Five-Minute Mystery: "People Just Don't Listen" by Peter Robinson
All month long, we're publishing short, bone-chilling crime fiction from some of Canada's best crime writers.
In today's installment of our Five-Minute Mysteries...
Peter Robinson tells the chilling tale of a man of science who likes to collect beautiful things.
People Just Don't Listen
They say that the eyes are windows to the soul, but I have never been sure what they mean, whoever they are. What does a soul look like? Have you ever seen one? Isn’t it supposed to be invisible? Perhaps they mean character. Can looking into someone’s eyes tell you about her attributes, her dreams, fears, hopes, disappointments, successes and failures? It’s possible, I suppose, though I know that, in reality, eyes are just gelatinous blobs of vitreous humour shot through with colour, fitted with rods and cones, connected to the brain via the optic nerve. Don’t get me wrong; please don’t assume that I have no aesthetic appreciation. I may be a man of science, but I am also a lover and collector of beautiful things.
So ran the gist of our conversation that evening. I am not normally a drinker, and I rarely meet women in hotel bars, but I was out of town on business in an unfamiliar city, and I was in a mood for company.
I first noticed her studying me in the long mirror behind the bar, the one that reflected all the different-coloured bottles. When she saw that I had caught her looking, she smiled, and we turned to face one another for real. I bought her a drink. Something blue with a striped umbrella and chunky ice cubes. It was then that we got talking about eyes. There was no doubt that she was lovely, and I am neither vain nor naïve enough to think that such a woman would pay me a moment’s notice were she not, shall we say, a working girl. Very high class, of course, but a working girl.
I saw that when I first looked into her eyes. They weren’t hard or mercenary. Don’t get me wrong. Her eyes were as beautiful as the rest of her. Deep-ocean blue, with no hint of grey, in perfect proportion to her nose and mouth. I have never seen such a pure shade of blue. But there was something worldly about them; theirs was a calculating sort of beauty.
When she asked me what I saw in them, however, I was cautious enough not to tell her the truth, only to say that they were very beautiful. She laughed and glanced away shyly. If it was an act, it was a good one. As the evening wore on, and drink followed drink, it became clear where we were headed.
When at last I invited her up to my room, she leaned forward and whispered a number in my ear. It seemed rather high, but no matter. I agreed to it, of course I agreed. A gentleman doesn’t haggle. She slid off the bar stool and fell in alongside me to the lifts, taking my arm as we went, for all the world as if she were my girlfriend. I felt a strange tingle of excitement, a shortness of breath, a ringing in my ears. I felt in my pocket for the little case of instruments I always carried with me and gripped the smooth leather. As the lift doors closed and she moved forward to kiss me, I found it hard to keep from laughing. It was all so easy. Why wasn’t she running away from me as fast as she could? She should have known what she was walking into, what was waiting for her in my room—the curare, the speculum, the little glass jar of clear preserving fluid. But people just don’t listen, do they? Hadn’t I told her I collected beautiful things? Hadn’t I told her she had beautiful eyes?
Peter Robinson has won many awards for his Inspector Banks novels, including the prestigious Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for the French translation of In a Dry Season, the Edgar Award for the short story “Missing in Action,” and several Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel. Robinson was born in Yorkshire, England, and immigrated to Canada after graduating from the University of Leeds. He now lives in Toronto.