from a couple of years ago. the poetic hardships of selling papers on the street. (f-bomb warning)
from a couple of years ago. the poetic hardships of selling papers on the street. (f-bomb warning)
This is from a couple of years ago. I talked to Steve today about old times. Then he asked me for a dollar.
I came here to die
of saturation the
noise of poltergeists
dim in transmission the
blood & bone of
keystrokes upon the pavement
there is nothing to wonder the
circuits speak whispering
like museums filled with the
languidness of code
this is a rewrite of a previously posted story
Of all of the devices and contrivances of the post-modern era, there is none so well contrived and devised as the 3-D Jesus wall hanging.
Molly Apples was distracted by one now as it hung in the window of Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store. When she leaned to the left, it was a close up of the white robed, brown eyed Jesus with the beatific face. The one she knew from her childhood Sunday school. When she leaned to the right, the same Jesus winked, smiled and held up two fingers in either the sign of victory or peace. The wall-hanging was priced to sell at $1.95, and she wanted it badly. She wanted it to hang in her living room, next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. But she had other places for her money.
You see, when Molly Apples was a youngster, not long after her break with her childhood Sunday school over a devotional disagreement, she made the decision that if she had only one life to live, she’d live it as a blonde. And, having made this decision, she bought her first Clairol hair colouring kit from the Cunningham Drugstore on Commercial Drive.
Molly Apples was a natural brunette, but wanted more than anything to look like Veronica Lake with her platinum blonde peek-a-boo hairstyle. Unfortunately, nothing she could have done would have ever made Molly Apples look like Veronica Lake. Molly Apples was cursed (her word) even into middle age, with the impish and pouty appearance of Shirley Temple, not the big eyed femme fatale looks of Veronica Lake. But nonetheless, since that fateful day in her fifteenth year, after coming home with her proudly purchased bottle of blonde, her hair had been as close to pearly platinum as she was able to achieve. And no matter how dire her financial circumstance, she’d always reserved enough capital to purchase her desired hair colour.
And that’s how it was on that day when Molly saw 3-D Jesus in the window of Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store, and had to turn away. She was bound to buy her hair colour, and nothing could deter her. But she couldn’t know then how that day would change her forever.
In Cunningham’s, after picking up her box of Clairol Perfect 10 – 10, she toured the store, as was her habit, and ended up in the pharmacy. And there, situated right next to the home pregnancy tests, was a dazzling and typically tasteless display she’d never seen before. It advertised the latest in home diagnostics. A stunning breakthrough in medical science. It was safe, easy and convenient and was value priced. It was the new GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test.
The small text read, Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test is a patented technology providing unparalleled at-home results right when you want them. Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test is 99% accurate at detecting popular DSM-5 psychiatric disorders like Depression, Bipolar Disorder 1 and 2, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorders and Psychosis. See drug monograph for a full listing. Call doctor if results are positive.
She picked up one of the pastel packages. The price was $15. Holding it to her ear, she gave it a little shake. Nothing moved inside, though the little box did have some heft to it. She turned it over and found a colour chart with instructions.
Once a small amount of urine was applied to the target area of the device contained inside the package, a colour would appear to represent a psychiatric disorder. Blue was for depression, bright red was for bipolar 1 and pink for bipolar 2, orange was for schizophrenia, puce was for obsessive compulsive disorder, green was for generalised anxiety disorder and yellow was for psychosis. There were gradient shades in between on the colour chart representing other disorders like borderline personality disorder and agoraphobia. White meant the user was perfectly sane.
Molly Apples thought a moment, then made a decision. She would purchase the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test and test herself for a psychiatric disorder. It was, after all, a grey day and she didn’t really have much to do.
All of her life Molly Apples had felt different from the rest of humanity. There was something about her, she felt, that was just a little off-kilter. This was confirmed by family members like her mother who had always said that Molly Apples was different and should therefore expect a life of exclusion and isolation, and that Molly Apples should be content with that, as it was the will of their Pentecostal God.
Others, acquaintances and people who claimed to be her friends, had always concluded that Molly Apples was a little odd. They used words like unhinged, unzipped, screwy, oddball, dingy, dippy, delirious, flaky, flipped and freaked out. Doctors had used words like eccentric, erratic, unconventional, idiosyncratic, quirky and peculiar. But at no time in her life had she received a psychiatric diagnosis. Something for which there might be a therapeutic intervention that might ease the anguish others assumed she suffered.
The Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test might be just the thing to put that right. She’d bring the evidence that the test revealed to her physician and set him straight. It would light a fire under the shifty quack to find some solution to her abnormal state.
At the till, she forked over the cash for the Clairol Perfect 10 – 10 and the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. It was more than she had planned to spend, but it was worth it. She could go without lunch for a few days. The cashier cocked an eyebrow and smirked as she scanned and bagged the items. Molly Apples pursed her lips and let it go. Hers had been a life of cocked eyebrows and smirks. Protesting was pointless and only attracted attention. She took her bag and walked out.
Molly walked back home past Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store, and stopped to look at the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging in the window again. She stood on the sidewalk leaning right then left to see the white robed Jesus with the beatific face transform into the winking peace sign wielding Jesus. It was a 3-D thing of beauty, and since she’d already blown the bank on hair colour and the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test, she decided to go all the way and purchase it.
Hana, the Korean cashier at Wilaker’s, didn’t cock an eyebrow or smirk at Molly Apples’ purchase. She smiled and nodded approvingly.
“Very nice,” she said.
Hana was a fellow follower of the Anointed One, and had a home filled with 3-D Jesuses, one hung in almost every room. She’d even been the cashier on duty when Molly Apples purchased her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. And Hana had approved very much of that acquisition, too.
“Very more 3-D Jesus arrived next week,” Hana said in her best broken English. Molly Apples thanked her and left to walk home.
Once home, Molly Apples realised it would be a chore to hang the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging next to the black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. It would involve a hammer and footstool. So, instead, and for the time being, she hung the sacred icon on her refrigerator with a Holy Land Experience theme park fridge magnet. She stood back and looked, tilting her head this way and that to see the alternating images. It pleased her greatly. But then she remembered the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. In a moment, she had the package in hand, and was once again reading the instructions.
She tore off the cellophane wrapper and opened the box. Inside, she found the device. It looked something like a teaspoon with a small square patch of what appeared to be litmus paper in its centre. Urine could be applied directly, or the device could be dipped into a vessel containing urine. Molly Apples blushed at the words applied directly, and went to the cupboard to retrieve a rarely used Royal Dalton teacup with 14K trim. Then she went into the washroom and, though she lived alone, locked the door. In a moment she emerged and went into the kitchen to dip the device.
Sitting at her kitchen table, Molly Apples held the device in one hand while holding the package in the other, rereading the instructions. What colour will I be, she thought. Am I blue for depression? Yellow for psychosis? Puce for obsessive compulsive disorder? Chartreuse for narcissistic personality disorder? Or will I fall, inconclusively, somewhere in between? Or will I be, and at this thought she gave a dreadful little gasp, white for perfectly sane?
She dipped the device into her Royal Dalton teacup of urine and pulled it out. The instructions said that she must wait five minutes for a conclusive and error-free result. She checked the time on her stove clock, and sat staring at the small square patch of litmus paper. It was a very slow five minutes, but when it was over the small square patch of litmus paper wasn’t white anymore. It was brown. She picked up the box again and read the instructions on the back. There was a rainbow of colours, but no brown. There was magenta, purple, cyan, red, pink and dozens of other shades in between, each with its own assigned psychiatric disorder. But there was no brown.
Molly Apples was incredulous. How could a product that promised so much fail her so completely? She scanned the packaging for a clue, but found nothing. Nothing, that is, until she saw the words Help Line and the phone number 1-833- 555-Harmony. She dashed to her telephone and dialled.
It rang and rang and Molly Apples grew impatient. Surely to goodness operators were standing-by, waiting for her call. She was used to calling the 700 Club Prayer Line. They prayerfully and solicitously picked up almost at once. GlaxTonic Laboratories could take a lesson from Pat Robertson.
Then came the recording, GlaxTonic Laboratories is anxious to take your call and answer your questions about the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. If you have a general question about the Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test, please press one now; if you disagree with your test result and would like an alternative result more consistent with your self-described state of mind, please press two now; if your Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test device displays a colour not found on the back of the package, please press three now.
Conditions of class action settlements order that we announce the details of all class action settlements. If you’re calling about current world-wide class action lawsuits and how you can receive a free gift for withdrawing your claim to court-ordered settlements, please press zero now. Have a nice day.
Molly Apples pressed three, and listened to Robert Goulet sing covers of Beatles’ tunes for twenty-three minutes. Then an operator answered.
“Hello,” said the operator. “Thank you for calling GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test Customer Helpline. My name is Felicia. How may I help you?”
“What’s brown supposed to mean?” said Molly Apples.
“Brown?” said Felicia. The line went silent for a few moments, except for the distant sound of typing on a computer keyboard. Then Felicia came back. “The GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test doesn’t display brown, ma’am. The chemical composition of the litmus paper pad makes it impossible for brown to appear. Please recheck your results and call back if you feel it’s necessary. Have a nice day.”
“Whoa there, Felicia,” said Molly Apples, perhaps a little too loudly.
“Don’t you hang up on me. I just spent $15 on this little item, and I want results. Now just you find out what brown indicates, and tell me so we can end this phone call.”
There were more quiet keyboard sounds, then Felicia came back.
“Are you certain it’s brown and not chartreuse? Chartreuse is often mistaken for brown, as is orange. You do sound a little narcissistic. Also, have you ever been tested for colour blindness? Ophthalmologists are available in your area. I have a list of offices I can mail to you or I can send it to you via email. By the way, do you know about the GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points Plan? You already qualify for 10,000 GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points with your purchase of the GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test. Points can be redeemed for a myriad of lovely gift items. All you have to do is open an account with us. We can do that right now while you’re on the line. Shall I send you a catalogue?”
“Look, sister,” said Molly Apples, “the little paper square is as brown as German chocolate torte cake. I’m not colour blind, and I don’t give a hoot about your little bonus points plan, which is, no doubt, a means by which GlaxTonic Laboratories sucks in all of the vital personal information it can on its customers in anticipation of the eventual arrival of The Beast Satan 666.”
“Uhm, well,” Felicia said shyly, “you may be interested in knowing that this week’s GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points Plan special is a Cuisinart Food Processor with nested bowls and retractable cord, available in three designer colours for only 150,000 GlaxTonic Laboratories Bonus Points.”
“I want a damn diagnosis,” said Molly Apples, turning red and gnashing her teeth. “And I want one now. What the hell does brown connote in your satanic little GlaxTonic Laboratories universe? Am I psychotic, bipolar, anxious, antisocial? What?”
“You seem a little anxious.”
“Don’t toy with me, Felicia.”
“Perhaps you’d like to speak to my Call Centre Manager,” Felicia said.
“Will he tell me anything different from what you’re telling me now?” Molly Apples asked.
“No,” said Felicia. “But he’s very empathetic and a good listener.”
Molly Apples became silent, but her ambient hostility filled the space between her and Felicia. “Just forget it.” She hung up the telephone.
For the rest of the day and into the evening, Molly Apples sat at her kitchen table staring at the tiny square patch of brown litmus paper. Eventually night arrived, but she didn’t turn on a light. The world preyed on the weak and ill-informed; it was full of broken promises and disappointment. Molly Apples realised, not for the first time, just how ill-equipped she was to live in the world. She thought about colouring her hair. It might lighten her mood. But then she changed her mind. Colouring one’s hair was a sinful vanity. Perhaps it was the reason for her life of heartbreak and uncertainty. Perhaps, she thought, it would be better if she tuned in the 24 hour 700 Club station and watched reruns.
But then she remembered the 3-D Jesus wall-hanging. It had to be hung on the wall next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. She went to her tool drawer and pulled out a hammer and nail. Then she went to the refrigerator. There He was, at once in His white robe and beatific face. Then winking, smiling and holding up two fingers in either the sign of V for victory or peace. Molly Apples couldn’t help moving her head back and forth to see both.
She was trying to decide which she liked better when a third image of Jesus appeared. This one was unlike the two she’d seen previously. This Jesus had an even calmer smile, and more caring eyes. He was animated, as well. He held up a pacifying hand. Molly Apples was astonished. She reached out and touched the wall-hanging, wishing to make contact, but only felt the hard refrigerator door behind it.
“It’s okay, Molly Apples,” the third 3-D Jesus said.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Molly Apples in amazement. “Is it really you?”
“Yes, child,” He said.
Molly Apples began to cry. “Oh, Jesus,” she wept, “I’m so confused and alone and worried. What is wrong with me? Oh, what is so terribly wrong with me?”
“You’re seeking a psychiatric diagnosis, Molly. But some human conditions defy description and classification. For these there is no therapeutic intervention, only faith and perseverance.”
“Do I have enough faith?” asked Molly Apples.
“Yes, you do.”
“Will I persevere?”
“Yes, you will.”
“And what can I do,” ask Molly Apples, “to feel some happiness in this wicked, wicked world?”
The third 3-D Jesus smiled an even calmer and endearing smile. And it was such a genuine and gentle smile, Molly Apples wept all the more. But now, hers were tears of pure joy.
“There’s really only one thing you can do,” the third 3-D Jesus told Molly Apples.
“Yes?” she said in a sudden fit of impossible anticipation. “What is it? What could that one thing be? Should I become a pilgrim and walk the planet alone for your sake? Should I fast until near starvation? Should I flog myself with a switch until my flesh falls away and only bone remains?”
“No, Molly Apples,” He said, “none of those things.”
“Then what, oh what?” Molly Apples said. “What can I do to know you better and finally feel happiness?”
“Well,” He said, as if He might not know.
“Yes?” said Molly Apples.
“I think you should colour your hair. Your roots are showing.”
Molly Apples felt an overwhelming ecstasy. She fell to her knees as if to pray but fainted instead. Later she woke to find the animated, talking 3-D Jesus gone from the wall-hanging. Only the other two remained.
And so Molly Apples spent the rest of that night colouring her hair, and felt such elation in doing so that she knew it was the right thing to do. The next morning, she hung her 3-D Jesus wall-hanging next to her black velvet painting of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for all to see, though she had very few visitors.
In the days that followed, she joined in on several of the class action lawsuits against GlaxTonic Laboratories Harmony® Home Psychiatric Disorder Test, and eventually received several tens of thousands of dollars for her trouble. She used a portion of the money to cover all of the walls of her home with different 3-D Jesus wall-hangings, and invited Hana, the Korean cashier from Wilaker’s Notions and Dry Goods Store, over for tea.
As they walked together through her apartment, past the ever changing images of 3-D Jesuses, Molly knew that her confusion, loneliness and worry were gone forever.
He preferred a revolver to an automatic. A revolver didn’t spit empty shells all over the goddamn place. But a .40 calibre roscoe still made one hell of a noise. And he was starting to hear doors creaking open down the hall as the brave-curious stuck their noses out to sniff the cordite air.
The loser of this particular gunfight lay dead on the India carpet, sizzling in a pool of liquid silver that smelled like roasted marshmallows. It was a mess in some unlucky stranger’s apartment. But he’d just been doing his job, and that was how Telford Goblins checked out. In three minutes, there’d be nothing left but a flaky silver residue and traces of nitric acid. Under different circumstances, you could have taken a photograph with it. But he wasn’t a photojournalist. He was Arlo Fountain, and he hunted goblins. He also hunted Tall Whites, Reptilians, Andromedans, Flatwoods, Hopkinsville Goblins, Greens and Greys, and anything else visiting from out there. Anything in from the stars that he could earn a bounty on. The price on this paunchy boogeyman’s head would buy new whitewalls for his Pontiac. That was good. Arlo was a guy who kept up appearances.
He knelt down and used a matchbook from Grady’s Diner to scrape some of the bubbling liquid into a specimen bottle. They’d test it against records at the lab to confirm the kill was fresh and legit, a process using deoxyribonucleic acid. Top secret, he’d been told. Not a topic for lunch counter conversation. The goblins weren’t, either. And neither was his job. It was all hush-hush. He put egg man down on his income tax. Rosy had thought that one up, because she said he always delivered. The name had stuck. Maybe that’s because there really wasn’t any other tag for what he did, and who’d believe it anyway. He was just an anonymous punch card, shot through a compiler a week before every payday. Which was fine by him. No fame, no blame. So, it was the egg man who visited the visitors, and eliminated them before they became more than myth and their presence started to make the masses have second thoughts about God, His angels and the need for good government.
Who was Rosy? She was sort of a problem, an Andromedan. She looked like any other Earth dame on the make, but she was pure alien. He didn’t mind that she was something of a money pit. The Depression was hard on everyone, even extraterrestrials. One day, though, he or someone like him would be duty bound to scrape a bit of what was left of her into a specimen bottle and send it off to the lab. If she was smart, she’d get out of Dodge before that had to happen. For now, however, they were copasetic.
But back to what was left of the goblin in the parlour. It had no name or known affiliation. It just occupied space in the universe. That’s all he knew. That’s why it had shown up on the Central Dispatch Monitor. Which likely meant it was rogue, likely a mercenary working with a larger clandestine team.
Another thing he knew was that Telford Goblins weren’t just extraterrestrial. They were extra-dimensional, as well. And it was obvious that this one had just arrived. It’d still been wearing its utility belt when he plugged it, still been wearing its snub-nosed pulse toaster. It had drawn on him first, the cheeky troll. He’d ducked the pulse, but it’d reconstituted a huge section of the wall behind him. The striped wall paper was now a patch of caramelised, radioactive sapphire/graphite aggregate. The whole block would have to be evacuated, and the building bulldozed and carried off to a desert half-life silo complex. But that wasn’t his problem.
His problem now was the extra-dimensional angle. It meant that there had to be a closet-port nearby. He’d checked behind the doors in the apartment, they were the usual collection of dead-ends and dust bunny alcoves. But one of them opened onto a cold black void where duffle coats and windbreakers should have hung. It was a classic, but undoubtedly obscure, domestic closet-port on an infinite meta-hole network that spanned countless universes.
He pulled a barricade grenade from his trench coat pocket, dropped it into the void and closed the door. In a second, a bright light shone round the door’s edges and he felt a minor tremor. When he opened the door again, it was once more just a regular closet. There was a lady’s floral print dress swinging on a cedar hanger and a pair of bedroom slippers on the floor.
He went to the telephone and dialled a thirteen digit number.
“Central Dispatch,” an operator answered.
“Arlo Fountain,” he said, “Gimme Bruster Cunningham.”
There were a few clicks and buzzes, then a gruff voice said, “That you Fountain? Tell me you closed that damn closet-port. I don’t care about the troll – we can get it later. I just want to know that that port is shut.”
“The goblin’s bug splat,” said Arlo Fountain. “And I closed the port. What’s the going rate for closet-port closure, by the way?”
“The cheque’s in the mail,” Bruster Cunningham said. “But I’ve got another thing to say to you, Fountain. It’s about that arachnid you’re dating. I told you to dump her a month ago. I don’t want you in the room when I send someone in to get her.”
“She ain’t no arachnid, Cunningham. She’s Andromedan. Show some respect for a fella’s girl.”
“It’s a cluster-fuck, Arlo. A major protocol conflict. There’re suits up the chain that don’t like it. They say it makes us look soft.”
“It’s a lonely universe, Bruster. Rosy’s a champ in the linen, knows her quantum physics and pours a damn fine shot of rye. I don’t wanna have to dump her only to end up dating my landlady’s painfully introverted, stamp collecting daughter.”
“Then you’re just a shovel digging your own hole, Arlo.”
“And there’s a strange sort of satisfaction to that, Bruster. I’d encourage you to try it some time.”
Bruster Cunningham hung up, and Arlo reflected on the exchange. There was a certain strange kind of satisfaction in breaking the rules, even, or maybe especially, when a guy knew it was bound to turn out bad for him. It was the sort of thing that separated the men from the Reptilians.
The Cog Saloon was in Gastown. He went there often to think about his lucky stars, the ones he counted every time he got out of a tussle with an alien alive. He knew he was good at what he did. But he also knew that survival was a numbers game. Sooner or later, he was gonna get it. The odds hated a guy with a gun.
He ordered the good hooch that night, doubles. And he was sipping. He’d start belting it back later, maybe even buy a bottle and watch the sun rise down by the train tracks.
“The skinny is you waxed a goblin today.” It was Rosy. She took the barstool next to his. “Maybe even closed a closet-port. Someone out there in orbit isn’t gonna appreciate that.”
Andromedans have Japanese features. Rosy looked like a Tokyo starlet. Her eyes were an odd shade of blue, never seen on Earth before she arrived. He liked that. They were hypnotic eyes. And he liked being hypnotised.
“It was self-defence,” he said.
“It was a hit,” Rosy said, as she signalled the bartender. She ordered Absinthe. “It’s like everything you do. It’s got the taste and smell of murder.”
“Call it what you like. I won’t squawk.”
“It’ll be me one day,” she said. “Won’t it, Arlo?”
“You know the score, doll” he said. “And since you know what it takes to get from there to here, I figure you know how to get back, and when to do it.” He gulped back his drink and quietly banged the glass on the bar. The bartender heard and arrived to pour. “I think we’re swell together, that’s all. And don’t ask me why, but no one at Central Dispatch has pulled your number yet. Sometimes I wonder about that. Maybe you’re being protected for some bigger reason.” He looked into her hypnotic eyes, and said, “Are you being protected for some bigger reason? Is there something going on in the ether that a common citizen like me can’t know?”
She pulled a cigarette from her bag and lit up. “Maybe,” she said.
“Then this conversation is redundant, and ruining the general mood of the Cog Saloon.”
They spent the rest of the night together, up in her flat over Water Street, laying on her bed together, listening to quiet jazz 78s. She’d placed a red silk scarf over the lamp, and they looked up together at the coloured ceiling as they talked. He drank straight from the bottle now, as several deep space battle cruisers silently entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The wall telephone was ringing in his empty apartment on the other side of town, and Bruster Cunningham cursed the name of Arlo Fountain.
Imagine lingering above a sea of fedoras and shoe leather, moving in waves across the open expanse of Gare du Nord. A grand ballet. Paris. 6.00 pm, 1943. Silent except for the snap of a paper match striking, and the quiet sizzle of a newly lighted tailor-made. Then a face looks up from the mass, and he sees you. You recognise him. Target and predator. He smiles at you from down there. His face is paper white beneath the brim of his brown hat. His eyes are all pupil. Black. And when he smiles, he exposes the yellow sabre teeth of a carnivore. You fight to breath.
Trudy Parr wakes perspiring from the dream, and says the name: Orav. Reaching for the nightstand, she retrieves a pack of Black Cat cigarettes. It’s dark. It’s 2.45 a.m. “What the hell do you want now,” she whispers. From somewhere distant, he whispers back: “You have something of mine, I think.” “Fuck off,” whispers Trudy Parr. Then there’s laughter like the hiss of steam. Paris returning in evil little nightmares.
A man wearing a hat and trench coat walks down West Hastings near Cambie, smoking a French cigarette. It’s 10:30 a.m., wet and grey. Though he carries no weapon, he does carry a private investigators license for the province of British Columbia. The name on the license, typewritten in fuzzy courier script, is Crispin Dench. The license describes Dench as male, born in 1911, five foot eleven inches tall with light brown hair and green eyes, weighing 180lbs.
At the door of the Dominion Building, he ducks in under an awning and removes his hat. Then he looks over his shoulder at the cenotaph in Victory Square, across the street. “Here’s to Victory,” he says under his breath and flicks the remains of his cigarette into the gutter. He walks inside. On the fifteenth floor are the offices of The Dench & Parr Agency.
“Good morning, Gladys,” Crispin Dench says to his secretary as he enters his office. “Wadda ya know?”
“That crumb Worthy Morgan called,” Gladys says. “And so did Lieutenant Egon. Messages on your desk. Here’s your mail. I’m going out for a doughnut and some fresh air.”
“Any coffee made?” says Dench.
“On the burner,” Gladys says putting on her coat. “Fresh ten minutes ago. Miss Parr was in, and now she ain’t. Said she’s made some headway on the Schneider case. She didn’t say what. She seemed a little tense, but you know she don’t talk much. That’s all I got to tell you. Oh and it’s payday, Mr Dench.”
Dench pulls an envelope from his suit jacket pocket and hands it over. Gladys takes it, turns and goes for the door. “Back in twenty minutes, boss. Try not to burn the joint down.”
“I’ll try not to.”
In his office, Dench sits in a swivel chair, turning his back to his desk and looking out the window. The rain keeps coming. Cambie Street is black and slick. He sees the cenotaph again. Memories creep like insects. Moments and events that repeat like a 78 skipping on a turntable. The phone rings.
“Dench & Parr Agency, Crispin Dench speaking.”
“Where the hell you been, Dench?” says Worthy Morgan, City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. “I got a goddam deadline.”
“Ham and eggs at the Ovaltine, Worthy. I was reading your rag, lost in its eloquence. What’s rattlin’?”
“That shindig last night down Shanghai Alley,” Morgan says. “We sent a reporter down, but he couldn’t get past the police line. Now no one’s talking. My reporter said he saw you behind the line conversing with Egon. So spill. My reporter says he could see a body under a tarp. You were standing right next to it. What was it, murder?”
“There was a tarp,” Dench says. “And a body. That’s all I know. Let the cops do their job. They’ll brief you piranhas later this morning.”
“Had to be a murder,” Worthy Morgan says. “No one in that neighbourhood dies of natural causes. And why were you there? You’re just a civilian where the cops are concerned. You’re involved somehow, right?”
“You missed a typo,” says Dench, picking up a fresh copy of the Sun from his stack of mail. “I caught it as I ate my sunny-sides. You guys crack me up. The Op-Ed piece on page ten. According to Virgil Hathaway, ‘When it comes to the reform of City Hall, there are no scared cows.’ Shouldn’t that read sacred cows, or is that what you really meant?”
“Fuck Virgil Hathaway. He’s an overpaid hack. C’mon, be a pal. Tell me about Shanghai Alley.”
“Since when are we pals,” Dench says. “Wasn’t it the Vancouver Sun that described Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr as the two greatest menaces to the city’s peace and safety since the 1886 fire? Wasn’t it Virgil Hathaway himself who called Trudy a psychotic, straight razor wielding trollop who should be either married off or imprisoned?”
“He wasn’t far off.”
“Look Morgan, why don’t you just be a good little editor and send a man down to 312 Main Street for the morning brief.” Dench hangs up and smiles. Worthy Morgan would be having a sacred cow about now.
Then he thinks about Shanghai Alley.
5.45 a.m. A dim, yellow flame from a wooden match partially illuminating the scene. The right hand of the corpse lay open on the alley’s tar and gravel surface. Then the headlights of a black police Ford lights everything up. The passenger door opens before it stops, and an obese man steps out. He has salt and pepper hair, and wears a poorly fitted trench coat. It’s Detective Lieutenant Egon of the Vancouver Police Department.
“Well, looky here,” says Egon. Other police cars arrive behind him. “You know, Dench, I look forward to the day when you don’t arrive at a crime scene before me.”
“I called it in, and I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for you characters to show up.”
“Your call broke up a damn fine poker game, Dench. One or two of these fine officers left the back of Josie’s down a considerable amount of money. You’re lucky we showed at all.” Looking down at the tarp over the corpse, Egon says: “What’s this heap?”
“I’ve been shadowing this citizen for a week and a half now. His wife says he’s been stepping out behind her back. This isn’t how I expected the investigation to end.”
“How did you expect it to end,” says Egon crouching over the body.
“His name was Robert Owens. This gig was strictly observe and report, Egon. Only, it was starting to last way too long without the usual results. I was going to give the missus her deposit back the other day and cancel the contract, but he kept showing up in some very intriguing places.”
“Like dead in an alley,” says Egon.
“Like dead in an alley,” says Dench, kneeling next to the body. “But maybe you should take a closer look. I think he may be the third in a series.”
By now the scene is populated with patrolmen drinking coffee from thermos bottles and plainclothes men reading racing forms, sipping from hip flasks. Egon goes to his car and pulls out a flashlight. He crouches down and lifts a corner of the tarp.
“You lay the tarp?” Egon says
“Yeah,” Dench says. “The least I could do. Shine a light over there on the right side of the neck,”
Egon shines the light and is repulsed. “Lord, what a mess.” He holds his free hand to his mouth like he might be sick. The wound in Robert Owens’ neck exposes tendons, veins and arteries, along with a torn section of oesophagus.
“A big chunk of the throat and neck torn out,” Dench says. “And not a drop of blood on the ground. It’s the third like this since August, no?”
“Drained of blood,” Egon says. “He should be swimming in it. The killing took place elsewhere; the body was moved here by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Similar to the others.”
Dench looks Egon in the eye and says, “You’re so full of shit. There may be no blood on the ground around the body, but there’s plenty on the wall.” Dench points to the area around the back entrance of a laundry a few feet away. It’s splattered with dried blood, black in the low yellow light. “Just like the others,” he says. “Owens was killed right here. Just match the blood on the wall to his.”
“That stain on the wall don’t represent all the blood a man’s got in his body. Where’s the rest? Why didn’t he bleed out on the ground?”
“You’re the police detective, so detect. But if it’s what I think it is….”
“It ain’t what you think it is, Dench. Ain’t no way. Fucking cannibals,” Egon mutters. “I’m starting to hate this town.”
“And then there’s that other item on the other side of the doorway,” Dench says. “That little bit of graffiti written in blood. That was at the other two killings, too.”
Egon looks up and shines his flashlight on the wall. Next to the blood splatter is a simple drawing familiar to World War 2 allied troops. The big eyes and nose of a cartoon character looking over a wall. Killroy was here.
“Don’t mean shit,” Egon says. “Just some back alley graffiti.”
“It’s a signature,” Dench says. “It was at the locations of the other two murders.”
“How would you know all this, anyway?”
“I can drop a sawbuck at the foot of a hungry cop, same as the next guy.”
“Well did your hungry cop tell you that the other two were found in back alleys, as well? Back alleys have graffiti.”
Dench lights a Gitanes and says, “Written in blood? I tried to tell you this after the first and second kills. Killroy is significant. It goes back to Paris, 1943. When Trudy and I were there. There were eleven known killings exactly like this. Same modus operandi. It never made the papers because the Nazi’s wouldn’t allow it. Very few knew about the Paris murders, so this can’t be copycat. We finally tracked the killer down but….”
As Dench speaks, Egon signals for a uniform. “…but Paris was lousy with Nazis,” Egon says, finishing Dench’s sentence. “You were distracted, is that it? Why didn’t you just let the fatal Miss Parr take care of this Paris bad guy?”
“We came close. He was singling out resistance operatives, so snuffing him was a priority. But he was being protected. He was Gestapo. And at the scene of every kill, we found the same graffiti signature, Killroy was here. Like he was mocking us. And there’s more, Egon. Important details you need to know. I mean, this guy isn’t even human.”
A uniform police officer arrives at Egon’s side. “Escort Mr Dench off of the crime scene,” Egon says.
“But I called it in,” says Dench. “I’m a witness and a suspect. You’ve got to at least question me.”
“Don’t tell me my job, Dench.”
“Fine, I’ve got a business to run. But just one thing.”
“If this really is the freak Trudy and I dealt with in Paris, he’s probably watching us right now.”
Dench looks up at the darkened windows in the stories above, then to both end of the alley. “From somewhere nearby,” he says. “Point in any direction. But I guarantee you this: Wherever he is, he’s laughing like hell.”
“Get Sherlock the hell out of here,” Egon says, and the uniform gives Dench a nod. Despite the rain, it’s getting lighter.
Back in his office now, Dench gives his head a gentle shake. He’s given Killroy enough mental energy.
He turns around from the window to his desk and sees her there. Sitting across from him. She got into his office and sat down without a sound. Pure Trudy Parr. She’s pale, wearing a blue dress. She looks tired, afraid maybe. But Dench can’t remember Trudy ever really looking afraid.
“Gotta tie a bell round your neck,” he says.
“I dreamed about Orav last night,” says Trudy.
“Yeah, like he was just dropping in to let me know he’s in town.”
“I think maybe he is.”
“That Shanghai Alley caper?”
“Worthy Morgan,” Trudy says, “looking for a scoop. Called me at home. Thinks we’re both awake 24 hours a day working to supply him with copy.” Taking a package of Black Cats from her purse, Trudy says, “I guess the Owens case is closed.”
“Closed or maybe just different. I think Owens is the third of three.”
“Killroy was here?”
“At each scene. Egon’s pretending he ain’t biting, though. He’s making like he doesn’t get the connection.”
“No blood except the wall splatter and the graffiti?”
“Yeah. Egon’s settling for the same bad assumptions they made in Paris. That the body had bled out elsewhere. That it had been moved. But the splatter on the wall makes that a lie.”
“So, we wait for number four?”
“There could already be a number four,” Dench says. “As I recall, Orav’s a fast customer.”
“Wasn’t Owens just a fidelity case?” Trudy says. “His philandering days are over now, for good. Let’s just collect a fee and move on.”
“I followed Robert Owens for a week, Trudy. I never once caught him stepping out with another woman.”
“Maybe he went in for loggers, plenty of them in this burgh.”
“His prolonged absences gave his wife the idea he had something on the side. But the place he went mostly, when he wasn’t at work or at home, was a big old house up in Shaughnessy. He was there an awful lot, like it was a club or something. The wife told me he wouldn’t talk about it. He’d just clam up.”
“Lipstick on his collar?”
“Nah, but she said he sometimes smelled like….”
“Nah, she found it hard to describe. I think she really wanted it to be perfume; it would have explained a lot. But when I pressed her on it, she said it was more like incense.”
“Then it’s gotta be Orav,” Trudy says.
“Yeah, maybe,” says Dench.
“Or maybe the old house in Shaughnessy’s a cathouse.”
“No. It’s Shaughnessy, after all. Besides, there was hardly any traffic. Never more than a few lights on. No noise. Just a few well dressed, middle aged men walking in and out late at night. In a week I counted five, including Owens.” Crispin Dench pauses and momentarily looks away.
“And what else, Crispin? Spit it out.”
“I went into the yard once during the day, and walked around the house. I looked in the front window from the porch.”
“And,” says Trudy. “C’mon, you’re starting to piss me off.”
Dench looks down at his hands. “There was an altar to Eris.”
A few seconds of silence. It seems longer. Trudy Parr no longer looks afraid.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before, Crispin?”
“I wanted to be certain.”
“Certain,” Trudy says.
“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”
“You sure now, mister?”
“Orav said he’d follow us,” says Trudy, “that he’d get us,”
“Seems he didn’t lie,” Dench says. “What now?”
“He thinks he’s indestructible,” Trudy says. “We almost proved him wrong once. He’s got a hate on for me. I know that much.”
“You almost took his head off, Trudy. He didn’t expect that from a little blonde in a Chanel dress.”
“Well then here’s what we do,” Trudy says. “We find him and we bury him. Deep.”
“We tried that once.”
“He was a Gestapo Superintendent in Nazi occupied Paris,” Trudy says. “He held all the cards. And then the war ended.”
“Well if he’s here,” Dench says, sitting up and straightening his tie, “we’ll have to get him before he gets us. We never missed a single target during the whole goddam war, except once. And now he’s in our wasteland.”
“Our wasteland,” Trudy says.
“You know,” Dench says. “Egon said something interesting this morning over the body. He said, ‘Fucking cannibals.’”
Trudy Parr bites the cork end off of a Black Cat and lights it. Then she says, “My, my. That is interesting.”
pre-edit for publication in Right to Food Zine
It’s 5:30 a.m. on the last Wednesday of the month, and my alarm clock is screaming. In a flash, I’m up and making coffee. And I’m thinking that it’s a horrible thing, having to get up this early in the morning. After all, I’m an artist, man. My paths normally lead to later awakenings. But this is the morning I’m dispatched on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House on what we call the Banana Beat, and I have to get to the NH by 7:30.
By 6:30, I’m out the door and on my way. I live close to Lost Lagoon, near StanleyPark. It’s a fifty minute walk to the Neighbourhood House. So, I’ve got to move.
As I walk, I’m struck by contrasts. Up the hill from the park and along the Robson Street strip mall, with its unrestrained retail ballyhoo. Then through the downtown financial district, where traders have been at work for hours driving the economy into the toilet. And finally into the Downtown Eastside where the free-enterprise binners’ mall, out front of United We Can, is in full operation and generating actual wealth.
But there’s already a line-up at Pigeon Park Savings.
It’s the hungriest morning of the month in the hungriest neighbourhood in the city. And there are line-ups everywhere. Folks are patiently waiting at local offices of the BC Ministry of Social Development for their income assistance and disability cheques. Later, they’ll wait in line to cash them. I know their stomachs are growling as they queue. It’s been a month since their last cheque. That’s sort of where the Banana Beat Team comes in.
Yesterday, Cate, my Banana Beat co-worker, and I spent the afternoon with a dedicated group of volunteers. We separated several hundred bananas and re-boxed them. (Placing them back in their boxes, wrapped in plastic, helps them to ripen to perfection over night.) This morning, we’re taking those bananas out of the boxes again and putting them into our signature yellow shopping carts.
Shortly after 8:00 a.m., we’re out on two different routes, one down Hastings Street and one down Powell Street, with a gaggle of staff and volunteers distributing bananas to people in the above mentioned line-ups, and to anyone else on the street who wants one. That could mean you.
Banana Beat is one of the founding programs of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. It began in 2007. The organic, fair-trade bananas come our way via Whole Foods, twelve cases in all each month. Eight of those boxes are generously donated by Whole Foods, and the Neighbourhood House purchases the remainder. Since 2007, the DTES NH has distributed approximately 77,200 bananas, one at a time, on the mornings of cheque issue, to hungry people in the DTES neighbourhood.
No one has to line up for a Banana Beat banana. People are invited to help themselves, and take one for a friend. And with each piece of the pasty fruit comes an invitation to visit and participate in inclusive and participatory programs at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.
So just think of that when you see me next month at Hastings and Main, handing out bananas. But think twice before you call me Banana Boy!
It was said that the Grove Café was so cheap that the Health Department had to bring its own cockroaches. It occupied an abandoned Bank of BC storefront on Denman Street in the west end of Vancouver, a mixed neighbourhood of the snotty middle class and the grubby poor. The café is gone now. The lease ran out, the landlord raised the rent and the Grove ceased to exist. The storefront sits empty now, and though he’d never admit it, the greedy landlord laments the loss.
But once upon a time, the Grove’s price point drew them in. The burgers and breakfasts were cheap, cheap, cheap. And that appealed to Ruben Karsh, though never to his friend Dwayne Radkov. Radkov would sit in the Grove and listen to Karsh’s stories because that’s what friends do. They endure.
“So,” said Karsh, “whatever happened to toothpicks?”
“What?” Radkov said.
“Toothpicks. Used to be that no matter how bad a grease toilet like this was, there were always toothpicks. Right there next to the napkin dispenser and the ketchup, which I notice doesn’t come in actual ketchup bottles anymore, just these crappy plastic squeezey containers.”
“We could go to Denny’s.”
“No way,” said Karsh. “Denny’s food makes you obese.”
“And the Grove’s food doesn’t?”
“Denny’s food is different,” said Karsh. “It stimulates dopamine secretion. Their food makes you feel good even though it contains no nutrients or fibre. It’s like taking crack, only more expensive when you figure in the tip. Artificial dopamine stimulation leads to disproportionate food cravings and food addiction, baby. That’s why all Denny’s customers are obese.”
“They are not,” said Radkov.
“The ones that aren’t physically obese yet, will be soon. If they’re slim now, then they’re just going through a stage called pre-obesity, a psychological phase in which a person is not physically obese, but mentally obese.”
“I heard it on all night talk radio,” said Karsh. “It’s righteous. It’s this show that comes out of LA between midnight and 4:00 a.m. You should listen. It’ll wake you up, man.”
“You listen until 4:00 a.m.?”
“Then what?” Radkov said. “What do you do at 4:01 a.m.?”
“Surf the net. There’s some good stuff there. It’s righteous. It’ll wake you up.”
Fei Yen, or Fay as the clientele called her, was one of the Grove’s owners. She’d been in Vancouver for thirty years, but had never lost her Honk Kong street twang. Fay waited tables to keep labour costs down, and she arrived at the Karsh and Radkov table with the resigned composure of a soon to be martyred saint.
“What you have?” she said.
“Peanut butter and bacon on sour dough,” Karsh said, “with fries and a vanilla shake.”
“Cook don’t like that,” Fay said. “Peanut butter and bacon not on menu. You order from the menu.”
“Oh c’mon, Fay” Karsh said. “We do this every time. I say, peanut butter and bacon. You say, cook don’t like that. Then I say, peanut butter and bacon. And then we do it a couple of more times, and then you say, okay just this once, and you take my order. Why don’t you just put a peanut butter and bacon sandwich on the menu?”
“Can’t. Cook don’t like that.”
“Well’” said Karsh, “can I have a peanut butter and bacon sandwich on sour dough, with fries and a vanilla shake?”
“Okay, just this once.” Fay wrote it down. Then, looking at Radkov, she said, “And you? Just coffee, right?”
“Yeah,” said Radkov. “Just coffee.”
Fay shook her head, wrote it down and walked away.
“Hey, hey, look,” said Karsh. He pointed at a group of dark suited young men who’d just entered the café. Each had a name tag on his lapel. Karsh leaned forward, toward Radkov and said, “Mormons, man.”
Radkov looked and said, “So?”
The young Mormons sat at a booth and perused their menus.
“They’re missionaries,” Karsh said, whispering loud enough for the entire café to hear. “They’re here to convert us.”
“Good luck,” Radkov said, as Fay put his coffee down. It slopped over the side of the cup.
“You remember Raza Jamali?” Karsh said. “That Pakistani kid from grade ten, had that weird way of walking. Anyway, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints converted him. From Islam, man. That must have really pissed off Allah.”
“Allah can take it. He’s got big shoulders.”
“Whatever,” said Karsh. “Anyway, Raza gets all converted, goes and buys this black bargain basement suit and a pair of bad shoes, and starts walking the streets of Vancouver proselytising. He’s even got one of those clip-on name tags that sort of completes the costume.”
“Was he happy?” said Radkov.
“Sure, I guess.”
“Then who cares?”
“No, no, wait,” Karsh said. “There’s more. Because one day on one of his Mormon missionary strolls, Raza meets Christopher Walken.”
“That’s right” said Karsh, “and for sure. The Walken, himself. He’s in town on some movie business, and he’s walking down Granville Street with his entourage. But Raza, God love him, doesn’t know who Christopher Walken is. He’s never seen Deer Hunter or Seven Psychopaths. His Moslem parents and Mormon proclivities would never have allowed it. He just sees this group of people walking together down one of the dirtiest streets in the city, and decides he’s going to perform a wholesale conversion.
“So, Raza walks up to Christopher Walken and he says, ‘Hello, I’m Elder Jamali of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Would you like to talk about Jesus?’
“And Christopher Walken just looks at Raza like Raza’s outta his mind. And Walken, I mean he doesn’t miss a beat, and he says, ‘I met Jesus once, while I was picking up my luggage at the Fort Gary, Indiana airport.’
“And you know how Christopher Walken talks. He delivers each sentence like it’s walking up the stairs, and when it gets to the top, it has no place to go. So, his words have a certain inflection that either confuses people or intimidates them.
“But Raza isn’t either of those things. He just says, ‘Jesus? While you were picking up your luggage? In the Fort Gary airport?’
“And Christopher Walken says, ‘Damn straight,’ like his words are walking up the stairs with no place to go. ‘And Jesus is just standing there,’ Walken says, ‘in a white suit and a Panama hat. Which, if you read your Kurt Vonnegut, you’ll know Panama hats aren’t made in Panama. They’re made in Ecuador. And Jesus is all calm and there’s this radiance about him.’
“So, Raza says, ‘Was Jesus flying to Salt Lake City?’
“And Christopher Walken says, ‘No. What the hell’s in Salt lake, other than Mormons? He was flying to Tampa.’
“And Raza says, ‘Why Tampa?’
“And Christopher Walken says, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways, my poorly dressed friend.’ And then he says to Raza, ‘Would you like to come back to the Westin with us, and do some blow? I can set you up with a date.’
“And Raza says, ‘No, I need to be home by 9:00 pm.’
“And Christopher Walken says, ‘Well, that’s too bad because I think Jesus will be there. I think the two of you should meet.’
“And Raza says, ‘No thanks.’
“I mean, Raza blows his chance to meet Jesus and hang out with Christopher Walken at the Westin because he has to be in by nine. Can you believe it? He just walks away with that funny little walk of his.”
“That sounds like bullshit to me,” Radkov said.
“Swear to God,” said Karsh. “But the thing is, after that, Raza Jamali converts back to Islam.”
When Fay arrived, she dropped Karsh’s peanut butter and bacon sandwich on the table and said, “Cook don’t like it.”
“Well,” Karsh said, “cook don’t have to eat it.”
“Where’s Raza Jamali now?” said Radkov.
“He sells vacuum cleaners at Sears in Burnaby,” said Karsh.
“Same bad suit?” said Radkov.
“Damn straight,” said Karsh.