lost ironies

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Month: September, 2013

where clocks rein time part 4 – conclusion

read part 1, read part 2, read part 3, read part 3.1 
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Vancouver October 31, 1949

It stood perfectly still, arms at its side. It did not breathe. Its eyes were closed. Muddy water dripped from its finger tips. In the dark, it had disappeared against the decaying red brick walls that lined the back alley behind Hastings Street. The moon was nearly full. Its dim light was silver. Hansel Orav walked down the alley whistling a tune from his Estonian youth. When he came upon the golem, he stopped and tapped the tip of his cane on the cobble stone. Its eyes opened immediately. It drew a deep breath.

“We have come so far, my dear,” Orav whispered. “And tonight, an indulgence. We will redirect our attentions. We will focus on something we could not properly attend to while in Paris: Trudy Parr.”

“Yes,” said the golem.

“She embarrassed us.”

“Yes.”

“She came too close,” said Orav. “A woman,” he spit. “We should have eaten her alive. But she was lucky. She had help. And sometimes, the gods favour the insane.”

The golem seemed to smile.

“I am being tracked,” Orav said. “For the last day or so. By an ineffectual little turd named Egon. He’s as stealthy as a buffalo in rut. I have allowed for our whereabouts this evening to be known. He will try to apprehend me. And perhaps, by doing so, awaken our Fräulein Parr. You will make her suffer, golem.”

The golem’s teeth glistened. It took another deep breath. It clenched its muddy fists, and a filthy stream of water splashed on the cobbles.

***

Trudy Parr snuffed out her Panatela in a big glass ashtray. She’d just finished speaking on the telephone. “Egon says Campbell Avenue docks at 11.00 p.m. That gives us time.” She picked up the .45 on her desk and put it in her purse. Then she walked to the closet and put on her coat.

“What’s happening at Campbell Avenue docks,” said Crispin Dench. “What did Egon say?”

“Says he’s been tracking Orav for a couple of days. He overheard Orav make a telephone call. Something about a meet at the docks. Egon says there’s a German steamer, Schmetterling, came up through Panama a week ago. It docked this afternoon. Apparently there’s some human cargo onboard. Someone Orav wants to get his hands on.”

“I don’t think Orav would let Egon get that close,” said Dench. “Not unless he had something up his sleeve.”

“Well, it’s all we got,” said Trudy Parr. “And I want to get this bastard bad. You wanted to drive me home earlier. Now you can drive me down to the waterfront.”

A few Halloween night partiers walked from bar to bar as a fog set in over the city. Crispin Dench started the Jaguar and let it idle. Sitting next to him, Trudy Parr reached into the glove box and pulled out a snub nosed .41 revolver. She checked to make sure it was loaded, and handed it to Dench.

“I know you hate guns, big boy,” she said. “But showing up to a gunfight with nothing but concern for your fellow man can get you killed.”

Dench grimly pocketed the weapon, put the car in gear and drove. By the time they reached the docks, the fog was thick. Fog horns and bells sounded in the distance. They walked along the wet wooden wharf past the high silhouettes of steamers, each with its own gangplank and dim incandescent light.

“Next one’s Schmetterling,” said Trudy Parr. She kept walking. Dench tightened his grip on the revolver in his trench coat pocket.

In the distance, a deserted pool of light at the bottom of a gangplank came into view.

“10.55,” Dench said, looking at his Omega.

Trudy Parr pulled the .45 out of her bag. “Let’s pull up some shadow,” she said. They stepped into a dark doorway. There was the sound of a police siren on Commissioner Street. It faded and disappeared. The ocean was still.

“Egon probably got it wrong,” said Dench. “Orav’s a no show.”

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But there’s nowhere else I have to be.”

A few minutes passed.

“Wait,” said Dench. “I hear someone whistling.”

They both heard it. A strange tune accompanied by the sound of steps and a walking stick tapping the wet planking of the wharf. The whistling came closer. Trudy Parr stepped out to face it. Hansel Orav came walking towards her in a fawn-coloured trench coat and fedora.

He stopped beneath a wharf lamp and grinned. The fog was a thin curtain between them.

“Ah,” he said. “The pernicious Miss Trudy Parr. What a wonderful place for us to meet. For the last time.” Dench stepped out. “And Mr Dench, as well. What fun. Tell me, Crispin. Will you forever scurry about in this wicked woman’s shadow?”

“I might,” said Dench, drawing his revolver. “But then, she always winds up in the money.”

“But surely that makes you a man who cannot find his own way, Mr Dench. Chasing after a psychopathic little skirt and cleaning up after her.”

“I’m happy enough in my work.”

“Say what you will, Mr Dench,” said Orav. “I’m currently facing a more pressing matter, aren’t I. You have, oh, what is the phrase? Ah yes. You have the drop on me. My escape may be difficult.”

“Impossible,” said Trudy Parr. “Your escape will be impossible.” She took a pair of handcuffs out of her coat pocket, and tossed them at Orav. They fell at his feet. “Put ‘em on, fat boy.”

“Well now, that’s not likely to happen, Miss Parr,” Orav said. “Besides I’m really not the problem, am I? No, it’s my fiendish friend you want. My creation, my golem. It committed all of the murder and mayhem. Not me.”

“We’ll get round to him,” said Dench.

“Will you?” said Hansel Orav. “And how will you do that? No conventional human weapon will kill it. Not even the Americans with all of their guns and turgid conceit. That was the whole idea. Even the dreary Robert Owens and his heroic band of compadres, with their childish devotion to Eris, god of chaos, couldn’t stop it. It stopped them. I intended to create a whole army of them. Obedient. Indestructible. Impervious to pain and hunger. We would have wiped Europe and the world clean in no time. But your pathetic failed attempt on my life in Paris drew too much attention from on high. Even Herr Hitler was squeamish when he heard. You indirectly sabotaged me and my perfect plan, Miss Parr. But at least one of the creatures exists. And only the appropriate incantation properly delivered will eradicate it. I’m the only one capable of delivering it. Capture me or kill me. Either way, the golem lives on. It is an obscenity, I agree. The excreted filth of Jewish mysticism. A vial bit of magic. But what can I say? I was oddly inspired.”

“What about the Killroy bullshit,” said Dench. “What was that all for?”

“Pure diversion, of course,” said Orav. “American troops were leaving that little bit of graffiti everywhere they’d squat. Why not program my creature to leave it wherever it killed? It confused the hell out the Paris police, even the SS.”

“This isn’t about your monster, Hansel,” said Trudy Parr. “This is personal. I missed you once. Ain’t going to happen again.”

“This isn’t wartime Paris, Miss Parr,” said Orav. “You’re no longer a sanctioned assassin. In Canada you have the rule of law. Will you become a murderess on my account?”

“Not if you put on the cuffs, fat boy.”

The wharf was suddenly illuminated by headlights. Three police cruisers sped toward them and slid to a stop on the slick wooden planking. The first car stopped only inches behind Hansel Orav. Egon opened his car door and stepped out, his ill-fitted suit jacket open and his tie undone. He drew his .38. Three uniforms emerged from the dark behind him, guns drawn.

“Oh swell,” said Trudy Parr.

“We got it from here,” Egon shouted.

“The hell you say,” said Trudy Parr. “This Nazi’s mine.”

“War’s over, Trudy,” said Egon. “Let us take him in.”

“This is turning out to be more fun than I’d hoped,” said Orav.

“Too many guns,” said Crispin Dench. “He’s out numbered. Let’s all holster our weapons. Egon, have one of your men cuff that fat prick.”

“Not this time, mister,” said Trudy Parr. She raised her .45 and drew a bead. “I just changed my mind about taking this fucker alive. Nighty night, Hansel,” she said, and squeezed the trigger. She was prepared for the .45’s kick. Her arm rose only slightly and then levelled out, ready to fire again. Her eyes never left the target.

“What the fuck,” Egon said. The left side of Hansel Orav’s head had gone missing. His remains stood for a heartbeat, then fell heavily to the ground. Egon looked down at his once white shirt, splattered with Hansel Orav’s brains. He tried to wipe the gore away and made a frightened weeping sound.

“Jesus, Trudy,” said Dench.

“Now we can take that fat fuck off the list,” said Trudy Parr. She engaged the safety and put the .45 back in her purse.

“This is bad, Trudy,” said Egon. “You know I can’t let this slide.” He stepped off of the cruiser’s running board, holding out his hand. “You have to give me the gun, Trudy.”

“Back off, Egon,” said Trudy Parr. “This ain’t fun camp. I’ll wax your ass just like his if you give me cause.”

“Step back, Egon,” said Dench. “Just give me a minute with her.”

“Bullshit,” said Egon. He looked back over his shoulder to the patrolmen and nodded. The three of them started moving toward Trudy Parr. “You know we’ve got to do this. As long as I’m on duty, no one gets shot. Not without there being consequences.” He bent into the car to grab the two-way radio microphone. “I’ll call it in boys,” he said.

Trudy Parr and Crispin Dench saw it first. It moved quickly out of the dark dense fog. “Oh shit,” said Dench as the thing grabbed Egon’s head and twisted. There was a loud snapping sound. Egon died with a surprised look on his face. One cop turned around, then the other two. All three pulled their guns and started firing. Gun smoke and fog.

“Just run,” Dench yelled. But nothing could be heard over the gunfire.

Bullets passed through the golem as it advanced on the patrolmen. It slapped the first cop and took off his head. It tore out the belly of the second. Then the golem took the third cop into its arms like a lover, and tore his throat out.

“Let’s go,” said Crispin Dench.

“No,” said Trudy Parr. “I want to see.”

“C’mon. We’re next on the menu. Besides, every cop on the waterfront will be here in three minutes.”

“No.”

The golem dropped the body of the last patrolman. From ten feet away, it looked at Trudy Parr. Blood mixed with mud. It dripped off its chin. It began to walk toward them. Dench took Trudy Parr’s arm and stepped back, trying to take her with him.

“Let’s go, Trudy.”

“No.” She shook him off.

The golem walked, dragging its poorly formed left foot. Closer to Trudy Parr, it held out its hand. Open, as though ready to receive a gift. Closer, and then an arm’s length away. Its horrid face twisted. Its tongue licking its bloody lips. Suddenly it was tenderly cupping Trudy Parr’s chin in its clawed hand. Trudy Parr looked back warmly. Her face glowed in the dimness.

“Where to go now?” it said.

“Far away,” said Trudy Parr. “Run. Any place, but get away. They’ll be looking for you. They hate you. Hide. Be still. Be silent in the world. A voice will call you. It always calls me. And when it does, that moment will belong to you.”

The golem looked over at Dench. Its eyes clear amber and cat-like. Then it turned and walked away. Seconds later there was a loud splash.

Trudy Parr took a handkerchief from her coat pocket and wiped the mud from her chin.

where clocks rein time part 3

read part 1, read part 2, read part 3.1, read part 4
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London 1943

An air raid siren was sounding. Foot traffic along Baker Street in London’s West End moved quickly. A slim young officer of the Royal Women’s Auxiliary Air Force shouldered past a crowd and into Orchard Court. The home the Special Operations Executive.

“Good afternoon,” she said to Park, the doorman.

“Lovely day, Flight Lieutenant Falls,” Park replied, tipping his hat. “The sirens have a peculiar timbre this afternoon, almost optimistic.”

That made Flight Lieutenant Natalie Falls smile. She walked through the lobby to the ornate elevator. The decrepit attendant didn’t bother asking for her floor. He closed the gate and coaxed the car up. When the doors opened again, he said: “Your floor, Miss.”

“It’s no longer Miss, Mr Wendell. It’s now Flight Lieutenant, if you don’t mind.”

The elderly man smiled. “I’ll never get used to that, Miss Falls.”

“Well do try, please. I’m certified to fly Spitfires now, you know.”

“Yes, Miss. Give ‘em hell.”

Flight Lieutenant Falls exited the elevator and turned right, toward the SOE F Section flat. F for France.  She entered and walked past the secretary’s desk and into the office of Vera Atkins. Atkins sat at her desk writing out a memo. Her phone rang and she picked up. “Yes.” A pause. “Yes, yes.” Pause. “Well that is sad news.” Pause. “Are there any remains?” Pause. “Personal effects?” Pause. “None? Good. Well, destroy the paper trail so we can safely deny he ever existed. You know the drill. And have some tea sent in. Is there cake?” Pause. “Oh, pity.” She rang off. Looking up she said: “Ah, Falls. Good of you to drop-by.”

“You’ve summoned me, Vera. Is it something urgent?”

“Yes, of course. I did summon you, didn’t I?”

Natalie Falls sat. “Well,” she said.

“It’s about that Parr woman in Paris, and this Dench character. I understand you were their handler just after their recruitment.”

“You know very well that I was, Vera. I was very proud of them both when we finally sent them off.”

“Canadians, aren’t they?”

“Vera, please stop playing the senile dowager. It’s unbecoming of a woman in her early forties.”

“Ha! You’d have never spoken to me like that before you got your damn wings. And is that the smell of aviation fuel? Whatever happened to that pricey scent you once wore? Drove the men wild, you know. That and your ankles.”

“Why am I here, Vera?”

“Yes, to the point. That’s very good.” Vera Atkins looked down at some papers for a moment. “You see, these two, Dench and Parr, have developed into something of a burden. They were just meant as agents at first, as I recall. Good with foreign languages. Intelligence, helping valuable people get in and out of Paris. That sort of thing. But from the start, they both showed a talent for silent killing. And our Miss Parr most of all.”

“Yes,” said Natalie Falls. “They both received the training. They both displayed an aptitude.”

“I’ve read your notes on Parr, you know. They’re rather vague.”

“All according to your instructions, Vera. Plausible deniability and all of that.”

“Hmm. Yes well, it seems that they may have gone rogue in Paris.”

“I doubt it.”

“Do you? Why?”

“They were both rather rough round the edges when we took them on,” said Natalie Falls, “but they displayed steadfast loyalty and dedication. And they followed instruction very well.”

“That’s how all agents start out,” said Vera Atkins. “It doesn’t guarantee their stability in the field.”

“My impression of them both, I should add,” said Natalie Falls, “was that they had an odd form of street discipline. It’s difficult to explain. They’re survivors, dependable. The Depression was hard on them both. That steadfast loyalty I mentioned came out of a gratitude for a steady pay cheque and a place in the SOE.”

“I have my own lingering impression of Trudy Parr, however,” said Vera Atkins. “It disturbs me in light of the news we’re receiving. She could present well on the surface, little doubt.”

“But….”

“But she possessed an uncanny aura. Again, difficult to explain.”

There was a tapping at the door, and a secretary wheeled in a tea trolley. She began to pour and fuss over the sugar and milk.

“Oh, do leave it and go, Stephanie,” said Vera Atkins. “You’re distracting me.”

The secretary left.

“Trudy Parr,” Atkins continued, “her mind I mean, always struck me as a bit of a baby’s pram full of broken toys and biscuit crumbs. Are you with me?”

“Not at all.”

“Well, never mind. The fact is that they have participated in what can only be described as an extrajudicial execution attempt.”

“All of their kills are extrajudicial, Vera,” said Natalie Falls. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m not sure just yet,” said Atkins. “There is some evidence that Le Géant may have misrepresented some facts, may have said that word had come from London, this office in fact, when it had not.”

“Le Géant doesn’t assign our agents.”

“You’re right, of course. This is where the pram full of broken toys comes in. They may have been attracted to the mission for its more baroque aspects. You see, they went after Orav.”

“Orav?” said Natalie Falls. “Oh dear, that is unfortunate. He’s not on their priority list at all. But you said they made an attempt. Do you mean they failed?”

“Yes,” said Vera Atkins. “Good thing, too. Small miracles and all of that. My source tells me that Dench and Parr tracked Orav down to the Rothschild Mansion. It’s the headquarters for Operation Stechuhr. News of their activities in this matter is all very second hand, you understand, none of it verifiable. But my source is rarely wrong. Have you been briefed on Stechuhr?”

“I’ve only heard dribs and drabs,” said Natalie Falls. “Stechuhr, that translates into time clock. Why is it Operation Time Clock?”

“Well, maybe they’re afraid that their time is up,” said Vera Atkins. “They can’t keep up this all out war on the rest of the world forever. But Stechuhr may be the strangest Nazi scheme so far. Of course Adolf is simply mad about the occult. He has an army of dodgy academics and charlatans searching in the dark for the ultimate secret weapon. It’s all quite mad, but there you are. Anyway, in their search for an ultimate weapon, the Nazis have decided to take a rather unexpected turn. They began investigating the Kabbalah, of all things, to weigh the possibilities of creating an army of absolutely obedient and indestructible beings.”

“How strange,” said Natalie Falls.

“Yes well, it gets stranger. It seems that they actually succeeded somehow. They haven’t managed to create an entire army of indestructible beings yet but they did create at least one golem.”

“A golem?”

“Yes,” said Vera Atkins. “It’s an automaton from Hebrew folklore, endowed with life. Made of clay or mud, it’s said. No soul. In some ways magical. Perfectly obedient. And somehow, Dench and Parr were duped into going after it and Orav.”

“They should have known better,” said NatalieFalls.

“Yes but the French underground is desperate and they’re terribly clever at counterfeiting documents. And, as I have said, we must also consider the possibility that Dench and Parr were drawn in by the sensational nature of the operation. Fortunately, as I have also said, they failed. Though they almost made a kill. They caught Orav with his pants down, as it were. Trudy Parr nearly removed his head, apparently, with one of her nasty straight razors. That can’t be sitting well with him.”

“Wish I’d been there,” said NatalieFalls.

“Be glad you weren’t. It would not have been good for your career. Dench and Parr barely escaped as it is. And now you know why I’m concerned about the two of them.”

“What about the creature, the golem? Did they eliminate it?”

“No,” said Vera Atkins, “and this is even more peculiar than the rest of it. Word is that they confronted the creature in a lab beneath the mansion. The story begins to fall apart here, but the version I’ve received says that Trudy wouldn’t allow Dench to harm it. Not that he could have, if all I have read is true. But she seemed to have some bizarre spontaneous connection to the thing, something in common that made her want to protect it. She’s rather an odd duck, isn’t she?”

“It depends on how you define things,” said Natalie Falls. “Shall we extract them?”

“No,” said Vera Atkins sipping her tea. “They’re very good at what they do when they’re properly managed. But we’ll communicate our displeasure with this escapade and watch them as best we can.”

“Very well.”

“You know why we can’t go after Orav, don’t you?” said Vera Atkins. “It’s the Americans. They want to get their hands on him and his little horror show in the worst way. They’re in the midst of mounting something very secret and expensive, all very Hollywood. They want him alive so he can divulge all of his sinister little secrets. They’d have an absolute tantrum if our agents got to him first.”

“Hmm,” said NatalieFalls. “You know, this would make Orav Trudy Parr’s first missed target since she infiltrated.”

“Yes, thank goodness.”

* * *

Vancouver October 31, 1949

He was a fleshy man, massive around the middle. His hair had recently begun to go grey. And he was dressed well in an expensive tailor-made suit, vested with a gold watch chain. He sat in the Notte’s Bon Ton Bakery tearoom enjoying a cup of Assam tea, choosing from a three tier tray of rich canapés and pastries. He intended to eat each one. But he would do so slowly, believing that a fat man should never display gluttony.

A young woman in Gypsy garb, employed by the tearoom, came to his table. “Shall I read your tea leaves, sir?”

The fat man looked up at her. He was still bewildered by how much things had changed for him, and for the world. Surely this wench couldn’t be a true Gypsy. Hadn’t they all been exterminated? But then the new world was a haven for racial filth and Jews. He decided to play along. He smiled. “Of course, of course,” he said. “Please sit.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said taking a seat. Something in his manner disturbed her slightly. His accent was hard to place. German? No, not German.

“Can you truly tell the future simply by reading the leaves?” he said.

“Yes. I can see much.”

“Shall I finish what’s in my cup?”

“Not all,” she said. “Please leave some liquid at the bottom. Are you right handed?”

“No. Left.”

“Then please take the cup in your right hand when you drink.”

He did so and as he drank, he looked over the rim of the cup and into the Gypsy’s eyes. She momentarily looked away. He placed the cup down on the saucer.

“Now,” she said, “I will turn the cup over and read the leaves.”

“No,” he said suddenly, and grasped her wrist. “You will not. But I will tell you something.”

His palm was hot and moist and his grip was tight. She wanted to yell, to scream. But something was at work. Something was passing through the fat man and into her. He gazed deeply into her eyes and smiled.

“Yesss,” he said with a razor whisper. “Now I see it. You do have a little Gypsy in you, after all. Too much, I think. And a little Slav blood. You’re just a common street mongrel. An orphan, as well. Some do-gooders shipped you over from the fray, when? Back in 1936, I’d say. Olga. What a dreary ordinary little name.” The Gypsy struggled to release herself. “Yesss. You understand. You are afraid, good. There are those of us who truly can see. Without depressing props like tea leaves, we see. I see you directly; timid bland frail tiny frightened Olga. You’re one we missed. Too bad. We were so close, you know. If only the world could have seen how perfect the plan was. How pure the planet would have been without you, the likes of you. Without the pollution, Gypsy Jew homosexual retard and cripple. You who still breathe the same air as we who are absolutely pure.”

In her mind now, the Gypsy saw blood and conflagration. Millions of corpses reaching up from a common grave. She felt the heat of the flames, and smelled the metallic blood and rot. She stood and pulled her hand away. The tea cup and tray of canapés were flung to the floor. The manager rushed over, full of apologies. The fat man tut-tutted. “No harm, no harm,” he said, brushing crumbs off of his lap. He looked up and saw Olga next to an empty table, trembling. “It was simply a thoughtless reflex,” he said. “Common enough among their kind.”

Then he smiled broadly and the Gypsy heard his voice clearly, though his lips didn’t move. He said: “We will meet again soon, and it will not go so well for you.”

***

Playing cards littered the floor round an old battered brass spittoon. The office was dark, lit only by the light of a buzzing neon window sign that faced the street: Dench & Parr Agency Private Investigations. The neon gave her blonde hair a purple tint. Trudy Parr was half way through smoking a Cuban Panatela. There was an opened bottle of Glenlivet and an empty glass on the desk. She threw the ace of diamonds and missed. Crispin Dench opened the door and stuck his head in.

“Davidoff,” he said sniffing the air. “You bring enough for everybody?”

Trudy Parr pointed to an open cigar box on the sideboard. “Thought I should share the wealth,” she said. “Bought a new pair of shoes, too. Like ’em?” She leaned back in her upholstered chair and held up her newly shod feet. “Coco Chanel. Emptied the Christmas account.”

“Swell. What’s the occasion?”

“Halloween Night,” she said, and threw a card. ”Five of diamonds, damn. Say, you ever experience your past oozing into your present and repositioning itself in your future?”

“No.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “Two of spades.” The card arced and spun far off to the left, lost in shadow. “Well, it can make a girl feel mighty unsure of herself. Nine of hearts.” This time the card bounced off of the spittoon. She reached over and poured a shot. Holding up the bottle, she said: “Et vous?”

“Hold that thought,” Dench said and disappeared. He returned in moments with a glass. Trudy Parr poured. “Whoa there, sailor,” he said as the glass filled. “One of us needs to stay presentable.”

“Guess who I saw today,” she said.

“I think I know.”

“That fat bastard walking down Granville Street like he owned it. I thought the Americans got him. Wasn’t that what all the noise was about? Wasn’t there some goddam red, white and blue, blood and guts Yankee commando raid to end all Yankee commando raids? Weren’t we told that they strutted into Gestapo Land and waxed his ass?”

“Yup, they told us that,” said Dench.

“Well?”

“Well, well, well.” He had a swallow.

“I guess we saw this coming but now we know for sure. How long do you think it will be before he comes after us?”

“Want me to drive you home?”

“Hell no,” said Trudy Parr. She gulped back the remainder of her single malt, and opened a drawer in her desk. She pulled out an ugly flat black M1911 .45 automatic. When she placed it on the desktop, it made a heavy thud. “This bitch spits clean and accurate,” she said. “I’m gonna sit here until he walks through that door.” She relit the Panatela with a paper match. From behind the cloud of smoke she said: “This time I won’t miss.”

Crispin Dench looked down at his drink. He’d only seen Trudy Parr drunk once before. He thought for a moment, remembering what she was capable of. How under the influence, she hadn’t lost her cool composure. But how, below the surface, all reasonable restraint had disappeared.

“What if it ain’t Orav that comes,” Dench said. “What if he sends his monster?”

The phone rang and Trudy Parr picked up. “Lieutenant Egon,” she said. “Just the chunky little cub scout I want to talk to.” She looked across at Dench. “Nah, he ain’t here. He’s having his nine iron realigned. Him and me are partners, though. You can tell me anything you got to say.” Trudy Parr puffed her cigar. “Tell me what’s going on, Egon. You don’t want me out there in the dark tracking you down.” Another puff. “I don’t make threats, Lieutenant.” She drew a pad of paper close and picked up a pencil. She began to write. She stopped and hung up. “We got a lead,” she said.

where clocks rein time part 2

read part 1, read part 3, read part 3.1, read part 4
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Paris 1943

Her street Parisian was perfect. “Come to me,” she said. And he did. A high ranking Vichy official who should have known better; he’d had too much to drink. The city was dark and warm. He was lonely, and she seemed to overlook his uncommon ugliness. The little blonde whore who stood just outside of a yellow ring of light provided by a street lamp. Was her lipstick really so red? “Come to me, my dear.”

“Yes,” he said, and came so close their bodies touched. Her perfume is expensive, he thought. Rare now in war, during occupation. Odd for an ordinary prostitute, but inviting nonetheless. “What is your name?”

“Choose one,” she said

“No,” he said. “No little games. Your real name. I insist.”

“Games are all some of us have left.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s Trudy. My name is Trudy.”

“A lovely name. And you are so beautiful.”

“No. Not beautiful.”

“No?”

“No. I’ve hunted you for days, Monsieur Millet. And what happens now is not beautiful, nor am I.”

“Pardon? But you know my name….”

“Yes, I know your name.” Moving then, in anticipation of the blood, she stepped a little to the left. At the same time she raised her right hand, the one that held the straight razor, and ran it vertically up Monroe Millet’s belly. The blade went deep, and stopped only for the base of Millet’s sternum.

He staggered backward. His hands gone to the massive wound. A look of disbelief on his face. He tried to speak, but could not. His mouth opened and shut but he produced no words.

Trudy Parr looked at her hand. Despite her speed and expertise, there was still a little blood there. As he stood before her in shock, she took a corner of Millet’s tweed jacket and wiped the blood away. “Your kind always looks so surprised,” she said. Dropping the razor, she nudged it down a sewer grate with the toe of her milky white patent leather shoe.

Millet reached out and grabbed at her. Unsteady on his feet. No longer drunk, but rapidly dying. Trudy Parr stepped away. It occurred to him then that she was smiling. Not broadly, it was a subtle smile. She enjoys her work. Such a strange last thought.

He staggered and fell.

A black Renault pulled up, headlights off. The passenger door opened, and Trudy Parr got in. The car disappeared down a poorly lit street.

“We can take Monroe Millet off the list,” she said in the street English of a far away place called east end Vancouver.

The driver passed her a lit cigarette. “You sure of the kill,” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Good,” he said.  “But now we have to shut it down. There’s been another Killroy killing. News just came out, happened a week ago. The gendarmes are making a show of locking down the city. The SS are tightening security. It’ll be too dangerous to continue for now.”

“That makes how many now, Crispin?”

“The underground count is eight. The papers say two. Three if this one gets reported.”

“You’re certain it’s Killroy?”

“Severe trauma to the neck and throat. Blood splatter on an adjacent wall. No blood on the ground or otherwise near the body. Killroy was here written in blood nearby.”

“Intelligence source?”

“Le Géant. We have an appointment with him at the house tonight.”

“That’s pure, alright. What the hell’s going on, Crispin?”

“Maybe someone’s killing for recreational purposes. And why the hell not? We’re living in Nazi Land.”

“Victim?”

“Male. No other information, like the rest.”

“All male so far. What does that mean?”

“Something maybe. Maybe nothing. Who gives a damn? We aren’t here for the street opera.”

“All intelligence is worthy intelligence, Crispin. I’m quoting you now.”

“That’s theory, sweetheart. This is practice. If one of us gets it, I don’t want it to happen while we’re nosing around some meaningless back alley freak show. We have assigned targets. We need to lay low until we can follow through on those.”

Trudy Parr dropped her cigarette onto the floor of the car and snuffed it out. She looked over at Crispin Dench. In profile, in the dim light from the dashboard, he looked a little spooky. Paris had aged them both, had added layers. Now he was talking about taking precautions. Since when did Crispin take precautions? “Lay low,” she said. “That’s a new one.”

Ahead on the road leading out of the city, a roadblock appeared. A small company of SS men were checking papers. The Renault rolled slowly forward as the line moved. Crispin Dench lowered his widow. At the gate he held his papers out and stared ahead. A SS sergeant took the counterfeit documents and examined them. He immediately stood at attention and saluted. “Your destination, SS-Sturmbannführer Faust?”

“Somewhere dark and private, Unterscharführer,” Dench said in a perfect Westphalian accent. “And look, would you please not salute me. I’m out of uniform, and trying not to draw attention.” He gave the sergeant a surreptitious look, and then nodded his head toward Trudy Parr.

“Of course, Sir. And the young lady’s papers,” the sergeant said. “I’m sorry, Sir. Orders.”

Trudy Parr reached across and handed her papers to the sergeant. He stooped lower to look across at her in the passenger seat. She looked back, remaining calm, unsmiling. The sergeant smiled at SS-Sturmbannführer Faust, and handed the papers back. He said, “Very good, Sir. Allow me to wish you a pleasant evening.”

“Just do your damn job, Unterscharführer,” Dench said and released the clutch.

Ten minutes outside of the city, the Renault turned off the highway onto a dirt road. They drove for several minutes before they reached a yard surrounding a dark, abandoned house.

“I hate this place,” said Trudy Parr.

“He says it’s safe.”

“We’ve used it too many times already.”

They sat in the car. Quiet and still.  Staring into the dark.

“There,” said Crispin Dench. Two silent shadows ran across the yard, circling and running back. “If there’s a problem, they’ll know.”

In a moment, the two shadows arrived on either side of the Renault. They sat and panted happily. Dench looked in his rear view mirror and saw Benoît Le Géant, the arthritic dwarf who headed an important underground cell, walking up from behind. Le Géant whistled, and his two Rottweilers stood and departed. There was a tapping on Trudy Parr’s window. She rolled it down.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle,” said Le Géant. “How dark and lovely the absolute of night. The waxing moon upon your pale cheek….” The dwarf raised his hand, but did not touch.

“Save it for the debutantes, Benoît,” said Trudy Parr. “I work for a living.”

“Oh, oui, of course, la Canadien. So lacking in romantic predisposition. It is your young nation’s greatest failing. May I add Mademoiselle Parr, your kill this evening is already legend in certain covert circles. A shame it shall for all time remain a secret.”

“Let’s not take all night, Benoît,” Dench said.

“Of course you are correct, Crispin,” said Benoît. “The birds never sleep, and are always listening. So, to the point. I have a request. I’m asking you to do a little job that will differ somewhat from your usual endeavours on behalf of La Résistance française.”

“Yeah?” said Trudy Parr.

“What?” said Dench.

“You have heard of the Killroy incidents.”

“Look,” said Dench. “I know what’s coming….”

“No,” said Le Géant. “You do not. So, please just listen. We are the blunt and wicked end of a vital movement. We do not participate in politics or introspection. We receive instruction and act, nothing more. We are also not great disseminators of information; this is understood. So, it is understandable that there may be things you do not know about the Killroy killings.”

“Spill it,” said Trudy Parr.

“The Killroy victims were all high level Résistance members,” said Le Géant.

“That’s news. How many,” said Dench. “For real this time.”

“Ten.”

“Then the killings are secondary, peripheral events,” said Trudy Parr. “What’s important is that you have a leak, Benoît.”

Had a leak, Trudy. We had a leak. She has now been eliminated. But not before she conveyed some useful information, names and locations. Killroy will strike again. He must be stopped, and he must be made an example of. This is the favour I am asking of you.”

“What’s the dope you’ve got on this character,” said Dench.

“At first we believed that it could not be only one man. Even you two work together. We believed it had to be a team of up to four operatives. Gestapo involvement, of course. But when the leak broke under torture, she insisted that it is only one. But one controlled from on high. We were correct in our assumption that it is Gestapo.”

“Speed this up, Benoît,” said Trudy Parr. “I need a cigarette, and I can’t light one here.”

“Very well,” said Benoît. “Killroy is now an assigned target. Your assigned target.”

“You don’t assign target to us.”

Le Géant held out a large envelope. “This contains details, including your London handler’s consent for your involvement.”

Trudy Parr looked at the envelope, but didn’t take it. “That’s one hell of a lot of printed information to have lying around, Benoît. You’re getting sloppy?”

“Familiarise yourselves with the details, and burn it. There is no other way. There will be no SIS satchel, no coded BBC broadcast. This must happen within 24 hours.”

“Why so fast,” said Dench.

“To send a message.”

“I thought you were blunt and wicked, not political.”

“I am not; others are.”

“I don’t like it, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said. “I say we drive away.”

Crispin Dench sat at the wheel looking forward and said, “Trudy’s got a say in this, Benoît. And since this is only a request, we reserve the right to decline.”

“When you read the material in the envelope,” said Benoît. “I believe you will change your minds.”

“Let’s go,” said Trudy Parr. “I need a bath.”

“We believe,” said Benoît, “that the SS and the Gestapo have colluded. We have evidence that the killer, that Killroy, is something strange, aberrant.”

“Strange and aberrant?” said Dench putting his hand on the ignition key.

“Yes,” said Benoît. “It is ironic. They have tapped into some form of Jewish mysticism and created a monster. And because their intent is evil, they have made it more horrible than any that have come before.”

“He’s blowing smoke,” said Trudy Parr. “He’s playing the shill.”

“What is this blowing smoke?” said Benoît. “Qu’est-ce que c’est shill.”

“Trudy thinks you’re full of merde, Benoît.”

“Fine,” said Benoît. “Go. But ask yourselves. Why is there no blood on the ground where the bodies lie? They want us to believe that the bodies were killed elsewhere, then moved to the locations where they were found. But why is their blood on the walls. How is it that the bodies are so completely drained?”

“Okay,” said Trudy Parr. “Elucidate.”

“The killer is feeding,” Benoît said.

“Oh for God sake,” said Trudy Parr. “It’s Bela Lugosi. Now I need a bath, a cigarette and a drink.”

“Isn’t Paris fucked up enough, Benoît,” said Dench. “We already have Nazis. Do we really need vampires?”

“Not a vampire,” Benoît said. “But vampiric in its habits.”

Its habits?” said Trudy Parr.

“Oui,” said Benoît. “They have gambled. They have been obsessed, and the obsession appears to have paid off. You are already intrigued, are you not? I know you will not, cannot, refuse this assignment. Read the documents and you will see that, if successful, it will be your masterpiece.”

Trudy Parr reached out and took the envelope.

*****

Alain Lefebvre of the French underground stood in shadow beneath an ancient flight of stairs that led up from La Seine. Something was wrong. The operative was late. Instinct and procedure said leave immediately. Climb the dimly lit steps up to the street and take the long way home. He decided to do this. He stepped out from the shadow, into the muted light of the thin crescent moon.

There was a sound. Steps or shuffling? Lefebvre stepped back into shadow. The sound of heavy breathing now. And more shuffling. Yes, a lame foot dragging after a healthy one. Lefebvre reached into his pocket for his switchblade. It was a comfort to find it there. Now the shuffling stopped. Lefebvre listened. The breathing had stopped. No other movement. Silence. He pulled out the switchblade, and pressed the release. It made a familiar dull snapping sound. Whoever this was, it was not the operative. The operative was a young man, quick of step. Lefebvre stepped out to face his stalker.

The golem stood perfectly still, its eyes closed. Its head loosely tilted a little left. Dim moonlight reflected off of its tall, broad muddy body. Lefebvre reacted, thrusting his switchblade into the soft muck of the golem’s abdomen. His hand sank in up to the wrist. Mon Dieu, he whispered.

The golem’s eyes opened. “Alain Lefebvre,” it said. Its pronunciation was wet and slurred. Its breath a swamp of foul smells. Bits of mud dripped from its mouth.

“No,” said Lefebvre.

“Yes, I think. Orav sends me.”

“No.” Lefebvre spoke louder now, pulling his hand out of the mire. It came out empty, having left the switchblade behind.

The golem became more animated. Its grimaced and took a step backward, onto its right foot. It drew its right hand back. Lefebvre looked down to see long, hard white claws. The golem took a hard, well targeted swipe at Lefebvre’s neck and tore it open. Blood splashed against the ancient stone wall. Lefebvre’s last sight was the golem’s savage lunge, its vicious rows of yellow razor teeth.

A moment later the golem shuffled awkwardly to the wall, dragging its poorly formed left foot after the right. It spit some of Lefebvre’s blood onto a fingertip and began to write.

where clocks rein time part 1

read part 2, read part 3, read part 3.1, read part 4
_
_________________________________________________

…a dream.

Imagine lingering above a sea of fedoras and shoe leather moving in waves across the open expanse of Gare du Nord. A grand ballet. Paris. 6.00 pm, 1943.  Silent except for the snap of a paper match striking, and the quiet sizzle of a newly lighted tailor-made. Then a face looks up from the mass, and he sees you. You recognise him. Target and predator. He smiles at you from down there. His face is paper white beneath the brim of his brown hat. His eyes are all pupil. Black. And when he smiles, he exposes the yellow sabre teeth of a carnivore. You fight to breath.

Trudy Parr woke from the dream, perspiring. She says the name: Orav. Reaching for the nightstand, she retrieves a pack of Black Cat cigarettes. It’s dark. It’s 2.45 a.m. “What the hell do you want now,” she whispers. From somewhere distant, he whispers back: “You have something of mine, I think.” “Fuck off,” whispers Trudy Parr.  Then there’s laughter like the hiss of steam. Paris returning in evil little nightmares.

***

Vancouver, 1949

A man wearing a hat and trench coat walks down West Hastings near Cambie, smoking a French cigarette. It’s 10:30 a.m., wet and grey. Though he carries no weapon, he does carry a private investigators license for the province of British Columbia. The name on the license, typewritten in fuzzy courier script, is Crispin Dench. The license describes Dench as male, born in 1911, five foot eleven inches tall with light brown hair and green eyes, weighing 180lbs.

At the door of the Dominion Building, he ducks in under an awning and removes his hat. Then he looks over his shoulder at the cenotaph in Victory Square across the street. “Here’s to Victory,” he says under his breath and flicks the remains of his cigarette into the gutter. He walks inside. On the fifteenth floor are the offices of The Dench & Parr Agency.

“Good morning, Gladys,” Crispin Dench says to his secretary as he enters his office. “Wadda ya know?”

“That crumb Worthy Morgan called,” Gladys says. “And so did Lieutenant Egon. Messages on your desk. Here’s your mail. I’m going out for a doughnut and some fresh air.”

“Any coffee made?” says Dench.

“On the burner,” Gladys says putting on her coat.  “Fresh ten minutes ago. Miss Parr was in, and now she ain’t. Said she’s made some headway on the Schneider case. She didn’t say what. She seemed a little tense, but you know she don’t talk much. That’s all I got to tell you. Oh and it’s payday, Mr Dench.”

Dench pulls an envelope from his suit jacket pocket and hands it over. Gladys takes it, turns and goes for the door. “Back in twenty minutes, boss. Try not to burn the joint down.”

“I’ll try not to.”

In his office, Dench sits in a swivel chair, turning his back to his desk and looking out the window. The rain keeps coming. Cambie Street is black and slick. He sees the cenotaph again. Memories creep like insects. Moments and events that repeat like a 78 skipping on a turntable. The phone rings.

“Dench & Parr Agency, Crispin Dench speaking.”

“Where the hell you been, Dench?” says Worthy Morgan, City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. “I got a goddam deadline.”

“Ham and eggs at the Ovaltine, Worthy. I was reading your rag, lost in its eloquence. What’s rattlin’?”

“That shindig last night down Shanghai Alley,” Morgan says. “We sent a reporter down, but he couldn’t get past the police line. Now no one’s talking. My reporter said he saw you behind the line conversing with Egon.  So spill. My reporter says he could see a body under a tarp. You were standing right next to it. What was it, murder?”

“There was a tarp,” Dench says. “And a body. That’s all I know. Let the cops do their job. They’ll brief you piranhas later this morning.”

“Had to be a murder,” Worthy Morgan says. “No one in that neighbourhood dies of natural causes. And why were you there? You’re just a civilian where the cops are concerned. You’re involved somehow, right?”

“You missed a typo,” says Dench, picking up a fresh copy of the Sun from his stack of mail. “I caught it as I ate my sunny-sides. You guys crack me up. The Op-Ed piece on page ten. According to Virgil Hathaway, ‘When it comes to the reform of City Hall, there are no scared cows.’ Shouldn’t that read sacred cows, or is that what you really meant?”

“Fuck Virgil Hathaway. He’s an overpaid hack. C’mon, be a pal. Tell me about Shanghai Alley.”

“Since when are we pals,” Dench says. “Wasn’t it the Vancouver Sun that described Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr as the two greatest menaces to the city’s peace and safety since the 1886 fire? Wasn’t it Virgil Hathaway himself who called Trudy a psychotic, straight razor wielding trollop who should be either married off or imprisoned?”

“He wasn’t far off.”

“Look Morgan, why don’t you just be a good little editor and send a man down to 312 Main Street for the morning brief.” Dench hangs up and smiles. Worthy Morgan would be having a sacred cow about now.

Then he thinks about Shanghai Alley.

5.45 a.m. A dim, yellow flame from a wooden match partially illuminating the scene. The right hand of the corpse lay open on the alley’s tar and gravel surface. Then the headlights of a black police Ford lights everything up. The passenger door opens before it stops, and an obese man steps out. He has salt and pepper hair, and wears a poorly fitted trench coat. It’s Detective Lieutenant Egon of the Vancouver Police Department.

“Well, looky here,” says Egon. Other police cars arrive behind him. “You know, Dench, I look forward to the day when you don’t arrive at a crime scene before me.”

“I called it in, and I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for you characters to show up.”

“Your call broke up a damn fine poker game, Dench. One or two of these fine officers left the back of Josie’s down a considerable amount of money. You’re lucky we showed at all.” Looking down at the tarp over the corpse, Egon says: “What’s this heap?”

“I’ve been shadowing this citizen for a week and a half now. His wife says he’s been stepping out behind her back. This isn’t how I expected the investigation to end.”

“How did you expect it to end,” says Egon crouching over the body.

“His name was Robert Owens. This gig was strictly observe and report, Egon. Only, it was starting to last way too long without the usual results. I was going to give the missus her deposit back the other day and cancel the contract, but he kept showing up in some very intriguing places.”

“Like dead in an alley,” says Egon.

“Like dead in an alley,” says Dench, kneeling next to the body. “But maybe you should take a closer look. I think he may be the third in a series.”

By now the scene is populated with patrolmen drinking coffee from thermos bottles and plainclothes men reading racing forms, sipping from hip flasks. Egon goes to his car and pulls out a flashlight. He crouches down and lifts a corner of the tarp.

“You lay the tarp?” Egon says

“Yeah,” Dench says. “The least I could do. Shine a light over there on the right side of the neck,”

Egon shines the light and is repulsed. “Lord, what a mess.” He holds his free hand to his mouth like he might be sick. The wound in Robert Owens’ neck exposes tendons, veins and arteries, along with a torn section of oesophagus.

“A big chunk of the throat and neck torn out,” Dench says. “And not a drop of blood on the ground. It’s the third like this since August, no?”

“Drained of blood,” Egon says. “He should be swimming in it.  The killing took place elsewhere; the body was moved here by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Similar to the others.”

Dench looks Egon in the eye and says, “You’re so full of shit. There may be no blood on the ground around the body, but there’s plenty on the wall.” Dench points to the area around the back entrance of a laundry a few feet away. It’s splattered with dried blood, black in the low yellow light. “Just like the others,” he says. “Owens was killed right here. Just match the blood on the wall to his.”

“That stain on the wall don’t represent all the blood a man’s got in his body. Where’s the rest? Why didn’t he bleed out on the ground?”

“You’re the police detective, so detect. But if it’s what I think it is….”

“It ain’t what you think it is, Dench. Ain’t no way. Fucking cannibals,” Egon mutters. “I’m starting to hate this town.”

“And then there’s that other item on the other side of the doorway,” Dench says. “That little bit of graffiti written in blood. That was at the other two killings, too.”

Egon looks up and shines his flashlight on the wall. Next to the blood splatter is a simple drawing familiar to World War 2 allied troops. The big eyes and nose of a cartoon character looking over a wall. Killroy was here.

“Don’t mean shit,” Egon says. “Just some back alley graffiti.”

“It’s a signature,” Dench says. “It was at the locations of the other two murders.”

“How would you know all this, anyway?”

“I can drop a sawbuck at the foot of a hungry cop, same as the next guy.”

“Well did your hungry cop tell you that the other two were found in back alleys, as well? Back alleys have graffiti.”

Dench lights a Gitanes and says, “Written in blood? I tried to tell you this after the first and second kills. Killroy is significant. It goes back to Paris, 1943. When Trudy and I were there. There were eleven known killings exactly like this. Same modus operandi. It never made the papers because the Nazi’s wouldn’t allow it. Very few knew about the Paris murders, so this can’t be copycat. We finally tracked the killer down but….”

As Dench speaks, Egon signals for a uniform. “…but Paris was lousy with Nazis,” Egon says, finishing Dench’s sentence. “You were distracted, is that it? Why didn’t you just let the fatal Miss Parr take care of this Paris bad guy?”

“We came close. He was singling out resistance operatives, so snuffing him was a priority. But he was being protected. He was Gestapo. And at the scene of every kill, we found the same graffiti signature, Killroy was here. Like he was mocking us. And there’s more, Egon. Important details you need to know. I mean, this guy isn’t even human.”

A uniform police officer arrives at Egon’s side. “Escort Mr Dench off of the crime scene,” Egon says.

“But I called it in,” says Dench. “I’m a witness and a suspect. You’ve got to at least question me.”

“Don’t tell me my job, Dench.”

“Fine, I’ve got a business to run. But just one thing.”

“What?”

“If this really is the freak Trudy and I dealt with in Paris, he’s probably watching us right now.”

“From where?”

Dench looks up at the darkened windows in the stories above, then to either end of the alley. “From somewhere nearby,” he says. “Point in any direction. But I guarantee you this: Wherever he is, he’s laughing like hell.”

“Get Sherlock the hell out of here,” Egon says, and the uniform gives Dench a nod. Despite the rain, it’s getting lighter.

Back in his office now, Dench gives his head a gentle shake. He’s given Killroy enough mental energy.

He turns around from the window to his desk and sees her there. Sitting across from him. She got into his office and sat down without a sound. Pure Trudy Parr. She’s pale, wearing a blue dress. She looks tired, afraid maybe. But Dench can’t remember Trudy ever really looking afraid.

“Gotta tie a bell round your neck,” he says.

“I dreamed about Orav last night,” says Trudy.

“Killroy.”

“Yeah, like he was just dropping in to let me know he’s in town.”

“I think maybe he is.”

“That Shanghai Alley caper?”

“You heard?”

“Worthy Morgan,” Trudy says, “looking for a scoop. Called me at home. Thinks we’re both awake 24 hours a day working to supply him with copy.” Taking a package of Black Cats from her purse, Trudy says, “I guess the Owens case is closed.”

“Closed or maybe just different. I think Owens is the third of three.”

“Killroy was here?”

“At each scene. Egon’s pretending he ain’t biting, though. He’s making like he doesn’t get the connection.”

“No blood except the wall splatter and the graffiti?”

“Yeah. Egon’s settling for the same bad assumptions they made in Paris. That the body had bled out elsewhere. That it had been moved. But the splatter on the wall makes that a lie.”

“So, we wait for number four?”

“There could already be a number four,” Dench says. “As I recall, Orav’s a fast customer.”

“Wasn’t Owens just a fidelity case?” Trudy says. “His philandering days are over now, for good. Let’s just collect a fee and move on.”

“I followed Robert Owens for a week, Trudy. I never once caught him stepping out with another woman.”

“Maybe he went in for loggers, plenty of them in this burgh.”

“His prolonged absences gave his wife the idea he had something on the side. But the place he went mostly, when he wasn’t at work or at home, was a big old house up in Shaughnessy. He was there an awful lot, like it was a club or something. The wife told me he wouldn’t talk about it. He’d just clam up.”

“Lipstick on his collar?”

“Nah, but she said he sometimes smelled like….”

“Perfume, cologne?”

“Nah, she found it hard to describe. I think she really wanted it to be perfume; it would have explained a lot. But when I pressed her on it, she said it was more like incense.”

“They Catholic?”

“Methodist.”

“Then it’s gotta be Orav,” Trudy says.

“Yeah, maybe,” says Dench.

“Or maybe the old house in Shaughnessy’s a cathouse.”

“No. It’s Shaughnessy, after all. Besides, there was hardly any traffic. Never more than a few lights on. No noise. Just a few well dressed, middle aged men walking in and out late at night. In a week I counted five, including Owens.” Crispin Dench pauses and momentarily looks away.

“And what else, Crispin? Spit it out.”

“I went into the yard once during the day, and walked around the house. I looked in the front window from the porch.”

“And,” says Trudy. “C’mon, you’re starting to piss me off.”

Dench looks down at his hands. “There was an altar to Eris.”

A few seconds of silence. It seems longer. Trudy Parr no longer looks afraid.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before, Crispin?”

“I wanted to be certain.”

“Certain,” Trudy says.

“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”

“You sure now, mister?”

“Pretty much.”

“Orav said he’d follow us,” says Trudy, “that he’d get us,”

“Seems he didn’t lie,” Dench says. “What now?”

“He thinks he’s indestructible,” Trudy says. “We almost proved him wrong once. He’s got a hate on for me. I know that much.”

“You almost took his head off, Trudy. He didn’t expect that from a little blonde in a Chanel dress.”

“Well then here’s what we do,” Trudy says. “We find him and we bury him. Deep.”

“We tried that once.”

“He was a Gestapo Superintendent in Nazi occupied Paris,” Trudy says. “He held all the cards. And then the war ended.”

“Well if he’s here,” Dench says, sitting up and straightening his tie, “we’ll have to get him before he gets us. We never missed a single target during the whole goddam war, except once. And now he’s in our wasteland.”

“Our wasteland,” Trudy says.

“You know,” Dench says. “Egon said something interesting this morning over the body. He said, ‘Fucking cannibals.’”

Trudy Parr bites the cork end off of a Black Cat and lights it. Then she says, “My, my. That is interesting.”

the passion of Molly Apples

Molly Apples was distracted by a 3-D Jesus wall-hanging in the window of Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store. When she leaned to the left, it was a close up of the white robed, dirty-blond haired, brown eyed Jesus with the beatific face she knew from her childhood Sunday school. When she leaned to the right, the same Jesus winked, smiled and held up two fingers in either the sign of V for victory or peace. The wall-hanging was priced to sell at $1.95 and she wanted it badly to hang in her living room next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. But she had other places for her scant earnings.

You see, when Molly Apples was a youngster, not long after a break with her childhood Sunday school over a devotional disagreement, she made the decision that if she had only one life to live she would live it as a blonde. And, having made that decision, she bought her first Clairol hair colouring kit from the Cunningham Drugstore on Commercial Drive.

Molly Apples was a natural brunette but wanted more than anything to look like Veronica Lake with her platinum blonde peek-a-boo hairstyle. Unfortunately, nothing she could have done would have ever made Molly Apples look like Veronica Lake. Molly Apples was cursed, her word, even into middle age, with the impish and pouty appearance of Shirley Temple, not the big eyed femme fatale looks of Veronica Lake. But nonetheless, since that fateful day in her fifteenth year, after coming home with her proudly purchased bottle of blonde, her hair had been as close to pearly platinum as she was able to achieve. And no matter how dire her financial circumstance, she’d always reserved enough capital to purchase her desired hair colour.

And so it was that on that day when she saw 3-D Jesus in the window of Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store, Molly Apples stepped into the Cunningham Drugstore on Commercial Drive to purchase another Clairol hair colouring kit. It was on this day also, that she did what had become habit for her so long ago – she went on a tour of the store to peruse the familiar and the new. After picking up her box of Clairol Perfect 10 – 10, she went through the cosmetics department and up the greeting card aisle, down the toothpaste and magazine aisles and quickly and uneasily past the incontinence products then through the snack section and finally arrived in the pharmacy.

In the pharmacy were laxatives and haemorrhoid remedies, vitamins and eye drops. But what caught Molly Apples’ attention was the newest in home testing products. Situated right next to the home pregnancy tests was a dazzling and typically tasteless display she’d never seen before. It advertised the latest in home diagnostics. A stunning breakthrough in medical science. It was safe, easy and convenient and was value priced. It was the new new new GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test.

The small text read, Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test is a patented technology providing unparalleled at-home results right when you want them. Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test is 99% accurate at detecting typical psychiatric disorders like Depression, Bipolar Disorder 1 and 2, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorders and Psychosis. See drug monograph for a full listing. Call doctor if results are positive.

She picked up one of the pastel packages. The price was $15. Holding it to her ear, she gave it a little shake. Nothing moved inside, though the little box did have some heft to it. She turned it over and found a colour chart with instructions. Once a small amount of urine was applied to the target area of the device contained inside the package, a colour would appear to represent a psychiatric disorder. Blue was for depression, bright red was for bipolar 1 and pink for bipolar 2, orange was for schizophrenia, puce was for obsessive compulsive disorder, green was for generalised anxiety disorder and yellow was for psychosis. There were gradient shades in between on the colour chart representing other disorders like borderline personality disorder and agoraphobia. White meant the user was perfectly sane.

Molly Apples thought a moment then made a decision. She would purchase the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test and test herself for a psychiatric disorder.

All of her life Molly Apples had felt different from the rest of humanity. There was something, she felt, just a little off-kilter. This was confirmed by family members like her mother who had always said that Molly Apples was different and should therefore expect a life of exclusion and isolation, and that Molly Apples should be content with that as it was the will of their Pentecostal God. Others, acquaintances and people who claimed to be her friends, had always concluded that Molly Apples was a little odd. They used words like unhinged, unzipped, screwy, oddball, dingy, dippy, delirious, flaky, flipped and freaked out. Doctors had used words like eccentric, erratic, unconventional, idiosyncratic, quirky and peculiar. But at no time in her life had she received a psychiatric diagnosis. Something for which there was a therapeutic intervention that would ease her suffering. The Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test might be just the thing to put that right. She’d bring the evidence that the test revealed to her physician and set him straight. It would light a fire under the shifty quack and thereby persuade him to find some solution to her abnormal state.

At the till, she forked over the cash for the Clairol Perfect 10 – 10 and the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. It was more than she had planned to spend but it was worth it. She could go without lunch for a few days. The cashier cocked an eyebrow and smirked as she scanned and bagged the items. Molly Apples pursed her lips but let it go. Hers had been a life of cocked eyebrows and smirks. Protesting was pointless and only attracted attention. She took her bag and walked out.

Molly Apples walked back home past Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store and stopped to look at the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging again. She stood on the sidewalk leaning right then left, right then left, to see the white robed, dirty-blond haired, brown eyed Jesus with the beatific face and then the winking peace sign wielding Jesus. It was a 3-D thing of beauty and since she’d already blown the bank on hair colour and the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test, she decided to go all the way and buy it.

Hana, the Korean cashier at Wilaker’s didn’t cock an eyebrow or smirk at Molly Apples’ purchase. She smiled and nodded in approval. “Very nice,” she said. Hana was a fellow follower of the Anointed One and had a home with 3-D Jesuses hung in almost every room. She had even been the cashier on duty when Molly Apples purchased her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. And Hana had approved very much of that acquisition, too. “Very more 3-D Jesus arrive next week,” Hana said in her best broken English. Molly Apples thanked her and left to walk home.

Once home, Molly Apples realised it would be a chore to hang the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging next to the black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It would involve a hammer and footstool. So, instead, and for the time being, she hung the sacred icon on her refrigerator with a Holy Land Experience theme park fridge magnet. She stood back and looked, tilting her head this way and that to see the alternating images. It pleased her greatly. But then she remembered the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test in the drugstore bag. In a moment, she had the package in hand and was once again reading the instructions.

She tore off the cellophane wrapper and opened the box. Inside, she found the device. It looked something like a teaspoon with a small square patch of what appeared to be litmus paper. The instruction said that urine could be applied directly or the device could be dipped into a vessel containing urine. Molly Apples blushed at the words applied directly and went to the cupboard to retrieve a rarely used Royal Dalton teacup with 14K trim. Then she went into the washroom and, though she lived alone, locked the door. In a moment she emerged and went into the kitchen to dip the device.

Sitting at her kitchen table, Molly Apples held the device in one hand while holding the package in the other, rereading the instructions. What colour will I be, she thought. Am I blue for depression? Yellow for psychosis? Puce for obsessive compulsive disorder? Chartreuse for narcissistic personality disorder? Or will I fall, inconclusively, somewhere in between? Or will I be, and at this thought she gave a dreadful little gasp, white for perfectly sane?

She dipped the device into her Royal Dalton teacup of urine and pulled it out. The instructions said that she must wait five minutes for a conclusive and error-free result. She checked the time on her stove clock and sat staring at the small square patch of litmus paper. It was a very slow five minutes but when it was over, the small square patch of litmus paper wasn’t white anymore. It was brown. She picked up the box again and read the instructions on the back. There was a rainbow of colours there, but no brown. There was magenta, purple, cyan, red, pink and a half dozen other colours, each with its own assigned psychiatric disorder. But there was no brown.

Molly Apples was incredulous. How could a product that promised so much fail her so completely? She scanned the packaging for a clue but found nothing. Nothing, that is, until she saw the words Help Line and the phone number 1-833- 555-Harmony. She dashed to her telephone and dialled.

It rang and rang and Molly Apples grew impatient. Surely to goodness operators were standing-by, waiting for her call. She was used to calling the 700 Club Prayer Line. They prayerfully and solicitously picked up almost at once. GlaxTonic Laboratories could take a lesson from Pat Robertson.

Then came the recording, GlaxTonic Laboratories is anxious to take your call and answer your questions about the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. If you have a general question about the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test, please press one now; if you disagree with your test result and would like an alternative result more consistent with your self-described state of mind, please press two now; if your Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test device displays a colour not found on the back of the package, please press three now. Conditions of class action settlements order that we announce the details of all class action settlements.  If you’re calling about current world-wide class action lawsuits and how you can receive a free gift for withdrawing your claim to court-ordered settlements, please press zero now. Have a nice day.

Molly Apples pressed three and listened to Robert Goulet sing covers of Beatles’ tunes for twenty-three minutes. Then an operator answered.

“Hello,” said the operator. “Thank you for calling GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test Customer Helpline. My name is Felicia. How may I help you?”

“What’s brown supposed to mean?” said Molly Apples.

“Brown?” said Felicia. The line went silent for a few moments, except for the distant sound of typing on a computer keyboard. Then Felicia came back. “The GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test doesn’t display brown, ma’am. The chemical composition of the litmus paper pad makes it impossible for brown to appear. Please recheck your results and call back if you feel it’s necessary. Have a nice day.”

“Whoa there, Felicia,” said Molly Apples, perhaps a little too loudly. “Don’t you hang up on me. I just spent $15 on this little item and I want results. Now just you find out what brown indicates and tell me so we can end this phone call.”

There were more quiet keyboard sounds, then Felicia came back. “Are you certain it’s brown and not chartreuse? Chartreuse is often mistaken for brown, as is orange. You do sound a little narcissistic. Also, have you ever been tested for colour blindness? Ophthalmologists are available in your area. I have a list of offices I can mail to you or I can send it to you via email. By the way, do you know about the GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points Plan? You already qualify for 10,000 GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points with your purchase of the GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. Points can be redeemed for a myriad of lovely gift items. All you have to do is open an account with us. We can do that right now while you’re on the line. Shall I send you a catalogue?”

“Look, sister,” said Molly Apples, “the little paper square is as brown as German chocolate torte cake. I’m not colour blind and I don’t give a hoot about your little bonus points plan, which is, no doubt, a means by which GlaxTonic Laboratories sucks in all of the vital personal information it can on its customers in anticipation of the eventual arrival of The Beast Satan 666.”

“Uhm, well,” Felicia said shyly, “you may be interested in knowing that this week’s GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points Plan special is a Cuisinart Food Processor with nested bowls and retractable cord, available in three designer colours for only 150,000 GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points.”

“I want a damn diagnosis,” said Molly Apples, turning red and gnashing her teeth. “And I want one now. What the hell does brown connote in your satanic little GlaxTonic Laboratories universe? Am I psychotic, bipolar, anxious, antisocial? What?”

“You seem a little anxious.”

“Don’t toy with me, Felicia.”

“Perhaps you’d like to speak to my Call Centre Manager,” Felicia said.

“Will he tell me anything different than what you’re telling me now?” Molly Apples asked.

“No,” said Felicia. “But he’s very empathetic and a good listener.”

“Aaarrrrrgh!” sounded Molly Apples. “Just forget it.” She hung up the telephone.

For the rest of the day and into the evening, Molly Apples sat at her kitchen table staring at the tiny square patch of brown litmus paper. Eventually night came and it got dark but she didn’t turn on a light. The world preyed on the weak and ill-informed; it was full of broken promises and disappointment. Molly Apples realised, not for the first time, just how ill-equipped she was to live among humankind. She thought about colouring her hair. It might lighten her mood. But then she changed her mind. Colouring one’s hair was a sinful vanity. Perhaps it was the reason for her life of heartbreak and uncertainty. Perhaps, she thought, it would be better if she tuned in the 24 hour 700 Club station and watch reruns.

But then she remembered the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging. It had to be hung on the wall next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. She went to her tool drawer and pulled out a hammer and nail. Then she went to the refrigerator upon which she’d hung her 3-D Jesus with a Holy Land Experience theme park fridge magnet. There He was, at once in His white robe with the dirty-blond hair, brown eyes and beatific face. Then winking, smiling and holding up two fingers in either the sign of V for victory or peace. Molly Apples couldn’t help moving her head back and forth to see both.

She was trying to decide which she liked better when a third image of Jesus appeared. This one was like neither of the two she’d seen previously. This Jesus had an even calmer smile and more caring eyes. He was animated, as well. He held up a pacifying hand. Molly Apples was astonished. She reached out and touched the wall-hanging, wishing to make contact, but only felt the hard refrigerator door behind it.

“It’s okay, Molly Apples,” 3-D Jesus said.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Molly Apples in amazement. “Is it really you?”

“Yes, child,” 3-D Jesus said.

Molly Apples began to cry. “Oh, Jesus,” she wept, “I’m so confused and alone and worried. What is wrong with me? Oh, what is so terribly wrong with me?”

“You’re seeking a psychiatric diagnosis, Molly,” 3-D Jesus said. “But some human conditions defy description and classification. For these there is no therapeutic intervention, only faith and perseverance.”

“Do I have enough faith?” asked Molly Apples.

“Yes, you do,” said 3-D Jesus.

“Will I persevere?”

“Yes, you will,” said 3-D Jesus.

“And what can I do,” ask Molly Apples, “to feel some happiness in this wicked, wicked world?”

3-D Jesus smiled an even calmer and endearing smile. And it was such a genuine and gentle smile, Molly Apples wept all the more. But now, hers were tears of pure joy.

“There’s really only one thing you can do,” 3-D Jesus told Molly Apples.

“Yes?” she said in a sudden fit of impossible anticipation. “What is it? What could that one thing be? Should I become a pilgrim and walk the planet alone for your sake? Should I fast until near starvation? Should I flog myself with a switch until my flesh falls away and only bone remains?”

“No, Molly Apples,” said 3-D Jesus, “none of those things.”

“Then what, oh what?” Molly Apples said. “What can I do to know you better and finally feel happiness?”

“Well,” said 3-D Jesus as if He might not know.

“Yes?” said Molly Apples.

“I think you should colour your hair,” said 3-D Jesus. “Your roots are showing.”

Then Molly Apples felt an overwhelming ecstasy. She fell to her knees as if to pray but fainted instead. Later she woke to find the animated, talking 3-D Jesus gone from the wall-hanging. Only the white robed, dirty-blond haired, brown eyed Jesus with the beatific face and the winking, smiling Jesus holding up two fingers in either the sign of V for victory or peace remained.

And so Molly Apples spent the rest of that night colouring her hair and felt such elation in doing so that she knew it was the right thing to do. The next morning, she hung her 3-D Jesus wall-hanging next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for all to see, though she had very few visitors.

In the days that followed, she joined in on several of the class action lawsuits against GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test and eventually received several tens of thousands of dollars for her trouble. She used a portion of the money to cover all of the walls of her home with different 3-D Jesus wall-hangings and invited Hana, the Korean cashier from Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store, over for tea. As they walked together past the ever changing images of 3-D Jesus, she knew that her confusion, loneliness and worry were gone forever.

in the land of splendid umbrellas

In the Land of Splendid Umbrellas, they welcomed the rain. When it fell, it gave them reason. Nearly everyone had his or her own splendid umbrella and they lived to flaunt them. It was considered a citizen’s duty. Spontaneously, and wherever possible throughout the land, they’d form proud processions in a downpour. They’d move slowly and with a grand rhythmic fluidity, an assembly of vibrantly colourful canopies flowing with the citizenry inconsequential beneath. Miles long pageants here and there, each rolling harmoniously. Seas of rich and vivid bobbing amid the glistening rainy-grey gradients. It was a diamond conceit of a golden prosperity.

But not everyone could or would own a splendid umbrella. There were those women, men and children who, living in vile poverty, were forced to make do with only drab umbrellas or no umbrellas at all. They sat on wet curbs, with chins in their hands, watching the rain induced processions of splendid umbrellas passing them by, wishing ever so strongly that they could join in but knowing the drabness of their dime store umbrellas excluded them completely.

There were also those who refused to conform to the prideful vanity of the multitude and would not own any umbrella at all. They heaped derision on the snooty majority of splendid umbrella bearing citizens and called them fools for being taken in by those who were made wealthy through the sale of splendid umbrellas. These nonconformists were people assumed to hold extremist views and were considered a rabble on the fringe. And among them was a certain Mr Balthazar Strange.

Mr Balthazar Strange was an old and crooked man. But his was a crookedness earned through honest hard work, not imposed by outrageous nature. He was a stone artist and, for a living, artistically and meditatively stacked stones, some of them very heavy, atop of one another. He relied upon the generosity of the passing public and cranky patrons. He had frighteningly wild and uncontrollable hair and a nose that slanted slightly to the left, it having been broken in a fall from a Christmas tree in his childhood. He wore eyeglasses with tiny blue lenses and a tattered army surplus greatcoat with indecipherable regimental flashings. On his head, in a hopeless attempt to control his frighteningly wild and uncontrollable hair, he wore a formless cap that may once have been red with what might once have been a teal green coloured feather in the hat band.

But before you presume his gnarled and shabby appearance had anything to do with his distain of splendid umbrellas, or any umbrella for that matter, please read on.

In fact, Mr Balthazar Strange had once loved splendid umbrellas as much as any man. He had a dazzling collection and was unfailing in his observation of meteorological forecasts and trends.  He carefully watched the sky for rain the way a pastor diligently watches his congregation for sin and transgression. And when the rain came, he would be the first in the resulting parade of splendid umbrellas, flashing this or that splendid umbrella from his collection, to the delight of all who proceeded with him, and all who looked on from the periphery.

But irreparable change can come over a man if circumstance allows and for Mr Balthazar Strange, the circumstances did most definitely allow.

It happened in The Year of the Drought. The one that came after The Year of the Comets but before The Year of the Toad Invasion. Sadness gripped the Land of Splendid Umbrellas. By the time September rolled around, not a spot of rain had been seen anywhere. Once, in May, there was a report of possible rain in the east but it was soon found out to be a cruel rumour started by a consortium of umbrella retailers hoping to improve their seriously declining sales. When found out, they were tried, found guilty, pilloried and pelted with state approved organic compost.

Mr Balthazar Strange was sad, too. Without rain, he had no reason to exhibit his magnificent collection of splendid umbrellas. The sun shone bright day after day. And though some wondered if they might use their splendid umbrellas as parasols, no one dared to be the first to suggest it. A group of museum curators proposed a splendid umbrella museum, a place where splendid umbrellas, once so popular and so essential to the national identity, could be preserved and displayed in the most up to date environmentally controlled setting possible and thereby be made available for future generations to view and ponder over. But it was a disappointing idea that smacked of failure so it was rejected.

Eventually, November in The Year of the Drought arrived. The sun was shining brightly, as it had all year long. Mr Balthazar Strange toiled long in the quarries and on stony beaches creating stacked stone sculptures for anyone who cared to see them. There were large pointy stones placed points down and precariously balanced upon roundish plinthy egg shaped stones. Some went meters into the sky like vertical stony totems, others resembled long trains of stones, successions of perilously balanced stones that twisted and traversed the surrounding topography. They produced a palpable energising tension and altered conventional concepts of permanence. Passers-by observed and wondered and dropped coins into Mr Balthazar Strange’s once red cap.

All through that November, weather prognostications were grim with sunshine. It was to last well into the Christmas season, not even any hope of snow to set the festive mood. People in the Land of Splendid Umbrellas grieved. They wondered how processions and parades could possibly proceed without rain and the resultant spontaneous opening of their splendid umbrellas. Mr Balthazar Strange continued his stony endeavours throughout this turbulent and uncertain time until one day, while on the beach below a seawall surrounding a park, he was confronted by a park ranger standing above him on the wall.

“News rules, mate,” said the park ranger, perhaps too self-importantly.

“New rules?” said Mr Balthazar Strange; his throat was dry and his whistle needing wetting. “And what, pray, are they?”

“No more stone stacking without a license.”

“Really?”

“Yes, you’re earning a living from this stacking of stones, you see. People put money in your grubby little cap. So, you are running a business and a business must be licensed. Otherwise you’re just begging, aren’t you?”

“Really?”

“Yes and responding to everything I say with the word really will not change that in any way.”

“Really?”

“I am willing, however, to give you a break this one time,” said the park ranger. “But you must cease and desist your stone stacking immediately, proceed to City Hall and purchase your license.”

“And what if I do not cease and desist?” said Mr Balthazar Strange, looking up at the park ranger through his tiny blue lenses. “What if I continue in spite of you and your new and absurd law? I have patrons and my public, you know. They will rally behind me. I have the history of art successfully triumphing over the bland and artless establishment on my side. What do you have, other than your torture chambers and gulags?”

“Look, it’s only a fine.”

“Then write your ticket and I shall tear it to pieces before your very eyes.”

“Hey, lighten up. I’m not a bad chap. I’m just doing my job.”

“You’re a blunt oppressive weapon of the state,” said Mr Balthazar Strange, his hackles rising. “You, sir, are a stooge, ignorant of your true place in the family of man, persuaded by your overlords that you are their equal. But you are not. You’re a slave to the despotic and tyrannical hierarchy that dominates City Hall, a once honourable institution.”

“Alright then, mate,” said the park ranger, pulling a pad out of one the many pockets situated round his official park ranger walking shorts. “You want to make this personal? Then I guess I will write that ticket, after all.”

“Paahhh!” laughed Mr Balthazar Strange dryly. “I mock you.”

“Mock away,” said the park ranger jumping off the seawall onto the beach. “Let’s see some ID.”

Mr Balthazar Strange was aghast by this. “People know me by my art,” he said. “I am no Petite bourgeoisie; I do not carry identification.”

So, the park ranger spoke into his two way radio mic. What he said was mostly muffled but Mr Balthazar Strange distinctly heard the words we have a live one here. And in a very short time a police cruiser arrived.

The police officers exited their cruiser slowly and with bored looks on their faces. It appeared they wished to convey that, as a result of their infinite policing duties, they had already seen too much of life and may not be in the mood for more. They consulted with the park ranger for a moment and then turned to Mr Balthazar Strange. “Givin’ this fella a hard time, are you?” said one of them who looked the senior.

“If anyone’s being given a hard time here,” said Mr Balthazar Strange, “it’s me.”

“You have a license to stack those stones?”

“Of course not,” said Mr Balthazar Strange. “Did Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci require a license? Did Vincent Willem van Gogh require one? Did Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech? Of course I don’t have a license and why should I?”

“Let’s see some ID.”

“I have none and if I did I certainly wouldn’t show it to you.”

Now the senior officer spoke into his two way radio mic and, among other things, he said the words mental male.

“What?” said Mr Balthazar Strange. “Mental male?”

“Right Rembrandt,” said the officer now off his mic, “hands behind your back.”

“I will not,” said Mr Balthazar Strange and stood his ground.

The two officers didn’t wait. They moved in and tackled Mr Balthazar Strange. They wrestled him to the sandy ground in his tattered army surplus greatcoat with indecipherable regimental flashings. But Mr Balthazar Strange fought back valiantly, spitting and swearing. As it turned out, a life of artfully and meditatively placing one stone atop of another had made him very strong, indeed, and a worthy opponent. It took the two officers several minutes to finally subdue and handcuff Mr Balthazar Strange.

But this was not all that made this a singular day. For when the officers stood up, cursing and brushing sand and tiny bits of flotsam off of their uniforms, the park ranger excitedly yelled, “Look.” And he pointed to the west where a bank of low cloud had suddenly appeared. There was clearly a slanted torrent of rain falling two to five miles offshore and rapidly heading in toward land.

“Right,” said the officer who had not yet spoken, bending down and picking up Mr Balthazar Strange by the arm. “Let’s get this miscreant in to headquarters.”

Mr Balthazar Strange was placed in the back of the cruiser but not before making the complaint, “But wait! The rain is coming! If you take me in now, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss my first opportunity in nearly a year to join in on a procession of splendid umbrellas.”

“You should have thought of that before,” said one of the officers and closed the cruiser door on Mr Balthazar Strange.

It turned out to be the only three and a half days of rain that year. And the drought lasted several months into the year that followed. It was fortunate for many, as it was a Friday when the rain began; it was the weekend. And since it appeared to forecasters that the rain might last until Monday night, a national holiday was declared making it a long weekend.

Almost the entire population of the Land of Splendid Umbrellas enjoyed the long weekend. But Mr Balthazar Strange sat in a windowless jail cell waiting to stand before a judge. And since it was late on a Friday before he was squared away, and because judges don’t work weekends, he waited the whole of Saturday and Sunday and the add-on Monday, as well. All across the Land of Splendid Umbrellas there were spontaneous and joyful parades, processions and pageants of people displaying their splendid umbrellas. There were celebrations, carnivals and mass merriment. And this all took place everywhere except in the jail cell where Mr Balthazar Strange sat.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Balthazar Strange stood before a judge and was convicted of artfully and meditatively stacking stones without a license, resisting arrest and broadcasting generally wearisome bombast in a public place. But since he had missed the only rain of the year and, as a result, missed the one and only occasion to flaunt one or more of his splendid umbrellas, his long weekend in jail was considered punishment enough and the judge sentenced Mr Balthazar Strange to time served.

Mr Balthazar Strange was embittered, nonetheless. The state had imprisoned him and held him unjustly while the entire nation celebrated. As he languished, his splendid umbrellas sat in his rooming house room undisplayed and unenjoyed. So, upon arriving home from court, he gathered his entire collection of splendid umbrellas and placed them in the thrash. Whether they were taken away with the rest of the rooming house garbage or pilfered by locals and passers-by, he never knew or cared to know.

In time he became a cynic and an illicit unlicensed stacker of stones. His work remained artful, meditative and relevant but it was done in the dark of night or in the weakly lit hours of dawn when police and park rangers were either in bed or securely installed in doughnut shops.

The clandestine nature of Mr Balthazar Strange’s work seemed to make it more popular than ever. But one day, no one can say which, it ended and the rent on Mr Balthazar Strange’s rooming house room stopped being paid. He was somehow gone from the world. And because stones stacked artfully and meditatively never stay that way for long, no record of the existence of Mr Balthazar Strange remains.

from dreams of Saint Michael part 1

Forward

Subject: Natalie C.

The following is an excerpt from the journal of patient Natalie C, given to this office by her estate.

The journal was retrieved from the patient’s burned out apartment. The human remains found in the apartment have been identified, through use of dental records, as those of the patient, Natalie C. Surprisingly, the journal was the only retrievable item left after the fire gutted the apartment. It is singed around the edges, but is nonetheless intact and very readable.

The instructions on the first page of the recovered journal state that, in the event of Natalie C’s demise, it should be given to this office.

Natalie C. was a reluctant patient, pressured to see me by her family. I recommended that she begin therapeutic journalling as a way of recording troubling dreams that seemed to have invaded her waking life.

I had concluded that the patient was living through a transient psychosis. I came to this conclusion based on the suddenness of onset; the presence of typical schizophrenic symptoms; and the presence of associated acute stress. The introduction of an atypical antipsychotic was indicated but never implemented due to the patient’s lack of compliance.

Dr Herman Wallace
January 23, 2013

* * *

What follows has been taken from the journal of Natalie C.

People will not believe me, but all I write here is true. And, Dr Wallace, I am not insane. There is no poison in my brain. Perhaps it’s you who requires a therapeutic intervention, as you appear so incapable of believing that I may indeed be experiencing all that I say I am. Please let this journal stand as proof of my experience.

October 2, 2012

Every city has its doppelgänger, existing on a parallel map. And who is to say which is the doppelgänger and which is the authentic city? Certainly not the citizens of either, each of them living their lives unconscious of their double. Each moving as the other does, but only slightly differently. Each living faintly divergent parallel realities; one gazing into a mirror with regret mere seconds before or after the other. But sometimes there is a greater divergence, with more than mere seconds separating their actions.

It may only be in our dreams that we are aware of this nearly duplicate world, and once we are awake we deny its existence. Perhaps that is why we suffer our separate solitudes.

October 3, 2012

The window above my head rattled in a violent wind and I sat up in my bed, my dream interrupted. St Michael had been standing there again, in my dream, dressed in the style of a Dashiell Hammett detective and smoking a cigarette. I was there too, next to him, wearing an elegant overcoat, but my eyes were brighter and my red lipstick stood out against the foggy sepia of a nineteen forties Vancouver street. We stood under a streetlamp. I knew he was St Michael in the way that all is known in a dream.

“You again,” I said to him, trying to sound tough.

“That’s right, doll.”

“You’re trailing me.”

“Nah,” he said. “You’re just showing up in all the right places.”

“Either way, I’m not sure I like being in the company of an archangel. You fellas have a way of flying off the handle.” I was lying.

“Only when it counts.”

“Well, I’ve been dodging you for days now. What counts with me?”

“Just a question I’ve got,” he said. “Something I need to ask.”

“Oh?” I spoke softer then, stepping closer to him and smoothing the lapel of his coat with my hand. It was an intimate gesture, our eyes meeting, with me hoping to see a longing like mine, but instead seeing violence and catastrophe. A savage scene. Angels falling from Heaven into a molten core of iron. My hand shook slightly and I tried to smile, but failed. “You got a cigarette?” I said.

“Sure.” He took a package from his pocket and offered me one. I took it. He lit it with a wooden match.

“You’ve got a lot going on under the surface, mister,” I said, flame and doomed angels in his eyes.

He said nothing.

“So, what’s this question you need to ask?”

“Just this,” he said. And that was when the window rattled and I woke from the dream.

It was 3:08 a.m. I made tea and read a book. It was raining outside and the wind blew in hard off the Pacific. There was the sound of a siren. It stopped abruptly a few blocks away. Someone in trouble. I turned a page. Then it was quiet, in the way an apartment building can be completely quiet when only a few of its tenants sit awake, still and alone.

October 3, 2012

I boarded the number 5 Downtown bus on Denman Street at 7:30 a.m., and rode up Robson to my office in the financial district. At 1:00 p.m. I took lunch, sitting in a café on Melville Street, watching civilization through the window. And saw him again. He was standing across the street, leaning against a lamppost smoking a cigarette. The brim of his hat low over his eyes.

I paid my cheque, then made my way out onto the street. He was still there, unmoving, on the opposite side. He looked up and saw me crossing, and snuffed out his cigarette beneath a polished brogue. Then he vanished, slowly.

“Dream of me,” I heard him whisper.

October 3, 2012 – Later

There are things other than archangels in a person’s life. There are necessities and desires. There are work and commitments.

I spent the early evening with friends, over dinner and wine. We went to a galley opening later. Paintings by a newly popular contemporary artist, one from the east end of the city. One picture caught my eye. I stood looking at it for a long time. Acrylic on canvas. Angels flying grim-faced over the Land of Oz, each with a handgun. Each firing their weapons at four helpless figures below on a yellow brick road. Its title was God’s Work. I examined each of the angels but he wasn’t there.

October 4, 2012

I dreamed of him again last night. In an office this time. I could tell from the view that we were several floors up. He sat at a desk wearing an automatic in a shoulder holster, the foggy harbour visible through the window behind him. A calendar was open to October, 1949. The wall clock said 12:15. It was night. The harbour lights haloed yellow in the fog, steamships on the water.

I sat opposite him, the desk between us. He wore a white shirt, top button opened, sleeves rolled up and a large tattoo of a sacred heart wreathed in thorns on his left forearm. His tie was blue. He had his hat on but it’d been pushed back to reveal a broad smooth forehead and thick brown hair. My eyes searched his once more, looking for warmth, but I found none. They were blue, I realised for the first time. Not really cold, I thought. Valour and tragedy. He was someone’s strongman, sent to perform tasks that for others would have been impossible or undignified.

“There’s a customer up the road,” he said, leaning back in his swivel chair. “Some rich guy with an office in the Marine Building.”

“And?” I said.

“And sometimes a fella in my business needs a partner, someone to confirm his suspicions.”

“You think that’s me?”

“You’ll do in a pinch,” he said, almost smiling.

“Are you in a pinch?”

“Nah. But if I was, you might just be the dame to pull me out.”

“That’s fine, but what’s a girl call a saint when he’s playing the shamus on the prowl?”

“This ain’t playin’, doll; this is for real. And you can 86 the saint malarkey. They just call me Michael. Close associates call me Mick.”

“Well whatever it is you need, Mick,” I said, “you can count me in.”

“I already have,” he said, taking something from a drawer and sliding it across the desktop.

“What’s this?”

“It might help in a scrape.”

I looked at the ugly iron item, a hard cold sub-nosed .38 revolver.

“Loaded?” I said.

“Put it in your bag,” he said, “just in case.”

“So,” I said, “is this the question you were so hot to ask me the other night?”

“I guess it is.”

“What’s the dope on the rich customer in the Marine Building?”

“Someone tells me he’s got a wife with mutable morals. Wants me to watch her for a while and compile some data.”

“You don’t think you’re a little over qualified for a job like that?”

“You don’t know the guy.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Right now,” he said, “all you need to know is that the obvious is usually a distraction.”

“Then I’m easily distracted.”

“Anyway,” Mick said, “he’s working late and wants to fill us in.”

He stood up and put on his overcoat. “Let’s go. I’m parked on Hastings.”

We drove west on Hastings, parked on Burrard Street and entered the Marine Building through a revolving door. Stepping off of the elevator on the twentieth floor, we entered the offices of Mr Martyn Drache, Attorney at Law. A man in a black suit greeted us.

“Hello,” said the suit. “You must be the private investigator.”

“I am,” Mick said.

“And who is this?”

“My partner,” said Mick.

“Yours is the only name in the appointment book.”

“Look, partner,” Mick said, “it’s nearly 1:00 a.m. I charge double this time of night and the meter’s running.”

“Okay,” said the man in the black suit. “But you must surrender all weapons before entering Mr Drache’s office.”

“Like hell,” said Mick, and the black suited smiled as a voice came over the intercom.

“That’s fine, William,” came a voice. “Send Mick and his partner in just as they are. I have an idea that the .45 under his arm is the least of his lethal weapons.”

William escorted us in to Drache’s office. It was a prewar Art Deco masterpiece with a view of the dark ocean. Drache was older, corpulent and balding, and wore a dark pinstripe. His pale doughy face glistened in the low light and he had the dilated pupils of a dope fiend.

“Please take a seat,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Can my man William get you anything, a drink perhaps?”

I too my cue from Mick. He said no, and so did I.

“Let’s get to it, Drache,” Mick said. “What’s all this about your wife?”

“Right to business, eh Mick,” said Drache. “I like that. But I must say that I have you here under false pretenses.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, you see I’m not a married man at all.”

“No?” Mick said.

“No,” said Drache. “No, but I must admit that upon hearing of your presence in the city, I rushed to invite you here. We’ve encountered one another before in the past, have we not? I thought a fidelity case might be up your alley at the moment, so I had William give you a jingle and wave one under your nose.”

“Funny,” said Mick, “I don’t recall your face.”

“Well, I am a man of many moods.”

“How enigmatic,” Mick said.

“Just so,” said Drache. “But don’t we both have that in common?”

“I don’t think we have one damn thing in common, Drache. And unless you’re about to drop some paid work in my lap, I think I’d better get on my way.”

“Not so fast, my boy,” Drache said holding up a halting hand. “Allow me to ask you something. Do you think that a man on his rise to some grand but intangible pinnacle, wanting to take the world by storm, can start first by influencing a small city of men?”

“I don’t know,” Mick said. “But I’ve never believed in giving a sucker an even break. Is that what you’re on about?”

“Well put, Mick. It might be what I’m on about. And this might be my city of suckers.”

“Then have at ‘em. You don’t need me for that.”

“Oh,” Drache said, “but you’re being disingenuous, Mick. You know very well that I don’t need your help in any conventional way. I just need you not to interfere. And for that I’m willing to pay a very high price. A very high price, indeed.”

“If what you’re up to is kosher and within the law,” Mick said, “then go to it. If it ain’t, then it’s up to the cops to find you out. I’m just a private businessman trying to make a living.”

Now the mood in the room changed. Drache showed his teeth and seemed to grow larger. He slammed a fist down on his desk and hissed, “Enough with this deception. It’s beneath you and it’s an insult to me. You are the Leader of God’s Army of Angels. You’ve been a plague upon me and the others you cast out for an eternity. But now, with the whole world of man at stake, will you stand down and witness my rise or will you cause the spark of Armageddon?”

“Those my only choices?” Mick said coolly.

“You know they are.”

“Then I choose to go home and get some shuteye.”

I turned and looked at Mick – Michael. I couldn’t believe his casual answer.

“That’s a very unsatisfying response, Michael,” Drache said.

“Yeah well, life is hard and then you go to hell,” said Mick.

He stood and took me by the hand and we left Drache’s office and the building. A street sweeper manoeuvred round Mick’s car as we approached it. I was uncomfortable with his silence.

“You don’t have anything else to say?” I said.

“It’s all been said before.”

“But what now?”

October 5, 2012

I awoke to the phone ringing. It was 6:17 a.m.

I answered, “Hello?”

“Pleasant dreams?”

“Michael.”

“That Drache fella sure was a crumb, eh?”

“Who was he?”

“Just a lingering odour.”

“He scares me.”

“He’s a bully, doll. The kind that figures he’s invincible ‘cause he picks on little guys. But one way or another, he keeps getting his ass kicked.”

“Where are you?”

“Downtown.”

“No, I mean are you here in 2012 or there in 1949?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“But….”

He rang off.

why I’ll never win a CBC Canada Writes Prize

From 2010: email communication between the CBC Canada Writes Prize and me.

August 22, 2010 (me)

Thanks a lot CBC Canada Writes Prize. A $20 entry fee? I’m a writer earning a small disability income. $20 is a week’s worth of groceries for me, and I cannot afford to spend it on anything else. Are the CBC Canada Writes Prizes yet another part of Canadian life that the poor are not welcome to participate in?

August 24, 2010 (CBC Literary Awards Team)

Thanks for your email. We do understand the situation you are in, but unfortunately we cannot waive the submission fee for some participants and not others. The competition is 100% not-for-profit with all fees covering part of the administrative costs, including salaries for readers and jury members for both the French and English entries. Without the fee, the Awards would simply not exist. I’m sorry. I wish we could help further. All the best to you and your writing! – The Awards Team

August 24, 2010 (me)

In fact, the CBC Canada Writes Prizes do not exist if one is too poor to enter.

They never got back to me.

(The entry fee is now $25)

Popeye dreams

You remember that guy, Vlad Oswald? He lived in that room in the Roosevelt Hotel over the Ladies & Escorts entrance for about twenty years. Until he inherited the Oswald Bitulithic fortune. But that’s another story. The far more interesting story about Vlad Oswald has to do with his Popeye dreams.  He only had two, but it kinda went like this.

In the first dream, he’s in this really high end restaurant, all chandeliers and flash. And he’s sitting at a table with Popeye the Sailor Man, swear to God. Popeye’s working on this huge lobster with a pair of lobster crackers, and he’s shovelling the lobster meat into his pie hole while this gypsy-looking sort of character plays the violin next to the table. Vlad Oswald looks down at his plate and sees he’s got a lobster, too, but he ain’t hungry for some reason. This is surprising, even to him, because you remember what a lunchbox ol’ Vlad was.

Finally, Popeye puts the last little morsel of lobster into his mouth, and sits back with this big grin on his face.

“That was delishkis,” he says.

Then he grabs a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket and he chugs the whole thing, just like that. When he’s done, he belches loudly. Vlad’s starting to wonder if this is the start of a nightmare. Now Popeye throws the empty champagne bottle across the room, turns and looks hard into Vlad’s eyes and says, “Invesk everyting ya gots in Coke. Calls yer couskin Elmer Warchuck tomorra, and tells him yer wririn’ him da cash. Tells him to puts it all on Coca-Cola.”

Then Olive Oyl sashays into the dream wearing this black leather corset, fishnet stockings and spike heel boots. She grabs Popeye by the ear and says, “Time to go, big fella.”

And that was it. Vlad Oswald wakes up and it’s 7.30 a.m., blurry eyed and needing a shave.

Now everybody knew that Vlad Oswald was a little nuts. Real lower lunar orbit, what with the voices and all. So, when he calls his cousin Elmer Warchuck, who’s a stockbroker in Winnipeg, to tell him that he wants to put $500 on Coca Cola, Elmer says, “No way.”

This was 1949, after all. Coke was safe, but not a climber. It paid only slighter better than a savings account. Elmer tells Vlad to put all his dough into plastics instead. Which would be the right thing to do for a conventional thinker like Elmer, but not for Vlad?

Vlad says, “Hey, I had this dream where Popeye the Sailor Man tells me to invest everything in Coke. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Well, here’s where Elmer loses it over the long distance line. “In a dream?” he says. “Popeye tells you to invest in Coke? And so now you’re going to do it?”

Elmer refuses to do the deal. He tells Vlad to go check out his local soup line. He says that every one of them bums in that soup line is someone who invested in a dream. But you remember how Vlad Oswald could get. He insists and wears Elmer down. Finally, Elmer says fine. And when Vlad’s cash arrives via Canadian Pacific wire two days later, Elmer makes the investment.

So, here’s the part that almost no one knew at the time because the Coca Cola Bottling Company was keeping it real secret. They were in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1949. The Soviets were this close to opening up their market to Coke. It would be the bringing together of two evil empires. A softening of relations. Market dominos would be tumbling in favour of Coke and western merchandisers for years, or even decades, to come. Did the Popeye in Vlad’s dream know this? Who can say? But a week after Elmer put Vlad’s $500 on Coke, Coca Cola announced what it intended to do in Russia.

Shares in Coca Cola went into the stratosphere. Brokers, like Elmer, were caught with their pants down. They were pouring their clients’ cash into munitions, shipyards, transportation and plastics. They stood there flatfooted and watched slack-jawed as Coke rose through the ceiling.  Then they jumped on the band wagon, and transferred hundreds of millions in investment capital.

Meanwhile, Vlad is also watching. His investment doubles, then triples, then quadruples; it just keeps going up. Three weeks after Elmer Warchuck bought the stock, Vlad Oswald’s $500 has turned into $100,000. He calls up Elmer and asks what to do. Should he pull out? Reinvest? But Elmer says to stick with it, kid. Coke and the Soviets are only talking, and look at the result. Just wait until Coke actually gets in, and these Bolsheviks bastards get a sip of that icy cold refreshment.  It’ll pull Communism down round the Supreme Soviet’s ears faster than an H-Bomb over Moscow on a Saturday night. Okay, says Vladimir. He’s no financial guru. Elmer’s all he’s got.

That night, Vlad gets into the sauce. Kinda to celebrate. He buys a big jug of Seagram’s, and heads up to his room with that Natalie Lucarino broad that used to hang out in front of the Roosevelt fishing for loggers and servicemen. She knows Vlad goes off mental sometimes, and she feels sorry for him. So, she charges him a little less for her company. It’s like a friends and family discount, sort of. She’s also aware of this weird rumour going round that Vlad’s about to come into some cash.

Anyway, they’re up in his room over the Ladies & Escort entrance, listening to the radio. They even have a dance or two when the music’s right, real sweet. But at some point, Natalie gulps back one too many shots of rye, and starts to go berserk. She sticks her head out the window and starts yelling obscenities at the dames going in and out of the Ladies & Escort entrance. This, of course, attracts the cops who head up to Vlad’s room to extricate the offending Natalie Lucarino.

When the cops bang on the door, Natalie Lucarino panics and drunkenly jumps out of the window. Of course, Vlad’s room is just on the second floor so Natalie only breaks her right ankle and the heel of her left shoe. She goes to the hospital, and Vlad Oswald is thrown in jail for the night for disturbing the peace.

Now the Vancouver lock-up is locally famous for a lot of things, but two things stand out for me and a lot of other mooks who’ve been compelled to spend time there. First is the food, which is inedible crap by anybody’s standards. They even mix the coffee with the tea, like that’s a real joke. Har dee har. The other thing is that the bunks are all metal, and they give you this thin mattress sort of thing, but no blanket. You can either lie on top of this thin crappy mattress, or use it as blanket. Either way, you freeze. It’s all supposed to dissuade you from wanting to come  back, and it works.

So, there’s Vlad in a cell with no belt or shoe laces and his thin crappy mattress. He’s so tanked that he lies down on a metal bunk, and lets the mattress fall onto the floor. In a second, he’s asleep. Snoring like a buzz saw. And guess who shows up in his dreams. That’s right, Popeye the Sailor Man.

Popeye says, “Time ta gets outta Coke, Vlad, me hearty. Takes the money and run.”

Then Popeye opens a copy of The Anarchist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and begins to read. And that was it. Vlad wakes to a jail guard banging a tin cup on the bunk frame. And after a breakfast of watered toast and coffee mixed with tea, Vlad is off to find a phone.

“Sell!” Elmer hears Vlad say long distance from Vancouver. “Sell it all, and wire me the dough.”

“No, no, no,” says Elmer. “Skinny has it that Coke’s about to make a deal. You gotta trust me on this one, Vlad. My info is solid gold.”

“Nah,” replies Vlad. “Popeye says sell.”

“Popeye again,” says Elmer. “You’re killin’ me.”

“Just sell and take your cut,” Vlad says, and hangs up.

Next day, Vlad picks up a wire transfer from the Canadian Pacific office in the amount of $130, 679, and puts it into the bank.

Later that day, Elmer reads the Business page of the Winnipeg Free Press. The Soviet Union decides to reject western capitalistic ideologies that criminally repress workers and unlawfully seize all means of production. Just like that, no Coke for Russia. Coke shares fall. People lose money. Clients are enraged. Elmer leaves town that night on a train headed east. No one ever found out where.

After Natalie Lucarino’s ankle healed, Vlad Oswald bought her a new pair of shoes and took her to Atlantic City by train. They gambled and drank away the entire $130, 679. After that, Natalie met a Marine Corps Sergeant on the boardwalk named Armand Nathaniel who, through sleight of hand, could pull silver dollars out of her left ear.

Vladimir hitched back to Vancouver alone where he went to work washing dishes at the Ovaltine Café on Hastings Street. When his Uncle Alowishus Oswald, owner of the Oswald Bitulithic fortune, died without an immediate heir, Vladimir inherited it all. But that’s another story.

dollarama Jesus

Willy Cox, who was small of stature and red of hair, was given just three minutes by the bouncers to find his dentures after Luther Sheeny knocked them out of his mouth with a wicked right hook.

When Willy discovered them in the farthest corner of the bar, he realised, after picking them up, that his upper plate had been broken clean in two. So, after telling Luther Sheeny, the bouncers and all of the patrons of the Dover Arms Pub to fuck off, he headed down to the Denman Street Dollarama to steal a tube of super glue. And it was there, in the insipid and colourless buzzing fluorescent light of the Dollarama hardware aisle, that Willy Cox witnessed Jesus Christ Himself perusing the store’s selection of multi-headed screwdrivers.

Now, Willy Cox was not religious about taking his medication and it may also be said that the medications prescribed for his disordered mind were not always adequate or free of injurious side effects. But whether medicated or not, Willy Cox always believed that he could see Jesus and that it was only Jesus’ refusal to materialise that explained why he never really had.

Further, the Jesus Willy Cox saw in the Denman Street Dollarama, it must be put forth, was the conventional white bread European-looking Jesus that one sees in American Christian tracts and framed on the walls of downtown soup-line missions. And to some, this may have been a suspicious sign; perhaps the Holy vision was a mere memory of a cookie-cutter Jesus seen somewhere else. He was blue eyed and had brownish blonde hair. He looked freshly bathed and His robes and sandals were flawlessly clean. What’s more, upon each of His hands was a clean and distinct nail hole. And there was a radiant halo above His head. Obviously, Willy Cox thought, this was the one and only immaculate resurrected Christ.

Willy tried not stare. After all, the other Dollarama customers didn’t seem to notice their Saviour scoping out screwdrivers, so why should he? What was the big deal? But it was hard not to take a sneaky look. Was it appropriate to ask for an autograph, he wondered. Could he approach Jesus to simply discuss the weather? Was Jesus truly divinely informed? Would He know Willy Cox for the unworthy brain disordered, shoplifting, bar fighting boozer that he was?

Jesus now had two different brands of multi-headed screwdriver in his hands. As His eyes moved from one to the other, back and forth, He shook his head slowly. “Made in China,” Willy heard Him say.

Then Willy Cox made his decision. He stuffed a tube of super glue into his jacket pocket and walked over to offer Jesus Christ what assistance he could in choosing a screwdriver.

“Hello, Your Holiness,” Willy said. Then, “That’s correct, isn’t it? Calling you Your Holiness?”

“Oh hello, Willy,” Jesus said. “Say, do you know much about screwdrivers?”

“You do know my name.”

“Of course, I’m the resurrected Son of God. I’m omniscient. And you’re Willy Cox, son of Tom and Agnes. You’re an unworthy brain disordered, shoplifting, bar fighting boozer. You frequently take my name in vain. You’ve paid for sex three different times this month and you left the fish and chip place down the street last night without paying for your meal. But back to the screwdrivers, which one do you think?”

“Well,” said Willy Cox a little ashamed, “pardon me for asking. But if you’re omniscient, why are you unaware of which is the better screwdriver? Wouldn’t being omniscient suggest that you have always known the ultimate truth of these two screwdrivers, and of all screwdrivers that have ever existed and ever will exist in the future?”

“Okay,” Jesus said, mildly annoyed. “So, maybe omniscience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“All righty then,” said Willy Cox, sounding a little surprised. “What do you need to know?”

“Well, what brand do you recommend? They’re both made in China for goodness sake. Can anything good come out of China? In the way of screwdrivers, I mean.”

“I can’t recommend either of them, Sir.” Willy Cox was still unclear on the correct way to address the Blessed One.

“So,” Jesus said, “where does a deity get a decent screwdriver in this town? And call me Jeez, everybody else does.”

“I don’t know if you can get a decent screwdriver in this town but you could try a hardware store. There’s one on Bidwell Street.”

“That may get a bit too pricy. Prices here at the Dollarama are more in line with my current economic circumstance resulting from my general adoration of poverty. A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

“I guess,” said Willy Cox. Then he said, “May I ask you another question, ah, Jeez.”

“Fire away,” said Jesus, still distracted by the two screwdrivers.

“What does the omniscient, and presumably omnipotent, Son of God need with a screwdriver?”

“It pays to be prepared, Willy,” Jesus said.

“Yes, but can’t you just will a screw to penetrate a surface? Won’t a screw be immediately present wherever you deem it necessary?”

“I tell you this,” said Jesus. “Do not use your stolen super glue to bring together what has been torn asunder. For I say unto you, your upper plate will mend cock-eyed and leave you with visibly uneven dentition.”

“You’re avoiding the question. What do you need a screwdriver for?”

“When a flood came,” said Jesus, “the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.”

“Huh?”

“There are atoms dancing in the Dollarama,” said Jesus holding his arms out wide, a screwdriver in each hand. “Here beneath the fluorescence from on high. Do you hear their angel song?”

“I just hear Debbie Harry singing Rapture over the Muzak.”

“Ah, the rapture,” said Jesus. “The tribulation and persecution that will come before the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of God.”

“Nah, it’s just a Blondie song about Mercuries and Subarus and getting eaten by Martians.”

“Is not.”

“Yes, it bloody well is,” said Willy Cox. “Listen.”

“Stand and witness in yourself, Willy Cox, the direct and transformative presence of God here in this place, among the budget-priced hammers, wrenches and duct tape. Prepare yourself to be brought forth from the multitude of man and be seated at the right hand of God.”

“You sure you’re Jesus,” said Willy Cox. “You sound a bit unhinged.”

“I am the light of the world,” said Jesus.

“Really? In the Denman Street Dollarama? Looking for a cheap screwdriver?”

“Look unto Me, and be saved.”

Suddenly interested in seeing how Jesus Christ would pay for His purchase, Willy Cox pointed to the screwdriver in the right hand of the Lord Saviour. “That one,” he said. “It’s a pleasing shade of yellow.”

“I agree that it is,” said Jesus after a moment’s consideration. He replaced the other screwdriver and walked to the checkout where He stood patiently in line while the customers ahead of Him paid for their economically priced cupboard liners, greeting cards and office supplies.

When Jesus made it to the cash register and was asked how he’d like to pay, He leaned over the counter and whispered something into the cashier’s ear. Having heard His whisper, she smiled in elation and held her hand to her breast. Jesus smiled back and said, “Bless you, Doris,” and left the store.

Willy Cox ran to the head of the line and butted in. He asked the cashier, “What did that man in the robes just whisper in your ear?”

“He told me not to worry,” the cashier said.

“That’s it?” said Willy Cox.

“I guess it was more how He said it,” said the cashier. “Oh, and He also said that you have a tube of super glue stuffed in your pocket that you didn’t intend to pay for but that He’d take care of it.”

“But He didn’t give you any money.”

“No, He never does.”