“What’s so freaky about How to Spot an Aspiring Vegetarian?”
“It’s mostly, but not restricted to, the vegetarian part. And it’s impossible for you to advertise more effectively that you’re not one of them, a Backwater Bay native, than by writing that column for their local paper,” claimed my brother, Stephen, over the phone.
“But vegetarianism is huge! There are two hundred and twenty million vegetarians in India alone!”
“That’s India. Not Backwater Bay.”
“Your point being?” I asked.
“You’re alienating your client base for your store with that column. And what the hell are you doing in Backwater Bay anyway?”
“That’s Black Currant Bay,” I said, “and for your information, Stephen, I’m perfectly happy here.”
“In an apartment over a shop? How are you ever going to have the kind of success Debbie Travis has in the design world if you keep playing in the minors? Move back to the GTA. It’s not like Karl never enforced the law here in Toronto.”
“You’re sounding just like Dad,” I said, slumping in my seat.
“Come on, Dad was a tyrant,” he pointed out.
“And you think I’ll find my happiness by following your road map,” I said. “Anyway,” I bragged, “I picked up a fabulous new client yesterday. Beatrice Small wants me to stage her house. It’s not selling because a murder occurred there three years ago and potential buyers are afraid it’s haunted.”
“But Beatrice Small isn’t.”
“Afraid it’s haunted?”
“She’s convinced it’s haunted.”
I pulled up in front of Ms. Small’s Sutter Street house the day after my conversation with Stephen. I could see why the For Sale sign in her yard wasn’t meeting expectations. I started scribbling in my notebook right away because if I don’t write my thoughts down, I can easily forget them in discussion later. I used to keep long lists of ideas in my head, but lately …
Current red and black exterior colour combination won’t persuade buyers to overlook concern about murder. Suggest we use Almond Cream and Woollen Vest to compliment the red brick of your house.
I stuffed my notebook back in my purse, climbed out of my car and walked up the stone pathway to her front door. I knocked boldly, which I consider the equivalent of a firm handshake. The door creaked open.
Beatrice Small’s silver-grey hair was roller-set and sprayed. She wore a single pearl in each ear and a double string of pearls around her neck. Her face was powdered and she wore pink lipstick. I’m a sucker for any woman who looks in the least bit maternal since I’ve been technically motherless since I was six (I say technically because my dead mom and I are having long conversations).
She released the door handle and beckoned for me to enter.
“Come in. I’m so glad to meet you after our talk on the phone.”
“Me too. Pleased to meet you, Ms. Small.”
“Call me Beatrice.”
With my first step into her home, I knew I should start taking advantage of every minute I was present to visualize the changes that were needed but I simply found myself drawn after her as she led me down the hall. We passed by the openings to two front rooms, then beneath a staircase to the second floor, and all the time I had not a single thought other than anticipating spending time in her company.
She guided me into a back parlour, sat me down in a velvet wing chair and poured me a cup of tea from a silver teapot with its own silver tray and matching set of cream and sugar.
“It’s camomile, my dear. I hope you don’t mind herbal. I don’t drink Earl Grey anymore, although I love it. It has caffeine and Doctor Bradshaw says too much of it was probably the reason for my trouble sleeping. Naturally, he discredits the ghost.”
I should probably ignore the bit about the ghost.
“What ghost?” I asked, revealing my special skill with resolutions.
Her robin’s egg blue eyes looked steadfastly into mine as if assessing whether I was prepared for what she had to say.
“Three years ago, my daughter Rachel was murdered in an upstairs bedroom.”
My teacup rattled on its saucer as it traversed the space from my lap to the coffee table in front of me.