lost ironies

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Tag: Cops

Virtue

You will see it, if you care to look, the sign over the broken wrought iron gate to his mind and marrow, that reads, Madness will Set You Free. He didn’t put it there. It just appeared one day, and it’s never gone away. Sometimes he looks up at it, as the crows fly by, listening to the whispered song of his dear choir, the voices holding their glorious, prolonged note that he has heard forever, and he wonders if the sign is true.

“Mr Virtue…?”

The bright white 2×2 metre isolation room had a telephone booth florescent ceiling light, and a yellow tile floor with a drain in the centre. In contrast, he wore a blue hospital gown, smeared with his own blood, and nothing else. They’d probably already burned his clothes, stinking like creation, of shit and sweat, as if he were his own primal season. But they hadn’t yet attended to his cut lip, or the scabbed over blows to his head. Earlier, as they restrained him, as they held him down with a mattress, someone had shone a penlight into each of his eyes, and had said, calmly, everydayishly, no contusion.

No contusion? The cops had tried and failed.

“Mr Virtue?”

It was a tall, obese male nurse, with another standing behind him. Either one would be difficult to move; escape was impossible. The nurse was calling him by his alias, the one he had thought up when he arrived cuffed, in a cop hammerlock — Mr Virtue.

“We need to draw some blood and take your blood pressure, Mr Virtue,” the fat nurse said.

“No more sedation,” Virtue replied, sitting up. “No more goons holding me down.”

“Just try to trust us, and maybe there won’t be any need.”

Trust was a greasy sloping floor he’d skidded down before.

“Fuck you,” he said, spitting up a brown metallic tasting substance, which might have been blood or half-digested Pentecostal soup.

The BP cuff went round his bicep, and was unpleasantly inflated.

“You had no ID when you arrived,” the nurse said. “Where do you live?”

Virtue only shook his head.

“Do you take street drugs?”

“No, but I need a drink. I need a fucking cigarette.”

“Do you have allergies?”

“People,” he said, fists clenching and banging his thighs. “People give me spots, man. I swell up and itch. Sometimes I can’t breathe when they’re around. I go anaphylactic. Especially cops and nurses. Just give me a pill for people.”

“Is there anyone we can contact?”

“No,” he said. “Everyone’s here.” And he knew as the words dissolved into the florescent air, that he’d said the wrong thing.

He looked around the room, and all were present. The bus driver who told him to get off of the bus, even when he wasn’t on the bus; Natasha, who said she loved him, and who had laid her soul upon his cutting board, but who remained untouchable; Raymond, with whom he enjoyed shouting obscenities in public library; Chico, with his bleeding eyes peeking out from between the elastic bands wound tightly round his face, who Virtue had loud quarrels with, who brought his rubber band face so close to his own that Virtue swung his fists wildly at what no one else could see. And the choir, whose members were harder to observe, fading in and out. Infants who never aged and the foul smelling spirits with their backward faces. They never stopped singing their endless note — Ahhhhhhhh — in E-flat major — for forty-five years, never stopping once to take  a breath.

“They’re all here, baby,” he said to no one. “I don’t know how they all fit, but they’re here.”

Shut the fuck up — Chico said — You always tell them too much.

“Kiss my ass,” Virtue yelled, and swung his fists.

The nurses stepped back.

“Have you ever been on medication, Mr Virtue?”

It was a new voice. He stopped swinging and focussed on the door, listening very carefully.

It was a woman’s voice this time. She was a tall one, too. He knew before he even saw her. The tall ones’ voices were as lofty as ceiling beams. He had to look up to see their spoken words melt like lemon drops. She walked into the isolation room, the nurses exiting, but standing nearby.

“Are you in charge round here?” Virtue said.

“My name is Dr Elizabeth Chang,” she said. “I’m a psychiatrist.”

“You say that like it’s Christmas,” Virtue said, running his tongue over his cut lip, “like I’m gonna get presents.”

“What about it?” she said. “Have you ever been on medication? For the voices, the hallucinations, I mean.”

“Hallucinations?” he said, looking round him.

Shit! Fuck! Motherfucker! Shit! Shit! Fuck! — Raymond screamed.

Virtue covered his ears with his too tight fists.

“Mr Virtue…?” Chang said.

“Yeah,” he hollered, banging his ears, gasping, clenching his entire body. Then, quieter, rocking a bit, he said, “Sure, they gave me pills once. Little white and blue things. They crawled around in my mouth like bugs, like beetles with switchblade feet and napalm in their bellies. Like drones looking for a Pakistani wedding party. I spit ‘em out, and the goons put us all in a room just like this.”

“Us? Who is us?”

“Me and the gang,” he said, looking round him. “We played cribbage for three days.” He saw Natasha smile. Maybe she remembered. “They slid my food under the door. I never won a single game. Chico cheats.”

You’re a fucking whiner — Chico said.

“How long ago was that?”

“Several centuries.”

“Well medications have improved since then.” Dr Chang said. “Would you like to try something now? Something that would calm you, take the voices away?”

He frowned at the idea. Was it sloppy disdain in her voice?

Get off the bus — said the bus driver.

“I paid my fare,” Virtue said.

Get off my goddam bus!

“Mr Virtue…?” said Chang.

The choir sang louder.

“Who else have I got?” he said. “If they go away…?”

You’re a pussy — said Chico, bringing his bleeding eyes close, closing them hard so that the blood dripped off of his chin. Virtue could see the outline of a smile beneath the elastic bands around his mouth.

“The police want to take you to the Forensic Unit,” Chang said. “They’ll force you to take medication there, and you’ll be placed in with some very dangerous people. If you consent to treatment here, you’ll be certified, and I can keep you in relative comfort, get you cleaned up, let you stay on the P5 ward.”

“Psyche ward,” Virtue said, repulsed.

“Yes,” said Chang.

“It’s a petting zoo.”

“Will you let a doctor look at your cuts and bruises?”

“You want to kill them with pills,” Virtue said. “Would you take a pill to kill your friends, your family?”

Don’t let her put me in the morgue — cried Natasha.

“They’re obviously causing you distress, Mr Virtue,” Chang said.

“And your family doesn’t cause you distress,” Virtue said. “Occasionally?”

“Yes,” Chang smiled, “of course. But I can take time away from them, when I want to.”

“Ha! No you can’t,” Virtue pounded the floor. “You can’t take time away from them, at all. They’re always in your head, aren’t they? The anxieties they cause, and their smothering conditional love? Don’t lie to me. All of what they’ve said to you, done to you. The passive aggressive acquiescence. The religion. Their platitudes and bizarre poisonous illogic. False memories. The counterfeit Christmases. The viral dysfunction. Their dissatisfaction and mock appreciation. Their doubts, your doubts. Fear for their safety. Your fear of death, of abandonment, of watching them age and perish before your very eyes. The madness children will bring with them out of the womb. How the wealth of generations is redistributed. All of that’s pulsing through you, right now.”

“No, Mr Virtue,” Chang said. She’d hesitated — barely perceptive uncertainty. He’d hit a chord.

Go for it — Chico yelled.

“Oh, I can hear it like a siren,” Virtue said, smiling for the first time since his arrival. “Like someone scratching at the door to a cell she’s wanted to escape from since the moment she first felt the hands grab her round the throat and squeeze. You feel those hands squeezing right now, don’t you! You see their mute faces and their unblinking eyes. Don’t tell me you can take time away from that, and I won’t tell you that it’s easy for me.”

Virtue struggled now, to get to his feet. He’d aimed a communication beam right into the psychiatrist’s brain, and poured on the power. He would draw her in. He would introduce her to Chico. Chico would thank him. Chico was lonely.

A nurse stepped in to hold him down.

“Word salad,” Chang said to the nurse. “Olanzapine, 20 mg intramuscular injection. I’ll draw up the order.”

“Twenty milligrams?” said the nurse. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll be at the desk,” she said, “writing it up. Restraints if necessary. Prepare him, and I’ll arrange for transport to Forensics.” She walked away.

“Sorry, dude,” the nurse said to Virtue. “Things are about to get nasty for you.”

Your body’s a fire, Virtue — Chico said — Let ’em send you into hell.

Virtue looked up and saw the crows fly by. He saw the sign over the broken wrought iron gate, and said, “I’ll burn the whole fucking place down.”

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sidewalk man

10 p.m.

“You know the Skeena Terrace Housing Project, Sergeant Avakian?”

“Sure,” said the cop at the other end of the line. “I used to drive through a couple of times a week, on shift.”

“I lived there when I was a kid,” said Eli Fink. There was a blue eyed Australian Shepherd sitting at his feet, staring up at him as he spoke on the telephone.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Fink. “It was in the 70s and the cops loved to beat the hell out of us. We was just a bunch of monkeys with nothing in our pockets. They’d have a bad day somewhere else, then come to Skeena Terrace with their billy clubs and kick some poor kid’s ass.”

“I’m sorry about that, Mr Fink,” Avakian said. “I can assure you we do things differently now.”

“Oh c’mon, Avakian. The cops are doing the same shit they’ve always done, because they’re cops. You give some prick a gun, a company car and seventy grand a year, and he thinks he can do whatever he fucking wants. And mostly he’s right.”

“I see,” said Avakian.

“Good,” Fink said. “Now where I’m going with this, is this. Back then, the Vancouver cops and local cab companies drove the same car. Four door Plymouth Fury. It was the fleet car of choice. But in the mid to late 70s, Plymouth put out models with squeaky brakes, and they were loud too. You could hear ’em coming from a couple of blocks away. We got away with a lot of shit back then because when we heard that squeaky brake sound, we knew it was either the cops or a cab. Probably a cop.”

“That’s interesting,” Avakian said. “I was born in 1984, so I….”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” said Fink. “Just listen. So one day I get this idea after watching some shit on TV about Northern Ireland, and I run it by the boys. And they all laugh and say they’ll do it – of course they’ll do it! So we collect up all the rocks of a certain size we can find, which ain’t easy in a housing project if you want a lot of ‘em. Anyways, we spend a few days getting rocks together, and on Saturday night we settle in on the high ground over Herman Drive, behind the shrubs so we can’t be seen from the road. We smoke some shit and drink some beers, and wait for the squeaky brake sound to come.

“A couple of cabs went by, and then Philly the Rope who had a surplus cop Fury. And then came an actual cop car. A couple of fat pigs eating hoagies and drinking Slurpees, coming down Herman, the driver squeezing his brakes, looking all over for some delinquent to belt around.

“And when the fuckers were right below us on the road, we stood up from behind the shrubs and let ‘em have it, baby. You should have seen the pussies in that black and white piss themselves as all these rocks start comin’ outta nowheres. Bam! The windshield busted. Bam! The lights on the light bar shatter, blue and red pieces all over the road. The side windows blow out and rocks are bouncing off the body, dents and scratched paint. What a fucking mess. Then we split and hid, because every cop in Vancouver rolled in and they were pissed.”

“That’s a very interesting story, Mr Fink,” said Avakian.

“Call me Eli.”

“Okay, Eli,” Avakian said. “But I wonder what it has to do with the current situation.”

“Hell, I don’t know,” said Eli Fink. “I was just thinking about another time I was up against the cops.”

“We’re just here to keep people safe and facilitate the exchange.”

“And blow me away,” Fink said.

“Do you think that will be necessary?” Avakian asked.

“I don’t know,” Fink said, sounding a little confused. “I just know that after we pelted that cop car, the pigs spent weeks hunting each of us down. A couple of us ended up in the hospital. I got clobbered in a stairwell at night by this big fat fucker named Wilken. I still got numbness in my left hand from him grinding his heel into it, while his partner gagged me with his Maglite. The cops just wanted to let us know that they was the toughest street gang in town.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, fuck.”

“Do you think that what you’re asking for now is reasonable, Eli?”

“None of this is reasonable.”

“That’s true,” Avakian said. “I’m glad you understand that. You can’t hold the dog responsible, Eli. He’s just a dog.”

“I don’t hold him responsible. He’s just my hostage. If I could get my hands on its owner, I’d have a knife to her throat right now.”

“Careful what you say, Eli.”

“Fuck, it’s a dog,” Fink said, sounding slightly crazed. “How’d this all happen? It’s just a fucking dog.”

“And you’ve got that going in your favour, Eli. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says the most you can do is two years for causing an animal distress. You’d be facing serious time if it was a human being, instead of a dog.”

“Frankie ain’t in no distress. Are you, boy?” Eli reached out and petted the dogs head.

“All the better.”

earlier that day

How many of his dawns had come this way? Eli Fink waking from a dim dream of sleep within a wheel, with an idea of some significance lodged inside of a fragile sphere, ready to burst at the first hint of wakefulness.

Then bang, the great idea was gone, upon Fink seeing the worldly ceiling above him. As across the street a coin operated newsstand was refilled with the morning news, and its spring loaded door slammed shut. Was the sound of it a crash or a thud? It happened so fast, so unexpectedly every morning that no one cared to think. Then the newspaper truck sped away, and it was quiet again. A second chance at sleep.

But there’d be nothing for it. Eli would be fully awake, if a bit sticky of mouth and in a fog. And that idea of some significance had floated away. The residue of the fragile sphere it occupied had sunk to the ground, while the vapour of the idea itself had migrated into its surroundings, and twisted and bound with the atoms of the walls and floors, lost there forever. How many of his dreamed ideas had bound with those atoms? God might know, if God gave a goddam.

He thought for a moment of Rachel, so recently gone that her perfume lingered in the bedding and bathroom towels.

You’re mad, she had said in her kitchen table goodbye note, which he had found the night she’d fled. I thought it was aestheticism, she had written, but it’s just a common working man’s madness. Goodbye.

He’d had to look up aestheticism on Wikipedia. It was a compliment that had come too late, and it broke his heart. Rachel’s absence was an abyss that absorbed all available light. Eli Fink would now and forever stumble in the dark.

He turned in his bed and placed his feet on the floor. The clock suggested 5am. A sound offer. He’d take it, and wash his face. Then eat from the refrigerator. And after that, drive his flat black ’68 Ford to the job site, where the labourers lingered at the coffee truck, the surveyors played the angles and the foremen dreamed of empty desert highways, souped-up Chevrolets and any floral print damsel they could find, other than their own untidy wives, riding shotgun in the republic of doo-wop.

It was Wednesday. The day they’d pour his concrete. His curving masterwork through a maple grove and around a fountain in the park would come to life.

The excavation for his sidewalk conformed absolutely to the lines and grades specified. He had taken great care in avoiding damage to areaways, and appurtenances.

The cement would be type Normal Portland GU with a minimum 28 day compressive strength of 32 MPa, and a maximum nominal size of coarse aggregate of ¾ of an inch. Slump at point of discharge 3 ± 1 inch. All laid over an immaculate granular backfill.

His forms were of flexible plywood and were of sufficient strength to resist the pressure of concrete when poured, and all vibration from nearby construction. They were staked in place with three pins per yard, and he’d placed a pin on each side of each form butt joint. There’d be no more than a fraction of an inch of deviation from the grade.

He had chosen his trowels, edgers and a broom of the correct coarseness the day before. He would etch in the cut-marks with scrupulous precision.

After this magnum opus, he should retire. He could never top it. But he couldn’t retire. He was only fifty-four. There were still hundreds of sidewalks, avenues, boulevards, ramps, corners and curbs to lay. Hundreds of miles of them, to join the hundreds he’d laid before this. Would the length of them eventually reach round the world, or to the moon? Who kept track of these things? Perhaps some manless prude at city hall, who stayed overtime to check her arithmetic. Then went home to her pitiless cat.

The first cement truck arrived at 7.30am, and began to pour at 7.35.

He watched the fluid concrete flow down the chute, and into the forms. It was full of stony viscous metaphor. A river one might travel down, but upon which he could never return. There were tides of it, hard and in its liquid form, made high and low by the gentle moon. It lay wet and vulnerable for a time, at the mercy of cruel circumstance, but then solidified to a hardness and resilience beyond measure. But during that time of vulnerability, any number of things could happen. The worst of which were the careless footprints of senile oldsters, and unrestrained children and pets – and graffiti, who the hell was Ziggy, after all? There was no adequate protection against these things. He could only return from further up the length his work to find the irreparable damage, and inside, weep.

That day’s damage would be caused by an unrestrained pet, a friendly Australian Shepherd named Frankie. Frankie’s human was a woman named Francine. The closeness of their names was one of those things that made one wonder about human/pet relationships. Eli Fink would learn the names of these two when in a desperate fit, he did a desperate thing.

Francine, as it turned out, rejected leash laws, believing that they commodified and degraded animals as intelligent as dogs. In a newspaper interview yet to come, Francine would observe that leashes were only appropriate for cats.

Like all dogs of his breed, Frankie was born to herd the sum of all sentient beings on planet Earth into a tight maneuverable knot that could be run from one pasture to another, or back to the shearing hut. But lacking a medial orbitofrontal cortex, he had never regretted the fact that he had failed to ever do so – he’d just kept trying. And on that day, after the cement was poured and Eli Fink was creating his master work, as he moved up the walk with trawl, edger and broom toward the fountain roundabout, Frankie the dog would lock onto a grazing flock of Canada geese in the vicinity of the Fink’s finished work, and after sneaking in a crouched position so as not to alarm his quarry, he would launch into a genetically preprogramed dash meant to corral the rabble.

But the geese flew away instead, leaving Frankie momentarily confused, until he started biting away at what might have been a flea on his haunch. Regrettably, in his pursuit, Frankie had run along the sidewalk of wet cement and permanently added his paw prints. They’d remain there for all eternity.

Eli Fink ran back to the spot as fast as he could, when he was informed. But all remedial efforts were for not. The concrete had been too close to setting.

Frankie and his human, Francine, now stood by and observed the visible signs of Eli Fink’s heart sinking, and Francine stepped up and said –

“Frankie and I are real sorry, mister.”

Fink thought about those words for a moment and recalled all of the times he’d heard them before, from dog and cat owners, and mothers of wicked children with gummy soled shoes. In 1985, a car drove across his just laid sidewalk, and the driver, stinko drunk, got out of the car and vomited on Eli Fink’s boots – he’d said he was sorry. In 1989, a group of punk rockers had etched FuCK boN jOvI in two foot letters on a curb – they’d said sorry too, then fuck you cement boy. In 2006, a blind man tripped and fell trying to walk a just laid avenue – he said he was real sorry. But a week later, he began a civil action, claiming Fink and the City were negligent for allowing wet cement to just lay around, a hazard upon which anyone could injure themselves. It took three years, but it was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Fink was suspended a week without pay. Even the union couldn’t help.

There were other examples of the public’s carelessness and disrespect of his vocation and art. And then –

I thought it was aestheticism, Rachel had written, but it’s just a common working man’s madness. Goodbye.

“Fuck!” Eli Fink yelled, and grabbed Frankie by the collar. He began walking toward a park gardeners shed, pulling the dog behind.

“Wait!” Francine called out. “What are you doing with my dog?”

She ran after him as more and more people stopped to watch, and Fink turned, pulling a small Swiss Army knife from his pocket. He fought to open it with his teeth, as he held onto Frankie’s collar. But in his struggle, he succeeded only in producing the corkscrew. He swung it round wildly, so the world could see that he meant business. He’d always wondered what use he had for a corkscrew on a knife. Now he knew.

“Don’t hurt my dog, you psycho,” Francine shouted.

“Just back off,” Eli Fink said. “I got demands. (Actually he didn’t, yet.) You don’t get Frankie back until those demands are met, baby. And if they aren’t, the mutt gets it.”

Fink pulled Frankie along, looking over his shoulder once or twice, until he was in the shed. Then he closed the door and jammed a shovel under the doorknob, and waited. For what, he didn’t know.

Sergeant Avakian arrived twenty minutes after the first squad car, along with the Vancouver Police Department ERT, and an Officer of the BCSPCA.

“He’s just got a dog as his hostage?” said Lieutenant Black, of the VPD Emergency Response Team. He had his balaclava pulled back so the world could see his ruggedly handsome face, and what a swell bunch of good natured guys his heavily armed, black clad paramilitary team was.

“Hell, we can have him outta there in a couple of minutes,” he said. “With a stun grenade. We just got these new ones that….”

“No you don’t,” said Officer Wilma Muson of the BCSPCA. She was four foot, six inches to Black’s six foot, three.

“Why the hell not?” said Black.

“Because,” said Munson. “Section 23.2 (1) of the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says: A person must not cause an animal to be in distress. I think a stun grenade would definitely cause that poor dog one hell of a lot of distress.”

“It’s a dog, for the love of Pete,” Black said. “Since when is a dog a legitimate goddam hostage?”

“You’ve gotta admit, Lieutenant,” Munson said, “that there is a chance that the dog will be killed or injured in any attempt you make to free him and take the hostage-taker into custody, right?”

“I guess,” said Black. “There’s always a very slim chance that….”

“Well,” Munson said. “Section 23.2 (2) (b) of the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says that: A person who kills an animal must not, in killing the animal, cause the animal to be in distress or do anything that is prohibited by the regulations. I’d wager that being shot and wounded or killed in the confusion you and your crew would cause, would be very distressful to that animal. It’s the law, Danno.”

“This is a joke, right?” Lieutenant Black said. He clenched his fists and kicked at the grit on the ground. “We just got in a brand new goddam shipment of stun grenades to try out. They’re from the Mexican Federal Police. They’ve been using them on the cartels down there with mucho goddam exito. Now we want to give ‘em a tryout, Officer Munson, and this is an excellent opportunity. You’re just getting in the way. Go rescue a fucking gerbil.”

“I’m pretty sure, Lieutenant,” Wilma Munson said, with a smile, “that you’re used to having things your own way. But now’s not the time for you to have a hissy-fit.”

“A what!”

“Look,” Sergeant Avakian said. “I haven’t even spoken to the hostage-taker yet. Let’s try that first, shall we? We just got his cell number a moment ago.”

“I’m the ranking officer here,” said Lieutenant Black.

“So far,” said Avakian. “But I’m the negotiator. Procedure says we talk first, and you know it.”

“Well, fuck me,” Black said, walking away and yelling at his men to take their goddam balaclavas off and stand down.

“Wow,” said Munson. “There goes an angry man.”

“Never mind,” Avakian said, and punched a number into his phone.

Inside the shed, Eli Fink’s cell phone rang. He thought it might be Rachel. It wasn’t her ring, but then she’d changed her number.

“Hello?” he said. “Rachel?”

“No, Mr Fink,” Sergeant Avakian said.

“Look,” said Fink. “I’m not interested in a time share.”

“I’m not selling anything, Mr Fink. This Sergeant Avakian of the Vancouver Police Department.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

“Who’s Rachel? Is she someone you’d like for me to contact?”

“No.”

“I will, you know?”

“I wouldn’t know where to find her.”

“Is there anything you need?”

“Ah, no,” Fink said, disarmed by the cop’s calm tone and kind questions.

“How’s Frankie?” said Avakian.

“He’s a little shit,” Fink said. Frankie sat and looked up at him. He looked wise, for a dog. He looked like he might say something profound. For the first time, Fink noticed dried cement between the animal’s toes.

“There’s a woman out here who wants him back, Mr Fink,” Avakian aid.

“I want things, too.”

“Tell me what they are.”

“I want that sidewalk replaced,” Eli Fink said. “And I want every sidewalk I ever laid, that was ruined by animal or human, pulled up and replaced.”

“That might take a while,” said Avakian.

“Then get started.”

“This isn’t a typical demand. Replacing sidewalks will take a while.”

“I got a corkscrew at this little mutt’s throat, right now. (Actually, the Swiss Army knife was in Fink’s pocket.) You get the ball rolling or I’m gonna delete his cookies. I know it’ll take a while. You just get me a promise from the Mayor that he’ll do it. Then Frankie’s free to go shit on the lawn.”

1 a.m.

There was chanting coming from a short distance away from the shed. People were yelling animal rights slogans and lighting candles. Twenty cops in riot gear stood their ground. Eli Fink’s effigy had been hung by a noose from a tree. Special high powered lighting was focused on the shed. For some reason, the fire department and five ambulances was there.

“So, when do you think the Mayor’s gonna come through?” Fink said. “It’s been hours.”

“He’s been informed of your demand, Eli,” Avakian said. “He says he’s talking to the City’s lawyers.”

“I want kibble, water and some capicola pizza and beer.”

“Good,” said Avakian. “I’ll get it for you.”

“Hurry. Frankie looks hungry.”

“Eli?”

“What?”

“Did those Skeena Project cops ever have to face disciplinary action?”

“Doubt it,” Fink said. “Someone would have had to rat them out, and we wouldn’t do that. My money’s on karma. Maybe they got prostate cancer.”

“Ah.”

“What about your SWAT boys? They ready to dance on my head?”

“ERT’s on alert, but they’re holding back for the moment.”

“How long will that last?”

“I don’t know. It’s dark. They like to work in the dark.”

“Frankie probably needs to take a piss, I guess,” Fink said. Then he heard a commotion at the other end of the line. After a moment, Avakian spoke —

“The Mayor’s office just called, Eli. He’s says no.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“Yeah.”

“Am I gonna die?”

“Come out with your hands up, Eli. No one needs to die tonight.”

Frankie was asleep, curled up at Eli’s feet. Eli reached down and scratched the dog’s ear.

“People think I’m high strung,” he said.

Avakian didn’t reply.

“I just got kicked around a lot when I was kid. Now I want some control over things. I like to do things right. You pay a price for that, you know?.”

Avakian remained quiet.

“You there, Sergeant?”

There was more commotion on the cops’ end of the line. It sounded like the phone had been dropped.

“Just give me a little more time,” he heard Avakian say.

Fink opened the door a crack and peeked out. There were animal rights protesters and media on the sidewalk. The energy of the crowd was changing.

Frankie barked twice, and began to growl, looking up at a small window. Then something burst through the glass. It was hard and the shape and size of a can of soup. It came to rest on the floor after bouncing off the walls. On its side were the words uso de explosivos extrema precaución. Mexican soup, Eli Fink thought a second before the stun grenade blew.

Fink lost the hearing in his right ear, and spent the rest of his life having to turn his left ear toward the source of pleasant sounds. He taught many of his fellow prisoners how to work with concrete while doing federal time. There were the animal endangerment charges, and other subsequent charges that added up to five years. While in prison, a psychiatrist prescribed him a benzodiazepine medication.

Frankie recovered after three days of deafness, and Francine now uses a leash.

the bust

you the suicide?
says the cop
black in wish and uniform

not yet
I say
bewildered

you better come with us
your psychiatrist called

oh, I say
my psychiatrist
¿the lonesome alcoholic? who
sits in the corner
nodding like a dog
on the dashboard of a vintage Chevrolet

the one with the pink noise
in the waiting room
blunt crayons
and colouring books

that must be her, says the cop

to him, I am torment
he didn’t join up
to scoop forlorn poetasters
with tricksy razor blades
and teary notes good-bye

he’s tragic, I can see
his head imbued with
procedure, heartache
and internet porn
his state granted gun and
the power of arrest

he’s heard of jazz and
thinks it’s the blues

he has parcels coming UPS

and yet
I am to go with him
in the backseat as though
he is the chauffeur
and I am the fiery fine King
of Tuesday Afternoon

Aftertown graphic novel 1 — rewrite

part 2 here,  part 2.1 here,  part 3 here

I posted the first draft of this story in 2013. Then I walked away. Now Aftertown has caught on. So, I’ve polished off some of the rough edges of the original draft.

Evidence
Runic on the clouds. Cryptic in the sky. Dissecting a piece of evidence is a process of increasing its surface area, exposing more of it to the light. But where was there light sufficient enough? Where and when did the day arrive? Where was it that light was something more than a yellow incandescence thing, swaying at the end of a brittle wire? 

Frame #3 (October 29, 1912, 11:47 p.m.)
It was another bad news day. The papers didn’t show up at the news-stands. Aftertown newsies and their families will go hungry again. Sometimes even misinformation is just too difficult to deliver, better to shut the presses down and stay home.

News of the dead girl in the street will never make the papers, except as a celebration. One more lost soul finally found, her suffering ended, Aftertown rid of another undesirable.

A silver blimp flies over the city, slow and menacing. Its crew shines a beam of arc light down on the scene. Cops on the ground look up into the blinding radiance and wave. The dirigible gunners have everyone in their sights, that’s certain. The squinting cops waving like school children.

The rain continues to wash away blood and evidence. No one cares to secure the scene. It’s just a dead castaway. What’s for certain is that she’s not connected to the any of the Imperial Guilds, at least not directly, not in any way that would earn her a more private and dignified death.

“You shouldn’t be here, Roseland.”

It’s McDermott talking, standing a little behind me and to my left. He’s hankering for me to turn around, to meet him face to face. It’s a control exercise that’s never worked on me, pure Deterrent Guild conduct. School-yard bullying the Deterrent Guild refers to as street delicacy, believing its practice requires artfulness and subtly.

Why he bothers, I‘ve no idea. Maybe he’s waiting for me to turn around one day and slap him. It’ll never happen. McDermott’s surrounded by backup. He’s a coward playing a brave man’s game, a dead man waiting for his own moment to lie in the rain.

“It’s my town too, McDermott,” I say. “Where else should I be?”

“It’s a Deterrent Guild crime scene. Besides, you shouldn’t show up until frame #85.”

“This stopped being a crime scene the moment you clowns appeared,” I say, lighting a hero with a soggy match. “And I checked out frame #85 before I arrived. It makes more sense for me to appear here first.”

“You don’t decide that, Roseland.”

“Show me who does, and I’ll have it out with him. ‘Til then, you know anything about the girl?”

“Don’t know shit about the girl,” McDermott says. “‘Cept she’s dead. But I knew a guy once…”

“Spare me. We all knew a guy once.”

“He skipped frames and appeared where he wasn’t supposed to, where he wasn’t welcome.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, and he fell under a truck one day. Just like that. Got caught under the differential. Got dragged down the street for blocks. Screamed like a little girl with her hair on fire most of the way. So much of him got left behind on the pavement, it was like the truck had just spit him out from behind. Pretty gruesome, had to bring in the Fire Brigade to hose things down. Didn’t want the Upper Guild ladies to swoon. But that son of a bitch never jumped a frame again.”

“A lesson for us all.”

“You think you’re smart, Roseland. But there’re rooms at the Deterrent Bureau where smart guys like you go in and never come out. Not intact, anyway.”

“Thought we fell under trucks, just like that.”

Then there’s just the sound of the rain, and the dirigible engines receding. McDermott is gone, along with the sound of his laboured breathing.

A shabby hearse drawn by a single slope backed mare pulls up. No black prancing geldings dispatched for this pick-up. The two man Mortician Labourer Guild crew roll the soaked corpse into a stained canvass blanket, and heft it onto the back of the wagon.  

Frame #47 (October 30, 1912, 6:35 a.m.) 

The Sceptic Guild Optimist’s News Paper headline reads:

Act of War: Titanic Sunk on Maiden Voyage by Chan Cult Torpedo – More Than 1,500 Perish.

That’s what the newspapers say.

In fact, the Titanic left on its maiden voyage in May of this year, and never arrived at The Port of Montreal. No explanation was given. The massive steamship was swallowed up by a passive sea of denial. Now this headline.

The Optimist, the first newspaper to be printed in days, insists the ship was attacked and went under two nights ago, not in May at all. Readers believe every word. The violent and mystifying Chan Cult has struck again.

It will not declare war, will not make demands; it only wants to kill and destroy. The Imperial Guild System is in peril. Every able bodied male must present himself for enlistment to fight against Chan.

The Anti-Chan League marches through the dark, rain soaked streets. Theirs is a slow, righteous, rhythmic stride. They’re so young, so willing to believe, so prepared to sacrifice everything to their Sponsor Guilds. There’s a blue poppy tattooed upon each of their left temples, and, though they’re dressed like everyone else, they each have a red silk sash tied round one of their wrists; the right wrists of the males, the left wrists of the females.

Frame #49 (October 30, 1912, 7:17 a.m.)

Before I step into the City Morgue, a fresh faced young woman hands me a pamphlet. She curtseys but doesn’t smile before she moves on. On the cover of the pamphlet is the caricature of an obese Asian man with an evil grin. This, we’re to believe, is Chan.

The image depicts him as wicked and cunning. He has effeminate features; his fingernails and eyelashes are too long, his lips too full. He holds an opium pipe in one hand, the severed head of a causation woman in the other.

Turning the document over, I see that the pamphlet’s production was paid for by the Munitions Guild. I drop it onto the wet pavement. Mine is the only one that’s been discarded. It floats away on a rivulet of oily rain water.

In the City Morgue reception area, there is no receptionist, only a shytube built into the wall. It’s spherical, reflective and black like a dark crystal ball. There are smudges and bits of dried matter on it, including what looks like clotted blood and human hair. Beneath it is a dented metal grill. On the floor is a pair of shoe prints, painted, indicating where one is to stand in order for the shy to have full audio visual advantage. I step up and wait.

“What?” a voice from the metal grill says.

“Matthew Roseland,” I say, holding my credentials next to my face.

“Shamus Guild, here to see a corpse.”

“No.”

“Let me speak with Melville,” I say.

“No.”

“Melville, now.”

“No,” again. But this time there’s background noise, a tussle and a yelp, then what sounds like a body hitting the floor. Whoever was on the side saying, no, has just been physically reprimanded.

“Roseland?” a woman’s voice says over the speaker. “Please run a sleeve over the shytube, will you?”

I pull my handkerchief out of my breast pocket and do my best to polish the shy.

“That’s fine, Roseland. Please move over to the door, and I’ll buzz you in.”

The door buzzes and I enter. On a desk immediately inside the morgue is a shy CRT panel. Behind it, a young cadet is just standing to his feet and brushing dust off of his uniform. A desk chair lies on its side.  A tall red-headed woman with an athletic build stands next to the young man. She’s wearing a Deterrent Guild Intelligence Sect uniform with Principal NCO stripes. There’s a disgusted look on her face. The cadet looks up at her. He’s wearing rumpled Intelligence Sect black serge. He recognises something in the Principal NCO’s expression. He comes to attention.

“May I be excused, Principal?” he asks.

“Get the hell out,” Melville says. “Don’t let me see your filthy, overfed snake face for at least an hour. And have a crease put into those trousers, you disgraceful little slob.”

“Yes, Principal,” the cadet says. He salutes, clicks his heels and exits.

“You know,” I say. “I can get in easier through the back with the judicious distribution of cigarettes.”

“Perhaps,” says Melville, sighing. “But then your evidence would be inadmissible. Besides, if I found out you bribed your way in, I’d have to disappear a whole shift of workers. That never works out as smoothly as one wishes.”

“Have me disappeared with the rest. I’m not too good to be erased along with them.”

“Yes you are,” Melville says.

She smiles almost proudly. She’s a square peg, secretly proud to consort with the likes of me. We each wonder to ourselves when the other will be disappeared. It’s inevitable; the charm is in seeing how far we can push before we’re erased. Before we are invited by Special Courier’s Note to attend the basement of the Deterrent Bureau.

Melville and I walk together down a hall.

“It’s the Nash Way whore, I imagine,” Melville says.

“I guess,” I say. “Is that what they’re calling her? Anything else as interesting come in during the last 7 hours?”

“Of course,” Melville says. “Would you like to see a list?”

She’s toying with me.

“You’re not even supposed to show up until sometime after frame #85.”

“My appearance in frame #85,” I say. “It’s inconsistent with Shamus Guild SOP. Whoever’s creating this mess should know that. He or she wrote the book, after all.”

“So you pop up wherever it suits you?” Melville says. “There’s consequences to that.”

“We’re hip deep in consequence,” I say. “We’re fuelled by it, you and I. We’re consequence engines.”

We arrive at the coolers. They’re a soiled, gaseous row of 35 meat lockers, each with the Intel Sect seal, each containing twenty bunks.

Even with Intel Sect’s trademark efficiency and frequent rotation, every bunk is usually full. The number of occupants is always high, but these aren’t the disappeared. The disappeared aren’t processed through the morgue. The disappeared never existed.

Melville picks up a grubby clipboard. There’s a small crowd of morgue technicians nervously present.

“Number 11,” she says to no one in particular, but all those present jump. A gurney appears accompanied by three men in splattered off-white lab coats. They move together, officiously to Locker One and open it while Melville and I retire to an examination room.

In the examination room, even before the Nash Way corpse is rolls in, there’s the smell of death and decay. Each smell separate in its implications, but joined irrevocably.

There’s a shytube in each corner of the room. Melville and I will not be the only ones present. I dab eucalyptus ointment below my nostrils. Melville does the same. Official protocol requires her to be present while I examine the body.

When it arrives, the body rolls in on a conveyor through a curtained portal in the wall. It’s naked, and has no sheet covering it. A sheet would be an extra expense, and its use might provide the corpse a dignity the Deterrent Guild and Intel Sect believe it doesn’t deserve.

I look the corpse over, head to toe. It was once the supple, strong body of an aware young woman. Now it’s a broken, mute proprietary emblem of the Guilds.

“Twenty-five, perhaps,” I say.

“Agreed,” Melville says.

“Toxins in the blood or tissues?”

“Unknown,” Melville says. “No tests ordered.”

“Does she have a name?”

“None yet.”

“Massive trauma to the left thorax over the heart,” I say, for the wax disc recording being made in an adjoining room. “Star shaped entry wound and,” I turn the body over, “corresponding exit wound through the spine. I won’t guess at the exact vertebrae involved here. That’s for a ME, but they’ve been pulverised. I will mention, however, that the wound was caused by a .50 calibre bullet fired from a medium distance. Nothing smaller could have caused this.”

“Disappeared,” Melville says. “A sniper. Heavy weapons are used for insurance in such cases.”

“Yes,” I agree, with extreme prejudice. But if so, how’d she end up here and not in a landfill. And how do we explain this?”

I point to a dried, scabbed patch on the back of the right shoulder, measuring approximately seven metric inches by ten where the epidermis has been removed.

“Any insight on this from any of you looking in?” I say this without looking up at a shytube.

A specimen tray is spit through the curtained portal, and rolls along until it bumps the feet of the corpse and splashes formaldehyde over its sides. Now I do look up at a shy.

In the tray is a tattooed piece of apparently human skin, likely removed to avoid use as an identifier. The art is primitive and obviously tribal.

“It’s a Triskele, Shamus Roseland,” a man’s voice says over a speaker. It’s The Voice. “Three S’s in a circle. It’s Celtic in origin, and is representative of the Triple Goddess and the Three Ages of Womanhood. And much more, of course.”

Now the crashes open, and McDermott strolls in with his overly armed retinue.

“Not now, McDermott,” says The Voice.

McDermott waves his people out of the room, as he sits on a counter-top.

“It seems impossible,” The Voice continues, “to simply eliminate an inconvenience in this dystopia of mine.“

“Yes, sir,” McDermott says.

“I wonder, Roseland,” The Voice says, “just in passing. Do you think you’re the only one who jumps in and out of the frames of this story? Sticking his nose where it shouldn’t be stuck?”

“Never gave it much thought,” I say.

“And therein lies the rub, eh?” says The Voice. “Not thinking. Plague of the heroic mind, hmm. I was always against the creation of the Shamus Guild, you know. Others thought it would provide a modest level of tension, but I knew it would only lead to inconvenience and extra effort. You see, you were only supposed to appear in frame #85 in order to drop an important bit of information, Roseland. Nothing more. Then you were to be run over by a Deterrent Guild anti-personnel vehicle. Your role in all of this was meant to be nothing more than a sentence fragment.”

“Who was she?” Melville says, pointing at the dead woman.

“Just something I manufactured, my dear. Like you. And like you, she took on an overly developed character. Prohibited, of course. But who can stop it? Not me, that’s obvious. I’m only the Artist and Author. Once brought into being, all of you seem to proceed along your own track, quite against all plot and logic. As a result, she became involved in two movements that hitherto never even existed in Aftertown, not in my mind at least. She became a feminist and an anarchist. Where, one wonders, could that have come from? I’d meant for her to be a ballerina, a fine mind but an artistic heart, tragic and destined for an early death at the hands of a deceitful lover. Sordid, trite, but necessary to the narrative. I wonder if she somehow caught wind of it all, and that’s why she rebelled so. What do you think, McDermott?”

“I think it’s better to take yer lumps than skip around from frame to frame,” McDermott says.

“Ah,” The Voice says. “Spoken like a character who truly knows from which direction his dinner is served. But I say, McDermott. How do we move forward from here? I am surrounded by rebellion, and only have incompetents like you to protect me from rogue characters.”

McDermott doesn’t answer, just looks down at his enormous feet, his shabby shoes.

“You loved her,” Melville says.

“Not possible,” The Voice says. “She was a drawing.”

“It’s obvious,” I say. “But you didn’t love her enough to protect her. She frightened you.”

“You go too far.”

“Maybe,” I say. “But you’ve proven yourself fallible. You’d have done better to remain shrouded, and had her properly erased. Delivered to a municipal pyre.”

“Perhaps,” says The Voice. “But we’ll never know now. I have begun manufacturing a glorious funeral for her. She will rest in Guild Field. She will sleep with giants. You’ll both attend, of course.”

I look across at Melville. Her eyes are bright and defiant, and I’m glad I’m on her side.  

Frame #13,079 (November 1, 1915, 3:35 a.m.)
I walk up the stairs from the underground.

McDermott’s body has been found in the subway stairwell. I see his face just before a white sheet is drawn over it. He seems not to have been in any distress when he died, in spite of the multiple stab wounds. He didn’t see it coming.

A third round of hostilities has erupted in Europe. The Chan Cult is said to have partnered with The Ulster Coven. Their submarine packs hunt the North Atlantic for Imperial Guild merchant vessels. There’s further curtailment of rights and freedoms.

Melville vanished for several months, and has reappeared bizarrely promoted to General Invisible of Intel Sect. Likely an attempt by The Voice to control her with commendation.

She’s put a warrant out for my arrest. As a result, I now have free run of Aftertown and the valuable, hands-off status of a man wanted by the GI, herself. I’m untouchable except by her.

The Deterrent Guild has agents walking all over the crime scene, like it’s a fair ground. All evidence will be compromised, soon. Nothing will be left but cold dead McDermott, beneath a sheet.

Several blocks away, there’s an explosive flash. A split second later, a concussive wave and deafening blast. It is raining. There are arc lights scanning the clouded sky.

Aftertown Graphic Novel #2 .1

Part 1 here  —  Part 2 here  —  Part 2.2 here  —  Part 3 here

Frame #137 (October 22, 1911, 8:25 p.m.) Imperial Penny Odeon Movie Theatre, Newsreel: Grainy black and white movie images flicker across the screen, an organist accompanies the silent film. The Blue Star Liner Pythagoras sinks in the North Atlantic. As its desperate last moments unfold, only the bow remains above the water. Then a massive primary hatch gives way under the extreme pressure. There’s an explosion of ballistic steel, steam and ocean spray, as what is left of the grand, recently launched, testament to the technological and industrial prowess of the Imperial Guild Establishment disappears below the surface.

Cut to scene of a child’s toy bobbing on the water, then to a drowned child half submerged – a little girl, her lifeless eyes open wide, once searching, now seeing nothing.

There is no explanation as to how such expert cinematography is possible, under the conditions.

A text tablet appears, black with white lettering and filigree, as the organ music intensifies: The notoriously cruel and cunning Chan Cult strikes again on the high seas. Its pitiless torpedo boats attack the unarmed Pythagoras on only its second voyage, leaving 1,353 innocents to perish in icy North Atlantic waters.

Cut to scene of dead woman nearly face down, grasping a floating deck chair. Only a portion of her face can be seen beneath her shabby hair and overturned hat. Visible is a corner of her forehead and a lean cheek coated in a thin layer of ice. The volume of the organ music decreases, becoming poignant. From her attire, it is obvious that she was poor, an immigrant or refugee.

The next text tablet appears, organ music becomes ominous: Striking at those least able to defend themselves, the Chan Cult continues its mindless and inexplicable violence against the very people it claims to represent and defend. Chan makes no demands, ignores all request to negotiate, appearing to murder and destroy for the degenerate love of doing so.

Look to your right; will that person in the seat next to you, or someone he or she loves, be the next victim of Chan Cult violence?

Cut to scene of Blue Star Line Ensign cap floating in water. Organ music becomes militaristic, then mockingly oriental as the scene fades, replaced by a static image, the caricature of an obese Asian man with an evil grin. Chan. He’s wicked and cunning, and has effeminate features; his fingernails are too long, lips too full. He holds a smoking opium pipe in one hand, the severed head of a causation woman in the other.

The audience begins to boo and hiss. They throw objects at the screen.

Another text tablet appears: Have you seen this man? Before you leave this theatre tonight, be certain you donate what you can to the Anti-Chan League. If you’re between the ages of fifteen and thirty years, and of sound physicality, sign-up for active military duty. Do your part against those who are against you.

The organ music reaches its climactic end as the word ‘Intermission’ appears across the screen. The lights come up and the curtain falls. The audience instinctively stands in applause. Roseland stands as well, but uses the moment to exit the theatre.

In the lobby, a young woman is selling cigarettes from a tray strapped around her neck. Roseland approaches her.

“Are those legal again?” he says, pointing to the cigarettes.

“Ain’t they always been?” says the woman.

“Sure, I guess,” Roseland says. “You Gwendolyn?”

“I am if you’re Matthew Roseland.”

“Then you’re Gwendolyn,” Roseland says, choosing a deck of Heroes.

“Not that one,” Gwendolyn says. “Here, take these. And there’s something else you should see in these here matches. Powerful stuff, huh? The newsreel, I mean.”

“Makes you think,” Roseland says, unfolding the matchbook and reading a name – Pixie – then placing it back in Gwendolyn’s tray.

“I had to watch it through the doors,” she says. “I ain’t allowed to leave the lobby in case someone needs smokes. I saw the feature the other night, though, after my shift. It was sure swell. You stayin’ for it? That Marshall Mitchum sure makes a girl weak, I’ll say.”

“No,” Roseland says, lighting a Hero. “I ain’t staying.”

“You kinda look like Mitchum, you know,” Gwendolyn says. “A girl ever tell you that?”

“Never,” Roseland says.

“Well maybe if you got time later, you might like to treat a potential fan to a drink.”

“That’s very forward of you,” Roseland says.

“Golly! A girl’s gotta be forward in Aftertown, or she stays home alone an awful lot.”

“I’ve gotta date,” Roseland says.

“Huh, shoulda known. That’s some lucky girl, I’ll say.”

Roseland drops a fifty cent tip into Gwendolyn’s tray. “Buy a copy of Heartthrob to keep yourself company tonight.”

“Gee, that’s awful generous. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Outside of the theatre, the streets are slick with rain. There’s a combination of horse-drawn and motorised vehicle traffic. Pedestrians dash in and out and walk with their heads down into the rain and wind.

A man with no legs is positioned under a battered umbrella, in the glow of the theatre marquee. A sign strung around his neck reads Chan War Veteran. There’s a nearly empty saucer in front of him containing a few pennies. Roseland tips his hat and carries on without donating. Above it all, a Deterrent Guild dirigible hovers, its arc lights scanning the streets, its machine gunners at the ready, its engines nearly inaudible.

Roseland walks along West Hastings Street as a silver Mountbank Touring Limousine pulls up alongside, and stops. A woman with an automatic machine pistol steps out.

“Don’t even think about it, shamus,” the woman says, as she frisks Roseland’s sides for a yank. “I ain’t no lonesome cigarette girl. Now, get in the car.”

Roseland assesses the situation and agrees. She’s plain clothes Intel Sect, might as well be wearing a sign. He bows slightly, removes his hat and gets into the limousine, taking an empty bench seat across from a balding fat man in a fawn coloured suit and matching spats. It’s Simon Synge, self-proclaimed provocateur. Known to be an Intel Sect double agent. Synge is a major pain in the ass. He should have been disappeared a decade ago, but has an uncanny survivability.

The woman with the machine pistol sits next to Roseland.

“You didn’t stay for the feature, Rosy,” Synge says.

“Don’t call me Rosy,” says Roseland.

“Now, now,” says Synge, as he makes at choosing a chocolate from a box on his lap. “It’s a term of endearment, Old Boy. Besides, it is my car you’re riding in. Haven’t I the advantage at the moment? Daphne’s a crack shot, you know – especially at this range. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to have the interior redone after she’s fired out of turn.”

“Swell, but can she keep a guy warm at night?”

“Oh, I imagine she can,” Synge says, selecting and inspecting a bonbon. “Trouble is, she’d probably eat the poor, unsuspecting fellow or breakfast. Wouldn’t you, my dear?”

“With gravy,” says Daphne.

“Okay,” Roseland says. “So what’s the furore?”

“Some place you gotta be?” Daphne says. “The circus, maybe?”

“Daphne,” Synge says. “Please relent. Our associate, Rosy, is a busy chap, after all. Aren’t you, Mr Roseland? What with your moving, uninvited and without leave, from one frame of this story to the next? All very disrupting and displeasing to the gentleman who speaks from on high.”

Roseland leans forward, “He’s spoken to you?”

Daphne pushes Roseland back into his seat. “No sudden moves, buster. I’ll blast you into tomorrow.”

“Please do be careful, Rosy,” Synge says. “Daphne’s a sensitive girl. And yes, I do have some dealings with The Voice, as I’ve come to refer to him. A very disconcerting experience each and every time, I must say. He does, however, seem to have some sway over the events here in Aftertown, and I always endeavour maintain and enhance my social and business networks.”

“Swell. So, what’s this about?”

“Well,” Synge says, finally approving of his choice, and popping a chocolate into his mouth. “He, The Voice I mean, asks me to do two things. First obtain whatever information you acquired from that little quail of yours, Gwendolyn. I have a man dismantling her, even as we speak. But knowing her type as I do, I doubt she’ll spill before her silence becomes eternal. Really Rosy, you should be ashamed. After all, one marries a steady, loyal girl like Gwendolyn; one doesn’t use her for one’s own private gains, then cast her into the pit with Intel Sect cutthroats.

“Ah, well,” Synge continued, with a shrug. “The second item on tonight’s agenda is for me, with Daphne’s help, to impress upon you the need to stick to plot. Your abnormal sovereignty of movement really does throw things off kilter. Specifically, The Voice is bothered by the existence of a current rumour that has you trying to connect with this Brother Amos Borgiasangelo fellow at that ridiculous sideshow that’s materialized at Main and Gloucester. That’s what your little meeting with Gwendolyn was all, about wasn’t it, getting some tidbit of information that would place you closer to this deplorable Brother Amos fellow? The thing of it is, it’s not part of the story, Rosy Old Man. It’s just not part of the story.”

“What is the story?” Roseland says, lighting a hero.

“Who’s to know?” Synge says. “We play the hand we’re dealt. Isn’t that right, Daphne dear?”

“Right, boss.”

“Who’s doing the dealing?” Roseland says.

“Look,” Synge says, annoyed, looking up from his box of chocolates. “That’s really quite besides the point, and you’re starting to bore me. Why don’t you share with me all of what transpired between you and Gwendolyn, and then we’ll drop you off at your flat? You can take this and make an evening of it.” Synge holds out a bottle of leaf green Roaring Girl. “I can even arrange for you to have some company. Maybe a strapping young redhead, like that Intel Sect person. What is her name? Ah, Melville, that’s it. You seem mighty smitten with her. Way above your station in her current placement, of course. But one must admire your pluck, Rosy. Yes, indeed.”

“She’s General Invisible of Intel Sect,” Roseland says. “That makes her your boss. And you play at having difficulty remembering her name? That’s rich. You’re just a clown, aren’t you, Simon?

“General Invisible is no place for a common rank and file trollop like her, anyway,” Synge says. “It’s all just some Imperial Guild sport. She’s really quite an embarrassment. Her days are numbered, just as are yours.”

The limousine slows for a controlled intersection. Roseland flexes his right forearm, engaging a mechanism held in place by slender leather straps. A dagger drops from his sleeve, into the palm of his hand. In a second, he’s reached round and stabbed Daphne in the heart. He lifts his foot, placing it hard against Synge’s throat, pinning the fat man against the wall between the passenger and driver’s compartments. Daphne slides off of her seat and slumps onto the floor, amongst fallen chocolates.

Synge gasps and claws at Roseland’s shoe. From the corner of his eye, Roseland sees a flash. The chauffeur has come round to the passenger door, firing a revolver. Roseland grabs Daphne’s machine pistol and fires full-auto through the window glass, hitting the chauffeur between the eyes. But the chauffeur’s aim was true.  A bullet is lodged in Roseland’s arm, beneath the shoulder, where it burns like a hot coal.

“Never underestimate the street,” Roseland says, increasing the pressure against Synge’s throat, in spite of the pain. Synge’s lips are turning blue. In disgust, Roseland removes his foot and Synge sags in his seat.

“Ah, you see,” Synge says, coughing. “Plot is very powerful. There’s no place for my demise in this story. The Voice has assured me of it. You could never have followed through, and choked me to death.”

“A little odd having faith in what you hear, but can’t see.”

“Is it?”

Now Roseland aims Daphne’s yank at Synge. Synge makes a dismissive noise, and smiles. Roseland checks his aim, and fires. The bullets goes through Synge’s shoulder, and exits messily. Synge’s eyes bulge, as he starts to shriek.

“What you’re presently experiencing,” Roseland says. “Is the pain of misplaced faith.” Then after a bitter pause, “Now for the real test of your beliefs. Don’t worry, maybe The Voice will bring you back as a chorus girl.” Roseland changes aim again and fires, taking out Synge’s Left eye. Synge slides dead onto the floor with Daphne and his uneaten candy.

Roseland goes through Synge’s pockets, and attaché case. Then he slips the bottle of Roaring Girl into his trench coat pocket before exiting the car.

Frame #152 (October 22, 1911, 10:12 p.m.) The Thumbelina and Relentless Sisters’ Circus: Roseland emerges from the doorway of a derelict tenement, next to where circus tents have been erected. It’s a party atmosphere, rare in Aftertown. Crowds and hawkers swarm the midway. In the tents there are tigers, lions, girls in tights and high wire acts. There’s a loud explosion as a man is blown out of a cannon. The audiences cheers.

In the centre of it all, a pyre is being prepared for the climax of the night, the burning of a hobo recruited from beyond the Guild Boundary. He’ll be brought out raving and drugged to add to the drama, before he is tied to the post and the firewood ignited.

A woman strolls toward Roseland. “Welcome to the circus, sailor,” she says. “Got a smoke?”

“Ain’t no sailor,” Roseland says, offering the woman a hero.

“And I ain’t no schoolgirl,” the woman says. “But I can pretend like one. You wanna help a workin’ girl make her nightly quota?”

“There someone named Pixie round here?”

“Oh it’s like that, is it?” the woman says, exhaling smoke through her nose.

“Depends,” says Roseland.

“Well, if you like that sort of thing…. He sticks pretty close to Brother Amos in Circustown, at the end of the midway.”

“He?”

“Yeah,” the woman says. “Though he does all he can to doll himself up for the boys. I would’ve thought different from a bruiser like you, but I never learn.”

“Circustown, that the only address?”

“It’s all you’ll need, brother.”

“Thanks,” says Roseland.

“Don’t break a nail, sugar,” the woman says. “Oh, and ah, you’re trailing blood. Just sos you knows.”

Roseland carries on down the midway, past the wheels of fortune, cardsharps, shills and a man who cracks a whip to remove an ember from the cigarette in the mouth of a scantly clad woman. Lights start to get low and the mood becomes menacing.

“Pixie,” Roseland says to a one legged boy, sitting in a doorway. The boy points down a line of caravans.

“Follow the music,” he says.

“Thanks,” Roseland says, and flips the boy a dime.

At the end of a line of drab wagons is a larger, more colourful, brightly lit affair with loud Victrola music playing. A young man with a white face and a Mohawk stands in the doorway, toying with a switchblade. He’s wearing black studded leathers.

“Hey citizen,” the young man says. “You shopping?”

“Looking,” Roseland says.

“Fuck off then. This is the financial district. Zoo’s back that way.”

“Looking for someone named Pixie,” Roseland says.

“She’s busy.”

“She?”

“That’s right, she.” A familiar voice comes from out of the dark. It’s Chalk, emerging into the light. “What of it, Roseland you shamus wanker? You want to quibble over a lady’s genitalia?”

“I just want to talk with Brother Amos.”

“Then what you want Pixie for, eh?” says Chalk.

“Word says I have to go through Pixie.”

“Well word’s wrong,” Chalk says, pulling a straight razor out of his jacket pocket. “That’s what word is. You wanna converse with Brother Amos, you gotta go through me. Pixie’s just a rentboy in a skirt, hanging onto the Brother Amos like a fucking disease.”

“Bight your tongue, Mr Chalk,” says a young woman who stands in the caravan doorway. She has a pleasant face, and a deep voice. “You Terminus Boy Punks are just the hired help.”

Turning her attention toward Roseland, she says, “I’m Pixie Amore, if that’s who you want.” She steps down from the caravan doorway, holding out her hand as if to be kissed. “And you must be Matthew Roseland. I heard you were coming.”

Roseland ignores Pixie’s outstretched hand.

“Bloody hell,” Chalk says.

“The Boy Punks may go,” Pixie says, with a glib wave. “If you’re needed, you’ll be sent for.”

“Bloody fuckin’ hell,” Chalk says, before he disappears.

“You’re bleeding, Mr Roseland,” Pixie says.

“A bullet.” He winces. “I have some pressing business with Brother Amos.”

“No,” Pixie says. “You only think you have business with Brother Amos. That’s an entirely different thing. It’s my full-time job to protect Brother Amos from risky characters, Mr Roseland. And at the moment, you simply ooze risky. I’ll have to deny you an audience with the Arch Spectre.”

Roseland pulls Daphne’s machine pistol, and points it at Pixie. “What makes you so smart,” he says.

“I’m not so smart,” Pixie says. “But I’m not bleeding like a stuck pig, either. You’re white as a sheet. I’m surprised you can even hold a yank. I see a slight tremor in your hand. You’re just not fit for gunplay at the moment. Please put it away.”

“And who,” someone else says, “would point a weapon at an unarmed circus crossdresser, Mr Roseland?”

A tramp clown with a sad painted face and an orange daisy in his tattered bowler hat, stands in a pool of yellow light beneath a lamppost between the wagons. His eyes have an impassive yet imploring quality. His posture is stooped but forceful.

“Arch Spectre,” Pixie gasps, as she kneels. “It’s not safe. He’s armed.”

“This is obvious, Pixie. But Mr Roseland has come to talk, not shoot. That’s correct isn’t it, Matthew?”

“I, I….” Roseland staggers. He’s lost too much blood. “I….” He tries to speak, and then falls to the ground. The machine pistol makes a rattling sound as it skids across the pavement.

“Have the punks bring him in, Pixie. For the moment, he’s no risk to any of us.

Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

I was seven years old when this happened, so you can imagine my pride and my shame.

* * * * *

My Aunt Sparky, whose real name was Ophelia Florence Iglehart, but who everyone called Sparky for obvious reasons, never made a left hand turn in her life.

Okay, that’s not quite true. She made two. One when her father, Great Uncle Regis Philip Iglehart tried to teach her how to drive, which he later described as ‘…the most frightening experience of my life, and I was in the Korean War’, and once for her driver’s test which she would have failed if the tester hadn’t passed her in exchange for her promise never to return.

So, driving with Aunt Sparky was always an adventure of right hand turns. She was aware that, where appropriate, a left hand turn would get her there faster, but the thought of willingly driving into oncoming traffic terrified her. And that was fine in the end, on account of Aunt Sparky having been left a large inheritance by her dead boyfriend, Spike Willburley, who was really named Felix, but who everyone called Spike for obvious reasons, and since she was therefore set for life, if she didn’t spend her dough like a sailor, she had the time to travel via right hand turns wherever she went.

It was all good until the summer of 1968, when she bought a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air with over 150,000 miles on the odometer. It was a flat pale green that may have been in style at some point in automotive history, but was dreary in comparison to the day-glow colours flowering round us that year. It had no hubcaps, the interior was in tatters and the windshield was cracked. But she called it a classic rather than second hand, and no one bothered correcting her.

I had time on my hands that summer. Both of my parents worked and I was on vacation. So, I went everywhere with Aunt Sparky. She’d pick me up in the morning, and we’d go on a right hand turn mystery tour round the city. To make it sound like even more of an adventure, she’d say that she was kidnapping me, with a wink and a secret smile. We’d go to Whitespot for lunch, and I’d have a cheese burger with fries, and she’d have cheese cake, coffee and a cigarette. It was a weirdly blissful arrangement for a seven year old kid. No one ever interfered, saying I should be playing baseball or be at camp. It was just me, Aunt Sparky and the Bel Air, and I loved it.

So, I’ve mentioned the overall less than showroom condition of my Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. But there was one more feature peculiar to its state of disrepair, the one that caused all the trouble that year: the car horn sounded every time the steering wheel was turned to the right. This was annoying, of course, considering the sheer number of times Aunt Sparky turned the wheel to the right. And it wasn’t long before she brought the car into Rufus’ Service Station on Nanaimo Street. Rufus assessed the problem himself, because he was sweet on her, said Aunt Sparky. He examined the wiring in the steering column for a full ten minutes. Then stepped out of the car, sucked his teeth and announced with profundity and severity, that it was a fuse.

Replacing the fuse would cost five dollars, including labour. Apparently Rufus wasn’t as sweet on Aunt Sparky as she thought. She gave it deliberate consideration, then and there. Five dollars in 1968 was a lot of money. Gasoline, all by itself, was thirty-five cents a gallon! Never mind the cost of groceries, shopping out of the Sears catalogue and Whitespot meals. What was a girl to do in such hyperinflationary circumstances?

She finally said no to Rufus’ terms, and we drove away, making a horn-tooting right hand turn out of the station and back onto Nanaimo Street. The Beatles were on the radio, and all remained well with the world.

In fact, the sounding of the horn while turning right became a sort of friend, something familiar, something I could trust. It never failed us; it was always there.

And the horn was there, one sunny morning in July, as we drove through downtown Vancouver on our way to Stanley Park. Aunt Sparky had brought along a large bag of thin chocolate coated cookies, and we feasted, while listening to the Doors and Otis Redding on CKLG. At the corner of Granville and Georgia Streets, Aunt Sparky turned right. The horn sounded as usual, and we found ourselves in a traffic jam.

“Jumper on the damn bridge again,” Aunt Sparky grumbled.

Now, once upon a time in Vancouver, there was a cop on nearly every street corner. They’d stand there twiddling their thumbs and looking officious, torn between dreams of heroic deeds and hoping their shifts went off without having to give sweaty chase. And on that sunny July morning, a cop stood at the corner of Granville and Georgia Streets. We’d just passed him by as we turned right, immediately getting stuck in the traffic jam. The Bel Air’s horn had sounded, and the cop thought he was being beckoned. He stepped off the curb and went round to Aunt Sparky’s window.

“Yes, ma’am?” he said, touching his thumb and index finger to the peak of his cap. “How may I help?

“Help?” said Aunt Sparky. I watched, ate more cookies, and sipped a Coke. I was a great fan of the sugar rush.

“Yes, ma’am,” said the cop, “you honked your horn as you passed me by.”

“I never did,” said Aunt Sparky, by which she meant that she hadn’t intentionally honked her horn.

“But you did,” said the cop.

“Look,” said Aunt Sparky, remembering the Detroit Riots from the year before. “I’ll report any police brutality to my Member of Parliament.”

The traffic was now moving ahead of us. The driver in a car behind us honked his horn.

“But you sounded your horn as though you wanted my attention,” said the cop.

“Again I say, I never did.”

The cop looked past Aunt Sparky to me, sitting there with a chocolate stained face and sugar crazed eyes.

“This your boy?” he said.

“Certainly not,” said Aunt Sparky.

“Whose, then?”

“Alright, mister,” said Aunt Sparky, who’d never responded well to authority, “the traffic’s moving ahead of me, and I’m holding up the traffic behind. It’s time I moved on.”

“Pull it over,” said the cop, “and step out of the car.”

“I will not. I’m a citizen and a tax payer, going to Stanley Park for a picnic. We’re having fish and chips.”

This was the first I’d heard about fish and chips. This was getting exciting.

“Is that why you kidnapped me this morning?” I said, hungrily.

“That’s right,” said Aunt Sparky.

“Kidnapped?” said the cop.

“Oh just shoo,” Aunt Sparky said, “you tiresome little man.” And then she drove away.

I looked back, over the seat. The cop stood there for a moment, fists clenched, and then ran into the crowd on the sidewalk. He disappeared there, and I was glad. He was boring for a cop. Mod Squad was better.

It didn’t take long before a big black Ford began tailing Aunt Sparky. The traffic on Georgia was increasing in speed. Aunt Sparky said the black Ford was tailgating. I looked over the back of the seat again and saw a man in the passenger seat waving madly, as if he wanted us to pull over. Aunt Sparky accelerated instead. The Ford spat out a brief siren sound.

“Why don’t they pass, if they want by?” she said.

“It’s the police,” I said. “Maybe they want us to pull over.”

“Don’t be silly.” She accelerated again. She was now going forty miles an hour, and the needle on the speedometer was moving up on the dial. “We’ll just put some distance between us and them, so they can pursue whoever they’re after without hindrance.”

The Ford was catching up. Its siren was on full now, and there was a red light flashing on the dashboard.

“Fiddle sticks,” Aunt Sparky said. “We’ll just have to get out of their way to let them pass.” She turned a hard right onto Cardero Street. The horn honked and the police Ford followed. “Oh darn, looks like we’re headed in the same direction as them.”

She turned right onto Bayshore Drive, and then right onto Nicola Street, honk! honk! The police Ford followed, but now there were some black and white police cars following it.

“Maybe they really do want us,” I said, despondent, coming down from my sugar high.

“They’re after criminals, honey. Just sit down and think of what a good story you’ll have to tell tonight when you get home.”

“But there’re three of them now.”

“Well we’ll have to turn on Robson to get out of their way.” She did, honk!

We were approaching Cardero Street again, and there were police cars there, blocking the road.

“Oh now what?” she said. “Something really big must be happening.”

She assessed the approaching roadblock and decided she could just make it. Turning right onto Cardero again, honk!, she went up onto the corner and squeezed past a black and white cruiser. Then it was right onto Alberni, honk!; right onto Jervis, honk!; right onto Haro, honk!; right onto Broughton, honk!

Disappointingly, we never did have the fish and chip picnic in the park. Some smart cop realised Aunt Sparky was going in a circle, making only right hand turns, and set up another roadblock in the middle of Nicola. They stopped us with guns drawn. Aunt Sparky protested that it was all too much as they cuffed her, and I was handed over to a Social Worker named Gladys, who had big ears and smelled like bug spray.

Aunt Sparky appeared in court the next day, and was fined $250 for reckless driving and failure to stop for the police. When the judge said she was indifferent and disregardful of consequence, she attempted to stand and defend herself. Her lawyer pulled her back into her seat by the back of her dress.

That September, she appeared with me at show and tell. Everyone said it was the best one that year. At recess, they all got to see Aunt Sparky’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. Regretfully, though, by then Aunt Sparky had shelled out, and Rufus had replaced the fuse.

snow angels

based on actual events – you don’t know these people

Christmas 1968

Glen walks across the centre of his backyard, using his footprints to mark a boundary in the fresh snow. On one side of the line, we can build snowmen and throw snow balls. But the other side is a no-man’s land. Glen has an inimitable aesthetic sense, even at seven years old.

“Just look at it,” he says, observing the elegant rolling shades of white he’s persevered. He stares for long minutes at a time. And I stare at him staring, wondering what the hell he sees. Then he says, “It’s beautiful.”

It’s a lesson in beauty, simplicity and fragility that I wrongly presume my friend is too young to teach and I am too young to learn. We’re kids in the east end of Vancouver, where it snows only occasionally. Where beauty is uncommon.

Christmas, 1981 

I was sharing a house in east Vancouver with a couple of dealers and whoever else happened along. I too had tried dealing drugs to make a living, but the police were far too annoying. They never went so far as to arrest me. Maybe I was smarter than them or maybe I was such a pathetic lightweight that they just couldn’t be bothered. Whatever the case, the east Vancouver cops contented themselves with butting-in on me in the strangest places and at the strangest times to ask how I was doing, how business was and what the hot sellers were. I got sick of this eventually and got a real job.

I landed a job as a cook at the Amorous Oyster Restaurant on Burrard Street. The Oyster may have deserved its reputation, but I couldn’t see why. Seafood is easy to cook. Many of the side dishes, condiments and add-ons were more difficult. But the only real tricks to seafood are freshness and timing. And my timing was pretty good.

In other à la Carte restaurants I’d worked in, I’d been surrounded by other cooks, a chef and floor managers, all of whom lived to make my life a misery. But I was a solo act at The Oyster. It was not only a source of income, but also a source of praise from the grateful owners. My ego swelled. And when I walked out at the end of my shift that Christmas Eve, I left with the gift of two bottles of wine and an envelope filled with crispy tens and twenties as a bonus for all of my “marvellous work”.  Out on the street, I looked in the envelope and sniffed. I was too full of myself to appreciate what that amount of money meant to the owners of a restaurant verging on both greatness and oblivion. So, I stood audaciously out front of the darkened premises and waited for my ride.

My ride was Gabriel. We’d been dating for about six months. She was a sadder smarter sort of girl, smarter than me. She wrote poetry and painted, had a growing collection of tattoos and read hefty books. She was also prone to long difficult silences. It was all in her eyes, I knew, and sometimes what I saw in her eyes frightened me.

She arrived that night, navigating the snowy street like a pro, in her ’78 Mustang Cobra. It was an outrageously overpowered vehicle with its huge V8 engine, four on the floor and various racing accoutrements. When we first met, I asked whatever inspired her to buy such a car. “It’s cute,” she’d said. “Ah,” I replied, as though her response to my question answered all the other questions I might have to ask her in the future.

Now she was driving me home for a Christmas Eve together, hopefully without the chemically addicted rabble we normally found there. They bored the hell out of me and they resented me for it, but I had the house’s huge master bedroom to myself where I could escape the inane and the insane.

Soon we were driving down the back alley where the house stood. It was built behind a row of storefronts on East Hastings, which made it barely visible from the main street. I’d hoped, when first renting the place, that this would keep me off of the cop radar. It didn’t. But for me the police were becoming less and less of a problem as I cultivated a new image as fully employed citizen at large. In spite of that, though, to a significant degree, the police still considered me connected to the drug scene.

“What the hell’s all that,” Gabriel said pointing to my house half a block away. There were half a dozen police cars in the lane.

“Shit,” I said. “Keep driving.”

But she didn’t. Instead she backed up into an empty driveway and turned out in the opposite direction. “They know my car,” she said. “They would have stopped us. Where do we go now?”

“Toby’s,” I said. “But park a block away.”

Toby was a burned-out vegetarian 12 stepper. This made him a serious bummer. But he knew what was going on in the neighbourhood and he did one important thing that I never did, he listened to a police scanner.

We left the car in an abandoned garage and walked through the deepening snow to Toby’s basement suite. We knocked and Toby greeted us at the door. Agnes, his off and on common law, sat at a table in the kitchen cutting thick slabs of Christmas cake then dividing each slab into smaller pieces.

“Come in, man,” Toby said. “It’s freezing out there.” We did. “Sorry to hear about Sammy, man. I know he was your best friend, and all. There’s some bad shit happening tonight. Happy Christmas, by the way. You want some Christmas cake?”

“What bad shit?” I said, accepting a piece of Christmas cake. “What happened to Sammy?”

“I can’t eat it,” Toby said of the cake. “The wife puts rum in it.” It did smell of rum, the alcohol long baked off. It was damn fine Christmas cake. Toby thought a moment and then he said, “News is that the cops shot Sammy in your house tonight, dude. Radio says he came at them with a knife. Sammy’s a big boy,” Toby went on. “If he came at me with a knife, maybe I’d shoot him too.”

“Better not to have a gun,” Agnes said as she cut the Christmas cake. Gabriel was helping her now. I found out later that it was going to some of the homeless shelters the next day.

“I ain’t got no gun, my love,” Toby hummed. It was how he spoke to Agnes, almost like a song.  “Just saying ‘if’.”

“Is he alive?” I said. Sammy was a friend and roommate. He’d been doing some weird shit lately, all chemicals cooked up in a basement somewhere by amateurs.

“At first the radio said he was alive,” Toby said. ”But then it said he wasn’t. Said he was DOA. Either way, it’s fucked up for you, man. They’re going through your stuff right now, you bet.”

I wasn’t betting on anything. Gabriel looked at me from the table where they were preparing the Christmas cake; they were wrapping it now and tying ribbons around each piece. I caught her gaze. Maybe there was a poem in this for her. But it was clear that she understood how profoundly my life had just changed. Whether I ever retuned to the house or not, they’d get me. There were caches of dugs and money stashed all through the place. None of it was mine, but the cops didn’t care. They’d harass my family, friends and anybody I’d ever said hello to until they got their mitts on me.

Gabriel said, “Let’s go for a ride. There’s something I want to show you.”

“That’s a good idea,” Toby said. “Cops will be here looking for you pretty soon.”

“I’m sorry for this,” I said, knowing the police would grill him.

“Ain’t your fault, man. It’s a wicked fucking world. Besides, let the cops come. Sometimes it’s better to not just being a spectator.”

I took a couple more pieces of cake and headed for the door. Agnes and Gabriel hugged, and Gabriel followed me out. When the door closed behind us, I felt the disconnection. Among other things in that moment, I had a feeling that this would be it for me and Gabriel. She wouldn’t stay with me after tonight. Guns and knife play weren’t the domain of 18 year old poets.

By the time we got to the car, I’d begun wondering about what she had up her sleeve, how it could help me deal with the situation at hand. “Get in the car,” she said.

We drove north on nameless streets. Eventually, Gabriel pulled over next to an endless field of perfect snow.

“It’s stopped,” she said, looking through the windshield. Then she said, “Recognise this place?”

I didn’t and shook my head. But I continued to look out of the car at the perfectly flat, unblemished field of snow. It reminded me of something from a long time ago.

“I know,” she said. “It looks different in the snow. C’mon, let’s get out.”

She got out of the car and I followed. In a moment we stood surrounded by acres of undisturbed snow, illuminated by blue mercury vapour light. It was the east Vancouver reservoir. The snow was lying on a flat expanse concrete beneath. I looked around me. For a minute I stopped thinking of Sammy, dead and cold on Christmas Eve. And I realised that a childhood friend of mine would have truly appreciated this this vision.

“Look,” I heard Gabriel shout. She was lying in the snow now, moving her arms and legs, creating a snow angel. Then she stood and jumped up and down twice, knocking the dry snow off of her clothes. She lay back down again and created a second angel. She stood up again and jumped to remove the snow from her clothes.

“See,” she said. “Angels. Snow Angels, two of them. One for you and one for me. I left other Christmas gifts for you back at your place, but I guess they’re gone for good now.” She looked at her watch, “And it’s a quarter past midnight. Merry Christmas!”

I looked at the snow angels and smiled. Did tears well up in my eyes? Did I feel small and ashamed, glorious and happy beyond belief? Did I see in my mind’s eye a band of honest-to-goodness angels descending to collect Sammy and take him home? Yes to all of the above.

And did I see Gabriel, in a future that awaited her, strong and determined, hopeful, brilliant and gentle? Yes. And was I there with her?

Ha! I knew better than that.

It began to snow again, and we sat on the edge of the Mustang’s hood. I opened one of the bottles of wine from the Amorous Oyster. We had no glasses, so I took a drink from the bottle. I offered it to Gabriel. She took a drink but turned the bottle down when I offered it to her a second time. Instead, she poured a swallow onto the ground for Sammy. It was dark and red like a bullet wound in the snow.

As the snow continued to fall, Gabriel’s snow angels disappeared. They were frail things, destined to disappear. But I knew that beneath the perfect layer of snow in front of us, there could have been millions of them.