Read Previous Chapter – Chapter 3: Killer Memories, A Letter, Getting Smart
I felt good the first few days after the session. Maxwell Smart had poked a pinprick in the blackness. That wasn’t why I felt better, though. It was the letter. I imagined Osterwich reading it. The excitement in the room when he showed it to the editor. The discussion that would follow and the inevitable decision to turn it over to the police.
There would be a debate about how much to publish, or even if it should be published. Concerns would be expressed about its authenticity, about scaring the good burghers of Vancouver. I figured in the end the newspaper would press for its release and the cops would acquiesce.
From a detective’s perspective, it was an evidentiary gold mine. Investigators would immediately recognize the relevance of someone connecting three killings, all done with the same caliber gun, something that had never been reported. They would dust the letter for prints. Test it for DNA. Note that it had been typed on an old typewriter. They would hope someone recognized the writing style. That it would generate a ton of tips.
Kate attributed the uptake in my mood to Maxwell Smart. We made love for the first time in months and afterwards she was smug. Happy smug.
“I’m glad to have my husband back. It’s hard for me to see you like that Roger. So down. When you’re like that I worry. Laura says the change in Paul is remarkable and he’s only been seeing the doctor for six months.”
The mention of Paul made me furious. I didn’t want to be compared with that pompous blowhard.
“First off, Adams isn’t a doctor, he’s an academic with a lot of perseverance. A flaky academic at that. I hope Paul and Adams are only talking when the door closes. I’ve always thought Paul was a bit fruity.”
“Don’t be homophobic. It doesn’t become you. Besides that, it’s a ridiculous statement. Paul is happier because he’s finally addressing some of the things that have bothered him all his life. Laura says he’s a lot more positive and ‘you could use some of that.’”
She emphasized the last six words. Kate rarely displayed anger. Especially at me. She lived in sunshine and now darkness had crept right to the edge of her world. It scared her. I knew cutting off Don Adams was a potential deal breaker for us. Losing Kate was not an option. She lived in the light at the threshold of my bleakness. My wife and closest neighbor.
The days between my next appointment went quickly. I got up early each day in anticipation of the morning paper. The story would play big. Front page. The little boost I got unfolding the paper kick-started the day. I wasn’t worried when nothing about the letter showed up right away. I knew there would be a lot of talk going on. Meetings between the higher ups. But the journalists would win in the end. You can’t keep a multiple murder scoop quiet.
I got down to work on the annual report. Organizing the information. Figuring out a way to make boring crap sound interesting to a bunch of corporate types. It didn’t take much. I went into the office a couple of days before my next session with Adams to get material for the annual report. Thorsby was sitting in his cubicle, reading a technical manual on tractors. We had a big client down east that manufactured farm equipment.
“Somebody get this guy an editor. His copy reads like he’s having a wet dream. Get this: ‘The Stewart-Robinson 7800 model has a streamlined, elongated hood mounted over a sleek 400 horsepower engine that blows the competition out of the field.’ I’m getting a hard on just reading it.”
“You’ve got to get out of the office more often, Thorsby. Your sexual fantasies are starting to get weird.”
Most of the people I socialized with in my early years at the company had either moved on or settled into married life. I’d had a brief affair with a woman who still worked in accounting. She had a husband and two kids now, and an extra 30 pounds. We barely nodded if we ran into each other in the lunch room. I doubt she remembered.
I liked Thorsby. We were work friends. We had lunch together a couple times a week when we were both in the office. He was a bad eater. Deep-fried fast food. I like to eat a light lunch. It was always a negotiation to determine where we’d go.
The thing I liked most about him is he had no artifice. He wore short sleeve polo shirts year-round. A different colour every day of the week. The kind golfers wear, basically a t-shirt with three buttons and a collar. He wore them loose to cover his gut, which overshot his belt buckle by a couple of inches. He wasn’t obese. Just dumpy. And he didn’t care.
He’d been with his girlfriend Molly since his late teens. They dated in high school and just kept going. She was dumpy, too. She came to the office occasionally to pick him up for lunch. They always went to McDonalds. They held hands when they walked and kissed lightly when they parted. Thorsby was in his late twenties at the time and they’d been engaged for two years. Two dumpsters who found each other early in life.
“Let’s go for lunch, then,” he said. “Grab a burger and fries. A jumbo Pepsi.”
“I’m not going to McDonald’s, Thorsby. That junk food will do you in. Look at yourself, not even thirty with a huge gut. Keep eating that crap and it won’t be long before your waist size exceeds your I.Q.”
“At least I don’t live my life in a pathetic attempt to look like I’m trying to get on the cover of G.Q. That sports jacket you’re wearing is hanging a little loose, Delaney. Your face is gaunt. You look like shit. A hearty meal will fill out the hollows.”
“Okay, let’s go. But I’m not going to McDonald’s. They make a good burger over at the Chop House.”
We walked to the restaurant, a couple of long city blocks, with Thorsby providing a 10-minute monologue on the latest office gossip. He referred to our immediate supervisor, Randy Oliver, as Old Horny Man, a take-off on his name. Oliver, who was in his early sixties, was a good manager in that he hired well and delegated. He wasn’t the type of boss who needed constant updates. He only got involved if there was a screw-up, and that didn’t happen often with the TWs. I felt good about the Calvin project moving forward. Confident, now that the actual writing had started, that I’d have it in ahead of schedule. Relieved.
We settled into a booth near the window. Thorsby ordered burgers, fries and a large Pepsi for both of us without consulting me or looking at the menu. I laughed and acquiesced. Thorsby was an important touchstone in my life and I missed his company. He was the only person I’d talked with at length about the Cunningham killing. I hoped he’d bring it up but he kept prattling on about Old Horny Man.
He was convinced Oliver was having an affair with the new receptionist, a temp replacing Margie, who was off on maternity leave. The temp was a flirter. She’d complimented me on the jacket, the one Thorsby said hung too loose. Said she liked the colour and the cut. Same as Maxwell Smart. But I couldn’t see her with Oliver. There was a forty year age difference. And I didn’t care. I tried to maneuver the conversation around to the killings but Thorsby wouldn’t bite so I finally just came out with it.
“I haven’t read anything lately about the Cunningham case. Any new theories?”
“Not really. I haven’t thought about it. A contract hit that’ll never be solved. You know what the media’s like. They’re onto the next thing. The Cunningham killing is yesterday’s news.
He took a careful bite out of his hamburger and chewed thoughtfully while he delicately dipped a chip in ketchup. He ate daintily for a dumpy guy and I waited until while he finished his mastication.
“The goddamned media is a joke anyway,” he said, after washing the everything down with Pepsi. “Guardians of democracy? What a bunch of goddamn bullshit. It’s all big corporations scratching each other’s backs. Do you think the media barons want to dig up any shit on their fellow capitalists? Have to pay reporters to do research and really go after a story that might take months to develop and might implicate someone from their country club. A story that might reflect badly on one of their big corporate brothers. The media’s no different than the company that publishes those tractor manuals. The media answers to its shareholders.”
Thorsby had a thing about the media. He wasn’t a failed journalist, like me, but I’d always pegged him as a wannabe. He had that sense of idealism that good reporters have. The way I pictured Osterwich. I’d heard Thorsby’s media rants before, and while I often played devil’s advocate to give him a rise, I silently agreed with most of what he said.
The media had fallen a long way in my estimation since I’d pegged it as my career choice. The couple of years I’d spent at a community newspaper, working in an understaffed office writing stuff vetted by the publisher to see if it offended advertisers, had tarnished the youthful idealism. If it had ever been true, it had become increasingly difficult for reporters to live up to Walter Lippmann’s famous quote: “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil…” I didn’t hate the media like Thorsby. I accepted it with indifference. Just more big business. I didn’t want to shame the devil, I wanted to kill him.
I left Thorsby downtown. It had been an enjoyable lunch but a little unsettling. I knew what he said about the Cunningham story was true. Old news was no news. By the time I got back home I was feeling down. A precipitous drop from the high ground I was on after sending the letter. The pinprick of light let in by Adams had faded to black. I decided to try the quiet time. ‘To see what comes.’
I lay back on the couch in my office. The window faced west and was partially shaded by a tree. Mid-afternoon sunlight entered the room through a leafy filter. I settled in and closed my eyes. What came was the letter.
I couldn’t stop wondering why nothing had happened. I fretted about the letter being lost in the mail. Maybe Osterwich hadn’t seen it. Maybe it would remain unread, in a musty pile at a postal warehouse. I didn’t think so, though. My best guess was that it was being held back by higher ups for high-minded reasons. Corporate types.
No journalist would hold back a story this good on his own. Not Osterwich. Either the letter had been lost or the paper was co-operating with the police. Maybe the cops thought withholding it could draw me out. I didn’t blame them. They were doing a job. Trying to catch a killer. No. I blamed the paper for not doing its job. Not Osterwich. He’d probably taken it to his editor and it had gone up the ladder to the money guys at the top. The phony big shots who think they know what’s best, always with an eye on the profit margin. The bottom-liners.
I put up a front for Kate until my next visit with Adams. We had dinner the night before and watched a movie. She sat beside me on the couch and leaned in. The weight of her physical presence comforted me but I didn’t want to engage mentally. I pretended to concentrate on the movie so I wouldn’t have to talk. She sensed that I was sliding and when the movie ended she asked me, “Are you okay.” she said it nicely, with warmth. The question irritated me because I knew I wasn’t. And probably never would be. Okay for me was a long way away. I didn’t say that though.
“I’m fine, dear. I’ve got a good handle on the Calvin report. I’ll spend the next few weeks polishing it up and I’ll be back in the office by the end of September, out of your hair.”
A phony answer. Paul Carter streaked through my consciousness. Kate didn’t buy it but she let it go.
“You see Dr. Adams tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You’ve got to stick with it Roger. Things aren’t going to change after one visit but you already seem better than you were. Laura says Paul went twice a week for the first two weeks. Then every week after that. He’s been seeing Adams for six months. It takes time.”
The mention of Paul again infuriated me. I answered to a higher calling than that smarmy prick. He was an aging faker who got caught out by the years and the law of averages. His star was in decline, even if Adams convinced him otherwise. I was the People’s Wolf.
Gail Whitesong sat at her reception desk as I opened the door. She turned her attention from a computer screen to usher me in with a wave.
“Mr. Delaney, right on time. I like a prompt man who dresses sharp.”
She looked different. Her hair was backcombed into a mound red yarn. A perfect match for Adams’ pompadour. You could have hidden a small animal under there. I wondered if her and Adams were getting it on.
“Clothes make the man. Mother always said, ‘Gail, you can’t go wrong with a sharp-dressed man.”
“She must have been a ZZ Top fan.”
She didn’t acknowledge the joke.
“Have a seat. Don is running a little behind but it shouldn’t be long.”
I walked over to the window and looked down at the alley. The mattress had been picked up, buried by now in a heap of garbage somewhere. The woman’s greeting had put me off. It was true, what I had told Adams last time. I had at least a dozen sports jackets in my closet, arranged by colour. The one I was wearing was pale olive, with no pleat in back. I bought it off the rack because it fit so well. Sharp. I wondered if she had access to the client files. Or maybe I came up in pillow talk.
I heard the door click and turned to see a woman emerge. She had short, flat hair that looked unwashed. She gave me a furtive look and turned to leave the office without talking to anyone. She looked common, washed out. The thought of being lumped in with her, just another client, bothered me.
Adams didn’t come out for another five minutes. Whitesong sat staring into her computer screen, humming softly to herself. I didn’t like waiting. Especially for some fake shrink with bad hair. But the reception area felt comfortable. Serene. I turned back to the window and stared out at the alley.
“Come on in, Roger.”
Adams stood in the doorway wearing a replica of his outfit from the previous week. White shirt, different colour tie and pants, same black senior’s shoes. I took a seat in the easy chair and he pulled the straight-back chair away from the wall. We sat facing each other in silence again. I wasn’t in the mood.
“Are we going to start every session with a stare-off?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean are we going to sit here staring at each other to see who makes the first move.”
It came out more aggressive than I wanted.
“We’re not here to make moves on each other Roger. We’re here to work together, to help you through a difficult time. I like to let the patient begin. To tell me what’s on his mind. But it’s not a hard and fast rule, I can begin if you like.”
The little prick called me a patient. I liked client better.
“Go for it.”
“I’m sensing a lot of hostility. You have serious doubts about receiving treatment and we’re going to have to work through that if you want to see any benefit. You’re carrying around a ton of resentment. You resent just about everybody you meet because they seem happier and more together than you feel. If you are given a compliment, you look for an ulterior motive. If it’s a woman, you think she’s flirting. If it’s a man, you think he’s trying to put one over on you. Trying to lower your guard. You are angry at the world. We have to try and find out why.”
He had me. The smooth little bastard had gotten inside my head with one visit. It didn’t make me mad. Just the opposite. The pin prick was back. A tiny speck of light in the darkness.
“The world is a shitty place. Filled with crime and greed. Human beings are mostly vile. Polluting the earth. Exploiting each other for profit. Killing and torturing for religion. Or for pleasure. If more good people were angry the world might be a better place.”
“That’s one perspective, Roger. You’re not wrong. But the world is also a beautiful place and human beings are capable of selflessness that is unique in the animal kingdom. We are the only species that will make sacrifices for the common good.”
The last part got to me. The little Elvis wannabe didn’t have a clue he was sitting across from someone who had risked everything for the common good. Yet, somehow, he was inching his way inside my head. I couldn’t have that.
“But does the good outweigh the bad? It doesn’t look that way to me. It doesn’t take a crystal ball or a Ph-d to see that the world is on a disastrous course. If climate change or nuclear war doesn’t get us, economics will. Everybody wants to make more than they’re worth and to spend more than they make. And that includes the Third World. There’s nothing virtuous about the starving masses. Those poor bastards are just as greedy and morally bankrupt as the so-called developed world. When they find a way to make money and buy things, we’re all sunk. The earth can’t support a world filled with people who own multiple cars and big screen TVs.”
“That’s a cynical take on things and in my opinion far too pessimistic. But I’m not going to argue the point with you Roger. You have a right to your viewpoint and I won’t say you are wrong. What I would like to concentrate on, however, is what’s happening inside. What’s causing all that inner turmoil.”
He paused for a moment. No glib answer came to mind so I looked beyond him at the diplomas on the wall.
“Let’s look at your inner life, if only for a few minutes, as if it were an airplane journey. It may seem silly at first but bear with me. You are going through severe turbulence. When you’re in it, as you are now, it seems like it will go on forever. Your thoughts are flashing and bouncing around. The first thing I’d like you to do is recognize that the turbulence won’t last forever. You will have smooth passages and then there will be more turbulence. More smooth patches and so on. That’s life. What I would like to do is help you reduce the turbulence and extend the smooth time in between.”
“An airplane journey?”
I’ve never been a violent person. My last fight was in high school. I lost and I haven’t hit anyone since. I don’t like blood. I could not kill someone with a knife or a baseball bat. But at that moment, in full turbulence mode, I had to restrain myself. I badly wanted to spring from the easy chair and place my hands around Maxwell Smart’s scrawny neck. To throttle the life out of him with my fists. Instead, I shifted positions slightly and looked at him with a bemused expression that he didn’t acknowledge.
“That’s right Roger. Visualizing things is important. It brings clarity. You’ll see improvement if you trust me. How did it go with the quiet time?”
“The quiet time was quiet. Very quiet.”
Mention of the quiet time brought up troubling thoughts about the letter and a sharp feeling of despair. It made me feel small.
“My thoughts kept wandering. I couldn’t stay in the moment. The more I tried to relax the more my thoughts took off in all directions. After 10 minutes I got antsy, so I gave up.”
It came out petulant. Adams responded by lowering his voice slightly. He leaned forward and looked at me with concern. He was a good actor.
That’s all he said. One word. It hung in the air between us for a long moment before landing in my brain. With a thump.
“Few people can stay in the moment for more than a few seconds when they are going through turbulence. It’s important to keep trying, though. Maybe we can use it as a measuring stick later. I want to hear more about your life.”
“There’s not much to tell. I work, I go home. I eat and sleep.”
“On the surface, that describes just about every adult in this city. But everyone has an under story. Something that sets them apart. A hobby. A unique interest or ability. A disability. A good habit. A bad habit. A secret vice. The lucky ones have a passion for something. Golf. Cards. Bird-watching. The luckiest of all have a strong connection to other human beings. Family. Friends. Do you have a lot of friends, Roger?”
I didn’t like where this was going. I had no friends, only a few nodding acquaintances. Mostly from work. I didn’t want to admit it.
“Not a lot. I hang out with a guy at work.”
I felt stupid saying it. What would Thorsby say if he knew I listed him as my only friend.
“I don’t like people. All the phoniness that goes with them. The meaningless talk. I prefer my own company.”
“What about your wife’s company?”
“My wife and I get along well. She’s very independent.”
“I’d like to here about those Good-time Charlie years you started to tell me about last session.”
“I never had a problem getting female company. There was a never-ending supply. Salesclerks, receptionists, career women. I dated nurses and lawyers and hairdressers. I took the artsy ones to plays and concerts, the intellectuals to lectures and the sporty types for bike rides and walks along the seawall. There’s nothing like a Sunday morning walk on the seawall to win a woman’s heart.”
“You sound angry. As if you don’t like women very much.”
I waited for the follow-up. Questions about my mother or an evil auntie or wicked grandmother. Adams sat there immobile, focused directly on my face. When our eyes caught, I couldn’t pull away.
“I like women just fine but I didn’t care one way or the other about any of them on an emotional level. I never wanted to hang around with a particular woman on a daily basis. Too much work. Always pretending to be polite and attentive. Pretty soon they want more. They want to get inside your head.”
“As a relationship matures human nature kicks in, Roger. Women are hard-wired to nurture and nest. To bond. They need certain indicators to establish trust.”
“They are easily fooled.”
“What about Kate, is she easily fooled?”
The way he said it produced a sharp pang in my stomach. The tone was accusatory. Borderline nasty. But the expression on his face never changed. He continued to look at me benignly, with a pleasant expression. Another subtext? Did I imagine it? I kept my voice even.
“Kate is a woman,” I said.
“Well, it’s cliché but I’ve learned in life it is best not to underestimate a woman. But let’s leave Kate until another time. When we’re both fresh.”
We did the stupid bowing thing. I felt stale as I left the office. Crusty. I made the next appointment for two weeks. It seemed a long time away. Gail Whitesong wrote the time and day on a card. Officiously. She handed it to me. Curtly.
“See you next time, Mr. Delaney.”
Maybe the ZZ-Top joke about her mother put her off. I didn’t care. Fuck her and her mother.
The session with Adams had been unsettling. It stirred up brain sediment. Turbulence on top of turbulence. I couldn’t get the word out of my head. It lingered in my subconscious. Turbulence. I couldn’t stop envisioning my thoughts bouncing around. The little bastard had fucked me up. I veered sharply between wanting to believe he could help me and pure hatred. A snake-oil salesman with bad hair who preyed on the weak. I could take him out.
I tried the quiet time two or three times that first week but all I got was the letter. It was front and center. Every morning I scanned the paper with anticipation. And every morning I felt a huge letdown. I got through the days by writing the Calvin report. Basic translating. Mindless work.
I kept up appearances around the house. I wanted Kate to think the sessions with Adams were taking hold. But I could feel myself slipping away, into the black. One afternoon when Kate was away at work, I went to the closet to get the gun. I wanted to hold it. For reassurance. I started to unscrew the floorboards and Adams’ word popped up. ‘Turbulence.’ I didn’t want his stupid fucking airplane journey stuck in my head. But there it was. I put down the screwdriver and went over to the couch for some quiet time.
I put down a pillow and slouched back, my feet up on the arm. I zeroed in on the breath entering my nostrils and followed its trail as it expanded my lungs and distended my stomach. I held it for an instant before releasing it out my mouth. On the fourth or fifth breathe it came to me, delivered to my brain during quiet time on a cushion of air.
The media needed to be reminded of its duty–“to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. A message had to be sent. I would kill a newspaper executive, then send another letter. This time they would publish.
Quiet time was over. To settle myself, I walked around the house, from my office through the kitchen. I did a loop of the living room then up the stairs to the bedrooms. I went into the ensuite and stood in the shower. I thought about turning it on but didn’t. I repeated the whole thing. Even getting into the shower.
It seems weird looking back but I didn’t think about it at the time. After the second trip around the house I picked up the screwdriver and got out the gun. It felt good in my hand. Like it belonged. The People’s Wolf had more work to do.
The planning of it parted the storm clouds. The turbulence disappeared, replaced by clear thought and a sense of higher purpose. Maybe Adams was right. The world wasn’t such a bad place in the spots between the turbulence. I settled on a target right away.
The Vancouver Sun was owned by a large media conglomerate with interests in Britain, the U.S. and Israel. The guys at the top were Jewish. You couldn’t say it in polite company but those hate groups were right about one of their conspiracy theories.
The Jews controlled the media. Everybody knew it. I had nothing against Jews. Catholics had their shot at controlling the world in the Middle Ages. They fucked it up and became a religion of child diddlers. Muslims stoned women for getting raped. Hindus worshiped cows. Buddhists revered a guy who spent his life sitting under a tree. All religions and races had predatory humans and by the natural order of things the best predators rise to the top. The prey needed a leader. I was that man.
I went to the library the next day and did a Google search. Morrie Greenberg had built the Concordia company with his brother Eldon. They started in Ontario with small community newspapers, buying out the mom and pop operations. Gradually they built a network across Canada, selling cheap ads that ran throughout the chain.
When independents couldn’t compete, they bought them out at deep discounts. Under their ownership the papers became little more than flyers. The Greenberg brothers didn’t care about content. Morrie would cheerfully tell anyone who would listen that the ideal community newspaper would have a staff of three. Two to sell ads and one person to manage the news.
They made gobs of money and gobbled up weekly papers with the surplus. They bought out a Canadian chain of dailies then went out of country for prestigious papers in New York, London and Tel Aviv. They branched out into television. They managed the news internationally now.
Early on, Morrie had moved to Vancouver, where he attended temple and lived in a waterfront mansion. He cultivated a reputation for parsimony when it came to the company. One business magazine writer lauded his toughness: “After buying a new property, he delighted in sweeping through the paper or television station counting desks. Too many desks meant people would have to be cut. There were always too many desks for Morrie Greenberg.”
With all Concordia’s success, he still worked out of an unpretentious two-story building in East Vancouver, near the bottom of Commercial Drive. About a 15 minute walk from my house. It had been a mattress factory before Concordia bought it and converted it to office space. When he was in town and not traveling the world on his corporate expense card, Morrie reported for work every day at the Concordia building.
I started going by the place at different times of the day. It didn’t take long to notice the silver Mercedes parked in back. An impressive car, no doubt on the company ticket. One of the salaries from an empty desk somewhere in the Concordia empire would pay the monthly lease.
The Starbucks on the corner across the street made a good observation point. A busy place with lots of people coming and going. I stopped there several times around five, taking a window seat and sipping Chai latte, watching the after-work pedestrian traffic. Nobody would remember a guy in a sport jacket reading the paper.
I could see the Mercedes from my spot. I got my first sighting of Morrie Greenberg on a Monday in September. He had thick grey hair that nicely offset his dark business suit. He dressed well. I knew from my research he was 52. He looked athletic. Formidable. Like somebody who would put up more resistance than Cunningham. Not a man with hairless white legs who would go out crying ‘owie, owie.’
That didn’t bother me. Bullets blow resistance all to shit. What did bother me was the cameras. One overlooking the back parking area and another trained on the sidewalk from the street to the door. Goddamn terrorists. Since 9/11 there were cameras everywhere. They scared me more than anything. I read that they installed cameras in Cunningham’s parkade after the shooting. The sharpies would all be installing cameras after Greenberg’s execution. The thought of it cheered me.
I was experiencing less turbulence by my next visit with Adams. I’d given up on the first letter being published. It felt good to let it go. I managed to get in an actual minute or two of quiet time. Where the only thing in my mind was breathing and my world was reduced to the black screen on the inside of my eyelids. Life at its simplest.
It didn’t translate into real life. Not with my new mission. The execution of Morrie Greenberg would require meticulous planning and stealth. The story would go global. The execution of a media mogul would play huge on its own. Throw in a letter from the People’s Wolf, left behind on the body, and it would be an international media circus.
I knew the investigation would be ramped up a hundred-fold. Outside agencies might be called in. CSIS. The thought of it scared me. But from the instant the idea floated into my quiet time there was no turning back. Blame it on Maxwell Smart and his lame idea. Somebody had to strike back at the media and that someone was me. With the curtain partially open, the enveloping blackness had turned to charcoal grey, with bright light at the edges.
Gail Whitesong’s reception desk was empty. I could see Adams at his desk through the open door. He waved me in and asked me to close the door behind me.
“Have a seat. You’re looking good. That’s another nice jacket. A bit of a western look.”
I sat on the easy chair without leaning back. Adams’ set-up was psychological bullshit. So easy to see through it was almost insulting. A man stretched out in an easy chair is vulnerable. The guy sitting up straight has all the power.
“It’s a takeoff on a classic shooting jacket. The kind rich guys used to wear in ‘40s movies. The shoulder stitching and elbow patches give it a western feel. It’s comfortable.”
“Gail’s away today. No cookies.”
Seeing her chair empty had disappointed me. I had hoped to banter for a moment then spend a few minutes in reception, looking out at the alley, gathering my thoughts, while she hummed into her computer screen. Adams got his chair and took his seat in front, same prim position—straight-backed, knees together, hands folded on his lap. White shirt, different colour tie and pants. Same sensible black shoes.
We talked about general health things for the first five or ten minutes. How I was sleeping? Was my appetite good? Did I feel energetic? Then he zeroed in.
“I’d like to finish our discussion on the Good Time Charlie years.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Whatever you feel is relevant. What’s the first thought that comes to mind.”
The words popped out. I don’t know why.
“Sex without attachment. Sex because it’s the thing to do. Because it’s expected.”
“Do you enjoy sex?”
“Look, I’m not here to talk about my sex life. You’ll have to get your jollies someplace else.”
It came out hard. Mean.
Adams didn’t take offense.
“Sex is an important part of the human condition and it doesn’t surprise me it comes up in relation to that part of your life. I’m not interested in details, that’s just the mechanics, let’s take a look at how you felt inside during that period of your life. Was there less turbulence. More smooth sailing.”
“You’re mixing your metaphors. Now you’ve got me out sailing.”
I laughed to take the edge off. Adams flashed a smile.
“Fair enough. I should have taken more English courses.”
“I wasn’t happy at the time, if that’s what you’re getting at. But the turbulence was not as severe. I used women for relief from the boredom. I knew right away with most of them that it could never go anywhere. The old myth about women being unpredictable is just that. A bullshit myth. They are entirely predictable. They say a casual relationship suits them but before long they want more. They want to possess you. They want to get inside your head. I never let a woman get inside my head.”
“What about your wife?”
“That’s what I like about my wife. She doesn’t want to get inside my head. She doesn’t need to. As long as things go smoothly at home, without turbulence as you like to put it, with a little bit of sex now and then, she’s good with it.”
The smooth little prick had me using his word. Talking about my wife. I wanted to ask him about his sex life with the matronly physicist but I stifled it.
“My wife is important to me. She’s one of the good human beings and I doubt if I could go on without her.”
It felt good to say it. A relief.
“Did you do a lot of drinking during your bachelor years? Any drugs.”
“I’ve never been a drinker. I got stinking drunk a couple of times in my early 20s. Once I even blacked out. I didn’t like the loss of control and in the morning I felt bad. I don’t mean a little woozy or hung over. I mean bad. Suicidal. Worthless. Bleak. Black.”
“Alcohol is not a drug I would recommend to treat depression. Turning away from it so young suggests that you have a good sense of self-preservation. What about drugs?”
“I tried pot but didn’t like it. Being stoned made me feel uncomfortable, paranoid. I only did it a few times. I did coke for about a year in my late 20s. I was running with a nightclub crowd and it was always around. Lines on the toilet paper dispenser. The coffee table. Women’s nipples. I didn’t like what it did to people. The power it had over them. The way everybody would gather around the guy who was cutting up the lines, attention focused on little mounds of white powder. A lot of it was cut with speed and I’d end up walking around my apartment at 6 o’clock in the morning, grinding my teeth. I haven’t done any for 20 years.
“The only drug I liked was MDA. People called it the love drug. If you did good stuff, pure, it gave you a warm feeling inside. The world seemed like a beautiful place. You love everybody and they all love you. No turbulence. It wasn’t around that often and then nobody in my circle seemed to be doing it. I bought two hits from a guy in the bar one time and dropped them with a girl I dated a couple of times, Janet Kovac.” I hadn’t thought of her in years. “It turned out to be horse tranquilizer. PCP. We had a scary few hours together when it kicked in. I was on the verge of panic but she stayed calm. She kept repeating ‘It’s only the drugs. It will wear off. It’s only the drugs.’ I never saw her again. I haven’t done any drugs since, and that’s more than 15 years ago.”
“Tell me how it felt when you met your wife. How was it different.”
“For one thing, it was a different situation altogether. I hadn’t been with a woman for two years when I met Kate. I’d already stopped going to office functions and I had virtually no social life. Except for work, I spent all my time alone. I had an apartment in Kits and I kept to myself, walking around the neighbourhood, down to the beach. I’d sit on a bench and watch the young hard bodies play beach volleyball. The new nightclub crowd.
“I didn’t want to be part of it. I brooded. I cried. Sometimes, on weekends, I’d drive up logging roads into the middle of nowhere and scream at God. If there was an all powerful being I hated him for making me the way I was.”
It felt good to get it out–in the open. I’d never told anybody about the crying jags.
“Life is barren when you’re disconnected from people.”
“Life is barren, period, and people are the reason. Humans are vile. We come out of the womb programmed to be either victim or predator. The victims follow the predators like sheep or stand back and watch them ravage their world.”
“Good stuff,” he said. “Let’s end here for today.”
He cut me off, just like that. I’d told him stuff nobody else knew about me. I let him see the weakness and he cut me off. I kicked the leg rest down, pushed myself upright and straightened my jacket. He stood up to give me his stupid fucking preying mantis bow but I turned my back and walked out.
“Phone Gail if you want to see me again. She’ll be here next week.”
He didn’t try to coax me back, or to find out what set me off. He was a smart little fucker but I was done with him. At least that’s what I was thinking when I took the steps down, two-at-a-time. I stopped on the landing and looked out the dirty window. The dumpster was overflowing again. An old upholstered chair kept the top from closing. I felt soiled by my loose talk. Dirty. Weak. I let him get inside and he cut me off. He probably wanted to get away early so he could go shopping with his fat fucking wife. Or maybe he was fucking Gail Whitesong. She’d be about his speed. But then she liked sharp-dressed men.
I seethed all the way home. Fucking mercenary little cocksucker. Always on the clock. Pretending he can empathize. Faker. Fucking faker. If he really could empathize he’d be scared shitless at the stuff going on in my head. Turbulence. Airplane journey. Quiet time. I fantasized about bringing the gun next time. Taking him out right in the middle of his stupid fucking bow. But there wasn’t going to be a next time.