Go to previous instalment – Chapter 1. A pimp gets some
I didn’t start looking around for the second one until January, more than six months after the pimp. The despondency was back. Heavier than ever. I’d been on a slide since early fall. Christmas was bad. Two houses on our block were broken into the week before. The Shelbys, who lived across the street, had all their Christmas presents ripped off. I heard Helen telling Kate about it and it made me feel small inside.
I was watching the six o’clock news when I made the decision. The lead item was about drug dealing in Pigeon Park, a down-and-out area about three or four miles further down Hastings from where we lived. The police had conducted an undercover operation and nabbed a bunch of low-level drug dealers who operated in the Downtown Eastside.
One of the scumbags caught in the net, a Hispanic from Central America, had been processed at the Main Street police station and released on bail. The television cameras caught him coming out and instead of shying away from the media attention he sauntered up to the camera with a macho swagger and gave the viewers a one-finger salute. A kind of “Fuck you, Canada!” that infuriated me.
I don’t know why I got so mad. I wasn’t particularly patriotic. It just pissed me off, the arrogance of it. I locked the office door, unscrewed the compartment and hefted the gun in my hand. I aimed it at the TV, at the smiling face of the news anchor.
“Fuck you, scumbag, you’re going to get some too.”
I started planning it then and the depression lifted, replaced by self-righteous fury that energized me. I knew it would be too difficult to get the guy on the newscast, so I resolved to get a drug dealer, any drug dealer, but preferably a foreigner. Someone who was taking advantage of Canadian hospitality. It didn’t matter who, so long as a message was delivered.
Pigeon Park was the obvious location, but it didn’t appeal to me. Too many people around. Too many cops in the area. Too many cameras. Too dangerous. A few months before, one of the women in the office had complained about a drug house operating on the corner near her place, on the East Side, off Broadway and Fraser. I took to driving past. The drug house wasn’t hard to spot. A big run-down old shack with an overgrown yard. People coming and going. I could see how it would upset the neighbourhood.
On my third swing past I noticed a guy, he looked Chinese or Vietnamese, standing in the shadow of a big tree on a side street around the corner from the drug house. I pulled the Explorer over and looked at the guy. He came over to the passenger window, but I waved him off and he went back to standing under the tree. Sullen. I drove away.
A few nights later, a Thursday, I came back about the same time, on my mountain bike. I didn’t want my vehicle recognized. Nobody was there so I circled the block, casual-like, just a guy out for an evening’s ride. I didn’t draw any attention to myself.
I went back on Saturday, earlier this time, around 7:30 p.m. There was an Asian guy standing in the same spot under the tree. I rode past down the sidewalk and glanced at the guy as I went. I couldn’t tell if it was the same guy. It didn’t matter. I knew what he was doing. I rode to the end of the block and turned at the corner. I stopped and looked up the street. A car had pulled to the curb and the Asian guy went over. A minute later the car left, and the Asian guy blended back into the shadows under the tree. “You’re it,” I said to myself, and pedaled off home.
I waited two weeks, until the time was right, a Saturday night. Kate was going to a baby shower for the receptionist in her office. I went shopping with her in the afternoon and helped her pick a gift, a blue knit jump suit with tiny little feet. Looking at the baby clothes made her melancholy.
We’d long ago agreed we didn’t want children, but she was acting a bit petulant, as if the decision had been forced on her. I was feeling conciliatory so rather than withdrawing, as I might have on another day, I said I’d put a bottle of wine in the fridge and we’d have it by candlelight when she came home.
“Just because we’re not going to make babies doesn’t mean we can’t go through the motions, honey.”
She smiled at that and before she left kissed me on the cheek at the front door. As soon as her car was out of sight I went to the office and unscrewed the floorboard. I’d handled the gun a lot in the past couple of weeks and it felt good in my hand. I put a full load in and spun the chamber. I made sure the safety was on then went into a crouch and aimed with both hands at my computer screen.
I’d been edgy the entire week, waking up in the night imagining a thousand scenarios that could go wrong. An innocent person out walking. Somebody driving past. The drug dealer pulling out a gun of his own. A drug accomplice emerging from the shadows firing. But now that it was time for action, I felt remarkably calm.
I dressed in the same navy-blue jogging suit and strapped the fanny pack around my waist, with the pack around front. I put the gun in and swung the pack to the side, like a holster. I sat down in my office chair and went over the plan, such as it was. I’d decided to park the Explorer on the other side of Broadway, a block down and about three blocks north of the killing ground, on a side street with a lot of two-story walk-ups. I’d been through the area several times and there were enough apartments around that a person coming or going wouldn’t be noticed. The night was wet, and I put on a plain black baseball cap without a crest.
I left the house at 7:10 p.m. and drove directly to the parking area through a light drizzle. I got there at 7:23, which surprised me because I thought it was a longer drive. I sat in the car for a moment, going over things, then walked to the opposite end of the block from the direction I’d be returning to the car.
The adrenalin rush I got stepping out of that vehicle was unlike anything I’d experienced. Even for the pimp killing. Objects in my immediate landscape got bigger, clearer, slower. A guy came out of a three-storey walk-up and turned the other way. He was 20 yards ahead of me on the sidewalk, but I was almost looking over his shoulder. My brain was processing at turbo warp speed. Movement. Colour. Vehicles. Cameras. People. Dogs. Anything that posed a threat. Anything out of place. All floating at the edge of conscious thought but not interfering with a sense of purpose focused into a pinpoint. The Buddhists have it right. Nothing exists away from the moment. Nothing mattered except my all-in move on life. A thrill to die for.
I walked to Broadway slowly, practising the pace I wanted to keep after the killing, my hand on the gun in the fanny pack. At the first break in traffic, I crossed and walked up two blocks to East 11th, a block past the kill site, and headed east towards Fraser Street. I wanted to approach the shadow of the tree from a direction opposite where the Explorer was parked.
A perfect rainforest night for killing. Soggy. With poor visibility. Except for me. I saw everything clear and sharp. Fraser Street was busy, but I wasn’t worried about being identified from a passing car. Drivers were straining to negotiate the wet streets through foggy windows. What worried me was somebody looking out a house window or walking a dog. If that happened, I would abort.
I paused at the corner of Fraser and 10th as if I was going to cross Fraser. I looked over at the big tree, but nobody was there. My body sagged and the letdown made me realize how keyed up I was. I had a wild impulse to kick the front door of the drug house and blast whoever opened it.
Instead, I turned to walk down 10th on the opposite side from the kill site, back to the Explorer. As I turned my head, I noticed a motion in the shadows and the figure of a man tight against the tree trunk. The silhouette of his head, caught in the microsecond of a moment, cost the drug dealer his life.
I crossed the street at a measured pace, so as not to alarm him. When I was close enough that he knew I could see him I said, “Hey bro, you got something for me.”
He said something in Chinese or some other far-away language. Three or four words. He moved his body off the tree trunk with a backward shove and reached into a coat pocket. I wasn’t nearly as calm as with Tremmie. I wanted to fire off a shot right then, but I was ten feet away and the gun was still in the fanny pack.
“What you got for me?” I asked again, moving closer.
He said something else, this time in heavily accented English, which I couldn’t make out. It seemed like he was talking money. I kept smiling and reached into my pocket with my free hand and pulled out some bills, a ten and a twenty. This time I understood him.
“No enough. No enough.”
I held the money out and moved closer. I glanced around quickly, as if looking out for a cop. We were alone on the street.
“How much do you want, then, a full load.”
He spread his thumb and fingers to indicate five, then formed a zero with his other hand.
I was almost close enough to touch him when I pulled the gun out and pointed it at his stomach.
“Canadian justice is harsh, my foreign friend,” I said.
I squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened. The safety was on. My adrenaline red-lined. The stupid little bastard stood there staring so I flicked the safety off and fired.
He dropped on his ass. A big red stain spread across his jacket front. He didn’t twitch or jerk he just sat there and moaned foreign shit. His crotch was wet with pee. I didn’t want to get any blood on me, so I gripped the gun with both hands and fired again from where I stood. The second shot hit him high in the chest, about six inches under his Adam’s apple. He stopped moaning.
The shots roared in my ears and I wanted to run full bore for the vehicle. Instead, I moved a few doors down into the shadow of another tree and hopped a short fence into a yard. For a horrifying second, I thought it might be the house of the woman from my office and that she would come running out to see what all the commotion was about.
I scanned the street and saw a guy on the other side of Fraser looking my way. “Fuck.” The front porch lights came on at two or three houses. I disappeared into the darkness at the side of the house and moved through the yard into the alley. I ran down the alley, stopping to compose myself for a second at the end of the block. I was surprised and alarmed to see the gun in my hand. I stuffed it back into the fanny back and morphed back to Buddha.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy.” I said it softly, like a mantra. “Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
Traffic was heavier and I had to wait to cross. I heard the siren before I reached the other side. Incredibly, the police had taken minutes to respond.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.”
I fought off the full flight urge while walking the two blocks to the Explorer, wondering sickly how long it would take them to seal off an area. When I got to the corner of the street where I’d parked, I broke into a slow jog. The inside lights were on. The driver’s door wasn’t completely closed.
I couldn’t remember if I’d locked the car, or even if I closed the door. I’d been gone less than 15 minutes so there was lots of juice left in the battery. But it was a stupid mistake. A lighted car is a noticed car.
“Easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
I unstrapped the fanny pack and stuffed it under the seat. The Explorer smelled of gunpowder, or at least I imagined it did. The digital clock on the dash read 7:47 p.m.
I drove to Fraser, then north a block to Broadway. From the intersection I could see a crowd gathering on the next corner. Two police cars blocked the entrance to the street. Flashing red and blue light reflected off the houses and trees just in from the corner. Traffic was backing up in all directions and I was lucky to squeeze in a left hand turn on the orange. Broadway was clear on my side going away from the shooting and the empty road calmed me. I turned north at Knight and everything was back to normal. I pulled up in front of my house at 7:58.
The drug dealer killing had taken less than an hour. Killing doesn’t take a lot of time.
I went to the office, unloaded the gun, and wiped it down before placing it back in the floor, every sense in full alert. Reliving the moment. Incredibly alive. I can’t put it into words, except to say killing is a powerful drug.
It took longer to calm down after the drug dealer. I stared at the TV, then put a video in I’d watched half a dozen times—House of Games, starring Joe Montegna—but I shut it off after five minutes. The movie playing inside my head was more compelling.
Kate got back just before midnight. A girlfriend from work dropped her off and I could hear them laughing and talking on the quiet street. Kate wasn’t a drinker. I could tell by her pitch that she’d had a few glasses of wine. That was good.
Kate has an eye for detail. That’s why I’m so careful with the gun. She notices if things aren’t quite right. Better that her senses were slightly dulled.
Also, booze makes Kate horny. She loses a lot of inhibitions. I knew we were going to have sex the minute she walked through the door.
“You’re still up.”
She said it louder than normal, laughing at the sight of the open wine bottle in my hand.
“I’ve been waiting for you dear. I thought you might like a nightcap after all that baby talk.”
We didn’t get through the first glasses. We made love on the day bed in the TV room. Killing improved my sex drive. Kate fell asleep right after, and I covered her with a quilt. I sat in the living room in the dark for a long time. Going over everything; over and over. Nothing connected me, except the gun. I knew it had to go.
I slept late. Almost to 11.
“It’s not like you to sleep-in, honey. Are you feeling okay?” Kate sat on the edge of the bed and touched my shoulder. She was solicitous. The sex had reconnected us after months of drifting apart.
“I’m fine, dear. I couldn’t sleep so I read late.”
“What are you reading?”
“Oh, true crime, you know, somebody who thinks they can get away with murder.”
“Is the murderer a man or woman?”
“Some insurance salesman who puts out a $10,000 contract on his heavily insured wife, then kills the guy who does the murder.”
“What’s the title?”
Kate’s like that. It’s not that she’s suspicious. She’s interested in details. If you tell her about a dinner you had at a restaurant two weeks previous, she’ll ask about what vegetables were served; how they were cooked; what spices if any were used; the type of bread that accompanied the meal; whether the bread was served warm.
“A Murderous Policy. Paper here yet?”
“Yes, it is, dear. Have some juice and I’ll bring it up.”
She put the glass on the side table, flicked on the lamp and opened the curtains. Rain pelted down on the greyest of days. I couldn’t wait to read the paper. The killing had happened in plenty of time to make the first edition. On a slow news day, it would get decent play. I found it on page 3 of the B section:
CITY RECORDS 7TH MURDER
A landed immigrant who had been in the country less than three months was shot dead last night on an East Vancouver street.
Tran Hoc Do, a 22-year-old Vietnamese national, was dead before the ambulance arrived. Police said he was shot twice.
Police spokesman Cpl. Marjorie Hooley said police did not know if the killing was gang related. She said Do wasn’t known to police but that the corner where he was killed is a place where drugs are available.
Hooley said police are interviewing residents and motorists but would not confirm reports that a pedestrian witnessed the killing.
Do arrived in Canada in November. He was sponsored by an older brother, a restaurant worker in the city. His mother preceded him to Vancouver by a year, also sponsored by his brother.
The murder, which happened about 7:30 p.m., is the 7th homicide recorded this year, putting the city on pace to break the record of 78 murders set in 1987.
“Murder doesn’t fit into statistical patterns,” said Hooley. “We can have 10 killings in January and not have another until March. If it’s a drug turf thing, they tend to come in bunches.”
I reread the story several times. Seeing his life summed up in a few paragraphs bothered me. It took a little edge off my high. The story made it sound routine. A young guy who fell in with bad company and ended up a homicide statistic. Nobody could know how swiftly Canadian justice had been dispensed. I didn’t feel sorry for the kid. I knew he was selling drugs even if the police weren’t prepared to admit it. The penalty for selling drugs is death in southeast Asia. Why should Canada be different?
I wondered what his drug cohorts would think. Would it make them more cautious? Would they mistakenly exact revenge on some hapless fringe player in the drug trade? Perhaps the killing would start a turf war and the ripple effect would rid us of a few more pushers? The thought of it perked me up.
“Any plans today, Roger, or are you just going to lay in bed all day.”
Kate had showered. Her hair was still wet and her breasts, visible where her robe hung open in front, were tinged with pink from the hot water. I took her hand and pulled her down beside me.
“Why don’t we both stay in bed all day.”
The important things in life became clear in the weeks after the drug dealer. I realized how much Kate meant to me. So complex, yet so transparent. So stable. Capable of so many emotions but so lacking in guile. My libido reactivated with a ferocity I hadn’t experienced, even as a teenager, and we made love often. We were close and connected. Work was going well, too. I was assigned to write the history of a large engineering firm for the company’s 100th anniversary.
It turned out to be an interesting story that required a lot of research and I spent days pouring over newspaper clippings at the library and old photos at the city archives. Some of the photos showed men on wilderness job sites, carbines in their hands or lying against a tree or stump nearby. I imagined what their lives must have been like and wondered if any of them had used one of those rifles to kill anybody. Not likely.
We went to dinner with the Carters a few times and even began to entertain at home, which we had done infrequently before, mostly because of my reluctance. I wanted to see people, to be around them, to interact in a way I’d never been accomplished at.
“So, Roger, what’s new in the technical writing world?”
I couldn’t stand Paul Carter, with his fifty-dollar realtor haircuts and manicured nails. He was too slick by half but I kept my fake face on for Kate’s sake.
“Words. I learn new words all the time.”
“My father faithfully read that section in Reader’s Digest to expand his vocabulary. The one where you learn a new word a day.”
The superior bastard was dumbing me down to his father’s level. Like I needed help with my vocabulary.
“He probably wouldn’t learn about adiabatic walls in Reader’s Digest.”
It came out harsher than I intended but the old smoothie didn’t take noticeable offense.
“It’s a barrier through which heat energy can’t pass.”
“That might be useful in our office instead of baffles. A lot of hot air goes back and forth in real estate.”
He laughed. I did too. It was a good comeback.
I started riding my bike again and going for walks around the neighbourhood, in the opposite direction from the Franklin Stroll. I didn’t care what they were doing to each other down there anymore. It was as if the pimp killing had exorcised my resentment towards the human trash who habituated that street. I knew another pimp had taken Tremmie’s place, maybe even with the same two girls. There were more pimps than I had bullets.
About three months after the drug dealer killing, around the beginning of May, I became lethargic and lapsed into prolonged despondencies, deeper and darker than before, which became increasingly difficult to keep from the world. I’d wrapped up the engineering history a few weeks before and at first Kate attributed my mood swing to the project’s end. A kind of letdown I’d experienced in the past after completing large projects. We stopped making love and I became more distant. I’d taken to locking myself in the office again, handling the gun instead of doing the work I insisted needed my unfettered concentration. A couple of times I put the gun in my mouth. Cold and metallic. I could feel pressure building inside.
The third killing came out of a Vancouver story that lead off the National News. About the verdict in a murder trial, the longest and most costly in B.C. history, in which a half dozen Asian defendants were acquitted of murdering a rival drug dealer. The killing happened long before I’d executed my own drug dealer and I’d followed the story in the paper. Everybody knew the defendants were guilty, one of them had threatened the victim on TV. Two eyewitnesses pointed out the triggermen in court, adding to the prosecution’s substantive case.
The killers delved into their drug profits to hire a provincial version of O.J.’s dream team and the high-priced lawyers blatantly stole a page from Johnnie Cochrane’s legal pad by playing the race card. The defence, as trumpeted almost daily in the press for the final month of the trial, consisted of character assassination on investigating officers and witnesses.
In his summation, the team’s lead lawyer, Richard Cunningham, Q.C., accused police of participating in a conspiracy based on their hatred of Asians males, all of whom he said they suspected of having gang ties. Amazingly, the jury bought it. But what was most galling about the whole thing, was that halfway through the trial the defendants had claimed to be indigent, forcing the crown to pick up the dream team’s tab for the remaining three months when Cunningham and his team threatened to walk away from the trial.
I’d followed the O.J. trial and there were quite a few times when I sat staring at Johnnie Cochrane’s arrogant face, fantasizing about what his last words would be. I stayed home to watch the O.J. verdict, and became so furious when the foreman said not guilty, I had to pace around the house to calm myself.
When the National’s cameraman zeroed in on Cunningham on the courthouse steps after the trial, I immediately knew he was the one. He hadn’t bothered to remove his robes before conducting post-verdict interviews, no doubt hoping the legal attire added visual weight to his pontification.
“Justice has been served,” he told reporters. “If anybody is guilty of anything it’s the police officers who perpetrated this conspiracy against my clients. They should be purged from the force. We demand a full inquiry and will push for harsh penalties for those who breached the public trust. Fortunately, we have a justice system that places the fate of innocent defendants, not in the hands of the police or the state, but instead in the care of 12 fellow citizens. The jurors sat through six long months of arduous and at times acrimonious testimony. They heard 93 people testify. The verdict is a tribute to their diligence and common sense.”
He turned and walked down the steps, ignoring reporters’ questions, and ducked into a grey Mercedes parked at the curb. Cameramen trailed after the car as it pulled away, just like in the movies, but Richard Cunningham, QC, having gotten his point across and the last word, had no urgent need to tell the press more. He would save his best stuff for an in-depth interview conducted in a more comfortable setting, an interview he could spend days preparing for once the full impact of the verdict could be discerned. His tactics had not made him any friends on the police force, but the general public is more forgiving. He knew people respected slick lawyers even if they helped the guilty escape justice.
Not me. I hated Cunningham in the moments after that National broadcast with a fury that almost caused me to black out. I had to sit down to keep myself from falling over. The blood rushing to my head produced an intense pain behind my right eye. I thought it might be an aneurism. Cunningham represented every smooth talker who’d ever finessed or bullied his way around logic. “Greedy scum. Self-righteous cocksucker. Arrogant mercenary cunt.” The invectives leaked from my mouth like verbal poison, surprising even me by their intensity.
I knew Cunningham would be more difficult to kill than a pimp or street level drug dealer. His home and office would be monitored by electronic equipment. He would be hard to catch alone. Still, the thought of exacting the people’s justice on this pompous, smooth-talking mouthpiece lifted me out of despondency and I set out to research him as I would any story subject.
I went to the library and ran his name through the computer, careful to ensure there would be no way to connect me to the search. I found a three-year-old Vancouver Magazine profile entitled “He Always Gets His Man— Off” and it was there, buried deep in the article, I discovered his soft underbelly.
Cunningham possessed two traits that would serve me well. He was both a workaholic and a creature of habit. The profiler reported breathlessly that Cunningham fit into the A-type personality that needs little sleep.
“No matter what time he goes to bed, he rises at 5:30 a.m., performs a precision 20-minute workout in the gym off the master bedroom in his West Vancouver home, before crossing the Lions Gate Bridge to take his place, no later than 6:30 a.m., behind his massive mahogany desk on the 16th floor of the Bentall Centre. There, with the city waking below, and the water and mountains as a backdrop, he puts in two hours of uninterrupted work before the rest of the office arrives.”
A few days after gleaning this information, I walked over to the Bentall Centre and took the elevator down to P3 of the parking garage. I’d purposefully worn a grey business suit to avoid drawing attention, and walked up five ramps from the bottom, putting me one-half level up from the street. The Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company parking stalls lined an entire wall, 20 in all. Over the stall in the prime location closest to the door, was the name Richard Cunningham, Q.C.
It was a typical parking garage with ramps at either end, to allow cars to proceed up and down in a circular fashion. Besides the elevator door, in the southwest corner, and the two ramps, there was a door marked stairs set in the middle of the concrete wall opposite the row of Cunningham & company stalls. I estimated the distance from the stairwell to Richard Cunningham’s parking stall at about 15 metres.
I walked to the door and went down the stairs into a hallway about 10 feet long leading to a door with one of those fire marshal push handles that opened onto Thurlow Street. At this end, in the financial district two blocks up from the water, Thurlow was relatively quiet, even around noon. There were no street level stores on the block, only a few businesses. Nothing, I hoped, that would attract pedestrians to the area before 7 a.m. I walked up the alley past the parking lot entrance. A sign in the window of the booth noted that the attendant came on duty at 7 a.m.
My plan was simple. Park the car where it wouldn’t be noticed, walk to the garage, enter through the car driveway, climb the flight of stairs and wait in the stairwell. If anyone noticed me on the street or in the stairwell, I would abort, have breakfast and continue to work. If everything went well, I’d do the job and head to the office. That’s how I was thinking about it, as a job. Planning the killing raised my spirits noticeably.
On May 17, a Wednesday, I got out of bed at 4 a.m. I’d spent the night in the guest room tossing and turning. I told Kate I was sleeping there because I had to be downtown early in the morning to meet with a geologist who was taking an 8 a.m. flight to the Yukon.
The Cunningham killing had me on high anxiety alert. I couldn’t shut my brain off. It kept going over the plan. Over and over. Killing the pimp had been easy. I didn’t stew over it beforehand. I’d worried about the drug dealer but nothing like this time. The anxiety was almost unbearable and in the long sleepless hours, in the darkness of the guest room, my body moist from head to toe with the sweat of fear, I decided to stop the killing. To let Cunningham live.
But as soon as I’d made the decision, conceded to myself it was over, I slipped over the edge into the blackness. Deep into it. A coward staring into the abyss. The feeling of hopelessness and isolation was so intense I got up and went to my office in a rage. I got the gun out, put in one bullet and spun the chamber. I put it to my head and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked. A loud metallic thunk. I spun the chamber again and pulled the trigger. Another thunk.
I didn’t think about Kate, or about what a selfish prick I was until the second thunk. About her world imploding when she found her husband’s brains splattered all over the office. Revulsion and self hatred coursed through me with so much force I was physically sick. I dropped to my knees and threw up on the hardwood office floor in one huge internal upheaval that spilled the contents of my stomach, kernels of corn clearly visible in the dim light of my desk lamp, yellowy-green liquid oozing into the cracks between the boards.
I knelt there dry heaving over the waste basket, violent shudders like the aftershock of an earthquake, the gun still in my hand. I leaned forward, dropping my head to the floor, my knees sliding along its smooth surface until I was prone. I lay there for a long time, maybe half an hour, my face pressed into the vomit, listening for Kate’s footsteps. Someone to save me. But she didn’t come. Kate was a sound sleeper.
Lying about the meeting had been a mistake. I hadn’t thought the geologist cover through. I hadn’t even checked to see if a flight was leaving for Whitehorse that morning. Kate had asked a bunch of questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. What was his name? What company did he work for? What kind of exploration was he doing? Why hadn’t I met with him before? Where did he live? She even asked if he was married. I winged it, but not convincingly, and she’d turned and walked away with a funny look on her face. As if to say, “Okay, but I don’t believe you.”
After I cleaned the vomit, using a full roll of toilet paper to mop it up, then getting rid of the soggy mess in the toilet with three flushes, I went back to bed and stared at the ceiling. The fear and anxiety were gone, expunged from my body, flushed into the city’s sewage system. I stared at the ceiling. Calm. Resolved to my duty.
Everything about the morning was surreal. The day was heavily overcast, unusual for that time of year, with dark grey streaks of cloud breaking away from the main formations, hanging behind and below, encircling the tops of the office towers like cumulous candy floss, waiting to stick to the tongue of anyone who might venture to the rooftops for a taste of life atop the financial world.
The self-hatred disappeared when I went back to the plan. Being the people’s executioner was my path to redemption. I had been anointed by the blackness, ordained by the greyness of life, an emissary of a power that operated above and beyond the mores of a society and a world gone mad. The revelation, an apparition really, came at the lights at Hastings and Main, a half a block from the old police station at the main crossroads of Skid Row.
I had no memory of driving to that spot, or of stopping for the light. I was in a kind of trance, I suppose, and when the light turned green, I remained stationary, staring at the cloud-shrouded building tops ahead. A light mist had formed on the windshield, not enough to use the wipers without smearing. I heard him before I saw him, looming in front of the car, distorted by a thousand tiny pin pricks of water on glass.
“Get going,” he said, slapping the hood with the flat of his hand. “Get the hell going and get on with whatever you have to do.”
The sudden intrusion into my reverie didn’t startle me the way it should have. I didn’t jump at the sound of his voice or at the slap of his hand on metal. The words came at me as if from out of the cloud cover, a divine confirmation of my mission. Maybe I was a violent Howard Beale, after all. People were mad as hell and they didn’t want to take it anymore. I was the guy who would wake them up.
It didn’t matter that the messenger was bedraggled, a derelict with a dirty face and matted hair. He stood in front of the van, kind of bent to one side from the waist up. I squirted windshield washer and flicked on the wipers to clear the window. His eyes were clear and piercing, the bluest blue. He looked directly into my eyes for a long moment, then walked on across the street. I drove through the amber light without looking back.
I parked the Explorer on the street two blocks from the parking lot and walked over. The attendant booth was empty, and I made my way up to the next level, walking up the car ramp. The Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company stalls were empty, too. I went to the exit door that opened on the stairs leading to the street and propped the door open a few inches with my foot. I had a perfect sightline to Richard Cunningham Q.C.’s parking spot. It was 6:15.
The grey concrete stairwell felt clammy and smelled of urine. Not a pleasant place to spend time. On the wall, halfway down the stairs that lead out to the street, someone had spray painted prophetic graffiti—”Death to the ruling classes.”—descending the wall in a red arc of words. I stood there in my navy-blue trench coat, one hand tucked inside like Napoleon, gripping the gun inside the fanny pack. I wasn’t nervous anymore.
Cunningham didn’t show at 6:30 a.m. and when he wasn’t there by 6:45 I knew he wouldn’t die on that day. I was neither disappointed nor relieved. For whatever reason, fate had intervened, giving each of us a reprieve. I exited the stairwell, walked calmly back to the Explorer on still-empty streets and drove to the parking lot next to my office. There would be time for breakfast before work.
I phoned Cunningham’s office later that morning from a pay phone. There were still some around then. The receptionist said he was out of town but would be back in the office Monday. It felt good knowing I was the only person in the world who knew he wasn’t going to make it that far.
The weekend went quickly. The weather had cleared and on Sunday Kate and I walked around the seawall in brilliant sunshine, stopping at English Bay for a lingering brunch in a second story restaurant with a view of the beach and water. Throngs of people were enjoying the city’s first taste of spring.
It felt good to be out among them. A fatalistic euphoria had replaced the anxiety. It was out of my hands now. Cunningham’s future, along with mine, was preordained. What would be would be. I cannot overstate how freeing it is to live outside accepted human norms. To know that you are out there, in that place in human history where the best men have always dwelled, beyond the control of the evil-doers and bottom-liners.
“You’re not going in early again?” Kate was skeptical when I told her I had another early morning meeting. “Twice in one week. Are you sure this geologist isn’t a cute blonde? It’s not like you to put in extra time, Roger.”
“It’s a rush project, honey. The guy’s flying back this morning and I’m picking him up at the airport and taking him downtown for a breakfast meeting. He’s renting a car and leaving for Seattle right away.”
She didn’t press for details this time. We’d had sex when we got back from our walk, the first time in more than a month. It had been an emotional coupling and we’d both cried afterwards, holding each other tight and rocking gently in the bed. I told her I loved her, even though I wasn’t sure I meant it, and stroked her hair. She squeezed my free hand between hers and murmured her pet name for me over and over.
“Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit. Roger Rabbit.”
It felt so good.
The morning was clear and this time the drive downtown was uneventful. No apparitions. No messages delivered. I parked the Explorer in the same spot and followed the exact routine to the stairwell, arriving five minutes later than before. 6:20 a.m.
I heard the car coming at 6:28 and seconds later a grey Mercedes came into view through the propped-open door. Richard Cunningham was a punctual man. I waited until he parked before starting towards the car at an even pace. I was wearing the grey business suit. I had the gun in my hand, hidden by the trench coat draped over my right arm. The safety was off.
Cunningham got out of the car then leaned back in to get his briefcase. When he stood upright, he was much taller than he appeared on television. Well over six feet. He was wearing an expensive blue suit and a red tie with two grey diagonal stripes. Funny the things you remember in the moment.
“Mr. Cunningham?” I didn’t say anything until I was quite close, maybe ten feet away. He appeared upset by the sound of his name, like a man unaccustomed to having any deviation from his daily routine. He looked at me in a way that said he was running scenarios through his mind, assessing the unexpected interruption and calculating the time it would take to deal with it in a civilized but perfunctory way. He pushed the Mercedes door gently and it clicked shut with German precision.
“Yes. Do I know you?”
I felt no animosity toward Richard Cunningham in those last moments of his life. The hate that coursed through me during his post-trial television appearance had given way to the familiar tingly rush of warmth, the feeling of closeness to the doomed. The course he’d chosen in life, the things he’d done in the name of justice, were evil in the truest sense. They had drawn me to him, and it was time for him to pay. No amount of smooth talking could change that now.
“No, you don’t know me. I saw you on TV after the Bobby Singh murder trial. That was a nice piece of work. Getting those scumbags off.”
I kept my voice pleasant, but I could see the first inkling of alarm in Richard Cunningham.
“Look, if you’re interested in my services you’ll have to go through my secretary. I’m booked through the summer, but she might be able to fit you in.”
The smooth-talking lawyer’s veneer was slipping. He was just another frightened man. He was moving toward the door as he said it, so I let the trench coat slip away. The gun loomed between us.
“All those assholes who have you booked are going to have to look for another sharpie, Richard. Your litigating days are done.”
He stopped moving and stared at the gun. I took one step toward him and he held the expensive, shiny black leather briefcase up like a shield.
“On second thought, you might have one more case to plead, counsellor, but the judge sitting on it won’t be interested in hearing any of your bullshit. Judgement Day is at hand.”
I was holding the .357 with both hands, the trench coat draped over the gun arm. He lowered the brief case enough to get a look over the top and he didn’t like what he saw because he turned and ran back towards the car. He had quick feet for a guy in his fifties, but bullets are hard to outrun.
I squeezed off a shot and caught him high on the right side of his back, about six inches below the shoulder, putting a hole in the expensive suit. The impact carried him forward and he twisted onto his back on the hood of the car. He slid along it, leaving a bloody trail, and then disappeared into the space between the car and the concrete wall.
“Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.” He said it without much force, the sound muffled by reverberations from the gun shot echoing around the level. Halfway between a curse and a prayer. The shot sounded loud and I knew I had to finish this business and be on my way. His feet were sticking out the front of the car, shiny black loafers with tassels, scuffling on the pavement in pain or consternation. His pant cuffs had hiked up to reveal skinny, hairless white legs above sheer, see-through silk socks. I closed the space between us and looked down over the hood of the car. He had the brief case covering his head and from behind it I could hear frenzied praying.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph…. Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
“Look at me, Richard.” I said it sharply, but he didn’t respond. I wanted to look him straight in the eye as I did it, so I reached over and pulled on the briefcase, but he was holding on literally for his life. The resistance made me furious.
“You fucking lowlife, cocksucker. Drop that briefcase or I’ll blow your fucking nuts off.”
He clutched the briefcase even more tightly to his head so I put a round into his crotch.
“Owie, owie, owie… Jesus, Mary and Joseph…. owie, owie.
I fired one more shot into the left side of his chest. Richard Cunningham, Q.C., slick mouthpiece never at a loss for bafflegab, left this world without his manhood crying owie like a three-year-old child. I kid you not.
I turned, put on my trench coat and walked briskly to the exit, concealing the gun in the large inside pocket. Everything was quiet. As if the shots had sucked all other sound out of the air. Nobody was on the street when I left the parking lot and I turned and strode purposely in the direction of the Explorer, unnoticed. Another businessman on his way to work.
The news broke about 9:30 a.m. that morning. A prominent city lawyer had been shot in a downtown parkade. The radio guy had that little extra edge in his voice when he doled out another tidbit of information each hour. Our receptionist, Marjie, kept a radio on at her desk and people stopped by for updates.
By noon, we knew “He worked for Cunningham, Hainsworth, Detweiller & Company, and was a senior partner. The killing had taken place in the parking garage of the Bentall Tower II, where the company’s office is located.”
It’s difficult to describe my feelings that morning in that I had never experienced anything like it. Ecstasy, with its implied imagery of frenzy and excitement, is not correct. I was excited but the excitement was contained within an inner calm, the way I imagine it must be for a great performing artist or an athlete after a flawless performance. I wasn’t worried I’d be connected. At noon I went out to the car, pretended to get something from the glove compartment and ran my fingers over the gun, wedged in its special place up under the driver’s seat. It felt smooth. Sexual.