underwear, mostly black or red, jostling for space with two blonde wigs. In another several pairs of white jeans, none too clean, were stacked in the bottom drawer along with leotards, v-necked sweaters, and long scarves.

A look in the cupboard revealed that the bird of brilliant plumage did not respect boundaries. Miss Tidy's clothes, a navy blazer, grey sweater coat, navy suit, and two pairs of navy slacks huddled on one side, pushed there by a bizarre collection of short skirts, leather jackets, and dresses.

Hollis sat back. Who were the women who lived with Mary? What role did Mary play in their lives?

She glanced at her watch. Nine thirty. Willem would arrive in a few minutes. Time to hike downstairs, because search or no search, she wanted to change from her washable dog training outfit into something more alluring.

The dogs again welcomed her as if she'd been away for months, which surprised her, as they usually retired at nine. After they settled she checked on the girls. Jay had kicked off the covers and lay on her stomach, her face buried in the pillow. Hollis tucked her in, although she knew that the girl would throw off the covers again. Her souped-up metabolism kept her warm even on chilly nights with the window open. Crystal had curled into a ball and clutched her monkey close to her chest. Contemplating the vulnerable child, Hollis again vowed to find Mary.

In her own room Hollis peered into her cupboard. She loved bright colours and luxurious fabrics, but they had to pass the comfort test. Tonight she opted for red denim jeans. She pulled on a long-sleeved black sweater which provided the perfect background for a chunky chain that, had it not been silver, would work as a bicycle lock. In the bathroom she cleaned her teeth and was wondering if she needed fresh makeup when the buzzer sounded.

Too late.

She zoomed lipstick on her mouth and raced to press the button to allow Willem through the lobby door.

He enveloped her in a hug, tilted her face up for a kiss, and then stepped back. “What's happened in the building? I had to undergo the third degree before the officer allowed me in.”

“I gather you've been out of touch with radio and TV. It's been on the news,” Hollis said.

“You're right. I closeted myself in my office for most of the day and took the subway here. What's this all about?”

“You should have read those screens that hang from the ceiling on the platforms. They carry the latest breaking news stories,” Hollis said before she remembered Willem's contempt for sixty-second sound bites.

As she told him what had been happening, she admired him. She never tired of looking at his tall, well-built body. Willem was a study in warm brown. Hair, eyes, beard all reminded her of a cuddly teddy bear, one you could take to bed and be happy. She continued to marvel that he seemed to feel the same admiration and desire for her.

Willem considered her, his expression serious. “Maybe it's you. Something about your karma draws you to violence. Maybe you're murder-prone,” he said, his lips curling upwards and his eyes sparkling.

“The murder had
to do with me, but something
happened that involves and worries me,” she said.

As she spoke she wondered if Mary's disappearance was related to the murder. Perhaps the two events tied together in some way. It hadn't occurred to her until now, but if that was the case, maybe she should give up searching for Mary and pass the problem to Rhona.

Willem shrugged off his caramel leather bomber jacket. “It may be May but it's cold out there tonight. I'm afraid to ask what else has happened. From your expression when you mentioned it, I don't think I'm going to like whatever you tell me.”

They moved into the living room. While Hollis, wrestling with the idea that there might be a connection, marshalled her thoughts and decided how to present her conundrum, she pointed to the end of the room. “I'm still working on the giraffe and I'm pleased with him.” She was marking time. She had to tell him about Crystal and Mary.

“Is he winking? He's very appealing. But this isn't the time to consider him. It's true confession time. Tell me everything.” Willem stood, feet slightly apart and body braced as if he expected a blow. He would have looked at home on a sailing ship facing into the wind as he dealt with a storm.

“I have a small problem, and I thought you might have an idea how I should deal with it,” Hollis said.

Willem scrutinized her face. “I'm nervous when you talk about a
problem. I have vivid and painful memories of the last time we worked on one of your
problems.” He folded his arms over his chest and maintained his stance. “Shoot.”

Hollis longed to sit down, snuggle close to him, and tell her story without looking at him. Instead she too remained standing.

“Do you remember meeting Crystal Montour, Jay's friend who lives upstairs on the second floor?”

Willem nodded. “Pretty girl. Aboriginal, I think.”

“Right. Well, she lives with her aunt, Mary Montour, who has disappeared.”

“Disappeared? Is this connected to the murder? When did it happen?”

“I'm pretty sure it's a coincidence. Crystal was with us after school. We had dinner and all went to dog training. When we got back her apartment door was unlocked and her aunt was gone. Two women who live with them weren't there either. When I calmed Crystal down, we went up. There was no indication that anything untoward had happened.”

Willem frowned.

“When we came downstairs Mary had left a short phone message asking me to care for Crystal until she came back.”

“This story has a déjà vu ring to it,” Willem said. “Why would she do that? Do you have halfway reasonable explanation? This makes me nervous. You have a talent for mixing yourself up in heavy stuff.”

Hollis nodded. “I know. I wish I wasn't involved but I have to find Mary for Crystal's sake. If I report this the authorities won't allow Crystal to stay with me. Who knows where they'll place her. The really odd thing is that although Crystal is terribly upset, she won't give me the information I need in order to help.”

Willem took her hand and pulled her toward the sofa. “Let's sit down.”

Hollis shifted away from him and perched at the end of the sofa. She couldn't allow herself to cuddle, to be distracted before she described the situation. She wanted his opinion.

“What do you mean? What won't Crystal tell you?”

Hollis frowned. She needed a minute to decide how to tell her story. “I'm not being much of a hostess. Did I offer you a beer? I'd like a glass of wine.” She shifted forward ready to stand up.

Willem unfolded himself. “I'll do the honours. But be aware that I
this is a diversionary time-buying tactic.”

“There are cashews in the cupboard next to the stove. They're unsalted, so eating them won't make us feel guilty.”

“Since you know my fondness for cashews and always stock my favourite beer, I suspect this could be a prelude to giving me reasons why I should become involved.” Willem grinned. “You are not noted for your subtlety.”

Hollis returned his smile. “That
be true, but the fact is I need a drink. A murdered tenant, a battle with Jay, a dog training session where Barlow was as intractable as ever, and Mary's disappearance add up to stress times four.”

While Willem collected the drinks, Hollis planned her strategy.

Beer in hand, Willem cocked his head to one side. “Okay, give me the details. What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing right now. Just listen as I explore my options for dealing with Crystal and Jay.”

“What's the problem with Jay?”

“She desperately wants to meet her father at the Eaton Centre on Thursday night, and I'm not prepared to let her go alone.”

Willem turned to her. His eyebrows rose and his eyes widened. “

“Yes. She says Mrs. Cooper took her to the subway and her father met her when she got off in the Queen Street station. Have I told you the situation with her father?”

“Only that he's still in the picture and makes infrequent appearances.” Willem reached forward and tipped cashews into his hand.

Hollis sipped her wine before she began. “When I met him, before Jay came to live with me, he gave me the third degree.” She thought back to the meeting. When she arrived at the CAS offices she was ushered into an interview room.

A burly, muscular man dressed in pressed grey flannels and a forest green polo shirt stood up when she entered the room. He held papers in his hand. After the social worker introduced Calum Brownelly, they sat at a pale wood table.

“I'm sorry, but I didn't have time to read these papers before you arrived,” Brownelly said.

Hollis waited while Brownelly skimmed the documents.

While he read Hollis examined him. She noticed that his nails were clean, that he wore no rings, and that his watch was a garden variety Timex. She guessed he was in his early forties, although his leathery skin and the silver hair escaping from the neck of his shirt as well as the streaks in his full head of curly brown hair made her wonder if he was older. He would look much the same at sixty as he did now.

Brownelly laid the papers on the table and sat back. He allowed a minute or two to elapse before he spoke. “A working artist, a building custodian, a dog owner — will you have time to look after my girl?” He had a smoker's raspy voice.

Hollis checked his hands but didn't see the tell-tale nicotine yellow. He hadn't smiled, so she didn't see his teeth. Perhaps it was simply his voice. Why did she feel so defensive?

She removed her trademark red-framed glasses and tapped them on the table as she met his gaze. “My studio is part of the apartment. I have a large living room/dining room combination and use the dining room for painting and creating papier-mâché animals. Working at home means I
at home and will be there for Jay.”

Brownelly tipped his head to one side. “Did they tell you I want Jay walked to and from school? I looked up your address. She would have to cross Yonge Street and walk several blocks, and I don't want her doing that alone.”

No one had mentioned this. Hollis had assumed that Jay would walk to school just as Hollis had done when she was eleven. She'd forgotten how protective parents had become and quickly made an adjustment.

“As I'm sure the CAS has told you, I have a Golden Retriever and a Flat-coated Retriever puppy. I plan to combine the walk to and from school with a trip to a nearby off-leash park.”

Brownelly's hooded eyes opened slightly wider, giving him the appearance of a surprised reptile. “And what about your job as building custodian? How will you combine that with caring for Jay?”

Hollis settled her glasses back on her nose. “Mostly I make sure the cleaners, snow plowers, window washers, and other regular workers do their jobs. If a tenant has a problem I arrange for the tradespeople to come and repair whatever is broken. If I have to see to a tenant's problem, I've purchased a baby monitor that I can plug in and take the receiver with me. I'll know what's going on in the apartment and my dogs will also alert me if I'm needed.”

“As a single woman you have no experience with children. Mrs. Cooper's sudden death shocked Jay. She lived with her since she was very young and she's suffering. You need to deal with her loss. In addition my daughter will challenge you because she's strong-willed. She needs a firm hand. How do you feel about dealing with those issues?”

Hollis felt as if she was applying for citizenship. Who knew the child's father had the right to question her as if she was in custody for a heinous crime? But she had to be positive, had to assume it meant he cared. As she had since the social worker told her how he'd asked for Jay to be placed in a foster home, she wondered what kind of life he led if he couldn't care for an eleven-year-old. She understood a man feeling unable to look after a baby but, by eleven, after school programs, good sitters, and other caregivers made single parenting possible. An odd situation. Maybe Jay or the social worker would provide more information to help her to understand.

For the moment she needed to respond honestly to Brownelly's interrogation, to be proactive and establish the ground rules.

“I've read books since I applied to be a foster parent. I particularly like the approach of Alyson Schafer, a Toronto psychotherapist. She's a parenting expert and wrote,
Honey I Wrecked the Kids

“Stupid title. I don't want you applying nutty psycho ideas to

, Hollis thought, but decided not to challenge him.

“You should read the book. Very sensible ideas. For me the truth is, and you may strongly disagree, that the same concepts that apply to dogs apply to children. You have to establish yourself as the alpha dog, the leader. You are not their friend, not their equal, you are in charge. If you take this approach a child will be relieved to know there are boundaries and she doesn't have to constantly push to see when you will finally say

Hollis caught a smile flickering across the social worker's face.

Brownelly's bushy eyebrows rose and drew together like sparring caterpillars as he frowned and snapped. “My Jay is not a dog.”

“I'm aware of that. I'm giving you the philosophy I've learned from training dogs.” As she said this Hollis envisioned Barlow tearing through the apartment dragging various items of clothing, of the food he stole, of his refusal to come when she called him.

BOOK: Cut to the Bone
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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