the dirt

Vancouver, some time ago

Back in the war, Vincent ‘Vinny’ Bologna was the Don of the east end made boys. And he actually did some good work, raising money for the YMCA Military Service to run their tea cars over seas. But really, the guy was a major dick. I mean he was a rude farting-in-public, spitting-on-the-sidewalk, nose-picking-slob son of a bitch. And he was a bully, too. He liked to pick on dames and little kids. During the 1939 little league season, he stole every baseball in the city and packed them away in a warehouse that belonged to his brother in law. For a whole month, there wasn’t one goddam baseball in the whole city that wasn’t in that warehouse. The fat prick laughed ‘til he wet himself. It ruined the whole little league season. But Vinny Bologna ran the east Vancouver mob, so whatta you gonna do?

Anyways, it turns out that Vinny Bologna was big into having his fortune told. He based every business decision he made on what some broad in a dime store gypsy costume told him. He even said he knew when the war was gonna be over because this Roma dame with a glass eye named Elga Coal had told him. He never told no one the actual date, though, even if it would’ve been some first-class inside skinny for the Allies. And if things hadn’t changed, he probably wouldn’t have told a soul until the cessation of hostilities made the headlines. What an asshole.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I never had nothing against Elga Coal. She paid her taxes, and she relied on dimwit chumps like Bologna for her daily bread. One of the ways she sucked ‘em in was with this sign she had over her parlour door. It read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die. That really cut to the chase, and she knew it. The fact is, no one ever wants to know all the dirt, just the juicy bits that might give them a leg up.

And that was Vinny all over. Like this time a rival was running prostitutes down in Chinatown. The crumb doing it was some kingpin wanna-be named Tang Ho. He was Chinese and it was Chinatown, after all. But Chinatown was still part of the east end mob’s turf at the time, and Vinny Bologna had a right. So, he goes to Elga Coal to ask what he should do, and Elga says she sees a hearse proceeding down  Keefer Street. That was it, a hearse on Keefer. For that she gets $20 and a two buck tip. Vinny Bologna’s happy. He figures that since Keefer Street runs through Chinatown, the hearse must be the one that carries the future dead body of his rival, Tang Ho.

On Christmas Day 1940, Vinny Bologna sends a hit squad into the Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street. It’s Tang Ho’s hangout, where he holds court and counts his money. The hitters were Vinny’s cousin Antonio, his other cousin Sammy and a dark-hearted bastard named Tomaso ‘The Card’ Fontana. They called him The Card because he always flipped a card onto the bodies of his victims. It was like a business card that read: O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet. That’s from St Augustine, of course. But what it meant in regards to mass murder, no one knew. It was just that Tomaso ‘The Card’ got a charge out of it.

So, when they arrive, the hit squad opens up with Thompson submachine guns, and slays Mother Chang and twenty-seven of her mahjong playing customers. It’s a blood bath. I mean, the blood soaked right through the floor and fell like rain from the ceiling of the tea shop below. The only survivor was a sixteen year old girl, who played dead in a corner. The murders and the blood raining down from the ceiling below were considered bad juju, and the whole joint needed to be torn down and rebuilt to get rid of the ghosts. That really pissed Tang Ho off.

Thing was, though, Tang Ho wasn’t at the Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour on Christmas Day 1940. He was flying the Clipper down to Panama to visit with his brother Melvin who ran a couple of hotels in Panama City, and controlled a big chunk of the Central American cocaine trade. Tang Ho had mules running coke into Vancouver 365 days a year, so it was like a business trip over the festive season. Long story short, Antonio, Sammy and Tomaso ‘The Card’ missed their primary target. There never was a hearse on Keefer Street, at least not then. The procession of hearses that carried the dead from the Christmas Day Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour hit went down Georgia Street.

Lousy fortune telling is easily forgotten, and life goes on. Vinny Bologna put out another hit on Ho. Only he doesn’t go so big this time. He figures Tomaso ‘The Card’ still owes him, so he sends him out on a solo job. Get in close somehow and cut that fucking chinks head off, says Vinny Bologna. And Tomaso ‘The Card’ says OK. He stalks Tang Ho for a week, waiting until Saturday night when Ho’s goofy on opium. The Card sees the Chinatown mob boss stumbling down an alley behind Powell Street. For some reason, Ho’s body guard leaves him in the alley and goes back into the opium den they just exited. The Card moves in with his balisong knife, but ends up with a .38 slug in the back when Tang Ho’s body guard re-emerges from the den with Ho’s sable collar coat.

A Sable collar, can you imagine? Geez, what a pimp.

So now Tang Ho doubles his security and doubles the number of working girls in Chinatown, just to spite Vinny Bologna. Vinny goes nutso. He offers ten large to whoever can ice Ho, good money for a whack back then. A few hitters try, but none of them can get past Ho’s goons. Tang Ho lives on, and Vinny Bologna gnashes his teeth.

It wasn’t long, though, until Tang Ho got his. In late 1942, he got a Niagara Falls souvenir letter opener in the heart. It was a floozy named Shanghai Leola who settled Ho’s hash, in a room on the second floor of the Sam Kee Building. It was a scuffle over broken promises, the reason a lot of gangsters get it in the end. But still, to Vinny Bologna’s dismay, there was no hearse rolling down Keefer Street. Ho’s hearse left Holy Rosary Cathedral and proceeded west on Dunsmuir Street, pulled a left onto Richards, and eventually made its way up to Mountain View Cemetery from there.

Who knew the chump was a Catholic?

On the day of the funeral, Vinny Bologna makes a special trip to Elga Coal’s parlour, walks in under the I won’t tell you you’re going to die sign, and says, what the hell? You promised me Tang Ho in a hearse going down Keefer Street. He didn’t even get close.

I never did, says Elga Coal. Be careful how you interpret what I say.

What’s that supposed to mean, Vinny Bologna says.

Sometimes, Elga says, with her glass eye looking right at him and her good eye looking out a window, two plus two equals Wednesday. And that’s it. She shuts up tighter than a nun in a navy yard, except she tells Bologna that he owes her $20. He pays but doesn’t tip.

Now it was well known, back then, where Vinny Bologna would be everyday at 1:00 p.m. — in Roco’s Café on Commercial Drive, having a head cheese sandwich and spinach salad. And oh man, Vinny loved his head cheese. He called it brain food, which I guess it was. And local head cheese wouldn’t do, no way. He had Roco bring it in from Chicago once a week. Vinny had him slice it thin and stack it high on a pane con le olive roll, smothered in fried onions and slathered in Keen’s Mustard. It was all washed down with several glasses of Barbera Barricato. And by the time 2:30 rolled around, Vinny Bologna was half cut, singing O Sole Mio and pinching Roco’s Mama’s ass.

Vinny’s cousin Antonio and his other cousin Sammy were his body guards, and they always sat in the same booth together, near the door, eating pasta, talking race horses and drinking espresso and Galvanina.

And so it was on New Year’s Day, 1943. Vinny paid Roco extra to stay open, especially for him, on all holidays except Christmas and Easter, just so he could get his favourite sandwich. The CBC radio news that day was all about Soviet troops encircling two German divisions in Stalingrad, and Vinny Bologna declared that it was the end of those Nazi pricks. He was sloppy drunk and held up a glass of wine, as Antonio and Sammy tucked into their gnocchi and linguine and consulted the Daily Racing Form. It was just your typical Friday on the Drive, until Molly Chang strode into Roco’s with two members of what was once Tang Ho’s Chinatown gang. She had evil in her eye, and a nickel plated .45 automatic in her hand.

Molly Chang was the daughter of Mother Chang, the owner of Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street before Vinny Bologna’s crew walked in with their Thompson submachine guns On Christmas Day 1940. And Molly was the lone survivor of that massacre, having played dead in a corner. Vinny, Antonio and Sammy sat still and stared back at her. Molly Chang had ’em cold. She stood on the café’s welcome mat, looked Vinny in the eye and said, you’re the dumb fucking wop who killed my mother, aren’t you? And Vinny Bologna shrugged like a wino in a three hundred dollar suit and a hand polished pair of Florsheim wing tips. I don’t know, he said, I gotta wax a lotta bums in this job.

So, Molly stepped aside and the two former members of Tang Ho’s gang stepped in and opened fire with their own Thompsons, being careful not to shoot Roco or his mamma. What a mess. Roco’s melancholy brother in law, Pasquale, worked until 3:00 a.m the next morning mopping up the place. And for months after, people were picking bits of Vinny Bologna’s heart, lungs and brains off the walls.

Roco sold the joint to a nice family from Parma two weeks later, and retied to his stamp collection and seven children. His mamma took to sitting on the porch of his Sixth Avenue home, chewing tobacco and knitting socks for Allied troops.

A week after the shooting, there was a big funeral for Vinny Bologna and his cousins at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The Rector was very pleased. Over the years, the church had cashed in big on the Vancouver gang wars. On his way to the Cathedral from the S.R. Bell Funeral Home, the driver of the hearse carrying Vinny’s body had to take a detour round a traffic accident at Main and Hastings. He was forced to turn left onto Main, right onto Keefer, through Chinatown, and then right again onto Abbott Street to get back onto Hastings. The S.R. Bell Funeral Home hearse had proudly carried Vinny Bologna down Keefer Street, as Elga Coal had almost predicted –

For, after all, as the sign over the entrance to her parlour read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die.

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doppelgänger fantasia part 4

read part 1 here, read part 2 here, Read part 3 here

the abduction of Bethany Rafael

Trudy Parr sat at her desk with her .45 calibre M1911 pistol field stripped and laid out before her. She held the slide in her hand and studied it closely. Then she wiped it clean with a soft cloth dipped in a mild solvent. Her mind was at peace. She counted her breaths. It was a meditation on semi-automatic firearm maintenance.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?” Trudy Parr said.

“Some gal named Bethany Rafael,” said Gladys. “Says she knows you.”

“Put her through,” said Trudy Parr, picking up the recoil spring. The phone rang.

Trudy Parr put down the recoil spring and picked up the gun’s barrel. She looked threw it as if it were a telescope and panned the room. She put it down gently on the fifth ring, perfectly aligning it with the other dismantled parts. On the sixth ring she picked up the phone. “Hello, Beth. What’s rattling?”

“It’s that Bittle character again,” Bethany Rafael said. “He just sits there. Sometimes I catch him staring at me. He’s giving me the creeps.”

“Want me to come down, shake the guy up?” As she said this, Trudy Parr weighed a .45 calibre cartridge in her hand. Its heft was comforting.

“No, I don’t wanna squawk. It’s just that we’ve had some eerie personalities in here before but this guy wins the prize.”

“Call the cops.”

“Can’t. The manager says it’s bad for business.”

“I’ll drive you home.”

“No, Trudy. You can’t drive me home every night. I guess I just needed to tell someone. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I guess I can take care of myself.”

“Okay. Call if you need to.”

Woolworth’s lunch counter

Among the many things she knew, the ephemera of which waitress wisdom consists, was that the troublesome customer was never a permanent customer. He or she could not be listed among the regulars. They always grew bored of pestering the same girl, day in and day out. The troublesome customer, man or woman, might became infatuated with her, fall in love with her and bring her unwanted gifts. When she responded to them with indifference, they would wheedle and cajole. And ultimately, they would rage against her and curse her name. But even the worst of them would eventually disappear into an abyss of their own erroneous affections.

Despite her confidence in this theory, though, Bethany Rafael would always worry when a new problem customer entered her ordinary life. What if this was the one, she’d ask herself, the one who is completely uncontrollable. The one that disproves what she had comfortably come to know. The one that doesn’t disappear. The one so besotted and obsessed that he takes her along for the fatal, unknowable ride.

She looked down the lunch counter at the man who’d introduced himself a week ago as Dr Alasdair Bittle. He sat on his lunch counter stool and chain smoked. It was 5:55 pm. Five minutes to closing. His cup was full of cold coffee. There was a half eaten doughnut on a side plate at his elbow. He didn’t read a newspaper or a magazine. He only stared at himself in the mirror across the counter, in a haze of blue smoke.

“We’re closing soon, Dr Bittle,” she said.

Dr Alasdair Bittle looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. Beth could smell the booze. He had the appearance of a thoroughly defeated man. “I’m waiting for a colleague but it seems unlikely he’ll arrive before closing time.”

“Well maybe you should pay your bill, Doc.”

“Yes,” Bittle said placing a two dollar bill on the counter. “Please keep the change. My associate may still make an appearance. He’s a tall Russian fellow named Alexei. Tell him, if he does come in, that I’ve returned to the laboratory.”

“Yeah sure, Dr Bittle,” Bethany Rafael said.

Bittle left the Woolworth’s store and Bethany Rafael closed the lunch counter. By 6:30 she was walking east on Hastings Street toward the BC Electric Interurban Line. It was dark and fellow pedestrians were few along the block in front of Woodward’s Department Store. She was aware of the heavy footsteps trailing her and she gripped her umbrella tightly. At Abbott Street, as she stopped for a red light, the heavy footsteps stopped behind her.

“Hello again,” Dr Alasdair Bittle said as he stepped out from a shadowy doorway.

“Doctor,” Bethany Rafael said, startled. She looked over her shoulder at a large man behind her, the source of the heavy footsteps. When he smiled at her crookedly, it all began to make wicked sense. She looked back at Bittle. “What’s this all about?”

A dark Chrysler drove up to the curb, its passenger door open.

“We have need of you in our laboratory,” Bittle said. “Please accompany Alexei and me in our car.”

Alexei put a hand on her shoulder and leaned over her from behind. He had beer and onions on his breath. She felt the umbrella in her hand and thought about hitting him with it. It seemed too weak a response. Instead, she turned on Alexei and shoved the blunt point of the umbrella into him like a shiv. She saw a dark patch of blood emerge and pulled the umbrella out.

Alexei looked stunned and held his hands to the wound. “Fuck,” he said and bent over.

Bittle got into the Chrysler as she turned to run down Abbott Street. The car did a u-turn in the middle of Hastings, stopping traffic, and followed after her. But by then, however, she was gone from sight.

“That bitch,” Bittle slammed the dashboard. “Turn down that alley.” Bittle pointed to the right and the driver turned.

The car stopped at the alley entrance. “You drive,” the driver said to Bittle. He was a stocky Russian with tattoos on his fists and neck. “I get out and hunt.” Bittle shimmied over when the Russian got out.

The Chrysler’s headlights illuminated the alley as the Russian looked behind trashcans and in doorways. Bethany Rafael knew then that she should have kept running. Now she knelt absolutely still in a shadow cast by a stack of empty boxes, listening as the car came closer and the Russian’s breathing got nearer.

“Come out little girly,” the Russian sang as he looked everywhere. “Come out, come out, come out. I am not Alexei. You cannot stop me. I chew the bones of little girlies like you. I am the devil. Don’t make me work so hard to find you.”

Suddenly the Russian was in front of her, scanning the other side of the alley but seeing nothing. He violently scattered trashcans and refuse. Then he turned around and looked in her direction. His fists were clenched with blue and red star tattoos. She stood and ran again and he ran after her. A car winged her as she ran through traffic where the alley crossed Carrall Street. She spun and fell. The Russian caught up and looked down at her lying in the street. Another car blew its horn but manoeuvred round them when the tattooed Russian gave the driver a stern look.

The Chrysler came to idle in the middle of Carrall and Bittle got out. He opened the rear passenger door and the Russian heaved Bethany Rafael inside.

“She’s useless to us now,” Bittle said, gritting his teeth. “She was a perfect specimen but now she’s injured.”

“It’s nothing,” said the Russian. “A bruise. If it’s worse, we’ll dump her in the ocean. But we can’t leave her here. She can identify us. Get in and drive. We must see to Alexei.”

Bittle turned onto Hastings and headed back to where Alexei had been stabbed with the umbrella. When they arrived, Alexei sat against Woodward’s below a display window where a happy family of mannequins frolicked in the latest fashions. The tattooed Russian stepped out of the car and looked down at the wounded man.

“This is very inconvenient, Alexei.”

“Please, Vlad,” said Alexei. “It’s not so bad. Dr Bittle can fix me.”

“You fool. He’s a Doctor of Theoretical Physics, not medicine.”

“Then leave me at a hospital,” Alexei said. “We were once soldiers together, Vlad. We were brothers. You owe it to me.”

The tattooed Russian looked up and down Hastings. There were still a few people on the street but no one paying attention to what must be a drunk on the sidewalk. He pulled out a TT-33 pistol.

“No,” Alexei shouted, holding up his hands.

The tattooed Russian fired two rounds in his head.

doppelgänger fantasia part 3

Read part 1 here Read part 2 here Read part 4 here

Evil Science Comes to Vancouver
BY ROSCOE PHELPS, THE VANCOUVER SUN October 28, 1949 
Ain’t it the truth, Vancouver? That beneath our rainy Pacific skies, we walk on streets of gold. We’re a city of blameless citizens confronted daily with boundless opportunity. Every family housed and fed, every woman safe and every child schooled and rosy cheeked. Government is good and the bad guys quiver in fear of our brave and robust police force.
    But maybe it’s time to grow up a little bit. Is Vancouver really the virtuous City upon a Hill that we believe it is?
    Maybe not. Up until this moment, who could have known? That our small metropolis could be home to a criminal mob of foreign spies, experimenting with the very composition of the universe. It came as a shock to this reporter, I can assure you.
    Picture, if you will, a gaggle of intellectual goons bent on inventing a machine that can duplicate matter. A gizmo that when one chicken is put in, two chickens come out. Now imagine that this machine is here now. In a Chinatown warehouse where this band of maniacal geniuses is testing it on the innocent citizenry of Vancouver.
Imagine this coven of shadowy academics creating this machine for its own wicked ends. Creating female armies of salacious hedonistic slaves from a single loose-minded harlot; or perhaps a fighting army of malicious minion warriors, each a copy of the most violent, mindless and sadistic ogre imaginable.
    Then imagine it happening here, in our quiet paradise by the sea.
    The first light shed on this evil plot came in a phone call from a distraught woman, a hysterical citizen of Vancouver, claiming that she’d been part of a depraved experiment.  An experiment in replicating matter. That’s right, dear reader, she, let’s call her Lady B, claimed to have been duplicated by a gang of seedy itinerant highbrows who have come to our home and native land to turn science on its ear.
    Lady B maintains that she was kidnapped from her work-a-day world as a waitress at a Woolworths lunch counter. Then brought to Chinatown and held for several days in a fetid cell. She was finally placed in a chamber connected to a wall of gauges and flashing lights. And it was there that she witnessed her reproduction in another chamber across from her in the same room.
    As fantastic as it sounds, Lady B and her doppelgänger escaped from their Chinatown prison and found themselves pursued by a gang of punks and thugs. Sadly, one of the two Lady Bs was murdered in a tunnel beneath Chinatown. She died alone and confused at the hands of a callous killer who snapped her neck like it was the fragile stem of a delicate flower. Her lifeless body left discarded there in the dark, beneath the weight of the ignorant city above.
    Where’s the justice in this? What have the police done? And what, dear reader, was the reason for last night’s clandestine meeting of the Godfather of Chinatown, Agustin Ho, and two of the city’s most notorious private investigators, Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr? Why did they meet in a dark lot behind the BC Electric tram garage?
    You can depend on this reporter to crack this case and expose these alien miscreants and their accomplices. That’s my commitment to you, Vancouver.

* * * *

“Dead? She’s died? How can this be?” Alasdair Bittle buried his head in his hands.

“It was a business decision,” said Wilfred Beacon.

“You’re mad,” said Bittle.

“No, just practical.” Beacon sat behind his desk, sipping a scotch and water. The two men were in his Marine Building office.

“You murdered her. We might at least have tried to reverse the experiment.”

“Are you certain you could?”

“No, of course not,” said Bittle. “This is science. It’s replication theory. Nothing is certain.”

“In that case,” Beacon said, “you’ve confirmed the correctness of our actions. We couldn’t risk the discovery of the replication. We have the interests of our investors to consider. There are several hundred patents pending. Besides, we only killed one of her. We’re almost certain it was the duplicate. And if it was the duplicate that got killed, then it isn’t really murder?”

“You’re rationalising. The replication was human, as surely as you or I.”

“Not anymore,” said Beacon.

“But what will be the future outcomes of this?” said Bittle. “You may have put the entire universe out of balance.”

“You replicated her, Doc,” Wilfred Beacon said. “All we did was eliminate an inconvenience. And since it’s almost certain that the original survives, we might have put the universe back in balance.”

“Almost certain?” said Doctor Bittle, “What if you’re wrong? What if you killed the original? What if the replication is still loose out there? We don’t know yet how stable the replications are. There are a hundred different ways that a replication could self-destruct. What will happen if it does? What if it falls into the wrong hands? What if there are bizarre physiological aspects we never considered? That only prolonged scientific observation can discover? What if the replication turns out to be a breeding ground for a deadly virus? There’s so much we do not know. That’s why we needed to keep the replication alive. Innocent lives could be at risk.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to ice the survivor, as well.”

“You’re a monster,” said Bittle.

“I’m a Project Manager, Dr Bittle. I deal with reality. And the reality is that you should never have created that replication in the first place. Not before we had trials with lower life forms.”

“It was accidental,” said Bittle.

“Accidental?” said Beacon. “You placed her in that chamber and you pulled the switch. You instigated the sequence of events that resulted in the replication, Dr Bittle.”

“I was drunk.”

“You’re always dunk, you juicer.”

“And this outcome demonstrates that the technology isn’t ready for humanity – or, more likely, that humanity isn’t ready for the technology. Either way, what has occurred proves that we cannot continue, that we mustn’t continue. I have to publish my findings and face the consequences.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Beacon. “Your findings are Company property.”

“This company is unethical,” said Bittle.

“No more than any other, Doctor.”

* * * *

Trudy Parr let it ring seven times and then picked up the phone. “Dench and Parr Agency,” she said.

“We need to talk,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “You, me and that partner of yours.” It was Lieutenant Oly Schmidt of the Chinatown Squad. “Says here in this morning’s Sun that you were hobnobbing with known underworld types last night. You know the piece I mean, this thing Roscoe Phelps wrote? He implies that you’re in cahoots with Agustin Ho. That true?”

“It’s all the lies of a desperately lonely newspaper reporter,” Trudy Parr said. She turned round on her office chair and looked out onto Hastings Street. It was raining.

“We still need to meet.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re lying to me,” Schmidt said. “Or at least holding back. I hear you recently had Barney Polenski in your office. I hear he was shadowing the murder victim. I hear you nearly cut off his head before he spilled a ton of dope on the case.”

“You’re only partially correct,” said Trudy Parr. “Polenski played dumb under rigorous interrogation. I made the mistake of believing him. That was wrong of me. Maybe I’m going soft. But word is that he’s still in town, even though Crispin told him to vamoose. I’ve got calls out. People street side know I want him. I should get news of his whereabouts soon. Then maybe I’ll start by cutting off his smaller more delicate pieces, before I threaten decapitation. There’s a notebook of his I want to see.”

“There’s a warrant out for his arrest, Trudy,” Schmidt said. “That makes him ours, not yours. So hands off.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Trudy Parr. “I’m a real hands-off kinda girl.”

“Don’t push, Miss Parr.”

“You just grab a doughnut and stand down, Oly,” Trudy Parr said. “You’ll be called in to mop up and take all of the credit. Until then, stay outta my way.” She hung up the telephone.

* * * *

Crispin Dench owned and drove a white 1948 Jaguar Xk120 with red leather interior, but he left it at home that night. Instead, he borrowed a ’46 Chevrolet sedan from Hatless Andy Picard, a broad shouldered labourer for hire who’d earned his nickname for his vast collection of hats. Dench preferred the big backseat and trunk of the Chevrolet for the work he had that evening. Hatless Andy rode shotgun. It was 10:00 pm. Dench tuned the radio to a jazz station. They listened to Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli play All the Things You Are.

There was a large bundle in the backseat. It squirmed, grunted and convulsed. It was held together by a series of knotted ropes.

“Settle down back there, Barney,” Crispin Dench said. “Save your energy.”

Barney Polenski was gagged and nearly silenced. But there came a run of muffled expletives.

“We’ll be there in a minute, Old Man,” Dench said.

The soft suspension of the Chevrolet allowed the car to rumble smoothly over the railroad tracks that crossed the road leading onto the Rogers Sugar refinery wharf. When it was halfway out on the wharf, the Chevrolet stopped. The wharf was dimly lit. Dench had counted on that.

“Shall we?” he said.

“Sure, sure,” Hatless Andy said.

They got out of the car and pulled Barney Polenski from of the backseat. Then they positioned him on his knees at the edge of the wharf, under a light standard. Dench placed a noose round Polenski’s neck and Hatless Andy shimmied up the pole with the other end of the rope. He tethered it there securely.

Crispin Dench removed Barney Polenski’s blindfold. Polenski felt the noose round his neck and looked out over the open water twenty feet below. He nearly swooned, fighting to keep his balance.

“What the fuck,” Polenski said. “You can’t do this, Dench. They’ll find out if I fall over. You’ll hang for it.”

“Not before you do,” Crispin Dench said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t leave town,” Polenski said. “That Trudy bitch cut me bad. I wasn’t in any shape to travel.”

“Be nice with what you say about Trudy Parr,” said Hatless Andy.

“Yeah be nice, Barney,” Dench said. “The hatless one here believes that I should just push you over the edge and let you swing. He thinks I should do that because you’re a goon and a liar. I, however, believe you have some redeeming qualities and at least one item in your possession that might save you.”

“Name it, Dench,” Polenski said, “and it’s yours.”

“Well there’s really only one thing, Barney. Only one thing that I’d risk handling after you’ve molested it with your grimy meat hooks.”

“What? What is it?”

“It’s that notebook you took notes in while you talked to the now murdered woman in the Lily Lounge. I have a golden source that says you took plentiful notes during your chats with her. That’s what makes you a liar; you said the notes were all in your head. You lied to me Barney. What made you think I’d let that slide?”

Hatless Andy tightened the noose. Barney Polenski choked and coughed, and then he spoke. “It all comes down to this, Dench. I got myself in a real pickle. I gotta choose who’s gonna kill me, you or that bunch of foreigners with that duplicating machine. I tell you what’s what and the foreigners ice me. I shut up about it and you push me off this wharf with a rope round my neck. Maybe you can understand my reticence.”

“The time for reticence is over,” Dench said.

“Are you and that psycho partner of yours gonna protect me if I spill, Dench?” Polenski said.

“No, but maybe we can use the information in your little notebook to mop these bastards up and eliminate all the perils you face.”

“Or maybe not,” Polenski coughed. “Maybe you’re out of your league with these characters. Maybe they’re smarter than you.”

Crispin Dench bent down and looked at Polenski in profile. Polenski turned his head and faced him. Polenski’s throat hurt. The rope was burning into the open wound Trudy Parr had inflicted. “Do you really believe that, Barney?” Crispin Bench said with an uncanny calm.

Barney Polenski licked his lips and looked down at the water he’d hang over if he was pushed. “No,” he said. “I guess I don’t.”

“Is that book up in your room, Barney?” Dench said.

“Yeah,” said Polenski. “It’s in a safe in my closet under some shoe boxes.”

“What’s the combination?”

Barney Polenski hesitated, hating to give in. Dench saw this. Standing up, he said, “Alright, Andy. Kick the fat fuck over.”

“Be a pleasure,” Hatless Andy said.

“No, wait,” Barney Polenski yelped. “10 right, 4 left, 9 right.”

“Say it again,” Dench said, “so I can write it down,” Barney Polenski did.

“So now you cut me loose, right?” Polenski said. “We’re square, right?”

“What do think?” Dench said to Hatless Andy. “Should we release this lying bitch? We don’t even know if this combination’s correct, do we?”

“It’s good,” Polenski whined. “The combination’s correct.”

“I say we leave him here,” Hatless Andy said. “Let him watch the sunrise.”

“That’s a damn fine idea,” Dench said.

“No,” said Polenski. “I could slip and break my neck.”

“You should have thought of that before,” said Dench. “There’ll be some longshoremen round in six or seven hours. They’ll cut you free, one way or the other.”

“Dench, you prick, cut me loose.”

“See you in the funny papers, Barney.”

In a few minutes, Barney Polenski heard the Chevrolet start and drive away. He remained kneeling until morning, listening to the song of foghorns.

doppelgänger fantasia part 2

read part 1 here, read part 3 here, read part 4 here

Vancouver 1949

…when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. That was Sherlock Holmes’ spin on things. But Crispin Dench had never bought into it. It was too flowery for starters. Besides, he’d never been interested truth. All he ever wanted were verifiable facts. He had his own practical theory; it went like this: There’s nothing more distracting than the obvious. And nothing more obvious than a distraction. He tried to live by those words. But he was frequently sidetracked by the accuracy of the principle.

He stood next to a dark and idle BC Electric tram. It was 1:00 a.m. There were no streetlights; that part of Chinatown was too low rent. The glowing end of his cigarette was a beacon. It informed anyone who cared to know that he was there, waiting.

When it finally arrived, the headlights of Agustin Ho’s immaculately preserved, chauffeur driven 1938 Packard Super 8 illuminated the rain soaked street. As the vehicle stopped, a bodyguard riding shotgun stepped out and opened Agustin’s door. Crispin Dench watched as a pair of glossy black and white spectators preceded an elegantly suited Chinese man of about forty years onto the wet pavement. Ho put on his hat, lit a cigarette and waved the bodyguard off.

“What’s the hullabaloo, Dench?” Ho said. “I don’t like being away from the office this time of night.”

“Maybe I just want to talk over old times.”

“We ain’t got no old times to talk over,” Ho said, taking off his glasses and wiping the drizzle away with a blue silk handkerchief.

“Then let’s talk about tunnel activity.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say about that either,” said Ho. “I don’t use the tunnels. The tunnels were my father’s turf. I run legitimate businesses, street side. I don’t need to sneak around.”

Dench smiled. He knew Agustin Ho ran one or two legitimate operations. But mostly he squeezed Chinatown businesses and ran a bizarre array of booze cans, dug parlours and cat houses. The kind of places cops and politicians were paid to overlook. Places where respectable citizens went to get smoked, laid or stabbed. Where a square got to make like he had a personality and street credentials were rented, not earned.

“Yeah, you’re legit,” said Dench, “but you also know better than anybody what goes on round here. And you own the Lily Lounge. A patron of the Lily ended up dead in the Keefer street tunnel the other night. Why do you think that might have happened?”

Ho looked over at his bodyguard. Meng was a deadly number with a balisong knife in his pocket and a .45 in his shoulder holster. He and Ho communicated with discreet gestures and eye contact so subtle and fleeting the average civilian would never catch it. It was a complex language of menace, silently spoken in a world where nothing was ever written down. And nothing was ever done in the light of day.

“Boss say he’s already spoken to the police about that,” Meng said. “Boss say he doesn’t want to talk about it again. Boss say it disturbs him to talk about such unpleasantness and that he is offended that you presumed to summon him here for this reason.”

“Talk to me, Ho,” said Dench. “I don’t want your goon translating your facial ticks for me. At least tell him to stop talking like he just got off the boat. He was born here same as you and me.”

“Watch how you talk, sei gweilo,” Meng said.

There was some more mysterious eye contact between Ho and Meng. Meng moved away and into the shadows. Then Ho said, “What do you care what happens underground, Dench? This dead dame a friend of yours?”

“Let’s just say the case intrigues me. And you owe me a favour or two. Don’t forget that Yakuza thing a year ago.”

The mention of the Yakuza and favours owed made Agustin Ho wince. He knew Dench was right. But he hated it. “I heard it was your own Trudy Parr that found the body,” Ho said, “I hear the dead broad had a tiff with her boyfriend, or maybe he was her pimp. She got slapped and then she ran through my kitchen and down into the tunnels. That’s when Trudy Parr followed her down, like some kind of storybook heroine. You know, I don’t never see Trudy round town with any men. I think maybe she goes in for the ladies, don’t you? Maybe she had the hots for that little chiquita. Maybe that’s why she followed her. And now Trudy’s got you out late asking questions about her dear departed little chippy. We’re both getting rained on while she’s at home getting her beauty sleep. That seem fair to you, Dench?”

“I get my beauty sleep when the works done,” said Trudy Parr walking out from behind the tram. She wore a trench coat with the collar turned up. “As for you, Ho. I hear the sunlight burns your skin so you sleep in a coffin during the day.”

“That’s just a rumour,” said Ho with a grin. He continued wiping his glasses with the silk handkerchief.

“Watch out for her, boss,” said Meng, stepping out of the shadows. “She a tricky sister.”

“I’ve got this,” Ho said and Meng disappeared again.

“And another thing,” said Trudy Parr, “my nocturnal roundabouts are my own business.”

“Fine by me,” Ho said, grinning some more. “Look, I don’t know nothing about why that woman got her neck broken underground. It can be a bad neighbourhood down there. What I do know is that a landlord on Georgia Street rented a warehouse out to some shady tenants about a month ago. Since then, everyone’s been talking about bad luck. The mah jong parlours are losing customers and fortune tellers are making a killing off of good luck charms.”

“I thought you controlled Chinatown,” Crispin Dench said. “Why don’t you step in and do something?”

“Sure,” said Ho, “I control Chinatown. But as long as a landlord pays his ice, what do I care who he rents to?”

“What’s so shady about these tenants?” said Trudy Parr. “What’s their connection to the corpse? Why are they bad luck?”

“I don’t know,” said Ho. “These peasants in Chinatown believe everything’s bad luck.”

“Peasants?” said Dench. “I thought these were your people.”

“Hey, I’m third generation Vancouver, man. Most times, I don’t know what the hell these chumps are talking about. I’ve gone by the warehouse and it’s all locked down like Fort Knox. And there’re some pretty rough looking characters, even by my standards, guarding the joint. There’re even rumours going round that the dead dame was conjured up out of some cockamamie magic going on in there that makes twins or doubles out of people.”

“Well, isn’t that something,” said Trudy Parr. “That’s closely approximates what Barney Polenski had to say.”

“Barney Polenski’s a moron,” said Ho.

“You know if there’s any connection between the victim and Polenski?”

“Sure,” said Ho. “They were in the Lily a few times together.”

“Funny, Barney said he didn’t go into the Lily. You say they were together, like dreamily staring into each others eyes?”

“Looked like it was all business to me,” Ho said. “The girl talking and Polenski nodding, taking notes and pounding back rye and cokes.”

“Polenski said his notes were all in his head,” said Trudy Parr.

“Polenski’s a degenerate liar,” said Ho. “I saw him writing shit down. Find him and get his note book. It’ll probably tell you more about what’s going on than I can.”

“If he took my advice,” said Dench, “He’s on a train heading east by now.”

Meng stepped out from the shadows again and signalled silently to Ho. Then he withdrew and Ho turned back to Dench and said, “Yeah, maybe he’s on a train. But sources tell me Polenski was seen going into Lady Ping’s tonight – round back. You know what that means. That bastard’s been a major dope fiend since he got back from the war. His throat was all bandaged up for some reason, too.”

Ho put his glasses back on. “So that’s it, Dench. Now we’re copasetic. I don’t owe you shit as of this moment. I’m going for a steam and a massage.”

As Ho began to get back into the Packard, there was a scuffle in the shadows and a cry for help. Then Meng appeared holding a skinny untidy man by the collar of his raincoat. It was Vancouver Sun reporter Roscoe Phelps.

“Look what I find in dark,” said Meng holding his balisong knife to Phelps’ throat.

“Hands off, you mongol punk,” Phelps said. “I gotta right.”

“Well well,” said Trudy Parr, “if it ain’t Roscoe Phelps. What hole did you just crawl out of?”

Ho signalled for Meng to release the reporter and Phelps stumbled to the ground. When stood up, he made a show of straightening his cheap overcoat and refitting his hat.

“I slice him up good for you, Boss,” Meng said. “I leave him in garbage can for dogs.”

“No,” said Ho. “Cutting down a reporter in this town’s bad juju. But that don’t mean we can’t teach you some manners, Roscoe.”

“It’ll be a headline in the afternoon Sun if you do,” said Phelps.

“Why you skulking round, Phelps,” said Dench.

“I’m collecting dope for a story that concerns all of you. Ain’t no surprise to find you all together here, like it’s a little club. I got a lead on some shenanigans going on in that warehouse you referred to earlier. I got me a pidgin singing grand opera. And some of the characters in that opera are mighty interesting.”

“What’s he saying, this pidgin of yours?” said Trudy Parr.

“It’s not a he,” said Phelps. “It’s a she-pidgin. But that’s all you’re getting outta me ‘til you read it in the papers.”

“Then get the hell out of here,” said Ho, “before I let Meng break your typing finger.”

“Fine with me,” said Phelps. “Looks like this shindig’s breakin’ up anyway.” he tipped his hat and walked away.

A few blocks west, lights burned bright in the Sun Building, Phelps’ destination. It was graveyard shift. They’d already put the morning edition to bed. It’d be hitting the street in a few hours and be blowing in the wind by 10:00 a.m. Already editors were tearing their hair out, agonizing over afternoon copy – shifts in opinion, missed deadlines, blank columns, ambivalent readers and pig-headed advertisers. There was an army up there, toiling over the minutia of a small and insignificant city. Nothing worth a damn ever happened in Vancouver. Not on the surface, anyway.

Trudy Parr lit a Black Cat cigarette. “I think Roscoe Phelps needs a special talking-to,” she said to Crispin Dench as Agustin Ho’s 1938 Packard drove away.

“Let’s read the papers first,” said Dench. “It’ll add context to the conversation.”

damsels

he remembered how once the
hat was the man standing
in the doorway of his Chinatown hotel watching
the rain like a spectator listening
for the clatter of mahjong tiles from
a city of open windows

down the road was Japantown where
before gravity had bent him in two he
strolled along Powell in a fresh pressed
Woodward’s Suit and burnished Florsheims as
secretly on floors above him chaste
school girls danced in kimonos and

he remembered the machinegun damsels on
Cordova the chain smoking midnight women in
their pure starched white blouses with
switchblades in their handbags the
way they dared a man with their stare the
way like prophets they ruined the
myth of place