lost ironies

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Month: July, 2014

the dirt

Vancouver, some time ago

Back in the war, Vincent ‘Vinny’ Bologna was the Don of the east end made boys. And he actually did some good work, raising money for the YMCA Military Service to run their tea cars over seas. But really, the guy was a major dick. I mean he was a rude farting-in-public, spitting-on-the-sidewalk, nose-picking-slob son of a bitch. And he was a bully, too. He liked to pick on dames and little kids. During the 1939 little league season, he stole every baseball in the city and packed them away in a warehouse that belonged to his brother in law. For a whole month, there wasn’t one goddam baseball in the whole city that wasn’t in that warehouse. The fat prick laughed ‘til he wet himself. It ruined the whole little league season. But Vinny Bologna ran the east Vancouver mob, so whatta you gonna do?

Anyways, it turns out that Vinny Bologna was big into having his fortune told. He based every business decision he made on what some broad in a dime store gypsy costume told him. He even said he knew when the war was gonna be over because this Roma dame with a glass eye named Elga Coal had told him. He never told no one the actual date, though, even if it would’ve been some first-class inside skinny for the Allies. And if things hadn’t changed, he probably wouldn’t have told a soul until the cessation of hostilities made the headlines. What an asshole.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I never had nothing against Elga Coal. She paid her taxes, and she relied on dimwit chumps like Bologna for her daily bread. One of the ways she sucked ‘em in was with this sign she had over her parlour door. It read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die. That really cut to the chase, and she knew it. The fact is, no one ever wants to know all the dirt, just the juicy bits that might give them a leg up.

And that was Vinny all over. Like this time a rival was running prostitutes down in Chinatown. The crumb doing it was some kingpin wanna-be named Tang Ho. He was Chinese and it was Chinatown, after all. But Chinatown was still part of the east end mob’s turf at the time, and Vinny Bologna had a right. So, he goes to Elga Coal to ask what he should do, and Elga says she sees a hearse proceeding down  Keefer Street. That was it, a hearse on Keefer. For that she gets $20 and a two buck tip. Vinny Bologna’s happy. He figures that since Keefer Street runs through Chinatown, the hearse must be the one that carries the future dead body of his rival, Tang Ho.

On Christmas Day 1940, Vinny Bologna sends a hit squad into the Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street. It’s Tang Ho’s hangout, where he holds court and counts his money. The hitters were Vinny’s cousin Antonio, his other cousin Sammy and a dark-hearted bastard named Tomaso ‘The Card’ Fontana. They called him The Card because he always flipped a card onto the bodies of his victims. It was like a business card that read: O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet. That’s from St Augustine, of course. But what it meant in regards to mass murder, no one knew. It was just that Tomaso ‘The Card’ got a charge out of it.

So, when they arrive, the hit squad opens up with Thompson submachine guns, and slays Mother Chang and twenty-seven of her mahjong playing customers. It’s a blood bath. I mean, the blood soaked right through the floor and fell like rain from the ceiling of the tea shop below. The only survivor was a sixteen year old girl, who played dead in a corner. The murders and the blood raining down from the ceiling below were considered bad juju, and the whole joint needed to be torn down and rebuilt to get rid of the ghosts. That really pissed Tang Ho off.

Thing was, though, Tang Ho wasn’t at the Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour on Christmas Day 1940. He was flying the Clipper down to Panama to visit with his brother Melvin who ran a couple of hotels in Panama City, and controlled a big chunk of the Central American cocaine trade. Tang Ho had mules running coke into Vancouver 365 days a year, so it was like a business trip over the festive season. Long story short, Antonio, Sammy and Tomaso ‘The Card’ missed their primary target. There never was a hearse on Keefer Street, at least not then. The procession of hearses that carried the dead from the Christmas Day Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour hit went down Georgia Street.

Lousy fortune telling is easily forgotten, and life goes on. Vinny Bologna put out another hit on Ho. Only he doesn’t go so big this time. He figures Tomaso ‘The Card’ still owes him, so he sends him out on a solo job. Get in close somehow and cut that fucking chinks head off, says Vinny Bologna. And Tomaso ‘The Card’ says OK. He stalks Tang Ho for a week, waiting until Saturday night when Ho’s goofy on opium. The Card sees the Chinatown mob boss stumbling down an alley behind Powell Street. For some reason, Ho’s body guard leaves him in the alley and goes back into the opium den they just exited. The Card moves in with his balisong knife, but ends up with a .38 slug in the back when Tang Ho’s body guard re-emerges from the den with Ho’s sable collar coat.

A Sable collar, can you imagine? Geez, what a pimp.

So now Tang Ho doubles his security and doubles the number of working girls in Chinatown, just to spite Vinny Bologna. Vinny goes nutso. He offers ten large to whoever can ice Ho, good money for a whack back then. A few hitters try, but none of them can get past Ho’s goons. Tang Ho lives on, and Vinny Bologna gnashes his teeth.

It wasn’t long, though, until Tang Ho got his. In late 1942, he got a Niagara Falls souvenir letter opener in the heart. It was a floozy named Shanghai Leola who settled Ho’s hash, in a room on the second floor of the Sam Kee Building. It was a scuffle over broken promises, the reason a lot of gangsters get it in the end. But still, to Vinny Bologna’s dismay, there was no hearse rolling down Keefer Street. Ho’s hearse left Holy Rosary Cathedral and proceeded west on Dunsmuir Street, pulled a left onto Richards, and eventually made its way up to Mountain View Cemetery from there.

Who knew the chump was a Catholic?

On the day of the funeral, Vinny Bologna makes a special trip to Elga Coal’s parlour, walks in under the I won’t tell you you’re going to die sign, and says, what the hell? You promised me Tang Ho in a hearse going down Keefer Street. He didn’t even get close.

I never did, says Elga Coal. Be careful how you interpret what I say.

What’s that supposed to mean, Vinny Bologna says.

Sometimes, Elga says, with her glass eye looking right at him and her good eye looking out a window, two plus two equals Wednesday. And that’s it. She shuts up tighter than a nun in a navy yard, except she tells Bologna that he owes her $20. He pays but doesn’t tip.

Now it was well known, back then, where Vinny Bologna would be everyday at 1:00 p.m. — in Roco’s Café on Commercial Drive, having a head cheese sandwich and spinach salad. And oh man, Vinny loved his head cheese. He called it brain food, which I guess it was. And local head cheese wouldn’t do, no way. He had Roco bring it in from Chicago once a week. Vinny had him slice it thin and stack it high on a pane con le olive roll, smothered in fried onions and slathered in Keen’s Mustard. It was all washed down with several glasses of Barbera Barricato. And by the time 2:30 rolled around, Vinny Bologna was half cut, singing O Sole Mio and pinching Roco’s Mama’s ass.

Vinny’s cousin Antonio and his other cousin Sammy were his body guards, and they always sat in the same booth together, near the door, eating pasta, talking race horses and drinking espresso and Galvanina.

And so it was on New Year’s Day, 1943. Vinny paid Roco extra to stay open, especially for him, on all holidays except Christmas and Easter, just so he could get his favourite sandwich. The CBC radio news that day was all about Soviet troops encircling two German divisions in Stalingrad, and Vinny Bologna declared that it was the end of those Nazi pricks. He was sloppy drunk and held up a glass of wine, as Antonio and Sammy tucked into their gnocchi and linguine and consulted the Daily Racing Form. It was just your typical Friday on the Drive, until Molly Chang strode into Roco’s with two members of what was once Tang Ho’s Chinatown gang. She had evil in her eye, and a nickel plated .45 automatic in her hand.

Molly Chang was the daughter of Mother Chang, the owner of Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street before Vinny Bologna’s crew walked in with their Thompson submachine guns On Christmas Day 1940. And Molly was the lone survivor of that massacre, having played dead in a corner. Vinny, Antonio and Sammy sat still and stared back at her. Molly Chang had ’em cold. She stood on the café’s welcome mat, looked Vinny in the eye and said, you’re the dumb fucking wop who killed my mother, aren’t you? And Vinny Bologna shrugged like a wino in a three hundred dollar suit and a hand polished pair of Florsheim wing tips. I don’t know, he said, I gotta wax a lotta bums in this job.

So, Molly stepped aside and the two former members of Tang Ho’s gang stepped in and opened fire with their own Thompsons, being careful not to shoot Roco or his mamma. What a mess. Roco’s melancholy brother in law, Pasquale, worked until 3:00 a.m the next morning mopping up the place. And for months after, people were picking bits of Vinny Bologna’s heart, lungs and brains off the walls.

Roco sold the joint to a nice family from Parma two weeks later, and retied to his stamp collection and seven children. His mamma took to sitting on the porch of his Sixth Avenue home, chewing tobacco and knitting socks for Allied troops.

A week after the shooting, there was a big funeral for Vinny Bologna and his cousins at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The Rector was very pleased. Over the years, the church had cashed in big on the Vancouver gang wars. On his way to the Cathedral from the S.R. Bell Funeral Home, the driver of the hearse carrying Vinny’s body had to take a detour round a traffic accident at Main and Hastings. He was forced to turn left onto Main, right onto Keefer, through Chinatown, and then right again onto Abbott Street to get back onto Hastings. The S.R. Bell Funeral Home hearse had proudly carried Vinny Bologna down Keefer Street, as Elga Coal had almost predicted –

For, after all, as the sign over the entrance to her parlour read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die.

the devil and Billy Romance — repost

I like this one. I wrote it when I was really nuts, before the meds started to work.
dmg 

* * * * *

There was this guy called Billy Romance. Don’t ask me what his real name was. I just knew him as Billy Romance. Billy played piano round the city but mostly he played at the Arthur Murray studio down on Main above the White Lunch, the one with the one armed chef who sang Puccini all day long.

The reason I bring Billy Romance into the conversation is because he used to say the craziest things. I remember once he told me that he hated walking up hill to get downtown, that sort of thing. He cracked me up. He told me once that a piano’s got eighty-eight keys but an organ’s got no strings attached. Ha! But then there were times when he’d say spooky shit. Like this one time he says all emphatic like, “Sometimes I feel like I wrote my life left handed across a page and smeared the ink.” Whoa, Billy boy. Where’d that come from?

It was back in 1944 when this thing happened to Billy. He had a bum ticker that kept him out of the war, but the skirts really went for him. I guess he was what was considered a little more than just conventionally handsome. He kinda had a skinny Sinatra look about him. And because a lot of the boys were overseas, he had the girls lining up. His dance card was full, if you know what I mean. But the thing was, Billy Romance didn’t go in for the dolls. He could have had a different little chiquita on his arm every night, but Billy Romance was head over heels in love with a tugboat mate named Spike Dillinger. Don’t ask me what his real name was. I just knew him as Spike Dillinger.

Trouble was, Spike Dillinger’s feelings weren’t mutual. He was a lady’s man, and he had the hots for this quail named Rosita Sangria. She was a girdle model for the Hudson Bay Company and had a tattoo of a blue rose on the back of her left shoulder. You gotta understand that back in 1944, a dame that modeled girdles and had a tattoo was pretty hot stuff. How could a big dim mook like Spike Dillinger resist?

This was hard on Billy Romance because he played piano every Friday and Saturday night at Roscoe’s Tavern on Campbell Avenue where Spike Dillinger spent a lot of his time when he wasn’t out on the inlet. Spike would sit there quaffing beers, sometimes with his arm round Rosita Sangria, while Billy played and pined. I mean, the gig wasn’t even that great for Billy Romance. He was just playing for tips, and a chance to eyeball Spike Dillinger two nights a week.

So eventually, Billy Romance does this really strange thing. He goes to see this old Romanian broad with a glass eye named Elga Coal. She was one of these European dames who says she’s a medium, claimed she could read the future. She got away with it because she had the heavy accent and the face of a person who knew too much. Anyway, Billy goes to her to have his fortune read, to see if he has any chance at all at wooing Spike Dillinger.

No way José, says Elga Coal. Be easier to get blood from a paperclip.

When she says this, though, she can see that it really depresses Billy Romance. So she says maybe there’s a solution. Maybe I should introduce you to Mr Shine, says Elga Coal. Mr Shine? says Billy Romance. Who’s Mr Shine? Oh Mr Shine’s a great solver of problems, says Elga Coal. He may be able to help. But you must be prepared to offer something in return, as payment. And you must be very sure of the thing you want from Mr Shine, for you will pay dearly. Okay, says Billy Romance. That’s for me. Bring on this Mr Shine. Gimme his telephone number. Oh, says Elga Coal with a grin, he’ll contact you. Just keep an eye open.

Well that’s very mysterious, Billy Romance thinks. But what’s the point of arguing with an old Romanian broad with a glass eye?

So Billy Romance leaves Elga Coal’s joint with a mind to head up to Shanghai Stella’s. Shanghai Stella’s was one of those places in town at the time where sensitive young men like Billy Romance could congregate and be themselves without fear of reprisal. But he never makes it there. It’s 9.00 pm, dark and damp, and Billy Romance is walking down the alley behind the Carnegie Library and the Pantages Theatre when bingo, he encounters this nervous looking character in an Aquascutum coat and a $200 pair of shoes. This guy stands there all edgy-like, folding a little origami animal out of a five dollar bill and looking over his shoulder like he thinks someone’s following him.

Then he says, “Hello, Mr Romance. My name is Mr Glimmer. There’s a rumour about that you’d like for me to arrange something on your behalf.”

“Ah yeah,” says Billy Romance. Not knowing what else to say. “But I heard you was Mr Shine, not Mr Glimmer.” He’s feeling a little nervous himself all of a sudden. This stooge he’s talking to needs a tranquillizer or something. He’d look kosher if he’d just stand still, but he’s shifting round from one foot to the other and talking out of the corner of his mouth like he’s some sleazy pool hall fence.

“What you want,” Mr Glimmer says, “it involves another man.”

“Yeah,” Billy Romance says again.

“You want his attention.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe I can pull that off.”

“Maybe?”

“Well I’m just filling in for the regular guy.”

“The regular guy? Who’s the regular guy?”

“He’s…you know.”

“No,” says Bill Romance. “I ain’t got a clue.”

“He’s the Devil, for goodness sake. Jeez. He arranges things for people, and people gotta pay him back. That’s what this is about. It’s what that batty Romanian dame with the glass eye set up.”

“Swell,” says Billy Romance, wondering what’s coming next. “So, it’s like selling my soul to Satan so I can get into Spike Dillinger’s pants.”

“That’s it.”

“But you ain’t Satan.”

“No. I’m kind of a temp. He’s dealing with some personal issues and couldn’t make it.”

“Great! How come when I wanna sell my soul to Satan, he’s dealing with personal issues and I get his flunky? You got any experience?”

“I took a class.”

“A class.”

“Yeah, a class. Look, you’re not making this any easier. I gotta start somewhere.”

“Well what do I do now? How do I know when you’ve pulled this off? Shouldn’t there be a puff of smoke and some evil disembodied laughter? And do I get my soul back if I’m not satisfied?”

“I’d have to check our return policy. Keep your receipts.”

“So, that’s it then,” says Billy Romance. “I’ll just be going.”

“That’s fine,” says Mr Glimmer. “Have a lovely evening.”

The next morning the Vancouver Sun ran the headline: Girdle Model Shoots Tugboat Sailor and Turns Gun on Self. Witnesses reported that a quarrel had begun between the two at Roscoe’s Tavern when Spike Dillinger suggested they might spice up their affair by inviting a third party into their bedroom. Apparently, this third party was a young Asian man by the name of Ping who was a waiter at the Ho Ho Chinese Restaurant on West Pender Street.

Billy Romance was devastated. He returned Elga Coal’s to demand an explanation, but there had been a fire in her apartment the night before and she never made it out alive. But standing down the smoky hall in a snazzy suit holding a lacquered walking stick was Mr Glimmer. He smiled sheepishly and said, “Really messed that one up, didn’t I?” Then he just disappeared in a puff of smoke to the sound of nervous disembodied laughter.

It wasn’t long before the war ended. On VJ Day, Billy Romance met a Canadian Navy Ensign just back from the Aleutians. They hit it off, and moved to Hollywood, California where the retired Navy officer consulted on World War Two Naval epics. Billy Romance bought a piano bar where sensitive young men like him could congregate and be themselves without fear of reprisal. And Mr Glimmer, who by then had given up at being a great solver of problems, would show up at the bar occasionally, sit in a dark corner drinking screwdrivers and worriedly folding little origami animals out five dollar bills.

an honourable dialogue

“Hey, Officer Dick,” Cecil Graves said, looking up toward the bank’s stamped metal ceiling, “what the fuck’s that sound? That’s a helicopter, isn’t it? What the hell do you need a helicopter for?”

“It’s not ours,” said the hostage negotiator. “It’s the six o’clock news.”

“Well it’s hovering. I hate that. I can’t concentrate with that racket. Get rid of it or I start shooting bank employees.”

“My people have already made the phone call. Give it a minute. And Mr Graves…?”

“What?”

“It’s Lieutenant Morris, not Officer Dick.”      

“It’s Dick for the duration,” said Cecil Graves, pacing with his phone to his ear, “so get used to it. When I say Dick, you jump. Got it?”

“A little mutual respect can go a long way, Mr Graves.”

“It’s funny to me,” Graves said, looking at his row of hostages, sitting on their hands, lined up on the floor against the wall, “how many people become cops thinking it’ll get them some respect, only to find out it doesn’t. Don’t let it make you bitter, Officer Dick.” The row of hostages looked back at him, pokerfaced.

“I’m not a bitter man,” Lieutenant Morris said.

“Good,” said Graves. “Now, listen to me. I had a vegetarian pizza once. It had raisins and sunflower seeds. No cheese. It wasn’t just vegetarian. It was über-vegetarian. It was…. Damn what do you call it?”

“Vegan?” said Lieutenant Morris.

“Yeah, vegan. Get me one of those?”

“Anything you like.”

“Make it a large one,” said Graves. “And pepperoni for everyone else. Oh, hold on….” Lieutenant Morris could hear the usual hostage/hostage-taker conversation on the line. “Make one double pepperoni with double cheese. Oh, wait…. And somebody wants chicken wings. Huh? Oh, Buffalo wings. Got that? And assorted soft drinks. Wait.” More conversation. “What, are you kidding me? And a couple of Red Bull for the middle aged manboy bank teller who’s been spitting dharma at me since this shindig started.”

“Got it.”

“Wow,” Graves said, “it must be very disappointing, having gone through hostage negotiator school, just to end up taking pizza delivery orders.”

“We want to make sure everyone is comfortable. You ready to talk?”

“Talk? What good’ll talking do?” said Graves.

“It’s got to be better than not talking, Mr Graves,” Lieutenant Morris said. “I mean, you’ve been holding hostages for three hours now and haven’t made any demands, other than pizza. We’re starting to wonder if this all happened by accident, some simple plan gone awry. If that’s what it is, if it’s all just some misunderstanding, then maybe it’s not so bad. You can just let the people go and….”

“No no no, don’t you do that, Dick, you fuck. You ain’t the voice of reason here. There is no voice of reason here. There’s just you, me and nine hostages.”

“And the entire Police Department, Mr Graves,” Lieutenant Morris said. “The textbooks say that I shouldn’t mention that, but I’ve got to be honest with you.”

“You got SWAT crawling through the air ducts, right?” Graves said. “You got your heat seeking sniper scopes on me, right?”

“Not yet, Mr Graves,” said Lieutenant Morris. “But they practice hard for opportunities like this. I can’t hold them off forever. Now, I’m getting you the pizzas. Why don’t you give me something in return? Your hostage, Mr Draper, the Bank Manager, he’s got a heart condition. He had a quintuple bypass in 2012. Why don’t we trade him for the pizzas?”

“Draper’s got a bum heart?” Graves said. “He’s the one who wants double pepperoni, double cheese, the sick bastard. Yeah, I’m taking to you, Draper, you Gucci wearing degenerate fuck. You can have Draper when hell freezes over, Officer Dick.”

“Okay, okay. Look, you must know by now that we’ve tapped into the CCTV,” said Lieutenant Morris. “We know that all of your hostages work for the bank, except one. He’s an innocent bystander, isn’t he? — a courier. What about him? Let him go, so he can tell the world you aren’t such a bad guy.”

“No,” Graves said. “There’s something about him that makes him more special than the rest.” Muffled conversation over the telephone line. Then, “His name is Norman. He coaches peewee league hockey.”

“Okay, how about Mrs. Africano? She’s sixty-three, Mr Graves. She’s got grandchildren, and she’s retiring in a couple of years. Give the old girl a break.”

“No one’s ever given me a break.”

“Somebody must have, once,” said Lieutenant Morris. “Think about it. No life is completely devoid of second chances.”

“You contradicting me, Officer Dick? You getting philosophical?”

“You know the CCTV cams I mentioned, Mr Graves? You can’t see where they are, but they’re showing us everything that’s going on in there. We know which one you are. You’ve got the gun. You’re wearing the red cardigan.”

Cecil Graves looked up and around the bank’s perimeter. “It’s not red, damn it,” he said. “It’s claret. Don’t you even know red from claret?”

“Okay, but you see my point. You may not be holding all of the cards right now.”

“You know I am, Dick. Don’t fuck with me.”

“This all must have started somewhere, Cecil,” Lieutenant Morris said, “before you decided to rob the bank. Let’s talk about that. You haven’t got a criminal record, if Cecil Graves is your real name. And you don’t strike me as the bank robbing, hostage taking type. Real criminals know there’s no money in bank robbery any more. Tell me how it came to this.”

“I really didn’t need much money,” Graves said. “They wouldn’t have missed it. But the bank sure wouldn’t have loaned it to me. This wasn’t supposed to be so fucking complicated.”

“How much did you need?”

“Ten grand. I went to a dozen banks trying to get a loan, legit like. Including this one, a month ago. They all said no. They laughed, like it was a joke.”

“What they say? Why wouldn’t they give you the loan?”

“Because the bastards I borrowed from originally made it impossible,” said Graves.

“How?”

“They called my bank,” Graves said. “The pricks arranged to have their money deducted from my account whenever I cashed my pay cheque. You know what that does to your credit rating?”

“Wait wait wait,” said Lieutenant Morris. “Was this about drugs or a loan shark or what? How could someone like that make an arrangement with your bank?”

“Nah, no loan sharks.” said Graves. “Okay maybe, depends on how you define things. It’s was a payday loan.”

“A payday loan?”

“Yeah. Funny thing is, it was only for two hundred dollars to begin with.”

“You mean from the Money Mart,” said Lieutenant Morris, “or some place like that? That makes no sense. How does a loan go from two hundred dollars to ten thousand?”

“I got it from the Paradise Payday Loan Store. Nice name, eh?”

“I still don’t get it,” Lieutenant Morris said.

”Why would you get it?” said Graves. “What do you make? A well trained hostage negotiator like you, probably eighty or ninety grand a year. And you’ve got benefits. Maybe your wife works, too. So, you’re doing okay. You don’t have to take out payday loans. I, on the other hand, had two crappy little McJobs, both minimum wage, no benefits. I worked fifty hours a week, and every month I had to choose between paying my rent and eating. So one day a couple of years ago, I took out a two hundred dollar payday loan to take the edge off. They saw me coming from a mile away, man.”

“So, how’d that turn into ten thousand dollars?”

“When the loan came due a couple of weeks later,” Graves said, “I couldn’t pay it. So, I had to roll it over. If I’d paid it on time, the rate would have been thirty dollars on two hundred, that’s 390% APR. But because I had to roll it over, the rate jumped to 1400%. I really couldn’t pay that, so I rolled it over again and again, paying off bits and pieces of the interest but never touching the principle. A lot of the cheques I wrote to cover it bounced, and I had to pay penalties on those.

“Eventually, the Paradise Payday Loan Store took control of my bank account and called my bosses. They garnisheed my pay cheques, and when that happened I got fired from both of my shitty little jobs. So, I borrowed from my family and friends to make interest payments and pay the rent. But none of them have much money, either. And all the while, the Paradise Payday Loan Store is calling me at home, making scary and bizarre threats, or just saying nothing and tying up the line. They said they had warrants out for my arrest, that they were gonna sue, that I was gonna do time. Then they put threats and bullshit comments on my Facebook wall. They stalked me on Twitter. And they called my family.

“I eventually lost my apartment because I had no job and I was paying what little I had on the loan interest. Now I live in shelters round the city. When the debt hit five grand, I went to this guy named Bartholomew, who hangs out at Starbucks in my old neighbourhood. He drinks coffee all day and writes poetry on his iPad. And he loans out money to anyone. His rates are about the same as the Paradise Payday Loan Store, but I figured at least owing Bartholomew would be a fresh start.

“I used most of the Bartholomew loan to pay off the payday loan, and part of it to buy some crack. I planned to sell the crack on the street to generate some income. Maybe my luck would change, and I’d become a drug kingpin. Real rational, eh? Well, that worked for a while, until I got caught selling on some other dealer’s turf, and got my ass kicked and my inventory stolen.

“Before I knew it, I owed Bartholomew ten grand. And Bartholomew wasn’t writing poetry anymore, or leaving shit on my Facebook wall, he was beating the crap outta me and threatening my life, telling me that I was gonna die very slowly and very badly.

“I was desperate when I went to my bank for a loan, and they almost called the cops on me. The same thing happened in every bank I went to.

“I’ve been a slowly descending vertical ellipsis since I took out that payday loan. So, this morning I walked into BankUnited and pulled a gun. The rest is history, unfolding as we speak. If I somehow make it outta here alive, without having paid Bartholomew, he’s gonna have me horribly whacked. Those were his words, horribly whacked. If I end up in jail, Bartholomew’s gonna have me sodomised first and then horribly whacked. So, you can see why a hail of bullets might be a good fit for me right now. That can be avoided, of course, if someone delivers ten grand to Bartholomew in my name.

“You wanted to know my demands, Officer Dick. Well that’s it. You can find Bartholomew at the Starbucks at Commercial and Second. When he calls me here and says we’re square, I’ll let seven of the hostages go.”

“Wait a minute,” said Lieutenant Morris. “There are nine hostages, not seven. If I do this thing for you, and Bartholomew gets his money, then I need you to release all nine.”

“Draper,” Graves said. “He was one of the Bank Managers that nearly called the cops on me when I came in for a loan, so he stays. But he might have a heart attack, so Norman stays too, as a back-up.”

“Why Norman, Cecil? You’re not falling in love with him, are you?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” Graves said. “Just do the Bartholomew deal. I’m hanging up now, and when this phone rings again, I want to hear Bartholomew’s voice tell me that we’re jake. Capiche?”

“I’ve got people doing it now,” said Lieutenant Morris. “But don’t hang up.”

“You got something else to say?”

“It’s always best for a hostage taker to stay on the line, that’s all.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“A negotiator can’t always control the actions of other cops, Cecil. Besides, the press are here; they want engagement. They want ratings. We have an honourable dialogue going. Let’s keep it that way.”

“Engagement?”

“Just stay on the line and I can say we’re still working something out.”

Now there was muffled conversation at Lieutenant Morris’s end of the line. It was quietly emphatic. Cecil Graves heard the word No said several times through the hand held over the mouth piece.

Then: “Is the gun real, Cecil?” Lieutenant Morris said.

“Of course.”

“Really? Because it looks like a toy on the CCTV screen, at least to me. It looks like you bought it at the dollar store and removed the orange plug at the end. If that’s so, what are you going to shoot hostages with?”

“You’re messing with me.”

“Throw the gun away, Cecil. I mean far away, over the tellers’ counter. Then lie down on your belly, face down with your hands behind your head, fingers locked. You’re not a killer, Cecil. I’ve seen enough to know.”

“What the fuck…?”

“Do it now, Cecil. Please do it. Don’t die with a toy gun in your hand.”

More muffled conversation at Morris’s end, louder now.

“Cecil…!?!” Graves heard Morris say, just before the snap of the vent cover dislodging from the wall to his right.

Then Cecil Graves said: “What’s happening, Lieutenant Morris?”

“Fall down, Cecil.”

“The police were very heroic,” Mr William Draper, the BankUnited Manager, told reporters later. “There were several loud cracks, and he fell like a stone. He didn’t have a chance.”  

Cecil Graves, in his claret cardigan, had been an easy target.

the paper route

Vancouver, summer of ‘69

We were the poor kids, black and white and spooky on flat Kodak paper. Our bodies fixed and angled; our eyes engines of impulse, the juvenile algorithms of our prejudiced neighbourhood. Why any of us should have had to apologise for what happened that summer remains a mystery. We weren’t good kids; we were little bastards. But we weren’t accessories to murder.

The act of murder was still a thing beyond our grasp, the actions of our favourite Hollywood gangsters not withstanding. But there we stood, in the Vancouver Sun paper shack, behind the Trocadero Pizza Parlour, in the east end of the city, standing before a jury of parents, police and Vancouver Sun management, challenged to explain the incomprehensible.

“What do you do when you see something bad happen?” said Missus McCurdy, with her dopey Calvinist passion, to all of us paperboys standing there. “You report it to an adult, don’t you?”

And each of us, upon hearing her declaration, knew, without being able to say it, that adults to whom one could confess anything in confidence were scarcer than hen’s teeth. So, we stared blankly at the stoutish Missus McCurdy while she, with hands on her hips, pursed her lips and shook her head.

“It’s a sham, this,” my father had said earlier in the day, in anticipation of that evening’s emergency meeting. “Attacking the paperboys en masse, like we were gonna burn ‘em like a pile of books.”

Taller than most in the crowd, my father was now, by some unknowable rule of mob democracy, relegated to the back of the room, where he looked over everybody else’s heads and shoulders. I looked up at him, and he smiled back. He seemed to understand the dark current that drove our unflinching dedication to boyhood silence in all things, and our confidence that, if given the chance, an adult will always do the wrong thing.

“I’m taking my boy home now,” my father said, giving me a wink. And then addressing the adults present more directly, he said, “You all have had your fun.”

“But it’s your boy that’s responsible for all of this,” Missus McCurdy said. She had a sloppy way of talking, the result of fatly formed lips.

“And he’s genuinely sorry for it,” said my father, “having told me as much himself.”

“He’s a hellion,” Missus McCurdy said. “He’ll burn in hell if he doesn’t find Jesus soon.”

“Jesus is a big man, Missus McCurdy,” my father said. “He’s capable of finding little boys without them having to fear for finding for Him.”

My father stepped forward and took my hand. It was a tender thing for a man to do with his eleven year old son, eleven years old being considered, in my hard, inflexible neighbourhood, to be far too old for a son to hold his father’s hand. But hold it I did as we exited the paper shack. And I felt proud doing it.

“You’ve sown a bad seed, Mr Brody,” Missus McCurdy said, as we passed her on our way out the door. “We all look at that boy and see the result.”

And on hearing those outrageous words, as my father and I walked away through the Trocadero Pizza Parlour parking lot, my father held aloft the middle finger of his right hand for Missus McCurdy to sit upon and rotate, if she so chose.

* * * * *

a week earlier 

For a single day, on July 21st, 1969, the Vancouver Sun had become the Vancouver Moon. Apollo 11 had landed and men were walking on the lunar surface. Under the headline that day, MAN WALKS ON MOON, was a fuzzy photograph of a space suited figure descending the lunar lander ladder.

“Golly!” one of the us said, staring at his stack.

I counted out my papers and stuffed my bags, ignoring the banter of my fellow paperboys.

“Astronauts wear diapers, you know?” said Matthew Pollock, the Paper Shack Manager. He was older and tougher than the rest of us. “Just like you, Johnny boy.”

Johnny was Johnny Smith, a smallish and frequently bullied boy. He ignored the comment and kept counting and stuffing his paper bags.

“They do not,” said Terry Went, who thought astronauts heroes. “They use the can.”

“There ain’t no can in space, dimwit,” Matthew said. “There’s no gravity, like your brain.”

There was quiet laughter at that.

Then Matthew hollered, “Brody, you dumb son of a bitch. You missed the Carpenter house yesterday. They called and complained.”

“They haven’t paid in two months,” I said.

“Then collect what they owe and deliver their papers.”

“They peek out through the curtains and don’t answer the door.”

“Don’t whine, you little bitch,” Matthew said. “Just do what I tell yous. I don’t need Rikki, the prick, comin’ down on me because of you.”

“Rikki was Mr Rikki, the area manager, who’d once been a paperboy himself, and had risen in the ranks to become exalted and all powerful.

I shrugged. Rikki wanted balances up to date. Delivering to delinquent accounts was forbidden.

“You listening to me, Brody?” Matthew continued.

I ignored him, and stuffed my bags.

“Can’t take it, eh?” he said. “You fucking little girl. Want to run to mommy when the job gets hard, eh?”

The paper shack went silent. I looked over my shoulder at him.

“Oh, but you ain’t got no mommy, do you,” he said.

It was true; I didn’t.

“Took too many pills, drank too much booze.” Matthews tone was mock-mournful.

“Leave him alone,” said Willard Jakes, the oldest of us after Matthew, and considered most likely to commit a violent crime some time in his near future.

Matthew relented, and went out for a smoke.

My mother had, indeed, checked out six months earlier, on a mortal railcar of cheap rye and ninety doctor-prescribed Valium. She’d written her goodbye note on the kitchen floor in two shades of lipstick, the first lipstick, Avon Sunset Red, having run out halfway through. The second shade had been Maybelline Mediterranean Sunset Pink. I’d read it in an early morning fog when I got up that morning, looking for her and breakfast. It was 6:00 a.m. My father was out, finishing a graveyard shift.

Dear whomever, 

Tell the cops I did this, and no one else. Tell the priest and the nuns to fuck themselves.

Pierre (that was me), my dear sweet son, I love you, though this might make it seem that I do not. I’ll be watching from somewhere. Call out if you need me, and I’ll come.

Ramone Brody (that was my father), you’re a bastard but I loved you once. Your sad eyes have become sad beyond beauty. That’s why I’m doing this. It never occurred to me when we married that we’d have to watch one another grow old, and hurt so badly doing it. 

Beatrix Brody

I found her in the basement in a floral flannel nightie, curled up in ball, next to the washer, surrounded by the boxed relics of our family’s past. Her mouth and eyes were open, as though she was about to speak. Her cheek lay in a puddle of vomit.

I crouched down next to her, still in my pyjamas, and touched her auburn hair. It was still soft and shone in the dim yellow light.

Much later in the day, after she’d been removed and her final words had been washed from the linoleum, I cried on my bed until my body hurt. My father came into my room then and lay beside me, holding me in his arms.

“There is no wisdom,” he whispered. And nothing more was ever said.

And so, I came to compare the death of anyone with that of my mother by suicide. I was young, of course, and surprised, once I was made so aware of it, at the abundance of death around me. All we were was death, in waiting – relatives and friends who died easily of disease or mishap, politicians and celebrities who died just as easily of assassination. How could their deaths compare to my mother’s? She who had bravely faced the darkened room and had flagrantly stepped across its threshold without invitation.  Call out if you need me, and I’ll come: In death, she had become my champion.

That’s how it was on the day men walked on the moon, after Matthew had said his unsayable words, and I had left the paper shack to deliver my papers.

My route ran along East 7th Avenue, from Nanaimo Street to Victoria Drive. It was a working man’s street of old, well kept houses, each with its porch and stairs and screen door. I never threw a paper; I delivered it by walking to the door and dropping it there, made confident by the absence of the previous day’s paper that my deliveries were welcome and well read.

Miss Elizabeth Durning lived in the house at 2103 East 7th Avenue, where the avenue intersected Lakewood Drive. The house was a hundred years old and sat on a corner double lot, hidden from the street by multiple old oaks and maples. It was grander than the other houses around it, and it had always been draped in a disconcerting solitude. It was a shrewd, deliberate thing, breathing in its shade. Elizabeth Durning had always seemed in its orbit, to me – like a moon that had been caught in the house’s gravity, and would pull away if it could. She’d confided in me that she was thirty-seven, and that she wished I’d stay a boy forever, because all men were all stinkers.

When I arrived with her paper that day, a large black and chrome car was driving away, spinning its wheels on the gravel shoulder. The man at wheel looked at me as I crossed the street with Miss Durning’s paper. He wore sunglasses, a hat, white shirt and a red striped tie. He looked like the men on Commercial Drive, I eventually told the police. They weren’t pleased with my description.

As walked up the garden path from the street and climbed the stairs to drop her paper on the porch, I noticed the screen door hanging askew on a single hinge, and that the front door was wide open with a broken latch. I stood for a moment at the top of the stairs with the paper in my hand, peering into the front room of the house. A coffee table had been overturned and a vase broken on the hardwood floor, with its flowers strewn round it.

“Miss Durning?” I said into empty space. I heard a television from somewhere in the house, a news program on NASA’s moon landing. Then, I said, “Miss Durning?” again, only louder.

There was no reply.

With her newspaper still in hand, I stepped into the house. The front room was bright and modern. There were paintings on the walls and framed theatrical posters. The television was in a corner, framed by a wall of tightly packed bookshelves. I saw a pair of broken eyeglasses on the floor next to a single red high heel shoe. I knew the eyeglasses belonged to Miss Durning.

“Are you here, Miss Durning?”

No reply. Only the sound of news from the moon. I dropped the paper and exited the house.

I ran over the porch, down the stairs and along the garden path to the sidewalk. Only then did I look back to see if Miss Durning had emerged onto the porch to wave and wish me a good afternoon. But she hadn’t. Instead, the porch remained empty, the big house painted in phoney innocence. It was then that I noticed the broken lattice work at the side of the staircase.

The wooden lattice work covered the empty space beneath the stairs. Some of her neighbours used the space to store garden tools, but Miss Durning had wanted a trellis for her wisteria. It grew well for her, violet and green. But someone had broken it open and torn away the vines.

I walked the garden path once more, cautiously, toward the hole. Until then, I hadn’t noticed the heat or the birdsong from the small forest of oak and maple. A lazy but watchful cat observed me from behind the azaleas. Cars passed quietly by on 7th Avenue. I reached out and pull the wisteria away. It’d been clumsily replaced by whoever had torn it away, in an attempt to cover the hole. Behind it was the broken trellis, an opening wide enough for a crouching man to move through. There were large footprints all round me in the garden soil.

I stared into the hole, and my eyes adjusted to the dimness. And soon I saw Miss Durning, her eyes and mouth frozen open the way my mother’s had been the morning I discovered her. But Miss Durning’s head had been twisted at an unnatural angle, and her eyes looked directly at me. A spider walked across her cheek.

I jumped back and fell on my ass, blinking. Then I ran for my bicycle on the sidewalk and rode as fast as I could, not knowing where.

“You’re full of shit,” said Willard Jakes, as Johnny Smith stood by listening. We were talking in a private corner on the grounds of Laura Secord Elementary.

“No,” I said, “it’s real. I saw her there. She’ll still be there, unless he moved her.”

“He who?”

“I told you, the guy in the black car.”

“Call the police,” said Johnny Smith. “It’s the only thing you can do, unless this is all bullshit.”

“The man saw me,” I said. “Walking up to Miss Durning’s house with her paper. He’ll be looking for me. If I tell the cops and they find him, he’ll know it was me who talked. I’ve got to leave town.”

“You’re eleven years old,” Willard Jakes said. “Where you gonna go?”

In truth, I didn’t know. I was vaguely aware of family elsewhere, other than my father. Could I go to them? That would be dangerous. I would be hunted now, by a cold blooded murderer and his gang.

“Let’s go see her,” said Johnny Smith.

Willard Jakes and I looked at him, surprised. He was the last person we expected to make the suggestion.

“Why?” I said.

“Because,” said Willard Jakes, “it would be a lot easier trying to figure this out if we knew you weren’t full of shit.”

I looked at Johnny Smith. He was different now. No longer a bullied little boy, but an inquisitor sensing he was about to tear away a curtain revealing a criminal certainty.

“Fine,” I said. It was 7 p.m. The light was still good.

We rode our bicycles back to 2103 East 7th, and sat upon them looking up from the street. People were out on their porches, smoking cigarettes, sipping ice tea and reading novels and newspapers. There was a radio on nearby, more news of the moon.

“Well,” I said, “you wanted to see….”

Johnny Smith looked at Willard Jakes. My bringing them here was proof enough; I saw it in their eyes. Going any further was now a dare.

“Okay,” said Willard. We laid our bicycles down on the grass boulevard and walked up the garden path.

There were crickets now, but nothing else had changed. Even the birdsong was the same. Arriving first, I squatted next to the hole. I looked inside and could see the bottom of Miss Durning’s pale bare foot. She was still there.  I moved out of the way to let Willard Jakes and Johnny Smith look.

Their eyes took only seconds to become accustomed to the dark. Then Willard said, “Holy fuck!”

“Jesus,” said Johnny Smith. He vomited.

I could hear the television, still on, in Miss Durning’s front room. It was Walter Cronkite talking about Aldrin and Armstrong.

“This is sick,” Willard said. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

“But what do we do now?” Johnny Smith whined. “We gotta tell our parents.”

“No way,” Willard Jakes said. “The less said the better. Someone will notice her door’s open in the middle of the night. And then there’s the heat. People will notice her in this heat. We tell our parents, and we’ll be all over the news and end up face-down-dead in False Creek.”

We rode away in silence. And that was how we remained, silent. For three days, until Johnny Smith let go like a firecracker and spilled the whole thing to his mother, who naturally called the police.

Miss Durning’s body had been discovered and removed by then. But the story of her mysterious murder, the television remaining on, the damaged door remaining open, her broken eyeglasses and the single red high heel shoe, were pure gold, and their story made landing on the moon seem like a tired midway scam. A capital crime had taken place in the middle of the day on a quiet city street in Vancouver, of all places. It had taken place on one boy’s paper route. Three paperboys had known, and had, for as long as they could, kept it secret.

the difference between Stephen Harper and me

 

harpo double

I’ve been getting some feedback lately on my look. Mostly people think I’m either a cop or a stand-in for Stephen Harper. In fact, Harpo and I couldn’t be more different. We’re both aliens, it’s true. But I’m actually a cleverly disguised left leaning Andromedan, while Harpo is, of course, a Reptilian. And we all know that Andromedans are all about peace, love and understanding, while Reptilians are all proto-fascist cardigan wearing evangelical supply-side economists. I hope this clears things up.

the Persian rug

Vancouver 1949 

The Agent drank coffee at a lunch counter in the railroad station. He was young, casting a lonesome glow. The waitress had flirted, but he’d been cold. It wasn’t his training, but his inclination. She wasn’t a target, and therefore unworthy of notice.

He had made the telephone call, the one upon which all things hinged. Now he sat idle, in wait. He’d studied his target thoroughly, her image hung on a wall in the evening light of his mind. He’d try for a quiet kill, something restrained, close-in so that he could experience the life drain from her. Garrotting suited him best. Or a knife, so he could look into her eyes as she faded from the world. But a bullet wasn’t out of the question, either. He carried a .38 revolver, and hated it. It was a repulsive way to kill, the stuff of armatures.

His instructions were this: Wait three hours from the designated time. If she doesn’t appear, hunt her down, at her office first. She’d be there alone.

They said she was unpredictable, dangerous even. He was both those things, too. A small part of him wished he could have met her under different circumstances.

* * * * *

the offices of Dench and Parr Investigations

It came in the morning office mail, a parcel wrapped in brown paper and butcher string, the size of a detective novel. There was an envelope attached, held fast by cellophane tape. It had a Winnipeg post mark. Trudy Parr held the package in her hand for a moment, recognising the sender’s handwriting. She gave it a shake, something moved inside. Then she decided it could only contain bad memories, and dropped it into her inbox. The telephone rang.

“Dench and Parr Investigations, Trudy Parr speaking.”

“There’s a parcel in the mail,” a voice said. “It should be there by now. It should be on your desk, I reckon.”

“Who’s speaking?”

“Doesn’t matter. Open the package.”

“I know the handwriting on the label. It doesn’t match your voice.”

“The fellow who sent it to you, Bertrand Mosley, he’s dead. This is between you and me now.”

“Bertrand’s dead? How? Why?”

“Never mind that. Bertrand said you was a clever little Chiquita. It’s all about the parcel now, so get clever and open it up.”

“I don’t like your tone, buster. I think I’m gonna hang up and toss your package in the trash.”

A third voice came onto the line. “Another thirty-five cents for the next six minutes, mister.”

“Long distance,” Trudy Parr said. “Where you calling from?”

There was the sound of coins dropping into a slot and bells chiming.

“Where I’m calling from is immaterial. Open the package.”

“You just wasted thirty-five cents, boyo.” Trudy Parr hung up the phone.

Picking up the package again, she examined Bertrand Mosley’s flamboyant script. He’d been sweet to her, strange for a heartless, solitary killer. They’d met in Paris in 1943. He’d been notorious as an Allied spy. A homosexual ridiculed for his proclivities, but valuable for where they could take him. Could he actually be dead? She wondered how any of them, who’d been present for the slaughter, could still be alive. She cut the string and opened the envelope.

Dear Trudy, 

I hope this correspondence finds you well. I have landed here in Winnipeg, on my way to Montreal and then New York, after a brief time in your little city. Sorry I didn’t contact you, but I was on a selfish mission. Please take the contents of this package and proceed to the CPR Station to retrieve a certain asset of mine. It’s something I hold very dear, but that I can no longer have in my own possession. I hope leaving it with you doesn’t cause you any difficulties. I’ve been as stealthy as possible. I know I can trust you with it.

Say hello to that man of yours, Crispin Dench, the one you always claim is just a business partner. Well if you don’t want him, I certainly do.

TTFN,

Bertrand

PS: The package you’ve just opened contains one very valuable little item. I placed it there to spark your interest. It’s yours in payment for services rendered in this matter.

Trudy Parr tore away the brown paper on the package to reveal a blue box embossed with Tiffany & Co. She lifted the lid and found two objects wrapped in tissue. One was a locker key with the number 237. The other was a small red velvet pouch with a drawstring. She recognised it from what now seemed like another life, and picked it up and felt for the contents. It was exactly what she expected, a hard object, pointed at one end and flat at the other. She’d felt that shape before. Memories of Paris returned. She opened the drawstring and dumped the object out onto her desk. It wasn’t from Tiffany & Co., of course. That was just Bertrand’s sense of humour.

She wasn’t an authority, but she guessed it was flawless. And that there were more of them somewhere, unclaimed because they were lost to the world. Lost because Bertrand had made off with them, late in 1944.

“I have in my possession something very valuable,” Bertrand told her in a pub in London. It had been Christmastime, and she’d had just enough Jameson’s to feel a warm appreciation for the fairy lights strung across the bar.

“It’s something that I was able to smuggle back from Paris in a SIS satchel,” he said, sounding as though he were in Confession. “I’m telling you this now because in order for me to enjoy the value of this possession, I must disappear completely. The war’s all but over now anyway, and we spies will soon be made redundant. Besides, an ageing queen like me needs to know when to exit with dignity. But I didn’t want to disappear and have you think I finally got my throat cut. No, dear Trudy, this is a voluntary departure, and I wanted to wish you all of the best in your postwar post-assassin life. Though what it will mean for us is anyone’s guess. I feel like I’ll never be anything but what they’ve trained me to be, and what does a spy with a flair for silent killing do when the hostilities end?”

And it was in that moment at the bar, for the first time since the whole thing began, she wondered the same thing about herself.

It was an open question. Bertrand gulped back his gin.

Bertrand hadn’t said in the pub what his valuable possession was, but Trudy Parr had an idea. The two of them had handled some very valuable items a short time before, thousands of them at once in fact, just before they were extracted from Paris. It had been a special mission that included her, Bertrand and Crispin Dench. There’d been an astonishing number of the shiny little things. Each one either perfect or near perfect. Each one stolen and hoarded by the Nazi’s, then found and hoarded by the Allies. They’d been graded and inventoried. Trudy, Dench and Mosley were charged with bringing them to London, but their exit from Paris had been difficult and dangerous. And when they arrived in London, the actual count didn’t match the tally. Who could say why? War is chaotic, and the expectations of spymasters are often unrealistic.

Now she used her finger to roll the diamond round in a small circle on her desk blotter. It was over a carat, perhaps one and a half. And it caught the light from her office window in the way a diamond will. It was gorgeous. But she still wondered at the value of it versus its utility. The telephone rang again.

“You’ve opened it, I reckon.”

“’Reckon’,” Trudy Parr said. “That’s an American way of saying ‘I guess’, isn’t it?” As she said this, she quickly scanned a list in her mind of people she and Bertrand had in common.

“Maybe,” said the man on the line.

“And you have a slight accent. I’d say northern Illinois, near the lake. Chicago, right?”

“Don’t mess with me, Chiquita.”

“Are you calling from Chicago?” said Trudy Parr. “Is this extortion via long distance?”

“The locker that key belongs to,” said the man, “Mosley put a bag in it seven days ago. The locker has a seven day rental limit. Sometime within the next twenty-four hours, it’s going to be emptied out by train station management. That will complicate things for me.”

Trudy Parr reclined in her desk chair. “You know,” she said, “I used to know a mug that used words like Chiquita and reckon all the time. He was with the OSS, worked the Counter-espionage Desk outta London during the war. His name was Larry Flannigan, from Chicago. A real smarmy bastard with bad hair, used a cheap eau de toilette that really stank up the place. Is that you, Larry? Why are you calling me from a pay telephone in Chicago, why not your office? You’re with the CIA now, aren’t you?”

There was a moment of silence, faint clicks on the long distance line.

“I never liked you, Trudy,” Flannigan said, “you bitch. You’re arrogant, a loose cannon, not a team player, a liability.”

“And you’re a real company man, eh Larry? What do you drive now, a Buick? Not a Cadillac or a Lincoln, no no no, too showy. Got a nice little sports model for the wife to drive to the country club too, I bet. You’ve got a townhouse in the city and a country house just outta town on the lake shore, somewhere quiet where there’s still a few trees. And it’s all paid for with the war swag you stole on the job in London. That’s right isn’t it, Larry? And that crowd you run with now, they think you’re a bit of a poser, don’t they. They think you’re swinging above your pay-grade. But you don’t care. You’re way off their radar. You keep your savings under your mattress. And now it’s the Agency that matters, right? Your new source of potential loot.”

Another silent pause.

“Those are some good guesses,” Flannigan said. “You want in on this? I can cut you in.”

“You killed Bertrand.”

“Fuck Bertrand, we’re talking millions here.”

“I liked Bertrand.”

“He was a fucking homo. The world’s a better place without him.”

“What did you do? Did you cut him, shoot him, throw him in front of a subway car? Just tell me it was quick, you fucking bastard.”

“He had a heart attack, potassium chloride and calcium gluconate. He died fast, in a New York City bath house. Now can we get on with this?”

“So how was this caper supposed to play out, Larry? Was I supposed to cheerfully mail you the goods when I got them? You’ve got a shadow up here waiting for me to retrieve the bag, don’t you? I’m your last chance at the ice, and once I’ve got it, I’m dead.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Why did you call me, Larry? You needed to know that the key had actually arrived, didn’t you.”

Trudy Parr got up from the desk and locked her office door.

“You’re sending your boy up right now,” she said, “you sick fuck. You should know me better though, Larry. It’s your job to know better. I don’t die easy. Why didn’t you just have your man pick the lock?”

“I know you’re alone up there, Trudy. Dench is following up on a missing person case, and your secretary’s off with a cold. That’s why you answered your own phone.”

“That will be thirty-five cents for the next….” — the third voice again.

“Fuck!” – the sound of coins dropping and bells chiming.

Suddenly there was a sound in the outer office, a door opening and closing. Trudy Parr listened. The Agent stepped into the reception area, appreciating the well kept Art Deco surroundings.

“You still there, Trudy?” said Flannigan.

She didn’t answer Flannigan. She listened.

“He’s there, isn’t he?” Flannigan said. “So, it’s too late for dealing. Make it easy on yourself, Trudy. He’s a good man. His name is Malcolm Corey. He’s a family man, goes to church every Sunday. He’ll shoot you clean in the heart, no strangling, no rape, no torture. One bullet, I promise. CIA agents are a new breed, respectful, sane, squeaky clean. They’re sharp, though. He’s been briefed on you. That straight razor shit ain’t gonna work on him.”

Trudy Parr pulled a .45 and clip out of her desk. She put down the receiver and loaded the pistol, and picked up the receiver again.

“Did I just hear you loading a gun, Trudy?” Flannigan said.

“Damn straight.”

“Well now you’re just being wilful. This is why I hate the whole idea of lady spies.”

“Wrong again, Larry. I ain’t no lady, and I’m not a spy anymore. I’m just a citizen who enjoys protecting herself.”

The doorknob turned slightly.

“I’m putting the receiver down now, Larry. I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Ahh, Trudy, this is so unnecessary….”

Trudy Parr’s name was painted neatly across a frosted window in the upper half of her office door. The Agent was crouching low beside it, not in front, trying the doorknob. Locked, a small obstacle, but it meant a silent kill might be out of the question. He pulled his revolver.

From behind her desk, she guessed at the Agent’s approximate location, took aim and squeezed the trigger. She fired three times, the bullets flying through the wall above the crouching Agent’s head.

She listened for a body falling to the floor, but the gun fire was deafening. The kill was unconfirmed.

She knew that if he was still alive, in a second, the door would come crashing in. She reached under her desk. There was a straight razor there; there was always a straight razor there, held in place with two strips of masking tape. She pulled it free and, lacking a better place, secured it under her dress in the top of her stocking.

Then she saw the Agent’s silhouette through the frosted glass The door came crashing in, and she took refuge behind her desk heavy oak desk.

He was in her office now, silent but moving. She’d been trained this way, too. Never be still. Never stop listening. Use your instincts. Feel the room and its hidden target on your skin. Given a choice, a man will instinctively move to the left when he enters a room, a woman to the right. Don’t count on it, however, when dealing with a trained assassin. He may move neither left nor right, but in a straight line, over obstructions as best he can. Listen for his breath, his clothing, moving on his body, his body against the walls, the drapes. Listen for footfalls, the floorboards.

She did that now, and heard all of those things. It was like radar. Then, a familiar creak in the hardwood to her left. But the Agent heard it too, beneath his foot, and he fell and rolled left, all the time aiming in Trudy Parr’s general direction.

She crawled left also, to the other end of the desk. Timing was everything now. She grabbed the wastepaper basket and threw it over the desktop. The Agent was on his knees, saw the basket and fired. He reproached himself immediately, as Trudy Parr thought he might. It was the error of a novice. Now she had only a split second. She struggled to her knees, firing twice at the Agent over the desk. The first shot went wide, the second hit the mark. The Agent spun backward, onto the floor.

She ducked back behind the desk. It was quiet now. The post gunfight quiet she always found disconcerting. It meant someone was dead, or dying. She stood up, maintaining her aim. But blood pooled round the Agent’s body on the Persian rug. A good sign, the living don’t bleed like that.

Cautiously, she stepped toward him, kicking his revolver away. Then she knelt next to the body, feeling the neck for a pulse. The pulse of a dying man could be very hard to detect. Did she feel something there, some beat of life? She decided to back off. It was the wrong time for conjecture. She’d call the cops, and watch him until they arrived.

Standing, she turned toward her desk telephone. She’d have to hang up on Flannigan, but that didn’t happen. The Agent grasped her ankle. She looked down and saw he’d pulled a knife, and moved her foot enough for it to miss by less than an inch. His grip remained strong, in spite of his condition. Trudy Parr kicked him in the face with her free foot. He recovered quickly and reached up, grasping her dress and pulling her down. When she hit the floor, she released the .45 and it spun out of reach.

“Fucking bitch,” the Agent hissed, swinging his knife, cutting her cheek.

Her eyes narrowed as her hand went to the wound. She took it away and saw blood.

“Not so pretty anymore,” he said, and swung the knife a second time.

This time he missed and loosened his grip on her ankle. She pulled herself away and scrambled for the gun. But he grabbed her ankle again and pulled her back. In seconds, with the macabre strength and agility of a rapidly dying man, he had an arm around her and the knife to her throat.

“We die together then,” he said, tightening his hold. “Go ahead and struggle. I like that.”

Trudy Parr felt the keenness of the blade on her throat, and knew she may have lost the last fight of her life. But then her hand fell onto the razor in her stocking. She reached under her dress and pulled it out, giving it a shake to release the blade from the handle. Then she sliced the strong arm holding her against the Agent’s fading body.

“Fucking bitch,” he yelp as the razor cut in.

She’d escaped, but the Agent lunged toward her once more, and she swung the razor as he did. Aiming well, she opened his throat. The wound went deep. He grabbed at the gash that bubbled as the blood spilled. There was a peculiar look in his eyes. She’d seen it before. He wasn’t used to loosing to a woman.

Trudy Parr stood up again and looked down at him. Soon, he’d most certainly be among the confirmed dead. But she lamented the loss of the Persian rug, upon which he bled.

After a moment, she heard what sounded like frantic whispering and picked up the telephone receiver.

“You still there Larry, you bum?”

“Where’s my fucking agent?”

“He’s bleeding to death on my 600 knots per square inch Persian, you bastard.”

“You killed an American, you bitch,” Flannigan said. “We’re coming for you.”

“Go ahead, send in the Marines,” Trudy Parr said, picking up the locker key. “I’ve gotta get down to the train station.”