lost ironies

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Month: April, 2015

two chairs

The house listed severely to the south now, where the foundation beams had crumbled from dry rot and succumbed to the weight from above, giving it the appearance of having been dropped from a tornado. It had been empty since dust storms threatened to bury a continent. All that remained inside was the wind and insect buzz off of the prairie, and two wooden chairs facing one another, placed there decades ago. There were broken windows, and a mirror on the wall, which had reflected the same fixed rendering for decades. And in the walls were dozens of finger sized holes, through which the day and night channelled.

A few hundred feet away, in a roofless barn, polished smooth by grit on the wind, was a rusted ’38 Ford that had once been a car dealer’s dream. The salesman had placed his hand on the fender of it on a sunny day of that model year, and made his pledge to the buyer, believing every word. That the V8 was a daemon, at the diver’s command. The clutch, transmission and column shifter was a near-holy Trinity that moved in impassioned union. And the ride was as safe and smooth as the physical universe would allow. There may have been more expensive cars, but none so suitable for the Everyman.

So, he who had yet to occupy his chair in the dusty room, had paid in full for the brand new automobile. One thousand dollars cash, still redolent of the panic of the tellers who’d handed over. Then he and his girl, the woman who would soon sit across from him in her chair, drove away. West, away from the withdrawing light over the grasslands. Toward more of the towns and cities beneath the crystal dome over America. The big car meant comfort, and the V8 meant quick getaways and the ability to outrun the law.

Sometimes, as he drove in a dreamish state induced by a prairie highway, he could see himself as he entered the vast cathedrallike compass of a bank, like a knight entering Jerusalem, pulling a shotgun like a champion from under his coat, as she, with her own weapon, charmed and disarmed a guard. The movements so well-rehearsed by then, that they were nearly involuntary.

He liked the Colt Model 1911 .45, and the sawed-off Remington Model 31. She liked a .38 revolver and the Thompson submachine gun, with a lightweight twenty round clip. The diversity of weaponry meant a backseat full of ammunition, stolen from hardware stores, town armouries and wrecked police cars with dead cops stupid at the wheel. The ammo even weighed them down, but it paid to be prepared. A shootout could last a day or more.

Their last heist was in Great Falls, Montana, where the small dirt farmers’ bank was sacrificed in a setup to make the two of them legitimate targets. They shot their way out, past the Sheriff, the Troopers and the FBI, and took the lowly bag of marked bills north in the V8 Ford, on the interstate and headed for Alberta. They sped through Sweet Grass, taking the bend out of Coutts at suicide speeds. And as they watched the gas gauge shift to ‘E’, they spotted the wasteland mansion on the horizon and turned down a Dust Bowl road toward it.

Inside of the house, in a room that might once have been a parlour when the rains still came, the two of them laid out the trappings of a gunfight. The weapons and ammunition, a box of dynamite and caps. Then they found the two chairs., abandoned among the last artefacts of a failed homestead.

It would be the itchy-fingered RCMP that would come now, listless so long for the lack of any real criminals in gentle Canada. They were bound to arrive too soon, righteousness with their Winchesters and blow horns.

No one would leave the house alive. Even with their hands up. So, the two of them drew up the chairs, sitting to face one another. And she said —

“They’ll rip us to pieces.”

“We’ll fight ‘em,” he said. “We’ll take some of them with us.”

They’d had a good run. Two years on the road, and a bank in every town.

“Was money all we wanted?” she said, after a moment.

“I thought so, once,” he said, reaching across and taking her hands. “But we never spent much of it.”

“We ain’t no good nowheres else, though, not doing any other kinda thing. I guess this is where we belong.”

“I saw something once,” he said. They heard cars driving into the yard. “I never told you about it, ’cause it’s sorta crazy. Whatever it was, though, it changed me. But I never told the story to nobody. I’d been driving for days, and it was somethin’ way ahead in the distance where the land drops off at dusk, and the road disappears. I was just a starving kid in a stolen car, a few miles outside of Bismarck.”

“What was it?”

He thought for a moment, and said, “A high column of light where there shouldn’t’ve been none. It was in the east, and it was getting late. I wanted to stop for fear of it, but I couldn’t. I floored it, instead. It was like the light was suckin’ me in, and I drove for an hour feeling like it was the end. But the light never got closer, and I never arrived nowhere.”

“Then what?”

“It was a feeling,” he said. “I got this real strange sort of feeling. It was outside of me, inside of me. It was a feeling so strong that it was nearly stone, made of a single word that would’ve filled an entire dictionary all on its own. And the word said that there wasn’t nothin’ noble in the world; there wasn’t no justice. Just chances and the people who took ‘em. And people who’d tell you it’s wrong to take ‘em, while you starved and they stuck their hands into the collection plate.”

There was a commotion in the yard. Rising tension. Men taking instruction and hunkering down.

“So?” she said.

“So, I got a gun,” he said. “I guess they got mental hospitals full of guys like me, who act like that on just a feeling.”

“And books full of heroes,” she said.

“And here we are.”

“We did alright,” she said. “Even Dillinger got it in the end. I remember last spring in the Dakotas. We stayed over in that shitty little cabin joint in the desert, just off the highway. It was cold in the morning, round 4 a.m. I needed a cigarette, so I went out on the porch and looked at the last stars of the night, the last comets shootin’ cross the sky. I was wearing that fine wool coat I bought in Rapid City. It was the first warm coat I ever owned, and owning it made me feel like I was winning for once, that I was protected by my own actions, and would be from then on. No more cold. No one was gonna wallop me anymore, and there weren’t gonna be no more soup lines. The moon was gone, by then. So, it was a strange kinda dark so close to dawn. Nobody ever said there was that kinda dark. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for nothin’. Not for all the gospel preaching in all the back alley poor missions in any city.”

“Throw out your weapons,” a man in the yard yelled over a blow horn. “Then come out with your hands up.”

They remained seated. She looking at him. Him looking at the floor.

“You know,” she said, holding her hand to her cheek. “They never got my picture right in the papers. Always the wrong side.” .

“The papers called us monsters.”

“I saw a thing once, too,” she said.

“Yeah? What was that?” he said. It came out light and conversational, like they were talking in a roadhouse over a cup of coffee. The time for grave discourse was over.

“After my mother died,” she said. “Back when I was still a kid, living in Vancouver. My father used to like to beat the hell outta us girls, me and my sister. I guess because he didn’t have momma to beat no more. Word was in our tenement that momma didn’t die from a fall down the stairs, after all. But a beatin’. He was a cop, so it was covered up. Anyways, he’d tie one or the other of us down onto the bed and whale away with his big thick police belt until we couldn’t even walk, all the while hollerin’ about Jesus.

“I was the younger, so I was waiting for my big sister to do somethin’. But she never did. So, one day when he had her down, I took his razor from the medicine chest and I cut him cross the back of his hand, faster and deeper than I ever thought I could.

“He couldn’t believe I’d done it, and held it up and looked at it bleed. He slapped me a good one, after that. I saw the dark and the light both at once, and the razor hit the floor. In a second he’d picked it up and had me in a hammerlock. I couldn’t breathe. That’s when I saw my dead mamma standing there, glowing like the Virgin, and she said my daddy wouldn’t kill me, that it wasn’t my time. But that it was his.

“Sure enough, he let go and I fell on the floor. Then he swung that razor, faster than a loan shark, and took a slice outta my cheek.”

She put her hand to her cheek once more, and he saw something like shame lit across her face, as though it were a billboard.

“That night,” she said, “he drank most of a bottle of whisky, and when I found him, he was sleeping, stinkin’ like a drunk. I took the razor again, and walked into his bedroom. He was lying there defenceless, snoring like a blameless man. And this time, I cut him cross the throat as firm and as strong as I could. A second after I was done, his eyes bulged open and he sat up, holdin’ his hands against the wound. He was choking on his own blood, drownin’ in it.”

“This is your last warning,” the man in the yard shouted.

“He died tough,” she said. “In a few minutes, he breathed his last. And the angel of my mother, who’d stood in a corner watching it happen, faded into nothin’.”

“And you ran, and lived on the street after that.”

“You know that part already,” she said. “That’s where you found me.”

“Did you ever see your momma again?” he said.

“She’s standing next to the mirror right now.”

“She say it’s your time?”

“She says it’ll be what I make it.”

As he turned to look over his shoulder for her momma’s ghost, the first bullet of the afternoon was fired from the yard, through the window.

“You better believe me,” said the man over the blow horn. “We mean business out here.”

“I love you, baby,” he said, pulling her close, across the gap that separated the two chairs, and kissing her deeply. “I’m sorry I took you here.”

She smiled, grabbed her Thompson, and got out of her chair.

“It was a swell time,” she said, walking over and standing next to the window, with her back against the wall. She chambered a round.

He picked up his Remington slide, and moved low through the room, beneath the bullet line, to the other side of the window.

“I mailed a letter to a Chicago paper yesterday,” he said. “When we arrived in Great Falls. I tried to tell our side. Maybe they’ll publish it.”

“It’ll sell them some papers, if they do,” she said.

“I said we was too proud to just lay down on the path t’ward the shinin’ City upon the Hill, and let others walk over us.”

More bullets came through the window. Then she turned round and fired back in short well aimed bursts, just like the manual had instructed her. The gun wanted to pull up and to the left, but she controlled it. Bodies fell in the yard. Then he took her place pumping and firing his shotgun, while she retired behind the wall once more, replacing the magazine.

“That’s real poetic,” she said of his words, as a hail of bullets began to hit the side of the house. The two of them escaped into the kitchen, with its wider window and a better vantage. He reloaded.

“I’ve had a feelin’ in my gut since I was a kid,” he said, “that this was how I’d go out.”

She smiled, and gave him a nod.

“It never occurred to me until just now,” she said.

And with that they both turned and began to fire out of the kitchen window.

Seven days later, a Chicago paper ran a story and printed his letter. The headline read Bank Bandit Lovers Die Together. The paper said the world was sick of bank robbers, thugs and mad dogs. But that it would never tire of lost souls and desperate romance.

— what nemesis said —

give me a break
choose another word
I don’t want to be an accessory
to more bad poetry
I’m tired and over worked
and I’m staying with a friend who
likes her temple quiet

this poem doesn’t need me, anyway
give Stetson a call and
write a poem about the lone prairie
or ashram and pen a piece
about the miserable first world

me and poetry are quitsville
I walked away in the 70s
poetry got syllabic meter and the Rococo condo in Montreal
I kept the Volkswagen and the timeshare near Marathon
our lawyers cashed in and
now we look in the obituaries
for each other’s name

so bugger off but
heed this warning, baby
more poets die of hubris
than the clap

fear the apple

they finally caught up with the apple tree
hidden in the yard, standing
slow as a century and
pretending wickedly
to be crooked

oh how the apples fell
like Dresden incendiaries
onto the wet grass and
sat there
waiting to explode, just how the
politicians said they would

surrender and fear the apple, they cried
for the apple has declared war they
sleep in your cities and
occupy the bellies of your children

the unfortunate dame

With the way things normally go, this is when you fall for the unfortunate dame. The one with all her troubles and the baggage and the way the left corner of her mouth don’t go up when she smiles, which makes her smile look like a smirk, but you think you know better. The thing is though, the moment you fall for her you’re fucked, get it?

Nah, of course you don’t. Because you think you’re smarter than all the mugs that came before. And you figure she’s more beautiful and easier to fix than all of the other skirts that’ve kicked you in the gut and left you there looking like the stunned bastard you are. That’s what’ll make you such a swell couple. But you won’t hear people whisper, what the fuck happened there? One of them two should’ve known better. But neither of you did. At least not until later, when you finally realise that even a whole truckload of crooked smiles won’t pay for a pair of jeans. But what the hell.

So, that place you got together in the east end. It smelled like people’d lived there, for sure. I mean really lived there. Like a whole herd of humanity stood around grazing on the crappy carpet with the beer and blood stains from previous tenants, and the spot by the door where it looked like the cops had outlined a body. And you signed the lease agreement without a squawk because the price was right, and they threw in a used kitchen table next to the wire mesh window that led out onto the fire escape.

Then you and her moved your suitcases in and found a mattress in the hall, and you sat at the table and smoked cigarettes, drank fortified wine and played cribbage, looking out the window, down into the alley, at the addicts and the hustlers and you thought that you might write a novel out of that one day. One day when you got a typewriter and learned how to conjugate a verb, which is something some slaphappy nun once told you a writer needs to know, except he don’t. All a writer needs to know is how to bang his head against the wall, and you already know how to do that in spades, so what’s the goddam mystery?

After a while, you start to notice that you and the unfortunate dame ain’t ageing so well. She’s turning into a cranky old broad, and you’ve stopped cutting the sleeves off your tee shirts because you ain’t got the physique no more. And the laundromat seems further and further away, so you only get there once a month, or not at all. And you never do write that novel because no one ever told you to never think about shit like that. Shit like that, you just do. Fuck the thinking.

And before you know it, you’re that tragic old couple that lives down the hall in the same room they always have, and you got a pot belly and a once white tee shirt, and she never wears nothing but an old flower print house dress and slippers that she bought from Walmart once when you took that exotic bus trip out to the shopping mall on the highway. And you sit there looking out the wire mesh window wondering why life is so unfair. And it somehow comes to you one day that if you want fair, you gotta move to another planet.

Then the unfortunate dame dies of age related causes and you’re left behind with a deck of cards and cribbage board and hands too gnarled and hard to work a typewriter. And as you sit there alone, the water from the leak in the ceiling drips down and flows through you, slowly replacing your organic material with minerals, and over the years you become a stone in the shape of a chump they carry away one morning on a hand truck before the whole damn place comes down to make room for condos.

I hope this advice guides you.

the daemon casket

Vancouver 1995

Metro Moe’s was a bar that tried to be hip once, but failed. Now the abandoned trappings of hipness hung from wire on the walls, and the bar had returned to its former self, a joint for flunked out tough guys, who had once believed that life was a Scorsese film.

Now they sat at the bar and at tables hunched over three hour old glasses of warm beer, remembering the scant highlights of their attempts to achieve the tailored suit and cheap cologne cachet of wise guys.

There were no guns in the room. They’d all been hocked years ago. There was a hole in every shoe, and a belt pulled tight round every empty belly. Metro Moe’s was a dead planet, without an orbit. It didn’t spin, and it was oblivious to the universe that had rejected it and its clientele.

Ricco Costantini and Victor Gatti sat together in a corner, each wearing an untidy black suit and yellowing white shirt without a tie, not talking except for the occasional word or phrase that would come out like a hiccup. When this happened to one, the other would nod in absolute agreement.

“1989,” one might say, for example, out of nowhere.

“Fuckin’ right,” would say the other. Without looking up. Then, perhaps, add something like, “Fuckin’ ’72 Chevrolet.”

“Fuckin’ ’72 Chevrolet.”

“Fuckin’ goddam ’72 Chevrolet.”

After that they’d move their beer glasses round in little circles for a moment, looking down at them. And then become perfectly still. Not a peep, maybe for hours.

It was about a year ago that Victor Gatti hiccupped a name. This in itself was no big deal. Names were a big part of the stagnant narrative. But there was a silent rule that forbade the saying of certain names, even the mention of particular events. That’s why that when Gatti said – “Felicia” – Costantini said nothing, only sipped his flat beer.

“Felicia,” Gatti said again, monotone.

There was a blunt pause.

“You know not to say it,” said Costantini.

“She just came to mind.”

“That don’t mean you gotta say it.”

“Alright,” Gatti grunted. He lit a cigarette, and then he said, “She shouldn’t had done it.”

“It happened twenty years ago,” Costantini said. “For fuck sake. You don’t know what really happened, anyways. Only I do. Don’t make me relive it ‘cause you ran outta shit to say.”

“Alright, alright.”

Another silence, then –

“She was okay,” said Costantini.

“She left you cold, Ricco.” Gatti said. “Just before the biggest job you was ever gonna pull.”

“That job was a fuck up from the start,” said Costantini. “It was meant to fail. Then she would’ve left anyway or be hooked to a jailbird.”

“Meant to fail?”

“Wrong people, bad planning and a target too big,” Costantini said. “They wanted to go before it was all worked out.”

“And you with a busted heart.”

Costantini sipped his beer.

“And why was the target too big?” said Gatti.

“It just was,” Costantini said. “We were kids. You saw what happened to Paulo and Little Leo. Shot dead. I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“They fucked it up ‘cause you wasn’t there,” Gatti said.

“Drop it.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

After about twenty minutes, Gatti said – “Richie Mueller,” – getting back into the old routine.

“Dye pack,” said Costantini.

“Red dye all over him and the inside of his fucking car,” said Gatti.

“Chump deserved to do time.”

Then after another thirty minutes and a couple of glasses of fresh beer were delivered –

“Where’d she ever go?” Gatti said. “Felicia, I mean.”

“Windsor somewheres. Said she was from there.”

“That job could’ve made you,” said Gatti. “You could’ve made Soldato. Then, who knows?”

“Have I gotta take you round back, Vick?” Costantini said.

“Golly no, Ricco. Don’t say shit like that.”

“Then shut the fuck up.”

The day’s exchange ended there. Ricco Costantini stood up, dropped a couple of bills onto the table and walked away from Victor Gatti.

It was raining and cold on Commercial Drive. Costantini put up his collar and walked into the wind. In five minutes, he was in his room over the Quality Butcher Shop, with the pig carcasses and the aged salamis in the window. It was 7pm. He turned on the radio, opened a fresh bottle of rye and a deck of cigarettes, and sat down at a wooden table next to the window that looked out onto the street.

1975

She had entered his life through an acquaintance, Billy Wicks. Wicks had a reputation as a disciplined and efficient killer. He was expensive, but most of the people who hired him considered him an excellent value, like shopping for a hitman was like shopping for a pound of coffee. Wicks travelled a lot for business, and one day he came back from a job in Windsor with Felicia.

He went round town for a week with her on his arm. Until the cops came after him.

It was his fault they finally found him. Billy Wicks had a thing about colouring his fingernails with black shoe polish, and then buffing them up with a shoe brush. It made them look shiny and sort of grey. He figured it set him apart, made him look cold and a little crazy. And it did. But it was something a hood shouldn’t do, get a tattoo or piercings or colour your fingernails. It was something the cops could look for when they were rounding up the usual fishy characters. And witnesses close to that Windsor job remembered a guy with shiny grey fingernails.

The cops cornered Billy in his apartment down on Terminal Avenue, and shot him dead after a three hour stand-off. That left Felicia by herself in a strange city with no friends. She was just a kid. Nineteen, she claimed. And Billy had been footing the bill. Now Billy was dead. His apartment was shot up and off limits, and Felicia didn’t have a friend. So, that’s when she started tricking down on south Seymour Street. Ricco Costantini found her one night after he left the Penthouse Night Club.

He’d been cruising the Seymour strip looking for something new. There was a booze can called Heidy’s in an old two story garage under the Granville Street Bridge, where he and a girl could get a room and drink until dawn.

He found her down past Drake, close to Pacific Street where the new girls had to work, under the scarce street lights.

“I know you,” he said, pulling up in his second hand Coupe de Ville.

Felicia bent over all smiles, and leaned into the car through the open window.

“Sure you do,” she said. “We’re old friends. You wanna make it?”

“No no, really,” Ricco said. “You was with Billy Wicks, for a while, ‘til he got wasted. What are you doin’ down here?”

“Working,” Felicia said, backing off. “Fuck off. You gumbas ain’t my scene no more.”

“Wicks weren’t no gumba, honey.”

“He hung out with you,” she said. “And you all want it for free, stinkin’ like day old Aqua Velva.”

“I’m no Aqua Velva man, baby. And I don’t want nothing for free. Get in.”

He leaned across and opened the passenger side door. She stood back for a minute, doing the arithmetic, and then got in.

The booze at Heidy’s was high priced rotgut, and their room was a dimly lit closet with pictures of Hindu gods hanging from the walls.

“This is bizarre,” said Felicia, looking around her from the tatty bed.

“Heidy thinks it’s exotic,” Ricco said. “And the smack addicts like it.”

“How do you like it?” she said, unbuttoning his shirt.

“Let me show you, doll,” he said bravely, as though on a dare.

His kiss was a childish thing, and his hands weighty and inept. Other working girls had pushed him away, had laughed and lit a cigarette, then proceeded with a roll of the eyes and an apparent sense of profession duty. He often wondered why he bothered, and what terrible inventory of secrets his bungling efforts in bed revealed.

He was unhappily awake at dawn, laying on his side and gazing at her sleep. She was beautiful. She wouldn’t be for long, though, if she stayed in her current line of work. She’d be back out there now if he hadn’t paid her for the whole night, knowing that most of it would go to a sick pimp named Johnny.

When she woke, he immediately asked her –

“Would you go home, if you could?”

“Well good morning to you too, big boy,” she yawned. “That’s quite the question, this early. Are you gonna play the hero and pay my way back. What do I have to do for that?”

“Nothing,” he said. “It was just a question.”

“Most guys talk big and don’t deliver,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “So, don’t get any ideas about saving me from myself. You’ll just embarrass the both of us.”

Later she didn’t let him take her home, just leave her at Hastings and Main. She’d spent her time on the ride silently writing in a small black book.

“You really one of them?” she said, before she got out of the car in front of the Carnegie Library.

“Them?”

“Them swaggering mobster fucks Billy used to hang out with. Always grabbing their dicks and giving them a hoist in front of everyone in the room.”

“No,” Ricco said, a little ashamed, and a little amused. “I haven’t done nothing to earn it.”

“But you’re gonna, right? I can tell. You got some big plan up your sleeve.”

He had been working a certain job out, but what was it to her? It’d be a sweet little heist. The plan was a blueprint plotted out on the surface of his brain, scratched into the backs of his eyes where the light was supposed to collect. It was like a movie playing over and over, with a single flawless outcome. But a lot of guys with flawless plans were doing time, looking stupid for not knowing what they didn’t know, their names passed round by guys on the outside whenever they needed a laugh. He didn’t care about prison. He just couldn’t stand anyone laughing.

“I get by okay on my own,” he said. “I know who to stand by, who to avoid, who to pay respects.”

“But that’s just it,” she said. “You’re alone. Guys like you ain’t no good on their own. They get itchy.”

“Itchy? Hey, what the hell makes you know so much? You’re just a fucking teenager.”

“And what are you?” she said. “Twenty?”

“Twenty-two.”

“And how’d you pay for last night, you rob a gas station?”

“Maybe I ran an errand,” he said.

She smiled at that, and put her Moleskine in her bag. She got out of the car and walked away, without looking back. Ricco headed to the Drive and drank espresso. He had a meeting at Little Leo Panelli’s apartment at noon.

“When the armoured truck gets to Broadway and Renfrew,” Leo Panelli said, “it parks down the alley behind the bank, because the whole area round that intersection’s a no parking zone on account of the traffic. Then they take the cash from the front round to the back. It’s a perfect spot for the hit.”

There was a map on the table, with arrows, squares and circles drawn in blue and red crayon Little Leo had stolen from his niece. Ricco was troubled. Paulo Zaro and Leo were both wearing revolvers in shoulder holsters. That was new.

“And then the twenty grand or so is all ours,” said Paulo Zaro. “We’ll be big time, then. People’ll be calling us Sir.”

“Fucking, eh,” Panelli said.

The two men high-fived.

“You two just concentrate,” said Ricco. “What’s important is the job, timing and escape, not getting busted later. We’ll count the money after it’s done.”

“Those dumb fucks get there the same time every day,” Panelli said. “10:45 a.m.”

“And the driver and guards are old timers,” said Zaro. “They’re ready to retire, and don’t wanna pull a gun. Even the armour truck company don’t want ‘em pulling their weapons. They don’t want no dead passersby. Those guy’s guns probably cobwebs.”

“There’s always something, though,” Ricco Costantini said.

“Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know what,” said Costantini. “The unknown, the unpredictable. Like there’s no passersby in a back alley. None of us has done this before. We should ask some of the guys who know about this shit.”

“Then they’ll want in,” said Panelli.

“You got the balls for this, Ricco?” Zaro said, sounding concerned. “You having second thoughts? You happy being small time? Because if you are, we can get someone else.”

“Now’s the wrong time for that,” Panelli said. “There ain’t no one else. We’re neighbourhood guys. Ricco’s good. He’s got brains, that’s all. He’s considering all the angles.”

“Well,” said Zaro. “Maybe his brain is thinking too much.”

Ricco looked at the hand drawn map, and thought about Paulo and Little Leo with their newly acquired guns.

“I’m in,” he said. “Don’t get tough, Paulo, just ‘cause you suddenly got a gun. I wanna work this out in my head. We’ll meet on Sunday and set a time and work out the cars and the escape route.”

“Jeez, Ricco,” Panelli said. “That’s four days away. This is taking longer than I thought.”

“It might take a lot longer, too,” Ricco said. “You in a hurry to do this thing wrong, Leo? This ain’t no convenience store robbery.”

“Fuck around!” said Zaro.

“Alright,” Panelli said. “Sunday. Same time.”

In fact, it took another month and a half to work it out. Ricco talked to some of the quiet old pisans, who’d been around. The hand drawn map of the heist had changed three times. Paulo and Leo could see the logic every time, but were growing impatient.

Meanwhile, Ricco had gotten Felicia a job at a coffee shop and was helping her out with rent. He knew he had to pay off Johnny, but when Johnny said it wasn’t enough, Leo and Paulo held him down while Ricco used a pair of pruning shears to remove the pimp’s left pinky finger. They promised that the rest of his fingers would go the same way if he didn’t back off. It raised Ricco’s profile on the darker side of the city, but it had given him bad dreams.

Their lovemaking had changed. Ricco stopped trying so hard and Felicia was tender and patient. They were being seen with one another, and it was understood they were together.

One night they sat together in the coffee shop, after she’d gotten off shift. And Felicia wrote quietly in her notebook while Ricco watched and sipped his coffee.

“What do you write in that book?” he said.

“Just things that come to me,” Felicia said. “It’s a journal. It’s just short lines about stuff I see.”

“Read me a couple, then,” Ricco said.

“Nah, they’re personal, kinda weird. It’s not stuff anybody wants to hear.”

“C’mon.”

“No.”

“Tell you what,” Ricco said. “You read me something, and I’ll buy you a rose.”

She looked at him for a moment, and said, “Yellow?”

“Yellow? Sure. A big fat yellow rose.”

“Where you gonna find a yellow rose in this dumpy neighbourhood?”

“Sandroni’s Florists, down the Drive.”

“That funeral place?”

“Sure. I know them there. They got the yellow roses.”

“They’d better.”

“They do.”

“This better not be bullshit, Ricco.”

“It ain’t.”

“Alright,” she said. “But I warned you it’s weird.”

“Whatever….”

Felicia leafed through the pages, making faces as she did.

“Okay okay,” she finally said. “You listen, and don’t laugh. Here it goes. This one’s called the cat. Goes like this: In the moon, he is a monster. He leaps from a shadow onto the back of night, and rips it into shreds of dawn.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah, I told you it was weird.”

“Well read me another. Now I know what to expect.”

“Hmm, okay. This one is called the daemon casket.”

“Really? Holly shit!”

“Just listen, the daemon casket: He laid a trail of wax and lit it on fire. It led her into his angel domed room of candles, where he dreamed in the casket, and planned what would make him like men.”

“Oh,” Ricco said, needing words and finding none. He flashed back to Johnny’s finger, bloody and inert on the floor.

“It’s just some crazy fiction, baby,” said Felicia. “It’s like poetry. Don’t you read books?”

“No,” he said. “I’m not so good with books.”

“I don’t want to read this anymore,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I won’t ask again.”

At last Paulo Zaro said, “We go next Wednesday. The weather should be good. We can’t work this out any better.”

Ricco knew he was right. The plan couldn’t be improved on. But that didn’t make it achievable. They’d arrive and leave in three separate cars, and meet up later. But it was a busy intersection, bottle necks everywhere. The city was full of pinch points. They could go south or east, but any escape route was tricky. It proved they were amateurs. If Ricco had learned anything from the planning, it was that Vancouver was probably the worst city in the world to rob an armoured truck.

“Yeah, Wednesday,” Ricco said. He looked at yet another map on the table.

“You better be up for this,” Paulo said.

“Don’t worry about me,” said Ricco. “Just worry about what you gotta do. No cowboy shit. Try to behave like a professional.”

When he met Felicia that night, he had an envelope of cash. He slid it to her across the table. They were in a booth at a café on the Drive.

“What’s this?” she said.

“I sold the Coupe de Ville, hocked a few other things. I had a few bucks under the mattress.”

“But why give it to me?”

“Get outta town,” he said. “There’s enough there to get a plane ticket, and hold you over wherever you end up, until you get a job. I wish it was more.”

He was sitting forward at the table, and she saw something under his open jacket.

“That’s a gun,” she said.

He straightened and zipped up his jacket.

“Why do you have a gun?”

“Because. Just forget it.”

“Ricco, this makes no sense. Talk to me.”

“Something’s gonna happen,” Ricco said. “If I pull it off, I’ll track you down, after a while. If I don’t pull it off, I’m going to jail, or something else. Either way, you don’t want to be in town after Wednesday.”

“If you’re in trouble,” she said. “I’m the one who should be here.”

“Just get outta town,” Ricco said. “Tonight. Call me tomorrow form wherever you land.”

“I won’t,” she said. “I love you. I can’t leave like this, with you talking like this way.”

Ricco sat back for a moment. There was a peculiar weight to her words, he couldn’t comprehend. They were massive in his small world. They knocked to wind out of him. Love was the unknown, the unpredictable. There was nothing in his plan for this.

He reached across the table and grabbed her by her collar, and pulled her forward so they were face to face. Buttons from her blouse popped, and fell onto the floor. For the first time since they met, she was scared.

“You’ll fucking go,” he said.

“No.”

He grabbed her bag with his free hand, and pulled out the Moleskine.

“You see this?” he said. “You see it?”

She didn’t answer.

“It’s a piece of shit, and I don’t like you writing about me in it.”

“I never,” Felicia said, but she heard her lie before he did and was ashamed.

He let her go, and began tearing pages from the book.

“There,” he said, in his rage. “Now it looks as shitty as it sounds. Get the fuck outta town, tonight.”

The neighbourhood knew something was up. For the moment, Ricco and his behaviour were considered too dangerous to question. The patrons looked away as he exited the café. It was Monday night.

In her own rage, Felicia returned home and took what she needed. She boarded a Greyhound that night and headed east. Riding the dog would save money, and she had no idea where to go anyway.

Ricco went home and drank. On Tuesday afternoon, he met with Paulo and Little Leo for what should have been the last run-through of the plan.

“I’m pulling out,” Ricco told the two men.

“Fuck,” said Paulo. “I knew it, Leo. The guy’s a pussy. It’s that bitch you’ve been hangin’ onto, ain’t it?”

“Don’t say that, Paulo,” Leo said. “You saw how he took care of that pimp Johnny.”

“You guys should reconsider, too,” Ricco said. “Get in on a couple smaller jobs, and get some experience first.”

“Fuck you, Ricco. Leo and me are a go for tomorrow. And when it’s done, when we’re making it and you’re still scratching round for your lunch, don’t come to us.”

“It’s only twenty grand, Paulo,” Ricco said.

“It’s what it fucking means,” said Paulo. “You know it. It means we got the balls, we’re moving up, we’re going somewheres. It means no one’s gonna spit on us no more.”

“Okay,” said Ricco, and walked away.

The next day, the plan failed. Paulo and Little Leo went in cocky, and were shot dead in the alley by the two retirement aged guards before they even got their hands on the bag of cash. By noon, no one on Commercial Drive even knew their names.

Ricco Costantini pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiracy, and got off. Afterwards, he ran errands and played the horses, but he was never trusted to plan or pull off another job, and ended up sitting his life out in Metro Moe’s, before and after its attempt to go hip, but not during.

1995

“She ever call?” Victor Gatti asked, a couple of days later, after Ricco had cooled down. They were sitting in their usual corner of the bar.

“Never,” said Ricco.

“Nothin’?”

“She mailed me a cashier’s cheque for the money I gave her.”

“Did you cash it?”

“Nah.”

They were quiet for an hour after that. Then Gatti hiccupped the name –

“Johnny the pimp.”

“Got his pinky cut off.”

“Fuckin’ pimp.”

“Waddaya gonna do?”

“Fuckin’ Johnny the pimp.”

“Without his goddam pinky.”

top 10 reasons Bill C-51 might not work

  1. Suddenly CSIS will be able to track all of your pull my finger jokes.
  1. Why do we need surveillance legislation to track people’s activities when we have Air Miles cards?
  1. Mass surveillance is just another Mary Kay pyramid scheme.
  1. Real terrorists use incomprehensible tattoos, graffiti and gang hand signals to communicate, just like the Conservatives Party of Canada.
  1. Tracking keystrokes is useless because most terrorists can’t spell.
  1. Prohibiting free speech will only really effect Don Cherry – oops! I guess that would be a good thing.
  1. Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals. Holy shit, that’s Stephen Harper!
  1. Canadians will have to sew the Turkmenistanian flag onto their backpacks when travelling abroad.
  1. Counterterrorism must begin with getting Justin Bieber off the streets.
  1. All Citizens of Canada must leave DNA sample at the Stephen Harper kissing booth.

sidewalk man

10 p.m.

“You know the Skeena Terrace Housing Project, Sergeant Avakian?”

“Sure,” said the cop at the other end of the line. “I used to drive through a couple of times a week, on shift.”

“I lived there when I was a kid,” said Eli Fink. There was a blue eyed Australian Shepherd sitting at his feet, staring up at him as he spoke on the telephone.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Fink. “It was in the 70s and the cops loved to beat the hell out of us. We was just a bunch of monkeys with nothing in our pockets. They’d have a bad day somewhere else, then come to Skeena Terrace with their billy clubs and kick some poor kid’s ass.”

“I’m sorry about that, Mr Fink,” Avakian said. “I can assure you we do things differently now.”

“Oh c’mon, Avakian. The cops are doing the same shit they’ve always done, because they’re cops. You give some prick a gun, a company car and seventy grand a year, and he thinks he can do whatever he fucking wants. And mostly he’s right.”

“I see,” said Avakian.

“Good,” Fink said. “Now where I’m going with this, is this. Back then, the Vancouver cops and local cab companies drove the same car. Four door Plymouth Fury. It was the fleet car of choice. But in the mid to late 70s, Plymouth put out models with squeaky brakes, and they were loud too. You could hear ’em coming from a couple of blocks away. We got away with a lot of shit back then because when we heard that squeaky brake sound, we knew it was either the cops or a cab. Probably a cop.”

“That’s interesting,” Avakian said. “I was born in 1984, so I….”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” said Fink. “Just listen. So one day I get this idea after watching some shit on TV about Northern Ireland, and I run it by the boys. And they all laugh and say they’ll do it – of course they’ll do it! So we collect up all the rocks of a certain size we can find, which ain’t easy in a housing project if you want a lot of ‘em. Anyways, we spend a few days getting rocks together, and on Saturday night we settle in on the high ground over Herman Drive, behind the shrubs so we can’t be seen from the road. We smoke some shit and drink some beers, and wait for the squeaky brake sound to come.

“A couple of cabs went by, and then Philly the Rope who had a surplus cop Fury. And then came an actual cop car. A couple of fat pigs eating hoagies and drinking Slurpees, coming down Herman, the driver squeezing his brakes, looking all over for some delinquent to belt around.

“And when the fuckers were right below us on the road, we stood up from behind the shrubs and let ‘em have it, baby. You should have seen the pussies in that black and white piss themselves as all these rocks start comin’ outta nowheres. Bam! The windshield busted. Bam! The lights on the light bar shatter, blue and red pieces all over the road. The side windows blow out and rocks are bouncing off the body, dents and scratched paint. What a fucking mess. Then we split and hid, because every cop in Vancouver rolled in and they were pissed.”

“That’s a very interesting story, Mr Fink,” said Avakian.

“Call me Eli.”

“Okay, Eli,” Avakian said. “But I wonder what it has to do with the current situation.”

“Hell, I don’t know,” said Eli Fink. “I was just thinking about another time I was up against the cops.”

“We’re just here to keep people safe and facilitate the exchange.”

“And blow me away,” Fink said.

“Do you think that will be necessary?” Avakian asked.

“I don’t know,” Fink said, sounding a little confused. “I just know that after we pelted that cop car, the pigs spent weeks hunting each of us down. A couple of us ended up in the hospital. I got clobbered in a stairwell at night by this big fat fucker named Wilken. I still got numbness in my left hand from him grinding his heel into it, while his partner gagged me with his Maglite. The cops just wanted to let us know that they was the toughest street gang in town.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, fuck.”

“Do you think that what you’re asking for now is reasonable, Eli?”

“None of this is reasonable.”

“That’s true,” Avakian said. “I’m glad you understand that. You can’t hold the dog responsible, Eli. He’s just a dog.”

“I don’t hold him responsible. He’s just my hostage. If I could get my hands on its owner, I’d have a knife to her throat right now.”

“Careful what you say, Eli.”

“Fuck, it’s a dog,” Fink said, sounding slightly crazed. “How’d this all happen? It’s just a fucking dog.”

“And you’ve got that going in your favour, Eli. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says the most you can do is two years for causing an animal distress. You’d be facing serious time if it was a human being, instead of a dog.”

“Frankie ain’t in no distress. Are you, boy?” Eli reached out and petted the dogs head.

“All the better.”

earlier that day

How many of his dawns had come this way? Eli Fink waking from a dim dream of sleep within a wheel, with an idea of some significance lodged inside of a fragile sphere, ready to burst at the first hint of wakefulness.

Then bang, the great idea was gone, upon Fink seeing the worldly ceiling above him. As across the street a coin operated newsstand was refilled with the morning news, and its spring loaded door slammed shut. Was the sound of it a crash or a thud? It happened so fast, so unexpectedly every morning that no one cared to think. Then the newspaper truck sped away, and it was quiet again. A second chance at sleep.

But there’d be nothing for it. Eli would be fully awake, if a bit sticky of mouth and in a fog. And that idea of some significance had floated away. The residue of the fragile sphere it occupied had sunk to the ground, while the vapour of the idea itself had migrated into its surroundings, and twisted and bound with the atoms of the walls and floors, lost there forever. How many of his dreamed ideas had bound with those atoms? God might know, if God gave a goddam.

He thought for a moment of Rachel, so recently gone that her perfume lingered in the bedding and bathroom towels.

You’re mad, she had said in her kitchen table goodbye note, which he had found the night she’d fled. I thought it was aestheticism, she had written, but it’s just a common working man’s madness. Goodbye.

He’d had to look up aestheticism on Wikipedia. It was a compliment that had come too late, and it broke his heart. Rachel’s absence was an abyss that absorbed all available light. Eli Fink would now and forever stumble in the dark.

He turned in his bed and placed his feet on the floor. The clock suggested 5am. A sound offer. He’d take it, and wash his face. Then eat from the refrigerator. And after that, drive his flat black ’68 Ford to the job site, where the labourers lingered at the coffee truck, the surveyors played the angles and the foremen dreamed of empty desert highways, souped-up Chevrolets and any floral print damsel they could find, other than their own untidy wives, riding shotgun in the republic of doo-wop.

It was Wednesday. The day they’d pour his concrete. His curving masterwork through a maple grove and around a fountain in the park would come to life.

The excavation for his sidewalk conformed absolutely to the lines and grades specified. He had taken great care in avoiding damage to areaways, and appurtenances.

The cement would be type Normal Portland GU with a minimum 28 day compressive strength of 32 MPa, and a maximum nominal size of coarse aggregate of ¾ of an inch. Slump at point of discharge 3 ± 1 inch. All laid over an immaculate granular backfill.

His forms were of flexible plywood and were of sufficient strength to resist the pressure of concrete when poured, and all vibration from nearby construction. They were staked in place with three pins per yard, and he’d placed a pin on each side of each form butt joint. There’d be no more than a fraction of an inch of deviation from the grade.

He had chosen his trowels, edgers and a broom of the correct coarseness the day before. He would etch in the cut-marks with scrupulous precision.

After this magnum opus, he should retire. He could never top it. But he couldn’t retire. He was only fifty-four. There were still hundreds of sidewalks, avenues, boulevards, ramps, corners and curbs to lay. Hundreds of miles of them, to join the hundreds he’d laid before this. Would the length of them eventually reach round the world, or to the moon? Who kept track of these things? Perhaps some manless prude at city hall, who stayed overtime to check her arithmetic. Then went home to her pitiless cat.

The first cement truck arrived at 7.30am, and began to pour at 7.35.

He watched the fluid concrete flow down the chute, and into the forms. It was full of stony viscous metaphor. A river one might travel down, but upon which he could never return. There were tides of it, hard and in its liquid form, made high and low by the gentle moon. It lay wet and vulnerable for a time, at the mercy of cruel circumstance, but then solidified to a hardness and resilience beyond measure. But during that time of vulnerability, any number of things could happen. The worst of which were the careless footprints of senile oldsters, and unrestrained children and pets – and graffiti, who the hell was Ziggy, after all? There was no adequate protection against these things. He could only return from further up the length his work to find the irreparable damage, and inside, weep.

That day’s damage would be caused by an unrestrained pet, a friendly Australian Shepherd named Frankie. Frankie’s human was a woman named Francine. The closeness of their names was one of those things that made one wonder about human/pet relationships. Eli Fink would learn the names of these two when in a desperate fit, he did a desperate thing.

Francine, as it turned out, rejected leash laws, believing that they commodified and degraded animals as intelligent as dogs. In a newspaper interview yet to come, Francine would observe that leashes were only appropriate for cats.

Like all dogs of his breed, Frankie was born to herd the sum of all sentient beings on planet Earth into a tight maneuverable knot that could be run from one pasture to another, or back to the shearing hut. But lacking a medial orbitofrontal cortex, he had never regretted the fact that he had failed to ever do so – he’d just kept trying. And on that day, after the cement was poured and Eli Fink was creating his master work, as he moved up the walk with trawl, edger and broom toward the fountain roundabout, Frankie the dog would lock onto a grazing flock of Canada geese in the vicinity of the Fink’s finished work, and after sneaking in a crouched position so as not to alarm his quarry, he would launch into a genetically preprogramed dash meant to corral the rabble.

But the geese flew away instead, leaving Frankie momentarily confused, until he started biting away at what might have been a flea on his haunch. Regrettably, in his pursuit, Frankie had run along the sidewalk of wet cement and permanently added his paw prints. They’d remain there for all eternity.

Eli Fink ran back to the spot as fast as he could, when he was informed. But all remedial efforts were for not. The concrete had been too close to setting.

Frankie and his human, Francine, now stood by and observed the visible signs of Eli Fink’s heart sinking, and Francine stepped up and said –

“Frankie and I are real sorry, mister.”

Fink thought about those words for a moment and recalled all of the times he’d heard them before, from dog and cat owners, and mothers of wicked children with gummy soled shoes. In 1985, a car drove across his just laid sidewalk, and the driver, stinko drunk, got out of the car and vomited on Eli Fink’s boots – he’d said he was sorry. In 1989, a group of punk rockers had etched FuCK boN jOvI in two foot letters on a curb – they’d said sorry too, then fuck you cement boy. In 2006, a blind man tripped and fell trying to walk a just laid avenue – he said he was real sorry. But a week later, he began a civil action, claiming Fink and the City were negligent for allowing wet cement to just lay around, a hazard upon which anyone could injure themselves. It took three years, but it was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Fink was suspended a week without pay. Even the union couldn’t help.

There were other examples of the public’s carelessness and disrespect of his vocation and art. And then –

I thought it was aestheticism, Rachel had written, but it’s just a common working man’s madness. Goodbye.

“Fuck!” Eli Fink yelled, and grabbed Frankie by the collar. He began walking toward a park gardeners shed, pulling the dog behind.

“Wait!” Francine called out. “What are you doing with my dog?”

She ran after him as more and more people stopped to watch, and Fink turned, pulling a small Swiss Army knife from his pocket. He fought to open it with his teeth, as he held onto Frankie’s collar. But in his struggle, he succeeded only in producing the corkscrew. He swung it round wildly, so the world could see that he meant business. He’d always wondered what use he had for a corkscrew on a knife. Now he knew.

“Don’t hurt my dog, you psycho,” Francine shouted.

“Just back off,” Eli Fink said. “I got demands. (Actually he didn’t, yet.) You don’t get Frankie back until those demands are met, baby. And if they aren’t, the mutt gets it.”

Fink pulled Frankie along, looking over his shoulder once or twice, until he was in the shed. Then he closed the door and jammed a shovel under the doorknob, and waited. For what, he didn’t know.

Sergeant Avakian arrived twenty minutes after the first squad car, along with the Vancouver Police Department ERT, and an Officer of the BCSPCA.

“He’s just got a dog as his hostage?” said Lieutenant Black, of the VPD Emergency Response Team. He had his balaclava pulled back so the world could see his ruggedly handsome face, and what a swell bunch of good natured guys his heavily armed, black clad paramilitary team was.

“Hell, we can have him outta there in a couple of minutes,” he said. “With a stun grenade. We just got these new ones that….”

“No you don’t,” said Officer Wilma Muson of the BCSPCA. She was four foot, six inches to Black’s six foot, three.

“Why the hell not?” said Black.

“Because,” said Munson. “Section 23.2 (1) of the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says: A person must not cause an animal to be in distress. I think a stun grenade would definitely cause that poor dog one hell of a lot of distress.”

“It’s a dog, for the love of Pete,” Black said. “Since when is a dog a legitimate goddam hostage?”

“You’ve gotta admit, Lieutenant,” Munson said, “that there is a chance that the dog will be killed or injured in any attempt you make to free him and take the hostage-taker into custody, right?”

“I guess,” said Black. “There’s always a very slim chance that….”

“Well,” Munson said. “Section 23.2 (2) (b) of the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says that: A person who kills an animal must not, in killing the animal, cause the animal to be in distress or do anything that is prohibited by the regulations. I’d wager that being shot and wounded or killed in the confusion you and your crew would cause, would be very distressful to that animal. It’s the law, Danno.”

“This is a joke, right?” Lieutenant Black said. He clenched his fists and kicked at the grit on the ground. “We just got in a brand new goddam shipment of stun grenades to try out. They’re from the Mexican Federal Police. They’ve been using them on the cartels down there with mucho goddam exito. Now we want to give ‘em a tryout, Officer Munson, and this is an excellent opportunity. You’re just getting in the way. Go rescue a fucking gerbil.”

“I’m pretty sure, Lieutenant,” Wilma Munson said, with a smile, “that you’re used to having things your own way. But now’s not the time for you to have a hissy-fit.”

“A what!”

“Look,” Sergeant Avakian said. “I haven’t even spoken to the hostage-taker yet. Let’s try that first, shall we? We just got his cell number a moment ago.”

“I’m the ranking officer here,” said Lieutenant Black.

“So far,” said Avakian. “But I’m the negotiator. Procedure says we talk first, and you know it.”

“Well, fuck me,” Black said, walking away and yelling at his men to take their goddam balaclavas off and stand down.

“Wow,” said Munson. “There goes an angry man.”

“Never mind,” Avakian said, and punched a number into his phone.

Inside the shed, Eli Fink’s cell phone rang. He thought it might be Rachel. It wasn’t her ring, but then she’d changed her number.

“Hello?” he said. “Rachel?”

“No, Mr Fink,” Sergeant Avakian said.

“Look,” said Fink. “I’m not interested in a time share.”

“I’m not selling anything, Mr Fink. This Sergeant Avakian of the Vancouver Police Department.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

“Who’s Rachel? Is she someone you’d like for me to contact?”

“No.”

“I will, you know?”

“I wouldn’t know where to find her.”

“Is there anything you need?”

“Ah, no,” Fink said, disarmed by the cop’s calm tone and kind questions.

“How’s Frankie?” said Avakian.

“He’s a little shit,” Fink said. Frankie sat and looked up at him. He looked wise, for a dog. He looked like he might say something profound. For the first time, Fink noticed dried cement between the animal’s toes.

“There’s a woman out here who wants him back, Mr Fink,” Avakian aid.

“I want things, too.”

“Tell me what they are.”

“I want that sidewalk replaced,” Eli Fink said. “And I want every sidewalk I ever laid, that was ruined by animal or human, pulled up and replaced.”

“That might take a while,” said Avakian.

“Then get started.”

“This isn’t a typical demand. Replacing sidewalks will take a while.”

“I got a corkscrew at this little mutt’s throat, right now. (Actually, the Swiss Army knife was in Fink’s pocket.) You get the ball rolling or I’m gonna delete his cookies. I know it’ll take a while. You just get me a promise from the Mayor that he’ll do it. Then Frankie’s free to go shit on the lawn.”

1 a.m.

There was chanting coming from a short distance away from the shed. People were yelling animal rights slogans and lighting candles. Twenty cops in riot gear stood their ground. Eli Fink’s effigy had been hung by a noose from a tree. Special high powered lighting was focused on the shed. For some reason, the fire department and five ambulances was there.

“So, when do you think the Mayor’s gonna come through?” Fink said. “It’s been hours.”

“He’s been informed of your demand, Eli,” Avakian said. “He says he’s talking to the City’s lawyers.”

“I want kibble, water and some capicola pizza and beer.”

“Good,” said Avakian. “I’ll get it for you.”

“Hurry. Frankie looks hungry.”

“Eli?”

“What?”

“Did those Skeena Project cops ever have to face disciplinary action?”

“Doubt it,” Fink said. “Someone would have had to rat them out, and we wouldn’t do that. My money’s on karma. Maybe they got prostate cancer.”

“Ah.”

“What about your SWAT boys? They ready to dance on my head?”

“ERT’s on alert, but they’re holding back for the moment.”

“How long will that last?”

“I don’t know. It’s dark. They like to work in the dark.”

“Frankie probably needs to take a piss, I guess,” Fink said. Then he heard a commotion at the other end of the line. After a moment, Avakian spoke —

“The Mayor’s office just called, Eli. He’s says no.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.”

“Am I gonna die?”

“Come out with your hands up, Eli. No one needs to die tonight.”

Frankie was asleep, curled up at Eli’s feet. Eli reached down and scratched the dog’s ear.

“People think I’m high strung,” he said.

Avakian didn’t reply.

“I just got kicked around a lot when I was kid. Now I want some control over things. I like to do things right. You pay a price for that, you know?.”

Avakian remained quiet.

“You there, Sergeant?”

There was more commotion on the cops’ end of the line. It sounded like the phone had been dropped.

“Just give me a little more time,” he heard Avakian say.

Fink opened the door a crack and peeked out. There were animal rights protesters and media on the sidewalk. The energy of the crowd was changing.

Frankie barked twice, and began to growl, looking up at a small window. Then something burst through the glass. It was hard and the shape and size of a can of soup. It came to rest on the floor after bouncing off the walls. On its side were the words uso de explosivos extrema precaución. Mexican soup, Eli Fink thought a second before the stun grenade blew.

Fink lost the hearing in his right ear, and spent the rest of his life having to turn his left ear toward the source of pleasant sounds. He taught many of his fellow prisoners how to work with concrete while doing federal time. There were the animal endangerment charges, and other subsequent charges that added up to five years. While in prison, a psychiatrist prescribed him a benzodiazepine medication.

Frankie recovered after three days of deafness, and Francine now uses a leash.

here you are

the thing about your brand new car
is that this is still a goddam traffic jam
and though you may be the Queen of some fair and far away cul-de-sac
no one here sees you in their mirror
no one here shares your hurt, this is
not a cable series based on the lives of real first world women in war-on-terror peril
here you are a tracking cookie profile
here you are triangulated but invisible
here they know your deodorant and your
decades by colours, by heart the
way you learned a poem as a little girl and it
protested inside of you ever after
for being but a scrap of something much larger and
impossible to define

the dust bunny dark

I have stopped believing
that Edvard Munch &
Friedrich Nietzsche
live behind my refrigerator
whispering Übermensch
in the dim Plasticine shades
of the dust bunny dark

Edvard planning to paint me
sneakily grim
at the Cuisinart with celery sticks
&
Friedrich leaving his Superman
in the crisper with the cranberries
and all of the degenerate onions

psychiatry has won
I have stopped believing
& am wicked alone once more

the curvature of the Earth

when the aliens arrived
they were fascinated by trees
and the pages they made in books

they would turn at a touch but
blow in the wind to
any old place in a
bedlam of plot

this wasn’t the device of an advanced race
the aliens decided — it was
backwardness! and the
stories, oh the stories

these were a rude gothic people
some of whom left up the toilet seat or
couldn’t parallel park or
ran from lovers on the flimsiest of grounds

all of the aliens wept when
after Catherine’s funeral
Isabella left Heathcliff

how could this species evolve?