lost ironies

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Tag: 1949

the woman in the red raincoat

Vancouver, 1949

Trudy Parr had been falling all of her life. It was an enduring dream. From a hotel room window, high over the street. She would open it and edge out, earnest in her aim, nauseous from the height. And, having written her brief neatly folded note of apology, she’d fall. Past flags and lighted windows, the moon and tresses of neon, the redemptive pavement rushing toward her. Since childhood. But she had always woken before impact. In her bed, in the dark of night or grey dawn, hearing perhaps a lonesome bird just outside.

But not that night. That night she didn’t wake before shattering like a mirror, seeing herself reflected ten thousand times.

Now she sat on the edge of her bed, smoking a cigarette, seeing the concrete, reliving the stunning ruby flash.

It was 4 a.m.

From her window, she saw the freighters on English Bay shine like cities on the water. It was early July. The sun would be prodding the eastern horizon. She looked west. Her dream had had the density of stone. It would have sunk into the bay, had there been a way.

She snuffed out her cigarette, and had a shower.

10 am Commercial Drive

“Caffè lungo and Cornetti,” said Trudy Parr. “Have you seen Melisa?”

“She no come in yet today,” said Tony Nuzzo, in his broken English, starting Trudy’s order. “That’s strange because she’s usually in round eight o’clock. She come in yesterday, but she very sad I think.”

“Sad?”

“She gets that way, you know?”

“Yes.” Trudy knew. Melisa Patton did get sad. They’d been friends of all their lives, and she could remember Melisa’s long years of sadness. She was an artist, a painter of stunning canvases, sold in galleries as far away as New York and London.

“You take a table,” Tony Nuzzo told Trudy. “I bring it to you.”

Trudy sat by the widow. Commercial Drive was a busy east Vancouver high street, in an Italian neighbourhood. Through the window she saw merchants and customers hurry by. Tony Nuzzo arrived with her order. He’d placed two small chocolate cookies next to her Cornetti.

“A little chocolate for you,” he said. “You too thin, Miss Parr.”

After twenty years in Canada, Tony Nuzzo still held onto old country ideas. “A man likes a woman with a little width, if you don’t mind me to say so.”

Trudy smiled.

“I’d like to sit down with you,” Nuzzo said. “May I?”

“Of course.”

“Grazie, grazie.” Nuzzo sat. “It’s about your friend, Melisa. It’s none-a-my-business, but she really didn’t look so good yesterday. She’s pale. No smile. No, Hello Tony, how you today? And it’s July. It’s warm. But wears this paint stained sweater, long sleeves. And I see bandages poking out. Some dry blood. Her wrists, maybe her whole arms, wrapped in bandages.”

Trudy tried not to look worried. She’d attempted to return Melisa’s call from the day before, last evening and this morning. Her secretary had said the caller, Melisa, sounded especially unhappy. There’d been no answer when Trudy called back. It was Melisa’s studio number. She was almost always there. Now this. Bandages. Melisa had cut herself before, when things were bad. Her arms. Her legs.

“Did she say anything when she was here?”

“No,” said Nuzzo. “She just had two espresso, bang bang, one after the other, and left. Maybe she’s unlucky in love, huh?”

“Maybe,” Trudy said. She bit a cookie and sipped her coffee. “I’ll ask around, check her apartment and studio. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“That’s fine,” said Nuzzo. He stood up with a broad smile. “You good at that kinda stuff, you bet.”

The apartment and studio were on the Drive, a half block away from one other. The apartment door was locked, no answer. But she found the studio door open, when she arrived. She went in.

The large room reflected Melisa’s obsession with neatness, in spite of the paints and canvasses, splattered palettes and linseed oil soaked rags.

On the easel was an unfinished painting of a woman, seen from behind. She was walking away from the viewer, in the rain, without an umbrella. Her coat was bright red, with darker rustier shades in its creases and folds. The surrounding colours, however, people, buildings and automobiles, were bleak and hopeless. It was a treasure, nonetheless, even to Trudy’s untrained eye.

On a countertop, under a lamp, she discovered a roll of gauze and a small metal case containing blue Gillette razor blades. Next to them was a bloody rag and a beaker stained with a dry rust coloured substance. She shivered. Melisa was talented and a striking woman, educated and revered. What provoked her?

“Hello.” A voice came from behind her. She turned round and saw a small dapper man, in a suit and holding his hat in his hand. “Have you seen Miss Patton?” he said.

“No,” Trudy said. “Who are you?”

“A patron. An admirer. A costumer.” His eyes fixed on the painting. “Ah, she’s nearly done. It’s exquisite.”

Trudy Parr looked over her shoulder.

“For you?” she said.

“Indeed,” said the man. “A special commission. A vision.”

He walked into the studio, up to the painting, removing his soft leather gloves. Then he ran his fingers over it gently, feeling the texture of the brush strokes. His eyes were closed, as he seemed to experience a strange ecstasy.

When he was done, he wiped his brow with a yellow silk handkerchief. “Do you know anything of her whereabouts?” he said.

“No.”

Trudy saw odd markings on the backs of his hands. Circles and cruciforms, a cursive script she didn’t recognise. They might have been tattoos, but looked more like blemishes. The man noticed, and put on his gloves again.

“You’re a curious one, aren’t you?” he said.

“Some have said so.”

Suddenly he didn’t seem so small, his eyes were dark. She swore she heard a whispering chorus.

“It’s a hard life for a woman,” he said. “Is it not?”

“That’s a peculiar thing to say.”

“I mean,” said the man, “for a woman to establish herself, in the world of men.”

“What’s your game, mister?”

“If you find her,” he said, taking a card from his shirt pocket, and handing it to her. “Would you call me? I understand that you find people for a living, among other things. I’ll make it worth your while.”

Trudy Parr looked at the card. No name. Only a phone number.

“I think you’re the last person I’d call if I find her,” she said.

“That’s entirely the wrong attitude, Miss Parr.”

“You know my name?”

“My knowledge of things here is limited, but I know that much.”

He grinned, but if he meant it to be agreeable, he failed.

Putting on his hat, he walked to the door. But before he left, he turned and spoke again.

“This painting,” he said. “Melisa is only repaying a favour, in creating it. A favour she asked of me, and that I granted. Do you think I’m wrong for expecting something in return?”

Trudy Parr said nothing, only wished that he would go away. He did, with a nod, but without a sound, no footfalls as he proceeded down the hall.

7 pm Tony Nuzzo’s

“And so far that’s all I know,” Trudy said. She had intentionally failed to mention the small man and the strange whispering refrain that had surrounded him.

“A mystery,” said Tony Nuzzo. “She’s gotta be round somwheres.”

“She’ll show up.”

A man in a summer suit, needing a press, came into the shop, and looked at the menu.

“Can a fella get an ordinary cuppa joe round here?” he said.

“I make,” said Tony Nuzzo, getting up. He knew a flatfoot when he saw one. “I make. I know whatsa guy like you likes.”

It was police detective Olaf Brandt.

“That’s fine,” he said, and dropped a nickel onto the counter.

Nuzzo looked at the small coin, and rolled his eyes.

Brandt took a seat across from Trudy Parr.

“I hear you been looking for Melisa Patton,” he said.

“That’s right.” She braced herself. Cops like Brandt didn’t patronise places like Tony Nuzzo’s, unless there was a reason.

“It’s bad, Trudy,” he said. “We found her this afternoon. She took a room at the Astoria Hotel.”

“And?”

“She jumped,” he said. “Early this morning round four a.m., best we can tell. She mentioned you in her suicide note. How you were best friends. How she was sorry.”

“Four? This morning?” Trudy recalled the sequence and terrible clarity of her dream. “Why’d it take you this long to contact me? I’ve been calling in to the office all day.”

Tony Nuzzo arrived with a cup of black coffee and put it down in front of Brandt. Then he stood and listened.

“No one noticed her until this afternoon,” Brandt said, “when somebody looked out of a window. She fell onto an awning, not the street. Sorry, Trudy. Her note said something about a fella that wouldn’t leave her alone. He wanted a painting in the worst way. She said she didn’t have the blood in her to finish it. I guess that’s artist talk. Her note said that you should run like hell if you meet the runt. A real little swell. Dresses like a millionaire. She didn’t want to write his whole name in the note, said it would be bad juju for anyone who read it. Called him Bub, for short. We’ll keep an ear to the ground, see if he shows up.”

“He ran his hand over that painting like he was gonna have one hell of an orgasm,” Trudy Parr recalled.

“Who?” said Nuzzo.

Brandt sipped his coffee, and raised an eye brow.

“That’s some good coffee,” he said. “You don’t get this downtown.”

the Persian rug

Vancouver 1949 

The Agent drank coffee at a lunch counter in the railroad station. He was young, casting a lonesome glow. The waitress had flirted, but he’d been cold. It wasn’t his training, but his inclination. She wasn’t a target, and therefore unworthy of notice.

He had made the telephone call, the one upon which all things hinged. Now he sat idle, in wait. He’d studied his target thoroughly, her image hung on a wall in the evening light of his mind. He’d try for a quiet kill, something restrained, close-in so that he could experience the life drain from her. Garrotting suited him best. Or a knife, so he could look into her eyes as she faded from the world. But a bullet wasn’t out of the question, either. He carried a .38 revolver, and hated it. It was a repulsive way to kill, the stuff of armatures.

His instructions were this: Wait three hours from the designated time. If she doesn’t appear, hunt her down, at her office first. She’d be there alone.

They said she was unpredictable, dangerous even. He was both those things, too. A small part of him wished he could have met her under different circumstances.

* * * * *

the offices of Dench and Parr Investigations

It came in the morning office mail, a parcel wrapped in brown paper and butcher string, the size of a detective novel. There was an envelope attached, held fast by cellophane tape. It had a Winnipeg post mark. Trudy Parr held the package in her hand for a moment, recognising the sender’s handwriting. She gave it a shake, something moved inside. Then she decided it could only contain bad memories, and dropped it into her inbox. The telephone rang.

“Dench and Parr Investigations, Trudy Parr speaking.”

“There’s a parcel in the mail,” a voice said. “It should be there by now. It should be on your desk, I reckon.”

“Who’s speaking?”

“Doesn’t matter. Open the package.”

“I know the handwriting on the label. It doesn’t match your voice.”

“The fellow who sent it to you, Bertrand Mosley, he’s dead. This is between you and me now.”

“Bertrand’s dead? How? Why?”

“Never mind that. Bertrand said you was a clever little Chiquita. It’s all about the parcel now, so get clever and open it up.”

“I don’t like your tone, buster. I think I’m gonna hang up and toss your package in the trash.”

A third voice came onto the line. “Another thirty-five cents for the next six minutes, mister.”

“Long distance,” Trudy Parr said. “Where you calling from?”

There was the sound of coins dropping into a slot and bells chiming.

“Where I’m calling from is immaterial. Open the package.”

“You just wasted thirty-five cents, boyo.” Trudy Parr hung up the phone.

Picking up the package again, she examined Bertrand Mosley’s flamboyant script. He’d been sweet to her, strange for a heartless, solitary killer. They’d met in Paris in 1943. He’d been notorious as an Allied spy. A homosexual ridiculed for his proclivities, but valuable for where they could take him. Could he actually be dead? She wondered how any of them, who’d been present for the slaughter, could still be alive. She cut the string and opened the envelope.

Dear Trudy, 

I hope this correspondence finds you well. I have landed here in Winnipeg, on my way to Montreal and then New York, after a brief time in your little city. Sorry I didn’t contact you, but I was on a selfish mission. Please take the contents of this package and proceed to the CPR Station to retrieve a certain asset of mine. It’s something I hold very dear, but that I can no longer have in my own possession. I hope leaving it with you doesn’t cause you any difficulties. I’ve been as stealthy as possible. I know I can trust you with it.

Say hello to that man of yours, Crispin Dench, the one you always claim is just a business partner. Well if you don’t want him, I certainly do.

TTFN,

Bertrand

PS: The package you’ve just opened contains one very valuable little item. I placed it there to spark your interest. It’s yours in payment for services rendered in this matter.

Trudy Parr tore away the brown paper on the package to reveal a blue box embossed with Tiffany & Co. She lifted the lid and found two objects wrapped in tissue. One was a locker key with the number 237. The other was a small red velvet pouch with a drawstring. She recognised it from what now seemed like another life, and picked it up and felt for the contents. It was exactly what she expected, a hard object, pointed at one end and flat at the other. She’d felt that shape before. Memories of Paris returned. She opened the drawstring and dumped the object out onto her desk. It wasn’t from Tiffany & Co., of course. That was just Bertrand’s sense of humour.

She wasn’t an authority, but she guessed it was flawless. And that there were more of them somewhere, unclaimed because they were lost to the world. Lost because Bertrand had made off with them, late in 1944.

“I have in my possession something very valuable,” Bertrand told her in a pub in London. It had been Christmastime, and she’d had just enough Jameson’s to feel a warm appreciation for the fairy lights strung across the bar.

“It’s something that I was able to smuggle back from Paris in a SIS satchel,” he said, sounding as though he were in Confession. “I’m telling you this now because in order for me to enjoy the value of this possession, I must disappear completely. The war’s all but over now anyway, and we spies will soon be made redundant. Besides, an ageing queen like me needs to know when to exit with dignity. But I didn’t want to disappear and have you think I finally got my throat cut. No, dear Trudy, this is a voluntary departure, and I wanted to wish you all of the best in your postwar post-assassin life. Though what it will mean for us is anyone’s guess. I feel like I’ll never be anything but what they’ve trained me to be, and what does a spy with a flair for silent killing do when the hostilities end?”

And it was in that moment at the bar, for the first time since the whole thing began, she wondered the same thing about herself.

It was an open question. Bertrand gulped back his gin.

Bertrand hadn’t said in the pub what his valuable possession was, but Trudy Parr had an idea. The two of them had handled some very valuable items a short time before, thousands of them at once in fact, just before they were extracted from Paris. It had been a special mission that included her, Bertrand and Crispin Dench. There’d been an astonishing number of the shiny little things. Each one either perfect or near perfect. Each one stolen and hoarded by the Nazi’s, then found and hoarded by the Allies. They’d been graded and inventoried. Trudy, Dench and Mosley were charged with bringing them to London, but their exit from Paris had been difficult and dangerous. And when they arrived in London, the actual count didn’t match the tally. Who could say why? War is chaotic, and the expectations of spymasters are often unrealistic.

Now she used her finger to roll the diamond round in a small circle on her desk blotter. It was over a carat, perhaps one and a half. And it caught the light from her office window in the way a diamond will. It was gorgeous. But she still wondered at the value of it versus its utility. The telephone rang again.

“You’ve opened it, I reckon.”

“’Reckon’,” Trudy Parr said. “That’s an American way of saying ‘I guess’, isn’t it?” As she said this, she quickly scanned a list in her mind of people she and Bertrand had in common.

“Maybe,” said the man on the line.

“And you have a slight accent. I’d say northern Illinois, near the lake. Chicago, right?”

“Don’t mess with me, Chiquita.”

“Are you calling from Chicago?” said Trudy Parr. “Is this extortion via long distance?”

“The locker that key belongs to,” said the man, “Mosley put a bag in it seven days ago. The locker has a seven day rental limit. Sometime within the next twenty-four hours, it’s going to be emptied out by train station management. That will complicate things for me.”

Trudy Parr reclined in her desk chair. “You know,” she said, “I used to know a mug that used words like Chiquita and reckon all the time. He was with the OSS, worked the Counter-espionage Desk outta London during the war. His name was Larry Flannigan, from Chicago. A real smarmy bastard with bad hair, used a cheap eau de toilette that really stank up the place. Is that you, Larry? Why are you calling me from a pay telephone in Chicago, why not your office? You’re with the CIA now, aren’t you?”

There was a moment of silence, faint clicks on the long distance line.

“I never liked you, Trudy,” Flannigan said, “you bitch. You’re arrogant, a loose cannon, not a team player, a liability.”

“And you’re a real company man, eh Larry? What do you drive now, a Buick? Not a Cadillac or a Lincoln, no no no, too showy. Got a nice little sports model for the wife to drive to the country club too, I bet. You’ve got a townhouse in the city and a country house just outta town on the lake shore, somewhere quiet where there’s still a few trees. And it’s all paid for with the war swag you stole on the job in London. That’s right isn’t it, Larry? And that crowd you run with now, they think you’re a bit of a poser, don’t they. They think you’re swinging above your pay-grade. But you don’t care. You’re way off their radar. You keep your savings under your mattress. And now it’s the Agency that matters, right? Your new source of potential loot.”

Another silent pause.

“Those are some good guesses,” Flannigan said. “You want in on this? I can cut you in.”

“You killed Bertrand.”

“Fuck Bertrand, we’re talking millions here.”

“I liked Bertrand.”

“He was a fucking homo. The world’s a better place without him.”

“What did you do? Did you cut him, shoot him, throw him in front of a subway car? Just tell me it was quick, you fucking bastard.”

“He had a heart attack, potassium chloride and calcium gluconate. He died fast, in a New York City bath house. Now can we get on with this?”

“So how was this caper supposed to play out, Larry? Was I supposed to cheerfully mail you the goods when I got them? You’ve got a shadow up here waiting for me to retrieve the bag, don’t you? I’m your last chance at the ice, and once I’ve got it, I’m dead.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Why did you call me, Larry? You needed to know that the key had actually arrived, didn’t you.”

Trudy Parr got up from the desk and locked her office door.

“You’re sending your boy up right now,” she said, “you sick fuck. You should know me better though, Larry. It’s your job to know better. I don’t die easy. Why didn’t you just have your man pick the lock?”

“I know you’re alone up there, Trudy. Dench is following up on a missing person case, and your secretary’s off with a cold. That’s why you answered your own phone.”

“That will be thirty-five cents for the next….” — the third voice again.

“Fuck!” – the sound of coins dropping and bells chiming.

Suddenly there was a sound in the outer office, a door opening and closing. Trudy Parr listened. The Agent stepped into the reception area, appreciating the well kept Art Deco surroundings.

“You still there, Trudy?” said Flannigan.

She didn’t answer Flannigan. She listened.

“He’s there, isn’t he?” Flannigan said. “So, it’s too late for dealing. Make it easy on yourself, Trudy. He’s a good man. His name is Malcolm Corey. He’s a family man, goes to church every Sunday. He’ll shoot you clean in the heart, no strangling, no rape, no torture. One bullet, I promise. CIA agents are a new breed, respectful, sane, squeaky clean. They’re sharp, though. He’s been briefed on you. That straight razor shit ain’t gonna work on him.”

Trudy Parr pulled a .45 and clip out of her desk. She put down the receiver and loaded the pistol, and picked up the receiver again.

“Did I just hear you loading a gun, Trudy?” Flannigan said.

“Damn straight.”

“Well now you’re just being wilful. This is why I hate the whole idea of lady spies.”

“Wrong again, Larry. I ain’t no lady, and I’m not a spy anymore. I’m just a citizen who enjoys protecting herself.”

The doorknob turned slightly.

“I’m putting the receiver down now, Larry. I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Ahh, Trudy, this is so unnecessary….”

Trudy Parr’s name was painted neatly across a frosted window in the upper half of her office door. The Agent was crouching low beside it, not in front, trying the doorknob. Locked, a small obstacle, but it meant a silent kill might be out of the question. He pulled his revolver.

From behind her desk, she guessed at the Agent’s approximate location, took aim and squeezed the trigger. She fired three times, the bullets flying through the wall above the crouching Agent’s head.

She listened for a body falling to the floor, but the gun fire was deafening. The kill was unconfirmed.

She knew that if he was still alive, in a second, the door would come crashing in. She reached under her desk. There was a straight razor there; there was always a straight razor there, held in place with two strips of masking tape. She pulled it free and, lacking a better place, secured it under her dress in the top of her stocking.

Then she saw the Agent’s silhouette through the frosted glass The door came crashing in, and she took refuge behind her desk heavy oak desk.

He was in her office now, silent but moving. She’d been trained this way, too. Never be still. Never stop listening. Use your instincts. Feel the room and its hidden target on your skin. Given a choice, a man will instinctively move to the left when he enters a room, a woman to the right. Don’t count on it, however, when dealing with a trained assassin. He may move neither left nor right, but in a straight line, over obstructions as best he can. Listen for his breath, his clothing, moving on his body, his body against the walls, the drapes. Listen for footfalls, the floorboards.

She did that now, and heard all of those things. It was like radar. Then, a familiar creak in the hardwood to her left. But the Agent heard it too, beneath his foot, and he fell and rolled left, all the time aiming in Trudy Parr’s general direction.

She crawled left also, to the other end of the desk. Timing was everything now. She grabbed the wastepaper basket and threw it over the desktop. The Agent was on his knees, saw the basket and fired. He reproached himself immediately, as Trudy Parr thought he might. It was the error of a novice. Now she had only a split second. She struggled to her knees, firing twice at the Agent over the desk. The first shot went wide, the second hit the mark. The Agent spun backward, onto the floor.

She ducked back behind the desk. It was quiet now. The post gunfight quiet she always found disconcerting. It meant someone was dead, or dying. She stood up, maintaining her aim. But blood pooled round the Agent’s body on the Persian rug. A good sign, the living don’t bleed like that.

Cautiously, she stepped toward him, kicking his revolver away. Then she knelt next to the body, feeling the neck for a pulse. The pulse of a dying man could be very hard to detect. Did she feel something there, some beat of life? She decided to back off. It was the wrong time for conjecture. She’d call the cops, and watch him until they arrived.

Standing, she turned toward her desk telephone. She’d have to hang up on Flannigan, but that didn’t happen. The Agent grasped her ankle. She looked down and saw he’d pulled a knife, and moved her foot enough for it to miss by less than an inch. His grip remained strong, in spite of his condition. Trudy Parr kicked him in the face with her free foot. He recovered quickly and reached up, grasping her dress and pulling her down. When she hit the floor, she released the .45 and it spun out of reach.

“Fucking bitch,” the Agent hissed, swinging his knife, cutting her cheek.

Her eyes narrowed as her hand went to the wound. She took it away and saw blood.

“Not so pretty anymore,” he said, and swung the knife a second time.

This time he missed and loosened his grip on her ankle. She pulled herself away and scrambled for the gun. But he grabbed her ankle again and pulled her back. In seconds, with the macabre strength and agility of a rapidly dying man, he had an arm around her and the knife to her throat.

“We die together then,” he said, tightening his hold. “Go ahead and struggle. I like that.”

Trudy Parr felt the keenness of the blade on her throat, and knew she may have lost the last fight of her life. But then her hand fell onto the razor in her stocking. She reached under her dress and pulled it out, giving it a shake to release the blade from the handle. Then she sliced the strong arm holding her against the Agent’s fading body.

“Fucking bitch,” he yelp as the razor cut in.

She’d escaped, but the Agent lunged toward her once more, and she swung the razor as he did. Aiming well, she opened his throat. The wound went deep. He grabbed at the gash that bubbled as the blood spilled. There was a peculiar look in his eyes. She’d seen it before. He wasn’t used to loosing to a woman.

Trudy Parr stood up again and looked down at him. Soon, he’d most certainly be among the confirmed dead. But she lamented the loss of the Persian rug, upon which he bled.

After a moment, she heard what sounded like frantic whispering and picked up the telephone receiver.

“You still there Larry, you bum?”

“Where’s my fucking agent?”

“He’s bleeding to death on my 600 knots per square inch Persian, you bastard.”

“You killed an American, you bitch,” Flannigan said. “We’re coming for you.”

“Go ahead, send in the Marines,” Trudy Parr said, picking up the locker key. “I’ve gotta get down to the train station.”

where clocks rein time part 1

read part 2, read part 3, read part 3.1, read part 4
_
_________________________________________________

…a dream.

Imagine lingering above a sea of fedoras and shoe leather moving in waves across the open expanse of Gare du Nord. A grand ballet. Paris. 6.00 pm, 1943.  Silent except for the snap of a paper match striking, and the quiet sizzle of a newly lighted tailor-made. Then a face looks up from the mass, and he sees you. You recognise him. Target and predator. He smiles at you from down there. His face is paper white beneath the brim of his brown hat. His eyes are all pupil. Black. And when he smiles, he exposes the yellow sabre teeth of a carnivore. You fight to breath.

Trudy Parr woke from the dream, perspiring. She says the name: Orav. Reaching for the nightstand, she retrieves a pack of Black Cat cigarettes. It’s dark. It’s 2.45 a.m. “What the hell do you want now,” she whispers. From somewhere distant, he whispers back: “You have something of mine, I think.” “Fuck off,” whispers Trudy Parr.  Then there’s laughter like the hiss of steam. Paris returning in evil little nightmares.

***

Vancouver, 1949

A man wearing a hat and trench coat walks down West Hastings near Cambie, smoking a French cigarette. It’s 10:30 a.m., wet and grey. Though he carries no weapon, he does carry a private investigators license for the province of British Columbia. The name on the license, typewritten in fuzzy courier script, is Crispin Dench. The license describes Dench as male, born in 1911, five foot eleven inches tall with light brown hair and green eyes, weighing 180lbs.

At the door of the Dominion Building, he ducks in under an awning and removes his hat. Then he looks over his shoulder at the cenotaph in Victory Square across the street. “Here’s to Victory,” he says under his breath and flicks the remains of his cigarette into the gutter. He walks inside. On the fifteenth floor are the offices of The Dench & Parr Agency.

“Good morning, Gladys,” Crispin Dench says to his secretary as he enters his office. “Wadda ya know?”

“That crumb Worthy Morgan called,” Gladys says. “And so did Lieutenant Egon. Messages on your desk. Here’s your mail. I’m going out for a doughnut and some fresh air.”

“Any coffee made?” says Dench.

“On the burner,” Gladys says putting on her coat.  “Fresh ten minutes ago. Miss Parr was in, and now she ain’t. Said she’s made some headway on the Schneider case. She didn’t say what. She seemed a little tense, but you know she don’t talk much. That’s all I got to tell you. Oh and it’s payday, Mr Dench.”

Dench pulls an envelope from his suit jacket pocket and hands it over. Gladys takes it, turns and goes for the door. “Back in twenty minutes, boss. Try not to burn the joint down.”

“I’ll try not to.”

In his office, Dench sits in a swivel chair, turning his back to his desk and looking out the window. The rain keeps coming. Cambie Street is black and slick. He sees the cenotaph again. Memories creep like insects. Moments and events that repeat like a 78 skipping on a turntable. The phone rings.

“Dench & Parr Agency, Crispin Dench speaking.”

“Where the hell you been, Dench?” says Worthy Morgan, City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. “I got a goddam deadline.”

“Ham and eggs at the Ovaltine, Worthy. I was reading your rag, lost in its eloquence. What’s rattlin’?”

“That shindig last night down Shanghai Alley,” Morgan says. “We sent a reporter down, but he couldn’t get past the police line. Now no one’s talking. My reporter said he saw you behind the line conversing with Egon.  So spill. My reporter says he could see a body under a tarp. You were standing right next to it. What was it, murder?”

“There was a tarp,” Dench says. “And a body. That’s all I know. Let the cops do their job. They’ll brief you piranhas later this morning.”

“Had to be a murder,” Worthy Morgan says. “No one in that neighbourhood dies of natural causes. And why were you there? You’re just a civilian where the cops are concerned. You’re involved somehow, right?”

“You missed a typo,” says Dench, picking up a fresh copy of the Sun from his stack of mail. “I caught it as I ate my sunny-sides. You guys crack me up. The Op-Ed piece on page ten. According to Virgil Hathaway, ‘When it comes to the reform of City Hall, there are no scared cows.’ Shouldn’t that read sacred cows, or is that what you really meant?”

“Fuck Virgil Hathaway. He’s an overpaid hack. C’mon, be a pal. Tell me about Shanghai Alley.”

“Since when are we pals,” Dench says. “Wasn’t it the Vancouver Sun that described Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr as the two greatest menaces to the city’s peace and safety since the 1886 fire? Wasn’t it Virgil Hathaway himself who called Trudy a psychotic, straight razor wielding trollop who should be either married off or imprisoned?”

“He wasn’t far off.”

“Look Morgan, why don’t you just be a good little editor and send a man down to 312 Main Street for the morning brief.” Dench hangs up and smiles. Worthy Morgan would be having a sacred cow about now.

Then he thinks about Shanghai Alley.

5.45 a.m. A dim, yellow flame from a wooden match partially illuminating the scene. The right hand of the corpse lay open on the alley’s tar and gravel surface. Then the headlights of a black police Ford lights everything up. The passenger door opens before it stops, and an obese man steps out. He has salt and pepper hair, and wears a poorly fitted trench coat. It’s Detective Lieutenant Egon of the Vancouver Police Department.

“Well, looky here,” says Egon. Other police cars arrive behind him. “You know, Dench, I look forward to the day when you don’t arrive at a crime scene before me.”

“I called it in, and I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for you characters to show up.”

“Your call broke up a damn fine poker game, Dench. One or two of these fine officers left the back of Josie’s down a considerable amount of money. You’re lucky we showed at all.” Looking down at the tarp over the corpse, Egon says: “What’s this heap?”

“I’ve been shadowing this citizen for a week and a half now. His wife says he’s been stepping out behind her back. This isn’t how I expected the investigation to end.”

“How did you expect it to end,” says Egon crouching over the body.

“His name was Robert Owens. This gig was strictly observe and report, Egon. Only, it was starting to last way too long without the usual results. I was going to give the missus her deposit back the other day and cancel the contract, but he kept showing up in some very intriguing places.”

“Like dead in an alley,” says Egon.

“Like dead in an alley,” says Dench, kneeling next to the body. “But maybe you should take a closer look. I think he may be the third in a series.”

By now the scene is populated with patrolmen drinking coffee from thermos bottles and plainclothes men reading racing forms, sipping from hip flasks. Egon goes to his car and pulls out a flashlight. He crouches down and lifts a corner of the tarp.

“You lay the tarp?” Egon says

“Yeah,” Dench says. “The least I could do. Shine a light over there on the right side of the neck,”

Egon shines the light and is repulsed. “Lord, what a mess.” He holds his free hand to his mouth like he might be sick. The wound in Robert Owens’ neck exposes tendons, veins and arteries, along with a torn section of oesophagus.

“A big chunk of the throat and neck torn out,” Dench says. “And not a drop of blood on the ground. It’s the third like this since August, no?”

“Drained of blood,” Egon says. “He should be swimming in it.  The killing took place elsewhere; the body was moved here by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Similar to the others.”

Dench looks Egon in the eye and says, “You’re so full of shit. There may be no blood on the ground around the body, but there’s plenty on the wall.” Dench points to the area around the back entrance of a laundry a few feet away. It’s splattered with dried blood, black in the low yellow light. “Just like the others,” he says. “Owens was killed right here. Just match the blood on the wall to his.”

“That stain on the wall don’t represent all the blood a man’s got in his body. Where’s the rest? Why didn’t he bleed out on the ground?”

“You’re the police detective, so detect. But if it’s what I think it is….”

“It ain’t what you think it is, Dench. Ain’t no way. Fucking cannibals,” Egon mutters. “I’m starting to hate this town.”

“And then there’s that other item on the other side of the doorway,” Dench says. “That little bit of graffiti written in blood. That was at the other two killings, too.”

Egon looks up and shines his flashlight on the wall. Next to the blood splatter is a simple drawing familiar to World War 2 allied troops. The big eyes and nose of a cartoon character looking over a wall. Killroy was here.

“Don’t mean shit,” Egon says. “Just some back alley graffiti.”

“It’s a signature,” Dench says. “It was at the locations of the other two murders.”

“How would you know all this, anyway?”

“I can drop a sawbuck at the foot of a hungry cop, same as the next guy.”

“Well did your hungry cop tell you that the other two were found in back alleys, as well? Back alleys have graffiti.”

Dench lights a Gitanes and says, “Written in blood? I tried to tell you this after the first and second kills. Killroy is significant. It goes back to Paris, 1943. When Trudy and I were there. There were eleven known killings exactly like this. Same modus operandi. It never made the papers because the Nazi’s wouldn’t allow it. Very few knew about the Paris murders, so this can’t be copycat. We finally tracked the killer down but….”

As Dench speaks, Egon signals for a uniform. “…but Paris was lousy with Nazis,” Egon says, finishing Dench’s sentence. “You were distracted, is that it? Why didn’t you just let the fatal Miss Parr take care of this Paris bad guy?”

“We came close. He was singling out resistance operatives, so snuffing him was a priority. But he was being protected. He was Gestapo. And at the scene of every kill, we found the same graffiti signature, Killroy was here. Like he was mocking us. And there’s more, Egon. Important details you need to know. I mean, this guy isn’t even human.”

A uniform police officer arrives at Egon’s side. “Escort Mr Dench off of the crime scene,” Egon says.

“But I called it in,” says Dench. “I’m a witness and a suspect. You’ve got to at least question me.”

“Don’t tell me my job, Dench.”

“Fine, I’ve got a business to run. But just one thing.”

“What?”

“If this really is the freak Trudy and I dealt with in Paris, he’s probably watching us right now.”

“From where?”

Dench looks up at the darkened windows in the stories above, then to either end of the alley. “From somewhere nearby,” he says. “Point in any direction. But I guarantee you this: Wherever he is, he’s laughing like hell.”

“Get Sherlock the hell out of here,” Egon says, and the uniform gives Dench a nod. Despite the rain, it’s getting lighter.

Back in his office now, Dench gives his head a gentle shake. He’s given Killroy enough mental energy.

He turns around from the window to his desk and sees her there. Sitting across from him. She got into his office and sat down without a sound. Pure Trudy Parr. She’s pale, wearing a blue dress. She looks tired, afraid maybe. But Dench can’t remember Trudy ever really looking afraid.

“Gotta tie a bell round your neck,” he says.

“I dreamed about Orav last night,” says Trudy.

“Killroy.”

“Yeah, like he was just dropping in to let me know he’s in town.”

“I think maybe he is.”

“That Shanghai Alley caper?”

“You heard?”

“Worthy Morgan,” Trudy says, “looking for a scoop. Called me at home. Thinks we’re both awake 24 hours a day working to supply him with copy.” Taking a package of Black Cats from her purse, Trudy says, “I guess the Owens case is closed.”

“Closed or maybe just different. I think Owens is the third of three.”

“Killroy was here?”

“At each scene. Egon’s pretending he ain’t biting, though. He’s making like he doesn’t get the connection.”

“No blood except the wall splatter and the graffiti?”

“Yeah. Egon’s settling for the same bad assumptions they made in Paris. That the body had bled out elsewhere. That it had been moved. But the splatter on the wall makes that a lie.”

“So, we wait for number four?”

“There could already be a number four,” Dench says. “As I recall, Orav’s a fast customer.”

“Wasn’t Owens just a fidelity case?” Trudy says. “His philandering days are over now, for good. Let’s just collect a fee and move on.”

“I followed Robert Owens for a week, Trudy. I never once caught him stepping out with another woman.”

“Maybe he went in for loggers, plenty of them in this burgh.”

“His prolonged absences gave his wife the idea he had something on the side. But the place he went mostly, when he wasn’t at work or at home, was a big old house up in Shaughnessy. He was there an awful lot, like it was a club or something. The wife told me he wouldn’t talk about it. He’d just clam up.”

“Lipstick on his collar?”

“Nah, but she said he sometimes smelled like….”

“Perfume, cologne?”

“Nah, she found it hard to describe. I think she really wanted it to be perfume; it would have explained a lot. But when I pressed her on it, she said it was more like incense.”

“They Catholic?”

“Methodist.”

“Then it’s gotta be Orav,” Trudy says.

“Yeah, maybe,” says Dench.

“Or maybe the old house in Shaughnessy’s a cathouse.”

“No. It’s Shaughnessy, after all. Besides, there was hardly any traffic. Never more than a few lights on. No noise. Just a few well dressed, middle aged men walking in and out late at night. In a week I counted five, including Owens.” Crispin Dench pauses and momentarily looks away.

“And what else, Crispin? Spit it out.”

“I went into the yard once during the day, and walked around the house. I looked in the front window from the porch.”

“And,” says Trudy. “C’mon, you’re starting to piss me off.”

Dench looks down at his hands. “There was an altar to Eris.”

A few seconds of silence. It seems longer. Trudy Parr no longer looks afraid.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before, Crispin?”

“I wanted to be certain.”

“Certain,” Trudy says.

“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”

“You sure now, mister?”

“Pretty much.”

“Orav said he’d follow us,” says Trudy, “that he’d get us,”

“Seems he didn’t lie,” Dench says. “What now?”

“He thinks he’s indestructible,” Trudy says. “We almost proved him wrong once. He’s got a hate on for me. I know that much.”

“You almost took his head off, Trudy. He didn’t expect that from a little blonde in a Chanel dress.”

“Well then here’s what we do,” Trudy says. “We find him and we bury him. Deep.”

“We tried that once.”

“He was a Gestapo Superintendent in Nazi occupied Paris,” Trudy says. “He held all the cards. And then the war ended.”

“Well if he’s here,” Dench says, sitting up and straightening his tie, “we’ll have to get him before he gets us. We never missed a single target during the whole goddam war, except once. And now he’s in our wasteland.”

“Our wasteland,” Trudy says.

“You know,” Dench says. “Egon said something interesting this morning over the body. He said, ‘Fucking cannibals.’”

Trudy Parr bites the cork end off of a Black Cat and lights it. Then she says, “My, my. That is interesting.”

from dreams of Saint Michael part 1

Forward

Subject: Natalie C.

The following is an excerpt from the journal of patient Natalie C, given to this office by her estate.

The journal was retrieved from the patient’s burned out apartment. The human remains found in the apartment have been identified, through use of dental records, as those of the patient, Natalie C. Surprisingly, the journal was the only retrievable item left after the fire gutted the apartment. It is singed around the edges, but is nonetheless intact and very readable.

The instructions on the first page of the recovered journal state that, in the event of Natalie C’s demise, it should be given to this office.

Natalie C. was a reluctant patient, pressured to see me by her family. I recommended that she begin therapeutic journalling as a way of recording troubling dreams that seemed to have invaded her waking life.

I had concluded that the patient was living through a transient psychosis. I came to this conclusion based on the suddenness of onset; the presence of typical schizophrenic symptoms; and the presence of associated acute stress. The introduction of an atypical antipsychotic was indicated but never implemented due to the patient’s lack of compliance.

Dr Herman Wallace
January 23, 2013

* * *

What follows has been taken from the journal of Natalie C.

People will not believe me, but all I write here is true. And, Dr Wallace, I am not insane. There is no poison in my brain. Perhaps it’s you who requires a therapeutic intervention, as you appear so incapable of believing that I may indeed be experiencing all that I say I am. Please let this journal stand as proof of my experience.

October 2, 2012

Every city has its doppelgänger, existing on a parallel map. And who is to say which is the doppelgänger and which is the authentic city? Certainly not the citizens of either, each of them living their lives unconscious of their double. Each moving as the other does, but only slightly differently. Each living faintly divergent parallel realities; one gazing into a mirror with regret mere seconds before or after the other. But sometimes there is a greater divergence, with more than mere seconds separating their actions.

It may only be in our dreams that we are aware of this nearly duplicate world, and once we are awake we deny its existence. Perhaps that is why we suffer our separate solitudes.

October 3, 2012

The window above my head rattled in a violent wind and I sat up in my bed, my dream interrupted. St Michael had been standing there again, in my dream, dressed in the style of a Dashiell Hammett detective and smoking a cigarette. I was there too, next to him, wearing an elegant overcoat, but my eyes were brighter and my red lipstick stood out against the foggy sepia of a nineteen forties Vancouver street. We stood under a streetlamp. I knew he was St Michael in the way that all is known in a dream.

“You again,” I said to him, trying to sound tough.

“That’s right, doll.”

“You’re trailing me.”

“Nah,” he said. “You’re just showing up in all the right places.”

“Either way, I’m not sure I like being in the company of an archangel. You fellas have a way of flying off the handle.” I was lying.

“Only when it counts.”

“Well, I’ve been dodging you for days now. What counts with me?”

“Just a question I’ve got,” he said. “Something I need to ask.”

“Oh?” I spoke softer then, stepping closer to him and smoothing the lapel of his coat with my hand. It was an intimate gesture, our eyes meeting, with me hoping to see a longing like mine, but instead seeing violence and catastrophe. A savage scene. Angels falling from Heaven into a molten core of iron. My hand shook slightly and I tried to smile, but failed. “You got a cigarette?” I said.

“Sure.” He took a package from his pocket and offered me one. I took it. He lit it with a wooden match.

“You’ve got a lot going on under the surface, mister,” I said, flame and doomed angels in his eyes.

He said nothing.

“So, what’s this question you need to ask?”

“Just this,” he said. And that was when the window rattled and I woke from the dream.

It was 3:08 a.m. I made tea and read a book. It was raining outside and the wind blew in hard off the Pacific. There was the sound of a siren. It stopped abruptly a few blocks away. Someone in trouble. I turned a page. Then it was quiet, in the way an apartment building can be completely quiet when only a few of its tenants sit awake, still and alone.

October 3, 2012

I boarded the number 5 Downtown bus on Denman Street at 7:30 a.m., and rode up Robson to my office in the financial district. At 1:00 p.m. I took lunch, sitting in a café on Melville Street, watching civilization through the window. And saw him again. He was standing across the street, leaning against a lamppost smoking a cigarette. The brim of his hat low over his eyes.

I paid my cheque, then made my way out onto the street. He was still there, unmoving, on the opposite side. He looked up and saw me crossing, and snuffed out his cigarette beneath a polished brogue. Then he vanished, slowly.

“Dream of me,” I heard him whisper.

October 3, 2012 – Later

There are things other than archangels in a person’s life. There are necessities and desires. There are work and commitments.

I spent the early evening with friends, over dinner and wine. We went to a galley opening later. Paintings by a newly popular contemporary artist, one from the east end of the city. One picture caught my eye. I stood looking at it for a long time. Acrylic on canvas. Angels flying grim-faced over the Land of Oz, each with a handgun. Each firing their weapons at four helpless figures below on a yellow brick road. Its title was God’s Work. I examined each of the angels but he wasn’t there.

October 4, 2012

I dreamed of him again last night. In an office this time. I could tell from the view that we were several floors up. He sat at a desk wearing an automatic in a shoulder holster, the foggy harbour visible through the window behind him. A calendar was open to October, 1949. The wall clock said 12:15. It was night. The harbour lights haloed yellow in the fog, steamships on the water.

I sat opposite him, the desk between us. He wore a white shirt, top button opened, sleeves rolled up and a large tattoo of a sacred heart wreathed in thorns on his left forearm. His tie was blue. He had his hat on but it’d been pushed back to reveal a broad smooth forehead and thick brown hair. My eyes searched his once more, looking for warmth, but I found none. They were blue, I realised for the first time. Not really cold, I thought. Valour and tragedy. He was someone’s strongman, sent to perform tasks that for others would have been impossible or undignified.

“There’s a customer up the road,” he said, leaning back in his swivel chair. “Some rich guy with an office in the Marine Building.”

“And?” I said.

“And sometimes a fella in my business needs a partner, someone to confirm his suspicions.”

“You think that’s me?”

“You’ll do in a pinch,” he said, almost smiling.

“Are you in a pinch?”

“Nah. But if I was, you might just be the dame to pull me out.”

“That’s fine, but what’s a girl call a saint when he’s playing the shamus on the prowl?”

“This ain’t playin’, doll; this is for real. And you can 86 the saint malarkey. They just call me Michael. Close associates call me Mick.”

“Well whatever it is you need, Mick,” I said, “you can count me in.”

“I already have,” he said, taking something from a drawer and sliding it across the desktop.

“What’s this?”

“It might help in a scrape.”

I looked at the ugly iron item, a hard cold sub-nosed .38 revolver.

“Loaded?” I said.

“Put it in your bag,” he said, “just in case.”

“So,” I said, “is this the question you were so hot to ask me the other night?”

“I guess it is.”

“What’s the dope on the rich customer in the Marine Building?”

“Someone tells me he’s got a wife with mutable morals. Wants me to watch her for a while and compile some data.”

“You don’t think you’re a little over qualified for a job like that?”

“You don’t know the guy.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Right now,” he said, “all you need to know is that the obvious is usually a distraction.”

“Then I’m easily distracted.”

“Anyway,” Mick said, “he’s working late and wants to fill us in.”

He stood up and put on his overcoat. “Let’s go. I’m parked on Hastings.”

We drove west on Hastings, parked on Burrard Street and entered the Marine Building through a revolving door. Stepping off of the elevator on the twentieth floor, we entered the offices of Mr Martyn Drache, Attorney at Law. A man in a black suit greeted us.

“Hello,” said the suit. “You must be the private investigator.”

“I am,” Mick said.

“And who is this?”

“My partner,” said Mick.

“Yours is the only name in the appointment book.”

“Look, partner,” Mick said, “it’s nearly 1:00 a.m. I charge double this time of night and the meter’s running.”

“Okay,” said the man in the black suit. “But you must surrender all weapons before entering Mr Drache’s office.”

“Like hell,” said Mick, and the black suited smiled as a voice came over the intercom.

“That’s fine, William,” came a voice. “Send Mick and his partner in just as they are. I have an idea that the .45 under his arm is the least of his lethal weapons.”

William escorted us in to Drache’s office. It was a prewar Art Deco masterpiece with a view of the dark ocean. Drache was older, corpulent and balding, and wore a dark pinstripe. His pale doughy face glistened in the low light and he had the dilated pupils of a dope fiend.

“Please take a seat,” he said with a wave of his hand. “Can my man William get you anything, a drink perhaps?”

I too my cue from Mick. He said no, and so did I.

“Let’s get to it, Drache,” Mick said. “What’s all this about your wife?”

“Right to business, eh Mick,” said Drache. “I like that. But I must say that I have you here under false pretenses.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, you see I’m not a married man at all.”

“No?” Mick said.

“No,” said Drache. “No, but I must admit that upon hearing of your presence in the city, I rushed to invite you here. We’ve encountered one another before in the past, have we not? I thought a fidelity case might be up your alley at the moment, so I had William give you a jingle and wave one under your nose.”

“Funny,” said Mick, “I don’t recall your face.”

“Well, I am a man of many moods.”

“How enigmatic,” Mick said.

“Just so,” said Drache. “But don’t we both have that in common?”

“I don’t think we have one damn thing in common, Drache. And unless you’re about to drop some paid work in my lap, I think I’d better get on my way.”

“Not so fast, my boy,” Drache said holding up a halting hand. “Allow me to ask you something. Do you think that a man on his rise to some grand but intangible pinnacle, wanting to take the world by storm, can start first by influencing a small city of men?”

“I don’t know,” Mick said. “But I’ve never believed in giving a sucker an even break. Is that what you’re on about?”

“Well put, Mick. It might be what I’m on about. And this might be my city of suckers.”

“Then have at ‘em. You don’t need me for that.”

“Oh,” Drache said, “but you’re being disingenuous, Mick. You know very well that I don’t need your help in any conventional way. I just need you not to interfere. And for that I’m willing to pay a very high price. A very high price, indeed.”

“If what you’re up to is kosher and within the law,” Mick said, “then go to it. If it ain’t, then it’s up to the cops to find you out. I’m just a private businessman trying to make a living.”

Now the mood in the room changed. Drache showed his teeth and seemed to grow larger. He slammed a fist down on his desk and hissed, “Enough with this deception. It’s beneath you and it’s an insult to me. You are the Leader of God’s Army of Angels. You’ve been a plague upon me and the others you cast out for an eternity. But now, with the whole world of man at stake, will you stand down and witness my rise or will you cause the spark of Armageddon?”

“Those my only choices?” Mick said coolly.

“You know they are.”

“Then I choose to go home and get some shuteye.”

I turned and looked at Mick – Michael. I couldn’t believe his casual answer.

“That’s a very unsatisfying response, Michael,” Drache said.

“Yeah well, life is hard and then you go to hell,” said Mick.

He stood and took me by the hand and we left Drache’s office and the building. A street sweeper manoeuvred round Mick’s car as we approached it. I was uncomfortable with his silence.

“You don’t have anything else to say?” I said.

“It’s all been said before.”

“But what now?”

October 5, 2012

I awoke to the phone ringing. It was 6:17 a.m.

I answered, “Hello?”

“Pleasant dreams?”

“Michael.”

“That Drache fella sure was a crumb, eh?”

“Who was he?”

“Just a lingering odour.”

“He scares me.”

“He’s a bully, doll. The kind that figures he’s invincible ‘cause he picks on little guys. But one way or another, he keeps getting his ass kicked.”

“Where are you?”

“Downtown.”

“No, I mean are you here in 2012 or there in 1949?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“But….”

He rang off.

Popeye dreams

You remember that guy, Vlad Oswald? He lived in that room in the Roosevelt Hotel over the Ladies & Escorts entrance for about twenty years. Until he inherited the Oswald Bitulithic fortune. But that’s another story. The far more interesting story about Vlad Oswald has to do with his Popeye dreams.  He only had two, but it kinda went like this.

In the first dream, he’s in this really high end restaurant, all chandeliers and flash. And he’s sitting at a table with Popeye the Sailor Man, swear to God. Popeye’s working on this huge lobster with a pair of lobster crackers, and he’s shovelling the lobster meat into his pie hole while this gypsy-looking sort of character plays the violin next to the table. Vlad Oswald looks down at his plate and sees he’s got a lobster, too, but he ain’t hungry for some reason. This is surprising, even to him, because you remember what a lunchbox ol’ Vlad was.

Finally, Popeye puts the last little morsel of lobster into his mouth, and sits back with this big grin on his face.

“That was delishkis,” he says.

Then he grabs a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket and he chugs the whole thing, just like that. When he’s done, he belches loudly. Vlad’s starting to wonder if this is the start of a nightmare. Now Popeye throws the empty champagne bottle across the room, turns and looks hard into Vlad’s eyes and says, “Invesk everyting ya gots in Coke. Calls yer couskin Elmer Warchuck tomorra, and tells him yer wririn’ him da cash. Tells him to puts it all on Coca-Cola.”

Then Olive Oyl sashays into the dream wearing this black leather corset, fishnet stockings and spike heel boots. She grabs Popeye by the ear and says, “Time to go, big fella.”

And that was it. Vlad Oswald wakes up and it’s 7.30 a.m., blurry eyed and needing a shave.

Now everybody knew that Vlad Oswald was a little nuts. Real lower lunar orbit, what with the voices and all. So, when he calls his cousin Elmer Warchuck, who’s a stockbroker in Winnipeg, to tell him that he wants to put $500 on Coca Cola, Elmer says, “No way.”

This was 1949, after all. Coke was safe, but not a climber. It paid only slighter better than a savings account. Elmer tells Vlad to put all his dough into plastics instead. Which would be the right thing to do for a conventional thinker like Elmer, but not for Vlad?

Vlad says, “Hey, I had this dream where Popeye the Sailor Man tells me to invest everything in Coke. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Well, here’s where Elmer loses it over the long distance line. “In a dream?” he says. “Popeye tells you to invest in Coke? And so now you’re going to do it?”

Elmer refuses to do the deal. He tells Vlad to go check out his local soup line. He says that every one of them bums in that soup line is someone who invested in a dream. But you remember how Vlad Oswald could get. He insists and wears Elmer down. Finally, Elmer says fine. And when Vlad’s cash arrives via Canadian Pacific wire two days later, Elmer makes the investment.

So, here’s the part that almost no one knew at the time because the Coca Cola Bottling Company was keeping it real secret. They were in negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1949. The Soviets were this close to opening up their market to Coke. It would be the bringing together of two evil empires. A softening of relations. Market dominos would be tumbling in favour of Coke and western merchandisers for years, or even decades, to come. Did the Popeye in Vlad’s dream know this? Who can say? But a week after Elmer put Vlad’s $500 on Coke, Coca Cola announced what it intended to do in Russia.

Shares in Coca Cola went into the stratosphere. Brokers, like Elmer, were caught with their pants down. They were pouring their clients’ cash into munitions, shipyards, transportation and plastics. They stood there flatfooted and watched slack-jawed as Coke rose through the ceiling.  Then they jumped on the band wagon, and transferred hundreds of millions in investment capital.

Meanwhile, Vlad is also watching. His investment doubles, then triples, then quadruples; it just keeps going up. Three weeks after Elmer Warchuck bought the stock, Vlad Oswald’s $500 has turned into $100,000. He calls up Elmer and asks what to do. Should he pull out? Reinvest? But Elmer says to stick with it, kid. Coke and the Soviets are only talking, and look at the result. Just wait until Coke actually gets in, and these Bolsheviks bastards get a sip of that icy cold refreshment.  It’ll pull Communism down round the Supreme Soviet’s ears faster than an H-Bomb over Moscow on a Saturday night. Okay, says Vladimir. He’s no financial guru. Elmer’s all he’s got.

That night, Vlad gets into the sauce. Kinda to celebrate. He buys a big jug of Seagram’s, and heads up to his room with that Natalie Lucarino broad that used to hang out in front of the Roosevelt fishing for loggers and servicemen. She knows Vlad goes off mental sometimes, and she feels sorry for him. So, she charges him a little less for her company. It’s like a friends and family discount, sort of. She’s also aware of this weird rumour going round that Vlad’s about to come into some cash.

Anyway, they’re up in his room over the Ladies & Escort entrance, listening to the radio. They even have a dance or two when the music’s right, real sweet. But at some point, Natalie gulps back one too many shots of rye, and starts to go berserk. She sticks her head out the window and starts yelling obscenities at the dames going in and out of the Ladies & Escort entrance. This, of course, attracts the cops who head up to Vlad’s room to extricate the offending Natalie Lucarino.

When the cops bang on the door, Natalie Lucarino panics and drunkenly jumps out of the window. Of course, Vlad’s room is just on the second floor so Natalie only breaks her right ankle and the heel of her left shoe. She goes to the hospital, and Vlad Oswald is thrown in jail for the night for disturbing the peace.

Now the Vancouver lock-up is locally famous for a lot of things, but two things stand out for me and a lot of other mooks who’ve been compelled to spend time there. First is the food, which is inedible crap by anybody’s standards. They even mix the coffee with the tea, like that’s a real joke. Har dee har. The other thing is that the bunks are all metal, and they give you this thin mattress sort of thing, but no blanket. You can either lie on top of this thin crappy mattress, or use it as blanket. Either way, you freeze. It’s all supposed to dissuade you from wanting to come  back, and it works.

So, there’s Vlad in a cell with no belt or shoe laces and his thin crappy mattress. He’s so tanked that he lies down on a metal bunk, and lets the mattress fall onto the floor. In a second, he’s asleep. Snoring like a buzz saw. And guess who shows up in his dreams. That’s right, Popeye the Sailor Man.

Popeye says, “Time ta gets outta Coke, Vlad, me hearty. Takes the money and run.”

Then Popeye opens a copy of The Anarchist by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and begins to read. And that was it. Vlad wakes to a jail guard banging a tin cup on the bunk frame. And after a breakfast of watered toast and coffee mixed with tea, Vlad is off to find a phone.

“Sell!” Elmer hears Vlad say long distance from Vancouver. “Sell it all, and wire me the dough.”

“No, no, no,” says Elmer. “Skinny has it that Coke’s about to make a deal. You gotta trust me on this one, Vlad. My info is solid gold.”

“Nah,” replies Vlad. “Popeye says sell.”

“Popeye again,” says Elmer. “You’re killin’ me.”

“Just sell and take your cut,” Vlad says, and hangs up.

Next day, Vlad picks up a wire transfer from the Canadian Pacific office in the amount of $130, 679, and puts it into the bank.

Later that day, Elmer reads the Business page of the Winnipeg Free Press. The Soviet Union decides to reject western capitalistic ideologies that criminally repress workers and unlawfully seize all means of production. Just like that, no Coke for Russia. Coke shares fall. People lose money. Clients are enraged. Elmer leaves town that night on a train headed east. No one ever found out where.

After Natalie Lucarino’s ankle healed, Vlad Oswald bought her a new pair of shoes and took her to Atlantic City by train. They gambled and drank away the entire $130, 679. After that, Natalie met a Marine Corps Sergeant on the boardwalk named Armand Nathaniel who, through sleight of hand, could pull silver dollars out of her left ear.

Vladimir hitched back to Vancouver alone where he went to work washing dishes at the Ovaltine Café on Hastings Street. When his Uncle Alowishus Oswald, owner of the Oswald Bitulithic fortune, died without an immediate heir, Vladimir inherited it all. But that’s another story.