lost ironies

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Month: February, 2014

three working class poems

You’ll notice that these are ‘old’ poems, written in the nineties. It never occurred to me then that I would ever grow as old as I have. I didn’t believe I’d die first. (For the record, I’m now 53.) I just didn’t have the imagination or experience to conclude that I’d be changed by the further passing of time, or that what was accepted as the totality of history then could be augmented by still more history. Then came 9/11, among other things, and the concentration of worldwide wealth into fewer and fewer hands. I was angry in the nineties, but I’m angrier now. These poems seem so innocent.

remembering the B-52 (1997)

I have spent most of this
life watching the
shimmering axis ripple
through the core of
mushroom clouds old
WWII surplus vaporized
along with cut out suburbs of
mannequin mothers
worrying over evening meals
duck & cover babies resurfacing as
duck & cover boomers
calling up the shimmering axis on
cell phones while
negotiating 24 hour
rush hour days believing the
same insanities their
fathers packed for lunch &
carried home in six-packs

I have anticipated the resurrection &
considered its flaws the
vacant stare there
are problems with this plan there is
eternity to ponder & our
television attention spans our
Ritalin soaked anatomies spread
across the surface of our
nefarious rain soaked cities watching
the distance decay to half melting evening
crawling toward surrender & night
the tender protein of women coiling
round an electric conduit of fear

I remember the B-52
children like gentle inquisitors
moonfaced staring up
at vapour trails guessing
at the mercury pinprick I
remember its shadow made so
diffused by altitude it
scarcely kissed this cheek with its
dry hint of malevolence I
blinked innocently at the sun &
the summer vacation blue
of the August sky

heroes three (1995)

for you there are
Jack Daniel’s from a paper bag &
your androgynous sons to mock

here finally is summer &
you near death for
the sake of a quarter section of wheat
your iron armour John Deere green &
you the organic harbour of
soul memory & fear
pink in the sun
outsmarting bankers weeds & creation
before dry wind
your family burdened
with awkward humiliation

heroes two (1992)

artist
cloaked as peasant

quiet genius
swimming in icy Coca-Cola
smoking French tailor mades
lifting the skirts of fast walking steno girls
forgiven
blessed
provided for

today Asimov is dead the
news is piped in like cool contaminated air
Muslim guerrillas occupy a Baltic Holiday Inn
(hol-i-day: a holy day)

in his panic god
looks to us for example
his counterfeits his
image

it was thirst

I woke to this.
A single touch to advance hope, your hand on mine. You hold so much power over me. But you hurt like stones.

It was a morning of coffee and email. I checked social media, and found a single new overnight follower. With a message for someone unknown in the world. 108 characters. An account with 10 followers, following 25. I followed back. 26. I won’t reveal an identity. The phone rang, and it was forgotten.

It became busy. The day rolling out like an India patterned path, found in error on an anxious hunt for stillness. How many times can one count one’s own breaths in expectation? While always alert to the merciless moment.

That afternoon, another. 132 characters.
Sunless in a room of unseeable colour. You might have continued with love. But commenced with winter. Failing to see the difference.

In the evening, 118 characters… 
On our wedding day you made me crave death. It was thirst in a house of poison. I held my breath like an unlit candle. 

That night, 130 characters…
Planets and trees are in my hand. The dark DNA. The illuminating moon is tragic. The blue honed edge with its straight razor grin. 

At 3 a.m.
Angels on the sidewalks, on morning trains. By now I am one of these. A schematic etched in glinting sand. Marble mouthed. And statue eyed.

At 7 a.m.
Cyber silence. Virtual absence. The absolute abandonment of space. Perhaps she was never really there. Maybe a vacuum fills with particles and neutrinos. A deserted account on a mysterious server. Forever. The telephone rings, and it is forgotten.

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – The Gold Medal Edition

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) This won’t be a medal year for Fire Signs. You’re boycotting the games in protest due to a fundamental cosmic retrograde between the moon and Mars. So, leave the spandex and sequins in the closet – where they belong! And, okay, maybe it’s too bad you’re not going. It means you’re going to miss a chance to participate in the Sochi 2014 men’s and ladies’ room dual toilet event, the newest of the IOC sanctioned extreme sports. It’s a competition formerly mired in scandal, of course. But new rules now mean fairer scoring.Image

These are the elements that make up the Dual Toilet competition, as set out by the International Dual Toilet Union or DTU, in rules 520 and 521 of the 2008 version. There must be 4 seat lifts (but the seat must be left down when done so the women judges don’t complain), 4 jumps, 3 spins (including 1 death spiral), 1 step sequence, and 1 toilet roll sequence. Men do 8 jumps, 3 spins, and 2 step sequences. Ladies do 7 jumps, 3 spins, 1 step sequence and 1 spiral sequence, all performed in a small room with two unpartitioned commodes, a broken exhaust fan and no reading material. But the uninitiated must be warned that a perfect score is dependant upon the flawless technical and artist execution of the flush.

For Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) It’s all bronze for Earth signs this time round. And yes, you’ll weep on the lowest tier on the podium. But isn’t that what Earth Signs always do? And don’t try to lighten the mood with men’s bobsled jokes. Because really, isn’t the behaviour of two women dressed in spandex and shoehorned über snug into a downhill ice rocket just as suspicious as a team of men doing the same thing? Let’s face it, some team events are just plain weird. Like team darts. This isn’t an Olympic sport yet, but it will be in 2040. In team darts championship competition, Las Vegas show girls pretend to be sexually excited by middle aged obese men with beer breath and enlarged prostrates, throwing sharp objects at a stationary target in a climate controlled environment. Hey girls, that’s worth a perfect score – for acting!

For Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) You’re second place all the way in 2014, Air Signs. And that means silver. But you may do well in curling. Yes, the Olympics have had curling as a sanctioned event since 1998. It’s true that curlers aren’t the most athletic people at Sochi, but they are the loudest. Besides, it’s a game of skill not strength. Like tiddlywinks. Tiddlywinks, of course, is the perfect winter sport. It’s played indoors, without a broom or goofy pants or really loud and vicious people who throw rocks at their own team mates. My uncle was a curler. He raised poisonous snakes and made his own bullets in his basement, dressed like Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. You know – that tight totally glam off the shoulder floor length red satin gown and matching pumps. He also had a tattoo and a comb-over. He owned a 1979 Chevette until he drove it into the housewares department of a Walmart with enough TNT duct taped to his body to blow the place up five times over. A police sniper got him. I hope this was helpful.

For Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) Woo-hoo, Water Signs!!! You get gold at Sochi. That’s because Sochi enjoys a subtropical climate, and you love summer sports. Wait a minute, Sochi is subtropical? What was President Putin on, crack? Well why the hell not. It’s the street drug of choice for all evil petty despotic politicians. And what’s with the brown tap water and stray dogs? And how can you have an Olympics with only four rings. Do they still send people to Siberia? Or do they just put them up in a half finished hotel room and make them drink the water. And why does Putin hate Pussy Riot so much? I’d have thought that a supreme straight-shootin’ homophobe like Putin would enjoy an occasional pussy riot. But then, are we really sure this dude isn’t actually just a little gay himself? Or maybe he’s just a tease. Just sayin’.

ImageImage

at the grave of Gypsy Anne Kaufmann (repost)

Vancouver 1949

It was the Gypsy’s funeral. We all stood waiting for the rain to stop, but the clouds never parted. Nothing ruins a good funeral like rain. It isolates the grieving beneath dripping umbrellas, and adds to the bleakness of the moment. But this was February in Vancouver. A city at the edge of a rain forest was supposed to get rain. The Gypsy knew this, and she’d opted for a concrete lined vault with drainage. She’d obviously put more thought and money into the inevitable than most of the rest of us. After the slab was laid on top, she’d have the driest joint in town.

I was at the funeral for Trudy, providing support. Trudy had known Gypsy Anne Kaufmann for most of her life. Their friendship began in elementary school, and lasted until a week ago when the Gypsy was found dead in her east end home. It was a mysterious death, and the police were keeping mum. I’d talked to officers who’d been on the scene, and I’d been to the Coroner’s Office to get what I could. But they were all part of the same quiet choir. It was enough to make you want to smack someone. But I knew that some information, the good stuff, had to be waited on. The important part was letting the right people know just what you wanted, so they could spill when they couldn’t hold on anymore. That’s what I was good at. I was almost always the first person the pigeons would call when the time was right.

Trudy and I shared an umbrella. She wore crimson kid gloves and red shoes that contrasted well against her blonde hair, a black wool coat and hat, and a black Dior dress. She placed a small bouquet on the casket that lay beneath a canvass shelter next to the vault, and then she turned away.

There were several similar gestures before the small crowd began to mill about, and old friends were reacquainted after so many years. Trudy, however, walked away toward the Jaguar, slowly in the rain with her hands in her coat pockets. I followed. When I caught up with her, she was leaning against the passenger side door. Gorgeous, even in the rain, but she looked startled. A Vogue model on a bad day, but no. The war had made her too much of a potential menace for polite society. It was safer for everyone that she worked with me, chasing leads and going after bad guys. The war had ended four years ago, but she and I had been changed by indoctrination and duty. Maybe we should never have come back when it was all done, but that was an old and pointless conversation. We’d missed our chance to go out in a hail of bullets when the Nazis evacuated Paris.

“Times like this make me think about the war,” I said. “The last days, I mean.”

“You shouldn’t,” she said.

She smiled weakly, and for a brief moment lost her startled look. Now under my umbrella once more, she took a package of Black Cat cigarettes out of her purse. She pulled one out, and I retrieved my lighter holding it ready. She bit the cork end off the cigarette and daintily spit it out to the side. I lit it. We’d done this a thousand times before. I had never asked her why she didn’t just buy plain cigarettes without the cork. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t ask why she still carried a nickel finish .38 automatic in her handbag, either. Asking would sound like disapproval; I didn’t disapprove.

“I think about the war the way you drink whisky,” she said. “A couple of shots at a time, and then only occasionally. But you, Crispin. When you think about the war you do it like an angel on a mission, always weeping for the dead you might’ve saved. Always looking for what went so wrong, looking for a solution that you think must have been there all along but that was never obvious enough — always looking, always. Sometimes you seem obsessed with the past, maybe trying to rewrite it. Trying to make out like your reasons were noble, that you were never capable of a wrong action. That’s very Canadian of you, of course. But nothing about Paris under the Nazis was right. Our country trained us to be spies and assassins, and Paris turned us into exterminators. Now you, me and a few others, we’re the only ones left who saw it all happen up close. And sometimes the best we can manage is avoiding eye contact.”

“And now that Gypsy Anne is gone?” I said.

Trudy drew hard on her cigarette and said, “Now that Gypsy Anne is gone we’re even more alone than ever, the two of us.”

“She used to promise that she’d return from the dead, remember?”

“She said she’d bring chocolates,” Trudy said. And then she said, “It’s cold. I want to go back to the office.”

I wanted to say no, that this town’s infidelities and transgressions could go on without the two of us for one day, in memory of the Gypsy. Maybe I’d suggest we go for a couple shots of rye. But then Detective Lieutenant Egon waddled over from the thinning crowd with something on his mind.

“Hello, you two,” Egon said. “Sorry about your friend, Trudy. I hear you was in the war together.”

“That’s still classified,” Trudy said.

“Yeah, well,” Egon said belatedly removing his hat. “Just so you know, we’re still looking into who might have been responsible for her death. There weren’t many clues.”

“’…weren’t many?’” Trudy said. “That means there were at least some.”

“Fingerprints, mainly. We’re still working on those,” Egon said. “The door was forced; there was a broken mirror and some blood. I don’t think it was hers, though. She wasn’t cut the coroner says.”

“Just strangled,” Trudy said.

“You’re right,” I said. “That ain’t much. You going to take a second look?”

“The boys go in again this afternoon,” Egon said, and then went quiet. He stared at his shoes, and then he said, “In the meantime you two might want to look at this, come over here.” He walked back in the direction of the Gypsy’s grave and stood over a tarp on the ground. Lifting the corner of the tarp, he revealed the slab that was going to be laid over the Gypsy’s vault. It was polished British Columbia granite with a shining blank copper plate in the centre measuring three feet by two.

“Either of you know what that’s about?”

“It was among her final wishes,” a man said behind us.

We turned to see a man in overalls, work boots and a peaked cap. “I’m Arturo Grapelli,” he said holding out his hand, “cemetery keeper.” Egon took Grapelli’s hand and gave it a shake. Then Grapelli tipped his hat to Trudy. “In her will, Mrs Kaufmann instructed that this slab should be laid today, as is. Tomorrow at 12.05 pm, a framed piece of tempered plate glass must be placed over the copper sheet and bolted down.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Have to ask her,” Grapelli said, and stuck a toothpick in his mouth.

“You two sure know some odd ducks,” Egon said.

“She’s got nothing to prove to you, Egon,” Trudy said.

“Ah, come now, Tru…”

“Let it go, Egon,” I said.

“All I know,” Trudy said, “is that I’m going to be here tomorrow to see the glass placed over that copper plate. The Gypsy never did anything without a reason.”

I took Trudy gently by the hand and walked with her back to the Jag.

The cemetery was on high ground. Below us was Vancouver shrouded in low clouds. We exited, and turned onto Fraser Street.

“I don’t think Egon is smart enough to really insult anyone,” I said to Trudy.

“I’ll decide whether I’ve been insulted, Crispin.”

“Okay,” I said, and shifted down for a light.

“Are you afraid that I’ll spank his big fat ass?”

“A little, I guess,” I said.

“After all the previous opportunities I’ve had?”

“Sometimes these things are cumulative. Shit builds up, no?”

“Maybe,” Trudy said. “But maybe Egon is far more valuable to us alive.”

That was good thinking, and I smiled. I looked across at her and saw that she smiled, too. All of which meant absolutely nothing as far as Egon went. Trudy was a very reactive girl, and someday Egon was going to mouth off at exactly the wrong moment. I hoped that moment was a long way off, and made for the office.

When we arrived, there were two characters waiting in the hall outside of the office. One of them was Horis Weld, a local who’d taken a severe hit to the head at Normandy. He hadn’t been right ever since. The other character, I didn’t recognize. But I knew the type.

“What’s the score, Horis,” I said unlocking the door to the office.

“Just wonderin’ if yer spittoon needs cleanin’,” Mr Dench.

“Horis,” I said. “I’m willing to bet that there’s not one spittoon in this whole building.”

“Just one I know of, for sure,” Horis said.

“Oh,” I said. “Who’s still got a spittoon in this day and age,”

“Mr Boughwraith, but he says his wife cleans it for him.”

Trudy said, “No money in that is there, Horis,” and placed a dollar bill in his hand.

“Oh thanks, Miss Parr. But I ain’t done nothing for you yet. You got some chores or odd jobs?”

“Just think good thoughts,” Trudy said. “And spend it on lunch, not hooch.”

“Okay, bye. I’ll be at the Ovaltine if you need me.”

The other character followed Trudy and I into the office and said, “Your line of work seems to attract some interesting persons.”

I looked at him and told myself that he was right. Then I said, “Horis there’s a good fella. He’d give you the shirt off his back if he could find it. Who are you?”

“My name is Klaus Finn,” he said as he fixed the lapels on his suit jacket. He walked toward me holding out his hand, and I sensed that there were likely things about Mr Finn that I really didn’t want to know. Maybe I should have sent him on his way, but business is business. I invited him into my private office, and asked him to have a seat.

Once settled in, I asked Finn what it was he needed to see me about.

“It’s about Gypsy Anne Kaufmann,” Finn said. “The woman whose funeral you and your secretary attended this morning.”

I heard my door open and Trudy stepped in, “I heard the Gypsy’s name. May I sit in?”

“Of course, Trudy. Pull up a seat.”

“Please Mr Dench,” Finn said in his hard to place accent. “Surely it’s inappropriate to have one’s help allowed in on a sensitive and private discussion.”

“It’s the damnedest thing, Mr Finn,” I said. “Miss Parr and I don’t have help, unless you include the night janitor. You might say we’re helpless. Miss Parr and I are partners. You hire me, you also hire Miss Parr. Anything you have to say to me, you can say to her.”

Finn remained seated for a moment working the angles. Then he stood up saying, “It has been my mistake. Please forgive me. I shall seek assistance elsewhere.” He started for the door. Trudy also stood and put her arm across the door to block Finn’s path.

“You ain’t going nowhere, Jasper,” she said. “You used my friend’s name in vain, and now you’re going to tell us what you’ve got on your polluted little mind.”

“Please, miss,” Finn said. “I beg you not to force me to exercise my superior male advantage.”

“Oh, brother,” I said shrinking into my chair.

“I will allow you a moment to move and then….”

“And then?” Trudy said. “You gonna belt me one?”

Finn looked at me and said, “Have you no control over this woman, Mr Dench?”

“None whatsoever, Mr Finn.”

“In that case,” Finn said. “I have no choice but to….”

In 1938, in an overwhelming fit of infatuation, I asked Trudy Parr to marry me. I had purchased an engagement ring from an Italian jeweller on Commercial Drive, and presented it to her while on a stroll to Third Beach in Stanley Park. She refused me, saying that she was unworthy and would, if married to me, eventually drive me insane. I pleaded with her, but in the end found myself the soul owner of a nearly flawless half carat white diamond mounted in a white gold setting on an eighteen carat gold ring. The Depression was still on, and asking the jeweller to take back such a costly piece of jewellery didn’t sit well with me. So I left it with Trudy, who eventually accepted it as a token of friendship. On a night of fireworks in the park, I slipped it into the pocket of her dress. Several weeks later, it appeared on her right hand ring finger where it has remained ever since.

Whatever violent act Mr Finn was planning to perpetrate against Trudy Parr, it was interrupted by her swift right hook. The fist upon which was placed the engagement ring.  My gift to Trudy had ruined the good looks of many a miscreant. Finn called out for my assistance. Then there was a thud, as Finn hit the ground. The pugilism ended, Trudy took a seat.

“You think that sort of thing might be bad for business?” I said to her.

“He was walking out. Now he’s not. He may still write a cheque.”

“He could sue,” I said.

Trudy shrugged, “Maybe. But then again, dead men don’t sue.”

From where Finn lay there came a pitiful moan, and then a sharp yelp, “I’m bleeding. You fiendish woman, you’ve cut my face.”

I walked over and stood looking down at him where he sat on the floor, and dropped my handkerchief into his lap. “You got something to say about the Gypsy, Finn?”

“Not to you,” he said wiping the blood off his chin. “I will be calling the police, and reporting this to my attorney. I am not common human trash off the street. I have influential friends who….”

I bent over and grabbed Finn by the lapels of his pricey suit, and pulled him up face to face. “You think my partner here can kick some ass, you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you don’t start answering our questions, I’m going to throw you out of that window. That’s the back of the building, so you’ll land in the trash fifteen floors down.”

Finn gasped and clenched his fists. His eyes narrowed, and then he slouched. I let go of him, and he sat gloomily down on the leather sofa.

“I came to you,” he said, “because of your association with Gypsy Anne. I know that you were an Allied spy in Nazi occupied Paris.”

“As was Miss Parr, here,” I said.

“Yes,” Finn said, dabbing his bruised and bleeding chin with my handkerchief. “Gypsy Anne was your primary intelligence contact in England. I’m aware that she communicated with you via the BBC, Morse code and smuggled satchel. But she wasn’t the heroic figure you imagine. And before you choose to pummel me again or throw me out the window, please hear me out. You may have known that the Gypsy was an occultist.”

“That’s old news,” Trudy said. “It’s why she was called Gypsy in the first place.”

“Just so,” Finn said. “Now, like the Nazi’s, the Allies were investigating the occult in search of an ultimate weapon. Gypsy Anne was very high up in the Allied secret Occult Weapons Program. She was an extremely gifted person, and was something of an ultimate weapon herself.”

“Meaning what,” I said.

“She could manipulate matter, conjure spirits, move solid objects through time and space. Her kind comes along only very rarely. With Gypsy Anne’s help, the Allied Occult Weapons Program was on the verge of some great discoveries. That was when Churchill found out about the program. He had a bizarre puritanical fit, and put an end to it. Gypsy Anne was demoted, but remained your England contact until the end of the war. Her record of achievements is still classified.”

“And,” Trudy said.

Finn said, “This will be difficult for you, Miss Parr, but Gypsy Anne was a thief. She was not the only person to line her pockets, taking advantage of the chaos of war. I admit to having done the same, on a much smaller scale.

“After Churchill put an end to Gypsy’s program, she became bitter. She had worked hard, and achieved much. In the end, however, she saw it all go to waste because her abilities frightened the powers that were. In a way, with all she knew and was capable of, I was surprised that they didn’t exterminate her.”

“Five hundred years ago, they’d have burned her at the stake,” I said.

“Not at all,” Finn said. “The only women burned as witches were those in the wrong place at the wrong time, the powerless, the mentally ill, those who held property that others wanted. Gypsy Anne would have been untouchable and all powerful.”

“Then how did she get strangled in her own home,” Trudy said.

“It must have been someone very powerful, both psychically and physically. And whoever it was was very motivated. The thing that the Gypsy stole is a very attractive item. You see, in 1941 Gypsy Anne  was made aware of a very large cache of captured Japanese gold bullion in a high security facility in London. She became obsessed with having it, and eventually she devised a way to have it transferred from there to here.”

“Here?” I said.

“Yes, and she was finally killed by someone who knew she had it.”

“Would she have revealed the location of the gold to the assassin,” Trudy said.  “Was she tortured? Egon didn’t mention anything.”

“No, Miss Parr. You must think like a magician, like an occultist. Many authorities on the topic believe that only in the spirit state can a person be compelled to tell the whole truth behind the events of his or her life. In Gypsy Anne’s case, among other things, where the gold is hidden. According to this logic, Gypsy Anne had to die and be summoned later. But a spirit can only be compelled to answer truthfully once, to the first inquisitor. After that the spirit is free, and need not answer anyone else.”

“This makes me want to spit,” Trudy said. “What’s your role in this, Finn?”

“Well, I’m only human. I too would like to get my hands on the bullion. I’ve pursued Gypsy Anne with this in mind since the end of the war.”

“What’s your connection to her,” I said. “You ever work with her?”

“Yes and no. We knew about each other. We admired each other’s work. You see, I was employed by the Nazis on their occult investigations.”

“You’re a fucking Nazi?” Trudy said. “Hold him down Crispin; I’ll get your straight razor.”

“Please don’t, Trudy,” I said. “The war’s over.”

“Miss Parr,” Finn said. “I was nothing more than a fortune teller in Berlin when Hitler came to power. I am almost everything the Nazis hated: a circus performer, a Catholic, I had leftist leanings, and I am a homosexual with a penchant for cross-dressing. In the end, all that kept me from going to a death camp was some minor psychic power. Calling me a Nazi would be like calling Stalin a capitalist.

“I simply came to see Mr Dench, an associate of Gypsy Anne, because I’d hoped he would have information that I would find valuable. You still may have such information, Mr Dench. However, by revealing myself in this way, it appears that I have acquired two unexpected partners in crime. Of course there is more than enough gold to go around.”

“How much,” I said.

“According to the price of gold reported in this morning’s newspaper, more than $27,000,000. It isn’t easy to move wartime bullion, so I have enquired about a fence and have been provided with the names of some supposedly trustworthy individuals. So, the actual amount we take home may be far less.”

“Except we don’t know where it is,” I said.

“Correct.”

“And there’s some spook out there,” Trudy said, “trying to bring the Gypsy back from the dead in order to discover its location.”

“Correct again.”

“So what now,” I said.

“This meeting has exhausted me,” Finn said, looking at Trudy. “And I have injuries to attend to. I have a suite at the Hotel Vancouver. I wish to return there, bathe and sleep.”

“Hotel Vancouver’s a pretty swell joint for a second rate fortune telling transvestite,” Trudy said.

“I was fortunate enough to walk away from the war with a full purse, as it were. My current wealth allows me time to seek out more. May I use your phone to call a cab?”

“Yeah sure,” I said. “It’s on the desk.”

“Wait a minute, Crispin.” Trudy said. “You sure you want to let this little worm go. Maybe Egon will want to talk to him.”

“Na, let him go,” I said. “My psychic powers tell me that he may be no good, but he ain’t no murderer.”

It was dark, and I closed the office after Finn left, and drove Trudy home. Afterwards, I stopped along Lagoon Drive to watch the lights. Some time later, I awoke to someone tapping on the window. It was Lieutenant Egon.

“I thought you might be here.” Egon said. “Your favourite view of the city.”

“What do you want, fat man? I was sleeping real nice.”

“You know a little fella by the name of Amyl Grimm?”

“Never heard of him,” I said.

“How about Klaus Finn?” Egon said referring to his note pad.

“Finn? Yeah, what’s the beef?”

“Your name was in his personal phone book. We’re still not sure who he really is. Grimm and Finn were just two of five passports he had with him. He was found by the hotel dick in his suite after some complaints about the noise. His throat was cut, and, well.…”

“Well what, Egon?”

“Whoever did him in, castrated him as well. This town gets stranger and stranger.” Egon paused for a moment, and then said, “You do it, Dench? You know I gotta ask.”

“Who else?” I said.

“Okay, okay. Go back to sleep. I’ll have to talk to you soon about why you were in his phonebook, but that can wait.”

Next morning, I showered at the office and ate breakfast at the Ovaltine. I let the morning fly by, reading a Chandler novel and drinking coffee. At 11.00 am, Trudy came in with a bouquet of flowers.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“Where?”

“The Gypsy’s vault, they’re putting the glass over the copper plate at noon, remember?”

“Oh right,” I said. ”You hear about Finn?”

“Yeah, tough luck.”

We drove up to Mountain View Cemetery, and arrived just as Grapelli was fastening the glass over the copper plate.

“There you are,” he said standing over the slab. “Pretty cute trick if you ask me.”

“What?” I said.

“This?” Trudy said kneeling down over the slab. “It’s an Ouija Board, etched into the glass. It stands out well against the copper plate.”

Someone behind us said, “Hello.” It was an Oriental man in a formal blue business suit standing behind us. We turned around and he said, “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Boris Nishimura, and this,” he said pointing to another Asian man, this one dressed in a black tuxedo, “is my associate Mr Koji. We know who you are,” Nishimura said bowing.  “Miss Parr and Mr Dench.

“When Mrs Kaufmann was alive, I was her lawyer. A few years ago she instructed me, in the event of her death, to meet Miss Trudy Parr here at this time and give her this package.”

“What is it,” Trudy said, taking the box.

“I have no idea,” Nishimura said. Trudy lifted the box’s lid and pulled out a gold pendant on a long gold chain. “Mrs Kaufmann said that you would understand, Miss Parr. That it was an important tool to be used with the etched glass that Mr Grapelli just installed.”

“A pendulum.” Trudy said. “The perfect tool to use with an Ouija Board.” Trudy began to say thank you to Nishimura and Mr Koji, but when she and the rest of us looked up, they were gone.

“This is getting to be too much like a cemetery,” I said.

“Well, that’s the Gypsy for you.” Trudy said. “Let’s get to it, then.”

She knelt over the etched glass Ouija board while holding the pendulum over its centre, and began with simple questions.

“I’d like to speak with Gypsy Anne Kaufmann, is she here?” The pendulum moved in a circle, and then pointed straight to the word Yes.

“Gypsy Anne, have you, indeed, passed onto the other side?” The pendulum went slack, and then pointed at Yes again.

“Will you use this Ouija board to communicate something to me?” Yes again.

“Why through an Ouija Board?” The pendulum slackened, and bounced erratically for a moment. Then it began to spell out an answer. T-O G-I-V-E Y-O-U A M-E-S-S-A-G-E

“What is the message?” Trudy asked. L-O-O-K F-O-R B-U-L-L-I-O-N U-N-D-E-R
D-E-N-C-H S-P-I-T-O-O-N.

“I don’t have a spittoon.” I said. “It’s 1949, for the love of God.”

Now the pendulum twisted and spun as though the Gypsy was having a fit. I-S
D-E-N-C-H D-E-N-S-E Trudy looked over at me, and smiled like I hadn’t seen her smile for days. Then, O-F-F-I-C-E S-T-O-R-A-G-E D-O-N-T S-P-E-N-D A-L-L I-N O-N-E P-L-A-C-E F-A-R-E-W-E-L-L And that was all there was. The gold chain from which the pendulum was suspended snapped, and it fell on the glass.

Trudy and I drove back to the office, and spent an hour looking for the key to our storage locker. For some reason, I had hung it in the washroom medicine cabinet. We took it and a couple of flashlights down into the basement, and after ten minutes of tripping around in the dark we found the locker for our office, #1510.

We shined our flashlights into the locker, and saw a corroded old spittoon sitting on top of several stacked crates of which I had no recollection. I opened the locker, and went in with Trudy close by. Turning on the light, I was able to see that the crates had no dust on them. They had arrived recently, but without my knowing. I took the spittoon off and placed it gently onto the ground. No matter what, that little artefact was coming back up to the office with me.

Stencilled on the side of the mysterious new crates was the red ensign of the Imperial Japanese Army. Portions of a bill of lading were glued onto the side of the box. The disjointed pieces of yellowing paper displayed many fragments of Japanese text, but “bullion” and “1941” were also written in English. I took a crowbar from the wall, and lifted to top of the first crate.

where cherubs sleep

This a rewrite of …in the night of cancer. I have rewritten it to include the characters Trudy Parr and Crispin Dench, for inclusion in the Terminal City Chronicles series. Some people found the original story too disturbing. If you are one of those, please read no further.

Vancouver 1949 

There’s a direction a city takes when kids go missing. The virtues of due process are quickly abandoned, and the closet vigilantes come out. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion and a plan. Supposition becomes fact. The police become worthless stooges, in league with the perversions of dark and faceless perpetrators. Rights and freedoms become the sole domain of the self-anointed, raging against the printed word that breaks the news.

Trudy Parr sits at her desk, drinking coffee and reading the Vancouver Province. She turns a page. Abduction of Children a Judgement on Citizenry. The opinion page is a fierce mirror image of a city. She wonders about the word abduction. Is there a ransom letter yet? What if the kids just meandered away? But they’ve been missing for three days, and by now every citizen has lynch mob potential.

Crispin Dench enters her office and sits across from her.

“Why do you read that rag every morning?” he says.

“It stirs the blood.”

“So does Geritol.”

“I got a call from Roscoe Phelps this morning,” Trudy Parr says.

“This morning?” Dench looks at his wristwatch. “It’s only 8:30 a.m.”

“He called round seven.”

“What about?”

“The missing children.”

“What about them?” Dench lights Gitane.

“He got a strange phone call last night. It could be a crank.”

“He should go to the cops,” Dench says.

“Phelps isn’t a go-to-the-cops kind of guy,” says Trudy Parr. “Besides, he’s a reporter. He wants the story for himself.”

“He should have chosen another profession.”

“Maybe.”

earlier —

Roscoe Phelps lays in bed. Just the skipping of the needle at the end of a 78. Hours of it, over and over in the dark now that the candles have died. A jazz number. Saxophone and rhythm guitar, new out of New York. Black men and cigarettes. Indecipherable banter when the music ends. Something for the squares to ponder. And the whiskey haze. His cigarette palate, burned beyond recognition. In and out of sleep and the tenor of dreams. Remembering and foreseeing. Monsters in human shapes with sickening proclivities. The chaos they leave behind for others to quietly interpret. A face he recognises, an innocent. Too young to walk the neighbourhood in his head.

The phone rings. It’s phosphorescent 3.00 a.m. He lifts the receiver and lays it on the pillow next to his ear.

“Hello,” he says.

“Listen to me,” says a voice.

“Hello?”

“Listen to me,” the voice says again. “It’s dark and cold, and I want to go home.”

“So go. Who the hell is this?”

“I’ve something to tell you.”

“What?”

“I like your writing,” the voice says.

“Swell. Look, how the hell did you….”

“Shut up and listen to me.”

“Fine.”

“That piece you did on Rosenberg,” says the voice. “And what the court did to him. It was righteous.”

“Righteous?”

“Righteous. So, I have something to pass on to you. Like a reward. For you, because I think you’re the only reporter in town who deserves it.”

“Great. It’s 3.00 a.m.”

“This is important. Listen to me. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever hear.”

“Okay.” Phelps coughs. “What?”

“Two bodies. Children. In the park. Not far from your apartment. If it gets warm, like the radio says, they’ll start to stink. But they’re well hid ‘til then. Can you read a simple map?”

“I suppose.” Phelps is interested now. “Simple?”

“Lines on paper.”

“That simple?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow, before you leave for work, ask your concierge to check your mail slot. There’ll be an envelope.”

“Then what?”

“Write. Write righteously.”

Click.

Roscoe Phelps hangs up and rolls onto his back. Dim blue light off the street, through the blinds. The shadow geography of the ceiling. The alarm clock ticking. Groping at the night stand, he finds a deck of Player’s and a book of matches. He smokes for two hours. From the apartment next door comes the sound of a woman weeping. A door closes softly. Foot steps down the hall. It gets quiet. He wakes up again five minutes before the alarm, and dials the phone. It rings and a woman answers.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hello, Trudy?”

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“Roscoe.”

Trudy Parr puts her hair brush down and says, “It’s too early for this, Roscoe. Call me tonight.”

“I can’t,” he says. “I need to talk.”

“What about?” says Trudy Parr, remembering. The last night they were together. A fight. His fist and her lethal instincts, barely constrained.

“I got a call from some creep who says he knows where the missing kids are.”

“So, call the cops.”

“I will, when the time’s right. But I need your help now.” He’s silent. And then he says, “Maybe I just need you to be there.”

“Why?”

“The caller may have divulged their location, and I need to be the first one there. If it’s for real, it could be a big break for me. I need exclusivity. I deserve it. But I’m not sure I can go there alone. I’m not sure I want to see what I find.”

“I’m not your mother, Roscoe.”

“No. But you’ve seen things no one else has. You’re tougher than me.”

Neither one of them speaks for a moment. Then Trudy Parr says, “When and where?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll call you at your office round nine o’clock.”

“Fine,” Trudy says. She hangs up.

* * * * *

8.00 a.m. and Jasper Norton, the building concierge, leans back in his chair. He’s eating Crackerjack and reading a copy of Real Detective. Roscoe Phelps taps on the glass. Norton holds up a chubby palm. His lips move as he reads to the end of the page. Then, leaning forward, he reverently places the magazine on his desk and looks at Phelps like he’s never seen him before.

“Yeah?” Norton says.

“Check my mail slot, Jasper.”

“Mail’s not ‘til eleven.” Norton sniffs.

“Check it.”

“Look buddy-boy.…”

“Japer, just look. Is it gonna kill you?”

“Jeezus H….”

Norton stands up, sticks his blunt fingers into a mail slot labelled #227, and pulls out an envelope.

“What the hell’s this?”

“An envelope,” Phelps says.

“But I gave you your mail yesterday. Say, this don’t have no stamp.”

“C’mon, give.”

Norton slides the envelope through a slot in the window. It has Roscoe Phelps typed across it.

“Don’t you keep this place locked up?” Phelps says.

“’Course.”

“How’d this get in there then?”

“Fuck if I know. But you run with some pretty sleazy characters, Roscoe, bein’ a writer and all. Maybe one of them snuck it in.”

“I ain’t no writer,” Phelps says tearing open the envelope.

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing,” Norton mumbles. And Roscoe Phelps guesses that in Norton’s world, informed by Real Detective, it is.

Jasper Norton grabs his magazine and sits back down.

Inside the envelope is a sheet of paper folded three times. A detective in one of Jasper’s stories would have pulled it out with tweezers. But Phelps has worked The Sun crime desk long enough to know the cops rarely get useable prints off of paper. He pulls the folded page out with his fingers.

It’s as simple as the man on the phone said it would be. A letter N with an arrow drawn through it is in the upper left hand corner. But even that’s not necessary. An unambiguous line is drawn from Lost Lagoon to a location just short of Beaver Lake. The line is labelled Lake Trail. It ends at an X. In a shaky hand, next to the X, someone has written the words Here cherubs sleep. Phelps folds it and stuffs it into his pocket.

Coffee and eggs next. At the lunch counter at Isaac’s Rexall on Denman Street. The scent of soap and over the counter remedies mixes with the aroma of bacon and eggs, coffee and Orange Crush. Phelps removes his hat and hangs it on a hook with his coat. He sits down on a stool. The map’s in his pocket. He’s walked four blocks to get there, wanting all the way to take it out again and study it. But there’s nothing left to study. It’s already burned onto the surface of his brain. Jenny the waitress walks over with a pot of coffee.

“Hey reporter man,” she says pouring. “What do you know?”

“I’m just an empty vessel,” Phelps says. “Until something happens worth knowing about.”

“That don’t make for great conversation.”

“I could fabricate something.”

“Sure,” Jenny says, taking an order pad from her hip pocket. “Same as every other fella that crawls in here. Waddaya have?”

“Same,” he says, pulling over a well read copy of the morning Province. The headline tells him World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis Retires.

“Gimme a Roscoe,” Jenny yells to the cook, and saunters off. She’s a skinny dame, and her uniform’s one size too big. But he watches her walk away, then returns to the paper.

He tries to read, but can’t. He pulls out the map and studies it again. Here cherubs sleep. Swell. Somebody’s fucking with him, and he’s falling for it. …they’re well hid. The bastard’s jerking off on his nickel. Knows he has to follow up. Knows he has to lift up the lid and look into whatever hole lay under that X, empty or otherwise. He wants to take off without breakfast. Leave Jenny and Isaac’s lunch counter behind, and walk fast back up Haro Street to the park and follow the trail toward the X. But he pulls out a smoke instead. Lights up and inhales deeply. Tastes the friendly and familiar lighter fluid and nicotine blend as it snakes its way inside.

Then it comes, the usual collection of unwelcome thoughts. The contagion that inoculates sleepless nights and broadsides the peace of innocent, unthoughtful moments. The regret of knowing that stories almost never go to print without the raspy, anonymous voice at the other end of a telephone line; never go to press without some mook like him fully investigating the filthy, illiterate pencil scratch printed laboriously across greasy crumpled paper. Leads are never pure. They materialise out of the stunted momentum of benighted minds marking their territory with the piss of myth, innuendo and paranoid conspiracy. And he’s a slave to it, an accomplice. He didn’t write news. He wrote horror fiction for the bored masses, looking for an excuse to set the world ablaze.

World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis Retires. Even that can’t compete with Here cherubs sleep. He already know the headline.

Jenny puts down a steaming plate of eggs sunny side, sausages and hash browns. She refills his coffee. Then, since the few customers she’s serving are content, she says, “You gotta smoke, Roscoe?”

He offers her his deck of Player’s, then a light. Then he tries to eat.

“We’re using fresh grease today,” she says.

“Swell.”

“Cook washed his hands, too. There’s a story for you.”

“Great.”

“You know, for someone who writes the news, you sure don’t have much to say.”

He’s quiet as he cuts up his food and smothers it in HP Sauce.

“Look,” she says turning the newspaper round so she can pretend to read it. “The longshoremen are raising hell again. Waddaya know?”

“Labour conflict sells papers,” he says.

“You should know, huh.”

“Yeah.” He pushes the plate away.

“You ain’t done.”

“I’m done.”

“Well, then that’ll be fifty-five cents, big spender.”

He puts a dollar on the counter.

“I’ll get your change.”

She always says that, and he’s always out the door before she gets back. This time, though, he lingers and takes two nickels from the change.

“Sorry, doll,” he says. “But I gotta call in.”

“I’ll survive,” Jenny says.

He goes over to the phone booth near the exit, sits down inside and drops a nickel in the slot. Then he dials.

“Worthy Morgan speaking,” the pick up voice says.

“Hell, Worthy,” says Phelps, “even over the phone, you sound bald.”

“Why ain’t you at your desk, Roscoe? You got a deadline.”

“Got a lead.”

“Spill.”

“Can’t right now. May be bullshit.”

“Probably is. I still wanna hear it.”

“Having a wonderful time,” Phelps says. “Wish you were here.”

“Better be damn good, Roscoe.”

Phelps hangs up and drops another nickel into the phone. He dials Trudy Parr’s number.

“Dench and Parr Investigations,” says a receptionist.

“Trudy Parr,” he says.

There’s a second of silence. Then, “Trudy Parr speaking.”

“It’s me,” Phelps says.

“And…?”

“Meet me at the lagoon at 9:30, by the boathouse.”

There’s a click. Trudy Parr has hung up. He holds the receiver in his lap for a moment, thinking of choices poorly made. Then he hangs up and leaves the Rexall.

He takes the back alley that runs between Haro and Robson. The fresh streets of Vancouver don’t seem right for this mission. A ragman rolls past him on a horse drawn cart, calling out for junk and scraps. Fords and Chryslers are parked here. A rusted prewar Mercedes heap with the windows busted out. A bunch of boys playing hooky run by, chasing a fat kid.

As he walks down the hill toward the lagoon, something starts to jump in his gut. He’s seen enough bodies stuffed into trash cans to last a dozen lifetimes. Even a few kids. Maybe he’s getting too old for this. Maybe he needs an editor’s gig. Some sweet desk job where he can get fat and die peacefully of cirrhosis. But he’s not a washout yet. They still haven’t used him up. Sooner or later, they will. But for now, he’ll get them their stories.

The sun glistens off the surface of the lagoon. Swans and geese swim there. In an hour or so, people will be rowing rented dinghies. It’s strange to be here on a hunt for bodies. Soon couples will walk hand in hand.

As he waits for Trudy Parr, he thinks about their last time together. The gin, cocaine and bootleg New York cellar jazz. The violent sex. He’d tried, but couldn’t respect her for choosing him. She was exquisite crystal, after all. Hard and stunning like a diamond. He was soft. An exhausted alcoholic crime reporter. What could she have seen in him? It was her joke on him, and he’d struck out and hit her in a rage of self-hate. But she’d moved so fast, too quickly to be believed. And she’d held the knife, from behind, so immovably to his throat. He’d heard her breathing calmly at his ear, and was certain then that he would die. At the hand of that deadly elegant animal. But he had not. He knew she could do it. But instead she’d whispered, You ain’t worth it, Roscoe. And she released him out of pity. He’d listened to her footsteps through his open window as she walked away. Knowing then that he was finally and completely lost to the world.

When Trudy arrives, he’s awkward, sheepish. He hands her the map. She looks at it briefly and hands it back.

“Things didn’t end so well, last we met,” he says.

“Don’t pout,” Trudy Parr says. “You lived through it.”

They take a trail that heads away from the water and into the forest. The woods are dense here, strange so close to the city. The path is muddy from a recent rain. At a fork, they go left, down toward BeaverLake. Phelps starts to wonder how they can find anything in the mess of trees and deadfall. They pass a happy group of hikers, laughing and talking and slapping each other on the back.

From the ruckus, Phelps hears a voice say, “You’re getting warm, buddy-boy.”

“What,” he says, turning around.

But the hikers keep going, and he’s not sure what he heard. He hesitates. Trudy stands her ground. Maybe now he wants to forget this hunt for child corpses and head back into the city. There are stories to finish, calls to return. He needs a drink. He turns round and looks down the trail again. You’re getting warm, buddy-boyCherubs sleep here. Somewhere under an X.

“Maybe we should just go back,” Roscoe Phelps says. “This looks like a bum lead.” Some degenerate with his phone number and a sick imagination. Tonight he sleeps with the phone off the hook.

“No,” says Trudy Parr. “There’s more to see here.”

They walk a further distance along the trail, and Trudy Parr says, “Look.”

She points off the trail at two five or six foot saplings, just cut down, still with budding foliage, leaning against a stump, one crossed over the other in an X. Almost impossible to see.

The stump is in low swampy ground, surrounded by a pool of pitch and rain water. Phelps walks in up to his ankles. His Florsheims disappear in the muck. The stump seems solid and intact as he moves around it. No place to stuff small bodies. It’s just a hoax, after all. But then he comes to it.

“Oh, my God,” he says.

“Tell me what you see,” says Trudy Parr.

It’s the side facing away from the trail.

“There’s a small boy’s shoe in the mud,” Phelps says. “And a small foot sticking out of a crevice, wearing a blue and red argyle sock.”

It looks as though the tree that once towered over the stump grew around the bodies inside. He kicks the stump, and the rotted wood fractures and falls. Now he begins to pull away at it.

It becomes clearer as he works up to the top. The stump is hollow. Whatever is in here was delivered through a hole at the top, a couple of feet over his head. Phelps sees trousers, ankles and knees. He exposes a pair of Mary Janes, and a pair of bare legs. Next to them, a pair wearing trousers.

Splinters pierce the skin of his hands and get under his fingernails. Now there are two torsos, one clad in a winter coat, the other in a bright hand knit sweater. It’s time to stop, to run and find a cop. He’s done his job. Time to stand down, observe and report.

“Let’s scram,” he says. “We’ll get the cops.”

“We’ll get them soon enough,” says Trudy Parr. “You wanted your story, so here it is. If you stop now, you’ll only have a part of it to tell.”

He curses her logic and continues up the tree stump, pulling the wood away. And suddenly, he reveals two small white faces, the cheeks smudged, tussled hair. The eyes of one half open. The other with eyes open fully in cold, wet shock. He steps away and falls backward into the mud, and sits there staring up. There’s birdsong he’s never heard before in the city. Something rushes by behind him in the undergrowth. Cherubs sleeping. One with horror on her face. The other ambivalent in death. He thought he already knew the headline, but now he draws a blank.

 * * * * *

“It’s them,” says a uniform cop looking at the scene.

“You fucked this up,” says the other cop. It’s the one wearing the five dollar suit, trying to look like a civilian. “Maybe we lay charges. I hate reporters and private dicks that fuck shit up.”

“So lay charges,” Trudy Parr says. “Do me a favour and throw me in jail. I need a vacation. Except that won’t happen, will it? We found what you couldn’t. So, shut the hell up and do your job.”

The cheap suit spits, further tainting the ground of his precious crime scene.

An hour later, Trudy Parr waits outside of Stanley Park Manor while Phelps changes out of his muddy clothes. Then they go to a bar on Denman Street, where they drink rye and Coke. Phelps thinks about writing something righteous about dead children.

“You could have passed the information on to the cops,” Trudy says. “You could have spared yourself a lot of bad dreams that way. You think it’s worth it?”

“It’s a shitty job,” Phelps says, lighting up. “I have to do shitty things.”

“Does that have to include looking into the eyes of a dead kid?”

“The eyes always tell the story,” he says. “That ain’t my fault.”

Later, it’s Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. A melancholy 78 played again and again. He wonders at the empty bottle on the nightstand. Did he do that? 1.00 a.m. He should have eaten dinner. A bottle of Seagram’s ain’t enough, is always too much.  Down the street, Stanley Park is mute, but knows something it ain’t telling. Maybe he’ll sleep tonight. Maybe he’ll fall into it like a man falls on his ass.

Yellow light from the lamp. The phone rings. He should have taken it off the hook.

“What.”

“You’re gonna be famous, buddy-boy.”

“You the killer?”

“Maybe. And maybe I got details to help you flesh out the story.”

“Lose my number. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Gotta admit, it’s the sort of story that makes a reporter.”

“I’m already made.”

“Oh sure, on 210 bucks a month. You’re made in the shade, buddy-boy. Maybe I can help you write a book.”

“I ain’t no writer.”

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing.”

“What you just say?”

have a day

Image

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – Valentines Day 2014

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Your romantic life is like a drive-by shooting. Lots of people show up to gawk at the aftermath. And everyone has an opinion about who done it. But no one wants to help clean up the mess. Patience is a virtue, but so are temperance, prudence, courage and justice. And since when did you give a damn about those little items? Compromise builds intimacy. But so does a Saturday night of cheap pizza, viewing a few well chosen South American porno flicks together. Uranus will be sensitive.

The Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) Valentines Day romance will have an international flair for you this year. Keep on the look out for a guy named Raul, without a visitor’s visa and several transmittable diseases. He’ll look longingly into your eyes, and ask to move his Mars into your Venus – figuratively speaking, of course. I’m not trying to be vulgar here. I’m just saying that it’s probably better to be healthy and lonely than have some lowlife foreign national accompany you to the clinic. Just sayin’.

Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) For air signs, a love cycle is like a rinse cycle. You always plan to catch it with your little bottle of fabric softener, but you miss it every time, because you’re upstairs watching Portuguese soap operas. Then you stand there, in front of the washing machine, listening to it spin for the last time, wondering how the evil Bia Falcão, played by Fernanda Montenegro in Belíssima, escapes the authorities and flees to France, where she resettles with a fetching young boyfriend, half her age, living on a secret bank account in Switzerland, that is regularly topped up by tall white aliens in corduroy Louis Vuitton jumpsuits. BTW, I hear texting Jupiter is now free. You may be loveless, but you’re brave. Send them a ROTFLMAO.

Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) Your relationship with yourself is of the utmost importance, so buy yourself some chocolates and some lube – Yikes! Did I just write that? Well, the planets don’t lie, baby. Show caution as all of the moons of Saturn retrograde and bump into each other. Your passions are desperately envisaged, affections abandoned and your marriage is like a bowl of cold truck-stop chili without the crackers. Ecstasy, doubt, adoration and stirrings will be laid bare before the inescapable pain of unreserved rejection. So buy a dog.

the case file

Vancouver 1949

Her name was Rachel Wild, and she had never married. Instead, she’d spent her years at a kitchen table, smoking and looking out of a window. She’d not been doomed to this. She felt no self-pity. It was just what happened. Like an unexpected incident that makes a woman say, Oh!, the moment she discovers her involvement in it. A lifetime passing. Focussed on a past personal moment. The way she might have worshipped an idol or a scrap of text. The sacredness of which was dependent upon context known to her alone.

Perhaps it had come down to a battle of anxieties, hers and those of another. The failed unsaying of a word. When the unsaying of a word might have meant so much. She’d become content in never knowing the truth of it.

But the world is news and dispatch. Story upon story expelled through the reflective conduit of time. In shapes of sparrows and sorrows. And news had finally come to her. But the news had only been a fragment of a larger story. A fragment chipped away from the end of something much larger.

Knowing this, she’d made a cup of tea.

* * *

Detective Olaf Brandt wasn’t a bad police officer. But popular opinion was that he just wasn’t sergeant material. He wasn’t afraid to use his wide Norwegian feet to chase down leads. But it was thought by those higher on the cop food chain that he had to be fed those leads. He wasn’t the sort to independently deduce his way through an investigation. He could, however, be relied upon in a street fight, to inform families of criminally dead loved ones and to go on coffee and doughnut excursions as required. It was generally accepted that he’d retire in a few years, and parish shortly after of an unremarkable illness related to the lonely excesses of a mostly friendless life.

For the time being, though, he was vital and healthy of mind and spirit. And as he sat leaning forward in the waiting area of Dench and Parr Investigations, he stared determinedly ahead at an empty point in space.

“Olaf, old boy,” Crispin Dench said, calling Brandt in. “Come into my office and tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Hello, Mr Dench,” Olaf Brandt said, getting up and giving a half-hearted wave. He stepped into Crispin Dench’s office and took a seat. Dench seated himself behind his desk.

“Coffee?” Dench said.

“No,” said Brandt.

“A Coke?”

“No.”

“Water?”

“No.”

“A shot of rye?”

“No, Mr Dench, nothing. Look, I’ve been sent here to ask you to surrender a case file.”

“Drop the mister, Olaf. Call me Crispin.”

“All right, Crispin. I’m here to ask you for a case file.”

“A case file.”

“Yes. One we, the police I mean, believe contains important information on a case that went cold some time ago, but that has now warmed a bit.”

“Case files are private property containing confidential information, Olaf.”

“Yes, Crispin. This is understood and I had hoped that we’d be able to skip this predictable part of the conversation. But if you don’t surrender the file to the police in the amicable, mutually beneficial way I’m suggesting, we’ll just get a court order.”

“Mutually beneficial?”

“Yes. One hand washing the other. That sort of thing.”

“This is a business, Olaf. Our clients have certain reasonable expectations. They pay for privacy and confidentiality. Those are products this agency sells.”

Brandt shifted in his chair and crossed his legs. There was a moment of silence.

“You still with me?” Dench said.

“It’s that Edgar Tully thing,” Brandt said. “The body, or what was left of it, in the car they pulled out of Lost Lagoon last week. It was in the papers.”

“Yes it was.”

Brandt took a notepad from his inside jacket pocket and flipped through it. It was a well practised move, meant to add gravity to the moment. But it was wasted on Dench. Brand stopped at a page and said, “You conducted a missing person investigation in 1947, for a Rachel Wild.”

“Did I?”

“Edgar Tully was the subject of that investigation.”

“Was he?”

“That’s the case file we’d like to see.”

“Are you and I involved in the same conversation, Brandt? Dench and Parr Investigations doesn’t hand out case files. Not to the cops or anyone.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Tell me something, Olaf. Why’d they send a B team player like you here for this? What was the last case you really worked on? They know I’d never give you a damn thing.”

“I worked on the Edgar Tully case back in ’42,” Brandt said. “So, it’s personal in a way. It was just a missing person case to most. But when you scratched the surface….”

“What? What was revealed beneath the scratched surface?”

Olaf Brandt stood to go. “I’ll return with the court order in a day or two, Crispin. See you then.”

“You know, I’ve heard your fellow officers talk about you,” Dench said. “They never have anything good to say. But you’re not as dumb as they make you out to be, are you? Why’re you still just a detective?”

“Good-bye, Crispin.” Olaf Brandt left the office.

Vancouver 1942

Sleep was somewhere in his room, hiding like an outlaw. Edgar Tully knew it would expose itself eventually, and crush him. He lay on his bed, drinking cheap rye from the bottle. Could he drink enough not to dream? Most nights he could not. It was August and the night was humid and warm. He closed his eyes and was lost.

He walked a little behind the Canadian lines. Vimy Ridge. A Master Corporal in the Canadian First Division. The 12th of April, 1917. His rifle was clean but his body was filthy. Seven days out. Most of it spent marching. Then three days of concentrated battle. No promise of leave. Who knew how much more action there’d be. His section was on a routine patrol. They were also looking for the wounded and the dead left behind by the advance. He hated doing it. They never found the wounded. There were none. Only the bodies of the dead. With their blank faces. He recognised every one.

They’re with the angels now, a chaplain once said in a sermon he was duty-bound to attend. Fuck that, the Master Corporal had said when they all bowed their heads to pray. A sergeant next to him heard this and said amen, brother.

There were shell holes and blasted trenches here. Each shell hole filled with rain water. The dead were often in these. Some floating; some held submerged by the weight of their kit. He stopped at the edge of a shell hole where he saw a body, face down in the water. Tully’s section wasn’t a burial detail. They’d only have to get the name on the dog tag and record the body’s location for later retrieval.

“Private Crumb,” the Master Corporal yelled. “Bring me the hook.”

A frightened boy arrived holding a pole upon which a hook had been securely tied with wire. The Master Corporal used it to reach out into the shell hole and hook the collar of the corpse’s greatcoat. He tugged and the body began to move toward him of its own volition, a great fish intent upon beaching itself. The Master Corporal felt a deep and familiar apprehension then. The kind reserved for nightmares. The sound of shelling in the distance ceased, replaced by a loud hissing sound. He was alone now. His section had disappeared into a mist. He hesitated as the dead man came within reach. He wanted to drop the hook and run. Like he’d never run before. Even under fire. But then he crouched down, grabbed the dead man’s collar and pulled him out of the hole.

He saw the corpse’s grey face when he turned the body over. Contorted with its eyes and mouth opened wide, having died in mid-scream. There was a perfectly round and bloodless bullet hole perfectly placed in the centre of its forehead. And the foul odour of decomposition. He thought he saw the fingers twitch. But how could that be? Then the corpse resumed its scream. Impossible. A horrible and wretched noise. And the Master Corporal saw the echoing geography of it. It was a scream of headlands and gullies. The roads that ran through it. The gutted homes and foetid rivers. Ranks of the dead marching on to nowhere in lockstep. Then the corpse stopped its screaming and smiled. Its eyes at once dull and piercing. Its sudden exhalation smelling of the battlefield dead. And Edgar Tully awoke yelling. His fists clenched and raised. Swinging at the empty air.

Someone in the neighbouring room banged on the wall. “Shaddup in there,” a voice hollered. “I gotta get some sleep, gawd dammit.”

Edgar Tully sat by his window for the rest of the night. Sleep had left the room. Vimy Ridge was 25 years ago. He was forty-five now. The dreams and visions were never going to end. He took a pen and paper and wrote a short note.

In the morning he drove his Ford Coupe up the busy retail section of Commercial Drive, in the east end of the city. He expected it would be a standard handoff and delivery. He parked near Graveley Street and waited, reading a Faulkner novel, As I Lay Dying. And he wondered how descending into Hades would differ from a morning of the Drive.

It looked like rain, but he left the passenger side window open. After ten minutes or so, a large man with a pencil moustache, wearing a freshly pressed summer suit,  walked by and dropped a fat leather satchel onto the car seat. Then he stuck his head through the open window. His face was doughy red and scarred, but his hair was Hollywood perfect.

“Take this to the Water Street office,” he said. “And by the way, this ain’t your average delivery, Tully. Better you should die than fuck this up.”

“I don’t fuck up,” Edgar Tully said. “That’s why you trust me.”

The big man dropped twenty dollars in tens onto the seat, and said, “Just sos you know. Experience tells me that the fatter the bag, the more likely a driver is to fuck it up. And you’ve been smelling like a real juicer lately. A man’s gotta be drinking most of the day and night to smell the way you do. Take a bath, brush your teeth and don’t dream of bettering yourself on my nickel. Get it?”

Edgar Tully looked back at the big man with his red and rheumy eyes. “Sure, Mr Vaccarino. I get it.”

“Swell.”

Tully reached out and placed his hand on the satchel as the big man disappeared into the crowd. He was feeling lucky for once. Hopeful. He’d done his planning. But he hadn’t planned on this.

He opened the bag. It contained several large bundles of bills. Twenties, fifties and hundreds. That’s how Tony Vaccarino’s customers paid him. Because they owed him big time. He counted it. It was over twenty thousand. The Water Street office would prepare it for laundering. He’d delivered envelopes there a thousand times before, but never a package this large. The big man’s business was improving. Tully started the car.

* * *

The Hotel Balmoral rose ten stories high over East Hastings Street and advertised Black Watch Chewing Tobacco on its side. It had never been a glamorous local and now it catered mostly to retired loggers and fishermen, transients and a few unemployed women thought to be of ambiguous character. Rachel Wild fit into the last category. Though it was a mystery to her how it happened that she had arrived there.

She lived in a room on the seventh floor, sitting at her window smoking, most days, and watching the traffic pass below. It was from there, that day, that she saw Edgar Tully park his car and cross the busy street with a bag of groceries in his arms.

She got up and fixed her hair in a small mirror over the sink, busying herself tightening curls and repositioning bobby pins. Then she freshened her lipstick and stared for a long moment into the mirror. She was thirty-seven years old, and she wasn’t pleased with the wrinkles round her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. Her youth was gone and she resented it. She had a hazy resentment of her poverty, as well. Something inside of her always hurt. And though she would have had difficulty saying it politely, part of her was certain that only money could take the pain away.

There was a knock at the door. Rachel Wild let several seconds pass until there was another, this one quieter.

“Yes?” she said. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, baby. It’s Edgar.”

She put her ear gently against the door to listen closer. Sometimes she could hear him breathing. “Why, Edgar,” she said. “I had no idea you were coming.”

“Sure, baby. Why not? Let me in. I’ve brought you some things.”

“Some things?”

“Sure, baby. Groceries.”

“Groceries? Edgar, dear, you don’t need to bring me groceries.”

It was an absurd statement. She lived daily on the verge of starvation.

“Just let me in, baby.”

She opened the door and let him. The room was long and narrow with dirty walls, dim light bulbs and exposed wiring. There was a dresser with chipped paint and a free-standing closet with a broken door. Beneath the window there was a small kitchen table and two metal chairs. On the table was an ashtray and a dog-eared copy of Women’s Own Magazine. He handed her the grocery bag and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’ll get you a drink,” she said, putting the groceries down.

“Ah, no,” he said, licking his lips.

“No?” she said. “Really? You okay?”

“Yeah, baby. Everything’s jake.” He looked at his feet for a moment and said, “Let’s sit down and talk.”

“Sure, Edgar. What’s goin’ on?”

He sat across from her at the table and took her hand.

“We’ve been swell together,” he said, “haven’t we, doll.”

“Sure, Edgar. It’s been okay.”

“We’ve had some real laughs, eh?”

“I guess. A few, I mean.”

“But I know I ain’t so good to be around,” Edgar said. “I get so low sometimes….”

“What’s happening, Edgar? I hate it when you get all serious like this.”

“It’s the dreams,” he said. “Baby, they’ve gotten real bad lately.”

“Oh,” she said, looking away, out of the window. “The dreams again.”

“Yeah. Look, I know you don’t get it about the dreams, and neither do I. But they make me crazy. My head’s a haunted cave. I see all of the shit from the war again and again. Only it’s weirder. It’s so spooky. I wake up screaming.”

“Well that war’s over, mister. Haven’t you heard?” She lit a cigarette and threw the match out of the window. “There’s a new war on now. Can’t we just go out and have some fun? It’d take your mind off of those lousy dreams, wouldn’t it? All you do is lie in that room of yours and drink yourself stupid. There’re a lot of Navy boys in town that wouldn’t mind havin’ me on their arm, you know.”

“I know it, baby. And I know it ain’t never gonna change for me. It’s just the way it is. So, listen to me. I want you to wait an hour after I leave, then read this letter.” He slid an envelope across the table to her.

“Sure, Edgar,” Rachel Wild said, taking the envelope. “But you’re kinda scarin’ me. You look all crazy in the eyes.”

“Never mind what I look like, see? Just do what I tell you, understand?”

He stood then and took her by the arm, lifting her out of her chair. He held for a moment, long enough to search for something in her eyes. Maybe he found it there; maybe not. Then he kissed her too hard on the lips, joylessly and without passion. But with rage and shame. His fingers dug into her shoulders and she would have screamed if she could. Then he let her go, threw her away almost. And he disappeared out the door.

Vancouver 1949

Detective Olaf Brandt laid a court order on Dench’s desk and said, “We Norwegians are more than the jowly, bellicose race that the world sometimes takes us for, Crispin.”

“I never said otherwise,” Crispin Dench said.

“The case file please,” Olaf Brandt said. “And perhaps you wouldn’t mind sitting with me while I read it through. You can help me understand those bits I find ambiguous.”

Crispin Dench retrieved the file in question after reading the court order and deciding it was legit. It wasn’t a thick file. Dench hadn’t had to do much after he promised Rachel Wild complete confidentiality, and that he wouldn’t go to the police with what he found. He returned to his office with it, and Brandt read the file in ten minutes.

“It wasn’t a simple caper,” Dench said. “More of an inspired heart-breaker, really. But I’m not the crying type.

“The envelope he’d given Rachel Wild contained a suicide note. For Edgar Tully, the dreams and memories of World War One had become too much.

“Rachel had waited an hour, as requested, before opening it and reading the note. That’s something she says she’ll always regret. By then she didn’t know what to do. She hates the cops and never went to them. She went to the street instead, and looked for him there. Asked the people she knew and didn’t know. She made such a show of it, that later on it didn’t take much to convince Tony Vaccarino that she really didn’t know where Tully was.

“Why was that important? Because Edgar Tully was an errand boy for Tony Vaccarino, a soon to be made man. It was Vaccarino’s money that Tully had placed in the bottom of the grocery bag he’d dropped off at Rachel’s that day. All twenty grand of it. He meant it as a rainy day fund for a girl who’d spent her whole life standing in the rain.

“After that, I figure he punched his own ticket. Drove his Ford into the lagoon as it turns out. But not before he bought a reserved room on a train to Montreal and paid someone else to board instead of him. That someone must have gotten off before the train even hit the prairies, because the train manifest showed a man using Tully’s ticket boarding, but that person never got off in Montreal. And Vaccarino had his people at most of the stops between here and there.

“It looked like Tully had skipped town with the cash and vanished into thin air. And that let everyone he knew off the hook. Vaccarino leaned on them, but how hard could he lean when it appeared obvious that Tully had gotten away with all of the cash.

“So, now they’ve found him in the lagoon. I guess that’s how Tully ended it all. Probably drove his car in that night. We know Vaccarino didn’t put him there, because Vaccarino couldn’t find him. And if he had, he would have made Tully’s execution a community event, to warn others with similar ideas.”

“This file,” Brandt said. “It says none of what you just told me.”

“Sometimes I forget to write things down.”

“That could be considered withholding evidence.”

“So call a cop.”

The two men stared at each other across the desk for a few seconds. Then Brandt closed the file and said, “Repeating what you just told me would be bad for Rachel Wild.”

“Yes it would,” Dench said. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

“She still lives at the Hotel Balmoral,” said Brandt. “It’s a dump. Why do you think she didn’t buy a nice little house?”

“Maybe she likes it there,” Dench said. “Or maybe she’s smart. It wouldn’t take long for Vaccarino to figure things out if she made a move like that. Maybe she decided to just paint the place and buy some new furniture. Maybe even a new pair of shoes. Maybe now she can buy fresh flowers everyday, brighten the place up.”

Brandt slid the file back to Dench, across the desktop. “Maybe this should remain a mystery,” he said.

“That would be the preferred outcome,” said Dench.

…in the night of cancer

I’m reposting this story from August 2013 to give readers a chance at it before I convert it into a Trudy Parr/Crispin Dench story. The pressure’s now on to create more Terminal City Chronicles inventory.

Vancouver 1953

Just the skipping of the needle at the end of a 78. Hours of it over and over in the dark, now that the candles had died. A jazz number. Saxophone and rhythm guitar, new out of New York. Black men and cigarettes. Indecipherable banter when the music ends. Something for the squares to ponder. And the whiskey haze. My cigarette palate, burned beyond recognition. In and out of sleep and the tenor of dreams. Remembering and foreseeing. Monsters in human shapes with sickening proclivities. The chaos they leave behind for others to quietly interpret. A face I recognise, an innocent. Too young to walk the city in my head.

The phone rings. It’s phosphorescent 3.00 a.m. I lift the receiver and lay it on the pillow next to my ear.

“Hello,” I say.

“Listen to me,” a voice says.

“Hello?”

“Listen to me.” The voice. “It’s dark and cold, and I want to go home.”

“So go,” I say. “Who the hell is this?”

“I’ve something to tell you.”

“What?”

“I like your writing,” the voice says.

“Swell. Look, how the hell did you….”

“Shut up and listen to me.”

“Fine.”

“That piece you did on Rosenberg,” the voice says. “And what the court did to him. It was righteous.”

“Righteous.”

“Righteous. So, I have something to pass on to you. Like a reward. For you, because I think you’re the only reporter in town who deserves it.”

“Great. It’s 3.00 a.m.”

“This is important. Listen to me. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever hear.”

“Okay.” I cough. “What?”

“Two bodies. Children. In the park. Not far from your apartment. If it gets warm, like the radio says, they’ll start to stink. But they’re well hid ‘til then. Can you read a simple map?”

“I suppose.” I’m interested now. “Simple?”

“Lines on paper.”

“That simple?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow, before you leave for work, ask your concierge to check your mail slot. There’ll be an envelope.”

“Then what?”

“Write. Write righteously.”

Click.

I don’t hang up, but roll onto my back. Dim blue light off the street, through the blinds. The shadowed geography of the ceiling. The alarm clock ticking. Groping at the night stand, I find a deck of Player’s and a book of matches. I smoke for two hours. From the apartment next to mine comes the sound of a woman weeping. A door closes softly. Foot steps down the hall. It gets quiet. I wake up again five minutes before the alarm.

8.00 a.m. and Jasper Norton, the building concierge, leans back in his chair. He’s eating Crackerjack and reading a copy of Real Detective. I tap on the glass. He holds up a chubby palm. His lips move as he reads to the end of the page. Then, leaning forward, he places the magazine on his desk and looks me over like he’s never seen me before.

“Yeah?” he says.

“Check my mail slot, Jasper.”

“Mail’s not ‘til eleven.” He sniffs.

“Check it.”

“Look Roscoe…”

“Japer, just look. Is it gonna kill you?”

“Jeezus H….”

Jasper stands up and sticks his blunt fingers into a mail slot labelled #227 and pulls out an envelope.

“What the hell’s this?”

“An envelope,” I say.

“I gave you your mail yesterday. Say, this don’t have no stamp.”

“C’mon, give.”

Jasper hands the envelope to me through a slot in the window. It has Roscoe Phelps typed across it.

“Don’t you keep this place locked up?” I say.

“’Course.”

“How’d this get in there then?”

“Fuck if I know. But you run with some pretty sleazy characters, Roscoe, bein’ a writer and all. Maybe one of them snuck it in.”

“Ain’t no writer,” I say tearing open the envelope.

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing,” Jasper mumbles. And I guess in his world, informed by Real Detective, it is. He grabs his magazine and sits back down.

Inside the envelope is a sheet of paper folded three times. A detective in one of Jasper’s stories would pull it out with tweezers. But I’ve worked The Sun crime desk long enough to know the cops rarely get useable prints off paper. I pull the folded sheet of paper out with my fingers. It’s as simple as the man on the phone said it would be. A letter N with an arrow drawn through it is in the upper left hand corner. But even that’s not necessary. An unambiguous line is drawn from Lost Lagoon to a location just short of Beaver Lake. The line is labelled Lake Trail. It ends at an X. In a shaky hand, next to the X, someone has written the words Here cherubs sleep. I fold it and stuff it into my pocket.

Coffee and eggs next. At the lunch counter at Isaac’s Rexall on Denman Street. The scent of soap and remedies mixes with the aroma of bacon, eggs, coffee and Orange Crush. I take off my hat and hang it on a hook with my coat, and sit down on a stool. The map’s in my pocket. I’ve walked four blocks to get here, wanting all the way to take it out again and study it. But there’s nothing to study. It’s already burned onto the surface of my brain. Jenny the waitress walks over with a pot of coffee.

“Hey reporter man,” she says pouring. “What do you know?”

“I’m just an empty vessel,” I say. “Until something happens worth knowing about. It’s Tuesday, that’s all I know.”

“That don’t make for great conversation.”

“I could make something up.”

“Sure,” Jenny says, taking an order pad from her hip pocket. “Same as every other fella that crawls in here. Waddaya have?”

“Same,” I say, pulling over a well read copy of The Province. The headline tells me Elisabeth ll will be crowned Queen of Canada in June.

“Gimme a Roscoe,” Jenny yells to the cook, and saunters off. She’s a skinny dame, and her uniform’s one size too big. But I look as she walks away, then return to the paper.

I try to read, but can’t. I pull out the map and study it again. Here cherubs sleep. Swell. Somebody’s fucking with me, and I’m falling for it. …they’re well hid. The bastard’s jerking off on my nickel. Knows I have to follow up. Knows I have to lift up the lid and look into whatever hole lay under that X, empty or otherwise. I want take off without breakfast. Leave Jenny and Isaac’s lunch counter behind, and walk fast back up Haro Street to the park and follow the trail toward the X. But I pull out a smoke instead. Light up and inhale deeply. Taste the friendly lighter fluid and nicotine as it snakes its way inside.

Then it comes, the usual collection of unwelcome thoughts. The contagion that inoculates sleepless nights and broadsides the peace of innocent, unthoughtful moments. The regret of knowing that stories almost never go to print without the raspy, anonymous voice at the other end of a telephone line; never go to press without some mook like me fully investigating the filthy, illiterate pencil scratch printed laboriously across greasy paper retrieved from some trashcan. Leads are never pure. They materialise from the stunted momentum of benighted minds marking their territory with the piss of myth, innuendo and paranoid conspiracy. And I’m slave to it, an accomplice. I don’t write news, I write horror fiction for the bored masses. Elizabeth ll will be Queen of Canada. Even that can’t compete with Here cherubs sleep. I already know the headline.

Jenny puts a steaming plate of eggs sunny side, sausages and hash browns down in front me. She refills my coffee. Then, since the few customers she’s serving are content, she says, “You gotta smoke, Roscoe?”

I offer her my deck of Player’s, then a light. Then I try to eat.

“Fresh grease today,” she says.

“Swell.”

“Cook washed his hands, too. There’s a story for you.”

“Great.”

“You know, for someone who writes, you sure don’t have much to say.”

I’m quiet as I cut up my sausages and smother them in HP Sauce.

“Look,” she says turning the newspaper round so she can pretend to read it. “They’re still writing about Stalin dyin’. Waddaya know?”

“Dead despots sell papers,” I say.

“You should know, huh.”

“Yeah,” I say pushing the plate away.

“You ain’t done.”

“I’m done.”

“Well, then that’ll be sixty-five cents, big spender.”

I pull out a dollar and put it on the counter.

“I’ll get your change.”

She always says that, and I’m always out the door before she gets back. This time I linger. I take a nickel from the change she brings back.

“Sorry, doll,” I say. “But I gotta call in.”

“I’ll survive,” she says.

I go over the phone booth near the exit, sit down inside and drop the nickel in the slot. Then I dial.

“Max Wendell,” the pick up voice says.

“Hell, Max. Even over the phone, you sound bald.”

“Why ain’t you at your desk, Roscoe? You got a deadline.”

“Got a lead.”

“Spill.”

“Can’t right now. May be bullshit.”

“Probably is. I still wanna hear it.”

“Having a wonderful time,” I say. “Wish you were here.”

“Better be damn good, Phelps.”

I hang up.

I take the back alley that runs between Haro and Robson. The fresh streets of Vancouver don’t seem right for this mission. A ragman moves past me on his horse drawn cart, yelling out for junk and scraps. Fords and Chryslers are parked here. A rusted prewar Mercedes heap with the windows busted out. A bunch of boys playing hooky run by, chasing a fat kid.

As I walk down the hill toward the lagoon, something starts to jump in my gut. I’ve seen enough bodies stuffed in trash cans to last a dozen lifetimes. Even a few kids. I’m getting too old for this. I need an editor’s gig. Some sweet desk job where I can get fat and die peacefully of cirrhosis. But I keep following the leads. I’m not a washout yet. They still haven’t used me up. And by the time they do, I won’t be worth shit. But for now, damned if they won’t get their stories.

The sun glistens off the surface of the lagoon. Swans and geese swim there. In an hour or so, people will be rowing rented dinghies. It’s strange to be here on a hunt for bodies. Soon couples will walk hand in hand.

I take a trail that heads away from the water and into the forest. The woods are dense here, strange so close to the city. The path is muddy from a recent rain. At a fork, I go left, down toward Beaver Lake, and start to wonder how I can find anything in the mess of trees and deadfall. I pass a happy group of hikers. They’re laughing and talking and slapping each other on the back.

From the ruckus, I hear a voice say, “You’re getting warm, buddy-boy.”

“What,” I say, turning around.

But the hikers keep going, and I’m not sure what I heard. I hesitate. I want to forget this hunt for child corpses and head into the city. There are stories to finish, calls to return. I need a fucking drink. I turn around and look down the trail again. You’re getting warm, buddy-boyCherubs sleep here. Somewhere under an X.  I decide to walk on, just a few more paces, and then call it quits. I’m chasing after a bum lead. Some degenerate with my phone number and a sick imagination. Tonight I sleep with the phone off the hook.

And then I see it. Two five or six foot saplings, just cut down, still with budding foliage, leaning against a stump, one crossed over the other in an X. Just off the trail. Almost impossible to see.

The stump is in low swampy ground, surrounded by a pool of pitch and rain water. I walk in up to my ankles. My Florsheims disappear in the muck. The stump seems intact as I move around it. No place to stuff small bodies. It’s just a hoax, after all. But then I come to it. The side facing away from the trail, and there’s a small boy’s shoe half submerged in the mud. Above it is a small foot sticking out of a crevice, wearing a blue and red argyle sock. It looks as though the tree that once towered over the stump grew around whatever bodies might be inside. I kick the stump, and the rotted wood fractures and falls away. Now I begin to pull away at it.

It becomes clearer as I work up to the top. The stump is hollow. Whatever is in here was delivered through a hole at the top, a couple of feet over my head. I begin to see trousers, ankles and knees. I expose a pair of Mary Janes, and a pair of bare legs next to those wearing trousers. Splinters pierce the skin of my hands and get under my fingernails. Now there are two torsos, one clad in a winter coat, the other in a bright hand knit sweater. It’s time to stop, run and find a cop. I’ve done my job. Time to stand down, observe and report. But I continue on up the tree stump, pulling the wood away. I can’t stop. And suddenly, I reveal two small white faces, the cheeks smudged, tussled hair. The eyes of one half open. The other with eyes fully open in cold, wet shock. I step back, and fall backward into the mud, and sit there staring up. There’s birdsong I’ve never heard before in the city. Something rushes by behind me in the undergrowth. Cherubs sleeping. One with horror on her face. The other ambivalent in death. I thought I already knew the headline, but now I draw a blank.

A uniformed cops says, “If they’re who we think they are, they’ve only been missing a couple of days.”

“You fucked this up,” says the other cop. The one wearing the five dollar suit, trying to look like a civilian. “Maybe we lay charges. I hate reporters what fuck shit up.”

“So lay charges,” I say. “Do me a favour and throw me in jail. I need a vacation.”

I walk back to the Manor muddy and wet, and take the rest of the day off. I change and head down to the bay. Let the wind blow my hair around. Drink rye from a bottle in a paper bag. Think about writing something righteous about dead children.

Later, it’s Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. A melancholy 78 played again and again. I wonder at the mountain of butts in the ashtray. Did I do that? 1.00 a.m. I should have eaten dinner. A bottle of Seagram’s ain’t enough, is always too much.  Down the street, StanleyPark is mute, but knows something it ain’t telling. Maybe I’ll sleep tonight. Maybe I’ll fall into it like a man falls on his ass. Yellow light from the lamp. The phone rings. I should have taken it off the hook.

“What?”

“You’re gonna be famous, buddy-boy.”

“You the killer?”

“Maybe. Maybe I got details to help you flesh out the story.”

“Lose my number. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Gotta admit, it’s the sort of story that makes a reporter.”

“I’m already made.”

“Oh sure, on 250 bucks a month. You’re made in the shade, buddy-boy. Maybe I can help you write a book.”

“I ain’t no writer.”

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing.”

“What you just say?”

secret daughters of autumn

remembered psychosis

The sky smelled like smoky tea and was lit at the edges, curling like orange leaves. That evening, a wife he’d once had would celebrate her birthday like a Japanese princess. Their daughters bowing in improvised paper kimonos, somewhere on another side of town now mysterious to him. He sat in an abandoned doorway dry-mouthed, developing plans. To somehow find shoes. To somehow find a meal. He plugged his ears with his thumbs, mere finger wouldn’t do. He squinted, his face rigid and grimacing. But he still heard the voices. A determined choir singing. Birthdays demand gifts. If he could find shoes and food, or if he couldn’t, he might deliver one.

Shoelessness in a world of plenty is a perplexing thing. He sat in the doorway at shoe level, with his spare change can. It was impossible from this vantage not to notice that all of the people passing had shoes. Some were very nice. Others unfashionably chosen from sale racks. Still others, he saw, were in varying states of disrepair, heels and soles worn past reasonable limits. Even a pair of these would suit him now. But who would give him shoes? When quarters and dimes were so hard to come by. Maybe it was his guru looks. He was wild eyed and unshaven. Should a raving holy man walk the planet well shod? Perhaps shoefulness was unholy.

Voices surrounded him. Some told him lies of love. The honest voices hated him. Birthdays demand gifts. A gift for a Japanese princess is no small thing. She’ll despise it, no matter what. But he knew its importance. She had been beautiful enough to love once. Beautiful enough for there to be children. The two daughters who he remembered smiling. Forming their words. Learning to use their index fingers to point at things in the world. The honest voices hated him. He stood to walk. There are believed-in journeys, a voice had once told him.

He was an unincorporated son, barefoot on the autumn sidewalk. Impatience on the crazed faces of the sane. The light saturated him. He was a mural; he was a mirror. Tell us what can be done. Give him food not money. Where is God? God is in His Maui timeshare. God is on the internet. God is an NRA gun advocate. When choosing a gift for Shogun royalty, simplicity is best. A length of silk, vermilion as a Torii Gate. A hand fan of tsunamic arcs, the doomed depicted humbled before their deaths. A red light is a sanctioned invitation to stop. Take it and reflect. He recalled gifts at their wedding, money and shining things. He had heard the voices then, too. But he had kept them secret. He pretended they were part of the ballroom crowd. The wedding guests would have laughed if he’d told them. Then burned him like a witch. He had remained well standing and worthy in that marriage. Until the night brightened, and the angels coaxed him away.

He saw a yōkai demon in a shop window, tattooed upon a smooth coughing stone. There were just simple nickels, silver in his pocket. They were perfect poverty. He saw more then, too. The blunt attenuating prescriptions. The haughty knowingness of assigned strangers. Voices shouting run. And now this unhaveable thing. Carnal. Like a dog. But glorious. When it cried out, the children heard. In the darkest of childish nights. And it changed them forever. His feet were too naked for so prosperous a city. Even café dishwashers had shoes. Open, said a sign on the shop door, like an accusation. The wife he’d once had had accused him. A voice had once told him to drown. But he could only swim.

There was his reflection in the shop window, and a glut of stones in the city. The stones once departing on a train. In railcars strictly reserved for stones and shadow. There was nothing left to breech this plate glass horizon. He remembered the blue clan mondokoro in their daughters’ eyes, and the dolls of Hinamatsuri watching him from shelves. He had heard the hiss of their whispers. Oh for a stone. The police and their fear. Fearsomeness in their fear. The two-way crackle. Mental male. It was a cop mantra stanza. There were no poems about it. No paragraphs in novels. No hasty wise graffiti. His fists were not stone. But the glass shattered, nonetheless.

Blood is always a surprise. How it resides like a neighbour, behind its own sober walls. We gaze upon it when it comes, pooling in Einstein’s gravity. Razor swords in paper rooms. Contradiction is a forgiven lie. The wife he’d once had had never loved his gifts. He reached in and took the thing, anyway. And escaped.

Somewhere that evening in the deciduous city, their daughters, who were still very young, served tea to the wife he’d once had. On their bended knees, geisha-like. Their beautiful eyes and small busy hands.