Evil Science Comes to Vancouver
BY ROSCOE PHELPS, THE VANCOUVER SUN October 28, 1949
Ain’t it the truth, Vancouver? That beneath our rainy Pacific skies, we walk on streets of gold. We’re a city of blameless citizens confronted daily with boundless opportunity. Every family housed and fed, every woman safe and every child schooled and rosy cheeked. Government is good and the bad guys quiver in fear of our brave and robust police force.
But maybe it’s time to grow up a little bit. Is Vancouver really the virtuous City upon a Hill that we believe it is?
Maybe not. Up until this moment, who could have known? That our small metropolis could be home to a criminal mob of foreign spies, experimenting with the very composition of the universe. It came as a shock to this reporter, I can assure you.
Picture, if you will, a gaggle of intellectual goons bent on inventing a machine that can duplicate matter. A gizmo that when one chicken is put in, two chickens come out. Now imagine that this machine is here now. In a Chinatown warehouse where this band of maniacal geniuses is testing it on the innocent citizenry of Vancouver.
Imagine this coven of shadowy academics creating this machine for its own wicked ends. Creating female armies of salacious hedonistic slaves from a single loose-minded harlot; or perhaps a fighting army of malicious minion warriors, each a copy of the most violent, mindless and sadistic ogre imaginable.
Then imagine it happening here, in our quiet paradise by the sea.
The first light shed on this evil plot came in a phone call from a distraught woman, a hysterical citizen of Vancouver, claiming that she’d been part of a depraved experiment. An experiment in replicating matter. That’s right, dear reader, she, let’s call her Lady B, claimed to have been duplicated by a gang of seedy itinerant highbrows who have come to our home and native land to turn science on its ear.
Lady B maintains that she was kidnapped from her work-a-day world as a waitress at a Woolworths lunch counter. Then brought to Chinatown and held for several days in a fetid cell. She was finally placed in a chamber connected to a wall of gauges and flashing lights. And it was there that she witnessed her reproduction in another chamber across from her in the same room.
As fantastic as it sounds, Lady B and her doppelgänger escaped from their Chinatown prison and found themselves pursued by a gang of punks and thugs. Sadly, one of the two Lady Bs was murdered in a tunnel beneath Chinatown. She died alone and confused at the hands of a callous killer who snapped her neck like it was the fragile stem of a delicate flower. Her lifeless body left discarded there in the dark, beneath the weight of the ignorant city above.
Where’s the justice in this? What have the police done? And what, dear reader, was the reason for last night’s clandestine meeting of the Godfather of Chinatown, Agustin Ho, and two of the city’s most notorious private investigators, Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr? Why did they meet in a dark lot behind the BC Electric tram garage?
You can depend on this reporter to crack this case and expose these alien miscreants and their accomplices. That’s my commitment to you, Vancouver.
* * * *
“Dead? She’s died? How can this be?” Alasdair Bittle buried his head in his hands.
“It was a business decision,” said Wilfred Beacon.
“You’re mad,” said Bittle.
“No, just practical.” Beacon sat behind his desk, sipping a scotch and water. The two men were in his Marine Building office.
“You murdered her. We might at least have tried to reverse the experiment.”
“Are you certain you could?”
“No, of course not,” said Bittle. “This is science. It’s replication theory. Nothing is certain.”
“In that case,” Beacon said, “you’ve confirmed the correctness of our actions. We couldn’t risk the discovery of the replication. We have the interests of our investors to consider. There are several hundred patents pending. Besides, we only killed one of her. We’re almost certain it was the duplicate. And if it was the duplicate that got killed, then it isn’t really murder?”
“You’re rationalising. The replication was human, as surely as you or I.”
“Not anymore,” said Beacon.
“But what will be the future outcomes of this?” said Bittle. “You may have put the entire universe out of balance.”
“You replicated her, Doc,” Wilfred Beacon said. “All we did was eliminate an inconvenience. And since it’s almost certain that the original survives, we might have put the universe back in balance.”
“Almost certain?” said Doctor Bittle, “What if you’re wrong? What if you killed the original? What if the replication is still loose out there? We don’t know yet how stable the replications are. There are a hundred different ways that a replication could self-destruct. What will happen if it does? What if it falls into the wrong hands? What if there are bizarre physiological aspects we never considered? That only prolonged scientific observation can discover? What if the replication turns out to be a breeding ground for a deadly virus? There’s so much we do not know. That’s why we needed to keep the replication alive. Innocent lives could be at risk.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to ice the survivor, as well.”
“You’re a monster,” said Bittle.
“I’m a Project Manager, Dr Bittle. I deal with reality. And the reality is that you should never have created that replication in the first place. Not before we had trials with lower life forms.”
“It was accidental,” said Bittle.
“Accidental?” said Beacon. “You placed her in that chamber and you pulled the switch. You instigated the sequence of events that resulted in the replication, Dr Bittle.”
“I was drunk.”
“You’re always dunk, you juicer.”
“And this outcome demonstrates that the technology isn’t ready for humanity – or, more likely, that humanity isn’t ready for the technology. Either way, what has occurred proves that we cannot continue, that we mustn’t continue. I have to publish my findings and face the consequences.”
“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Beacon. “Your findings are Company property.”
“This company is unethical,” said Bittle.
“No more than any other, Doctor.”
* * * *
Trudy Parr let it ring seven times and then picked up the phone. “Dench and Parr Agency,” she said.
“We need to talk,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “You, me and that partner of yours.” It was Lieutenant Oly Schmidt of the Chinatown Squad. “Says here in this morning’s Sun that you were hobnobbing with known underworld types last night. You know the piece I mean, this thing Roscoe Phelps wrote? He implies that you’re in cahoots with Agustin Ho. That true?”
“It’s all the lies of a desperately lonely newspaper reporter,” Trudy Parr said. She turned round on her office chair and looked out onto Hastings Street. It was raining.
“We still need to meet.”
“Because you’re lying to me,” Schmidt said. “Or at least holding back. I hear you recently had Barney Polenski in your office. I hear he was shadowing the murder victim. I hear you nearly cut off his head before he spilled a ton of dope on the case.”
“You’re only partially correct,” said Trudy Parr. “Polenski played dumb under rigorous interrogation. I made the mistake of believing him. That was wrong of me. Maybe I’m going soft. But word is that he’s still in town, even though Crispin told him to vamoose. I’ve got calls out. People street side know I want him. I should get news of his whereabouts soon. Then maybe I’ll start by cutting off his smaller more delicate pieces, before I threaten decapitation. There’s a notebook of his I want to see.”
“There’s a warrant out for his arrest, Trudy,” Schmidt said. “That makes him ours, not yours. So hands off.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Trudy Parr. “I’m a real hands-off kinda girl.”
“Don’t push, Miss Parr.”
“You just grab a doughnut and stand down, Oly,” Trudy Parr said. “You’ll be called in to mop up and take all of the credit. Until then, stay outta my way.” She hung up the telephone.
* * * *
Crispin Dench owned and drove a white 1948 Jaguar Xk120 with red leather interior, but he left it at home that night. Instead, he borrowed a ’46 Chevrolet sedan from Hatless Andy Picard, a broad shouldered labourer for hire who’d earned his nickname for his vast collection of hats. Dench preferred the big backseat and trunk of the Chevrolet for the work he had that evening. Hatless Andy rode shotgun. It was 10:00 pm. Dench tuned the radio to a jazz station. They listened to Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli play All the Things You Are.
There was a large bundle in the backseat. It squirmed, grunted and convulsed. It was held together by a series of knotted ropes.
“Settle down back there, Barney,” Crispin Dench said. “Save your energy.”
Barney Polenski was gagged and nearly silenced. But there came a run of muffled expletives.
“We’ll be there in a minute, Old Man,” Dench said.
The soft suspension of the Chevrolet allowed the car to rumble smoothly over the railroad tracks that crossed the road leading onto the Rogers Sugar refinery wharf. When it was halfway out on the wharf, the Chevrolet stopped. The wharf was dimly lit. Dench had counted on that.
“Shall we?” he said.
“Sure, sure,” Hatless Andy said.
They got out of the car and pulled Barney Polenski from of the backseat. Then they positioned him on his knees at the edge of the wharf, under a light standard. Dench placed a noose round Polenski’s neck and Hatless Andy shimmied up the pole with the other end of the rope. He tethered it there securely.
Crispin Dench removed Barney Polenski’s blindfold. Polenski felt the noose round his neck and looked out over the open water twenty feet below. He nearly swooned, fighting to keep his balance.
“What the fuck,” Polenski said. “You can’t do this, Dench. They’ll find out if I fall over. You’ll hang for it.”
“Not before you do,” Crispin Dench said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t leave town,” Polenski said. “That Trudy bitch cut me bad. I wasn’t in any shape to travel.”
“Be nice with what you say about Trudy Parr,” said Hatless Andy.
“Yeah be nice, Barney,” Dench said. “The hatless one here believes that I should just push you over the edge and let you swing. He thinks I should do that because you’re a goon and a liar. I, however, believe you have some redeeming qualities and at least one item in your possession that might save you.”
“Name it, Dench,” Polenski said, “and it’s yours.”
“Well there’s really only one thing, Barney. Only one thing that I’d risk handling after you’ve molested it with your grimy meat hooks.”
“What? What is it?”
“It’s that notebook you took notes in while you talked to the now murdered woman in the Lily Lounge. I have a golden source that says you took plentiful notes during your chats with her. That’s what makes you a liar; you said the notes were all in your head. You lied to me Barney. What made you think I’d let that slide?”
Hatless Andy tightened the noose. Barney Polenski choked and coughed, and then he spoke. “It all comes down to this, Dench. I got myself in a real pickle. I gotta choose who’s gonna kill me, you or that bunch of foreigners with that duplicating machine. I tell you what’s what and the foreigners ice me. I shut up about it and you push me off this wharf with a rope round my neck. Maybe you can understand my reticence.”
“The time for reticence is over,” Dench said.
“Are you and that psycho partner of yours gonna protect me if I spill, Dench?” Polenski said.
“No, but maybe we can use the information in your little notebook to mop these bastards up and eliminate all the perils you face.”
“Or maybe not,” Polenski coughed. “Maybe you’re out of your league with these characters. Maybe they’re smarter than you.”
Crispin Dench bent down and looked at Polenski in profile. Polenski turned his head and faced him. Polenski’s throat hurt. The rope was burning into the open wound Trudy Parr had inflicted. “Do you really believe that, Barney?” Crispin Bench said with an uncanny calm.
Barney Polenski licked his lips and looked down at the water he’d hang over if he was pushed. “No,” he said. “I guess I don’t.”
“Is that book up in your room, Barney?” Dench said.
“Yeah,” said Polenski. “It’s in a safe in my closet under some shoe boxes.”
“What’s the combination?”
Barney Polenski hesitated, hating to give in. Dench saw this. Standing up, he said, “Alright, Andy. Kick the fat fuck over.”
“Be a pleasure,” Hatless Andy said.
“No, wait,” Barney Polenski yelped. “10 right, 4 left, 9 right.”
“Say it again,” Dench said, “so I can write it down,” Barney Polenski did.
“So now you cut me loose, right?” Polenski said. “We’re square, right?”
“What do think?” Dench said to Hatless Andy. “Should we release this lying bitch? We don’t even know if this combination’s correct, do we?”
“It’s good,” Polenski whined. “The combination’s correct.”
“I say we leave him here,” Hatless Andy said. “Let him watch the sunrise.”
“That’s a damn fine idea,” Dench said.
“No,” said Polenski. “I could slip and break my neck.”
“You should have thought of that before,” said Dench. “There’ll be some longshoremen round in six or seven hours. They’ll cut you free, one way or the other.”
“Dench, you prick, cut me loose.”
“See you in the funny papers, Barney.”
In a few minutes, Barney Polenski heard the Chevrolet start and drive away. He remained kneeling until morning, listening to the song of foghorns.