Go to previous post – Chapter 8: Talking trash
The April breeze carried with it the fragrance of an early spring in Lotusland. Bushes blossomed in primary colors beneath street tree canopies of soft pink and white. A perfect world on the outside. An illusion? Or as real as its rotten core. Seeing the rhododendrons alive with colour reminded me of the gangster I put down. He chose the wrong path and wasn’t around to see the spring. I made a note to drive past Stacey Ryan’s house and check out the colors he was missing.
Believe me, I didn’t lose sleep over the way she might be feeling. I did not feel empathy for her, or any guilt that Donald Wayne’s driver went down with him or that the kid lost his sight. I had fired at the car in self-defense, out of fear, really. I knew the shots were pure flukes. I was trying to hit the passenger side window, to buy time to make an escape. When it shattered and the car drove off, I assumed I’d missed them both. I couldn’t bring back the kid’s eyesight.
Kate loved spring, the season of promise, she called it. I wasn’t surprised when she suggested a getaway to Vancouver Island. She liked the Island’s ambience and we’d been over several times in our marriage. What surprised me was the place she booked, a pricey all-inclusive spa on the east shore near Comox.
“I put it all on my VISA,” she said, as if that meant she got it free. “All you have to do is get the time off. The second Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in April. I’ve got us booked through the Saturday. The price includes three meals a day, his and hers spa treatments and use of the facilities. It’s called The Eagle’s Realm.”
She was so excited I didn’t mention the trip conflicted with my appointment with the little horned-swoggler. Fuck him. He’d blown me off for the cops. I’d phone and cancel. Kate didn’t have to know.
“That’s a hell of an offer, honey. There’s no way I’m turning that down. I’ll quit work if they don’t give me the time off. Four days with you and a massage thrown in. I’m in.”
In truth, I felt lukewarm about the trip. While it would be nice to get away, these romantic interludes almost always disappointed. You left with high hopes for romance and came back wanting to get away from the other person. Still, it would break up the boredom.
I enjoyed the ferry trip. Gliding through the Gulf Islands. I spent part of it on deck, leaning on the rail imagining what it would be like to live in one of the oceanfront homes we passed. Separated from the rest of the predators by water. It must be a safe feeling.
Kate mostly stayed inside, reading one of her thrillers. She went through one a week. After awhile I went back inside and sat beside her. I put my head on her shoulder and she shifted to accommodate. Sitting there in the warmth of the spring sun, with the boat engines vibrating beneath my feet, and the glow of contentment running through me, I got as close to spiritual as I rolled.
Was this happiness? Is this what normal people? Zero turbulence. Peace of mind. Adams’ words came back to me, in that soft fatherly tone, ‘If nothing matters, why not choose happiness.’ Why not?
The Eagle’s Realm was about an hour north of the ferry terminal, in a small bay about a mile off the Coast Highway. Our room had an ocean view and an air jet tub on a tile pedestal in the middle of the room, between the bed and the couch. We sat in it and watched the eagles swoop across the beach.
I found out later, from Kate’s credit card statement, the place cost $600 a night. The price included daily spa treatments for both of us and chef-prepared meals in a dining room overlooking the sea. As I’ve noted previously, Kate was the antithesis of the bottom-liner mentality. She didn’t care what it cost. She wasn’t even a spa person; she wanted me to relax.
We didn’t make love until Friday afternoon. I returned from 20 minutes in the cave-like steam room to find Kate lounging on the bed in a white robe. She’d been for a full body massage and her skin was pink-tinged. It didn’t take much to get us started.
Sex was different with Kate. Not something dirty. Or dark. Or angry. She enjoyed it without inhibition and afterwards almost purred like a cat. This time I was right there with her and we lay on the bed, snuggling under our robes, purring in harmony until it was time to walk over for dinner.
It felt so good to leave everything behind on the mainland. The Wolf wasn’t real over here. He seemed like a memory from another life. Had it all happened? Had I really been chosen?
The restaurant brought me back. It was more crowded than I expected. The clientele was elderly, but one couple stood out. A loud guy in his mid-forties, already balding, with a beautiful, expensively turned out ash blonde about the same age. He was wearing a loose-fitting Nat Naste shirt, like Charlie Sheen wears. The guy spent half the meal talking on his cell phone. Can you believe it?
Kate and I made love again that night. Tenderly. With a closeness I’d never experienced. She kept murmuring my name—“Roger… Roger… Roger…. Roger…—and petting my face like a child.
“I love you, Kate. I love you. I love you.”
I could barely choke the words out. I’d told her I loved her before, but I’d always been faking it. Doing what was expected. My duty. The depth of my feelings surprised me. Kate noticed the change and responded with a ferocity I didn’t know she possessed.
“Roger, honey, darling. I love you more than anything or anybody in this world. I love you, Roger, darling. We can face anything in this life. As long as we’re together, darling.”
We both cried, rocking back and forth. Maybe there was something to this romantic getaway thing.
In the morning I went for a pedicure. At first it seemed too decadent, having another human being clean your feet, trim your toenails. But I confess to enjoying it. Especially the foot massage at the end. I was already relaxed when I hit the steam room. So much so that I chatted with the naked older guy beside me. He was a retired history professor from Victoria. He was informing me about local history when the balding guy from dinner barged in, flaunting his manhood as if he were in a gay bathhouse.
“Hey, Walt, how’s it hanging today?”
“It is hanging lower than I would like, but not so low as to be an impediment to walking,” the professor answered, dryly.
The guy laid his towel down and sat on the lower level. He had a clear plastic bag in his hand. Inside it I could make out a cell phone. The idiot was checking it in the steam room. He’d barely settled in when it vibrated, and he was up and out the door.
“I met Brian yesterday at lunch. Brian Ralston. He’s a financial consultant, very successful if you believe him. Flies around the world in a private plane ‘connecting investors with opportunities.’ He’s well known in Victoria. There was quite a scandal a few years back. His investment company went bankrupt and a couple of hundred old people lost their life savings. He got sued but claimed he’d lost everything too. Must have made a recovery if he’s staying here.”
Ralston came back a minute or two later. Walt bid us adieu by cranking up the steam before he left. Clouds of vapour enveloped the room and for a moment Ralston disappeared in the fog. I had to pause my breathing, to stop the infusion of heat from choking off my chest. I loved the feeling. The thieving prick was stealing my steam time.
He had an elongated hairy body with a prominent pot belly and short hairy legs. He had a towel over his dick now, but I’d seen enough to know he wasn’t circumcised. I wondered about the ash blonde. How she could stoop to sleeping with this ugly con man? Why would she? How much money does it take to buy a woman like that? Why would you want to?
He kept looking at his phone through the cellophane bag. As if I wasn’t there. Then he started tapping the cellophane with his index finger. He was close enough I could see his manicured fingernail, black hair sprouting between his knuckles. Can you believe it? Number one with a bullet on the country’s most wanted list trying to get a bit of relaxation and I have to watch a hairy ape texting in the steam cave.
I fantasized about killing him. About seeing the resignation in his eyes that says, “You’ve got me. It’s over. I know it’s time to pay.” Instead, I got up and left without giving him another look. Thieving bastard. Stealing old people’s savings. Filthy, hairy cocksucker. Pig fucker. Mercenary, fucking psychopath predator. I hated him with the force of all his victims rolled in. I felt empathy. I felt their hate.
I caught myself mumbling curses in the shower. Of course, I didn’t have the gun with me. And being a guest at the same resort would have been far too risky an exercise. Not to mention the lack of planning. I put the hairy ape out of mind, dressed and walked back to the room. Back to the lightness of Kate. Back to warmth and nurturing. Back to a benevolent empathy.
I can’t explain the connection Kate and I made on that trip, except to say in all the years of our marriage we had never been so close. I hadn’t felt love before, if that’s what it was. I wanted to stay in love forever, but the hairy ape had invaded my space. Brought a chill to the steam cave.
We’d been back a week when the Wolf story spiraled out of my control. I was as surprised as anybody at the news of the New York shooting. I thought it was a hoax when media reports said the shooter left a note identifying himself as The People’s Wolf. A cop trick for sure, to draw me out. When the second Wolf killing happened in Toronto the same week, I didn’t know what to think. The Vancouver Sun printed the letters left at both scenes.
To the people:
White collar criminal Benjamin Adjahou, who conducted his dirty deals as CEO of one of Wall Street’s largest brokerage firms, was executed in the name of the people for his crimes. He paid with his life, although it was hardly worth the pain and suffering he heaped upon the American people. He was brought to justice in the hope it provides closure for some of his victims. Bottom-liners beware.
Not for everyone, for madmen only.
The People’s Wolf
Justice was delivered to the rapist Malcolm Gottfried, who was paroled earlier this year after serving seven years for his second rape conviction. He will not get a chance at number three.
Not for everyone, for madmen only.
The People’s Wolf
Then there was one in New Orleans and two in Edmonton a few days apart. All claiming to be simpatico with the People’s Wolf. I should have been ecstatic. The little people were waking up. Instead, I was furious at the thought of somebody stealing my thunder. I couldn’t see the positive side. Not then.
I looked forward to my appointment with Adams and arrived an hour early to eat lunch at the Thai restaurant in the strip mall. I wanted a public place to organize my thoughts. Someplace I wouldn’t get deep into anything like I did when I parked at the beach. It had been an interesting month since our last talk. I wondered where the session would go. How I could turn it to the Wolf investigation without him noticing?
I stopped on the landing to look at the dumpster. The light rain had turned to a spring deluge while I was at lunch. The sky hung low and dark, like on a bad winter day. The power of the water transformed the dumpster into something shiny green and clean, even through the streaked landing window. There was nothing hanging out of it today. No street people around.
I purposely wore Sheldon Shelby’s half-price, expensive sports jacket that afternoon. With its extra length, the coat was better suited to the night but for reasons I cannot explain I felt the need to wear it. Maybe I wanted to see if Ms. Gail could discern the quality of the coat. It didn’t matter. Nothing did.
“My, my, my. Another sharp jacket. You must be off to somewhere special for dinner tonight.”
Ms. Gail stood beside the reception desk, high-heeled feet together, one slightly forward, leg bent slightly at the knee as if she was posing for the cover of Vogue. She had on a dark charcoal business suit that accentuated her figure. Her wine-colored hair sat flatter on top, as if a stylist had tried to lose the bouffant by putting a 10-pound weight on her head. She was wearing red lipstick and but not her glasses. An astonishing transformation.
“I’m sure all the male clients take extra care with their appearances when coming to see you Ms. Gail. For us, you are the special occasion.”
She blushed instantly, giving her smooth beige skin a sensuous tinge.
“Doctor Adams said you could go right in. You’re in for a big surprise.”
I didn’t have time to think about Ms. Gail. The shock I was about to experience put her completely out of mind.
“Not for everyone. For mad men only.”
That’s what Adams said when I walked into his office, closed the door and entered a weird new world of altered perceptions. A place where reality was in the beholder.
He had redecorated. The drab curtains were gone from the patio doors, replaced by white wood blinds. The man-eating plant was also gone, further opening up the space. The walls had been painted a light yellow, adding to the open feel. The new floor was hardwood. The small teak table and two chairs on the balcony looked like they were waiting for someone to serve tea in the rain. The desk and easy chair were the same. The filing cabinets had been upgraded to heavy duty metal and secured to the floor. The chair Adams used during sessions sat against the yellow wall.
But that was only part of the surprise Ms. Gail had forewarned. The big shock was Adams himself. He sat on the corner of his desk looking like a Harry Rosen mannequin dressed as a psychologist.
The hair was gone. All of it. He was wearing a fine wale light brown corduroy sports jacket, a dark Viyella shirt tucked into tan slacks, argyle socks and stylish brogues. He had new tinted glasses.
“A lot can change in a month, Roger.”
“You should put up a sign or something to warn people. This could send somebody over the edge.
I settled into the easy chair, levering the foot rest up as I always did. Adams got his chair and sat primly in front of me.
“Wow. It’s midlife crisis time. What brought all this on?
He didn’t answer my question. Another stare-off. I didn’t care. I needed time to absorb the perceptual shift. Adams spoke first. He ran both hands over his bald head, as if brushing back the horns.
“I’ve always wanted to try the shaved head look. Emily loves my hair long and thick but it’s a lot of work. Now I just run the shaver over my head in the morning and I’m free for the day. What a relief.”
He looked like a different person. Not the guy I’d laughed with and revealed my weakness to. Not the guy I laughed at. He had a nice-shaped head and losing the hair had shrunk it to a size more proportionate to his body. The casual-chic office attire was what I had expected on my first visit. The make-over afforded him a certain professional gravitas. The change threw all my initial conceptions into the dumpster. I wondered what he was playing at.
“It looks good on you. Looks like you spruced up your wardrobe too. Nice shirt.”
“Thanks. Coming from you that’s a confidence booster. Gail likes the way you dress. She has good taste and isn’t the type to throw out meaningless compliments. I asked her to go shopping with Emily and I a couple of weeks back, after I shaved my head, and she picked everything out. We went to Harry Rosen in the downtown mall.”
You can always tell a Harry Rosen man.
“Was your wife upset? It appears she and Gail have different taste.”
“No. No. Emily is all for it. She believes change is good. She is the most reasoned person I know. She doesn’t look at life from the perspective of hurting or being hurt? She looks at things on an intellectual level. She puts the rules of the universe above the rules of man. She believes in reason, above all else.”
“She sounds like an interesting woman.”
I said it without sarcasm.
“She is the most interesting person I’ve ever met, personally or professionally. No contest. Nobody comes close. And believe me, I’ve met my share of interesting people. Come to a Mensa conference sometime and you’ll see what I mean.”
Did he emphasize nobody? Why did I feel slighted, like a schoolboy who finds out he’s only a tiny part of his favourite teacher’s life? The Mensa midget basically told me I wasn’t nearly as interesting as his matronly wife. Why did I care? What did it matter what this demented man thought.
“It’s good for a marriage to have a meeting of the minds.”
It came out sounding petulant.
“Oh, our minds don’t often meet. She’s on a whole other level when it comes to intellect.”
I was about to ask if all his patients got the privilege of listening to him prattle about his wife when he got to something interesting.
“Emily is able to analyze at warp speed. No matter how emotional a situation, she always arrives at a reasoned decision. And she always backs it up with logic, no matter how contrarian her viewpoint. Take the Wolf. When I started working with the police, she said I was on the wrong side. She is a strong advocate for change in the world on a monumental scale and is of the opinion it can only come with loss of life. She bases her thesis on two points of solid logic: history and human nature.”
“I’d forgotten you were working with the police panel.” I lied and kept going. “I read the list of experts in the paper and didn’t notice your name.”
“Oh, I was listed alright, and with some impressive company. I’m not surprised you skipped over me.”
“What does Emily make of the copycat shootings?”
“She says they are the beginning of a movement and we can expect more. Lots more. I’m afraid I have to agree with her. There will be more killings in other cities. In a million people there will always be someone angry enough at the world to kill.”
“There’s already enough conflict and violence to accommodate even the angriest among us.” I said it as if I wasn’t one of the angry people. “Why do we need a movement? And why would it start in placid Lotusland?”
“Nobody said we need a movement. It’s simply something that happens. As a natural by-product of a human action, a movement works in accordance with the rules of the universe. If it becomes strong it will survive, if not… well we know what happens to the weak. Emily sums it up in her succinct logical way: ‘The People’s Wolf is an idea that’s time has come.”
How had it come to this? I leaned back into the chair and closed my eyes. Is this what it’s like when you go crazy? You start to think people around you are raving mad. Nothing makes sense. Does the whole world become a place that is ‘not for everyone, for madmen only.’ Ruled by mad Mensa midgets and their matronly wives. When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me, studying my face. He didn’t avert his gaze.
“You’re losing me in the turbulence. With all due respect to Emily, are you saying the Wolf is going against the rules of the universe by getting the sheep to overwhelm the wolves.”
“Just the opposite. Strength will win out, as it always must. If there are enough sheep willing to fight the wolves, the sheep will win. But some of the sheep, the leaders, will prove to be wolves in sheep’s clothing and the whole process will start again.”
I had killed six predators at great risk. I didn’t deserve this. Listening to a bald conman make up nursery rhyme analogies as if he was talking to a five-year-old. I didn’t want to listen to the phony fuck talking about his frumpy wife. Everything had turned upside down.
“Like shaving your head and changing your appearance to impress a bunch of blowhards who pass themselves off as experts?” I said it meanly. “What does anybody on that panel know about killing another human being?”
He didn’t react. He could ignore an insult.
“Well, I hope none of them have firsthand experience at murder. That is not required to track a killer down?”
“Did you experts come up with something that will lead to a quick arrest. Stop him and Emily’s movement theory will soon peter out.”
“We don’t work miracles; we arrive at conclusions with the help of probabilities. I mentioned your group theory, but it was discarded as being highly improbable. You were right, they weren’t open to the idea. But there are things on the go. I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say the police expect to release video footage of a person of interest within a day or two. Supposedly it was taken around the time the sex trade worker was killed.”
“You mean the pimp?”
“Yes, the young black man. Apparently, the textile warehouse across the street had a camera operating from its roof. The security company hadn’t checked it in months and water got inside. They can’t pin down the exact date, but it caught a man walking up the street and returning at a slow jog seconds later. Apparently, the footage is grainy but police are hoping someone can identify that person. They sent the footage to the RCMP lab in Toronto for enhancement. It should be back any day.”
I needed another Oscar-caliber performance to keep from coming unglued when he let that bombshell drop. It’s hard to act indifferent with a lightning bolt sticking in your head. Goddamn fucking cameras spying on everybody. If the government had its way, there would be a camera at every stoplight. From there it’s only a matter of time before the little people lose total control. Cocksuckers.
“Have you seen the video?”
“No. Not yet. They’re going to play it for us before it airs. To see if we can pick up anything by the way he moves. It’s not to say the person in the video is the Wolf. My understanding is that the time and date did not register because of water damage. So, really, it’s just a person walking down the street. Still, it’s someone the police are interested in talking to.”
“So, has the panel established a profile. It must be taking up a lot of your time if you had to cut back your practice.”
“I’m not allowed to discuss specific details but, yes, we’ve achieved a consensus. I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t want to play poker with my colleagues on the panel. I’ve never been part of a group that has such a vast understanding of human nature. I have no doubt that any one of them could pick the Wolf out of a ten-person line-up, given the chance to interview the subjects first. It will be a feather in all of our caps if our profile fits when he is eventually caught.”
Fucking experts. They’d need luck to pick the Wolf out of a two-person line-up.
“The simplest explanation is a mid-life crisis.” I looked him up and down. I wanted to get off the Wolf. To put him on the defensive. “For the makeover, I mean. I’ve felt the urge a few times but never followed through. I’ve had the same haircut since my twenties.”
“Do you fear change, Roger?”
He switched gears just like that.
“My official position is I don’t give a shit. You can shave your thick hair into a Mohawk and paint your office pink and it won’t bother me. Why would I fear change when I know nothing matters? Why not just relax and take what comes? Be happy.”
“Exactly. But it’s difficult to be happy if what comes is hard to take, Roger. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re angry all the time. Surrender to the certainty of the bleakness, live only in the moment, and you are free.”
He said it with extraordinary tenderness. The kind that draws you in and keeps you wanting more.
We talked about living in the moment. Paying attention to everything. The way a soldier does in a firefight. I thought about the clarity experienced in the final moments before the kill. After a bit, he stood and took his chair to its place against the new yellow wall.
The smug little skin head really mind-fucked me with the appearance change. I had no idea what was going on in that chrome dome. Was he baiting me? Who was I dealing with? The mental midget who wore sweater vests and senior shoes or a Mensa master of the universe with a twisted Buddhist bent. Would he lead a swat team to my door and triumph in the glow of the international media attention? Or would the light deflect back to the heavens off his bald head and settle where it belonged. On me. According to Emily’s law of the universe.
We bowed respectfully at the session’s end but we both knew he came away the victor. I walked away with his words in my head. And I couldn’t get them out. ‘Surrender to the bleakness, live in the moment, and you are free.’ How could it possibly be that simple? I pictured Thorsby’s response. “Free to be what? Bleak?”
Still, it made sense to me on a level so deep I couldn’t shake it. A few days later, I was laying on my couch in quiet time, watching the velvet screen of my closed eyelids. ‘Seeing what would come,’ in the words of the hairless trickster.
I used Adam’s technique, following the air through my nostrils so far into my chest it distended my stomach. After a while my forehead went numb. Each breath adding another level of numbness. Smoothing out the turbulence.
I’m not sure when my brain shut off. Or why it happened then. How I finally got to the point of living in the moment of my breath. Feeling completely relaxed without a care in the bleak world. It had been a long time coming.
The inside of my eyelids became a vast universe stretching to infinity. Filled with the soft lights of far-flung stars and galaxies. Wispy clouds formed floating faces, then disintegrated before the features could be identified. Pulling me in until I was soaring with the planets and stars. Energy moving through the universe without constraints.
I don’t know how long I stayed that way. Conscious of the sounds of the house and the street outside. Of the world around me but oblivious to it all. Free, in the moment.
The experience on the couch had a profound affect on me. I came out of it feeling warm and tingly. The same feeling I got when I was about to zero in on a bottom-liner. Later that evening, Kate and I curled up on the couch and watched a movie together. A light comedy. She fell asleep and I couldn’t bring myself to move her, so I stayed on the couch content in the comfort of her physical presence.
The warm and fuzzies didn’t last. The Wolf movement stalled. The NYPD arrested a young stock broker in the Wall Street shooting. He had been fired by the firm because of mental problems. Detectives from Vancouver flew to the Big Apple to interview the guy. The other cases remained unsolved. Press coverage slowed to a trickle. Without another victim, there was nothing else to say.
Then the security camera footage was aired. All the dread I’d been feeling since Adams had mentioned it dissipated in an instant. The police released a grainy video of a man walking quickly down a dark street and returning seconds later. The lighting was so bad and the quality of the picture so poor I couldn’t recognize myself. It had scared the shit out of me when chrome dome dropped it on me. But when I thought about it, if there was anything to it they’d of had me by now. The still photo they ran a couple of days later, the one half the world has probably seen, proved more interesting.
I had sold Donald Wayne’s girlfriend short. She wasn’t as stunned as I thought. It turned out she was holding a cellphone in her hand, along with the dog, and had the presence of mind to snap a picture of the Wolf dropping his note on the step. The image took my breath away.
The photo, looking down at an angle, showed the full half-profile of a hooded, masked figure in black. What stood out was the eye. The evil eye staring out from its round peephole. The eye of a murderer, still jacked up on the kill. That’s how Osterwich described it. The fucking ungrateful prick.
His status had gone up ten-fold, since I sent him that first letter. I handed him the ticket out of journalism jail on a silver platter. He’d be dining out on it for the rest of his miserable mediocre life.
Still, it was an unbelievable shot. Nothing like a hoodie and a black balaclava to create a sense of urban horror. My eye appeared to be looking directly into the camera, though I have no memory of seeing anything flash. The angle showed a crescent-moon of white glinting from beneath my iris. Like Jack Nicholson in the Shining.
It scared the shit out of me looking at it. Thinking how close I’d come to having my face flashed around the world a million times a day. That’s what it felt like by the time the thing died down. Everybody was talking about it. Every idiotic expert in the world had a theory.
The stupidity of the bottom-liners surprised me. How had people so witless ascended the Darwinian ladder to become top predators? Were they like some kind of evolutionary aristocracy, inbred and living off the avails of their ancestors? So new to their role as prey, as to find it incomprehensible. At the end of the day, the photo gave them nothing but a cheap thrill.
I cancelled my appointment with Adams.
“Hello, Ms. Gail, it’s Roger Delaney.”
“I recognize your voice, Roger.”
She had never called me Roger before. It felt kind of creepy.
“Listen, I can’t make it in for awhile. I’m swamped at work and I may have to go out of town.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I look forward to your visits. Would you like to book another time?”
She sounded disappointed. Like a woman spurned. For some reason it set me off. Sent me into a fury.
I hung up the phone on her in a state of severe turbulence.
‘Fucking stupid cunt. Pathetic chink bitch.’ I hated her with the empathy of a thousand jilted men. I wanted her dead in that moment.
I felt weak when the rage passed. Ashamed of another racial slur. I didn’t know where the rage came from. I did not hate women specifically. Had never felt disproportionate animosity towards the women I dated. My mother never beat me. Or made me wear girl clothes. I hated without bias. Men, women, white, black or yellow.
I had put off considering a woman as a target out of respect more than squeamishness. Women are more reasonable than men. Not driven to aggression by testosterone that has been fine-tuned over millenniums to hone-in on the weak.
The racial epitaph spewed from somewhere dark. Race didn’t mean shit to me. Bottom-liners came in all colors. I wanted big game. Top predators. Regardless of ethnicity.
I thought about phoning back to apologize to Ms. Gail and make another appointment, but I didn’t want to see Adams. My spidey senses told me it was too dangerous.
In the weeks after I cancelled with Adams, I teetered on the edge of the darkness. Never falling in but always aware of the black void stretching to infinity. I tried to get some quiet time every day, but I couldn’t get back to the state of free-floating energy. Adams words, “Surrender to the bleakness, live in the moment, and you are free.’ delivered in that tender voice, were never far from the surface. But I didn’t have surrender on my mind.
I knew I had to do another one, and that it had to be someone deserving. I thought about doing a woman. I knew killing a female would sway public opinion against the Wolf. Still, it seemed hypocritical to give all female predators a pass because of their sex. Patronizing. It was important to me that the Wolf be viewed as an equal opportunity executioner.
I was flipping through the paper one morning, scanning headlines in search of a worthy dance partner when the face popped off the page. Brian Ralston. The greedy little ape was smiling out of a half-page ad for a free financial seminar he was holding late in June at the Hyatt. The hairy, cellphone-addicted fraud artist was still at it. Fucking the gullible out of their life savings. He had grown a beard and was going by the name H.B. Ralston under the cover of a company called Financial Advice For Life. The ‘free’ seminar was a full day. The cost to participants was $200 dollars for materials. Anyone who would pay anything for a day with Ralston was already a sucker, ready to be fucked over. That’s what he counted on.
I read through the ad with disbelief. It claimed Ralston had already helped countless people on the road to wealth with a secret system he’d developed over the years. His system was so complex that nobody in the financial industry could understand it. Yet after only one seminar, ordinary people following the system laid out in the seminar materials would strike it rich.
Fucking idiots. It was hard to believe anybody could fall for this shit. There was certainly an argument to be made that anybody who did was deserving of their fate. I remembered the old man’s one attempt at entrepreneurship. He had been on the milk route for about 10 years when my mother saw an ad in a magazine promising untold financial rewards. She clipped it out and showed it to him at supper.
Mom never worked after she got married. She’d been a receptionist in a small office when they met. The old man put her on a pedestal from the beginning, saying she was too valuable at home to work. She probably would have been good at sales. By the end of the meal she had the old man and my brother and I convinced we were going to be millionaires.
It was a pyramid scam and the old man sent off a week’s pay, on the promise he would receive a hundred times as much over the coming months. Mom checked the mail with anticipation for weeks. At first the old man came home every day asking, “Are we rich yet, Holly?” and Mom would say, “Not yet darling, but we will be soon.” She always called him darling. It annoyed me because she never used endearments with me and my brother. It was just plain “Roger” or “Sam.”
After a few months, he stopped asking if we were rich yet. I remember Mom comforting him on the couch one night after Sam and I had gone to bed. I got up to go to the washroom and I could see him through the living room door crying softly against her shoulder. She was stroking his hair, telling him everything would be alright. That she could get a job and get the money back. But he wouldn’t have it. Instead he took on extra concrete work on his days off with his milkman buddy.
Thinking about Mom and the old man getting taken brought on the fury. I looked at Ralston’s face, his nicely trimmed beard, and perfectly combed hair. I wondered what his last words would be. If he’d go out crying for his mommy. The thieving little cocksucker would get more than he expected out of his Vancouver seminar. Much more.
I only had about three weeks until he was in town so I started planning right away. My first stop was a trip to the library to Google him. I never did searches on a computer that could be traced. He popped out of cyberspace like magic.
Ralston had never been charged in the Victoria investment scam the professor mentioned in the Eagles Realm steam room. Estimates on how much he got ranged from $10 million dollars up. Several hundred unsophisticated investors were involved, most of them seniors. He had gotten away with it so far by hiding behind a numbered company, claiming it was a civil matter and that he had lost more than anyone.
He lived well, during those glory years. His principal residence was a 10-acre estate near Victoria overlooking the ocean. His modus operandi was to soften up investors by parading his own success. How could a guy this rich not be on the up-and-up? A lot of people fell for it.
Potential investors who met his monetary threshold got the full ticket. He loved unsophisticated people who had a couple of hundred grand in cash and were easy to impress. He didn’t care if it was their life savings or a windfall inheritance from a great aunt. He took it all.
But first he gave them the experience of a lifetime. He’d have them over to the estate for the weekend and cater to their every whim. Fresh lobster flown in from the Maritimes. Salmon fishing at Yellowpoint. Classical musicians. Breakfast delivered to your bedroom deck, looking out at the ocean. A chef from Vancouver flown in for black tie dinners. A cruise without the water. He had his clientele down pat.
He had a plane and an airstrip and would take bigger financial fish on impromptu flights. For the right client, he had tickets to the Super Bowl, hotel and flight included. Stanley Cup playoffs? No problem, he’d get them into a suite. He kept a place in Palm Springs and loved to be photographed with blow-dried women friends. He had a driver and could be frequently seen tooling around Victoria in the back seat of his royal purple Bentley.
When it all came crashing down, and everyone went running for their contracts and other paperwork, they discovered a section disguised in legalese baffle gab that somehow exonerated Ralston. The investors got the estate and the plane, but both were mortgaged to the hilt. The Bentley and all the other stuff was leased. The slick bastard left all the leasing firms chasing a numbered company for their money.
Fucking greedy son-of-a-bitch. Living like a king on money he steals from seniors. Flaunting the stolen money in their faces. I wondered how guys like him stayed alive. I got such a rush of hate I thought I was going to pass out. I tried to control myself by leaning forward, my head almost touching the keyboard. I’d forgotten where I was until I felt a light touch on my shoulder.
“Are you alright, sir.”
I raised my head, away from the inner ugliness, to a sight of purity and beauty.
“Sorry to bother you, but I was walking past and thought you might be in some difficulty.”
The woman was fine-featured, with light brown hair cut short. About 35 with a svelte figure and a soft caring manner. She was wearing a VPL name tag that said Holly. My mother’s name. My shoulder felt hot from her touch.
“Oh, I’m just taking a little break from the world.”
I don’t know why I said that. It just came out.
“We could all use a little break from the world,” she said it with gentleness. “Sometimes I find it all so overwhelming. Climate change, crime and wars, and now this Wolf thing. Sometimes I feel like putting my head down and keeping it there for a day or two.”
She laughed, sadly, and I felt sorry for the part I played in disrupting her world. The truth is, I’d never thought about the affect of the Wolf on the little people. I never thought of the little people at all, except as pawns of the predators.
“I guess I’ve been working too hard lately. I come to the library sometimes to do research. Without the interruptions I get at the office.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
I instantly regretted saying it. Why was I telling this woman, this complete stranger, anything about myself.
“Oh, that must be interesting. Do you write fiction or are you a journalist?”
“Is there a difference?”
She laughed again. More cheerful this time. Not forced.
“Actually, I’m more of a translator. I turn engineer-speak into English. I’m a technical writer.”
I caught her glancing at the computer screen behind me, as if to see what I was working on. I turned and clicked the screen off.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” she said.
“No bother, Holly.” It felt funny saying Mom’s name. “Maybe if we see each other again sometime we could have a coffee.”
“That would be nice.”
She was smartly dressed in a dark blue jacket and a charcoal skirt that came just below the knee. Why had I suggested coffee? What could we possibly have to say to each other? I had no interest in any woman but Kate. When she reached the end of the study carrels she turned and waved. Like she knew I’d be watching her walk away. I waved back.
I learned as much as I could about the slick ape over the next few weeks. A week before the seminar I phoned the Hyatt to see if Ralston was staying there. The desk clerk wouldn’t say, citing privacy concerns. I went down to the hotel to check out the layout.
The seminar was booked in The Rain Forest Room, one of the hotel’s smaller conference settings. It was an escalator ride up from the lobby, down a long hallway near an exit door. I went out the exit and down one flight of stairs. The door on the landing opened onto Seymour Street. I was only a block or so from the Cunningham kill site.
Everything about the hotel scared me. Too many people. Too many cameras.
I didn’t want to do him in the parking lot. The cops could close that off in a second. I assumed he would have a suite in the hotel where he could high roll his suckers, but I had no way of knowing for sure. I phoned the hotel Monday afternoon from a pay phone. It bothered me that I had to use the lowlife landline. I always wore gloves and kept the receiver away from my mouth.
“Hello sir, how are you today?”
“I’m fine sir.”
“That’s a fine way to be sir.”
“Can I help you.”
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Ralston.”
“Mr. Ralston won’t be arriving until tomorrow night, sir.
Would you like to leave a message?
“Yes, tell him Tim Edderly called. I’d like to talk to him about an investment.”
“Yes. Two ds. One l.”
“Is there a number you can be reached at, sir.”
“No. I’ll call after he settles in. Around supper time. Say 4:30 or five.”
“That will be fine, sir. I’ll give him your message.”
No security concerns today. There’s something to be said for poor staff training and inconsistent application of policy.