Chapter 1. A pimp gets some

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.

         Next Chapter –  Chapter 2: Canadian Justice is Harsh

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.

 

Rich Man Poor Man in the Time of Pandemic

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

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.

 

Pence puckers as couch potatoes fiddle with remotes

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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.