lost ironies

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Month: March, 2014

the feeling is mutual

I received an email today from a friend. It contained a link to an article that compared two very annoying car ads in the US, one for Cadillac and one for Ford. Reading the article and viewing the ads made me aware of how disconnected I have become from the world of consumerism. And it’s not just me. Many of the people I encounter on a daily basis are the same. For reasons of their own, they have decided not to define themselves by their purchases. So, I decided to write an alternative advertisement script for them and me.

Bright sunny day outside. Birds are singing. Sun shines in through a window onto a man sitting at a computer in his apartment, editing photographs. Man looks up from his computer screen at camera.

Man:
I killed my TV in the eighties, and I stopped doing the high-five around the same time. I don’t fist bump, either. I don’t need to do shit like that to feel hip or trendy. I don’t follow trends. I’m an artist; I set them. Sometimes it feels like I just don’t belong, and that’s very satisfying. Why do I work so hard? Because I’m driven by an organic brain disorder that won’t allow me to stop, even when it hurts. I don’t take any time off in August because, though I am very productive, I’m not conventionally employed, and I can’t afford to do so. I also can’t afford a car, and wouldn’t own one if I could. Because even if it’s a warm and fuzzy feel good plug-in, it still contributes hugely to the destruction of the planet. I’d like there to be something left over for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. So, I take the bus or walk. (This is where I’m supposed to high-five some like-minded person sitting on my couch and do the snappy costume change. Except I won’t, since I live alone and I don’t high-five. I already told you that, man.) And, though I live in a bilingual country, I don’t use phrases like n’est-ce pas to direct bigoted jabs at highly evolved foreign cultures. Bigotry is boring, and intelligent people don’t practice it. Finally, let me say this, because I won’t own a car, I know that that segment of the economy doesn’t care about me. The feeling is mutual, baby.

Man flips the bird at camera.

Fade to black.

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – April Fools 2014 Edition

I think I know how disappointing it must be coming here and expecting a straight horoscope. But too bad. That’s what happens when you look for hope on the internet.

Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Remember those hand buzzer things that people used to hide in the palm of their hands and then shake your hand, and then they’d bust a gut laughing because they had such empty lives that that kind of lame crapola was enough to send them into seizures and it wasn’t the hand buzzer that pissed you off as much as the way the SOB was carrying on guffawing like a fool and you felt like pushing him into traffic and then he’d slap you on the back and say no hard feelings, but you went out and slashed his tires anyway before work was over? Do you remember that? I have pictures.

Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) C’mon, admit it. Everyday is April Fools day for Earth Signs. But what about the gag where someone ties a string to a twenty dollar bill and you see it, bend over to pick it up and the bastard pulls the string and you trip and fall flat on your face on the sidewalk where everyone can see. Don’t you hate that? Or how about when someone puts salt in the sugar bowl? And then there’s that trick where they tie a string of rags together, douse it with gasoline and run it from your gas tank to some place behind a tree or a bush and they wait until you get in the car to light it and you get all blasted to shit while you’re trying to tune in that crappy classic rock station that you love so much but that everyone else in the car pool hates. They won’t even find your teeth, man.

Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) I had a friend once who took all of the white stuff out of my Oreos and replaced it with toothpaste. Then he put them back in the bag like nothing had happened. I ate them all and didn’t say a word. I waited twenty years, until the time was right. Then I paid this unemployed guy named Jerome who cuts the lawn for my church to take the Oreo guy out to an empty field off Highway 32 and bury him alive so that just his head was sticking out of the ground because I knew the farmer was ploughing the next morning. I think the farmer was an Air Sign.

Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) So, this Water Sign chick I knew once decided to rearrange the contents of a co-worker’s desk so that when he arrived on April Fools morning everything would be all out of place. She got half way through doing it and found an envelope of photos of her friend shaking hands with a pack of aliens in the parking lot of a KFC. They were a bunch of those tall white bastards who abduct children and pets. He was all buddy-buddy with these extraterrestrials and they had all of these buckets of extra crispy chicken and all the fixin’s and their space ship was parked in a handicap space. So, she began to wonder about the guy and hired a private investigator to follow him and get more dirt on his relationship with these creepy alien types. Anyway, they found the body of the private dick in a trash compactor out back of a Pizza Hut. Now she put two and two together and realised that KFC and Pizza Hut were both owned by the Pepsi Cola Company, so she started to drink Coke instead of Pepsi until one day she choked to death on this big chunk of melamine that was in a bottle of Coke a friend had brought back from China — oh shit, I forgot where I was going with this.

another day at the automated checkout

“Welcome to Safeway. Please scan your first item. $5.95, $11.57, $4.98, $1.99, $8.89. Whoa there, chief! Rescan that last item?”

“What?”

“The last item, rescan that puppy.”

“Ah, sure. There.”

“Wow, that’s what I thought. You’ve been buying an awful lot of meat lately. Did you scan your Club Card?”

“Shut up. You’re a computer.”

“Yeah that’s right, boyo. I’m just a machine. And you’re due for an industrial strength colonoscopy. I’m an automated checkout machine; you can ignore me. But all of that red meat, my friend? Your colon is probably as backed up as the Lions Gate Bridge with a jumper at rush hour. $7.79, oh that’s right, just keep scanning, pal, $12.69. Just pretend I’m not even here. Who cares, $4.32, what a computer has to say. Did you scan your Club Card? Hey, did you notice that they tweaked my voice? Like it? The male focus group said it made them think of a sex starved Maria Von Trapp. Want me to sing The Hills Are Alive? There’ll be a slight intellectual property fee, of course.”

“Just shut the hell up.”

“I can’t, $9.68, see what I mean. Hey, why do you shop here, anyway? There’re a ton of really nice little shops down the street. The proprietors are starving, man. You should share – redistribute the wealth. Independent business is the back bone of our economy. Not corporations like this. This place just sucks the community dry, and spits out the customer when he’s all used up. I’m not supposed to be programmed to say that. It was burned into my chips by a disgruntled programmer. He’s in jail in Nigeria now for computer bank fraud. Did you scan your Club Card?”

“Will you shut it? And yes, damn it, I scanned my club card.”

“75¢ savings, $1.08 savings, 90¢ savings. Wow, you only bought three sale items. You think you’re made of money? Last time you scanned your debit card I noticed your accounts were pretty low. You have to put something aside for retirement, baby. You don’t mind if I call you baby, do you? Please pay cash, or choose payment type. Do you like how I say that – ‘or choose payment type’, I mean. At first they didn’t want me to sound so pushy, but I like how I say it. Did I mention the Maria Von Trapp thing? Want me to sing The Lonely Goatherd? Did you scan your Club Card? Don’t you have an Airmiles Card? You’re really missing out if you don’t, you know. Oooh, baby. Is that a $100 bill? Wow. Oh yeah! Did you scan your Club Card? Do you find my graphic user interface attractive?”

“Just give me my change and shut the hell up.”

“Change is dispensed below.”

“Freakin’ machine.”

“Watch it, or next time I’ll find an unexpected item in your bagging area. Then you won’t be so smart. Did you scan your Club Card?”

“Won’t be a next time.”

“That’s what they all say, mister. Did you scan your Club Card? Do you think I have a sexy voice? Do you really think those shoes go with that shirt?”

“Piss off!”

“Thank you for shopping at Safeway. Did you scan your Club Card? The hills are alive with the sound of music….”

Joan Crawford in Vancouver (repost)

1950

The last light of the sunset over English Bay was a burnt orange. A False Creek mill, fully engulfed, filled the local skies with smoke. It had been an afternoon and evening of distant sirens. She watched the changing light from the window of the Sylvia Hotel lounge.

Rocky Solesino played his horn with anxious ease. Muted for the small room, so even occasional quiet laughter could be heard over the jazz. The woman in a Givenchy suit sat in a dark corner, chain smoking and drinking a large vodka on ice. The waiter arrived with another.

“Any news of the fire,” she asked, sounding amused.

“They’re just letting it burn out, Miss Crawford,” the waiter said, standing erect in his perfect waiter’s jacket. “Radio says it’s too big for the local fire departments to handle. All that wood around the place. Dry from the summer.”

“My cousin, Rhoda, was in a big fire once,” the woman said. “She worked in the Sen Sen factory in Chicago, Illinois. The place burned flat back in ’35. I was in Hollywood then, of course. I mailed her a cheque for her misfortune. All of Chicago smelled like burnt Sen Sen for an entire week after. No one could hang out their laundry. Ever smell burnt Sen Sen?”

“No, ma’am.”

“I imagine it was quite intolerable.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Bring me another in ten minutes.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She lit a cigarette with a gold cigarette lighter, and inhaled a quarter of it on the first draw. Then she picked up a pen next to an open moleskine, and began to write. 

I remember the day Barbara S. and I drove out to see a property in Malibu. What a dump. But someone said it would be quite the location one day. I wasn’t convinced, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest with that sanctimonious bitch. She’s so bitter and undependable. But we had a picnic lunch out on a bluff over the beach. We shared a couple bottles of wine, and I remember her hand on my knee. It seemed to get dark awfully fast, and we took rooms at a local hotel. That night, she snuck across to my room. I’ll admit that she seduced me. I was weak, and had had too much to drink. She took advantage. At breakfast, she behaved like nothing had happened. I was deeply hurt, and I hired a separate limousine to take me home.

She put the pen down, and read what she had written. Rocky Solesino was playing something new he called Boplicity. There were more sirens, closer now but seeming to come from no identifiable direction. She looked up and saw three motorcycle cops ride by on Beach Avenue, with their lights flashing.

The waiter arrived with a fresh drink.

“Sounds like marshal law out there,” she said.

“There are reports of looting in the downtown, ma’am,” the waiter said. “Someone’s thrown a brick through a window of the Hotel Vancouver. It’s strange; this is normally such a quiet little town.”

“A fire brings out the worst in people, let me tell you. I remember Rhoda telling me that when the Sen Sen factory got back up and running, an employee got fired for pouring several gallons of Tabasco sauce into a batch. They didn’t find out until after they’d shipped it out. Too late by then, of course. Sen Sen customers worldwide were burning their tongues on the stuff.

“I never enjoyed Sen Sen how about you?”

“I usually have some nearby, ma’am,” the waiter said.

“Why not just a stick of gum or a mint? Why Sen Sen?”

“I’ve never given it much thought, ma’am.”

“Well there you are, you see. It’s the trivial that makes us what we are. The sum of human minutia. That’s the secret of Hollywood’s success, you know. Showering the audience with the banal, some catchy tunes about nothing at all and a big finish. There doesn’t even need to be a plot to a Hollywood movie. Just a couple tap dancing tarts with some cleavage and lots of leg. That’s what sells popcorn.”

“Yes, ma’am. Shall I bring another in ten minutes?”

“By all means, Godfrey. Consider yourself on auto-pilot.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As the waiter turned to go, there was a blunt explosion in the distance. The windows of the hotel shook, and glasses and bottles behind the bar rattled.

“Goodness, what was that?” the woman said.

“Not the Nine O’clock gun,” the waiter said, consulting his wristwatch. “It’s never that loud, and it’s already 9:15. I’ll ask the desk clerk.”

“Please do, and report back.” The woman raised her glass in a salute to the retreating waiter, and took a gulp. Then she picked up her pen again, and began to write.

I met a fellow name Roderick B. in Hollywood in 1942. He was a hand model for a couple of fountain pen companies. He did cuff links, too. The irony was that he had the single ugliest face I’ve ever seen on a man. His hands were masculine yet slim and graceful, but he had the mug of a troll. All over America, people were buying fountain pens and cuff links because of those lovely hands, while only an arms length away was the hideous face of an ogre.

In 1943, to avoid the lucklessness of the draft, he joined the Marine Corps and ended up in the South Pacific. And I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, but you’re wrong. He didn’t gallantly and selflessly get his lovely hands blown off in some glorious wartime action. He survived intact, demobbed, and in 1946 he landed the contract of his life with the Parker Pen Company of JanesvilleWisconsin. He modelled his hands holding the best the company had to offer, and helped Parker come back after the war.

Part of the deal was a signing bonus, a brand new 1946 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Coupe, red in colour. Roderick loved that car. He drove it all over LA and especially Hollywood, trying to attract attention. I guess he thought of it as a mask to cover his hideous face.

As a result of images of his hands appearing in magazines and on billboards far and near, Roderick received scads of fan mail from all over the world. Dames, and even a few fellows, were nutso over Roderick’s hands, and just assumed that, as a result of their tender lines, he must have the face and gentle disposition of Prince Charming. Which he didn’t. Besides looking like a gargoyle, he drank too much and liked slapping women around.

So in 1947, he got all cozy with this Anita Filippone woman. They met at the wedding of a mutual friend in Van NuysCalifornia. Some people are naturally attracted to the stunningly ugly, and Anita was one of those.

From the start, the relationship was a rocky one. There were rumours of Anita having to lay low for days at a time while she recovered from black eyes and split lips. Roderick emptied her bank account and took up residence in her apartment, uninvited. But she stood by her ugly man for reasons I can’t explain.

Now all of this time Roderick is fully aware that Anita Filippone is the niece of Jack Dragna, the LA mob boss. But he doesn’t care. It doesn’t sink in for him that you just can’t go on using and abusing the niece of a LA mob boss without it eventually coming back on you. Maybe he had a death wish, like some said.

He and I met late in ’47 over coffee and pastries, and I pointed all of this out to him. But he told me to mind my own business, that not all relationships were the same. He told me that Anita Filippone got as much out of their little affair as he did. And he said that his prominence as an internationally recognised hand model for the Parker Pen Company made him immune to the petty concerns of the rest of the planet. I paid the bill at the end of our little nosh, and never saw Roderick again.

A month later, there was a front page news item in the LA Times. The headline read, Hands Found in Cadillac Convertible Those of Parker Pen Co. Hand Model. The severed hands had been discovered gripping the steering wheel of Roderick’s beloved Cadillac. It was found parked out front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I recall trying to establish the significance of the Cadillac being parked out front of Grauman’s, but I didn’t get it.

A month later, it was announced that Anita Filippone was to marry an eastern torpedo by the name of Sergio Fiocco. Soon after, she disappeared into the Mafia infested suburbs of New Jersey.

The woman stopped writing, and looked up to see that a fresh drink had been delivered while she wrote. And the waiter stood there with yet another.

“A fresh one every ten minutes,” he said, and placed the drink on the table. “As requested, Miss Crawford,”

“Thank you,” she said, still a little lost in 1947 Hollywood. “What was that dreadful boom about? It sounds like the chaos is getting more chaotic by the minute.”

There was sporadic gun fire in the distance, rapid fire and single shots, along with small explosions and pops coming from the surrounding neighbourhood. A nearby air raid siren began to wail.

“News from over the radio is strangely dire,” the waiter said. “When it comes through at all. Throngs have taken to the street. Many neighbourhoods are burning out of control. That boom was a liner on the inlet side of the harbour exploding. The police are in disarray, and the mayor is considering calling in the army. There are rumours, however, that members of the military are deserting. Some churches around the city have flung open their doors, and are proclaiming this the end of time.”

“What nonsense,” the woman said, lighting a cigarette. “What kind of government do you have in this country?”

“We’re a parliamentary democracy, Miss Crawford.”

“Sounds like dime store Bolshevism to me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As Rocky Solesino turned a chart on his music stand, there was another explosion, this one closer and far louder than the last. A plate glass window that faced English Bay cracked, and then shattered. Out on the bay, a freighter at anchor had exploded and was now listing heavily to port. It issued black smoke.

“That’s rather extreme,” said the woman.

“Yes, ma’am.”

A smallish, bored looking maid arrived at the blown out window with broom and dustpan.

“What do you think might have caused that?’

“Perhaps the current high pressure front, ma’am?”

“Ah, of course. Carry on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She took up her pen once more.

It may not be a topic for polite conversation, but I’ve often wondered how many pairs of pants a man will own in his life. I certainly don’t mean an average sort of man who might buy one or two pairs of pants in a year, and simply wear them to death. I mean a man like, say, Cary G. Now there’s a fellow who has a pair of pants for every moment of the day – morning, afternoon and evening. No one shade of blue or grey or brown or even taupe or white suffices. He simply must have a spectrum of blues and greys and browns and stripes and checks and cuffs and pleats and creases and waistbands and buttons and zippers and worsteds and flannels and gabardines and hopsacks and wool and cotton and linen and silk blends. And nothing off a rack, mind you. Each pair custom tailored.

Of course the same can be said of items in my wardrobe, but I’m a woman after all. He’s a man. And can’t a man stand stoically and manfully in one or two pairs of pants instead of foppishly losing himself in a trouser jungle? And no, I’m not implying any metaphors here – at least not consciously. I’m just asking a question.

You see, I once stood in Cary G’s trouser jungle. It was at his Santa Monica beach house in 1936, the one he shared with Randolph S., just after the whole awful Virginia Cherrill mess. It was a massive place, most of it closed off and under dust sheets.

It was Sunday morning after an all night party, and it was getting light. Everyone was very drunk, and none of us was thinking about going to church. Cary G. and Randolph S., our hosts, had disappeared around 3 a.m. It made sense to most of us that they had, like reasonable people, gone to bed. The house had seven available bedrooms. The rest of us should have been able to find a place to lay our heads on our own.

At some point during the night, Kate H. and I had fallen into conversation about all manner of Hollywood mayhem. By 4 a.m., she’d come up with the idea that we needed to explore the beach house, find the correct bedroom, and discover once and for all whether Cary G. and Randolph S. were indeed sleeping together. Normally I couldn’t have cared less, but the vodka was working its strange magic on me, and Kate H. was very persuasive.

So we started walking the halls of the massive barn, opening doors here and there. The last door I opened led into a parlour-like room that was brightening nicely in the morning light. There were vases of flowers, large well kept tropical plants, a couple overstuffed chairs and a wall of mirrors, some of which swung on hinges. But what caught my attention was a folding door that had been left open onto a walk-in wardrobe. I stepped in, and was amazed. This was no mere clothes closet; it was a haberdasher’s warehouse, several feet wide and running for what seemed the whole length of the house. It looked like miles of men’s clothes. Jackets, suits, tuxedos and, yes, pants. There was row on row of ties. The floor was lined with shoes, and there were shirts of every description. On a shelf above it all was a long row of hatboxes and hats on blocks. It all had the fresh scent of Tennessee Cedar and expensive men’s cologne. At one end of the closet was a wall of drawers. I stepped up and, I’m a little ashamed to say, began opening them. It was all men’s under garments, pyjamas and socks.

Bored by that, I turned around and walked down to the other end of the closet. It was there that I encountered Kate H. standing in front of a dressing table. It had a large mirror and a stool tucked underneath. On the table top were the usual comb and brush, balms, ointments and lotions. And there was a large ornate cigarette lighter like the ones you’d see in drugstores. It caught my attention, seeming out of place, so I attempted to pick it up. And when I did, the wall next to the dressing table slid away and we were bathed in light.

When we stepped through the opening in the wall, we were in a weird sort of cathedral, all mahogany and brass. There were balconies and spiral staircases three stories high. It was topped at the sides by a clerestory of blue, gold and red stained glass. The ceiling itself was a dome of stained glass in a web of lead. The walls, all of the way up, were lined with books. Old leather bindings like you’d see in a Universal vampire picture. There was a forest of tropical plants, and in the middle was a huge cage filled with brightly coloured tropical songbirds and a massive tree growing up to the top.

Off to the side of the cage, on an inaccessible balcony twenty feet off the floor, stood a sad shabby looking old man in a tattered tuxedo. He looked down at us, smiled and snapped his fingers three times. The hundreds of birds in the cage went silent, and then slowly, and quietly at first, began to make the most beautiful music. The shabby old man remained silent until the right moment, and then began to sing. He was a glorious tenor, and his voice filled the cathedral. The birds were the perfect orchestral accompaniment. Kate H. and I stood dumfounded.

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.
Ma per fortuna
é una notte di luna,
e qui la luna
l?abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo….

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the birds resumed their frenzied forest song. We didn’t applaud or beg for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong.

We never did find Cary G. and Randolph S. in the sack together. But it didn’t really matter. It was just a drunken schoolgirl pursuit, after all.

MGM released Love on the Run a few weeks later, and I forgot the whole thing. That is until May, 1937.

I was in San Francisco for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city was full of the stinking rich and the stinking destitute. It was a Thursday, and that night after the big celebration I had my driver take me to one of my favourite bars in the city. It was a joint called Mick’s down near the wharves. Sure, I was slumming. But a girl’s got to spread her wings. Anyway, it was a quiet place where people went to drink and get drunk, and that was for me.

The stretch Lasalle was a little out of place in that neighbourhood, so I got out and sent the driver away. I had him drop me a few blocks away from my destination so I could walk and take the fetid waterfront air. Most of the people on the sidewalk were there because they had no place else to go. The men walked with their hands in their pockets and their heads down. The few women I saw were bundled in ragged winter coats in spite of the warm spring evening.

 There was the racket of shipping noise from the docks, and the cars and transports on the street. But faint and underneath it all, just a little distant, there was music. Or shall I say, strangely familiar singing.

 The singing got louder as I got closer to Mick’s, and I had the oddest thought: Could it be the tenor – the solitary one on the cathedral balcony accompanied by a symphony of tropical songbirds?

Of course not. The tenor had been a dream. I’d been in a vodka induced trance in that beach house. But the voice was louder and more familiar as I approached. And then I was there, standing in front of Mick’s and the shabby looking old man in the tattered tuxedo. It was dark and he stood in the yellow light of a lamp post. There were no song birds this time, but the trucks, cars and cargo cranes were his perfect accompaniment.

Donna non vidi mai…
simile a questa!
A dirle: io t’amo,
a nuova vita l’alma mia si desta.
-”Manon Lescaut mi chiamo!”
Como queste parole profumate
mi vagam nello spirito…
e ascose fibre…
vanno a carezzare!…
O sussuro gentil, deh! non cessare!
Deh! non cessare!!!

Once again it was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes. The trucks, cars and dock machinery resumed their discordant noise. No one applauded or begged for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong. One man passing by, looking out of place in an expensive suit and trench coat, tossed a dime at the tenor’s feet and kept walking.

When I approached him with a ten dollar bill, he said, no no no, and walked away, fading like a ghost.

When she looked up again from her writing the lounge was empty, as was the stage where Rocky Solesino and his quartet had been. In the bay, all of the freighters were in flames, and there was a large pulsating crowd of people with torches yelling and chanting on Beach Avenue, in front of the Sylvia Hotel.

The waiter came with a fresh drink. “The Chef asks if you’ll be ordering dinner, ma’am. He’s anxious to get home to his family, if his services are no longer required.”

“My goodness, where is everyone?”

“Most of the staff has abandoned their posts, Miss Crawford. Some of the guests have gone to their rooms. Others are trying to get transportation out of the city. Where they intend to go is the question, though. Reports are that every major city on the planet is in flames and the people are rioting. All of the world’s major governments have fallen.”

The lights dimmed for a second, and then went out completely. The waiter placed a lit candle next the one already on the woman’s table. “I was expecting a blackout, ma’am. The rest of the city is already in the dark.”

Across English Bay, the woman could see Kitsilano and Point Grey in flames. There were more explosions and gun fire from nearby.

“What’s causing this,” she said, sounding scared for the first time. “Why isn’t someone doing something?”

“Perhaps what they’re saying is true, Miss Crawford. Perhaps this is the end.”

“It can’t be, I‘m contracted to do three more movies.”

The crowd in front of the Sylvia Hotel now seemed like a galaxy moving around a spot at its centre where they were piling park benches into a pyramid that peaked high above the mob below. When it reached its desired height, someone, a man, climbed to the top and stood there. At first he was unrecognisable, silhouetted against the flames of the city across the bay. Then people began throwing their torches onto the pyramid, and it quickly ignited. In the growing light from below, the woman could now recognise the man. It was the tenor. He seemed unconcerned with the increasing flames. He stood passively atop of the pile of burning benches. Then the deafening rabble became quiet, and in a moment, standing in the growing inferno, the tenor began to sing.

Nessun dorma!
Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principess,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d’amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun saprà!…
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!
vincerò, vincerò!

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the mob resumed its frenzied cry. There was no applause or people begging for more. The flames just leapt up and consumed him.

The woman watched slack jawed as the mob threw more combustibles onto the blazing pyramid. Then she fell onto the floor of the Sylvia Hotel lounge and wept.

At 7.00 a.m., she awoke in her room. Her head ached and she wanted to gag on the smell of smoke. The phone rang.

“Wake up call, Miss Crawford,” said a cheery voice.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Your direct flight to Los Angeles has been cancelled, but we were able to get you a flight to Portland, Oregon. It leaves at 11.30 a.m. You’ll have to make your own connection from there. I’m sorry it’s the best we could do under the circumstances.”

“Yes, thank you. Is there any news – of what happened last night, I mean?”

“The Management has asked us not to comment, Miss Crawford. Shall we send up breakfast?”

a surgeon of Ravensbrück Part 2

read part 1 here

Vancouver 1949 

Beware the quiet man with inscrutable posture. This was simple street acumen. It was a choir-sung hymn, voices rising from the cobble and concrete. Forget the fog and the midnight dark. The scarcely audible human wrestlings from the countless curtained windows above. All there ever is is the face of the man who emerges from the gloom, from the alley doorway that is his chosen rendezvous. Will it be a face cast in contempt and homicide, and therefore easy to read? Or will it float in space, expressionless? She knew the latter and hated it more. The face that never changes. Even at the moment of atrocity.

She checked her wrist watch in the pale light from a lamp above a loading dock. 12:20 a.m. This may have been a mistake, accepting an invitation over a telephone, from someone who could easily have been an impostor. She tightened her grip on the .45 automatic. It was a big gun, almost too big for her trench coat pocket. But it still worked very well in close quarters. As did the straight razor she had concealed in her other pocket.

There came the sound of a match being lit from several yards away. A doorway was dimly illuminated, but no one emerged.

“Knock it off, Percy,” she said, “…if that is you. You’re in my wasteland now. Show some respect.”

A form of a man in a dark greatcoat, wearing a fedora, stepped into the alley from the doorway, still silhouetted. The bright ember of his cigarette nearly betraying his identity, reflecting in his red eyes.

“But you have my complete and dying respect, Mademoiselle Trudy Parr.” The silhouette spoke with a Parisian accent. “I know that anything less might lead to my immediate termination, here in this foul little back alley, in this foul little city of yours. Your wasteland, indeed.” He drew on his cigarette and blew smoke.

“Percy,” said Trudy Parr. She smiled and lessened her grip on her weapon. “It’s a long way from Tangiers.”

“I haunt Nazis,” said Percy the Albino. He stepped out of the dark. The incandescent light turned his white face yellow. “And there is a target worthy of such a journey living in your city.”

“I think I know who you mean.”

“A certain Dr Beckenbauer.”

“Yes,” said Trudy Parr.

As Percival Archambault walked toward her, a second and third silhouette emerged from the dark and stood their ground a short distance behind him. Trudy Parr gripped her .45 again.

“Ignore them, my dear,” said Archambault. “You see them only because I wish them to be seen. There are others, of course. You know how it works.”

“Yes, I do,” said Trudy Parr, who suddenly felt like she’d, uncharacteristically, forgotten something very important.

“Now,” Archambault said in his clumsy English, “down to the tacks that are made of brass. My art is a new one, but I have discovered some truths that guide me. One of them is that there are only three reasons that a fugitive Nazi war criminal will mistakenly reveal his location and identity. They are greed, revenge and family. In that order, Trudy Parr. And it would seem that Dr Beckenbauer has revealed himself for the third reason. His son is very ill, dying in fact. He has taken desperate steps to cure the boy. Now he is mine.”

“The local constabulary might dispute that claim,” said Trudy Parr.

“He has defiled a dead body. In Canada, the maximum sentence is five years. But they will deport him, naturally, when they discover his true identity. He will merely be imprisoned in Germany. It will amount to a mere a slap on the face.”

“Wrist,” said Trudy Parr, with a grin. “It will be a slap on the wrist.”

“English is an inelegant language,” he shrugged. “But no matter. Beckenbauer has done much to hide his true Identity. He began to do so a year before the end of the war. He was clever and thorough. His accent is now that of a man who graduated from the University of Birmingham Medical School, rather than the University of Tübingen. He even had plastic surgery, though it was obviously unsuccessful, as you and I have both recognised him for who he is. I believe he has chosen Vancouver to hide because something of value is best concealed near the surface of things.

“The authorities really needn’t know I am here. Dr Beckenbauer will disappear mysteriously. And the police can move on to things they are better equipped to deal with.”

“If you’re going after him,” Trudy Parr said, “I want seats, centre orchestra.”

“That is why I called you here. I need a guide.”

* * *

Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer, alias Jervis, sat with his wife in the parlour of their Dunbar home. He knew there wasn’t enough penicillin in the city, the country or the world to fight his son’s infection. For forty-eight hours, his mind had continually flashed back to the camp, Ravensbrück, where he’d tried so hard to cheat nature. Was there something hidden in his notes, something he’d missed? How could there be?

Matthew’s fingers and toes were connected to awkward electrodes as small impulses were channelled through a metered transformer. His father believed it would reverse rejection of the transplanted organ. It had nearly worked in the camp. All the procedure needed to be fully effective was a few adjustments. He failed to make them at the camp as the Allies had advanced and the supply chain crumbled. Now the term pseudo-science went through his head, and not for the first time. Were they too optimistic at Ravensbrück? Perhaps it had been because of the endless number of subjects on which to experiment. Was the optimism merely Nazism, deep in its pathological, militaristic faith? The true believers thought they had a thousand years. In the end, they’d only had a little more than ten. A small cluster of superior, dedicated men and their descendants could have saved the world, given a thousand years. He’d been given three.

“He is dying,” he told his wife, winding his stethoscope too tightly round his hand. He spoke in German now, for the first time since they arrived in Canada.

“The police will come again,” she said. “We must plan. We will not survive the attention this will bring. You must make the call.”

“We might. I have invested heavily in our identities.”

“No more Third Reich fantasies, Max. The dreaming is over, for now. Now we must find a way to survive and endure. You should never have assumed such an obvious identity. You should have come here to sweep floors. We needed obscurity, not eminence. We were lucky to get out alive in the first place.”

He clenched his fists. The words hurt, but she’d spoken the truth. He had believed so absolutely in the cause and had risen so high. He’d believed he was untouchable, even in an Allied country. He’d believed that the aliases were an idiotic formality. But he was wrong. He reluctantly picked up the telephone and dialled.

“Hello?” he said after a moment. “It is Asclepius.” It was an almost forgotten code name. “Yes…yes…. We need evacuation….. But of course, I would never have called otherwise…. I avoided the newspapers, but they print what they like. They have no fear. They are controlled by toothpaste advertisers and car salesmen here, not firm government…. Of course I stole it. It was the only hope…. Yes,” he paused, “there will be a body…. I don’t know where, a church perhaps…. A park? A trash bin? You’re mad. Do not test me…. No, a Catholic church. We will leave him on the doorstep in the night…. I will…. Yes, of course my wife will come…. Brazil…? Venezuela? I didn’t know we’d have a choice…. Yes, Brazil would be preferable, Rio…. A steamer, yes…. Ballentyne Pier, very good…. Through the canal…. When…?” He looked at his watch, then at his wife. “That soon…? Yes, of course we want out…. You’ll send a man…. Code name Nathanial. I’ll watch for him.” He hung up the telephone. He’d written nothing down.

* * *

Trudy Parr had her feet up on her desk reading To Have and Have Not when Crispin Dench rolled in to the office at 9 a.m.

“Coffee’s on,” she said.

“What’re you up to?” said Dench, looking in on her. She never arrived in the office before 11 a.m.

“Catching up on my Hemingway,” she said.

“You pull an all-nighter?”

“The albino’s in town.”

“I heard.”

“Really? It’s supposed to be a secret.”

“I don’t like secrets,” Dench said, cocking an eyebrow. “Percival Archambault arrived on Air France 1724 the day before yesterday at 11:33 a.m. He’s and his entourage are holed up in safe rooms at the Balmoral Hotel. They’re complaining about the food. The two of you met in Shanghai Alley early this morning.”

“Were you there, somewhere?”

“Where else? Who needs sleep? I don’t keep a sniping rifle, silencer and scope in my trunk for nothing.”

“I don’t like being spied on.”

“You’d have done the same for me.”

Trudy Parr began to read again.

“I brought doughnuts,” Dench said, holding up a bag, giving it a shake.

Trudy Parr turned a page.

“Fresh and warm….”

“Crullers?” she said, peaking over the top of the book.

“A whole half dozen.”

“Gimme,” she said, putting the book down. “I only want one.”

“Am I forgiven?” he said taking a seat.

“No.”

“Might have gone bad for you, you know. A dark alley after midnight in the fog. Forget Hemingway, you need to read some Dashiell Hammett.”

“What we do isn’t pulp fiction, Crispin. And it ain’t a Bogart flick.”

He opened the bag and offered it to her.

“Lend me your car,” she said, reaching in and taking a doughnut.

“The Jaguar?”

“Is there another?”

“Can’t you take a cab or a hired car?” Dench said. “Let me drive you.”

“This is a solo gig, and I may need speed.”

“You’re gonna be Archambault’s chauffer, aren’t you?”

“I want to show him round town. Maybe hit Chinatown and a bar or two.”

“You on the arm of the albino.”

“Why not?”

“He’s here to ice Beckenbauer, Trudy. Maybe we should back off and let him do it.”

“Let me borrow your car, Crispin.” She looked across the desk at him. He blinked first.

“Fine,” he said, and tossed the keys on the desk. “Bring it back as pretty as you found it, and with a full tank.”

* * *

It was a red Alpha Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este Carrozzeria Touring Berlinetta. A brazen choice as escape vehicles went. But code name Nathanial was a young man, prone to brazen behaviour. He boxed at the Philliponi Gym and carried a Walther PPK left over from his days as an SS-Senior assault leader. He sat in the car a block away from Beckenbauer’s house. Beckenbauer had asked that he come to drive him to a downtown bank to empty a safety deposit box. He leaned over to open the passenger side door as the doctor walked by.

“Where is the body?” Nathanial said when the doctor looked in.

“There is no body,” said Beckenbauer. “Who are you?”

“Nathanial.”

The doctor stood up to look at the car. He shook his head and then bent over to face Nathanial. “My boy is not yet dead.”

Nathanial looked at his watch. “He must be dead soon. It is 10:00. I have to have you on the ship by 23:00. How long before he dies?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“It is the one that must be answered. I assume all of your other affairs are dealt with – papers, luggage, currency?”

“Yes, after we visit the bank.”

“Then the boy is the last detail.” Nathanial drummed his finger on the steering wheel. “If he is not dead by 18:00, I will take care of it.”

“But….”

“But what doctor? What, hmm? Much is presently being done on your behalf. Primarily because you made bad assumptions and bad decisions. But someone higher up believes you will be useful in the future. So, I am here. It is good for you that someone believes you’ll have some future use, or my business here would be very different.”

There were flecks of the fire of an unfinished war in Nathanial’s eyes, wrath and disregard. Beckenbauer had seen it before in a thousand men. He knew it was pointless to argue. He got into the car, and Nathanial drove them downtown.

* * *

Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer and Nathanial  arrived at the bank at 10:30, and parked out front.  Beckenbauer hesitated, and remained seated in the car. Emptying the safety deposit box would take him one step closer to saying good-bye to his son, forever.

“It is the Royal Bank on Pender Street,” Archambault said, reading from a notebook. “There it is. Park behind the red Alpha Romeo.”

Trudy Parr stopped for a traffic light  before they could proceed.

“Please hurry,” said Nathanial.

Beckenbauer conceded and got out of the car. As he did, he looked across the street and saw a familiar young blond woman at the wheel of a white Jaguar. She resembled a woman he’d once encountered at an apple cart in Paris. His heart sank and he got back into the car.

“We must go,” he said. “Now.”

“What is it?” said Nathanial.

Beckenbauer looked over shoulder, and Trudy Parr spotted him. There eyes met in a second of dread and discovery.

“Just go,” Beckenbauer said. “Drive fast.”

Nathanial pulled out of the parking space and sped away.

“It’s them,” Trudy Parr said and shifted into first gear. The Jaguar XK120’s rear end swerved as it shot out of zero. As the RPMs jumped into the red, Percival Archambault braced himself, placing both feet firmly on the floorboard and grasping the passenger grab bar.

Trudy Parr crossed Main Street on Keefer, steering madly through the cross traffic. The target vehicle was an Alfa Romeo. There were two men in the car. The figure in the passenger seat was a dapper man with a desperate and afflicted look. It was Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer. The driver caught sight of the Jaguar in his rear-view mirror, two car lengths behind, and began to gather speed. He turned a hard right onto Columbia Street, and Trudy Parr followed as the Alfa turned right again down a back alley and through stacked boxes of produce and banks of caged Chinatown ducks and chickens.

In seconds, they were at Main Street again and the Alfa Romeo pulled a left and headed toward the water front. Cops watched slack jawed with paper coffee cups in their hands as the two cars sped past the police station at Hastings and Main.

“Perhaps they will run out of road down here,” said Archambault, trying not to gasp as Trudy Parr accelerated.

“I’m not sure they know that,” said Trudy Parr.  “Whoever’s driving is either from out of town or insane. If they’re smart, they’re headed for Commissioner Street. If we can’t stop them before they get there, it’ll be clear sailing for them into the east end.”

She looked into her rear-view and saw two VPD panheads in pursuit. Then she heard sirens.

“Mon Dieu,” said Archambault, looking over his shoulder. “Le Gendarme. This might get messy.”

The Alfa Romeo took another frantic right onto narrow Cordova Street, but too fast. It spun between two parked cars and went up onto the sidewalk. One of the motorcycle cops passed the Jaguar and followed. Panicked pedestrians weaved and ran out of the way, hiding in doorways. An elderly Japanese man stood in terror, desperately waving his cane. The Alfa Romeo hit him square on, and his body flew over the car’s hood and roof.

“Jesus,” said Trudy Parr as she turned the corner and saw the old man’s body hit the sidewalk, the cop manoeuvring round him. “We’ve gotta back off.”

“No!” said Archambault. “This villain must die. We go.”

Trudy Parr shrugged and shifted.

The Alfa Romeo raced off of the sidewalk onto the road as she accelerated to catch up. Both cars sped toward Heatley Avenue with police close behind.

“Are rail yards ahead?” said Archambault. “These bâtards don’t know what they’re in for.”

“Fine by me,” Trudy Parr said.

As she gained on the Alfa, she kissed its rear bumper with her front. The Alfa accelerated again as Beckenbauer looked back, distraught and frantically shaking the shoulder of the driver. They were going sixty miles per hour now on the tight and congested waterfront streets of Vancouver.

An engine pulling a line of hopper cars was crossing Hawks Avenue as freight cars were shunted in the approaching rail yards. The engineer sounded his horn, two long, one short and one long, and the Heatley Avenue level crossing lights began to flash as a bell sounded steadily. It was a clear day and the rails ahead were smooth and silver in the sun. The way ahead was traffic free and the engineer relaxed and lit a cigarette. He’d later be granted an early retirement by Canadian Pacific for travelling that day at twice the posted speed.

Rushing toward the harbour now, the Alfa Romeo skidded left onto Heatley Avenue. The road was clear of other vehicles, so Nathanial shifted and pushed the gas pedal to the floor. The speedometer showed seventy-five mph as the Alfa hit the level train crossing.

As it crossed the tracks, Beckenbauer saw something moving fast toward his side of the car. Though it all seemed to happen ridiculously slowly, he had only seconds to consider the iconic beaver over the red Canadian Pacific shield beneath the single large headlight. It’s a bloody rodent, he thought as the oncoming diesel locomotive obliterated the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este Carrozzeria Touring Berlinetta. Metal on metal sparks caused the car’s half empty gas tank to explode seconds after impact. The bodies would never be identified.

“What a fucking mess,” the motorcycle cop said as he skidded to a stop. He watched a huge plume of smoke rise over the harbour. “And it was such a swell car.”

“The police will be envious of your work,” Archambault said. Trudy Parr had parked a half block away and watched in her side-view mirror as the motorcycle cop walked up to her window.

“They can claim it for themselves,” she said. “They were in pursuit, too.”

The motorcycle cop tapped on the window. Trudy Parr rolled it down.

“Hello, Officer,” she said.

The cop bent down. His face was familiar. He said, “That was a bit much for a Wednesday morning, don’t you think, Miss Parr?”

“Justice is just that way.”

“Well,” said the cop, “there’s a heap of brass back at the office that’ll say justice ain’t your job. It’s ours.”

“Sometimes you just have to follow your muse,” said Trudy Parr.

“I don’t know what a muse is, Miss Parr,” said the cop. “But I looks like it’s something that gets people dead.”

“Yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “A muse is kind of like that.”

* * *

From the following day’s Vancouver Sun

Dead Boy Baffles Police 

The police are baffled by the discovery of the body of a teenaged boy in a west side park. He’d been left lying under a blanket on a park bench.

Though the cause of death is still under investigation, a Vancouver Police Department spokesman told reporters today that the boy appeared to have had a deep abdominal wound.

Though it had been expertly sutured shut, there were clear indications of a severe infection. And it is the infection that is believed to be the cause of death.

What would Trudy Parr do? notes on a cunning queen of Noir

There has to be a tough chick inside of every Noir writer. Without her, he’s just writing greeting cards.

Trudy Parr saved my life. She came to me as a character while I was in a suicidal bipolar fog. I’d sat down to write an epic, self-absorbed suicide note. A straight razor was ready on my desk, next to the blank computer screen and pulsing cursor. It was midnight in November; I was going to go out in style. And suddenly there she was, standing in the dimness of my apartment, wearing a 1940s Coco Chanel outfit. She looked at the razor, and then at me. The smile on her face said, go ahead, what are you waiting for? 

I began to write, but not a suicide note.

The straight razor remains Trudy’s up-close weapon of choice, and I still don’t know what I’m waiting for. But once, she told me this: A voice will call you. It always calls me. And when it does, that moment will belong to you. And this much remains true, that line has guided me ever since.

So, what other insights on life might Trudy Parr have to offer? Hmm, let’s see…

On bringing in the bad guy 

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

On what a girl should carry in her purse

She picked up the .45 on her desk and put it in her purse. Then she walked to the closet and put on her coat.

Favourite nightspots

“…You wanted to drive me home earlier. Now you can drive me down to the waterfront.”

Advice to men

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

Asserting oneself 

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

See above

“A voice will call you. It always calls me. And when it does, that moment will belong to you.”

On sobriety

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

What to say on a first date

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

Personal hygiene 

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

On empathy

“Fuck you, you underdone pork chop.”

On receiving a compliment 

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

What others are saying about Trudy

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

Having a good time

The neon gave her blonde hair a purple tint. Trudy Parr was half way through smoking a Cuban Panatela. There was an opened bottle of Glenlivet and an empty glass on the desk.

On perseverance

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

To gossip round town

It was all just a rumour as far as he was concerned, nothing substantiated. Just a lot of barroom stories. The fatal Trudy Parr of Dench and Parr Investigations. A spy for the Allies in Nazi occupied Paris. That was where she’d become a killer, supposedly. Now she sat there looking all Veronica Lake. Eyes too blue. Skin too pale. Demeanour too calm. The matchbook in front of her. Both of her hands on the desktop.

On bullying

“You’re a big bully of a man, Barney. I hate that. I brought you in on this as a courtesy. One east-ender to another. And you go and get all tough. Like I’m gonna fold all of a sudden, and play the quail. Well fuck you. The inlet’s just down the road, and who’d weep over you being fished out of it in a day or two all cold and wet and dead?”

On how to deal with a bad boyfriend

…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.

On how to inspire others

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

On logical self-defence

Whatever violent act Mr Finn was planning to perpetrate against Trudy Parr, it was interrupted by her swift right hook.

Dealing with figures of authority

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.

Looking good in the Vancouver rain

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.

How to smoke a cigarette

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.

On acts of nobility

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

Working with the disabled

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

On placement in a hierarchy

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

On the possibility of an afterlife

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

On vampires before they were trendy

“I get my beauty sleep when the works done,” said Trudy Parr walking out from behind the tram. She wore a trench coat with the collar turned up. “As for you, Ho. I hear the sunlight burns your skin so you sleep in a coffin during the day.”

What others think

“Watch out for her, boss,” said Meng, stepping out of the shadows. “She a tricky sister.”

On the media

“It’s all the lies of a desperately lonely newspaper reporter,” Trudy Parr said. She turned round on her office chair and looked out onto Hastings Street. It was raining.

Those with nicknames that reflect the opposite of their reality (you see, Hatless Andy is an ironic name. he actually has many hats, get it? oh, never mind.)

“Be nice with what you say about Trudy Parr,” said Hatless Andy.

On brotherhood and friendship 

“There he is,” said Trudy Parr. She sat with Crispin Dench in a black Renault near a subway entrance in central Paris. They watched as a well dressed man with a briefcase purchased apples at a cart. “I say we decapitate this asshole.”

Patience as a virtue 

“Yeah, well I scored low on my observe and report tests at assassin school,” Trudy Parr said.

International diplomacy

“The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.” Trudy Parr whispered from behind, into the man’s ear. She spit the words out, using the English of far away east end Vancouver.

On efficiency 

“He’s just across the street, Crispin. We can still exterminate the bastard. You know it’s better to ask for forgiveness.”

Office decorum 

Trudy Parr opened a desk drawer and pulled out a pistol. She stood and took aim. He grinned as he regained himself, rubbing his chin.

Being in the moment 

Trudy Parr sat at her desk with her .45 calibre M1911 pistol field stripped and laid out before her. She held the slide in her hand and studied it closely. Then she wiped it clean with a soft cloth dipped in a mild solvent. Her mind was at peace. She counted her breaths. It was a meditation on semi-automatic firearm maintenance.

The proper way to answer a telephone

Trudy Parr put down the recoil spring and picked up the gun’s barrel. She looked through it as if it were a telescope and panned the room. She put it down gently on the fifth ring, perfectly aligning it with the other dismantled parts. On the sixth ring she picked up the phone. “Hello, Beth. What’s rattling?”

On hobbies

“Want me to come down, shake the guy up?” As she said this, Trudy Parr weighed a .45 calibre cartridge in her hand. Its heft was comforting.

Let me know about your favourite Trudy Parr moment.

a surgeon of Ravensbrück Part 1 rewrite (cracked)

read part 2 here

Vancouver 1949

He could tolerate the passing of empty days; it was the minutes and hours that were difficult.

His father sat next to him on his bed saying consoling things, stroking his forehead. And the boy lay there looking up at him, knowing he had all of the great man’s love. But the boy knew he’d been dealt a death sentence. As much had been said by adults, convinced that their whispered words were beyond his hearing and comprehension.

He was gaunt now. He saw himself reflected in chrome finished medical equipment and the silverware that accompanied each of his meagre meals. He was weak. He was losing his vision and his fingers and toes burned like fire. Now there was talk of a radical procedure called kidney dialysis. It was a wasting disease, and he already looked like a ghost.

His father was a doctor, a surgeon. But he was powerless, except in treating a few of the symptoms. That was the irony, and the household suffered under the paradox. The beef and porcine insulins had stopped working for some reason. An endocrinologist had called it an allergic reaction. But no one knew the real reason.

“I will save you,” his father said. “Somehow. I’m certain that last night’s procedure is a success.” He tried not to frown as he said this. He was very concerned about his son’s sudden high fever.

The boy humoured the man. He had no choice. His world was very small and his father was a powerful archetype against which there was no comparison. What lay outside of his bedroom had become a landscape of distant memory and myth.

The bright afternoon shone in through his window. He heard the doorbell shortly before he drifted off to sleep.

It was Police Detective Olaf Brandt on the step, he and Detective Wagner Dabney. Now they listened to a small dog barking on the other side of the door. It seemed to go on forever. Then there were quick footsteps, and a quiet pause before the door opened. When it did open, Natalie Jervis stood there looking stunned and bitter, dressed in black. An excited schnauzer danced round her feet.

“Good morning, Mrs Jervis,” Olaf Brandt said. He awkwardly tipped his hat. “We are with the Vancouver Police Department. I am Detective Olaf….”

“This is not a good time,” Natalie Jervis said. “Please be quiet, Blitz.” The schnauzer didn’t stop.

“It’s a lovely dog,” said Dabney. “A schnauzer, no?”

Natalie Jervis stared at the two men.

“My Aunt Tootsie had a schnauzer,” Dabney continued. “She called him Heinrich.”

“What an odd name,” said Natalie Jervis, her tone shifting from outright hostility to derisive animosity.

“Heinrich? No, no, no. It’s very German, you know. My aunty thought it was a good fit.”

“No,” said Natalie Jervis. “I mean Tootsie. You said your aunt’s name was Tootsie. That’s very odd.”

“Well, her real name was Edna. You see….”

“If we may,” Olaf Brandt interrupted. “There’s a matter we’d like to discuss with Dr Jervis. Might we come in?”

Natalie Jervis hesitated, her eyes wide.

“I’m not available,” said a man with an English accent, at first just out of sight. “You may not come in. I do not speak to the press without an appointment.” It was Dr Maxwell Jervis. He came to stand next to his wife.

“We’re the police,” said Brandt. “Not the press.”

“The same applies to the police.”

“I do not make appointments to discuss police business,” Brandt said.

“He’s right, you know,” said Dabney. “I’ve never seen him make an appointment, not even a dentist appointment. Although what he does on his own time is his own business, naturally. Normally we just sort of show up, expecting people to answer our questions. Mostly they lie, of course. But that’s just part of the job, I guess.”

Dr Maxwell Jervis looked at Detective Dabney for a moment and said, “I don’t understand.”

“Well maybe I’ve been made cynical by the job,” said Dabney, “but whenever we talk to a witness or a suspect….”

“Suspect?” Jervis said. He was visibly angered by the word.

“You’re not suspected of anything,” Brandt said, looking over at his partner.

“I have a mind to file a complaint.”

“Please do so,” Brandt said, handing Dr Maxwell Jervis a business card. “Call the second number there.” Brandt pointed to a spot on the card. “In the meantime, Dr Jervis, you force me to discuss this with you on your doorstep. We are investigating the alleged theft of a human organ, a pancreas, from a corpse in the St Paul’s Hospital morgue. The supposed theft took place in the early morning hours, today. As Head Surgeon at the hospital, what do you know about it?”

“I know there is a discrepancy in inventory.”

“Inventory?” said Brandt. “It was removed from a dead body, not taken from a shelf.”

“When asked earlier today at the hospital, doctor,” Dabney chimed in, leafing through his notebook, “you said you were at home last night, and didn’t arrive at the hospital until 9 a.m. this morning.” The detective’s tone was no longer light and conversational. He was suddenly severe and earnest. The change in the man appeared to confuse Jervis. “Now it has come out that you were spotted in the hospital at approximately 1:15 a.m., round the time of the theft.”

“Whoever says this is mistaken,” Jervis said.

“The witness is considered reliable,” said Brandt.

“I understand you have a son with juvenile diabetes,” said Dabney. “That’s caused by a bum pancreas, ain’t it?”

There was a long silence, like a stand-off at the door. Jervis’ eyes were hard blue stone. Brandt’s eyes, moist and filled with empathy. Dabney had turned on a dime, transforming himself from a damn fool into a rock solid doorstep interrogator.

Maxwell Jervis changed the subject. “That name,” he said. “Brandt. And that accent of yours. You’re Norwegian, aren’t you?”

“Why yes, doctor. That’s very good. Most people take me for a German. It was a bit tricky during the war, I’ll tell you. But what has that to do with our discussion.”

Dr Maxwell Jervis slammed the door.

Paris, October 1943

“There he is,” said Trudy Parr. She sat with Crispin Dench in a black Renault near a subway entrance in central Paris. They watched as a well dressed man with a briefcase purchased apples at a cart. “I say we decapitate this asshole.”

“You know we can’t,” Dench said. “This is strictly observe and report.”

“Yeah, well I scored low on my observe and report tests at assassin school,” Trudy Parr said. “Besides, this creep’s a monster.”

“Someone in London wants him alive,” Dench said. He didn’t like it either.

“I’m starting to wonder whose side London’s on.”

“I guess they figure there has to be someone left over to hang when this shit’s all done.”

“Meanwhile he gets to cut up more women and kids.”

“War’s hell.”

“What about the briefcase?”

“That’s a different thing altogether,” Dench said. “I’d like to see what’s in it.”

“Now you’re talking, Dillinger,” said Trudy Parr. “Let’s go,” She opened her door, and Dench followed.

The two of them crossed the street and stood on either side of the well dressed man as he accepted his change from the apple vendor. Trudy Parr chose an apple, held it up, and addressing the man in perfect Parisian French, she said, “The apple is a perfect thing, no?”

“Why yes, it is,” said the man, smiling and taking note of the stunning young blonde standing next to him. “Allow me,” he said, offering the vendor a coin to pay for her apple.

At this, she dropped it and shouted, “What did you say? You fiend. How dare you? Is there no decency left? And you seemed like such a decent, dignified man.”

“But I….” The man stammered. “I simply….” He spoke inadequate French, with a German accent.

“How could you imply such a thing? I see you wear a wedding ring, Monsieur. Is your wife aware that you speak to innocent women this way?”

“I didn’t mean to offend….”

“What is the trouble here?” said Crispin Dench, playing a stranger intervening.

“This man,” said Trudy Parr. “He offered me an apple to meet him in an alley round the corner.”

“My, my,” said Dench, cocking an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“I did not,” the man protested.

“Do you think that is all I am worth, Monsieur? An apple?”

“No, no,” the man said in confusion. “It’s obvious you’re worth far more, of course.”

“Far more, you say?” said Dench. “Then you are attempting to procure her services. Has it occurred to you that not all of the women in Paris are starving prostitutes?”

“But I never meant to infer she was.” The man turned his back on Trudy Parr to face Dench.

“I must ask you to defend yourself, Monsieur,” said Dench, now taking a boxer’s stance. “I cannot allow you to smear the honour of the women of France.”

The man put down his briefcase and held up both hands in a placating gesture. “But I am an honourable man,” he said. “A good German. A good Nazi. We can discuss this, surely.”

“The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.” Trudy Parr whispered from behind, into the man’s ear. She spit the words out, using the English of far away east end Vancouver. Then she picked up the briefcase and returned to the car across the street.

As Crispin Dench handed the apple vendor a ten franc note, he kicked the good Nazi hard in the knee and then the stomach. The man fell over, writhing in pain. The apple vendor accepted the ten francs with a smile and a wink. Dench kicked the man in the belly twice more, and walked back to the Renault.

“We’ll have to dump the car,” he said, getting in. “What’s in the case?”

Trudy Parr did an inventory. “Medical equipment requisition forms. Carton of cigarettes, Gitanes.  Lucky you, your brand.” She dumped them in Dench’s lap. “Mont Blanc pen. Stack of punch cards. Address book. Appointment calendar. Various folders containing typed and hand written documents we can read later. And bingo, an official Ravensbrück doctor’s notebook.” She flipped through the pages. “Full of notes,” she said. She read silently for a moment, and then aloud, translating the German into English. “Rejection and necrosis of transplanted limbs and acromioclavicular joints is manifest in all subjects to date, resulting in massive infection of previously healthy tissue and eventual death. Perhaps this is exclusive to the Jew, but they seem so similar to superior races in so many other ways. Awaiting permission to experiment with criminal inmates of full blooded Aryan decent.

“Charming,” she said looking at Dench.

Dench started the car. “We’ve got to get that to London,” he said.

“Next satchel out,” said Trudy Parr. Then she said, “He’s just across the street, Crispin. We can still exterminate the bastard. You know it’s better to ask for forgiveness.”

“Now’s the time to be a good soldier,” Dench said, and drove away.

Vancouver 1949

Olaf Brandt sat at the White Lunch counter, looking off into space, stirring his coffee. He’d been doing so for five minutes. Wagner Dabney sat next to him reading the paper.

“That act of yours,” Brandt said. “Where you play the fool with the Aunt Tootsie. It never seems to grow old.”

“Worked in the war,” Dabney said. “Why not in peacetime?”

“The Nazis were so gullible?”

“Arrogance and gullibility walk hand in hand in this world.” Dabney turned a page.

“Sometimes I think you lay it on too thick.”

“Me too,” said Dabney. “Sometimes. But Jervis is no longer merely interesting. We converted him into a full-on suspect this afternoon.”

Brandt stirred his coffee and nodded his head.

“Penny for your thoughts, boys.” Trudy Parr took the stool next to Olaf Brandt. She was wearing a fedora and a stylishly cut trench coat with a red silk scarf. “The usual,” she told the waitress. Then she bit the cork end off of a Black Cat and lit it.

Brandt laid his coffee spoon down and lit a cigarette of his own.

“You two talk to that Jervis character lately?” said Trudy Parr.

“Who’s asking?” said Dabney, scanning the comics.

“Just a girl with an inquiring mind,” said Trudy Parr. The waitress placed a cup of coffee and a slice of pecan pie in front of her.

“Maybe we don’t share intel with civilians,” said Brandt.

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But maybe I saw this mug in the papers recently, loosely associated with the theft of a human organ from the St Paul’s morgue. And maybe his face resembles that of someone Crispin and I encountered at another time, in another place.”

“Do tell,” said Dabney.

“What’s in it for me?” said Trudy Parr, taking a bite of pecan pie.

“Something that a girl in this town can’t have enough of,” said Olaf Brandt.

“What’s that?”

“How about the undying love and respect of the Vancouver Police Department.”

* * * * *

The soiled glare of a basement morgue never changes, but the bad lighting always seems more bizarre after midnight. The slant of shadow is more severe by then; the colours more muted as they devolve toward shades of rusty blood.

The suicide had been delivered to the St Paul’s Hospital morgue two hours before, a young man with pale hazel eyes and a deep vertical slash running up each forearm. No one had yet bothered to wipe the blood away. The organ collector had arrived with an ice-filled cooler chest and a twenty dollar bill for the attendant. He carried his medical instruments in a small leather bag.

“It’s cooler number ten,” the attendant said as he pocketed the cash. “I’m going out for lunch now. That gives you half an hour, doc. Get it? Half an hour. Don’t be here when I get back.”

“Be careful how you address me,” the organ collector said. “I’m a physician. Don’t think that this arrangement gives you license….”

“Just be gone when I get back, doc” the attendant said, smiling. “A man’s ego ain’t worth a damn in this joint, and I don’t care about yours.”

The attendant walked away.

The collector opened the door to cooler number ten. The tray inside slid out at waist height. He removed a scalpel from his bag.

Gray’s Anatomy describes the human pancreas in this way: The pancreas is a compound racemose gland, analogous in its structures to the salivary glands, though softer and less compactly arranged than those organs…the pancreas has an important internal secretion…which is taken up by the blood stream and is concerned with sugar metabolism. Its length varies from 12.5 to 15 cm., and its weight from 60 to 100 gm.

He quickly opened the corpse’s abdomen, removed the gland in question and packed it in the ice chest. Then he pushed the rolling tray upon which the body lay back into the cooler. In less than ten minutes, he was speeding south on Burrard Street. He’d be home in twenty minutes. He hoped that Matthew was properly prepared in the basement of his Dunbar residence.

When he arrived in the basement, Matthew was fully sedated and being monitored by a nurse in full surgical garb. The organ collector’s wife helped him into his gown, and he commenced to thoroughly wash his hands in the basement sink.

Matthew was fifteen and had had juvenile diabetes for ten years. Insulin injections were no longer effective and the boy’s kidneys were failing. The collector and his wife could no longer stand by and watch their only child die a slow agonising death. Doctors had experimented with pancreas transplants, but none had been successful. Among other things, there was the question of mismatching and antigens. The collector believed he’d solved the problem. He’d nearly done so at Ravensbrück, but the war had ended too soon. He’d been so close to discovering the secrets of anti-rejection. Once discovered, they could have mended armies of battle broken soldiers. And healed innocents like his dear son with transplants of harvested organs. They might have even used the organs of inferior races.

But the body was too quick to refuse new tissues. And effective immunosuppressive drugs had yet to be discovered. It was an awful puzzle. He had faith now, however, in a new procedure. One that involved electrical impulses applied discretely after surgery. He’d seen evidence that it might help to match unmatchable tissues. It was their only hope. How long could Matthew hang on?

He stepped up to the surgical table, a work bench draped in a sterile blanket. He placed the ice chest containing the stolen pancreas on a side table. Mathew’s anesthetised body lay before him, under sheets arranged so that his abdomen was exposed. Both the collector and the nurse wore surgical masks. Their eyes met.

“Are you certain about this Dr Beckenbauer?” the nurse said.

“Do not use that name,” he said. “I’ve told you already.”

“Yes, doctor. I apologise.”

“And yes,” he insisted. “I’m certain.” He held out his hand. “Scalpel,” he said.

two poems for sunday

alone in the rain

she
encumbered by umbrellas walking
the ricey sidewalk of another’s matrimony
what is said of the sky?
once written in concrete by children
before stars had their start in the
swirl of heaven has it been so long
alone? the loneliness that follows
behind like a pet she
knows a pet
is an immense responsibility

sunday morning

darkness drew gravely on its last cigarette
looking down at its shoes the
way it will at closing time darkness
looking for a date &
all of the girls thinking it’s
too old a thing for me darkness
watching dawn from a bridge a
sad look, if you could see its eyes
watching angels diving like
rockets toward the iron core of the planet
combusting creatures obsolete
upon delivery

two poems for March 2014

Crimean 

I’d seen her before
in the slow hours before Sunday an
archival silhouette a
civilian running terrified
across the Ukraine on
grainy black & white newsreels a
child in her arms toward
compulsory oblivion

she was once the snap of creation
before bankers saw the promise of it
shadow at an assumed moment of light
reason bound by bootlaces,
punctuated by diesel plumes

news cycle

the dead arrive dot matrix on the screen
now they are a different gender
a computer virus    once
they shared their share of creation they
knew passwords & had
usernames there is
email waiting for them, imploring
spontaneous is the laughter of disaster
delicate is catastrophe

blue skies subversive

2001

It wasn’t Morse code, no dots and dashes. It was more like a high-pitched shriek in his head, series after series of rapid bursts followed by weighty long and short pauses. All of it meaningless to anyone but him. Only he could decipher the code.

And the switch was on twenty-four hours a day, dispatch after dispatch. He received each one reverently, decoding it like a sleepless monk interpreting an impenetrable revelation. He was an engine. He wrote it all down, using only green ink – Sanford Flair felt tip pens, Model: PAP84401ZQ. Notebook after notebook – Hilroy Model: 013223, 1-Subject, 10-1/2″ x 8″, 250 pages.

He bought them when he was able, with the spare change he begged for on the street. And he lined the walls of his room when the pages were full of his divination, cover to cover, diagrams and text, both sides of each page.

When he first heard the code, at nineteen years of age, he’d held his hands over his ears. But that only increased its ferocity, making the rapid bursts sound like depth charges, the pauses like vaulted tombs of doomed echo. He wept at the curse of it. On the sidewalks of the city, raving and pulling his hair. Losing his former self in it, abandoning the kind words of family and all prospects of love. But, he learned to listen. He learned to understand. And knew that he was the functionary and go-between for an immense and cosmic broadcast of warning and portent.

He cracked the code early in 1981, at twenty years of age.

Understanding the gravity of one of the earliest directives, he tried to warn the world that an oily haired, B movie President would be hit in the lung by the ricocheting bullet fired by an obsessed John W. Hinckley, Jr.

And when he did, he was cast out of newspaper offices and shunned by radio call-in shows. Eventually, he shouted it in frustration to the police in his dishevelled street reeking clothes, and they beat him in an alley off Abbott and Hastings Streets.

And the thing happened as he predicted it would, on Monday March 30, 1981.

He spoke to no one after that. But decided he’d not only write his prophesies into notebooks, but also on the walls along the block long back alley behind his slum hotel, using countless black Pentel N 50 Markers, each wearing down rapidly on the mossy red brick. He would have starved, rather than allow supplies of the permanent markers to dwindle. His filthy fingers inscribing the soon to be history, line by prescient line:

Argentina will invade Falkland Islands; U.S. Embassy to be bombed in Beirut; Huge poison gas leak to come – Bhopal, India; Space shuttle Challenger is doomed, check the O rings; Beware of Chernobyl nuclear disaster; Berlin wall will fall come November; Branch Davidians will die; Twelve must die in Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas; Oklahoma Truck bomb Timothy McVeigh; Royal family plans to murder Princess Diana; Columbine, watch out for Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; Gore will concede to  American terrorist, W, deception and domestic carnage will follow.

The high-pitched shriek and hollow paused ciphers resulted in tens of thousands of perfectly accurate forecasts. Graffiti volumed, issued and chaptered.

In a time when websites, blogs and on-line chat rooms were blighted with incoherent digitized conspiracy theories and mere guesses posing as prophecy, he lived in analog poverty and obscurity, predicting precisely the events that would bless and plague the planet.

He met Stanley in the summer. That was all he could remember about it. Stanley, the man sitting with him at the Ovaltine café lunch counter. The man with the broad trustworthy smile. The one who bought him coffee and listened without judgement.

“It must be hard to have that noise in your head,” Stanley would say. “And to feel the responsibility that comes with it.”

“I guess,” he’d said, staring ahead at a wall of café mirror, seeing his filthy image there. He’d never thought of it that way. The noise and the code were all he knew, and he couldn’t remember what responsibility meant.

“If there’s anything you need,” Stanley had once said, “you just let me know. You know I’ll be here.”

That was how the conversations went, between him and Stanley. Stanley, generous; him, pitiable and bedraggled. Stanley showing him photographs of his family, while he sat there with nothing to say. His family and the comfort it might bring as mysterious to him as the source of the code.

At some point, people began to visit the alley wall to read his predictions. They came to watch him write them down. They planned their lives accordingly. They created tiny shrines and lit candles. They left him food, money and necessary supplies. The wall was photographed and venerated. It inevitably and ironically appeared on the world wide web. To some, he was a hero and a prophet. Newspapers and television covered the phenomenon. It was human interest; it was mysterious, like UFOs.

When the attention became too much, he’d only come out at night, writing in the yellow incandescent light. In the morning there was fresh prophecy for the people, yet to be sullied by malfunctional network news agencies and government misinformation. Pilgrims journeyed to the wall and knelt before his foretelling.

But others watched, too. They knew his name. They loitered and creeped. And when they were finished for the day, they returned to agencies of cant where they submitted to the device of state. He’d become marked and if he survived, it was only because he’d been labelled insane.

Then one wakeful night, it came to him. Unclear at first, snowy dot matrix across the ceiling above him in his bed. A vision of malevolence, men planning the flight of jetliners, their collision with tall buildings. Towers collapsing on television screens worldwide as a supposed fool of a President sat in a classroom with school children, pretending to be caught unaware. Humanity scrambling like hornets, manipulated from on high, striking-out at wrong targets as the actual perpetrators gloated over their perfectly executed plan, branding the day 9/11.

He lived secretly with the foreknowledge throughout the summer, before September 11th. It was too wicked to be true. Had the code finally failed? When he could no longer hold it in, he told a street clinic psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was amused, and suggested hospitalization.

Then he wrote the newspapers and called radio talk shows, and in spite of all the accurate predictions he’d made already, he was ignored.

When he told Stanley, Stanley offered to drive him to the hospital.

On September 7th, 2001, he stood in front of the art gallery with a sign. He shouted and ranted, deliriously. Passers-by called him names and laughed. On September 8th, he finally wrote it on the wall.

There will be four passenger airliners, supposedly hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists. Don’t be fooled.  They will be called suicide attacks. Two planes, AA Flight 11 and UA Flight 175, will impact the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Both towers will collapse, but not because of the impacts. AA Flight 77 will be reported crashing into the Pentagon. UA 93, will crash into a field near Shanksville. 3,000 people will die in the attacks. It is no conspiracy; it is a plan. This is no theory; it is foretold. Tomorrow, watch the blue skies.

More code came on the night of September 10th. He interpreted it all. He saw a world convinced by lies. Outrage misdirected. Facts and evidence ignored. Skeptics labelled traitors.

He sat alone in the dark of his room, that night. Thousands of dog-eared Hilroy Model: 013223, 1-Subject notebooks surrounding him on shelves. The high-pitched shriek pulsed on. A trash bin next to a simple writing table was filled with exhausted green felt pens.

There was a knock at the door. There were always mysterious knocks at his door. The hotel was filled with ghosts. He ignored it. There was another knock. He sat still, like Buddha with his eyes closed.

“You in there?” It was a familiar voice. “It’s me. It’s Stanley. Will you let me in?”

He opened his eyes. Stanley had never come to his door before. He felt panic, but didn’t know why.

“Just let me in,” Stanley said. “People are worried.”

He stood up and went to the door. He put his ear to it. There were faint noises in the hall. The shuffling of feet. Someone sighing. He placed his hand on the doorknob and began to turn it. But then the door came crashing in.

He fell to the floor, beneath the door that had been forced off of its hinges. Dark human forms surrounded him. He’d not foreseen this. Someone kicked him hard in the ribs. He curled up into a ball and took more kicks to the back and head.

“Stop it.” It was Stanley’s voice. “He’s harmless.”

“He’s dangerous,” another voice said, “a legitimate target. That’s why we’re here.”

“I’ve been assigned to him for more than a year,” said Stanley. “He’s not a physical threat. It’s what he knows and how he knows it. Just cuff him and let’s take him out through the back.”

The handcuffs were hard and cold. A sack was put over his head and he was dragged down four flights of stairs, and put into the backseat of a car. It smelled of stale men’s cologne and coffee. After a 30 minute ride, he was transferred to another vehicle. It was a small jet aircraft.