Patriot/Traitor Games

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It’s on.

The deadly full contact practice on Jan. 6 that morphed into the capitulation and retaking of Capital Hill was a precursor for The Patriot/Traitor Games scheduled to kick off in earnest Jan. 16 -21.

CNN is planning full coverage wherever the carnage takes place. The action will pit neighbour against neighbour, brother against sister, daughter against father, mother against son, co-worker against co-worker, cop against cop.

Each side promises a fight to the death for the title of Patriot/Traitor.

The FBI has issued a nation-wide warning that armed attacks are imminent at every state capital in the union on the day Joe Biden assumes the Presidency. The shaken but retaken Capitol building is being touted as the safest place to hold the peaceful transfer of power. The White House was ruled out because it is in the hands of the Traitors.

The powers that be in United States national security are locking down Washington as they wipe egg from their faces. To ensure the peaceful transition of power, fences are up, the National Guard is mobilized, riots squads are drilling and the military drone operators who scope out snipers are practising flight maneuvers.

As the peaceful transfer takes place, the streets of the nation’s capital will bristle with armed men carrying automatic weapons. Their will be tanks and armoured Humvees parked discreetly nearby. And helicopter gunships overhead. Military leadership felt it necessary to remind the armed forces of their oath to the Constitution.

How did it come to this, sane people the world over ask?

To borrow a phrase from my late great friend Wayne Huk when dealing with disgruntled financial clients: “I’m not gonna say I told you so…. but I did previously inform you…” that a dark cloud hung over the U.S.

(See previous blogs Trump Exoneration America’s Indictment, The Shining City Goes Dark, Own up America, Many of You Are Deplorable and Trump’s U.S. Headed for Jonestown Finale, among others.)

Those scribblings do not make me prescient. Everyone not blinded by politics, religious fervour, conspiracy theories and cult indoctrination saw it coming.

Here’s the thing. Republicans who voted to invalidate the largest voter turnout and ‘most secure election in American history’, even after the Insurrectionist Mob chased them from their sacred chambers of democracy, did so at the behest of their craven voters.

The Cult of Trump exposed the violence, ignorance, bigotry and hypocrisy that has always been at the country’s core. Though in the minority, deplorable Trumpets loom above the American mental landscape in a dark cloud of anger and resentment, overshadowing the forgotten 82 million who turned out in record numbers for Joe Biden.

The Evil Apricot Gasbag, with the help of social media and right wing news outlets, has tapped into that bad vibe in a way that righteous Americans find appalling. They cannot fathom why so many of their countrymen believe his bafflegab.

The Malignant Mango Megalomaniac has fomented revolution with a torrent of lies about election fraud, before and after he ‘lost in a landslide’. He told his slathering Trumpets he could only lose if the election was rigged, then continued The Big Lie daily in the months after the vote was counted.  

Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. Lie.

Lie big.

Lie loud.

Lie long.

He has been assisted in his treasonous endeavor by Republican politicians doing the bidding of the Trumpets they represent; by the profiteering media millionaires broadcasting from their estates far removed from the rubble; by the Washington Swamp’s bottom feeders and political flotsam.

The ugly, horrible, disheartening reality is tens of millions of Americans are Trumpets who revere a venal boor, a narcissistic sociopath who lies pathologically, a charity cheater who brags about assaulting women. They are drinking the Kool Aid in great gulps and are prepared to kill and maim their countrymen in the name of Dear Orange Emperor.

Many view him as a vessel of the Lord.

Think about that.

Make no mistake, cross Trump publicly and you will be wearing the hangman’s noose or slinking through the airport under guard as Trump supporters call you a “piece of shit” and a “fucking traitor”, as limp-willed Lindsay Graham discovered after declaring himself out.

Ever the survivalist, Lindsay jumped back in with Trump to tour the border wall. One last ride on Air Force One. That had to be so romantic after their recent split. Breakup sex is better than golf. He and Trump ‘have had quite a ride’, he told Senators while outing himself about the bromance with the gooey man recently called the most ‘masculine president’ in U.S. history by his press secretary.

The veiled threats of violence interlaced with the Republican calls for unity should not soften the Patriots’ stand. If Republicans want unity they would all stand up and say the election was fair and square. That Trump has been lying. They would pay tribute to the record number of voters who turned out in the Time of the Pandemic and congratulate the country on an election smoothly run under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

But they don’t want to slink through airports like limp-willed Lindsay.

The Trumpets want chaos and violence. They view Joe Biden as an illegitimate President and therefore feel justified in doing whatever it takes to make him fail.

Dear Orange Leader has not expressed even the slightest remorse over his role in the deaths of five people, including a police officer and an air force veteran who fell under his evil spell. One police officer is fighting to keep an eye.

One thing became abundantly clear as the traitor Trumpets attacked the Capitol. If Americans want to keep their democracy, the Patriot\Traitor games must be a rout. The insurrectionists must be stomped on and obliterated; the Evil Orange Windbag must be punctured and deflated with the sword of integrity; his family ostracized; his businesses bankrupted; his enablers disgraced and held to account; his traitorous minions imprisoned.

The Patriots must smash the Trump brand to smithereens, with their wallets. Ostracize the Big Orange Blowhard and his complicit family and all the companies that do business with them.

The price of treason must be too high even for the marginally unstable. This is not a time for appeasement in the name of national unity. It is a time for justice and reckoning.

Happy New Year Cyber Peeps

Writing a blog is the pre-internet equivalent of the blowhard standing on a soapbox in a park shouting thoughts into the ether for the consternation and/or entertainment of friends, neighbours, family or any strangers who might happen past.

When conceived in 2015 as the Meandering Maloneys, this blog seemed an easy way to keep in touch while we (Dame, Dude and Dog) travelled North America for a year. A digital postcard without the hassle of stamps and mailboxes.

Those familiar with the participants have no doubt deduced that the Dame handled all technical aspects of the online setup. She also took pictures and did much of the writing, especially early on.

Having experienced the anxiety and angst of a weekly column early in my newspaper career the idea of committing to a deadline, even a geographic one, was as attractive to me as directing the video of my last colonoscopy. Which is to say, having seen it in real time I had no desire to relive the experience solely for the enjoyment of others.

The Dame’s facility with words (journalism was her first career choice) and gift for humour superseded her spotty punctuation and with help from… ahem… a skilled editor, this blog was born. As the weeks turned into months, and the pressure for evermore witty observations ramped up, the Dame’s enthusiasm waned, and like the father who ends up cleaning the cage of the family’s pet rabbit, I was left to carry on.

The narrative concluding our journey and the need for writing digital postcards, entitled Meandering Home, noted that our travels in the U.S. had reinforced our Canadian vision of it as the best and worst of countries.

And that’s where things stood until Donald J. Trump emerged as the Republican candidate for president.

My first commentary on American politics, headlined Donald Trump, Tit or Twat?, was a homage to the Scottish knack for insult. The Mango Megalomaniac had inflamed Celtic passion by sticking his orange-tinted beak into the Brexit debate. The Scots flipped their kilts and let loose with imaginative invective ranging from ‘mangled apricot hellbeast’ to ‘witless fucking cocksplat’ to the aptly descriptive ‘tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’.

I ended that narrative with my own carefully crafted contribution: ‘bimbo-marrying, tit-kid-conceiving, morally and financially bankrupt, bronze-tinted, orange-aircraft-carrier-headed, pussy-lipped twat.

Though perhaps falling short of the evocative Scottish scorn, it received sufficient appreciation from a smattering of readers to inspire further commentary on Trump’s trashing of the Oval Office.

Over time the small core of family and friends who clicked onto the site was augmented by the occasional like-minded visitor from cyberspace who presumably stumbled upon the rantings by Googling key words like ‘Trump is a twat’.

In keeping with my horror of writing to a deadline, subsequent offerings came out sporadically, in indignant spurts, often with long pauses in between. The online host site, called Word Press, provides a facility for more ambitious bloggers to track their hits by country. It lists the number of likes and comments but provides no insight into exactly who reads or how regularly.

From time to time I vary the blog content from political to personal as life takes its toll. The Last Great Generation, My Brother Ron and Dexter A.K.A. The Dood were cathartic after personal loss. Thanks for the comforting comments. They were and are always appreciated.

The one reader I could always count on was my now departed brother Ron, who would inevitably call a day or two after publication to offer encouragement and engage in a half hour or so of Trump-bashing, giving both our wives respite. He was a gentleman, and a gentle man, and I remain convinced that his uncharacteristic apoplectic hatred of the Orange Idiot contributed in some part to his untimely demise last year from a brain bleed. RIP my brother, Trump, the one-term loser, is now feeling your mental pain.

In the month of December, the site has had a modest 326 views from 12 countries. Canada tops the list with 236, followed by the United States at 54, China at 20 and Mexico, India and France at 4,3, and 2 respectively. The rest are single hits or perhaps mis-hits. A social influencer I am not.

Have Yourself a Grateful Little Christmas,  about the empty chairs we all have in life, connected with people in the Time of the Pandemic, garnering 75 views.

The book-length entertainment I published this spring for a quarantined captive audience, Confessions of a Canadian Serial Killer, was modestly successful in that several readers made it all the way to the end. To those who didn’t make it through I take no offense and offer the same insight I once imparted to reporters in my charge. The responsibility of an unfinished story, once in the readers’ hands, always lies with the writer.

I have no idea who reads this blog, except for the occasional encouraging comment or thumbs up from people in my circle. To date I have not heard from readers in other countries other than the odd notification that I have a new follower. The consistency and frequency of visitors from the U.S. and China especially, suggest that a small group in those two countries regularly find it a worthwhile digital distraction.

To all who tune in from time to time, thanks for rewarding a writer with your attention. The human connection feels especially good in this time of isolation.

Happy New Year to Canadian readers and to those in the United States, China, Mexico, India and France. Best wishes to the one-time accidentals visitors from Nepal, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, American Samoa and other far-off places if you happened again on this site.

May your 2021 be bountiful, healthy and happy. May your vaccination be timely and your social distancing end with the warming embrace of family and friends.

A shout out to… everyone

Every Saturday night in the winters of my formative years I listened sympathetically as Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt gave a shout-out to hospital patients and shut-ins who couldn’t make it to games.

Images formed in my impressionable young mind of the infirm sitting in the pale light of their black and white televisions taking small comfort from Foster’s recognition.

I was well into my thirties when I watched my first hockey game from a hospital bed. I had toiled at numerous manual labour jobs and travelled five continents without so much as a broken bone or a stitch, oblivious with the arrogance of youth that the health gods would eventually get their due.

One stay at St. Paul’s in Vancouver had me yearning for words of comfort and normality from someone like Foster. Vancouverites will be familiar with St. Paul’s as the hospital that services the Downtown Eastside, often referred to as Canada’s poorest postal code.

While there are plenty of good people and do-gooders in the Downtown Eastside, and many unfortunates with mental health issues, the postal code reference reflects the sundry derelicts, drunks and drug addicts whose dangerous habits often cause them to need medical attention. I once glanced up an alley while driving on East Hastings on a sunny afternoon and saw a naked man casually strolling along as if he were walking the sands of Wreck Beach.  Nobody took notice.

The first day at St. Paul’s, I was woken from a groggy afternoon nap by a doctor with a hostile bedside manner. He was remonstrating against an unseen patient on the other side of my curtain who had injected himself with drugs not prescribed by the hospital. A search was undertaken for the illicit substance and the disruption and subsequent ravings emanating from behind the curtain unnerved me enough to ask for a room change.

After multiple moist pleadings to hospital staff, I was shifted to a room with three female patients, one of whom talked endlessly on a phone at her bedside table, loudly lamenting the shortcomings of a boyfriend who had not yet found time to visit. The stillness of the elderly woman directly across felt ominous. She showed no signs of life and received no visitors. Late in the night I heard the patient behind the curtain next to me direct the nurse in whispers to a spot between her toes to insert a needle for a blood test, the veins in her arms and legs having long since collapsed from overuse.

I discovered during that visit and on subsequent stays in medical establishments that an institutional green bathroom, while providing momentary refuge from hospital roommates, is the world’s loneliest place at three in the morning and was always much relieved to return to my pre-hospital life.

I relate this not as a ploy for sympathy, as some who know me will undoubtedly suspect, but instead to illustrate my creds when wishing those in hospital encouragement as they lay in bed eating mass-cooked meals of bland mush, their only distraction the various pokings and proddings administered by hospital staff.

Even in private rooms, with the green bathroom all to yourself, the hospital experience is less than dignified and invariably involves the attachment of various bags and tubes transporting liquids in and out; the awkwardness of bathroom visits while attached to a pole; insertions and extractions of cold sterilized implements in nether regions; the barbering of dank private places.

Fortunately, all my hospital stays ended with positive outcomes and the professionalism and caring of the nurses and hospital staff, with very few exceptions, inspired everlasting respect.

But not even dedicated front-line workers want to be in the hospital during Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic, with virus droplets seeping through the air vents and patients stacking up in hallways.

So, in the spirit of Hockey Hall of Famer Foster Hewitt, I offer a shout-out to all the hospital patients and overworked staff tending them, from a shut-in watching CNN and Netflix on Saturday nights and pretty much every night. And some afternoons, too.

As a shut-in of Canadian privilege, I’m thinking of you as I keep my lonely vigil in the soft but colourful glow of a big screen TV, soaking up the visual warmth of the Christmas Fireplace Channel. Your struggles become mine as I mope about home in T-shirt and sweatpants, the stains upon which tell the tale of recent dinners, snacks, and drink choices. (Does red wine come out easier if you put soda water on it right away? So many important questions.)

Yes, you are in my thoughts and prayers as I swig alcohol and carbonated juice injected with gas from a personal countertop machine. I feel your pain as I pig out on pizza and wolf down butter tarts and shortbread. Staying home is a great hardship for those among us who have never experienced the privations of war, a Great Depression or famine.

Needless to say, the Last Great Generation we are not when it comes to sacrifice and pulling together for the common good at personal cost. Still, I feel confident readers will support me in this shout-out to fellow shut-ins in the Time of the Pandemic, which is to say everybody, this holiday season: “Stop whining and be happy you are above ground and living in Canada.”

Have yourself a Grateful little Christmas

Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic will be remembered as the holiday season of empty chairs.

Empty chairs at dinners, with tabletop Zoom images sitting in for family and friends. Empty chairs with pictures instead of place settings, reminders of loved ones lost. Empty chairs at the tables of front-line workers too busy with the business of death to make it home to eat. Empty chairs in banquet halls and restaurants, silent witnesses to the absence of holiday laughter. Empty chairs in churches, theaters, concert halls and stadiums, waiting for traditional holiday crowds that will not come.

Too many empty chairs to count.

My brother Ron passed a year ago, with the holiday decorations already up. His chair sat painfully empty for all who knew and loved him, a reminder of his absence during the celebration he so enjoyed. The hurt is only slightly less a year on.

There will be an empty chair at Tracy’s mom’s house this year, a recliner perfectly positioned for watching sports. Her stepdad and my friend Bob died of natural causes. The virus didn’t get him but he lay isolated in hospital until the final hours when visitors were allowed only in pairs. There was no service at which to mourn.

Hang around long enough and you will have enough empty chairs to fill several large dinner parties. Family, friends, lovers; gone but for wisps of memory carried on the joy or melancholy of a holiday song, their presence perhaps infused in a favourite Christmas scent.

Living means empty chairs at Christmas. Survivors do not get a choice. Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and grandparents. Nobody is exempt with the pandemic’s global death toll surging towards two million.

It’s hard to grasp the profound sorrow of the human community as the viral plague rages. Enough empty chairs to fill all the world’s great stadiums tens times over. Each one emanating its own sorrowful ache.

Some readers may recall my Christmas Epiphany narrative, a remembrance of my unanticipated 11-day stay in hospital after which I morphed from grumpy newspaper editor into the redeemed George Bailey character from A Wonderful Life, Tracy’s favourite Christmas movie.

The gratitude I felt at having been released from hospital, thinner but well enough for a Christmas fattening, lifted me a foot off the ground for the entire holiday season.

I didn’t have as many empty chairs then.

Not many of us will be walking a foot above ground during Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic. The collective sadness of isolation permeates everything.  Anxiety and fear of an uncertain future in divisive Trumpian times pollute the mind, if not the spirit.

In the Year of our Lord, 2020, let’s celebrate the ‘wonderful lives’ of the departed, a Christmas Epiphany with a gratitude once again at its heart. Every empty chair in my world represents life’s joy and sorrow, intertwined, inseparable, an emotional tapestry woven of the best and worst of times.

I’m appreciative of the lives that have intersected with mine, for all the human kindness shared and the good memories left behind. I regret not expressing gratitude to those who have passed, so, I will thank all you survivors now, and wish everyone with empty chairs a Grateful Christmas.

Pardon Palooza

Pardon?

Pardon me!

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

Growing up Catholic, I know a thing or three about pardons.

The nuns laid it out for us early with chalk diagrams of the soul, kind of oval-shaped and ghostly, which they would fill-in with small round circles while reciting a litany of age-appropriate venial sins like stealing, pinching a classmate or telling a white lie. Each sin was a small chalk circle and when your soul filled up with sin you were destined to sizzle for eternity in the bonfires of hell.

Harsh stuff for young minds.

You didn’t need a talent for math to realize that one mortal sin added up to a whole lot of venial sinning, all you had to see was Sister Ernestine chalking the entire soul, followed by a proclamation of eternal damnation for those who died with even a single mortal sin on their soul.

I remember this as being nerve-wracking times. While I hadn’t yet coveted my neighbour’s wife or thought about killing someone, I had taken the ‘Lord’s Name In Vain’ in anger and missed Sunday mass a couple of times feigning sickness. All mortal sins of equal weight. Even as a child I questioned the equivalency of murder and missing mass. But not for long. It was… ahem… above my pray grade.

Walking the mean streets of 1950s Edmonton with a mortal sin blackening the soul induced childhood anxiety in a sensitive believer. A misstep at the curb of a busy street, faulty bicycle brakes, falling off a garage roof, encountering a Protestant gang, the possibility of sudden death and the long sizzle loomed large.

Memories of my Catholic childhood are steeped in the power of the Papal pardon, dispensed by the priest I served mass with after sharing my most intimate guilty secrets in the Confessional Box. (Is faking your voice during confession a venial sin that could be compounded to a mortal sin because it goes against the spirit of confessing? Who could I ask? Sister Ernestine?)

Visits to the Confessional Box, which wasn’t a box so much as a closet with screened compartments, one for the priest one for the sinner, (I can hear you anti-clerics sniggering) were preceded by the nagging build up of venial sins, overlapping each other over a period of days or weeks until only isolated pockets of the soul remained clear. One or two more small sins might put you over the top, or rather send you to the scorching bottom.

The all-encompassing stain of mortal sin sped things up considerably, especially if an important Church service was on the horizon and you would be expected by your parents to take communion. Eating the wafer with a mortal sin on your soul was itself a mortal sin and a sure path to the hot spot. Not going to communion was like confessing to your parents. A spiritual dilemma.

My confessions always followed alternating bouts of rationalization, verbal preparation to minimize the offenses, shame and dread. And, of course, the intense fear of fire.

Hang in there, atheist-breath, I’m working up to the concept of political pardons.

Walking from the confessional with a pillow-light, white-as-white, soul is as close to mental heaven as it gets for a 10-year-old altar boy. In those first moments after saying a penance of 10 Hail Marys, before an unkind or impure thought could weasel back into the brain, I was as pure as Michael the Guardian Angel, my namesake, who kicked old Beelzebub off his cloud to tend the conflagration down under.

That’s the way I thought of it, anyway, which brings me around to another Michael who recently received a presidential pardon. Multiple venial sinner Michael Flynn, admitted liar and felon, is walking on air (can Dancing With The Stars be far behind) after fealty to his Lord and Master, Donald J. Trump, also known as Individual One, whose name he never took in vain, earned him earthly absolution.

I don’t know the former General’s religious affiliation, but he is clearly feeling free and clear enough to suggest his Saviour bring in the military to seal the election theft and ensure his place on the Oval Office throne of pardons.

As you may have guessed, I’m no fan of General Flynn, the military man who disgraced his uniform the moment he shouted “Lock her up” at a Trump clan rally. His post military life has been about making money and he has used his rank to lend credibility to dangerous misinformation floating on the fringe of the conspiracy theory universe.

Flynn wanted to hang with the big money boys after Obama correctly sussed his character flaws and gave him the toe as head of DNI, but his lifetime of public service left him short. The unsettling firing sent him scuttling after redemption in deep state conspiracy theories, which he found in Q-Anon, and then in Trump. He was taking money from Turkey while working in the transition and his name came up in a murky 15 million dollar plot to kidnap a Turkish cleric considered a rival of his foreign boss Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Are those enough venial sins to blacken the soul? Who Knows? Sister Ernestine, perhaps, from her airy perch far from the heat. Trump let him off, but Flynn paid with his reputation and honor, a stiff price after a lifetime in the military. Only Flynn and his confessor know if his soul remains pillow-light and white-as-white.

My gripe is with the concept of the presidential pardon itself. How is this okay in a republic that lauds its ‘exceptionalism’ ad nauseum, proclaims itself a country of laws, the world’s oldest, and by implication, best democracy, a nation in which no man is above the law, to grant this feudal power to a position that will be occupied with the inevitability of time by a person of low character? Make no mistake, it is the power of medieval kings, emperors, despots and tyrants, past and future.

The power to overrule every court, learned judge and jury of peers in the land with a few digital touches of a fat finger.

After four years of Individual One, the revered U.S. constitution is showing the tatters of its age in its proclamation that the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment.”

Unequivocal. Unfettered. Unbridled.

The founding fathers had mercy in mind. Righting a wrong. Tempering an injustice. Could they have envisioned placing such supremacy into the pudgy fingertips of a corrupt, flesh-bag filled with orange jello, skin oozing over the toilet seat on all sides, malevolent bloodshot eyes staring from puffy mounds into a personal device, gleaming with the ability to exculpate criminals of all stripes throughout the land with a single inane tweet.

Not unless they got heavy into the laudanum or overnighted at the opium den.

Yet, U.S. voters, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, presumably sober and with the full knowledge of man and history available at the click of a button, put the awesome power of the pardon into the small but grasping hands of a lifelong grifter who, in real time, is bilking supporters with bogus legal defense claims out of hundreds of millions before he heads out the door. Americans have handed Caesar-like power to a career criminal who can sell to the highest bidder and/or use it to purchase the silence of co-conspirators before heading off to his Palm Beach lair to plot the overthrow of their cherished democracy.

Outstanding extemporaneous orator, shameless liar and pussy hound Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother, who served a year for a drug conviction. He also snuck in a white-collar criminal in his final hours in the White House, pardoning fugitive billionaire Mark Rich, who fled to Switzerland rather than face tax evasion charges. If any money changed hands afterwards, neither Bill nor his spiritual confessor have made it public.

On the last day of his administration George Bush Sr., with a wink and nod to his political mentor Ronald Reagan, pardoned some of the Iran Contra conspirators that blackened Reagan’s presidency, at least one of whom went on in respectable life to sit on George Junior’s National Security Council.

Under the previous administration of Saint Ronald, former co-star of a monkey movie, wearer of the white hat in B Westerns, Oliver North was granted immunity for his crimes on a legal technicality. Readers of a certain age will remember North, the dirty tricks guy who looked like a choir boy. Ever the good soldier and Boy Scout, he took the fall for people in higher pay grades but served no prison time. He went on to a career on conservative talk radio and a brief stint as head of the NRA, which is dealing with its own scandals.

One of the most famous modern pardons was issued by Gerald Ford, who in the name of unifying the country gave Richard Nixon a pre-emptive pass on any crimes committed between his inauguration and resignation. Ford thought it would be best for the country. Ever the shady deal-maker, Tricky Dick walked to his helicopter, disgraced, but heading for his California estate instead of the crowbar hotel.

It is this pre-emptive strike against justice that is the most egregious in the hands of someone like Trump. He is said to be in discussions with advisers about pardoning his kids, son-in-law and his loony personal lawyer, Oozy Giuliani, who is handling the leaky ‘legal’ side of the defense fund grift.  

No reader who has persevered this far will doubt that Trump is scheming to pardon himself and take it all the way to the Supreme Court he has larded with good Catholic-raised judges like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Champions of life and earthly arbiters at the gates of that extremely warm forever place. (What would you give to be a fly on the confessional wall when their Honors close the door to the box and slide the screen in place? Oh, to watch them kneel at their pews doing penance until they alight the Church with souls pillow-light and white-as-white.)

Meanwhile, patriots like cybersecurity boss Chris Krebs, who left a comfortable private life to help the Trump administration ensure American elections remain safe and secure, a monumental task superbly done in the digital age amidst a global pandemic, something all Americans should be proud of, is vilified, threatened with torture and execution by a lawyer involved in Trump’s defense fund grift for the crime of telling the truth. A lot to swallow in a single sentence but worth another read.

Americans, this is what your country has become, and as sure as Individual One is orange, fat and greasy, there will be worse news in the next fifty days. Expect Trump’s pre-emptive self-pardon to include the current defense fund scam and four years of fleecing the MAGA yokels with the 2024 grift.

Not to go all religious on you, but before this is over, a lot more truth-tellers, patriots and their families will be threatened and disparaged in service of the mortal sinner you selected as your commander-in-chief. Do you feel the heat of the flames?

Trumpian times ripe for reflection

Regrets, I’ve had a few,

But then, again, too few to mention

–Frank Sinatra

When I am asked infrequently by someone younger for advice from the perspective of 70-plus years lived through decades of monumental change that have taken me from crayons and transistor radios to my iPad and Zoom (cue the theme from To Sir With Love), I have a standby answer.

Be careful of the life choices you make that reflect character, or lack thereof, because once made they are indelibly ingrained in the minds of all involved parties and they cannot be unremembered.

Like legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin’s decision to pull his pud during a televised conference call, they become part of your permanent record.

Subsequent personal epiphanies, moral upgrades, repentance, restitution, self-recrimination will not change the fact those decisions were made. Neither will regret.

As Frank so coolly crooned, to have regrets is to be human. The person who claims a life without regrets is either lying or a sociopath and/or self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. Remind you of anyone?

We are living in chaotic times, with death floating through the air in microscopic droplets and heightened potential for civil unrest and violence lurking just beneath the veneer of civilization.

Times ripe for regret.

Lazing on the couch under a light quilt, with the fireplace on glow and Molly the cat comfortably ensconced in the cloth canyon at my feet, my mind wanders into the miasma of regret, and after appropriate self examination and recrimination, drifts to the people supporting the Orange Megalomaniac’s attack on democracy’s most sacred institution.

Does Lindsay Graham regret the day he let go of mentor John McCain’s political coattails and coddled up to Trump’s low hanging red tie? Limp-wristed and soft-principled, Lindsay has established quite a permanent record of late.

The South Carolina Senator has lowered the political hypocrisy bar to limbo levels, recorded on tape and video for all the word to see. He embraced the man scorned by McCain’s widow and family for dishonoring his memory, then carried Trump’s stinky water pot as excrement splashed his politician’s suit. Putin could have no better servant, but it is Trump who will be in the first paragraph of Lindsay’s obit, haunting him into the grave.

I wonder if Rudy Giuliani former steely-eyed mafia prosecutor who dined out as America’s mayor for being in the right place at a terrible time, ever sets aside his glass of scotch, puffs obscenely on a fat cigar in a smoky New York private club, and thinks about his life, his three ex-wives, the children he continues to embarrass, the friends and former colleagues who try to fathom what happened. Does Rudy regret starting out as a Kennedy Democrat and ending up as Trump’s Chump, with black sweat running down his face as he debases himself? I picture his final moments, glass in hand, that crazed, bug-eyed, stained-lower-teeth-and-upper-gums-look on his face, shouting gibberish at his doctors and nurses. Another obit with Trump up top.

What about Kelly-Anne Conway. Does she sit alone in her den at night, the kids upstairs tucked into social media, husband George jealously tweeting insults at her Orange Man crush from the guest bedroom, and ponder the choices she made?

Does she look from the tasteful leather couch to the mahogany desk to the custom bookcases and think back to her family time before Trump? When her, George, and the kids could go out without people staring and wondering, hostility seething just below the surface. Forever fixed in the history of the Republic as the Trumpiest Trumpette, the squeaky-voice coiner of ‘alternative facts,’ the gangster’s granddaughter who made it all the way to the White House but at the cost of her teenage daughter publicly seeking emancipation from a dysfunctional family.

Does Mike Pompeo, once an obscure congressman turned under Trump into his world-class Secretary of Sycophancy, ever lean back into his first class seat while traveling the globe at taxpayer expense, close his eyes and let his mind wander back to his days at West Point, where he graduated at the top of his class? Does the Honor Code he swore to uphold in his youth—“A Cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”—reverberate in his thoughts? Does he ask himself how he got so far from that youthful ideal? How his un-Christ-like lust for power turned him into a puffy apologist for the biggest cheat and liar ever to dishonor the office of the Presidency. Trump will be in the first graph when the last words are written about Mike, the Evangelical Christian who sullied his faith and the Cadet Code.

With her first statement to the assembled reporters about never telling them a lie cemented in her permanent record, will White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany regret starting her job with a whopper? Will the Harvard Law School graduate and flaunter of a fine gold crucifix someday tell her grandchildren that the first decades of the new Millennium were a time of “alternative facts?” Will she misremember the criminal sexual deviant she revered above her Christian values as someone they should model themselves after? Will she regret the choices she made in the time of COVID?

What about Melania? Does she reflect on her life while perfecting her model’s pout in front of the mirror in her White House quarters, safely away from her husband’s toxic presence? Does she ask herself how someone with her cheekbones and legs that go all the way ended up with a fat old man who paints his face orange and swoops his lacquered dyed locks over a bald spot into a greasy orange ducktail?

Was Barron and getting her parents green cards worth a gilt-accessorized life with a repulsive narcissist whose touch makes her skin crawl? Does she have regrets about their meeting, when he showed his character by ignoring his date to get her phone number? Does she think back to the last time she saw him naked, flabby hairless chest as big as her own, belly hanging obscenely above a mushroom dick, hair hanging to his shoulder on one side revealing the shameful baldness? Does she think, “My God, what have I done”? Or does she set her jaw and stare into the mirror, and say to nobody in particular, “I really don’t care, do you?”

Anyone who has even casually followed these disgraceful times of Trump in a pandemic will no doubt have their own list of characters with room for regret. There’s Pious Mike Pence, Moscow Mitch McConnell, Sean Big Crowd Spicer, Sarah The Huckster Sanders, Evil Elf Jeff Sessions, Rick The Good Catholic Santorum, Loudmouths For Hire Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and all the braying Fox friends, Ben Trump Gave Me COVID Carson, Steve The Mint Man Mnuchin, Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt, Dr. Demented David Atlas, senators, governors, diplomats and orange ass kissers of every sordid ilk.

The list is way too long for a lazy afternoon of reflection on the couch.

I invite your comments.

Naked U.S. an ugly place

Put on your MAGA hats, Ed and Martha, grab a beer and some chicken wings and settle into the couch to watch your cities burn on Fox News. Finally some live entertainment on a Sunday afternoon. Aren’t you feeling great again? Put on some popcorn, Uncle Leroy.

As the U.S. implodes amid a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed, the President has a conspiracy theory to sell about a TV host who got away with murder.

Not relevant?

How about:

‘The pinko ‘lamestream media’ is spurring rioters on to help the Dems.’

‘Obama, a criminal mastermind, is behind the whole thing.’

‘Anarchists and atheists want to bring the country down.’

‘The dark state did it.’

‘A diabolical Chinese plot.’

Switch over to MSNBC and you’ll hear talk of white supremacists, right wing militias and racist Republicans acting in consort with Russian social media bots.

With the President preening for the cameras at a ground-breaking rocket launch heralded as the new era of space travel, images of arson and looting beam from circling satellites into the living rooms of the world.

America, land of opportunity and riots.

The right blames the left and the left blames the right but from the perspective of an outsider all Americans are responsible for what the great experiment in democracy has become in The Year of Our Lord 2020.

Donald J. Trump is a symptom of the rot, not the cause. That 40-plus percent of Americans support a pathological liar, an ignorant, venal, charity-cheating bully that no caring parent wants their child to grow up to be, says everything an outsider needs to know about the state of the country.

But even the most fervent Trump critics share responsibility. He got elected on the watch of all Americans because you have allowed your precious democratic system to devolve into a partisan pit of celebrity worship, money-grubbers and power-grabbers.

You accept the fiction that your judicial system is blind as each political party that comes to power rushes to fill court vacancies with judges who peek under the blindfold with a partisan view of the world.

You embrace dog-eat-dog capitalism that leaves millions of your children reliant on school lunches for nutrition and tens of millions without adequate health coverage.

Socialism, the system in which society takes care of the most vulnerable, is a dirty word in American politics.

You imprison more of your own people, a disproportionate number of them non-white, than any country in the world. It’s not even close.

You condone men armed with assault rifles defiling your democratic institutions and threatening your elected representatives.

You revere a constitution written hundreds of years ago by slave-owners, who did not consider red, black, yellow or brown people to be their equals.

You cling to the belief that no man is above the law but allow a President to pardon co-conspirators in his crimes. You remain passive as lawyers argue in earnest that the President cannot be investigated even if he shoots someone in broad daylight on Fifth Ave.

In the end, the finger-pointing of the left and right has little merit in face of the facts. America is leading the world in Covid-19 deaths and in the early stages of an economic earthquake that’s ramifications could make the Great Depression seem like a minor tremor.

The downtrodden and disaffected will not go gently into the good night of economic despair as they did in the 1930s, riding the rails in desperate searches for work to feed their families.

The world is watching a prelude of what is to come in November if the man Americans have entrusted with their liberty loses and refuses to accept the results of what he is already touting as a rigged election.

Americans have been careless with their precious democracy for quite some time, watching as majority rule gave way to corporate elites who control the money.

The empire has no clothes and it’s not a pretty sight. The self-proclaimed ‘greatest country in the world’ is being exposed in real time as a divided, diseased, feckless, flabby, degenerate country rife with grievance and inequality, seething with violence.

The Birdman of Okanagan

In these low times of Donald Trump and the global pandemic I have taken to spending part of each day watching birds from my dining room window. As far as I can make out, the pandemic is doing them no harm.

I’ve always had a thing for birds. We had several budgies growing up and a pair of canaries, named Fred and Wilma after the Flintstones, who were big at the time. The ringing phone would set old Fred off and he would trill at maximum volume for the first few minutes of a call. Exhilarating but irritating if you had important matters to discuss, as a kid does.

As a youngster, I made several attempts at rescuing baby birds that had fallen from their nests, mostly sparrows and robins, nursing them with milk from eyedroppers with mixed results. When I was old enough to get out and about on my own, I took up the curious hobby of egg hunting.

Looking back, I suppose it had the same pull for a young Alberta boy as hunting did for some friends. I stalked birds armed with my Red Ryder BB gun a couple of times but didn’t have the heart for it once I saw my quarry fall bleeding to the ground. It felt like murder.

Egg collecting was a thing back in the day when kids were allowed to roam free. My buddies and I would go on expeditions into the woods, fields and sloughs on the outskirts of Edmonton in search of bird nests. The idea was to take a single egg from the nest, bring it home, delicately prick it with a pin at both ends and gently blow the yolk through the bottom hole leaving only the shell, which would be carefully placed in a jigsaw puzzle box filled with sawdust in order of large to small. I think I got somewhere around the 50-mark, the largest being a goose and the smallest a chickadee.

In my early teens I had visions of raising and training falcons. I got books on falconry at the library and eventually settled on Kestrels, small falcons common to the prairies also known as Sparrow Hawks. A friend and I rode our bikes to St. Albert, about 10 kilometers, where I had discovered a nest in a hole in a tree in the bush across from my uncle’s farm. I took the fluffy grey gaffer home but made little progress with the complicated business of training, which required leather hoods and an assortment of paraphernalia, as well as patience and discipline which I did not possess.

Sparrow Hawks, though mercifully not as long-lived as parrots, are cantankerous and noisy. They do not sing but instead emit ear damaging screeches when hungry and can shoot a stream of liquid shit six feet. They require dead animals with fur for digestion and I had to overcome my earlier squeamishness and shoot sparrows baited with bread crumbs on the back lawn (murder with a purpose, like the hunters say), then throw their quivering still warm little bodies into the cage. My mom let me keep dead gophers in the freezer.

One morning I found my poor falcon dead, with its feet sticking straight up. I have not kept a caged bird since. Of all God’s creatures, they are meant to be free. Which brings me back to my dining room window.

I have recorded 30-odd species at the bird feeders, which located only a foot or so from the glass afford a great opportunity for up-close watching. There is much to observe once you discern the various idiosyncrasies of the bird world.

I would have traded two glossy white Red-Shafted Flicker eggs for a California Quail egg in my youth. The bird that is ubiquitous here in the desert was a no-show in the colder climate of Edmonton.

California Quail are comical in that they sport head feathers reminiscent of the helmet adornments of Roman soldiers in old Hollywood epics. Like most birds, the male’s head feather is more resplendent, as is his coloring. They tend to travel in bunches divided into pairs and are prodigious breeders. The female lays up to 18 eggs in a ground nest often located under a clump of overgrown grass. I once found one in the side yard while mowing the lawn.

What sets them apart in the bird world is they prefer walking to flight, although they have no trouble assuming high perches when on lookout duty. It is always a delight to watch the clan walking up the paths on their daily visits to the feeder, especially when the tiny yellow chicks are scuttling between mom and dad.

Life is dangerous in the desert for a scuttling baby bird without its flying feathers and there is no doubt a high mortality rate. Even so, they are multiplying in numbers that are severely cutting into my bird food allowance. California Quail are voracious eaters and a decade into being their main provider I have the distinct feeling I am feeding not only parents and their offspring but also grandkids and assorted cousins.

When the feeder is empty, a lookout is posted in a tree overlooking the yard. As soon as I open the storage box where the seed is kept, the familiar call rings out through the neighbourhood, a kind of high-pitched ka-ka-kii-ii sound that alerts their fellow freeloaders. Within minutes of the full feeder being placed on the stand, the flock descends on the yard to peck and scratch the grass and the rocky ground beneath the feeder, which is what California Quail are supposed to do. But somewhere along the way an enterprising Quail discovered the eating was easier if he flapped his wings a couple of times and perched on the feeder.

The problem being, from a birdwatchers’ perspective, is that two or three fat Quail perched on the feeder leave little room for the small songbirds trying to get a meal in. I rectified this problem somewhat by placing a second feeder filled with Nyjer, a pricier confection preferred by finches. These melodic members of the bird community come in a variety of colours from the Purple House Finch to the bright yellow canary-like American Gold Finch.

I have counted upwards of 35 California Quail in the side yard and the same number of White-crowned Sparrows, who forage the grass in lightning quick two-footed hops if there is no room at the feeder.

Perhaps the most serene visitors are a pair of Mourning Doves that alight on the stand’s metal perches and politely wait their turn. Mourning Doves, a variety of pigeon, come in creamy grey with delicate black necklaces. Their soft coo is soothing.

Chickadees, though the smallest of the side yard’s feathered habitués, are perhaps the torquiest, ounce for ounce. They are usually in and out in a matter of seconds but will boldly descend with an unmoving human only a foot or so away. One once stopped on my shoulder for a moment before flitting off on more important business. Their distinctive chickadee-dee-dee call, rising in octaves on the latter two syllables, is always a delight.

We feed tiny Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest breeding bird in North America, at the front feeder, away from the backyard hubbub. The males are extremely aggressive; they dive bomb and buzz each other in dazzling aerial displays.

For an old egg hunter, no bird call heralds the arrival of spring like the trill of a Redwing Blackbird. They nest in the wetlands adjacent to the lakes and sloughs, weaving their nests in the reeds above the water. They must be well-connected on the bird telegraph because in early spring, with eggs in the nest, they frequently make the short flight from the water’s edge to the Maloney’s smorgasbord. 

Like all communities the bird world has its villains. I know they’re coming before they touch down by the immediate and instinctive vacating of the feeder by all other birds. The most frequent visiting villain is the Stellar’s Jay. Beautifully blue, with large black beaks and impressive feathered cowlicks, they brook no interference when it comes to a free meal. A pair has been nesting in the Ponderosa Pine on the other side of the house for several years, but they are only occasional visitors to the feeder, preferring other birds’ eggs and their young to seeds and kernels of corn. They screech unharmoniously and are aggressive in manner.

Top dog at the bird feeder, if that is an apt way to describe a flying work of art, is the much maligned Magpie. Although not gifted with a melodic call, these ubiquitous birds observed up close are stunning in their iridescent beauty. Black and white, with sheens of deep blue that literally shine in the right angle of the sun, Magpies are also eaters of other birds’ eggs and babies and as such are unwelcome the Darth Vaders of the song bird community. Last year a pair nested in the rose bush at the foot of the driveway. When they vacated the premises, a California Quail couple moved right in, as I discovered while pruning the bush. The Quail sometimes produce two broods a year.

The world of birds is fraught with danger. To watch them at length is to know they are aware of their precarious perch on the planet, constantly on the lookout, swiveling heads monitoring their environment, flight reflexes on high alert for instant takeoff. Pandemic-like precautions are an everyday thing for our feathered friends.

Chapter 11: Last Howl on the Hill

Go to previous chapter – Chapter 10: For Sale Death House

As we all now know, Thorsby was wrong about doing the woman. The press put Ralston’s shady dealings under a spotlight and his wife was deemed guilty by association. Lay preacher or not. I overheard a couple in a coffee shop joking that she should have ‘kept better company.’ Osterwich reported that a Wolf letter had been found but for reasons known only to them, police continued to withhold its contents. The brass and politicians probably wanted to discourage Wolf wannabes. It didn’t work.

The third copycat Wolf shooting happened in San Francisco about a week after Ralston and Amy hit the news. A banker got taken out leaving his golf club. A note was left behind citing the Wolf. Then there were two in one day. A city council member shot to death in his Chicago office and the mayor of a small California town assassinated as she sat in her car at a stop light. The killer threw a note tied around a rock through the broken driver’s side window.

An oilman was gunned down in Calgary and a Conservative Senator, whose recent patronage appointment had garnered a lot of negative press, was blasted with a shotgun outside his Ottawa apartment. None of the notes were released to the public but authorities confirmed all the killings had been done in the Wolf’s name.

Things were quiet for a week, then another round of shootings started. Two in Dallas a couple days apart, one in Los Angeles, another in Minneapolis, and two in Miami on the same day. A Regina lawyer was killed by a sniper who mailed his note to the man’s office. A Kamloops businessman lost his head to a shotgun blast. It heartened me that, though clearly outgunned, Canadians were doing their part.

Arrests had already been made in several cases. The bottom-liners were calling it insurrection. Asking for military intervention. Howling in the media like frightened wolves while the sheep went about their daily business, complacent.

Emily had been right, a movement caught hold. Honestly, it surprised me. I didn’t think enough little people had it in them. I knew that some of the killings attributed to the ‘Wolf Pack Murders,’ as the press labeled them, were personal or done out of greed. Taking advantage of the chaos, one bottom-liner onto another. It didn’t matter. The sheep were waking up.

And so was I.

“What do you have to say about Dr. Adams now dear?”

We were sitting in a Greek place on Commercial Drive after a splendid meal and a couple carafes of sangria. Things had been going well between us for months, even though I had exploded at her once or twice. She saw my anger as a good thing. She called it emotional release. Maybe it was. I felt restored after letting go but I don’t feel good about it looking back. Kate deserved better.

“I’m not sure Adams can take all the credit, but I’ll admit things are smoother.”

The truth is, I was feeling better than I’d ever felt. Not walking on the clouds. Just even. Without all the severe turbulence. What I imagined to be normal.

“All I care about is the real Roger is out. The kind, caring man I saw behind the gruff exterior when I accepted your proposal. The man I’ll love ‘til death do us part.”

I put my hands on top of the table and she placed hers over mine. The connection felt so good. Warm and tingly, like my last moments with the doomed.

As predicted, there was a fall election. Kate put in a lot of time working for that smarmy prick Goodwen. He won our riding in a landslide. Another four years of wallowing in the trough. Four years closer to his gold-plated pension. I’d met Goodwen several times, the last at his recent election night victory celebration. Kate introduced me again that night. The phony fuck pretended to remember who I was. He had the Bill Clinton handshake down pat. Firm, with a light touch on the elbow with his free hand.

“You’re a lucky guy Roger, having a wife like Kate. She practically ran the whole campaign herself. It’s people like your wife who make politics worthwhile.”

There it was again. The fiction that politicians are somehow doing a difficult job, sacrificing lucrative private opportunities for the greater good. Bunch of smooth-talking fucking grifters. If he hadn’t brown-nosed his way into a secure NDP riding the guy would be selling used cars at some corner lot.

“I think politics would be a lot more worthwhile if people like Kate actually ran for office. But selfless people rarely crave power. They’re too busy helping people and much too innocent to make it in the cutthroat world of party politics.”

I said it with a smile. Like a true politician, he ignored the insult and moved on to spread his bullshit around the room. Kate gave me a whispered dressing down as soon as he left.

“This is a happy night, Roger. There’s no need for unpleasantness.”

She was right, of course. I tamped down the bitterness and put on a good show for the rest of the evening. After all, the NDP was the party of the little people and I was their champion. But I wasn’t alone in my poor opinion of politics. Of the 70-odd people shot in the Wolf’s name to date, 31 were elected officials. Second to bankers and financial finaglers but ahead of lawyers. I kept track in those early days of the sheep insurrection.

Those readers with a tolerance for darkness who have persevered through this grim narrative will understand by now that this is an unvarnished account of the People’s Wolf killings. No heroes, only villains. Innocents like my dear wife Kate, who would not have read this far if she was around for its publication, may condemn the worldwide carnage. Law enforcement who worked the cases have no doubt been engrossed, knowing beyond doubt that I am the real deal. The various blowhards and pontificating know-everythings exposed by the real story will furiously rewrite the history of their prognostications as they wipe egg from their chins. I write only to keep the record straight.

What follows is an exact description of the bloodletting that spurred the Wolf Pack on international fronts and ended my enthusiasm for the job of the People’s Wolf. Forget all other bullshit you have heard. Although all writers, even confessing serial killers, hope readers remain rapt through the final sentence, the more sensitive among you could not be faulted for tuning out before this story’s murderous denouement.

Not long after that political celebration, the turbulence ramped up. I hadn’t seen Adams for months. The Wolf killings had tapered to a trickle, then stopped. The count got stuck at 79. Fifty-eight in the U.S., 20 in Canada and one in Germany.

The pride I felt at taking out Ralston and igniting a fire under the little people was tempered by the death of Amy Collier and the memory of that bloody death-smell room. Killing people wasn’t clean, like in the movies. It was dirty business and I’d had enough. The torch had been passed. I’d done my part. Risked enough. I had Kate to think about and a new appreciation for love.

In retrospect, part of why I’d been feeling so good was simple relief. I wouldn’t have to take that terrible risk again. No more spinning the chamber.  Life, though meaningless, seemed worth living. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t care. It just did. I didn’t get rid of the gun, though. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready.

Even with the minor turbulence, I got through the Christmas season on an even keel. Kate dragged me to the Downtown Eastside to help dole out a Christmas meal to the zombies and ghouls who inhabited Canada’s poorest postal code. I didn’t find it to be the uplifting experience she did. The volunteers were enough to sour me on the whole experience. A bunch of hypocrites who took a day off from their fancy bottom-line lives to feel superior. What had Adams said? “There wouldn’t be any do-gooders if it didn’t make them feel good.” Maxwell Smart’s stupid sayings were always intruding into my thoughts. ‘Turbulence.’ ‘Quiet time.’ The hokey little hairless one had gotten to me.

The volunteer next to me on the food line was a lawyer with Cunningham’s firm. Can you imagine? He’s serving food beside the guy who took out his esteemed colleague, his most feared late-night bogie man. By the beatific look on his face you’d think he was Mother Theresa instead of a sharpie who billed his time out at $500 an hour. Imagine this pretentious prick convincing anybody one hour of his time was worth more than a week’s wages for a guy with a shovel in his hand? I accidentally slopped gravy on his shirt and designer jeans.

“Sorry sir, the spoon slipped.”

It didn’t faze him. He grabbed a napkin and dabbed at the stain.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got a load at home to go to the dry cleaners next week.”

He probably spent enough on dry cleaning in a year to feed one of the zombies. How did the world get so fucked up? On the way home in the car, Kate was beaming.

“What a nice way to spend Christmas. The holidays should be all about helping the less fortunate. Did you see the looks on people’s faces? So grateful for so little. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have no home, no family, not even enough money for a meal. We’re so lucky dear.”

In my view, Kate had mistaken gratitude for resentment. Christmas hadn’t turned the zombies and ghouls into emotionally crippled Tiny Tims. Most of them had burned all the bridges in their lives. They’d fucked over everyone they knew so many times that their family and friends had given up. I had no doubt they’d fuck over the volunteers feeding them if given the chance. I felt no empathy for life’s losers. Didn’t see them as sheep. More like rodents. I didn’t say that though. Kate’s happiness had become important to me.

“We are lucky. Lucky to be born in a country with more than enough to go around. Lucky to have each other.”

I reached over and patted her hand.

“I love you Roger.”

“I love you too, Kate. Being with you is my Christmas present.”

By mid-January, life’s brightness faded to dull grey. Not total darkness but enough to warn of a coming storm. My mood matched the overcast Vancouver sky in winter. It was coming on to a year since the Donald Wayne ‘shootout’ and almost six months since Ralston and Amy went to their afterlives. The Wolf copycat killings had stopped, as if the little people were waiting for a signal from their leader.

I didn’t have another candidate in mind or enough anger left to undertake another mission. I hadn’t seen Adams since his skinhead conversion and wasn’t planning another visit. Kate was okay with it as long as I stayed out of the complete blackness.

Then it happened. The fucking camera thing.

Although Goodwen had won his seat, the Liberals had taken the election handily and were planning to implement one of their campaign promises—photo radar. The idea, championed by a car dealer who masqueraded as a cabinet minister, was abhorrent to me. Alarm bells should have been ringing in every dwelling in the province but instead the little people were going along, like the sheep they still were.

The plan was to put cameras at stoplights and along sections of road where speeding was endemic. At first glance it sounded reasonable. Catch the speeders and the drivers who ran orange lights and send them a notice in the mail with the accompanying fine. A steady source of government income paid for by miscreants who flouted traffic laws.

I knew better. Cameras were a powerful weapon for the bottom-liners. A way they could monitor the movements of the little people with minimal manpower. How could the People’s Wolf operate with cameras on every corner? I couldn’t let it go unchallenged.

The cabinet minister’s name was Ron Saltzman. He had a GM dealership on Marine Drive—Saltzman on Marine–that was supposedly placed in trust while he served the people. He had been promoting the idea of photo radar for years. A camera on every corner was a government cash cow, like casino gambling, which Saltzman also championed. Every time his name got in the news, business at his car dealership picked up. Promoting gambling and cameras kept him in the news.

He was the personification of a bottom-liner. A high-value predator. Being a shill for casinos was one thing but pushing for more cameras was taking it to a different and more dangerous level. Many of you will see my aversion to cameras as self-serving. After all, “Why worry if you’re not doing anything wrong? Right?”

Wrong.

Information is the bottom-liners’ most powerful weapon. Nothing else comes close. Forget about the gun nuts living in the last millennium howling for access to all manner of fire power, the Second Amendment idiots and their mouth-breathing Canadian counterparts. They are too stupid to understand what the bottom-liners long ago figured out. Monitoring the movements and goings on of the little people is key to staying in control.

All it takes to rid the bottom-liners of 100 little people armed to the teeth and baying for insurrection, is a precision drone strike on the garage where they meet. One fat flunky, maybe somebody like Thorsby, can track them all on central screens then press a button at the appropriate time. End of problem.

The little people who swallow Saltzman’s bullshit pre-suppose that in 50 years the world will remain as benign a place for their grandchildren as it was for them, and that the bottom-liners’ malfeasance as well-controlled. I take it as a given, with the weight of history to back me up, that the opposite is true.

As sure as there were dinosaurs, Darwin’s predators will keep on preying on the weak and, by evolutionary mandate, rising to the top. The gap will widen between the top predators and the prey. And with all other species subjugated, the only sport left will be keeping little people in their place. I envision cameras on every street corner, TVs with microphones in every living room, GPS standard in every phone and vehicle, smart meters monitoring all in-home activity and satellites tracking everything from above. The digital table will be set for the next Hitlerian psychopath who rises from the sludge to slaughter more sheep.

These are the kind of futuristic thoughts that bounced around before I made my decision to unretire. I couldn’t let Saltzman expand camera use in the Wolf’s home turf without a response. To do so would be to make all the other deaths the work of a madman. A coward who would live forever in darkness.

So I went back to the Roman Ruins, as the Vancouver library was euphemistically known. Inexplicably, the renowned library architect had emulated the Roman Coliseum, with a huge enclosed concourse running down one side. It had no connection to its surroundings. Nothing to do with the West Coast or the rain forest. No doubt the bottom-liners made out like bandits building it.

There was a lot of material to go through on Saltzman. He’d been a public figure since his mid-20s, when he played linebacker for the Lions. A bad knee injury cut his career short. He segued from football fame into car sales and eventually got his own dealership. He was one of those shameless self-promoters who do their own commercials. He had served two terms as president of the Vancouver Board of Trade and was a go-to guy for the media whenever they wanted bottom-liner comment.

The guy led a busy life. He was a long-time member of the Vancouver Tennis Club. The perfect place to schmooze with swells. He curled in winter in a senior men’s league with three other car dealers. He helped coach high school football at a Catholic school.

He was on his second marriage and had two kids by each wife. All girls. The youngest, at age 14, lived with him and his second wife in Southlands, a toney rural enclave on Vancouver’s West Side at the mouth of the Fraser River. A fantasy world of stables and fenced estates, where the predators wear jodhpurs and ride their horses down the streets. A community heavy with security.

I immediately dismissed Southlands because of the high-end security and the possibility of private patrols. Also, there were only a couple of exit routes onto Marine Drive. I didn’t want to do him at work. Government offices tend to be monitored and I doubted I’d catch him at his constituency office after dark toiling away for the little people. I’d have to get him when he was at play.

Good thing it was curling season.

“Hello, again, Mr. Technical Writer. You’re looking more upbeat today.”

I looked away from the screen to see a familiar VPL tag.

“Hello Holly. You’ve got a good memory.”

“It’s an occupational hazard. Librarians are trained to remember obscure facts and interesting things. I don’t often come across an attractive man contemplating the state of the world with his head in his hands. How is the translating business going?”

As you may recall, Holly had approached me while I was researching Ralston, another lifetime ago, and I’d impulsively suggested that we have coffee.

“Well none of the libraries I go to have such caring and attractive employees. Do librarians get coffee breaks?

I can’t tell you why I brought up the coffee thing or where it came from. I hadn’t thought of her since that time before Ralston.

“Yes, but not as many as writers. And not for as long.”

“Time enough to go to Starbucks in the concourse?”

“I’d like that. But you’ll have to introduce yourself first. I never go for coffee with a man until I know his name.”

“Paul Carter.”

Bad choice. Stupid. Saying it filled me with shame. The whole thing was ridiculous.

“I’ll come back in about 15 minutes. Would that be okay?”

Walking to Starbucks involved two minutes of nervous small talk. It had the feeling of a first date among Roman ruins. Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn or some such shit. Can you fucking believe it? I didn’t know what I was doing or why. I had no intention of becoming involved with this woman. Yet there we were, drinking chai latte, sharing intimacies. At least she was.

She seemed pleasant and easy to listen to, but I wasn’t used to personal conversation. The niceties involved. The only person I really communicated with besides Kate was Thorsby. My only friend.

Talking with Holly required little more than a nod or shake of the head at appropriate intervals, with a few hmms and the odd monosyllabic reply thrown in. It amazed me how much information she provided about herself. If only I could have coffee with Saltzman’s wife.

Things were going swimmingly until she mentioned being a widow with two teenagers. When she said it, negative energy enshrouded me. And, for a moment, wild paranoia. The same name as my mother? A widow with two teens–Amy Collier? She had approached me twice. Remembered what I did for a living six months later. A cop?

The thought of it sucked me into a jet stream of turbulence. For a few seconds, my thoughts were bouncing so hard I couldn’t form a cohesive sentence. I nodded a couple of times and took the first opening.

“You’re a delightful conversationalist, Holly, but I have a meeting in Burnaby in less than an hour.”

I lied smoothly, like a good bottom-liner.

“I’m sorry to have kept you so long,” she said with good humor, pushing her chair back. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from important work. The world needs good men doing important work.”

“No need to rush off this minute.” I couldn’t let it go. “Please, finish your thought, and your coffee. No meeting is too important that a writer can’t arrive a few minutes late. We have poetic licence.”

She settled back into her chair and fixed piercing eyes on me over her Starbucks cup.

“You know, it wasn’t long after I met you that the Wolf Pack killings started up again. First a double murder only a few miles from here then the copycat killings that followed in other places. A lot of people got scared. Things were coming apart. I hoped you’d come back to the library. Something about you made me feel safe.”

“Holly, I would hazard that your chances are much higher of being hit by a bus then being killed by the Wolf. From what I’ve read, you’re not his type.”

“I don’t disagree with everything he does you know. My father got taken in by that man Ralston. He lost all the money from his house and it ruined the last ten years of his life. That’s why I noticed you were reading about Ralston when you had your head down on the keyboard the last time. Did he take advantage of someone you loved.”

My spidey senses quivered. Warning signals or pure paranoia?

“That’s an extremely small circle of people, none of whom are given to dealing with flim flam artists. I think Ralston was financing a project for an architectural firm we do work for. I’d have to go back to my files.”

“Thanks so much for the coffee Paul. I feel better about the world knowing there are strong men doing important things.”

An odd choice of words. I stood at the railing and watched her walk away and disappear through the door. Her chances of getting done in by the Wolf as opposed to a bus were 50-50 by the end of our conversation.

I didn’t go to a meeting in Burnaby. I started for home but was too shaken up, so I went down to New Brighton Park to clear my head. I parked the car in the deserted parking lot and walked through the tunnel toward the grassy fields. The place was empty except for a few ducks paddling around the rainwater at the bottom of the outdoor pool.

I walked to the pier then out over the water. Nobody was out boating in the drizzle. Not even a dog walker in sight. The two grain elevators next door to the park stood idle, awaiting a ship to bring them to life. I sat on a bench and stared at the cloud-shrouded North Shore mountains across the inlet.

The encounter with Holly fucked me up. Badly. The reference to Ralston was what sent me over the top. She had to be a cop. If that was the case, they were on to me. But if they were on to me why didn’t they arrest me? They couldn’t just leave me out there to kill someone else. They must be following me 24/7. How could they be onto me? It didn’t seem possible when I thought about it rationally. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was having a panic attack.

It started with a quickening of my breath, sharp and shallow, and turned into full-on hyperventilating. Fear flowed over and through me. Became me, as I became it. I saw the police tearing apart my home, Kate standing off to the side, distraught. I pictured them seizing my work computer and confiscating Adams’ files. I thought of being in a cell, alone at last.

The fear followed me home from New Brighton. It stayed close, letting me know my hold on normality was tenuous. Too tenuous to contemplate at length without the fear taking over. Too tenuous to hold on for long.

Looking back, I can see the fear came from within. Born of weak character rather than being related to getting caught. It wasn’t rational fear, a natural human reaction to impending danger. It was all encompassing and ever-present. Swallowing me in its folds, poisoning my thoughts with its noxious stink. I feared I wasn’t strong enough to face the future, whatever that would be. To admit that was to invite death.

I finished my research on Saltzman at internet cafes, half expecting Holly to walk up with a coffee in her hand. I decided to do him at the curling rink, or at least in its parking lot. His team, The Happy Dealers, played Tuesday night at the municipal curling club near Queen Elizabeth Park. The old rink had been revamped for the Olympics and the parking lot had been pushed north, beneath a towering stand of trees that cast shadows in moonlight.

I went down to Q.E. Park Tuesday about 6 p.m. I parked on a side street about six blocks away and walked to the curling club. My hands buried in the hoodie’s pouch. One of them gripping the gun. I liked doing surveillance.

Carrying the gun was super dangerous but I wanted to be ready in case an opportunity came up, like the first time with Donald Wayne. I sat down at a bus stop across from the parking lot entrance and waited. A couple of buses stopped, and little people got out, silently going about their business in the dark. No one noticed the guy in the grey hoodie and ball cap. No one knew they were in special company.

When I saw Saltzman drive up about five to seven, I was rushing on adrenalin, a couple of heart beats short of vibrating. Everything was crystal clear. Sharp. I could see the lines on Saltzman’s face through the car window when he slowed to turn. He drove a Lincoln Navigator. Top of the line. Probably used the little people’s money to lease it to himself. I’m surprised the prick didn’t have a driver.

He did have passengers, though. Three of them. The Happy Dealers, I assumed. I watched him pull into a parking space on the far corner of the lot, under a massive weeping willow. I got up and crossed the street. I kept my pace slow. A curling enthusiast headed for the ice.

The Happy Dealers were in a jovial mood, bantering back and forth with the usual bullshit that passed for bottom-liner bonhomie. I cut between cars. They were about 15 feet from me, milling around the back of the Navigator getting their brooms. They hadn’t noticed me. The gun felt solid in my hand.

“Nice night for curling,” I said it cordially as I approached.

Only one of them took any notice. A little guy with glasses who looked familiar. Maybe I’d seen him in a car commercial.

“Yeah, great,” he boomed. His voice was bigger than he was. “Every night’s a great night for getting your rocks off.”

Something about the way he said it stopped me from shooting. An old curling joke. But it still got a laugh from the Happy Dealers. I could hear them bantering back and forth about Viagra as they walked to the club.

As soon as I reached the darkness of the park I circled back towards the car. I stopped under a huge cedar to regroup and have a piss. My whole body was shaking from the adrenalin rush. Or was it fear? I barely got my dick out in time or I would have pissed myself.

I walked back to the car berating myself for even contemplating taking them out on impulse. I thought I’d do them all right up until the last second. When the guy made the joke. Fear and good sense held me back. Too dangerous. Too much activity. Too many targets. Plus, the Happy Dealers were armed, if only with brooms, and one of them was a former linebacker. I only had six bullets. Five counting the one I might need for myself. Four kills with five shots would have cemented the Wolf’s legend. So would being taken down by men with brooms.

I couldn’t shake the fear. It stayed with me all the time now. From the moment my conscious mind switched on in the morning until it shut down from exhaustion in the early hours. I sat in the car for quite a while, the fear pecking away at my resolve. Preventing me even from putting the key in the ignition and driving away. I had no clue what was going on. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Can the predator that surrenders to fear survive. I didn’t think so.

I’m not sure how much time passed before I got it together enough to turn the car on. A half hour. Maybe more. It suddenly hit me that sitting in a parked car looked suspicious. I worried a neighbor might call the cops so I drove down to Broadway and had sushi.

I phoned the curling club from the pay phone in front of the Holiday Inn to find out when league play ended. A nice lady told me ‘9:30 or thereabouts.’

I parked on the street a little way past the bus stop, pointing in the direction Saltzman had arrived from. The nice lady knew her customers. The club parking lot started emptying about 9:35. The Dealers were among the last out, brooms on their shoulders like rifles. The men with brooms thing creeped me out. I kept picturing Paul Gross in his red Mountie suit. I knew I was close to the abyss.

Saltzman fucked me up by turning the other way when he came out of the parking lot. I swung a u-turn on the first side street and got behind him two cars back. The fear was gone now, forced out by adrenalin. Bringing the gun and my earlier impromptu walk in the parking lot aside, I hadn’t planned to do him on this night. The others weren’t part of the plan. This was simply reconnaissance.

He was heading east along the north edge of the park towards Main Street. It surprised me when he turned right into the park. I wasn’t going to follow at first. The cops could close the park off in seconds. But I turned anyway and that is how the Hilltop Massacre came about. I shit you not.

When he took the left fork to the top of the hill along the North Side of the park, time slowed. That’s the only way I can put it. I immediately realized he had to be going to the restaurant parking lot to drop the Dealers at their cars. There was nothing else to do at the top of the hill on a Tuesday night in February. Well, almost nothing. They must have gone for dinner first and gone to the rink in one car.

The risk was huge, but I knew I would not get another chance like this. I formed the plan as we drove, keeping just out of Saltzman’s rear view mirror as we negotiated the curves. I couldn’t get too far behind because I had to do them in the car, without their brooms. If things didn’t work out, I’d circle the parking lot and drive home.

As fate would have it, things fell perfectly into place on that cool and now famous night. The restaurant closed early in winter and everyone was gone. There were only two cars left in the lot. Saltzman was pulling the Navigator in beside one of them. I put on my four-way flashers as I entered the lot and honked the horn twice to distract them from leaving the car.

I took my hat off, put it in my lap and pulled alongside the Navigator on the driver’s side. Too close for Saltzman to get his door open. I rolled down the passenger window and smiled reassuringly while mouthing nonsense at him and pointing at the back end of his car. When he rolled down his window, I shot him in the face.

He gave me a quizzical look a second before I fired. Almost comical. Like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

I got out and moved quickly around the back of the two vehicles to come up on the Navigator’s passenger side. The little guy with the booming voice was halfway out of the back seat looking scared shitless. I aimed for his head but hit him just below the neck and he dropped to the pavement. The dumb fuck in the front seat decided to stay in the vehicle. He closed his door, locked it and turned away like a little kid. I stepped around the little guy and shot him in the back of the head.

The window shattered and glass flew. The Happy Dealer in the front passenger seat slumped against Saltzman with a big hole in his head and glass in his hair. They kind of leaned on each other. Saltzman still had the silly look on what was left of his face.

The other guy in the back seat put a dent in my rear door trying to get out the other side. He rolled down the window and tried to squeeze through it. I leaned in through the shattered window and put one in his mid-back, right between the shoulder blades. He stopped moving and slumped back. The Navigator smelled like gunpowder, and blood, piss, and shit.

I pulled my head out and took a deep breath. The guy in the back seat started moaning and moving again so I reached in and shot him in the head. When the little guy lying on the pavement grabbed my ankle from behind it startled me so much, I hit the side of my head on the window post as I was turning. I fired at the fucking little prick and missed. The bullet sparked off the pavement beside his head. Can you believe it? The Wolf missed from three feet.

The little guy let my ankle go. Blood oozed out of his mouth and ears. He looked at me calmly, as if to say, ‘Hey, do your worst. It’s no big deal.” I had to respect him for that, but I couldn’t put him out of his misery. I had no more bullets.

“You should have taken my advice and kept better company,” I said, not unkindly.

I felt for the guy. Empathy at last? I couldn’t beat him with the gun or stomp his head or choke him or do some other medieval shit, so I left him laying there. A live witness. Someone who had seen my face. Twice.

I got back in my car and drove off. I didn’t pass anybody going down the hill. Nobody saw me driving out of the park. I didn’t hear any sirens. I doubt the whole thing took five minutes. It didn’t seem right leaving the little guy in the dark to suffer. I knew leaving a witness was stupid and incredibly dangerous. But what could I do? Bash his head in with the car door?

I was home well before 11, when Kate got back from her night out with the girls. A bunch of them had formed a book club and they met once a week to talk about books they were reading. We chatted for a few minutes before bed. That week’s selection was Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. It’s funny the things you remember in life.

That’s the straight goods on the Hilltop Massacre from the only person who knows how it went down. I couldn’t believe all the bullshit flying around afterwards. The talk of mafia hit men, gangsters and terrorists. Every expert and so-called pundit weighed in with a theory. What a bunch of crap.

The bodies were found just after midnight after the wives got together and phoned the police. In an incredible stroke of luck, I had gotten two provincial cabinet ministers. It turned out that the little guy with the booming voice was the Attorney General of B.C., the province’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, who was filling in for a Happy Dealer who had the flu. He died at the hospital the same night. I wondered if he was able to talk before, he went to his maker. Could he ID the car?

The story went international, but I didn’t care about that anymore. The fear came back as soon as the adrenalin wore off. My constant companion. I couldn’t shake it off or even pinpoint what I was afraid of. It clung to me, like the smell of death.

Without a note, the killings were not immediately connected to the Wolf. That would take autopsies and ballistic tests on the bullets. Even then, the cops might not release the information. I would have to write to Osterwich. I hadn’t gotten around to dumping the electric typewriter yet. It had one more job to do then it had to go.

Dear Greg…

I hope this missive finds you well and that your career path continues its skyward trajectory.

The executions in Queen Elizabeth Park were carried out by the Wolf Pack in defense of democracy. The primary targets, politicians Ron Saltzman and Anthony Demarco, promoted a vision for the future that is contrary to the interests of the people. Namely, the expansion of electronic surveillance.

Placing cameras on every corner is abhorrent in a free society, where citizens must be able to move about without fear of government monitoring. Anybody promoting such a concept will put themselves squarely in our cross hairs.

The car dealers Paul Bremmer and Alex Sokorsky, who no doubt sympathized with the odious idea of camera surveillance, lost their lives for keeping bad company.

I urge all righteous citizens to choose their companions carefully. And to remain vigilant against the bottom-liners who will stop at nothing to retain their positions of power.

Not for everyone

For madmen only

The People’s Wolf

The bottom-liners bellowed long and loud when the Sun published the letter three days after I sent it. Petitions were started to expand the use of cameras beyond even what Saltzman wanted. But the sheep bleated back.

More internet sites sprung up in support of The Wolf and civil liberty types got off their asses to decry the use of cameras as an intrusion of personal privacy. One independent politician called for a commission to investigate the legal and moral ramifications of government surveiling its citizens.

I took pleasure in bringing the issue front and center, but it didn’t still the unknowable fear weighing me down. I felt heavy all over. Kate did not notice. Like everyone else she was caught in the media frenzy.

In the weeks that followed the Hilltop Massacre all hell broke out in the Wolf Pack world. There were copycat shootings in 35 states and six provinces. Five Mexico City politicians were shot in a single day. Two Saudi Princes and their bodyguards were killed in a commando style attack outside a London casino. A movie star and a Hollywood producer were shot at a sidewalk café by a man in a wolf mask who turned the gun on himself. Three high-ranking Swiss bankers were taken out when somebody dropped a grenade in their car window as they parked outside a Zurich patisserie.

Within a month the worldwide death toll had shot up to 1,472 people. Men and women. And those are just the ones whose killers associated themselves with Wolf Packs. CNN went all Wolf Pack all the time, with round-the-clock live coverage from kill sights around the world.

Commentators began separating the victims into categories. Throwing around words like revolution and insurrection. Most victims were members of the establishment. Legitimate people with means and power. Politicians led the way. Lawyers. Corporate CEOs. Bankers. Money people. Bottom-liners of every description. Adams matronly wife had been dead on. The Wolf was an idea whose time had come.

Months passed and the Wolf Pack killings continued, albeit at a slower pace. The death toll bogged down in the low 4,000s. Enough powerful people had been killed to get the establishment’s attention. People in power were admitting some change was due. They were short on specifics, though.

Strangely, I didn’t get caught up in the media coverage. The whole thing put me off. Despite my earlier bleating about rallying the sheep, I was not cut out to lead or inspire an international movement. I knew about killing now, up close, and personal. The ugliness of it. The banality of taking a life. I knew half the people in the Wolf Packs were nut cases and the other half were probably bottom-liners eliminating rivals in the chaos.

What stopped the fear from crushing me completely was the reaction of the little people, the ones who didn’t prey on other human beings. They did not take to the streets demanding the Wolf Packs be hunted down. They did not call for more surveillance or a crackdown on guns. They said what the bottom-liners wanted to hear in public but an unspoken energy circulated in the populace, a variation on the old “gangsters only kill each other” theme.

I was on the Skytrain platform waiting for a train when I overheard two guys in their 40s, working stiffs wearing bad-fitting matching blue pants and jackets.

“They say this Wolf guy is getting ready to take someone out in Vancouver. It’s been a good while now since the Hilltop Massacre.”

“Yeah, that was a real tragedy. He only got two Liberal cabinet ministers. Everybody knows Saltzman was a crook.”

“The other guys were probably into something. This Vancouver Wolf guy is selective with his targets.

“As far as I’m concerned there’s a few more he could knock off. I wouldn’t miss old man Wilson.”

They both laughed and the train pulled up.

But I didn’t laugh. There had been no copycat killings on the Wolf’s turf. The closest had been the lawyer in Kamloops, and that turned out to be a domestic triangle thing.

I took the Skytrain to Canada Place and walked along the sea wall towards Stanley Park. By the time I got there the constant fear I carried crystallized into something I could identify. Something sharp and painful. I couldn’t go into the office. I couldn’t deal with Thorsby. Or anybody for that matter.

It was a nice day and a lot of people were out enjoying Lotusland. And why not, they lived in a beautiful city in one of the most prosperous areas of the world. But I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was filled with fear. The risk I had taken on the hill had been monumental. Making a u-turn with the gun on me. Not checking the parking lot for cameras. Reckless. I kept a brisk pace to try and walk it off. A panic attack here, amidst the lovers and tourists and businessmen out on a morning run, wasn’t an option. I was practically jogging when I got to the edge of the park. The tinkling of masts did not provide solace as I passed. The fear tingled under my skin.

I cut up behind the Aquarium into Ceperly Meadow and sat down on the grass, far from the footpath. I gave the ocean a thousand-mile stare and concentrated on breathing. Quiet time. One breath at a time. It took a while to calm the turbulence but I didn’t care. I had nowhere to go in the shape I was in. I just sat there breathing until the turbulence formed a cohesive thought.

Nobody had taken up the torch. The Wolf Pack killings had peaked. CNN was back to politics and scandal. Nothing had changed and nothing ever would. I knew it in my heart from the moment I shot the pimp. I got an incredible rush from killing predators. Nothing else could ever match it. That is why I did it. Not to start a cause.

Killing Ralston and Amy Collier had changed things. Not just because she was an innocent. The squalidness and smell of death in that dimly lit room stuck to me. The Hilltop Massacre only reinforced what I already knew. I was finished. There would be no more. The gun had to go. The thought of it sent me reeling into the blackness.

I got to the office a couple of hours late and put on my happy face.

“Either you’re starting to believe those fancy jackets allow you to keep bankers’ hours or you’ve been sleeping in the park.”

Thorsby pointed to the grass sticking to the back of my jacket and pants.

“Or is that a new fashion statement. The urban squire jacket, it comes with its own grass stains. Bet you have to pay extra for that.”

I looked him up and down. Rumpled golf shirt and cheap suit pants. Black running shoes.

“You know you can’t make any bets. I should phone Molly right now and have her cut off your allowance.”

I wanted to shut him up but he didn’t take offense this time. Instead he dropped a bomb.

“My allowance will be going up substantially when I start my new job at McDougall & Riley in two weeks.”

Thorsby was moving on up. He’d finally got his job in advertising. The poor schlub was so happy I couldn’t rain on his parade. I rolled my chair across the aisle and shook his hand.

“Looks like Molly and I will be tying the knot next year. Don’t worry, you’ll get an invite.”

“You’ll have to get yourself a new white golf shirt and a nice jacket to go with it. Put a shine on those black running shoes.”

Believe it or not, I was happy for the guy, but the news furthered blackened my mood. My only friend was leaving. Molly came to get him for lunch and when they left I made the call.

“Hello, Ms. Gail, it’s Roger Delaney calling.”

“Yes, Roger, I recognize your voice.”

How long had it been since I’d hung up the phone on her in a rage after she called me by my first name? Why had I done it? It felt good to hear her say my name.

“I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Adams as soon as possible.”

“Is it urgent?”

I couldn’t admit to that.

“Well, it’s not an emergency but sooner would be better.”

“I’ll get you in tomorrow afternoon, Roger, at the end of the day. Four-thirty. It will be such a pleasure to see you again. Wear a nice jacket.”

“See you tomorrow then.”

I felt small when I hung up. Like she was a bigger person than me. They all were. All the normal ones.

Kate and I had never been closer. We made a point of sitting down to dinner most nights and talking about the day. Talking to her helped with the fear.

“I made an appointment with Maxwell Smart for tomorrow. I think I need a refresher.”

“I’ve sensed something has been bothering you for a while Roger but I thought maybe it was just all this turmoil. All these killings. You pretend not to notice, but I know you’re a sensitive man.”

“You used to say I was the least empathetic person you know.”

“That’s the person you like to show the world, but I know better.”

I loved Kate in whatever way I was capable, but she was a poor judge of character. Empathetic people do not get a thrill from killing. She had married a predator. How many people had I killed? I had to stop and count.

Pimp Raymond Evers. Drug dealer Tran Hoc Do. Shyster Richard Cunningham, Q.C.. Media manipulator Morrie Greenberg. Gangster Donald Wayne Findley. His driver/body guard Christopher Williamson. Swindler Brian Ralston and his preacher wife Amy Collier. And the four Happy Dealers. Twelve people, not counting the blind kid.

Kate’s sensitive, empathetic husband, the serial killer.

I parked on a side street in a resident only area and walked up the alley behind Adams’ building. The dumpster lid was down, with nothing hanging out. I tossed in a bag with the typewriter. I had smashed the keys beyond recognition and wiped it clean. There were no street people around. I pictured one of them walking somewhere in my old running shoes.

I took the stairs slowly, without pausing at the landing to look out. There was a bulb out in the hallway making it drearier than usual. Then I opened the door to Suite 203 and walked into the light.

“Very nice. I like the colour. It really suits your hair.”

Gail Whitesong was all brightness. Seeing her standing beside the desk in her faux model pose provided a comfort I badly needed. I wondered how she could time it so perfectly. Was she watching out the window as I dumped the typewriter.

“Ms. Gail. Fetching as always. I see you’ve changed your hair.”

The shorter cut showed her face to better advantage. She had a delicate nose, dark almond-shaped eyes behind toned down glasses, beautiful skin, and good bone structure. I don’t know why I ever thought her odd-looking. In truth, she was a beauty.

“Yes, it’s much easier to keep. Mother always kept my hair short as a girl. Maybe that’s why I grew it longer when I could. As usual, she was right. Who has time to waste on their hair?”

“True enough.”

“Dr. Adams is just gathering his thoughts for a moment. I know he enjoys your visits. I think he finds them a nice break.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“You mean there are patients more boring than me?”

“Oh, I don’t know anymore about any of them than I do about you. A woman notices certain things.”

We ended with that enigmatic comment when the door to Adams office opened. He stood there smiling, his hair grown back into a mini-bouffant. He had his polyester outfit on, shirt, slacks and senior’s shoes. I slipped into the easy chair and sampled one of Ms. Gail’s cookies while he got his chair from against the wall. He hadn’t changed the office back. With the plant gone it seemed bigger and brighter.

“Very nice. Mint chocolate chip.”

“Yes, they are quite tasty. I try to keep it down to one or two a day. I don’t want to start expanding.”

He touched his stomach lightly.

“Well, I see you’ve gone back to Emily for your fashion advice.”

“I tried the bald thing and, you know, it just wasn’t me. The kids didn’t like it. Emily and Gail both prefer my hair longer. When I grew my hair back the clothes didn’t suit. Emily dropped the new stuff at the Salvation Army. Three sports jackets, six pairs of slacks and two pair of shoes. I kept all the shirts.”

“Nice gesture. I thought I saw a guy out by the dumpster wearing a Harry Rosen jacket.”

We both laughed. I felt safe sitting in that easy chair. Like there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Talking with a Mensa midget who only felt comfortable dressed badly. How could it be? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

“So how have you been, Roger, with all this turmoil going on? All the media attention about these Wolf Pack killings is getting a lot of people down.”

“I bet it is. Especially people with money and power. As far as I can see, ordinary folks are weathering the storm quite well.”

“If you and Emily ever get together, we’ll have a revolution on our hands. My wife believes deeply in the need for change. She supports the goals of the Wolf Packs if not their violent methods?”

“Goals. What goals? Half of the Wolf Pack killings were probably committed by opportunists, enemies of the victims taking advantage of the chaos. I don’t remember hearing anything about any goals.”

He considered this for a moment.

“As you know, I am pragmatic about the human species. The best predators will always rise to the top. It’s basic science. Emily, however, has a different view. And as I said before, she can back it up with reasoned argument.”

He shifted slightly in his chair and moved his head from side to side as if to loosen his neck. The pompadour was too short to fall forward into  horns. Give it a month or two.

“I’d like to hear it.”

“Well, the Coles Notes version is that she believes in the inherent goodness of humans to the core of her being. She can cite countless cases throughout recorded history, where humans have sacrificed everything for their beliefs.”

“It’s a good thing there’s always someone around willing to accommodate them in their sacrifices.” I played Devil’s Advocate out of habit. “There has never been a period in human history short of torturers and murderers.”

It did not deter him.

“Emily argues that the cynic’s take on history, with its emphasis on the horrible atrocities and brutality man is capable of, fails to account for the fact that good people always win. Believe me, she can cite a hundred examples of tyrants and despots, empires and tribal fiefdoms in which the people have overcome evil rulers. In her view, the fact that it is a never-ending process doesn’t come into it. The good people keep fighting the good fight, ad infinitum, because it is what good people do.”

“That argument conveniently overlooks the fact the good people turn bad as soon as they get control.”

“Evil pops up, good people put it down. Like the carnival game with the mallets.”

Here I was again, sitting in this Mensa midget’s office listening to baffle gab, second-hand baffle gab at that, and it somehow connected with my life view.

“Like the carnival game with the mallets?” I tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum.

“I told you it was the Coles Notes version. Emily explains it much better. She is a fierce opponent of electronic surveillance and information gathering, you know. She calls it the greatest evil facing the world today. But enough of Emily. How are you doing, Roger?’

“I’m afraid all the time.”

It came out just like that. Matter of fact.

“Why are you afraid? What are you afraid of? Has someone threatened to harm you?”

“I’m afraid of life. Afraid I can’t make it through.”

“Have you been thinking of taking your life?”

“Not recently.”

“But you have thought of it in the past.”

“Yes, hasn’t everyone.”

“Probably not. But certainly, a lot of people have considered suicide in an intellectual way. Some go as far as to act it out, I mean they enact it, but don’t go through with it. That is not as unusual as you might think. Have you enacted, Roger.”

I thought about spinning the chamber and it filled me with shame that I was willing to inflict such an act of selfishness on my wife. Only fate saved her.

“If you mean have I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger”—I cocked my thumb and put my forefinger to my temple— “yes I have.”

I clicked my thumb.

Adams sat motionless, gazing into my soul from under his mini-bouffant. Reading the secrets there. He said nothing and suddenly we were into another stare-off. Silence filled the room with an energy I cannot pretend to understand.

The longer the silence went on the more connected we became. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I didn’t reach for a cookie to break the tension because there was no tension. We just sat in complete silence looking at one another. I wanted to sit there forever.

I heard Ms. Gail closing up shop. She shut the outside door loud enough that we would hear. It must have been past 5:30 by the fading light through the patio doors but Adams still did not make a sound. And I had nothing pressing but a world of fear.

When he spoke, at last, I was ready to hear what he had to say.

“How did you miss from that close?”

That’s what the little prick said. I shit you not. I didn’t want to laugh but what could I do? He laughed too, but not for long.

“People who want to kill themselves get the job done. It’s quite easy, as you know. Pills. A car in a closed garage. A leap into the unknown off a bridge or building. A bullet in the head.”

He paused. But only for a moment.

“I don’t see you as someone who would take his own life. Suicide is the last choice of life’s broken people.”

“Do broken people feel frightened all the time?”

It came out quietly, without any swagger.

“We all feel frightened at least part of the time, Roger. And well we should. The Wolf Packs aside, the world is a dangerous place. I know that I’m frightened every day. Afraid that one of my kids will get hit by a car. Worried that the world they inherit will be uninhabitable. Scared that Emily will get sick, or leave me for someone smarter. Fear is deeply ingrained in the human condition. We couldn’t survive without fear. It’s how we handle the fear that counts. How do you handle your fear, Roger.”

“I carry it around, staggering under its load.”

The way it came out surprised me. I didn’t feel weak saying it, though.

“Unknown fear is the heaviest of all. It takes a strong person to carry it and an even stronger person to put it down. To drop the load. Kerplop!”

“Kerplop?”

It came out as a question but in some weird way it made sense. I repeated the word a couple of times with quiet resignation.

“Kerplop…. Kerplop….”

Was this what it had all come to, sitting in a strip mall office with a poorly dressed nerd gravely repeating a silly word? Apparently so.

“That’s a good word isn’t it, Roger? Comical sounding. Evocative. Full of meaning. Finality.”

He did one of his mini pauses, but I was beyond the paranoia phase. He had peered into my soul.

“Unknown fear is quite different from fearing the unknown. People often confuse the two. Fear of the unknown is tangible, based on some future catastrophe of the mind’s making. A thinking species like humans has good reason to fear the unknown. Throughout history the unknown has usually brought violence and death. Fearing the unknown is rational.

“But, if I’m assessing the situation right, you are feeling the other kind. The unknown fear. The kind of fear that grabs hold of your thoughts and tries to shut down the system. Tries to take over everything. It wants control of the ship. Total control.”

“Am I on the ocean or is it a spaceship?”

I tried to mock his lame metaphor, but it came out weak.

“That’s a good, one Roger. Heh heh heh.”

His laugh gave me comfort. Can you believe it?

“And, as usual, you’re not far off the mark. Actually, the ship is cruising through inner space. The final frontier. Losing control of the ship isn’t an option. So you fight the fear, holding it back, but it is relentless. Day after day, holding back the fear pushing you towards the total blackness of inner space. It’s quite a load. Some carry the fight all their lives, never quite losing but never quite winning. And then they die. The smartest let it go.”

“Kerplop?”

“Kerplop.”

We sat there for a comfortable moment in the fading light.

“I’m off the Wolf task force, you know. Apart from the obvious fact that the profilers have not been helpful in capturing the Wolf, I found some of my colleagues difficult to work with. One in particular. A nasty person.”

“I thought all these so-called experts had unsurpassed collective knowledge of the human species. Isn’t that what you said at the beginning?”

“Well, that was my first impression. Yes. But reality seldom reveals itself on first impressions. Having knowledge about human beings does not preclude you from suffering the same failings as the people you study. I find it much more interesting working with my patients.”

“So you quit.”

“That’s right.”

We were done. I stood up while he moved his chair back to the wall and when he turned, I gave him the preying mantis bow. He returned it solemnly and I left the office, leaving him sitting at his desk in the near dark scribbling on a pad.

Two scruffy guys were rummaging in the dumpster, poking through the junk with a rake. Cops? Neither of them was wearing my running shoes or holding a mangled typewriter.

“Nice night for treasure hunting.”

I said it cheerfully.

“Can you spare a buck? We ain’t eaten since yesterday.”

I walked over and handed him a twenty.

“Fill your boots, guys.”

For the first time in a very long time the fear was gone. Cynics among you will call bullshit. I don’t begrudge your skepticism. I know everything Adams said was a bunch of bullshit. I knew it at the time, but I didn’t care as I walked up the alley feeling the lightness of being.

Two weeks after my session with Adams took the unknown fear out of my life, the Wolf Pack struck in Vancouver. A psychiatrist who worked on the Wolf profile panel was shot dead in the garage of his fancy house on the UBC Endownment Lands. Police said a note was left behind but wouldn’t release the contents, other than to say the shooter claimed to be the Wolf.

The first copycat killing on my own turf shocked me. But it didn’t bring back the fear. Just the opposite. I felt light and free. I wondered if the shooter used a Glock nine millimetre. Or maybe a thirty-eight.

The spike in copycat killings wasn’t as sharp as in previous Vancouver Wolf killings but the worldwide toll was 5,000-plus and counting. A lot of top predators had been taken out, enough to make the bottom-liners, ever the self-preservationists that they are, take notice. They made token changes and gave lip service to the idea of reform. No politician in British Columbia came forward to champion photo radar and the Liberals let the idea die a bloodless death.

The night after I heard about the psychiatrist, I went to my office put on my latex gloves, unscrewed the floorboards and took out the gun. Kate was out with Laura at the movies. I had all the time I needed.

I put in a full load and spun the chamber. It felt good in my hand. Solid. Balanced. Powerful. I grabbed the last of the bullets, stuffed them in my pants pocket and pulled on the grey hoodie. I got in the car and drove to Vancouver Heights, above the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge. The neighbourhood was notorious for the bike gang thugs who lived there, laundering their money with half-million-dollar house renovations. I parked on a side street close to the bridge, near a house with motorcycles in the driveway.

When I walked past, I noticed a brawny tattooed man further up in the driveway, bent over, pondering an old engine block, oblivious to the danger so near. I walked past the house and went down the steps to the sidewalk leading to the bridge. There was a fair amount of traffic, but I didn’t care.

I took my time getting to the high point of the bridge, far out over the water where the iron workers had fallen to their deaths while building it. I inhaled the night view, with its twinkling lights and moving cars, in four or five deep breaths. When there was a break in traffic, I fished the bullets out of my pocket and threw them in a spray. Then I dropped the gun. When it hit the water, I heard a faint splash. Or maybe it was a kersplash.

I went to Thorsby’s wedding the following year and was impressed to see that both he and Molly had lost weight. He looked pretty good in an off-the-rack rental tux. I felt all warm and tingly when they did their solo wedding dance.

I never followed the Wolf coverage after the psychiatrist went down. In fact, I avoided all media and relied solely on Kate’s second-hand reports of the world’s goings on, delivered in bits and pieces over dinner, always with a positive spin. I couldn’t tell you what the final global death toll was in the Wolf killings.

I quit the technical writer job not long after Thorsby’s wedding. Kate encouraged me to write fiction and supported us financially for the first few years. She was right about the career change. I had a couple of modest successes writing crime thrillers and was lucky to have one of them made into a movie. The turbulence became less frequent, the smooth patches lasted longer.

Kate died of liver cancer at age 49. It was a quick death, but the pain of her passing seared me to the core of my being. I teetered at the edge of blackness for weeks after, grieving so deeply I longed for the gun to end the pain. I even went back out over the bridge and stared at the water, thinking about joining the gun.

I cried when I lost Kate with an intensity that bordered on hallucinogenic. I saw visions of Amy Collier in my tears, and the blinded kid. I saw the Happy Dealers, Cunningham and all the rest. Even Donald Wayne.

I went back to Adams, then, for the first time since the fear had lifted. It had been years. He had one of those Jay Leno skunk streaks going on in the bouffant, and it looked about as good on him as it did on Jay. I saw him again infrequently, when the need arose, and with no insurance to foot the bill, even paid the little nerd out of my own pocket. Gail Whitesong, ageless in her Eurasian beauty and beautiful in her soul, continued to light my visits with her presence. We went out for occasional dinners and walks. No sex. Nothing romantic. We became friends. Same thing with Holly from the library. I made up a story about the fake name I’d given her and she accepted it without curiosity. They were both good company. Better conversationalists than Thorsby.

I started working on this confessional about two months after Kate died. This is my last book and it will be published posthumously by my agent. I gave him a key to a safety deposit box containing the manuscript, to be opened only upon my death, after I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t spin the chamber but I did choose my own time. I opted for assisted death, less messy than jumping off a bridge. I stipulated that all book profits go to a women’s shelter in Kate’s name. I’m predicting a best seller, given all the free publicity it will get. I told my agent I want one of the Canadian Ryans—Reynolds or Gosling—to star in the movie. I willed the rest of my estate to the SPCA. Maybe they could use it to help mistreated sheep.

I accept the label serial killer now. I fit the definition. I know I killed people out of whatever selfish predatory need drives humans to act out. I was at the top of the predator food chain for a while and it felt unbelievably good to be there. I don’t deny it or pretend to feel guilt about all the people who were killed, not even Amy Collier.  I am a psychopath but claim minimal empathy. If that is possible. I have no regrets going out in these low times of Donald Trump and the world pendulum’s shift to the right. In the decades to come, a more cunning successor to Trump will no doubt act out on the Hitler scenario of my fevered futuristic vision. Evolution won’t be denied. As Maxwell Smart so frequently asserted, ‘It’s basic science.’

For the Wolf Packs, the bottom-liners, the psychiatrists, the talking heads and so-called experts, for all you cynics and critics, for all you wolves and sheep, for all you wannabes and wolves in waiting, for all you who judge me and for those who judge me not, I have one final word.

Kerplop.

Chapter 10: For Sale Death House

Read Previous Chapter – Chapter 9: Evil Eye Goes Global

The Ralston job came up on me fast. I wasn’t kidding when I told Adams the Wolf was a fulltime position. Working executions into my schedule wasn’t easy and I had a feeling it would be difficult to arrange Ralston without arousing suspicion in Kate. Not about the Wolf, of course. But she knew I wasn’t the type to go out at night, unless it was for a short walk around the neighbourhood. Any lengthy absence would require a reasonable explanation.

A plan began to germinate during dinner, while Kate talked about the possibility of a fall election? Spring? Fall? Next winter? What a bunch of political bullshit. But I respected her innocent belief in democracy. Whether she liked it or not, I was slaying predatory monsters for her.

“I know the look you get when you’re excited about something. All pensive and focused. What’s Oliver got you working on now?”

I’d been fucking the dog at work for months, doing just enough to get by.

“Oh, he’s got something big on the go. He says it might require two or three technical writers and take six months to finish. He won’t give us any more details but it sounds good.”

I didn’t like lying to Kate. She deserved better.

“Honestly, Roger, you could have your pick of writing jobs. I think your work might have something to do with your dark moods. It’s beneath your talent. I’m sure you get bored ‘translating’ technical reports. What does Dr. Adams say about the possibility of changing jobs?”

“He doesn’t say anything. We don’t talk about my work.”

“Paul Carter is thinking about getting out of real estate. He tells Laura that his sessions with Dr. Adams have changed his way of thinking. He wants to get into something more meaningful. Apparently, he’s volunteering at the Food Bank two days a week.”

I had nothing in common with that monkey-fucking, snake-oil-selling, piece-of-shit salesman. I wanted to yell that at her so she wouldn’t keep bringing the phony fuck up.

“I’d have thought he’d be more comfortable volunteering at the Liquor Depot. All that travel back and forth to buy booze cuts into your drinking time.”

“Honestly, Roger. You’re so rude. Paul is not a perfect human being but few of us are. Laura loves him and Laura’s a good friend. I wish you wouldn’t be so rude. It doesn’t become you dear.”

I loved the way she called me dear. It cut through everything.

“I’m happy that he’s finally finding peace at the Food Bank, dear. The downtrodden can always use more realtors helping out.”

I could have gone on about him scoping out low-end clients for slum housing but I didn’t want to upset her. Things were different after our time on the Island. I cared about her intensely from that time on. That’s why I couldn’t let fate decide anymore. Why I couldn’t spin the chamber.

If I lost, the whole mess would be left on Kate’s doorstep. I couldn’t have that. Not now. If I’m caught I’ll go out in a blaze of gunfire standing up for what I believe, even if the fatal shot is self-administered. That’s what I thought at the time.

I took the next afternoon off but Oliver wasn’t there, so I didn’t have to make an excuse. Thorsby dutifully pointed out the absence of the temp receptionist as if it were incontrovertible proof of their guilty affair–“I told you Old Horny Man is fucking her.”

Not the kind of person I wanted on my jury.

“Ray came in with a shiner this morning then went home after coffee. Probably stuck his dick in the wrong glory hole. There’s one in the public can on the beach near the Coast Guard station, on the side of the stall about the height of a guy’s mouth if he was sitting on the toilet. What a way to live.”

I let his comment hang out there in disapproving silence. The tech writers often made fun of Ray when he wasn’t around. Gay jokes. He was unmarried and slightly effeminate. I didn’t like it and never took part. Ray was one of the good guys. Not the kind of person to intentionally hurt other people. Not a bullshitter. Not a bottom-liner. Thorsby knew how I felt and softened his commentary.

“He said some guy in his building punched him at his mailbox for no reason. Said the guy has made threatening comments to him before.”

I pictured Ray, polite, soft and well past middle age, having to put up with shit from a Neanderthal. It fueled the rage but I kept it out of my voice.

“He lives in the West End, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, over on Beach Ave. in that round high rise.”

“Did he say what the guy looked like?”

“Just that’s he’s big and has a beard.”

“Somebody should straighten the guy out. I like Ray.”

“Yeah, he’s not a bad guy.”

He said it as though Ray was okay even though he was gay. If I hadn’t had more pressing matters at hand, I would have looked into putting Neanderthal man down. Fucking cowardly, lowlife, prick.

I drove home and changed into cargo shorts, a T-shirt and surgical gloves. I slipped a small wrench and some duct tape into one of the pockets and went for a stroll. I had a kill site in mind about four blocks from our house, two blocks down and two blocks over. It was a new house on a corner lot, across from a park, that had been for sale for more than a year. The rumour was an old oil tank buried in the back yard required tens of thousands in clean-up costs.

I walked past the front and stopped to take one of the flyers from the realtor’s plastic box. Wow. They wanted $889,000. I turned at the end of the block and came back through the alley. There was nobody around to see me slip through the back gate. I went directly to the basement window to the right of the back steps and stuck the tape across the glass in three eight-inch strips. I smacked the taped glass with the wrench and it gave way with barely a tinkle. I stuck my hand through the hole, careful not to cut myself, and opened the window. I peeled the tape off the broken glass and put it in my pocket. I’d missed my calling as a house burglar.

I made my way across the darkened basement. The place was empty. It smelled stale. Creepy. Not the kind of atmosphere to build a new life on. I wondered if a homicide would motivate the seller to lower the price. I tried the switch at the bottom of the stairs and the light came on. A good thing.

The main floor had a kitchen, a living room, an office, a half-bath and a large master bedroom and ensuite with a jetted tub and separate shower. Close to a million bucks didn’t buy much 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Even on the East Side. The front door opened into a small foyer that hid the living room from the entrance. Another plus. I flicked another light on-and-off to make sure it worked. That’s all I needed to know. I left the back door unlocked and was out of the house and back in the alley in five minutes.

I went back home and got out the electric typewriter. One more small job before I dumped it.

Fellow citizens…

The bottom-liner Brian Ralston was executed in the name of the people of this great country. Those who choose to advance themselves by swindling seniors should consider it a capital offense. It is our hope his death will provide some closure to those he has victimized. At the very least, his predatory compulsion has come to an end.

Mr. Ralston’s fate should be a warning to all bottom-liners in the cesspool that is the financial industry. Despite what the predatory powers would have you believe; righteous citizens have nothing to fear.

Bottom-liners beware.

Not for everyone. For mad men only.

With your best interests at heart,

The People’s Wolf

Kate was having dinner with Laura Carter the next night and I was hoping to do Ralston then. He wouldn’t be in town for long and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. I walked to the convenience store at five and made the call from the lowlife landline. The fucking drug dealing deadhead was leaning on the side of the building watching me the whole time, like I was using his private phone. How good would it feel to drive around the city, from phone booth to phone booth, putting the scumbags down? One in the chest. One point blank in the head.

“Hyatt hotel.”

“Can you put me through to Mr. Ralston.”

“Ralston? Let me see. Yes, he checked in about an hour ago. I’ll try his room sir.”

“H.B. Ralston.”

He answered the phone confidently on the second ring, like he was a man in control of his destiny. The dumb fuck.

“Mr. Ralston, my name is Tim Edderly and I’m phoning on behalf of my dad, who has a significant sum of money and is looking for somewhere to invest it.”

“Well, you’ve called the right place Tim. We invest money for people from all over the world. That’s what we do.”

“You were recommended to me by Belinda Strausky.”

Belinda Strausky was the daughter of Arthur Pennington, a now-deceased crony of the hairy ape’s. They pulled a couple of scams while working together at a brokerage firm years back. They both left the firm under a cloud, within weeks of each other. Pennington died of a heart attack shortly afterwards. His daughter Belinda didn’t fall far from the tree. She had been banned from trading on Canadian stock markets and was said to be living in the Cayman Islands.

You can’t beat Google.

“Belinda Strausky. I haven’t thought of her in years. Did you know her father Art?”

“No. I don’t know Belinda well. I happened to be sitting next to her at doinner on a cruise ship and we were chatting about investments. She seemed knowledgeable. When I mentioned my dad selling his motel and RV park, she recommended you for investment advice. Said I should use her name as an introduction. Dad’s been procrastinating for years. He doesn’t trust the stock market and the money is sitting in GICs earning a couple of per cent. They come due next month. I saw your ad in the paper and called.”

“We can definitely do better than a couple of per cent. Why don’t you bring your dad to the seminar Thursday and we’ll see what we can work out?”

“I don’t think I can get him down there. I showed your ad to dad and… well… sometimes he’s not quite with it. He thinks the Hyatt is owned by the Stock Market. All part of some big conspiracy. That’s why I’ve called you personally. I’d like you to come over to the house for a private consultation.”

“Oh, I rarely do private consultations. I like to have sit-downs with ordinary folks but, frankly, I don’t have the time. I have a lot to do preparing for the seminar and so on.”

“I’m sure you do, sir. That’s why I’d make it worth your while. I recently got power of attorney over dad’s affairs and I know it would be worth $1,000 to him for an hour of your time. After all, he’s got well over seven figures to invest. He just bought a house on the East Side, less than a 10-minute cab ride from the hotel. The sign’s still out front.”

“I can probably fit an hour in tomorrow night, but why don’t you come to my suite.”

“Dad doesn’t travel well anymore. And I’d really like him to meet you. Even though I have power of attorney I keep him involved in everything. I don’t want any appearance of impropriety.”

“I understand. Dealing with old people can be difficult. Okay, how about 9 o’clock. I’ll come by for an hour, talk to your dad and see what we can work out.”

“Great. He’s at 109 Albert St. A corner house. See you at nine tomorrow night.”

After hanging up I walked straight over to the drug dealer.

“Be careful using that phone. Someone from CSIS came on the line and told me to drop the phone because of a deadly powder in the mouthpiece. Ricin. A grain or two is enough to kill a person. Agents are monitoring the booth from that white van over there. They’re exterminating drug dealers. It’s part of a plan to appease the Wolf.”

I pointed to a van parked across the street. The deadhead druggie didn’t know what to make of me. He looked from the phone booth to the van.

“Thanks man.”

“No problem.”

I walked home feeling good. Ralston had taken the bait. It felt weird talking to him knowing he had only a day to live. I didn’t feel sorry for the arrogant prick. Nothing like that. It’s just that he was the first of my kills I talked to without imminent death polluting the ambience. Pointing a gun at someone with lethal intent is a real conversation killer. No pun intended.

Kate was home when I got back. She immediately threw a kink into my plan.

“I can’t stay, Roger. I came to change into slacks and a comfortable sweater. Laura and I decided to have dinner and see our movie tonight, instead of tomorrow. She’s picking me up in a half hour.”

“So you’ll be home tomorrow night then?”

“Yes dear, I’ll be home tomorrow night. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you home alone two nights in a row. I’ll make a nice dinner and we can hang out all night.”

“That’ll be nice. I’m going to start getting into shape with nightly walks. I’ll start tonight.”

She was standing in the kitchen doing the buttons up on a white cashmere sweater, her face slightly flushed from the effort. The fine wool looked good against her skin.

“Maybe I’ll go with you. I could lose a few pounds.”

“Nonsense. You’re beautiful just as you are and you’re looking particularly fetching tonight. Let me help you with those buttons.”

Her fragrance got to me when I moved close. A smell as close to innocence as possible on this foul planet.

“I’ll leave the top two buttons open. Cashmere is warm and I like the way the white complements your skin.”

She cupped my hand in both of hers.

“Oh, Roger, I feel so close to you this last while.”

Laura showed up on time, as always. She honked once and Kate was out the door. Sadness shrouded me as I watched her hurry to the car, laughing and calling out to Laura in fun. Sadness so profound it buckled my knees. I leaned against the TV cabinet for support. Any slip-up and this beautiful person’s world would be shattered. Her light would be dimmed forever. Was anything worth that? I knew Ralston wasn’t.

I tried some quiet time early in the evening on the office couch, but the impending execution was stirring up so much turbulence I couldn’t get close to the inner universe. I got up and paced the house. Through the kitchen, around the living room and up the stairs to the bathroom. I stood in the shower for a few minutes looking at the taps then reversed the process. I must have done the circuit 10 times. On the last trip into the shower I turned on the faucet and stood there until my clothes were soaked. I have no idea what these walkabouts were about. All I know is after I stripped off my clothes and threw them in the dryer, I felt renewed. It seems crazy looking back.

Why was I worrying about Kate now? Why not with Cunningham or Greenberg and the others? I wasn’t thinking about her when I spun the chamber. I only wanted to release the pressure building inside. To take the decision out of my hands and leave it to fate. To admit I was thinking solely of myself made me feel small. Unworthy of Kate’s love. Yet there it was.

Still, Ralston was a goner.

I fell asleep early and slept so soundly I didn’t hear Kate come in. She slid in beside me in the night, exuding warmth and comfort. Security. A good human being who believed in me.

We didn’t talk much the next morning. I was barely awake when she left for work. I had important things to do before heading to the office. I thought about calling in sick but there was no need. I wanted everything in my life to seem as normal as possible on the day of an execution.

The kill site was uncomfortably close to home, but it was the only way I could do Ralston without arousing Kate’s suspicion. I thought of some police geographic profiler putting pins on a map. With Ralston, three of the killings were within walking distance from the house. I wondered if he could do a triangulation that pinpointed my street.

I planned to slip out for a walk a few minutes before nine, but I had to put the gun someplace I could get at it. I didn’t want to take the chance of having it in my pocket in case Kate hugged me or it fell out or some other stupid shit happened.

I put on a pair of surgical gloves and went to the office and unscrewed the floorboards. That lowlife in the Seattle bar had been so right. It was a nice gun for what I paid. It seemed so long ago. Another lifetime.

I checked it to make sure everything was working. The trigger clicked crisply. The chamber spun smoothly on its precision-machined axis. It felt solid and familiar in my hand, its curved butt settling into my palm like the ass of a beautiful woman. No wonder Americans love their handguns. I put in a full load but didn’t bother with extra bullets. I didn’t plan on another ‘shootout.’ I put the gun in a small pack sack and stuffed the bag into an empty cement sack. I put the cement sack under the back deck and stacked a couple pieces of plywood on it.

Thorsby was in good form at the office. He rolled out his chair as soon as I arrived and pointed out that Oliver and the temp had both called in sick.

“I’m thinking of calling Old Horny Man at home to see if he’s really sick. Get this temporary receptionist thing nailed down once and for all. The dirty old bugger is having it off with her. I know it.”

“That’s purely supposition, Thorsby. I’ve never seen them say more than a few words to each other.”

“Exactly. They exchange smiles every time he walks past but he never says anything more than a word or two. A classic office affair.”

“Hold on now. Your proof Oliver is having an affair with the receptionist is that they never talk to each other.”

“Think about it.”

“Next you’ll be telling me Oliver’s the Wolf.”

“Please. I’m surprised he has enough gumption for an extramarital hump. The only gun he’s ever handled is the derringer between his legs.”

“You never know. It’s always the person you least suspect. Someone unassuming, like your postman theory.”

“Oh, I’ve given up on that one. The guy’s ex-military. Maybe a rogue cop. They’ll never catch him unless he kills again.”

“A few weeks ago, you were saying he’d be brought to ground in a month.”

“That was before the gangster shootout.”

It continued to amaze me how a couple of lucky shots had elevated the Wolf in the public consciousness. I could just as easily have missed the whole car.

“I’ll bet he strikes again soon.”

I said it with conviction. I couldn’t resist.

“Some guys in my hockey pool have standing bets. Closest one to the date gets the money. I’m not involved, though. Too ghoulish.”

I loved being the only one in the world with the real story. The only person in the vast universe who knew precisely when the Wolf would strike again. It was a rush. I admit it.

Ray walked in before I could reply. His swollen eye closed shut when he attempted a smile. His cheek was red on that side.

“Hey guys, you taking bets on when the Wolf will get caught?”

“No, we’re just speculating about when he’ll strike again. How’s the eye Ray? Looks like a pretty good shiner.”

“Oh, it’s okay. Doesn’t really hurt.”

He said it as if he was ashamed of getting beat up by a scumbag. It pissed me off to see the poor guy off his game. Ray was normally upbeat, cracking bad jokes. I felt sad for him as he walked to his cubicle. If a serial killer feels empathy, does it mean he’s not a psychopath? I doubted I could work the question into a Maxwell Smart session.

I stayed at work until five. No need to hurry home. Everything was ready. Ralston had four hours and change to breathe. On the drive home I concentrated on my own breath. Getting into the moment. It didn’t take long before the moment turned to how many breaths Ralston had left. I got deep into the mental calculations of timing a breath and multiplying it by seconds, minutes and hours.

Kate prepared one of my favourite meals. Pork chops and candied yam. We talked pleasantly throughout dinner about nothing noteworthy. By the time we’d finished clearing up the dishes it was almost eight o’clock. I felt completely calm. Resigned to fate.

“Is there anything special you’d like to watch tonight?”

“Actually, I thought I might go for a walk. It’s a nice night and I’d like to stretch my legs.”

“Want some company?”

“I’d love company on my walks but not tonight, dear. I’ve been thinking about what you said about my job, about it causing the depression, and I’ve got some things to work through.  I find walking helps me think clearly.”

She tried to hide the disappointment of rejection.

“It can’t hurt to think about it, Roger. I read somewhere that being under-employed is one of the major causes of depression. I’m glad to see you’re at least thinking about making a change.”

I left the house about 15 minutes before nine. I put my surgical gloves on outside and retrieved the gun from its hiding place. I was at the Albert St. house in a couple of minutes. I went in through the still-unlocked back door and turned the kitchen light on. Nobody had been there since the break-in. I drew all the blinds, except for the front window, which I left open just enough to allow light to be seen from the street. I put the porch light on and went back to the front window to watch and wait.

I’d only been watching for a minute or two when the cab pulled up. It felt too soon. Two people got out. Ralston and the ash blonde I’d seen him dining with at the Eagle’s Realm. He paid the cab and they started up the sidewalk to the house.

I thought about leaving. Walking out the back door and letting Ralston and the woman live. But I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be right, letting a high-value predator loose on the little people.  People would have to learn to keep better company. I put the gun in the right pocket of my track pants, with the grip sticking out. I tucked the grip under my T-shirt and went to answer the door.

“Thanks so much for coming by Mr. Ralston.”

“You must be Tim. This is my wife Amy. We were having dinner nearby. She’s very knowledgeable about financial matters. I hope you don’t mind if she sits in.”

She smiled at me pleasantly but didn’t speak. She had a nice way about her.

“Hello Amy. Come on in, please. Excuse the bare space. Dad wants to carpet the living room floor before he moves his furniture in. We can talk in the kitchen.”

I closed the door, stood back, and motioned for them to enter. Ralston went first and as soon as his wife passed me, I put the gun to the back of her head and fired.

The noise sounded like a cannon shot in the empty house. Ralston jumped about three feet. She dropped straight down without a sound. Blood oozed from her head onto the hardwood floor. Ralston froze with fear when he landed.

“Oh my God, you’ve murdered Amy.

He looked down at his wife but didn’t make a move to assist her. He stood stock-still. White-faced.

“Tell me Brian, did you really think you could cheat all those people without any blow-back? That you could prey on the weak without consequences. Haven’t you taken any notice of the Wolf’s message?”

“Please don’t kill me. I can give you money. Lots of money. Please, Tim, let me live.”

I aimed the gun with both hands, TV cop-style.

“No, no. I’ll give you anything. Please don’t kill me. Please… please.”

The front of his pants was all wet. The hairy ape pissed himself.

“You forfeited your right to live a long time ago, you lowlife cocksucker.”

I fired and hit him in the chest. He fell back against the wall and skidded along it, using his shoulders as a brace, smearing blood. The bullet must have gone right through. The exit wound would be messy. He was spitting blood. Choking out what sounded like words, like he had some last wisdom to depart.

It was a sordid scene, a dead woman on the floor, blood all over, its metallic death smell permeating everything, and this human cockroach clinging to his life like it was worth something. I moved a few steps forward and shot him in the face, just below his left eye. He fell to the floor gurgling. Bits of hair and flesh stuck on the wall. So much blood. I dropped the letter in a clean spot on the hardwood and turned the lights off. I left by the back door.

I took the alleys home, at a moderate pace. Daylight had turned to dusk in the few minutes I was inside. Nobody was about. I stopped at the top of the hill, a block from home, to compose myself. Blow-back from the Amy’s head splattered my hand and the right sleeve of my jacket. The gun had blood on it, too, and I had transferred some of it to my clothes. Messy business.

I put the gun under the back porch before going in the house. Kate was in the kitchen, sipping tea in her rocker, watching one of her shows.

“Did you have a nice walk, dear? You weren’t gone long.”

“I kept a brisk pace and worked up a bit of a sweat. I’ll have a quick shower and join you for some tea.”

I was halfway up the stairs when I said it. I desperately wanted out of the track suit. To get away from the blood. It was all I could do to stop myself from running down the hallway to the bathroom.

Inside the bathroom, with the door safely locked, I noticed bits of hair and skull on my bare wrist. I shook my arm so violently a piece of bloody material stuck on the mirror. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper to wipe it off and noticed flecks of blood on my cheek. I turned the shower on and stepped in, clothes and all. The blood creeped me out.

After a few seconds, I stepped out and stripped. I held the jacket sleeves under the shower and wrung the jacket and pants. The blood flecks on my cheek were gone but I didn’t like the face I saw in the mirror. The man staring back had a shocked look. The kind you saw on survivors interviewed in New York immediately after 9/11. It made me feel weak. Small. Not strong like a top predator. Not like the People’s Wolf.

I thought about the pleasant smile on Amy Ralston’s face seconds before her death. She paid a heavy price for keeping bad company. At least she went out happy. I caught myself in the mirror smiling at the thought and my spirit began to return. It took me a few minutes to clean up the bathroom, to sop up all the water on the floor. I bundled my clothes up in a towel and put on pajama pants and a t-shirt before going back downstairs.

“I’m just going to throw this stuff in the washer, dear. Any tea left?”

“I put on another pot while you were upstairs.”

Kate turned the TV off and I sat down at the kitchen table and sipped herbal lemon tea.

“You look a little strange. I hope you didn’t overdo it. You’re at the age when men have heart attacks.”

“We all have to die sometime. What is so bad about keeling over while out walking. Dying right there on the spot. I can think of worse ways to go.”

“Don’t be so macabre.”

“Death tends to arrive at inconvenient times. I don’t think we have much say about it but I’m not ready yet.”

“I certainly hope not. We have so much ahead of us Roger. So much to live for. I see us walking down a sunny beach in our golden years. Hand in hand.”

She reached across the table and put her hand over mine. I pulled away. I didn’t want her touching my skin where the blood had been. To make up, I stood up and came around behind her and massaged her shoulders and neck.

“I love you Roger Rabbit.”

I bent over to catch her smell. The smell of innocence.

There was nothing in the news over the weekend. I knew it could take time for the bodies to be found. I thought about the disappointed suckers when Ralston was a no-show at the seminar. They could not know I had intervened on their behalf. To keep them from becoming prey.

The truth is the execution of the Ralstons had unsettled me. Had left me with a bad feeling. I couldn’t get away from that awful blood smell. The sordidness in that dimly lit empty room. Some realtor was in for a hell of a shock when he opened that front door. The owner would have to drop his price.

A small article in the business section of the following Wednesday’s paper caught my eye.

Financial advisor skips town

Potential investors were left holding their seminar bags when controversial Victoria investment advisor Brian Ralston failed to show for his own talk at the Hyatt Hotel.

Participants, who had prepaid $200 dollars for ‘seminar materials’, waited in the hotel’s Rainforest Room for an hour Thursday night but Ralston didn’t show.

Hotel officials say Ralston and his wife left two overnight bags behind but did not check out or pay their bill.

Ralston was in the news several years ago when investors lost millions in what some called a well-planned rip-off. Ralston is still facing civil suits in the matter, but no criminal charges were laid.

Police are looking into this latest incident.

The bodies were found on Friday. An enterprising cop looking into Ralston’s sleep and dash, had tracked down the cab driver who took them to the house. He smelled them from the front porch and called in the homicide detectives. I couldn’t resist walking past on Saturday. They had the whole place sealed off with yellow tape and there were cops all over. I went over to the ball diamond in the park, sat on the grass and watched the kids play. Just another guy taking some weekend sun.

Seeing all the activity lifted my spirits. The morning paper called it a double murder but there was no mention of the Wolf. The story concentrated on the financial angle. The reporter noted that Ralston had received death threats over the years from disgruntled clients.

Ralston and Amy had only been married for four months, which would have made them newlyweds when I first saw them at the Eagle’s Realm. If they had honey-mooned anywhere else, they’d both be alive. I believe in fate.

Osterwich broke the Wolf angle in Monday’s paper. The police confirmed a letter had been left at the crime scene but were not releasing its contents. The last three paragraphs in the story hit me like a blow to the guts.

Ralston’s new bride, Amy Collier, was a lay preacher at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sooke, which Ralston began attending after his financial empire imploded. She was a widow with two teenage children and was not involved in his financial affairs.

I sat at the kitchen table for a long time, thinking about her nice smile and easy manner, trying to convince myself the responsibility was Ralston’s, not mine. Why did the lowlife cocksucker have to bring her along? It wasn’t the religion part that bothered me. I would have killed a priest as soon as anyone else. Religious bloodsuckers were high on my list.

I’d always known bystanders could become collateral damage. I planned to take anyone out who stood between me and escape, saving the last bullet for myself if necessary. War is harsh. Donald Wayne’s kid didn’t bother me. He was a predator-in-waiting, at the wrong place at the wrong time. But this woman was different. All she did was fall for the wrong Born Again. It didn’t sit right.

I brooded over Amy Collier’s death all week. At the office, I imagined putting a bullet in Thorsby more than once. He kept repeating the same theme.

“I can’t figure this guy out. Christ, he had people on his side after the Findley shootout. Even though he blinded an innocent kid and killed a working stiff from the club, he had people talking about change. But this is all fucked up. Taking out a woman preacher? I mean how low can you get.”

“What makes you so goddamn sure there was a shootout with Findley.”

I all but shouted it across the aisle. Thorsby had never seen me angry and for a minute he seemed cowed.

“I just know what I read in the papers,” he said, turning back to his screen. I took him about a minute to come back with his rejoinder. “You seem pretty adamant yourself. Do you have firsthand knowledge that the rest of us don’t? Maybe you’re the Wolf. You said he’s probably innocuous and what could be more innocuous than another sap in an overpriced sports jacket. But then, you don’t write as well as the Wolf.”

I instantly regretted the whole exchange. I don’t know why I let this overweight knob with a dumpy girlfriend get under my skin. It didn’t make sense. But nothing had made sense for a long time.

“At least I don’t sit around reading tractor manuals for inspiration. And that guy in the famous hoodie and mask picture looked a little on the dumpy side. I’ve noticed that same maniacal glint in your eye looking up from a Whopper, with mustard on your chin. Now that’s scary.”

We went on that way every day. It sounds harsh written down, but the exchanges were mostly friendly. I liked that about Thorsby. If you stayed away from Molly and his allowance, you could say anything to the guy. He took it as an intellectual challenge. By Thursday he was getting on my nerves so bad I started fantasizing about taking him out. I imagined rolling up behind his chair and putting one in the back of his bad haircut.