A hand and forearm flopped lazily out of the large, sloppily bundled package as it was lifted over the bumper and into the trunk. There were three men presiding. Fat Phil O’Malley stood lookout as a man in a tee shirt and jeans folded the forearm back at the elbow, and considered taking the Rolex off of the pale blue-veined wrist as he did. He changed his mind, and closed the hood.
“You sure this is his car, Phil?” said the third man, named Jack.
“I checked the hotel register when the night guy went to the can.”
“All righty, then. It’s July, and it’s hot. By dinnertime tomorrow, the smell will be enough to attract attention. Someone will call the cops, and they’ll clean it up.”
“He was one lippy son of a bitch,” said the man in the tee shirt.
“Not anymore,” said fat Phil O’Malley, lighting a cigarette.
* * * * *
The Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge was just off the highway near the airport, next to the YVR Astor Airport Inn.
It was the small hours of Wednesday morning and Larry Glick sat at the bar, listening to Antonio Martini at the electric piano and looking at his own reflection in the mirrored wall behind the rows of bottles. It was getting on toward closing time and big fat Phil O’Malley was behind the bar, pouring last drinks.
“Last call, fella,” O’Malley said to Glick. “What’ll you have?”
“Same,” Larry Glick said. “Better make it two.”
Big fat O’Malley cracked two beer and put them on the bar. Glick slid some cash across to him.
The Lounge was still mostly full, despite the hour. Glick imagined it was the usual swarm. But he’d noticed they were all the type of guys you’d expect to see in a bar or tavern, not an airport lounge. They were wearing work boots, grubby jeans and tee shirts.
“Rough crowd,” Glick said to O’Malley.
“They work for a living,” the fat man said. “No shame in that.”
“Truth,” said Glick, and gulped back some beer.
“Where you from, mister?” said O’Malley to Larry Glick, loading glasses into the washing machine.
“No shame in that, either” said Larry Glick.
Phil O’Malley shrugged and continued loading the washer.
“I knew a Chicago fella once,” said a man, slurring his words, a few barstools down. “He packed heat, a .45. I told him Canada wasn’t the place for that, but he wouldn’t listen. Ended up killing a broad downtown because she wouldn’t return his affections. He’s doing federal time up the valley now. Last I heard, he was in isolation ‘cause he don’t get along with the rest of the population. I guess people from Chicago are just assholes.”
“Ease up, Jack,” Phil O’Malley said.
“I ain’t seen a gun in twenty years,” said Glick. “Not since the Marines. Not all Americans are the same.”
“Bunch of bastards….”
“C’mon, Jack,” said fat O’Malley. “Let’s end tonight without trouble.”
“I gotta clean up the mess when one of yous goes postal,” said Jack.
“You a janitor?” said Glick.
“No,” said Jack. “RCMP. They call me Policeman Jack. You can call me sir.”
Glick smiled and sipped his beer. Antonio Martini was singing Volare à la Dean Martin.
“There was another American I had dealings with…,” Policeman Jack said, sipping his rye and Coke, “from Cincinnati. He was running hot handguns and meth into the country along a dirt road that cut over the border at an uncontrolled crossing. But I settled his hash. We shot it out on that very same road when no one else was around. I tapped him thrice, and I left him there for the coyotes.”
“That’s real nice,” said Larry Glick, reading labels on the bottles across from him.
“Please, Jack,” said Phil O’Malley. “We close in a half hour. Let’s not have trouble. I don’t want to be talking to on-duty cops until 6:00 a.m.”
“Is that what you’re doing up here?” said Policeman Jack to Larry Glick. “You up here running guns and selling meth to schoolchildren?”
“I sell semiconductors.”
“My ex-wife’s brother sold semiconductors outta Silicone Valley. He was a coke-fiend. You a coke-fiend? You in possession? How about I frisk you and find out?”
O’Malley said: “You’re shit-faced, Jack. And you got no probable cause.”
“He’s an American semiconductor salesman. That’s all the probable cause I need.”
“You’re drunk, Policeman Jack,” Larry Glick said. “You ain’t touching me. You think you got cause, call in some of your sober pals. You carrying your weapon right now, by the way, all blotto?”
“I carry it in my sleep, fella.”
“Well that’s real interesting. But now, since you’ve been so forthcoming with stories of Americans you’ve known, I want to tell you about a Canadian I once knew.”
“Where you taking this?” said fat Phil O’Malley, under his breath.
“To its logical conclusion,” Larry Glick said, and then, “It happened a long time ago. This guy I knew, a Canadian, we’ll call him Skyler from Regina. He fell in love with a beautiful young woman in Milwaukee, but the woman, let’s call her Venus, didn’t want to have anything to do with him. She thought he was dull. He sold pet food to grocery store chains for a living, drove a base model Honda and dressed out of the Sears Catalogue. She rejected him, so he secretly followed her round for months, studying her, finding out what she liked, where she went, what she ate and drank. A lot of people would have called it stalking. And I guess he was a little obsessed with her; he just couldn’t help it.
“One evening, he’s following her in a rental car. It’s in Toronto, where she’s gone on a brief vacation. Anyway, he trails her to this club in a refurbished warehouse. He decides to go in, and gives his car to the valet. Once he’s in the club, he’s shocked at what he sees. There’s Milwaukee Venus in a black corset, holding a ping pong paddle in her hand, slapping the ass of this old guy tied to the wall. Turns out it’s an S&M club for rich old dudes that like to get spanked, and Venus is a real spanker.
“Now, in a strange way, Skyler sees his in. He figures he can take a paddling from Venus if it means they can be together. So, he shoulders his way up to the bar and asks the bartender, ’Hey, how do I get spanked by that blonde over there?’ And the bartender says, ’Take a number, chump.’ So, Skyler takes a number and orders a ginger ale. He’s number 27, and Venus is currently spanking number 10. He’s got a bit of a wait ahead of him before he gets paddled, so he starts to look around the joint, and notices that he’s one of the youngest guys there. Which is saying something, because he’s 49. He’s in a huge room filled with granddads and a few young women with paddles and riding crops. It’s very weird, and he starts to wonder if he shouldn’t just forget the whole thing. That’s when this oldster comes up to him and introduces himself.
“’Hey there, young fella,’ says the half naked old guy. ’I haven’t seen you round here before. You must be new to our little club.’
“’Yeah,’ says Skyler. ’I just thought I’d drop in for a spanking.’
“’Well, my name’s Archie,’ says the old guy, and Skyler shakes the man’s well manicured hand. ‘You like a good spanking, do you?’
“’A hard spanking’s good to find,’ Skyler declares, not knowing what else to say.
“’A decent spanking needs to be earned, however,’ says Grandpa Archie. ’You figure you’ve earned a good spanking? Have you been wicked? Can you provide examples?’
“Skyler wonders why all the questions, but decides to play along.
“’I haven’t really thought about it much,’ he says.
“’Well,’ says Grandpa Archie, ‘I redirected 75 tons of UN Humanitarian Aid meant for Ethiopian refugees last month. Waddaya think of that?’ Skyler’s quietly appalled. If this guy’s someone’s granddad, then he’s a lousy granddad.
“Lousy Granddad continues: ’I made $108,000 off that deal, and I spent it on coke, booze and prostitutes. It’s not the first time, either. Meanwhile, I keep my wife in a cut-rate seniors’ home. She’s got dementia. She doesn’t even know my name, anymore. I haven’t visited her in 8 months, and then it was to have her sign over Power of Attorney so I could cash in her investments and sell her possessions. You see, I’ve really been a bad boy.’
“Skyler ponders that. He recalls dropping eggs onto cars from a highway overpass when he was 10 years old, and wonders if that might count.
“Then Grandpa Archie points to the wall where an obese man is in chains and being spanked by a redhead in a purple ballet tutu. ’You see that porky bastard cuffed to the wall,’ he says. ‘The one in the blue and red striped boxers? That’s the CEO of the Bank of Canada. That son of a bitch embezzles, gropes women in public and is generally running the economy into the toilet. You got anything that compares to that?’
“’No,’ admits Skyler from Regina. ’I guess I don’t.’
“’And yet,’ says Grandpa Archie, ’you figure you deserve a spanking? C’mon, give it some thought. There must be some seeds of meanness inside of you. Ever cheat or steal or ignore an injustice? Do you have any admissions of failure? Any pleas for forgiveness? How about a simple desire for understanding?’
“’No,’ Skyler says. ’I sell pet food to grocery stores for a living; I donate 15% of my gross income to charities; I attend church: I volunteer at a homeless shelter; I return my library books on time; I vote; I….’
“’Phaw!’ says Grandpa Archie. ‘Typical Canadian. You see the men in this place? They aren’t your typical Canadians. This isn’t any place for a typical Canadian. You want to be in a Tim Horton’s choking on a cruller and a double-double. I don’t know why they let self-righteous little pricks like you into this place.’
“Skyler wondered, too. Though he couldn’t recall behaving self-righteous at any time that evening. He’d paid the cover to get into this debauched place where he was surrounded by depraved old men, sure. He even believed for a short time that he might participate in the debauchery. But he understood in that moment that he lacked the kink and immoral edge necessary to have a woman like Milwaukee Venus spanking only him with her ping pong paddle. Then he wondered, for a single mad moment, if he could be wicked retroactively – get his spanking tonight and then perhaps misdirect a truckload of kitty-chow tomorrow. But he knew he couldn’t. He gulped back his ginger ale and let his number 27 fall to the floor.”
“And then…?” said Policeman Jack.
The energy in the room had changed.
Phil O’Malley stood still behind the bar, engrossed, having hung on every word of Larry Glick’s story. And he wasn’t alone. Everyone in the bar was captivated, all of the rough-lookers in their jeans and tees. Even Antonio Martini had stopped singing like Dean Martin to catch every word. For his part, Policeman Jack had ditched his arrogance, and was waiting for more.
Larry Glick had half a beer left and chugged it back. It was always like this whenever he told this story, in cocktail lounges across the continent. But this group seemed even more sucked in than the others.
“Well,” Glick said, “Regina Skyler decided then and there that he was only good at one thing, and that was being good. He looked around him at the S&M nightclub clientele, hoping he would learn from the depravity of his experience. Then he looked over at Milwaukee Venus as she perspired, exerting herself in her black satin corset, slapping some anonymous senior executive on his ass for some perverted narrative of iniquity. He noticed then that there was a dim magenta spotlight casting an array of erotic shadows across the pale geography of her shimmering back and shoulders. It made him think he might weaken. But he didn’t. He put his empty glass on a table and walked out.”
“That’s it?” said Antonio Martini, who sounded more like Jerry Lewis now than Dean Martin.
“Of course not,” said Larry Glick. “Skyler went home to Regina and continued to sell pet food to grocery stores. A week later, he landed a $12 million deal with a nation-wide chain – who knew dog food was worth so much? He continued to donate 15% of his gross income to charities, and continued to volunteer at the homeless shelter. Once he thought he might live dangerously and return a library book late, but he just couldn’t pull it off. He did, however, stop clothes shopping out of the Sears catalogue and started ordering from Land’s End.
“Then about a year later, he met a woman named Edna at a church picnic. Three months after that, they eloped, impulsively like two nutty kids, in Las Vegas during a pet food convention.”
“And they lived happily ever after?’ said O’Malley, with a warm chubby smile.
“For the duration of the pet food convention they did,” said Glick. “Skyler blew a wad on Edna. They stayed at a ritzy hotel; they ate at the best restaurants; he bought her a wardrobe of designer clothes. They even gambled, which wasn’t normally Skyler’s style. But good clean living paid off and he won 50 grand at blackjack. And that’s how it went until they got home.”
“Then what happened,’ said one of the rough looking crowd, at a table near the exit.
“Then they went home, and Edna got news that her mother had died, which sort of rained on the new couple’s parade, but waddaya gonna do? The news of her mother’s death, however, woke Edna up to the realisation that no one lasts forever. So, she figured it was time for Skyler to meet her father, who hadn’t been at their wedding since they eloped. He was some bigwig with the World Bank, and Skyler was real impressed with that. For him, that made meeting the old man seem like a big event.
“They planned their little family shindig for a Sunday, after church. It was gonna be a barbecue, pork chops with extra fat and some nice thick steaks. Edna even made her favourite Jell-O mold salad, the one with the canned fruit cocktail. And who doesn’t like that recipe?
“Anyway, the big day arrives, and Edna goes out to the airport to pick up her father and is surprised at Arrivals to find that daddy’s gotten married also, to a woman much younger than him and, in Edna’s opinion, a little bit on the brassy side. But that’s how men are, she decides. And in her mind, she quietly blesses the union.
“On the way home, daddy’s bride seems amused by the blandness of Regina, which Edna finds mildly offensive. And she can’t help looking at the young brassy thing in the backseat, through the rear view mirror, thinking that there is something terribly wrong with the whole situation.
“At the house, Skyler’s in backyard barbecue heaven, marinating meat, tossing salad and making an alcohol-free Sangria recipe he’d found in Healthy Pentecostal Magazine. And he’s in the backyard with a spatula in his hand, checking the coals in the pit, when he hears the Honda pull into the driveway. Skyler’s been waiting all week for this moment, and runs out front to greet his father-in-law. And when he does, when he runs up to the passenger side door to open it, he’s stunned to be met by a man he already knows, a well-kept man in his 60s wearing an expensive Hawaiian shirt and a Tilley hat. It’s Grandpa Archie from the Toronto S&M bar. And getting out of the backseat is Skyler’s old obsession, Milwaukee Venus.
“Skyler drops his spatula as Archie holds out his well manicured hand to shake.
“’Well, well,’ Archie says. ‘Aren’t you the last person I expected to meet today.’
“Venus just smiles sheepishly and gives her suitcase to Edna, who’s picking up on some very weird energy, and wondering what it all could be about. After a moment, Edna pipes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’
“But no one speaks, until Archie timidly says to Skyler, ‘Waddaya think of the little woman?’ Which was really the wrong thing to say.
“’It was kind of all of a sudden,’ Venus says. ‘It was just a couple of weeks ago. He asked me to be with him at the piercing parlour when he got his Prince Albert. I was holding his hand during the procedure, and that was when he popped the question. It was just so damn romantic. What’s a girl supposed to do?’
“’And he’s stinking rich,’ says Skyler.
“’A girl’s gotta think ahead.’
“That’s when Skyler bends down and picks up his spatula,” Larry Glick said. “Then he walks into the house.”
Now the Jiminy Cricket Lounge was silent. Larry Glick threw a 10 spot onto the bar, telling big fat Phil O’Malley to keep it. Then he began to shimmy off of his bar stool.
“Well what happened then?” said O’Malley, scooping up the sawbuck.
“You ain’t going nowhere,” said Policeman Jack, putting his hand at his side where the room assumed he kept his service weapon. “Not until you finish the story.”
“No need for gunplay,” Glick said, belching politely into his hand. “Justice was done.”
“How?” hollered one of the rough-lookers by the exit. “You’re starting to piss us off. What the hell happened?”
“You may not like it.”
“Try us,” said Policeman Jack, his hand having disappeared now into his sports jacket.
“Okay,” said Larry Glick. “Archie and Venus just stand there, waiting for Edna to say something. But Edna’s mute. She’s never seen that quiet fatal look in her husband’s eyes, and couldn’t imagine why it was there in the first place. In about a minute, Skyler returns with a 30.06 hunting rifle, loaded with cartridges he’d proudly made himself in his basement, according to instructions out of Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine. He’d used them more than once to take down deer in season. Now he puts the rifle’s butt to his shoulder and takes aim, moving the sights back and forth between Grandpa Archie and Milwaukee Venus. Who’s gonna go first? Everyone stands still, all wide-eyed, as Skyler chambers a bullet, and then settles his aim of Grandpa Archie.
“’Skyler don’t,’ Edna screams. ‘Whatever it is, we can work it out.’
“’No we can’t, Edna,’ Skyler says. ‘And suddenly I know that that’s okay. I never thought I could hate until this moment. And I never knew that it could feel this way. I’ve always denied myself hate. They said it was wrong. It was sin. That a man would always regret it. Can you imagine how a man struggles to keep himself from hating in this world, Edna? Of course you can’t; you’re a woman. They said hate could kill a man. But it’s not like that, at all. I know it now. It’s deliverance, Edna. I wish I’d known sooner. Now I know why Hitler did what he did. I feel like I could fly. It’s ecstasy. It’s a drug, Edna. And I want more. And I know how to get it.’
“That’s when Skyler finally squinted and drew a bead. He had Lousy Grandpa Archie’s high forehead in his sights. ‘Say bye, bye, old man,’ Skyler said, and squeezed the trigger.
“What, click?” said Policeman Jack. “Failure to fire?”
“Failure to fire,” said Larry Glick. “The warning in Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine stated clearly that The Publisher takes no responsibility for ammunition’s failure to fire, or otherwise misfire.
“You call that justice?” said O’Malley?
“In its own savage way,” said Glick. “Because now Milwaukee Venus sees her chance to defend her man, Archie, and yanks a .32 S&W revolver outta her purse and fires six rounds into Regina Skyler, who drops like a rock onto his front lawn.”
“This is a very disappointing story,” said Policeman Jack.
“Maybe,” said Larry Glick. “But it makes one point very clear.”
“And what is that?” said O’Malley.
“Canadians can be just as hateful and prone to homicide as Americans,” said Glick. “But when it really counts, you’re too weak and useless to pull it off. Even when you’re holding all of the cards, you’ll find a way to fuck it up.”
“That’s it?” said one of the rough-lookers near the exit.
“That’s it,” Larry Glick said, checking his gold Rolex. “And with that, I’m going back to my room to get some shuteye.”
“Maybe not,” said Policeman Jack.