lost ironies

© dm gillis and lost ironies, 2012 -2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to dm gillis and lost ironies with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tag: pulp

the Foncie photograph (rewrite)

Paris, May 1945 

She stood on the wet cobbles at the river’s edge, and looked across at the Eiffel Tower. The foggy dawn was clearing. There’d been a meeting arranged.

The Tower had survived, and the city had been liberated for eight months. Now she just wanted to go home. Back to the east end of Vancouver, where she’d no longer be a code name floating on encrypted radio waves between Paris and 64 Baker Street. Where she’d no longer earn her keep by killing silently.

Her neighborhood, back home, would be coming into bloom about now, in its own slightly savage way. But there was still so much to do in The City of Light. Mopping up, the Special Operations Executive called it. They who sat in London, sipping tea. Ink on their fingers, instead of blood on their hands.

“Soho,” said a man, as he came up behind her. He spoke in prefect street Parisian.

“Hello, Vicker,” she said without turning around.

Vicker was the alias for an American agent named Amsterdam, Timothy. Soho was her own. The hostilities were over, and the use of code names between spies was no longer strictly necessary. But survival habits die hard.

“I must be the first man ever to creep up on you,” he said.

“I’ve been listening to you approach for forty-five seconds,” Soho said. “French made leather soled shoes, with composition heels. Likely size nine or ten. Colour unknown. A tall, athletic man. I’d need to fire first. But I assumed it was you. Or you’d be bleeding right now.”

He was impressed, not for the first time.

“You’ll be missed by London,” he said.

“They can go to hell.”

“And Dillinger, is he nearby?”

“Very nearby.”

“But invisible.”

“It’s part of his charm,” she said, turning to face Timothy Amsterdam.

“Why am I still alive, Trudy?” he said, dropping her alias. “I understand that I’m at the top of your list.”

“Officially you’re not alive,” said Trudy Parr. “Officially, I did my job. And you were fished out of the Seine with your throat cut last night. It was the body of a Vichy operative I’d been letting live for a moment like this. He had fake papers with your name on them in his coat pocket. So the heat’s off for now. They’ll know it’s not really you when London gets the finger prints. That’ll take about a week, though. By then you should be securely underground.”

“Straight razor and slight of hand,” he said. “Your calling card.”

She said nothing.

“So, I’m free to go then.”

“Any way you can, Timothy,” Trudy Parr said. “But you should be more careful. Money isn’t everything. If it’s found out that I purposely let you live, that it wasn’t some dumb female error, I’ll be as dead as you’re supposed to be. I still have some explaining to do. Consider it a favour between professionals who worked well together in the past, but don’t expect another.”

“There’s booty involved, Trudy,” said Timothy Amsterdam. “A lot of it. And I could use an accomplice. Two, if Crispin wants in.” He looked around the general area for a trace of Crispin Dench, code name Dillinger. But Dench was playing shadow, for the moment.

“The Russians are throwing money around like mad men,” Amsterdam continued. “They’re being sloppy about it, too. They need intelligence, badly. They’re not stopping at Berlin, you know? Americans or no, they’re planning on taking Europe.”

“And you’re going to help them?”

“No. I’m giving them crap. It looks good because I can counterfeit anything, as you know. But it won’t get them anywhere, and they won’t know it until I’m long gone.”

She watched him talk, his body moving to the words. His steady eyes. And she knew he wasn’t lying. She was paid to know.

“We can’t go home, Trudy,” he said. “You, me or Dench. Not really. You know that, don’t you? We can go back and try to make it, but they’ve used us up. And no one wants to know what it really took to win this war.”

“Crispin and I are going to try.”

“Where do two assassins fit into postwar Canada? Or greasy little Vancouver, for that matter?”

She didn’t know. But spies weren’t heroes — she knew as much. They were dirty secrets.

Vancouver, 1951
the offices of Dench and Parr Investigations 

Trudy Parr picked up the phone. It was Virginia in reception.

“There’s two mooks out here,” Virginia said. “They got revolvers stickin’ outta their jackets, like it’s a Cagney film. Say they wanna see you.”

“They show you any tin?” said Trudy Parr.

“Yeah, they showed me some.”

“Then send them in.”

“All right. I’ll tell ‘em to wipe their feet before enterin’ your office.”

Trudy Parr hung up, sat back in her desk chair and lit a Black Cat. There was a soft knock, and two men walked in, taking off their hats. It was detectives Olaf Brandt and Roscoe Finch of the VPD.

“What’s the good word, Trudy?” said Brandt.

“I don’t deal in good words,” Trudy Parr said. “You know that, Olaf. But pull up a chair, anyway.”

The two men sat down.

“Well?” she said.

“That secretary of yours is kinda rude,” said Finch.

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But she types fifty words a minute, and she’s good with a gun. That kind of makes her indispensable. Sorry if she hurt your feelings.”

“What’s a secretary need a gun for?”

“This is a private investigation agency,” said Trudy Parr, looking Finch over like he was a street shill. “We attract undesirables.”

Finch shifted in his chair.

“Never mind that,” said Brandt. “Finch and me got something we want you to see.”

“What?”

“This,” Finch said, reaching into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a photograph, and slid it across the desktop face down. Trudy Parr looked at it lying there, and smoked her cigarette. It was 5×7, and had a phone number and the name Foncie Pulice stamped on the back.

“It was taken by that Foncie character,” Brandt said. “He snaps you on the street, and hands you a card, and….”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Finch said. “ We all know — take a gander, Trudy.”

She flipped it over and saw a black and white image. It was a Vancouver street scene. Olaf Brandt and a skinny woman walking hand-in-hand down Granville Street on a sunny day, both smiling for the camera.

“Nice,” said Trudy Parr, pushing the photo back at Finch. “You and your girlfriend look very pleased with one another, Olaf. I wish you many years of happiness.”

Finch pushed it back.

“Take a closer look,” he said.

She’d seen something strange in the photograph on first glance, but had ignored it out of mounting boredom. She looked again. Behind the smiling couple was a man in a trench coat and fedora, his face circled with grease pencil. It was a familiar face. Handsome in spite of the dark scar on his left cheek and jaw. It brought back cold memories.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Finch said.

“It’s Timothy Amsterdam,” said Brandt.

“Swell.” She pushed the photo back again.

“He was an American spy,” Finch said. “During the war. Mostly in Paris. He turned commy near the end.”

“That’s not what I heard, Roscoe,” Trudy said. “I heard he’s all free market and apple pie. Sure, he cashed-in selling the Ruskies dirt. But that was a couple weeks before VE day. He was gonna be out of a job soon, I heard he was real selective in what he sold. It was out of date, redundant or generally misleading. Useless, in other words. The Russians were paying in captured SS bullion, so he took the gold and ran. You know, a spy needs a plan at the end of a war. They don’t fit back into society so well.”

“Really?” said Finch. “What was your plan?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That still makes him a double agent,” said Brandt. “There’s a warrant.”

“Okay,” said Trudy Parr. “So call the RCMP and the FBI. It’s a US federal rap. He’ll be extradited.”

“We want him,” said Finch. “The RCMP will get him eventually – we’ll hand him over when the hoopla’s over. But we want to make the arrest.”

“You want your pictures in the papers, is that it?.”

“Sure,” said Brandt. “Why not. We spend all our time sweeping up other people’s messes, and don’t get no thanks for it. Now we gotta big fish in our shitty little pond, and we wanna hook him.”

“What’s it got to do with me?”

“We figure you know where he is.”

“That’s a surprise,” said Trudy Parr.

“You were a spy, yourself,” said Finch.

Trudy Parr lit another cigarette.

“You was in Paris,” Brandt said. “Your paths must have crossed.”

“C’mon, Trudy,” Finch said. “We’re the cops. We know you were an Allied spy. You’re on at least three watch lists. And we know you worked with Timothy Amsterdam. We ain’t supposed to know it. It’s classified, I’ll grant you. But we know it all the same, and that makes you a semi-legitimate lead.”

The traffic hissed by on the rainy street fifteen storeys below. Trudy Parr smoked.

“Just tell us if you’ve seen him.”

She picked up the photo once more and looked. Timothy had been a good agent. He deserved whatever he could scam out of the chaos. And he’d need it, too. He couldn’t have come back after the horror show and work in a hardware store. No one could.

She tossed the Foncie photograph back at Finch, across the desk .

“It ain’t him,” she said.

“Oh, come on.”

“Look, Trudy,” said Brandt. “We’re colleagues, you and us. We don’t wanna have to bring you in, and make this all official.”

“Don’t you?” she said. “I wonder why that is. Perhaps because you’ve obtained most of your information illegally, from classified documents. State secrets.”

“We don’t gotta bring her in,” said Finch. “We just gotta make her life difficult.”

“No,” said Brandt. “Let’s keep this friendly.”

“Friendly, my ass,” Finch said. “We cut this bitch way too much slack. She’s always slicin’ some poor bastard up or breaking an entry. Most of the private dicks in this town are standing in soup lines while she drives round in her little red Porsche and has a top floor office in the Dominion Building. Where’s the money comin’ from for all that, Trudy?”

“We solve more cases than your standard soup line dick.”

Roscoe Finch clenched his fists in his lap.

“You know what your problem is, Trudy?” he said.

“I have some ideas I haven’t shared.”

“You’re not afraid of nothin’,” Finch said, standing up. “And that ain’t healthy. It ain’t like a dame. And maybe you’re not afraid of nothin’ because you need a lesson in what to be afraid of.”

“That’s dime store talk,” said Trudy Parr.

“Take it down a notch, Roscoe,” Brandt said.

“Naw,” said Finch. “No way, She’s comin’ with us. Down to the docks. See how smart she is when she comes back with a busted nose.”

“I ain’t goin’,” said Brandt.

“What? You yellow over a skirt?” Finch said. “Ha!”

“No,” said Brandt. “I just don’t think you understand the seriousness of what you’re suggesting.”

“Fine,” Finch said, starting to move. “You go home and arrange some flowers. Me and Miss Parr are going for a ride.”

“Oh boy,” Brandt said, grimly.

Finch moved round the desk like a locomotive. When he arrived at Trudy Parr, still sitting in her desk chair, he got an unexpected size six Chanel pump to the groin, and another one hard in the chin. And as he stumbled to the floor, Trudy Parr retrieved a straight razor from where it was hidden under her chair. Then she stood, grabbed Roscoe Finch by his thinning hair, and held the razor’s edge firmly against the general area of his carotid artery.

“Don’t do it, Trudy,” Brandt said, standing up.

Finch coughed and whimpered.

“What else is there to do?” said Trudy Parr. “If I start letting this sort of thing slide, I might as well close the agency.”

“God! Trudy.” Olaf Brandt pointed at a trickle of blood dripping from Finch’s neck.

“Ah shit,” she said, and let Finch fall to the floor. “Mop this fucker up and take him back to the nursery.”

“Sure, sure,” said Brandt. He helped Finch to his feet and the men exited the office.

A moment later, the closet door next to Trudy Parr’s desk opened and a man with a scar on his left cheek stepped out.

“Glad to see you haven’t lost your panache,” said Timothy Amsterdam.

“They’re small time,” she said, and lit another cigarette. “You’ve got a train to catch.”

Amsterdam checked his wristwatch.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, it was a short but pleasant visit. Tell Crispin I said hello. And, oh! I almost forgot why I came by. We sort of lost touch, you and me, when the shooting stopped. I never got a chance to share the spoil with you. I figure I owe you something for not turning me over.”

He pulled three hand sized gold ingots, embossed with swastikas, from his satchel. They made a heavy, blunt thud when he placed them on the desk.

“That’s a load off,” Amsterdam said. “Those get heavy after a while.”

“You did kind of push your luck near the end,” said Trudy Parr. “Now nowhere is home.”

“I can’t stay put in one place more than forty-eight hours, anyway. Besides, there’s this new thing called the CIA. I hear they’re recruiting fellas like me. They’re kinda criminal, themselves. The outstanding warrant for my arrest will just make me more appealing.”

He exited Trudy Parr’s office with a tip of his hat.

She watched from her window as Timothy Amsterdam exited onto the street below, and walked toward the CPR station.

“You know,” Virginia said, coming into Trudy’s office with the mail. “It’s not even lunchtime yet, and you’ve already nearly cut off a cop’s head, and there’s a small fortune in Nazi gold on your desk.”

“It’s a glamorous life,” said Trudy Parr.

the Foncie photograph

read the rewrite here

Vancouver, 1951 

Trudy Parr picked up the phone. It was Virginia in reception.

“There’s two mooks out here,” Virginia said. “They got revolvers stickin’ outta their jackets, like it’s a Cagney film. Say they wanna see you.”

“They show you any tin?” said Trudy Parr.

“Yeah, they showed me some.”

“Then send them in.”

“All right. I’ll tell ‘em to wipe their feet before enterin’ your office.”

Trudy Parr sat back in her desk chair and lit a Black Cat. There was a soft knock, and two men walked in, taking off their hats. It was detectives Olaf Brandt and Roscoe Finch of the VPD.

“What’s the good word, Trudy?” said Brandt.

“I don’t deal in good words,” Trudy Parr said. “You know that, Olaf. But pull up a chair, anyway.”

The two men sat down.

“Well?” she said.

“That secretary of yours is kinda rude,” said Finch.

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But she types fifty words a minute, and she’s good with a gun. That kind of makes her indispensable. Sorry if she hurt your feelings.”

“What’s a secretary need a gun for?”

“This is a private investigation agency,” said Trudy Parr, smiling at Roscoe Finch. “We attract undesirables.”

Finch shifted in his chair.

“Never mind that,” said Brandt. “Finch and me got something we want you to see.”

“What?”

“This,” Finch said, reaching into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a photograph, and slid it across the desktop face down. Trudy Parr looked at it lying there, and smoked her cigarette. It was 5×7, and had a phone number and the name Foncie Pulice stamped on the back.

“It was taken by that Foncie character,” Brandt said. “He snaps you on the street, and hands you a card, and….”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Finch said. “ We all know — take a gander, Trudy.”

She flipped it over and saw a black and white image. It was a Vancouver street scene, Olaf Brandt and a skinny woman walking hand-in-hand down Granville Street. It was a sunny day, and they both smiled for the camera.

“Nice,” said Trudy Parr, pushing the photo back at Finch. “You and your girlfriend look very pleased with one another, Olaf. I wish you many years of happiness.”

Finch pushed it back.

“Take a closer look,” he said.

She’d seen something strange in the photograph on first glance, but had ignored it out of mounting boredom. She looked again. Behind the smiling couple was a man in a trench coat and fedora, his face circled with grease pencil. It was a familiar face. Handsome in spite of the dark scar on his left cheek and jaw. It brought back cold memories.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Finch said.

“It’s Timothy Amsterdam,” said Brandt.

“Swell.” She pushed the photo back again.

“He was an American spy,” Finch said. “During the war. Mostly in Paris. He turned commy near the end.”

“That’s not what I heard, Roscoe,” Trudy said. “I heard he’s all free market and apple pie. Sure, he cashed-in selling the Ruskies dirt. But that was a couple weeks before VE day. He was gonna be out of a job soon, I heard he was real selective in what he sold. It was out of date, redundant or generally misleading. He knew it would be useless as soon as the Nazis surrendered. The Russians were paying in captured SS bullion, so he took the gold and ran. You know, a spy needs a plan at the end of a war. They don’t fit back into society so well.”

“Really?” said Finch. “What was your plan?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That still makes him a double agent,” said Brandt. “There’s a warrant.”

“Okay,” said Trudy Parr. “So call the RCMP and the FBI. It’s a US federal rap. He’ll be extradited.”

“We want him,” said Finch. “The RCMP will get him eventually – we’ll hand him over when the hoopla’s over. But we want to make the arrest.”

“You want your pictures in the papers, is that it?.”

“Sure,” said Brandt. “Why not. We spend all our time sweeping up other people’s messes, and don’t get no thanks for it. Now we gotta big fish in our shitty little pond, and we wanna hook him.”

“What’s it got to do with me?”

“We figure you know where he is.”

“That’s a surprise,” said Trudy Parr.

“You were a spy, yourself,” said Finch.

Trudy Parr lit another cigarette.

“You was in Paris,” Brandt said.

“C’mon, Trudy,” Finch said. “We’re the cops. We know you were an Allied spy. You’re on at least three watch lists. And we know you worked with Timothy Amsterdam. We ain’t supposed to know it. It’s classified, I’ll grant you. But we know it all the same, and that makes you a legitimate lead.”

The traffic hissed by on the rainy street fifteen storeys below. Trudy Parr smoked.

“Just tell us if you’ve seen him.”

She picked up the photo once more and looked. Timothy had been a good agent. He deserved whatever he could scam out of the chaos. And he’d need it, too. He couldn’t have come back after the horror show and work in a hardware store. No one could.

She tossed the Foncie photograph back across the desk at Finch.

“It ain’t him,” she said.

“Oh, come on.”

“Look, Trudy,” said Brandt. “We’re colleagues, you and us. We don’t wanna have to bring you in, and make this all official.”

“Don’t you?” she said. “I wonder why that is. Perhaps because you’ve obtained most of your information illegally, from classified documents.”

“We don’t gotta bring her in,” said Finch. “We just gotta make her life difficult.”

“No,” said Brandt. “Let’s keep this friendly.”

“Friendly, my ass,” Finch said. “We cut this bitch way too much slack. She’s always cuttin’ some poor bastard up or breaking an entry. Most of the private dicks in this town are standing in soup lines while she drives round in her little red Porsche and has a top floor office in the Dominion Building. Where’s the money comin’ from for all that, Trudy?”

“We solve more cases than your standard soup line dick.”

Roscoe Finch clenched his fists in his lap.

“You know what your problem is, Trudy?” he said.

“I have some ideas I haven’t shared.”

“You’re not afraid of nothin’,” Finch said, standing up. “And that ain’t healthy. It ain’t like a dame. And maybe you’re not afraid of nothin’ because you need a lesson in what to be afraid of.”

“That’s dime store talk,” said Trudy Parr.

“Hey Roscoe,” Brandt said. “Take it down a notch.”

“Naw,” said Finch. “No way, She’s comin’ with us. Down to the docks. See how smart she is when she comes back with a busted nose.”

“I ain’t goin’,” said Brandt.

“What? You yellow over a skirt?” Finch said. “Ha!”

“No,” said Brandt. “I just don’t think you understand the seriousness of what you’re suggesting.”

“Fine,” Finch said, starting to move. “You go home and arrange some flowers. Me and Miss Parr are going for a ride.”

“Oh boy,” Brandt said, grimly.

As he came round the desk, Finch got an unexpected size six Chanel pump to the groin, and another in the chin. And as he stumbled to the floor, Trudy Parr retrieved a straight razor from where it was hidden under her chair. Then she stood, grabbed Roscoe Finch by his thinning hair, and held the razor’s edge firmly against the general area of his carotid artery.

“Don’t do it, Trudy,” Brandt said.

Finch coughed and whimpered.

“What else is there to do?” said Trudy Parr. “If I start letting this sort of thing slide, I might as well close the agency.”

“God! Trudy.” Olaf Brandt pointed at a trickle of blood dripping from Finch’s neck.

“Ah shit,” she said, and let Finch fall to the floor. “Mop this fucker up and take him back to the nursery.”

“Sure, sure,” said Brandt. He helped Finch to his feet and the men exited the office.

A moment later, the closet door next to Trudy Parr’s desk opened and a man with a scar on his left cheek stepped out.

“Glad to see you haven’t lost your panache,” said Timothy Amsterdam.

“They’re small time,” she said, and lit another cigarette. “You’ve got a train to catch.”

Amsterdam checked his wristwatch.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, it was a short but pleasant visit. Tell Crispin I said hello. And, oh! I almost forgot why I came by. We sort of lost touch, you and me, when the shooting stopped. I never got a chance to share the spoil with you. I figure I owe you something for not turning me over.”

He pulled three hand sized gold ingots, embossed with swastikas, from his satchel. They made a heavy, blunt thud when he placed them on the desk.

“That’s a load off,” Amsterdam said. “Those get heavy after a while.”

“You did kind of push your luck near the end,” said Trudy Parr. “Now nowhere is home.”

“I can’t stay put in one place more than forty-eight hours, anyway. Besides, there’s this new thing called the CIA. I hear they’re recruiting fellas like me. They’re kinda criminal, themselves. The outstanding warrant for my arrest will just make me more appealing.”

Trudy Parr watched as Timothy Amsterdam exited onto the street below, and walked toward the CPR station.

“You know,” Virginia said, coming into Trudy’s office with the mail. “It’s not even lunchtime yet, and you’ve already nearly cut off a cop’s head, and there’s a small fortune in Nazi gold on your desk.”

“It’s a glamorous life,” said Trudy Parr.

find out about Foncie Pulice here

Luck

Vancouver, December 1949

“That’s it for him,” she said, and nudged the dead man’s hand with the toe of her high heel shoe. Swing Richie now lay in state beneath a dim yellow lamp, on the oily rain soaked gravel behind the Army and Navy store on West Hastings.

Police Homicide Detective Olaf Brandt looked down at the body, his hands in his overcoat pockets. His right hand warming the cool blue steel of his auxiliary snub-nosed .32.

“Nasty throat wound,” he said. “Sure it wasn’t you that done this, Trudy?”

“Swing was a prick,” said Trudy Parr. “But he wasn’t worth killing.”

“Somebody thought he was. Why you here anyway? It’s 6:00 a.m.”

“I got the call this morning, round 4:30. Anonymous. A desperate sounding woman. Said Swing finally got his. Told me where to find him.”

“Abigale Neistrum?” Brandt said, referring to Swing Richie’s neglected fiancée.

“Maybe.”

Swing Richie was notorious for many petty transgressions. Having affairs behind Abigale Neistrum’s back was just one of them. Of late, his philandering involved a waterfront bar owner named Amelia Tedesco. Brandt thought he might have to have a talk with her about this.

“So, you don’t know the caller? I thought you knew all the crumbs in this part of town.”

“Not the way you do, Oly. I’m not with the constabulary.” She lit a Black Cat with a paper match, blew the match out and placed it in the cigarette package.

“Why’d she call you, then?” said Brandt. “Whoever it was.”

“Who can know, Oly? Life’s a mysterious room.”

Indeed it was, Brandt had to agree. He lit a cigarette of his own with his Zippo and inhale deeply. “The whole damn police force will be here any minute. This might be the biggest thing in this town since the Anglican Church picnic last August. You have anything else to say before they arrive? Like why you got the call at 4:30 a.m. and it took you an hour and a half to get here from the Sylvia Hotel in your Porsche?”

“Caller said he was dead. He wasn’t going anywhere. A girl’s gotta put on her face, Oly. Match her dress with her shoes. Choose the right scarf. It’s important to look good, even for the early morning troubles.”

Olaf Brandt looked closely at Trudy Parr for the first time that morning. He asked himself, not for the first time, why she was a private dick in a shitty little burg like Vancouver and not a fashion model or some rich man’s wife. She could be either. But neither would be right. That was made obvious by the way she stood over the body, calmly smoking, quietly doing the arithmetic of human wrongdoing. Was there any place in mannerly society for a retired spy? She’d just be spying there, too. Taking notes on the fat cats, and holding them in contempt. That was a fact.

“Then, once I got here,” Trudy Parr continued, “I had to find a pay phone to call your office.”

Brandt nodded. It sounded feasible.

Now a black Ford rolled up close to the both of them and stopped. There were two black and white cars behind it. The Ford sat still for a moment, engine running, illuminating the scene with its headlights.

“What heel with a badge did they send this time?” said Trudy Parr.

“Day shift’s still drinking coffee, eating their ham and eggs.” Brandt said. “It’ll be Detective Sergeant Regan. He’s senior officer on the Homicide night shift. We were in the office talking racetrack handicaps when you called in. So, he’ll be your heel.”

“Hmm.” Trudy Parr had dealt with Thomas Regan before. He was bastard, had a bad haircut, didn’t polish his shoes. A hopeful prospect in his youth who’d lost his hotshot gloss by the time he’d turned forty.

The Ford remained unmoving, its engine running.

“Is he getting out?” said Trudy Parr.

“Give him a second,” said Brandt. “He likes to make an entrance. Figures he owes the taxpayer a bit of radio drama.”

“Well, he’s pissing me off,” said Trudy Parr. She began to walk over to the Ford as the headlights went out and the engine stopped. She arrived at the driver side window and tapped on it. The window rolled down.

“You getting out to look at this, Tom,” she said. “Or should we bring the stiff over for you to see.”

“It’s Thomas,” Regan said. “Or you can call me Detective Sergeant Regan; that’s preferable. Only my mother calls me Tom, and she and I aren’t speaking.”

Trudy Parr said nothing in response, only stared at the bad hair. Regan smiled back.

“Alright, then,” he said, opening the Ford’s door and stepping out. “Shall we behold the deceased, and ponder the possibilities?” He proceeded to what was left of Swing Richie, and squatted next to it. “Dead,” he said, after a second of consideration.

Three cops from the marked cars arrived and quietly chuckled at the Sergeant’s observation.

“Police Detective Brandt,” Thomas Regan said, “why is this civilian loitering here? Isn’t it bad enough that it rained overnight and possibly washed away important evidence?”

“Says she was alerted to the crime by an early morning phone call,” Brandt said. “Came down to see, and then called us. You dispatched me ahead of you, and here we are.”

“Why didn’t you just call us from home, Trudy?” Regan said. “You could have gone back to bed and still be in dreamland.”

“I like a murder scene as much as the next guy,” said Trudy Parr.  “I called it in as soon as I knew it was legit.”

“You remove anything?” said Regan.

“You know better, Tom,” she said.

Regan looked up at her. She smiled.

“A private dick license doesn’t make you a cop, Trudy,” Regan said.

“No and thank goodness. I couldn’t live on what you make.”

Regan gave her a self-satisfied wink, as if to say you have no idea what a shady cop makes in this town. Then he said, “Last time I saw a throat cut like this was when you iced a bad guy in Chinatown. That makes you a double suspect, Trudy: you were here first and this is your modus operandi. Maybe we should take you in.”

Regan stood up, trying to look like he meant it.

“Just find the killer, Tom,” she said, and walked over to the red Porsche coupe parked several feet away. “And try to do it before Christmas,” she said at the door of the car.

Brandt and Regan watched her drive away.

“Bitch,” said Thomas Regan. “I want you to get her full account of this, understand? Lean on her a bit. See if her story changes.”

“Lean on her, boss?” Brandt said. He knew it wouldn’t work, even if he was inclined to do it.

*  *  *  *  *

It was 7:00 a.m. Crispin Dench sat in a booth at the Ovaltine Café, reading the morning paper and absently stirring a cup of coffee. Trudy Parr slid in across from him. He didn’t look up. She lit a cigarette.

“I hear Swing Richie’s no longer with us,” Dench said, still looking at his paper.

“Throat cut,” said Trudy Parr. “Out back of a cut-rate department store.”

“Don’t let that happen to me, will you,” Dench said, and turned a page.

“You’re indestructible. We proved that in Paris.”

“A guy’s luck runs out eventually. I hear you were the first one on the scene, after the killer. And that you had to deal with Tom Regan.”

“Bad luck in both cases. Say, you’re well informed for someone who slept in.”

“I’m a private investigator. People pay me to know things. For example, I know the fix is in at X-Park tonight, so I’m laying a yard on October Rocket in the fifth. October Rocket’s fifteen to one at present, odds likely to go up. You want in?”

“Not me,” she said flagging a waitress.

“You think it was Abigale Neistrum that called?” Dench said this as he looked up from his paper for the first time. “I’m right, aren’t I? It was her.”

“Yeah, but I told the cops I didn’t know who the caller was. And I guess she called me because I helped her out of a scrape once. She’s a delicate customer. Swing liked that about her. He could push her round when another woman might have….”

“Might have what?”

“Never mind.”

“She know what involving you means? That the cops might pin this on you?”

“I didn’t have to go down to that alley. I could have called it in.”

“That still would have made you Regan’s number one target. You going to see her?”

“Why should I? I’ve got files open that pay.”

“You know why. Because you’re the only suspect right now. And you intimidate Tom Regan. Don’t depend on him to do the right thing, to investigate thoroughly. He’d love to tag you with something like this.”

The waitress arrived with Trudy Parr’s usual, whole wheat toast and coffee. Trudy thought for a moment, sipping the hot black java.

“Fifteen to one, eh?” she said.

“May go higher,” said Dench.

“I’ve changed my mind. Put me down for fifty on the nose.”

“Done.”

  *  *  *  *  *

Trudy Parr walked with care. The path through the dead December garden, leading up to the decrepit boarding house, was a broken twist of ancient concrete. She climbed the stairs, entered and went to room number three. She knocked and the door opened. Abigale Neistrum wore a housecoat and had her hair up. Her left eye was swollen shut and her lip was cut.

“Did I wake you?” said Trudy Parr. It was afternoon now.

“Naw,” said Abigale Neistrum, taking in Trudy’s understated daytime style. “This is as glamorous as it gets round here.”

“May I come in?”

“It’s a mess.”

“I’ve seen messes before.”

“Fine.” Abigale stepped away and let Trudy in.

The room was shabby, a tattered easy chair near a window, an unmade bed and a hotplate. There were crookedly hung pictures of faded flowers on the wall and clothes flung everywhere.

“I can make coffee,” Abigale said, sounding unsure.

“This won’t take long.”

“They called me about Swing this morning, like they didn’t know I’d called you. Thanks for not saying.”

“What happened, Abigale?”

“He was a bum.”

“That’s understood.”

“He was seeing that Tedesco dame.”

“And?”

“And so I started seeing Verner Wilks, to spite him.”

“Verner Wilks?” said Trudy Parr. Now the story was getting a little too interesting. Wilks was bartender Amelia Tedesco’s bar. “Did Swing find out?”

“Yeah. He found out everything. Anything I did, he always found out. And if he didn’t like it, I got a slapped big time. I never got a break.”

“So you got slapped.”

“Uh-huh. He said people were laughing at him. Said I’d made him a cuckold. I had to look up what a cuckold is. I guess I did make him one. But he had it coming. And beating me up couldn’t make me stop seeing Verner.”

“So how’d he end up dead in an alley?”

“I shouldn’t say.”

“Well goddammit, Abigale. I’m the closest thing to a suspect the cops have right now. You want me to quietly hang for this?”

Abigale looked at the worn carpet.

“I know it wasn’t you, Abby. Was it Wilks?”

“Swing was following us. I guess he wanted a showdown.”

“Tell me about it.”

“It was round 3:00 o’clock in the morning. I’d waited most of the night for Verner in the all night café on Richards Street. Verner came and got me there, and we went for a walk. He said we’d get a cab back here, but first he just wanted to shake the smell of the bar off of his clothes.”

“How’d he end up in the alley?”

“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Tell me, Abigale.”

“He wanted to, you know, do it in the alley.” Abigale’s face reddened. “He liked doing it at night out in an alley. It was in public, even though it was dark and late. That made him hot, get it?”

“And that’s when Swing showed up?”

“It had started to rain real heavy. But Verner didn’t care. He had me against the wall. We were just getting warmed up, and I saw Swing come outta nowhere. He had a gun, that crummy little pearl handled .22 he packed. He held it ‘gainst the back of Verner’s head and cocked it. It made this clicking sound, way too loud for such a little thing.”

“There wasn’t any gun there this morning,” said Trudy Parr.

“No.”

“Then what?”

“Then Verner did something. I don’t know what, but he got turned round and belted Swing square in the jaw. Then the fight was on, and Swing was winning. They were on the ground, fighting in the rain. Swing was whipping Verner with the butt of his gun. Verner’s face was getting awful bloody.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothin’,” Abigale said. Her voice had gone soft, and she was wringing her hands.

“Really?” said Trudy Parr.

“Well, I had to do something. Swing was gonna kill Verner.”

“What’d you do?”

“I used my switchblade. The one I always carry.”

“To do what?”

“Ha! You know it’s funny how two fellas forget that a woman’s there when they go at it. Like she wasn’t never there to start. Like she just melts into the brickwork until one of them calls for her.”

“You mean you cut Swing Richie’s throat?”

“Yeah,” Abigale Neistrum said. She held her chin up and looked Trudy Parr in the eye for the first time. “I yanked that knife outta my purse, thinking of all the times Swing had beat the hell outta me. Then I walked behind him, reached round, and cut him wide open. I never knew a man could bleed like that. But the rain took care of it. His life ran down the alley and disappeared down the drain. I remember his hands holding the wound and him looking at me like he wanted me to take it back, the killing of him. But how could I? Why would I? Then he made this strange gargling noise for a few seconds and fell over. That’s when Verner came at me. He clouted the knife outta my hand and beat the hell outta me for buttin’ in.”

“You saved his life and he beat you up for it. That’s where you got the shiner….”

“Yeah.”

There was a loud knock on the door. It rattled and the doorknob twisted without effect. Abigale had locked it.

“You open up,” Verner yelled from the hall. “We gotta talk about what happened. You gotta go to the cops and tell ‘em I didn’t do it. They came by my room today and grilled me.”

The door rattled again, more violently this time.

“Let me in you bitch.”

“Go home, Verner,” Trudy Parr said to the door. “Don’t make this worse.”

“What the fuck’s she doing in there, Abigale? You whore.” The door rattled some more. Then there was a few seconds of quiet.

“Oh shit,” said Trudy Parr, like she knew what was next. And as she pulled the .38 automatic out of her purse, the door came crashing in. Verner Wilks stepped in too fast and punched her in the face. She went down and her gun slid out of reach, near the easy chair.

“Pull a fucking rod on me, eh?” said Verner Wilks. “I’ll kill you for that, you bet.”

Trudy Parr couldn’t get her hand on the .38 from where she lay on the floor. She tried to crawl to it, and Verner Wilks kicked her in the ribs. Then he walked over to the gun and picked it up.

“What’s a bitch like you got a gun for anyway?” Verner Wilks said, as he chambered a shell and aimed. “And you’re next, Abigale,” he said without looking away from his target on the floor. Then there was gunfire, and Trudy Parr felt for a moment like she was headed to wherever it was private detectives go when they finally ran out of luck. She hoped it wouldn’t be too hot.

But instead she looked up and saw Verner Wilks with a strange look on his face.

“They’ll hang you for sure, now,” he said, and fell to the floor where he quietly bled onto the carpet.

Abigale Neistrum stood in a corner of the room holding a pearl handled .22.

*  *  *  *  *

Trudy Parr sat in her office that evening, after being questioned by the police. She sipped a short glass of Glenlivet and smoked a Davidoff panatella. She was appreciating the quiet hiss of the traffic passing on the street below when Crispin Dench knocked and entered. He dropped a thick envelope of cash onto her desk.

“Twenty to one,” he said. “It wasn’t an elegant victory, but October Rocket won. You’re a lucky girl.”

She sipped and took a puff and said, “You have no idea.”

the case file

Vancouver 1949

Her name was Rachel Wild, and she had never married. Instead, she’d spent her years at a kitchen table, smoking and looking out of a window. She’d not been doomed to this. She felt no self-pity. It was just what happened. Like an unexpected incident that makes a woman say, Oh!, the moment she discovers her involvement in it. A lifetime passing. Focussed on a past personal moment. The way she might have worshipped an idol or a scrap of text. The sacredness of which was dependent upon context known to her alone.

Perhaps it had come down to a battle of anxieties, hers and those of another. The failed unsaying of a word. When the unsaying of a word might have meant so much. She’d become content in never knowing the truth of it.

But the world is news and dispatch. Story upon story expelled through the reflective conduit of time. In shapes of sparrows and sorrows. And news had finally come to her. But the news had only been a fragment of a larger story. A fragment chipped away from the end of something much larger.

Knowing this, she’d made a cup of tea.

* * *

Detective Olaf Brandt wasn’t a bad police officer. But popular opinion was that he just wasn’t sergeant material. He wasn’t afraid to use his wide Norwegian feet to chase down leads. But it was thought by those higher on the cop food chain that he had to be fed those leads. He wasn’t the sort to independently deduce his way through an investigation. He could, however, be relied upon in a street fight, to inform families of criminally dead loved ones and to go on coffee and doughnut excursions as required. It was generally accepted that he’d retire in a few years, and parish shortly after of an unremarkable illness related to the lonely excesses of a mostly friendless life.

For the time being, though, he was vital and healthy of mind and spirit. And as he sat leaning forward in the waiting area of Dench and Parr Investigations, he stared determinedly ahead at an empty point in space.

“Olaf, old boy,” Crispin Dench said, calling Brandt in. “Come into my office and tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Hello, Mr Dench,” Olaf Brandt said, getting up and giving a half-hearted wave. He stepped into Crispin Dench’s office and took a seat. Dench seated himself behind his desk.

“Coffee?” Dench said.

“No,” said Brandt.

“A Coke?”

“No.”

“Water?”

“No.”

“A shot of rye?”

“No, Mr Dench, nothing. Look, I’ve been sent here to ask you to surrender a case file.”

“Drop the mister, Olaf. Call me Crispin.”

“All right, Crispin. I’m here to ask you for a case file.”

“A case file.”

“Yes. One we, the police I mean, believe contains important information on a case that went cold some time ago, but that has now warmed a bit.”

“Case files are private property containing confidential information, Olaf.”

“Yes, Crispin. This is understood and I had hoped that we’d be able to skip this predictable part of the conversation. But if you don’t surrender the file to the police in the amicable, mutually beneficial way I’m suggesting, we’ll just get a court order.”

“Mutually beneficial?”

“Yes. One hand washing the other. That sort of thing.”

“This is a business, Olaf. Our clients have certain reasonable expectations. They pay for privacy and confidentiality. Those are products this agency sells.”

Brandt shifted in his chair and crossed his legs. There was a moment of silence.

“You still with me?” Dench said.

“It’s that Edgar Tully thing,” Brandt said. “The body, or what was left of it, in the car they pulled out of Lost Lagoon last week. It was in the papers.”

“Yes it was.”

Brandt took a notepad from his inside jacket pocket and flipped through it. It was a well practised move, meant to add gravity to the moment. But it was wasted on Dench. Brand stopped at a page and said, “You conducted a missing person investigation in 1947, for a Rachel Wild.”

“Did I?”

“Edgar Tully was the subject of that investigation.”

“Was he?”

“That’s the case file we’d like to see.”

“Are you and I involved in the same conversation, Brandt? Dench and Parr Investigations doesn’t hand out case files. Not to the cops or anyone.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Tell me something, Olaf. Why’d they send a B team player like you here for this? What was the last case you really worked on? They know I’d never give you a damn thing.”

“I worked on the Edgar Tully case back in ’42,” Brandt said. “So, it’s personal in a way. It was just a missing person case to most. But when you scratched the surface….”

“What? What was revealed beneath the scratched surface?”

Olaf Brandt stood to go. “I’ll return with the court order in a day or two, Crispin. See you then.”

“You know, I’ve heard your fellow officers talk about you,” Dench said. “They never have anything good to say. But you’re not as dumb as they make you out to be, are you? Why’re you still just a detective?”

“Good-bye, Crispin.” Olaf Brandt left the office.

Vancouver 1942

Sleep was somewhere in his room, hiding like an outlaw. Edgar Tully knew it would expose itself eventually, and crush him. He lay on his bed, drinking cheap rye from the bottle. Could he drink enough not to dream? Most nights he could not. It was August and the night was humid and warm. He closed his eyes and was lost.

He walked a little behind the Canadian lines. Vimy Ridge. A Master Corporal in the Canadian First Division. The 12th of April, 1917. His rifle was clean but his body was filthy. Seven days out. Most of it spent marching. Then three days of concentrated battle. No promise of leave. Who knew how much more action there’d be. His section was on a routine patrol. They were also looking for the wounded and the dead left behind by the advance. He hated doing it. They never found the wounded. There were none. Only the bodies of the dead. With their blank faces. He recognised every one.

They’re with the angels now, a chaplain once said in a sermon he was duty-bound to attend. Fuck that, the Master Corporal had said when they all bowed their heads to pray. A sergeant next to him heard this and said amen, brother.

There were shell holes and blasted trenches here. Each shell hole filled with rain water. The dead were often in these. Some floating; some held submerged by the weight of their kit. He stopped at the edge of a shell hole where he saw a body, face down in the water. Tully’s section wasn’t a burial detail. They’d only have to get the name on the dog tag and record the body’s location for later retrieval.

“Private Crumb,” the Master Corporal yelled. “Bring me the hook.”

A frightened boy arrived holding a pole upon which a hook had been securely tied with wire. The Master Corporal used it to reach out into the shell hole and hook the collar of the corpse’s greatcoat. He tugged and the body began to move toward him of its own volition, a great fish intent upon beaching itself. The Master Corporal felt a deep and familiar apprehension then. The kind reserved for nightmares. The sound of shelling in the distance ceased, replaced by a loud hissing sound. He was alone now. His section had disappeared into a mist. He hesitated as the dead man came within reach. He wanted to drop the hook and run. Like he’d never run before. Even under fire. But then he crouched down, grabbed the dead man’s collar and pulled him out of the hole.

He saw the corpse’s grey face when he turned the body over. Contorted with its eyes and mouth opened wide, having died in mid-scream. There was a perfectly round and bloodless bullet hole perfectly placed in the centre of its forehead. And the foul odour of decomposition. He thought he saw the fingers twitch. But how could that be? Then the corpse resumed its scream. Impossible. A horrible and wretched noise. And the Master Corporal saw the echoing geography of it. It was a scream of headlands and gullies. The roads that ran through it. The gutted homes and foetid rivers. Ranks of the dead marching on to nowhere in lockstep. Then the corpse stopped its screaming and smiled. Its eyes at once dull and piercing. Its sudden exhalation smelling of the battlefield dead. And Edgar Tully awoke yelling. His fists clenched and raised. Swinging at the empty air.

Someone in the neighbouring room banged on the wall. “Shaddup in there,” a voice hollered. “I gotta get some sleep, gawd dammit.”

Edgar Tully sat by his window for the rest of the night. Sleep had left the room. Vimy Ridge was 25 years ago. He was forty-five now. The dreams and visions were never going to end. He took a pen and paper and wrote a short note.

In the morning he drove his Ford Coupe up the busy retail section of Commercial Drive, in the east end of the city. He expected it would be a standard handoff and delivery. He parked near Graveley Street and waited, reading a Faulkner novel, As I Lay Dying. And he wondered how descending into Hades would differ from a morning of the Drive.

It looked like rain, but he left the passenger side window open. After ten minutes or so, a large man with a pencil moustache, wearing a freshly pressed summer suit,  walked by and dropped a fat leather satchel onto the car seat. Then he stuck his head through the open window. His face was doughy red and scarred, but his hair was Hollywood perfect.

“Take this to the Water Street office,” he said. “And by the way, this ain’t your average delivery, Tully. Better you should die than fuck this up.”

“I don’t fuck up,” Edgar Tully said. “That’s why you trust me.”

The big man dropped twenty dollars in tens onto the seat, and said, “Just sos you know. Experience tells me that the fatter the bag, the more likely a driver is to fuck it up. And you’ve been smelling like a real juicer lately. A man’s gotta be drinking most of the day and night to smell the way you do. Take a bath, brush your teeth and don’t dream of bettering yourself on my nickel. Get it?”

Edgar Tully looked back at the big man with his red and rheumy eyes. “Sure, Mr Vaccarino. I get it.”

“Swell.”

Tully reached out and placed his hand on the satchel as the big man disappeared into the crowd. He was feeling lucky for once. Hopeful. He’d done his planning. But he hadn’t planned on this.

He opened the bag. It contained several large bundles of bills. Twenties, fifties and hundreds. That’s how Tony Vaccarino’s customers paid him. Because they owed him big time. He counted it. It was over twenty thousand. The Water Street office would prepare it for laundering. He’d delivered envelopes there a thousand times before, but never a package this large. The big man’s business was improving. Tully started the car.

* * *

The Hotel Balmoral rose ten stories high over East Hastings Street and advertised Black Watch Chewing Tobacco on its side. It had never been a glamorous local and now it catered mostly to retired loggers and fishermen, transients and a few unemployed women thought to be of ambiguous character. Rachel Wild fit into the last category. Though it was a mystery to her how it happened that she had arrived there.

She lived in a room on the seventh floor, sitting at her window smoking, most days, and watching the traffic pass below. It was from there, that day, that she saw Edgar Tully park his car and cross the busy street with a bag of groceries in his arms.

She got up and fixed her hair in a small mirror over the sink, busying herself tightening curls and repositioning bobby pins. Then she freshened her lipstick and stared for a long moment into the mirror. She was thirty-seven years old, and she wasn’t pleased with the wrinkles round her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. Her youth was gone and she resented it. She had a hazy resentment of her poverty, as well. Something inside of her always hurt. And though she would have had difficulty saying it politely, part of her was certain that only money could take the pain away.

There was a knock at the door. Rachel Wild let several seconds pass until there was another, this one quieter.

“Yes?” she said. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, baby. It’s Edgar.”

She put her ear gently against the door to listen closer. Sometimes she could hear him breathing. “Why, Edgar,” she said. “I had no idea you were coming.”

“Sure, baby. Why not? Let me in. I’ve brought you some things.”

“Some things?”

“Sure, baby. Groceries.”

“Groceries? Edgar, dear, you don’t need to bring me groceries.”

It was an absurd statement. She lived daily on the verge of starvation.

“Just let me in, baby.”

She opened the door and let him. The room was long and narrow with dirty walls, dim light bulbs and exposed wiring. There was a dresser with chipped paint and a free-standing closet with a broken door. Beneath the window there was a small kitchen table and two metal chairs. On the table was an ashtray and a dog-eared copy of Women’s Own Magazine. He handed her the grocery bag and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’ll get you a drink,” she said, putting the groceries down.

“Ah, no,” he said, licking his lips.

“No?” she said. “Really? You okay?”

“Yeah, baby. Everything’s jake.” He looked at his feet for a moment and said, “Let’s sit down and talk.”

“Sure, Edgar. What’s goin’ on?”

He sat across from her at the table and took her hand.

“We’ve been swell together,” he said, “haven’t we, doll.”

“Sure, Edgar. It’s been okay.”

“We’ve had some real laughs, eh?”

“I guess. A few, I mean.”

“But I know I ain’t so good to be around,” Edgar said. “I get so low sometimes….”

“What’s happening, Edgar? I hate it when you get all serious like this.”

“It’s the dreams,” he said. “Baby, they’ve gotten real bad lately.”

“Oh,” she said, looking away, out of the window. “The dreams again.”

“Yeah. Look, I know you don’t get it about the dreams, and neither do I. But they make me crazy. My head’s a haunted cave. I see all of the shit from the war again and again. Only it’s weirder. It’s so spooky. I wake up screaming.”

“Well that war’s over, mister. Haven’t you heard?” She lit a cigarette and threw the match out of the window. “There’s a new war on now. Can’t we just go out and have some fun? It’d take your mind off of those lousy dreams, wouldn’t it? All you do is lie in that room of yours and drink yourself stupid. There’re a lot of Navy boys in town that wouldn’t mind havin’ me on their arm, you know.”

“I know it, baby. And I know it ain’t never gonna change for me. It’s just the way it is. So, listen to me. I want you to wait an hour after I leave, then read this letter.” He slid an envelope across the table to her.

“Sure, Edgar,” Rachel Wild said, taking the envelope. “But you’re kinda scarin’ me. You look all crazy in the eyes.”

“Never mind what I look like, see? Just do what I tell you, understand?”

He stood then and took her by the arm, lifting her out of her chair. He held for a moment, long enough to search for something in her eyes. Maybe he found it there; maybe not. Then he kissed her too hard on the lips, joylessly and without passion. But with rage and shame. His fingers dug into her shoulders and she would have screamed if she could. Then he let her go, threw her away almost. And he disappeared out the door.

Vancouver 1949

Detective Olaf Brandt laid a court order on Dench’s desk and said, “We Norwegians are more than the jowly, bellicose race that the world sometimes takes us for, Crispin.”

“I never said otherwise,” Crispin Dench said.

“The case file please,” Olaf Brandt said. “And perhaps you wouldn’t mind sitting with me while I read it through. You can help me understand those bits I find ambiguous.”

Crispin Dench retrieved the file in question after reading the court order and deciding it was legit. It wasn’t a thick file. Dench hadn’t had to do much after he promised Rachel Wild complete confidentiality, and that he wouldn’t go to the police with what he found. He returned to his office with it, and Brandt read the file in ten minutes.

“It wasn’t a simple caper,” Dench said. “More of an inspired heart-breaker, really. But I’m not the crying type.

“The envelope he’d given Rachel Wild contained a suicide note. For Edgar Tully, the dreams and memories of World War One had become too much.

“Rachel had waited an hour, as requested, before opening it and reading the note. That’s something she says she’ll always regret. By then she didn’t know what to do. She hates the cops and never went to them. She went to the street instead, and looked for him there. Asked the people she knew and didn’t know. She made such a show of it, that later on it didn’t take much to convince Tony Vaccarino that she really didn’t know where Tully was.

“Why was that important? Because Edgar Tully was an errand boy for Tony Vaccarino, a soon to be made man. It was Vaccarino’s money that Tully had placed in the bottom of the grocery bag he’d dropped off at Rachel’s that day. All twenty grand of it. He meant it as a rainy day fund for a girl who’d spent her whole life standing in the rain.

“After that, I figure he punched his own ticket. Drove his Ford into the lagoon as it turns out. But not before he bought a reserved room on a train to Montreal and paid someone else to board instead of him. That someone must have gotten off before the train even hit the prairies, because the train manifest showed a man using Tully’s ticket boarding, but that person never got off in Montreal. And Vaccarino had his people at most of the stops between here and there.

“It looked like Tully had skipped town with the cash and vanished into thin air. And that let everyone he knew off the hook. Vaccarino leaned on them, but how hard could he lean when it appeared obvious that Tully had gotten away with all of the cash.

“So, now they’ve found him in the lagoon. I guess that’s how Tully ended it all. Probably drove his car in that night. We know Vaccarino didn’t put him there, because Vaccarino couldn’t find him. And if he had, he would have made Tully’s execution a community event, to warn others with similar ideas.”

“This file,” Brandt said. “It says none of what you just told me.”

“Sometimes I forget to write things down.”

“That could be considered withholding evidence.”

“So call a cop.”

The two men stared at each other across the desk for a few seconds. Then Brandt closed the file and said, “Repeating what you just told me would be bad for Rachel Wild.”

“Yes it would,” Dench said. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

“She still lives at the Hotel Balmoral,” said Brandt. “It’s a dump. Why do you think she didn’t buy a nice little house?”

“Maybe she likes it there,” Dench said. “Or maybe she’s smart. It wouldn’t take long for Vaccarino to figure things out if she made a move like that. Maybe she decided to just paint the place and buy some new furniture. Maybe even a new pair of shoes. Maybe now she can buy fresh flowers everyday, brighten the place up.”

Brandt slid the file back to Dench, across the desktop. “Maybe this should remain a mystery,” he said.

“That would be the preferred outcome,” said Dench.

the opening line

He’d been trying and failing to fight off an opening line to a story.

Ringing at the other end of the line. Clicks and long distance ghosts. A faint far away voice, perhaps in time, saying the name Agnes three times. Then the hollow plastic sound of hanging up. Vera answered on the forth ring.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Vera. It’s Nathaniel.”

“Nathaniel. Where are you? What’s 604? We’re all so worried.”

“It’s Vancouver, 604. I’m in Vancouver at a motel.”

“Washington? Why?”

“No. Canada. Vancouver Canada.”

“Canada? My God that’s so far away.”

“Only a few miles from Washington. “

“Why there? When are you coming home?”

“It was the first flight out, so I took it. It’s nice here. Kind of like Disneyland. The streets are clean. I’m on a street called Kingsway. It’s raining.”

“Get to the airport. They have one don’t they? Get to the airport, and get a ticket home. Call me when you get it, and tell me your arrival time. I’ll be waiting for you.”

“No, Vera. I like it here, for the moment. People say thank you like they mean it. The air doesn’t smell like anything. It’s just air. There’re mountains with trees. I’m looking at them. I mean I can’t really see them right now because of the clouds and rain, but the girl at the desk assured me that they’re there. Maybe I’ll be able to write something here.”

“Do you have your medication? You have to have your medication. You know what happens when….”

“I have to go.”

“No. That’s not fair. These things you do to us….”

“You’re speaking in sentence fragments, Vera. That means it’s time to hang up.”

“No, please.”

Nathaniel hung up.

When he came into the suite, a little stucco cabin really, he was drawn to the picture window. It provided a view of a wet off season parking lot. True inspiration.

“So, I’m Roger, Mr Reed,” the porter had said putting the suit cases down. “I’m a big fan. When’s the next one coming out? They just keep getting better and better. You’re about due, aren’t you? I belong to a discussion group online. We’re rereading your old titles now, but it sure would be great if you wrote another. Anything you need to make your time with us more enjoyable, just track me down on the phone. I’ll get it for you. Have a nice stay.”

Nathaniel placed the shoulder bag containing his laptop on the table near the window. The laptop with five half written stories occupying a fragment of its drive. Five half developed ideas. Products of his medicated mind. Sedate characters living uninteresting lives completely devoid of incongruity.

“What’s this shit,” Angela, his publisher, had said when he presented her with three of the five as teasers. “Where’re the crack pipe swallowers and paranoids howling at the moon? Where’s the kink? You write about whack jobs, psychos and abhorrent sexual desire, Nathaniel. That’s what your readers want.”

“I can’t anymore. I’ve done it for ten years. I deserve to move on. I’m on some decent meds for the first time in my life. The voices have stopped. I’m clean, and I haven’t had a drink in more than a year. I think I’m feeling normal. I want to try to write something normal.”

“Fuck normal, Nate. This is a money making gig here, and we publish pulp. The freak shows you write that we pass off as novels make dough. For all of us including you. Your readers pay to live like junkies, raging schizoids and hermaphrodite nymphomaniacs three hundred pages at a time. It’s how they convince themselves they’ve got street cred as they drive their beamers to Amway meetings.”

“I read Atonement while I was in rehab,” Nathaniel said.

“Oh boy, here it comes.”

“I want to write my Atonement.”

“We all want to write Atonement, Nate. Some of us want to write Lolita. But if we all could do it, McEwan and Nabokov would be fry cooks. You owe us two books, sport. You’re a year late because of this rehab stunt you pulled. So be a player and stick to addicts biting off their own toes and obeying their command hallucinations.”

That had been the last word, in a 24 hour submarine sandwich shop at midnight. And he knew she was right. He hadn’t written anything worth a damn since he’d started the medication and the idiotic 12 steps.

For this trip, he’d left the meds at home. The pink ones and the tiny white ones. Their small orange bottles stood impressively labelled in the cabinet over his sink. He’d resisted pouring them down the toilet. They weren’t worthy of such ceremony. They were just prescriptions. Did they really make him feel normal? What were the terms of reference? Was Vera normal with her nail biting and nervous life long insomnia? Was Angela, chain smoking on coke and absinthe and running out of body parts to pierce and tattoo?

He unzipped his shoulder bag, pulled out his laptop and placed it back on the table. An expensive bit of plastic housing some circuitry. And five unfinished, unwanted stories. He closed his eyes tight and tried to feel the absence of the psych meds. It had only been two days since he took the last dose. The ones that stabilised his mood; the ones that quieted the voices. He knew they were still present in his body, stabilising and quieting. It might take weeks or months to flush them out. He was detoxing all over again.

He’d been trying and failing to fight off an opening line to a story. It kept coming back like a ball thrown against a wall, like the urge to use and drink again. It wasn’t the opening line to a normal story. It wasn’t the sort of opening line seen in a Michael Crichton novel. It was pure pulp. But an opening line to a perfectly marketable story in an age that had resurrected burlesque and the roller derby.

She was a screamer on a bed of squeaky springs.

That was it. From it a novel could grow.

Definitely not Michael Crichton. But then, Michael Crichton didn’t really write novels anyway. Just exhausting overwritten outlines for soon-to-be exhausting overwritten Hollywood scripts. A script adaptation would be nice right now. It would take some of the heat off money wise. But Angela was right. Stories of reconstituted dinosaurs and courageous missionary position medical practitioners weren’t in him.

But what of McEwan. Full of irony and passion. Passion for the little things as much as for the large. Atonement, what was the opening line? He’d memorized it while in his room at the recovery house, repeating it in his head while others said the serenity prayer.

The play – for Which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper – was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.

He paused to compare his recurring opening line, the one that was haunting him, to McEwan’s.

She was a screamer on a bed of squeaky springs.

Perhaps it wasn’t a fair comparison.

He lifted one of his suitcases onto the bed, opened it and retrieved a faded tee shirt and a pair of gym shorts. As he changed, he noticed the mini-bar. It was oddly placed next to the king sized bed like a nightstand. It hummed a cool invitation. As a writer, recovering drunk and generally curious individual, he was fascinated by the phenomena of the mini-bar. Nothing in the hotel/motel world was so closely monitored and inventoried. You could get away with stealing towels, the soap, the little bottles of shampoo. But you could never get away with pinching mini-bar items. Not even the shitty little bags of peanuts.

He crouched and opened the small refrigerator door, and saw the neat rows of little bottles and snack items. It reminded him of Hunter S Thompson’s drug inventory from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.

Here was five vodka, five gin, five rye, five scotch, five rum, five tequila, three Jack Daniel’s,  six beer and four half sized bottles of wine, along with mixer. Ice was outside and round the corner.

He poured five tiny bottles of vodka into a glass and gulped it back. More than a year since his last. But why was he drinking from a glass, not directly from the bottle? What had he become? There was a long way to go to get back. To return to that magical, moneyed and celebrated place. It was those crappy little bottles. Man had evolved to become obsessed with portion control.  Could he get crack in this sterile city?

He returned to the laptop, plugged it in and turned it on. As it booted, he made a call and tracked Roger down. The vodka was gone, and he was now drinking scotch.

“Roger?”

“Yes, Mr Reed?”

“I need Smirnoff. Red label. A couple of monster bottles. You got those in this country?”

“Yes, Mr Reed?”

“And, umm, Roger?”

“Yes, Mister Reed?”

“I’m not sure how to ask.”

After an appropriate pause, Roger said, “I’m the motel porter and handyman, Mr Reed. What could you possibly ask for that those before you haven’t?”

There was a soiled logic to that. Nathaniel hesitated and then spit it out, “Rock, pipe, brillo.” He said it like rock, paper, scissors. What was the hand gesture for brillo, he wondered.

“Not instantly available, and a bit pricy under the circumstances.”

“Whatever.”

“And a word of caution, Mr Reed.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“You’re in a non-smoking suite. If consuming the latter requested item indoors, I’d turn on the bathroom fan.”

“Yes. Sound advice. I’m running out of mini-bar choices, Roger. Please hurry.”

He panicked at first, after he’d hung up and sat at the computer, facing the blinking cursor on the blank screen. Then he looked out the window and knew he must give in. To remove the demon from the mind, it must be written down.