Someone with bigger gonads than me, and half the IQ, had recommended the place. He said it was good hunting country, plenty of deer. And killing a deer was unquestionably on my to-do list. I figured every man should kill at least one defenceless, big eyed animal in his life. And not with his car. Hunting propelled whole economies, and brought a guy closer to the downward swirling vortex of creation. He should bathe in the blood of his prey beneath the moon, and then have it skinned, butchered and wrapped by a FOODSAFE accredited professional. That was modern masculinity, baby.
It was unincorporated, which meant it wasn’t even on the map. Just a small coastal population of genetically compromised cousins, and the church that had married them. I knew the moment I arrived that this was the place the zombie Elvis apocalypse would begin. I hoped to be gone by then, though. I was only there to kill a deer, and get the hell out.
I arrived by floatplane on Thursday, with Veronica from the steno pool. She was still wearing heels and Christian Dior when we stepped onto the dock, and she immediately made the locals twitchy. There was a cluster of them gawking, slack jawed and purple eyed. Borderline geezers whose daily thrill was watching what the beaver brought in. They sniggered, slapped each other on the back and wiped there slobbering mouths with the backs of their feculent hands. I gripped my rented 30.06 tightly, in its bag without a bolt or ammo. If I had to, I’d use it as a truncheon, or maybe we’d be eaten alive.
Fortunately, a plaid husked troll named Jasper stepped in and asked if we needed a taxi. We did, I said. And he ordered some of the rabble to take our luggage to his cab. I held Veronica close. She was an innocent thing. A simple office girl with spreadsheets in her head, tattoos in secret places and a spikey stud in her tongue. How could I protect her from this cannibal horde? Only time would tell.
“You here for the deer?” Jasper said, as we drove away.
“Yes,” I said grimly, knowing real men didn’t mince words.
“You got a guide?”
A guide? The Andromeda blotter acid was just kicking in. Now this. Did he mean spirit guide? Was this the land of pixies?
“No,” I said, looking out of the window for road construction postponed for elf mounds. “We’re not here for the tour. Just into the bush – BAM! – and out again.”
He gave us the once-over in the rear view mirror, me smelling of hand sanitizer in my vintage DOA tee-shirt and Veronica touching up her lipstick.
“I think you two need a guide,” he said.
“Nonsense,” I countered. “The girl and me are seasoned outdoorsmen.”
I proudly placed my hand of Veronica’s silky and dependable knee. She was now using a compact mirror and one of her well-manicured false fingernails to dislodge a morsel of salmon sashimi from between her incisors. We’d lunched in the city before boarding the plane. Jasper shook his head.
I’d made reservations at the Asylum Motel. It was situated on an empty street, between an abandoned bowling alley called Asylum Lanes and an abandoned hardware store once called Asylum Paint and Nails. Was this a trend? I’d wait and see. Jasper heaved our bags into the motel lobby and handed me a business card with a woman’s name on it.
“It’s my cousin, Stella,” he said. “She’s an excellent hunting guide. Do yourself a favour and call her before you step into the woods. She’s busy this time of year, but I’ll see that she makes time for you.”
“Ah,” I said. “So it’s all in the family.”
The Andromeda was stronger than I’d hoped. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken so much at once. Domestic LSD had lost its edge, post 9-11. But this had been made by Chechens. I hadn’t been this stoned since 1983, when my IBM Selectric began spontaneously typing out the words to the Botswana Land national anthem. Now Jasper’s plaid was morphing into dancing paisley spermatozoa, and his eyes didn’t seem so close together anymore. In fact they’d migrated to a place roughly over his ears.
“Don’t let these genteel trappings fool you,” I said. “I’m an Editor. A big publishing house on the mainland. I manhandle writers and their finagling agents everyday. And believe me, there’s nothing more loathsome or virulent. A few squirrels don’t worry me.”
He took my sawbuck, smiled and walked away with the change. Clearly these people were nepotistic grifters. I made a mental note, and went to check in.
The nametag on the woman at the counter identified her as Blanche. I was suspicious. She looked more like a Janet, to me. She was obviously a woman of brackish passions. She wore cat’s-eye glasses like my dipsomaniac third grade teacher. And her hairdo was a full four feet tall. How could that be? It looked like she was wearing a grandiloquent bottle blond cremation urn on her head. I wondered if she knew it. Should I have told her? Would doing so have saved her from further disgrace? Maybe she was a refugee from the Brazilian porn industry, here out of the munificence of the Canadian people.
I placed my gold card on the melamine laminate, and tried not to stare.
“Would you like a separate room for your daughter,” Blanche said.
I looked at Veronica wondering what the torpedo headed woman could possibly mean. And then I had a jarring thought.
“There is no daughter,” I suddenly shouted, perhaps a little too quickly to conjure trust. “We settled that out of court years ago. How could you even know?”
“No, sir,” Blanche said, and gave Veronica a subtle nod.
I was appalled.
“Absolutely not!” I said. “She’s not my daughter, she’s my protégé. We room together. I’m her protector. I’m teaching her the publishing business. This is a professional development field trip. She’s a naive and artless child, defenceless in a cruel and extortionistic world. Where do you keep the tequila?”
“Room #304,” Blanche said, waggling the key in my face like a pernicious sex toy. “Liquor store’s down the road a bit, open ‘til five. Motel lounge is open ’til eleven. The pool’s been closed since 1965. There’s no elevator, but Willard will take your bags up for a couple of bucks.”
She pointed at the only thing in the lobby that could possibly be named Willard, a tall weedy adolescent with the brown eyes and reserved enthusiasm of a Bassett Hound. He’d been standing absolutely still and camouflaged next to the Coke machine all along. Now, as he moved, he sucked the wallpaper off the wall with him. Those Chechens really knew their stuff.
“Any hydroponics hereabouts?” I asked him as we climbed the stairs.
“You a cop?”
“What do you think?”
He smiled and reverently said a man’s name: “Sam.”
Willard unlocked the room to let us in. It had all the insipid polyester character of a Walmart sidewalk sale. The bedspread was a malignant floral print. The Chinese produced hundreds of thousands of square miles of it every year. There was even a black velvet painting on the wall, a sad girl clearly disabled by the enormity of her liquidgelous eyes. It was a relief. We were safe. No self-respecting bedbug would live in such abjectly lugubrious lockup, wholly sealed off from the world, the only possible escape through the air conditioner port. I gave Willard a fiver, and sent him on his way.
That done, I unpacked the Cuervo Gold and unwrapped a glass. Veronica took her suitcase into the bathroom and was gone for an hour. The TV only had a cheap Mexican version of Netflix, with the Beverly Hillbillies over dubbed in Spanish. I turned it off, lay on the bed and read the sexy bits of the Gideon Bible instead.
When we entered the dimly lit Asylum Motel Lounge a couple of hours later, Perry Como was playing on the jukebox. A man fitting Sam’s description was sitting at a table in the corner, drinking a martini with two more waiting in line. He was reading a paperback edition of Doctor Zhivago.
“You the deer hunter?” he said when we arrived at his table.
“Yeah,” I said, posturing with my thumbs in the belt loops of my Adriano Goldschmied jeans. I hadn’t fired a gun in my entire life, but my stone cold reputation was already preceding me. It was grand to be a man.
“And this one?” Sam said.
“This is my protégé, Veronica.”
“Do you hunt too, honey?” Sam said to her. “Do you prowl the night like a long cruel feline, pouncing fiercely from the shadows? Do you eat your prey alive, just to feel them squirm as they go down?”
I stepped between them.
“That’s no way to talk to an Editor in training,” I said.
Veronica looked confused for a moment, then put in her earbuds.
“She don’t say much,” Sam said.
“She’s been like that since the reactor accident. Look, I understand that you might–.”
Sam held up his hand with Pasternakian solemnity.
“Since we both know why we’re here,” he said. “There’s no point us giving it a name. Have a seat. I’m the waiter and the bartender, so tell me what you’ll have to drink.”
I ordered a triple Bonita Platinum, and Veronica had a Coke. When Sam came back, he put the drinks on the table and placed a Ziploc bag of bud next to them.
“I’ll put it on your tab,” he said.
I picked it up and inspect the goods. The bud was a delicate green fog, stirring in the bag. There were wraiths and demons in it. The face of James Dean looking out at me with the eyes of man about to drive his Porsche 550 Spyder head-on into a Ford on a highway outside of Fresno. I could marry this bag of hooch and live with it forever in a cabin on the beach in Baja. I’d even do all the housework.
“What’s with the name, Asylum?” I finally asked Sam, slipping the bag into my pocket.
He hesitated, then said, “Government stuff. In the 50s.”
“What government stuff?”
Sam shifted in his seat. He was obviously uncomfortable with the question. He took a hard swallow of gin and vermouth. Then he leaned across the table and looked me in the eye.
“I could tell you,” he said. “I could show you where the electroencephalograph was left in the woods to rust, next to the junked unmarked ambulances. But that wouldn’t take you any closer to what really went on here. Then there’s the Electroconvulsive Therapy Ward in the abandoned secret hospital near the lake, with its strap down gurneys and gore soaked lobotomy spikes. You don’t want to know about that, my friend. Or the unmarked graves they’re digging up with backhoes now, to trace the DNA, hoping to finally identify people who vanished off the streets of Canadian cities sixty years ago.”
This wasn’t the answer I expected. I knocked back my Bonita in a single gulp. Sam produced another out of nowhere. He was a tequila necromancer.
“Then there’re the helicopters,” he said. “They come in over the open water in attack formation in the night, and hover while black figures repel to the ground. But there’s no evidence of them having done so in the morning. Nothing. Not even a footprint. Just the indecipherable markings, laser etched into rock faces near the meadow creek, like pure petroglyphic logic spilling out of a vast central processing unit, the size and weight of galaxies. The animals don’t go there. No birdsong for miles round. The wind doesn’t even blow. It’s like a stale room with the windows shut.”
It was the wrong time for this. I was finally peaking on the acid and I’d taken more in our motel room, just in case. My dead uncle Reggie was sitting next to Sam with a chainsaw and the severed head of Frank Sinatra in his lap. I said hello, but he didn’t return the greeting. He had a gun in his sock and the bullets in his mouth. How could he say anything?
Veronica was knitting chinchillas. And there was an iguana on the table drinking a martini and eating the part of Doctor Zhivago where Anna Ivanovna Gromeko gets pneumonia, and Yuri, Misha and Tonya are at university and Yuri finds out that his father had a boy named Evgraf, with Princess Stolbunova-Enrizzi.
I don’t know why I love that part of the book so much. I’ve never even read Doctor Zhivago.
I was coming-to in a Roman Polanski film, and realising that I was the only one who wasn’t a member of a satanic cult of Mazola and Jell-O salad.
“Maybe I need a hunting guide, after all,” I said. I regretted not taking Stella’s card.
“Maybe you need to get on the first goddam floatplane outta here, Jack. And go back to the city where you belong.”
“Can I have another Coke,” said Veronica.
Sam said, “Sure, love chicken.” And he went to get it.
“You’re too stoned to handle a gun,” Veronica said to me, when he was gone. She’d removed her earbuds. “You’re an office jockey who’s afraid of his own shadow. Just like every other Harry Rosen khaki moron who flies into a place like this, to get his rocks off with a big gun. That’s why you’re always wired. You’re afraid of what a sober man sees in the mirror. You’ve got no business hunting a deer.”
Ouch! The woman had only spoken to me in sentence fragments for the last two years. Now she was suddenly Gloria Steinem. But maybe she was right.
I began to calculate. Even if I took Thorazine, I’d still be wrecked come morning. I couldn’t be trusted with a loaded weapon, when the world was oozing out around me from a cosmic toothpaste tube. And we were scheduled to fly out tomorrow evening. When could I get a shot off under the circumstances?
Veronica finished a chinchilla and started to knit another. The little fuckers were scampering round on the floor, and humping like fiends.
“Fucking Chechens,” I said, and stormed out of the lounge.
In the morning, I was sitting on a stony beach facing west, hoping to catch the sunrise. I’d been there most of the night, and seen the helicopters come and go. The dark figures repelling and disappearing like ghosts. There’d been bright sapphire beacons in the sky, comet tailed, maneuvering on a dime, and shooting off toward the moon.
For some reason, I began thinking about my BMW in the parkade back home, watched over by an obese Pakistani man named Vazir. I’d given him a fifty dollar tip the previous Christmas, hoping that he understood that he must give his life for my car, if necessary.
Not for the first time, I reflected on whether I was assertive enough in life. Vazir was probably in his booth right now, reading Raymond Carver, and ignoring the car alarms going off around him. Fifty dollars didn’t buy loyalty for a man like me. Just a behind my back smirk from the recipient. Maybe that’s why I thought I had to kill something.
Veronica was asleep in our motel room. And Sam and Blanche were loudly doing the wild thing on a strap down gurney in the Electroconvulsive Therapy Ward of the abandoned hospital near the lake. I guess that’s the sort of yawning banality that makes everything okay in the world, especially in the still hours round dawn.
Then I saw them on the beach, to my left and up aways. A trio of deer, standing very still and looking at me. My rifle was was in room #304 of the Asylum Motel, and I wondered, if it was in my hands right now, loaded and cocked, could actually blast one of these gorgeous beats. I was glad not to be put to the test.