Recently we went to Disney's Epcot Center in Florida where we saw the O Canada! movie in the Canadian Pavilion. The movie and the song made me want to go back to Canada so much. Here's a video with the song...
Returning to Canada is on my bucket list.
One of these days, I'm going to set a book in British Columbia. Lots of inspiration. From seeing Victoria Harbor from the ferry boat...
to seeing it from the streets of Victoria...
to seeing the harbor at night.
So many interesting places on Vancouver Island...
Several years ago, I set the following short story, The Mark, in Victoria. Enjoy this free read!
"Have we met before?" He eased into the seat across from mine.
I almost blurted that we had…just once. It took incredible self-control to deny our connection. I smiled according to plan. "I don't think so."
I already knew his name. "I know…I mean, nice to meet you." I stuttered, hoping to plant the false idea in his self-absorbed mind that he flustered me. Confusion suffused his face for a split second, as if he was just about to grab the recognition but then let it go.
The first bell reverberated throughout the Coho. The ferry would depart from Port Angeles for Victoria in less than five minutes. I had little time to accomplish my goal. An hour and half. Once he stepped onto Canadian soil, I would lose him in an unfamiliar country, in a city I knew nothing about. Unless I took immediate action.
"And your name is…" He flashed a million dollar smile—a smile that melted female hearts, caused women to go weak in the knees. That smile. One of the tools of his trade.
"Stephanie." The lie rolled off my tongue, lubricated by a strong sense of justice and a hint of malice.
I offered my hand. He wrapped his around mine, and I glowed with delight, just for his viewing pleasure.
He didn't flinch. The name meant nothing to him. The name should have sent icy shivers down his spine. The name should have rattled his soul. But then, my sister Stephanie had been one of his many conquests. Why should he remember one blonde among a rainbow of past associations?
"Nice to meet you, too." He beamed as if I was the most enchanting female he'd ever met.
His smile glowed with self-assurance. His charm affected me not. This was Mike's way with every woman he met. This was how Mike became the bull's eye in the center of my target.
I managed to utter the customary question. "Where are you from?"
His answer conveyed little information. California is a large state with many residents. It would be hard to track the falsehood. But I knew he lied. From the moment I learned of him, I followed his movements, stalking him like a star-struck fan. Mike was a poor boy from Mississippi. I marveled at the way he'd managed to jettison the Southern from his tongue. His cadence was generic. He could have done the news on Channel 3. That's how polished he was.
Oh, and Mike wasn't his real name.
"You're a long way from home." My flirtatious words dripped with an invitation.
"Yes, I am." His smile widened into a grin. Invitation acknowledged and received.
It was unusually chilly for late June. The fog seeped into the interior of the ferry, leaving the atmosphere heavy. The water-laden air penetrated my thin jacket. I shivered—an involuntary reaction. Peering out the mist-covered windows of the observation deck, I considered my next move, but he made it for me.
"You're cold. Can I get you a coffee?" He was making it too easy.
I shook my head. "The coffee on this barge is awful." Another deliberate lie. A fabrication that implied familiarity with the journey. I’d never been on the Coho.
"So you're from…"
His question went unanswered. A purposeful move. I turned away from his direct gaze. My eyes strayed to the book in my lap, baiting the trap. Over the last three years, I've made my plans, considering every detail, discovering the type of woman Mike preys upon. I became that woman. Men like Mike cannot tolerate indifference. Hate them or love them, but don't leave them dangling.
He cleared his throat. "Are you staying in Victoria or…" He had an irritating habit of leaving his sentences incomplete, just like the destroyed lives he left in his wake.
My stomach roiled. Could I continue the game? I suddenly had no nerve for it. Biting my lower lip, I took my time looking up from the book I wasn't reading.
"I'm going home." Lying was becoming increasingly easy, but this was the truth. When I finished, I was going home. To stay. Something unnerving penetrated my joints and marrow. My flesh erupted in tiny bumps. The sensation curdled my enthusiasm for my mission. Should I back away and allow justice to take another course?
"Home? Your sweatshirt says—”
"I was raised in the States, but I moved here after…" I gulped down the unspoken, allowing him to fill in the blank any way he chose. I could work with whatever scenario his twisted mind produced. "Well…I just stayed…you know…after…"
My ragged explanation could have meant anything, but he interpreted it the way he wanted. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
His voice massaged my fractured nerves. I understood his attraction. His presence comforted a ravaged heart, promised pleasure rather than pain. False advertising. I understood why my sister fell under his spell. Understood it too well. My heart broke for her, for all the unresolved living she left undone. My entire being swelled with grief. She'd never hurt again.
Because of this man.
Time passed. Conversation flowed between us, easily, as if we'd known each other always. The Coho devoured the waves, leaving a dovetailed wake in her path. The Canadian city of Victoria grew in the distance, on the opposite shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Myriad forms of assassination danced in my head. I focused on the distant red, white, green, and gray buildings, hoping Mike couldn't read my mind. "Where are you staying?"
"The Queen Victoria."
I nodded as if I approved of his choice.
"If you want to call me…you know, later." He handed me a card engraved with his false identity, his fictitious corporate title, and his cell number.
I nodded again, but promised him nothing. A look crept into his baby blues—a look that said, I know you'll call. Mike never underestimated his effect on the female gender.
The night air proved crisp. Just enough of spring remained. The lights of Victoria glowed brightly on the waters of Inner Harbor. A distant horn from an outbound freighter added flavor to the mood of the city. I found Victoria to be alive with activity, even at a late hour.
I waited for Mike in the park across the street from the Queen Victoria Hotel. Totems towered above me, regal sentinels from a multi-cultural heritage. I didn't know enough about totems or the marks of their authenticity to know if these were real or an artsy affectation.
Mike glided through the sliding doors of the hotel and jaywalked across Douglas Street. An angry driver honked at him, but he seemed not to notice.
He stood before me, a wide grin on his face. "I'm so glad you called. I thought you might not…" Again with a truncated sentence. He wanted me to fill in all the blanks, do all the work. I almost groaned.
"My plans for the evening fell through." I lied without compunction. Mike was my only plan.
"Well, his loss is my gain."
My forced smile stretched across my lips as if it was genuine. The muscles in my jaw ached from the workout they received. "I thought I'd take you to one of my favorite places."
"Lead the way."
Ric's became my favorite restaurant about thirty minutes before I met Mike at the park. The clerk in the lobby of the Queen Victoria recommended Ric's Steakhouse only a few blocks away. I slipped my hand into the crook of Mike's arm as we headed toward the harbor and then made a right onto Government. Once we found the place, a curved staircase led to the second floor restaurant.
Our table overlooked the street below. Muted lighting provided just the right atmosphere. I sighed, relaxation seeping into my joints. We both ordered steak. He smiled. I smiled. We both lied about everything. The idle thought danced in the back of my mind that couples do this dance all the time. Does anybody ever drop the veneer on the first date?
Mike exuded a little boy vulnerability I knew Stephanie would have found appealing. He had buffed all his rough edges. The man was slick—smooth as polished steel.
The check arrived. I reached for my purse. He placed a neatly manicured hand on mine. "My treat."
I tilted my head. "But you're the guest here.”
"I'm a little…um…old-fashioned."
"Really?" I smiled and hiked one eyebrow.
"Really." A grin creased his handsome face. My lonely female heart fluttered. Then I hated myself for lowering my guard. This wasn't romance, not by any means.
He paid the check with an Amex card. It didn't surprise me when Amex declined the charge. Mike lived off the goodwill of his victims. The server assured Mike he simply needed to inform his credit card company of his trip out of country and everything would be all right. I knew better. I pulled out Stephanie’s MasterCard, the one I’d failed to cancel.
Our stomachs full of bread, wine, and beef, we sauntered down Government toward Douglas. I knew he would chastely suggest we see each other again soon, saying goodnight without so much as a goodnight kiss. That was his MO. But I was wrong.
Hours later, we remained on a bench overlooking the harbor, talking and laughing. And I wanted to beat myself with a stick. If he had been someone else, I would have fallen for him hard. It made me look into myself. Was this the kind of man I fell for? Was this why I was alone? Mike was the leaving in the middle of the night with your cash and your dignity kind.
He took my hand. "There's something you should know about me…" His glazed eyes were already dilating from the sedative I slipped into his wine glass while he was away from the table.
"What?" What kind of pitiful tale would he weave to capture my sympathy?
He puffed his cheeks out and looked across the sparkling ripples toward the far shore. "I'm a con man."
My breath exploded. I wasn't aware I'd held it. "You're a what?"
"A con man. I…um…attach myself to lonely women…and I…"
I couldn't help myself. All my anger spilled into his lap. "You mean like me. Lonely women like me. Am I a…what do you call it…" I groped for the right word even though it settled on the end of my tongue.
I put space between us, sliding across the bench until I bumped the arm. "Yeah. A mark. Is that what I am?"
"What do you mean I was?" When had I stopped? He was still sticking to his usual game plan? Was this part of the ploy or was he changing the rules?
"I mean…I can't do this to you. You're too…I mean, I think you're…I'm…" He blushed. He had the gall to blush. "I think this is goodbye.”
I stood and placed a shaky hand on my chest, my heart pounding. This wasn't what I expected, not at all. His eyes held mine for a long, soul-searching moment. My mind raced. No, this couldn’t happen this way. This wasn't according to plan.
"No," I retorted with the speed of a bullet. "No."
The dull pain in his eyes unnerved me—a mixture of pathos and fear and longing and regret. He was either a good actor or a good liar. I had to find out which.
"I can't…I can't think." I formed my plan B as I went. Walking away, I didn't glance back.
His hand wrapped around my elbow. When I turned, we locked eyes. My resolve faltered.
And he staggered.
"Are you all right?" I allowed concern to cover my features.
"Just a little dizzy."
"Come on. I'll walk you back to the Queen Vicky."
Gratitude never looked so vulnerable. He hung onto my arm as if grabbing a life preserver. His weight dragged my arm, but I held steady, pulling him along with me. By the time we reached the hotel, I knew I had to take him all the way upstairs.
He'd rented one of the nicest suites. I stifled a grimace. I'm sure he intended to pay for it with my money. I took his key card from his trembling hand and opened the door. Without a moment's hesitation, he tumbled onto the bed.
"Should I call a doctor?"
"Maybe. I don’t know. I feel sick.”
Sitting in the chair across from the foot of the bed, I studied his shaky movements. He made no move towards me. He was truly sick. This wasn't a clever ploy to get me to his room. The man was suffering.
"You remind me of someone…" He grabbed his abdomen and grimaced.
I waited until his features slacked. "Who?"
"Her name was…I can't remember her name. She died. Because of me." His unfocused eyes stared past me. "I'll never forgive myself. That's why…"
"That's why what?"
"I couldn't do it. I couldn't…because you look like her."
Contrition ruins everything. I didn't want him to be sorry. I didn't want him to ask forgiveness or seek absolution. I didn't even want him to know I knew of whom he spoke. I wanted revenge. I wanted retribution. I wanted him to pay.
His confession shouldn't have made a difference, but it did. My heart softened, stalled on its path of least resistance. Forgiveness was too hard, too complicated, too much work. Anger was easier.
The drug I slipped into his drink at dinner finally completed its magic. Mike succumbed. I stared at him as he snuggled deeper into the duvet and pondered my alternatives. Part of me wanted to complete the job. The other part insisted I leave him here to wallow in his guilt.
Without me, he'd have to find another willing female. But then I realized he would have to do that anyway. He'd admitted his culpability to me even before the drug took effect. He'd said goodbye.
I made up my mind. Rising from the chair, I prepared to leave him to his own devices, say goodbye, let go of the past, allow myself to bury my dead. Curiosity stalled me. I lifted his wallet from his pants. I had to know if he carried his true identity with him or if he'd forgotten who he was. I smiled, an expression laced with chagrin. He presented the world with a false identity. With regret, I inserted his fake ID into the folds of his wallet.
Time was running out for me…for him. I had to leave without finishing what I started. Quickly. Without looking back.
Then a small piece of paper fluttered from the inner confines of the wallet. Just a smidgen of a sticky note, covered with spiky handwriting. My name. My birth date. My address. My phone number. My physical description. With renewed urgency, I searched the remaining items in his possession and found my picture.
Was it all a pretense? Did he know me from first sight? I shuddered. The urge to release my dinner overwhelmed me. Running toward the balcony, I flung the contents of my stomach over the railing. Then I wiped my lips, hoping some innocent soul on the ground below didn't have a head covered with puke.
Plan C formed with lightning speed. Lifting all his documents from him, including his passport card, I left him with no identity. Quickly, I wiped down everything I had touched in the room, hoping my presence hadn't left a trace.
Three blocks away, I phoned the police, informing them of the dead man in Room Seven Thirty Two of the Queen Victoria Hotel. He wasn’t dead, not as far as I knew. He was very much alive when I left him. Mike would have a hard time explaining his undocumented presence in a foreign country. My only regret? Not knowing what story his fingerprints would tell Canadian law enforcement.
As I walked Government Street, I noticed a man noticing me, and I wondered if he was considering me as his next mark. Maybe it was paranoia inserting its slimy fingers into my psyche or maybe I was more aware of the undertow flowing around me. Then a new idea struck me, glowing magnificently in its conception. It had been so easy to con the con man.
How easy would it be to entrap my watcher just as I had entrapped Mike?
With a smile on my lips, I jaywalked and deliberately dropped my bag at the man’s feet. My mark bent over to help me pick up the spilt contents.
I turned on my most seductive mega-watt charm. “Have we me before?”