the bone settlement – part 1

Stanley Park – October 31, 1949 

Her failed attempts at stillness were behind her; she was an expert now. She could finally become the colour of the trees and stone. Now she needed to become a shadow.

From where she stood, she could hear children sing. A good sign. She was welcome. She took the small leather bag from her coat pocket and placed it on the ground, in the centre of the ring of trees, the Sisters, the precinct. It was a natural basilica that rose a hundred feet above the trail.

Looking up, she saw the stars and moon. There was movement all around. She closed her eyes and listened. They had purpose.

From the forest, a glowing form emerged. A small girl in the dark, surrounded by light.

“Thank you,” she said.

The items in leather bag began to shake and clatter.

-1-

Vancouver, October 20, 1949

It was 10:00 a.m. She sat at her desk with a switchblade in her hand. She pressed the trigger, and the blade appeared. Faultless and ready. Honed Damascus steel. Handle of ebony. Custom made for her in Paris, 1942. She closed it, and snapped it open again. It wasn’t like there was time to waste, but it helped her think.

She knew it was the wrong thing to do. The knife wasn’t made for it. But she wanted to throw it, and stab Nicky No Dice Cohen in the heart. He stood ready, dukes up, head down, classic boxer’s stance, on a fight poster on the far wall, next to the filing cabinets. She had nothing against No Dice. His record was clean. So was hers. He never took a fall. But he was an easy target, pinned to the wall. And hitting the target would let off some steam. Perhaps even be inspirational.

But the switchblade lacked the balance for throwing. It was made for close-in work. She smiled, remembering Paris.

The kid was ten, when he disaapeared. That was five years ago. The cops had given up. All Trudy Parr had to go on were old photographs, and a couple of grief-stricken parents with wild ideas. But they were clients, worthy of her respect.

“You’ll forgive me for saying it, Mr and Mrs Bellamy.” She’d tried to sound empathetic when they’d met in the Bellamy’s front parlour. “But the cops said they found nothing. You’ve hired other investigators in the past, without results. Maybe William is just gone. It happens.”

“No!” Mrs Bellamy began to sob. “Oh, Billy.”

Mr Bellamy looked wounded.

Trudy Parr was surprised there could still be such emotion after five years. Maybe that’s why she took the case. The cops would take her involvement badly, and be obstructionist. There were no leads. The newspapers had sensationalised the story, ignoring the facts. The trail had gone cold. But all the same, a cold missing person case was better than chasing cheating husbands and mutts on the lam for skipping bail.

Now, at her desk, she looked at the photograph again. Young William Bellamy, a smiling youngster. His image, fixed iconically and forever onto the very bones of his parents.

She closed the knife and pressed the trigger again.

Snap.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?”

“Some fella named Thomas Armbruster on the line,” Gladys said. “Says he’s with the Parks Board.”

“And?” Trudy Parr said, running her thumb crosswise over the sharp edge of the blade.

“And, it’s a little odd. He says he’s got troubles on the Stanley Park trails. He says it could be vandals but the cops looked and can’t find nothing.”

“Tell him we don’t deal in mischief calls.”

“Heck I know that, Trudy. I’d have blown him off three minutes ago, ‘cept he said something about the trail in question being haunted. And I know you and Crispin go in for that sorta thing, occasionally.”

Trudy Parr put down the knife and wistfully picked up a .45 cartridge that sat upright and gleaming on her desk blotter, next to a fountain pen.

“You still there, Trudy?” Gladys said.

She rolled the cold cartridge between her fingers for a moment. “Alright, put him through.” Her desk phone rang and she picked up. “Trudy Parr here. What’s the beef?”

“Oh, Miss Parr,” said the man on the line. “This is Thomas Armbruster. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I’m a commissioner on the Vancouver Parks Board.”

Armbruster sounded like he wore tweed pajamas to bed. Trudy didn’t like him.

“Sorry, I don’t follow village politics,” she said.

“Well, we’re having a bit of difficulty on a Stanley Park trail.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. The police have investigated and found nothing. They’ve dispatched the Mounted Squad and they’re keeping an eye open, but….”

“But what?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

Trudy Parr lit a cigarette. “Do your best,” she said.

“Well, in a nutshell, several people claim to have been accosted by something very mysterious. Up round the Seven Sisters – that circle of tall trees on the Cathedral Trail.”

“Kids in white sheets? Halloween’s coming, you know.”

“No,” said Armbruster.  “It’s not kids. Not according to the descriptions. Witnesses report a single free floating young girl, surrounded in purple light. Naturally, it’s fiction. Though the stories are consistent from witness to witness. The point is that it’s bad for business. The park needs to be safe.”

“And you need to get re-elected.”

“Well, yes. There’s that – just between you me.”

“This happen during the day or night?” said Trudy Parr, inspecting the bullet’s primer. It read Federal 45 Auto.

“Dusk, mostly. No one’s really on the trails after dark. Except for park hobos.”

“Has anyone spoken to them?”

“They claim the whole damn park is haunted,” Armbruster said. “They say a few spooks on a trail at dusk ‘ain’t nothin” compared to some of the goings-on elsewhere in the park.”

“What do you say to that?”

“I say that it’s the rotgut talking. Look, I just need a credible private investigator to back up what the police have already said, and put it in writing.”

Trudy Parr looked over at No Dice Cohen, peeking over his gloves. Never took a fall.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stroll on by the trouble spot this evening, and see what I see. Gladys will set you up with a contract, but for now we have a binding verbal agreement. Forty-five dollars a day plus overhead.”

“Wow. I, uh….”

“I know. You thought we work for peanuts because we’re having trouble with the rent. That’s what you read in your pulpy magazines, right? But I can assure you that The Dench and Parr Agency functions devoid of any threat of liquidation. There are other agencies in town that charge less. Want the list?”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Swell.” Trudy Parr hung up, and placed the .45 shell back on the desk blotter.

-2-

She found herself in Crispin Dench’s office. The Black Hawks and Red Wings were playing in Detroit that night. He was talking to a bookie over the telephone.

“What’s the spread?” Dench said. He paused to listen to his bookie. “Hawks, then. C-note.” He paused again. “Look, Maurice, don’t try to be my friend. Last time I let that happen, I lost a bundle.” Pause. “I know the Hawks stink. Hence, the point spread.” Pause. “Just do it, Maurice. Take it outta what you owe me, and save the histrionics for that hooker you’ve been dating.” He hung up.

“What’s rattlin’?” he said to Trudy Parr.

“Missing person,” she said. “Kid. Case, five years cold. He was ten at the time of his disappearance. Parents distraught but moneyed. Cops botched the initial investigation. Twenty bucks says you can’t guess the client’s name.”

Dench sat back in his reclining desk chair, and tapped his index finger on his chin. There was an unloaded .357 magnum revolver on his desk, next to a rag and a can of Hoppe’s Oil.

“In town?” he said.

“They live in town.”

“Where’d he disappear from?”

Trudy Parr smiled and kept mum.

“Boarding school or in town private?”

She remained quiet.

“Who was the flatfoot heading up the search?”

“Okay, I’ll give you this one. But only because he handles a lot of cases. You’ll have to narrow it down. It was Olaf Brandt.”

“Brandt? He’s actually a decent detective. Five years ago, huh? We were still in Paris. That makes it tougher. You giving odds?”

“Nope.”

“Alright, in 1944 the two missing person cases Brandt was working on got dropped.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’m a detective,” Dench said, “that’s how.” He lit a Gitanes, “I read case files, and associate with a desperate crowd. Both of the cases were abandoned because the new Police Chief at the time, Donald Bond, committed most VPD manpower to solving a string of bank robberies. Which never actually got solved, incidentally.”

“You’re killing me,” said Trudy Parr.

“One of the missing person cases was an old woman, named Edna Chang. She was over eighty. She’d gone a little batty, and likely wondered off into the wild blue yonder on her own. Never to be seen again. Garden variety misadventure.”

Dench drew on his cigarette, and made like he was pondering the possibilities.

“The other one?” said Trudy Parr.

“William Bellamy.”

She tried not to look surprised.

Dench checked his fingernails. “He may have been abducted. No evidence of kidnapping. Some sick prick probably ate him for breakfast. Which will be hard to convey to the parents. Better bring a priest with you. But you should know this, the cops may have found one piece of important evidence. The skinny street-side, and in one or two of the cop bars, is that Brandt found a shirt in Stanley Park, balled-up, tossed in a mud puddle.”

“William Bellamy’s shirt?”

“Rich family,” Dench said, with a shrug. “Custom made shirt. Label embroidered with the kid’s name, Billy. If it’s for real, then there’s a good chance it was his.”

“And they dropped the case?”

“A lot of kids named Billy in the world.”

“You know better.”

“Maybe. But you may remember, Donald Bond ran for Mayor in ’47. Lost to McGeer. But he ran on his reputation for being hard on major property crime, like bank robberies. The kind of thing he hoped might stir the hearts of local voters, but never did. So, when he was Police Chief, looking ahead to an honorable political future, the Bellamy evidence was ignored. It’s probably still in a box in a VPD Evidence Room. And William Bellamy is still missing.”

“Wonder how I make this information work for me,” said Trudy Parr.

“You’re one of the few who can,” said Dench. He absentmindedly picked up his revolver, checked the hammer action, and said, “You owe me twenty dollars, by the way.”

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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.

a special post for family and friends

If you’ve come to this after noon on April 1st, then you should know that it was an April Fools Day gag.

Hi all,

I know that sometimes I isolate and miss opportunities to connect with family and friends. But I’ve discovered a marvellous way to make up for it.

Translink, British Columbia’s South Coast Transportation Authority, and SkyTrain, the oldest and one of the longest automated driverless light rapid transit systems in the world, are now chartering individual SkyTrain cars for city tours, and I’d like to invite all of you along on one of these great trips. The excursion I’m most interested in is the Stanley Park tour. It’s pretty cool, really! We’ll have an entire SkyTrain car to ourselves as we travel through one of the most scenic parks in the world, and it’s catered. Drinks and finger food are included – even kosher and gluten free choices for those who prefer. We might even be able to take a spin round the seawall.

Just click the map below for details.

The cost for the afternoon is a very reasonable $12.75, plus applicable taxes (exact change only, please). And you get a transfer! It runs from 1-5pm, starting at Lost Lagoon. But it’s a limited time offer, so choose a date that works best for you and get back to me right away: April 11, 18 or 25.

I think this will be a swell way to bring us all back together again.

Image

  • Lost Property Office
    Stadium SkyTrain Station, 590 Beatty St., Vancouver
    Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    T: 604.953.3334

Joan Crawford in Vancouver (repost)

1950

The last light of the sunset over English Bay was a burnt orange. A False Creek mill, fully engulfed, filled the local skies with smoke. It had been an afternoon and evening of distant sirens. She watched the changing light from the window of the Sylvia Hotel lounge.

Rocky Solesino played his horn with anxious ease. Muted for the small room, so even occasional quiet laughter could be heard over the jazz. The woman in a Givenchy suit sat in a dark corner, chain smoking and drinking a large vodka on ice. The waiter arrived with another.

“Any news of the fire,” she asked, sounding amused.

“They’re just letting it burn out, Miss Crawford,” the waiter said, standing erect in his perfect waiter’s jacket. “Radio says it’s too big for the local fire departments to handle. All that wood around the place. Dry from the summer.”

“My cousin, Rhoda, was in a big fire once,” the woman said. “She worked in the Sen Sen factory in Chicago, Illinois. The place burned flat back in ’35. I was in Hollywood then, of course. I mailed her a cheque for her misfortune. All of Chicago smelled like burnt Sen Sen for an entire week after. No one could hang out their laundry. Ever smell burnt Sen Sen?”

“No, ma’am.”

“I imagine it was quite intolerable.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Bring me another in ten minutes.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She lit a cigarette with a gold cigarette lighter, and inhaled a quarter of it on the first draw. Then she picked up a pen next to an open moleskine, and began to write. 

I remember the day Barbara S. and I drove out to see a property in Malibu. What a dump. But someone said it would be quite the location one day. I wasn’t convinced, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest with that sanctimonious bitch. She’s so bitter and undependable. But we had a picnic lunch out on a bluff over the beach. We shared a couple bottles of wine, and I remember her hand on my knee. It seemed to get dark awfully fast, and we took rooms at a local hotel. That night, she snuck across to my room. I’ll admit that she seduced me. I was weak, and had had too much to drink. She took advantage. At breakfast, she behaved like nothing had happened. I was deeply hurt, and I hired a separate limousine to take me home.

She put the pen down, and read what she had written. Rocky Solesino was playing something new he called Boplicity. There were more sirens, closer now but seeming to come from no identifiable direction. She looked up and saw three motorcycle cops ride by on Beach Avenue, with their lights flashing.

The waiter arrived with a fresh drink.

“Sounds like marshal law out there,” she said.

“There are reports of looting in the downtown, ma’am,” the waiter said. “Someone’s thrown a brick through a window of the Hotel Vancouver. It’s strange; this is normally such a quiet little town.”

“A fire brings out the worst in people, let me tell you. I remember Rhoda telling me that when the Sen Sen factory got back up and running, an employee got fired for pouring several gallons of Tabasco sauce into a batch. They didn’t find out until after they’d shipped it out. Too late by then, of course. Sen Sen customers worldwide were burning their tongues on the stuff.

“I never enjoyed Sen Sen how about you?”

“I usually have some nearby, ma’am,” the waiter said.

“Why not just a stick of gum or a mint? Why Sen Sen?”

“I’ve never given it much thought, ma’am.”

“Well there you are, you see. It’s the trivial that makes us what we are. The sum of human minutia. That’s the secret of Hollywood’s success, you know. Showering the audience with the banal, some catchy tunes about nothing at all and a big finish. There doesn’t even need to be a plot to a Hollywood movie. Just a couple tap dancing tarts with some cleavage and lots of leg. That’s what sells popcorn.”

“Yes, ma’am. Shall I bring another in ten minutes?”

“By all means, Godfrey. Consider yourself on auto-pilot.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As the waiter turned to go, there was a blunt explosion in the distance. The windows of the hotel shook, and glasses and bottles behind the bar rattled.

“Goodness, what was that?” the woman said.

“Not the Nine O’clock gun,” the waiter said, consulting his wristwatch. “It’s never that loud, and it’s already 9:15. I’ll ask the desk clerk.”

“Please do, and report back.” The woman raised her glass in a salute to the retreating waiter, and took a gulp. Then she picked up her pen again, and began to write.

I met a fellow name Roderick B. in Hollywood in 1942. He was a hand model for a couple of fountain pen companies. He did cuff links, too. The irony was that he had the single ugliest face I’ve ever seen on a man. His hands were masculine yet slim and graceful, but he had the mug of a troll. All over America, people were buying fountain pens and cuff links because of those lovely hands, while only an arms length away was the hideous face of an ogre.

In 1943, to avoid the lucklessness of the draft, he joined the Marine Corps and ended up in the South Pacific. And I know what you’re thinking, dear reader, but you’re wrong. He didn’t gallantly and selflessly get his lovely hands blown off in some glorious wartime action. He survived intact, demobbed, and in 1946 he landed the contract of his life with the Parker Pen Company of JanesvilleWisconsin. He modelled his hands holding the best the company had to offer, and helped Parker come back after the war.

Part of the deal was a signing bonus, a brand new 1946 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Coupe, red in colour. Roderick loved that car. He drove it all over LA and especially Hollywood, trying to attract attention. I guess he thought of it as a mask to cover his hideous face.

As a result of images of his hands appearing in magazines and on billboards far and near, Roderick received scads of fan mail from all over the world. Dames, and even a few fellows, were nutso over Roderick’s hands, and just assumed that, as a result of their tender lines, he must have the face and gentle disposition of Prince Charming. Which he didn’t. Besides looking like a gargoyle, he drank too much and liked slapping women around.

So in 1947, he got all cozy with this Anita Filippone woman. They met at the wedding of a mutual friend in Van NuysCalifornia. Some people are naturally attracted to the stunningly ugly, and Anita was one of those.

From the start, the relationship was a rocky one. There were rumours of Anita having to lay low for days at a time while she recovered from black eyes and split lips. Roderick emptied her bank account and took up residence in her apartment, uninvited. But she stood by her ugly man for reasons I can’t explain.

Now all of this time Roderick is fully aware that Anita Filippone is the niece of Jack Dragna, the LA mob boss. But he doesn’t care. It doesn’t sink in for him that you just can’t go on using and abusing the niece of a LA mob boss without it eventually coming back on you. Maybe he had a death wish, like some said.

He and I met late in ’47 over coffee and pastries, and I pointed all of this out to him. But he told me to mind my own business, that not all relationships were the same. He told me that Anita Filippone got as much out of their little affair as he did. And he said that his prominence as an internationally recognised hand model for the Parker Pen Company made him immune to the petty concerns of the rest of the planet. I paid the bill at the end of our little nosh, and never saw Roderick again.

A month later, there was a front page news item in the LA Times. The headline read, Hands Found in Cadillac Convertible Those of Parker Pen Co. Hand Model. The severed hands had been discovered gripping the steering wheel of Roderick’s beloved Cadillac. It was found parked out front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I recall trying to establish the significance of the Cadillac being parked out front of Grauman’s, but I didn’t get it.

A month later, it was announced that Anita Filippone was to marry an eastern torpedo by the name of Sergio Fiocco. Soon after, she disappeared into the Mafia infested suburbs of New Jersey.

The woman stopped writing, and looked up to see that a fresh drink had been delivered while she wrote. And the waiter stood there with yet another.

“A fresh one every ten minutes,” he said, and placed the drink on the table. “As requested, Miss Crawford,”

“Thank you,” she said, still a little lost in 1947 Hollywood. “What was that dreadful boom about? It sounds like the chaos is getting more chaotic by the minute.”

There was sporadic gun fire in the distance, rapid fire and single shots, along with small explosions and pops coming from the surrounding neighbourhood. A nearby air raid siren began to wail.

“News from over the radio is strangely dire,” the waiter said. “When it comes through at all. Throngs have taken to the street. Many neighbourhoods are burning out of control. That boom was a liner on the inlet side of the harbour exploding. The police are in disarray, and the mayor is considering calling in the army. There are rumours, however, that members of the military are deserting. Some churches around the city have flung open their doors, and are proclaiming this the end of time.”

“What nonsense,” the woman said, lighting a cigarette. “What kind of government do you have in this country?”

“We’re a parliamentary democracy, Miss Crawford.”

“Sounds like dime store Bolshevism to me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

As Rocky Solesino turned a chart on his music stand, there was another explosion, this one closer and far louder than the last. A plate glass window that faced English Bay cracked, and then shattered. Out on the bay, a freighter at anchor had exploded and was now listing heavily to port. It issued black smoke.

“That’s rather extreme,” said the woman.

“Yes, ma’am.”

A smallish, bored looking maid arrived at the blown out window with broom and dustpan.

“What do you think might have caused that?’

“Perhaps the current high pressure front, ma’am?”

“Ah, of course. Carry on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She took up her pen once more.

It may not be a topic for polite conversation, but I’ve often wondered how many pairs of pants a man will own in his life. I certainly don’t mean an average sort of man who might buy one or two pairs of pants in a year, and simply wear them to death. I mean a man like, say, Cary G. Now there’s a fellow who has a pair of pants for every moment of the day – morning, afternoon and evening. No one shade of blue or grey or brown or even taupe or white suffices. He simply must have a spectrum of blues and greys and browns and stripes and checks and cuffs and pleats and creases and waistbands and buttons and zippers and worsteds and flannels and gabardines and hopsacks and wool and cotton and linen and silk blends. And nothing off a rack, mind you. Each pair custom tailored.

Of course the same can be said of items in my wardrobe, but I’m a woman after all. He’s a man. And can’t a man stand stoically and manfully in one or two pairs of pants instead of foppishly losing himself in a trouser jungle? And no, I’m not implying any metaphors here – at least not consciously. I’m just asking a question.

You see, I once stood in Cary G’s trouser jungle. It was at his Santa Monica beach house in 1936, the one he shared with Randolph S., just after the whole awful Virginia Cherrill mess. It was a massive place, most of it closed off and under dust sheets.

It was Sunday morning after an all night party, and it was getting light. Everyone was very drunk, and none of us was thinking about going to church. Cary G. and Randolph S., our hosts, had disappeared around 3 a.m. It made sense to most of us that they had, like reasonable people, gone to bed. The house had seven available bedrooms. The rest of us should have been able to find a place to lay our heads on our own.

At some point during the night, Kate H. and I had fallen into conversation about all manner of Hollywood mayhem. By 4 a.m., she’d come up with the idea that we needed to explore the beach house, find the correct bedroom, and discover once and for all whether Cary G. and Randolph S. were indeed sleeping together. Normally I couldn’t have cared less, but the vodka was working its strange magic on me, and Kate H. was very persuasive.

So we started walking the halls of the massive barn, opening doors here and there. The last door I opened led into a parlour-like room that was brightening nicely in the morning light. There were vases of flowers, large well kept tropical plants, a couple overstuffed chairs and a wall of mirrors, some of which swung on hinges. But what caught my attention was a folding door that had been left open onto a walk-in wardrobe. I stepped in, and was amazed. This was no mere clothes closet; it was a haberdasher’s warehouse, several feet wide and running for what seemed the whole length of the house. It looked like miles of men’s clothes. Jackets, suits, tuxedos and, yes, pants. There was row on row of ties. The floor was lined with shoes, and there were shirts of every description. On a shelf above it all was a long row of hatboxes and hats on blocks. It all had the fresh scent of Tennessee Cedar and expensive men’s cologne. At one end of the closet was a wall of drawers. I stepped up and, I’m a little ashamed to say, began opening them. It was all men’s under garments, pyjamas and socks.

Bored by that, I turned around and walked down to the other end of the closet. It was there that I encountered Kate H. standing in front of a dressing table. It had a large mirror and a stool tucked underneath. On the table top were the usual comb and brush, balms, ointments and lotions. And there was a large ornate cigarette lighter like the ones you’d see in drugstores. It caught my attention, seeming out of place, so I attempted to pick it up. And when I did, the wall next to the dressing table slid away and we were bathed in light.

When we stepped through the opening in the wall, we were in a weird sort of cathedral, all mahogany and brass. There were balconies and spiral staircases three stories high. It was topped at the sides by a clerestory of blue, gold and red stained glass. The ceiling itself was a dome of stained glass in a web of lead. The walls, all of the way up, were lined with books. Old leather bindings like you’d see in a Universal vampire picture. There was a forest of tropical plants, and in the middle was a huge cage filled with brightly coloured tropical songbirds and a massive tree growing up to the top.

Off to the side of the cage, on an inaccessible balcony twenty feet off the floor, stood a sad shabby looking old man in a tattered tuxedo. He looked down at us, smiled and snapped his fingers three times. The hundreds of birds in the cage went silent, and then slowly, and quietly at first, began to make the most beautiful music. The shabby old man remained silent until the right moment, and then began to sing. He was a glorious tenor, and his voice filled the cathedral. The birds were the perfect orchestral accompaniment. Kate H. and I stood dumfounded.

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.
Ma per fortuna
é una notte di luna,
e qui la luna
l?abbiamo vicina.
Aspetti, signorina,
le dirò con due parole
chi son, e che faccio,
come vivo….

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the birds resumed their frenzied forest song. We didn’t applaud or beg for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong.

We never did find Cary G. and Randolph S. in the sack together. But it didn’t really matter. It was just a drunken schoolgirl pursuit, after all.

MGM released Love on the Run a few weeks later, and I forgot the whole thing. That is until May, 1937.

I was in San Francisco for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city was full of the stinking rich and the stinking destitute. It was a Thursday, and that night after the big celebration I had my driver take me to one of my favourite bars in the city. It was a joint called Mick’s down near the wharves. Sure, I was slumming. But a girl’s got to spread her wings. Anyway, it was a quiet place where people went to drink and get drunk, and that was for me.

The stretch Lasalle was a little out of place in that neighbourhood, so I got out and sent the driver away. I had him drop me a few blocks away from my destination so I could walk and take the fetid waterfront air. Most of the people on the sidewalk were there because they had no place else to go. The men walked with their hands in their pockets and their heads down. The few women I saw were bundled in ragged winter coats in spite of the warm spring evening.

 There was the racket of shipping noise from the docks, and the cars and transports on the street. But faint and underneath it all, just a little distant, there was music. Or shall I say, strangely familiar singing.

 The singing got louder as I got closer to Mick’s, and I had the oddest thought: Could it be the tenor – the solitary one on the cathedral balcony accompanied by a symphony of tropical songbirds?

Of course not. The tenor had been a dream. I’d been in a vodka induced trance in that beach house. But the voice was louder and more familiar as I approached. And then I was there, standing in front of Mick’s and the shabby looking old man in the tattered tuxedo. It was dark and he stood in the yellow light of a lamp post. There were no song birds this time, but the trucks, cars and cargo cranes were his perfect accompaniment.

Donna non vidi mai…
simile a questa!
A dirle: io t’amo,
a nuova vita l’alma mia si desta.
-”Manon Lescaut mi chiamo!”
Como queste parole profumate
mi vagam nello spirito…
e ascose fibre…
vanno a carezzare!…
O sussuro gentil, deh! non cessare!
Deh! non cessare!!!

Once again it was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes. The trucks, cars and dock machinery resumed their discordant noise. No one applauded or begged for more. In that place at that moment, it seemed wrong. One man passing by, looking out of place in an expensive suit and trench coat, tossed a dime at the tenor’s feet and kept walking.

When I approached him with a ten dollar bill, he said, no no no, and walked away, fading like a ghost.

When she looked up again from her writing the lounge was empty, as was the stage where Rocky Solesino and his quartet had been. In the bay, all of the freighters were in flames, and there was a large pulsating crowd of people with torches yelling and chanting on Beach Avenue, in front of the Sylvia Hotel.

The waiter came with a fresh drink. “The Chef asks if you’ll be ordering dinner, ma’am. He’s anxious to get home to his family, if his services are no longer required.”

“My goodness, where is everyone?”

“Most of the staff has abandoned their posts, Miss Crawford. Some of the guests have gone to their rooms. Others are trying to get transportation out of the city. Where they intend to go is the question, though. Reports are that every major city on the planet is in flames and the people are rioting. All of the world’s major governments have fallen.”

The lights dimmed for a second, and then went out completely. The waiter placed a lit candle next the one already on the woman’s table. “I was expecting a blackout, ma’am. The rest of the city is already in the dark.”

Across English Bay, the woman could see Kitsilano and Point Grey in flames. There were more explosions and gun fire from nearby.

“What’s causing this,” she said, sounding scared for the first time. “Why isn’t someone doing something?”

“Perhaps what they’re saying is true, Miss Crawford. Perhaps this is the end.”

“It can’t be, I‘m contracted to do three more movies.”

The crowd in front of the Sylvia Hotel now seemed like a galaxy moving around a spot at its centre where they were piling park benches into a pyramid that peaked high above the mob below. When it reached its desired height, someone, a man, climbed to the top and stood there. At first he was unrecognisable, silhouetted against the flames of the city across the bay. Then people began throwing their torches onto the pyramid, and it quickly ignited. In the growing light from below, the woman could now recognise the man. It was the tenor. He seemed unconcerned with the increasing flames. He stood passively atop of the pile of burning benches. Then the deafening rabble became quiet, and in a moment, standing in the growing inferno, the tenor began to sing.

Nessun dorma!
Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principess,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d’amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
che ti fa mia!
(Il nome suo nessun saprà!…
e noi dovrem, ahime, morir!)
Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!
vincerò, vincerò!

It was over too soon, after only a few minutes. Then the old man went silent, and looked down at his shoes as the mob resumed its frenzied cry. There was no applause or people begging for more. The flames just leapt up and consumed him.

The woman watched slack jawed as the mob threw more combustibles onto the blazing pyramid. Then she fell onto the floor of the Sylvia Hotel lounge and wept.

At 7.00 a.m., she awoke in her room. Her head ached and she wanted to gag on the smell of smoke. The phone rang.

“Wake up call, Miss Crawford,” said a cheery voice.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Your direct flight to Los Angeles has been cancelled, but we were able to get you a flight to Portland, Oregon. It leaves at 11.30 a.m. You’ll have to make your own connection from there. I’m sorry it’s the best we could do under the circumstances.”

“Yes, thank you. Is there any news – of what happened last night, I mean?”

“The Management has asked us not to comment, Miss Crawford. Shall we send up breakfast?”

…in the night, of cancer

1953

Just the skipping of the needle at the end of a 78. Hours of it over and over in the dark now that the candles had died. A jazz number. Saxophone and rhythm guitar, new out of New York. Black men and cigarettes. Indecipherable banter when the music ends. Something for the squares to ponder. And the whiskey haze. My cigarette palate, burned beyond recognition. In and out of sleep and the tenor of dreams. Remembering and foreseeing. Monsters in human shapes with sickening proclivities. The chaos they leave behind for others to quietly interpret. A face I recognise, an innocent. Too young to walk the city in my head.

The phone rings. It’s phosphorescent 3.00 a.m. I lift the receiver and lay it on the pillow next to my ear.

“Hello,” I say.

“Listen to me,” a voice says.

“Hello?”

“Listen to me.” The voice. “It’s dark and cold, and I want to go home.”

“So go,” I say. “Who the hell is this?”

“I’ve something to tell you.”

“What?”

“I like your writing,” the voice says.

“Swell. Look, how the hell did you….”

“Shut up and listen to me.”

“Fine.”

“That piece you did on Rosenberg,” the voice says. “And what the court did to him. It was righteous.”

“Righteous.”

“Righteous. So, I have something to pass on to you. Like a reward. For you, because I think you’re the only reporter in town who deserves it.”

“Great. It’s 3.00 a.m.”

“This is important. Listen to me. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever hear.”

“Okay.” I cough. “What?”

“Two bodies. Children. In the park. Not far from your apartment. If it gets warm, like the radio says, they’ll start to stink. But they’re well hid ‘til then. Can you read a simple map?”

“I suppose.” I’m interested now. “Simple?”

“Lines on paper.”

“That simple?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow, before you leave for work, ask your concierge to check your mail slot. There’ll be an envelope.”

“Then what?”

“Write. Write righteously.”

Click.

I don’t hang up, but roll onto my back. Dim blue light off the street, through the blinds. The shadowed geography of the ceiling. The alarm clock ticking. Groping at the night stand, I find a deck of Player’s and a book of matches. I smoke for two hours. From the apartment next to mine comes the sound of a woman weeping. A door closes softly. Foot steps down the hall. It gets quiet. I wake up again five minutes before the alarm.

8.00 a.m. and Jasper Norton leans back in his chair. He’s eating Crackerjack and reading a copy of Real Detective. I tap on the glass. He holds up a chubby palm. His lips move as he reads to the end of the page. Then, leaning forward, he places the magazine on his desk and looks me over like he’s never seen me before.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Check my mail slot, Jasper.”

“Mail’s not ‘til eleven,” he sniffs.

“Check it.”

“Look Roscoe…”

“Japer, just look. Is it gonna kill you?”

“Jeezus H…”

Jasper stands up and sticks his blunt fingers into a mail slot labelled #227 and pulls out an envelope.

“What the hell’s this?”

“An envelope,” I say.

“I gave you your mail yesterday. Say, this don’t have no stamp.”

“C’mon, give.”

Jasper hands the envelope to me through a slot in the window. It has Roscoe Phelps typed across it.

“Don’t you keep this place locked up,” I say.

“’Course.”

“How’d this get in there then?”

“Fuck if I know. But you run with some pretty sleazy characters, Roscoe, bein’ a writer and all. Maybe one of them snuck it in.”

“Ain’t no writer,” I say tearing open the envelope.

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing,” Jasper mumbles. And I guess in his world, informed by Real Detective, it is. He grabs his magazine and sits back down.

Inside the envelope is a sheet of paper folded three times. A detective in one of Jasper’s stories would pull it out with tweezers. But I’ve worked The Sun crime desk long enough to know the cops rarely get useable prints off paper. I pull the folded sheet of paper out with my fingers. It’s as simple as the man on the phone said it would be. A letter N with an arrow drawn through it is in the upper left hand corner. But even that’s not necessary. An unambiguous line is drawn from Lost Lagoon to a location just short of Beaver Lake. The line is labelled Lake Trail. It ends at an X. In a shaky hand, next to the X, someone has written the words Here cherubs sleep. I fold it and stuff it into my pocket.

Coffee and eggs next. At the lunch counter at Isaac’s Rexall on Denman Street. The scent of soap and remedies mixes with the aroma of bacon, eggs, coffee and Orange Crush. I take off my hat and hang it on a hook with my coat and sit down on a stool. The map’s in my pocket. I’ve walked four blocks to get here, wanting all the way to take it out again and study it. But there’s nothing to study. It’s already burned onto the surface of my brain. Jenny the waitress walks over with a pot of coffee.

“Hey reporter man,” she says pouring. “What do you know?”

“Just an empty vessel,” I say. “Until something happens worth knowing about. It’s Tuesday, that’s all I know.”

“That don’t make for great conversation.”

“I could make something up.”

“Sure,” Jenny says taking an order pad from her hip pocket. “Same as every other fella crawls in here. Waddaya have?”

“Same,” I say, pulling over a well read copy of The Province. The headline tells me Elisabeth ll will be crowned Queen of Canada in June.

“Gimme a Roscoe,” Jenny yells to the cook, and saunters off. She’s a skinny dame, and her uniform’s one size too big. But I look as she walks away, then return to the paper.

I try to read, but can’t. I pull out the map and study it again. Here cherubs sleep. Swell. Somebody’s fucking with me, and I’m falling for it. …they’re well hid. The bastard’s jerking off on my nickel. Knows I have to follow up. Knows I have to lift up the lid and look into whatever hole lay under that X, empty or otherwise. I want take off without breakfast. Leave Jenny and Isaac’s lunch counter behind, and walk fast back up Haro Street to the park and follow the trail toward the X. But I pull out a smoke instead. Light up and inhale deeply. Taste the friendly lighter fluid and nicotine as it snakes its way inside.

Then it comes, the usual collection of unwelcome thoughts. The contagion that inoculates sleepless nights and broadsides the peace of innocent, unthoughtful moments. The regret of knowing that stories almost never go to print without the raspy, anonymous voice at the other end of a telephone line; never go to press without some mook like me fully investigating the filthy, illiterate pencil scratch printed laboriously across greasy discarded paper. Leads are never pure. They materialise from the stunted momentum of benighted minds marking their territory with the piss of myth, innuendo and paranoid conspiracy. And I’m slave to it, an accomplice. I don’t write news, I write horror fiction for the bored masses.      Elizabeth ll will be Queen of Canada. Even that can’t compete with Here cherubs sleep. I already know the headline.

Jenny puts a steaming plate of eggs sunny side, sausages and hash browns down in front me. She refills my coffee. Then, since the few customers she’s serving are content, she says, “You gotta smoke, Roscoe?”

I offer her my deck of Player’s, then a light. Then I try to eat.

“Fresh grease today,” she says.

“Swell.”

“Cook washed his hands, too. There’s a story for you.”

“Great.”

“You know, for someone who writes, you sure don’t have much to say.”

I’m quiet as I cut up my sausages and smother them in HP Sauce.

“Look,” she says turning the paper round so she can pretend to read it. “They’re still writing about Stalin dyin’. Waddaya know?”

“Dead despots sell papers,” I say.

“You should know, huh.”

“Yeah,” I say pushing the plate away.

“You ain’t done.”

“I’m done.”

“Well, then that’ll be sixty-five cents, big spender.”

I pull out a dollar and put it on the counter.

“I’ll get your change.”

She always says that, and I’m always out the door before she gets back. This time I linger. From the change she brings back, I take a nickel.

“Sorry, doll,” I say. “But I gotta call in.”

“I’ll survive,” she says.

I go over the phone booth near the exit, sit down inside and drop the nickel in the slot. Then I dial.

“Max Wendell,” the pick up voice says.

“Hell, Max. Even over the phone, you sound bald.”

“Why ain’t you at your desk, Roscoe? You got a deadline.”

“Got a lead.”

“Spill.”

“Can’t right now. May be bullshit.”

“Probably is. I still wanna hear it.”

“Having a wonderful time,” I say. “Wish you were here.”

“Better be damn good, Phelps.”

I hang up.

I take the back alley that runs between Haro and Robson. The fresh streets of Vancouver don’t seem right for this mission. A ragman moves past me on his horse drawn cart, yelling out for junk and scraps. Fords and Chryslers are parked here. A rusted prewar Mercedes heap with the windows busted out. A bunch of boys playing hooky run by, chasing a fat kid.

As I walk down the hill toward the lagoon, something starts to jump in my gut. I’ve seen enough bodies stuffed in trash cans to last a dozen lifetimes. Even a few kids. I’m getting too old for this. I need an editor’s gig. Some sweet desk job where I can get fat and die peacefully of cirrhosis. But I keep following the leads. I’m not a washout yet. They still haven’t used me up. And by the time they do, I won’t be worth shit. But for now, damned if they won’t get their stories.

The sun glistens off the surface of the lagoon. Swans and geese swim there. In an hour or so, people will be rowing rented dinghies. It’s strange to be here on a hunt for bodies. Soon couples will walk hand in hand.

I take a trail that heads away from the water and into the forest. The woods are dense here, strange so close to the city. The path is muddy from a recent rain. At a fork, I go left, down toward Beaver Lake, and start to wonder how I can find anything in the mess of trees and deadfall. I pass a happy group of hikers. They’re laughing and talking and slapping each other on the back.

From the ruckus, I hear a voice say, “You’re getting warm, buddy-boy.”

“What,” I say, turning around.

But the hikers keep going, and I’m not sure what I heard. I hesitate. I want to forget this hunt for child corpses and head into the city. There are stories to finish, calls to return. I need a fucking drink. I turn around and look down the trail again. You’re getting warm, buddy-boy. Cherubs sleep here. Somewhere under an X.  I decide to walk on, just a few more paces, and then call it quits. I’m chasing after a bum lead. Some degenerate with my phone number and a sick imagination. Tonight I sleep with the phone off the hook.

And then I see it. Two five or six foot saplings, just cut down, still with budding foliage, leaning against a stump, one crossed over the other in an X. Just off the trail. Almost impossible to see.

The stump is in low swampy ground, surrounded by a pool of pitch and rain water. I walk in up to my ankles. My Florsheims disappear in the muck. The stump seems intact as I move around it. No place to stuff small bodies. It’s just a hoax, after all. But then I come to it. The side facing away from the trail, and there’s a small boy’s shoe half submerged in the mud. Above it is a small foot sticking out of a crevice, wearing a blue and red argyle sock. It looks as though the tree that once towered over the stump grew around whatever bodies might be inside. I kick the stump, and the rotted wood fractures and falls away. Now I begin to pull away at it.

It becomes clearer as I work up to the top. The stump is hollow. Whatever is in here was delivered through a hole at the top, a couple of feet over my head. I begin to see trousers, ankles and knees. I expose a pair of Mary Janes, and a pair of bare legs next to those wearing trousers. Splinters pierce the skin of my hands and get under my fingernails. Now there are two torsos, one clad in a winter coat, the other in a bright hand knit sweater. It’s time to stop, run and find a cop. I’ve done my job. Time to stand down, observe and report. But I continue on up the tree stump, pulling the wood away. I can’t stop. And suddenly, I reveal two small white faces, the cheeks smudged, tussled hair. The eyes of one half open. The other with eyes fully open in cold, wet shock. I step back, and fall backward into the mud, and sit there staring up. There’s birdsong I’ve never heard before in the city. Something rushes by behind me in the undergrowth. Cherubs sleeping. One with horror on her face. The other ambivalent in death. I thought I already knew the headline, but now I draw a blank.

A uniformed cops says, “If they’re who we think they are, they’ve only been missing a couple of days.”

“You fucked this up,” says the other cop. The one wearing the five dollar suit, trying to look like a civilian. “Maybe we lay charges. I hate reporters what fuck shit up.”

“So lay charges,” I say. “Do me a favour and throw me in jail. I need a vacation.”

I walk back to the Manor muddy and wet, and take the rest of the day off. I change and head down to the bay. Let the wind blow my hair around. Drink rye from a bottle in a paper bag. Think about writing something righteous about dead children.

Later, it’s Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. A melancholy 78 played again and again. I wonder at the mountain of butts in the ashtray. Did I do that? 1.00 a.m. I should have eaten dinner. A bottle of Seagram’s ain’t enough, is always too much.  Down the street, StanleyPark is mute, but knows something it ain’t telling. Maybe I’ll sleep tonight. Maybe I’ll fall into it like a man falls on his ass. Yellow light from the lamp. The phone rings. I should have taken it off the hook.

“What?”

“You’re gonna be famous, buddy-boy.”

“You the killer?”

“Maybe. Maybe I got details to help you flesh out the story.”

“Lose my number. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Gotta admit, it’s the sort of story that makes a reporter.”

“I’m already made.”

“Oh sure, on 250 bucks a month. You’re made in the shade, buddy-boy. Maybe I can help you write a book.”

“I ain’t no writer.”

“Wadda you call it?”

“Reporter.”

“Same damn thing.”

“What you just say?”