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