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When private detective Lucy Trimble is retained by Greta Golden to find the identity of the ominous lurking stranger who Greta is certain is following her, it doesn't appear to be too challenging a mystery. Lucy has no trouble learning who her client's pursuer is: a British investigator has been engaged to probe into Greta's life. But the question of what he is trying to discover about Greta, and why, begins to truly complicate the case. This revelation soon opens up further questions about Greta's own identity ...
When private detective Lucy Trimble is retained by Greta Golden to find the identity of the ominous lurking stranger who Greta is certain is following her, it doesn't appear to be too challenging a mystery. Lucy has no trouble learning who her client's pursuer is: a British investigator has been engaged to probe into Greta's life. But the question of what he is trying to discover about Greta, and why, begins to truly complicate the case. This revelation soon opens up further questions about Greta's own identity and, more specifically, the identities of her mother and father. Lucy's investigation leads her to Cornwall, England, where there still live witnesses to Greta's birth and her father's death. Lucy slowly begins to put the fragments of the puzzle together, but it is only when Greta joins Lucy in England that she is able to find the missing piece, and begins to confront her own rapidly evolving and more complicated personal life.
At seven-thirty on Tuesday morning, Lucy Trimble lay awake beside her racehorse-trainer lover in the bedroom of his farmhouse. They usually slept here only on weekends, but if Johnny did not have to be early at the track, they sometimes commuted for one more day if the weather was good.
Her bottom, and thighs still ached from the horse riding Sunday afternoon (he was teaching her to canter), and she would feel it more when she moved—pleasant pain, yet still pain enough to make her hesitate to embrace the moment of getting up. But she had a forty-five-minute drive to her office on Queen Street, where she would wait for the phone call to tell her she was needed, and then it was a twenty-minute drive to the trade show at the Coliseum on Lakeshore where she would meet her client. Time to start the day.
Beside her, Johnny grunted, stirred, farted quietly, and explored the bed behind him with his foot. Lucy tried to calculate if she had time to make love as well as wash, dress, and eat breakfast. Not really. Not properly. She reached out on her side of the bed until her foot found the edge, then downward until she touched the rug, sliding her body the necessary inch or so across the bed. She rolled fully onto her side, trying to move without disturbing the duvet and so create a current of air, and edged the other foot out and on to the floor, then braced herself to slide out gently, silently. She stood up to shuck off her nightdress and felt Johnny's hand.
"Where are you going?"
"Work. I didn't want to disturb you."
"Not disturbed. Very calm."
"You'll have to be quick. I have to be in Toronto by nine-thirty."
Comstock was always at his fondest in the morning. Lucy liked to think that what she got then was the pure Johnny, bursting with love for her: He awoke, he saw, he adored. The fact that it might just be physiological didn't matter.
She slid back under the duvet, gave him a long, unfocused hug, then arranged herself to receive him. He failed to move to her.
"Not interested?" she asked.
"Stop looking at your watch."
"I do have to go soon."
"So you said. Come back when you have more time." He turned away, scrunching down into the bed, closing his eyes.
Lucy thought, this is getting fraught, and I don't know why. She thought of the Trog, Johnny's immediate and only predecessor: In the same situation, he would have jumped her in a trice and been asleep again before she had properly got out of bed. That would have been that. Or not woken up. Or got up and made her breakfast. In any event, he would not have been offended just because she looked at her watch. And then she saw which way her thoughts were going and clamped her mind shut. The idea of comparing Johnny with bald, big-nosed, gap-toothed Ben, which she was just about to do, was absurd.
She moved smartly now, showering briefly without washing her hair, donning a summer dress and grabbing a sweater in case the Coliseum was air-conditioned, then breakfast—a glass of orange juice half full of bran, a slice of toast and honey, a cup of tea. By eight-thirty she was on Highway 404, reflecting on the changes in her circumstances in the past year and a half.
A year ago she had arrived in Toronto, a forty-nine-year-old part-time library worker and the owner of a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Longborough, a town a hundred and fifty kilometers east of Toronto. Two years before that she had disentangled herself from a dominating husband and taken flight, literally (from him) and metaphorically into a freedom that was still testing her. She had met the first challenge by saying yes to the overtures of the Trog, a guest of the bed-and-breakfast establishment. Even then she knew that it wasn't the Trog that she was saying yes to but the possibility of a new world, and soon the death of a cousin created the opportunity to say goodbye to the Trog and to Longborough and move to Toronto. There, very soon after she arrived, Lucy met Johnny Comstock, the Lancelot of Woodbine racetrack, and knew that she had made the right move.
She had thought until now that there need be no ending to their relationship, but this morning, driving down Highway 404, she was troubled by a doubt. It seemed to her that there was something less than spontaneous about Johnny's reaction that morning, as if he was not so much offended but finding an excuse to take offense. But why? Why was it wrong of her to check the time? The world's work had to go on, no matter who was feeling horny, didn't it? Not enough time? They would have had enough time if he had really wanted her.
The traffic slowed to a dawdle, and then it stopped. Half a mile away, a truck loaded with watermelons had overturned as it hit a car coming off the ramp from Major Mackenzie Drive, temporarily blocking all three lanes. Lucy had forgotten to bring her cell phone with her, and by the time the blockage cleared, she was anxious about getting to her office before Greta called. Already the morning's tiny piece of grit was sinking to the bottom of her mind, its sharp edges coated with the first forgetting skin.
The greengrocer on the corner of Queen and Egerton was open, and the bread-and-milk store, but the restaurants were still closed except for one Portuguese cafe where Lucy bought herself some coffee to take up to her office. None of the other tenants of the second floor—the chiropodist, the speech therapist, or the chiropractor—were working, but her landlord, Peter Tse, was in his office, talking on the telephone with the door open. Lucy unlocked the door of her own office, trying to guess who Peter was talking to, and looked across Queen Street to see if Nina, her travel agent friend, was also talking on the phone, but her office was dark. Peter Tse owned Nina's building as well as Lucy's, and Lucy had not been able to make up her mind if Nina was his mistress.
"What you workin' on today, Lucy?" Peter said from behind her, making her jump.
"Crime never sleeps," she said. "You look spiffy." Peter was handsome and athletically trim, and he was wearing what she thought of as his betting costume—gray cotton trousers, a cream linen jacket, and a white shirt open at the neck—the clothes he wore to go to the racetrack. She looked at her watch, "Bit early for Woodbine?"
"They're at Fort Erie this week. I'm taking my niece to Niagara Falls," Peter said. "Wanna come?" Peter was one of three brothers, only one of whom was married and had a daughter, so the two unmarried brothers had to share a single eight-year-old niece. Peter got to take her to school in the mornings and for an outing about once a month.
"I'm working. Enjoy yourself."
"'Ow about you? Not going down to Fort Erie? Comstock's got a runner in the big race."
"Johnny's going, of course," she said. But it was a flustered remark. Of course he would be going to watch his own horse in the big race, but she was caught not even remembering that there was a big race that day. Was that why he was offended?
Peter was watching her face. "Did'jer forget? Nemmind; 'e'll have a lot to think about."
"He won't miss me, you mean?"
"I guess. You're late. Your phone's been ringing already. Some Golden woman." Peter had a key to Lucy's office, and when she was out he answered her phone in the guise of her assistant, a role he enjoyed. Lucy felt the idea of an assistant gave her some heft. As he spoke, the phone rang again. She turned to answer it and waved him good-bye, then swung in her chair to watch out of the window to see if he crossed over to Nina's block.
"Who answered your phone?" Greta Golden asked. "Someone with a cockney accent. Said he was your assistant."
"That was my landlord. You saw him yesterday."
"But he's Chinese, isn't he? The one I saw?"
"He's a Chinese cockney. I'll explain sometime, but that's all it is. He's Chinese and he's got a cockney accent. He grew up in Soho, he told me, but he might have been teasing me. He often does."
When no more was forthcoming, Greta said. "All right, then. My admirer has arrived. Come to the booth and I'll show him to you. Bring your handcuffs."