Go to previous installment– Chapter 2: Canadian Justice is Hard
The company I worked for employed about 40 office staff — management, sales, payroll, administration. The six technical writers, TWs in office speak, occupied a 10 by 20 ft. room near the reception area. Although we were seldom all there at once, we dealt with every department and a lot of office traffic flowed through that room. I knew most of our employees by name and a few new hires by face. We nodded, exchanged pleasantries and were generally civil toward one another in our office dealings.
Baffles provided an illusion of privacy for the six workstations in the Tech Writers Room, three on each side of a wide aisle, but nobody said anything in the office they weren’t comfortable with as public knowledge. Bob Thorsby and I occupied the two areas nearest the door. Our workstations were across from each other and we would often roll our chairs back and talk across the aisle. He was the only person at the office I connected with on a personal level.
Thorsby and I spent considerable work time speculating in the two weeks following the Cunningham killing. I wanted to talk about it in a way I hadn’t done after the other two. When the coverage faded, I needed to keep the feeling of it alive. Thorsby was in his late twenties then, a bit of a loser but with a sharp wit and a tongue to match. A politically incorrect, overweight guy with aspirations to be an ad writer. Can you imagine? There I am, the most celebrated killer in the city, discussing my crime with a guy who aspires to write advertising copy.
Thorsby was likeably arrogant. He believed absolutely in his own strong opinions and expressed them often. He enjoyed being challenged and would argue endlessly, without getting mad, to make his point. He was refreshingly without guile. We were facing one another across the aisle, each exercising the springs in our leaning swivel chairs. The cops had predictably clammed up and the media had milked all the angles, including coverage of Cunningham’s funeral that featured interviews with politicians and judges outside the church. They recorded his grieving wife and children and profiled his long career.
“It’s drugs,” Thorsby mused. “When an expensive criminal lawyer gets dusted there has to be a drug connection. Either he was using and did something stupid, or he was financing or facilitating a deal.”
“Maybe. But there are other reasons for killing lawyers. It could have been a disgruntled former client, or an acquitted client’s victim. It could have been his wife or the husband of his lover.”
“Sure. But it wasn’t any of those things.” Thorsby leaned back in his chair, his considerable gut flattened by the effort, until it appeared he might tip over. “It’s got something to do with the murder case for that drug gang. He got them off what should have been a sure conviction but in doing so found out more than was healthy. There may be loyalty among thieves, but it doesn’t hold true for murderous drug gangs. He could have been pressuring them to cut him in on a deal, using his knowledge of their operation as blackmail.”
“You’re reaching, Thorsby. Cunningham was too smart to get involved in anything illegal. He was financially set, and he wouldn’t have jeopardized his reputation for drug money. He made enough fucking the system. Maybe somebody just got tired of smooth-talking lawyers.”
“No. This was too well-planned to be the work of some psycho. That kind of killer just barges into the guy’s office and shoots him at his desk, takes out half his staff then sticks the gun in his own mouth. Bang. It’s over in a final blaze of glory. Crazed killers crave recognition for their handiwork.”
Hearing him in effect call me a crazed killer desperate for attention stung. Especially the part about sticking the gun in his mouth. I wanted to tell him it was about fairness and justice. That Cunningham had been convicted in a higher court and that his punishment had been meted out swiftly, cleanly. That the whole thing was pure and right. That his death closed the circle for the victims of all the scumbags he got off. But I didn’t say anything. I just leaned farther back in my chair and examined the ceiling tiles. Thorsby, sensing an advantage, summed up his position with finality.
“Nah. The guy who did Cunningham was a pro. He probably flew in and out for the job and is sitting as we speak in a Montreal bistro sipping cappuccino reading the stock pages, deciding where to put the cash. The killing will never be solved and in a month or two, with no leads and nothing to go on, even the cops will let it slide. The press has already lost interest. In a world full of killings, there are only so many stories you can write about one murder.”
Of course, I knew Thorsby was right. The killing would never be solved. Richard Cunningham, Q.C. would be reduced to a number in the year’s annual homicide tally. The execution had made a big splash. Disposing of high-priced lawyers garnered a lot more ink than dusting off your garden variety pimps and drug dealers. I followed all the media coverage but resisted the temptation to clip out articles or record broadcasts relating to the case. Thorsby was the only person I discussed it with at length. Kate had no interest in murder. Thinking about it upset her view of the world as a benign place in which people went about their daily affairs without menace toward one another. To her, violence was a horrible anomaly best ignored.
Only one reporter did the story justice. Greg Osterwich, a veteran crime reporter for the Vancouver Sun, had filed 14 stories on the case in the weeks immediately following the killing. He interviewed Cunningham’s legal colleagues, business associates, friends, former clients, the grieving widow. None could suggest any motive. Osterwich explored the possibility of a revenge killing, detailing controversial cases Cunningham had defended over the past ten years. But after a month, even Osterwich’s reports dried up.
The intense pleasure I experienced in the execution’s aftermath carried over into all aspects of my life. Kate and I reconnected; our lovemaking went from monthly to weekly. I phoned my brother Sam in Alberta. He was regaining his speech after the stroke but was still hard to understand and the phone call was awkward.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m doing okay. I got more movement in my arm and leg and I can get round now with a cane.”
The words came out slow, as if each syllable required special effort.
“Must have been a shock waking up in a hospital bed. How’s Amie taking it?”
“It’s been hard on her but she’s okay. She took time off work when I got out of the hospital.”
“No more smoking, I guess.”
“The doctor wants me to give it up. I guess I’ll give it a try.”
The guy was disabled, and he still couldn’t commit himself to quitting smoking. Pathetic. We talked for about ten minutes and made all the right noise about getting together soon. Truth is, I had no desire to see my brother, healthy or disabled. He was just somebody I used to know.
I didn’t let it affect my mood, though. I enjoyed going into the office and rarely worked at home. For the first time since my first few years on the job, I joined the technical writers at their Thursday night after-work whinge-and-whine session at a hotel lounge down the street from the office.
The oldest TW was a gentlemanly guy named Ray. He was single in his fifties and gave off a feminine whiff. The other guys were all in their late twenties and thirties with plans to move on to their true calling. Writing advertising copy or Christmas card greetings. One guy was working on a manuscript for Harlequin Romance. Ray and I were resigned to our position in life. At least that’s what it looked like.
I bought a new bike and cycled to work once or twice a week. But the good times didn’t last. By summer, I was back sitting in the living room, looking through the bars as night closed in, suffering the effects of an intense emotional hangover. I had stopped going into work entirely. In mid-June, I had been assigned to write the annual report for an important client, Calvin Textiles, due in early fall to coincide with the company’s yearly shareholders meeting. It was a large project requiring more than a hundred pages of text that would be co-ordinated with graphics and tables. I convinced the tech writer supervisor this could best be accomplished in its entirety at home, away from distraction.
I assembled all the necessary information and did some perfunctory phone interviews with senior company executives but that’s as far as it got. When Kate left for work in the morning, I sat in my office staring at the wall. Hour after hour. By mid-July I was seriously behind and unable to do the most rudimentary organization of the material. Thorsby’s words—psycho and crazy killer—kept interrupting my train of thought.
I felt no remorse for any of the killings, except in the way a soldier who has killed in the line of duty might. I felt badly for Cunningham’s grown children, a boy and two girls, and for his wife, but not for what I’d had to do. Each of the executed had been responsible for his own fate. Each had put himself into the line of fire by choosing a course that was counterproductive to society. I remained convinced that in the bigger picture the world was better off without the three of them selling sex, drugs and snake oil.
By early August, I was experiencing an all-encompassing numbness that manifested itself in varying degrees of mental and physical paralysis. I had difficulty lifting my body out of my office chair to move about the house or go to the bathroom. Simple everyday tasks like making a sandwich or emptying the dishwasher became an ordeal. Thorsby phoned once or twice but I was so abrupt he took the hint and quit calling. The contrast between my up time immediately after the killing and my near catatonic state a few months later so alarmed Kate she asked me to make an appointment with a neurologist.
One afternoon in the first week of July she came home from work to find me lying under a quilt on the living room rug, where I had been since before lunch. I had no idea how much time had passed and was surprised to see her come in.
“Why are you home so early, dear. You’ve caught me sneaking an afternoon nap.” I didn’t feel like talking but felt I had to say something. In those dark days of summer Kate was the only human being I was communicating with and I didn’t want her to know how far I had slipped over the edge.
“Early? Roger, for heaven’s sake it’s after six. I stopped at the grocery store after work to get a few things for supper.”
I couldn’t answer. To do so would have required energy that I did not possess.
“What’s wrong, honey? I’ve never seen you this low before. Are you having trouble with the annual report?”
The tenderness in her touch when she reached down and brushed the hair back from my brow triggered an emotional release. I began to cry, quiet and restrained. Tears of shame and frustration at my weakness, at my inability to cope. She got down on the rug beside me and crawled under the quilt. She stroked my face and neck.
“Nothing is as bad as it seems, Roger. No matter what happens I’ll be beside you at night, holding you. We’re a team. ‘Til death do us part.”
We lay like that for about an hour, the groceries Kate had picked up forgotten on the floor beside us in plastic bags. I tried to absorb her strength through our clothing. Neither of us ate that night. We went to bed when it was still light and Kate, as always, was sleeping soundly after a few minutes. I got up and went to my office and locked the door. I unscrewed the closet flooring and took out the gun. I put it on my desk amid the annual report papers and stared at its smooth steel surface, focusing my concentration, willing it to give me back the life force that ebbed out with each passing day. I stayed that way for a long time, maybe an hour or more, then replaced the gun and returned to bed. I tossed and turned and eventually fell into a restless sleep. In the morning I felt marginally better.
“Roger, I want you to get some help. You need to see someone, a professional who can help you get back on track. Your mood swings are becoming more severe. For a while in the spring you were practically walking on the ceiling and now you’re having trouble getting off the floor. Even your speech pattern has slowed. Maybe it’s something physical, something medication can help.”
Kate was standing at the front door, ready to leave for work. I was in the hall, unshaven for several days and still in my bathrobe. It’s hard to argue with someone speaking such an obvious truth.
“Yeah, I’ll look into it.”
“No, I’ll look into it, Roger. Just concentrate on writing your report. I’ll ask around, discreetly, and see if anyone knows someone who’s good. A psychiatrist or a psychologist. And when I find someone, I’ll make an appointment and drive you there. I want the old Roger back. The loveable but cranky guy I married.”
“So do I. So do I.”
I knew the old Roger was gone forever. And with good riddance. The old Roger was a faker, a phoney acting out every scene the way he thought it should be played. A weakling and a coward pretending to be happy and normal while the black dogs gnawed away inside.
I can’t blame my mental state on a bad childhood. I grew up in a mildly dysfunctional family. Dad was distant but not abusive. Mom, who died of colon cancer when I was 12, suffered from intermittent depression. I remember coming home from school to find her in bed. Dad would say—”Mother isn’t feeling well today, boys.”—and fix us sandwiches or pancakes for dinner before burying himself in the paper and falling asleep on the couch. After mom died, he just gave up.
He delivered milk for a living back when they dropped bottles right at your door. On his days off he worked with other milkmen paving driveways. Milkmen get up early and he was always tired. He did his duty by us boys, though, putting food on the table of our subsidized low rental row house, buying our clothes and schoolbooks. Paying for sports. But he never came to any games. He never told me he loved me. He was too tired.
Sam, who’s five years older, would go out at night and I would go to my room and read. He left home and joined the army right after high school, a year after mom died, leaving me alone with dad. The house was always quiet then, except for the drone of the TV. I don’t remember feeling lonely or particularly unhappy. I played sports, was a decent student and got along well at school, even though I didn’t socialize much.
The depression was periodic in my late teens and throughout my twenties, seemingly coming out of nowhere and settling in for a few weeks or a month. I’d always managed to get through it, burying myself in work or a hobby. I learned how to play chess and joined a club in university but after a year or so my interest faded. I built model ships. I started riding a bike. People who knew me then would be surprised to hear that I was experiencing inner turmoil. I kept it well hidden.
The depression escalated in my thirties, the episodes became longer and the periods between shorter. I compensated by socializing more, forcing myself to join in when what I wanted to do was isolate. In the first few years after I started work at my present job I was known as somewhat of a social animal. I went out for drinks after work and attended all the office functions.
Drinking made me feel normal, but it always wore off. I could be charming and attentive when required but it was all an act. I engaged in conversation and put on a happy face but inside I was empty, disconnected from humanity.
Kate came into my life during a low period. I was attracted to her even disposition and rock-solid moral values. She knew who she was and she liked herself. I turned on the charm during that first lunch date and the effort in doing so lifted the depression I’d been cloaked in when I walked into the insurance office that day.
Kate said later that she sensed I wasn’t as happy as I pretended to be in the first weeks we dated but it didn’t matter because she knew I was decent, not a phony like other men she went out with who put on airs. We dated for four months before I proposed. Kate was only the second woman I’d gone out with for any length of time.
My father died suddenly when I was in university. He collapsed on the milk route. A heart attack. I didn’t cry or feel sad like normal people do. I just felt depressed that the old man’s life came to an end in a puddle of buttermilk. That’s what they told my brother and me. He stepped out of the truck with a tray of milk and had a massive heart attack. Two quarts of milk hit the curb and busted. He had nothing to leave us but a couple boxes of papers and junk, a few family photos.
I met a girl I liked at the university chess club during my graduating year. My first girlfriend. I’d thrown myself back into chess to help fight off the depression that took over when the old man checked out. Her name was Melanie and she was majoring in education. We played a lot of chess and made awkward love a couple of times in the two-room basement suite I was renting near campus. At the end of the school year she went to her parents’ home in the Kootenays and never came back. I think she got involved with an old boyfriend.
She wrote me a letter saying she wasn’t returning to school but that she’d look me up when she came to the city. She never did. It didn’t bother me. I remember feeling relieved that I wouldn’t have to pretend I liked her more than I did. She was just someone to play chess with; the sex was an afterthought, an obligation, something expected.
I went out with other women over the years, especially in my Good Time Charlie period immediately after starting with the company. The other tech writers kidded me because I’d bring a different date to every office function. I slept with some of those women but there was little passion and no emotion involved. One-night stands and weekend affairs that always seemed to conclude by mutual agreement.
One woman, Rachel, took a real liking to me. We spent a weekend together on the Sunshine Coast and I must have triggered some need in her to nurture because she phoned every couple of weeks for about six months before losing interest. I wasn’t rude to her or anything; I just kept putting her off. I didn’t want to let anyone in to see the weakness. The darkness.
I thought about my past life a lot during those bleak July days—about my parents, my distant older brother, Melanie and Rachel and the others. You have to think about something when you spend hour upon hour staring at the wall or laying on the rug with your eyes open.
I suppose in immersing myself in the past I avoided dealing with the present, with the annual report and Kate and the emotionally crippling numbness. Though I didn’t consciously think it at the time, I was searching my memory for a seminal event in my life, something I could point to and say, “This is why I kill people.” I wanted a reason, not an excuse. I didn’t want to be Thorsby’s crazed psycho killer. It didn’t fit with the image I had of myself. I was judge, jury and executioner. Someone with the balls to do what had to be done. Someone to make things right.
I didn’t feel like someone with balls, then, though. I felt weak. A sneak.
Coverage of the Cunningham killing had long since tailed off. If the police knew the shots had been fired by the same gun that killed the pimp and the drug dealer they weren’t saying. I knew they didn’t have any cartridges. I thought about the police a lot. I wondered who was working on the cases, and if they thought about me as they tried to figure out a motive. I didn’t fear the police then. I considered them kindred spirits. People who wanted the bad guys eliminated.
The idea came to me as I lay on the rug, in the heat of a mid-afternoon sunbeam angling through the venetian blinds in zebra stripes. The thing missing was accountability. Without someone taking responsibility the killings were wasted. Just more random violence in a world saturated with senseless brutality. The more I thought about it the better I felt.
Two days later, a Thursday, I kissed Kate on the cheek as she left for work. A peck. She squeezed my arm.
“Everything’s going to be alright, Roger. You go see the counsellor tomorrow and I’m sure he’s going to help. Laura said Paul’s had a complete turn-around since he started seeing him last fall. He recommended medication and Laura said there haven’t been any side effects.”
Laura Carter was Kate’s boss. Her husband Paul had sunk into a deep depression in the months after his fiftieth birthday. We went to the party and Paul had dutifully presented himself as a content middle-aged man, blowing out his candles in two breaths and declaring himself to be a half-century young. They lived in a luxury downtown condo with an expansive view of water, mountains and city lights. Both had been married before, Paul twice, and had grown children. They enjoyed living well.
Paul had been one of the city’s top realtors in the boom years of the late 80s and early 90s. He had wispy grey hair combed down over his forehead and the thin-veined, ruddy complexion of someone who has lived a dissolute life. He was slightly built, handsome in a lived-in way and he exuded confidence that made him seem more attractive than he was. I knew he was a weak phony the first time we met. His handshake was too firm, his eye contact too direct, too much like something out of a Dale Carnegie book.
Laura was Kate’s closest friend. They went out to the theater and movies, sharing women confidences in pre-show dinners. Kate had told me Paul’s sales had dropped off, that he was drinking more than Laura liked. That he had problems with his children and that his second wife was initiating legal proceedings to get title to an apartment they jointly owned in lieu of delinquent alimony payments. None of this was apparent at the party, though. Paul danced and drank and acted the good host, the birthday boy. I wondered if I was the only one who could see through the act.
The counselor’s name was Don Adams. He was a psychologist, but Kate didn’t like that term. She called him a doctor. When she told me his name I laughed, a cynical laugh but the first one for a while.
“Don Adams.? Isn’t he the guy who played Maxwell Smart? Get Smart. It fits.” I said it bitterly.
“He knows his stuff, Roger. If you don’t give him a chance, he won’t be able to help you.”
Kate replied with uncharacteristic irritability. She was alarmed by my deterioration and I knew the counselor wasn’t optional if I wanted our marriage to continue smoothly. I planned to keep the appointment, go through the motions and emerge a few months later a cured man. Another happy client for Maxwell Smart.
In truth, I was already feeling better. The idea that arrived via a zebra-striped sunbeam had germinated into a plan. As soon as Kate’s car disappeared down the block I went to the basement to the corner where the box containing all that was left of Dad’s life was stacked. Papers and picture albums. A jar of cufflinks and tie clips. A few foreign coins. A small manual typewriter I couldn’t recall him ever using
I took the typewriter up to my office and cleared a space on my desk. I put on a pair of the surgical gloves I kept locked in my desk and inserted a sheet of computer printer paper. I typed a few lines of gibberish to test the ribbon. The first words were faint, but the type darkened as the ribbon loosened up. I took it as a sign. I put in a clean sheet and began to type:
I enjoyed your coverage of the Cunningham killing, particularly your conjecture about the killing being carried out as revenge by a victim of one of his clients. You weren’t far off the mark.
He was killed because of his sleazy legal maneuverings, alright, but not by an enraged victim. I executed Cunningham on behalf of the people of this great country who were all victimized by his unrepentant subversion of the justice system.
While that killing garnered all the attention, the police and media have characteristically failed to zero in on the bigger picture. Cunningham’s removal was not a random act but part of a plan to neutralize that element of society that by its perversion, weakness and disregard for the greater good threaten our way of life.
Richard Cunningham, Q.C. was preceded into the hereafter by two others of his ilk, the pimp Tremaine Evers and the drug dealer Tran Doc Ho, both executed while plying their unsavory chosen professions.
If the police are on the ball, which cannot be taken as a given, they will have already identified the bullets in all three killings as having been fired by the same gun, a .357 magnum.
Moreover, while no other candidates have been targeted for execution at this point, all those who put self-interest above the rights of ordinary citizens to carry out their daily lives unimpeded by legal, criminal, political or bureaucratic encumbrance should consider themselves to be in the line of fire.
The People’s Wolf
I’d thought about making obvious spelling and grammar mistakes in the note for deception purposes but decided against it. I knew my communication would inevitably become public and I wanted to avoid Thorsby’s psycho killer label. It was important that the People’s Wolf was deemed to be rational, that the killings were seen to have a purpose so people would realize they could fight back, that they weren’t powerless.
Sending the letter was risky in that it would likely jump start the investigation and could be the impetus behind the formation of a task force. But the change in mood I experienced in composing it and planning for its delivery more than nullified any increased risk. I’d bought the paper the previous day at a large stationary store, being careful to pick the most common type and pay for it in cash. I wore surgical gloves while handling the paper and envelope, which I sealed with a wet sponge. I posted the letter in a downtown mailbox on my way to the appointment with Maxwell Smart.
Don Adams’ office was located on West Broadway near Vancouver General Hospital, a 10-minute drive from the site of the drug dealer’s execution in an area favored by doctors, dentists, x-ray clinics and medical labs. One-stop shopping for the sick of body and mind.
The office was on the second floor of a commercial mall on the southeast corner of Cambie St., above a Thai restaurant. I pulled in and parked in a spot reserved for restaurant patrons. The address Kate had given me was posted on a door sandwiched between the restaurant and a convenience store. My appointment was for 10 a.m. I was a few minutes early so I dallied in front of the restaurant feigning interest in the menu. I walked to the office door, hoping it would be locked. I pushed and it opened. There was no lobby, just a stairway, an elevator and a notice board indicating the upstairs occupants. A notary public, an accounting firm, a chiropractor and Don Adams, Suite 203.
I took the stairs to the first landing two at a time, then paused to catch my breath. The window on the landing looked out onto a lane. A faded and soiled single mattress protruded from the dumpster. The kind a child would sleep on. Or a widowed senior. Two street people sat on the pavement in its shadow smoking. The window was streaked with dust. I leaned heavily against the wall and fought an urge to return to the car and drive away. And keep driving. Anywhere but here. I had no intention of sharing my weakness with a stranger. Letting him into my private place.
I took the rest of the stairs slowly, one at a time, and paused for a moment at the top to orient myself. The hall was dim. Dreary. Adams was at the end on the left. He pried into peoples’ minds from behind an anonymous solid door distinguished only by the suite number.
The door opened into a surprisingly bright reception area. An odd-looking woman with wine-colored hair and oversize red-framed glasses looked up from the reception desk when I entered.
“You’re very prompt, Mr. Delaney. I’m Gail Whitesong, Mr. Adams’ girl Friday. Actually, I’m his Monday-Wednesday-Thursday girl. The office isn’t open Tuesday and Friday.”
She seemed pleasant, outgoing. White with some Asian stirred in. I put her in her mid-thirties, but you can never tell with that mix. She had large almond-shaped eyes, black, and her skin was a creamy blend of white and yellow. Her forehead was concealed behind reddish-purple bangs that hung to the top of the huge round glasses.
She parted her hair in the middle and it fell just above her shoulders, in a stylish semi-circle of deep red wine. I pegged the banter as her standard ice-breaker with new ‘clients.’ That’s what they call you. A client. As if you’re there for legal advice. A phony way to begin. I didn’t laugh.
She handed me a clipboard with a single sheet of paper attached asking a bunch of nosy questions. Did I smoke? Consume alcohol? How many drinks a week? Were my parents still alive? Was my relationship with them good or bad? How many siblings did I have? Did any family member suffer from depression or any other mental illness? Did I get headaches?
A load of crap. I answered all 25 questions in a minute or so—yes, no, not applicable. A lot of not applicables.
Gail Whitesong took the clipboard back.
“You’re quick as well as prompt. Or maybe you’re prompt because you’re quick. I’ll tell Don you’re here.”
The reception area had four or five chairs and a couple of magazine-strewn coffee tables with tissue boxes. I walked to the window and looked down on the alley. A different perspective on the dumpster. The mattress appeared less soiled from this angle. The street people had moved on. The windowpane was clean of dust and dirt. A brighter day.
“Mr. Delaney. I’m Don Adams. Come into my office and have a seat in the easy chair. We like everything easy here. Can we get you coffee or tea? A glass of water? A soda. Gail brings in cookies most days.”
She handed him the clipboard and he looked it over as he ushered me in. Adams looked to be in his late thirties. He had jet black hair swept back in a pompadour that covered his ears and flowed to his shirt collar in back. The front overhang defied gravity. It looked like a wig. Too dark. Too big to be real.
He was a small man with a deep voice, maybe five foot six, with a medium build, dressed conservatively in a white shirt and tie. The shirt was tucked into cheap blue dress pants that didn’t quite reach the tops of his black lace-up walking shoes. The kind seniors wear to Walmart. What could this pipsqueak tell me about life? I pegged him right off as a hypocrite. A guy who’d built his whole life with smoke and mirrors. Convincing weak people he can help them when he’s so fucked up he wears a jet black wig.
Adams played host. Polite. Solicitous. Sizing me up.
I was on his turf. At a disadvantage. He knew I had a problem. This first meeting was about taking stock. How much would either of us give up to get the result we wanted.
He had faded blue eyes, a smallish straight nose and a strong chin. A friendly face crinkled with laugh lines. He could be handsome with different hair. I knew I couldn’t get mental help from a little man wearing sensible shoes and a bad rug.
I took the easy chair and accepted a glass of water from Gail Whitesong. She set it on a side table beside a small plate of cookies and left the room, closing the door. Adams grabbed a straight-backed chair from against the wall and placed it directly in front of the easy chair. Maybe five feet away. Too close. He sat down, his back straight, shoulders squared, knees together, and looked at me. Neither of us spoke.
The silence went on for a full minute. A long time for two strangers to have a stare-off. The longer it went on the more hostile I felt. I thought of giving him a bad hair day by dumping the glass of water on his head. Instead, I reached over and took a sip. The motion broke the stare-off.
“So, Roger, what do you want to see me about today.”
He shifted in the chair, turning his legs slightly to the side while anchoring those black lace-up shoes. His tone was kindly, concerned. I wondered what he’d say if I told him I killed people. The thought of it brightened me.
“My wife thinks I need help. I guess you helped her friend’s husband and she thinks you can fix me too.”
“What do you think? Do you need fixing?”
He leaned closer, just for a second, before standing up.
“Well, you seem like a man with a handle on life. I have enough trouble helping people who want my help. In my experience people must be desperate to facilitate lasting change. You don’t appear desperate and by your answers on the questionnaire many possible areas of concern aren’t applicable to you. I can’t help you and it wouldn’t be right to take money and pretend otherwise.”
Adams kept his tone even, non-confrontational. One smart guy to another. An easy out for both of us. It threw me off.
“That’s it. I came all the way over here for that.”
“I don’t know why you came, Roger. But that is it. That’s all I have for you. I can only help people who admit they have a problem. It’s a team effort. I don’t work alone. And if there’s no problem you shouldn’t be here.”
He laughed easily as he moved his chair to the wall. I leaned back in the easy chair unable to move. I didn’t want to leave the room, to go back into the world. Back to the fear. The black dogs. Spinning the chamber.
We had another moment of silence. Not a stare-off this time. He was off to the side and I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me. I figured he was, so I used the quiet time to look around the office. The walls were a warm brown colour, dark enough to make the room seem smaller than it was. Cozy. I didn’t notice the sliding balcony door when I came in because the curtains were partially closed. I could see enough to know it opened onto a small deck with planters and a table and two chairs.
He had a modest desk and chair, with requisite framed degrees on the wall behind, where clients were sure to see them. There was one plant in the room in a huge pot. It grew up the side of the patio door, across the top and down the other side. A leafy green serpent. Green metal filing cabinets took up most of the wall space beneath the window. I wondered what secrets were concealed there. And about how easy it would be for someone to break in and find them out.
I don’t know how much time passed before Adams shifted slightly. A subtle signal from one smart guy to another.
“Okay, you got me. I’ve got a problem.”
I choked a bit at the end. It surprised me the way it came out. So feeble.
Adams stepped forward and lowered his voice: “Is it something you can’t solve yourself? Do you want my help?”
The sneaky bastard wanted a verbal commitment. To get me onside with the program. On the team. I knew what he was up to. Pure psychological bullshit. But the smart little prick had me backed into a corner. I had to answer in the affirmative or get up and leave the office. Things might have been different if I’d just got up and left right then. I can’t explain why, even now, but I didn’t want to leave that room.
“I’ve been depressed since I was a teenager. It comes and goes but for the last while things have gotten bleak. I’ve lived with it for 25 years but it’s bleaker now, and I’m married. My wife is concerned… and so am I.”
Adams grabbed the chair again and set it down in front of me, back to front. I thought for a moment that he was going to sit with his back to me as some kind of bullshit psychological ploy. But he straddled it instead, placing his arms on the back and resting his chin on his arms. He looked at me with concern.
“What is the depression like?”
“What do you mean?”
I hated him at that moment. Fucking charlatan. I wanted to drop kick his chin right off the back of the chair.
“Depression is just a word. I mean what does it feel like to you? How does it affect your life?”
“It feels like reality.”
“Hmm. Interesting, but what does reality feel like?”
He wanted to play word games.
“Reality is seeing the world for the shithole it is. It means understanding that nothing matters. People are born, people die. Things happen. Nothing anyone does means shit. Reality feels like nothing. A big empty void.”
“Is that your view of the world?”
“It’s not my view, it’s just the way things are. I see it clearly, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m not qualified to debate the state of the world. How about we start out by getting to know a little bit about each other,” he said.
His voice was compelling. It offered hope.
“I’ll go first. I have a Phd in psychology from the University of Alberta. I’m from a small town in Saskatchewan called Kepsie. It has three grain elevators and two commercial streets, each a couple of blocks long. The town is surrounded by empty prairie on all sides. I went to high school there. Kepsie Senior Secondary.
I wasn’t a super popular kid. Not one of the in crowd. A little too intellectual for a teenager. But I was quite good at baseball so I got along okay. My dad worked for the provincial highways department. He operated a grader in summer and drove a snow plow in the winter. My mother was a homemaker. She had four children. I’m in the middle. She died of breast cancer when I was 13. She died at home. A hard death. My father carried on. We all did. We had no choice. But dad was never the same. He remarried in his late 50s and still lives in Kepsie.”
He’d probably told a hundred sad sacks the same pathetic story.
“I came out to the West Coast a few months after graduating, new diploma in hand, out to set the world on fire. I wanted to help people. I wanted to change things for the better. Of course, I didn’t know enough to really help people back then and I struggled to make it financially for the first few years. Not many people wanted to share their lives with a guy who looked like Doogie Houser. Then I met my wife; she’s a physicist and a brilliant woman. We have two great kids.”
He paused to reach behind for a framed picture on his desk. He brought it around, looking at it as he did, then turned the picture so it faced me. It was a standard studio shot, Adams and his wife behind, two small kids in front. His wife was matronly, with a wide nose holding up large librarian glasses. Stout. The intelligence came through in her face, though. The boys were homely. They had the worst features of each parent. Both had thick, black hair.
“Nice family,” I said.
“You’re probably asking yourself how a guy like me can help you. As you know, a psychology degree doesn’t come with any special insights. It certainly doesn’t qualify me to advise other people how they should live their lives. Getting the doctorate took six years. It was an endurance event. An exercise in perseverance. You just put your head down and plough through it to the end. Then they give you the piece of paper and you go out into the world pretending to know more about life than other people. You don’t.
“I have many failings as a human being and I’m a long way from being a perfect husband or father. What I do have is a gift. The god-given ability to empathize and connect with other people. And I say god-given with a small g because it’s not about religion. What I mean is I was born with the ability to get inside people’s heads, to feel the things they’re feeling. I’m not talking about reading minds. I can’t foretell the future other than to say that if you work with me it’s very likely things will get better for you. I can’t say when, or even how it will happen but experience tells me that it will. I’ve helped a lot of people over the last 10 years.”
I sat there fuming. The smarmy little Elvis impersonator actually imagined he could get inside my head. Here I am, the People’s Wolf, soon to be the most talked about person in the city, and this little prick is telling me he can get inside my head. To feel things I feel. That was the first time I thought about killing him. Not a serious thought. Just a milli-second in a moment of intense rage. If he could really feel what I was feeling, then he was feeling hatred. Hatred and fear.
Fear kept me there on that first visit. Fear that walking out would mean walking into unrelenting blackness. I didn’t want to explain to my wife that things hadn’t gone well. I didn’t want to spin the chamber on the gun again. I didn’t want to kill anyone else. Most of all, I didn’t want to get caught.
“My mother died when I was 12. I guess that’s at least one thing you can empathize with.”
The words sounded distant. Like they were coming from my mouth but not from my brain.
“My father was a milkman. A nice man without ambition. He did what he could after mom died but her death took the best part of him. I don’t remember him doing anything but work. Nobody ever came over and he didn’t go out. When he wasn’t working, he read the paper or laid on the couch and watched TV. I remember him being tired. Always tired. My older brother left home the year after mom died. He joined the Canadian military. He moved around a lot and I never saw much of him after that. He stayed in the service long enough to pension out in his early forties as a Master Seargent. He lives in Red Deer, Alberta, with his wife, no kids. He worked as a rent-a-cop for a security firm until he had a stroke. I haven’t seen him in years. Wouldn’t know what he looked like if I passed him on the street.”
“That’s too bad, Roger. Family is an important connection with the world.”
He inserted his comment at exactly the moment I paused. Smooth. A smooth little prick.
“I like to wear sports coats.”
I said it to put him off. To ruffle the smoothness.
“I’ve got a dozen sport coats in my closet, one for every occasion. Colour-coded on their hangers, from light to dark. Does that mean I have an orderly mind?”
“My best guess is that it means you like to dress well and take pride in your appearance. Therefore, you care about what people think about you. I like the jacket you’re wearing today. It’s a nice colour and cut. When I was single I always wanted to dress sharp but I could never seem to get it right. I’ve never had much fashion sense. My wife has the good taste in the family. She does all the shopping. She knows my size and the colours I like.”
I had to give it to him. He was hard to ruffle. And he had me talking. I told him I was an English grad and that I made my living as a technical writer. I got into my university years and that first girlfriend, Melanie. How she left and I felt relieved.
He cut me off before I could get into my Good-time Charlie period. Before I met Kate. He ended our session by asking me to try fifteen minutes a day of quiet time.
“Just find a quiet place. Somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Get comfortable. I prefer to sit up because I usually fall asleep if I lay down. Let your mind relax and see what comes.”
“See what comes?”
I couldn’t keep the edge out of my tone. The goofy little faker wasn’t connecting very well with my mind. My whole life was quiet time. I didn’t have to find a special spot. I already knew what would come. Bleakness. Poison.
“Yes, see what comes.”
He didn’t acknowledge the edginess. He said it pleasantly, then asked me to stand. I had to apply pressure with my legs to get the recliner back up. I stood awkwardly and faced him, about five feet away.
“I like to end sessions with a mutual show of respect.”
He put his hands together as if in prayer, tilted them forward towards me, then bowed his head slowly, the overhang of his black bouffant obscuring his face. The session’s end had a weird uplifting feel to it. A kind of silly symmetry.
“Gail will set you up with another appointment. I think we should see each other every other week to start. See how things go.
Go to previous instalment – Chapter 1. A pimp gets some
I didn’t start looking around for the second one until January, more than six months after the pimp. The despondency was back. Heavier than ever. I’d been on a slide since early fall. Christmas was bad. Two houses on our block were broken into the week before. The Shelbys, who lived across the street, had all their Christmas presents ripped off. I heard Helen telling Kate about it and it made me feel small inside.
I was watching the six o’clock news when I made the decision. The lead item was about drug dealing in Pigeon Park, a down-and-out area about three or four miles further down Hastings from where we lived. The police had conducted an undercover operation and nabbed a bunch of low-level drug dealers who operated in the Downtown Eastside.
One of the scumbags caught in the net, a Hispanic from Central America, had been processed at the Main Street police station and released on bail. The television cameras caught him coming out and instead of shying away from the media attention he sauntered up to the camera with a macho swagger and gave the viewers a one-finger salute. A kind of “Fuck you, Canada!” that infuriated me.
I don’t know why I got so mad. I wasn’t particularly patriotic. It just pissed me off, the arrogance of it. I locked the office door, unscrewed the compartment and hefted the gun in my hand. I aimed it at the TV, at the smiling face of the news anchor.
“Fuck you, scumbag, you’re going to get some too.”
I started planning it then and the depression lifted, replaced by self-righteous fury that energized me. I knew it would be too difficult to get the guy on the newscast, so I resolved to get a drug dealer, any drug dealer, but preferably a foreigner. Someone who was taking advantage of Canadian hospitality. It didn’t matter who, so long as a message was delivered.
Pigeon Park was the obvious location, but it didn’t appeal to me. Too many people around. Too many cops in the area. Too many cameras. Too dangerous. A few months before, one of the women in the office had complained about a drug house operating on the corner near her place, on the East Side, off Broadway and Fraser. I took to driving past. The drug house wasn’t hard to spot. A big run-down old shack with an overgrown yard. People coming and going. I could see how it would upset the neighbourhood.
On my third swing past I noticed a guy, he looked Chinese or Vietnamese, standing in the shadow of a big tree on a side street around the corner from the drug house. I pulled the Explorer over and looked at the guy. He came over to the passenger window, but I waved him off and he went back to standing under the tree. Sullen. I drove away.
A few nights later, a Thursday, I came back about the same time, on my mountain bike. I didn’t want my vehicle recognized. Nobody was there so I circled the block, casual-like, just a guy out for an evening’s ride. I didn’t draw any attention to myself.
I went back on Saturday, earlier this time, around 7:30 p.m. There was an Asian guy standing in the same spot under the tree. I rode past down the sidewalk and glanced at the guy as I went. I couldn’t tell if it was the same guy. It didn’t matter. I knew what he was doing. I rode to the end of the block and turned at the corner. I stopped and looked up the street. A car had pulled to the curb and the Asian guy went over. A minute later the car left, and the Asian guy blended back into the shadows under the tree. “You’re it,” I said to myself, and pedaled off home.
I waited two weeks, until the time was right, a Saturday night. Kate was going to a baby shower for the receptionist in her office. I went shopping with her in the afternoon and helped her pick a gift, a blue knit jump suit with tiny little feet. Looking at the baby clothes made her melancholy.
We’d long ago agreed we didn’t want children, but she was acting a bit petulant, as if the decision had been forced on her. I was feeling conciliatory so rather than withdrawing, as I might have on another day, I said I’d put a bottle of wine in the fridge and we’d have it by candlelight when she came home.
“Just because we’re not going to make babies doesn’t mean we can’t go through the motions, honey.”
She smiled at that and before she left kissed me on the cheek at the front door. As soon as her car was out of sight I went to the office and unscrewed the floorboard. I’d handled the gun a lot in the past couple of weeks and it felt good in my hand. I put a full load in and spun the chamber. I made sure the safety was on then went into a crouch and aimed with both hands at my computer screen.
I’d been edgy the entire week, waking up in the night imagining a thousand scenarios that could go wrong. An innocent person out walking. Somebody driving past. The drug dealer pulling out a gun of his own. A drug accomplice emerging from the shadows firing. But now that it was time for action, I felt remarkably calm.
I dressed in the same navy-blue jogging suit and strapped the fanny pack around my waist, with the pack around front. I put the gun in and swung the pack to the side, like a holster. I sat down in my office chair and went over the plan, such as it was. I’d decided to park the Explorer on the other side of Broadway, a block down and about three blocks north of the killing ground, on a side street with a lot of two-story walk-ups. I’d been through the area several times and there were enough apartments around that a person coming or going wouldn’t be noticed. The night was wet, and I put on a plain black baseball cap without a crest.
I left the house at 7:10 p.m. and drove directly to the parking area through a light drizzle. I got there at 7:23, which surprised me because I thought it was a longer drive. I sat in the car for a moment, going over things, then walked to the opposite end of the block from the direction I’d be returning to the car.
The adrenalin rush I got stepping out of that vehicle was unlike anything I’d experienced. Even for the pimp killing. Objects in my immediate landscape got bigger, clearer, slower. A guy came out of a three-storey walk-up and turned the other way. He was 20 yards ahead of me on the sidewalk, but I was almost looking over his shoulder. My brain was processing at turbo warp speed. Movement. Colour. Vehicles. Cameras. People. Dogs. Anything that posed a threat. Anything out of place. All floating at the edge of conscious thought but not interfering with a sense of purpose focused into a pinpoint. The Buddhists have it right. Nothing exists away from the moment. Nothing mattered except my all-in move on life. A thrill to die for.
I walked to Broadway slowly, practising the pace I wanted to keep after the killing, my hand on the gun in the fanny pack. At the first break in traffic, I crossed and walked up two blocks to East 11th, a block past the kill site, and headed east towards Fraser Street. I wanted to approach the shadow of the tree from a direction opposite where the Explorer was parked.
A perfect rainforest night for killing. Soggy. With poor visibility. Except for me. I saw everything clear and sharp. Fraser Street was busy, but I wasn’t worried about being identified from a passing car. Drivers were straining to negotiate the wet streets through foggy windows. What worried me was somebody looking out a house window or walking a dog. If that happened, I would abort.
I paused at the corner of Fraser and 10th as if I was going to cross Fraser. I looked over at the big tree, but nobody was there. My body sagged and the letdown made me realize how keyed up I was. I had a wild impulse to kick the front door of the drug house and blast whoever opened it.
Instead, I turned to walk down 10th on the opposite side from the kill site, back to the Explorer. As I turned my head, I noticed a motion in the shadows and the figure of a man tight against the tree trunk. The silhouette of his head, caught in the microsecond of a moment, cost the drug dealer his life.
I crossed the street at a measured pace, so as not to alarm him. When I was close enough that he knew I could see him I said, “Hey bro, you got something for me.”
He said something in Chinese or some other far-away language. Three or four words. He moved his body off the tree trunk with a backward shove and reached into a coat pocket. I wasn’t nearly as calm as with Tremmie. I wanted to fire off a shot right then, but I was ten feet away and the gun was still in the fanny pack.
“What you got for me?” I asked again, moving closer.
He said something else, this time in heavily accented English, which I couldn’t make out. It seemed like he was talking money. I kept smiling and reached into my pocket with my free hand and pulled out some bills, a ten and a twenty. This time I understood him.
“No enough. No enough.”
I held the money out and moved closer. I glanced around quickly, as if looking out for a cop. We were alone on the street.
“How much do you want, then, a full load.”
He spread his thumb and fingers to indicate five, then formed a zero with his other hand.
I was almost close enough to touch him when I pulled the gun out and pointed it at his stomach.
“Canadian justice is harsh, my foreign friend,” I said.
I squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened. The safety was on. My adrenaline red-lined. The stupid little bastard stood there staring so I flicked the safety off and fired.
He dropped on his ass. A big red stain spread across his jacket front. He didn’t twitch or jerk he just sat there and moaned foreign shit. His crotch was wet with pee. I didn’t want to get any blood on me, so I gripped the gun with both hands and fired again from where I stood. The second shot hit him high in the chest, about six inches under his Adam’s apple. He stopped moaning.
The shots roared in my ears and I wanted to run full bore for the vehicle. Instead, I moved a few doors down into the shadow of another tree and hopped a short fence into a yard. For a horrifying second, I thought it might be the house of the woman from my office and that she would come running out to see what all the commotion was about.
I scanned the street and saw a guy on the other side of Fraser looking my way. “Fuck.” The front porch lights came on at two or three houses. I disappeared into the darkness at the side of the house and moved through the yard into the alley. I ran down the alley, stopping to compose myself for a second at the end of the block. I was surprised and alarmed to see the gun in my hand. I stuffed it back into the fanny back and morphed back to Buddha.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy.” I said it softly, like a mantra. “Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
Traffic was heavier and I had to wait to cross. I heard the siren before I reached the other side. Incredibly, the police had taken minutes to respond.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.”
I fought off the full flight urge while walking the two blocks to the Explorer, wondering sickly how long it would take them to seal off an area. When I got to the corner of the street where I’d parked, I broke into a slow jog. The inside lights were on. The driver’s door wasn’t completely closed.
I couldn’t remember if I’d locked the car, or even if I closed the door. I’d been gone less than 15 minutes so there was lots of juice left in the battery. But it was a stupid mistake. A lighted car is a noticed car.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
I unstrapped the fanny pack and stuffed it under the seat. The Explorer smelled of gunpowder, or at least I imagined it did. The digital clock on the dash read 7:47 p.m.
I drove to Fraser, then north a block to Broadway. From the intersection I could see a crowd gathering on the next corner. Two police cars blocked the entrance to the street. Flashing red and blue light reflected off the houses and trees just in from the corner. Traffic was backing up in all directions and I was lucky to squeeze in a left hand turn on the orange. Broadway was clear on my side going away from the shooting and the empty road calmed me. I turned north at Knight and everything was back to normal. I pulled up in front of my house at 7:58.
The drug dealer killing had taken less than an hour. Killing doesn’t take a lot of time.
I went to the office, unloaded the gun, and wiped it down before placing it back in the floor, every sense in full alert. Reliving the moment. Incredibly alive. I can’t put it into words, except to say killing is a powerful drug.
It took longer to calm down after the drug dealer. I stared at the TV, then put a video in I’d watched half a dozen times—House of Games, starring Joe Montegna—but I shut it off after five minutes. The movie playing inside my head was more compelling.
Kate got back just before midnight. A girlfriend from work dropped her off and I could hear them laughing and talking on the quiet street. Kate wasn’t a drinker. I could tell by her pitch that she’d had a few glasses of wine. That was good.
Kate has an eye for detail. That’s why I’m so careful with the gun. She notices if things aren’t quite right. Better that her senses were slightly dulled.
Also, booze makes Kate horny. She loses a lot of inhibitions. I knew we were going to have sex the minute she walked through the door.
“You’re still up.”
She said it louder than normal, laughing at the sight of the open wine bottle in my hand.
“I’ve been waiting for you dear. I thought you might like a nightcap after all that baby talk.”
We didn’t get through the first glasses. We made love on the day bed in the TV room. Killing improved my sex drive. Kate fell asleep right after, and I covered her with a quilt. I sat in the living room in the dark for a long time. Going over everything; over and over. Nothing connected me, except the gun. I knew it had to go.
I slept late. Almost to 11.
“It’s not like you to sleep-in, honey. Are you feeling okay?” Kate sat on the edge of the bed and touched my shoulder. She was solicitous. The sex had reconnected us after months of drifting apart.
“I’m fine, dear. I couldn’t sleep so I read late.”
“What are you reading?”
“Oh, true crime, you know, somebody who thinks they can get away with murder.”
“Is the murderer a man or woman?”
“Some insurance salesman who puts out a $10,000 contract on his heavily insured wife, then kills the guy who does the murder.”
“What’s the title?”
Kate’s like that. It’s not that she’s suspicious. She’s interested in details. If you tell her about a dinner you had at a restaurant two weeks previous, she’ll ask about what vegetables were served; how they were cooked; what spices if any were used; the type of bread that accompanied the meal; whether the bread was served warm.
“A Murderous Policy. Paper here yet?”
“Yes, it is, dear. Have some juice and I’ll bring it up.”
She put the glass on the side table, flicked on the lamp and opened the curtains. Rain pelted down on the greyest of days. I couldn’t wait to read the paper. The killing had happened in plenty of time to make the first edition. On a slow news day, it would get decent play. I found it on page 3 of the B section:
CITY RECORDS 7TH MURDER
A landed immigrant who had been in the country less than three months was shot dead last night on an East Vancouver street.
Tran Hoc Do, a 22-year-old Vietnamese national, was dead before the ambulance arrived. Police said he was shot twice.
Police spokesman Cpl. Marjorie Hooley said police did not know if the killing was gang related. She said Do wasn’t known to police but that the corner where he was killed is a place where drugs are available.
Hooley said police are interviewing residents and motorists but would not confirm reports that a pedestrian witnessed the killing.
Do arrived in Canada in November. He was sponsored by an older brother, a restaurant worker in the city. His mother preceded him to Vancouver by a year, also sponsored by his brother.
The murder, which happened about 7:30 p.m., is the 7th homicide recorded this year, putting the city on pace to break the record of 78 murders set in 1987.
“Murder doesn’t fit into statistical patterns,” said Hooley. “We can have 10 killings in January and not have another until March. If it’s a drug turf thing, they tend to come in bunches.”
I reread the story several times. Seeing his life summed up in a few paragraphs bothered me. It took a little edge off my high. The story made it sound routine. A young guy who fell in with bad company and ended up a homicide statistic. Nobody could know how swiftly Canadian justice had been dispensed. I didn’t feel sorry for the kid. I knew he was selling drugs even if the police weren’t prepared to admit it. The penalty for selling drugs is death in southeast Asia. Why should Canada be different?
I wondered what his drug cohorts would think. Would it make them more cautious? Would they mistakenly exact revenge on some hapless fringe player in the drug trade? Perhaps the killing would start a turf war and the ripple effect would rid us of a few more pushers? The thought of it perked me up.
“Any plans today, Roger, or are you just going to lay in bed all day.”
Kate had showered. Her hair was still wet and her breasts, visible where her robe hung open in front, were tinged with pink from the hot water. I took her hand and pulled her down beside me.
“Why don’t we both stay in bed all day.”
The important things in life became clear in the weeks after the drug dealer. I realized how much Kate meant to me. So complex, yet so transparent. So stable. Capable of so many emotions but so lacking in guile. My libido reactivated with a ferocity I hadn’t experienced, even as a teenager, and we made love often. We were close and connected. Work was going well, too. I was assigned to write the history of a large engineering firm for the company’s 100th anniversary.
It turned out to be an interesting story that required a lot of research and I spent days pouring over newspaper clippings at the library and old photos at the city archives. Some of the photos showed men on wilderness job sites, carbines in their hands or lying against a tree or stump nearby. I imagined what their lives must have been like and wondered if any of them had used one of those rifles to kill anybody. Not likely.
We went to dinner with the Carters a few times and even began to entertain at home, which we had done infrequently before, mostly because of my reluctance. I wanted to see people, to be around them, to interact in a way I’d never been accomplished at.
“So, Roger, what’s new in the technical writing world?”
I couldn’t stand Paul Carter, with his fifty-dollar realtor haircuts and manicured nails. He was too slick by half but I kept my fake face on for Kate’s sake.
“Words. I learn new words all the time.”
“My father faithfully read that section in Reader’s Digest to expand his vocabulary. The one where you learn a new word a day.”
The superior bastard was dumbing me down to his father’s level. Like I needed help with my vocabulary.
“He probably wouldn’t learn about adiabatic walls in Reader’s Digest.”
It came out harsher than I intended but the old smoothie didn’t take noticeable offense.
“It’s a barrier through which heat energy can’t pass.”
“That might be useful in our office instead of baffles. A lot of hot air goes back and forth in real estate.”
He laughed. I did too. It was a good comeback.
I started riding my bike again and going for walks around the neighbourhood, in the opposite direction from the Franklin Stroll. I didn’t care what they were doing to each other down there anymore. It was as if the pimp killing had exorcised my resentment towards the human trash who habituated that street. I knew another pimp had taken Tremmie’s place, maybe even with the same two girls. There were more pimps than I had bullets.
About three months after the drug dealer killing, around the beginning of May, I became lethargic and lapsed into prolonged despondencies, deeper and darker than before, which became increasingly difficult to keep from the world. I’d wrapped up the engineering history a few weeks before and at first Kate attributed my mood swing to the project’s end. A kind of letdown I’d experienced in the past after completing large projects. We stopped making love and I became more distant. I’d taken to locking myself in the office again, handling the gun instead of doing the work I insisted needed my unfettered concentration. A couple of times I put the gun in my mouth. Cold and metallic. I could feel pressure building inside.
The third killing came out of a Vancouver story that lead off the National News. About the verdict in a murder trial, the longest and most costly in B.C. history, in which a half dozen Asian defendants were acquitted of murdering a rival drug dealer. The killing happened long before I’d executed my own drug dealer and I’d followed the story in the paper. Everybody knew the defendants were guilty, one of them had threatened the victim on TV. Two eyewitnesses pointed out the triggermen in court, adding to the prosecution’s substantive case.
The killers delved into their drug profits to hire a provincial version of O.J.’s dream team and the high-priced lawyers blatantly stole a page from Johnnie Cochrane’s legal pad by playing the race card. The defence, as trumpeted almost daily in the press for the final month of the trial, consisted of character assassination on investigating officers and witnesses.
In his summation, the team’s lead lawyer, Richard Cunningham, Q.C., accused police of participating in a conspiracy based on their hatred of Asians males, all of whom he said they suspected of having gang ties. Amazingly, the jury bought it. But what was most galling about the whole thing, was that halfway through the trial the defendants had claimed to be indigent, forcing the crown to pick up the dream team’s tab for the remaining three months when Cunningham and his team threatened to walk away from the trial.
I’d followed the O.J. trial and there were quite a few times when I sat staring at Johnnie Cochrane’s arrogant face, fantasizing about what his last words would be. I stayed home to watch the O.J. verdict, and became so furious when the foreman said not guilty, I had to pace around the house to calm myself.
When the National’s cameraman zeroed in on Cunningham on the courthouse steps after the trial, I immediately knew he was the one. He hadn’t bothered to remove his robes before conducting post-verdict interviews, no doubt hoping the legal attire added visual weight to his pontification.
“Justice has been served,” he told reporters. “If anybody is guilty of anything it’s the police officers who perpetrated this conspiracy against my clients. They should be purged from the force. We demand a full inquiry and will push for harsh penalties for those who breached the public trust. Fortunately, we have a justice system that places the fate of innocent defendants, not in the hands of the police or the state, but instead in the care of 12 fellow citizens. The jurors sat through six long months of arduous and at times acrimonious testimony. They heard 93 people testify. The verdict is a tribute to their diligence and common sense.”
He turned and walked down the steps, ignoring reporters’ questions, and ducked into a grey Mercedes parked at the curb. Cameramen trailed after the car as it pulled away, just like in the movies, but Richard Cunningham, QC, having gotten his point across and the last word, had no urgent need to tell the press more. He would save his best stuff for an in-depth interview conducted in a more comfortable setting, an interview he could spend days preparing for once the full impact of the verdict could be discerned. His tactics had not made him any friends on the police force, but the general public is more forgiving. He knew people respected slick lawyers even if they helped the guilty escape justice.
Not me. I hated Cunningham in the moments after that National broadcast with a fury that almost caused me to black out. I had to sit down to keep myself from falling over. The blood rushing to my head produced an intense pain behind my right eye. I thought it might be an aneurism. Cunningham represented every smooth talker who’d ever finessed or bullied his way around logic. “Greedy scum. Self-righteous cocksucker. Arrogant mercenary cunt.” The invectives leaked from my mouth like verbal poison, surprising even me by their intensity.
I knew Cunningham would be more difficult to kill than a pimp or street level drug dealer. His home and office would be monitored by electronic equipment. He would be hard to catch alone. Still, the thought of exacting the people’s justice on this pompous, smooth-talking mouthpiece lifted me out of despondency and I set out to research him as I would any story subject.
I went to the library and ran his name through the computer, careful to ensure there would be no way to connect me to the search. I found a three-year-old Vancouver Magazine profile entitled “He Always Gets His Man— Off” and it was there, buried deep in the article, I discovered his soft underbelly.
Cunningham possessed two traits that would serve me well. He was both a workaholic and a creature of habit. The profiler reported breathlessly that Cunningham fit into the A-type personality that needs little sleep.
“No matter what time he goes to bed, he rises at 5:30 a.m., performs a precision 20-minute workout in the gym off the master bedroom in his West Vancouver home, before crossing the Lions Gate Bridge to take his place, no later than 6:30 a.m., behind his massive mahogany desk on the 16th floor of the Bentall Centre. There, with the city waking below, and the water and mountains as a backdrop, he puts in two hours of uninterrupted work before the rest of the office arrives.”
A few days after gleaning this information, I walked over to the Bentall Centre and took the elevator down to P3 of the parking garage. I’d purposefully worn a grey business suit to avoid drawing attention, and walked up five ramps from the bottom, putting me one-half level up from the street. The Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company parking stalls lined an entire wall, 20 in all. Over the stall in the prime location closest to the door, was the name Richard Cunningham, Q.C.
It was a typical parking garage with ramps at either end, to allow cars to proceed up and down in a circular fashion. Besides the elevator door, in the southwest corner, and the two ramps, there was a door marked stairs set in the middle of the concrete wall opposite the row of Cunningham & company stalls. I estimated the distance from the stairwell to Richard Cunningham’s parking stall at about 15 metres.
I walked to the door and went down the stairs into a hallway about 10 feet long leading to a door with one of those fire marshal push handles that opened onto Thurlow Street. At this end, in the financial district two blocks up from the water, Thurlow was relatively quiet, even around noon. There were no street level stores on the block, only a few businesses. Nothing, I hoped, that would attract pedestrians to the area before 7 a.m. I walked up the alley past the parking lot entrance. A sign in the window of the booth noted that the attendant came on duty at 7 a.m.
My plan was simple. Park the car where it wouldn’t be noticed, walk to the garage, enter through the car driveway, climb the flight of stairs and wait in the stairwell. If anyone noticed me on the street or in the stairwell, I would abort, have breakfast and continue to work. If everything went well, I’d do the job and head to the office. That’s how I was thinking about it, as a job. Planning the killing raised my spirits noticeably.
On May 17, a Wednesday, I got out of bed at 4 a.m. I’d spent the night in the guest room tossing and turning. I told Kate I was sleeping there because I had to be downtown early in the morning to meet with a geologist who was taking an 8 a.m. flight to the Yukon.
The Cunningham killing had me on high anxiety alert. I couldn’t shut my brain off. It kept going over the plan. Over and over. Killing the pimp had been easy. I didn’t stew over it beforehand. I’d worried about the drug dealer but nothing like this time. The anxiety was almost unbearable and in the long sleepless hours, in the darkness of the guest room, my body moist from head to toe with the sweat of fear, I decided to stop the killing. To let Cunningham live.
But as soon as I’d made the decision, conceded to myself it was over, I slipped over the edge into the blackness. Deep into it. A coward staring into the abyss. The feeling of hopelessness and isolation was so intense I got up and went to my office in a rage. I got the gun out, put in one bullet and spun the chamber. I put it to my head and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked. A loud metallic thunk. I spun the chamber again and pulled the trigger. Another thunk.
I didn’t think about Kate, or about what a selfish prick I was until the second thunk. About her world imploding when she found her husband’s brains splattered all over the office. Revulsion and self hatred coursed through me with so much force I was physically sick. I dropped to my knees and threw up on the hardwood office floor in one huge internal upheaval that spilled the contents of my stomach, kernels of corn clearly visible in the dim light of my desk lamp, yellowy-green liquid oozing into the cracks between the boards.
I knelt there dry heaving over the waste basket, violent shudders like the aftershock of an earthquake, the gun still in my hand. I leaned forward, dropping my head to the floor, my knees sliding along its smooth surface until I was prone. I lay there for a long time, maybe half an hour, my face pressed into the vomit, listening for Kate’s footsteps. Someone to save me. But she didn’t come. Kate was a sound sleeper.
Lying about the meeting had been a mistake. I hadn’t thought the geologist cover through. I hadn’t even checked to see if a flight was leaving for Whitehorse that morning. Kate had asked a bunch of questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. What was his name? What company did he work for? What kind of exploration was he doing? Why hadn’t I met with him before? Where did he live? She even asked if he was married. I winged it, but not convincingly, and she’d turned and walked away with a funny look on her face. As if to say, “Okay, but I don’t believe you.”
After I cleaned the vomit, using a full roll of toilet paper to mop it up, then getting rid of the soggy mess in the toilet with three flushes, I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling. The fear and anxiety were gone, expunged from my body, flushed into the city’s sewage system. I stared at the ceiling. Calm. Resolved to my duty.
Everything about the morning was surreal. The day was heavily overcast, unusual for that time of year, with dark grey streaks of cloud breaking away from the main formations, hanging behind and below, encircling the tops of the office towers like cumulous candy floss, waiting to stick to the tongue of anyone who might venture to the rooftops for a taste of life atop the financial world.
The self-hatred disappeared when I went back to the plan. Being the people’s executioner was my path to redemption. I had been anointed by the blackness, ordained by the greyness of life, an emissary of a power that operated above and beyond the mores of a society and a world gone mad. The revelation, an apparition really, came at the lights at Hastings and Main, a half a block from the old police station at the main crossroads of Skid Row.
I had no memory of driving to that spot, or of stopping for the light. I was in a kind of trance, I suppose, and when the light turned green, I remained stationary, staring at the cloud-shrouded building tops ahead. A light mist had formed on the windshield, not enough to use the wipers without smearing. I heard him before I saw him, looming in front of the car, distorted by a thousand tiny pin pricks of water on glass.
“Get going,” he said, slapping the hood with the flat of his hand. “Get the hell going and get on with whatever you have to do.”
The sudden intrusion into my reverie didn’t startle me the way it should have. I didn’t jump at the sound of his voice or at the slap of his hand on metal. The words came at me as if from out of the cloud cover, a divine confirmation of my mission. Maybe I was a violent Howard Beale, after all. People were mad as hell and they didn’t want to take it anymore. I was the guy who would wake them up.
It didn’t matter that the messenger was bedraggled, a derelict with a dirty face and matted hair. He stood in front of the van, kind of bent to one side from the waist up. I squirted windshield washer and flicked on the wipers to clear the window. His eyes were clear and piercing, the bluest blue. He looked directly into my eyes for a long moment, then walked on across the street. I drove through the amber light without looking back.
I parked the Explorer on the street two blocks from the parking lot and walked over. The attendant booth was empty, and I made my way up to the next level, walking up the car ramp. The Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company stalls were empty, too. I went to the exit door that opened on the stairs leading to the street and propped the door open a few inches with my foot. I had a perfect sightline to Richard Cunningham Q.C.’s parking spot. It was 6:15.
The grey concrete stairwell felt clammy and smelled of urine. Not a pleasant place to spend time. On the wall, halfway down the stairs that lead out to the street, someone had spray painted prophetic graffiti—”Death to the ruling classes.”—descending the wall in a red arc of words. I stood there in my navy-blue trench coat, one hand tucked inside like Napoleon, gripping the gun inside the fanny pack. I wasn’t nervous anymore.
Cunningham didn’t show at 6:30 a.m. and when he wasn’t there by 6:45 I knew he wouldn’t die on that day. I was neither disappointed nor relieved. For whatever reason, fate had intervened, giving each of us a reprieve. I exited the stairwell, walked calmly back to the Explorer on still-empty streets and drove to the parking lot next to my office. There would be time for breakfast before work.
I phoned Cunningham’s office later that morning from a pay phone. There were still some around then. The receptionist said he was out of town but would be back in the office Monday. It felt good knowing I was the only person in the world who knew he wasn’t going to make it that far.
The weekend went quickly. The weather had cleared and on Sunday Kate and I walked around the seawall in brilliant sunshine, stopping at English Bay for a lingering brunch in a second story restaurant with a view of the beach and water. Throngs of people were enjoying the city’s first taste of spring.
It felt good to be out among them. A fatalistic euphoria had replaced the anxiety. It was out of my hands now. Cunningham’s future, along with mine, was preordained. What would be would be. I cannot overstate how freeing it is to live outside accepted human norms. To know that you are out there, in that place in human history where the best men have always dwelled, beyond the control of the evil-doers and bottom-liners.
“You’re not going in early again?” Kate was skeptical when I told her I had another early morning meeting. “Twice in one week. Are you sure this geologist isn’t a cute blonde? It’s not like you to put in extra time, Roger.”
“It’s a rush project, honey. The guy’s flying back this morning and I’m picking him up at the airport and taking him downtown for a breakfast meeting. He’s renting a car and leaving for Seattle right away.”
She didn’t press for details this time. We’d had sex when we got back from our walk, the first time in more than a month. It had been an emotional coupling and we’d both cried afterwards, holding each other tight and rocking gently in the bed. I told her I loved her, even though I wasn’t sure I meant it, and stroked her hair. She squeezed my free hand between hers and murmured her pet name for me over and over.
“Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit.”
It felt so good.
The morning was clear and this time the drive downtown was uneventful. No apparitions. No messages delivered. I parked the Explorer in the same spot and followed the exact routine to the stairwell, arriving five minutes later than before. 6:20 a.m.
I heard the car coming at 6:28 and seconds later a grey Mercedes came into view through the propped-open door. Richard Cunningham was a punctual man. I waited until he parked before starting towards the car at an even pace. I was wearing the grey business suit. I had the gun in my hand, hidden by the trench coat draped over my right arm. The safety was off.
Cunningham got out of the car then leaned back in to get his briefcase. When he stood upright, he was much taller than he appeared on television. Well over six feet. He was wearing an expensive blue suit and a red tie with two grey diagonal stripes. Funny the things you remember in the moment.
“Mr. Cunningham?” I didn’t say anything until I was quite close, maybe ten feet away. He appeared upset by the sound of his name, like a man unaccustomed to having any deviation from his daily routine. He looked at me in a way that said he was running scenarios through his mind, assessing the unexpected interruption and calculating the time it would take to deal with it in a civilized but perfunctory way. He pushed the Mercedes door gently and it clicked shut with German precision.
“Yes. Do I know you?”
I felt no animosity toward Richard Cunningham in those last moments of his life. The hate that coursed through me during his post-trial television appearance had given way to the familiar tingly rush of warmth, the feeling of closeness to the doomed. The course he’d chosen in life, the things he’d done in the name of justice, were evil in the truest sense. They had drawn me to him, and it was time for him to pay. No amount of smooth talking could change that now.
“No, you don’t know me. I saw you on TV after the Bobby Singh murder trial. That was a nice piece of work. Getting those scumbags off.”
I kept my voice pleasant, but I could see the first inkling of alarm in Richard Cunningham.
“Look, if you’re interested in my services you’ll have to go through my secretary. I’m booked through the summer, but she might be able to fit you in.”
The smooth-talking lawyer’s veneer was slipping. He was just another frightened man. He was moving toward the door as he said it, so I let the trench coat slip away. The gun loomed between us.
“All those assholes who have you booked are going to have to look for another sharpie, Richard. Your litigating days are done.”
He stopped moving and stared at the gun. I took one step toward him and he held the expensive, shiny black leather briefcase up like a shield.
“On second thought, you might have one more case to plead, counsellor, but the judge sitting on it won’t be interested in hearing any of your bullshit. Judgement Day is at hand.”
I was holding the .357 with both hands, the trench coat draped over the gun arm. He lowered the brief case enough to get a look over the top and he didn’t like what he saw because he turned and ran back towards the car. He had quick feet for a guy in his fifties, but bullets are hard to outrun.
I squeezed off a shot and caught him high on the right side of his back, about six inches below the shoulder, putting a hole in the expensive suit. The impact carried him forward and he twisted onto his back on the hood of the car. He slid along it, leaving a bloody trail, and then disappeared into the space between the car and the concrete wall.
“Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.” He said it without much force, the sound muffled by reverberations from the gun shot echoing around the level. Halfway between a curse and a prayer. The shot sounded loud and I knew I had to finish this business and be on my way. His feet were sticking out the front of the car, shiny black loafers with tassels, scuffling on the pavement in pain or consternation. His pant cuffs had hiked up to reveal skinny, hairless white legs above sheer, see-through silk socks. I closed the space between us and looked down over the hood of the car. He had the brief case covering his head and from behind it I could hear frenzied praying.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph…. Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
“Look at me, Richard.” I said it sharply, but he didn’t respond. I wanted to look him straight in the eye as I did it, so I reached over and pulled on the briefcase, but he was holding on literally for his life. The resistance made me furious.
“You fucking lowlife, cocksucker. Drop that briefcase or I’ll blow your fucking nuts off.”
He clutched the briefcase even more tightly to his head so I put a round into his crotch.
“Owie, owie, owie… Jesus, Mary and Joseph…. owie, owie.
I fired one more shot into the left side of his chest. Richard Cunningham, Q.C., slick mouthpiece never at a loss for bafflegab, left this world without his manhood crying owie like a three-year-old child. I kid you not.
I turned, put on my trench coat and walked briskly to the exit, concealing the gun in the large inside pocket. Everything was quiet. As if the shots had sucked all other sound out of the air. Nobody was on the street when I left the parking lot and I turned and strode purposely in the direction of the Explorer, unnoticed. Another businessman on his way to work.
The news broke about 9:30 a.m. that morning. A prominent city lawyer had been shot in a downtown parkade. The radio guy had that little extra edge in his voice when he doled out another tidbit of information each hour. Our receptionist, Marjie, kept a radio on at her desk and people stopped by for updates.
By noon, we knew “He worked for Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company, and was a senior partner. The killing had taken place in the parking garage of the Bentall Tower II, where the company’s office is located.”
It’s difficult to describe my feelings that morning in that I had never experienced anything like it. Ecstasy, with its implied imagery of frenzy and excitement, is not correct. I was excited but the excitement was contained within an inner calm, the way I imagine it must be for a great performing artist or an athlete after a flawless performance. I wasn’t worried I’d be connected. At noon I went out to the car, pretended to get something from the glove compartment and ran my fingers over the gun, wedged in its special place up under the driver’s seat. It felt smooth. Sexual.
For everyone sitting on the couch in their sweatpants for the last couple weeks, tired of endlessly looking for a new show to binge on Netflix, eyeing the dwindling supply of Cheetos in the cupboard, Mick has an alternative – he has written a dystopian psychological thriller in serial form.
If you enjoy the first chapter please feel free to share it.
He knows this low time of sheltering in place is the closest he will come to having a captive audience and that the story’s dark theme might seem a little less so in comparison to the reality of a global pandemic.
The story will be presented in a serial format with illustrations from a local artist and its continuation will depend entirely on reader response. To that end, Mick invites you to share the story with any friends and family whose worldview tends toward the dark side or those who like a thriller to get their minds off the depleting Cheetos stock.
Warning: the occasional explicit language in the following may be offensive to some, to others, not so much.)
You think you know me from the things you’ve read in newspapers and seen on TV. But I am not a monster. Not a brutal killer. Not the vicious psycho the bottom-liners like to serve up to deflect attention from themselves.
Neither am I the superhero with nerves of steel others have made me out to be. Not the leader of a movement, though I flattered myself that I was at one time. I didn’t set out to be a violent version of Howard Beale, a citizen vigilante trying to inspire a population that was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It just worked out that way.
I’m writing with the benefit of hindsight to set the record straight, nothing more. To describe how the Wolf killings went down without all the bullshit attached. Any Vancouver police officer who worked on the Wolf file, will know with certainty I am the real deal by the details I provide.
I don’t know why I did what I did. I only know it happened. And that once the light shone on me, I was compelled by an energy I didn’t understand to put everything on the line. That’s what I thought when I killed the pimp.
I was far from exceptional. Just a guy who dressed well to hide the despondency of middle-age. An empty shell pretending to fit in. Nobody knew the real me. The kind of thoughts I had.
Not surprisingly, no one noticed when the malaise turned deadly. The process had been gradual, and I’d hidden it well, withdrawing a little more each day. My wife only knew I was isolating. She didn’t know what was in my head.
“Roger, you should get out more. All you do is work and sit there on the couch. What is so interesting about the house across the street that you can stare out the window for an hour at a time?”
She didn’t know how far into the dark place I’d gone. Neither did I. I’d suffered from depression on and off since my late teens and had always coped. Looking back, I can’t say it was any one thing that set me off. Fear. Anxiety. Boredom. Cynicism. Sexual dysfunction. A thousand disappointments. Genetics. Chemical imbalance. Outrage at the injustice of the world. All the above. I do know that crime was the thing I grabbed onto, obsessed about, stewed over.
We lived on Vancouver’s East Side, in a neighbourhood in transition, where revamped heritage houses butted up against shabby two-storey walk-up apartment buildings. A neighbourhood where the lowlifes got right up alongside you. In your face. Sauntering past the front of the house sizing up your defenses. Picking through your garbage. Yelling at each other in the night. Turning tricks on the street. Shooting dope in the alley.
When we bought, the realtor described our house as a cute bungalow with loads of charm and a partial mountain view.
“When this house was built in 1909 the city ended a few blocks to the east. Its history mirrors the city’s,” he said. A real smoothie. “It has the original oak floors and a lovely spot for an office overlooking the side yard.”
He didn’t mention the lowlifes.
We liked the address, 1969, Keefer Street. A vintage year, easy to remember. The house had funky wood floors, a loft with a fireplace and bars on the lower windows. Most of the houses in the neighbourhood had bars, and burglar alarms, and barking dogs.
1969 Keefer sat close to the street, about six feet back from the sidewalk. In the light of early evening, with the unlit living room disappearing into darkness from the outside, I liked to sink into the couch and stare out through the bars, shut off from life behind one-way glass. Serving my time. That’s where I did my brooding, deepened by occasional laughter from the street, soothed by the soft hum of voices from the TV in the kitchen, where Kate liked to watch her shows sitting in the rocker sipping herbal tea.
Kate and I had been together six years when I killed the pimp. She was a sharp woman. Efficient. Plain. Well-adjusted. We were comfortable together. She recognized that I had down time, periods where I was best left alone. It suited her. Kate wasn’t the cloying type.
She was well into her thirties when we married, with a nicely rounded life. She didn’t need constant input from me to keep it going. I liked that, because she let me get way out there on those days when human contact became an unbearable strain. She didn’t take responsibility for my condition or try to bring me around by pretending to know what the blackness was like.
The first one I did—a black pimp who worked two young hookers on the Franklin Stroll—jolted my life out of the ordinary. Forever.
He was a classic lowlife bottom-liner. Too stupid to make it far up the predator food chain but cunning enough to get other people to do the heavy lifting. He coerced and intimidated young girls to supply sexual services to the lower end of the gene pool while he fucked the rest of society out of whatever he could.
His hookers needed someone to hit back for them and I was that guy. Their hero in the white hat. Their Shane. I didn’t do it for romance, that’s for sure. They weren’t sexy, just pathetic. One of them, a slovenly blonde teenager, wore short, short skirts and tank tops that showed miles of cleavage and rolls of flab. Her thighs rubbed together when she walked. Hard to believe she could charge for sex. The other one had the look of a bedraggled bird, scrawny and unkempt in ill-fitting tight clothes that managed to appear too big. She had a long, skinny nose and a small red-painted mouth. Neither could have been more than 18 but they looked older. Used.
Tremmie might have seemed like a flashy guy to cheap streetwalkers but I recognized him for what he was the first time I saw him, outside the 7-Eleven berating the scrawny hooker.
“You fucking lazy slut. Forget about smokin’, drinkin’ pop and readin’ stupid bitch rags. All the Cover Girl in the world won’t change that ugly face. Now get out there and stick out that skinny ass. Maybe some horny idiot will be stupid enough to pay to fuck it.”
He slapped her hard and waved a black finger in her face. A finger with two gaudy rings on it. I pegged him for a bully and a punk. Not too smart. Mean. Dangerous when cornered.
He looked at me as I rounded the corner, surprised at the intrusion into his private business.
“Dumb cunt,” he said, looking at me as if I was part of it, pushing her toward the street.
I felt a surge of fury, not because of the abused hooker, but for the arrogance of the lowlife pimp. I walked past without comment, though. I’d seen him a few times from a distance, standing in a doorway just off the Stroll, a couple of hundred yards up from the girls’ corner. Close enough for immediate intervention should there be a need. Far enough not to spook the johns. He was short and stocky, the same width from his shoulders through his thighs, and overdressed for the job in creased dress slacks and perfectly pressed shirts.
I occasionally walked on the north side of East Hastings where the action happens. To see what was going on, to keep abreast of activity in my community, if you will. The walks helped my moods. I kept a low profile. I didn’t gawk or bother anybody. Just a guy out for a stroll.
I remember the exact day the pimp’s star attached to mine. My brother’s wife had called the night before to tell me he’d had a major stroke and was paralyzed on the right side. It had affected his vocal cords. He couldn’t talk and the doctors didn’t know if he’d get any movement back on that side.
I remember thinking he’d have to smoke with his left hand. My brother Sam had smoked heavy since his teens. I didn’t feel bad for him. He’d ignored all the warnings and now he’d have to pay the price. The thought of him dribbling food down his chin made me angry. Another wasted life in the Delaney family.
I went for a Sunday morning walk to chill out, to work out the rage and that’s when it happened, walking down the Victoria Street hill. A female scream cut into my dark mood. I looked up the alley. The pimp had his back to me. His big black fist cut the scream off with a solid blow that sent the fat hooker reeling into a garage door. I heard the fist connect. A smacking sound. His rings must have cut her lip. Blood streamed down her chin onto a big tit that flopped out of the tank top when she hit the wall.
“I’ll give you something to suck on, bitch. I’ll give you something to suck on, you dirty mouth cocksucker.”
She saw me and called out: “Help me mister.”
Her voice sounded small. Younger than she looked. The pimp turned, his mouth twisted in a snarl.
“You want some, too,”
That’s what the pimp said, and that’s when I knew he would be the one. I just kept walking, though. I didn’t intervene.
I’d had the gun for almost a year by then. A stainless steel .357 magnum six-shot revolver. Smaller than the one Dirty Harry used but powerful. I bought it in a Seattle bar, around the corner from Pioneer Square. I paid a hundred bucks for it. Probably more than a hot gun was worth but I didn’t care. That gun was everything to me.
I brought it across the border in a running shoe box stuffed under the back seat, along with boxes of bullets. Nobody checked the vehicle. Nobody asked if I had a gun.
I’d only held a handgun once before, in my twenties, when I’d fired a dozen rounds with a .22 caliber revolver at a firing range. Even that small caliber had been surprisingly hard to aim and control.
I practised shooting up in the mountains. I went for long day hikes on the weekend, in isolated areas, and fired off two or three loads. The gun sounded loud and I had a lot of trouble controlling the kick. Killing someone wouldn’t be as easy as it looked in the movies.
I couldn’t hit a three-foot-wide tree trunk from 10 feet at first. But then I got the hang of it and didn’t do too bad from close in. I handled the gun a lot at home, in my office with the door locked, where my wife wouldn’t see. She didn’t like guns. She didn’t know I had the 357. Nobody did. I knew from the beginning that’s the way it had to be. The safest way.
I felt comfortable firing the gun after two or three months. The rest of the time was waiting for the right candidate. Figuring out ways to do it. Building up courage. Keeping the black dogs in their kennel behind a wall of hate.
When the pimp threatened me, things moved quickly. I was jacked up for two days, knowing I would put myself to the ultimate test. I didn’t dwell on the consequences if I got caught. I didn’t plan it well. I did what I had to do. I acted.
My brain became crystal clear. The jumble of thoughts ricocheting around in my head formed into one cohesive idea. I would strike out at the bottom-liners. I didn’t need resolve because I didn’t feel doubt. The pimp would get some, too. I didn’t care about the hookers. I would do it for myself, risk everything for honour and for a greater good. Looking back, it seems delusional but that’s what I was thinking at the time.
Two nights later, a Tuesday in June, I left the house at 10:50 p.m. Kate was at the movies with a friend. It was a 9:45 showing and I knew she’d be gone until midnight. Everything fell into place.
I loaded the gun and put it inside a fanny pack with the safety off. Pulling back the safety produced an adrenaline rush, a physical buzz that zapped any remaining bleakness from the corners of my brain. Like mainlining into the ozone of no return. Clarity. Pure pleasure. Living in the moment. No negative chatter.
My hands were steady, but my heart was pumping piss. I could feel the vein on my forehead throb. I went out the back and cut through the neighbour’s yard to Pender Street, my body so light I was almost gliding. I walked down the block at an even pace. Nobody was around.
There was a guy beside me at the lights at Victoria and Hastings, but he never looked at me and I let him go in front. He turned east on Hastings when he reached the other side and I kept heading north on Victoria. Downhill.
I was wearing a navy-blue nylon jogging suit, lightweight and dark, to blend in. I turned onto Franklin and walked into the darkness. I could see the girls under the orange streetlight at the corner. The pimp was alone in the doorway. I knew he would be. Our destinies were intertwined. I felt warm towards him as I closed the distance between us, a kind of tingly feeling, like an MDA rush.
“You lookin’ for the company of a lady?” He said it friendly. Like any salesman shopping a product. He didn’t recognize me. I was nothing to him. It made me furious. He nodded at the girls, standing idly in the distance, in the eerie orange glow.
“That’s prime time pussy. Only on the street a month. I turned them out myself. Taught em’ how to suck a man’s cock.”
I had one hand inside the fanny pack. The gun was heavy in my palm and I supported it a little against my stomach. It was important to me that he knew what was coming. That he could feel his own insignificance in a moment of terror, then take the feeling with him to the hereafter.
“You’re not going to be teaching anyone else any bad habits, Tremmie. I took pleasure in the verbal contact. I hoped the words sounded more sinister to him because they were delivered without bravado, in an even, non-threatening tone. “Be thankful for the time you’ve had; it’s more than you deserve. You’re the one I’ve chosen. And that’s the biggest honour you’re going to get. It’s time for you to get some, too.”
I knew his name by then. I’d heard them talking in a booth at the Submarine Shop. He was scared when I got personal and used his name. I could see the fear right away. It didn’t surprise me. I knew he was a punk.
“What’s this shit? You a cop?” He tried to act tough but couldn’t bring it off.
He didn’t make a move. He just stood there looking stupid, so I pulled the gun out and squeezed the trigger. Nothing could ever be the same.
I hit him in the rib cage, opposite the heart. He turned away and spun around. A spin-a-rama move like the one Danny Gallivan made famous on Hockey Night in Canada.
“Fucking crazy.” Those were his last words. Delivered in a soft gurgle. He was twitching and jerking and there was more blood than I expected. I don’t like blood. I was careful not to step in any when I moved closer and put another shot into the side of his head from about three feet. The bang reverberated in the doorway.
The point of impact turned all red and mushy and bits of hair and brain and skull sprayed out from the wound. Some of it got on my jogging pants. Just below the knee. The pimp kept twitching in the darkened doorway, but I knew he was done. I waved at the girls.
They were looking from light into dark and I could tell by the way they were craning they didn’t know what happened. Even under the orange streetlight, I couldn’t make out their features at that distance, so I wasn’t worried about being recognized. I turned and moved away from them up the street at a slow jog.
I still had the gun in my hand. I put it back in the fanny pack and held it against my body to keep it from bouncing. I took one look back at the corner. The girls were moving slowly towards the doorway. I felt good about what they’d see. I turned up Victoria and loped up the hill to the lights. I looked back from the top, but nobody was in sight. A couple of vehicles passed, a pickup and a late model compact, but the drivers didn’t look at me. They had other interests.
I crossed on the green and went into the school yard, out of the light. No one noticed anything. Just another warm June night.
I cut across the schoolyard diagonally and walked down Pender. Two Asian guys were getting into a car with take-out from the place on the corner. Big portions. Cheap food. They didn’t look over at me. I walked down the block, went back through the neighbour’s yard, crossed the alley, unlatched my gate and climbed the stairs to my deck.
I looked at my digital watch—11:06. The pimp killing, from start to finish, had taken 16 minutes. I laid back on the white plastic Canadian Tire lounger and unzipped my jacket. The air chilled my sweat. I stayed there for a few minutes. Savouring the kill.
Everything was vivid. The stars stood out. A siren wailed sweetly. Closer and closer. Louder and louder. Then more. A symphony of sirens playing a dead pimp’s swan song. I was glad of all the ruckus. Exhilarated. I wanted to make a big splash.
I threw my jogging pants into the washer and stashed the gun in a locked desk drawer. I took off my running shoes and rinsed the little red speckles off in the laundry sink. A little blob came off and hung in the drain for a second. When the wash was done I hung the pants on the clothes rack to dry. It doesn’t take long with nylon.
Kate came in at five minutes to midnight. I was spread out on the leather office couch listening to the last caller on Sportstalk make an idiotic point about the Canucks. She poked her head in and I commented on the intelligence of the callers in a way that would make it seem I’d been listening for awhile.
She sat down in the office chair and leaned back, making the springs squeak. She was tanned, even this early in summer, and her legs were smooth and tawny. She crossed them and told me about the movie.
“I don’t know why Hollywood can’t come up with a plot that doesn’t include gratuitous violence. I like a good story, with more dialogue and less blood, like the classic movies.
I loved her at that moment. So clean. So pure.
We made love that night. Afterwards Kate whispered in my ear that she loved me, like she always did when I made her cum. It took it as my due. Payment for a job well done. Then I slept. Soundly.
Everything seemed unreal in the morning. Impossible to believe. That’s the way I wanted it. I had toast for breakfast, like always, and scanned the morning paper for any news of the killing. Nothing. The execution of Tremmie had happened too late for the first edition. The radio had it, though. On the 8 o’clock news. The lead story.
“There was a shooting in the East End last night. Police say a man was shot dead just off Franklin Street a few minutes after midnight.”
The announcer made it sound so impersonal, and it bothered me that he got the time wrong.
“He was dead before an ambulance arrived at the scene. Police wouldn’t release a name, but the dead man was thought to be involved in the sex trade. It was the city’s 34th murder this year.”
“That’s right around the corner, isn’t it dear?”
Kate was in exceptionally good spirits. Sex did that to her. The after-affects of an orgasm could last a week. Even so, the killing put her off. Too close to home.
“Yes. It’s a couple of blocks north of Hastings where all the hookers are.”
“This neighbourhood is really going downhill,” she said. A familiar refrain. “There was a used condom on the boulevard out front the other day. It’s absolutely disgusting. Men are such pigs, paying for sex on the street in front of somebody’s home. Helen was telling me the kids found a hypodermic needle on the school grounds last week. She’s scared to death they’re going to get hepatitis or AIDS. Now we have to worry about dodging bullets.”
Helen was our neighbour. A single mom living in a co-op duplex. Her deck looked down on ours. Sometimes I opened my office window and listened to them talk across the yards. Kate got her dose of domesticity listening to Helen’s tales of woe.
“People like us have nothing to fear,” I said. “Those kinds of killings are always centred around money. Somebody ripped someone off and got what was coming to him. End of story. One less person on the welfare rolls.”
“Honestly, Roger. For someone who votes Liberal you come off sounding like a redneck. I hope you don’t say things like that at the office.”
“Of course I do dear. Having common sense doesn’t preclude one from being a Liberal. People are fed up with crime. Taxes are sky high. The average guy is feeling the pinch while the lowlifes are living off the taxpayers’ largesse and supplementing their incomes by pimping, selling drugs and breaking into people’s homes. We have to put bars on our windows while the criminals swagger around our streets.”
Kate and I had both married late. She at 37 and I at 41. The first marriage for both of us. We got along well, though ours was not a union bound by passion. We were friends first and lovers second. People often said we made the perfect couple. Kate is highly organized. Everything in her life has a place. Including me. I fit nicely into the husband niche.
She was an insurance agent. That’s where we met. I was transferring the paperwork over to my new Ford Explorer and she was especially helpful in clearing up a mistake with a serial number that fouled the computer. Her efficiency impressed me. That and her lovely toothy smile. On impulse, I asked her to lunch and she accepted. We slept together a week later.
I worked for a business communications company as a technical writer, cleaning up geologists’ and engineers’ reports, translating their jargon into readable English, doing annual reports and company histories. I’d started out wanting to be a newspaper reporter but when I graduated from university with an honours English degree there were no jobs at the big dailies.
The first five years, I worked for a small suburban paper and did a little freelance on the side. The owner wasn’t interested in his reporters digging up news stories, especially if they impacted negatively on an advertiser. He just wanted us to fill the spaces between the ads.
I could see there was no money or future in it, so I went into corporate communications. Newsletters, that kind of stuff. Not very satisfying but the experience got me into my present position. At the time of the pimp killing I’d been there eleven years. A solid employee waiting for a pension.
I sometimes worked at home but on the morning after the pimp I wanted contact with the world. I felt too good to stay in the house. I rode in with Kate. She has free parking at work and often drops me at my office on her way.
“That’s where it happened. The shooting.”
I motioned down the hill as she turned onto Hastings Street. I kept my voice disinterested. The sun was shining and people were going about their business. Another Wednesday morning in Lotusland. I felt sorry for all the ordinary people leading drab ordinary lives. I would never be ordinary again.
“Which street is Franklin, dear?”
“The next one over. It’s all warehouses and businesses. If it weren’t for the hookers nothing would happen there after 6 p.m.”
“Honestly, I don’t see why the police don’t do something. Move them somewhere away from residential areas. Or arrest the men. They’re the ones to blame. Pigs.”
“It’s not a problem of policing. Prostitution is perfectly legal and there’s not much police can do. It’s a political problem and our elected leaders don’t have the will. It’s not going to go away so there’s no sense getting upset about it.”
“What makes men so desperate for sex that they pay for it? Have you ever paid for sex?”
I looked over at her and smiled benignly. “Not everyone has someone like you to come home to dear.”
Just then a car cut in front of us causing her to hit the brakes hard. We both flew forward, restrained by our seat belts, tires squealing.
“Asshole.” Kate’s face contorted into rage. Traffic was the only thing she ever got mad about. Maybe it was because she was in the insurance business. “He didn’t even look back. Some people are so oblivious. They shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car.”
We pulled alongside him at the next light. He looked straight ahead as Kate glared over. I conjured a mental picture of a red mushy spot on the side of his head.
I hung around the office until noon, shuffling paper and looking busy, then had sushi at an expensive second floor Japanese restaurant on Broadway, a celebratory lunch for a killer. I liked to think of myself that way. The word rolled around in my head as I rewarded myself with raw fish.
It seemed to me that my co-workers had treated me with deference that morning. I knew I’d imagined it but it didn’t matter, the result was the same. I felt good. More alive and connected to people than I’d felt for a long time. Maybe ever. I lingered over lunch, enjoying the view of the North Shore mountains, sharply outlined against a blue sky. A glorious day to be alive.
I didn’t have any fear of getting caught back then. It seemed inconceivable that the police could connect me to the killing. The only link was the gun and I didn’t plan to have it around long. I felt no remorse. The world was a better place without the pimp.
Right after lunch I picked up a paper. The second edition. The pimp killing was relegated to page three of the B section. A six-inch brief. I was disappointed, not only for myself but for the dead pimp as well. That’s all you get, pimp. Six inches of fame and you’re out.
Man gunned down on East Side
A 28-eight-year-old American became the city’s 34th homicide victim last night.
Tremaine Evers of Tacoma, Washington, was shot dead in a doorway just off the Franklin Street stroll, a notorious East Vancouver hooker hangout, shortly before midnight.
Witnesses said a lone male approached Evers, shot him twice, waved at sex trade workers standing a block away on the corner and casually walked away.
The victim, described by police as involved in the sex trade, died before the ambulance arrived.
The warehouse district of Franklin Street, between the 2000 and 2400 blocks, has become a haven for prostitutes and pimps.
A police spokesman said Evers was known to police. He said police have no motive but that the killing has all the earmarks of a gangland hit.
Tremaine Evers. Seeing the name in print made me feel funny. Not sorry. Just kind of weird. I read the piece three or four times. I’d pictured him as older. In his thirties. I wondered if anybody would mourn. There would be a funeral, probably in Tacoma. I wanted to go. To pay last respects to the villain. But that was out of the question.
The high lasted for weeks. Kate noticed. She asked why I was feeling so good. In the weeks leading up to the killing I’d been more withdrawn than usual. Uncommunicative. I’d declined all social invitations, saying I was tired or had work to do. I brooded on the couch then sat in my office handling the gun. After I did the pimp I wanted to be with people. To laugh and talk and have fun. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain any of it.
I’d always fantasized about killing a stranger, even when I was a child. I used to lie in bed and think about hiding behind the bushes by our front porch waiting for someone to come walking down the street at night. I’d shoot him—it was always a man—then run around back of the row houses and retreat to my downstairs bedroom. There was never any blood in those fantasies. Just the satisfaction of committing the perfect crime.
I didn’t dwell on it as an adult, like some crazed loner watching late night TV with hate in his heart. But it was never far from the surface. Often I’d wake in the morning with a phrase rolling around my head—”He has a gun.” Not “I have a gun.” or “Be careful he’s going to shoot.” Just— “He has a gun.” I’d get dressed and go to work and not think about it again. It wasn’t a constant theme and I certainly didn’t have any intention of killing anyone.
I suppose I did the pimp out of desperation, to escape the depression. I wasn’t trying to start a movement, the way a lot the so-called experts said later. The dumb fucker threatened the wrong person at the wrong time. It was that simple. My brother’s stroke intensified everything. Not because I loved the guy. He was just somebody I used to know. The thought of him drooling confirmed my life view at the time. At age 47 life had stalled for me. Time was passing but nothing was happening. Nothing interested me. Nothing mattered. Life was shit, then you drooled and died.
I’d bought the gun on impulse. I was in Seattle for a conference and I was having a beer in a tavern near the hotel. A bit seedy but not so you were afraid you’d be mugged. A scrawny white guy came in and bought a stack of pull tabs from the machine on the wall near where I was sitting. He sat down at the next table and ripped them open, strip by strip. He had crude tattoos on both forearms and the words Life and Death etched across the back of his hands in faded blue ink. A lowlife. I didn’t want to talk to him but when the last pull tab returned nothing he turned to me and in a friendly voice said — “Lady Luck left me behind a long time ago.”
I ignored him. He didn’t take offense. Instead, he asked where I was from, so I told him Portland. When the waiter came by, he bought a beer. He tried to talk to me about football and when I showed no interest he asked me if I wanted to buy a gun. He had it with him in an old beat up canvas pack. I told him no. But he handed the pack across to me, taking a quick look over his shoulder at the bar to see if anybody was watching.
“I mean a real gun, not some little pea shooter. Stick your hand in the bag and check it out for balance. It’s a beautiful gun for a hundred bucks.”
I held the pack with one hand and looked inside. There were a couple of articles of clothing, two big screwdrivers and a flashlight in the bag. And a big gun. The handle was huge. I gripped it and pulled it back just enough to get a look, shielding it from view with the table. The grip was dark brown and the rest was shiny steel. He was right. It was a nice gun.
“Is it loaded?” He said no so I took it out and put it in the inside pocket of my jacket. One of those outdoor jackets with big pockets. The weight of the gun pulled one side down at the collar, making it lopsided. I gave the guy five twenties and left right away. I looked back at the tavern door when I got to the end of the block, half expecting police or a gang of thugs to come running out after me. But there was nothing, only the red Budweiser sign in the window.
I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming the People’s Wolf. No. It was only going to be that one time. To prove it could be done. To relieve the dullness. Even when I started practising and formulating a plan it didn’t seem real, like I would really do it. On the night I did the pimp I didn’t know if I’d walk past the doorway and abort until I had the gun out. I think it was the fact he didn’t remember threatening me that did him in. The whole idea was so out of context with my life it was absurd. But when I felt the rush after firing that first shot, waving at the girls, feeling the power of life and death, well, even though I wouldn’t admit it I knew I had to do another one.
That’s why I didn’t get rid of the gun like I’d planned. Instead, I built a little compartment in the floor in the corner of the closet in my office, big enough to hold the gun and a couple of boxes of bullets. I cut out the floorboards between the studs, careful not to disturb the surface of the wood. I pulled two of the nails out and replaced them with screws so I could unscrew them and lift the top off with the screw heads without leaving pry marks. Then I got some dust from the vacuum cleaner and rubbed it into the cracks where I’d cut. I moved a small filing cabinet over the spot.
The office floor was old and patched in places. Even from up close, on my hands and knees, it was hard to tell anything had been done. It probably wouldn’t stand up to a police search but at least some creep doing a B&E wouldn’t find it. I knew keeping the gun was dangerous, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it into the ocean.
Looking across the lake at the orchards and vineyards on a sunny spring day in the South Okanagan it’s easy to momentarily brush away the fears of a global pandemic. Not the worst place to be locked down.
With the infection rate and death toll rising at a fearsome pace and the economy tanking in the virus’s toxic wake it is a moment for quiet contemplation. One thought that comes to an idle mind is that the global pandemic presents the ‘haves’ of the world an opportunity to step up or to be held to account.
Last year we were in Fort Lauderdale at spring break walking the boardwalks and, from the safe vantage point of age, enjoying the scantily clad revelries of the young and carefree. Good times. Great vibe.
During a canal tour showcasing a stunning array of waterfront mansions with massive yachts docked in front, thoughts of something amiss dulled the holiday glow of the Florida sun. As the guide noted the palatial pile of this or that captain of industry, I couldn’t stop wondering about all the employees toiling away at barely liveable wages to keep the titans living so large.
How many workers annual salaries would it take for the upkeep of a boat that burns hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour. How many minimum wage hours to pay the taxes on a second, third or even fourth home? How much more could the workers make if the captain of industry gave up the boat and the holiday house in Fort Lauderdale and put that money back into the workers’ kitty?
The ostentatious consumerism on display during the Fort Lauderdale canal cruise is nothing short of obscene in a country with millions of kids reliant on school lunches for their daily nutrition. It is said revolutions begin with the rising price of bread or rice. Maybe in today’s world of conspicuous consumption a global pandemic will affect change.
Governments in all countries considering industry bailouts should make it a condition that the CEOs and other executives take massive salary cuts. If the head of a cruise company, airline, hotel chain or casino is making 50 million a year cut it down to one. They might have to sell a home or two, but they’ll get by. Call it the cost of corporate socialism and put the savings into the pool for the workers worried about keeping food on the table.
It is time for the super wealthy athletes and owners to do more than kick in a few bucks for laid off stadium employees. Tom Brady is reportedly ready to sign a $30 million a year deal. After 20 years in the NFL he is already fabulously wealthy. His super model wife makes more than he does. If Brady was a real hero, he would throw the whole $30 million into the communal pot to help mitigate some of the damage his friend the President has done to the country.
Defenders of Brady and other overpaid athletes like Lebron James, Tiger Woods et al, will point to the many charitable endeavors they champion. True and good, but what personal sacrifice does it require of somebody like Woods or James to give a few million here or there as a tax write-off. Give enough so you can only afford the Bentley and one palatial home and I’ll be impressed.
The same holds true for Hollywood A-listers, rock stars and business titans. I’m talking about you Michael Douglas, Bono and the Walton family. Give back enough that it hurts a little. Donate the private plane to the pandemic effort and fly first class instead. Give the Rolls, the Range Rover and the Porsche Cayenne to a food bank and buy yourself a used Lincoln to keep the economy going. Sell the New York apartment and the place in Aspen and put all the money into pandemic relief.
Even ‘poor’ politicians like Bernie Sanders have two or even three homes. Bernie keeps a place in Washington in addition to his regular residence in Vermont and a summer place better than what most Americans live in. Senator Richard Burr, whose name shall go down in infamy for profiting while his constituents face financial ruin, is said to be a politician of modest means. Even so, he was able to offload up to $1.7 million in stock before the market collapsed, which should help in his coming retirement with a fully indexed government pension.
The Senate and House are filled with millionaires and the Trump cabinet with billionaires. Ousted politicians use their connections for cushy jobs in the private sector at ten times the salary of the average worker. Former Presidents parlay their fame into tens of millions on the speaking circuit while taxpayers making minimum wage foot the bill for their security. Yes, I’m talking about Liberal icons like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who just augmented his Washington D.C. manse with a million-dollar-plus summer home on Cape Cod. Nice place to self-isolate between cruises on even richer friends’ yachts. It’s a long way from working with Chicago’s poor to the Cape.
To be clear, I’m not a raving communist begrudging those better off than me for enjoying the fruits of their labour or unique abilities. Smart, talented, hardworking people are entitled to live well. It’s the capitalist way most of us believe in. How well? That is the question in these low times of the pandemic. And how much should they give back for the common good with millions of their fellow citizens worrying about feeding their families.
I would like to hear a reporter ask Mike Pence the following at his embarrassing daily public ass-smooching sessions:
“Mr. Vice President, what do you say to the tens of millions of Americans who do not believe your assertion that the President has shown the incredible leadership you attribute to him at the beginning of every press conference? Do you think it hurts your credibility as leader of the Covid-19 task force when you effusively praise the man who called its severity a Democratic hoax and said the 15 reported cases would soon miraculously go down to zero?
Does your unabashed fealty to Dear Leader, who only a week or so ago told Americans it was fine to go to work with symptoms, come before your duty to the country to tell the truth in this time of crisis? Do you notice how uncomfortable it makes the scientists and doctors standing with you in embarrassed silence when you pucker up at the podium?
In the words of Joseph Welch, who is credited with turning the tide on McCarthyism with his famous question during a Senate hearing: “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
In these low times of Trump and global pandemic, in a world of social distancing and self-isolation, it is important to maintain perspective. One humorous social media post nicely summed things up: “Your grandparents went to war; you are going to your couch.”
And there has been no other time in human history where that couch has been so comfortable. Console yourself in knowing that, even in the absence of sports, your television set provides an almost limitless supply of quality entertainment.
Want to feed the travel bug? Click on You Tube and ask for the top ten things to do in that special place on your travel bucket list and you will be immediately presented with a dizzying visual array that will keep you occupied for hours.
Music more your thing? Turn up the volume on your surround sound and call up vintage performances from everyone from Maria Callas to Janis Joplin, from Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra to Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. You may not leave the couch for days.
A bit of a movie buff? You are living in the time of excellent television. Not only can you call up favourite old movies with a click of the remote, you can sort selections by actors or genre. If standard movie fare doesn’t do it for you, delve into the episodic world of Netflix, Crave or Hulu and binge-watch quality drama that makes standard network fare cringe-worthy in comparison. Geezers with memory issues, which is to say all of us, can re-watch the Sopranos and The Wire with avid anticipation. We’re talking weeks here, not just days.
Tired of TV? Try reading a book. Kindle offers hundreds of thousands of choices from the classics you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have time for to the latest in global political commentary and contemporary fiction.
More of a news junkie than a book reader? Go to your laptop or I-pad and subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times. The Sunday edition will keep you on the couch all day. You won’t even get to the crossword puzzle until Monday. Catch up on the hometown you left years ago through the local paper that is only a click away.
News getting you down? Bury yourself in hobby reading with the amazingly affordable magazine bundle News+Magazines from Apple that includes everything from Better Homes & Gardens to Popular Woodworking, from Good Housekeeping to Vanity Fair, from Sports Illustrated to Backpacker and Field and Stream, from Mother Jones and Rolling Stone to Clean Eating and Diabetic Living. Seriously folks, if you can’t find something interesting in this selection you might already be dead.
Maybe you want to spend your alone time learning something. If there’s a subject that hasn’t been posted about online, I haven’t come across it yet. You can learn to paint landscapes or how to assemble kitchen cabinets with step-by-step videos. You can hone your dog obedience skills or practice your Spanish without moving from the couch.
If too much alone time is getting you down, Skyping will bring the faces of your friends and love ones to the living room coffee table. Not that tech savvy? E-mail or text them instead. Better yet, put on the headphones and give people a call while you go for a walk.
To sum up, in these low times of Trump and his ‘foreign virus’ and the shameless puckering of Pence, be grateful for the technological advances that soften a sentence of weeks or even months on the couch.
Why can’t you be more like your brother, Ron?
I heard this sentiment more often than I wanted growing up—a parental admonition that put me in direct competition with a sibling seven years my senior.
My brother Ron came into this world in January, 1942, in the midst of a global conflagration that pitted good against evil, clearly and precisely, even though few people realized the depth of the inhumanity unfolding. He was born far way from the bombs, fires and ovens, in Edmonton, Alberta, the first of four surviving children. Two boys and two girls.
My brother Ron shouldered the responsibilities of the oldest child in a working-class family with equanimity—being obedient, running errands, babysitting and setting a good example in school for his siblings. Someone for a younger brother to look up to.
In truth, I had mixed feelings about my brother Ron at various times over my formative years. To hear his name invoked when my own shortcomings were so glaring in comparison planted the seed of resentment in my self-absorbed young mind.
Even so, I intuitively knew my brother Ron was a nice guy, a responsible kid who got good grades, an altar boy and boy scout, who took to heart the concepts of honesty, honour and fair play.
He started working young, delivering flyers and newspapers before moving on to a job at a neighbourhood supermarket, stocking shelves and bagging groceries. He was flush with cash for his endeavors and his was always the Christmas gift most anticipated by a younger brother.
My brother Ron loved Christmas. He liked decorating the tree, the food, the holiday music, but most of all he loved the opening of gifts. Especially the ones he was giving. I recall waiting patiently to play with a neat toy he picked out while listening to an explanation of how it worked as he tried it out for the first ten minutes.
My brother Ron remained a big kid throughout his life. He collected comics and stamps in grade school and books and movies as an adult. He built model planes and ships in his teens before graduating to a replica of The Bounty that took thousands of hours to complete working to scale from complex plans that would challenge a naval architect. He ran model railroads through towns and landscapes he constructed from cardboard and paper Mache.
My brother Ron was steadfast. He worked for the same company from his late teens, starting as a gofer and staying the course until he took early retirement as the boss four decades later. He took the helm at a precarious financial time for the business. The owner left the employees with a choice–take over the company or the doors are closing.
As a significant shareholder, with stock accumulated over the years in bonuses in place of cash, my brother Ron took responsibility. He knew every aspect of the operation but did not possess the corporate ruthlessness required to lay people off when the bottom line demanded it. At least not without taking it home with him at night.
My brother Ron was a worrier. He worried about his work colleagues, his family and his beloved Eskies. During the Jackie Parker era, he sold hot dogs and cold drinks at Clark Stadium for extra money and admission to the games. He bought seasons tickets and Eskies paraphernalia and remained a loyal fan, in later years recording games then checking the score before watching to avoid the stress and frustration of seeing the team take a loss in real time.
My brother Ron was of the Last Great Generation, a pre-Boomer too old, too sensible, and in a younger brother’s mind, too square to drop out and tune into the Sixties culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll. He curled and bowled, joined Toastmasters and danced the Boot Scootin’ Boogie.
As you have by now deduced, my brother Ron didn’t like change. Out of high school he dreamed of frolicking at Mardi Gras in New Orleans but had little appetite for foreign travel as a family man, beyond excursions to Disneyland with the kids. He liked Edmonton and was a big Alberta booster who preferred the comfort of home to the hassles of airports and foreign money exchanges.
My brother Ron and I drifted apart over the years, seeing each other mostly on family occasions. He called me Little Guy and I called him Big Guy, in that joking way grown brothers communicate. He had a mortgage to pay, his wife Berna and daughters Vanessa and Paula to care for and then grand-kids, Alannah and Eric to dote over while I led the irresponsible life of changing jobs, towns and romantic entanglements, at times with nothing to care for but my dog.
We reconnected in later years and cemented our familial bond through our mutual disdain for Donald Trump. My straight-shooter brother Ron could not fathom the fanaticism, religious hypocrisy and political cynicism that elevated someone he regarded as a sack of orange scum. Venting to me spared his wife. He was an enthusiastic reader of the Meandering Maloneys and would call with congratulations and praise after each anti-Trump screed was published online. It felt good to hear him say so.
My brother Ron passed away unexpectedly last Monday, with the tree up and decorated, a few weeks before his beloved Christmas. He left this world worried that these low times of Trump and global warming would cause irrevocable harm to the planet and to the wife, daughters and doted-on grandchildren left behind.
He was one of the good guys. I wish I’d told him about all the times over the years I wanted to be more like my brother Ron.
Live with courage, die with dignity.
Live with dignity, die with courage.
Either could be the title of a self-help book for geezers looking for purpose in their remaining years. Most people would take one or the other carved into their tombstone or as a great lead sentence for their obituary.
“He lived with courage; he died with dignity.”
What better epitaph for a human life.
But what does it say about people who practise the antitheses of those uplifting mottos.
Live in fear, die without honour.
Live without honour, die in fear.
RIP Lindsay Graham, Devin Nunes, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney et al.
The latter statements are fitting tag lines to lay on Republican politicians. The President of the United States is becoming increasingly unhinged as they shrink in the shadow of his madness.
Before heading into the workplace next week, paint your face orange and whip your hair into an aircraft carrier combover. Put on a baggy blue suit and pull an oversize red tie low enough to cover the pee stains. Walk onto the job site, into the office, the warehouse or store and tell your workmates that you are a very stable genius who knows more about everything… military tactics, technology, ISIS, banking, tax law, debt… than all the experts who have immersed themselves in the subjects for decades; pronounce that you have great wisdom and are the chosen one; that you have the best words, and the best memory; then brag about a fat murderous dictator with even worse hair who sends you love letters; tell everyone the Ukrainians are out to get you; insist that nobody can trust what they see and hear but should only believe you, their Dear Leader
People will start moving away, cellphones in hand, fingers poised over emergency phone numbers. Some will click on audio record while others discreetly video your every move from a safe distance watching for an AR-15 assault rifle to appear from a tear-away pant leg. These are not things normal people say, unless they are two sheets and a jib sail to the wind at the company Christmas Party. To proclaim these boasts to the world with zero self-awareness and no shame is to signal the men with the funny farm nets to come and make a pickup.
However, if your workplace is full of Evangelical Christians they will applaud you as a prophet and herald you as the Second Coming—even though they may know you are a pathological liar, a grifter who cheats charities, a proud pussy grabber and a person of low character who denigrates patriots—as long as you can convince them you will overturn Roe vs Wade.
On the Monday before U.S. Thanksgiving I saw the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on a television screen in the serene madness of Republican commentator Alice Stewart’s reply to a question from CNN anchor Laura Coates.
Coates cited retiring Energy Secretary and Dancing With The Stars alumni Rick Perry’s recent televised assertion that Donald Trump was indeed the Chosen One. She asked Stewart, an Evangelical Christian and Trump sycophant, if she agreed.
Stewart stared into the camera like a Jim Jones disciple holding the Kool Aid glass to her child’s lips and replied “Absolutely,” noting that as a “woman of faith” she believed God hand-picked the degenerate orange porn star humper, Donald J. Trump, just as He had all the presidents before him, claiming God took a direct interest in U.S. politics, insisting nothing happened in the world without her Sovereign Lord’s oversight.
But doesn’t that also mean God chose Hitler for the German people, Stalin for the Russians, Kim Jong Jun for the Koreans and Pol Pot for the Cambodians. By Stewart’s logic wouldn’t God be responsible for the torture, imprisonment and genocide of millions of people of all faiths around the world. Wouldn’t he be the one who gave the thumbs up to the world’s serial killers and child molesters. And, of course, He would have fanned the favourable westerly winds to ensure the slave traders speedy and profitable voyages.
Stewart dresses well, often accessorising with a tasteful crucifix. She gets her hair done frequently, applies her make-up with skill and speaks calmly and rationally during most of her defenses of Trump before a national TV audience, putting distance between her Christian self and his most grievous offenses, tweets and utterances by noting we are all flawed human beings. Hate the sin, not the molesting priest, as my devout Catholic mother used to say.
Stewart seems normal until the subject of religion rears its ugly, murderous head and that is what should scare poop pellets out of every tightly clenched Democratic ass. She and tens of millions of heavily armed citizens are in a cult. A religious cult waiting anxiously for the Rapturous End Times, when true believers and their families and dead friends are whisked to the safety of heaven to watch everyone else die horrible deaths as the world destructs in an orgy of violence.
She believes, along with senior government officials like Mike Pence, Rick Perry and Mike Pompeo, what is trumpeted from the pulpits by religious grifter scions Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, that Trump, God’s imperfect instrument, is the right man at the right time to lead the Evangelical Christian Crusade.
It matters not to brainwashed religious zealots that the American Constitution specifically calls for separation of religion and state. Evangelicals are every bit as fanatical, and delusional, as the Muslim terrorists who decapitate non-believers and burn them alive in cages in hopes of rising to a place where virgins are plentiful. Under the right circumstances, with the tacit consent of the state, MAGA maniacs might defend their way of life by castrating non-believers, hanging them from trees for target practise, dragging them behind cars and burning them alive in the town square as other righteous white Americans did to black people in the south as late as the 1950s.
Will Stewart and Trump’s Holy Water drinkers stand with the majority if Trump is defeated next November and refuses to leave office or will they align themselves with corrupt, craven, compliant Republican politicians who have insinuated themselves so far up Trump’s flabby, mottled ass cheeks they are at the point of no return.
The adulation he gets at his Klan rallies has pushed Trump over the edge, into madness and a fantasy world, his followers encamped in Red States, instead of a South American jungle, mixing Kool Aid with Holy Water for End Times.
In 2016 he was just a conman, the leader of a criminal family who figured he could make money by enhancing his brand by running for President. He was between opportunities having run his course on reality TV and in legal trouble for overseeing a bogus university scam. But over three years of Republican supplication and adoration from his all-forgiving base he began drinking his own Holy water.
Encouraged by cult lieutenants like Pence, Perry and Pompeo, and with the wild-eyed devil/imp Rudy Giuliani whispering in his ear and legions of glassy-eyed deplorables chanting at his rallies, he has embraced the madness and come to see himself as the Chosen One.
That is truly scary.
The only question that remains is: “If Dear Leader calls for Jihad against Non-Believers after losing in 2020, will sixty million heavily armed cult members heed the call?
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the U.S. election, and the reaction to it, makes it abundantly clear how far the world’s oldest democracy has strayed from the founding fathers well-intentioned but flawed vision.
The report details the lies and plethora of bad behaviour by the country’s leader, who was not elected by a majority of its citizens but instead because the archaic electoral college devised 150 years ago to appease the defeated slave states allows the minority to rule. It affirms Trump received significant help from the Russians, who wanted him to win, and that his campaign was open to offers and never advised the FBI about this foreign intervention. It concludes Russians used social media to target more than 100 million voters in an election that was ultimately decided by about 80,000 votes.
Despite Mueller scrupulously outlining dubious ethics, slack morality and almost daily deceit, The Conman-in-Chief and his legion of debased lackeys are crowing about exoneration, as if the only standard a President must meet is to avoid indictment for a criminal offense, all the while knowing the constitution has been amended to exempt a sitting President from criminal indictment. A convenient Catch 22 for a budding despot and his duped or deplorable followers in a country that claims no man is above the law.
Remember Trump’s infamous admonition to his deplorable base: ‘Don’t believe what you see and read, believe what I say.’
Okay, Big Orange Brother.
The report meticulously notes how Trump did everything to hinder the investigation but walk over to the Department of Justice and fire the Special Counsel in person. It relates how various campaign officials, including Trump Jr. and his son-in-law, tried to collude with the Russians, then lied about it. It documents campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ongoing sharing of polling data with a Russian agent.
Below is an abbreviated summary of some of the the Conman-in-Chief’s more egregious behaviour.
- Trump had Russia on his mind when he fired FBI director Jim Comey, the man originally in charge of the Russia investigation, after Comey refused to guarantee his loyalty.
- He pressured acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lie about the reason Comey was fired.
- Rosenstein was so concerned he appointed a Special Counsel.
- Trump, fearful of what investigators might dig up, ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel and relented only when McGhan said he would resign first.
- He told aide Corey Lewandowski to ask then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation.
- He commanded his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to pressure Sessions into ‘unrecusing’ himself so Sessions could control the Special Counsel and feed information about it to Trump or his lawyers.
- He directed various White House staff to lie to the American people and personally directed the false narrative concerning the meeting his son and top campaign officials had with Russian operatives with the purpose of obtaining illegally obtained information on his election.
- He denigrated patriotic Americans risking their lives in law enforcement and intelligence gathering.
- He lied about conducting business in Russia while running for the Presidency.
- While running for office, Trump authorized and coordinated an illegal hush money payment to a porn star he had sex with shortly after his wife gave birth.
- He conspired with a sleazy supermarket tabloid to suppress the story of a Playboy Bunny he was fooling around with while his wife nursed their infant son.
- He attacked the media for spreading fake news which turned out to be accurate, while tweeting a stream of lies to his Twitter followers.
- He intimidated witnesses and dangled the possibility of a pardon if they refused to cooperate with investigators.
- He refused to be interviewed in person by the Special Counsel, and in heavily lawyered written responses to investigators’ questions claimed he couldn’t recall specifics 30 times, despite his boast of having ‘the best memory’.
- He hired an unqualified lackey to care-take the investigation while he searched for an Attorney General who would protect him like his mentor, disbarred and now deceased mob lawyer Roy Cohn.
- He found his Roy Cohn after private lawyer and conservative ideologue William Barr sent Trump’s attorneys a job application that laid out reasons why a President can’t commit obstruction of justice.
- He lauded his hand-picked new Attorney General when Barr provided a misleading narrative about the investigation to the American people and needlessly held the report for almost a month to let his spin ferment.
The Conman-in-Chief brays about personal exoneration because Mueller didn’t recommend criminal charges, but the report is a clear indictment of a sleazy democracy in the time of Trump run by immoral swamp rats supported by 40 per cent of American voters.
The upside of going on a Panama Canal cruise to celebrate your 70th birthday is that you feel young compared to the other passengers. The downside is that you see the future and it isn’t pretty, in the most literal sense.
Before the politically correct among you suffer heart palpitations or sputter yourselves into apoplexy with incomprehensible rage mutterings about elder abuse, I will embrace the unassailable journalistic defamation defense. The truth is the truth.
We began our cruise holiday with a stop in Fort Lauderdale at a hotel convenient to the airport and a nearby cruise terminal. Convenience, as we learned while checking in amidst a throng of cruisers recently off-loaded from an arriving ship, is central to the travel philosophy of the geezer cruise crowd.
Ship to shuttle to hotel or attraction; hotel to shuttle to airport or attraction.
By happenstance, our brief Fort Lauderdale sojourn coincided with spring break, the annual migration of American college students to the beaches of Florida, where they refresh minds stressed by months of intellectual rigor by drowning millions of brain cells in alcohol while cavorting nearly naked in beachfront bars.
An afternoon stroll along the boardwalk reveals a shocking lack of visual self-awareness evident in the young and educated. Suffice to say, muscle shirts do not enhance every male physique and the thong was not invented with certain body types in mind. To follow flabby mottled cheeks jiggling down a public sidewalk on either side of an imbedded pink bum wiper is to instill images that could haunt a senior to his grave.
But our big take away from Fort Lauderdale came about during a boat tour of the city’s canals. Bernie Sanders is right. Too many people in the top one per cent have way too much money.
It’s not so much the opulent mansions that line the waterways, (second or third homes to the Trumps and Manaforts of the world) as it is the yachts parked out front for weekend outings. The annual upkeep alone on the floating trophies of capitalism gone awry would suck up the yearly salaries of 10 of the workers toiling for the captains of industry who brag about accumulating their wealth by knowing the value of a dollar well spent. The super rich fudge on their taxes and rail against raising the minimum wage while flaunting their wealth with conspicuous consumption that is breathtaking in its audacity.
But I digress.
We sailed on a mid-size Holland America ship called the Volendam, an upscale floating home for travelling seniors equipped with all the expected shipboard amenities—a promenade for strolling; lounge chairs for reading and contemplation; a piano bar for nightly name-that-tune-trivia games; lounges with happy hours for budget conscience geezers; buffets and fine dining restaurants; a hot tub and two pools (indoor with retractable roof and outdoor); a movie theatre; ping pong tables, a spa, a gym with the latest equipment and a ocean view; a library with classic books and tables for chess, scrabble and jig saw puzzles; a Las Vegas style showroom with a mixed bag of nightly entertainment ranging from a skinny German juggler to an electric harp player from Uruguay; a casino with slot machines and electronic poker; a medical centre; a quiet card room for bridge, canasta and euchre; glittery high-end jewelry and clothing shops; and a top deck pickle ball court enclosed with netting to keep the pickle from soaring into the sea.
The cruise lines have honed innumerable ways to separate captive codgers from their pension money. While soft drinks at $2.25 a can are within an acceptable range, the bottles of water beside them in your cabin will add six dollars to your cruise credit card. Laundry is $20 a small bag.
All alcoholic purchases are subject to a mandatory 15 per cent service charge, in addition to $15 dollars a day levied each passenger for gratuities for the crew. Wine stewards in the fine dining room are happy to recommend wine pairings that start at $40 a bottle and range sharply upwards into the hundreds. A domestic beer is $7.50 and the cheapest glass of wine is $9. The wi fi package offered pre-cruise came in at $30 dollars a day. Sales must have been slow because a few days out people were getting wi fi for the much-reduced rate of $8 per day.
Add 30 per cent to all prices for Canadian cruisers.
For the long languid days at sea the cruise lines offer distractions like art auctions, shore excursion sales pitches disguised as information sessions, massage packages, meditation at $12 a session and experts to brief you on the fantastic deals you get by booking your next cruise while at sea. You can wile away the hours shopping for over-priced clothing or a discounted Rolex or diamond earrings for that special someone on your 65th anniversary. They even offer specialty restaurants at extra cost, where the dinner experience is presumed to be a cut above the ship’s fine dining room, for those who prefer paying for their food to eating free with the hoi polloi.
You know going in that the real cost of cruising is all about the add-ons. To quibble about cruise line gouging is to defeat the purpose of the trip, which is to escape life’s aggravations while travelling from country to country in a five-star hotel with excellent personalized service without the unpacking and packing.
Did I mention the geezer cruising set like their conveniences?
The first stop was an afternoon visit to Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, a small piece of paradise with impossibly blue water and pristine beaches, a perfect place to slow the pace needed for cruising. You can ride a sea doo or a horse, paddle a kayak or frolic with stingrays, for a price. We opted for a walk and ate burgers under palm fronds at the ship-sponsored lunch.
Crossing the Caribbean to the Colombian port of Cartagena on the second night out caused a lot of geezers to reach for their motion sickness pills. Your bilious agent departed Happy Hour prematurely leaving a bucket of unopened beer behind. Luckily, the Dame, who hasn’t ridden a roller coast she didn’t love, had the foresight to pack the pricey beverages to our cabin for future disposal.
We saw Cartagena through the windows of a tour bus which delivered its cargo of fresh-off-the-boat suck… ahem… seniors to a succession of tourist hot spots, where we were besieged by hawkers selling everything from genuine made-in-China-especially-for-Columbia hats to hand-made rosary beads and purses. We scooped up hats and several bottles of precious water at prices severely discounted from the ship.
The excursion included a mandatory stop at a ‘jade museum’ which is code for a jewelry store masquerading as a tourist attraction. A minor discord amongst the elderly sightseers surfaced when an oblivious codger couple kept 25 passengers waiting in the bus for 15 minutes while they bargained for jade earrings. For a moment I thought an enraged geezer was going to limp up the aisle and hit the late-comers with his cane.
The Panama Canal lived up to its billing as one of the engineering marvels of the world. It took a full day to negotiate, with plenty of viewing opportunities to observe the ship being raised and lowered a hundred feet as the massive locks filled with water in about the time it takes to run a bath. The clearance on either side of the ship looks to be no more than a foot as it’s guided through the locks by rail cars attached on either side.
The Columbian hats proved to be a good $10 investment in the equatorial heat and the sunburnt old folks, having checked off another item on their bucket lists, appeared well-satisfied when they assembled for dinner.
Eating is central to shipboard life. Everything revolves around it. The day begins with breakfast at the Lido, where serving station attendants dole out everything from omelettes to eggs benny, from eggs sunny side up with sausages and bacon to French toast or pancakes, toasted bagels, hot oatmeal or cereal with remarkable efficiency and good cheer. Unhealthy temptation for a breakfast lover with gluttonous tendencies.
Lunch begins at 11:30, giving late risers a short window to walk off excess breakfast calories before digging into roast lamb, beef brisket, caramelized carrots and roasted potatoes smothered in gravy, the excesses of which are sopped up with bread baked daily. To be fair, there are healthy alternatives at the custom salad station but it takes a stronger person than your agent to eat lettuce with beef brisket on offer.
Ship activity tends to slow down in the afternoon as the glutted geezers hobble and wheeze off to their deck chairs to slumber with open mouths and books on their laps. The more energetic rouse themselves to attend afternoon tea in the dining room, where they munch cucumber sandwiches without crusts and sip from dainty cups to prepare aged digestive tracts for the nightly food onslaught.
Not surprisingly for a restaurant that caters to a clientele averaging in age in the mid-to-high 70s, the fine dining room opens at 5:15, which conveniently for the budget conscience is right on the heels of Happy Hour. A quick jaunt to the cabin to change from shorts into the long pants required for fine dining does not significantly reduce the glow of cut-price alcohol.
It is essential to be in good spirits for the repartee at evening dining, which may find you at a table with six or eight retirees from various countries, a disproportionate number of them American preachers or members of obscure evangelical flocks. Bringing up the subject of Donald Trump, hopped up on Happy Hour drinks, resulted in a sharp kick in the ankle from the Dame and muted response from our dinner companions. We discovered that non-deplorable Americans were vocal in their condemnation of the Conman-in-Chief while supporters fidgeted with their eating implements or stared intently at their lobster tail hoping to avoid a political discussion.
At one such seating our dining companions included a well-spoken couple from California. The old gentleman, a former pastor who went into real estate when he retired from the ministry at age 65, sat before us as breathing testament for clean living. His real estate career peaked at age 80, when he had a six-figure year. At 98, he still retained his realtor credentials and had recently been issued a five-year driver’s licence which would take him to his 103rd birthday. He needed the licence for his volunteer work driving the needy to hospital appointments. His travelling companion, whom he met at the senior’s residence before both their spouses died, would admit only to being in her eighties and was careful to note that while they shared a cabin the sleeping arrangements were purely platonic. To the Dame’s great relief, I did not query them about Donald Trump.
Leaving the Panama Canal is like cruising into maritime rush hour. Dozens of cargo ships of varying sizes, some of questionable sea worthiness from visual inspection, are anchored in the Pacific near the entrance waiting for their precise entry times. Teddy Roosevelt’s tireless drive to link the oceans is paying huge dividends to someone with a mansion somewhere and a huge boat docked out front.
On the way up the West Coast of Central America we stopped at Puntarenas, a gritty Costa Rican port that is a stepping off point for worldly backpackers who ferry across the inlet to a jungle peninsula for cheap living off the grid. The entire town can be walked in an hour or so and doesn’t have much to offer beyond miles of deserted beaches too hot to lay on under the equatorial sun.
The stopover that interested us most was the tiny Nicaraguan port of Corinta, not much more than a village and remarkably untouched by the digital world despite the cruise ships that dock regularly. We were squired around town in a pedicab (a bicycle with a primitive two-seat trailer welded to its frame) by a man who spoke remarkably good English that he claimed to have learned by watching movies and TV. His stated rate was $5 for an hour’s pedaling, including his unique insight into the everyday lives of Donald Trump’s feared foreign invaders.
He lived with his grandmother, his girlfriend and young daughter and was their primary source of income. His mother was up north, somewhere in Mexico, where she had secured employment as a housekeeper. He rented the bike from a local entrepreneur who established his pedicab empire with help from family in the U.S. who sent him start-up cash. Our guide hoped to buy his own pedicab but money is tight and the political situation dicey. He took us down a rutted street called Hollywood because its modest houses were in better repair. He attributed its inhabitants’ relative prosperity to money sent home from the U.S.
He did not have good things to say about strongman Daniel Ortega, who dispersed heavily armed soldiers to Corinta to guard his port holdings during a recent period of political unrest that shut the cruise ship terminal for months, cutting off the locals’ main source of income. He spoke softly during the ride and looked straight ahead when we passed military men. We gave him $25 bucks at the ride’s end and at five times the rate quoted considered it money well spent.
In Antigua, an hour by bus from the ship into the Guatemalan hills, we discovered that a sure way to spoil the ambience of an idyllic Spanish colonial town is to slap a World Heritage Site designation on it. The town, with its cobbled streets, colonial architecture, street arches and busy markets is teeming with tourist traps like the Chocolate Factory that offers genuine Guatemalan cocoa bean chocolate bars for $7 U.S.
Our stop in Huatulco, Mexico, was like arriving back in western civilization from the third world. The beautiful bay was rife with small tour boats loaded with revellers and lined with condos and apartments owned by expat Canadians and Americans who prefer the climate to Northern winters. It has a long, treed boulevard, grocery stores, movie theatres and a lot of Pemex gas stations controlled by the richest man in the world, who no doubt has a waterfront mansion in Palm Beach and a humongous yacht docked out front.
Our last stop before two days at sea cruising to San Diego was Puerto Vallarta, familiar to many West Coasters in search of the cheap Mexican getaway for a week’s respite from the rain and snow. It is a one-time fishing village turned into a large commercial city with a great climate and a beautiful seaside promenade, a long way from the extreme poverty of Corinta.
To sum up, cruising is a bit like going to a senior’s home in a remote paradise in that even with all the activities aboard ship it takes several days to gear down to life without cell phones and the distractions that intrude on land. It is a fantasy world with a well-trained crew happy to serve your every need, a place where the cabin stewards greet you by your first name prefaced with a Mr. or Miss. The Happy Hour waiter knows your drinking companions and watches to steer them to your table. There is no crime or cable TV to spoil the mood and nothing more pressing to do than stroll the promenade with its endless ocean horizons.
It should be said that the mostly Filipino crew was a highlight of our cruise. They were unfailingly good humored, even with the aggravations of dealing with crotchety confused old people while working 11-hour days seven days a week away from their families for nine months of the year. Well worth the 15 dollar daily gratuity grouched about earlier.
I’ll leave the lovely southern California city of San Diego for another blog, as its charms for the traveller deserve a separate accounting.