Vancouver in the eighties
This is what happened.
Mildred Willard was nice enough, but a little flaky. We dated for a while back when. She had a little place above Falconi Restaurante at the corner of Commercial Drive and Second Avenue, and she kept it real nice. She drove this crazy old red Fiat from the fifties. I guess people were smaller then, because it had these two little midget seats and zero leg room. Which is kind of ironic, in light of her later automobile of choice.
Millie was a numbers girl, but with no university education. She was like one of those idiot savants, except she wasn’t no idiot. For her, every problem had a mathematical solution.
The made boys, who worked for Vancouver mob boss Malcolm Torrioni, down at Joe’s caught wind of this and wanted her to handicap for them. But she said no, that she wouldn’t work for a bunch of greasy men dressed in cheap track suits with switchblades down their pants, wearing way too much gold and bad cologne.
This pissed-off the boys at Joe’s something terrible, and they started going after her. They took baseball bats to her pretty little Fiat, and stole her mail. They told the merchants on the Drive not to sell her groceries, and they even swarmed her once as a way to intimidate her. But none of that worked. Millie was a brave girl, and the boys at Joe’s gave up. After a while, they were just sending out mobster wannabes to follow her and report back.
One day she came to me with this thing, like a theory she wanted to test out. She’d been thinking real quiet-like for a couple of months. I couldn’t even get her to go to the movies. I guess it all came out of what was happening with the made boys.
She said she’d figured out that every decent heist starts as an equation. That’s something people don’t get. The average mook on the street believes that every major caper is just a variant of some past caper that’s older than Jesus and His disciples. But a robbery that’s clean and true, one that takes the world by surprise with its elegance and appropriateness in time, is always based on an original and calculated manipulation of the mark’s surroundings and proclivities, and planning it requires a mathematical mind.
When it was discovered, it was found that the plan for the Vancouver Torrioni robbery was a string of complex calculus, written across the back of fourteen cocktail napkins, each one from a different Torrioni-owned barroom round town. The cops found them when they searched Millie’s apartment, after she’d split with all of the gold from the vault on Malcolm Torrioni’s estate. A vault, by the way, that Millie never stepped foot in, and that was never cracked during the execution of the crime.
How could that be?
It took them three months to figure it out. A lot of the equation was about perception and control, the shuck and jive of the thing. But a lot of it also had to do with disparity and benefit, odds and handicapping, the reckoning of victim vulnerabilities.
They teach the Vancouver Torrioni plot in a lot of university business and physics classes now. Governments use variants of it to determine the outcomes of global conflicts, and to predict economic trends. Mildred Willard was a genius. They know she’s still working somewhere in the world. Her jobs always bear her signature. But they still haven’t caught up with her. She could be the Police Chief’s neighbour, but he’d only know it if she wanted him to.
Millie, however, was never the really interesting member of the Vancouver Torrioni crew. The guy who was really interesting was Sammy Davis. And, no, I don’t mean the Vegas lounge singer. I mean Samuel Roderick Mason Davis, or Sammy for short. Sammy Davis, who was white as Presbyterian snow, looked like a thirty-five year old boy scout, and was as vengeful, cruel and sadistic as a napalm soaked firecracker.
Sammy knew where his talents lay. He was all about logistics, and he was Millie’s leg man. Professionally, he never deviated form his role. If Millie needed a château in the French Alps or a 747 to pull something off, Sammy’d get it for her. Most people have no idea how much planning goes into a solid heist like the Vancouver Torrioni job. There’s always a huge investment in time and money. And though Millie was brilliant, it has to be said that she was a little disorganised. Think of Einstein’s hair and you’ll get the idea.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Vancouver Torrioni job – a job consisting of several remarkable aspects – was the Cadillacs. Sammy Davis was required to procure fifty identical 1973 Cadillac Eldorados, a car both distinctive and ubiquitous. Each one had to be painted in a flawless, gleaming factory coat of Shadow Taupe Firemist+(2550), have a pristine white vinyl top and 48-spoke Cadillac wheels with new, unblemished Vogue P235/70R15 Whitewall Tires. The interiors of each car had to be factory mint white leather, no after factory modifications and zero imperfections. Oh, and each one had to have a pair of those fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror, red ones, all the same make. And Sammy had to come up with fifty sets of identical Ontario license plates. Millie had a sense of humour.
It was calculated into Millie’s formula that Vincent Gardenia, Malcolm Torrioni’s valet, would call the cops immediately upon figuring out what was going on. You see, Malcolm Torrioni was in Switzerland at the time, having his blood transfused with that of a young German virgin named Gretchen. Torrioni did a lot of weird shit like that. But what interested Mildred Willard most was the three hundred pounds of gold bars he had in his personal vault, each one stamped with the Torrioni name. Torrioni was convinced that society was about to break down any second, and that gold would be the only thing that mattered when it did. He had more gold stashed round the city, of course. But Mildred Willard wasn’t greedy. She knew she’d be content with what was in the safe.
One of Vincent Gardenia’s daily tasks was checking the contents of the safe twice a day, once at 7:00 a.m. and once at 7:00 p.m. And it was when he checked the vault at 7:00 p.m. on May 28, 1982 that he discovered that the gold was gone. The story goes that the safe had never been opened, except by him, and the alarm had never been tripped. The gold had just disappeared. The only thing that had happened differently that day was that Sammy Davis had come by to drop off a delivery for Malcolm Torrioni, like he was a courier. It was a locked satchel containing something that Sammy described as important papers, for Torrioni’s eyes only.
Gardenia was later able to provide the police with a description of Sammy Davis, but it was the sort of description that the cops hate: six feet tall, Caucasian, blonde hair, blue eyes, thirty-five, no scars, no tattoos, no accent, dressed like an Amway salesman coming out of Walmart. The only thing Gardenia had to add was that Sammy had been driving a 70s vintage Cadillac Eldorado, sort of brownish, maybe dark beige. And the license plate number was GHD 776. He remembered the plate number out of habit. It was his job to keep an eye on things.
The Torrioni estate was situated on the high ground above Spanish Banks on the west side of the city, so the cops figured they’d have a pretty good chance at catching the thief as he drove through the city to get out of town.
But remember, Sammy had arranged for there to be fifty identical 1973 Cadillac Eldorados with the same license plates. Sammy showing up in one at the Torrioni estate was the shuck to one of Millie’s jives. They discovered later that the papers in the satchel Sammy delivered were back issues of Hustler Magazine.
Where was Mildred Willard while all of this was going on? She was on Malcolm Torrioni’s payroll, that’s where. And that’s because Malcolm Torrioni was a mob boss seeking redemption. He wanted to suffer for Christ so he’d be welcomed into the Kingdom of God when his degenerate life was over. One of the ways he did this was to hire Mildred Willard when she came to him. He knew how the Commercial Drive crew had been treating her, so he put the kibosh on that and he took her on as an employee. She falsely claimed to know about art, so he hired her as his Fine Art Consultant. Somewhere, he imagined, Jesus was smiling.
So, she’d been hired by Torrioni as an art consultant and buyer, and there was a Vermeer in Berlin that she’d been sent to scope out. In fact, there was no record of her being in Berlin during the robbery. She’d never boarded the plane at YVR, and had never shown up at the Grand Hyatt Berlin Hotel where she’d had reservations. In fact, by 7:15 a.m. on the day of the job, she was on a service road behind the estate, sitting in a lawn chair next a 1982 Chevy Van, reading chapter seven of OneHundred Years of Solitude. At 8:45 a.m., she was met by a private two ton maintenance vehicle, and the two man crew place several heavy packages into the back of the van. She gave them a lunch bag of tightly rolled hundred dollar bills, and she drove away.
So, back to Vincent Gardenia. He sees the gold is gone when he checks at 7:00 p.m., and pulls the alarm. The gates to the estate are closed and locked automatically, and the police are alerted. When the cops arrive and Gardenia tells them all he knows, they start searching for a Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, license plate number GHD 776. One is spotted in a back alley, near Hastings and Gore on the Downtown Eastside of the city. Cops arrive to check it out. The trunk is empty, and two cops are assigned to sit in a patrol car and wait for a tow truck.
As the two cops sit in their vehicle talking about how much they hate ABBA but love Pat Benatar, they see another Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, license plate number GHD 776, drive by. And as they call it in, another one goes by, and then another. The two cops are told to stay put, but all other patrol cars in the area are dispatched. By the time they’re able to start an organised search, however, the Caddies have disappeared. They could’ve have been anywhere.
The search proceeds and is expanded, and as a patrol car driven by one Corporal Gibson Iglehart crosses the Granville Street Bridge, northbound, a wave of approximately fifty Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorados, occupying both lanes, passes him by, southbound, on the other side of the partitioned bridge. Iglehart is incredulous, but calls it in. And when the parade of Eldorados reaches the south end of the Granville Street Bridge, it splits up with Caddies going off in every possible direction.
Nearly every police car in the city is redirected in search of the Cadillacs, and by 9:00 p.m. they’ve pulled forty-five of them over. Five were missing, one was with Sammy Davis and the other four were found parked without the drivers. They’d been driven by teenagers, no older than sixteen, each of them saying that he or she’d been given fifty bucks and a set of keys that morning. They’d been told where to find their respective vehicles, and been given instructions to assemble under the bridge on Pacific Street at 7:45 p.m. Each was to drive to a separate destination in the city, according to instructions taped to the dashboard. At 7:55 p.m., they were to drive over the bridge and proceed, each to his or her assigned destination.
The cops couldn’t arrest the kid drivers because of their age. When the kids were pumped for information, it was clear that the keys and instructions had been distributed by several different people. No two descriptions were the same.
So, it was mentioned earlier in the story that Sammy Davis was as vengeful, cruel and sadistic as a napalm soaked firecracker. And that’s true, and here’s why. While the Vancouver Police Department was dealing with a major robbery and fifty identical Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorados driving round the city, each with the license plate number GHD 776, Sammy Davis was boarding a flight to Lucerne, Switzerland. That’s where Malcolm Torrioni was scheduled to have his blood transfused with that of young German virgin named Gretchen, in the Burkhalter Clinic Resort near the lake.
Upon arrival, Sammy checked into the resort and started handing the cash. He was bribing his way into the backrooms of the place, and into the hearts and souls of the medical staff.
On his way to the Burkhalter Clinic Resort, he’d picked up a suitcase as prearranged, and it was one of three taken to his room by a bellboy. The suitcase contained several litres of fresh blood taken from a methamphetamine addict in Munich the day before.
It turns out that Samuel Roderick Mason Davis was once a rentboy who made his scene in several gay bars in Vancouver’s downtown. Malcolm Torrioni had been a customer, but a customer with a difference. It sort of went like this, Malcolm Torrioni had needs but was ashamed of what they were. And so, he sought to punish someone for them – anyone, of course, but himself. So Malcolm arranged to get Sammy addicted to meth, as a weird sort of revenge, and to control the boy who represented, in Torrioni’s philosophy, all that was wrong with the world.
When Torrioni witnessed what a mess he’d made out of the kid, he dropped him like a gas station toilet seat. When young Sammy Davis tracked Torrioni down to ask for some compensation, Torrioni had his thumbs broken.
So, now Sammy was in the transfusion room of Burkhalter Clinic Resort in Lucerne, Switzerland, masked and hooking up the transfusion bottles containing the blood of an unfortunate Munich methamphetamine addict named Heinricht Mueller. Meanwhile, both of Torrioni’s body guards were being driven, in the plastic lined trunk of a Mercedes, to a remote section of the lake shore to be disposed of with bullet wounds to their heads and chests.
“Everything will be fine, Mr Torrioni,” Sammy said in a fake Swiss accent, showing Torrioni smiling eyes.
The paid-off nurse in the room made eye contact surreptitiously with Sammy as she found the veins and inserted the intravenous needles. After the transfusion, Malcolm Torrioni was sedated and released to man posing as a private nurse, and driven to a walk-up flat on the fringe of the city. There he spent several weeks starving and being introduced to the joys of methamphetamine addiction. Then he was driven back into the city wearing nothing but a woman’s dress, and kicked out of the car that drove him there at a traffic circle in the middle of the business district.
I got a postcard from Mildred Willard a couple of months ago. I guess that’s why I’m taking this trip down memory lane. It’d been sent from somewhere in the world via a re-mailer in Illinois. She said the weather was fine, wherever she was. And that I should watch the mail. So, I watched the mail. But nothing unusual came until a month later, a Fedex parcel with no return address. It was heavy. It was a Torrioni gold bar with Torrioni stamp. It’s sitting on mantelpiece over the fire, gives the room a nice glow it never had before. I wonder, sometimes, what to do with it. But then work or something else comes up and I forget. It’d be nice to Millie again.