Standish returns

a Parr and Dench action adventure

Vancouver 1949

She’d been thinking of noble acts that morning. There was a .40 calibre round in her hand. She felt its weight. How many noble acts could a person commit in a single lifetime? Not many, she thought. Not enough. It all came down to a scarcity of opportunity, she supposed. And when opportunities presented themselves, how many people rose to take advantage?

The phone rang and she glanced at it. Maybe this was an opportunity. Unlikely, she knew. She was in the wrong business for noble acts. She answered on the third ring. “Parr and Dench Private Investigations, this is Trudy Parr.”

“Overseas call from Monsieur Percival Archambault for a Mr Crispin Dench,” an operator said.

“Mr Dench isn’t available. I’m his business partner. I can take the call.”

There was a faint click on the line, and then, “Trudy?” It was a man with a heavy Parisian accent. Trudy Parr could hear jazz playing in the background. “You’re still there in Vancouver?” the man said. “Why is it you remain in that tiny mud puddle when the world awaits you? I’ve opened a club here. A little underground establishment. For lonely European ex-pats. Very off the radar. Come and be my protégé.”

“You!” she said. She began fishing a Black Cat out of a package on her desk. “Percy the fucking Albino. You’re the last sorry SOB I needed to encounter this morning. And Percy,” she said lighting her cigarette, “I’m no one’s protégé.”

“That is nicely feisty of you, Trudy. But isn’t it Dench and Parr Private Investigations? What is with the Parr and Dench malarkey?”

“It’s Parr and Dench when I answer the telephone, brother. What’s on your mind?”

“I am telephoning you from Algiers.”

Algiers. Well, wasn’t that just like Percival Archambault. The pale man who’d graduated from la Résistance after the war to become an all-star Nazi hunter. He plied his new found trade worldwide, under many aliases and fronts. His establishment in Algiers was probably flypaper for Vichy and Nazis escaping justice.

“Huh, I didn’t know the Dog stopped there.”

“Very clever, and don’t call me Percy.”

“It’s your name, Percy.”

“Not of my choosing, and you know it offends me. Please don’t antagonise an old friend on an overseas line. It could be cut at any moment by a runaway trawler, and my last memory of this call would be of your fiercely unfeminine and completely unattractive scorn and cynicism. By the way, I just purchased that apartment building in Paris where you lived while you spied against the Nazi cause. I’m having the Rococo restored.”

“I’m sure that’s very popular in the more flamboyant quarters of the city.”

“You are correct. And though I do not share in their love of the same sex, give me homosexual tenants any day. They’re very reliable rent payers and obsessively tidy, when they’re not slicing one another up with stilettos over wallpaper patterns, that is. Why don’t you move back? Leave that smoky latrine by the sea behind. You can have your pick of the flats, perhaps the penthouse with the dining room view of the river. You can relive the romance of eluding the Gestapo and having a freehand to castrate any man who looks at you the wrong way. Now, where is Crispin? It is to him that I really must speak.”

“He’s in his office with a client, and doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Surely you can interrupt him for me, can’t you?”

“No. And whatever it is, you can discuss it with me.”

“Now Trudy, you know that I don’t discuss business with the weaker sex. A young lady such as yourself was created for nobler pursuits than chasing after the dreary world of masculine endeavours.”

Nobler pursuits, she thought. Noble.

“Fine by me, mister.” She hung up the phone and looked out of the window onto Hastings Street. It took a moment, but the phone rang again.

“Overseas call from Monsieur Percival….”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “Put the monkey through. Hello, Percy.”

“You’re wicked.”

“I’m a busy woman.”

“I recognise your intransigence; it is all too familiar. Since you’re so rigid, I will confide in you. Though I do so in protest. It’s about that Standish fellow. You remember him? The double agent on your 1942 target list.”

“What about him?”

“Word is that he’s re-emerged. Back from the dead. Been seen in Paris. Said to be living in an old haunted mansion on the outskirts. Appropriate for an evil emissary, no?”


“Well,” Percy said, “I thought Crispin would want to know, considering Standish was supposed to be one of his most celebrated kills of the war.”

“That was propaganda,” she said. “Crispin never claimed Standish as a confirmed kill. There was a car fire and there was someone in the car. Standish was the intended. We never knew for sure whether it was him, though. But he’d disappeared when it was all over, so people assumed it was a done deal. Crispin and I never did. The SOE played fast and loose with the truth of it because those were dark days. They needed a fairytale to tell Churchill. ”

“Reliable rumour is that he’s back, notwithstanding. He’s playing the recluse, but making his presence known through proxies. He’s asking after the two of you, none too delicately. Paying money for information.”

“We’re in the Yellow Pages.”

“Yes, and I sense that he’s only just begun his search. Paris was a natural place to start. But my information is already out of date. He could be on an Air France flight even as we speak.”

“I’ll mention it to Crispin.”

“If I didn’t know you better, Trudy, I’d say you were being entirely too cool about this. Standish is a dangerous customer, you know. But then, so are you. Do you still slash them up with your trusty little straight razor?”

“Only if they’re naughty.”

“I’ve thought often of what it would be like being naughty with you. So, now I know. Disappointing.”

“This call is costing you big time, Percy. And I have work to do. You have anything else to say?”

“Do not worry about the cost of the call. I’ve found a way of redirecting charges to the local constabulary. Modern communications technology is a wonderful thing. Still, I’ve said all there is to say. Good-bye, Trudy Parr. But do give the Paris apartment some consideration. I’m willing to offer you below market rent. Your presence there would add a certain iniquitous mystique.  Your reputation lingers in the city like a fine perfume, after the lady has gone.”

“Ciao, Percy.”

She hung up the telephone. And as she did, there came a familiar collage of ugly uninvited images. She’d often wondered if another person could have endured them. She wondered if she could. Even on a good day, the smallest thing triggered them. An unexpected telephone call from the Albino made it all come back at once.

A busy intersection in Paris. A 1939 Citroën sedan burning from the inside out. The man in the driver’s seat. Barely conscious, stunned by the detonation that caused the flames. But not yet dead. Pawing in vain at the blackening windows. His fingers charred and bleeding. His face blistered and twisted. His eyes wet and too bright. They examined her as she stood by, watching it all. Playing the civilian. Until she walked away. Wanting to witness no more.

He’d looked like the man, codenamed Standish. They’d tracked him for weeks. This should have been a textbook kill. But the car bomb was a little extra polish. A little fiery icing on the cake. Suggested from on high to drive home the idea that no one was safe. No one was too clever to avoid detection and elimination. Not even someone like this man. But was it this man? An eighty-five percent chance of certainty, she figured. Not good enough by her standards. She knew Dench would have preferred a simple garrotting in some dark and lonely place. It was only when you got in close and saw the life fade from their eyes, felt their last exhalation on your cheek, that you really knew for sure. That was her training and her experience. This botched sideshow was the Special Operations Executive showing off. The blast wasn’t even strong enough to kill the target outright. No dead non-combatants littering the surrounding area, the SOE had said. So, a proper charge of TNT had been out. Sloppy. Unprofessional.

She walked across reception to Crispin’s office. No matter how cool she’d played it on the telephone, Percy’s news was significant. She stopped when she got to Dench’s door. From inside, she heard the sound of a scuffle and a muted feminine whimper. Then a giggle. Trudy Parr knocked.

“Everything all right in there?” she said.

“Ah, yeah,” Crispin answered. “Just a second.”

There was more scuffling and the voice of a woman asking for her shoe. Then a yelp and suppressed laughter.

“Hey, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said, “you know, I can go for lunch. Office business can always wait ‘til later.”

“No!” said Dench.

The door opened, and there he stood with his tie askew and his hair needing a brush. There was a red smudge on his cheek. A young woman stepped out from behind him, straightening her skirt and trying to attach her hat to her slightly undone hair with a hatpin.  The seams of her stockings were crooked. Trudy Parr cocked an eyebrow. The young woman smiled awkwardly and exited the offices of Dench and Parr.

“Tough client?” said Trudy Parr.

“Had me on the ropes,” said Dench with a smirk.

“Percy the Albino called.”

“Really?” Dench said, straightening his tie. “I thought he was just a Paris apparition.”

“He’s real enough. Says Standish is poking round. Last seen in Paris. Apparently on our trail.”

“That’s almost impossible.”


“We got him, didn’t we?”

“You believe your own press all of a sudden?”

Dench paused a moment to think. Then he said, “Part of me asks why he’d bother. The war’s over. The bad guys lost. Another part of me says vengeance would be logical in his case. Hell, maybe we even have it coming.”

“I don’t speculate on motivations, Crispin. I’m just telling you what Percy said. And Percy’s skinny is gold.”

 * * *

A hired limousine pulled up to the Hotel Vancouver, and a dark man wearing a silver silk suit got out. A Moroccan by the name of Harrak. He arranged for the retrieval of luggage from the boot of the car and then entered the hotel to check himself and his employer in. Only then did the man who remained sitting in the back of the limousine get out and enter the hotel. Despite the springtime warmth, the man wore a scarf over his mouth and nose, and his hat was pulled low on his head. He wore sunglasses and gloves, and had the wide lapels of his overcoat pulled up to hide his face.

Their suite was on the tenth floor. They rode up in a private elevator car.

When they entered #1005, Harrak took his employers scarf, hat and coat. But the mysterious man kept his gloves and sunglasses on. Then Harrak opened a satchel and removed a bottle of absinthe, a bottle of spring water and a small collection of necessary items.

“The water will be warm, sir,” Harrak said.

The man had taken an overstuffed chair next to a picture window. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Please hurry.”

Harrak placed a parfait glass on a sideboard and poured a substantial shot absinthe. Then he laid a slotted spoon on the glass and a sugar cube upon the spoon. He poured the spring water over the sugar cube, stirred, and then delivered the drink to the man in the chair.

The man gulped it down. “Another,” he said. The next one he sipped slowly while viewing the city’s north shore mountains. “It’s beautiful here. European cities have their appeal, but this is very nice.”

The sunglasses he wore stood in contrast to his pallid, scared complexion. His head and face were ghostly landscapes of once melted skin, now solidified into a horribly furrowed, misshapen mass. He struggled to sip his cocktail with his sneering, misshapen lips.

“Any word on our two friends?” he said.

Harrak came and sat on a nearby couch with a city business directory in his hands. He read as he ran his finger down columns. Then his finger stopped.

“Here,” he said. “Dench and Parr Private Investigations, Fifteenth floor of the Dominion Building, 207 West Hastings Street. They are incorrigible. They make no effort to disguise themselves.”

“They are incapable of shame,” Harrak’s employer said. His was a British accent, his words slurred by way of his injuries. “They were on the winning side when the war ended. For that, they believe wholly in their innocence. I hate them,” he said, struggling to sip.

“I have arranged for a car,” Harrak said. “We must kill the woman first.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said the man after a moment. ”But is that because she is a woman? Don’t be fooled, my friend. She will not be so easy to execute. Several have tried. They are all in their graves. In many ways, she’s more quick-witted and dangerous than her sly partner. But at times, she does demonstrate a rather shaky grasp on reality. It can be her greatest strength, however. I observed her at work in wartime Paris, and saw often enough how she delighted in her killing. The act of it seemed to put her in some bizarre ecstasy. Now, however, with no war to fight, no state sanctioned victims to assassinate, she exists precariously on the very edge of what is considered civilised.”

“What you describe, Mr Standish…. It is madness.”

“Indeed, it is.”

* * *

She lived near the Park, at the Sylvia Hotel. And she had walked there that evening from the office. It was after 10pm. She sat on a park bench beneath a street lamp, across from the hotel on Beach Avenue. Cargo carriers were islands of incandescence on the bay. It was the dark quiet she enjoyed, punctuated by the occasional passing car or the cry of a gull.

She thought of the slow moving car that had shadowed her during parts of her stroll home, and considered the possibilities. Standish would be wrong to imagine she’d been made careless and complacent by her relatively new and comfortable life. But Crispin may have been correct; Standish was now driven by vengeance. And she knew that vengeance enslaved the assassin.

She lit a cigarette, and confirmed as she did, that she was carrying the stubby .40 calibre automatic she’d taken from the office safe. There were two extra clips, as well. Satisfied, she looked back out onto the water.

It was a long black Packard that stopped at the sidewalk behind her. She continued to smoke, seeming relaxed and absorbed. A car door opened and closed, as she had imagined it would. He should have just shot her without even getting out of the vehicle. Standish had become sloppy. In a moment, he was sitting next to her, in his hat, overcoat and sunglasses. He placed an orange can on the ground next to him and folded his gloved hands serenely on his lap.

“At first you were difficult to locate,” he said. “I assumed, incorrectly, that you had concealed yourself. I was looking under rocks when I should have been looking in a phonebook or in the back of cheap newspapers where cheap private detectives advertise. You’re an arrogant bitch, aren’t you? And Crispin Dench is a conceited rogue. You were both lucky in Paris, you know. Your run of successes was beginner’s luck. But you failed to kill me, because you were amateurs.”

“It was a bad plan,” Trudy Parr said, snuffing out her cigarette with her shoe, “made up by people who’d never worked in the field. We were following orders. We never made that mistake again, believe me. But the outcome was solid. You disappeared for the rest of the war. That’s all London wanted.”

“But can you imagine the pain of being burned alive?” Standish said. His gloved hands now in tight fists. “Of surviving it only to look like this? Convalescing on the run. No hospital or medical attention. Fearing discovery by both sides. Enmity the only thing keeping me alive.” He removed his hat and sunglasses. His eyes grotesque and glistening. His face had a molten appearance in the dim street lamp light. His lips unable to close over his broken teeth. His nose partially burned away. “I saw you walk away that day,” he said. “An act of a coward.”

“I wasn’t being paid to watch you roast,” Trudy Parr said. She reached into her purse and clutched the automatic.

“Not so fast,” Harrak said. He stood behind her and drove the muzzle of his handgun into the base of her neck. Then he leaned over and took the gun out of her bag.

“Who’s the coward now, Standish?” Trudy Parr said. “Bringing a hired gun to do your killing.”

“Not a coward,” Standish said. “Just semi-retired. Harrak is a very capable accomplice. We met in Morocco after the war had ended. He pitied me at first.”

Harrak said nothing.

“I can no longer enjoy a cigarette, you know,” Standish said, standing up. “My lips cannot close tightly enough to adequately draw in the smoke. It is a small thing, really. I have replaced that vice with absinthe and morphine. Morphine being a habit I developed while in recovery. But I still carry some of the accoutrements of smoking.” He dug his hand into a pocket and pulled out a silver cigarette lighter. He held it out for Trudy Parr to see. “It’s platinum, you know. I retrieved it from the body of a fellow British spy whose throat I cut back in 1938. He’d been all in a tizzy about the potentialities of Germany invading Poland. He carried information that may have put an end to Hitler’s little plan. I’d been paid to make certain that that information didn’t get into the wrong hands. Or is it the right hands? It’s so hard to keep track of these things when you’re working both sides of the fence. He died, at any rate. And I got his satchel of secrets, and this little treasure.”

He lifted the cap and ignited the wick to demonstrate how well it worked. “You see? Fully functional.” Then he bent down and picked up the orange canister, holding it aloft for her to see. “It’s petrol, my dear. I brought it along for a bit of fun. Because you’re so lacking in necessary empathy, I thought I’d teach you a lesson. It’s high-test, you know. Nothing but the best for Trudy Parr.”

“Why don’t you just shoot me and have done with it?”

“No, no, my dear” Standish said, unscrewing the lid. “I intend to see you dance.”

Harrak grabbed her collar and held her down as Standish began to pour the fuel over her.

“You’re such a little thing,” he said, holding the can up shaking it. “I brought too much.” He put the can down next to him. “Now we’ll just let it soak in a moment. No one would blame you for begging for mercy. But you won’t, will you my dear.”

“Fuck you, you underdone pork chop.”

“I say! There’s eloquence for you, eh Harrak.” Standish sparked the lighter. “Under done pork chop! That is a good one, indeed. But now it’s time to light your night on fire. Good-bye Trudy Parr.”

Standish held the cigarette lighter over Trudy Parr with mocking daintiness, between his thumb and forefinger. She stank of gasoline. The yellow light of the flame sparkled against the deep blue of her eyes. She smiled and calmly said, “I’ve been ready for this all of my life, pork chop. Do it and I’ll see you on the other side.”

Standish hesitated a moment and said, “Be sure to step away when the moment is right, Mr Harrak.”

Then there was the blunt pop of a silenced high calibre automatic weapon. Harrak’s head exploded, spaying blood and grey matter onto Standish’s face. He shook his head like a man emerging from a pool of water, splattering blood and gore onto Trudy Parr.

“What the bloody hell….”

Trudy Parr stood and ran.

“Put the lighter down, Standish,” Crispin Dench said. “Fun’s over.” He stepped out from behind the Packard.

“It took you long enough,” Trudy Parr said. “You son of a bitch, what were you waiting for?”

“Hey, it’s not like you told me you were going to just sit and wait for the bastard. And let me tell you, it was a toss up between hitting the bars and looking for Miss Right tonight and coming here to make sure you weren’t sitting on a park bench ready to play Joan of Arc.”

“Well,” Standish said. “Anytime you two are done….”

“Blast him, Crispin!”

“I’m not sure that’s the fix here,” Dench said.

“Well, what the hell is?”

“Something more in keeping with the current set of circumstances,” Dench said. He walked over and snatched the cigarette lighter out of Standish’s hand. “You were a victim in Paris, Standish. I’ll give you that. But you were a bad guy before that ever happened and you’re a bad guy now. I figure there’s justice in finishing what we started.” Dench swung and hit Standish on the side of head with the butt of his .45. Standish went down. Then Dench picked up the gasoline can and splashed some on the prone man’s body. “That’s for treating my friend over there so poorly.” He splashed more onto Standish, and said, “That’s for working for the fucking Nazis.”

“That might be a bad idea, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said. “Even for this crumb.”

Now Dench held the gasoline canister up side down and poured the rest of its contents over Standish. And that’s for being so fucking ugly.”

“Don’t do it Crispin,” said Trudy Parr. “The cops are probably on the way.”

“Let ‘em come. I’m sick of bastards like this disturbing my sleep.”

Dench sparked the cigarette lighter and tossed it onto Standish. Standish was quickly bathed in flame.

“No!” Trudy Parr yelled, struggling to her feet. She ran toward Harrak’s body.

Standish was suddenly pulled from unconsciousness, eyes wide, and began screaming. He stood somehow and embarked on a gruesome dance, jerking and slapping himself, as his personal inferno consumed him.

Dench’s face was impassive, illuminated by the flames.

Then there was a gunshot and Standish fell to the ground. His body continued to burn.

“That wasn’t your greatest moment, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said. She was holding a smoking gun.

“I know it.”

* * *

The sun rose the following day and the papers were full of news about unidentifiable bodies in StanleyPark.

She spent a moment pondering noble acts again. But only a moment. There was an open missing person file on her desk and clients waiting outside of her office.

She also gave a moment over to the consideration of an offer of an apartment in Paris. In a neighbourhood that held a certain unsavoury allure.


the Aftertown graphic novel part 2

read part 1 here,  part 2.1 here,  part 3 here

The characters in the story of Aftertown don’t know that they’re characters at all. Their lives are real to them and unfold in an unfailingly ordinary fashion. Time is marked according to a calendar of days, but no day can exist outside of a numbered graphic novel frame. And no none can escape form the sequence of frames, drawn by an unknowable hand, and sometimes narrated by an equally unknowable voice.

There are, however, individuals like Matthew Roseland, Shamus Guild member. He’s a private detective able to move from frame to frame with a freedom other characters in the story do not possess. This freedom to move back and forth, from one moment to the next, makes him an outcast, but also provides him with unique insights into the criminal intrigues of the smoky dark distopic urban landscape of Aftertown.

    * * * * *

Frame #.05 (October 21, 1913, time unknown): I woke gasping from a dream. Silent and black. I’m outside, why? The rain has stopped. I’m in an alley looking up at rusting, moss-covered fire escapes. Once, they’d been painted black by a prouder people. They rise infinitely high toward the dark sky reflecting back the dim sallow hue of the city.

“Roseland,” my name whispered, almost hissed, by someone behind me. I turn, momentarily losing my balance. It’s Chalk.

“Hey Roseland,” he says. “How you been sleeping lately?”

He smiles. His hair’s cut in a spiked Mohawk and dyed a plastic black, held in place by volumes of varnish. His teeth have been filed into points. He runs his perpetually bloodied tongue with its unhealed lesions across them, leaving behind a rusty film. Chalk, the current leader of the Terminus Boy Punks – street gang deluxe. They claim no territory in Aftertown. Turf wars don’t pay.

Chalk wears all black. His leather jacket is studded. His face is wet from recent rain and pale with the white lead he and the Boy Punks smear on their faces. He holds a massive revolver in his right hand, holds it like an Upper Guild Lady holds her purse. It’s a high velocity .50 calibre Crossly Autofield. For anyone other than Chalk, it’s an impractical weapon in the city. It’s too powerful and loud, has too potent a recoil and lacks accuracy. It’s a collector’s weapon. Chalk isn’t a collector. He behaves like a clown, but he’s cunning, deadly. In his hand, the Autofield is  precise and fatal. The sound it makes is his anthem. It’s recoil familiar and welcome.  Now he twirls it on his index finger like he’s a gunslinger.

“Wanna play, Roseland?” he says. “We’ll give ya a count of thirty before we come to getcha.”

Chalk appears to be alone, but I know better. The Terminus Boy Punks are expert at staying out of sight, white faces or no. There’re likely twenty of them in Chalk’s exulted entourage, each well within lethal striking distance.

I stand my ground and say, “What’s the furore, Chalk?”

“I just wanna see you bleed one day, Roseland.”

“That will do, Mr Chalk.” It’s the disembodied voice. The invisible man again.

“You!” I say, looking up and around at nothing.

“You remember me, Matthew?” the invisible man says. “That’s unexpected. But that’s how Aftertown is, isn’t it? I swear I sometimes feel quite overwhelmed by the unpredictability of all of your vicious personalities. But I am a creative soul, and must carry on.”

“No,” I say. “Not necessarily.”

“What’s this shite?” Chalk says. He’s still pointing the Autofield at me, frantically looking round for the source of the mysterious unseen voice.

“Calm yourself, Mr Chalk.”

“You don’t calm me,” Chalk yells. “I do the calmin’ and agitatin’ round here. Show yerself sos I can blast ya.”

“None of that, now,” the voice says. “I just wanted to bring you two together for a brief meeting. If all goes according to plan, you’ll be the greatest of allies by the time I’m done with you. You will try to stick to the plot won’t you, Roseland. I spend endless hours developing plots for you. But you always seem to deviate somehow.”

“Come out and fight, ya coward,” Chalk yells.

“Maybe you began something you can’t control or put away,” I say to the voice. “Maybe Aftertown doesn’t belong to you anymore.”

“Maybe,” the voice says. “But I really must go now. Enjoy each other’s company.”

“Wait,” I say. But there’s only the sound of dripping ironwork and Chalk’s heavy breathing.

Chalk says, “What the fuck was that, Roseland? Tell me, or I’m gonna blow a hole in ya the size of me mather’s lactatin’ left teat.”

“Fire away,” I say. “I don’t know who that is. He just makes his presence known every now and then, makes like he’s clarifying points. Mostly only muddies the water.” I fail to mention the feeling I have that I know the man attached to the voice better than I know myself.

Then I hear the blunt thud of the Autofield’s hammer coming down. I see that Chalk has drawn a bead on me and is pulling the trigger. But the gun doesn’t fire.

“Fuck,” he yells. “I loaded this bitch ten minutes ago.” Thud, thud, thud, “Fuuuck.”

It begins to rain again. 

Frame #16 (October 23, 1911, 10:15 p.m.): My flat is in a rundown working class area of Aftertown. It’s cold and dark outside. It never stops raining.

Dates and times repeat or arrive out of sequence here. I pour a glass of Roaring Girl. It’s florescent green. I down it fast and pour another. It usually takes two shots of the Girl before I can tolerate going out.

Artistic types have shaped rituals to which they hold when drinking the Girl. But even if I had the time, I couldn’t be bothered. It’s the numbing and stabilising effects I care about. And it suppresses the appetite. A forty Imperial Guild Unit bottle of the Girl and a deck of contraband Heroes can be had for seventy-five cents. A plate of ham and eggs and a cup of coffee are two dollars. Since there never seems to be more than seventy-five cents in my pocket, the choice is easy.

I light a Hero and inhale every molecule, hold it down for as long as I can, then exhale. This places a layer over the numbing green Girl. I wonder if others think as much about their excesses. Then the thought is gone.

Frame #83 (October 18, 1911, 11:43 p.m.): I’m standing on a wharf looking out onto Aftertown Harbour. Puzzling, I don’t recall there ever being a harbour. It’s raining, no shelter. It’s impossible to smoke. My twenty year old Aquascutum is soaked through. An oily, unwholesome smell comes off the water. There’s someone standing next to me.

“Hello, Roseland. Glad you could make it.”

It’s McDermott. I’m surprised and turn to face him. He’s pale and paunchy. “You’re dead,” I say. “I saw you stabbed in the subway stairwell, bled out. You’re deceased.”

“Well,” McDermott says, “life’s a mystery, eh? Hell, you of all people should know that, being of the Shamus Guild and all, eh? Don’t sweat it though, boyo. Everything’s Canada Dry on my side of the fence. But that memory of yours, it’s a dangerous thing here in Aftertown. You need to turn it down, keep it to yourself, eh? Need to learn to forget. Dying is like that. Forgetting, I mean. It’s peaceful, kinda.”

McDermott’s dry and has a well lit Hero in his gob, in spite of the rain. He’s smoking lustily, but his eyes are dead and without colour. The Hero’s amber end moves up and down in his lips as he talks. The smoke makes him squint. He’s smiling. McDermott never smiled in life. There’s something else. Now I can see the bloody tears where his killer’s knife pierced his raincoat. There’s a slow, thick, black drip of blood coming from the hem of his coat. The drops fall onto the saturated wharf and sit there like lumps of dark mercury.

“Good to see you finally showed up in a frame of the story where you belong,” he says.

“I belong here?”

“Been into the Roaring Girl, eh? Bet you’d like a swallow right now.”

McDermott finishes many of his sentences with ‘eh’, making questions out of statements. It’s a cop habit. He can’t help it. Everything’s a question with a cop.  He’s Deterrent Guild, after all – or was.

“Fuck off,” I say. “I don’t talk to corpses.”

“You’ll talk to this one,” McDermott says, taking the half gone Hero from his mouth and tossing it with a weird, uncharacteristic authority. Another one magically appears between his lips. “Pirate steamer docked illegally last night, had some strange cargo aboard. No surprise, eh, strange cargo in Aftertown?”

“Can’t say, I didn’t even know there was a harbour.”

“Hmm, well do yourself a favour; remember the ship’s name, Zephyr Queen. She’ll return for her cargo, and then some. Now get out of here. Find a circus tent and warm yerself up.”

“Why you telling me this? You never shared so much in life.”

“The dead make choices they couldn’t in life.”

Then McDermott’s gone, just the smell of tobacco smoke lingering.

Frame #97 (October 19, 1911, 1:47 a.m.): The moment Melville reappeared in the story, promoted to General Invisible of Intel Sect, she put an Executive Warrant out for my arrest. It provides me with an unusual form of free status. Because of it, I’m untouchable. I’m her property now. Only she, or an executive member of the Deterrent Guild Intel Sect, can arrest or detain me. Beat cops in Aftertown know it, hate it. I can spit in their eye with impunity, and regularly do.

Somewhere in the Imperial Guild machine, Melville sits back and watches. I hope she gets a laugh now and then.

Maria owns Bridgette’s, a bar on the Guild Boundary. I’m laying in her bed in her room above the bar. I entered through the backdoor from a previous frame, one in which the plot didn’t provide for my exit.

People on the street refer to the Guild Boundary as the G-line. This side of the G-line, the average Aftertowner is safe from the assassins that patrol the Upper Guild sections of the city. Across the street, they get their throat cut.

Maria has secretly plugged into a string of shytubes placed throughout the known execution sites this side of the G-line. The sites are in back alleys, derelict buildings and vacant lots, mostly.

A small circular shytube CRT sits at the end of Maria’s bed, usually hidden behind ornate bronze cast cabinet doors. Only a few members of a highly organised group of Guild resisters get to view the carnage the CRT reveals. I’m no resister, though. I don’t have the stomach for it. Maria lets me see, anyway.

Tonight she’s invited me in because she says she’s cold and lonely. I’ve accepted because she’s warm and exquisite. Aftertown hasn’t aged her the way it has everyone else. She also wants me to see what a certain shytube has to reveal about a vacant lot at the corner of Main and Gloucester. Massive tents have been erected there. They’re surrounded by caged and roaming animals, sequinned acrobats and clowns. There’s calliope music and strings of bright lights shine over everything. Rain hasn’t discouraged the activity. I’m aware that the CRT’s low resolution doesn’t do the scene justice.

A disinterested, monotone barker on stilts, wearing a top hat and sandwich board strides the corner announcing: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Thumbelina and Relentless Sisters’ Circus has arrived in Aftertown. Come see the most amazing extravaganza of this or any other century. This exclusive engagement ends the circus’ highly acclaimed extended world tour. Bring the spouse, bring the children, bring the belligerent in-laws to the Thumbelina and Relentless Sisters’ big top tents filled to the brimming with oddities and wonders. Come witness the Firefly, the only tightrope walker in history to walk the flaming high wire. See the melancholy Lady Imelda, Elephant Woman of Borneo. Meet the Cockamamie Brother Amos Borgiasangelo, world famous clown – he’ll make you laugh while he makes you cry.”

The Barker continues but the name stands out, Borgiasangelo. Brother Amos Borgiasangelo? There can only be one. Travelling with a circus, but no attempt made to conceal his identity behind a false name. He’s returned for vengeance. Amos Borgiasangelo, excommunicated Arch Spectre of the Imperial Fetish Guild and infamous defector to the Chan Cult. McDermott’s ghost was right. This is strange cargo, indeed.

“When did this start,” I say to Maria.

“Today, a few hours ago. They just showed up out of nowhere. People are getting excited in a very un-Aftertown sort of way. The circus is in town, even if Amos Borgiasangelo is its star.”

“What’s the news on Borgiasangelo?” I say. “Anything?”

“Nothing,” Maria says. “The Guilds still claim that he goes in for little boys, that he’s a Chan Cult climber and that he embezzled millions from the Fetish Guild Reserve.”


“None,” Maria says.

“Fine, I’m heading out.” I grab my coat.

“Where?” Maria says. “You’re going to her, right?”

“Yes ,” I say. “And I have my reasons. She’s had the answers in the past. If she shares a few with me now, I might be able to help avoid a lot of grief. Amos isn’t here to take the waters. He’s here to raise hell. He’s got violence on his mind. My guess is that he’s got the Fetish Guild hierarchy in his sights.”

“The Primates.”

“Yeah, the Primates. They won’t go down without a fight, and they don’t care if they take all of Aftertown with them.”

“Well I ain’t some dime a dance dame, Roseland. You can’t kiss me off the moment you think of dropping in on Melville.”

“It’s not like that,” I say. “Anyway, there’re enough bad guys to fight. We don’t need to fight each other.”

“I ain’t fighting you, Roseland. I’m fighting an Upper Guild Lady.”

Anymore talk is wasted energy. I tip my hat and leave The Bridgette Club by the backdoor. I want to remind Maria that Melville isn’t an Upper Guild Lady. She’s from the streets like the both of us. But it’s the Guild machine at work. It’s designed to confuse and set allies against each other. By the looks of things, it’s working.

As I leave her bedroom, I spot the CRT connection disengage. From the corner of my eye I see the screen image shrink to a tiny glowing dot. The speaker crackles, hisses and is silent.

Frame #97 (October 19, 1911, 2:57 a.m.): Melville walks toward me wearing a beaded evening gown as I lean over a desk in the parlour of her West Agency Avenue penthouse. She’s sipping from a tall fluted glass in her left hand. The apartment is pure luxury. But it’s the colourful, glowing screen on the desk that’s caught my eye. There’s shytube footage of a riot showing. A massive crowd of protesters, some of them hooded or with crude respirators, is running toward a line of armoured riot police with shields and batons. Tear gas plumes are everywhere. The protestors throw homemade incendiary bombs. The police line is engulfed and begins to break up. Tanks roll in and fire heavy machine guns.

In front of the screen is what looks like a standard set of QWERTY typewriter keys. The keys are not connected to any elevated levers or springs but embedded in a flat laminated rectangular platter with small, mysterious green lights. Beside the keys is something egg-shaped, about the size of the palm of a hand. It gives off a blue glow.

“Of all the places you’re not supposed to appear, Matthew,” Melville says. “This must top the list.”

“Did you think I’d never come?” I say, still watching the screen.

“I hoped for it, of course; against it, as well.”

“What is this?” I say.

“A counting engine,” Melville says.

“What’s it count?”

“Zeros and ones, I’m told.”

“Just that?” I say.

“Just that, in the order they come,” Melville says. “It deciphers the code.”

“The code?”

“The code or a code. It’s a mystery to me. Layers of calculation taking place in that small box beneath the desk. Delivering data to my home, where I least want to see it.”

She points to where a small laminated box sits on a Persian carpet with nothing but a tiny green flashing light on its front. I crouch down to look closer. It makes a quiet humming sound. Placing my hand on the top I can feel its warmth and a smooth, almost imperceptible vibration. I look back at her, bemused.

“Don’t waste your time,” she says. “It’s inscrutable. Even to the engineers they send to maintain it.”

“The CRT is so clear and colourful,” I say, standing again.

“It’s not a CRT,” Melville says. “It’s liquid crystal.”

“What can you see with it?”

“Numbers, words, plots,” she says. “Death, mayhem, lies and misinformation. Broadcast from all over the planet. Would you like some Champagne?”

“What’s Champagne?”

“Why not have some,” she says pouring a glass. “Then you tell me.”

I sniff the cool liquid in the glass. It’s strangely appealing. Then I sip it. It sparkles like charged water, but it’s really not like that at all.

“Will you have a cigarette?” she says.

“Yes, thank you.”

The cigarette she lights for me is nothing like a Hero.

“What is this?” I say.

“Tobacco, of course.”

I spend a moment enjoying the cigarette’s surprising flavour. Then I say, “Amos Borgiasangelo.”

And Melville says, “Yes. He seems to have finally arrived back. Intel Sect has sent agents, of course. We’ve been tracking him for close to three years.”

“So you knew he was coming.”


“And you did nothing?”

“I was only recently released from captivity myself,” Melville says. “But I’m not sure I would have done things any differently. If we can arrest him here, it makes for better optics.”

“Optics,” I say, placing the champagne glass on the desk and snuffing out the cigarette.

“Don’t be smug, Roseland,” Melville says. “I only want to arrest and detain him for questioning. Others in Intel Sect want him assassinated. That won’t happen if I can help it.”

“Thanks for the hospitality,” I say.

“You want at him before Intel Sect, is that it?”



“Because the Guilds have a way of washing the truth clean before releasing it to the masses,” I say. “I just want a word with him before you storm in.”

“He’s protected himself, you know.”

“The Terminus Boy Punks,” I say. “Yes, I know.”

“That Chalk fellow seems to have a well developed hate on for you.”

“Yes, he does.”

From an open window comes the sound of gunfire and manic laughter, punctuated by seconds of uncomfortable quiet. Then an explosion. There are ripples on the surface of the champagne in my glass.

dollarama Jesus (repost)

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.”


“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.”