by Morris J. Marshall
Krista Beauregard, a part-time college professor, is delayed in rush-hour traffic one winter morning. Toronto police have cordoned off the intersection of Yonge and King Streets, and a bloody tarp lies on the sidewalk. Krista discovers that this incident has a personal connection: Gavin McLeod, her former top student, has died in a fall from a nearby office building in which he worked. The police quickly close the case, contending it was a suicide, although one of the investigating officers suspects more is at play. Devastated by the suicide ruling, Gavin’s father asks Krista to help him discover what really happened.
Chapter 3: Catching Up
“Is everything okay, Krista?” Dara Jacobs asked her long-term friend the next evening as they were chatting over coffee. She had to raise her voice over the constant drone of conversation pervading the cafe. “You don’t look very well.”
Krista put down her green tea. Her stomach had settled so that she felt well enough to come out, but she still had a headache. For dinner she’d had dry crackers. “I’m fine,” she said.
“You know,” Dara said, “there’s nothing that a good relationship won’t cure.”
“I don’t have time for one right now; too many things on the go. My landlord has given me three months to find a new place. He wants to put my apartment on Airbnb.”
Dara refused to let her friend off the hook so easily. “There’s this new guy in accounting at work and he’s—”
“Please stop. My mood has nothing to do with my dating life.”
Krista had met Dara in first year at York University in the fall of 2000. The third week in September, she’d walked into her first-period Economics class at 7:30 a.m., half an hour early. Dara had been the only student there, sitting in the middle of the lecture hall among a sea of empty seats. They started talking. They exchanged phone numbers and studied together. That progressed to movies, pub visits and shopping excursions. Later they went on double dates.
Seventeen years later, little had changed, but the pub crawls and double dates had disappeared. Krista had sworn off of alcohol after a bad hangover in her final year of graduate school. Dara was now happily married with two kids while, at thirty-five, Krista’s dating life had gone the way of the dodo. Against her better judgement, she told Dara about Gavin McLeod.
Dara reached across the table and held Krista’s hand. “That’s horrible, dear. No wonder you’re distraught.”
Krista nodded. “So many thoughts keep flooding into my mind. I can’t believe Gavin jumped.”
“You think he was murdered?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
Krista glanced around the cafe. It was ten o’clock and the few people who remained were continuing to stare at their laptops, deep in thought, while “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller band played softly in the background. She reached into her handbag and produced her cell phone.
“Listen to this, Dara. I found it on my voicemail when I got home from work this evening.” She played the message:
“Hello, Krista? This is Gavin McLeod. Do... do you remember me? I’m a former student of yours. I was wondering if we could meet for coffee tonight. It’s been a long time. I’d really like to see you again. I know this is short notice, but I’m in trouble. I could use your advice and—”
The line went dead.
“How did he get your number?” Dara asked.
“It’s a long story.”
“I have time,” Dara said, smiling.
“Gavin was struggling with calculus, and I began tutoring him. We met a few times at a coffee shop. I realize now that it was a mistake, but—”
“Did you like Gavin, Krista?”
“Like him? What do you mean?”
“Were you interested in him?”
Krista was caught off guard by the question. “Of... of course not. I was his professor. There was nothing going on between us.”
“That doesn’t mean you didn’t find him attractive.”
“Can we talk about something else, please?”
“I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Krista put her cell back in her bag. “That message was on my phone for three days. If only I’d checked my voicemail more often, maybe I could have helped Gavin.”
“You can’t blame yourself. Are you going to report the message to the police?”
“I want to do some investigating myself first.” Krista glanced at her watch. “I have to go. I have an early class tomorrow.”
Dara hugged her. “Take care of yourself, hon. Let’s get together again soon.”
* * *
On the bus ride back to her apartment, she replayed Gavin’s message several times, noting the inflections in his voice and the awkward pauses. The Gavin she knew had always been confident and outgoing, but Krista detected only uncertainty here. Something had spooked him. His fear grasped at her through the phone like an octopus reaching for its prey with extended tentacles.
If only I’d heard that call, Krista thought again. She stared out the bus window at the snowflakes falling from the night sky and shivered as though an icy wind had blown right through her.
Copyright © 2017 by Morris J. Marshall