Chapter 5: End of the Line for a Bottom Liner

 

Read previous chapter –  Chapter 4: Turbulence

I began planning the Greenberg killing, careful not to make myself too familiar. There was a lot of foot traffic at that end of Commercial Drive. Shoppers. Transit riders. Coffee drinkers. My first concern was cameras. This job would have to be done in daylight. In Greenberg’s office. The one place I knew he would be. A place I could get him alone. I thought about the parking lot at first but catching him after dark didn’t seem likely. And the corner was busy right up until Starbucks closed around midnight. And then there were the cameras.

I did three thorough visual checks of the area for cameras, always avoiding the ones in front and back of the Concordia building. I didn’t go in Starbucks again after finalizing my decision to execute Greenberg at work. I didn’t want some young barista remembering the grey-haired guy in the sport jacket. I bought a coffee from another Starbucks on the way and stood around holding the cup. Sometimes I’d sit at one of their outdoor tables taking things in.

Kitty corner from Starbucks, and directly across from the Concordia Building, there was an old hall people rented for weddings and anniversaries. The building across from Starbucks on the other corner had apartments on top and storefronts at street level. A Lesbian hangout disguised as a clothing boutique and a used furniture store. None of them had cameras. 

I was standing in front of the furniture store waiting for the light to change idly looking at the Concordia building when I noticed the front camera was set back into a recess. It covered the front sidewalk and the walk leading to the door but because of its location it couldn’t monitor someone moving alongside the building. A rain roof over the entranceway blocked the trajectory immediately under the door. A person could come from the far corner of the building, away from the Starbucks side, move quickly along the wall and be inside within a few seconds. Timing would be key.

I decided to do a dry run. To get inside the building during business hours and get the lay of the land. It would be dangerous, but I planned to minimize the risk. I would pretend to be a tourist, politely ask the secretary a question and leave. I knew Greenberg had a secretary. It’s amazing what you can find out online. 

Her name was Nina Caliente and she’d been with Greenberg from the beginning. I was confident I could do the job without involving her. She lived in the neighbourhood and walked home for lunch every day. The on-line article said there were four offices and a boardroom on the main floor. But only three of the offices were occupied. One was kept open for Eldon Greenberg, who rarely came to the city and didn’t want to work when he did. Besides Morrie, there was an accountant named Izzy Frankel who traveled constantly, and a lowly vice-president of B.C. distribution, a guy named Arthur Gates, who got shifted to the Concordia building when his office burned down several years back. I already knew his car. A blue BMW Suv with Concordia Distribution and a phone number on the front doors. He came and went throughout the day. The upstairs was used as storage.

It felt good planning the Morrie execution. I’d handed in the Calvin report a week early. After all that worry it had been a breeze to write. Oliver was happy. He liked it when things went smooth. Thorsby stood at his desk and clapped, mockingly, when I picked the hard copy up at the printer and took it over to Oliver’s office. “A hundred seller, for sure” he cracked. “Waste basket book of the month material.” The guy was a real piece of work.

Kate was happy, too. I was up every morning, shaved and dressed, when she left for work. I was between projects at the office so Oliver had me editing a couple of mining manuals to keep me busy. We both knew I could do them in a day or two but I dragged it out, giving me a lot of free time to head over to Commercial Drive.  Oliver didn’t care. He was a big picture guy and the Calvin report was on his desk. Sometimes I went home and handled the gun.

I did the dry run on a Tuesday, just before lunch. I drove home from the office and parked the SUV out front. The Concordia building was only seven blocks away. I put on shorts, a sweatshirt, sunglasses and the baseball hat with no logo. I had to keep slowing myself down as I walked over. I didn’t want to look like a guy in a hurry. 

A block away from the Concordia building, I cut up the alley. The camera in back was obscured by a tree and before it could pick me up I turned into the parking lot of the tile store next door. I thought I’d have to jump the fence but some lowlife had cut a hole in it so I slid through. I had to step over a couple of needles and a dirty old quilt. 

The sight line to the alley was cut off by a large blue dumpster. The only way to see along the building was from the front sidewalk and even that was partially blocked by a large rhododendron. I turned the corner into the sunlight natural as could be and walked under the window to the front door, my arm brushing the wall. Five quick steps and I was under the rain roof. I pushed the door and it opened into a small foyer. A large picture of Morrie and Eldon holding up a newspaper they’d purchased dominated one wall. A short staircase led up to reception, where Nina Caliente sat behind a large mahogany desk. 

The reception area was large, rich-looking, with leather couches, a coffee table, magazines, a rack with the local Concordia papers. To the right of reception, a long hallway lead to the back of the building. Doors opened off it onto the boardroom and offices. The boardroom door was open, and I could see part of a long mahogany table. Greenberg’s office was on the left, at the front. His door was closed.

“I didn’t notice you coming in.” She turned to a screen on her desk and pushed some buttons on its base. I could see enough from the side to notice the scene—an empty sidewalk—refresh itself. “How can I help you today, sir.” She said it with practiced politeness.

“Sorry. I’m new in town and I was looking for the Medici Coffee bar. I got turned around. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all sir, the Medici is on the corner two blocks up. Good coffee. Much better than Starbucks.”

“Thank you very much.” 

I turned, went down the steps and out the door. I walked straight down the sidewalk with my back to the camera and cut across the street diagonally and disappeared behind the wedding hall corner. The whole thing had taken less than a minute. Unmemorable.

I went back home and took the rest of the day off. I phoned Oliver and told him I’d had bad Chinese food for lunch. Stomach problems and I’d probably be there in the morning. He told me to get healthy. 

The dry run got my heart pumping piss again. I was so jacked up when I got home, I didn’t see the turbulence coming. I walked around the house, through the kitchen and living room, into the bedrooms. I even went into the shower enclosure again, still wearing my sunglasses, shorts, sweatshirt and ball cap. I caught myself looking at the cold tap, wanting to turn it on. 

I stood that way for several minutes. I wondered what Adams would say about it. The thought of him made me feel small. The despair hit me like a hammer blow. For a moment I didn’t know where I was. Why was I standing in the shower with my clothes on? No rational reason came to mind. Fear enveloped me. My breathing deepened, then sped up. I was hyperventilating. My skin tingled. I felt hot, like I was going to pass out.  I put my head against the tile wall to steady myself. The tile cooled my forehead. I turned on the cold shower. The magnitude of what I was about to do had pushed me over the edge.

I stepped out of the shower and checked my face in the mirror.  I snatched the sunglasses off and removed the ball cap. A terrified man with water streaking down his face looked back. The fear was so intense, so all encompassing, I had to sit on the toilet seat. I tried to get up after several minutes but was literally wobbly at the knees. The second time I was steadier, more composed. I went downstairs to the office and grabbed the phone. Gail Whitesong picked up on the second ring. I made an appointment for the next week. Tuesday morning at 11.

“Mr. Adams is quite busy, but he asked that I fit you in if you called.” She said it friendly. Emphasizing the you, making it sound as if I was a special patient.

Getting the appointment settled me down. I was still scared but it wasn’t as intense. I sat down on the couch. I needed some quiet time. The fear had come on so suddenly, like a monster jumping out of the closet in a bad horror flick. I wanted to know where it came from so I could send it back. This wasn’t turbulence, it was a full-on nose-dive. A crash was imminent.

I sat there concentrating on my breath as my thoughts tumbled around in the background. After a bit the turbulence smoothed out. I tried to trace the source of the fear. What was I afraid of? It wasn’t getting caught. That wasn’t an option. If the unthinkable happened I’d eat the gun. One bullet and no more turbulence. I would be free. 

I wasn’t afraid of being found out. The thought of going out as the People’s Wolf pleased me. At any rate, I would be dead, and Kate would get over it. She was too solid a person to let me drag her down forever. No, the fear came from deep inside. It seeped into the cracks in my psyche, made worse by the unknowable source of its origin. 

Gradually, my breath slowed and deepened, each intake spreading calm throughout my body. My face muscles settled into numbness, which carried up into my brain. I could feel my body purring in harmony with itself. My eyelids glued shut. 

Two words appeared out of the velvety blackness.

“Bleakness. Weakness.”

The words crystallized into a thought. I feared the human weakness that could keep me from fulfilling my task. I feared the bleakness more than death or being discovered. 

I continued planning the Greenberg execution in the week leading up to my next appointment with Adams. I ran the scenario through my head a thousand times. A lot could go wrong with a daytime execution. Somebody could be coming into the building as I left. I could run into somebody in the tile store parking lot. Nina might forget something and come back. Izzy Frankel could show up. Or the distribution guy. Anybody who got sight of me would have to go. Collateral damage. 

I worried about the possibility of cameras that I might have missed. I stressed out about the possibility of a passerby seeing something. Or stopping me and asking directions. A million things completely unforeseen. Greenberg could pull a gun from his desk drawer and start blazing away. Of all the things I thought about that was the only image that drew a smile. A gun battle at the Concordia corral.

Kate knew I was distracted but she let it go. In her mind, anything was better than the unshaven Roger. We went for a long walk on the weekend. Up Lynn Canyon into the rain forest. I thought about how easy it would be to make her disappear. I don’t know where it came from. It bothered me to think that way. I didn’t want to kill Kate. She was the only light in my darkness. One of the good people.

“We should do this more often, Roger. I love getting out here in the wild. The smell of the forest. It always reminds me of happy childhood times. We used to go camping in the mountains. The whole family. We slept in tents. A big one for mom and dad and pup tents for the kids. My sister and I slept in one and my brothers in the other. My brothers would creep over in the night and pretend they were animals clawing at the tent. They were such happy times.”

My family didn’t camp. We didn’t even barbecue on the porch. When mom was alive, she and dad would go out dancing on weekends. Sometimes they’d go for Sunday drives. Just the two of them. My brother didn’t want to go and I felt like a third wheel around them. We didn’t do anything as a family. I had no reason to lie but I did anyway.

“I always loved the taste of toasted marshmallows. Yummy. My family went on Sunday drives. My brother and I would sit in the back seat eating cheese sandwiches.”

We held hands all the way back to the parking lot. It didn’t take much to make Kate happy. So innocent. So decent.

The dumpster in the alley behind Adams office was overflowing again. It had become part of my visit, looking out the dirty window onto the city’s trash. A bent pair of aluminum crutches stuck out of the dumpster. I wondered if a street person had tossed them out and limped away. Gail Whitesong was back behind her desk, showing no signs of whatever ailed her last session.

“Mr. Delaney. So nice to see you right on time. That’s another nice jacket.”

I was wearing a classic cut lightweight charcoal sport jacket I’d had for at least five years. The lapels were narrow, but not so much that they went out of style. I’d had it made.

“Thanks, it’s one of my favorites. I picked the cloth because I liked the shading effect. It changes shades in different lights.”

“Don will be with you in a minute.”

I walked over to the window. The dumpster always looked better from this perspective. Less forlorn. Maybe it was the clean window. 

Adams came out a moment later. Same outfit, different colors. I wondered what he saw when he looked in the mirror. It couldn’t be easy shaping that hairdo into a pompadour after a night flattening it on the pillow. I couldn’t picture a frightened face looking back at him. Oblivious, maybe, but not frightened.

He took his seat as I settled into the easy chair. This time I leaned right back. I got comfortable. Fuck him and his psychological bullshit power trip. Neither of us said anything for the first few seconds.

“How do you determine the frequency of your patients’ visits? My wife says her friend’s husband, the one I mentioned on my first visit, started with two sessions a week.”

“That’s a good question. My simple answer is need. I base it on assessed need at the time of our first meeting. Some patients require immediate intervention and a lot of guiding. Of course, situations change. I have seen patients daily, on occasion. But that’s rare. Others, like yourself, are better off working through familiar ground themselves.  Think of me as a guide. Your personal guide when the terrain is unfamiliar.”

“Now you’re a guide. I’ve been picturing you as a pilot, in the cockpit, steely-eyed, taking people through the turbulence. Well at least it’s the same travel theme.”

“Do you like to travel, Roger?”

“Not much. In fact, not at all. I hate all the security bullshit. Low-paid flunkies patting me down. Scanning my bags. Treating me like a terrorist. Who needs it?”

“I find it’s good for perspective. My wife and I try to take at least one major trip a year. We like foreign places, with cultures totally different from ours. I find it refreshing to talk to someone who couldn’t find Vancouver on a map.”

“You don’t have to go far for that. You could find people in Washington State who couldn’t find B.C. on a map. Good luck talking to them. It’s hard to hold a conversation with a fat, brain-dead American.”

“We go to the States of course. I’ve attended quite a few conferences there over the years.” 

The guy was a master at ignoring wit.

“But for pure recreational travel you can’t beat Eastern Europe. It’s cheap and history jumps out at you from every street corner. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously standing in front of a stone wall that was built a thousand years ago. I try to imagine the men who built it. What were they thinking as they mixed the mortar and put the stones in place? Were they looking forward to dinner and a night with the family or were they worried there wouldn’t be enough to eat?”

“More likely they were thinking about how to have their way with one of the 12-year-olds working in the field.” 

“That is certainly possible. Girls married at puberty in those days.”

“I didn’t stipulate a sex.”

I thought I noticed a flinch. Ever so slight. 

“Is that how you practice your empathy? How you hone your god-given gift? By getting into the heads of peasants from the Middle Ages.”

“I suppose it is, in a way. I’m always trying to empathize, to see the world through the eyes of other beings. A dog on the street can change your perspective if you envision the world through its eyes. I probably misled you when I mentioned my gift. Empathy for me means truly experiencing another person. Becoming that person in a sense.  Then I try to neutralize the negativity. Anger. Hate. Envy. Pride… Greed.”

He paused for a millisecond after pride. The subtlest of signals. I couldn’t be a hundred per cent sure it had happened. The little faker was inside my head. He had me looking for signals.

“You mentioned airport security and being treated like a terrorist. Where were you on 9/11?”

The smooth son-of-bitch.  Using 9/11 as a psychological ploy. He couldn’t know it filled me to overflowing with hate. Not for the terrorists. I hated CNN and its fatuous reporting. Speculating endlessly about who did it but never questioning the why. I hated the patriotism. Sanctimony on a global scale. The hypocrisy. I hated the world that morning.

“I was sleeping when the first plane hit. Kate got me up and I parked myself in front of the television. I knew the world had changed forever as soon as the first tower went down.”

I didn’t mention the hate to Adams.

“It traumatized a lot of people,” he said. “Altered their fundamental world view. Business picked up after that.”

He spoke softly. A small joke laced with empathy. I didn’t smile.

“People hadn’t been that excited in years. You could see it in their eyes everywhere you went. Something had finally happened. Something scary and exhilarating at the same time. Something big. What would happen next?”

“Were you excited?”

“I hadn’t felt so alive in years. Watching that second tower collapse. You had to appreciate the spectacle. The genius of the thing. A handful of Arabs with plastic knives had delivered a body blow to the most powerful country in the world. They called them cowards on TV but I didn’t think they were cowards. Dropping bombs from 10,000 feet is a cowardly act. Plowing an airplane into a building takes courage. What a way to go out.”

I had never articulated my feelings about 9/11 in words, much less expressed it aloud. It surprised me that it came out like that. 

“Did you feel empathy for the victims? The passengers on the planes. The people in the towers who were burned alive.”

“People die by the tens of thousands all the time. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Disease. Starvation. War. I don’t feel empathy watching the news. I feel lucky. Lucky to have been born in a country at the top of the predator food chain. 

He had me talking and I couldn’t shut up. Or hide the anger like I usually did.

“Do the Americans who mourned a few thousand dead New Yorkers think about all the innocent Iraqis? Quietly going about their lives under the thumb of a brutal despot, as they have since the beginning of time, until a bunch of religious idiots from other countries attack the U.S. Then Bush and his cronies move in and everything goes to hell. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead. Two or three football stadiums full of people, moms, dads, sons and daughters, gone forever and countless more left behind with their grief. By comparison, 9/11 was a high school baseball park with empty seats in the stands. Does it only warrant empathy if the people who die are like you. If that’s the case, it’s not empathy, it’s something else. Or is the criteria colour of skin? I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t feel any empathy for people starving in Africa or Korea, why should I feel anything for a bunch of overpaid sharpies in expensive suits.”

“Do you feel the professional people who died in the towers, sharpies as you call them, have less worth as human beings?”

“By virtue of rising to the top they were part of the predator class. By their own world view, it’s “dog-eat-dog” out there, and the attack on the towers was part of the cost of doing business. More towers will go up and more sharpies in suits will fuck the system in any way they can to get a corner office. I have not been endowed with the god-given gift of empathy.”

“Empathy is part of the human condition, Roger. It is vital for survival. We all have empathy, some more than others. I suspect you have buried yours so deep your brain can no longer get at it. It’s very common in people suffering from severe disconnect.”

“Disconnect? Is that what happens when the turbulence knocks out the power?”

“How is the turbulence? Are you envisioning it? Has it smoothed out any?”

“It’s not as heavy but it’s still there. The turbulence is always there.”

I surprised myself. Speaking his psycho-babble. He had me saying things about 9/11 I’d never told anyone. At the time I’d pretended it was a great tragedy, just like everyone else. The session that started with a question about how he determined the frequency of visits came back to turbulence.

“I notice it most when I try to do the quiet time. Thoughts bouncing all over the place. All jumbled up. The other day I started walking around the house and ended up in the shower enclosure. I felt like turning the tap on clothes and all.”

I instantly regretted telling him about the shower. It felt unseemly. A show of weakness.

“But you didn’t turn it on, did you?”

He said it as if resisting the tap was a small victory.

“No. No I didn’t.” I lied.

We talked about turbulence for a while. About the different kinds. Different intensities. Some scared you silly and some seemed more routine. He didn’t say anything else about the shower incident.

At the end of the session we stood in unison. He gave me that stupid little bow and this time I nodded. I booked an appointment for two weeks and made my way down the stairs. I didn’t look out the dirty window on the landing. I didn’t want to see the city’s trash. 

I planned to do Greenberg before my next session. I wanted to get the word out about the People’s Wolf. I wanted to make a big splash. The days passed okay. I had a lot to do. I phoned Nina Caliente from a pay phone and she politely informed me Izzy Frankel would be out of town until the week after next. I checked the distribution schedule for the local Concordia community newspapers. Wednesday was the day most likely to keep the VP of distribution on the road and out of the office. I brought the typewriter back upstairs, put on the surgical gloves and redid the letter to Osterwich, with a threatening addendum.

Dear Greg….

I’m going to assume you didn’t get the first letter or that if you did pressure was brought to bear from above not to print it. Whatever the reason, it cost your boss Morrie Greenberg his life. 

I executed Greenberg on behalf of the people who prefer to get their news unmanaged. His blood is on the hands of the decision makers who know better than the rest of us what we should read or hear.

As I wrote previously, I enjoyed your coverage of the Cunningham killing and 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 all the victims who suffered because of his unrepentant subversion of the justice system.

While that killing garnered all the media 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 master plan to neutralize that predatory 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 Raymond 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 four 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.

In my view, if this missive remains unpublished your newspaper is doing the evildoers a disservice by not warning them of their imminent danger. I will then send copies to all media outlets, including the tabloids, to get the story out.

Like the people of this great nation I believe in second chances. We all want redemption. Those citizens who read this and consider themselves to be in the cross-hairs should either rethink their life course or increase their security. 

Sincerely,

The People’s Wolf

Redoing the letter provided a much-needed lift. The Greenberg job had kept me from going over the edge, into the extreme turbulence, but I knew I was a long way from clear skies. From smooth sailing. Adams’ words and imagery, bad metaphor and all, were stuck inside my head. The little prick.

The fear got to me most at night, after Kate fell asleep, as I lay in the darkness with my thoughts. Imagining everything that could go wrong. I didn’t feel the same panic as before the Cunningham execution but this time I had to fight back the doubts. Greenberg was more abstract than the sharpie lawyer. Higher on the food chain, a couple of layers removed from the chaos he caused. He had family that loved him and away from business he might even be a nice guy. I knew the same could be said for Cunningham. The drug dealer Tran Hoc Do was a victim of circumstances and even the pimp Tremmie probably had a redeeming quality or two. It didn’t matter to them now. I didn’t feel guilty about the work I’d already done but Greenberg could be spared. And the risk was great. Back and forth it went, night after night. Heavy turbulence. 

It came to me late one afternoon, sitting back on the couch in the office. During quiet time. Delivered on a breath, not even a thought at first. It filled up the silence, slowly forming into an idea so perfect I knew it could not be denied. Fate would be the decider. I got up and grabbed the screwdriver from the desk drawer. I went to the closet and got the gun. It had a full load. I emptied five bullets from the chamber and gave it a good spin. Then I spun it the other way. And back again. I looked at the gun, fear rising from my bladder through my guts in hot waves. For a moment I thought I’d piss my pants. I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger. The dull clunk cemented what I had to do. Fate chose Morrie Goldberg.

After I decided on the date of Greenberg’s death, on the coming Wednesday, the day before my next appointment with Adams, everything became calm. It’s difficult to put into words except to say I felt like I was living in the eye of the storm, with the turbulence swirling all around but not touching me. 

After redoing the letter, I took the typewriter back down to the basement and destroyed it with a hammer. It felt good. I loaded the mangled keys and bent frame into the back of the SUV with other household junk Kate had set aside to be taken to the dump. On the last trip downstairs I grabbed the old man’s cardboard box. I sat on a bench and went through it in the dim light. 

There were two picture albums but one of them was empty. I wondered how an empty picture album had come to be part of the little that was left of the old man’s life. The other one had a few family photos. Mostly black and white. No captions to tell when they were taken. One of my brother and me standing beside a backyard clubhouse with a sign that said No Women Allowed. I looked to be about six and had no memory of it. The low rentals we lived in didn’t have a backyard. We were wearing cowboy hats and laughing. 

There were several shots of the old man and mom together, and a few with us boys with one parent or the other, but nothing with the whole family.  A nice shot of the two of them on their wedding day, mom sitting in front, legs primly crossed at the ankle, wearing a skirt and matching jacket and hat, the old man standing behind the chair in a dark suit. Stiff and proud. 

The jar with the cuff-links and tie clips had a dead spider in it. I dumped everything into the box. Cheap shit.  I could feel the darkness creeping in so I took the box with me. I drove over the Second Narrows bridge to the nearest waste station. It was mid-afternoon. No lineups. A guy in coveralls pointed to a spot in the warehouse near where another guy driving a huge tractor with a scoop was compacting the garbage. It smelled like decay in there. The kind of stink that gets on your clothes and stays with you. I threw the smashed typewriter and the old man’s box out with the rest of the trash.

In the days after fate relegated Greenberg to an also-ran I lived every moment. Sharp. Intense. I joked around with Thorsby at work and flirted with the receptionist in front of Oliver. Thorsby said I reminded him of those guys in a Cialis commercial. 

“You’re only supposed to take one of those little blue pills.” He said as I sat down. “You won’t be able to slide your chair under the keyboard.”

But I wasn’t feeling horny. Just warm and fuzzy inside.  

I took Kate out to dinner on the weekend and held her hand across the table. We didn’t have sex that night. We lay in bed, intertwined, my head on her breast as she brushed the back of my head with her hands, saying my pet name. “Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit.” We fell asleep in each other’s arms. I’d never felt so in tune with another human being. Sex hadn’t come close. 

I knew I’d either be dead in a week or have proved myself as a man. Someone who would risk everything to do the people’s work. This wasn’t shooting a pimp in a darkened doorway or a drug dealer under a tree at night. It wasn’t sneaking around a parking garage that smelled like piss. I would be carrying the fight to the establishment, taking out an international media mogul in his own office in broad daylight. 

This would scare the shit out of the sharpies in expensive suits and tasselled loafers. The shysters and tricksters who preyed on the weak. The slick deal makers who hid behind fine print. The profit-takers and overpaid know-it-alls who were sending the country down the drain. The risk involved made it pure. A lone crusader striking back at arrogance and excess. For good or bad, I was the People’s Wolf and nothing could come between me and Morrie now. 

Nothing.

The calm held steady through Wednesday morning. I went to work at the usual time and bantered back and forth with Thorsby for the first hour. He started on my jacket before I even sat down.

“Going for lunch at the Pump Jack today? I didn’t know we had any gay clients. What is it they say? About five per cent of the male population like to put their weenies in other men’s bums. And of that five per cent, 95 per cent have a pink sports jacket in their closet.”

It didn’t make me mad. This was the way we communicated. He wasn’t a homophobe. We’d exchanged barbs countless times, over fashion, food, women, politics. He considered himself an expert on everything. 

The jacket was light wool, grey, finely interwoven with red accents that gave it a slight dusty rose hue. I’d picked it up at Mark James on Saturday. $850. They did the alterations while I went for lunch and threw in a silk tie. I was wearing it without the tie. It looked best with a button-down collar shirt.

“This jacket’s worth more than your entire wardrobe. What are those golf shirts, about three for ten bucks at Walmart? Good for those client conferences with the guys who publish the tractor manuals. And you never have to wash them, you just throw them out after you’ve worn them for a week. Pity they don’t make them in pink.”

It went on that way for a while, until Oliver came out of his office and gave us what for him was a dirty look as he headed past reception to the coffee machine. Maybe he did have something going with the temporary receptionist. 

We volleyed a few more fashion bon mots back and forth with our backs to each other across the aisle, laughing into our computer screens. I couldn’t remember feeling so relaxed at work. I poked my head into Oliver’s office about 11 a.m. and told him I had an errand to run before lunch. I’d already agreed to meet Thorsby at the Chop House around one. 

Once I got out to the car it was all business driving home. The Greenberg job and nothing else. I went over everything. I’d change into the navy-blue track suit at home, put the loaded gun into the fanny pack and proceed down the hill to the Concordia building. My brain was focused and firing on all cylinders. No turbulence.

I had no second thoughts, no more doubts, while I moved the cabinet and unscrewed the floorboards concealing the gun compartment. The 357 felt right in my hand. Good. I made sure it had a full load and put a half dozen bullets in the fanny pack. If I needed the extras one of them had my name on it. I put the gun in the fanny pack and went into the downstairs bathroom for a last look in the mirror. The face looking back was calm. Resigned. I felt no pull to step into the tub and look at the shower tap. I headed out the door to meet Morrie Greenberg.

It was the kind of a day that keeps Vancouver in the top five of the world’s most livable cities. The late September sun carried enough heat to make me feel overdressed in the track suit. I could have done the job in shorts and a t-shirt and not looked out of place. The North Shore mountains loomed on the horizon; the existence of a higher intelligence outlined in granite against a blue sky for all to see. A lot of ordinary people were out and about. To say my mood was upbeat would be gross understatement. Kate said I was walking on the ceiling after the Cunningham execution but on this day, I was walking on the sky.

I got to the bottom of the hill in what seemed like seconds. Things got surreal as I cut over two blocks to the alley behind the tile store. Walking through Pleasantville with a gun. I got the same MDA rush as the other executions. A warm feeling of brotherly love. A guy came out of the tile store as I was crossing the parking lot but he took no notice of me. I disappeared around the corner of the tile store and slipped through the gap in the chain link fence. The dirty quilt still fouled the space between the buildings, moldering in the dankness, surrounded by more needles. I stepped over them and emerged into the sunlight, behind the rhododendron at the edge of the grass. I moved along the side of the building and under the rain roof in seconds. 

I turned my back on the street, on everything ordinary people did, and opened the front door.

The Concordia building had a heavenly stillness that day, a peaceful quiet. I took the stairs to reception two-at-a-time. Nina Caliente’s workstation sat empty, as I knew it would. She left for lunch every day at 11:30 and wouldn’t be back until one. I experienced a millisecond of sorrow for what she would see. 

I looked to my left when I hit the main landing. I could see Greenberg at his desk through the open office door. He had his head down, engrossed in paperwork, no doubt checking a bottom line. He hadn’t heard me enter the building, didn’t know he had only moments to live. I took the .357 out of the fanny pack and held it loosely in my hand, using the barrel as a knocker on the door jam to get his attention.

It’s funny the things you remember about the last minutes of someone’s life. With Cunningham it was the see-through black silk socks against the skinny hairless calves. If a jury could have seen those silk socks and scrawny legs, his conviction rate would have dropped dramatically.

It wasn’t Greenberg’s attire that cemented itself in my memory on that perfect Indian Summer day. He was wearing a tight-fitting navy business suit with a wine-coloured tie. The kind rich Brits wear. Probably custom-fitted and then bought by the dozen in select colours from a Saville Row tailor. No. What sticks in my head is the look on his face when he heard me bang the gun barrel on the door casing. He looked up from his desk in what can only be termed as utter astonishment. Even with a sharp guy like Greenberg it takes a second or two to shift from everyday work to imminent peril.

“Mr. Greenberg?”

“The office is closed between 11:30 and one.”

He said it officiously but without conviction. He was trying to keep things normal. To stop reality from setting in. I’m pretty sure he saw the gun. But I’ll never know for sure.

“My secretary will be back any time and you can speak to her if you want an appointment.”

I pointed the .357 at him, the way a teacher or a seminar presenter illustrates with a pointer and closed the door behind me. 

“You have an appointment with your maker, Morrie. You’re a smart guy, you must have known somewhere in the back of your mind that something was going to catch up. I’m a representative of the public you’ve fucked over, a servant of the people come to exact the punishment for your crimes. The People’s Wolf.”

I watched his face for a glimmer of recognition. Something that would tell me he’d already heard my title in consultations with Vancouver Sun mucky-mucks about printing the letter. But all I saw was fear. Dumb, naked fear. 

“What is happening here? Is this a joke?”

He tried to act indignant. I didn’t have time to talk.

“It’s no joke, Morrie.”

He turned as I fired. The first shot hit him on the side. A glancing blow. I could smell the shit right away.

“Please don’t kill me. I have a family.”

Greenberg’s sudden transformation from uber businessman to cowardly family man in an expensive suit did something to me. Made me say things I would later regret. It was like he’d thrown gas on burning embers and the words came out in an explosion of hate.

“You fucking scumbag. You dirty money-grubbing Jew cocksucker.”

He moved in the direction of the window. Towards the light. I fired again. He fell. Blood oozed onto his shirtfront, above the vee of his vest. Bits of material from the blue suit floated in the air. But it didn’t keep him down. He pulled himself towards the sunlight on the floor with his arms. A survivor. Going out in his own stench.

I closed the distance between us, not more than a step or two, and put the barrel of the magnum to his forehead. Our eyes locked. Not a stare-off. Not who will blink first. An admission by him. You’ve got me. It’s time to pay the piper.

“I’ll see you on the other side.” That’s what I said before I squeezed the trigger. Morrie Greenberg went out without another word. With shit in his pants and stink in the air. 

Blood spattered back. Onto the surgical gloves and up my arm. It felt like drops had gotten onto the skin between the jogging suit sleeve and my wrist. The air smelled like fireworks. Fireworks and shit. The gunshot sucked all sound out of the room. I pulled the folded envelope from my pocket and dropped it. I left him there, a crimson pool forming beneath his head, and went back into reception. Nothing. Complete quiet. 

I took the stairs one-at-a-time, with the gun back in the fanny back. The sunlight outside was like a sign from the heavens. Brilliant. The street was empty. Nobody. I opened the door and hung a sharp right. My elbow against the concrete for reassurance. I turned out of the sunlight into the shade and shelter of the soiled quilt and needles. I took the gloves off and put them in the fanny pack after I slipped back through the fence and into the tile store parking lot. The real world.

Nobody was there. Just sunlight. I’d only been gone a few minutes. As I walked down the alley to the corner, twirling my key ring on a finger as if I was on the way to my car without a care in the world, I noticed an old woman bent over in her garden. Her back to me, yanking on a dead plant. I had to catch myself. To stop from engaging her in my joy. I wanted to say what a great day it was. 

Instead, I turned the corner and headed back up the hill. I didn’t even fake a jog. I walked. Leisurely. I heard sirens half-way up the last block before home. Somebody must have heard the shots and called it in. Or maybe Nina Caliente came back early from lunch. I didn’t care. Greenberg got what he deserved. Fate made the final call.

I changed back into the slacks and sports jacket I’d worn in the morning and put the gun in its compartment before heading back downtown. I parked in my spot at the office and walked to the Chop House without checking in at work. I wanted time alone. I don’t know why I brought the Jewish thing into the killing. It bothered me that he went out thinking it was an act of antisemitism. He was just another predator to me. I got to the restaurant early and took a booth near the front window. The streets were filled with ordinary people, shoppers and office workers going about their business. They had no idea there was someone extraordinary in their midst. 

By now the letter would be making its way up the food chain. To shift commanders and captains, and ultimately to the chief. I didn’t care who read it along the way, as long as it was published for everyone to see. People had to know someone was out there working on their behalf. Taking out the bad guys. The bottom-liners.

Exhilarated but relaxed is the only way to describe my mood. I was sailing on smooth seas with a light wind at my back. Cruising in brilliant sunlight above the clouds at 10,000 feet.  Driving the open road with no traffic in sight. I didn’t care that the giggly little faker had me thinking in clichés. The Greenberg job had gone without a hitch. Exactly as planned. Perfect execution, no pun intended. I was basking in the smooth place when I noticed Thorsby coming into the restaurant. The instant I saw him I felt a tiny bit of turbulence swirling around the edge of my high. I pushed it aside as he sat down.

“Did you hear the news?”

“No. I was listening to a CD in the car.”

“Some international media big wig got shot in his office on Commercial Drive. The head of Concordia. The company that owns the Sun and Worldwide TV. The guy owns papers and TV stations all over the world. The media’s already going crazy. Reporting the same thing over and over. Worldwide cancelled its regular programming to report live from the site. I guess the guy’s in intensive care and might not make it. Fucking media. If it was some ordinary Joe they wouldn’t give a shit.”

“So they’re saying the guy’s alive?”

Before Thorsby could answer the waiter came over. 

“Cheeseburgers and fries and two large cokes.”

He said it like a challenge, but I didn’t take the bait. I was hungry and burgers sounded good.

“And can you change the TV to Worldwide?” he asked the waiter. “We want to see if there’s anything new on the shooting on Commercial Drive.”

The waiter hadn’t heard the news and Thorsby was happy to fill him in. It wasn’t a 9/11 moment but for Vancouver it was big. I could tell Thorsby was excited. The waiter asked the bartender to change the channel and while he fiddled with the controls Thorsby responded to my question.

“He was alive when I left the office but a reporter at the hospital said it didn’t look good.”

It didn’t worry me. I knew the head injury Greenberg had sustained. Nobody could survive that kind of damage and come out with his brain intact. I was glad I’d fired the last shot point blank. That’s what I was thinking when I noticed the specks of blood. I was reaching for a glass of water when my jacket sleeve hiked up. Red speckles above my wrist. I pulled my hand back as if the glass was scalding. Thorsby noticed the quick move. 

“I kinked my elbow. Must have touched a nerve.”

I shook my arm vigorously, careful to keep the jacket cuff down.

“I’m going to take a pee. See if you can find out anything else.”

I kept my voice casual and continued to wiggle my arm as I walked to the bathroom. I badly wanted Greenberg’s blood off my skin. Not because it could implicate me. I was home free, but the thought of it touching me creeped me out. 

The bathroom was empty so I hiked my jacket sleeve up and put my lower arm under the hot water tap. The speckles disappeared in a few seconds. There wasn’t enough blood to notice in the water as it washed down the drain. I grabbed a paper towel and put it under the soap dispenser, then scrubbed my arm. When I got back to the table, Thorsby had news.

“He’s in the operating room. Early reports say it’s a head wound.”

We watched the closest TV as we waited for our burgers. The reporter was standing on the corner in front of the second-hand furniture store with his back to the Concordia building. Police cars were parked on the sidewalk and the entire property was cordoned off with yellow tape. I could see a couple of cops go behind the rhododendron and around the corner of the building where the soiled quilt and needles waited in the dankness. It gave me a bit of a start, but I wasn’t worried. There was nothing to connect me. I made a mental note to get rid of the running shoes.

We both looked at the TV as we ate but there was nothing to watch. A building behind yellow tape and people milling around. The sound was turned down so we couldn’t hear what the reporter was saying. Thorsby went through his routine, putting ketchup to one side of his plate, then taking a dainty bite of the burger before dabbing a fry and washing the whole thing down with Pepsi. I couldn’t remember him ever eating anything but a burger and fries.

“Fifty bucks says it’s a domestic dispute. His wife hired someone to get rid of him. She’s probably fucking the gardener or the pool boy. They showed photos of the guy. Typical Jewish businessman. Big nose. Nothing to look at. I’ll bet his wife’s a dish.”

The last part stirred up turbulence. I felt ashamed for calling Greenberg a Jew. I had nothing against Jews. I would have done him if he was Catholic or Buddhist. Racial slurs were beneath the People’s Wolf.

“You’re on. I’ll take that bet. I say it had something to do with business. Revenge from somebody he fucked in a deal.”

Thorsby started back-pedaling. He was too cheap to risk fifty bucks. He and Mollie were saving to buy a condo. I knew she took care of the finances and gave him a weekly allowance for personal expenses. He ate most of it. There was no money for gambling. I pressed my advantage and we bantered for the rest of lunch and all the way back to the office. I was still sailing smooth when I sat at my desk. I wondered if this was the way other people felt most of the time. This good.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 5: End of the Line for a Bottom Liner

  1. Pingback: Chapter 6: Laughing Out Loud | The Meandering Maloneys

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