Trumpian times ripe for reflection

Regrets, I’ve had a few,

But then, again, too few to mention

–Frank Sinatra

When I am asked infrequently by someone younger for advice from the perspective of 70-plus years lived through decades of monumental change that have taken me from crayons and transistor radios to my iPad and Zoom (cue the theme from To Sir With Love), I have a standby answer.

Be careful of the life choices you make that reflect character, or lack thereof, because once made they are indelibly ingrained in the minds of all involved parties and they cannot be unremembered.

Like legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin’s decision to pull his pud during a televised conference call, they become part of your permanent record.

Subsequent personal epiphanies, moral upgrades, repentance, restitution, self-recrimination will not change the fact those decisions were made. Neither will regret.

As Frank so coolly crooned, to have regrets is to be human. The person who claims a life without regrets is either lying or a sociopath and/or self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. Remind you of anyone?

We are living in chaotic times, with death floating through the air in microscopic droplets and heightened potential for civil unrest and violence lurking just beneath the veneer of civilization.

Times ripe for regret.

Lazing on the couch under a light quilt, with the fireplace on glow and Molly the cat comfortably ensconced in the cloth canyon at my feet, my mind wanders into the miasma of regret, and after appropriate self examination and recrimination, drifts to the people supporting the Orange Megalomaniac’s attack on democracy’s most sacred institution.

Does Lindsay Graham regret the day he let go of mentor John McCain’s political coattails and coddled up to Trump’s low hanging red tie? Limp-wristed and soft-principled, Lindsay has established quite a permanent record of late.

The South Carolina Senator has lowered the political hypocrisy bar to limbo levels, recorded on tape and video for all the word to see. He embraced the man scorned by McCain’s widow and family for dishonoring his memory, then carried Trump’s stinky water pot as excrement splashed his politician’s suit. Putin could have no better servant, but it is Trump who will be in the first paragraph of Lindsay’s obit, haunting him into the grave.

I wonder if Rudy Giuliani former steely-eyed mafia prosecutor who dined out as America’s mayor for being in the right place at a terrible time, ever sets aside his glass of scotch, puffs obscenely on a fat cigar in a smoky New York private club, and thinks about his life, his three ex-wives, the children he continues to embarrass, the friends and former colleagues who try to fathom what happened. Does Rudy regret starting out as a Kennedy Democrat and ending up as Trump’s Chump, with black sweat running down his face as he debases himself? I picture his final moments, glass in hand, that crazed, bug-eyed, stained-lower-teeth-and-upper-gums-look on his face, shouting gibberish at his doctors and nurses. Another obit with Trump up top.

What about Kelly-Anne Conway. Does she sit alone in her den at night, the kids upstairs tucked into social media, husband George jealously tweeting insults at her Orange Man crush from the guest bedroom, and ponder the choices she made?

Does she look from the tasteful leather couch to the mahogany desk to the custom bookcases and think back to her family time before Trump? When her, George, and the kids could go out without people staring and wondering, hostility seething just below the surface. Forever fixed in the history of the Republic as the Trumpiest Trumpette, the squeaky-voice coiner of ‘alternative facts,’ the gangster’s granddaughter who made it all the way to the White House but at the cost of her teenage daughter publicly seeking emancipation from a dysfunctional family.

Does Mike Pompeo, once an obscure congressman turned under Trump into his world-class Secretary of Sycophancy, ever lean back into his first class seat while traveling the globe at taxpayer expense, close his eyes and let his mind wander back to his days at West Point, where he graduated at the top of his class? Does the Honor Code he swore to uphold in his youth—“A Cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”—reverberate in his thoughts? Does he ask himself how he got so far from that youthful ideal? How his un-Christ-like lust for power turned him into a puffy apologist for the biggest cheat and liar ever to dishonor the office of the Presidency. Trump will be in the first graph when the last words are written about Mike, the Evangelical Christian who sullied his faith and the Cadet Code.

With her first statement to the assembled reporters about never telling them a lie cemented in her permanent record, will White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany regret starting her job with a whopper? Will the Harvard Law School graduate and flaunter of a fine gold crucifix someday tell her grandchildren that the first decades of the new Millennium were a time of “alternative facts?” Will she misremember the criminal sexual deviant she revered above her Christian values as someone they should model themselves after? Will she regret the choices she made in the time of COVID?

What about Melania? Does she reflect on her life while perfecting her model’s pout in front of the mirror in her White House quarters, safely away from her husband’s toxic presence? Does she ask herself how someone with her cheekbones and legs that go all the way ended up with a fat old man who paints his face orange and swoops his lacquered dyed locks over a bald spot into a greasy orange ducktail?

Was Barron and getting her parents green cards worth a gilt-accessorized life with a repulsive narcissist whose touch makes her skin crawl? Does she have regrets about their meeting, when he showed his character by ignoring his date to get her phone number? Does she think back to the last time she saw him naked, flabby hairless chest as big as her own, belly hanging obscenely above a mushroom dick, hair hanging to his shoulder on one side revealing the shameful baldness? Does she think, “My God, what have I done”? Or does she set her jaw and stare into the mirror, and say to nobody in particular, “I really don’t care, do you?”

Anyone who has even casually followed these disgraceful times of Trump in a pandemic will no doubt have their own list of characters with room for regret. There’s Pious Mike Pence, Moscow Mitch McConnell, Sean Big Crowd Spicer, Sarah The Huckster Sanders, Evil Elf Jeff Sessions, Rick The Good Catholic Santorum, Loudmouths For Hire Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and all the braying Fox friends, Ben Trump Gave Me COVID Carson, Steve The Mint Man Mnuchin, Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt, Dr. Demented David Atlas, senators, governors, diplomats and orange ass kissers of every sordid ilk.

The list is way too long for a lazy afternoon of reflection on the couch.

I invite your comments.

Naked U.S. an ugly place

Put on your MAGA hats, Ed and Martha, grab a beer and some chicken wings and settle into the couch to watch your cities burn on Fox News. Finally some live entertainment on a Sunday afternoon. Aren’t you feeling great again? Put on some popcorn, Uncle Leroy.

As the U.S. implodes amid a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed, the President has a conspiracy theory to sell about a TV host who got away with murder.

Not relevant?

How about:

‘The pinko ‘lamestream media’ is spurring rioters on to help the Dems.’

‘Obama, a criminal mastermind, is behind the whole thing.’

‘Anarchists and atheists want to bring the country down.’

‘The dark state did it.’

‘A diabolical Chinese plot.’

Switch over to MSNBC and you’ll hear talk of white supremacists, right wing militias and racist Republicans acting in consort with Russian social media bots.

With the President preening for the cameras at a ground-breaking rocket launch heralded as the new era of space travel, images of arson and looting beam from circling satellites into the living rooms of the world.

America, land of opportunity and riots.

The right blames the left and the left blames the right but from the perspective of an outsider all Americans are responsible for what the great experiment in democracy has become in The Year of Our Lord 2020.

Donald J. Trump is a symptom of the rot, not the cause. That 40-plus percent of Americans support a pathological liar, an ignorant, venal, charity-cheating bully that no caring parent wants their child to grow up to be, says everything an outsider needs to know about the state of the country.

But even the most fervent Trump critics share responsibility. He got elected on the watch of all Americans because you have allowed your precious democratic system to devolve into a partisan pit of celebrity worship, money-grubbers and power-grabbers.

You accept the fiction that your judicial system is blind as each political party that comes to power rushes to fill court vacancies with judges who peek under the blindfold with a partisan view of the world.

You embrace dog-eat-dog capitalism that leaves millions of your children reliant on school lunches for nutrition and tens of millions without adequate health coverage.

Socialism, the system in which society takes care of the most vulnerable, is a dirty word in American politics.

You imprison more of your own people, a disproportionate number of them non-white, than any country in the world. It’s not even close.

You condone men armed with assault rifles defiling your democratic institutions and threatening your elected representatives.

You revere a constitution written hundreds of years ago by slave-owners, who did not consider red, black, yellow or brown people to be their equals.

You cling to the belief that no man is above the law but allow a President to pardon co-conspirators in his crimes. You remain passive as lawyers argue in earnest that the President cannot be investigated even if he shoots someone in broad daylight on Fifth Ave.

In the end, the finger-pointing of the left and right has little merit in face of the facts. America is leading the world in Covid-19 deaths and in the early stages of an economic earthquake that’s ramifications could make the Great Depression seem like a minor tremor.

The downtrodden and disaffected will not go gently into the good night of economic despair as they did in the 1930s, riding the rails in desperate searches for work to feed their families.

The world is watching a prelude of what is to come in November if the man Americans have entrusted with their liberty loses and refuses to accept the results of what he is already touting as a rigged election.

Americans have been careless with their precious democracy for quite some time, watching as majority rule gave way to corporate elites who control the money.

The empire has no clothes and it’s not a pretty sight. The self-proclaimed ‘greatest country in the world’ is being exposed in real time as a divided, diseased, feckless, flabby, degenerate country rife with grievance and inequality, seething with violence.

The Birdman of Okanagan

In these low times of Donald Trump and the global pandemic I have taken to spending part of each day watching birds from my dining room window. As far as I can make out, the pandemic is doing them no harm.

I’ve always had a thing for birds. We had several budgies growing up and a pair of canaries, named Fred and Wilma after the Flintstones, who were big at the time. The ringing phone would set old Fred off and he would trill at maximum volume for the first few minutes of a call. Exhilarating but irritating if you had important matters to discuss, as a kid does.

As a youngster, I made several attempts at rescuing baby birds that had fallen from their nests, mostly sparrows and robins, nursing them with milk from eyedroppers with mixed results. When I was old enough to get out and about on my own, I took up the curious hobby of egg hunting.

Looking back, I suppose it had the same pull for a young Alberta boy as hunting did for some friends. I stalked birds armed with my Red Ryder BB gun a couple of times but didn’t have the heart for it once I saw my quarry fall bleeding to the ground. It felt like murder.

Egg collecting was a thing back in the day when kids were allowed to roam free. My buddies and I would go on expeditions into the woods, fields and sloughs on the outskirts of Edmonton in search of bird nests. The idea was to take a single egg from the nest, bring it home, delicately prick it with a pin at both ends and gently blow the yolk through the bottom hole leaving only the shell, which would be carefully placed in a jigsaw puzzle box filled with sawdust in order of large to small. I think I got somewhere around the 50-mark, the largest being a goose and the smallest a chickadee.

In my early teens I had visions of raising and training falcons. I got books on falconry at the library and eventually settled on Kestrels, small falcons common to the prairies also known as Sparrow Hawks. A friend and I rode our bikes to St. Albert, about 10 kilometers, where I had discovered a nest in a hole in a tree in the bush across from my uncle’s farm. I took the fluffy grey gaffer home but made little progress with the complicated business of training, which required leather hoods and an assortment of paraphernalia, as well as patience and discipline which I did not possess.

Sparrow Hawks, though mercifully not as long-lived as parrots, are cantankerous and noisy. They do not sing but instead emit ear damaging screeches when hungry and can shoot a stream of liquid shit six feet. They require dead animals with fur for digestion and I had to overcome my earlier squeamishness and shoot sparrows baited with bread crumbs on the back lawn (murder with a purpose, like the hunters say), then throw their quivering still warm little bodies into the cage. My mom let me keep dead gophers in the freezer.

One morning I found my poor falcon dead, with its feet sticking straight up. I have not kept a caged bird since. Of all God’s creatures, they are meant to be free. Which brings me back to my dining room window.

I have recorded 30-odd species at the bird feeders, which located only a foot or so from the glass afford a great opportunity for up-close watching. There is much to observe once you discern the various idiosyncrasies of the bird world.

I would have traded two glossy white Red-Shafted Flicker eggs for a California Quail egg in my youth. The bird that is ubiquitous here in the desert was a no-show in the colder climate of Edmonton.

California Quail are comical in that they sport head feathers reminiscent of the helmet adornments of Roman soldiers in old Hollywood epics. Like most birds, the male’s head feather is more resplendent, as is his coloring. They tend to travel in bunches divided into pairs and are prodigious breeders. The female lays up to 18 eggs in a ground nest often located under a clump of overgrown grass. I once found one in the side yard while mowing the lawn.

What sets them apart in the bird world is they prefer walking to flight, although they have no trouble assuming high perches when on lookout duty. It is always a delight to watch the clan walking up the paths on their daily visits to the feeder, especially when the tiny yellow chicks are scuttling between mom and dad.

Life is dangerous in the desert for a scuttling baby bird without its flying feathers and there is no doubt a high mortality rate. Even so, they are multiplying in numbers that are severely cutting into my bird food allowance. California Quail are voracious eaters and a decade into being their main provider I have the distinct feeling I am feeding not only parents and their offspring but also grandkids and assorted cousins.

When the feeder is empty, a lookout is posted in a tree overlooking the yard. As soon as I open the storage box where the seed is kept, the familiar call rings out through the neighbourhood, a kind of high-pitched ka-ka-kii-ii sound that alerts their fellow freeloaders. Within minutes of the full feeder being placed on the stand, the flock descends on the yard to peck and scratch the grass and the rocky ground beneath the feeder, which is what California Quail are supposed to do. But somewhere along the way an enterprising Quail discovered the eating was easier if he flapped his wings a couple of times and perched on the feeder.

The problem being, from a birdwatchers’ perspective, is that two or three fat Quail perched on the feeder leave little room for the small songbirds trying to get a meal in. I rectified this problem somewhat by placing a second feeder filled with Nyjer, a pricier confection preferred by finches. These melodic members of the bird community come in a variety of colours from the Purple House Finch to the bright yellow canary-like American Gold Finch.

I have counted upwards of 35 California Quail in the side yard and the same number of White-crowned Sparrows, who forage the grass in lightning quick two-footed hops if there is no room at the feeder.

Perhaps the most serene visitors are a pair of Mourning Doves that alight on the stand’s metal perches and politely wait their turn. Mourning Doves, a variety of pigeon, come in creamy grey with delicate black necklaces. Their soft coo is soothing.

Chickadees, though the smallest of the side yard’s feathered habitués, are perhaps the torquiest, ounce for ounce. They are usually in and out in a matter of seconds but will boldly descend with an unmoving human only a foot or so away. One once stopped on my shoulder for a moment before flitting off on more important business. Their distinctive chickadee-dee-dee call, rising in octaves on the latter two syllables, is always a delight.

We feed tiny Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest breeding bird in North America, at the front feeder, away from the backyard hubbub. The males are extremely aggressive; they dive bomb and buzz each other in dazzling aerial displays.

For an old egg hunter, no bird call heralds the arrival of spring like the trill of a Redwing Blackbird. They nest in the wetlands adjacent to the lakes and sloughs, weaving their nests in the reeds above the water. They must be well-connected on the bird telegraph because in early spring, with eggs in the nest, they frequently make the short flight from the water’s edge to the Maloney’s smorgasbord. 

Like all communities the bird world has its villains. I know they’re coming before they touch down by the immediate and instinctive vacating of the feeder by all other birds. The most frequent visiting villain is the Stellar’s Jay. Beautifully blue, with large black beaks and impressive feathered cowlicks, they brook no interference when it comes to a free meal. A pair has been nesting in the Ponderosa Pine on the other side of the house for several years, but they are only occasional visitors to the feeder, preferring other birds’ eggs and their young to seeds and kernels of corn. They screech unharmoniously and are aggressive in manner.

Top dog at the bird feeder, if that is an apt way to describe a flying work of art, is the much maligned Magpie. Although not gifted with a melodic call, these ubiquitous birds observed up close are stunning in their iridescent beauty. Black and white, with sheens of deep blue that literally shine in the right angle of the sun, Magpies are also eaters of other birds’ eggs and babies and as such are unwelcome the Darth Vaders of the song bird community. Last year a pair nested in the rose bush at the foot of the driveway. When they vacated the premises, a California Quail couple moved right in, as I discovered while pruning the bush. The Quail sometimes produce two broods a year.

The world of birds is fraught with danger. To watch them at length is to know they are aware of their precarious perch on the planet, constantly on the lookout, swiveling heads monitoring their environment, flight reflexes on high alert for instant takeoff. Pandemic-like precautions are an everyday thing for our feathered friends.

Chapter 11: Last Howl on the Hill

Go to previous chapter – Chapter 10: For Sale Death House

As we all now know, Thorsby was wrong about doing the woman. The press put Ralston’s shady dealings under a spotlight and his wife was deemed guilty by association. Lay preacher or not. I overheard a couple in a coffee shop joking that she should have ‘kept better company.’ Osterwich reported that a Wolf letter had been found but for reasons known only to them, police continued to withhold its contents. The brass and politicians probably wanted to discourage Wolf wannabes. It didn’t work.

The third copycat Wolf shooting happened in San Francisco about a week after Ralston and Amy hit the news. A banker got taken out leaving his golf club. A note was left behind citing the Wolf. Then there were two in one day. A city council member shot to death in his Chicago office and the mayor of a small California town assassinated as she sat in her car at a stop light. The killer threw a note tied around a rock through the broken driver’s side window.

An oilman was gunned down in Calgary and a Conservative Senator, whose recent patronage appointment had garnered a lot of negative press, was blasted with a shotgun outside his Ottawa apartment. None of the notes were released to the public but authorities confirmed all the killings had been done in the Wolf’s name.

Things were quiet for a week, then another round of shootings started. Two in Dallas a couple days apart, one in Los Angeles, another in Minneapolis, and two in Miami on the same day. A Regina lawyer was killed by a sniper who mailed his note to the man’s office. A Kamloops businessman lost his head to a shotgun blast. It heartened me that, though clearly outgunned, Canadians were doing their part.

Arrests had already been made in several cases. The bottom-liners were calling it insurrection. Asking for military intervention. Howling in the media like frightened wolves while the sheep went about their daily business, complacent.

Emily had been right, a movement caught hold. Honestly, it surprised me. I didn’t think enough little people had it in them. I knew that some of the killings attributed to the ‘Wolf Pack Murders,’ as the press labeled them, were personal or done out of greed. Taking advantage of the chaos, one bottom-liner onto another. It didn’t matter. The sheep were waking up.

And so was I.

“What do you have to say about Dr. Adams now dear?”

We were sitting in a Greek place on Commercial Drive after a splendid meal and a couple carafes of sangria. Things had been going well between us for months, even though I had exploded at her once or twice. She saw my anger as a good thing. She called it emotional release. Maybe it was. I felt restored after letting go but I don’t feel good about it looking back. Kate deserved better.

“I’m not sure Adams can take all the credit, but I’ll admit things are smoother.”

The truth is, I was feeling better than I’d ever felt. Not walking on the clouds. Just even. Without all the severe turbulence. What I imagined to be normal.

“All I care about is the real Roger is out. The kind, caring man I saw behind the gruff exterior when I accepted your proposal. The man I’ll love ‘til death do us part.”

I put my hands on top of the table and she placed hers over mine. The connection felt so good. Warm and tingly, like my last moments with the doomed.

As predicted, there was a fall election. Kate put in a lot of time working for that smarmy prick Goodwen. He won our riding in a landslide. Another four years of wallowing in the trough. Four years closer to his gold-plated pension. I’d met Goodwen several times, the last at his recent election night victory celebration. Kate introduced me again that night. The phony fuck pretended to remember who I was. He had the Bill Clinton handshake down pat. Firm, with a light touch on the elbow with his free hand.

“You’re a lucky guy Roger, having a wife like Kate. She practically ran the whole campaign herself. It’s people like your wife who make politics worthwhile.”

There it was again. The fiction that politicians are somehow doing a difficult job, sacrificing lucrative private opportunities for the greater good. Bunch of smooth-talking fucking grifters. If he hadn’t brown-nosed his way into a secure NDP riding the guy would be selling used cars at some corner lot.

“I think politics would be a lot more worthwhile if people like Kate actually ran for office. But selfless people rarely crave power. They’re too busy helping people and much too innocent to make it in the cutthroat world of party politics.”

I said it with a smile. Like a true politician, he ignored the insult and moved on to spread his bullshit around the room. Kate gave me a whispered dressing down as soon as he left.

“This is a happy night, Roger. There’s no need for unpleasantness.”

She was right, of course. I tamped down the bitterness and put on a good show for the rest of the evening. After all, the NDP was the party of the little people and I was their champion. But I wasn’t alone in my poor opinion of politics. Of the 70-odd people shot in the Wolf’s name to date, 31 were elected officials. Second to bankers and financial finaglers but ahead of lawyers. I kept track in those early days of the sheep insurrection.

Those readers with a tolerance for darkness who have persevered through this grim narrative will understand by now that this is an unvarnished account of the People’s Wolf killings. No heroes, only villains. Innocents like my dear wife Kate, who would not have read this far if she was around for its publication, may condemn the worldwide carnage. Law enforcement who worked the cases have no doubt been engrossed, knowing beyond doubt that I am the real deal. The various blowhards and pontificating know-everythings exposed by the real story will furiously rewrite the history of their prognostications as they wipe egg from their chins. I write only to keep the record straight.

What follows is an exact description of the bloodletting that spurred the Wolf Pack on international fronts and ended my enthusiasm for the job of the People’s Wolf. Forget all other bullshit you have heard. Although all writers, even confessing serial killers, hope readers remain rapt through the final sentence, the more sensitive among you could not be faulted for tuning out before this story’s murderous denouement.

Not long after that political celebration, the turbulence ramped up. I hadn’t seen Adams for months. The Wolf killings had tapered to a trickle, then stopped. The count got stuck at 79. Fifty-eight in the U.S., 20 in Canada and one in Germany.

The pride I felt at taking out Ralston and igniting a fire under the little people was tempered by the death of Amy Collier and the memory of that bloody death-smell room. Killing people wasn’t clean, like in the movies. It was dirty business and I’d had enough. The torch had been passed. I’d done my part. Risked enough. I had Kate to think about and a new appreciation for love.

In retrospect, part of why I’d been feeling so good was simple relief. I wouldn’t have to take that terrible risk again. No more spinning the chamber.  Life, though meaningless, seemed worth living. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t care. It just did. I didn’t get rid of the gun, though. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready.

Even with the minor turbulence, I got through the Christmas season on an even keel. Kate dragged me to the Downtown Eastside to help dole out a Christmas meal to the zombies and ghouls who inhabited Canada’s poorest postal code. I didn’t find it to be the uplifting experience she did. The volunteers were enough to sour me on the whole experience. A bunch of hypocrites who took a day off from their fancy bottom-line lives to feel superior. What had Adams said? “There wouldn’t be any do-gooders if it didn’t make them feel good.” Maxwell Smart’s stupid sayings were always intruding into my thoughts. ‘Turbulence.’ ‘Quiet time.’ The hokey little hairless one had gotten to me.

The volunteer next to me on the food line was a lawyer with Cunningham’s firm. Can you imagine? He’s serving food beside the guy who took out his esteemed colleague, his most feared late-night bogie man. By the beatific look on his face you’d think he was Mother Theresa instead of a sharpie who billed his time out at $500 an hour. Imagine this pretentious prick convincing anybody one hour of his time was worth more than a week’s wages for a guy with a shovel in his hand? I accidentally slopped gravy on his shirt and designer jeans.

“Sorry sir, the spoon slipped.”

It didn’t faze him. He grabbed a napkin and dabbed at the stain.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got a load at home to go to the dry cleaners next week.”

He probably spent enough on dry cleaning in a year to feed one of the zombies. How did the world get so fucked up? On the way home in the car, Kate was beaming.

“What a nice way to spend Christmas. The holidays should be all about helping the less fortunate. Did you see the looks on people’s faces? So grateful for so little. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have no home, no family, not even enough money for a meal. We’re so lucky dear.”

In my view, Kate had mistaken gratitude for resentment. Christmas hadn’t turned the zombies and ghouls into emotionally crippled Tiny Tims. Most of them had burned all the bridges in their lives. They’d fucked over everyone they knew so many times that their family and friends had given up. I had no doubt they’d fuck over the volunteers feeding them if given the chance. I felt no empathy for life’s losers. Didn’t see them as sheep. More like rodents. I didn’t say that though. Kate’s happiness had become important to me.

“We are lucky. Lucky to be born in a country with more than enough to go around. Lucky to have each other.”

I reached over and patted her hand.

“I love you Roger.”

“I love you too, Kate. Being with you is my Christmas present.”

By mid-January, life’s brightness faded to dull grey. Not total darkness but enough to warn of a coming storm. My mood matched the overcast Vancouver sky in winter. It was coming on to a year since the Donald Wayne ‘shootout’ and almost six months since Ralston and Amy went to their afterlives. The Wolf copycat killings had stopped, as if the little people were waiting for a signal from their leader.

I didn’t have another candidate in mind or enough anger left to undertake another mission. I hadn’t seen Adams since his skinhead conversion and wasn’t planning another visit. Kate was okay with it as long as I stayed out of the complete blackness.

Then it happened. The fucking camera thing.

Although Goodwen had won his seat, the Liberals had taken the election handily and were planning to implement one of their campaign promises—photo radar. The idea, championed by a car dealer who masqueraded as a cabinet minister, was abhorrent to me. Alarm bells should have been ringing in every dwelling in the province but instead the little people were going along, like the sheep they still were.

The plan was to put cameras at stoplights and along sections of road where speeding was endemic. At first glance it sounded reasonable. Catch the speeders and the drivers who ran orange lights and send them a notice in the mail with the accompanying fine. A steady source of government income paid for by miscreants who flouted traffic laws.

I knew better. Cameras were a powerful weapon for the bottom-liners. A way they could monitor the movements of the little people with minimal manpower. How could the People’s Wolf operate with cameras on every corner? I couldn’t let it go unchallenged.

The cabinet minister’s name was Ron Saltzman. He had a GM dealership on Marine Drive—Saltzman on Marine–that was supposedly placed in trust while he served the people. He had been promoting the idea of photo radar for years. A camera on every corner was a government cash cow, like casino gambling, which Saltzman also championed. Every time his name got in the news, business at his car dealership picked up. Promoting gambling and cameras kept him in the news.

He was the personification of a bottom-liner. A high-value predator. Being a shill for casinos was one thing but pushing for more cameras was taking it to a different and more dangerous level. Many of you will see my aversion to cameras as self-serving. After all, “Why worry if you’re not doing anything wrong? Right?”

Wrong.

Information is the bottom-liners’ most powerful weapon. Nothing else comes close. Forget about the gun nuts living in the last millennium howling for access to all manner of fire power, the Second Amendment idiots and their mouth-breathing Canadian counterparts. They are too stupid to understand what the bottom-liners long ago figured out. Monitoring the movements and goings on of the little people is key to staying in control.

All it takes to rid the bottom-liners of 100 little people armed to the teeth and baying for insurrection, is a precision drone strike on the garage where they meet. One fat flunky, maybe somebody like Thorsby, can track them all on central screens then press a button at the appropriate time. End of problem.

The little people who swallow Saltzman’s bullshit pre-suppose that in 50 years the world will remain as benign a place for their grandchildren as it was for them, and that the bottom-liners’ malfeasance as well-controlled. I take it as a given, with the weight of history to back me up, that the opposite is true.

As sure as there were dinosaurs, Darwin’s predators will keep on preying on the weak and, by evolutionary mandate, rising to the top. The gap will widen between the top predators and the prey. And with all other species subjugated, the only sport left will be keeping little people in their place. I envision cameras on every street corner, TVs with microphones in every living room, GPS standard in every phone and vehicle, smart meters monitoring all in-home activity and satellites tracking everything from above. The digital table will be set for the next Hitlerian psychopath who rises from the sludge to slaughter more sheep.

These are the kind of futuristic thoughts that bounced around before I made my decision to unretire. I couldn’t let Saltzman expand camera use in the Wolf’s home turf without a response. To do so would be to make all the other deaths the work of a madman. A coward who would live forever in darkness.

So I went back to the Roman Ruins, as the Vancouver library was euphemistically known. Inexplicably, the renowned library architect had emulated the Roman Coliseum, with a huge enclosed concourse running down one side. It had no connection to its surroundings. Nothing to do with the West Coast or the rain forest. No doubt the bottom-liners made out like bandits building it.

There was a lot of material to go through on Saltzman. He’d been a public figure since his mid-20s, when he played linebacker for the Lions. A bad knee injury cut his career short. He segued from football fame into car sales and eventually got his own dealership. He was one of those shameless self-promoters who do their own commercials. He had served two terms as president of the Vancouver Board of Trade and was a go-to guy for the media whenever they wanted bottom-liner comment.

The guy led a busy life. He was a long-time member of the Vancouver Tennis Club. The perfect place to schmooze with swells. He curled in winter in a senior men’s league with three other car dealers. He helped coach high school football at a Catholic school.

He was on his second marriage and had two kids by each wife. All girls. The youngest, at age 14, lived with him and his second wife in Southlands, a toney rural enclave on Vancouver’s West Side at the mouth of the Fraser River. A fantasy world of stables and fenced estates, where the predators wear jodhpurs and ride their horses down the streets. A community heavy with security.

I immediately dismissed Southlands because of the high-end security and the possibility of private patrols. Also, there were only a couple of exit routes onto Marine Drive. I didn’t want to do him at work. Government offices tend to be monitored and I doubted I’d catch him at his constituency office after dark toiling away for the little people. I’d have to get him when he was at play.

Good thing it was curling season.

“Hello, again, Mr. Technical Writer. You’re looking more upbeat today.”

I looked away from the screen to see a familiar VPL tag.

“Hello Holly. You’ve got a good memory.”

“It’s an occupational hazard. Librarians are trained to remember obscure facts and interesting things. I don’t often come across an attractive man contemplating the state of the world with his head in his hands. How is the translating business going?”

As you may recall, Holly had approached me while I was researching Ralston, another lifetime ago, and I’d impulsively suggested that we have coffee.

“Well none of the libraries I go to have such caring and attractive employees. Do librarians get coffee breaks?

I can’t tell you why I brought up the coffee thing or where it came from. I hadn’t thought of her since that time before Ralston.

“Yes, but not as many as writers. And not for as long.”

“Time enough to go to Starbucks in the concourse?”

“I’d like that. But you’ll have to introduce yourself first. I never go for coffee with a man until I know his name.”

“Paul Carter.”

Bad choice. Stupid. Saying it filled me with shame. The whole thing was ridiculous.

“I’ll come back in about 15 minutes. Would that be okay?”

Walking to Starbucks involved two minutes of nervous small talk. It had the feeling of a first date among Roman ruins. Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn or some such shit. Can you fucking believe it? I didn’t know what I was doing or why. I had no intention of becoming involved with this woman. Yet there we were, drinking chai latte, sharing intimacies. At least she was.

She seemed pleasant and easy to listen to, but I wasn’t used to personal conversation. The niceties involved. The only person I really communicated with besides Kate was Thorsby. My only friend.

Talking with Holly required little more than a nod or shake of the head at appropriate intervals, with a few hmms and the odd monosyllabic reply thrown in. It amazed me how much information she provided about herself. If only I could have coffee with Saltzman’s wife.

Things were going swimmingly until she mentioned being a widow with two teenagers. When she said it, negative energy enshrouded me. And, for a moment, wild paranoia. The same name as my mother? A widow with two teens–Amy Collier? She had approached me twice. Remembered what I did for a living six months later. A cop?

The thought of it sucked me into a jet stream of turbulence. For a few seconds, my thoughts were bouncing so hard I couldn’t form a cohesive sentence. I nodded a couple of times and took the first opening.

“You’re a delightful conversationalist, Holly, but I have a meeting in Burnaby in less than an hour.”

I lied smoothly, like a good bottom-liner.

“I’m sorry to have kept you so long,” she said with good humor, pushing her chair back. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from important work. The world needs good men doing important work.”

“No need to rush off this minute.” I couldn’t let it go. “Please, finish your thought, and your coffee. No meeting is too important that a writer can’t arrive a few minutes late. We have poetic licence.”

She settled back into her chair and fixed piercing eyes on me over her Starbucks cup.

“You know, it wasn’t long after I met you that the Wolf Pack killings started up again. First a double murder only a few miles from here then the copycat killings that followed in other places. A lot of people got scared. Things were coming apart. I hoped you’d come back to the library. Something about you made me feel safe.”

“Holly, I would hazard that your chances are much higher of being hit by a bus then being killed by the Wolf. From what I’ve read, you’re not his type.”

“I don’t disagree with everything he does you know. My father got taken in by that man Ralston. He lost all the money from his house and it ruined the last ten years of his life. That’s why I noticed you were reading about Ralston when you had your head down on the keyboard the last time. Did he take advantage of someone you loved.”

My spidey senses quivered. Warning signals or pure paranoia?

“That’s an extremely small circle of people, none of whom are given to dealing with flim flam artists. I think Ralston was financing a project for an architectural firm we do work for. I’d have to go back to my files.”

“Thanks so much for the coffee Paul. I feel better about the world knowing there are strong men doing important things.”

An odd choice of words. I stood at the railing and watched her walk away and disappear through the door. Her chances of getting done in by the Wolf as opposed to a bus were 50-50 by the end of our conversation.

I didn’t go to a meeting in Burnaby. I started for home but was too shaken up, so I went down to New Brighton Park to clear my head. I parked the car in the deserted parking lot and walked through the tunnel toward the grassy fields. The place was empty except for a few ducks paddling around the rainwater at the bottom of the outdoor pool.

I walked to the pier then out over the water. Nobody was out boating in the drizzle. Not even a dog walker in sight. The two grain elevators next door to the park stood idle, awaiting a ship to bring them to life. I sat on a bench and stared at the cloud-shrouded North Shore mountains across the inlet.

The encounter with Holly fucked me up. Badly. The reference to Ralston was what sent me over the top. She had to be a cop. If that was the case, they were on to me. But if they were on to me why didn’t they arrest me? They couldn’t just leave me out there to kill someone else. They must be following me 24/7. How could they be onto me? It didn’t seem possible when I thought about it rationally. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was having a panic attack.

It started with a quickening of my breath, sharp and shallow, and turned into full-on hyperventilating. Fear flowed over and through me. Became me, as I became it. I saw the police tearing apart my home, Kate standing off to the side, distraught. I pictured them seizing my work computer and confiscating Adams’ files. I thought of being in a cell, alone at last.

The fear followed me home from New Brighton. It stayed close, letting me know my hold on normality was tenuous. Too tenuous to contemplate at length without the fear taking over. Too tenuous to hold on for long.

Looking back, I can see the fear came from within. Born of weak character rather than being related to getting caught. It wasn’t rational fear, a natural human reaction to impending danger. It was all encompassing and ever-present. Swallowing me in its folds, poisoning my thoughts with its noxious stink. I feared I wasn’t strong enough to face the future, whatever that would be. To admit that was to invite death.

I finished my research on Saltzman at internet cafes, half expecting Holly to walk up with a coffee in her hand. I decided to do him at the curling rink, or at least in its parking lot. His team, The Happy Dealers, played Tuesday night at the municipal curling club near Queen Elizabeth Park. The old rink had been revamped for the Olympics and the parking lot had been pushed north, beneath a towering stand of trees that cast shadows in moonlight.

I went down to Q.E. Park Tuesday about 6 p.m. I parked on a side street about six blocks away and walked to the curling club. My hands buried in the hoodie’s pouch. One of them gripping the gun. I liked doing surveillance.

Carrying the gun was super dangerous but I wanted to be ready in case an opportunity came up, like the first time with Donald Wayne. I sat down at a bus stop across from the parking lot entrance and waited. A couple of buses stopped, and little people got out, silently going about their business in the dark. No one noticed the guy in the grey hoodie and ball cap. No one knew they were in special company.

When I saw Saltzman drive up about five to seven, I was rushing on adrenalin, a couple of heart beats short of vibrating. Everything was crystal clear. Sharp. I could see the lines on Saltzman’s face through the car window when he slowed to turn. He drove a Lincoln Navigator. Top of the line. Probably used the little people’s money to lease it to himself. I’m surprised the prick didn’t have a driver.

He did have passengers, though. Three of them. The Happy Dealers, I assumed. I watched him pull into a parking space on the far corner of the lot, under a massive weeping willow. I got up and crossed the street. I kept my pace slow. A curling enthusiast headed for the ice.

The Happy Dealers were in a jovial mood, bantering back and forth with the usual bullshit that passed for bottom-liner bonhomie. I cut between cars. They were about 15 feet from me, milling around the back of the Navigator getting their brooms. They hadn’t noticed me. The gun felt solid in my hand.

“Nice night for curling,” I said it cordially as I approached.

Only one of them took any notice. A little guy with glasses who looked familiar. Maybe I’d seen him in a car commercial.

“Yeah, great,” he boomed. His voice was bigger than he was. “Every night’s a great night for getting your rocks off.”

Something about the way he said it stopped me from shooting. An old curling joke. But it still got a laugh from the Happy Dealers. I could hear them bantering back and forth about Viagra as they walked to the club.

As soon as I reached the darkness of the park I circled back towards the car. I stopped under a huge cedar to regroup and have a piss. My whole body was shaking from the adrenalin rush. Or was it fear? I barely got my dick out in time or I would have pissed myself.

I walked back to the car berating myself for even contemplating taking them out on impulse. I thought I’d do them all right up until the last second. When the guy made the joke. Fear and good sense held me back. Too dangerous. Too much activity. Too many targets. Plus, the Happy Dealers were armed, if only with brooms, and one of them was a former linebacker. I only had six bullets. Five counting the one I might need for myself. Four kills with five shots would have cemented the Wolf’s legend. So would being taken down by men with brooms.

I couldn’t shake the fear. It stayed with me all the time now. From the moment my conscious mind switched on in the morning until it shut down from exhaustion in the early hours. I sat in the car for quite a while, the fear pecking away at my resolve. Preventing me even from putting the key in the ignition and driving away. I had no clue what was going on. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Can the predator that surrenders to fear survive. I didn’t think so.

I’m not sure how much time passed before I got it together enough to turn the car on. A half hour. Maybe more. It suddenly hit me that sitting in a parked car looked suspicious. I worried a neighbor might call the cops so I drove down to Broadway and had sushi.

I phoned the curling club from the pay phone in front of the Holiday Inn to find out when league play ended. A nice lady told me ‘9:30 or thereabouts.’

I parked on the street a little way past the bus stop, pointing in the direction Saltzman had arrived from. The nice lady knew her customers. The club parking lot started emptying about 9:35. The Dealers were among the last out, brooms on their shoulders like rifles. The men with brooms thing creeped me out. I kept picturing Paul Gross in his red Mountie suit. I knew I was close to the abyss.

Saltzman fucked me up by turning the other way when he came out of the parking lot. I swung a u-turn on the first side street and got behind him two cars back. The fear was gone now, forced out by adrenalin. Bringing the gun and my earlier impromptu walk in the parking lot aside, I hadn’t planned to do him on this night. The others weren’t part of the plan. This was simply reconnaissance.

He was heading east along the north edge of the park towards Main Street. It surprised me when he turned right into the park. I wasn’t going to follow at first. The cops could close the park off in seconds. But I turned anyway and that is how the Hilltop Massacre came about. I shit you not.

When he took the left fork to the top of the hill along the North Side of the park, time slowed. That’s the only way I can put it. I immediately realized he had to be going to the restaurant parking lot to drop the Dealers at their cars. There was nothing else to do at the top of the hill on a Tuesday night in February. Well, almost nothing. They must have gone for dinner first and gone to the rink in one car.

The risk was huge, but I knew I would not get another chance like this. I formed the plan as we drove, keeping just out of Saltzman’s rear view mirror as we negotiated the curves. I couldn’t get too far behind because I had to do them in the car, without their brooms. If things didn’t work out, I’d circle the parking lot and drive home.

As fate would have it, things fell perfectly into place on that cool and now famous night. The restaurant closed early in winter and everyone was gone. There were only two cars left in the lot. Saltzman was pulling the Navigator in beside one of them. I put on my four-way flashers as I entered the lot and honked the horn twice to distract them from leaving the car.

I took my hat off, put it in my lap and pulled alongside the Navigator on the driver’s side. Too close for Saltzman to get his door open. I rolled down the passenger window and smiled reassuringly while mouthing nonsense at him and pointing at the back end of his car. When he rolled down his window, I shot him in the face.

He gave me a quizzical look a second before I fired. Almost comical. Like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

I got out and moved quickly around the back of the two vehicles to come up on the Navigator’s passenger side. The little guy with the booming voice was halfway out of the back seat looking scared shitless. I aimed for his head but hit him just below the neck and he dropped to the pavement. The dumb fuck in the front seat decided to stay in the vehicle. He closed his door, locked it and turned away like a little kid. I stepped around the little guy and shot him in the back of the head.

The window shattered and glass flew. The Happy Dealer in the front passenger seat slumped against Saltzman with a big hole in his head and glass in his hair. They kind of leaned on each other. Saltzman still had the silly look on what was left of his face.

The other guy in the back seat put a dent in my rear door trying to get out the other side. He rolled down the window and tried to squeeze through it. I leaned in through the shattered window and put one in his mid-back, right between the shoulder blades. He stopped moving and slumped back. The Navigator smelled like gunpowder, and blood, piss, and shit.

I pulled my head out and took a deep breath. The guy in the back seat started moaning and moving again so I reached in and shot him in the head. When the little guy lying on the pavement grabbed my ankle from behind it startled me so much, I hit the side of my head on the window post as I was turning. I fired at the fucking little prick and missed. The bullet sparked off the pavement beside his head. Can you believe it? The Wolf missed from three feet.

The little guy let my ankle go. Blood oozed out of his mouth and ears. He looked at me calmly, as if to say, ‘Hey, do your worst. It’s no big deal.” I had to respect him for that, but I couldn’t put him out of his misery. I had no more bullets.

“You should have taken my advice and kept better company,” I said, not unkindly.

I felt for the guy. Empathy at last? I couldn’t beat him with the gun or stomp his head or choke him or do some other medieval shit, so I left him laying there. A live witness. Someone who had seen my face. Twice.

I got back in my car and drove off. I didn’t pass anybody going down the hill. Nobody saw me driving out of the park. I didn’t hear any sirens. I doubt the whole thing took five minutes. It didn’t seem right leaving the little guy in the dark to suffer. I knew leaving a witness was stupid and incredibly dangerous. But what could I do? Bash his head in with the car door?

I was home well before 11, when Kate got back from her night out with the girls. A bunch of them had formed a book club and they met once a week to talk about books they were reading. We chatted for a few minutes before bed. That week’s selection was Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. It’s funny the things you remember in life.

That’s the straight goods on the Hilltop Massacre from the only person who knows how it went down. I couldn’t believe all the bullshit flying around afterwards. The talk of mafia hit men, gangsters and terrorists. Every expert and so-called pundit weighed in with a theory. What a bunch of crap.

The bodies were found just after midnight after the wives got together and phoned the police. In an incredible stroke of luck, I had gotten two provincial cabinet ministers. It turned out that the little guy with the booming voice was the Attorney General of B.C., the province’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, who was filling in for a Happy Dealer who had the flu. He died at the hospital the same night. I wondered if he was able to talk before, he went to his maker. Could he ID the car?

The story went international, but I didn’t care about that anymore. The fear came back as soon as the adrenalin wore off. My constant companion. I couldn’t shake it off or even pinpoint what I was afraid of. It clung to me, like the smell of death.

Without a note, the killings were not immediately connected to the Wolf. That would take autopsies and ballistic tests on the bullets. Even then, the cops might not release the information. I would have to write to Osterwich. I hadn’t gotten around to dumping the electric typewriter yet. It had one more job to do then it had to go.

Dear Greg…

I hope this missive finds you well and that your career path continues its skyward trajectory.

The executions in Queen Elizabeth Park were carried out by the Wolf Pack in defense of democracy. The primary targets, politicians Ron Saltzman and Anthony Demarco, promoted a vision for the future that is contrary to the interests of the people. Namely, the expansion of electronic surveillance.

Placing cameras on every corner is abhorrent in a free society, where citizens must be able to move about without fear of government monitoring. Anybody promoting such a concept will put themselves squarely in our cross hairs.

The car dealers Paul Bremmer and Alex Sokorsky, who no doubt sympathized with the odious idea of camera surveillance, lost their lives for keeping bad company.

I urge all righteous citizens to choose their companions carefully. And to remain vigilant against the bottom-liners who will stop at nothing to retain their positions of power.

Not for everyone

For madmen only

The People’s Wolf

The bottom-liners bellowed long and loud when the Sun published the letter three days after I sent it. Petitions were started to expand the use of cameras beyond even what Saltzman wanted. But the sheep bleated back.

More internet sites sprung up in support of The Wolf and civil liberty types got off their asses to decry the use of cameras as an intrusion of personal privacy. One independent politician called for a commission to investigate the legal and moral ramifications of government surveiling its citizens.

I took pleasure in bringing the issue front and center, but it didn’t still the unknowable fear weighing me down. I felt heavy all over. Kate did not notice. Like everyone else she was caught in the media frenzy.

In the weeks that followed the Hilltop Massacre all hell broke out in the Wolf Pack world. There were copycat shootings in 35 states and six provinces. Five Mexico City politicians were shot in a single day. Two Saudi Princes and their bodyguards were killed in a commando style attack outside a London casino. A movie star and a Hollywood producer were shot at a sidewalk café by a man in a wolf mask who turned the gun on himself. Three high-ranking Swiss bankers were taken out when somebody dropped a grenade in their car window as they parked outside a Zurich patisserie.

Within a month the worldwide death toll had shot up to 1,472 people. Men and women. And those are just the ones whose killers associated themselves with Wolf Packs. CNN went all Wolf Pack all the time, with round-the-clock live coverage from kill sights around the world.

Commentators began separating the victims into categories. Throwing around words like revolution and insurrection. Most victims were members of the establishment. Legitimate people with means and power. Politicians led the way. Lawyers. Corporate CEOs. Bankers. Money people. Bottom-liners of every description. Adams matronly wife had been dead on. The Wolf was an idea whose time had come.

Months passed and the Wolf Pack killings continued, albeit at a slower pace. The death toll bogged down in the low 4,000s. Enough powerful people had been killed to get the establishment’s attention. People in power were admitting some change was due. They were short on specifics, though.

Strangely, I didn’t get caught up in the media coverage. The whole thing put me off. Despite my earlier bleating about rallying the sheep, I was not cut out to lead or inspire an international movement. I knew about killing now, up close, and personal. The ugliness of it. The banality of taking a life. I knew half the people in the Wolf Packs were nut cases and the other half were probably bottom-liners eliminating rivals in the chaos.

What stopped the fear from crushing me completely was the reaction of the little people, the ones who didn’t prey on other human beings. They did not take to the streets demanding the Wolf Packs be hunted down. They did not call for more surveillance or a crackdown on guns. They said what the bottom-liners wanted to hear in public but an unspoken energy circulated in the populace, a variation on the old “gangsters only kill each other” theme.

I was on the Skytrain platform waiting for a train when I overheard two guys in their 40s, working stiffs wearing bad-fitting matching blue pants and jackets.

“They say this Wolf guy is getting ready to take someone out in Vancouver. It’s been a good while now since the Hilltop Massacre.”

“Yeah, that was a real tragedy. He only got two Liberal cabinet ministers. Everybody knows Saltzman was a crook.”

“The other guys were probably into something. This Vancouver Wolf guy is selective with his targets.

“As far as I’m concerned there’s a few more he could knock off. I wouldn’t miss old man Wilson.”

They both laughed and the train pulled up.

But I didn’t laugh. There had been no copycat killings on the Wolf’s turf. The closest had been the lawyer in Kamloops, and that turned out to be a domestic triangle thing.

I took the Skytrain to Canada Place and walked along the sea wall towards Stanley Park. By the time I got there the constant fear I carried crystallized into something I could identify. Something sharp and painful. I couldn’t go into the office. I couldn’t deal with Thorsby. Or anybody for that matter.

It was a nice day and a lot of people were out enjoying Lotusland. And why not, they lived in a beautiful city in one of the most prosperous areas of the world. But I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was filled with fear. The risk I had taken on the hill had been monumental. Making a u-turn with the gun on me. Not checking the parking lot for cameras. Reckless. I kept a brisk pace to try and walk it off. A panic attack here, amidst the lovers and tourists and businessmen out on a morning run, wasn’t an option. I was practically jogging when I got to the edge of the park. The tinkling of masts did not provide solace as I passed. The fear tingled under my skin.

I cut up behind the Aquarium into Ceperly Meadow and sat down on the grass, far from the footpath. I gave the ocean a thousand-mile stare and concentrated on breathing. Quiet time. One breath at a time. It took a while to calm the turbulence but I didn’t care. I had nowhere to go in the shape I was in. I just sat there breathing until the turbulence formed a cohesive thought.

Nobody had taken up the torch. The Wolf Pack killings had peaked. CNN was back to politics and scandal. Nothing had changed and nothing ever would. I knew it in my heart from the moment I shot the pimp. I got an incredible rush from killing predators. Nothing else could ever match it. That is why I did it. Not to start a cause.

Killing Ralston and Amy Collier had changed things. Not just because she was an innocent. The squalidness and smell of death in that dimly lit room stuck to me. The Hilltop Massacre only reinforced what I already knew. I was finished. There would be no more. The gun had to go. The thought of it sent me reeling into the blackness.

I got to the office a couple of hours late and put on my happy face.

“Either you’re starting to believe those fancy jackets allow you to keep bankers’ hours or you’ve been sleeping in the park.”

Thorsby pointed to the grass sticking to the back of my jacket and pants.

“Or is that a new fashion statement. The urban squire jacket, it comes with its own grass stains. Bet you have to pay extra for that.”

I looked him up and down. Rumpled golf shirt and cheap suit pants. Black running shoes.

“You know you can’t make any bets. I should phone Molly right now and have her cut off your allowance.”

I wanted to shut him up but he didn’t take offense this time. Instead he dropped a bomb.

“My allowance will be going up substantially when I start my new job at McDougall & Riley in two weeks.”

Thorsby was moving on up. He’d finally got his job in advertising. The poor schlub was so happy I couldn’t rain on his parade. I rolled my chair across the aisle and shook his hand.

“Looks like Molly and I will be tying the knot next year. Don’t worry, you’ll get an invite.”

“You’ll have to get yourself a new white golf shirt and a nice jacket to go with it. Put a shine on those black running shoes.”

Believe it or not, I was happy for the guy, but the news furthered blackened my mood. My only friend was leaving. Molly came to get him for lunch and when they left I made the call.

“Hello, Ms. Gail, it’s Roger Delaney calling.”

“Yes, Roger, I recognize your voice.”

How long had it been since I’d hung up the phone on her in a rage after she called me by my first name? Why had I done it? It felt good to hear her say my name.

“I’d like to make an appointment with Dr. Adams as soon as possible.”

“Is it urgent?”

I couldn’t admit to that.

“Well, it’s not an emergency but sooner would be better.”

“I’ll get you in tomorrow afternoon, Roger, at the end of the day. Four-thirty. It will be such a pleasure to see you again. Wear a nice jacket.”

“See you tomorrow then.”

I felt small when I hung up. Like she was a bigger person than me. They all were. All the normal ones.

Kate and I had never been closer. We made a point of sitting down to dinner most nights and talking about the day. Talking to her helped with the fear.

“I made an appointment with Maxwell Smart for tomorrow. I think I need a refresher.”

“I’ve sensed something has been bothering you for a while Roger but I thought maybe it was just all this turmoil. All these killings. You pretend not to notice, but I know you’re a sensitive man.”

“You used to say I was the least empathetic person you know.”

“That’s the person you like to show the world, but I know better.”

I loved Kate in whatever way I was capable, but she was a poor judge of character. Empathetic people do not get a thrill from killing. She had married a predator. How many people had I killed? I had to stop and count.

Pimp Raymond Evers. Drug dealer Tran Hoc Do. Shyster Richard Cunningham, Q.C.. Media manipulator Morrie Greenberg. Gangster Donald Wayne Findley. His driver/body guard Christopher Williamson. Swindler Brian Ralston and his preacher wife Amy Collier. And the four Happy Dealers. Twelve people, not counting the blind kid.

Kate’s sensitive, empathetic husband, the serial killer.

I parked on a side street in a resident only area and walked up the alley behind Adams’ building. The dumpster lid was down, with nothing hanging out. I tossed in a bag with the typewriter. I had smashed the keys beyond recognition and wiped it clean. There were no street people around. I pictured one of them walking somewhere in my old running shoes.

I took the stairs slowly, without pausing at the landing to look out. There was a bulb out in the hallway making it drearier than usual. Then I opened the door to Suite 203 and walked into the light.

“Very nice. I like the colour. It really suits your hair.”

Gail Whitesong was all brightness. Seeing her standing beside the desk in her faux model pose provided a comfort I badly needed. I wondered how she could time it so perfectly. Was she watching out the window as I dumped the typewriter.

“Ms. Gail. Fetching as always. I see you’ve changed your hair.”

The shorter cut showed her face to better advantage. She had a delicate nose, dark almond-shaped eyes behind toned down glasses, beautiful skin, and good bone structure. I don’t know why I ever thought her odd-looking. In truth, she was a beauty.

“Yes, it’s much easier to keep. Mother always kept my hair short as a girl. Maybe that’s why I grew it longer when I could. As usual, she was right. Who has time to waste on their hair?”

“True enough.”

“Dr. Adams is just gathering his thoughts for a moment. I know he enjoys your visits. I think he finds them a nice break.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“You mean there are patients more boring than me?”

“Oh, I don’t know anymore about any of them than I do about you. A woman notices certain things.”

We ended with that enigmatic comment when the door to Adams office opened. He stood there smiling, his hair grown back into a mini-bouffant. He had his polyester outfit on, shirt, slacks and senior’s shoes. I slipped into the easy chair and sampled one of Ms. Gail’s cookies while he got his chair from against the wall. He hadn’t changed the office back. With the plant gone it seemed bigger and brighter.

“Very nice. Mint chocolate chip.”

“Yes, they are quite tasty. I try to keep it down to one or two a day. I don’t want to start expanding.”

He touched his stomach lightly.

“Well, I see you’ve gone back to Emily for your fashion advice.”

“I tried the bald thing and, you know, it just wasn’t me. The kids didn’t like it. Emily and Gail both prefer my hair longer. When I grew my hair back the clothes didn’t suit. Emily dropped the new stuff at the Salvation Army. Three sports jackets, six pairs of slacks and two pair of shoes. I kept all the shirts.”

“Nice gesture. I thought I saw a guy out by the dumpster wearing a Harry Rosen jacket.”

We both laughed. I felt safe sitting in that easy chair. Like there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Talking with a Mensa midget who only felt comfortable dressed badly. How could it be? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

“So how have you been, Roger, with all this turmoil going on? All the media attention about these Wolf Pack killings is getting a lot of people down.”

“I bet it is. Especially people with money and power. As far as I can see, ordinary folks are weathering the storm quite well.”

“If you and Emily ever get together, we’ll have a revolution on our hands. My wife believes deeply in the need for change. She supports the goals of the Wolf Packs if not their violent methods?”

“Goals. What goals? Half of the Wolf Pack killings were probably committed by opportunists, enemies of the victims taking advantage of the chaos. I don’t remember hearing anything about any goals.”

He considered this for a moment.

“As you know, I am pragmatic about the human species. The best predators will always rise to the top. It’s basic science. Emily, however, has a different view. And as I said before, she can back it up with reasoned argument.”

He shifted slightly in his chair and moved his head from side to side as if to loosen his neck. The pompadour was too short to fall forward into  horns. Give it a month or two.

“I’d like to hear it.”

“Well, the Coles Notes version is that she believes in the inherent goodness of humans to the core of her being. She can cite countless cases throughout recorded history, where humans have sacrificed everything for their beliefs.”

“It’s a good thing there’s always someone around willing to accommodate them in their sacrifices.” I played Devil’s Advocate out of habit. “There has never been a period in human history short of torturers and murderers.”

It did not deter him.

“Emily argues that the cynic’s take on history, with its emphasis on the horrible atrocities and brutality man is capable of, fails to account for the fact that good people always win. Believe me, she can cite a hundred examples of tyrants and despots, empires and tribal fiefdoms in which the people have overcome evil rulers. In her view, the fact that it is a never-ending process doesn’t come into it. The good people keep fighting the good fight, ad infinitum, because it is what good people do.”

“That argument conveniently overlooks the fact the good people turn bad as soon as they get control.”

“Evil pops up, good people put it down. Like the carnival game with the mallets.”

Here I was again, sitting in this Mensa midget’s office listening to baffle gab, second-hand baffle gab at that, and it somehow connected with my life view.

“Like the carnival game with the mallets?” I tried to keep the sarcasm to a minimum.

“I told you it was the Coles Notes version. Emily explains it much better. She is a fierce opponent of electronic surveillance and information gathering, you know. She calls it the greatest evil facing the world today. But enough of Emily. How are you doing, Roger?’

“I’m afraid all the time.”

It came out just like that. Matter of fact.

“Why are you afraid? What are you afraid of? Has someone threatened to harm you?”

“I’m afraid of life. Afraid I can’t make it through.”

“Have you been thinking of taking your life?”

“Not recently.”

“But you have thought of it in the past.”

“Yes, hasn’t everyone.”

“Probably not. But certainly, a lot of people have considered suicide in an intellectual way. Some go as far as to act it out, I mean they enact it, but don’t go through with it. That is not as unusual as you might think. Have you enacted, Roger.”

I thought about spinning the chamber and it filled me with shame that I was willing to inflict such an act of selfishness on my wife. Only fate saved her.

“If you mean have I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger”—I cocked my thumb and put my forefinger to my temple— “yes I have.”

I clicked my thumb.

Adams sat motionless, gazing into my soul from under his mini-bouffant. Reading the secrets there. He said nothing and suddenly we were into another stare-off. Silence filled the room with an energy I cannot pretend to understand.

The longer the silence went on the more connected we became. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I didn’t reach for a cookie to break the tension because there was no tension. We just sat in complete silence looking at one another. I wanted to sit there forever.

I heard Ms. Gail closing up shop. She shut the outside door loud enough that we would hear. It must have been past 5:30 by the fading light through the patio doors but Adams still did not make a sound. And I had nothing pressing but a world of fear.

When he spoke, at last, I was ready to hear what he had to say.

“How did you miss from that close?”

That’s what the little prick said. I shit you not. I didn’t want to laugh but what could I do? He laughed too, but not for long.

“People who want to kill themselves get the job done. It’s quite easy, as you know. Pills. A car in a closed garage. A leap into the unknown off a bridge or building. A bullet in the head.”

He paused. But only for a moment.

“I don’t see you as someone who would take his own life. Suicide is the last choice of life’s broken people.”

“Do broken people feel frightened all the time?”

It came out quietly, without any swagger.

“We all feel frightened at least part of the time, Roger. And well we should. The Wolf Packs aside, the world is a dangerous place. I know that I’m frightened every day. Afraid that one of my kids will get hit by a car. Worried that the world they inherit will be uninhabitable. Scared that Emily will get sick, or leave me for someone smarter. Fear is deeply ingrained in the human condition. We couldn’t survive without fear. It’s how we handle the fear that counts. How do you handle your fear, Roger.”

“I carry it around, staggering under its load.”

The way it came out surprised me. I didn’t feel weak saying it, though.

“Unknown fear is the heaviest of all. It takes a strong person to carry it and an even stronger person to put it down. To drop the load. Kerplop!”

“Kerplop?”

It came out as a question but in some weird way it made sense. I repeated the word a couple of times with quiet resignation.

“Kerplop…. Kerplop….”

Was this what it had all come to, sitting in a strip mall office with a poorly dressed nerd gravely repeating a silly word? Apparently so.

“That’s a good word isn’t it, Roger? Comical sounding. Evocative. Full of meaning. Finality.”

He did one of his mini pauses, but I was beyond the paranoia phase. He had peered into my soul.

“Unknown fear is quite different from fearing the unknown. People often confuse the two. Fear of the unknown is tangible, based on some future catastrophe of the mind’s making. A thinking species like humans has good reason to fear the unknown. Throughout history the unknown has usually brought violence and death. Fearing the unknown is rational.

“But, if I’m assessing the situation right, you are feeling the other kind. The unknown fear. The kind of fear that grabs hold of your thoughts and tries to shut down the system. Tries to take over everything. It wants control of the ship. Total control.”

“Am I on the ocean or is it a spaceship?”

I tried to mock his lame metaphor, but it came out weak.

“That’s a good, one Roger. Heh heh heh.”

His laugh gave me comfort. Can you believe it?

“And, as usual, you’re not far off the mark. Actually, the ship is cruising through inner space. The final frontier. Losing control of the ship isn’t an option. So you fight the fear, holding it back, but it is relentless. Day after day, holding back the fear pushing you towards the total blackness of inner space. It’s quite a load. Some carry the fight all their lives, never quite losing but never quite winning. And then they die. The smartest let it go.”

“Kerplop?”

“Kerplop.”

We sat there for a comfortable moment in the fading light.

“I’m off the Wolf task force, you know. Apart from the obvious fact that the profilers have not been helpful in capturing the Wolf, I found some of my colleagues difficult to work with. One in particular. A nasty person.”

“I thought all these so-called experts had unsurpassed collective knowledge of the human species. Isn’t that what you said at the beginning?”

“Well, that was my first impression. Yes. But reality seldom reveals itself on first impressions. Having knowledge about human beings does not preclude you from suffering the same failings as the people you study. I find it much more interesting working with my patients.”

“So you quit.”

“That’s right.”

We were done. I stood up while he moved his chair back to the wall and when he turned, I gave him the preying mantis bow. He returned it solemnly and I left the office, leaving him sitting at his desk in the near dark scribbling on a pad.

Two scruffy guys were rummaging in the dumpster, poking through the junk with a rake. Cops? Neither of them was wearing my running shoes or holding a mangled typewriter.

“Nice night for treasure hunting.”

I said it cheerfully.

“Can you spare a buck? We ain’t eaten since yesterday.”

I walked over and handed him a twenty.

“Fill your boots, guys.”

For the first time in a very long time the fear was gone. Cynics among you will call bullshit. I don’t begrudge your skepticism. I know everything Adams said was a bunch of bullshit. I knew it at the time, but I didn’t care as I walked up the alley feeling the lightness of being.

Two weeks after my session with Adams took the unknown fear out of my life, the Wolf Pack struck in Vancouver. A psychiatrist who worked on the Wolf profile panel was shot dead in the garage of his fancy house on the UBC Endownment Lands. Police said a note was left behind but wouldn’t release the contents, other than to say the shooter claimed to be the Wolf.

The first copycat killing on my own turf shocked me. But it didn’t bring back the fear. Just the opposite. I felt light and free. I wondered if the shooter used a Glock nine millimetre. Or maybe a thirty-eight.

The spike in copycat killings wasn’t as sharp as in previous Vancouver Wolf killings but the worldwide toll was 5,000-plus and counting. A lot of top predators had been taken out, enough to make the bottom-liners, ever the self-preservationists that they are, take notice. They made token changes and gave lip service to the idea of reform. No politician in British Columbia came forward to champion photo radar and the Liberals let the idea die a bloodless death.

The night after I heard about the psychiatrist, I went to my office put on my latex gloves, unscrewed the floorboards and took out the gun. Kate was out with Laura at the movies. I had all the time I needed.

I put in a full load and spun the chamber. It felt good in my hand. Solid. Balanced. Powerful. I grabbed the last of the bullets, stuffed them in my pants pocket and pulled on the grey hoodie. I got in the car and drove to Vancouver Heights, above the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge. The neighbourhood was notorious for the bike gang thugs who lived there, laundering their money with half-million-dollar house renovations. I parked on a side street close to the bridge, near a house with motorcycles in the driveway.

When I walked past, I noticed a brawny tattooed man further up in the driveway, bent over, pondering an old engine block, oblivious to the danger so near. I walked past the house and went down the steps to the sidewalk leading to the bridge. There was a fair amount of traffic, but I didn’t care.

I took my time getting to the high point of the bridge, far out over the water where the iron workers had fallen to their deaths while building it. I inhaled the night view, with its twinkling lights and moving cars, in four or five deep breaths. When there was a break in traffic, I fished the bullets out of my pocket and threw them in a spray. Then I dropped the gun. When it hit the water, I heard a faint splash. Or maybe it was a kersplash.

I went to Thorsby’s wedding the following year and was impressed to see that both he and Molly had lost weight. He looked pretty good in an off-the-rack rental tux. I felt all warm and tingly when they did their solo wedding dance.

I never followed the Wolf coverage after the psychiatrist went down. In fact, I avoided all media and relied solely on Kate’s second-hand reports of the world’s goings on, delivered in bits and pieces over dinner, always with a positive spin. I couldn’t tell you what the final global death toll was in the Wolf killings.

I quit the technical writer job not long after Thorsby’s wedding. Kate encouraged me to write fiction and supported us financially for the first few years. She was right about the career change. I had a couple of modest successes writing crime thrillers and was lucky to have one of them made into a movie. The turbulence became less frequent, the smooth patches lasted longer.

Kate died of liver cancer at age 49. It was a quick death, but the pain of her passing seared me to the core of my being. I teetered at the edge of blackness for weeks after, grieving so deeply I longed for the gun to end the pain. I even went back out over the bridge and stared at the water, thinking about joining the gun.

I cried when I lost Kate with an intensity that bordered on hallucinogenic. I saw visions of Amy Collier in my tears, and the blinded kid. I saw the Happy Dealers, Cunningham and all the rest. Even Donald Wayne.

I went back to Adams, then, for the first time since the fear had lifted. It had been years. He had one of those Jay Leno skunk streaks going on in the bouffant, and it looked about as good on him as it did on Jay. I saw him again infrequently, when the need arose, and with no insurance to foot the bill, even paid the little nerd out of my own pocket. Gail Whitesong, ageless in her Eurasian beauty and beautiful in her soul, continued to light my visits with her presence. We went out for occasional dinners and walks. No sex. Nothing romantic. We became friends. Same thing with Holly from the library. I made up a story about the fake name I’d given her and she accepted it without curiosity. They were both good company. Better conversationalists than Thorsby.

I started working on this confessional about two months after Kate died. This is my last book and it will be published posthumously by my agent. I gave him a key to a safety deposit box containing the manuscript, to be opened only upon my death, after I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t spin the chamber but I did choose my own time. I opted for assisted death, less messy than jumping off a bridge. I stipulated that all book profits go to a women’s shelter in Kate’s name. I’m predicting a best seller, given all the free publicity it will get. I told my agent I want one of the Canadian Ryans—Reynolds or Gosling—to star in the movie. I willed the rest of my estate to the SPCA. Maybe they could use it to help mistreated sheep.

I accept the label serial killer now. I fit the definition. I know I killed people out of whatever selfish predatory need drives humans to act out. I was at the top of the predator food chain for a while and it felt unbelievably good to be there. I don’t deny it or pretend to feel guilt about all the people who were killed, not even Amy Collier.  I am a psychopath but claim minimal empathy. If that is possible. I have no regrets going out in these low times of Donald Trump and the world pendulum’s shift to the right. In the decades to come, a more cunning successor to Trump will no doubt act out on the Hitler scenario of my fevered futuristic vision. Evolution won’t be denied. As Maxwell Smart so frequently asserted, ‘It’s basic science.’

For the Wolf Packs, the bottom-liners, the psychiatrists, the talking heads and so-called experts, for all you cynics and critics, for all you wolves and sheep, for all you wannabes and wolves in waiting, for all you who judge me and for those who judge me not, I have one final word.

Kerplop.

Chapter 10: For Sale Death House

Read Previous Chapter – Chapter 9: Evil Eye Goes Global

The Ralston job came up on me fast. I wasn’t kidding when I told Adams the Wolf was a fulltime position. Working executions into my schedule wasn’t easy and I had a feeling it would be difficult to arrange Ralston without arousing suspicion in Kate. Not about the Wolf, of course. But she knew I wasn’t the type to go out at night, unless it was for a short walk around the neighbourhood. Any lengthy absence would require a reasonable explanation.

A plan began to germinate during dinner, while Kate talked about the possibility of a fall election? Spring? Fall? Next winter? What a bunch of political bullshit. But I respected her innocent belief in democracy. Whether she liked it or not, I was slaying predatory monsters for her.

“I know the look you get when you’re excited about something. All pensive and focused. What’s Oliver got you working on now?”

I’d been fucking the dog at work for months, doing just enough to get by.

“Oh, he’s got something big on the go. He says it might require two or three technical writers and take six months to finish. He won’t give us any more details but it sounds good.”

I didn’t like lying to Kate. She deserved better.

“Honestly, Roger, you could have your pick of writing jobs. I think your work might have something to do with your dark moods. It’s beneath your talent. I’m sure you get bored ‘translating’ technical reports. What does Dr. Adams say about the possibility of changing jobs?”

“He doesn’t say anything. We don’t talk about my work.”

“Paul Carter is thinking about getting out of real estate. He tells Laura that his sessions with Dr. Adams have changed his way of thinking. He wants to get into something more meaningful. Apparently, he’s volunteering at the Food Bank two days a week.”

I had nothing in common with that monkey-fucking, snake-oil-selling, piece-of-shit salesman. I wanted to yell that at her so she wouldn’t keep bringing the phony fuck up.

“I’d have thought he’d be more comfortable volunteering at the Liquor Depot. All that travel back and forth to buy booze cuts into your drinking time.”

“Honestly, Roger. You’re so rude. Paul is not a perfect human being but few of us are. Laura loves him and Laura’s a good friend. I wish you wouldn’t be so rude. It doesn’t become you dear.”

I loved the way she called me dear. It cut through everything.

“I’m happy that he’s finally finding peace at the Food Bank, dear. The downtrodden can always use more realtors helping out.”

I could have gone on about him scoping out low-end clients for slum housing but I didn’t want to upset her. Things were different after our time on the Island. I cared about her intensely from that time on. That’s why I couldn’t let fate decide anymore. Why I couldn’t spin the chamber.

If I lost, the whole mess would be left on Kate’s doorstep. I couldn’t have that. Not now. If I’m caught I’ll go out in a blaze of gunfire standing up for what I believe, even if the fatal shot is self-administered. That’s what I thought at the time.

I took the next afternoon off but Oliver wasn’t there, so I didn’t have to make an excuse. Thorsby dutifully pointed out the absence of the temp receptionist as if it were incontrovertible proof of their guilty affair–“I told you Old Horny Man is fucking her.”

Not the kind of person I wanted on my jury.

“Ray came in with a shiner this morning then went home after coffee. Probably stuck his dick in the wrong glory hole. There’s one in the public can on the beach near the Coast Guard station, on the side of the stall about the height of a guy’s mouth if he was sitting on the toilet. What a way to live.”

I let his comment hang out there in disapproving silence. The tech writers often made fun of Ray when he wasn’t around. Gay jokes. He was unmarried and slightly effeminate. I didn’t like it and never took part. Ray was one of the good guys. Not the kind of person to intentionally hurt other people. Not a bullshitter. Not a bottom-liner. Thorsby knew how I felt and softened his commentary.

“He said some guy in his building punched him at his mailbox for no reason. Said the guy has made threatening comments to him before.”

I pictured Ray, polite, soft and well past middle age, having to put up with shit from a Neanderthal. It fueled the rage but I kept it out of my voice.

“He lives in the West End, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, over on Beach Ave. in that round high rise.”

“Did he say what the guy looked like?”

“Just that’s he’s big and has a beard.”

“Somebody should straighten the guy out. I like Ray.”

“Yeah, he’s not a bad guy.”

He said it as though Ray was okay even though he was gay. If I hadn’t had more pressing matters at hand, I would have looked into putting Neanderthal man down. Fucking cowardly, lowlife, prick.

I drove home and changed into cargo shorts, a T-shirt and surgical gloves. I slipped a small wrench and some duct tape into one of the pockets and went for a stroll. I had a kill site in mind about four blocks from our house, two blocks down and two blocks over. It was a new house on a corner lot, across from a park, that had been for sale for more than a year. The rumour was an old oil tank buried in the back yard required tens of thousands in clean-up costs.

I walked past the front and stopped to take one of the flyers from the realtor’s plastic box. Wow. They wanted $889,000. I turned at the end of the block and came back through the alley. There was nobody around to see me slip through the back gate. I went directly to the basement window to the right of the back steps and stuck the tape across the glass in three eight-inch strips. I smacked the taped glass with the wrench and it gave way with barely a tinkle. I stuck my hand through the hole, careful not to cut myself, and opened the window. I peeled the tape off the broken glass and put it in my pocket. I’d missed my calling as a house burglar.

I made my way across the darkened basement. The place was empty. It smelled stale. Creepy. Not the kind of atmosphere to build a new life on. I wondered if a homicide would motivate the seller to lower the price. I tried the switch at the bottom of the stairs and the light came on. A good thing.

The main floor had a kitchen, a living room, an office, a half-bath and a large master bedroom and ensuite with a jetted tub and separate shower. Close to a million bucks didn’t buy much 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Even on the East Side. The front door opened into a small foyer that hid the living room from the entrance. Another plus. I flicked another light on-and-off to make sure it worked. That’s all I needed to know. I left the back door unlocked and was out of the house and back in the alley in five minutes.

I went back home and got out the electric typewriter. One more small job before I dumped it.

Fellow citizens…

The bottom-liner Brian Ralston was executed in the name of the people of this great country. Those who choose to advance themselves by swindling seniors should consider it a capital offense. It is our hope his death will provide some closure to those he has victimized. At the very least, his predatory compulsion has come to an end.

Mr. Ralston’s fate should be a warning to all bottom-liners in the cesspool that is the financial industry. Despite what the predatory powers would have you believe; righteous citizens have nothing to fear.

Bottom-liners beware.

Not for everyone. For mad men only.

With your best interests at heart,

The People’s Wolf

Kate was having dinner with Laura Carter the next night and I was hoping to do Ralston then. He wouldn’t be in town for long and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. I walked to the convenience store at five and made the call from the lowlife landline. The fucking drug dealing deadhead was leaning on the side of the building watching me the whole time, like I was using his private phone. How good would it feel to drive around the city, from phone booth to phone booth, putting the scumbags down? One in the chest. One point blank in the head.

“Hyatt hotel.”

“Can you put me through to Mr. Ralston.”

“Ralston? Let me see. Yes, he checked in about an hour ago. I’ll try his room sir.”

“H.B. Ralston.”

He answered the phone confidently on the second ring, like he was a man in control of his destiny. The dumb fuck.

“Mr. Ralston, my name is Tim Edderly and I’m phoning on behalf of my dad, who has a significant sum of money and is looking for somewhere to invest it.”

“Well, you’ve called the right place Tim. We invest money for people from all over the world. That’s what we do.”

“You were recommended to me by Belinda Strausky.”

Belinda Strausky was the daughter of Arthur Pennington, a now-deceased crony of the hairy ape’s. They pulled a couple of scams while working together at a brokerage firm years back. They both left the firm under a cloud, within weeks of each other. Pennington died of a heart attack shortly afterwards. His daughter Belinda didn’t fall far from the tree. She had been banned from trading on Canadian stock markets and was said to be living in the Cayman Islands.

You can’t beat Google.

“Belinda Strausky. I haven’t thought of her in years. Did you know her father Art?”

“No. I don’t know Belinda well. I happened to be sitting next to her at doinner on a cruise ship and we were chatting about investments. She seemed knowledgeable. When I mentioned my dad selling his motel and RV park, she recommended you for investment advice. Said I should use her name as an introduction. Dad’s been procrastinating for years. He doesn’t trust the stock market and the money is sitting in GICs earning a couple of per cent. They come due next month. I saw your ad in the paper and called.”

“We can definitely do better than a couple of per cent. Why don’t you bring your dad to the seminar Thursday and we’ll see what we can work out?”

“I don’t think I can get him down there. I showed your ad to dad and… well… sometimes he’s not quite with it. He thinks the Hyatt is owned by the Stock Market. All part of some big conspiracy. That’s why I’ve called you personally. I’d like you to come over to the house for a private consultation.”

“Oh, I rarely do private consultations. I like to have sit-downs with ordinary folks but, frankly, I don’t have the time. I have a lot to do preparing for the seminar and so on.”

“I’m sure you do, sir. That’s why I’d make it worth your while. I recently got power of attorney over dad’s affairs and I know it would be worth $1,000 to him for an hour of your time. After all, he’s got well over seven figures to invest. He just bought a house on the East Side, less than a 10-minute cab ride from the hotel. The sign’s still out front.”

“I can probably fit an hour in tomorrow night, but why don’t you come to my suite.”

“Dad doesn’t travel well anymore. And I’d really like him to meet you. Even though I have power of attorney I keep him involved in everything. I don’t want any appearance of impropriety.”

“I understand. Dealing with old people can be difficult. Okay, how about 9 o’clock. I’ll come by for an hour, talk to your dad and see what we can work out.”

“Great. He’s at 109 Albert St. A corner house. See you at nine tomorrow night.”

After hanging up I walked straight over to the drug dealer.

“Be careful using that phone. Someone from CSIS came on the line and told me to drop the phone because of a deadly powder in the mouthpiece. Ricin. A grain or two is enough to kill a person. Agents are monitoring the booth from that white van over there. They’re exterminating drug dealers. It’s part of a plan to appease the Wolf.”

I pointed to a van parked across the street. The deadhead druggie didn’t know what to make of me. He looked from the phone booth to the van.

“Thanks man.”

“No problem.”

I walked home feeling good. Ralston had taken the bait. It felt weird talking to him knowing he had only a day to live. I didn’t feel sorry for the arrogant prick. Nothing like that. It’s just that he was the first of my kills I talked to without imminent death polluting the ambience. Pointing a gun at someone with lethal intent is a real conversation killer. No pun intended.

Kate was home when I got back. She immediately threw a kink into my plan.

“I can’t stay, Roger. I came to change into slacks and a comfortable sweater. Laura and I decided to have dinner and see our movie tonight, instead of tomorrow. She’s picking me up in a half hour.”

“So you’ll be home tomorrow night then?”

“Yes dear, I’ll be home tomorrow night. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you home alone two nights in a row. I’ll make a nice dinner and we can hang out all night.”

“That’ll be nice. I’m going to start getting into shape with nightly walks. I’ll start tonight.”

She was standing in the kitchen doing the buttons up on a white cashmere sweater, her face slightly flushed from the effort. The fine wool looked good against her skin.

“Maybe I’ll go with you. I could lose a few pounds.”

“Nonsense. You’re beautiful just as you are and you’re looking particularly fetching tonight. Let me help you with those buttons.”

Her fragrance got to me when I moved close. A smell as close to innocence as possible on this foul planet.

“I’ll leave the top two buttons open. Cashmere is warm and I like the way the white complements your skin.”

She cupped my hand in both of hers.

“Oh, Roger, I feel so close to you this last while.”

Laura showed up on time, as always. She honked once and Kate was out the door. Sadness shrouded me as I watched her hurry to the car, laughing and calling out to Laura in fun. Sadness so profound it buckled my knees. I leaned against the TV cabinet for support. Any slip-up and this beautiful person’s world would be shattered. Her light would be dimmed forever. Was anything worth that? I knew Ralston wasn’t.

I tried some quiet time early in the evening on the office couch, but the impending execution was stirring up so much turbulence I couldn’t get close to the inner universe. I got up and paced the house. Through the kitchen, around the living room and up the stairs to the bathroom. I stood in the shower for a few minutes looking at the taps then reversed the process. I must have done the circuit 10 times. On the last trip into the shower I turned on the faucet and stood there until my clothes were soaked. I have no idea what these walkabouts were about. All I know is after I stripped off my clothes and threw them in the dryer, I felt renewed. It seems crazy looking back.

Why was I worrying about Kate now? Why not with Cunningham or Greenberg and the others? I wasn’t thinking about her when I spun the chamber. I only wanted to release the pressure building inside. To take the decision out of my hands and leave it to fate. To admit I was thinking solely of myself made me feel small. Unworthy of Kate’s love. Yet there it was.

Still, Ralston was a goner.

I fell asleep early and slept so soundly I didn’t hear Kate come in. She slid in beside me in the night, exuding warmth and comfort. Security. A good human being who believed in me.

We didn’t talk much the next morning. I was barely awake when she left for work. I had important things to do before heading to the office. I thought about calling in sick but there was no need. I wanted everything in my life to seem as normal as possible on the day of an execution.

The kill site was uncomfortably close to home, but it was the only way I could do Ralston without arousing Kate’s suspicion. I thought of some police geographic profiler putting pins on a map. With Ralston, three of the killings were within walking distance from the house. I wondered if he could do a triangulation that pinpointed my street.

I planned to slip out for a walk a few minutes before nine, but I had to put the gun someplace I could get at it. I didn’t want to take the chance of having it in my pocket in case Kate hugged me or it fell out or some other stupid shit happened.

I put on a pair of surgical gloves and went to the office and unscrewed the floorboards. That lowlife in the Seattle bar had been so right. It was a nice gun for what I paid. It seemed so long ago. Another lifetime.

I checked it to make sure everything was working. The trigger clicked crisply. The chamber spun smoothly on its precision-machined axis. It felt solid and familiar in my hand, its curved butt settling into my palm like the ass of a beautiful woman. No wonder Americans love their handguns. I put in a full load but didn’t bother with extra bullets. I didn’t plan on another ‘shootout.’ I put the gun in a small pack sack and stuffed the bag into an empty cement sack. I put the cement sack under the back deck and stacked a couple pieces of plywood on it.

Thorsby was in good form at the office. He rolled out his chair as soon as I arrived and pointed out that Oliver and the temp had both called in sick.

“I’m thinking of calling Old Horny Man at home to see if he’s really sick. Get this temporary receptionist thing nailed down once and for all. The dirty old bugger is having it off with her. I know it.”

“That’s purely supposition, Thorsby. I’ve never seen them say more than a few words to each other.”

“Exactly. They exchange smiles every time he walks past but he never says anything more than a word or two. A classic office affair.”

“Hold on now. Your proof Oliver is having an affair with the receptionist is that they never talk to each other.”

“Think about it.”

“Next you’ll be telling me Oliver’s the Wolf.”

“Please. I’m surprised he has enough gumption for an extramarital hump. The only gun he’s ever handled is the derringer between his legs.”

“You never know. It’s always the person you least suspect. Someone unassuming, like your postman theory.”

“Oh, I’ve given up on that one. The guy’s ex-military. Maybe a rogue cop. They’ll never catch him unless he kills again.”

“A few weeks ago, you were saying he’d be brought to ground in a month.”

“That was before the gangster shootout.”

It continued to amaze me how a couple of lucky shots had elevated the Wolf in the public consciousness. I could just as easily have missed the whole car.

“I’ll bet he strikes again soon.”

I said it with conviction. I couldn’t resist.

“Some guys in my hockey pool have standing bets. Closest one to the date gets the money. I’m not involved, though. Too ghoulish.”

I loved being the only one in the world with the real story. The only person in the vast universe who knew precisely when the Wolf would strike again. It was a rush. I admit it.

Ray walked in before I could reply. His swollen eye closed shut when he attempted a smile. His cheek was red on that side.

“Hey guys, you taking bets on when the Wolf will get caught?”

“No, we’re just speculating about when he’ll strike again. How’s the eye Ray? Looks like a pretty good shiner.”

“Oh, it’s okay. Doesn’t really hurt.”

He said it as if he was ashamed of getting beat up by a scumbag. It pissed me off to see the poor guy off his game. Ray was normally upbeat, cracking bad jokes. I felt sad for him as he walked to his cubicle. If a serial killer feels empathy, does it mean he’s not a psychopath? I doubted I could work the question into a Maxwell Smart session.

I stayed at work until five. No need to hurry home. Everything was ready. Ralston had four hours and change to breathe. On the drive home I concentrated on my own breath. Getting into the moment. It didn’t take long before the moment turned to how many breaths Ralston had left. I got deep into the mental calculations of timing a breath and multiplying it by seconds, minutes and hours.

Kate prepared one of my favourite meals. Pork chops and candied yam. We talked pleasantly throughout dinner about nothing noteworthy. By the time we’d finished clearing up the dishes it was almost eight o’clock. I felt completely calm. Resigned to fate.

“Is there anything special you’d like to watch tonight?”

“Actually, I thought I might go for a walk. It’s a nice night and I’d like to stretch my legs.”

“Want some company?”

“I’d love company on my walks but not tonight, dear. I’ve been thinking about what you said about my job, about it causing the depression, and I’ve got some things to work through.  I find walking helps me think clearly.”

She tried to hide the disappointment of rejection.

“It can’t hurt to think about it, Roger. I read somewhere that being under-employed is one of the major causes of depression. I’m glad to see you’re at least thinking about making a change.”

I left the house about 15 minutes before nine. I put my surgical gloves on outside and retrieved the gun from its hiding place. I was at the Albert St. house in a couple of minutes. I went in through the still-unlocked back door and turned the kitchen light on. Nobody had been there since the break-in. I drew all the blinds, except for the front window, which I left open just enough to allow light to be seen from the street. I put the porch light on and went back to the front window to watch and wait.

I’d only been watching for a minute or two when the cab pulled up. It felt too soon. Two people got out. Ralston and the ash blonde I’d seen him dining with at the Eagle’s Realm. He paid the cab and they started up the sidewalk to the house.

I thought about leaving. Walking out the back door and letting Ralston and the woman live. But I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be right, letting a high-value predator loose on the little people.  People would have to learn to keep better company. I put the gun in the right pocket of my track pants, with the grip sticking out. I tucked the grip under my T-shirt and went to answer the door.

“Thanks so much for coming by Mr. Ralston.”

“You must be Tim. This is my wife Amy. We were having dinner nearby. She’s very knowledgeable about financial matters. I hope you don’t mind if she sits in.”

She smiled at me pleasantly but didn’t speak. She had a nice way about her.

“Hello Amy. Come on in, please. Excuse the bare space. Dad wants to carpet the living room floor before he moves his furniture in. We can talk in the kitchen.”

I closed the door, stood back, and motioned for them to enter. Ralston went first and as soon as his wife passed me, I put the gun to the back of her head and fired.

The noise sounded like a cannon shot in the empty house. Ralston jumped about three feet. She dropped straight down without a sound. Blood oozed from her head onto the hardwood floor. Ralston froze with fear when he landed.

“Oh my God, you’ve murdered Amy.

He looked down at his wife but didn’t make a move to assist her. He stood stock-still. White-faced.

“Tell me Brian, did you really think you could cheat all those people without any blow-back? That you could prey on the weak without consequences. Haven’t you taken any notice of the Wolf’s message?”

“Please don’t kill me. I can give you money. Lots of money. Please, Tim, let me live.”

I aimed the gun with both hands, TV cop-style.

“No, no. I’ll give you anything. Please don’t kill me. Please… please.”

The front of his pants was all wet. The hairy ape pissed himself.

“You forfeited your right to live a long time ago, you lowlife cocksucker.”

I fired and hit him in the chest. He fell back against the wall and skidded along it, using his shoulders as a brace, smearing blood. The bullet must have gone right through. The exit wound would be messy. He was spitting blood. Choking out what sounded like words, like he had some last wisdom to depart.

It was a sordid scene, a dead woman on the floor, blood all over, its metallic death smell permeating everything, and this human cockroach clinging to his life like it was worth something. I moved a few steps forward and shot him in the face, just below his left eye. He fell to the floor gurgling. Bits of hair and flesh stuck on the wall. So much blood. I dropped the letter in a clean spot on the hardwood and turned the lights off. I left by the back door.

I took the alleys home, at a moderate pace. Daylight had turned to dusk in the few minutes I was inside. Nobody was about. I stopped at the top of the hill, a block from home, to compose myself. Blow-back from the Amy’s head splattered my hand and the right sleeve of my jacket. The gun had blood on it, too, and I had transferred some of it to my clothes. Messy business.

I put the gun under the back porch before going in the house. Kate was in the kitchen, sipping tea in her rocker, watching one of her shows.

“Did you have a nice walk, dear? You weren’t gone long.”

“I kept a brisk pace and worked up a bit of a sweat. I’ll have a quick shower and join you for some tea.”

I was halfway up the stairs when I said it. I desperately wanted out of the track suit. To get away from the blood. It was all I could do to stop myself from running down the hallway to the bathroom.

Inside the bathroom, with the door safely locked, I noticed bits of hair and skull on my bare wrist. I shook my arm so violently a piece of bloody material stuck on the mirror. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper to wipe it off and noticed flecks of blood on my cheek. I turned the shower on and stepped in, clothes and all. The blood creeped me out.

After a few seconds, I stepped out and stripped. I held the jacket sleeves under the shower and wrung the jacket and pants. The blood flecks on my cheek were gone but I didn’t like the face I saw in the mirror. The man staring back had a shocked look. The kind you saw on survivors interviewed in New York immediately after 9/11. It made me feel weak. Small. Not strong like a top predator. Not like the People’s Wolf.

I thought about the pleasant smile on Amy Ralston’s face seconds before her death. She paid a heavy price for keeping bad company. At least she went out happy. I caught myself in the mirror smiling at the thought and my spirit began to return. It took me a few minutes to clean up the bathroom, to sop up all the water on the floor. I bundled my clothes up in a towel and put on pajama pants and a t-shirt before going back downstairs.

“I’m just going to throw this stuff in the washer, dear. Any tea left?”

“I put on another pot while you were upstairs.”

Kate turned the TV off and I sat down at the kitchen table and sipped herbal lemon tea.

“You look a little strange. I hope you didn’t overdo it. You’re at the age when men have heart attacks.”

“We all have to die sometime. What is so bad about keeling over while out walking. Dying right there on the spot. I can think of worse ways to go.”

“Don’t be so macabre.”

“Death tends to arrive at inconvenient times. I don’t think we have much say about it but I’m not ready yet.”

“I certainly hope not. We have so much ahead of us Roger. So much to live for. I see us walking down a sunny beach in our golden years. Hand in hand.”

She reached across the table and put her hand over mine. I pulled away. I didn’t want her touching my skin where the blood had been. To make up, I stood up and came around behind her and massaged her shoulders and neck.

“I love you Roger Rabbit.”

I bent over to catch her smell. The smell of innocence.

There was nothing in the news over the weekend. I knew it could take time for the bodies to be found. I thought about the disappointed suckers when Ralston was a no-show at the seminar. They could not know I had intervened on their behalf. To keep them from becoming prey.

The truth is the execution of the Ralstons had unsettled me. Had left me with a bad feeling. I couldn’t get away from that awful blood smell. The sordidness in that dimly lit empty room. Some realtor was in for a hell of a shock when he opened that front door. The owner would have to drop his price.

A small article in the business section of the following Wednesday’s paper caught my eye.

Financial advisor skips town

Potential investors were left holding their seminar bags when controversial Victoria investment advisor Brian Ralston failed to show for his own talk at the Hyatt Hotel.

Participants, who had prepaid $200 dollars for ‘seminar materials’, waited in the hotel’s Rainforest Room for an hour Thursday night but Ralston didn’t show.

Hotel officials say Ralston and his wife left two overnight bags behind but did not check out or pay their bill.

Ralston was in the news several years ago when investors lost millions in what some called a well-planned rip-off. Ralston is still facing civil suits in the matter, but no criminal charges were laid.

Police are looking into this latest incident.

The bodies were found on Friday. An enterprising cop looking into Ralston’s sleep and dash, had tracked down the cab driver who took them to the house. He smelled them from the front porch and called in the homicide detectives. I couldn’t resist walking past on Saturday. They had the whole place sealed off with yellow tape and there were cops all over. I went over to the ball diamond in the park, sat on the grass and watched the kids play. Just another guy taking some weekend sun.

Seeing all the activity lifted my spirits. The morning paper called it a double murder but there was no mention of the Wolf. The story concentrated on the financial angle. The reporter noted that Ralston had received death threats over the years from disgruntled clients.

Ralston and Amy had only been married for four months, which would have made them newlyweds when I first saw them at the Eagle’s Realm. If they had honey-mooned anywhere else, they’d both be alive. I believe in fate.

Osterwich broke the Wolf angle in Monday’s paper. The police confirmed a letter had been left at the crime scene but were not releasing its contents. The last three paragraphs in the story hit me like a blow to the guts.

Ralston’s new bride, Amy Collier, was a lay preacher at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sooke, which Ralston began attending after his financial empire imploded. She was a widow with two teenage children and was not involved in his financial affairs.

I sat at the kitchen table for a long time, thinking about her nice smile and easy manner, trying to convince myself the responsibility was Ralston’s, not mine. Why did the lowlife cocksucker have to bring her along? It wasn’t the religion part that bothered me. I would have killed a priest as soon as anyone else. Religious bloodsuckers were high on my list.

I’d always known bystanders could become collateral damage. I planned to take anyone out who stood between me and escape, saving the last bullet for myself if necessary. War is harsh. Donald Wayne’s kid didn’t bother me. He was a predator-in-waiting, at the wrong place at the wrong time. But this woman was different. All she did was fall for the wrong Born Again. It didn’t sit right.

I brooded over Amy Collier’s death all week. At the office, I imagined putting a bullet in Thorsby more than once. He kept repeating the same theme.

“I can’t figure this guy out. Christ, he had people on his side after the Findley shootout. Even though he blinded an innocent kid and killed a working stiff from the club, he had people talking about change. But this is all fucked up. Taking out a woman preacher? I mean how low can you get.”

“What makes you so goddamn sure there was a shootout with Findley.”

I all but shouted it across the aisle. Thorsby had never seen me angry and for a minute he seemed cowed.

“I just know what I read in the papers,” he said, turning back to his screen. I took him about a minute to come back with his rejoinder. “You seem pretty adamant yourself. Do you have firsthand knowledge that the rest of us don’t? Maybe you’re the Wolf. You said he’s probably innocuous and what could be more innocuous than another sap in an overpriced sports jacket. But then, you don’t write as well as the Wolf.”

I instantly regretted the whole exchange. I don’t know why I let this overweight knob with a dumpy girlfriend get under my skin. It didn’t make sense. But nothing had made sense for a long time.

“At least I don’t sit around reading tractor manuals for inspiration. And that guy in the famous hoodie and mask picture looked a little on the dumpy side. I’ve noticed that same maniacal glint in your eye looking up from a Whopper, with mustard on your chin. Now that’s scary.”

We went on that way every day. It sounds harsh written down, but the exchanges were mostly friendly. I liked that about Thorsby. If you stayed away from Molly and his allowance, you could say anything to the guy. He took it as an intellectual challenge. By Thursday he was getting on my nerves so bad I started fantasizing about taking him out. I imagined rolling up behind his chair and putting one in the back of his bad haircut.

Chapter 9: Evil Eye Goes Global

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Go to previous postChapter 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

 

Fellow citizens:

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.

Bottom-liners beware.

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.

“No.”

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.

“Hyatt hotel.”

“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.”

“E-d-d-e-r-l-y.”

“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.

 

 

 

Chapter 8: Talking trash

Go to previous chapter – Chapter 7: A Menace No More

I was surprised at the reaction to ‘the shootout.’ Donald Wayne was bigger news than the media mogul. Morrie Greenberg, international businessman, had been usurped by a hoodlum with a high school education. Everyone was talking about the People’s Wolf. In restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations and on public transit the standard joke, in a hundred variations, was about ‘keeping better company.’  I had inadvertently coined a phrase that, with Osterwich’s help, had connected with people.

I felt a shift in public opinion. People were getting onside with the Wolf. Nobody official, of course, just ordinary people who needed a champion talking among themselves. They weren’t exactly condoning the killings, but the conversations carried an undertone of sympathy with the cause. There was a general feeling that the bottom-liners had gotten away with too much for too long and that the supposed innocents, Greenberg and Cunningham, must have been into something. The receptionist had it right.

It delighted me that everyone grabbed onto the concept that there had been a shootout. I hadn’t taken any fire but was happy to have people believe that I had. That schlep Thorsby was right. Killing a well-known hard case had elevated the Wolf’s standing.

The rest of January passed uneventfully. I began work on the Nextco story and had almost all the information together in a couple of weeks. I stalled Oliver with plausible excuses about having a couple more interviews to do and showed up at the office every day. I didn’t want to work at home. Alone.

I alternated between feelings of pride and dread. Pride that I had carried out a dangerous mission and dread at the knowledge I would have to do it again. By mid-February, with media coverage slowed to a rehashing of what was already known, I was slipping back into the darkness. Sitting on the couch staring across the street at the neighbour’s house. Isolating. Towards the end of February, I told Kate I’d be working at home to finish the Nextco story. She didn’t buy it.

“If you don’t make that appointment with Doctor Adams I will,” she said one Saturday morning.

I was shuffling about the house in a T-shirt and pajama pants, unshaven, and feeling low. Nothing mattered. Donald Wayne hadn’t changed anything. The world continued as it always had. The bottom-liners went about their business of fucking over society with increased security precautions. The righteous continued in their victim mode. What would it take to wake people up?

“I’ll make an appointment Monday.”

I phoned Gail Whitesong. Maxwell Smart wasn’t a difficult man to see.

“Mr. Delaney, it’s good to hear your voice again. I wondered what you were up to. I can give you the last time on Thursday. Dr. Adams can see you at four o’clock.”

She sounded sincere but I knew better. I was just another despondent client looking for a quick fix. One of hundreds in the files.

“I’ve missed you too, Gail. Why don’t we forget about Adams and I’ll come and see you?”

She ignored my little flirtation.

“Thursday at four, then.”

“See you Thursday.”

Kate’s prodding aside, I was looking forward to seeing the little swindler. I couldn’t tell you why.

Thursday dawned bright; a soft breeze carried the scent of spring under a rare blue winter sky. In a few weeks the cherry trees would blossom.  I’d arranged an easy morning at the office and took the afternoon off. I picked up some take-out for lunch and drove to Kits Beach. I parked in the spot where I’d made the decision about Donald Wayne. How long ago was that? A matter of weeks. How many? I didn’t know. But I did know that the high of killing was wearing off faster.

I drove around Point Grey after lunch, my thoughts swirling around like clothes in a dryer. I parked the car on the cliff at the top of Wreck Beach and walked down the long wooden stairway to the ocean. In summer the place simmered with sex. Homos humping in the bushes. Naked women flaunting their best assets.  Well-hung guys advertising their wares. The restaurant and nightclub crowd. Fucking bunch of degenerates. I didn’t care who did what to who down there.

Even on a beautiful day the beach was deserted. Too cold to get naked, I guess. I sat on a log and stared at the waves coming in. One after another. Forever. I knew with certainty in that moment nothing had meaning. It hit me hard, because to recognize it was to admit the Wolf’s mission had no meaning. And that there was nothing but blackness ahead for me.

I parked on a side street near Adams’ office so I could pass by my favourite dumpster. I’d had the running shoes I wore on the Donald Wayne job in the car. I tied the shoelaces together and dangled them carelessly as I walked, as if I didn’t have a worry in the world. What was real? I didn’t care anymore.

When I got to the overflowing dumpster,  I flipped the shoes on the bagged garbage. One caught the edge and fell back, dangling forlornly.  By the time I reached the stairway landing inside the building and looked out the dirty window at the alley, a street person was already trying them on. It brightened my mood slightly.

Adams outer office was exactly as I’d last seen it. Gail Whitesong sat at her desk, her wine-colored coif perfectly in place, huge red-framed glasses covering half her face.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Delaney.”

She had an attractive way of looking up at you over top of the monster glasses. I could see why she had to be wary of men. But I was feeling too bleak for small talk or repartee, so I simply nodded pleasantly and walked over to the window. The guy at the dumpster was gone now, along with the shoes. The sunny day had faded to late afternoon. My brain had faded to black.

“Roger, come in please.”

The horn-haired little fraud was standing in the doorway to his office wearing a light-colored polyester shirt and dark pants, a bad brown tie and senior’s shoes. Seeing him in the flesh burst my illusion. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I would’ve left right then but the thought of Kate stopped me. I walked past him without saying anything and settled into the easy chair in a snarky mood.

The inner office didn’t feel comfortable. The plant growing up and over the patio door reminded me of the Little Shop of Horrors. I hated that movie. I kicked out the leg rest and sunk right back as he got his chair and set it in front of me.

“So, what’s new?”

“What’s new with you, Roger.”

“I asked you first.”

I said it with a nasty edge, but he took no notice.

“Well, I just got back from a Mensa conference in Lake Tahoe. Quite a lot of fun. There are some real characters, believe me.”

“I took the Mensa intelligence test and failed. They said I was close enough to try again in a year. I never did.”

It was true. I don’t know why I took the test. Probably because I wanted to justify feeling smarter than everybody else. Maybe I was lonely and thought I might connect with like-minded people. They sent me a conciliatory letter advising me of my failure to make the grade. It happened a long time ago and I hadn’t thought of Mensa since.

“It’s not really a test of intelligence. Brilliance manifests itself in a variety of ways. Many members are total disasters in the simplest areas of their lives. They dress oddly, perhaps, or have no luck with women.”

“Really.”

He ignored the irony. Or didn’t get it.

“Mensa members are a bunch of oddballs, so I wouldn’t feel too excluded.”

“I don’t.”

“You’re very abrupt today. Is something troubling you?”

“No more than usual.”

“So, you’re feeling down? Depressed? Experiencing a lot of turbulence?”

“All of the above.”

“What does it feel like to be depressed? I don’t mean just sadness or hopelessness; I mean what does it feel like in the thinking part of your brain? Put it into words for me.”

“It still feels like reality.”

“Please clarify.”

“Seeing life for what it is. Rotten to its core with corruption, greed, the unspeakable violence of the human species. It’s knowing with certainty nothing has meaning and everything just is. That there is nothing in the future but more of the same.”

“You might be surprised to know I agree with some of what you say. Emily and I talk about the state of the world sometimes, after the kids go to bed. She doesn’t have a high opinion of human nature. I stay upbeat by understanding why things are the way they are from a scientific point of view. When you think about it the world is exactly as it should be. Humans are far and away the most aggressive predators on the planet. We have succeeded in subjugating all living things to suit our needs. Why would the depredation stop with other species?”

He paused for a moment. Did the pause have meaning? Had I imagined it? He began to talk again. Like a kindly professor.

“It’s natural that humans prey on other humans. And if you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, it follows that the most aggressive humans thrive while the weaker people in the gene pool fall to the wayside.”

“Like the creatures of the Downtown Eastside?”

It was my first comment. I’d been content listening, watching his face as he spoke. Then a hair horn fell forward onto his forehead. When his unsuccessful efforts to brush it into place with his hand became too annoying, I closed my eyes and put my head back. He continued as if he hadn’t heard.

“Take the psychopathic personality, for instance. It makes perfect sense to me that psychopaths rise to the top in almost every field that involves personal gain. If a psychopath starts out in business with the goal of achieving power and wealth, he is much more likely to reach that goal than an individual constrained by morals and integrity. That doesn’t mean most successful people kill to get to where they are. It means they cut corners, screw people over and generally disregard rules and niceties they are convinced don’t apply to them.

“Therefore, a high percentage of our leaders in business, politics, education, organized religion, you name the field, are psychopaths. As I said, if you believe in Darwin, psychopaths and their spawn must rise to the top of the evolutionary hill. Natural selection won’t be denied. Somehow, when I think of it like that, it’s not so depressing. It’s simple science.”

“Thanks for cheering me up.”

“We are all out for ourselves and those closest to us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  It has always been so. The core foundation of the animal kingdom. Everything we do is for personal satisfaction. If good comes out of it, that’s a positive. Even the do-gooders are only in it for themselves. They help others because it makes them feel good. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t do it. There is no right and wrong, only survival, and what it takes to ensure it. As someone with a clear view of reality you’re already a step ahead. Like you said, the universe doesn’t judge, it just is. Once you connect with that, not just on an intellectual level but in the guts of your being, you can begin to move forward.”

“I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.”

He bent forward slightly and let go a cross between a laugh and a giggle.

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh.”

The movement knocked the other hair horn down. It seemed so ridiculous I didn’t respond. We locked eyes and sat that way for several minutes, not speaking. Another stare-off. Who would crack? I shifted slightly in my chair and he mimicked the move. I shifted the other way and so did he. I touched my nose and he touched his. I grabbed my crotch and he flashed me the peace sign.

Neither of us had smiled nor spoken since the end of his giggle. How had it come to this? The People’s Wolf sitting in a drab office above a strip mall, in the shadow of a man-eating plant, playing monkey-at-the-zoo with a badly dressed little con artist who might be insane. I had to laugh. And when I did Adams burst out. We laughed like a couple of kids. I flashed him the peace sign and he grabbed his crotch and it set us off again.

“Oh, you’re… a… real… card, Roger.”

He could barely get the words out. I was laughing so hard I had to turn in my chair and gasp for breath. I wanted to reply but couldn’t. I finally let go in a high-pitched fast burst, running the words together.

“You’re-not-so-bad-yourself.”

He leaned toward me and shook his hair horns. I attempted a matador cape motion and said: “Ole.”

We sat there joking back and forth like children. Small children with bad jokes. At one point he put his thumb on his nose and waggled his fingers at me and I waggled back. We finally arrived at that uncomfortable moment when the laughter becomes a bit forced.

Adams stood up and brushed his hair into place with his fingers. He took the chair back to its place against the wall as I composed myself.

“Look at it this way, Roger. If nothing has meaning, then there’s no reason to be anything but happy.”

He said it softly, with real affection, the way a father might reassure his son. I stood up and he turned towards me and did his preying mantis bow. A short session, but strangely satisfying. This time I bowed back.

Gail Whitesong sat inscrutably at her desk. She must have heard the laughter but she wasn’t letting on. I flirted with her, gently, and made another appointment for two weeks. I left the office feeling good.

I had no idea what had just happened. How the little horned-swoggler had got inside my head and released the pressure. I had never laughed that hard for that long. Ever. Even when I was a kid. It felt so good I didn’t want it to stop. Adams had gotten to me again.

On the drive home I tried to figure out how he did it. It surprised and annoyed me that he was a Mensa member. What I told him was true. I had taken the test in my mid-twenties and failed. It pissed me off severely when I read the letter informing me I’d fallen short of brilliance. Bunch of clueless fucking nerds.

Some things Adams said made sense, though. Over time, the psychopaths had to take over at all levels of society. Greenberg and Cunningham were psychos. I had no doubt of that. Donald Wayne’s record spoke for itself. The drug dealer and the pimp were punks but being stupid psychopaths didn’t make them any less guilty. Five executions, five fewer psychos preying on the world.

His take on life having no meaning hit home. It meshed with my Wreck Beach revelation, but in an uplifting way. If nothing mattered why worry. It was freeing, really, when you thought about it. What could be more liberating than knowing with certainty that everything happens randomly, that there is no karma, no reward in the afterlife for good behavior, no punishment, no judgement. By the time I got home I was feeling downright jaunty. Kate noticed right away.

“You look like you had a good day.”

She was standing at the stove making a stir fry, wearing a plain red apron, wooden spoon in hand, face flushed from the heat rising from the wok.

“You just look good, honey. And something smells wonderful.”

I walked over and she dipped the wooden spoon in the stir fry to give me a taste. The flavors came alive in my mouth. I felt a little high, almost giddy.

“My two favourite things in life: good food and my beautiful wife.”

“Wow, your appointment with Dr. Adams must have gone well. You were seeing him today weren’t you.”

“Yeah, I saw the little horned-swoggler. We had a good laugh. I think he might be crazier than I am. He’s a member of Mensa, you know.”

“Mensa?”

“It’s a club for brainiacs. You have to have an I.Q. of 160 or some such to get in. A lot of them are oddballs like Adams.”

I used his word, and my tone conveyed newfound respect. It came out that way, from somewhere just below conscious thought.

“Really. Well he came highly recommended but I’m sure he’s no smarter than you are, Roger. You could be a Mensa member if you wanted.”

I didn’t mention failing the test. What difference did it make in the overall scheme. Why bring it up. Kate wore blinders when it came to me. She believed in her heart that I was the smartest, best looking man in our circle. She meant it when she said Oliver was lucky to have me.

I marveled at how different her reality was from mine. Until the light shone on me, I was one of life’s losers. Another Delaney plugging his way through life in mediocrity. I saw her as she was: pleasantly plain, not overly intellectual with simple aspirations and rock-solid morals. I had dated better-looking, more interesting women. Most of them had attitude or were phony or damaged in some way or other.

During my Good Time Charlie years I’d gone out with a stage actress of some renown in Canadian theater circles. She was beautiful and passionate, smart as a whip. I thought I was falling for her until I stayed over at her apartment on our third or fourth date. She had hats hanging on her bedroom walls for decoration, old theater bills in the entrance, a coffee table book about the art of acting prominently displayed. The whole place was one big, phony cliché. I never called her again.

Kate had no pretense. I’d never caught her in a lie, never saw her trying to be something she wasn’t. She was the antithesis of a bottom-liner. Seeing me entombed in the blackness, powerless to help myself, didn’t diminish me in her eyes. She’s the only person I let in. At times, she was my only light.

Adams’ words, delivered in that fatherly, professorial tone, stayed with me. I had no reason to be anything but happy. The entire country was talking about the People’s Wolf. People were bombarding online Wolf forums with their bullshit. A bunch of idiots sitting around in their underwear trying to show everybody how smart they were. I hated online chat sites. Dumb asses living in cyber space where they could pretend to be more than they were in their miserable lives. Little people who talked big but went along like sheep. I’d heard that the Wolf was getting a lot of support, but I never logged into any of the sites. I figured one of them must be a cop trick.

I won’t deny that I loved the attention. I even took public transit a couple of times just to hear people talk. The shootout thing had taken on its own life. Every news story I’d heard or read said only three or four shots were fired but people clung to the fiction that the Wolf had coolly shot it out with gangsters and walked away. Even Thorsby had it wrong. Doing Donald Wayne had created great expectations among the little people.

Towards the beginning of the second week anxiety began to seep through the cracks, turning the brightness to grey.  The Donald Wayne thing happened so fast it took away all the joy of the hunt. I’d planned on staying busy with him well into the new year. I knew I had to find someone else, someone suitable who would keep the Wolf momentum going. Nobody had come to mind by my next visit with Adams.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Delaney. You’re looking smart today.”

Gail Whitesong gazed up at me over her giant red glasses, a hint of coquettish in her smile. Or was there? Who did she see when she looked at me? I had no idea.

“Ms. Gail, fetching as always.”

“You’re a flatterer, that’s for sure. Mother warned me about your type. She said, ‘Gail, men do not give compliments to women without an ulterior motive. It’s not in their nature.”

“But what motive could I possibly have, Ms. Gail. I’m simply showing my natural appreciation for beauty.”

I said it earnestly, as if I was Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind.

“Mother told me what men want. And she knew men, believe you me. Of course, I don’t think that of you, Mr. Delaney. You’re much too refined to be that sort. I love that jacket you’re wearing.”

“Thank you.”

I was wearing a skinny cut, flat-grey wool sports coat from Harry Rosen. I got it on the sale rack for $450. I don’t know how or why our banter had turned flirtatious. The whole Adams thing was bizarre–Ms. Gail, the windows overlooking the dumpster, the man-eating plant, and most especially, Adams and his mental drivel. The guy actually had me grabbing my crotch and thumbing my nose at him. And he got well paid for it. How had it come to be? I didn’t care because it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.

Adams had added a navy-blue sweater vest to his polyester look. It hung loose, as if it were a size too big. His wife had the taste of a gnat.

“Nice look, doc. Very intellectual.”

“Thanks Roger but I don’t like sweater vests. It seems to me a sweater is worn for warmth and if you leave off the sleeves what’s the point. But Emily had it laid out this morning. She says a sweater vest warms up my look. She spends a lot of time and energy dressing me.”

“It shows.”

Neither of us acknowledged our laughing time together and Adams started things off without a stare-off.

“What would you like to talk about today? What’s foremost in your thoughts.”

“Nothing pops out. Does that mean my foremost thoughts are about nothing?”

“Thinking about nothing is an oxymoron. A scientific impossibility. I’ve got something we can discuss. What about this People’s Wolf fellow? Do you have any thoughts on him? He seems to be on everybody’s mind these days.”

He stared directly into me as he said it. I can’t explain it any other way. It stunned me for a second.

“Where does he fit from a scientific standpoint?” I asked, feigning casual interest.

I badly wanted to know what he thought.

I admit it.

“Well, it goes without saying he is a predator of the highest order. His letters indicate above normal intelligence and a facility with the written word.”

Did he really place emphasis on the last part? Was paranoia my new reality? I sat in silence with my turbulent thoughts.

“If he believes what he’s writing he’s a romantic, but then it takes a realist to kill people for a cause. He sees himself as being above the people he champions and is carrying an unbearably heavy load of anger. Killing people lets the anger go. It gives him relief; the way laughter relieves tension.”

Another subtle signal? He had me glued to the easy chair.

“It sounds like you’ve been giving the Wolf a lot of thought.”

I said it without animosity.

“Hasn’t everybody. You can’t turn on the radio or TV without hearing about it. I got a call from the police the other day asking if I would join a panel they’re forming to put together a profile of the suspect. They probably heard about me through the work I was doing with psychopaths at UBC.”

I’d always prided myself as someone who couldn’t put on the false front needed for small talk. A bad actor. A lousy liar. Sitting there in the easy chair, feeling unnerved at this revelation, I put on an Oscar worthy performance.

“Wow. This Wolf guy has turned into a cottage industry. Everybody’s cashing in.”

“Oh, we get a stipend but nobody’s getting rich. We do it out of scientific interest and hopefully it works out for the better good.”

A curious choice of words? Or not.

“So where does the Wolf stand on the psychopath scale from an expert’s point of view?”

“He is almost certainly a psychopath. He’s already killed five people and damaged many more lives, the latest of which are the young woman who witnessed the execution of her boyfriend and an innocent teenager who saw his dad gunned down, likely the last thing he will ever see. The Wolf shows no remorse in his letters and I very much doubt he has a conscience or is capable of empathy.”

Talking about the Wolf with Adams was more satisfying than trading jibes with Thorsby. And infinitely more dangerous. Once the paranoia settled, I knew there was no possible way he could suspect me. There had to be 100,000 people in the city who had ‘a facility with words.’ Still, I resolved to be super cautious. A slip-up could prove fatal. For someone. I didn’t want it to be me.

“I’m not sure it’s that cut-and-dried,” I said. “You made the point last session that preying on others comes naturally to humans. Maybe the system has screwed him over and this is his way of fighting back. Maybe he believes that preying on the bottom-liners, as he refers to his victims, strikes a blow for the little guy. Maybe he believes in his cause so much he’s willing to sacrifice himself.”

“Oh, he believes in the cause alright. No doubt about that. You’re right, he carries out these killings at great personal risk. To continue now, with security cameras everywhere, and hundreds of police on his trail, is borderline suicidal. And this latest shootout with gangsters appears to be an escalation in the level of violence and danger. But sacrifice himself. I doubt he thinks about it that way.”

I smiled at the shootout reference. The little horned-swoggler couldn’t get his facts straight, either. He wanted to devour the myth of the Wolf as much as anyone. So I fed him.

“The experts say the coolness he showed under fire is something that can’t be learned, except on a field of mortal combat.” An Osterwich angle. “One former military guy put the odds of an untrained shooter hitting three moving targets at night with a handgun at 10,000 to one. And that’s without the targets shooting back.  The disgruntled veteran theory makes sense. Whoever he is, he’s a hell of a shot.”

Adams took a moment to absorb this. I waited for the Mensa man to do the math. And indeterminate number of shots fired from one gun does not a shootout make. He didn’t make the connection.

“What do you make of the reference to Herman Hesse. That’s a quote that would work nicely on my office door. ‘Not for everyone. For mad men only.’ I suppose it might offend some patients.”

He laughed softly. Not the maniac giggle of last session.

“I don’t know much about Hesse. Wasn’t he a German philosopher? I’ve never read anything by him.”

“He was German-Swiss actually. A poet, novelist and painter who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in the 40s. I’ve read his major novels, Steppenwolfe and Sidhartha. The quote comes from Steppenwolfe. Actually, it’s the words on an electric sign: “Magic Theater. Entrance Not For Everybody. For Madmen Only.”

“You’re really up on Herman Hesse. You don’t own a handgun do you?”

He didn’t acknowledge the joke.

“Yes I do. I have a Glock nine millimeter. I got it after I started working with violent psychopaths. When I heard what they were capable of doing from their own mouths, I went through the process and got myself a Firearms Acquisition Permit. Emily has had her FAQ since her early twenties. And a thirty-eight revolver. She’s somewhat to the right in her view of the world. A pragmatist. We go to the range now and fire at targets. They are shaped like humans, which is interesting from a psychologist’s viewpoint. It’s a lot of fun, better than bowling, but I must agree with your expert. Shooting at live armed targets is a whole other thing. I doubt I could get the safety off in the middle of a firefight, let alone point and shoot it accurately.”

I had to hand it to the guy. He was full of surprises. The sweater vest aside, he didn’t look as goofy as usual. Things had got so deep so fast I hadn’t noticed that his black bouffant was slicked down into a two-inch thick mat, with no hint of horns showing. Maybe my matador joke hit the mark. Maybe he just wanted to look more businesslike for his new role in the Wolf investigation. I still didn’t know for sure if it was real hair. Maybe he just changed wigs.

“It certainly is an enigmatic quote,” I said, digesting the gun news. “What do you make of it.”

“It tells me that we are dealing with someone who is conflicted,” he said.  “Steppenwolfe is not an easy read. Perhaps the Wolf thinks of himself as Hesse’s protagonist, Harry Haller, a man in search of himself. My guess is that he is a controlled individual. Someone who rarely shows rage.”

“I’d think you’d have to know yourself well before taking a gun to the streets and executing people in the name of common good. If you didn’t before, you certainly would afterwards.”

“I suppose you would. But if I have learned one thing in fourteen years of practice, it is never attempt  to figure out what another person is thinking at any given moment. It is as difficult as trying to grab a handful of smoke.”

“Here’s my theory. The Wolf is not a he, as you suppose, but instead a group of people who have extensive contacts throughout different stratas of society. They might have met at university, or in a punk band or in the military. Males and females, like the Squamish Five. Maybe they’re all disgruntled veterans. Different group members carry out different functions. Research. Surveillance. Killing.”

“That’s a fascinating theory, Roger. One of the more interesting I’ve heard. How did you arrive at it?”

“Think about it. Killing people takes a lot of planning. Who can work the execution of five people, including two bigwigs and a notorious gangster, into their schedule? One person with a job wouldn’t have time to do everything. A guy with the money to sit around planning executions isn’t going to do it without some motive. A nutcase couldn’t pull it off without someone seeing something. This is not Son of Sam picking off random victims. He pulled a couple of these killings off in broad daylight and the cops don’t even have an accurate description. They can’t even say if he’s black, white or yellow.”

Adams listened attentively, hanging on every word.

“The letter is the clincher. In the last one published the Wolf refers to himself as ‘our.’ Why would he do that? To throw off the cops? That would seem too clumsy for a person with the intelligence he’s credited with. No, the most obvious answer is a simple slip-up. Human error. I’m not sure if I mentioned it but many years back, I worked at a small newspaper. Everybody in the editorial department did everything—writing, editing, proofing. Three sets of eyes could read the same story carefully, looking for errors, and still overlook mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling. It happens all the time. The people responsible for the killings are so used to thinking of themselves as a group nobody picked up on it.”

“You’ve almost got me convinced. Would you mind if I bring up the group theory with the panel?  Of course, I wouldn’t reveal your name or involve you in any way. Everything said in this room is in the strictest confidence. As a former journalist you understand the importance of confidentiality.”

“No problem. But I doubt your learned panel will be as open-minded as you. They’re on the lookout for an ex-soldier.”

When he ended the session with the preying mantis bow, I returned it again. It didn’t seem hokey anymore.

The fear hit me a few blocks from home. It came like a lightning bolt through the roof of the car, striking me on the top of the head and running through me, deep into my guts. I pulled the car over on a side street, a couple blocks from home. To think and recover.

A small kid was playing in the front yard across the street with the family dog, jumping and rolling around on the grass in the porch light. I watched him, idly, as I thought things through.

There had to be something hinky happening. What were the chances in a metropolitan area of about two million people that a killer would be a client of a psychologist involved in the investigation? If it was a movie plot it would be over the top. Yet here I was, sitting in my car on a dark street, wondering how such a coincidence was possible.

I had developed a grudging respect for Adams. He wasn’t as goofy as he looked. I went back over the session. Had I imagined him emphasizing the part about the killer having a facility with words? And the look he gave me when he brought up the Wolf? I didn’t think it was all in my head, but what paranoid person does? Logically, I knew there was no possible way he could connect me to the Wolf. I was just another depressed middle age patient. The only thing in the world that connected me to the killings was the gun. If I dumped it, I could walk away.  Free.

I had enjoyed talking about the Wolf with him but when he mentioned bringing it up with the task force profiling panel, alarm bells sounded. The cops would be suspicious of anyone who inserted himself into the investigation. I did not intend to do that, even behind the scenes. Just talking about the killings was dangerous. Still, I knew the opportunity to discuss the investigation with someone officially involved would be irresistible.

“Henry, get in here right now.”

The ferocity of the words snapped me out my reverie.

“I said now. Right now, you little bastard.”

A weaselly man stood on the lighted porch. He was wearing a black T-shirt with the word DEFIANCE on the front in huge white letters. His skinny arms were covered in jailhouse tattoos. He kicked at the kid as he went by. Then he turned to me. He didn’t look as big as yelling at the kid made him feel.

“Fuck off, pervert. I’ll cut your balls off if I catch you around here again. Go look for little boys somewhere else.”

Adams was right about one thing. I never showed rage. Even a month or two ago I would have started my car and driven off, convinced I’d done the smarter thing at the cost of a little piece of manhood. I couldn’t do that now. It wouldn’t be right.

As soon as I opened the car door, the guy came off the porch. I pegged him as a bully when he stopped at the edge of the yard. I pulled my trench coat from the back of the car and stood in the street calmly putting it on. Then I walked slowly across the street toward him, with one hand inside the coat, like some gangster from the 40s. I had become a good actor.

“Oh, you want some, eh? Fuckin’ pervert.”

He talked tough. Pimp talk.  But he didn’t make a move towards me. He stood there in the imaginary safety of his yard as I approached. I didn’t plan to fight. If he took a swing at me, I’d walk away and come back another time and put him down. I just wanted to scare him a little. Make him feel like the kid felt. Teach him some empathy. I closed the distance between us with authority and stopped a few feet short of his yard.

“I told you to fuck off….”

I cut him off mid-sentence. I didn’t want to hear it.

“A goof like you shouldn’t be telling people what to do. You’re not smart enough.”

I used the jailhouse slang; an insult no real tough guy could let pass. I said it evenly, without all the aggression I felt inside.

“You’ve only got one decision to make now, goof. Decide whether you want to live or not. That shouldn’t be too hard, even for a dimwit like yourself. Turn around and go inside the house and I’ll let your ignorance slide.”

I could see the fear. This wasn’t going according to his script.

“You a cop or something?”

“I’m something. Something bad for goofs who yell at people in the street. Stick to the kids. They might buy your tough guy act. Have you made a decision?”

He glanced back at the house, to see if anyone was watching. The kid had paused in the doorway.

“It’s okay, Henry, go inside.” All the anger was gone from his voice. “Listen, man, I thought you were a skinner. I don’t want no trouble. I’m on probation.”

“I don’t need reasons. Make the right decision and you won’t get trouble. Turn around and walk into the house. Do it.”

He stood there for a moment looking stupid. I could see the wheels turning. He’d already made his decision and was searching for a way out without losing too much face. He didn’t find one.

“Whatever, man. I don’t need this shit,” he said, moving towards the house. “Why should I give a fuck about what you do? Do what you fucking like, who gives a fuck.”

He mumbled like that all the way to the door, then slammed it shut. Fucking jar head. I went back to the car and sat there for a few minutes staring at the house. Just to make him nervous. I saw him look out the bedroom window then try to duck back. After a few minutes I drove off.

I hadn’t been in a fight since grade school. Punching or kicking someone seemed so crude, the avenue of last resort. Who wanted to rip a new shirt or get some idiot’s blood all over their clothes? Avoiding confrontations had never been a problem. On the rare occasion a situation came up, I used my brain instead of my fists.

The confrontation brought me back to reality. By the time I got home, I had reassured myself that Adams couldn’t possibly be on to me. The last residue of fear disappeared when I opened the door and smelled Kate’s cooking.

My mood remained buoyant throughout March despite the unexpected call.

“Mr. Delaney, it’s Gail Whitesong from Doctor Adams’s office.

“Yes, Ms. Gail, I recognize your voice.”

“Dr. Adams asked me to call and arrange a later appointment. He’s been quite involved with this police investigation and has cut his office time to two days a week. He wondered if you’d mind seeing him mid-April, say Thursday the 16th at 11 a.m.”

“I can do without the good doctor until then, Ms. Gail, but it means I won’t be seeing you for more than a month. That will be a real hardship.”

She didn’t answer and I thought the line had gone dead.

“Ms. Gail.”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I thought we’d been cut off, for a minute.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing you on the 16th, Mr. Delaney.”

I don’t know why I flirted with her. It wasn’t a sexual thing. I had no interest in Ms. Gail in that way.  Even in the full hormones of youth I’d never had a strong sex drive. I was more interested in mental coupling. The sex came with it. Duty as much as pleasure. I was always able to do my duty, except once or twice during my coke phase in the Good Time Charlie years.

Kate had never found me wanting in that regard. She was the only woman I had a sexual relationship with that lasted more than a few weeks. With the others, familiarity had bred contempt on both sides early on. It frustrated women when I wouldn’t argue with them about trivial matters. Among cruder things, I’d been called aloof, a chauvinist, insensitive, self-absorbed, conceited, a preening idiot and an asshole. They had me down pretty good. But Kate didn’t see me that way. I can’t put our thing into words except to say I loved her as much as I was capable.

 

Chapter 7: A Menace No More

See previous chapter –

Chapter 6: Laughing Out Loud

I had a mini-panic attack early in January. I was sitting on the downstairs couch in my skivvies at two in the morning staring at the closed blinds. Trying to shore up my resolve about doing Donald Wayne. I knew I’d have to spin the chamber again first. Let fate be the final arbiter.

I started to shiver and that turned into shaking, then spasms. I thought I was having a heart attack but I didn’t cry out. Dying on the couch of natural causes didn’t seem bad compared to bleeding out on the office floor with a bullet in my head.

The bottom-liners have tried to portray me as a homicidal maniac, someone who feels no fear and shows no mercy. Those who have read this far know different. Donald Wayne had me shaking in my underwear. I knew he’d be constantly on guard against his multitude of enemies and seldom alone.  He would likely be armed or, if not, would use anything at hand to bash his would-be killer to a bloody pulp. I didn’t want to go out in a puddle of blood watching a crazed Dennis the Menace raise a concrete block over his head.

I’m not sure if the whole episode lasted a minute or 10 minutes or an hour. The spasms slowed and I began to rock, a slow rocking.  I got deep into it with the gods of fate, offering up complete surrender. It felt good to turn it over, just like Adams said. It was out of my hands. All I had to do was survive.

I waited until mid-January, with Kate away visiting her sister in Toronto for a week, to get up close and personal with Donald Wayne. I wanted to give myself a reality check. To confirm he was a punk at his core. That he wouldn’t have anything when the end came. I’d learned in my research that he hung around a downtown nightclub called Ecstasy, said to be quietly owned by the Demons. The place was an old warehouse in Yaletown with a huge sprung dance floor. It was packed Thursday through Saturday.

The real action took place upstairs, in the lounge, where high rollers waved hundred dollar bills to get the attention of nearly naked lap dancers. The cover was $50 bucks if you didn’t know the right people. Men who made easy money happily paid to mingle with celebrities, gangsters and beautiful nude women. One side of the lounge had booths that afforded views of the dance floor below. The money men could sit above it, pick out a woman they liked and send a minion downstairs to bring her up. And women outdid themselves on the dance floor to become a chosen one. I kid you not. The place was thick with bottom-liners.

Two things had caught my eye in the article. First and oddly, Donald Wayne Findley was an avid dancer who loved to show off his moves. Who knew? Second, Ecstasy billed itself as a no-camera zone to reassure its publicity-shy clientele. I doubted the second part but figured it would be safe enough to go there on a busy Thursday night.

Anticipation built throughout the week. On Wednesday I went shopping for a sports jacket at lunch. I wanted a downtown look without being splashy. A color and cut that would blend in with the in-crowd. I walked to Hastings Street, near the financial district, where two or three men’s wear stores catered to stylish bottom-liners on their way up.

I went to a small shop called Harry’s. He had a table and a chair in the window with a sports coat hung on the back, as if someone was sitting there and had just stepped away. He changed the jacket every day or so. It was his idea of window dressing. I stopped by the store every couple of weeks to browse the racks and check out his featured chair jacket.

I hated the high-end men’s stores’ window displays. They always conjured bottom-liner good times. Genteel times. The mannequins were always playing golf or croquet or on their way to tennis in just the right clothes. I pictured a Wolf mannequin wearing one of those hunting jackets with leather patches at the elbow and on the gun shoulder. A sporting man.

Harry’s had been located at the same site for 62 years. Its latest owner had only been around for 23 years. His name was Sheldon Shelby. I appreciated his good taste and had gotten to know him a little over time. We even went for a drink once.

“Aah, Roger. I have a jacket you’re going to love.”

Shelby could sell anything, but he was still working well into his sixties because he was a prodigious spender. He lived well, always on the far edge of what he could afford. I liked him for that. He loved people and it showed. He and his wife had travelled the world before settling in Vancouver in their middle years. He had impeccable taste in clothes and took a paternal interest in his young clients.

Shelby stood respectfully at a distance waiting for my reply. He always gave his clients a moment or two to browse before he approached. He was wearing a tailored grey wool suit with a hint of navy woven into the fabric, a brilliantly white shirt perfectly starched at the collar and a dark blue tie and matching three-point hanky. The suit hung naturally on his somewhat stout frame.  It bespoke elegance.

“Looking sharp as always, Sheldon,” I said, moving my eyes from a table of cashmere sweaters to his suit. “I love the way that tie brings out the blue. It’s a nice colour. Understated.”

“Thank-you. I appreciate that coming from a man of your taste.”

He never commented on my attire beyond that generality. He wasn’t a phony flatterer.

“I just got a jacket in that you simply must see. I couldn’t hang it out with the regular stuff. No. No. No. I set it aside for you. It’s a one-of-a-kind 42 tall. We got it from a small tailor shop on Commercial Drive. Some guy got fitted for it, paid half-down for a deposit, then never showed up to pick it up. I can give it to you at the half-down price. It’s the perfect cut to hang nicely on you. I doubt we’ll have to do any modifications.”

He led me to a holding area beside the storeroom door. I could see a sewing machine on a table in the storeroom, with Sheldon’s older brother Benjamin hunched over it in concentration. I spotted the jacket before Sheldon pulled out the hanger. The olive-green fabric stood out among the others hanging on the rack. He laid the coat across his arm to show me the quality of the material and the workmanship as I took off my sport coat. He held the jacket deftly, offering up one arm then the other, as I slipped it on then stepped over to the mirror.

“Nice coat, Sheldon.”

The jacket, a muted olive-green with the latest narrow, high-cut lapels and flattering shoulders, hung to mid-calf, the extra length giving it a bit of a tuxedo feel. It stood out, not so much in its colour as in its quality. It would not stand out in a nightclub filled with high-rolling bottom-line predators dressed to the nines.

“This jacket was made to be worn by a man of substance,” he said. “It says, ‘I am confident and successful. I don’t need to show off.’”

“No need to sell me Sheldon, I’m going to take it. How much?”

He gave me a faux hurt look.

“Of course, you’re going to take it. I wouldn’t have put it aside if I didn’t think so. Another gentleman wanted to try it on. A nice young man but he doesn’t have your substance.”

When I took off the jacket, he showed me what he’d already written on the price tag: Sold to Roger Delaney. With tie, matching hanky and Shelby’s 10 per cent commission, it cost more than $900 bucks. I knew he probably took an extra hundred off the top on these kinds of deals. I didn’t care. The jacket was a steal at $900. Shelby only sold quality. The jacket didn’t need modifications. A perfect fit for a man of substance.

I got to Ecstasy about ten o’clock. Early for the nightclub set. A line of about 30 people waited in the January drizzle. I’d brought a cheap umbrella with me, but not to keep the rain off. I kept it open and angled towards the warehouse, blocking my face from any camera angle on the outside of the building. I didn’t mind the wait. I needed time to assemble my thoughts. Calm my nerves. It felt like I was going to do Donald Wayne that night. I had to remind myself it was only a reconnaissance mission.

I got in sometime after 11, with the group ahead of me, two guys and three girls. All in their early thirties. I’d been flirting with the one who seemed on her own. Debbie. Better to blend in. I was worried that Donald Wayne or one of his cohorts would think I was a cop if I was alone and got too close. I stopped worrying when we passed through beautifully carved wood doors into the warehouse. The scene was chaotic. Nobody noticing anything.

The enormous sprung dance floor was heaving under the weight of bottom-liners getting their mojo on. I followed the group to a table with sight lines to the dance floor and did a quick scan for Donald Wayne while everyone settled in. I bought Debbie a drink, a Bombay Sling, and she introduced me to the table as Patrick, the name I’d used in the line-up. The guys feigned friendliness but it was evident they had no interest in me. Neither did their girlfriends, other than as someone to take care of their fifth wheel friend.

Debbie was the best looking of the three, but she was recently divorced and seemed needy. I had no interest in her beyond a cover. She got the message after about 10 minutes of non-responsiveness and turned to talk with one of her friends. I did not see Donald Wayne on the dance floor or among the male habitués ogling slinky women on the sidelines. He was not among the coiffed heads and well-tailored shoulders visible above the railing in the lounge overlooking the dance floor. I decided to go upstairs to take a look and excused myself from the table. I left the umbrella behind, as if I was coming back.

Even though I knew about it beforehand from my research, the $50 cover to the lounge pissed me off. Goddamn bottom-line scumbags. I didn’t care about the money. Money meant nothing to me after I started the people’s work. I made a decent living and I knew I didn’t have to keep anything back for retirement. I just hated adding to the scumbags’ bottom line. To be played for the rich fool who was so insecure he’d pay gangsters to hang out with them.

To the bruiser taking the money at the bottom of a short stairway leading to the elevators, I was a nobody, a sucker to be fleeced. He was well-dressed in a dark blue suit, with a red tie and matching hanky. He exuded menace, despite the refined exterior. Or maybe because of it.

“The cover includes your first drink and an introductory table dance.” His voice was high-pitched for such a big man. “Keep your hands off the ladies unless invited. They don’t like to be touched and if you upset them needlessly it upsets other people. You don’t want to do that. But have fun up there.”

I went into the bathroom opposite the elevator doors at the top. I sat in a stall, elbows on my knees, head in hands. I slowed my breathing, concentrating on the job, which was to find out as much about Donald Wayne as I could. Seeing him in person might help me later. I wanted to size him up at my leisure. I had no doubt I could get to him, but I knew it would likely take a long time. I left the bathroom refreshed, after splashing water on my face and drying off with one of the soft white towels neatly folded in a wicker basket.

The lounge was done out in what looked to be red velvet. I kid you not. The carpet, the seat cushions, the bar stool seats, the curtains hanging in the window box booths looking out over the dance floor. The room had a long antique mahogany bar with a backdrop of mirrors and shelves filled with gleaming liquor bottles. The mahogany stools and chairs, with their cushioned red velvet seats and carved legs, gave the place an old time feel. Like it was a top notch booze can during prohibition.

Topless women, wearing shoes and red velvet thongs and chokers, mingled among the men in power suits. I wondered if anyone realized what a clichéd picture they made. Nearly naked women and men dressed for success. There were a lot of young guys in the crowd. Guys with slick hair who didn’t pay the cover. None of them looked like gangsters but I knew different. Putting an expensive suit on a lowlife, scumbag thug didn’t change anything.

The lounge was laid out in a long rectangle with the bar stretching along the entire side opposite the window booths looking down on the plebeians below. Small rooms at the far end were reserved for private lap dances. One bigger room was roped off with red velvet cord. The cover didn’t include access.

I took a stool at the bar and ordered a double Chivas. The bartender politely informed me that the cover only included singles. Fucking cheap pricks. I wondered how long a guy would last if he came out blasting in this crowd. I took a single on ice and scanned the room in the bar mirror. It didn’t take long for my introductory lap dance to arrive.

“Hello sir, my name is Sherry. I’d like to dance for you tonight. If you like what you see and want to see more, we can book a more private place.”

“How old are you, Sherry?”

I don’t know why I asked her that. It just popped out. The question startled her.

“Old enough. Are you a cop or something?”

I instantly realized my mistake.

“No, no. I like young girls but only if they’re of legal age. Show me what you’ve got Sherry.”

I turned my stool and leaned back, one elbow on the bar. She started to sway in a small circle. I couldn’t put her on a specific age. She could have been 18 or 28.  Hard to tell with all that make-up caked on. She had a red velvet ribbon in her hair, to match her thong and choker, and red patent leather shoes with ankle straps and impossibly high heels. She shifted her weight from one high heel to the other, hardly moving below the waist, and leaned into me with her long, tits hanging. I had no desire to touch them.

She tried to engage my eyes, sticking a finger in her mouth and sucking on it in a way she thought was provocative. The whole thing was so ridiculous, so not sexy, I laughed in her face. She took it as a positive sign and stuck another finger between red lips. To avoid another outburst of laughter, I moved my eyes down her body.

She had fair skin, narrow shoulders and banana tits that curved out at the ends in opposite directions. The nipples were small and pink. She was thin, with hips like a boy. She had a red stone stuck in her navel, an oval shaped innie. The only sexy thing about her was the small area between her thighs immediately below her crotch. She had one of those boxes men lust after, the kind light passes through when a woman is wearing tight jeans and standing with her legs together. The kind of box made for fucking.

But I didn’t want to fuck Sherry. She was pathetic, a plaything for a bottom-liner with bad taste in women. My hard-on was for Donald Wayne. And he was nowhere to be seen. Not at first.

Sherry finished her preview, which did not inspire a follow-up in a back booth. She tried to get me to buy her a drink, but I dispensed her with a wave and turned my attention to the room. That’s when I noticed the sliding doors that opened onto an outdoor smoking area. I bought a single cigar at the bar for $10 and grabbed a book of matches and my drink.

The patio was bigger than it looked from inside. It was about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, with stools and tables arranged under huge silver space heaters glowing like red umbrellas in the cool air. Donald Wayne Findley was huddled under one about halfway down, smoking and laughing with three of his hoodlum friends. I took a nearby table, sat down and fiddled with the end of my cigar, as if I knew what I was doing. I thought I noticed a pause in their conversation when I first sat down. By the time I got my cigar going they were back into it.

“The son of a bitch pissed himself,” I heard one of them yell gleefully. Donald Wayne laughed loudest. I got a decent look at him out of the corner of my eye as I pretended to concentrate on my cigar.

He was shorter than I thought, maybe only five seven, but more muscular than he appeared in the pictures I’d seen. He was jacket-less, seated on a stool with his feet perched on the second rung, wearing a white shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows, a black tie loosened at the neck and beige chinos. What got me were the shoes. In mid-winter, he was wearing tasseled brown loafers without socks. Like some kind of Miami Vice throwback. It disappointed me. Really. I’d built him up in my mind to be more than that.

He had powerful-looking sloped shoulders and solid forearms ridged with muscle. No visible tattoos. No biker beard or tough guy goatee. No rearranged nose or facial scars. He had a pronounced cowlick that wasn’t evident in pictures. You couldn’t look like a hard case with a cowlick like that. I suspected he cultivated the preppy look to give him the element of surprise. I could tell by the respect he was afforded by the other thugs that they knew exactly who he was, and what he was capable of doing.

I sat under the heater’s warm glow puffing on my cigar, careful not to inhale. But I wasn’t feeling all warm and fuzzy. I felt fury, welling up in my brain, expanding into my chest and stomach. Vile curses and invective intruded into my thoughts. Cocksuckers. Monkey fuckers. Smegma-gargling shit eaters. In that venomous moment of hate, I lost any remaining fear of Donald Wayne. I would take him out. Relieve the world of his presence and send a message to the top predators. There was a new sheriff in town.

I hadn’t noticed the woman come outside. By the time I picked up on her she was already at their table, her left arm draped across Donald Wayne’s shoulder and his right arm comfortably encircling her waist.

She was blonde and looked to be in her mid-20s, way too young to be Donald Wayne’s beloved wife. She was wearing a business suit with a name tag on the lapel, the only fully clothed female I’d seen on the second floor. I assumed, correctly as it would turn out, that she worked at Ecstasy. Her name was Stacey Ryan. I would learn in the papers later that she was the nightclub’s general manager and Donald Wayne’s girlfriend. Even in the conservative suit, I could see she was built like a brick shithouse. But my only interest in her was as a conduit to Donald Wayne.

I left the patio without finishing my drink and went back through the lounge, then down the elevator to the dance floor. I moved through the crowd toward the exit, just another moke whose plan to get laid had gone awry.

The car jockeys used a garage one street over for valet parking and I figured staff parking might be over there. But when I got back onto the street, I noticed a 20-foot wide area on the far side of the warehouse with a dozen or so vehicles parked in it, a disproportionate number of black Escalades with tinted windows.

I walked the three blocks to my car and drove back past Ecstasy, checking out the fenced parking lot as I passed. I drove around the area for a few minutes looking for a spot where I could park unobtrusively and watch the Escalades. I settled on a small car lot at the end of the block. It had a service center attached and there were four or five vehicles parked alongside it. I backed into a free space with good sight lines through the chain link fence, turned off the engine and settled in.

I thought the wait would be boring, but time went by in a flash. The parking lot, with its easy access to a side door, was a hub for the line jumpers. Cars came and went, people went in and out of the club, but as far as I could tell Donald Wayne wasn’t among them. By closing time, there were only three vehicles left, two Escalades and an Audi coupe. At about three a.m., an hour after closing, the side door opened and Stacey Ryan came out, with Donald Wayne beside her, and walked over to the Audi. He wasn’t wearing a jacket and after he kissed her, he turned and went back inside.

I made an instant decision to follow her. I wanted to see where she lived. What opportunities it might present. I pulled out of the lot a respectable distance behind and followed from a half-a-block back, letting a taxi get in between us. She turned south on Burrard Street and picked up speed going over Burrard Bridge. I figured she’d turn off into Kitsilano, the funky beach district, but she kept going up Burrard and turned west on West 12th Ave., then south on Arbutus to the leafy streets of Kerrisdale, one of Vancouver’s most affluent neighbourhoods.

She was a block ahead when her taillights disappeared. I sped up and turned right at the corner. I caught a flash of the Audi’s taillights turning into an alley. She was pulling into her garage when I reached the alley. I stopped for a moment before turning to follow, then drove slowly up the alley with my lights out to the garage. The motion detector lights were still on. I stopped short and rolled down my window to listen. I moved the car forward a touch to give myself a better view of the house and saw a light come on in a back window. I backed up to the end of the alley, still without lights, and parked around the corner. I walked back up the alley and entered her yard. The drizzly night was dark, and I kept in the shadows. I had replaced my new sports jacket with a dark windbreaker I kept in the car. It felt good to be back at work for the people.

I went alongside the house to the front, a typical Kerrisdale yard with hedges screening the street and two massive rhododendrons, one on each side of the front walk, overtaking what remained of the yard. The light came on in a front window and I moved into the deep shadows between the rhodo and the hedge. I could see her clearly, standing in the living room wearing a red kimono and talking on the telephone. I felt a little uncomfortable spying on this woman from the darkness. I thought about trying to explain it to Kate if I got picked up as a common peeping tom. Can you believe it?

I was lost in this thought when the vehicle pulled up. I tried to crouch down to make myself smaller and fell back onto my ass. The car door opened before I could recover myself.

“Pick me up at 8. I’ve got to drop Felicia at school in the morning so don’t be late, bro.”

It happened so fast I had no time to do anything but cringe in the shadows as the car drove off, leaving Donald Wayne alone to walk the 30 feet to the front door. If I got caught now being labelled a peeping tom would be the least of it.

I sat there, senses heightened, vulnerable, unable to get up for fear of making a noise. Although I had a distinct height advantage and was about the same weight, I knew I was no match for someone who had already beaten another man to death. I’d never been a fighter. Too much blood.

The few seconds he took to reach the door and fumble with the key imprinted themselves in my brain. Almost as good as taking a bad guy out. Better than sex. Better than the best winning feeling. Clarity. No turbulence. Full alert. But I wasn’t thinking about my state of mind at the time. I was thinking about the gun. Wishing I had it.

A small dog barked frantically when he opened the door. It tried to run past him onto the porch, but he reached down and scooped it up. I still wonder how it would have turned out if the dog had made it past and sniffed me out of the shadows.

I left the yard immediately and walked briskly to my car. I didn’t realize how hyped I was until I started to come down a little on the drive home. Driving the empty early morning streets, I thought of Adams. How could that pipsqueak know anything about these kinds of feelings. About putting your life on the line. About risking everything for the common good.

I was still jacked up when I got home. I went straight to the office and got out the gun. I hadn’t touched it for several weeks and it felt good in my hand. An old friend. I put a round in, spun the cylinder and put the gun to my head. No hesitation. No fear, really. Just a certainty that fate would choose me over Donald Wayne. This was my fourth spin on the wheel of fate. I was still a five-to-one favorite..

Click.

So long, Donald Wayne.

I called in sick on Friday. I couldn’t wait to remove another evil presence from our world. To send a clear message to the bottom-liners—Nobody is safe.

The stars were aligned. I decided to do the job that night. Kate would be back Sunday, severely cutting into my late-night free time. I had lucked onto Donald Wayne’s soft spot. His hard dick. I smiled at the thought of it. The happily married tough guy would be brought to heel in his girlfriend’s front yard. With a poofty little dog yapping in the background. It was time to act.

I had picked up an old Selectric typewriter at a second hand store a few weeks back for twenty bucks. I went downstairs and got it, set it up on the kitchen table and plugged it in. I sat down to write a short letter but nothing came. I got up and walked around the darkened house, around the living room and up the stairs, trying to burn off some of the nervous energy. I went into the bathroom, stepped into the shower fully clothed, and stared at the taps. After a while I went back downstairs and the words came out. I had breakfast, phoned the office and went to bed. I didn’t stir until late afternoon. The letter was sitting in the typewriter and I reread it.

 

Fellow citizens…

Justice has been delivered to the criminal Donald Wayne Findley in the name of the people of this great country. Like the drug dealer Tran Hoc Do, the pimp Raymond Evers, the legal shyster Richard Cunningham and the corporate crook Morrie Greenberg, all of whom preceded him in our cross hairs, he forfeited his right to live by conducting himself in a way that is counterproductive to the greater good.

The bottom-liners among us have had their way so long they take it as a given that resistance to their parasitic lifestyles will be minimal, and easily dealt with by minions. Their world view is based on their own entitlement and dependent on the rest of us believing that great fiction. They would have you believe everyone is at risk. And that I am a madman.

Be reassured, the vast majority among you who comprise the righteous. Go about your business without fear. You are safe. Only bottom-liners need beware.

I leave you with a quote from Herman Hesse:

Not for everyone,

For madmen only.

The People’s Wolf

 

The ‘our’ reference and the Hesse quote were red herrings for the police. I had no connection to the German author other than reading one of his books in university. The quote, a sign on a closed door in Hesse’s imagination, had always stuck in my brain. It seemed fitting.

I knew from the beginning that communicating was a huge danger. I wasn’t worried that somebody would recognize my style. I’d written for so many trade magazines over the years I had no style, other than correct grammar and spelling. Still, being able to write competent sentences narrowed the field considerably. I pictured some poor cop pouring over the reading list for first year arts students at UBC. It would take a miraculous leap to reach back to my time there with Herman Hesse.

I had a shower, without clothes, then took a long time shaving, pausing several times to stare at my face in the mirror. An ordinary face. How could it be that I had been chosen to take the people’s fight to the evil-doers? Why not some cop or military guy who had training and was familiar with guns? I had no explanation then, and none came later. Some things just are, I guess.

I spent the early evening padding around the house in bare feet and pajamas formulating a plan, gathering what I’d need. I went to the basement to our seldom used tool box and got a small coil of wire and some wire cutters. I laid out my navy track suit, an oversize hoodie with a roomy pouch and a black balaclava-style ski mask I’d paid cash for at a big box sporting goods store. I had the TV on for background noise but took no notice. I had no need for the numbing banality of shows created by bottom-liners to soothe the public into compliance.

I started getting ready for the job around nine. I put on a pair of surgical gloves and retyped the letter, careful to take an untouched sheet of paper from the middle of the package. I addressed the envelope to Osterwich and wet the stamp with a new sponge. The gloves wouldn’t come off until Donald Wayne was on his way to hell.

I put on my track suit and pulled on the dark hoodie over top. The pouch provided better freedom of movement for the gun than the fanny pack and the bulky hoodie made it harder for witnesses or an unseen security camera to determine body type. I was learning on the job. I rolled the ski mask into a tuque and pulled it low over my ears. Then I got the gun, loaded it and wiped it down. I put extra bullets in my pants pocket and zipped it shut.

In my exhilarated state, I felt kinship with the universal soldier. I knew with certainty as I prepared for my mission why combat veterans formed lifelong bonds that often later baffled wives and relatives and civilian friends. They had lived this feeling together, an experience unlike any other in the human condition.

Fear so powerful your body rebels against moving. Threatens to empty its contents in protest. A last mental battle of titanic proportions as your brain searches for a way out and finds nothing acceptable. Profound relief when the decision to act overcomes all protests. Calmness in the eye of life’s perfect storm. Pride at passing through the portal, flowing through your being on a river of adrenaline. All in an instant that repeats itself in an endless Ground Hog Day mental loop that forms the bigger picture.

Clarity. Focus. Purpose.

After this, all else is drudgery.

I debated stealing licence plates to switch with mine but decided against it. Better to have a reason to be in the area if your vehicle was spotted than to be caught with plates that didn’t match your registration. I drove down Hastings in a drizzle, through the Downtown Eastside, past the collateral damage of the bottom-liners war on society, the scabby zombies and ghouls who scuttle along the mean streets. The ones without the strength to make it through. I didn’t feel anything for them. They were victims of evolution. Like the Cro-Magnon man.

I went past the Ecstasy, to see if the Audi was parked in its spot. Bottom-liners in waiting spilled down the street, the long line-up partially obscuring the preferred parking lot on the side. But I could see the Audi through the open gate.

I knew the whole mission was a leap of faith. I had no solid reason to believe Donald Wayne would visit his Kerrisdale girlfriend two nights in a row. Or that she would even go home straight from work. I hadn’t planned on doing him for weeks or even months but I could see no reason to wait. I felt the light shining brightly on me. The storybook hero, working alone against great odds, without any thought of personal recognition or gain.

It felt good.

I drove to Kerrisdale and parked along 41st Ave. in the village shopping area, near a pub. There was enough activity along the street from the restaurants that I wouldn’t be noticed. I thought of having a drink in the pub. But I didn’t want to mess up my high with alcohol. I pulled off the hoodie and tuque before I left the car. Too sinister. I walked the six blocks to Stacy Ryan’s house. A middle age white guy in a track suit out for his evening stroll.

I turned down her alley and slowed my pace in the darkness, looking for a spot I could hunker down for the wait. It didn’t take long. A neighbor a couple doors down and across the alley had taken out a section of fence and parked a utility trailer there loaded with yard debris. It had enough clearance to get underneath it and there was no security light on the garage. I walked to the end of the alley without stopping and made a circle back to my car.

I moved the car around the corner, in front of a two-story condo complex, bundled the gun and tuque inside the hoodie and turned into an alley a couple blocks from where I parked. I found a blind spot behind a garage and pulled the hoodie and tuque on, emerging at the other end as an anonymous dark figure on the tree-shadowed streets. It was still drizzling when I slipped under the trailer at 12:41 a.m. A soldier in the trenches waiting to do his duty.

Stacy Ryan’s car pulled into the alley a little after three. I could see the Audi emblem clearly in the light of the motion detector as the door closed behind it. I didn’t move for five minutes. A long time to wait, looking at your watch. But I didn’t care. I felt calm. No turbulence.

The motion detector lights came on as I approached the garage. It scared me spit-less. Luckily, I had hardly eaten all day, or I might have done a Morrie Greenberg right there in the alley. Hard to stalk prey smelling like shit. I stopped at the gate long enough to flip the latch. I moved into the darkness alongside the house, paused for a second to listen, and continued to the front yard. I took one look at the front window. The light was off in the living room. I went right to work, attaching one end of the wire at about mid-calf to a solid branch on one rhododendron, pulled the wire across the sidewalk, and tightened it around the other bush. In the shadows of the yard, it might as well have been invisible. I was back in the blackness between the rhododendron and the hedge when the living room light came on. I couldn’t see Stacy Ryan this time.

I checked the gun. Safety off. A full load.

Waiting wasn’t hard. I felt too good about myself. I didn’t even feel the damp night’s chill. If Donald Wayne didn’t show, he’d get a little more time. No big deal.

But he did show.

A black Escalade pulled up and parked. I could see it through a gap in the hedges. There were two men inside. Nobody made a move to get out. I couldn’t tell if they were talking or providing security. I wondered if the cops did stakeouts in Escalades. I thought of the letter I was carrying. I thought of the wire. If anyone other than Donald Wayne tripped over the wire, I was committed to action. If only in self-defense.

Waiting wasn’t easy anymore.

The scene sprang to life when the front door light came on. Before I could do more than turn my head towards the house, Donald Wayne was on the porch in his stocking feet, silently waving at the men in the Escalade. He had come home with his girlfriend. I turned enough to see that they weren’t receiving the message. The guy on the passenger side had his head turned towards the driver. Donald Wayne waved a couple more times and when he didn’t get his desired result bounded in a fury down the wet stairs in his socks. He hit the wire on his third stride and went down hard on the sidewalk.

I’d already begun to move when he cleared the porch and he’d noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye and was turning his head when the wire took his legs out. He cracked his head pretty good and appeared stunned when I came around the bush and took dead aim with both hands, TV cop style. I hit him in the chest, and he slumped back, bleeding profusely.

“Oh fuck,” he said. The words came out gurgly.

I stepped around him and walked straight at the Escalade firing. The window shattered and glass flew as the driver squealed away. When I turned back to Donald Wayne, Stacy Ryan was standing on the porch with the yappy dog clutched in front of her like a shield.

“You’re family man boyfriend won’t be hurting anyone else in this life, lady.”

I said it calmly, affecting an East Indian accent so she couldn’t get a read on my voice.

Donald Wayne was breathing heavy. He looked at me when I stepped toward him and pointed the gun. A look of resignation. He knew it was over for him. Time to pay up.

“Not in the face,” he said, turning his head away. I put one behind his ear from about four feet. I wasn’t going to get any closer.

The stupid woman didn’t move or say a word. She just stood there shaking, barely able to hold up the yappy dog. So I walked to the porch and put the letter on a step. No need to worry about the post office fouling things up.

“Keep better company,” I said before disappearing around the side of the house.

 

 

I went up the alley at full speed, grabbing the gun and wire cutters in the hoodie pouch to keep them from bouncing. I hung a left and slowed to a fast walk as I passed Stacy Ryan’s street. Lights were coming on up and down the block but there was no sign of the black Escalade. I half expected it to pop out of an alley with guns blazing from every window. When I got a couple blocks from my car I pulled the hoodie over my head and stuffed the ski mask into the pouch with the gun and wire cutters and bundled it under my arm like a sports bag.

Everything was quiet when I got to my car. I threw the hoodie on the back seat floor and pulled onto 41st Ave. heading east. I was barely past the lights at Arbutus when I heard the first siren. Then I saw flashes of blue and red coming towards me fast. The cab that had been in front of me at the lights slowed and moved to the right and I pulled in behind him. Four cop cars went past us at speed, and I marveled that not one of them thought to stop and check us out.

From the time Donald Wayne opened the door to his death to the point the cops passed me couldn’t have been more than four or five minutes. As I’ve said before, killing people doesn’t take a lot of time. I was home just after four a.m.

Doing Donald Wayne had taken a lot out of me. I relived the whole scene a hundred times on the drive home. So many things could have gone wrong. If the henchmen in the Escalade had been on the ball I’d probably be laying in that yard dead. If one or both of them had gotten out of the Escalade and walked toward the house when he waved I would have been forced into a gunfight with three murderous thugs. It didn’t take imagination to figure the outcome. At the very least Donald Wayne could have slipped back into the house to fight another day. But nothing had gone wrong and Donald Wayne was done. The scourge of the local underworld went out worried about how he’d look in his coffin. At least he didn’t beg or call for his mommy

Sitting on the edge of the bed, still dressed, I felt the full weight of the responsibility I’d taken on. The list of villains was endless. I knew it could only end badly if I kept going. I swung my feet onto the bed and went to sleep in my track suit.

I didn’t get up until mid-afternoon. My brain felt muddled. Not turbulence, just an absence of clear thought. I put away the gun, then had to take the floorboards up again to put the bullets away. I made a mental note to get rid of the shoes. I wasn’t about to get caught out by an errant footprint in Stacy Ryan’s flower bed.

I wondered what the cops would think about the wire. I’d meant to clip it and take it with me but it didn’t seem worth the risk at the time. I hadn’t reckoned on the possibility that someone else might trip over it or that Donald Wayne would come out of the house and take a header from the other direction. It seemed like a terrible idea when he was standing on the porch waving his henchmen over as I crouched behind the rhodo with no way out of the yard.

The image that kept coming back to me was the face framed in the Escalade’s passenger window. The kid was blonde with spiky hair on top, clipped short on the sides. The dumb fuck sat there and looked at me with amazement when I stepped toward the car. That’s the last thing I saw before the car window shattered, the surprised face of a kid who had taken a wrong turn and ended up getting shot at.

I waited until five o’clock to walk to the corner store for a paper. I wanted to get the late edition to be sure the killing would be covered. I hadn’t listened to the radio news or turned on the TV. I wanted to read about it in the comfort of home, with a cup of tea. A couple of scumbags standing in front of the store spoiled the surprise. They were smoking and reading the paper. I’d seen one of them around before, using the pay phone to conduct his dirty drug business.

“Shit man, they got the Demon, Donald Wayne Findley. Took him out and shot his son, too.”

“There must be a long list of suspects. That motherfucker had more enemies than Mother Theresa.”

“Mother Theresa?”

“Yeah, that Catholic cunt. Fucking dried up old prune. Probably never been fucked in her life.”

“What’s she got to do with Donald Wayne?”

I went into the store before I heard the answer. Fucking mutts. Pretending to have some inside knowledge and they couldn’t even get the story straight. Then I saw the headlines blaring from the newspaper rack.

Gangster and son gunned down in Kerrisdale

Wolf claims credit for gangland slaying

Two dead, one critically injured

I paid for the paper and left the store. The mutts were standing over at the phone booth talking shit.

“This Wolf guy must be good.”

“You better hope he doesn’t set his sights on your skinny crack-dealing ass.”

“I’m just working for a living like everybody else. Giving the people what they want. He’s a friend of the people.”

It felt good to hear that. Even from a lowlife moron. The message was getting through. If he got it others would get it too.

I covered the two blocks to home in double quick time, but I didn’t read the paper right away. Instead, I put the tea pot on and savoured the moments until it came to a boil. I read the lead story while waiting for the tea bag to steep.

Gangster and son gunned down in Kerrisdale

One of Vancouver’s most notorious criminals was shot dead outside a Kerrisdale home early this morning and his son is in hospital with life threatening injuries.

Donald Wayne Findley, 46, the leader of a gang called the Demons, died on the sidewalk outside a West Side home at about 3 a.m. Another unidentified man was also killed and Findley’s son, Alex, 18, is in intensive care at Vancouver General Hospital.

Police say the shooting happened about 3 a.m., shortly after Findley returned home from a night at Ecstasy, a popular downtown nightclub said to have gang connections. He was killed, execution-style, in front of his live-in girlfriend, Stacy Ryan, who manages Ecstasy.

According to police, the younger Findley was parked out front of the house playing video games with another Ecstasy employee when the gunfire started. After shooting Findley senior, the gunman, who left a note behind (See page 2: Wolf claims credit for gangland shootingopened fire on the car hitting both occupants. The driver managed to make it to VGH but died outside the Emergency Ward before he could receive treatment.

Police are playing down the Wolf angle.

“As a leading member of the Demons Donald Wayne Findley crossed paths with a lot of bad people,” said Detective Sgt. Earl Blancher, head of the gang squad. 

“The shooter left a note at the scene claiming to be the People’s Wolf but at this time investigating officers have no reason to believe this is anything but a gang killing.”

Stacy Ryan, who lives in the house where the shooting took place, told police Findley’s son, Alexander, was being dropped off to spend the night at his dad’s house. He is not known to police. The name of the other dead man is being withheld until relatives can be contacted.

Donald Wayne Findley was born in East Vancouver, where he attended Templeton High School. He has a long record dating back to his teens and was convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Aubrey John Klenner in 1985. He served four years for that crime. He has two other children with his estranged wife.

 

Wow. Two dead and the teenage son clinging to life. Stacy Ryan, the live-in girlfriend. Who knew family man Donald Wayne had left his wife? I’d never intended on hitting anyone in the car, but it didn’t make me feel bad. Not even for junior with the stupid look on his face. I’d fired because I thought it was them or me. I’d more pointed the gun than aimed it. Hang around with dogs and you get fleas. Maybe people would start thinking about who they were hanging with. Maybe the bad guys would realize they weren’t as insulated as they thought.

I read through the other stories quickly. The son had been hit in the side of the head and was expected to lose his sight. The story covering the Wolf angle interested me most. Osterwich led with my last words to Stacy Ryan: “Keep better company.” The story included the letter and a bunch of speculation about the Herman Hesse quote. He interviewed a UBC lit prof, who noted that the German author was known for his dark themes.

The Donald Wayne execution had changed everything. The experts had a new theory now. The Wolf had to be somebody with military or police training. Someone familiar with guns. I laughed at the speculation. Five down and the cops had no clue.

I picked Kate up at the airport Sunday night. I acted my part. Kissing her and telling her how much I’d missed her. She prattled on about her sister all the way home. About her kids and lawyer husband and her beautiful home in Scarborough. The importance of staying close to family. What a load of shit. We were almost home when she brought up the Wolf.

“That horrible person killed someone else. I read that he shot two men and a boy, one of the men’s sons. Honestly, Roger, what kind of demented human being would shoot a boy.”

“Eighteen-year-olds carry guns, dear. I doubt he was an innocent kid if he was related to Donald Wayne Findley. The men you’re talking about are gangsters. Killers who deal drugs and think only of themselves.”

“You can’t believe this maniac is working on behalf of the people. How does shooting people on the streets and in their offices help society. Everybody on the plane was talking about it, joking about the Wolf as if he were some superhero. Laughing with two men dead and a boy badly injured. I don’t care what those men did, they deserve their day in court like everyone else.”

Kate was an innocent. One of the little picture people I was risking everything to help. The only thing that bothered me was her reference to the boy as if it somehow demeaned my work. I pictured the surprised face in the window and the wide eyes that would never see again. I felt nothing for the kid who had grown up reaping the benefits of dirty money.

“If the courts were doing their job enforcing the laws this horrible person wouldn’t have to shoot people. The system is rigged, everybody knows that.”

She laughed.

“Honestly, Roger, you’re such a contrarian. Always trying to be so gruff and tough. I know you’re a softie inside where it counts. That’s why I married you. Have you set up another appointment with Doctor Adams?”

“Not yet, maybe in the new year.”

“No maybes about it. I’ll make the appointment myself if I have to. You’re doing so much better now. It would be a shame to waste all that progress.”

I couldn’t wait to get to work Monday morning to get Thorsby’s take on the weekend shootings. Predictably, he went hook, line and sinker for the military man theory.

“You’ve got to be cool under fire to take out somebody like Donald Wayne Findley. Probably a disgruntled Afghan veteran. Someone like the Wolf doesn’t just come out of the woodwork one day and start killing people. There has to be a back story, a trail that leads to his door. I predict he’ll be caught within a month.”

“I’ll put money on that.”

He ignored my betting proposition.

“He’s smart, no doubt about it. And he’s obviously an expert marksman. It says in the morning paper that three shots hit the mark. That’s pretty good shooting under pressure.”

“What happened to the weirdo sitting around his basement suite in his underwear theory. If I recall, you said he was a pussy who wouldn’t take on a tough guy.”

“I never said he was a pussy. A pussy doesn’t go around shooting people.”

“Probably not.”

“No. The guy’s ex-military. I’ll bet on that.”

“How much.”

“Fifty bucks.”

“How will you pay when you lose. Mollie isn’t going to give you money to pay off gambling debts.”

“I’m not going to lose.”

He got all pouty at the mention of Molly and his allowance and rolled his chair back to his desk.

“As I’ve told you before, petulance doesn’t look good on a man in an ill-fitting golf shirt.”

Oliver appeared in the doorway before he could answer.

“So what do you guys think of this Wolf stuff. He must be a cool customer to shoot it out with gangsters.”

Before we could reply, the temporary receptionist, Oliver’s supposed girl-on-the-side, joined in from her desk at the front.

“I think it’s about time someone stood up for the little people against these criminals.”

“What about the lawyer and the media guy,” Thorsby interjected. “They weren’t criminals.”

He couldn’t stay petulant with Oliver standing there.

“He must have had something on those other people. Why would he kill someone if he didn’t know something.” The temp got up and came over. “They’re all a bunch of crooks,” she said with finality.

Oliver smiled at her and agreed.

“There are a lot of crooks out there. I wonder who’s next on the list.”

“I’m sure we’re all safe,” she said. “The Wolf said righteous people don’t have to worry.”

Oliver got back to business. He came in and outlined his expectations on the Nextco story. He wanted five thousand words by the end of February. I knew I could stretch the deadline into March. With Donald Wayne done it would be a leisurely beginning to the new year.

 

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.