Read The Gifted Online

Authors: Gail Bowen

The Gifted (9 page)

“I wonder what’s going to happen there,” I said.

Margot was watching them fondly. “My fantasy is that in ten years, Taylor’s going to look across the hall and realize that the boy in the condo next door is the one she’s loved all along.”

“Do you really think Taylor and Declan are still going to be living at home in ten years?” I said.

“It’s my fantasy,” Margot said. “Everything works out the way I want it to.”

“Well, why not?” Zack said. “When Taylor’s twenty-five, she’ll be ready to consider dating, and I approve of Declan.” He spotted someone across the room. “Now that we’ve settled the Taylor–Declan question, there’s a guy over there I want to talk to about getting his company involved in our mentoring program.”

Margot turned back to me. “We laugh, but Declan’s feelings for Taylor are very intense. A couple of weeks ago he checked that documentary about Sally Love out of the library.”

“Synchronicity strikes again,” I said. “Ben Bendure, the director of
The Poison Apple
, sent me a
of some of material that didn’t make it into the final cut. Did Declan say anything about the film?”

Margot met my eyes. “He said he understood why it was tough for Taylor having Sally as a mother.”

“Did he elaborate?”

Margot shook her head. “He didn’t have to. Sally would be a tough act for any young girl to follow.”

“Taylor’s not just any young girl,” I said. “She’s a prodigy.”

“She is,” Margot agreed, “but she’s also a virgin. In the documentary, Sally’s very open about the fact that when she was fifteen, she was in a sexual relationship with a man much older than her. Even thirty years later, Sally credits that relationship with bringing her to maturity as an artist.”

I sighed. “I know. It’s not exactly the message Zack and I are trying to give our daughter.”

“Not exactly the message Taylor wants to hear, either,” Margot said. “She and Declan are close, and Taylor still won’t date anybody but him. Declan has told me that Taylor doesn’t like boys touching her. Apparently she and Declan have worked out their own rules.”

“And Declan dates other girls,” I said.

Margot raised an eyebrow. “He may be in love with Taylor, but he’s still a seventeen-year-old boy.”

The Regency Ballroom was a many-windowed space that had been restored to the grandeur of the 1920s, a time of blazing chandeliers, heavy drapes, and ornately patterned carpets. Chairs had been set up facing the dais where the auction would take place, and a selection of the art was on display around the perimeter of the room.

Margot’s eyes swept the ballroom. “Shall we mingle or stroll?” she asked.

“You should probably mingle,” I said, “but I’m going to check out the art.”

I’d just picked up the brochure about the pieces to be auctioned when someone touched my arm. I turned and found myself facing Vince Treadgold.

I tried not to show my surprise, but Vince wasn’t fooled. “The last person you expected to see,” he said.

“Maybe not quite the last,” I said.

“Zack says I should just carry on with my life,” Vince said. “This is an important night for Racette-Hunter. I’ve urged a number of my colleagues to come, so I figured I should show up.”

My stomach knotted. There was a chance that the boy with whom Lauren had been in bed wasn’t Julian, but I wasn’t optimistic. Vince picked up on my anxiety. “Not willing to be seen with the pariah?”

“You’re not a pariah,” I said.

“Then let’s look at the art.”

The first piece we looked at was a star blanket made by a young Cree artist. The pattern was traditional, an eight-point morning star, but the fabrics the artist had used were lush – mostly velvets and satins – and the mosaic of pink, purple, indigo, and gold they formed was as dramatic as a prairie sunset.

“That’s a beautiful piece,” Vince said.

“The fun of an auction is that you can bid on it,” I said.

“Maybe for my office,” he said. “I don’t think that’s Lauren’s taste.” His laugh was bitter. “Of course, neither am I. Shall we move on?”

My pulse was racing. Only a fraction of the pieces up for auction were on display, and I was praying that
would not be among them. Vince was a proud man and having to stand in a public place as friends and strangers stared at the naked portrait of the boy who in all likelihood was his wife’s lover would crush him.

The crowd was thick in front of the next piece, a large abstract, so we bypassed it. I spotted Taylor’s
Two Painters
a few easels down, and my pulse slowed. It seemed unlikely
that Darrell would have put both her pieces on display.

“There’s something farther along I want you to see,” I said. “I don’t know if Zack has told you, but our daughter is an artist.”

“I believe he’s mentioned Taylor’s talent once or twice,” Vince said quietly. “Zack’s a very proud father.”

I thought of Celeste and how she hungered for the kind of love from Vince that Zack lavished on Taylor. “Zack came to parenting late, but he’s certainly enthusiastic,” I said. Vince and I moved to
Two Painters
. “This is the piece that I’ll sell all my pop bottles to come home with tonight. It’s of Taylor and her birth mother, Sally Love.”

Vince and I stood silently side by side taking in the painting. The scene was an artist’s studio, with a floor-to-ceiling window that bathed the subjects in light that was cool, atmospheric, and almost silvery. The artists had their backs to each other. Both were barefoot. Both were wearing denim cutoff shorts and men’s shirts with rolled-up sleeves. Their bodies, long-limbed and graceful, had the same lines, although Sally’s body was more muscular. Both women had their hair tied back from their face; Sally’s blond hair knotted loosely at her neck, Taylor’s dark hair in a ponytail. Physically and in their total absorption in the work before them, the kinship between Sally and Taylor was apparent, and yet there was no connection between them. It was clear, despite their proximity, that each woman felt that she was the sole occupant of the space in which she found herself. Interestingly, the painting on Sally’s canvas appeared to be complete, while Taylor had drawn only a few preliminary lines.

Vince moved closer. “There was a retrospective of Sally Love’s work in Toronto last year. Lauren had to drag me to it, but I’m glad I went – especially now that I’ve seen Taylor’s art. There are some powerful genes at work there.”

“And not just from Sally,” I said. “Taylor’s grandfather, Desmond Love, was a painter, too. I loved his work. Des was a tremendously physical man, and you could feel the energy coming off his canvases.”

“What did he paint?

“Abstracts,” I said. “I asked Des once what they were about. I was just a dopey kid, but he treated the question seriously. He thought about it for a while, and then he said, ‘They’re about the magic of paint. I start with a blank canvas and then suddenly where there was nothing, there’s colour and movement and life.’ ” I felt a lump in my throat. “Des died not long after that. He was forty.”

“Sally died young too, didn’t she?” Vince said.

“She was forty-five.”

“She left an impressive body of work.”

“Sally was driven,” I said.

“When a parent dies young, children often feel the touch of the scythe on their own necks,” Vince said.

“You think Sally suspected she might die early?” I said.

“I’m extrapolating from my own case,” Vince said. “My father was also a surgeon. He died when he was thirty-eight. As a consequence, I’ve always been ruthless about time.”

“Sally was ruthless about time, too,” I said. “That was never easy for me to accept.”

“She didn’t have time for you?”

“No. There were long periods of time when Sally forgot I existed. More seriously, until Sally discovered that Taylor was gifted, she seemed to forget she had a daughter.”

“But you were always there.”

“That seems to be my role in life,” I said.

Vince’s azure eyes were penetrating. “What is it Woody Allen says? Ninety per cent of life is just showing up? I consider Zack my closest friend. I was relieved when you showed up in his life.”

“Someone had to stop him from living like an eighteen-year-old with a death wish,” I said.

“I’m glad it was you,” Vince said, “although I’ll have to admit you were a surprise. You were so …”


Vince shook his head. “I was going to say ‘private.’ You’re always cordial, but you don’t give much away. Anyway, you were exactly what Zack needed.”

“And he was what I needed,” I said.

“Then you were both lucky,” Vince said, and with that, we moved along.

We’d been given a period of grace.
was not among the pieces displayed. When Vince ran into a colleague from the hospital, I excused myself and went in search of Zack.

He was chatting with our former premier and my longtime friend, Howard Dowhanuik. Howard was seventy-one, and after a lifetime in politics, he had the battle-scarred, clever-eyed wariness of an old eagle. For the first time in my memory, he was wearing a tux. I straightened his tie. “You’re looking very dapper,” I said.

“As are you,” Howard said. “You didn’t used to wear dresses like that when you were involved in politics.”

“That’s because we were the people’s party.”

Howard’s gaze was assessing. “You look good, but you don’t look like you.”

“My corduroy overalls were at the cleaners,” I said. “So how do you like hobnobbing with the fat cats?”

Howard drained his glass of champagne and plucked another from the tray of a passing server. “The booze is good, and it’s free, which leads me to my question. Whenever our party had a fundraiser, tickets were ten bucks a head. Everybody brought food; we charged for the booze, which we watered; and then we passed the Colonel Sanders bucket
around for donations. This shindig isn’t cheap. Who’s paying the shot?”

Zack was sheepish. “My poker club,” he said.

“You guys have that kind of money?” Howard said.

“We do,” Zack said. “But Joanne’s giving me the evil eye, so let’s change the subject.”

Howard laughed. “Fine with me. There’s something I want to talk to you about anyway. Have you heard anything about a hush-hush land deal our mayor and his cronies on city council are involved in?”

Zack shook his head. “No, but I’ve been pretty focused on Racette-Hunter.”

“Everybody’s busy,” Howard said equitably.

“Everybody’s always too busy to pay attention to City Hall,” I said. “That’s why civic politics is such a magnet for bottom feeders. So what’s the land deal?”

“My guess is it’s a setup for a bait and switch,” Howard said. “Remember that land southwest of Westchester Place that the city bought after the last election?”

“It’s designated for two hundred units of affordable housing,” I said. “But nothing’s happened.”

“Something may be about to happen now,” Howard said. “Mayor Ridgeway and a group of his affluent friends just purchased a parcel of land in Dewdney Park that could nicely accommodate two hundred units of housing.”

Zack sneered. “Bastards,” he said. “So Dewdney Park, affectionately known as ‘Needle Park,’ gets the affordable housing, and Westchester Place, with all those nice shops and promises of green space, libraries, and schools, gets the high-end housing.”

My blood pressure spiked. “They are bastards,” I said. “The whole point of putting affordable housing in Westchester Place was to keep low-income people from being ghettoized. Dewdney Park already has serious
problems. Dumping a group there that is already marginalized will just exacerbate the problem.”

“The mayor’s right over there,” Zack said. “Why don’t we ask him a few questions?”

“I’m in if you want me.” Howard turned his hooded old eagle’s eyes on me. “Joanne?”

“Let’s see what the mayor says first,” I said. “We’re not political, just concerned citizens who’ve heard a troubling rumour.”

“You always had a good ear for these things, Jo,” Howard said. “And since you don’t need me, I’m going to get something to eat.”

When Howard left, Zack moved his chair closer. “Ready to meet the mayor?”

“Not yet,” I said. “We have a more immediate problem. Zack, did you know that Vince is here tonight? He wanted to support the auction.”

Zack winced. “So he’s going to have a chance to stand in a room with his friends while a painting of his wife’s naked lover is auctioned off.”

“Can you think of a way to get him out of here?”

“Not offhand, but I can warn him. That way, he at least has the option of leaving inconspicuously.” Zack rubbed his temples, a sure sign of stress. He was about to make a move to find Vince when the mayor himself, who must have seen us with Howard, appeared beside us.

The wattage of the mayor’s smile was dazzling. Solidly built, blond, and sunny, Scott Ridgeway was a man to whom pleasing others came naturally. He held out his hand to me and then to Zack. “I was hoping I’d have a chance to thank you for what has been a mutually beneficial partnering. The Racette-Hunter multiplex will be a jewel in the Queen City’s crown.”

It was difficult for me not to look at Zack. The city had been a persistent thorn in our side from the beginning. At every turn, they had attempted to block, delay, and bury the project under a blanket of red tape and ancient ordinances. More than once, Zack had threatened to dump a load of manure on the lawn in front of City Hall, but he let Scott Ridgeway’s reference to “our mutually beneficial partnering” pass without rebuke.

Though thwarted in his mission to talk to Vince, Zack was all charm. “We’re glad you could join us tonight, Mr. Mayor. I hope you brought your chequebook.” Zack gestured towards the glowing eight-point star on the blanket behind the mayor. “Hanging that piece in your office where you could see it a hundred times a day would be a useful reminder of our city’s diversity.”

The mayor beamed. “We already have some Aboriginal art. It was done by schoolchildren.”

Zack raised an eyebrow. “Do you have a quota?”

A shadow of perplexity crossed Scott Ridgeway’s broad face. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I just wondered if the City had a quota on how much Aboriginal art they purchase,” Zack said.

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