I had this to consider as I fell: that to be pushed from the eleventh floor of a slum hotel, in the end, is no different than being pushed from the eleventh floor of the Ritz-Carlton. The outcomes will differ very little.
* * * * * *
It was 2:27 a.m. on Wednesday.
I woke the way I sometimes do, like someone just pulled my trigger. Bang! Eyes open wide in the middle of the night, remembering something I forgot to do, like set a mousetrap or put my compost into the freezer.
But this time, I had a weird feeling that someone was standing on the threshold. I sat up and looked across the room at the sliver of light that comes in under the door from the main corridor. Shadows were moving there. Feet on the other side. Big square cop shoes. Shuffling back and forth. There was monosyllabic whispering, cavemanish mumblings.
I remained quiet.
Then there was a polite knock.
“Mr Plonk?” a voice said.
“Yes?” I replied.
That’s when the door came crashing down, and three men in dark suits invited themselves in. They stood inside the doorway and were just silhouettes at first. But as my eyes adjusted, I recognised one of them. We’d met the day before, in the express-line. He was a goon, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
“So, Mr Plonk,” said the smallest of the three. “This is your humble abode.”
I thought that was an odd thing to say, under the circumstances, and I said so –
“That’s an odd thing to say. Under the circumstances.”
“Maybe,” said the little guy, stepping further into the room. “But you are the sole resident of this room, no?”
“There’re some mice,” I said.
“Shut it,” said the guy I’d met before.
“That’s fine, Jerome,” said the little guy. “We want Mr Plonk to speak freely. This is his home, after all.”
Ha! His name was Jerome, the guy I’d met the day before. With a name like that his wife probably spanked him, and made him serve her all-woman bridge club petit fours while wearing high heels and a lace apron. He was probably raised in a third rate trailer park by a pair of illiterate born again Christian Walmart shoppin’ gun nuts who’d kept him sealed in a cardboard box for the first ten years of his life.
Yeah, I was harbouring some animosity toward Jerome. And just so you know it, I’m not normally the animosity harbouring kind. But this son of a syphilitic shrew was a real prick. And here’s how I know.
I was standing in front of him in the express-line at Whole Foods, where I normally don’t shop due to the haughty mania of their food supplement-crazed clientele. But they had organic apples on sale.
The Whole Foods buyers had probably ground some luckless local grower so far into the gravel on the price that now he had to reach up to scrape the mud off his boots. But who was I to judge? They were a steal at $1.75 a pound.
I was holding ten of them in my arms at the till, because I didn’t want to use a plastic bag, which I was afraid would end up swirling around forever in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. So when I put them down onto the cashier’s counter, Jerome, who was behind me, taps me on my shoulder. I look round and he points up at the sign that says eight items or less. Then he points at the apples and says –
“You got ten items there, chief.”
“No,” I say. “It’s one item. They’re all the same thing.”
“Uh-uh-uh,” he said, wagging a finger.
(That’s right, he gave me three “uhs” and wagged his finger – what an asshole.)
“They’d be one item if they were in a bag,” he continued. “They’re not, however, so each of them is an individual item. But my point is that there are ten of them. And this is a check-out for people with eight items of less.”
I looked at the carrot juice and organic gummy bears in his hand and figured I knew all I wanted to know about the guy. Then I asked –
“Would you like to go ahead of me?”
“Look,” he said. “This isn’t a purely self-centred reflection on my part. There are other people in line, besides me.” (Actually, there weren’t.) “And each one of them has observed a crucial social covenant that says that they will not try to slink by with ten items in a line designated for customers with eight items or less. Am I making myself clear?”
And as he said this, he elbowed the left side of his sports jacket back to reveal a handgun in a shoulder holster.
I raised my eyebrows. Shit, I mean, I almost pissed myself. I’d never really seen a gun up close before. I grew up in Canada before Stephen Harper. It looked like something forged by trolls in the cesspit of a third rate trailer park.
“You the express-line police?” I said.
He smirked at that, and said, “Just remember this moment, apple boy.”
Apple boy. I’d been called worse. But never by a gun-toting wiener in a Whole Foods store. And since I figured John Mackey would probably like this creep, I paid for my apples and split. It’s a noble Darwinian impulse to recognise defeat, when it calls.
Later that day I sat at my desk, finishing my first soon to be unpublished novel. It was about Johnny Rialto, a loan shark with a glass eye, torn between the allure of his glamorous street existence and his desire to play the accordion on the Ed Sullivan Show. His girl was a dame named Wendy, who worked at the White Lunch and had a tattoo on her back that contained a curling esoteric text that, if deciphered, could change the world. But mostly, in her free time, she rolled her own cigarettes and played the harmonica on her fire escape over the alley.
I knew it would need editing. From its over sixteen hundred pages to a more manageable fourteen or fifteen hundred. But I was brave. I could face down any editor, and yet be generous in my defense of my masterwork. Besides, I’d written in a lot of kinky accordion sex for them to cut out without destroying the soul of the story.
As I typed the final epic chapter, a mysterious thing happened. Without cause, the printer next to my desk awoke from its deep binary sleep, and it began making the confused back and forth conveyor belt noises a printer makes just before it begins to spit out copy. But I hadn’t sent it anything to print. In fact, the machine was so new that I hadn’t even figured out how to use it.
Maybe it was the weed or maybe the codeine laced cough syrup I had imported from Mexico, but I’d inadvertently set it to wireless mode and couldn’t undo it. And since my vintage Radio Shack 486 PC needed a multi-pin serial bus cable to print, I’d just walked away.
The printer had printed a single page. Then it stopped, and looked impervious.
Was this how the technology worked, I asked myself. Was my wireless printer a slut for any signal that stroked its antenna?
It was a moot question, now. What it had printed went like this:
Government of Canada
CSIS Memorandum – Top Secret
From: Vancouver (137)
Subject: Morton Teapole
It has been confirmed that Morton Teapole is a Caucasian male of Christian-European descent, who has recently converted to Islam.
He resides at #516-159 East Hastings Vancouver, BC, and drives a 2005 blue Ford Focus with BC plate X11-112.
Morton Teapole has no known employment, and spends most of his time at the public library, viewing video on the internet, as documented through observation.
Further investigation has confirmed, through the tracking of his library card number, that Morton Teapole primarily views videos produced by terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, or Boko Haram.
He also has a Facebook page where he regularly posts terrorist messages and videos.
He attends mosque daily.
Though obviously radicalised, there is no evidence of illegal activity at this time. Indeed, the subject does not appear to possess the necessary intelligence to independently initiate terrorist activities dangerous to Canadian interests.
It is believed by the author of this report, however, that the subject is open to coercion and may be easily persuaded by a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent or operative to act as a puppet, partaking in false terrorist activities and the dissemination of false information essential to Canadian interests, and should, therefore, be recruited by CSIS to that end.
– Report to follow –
I read the document five times. Sometimes the words moved round and looked like animals in the desert, but they always meant the same thing. My dauntless wireless printer had picked up a sinister transmission from a computer operated by the secret police.
I stood very still and listened. All around me the wood was rotting, dust motes were colliding. But I could otherwise hear nothing. They were out there, though, the bastards. Sending unwelcome communiqués through my walls, penetrating my brain. My God! It was mind control. The NSA, the Stasi and the KGB were already lurking, and now CSIS. I took a gulp of cough syrup, then sat in a corner on the floor. At some point I’d have to get to the telephone on my desk. And order pizza.
That was several hours before the door came crashing in, and Jerome and his pals entered my life in a big way.
* * * * *
Now I was sitting up in my bed as the smallest of them, let’s call him Gomez, sat down next to me and put his hand on my knee.
“So, Mr Plonk,” he said. “We have traced a fugitive wireless transmission to your room.”
He looked over at my desk, and said, “Is that your printer?”
“I’m thinking of getting a refund.”
“That’s very amusing, Mr Plonk,” Gomez said, rubbing my knee like a dirty old uncle. “But the transmission was sensitive and confidential. We’d like to have the copy your printer made.”
“Maybe it never made a copy.”
“Now, now, Mr Plonk….”
“I say we just waste the little freak now,” Jerome said.
“You’re just stoned on carrot juice and gummy bears,” I told him.
“Give me a reason to trust you, Mr Plonk,” Gomez said. “Give me the printed document, and maybe this will all turn out in your favour.”
By now the third of the three gorillas, who’ll remain nameless for obvious dramatic effect, had shimmied over to my desk and opened the top drawer. He pulled out a nitrous oxide inhaler and a sixty gram chunk of Himalayan yak hash. He sniffed it, and put it into his pocket.
“Fuck,” I said.
Then he pulled the document out, gave it a quick eye and handed it over to Gomez.
I was busted. I should have burned it. But some sick sense of duty to my fellow humanoids had prevented me.
“Any other copies?” Gomez said.
“A million of them,” I said. “Under my bed. I was planning to drop them from a plane. I was gonna go on the Oprah Channel, and do the cooking show circuit.”
“We’ll search the room after we’re finished here,” said Gomez. He sounded disappointed. “My work is difficult, you know.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes. Now, thanks to your intransigence, there’s only one thing for us to do.”
The nameless agent opened the window over my desk and Jerome stepped forward, grabbing me by the collar of my Björk t-shirt.
“I’m really going to enjoy this,” he said.
In a moment, Jerome had me by the arms and the nameless agent by the feet. They were swinging me back and forth, trying achieve a critical momentum.
“You could have cooperated,” Gomez said over the vacillating commotion. “There’s always a place for the unconventional in our line of work. But you have to be able to play along, Mr Plonk.”
Then Jerome said, “On three.”
One two three, and wham! I missed the window and hit the desk and rolled onto the floor.
“Please concentrate on what you’re doing,” Gomez said to his men.
Jerome tore my t-shirt as he pulled me up off the floor. It had cost me the equivalent of $75 Canadian in Reykjavik. I wore it to bed every night. It was like sleeping with an Icelandic goddess with a recording contract.
The nameless agent cleared my desktop with a single sweep of his arm, and I was place there. I looked down, out of the open window, and gulped. The late night air was cool, but I could smell spring in it. It was April, after all. I thought of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds dancing up a storm down there. The whole crack-addled neighbourhood recovering from its stupor just long enough to join in. I thought of how nice it would be to have a toke. The Himalayan yak the nameless one had swiped was 30% THC. That’d do me and Gene Kelly just fine right now.
Then with one swift kick, Jerome launched me out of the window.
It’s a wonderful thing, falling through space. You should try it, if you really must die. I thought of Morton Teapole all of the way down, wondering from whence he came and all of that. And as I looked into the windows of the many rooms I fell past, I witnessed the people enjoying the freedom of their intellectual squalor and knew they’d be safe from Gomez and Jerome. That, at least, was something.