By David Halliday
Published by David Halliday at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 David Halliday
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1. The End of the World
I can hear her coming. A powerful roar from a great distance. , Her craggy pot-marked face smoking, the long tail of fog trailing behind. She will come tumbling toward us like a snowball of fire hurled by a spiteful Santa Claus. Her voice. Not soft and comforting, but a voice dripping with rage. Justice will be served. The planet will sizzle like sirloin. And I shall sit on a park bench at ground zero waiting for St. Nick’s smile to fall across my five o’clock stubble. I will wait happily like a blond waits for her tan, like cold tea in a Styrofoam cup, like an accountant queuing up his thoughts. I will taste her sweet justice. And her wrath will fill my lungs with song. Judgment day is coming. Judgment day for the maniacs crowded into the subway system, for the bullies choking the churches, for the meek on Bay Street, for all the malcontents, for the armies of Christ, for every creature that lifts its curious face to the sky.
“Your neck is leaking, mister,” the kid said, his lips curled up in disgust.
I looked up. Why is that kid standing in front of me? Why do my fingers ache? Why does everything I eat give me indigestion? Why are my ankles itchy? Why are my eyes swinging in hammocks of flesh? And this open sore on my neck, why does it leak like sap in spring?
“Your legs are bleeding. Your white socks got blood on them,” the kid added pointing at my shoes. “You should go to the hospital and get yourself fixed.”
I cleared my throat. My mouth is so dry. Isn’t that how Rosie’s diabetes began? Isn’t it a symptom of something? Why do even my thoughts ache?
“There’s a snowball heading for the planet,” I said, barking at the kid. “Did you know that Johnny? A big snow ball with only one thing on its mind.”
I looked at the boy straight in the face.
“Retribution!” I said and laughed.
“My name ain’t Johnny,” the kid responded. “And man, whatever that is on your neck is definitely not cool.”
I looked down at my ankles. God, it looked like I’d been crucified. I slipped off my shoes and removed my socks. My feet were pink. I put the socks into the pocket of my blazer.
“I’m allergic to the soap,” I explained. “It gives me a rash. What’s your name?”
“My name is Kwami,” the boy said and I noticed for the first time that he was black. I could have sworn that a moment ago the kid was blond and blue eyed.
“What is that crater on your neck? It’s disgusting.”
“Aren’t you afraid of her?” I asked.
The boy looked puzzled.
“Judgment day!” I cried.
“Who are you talking about?”
“An asteroid,” I responded. “A fucking snowball the size of Toronto. Could be here in the next twenty minutes. Could be twenty years. But she’s coming.”
The boy smirked.
“Ya, right. An asteroid. Like I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots. My mom says that all you old people are nuts. That you take up too much room on the buses. That you shit your pants and hire poor black people to wipe your ass. You think you own everything including the air. My mom says that if you could, you’d put a parking meter on the space that a body’s got to occupy. My mom says that you don’t know how to swing and you don’t know how to have a good time if it don’t cost money.”
Finally the kid shut up.
“Kwami?” I asked. “What kind of name is that?”
“I’m from Africa.”
“Where in Africa?” I asked as I slipped my shoes on. “Everyone is from Africa,” I added. “Did you know that? We’re all descendants from the same group of emigrants that left the Rift Valley a long time ago looking for a new home. Not that that matters a whole lot anymore. We will all be muffled out in the generosity of her bosom.”
“You ain’t from Africa,” the boy responded, “even if you do have that tan. You got the worse skin I’ve ever seen, mister. Looks like leather. Did you go to one of those shops and get a tan? Are you trying to hide from being white? It won’t work. You’re white through and through.”
“Well, who cares what you think?” I said climbing to my feet with the use of my cane. I straightened out my back. Why were all these simple tasks so difficult now? Can’t believe I am this old. It was a trick pulled on me by a prankster. The prankster is time. Maybe time is God. And God is running out of time. Why didn’t he leave us alone, leave us as rock and dust on a lonely planet in the suburbs of the Milky Way?
“You Irish?” the boy asked.
I shook my head. “I’m just old.”
“Where you going now,” Kwami asked stepping to one side as I moved away from the bench and settled my feet on the sidewalk. The afternoon sun that had felt so warm on my skin was now beginning to beat on my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on. Isn’t that how strokes begin? I wondered if I still had some brandy at home. I needed something inside to make me feel alive. It was as if only my exterior was organic. My insides had already returned to dust.
I moved down the sidewalk. The boy followed beside me.
“You got a lot of money?” the boy asked.
I stopped and looked at the boy. He must have been about eleven years old. I could have been wrong. Everyone looked young to me now. Too young. But that wouldn’t last. She’d be here soon. Being young wouldn’t save ya.
“You going to rob me, Kwami?” I asked.
The boy shrugged his shoulders.
“Why would you ask that?”
“Why are you asking if I’m rich?”
“My mom says that all you old people are rich. That you’ve been hoarding your money. That people with families are struggling to make ends meet and you old people are just sitting on your cash. Stashed away in your mattresses or RSPs.”
“If I give you a dollar, will you leave me alone?”
The boy thought about it for a moment.
“Give me a dollar and I’ll see,” he said.
I fished in my pockets and pulled out a looney. I handed it to the boy. He bit it.
“You think it’s fake?” I said with a smile.
“No. But I saw them do it in a pirate movie. I could never figure out why. But there’s gotta be a reason.” The boy grinned. There was a big gap between his front teeth.
“Pirates always have a gold ring in their ear,” I said.
The boy nodded. “Lot’s of people wear rings in their ears.”
“But do you know why pirates put a gold ring in their ear?”
The boy shook his head.
“The earring was kept to pay for the pirate’s funeral when he died.”
The boy had a puzzled expression on his face.
“Why wouldn’t the other pirates just keep the earring?”
“Pirates had a code of honour.”
I looked at the boy and moved on down the street. A police car passed along the street. I considered calling the cops over to the curb to complain about the kid. One of the officers in the car looked at me suspiciously. Did he think that I had committed a crime? The boy ran up beside me. I looked down at him. The cop car moved on.
“I’ve decided to stay with you,” he said. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see an old friend,” I responded. “A very old friend. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
“Why should I care about your friend?” The boy looked at the coin in his hand and dropped it into his pocket. “Cops are everywhere. My mom told me that they’re paid by you old people to protect your money. And to make the rest of us feel like criminals.”
I stopped and looked at the boy.
“What the hell you got against old people?” I asked.
“I ain’t never going to be old,” the boy responded. “I’m going to die while I’m still pretty.”
I took a deep breath.
“Everyone on the planet is going to be blown up,” I said. “They can’t stop her. Our only chance is if she misses us, which ain’t likely. Like the dinosaurs, that’s where we’re headed. A million years from now some other creatures will have taken over the planet. Cockroaches or something.”
“They’ve already taken over my neighbourhood,” the kid said. “You keep going on about an asteroid. I ain’t heard of no asteroid.”
“Soon enough,” I replied. “It’ll be all over the news. Maybe the cockroaches will build museums with exhibitions of human beings.”
“You’re talking crazy, old man,” Kwami said. “They’re ain’t no asteroid. We’d have heard about it on CNN.”
“It’s old people’s secret weapon,” I said laughing to myself.
“Where’s your friend live?” The boy asked.
“The hospital. He’s dieing of lung cancer. Whatever you do, Kwami, don’t smoke. It’s a hell of a habit to kick.”
The boy looked up at me and laughed.
“You’re pretty funny for an crazy old guy.”
“Who cares if your friend dies? He’s old like you.” Kwami said.
“Nobody cares,” I responded.
“You don’t care?”
I shook my head. “Everyone is going to die sooner or later. But no one should die without someone being there. We were buddies. Grew up together. Got drunk together. Met ladies together. Had children. Saw our wives leave.”
“Your old lady left you for some other dude.” The boy spoke with delight.
I looked down at the boy and shook my head. If I’d had the strength I would have taken a swing at his head with my cane. I moved on.
The boy tripped along beside me whistling a tune that I didn’t recognize.
I turned on the boy. “Can’t you leave me alone?” I cried angrily.
The boy’s lip curled up in an ugly sneer.
“What you going to do about it?” he asked.
“I could call a cop.” I said.
The boy laughed. “Like the cops are going to do anything.”
I continued to move on as quickly as possible, my heart racing, my breathing laboured. God, I thought, I’m going to collapse. I saw a bench ahead. I struggled to reach it and fell into its arms. I took a napkin out that I had swiped from a Macdonald’s and wiped the open sore on my neck. The napkin dripped of puss.
The boy sat down beside me and reached into my trouser pocket. I slapped his hand. He pulled it back and then laughed.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I said.
“Why did your wife leave you?” he asked.
I took several deep breaths. My heart began to slow down. The dizziness left me. God, I could use a drink. Was there a bar in the neighbourhood? I needed a drink and it was a way of getting rid of the kid. What time was it? I didn’t want to miss visiting hours. Ernie would be waiting.
“I’ll bet you left your wife. I’ll bet she had your kids and you left them.”
I turned and looked at the boy. There was a strange pain in his eyes, a pain that I hadn’t seen in someone’s eyes for a long time. I took out my pocket watch from my vest pocket and looked at it. There was still time. The boy stared at the watch.
“I’ve never seen one of those. Can I look at it?”
“If you promise to give it back,” I responded.
I took the watch out of my pocket, unfastening the chain from my blazer buttonhole. I handed it to the boy. He cradled it in the palm of his hand. He put it to his ear and smiled. I put my hand out for the watch. The boy shook his head.
“Why did your wife leave?” he asked.
“Give me my watch?” I pleaded.
The boy shook his head. “Not until you answer my question.”
I snorted. “She committed suicide.”
The boy stared at me for some time. He handed my watch back to me. I fastened the chain to the buttonhole and placed the watch back in its womb.
“Why’d she do that?” the boy asked.
I stared at the boy for a long time without responding.
The kid laughed.
“You can’t remember, can you?”
I swallowed then spit out some phlegm onto the sidewalk.
“There’s a law against that,” the boy said, his face squirming with disgust.
“Call a cop!” I cried.
“You’re crazy,” the boy said. “You’re just a crazy old man with nothing to live for. And you ought to see a doctor while you’re at the hospital. They could put a bandage on your neck. It looks infected.”
Across the street from us a man was watching. Another bastard sticking his nose in other people’s business. The boy turned and looked at the man. We watched as the man stepped off the sidewalk. A van came out of nowhere and hit him.
“Holy shit!” the boy cried. The van moved off. The man lay on the street quivering. The boy stood up and ran across the street. I stared into the sky, the sun slowly sinking in the west. I closed my eyes and thought about Rosie. For a moment I dreamed. Why Rosie? I opened my eyes and wished I could cry. My feet ached. I scratched my ankles, the scabs filling up behind my nails. I stared at my bloody fingers. I took a deep breath. My cane helped me to my feet. When I reached the corner of the street I stopped to get my bearings. I checked my watch. I stared up into the sky. I could feel her moving toward us. A snowball of fire hurled by a spiteful God. Why was she moving so slowly?
2. Kwami Goes Home
Kwami stepped out of the elevator and ran down the hall. He could smell something sweet on the stove. Friendly voices from a television. Dust drifting through the sunlight in the hallway.
“Is that you, Kwami,” Mrs. Green cried out from the kitchen as Kwami stepped in the door.
“Turn off the television and come in here.”
Kwami stepped into the living room. Oprah was on. Kwami stepped over to the TV and cut Oprah off in mid-sentence. Kwami dropped his knapsack on the floor. He picked up the half-eaten bowl of cornflakes on the coffee table and carried it into the kitchen.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked his mother as he entered the room.
“Meat loaf,” Mrs. Green responded. “What took you so long to get home from school?”
“Nothing,” Kwami responded.
“You know what I told you loafing,” she said peeling some potatoes. “Set the table.”
Kwami put the bowl in the sink and began to root in a drawer for silverware.
“It’s all over the news,” Mrs. Green said shaking her head. “Some pervert is hanging around the schools. I got enough to think about without worrying about you.”
“I can take care of myself,” Kwami responded as he set the silverware on the table.
“Were you at that sports store again? I told you that we can’t afford that skate board right now. Wait for your birthday.”
“I met a crazy old white man,” Kwami said.
“What do you mean you met a crazy old white man? Why are you talking to strangers?”
“I said he was crazy. I didn’t say he was dangerous. Said that an asteroid was going to wipe out all life on the planet.”
Mrs. Green dumped the potato peels in a bag then turned and put the pot of potatoes on the stove.
“That’s crazy talk,” Mrs. Green said shaking her head. “What about your homework?”
“What if there was an asteroid?” Kwami asked. “Would we hear about it? I mean they might not tell us. Maybe they’re afraid that everyone would panic.”
Mrs. Green put her hands on her hips.
“I got enough to worry about with you and your sister without worrying about some darn asteroid. I don’t how I’m going to get the rent together this month. Mr. Armstrong is very punctual about the rent. I wish he was more punctual about our plumbing. That shower hasn’t worked for weeks.”
“The old man gave me a loonie,” Kwami said.
Mrs. Green grabbed her son’s wrist.
“He gave me a dollar.”
“And what did he want for a dollar?” Mrs. Green cried.
“Nothing,” Kwami responded freeing himself from his mother’s grip. “He didn’t want nothing. He was just a crazy old white man.”
“I don’t want you talking to any strangers!” Kwami’s mother cried. “Do I make myself clear?”
Kwami nodded and added, “I saw a guy get hit by a van.”
“Oh my God!” Kwami’s mother cried.
“I think he might have been killed,” Kwami said. “There was a lot of people hanging around. The police were asking questions. It was just like television.”
“Did the police talk to you?” she asked.
Kwami shook his head.
“That’s good,” his mother said. “Stay away from the police. If something happens, you know who they’ll blame. Now, go call your sister for dinner. She’s upstairs in Melanie’s apartment.”
3. The Tyrant
Jack Armstrong sat back in the barber’s chair staring across the street at the young boy on the opposite sidewalk. George the barber was dragging the straight edge razor across Jack’s pale throat. It tickled Jack’s skin. Just as Jack was about to speak George lifted his razor as if he could sense his customer’s next move.
“What do you figure a kid like that sees in his future? A kid should have a future. He should have dreams. Shouldn’t be hanging out on street corners. Try and keep my boy busy with sports. Got to wear them out. All those hormones running wild.”
George smirked, looking at Jack in the mirror in front of him. He glanced out the window.
“What kid?” George asked paying no attention to what was going on outside.
“The black kid sitting on the bench on the sidewalk.”
“Probably watching that video in the sports store,” George said as he leaned over and tilting Jack’s head to one side and holding his ear lobe, slipped his razor along the soft belly of Jack’s neck. “All the kids stop to have a look. I was thinking about putting one in my front window. Tape myself cutting hair.”
“I love young people,” Jack said. “Their eyes are so wide in wonder. In hope. I believe in hope, George. Kids got to have hope. And confidence. Kids got to have confidence. You take a kid that doesn’t believe in himself and I’ll show you a future inmate. If I didn’t believe in myself I wouldn’t have been the man I am today. Not that I mean to boast, but I have accumulated a fair amount of wealth. Confidence. That’s the word, George. I used to coach basketball. Did I ever tell you that, George?”
George shook his head
“Girl’s basketball. So much fun. Laughter and tears. Who the hell knows what happened to those girls? Can’t think of them as women. Ain’t that strange?”
“Why is that?” George asked.
“Can’t see them… you know, opening their legs for some jerk.”
“Like you and me,” George responded with a chortle.
Jack ignored the barber’s remark.
“How’s the landlord business going?” George asked.
“Don’t ask!” Jack responded. “You try and collect the rent that you’ve agreed upon and you get treated like a criminal. I’m walking up to a building that my hard earned cash has purchased and I feel like I’m trespassing. It’s my building. They think it’s their home. I don’t get it. And the stories you hear. They didn’t get paid that month. Or there were unexpected bills. It’s always the kids they use as an excuse. Braces for the kid’s teeth is always a handy one. Or a school field trip. Or someone died. Someone in Windsor or Montreal. Someone somewhere where they had to fly. Meanwhile I can see that they’ve got one of those fancy new televisions. And a VCR. And a music system. They love their music. Hell, they got a better music system than I do. I love the Beatles but I don’t go out and buy one of those fancy new CD players. What’s wrong with a good old turntable? And they got complaints. If it ain’t about the plumbing, it’s about the wiring, or the windows needing to be replaced. They don’t treat anything with respect. Throw their candy wrappers on the hallway floors. Flicking their cigarette butts off their balconies. How do they expect anything to last? And you know they got steaks on the barbecue. Wouldn’t try and economize and cook some dogs. Kids love dogs. I always did. That’s the problem with those people. They aren’t willing to sacrifice. When I recall the stories my dear old mother told me about the depression, it makes me sick. Don’t spend money you don’t have. If you’re poor then live like you’re poor.”
“Well,” George said, “People got to live.”
“That’s living?” Jack asked.
George popped his gum.
“My niece is getting married tomorrow,” Jack continued after several minutes of silence. “God, what do you get kids today? They’ve already got a house. Furnished it themselves. Been living together for five years. Guess they decided to finally tie the knot. Hell of a time finding a priest. They’ve got to take a six-week marriage course.”
“Given the divorce rate maybe it’s not such a bad idea,” George responded.
“Me and the wife never had to go on no marriage course,” Jack countered. “We live in an age where you have to take a course to do anything. Education is a scam. I’ll tell you that right now. A multi-million dollar scam. You seen all the money we’re pouring into our schools? Are we any better off for it? We’ve got a lot of educated morons running around.”
“How about a toaster?” George suggested.
“I was thinking about getting them a painting,” Jack said.
George removed the razor from Jack’s throat. He snapped his gum.
“I saw a guy selling paintings down on Eglinton. In a parking lot. Pretty reasonable prices. Was going to hang one here in the shop but there ain’t no wall space. Unless I take the Maple Leaf calendar down.”
“I wanted to buy some real art,” Jack said. “There’s an exhibition down at the St. Lawrence Market.”
“You don’t say,” George grinned.
“Got a small gallery there. Work of some artist named Kirk. Kuris or Kirk. Something with a K. The wife is against it. Tells me the niece will never hang a painting if it doesn’t match the furniture. My niece sees herself as something of an interior designer. She’s got these photographs in the hallway. Photographs of cast iron fences. Hands them on an angle. I got a kink in my neck looking at them. The wife says a painting would just sit in their attic. I like art. I think we should support the local artists. What do you like in art, George?”
George grinned as he chewed his gum.
“I like something that looks like something. Something I can recognize. Like a postcard.”
“A realist.” Jack laughed.
George pulled his razor away just in time. Jack spotted the kid in front of the sports store. There was an old man sitting next to him. What was that old man up to?
“I like Pollock’s work,” Jack said.
George snapped his gum.
“Did you say, Polack?”
“Jason Pollock. Abstract painter. Not really abstract. His paintings are a swirl of colour and line. Beautiful destruction. Jackson Pollock. Did I say Jason? Wife hates his work. Says she can’t make head nor tails of it. I like something that makes you think.”
The two men were quiet for some time.
“How’d you get so good with the razor?” Jack asked.
“The war,” George replied.
George took a warm towel and wiped away the remainder of the shaving cream from Jack’s face and neck.
“I heard you were in the commandos,” Jack said. “That must have been quite an experience.”
George took a small pair of scissors and began to clip the hairs in Jack’s ears.
“Quite an experience,” George responded.
George wiped around Jack’s neck and pulled the apron off his customer and shook the hairs off onto the floor. Jack sat up and appraised the barber’s work in the mirror.
“No improvement,” Jack smiled rubbing his smooth chin with his fingers. “I was hoping that I’d get better looking. What’s the damage?”
“Twenty dollars,” George smiled.
“Remember when haircuts were a buck and a half?”
George snapped his gum.
“Remember when Coke was a dime?” he responded.
Jack climbed out of the barber’s chair and reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple of bills. He stepped across the room and put on his jacket that was hanging on the wall. He glanced out the window and across the street.
“Any other ideas about a wedding gift?” he said.
“You could always give them money,” George responded and snapped his gum.
Jack stepped out of the barbershop. The boy and the old man were talking. The shadows of the buildings began to creep across the street.
How long have I been standing here? Jack asked himself, looking around to see if anyone had noticed him standing in front of the barbershop. Is it happening again? Why did he get lost in these moments as if in each moment an eternity had passed unnoticed. A flock of geese flew in formation overhead. Jack dared not look up. There were tears in his eyes. Why can’t I remember the right thing to say? There had been a fight that morning with his wife, Mary. His wife had insisted he get a haircut. Jack had refused. Jack hated haircuts but Mary said that she wouldn’t go to the wedding if he looked like a homeless bum. He looked down at his hands. There was an elastic around one of his fingers. A reminder. The gift. He had to buy a gift. Maybe he could buy a pair of baseball gloves. Weren’t they athletic? He was sure his sister had mentioned that his niece liked to play sports. Hadn’t she been on the high school volleyball team? Or was that her sister, the other niece? He’d always had trouble telling the two girls apart.
The boy in front of the sports shop turned to the old man. The old man reached into his pocket and gave something to the kid.
“Is he robbing the old man?” Jack asked as he stepped into the street. A cab beeped its horn as it rushed passed him. Jack stepped back onto the sidewalk glaring at the cab disappearing down the street. What the hell is your hurry? What had he called Mary as he left the house? A tyrant. She hadn’t laughed. When they had first begun courting Mary had loved his sense of humour. She was always laughing. It was her smile that he had fallen in love with. She didn’t laugh much now. Maybe it was the anti-depressants the doctor had put her on. Or maybe it was the passage of time. Maybe there wasn’t any more laughter in her. Maybe it was the girl. It didn’t mean anything. It was just one too many drinks and the yearning of a middle-aged man. He could hardly recall what the girl looked like. Except her bony knees. And the softness of the skin along her neck. That was five years ago. Why had I called her a tyrant?
Jack turned around. Music from the tattoo shop next to George’s Barbershop caught his attention. It was an old Bob Dylan song. Desolation Row. Jack remembered dancing slow to the song with Mary in his arms. She was so small then. When had she begun to fill out? When had their two shadows begun to resemble each other? It was as if marriage had shaped them into different versions of the same human being? Do all married couples begin to resemble each other? When did that far away look in her eyes stop being a mystery? She holds it up to me like it’s my fault. I was not a white knight. I could not produce happiness. There was so much disappointment in his wife’s eyes. And she was tired. They were both tired. Tired of each other?
A young girl stepped out of the tattoo shop. She looked at Jack and smiled. The girl looked like his niece. Jack stared at the small red rose on her bare shoulder. Do I have to lie to her? Do I have to keep telling her that she is still the beautiful young girl I married?
“Why is she always so sad?” Jack muttered to himself. “She looks at me like I’m a dead man.”
The smile on the girl vanished. She looked warily at Jack and stepped to one side as a tall young man stepped out of the shop behind her. He looked at Jack and then at the girl. He put his arm around the girl’s shoulder. She winced. He dropped his arm to her waist and directed her down the street.
Jack looked across the street again. The old man was still talking to the boy. Jack looked up at the Prudential Life building that was now eclipsing the sun. A bus moved passed Jack and pulled over to the curb. The couple from the tattoo shop stepped aboard. The girl glanced at Jack stepping off the curb. Jack turned at the sound of the horn and the screeching brakes of the white van.
4. Mary Armstrong Waits for a Telephone Call
Mary Armstrong sat neatly in a chair in her living room, waiting. Where is he? She picked up the channel changer for the television and turned it on. He knows I don’t like to be late? She turned off the television. Standing up she made her way over to dinette. She took out a bottle of sherry. She looked at herself in the glass doors of the dinette. I look so fat in this thing. I should have chosen my beige gown. Mary poured herself a drink. She raised it to her lips. She put the glass down. He’s probably forgotten all about the present. I shouldn’t have left it to Jack to buy something. Picking up the glass she returned to her chair in the living room. He knows I don’t like to be late for these things. The phone rang. If that’s Jack, I’ll kill him.
I really feel sorry for people. Not in an arrogant I’m-better-than-you way, everyone-is-a-victim-of-the-human-condition way. No one asked to be born poor, or in the middle of a civil war, stupid or fat, or in Forest Hill, or brilliant. My old man is a doctor. Specialist in feet. You’d never believe that there was so much money in in-grown toenails. My sister is blonde and perpetually tanned. She lives in constant fear of cellulite. My mother has a shrink and is losing her hair. Her shrink says that she’s addicted to anxiety. We live in a six-bedroom house, triple garage and curved driveway in Thorncrest Village. Which isn’t a village at all. There isn’t a store or church or post office in sight. It was a planned community for rich people. We’d have pets except that I’m allergic to animal fur. I know I’m privileged but it’s not my fault. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. Sally says that I’m a deadbeat.
Sally is my girlfriend. She’s slightly overweight with bent teeth and she’s never worn a dress. She sleeps in her jeans. Sally’s parents are divorced and she couldn’t be happier about it. She calls it freedom but I’ve read her poems and it sure feels more like pain. I feel sorry for Sally and she hates it. Sally is fascinated by death and all things morbid. Kids at school call her vamp, short for vampire. It doesn’t help that she has two long canine teeth. She hates that. Sally hates all labels but she does fit the description of a Gothic. She keeps her skin pale by avoiding sunlight. She paints her nails and lips black. Dark eyeliner exaggerates her already beautiful blue eyes. She hates blue except in jeans.I don’t know why we’re still together. Sally never has anything good to say about me or my family although she does like the idea that my mother is losing her hair. There’s this big bald spot in the back. No one in the family talks about it. My mother goes to the hair salon a couple of times a week to get her hair brushed so that it won’t show. It always shows. Not even the hairdresser talks about it. There’s nothing so sad as a woman who is going bald. Sally says that there’s nothing wrong with going bald. If she started losing her hair, she’d just shave it all off. I think Sally has a secret desire to grow a moustache.
Kids at school can’t figure Sally and I out. We were the voted the couple most likely not to get married. Everyone figures that Sally must be great in the sack. Why else would I go out with her? But we don’t have sex much. I mean there’s the odd hand-job. It’s mostly a mercy hand-job when Sally feels sorry for abusing me. I don’t mind. I guess I don’t have much of a sex drive for a teenager or maybe I just don’t want to have sex with Sally. But, Sally talks about sex a lot. Sally tells me about all these guys she fucks in the clubs on the weekends. Skateboarders mostly. But, I don’t believe her. Sally likes to see herself as a female predator, but it’s a pose, part of the myth she has built around herself. Sally is a sweetheart but she doesn’t want anyone to see that. She wants people to think that she is tough as nails. When I ask Sally if she uses condoms she shrugs. Sometimes, she says. Depends on her mood. Makes me laugh. In the cafeteria at school she’ll start talking about some guy she was banging on the weekend. The other kids hang around her with their mouths open. They ask me how I can stand it, my girlfriend running around with other guys. Makes me laugh. I ask if there are any photos. Sally calls me a pervert. Makes me laugh. The other kids think that there’s something wrong with me. They think I should drop her, or hit her, or tell her parents. I tell them that Sally is putting them on, but they choose to believe Sally. It makes for better conversation.
Sally says that when we finally do the deed, we have to do it on an evening when there’s a full moon, in a graveyard at midnight, on someone’s grave with the same last name as her. Thank God, her last name is Brown. At least it increases my odds. Still I don’t think it’s going to happen in a graveyard. Sometimes I think it’s never going to happen. Sally says that sex is like death. It changes your life forever. I just want it to change things for a few minutes. I guess Sally will do pretty much what she wants. It’s not like I own her. Sally says that if I minded, it would be the last I’d see of her. Maybe I like the abuse. Maybe I don’t believe her. Sally makes up her life. She has a diary in which she records all of her insights, dreams, and romantic liaisons. She wants to die young while she’s still beautiful. She doesn’t want to grow old like my mother and lose her hair. Makes me laugh.
Maybe we’re together because Sally is so damn smart. Sally finds out things. Like recently she’s been preoccupied with this blues singer named Leadbelly. He’s called the father of rock’n’roll though he probably never heard of rock’n’roll. Sally told me that Leadbelly was in prison. Killed a man. But he was pardoned because his music was so beautiful. She says that he is the most beautiful man that ever lived. Sally said the same thing a few months ago about a philosopher named Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard was called the father of existentialism. Children used to throw stones at him in his hometown of Copenhagen. Sally seems to be preoccupied with guys who were called father’s of something or other. I think it’s because her father left her and her mother and her older sister. Sally told me not to analyze her, that I don’t have the tools. I don’t analyze but I am fascinated. Sally lives in an alternate universe. Who knows what she might find there?
Sally tells me that I’m ugly. Makes me laugh. That makes her angry.
“You’re so damn confident,” she says.
I’m not that confident. I just know that I’m not ugly. Kids at school tell me that I’m a splitting image of Brad Pitt, the movie actor. Girls are always telling me that I’m cute. Not that I go out canvassing them. They just feel compelled to tell me. Girls love to brush my hair. It drives Sally mad. It makes me laugh to see her so angry. There’s so much fire in her eyes.
“You ever heard of Dorian Gray?” Sally asks me. Of course I have. We had to read the novel for our grade eleven English class. But I pretend that I haven’t.
“Someday I’m going to find the painting of you and hold it up to your face.” Sally says this with such conviction that I start to laugh. She punches me in the arm. God I love her. Life is never dull. My parents and my sister are so boring. They can’t stand her. My parents are always asking her questions, trying to figure out what makes her tick. Sally goes out of her way to taunt them. Trish, my sister, says that Sally is a sickie. She’s trying to get attention. Ugly girls all do that. Trish should hear what Sally thinks of her. Makes me laugh.
You never know what Sally is going to come up with. One day she told me that she felt that under her skin she was black. The only black on her is a few scattered freckles on her chest and across her nose. Sally can’t be out in the sun for more than a half hour without getting a burn. Her mother is Irish. She won’t say what her father is. She tells me that black people feel more of life than white people. They’re more in touch with reality, with their own pain. White people, especially rich white people,e sleep in a dream of paradise. Life is about struggle, not about acquisitions. I tell her that my sister, Trish, is on another diet. That drives Sally nuts.
“You’re sister is a mindless bimbo,” she rants.
I’m afraid to tell her what my parents spent on Trish’s teeth. They could have financed some third world country’s health care.
On this day Sally decided that she wanted to get another tattoo. She already had a small tattoo on the small of her back. It was a rose. Sally hated it and tried to have it removed by cutting the skin off. She did the deed herself using a mirror and some surgical scissors that she had me swipe from my father’s medical bag. I would have done it for her but the sight of blood makes me faint. It got infected. We had to go to a clinic. So now her rose looks like shredded lettuce.
I offered to drive her to the tattoo shop. I knew that she’d refuse. She hates my car, a red Mercedes that my father bought me for my birthday. Sally prefers public transit.
“If you can’t refuse your parent’s welfare now, you’ll be a deadbeat all your life.”
The tattoo shop is across from the Six Points Plaza, next to the Zig Zag, a local bar. There was a bust of Elvis on the roof until an ice storm sent Elvis crashing to the sidewalk. Made me laugh. I told Sally that Elvis was bi-polar. The tattoo shop has a series of catalogues that you can browse through. It’s a regular art portfolio. Sally already had her own idea. She wanted a red guitar tattoo’d on her arm with the name of Leadbelly above it. When Sally went into the back of the shop to have the work done, I remained in the front. There was no way I was going to watch some guy poking needles in my girl’s arm. Just the idea made me queasy.
I sat in the front window of the shop pretending to look at a magazine while I watched the traffic in the street. Across the street was a sports store. Every so often a pedestrian would stop in front of the shop and watch the television in the window. I guessed that they must be showing highlights from a sporting event. A small black kid stopped and stood at the window. Made me think of when I was a kid looking in the sports stores checking out the latest hockey equipment. An old man walked up next to the kid and took a seat on a bench. He looked disheveled. I wondered if he was a bum. He started talking to the kid. Normally I wouldn’t have paid much attention but there had been reports on the news of a sex predator preying on small children. He’d been hanging around schoolyards and had enough nerve to enter one of the schools and walk right into the girl’s washroom.
The old guy leaned on a cane. It could have been a weapon. The little kid sat down on the bench. The old guy put his hand in his pocket and handed the kid something. I figured it was money. Maybe the kid was trying to shake the old man down. Out of the side of my eyesight a guy appeared on the sidewalk beside the tattoo shop. A middle-aged guy. Probably just came out of the barbershop. He was watching the kid and the old guy. I could tell that he looked concerned.
“Let’s go,” Sally said to me. I turned around.
Sally paid her bill. I looked down at her arm. She had a sweater on. I wondered when I was going to see the unveiling. When we stepped out of the tattoo shop, I turned back to pick up my bag which Sally calls my purse. When I returned to the street, I found Sally standing with the guy I’d seen step out of the barbershop. I put my hand on Sally’s shoulder to direct her to the bus stop. A bus was coming. Sally winced.
“What did he want?” I asked expecting Sally to tell me that the gentleman had been watching the kid and the old man across the street.
Sally looked up at me. She had that stunned expression on her face, which people get when they have been surprised by some event.
“He said he was dead,” she said. I could tell that this delighted her. Who says something like that to a stranger? Sally doesn’t believe in coincidence. She believes that every event has some hidden significance.
“You must have misunderstood him,” I responded.
“I know what I heard,” Sally said with a huff.
We stepped onto the bus and took a seat near the rear of the bus. Across from us a guy wearing a toupee smiled at us. The rug fell over the side of his forehead like a cap. He asked us something, probably directions. I shrugged my shoulders. Just as the bus was moving out, we heard a screech of brakes.
“Oh God!” Sally cried as she turned around.
When I got home, my mother called me into the living room. Her shrink had advised her that she should be talking to me more often. Boys get into trouble when their mother doesn’t show them enough affection, he had said. I was ready for mother to tell me that she loved me again except that mother couldn’t quite bring herself to say that she loved me. It was always, how was your day?
“Look at this,” she said gesturing to the television.
I looked at the set. A reporter was standing in front of my old elementary school.
Last Friday evening, the reporter said, at approximately 3:30 p.m. three girls from Our Lady of Peace were approached by a white pick-up truck, in front of the school, and offered Barbie dolls. Fortunately the girls had the good sense to refuse to walk away. This is the third incident this month involving a stranger and young girls.
“Wasn’t that your school?” my mother asked.
“Ya,” I responded. “Years ago.”
My mother looked up at me.
“There isn’t something you want to talk about, is there dear?”
“What are you asking, mother?”
“You’re not interested in little girls like that, are you?”
My mouth dropped. My mother thinks I’m a pervert.
“I don’t own a white pick-up. How can you ask your son a question like that?”
“Well, I had to ask.” She smiled at me apologetically. “And that girlfriend of yours is so strange.”
“You don’t know, Sally,” I said.
“I know enough,” she said. “That girl worries me. She’s an accident waiting to happen.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to say,” I responded.
“Don’t use that kind of language,” she said. “It makes you sound rough. People get the wrong idea.”
Mother was silent. I knew what was coming next.
“You and Sally aren’t…” she began.
“No,” I interrupted.
Mother sighed. I hate her sighs. It’s as if she has just been relieved of some great burden.
“You’re a good looking boy, Glen,” mother said. “Surely there must be other girls who you could…”
“Stop!” I said. “I don’t want to hear anything about other girls. Sally suits me fine.”
Mother never stops.
“I was talking to Mrs. Baker at the hair salon this morning,” she said. “She has a lovely daughter. I think Janice is in one of your classes.”
I laughed. Janice Baker was sleeping with half the guys on the football team.
“Did I say something funny?” mother asked.
“Janice Baker is…” I began then added after a short pause, “boring.”
6. The Rookie
Wendel keeps putting his fist through walls. Wendel wraps golf clubs around trees. Wendel throws wrenches across the floor. Wendel howls at the moon. I call it just anger. Edna calls it tantrums. It’s why Edna and I had to seek counseling. She said I scared her. But have I ever raised a hand to her or the kids? Have I even threatened her verbally? Our counselor, a thin-lipped prissy named Dr. Algarve, calls it Wendel’s acting out. Temper is what makes me a good cop. Fear is what keeps this society in one piece. That’s what kept the peace in Kublai Khan’s China. The punishment never fit the crime. Caught stealing – lose your head. Caught mugging – lose your head. Caught raping – lose your head. Khan’s China was a civil place. Crime wasn’t a temptation; it was a death sentence. Fear works on the streets in this town as well. The animals have to see that rage in my eyes. They have to worry that the cop holding the gun might lose it. That he might just blow their head off. And get away with it. How long do you think I’d survive in the street without that fear? The shrink says that I have to face my demons. Edna says that I have to find a way of leaving my rage at work. Sometimes it feels as if no one is listening to me. I’m a cop. If I was wired differently, I’d be delivering the mail.
So they bring this cop out of retirement as my assistant. I’m the senior cop in the car but Sam treats me like a rookie. Oh, it ain’t anything he says. It’s what he doesn’t say. The minute we meet in the morning, I’m popping Tums like they were Chicklets. Stomach all tied in knots. Nerves frayed. The guy is unsettling. Even when I fall asleep at night, I go through the days work all over again. And Sam’s in these dreams as well, looking smug, grinning, giving me advice. I’m grinding my teeth down so quickly pretty soon I’ll have to gum my food. I don’t wake up. I never feel as if I’ve actually slept.
“You look terrible this morning,” he said to me. His name is Sam Kelly. Worked the Six Points when I was in elementary school. I think he might have come to Our Lady of Peace Elementary School and spoken to us about police work. Maybe it was that speech that made me want to become a cop. He knows everyone. Knows their parents. Knows all about their skeletons, everything that is kept locked up in a closet, things that were never put down in reports.
“You say that every morning,” I responded.
“And you look terrible every morning.” He smiled. There’s that grin again.
We’d been called to a hit and run. I drove the squad car, not that I like driving. Driving gives me a headache but I’ll be damned if I’ll let Sam drive the squad car. Hit and run is a major crime in the Six Points. Once a working class area, it has been taken over by accountants and engineers. The old Cape Cod homes with their gravel driveways and car parks have been torn down and replaced by monster homes with paved driveways and double garages.
I got out of the car and walked around to the officer who was standing on the sidewalk in front of a the tattoo shop. Behind her a girl was standing in the window. She had blood trickling down her arm.
“What have we got, constable?” I asked, taking my eyes off the girl in the window. The constable looked up and smiled. Peggy Sue is one of the new breed of women cops. She comes from a family of lawyers. This new line of female cops no longer look like dikes. And they’re smart. College educated. I noticed Peggy the first day she stepped into the station. Couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I wasn’t alone. We were all hanging around her with our tongues out. Peggy would smile, chew her gum, she was always chewing gum, and wink at each of us. There was a pool at the station. Who would be the first to nail her? Then we found out that her boyfriend was a prosecuting attorney, twenty years her senior, with a jealous streak and the power and inclination to drop anyone a rank if they crossed him. Peggy looked at me, winked, than looked at my partner, waiting for Sam to recognize her presence. Sam ignored her. He was already scanning the scene. A crowd had gathered across the street. The uniforms had cordoned off the immediate area.
“This is Constable Sue, Sam.”
Sam turned and looked at Peggy. He smiled.
“How did you get a last name like Sue?” he asked.
Peggy blushed. God, she liked him.
“My parents,” she responded.
Sam looked at Peggy and then at me.
“What have we got?” I asked.
“Hit and run,” Peggy responded.
“Anybody see what happened?” he asked.
I glared at Sam then turned my attention back to the Constable who was still looking at Sam.
“Anybody see what happened?” I repeated.
Peggy turned to me and read from her notes. “Barber saw the victim leave the barbershop but he wasn’t paying much attention. Victim’s name is Jack Armstrong. Mr. Banks, the barber, saw Armstrong talking to a girl and her boyfriend. We haven’t located them as yet. An older lady, Mrs. Jefferies, saw a white van in front of her slam on its brakes and then speed off. Mrs. Jeffries almost ran over the victim herself.”
Peggy looked up from her notes. “She isn’t in great shape. Really shook her up. Afraid we’ll take her license away.”
“No one else, Constable?” I asked.
“Not yet?” Peggy replied.
“Did Mrs. Jeffries get a license number?” I asked.
Peggy shook her head.
I turned and looked at Sam. He was looking at something across the street.
“Armstrong was taken to Lakeshore Hospital,” Peggy added. “He was in pretty bad shape but he was alive when they carted him off.” The constable turned to Sam. “You want us to wrap this up and let the traffic through? It’s almost rush hour.”
“Traffic can wait,” I said to the constable annoyed by her assumption that Sam was in charge of the case.
“What’s that across the street?” Sam asked.
Both me and Peggy turned and looked across the street. What the hell was he looking at?
“Detective?” Peggy asked.
“The sports shop over there. What’s that in the window?”
“Oh,” Peggy smiled. “They’ve got a television in the window. Showing highlights from the NBA finals. Is that important?”
Sam shrugged his shoulders.
“I want you to send an officer through the crowd,” I said turning to Peggy. “See if anyone else saw anything. Middle of the afternoon, someone should have seen something.”
Sam gestured toward the bus stop.
“Better check the bus schedule as well, constable,” he said. “Someone might have seen something from the bus.”
Peggy nodded and walked over to the other officers who were keeping the crowds back. Even in police garb, she had a great ass.
“Did you have to do that?” I asked.
Sam had taken his notebook out and was scribbling something down. He looked up at me.
“Do what?” he asked.
“You’re making me look bad in front of the other officers.”
Sam smiled. “Wendel, you’ve got to get a thicker skin. You got trouble at home with the wife?”
“Keep my domestic situation out of this!” I barked. “You know I didn’t want you as a partner. I don’t even know why they brought you back. You get bored with retirement? Couldn’t you get a job in security or something? I’m sure they need someone with your experience to control the traffic at Walmart.”
“Better watch out for that constable,” Sam said offhandedly. “She’s after your job.”
“We should talk to George,” Sam added.
“Who the hell is George?” I asked.
“The barber,” Sam replied.
We stepped into the barbershop. The barber, a small middle-aged balding guy, stepped up to us and shook Sam’s hand.
“Been a long time,” he said, bubblegum snapping in his mouth. “I thought you had retired.”
“This is Detective Olson,” Sam said, gesturing to me.
The barber nodded. “This has been a hell of a day. Jack Armstrong was one of my oldest customers. Always had a smile on his face. Always tipped. Followed the ponies.”
“George has a weakness for fillies and wide eyed blondes,” Sam said, taking a seat in one of the barber chairs. There were no other customers. “All the locals come to George for advice before they trek on up to Woodbine. I come here for advice on blondes.”
“Like you ever needed advice,” George replied.
“Did you notice anything odd about Mr. Armstrong?” I asked.
The barber looked at Sam and snapped his gum.
“Your partner gets straight to the point,” he said.
“He had the usual problems. Nothing in particular. Complained about his tenants. He owns a few small apartment buildings in the area. Talked a lot about art. Jack likes to remind everyone that he’s been to college.”
“Who did he like?” Sam asked.
The barber smiled.
“He liked Kuris and some guy named Pollock. You think that had something to do with this?”
Sam shrugged his shoulders.
“And he kept looking across the street when I was giving him a shave. At some black kid over at the sports store. It seemed to darken his spirits. Is Jack going to be alright?”
“He’s in bad shape,” Sam responded.
“Did he seem suicidal?” I asked.
The barber looked gravely at Sam and then turned back to me. “Jack just had a shave and a haircut. Who has a shave and a haircut if they intend to throw themselves in front of a car?”
I glared at the barber. The barber snapped his gum and smiled.
“When did you get the new Maple Leaf calendar?” Sam asked, turning to me. “George has all the Maple Leaf calendars dating back to those Stanley Cup winners in the 60s. Hell of a collection.”
“The other day someone offered me ten thousand dollars for the lot,” George responded, snapping his gum. “But hell, what am I going to do with ten thousand dollars? The wife would just spend it on more furniture.”
“Did you get a look at the black kid?” Sam asked.
George looked puzzled.
“The kid that was standing over at the sports shop,” Sam added.
“Just a kid,” George responded. “You guys got any leads on that pervert that’s hanging around the local schools? It’s making a lot of folks uneasy.”
We stepped out of the barbershop. Sam looked across the street at the sports store, took several steps to the curb and looked down into the gutter. He knelt down and examined the street. When he stood up again, he wrote something in his notebook.
“You care to share?” I asked.
“Footprints,” Sam said. “Someone, maybe our Mr. Armstrong, stepped into the street then stepped back on the curb in a hurry. We’ll need some photographs of the footprints. See if there’s a match.”
I was afraid to ask what significance this could possibly have but I didn’t want to see another shrug.
“We’re checking out all the white vans seen in the area,” I said.
“Makes you wonder,” he said.
“Wonder?” I asked.
“What kind of person knocks someone down and doesn’t check to see if they’re okay?”
“Low life,” I responded.
“But why?” Sam asked. “If Armstrong stepped out in front of the van, there wouldn’t be any charges.”
I looked at Sam and then at the street where Armstrong had been knocked down.
“We should go to the Canadiana for lunch,” Sam said.
“You think we can pick up some information there?” I asked.
“I’m hungry,” Sam replied. “They’ve got real good pie. You like blueberry pie?”
7. The Wife
“I don’t care what they say,” Edna Olson said as she spread the chunky peanut butter thickly over the piece of toast. “I think Margaret Atwood is a brilliant writer. She brings a feminine sensitivity to the literary world.” She took the toast, dipped it in her coffee and then into her mouth. Wendel Olson tried to keep his eyes off his wife’s mouth.
“Do you have to do that?” Wendel muttered.
“What’s wrong with defending one of this country’s great minds. People are always dragging her down. I think it’s dreadful the disrespect that is shown Margaret. Mostly by men I might add, men who are threatened by her wit and insightfulness. A woman becomes successful and the critics come out of the… I don’t know what.”
“I was referring to dipping your toast in your coffee.”
Placing her toast back on her plate, Edna pulled her bathrobe tightly around her chest. She sipped at her coffee.
“I thought you were paying attention to what I was saying.” Edna pouted, putting her cup down. “Do you know how annoying that is?”
Wendel bowed his head sheepishly.
“I have to make the presentation tomorrow at the group,” Edna continued. “Last week Bernice Taylor showed a slide show of Czarist Russia in her presentation of Dostoyevsky. Everyone was so impressed, but what did it have to do with Crime and Punishment? That’s what I want to know. Besides, I don’t know why we have to go searching for geniuses around the world when we have our home grown ones. Remember the first time we saw Margaret?”
“How can I forget,” Wendel said with a smirk as he sipped his coffee.
“At the Waterfront. Wasn’t she wonderful?”
“Ya, wonderful.” Wendel said with a sigh.
Edna dipped her toast in her coffee again.
“What’s wrong with you this morning? It isn’t about last night, is it? You know I don’t like putting it in…”
“Could you keep your voice down,” Wendel pleaded. “The kids might hear you. And it isn’t about last night.”
“Don’t tell me,” Edna responded with a laugh. “You’re still not upset about your partner. God, get over it, Wendel. Remember what the counselor said about brooding. It builds up until you’re ready to explode. Don’t we have enough holes in our walls? Sometimes I think you’ll never grow up, Wendel. Besides, I like Sam Kelly. He reminds me of my father.”
Wendel shook his head. He took a package of cigarettes out his pocket and lit one up.
“Not in here,” Edna protested. “You want me and the kids to die of second hand smoke. I thought you’d given them up.”
Wendel butted out his cigarette and put the remainder back in his package.
“We’ve got this new case, hit and run.” Wendel put the package of cigarettes back in his shirt pocket. “Everyone we interview defers to Sam even though I’m the senior officer.”
“Does that matter?”
“It’s humiliating. Fifteen years on the force and I feel like a rookie again.”
“Don’t forget,” Edna interrupted, “Johnny has basketball practice tonight.”
“Yesterday we visited the victim’s wife,” Wendel continued. “We were sitting at her kitchen table. She made us some tea.”
“One more thing,” Edna interrupted again. “I got a call from the dentist’s office. It’s your annual cleaning tomorrow at three.”
“Cancel it,” Wendel responded.
“You’re teeth are looking awfully yellow,” Edna said. “I think it’s the cigarettes.”
“Okay!” Wendel cried. “I’ll go.”
“You don’t have to take that attitude,” Edna responded in a huff. “They’re your teeth.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Wendel muttered. “Where was I?”
“You were having tea.”
“Ya, right. When I asked Mrs. Armstrong a question, she turned to Sam when she answered.”
“Mrs. Armstrong?” Edna gasped. “I think her son goes to high school with Johnny. What was his name? How are her kids taking it?”
“Taking what?” Wendel asked.
“Their father being hit by a car,” Edna responded, exasperated.
Wendel looked puzzled.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Edna said. “Continue with your story.”
“Thank you. When I asked Mrs. Armstrong a question she turned to Sam when she answered. Sam sat there with that stupid impish grin on his face. And when she started to get upset, Sam leans over and pats her on the hand. Mrs. Armstrong looked so comforted. Pissed me off. I am the senior officer. I’m the one who should be doing the interview. Do you see what I’m saying, Edna?”
“I think his name was Mike,” Edna responded, her toast diving once again into her coffee. Edna looked out the kitchen window.
Wendel glared at Edna.
“Looks like Sam is here to pick you up,” Edna said.
“You don’t have to seem so pleased,” Wendel responded.
“Sam is nice,” Edna responded. She sipped her coffee. “He once dated Margaret Attwood.”
“He never dated her.” Wendel barked. “He met her at a reading when she was still an unknown and had a coffee with her. That hardly adds up to a romantic interlude.”
Edna smiled and sipped her coffee.
“I’ll bet it didn’t end with a coffee.”
Wendel slammed the car door as he climbed into the car. Sam Kelly looked over at his partner and smiled.
“What are you smiling at?” Wendel cried.
“Nothing,” Sam responded, the smile remaining on his face.
“I think if I have to listen to any more crap about another Canadian icon, I’m going to barf.” Wendel barked as he reached into his pocket and took out his cigarettes.
Sam backed the car down the driveway and into the street.
“And don’t say anything about second hand smoke!”
“I thought you’d given them up.”
“That was yesterday.”
The blue Chevrolet made its way down the suburban street passed the local school and toward Burnhamthorpe Avenue.
“Did you see the Gordon Lightfoot special last night?” Sam asked. “Time has not been kind to Gordon. Great song writer. Did I tell you about the time I went drinking with him? Before he went off the wagon. Margaret Atwood, the poet, introduced us. You wouldn’t believe the number of women that came onto him. Made me think I was in the wrong profession.”
Wendel turned to Sam. Sam looked both ways before he turned onto Burnhamthorpe.
“You and Gordon, eh?” Wendel cried.
“Bad morning?” Sam asked.
“You have no idea what I have to put up with at home.” Wendel sucked deeply on his cigarette.
“Counseling not working out?” Sam asked.
Wendel sighed and shook his head. His voice relaxed.
“We used to have so much fun. Edna was real passionate. Did I tell you about the time before we were married when I brought her back to my apartment? God, what a night. Shook the plaster off the wall. Edna howled like a winter storm. The landlord came down to complain about the noise. Said it was keeping up the other tenants. But ever since the kids arrived, it’s like I’ve turned into my father. Edna has absolutely no interest in sex. All she talks about is bills, the kids, and her literary group.”
Sam laughed softly to himself.
“I’m glad you’re amused,” Wendel said. “You still living with that waitress from the Canadiana?”
“Don’t tell me you’re getting laid regularly,” Wendel cried, flicking his cigarette out the open window. “I don’t need to hear it.”
“If it’s any consolation,” Sam responded, “women’s sex drive increases with age. I’m the one that complains about headaches.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Wendel responded. He took a package of Tums out of his shirt pocket and popped a couple into his mouth.
“Is that why you have the girlfriend?” Sam asked, glancing at the Tums.
“How do you know about that?” Wendel cried, chewing on his Tums.
“Everyone at the station has heard about her.” Sam chuckled.
“What do you expect me to do, jack off every night?” Wendel replied. “I’m all tensed up. I need the release. Besides, Marie doesn’t expect me to leave Edna or anything. She likes the arrangement we have. And what Edna doesn’t know won’t hurt her. A man has his needs. God, I’ve got enough for half a dozen women. I just wish Marie had something interesting to say afterwards. She talks about the soaps on television. Talks as if those people were real. I’ll say one thing about Edna, she has a brain. Doing a presentation for her book club on Margaret Attwood.”
Sam grinned. “Lovely woman.”
“Fuck off,” Wendel muttered.
“Look at that,” Sam said pointing to a flock of black birds circling over the hydro field. “What do you think they’re up to?”
Wendel shook his head.
“Everything means something,” Sam said.
Wendel shook his head, considered stopping to investigate the black birds, but thought better of it.
“Mrs. Jeffries, our witness, has a son,” Sam said.
Wendel looked over at Sam with a puzzled expression on his face.
“Mike Jeffries,” Sam added. “He was a track star at Michael Power High School. Broke all the provincial records for the 200.”
“How’d you know that?” Wendel asked turning to his partner.
“I did some background on Mrs. Jeffries. Her son did time. Homicidal manslaughter. Took out three people at a bus stop in a stolen car. He was drunk at the time.”
“You think he had something to do with our case?” Wendel asked.
“I thought there was a possibility,” Sam said.
“And?” Wendel asked.
“He’s dead. Drowned in a backyard pool under suspicious circumstances.”
Wendel thought for a moment.
“When did this happen? I don’t remember any such case.”
“Happened in Vancouver after he was released from prison,” Sam replied.
“How did hear about it?” Wendel asked.
“Pays to get your hair cut at George’s,” Sam responded.
8. The White Van
Mustafa pulled the white van into the back of Susie’s Flower Shop. He glanced around and making sure that no one was watching, he looked into the rear view mirror. Taking out his comb, he ran it through his ducktail haircut.
“And for my next number…” he muttered curling up his lip.
Mustafa had seen a dozen Elvis movies. He loved the way Elvis lowered his shoulders at an angle and peeked up into the camera under his eyebrows. I love that man, Mustafa thought.
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” he mumbled.
A moment later a middle-aged fellow with a ponytail opened the back door of the shop. It was Mustafa’s boss.
“You’re late,” Frank said.
“Traffic,” Mustafa cried.
“Maybe if you weren’t rehearsing your Elvis imitation, you’d have more time,” Frank said.
“I’m going to enter a contest this summer,” Mustafa said as Frank ushered Mustafa into the shop and down the dark stairs into the basement. The basement was lit up with the rows of grow lights. Under them a jungle of lanky tall plants grew. A couple of green garbage bags sat on the floor. In the background classical music could be heard.
“No good frigging alarm clock,” Mustafa cried. “Bloody Chinese junk. I went into the Walmart and asked them for a good old American clock. They tell me that all they have is Chinese. How can a bloody clock made in a different time zone work on the other side of the bloody planet? Not bloody likely. Guaranteed me it would work. Bloody Somalian saleslady. What does she know about Toronto time? Probably still on Timbuktu time or whatever it is they’re on. Now I have to go back to the bloody Walmart and get an exchange. I hate the bloody exchange line. Be there a bloody hour. Have to argue about the clock with this employee and then that employee, moving up to the assistant manager and then the manager if he is present which I very much doubt. I don’t think managers actually exist in these stores. They’re fictional characters created to appease our sense of order. They can send a man to Sudbury but they can’t build a bloody alarm clock. When the sun finally turns to cinder and our planet freezes over in a terrible solar winter, there’ll still be people lined up in the bloody exchange line at the bloody Walmart. There has got to be a better way of doing business.”
“I thought you said it was the traffic,” Frank said.
“Well, it was,” Mustafa said. “The traffic was heavier because the alarm didn’t go off on time.”
Frank took a deep breath and shook his head. He was sick of Mustafa’s excuses. Now it was the alarm clock. Last week it was the bus service. Before that there was a serious illness in his family. Always one thing or the other.
“I’ve got a lot of orders today,” he said strumming his fingers on one of the tables. “And try to keep the orders straight this week. You made the wrong delivery to Mrs. Jeffries last week. She had a lot of questions about that package that came with her petunias. I had to come up with a story about spices we were sending to another customer. Seventy year old ladies in the Kingsway have a lot of time on their hands to think about these sort of things. You’re lucky there wasn’t someone else in the house with a nose for dope.”
“You think she’ll talk to the bloody police?” Mustafa asked.
“Of course she’ll talk. To other old ladies and maybe to the cops if there is a consensus amongst her friends. But, it’s not the cops I’m worried about,” Frank responded. “I’ve got a real nice operation here. All these middle-aged ex-hippies still like a little reefer madness, but I don’t want it to get out on the street that we’re dealing. Mazudo over at the Diamond doesn’t take kindly to anyone cutting into his territory. He is not someone who’s in complete control of his temper.”
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"I can hear her coming. A powerful roar from a great distance. , Her craggy pot-marked face smoking, the long tail of fog trailing behind. She will come tumbling toward us like a snowball of fire hurled by a spiteful Santa Claus. Her voice. Not soft and comforting, but a voice dripping with rage. Justice will be served. The planet will sizzle like sirloin. And I shall sit on a park bench at ground zero waiting for St. Nick’s smile to fall across my five o’clock stubble. I will wait happily like a blond waits for her tan, like cold tea in a Styrofoam cup, like an accountant queuing up his thoughts. I will taste her sweet justice. And her wrath will fill my lungs with song. Judgment day is coming. Judgment day for the maniacs crowded into the subway system, for the bullies choking the churches, for the meek on Bay Street, for all the malcontents, for the armies of Christ, for every creature that lifts its curious face to the sky." A mad man is loose and Detective Sam Kelly is on the case.