It was warm and cozy in my bunk. I rolled over and reached out to put my arm around Suzy. My head thumped on the bulkhead, and I woke up groggily—no Suzy. My fuzzy brain shook itself like a wet dog, and reality returned. Suzy was in Toronto. Our romance was over.
I should never have asked her to marry me. When I said the words, her eyes had shown love, pity, and fear. Not all at once, but one at a time, in that order. The dazzling woman who could climb a mast in a gale and swim a mile was afraid of me! Or at least afraid of committing to me.
I unfolded myself out of the vee-berth and stumbled to the chart table to check the time on the ship's clock. The hands pointed to 2:17, but it was daylight outside. I forgot to wind it. Again.
I found the key and wound the clock. Then I looked around for some clean clothes. There was a choice of long or short khaki pants and long or short-sleeved blue cotton shirts. Looking through a port showed nothing but grey, so I chose long in both categories. After slipping into my topsiders, I pulled on a light windbreaker. Climbing the steep companionway ladder, I remembered to duck and avoided a collision with the stainless tubing supporting the dodger. I clambered out of the cockpit and vaulted over the lifelines on to the dock. It wasn’t as graceful as it sounds. My shoe caught on the top line, and I narrowly avoided a faceplant. The shoe came off and landed in the sea. I fished it out, shook it, and put it back on. It squished a bit as I walked.
I turned back to admire my boat. Tangled Moon was a beauty, a 41-foot Olin Stephens Sloop built by Nevins in ‘38, with no expense spared. The decks were laid teak almost an inch thick. The long trunk cabin was painted white with a varnished mahogany eyebrow. An inlaid gold leaf cove stripe and broader white boot stripe accented the double-planked navy-blue hull. All the deck hardware was bronze, which would look splendid when polished—if that ever happened.
I found the old yacht chained and padlocked to the dock at Clay’s Wharf and seized by the Sheriff. I inquired at the office and found out it had belonged to a well-known stock promoter who had recently disappeared without a trace, taking a lot of investors' money with him. The boat was for sale, and I negotiated a price I could manage, about half as much as a small house in the suburbs. The bank loan had payments of two hundred and ten dollars a month. I found moorage in Coal Harbour and moved aboard. That was in 1967.
Walking up the slope from the marina toward Denman Street, I took a shortcut through the remains of the old Georgia Auditorium. Only the concrete walls and floor remained, and inside was a jumble of temporary sheds and various boats under construction or repair. I passed Wright Mariner, a local marine store, a place I often hung out. Laurie Wright always had the coffee ready. But the shop was closed, as it wasn’t yet nine.
I crossed Georgia and continued up Denman to the Shipmate Café. It was the kind of place you could charitably call a “greasy spoon,” located on the ground floor of a boxy brick commercial building. Locals called it the Shitbait. The hinges squealed as I pushed the door inward.
“Sean Gray! I haven’t seen you in ages, maybe as much as twelve hours. Are you still an asshole?”
Coffee was twenty-five cents, but Brenda’s abuse was free. I had no snappy comeback. I needed a shot of caffeine first.
Brenda brought me a thick mug of black stuff that resembled used motor oil but did smell a bit like coffee. With a liberal dose of cream, it could be consumed. She looked quite attractive in her waitress uniform, a sort of sailor suit with a short skirt. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun. She was just a little too curvy to be fashionable, more 1958 than 1968.
I was nursing my coffee and eating a slice of buttered toast when the café door opened again. The place was quiet early in the morning, so you noticed who came in. This woman was tall, black—a rare sight in Vancouver—and slim, with a long neck and fine features. I couldn’t guess her age, but since she was wearing a very well-tailored business suit and expensive-looking shoes, I assumed she was a professional of some sort. In the moment before she spoke to Brenda, I made up a history. She was a career diplomat from Ethiopia, posted to Vancouver, and exploring the neighborhoods to decide where to live.
The moment she ordered, I knew I was wrong. Her accent was pure Bajan, with an overtone of British education. She ordered an Earl Grey and a muffin and said something to Brenda, which I didn’t quite catch, but I thought I heard my name. Brenda jerked a thumb in my direction and said, “Talk to that clod.”
It wasn’t every day a beautiful stranger walked up to me with a smile on her face. The last time, it was a bill collector, so that was what I expected when she reached into her purse. I had a momentary flash of imagination in which she was pulling a gun on me.
Instead, she looked directly into my eyes and pulled out a card. Her eyes were a surprising bright blue. I wiped my face with a paper napkin and stood up.
“Sean Gray, at your service,” I said. Probably should have bowed or something, but I didn’t.
“Darya Hubert.” She handed me the card and sat down at my table.
The card said:
Darya Hubert, BA, LL.D
At the bottom was a phone number, nothing else. I stared at it for a moment.
“A lawyer? What can I do to help you?”
She looked down at the table, as though composing her thoughts. When she looked up, she spoke softly. “I heard about what you did for Mrs. Haskell.”
“I found her missing cat, that’s all. No big deal.”
Darya smiled, revealing straight white teeth with a slight gap in the front, and her eyes glistened with amusement. “I heard the cat was solid gold with ruby eyes.”
“That’s the rumor.”
Mrs. Haskell had me sign an agreement not to reveal that the cat was only gold plated, and the rubies were glass.
“I also heard that you have a boat. I need your help.”
I stood up. “We’d better continue the discussion upstairs in my office.”
I raised my eyebrows in the direction of Brenda, who was leaning on the counter, paying close attention.
Brenda turned around and started polishing the coffee urn, something never seen before. Darya followed me out of the shop and up the narrow stairs to my office. The old-fashioned oak door had a frosted glass panel with Anson Investigators engraved in the glass. It was there when I rented the office, and it was too expensive to change. The rest of the office was also pretty much as I found it.
Darya looked around the room. I had a large oak desk behind which was my wooden swivel chair. Beside the desk were a big old steel filing cabinet and three wooden guest chairs. On the side of the room opposite the entry were two unmarked oak doors. One was a toilet and sink, and the other was a private back room where I kept boat stuff. The floor was well worn Douglas fir planking.
Darya walked over to the tall bookshelf, which occupied a space between the two doors. She perused the titles on the shelf at her eye level.
“Nietzsche, Freddy the Pig, Proust, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle…you have eclectic taste in literature.”
I said, “Don’t forget the RCA Vacuum Tube Manual. That’s my favorite.”
I sat at my desk and waved her to a chair. I thought I better clear up the false impression made by the sign on the door.
“I’m not a licensed investigator. Technically, I’m an archaeologist.” I pointed to the wall behind me where three diplomas were displayed, all from ICS.
Darya said, “None of those is for Archaeology. I see Electronics, Diesel Mechanics, and Watch Repair.” She had sharp eyes. Most people couldn’t read them from over there.
“As I said, I’m a technical archeologist. I dig up old technology and fix it.”
I pointed to the typewriter on the side extension of my desk. “That is the only IBM Selectric in the world with a teak case. The original broke when it was thrown from a second-story window. It missed me. Anyway, to the point, how do you think I can help you?”
“A client of mine just received a letter that was sent to her almost fifty years ago.”
“The Post Office can be slow. I can’t be expected to do anything about that.”
She ignored me, and reaching into her purse, took out a Xerox copy of a hand-written letter. The writing was old fashioned but legible. I took the hint and read it. Several words, which seemed to be the names of people and places, were blacked out.
The contents excited my interest, but I played it cool. I asked if her client had the means to pay for my time, and she asked my rate.
I usually charged eight bucks an hour for repair work, but this was likely to be a long job, so I decided a daily rate would be more appropriate. The figure of sixty dollars entered my head, but I said, “One hundred a day plus expenses.”
“Agreed. My client will be pleased.”
I should have asked for two hundred.
With that out of the way, we went back down to the café and sat with some more coffee
I asked Darya, “Do I detect a Bajan accent?”
“Yes, I’m surprised you recognized it. Most people think I’m Jamaican. I came to Canada from Barbados when I was seventeen, I won a scholarship to McGill.”
I said, “I was born in Grenada, and I can usually recognize a West Indian accent. My Dad could tell what part of an island you were from. The family moved to Canada when I was a child.”
“I don’t meet many West Indians here. With your sandy hair and light eyes, I took you for a white guy. What did your father do in Grenada?”
I laughed, “I’m as white as they come in Grenada, my Dad was a planter. His family was there for a couple of hundred years.”
She looked serious for a moment. I imagined she thought that I was a descendant of slaveholders. I suppose that was true, though nobody in the family ever mentioned it.
I said, “You have blue eyes.”
She nodded. “Yes, almost everyone in my mother’s family has them. It’s rare, but not extremely so.”
I changed the topic and asked her about law school. She was a fairly recent graduate. Still, she had to be a few years older than me. I surmised that race might have something to do with why she ran a one-person firm.
We parted on friendly terms, and I looked forward to seeing her again.