Chapter 6: Laughing Out Loud

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To Read previous chapter –   Chapter 5: End of the Line for a Bottom Liner

Kate and I watched the news over dinner. The Greenberg shooting led every local channel and the three national broadcasts. Worldwide gave it more than 10 minutes. Greenberg was in VGH, fighting for his life. They showed footage of his mansion and a profile of his extensive business holdings. They showed his wife and kids returning to the mansion surrounded by men in suits. His brother Eldon, contacted in New York, broke down on camera.

Kate watched with me, reluctantly.

“Why do men kill each other Roger? Why can’t they find civilized ways to work out their differences? Why can’t men be more like women?”

“Men like Greenberg don’t give up their power easily. That’s why revolutions are always violent. It’s Darwinian. The same traits that got the sharpies to the top of various organizations and power structures prevent them from letting go without a fight. And there are always hungry young sharpies looking to move up. There is no compromise when the luxurious lifestyles are threatened. I don’t imagine it will take long to marshal the forces to get his killer.”

“He isn’t dead yet. He might still pull through and the man who shot him might be identified.”

“It’s possible.

Five minutes in, the anchor tilted his head and touched his earpiece for affect, before sternly reporting there was breaking news. He said the station had unconfirmed reports that a note had been left at the scene. Police were said to be examining it for evidence. Good news indeed.

“Honestly, Roger. Can you imagine shooting somebody and then leaving a note behind. Who would be that stupid? The killer must be crazy.”

“I doubt it’s signed, honey.”

“Still, there could be fingerprints. And the police have people who can analyze handwriting. I’m sure it will give them clues. What’s the point?”

“Maybe the killer wants something known.”

I admit to having enjoyed these discussions. And that they made me feel superior. Everyone wants to be on the inside, in the know, and I was the ultimate insider, the only person alive who knew what went down. If Greenberg was still breathing, he wouldn’t be for long. We talked about the shooting through the rest of the newscast. Twenty lousy minutes is all I got. I tried to draw it out, but she went into the kitchen to make herself a tea. Kate didn’t like unpleasantness. Definitely one of the sheep.

I hardly slept the night after Greenberg. A million things were bouncing around my brain. Not turbulence. Exhilaration. I went over the execution a hundred times. The look of astonishment when he saw me in the doorway. The fear after I pointed the gun. The way he tried to pull himself along on his elbows after the second shot. He had a strong will to survive. But the thing I remembered most was the strong smell of shit in a confined space. I’d never be able to take another dump without thinking of Morrie. Can you imagine, seeing that pathetic coward’s face every time I take a shit. I smiled in the darkness at the new cross I’d have to bear.

I thought about the cops going around the side of the building and wondered if the gravelly soil was soft enough for a shoe print. I got up and went downstairs. Kate didn’t stir. I took a sharp butcher knife from the drawer and grabbed the running shoes from the shoe rack. I went out onto the back deck and cut the soles off, then sliced and hacked at the pattern until it was unrecognizable. I went back inside and dumped the whole mess into the kitchen garbage, making sure to conceal it at the bottom. I was putting the can back under the sink when Kate scared the shit out of me.

“What in God’s earth are you doing at this hour?”

She was silhouetted against the hall light, hair askew, her voice still drowsy with sleep. She pointed at the digital clock over the oven.

“It’s almost three thirty in the morning and you work tomorrow.”

The scare infuriated me.

“Can’t I throw a tissue in the garbage without being questioned.”

It came out hard and angry. She took a step back, paused for a second, then turned and went slowly up the stairs without saying a word. I’d been cranky many times in our marriage, but I’d never snapped at her. It felt good to let go, to take off the mask.

I went to the office couch for a moment of quiet time. I focused on my breath, filling my lungs with positive energy, expelling the anger as I breathed out. After a time, maybe minutes, maybe longer, my body relaxed completely. My eyelids, tightly closed but not compressed, displayed wild videos of light and energy moving into infinity against a black backdrop. My head felt light, as if my consciousness had vacated the space and was now moving with the light, independent of my body. It felt good to be free, at last. I fell asleep before dawn, emotionally and physically exhausted.

I woke to find Kate standing beside the couch, one hand on my shoulder and the other holding a teddy bear. One of those squeeze toys for kids with a personalized recorded message. She’d had it made for me a couple of years ago at a booth at the PNE. The joke had long since worn off, but it had been quite awhile since she’d used it to wake me up. To make up for snapping at her I listened patiently to the song.

 

Wake up Roger, it’s time to start your day.

Wake up Roger, and always start this way.

Make your bed. Dress with care.

Brush your teeth. Comb your hair.

Wake up Roger, it’s time to start your day.

It’s gonna be a gr-e-a-t day.

 

The Teddy Bear song was so weird in the context of the Greenberg execution the day before it touched a nerve somewhere. I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. I had tears in my eyes and was having a hard time catching my breath. I put my hand up for her to get the thing away and she squeezed it again, sending me back into convulsions. She jumped on the couch and rubbed the stupid bear against my head.

“Oh Roger, it’s so good to see you laugh like that. I was worried for a while that I’d never see you laugh again. I’m sorry that I startled you last night. I know that working through things can be upsetting. I know you didn’t mean to get so angry with me, but I’ll take it as a positive sign. Showing real emotion is a good thing.  Old Maxwell Smart must be doing something right.”

I barely heard her psychoanalysis. I knew it didn’t mean shit.

“He’s a funny-looking guy, that’s for sure. That loopy black hair combed forward, defying the laws of physics. His ridiculous preying mantis bows and airplane journeys.”

I started laughing so hard I could hardly get the last part out. I finally caught my breath.

“And did you know he’s a time traveler, too. He can take you back centuries into the thoughts of peasant stone workers in the Eastern bloc.”

I said it with good humor. I wanted to keep the mood light. I had not laughed that hard since I was a kid. The Greenberg job touched my funny bone. Kate and I had reconnected as human beings over a novelty teddy bear with a bad voice. She lay behind me and massaged my back.

“I love you Roger Rabbit. Love you. Love you. Love you.”

It felt so good lying there I forgot about the morning paper. The minute it entered my head I got up and went to the front door to get it. Unfolding it gave me a tremendous high. The front headline blared‑-MEDIA MOGUL GUNNED DOWN IN OFFICE–in huge bold type. The subhead below read: Police find note at crime scene. In all, six catch lines directed readers to inside pages. Doctors say head injuries hard to predict p. 2. Greenberg shooting stuns business community p. 2. Police looking at link to other city shootings  p. 2. Victim a big supporter of local charities p. 3.  Brother says Greenberg had no known enemies p.3 International reaction p. 3.

I put the paper aside and chatted with Kate over coffee and toast about the possibility of a fall provincial election. I wanted to read the stories at my leisure, after she’d gone to work. 

“It could be a busy time for you if the Liberals decide on an election. Goodwen will have you working every night for weeks.”

“I’ll make sure I have plenty of time for you, dear. Now that you’re back in good spirits I want to keep you that way.”

Kate voted for the NDP, a left-wing party funded by trade unions. She’d been doing volunteer work for our local MLA, Darryl Goodwen. She wasn’t overly political, but she believed in the Party’s stated goal of helping the working man. Volunteering was a way for her to socialize. A reason to get out of the house when my black moods polluted her world. I lumped the NDP in with all politicians, a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites who would say anything to get elected. I didn’t say that on this morning. Didn’t want to spoil the mood.

After she left, I settled into the office couch, paper in hand. Osterwich wrote the lead story with the basic facts as released by the police.

–Greenberg had been shot sometime around noon.

–He was discovered on the floor of his Commercial Drive office by a postman on his regular daily rounds.

–No one else was in the building. Nobody heard the shots.

–Police would not speculate on a motive but confirmed that a note was left at the scene by the shooter. Police were examining it for evidence but would not say if or when its contents would be made public.

–Greenberg was alive and in intensive care under police protection.

Of course, the postman aside, Osterwich didn’t have anything I didn’t already know. Still, it was gratifying to see the coverage, to make the big splash. I knew for certain the letter would be released. Probably soon. The style of the writing was the only thing the cops had to go on. They would need the public’s help. They would be obligated to warn people about the impending danger.

The inside stories were standard stuff. A bunch of bullshit about what a great guy Greenberg was. All the crap he’d done for the community. His brother spouting off. “He was a prince of a man. A family man who loved his wife and kids. But beyond that, Morrie did so much for the community, so much charitable work behind the scenes.” No mention of all the people he’d fucked over.

The brain injury story was the usual medical malarkey about the unpredictability of head injuries. The only story that caught my interest was the one Osterwich wrote for page two suggesting a link to other city shootings. Reading between the lines, I could tell he’d read the letter, if not the first then the second one. He mentioned Cunningham by name, saying ‘his execution-style slaying had many similarities to the most recent shooting.’

I got to work late. I knew Oliver had left that morning for a conference in Toronto. The temporary receptionist was off sick, replaced by another temp. Young and pretty but with bad goth hair and makeup. Thorsby was all over it.

“I told you Old Horny Man was fucking the other temp. You think it’s a coincidence she books off sick on the same day he’s away at a conference. I’ll bet you fifty bucks she’s not here tomorrow either.”

“How would I ever collect? That’s more than Molly gives you for allowance for the week.”

His weekly allowance was about the only thing he ever got testy about. He’d told me about it one night after we’d worked late to complete a big report. We went for dinner and a beer at the Chop House when we finished the job and he asked to borrow twenty bucks. He didn’t want to put it on his charge card because Molly checked all the bills at the end of the month. I ribbed him about it at the time and he went all sullen on me. I agreed to pick up the tab to get him back into a good mood. I regretted mentioning it again because he clammed right up, and I wanted to talk about the Greenberg shooting.

“Heard anything more on Greenberg?”

“He made it through the night.”

He said it like a sulking kid.

“Petulance doesn’t become you Thorsby. It’s not a state of being that looks good on an overweight man in an ill-fitting golf shirt.”

This was something he could deal with and he responded in kind.

“Been down to the Goodwill store again, haven’t you? That sports coat looks like the one my old man sent to them a few months back. Hang it in the closet for a year or two and it may come back into fashion. Of course, the old man never had any taste to begin with.”

“The apple doesn’t fall far.”

Thorsby couldn’t stay mad. Toss him a barb and he had to throw it back. Once I got him talking it was easy to shift subjects to the Greenberg shooting.

“Still sticking to your theory about the wife and the hit man?”

He rolled his chair backwards across the aisle.

“I read the story in today’s Sun about connecting it with the Cunningham murder. It makes sense. Maybe Cunningham did some legal work for Greenberg. The two of them could be connected to that drug gang he got off. Financiers or something.”

“I can’t see those guys getting mixed up with drugs. They made too much money fucking over the public legally. Why take the chance?”

“The thing about the note is pretty interesting. I’d love to know what it says. Why would somebody leave a message? What kind of person sits down and writes a note before killing someone? That’s cold. And stupid. No hit man is going to leave the police a clue like that. Think about it. No matter what it says the note alone tells the cops it wasn’t a contract killing. That narrows the field of investigation considerably.”

I didn’t like being called stupid, even unwittingly by a knob like Thorsby. But I kept the annoyance out of my voice.

“Whoever did it must have something important to say. The message must be worth the risk in the mind of the killer.”

“I’ll bet you fifty bucks the guy turns out to be some deranged loner. He’s probably sitting around in his underwear in his basement suite clipping the newspaper stories, pulling his pud.”

“Could be. Could be.”

This time I clammed up. I turned back to my computer screen and Thorsby rolled his chair back across the aisle. My session with Adams was at 3 p.m. I worked through lunch on a mining conference brochure and left the office around 1:30. I drove down to Kits Beach and parked. I sat in the car with the windows rolled down, watching the ordinary people walk past. Thorsby’s talk about the deranged loner had put me off. Not enough to send me back into the turbulence but it stirred up sediment.

I knew the gun had to go. I’d known it all along. I thought about it again right after the killing, when I put it back into its compartment. I could drop it off a bridge or take it up into the North Shore mountains and bury it somewhere it would never be found. Once it was out of my possession there was no way it could be connected to me. Keeping it was an unnecessary risk. Fate had given me Greenberg, but he was the last. Without the gun there would be no more spinning the chamber.

My world seemed a long way removed from the ordinary people passing by. Couples holding hands. Old people with their pets. Young guys riding bikes, stopping at a bench to pose for the girls walking past. They all looked happy. Living mundane lives. Ostriches with their heads buried up their butts. The ones who knew they were being fucked over by the bottom-liners had given up. The stupid ones were so brainwashed they thought they had a chance to move up.

Sitting in the car at Kits Beach the day after Greenberg, during quiet time before meeting with Adams, I was enveloped with a feeling of contentment. I thought about the selfless work I’d done. I’d acted on behalf of the small-picture people, whose narrow focus didn’t include heroic acts. Those of us who could see the big picture had a responsibility. I had stepped up and dared to risk it all. Not for profit. Not for power. But because I was a man.

 

The parking lot in Adams’s strip mall was full so I pulled around the corner and parked on the residential street in a Residents Only zone. I walked up the alley, past the dumpster. The lid was down. The only piece of urban detritus in site was a single white sport sock hanging down the front of the dumpster, stuck in the lid. I thought about the sock’s owner. How it had come to that. His dirty sock on public view.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Delaney. This is the first time I’ve seen you past noon. My mother always used to say, ‘Gail, you can’t judge a man by what he looks like in the morning. You’ve got to wait until afternoon or early evening. That’s when the true man comes out.”

“Well, Ms. Whitesong, do I pass the test?”

“Please call me Gail. And yes, you pass the test. As sharp in the afternoon as in the morning. Another nice jacket. You must have quite a collection.”

I was wearing an older off-the-rack brown corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows. The kind writers wear in the movies. Comfortable but not very sharp.

“Yes. I hang them by colour, light to dark. This one’s in the middle.”

I wanted to catch her out. To get her to slip and give it away that she read my file. She didn’t. Give it away.

“That’s interesting. Mother liked neat men. She’d say, ‘Before considering a man for husband material check out his closet and sock drawer.’”

“Are you married Ms…  uh… Gail?”

“I like that. Ms. Gail. It sounds so southern. Genteel. No, I’m not married.”

“That surprises me. A catch like you. How did you manage to stay ahead of all the boys?”

I was only half-kidding. I’d never had a good look at her body but the Eurasian face, framed by the red wine hair, held a certain exotic attraction. I tried to imagine it without the absurd glasses.

“I let too many of them catch up. The first one caught up when I was only 17. Mother didn’t like him at all. Called him a ne’er-do-well the first time she met him. Looking back, I think I married him to spite her. She was right, of course. Mother knew men. I kicked him out after a year.”

Adams’ door opened before I could delve further into Ms. Gail’s marital history. A Chinese man in a business suit came out and hurried past us, avoiding eye contact, self-conscious. He opened the door and disappeared down the hallway. Another guy blending back into the world. I wondered if he was a bottom-liner with empathy.

“Hello Roger.”

Adams stood in the doorway; palms clasped together at his waist. Something about his appearance was off but I couldn’t place it for a moment. He was wearing the black senior’s shoes and basic polyester outfit of shirt, tie and slacks. I couldn’t tell anymore if the colors were different from week-to-week. But he had added a cardigan. A red cardigan.

“Nice sweater, Doc.”

I said it nicely.

“Thanks Roger. The wife picked it out. I’m not big on red but she thinks I should brighten up a bit. Add a little colour.”

“It never hurts to add a little colour to our lives.”

We went into his office and closed the door. The curtains were drawn, the only light glowing from a small lamp on his desk. The air smelled of Old Spice.

“Mind if I open the curtains and leave the door open a crack. Let some air in.”

He moved towards the balcony door as he spoke.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I don’t wear cologne. Never found it necessary. I rarely perspire and when I do there is no unpleasant odor. My wife says I’m the only man she’s ever met who doesn’t have a smell. Must be a genetic thing.”

“Interesting.”

He pulled back the curtains and opened the balcony door about six inches. Sunlight and fresh autumn air pushed the staleness and despair into the corners as he placed his chair in front, his comment hanging in the space between us. We had a mini-stare off before he spoke again.

“Extensive studies done with schizophrenics indicate they have a distinct smell. In blind tests, researchers were actually able to pick rooms where groups of schizophrenics had been gathered even hours after they’d left.”

“Maybe they all like cheap cologne.”

He acknowledged my joke with a weird giggle but cut himself off mid-laugh, as if it would reveal too much. Then he leaned forward.

“That’s a good one.” He giggled again. Longer this time. “And it could be true. That’s why all these studies are peer-reviewed. For instance, a group of colleagues and I recently completed a three-month research project at the University of British Columbia into the violent psychopathic mind. The sampling was too small to make it into any of the major medical journals. But the research was fastidious and the results fascinating.”

“Do psychopaths have b.o. or better taste in cologne?”

“You’re not too far off. We restricted our research to 15 subjects, all serial killers doing life in Canadian penitentiaries. We used multiple murders as a criteria. Each subject was responsible for the death of at least three human beings with a cooling off period between. And the crimes had to be premeditated. No crimes of passion.”

The little prick had my attention. I leaned back into the easy chair and didn’t say a word. He looked at me and paused. I reached over and grabbed one of Ms. Gail’s cookies. Was he sending another signal?  I couldn’t do another stare-off. Not right then.

“You might think it difficult to come up with 15 serial killers willing to talk about their crimes. My colleagues and I thought we would have to travel back and forth to the big penitentiaries in Quebec and Ontario to do much of the interviewing but that wasn’t the case. As it turned out, we found more than enough willing participants in Western Canada. Predators who preyed on the weak. People who took lives for money. Or power. Or lust. Some for the thrill. Others as a job. There’s no shortage of violent psychopaths. I can tell you that.”

“So after all this study and fastidious research you and your esteemed colleagues arrived at the conclusion psychopaths like to talk about their crimes?”

I couldn’t keep the hostility out of my voice. Adams continued without acknowledging it.

“Among many other things.”

“Did you factor in that anyone serving a life term would be so bored he’d talk to the chief of police if he thought it would get him away from prison routine for a few hours.”

“We thought of that but there was more to it. Career criminals doing the same hard time, armed robbers and drug dealers, some of whom had killed, were significantly less inclined to submit to interviews. One curious thing that came out is that 13 of the 15 subjects who met our criteria had good grooming habits. Do you know much about psychopaths?”

“Almost nothing.”

He paused again, for a second or two. Another sign? Or paranoia? There was no way to know.

“For all intents and purposes the terms psychopath and sociopath are interchangeable. While the word psychopath conjures images in the general public of someone who is dangerously violent, a sociopath is seen to be abnormal in a bad way but not necessarily violent. The terms have been much-debated in the scientific community.”

He leaned forward until his elbows touched his knees. His hands came together as if in prayer then pointed towards the floor in the downward preying mantis position. One strand of black hair escaped the impossibly angled bouffant hairdo and drooped against his forward. The sight of it, off putting but strangely fascinating, riveted my eyes to his face. The clarity I experienced as he continued to speak was pleasurable. Like just before and after a killing.

“Let’s use the less harsh term and call them sociopaths. No matter what label, they are narcissists totally lacking empathy and conscience…”

I cut him off and studied his face for reaction.

“I’ll have to tell Kate I’ve lost my place at the top of the heap. That there might be someone with less empathy than me.”

He flicked the loose hair on his forehead once, but it continued to droop with an absurd upward curl.

“Without a doubt.” He said it with enthusiasm, warming to his subject. “Your wife has crossed paths with many sociopaths, as have you and I. The sociopath personality is a natural part of the human condition. Sociopaths gravitate, almost through a kind of sociological osmosis, to leadership positions. They often set society’s agenda and the agenda is always in their favor. By necessity they are skilled mimics when it comes to emotions and Oscar-caliber actors. Often of above-average intelligence, they are usually good at their jobs and have no difficulty getting ahead in society, given that they are driven by self-interest and not hampered by niceties like integrity. They rise to the top in politics, business and the military. They act instinctively but without emotion. That is why, under the right circumstances, they kill without remorse.”

Was the little prick calling me out? I couldn’t tell. He was that good. Or that bad. But I couldn’t let it pass.

“Are you suggesting in some roundabout psychobabble bullshit way that I’m a sociopath.”

I kicked the footrest down and sat up in the easy chair. This time I leaned forward, hands cupped and elbows on my knees. Aggressive and self-righteous. An act of war.

Adams giggled again. He tried to suppress it for a second but then gave way. His nostrils flared as air burst from his pursed lips. His head shook from the effort and another strand of hair came loose and drooped, this time from the other side of the bouffant. They formed reverse black horns on his forehead.

“That’s another good one, Roger,” he said, after composing himself. “You had me going for a minute.”

I didn’t know what to say so I opted for a stare-off. He broke the silence several seconds in.

“To answer your question, you are no more likely a sociopath than am I. Or Gail, for that matter.”

He brushed at the drooping hair simultaneously with both hands, but it fell back into the horns.

“While sociopaths are invisible to the eye, even the most skilled among them can’t control themselves 24/7. They give in to small anti-social impulses at first, often as children. They steal, bully, light fires, torment pets. They progress as adults, continually seeking out situations and people to exploit and prey upon. In hindsight, researchers can usually discern a pattern. Not uncommonly, the anti-social dots are so far-flung that even those people who are closest—relatives, spouses and friends–can’t connect them.”

“I’ve heard it said university psychiatry and psychology departments attract more than their share of students with mental issues. Were any of your interview subjects in the mental health field?”

“No, but you heard right. Psychologists and psychiatrists are often drawn to their disciplines because of personal issues. We all go through therapy as part of our training. Hopefully, though encumbered by the flaws of the human condition, serious students gain enough insight to help patients down the road. Of course, therapy has not proven successful with the sociopath personality.”

“I’m not surprised if this is what you call therapy.  Two guys sitting around talking every couple of weeks. Exactly what am I supposed to be getting out of a discussion about sociopaths?”

He did not acknowledge the rancor in my voice.

“Would you like to talk about something else?”

He said it pleasantly. With empathy.

“This is your time and we can talk about anything you want. In my experience, free-form discussion is extremely beneficial. But at the end of the day, you are the only person who can say if these visits are helpful. If a patient tells me he or she is not benefiting from our visits, I tell that patient it’s best to stop. That they are wasting their money or, as in your case, the money of the company’s health insurer. Are you benefiting from our visits, Roger?”

The clever little prick had me backed into a corner, again. I didn’t know if I was benefiting but I did know I wanted to continue. The thought crossed my mind that Adams was the sociopath, manipulating the weak for profit and his own sadistic pleasure. An enemy of the people. Still, I looked forward to our sessions. I ignored his question.

“There is something I’d like to discuss. How about we start off next session with your views on sex. All that training and experience, you must have some insights to share.”

“Tell me, Roger, are you benefiting?”

He wouldn’t be put off.

“Yes. I’m experiencing less turbulence now.”

It pissed me off to admit it. Made me feel weak. But once it came out, I felt an immense sense of relief. Adams picked up on it right away.

“It’s good to let things go. To not be responsible. To accept the way nature made us and act accordingly.”

I couldn’t look him in the eye, so I fixated on the hair horns and let the words work their way in.

“Just for a moment, think of your life as a movie…”

It broke the spell.

“A movie? Do I have to trade my pilot’s cap for a beret and a director’s stool?”

He ignored the sarcasm.

“You are both star and director. You are the casting director and script writer, the producer and set designer. That’s a lot to take on. What’s more, it gets frustrating when the other characters stop following the script. When they make up their own lines, miss their marks. The responsibility of having to do everything, the sheer weight of it, can bring the strongest among us to our knees.”

I didn’t know what to say so I sat back in the chair and closed my eyes.

“That’s right, Roger, let it all go.”

As he spoke, heat coursed through my chest and stomach, down to my bladder. I didn’t want to open my eyes.

“You are the star, but you don’t have to direct all the characters and write all the dialogue. Let them do and say what they want. It doesn’t affect you. We all do what we must to survive. There is no right and wrong, only survival. You will find your way. Your way to survive.”

I can’t explain how this horn-haired little shit got into my head. How he got me believing his stupid bullshit. It just happened, sitting in that recliner in that cheesy office. He lowered his voice, smoothly shifting from the absurd motion picture metaphor into another layer of multiple meanings.

“Every person is responsible only to themselves, Roger. Not to family, not to friends, not to society, not to the state. The man who follows what he believes is the right course can never lose his way.”

The guy was a font of useless aphorisms. He spewed out psycho babble in a string of clichés and self-evident truisms. It was hard to believe people paid him for it. But they did. And I was one. I can’t say how he did it. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight. I only know he communicated on another level. He cut through everything and got right to the heart of things. Or did he?

At the end of the session he stood and did the preying mantis bow thing before I left. I nodded but could not bring myself to put my hands together.

There was an attractive, well-dressed woman sitting in the waiting area, looking out the window pensively. It was my turn to feel ill-at-ease as I made my next appointment with Ms. Gail, before leaving the comfort of the office for the world outside.

 

I went through some minor turbulence on the drive home. I knew the psychotic little giggler couldn’t know anything about the executions but, my pleasurable free-wheeling state of clarity aside, the tone of the discussion had been troubling. Every session seemed layered, as if the surface talk was just a cover. His often-inappropriate pauses, however brief, were discomfiting. Or maybe I was paranoid. I wondered how a person knows if they’re paranoid. If you wait too long to find out you’re not, it could be too late.

Minor turbulence aside, I was cruising at 10,000 ft. on the Greenberg high. All engines running smooth through blue sky. Exulted. That’s the word that came into my head when I tried to pinpoint the feeling. It fit. I felt happy. Triumphant. But not over Greenberg’s death. He didn’t rate enough for that. I had triumphed over my own fears. I had looked death in the eye, gambled my own life, and delivered justice unto an enemy of the people. I had walked the talk in a way few people ever do. I carried out an action for the greater good, at extreme risk, without self interest. I followed the right road. I felt fulfilled as a man.

That’s how I felt about it then. Before all the Wolf bullshit started. Adams reference to serial killers bothered me. The press had already labeled me, and I didn’t like the label. Serial killers were scum with deviant sexual desires who preyed on the weak. I was taking the fight to the predators and I knew I would have to point out the distinction to the press.

Kate was organizing a delivery of campaign signs for Goodwen. She had been out a lot of evenings in the last while. A provincial election was in the wind and all the parties were gearing up. Goodwen’s seat was safe. The NDP had held our riding for more than 40 years. All it took was coffee and a doughnut to muster the zombie vote; the lower middle class believed the party’s propaganda about helping working people. Lefty spin doctors had worked that angle so hard for so long it was taken as a given.

I knew different. Goodwen was in it for himself, just like all his scumbag colleagues, whatever their political stripe. Voting themselves gold-plated pension plans. Endlessly propagating the self-serving fiction that they could do better in the private sector. A bunch of hypocrites gorging at the public trough.

Kate got home about nine. I’d already had two glasses of wine. I’d been sitting in the living room, in the dark with the blinds closed, going over and over the Greenberg job. Quiet time. I got an erection as soon as I heard her turn the key in the lock. Hard as a rock.

She hung her jacket on a dining room chair without noticing me on the couch. She was wearing blue jeans and a checked western shirt with snap buttons, rolled up at the sleeves. A hardworking NDPer.

“Have a glass of wine, honey. You’ve had a long day.”

“You startled me, Roger. I didn’t see you sitting there in the dark. Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m feeling just fine dear. Never better. I thought we might have a glass of wine and see where that leads.”

“I’m very tired tonight. It’s been a long day. Honestly, Goodwen’s people are so disorganized I don’t know how they expect to win an election campaign.”

“He’s a shoo-in. The NDP could run a fence post in this riding and win handily. I’m surprised the cheap bastard is even spending money on signage.”

“Please don’t be crude. Mr. Goodwen is a good man. He’s done a lot for this riding. Remember how he stood up for the neighbourhood to stop the rendering plant from stinking us all out.”

Mention of the rendering plant stirred up turbulence. It was a mile away, down on the waterfront, but the stink produced from turning animal offal into money had fouled the neighbourhood. The plant changed its smokestack filters at the hottest time of the summer. Company officials ignored complaints until Goodwen took the issue public. He didn’t give a shit until the volume of complaints translated into a significant number of votes. I was so riled at the time, I’d fantasized about going down to the plant with my gun and creating some human offal.

“He’s a politician dear. He’s supposed to do that stuff.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be so cynical all the time, Roger. That kind of thinking is what brings you down. The world is not as bad as you like to make out. There are a lot of good people working to make things better.”

“That’s true dear.”

Some day she would know I was one of those good people. But for tonight, showing her I was a man would have to do. I wanted sex.

“Did you hear about the killer?”

“What killer?”

“The guy who shot that newspaper executive. He’s calling himself The People’s Wolf. I heard it on the radio driving home. Apparently, he left a note stuck behind the ear of the victim. What kind of cold-blooded person would do something like that? Honestly, I don’t know what things are coming to. Delusional maniacs running around shooting people in their offices.”

I lost my erection. I think all the blood left my dick and rushed into my head. I had a woozy moment. Good thing I was sitting down.

“What did the note say?”

“They didn’t give any details. Just that the police released the note and it would appear in tomorrow’s paper. I’ll have that glass of wine.”

The bottle was on the coffee table, beside the extra glass I’d set there in anticipation of a romantic interlude. I poured her a glass without getting up. I leaned back into the couch to conceal my excitement. I felt like running into the street shouting. Instead, I took a drink of wine to calm myself and burst out laughing mid-drink, spraying wine all over the coffee table.

“Has anyone ever told you that your sense of humor is a bit off. Murder isn’t something to laugh about.”

“You’re the first. Let’s have a toast to all of life’s firsts.”

We touched glasses and I managed to gulp my wine down before the giggles returned. The consternation on Kate’s face set me off. I rolled onto my side on the couch, holding the wine glass aloft to avoid spillage, shaking with laughter for the second time that day. Kate couldn’t help herself. She took the glass from my hand and set them both down, before flopping on me and tickling my ribs.

“I’ll teach you to laugh when it’s not funny, Roger Rabbit.”

We were both laughing now. Hard. And it felt so good.

 

As you know, the media grabbed onto the People’s Wolf with a ferocity usually reserved for a political assassination or major catastrophe. The letter was reported on every continent. Big shot network reporters flew into town to do interviews in front of Greenberg’s office.

In the weeks following the Greenberg execution, the two city papers ran daily updates, scrutinizing every aspect of all the dead men’s lives looking for a connection. Osterwich did nothing but Wolf stories. Readers couldn’t get enough. Greenberg would have loved the buzz. Good for the bottom line.

I knew the police would be looking even harder than the reporters, but I wasn’t worried. I knew there was no connection. The only thing that tied them together was the gun.

Public reaction to the letter bordered on mass hysteria. Talk show hosts trotted out all the usual suspects. Phony psychologists, retired FBI profilers, the usual no-nothing experts. Of course, the politicians waded in. Vancouver Mayor, Arthur Hoodspith, his balding head gleaming in the camera lights, mouthed off self-righteous bullshit on the steps of city hall.

“I call on all Vancouverites to remain vigilant and to assist the police in any way they can. The eyes of the world are upon us. We must show them that we live in a beautiful and safe city, and that we condemn the acts of this cowardly and deluded vigilante. More than a hundred police officers are working on the case and it won’t be long before this so-called People’s Wolf faces real justice.”

I often thought about the police. Not out of fear that I would be caught. I knew I couldn’t let that happen. It was more curiosity. I wondered who was heading up the investigation and what he or she was thinking about. I paid little attention to the official talking heads who appeared on the news in their ridiculous gold-embossed uniforms spouting the usual crap. Maybe I would put one of the big brass on my list.

Conspiracy theories popped out of Starbucks’ coffee cups. By virtue of their proximity to the endless discussions, pimply faced baristas became experts. Everybody had an opinion on motive. Everybody knew somebody who could be the People’s Wolf. Everybody knew someone who could be in his sights. Everybody knew someone who should be in his sights.

The biggest winners, apart from the media and cops collecting overtime, were security companies. In the weeks immediately after Greenberg, business went up 60 per cent. I should have bought stock in the industry, but that would have been beneath the People’s Wolf. Making money off the killings would be unseemly. Like the Jewish thing. Osterwich did a story on the booming security industry. Bottom-liners from West Vancouver to Shaughnessy were beefing up their home and office systems. The latest technology included night vision security cameras with super sensitive motion detectors that triggered silent alarms. The bigger the bottom-liner the more expensive and sophisticated the security system.

I was enjoying myself, and that’s to put it mildly. I felt high 24/7. Even my dreams were upbeat. All the shit being talked and I was the only one who knew what went down. Of course, Kate noticed the change and attributed it to Adams.

“I think those sessions are really helping you. Honestly, your whole demeanor has changed. You look younger, more vital, full of life. You’re laughing. And a lot handsomer. Happiness becomes you, Roger.”

She kissed me on the cheek. Playfully. I felt too good to burst her balloon.

“Thanks, dear. Maxwell Smart always gets his man.”

Of course, I knew it was Morrie Greenberg, not the little horn-haired fraud, who was responsible for my rise out of the bleakness. Happiness becomes me? Is this what happiness feels like? An adrenaline high that doesn’t go away. I knew it couldn’t last. Way too intense. But it felt good to get up in the morning looking forward to what the day would bring instead of clinging to sleep, my only refuge from the constant turbulence.

I didn’t come down until Christmas. Osterwich was still writing Wolf stories every week or so, mostly non-updates from police higher-ups and politicians reassuring the public with meaningless bullshit. I wondered what all those police officers did all day.

I hadn’t seen the psychotic little giggler for six weeks. He took a two-week vacation in the late fall to travel in South America with his frumpy wife and homely kids.

“Two weeks in South America is worth a semester at school,” he said, moments after announcing the break in our bi-weekly schedule. “Travel can be a life changing experience.”

He said it too self-righteously. I was tiring of the little bore and feeling too good to go back. But I was already on a downhill slope when Thorsby accelerated my decline with a flip comment about the Wolf’s manhood. We’d rolled our chairs to the middle of the aisle and he was half-heartedly rehashing one of his pet theories.

“The guy’s a loser, that’s a gimme. He probably sits around his basement suite in his underwear and superhero cape pulling his pud. If he had any guts he’d go after bikers or Asian gangsters. Someone who can shoot back.”

I’d heard it all before.

“You’re really into this underwear and cape thing, aren’t you Thorsby. Are you dropping hints about your wedding present? Matching capes with his and hers crotch-less superhero costumes? Or maybe you’d prefer his and his outfits. You seemed to be thinking a lot about the Wolf’s pud.”

“Don’t tell me you think the guy’s some kind of stud? He’s a deluded killer plain and simple.  He’ll probably turn out to be a postman who lives with his mother and knows all the customers on his route. He’ll say one of the dogs along the route told him to do it. The People’s Wolf. It sounds like something a dog would come up with.”

Dumpy Thorsby’s stupid barbs popped my balloon. That’s how fragile my mental state was at the time. The stuff about the postman knowing the customers on his route disturbed me. It reminded me of the old man. He talked more with the housewives along his milk route than he did with us boys. By the time he got home he was all talked out.

“I guess you’d know. Didn’t you consult with a couple of big farm dogs when writing those tractor manuals? Or should that be consort?”

I rolled my chair back to my desk, to escape the enveloping despair. I made another flippant comment to Thorsby keeping with the dog theme before conveniently remembering an appointment I had to get to. I left the office to his witless doggie theme rejoinder.

“Bitchin.”

I had the car at work that day and I drove over the Burrard Bridge and turned onto Kits Point. Foreboding clouds hung low in an early afternoon sky, prematurely dark even for the first week of December. Gusts of wind swirled paper and debris across the wet sand as I parked in the Kits Beach parking lot, facing Georgia Strait, and fought back a rising tide of anxiety that bordered on panic.

I sat watching waves breaking, counting the whitecaps…one, two, three, four… My brain felt so overheated my forehead broke out in sweat. I rolled down the window for air and took the rain forest coolness into my lungs in deep breaths. Within a minute or two I was hyperventilating, then shaking violently. Freezing. I rolled up the window and started the car to get some heat. The radio came on with big news.

“Media baron Morrie Greenberg died moments ago at Vancouver General Hospital with his family at his bedside. Greenberg, who was shot in his office in broad daylight by a serial killer calling himself the People’s Wolf, had been in a coma since the shooting almost four months ago. A VGH spokesman said Greenberg had massive, irreversible brain damage. Police say more than 100 officers are working on the case, including a task force bolstered by senior detectives from other jurisdictions.”

I hated the serial killer reference, with all its psycho-sexual implications, but the news calmed me. Smoothed the turbulence. I thought about Greenberg’s shit smell. It always got primal in the end. ‘Please don’t kill me. I’ve got a family.’ What a pathetic excuse for staying alive. I pictured his wife and brother sniffling beside his bed, their thoughts already turning to what would come next, the dividing of his earthly spoils. I knew his death would create a mini-media frenzy that would run hot for a day or two with stories about what a great guy he was before fizzling out again. I knew it was time to act.

Thorsby’s needle about the Wolf’s manhood had jabbed me in a vulnerable spot because it contained an element of truth. The People’s Wolf had taken on a cartoon-like quality in the public mind. In the absence of any new information people made nervous jokes about caped crusaders and creeping werewolves. The bottom-liners had them convinced everyone was at risk.

Thorsby was right. The People’s Wolf had to take the fight to a formidable enemy of the people. Someone capable of violence who wouldn’t garner sympathy or conjure images of his killer as a crazed psycho planning the execution in his underwear. I turned the car off and got out. I walked the length of the beach, hunched over into the wind, then let the gusts propel me back to the car. By the time I settled in behind the wheel I had a candidate in mind.

Donald Wayne Findley.

I didn’t know much about Findley then. Only that he was a well-known Vancouver bad guy, a hard case who made the news. He was in his early 40s with a penchant for violence that stood out even among the thugs and riff raff he ran with. Ruthless and cunning, he had punched, stabbed and shot his way to the top of a local gang called the Demons, a loose affiliation of bottom-line predators whose primary sources of income were said to be muscle and drugs. A formidable adversary.

I went from the beach directly to the downtown library to do a quick computer search. I wanted to get started right away. I didn’t want to wait and lose my resolve later in the darkness. All it took to track the cunning bad guy was a simple Google search.

The first thing I did was go to his picture. Numerous shots appeared in a thumbnail lineup and I clicked on the full frontal, a mug shot dated 2005.  I thought I’d made a mistake at first, that I had the wrong guy. I clicked on another thumbnail of a guy in handcuffs and jailhouse pants rolled up at the cuff being escorted into a building. Same face. I couldn’t believe it. Notorious tough guy Donald Wayne Findley looked like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden. More model than thug.

I went back to the mug shot and studied his face. He had nicely combed short blond hair, parted neatly on the left side. He stared into the police camera serenely, as if he were having a portrait done and wanted to look his best. He had deep-set eyes; the kind women love. His nose was straight, flattening a little at the end, and well-proportioned to his face. His mouth hinted at a smile. A handsome face. Even under the severe mug shot lighting, he appeared calm and content. Confident. I went back through the thumbnail line-up picture by picture.

One shot showed him standing in a bar with a drink, between two laughing women.

It felt good to be working again. Real work. I clicked on various links to find out more. The Demons did business with all the local bad guys, including the Hells Angels, but Findley’s ego was too large to take orders from anyone. He grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in East Vancouver. His criminal career began as a teenage punk. His first adult arrest came at age 18 when he was still attending Templeton High School and majoring in violence.

He was fingered as the leader of a street gang running a small-time protection racket on East Side corner stores.  Someone threw a Chinese store owner through his front window. The charges were later dropped when the store owner, recovering from having his face sewn back on, refused to testify.

For some reason, probably related to his overblown ego, Findley always used his full name–Donald Wayne Findley—when referring to himself.  The writer said it was a common joke among males of a certain age to say they were going to call in ‘Donald Wayne’ to settle minor disputes.

Donald Wayne got his first serious time at age 21when he beat a man to death in a nightclub in front of several hundred witnesses. The judge said he had anger issues. He plead guilty to manslaughter, got seven years and served three years and ten months. Imagine that, less than four years for savagely beating another human to death. Another predator unleashed on the public by the great Canadian misjustice system.

I went back to the nightclub photo. He was wearing a nicely cut beige sports jacket and a white shirt open at the collar tucked into tan chinos. He looked to be about 5’9 or 10. It was easy to imagine some unsuspecting drunk mouthing off to him and getting the surprise of his life. I wondered if the laughing women knew what he was capable of doing to another human being.

Findley later got four years for assaulting a man at a Canucks game. He smashed the guy’s head so hard against a concrete stair he cracked his skull. It happened in the club seats and a photographer near the Canucks’ bench caught it on camera. The picture made the front pages of both dailies and there was a big public kerfuffle at the time. I hadn’t taken notice. I didn’t read papers or watch the news much then. It didn’t involve me. But the bottom-liners in the expensive company seats wanted their blood sport confined to the ice.

I went back to the mug shot and sat there staring at the face, wondering how it had come to this. My life against Dennis the Menace. I knew he wasn’t worth the chances I’d have to take. At the heart of it he was a small time punk, a brute who preyed on the weak. One of the articles, a feature story in the Georgia Strait, got into his personal life. He lived in North Burnaby on Capitol Hill with his high school sweetheart and three kids, one of them a teenage boy. The writer called him ‘a family man who attended school events and loved his kids above everything.’

Reading the personal part set me off. I felt intense hatred for this scumbag who paraded around nightclubs with loose women and called himself a family man. I caught myself quietly muttering threats and curses at the screen–“Lowlife cocksucker. Monkey fucker. You’re going down shitbag.” Predators like Donald Wayne had no capacity for love. He was a good actor, nothing more. A hypocrite. A bully. He had to go.

I got so immersed in Findley, I arrived home an hour late for dinner. Kate was put out.

“There’s a casserole in the oven,” she said when I walked in. She said it coolly, like it made no difference to her if I ate.

“I’m sorry I’m late dear. Oliver handed me a new assignment today. It’s a long feature and I got caught up in the research and lost track of time.”

My tone told her my mood had improved and she didn’t want to jeopardize it. As it turned out, she hadn’t eaten yet either, so we sat in the dining room for a formal meal together. You know, a couple sharing the events of the day.

“So what has Oliver got you working on. You must be interested if you could put my macaroni casserole on hold.”

“It’s a story about natural gas exploration in the northeast, just south of Prince George. One of our clients, Nextco Gas, has discovered a huge field. The engineers say it could supply the entire province until the end of the century. Oliver wants me to get the story out in Gas and Oil, a glossy industry magazine. It sounds boring, but I’ll make it sing.”

The crux of what I said was true, but I didn’t give a shit about Nextco Gas. I knew the story would be easy to do and that I could stretch it out for a month or two and provide myself with cover for the Donald Wayne research.

“I’m sure you will, Roger, You’re such a good writer. Oliver is lucky to have someone with your talent on staff.”

Kate told me she’d heard from Goodwen that there would be a spring election. I feigned interest, nodding at the correct points, asking the odd question, but my mind was on Donald Wayne. My fate was now inexorably tied to his. One of us would die in the new year. How could this woman prattling on about the importance of democracy ever understand my true commitment to the cause?

Despite the cool start, dinner went well. When she asked about my next appointment with the horn-haired fraud I lied and told her he wasn’t seeing anyone until after Christmas. No need to tell her I was done with Maxwell Smart and his stupid metaphors.

The holidays passed uneventfully. We spent New Year’s Eve at a downtown hotel with Paul and Laura Carter. At one point, well into his cups, Paul cornered me to talk about our mutual mental healer. I didn’t want anything more to do with Adams and I certainly didn’t want to discuss him with Paul. I couldn’t see any difference in the man. Certainly not the vast improvement Laura had reported to Kate. He was still a blowhard who drank too much. A fake son-of-a-bitch trying to put his best face forward to the world.

“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” he said. “Dr. Adams has a way of getting inside you. I don’t know how he does it. Have you found your visits helpful?”

I’d asked Kate not to tell anyone about Adams but I wasn’t mad at her. You can’t stop women from talking about their husbands. Particularly if they think the men have a mutual problem. But the thought of being lumped in with this blow-dried, phony bastard pissed me off. I felt like smashing my wine glass into his face.

“I haven’t seen him for quite a while,” I said. “I think he went on holidays with his family.”

“Oh, he’s been back for weeks.”

“Well, maybe I’ll give him a call and we can all go have a latte together. The three of us. Talk about the good times.”

The phony bastard either missed the sarcasm or pretended he did. He nodded in agreement and then excused himself to get another drink. He was slurring his words before we left.

 

One thought on “Chapter 6: Laughing Out Loud

  1. Pingback: Chapter 7: A Menace No More | The Meandering Maloneys

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