East Van

There are events that occur so long ago that our failures are forgotten—the failure to achieve a fitting rage the moment someone is torn away. And then the failure to cry.

But when the moment arrives, and is right, we do make our fists. Hold them tight until all the blood is gone, and the remaining white is ivory. And then we do weep. When it makes no sense. Like someone once predicted.

*   *   *   *   *

We were the outcasts. Leaky sneakered, bargain clad by our mothers. Maria Hart and me, Zack Stavros, Vincent Chan. Bookish to faults. A poets’ archipelago, by-and-by. Forever black and white in family photos, unaware that we were the future of art and anarchy. We were the exiles of our neighbourhood, unseen.

And yet, we saw everything.

We were 10 years old in the summer of 1971, and were, on that poplar cotton morning, certain that we saw Maria’s ghost in the high grass, kneeling next to her own body.

And since she lingered there separated from us, Vincent, Zack and me stood alone.

“Maria.” Zack was the first to speak.

Quietly.

Releasing her name into the air. Maria, a water colour suspended in the morning.

The three of us numb as her body was lifted onto a stretcher. The blanket the police had hidden her under falling away. Revealing her hollow cheeks. Her rigidness. Her once perfect auburn hair, tangled with twigs and yellow willow leaves. Fixed still cunning eyes. The wrongness of her left arm, too elbowless and deficient to be real.

The body of our friend.

Thalidomide girl. (Maria’s hated handle, that only the cruel would use.)

Found murdered, having not returned for dinner the evening before, in the vacant lot left behind by old Mrs Mackenzie’s demolished house.

Mrs Mac who had died in her double lot jungle garden 2 years before. Assailed by her own heart at 80 years old.

The garden where now the irises and deep red paeonies grew wild.

Where stones still bordered the deserted pathways and flowerbeds beneath the cherry and apple trees.

Where resided, in their branches, the china dolls that Mrs Mack had enchanted and made barely visible on high, and behind the shrouds of low hanging leaves and in the dense creeping thyme.

“Only a child can find them,” she said, correctly. “Because only a child is as magic.”

Maria, her throat crushed, in a wild garden. Watched over by unmoving eyes on porcelain faces.

And there was something else my mother could only murmur, after she’d heard the story on the radio. A word defined for me then by its lone blunt syllable. A whispered scream. A calamity word that once uttered found space in every fracture of my life. An act of awful dreams. That I associated then and now with the evidence in Maria’s dead milky eyes, the banner of her blood, a host of flies.

Rape.

Cowardly, cruel and stupid.

That night I woke in my bed from nightmares, my distressed father looking down on me.

My father was tall and lean then. Severe sometimes with his unwieldy love. Gentle other times, always made anxious by his children’s fears. Now standing magnificently in the dark room, in the dim streetlamp light coming through my bedroom window.

“You were screaming,” he said. “Like a girl.”

Like a girl.

A nearly wordless man whose words when spoken could sting. Failing, as he sometimes did, to understand the duties and consequences of fatherhood.

My father of the proletariat. Born and raised in East Van. Missing out on high school, but now a union carpenter. A tattoo on his right hammer hard forearm, a dagger through a dark red heart, encircled by flame and wrapped in a banner with my mother’s name, Bridget, forever burnt in to it. A neighborhood legend within his circle of lifelong friends. Proving their confederacy with incontrovertible stories of his savage rebellion and extraordinary courage. Who had a trick of hitting every green in the city. Still street smart and good in a fist fight, he thought the same would be good enough for me. Never able to comprehend my need to understand not only facts, but also the subtleties that cemented them together.

He pulled my small desk chair to my bedside and sat. Just jeans, no shirt no socks. Obviously roused from sleep.

“Your mother’s still in bed,” he said. “I can go get her.”

“No,” I say, reticent. He was  still a stranger to me, eerie yet comforting to have nearby.

He shrugs, “OK,” and lights a cigarette. “It must have been pretty bad, seeing what you saw today.”

Now I shrug, still feeling the nightmare on my skin. Suspicious even of my bedroom’s familiar shadows.

“That poor cripple girl, eh?” he said.

“Cripple’s a bad word.”

“She was your friend, your mother says.”

I said, “Yeah.” And the world went hush.

I’d yet to read even one tragic romance.

I couldn’t explain it to him then, or myself, my fascination. My attraction to her. How vast it was. Her child-wise insights and beauty in spite of what people whispered. Her aura, surrounding her like the Virgin in Catholic tracts. Only I saw it. But I was too young to know, that in the minds of others, my childish crush on a cripple made me a defendant in a crime of the grotesque.

But now, a crime that I could never fully commit.

Then, “Why can’t I cry?” I said. “Shouldn’t I cry?”

“You’re gonna, kid,” he says, tapping a cigarette ash into the palm of his hand, and rubbing it into his jeans. “When it don’t make sense,” he said. “It’ll hit you like a brick. And then you’ll cry, just fine.”

It already made no sense.

“What happened to her was what you were dreaming about, I guess.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Wanna tell me about it?”

An unexpected question.

But how could I explain it to him? I did my best. My exact words are lost, only a vague memory now—

In my dream, I was with Maria in the wild garden. In night’s darkest room, spied on by China dolls. Her face is pale, unwashed. She’s missing buttons. Her fingernails are broken from a fierce fight. She’s post-mortem. Her spirit is imperfect.

I remember a long audible lament from somewhere hidden, nearby.

“I’m dead,” says Maria, “aren’t I.”

Things are running through the puzzle of jungle around us.

“And this place is haunted,” she says, suddenly very afraid of something I cannot see. “I’m scared,” she says. Her milky terrified eyes moving rapidly left to right as suddenly the hands of a multitude reach out from behind, and pull her into the darkest of the dark. Jumping forward, I reach out for her hand. And have it for a moment. But then it’s gone. Leaving only a cold night behind. Grief, silent and complete.

I wake screaming, at that moment, to see my father standing over me.

I remember thinking it was a dream too strange for a simple carpenter to understand.

But—

“Hmmm,” he said. “That’s a good one.” Then draws on his cigarette, nearing its end. The orange ember momentarily lighting up the dark room. “I have dreams like that sometimes, too,” my father says. “Must be hereditary. Don’t forget ‘em, neither. Not like regular dreams. I’ve got a garage-full in my head.”

This is surprising. Like I’d just peeked over a wall at the real man.

A dream itself is but a shadow,” he said, snuffing out the cigarette between a callused finger and thumb. “That’s Shakespeare, Hamlet. You read more than a kid should, that must be hereditary too. So you’ll get to the Bard, eventually. Sooner than most, I’ll bet. Some say he didn’t write any of it, but who gives a damn.”

My opinion of him changed then, and I finally paid attention, discovering that he did read. Had all along. Dog-eared stacks. Hammett, Faulkner, Chandler, Orwell and more. A disheveled easy chair in the basement furnace room. A crooked lamp, recent copies of the New Yorker. Scattered journals on mysterious subjects, like socialism. A few empty beer bottles and an ashtray.

I tried to read his copy of 1984. But at 10 years old, I couldn’t finish it.

When I told him, he said, “That’s a bit heavy, ain’t it?” Then he asked me what I thought of what I’d read.

“People in novels are mean,” I told him.

“It’s called tension, kid,” he grinned. “That’s what all the dames, gats, villains and tough guys are about. Riddles at the start, heartbreak in the middle, redemption in the end. A novel’d just be bad cover art without the tension. But watch out.  Sometimes there ain’t no redemption. Nothing obvious, anyway. Just injustice. Those stories can be the best, I think. You gotta mull ‘em over. Maybe for a long time. Maybe forever.”

“Nothing’s forever.”—everyone said so.

“Maybe,” he said. “But an ending never walked away from the story it belonged to. Good or bad. That’s kinda like forever, isn’t it?”

It made me think of Maria. Her ghost kneeling over her own body in the tall grass, on the morning she was found. The ending she’d never escape.

My father made me a writer. Made me a dissident. And I thank him for it.

*   *   *   *   *

Zack Stavros, Vincent Chan and I were in the garden the next morning. Watching the cops like bees on the scene. They even questioned us. But we didn’t know anything. Except that she was our friend. That she was smart.

I quietly remembered the last time she and I spoke.

A debate, almost an argument, over who was cooler, Barbie or Ken. Barbie was, as it turned out.

If either Vincent or Zack had dreamed a dream like mine, neither would say. That is until hours later. After we’d walked round the neighbourhood. Tried to sneak into the Rio Theatre, and failed. Tried to play a round of street hockey we were all to sad and confused to pull off.

When we returned to the wild garden in the afternoon, and watched the few cops remaining talking in a corner across the property from us, smoking and drinking coffee, laughing at whatever it is cops have to laugh at at the scene of a child’s murder, Zack opened up.

“I dreamed about her last night,” he said.

“How?”I asked. “I mean, what was the dream about?”

He was quiet for a minute, then he said, “She looked like nothing had ever happened. Better, even. Just stood there in a weird light.”

“Where?”

He nodded in a hazy direction. “Kinda off the path.”

“So, what happened?”

“I don’t know.” He look down at his ragged runners. Kicked a stone. “She just kinda smiled and disappeared. It made me feel good, though. I wasn’t sad anymore, ‘til I woke up.”

“You weren’t scared,” I said, without grace.

“I felt like I was falling,” said Zack, “With nowhere to land. Just a lot of light.”

“That’s it?”

“I just woke up,” he said.

They arrested everyone in the Cesare Fiocco gang the week after.

The Fiocco gang were the dropouts. 18 or 19 years old. Each never more than a lunatic glance, an injured laugh away from the other. They bullied. Stole. Shot pool at the Lusitania. Ran errands for the rotten cops and the Capos on the Drive. Each dying too young. Leaving no vacant space behind, my father said, when they did.

And each, in unison, ratting out Dante Bonazzoli as the perpetrator of the crime. Dante Bonazzoli, the oldest of them at 20. Who committed Maria Hart’s rape and murder. Bonazzoli who called her a freak because of her birth defect.

He died in the BC Pen a year after sentencing. Bleeding out in a shower. Stabbed eleven times with a screwdriver. For being a rapist, and refusing the advances of an inmate as monstrous as himself.

I was jealous of Zack’s dream. Resented that what I thought was my last glimpse of Maria was so different from his. But my envy didn’t last long. It only lasted a few days. Until I began to see her again.

Maria over my shoulder. Reflected in storefront windows. Opposite on busy streets. Standing very still on downtown sidewalks. Each time, only for seconds. In nearly every corner of my life. No longer lost in shadows. Her face bright. Her eyes sharp. Was it more dreaming? No. It wasn’t.

Maria clothed in paradise. Whispering in tongues. Wise and just beyond touch. In a room next to me, then vanishing.

Time passed and she faded away, completely. I forgot, and I failed to ever cry.

I grew and learned and worked and got older.

Forgot to cry, that is, until the other day. When it hit me like a brick. Out of nowhere. When it made no sense. And then I cried, just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘East Van’ paragraph lab

opening to East Van, an upcoming story 

I was 10 years old in the summer of 1971

I could begin with the cops playing poker in the back rooms of the Italian clubs on the Drive. With how the city smelled back then, the pulp mills on the river, the diesel and the fishing boats down Campbell Avenue. How I’d crouch like a monk on a wharf edge, lost in the hilly oily surface of the inlet, my father nearby smoking, drinking beer from a paper bag bottle. The city was red brick and rainforest back then. And sometimes when I woke before the August dawn, I’d watch the sunrise cloudless, and see the hateful outdoor cats just in from the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

riggin’

1971

“Hand me the riggin’,” said Paul Vaillancourt.

I looked at the neatly laid out array of engine parts that surrounded us, and chose a likely candidate. I wasn’t mechanical. Didn’t care to be. Didn’t care to be dirty. Didn’t want to play rough. Or exchange juvenile bullshit about auto mechanics.

There was local folklore, in fact, about my avoidance of boyishness. I sensed, though at the time I would not have been able to verbalise it, not having the vocabulary, that family, friends and neighbours were worried that I might never achieve proper boyhood, with all of the future consequences that implied. My brother and others, using words like faggot, helped to expand my personal moving glossary on the topic.

Riggin’, by the way—

Paul often used this kind of word. Old Manitoba words. Fashioned long ago. Allowing a user to never call a thing by its actual name. A tradition brought with him to Vancouver, from the town of Morden, Manitoba. Round-abouts Dead Horse Creek, he’d say. Paul believed calling a thing by its real name was for suckers.

He lived in the house next to my family’s. He was 61. And worked in a mill. A place, I imagined, not really knowing for sure, that was full of riggin’s.

I’d chosen well. The riggin’ he’d asked me to hand him was called a carburetor. For the old Ford inline 6 Paul was working on. I was 9, and had wrapped my small hands round it and hefted it up. Paul grabbed it from me with one big hand without taking his eyes off what he was doing under the hood. The carburetor was oily. I looked for somewhere to wipe my hands.

“Rags’re over there,” he said, without pointing in any direction, as he cranked a ratchet wrench. I did a 360. Saw nothing. Wiped my hands on my tee-shirt.

“Your mother ain’t gonna like that,” said Paul. Again, without looking away from his work. Later in life, I learned the word uncanny. Paul’s Bluetooth telepathy was uncanny.

He produced a rag, pulling himself out from under the hood. And tossed it my way.

He was grey and balding. Close shave. Wearing jeans, work boots and a plaid shirt. Smelling of Vitalis and gasoline.

“A haunted house in a city just ain’t the same as out on a prairie,” he declared, wiping his hands with another mysteriously gotten rag. He was starting again from where we’d left off on our earlier haunted conversation. I came to him occasionally with the big questions.

“On a prairie,” he said, “it’d be an old farm house. Maybe abandoned since the depression—damn those were some hard times. Yup, a prairie haunted house is the loneliest place in the world. Spooks attracting spooks from miles around. Real social. But no place for the livin’. Ghosts the colour of the high grass and prairie flowers in the summer. Movin’ the same in the wind. White like frost in the winter, standing real still like something frozen, but ain’t. Inside, when you get inside and start nosin’ round, they’re the shape of the stairs and the doors and the windowpanes. Standing behind you in a mirror, if there’s still one hanging on the wall. Maybe matching yer step, walking upside down on the ceiling ‘neath the floor yer walking on. Walking up the walls, like on a sidewalk in town. Lookin’ atcha through a window, from inside or out. Gettin’ inta yer soul, if they can. Readin’ you like a poem, one stanza at a time. Yer a poem, boy. You know that? Every man is. Every woman, too. Though a man ain’t as prone to admitting it, as much as a woman. Ghosts get in a man and read him stanza by stanza. Sounds like a whisper when you try to listen.” He looked at his hands as he wiped the grease and oil from them.

I said, “I was only thinking of the big black old place up on 8th Avenue.”

“Been in there?”

“No way.” I lied.

He gave me a sly look. Like he knew a little better.

“Then how you know it’s haunted?”

“Just looks haunted,” I said, though I had a more concrete reason to believe that it was. Secret. I hadn’t shared it. I was already a suspicious neighborhood character. “Everyone says it’s haunted. Joe Farano, Bobby Jensen.” But it was all talk, on their part. They hadn’t seen the little round-faced girl looking out through a window at the back of the house. Younger than me. Maybe 7. I was braver than most. And fewer friends meant more time on my hands. So I ended up there that evening. She smiled when our eyes met. I had a rock in my hand. It was like she was daring me to throw it at her. Through one of the last unbroken windows. (Why else would a boy be in the back yard of an abandoned house, if not to throw rocks through windows?) I didn’t, though. And she came out onto the back porch, gave a little wave and then disappeared. Then there was invisible movement everywhere. It was dusk.

“Ghosts the shape of the front door, then?” Paul continued with the questions. “Shape of the gables, the porch? Leaves of the trees, the dandelions?”

I shrugged. This wasn’t the conversation I was expecting.

“Are there lights at night? In the windows. On the walk up to the steps?”

“I don’t know.” It wasn’t true. The invisible movement around me that dusky evening had turned into a parade of lights.

“Did ya feel yer stanzas bein’ read?” he asked. “Out loud? In whispers? It’s loudest just before you go to sleep at night, mostly. Just before you cross the line into dreamin’. But sometimes it’s louder when they aren’t inside of you, just real nearby.”

“No,” I said. But, maybe, I thought. And wondered if it showed, when a boy’s stanzas had been read.

“Ghosts are tricky,” said Paul Vaillancourt, lighting an Export “A”. “Some even say, artful.”

Artful. I looked the word up later. In the massive Webster’s Dictionary my father placed on the kitchen stool when he cut my and my brother’s hair with the electric razor he’d bought at Simpson Sears one weekend past a payday long ago in my family’s misty past. The big fat book made our little heads high enough for him to do a decent job. (My father, an industrial printer by trade, was a failure as a barber. So, we almost always ended up nearly bald.)

Ghosts could be artful, I decided after reading the word’s definition. They’d evolved into their own peculiar civilization, I came to believe, piecing together this theory without being able to articulate as much. Like Aztecs. Building pyramids. Block by block. Able to read the interior Stanzas of Mankind. And some of them were just up the street. Residing within their very own immeasurable, artifactual tarpaper abode. Each in a shape he or she had chosen for his or her own artful reasons.

Paul retook his place under the hood, asking me to hand him the riggin’ next to the alternator.

The alternator, what the…?

I chose another likely candidate. One as likely as the rest. Wondering at the oddness of the Ford inline 6. Choosing well once more. The engine fan. I hefted it up, into Paul’s waiting hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

riddle of the keys, part 1

the present

Narrator’s Note:

Love is angry and afraid. Cowardly like a gun, but it bites like a bullet. Disagreeable. But love is the theme of what follows. Or maybe not, entirely. Dear Reader, you must be the judge. Perhaps this composition is only about pain.

I am 97 years old now, and the account delivered here is a fragment taken from the diary I began in 1939. It is an endowment I give to the world. I don’t know why. The impulse came to me one day as I looked out of a window at the rain.

The story describes very little about me, except that I was once a notorious voyeur, with the wealth and time to gain that reputation. Some of it is speculative; some of it is gossip. Not out of dishonesty, but due to an unpleasant lack of knowledge and poor memory.

If the characters are sympathetic, it is only because they defy understanding, as do we all.

Call me Simone, a wartime alias that still suits me.

So, let us begin. 


October 27, 1947

To be small and homosexual, and having never achieved conventional manhood, has its advantages. Androgyny served me well in the occupied city. It helped me infiltrating the world of powerful men, away from their homes and family orthodoxies, able for the first time to pursue the gender ambiguity they craved, and their love of boys. Yes, there is no polite word for it; I was a child prostitute. (Though I am the age of majority as I write this.) And there are stories I can tell that would bring men down, if one day I am reduced to chipping out a living though blackmail. But until then, I am a slave to an obsession—a woman, strangely—who was once a spy and an assassin in the darkened City of Light. Slender, green-eyed and blond. Her name, then, was alias Avalon.

She is Canadian, again strangely. No one wants to think of a citizen of that good Dominion as a cutthroat. But she was and is, and deadly.

Hers is a story whose last chapter ended as the Nazi enchantment faded across Europe and the world, and the once most-mighty were reduced to suicide or fabricating tales of innocence, but not before she killed as many as she could.

The next chapter begins now, as this DC-3 lands at the airport that serves a grim little city called Vancouver. The place where I’ve followed Trudy Parr, my Avalon, and two others. One who will remain nameless for now, and someone else—one alias Monet, who never stopped being a spy.

Monet: (Once a double agent?) (Reluctant Vichy sympathiser?) (Fascist turncoat, turned Allied turncoat, turned shadow, turned ghost?) And the lover, once, of my dear Avalon.

Yes, to be honest, I am not only obsessed with Avalon. But also with an extraordinary love story, that began during the shank of the war. As Avalon and Monet were at their busiest and most fatal.

They had both been in the occupied city from the beginning. Unaware of each other. Distracted by their separate missions and trespasses. Neither of them a romantic candidate, when seen at their work. Each walking their own corridors of war. Avalon, a gallery of inborn rage and the pursuit of prey. Monet, the halls of vengeance for the loss of country to a rude race and its vulgar philosophy.

But a passion did begin between them, somehow, as their lines crossed. Only glances at first, and small careful words at the edge of all the perversion. Then devotion, surrounded by all of the cruelty. Meeting where mysteries met—abandoned lofts, and the elegant rooms of the freshly dead. And also, the very secret Peony Club. The ever-moving underground cabaret, where some, so surprised to be still alive, would come together.

Neither Monet nor Avalon knew when love arrived, because it said nothing. Hiding wretchedly. Waiting to bite, like a bullet.

So, that when la Résistance took back the streets of Paris, as the Nazis ran and fell, and the diesel musk of the US Third Army wafted over the horizon, after one last night of love’s tender violence, Monet’s word was final, “I may have waited too long.” A final long kiss on a stone terrace above the street fight, and the spy faded into the bedlam of the la Libération.

And how can anyone really know, but it is rumoured that alias Avalon wept and pined for days, and for the last time. Days later, she made her long way home.

Now, as I sit writing, waiting for my luggage in the airport terminal, I ask you to anticipate with me, what will soon be revealed.


The afternoon, October 28, 1947

There is a marmalade cat seated with its back to the room, next to the ghostly flowering spathiphyllum on the sideboard, with the filmy October afternoon sunlight, blue, green, gold and red, filtering through the stained glass.

There is a man in the room, also, pale and of medium height, once blonde, neither old nor young, who calls himself Fabien Lévêque, sitting in an armchair reading a French translation of The Fountainhead, raising an eyebrow now and then, and occasionally shaking his head slowly.

Turning a page, and sighing, he looks up and says, “Come to me Molly.”

Molly, the marmalade cat, ignores him.

“You’re a bitch,” says Lévêque. “I brought you home for companionship. You might as well be a woman.”

Molly licks her paws.

It’s a tidy suite of rooms, built at the end of the previous century, mirroring an old mahogany and beveled glass aesthetic. Something Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand’s cumbersome novel, would have found hopelessly quaint. But it was just right for Falcon Lévêque, so weary of the megalomaniacal blood and soil design of the fascist Europe he’d left behind.

And he loves the city he’s chosen for his temporary home, surrounded by an endless northern rainforest. So unselfconsciously rustic. The neighbourhood he’s settled in is called Kerrisdale, a whistle-stop on the city’s interurban. What could be more whimsical?

Here there is no Résistance, no murderers in the shadows. No Gestapo operatives listening in the next room. And no Jews concealed in the woodwork, though they walk the streets here, plotting against the future.

Lévêque has been careful to cloak himself in the guise of a Québécois, trading his Parisian accent for the feral French Canadian. He’s shaved away his pencil moustache, changed his hair and has even intentionally gained weight, achieving, all-in-all, the look of a kind uncle. As a realist, however, he knows that one day his past must catch up to him. His hope, in that case, is that the Nazi cachet will have faded, and be mostly forgiven. If not, he had money and plans to escape help him escape.

It wouldn’t happen here, though. His time in Vancouver will be too brief.

The telephone rings, and he checks his watch. It is 3:00pm.

“Hello,” he says. “Rachel?”

“Yes, Mr. Lévêque.” It’s a young woman at the other end. “Your cake and cocoa are ready.”

It is the tea shop downstairs.

“I’ll be right down,” Lévêque says, then hangs up. Looking at Molly, he says, “They ate cats in the Ghetto, you know”

Molly says nothing, watching birds through the window.

In the tea shop, Lévêque takes a seat near the back at a table reserved for him. Moments later, a young woman arrives with a slice of apple torte and a  steaming cup of cocoa.

“Ah, thank you Rachel,” he says, taking up a copy of the Vancouver Sun. “You are an angel.”

Rachel performs a shy curtsy, the way Lévêque has taught her, and leaves him to read his paper.

Lévêque grins. On the front page is a story of more European Jews recovering stolen property, taken from them by Nazis. He’d been careful. None of the Jews he’d stolen from had survived to recover anything.

He strokes the face of the 18-Carat Audemars Piguet Chronograph on his wrist. The one he’d stripped from the art dealer’s wrist; the Jew art dealer who had bled-out with a bullet in his head, sitting tied to a chair in the basement of 84 Avenue Foch, in Paris.

Lévêque was thrifty, using only one bullet.

There’d been enough money in the Jew’s billfold to buy Lévêque a new pair of shoes, but it was the ring of keys in the art dealer’s pocket that excited him. The larger keys would open the dealer’s residence and shop. But two others, smaller, had been a mystery, until Lévêque asked the dealer’s wife.

It hadn’t taken long, a few standard questions. Especially after a cohort of his had whispered into his ear that she was a pianist, not famous but talented. That was when he called out for a pair of garden shears, and threatened to remove the thumb from her each of her hands.

She’d been brave at first, saying nothing. Unsure with her chin held not too high. Such a possibility was inconceivable, was it not? But Lévêque proved it wasn’t, as she screamed and he cut through flesh and bone, while functionaries held her down.

He would remove the rest one by one, he told her, if she didn’t reveal the secrets of the small keys. And when she did, he slapped her repeatedly for her weakness. A week later, she was in Natzweiler-Struthof.

He’d stolen much Jewish treasure by similar means during the occupation, converting most of it to cash, and the cash into gold. Making himself very rich.

But now, as he read, he found something disturbing in the newspaper story. In the middle of the third column. A featured photograph of a man referred to as a war criminal. A familiar face. A man when he was young. A man named Falcon Lebeau.


Evening, October 28, 1947

Like nearly everyone in this story, Dracul had another name. The one his loving mother gave him. But no one knew what it was. He had arrived in Vancouver from Romania so many foggy nights ago that people had stopped counting. Some said that he was a spy left over from the First War, who didn’t know how to retire. And though he remained a reliable wealth of current and archival intelligence about foreign wars and nearby espionage, he was insane. Elderly, too. Agedness and insanity, an unfortunate combination.

He’d been handsome once, but no longer. And once he must have enjoyed a certain elegance. Now, however, his all black costume—suit, shoes, shirt and tie—verged on shabby. This, with his long knotty hands and his hunched back, made him more of a nightmare shadow than a man.

“Mirrors eat me in the morning,” he told Trudy Parr without prompting, as they sat together late by candlelight at a table in the Sylvia Hotel lounge. His accent was thick. “Then they spit me out in the night. Ptew, onto the floor. And every time, my face has changed.” Here he leaned in—he always did—and lowered his voice. “Completely unrecognisable, each time. That is my gift. Only you ever know me to see me, Miss Parr. That is why I love you.” Grinning, he rubbed his long hands together. “That is how I walk freely, incognito, upon the sidewalks of this New World.”

It was an old story, and he enjoyed telling it. Loved its possibilities, Trudy imagined. A different man each night. It kept him young at some place inside of him he called his heart.

And maybe the story was true. Many swore that he had no shadow. That he was clairvoyant. That he could vanish and reappear as he pleased. He could call down angels, and performed the trick of producing an incorruptible Joan of Arc in the palm of his hand. A Goddess at the stake, in command of her red and golden fire.

“People don’t call me Miss Parr,” Trudy said. “People call me Trudy. Don’t make me say it again.”

“An honourable familiarity, I’m sure.” Dracul nodded his head, a seated bow, and sipped his whisky.

Trudy sipped her vodka and Coke.

“You said you had something to tell me,” she said.

“Yes, and I must admit that it was only a theory a day or two ago.”

“Theories bore me, Dracul.” Trudy looked at her watch.

“Hmm, never dismiss a theory,” the old man said. “A theory attracts evidence, as gravity attracts mass.”

“Alright.” She extinguished her cigarette, and stood to put her coat.

“But wait!” he said, “Please sit. It’s not so much a theory anymore. There’s evidence in its orbit. And so it has become an opinion, just short of a truth. Diamonds and rubies.”

She stared down at him for a moment. A man without a shadow. Reborn nightly to mirrors.

“Answer me this,” said the old man. “Can a key do more than open a lock? Sit now, Trudy Parr. Listen, and I’ll order more drinks.”

“No, I’ll order the drinks,” she said, hailing the waiter as she sat down again. “You just do the talking. Tell me about the diamonds and rubies.”

“Vast rooms, miles wide,” he said, spreading out his arms. “Passageways like avenues that coil the Moon. And a dent in space in the shape of a man.”

“Get on with it,” Trudy said.

“You know a demon,” said Dracul. “You tried to kill it once. It tried to kill you. You both failed. Sometimes you don’t sleep, thinking about it.”

“What the hell are you trying to say.” She was whispering, almost shouting. Her words overlapping his.

“That you have a chance to kill it, now.”

“Kill who?”

“It’s the Falcon, Trudy Parr. He is here. In the city.”

“I’m getting bored again,” she said.

It was too much—the Falcon in Vancouver. And Dracul’s lunacy was too much. She had her own madness to tend. It was sniggering at her now, peeking through a shroud.

“Maybe you’ve lived too long, you old witch,” she said. “Maybe I’ve got a razor my bag with your name on it.”

To this he said, “I read minds, you know.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

She took a breath, placing both of her hands palm down on the table where she could see them.

“So, read my mind.”

“I know that you would cut me with that razor at your side, if I pushed a little further. Your world is a moment. One moment that will not end as long as you’re alive. Like a circle, you stand alone in the centre of. With the world looking in. And I know that if anyone steps into the circle, into your moment, with you, he runs the risk of death.”

“Bastard.” She clenched her jaw. He was reading too deeply.

“The Falcon almost took that step,” said Dracul. “By following someone else.”

She saw Monet’s face fade into the black.

“Is that your opinion?”

“No. It is my opinion that the Falcon has cocoa and cake each afternoon at a tea shop, nearby. A dent in space in the shape of a man. He’s hiding behind an alias.” He slid a piece of paper torn from a note pad across the table. Trudy Parr stared at it.

The drinks had arrived. She sipped long on her vodka, and thought of him. Falcon. The traitor to France. The Nazi. The butcher. His ghostly acrimony. Body counts, hers and his. How he lacked the elegance he insisted was his. And how he made children his victims between assignments.

He’d gotten away from her, half through stealth, half by luck—the end of the War.

“Why here?” she said, wondering as she lit a cigarette.

“You know. A key can do more than open a lock.”

“A key.”

“The key.”

“Do you need money?” said Trudy Parr.

“You always ask,” said Dracul, “and I never do.”

This time when she stood up, she really did put on her coat. And when she looked, wanting to say goodbye, Dracul had disappeared.


Round Midnight, October 28, 1947. The office of the Dench & Parr Agency

Trudy Parr hadn’t seen it until she turned the key to open the door, the silhouette of a man and woman embracing on the other side of the frosted glass. The woman was struggling, just a little. Trudy could hear giggling. Stepping in, she found her business partner and an auburn haired woman holding one another.

“Hello Romeo,” said Trudy to Crispin Dench, giving the startled couple the once over. “Who’s the centrefold?”

“Oh,” Dench said, his tie undone and his shirt half untucked. “Trudy. Hello. Unexpected.” He let the woman go, and then sheepishly introduced her: “This is Daphne.”

“Who’s this, Crispy?” said the centrefold.

“Crispy?” Trudy smiled.

Dench had always been a sucker for this kind of lunch counter redhead, so rare in Vancouver. He must have felt like he’d won at the races.

“She’s the Parr, in Dench & Parr,” he said.

“Golly, a woman? What is she, the secretary?”

“I’m in a crappy mood, Crispin,” Trudy said.

“Keep your mouth shut,” said Dench to Daphne. “We might yet get out of this alive.”

“What’s this about, anyway?” Trudy said. “I think I recall you saying there’d be no shenanigans in the office. That fooling around onsite wasn’t how professionals operated.”

“Well, it’s just that Daphie’s a Dashiell Hammett fan. And she wanted to see a real private dick’s office. You know, where it all goes down?”

He was off his rocker.

“Okay, Mr Crispy Dick,” Trudy said. “I’m going into my office to brush up on my Sam Spade. Nice to have met you, Daphie.”

“She’s a bitch,” Daphie said. Just loud enough, as Trudy Parr closed her office door behind her.

“Alright, Daphne,” Dench said, looking out the window, “get your things.”

“What?”

“There’s a cab downstairs at the curb. You got fare?”

“Yeah, I got fare. You’re a crumb.”

“Here, let me help you with your coat.”

“Is she your girl? Is that it?”

“No, but we’ve been places.”

“I could be home listening to Arthur Godfrey, you know.”

“Well, now’s your chance.” Dench gently pushed her into the hall. “I’ll call.”

“Don’t bother.”

He sighed, then lit a cigarette as he listened to the elevator door slide shut. He was rarely at work this late, but knew that Trudy sometimes slept on her couch. He tapped on her door.

“Come,” she said.

“Want company?” said Dench, looking in.

“Did she abandon you?”

“She wanted to listen to the radio.”

“Sweet. C’mon in, then.”

On Trudy Parr’s desk was a telephone, a blotter and an appointment book. Also, two glasses, an ashtray and a bottle of Smirnoff. Dench sat down opposite her, and filled each glass half full.

“You wanna talk?” he said

“I spoke to Dracul tonight. That might be enough.”

“What he have to say?”

“Too much,” Trudy said.

“Yeah, well he’s brain cancer. You shouldn’t talk to him.”

“He knows things.”

Dench took a swallow of vodka. “What’s he know.”

“That I live in a circle, pretty much by myself. That’s what he says, anyway. And anyone who tries to get in gets killed.”

“That  ain’t half wrong.” Dench sat back in his chair.

“What’s that make me, Crispin?”

“Unique?”

“Being unique is awfully fucking lonely, sometimes.”

“Is there someone else you want to be?”

“No.” She shrugged and took a drink.

 

End of part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pride

this poem may not happen today, just
look at the sky
the province is burning from the inside out the
sun on the sidewalk is orange from the smoke
even in this town so close to the edge

so close that people trip over it
(the edge that is)
routinely and fall forever
waving good-bye as they go “Good-
bye, falling into oblivion was the least I could do.”

it’s a Saturday in August­
it’s Pride and fireworks
thousands of people in the park, waiting
there are horse cops in the neighbourhood
and cops on Denman with assault rifles
(very unCanadian)

don’t piss spit puke or shit in the backseat of my cruiser
that’s how the cops spoke to us
when we were kids and hung out in the projects
there’s probably still a bag of acid
hidden there beneath a hedge

Gay Pride and fireworks an
F-18 just flew over, low
so we all could feel the thrust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer poem

summer surprised us
yes it did, TS.E
with anfractuous parades
& the popping rhyme of fireworks
wishing for the relief
of half abandoned winter
in my neighbourhood by the beach
& me wishing all of the time
for a first time perhaps
a tow truck flummoxing
double parked UFO
or the moon’s green cheese
& Water Table Crackers
with a beer by the bonfire
ever watchful for the Jabberwock
escaping the fires
to the east

 

 

 

Merry Christmas Lucas Quil

1923

Quil was a calm man, though some said cruel in appearance, who watched the world through dark eyes that decrypted all he saw without astonishment or sympathy. And though prone to hatred and a grim violence, he baffled those who knew him by his introspection and apparent pining for a mysterious lost heart. Indeed, he was the conundrum in his own mirror, where, of late, he seemed to have become increasingly transparent.

Having boarded in Toronto, he now disembarked from the CPR Transcontinental at its Vancouver Waterfront terminus, stepping into a steam dragon on the platform. There, he checked his pocket watch, nearly 8pm and cold. Pulling up the collar of his wool coat, and with his suitcase in hand, he climbed the stairs from the platform, and walked through the station. Light snow was falling on Cordova Street, silhouetted against the yellow light of streetlamps, as he exited. It was Christmas Eve. He hailed a cab.

Taking the backseat of the taxi, he felt the butt of the vicious little gun he carried in his belt, against his waist. Trying to ignore it, he said, “Yale Hotel,” to the driver.

“Just got into town, eh?” The cabby was looking at Quil in the rear view mirror, observing a man in an expensive coat and hat. The suitcase, he noticed, was fine leather, a pricy item.

“Good guess,” Quil said, “since you picked me up out front of a train station with a suitcase in my hand.”

“Well,” said the cabby, “I just wanted to worn you, that’s all. The Yale’s a bit of a dump. We got better in this burg.”

“And yet the Yale is where I want to go.”

“Swell,” said the man at the wheel. Then he said, “By the way, mister, this can be a very lonely town. I can get you ladies, or, you know, whatever’s yer fancy.” He turned and offered Quil his card. Quil didn’t take it, and they drove on.

The furniture in the shadowy Yale Hotel lobby consisted of worn velvet and cracked leather sofas and chairs. An elderly man listed to the left as he snored on a once grand chesterfield. A dilapidated piano stood in a corner, and the chandelier had lost many of its crystals.

The clerk behind the counter was an untidy man with yellow teeth and nicotine stained fingers. Quil gave him his name, and the man lazily scratched it into the leger with a fountain pen, writing Quill with two Ls.

“It’s one L,” Quil said.

“That so?” said the clerk, annoyed, scratching out Quill, and saying out loud, “Mr Lucas Quil,” as he wrote with a faux flourish. “Esquire. One. L.” Then, looking up smugly, he noticed a certain change in the quality Quil’s posture, and immediately regretted his little drama. “Sorry,” he said, nervously. “I’m a little tired. My relief hasn’t shown yet. I’m beat, but it means I might be here all night.”

“Just get me the key to my room,” Quil said. “And I’m looking for a Miss Lilith Drakos. I understand that she has a room here.”

Now the clerk grinned a dirty little grin. “If there’s a guest here by that name,” he said, “I can deliver a message.”

“There is no message,” Quil said, conjuring a ten-dollar bill out of the air, as though it were fruit from an invisible tree. “I want to know what room she’s in.” He held the bill under the clerk’s nose, as the shabby little man licked his lips.

“Preserving our guests’ privacy is important to us,” said the clerk. Then he took the bill, and inspected it. “That was a clever trick,” he said.

“I’ve another trick,” Quil said. “One I do with a straight razor, in the dark of night.” There was nothing minacious in his tone. It was a simple statement of fact. The clerk believed it.

“#205,” he said, anxiously pocketing the cash. “The woman you’re looking for’s in #205. I’ll put you in #207, if that’s agreeable.” He held out a battered skeleton key.

“Fine,” Quil said, taking it.

“That’ll be a dollar for the night,” said the clerk.

Quil said nothing. During the transaction, he’d unbuttoned his coat to reveal the revolver in his belt.

“Ah yes,” the clerk said sheepishly, eyeing the butt of the gun. He patted his pocket where the ten dollar bill now nestled. “Shall I take up your suitcase for you.”

“I’ll carry it up myself.”

“A pleasure to have you, sir. Just shout if you need anything.”

Quil climbed the staircase, stopping a moment outside of #207. There was the faint scent of fresh sandalwood from inside, bringing back memories of an unhurried time, jazz and a passion. He lingered and listened, and then moved on.

His room was stale. An exposed electrical wire ran up the wall, and was strung across the ceiling to where it connected to a bare light bulb. The drapes hung loose and dusty from a rod over the window. The bed linen wasn’t fresh, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t sleep. He sat on a kitchen chair looking out onto the street until shortly after dawn, Christmas morning, then decided to leave for breakfast.

Surprised at seeing the man leave the building from her window, she donned her coat and went to the lobby, stepping out when she was sure that he’d moved on, and following him to the Aristocratic Cafe. There, she waited on the sidewalk until he was seated, then entered unseen, taking a booth in the back.

Lilith Drakos was a pale, slender woman in a bland flower print dress and a second hand coat, purposely drab in hopes of moving through the world unnoticed. A chill ran through her as she watched Quil at his table, drinking his coffee and reading a newspaper. He was exactly as she remembered him, the handsome crime boss with a hard-earned elegance that almost hid his beginnings and the essential cruelty that had brought him to prominence.

He was a demon, or had been—a delinquent fog that had fallen upon a city, and its underworld. A dark paint of whispers, the lips of others that had moved, but out of fear, confessed nothing. She’d met him in that place of cast shadows, of nights that had rendered the red of her lipstick black. He ate the dark; it had sustained them both. She’d seen it run wet down his chin, and in his in ruthlessness, he ruled the city. For all of that, though, in the end he’d succumbed to his greatest weaknesses, jealousy and greed.

And now he’d stalked her down.

She stood, and walked to his table where she took off her coat and hung it over the vacant chair. “So,” she said, sitting down, “you’ve found me. How?”

“Hello Lilith,” he said, trying to sound pleasantly surprised, but sounding sorry for something instead. “Let me buy you breakfast.”

“No.” Quiet rage in her voice. “Answer me. How’d you find me?”

“I’ve always known where you are,” he said, putting down his newspaper. “Here, and the other places you’ve been. I’ve developed a talent for clairvoyance, since our parting. You have too, I’m sure.”

She had, but didn’t say so. Instead she said, “Why have you come?”

“To apologise.” He looked at her a moment, poker-faced, before shifting his gaze onto the once vibrant red rose tattoo on her wrist. Its colour was nearly gone. Fading. The thing he’d noticed in himself, when he looked in a mirror.

“Apologise?” Lilith said. It was a broken word when he said it. “That’s rich, all things considered.” She absently placed her hand over her heart.

“Why are you dressed that way?” he said, hoping to change the subject. “You look like a dime store frump.”

“It’s how I prefer to be seen now days. It’s how I looked before you recovered me from the trash, and had me dressed up like your silky little harlot.”

“Those weren’t such bad days, were they?” said Quil. “At least you ate every day. You had money and a warm bed. Your jewelry box was full. And there was romance, wasn’t there?”

“It’s how I chased away the poverty,” Lilith said. “It hurt going hungry, and you rescued me for some reason—a woman running errands for nickels and dimes, and sometimes selling myself for a few dollars to your torpedoes. I still don’t know what you saw in me, I was nearly ruined by the time you salvaged me, but at least you weren’t a pimp. You were mean, though. They weren’t always such happy times for me.”

“You remember it differently than me. I remember that you were young. I saw such beauty.”

“That sounds fake.”

“And I loved you,” he said.

She stared at his straight face. Then, “Bastard,” she said, standing and putting on her coat. She left the cafe.

It was a necessary sign of civility, simply knocking on a door to gain entry. One he’d acquired later in his career, to replace more violent or stealthy ways. Lilith’s door didn’t open immediately, though, when later that Christmas evening he knock.

“Please let me in, Lilith,” he said gently. Then quietly waited.

“No,” she replied through the door, moments later.

“I’m not going away,” he said.

“Then you can wait ’til Hell freezes over.”

“That’s just what I’ll do, then.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

“What’s that have to do with it?”

“It’s a time for forgiveness,” Quil said. “God and sinner reconcile, and all of that. Get it?”

“Which of us is the sinner, in this case? You always thought you were God.”

Quil was quiet again, then said, “It’s a metaphor, Lilith. Maybe God is what passes between us, when we speak to one another. Please let me in.”

That was poetic. The door opened a crack, and she peaked out. “You’re a murderer,” she said.

“Several times over.”

“There is no forgiveness for that.”

“Then let’s just have a drink.” He held up a brown paper bag. “Bourbon,” he said. “The good stuff.”

“You’re getting easier to see through, Lucas.”

“We have that in common, don’t we,” he said.

“I ain’t been drinking lately,” she said, but invited him in.

Her room was immaculate. A small Christmas tree stood on the nightstand. The bedcover was a colourful eiderdown. There were oriental carpets on the floor, and a comfortable chair by the window.

“Please sit,” she said, and taking the bottle from him, she poured them each a drink in glasses she took from a cupboard above a small kitchen table.

Quil sat on the bed. She sat next him, handed him his drink and put the bottle on the floor next to them.

“So.” she said. “Let’s talk forgiveness.”

He gulped back his drink, and for the first time revealed the butt of a gun in his belt.

“You still carry that damn thing?” she said, with disgust.

Quil looked down at the .38 revolver in his belt.

“You brought it for old time’s sake, I guess,” she said. ”Is that it? Memory Lane and all?”

“No” He sighed. “It’s a curse, a small part of Hell. I can’t seem to lose it. I’ve tried. I threw it into the St Lawrence once, but there it was again the next time I looked.”

She gulped back her drink, and poured them each another. “That’s some story,” she said.

“Do you believe in Hell?” Quil said.

“I guess. Why the hell not?”

“We’re both easier to see-through than ever,” he said. “I guess we’re finally on our way out.”

She placed a hand over her heart, where her fatal wound was now slowly becoming visible.

“Does it still hurt?” he said.

“It never did,” said Lilith. “How could it? It happened too fast. You’re a quick draw.”

He touched his own wounds, slowly revealing themselves, and then looked at his bloody fingers. “Oh God I’m sorry.”

“I’ve suspected it for quite a while,” she said. “This fading of ours. We’re disappearing. It’s a symptom of having finally reached the end. It sure took a long time.”

“I thought I was invincible,” he said, “coming to, after the fact. Somehow, I was still in the world, in spite of what happened. I guess the dead don’t just fall to the ground. We just get disappeared to all we loved.”

“You thought you were bullet-proof. I guess I thought the same when my heart seemed to be where it belonged, but it wasn’t long before I noticed a world vanishing .”

“I thought I’d live forever,” he said.

She put her hand to her breast again, and felt the deep wound of the heart, manifest once more after so long.

“It’s the final insult,” Quil said, “in the end our wounds appearing again.”

“And you dare bring that gun with you.”

“I can’t get rid of it, I tell you. It’s a kinda Hell.”

“You killed us both, and you expect angels?”

“Forgive me, Lilith,” he said. “Please, before we’re both completely gone. We were in love once, weren’t we? I did it because I couldn’t face it. You were ready to leave.”

“No. You did it because you’re sick, jealous and obsessed with what you can’t have. I was a piece of property. You’ve killed a lot of people who wanted what was yours, and because you wanted what was theirs, and you couldn’t stand losing me to my own freedom.”

He wept in his final earthly misery, and she tenderly stroked his cheek. Their invisibility was now so nearly complete that she could see the vivid colours of the eiderdown through them both.

“It’s hard,” she said, “and I don’t know what good it’ll do either of us, but I do forgive you, because it’s Christmas.”

Quil’s tears were bloody from his suicide wound, and out of a strange sympathy, she said, “Merry Christmas, Lucas Quil.” And as she did, the still solid .38 in Quil’s belt fell to the floor, as they finally disappeared like ghosts.