graffiti

A thing never really comes to life until its existence is disproven.

It was new graffiti behind the store. A short line of small neat characters. I lit a joint, and passed it to Jenny.

“Most boring graffiti I’ve ever read,” she said, suppressing a cough. “No anger, no profundity.”

That was Jenny. An eighteen year old punk forensic philosopher in combat boots, working in a second-hand vinyl shop.

To me it looked textbook. But it was new. Graffiti can be some mysterious shit, inoculating surfaces, growing like mushrooms.

And its newness was good. We needed something to fixate on. We’d be back in the store soon, pretending we were straight, with our fresh Visine eyes, hoping we didn’t have laughing fits when the punters rolled in.

I took another toke.

“It was foggy last night,” Jenny said, “right?”

“Yeah.”

“And that lamp over the door works?”

“(Cough!) Of course.”

“Then someone stood here in the fog, illuminated by that shitty sixty watt bulb, and wrote that.”

She was changing her mind about the message on the wall.

“The fog,” she continued, “was floating by on a feeble breeze. In that moment, he was alone in the world, and that’s what he wrote, the whole world absent.” She took another hard toke.

“There’s more to it, though,” Jenny said. “There’re fractals radiating out. A childhood, a mother who hated the men she obsessed over, a tiny room, a sink with a drain that lead straight down into hell. He could hear screams of the damned. He sleeps in a body bag. He eats stray cats.”

“You’re stoned,” I said.

“Immaculate.”

Later that day, Jenny sold a very rare 45 rpm of AC/DCs Can I Sit Next to You, Girl / Rockin’ in the Parlour, Polydor Records / 2069 051, and asked the customer why men wearing deck shoes always look like serial killers, and pretended to like Metal.

He stood there a moment, in his deck shoes, and glared at her. Then looked over his shoulder at me.

I shrugged and said, “A thing never really comes to life until its existence is disproven.” It was the best I could come up with.

He left.

“He’s never coming back,” Jenny said, and knew then that hers was a perfect world.

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the Gibson L-5

As a boy I knew that he was my father by the grim eyes I’d inherited, the mouth that remained a straight grave line at all occasions, and our close proximity in the house on Parker Street.

He was a man who calculated loss on a false scale, which never measured in his favour. As a result, he was inclined to despair. He reckoned the loss of my mother, five years before, by that scale, and lived his life evermore orbiting in an abode of desolation, separated from our physical one.

If I could describe him now, being what I have become at his behest so long ago, surrounded by Jazz, it would be as a winter ghost, played in the song of a throaty sax out of sight, a secret brush on snare, a piano limping like a hero, in spite of liquor and the rainforest rain most nights I can recall, oceans in the city, rumors of floods, the missing man in the room with its single small window, his eyes closed only in sleep.

Could he have been the miscalculation some claimed? Was he already, by the time I knew him, a field of his own sepia bones, the frets and inlays of his guitar, the one he played in bars for next to nothing, the one he chased into disappointment and delirium?

It was a Gibson L-5, the instrument that obsessed him and that he said was better than him. Its music was better than him, he claimed. These words emerging out of his setting of silence, then vanishing only to appear again.

More than once, he grieved over my broadening boyish and ready hands. And even then, I was dimly aware of a plot.

“Those are Jazz hands,” he said once, holding them in his own. Then looking at his, chipped red, black and blue and too early arthritic from his day job in a wrecking yard, which kept him from a latent greatness.

What happened occurred on New Year’s Eve, 1971. It had snowed the week before, at Christmas, and at the age of ten, I was still delighted with the mystical impossibility of it. It was Vancouver, after all, where green cursed the expectant child almost every 25th of December, and though there was a decorated tree in the living room, and gifts beneath it, it was the coming of the snow on Christmas Eve that made all of what was suggested by the holiday seem possible. Even today, it remains my most supernatural of Christmases.

The snow was still on the ground a week later, refreshed by flurries I preferred watching at night as they eddied through the vapour glimmer of streetlights, and laced white the trees on our street.

He disappeared, after saying at the quick breakfast I shared with him that morning, that the new year brought an obligation to change things, even if in a small way. The idea had weighed him down the second he said it, though it only represented a fondness for frail resolutions by most. Then he lightened, smiled and said, in some unknowable context —

“Your mother was fairer than Spring, and she still dances somewhere in the land of my heart.” Here he paused, as though it were a stanza break in a poem, then continued, “I get lost there every time I go, and haven’t found her yet, but I will. I’ll hear her singing and see her from a hill. There are hills in my heart, you know, left over from a time when they were mountains.”

Then he kissed me on my head, and was gone with his lunch pail. In a moment, I heard the sound of his black Ford as he backed out of the driveway.

I’d never seen the boy in him, because he was my father, but there’d once been mountains in his heart, now worn down to mere hills. Perhaps those peaks had been high and impassable when he was a boy. Now they were grassy and pleasant, and rolled away into an ashen evening distance. But maybe they were coal colour, and the only green was in a deep treed valley where my mother waited. Maybe it was his guitar she danced to.

What happened after that remained a mystery to me, until I made educated guesses later in my life.

He’d had a New Year’s Eve engagement in a club that night, but didn’t return after work to change. His one suit and thin tie remained in his closet, but the guitar was gone.

A few days later, they found his Ford parked out of place on the Campbell Avenue Pier, with the guitar in its case on the shotgun seat. There were two notes. One I was never allowed to read, and burned ceremonially by nameless aunts. When asked, one said she would identify him, but that she didn’t need to see him to know what had happened.

The other note was in an envelope with my name on it. It came to me with the Gibson L-5.

I leave you this guitar, it said, because it is the only material thing I ever loved. Play it, but do not obey it. You will grow and know more than me, but for all of that, you will be as frail and prone to surrender.

I placed the note in the guitar case, and sometimes read it before I take the stage.

compound words

Please note that there have been changes made to the MS Word program since this story was first published, but zombies remain a problem.

(*Warning: Potty Mouth Language!*)

They sat in a booth at the Ovaltine Café taking inventory. The waitress delivering their coffee looked rough and smelled bad. Was that dry blood at the corners of her mouth? She tossed the cups across the table, then stood there staring stupidly at the two of them. Much of the coffee had spilled. After an awkward moment, mumbling something about not being able to eat the customers, the waitress walked back to her station dragging her left foot. Her ankle was fractured. The bone protruded from the skin just above the heel. She plodded stoically.

The two men watched, and then Brad said, “So, what about Nigel?”

“Zombie,” said Vincent.

“Rachel?”

“Zombie.”

“Angela?”

“Angela?”

“You know, Angela with the big…,” Brad said.

“Oh, yeah. Zombie.”

“Thomas with the Vespa?”

“Zombie.”

“Nancy?”

“Zombie.”

“Alan?”

“Zombie,” said Vincent, “but he’s trying to go vegan.”

“Vegan?” Brad said, stirring his coffee. “How can you be a vegan zombie?”

“Well, that’s his story,” said Vincent. “When he’s not saying shit like ‘Brains, must eat brains’. You know, in his more coherent moments, he says eating people’s brains is murder.”

“He’s bloody well right it is,” Brad said. “But I’ll say it again, how’s he going to go vegan? I mean, is there some soy human brain analog?”

“I’m just saying. I think Alan’s come to a place in his undead existence where he’s asking himself difficult questions. Kind of existential, like.”

“Well that’s everybody then, isn’t it? Everybody we know is a fucking zombie.”

“Not everyone.”

“Then who isn’t?”

“Well Valerie and Rebecca,” Vincent said, “and Thomas with the wheelchair…”

“But they’re all dead,” said Brad. “They’re not zombies because they’re dead.”

“Well so are zombies, strictly speaking. Dead I mean.”

“Yes but Valerie, Rebecca and wheelchair Thomas are no longer sentient. They are among the very still and decomposing dead.”

“Well then they’re not zombies, are they?”

“Look,” Brad said. “Based on what you’ve just told me, we are the only two people we know of who aren’t zombies. Isn’t that right?”

“Well yes, except for Bob from Monty’s Gun & Pawn.”

“Bob from Monty’s Gun & Pawn is a cunt.”

“But he’s not a zombie.”

“Shit. Might as well be.”

“Hey,” said Vincent, “did you know that the word cunt is the only really bad swear word that MS Word spell check picks up?”

“What?”

“Yeah, it’s true. When you type something using MS Word, you can type damn, hell, shit, fuck, fucks, fucked, fucker or motherfucker, and the spell check doesn’t give it the red line. But when you type cunt, it gets the red line. What’s that about?”

“Look, we’re the only two non-zombies left on the fucking planet and all you want to talk about is spell check.”

“A little conversational variety is nice.”

“Besides,” Brad said, “it’s obvious why cunt doesn’t pass spell check muster. Most people consider it to be a truly offensive word.”

“I don’t.”

“Who gives a shit?”

“Maybe I do,” said Vincent. “Maybe I give a shit. Let’s face it, if you, me and Bob of Monty’s Gun & Pawn are the only three people left who aren’t zombies, then I represent one third of the planet’s overall living population. My opinion means something. Think about it. What I buy and how I vote is suddenly very important.”

“You’re insane. What about Norman?”

“Norman who?”

“You know, graffiti Norman. Does the wall murals and railcars.”

“Zombie.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah, he was actually one of the first. Before it got all trendy, you know.”

“Damn.”

“Did you know that ‘spell check’ isn’t even a compound word?” said Vincent.

“Fuck off,” Brad said.

“I mean, spell check is a thing – a single thing. It’s spellcheck. Am I right?”

“Fuck off.”

“I mean, now that I’ve got some pull round here, there’s gonna be some changes made, baby.”

“Fuck off.”

“Stop telling me to fuck off.”

“Fuck off.”

“We need some solidarity, here.”

“Fuck off.”

“Want some more coffee?”

“Yeah,” Brad said.

“You know that artificial sweetener isn’t a compound word, either?”

“Fuck off.”

“Neither’s fuck off. Should be. Should be fuckoff.”

“Fuck off.”

“Gonna be some changes made, I tell ya.”

Christmas poem

we’re gonna put you on the dime
for Christmas, baby
your profile the milky sound
of distant rockets

you’ll be nostalgia
once the queen of penny candy
and live in pockets
the spare change stared at
in the palms of disappointed hands

I knew her once
a man will say
before she became a dime
before she was silver
and stamped with the year
we failed to understand
each other’s eyes

 

Christmas Cake Confidential

Two weeks before

There can be respect in silence, sometimes held gently, while waiting for a moment to pass. Other times held like a rock, while waiting for the moment to come. Jason Abel now held his silence for neither of these reasons. His days of freely going on the hush were over, so complete was his newly acquired stillness. Wrapped in night, silent but for the harbour sounds from the inlet.

Geezer Haney stood over him, with the hot barrel of his revolver cooling in the frosty air. He told himself that this was all about business, ignoring the sadistic delight that had come in the act of murder. He couldn’t smile at what he’d done. He wasn’t a smiler. But he managed to pull off a smirk, and then ordered an underling to do something with the mess.

Vancouver, Christmas Eve 1951

Police Detective Olaf Brandt sat across from Trudy Parr at her desk. She was talking on the telephone, while Brandt sipped a cup of stale office coffee and stared down at a slice of Christmas fruit cake, on a chipped saucer. The cake had been thrust on him by the office secretary as a festive treat, compliments of Dench and Parr Investigations. He hoped his aversion to the impenetrable slab didn’t show.

“Yeah?” said Trudy Parr, to someone at the other end of the line. “Well I never miss an opportunity to be misunderstood.”

She listened for a moment, toying with a .45 calibre cartridge. She wore a white silk blouse, and her green eyes gleamed. A disassembled automatic handgun lay on the blotter, next to a pencil caddy.

“That’s Chinatown for you, Mr Wong,” she said. “It’s always something.” She paused and listen once more.

“Look Mr Wong,” she continued, “you asked me to investigate this thing. I did. It’s not my fault that you’re in a snit over what I uncovered. You have my verifiable report, and the billing information. And just so you know, I’ve been described as tenacious in the collection of outstanding debts owed to this agency. Don’t make me come to you.”

She hung up, and looked across her desk at Brandt pushing his cake around the plate with a fork. He was a plump man in an untidy overcoat.

“Not your idea of good eating, Olaf?” she said.

“It’s just that it doesn’t look homemade.”

“I don’t bake,” said Trudy Parr.

“But my wife does, you see, and she bakes a very fine Christmas cake, and I….”

Reaching across her desktop, Trudy Parr took the saucer from Brandt’s hand and dumped the cake into the trash bin.

“It was on sale at the Army & Navy,” she said. “A girl does what she can. It comes in a big tin, five solid pounds of it, with sleigh bells and holly. I figured that made it okay.”

“I meant no offence.”

“Forget about it. So, what’s so important to the VPD that you’re sitting here without an appointment?”

“It’s about Jason Abel.”

“And?”

“You’re investigating,” said Brandt.

“Funny,” Trudy Parr said, “it’s a little too early for you to have that information. I got the call only a couple of days ago. You tapping my phones?”

“No,” said Brandt. “It’s just one of those bits of intelligence that echoes off the walls until we end up hearing it. So, we know you’ve got someone out there asking questions. Abel ran round with a rough crowd—boozers, failed gamblers, druggies, the kind of people who talk too much in general, but never say the right things. Not to us, anyway. I was hoping you’d share a little about the murder, if you know anything.”

“Okay,” said Trudy Parr, slipping the .45 cartridge into a clip. “I’ll tell you what’s what, but it’s confidential, so don’t push it. I’ll confirm that I’m investigating at the request of some rich aunt or other. That’s all there is at the moment.”

“It’s just that the Captain doesn’t like parallel investigations,” Brandt said.

“Back off, then. Let us do the footwork. We’ll clear it up, tout suite. We always do. You take the credit, and we get the cheque. It’s just a missing person gig, anyway. If it was anyone else, other than some member of the local aristocracy, you’d wait a month before you started nosing round. He’s probably shacked up with some dame from the skids, someone his rich relatives wouldn’t approve of. I hear he likes that kind of gal.”

“Do me a favour, Trudy….” Brandt sounded tired.

“I already gave you Christmas cake,” she said, sitting back and smiling.

He gazed back with sad hound dog eyes.

“Look,” said Trudy Parr, “I’ve got one of my assets out there asking round. She’s good. She’ll have it sewn up by week’s end.”

“It’s that Warkentin woman, isn’t it.”

“Yeah, Elinor. Is that a problem?”

“The boys don’t like female PIs in the first place, and Headquarters really doesn’t like her.”

“That’s because she makes you look like dopes. She’s a better detective than most of the local gendarme, and she does it all with a smile and very little gunplay. I call it jealousy on your part. As it stands, I’ve received a non-refundable deposit from the client, and I intend to see the investigation through.”

“I told them you’d say that.”

“You convey that message to your Captain,” said Trudy Parr, “and wish him a merry Christmas. Hell, bring him a piece of cake.”

Brandt tipped his hat before he left.

It had snowed steadily for the past few days, and it remained cold enough to make Zackery Steinkraus wish he was doing anything but selling Christmas trees. The lot was out back of a church at Hastings and Main, and he couldn’t help thinking of how warm a jail cell would be right now. A judge had sentenced him to community service for a petty misdemeanor, however, and threw in a little irony by making him work selling trees until the day of the commencement of Hanukkah.

Compounding Zackery’s misery, Elinor Warkentin had just driven up in her MG. She parked, and looked in the rear view for a moment, straitening her hat and checking her lipstick.

“Shit,” he said, getting the attention of a self-righteous church lady shopping with her young daughter for a tree.

He’d dealt with Warkentin before. She made him damned uncomfortable, the way she could trick a guy into saying too much by making even a murder suicide sound like a birthday party.

“Season’s greetings, Zack,” she said, stepping onto the lot. She wore a red winter coat over a practical Dior dress. “Helping to raise funds for the Baptists, that’s mighty big of you.”

“Yeah well, it would break my bubbe’s heart if she knew. What do you want?”

“I’m looking for a friend of yours — a Jason Abel.”

“Never heard of him.”

“That’s not what Veronica Dempsey says.”

“Veronica doesn’t know her ass from a bump in the road.”

“She says you and Jason were into the rye and cocaine the other night, in the back of the Metropole. That is until you were interrupted by his girlfriend. I wouldn’t mind knowing where she is, too.”

“Look, I’m at work,” Zackery said.

“Yeah,” said Elinor, dreamily. “I just love the smell of a Christmas tree lot, the pine, the cedar and the bark mulch. It reminds me of the holidays back home on the farm. The presents, the kjielkje and schmaunt vat. We raised chickens, you know?”

“Sounds swell.”

“I hear Jason Abel’s a good egg, Zack. The sort of fella that people wouldn’t mind going out of their way for. Isn’t that how you think of him, Zack? Wouldn’t you fill in the blanks for me, if you knew where he’d disappeared to?”

“I’m telling you, I don’t know the guy.”

“Really, Zack? Can you look me square in the eye and say that? Because I know that sometimes I get things mixed up.”

“That’s what I’m sayin’. You’re mixed up”

She reached out and stroked the lush green bough of a spruce. Zackery was cold, dancing from foot to foot, but he was jittery too.

“Okay,” she said, enjoying the scent of the tree on her glove. “I’ve got a couple of other stops to make before Christmas Eve sets in with a vengeance. By then, I want to be sitting by the fire reading a good book, with a little glass of tequila. I love tequila, don’t you? It makes a girl feel like she’s been places. And who knows, magic happens on Christmas Eve. I still might dig something up?”

“Yeah, you could solve the Black Dahlia.” Zackery blew on his hands.

Elinor smiled cheerfully, and said, “That’s just what I mean, Zack.” Then she began to walk back to her car, but turned round at the last minute, before she got in.

“Gosh, Zack,” she said, pretending to look for her keys in her handbag, “I forgot to tell you, Veronica told me that Millie, that’s Jason’s girlfriend you see, was angry because she said that you stole her watch and twenty dollars out of her purse the other night at some ol’ poker game. Veronica says that that’s what the commotion was all about when she walked in the back of the Metropole, and saw you two there. That’s a hell of a thing to say, huh?”

Zackery Steinkraus began to turn red, hearing this. And though he tried very hard not to, he yelled it out anyway: “That bitch! I told that Millie cow that she was barking up the wrong goddamn tree. It was Jason Abel who stole that crummy watch and the twenty dollars. I don’t know what he thought he’d do with the watch, it was too cheap to pawn.”

“Golly, Zack,” Elinor said, “it sounds like you know Jason, after all. But you say you don’t. That’s very confusing.”

“Life’s strange,” Zackery said, lighting cigarette. She was playing him like a harmonica, and he knew it.

“Well jeepers, I…,”

“Oh, will you can the jeepers, golly, gosh baloney,” he said. “You wear a guy out with that BS.”

“Sure,” Elinor said, her tone changing to street tough. “That malarkey kinda wears me out, too. So what about it? Where’s Jason? And don’t try to snow me.”

“I think maybe you should just bugger off,” said Zackery, “Leave this shit alone. There’s some players in this Jason Abel caper you don’t wanna meet in person, and besides, you’re starting to piss me off. Shouldn’t you be at home, baking cookies or somethin’?”

“Now you listen to me, you little shit.” Elinor looked at her watch, then pulled a ten dollar bill out of her purse and waved it under his nose. “It’s 4 p.m. right now. I want this little mystery wrapped up by this evening, so I can go home and trim the tree and have that glass of hooch I was talking about. And don’t get tough with me, Zack. I’ve got the angels on my side.”

That made him stop for a moment, and ponder. It was strange, but he knew she was right. She and Trudy Parr both seemed bomb proof; Trudy because she was smart and the meanest skirt in the room. Elinor was smart too, but her gimmick was the spooky way she played the odds, somehow knowing every possible outcome before anyone else did, and then knowing how to react. Neither of the two women was a quail. And with their connections to the cops, and his record, stalling either one of them could mean jail.

“Okay,” said Zackery, grabbing at the bill. Elinor yanked it away.

“Spill first,” she said, “then you get the dough.”

“I’m sticking my goddamn neck out here. I hope you appreciate it.”

“In spades,” Elinor said.

“You know that Geezer Haney arsehole. He likes to sell white to the rich kids. Gets ‘em hooked and into hock. That’s what he done with Jason. And no one can snort a wrap faster than Jason Abel. He’s a goddamn fiend, I tell ya. That’s why he owes Geezer a bundle he can’t never pay back.”

“Why can’t he pay? His family’s stinking rich.”

“Yeah but Abel’s on an allowance until he’s twenty-one, see? I figure he’s almost there, from how he talks, but not quite. The allowance ain’t enough for a junky like him, so he’s in hawk to Geezer. He’s sold everything he owns that’s worth a damn. Now he says he’ll just wait ‘til he comes into his money in a month or two, and pay then. But Geezer don’t wanna wait.”

“So?”

“So that’s it, ‘cept….”

“Except what?” Elinor said, slipping the sawbuck into his coat pocket. “C’mon Zack, we’ve come this far.”

“Alright,” said Zackery, looking over his shoulder. “Geezer’s held a gun to my head enough times. And I ain’t talkin’ figurative like, neither. I mean it for real. He slaps everyone round, him or his boys. So I don’t mind tellin’ you this, because I owe him a slap-back or three. But you walk away, and don’t tell no one I ever spoke to you, got it?”

“Sure Zack, I got it.”

“Maybe what I’m gonna say will fuck him up for good.” He looked over his other shoulder. “He said somethin’ the other day about collecting what he could from Abel, and then settling his hash. Making an example of him, sorta. That ain’t good, because when Geezer says that, it means missing body parts or worse.”

“Worse?”

“Use your imagination. And just so’s you know, Geezer’s been coming a little unhinged of late. He’s been shootin’ up on speed balls, and he’s landed on a whole other planet.”

“Where is he now?”

“How should I know? The Astoria, maybe. Or maybe that condemned old shipping warehouse out on Oppenheimer Pier, where he holes up sometimes. But I wouldn’t go there, if I were you. Now get the hell off of my tree lot.”

“Sure,” she said, “and best of the season.”

Zackery flicked his cigarette onto the sidewalk and watched Elinor drive away.

“Are you selling trees or not?” the church lady said.

“Yeah yeah yeah.”

The Astoria was a dead end, but she got her ass pinched as she stood at the bar, grilling the bartender. The pincher was a toothless longshoreman with a big smile. He made her wish she’d brought her .38.

The next stop was Oppenheimer Pier. She knew she had to go, in spite of Zackery’s warning.

It was dark and getting colder as she drove onto Commissioner Street, and left the lights of the Christmas city behind. Arriving at the pier, she wondered how far she could drive as she passed through the broken gate. The wharf was rotting and poorly lit, and she came to a quick halt at the last planks before a dark hole in the decking.

There were several dark doorways visible from her car, all leading into the warehouse. But a soft light glowed in one, and from there came the sound of a man singing Away in a Manger, in a splendid voice, somewhere between a baritone and tenor.

Entering through the door, she discovered the voice belonged to an old man dressed in old throw-away clothes, sitting against empty crates, warming his hands over an array of candles.

“Hello mister,” Elinor said.

The startled old man looked up, and said, “Why, merry Christmas, young lady.”

“And to you, sir.”

“Thank you, dear,” the man said. “Christmas wishes are rare in these parts. Call me Barney. Would you have a few pennies for an old drifter?”

Elinor dug into her purse, and handed Barney five dollars.

“That’s very generous, dear,” he said, eyes wide.

“Don’t worry, the old broad paying for this job can afford it. So, what goes on here?”

“There are some rats,” Barney said.

“What else?”

He was clearly troubled by the question, but said, “There’s some traffic back and forth occasionally. And some shouting and a scream or two, from time to time.”

“When was the last time anything like that happened?” said Elinor.

“Yesterday,” Barney said, swallowing hard and looking off into the gloom.

“Can you point me in the right direction?” she said.

Barney hesitated. “It ain’t no place for a lady on Christmas eve,” he said.

“Don’t worry, mister,” said Elinor. “I ain’t no lady. I’m a private detective.”

Barney shrugged and smiled back, and then pointed to a freight elevator, lighted by a single dangling bulb. It looked surprisingly functional, considering the ramshackle condition of the surroundings.

“Some go up, but don’t come down,” Barney said.

“Anyone up there right now?”

“They aren’t breathing, if there is.”

She handed him a business card, and said, “If I don’t come back down in ten minutes, find a telephone and call that number, understand?”

“Yes ma’am,” Barney said, squinting to read the card.

Elinor listened to Barney hum his Christmas song, as she guessed the most direct route to the elevator in the dark. She tripped only once, and quickly recovered.

At the car, she lifted the gate and stepped in, slamming it closed behind her. Then she scanned the panel for clues, and pushed button number three. It was the cleanest, and clearly the most used. There was a jolt, and she began to ascend, past the shadowy second floor and on to the dimly lit third. Another jolt, and the elevator stopped. She stepped off.

Here there were more weak lightbulbs hanging from wires, and a stiff breeze off the inlet coming through broken windows. Under one lightbulb, in particular, was a table and some chairs. There she found scales and other paraphernalia. There were also empty beer bottles and an ashtray full of cigarette ends. All of which a cop might call evidence, but irrelevant to her current search.

Looking further, into the darker reaches of the vast space, she found, among long forgotten crates and barrels, something rolled up into an old India carpet. She gave it a kick, but it didn’t budge. Looking closer, she saw the soles of a pair of shoes at one end, and the frosty top of a hairy head at the other.

“Bloody hell,” she whispered.

Putting down her handbag, she took hold the upper flap of the carpet, and strained to unroll it. It was several minutes of heavy work, but finally, at the end, an emaciated body rolled out onto the floor. Striking a match and taking a photograph out of her bag, she held them both close to the corpse’s gaunt and sallow face. It was Jason Abel, lying there in a tailored suit, now two sizes too large. He had the eyes of a mild man who had finally surrendered to his torment. There were bloody bullet holes in his chest and belly.

From below, she could now hear Barney begin to sing Silent Night.

Only a desk lamp shone in Trudy Parr’s office. She’d been invited to a Christmas Eve party, had even donned an evening gown, but had picked up Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, and couldn’t stop reading. She had just put it down between chapters, and lit a cigarette, when she heard the window of the Agency’s main door into reception break. Then came the sound of the doorknob turning.

“What the hell?” she said, standing and taking a .45 out of the desk drawer. She turned off the desk lamp, and snuffed the cigarette.

“Well well,” came a voice from the office lobby, “isn’t that just like you, Trudy you bitch. You turn the lights out, when everyone else would be turning them on.”

The voice was familiar, but hard to assign. She stepped back into a corner.

The silhouette of the intruder filled the door to her office, before a hand reached in and switched on the ceiling light. And then there he was, Geezer Haney, in a steely sharkskin suit, holding a Sterling submachine gun. He had the crazed look of a coke dealer who’d been snorting too much of his own merchandise. Trudy Parr cocked and took aim.

“Go home, Geezer,” she said.

“I thought it’d be like this,” said Geezer. “So I brought a guest.” Reaching out to his side, he pulled a man in overalls into the doorway with him.

“Damn,” said Trudy Parr.

“Yeah,” Geezer said. “Oh shit look, it’s Michael the janitor. What’s he doin’ working Christmas Eve, anyway?”

“What’s this about, Geezer?”

“It’s about that little sugar plum fairy of yours, that Warkentin woman. She’s been nosing around my private affairs for a few days now, and I thought it might be time to shut Dench & Parr down – permanently.” He threw Michael into the room. “Put the gun on the floor, Trudy, and kick it over. Or the janitor gets it.”

She hesitated a second, and Geezer laughed hysterically, pulling Michael closer and putting the muzzle of the gun to his head.

“Go ahead,” she said. “You shoot him, then I shoot you. And bingo, show’s over. All I’ll have to do is get me a new janitor to clean up the mess.”

Michael looked desperate.

“That’s not what you’re made of,” said Geezer.

He was right. She dropped her gun and gave it a kick.

“Now both of you have a seat.”

“Why are you still here, Michael?” she said, as they sat down on a small couch.

“Bonnie, my wife, she’s working the late shift at the White Lunch. I was gonna pick her up when she got off. ‘Til then, the wainscoting in the lobby needed attention.”

“Wainscoting!” Geezer shouted like a madman. “There’s a ten dollar word, for ya.”

“What if Elinor doesn’t come back tonight?” said Trudy Parr.

“Oh, that little wench will show up. She’s the checking-in-at-the-end-of-the-day kinda chicky. She’ll probably be here ‘til midnight typing up her notes.”

“I told her not to bother. It’s the holidays.”

“Well, we’ll see, won’t we.”

Elinor found a payphone under a wharf lamp and called the police, telling the sergeant who answered that she wouldn’t be there when they arrived. She’d had enough for one day.

Driving through downtown, she wondered whether her next stop should be home or the office. Knowing that she couldn’t enjoy the rest of Christmas without checking her messages and filing some notes, she steered the MG down Hastings and headed for Cambie Street. A black Ford pulled up behind her as she parked out front of the Dominion Building, and Police Detective Olaf Brandt got out.

“Damn,” she said, as he crouched down and looked at her through the side window. She rolled it down. “What?”

“You can’t just call in a dead body in a warehouse and then decide to leave the scene, Miss Warkentin.”

“Not even once?”

Brandt shook his head.

“Well,” she said, “I don’t want to talk about this here. Let’s go upstairs.” She opened her door fast. Brandt nearly fell on his ass.

Elinor saw the hole in the glass first, and held out her hand to stop Brandt beside her.

“This is different,” she whispered, ironically.

Olaf Brandt drew his weapon.

“Hold off,” she said. “I’ll go in first, you’ll be my back up.”

At the door, she bent over and looked through the broken window. She could see directly into Trudy’s office from there, and saw the back of a large man waving a machine gun wildly in the air. His babbled was confused, and he laughed madly as he spoke.

Then she heard him say, “Where is that Warkentin bitch? I got presents to wrap.”

Brandt came up beside her, and she let him look in.

“That’s Geezer Haney,” he said.

“What a night.”

Brandt’s hand went for the doorknob.

“No,” Elinor spoke softly. “I’ll go in first.”

“That’s ridiculous. I bet you don’t even have a gun.”

“I don’t, but there’s one in my office, just round the corner from the reception desk. I can go in quietly, and get it before he knows what’s going on. Besides, it’s me he wants. You go back down to the lobby and use a payphone to call this in. Do you need a nickel?”

She opened her purse and began rummaging, delighted to find some chocolate she’d forgotten she had.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Brandt said.

“Here,” said Elinor, triumphantly holding forth a nickel. “I knew I had one.”

With his gun in his right hand, Brandt went for the doorknob with his left.

“No,” she said, pulling it away.

“You go down to the damn lobby,” said Brandt. “You’ve got the nickel, and I’ve got the gun.”

His hand went for the knob again, and again Elinor tried to push it away.

“I’m a cop,” he said. “It’s my job.”

Now there was a wrestling match, each trying to push the other away. Then the door, slightly ajar, opened and they both fell through and onto the floor, coming to rest as Geezer Haney turned round. Brandt fired two shots immediately, both missing their target. Then Geezer chambered the first bullet in the clip, and began to fire. Elinor and Brandt rolled out of the way, in opposite directions. Geezer crouched down, looking for the chubby cop with the gun.

“Now you’re mine, boyo,” he said.

Brandt looked out from behind an overstuffed chair, and answered with two more shots. Geezer fell out of the way, unharmed. Recovering, he fired several rapid shots in the policeman’s direction. The overstuffed chair seemed to explode.

In Turdy Parr’s office, Michael took cover next to filing cabinets, and Trudy jumped off the couch, ending up lying on the floor under her desk. Looking up, she saw the straight razor. The straight razor that was always there, held in place to the underside of the drawer with a strip of masking tape. She reached up and took it.

As the bullets flew, Elinor crawled down the hall to her office to get her gun. She’d oiled and loaded it the day before. It was ready to fire. Brandt finally got Geezer in his sights as she got to her office, and he fired his last two shots, confident that they would be killers. One went wild, and the other stuck home — close to home, that is.

“You fat fuck,” Geezer hallowed. “You shot me!”

There was a bloody wound in his shoulder. In a rage, he stood and squeezed the trigger of his Sterling. He fired wildly, the bullets tearing up the floors, walls and furniture. Then the machine gun jammed.

“Shit!” Geezer said, and began to fight the slide.

Now, Brandt stood and took deadly aim. He squeezed his trigger and got a click, click. A six shooter out of bullets. He felt his pockets or more bullets. They were in his car. He’d never fired his gun in the line of duty before.

Finally the slide on the Sterling came free and delivered a shell into its chamber. Geezer took aim, grinning at Olaf Brandt across the room. And in that moment, Brandt finally saw it on a side table. The Christmas cake. Nearly five pounds of potential lethality remained in the festive metal container. Picking it up and aiming as best he could, he threw it as fast and as hard as possible, and hit Geezer square in the forehead. The gangster staggered backward and fell. His gun sliding across the floor.

In a second, Trudy Parr was on top of him with her straight razor held firmly to his throat.

“Break into my office, will you?” she said, her eyes blazing. “Shoot the place up? Try to ruin my Christmas?” She was all menace. Blood streamed down the side of Geezer’s neck, his eyes wide, still alive but finally quiet. All it would have taken was a slip of her hand.

“Don’t do it, Trudy,” Elinor said, finally arriving with her weapon. She knew what her boss was capable of. “Let Olaf cuff him. I’ll blast the bastard if he moves. He’ll hang for Jason Abel. Even if he doesn’t, he won’t survive the penitentiary.”

“I might have been doing you a favour,” Trudy Parr said to Geezer Haney, as she got up and walked away.

After he cuffed his prisoner, Brandt picked up the tin of Christmas cake, opened it and popped a piece into his mouth.

He chewed a moment, and said, “Maybe it’s not so bad, after all.”

A Christopher Hitchens Christmas Carol Stave 1 – apologies to C. Dickens, from 2011

see stave two here, three here, four here, five here

God was dead as a doornail.  Let there be no doubt whatever about that. The register of His burial was signed by Hitchens, and Hitchens’ name was good upon anything he chose to put his hand to.

And Hitchens missed God.  Of course he did. How could it be otherwise?  Hitchens and He were partners for I don’t know how many years.

Yes, God was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Hitchens never painted out God’s name. There it stood, years after His death, above the door: Hitchens and God. The firm was known as Hitchens and God. And the partnership resulted in book deal after book deal for Hitchens, along with endlessly lucrative speaking engagements and a succession of ever so intriguing reality TV offers.

Oh!  But he was a vicious antitheist, Hitchens!  The certainty of a Godless universe froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and he spoke out shrewdly in his British public school voice.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Hitchens, God be with you.  When will you come to church with me?”  No beggars God-blessed him, no children asked him the correct words to a hymn, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to Heaven.  Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Hitchens sat busy in his office.  The door of his office was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was probing for parcel bombs and reading Christian hate mail.  Hitchens had a very small supply of toner, liquid paper, paper clips and pencils, but the clerk’s supply was so very much smaller that he recycled staples by taking them from discarded documents and straightened them back to their original configuration for replacement in his dilapidated stapler.  But he couldn’t help it, for Hitchens kept the supplies in his own office; and so surely as the clerk came in to replenish his own supply, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part.  Wherefore the clerk went back to straightening used staples and diluting his scant supply of liquid paper with trichloroethane. He tried to warm himself at his computer’s heat exhaust, in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

Just then, two men came into the office.

They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Hitchens’ office.  They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

“Hitchens, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen.

“Yes, what about it?”

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Hitchens,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Do you vote,” asked Hitchens.

“Of course,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And are you politically active,” demanded Hitchens.  “Are you pressuring your MP and the Prime Minister to institute change? Do you boycott and participate in protests against corporate greed and intransigent government?”

“Of course not,” returned the gentleman, “We are good men of business.”

“Then do you make a special point of hiring the poor and destitute,” said Hitchens.

“Not at all, sir. They smell, and demand ridiculous things like a living wage.”

“Then it seems you have some things to think about,” Hitchens said, returning to his work.

“Our goal is to furnish Christian cheer of mind and body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?”

“Not a bloody thing” Hitchens replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish you’d bugger off.  Why should we depend on Christian charity to redistribute wealth,” said Hitchens. “Why don’t you go occupy Wall Street? If a mute, invisible and inept god is all we have to count on as a defence against unmitigated greed and injustice and the resulting poverty and suffering, then we’re all sunk.”

“Many can’t occupy Wall Street; many would rather go shopping at Walmart or view internet porn. You see, they’re depending on God to intervene, to relieve them of their misery. It’s not likely to happen, but there you are.”

“If they would rather shop at Walmart,” said Hitchens, “they had better do it, and support the very corporate criminality that defeats them daily.”

“Fine,” said the gentlemen. “We’ll just nip off to the pub, and curse your name behind your back. It is, after all, the Christian thing to do.”

At length, the hour of shutting up the office arrived. Hitchens dismounted from his stool, and tacitly admitted the fact to the expectant clerk in the Tank, who instantly turned off the buzzing florescent lights, and put on his hat.

“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Hitchens.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Hitchens, “and it’s not fair of you to go off and celebrate the birth of some fraud of a saviour on my time. If I was to stop the equivalent of a day’s wage for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound? No doubt you’d get the union involved.”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Hitchens, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year, and that he never put down for overtime, which according to legislated labour standards paid time and a half.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Hitchens, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.  “But I suppose you must have the whole day.  Be here all the earlier next morning.”

The clerk promised that he would; and Hitchens walked out with a growl.  The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk started for home.

For his part, Hitchens went directly home to his high street townhouse on the Westside – with its tall, ornate front door and faux brass knocker that he’d ordered specially from a glossy home decorating catalogue that resided next to his commode.

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large and made in China out of recycled beer cans.  It is also a fact, that Hitchens had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place.  Let it also be borne in mind that Hitchens had not bestowed one serious thought on God since his last overtly provocative speaking engagement in the American south.  So, let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Hitchens, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but God’s face.

God’s face on the knocker was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects on the street were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad Marks and Spencer lobster dinner in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but Godly, nonetheless.  Its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“Hit-chens,” said God’s godly face on the knocker.

“Bloody hell,” said Hitchens. He stared back at God’s face on the knocker. “What a load of crap.”

He went into the townhouse, and sat down in a room the architect called the parlour, but that Hitchens had come to call the sodding broom closet. He picked up a copy of Harpers and leafed through looking for Audi ads.

“Hit-chens,” God’s godly voice came again, as though out of the A/C vents.

“Bugger off,” Hitchens said.

“Hit-chens,” said God once more.

“Look,” said Hitchens. “Whoever you are, you really have to call my agent….”

Suddenly, the townhouse was filled with the sound of piped in Christmas Muzak, and there came the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Then, with a resounding crash, the parlour door was flung open, and in stepped God Himself. He came dressed in a tattered pair of black 501s, black high-tops and a Lou Reed tee-shirt.

“What the hell do you want,” said Hitchens.

“Much!” said God. “But first, have you got any weed?”

“Who are you?”

“Some call me Yahweh. I have been called other names. But I’m starting to like the idea of being called Brad. You, however, may call me God.”

“Can you — can you sit down,” asked Hitchens.

“I can,” said God.

“Do it then.”

“You don’t believe in me,” said God.

“Of course I bloody don’t,” said Hitchens. “Where have you been, living under a damn rock?”

“And yet, you make a tidy living off of me.”

“It is nice, isn’t it?” said Hitchens surveying his lush surroundings.

“What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?”

“I don’t know,” said Hitchens.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Well, I took a lot of acid when I was at university,” said Hitchens. “Sometimes I see shit that would make anybody question reality.  There’s more of bad LSD than of Heaven about you, whatever you are! You see this toothpick,” said Hitchens.

“I do,” replied God.

“You’re not looking at the damn thing,” said Hitchens. “Do pay attention.”

“But I see it,” said God, “notwithstanding.”

“Yup,” returned Hitchens. “Definitely an acid flashback.”

At this God raised a frightful cry, and made a dismal and appalling noise.

Hitchens stood and pointed, and said, “Look mate, I’ve got neighbours, and they like it quiet. So, tone it down.”

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied God, “do you believe in me or not?”

“Nope,” said Hitchens.  “Not a chance. I’ve got book deals in the works. Believing in you would void contracts from here to the sandy beaches of Belize. It could even bring down huge segments of the British economy.”

“Then what will convince you?”

“Can you bend spoons, like Uri Geller?”

“No. I mean I can, but I won’t. That’s way too 1970s Vegas.”

“Tell me what I’m thinking, then?”

“You’re thinking that I should have taken my shoes off before I came in.”

“Huh! That’s pretty close, actually.”

“Hear me!” cried God. “You will be haunted tonight by three spirits.”

“Oh, is it bloody Halloween?” said Hitchens. “I thought this was Christmas.”

“Without their visits,” said God, “you cannot hope to know me.”

“Will any of these spirits be able to bend spoons, like Uri Geller?”

“No. I mean they can, but they won’t.”

“Then I’d rather not meet these spirits,” said Hitchens. “I like a little cabaret with my haunting.”

“Tough noogies,” said God.

“Shit.”

“Look for the first spirit when the clock chimes one,” said God. “Now look to see me no more.”

And with that, God, who’d lately been thinking he’d rather be called Brad, fizzled into the wainscoting. Or at least what the architect called the wainscoting, but what Hitchens called the sodding baseboards.

 

A Christopher Hitchens Christmas Carol Stave 2 – apologies to C. Dickens, from 2011

see stave one here, three here, four here, five here

Hitchens ordered in Chinese, drank excessively and reread favourable reviews of his books on the internet before going to bed. He slept soundly, hugging a pillow while visions of royalty cheques danced in his head. In a dream, he was standing at an old fashioned bank wicket receiving a stack of thousand pound notes, when he suddenly awoke.

Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn open.

Hitchens sat up in a half-recumbent attitude, and found himself face to face with an unearthly visitor. It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, except it wasn’t an old man at all, but an old woman. Her hair, which hung about her neck and down her back, was white as if with age, and her face was a road map of deep ruts. She wore a tunic of the purest white, and round her waist was bound a lustrous belt. She held a branch of fresh green holly in her hand.

In a moment, Hitchens recognised who it was, and was shocked. “Freaking bloody hell,” he choked. “It’s a young Mother Teresa.”

“That’s right, Christopher, and you have been a very bad boy.” Having said this, the branch of fresh green holly in her hand was magically replaced by a twelve inch wooden ruler, which she used to rap Hitchens’ knuckles.

“Owe!” shouted Hitchens. “You fascist Albanian bitch.”

“That’s not the first time you’ve called me a bitch.” She rapped his knuckles a second time.

“Ouch! Hey, I apologised the first time. What happened to Christian forgiveness?”

“Haven’t you heard, you wretched little man? I’ve been beatified. I don’t have to forgive anymore.”

“Well get the hell out of my bedroom, and take your stick with you. Go back to whatever grotty little paradise dried up catholic fundamentalists go to when they kick-off, and leave life to the living.”

“Can’t do it, Christopher. I’m on a mission from God. Of course, he lets me call Him Brad.”

“Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” asked Hitchens.

“I am.”

“Shit.”

“Watch that potty mouth!” The ghost of the beatified nun rapped his knuckles a third time. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Hitchens, rubbing his bleeding knuckles.

“No. Your past,” said Mother Teresa. “And what a wicked journey it has been.”

“Yeah, well, I’d rather not relive my past, if you please. I have no desire to appear on Donahue again.”

“Rise. And walk with me, Christopher,” Mother Teresa said as the bedroom widow opened.

“Walk where? Out the window? So they can find me in the morning, dead in the snow. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, you silly cun….”

“Watch it!” Mother Teresa interjected, holding forth the wooden ruler. “Besides, it’s only two stories down. You’d probably just break a leg, if I let you fall; which I won’t, though it’s tempting. Bear but a touch of my hand, and you shall be upheld in more than this.”

Together they rose and floated out of the window, as London mysteriously vanished from beneath them and they came to drift over the city of Portsmouth. It was at once the city of the present and the city of Hitchens’ past. They soon landed on a street, and began to walk. Hitchens recognised every gate, and post, and tree, and was glad of it, until a little Anglican church appeared around a corner. He hesitated upon seeing it, and began to turn away.

“You cannot hide from your past, Christopher,” said Mother Teresa. “It is etched in stone.”

“Look, why don’t we find a pub. We could have a round of darts.”

Mother Teresa shook her head. She pointed at the little church, and soon they were in its basement watching a Sunday school lesson in progress.

“Why, that’s Miss Wickerson,” said Hitchens. “What a daffy boot she was.”

“And there you are,” said Mother Teresa.

A six year old Christopher Hitchens sat at a table toying with the gum wads stuck underneath, as Miss Wickerson taught the lesson.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been,” said Mother Teresa. “They have no consciousness of us.”

“Good thing,” said Hitchens. “Wickerson was a batty pain in the arse.”

Hitchens and Mother Teresa listened in on the lesson.

“And the proof of God’s love for us all is in the sunshine and the flowers and the food on our tables,” said Miss Wickerson. “In thanks, we praise Him at every opportunity.”

The six year old Hitchens raised his hand. Miss Wickerson tried to ignore it, but finally gave in.

“Yes Christopher,” she said, sounding annoyed and tired.

“That doesn’t make sense, Miss Wickerson.”

“That’s fine, Christopher. Thank you. Now, as I was saying….”

“But Miss Wickerson,” said the precocious six year old Hitchens, with his hand up and waving. “Why, if God is the creator of all things, are we supposed to praise him for what comes naturally for Him? It’s not like He was going out of His way, or doing us any favours. As I read it, creating things is just the sort of thing that God naturally does, like farting.”

“God doesn’t fart, Christopher,” said Miss Wickerson.

“Well, we don’t know that,” replied the six year old Hitchens. “And besides, I didn’t say God farts. I said that for Him creating was natural like farting. The inference being that we fart naturally. Farting is what we naturally do. No one praises us for it. Surely creating things is like that for God. It’s like what farting is for us. Do you see what I mean? And since this seems to be the case, why praise Him?”

“That will do, Christopher,” said Miss Wickerson. “My point is that the proof of God’s love for us is in the lovely sunset and the blue of the sky.”

“But surely, Miss Wickerson, the blue of the sky proves only that the sky is blue. It does nothing to prove the existence of God.”

“If you must know, Christopher,” Miss Wickerson said, “I need no proof of God’s existence. For me He is everywhere, and His existence is irrefutable.”

Now Miss Wickerson smiled as though a great debate had been won. But six year old Hitchens raised his hand again.

“What is it now,” she sighed.

“Well, Miss Wickerson, what you seem to be saying is that God’s existence is proven by His absolute invisibility. You continue to refer to nature’s beauty as proof of God, but perhaps nature’s beauty is an unconscious substitute for a God whose non-existence doesn’t fit with your personal worldview. I think, however, that you’ve proven the premise of your own argument incorrect. Isn’t it true that what can be asserted without proof can also be dismissed without proof? And therefore, isn’t my argument in favour of the non-existence of God valid without proof. Do you really need to go on and on, boring the whole class with your mind-numbingly groundless assertions?”

This stopped Miss Wickerson where she stood. She blinked, and the beginning of a small tear formed in the corner of her eye.

“Oh, dear,” she gasped. “You’re right. I have been deluding myself. There is no God, after all. My life, my vocation, my whole existence is a sham.”

“Well I wouldn’t go that far,” said six year old Hitchens.

“No, no,” said Miss Wickerson, holding out a hand to hush six year old Hitchens. “You’ve quite opened my eyes, boy. You’ve revealed to me the mysterious source of all my angst and hidden grief. There is no God, as you say. And, therefore, no God’s love.”

Here Mother Teresa turned to the adult Hitchens and said, “She left her job as a Sunday school teacher, and became a lesbian.”

“Oh, please,” said Hitchens. “One doesn’t just become a lesbian. You either are one or you aren’t. I think it was a crucial moment of self-discovery.”

“She became a radio announcer for a radical lesbian pirate radio station that broadcasted from a surplus minesweeper off the coast of Florida. It still supports radical Palestinian lesbian causes.”

“Well, there can’t be many of those.”

“That’s not the point,” said Mother Teresa, holding up her stick. “Now, having failed in countless relationships with other Godless, radicalised women, she lives alone in a walk-up flat with three cats and an iguana. She sits alone in her apartment listening to Feist and Tracy Chapman. She has no man in her life to ground her, to justify her existence.”

“Neither did you,” said Hitchens.

“Shut it!” said Mother Teresa. “Only last week she got yet one more Hello Kitty tattoo.”

“Is that so bad?” asked Hitchens.

“Not if you like Hello Kitty,” said Mother Teresa. “Do you see now how your incessant arguments against the existence of God have ruined lives?”

“No.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“Oh take me home, spirit, and haunt me no more.”

“My time with you has come to an end, at any rate,” Mother Teresa said. “I have an appointment to get fitted for my saintly robes.”

“You’re not a saint yet.”

“The Ghost of Christmas Future assures me that it’s just around the corner. A girl’s got to think ahead. There’s bound to be soirees to attend, in my honour. So good night to you, hell spawn. And good luck at the pearly gates.”

Moments later, he was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.