We passed four more opportunities to “dip” down to the harbour. Each time we approached an intersection, however, she spotted more shops ahead on Barrington Street.
She popped into a custom jewelry shop called Fireworks, an upscale home décor shop called Attica, and a sex shop called Venus Envy. I entered none of them. I stood outside on the pavement, waiting patiently for her to run out of steam.
“Find what you were looking for?” I asked as she exited the sex shop.
“I wasn’t looking for anything in particular,” she said. “I was just looking.”
“Looking doesn’t really accomplish much in a shop like that, now, does it?”
She rolled her eyes and let out a hiss. “I was just satisfying my curiosity, is all.”
“Oh. I’d’ve thought you’d be satisfying something else entirely.”
She whacked me on the shoulder and harrumphed again. “And I suppose you’ve never been in a sex shop.”
“Not strictly speaking.” I thought a moment. “Well, there was that once, but that was a long time ago.”
She arched an eyebrow. “A long time ago?”
“Yes. Baroque Italy, actually. Frightening place. Had nightmares about it for weeks.”
We continued further along Barrington, she keeping an eye out for more shops and I keeping an eye out for more running people with their hands over their ears.
I’d seen my first running ear coverer just over two hours earlier, on the university campus. We’d arrived close to noon, near the shore of the Northwest Arm, in a stand of trees not far from a boating and tennis club. The university was just a bit east of there, as we discovered when we began to explore, and it was as we approached the library that I saw that first bit of anomalous behavior. A young man was running along Coburg Road towards the downtown area, slightly bent, hands over ears.
It was about an hour later I saw the second person—another youngish man—exhibiting the same behavior. We’d made our way to the Public Gardens by that time, and the fellow in question was running along Summer Street. The only real difference was that, while the first fellow had been running in an easterly direction along Coburg, the second chap was running in more of a northerly direction.
The third one, the young woman I’d seen on Spring Garden Road a short time ago, had been heading west, away from the water, in quite the opposite direction from that of the first man. Another hour had elapsed between the second sighting and the third.
I looked at my watch.
“So I imagine,” my companion said to me, “that you'll be expecting to see another bent-over runner in about a half an hour.”
I looked abruptly up at her. She was remarkably quick, a fact of which I often had to remind myself. She could be infuriatingly obtuse at times, and bloody obstinate to boot, but she had an incredibly sharp mind.
She put one hand on her hip, cocked her head, and raised her other hand in the air, angling the back of her wrist towards me.
“I wear a watch too, you know,” she said. “And I notice things.” She dropped her hand to her side. “An hour between the first and second one, another hour between the second and third one. And if you’re expecting the next interval to be an hour as well, that would be half an hour from now, ’cause we’ve been wandering along here for about half an hour.”
I rubbed my chin. “Yes. My thinking precisely.”
She rubbed her hands together. “Good. Then we have time to pop in to the shopping mall across the way.” She raised an arm to indicate her intended destination.
We were now at the corner of Barrington and Duke streets, and diagonally across from us was a structure that I would never have imagined contained shops of any kind. Whereas my powers of observation tended towards odd behaviors and unusual phenomena, however, hers sat quite comfortably in the domain of retail establishments.
“There are shops in there?” I asked, skeptical.
She snorted. “Look at the sign along that wall there. See? They have a pharmacy. And I need some floss.”
“Oh, well. If it’s floss...”
She rolled her eyes, grabbed my arm, and dragged me across the street.
Once inside, she breezed right past the pharmacy.
“I thought you...” I put my hands out helplessly as she accelerated ahead of me.
“On the way out,” she said. “Look. There’s a book shop.”
I sighed and followed her. One might think the universe was in perfect order.
“I don’t tire easily,” I called after her, “but you just might manage it.”
“Oh, stop whingeing.”
The book shop was a sad looking affair, all tired white walls and sagging white shelves. The carpet looked as if it had been installed during the Jurassic period. Still, they’d managed to cram a remarkable quantity and variety of books into the place, and I suddenly found myself quite willing to have a browse.
I headed for the science section, which turned out to be disappointingly small. It contained mostly dumbed-down science books written with sales in mind. They might make the average reader feel like they’d just learned something, but I needed something with a bit more substance.
I sauntered up and down the aisles for a few minutes, just to see if anything jumped out at me. Eventually, I found myself in the fiction section, which is where my companion had headed upon our arrival.
She looked up as I rounded the corner, a big grin spread across her face.
“Look,” she said. “Finally. An author with my surname.”
I raised a eyebrow. “You check every time you go in a shop, do you?”
“Well, of course,” she said, her own brow crinkling slightly.
I glanced down at the cover she was displaying. It bore a watercolor-like image of a bedroom, the bed unmade, the morning sun angling in through the slatted window. At the bottom, in white script, was the author’s name.
“Tasha Noble,” I said, nodding slightly. “Has a nice ring to it.”
At the top of the cover, in a similar script, was the title: Waking Up With Henry.
“Sounds like your kind of read,” I muttered.
She frowned and harrumphed. “If you’d bother to look,” she said, “you’d see that is not the romance section.”
I looked around. “Oh, so it isn’t. What are you doing here, then?”
She shoved the book back into the shelf and turned away from me.
Just then a tall fellow with salt-and-pepper hair and dark-rimmed glasses turned the corner and headed our way. The unfortunate vest he was sporting gave me to know he was employed by the establishment. That knowledge was cemented by his slowing down and speaking to us.
“Can I help you find anything?” he asked.
“Ah, just browsing, I think,” I replied.
“Do you have any of the classics?” my companion asked.
The bookseller smiled slightly. “We get that question a lot,” he said. “We do carry some, but they’re not in a separate section. They’re alphabetical by author with everything else in the fiction section.”
“Oh,” she replied. “Shame, that. Sometimes I want to catch up on my classics, but can’t think just at that moment which ones I want to read.”
“Well,” he said, “if it helps any, there are a few publishers we get in quite a bit, and their editions of the classics all have a similar design.” He stepped to the shelf behind us and pulled a copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. “This series usually has a gold spine with black lettering, which is actually fairly easy to spot on the shelves.”
“Oh, grand. Thank you.”
He put the book back on the shelf. “Are you folks from England?”
“I am,” she replied, then nodded towards me. “He’s from... farther afield.”
The man glanced at me, a slightly quizzical look on his face, but he didn’t pursue the matter.
“You on vacation?” the bookseller asked.
“Well, I’m certainly making the most of the trip, but it’s always business with him.” She skewered me with a glare. “Isn’t it?”
“Not always,” I said, a hint more defensiveness in my voice than I’d intended.
She rolled her eyes.
“Anyway,” she said, turning back to the other fellow, “this is a lovely city you have here, and I’m really enjoying the shops. Not to mention the weather.”
“We tend to get our best weather this time of year,” he said. “You’ve picked a great week to visit.” He paused a moment. “If you need any more help with anything, I’ll be floating around. My name’s Eric.”
“Lovely to meet you,” she said, putting out her hand. “My name’s Donna.”
Eric took her hand and shook it.
“And this,” Donna said, indicating me, “is The Doctor.”
Eric’s eyebrows rose slightly. “The Doctor?”
“That’s all he ever wants anyone to call him.”
I reached out and shook his hand.
“Doctor of what?” he asked.
“Well...” I said, “it’s not a matter of ‘what’, really.”
“I see,” he replied, making no effort at all to hide his look of puzzlement. Being tactful, however, not to mention being on duty, he pressed the matter no further. “Well, I’ll leave you to your browsing.”
We lingered a few more minutes, then moved on to the pharmacy for Donna’s floss. She looked at the greeting cards for a moment, then went to the cash to pay for her dental accessory.
We stepped out to the sidewalk just in time to see not one, but two people running up the hill, waists slightly bent, hands over their ears. One was a man, the other a woman. She trailed a few yards behind him.
“All right,” I said. “Shopping trip’s over.”
I grabbed her by the arm and started moving down towards the water.