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 5: Reflective Discussion
On Friday morning, Krista made it to her class an hour early, one of the bonuses of not being able to fall asleep after a nightmare. She got all her photocopying done and had written the day’s topics on the whiteboard before the first student arrived.
“There are two phases in any business cycle,” she said, standing before her seventy students. “Recession and expansion. The downward phase of a business cycle is called a recession. This is two or more consecutive quarters of decreasing output. The upward phase of a business cycle is called an expansion. Output increases during this phase.”
Krista looked up. Six students were playing with their smartphones. They weren’t paying attention, but at least they were quiet. She cleared her throat. Time to initiate some class participation. “Here’s a question. What phase of the business cycle is the Canadian economy in currently?”
Krista looked for a raised hand. Not seeing any, she waited for someone to offer an answer, as they invariably would. You were supposed to wait at least thirty seconds. While standing in front of a large class, thirty seconds seemed like an eternity.
Long before she’d studied economics, Krista had become intimately acquainted with cycles of another kind. During final exams in her last year of high school, she’d plunged into depression for the first time. Her condition culminated in June with her drinking Javex and her dad frantically driving her to hospital. She’d recovered over the summer in time to attend York University that fall.
Krista was so excited about her new learning environment that her mind began to race uncontrollably. She’d pull all-night study sessions, surviving on three hours of sleep. She ran after every guy she met and, when the relationship tanked, as it inevitably did, she would fall back into depression and return to hospital.
One of Krista’s students had his hand up.
“Yes, Kevin? What phase of the business cycle is Canada currently in?”
“I think we’re in the expansion phase, Miss Beauregard.”
“That’s good,” Krista replied. You mean “manic phase,” she thought, biting down on her bottom lip to keep from giggling.
* * *
During her first stay in hospital, psychiatrists had diagnosed Krista with bipolar disorder and placed her on lithium carbonate. It helped stabilize her moods, but also gave her an insatiable appetite. She gained twenty pounds in a month.
Once she felt better, she would stop taking her lithium and go manic again. She’d jog for miles and go on spending sprees. She’d feel elated for weeks but couldn’t concentrate on her studies. Then the depression would return, plunging her back into dark hopelessness. Finishing her Masters degree had been a miracle. Krista was ecstatic when she landed her first teaching job.
After Gavin’s death, she had increased her lithium dosage without consulting her psychiatrist. Self-medicating was not a good idea, but she was older now and more experienced. She felt she knew her body well enough to get away with it.
* * *
Krista glanced at her watch. Only five minutes left in class. “Okay, guys,” she said, “I think we’ll leave off here. If you have any questions, come see me during office hours.” She closed her text and put it in her briefcase.
When she arrived back at her office, she took out her cell phone and called Bill’s number. It rang several times. She was about to hang up when an out-of-breath voice answered.
“Bill, it’s Krista.”
“Hi, lass. I was in the kitchen cooking and didn’t hear the phone. Old age is a pain, you know.”
“You’re not old,” said Krista. “I was wondering if tonight is good for me to come over.”
“Of course. Looking forward to it.”
“How about six?”
“Fine. Bring your appetite.”
“I can’t wait. See you then.” Krista hung up.
She opened her storage cabinet, removed her laptop and powered it up. She went to Google and typed “Gavin McLeod, DBC Financial” in the space bar. A caption underneath read “I feel lucky!”
I don’t feel lucky at all, Krista thought as she hit “enter.”
A long list of entries appeared on her screen. Gavin McLeod’s “Linked In” account appeared close to the top. His obituary notice from the funeral home appeared at the bottom of the first page. Krista continued to the next Google page. “Looking for a personal banker/financial planner who has your best interests at heart?” read the third entry from the top. “Call Mel Samuels, Certified Financial Planner (CFP).”
Yeah, right, Krista thought. She scrolled further down the page. Seeing nothing interesting, she moved on to page three. Finding information on DBC Financial was going to be more difficult than she had expected.
Usually you could count on piggybacking on at least a portion of someone else’s research: “Standing on the shoulders of giants,” as one of her former economics professors had put it. Apparently no one had done any research on DBC Financial or, if they had, it was being kept from public view. Or maybe she was using the wrong search words.
The door to the office slammed shut. Steve was returning from class. Krista cleared her laptop screen and powered down.
* * *
Gavin McLeod’s childhood home was located on a tree-lined street in Etobicoke, a suburb west of Toronto. A dusting of snow covered the streets and sidewalks, and the wind had picked up by the time Krista left the college by four o’clock.
It was now five-thirty, and the streetlights had come on half an hour ago. Krista worried that she wouldn’t be able to find Bill’s house in the dark, but her concern was unfounded. Bill had left the front light on. He opened the door after the first knock as though he’d been hovering behind the window curtain, watching for her.
“Come in, lass,” he said, refraining from opening the door too wide. “That wind goes right through you. Dinner’s almost ready.”
Krista smiled, stepped inside and unzipped her boots. She placed them on a mat near the door. The food’s aroma triggered a hunger in her she hadn’t felt since getting sick at school. Today she’d missed lunch and her stomach was rumbling.
She walked into the living room and eased herself into a rocking chair. She looked around. A low flame was burning in the fireplace, and its warmth radiated out into the living room. “This is a nice place,” Krista said.
“It’s gotten messy since Gavin’s mom died. I haven’t been able clean much in the last few months.”
Bill sat down on the couch opposite her and released a sigh. He seemed smaller as part of his body disappeared into the deep cushions. “You must be freezing, lass. Would you like some chili and hot chocolate?”
“I’d love some.”
Bill went into the kitchen, reached into a cupboard and pulled out a bowl and a jumbo mug with “DBC Financial” on the side. He poured Krista’s hot chocolate, scooped some chili into the bowl and brought both into the living room.
“I asked you over, lass, because I found something in Gavin’s room that I want to show you.” He produced a small walnut-colored box from behind the couch, opened it and removed a sheet of paper. “Dad,” he read, trying to keep his voice steady, “I’ve discovered something disturbing at work. If I report it to the police, I’ll lose my job or something worse. If I don’t, I’ll end up in prison.”
Krista leaned forward. “What was he talking about?!”
“I don’t know, lass, but I wish he could have come to me. I thought we could talk about anything.”
Krista removed her cell phone from her purse. “I found this on my answering machine a few days after Gavin died.”
She passed the phone to Bill who listened, nodded slowly, and closed his eyes. When the message was over, he sighed. “I’m going to the police first thing tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“Aye, I’d appreciate that. They can’t ignore both of us.”
While Bill was returning the dishes to the kitchen, Krista studied the photos on the living room wall. She had seen Gavin’s graduation photo at the funeral. Another picture showed Gavin as a fourteen- or fifteen-year old at a shooting range, holding a revolver and aiming it an unseen target off-camera. Bill had one hand on his son’s back and was pointing with the other.
“That’s one of my favourites,” he said. Krista jumped at the sound of his voice. “We were target shooting. I won a few tournaments, and my son wanted to learn. So I took him out a couple times. He lost interest years ago, but I’ll never forget how much fun we had that day. My wife took that picture. I haven’t been to the shooting range since she died.”
Krista smiled. “You and Gavin look happy.”
“He really admired you, lass. The year that he was in your class, it was, ‘Ms. Beauregard this, Ms. Beauregard that’.”
“Bill, there’s something I have to tell you.”
“About Gavin having a crush on you?”
“You know about that?”
“He told me. We were more like friends than father and son.”
Krista took a deep breath. “I was tutoring Gavin at a coffee shop one evening, and we went for a walk afterward. It was cold and we were walking close together. Suddenly he kissed me. I didn’t know how to respond, so I stopped tutoring him. I wonder if I was too hard on him.”
“Gavin told me about that, too,” Bill said. “I said that it was natural to have a crush on your professor, but that’s all it was. He was wrong to take it further.”
Krista’s face burned. “I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t be, lass. It’s a fact of life. My wife was eight years older than me. We met when I was 21 and she was 29. Her friends all said she was robbing the cradle. I used to tell her that one day I’d be wheeling her around in a wheelchair.” He laughed heartily.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” Krista said. “What time would you like to meet to go to the police?”
“How about nine o’clock?”
“Perfect. Thanks for dinner.” She went to the door and put her boots back on. Bill brought her coat from the closet. “We’re going to find out what happened,” she promised.
On the bus ride home, Krista’s mind drifted back to her conversation with Dara, who had asked her days before if she was attracted to Gavin. The question had startled Krista. Unable to face the truth, she denied it.
She hadn’t been honest with Bill either. That night when Gavin had kissed her outside the coffee shop, she’d felt something, a tingling sensation starting in her head, moving down through her chest and stomach to her knees. The attraction had been mutual. Krista had wanted to give in to her desire but, somehow, thankfully, she’d held back. In her unmedicated bipolar days that would have been impossible.
But she was past that now.
Copyright © 2017 by Morris J. Marshall