Introduction to the Novel "Shotgun White"

Shotgun White: A Vancouver Story
A novel by DJ Dunkerley
©copyright 2008
This work may not be duplicated
without permission of the author.
Blah, blah, blah.

“…In fact, Western society is without belief for the first time since the decline of active devotion in the official religion of the Roman Empire. Our situation is unprecedented. There is no example in the last two thousand years of any civilization surviving without belief for even fifty years. There is nothing in our traditions or our mythology to deal with it. Even in our animist archetypes there is no comfort to be found, because Western man has never been so divorced from all sense of himself as an integral part of the physical earth. The abstract structures which dominate Western civilization reject anything which hints at either the physical or ethereal…..We know this century is the most violent ever achieved by man.
Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
by John Ralston Saul

Chapter One: The Suitcase

September, 1987

There are no ghosts of Prohibition here. The Newfies have their screech beside the Atlantic, and the Quebecers sip their six dollar cocktails in the nightclubs of Montreal. The Prairie people guzzle their beer, and Lotus Land harbors grape for Merlot and Chardonnay wine in the Okanagan valley. The northern Americans have always been more lax about allowing their children a sip of the strong stuff than those who live south of the forty-ninth parallel. For the most part there are no serious repercussions, what with the high taxes on alcohol and the ability of the Canadian climate to freeze any unwary wino overnight But the sociological experts who decried the toll among the unfortunate could not deny they did much the same when they were young.

That is how it came to be that John Alexander Poleshaw and Scott Jameson Shartrande decided to visit a bar one Saturday night despite both of them being under the age of nineteen. They had just received the last of their summer paycheques that mid-September week. While Vancouver doesn’t have a winter quite like the rest of Canada, people do start to hibernate around the time of the rainy season. Scott and John wanted to enjoy themselves before settling down to another long school year of math, history, and football.

“What’s the name of this nightclub?” John asked as they walked to the busstop.
“La Expresse,” Scott answered.
“Eh, where do they think they are, Quebec? Is this place any good? Better question yet, do they check I.D.?”
“Only if you’re wearing diapers,” Scott said.
Scott and John wouldn’t be legal for another three years. In theory, a bar or tavern or nightclub could be fined for serving underage drinkers, but who would report the offence? Provincial liquor bureaucrats only worked nine to five, five days a week. The local police would only get involved if a fourteen-year-old started to brawl or perhaps throw up on a sidewalk but that seldom happened. Only once had John ever gotten I.D’ed at a bar, and that was after he had gotten royally hammered.

The greater Vancouver region encompassed more than half-a-dozen separate communities, and John and Scott hopped a bus heading out to Surrey, one of these periphal townships. Laughing and joking, they nearly missed their stop. Then, jumping off the steps of the bus, they found themselves in a fairly seedy area, a community just struggling to stay out of poverty’s grasp, and failing.

“Which way?” John asked.
Scott peered up at a signpost through his prescription-lens glasses and motioned with his right hand.
“This way,” he said and they set off side by side in silence. The unfamiliar territory discouraged conversation, and they both kept an eye out for aggressive drunks, hyped-up rednecks, or worst of all, gang members wearing colours.
“Whose turf is this?” John asked.
“Dunno, might be nobody’s.”
“Great, just great, I doubt it.”

After an extended period of time, it became apparent to John that Scott had only a vague idea of where the bar was located. This did not surprise John, as this was the same Scott who once told him “if you don’t care where you are, you ain’t lost.”

Suddenly they saw the nightclub just down the block. It would have been hard to miss, because it stuck out like a red poppy in a garden of weeds. Its name was spelled out in neon atop the two-story building, and the glare through coloured glass contrasted oddly with the drabness of the surrounding neighbourhood. John noticed this and said so. Scott’s only sarcastic comment concerned the utility bill and how much of it was recovered through the price of a beer.

As they drew closer, they also took note regarding the clientele of La Expresse. Most of the patrons wore clothes of the street: Jeans, leather jackets, concert t-shirts and the like. But a few wore tuxedo jackets, or stunning low-cut dresses with high heels, and far too much jewelry. John grew wary when he looked at their faces; sober or drunk, white or coloured, they all had the look of the street. The two boys hardened their faces and straightened their shoulders without being conscious of doing so, like new recruits facing the drill sergeant for the first time. But we don’t look that tough, John suddenly thought to himself, we’re both too skinny and we don’t have scars on our faces and I’m tired of kicking those drunks in the crotch who take us for easy marks.

They had come too far however, to back off now and they were young; caution born of brief experience had already given over to curiosity. They walked up to the entrance. One of the bouncers poked a drunk teenager in the chest and told him to fuck off. The teenager wore colours. The other bouncer waved John and Scott through. Inside, Scott walked past the tables to the bar and in the deepest voice he could muster ordered two whiskey sodas. John took a stool beside him, gaped at the prices which were half again as much as they should have been, and surveyed the surroundings. It made him feel uneasy.

People hunched over the tables to talk to their partners in hushed tones, despite the music. There also seemed to be a lot of traffic to and from the john. With a start, John closely scrutinised a few of the females in the fear that La Expresse was a gay establishment. But they seemed real enough, actual women and not men in drag. Nobody paid Scott and John any attention, not even a glance. That in itself was unusual, because Scott was black and John was white. You don’t see zebras in this part of the world too often, Scott had joked once, and John had laughed, because like all funny jokes, it held a lot of truth. Scott and John were a rarity, both unsure of what drew them together. They both played football, both came from deeply religious families. They kept the faith offered by their parents, but tried hard not to reject the world around them.

Scott bought the first round of drinks and when John suggested that they leave after he bought the second round, Scott readily agreed. Scott did not like La Expresse, and in a rare moment of second-guessing, he cursed taking up the recommendation of a friend, (or his older brother’s friend) who really had no damn taste in nightclubs. Funny such a sleazy bar could command such rip-off prices for booze. The disc jockey played a slower tune. To the few couples on the dance floor, it made no difference. They stepped around in small circles, arms around waists, eyes closed with no change in pace.

“Wow, this is really a happening place, isn’t it?” John said.
“Yeah, yeah, and it was my idea to come here. Bad idea, I apologize, so fuck off.”
“Relax, we down dese here drinks, and maybe make it to the Roxie. Some of the gang just might be there.”
“Hmmmm…interesting,” Scott said.
“What?”
“I didn’t know you could dance to the blues.”
“My God, he’ll be playing `Taps’ next.”

The two boys still had looks of disgust on their faces when the world suddenly went crazy. A light outside flashed red and blue and one loud siren wailed, followed by another. Everyone froze for the smallest slice of time including John and Scott but then immediately everyone exploded into motion towards the exit.

“It’s bacon time!” Scott yelled. A raid, in this dump. John started for the door slowly, as if still entranced by the blue and red flashing light shining through the front window, but Scott caught his arm.
“No man, there’s got to be a side door somewhere.” They cut against the flow of the crowd towards the kitchen. A bouncer blocked the way.
“Take your lumps out front like everyone else.”
“Fuck you,” Scott growled. “We’re underage.”

The bouncer moved out of the way. Scott and John raced past crates of booze and espied a backdoor. They burst through into a small parking lot connected to an alleyway. The police had not carefully planned their bust for it was deserted, but the alley only led only one way. Red and blue light glittered at the opening that led through out to the main street and two buildings.

“We’re fucked,” John said.
“Not yet, hide!”
“Where… oh man not there, you’ve got to be kidding.”

Scott was climbing into a dumpster. John peeked down the end of the alleyway, saw the flashing lights brighten, and dove in after Scott. They landed on cardboard, only cardboard, although it still stank of shit. They laid there motionless for about ten seconds. Suddenly, there was a lound thunk! and something smashed into John’s chest.
“Ooomp!”
“Shaddup!,” whispered Scott, who had his ear against the steel side of the dumpster.

He heard a pair of quick footsteps and then the engine of a hopped-up V-8 roaring down the alleyway. It stopped, and he heard voices of urgency, although he could not make out the words. It was followed by distant shouting.

Please get me out of this without handcuffs God, thought John, who tried to will himself deeper into the trash. I’ll be a good boy forever, I promise I won’t drink anymore, I won’t even whack off in the shower

Scott was getting cramped in the dumpster, especially with John’s knee rammed against his thigh but he did not move and kept listening. Voices still, although growing calmer and fainter. One or two pairs of footsteps returning. An eternity of waiting and then the sound of a car starting and moving down the alley.
“John?” whispered Scott.
“What?”
“Wanna take a peek and see if the cops have split?”
“No.”
“John?”
“What?”
“My left hand is inches away from your balls.”
“Okay, okay.”
Slowly and with great caution John eased upward and peeped out of the dumpster.
“Yeah, yeah, it looks like they went back to the farm. Ooink, ooink, right on.”

John started to rummage through the trash.
“What are you doing?” Scott asked.

John didn’t answer, but instead found what he was looking for and held it up for Scott to see. It was a suitcase, slightly larger than a briefcase, but it did look like something an executive would carry. It looked expensive, and it had a lock on it.

“Somebody junked it into the dumpster just after the raid,” John said.
“Slammed it into my gut, as a matter of fact.”
Scott and John looked at each other for a long moment, and Scott took it from John’s hand. “Locked,” he said, “but I have tools at home which can open it no problem.”

Scott gave the suitcase back to John and they started to walk down the alleyway. At the other end of the street, when they turned the corner, John looked back at “La Expresse” and saw that the neon light had been turned off. The bar looked no different than the rest of the neighbourhood now. They loosely retraced their steps back to the busstop, keeping their eyes out for patrols by the police as well as the usual. There was no talk now of bar-hopping; there was an unspoken agreement that they would go to Scott’s home and open the suitcase. But the streets kept them nervous so they did not talk. John knew that whatever was in the suitcase was hot, but so what? Finders keepers. They guy who had carried this had lost his balls when the cops came a-wailing, and now would have to do some explaining to whatever bosses he had to. Tough for him. And curiosity killed the cat too, he thought, and he was nervous all over again.

Scott said nothing while they were waiting at the bus stop, he only looked to be his usual solemn self. The bus came at quarter to twelve. John took the window seat and stared at the world outside. It’s funny how the poorer neighbourhoods always look darker at night, he thought, like the city government decides which areas will struggle by not building streetlights there. The bus edged out of Surrey towards the brights lights of Vancouver. Scott took the suitcase in his hands and meticulously went over the lock.

“No way to pick that,” he said to John.
“It’s a hundred-dollar lock, see? However, if we flip this sucker around and have a look at the hinges, all of a sudden our job gets a lot easier, doesn’t it?”

Just after reaching Vancouver the bus stopped to pick up some youths who belonged to the tribe of heavy metal. They proceeded to back of the bus.. They were decked out in black leather jackets with metal studs, the fat one wearing a Judas Priest concert t-shirt. The other had the phrase “School Sucks” printed on his. Scott and John knew the two to be drunk, because their eyes wandered and everytime they said “fuck,” (which was often) it came out “ffffock.” They paused between sentences, like it took a great deal of mental concentration to speak.

Despite the debilitating effects of alcohol, the two metalheads tried to keep up a conversation. “God Frank, do you know what I hate?”
“Whut?”
“Fucking chinks.”
“Yeah fuck… me too.”
“They can’t drive worth shit, and goddamn, they smile all the fucking time, like they’re stoned or something.”
“Yeah, but they’re not as bad as…”
“Whut?”
“Ne-groes.”

His friend began to snigger, and they both stared at Scott, who sat still as a statue. John did not respond either. The two metalheads were emboldened, or perhaps irritated, by such a lack of response. They moved to seats directly behind the two boys.

“Yep,” the fat one started again,
“I know some people don’t like chinks and neither do I but they’re better than negroes. They smell better and they ain’t so fucking uppity. Some negroes act like they’re proud to be black. But let me tell you something, shit, if I was a negro I wouldn’t be proud of it. As a matter of fact, the last thing in the world I would want to be is… a… fucking…nigger.”

No one moved for a long moment. Then John swiveled his body around and reached out with one hand to grab the right wrist of the metalhead who had been talking. With the other hand, he grabbed the hair at the back of the neck. John pulled on the wrist for leverage. He yanked on the hair to bring the head down so that the neck rested on the back metal edge of John’s seat. John slid his arm forward so that the head of his opponent was trapped in the crook of his armpit. The metalhead responded with fierce choking sounds. The other sat unblinking and stared at Scott. Scott didn’t move. The metalhead reached out to grab John and then Scott brought the suitcase up and over. He slammed the corner edge of it into the metalhead’s nose. There was a small pop and his hands went to his face. A second later the metalhead started to wail, but Scott had already wound up for a second swing. This time the edge met temple. The wail was cut short. The first metalhead couldn’t get enough leverage to relieve his choking and John kept up the pressure until he felt the struggling start to subside. He gave a fierce sideways push with his right hand and the metalhead’s face slammed into the window of the bus, and he fell back into his seat. This all took place in a matter of less than ten seconds. The few other passengers on the midnight bus did their best to ignore the altercation, as they had ignored the rantings of the metalheads before. The driver kept to his seat. As soon as the metalheads began to recover their senses, Scott decided it was best to ring the bell and get off a few stops early.
John followed.

“Man, what a night, what a night,” John said, by way of breaking the silence.
Scott said nothing at first, and then under his breath: “I’m proud of being a Ne-gro. So proud.”
“What?” “Never mind. Come on, the night ain’t over yet, let’s see what’s inside this suitcase.”
It took only fifteen minutes to walk to Scott’s place.

* * *
Scott and John let the little transparent plastic baggies fall to the floor of Scott’s bedroom. He lived with his mother in a five-room townhouse, who fortunately had decided to spend the night at her boyfriend’s. They had just ripped off the hinges of the suitcase, and were much too deep in shock to move. Cocaine, more than they had ever seen in their lives. Each bag looked to contain about fifteen grams of coke, and at one hundred and fifty dollars a gram that worked out to more than two thousands dollars per bag, street value. There looked to be over three hundred bags in the suitcase.
“Oh no,” Scott said, “oh shit.”
John bent over, picked up one of the bags, and stared at it. The stuff does look just like talcum powder, he thought, looking like something that you should sprinkle on a baby’s butt.
“Scott, I would like to know what type of friend referred you to that bar,” he said.
“Some friend who was either very naive or very stupid,” Scott replied.
“I just thought of something Scott. Some of the people at the club were wearing colours! In a fucking bar! The place was a front for drugs, man! And the action musta been all in the washrooms.”
“Yeah well anyways, there’s enough dope here to keep all the skid row junkies in Van happy for a week.”
“Scott, we are in deep shit.”
“I know,” Scott said.
A horrible vision came to John’s mind. Dealers coming to his house, holding his family at gunpoint, killing to serve a warning. For a half-million, they would do that, oh yes, they would venture out of the Surrey slums, or Chinatown, or the downtown Eastside ghetto, and hunt him down to his placid white surburban three-bedroom rancher home. God knows which gang they had ripped off. It could be the Warlocks, or the Dark Machines, or one of the Hong Kong Triads, like the Red Eagles or whatever the fuck, there were too many to count. John looked at Scott and saw that he too was absorbed with his own private nightmare.
“Only one thing to do, I guess,” John said. “Turn the stuff over to the cops.”
“The police?”John caught the doubt in Scott’s voice. “And I suppose they will promise to keep our identity a secret?” Scott said.
“Look, I know it does seem a little weird to walk into a police station and say `here’s a half-million in coke, have a nice day’ but Scott, we don’t have a choice here.”
“Listen John, do you want to hear a story?”
“No, but go ahead anyways.”
“A friend of mine used to be a drug dealer. Nothing big, just a little hash here and there, maybe some Dexies thrown in for luck. Anyways, this friend was doin’ good in school, real good. So good in fact, he got offered a scholarship. An academic scholarship! You don’t know what that means, you come from good family unlike everyone else in our fucking ghetto school, but anyways…he figured he better quit pushing and get his shit straightened out. But you just can’t quit man! So when my friend decided to quit, he turned rat. He had no choice, push away hard and cut them before they cut you….He gave the cops everything, drugs, info, his fucking life story in return for protection. They protected him alright – for two whole fucking weeks – then they left him to the dogs.”
John listened to the monologue and was swayed by not so much of the content as by the bitterness in Scott’s voice.
“Okay, it’s not such a good idea to report this,” he said, “but what are we supposed to do?” “Very simple. Let’s take a short walk out to government land. Let’s go to the railroad and dig a hole and…”
Scott’s face took on a look of exaggerated disbelief. “Cocaine? Cocaine? What’re you talking about? I know nothing about no fucking coke. Man, you crazy.”
John thought it over. “Okay. Have you got a good shovel?”
Scott’s townhouse was north of East Hastings, and just south of the railway lands owned by CN rail. The tracks snaked along the Burrard Inlet which separated the city of Vancouver from the mountains. After jumping the fence, the boys walked through the tall grass until they were hidden among some bushes. The railway lands were not patrolled at all. In the summer time, both the boys had trepassed to sun-tan and smoke pot unmolested. The view of the inlet and mountains was always stunning. Approximately one and a half hours later, alternately taking turns shovelling and keeping a paranoid watch, they put the last of the topsoil over the spot where they had buried the suitcase.
As they walked back to Scott’s house John asked: “Won’t it be noticeable being freshly buried like that?”
“Nah, I’ve never seen security walk up to check the scrub. Even if somebody dug it up by accident, it would be their problem, not ours. By the way John, this never happened.” “Cocaine, cocaine? I ain’t seen shit. Man, you crazy,” John said.
Scott stopped walking and started to laugh. John joined in, and the tension oozed out of them both and leaked away into the night.
Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Two: Seeing An Angel

John woke up the next morning with Scott’s words ringing through his head; “I know nothing ‘bout any cocaine, man, you crazy.” It reassured him. The past is dead and buried, he thought, but then he remembered the bouncer who had blocked their way to the door…

“Yeah boss, there were two of them that ducked out into the alley before you split. One black and one white. They must have lifted the stash that you threw into the dumpster. They said they were underage, that’s why I let them through. Yeah, we’ll start checking the high schools right away.”

John quickly killed that train of thought and went to the kitchen to have his breakfast. His parents were already there, mother at the stove, father at the table. It was just another ordinary Sunday breakfast for them both. John’s sister Rachel was probably in London or somewhere in the air over the Atlantic. She was a stewardess for Air Canada.

“You were out late last night,” Mr. Poleshaw said, as John sat down to the table.
“Who, me?”
“Oh God, what am I supposed to do with a son who can’t keep decent hours?”
“You don’t have to wait up for me.”
“You know dear that I can’t get to sleep until you’re home,” John’s mother said.
“Your concern in my well-being is most touching,” John said, giving her one of his most sincere looks. She smiled and waggled a finger at him. His father let out a heavy sigh.
“We’re going to be late for church. Hurry up and eat that boiled egg of yours.”
“No problem.”

John got dressed for church, wearing a suit, tie, and shoes that desparately needed a polish. The family entered Mr. Poleshaw’s almost brand-new 1981 Saab to drive to church. It was his proudest posession besides his house. During the trip, John counted the number of drunks who did not make it home from the night before but rather decided to lie down on the sidewalk. John counted only two, a sure sign that summer was ending. That, or the police were cracking down.

At church the family took a pew right in the middle ranks (whoever shall be first shall be last…) and the service started. John sang the hyms that were required of him, and actually paid attention to the sermon for once. One time he had nearly fallen asleep because of a strenous workout the evening before, and had been made to pay dearly. So he behaved himself. However, halfway through the service a pretty brunette who John had never seen before turned her head and made eye contact with him. She quickly turned her head back, but it was too late. Infatuation.

The rest of the service passed quickly without John paying too much attention to it. Afterwards, John went downstairs to the fellowship hall for coffee. The brunette stood in one of the far corners. John strolled casually over to one of his friends, Timothy.

“Hey Tim, how’s it going?”
“Pretty good John, pretty good. And yourself?”
“Mediocre. The first few weeks of school are always depressing for me.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Say, listen Tim, do you know the name of that brunette over there?”
“Yep, the name is Jennifer. She just moved from Montreal last week, her old man is some executive from some shipping company. Very rich. Father Federick is happy to welcome some new sheep to the flock, especially when they have so much fine wool available for plucking.”
John marveled at the comprehensiveness of Tim’s briefing.
“And how did you learn all of this?”
“She was at church youth group last week. She’s very nice, almost makes me wish I wasn’t going out with Susan. By the way, where were you?”
“I was lured into a house of sin and forced to consume much alcohol.”
“Do you like her?”
“Who me? She looks alright, that’s all.”
“Good, then you won’t be nervous. Hey, Jen!”
Tim waved Jennifer over. John muttered a curse under his breath.
“Hi Tim,” she said.
“How ya doing Jen? I just wanted to introduce you to our resident football demi-god, John Poleshaw. John, this here is Jennifer Montgomery.”
“Hello, Jennifer.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Think fast, you big dummy, John thought. Small talk, small talk.
“So I guess being from Montreal means you find the French classes here pretty easy eh?”
“I’m not taking any French classes here, it’s nice not to have to. In Quebec, I had to go to a French school, that’s the law. Here, I’m going to Sir Robert Borden and I like speaking English a lot better. What school do you go to?
“Laurentian,” John said, and winced inside. S.R.B. was one of the better prep schools in Vancouver, while Laurentian had a city-wide rep as one of the worst places to send your kid unless they knew karate.
Jennifer was about to say something but her little sister came over to tug at her sleeve and tell her the family was leaving.
“Oh gotta go guys; see you later.”
“Bye.”
“Take care Jen,” Tim said.

After she walked out of earshot, Tim turned to comfort John with a sympathetic “Tough luck.” “Shit. Why did I have to bring up the subject of school?”
“Hey man, she’s no snob. Talking to her last week, she ain’t impressed by flash and dash.”
But Tim stopped for a minute and started to speak more carefully.
“Look John, why don’t you do the smart thing and transfer to a different school, instead of hanging your head everytime the topic comes up? God knows my school could use a good tight end.”
That was the position John played at in football. He was very good at it.
“Yours charges tuition, and my old man is tight,” John said.
“Then why not somewhere else, anywhere but Laurentian. Man, don’t jerk me, you got the grades.”
John shrugged his shoulders. “All my friends are at Laurentian.”
“Friends? They’d carve you up for a gram of brown hash.”
“No they wouldn’t. They’re not that good with a blade.”
Tim shook his head and turned to walk away. “See you at Youth Group. Are you coming?” “Yeah sure. Hey is Jennifer going?”
“As far as I know.”
“Tim?”
“Yeah?”
“About transferring schools; I’ll think about it.”
“You do that mon, you do that.”
Now alone in the crowd, John suddenly felt very tired. He decided he needed a coffee.

John’s family lunched over tomato soup, sausage rolls, and celery. John hated tomato soup. “Who was that girl you were talking to at church today, dear?” John’s mother asked.
He paused between bites of a sausage rolls and feigned indifference.
“Oh. Her name’s Jennifer, she’s new; just came down from Montreal.”
“My son the stud,” Mr. Poleshaw said.
“Oh for God’s sake, I just talked to her.”
“Just make sure it stays that way.”
“Now what the hell is that? A hands-off order?”
“Look son, we don’t need anymore `incidents.’”
John lost his temper completely. “The kid wasn’t mine,” he shouted.
“That’s not the point.”
“Don’t you understand? The bitch was cheating on me! THE BLOOD TEST WAS NEGATIVE!” “Stop this, please stop.” John’s mother shouted, and started to cry.

That calmed John and his father down enough that the family was able to finish lunch. Nothing else was said, although the suspense was excruciating. John excused himself from the table barely able to contain the turmoil of repressed memories within him. It had happened two years ago, when John’s girlfriend had announced she was pregnant. John’s family had paid for her expenses to drop out of school and live in an apartment, as well as her medical needs not covered by insurance. John and she had had sex only three times, and he had never slept with her after knowing about the pregnancy. He had lost his virginity to this eighteen-year-old girl who had been kicked out her Mom’s house at the age of sixteen. After Mr. Poleshaw found out the baby wasn’t John’s, he cut off all financial support and forbade John from ever communicating with her again. That was easy, because John didn’t want to see her anyway. That bitch, John thought, that bitch. She put me through hell just to get first and last month’s rent. Only after two years did the incident start to fade from John’s everyday consciousness. But to remember was to feel hurt and betrayed.

The afternoon moved slowly for John as he idly flipped through the TV channels and lifted a few weights. By dinnertime the family had reached an unspoken agreement that the whole incident at lunch never happened. Buried under dirt and soil on unstable ground that shifted and turned over unless one trod carefully. But they could think of no other way of coping. During a dinner of excellent perogies and sausage, John announced that he was going to Youth Group and Mr. Poleshaw gave his ostensible approval, as if it would hide his unease. My boy is just growing way too fast he thought later in the night. Some evenings during the week, especially after a tough football practice, John would come home with lines on his face and a slow, shuffling walk. Sometimes he acted old too, adult, grown-up. No, that wasn’t it; he said cynical things sometimes like a bitter old man.

When John stepped out into the cool air of the evening, he relaxed for the first time that day. More than anything else, he enjoyed walking alone, away from the attention and expectations of others. The afternoon had passed slowly for him; even ABC’s Wide World of Sports had featured nothing more interesting than a badminton match. He arrived at the church early, and the few that had come before him nodded and said hello and then did their best to ignore him. This had already started before the scandal with his ex-girlfriend. He wore a jean jacket to Youth Group. He drank and every once in awhile smoke cigarettes. He did not fit in, he was a loser. John felt the ripples of disapproval in what he said or did, but he cared less and less. He felt like a planet in a slowly degrading orbit. Without knowing, he had developed a habit lately of staring through people.

Tim entered by the side door with Susan on his arm. John had wished for himself at one time but now the chance was irrecoverably lost. He bode Tim no ill will. “How’s it going bro?” Tim saluted John, then he disappeared into the meeting where everybody else started to gather. Tim and Susan and John were the oldest members of the group; there had been others but one by one they had left for personal reasons. The parish council had specific ideas as to how a youth group should be run, what could be allowed and what not. One member had been made not welcome because of a drinking problem. Another member had gotten pregnant. Others simply stopped coming. But lately the group had been regenerating, with the vast majority of the members now under the age of fourteen. John followed Tim into the meeting room, stopping momentarily at the door which was his unconscious habit. In this manner, he also drew attention to himself, making others aware of his presense. After John, Jennifer arrived fashionably late and he resisted the urge to stare. The leader of the youth group, a deeply religious man of twenty-seven with clerical aspirations, opened the meeting with a prayer. That was followed by general business, which consisted mostly of ideas on how to spend youth groups funds acquired through babysittings and car-washes. The discussion petered out unresolved, like always.

Bible study focussed on Romans. A hard epistle to understand. John liked the parables in the gospel much better. The mustard seed. The story of the talents. Every once in awhile the discussion would go off on tangents like why was there evil in the world? How can we have free will if God is all-powerful. What was it like in heaven? When John thought of heaven he always thought of the sunshine coast, the point on the beach where one had a clear view of the Georgia Strait and the coastal mountains. The day would be sunny but not entirely clear, with clouds hugging the mountains like a sheet. There would be salmon in the rives and oysters in the sand. When John was much younger, the family would rent a cottage on one of the islands in the sunshine coast and Rachel would take him out for a walk on the shore and hold his hand.

Twice during the meeting John caught Jennifer staring at him, but she always looked away when he tried to catch her eye. After the meeting she left in a hurry, and John was tremendously disappointed. It would have been a surprise to John if somebody had told him then and there that he would never attend youth group again. And later in life, when John looked back on what happened and why it happened, he couldn’t remember the reason why he had stopped attending, why he stopped believing. The memory would haunt him as he would think to himself: Here was a fork in the road. I went the wrong way.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Three: School

John’s appetite Monday morning was not appeased by two bowls of corn flakes, but he was too apathetic to fry up some eggs and bacon. Despite having a surprisingly good sleep the night before, John felt like shit, and not even the usual remedy, a good hot shower, had helped. God bless the morning people, and keep them away from the people who are not, at least until ten o’clock.

John walked to school. What ever else could said about Mr. Poleshaw, he was determined not to spoil his only son by purchasing an automobile. It would be awhile before John would experience that sort of freedom that only comes from being in the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, the farmboys of the Prairies could tool along the backroads in their fifty-dollar clunkers (without insurance or registration), and the Toronto teenagers of the upper middle class had the luxury of choosing between Volkswagen and Honda (something sensible mind you). However, the rest of the adolescent masses generally provided funds for their transportation through a part-time job, if they were lucky. John was a jock in football, so his loss in social status by not having a car was more than made up by his involvement in sports.

He didn’t mind the walk to school even though the day was chilly. The Poleshaws lived close to the borderline of East Vancouver and the suburb of Burnaby. The latter had developed much of the traits of its inhabitants, urban, upwardly mobile, pleasing parks and a relatively efficient municipal government. The housing, in comparison to Westside Vancouver, was still relatively affordable. It wasn’t as bad as Toronto anyways.

East Van (never East Vancouver) was a different story: Skid row, low-income housing, greasy spoons, Chinatown, industrial warehouses, factories. To the north, bounded by the CN rail line forbidding public access to the Burrard Inlet, and to the west, the reserve watertanks on the hill in Queen Elizabeth park, demarcated the two divides. The municipal dump for Vancouver was situated in East Van, and even today, many interesting old bottles and tin cans, as well as other bits of trash, can be dug in many an East Van backyard. In 1987, courageous pockets of working class neighbourhoods and hippie communes dotted what otherwise would be a gigantic slum. Within a square mile of the center of East Van there were three welfare offices and two unemployment centres, the former always doing more business than the latter. Laurentian high school occupied the northeast corner of East Van, in between Broadway and East Hastings Street about a quarter mile from Boundary Road, the demarcation line shared with Burnaby.

On days when the wind blew strongly from the west, one could smell rotting fish entrails wafting from the canning factories. The shoreline that was devoted to industry was not far from the school’s football field. Mercifully however, there were a few blocks of restored houses with planted trees that gave the immediate neighbourhood a benign, if not friendly, atmostphere. The school itself looked neither gloomy nor cheerful but the graffiti on the walls gave it a sense of decay. In the spring, the vibrant vegetation of trees and grass (even in the city) gave the school a pleasant scenery that made it almost pleasing to the eye. But in autumn, it only looked utilitarian.

John did not take note of the school’s appearance however, because on Mondays before 1 pm he usually did not take note of very much. He walked past the designated smoking area in the school parking lot, choosing to ignore its charter members with their dull stares and cooled-out gestures of rebellion towards the system. He opened one of the large, heavy side doors and slipped inside before it could slam shut on his fingers. There was something wrong with the springs, rendering it treacherous. The hallways were so clean they practically glistened; the graffiti had been removed during the summer from the interior walls and none yet had taken its place. Curiously, that depressed John. Leaning against the lockers was a student with a T-shirt that read “Revolution ‘85.” In the age of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney, the revolution was over and the yuppies had won. John entered one of the classrooms.

But one man’s spirit had not been crushed by the thousand-and-one burdens of teaching under a groaning bureaucracy. Instead, it had metamorphesed into something that delighted in poking holes in the envelope of sanity, or at least the normal decorums of human behavior. Students did not give Mr. Chretian their love, for many loved no-one, least of all themselves, or their respect, so most times they gave him the next-best thing, their attention, for he commanded it. As soon as he spotted John, Chretian went into one of patented mad-dog routines:
“Pole-shaw! Ohmigod, you mean to tell me you’re still in this school? Didn’t we kick you out or something like that?”
“Sir, I have been attending your French classes now for over three weeks without an absence.” “You have? What period?”
“Three.”
Chretian quickly shifted through the attendance records. “Holy shit, you’re right,” he said.
Then he swiftly wheeled about to the freshman who looked upon the proceedings with frank astonishment.
“Hey you,” Chretian snarled, “Do you know what happens to students who go around spreading lies that certain teachers use four-letter words and bullshit like that?”
His madness was infectious.
“I heard him, I heard him!” John cried out in a high-pitched voice, jumping up and down like a hyper-active four-year-old. “You sweared, you sweared.”
John blew a large raspberry at Chretian, whose face contorted as if in agony.
“Ohmigod, my professional reputation is ruined.” He buried his face in his arms. Then suddenly he arose, with a murderous gleam in his eye. “Unless…”

John quickly fled from the room, into the corridor where some adventurous student had his ghetto blaster playing some new break-dancing tune. John did a mental calculation on the odds on whether it would confiscated or ripped off by the end of the day. The first bell had sounded for classes, but John had a spare since the teacher who was supposed to instruct on the finer points of typing had instead elected to watch “Apocalpse Now” with some senior English students. In a blind fit of obedience to the rules John decided to go to the cafeteria to study. On the way he met one of his team mates Mike who was just shedding his jacket into his open locker.

“Did I miss homeroom?” Mike asked.
“Yep.”
“Really?” If one listened carefully, one could detect a note of surprise in Mike’s voice.
“No kidding.”
“Oh.” Mike, to all appearances, did not look very concerned about being late.
“Where are you headed?” he asked John.
“Cafe. I’ve got a spare, the teacher fucked off.”
“Great, let’s go.”
Out of curiosity John asked what class he had that period.
“History. Boring, I hate it, let’s go.”
When they reached the cafeteria, John set his books on the table with a depressed sigh of anticipation.
“Wait here a sec,” Mike said, “I’ve got to get something to eat.”
“You can’t. The food line is closed during classes.” Mike did not reply, but walked over to the door to the kitchen, and walked inside. Not five minutes later he returned with a massive plate of eggs and bacon, and a glass of orange juice.
“How did you get them to serve you?” John asked.
Mike stopped to consider the question.
“I think I `verbally assaulted’ them into it.” There was an audible click of the kitchen door being locked.
“Hey, how’m I suppose to return the tray?”

Five minutes later, the two boys were joined by Debbie and
Rhonda, who shared similiar classes.
“John, I need help with this chemistry test coming up next week,” Rhonda said.
“If I do help you, what will I get in return?” John asked, directing his gaze to a point a few inches below her throat. She did not take the hint.
“The pleasure of helping a fellow student.”
“Fellow student?” Mike said, in between massive gulps of bacon.
“How can you sit there in front of us starving people and eath that?” Debbie asked. “Very simply,” Mike said, and he shoved half a fried egg in his mouth.

***

“The bitch can’t do this to us,” Ken said in utter outrage.
“Correction, she already did,” John noted drily, and wondered why the last class of the day always had to be the toughest. The computer science teacher had advanced by two days the due date for an assignment.
“I’ll never get it done in time,” Ken wailed. Ken’s concern over the deadline unsettled John as he had even less chance of completing the assignment on time, so he ambled over to Allan, the resident whiz kid of Laurentian, to beg for guidance and a few correct answers. Allan didn’t notice John at first, as he was hunched over a terminal, muttering to himself.
“Now what the hell are you doing?” John asked.
Allan’s computer screen was filled top to bottom with cryptic symbols and cipheric phrases. He replied with a mutter something about machine language, deep in concentration. Finally, a light gleamed in his eyes, and he quickly tapped in a few lines of code, his mutterings building to a crescendo.
“Ta-da, done, God, I’m such a genius,” Allan said.
“Congratulation, now save it to disk,” John said, “if the teacher sees you she’ll shut you off. She thinks that sort of stuff hurts the computer.”
“Gimme a break, I’m her pet. She loves me and trusts me with her life. Besides, when’s the last time she cared about what we’re doing?” Allan spoke a little bit of truth for at that moment of time the teacher of that particular class seemed to be ignoring her students, while working industriously at her terminal. Of course, she was not working on a school-related matter per se, but was tryiing to solve the latest Zork word-text adventure game. In her opinion, the fifteen class computers should be enough to amuse the students and give her a refreshing break from the rigours of a working day.
“I really hope this thing works, It’s my masterpiece. I’ve been busting my ass on this for days.” “Whatever you’re working on, is it finished?”
Allan cleared the screen with a few keystrokes, and started to grin. “Yep, just type RUN and see what happens.”
John obliged and entered the execute command through the keyboard. Immediately, a computer on the other side of the room lit up, squawked once or twice, and generally began to go crazy. It was the teacher’s computer and she stared at with a mixture of incredulity and bafflement.
“Hey, what do you know, it works, I think,” John said.
“Huh, wait until she checks her disk for her records.”
“Erased?”
“Yep. Replaced by a file that describes in graphic detail the anatomy of her husband, including his tiny, tiny, penius.”
“Allan, you’re a poet.”
“Oh no, none of it rhymes. It’s just obscene.”
John sneaked another look at the teacher. He see the red on her face even at a distance. Suddenly one of the printers turned itself on and started to click madly.
“Hard copy of her hubby’s prick?”
“For safe-keeping.”
Just then, every computer, Allan’s included, blinked off. The teacher was standing by the power supply looking very pissed off.
“Well shit. That’s not playing fair.” Allan said.The teacher glared around the room until her eyes stopped on Allan.
“Um, sorry Allan baby, gotta go” John said, “Places to see, people to meet, things to do. You understand.”

***
“FOR GOD’S SAKE CAN’T YOU HIT THAT DUMMY ANY HARDER POL-SHAW?” The Laurentian High football team did not usually practice on Monday but the Tigers had lost their last two games so the coach had decided the team needed some character-building, quality-time togetherness. John hovered on the edge of exhaustion, too tired to even curse. The supposed warm-ups to practice had nearly killed the team. John’s formidable opponent was a six-foot dummy filled with sawdust that had settled and moistened over the years, taking on the firmness of a brick wall.
“Next!” said the coach and John staggered to the back of the line. To a man from Mars the exercise would appear to be a barbarous ritual as a row of men-boys methodically slammed themselves into an obstacle that was hard enough to make them groan with pain. The drill, in theory, taught the proper manner of blocking, which is to intialize contact with the face guard and slide contact down to the chest. However, because of the immobility of the tackling dummy (it was stuck in mud), proper execution of a correct block would force one’s head down to between the shouldblades. Therefore, with every improper strike of the tackling dummy, the coach grew madder and madder.
Meanwhile, Woody the fullback, was in agony. His back had been nearly broken in two at the last game by a vicious gang-tackle. He leaned against Scott for support who was either trying to comfort him or convince him to lie on the ground.
“C’mon baby, you’ve done enough. Everybody knows you’ve done enough. Drop out man, you’re killing yourself.”
“No, no, no, all I need is Rob, where are you Robbie baby, where the fuck are you?”
“Why does he need Rob?” One of the freshmen stupidly asked.
“Shut up rook,” Scott said.
“Robbie, where the fuck are you?”
John, an observer to all of this, wondered if Woody was delirious from the pain or the withdrawal.
“Right here, babe,” Rob answered, coming from nowhere.
Woody babbled on, blind from pain. “Baby, is that you? Man, I need some, I need some bad.” Scott told Rob to piss off.
“Now you watch your mouth Scottsie,” Rob said before his voice took on a soothing tone. “Don’t worry Woody-baby, after practice I’ll fix something up, something real nice. You just rest now, you hear?”
“Yeah sure Robbie, no problem.” Woody sank to his knees and was silent.
The coach tore himself away from further ranting when he saw his star running back lying on the grass, and hurried over. Rob floated out of the picture like a ghost.
“Okay, boys, that’s enough for today. Hey Woody, how’re you feeling?”
“Don’t worry coach, Woody’s just tired, ain’t ya?” Scott said. He and another player gently picked Woody up and half-carried him off the field towards the locker room. Scott shot John a glance full of meaning, and John understood. He jogged casually over to the freshman who had spoken before, and tapped him on the shoulder. The freshman turned his head and stopped walking. For an uncomfortable ten seconds John and the rookie stared at each other, the latter searching, the former inscrutable.
“I don’t know what’re talking about. I never saw fucking nothing,” the rookie said.
John broke into a wide grin and patted him gently on the side of the helmet.
“You’re gonna do fine around here, I can tell.”
The rookie did not answer but turned and walked away. John stood still for a moment and shrugged his shoulders to no-one.
* * *
The dream came to John only a few days later. He had dreamt the vision before but this time he remembered it more clearly after waking, as if the Jungian or Freudian sludge had found a hole somewhere to leak into his consciousness. In this dream he was strumming an accoustic guitar, an instrument he had only been playing for a year with no great success but in his dream he picked strings like a blues superhero. His fingers danced through the opening chords of “Smoke on the Water” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and other great guitar solos that he had vainly tried to emulate during his waking hours. As the dream progressed, John would be joined by rock-star luminaries, out of a orange cloud Pete Townsend would appear, playing the opening bars of “Let My Love Open the Door” and there, under a pastel moon, would be Clapton, quavering over “Layla.” John would play on, better and faster, improvising on blues riffs and manipulating the wah-wah pedal like a psychedelic refuge from the sixties. But like always, the pastel moon would suddenly wink out and the purple cloud dissipated and John, guitarless, would face a huge majestic door. He would feel, through intuition, that behind the door would be the ultimate song with its ultimate lyrics concerned only about the ultimate truth. However, as John would always reach out to push against the portal, dream would end and John would be sitting upright in his bed with his arm stretched out. Invariably he would be compelled to climb out of his bed and play his six-string accoustic. But he never played as well as he could in his dreams. After five or ten minutes of fumbling fingers on the fret and buzzing strings, his awkwardness would lead him to curse and put the guitar down.
John had a premonition that today was going to be a bad day. The too hot, too cold shower (damn heater screwing up again) chased him out of the bathroom into the kitchen, where soggy cornflakes cut short his breakfast. He left early for school, thinking a change in the normal schedule might shake the doom and gloom. It turned out to be a bad idea. John walked to Scott’s locker to kill some time by conversing with his friend but Rob had gotten there first. The two were looking to beat the shit out of each other.
“All I want you to do is to lay off, okay?” John heard Scott say.
“But I don’t want to lay off Scottsie,” Rob said it calmly enough, but there was a dangerous undertone. Scott made ready to poke Rob in the chest, the male-to-male invitation to get it on, but John smoothly put himself between the two. Some sadistic bastard, John thought, would like nothing better than to see blood flow. Instinctly he knew that a fistfight with Rob would not be taken as an isolated incident, but as a challenge. Scott could not hope to win, Rob had the power.
“Hey, hey, hey guys, let’s all cool down now for a couple of secs. Come on now.”
“Out of the way” Poleshaw, Rob said in a bored, tired voice, “Scott’s gonna get what’s coming to him.”
“Nah, nah, you don’t understand Robbie… maybe you should take a walk, you know, just so we can all cool down and get rational.”
The wide grin on John’s face disappeared and his face became hard all over, like a rock, just so that Rob couldn’t possibly miss the hint. John no longer sat on the fence when it came to the animosity between Scott and Rob. But he had picked the side that had fewer soldiers. Rob’s eyes spoke of mild disbelief, asking John if knew what he was doing, and then:
“That’s a good idea John. Real good. Too bad it was you who had to think of it.” He then walked away, his $300 snakeskin boots clicking on the marble floor. The small crowd that had gathered wavered and dispersed, as if deciding Rob’s words had been a curse.
It took a second for John to realize what he had done. Then, he wheeled about to face Scott: “This is very interesting, Scott. I didn’t know you had sucidal tendencies.”
“Eh, all I wanted to do was to talk to the man,” Scott said.
His flippant act grated on John and his temper rose.
“Talk? It looks like you were ready to take a swipe at the main man of Laurentian you goddamn clown.”
“It’s about Woody.”
“And who the fuck are you? Woody’s keeper? His bum buddy?”
“Rob’s fucking him over, Woody’s turning into a walking dead man.”
“It takes two to fuck! Rob’s not forcing it up his nose…”
Scott grabbed John by the front of his shirt and slammed him into the lockers.
“Hey asshole,” he practically shouted, “Have you looked at Woody’s face lately?”
His knuckles were dead-white, and something inside John broke, leaking away the anger and fear. He laid a hand on Scott’s fist.
“Man, it’s no use saving a dead man from the dogs.” The ties that bind brothers together had turned into a snare, dragging John also into the trap. Scott released his hold from John’s shirt and stared into space. John was reminded of a look Scott wore not long ago, on a night when they had found and buried the coke. But we can’t bury this so easily, John thought, Rob will demand a price in pain for losing face.
“I owe Woody my life man,” Scott said. “You don’t know what we’ve been through.”
“Brothers in spirit okay man, I understand you. But even if you two shared the same mama I still say this: Look after your own ass first. Rob will be looking to bury you now.”
“I can handle Rob.”
“But not all his merry men. You’ll be doing fine one minute and the next breathing out of your asshole, and Robbie will be just miles away.”
Scott shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll handle it when it comes up.”
Just as he spoke the warning bell sounded meaning it was only five minutes until first class. The corridor began to fill with people.
“Shit, we’re gonna be late for class,” John said.
An evil gleam came into Scott’s eyes. “I don’t feel like attending class today, do you?”
John read his mind. “Nah, neither do I.”
Scott’s voice increased in volume and the tone became belligerent. “Okay pole-head, where the fuck is my five bucks?”
“I do not know… what the fuck… you are talking about.” Scott snarled, and John almost cracked up. As Scott tapped his index finger on his adversary’s chest, a few people looked their way, suddenly interested. Yum yum, blood.
“Don’t give me the bullshit, I want my five buck now, goddamn it!”John glared at him.
“Git your finger pointed somewhere else.”
“What if I don’t, dickface?”
“I’ll break it off your hand and shove it up your ass!”
“I wanna see that, yeah, I’d like to see you try.”
By now quite a crowd had gathered, some chanting “fight, fight” in a low murmur, enacting a high school ritual dating back from time immemorial. John decided it would be a shame to disappoint the fans.
“You got it,” he said and tackled Scott mid-section high.
Scott responded by bringing up his knee to John’s chest and John recoiled in exarggerated shock, making a satisfying smack against the lockers. Scott threw a right overhand which missed John’s face by a good six inches. John jabbed him in the stomack and Scott made a loud oommph! and he fell down holding onto John. They began to wrestle on the floor, cursing each other at the top of their voices.
“Bastard!”
“Asshole!”
“Dickface!”
“Coochi-coo,” Scott whispered, and he jabbed his fingers under John’s armpit, who gasped to conceal a giggle.
But John was very ticklish, and he finally roared with laughter which he tried to conceal by yelling “Prriick!” at the top of his voice. That ejaculation finally brought the authorities to the scene. A patrolman and a teacher jumped into the fray. John and Scott were in luck, for the teacher who separated them had absolutely no sense of humour.
“Alright, break it up, just break it up!” The patrolman held John in his arms from the back, who looked quite ferocious with his face red from suppressed laughter, and the teacher stood in front of Scott.
“You boys are in very serious trouble, big trouble,” he said.
John growled and made a move towards Scott but the patrolman pulled him back.
“Asshole!” Scott said.
“I said THAT’S ENOUGH… Take them down to the principal’s office. We’ll deal with them there.”
Thus, it came to be, that John and Scott were escorted down to see the right honourable Benjamin Black, sneaking winks at one another and exchanging lopsided grins. Glory of glories! The fracas could actually result in a one-day suspension, and the afternoon promised sunshine. While they were waiting for Mr. Black’s undivided attention in reception, Scott whispered to John that he really dug the principal’s office. It smelt of upholstery, and the overstuffed leather chairs were comfortable enough to sleep in.
“Poleshaw and Shartrande… front and centre.”
The two marched into the office and assumed respectful, contrite sitting position in the overstuffed chairs. The teacher, called Jones, stood off to the left and glowered at the two. They heard him give a highly colourful account of the tumble to Mr. Black. The teacher was new, which may have excused some verbosity, but any fool should have taken the trouble to learn through the grapevine that Mr. Black wouldn’t stand for any B.S., unless it was inventive or funny, or both. Both Scott and John knew this. Mr. Black lounged comfortably in his swivel chair, staring at a point on the far wall as if that was the least boring place to rest his eyes. The habit disconcerted both students and teachers alike. He had been a principal for twenty years and the last belly x-rays had shown no signs of ulcers. But he had only been at Laurentian High for the last two, and he thought more and more often about his golf game.
“Well boys, what have you got to say for yourselves?”Scott and John glanced at each other. “Well you see sir, it’s like this,” Scott said. “John and I were walking down the corridor when, all of a sudden,” -Scott coughed nervously and looked away- “I had an epilectic attack.”
The teacher’s eyes bulged: “That’s a lie!”
“Let them continue.”
John detected the faintest note of amusement in Mr. Black’s voice and let out an inward sigh of relief.
“Thank you sir,” Scott said. “Anyways, John knew exactly what to do about it. He tried to hold my jaw shut during the fit, so I wouldn’t bite my tongue off. Well then, just before the attack subsided, Mr uh, ah…”
“Jones,” said Mr. Black, unreadable.
“Yes, Mr. Jones came over and broke us up, and obviously -begging your pardon sir- misread what had actually occurred.”
“John, is this true?” Mr. Black asked sharply, suddenly.
“Why, uh, yes sir,” John replied, in a tone of voice that implied a note of surprise, like, of course it was true.
“Mr. Black,” Jones protested, “You can’t believe them, they’re obviously lying.”
“Now, now, Mr. Jones, mistakes can happen. Don’t about it. I think you can go to your class now.”
“Yes sir.” Jones knew he was beaten for the moment but he vowed to bring up the incident at the next teacher’s union meeting. How the hell was one supposed to maintain discipline if the principal wouldn’t back you up? Mr. Black could guess what was running through Jones’ mind, and he could care less. He was too close to his retirement, and if the fool decided to carry a grudge, well by God that was his problem. He noted Jones could not resist leaving without giving one last dirty look at the two boys. Cardinal rule number one, never let them see that they can get under your skin. Mr. Black did not envy the new teacher at all.
Mr. Black stared at the wall again for about three seconds, patiently waiting until Jones was well out of earshot.
“What bullshit,” he said.
“Uh, pardon me sir?” Scott said.
“You can cut the ass-kissing for now Shartrande, Jones has left the room.”
“Sorry sir.”
“God! What an old trick, staging a fight to get out of classes. I’m going to have to talk to Mr. Jones and wisen him up. If I had been there, I would have booted you both in the butts and sent you off to class.”
John and Scott said nothing.
“Well I suppose I’ll have to buy your story although I would be willing to bet that if I looked up your medical records Shartrande, I wouldn’t find any mention of epilepsy. Okay, the next time I have to see either of you two, there better be a city championship trophy in my hand, and you both better be in football uniforms. Now beat it.”
“Yes sir,” John said.
“Yes sir, oh thank you sir,” Scott said in a high-pitched niggling voice.
John shot him a wary look then realized what Scott was doing; ass-kissing so blatantly as to cause insult. The thought only took a moment and John reacted in less than a second, almost shoving Scott out the door. Mr. Black had frozen, shot a hard glance at the two boys, and had opened his mouth to speak. But they were gone.
John pushed Scott through the sectarial office and out into the corridor.
“Smarten up!”
“Oh pleeeze, pleeze master, don’t a whip me, I’ll be a good nigger from now on, just don’t a whip me, pleeze.”Scott was acting a bit crazy.
“Goddamn you, smarten up,” John could think of nothing else to say. Scott got off his knees, where he had posed in mock supplication. He suddenly turned all serious again, turned into normal Scott.
“Damn,” John said, looking for anything to break the lull, “We should have known better than to try a bullshit trick like that. Now he’s gonna be watching us.”
“Nah, it made his day. I have the feeling he doesn’t like Jones.”
“He did seem to be be something of a prick.”
“I’m glad we don’t have him in any of our classes. Actually, I’ve never seen the dude before. He must be new, fresh, fresh, fresh.” Scott and John decided it would impolite to break the concentration of their fellow classmates by interrupting in the middle of a teaching session, so they walked quietly around the hallways, waiting for the bell, gently rapping.
At one point Scott asked John: “So what are you doing here anyways?”
“Huh?”
“A nice white boy from a good respectable family in a school like this? And don’t shit me either; you get good grades and everybody knows it no matter how hard you try to hide it.”
“Hey, I live in the district, same as you.”
“So do a cross-boundary transfer, like all the rest of the nice white, middle-class boys. At Laurentian, nobody going nowhere, except maybe trade school.”
“Hey, all my friends are here.”
“Dumb reason,” Scott said, but he let the matter drop.
The bell for the ending of first class rang. Scott and John met Mike at his locker.
“Hey guys, too bad you missed math class. It was in-teresting,” Mike said.
“Who are you kidding?” John said. “Denlaw is the most boring teacher in whole goddamn school.” “Oh we don’t have Denlaw anymore. He quit, or got transferred, or died, I dunno. We’ve got a new teach, boy is he a prick.”
Scott started to laugh like a crazy man after John asked the question.
“Jones. New teach’s name is Jones. Man, I ain’t kidding, talk about vanilla.”
***
The high spirits of the morning did not extend into the late afternoon, as John worried about the confrontation with Rob. John was young, so when he should have been wary, he allowed depression to dim his senses. A clouded state of mind was at least partially responsible for the nasty hit he received in football practice. He had always prided himself on being impossible to blind-side. Except the hit had not occurred during a scrimmage but while the team was jogging around the track to warm up. Someone came up from behind and stuck an elbow in his kidney that knocked him clean off his feet, and later left a blossoming bruise the size of a shot glass. John saw pretty stars for a few seconds, before the cinders of the track came into focus. He had no idea who had done it, except that it couldn’t have been Rob personally. All the same, one question ran over and over in his head, a mantra cutting through the web of pain:“Already? The cocksucker’s got his network on my ass already?”
Scott was absent from that day’s practice, because as John thought later, he hadn’t been that stupid.
Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Four: Reprieve

Is there a better place to be than downtown West End on a Saturday night John thought to himself? He had planned to go to a nice safe church dance but had changed his mind at the last minute. It was just not his type of crowd anymore. He had taken the number seven bus, following a routine performed a hundred times before, but instead of getting off at the church stop he had just stayed on, and the bus had carried him to the downtown core. He had wandered about for an hour and a half before asking himself what the hell he was doing there. He wasn’t supposed to be walking the scummy streets of Granville and Davie, he should have been preparing himself for bed as he had a game to play tommorrow, kick-off at 11 o’clock sharp. But John was at the age where anything new was intensely stimulating and interesting, and his life at the present bored him. Of course, being on Rob’s shit list did add a little spice to life but jackals prefer to prey on the weak, not get caught in the middle of interlocking horns. John had only needed to catch and smack one of Rob’s merry men to take the heat off for the moment. It had been a sophomore too quick with his mouth in the school parking lot, who had thought himself safe because of the presence of two friends. A quick one-two from John’s fist and elbow had sent the fool to the ground.

“You want some? How about you?” John had asked the two still standing, but they had not answered, choosing instead to drift away. It had not been an overt challenge to Rob’s authority but it had served notice. And John was wise enough to avoid dark corners and the blind alley-way behind the school. Tonight would be a good night to see a movie since I can’t think of anything else to do, John thought, but a look at the prices and his wallet soon scrapped the idea. He gave up the process of orderly thought and started to wander the streets to drink in the sights and sounds. It was early October, and the rainy season had just started it’s dreary routine earlier in the day, but had mercifully paused. Puddles of water on the sidewalks impressed themselves on the soles of John’s feet, especially in the heel of his left sneaker, where he had a nickel-sized hole. A walk up Robson’s street had yielded no flash of inspiration on what to do with the evening.

But John knew what he wanted, and that was Jennifer. He had seen her every week at church (she had done wonders for his attendance) but never managed to get beyond simple pleasantries. Like all males his age, John fantasized about the girl that he was most infatuated with. In between bouts of masterbation, he fantasized the scenario of asking her out for a date. Hey Jen, want to see a movie? Want to do this? Want to do that? John tortured himself by imaging her refusals and shuddered at the humilation he thought he would face. Worst of all, he could envision his request causing her to turn away embarrassed, giving no answer at all. The thought of Jennifer caused John far more anguish then the threat of Rob, for that was a known threat, easy to calculate. John had never been intimate with a girl like Jennifer. He stood staring at a phone booth. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do, he thought to himself. I’ll phone the stupid church and ask for Jennifer. With any luck, she won’t be there and my conscience will be satisfied that I did the best I could and it will get off my back. He put in a quarter and dialed the number which he knew by heart since he was seven, and he noted in a proud sort of way that his hand did not even shake. Someone whose voice he did not recognize picked up the other line and he asked formally for Jennifer Montgomery… The voice said it would go see if Jennifer was present. John grew more nervous with each passing second of the two minute wait until someone finally picked up the line.

“Hello, Jennifer speaking.”
Super-fast flashes of thought coursed through John’s brain. Oh you big dummy it’s actually her you’ve got her on the phone and now what are you going to say?
“Hello, who is this?”
“Hi Jen, it’s John Poleshaw, how are you?”
“Oh hi John, it’s you! I thought it might be my parents with an emergency or something…”
“No, no, you see, I thought I would just call to see if you were at the dance tonight and you obviously are…”
“Are you coming over?”
“Actually… …how do you feel about coming down and having coffee with me at Robson’s cafe? That’s where I am right now.”
There was a long pause and John winced, hoping he had sounded relatively calm speaking those last two phrases.
“Why?” she asked.
Oh man, am I am fucking this up BADLY, he thought. “Because.. I can’t tell you because it’s a big surprise.”
“A big surprise?”
“Yeah, yeah, trust me it’s a big surprise and you’ll love it but you gotta come down and see it. Trust me.”
Another long pause. John remembered a nutty phys-ed teacher who once liked to equate baseball with the pursuit of the opposite sex. To wit: “You’ll never get any hits unless you swing the bat. But if you step up to the plate out of turn, you’ll get thrown out of the game.”
“Come on, what do you have to lose?” John said in a fit of desperation.
“Okay, okay,” she said, and he nearly gasped with relief.
“Whataminute John, here’s the deal. I’ll get off the bus at Granville and Georgia. Give me about a half-hour, but you better be there to meet me, otherwise I’ll take the first bus home. Got it? Okay, see you then.”
She hung up the phone. John slammed down the receiver and let the back of his head bang the glass of the telephone booth. He grimaced, and then grinned, then grimaced again as he thought: now what the hell am I going to get a big surprise for her at this time of night? He started to run towards the Pacific Centre shopping mall, praying the boutiques hadn’t closed yet.

When Jennifer got off the bus she spotted John sitting on a city bench not twenty feet away. To hide her nervousness, she marched right up to him and demanded to see the big surprise. “Surprise, what surprise?” John asked in a bemused tone of voice, “but hey, it’s good to see ya.”
Half-angry, half-flustered, she turned away but he touched her on the shoulder and presented her with three red roses. She accepted them in wonder, speechless because no one had ever given her flowers before.
“So um, do you like them or what?”
“Yeah, they’re really nice, thank you,” she said in a soft voice. They both felt awkward and looked away. I’m really glad that when you give a girl flowers you’re not expected to provide a sales receipt, John thought to himself, remembering briefly the snatch-and-dask at the shopping mall. Damn, either I’m smoking too much or those security guards are cutting down on their doughnut intake.
“Um. Sorry to take you by surprise like this Jen, it just sorta came out.”
“Yeah well, you could have made it a lot smoother if you had just come to church and asked me to dance.”
“Ahhhhh, they’re good people but I just don’t feel comfortable there, you know?”
“Yes, I do know.”
“Shit.”
“Don’t worry about it. Gossip is gossip, maybe I’m not as naive as you think.”

Both of them suddenly withdrew, thinking too much had been said too fast. John asked her if she would like to go down the beach and see the ocean. They walked along in silence for awhile. Day and night, freighters and tankers slipped into the Burrard Inlet from the Georgia Strait, dumping and loading cargo. There were at least six ships waiting in the bay that evening, easily visible from shore by their night lights. The clouds overhead blocked the moon’s light and the stars so the horizon was invisible. To the west there were six clumps of light and nothing else.
“God, don’t you wish you could pack your troubles on one of those ships and watch them sail away?” John said.
“Yes, I see now why my father chose to take us here.”
“Huh?”
“Oh nothing, forget about it.”
“Come on, tell me -wait a minute, I know- you’re a Westmount Rhodesian; I bet your old man didn’t want to move here, right?”
“Westmount Rhodesian, very cute, where did you pick that one up?”
“I dunno, Mordecai Richler, I think.” John had kept himself awake through enough class lectures on modern Canadian history to be aware of the flight of anglophone businessmen from Quebec. The province had only just passed Bill 101 which forbid the use of English on signs and the like. Also, French now had to be spoken in businesses employing more than 10 people. The French-speaking population of Quebec had long been at the mercy of the anglophone minority but the “Quiet Revolution” had changed all that. Now, many in English Canada had believed the pendulum had swung too far the other way.
“I’m sorry to hear your family had to leave Montreal.”
“Well, don’t go through a crying fit or anything. It’s not like we left with only our clothes on our backs. And at least I can take classes in English now.”

John tried to cheer her up. “You haven’t seen Vancouver at its best, when on a clear day you can see the mountains. My family used to live on Vancouver Island and I was a member of the Boy Scouts. We used to go on rappeling camps; that’s where you go climb a moutain or a cliff and then rappel down it on a rope. The feeling is awesome.”
John told her many more things about British Columbia , how it snowed maybe once every winter and the excitement of the salmon runs, when the fish come up from the Pacific into freshwater rivers to lay their eggs and die.
“… the only problem now is that much of the spawning is controlled by hatcheries because of over-fishing. It sorta takes the Nature thing out of it.”
Jennifer looked at him with a curious, amused look. “Hey, you’re not such a tough guy after all.”
John felt uncomfortable all of a sudden and tried to retreat. “Yo, woman, what do you mean by dat question?”
Jennifer laughed and hit him. John decided he liked her laugh a lot.
“I know guys like you,” she said. “You like to act big and tough but down inside your heart you get all mushy over puppies and stuff like that.”
“What? What? Hey, you think this just because I gave you flowers? Hey, if you tell anybody I did that, I’ll deny it and never talk to you again.”
Jennifer’s smile disappeared as she turned her gaze out to the ocean. “Tough guy,” she repeated, and that was all.
John didn’t try to kiss her or even hold her hand that evening, for he was still in awe of her. Rich, beautiful, he could have handled the disappointment if she had turned out to be a bitch but she wasn’t. She even had a sense of humour. She didn’t fake the regret that showed on her face when she looked at her watch and announced that she had to get herself home.
“Maybe I should escort you to your house.” John said.
“What for?” she asked in a mocking tone. “Trust me when I say I live in a fairly decent neighbourhood.”
“Oh yeah, I believe you. It’s just a fair distance between here and there, I do believe.”
“So what? Vancouver doesn’t haven’t much street crime, at least not like Montreal.”
It was John”s turn to be amused. “Dahling, I can tell you don’t do your shopping at Downtown Eastside. Hey, hold a second there, thassa a nice blouse. Did old moneybags Daddy buy that for you?”
“Shut up, poor white trash.” “Nah, nah, I don’t think your Dad bought it. I think you bought it yourself… …with your Dad’s credit card. Was it Visa, Mastercard, or American Express?”
“Shut up, shut up,” and she started to slap him on the shoulder and the chest.
John laughed and shied away. Then he edged closer and start to apologize in a patronizing sort of way. “Jen-ny, I’m soo sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Please Jennifer, oh pretty please forgive me…”
Eventually she laughed and John broke out in smiles again. He very nearly reached out for her hand.

Jennifer’s family lived in the exclusive community of West Vancouver, where the beachfront property had the distinction of being the most expensive in Canada. When they reached her neighbourhood by bus, John noted that roughly each city block was occupied by two, maybe three houses.
“Gee, I’d hate to be the poor sucker who has to mow all these lawns.”
“Oh, we pay our gardener well,” Jennifer said, all of a sudden looking distracted. John unconsciously took note and grew silent as well. They stopped in front of a house with four cars in a two-lane driveway and a quarter-acre front lawn.
“Well, this is my place. Thanks for walking me home. See you in church.”
“Hey, is there any chance we could do this again?” John could not help but ask in such a blunt manner.
She looked away with a sad expression. “I’m sorry John, I don’t think so, I just want to be friends.”

John wanted to say anything but okay but that’s what he said. He watched her walk up the long pathway to the door and still stared at it long after she had gone in. Why? he asked to the house with the lush green grass and the fancy doorpost and shrubbery. Why? he asked to the sky with clouds too thick to even show moonlight. He asked the question again and again on the walk back to the bus-stop, and as he sat down on the bench to wait the answer came to him. He examined his jeans as for the first time, noticing one faded spot of his left knee. His sneakers were worn and faded (but that was the way he liked them). Lastly, he looked at his hands, especially the hard nudges of callus between his fingers and palm. Such a rough surface would scratch a hand as soft as Jennifer’s. Yes, that was it, that was the reason.

***

At almost exactly the same time that the bus came by to pick up to take him home, Scott was lying in his bed as per the coach’s instructions. He couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t nervous about the big game tommorrow, he was fearful about what lay after it. For the hundredth time, he regretted the harsh words said and the challenge made to Rob. But an apology to the main man of Laurentian would have stuck in his throat. He was not sorry and it did not take much to rekindle his anger; maybe just one look at Woody on a especially bad day. Indeed, he wondered if Woody’s nostril linings had been scraped away by the cocaine granules yet, or whether he had already switched to injection. They had been brothers once, before the coke, going all the way back to Toronto where their families had shared an apartment in the Jane-Finch corridor area.

You dumb fuck, Scott thought, how many people did you’n me see fucked up back in welfare housing? We vowed to stay clear of the white powder, so what happened? But he shouldn’t have openly challenged Rob. Now he couldn’t put sugar in the gas tank of Rob’s motorcycle, or heist Rob’s supply without falling under immediate suspicion. Back in Toronto they would have gone at it, maybe with knives; there had been rules once, up to even a few years ago. But the rich white boys from the nice neighbourhoods had discovered the joys of getting coked and stoned. When they had started to flash the fat wads of cash around, everybody had gone crazy. Scott was glad they had moved out of Jane-Finch. Unfortunately, he now had no idea how things worked anymore. Scott got out of bed and walked over to his sock drawer. He opened it, thrust his hand through the socks, and withdrew a small tinfoil package. It would impede his performance at the game tommorrow if he smoked too much of it but he needed it tonight to calm his nerves. He unraveled the tinfoil and placed the last of his marijuana on a EXPORT “A” rolling paper. The stuff was Vancouver-grown hydroponic, brought to fruition in an indoor garden so it was nearly pure THC. He rolled the joint in a clumsy manner as he hadn’t smoked enough to become expert, but at least he had gotten over the habit of double-rolling. Five minutes after the first toke he felt the first wave of the stone break over him. The corners of his mouth twitched upward, and then stayed there. Ahhhh, he thought, that’s much better. As the stone descended from his head down to the rest of his body through his nervous system, everything (his thoughts, incoming stimuli) seemed to slow down, become… more manageable.

What to do about Rob? He needed power to fight power. Out of the blue the image of the suitcase arose from Scott’s memory. Coolly he thought of the coke which could command over a half-million dollars from the street. He thought of the dealers he had known back east who had driven their Mercedes slowly through the blocks of welfare housing, and the pretty ladies that had sat in the back seats with them. No. For every shaker chauffeured in style, there were ten in jail or dead. He thought of Woody, his brother, who at the age of twelve had saved him from buggery at the hands of two drunks who had camped in the stairways of the their slum apartments. Son of a bitch! Scott sat upright in bed. Why did he have to think of that? The image of the suitcase buried under three feet of dirt stayed persistently in his mind, sinister and attractive. Scott knew Rob was flying high at the present time (and up to his eyeballs in pussy, no doubt), but it would only take one serious mistake and he would crash harder than a smack junkie out of needles. Scott laid back in his bed and closed his eyes to let the stone carry away his consiousness. He floated away to dreams in brillant technicolour, and a wonderful sleep.

***
Unbeknownst to John and Scott, they had nothing to fear from Rob for the time being. Ricky Jones, the quarterback and offensive team captain of the Laurentian Tigers, had paid a visit to Rob Gates to plead for team unity, and also to go over the plan for tommorrow’s game.
“So blood, is the pharmacy gonna be open tommorrow? This here is a big game, you better believe,” Jones said. No one called him Richard.
“Don’t worry boss,” Rob said. “There will be enough pills distributed to keep the whole defense a hip-hopping well past the fourth quarter. All provided at cost, of course.”
“Good, but keep them away from the offensive line. Those boys are supposed to be keeping my ass safe from grass stains, not charging ahead and playing Rambo.”
“Gotcha chief,” Rob answered, firm in his conviction that brown-nosing people of status led only to good happenings, provided there was no cost involved.
“And one other thing too, concerning the zebra buddies.”
“Hey, man, I’m running a business here, and you gotta let me take care of business. Don’t get me wrong, Scott and John are good people, but if word gets out that I can be pushed around…”
Rob held his hands up.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Ricky tried to sound sympathetic. “Just try to keep it away from the team, you understand? We ain’t doing so shit-hot this season but we have to, you understand? We have to stay like Gods to the gen-e-ral population of Laurentian High. Give them something to believe in.”
“Man, I provide them already with all the joy and pleasure they can handle.”
“Uh-huh, but once you bring the real world into the locker room, the team might start to choose sides. Boom, no games won. Boom, they start looking over our school records and come down hard. Why do you think coach don’t come into the locker room until exactly ten minutes before game time?”
“So what are you saying blood? Lose face and take shit?”
“Just until the season is over and the championship trophy is safely locked away in the sports display. Then I don’t give a shit.”
“You mean until you safely got a scholarship to a big-time university down south.”
“So? Stick with me blood, and I’ll drag you along on my coat-tails. Laurentian is the sticks compared to university. All those willing U-heads just begging for a little of this, a little of that. It’s the last great untapped market.”
***
The Laurentian Tigers had the reputation of being the craziest and dirtiest team in the city. The players were proud of wearing the same colours as those of the NFL Los Angeles Raiders, silver and black. John entered the lockerroom a half-hour before game-time, not bothering to take note of the pandemonium around him. His eyes stared ahead with an unusual intensity. Perhaps he was used to the chaos. The players were going through the ritual of preparing for war. The postions which required the least amount of skill and the most adrenalin, had by coincidence the players who could be considered the most violent and aggressive. The defensive linebackers and ends were having a contest to see who could put the biggest dent in a locker, by use of a forehead without the benefit of a helmet. In a far corner Rob grimaced and wondered if a single greenie dose would have been sufficient for the defense, instead of two.
“Alright, alright, you dumb fucks, knock it off and save it for the game,” he yelled.
“Let’s go TIGGGGGERS! TI-gers, TI-gers, TI-GERS!”
One of the linebackers had opened a cut on his forehead and the taste of blood in his mouth had apparently driven him insane.Rob dropped one of his shoulders and rammed his pad into the madman’s chest.
“That’s it Frankie,” he said during the momentary pause of quiet that accompanied the hit.
“I’m cutting you back to one-half greenie a game.”
The group laughed at Frankie, who silently picked himself off of the floor.
On the other side of the lockerroom, the offensive linemen blocked and head-slapped each other with grim determination. The purpose of their position was not to administer punishment but to take it. So they hit each other as a warm-up. It was a measure of pride not to even grunt after receiving a slap, let alone cry out.
John played tight end, being neither excellent at blocking or catching but very good at both. He did not, nor would ever, have the size to play at the next level, but his tenacity made him more valuable to the team than a player who had enormous potential but a bad attitude and non-existent work habits. Scott played weak safety. He sat quietly with the other defensive backs and rapped with his partner, the strong safety. Better a DB who nevers fucks up on coverage, who always breaks up a pass, than one who salvages blown coverages with spectacular hits. Woody stalked through the locker room like the magnificent lion that he was, shoulders back, greeting every player with an air of quiet dignity. In the lingo of sports, he was a “gamer,” that is, someone who looks like dogshit all week long in practice but shows up on game day, puts the team on his back and carries them to victory. Ricky’s arm provided the sizzle, but Woody was the steak, and everyone knew it. Woody knew it too, and had just enough coke in his system to dull the pain in his back, not enough to get coked out.
At exactly ten minutes to eleven coach Robinson walked in, The coach had big dreams of coaching down in the states, hence his interest in showcasing Woody and Ricky as his stars. One of the ways to make connections down south is to supply the colleges with quality players. Another way would be to win, win, win. Laurentian had already two losses this season out of five games played. It would be unacceptable to have anymore.
“Boys, I’ll be straight and honest with you. To be three and two is not that bad, but it’s not that good either. To tell the truth, with the talent we got assembled this year we should go all the way,” the coach said.
He paused paused to stroke his chin in an exaggerated manner. “When a team has a lot of talent but doesn’t win enough the coach can only look at himself for blame. The coach thinks `What am I doing wrong?’ I’ve been thinking… I think I’ve been working you boys hard enough but perhaps their has been a lack of… discipline.”
Oh shit, shit, shit. The thought ran like an electric current through the collective mind of the team. We’re not putting enough meat on the table so the coach is gonna cut off the flow of gravy. “I’ve heard that some of you have been… let’s say cutting a little bit of slack in the discipline of academics. I cannot tell you how distressed I am to hear that.”
The coach’s tone of voice hardened. “Who is going to forgive a boy for cutting a class if that boy is a loser? Losers don’t pass tests, losers can’t do any one of a half-dozen things that a winner can do. DON’T FUCK UP! All I’m asking is for ONE LOUSY DAY, you people get your shit together and take care of business. Then you can relax and enjoy life as your due. Don’t fuck up this good thing you got going.” Having finished his speech, the coach said good luck, glared around the room, and walked out.
There was silence for almost five seconds before Ricky spoke. “Brother Tigers, read between the lines.”
The locker room erupted into a frenzy of growling screams. Everyone picked a partner and went at it, pushing, slapping, and head-butting. John knocked one of the reserve lineman on his butt, as he had been stoking his inner fire all night, lying in bed, brooding.
The game itself did not turn out to be much of a contest. The opposing team managed to complete a few short passes and even kicked two field goals. But mid-way through the second quarter the Tiger defensive line stunted and broke through to the quarterback, who crashed to the ground on one knee. The injury took him out of the rest of the game. By force of intimidation, the Tigers carefully pulled away to win 28 to 6. John caught one touchdown pass and blocked with a quiet ferocity that helped Ricky escape with nary a grass stain on his jersey. Woody only carried the ball 15 times but gained 130 yards on the ground to move to the top of the league standing in rushing. It was the finest game the Tigers had played all season.
Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Five: Debbie

John dragged himself into class late Monday morning but he escaped with only a dirty look from the teacher. He had a note from the team trainer implying John had needed an icing because of bruises suffered during the game. Indeed, John had gone to the trainer for ice that morning but most of it had melted on his forehead. He was suffering from a terrible hangover. The spoils of war go to the victors, and John had split a bottle of Bacardi rum with Scott, resulting in a fascinating discovery: While white rum inflicted only minimal casualties on John’s brain cells, the spiced variety leaned towards prolonged trench warfare.

Pain I feel mucho pain, John thought as his temples throbbed, and his side ached from a late hit in the game, but oh God thank you that the cheap motherfucker who had thrown that elbow hadn’t connected just a few inches lower. The teacher droned on.
“Marlowe is a `decent’ man at the start of his journey into the Belgian Congo and remains barely so, yet he is deeply affected by the evil that surrounds him. He alone realizes Kurtz was a great man with divine intentions before being corrupted by his surroundings. Or perhaps he was corrupted by some inherent flaw in his character, some over-reaching wish for greatness whatever the cost. Marlowe raises questions that no one can fully answer. Is evil exterior to Man or an indivisible part of a person’s soul…”

John tuned out the teacher. He had read the novella already and seen the movie twice. The latter had freaked him out, like it had freaked out so many of his male peers. The question of good and evil hovered in the back of his mind, blurred by the residue of toxin from last night. Despite the poor choice of poison it had been healthy for John to binge because it had allowed him to drop some of his mental defences and bare some of his soul to Scott in a caring and sensitive manner.
“I’m in love,” he moaned to his friend.
“So what are you telling me for? Hey, you gonna pass her around after you done your business? C’mon, share and share alike,” Scott said.
“Nah, nah, I’m serious, don’t make fun of me.”
Scott’s face took on a serious solemn look. “Are you two official? I mean, are you hanging together?”
“No, but…”
“Den you know the rules, m’good man. Girlfriends are off-limits, but everything else is fair game for discussion.”
“Hey,” shouted one of the linemen, “Has John got himself a bitch?”
“Shaddup, mother,” hissed John to Scott.
“You gotta tell me everything about her or I spill the beans.”
“Okay, okay.” Scott answered the lineman. “Thassa a big negative Sammy-man, we were just talking about your sister.”
A few people laughed and Sammy gave Scott the finger.
“Okay John,” Scott whispered, “tell me everything about her. Does she have big hooters? Pass the bottle.”
“She’s a fine, fine, rich lady who lives in West Van. Her daddy’s a rich man who hires the people that boss around our fathers. You dig? In the class system of this marvellous democracy, she’s at the top and we’re at the shit-heap bottom.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“What?”
“Her hooters, how big are they?” John had reflected then that Scott had a way of cutting directly to the heart of the matter.

A nudge on his rib cage dragged him back to the present. He had a headache, and his side throbbed. There was another nudge on his ribs, it was somebody trying to pass him a note. John took it and opened it up. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE HURT BADLY, BIG TIGER. ARE YOU GONNA MAKE IT? He looked behind his seat and Debbie sitting three seats over winked at him. John smiled back and wrote a reply. I NEED SOMEONE TO NURSE ME, HELP ME THROUGH THE NIGHT. He passed it back and waited for a reply. The teacher droned on. Debbie read the note and put it in her pocket. She stared intently at the teacher, as if she was interested in the travails of Marlowe. John sighed and began to draft another note. PLEASE DON’T IGNORE ME BABY. I WANT YOU. I WANT YOU TO HAVE MY BABY. I WANT TO LICK YOUR…

“John Polshaw, what are you writing? May I see that note?” the teacher asked, turning away from the blackboard.
Doomed, John was doomed to humilation in front of the entire class of English 302, Laurentian high school.
“John, please rise from your chair, walk over to my desk, and deposit the note in your hand onto my table, if you don’t mind.”
John quickly shoved the paper into his mouth and chewed furiously. Debbie couldn’t help but laugh along with the rest of the class. John took the news of his detention with stoic calm.

Arnold Holstein had taught English in high school for over twenty-five years while dabbling in theatre as an amateur thespian. Perhaps “dabbled” is the wrong word to use as it implied a lack of commitment. Holstein loved the theatre and regretted that as a young man, he had shied away from the sacrifices that would have necessary to make it a full-time career in the performing arts. A mid-life crisis five years ago had laid his ambition to rest, but he had no desire to see his mistakes repeated, or talent wasted, by members of a younger generation. The detention lasted for forty-five minutes after last class. John sat near the front, eyes staight ahead, face blank. Holstein busied himself marking papers for a little while, and when he had finished, walked around to sit on the top of his desk.

He stared at John with a fatherly expression on his face. “So John, what do you want to do with your life? Have you ever thought about that?” Holstein asked.
“I dunno,” John replied. “I guess I would like to see what sort of jobs are out there. Maybe travel.”
“You don’t want to build a career perhaps?”
“I never really thought about it sir. I like to take one thing at a time.” This is fabulous, John thought. I have to keep one eye out for Rob, the other for that freaking psycho football coach Robinson, and now Holstein has decided to dog my ass and ask deep insightful questions.
“John, these are the best years of your life.”
Why did I know you were going to say that? John thought. He could not keep back the bitterness. “How do you figure… sir?”
Hostein did nothing but stare back for a moment. “Forgive me, Poleshaw. I forgot momentarily that a captive audience does not necessarily make for an eager one. Quite the opposite.”
He turned away and walked towards the window.
“You may go.”
John felt the blood rush to his face and left without a sound. For a brief moment he had had the urge to protest, to ask why he felt such a heavy burden on his shoulders. But the moment passed.

Korea, 1950. After dealing with John, Holstein walked back to his desk and sat down heavily. Old eyes on a young face. The thousand mile stare of refugees streaming south fleeing the Chinese communists. Or am I just getting old he thought to himself, premature senility perhaps? Stupid nonsense that a Canadian boy in 1987 would remind of Korea, 1950. But there had been one solid blessing to come out of his decision to join the Princess Patricia’s regiment over 35 years ago. When the orders had come to join the conflict overseas they had left via Vancouver, and when he had suffered a duty-ending leg wound they had shipped him back to port to rehabilitate. He had fallen in love with the city in the space of two weeks, and never returned to the Prairies, except to visit relatives long since dead. And the war ended and was soon forgotten, mercifully so.

Vancouver had been a city of hope in the days when he had been a young man. Trees as thick as a man’s average height had been commonplace within city limits, or so he remembered. He stared out of the window at the skyline now dotted by imposing skyscrapers. A flash of wonder, of insight crossed his features in his nostalgic reverie. I saw dead rotting bodies when I was twenty, and faced the prospect of never walking again when I was twenty-one but I had hope for the future, he thought. Why is there no hope in that boy’s eyes? That question nagged away at him for the rest of the evening, but no answer came.

When John walked out into the hallway he espied Debbie waiting for him down by his locker. He ambled over taking care to meet her stare but checking out the rest of her all the same, as he had done without thinking many times before. She was wearing a long ankle-length skirt today and that suited her well. She carried a few too many pounds to look really good in tight jeans. Her red hair fell down to her shoulders and freckles dotted her face. No, she wasn’t beautiful but she had the classic girl next door look. And she was a nice girl, which counted for a lot.
“You got me in trouble today,” was the first thing he said to her.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Johnsie, wohnsie,” she replied. “Can you ever forgive me?”
John laughed for the first time that day, and it made his head hurt. “You know, it’s been a shitty day so far, are you going to improve it somehow?”
“Dinner at my place? Mom’s with her boyfriend uptown, and I got the place all to myself, excluding my little brother of course.”
Man oh man, this could turn out to be a real nice day, John thought to himself. The other alternative had been to go home and fish something out of the icebox. John’s parents were never home Monday evening, and he was a lousy cook.
“Sounds great, and of course you haven’t forgotten about business?”
She frowned at him, and told him to wait.

On the walk home, she asked him if he could drop into the liquor store to pick up some booze for her. He agreed to do so, but declined the offer to share, as his belly groaned in protest at the thought, She lived within walking distance of the school, and the store was on the way. Debbie lived with her mother and younger brother in a social housing complex in downtown eastside. “Look over there,” she told John as they walked, and pointed to a back-alley. “Don’t ever take that side street as a short-cut. One of my kid brother’s friends was playing in there and he stepped on a needle.”
“Crap! Thanks for telling me.”
“Just thought you should know. It’s called Condom Alley ‘cause the hookers use it a lot too. Farther west, near the sugar refinery, it’s a lot worse.”
“How’s the kid who got stabbed?” “He wasn’t stabbed too badly, but he has to go in for blood tests in a couple of months. It was a dirty needle.”

They kept silent the rest of the way to Debbie’s place. It looked relatively decent, as far as housing complexes went, but like most of its kind, the walls separating each flat were paper-thin. Walking down the hallways, John could hear various radios and TVs playing, as well as human conversation, and even the flush of a toilet.
“You should be here Saturday night after welfare week. What a fucking zoo,” Debbie said, as she opened the door to the two-bedroom apartment.
Her brother Sebastian was waiting for her, begging for dinner in the way small boys do. He looked about seven years old. He stopped whining as soon as he saw John, and ran away to hide, half in shyness, half in embarrassment.
“Sebastian, come back here. This is John, and he is a friend of ours.”
Sebastian peeped his head around the corner. John smiled at him and put out his hand. “Put ‘er there, big guy.”
He spent the next half-hour playing with Sebastian while Debbie prepared dinner. During the meal, John and Sebastian amused themselves by trying to gross out each other. Sebastian squealed in delight when John opened his mouth, stuffed full of hamburger helper.
“John, stop that dammit. He’s bad enough without encouragement,” Debbie yelled, and she slapped him on the shoulder.

After dinner she made coffee for the two of them and shooed Sebastian off to watch TV in the next room. She took a plastic baggie from the drawer and placed it on the table in front of John. He opened it up. There were four Thai marijuana sticks. He took out two twenties out of his wallet and gave them to her.
“Thanks Deb, I got a buddy who really appreciates this. Says he wants to impress some girl with it.”
She shrugged. “Must be doing alright with money if he’s willing to pay twice the street price.” “Oh yeah, his family does alright with money. I need to know something though, Debbie, does this come from Rob’s cache?”
She smiled. “No, Rob ain’t the only source in the city, you know.”
“No, I guess not.” She took him by the hand and led him into her bedroom and closed the door. John drew her near but she pushed him away.
“Don’t treat me like a slut. You’re a nicer guy than that.”
John hugged her and did nothing else for a long while.
“Do you want a back-rub? I heard a rumour you football guys like back-rubs.”
“You heard right, but be gentle on my right side.”John took off his shirt and fell face-down on the bed.
She sat on top of him and started on his shoulders.”
“John?’
“Mmmmmm, yeah?”
“How come there’s bad blood between you and Rob?”
He told her about breaking up the fight between Rob and Scott. “…but nothing has happened yet. Maybe Rob has forgotten about it.”
“Maybe he’s waiting for football season to end.”
“Shit, maybe you’re right.”
She felt his muscles tense under her hands. She massaged a little bit harder and dropped the subject. Ten minutes later, when felt completely relaxed under her hands, she asked if he had had enough. He groaned, took her hand, and rolled over onto his back to face her.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Six: Cribbage

Chretian let out a heavy sigh as he drove his Honda Accord over the Lion’s Gate bridge. He was facing north as the sun was setting, which on a clear day meant a magnificant view of the mountains that loomed over Vancouver like guardian giants. Unfortunately for today, mist obscured the whitecaps and a light drizzle dirtied his windshield. I bet there will no sign of blue sky until February, he thought gloomily. Only three more months, maybe. It took well over half-an-hour to reach his destination, a modest-looking rancher in a nice surburb of North Vancouver. However, Chretian was not fooled; if put on the market tommorrow, the owner could reasonably expect over a quarter of a million dollars for it. It had been bought over twenty years ago for under thirty thousand, and the owner had also acquired several other properties over the years. I wonder why Black is still at Laurentian, Chretian thought, when all he has to do is just sell one of his houses and live happily ever after playing golf.

But he already knew the answer. The idealistic principal of Laurentian had requested a transfer to the East Van school which had threatened to become a dumping ground for incompetent teachers and low-income inner-city teenagers. The drop-out rate for students had averaged over sixty percent the last two years before Black had arrived. He had managed to cut it to forty, while simultaneously pissing off the teacher’s union and the board of trustees. Chretian’s boss was not likely to ever make superintendent, but he got results.

Black’s wife Pauline let him in at the front door, chatted briefly, and then disappeard. She left her husband and his friends alone on Thursday nights, a practice dating back to the seventies. The three old farts gather together once again, Chretian thought. When he entered the living room, he noted Black and Holstein had already started a game of cribbage. Black looked at Chretian, glanced at his watch, and returned his stare to the cards in his hand. Chretian knew without looking that Holstein was smiling. One old friend poking fun at another, it would have been upsetting if Chretian had arrived on time, or if Black had not noticed his tardiness. Chretian helped himself to a drink at the bar without asking permission. Holstein already had his customary single malt scotch and Black his club soda, who still went to AA meetings the odd week. Chretian made small talk and waited for the game to end.

The two men were playing cribbage, with six cards dealt and two discarded into the “kitty,” which is given to the players on alternate turns. Points are given for runs, pairs, and any combinations of cards adding up to fifteen. Points are also scored during a round of bidding, the object being to get as close to a count of thirty one as possible. The game combined tactical bidding as well as strategical acumen in knowing which cards to keep and which to throw away. All three men had played the game since childhood. All could play in their sleep but its familiarity made it an agreeable way to pass the time, and it drew less blood than poker, and did not need as many people. They always played for a penny a point and for bragging rights. Holstein won the first game by a mere three points, with Black charging at the end. The principal of Laurentian snorted when Holstein placed his peg in the winning hole of the cribbage board, and then meticulously placed three pennies in Holstein’s pile. Black hated to lose, to the delight of Chretian who enjoyed the role of court jester in the company of friends.

“Tabernac Ben, a few more losses like that and you will have to start listening to the pleas of those commission-lusty realtors who come knocking on your door,” Chretian said.
Black snorted again. “Do you know who is the most persistent fellow? Some idiot I had the misfortune to teach to way back in ‘73. Now the twit makes more money than all three of us put together, cutting deals with aldermen to get land rezoned. Every two or three months he invites himself over to talk about `the good old days,’ but all I can remember is him sassing me behind my back in class.”
“There is an entire generation of Vancouverites that honour your memory,” Chretian said, in a groveling tone strictly intended to needle.

Holstein was unusually silent this evening which slightly irritated Chretian so he concentrated his barbs upon the old soldier, hoping to raise a grin. Black cut the deck to begin a game of three man cribbage.
“It is a pity that you didn’t catch the football game last Sunday, Arnold,” Black said. “It was a joy to watch our wonderful Tigers destroy those west side softies.”
Arnold flickered and showed some signs of coming to life. “I went to a few games earlier in the year but lost interest when that Fuller boy -Woody is his first name?- got injured. You can’t win at the high school level without your number one running back healthy.”
Black agreed. “I spoke to Jones and he told me that the doctor had misdiagnosed the injury. Just a pulled muscle, not a ruptured disk. It looks like we do have an excellent chance at the play-offs. My, my, you should have seen the defence, they were like madmen.”
Black had played university football until a knee injury had cut his career short. It still bothered him on rainy days like today, and he guessed it would until the day he died. Chretian didn’t give a damn about football and said so to the others. Born in Quebec, he only cared about hockey: More specifically, he cared about the Canadiens and that was it.

Black won the first game easily on the strength of a few well-played bluffs and the surplus of sevens and eights that led to high-scoring hands in cribbage. He recovered a little bit more of his good nature back. Chretian won the second game by a narrow margin over Black with Holstein placing a distant third. The English teacher then excused himself to refill his glass for the second time that evening. He sat out the next game to watch Chretian and Black go one on one. Black took an early lead and seemed to be on the verge of skunking Chretian but the wily jester scored points in the bidding rounds to keep it close. At one point he dug into his bag of tricks, and pretended to clean the inside of his ear with his little finger. Black ignored the obvious ploy to distract his attention, made the correct play and placed his peg within striking distance of the winning hole. Chretian cursed and played the last round with disinterest, knowing he had already lost.

Holstein broke the silence he had kept all evening. “What do both of you know about the Poleshaw boy?”
The other two stopped and thought about the question, rather than ask why Holstein had posed it. They were used to his shifty moods and abrupt queries.
Chretian spoke first. “A fine student -for this school- who we nearly lost. He went out with a girl last year who was a nasty piece of work. She got herself pregnant; not by him, but she held the family up to ransom. The boy very nearly dropped out of school to find a job.”
“His marks have ranged from mediocre to excellent and I do believe he is university material. He plays on the football team as a tight end.
Black was justifiably proud of his photographic memory. “There’s something else about him that sets him apart.”
Chretian snapped his fingers. “I know what you mean. Think now, who does John associate with? I mean, who belongs in his peer group?”
“I know he pals around with Scott Shartrand, that Jamaican boy.”
“Exactly, and who else? The boy is a loner but he gets along well with everyone,” Chretian said, “That is not something that can be said of everyone in this collection of tribes that we call a high school. John is not an everyman but…”
“A leader,” Holstein spoke from his perch at the window. “He might become a leader of men someday but I spoke with him yesterday and right now he is a very deeply troubled boy.”
Black could not resist a riposte. “No doubt he is, Arnold, but half the student population is deeply troubled. Practically every second student shows sign of parent neglect, either because the father pissed off long ago or because of booze, or inadequate nutrition, oh hell, pick your favourite combination. You people know better than anyone else, sometimes we spend more time babysitting than we do teaching.”
“The parent-teacher night at this school is truly a joke, I’ll admit that,” Chretian said.

Holstein could not help but think of the teenagers who did not even stay in school. He remembered a girl who once came to his class last year with bruises on her face. He had called social services but nothing had ever come of his complaint. Three days after her sixteenth birthday, the girl had dropped out of school. Holstein looked out of the window again. It’s the rain that is bringing back such depressing memories.
Black interrupted the brief silence. “You know, this reminds of a study, or a master’s thesis, that was done down in the United States. It advanced the hypothesis that North American generations come in cycles of seven. That there are seven generations that follow in lockstep order. For example, one generation is civic-minded, with strong belief in the federal government, like the generation that fought in the Second World War. Or that another is a rebellious generation, like the spiritualists of the mid-nineteenth century; the generation of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was fascinating stuff.”
“What does it say about my generation, that of the late forties and fifties?” Chretian asked.
“I do believe,” Black answered with a small smile, “the label given was the `selfish’ generation.” “And what of the generation just entering adulthood today?”
“It is the lost generation, much like that of the nineteen twenties. All they are missing is a war.” “Fascinating stuff indeed,” sniffed Chretian, “Shall we deal another game of cribbage, before I drink all the booze, so the label fits the bottle?”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Seven: Jamaican Patties

November

The four boys stood in front of Dickie’s Jamaican Patties’ shop, facing each other like four corners of an imperfect square. They hunched their shoulders and regarded each other warily, with a slight distaste, as they set about with the inquiry.
“Damn,” Mike said, “I know it was Woody that did it. His fingerprints are all over the job.”
Woody stood tall. “If it had been me, I would have told you. I always confess. Hell, I’m proud of them.”
Scott cast an eye over at John. “You know what? Pole-man always looks so damn innocent when this situation arises, but I don’t think his shit smells sweeter than anyone else’s.”
John started to laugh, and simply pointed a finger at Mike, who began a profuse denial. Their voices came together to make a babble.
The commotion drew out the proprietor of the take-out eatery. “An’ what the fuck are you little ‘ooligans up to, eh?” he quavered.
The tone was amusing in itself, a thin reedy warble, incongrous with the three-hundred-pound Jamaican who possessed it. Dickie had a laugh though, that could project itself across stadiums. He took three steps forward and then stopped as if he had come up against a brick wall. He sniffed.
“You sons of bitches!” he said, “You be chasing away my customers with your damn smelly farts.”
“Dickie, I tell ya, it was your nephew Woody,” Scott said. “You see how it’s staying in one place, and not moving around with the wind? Only Woody cuts heavy farts like that.”
“Yeah, it runs in the family,” John said.
Dickie turned to look at John in mock-contempt. “For sure, no puny little white man could cut a mighty fart like that,” he said. He went back inside to the kitchen.

It was the first day in weeks that the sun had broken through the clouds and bestowed a few rays on the city. There had been a rainbow in the east that morning. Now the sun was sinking in scattered cloud, orange turning into pink, ending what had been a good day. Earlier that afternoon there had been a pep rally at Laurentian High in support of the football team. They had clinched second place in the league with a convincing victory over Pearson’s Wolves last Sunday. They had the momentum; the first place team had lost its star wide receiver that same day as well. Coach Robinson was already checking his calendar for visits down south.
“Damn, you gotta admit, we got the best looking cheerleaders in the whole lower mainland,” Scott had said at the rally.
They had been leading the school assembly in the Tigers’ fight song, while the football team had formed an abashed line, scoping the females not fifteen feet away.
“My, my, my, Danielle’s got a nice ass,” Scott said.
“Not for long babe,” Mike answered.
“What’re you telling me?”
“Check her belly man, she’s starting to show.”
“No – aw shit nah – don’t say the evil word man.”
“Pregnant. You’re too late again,” Mike laughed.
Scott’s lust turned to contempt. “Does she know who the daddy is?”
“Damn, you just don’t keep your ear to the ground, do you? The word is that it’s Jim’s boy, or girl, whatever.”
“Jim? That ugly mother… with Danielle? Please it hurts bad enough already, don’t lie to me any longer.”
“Aargh! He’s ugly, but he’s one of Robbie’s boys. You know something? Blow ain’t never gonna stop coming and coming until the chicks stop putting out for it.”
“And now she’s a cokehead too.”
“Nah, not really, just a party girl. You know, you should get your head out of the Bible once in awhile, you know what I mean?”
“You should try reading it yourself, maybe you could learn something.”

While Mike and Scott carried on their conversation sotto voice, John had been making eyes at Debbie, who was down near the end of the cheerleader’s line. Even between the cheers and the somersaults, she managed to make eye contact a couple of times. John had been thinking long and hard about her lately, asking himself why he hadn’t made it a regular habit of sampling her cuisine. It was because of Jennifer, he told himself, who intruded on his thoughts like a bubble of foolish longing in a sea of common sense. Debbie capped off a particularly rousing cheer by doing the splits, and she flashed a wide smile at John. The bubble sank below the depths of the sea, and he smiled back. A rolled up piece of napkin hit John in the side of the head.

“Hey stupid, Ima talking to you,” Mike said.They were sitting in the Patty Shop, waiting for a delicious meal of ground meat wrapped in a thin tangy crust.
“What?”
“I asked why you got that stupid grin on your face.”
“I was thinking, Mike, about something. I was thinking that even though my life ain’t too shit hot, even though I got a lot of problems to work through, I got one strong thing going for me.” “Huh, whassa that?”
“My name ain’t Mike.”
Woody and Scott laughed.
“Keep talking Poleman, I always play better after a meal of white meat.”
Woody grabbed Mike around the shoulders. “That’s it man, get mad, get mean, and clear a wide, wide lane for me so I can just walk my ass into the end zone.”

The staccato rhythm of male talk would continue until the food arrived, alternating between mock-bravado outburst and sly or blunt attempts to prick each other’s ego. It was a ritual of testing codified into jazzy improvisations. They seeked unconsciously to test the fibre of themselves and each other. If the fibre was found mutually compatible, a bond would be formed over time. In such ways were tribes, armies, and nations brought into being. Woody looked out the window and nudged Mike with his elbow.
“Check it out, I give her a grade of eight point three for this neighbourhood.”
Mike looked out the window for a long considering moment.
“Ooh, you’re way too harsh, what’s wrong with that pretty little thing? She should be working Seymour Street, the high class district and not this part of town.”

A whore was walking down the opposite side of the street, wearing a tight miniskirt and a blouse that was two sizes too small. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. She had the brassy walk of a hooker on her way to her station. The sun was setting. John furrowed his eyebrows for a moment and then stuck his head out the door.
“Tigers forever, Tigers rule!” he shouted.She glanced over to the Patty Shop and saw the football jackets that the boys were wearing. She raised a clenched fist.
“Yah Tigers, go Tigers, go!” she yelled back, and walked onward to her business.
There was an appreciative ten second delay in conversation while the four boys scoped the departing figure.
“I bet I know why she works the Eastside instead of West End,” Woody said, and without waiting for a prompt: “Pimps rule Seymour Street. Here, she can work solo and keep all the money for herself… if she’s tough enough to keep her station.”
“You know her?” Scott asked John.
“She was in Grade 11 at Laurentian High when we were freshmen. Don’t you remember? You had a crush on her. I think her name is… Beth, or Elizabeth.”
“Ow, shit, she’s aged.”
John did not mention that Beth had been a friend of his ex-girlfriend, and seeing Beth made him wonder what his ex was up to nowadays. He suspected he didn’t want to know.
“You know something Woody?” Mike said, “if you work real hard and graduate from high school in five years time you got the chance to be that bitch’s boss.”
“So maybe you should be nice to me and I’ll give you some work when you’re in and out of the Salvation Army rehab clinic.”
“Gees, can you guys cut it out? You’re depressing the hell out of me,” John said, and he buried his head in his arms.
“Ah, don’t worry about yourself, Pole-man, I fore-see in your future a nice cushy desk job with a cute secretary that swallows.” Woody said.
He had a gleam in his eye, same as a fighter had when he sets his opponent up with a jab. “Why’s that?” John said.
“Because you’re white,” Woody said.
“Because you’re white,” Scott echoed, and the two Jamaicans laughed.
Mike sat up in indignation. “What about me? I’m white too.” “Naw, naw,” Scott said, still laughing, “You’re white-trash white. John is white-white. You know, WASP-white.”
John couldn’t think of anything to say.

Dickie broke through the swinging doors with a massive plateful of hot patties. The boys looked at them with more longing in their eyes than when they looked at the hooker. Dickie set them down on the table and greedy hands grabbed at the meat pies with tangy crust that melted in the mouth.
“Now, who’s going to pay for them?” Dickie cried out, “I’m running a business here, dammit, not a food bank.”
Guilty eyes looked everywhere except at Dickie.
“Heh, heh, heh,” The heavy laughter pealed from the depths. “One of these days, maybe when one of you boys walk in with a pretty thing hanging on your arm, I will grab you by the scruff of the neck and make you wash dishes, in payment of these wonnerful patties.” He walked back to the kitchen, giggling to himself, mumbling “made you look, made you sweat.”
“It ain’t such a bad job,” Scott said. “Owning a little place like this means you never go hungry, and you never go out of business. People always got to eat.”
“Yeah right man, mmmph,” Mike said.
Scott duly noted he was missing out on the food and cut short his pondering. It took less than ten minutes for eight hands to transfer the food to four mouths. Football burned a lot of calories.

After gorging themselves the boys sat back in their seats and let the meal digest. Woody disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and returned with coffee. They relaxed. John felt an urge coming on.
“Uh, boys, ‘scuse for a minute.”
“It musta been a good meal…” Scott said.
“…’cause John’s gotta take a shit,” Mike said.
Woody waited until John’s out of earshot before saying: “If he decides to choke the chicken while he’s in the can, who do you think he’s gonna think of?”
“Gees, thassa tough one,” Mike said, “Everybody in the whole damn school saw him and Debbie undressing each other with their eyes.”

John had to pass through the kitchen to reach the broken down broom closet that passed for a bathroom in the Patty Shop. Dickie’s place was small enough to escape the municipal regulation requiring public his-and-hers. The big Jamaican chastised him: “Now don’t be stinking up my throne room too bad. Just do your business and no funny stuff.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” John said, and shut the door. “Hey Dickie, do you still have that filthy magazine in here; whaddaya call it? Big Boobs or something like that?”
“Dammit, don’t you be reading that – you’re too young – and don’t be doing any unnatural acts in there; you know what I mean.”

John chuckled a few times and wondered why when guys got together they talked so much about bathroom functions. He remembered to check for toilet paper. One time Dickie had stripped the bathroom of paper and Mike had been caught taking a dump with nothing to wipe his arse. It had been hilarious to see Mike stagger out of the can with his pants around his ankles and a dirty bum, begging for just a few sheets. Unfortunately, when John had pulled the trick at home Rachel had not found it so amusing. Neither had John’s father for that matter.

When John came out of the washroom he noticed Dickie was giving a funny look.
“What’s up man, did I forget to zip up or what?”
“Nah, nah, mon, just come over here. Uncle Dickie wants to just have a little talk with you.”
I hope he doesn’t wants to grab my nipples and give me a tit-twister, John thought, I hate it when he does that.
“What’s up, big guy?” Dickie moved closer and lowered his voice, in a friendly sort of way. “So what’s up with my little nephew, eh?”
John cocked his head and gazed at the far wall, as if he was deeply considering the question. “Not much. He had a nice game last week – too bad you missed it – it looks like his back has healed up real nice.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” Dickie laughed, “that’s good to hear but I think you know that’s maybe not what I’m fishing for, eh? But’s that good the way you answer the question. You’re tricky, yes, I think you should be called Tricky John.”
John smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Dickie was a good friend but he was also an adult. It’s a code every teen instinctively goes by: parents and guardians must not know. Maybe Woody was screwing up his life but John was not to judge, nor to tell. Woody was also in process of forming an identity, of making himself a complete person. John unconsciously understood that process in such a way that every person over the age of twenty-one forgets. Parents and guardians, if they were to come in possession of such private information, could only screw up the process.

Dickie continued: “I know Woody is a good boy deep inside but his Mama, she spoils him, treats him like an angel. But all boys his age are little devils, full of mischief, and too silly to help but get into trouble, mmmmm?”
“He ain’t so damn little. What do you want me to do Dickie? If I see him smoking a doob, do you want me to knock it out of his hand and come running to you?”
“No – shit, a little ganja never hurts anybody and I already told him that – but lately he has been acting weird. Paranoid, like. You try a little trick on him. He can’t stand for anyone to be behind him. He is always sitting in the goddamn corner of the room.”
“Huh, maybe he thinks he’s knocked up some girl, and he scared shitless that her old man is gonna come after him.”
Dickie thought for a moment and broke into a wide grin. “Yah, damn, that’s probably it. The boy can’t help but run into pussy problems – it’s in his blood.”
John laughed and made to leave but Dickie put his hand on his shoulder. “Can I ask you a favour maybe? You keep an eye out for my crazy nephew?”
“Crap, Dickie, he outweighs me by forty pounds!”
“Thassa not important. My crazy nephew thinks because he has big biceps the world is gonna roll over for him like a bitch in heat. But it don’t work that way in this white man’s world.” “Man, it seems everybody has a problem with the colour of my skin today and it’s starting to piss me off.”
“Mon, don’t get pissed off. We don’t mean to say that way. I know some Jamaican who are whiter than you’ll ever be mon, even if they know the words to every friggin’ song Bob Marley ever wrote. White don’t mean complexion, white means money and knowledge and hunger for power, ‘specially the last one. It also means being able to walk wherever you want to. Mike is just as likely to get a cop’s nightstick up his bum as my crazy nephew. There’s some little shit -I think Rob is his name – I don’t trust that honkie as far I can throw my left nut. But you boy, you got the hunger for something better. You wanna go upscale maybe?”
“Who doesn’t?”
“Lots of people boy. This whole damn neighbourhood is full of people who want only a tight pussy and a warm place to shit. Those that want something more are too dumb to realize that thieving leads only to the Okalla pen. Be the eyes for my nephew along with Scott. He’s got the hunger too.”
“Woody’s a teammate. It’s in the code that I gotta look out for him anyways.”
“And he will take care of you as well. If he doesn’t, I will.”
“Thanks Dickie.”

John went out to the dining area to find Mike and Scott staring glumly at the walls.
“Where’s Woody?”
“He’s outside with Rob,” Mike answered.
John went outside, ignoring the coldness at the pit of his stomach. He saw Woody giving the same amount of attention to Rob that a one-year-old puppy might give to his master. Rob stared straight at John while Woody ignored him.
Do you want to go out to a nightclub or do something tonight? Woody asked Rob. I don’t know, Rob replied. There’s some pizza in the car, can you get it Woody? Woody scuttled about to the other side of Rob’s Trans Am and opened the passenger side door.
“Hi John,” Rob said.
“Eh, Rob, what’s up?” John said.
“Not much. You ready for the big game this week. You getting hyped up?”
“Oh yeah, I feel like I could kill someone right now.”

Rob laughed. Woody returned with a pizza box and opened it for Rob. Inside were three small pieces, and they all looked stone-cold as day-old turds.
Hmmm, Rob said, I’m just not hungry for pizza, maybe you want some Woody?
Yeah sure Rob, Woody said, and he took a piece out of the box. He walked a few steps away from Rob and started to munch. Rob stared at John, and vice-versa.
“Son-of-a-bitch, did ya see all that pussy at the school assembly today. I tell ya, it’s all ours anyways, but they’ll do damn well anything for us if we take home the city championship,” Rob said.
John shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll take them.”
Rob looked away from John, toward the Patty Shop window, at the sky, at the street. His left hand strayed toward his shirt pocket, and then darted around his jeans.
“Damn, I’m outta smokes, I’ve got a nic fit and I’m outta smokes,” Rob said. He looked at Woody. “Hey, can you get me some smokes from the store down at the corner. Here’s a fin.”
Woody said okay, sure Rob, and trotted away holding the five in his hand.

John stared at the departing back of Woody. He tried hard not to look disgusted, but failed. Rob read his expression and laughed in a quiet sort of way.
“Lemme ask you a question John, and give me a honest answer.”
“Shoot,” John said in a dull monotone. He had changed his face back to a blank slate.
“Nice, John, can’t read you now. That’s a good poker face you got there.”
John didn’t reply, and Rob continued. “Anyways, have you thought about the future? I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’m outta this dump, onward to bigger and better things. Graduation and I’m gone. Not bad considering all the res-ponsibities I got, getting a diploma and helping out on the football team, eh?”
“You’ve got the respect of the school.”
Rob slammed his fist down on the hood of his car. “You’re damn right I do! You don’t know how it used to be before I came on the scene. The school used to be a toss-up between the Red Eagles and the Bandidoes. That new hotshit prinicipal struts around like he’s responsible for keeping peace in Laurentian – my ass!
“It used to be fucking war as soon as you entered the school parking lot; had to keep a bat in your locker if not a blade. If it hadn’t been stopped, well, you’re looking at inner-fucking-city Detroit. You don’t know, you can’t. And now I’m leaving this school – this franchise that I paid a heavy price for – but it was worth every damn penny.”
“And now the wanna-bees are lining up to kiss your ass,” John said.
“You’re quick, yeah, you know what’s what. Maybe you’ve already figured out that an ass-kisser don’t have the balls to mind the store, know what I mean? I need men of respect, not junkies,” Rob said, and he pointed his thumb at the direction Woody had taken, and sniffed. “The answer is no,” John said.
“Of course it is,” Rob said in a satisfied way, and he tried to stare John down. He failed.
“It’s only the beginning of the school year, John, and you’ve got a lot of time to think about the money, the pussy, and the power that comes from being the man. Oh look, my faithful servant has returned.”

They both cast their eyes down the street to look at Woody, holding a pack of cigarettes in one hand, wearing a big shit-eating grin on his face. He handed the smokes to Rob.
I feel like going to a nightclub and taking care of some business, Rob said to Woody.
Hey, sounds like a great time to me, Woody replied. They both got into the car, Woody in the driver’s seat. Rob rolled down the window.
“Life is soooo short, Pole-man, but it can be soooo sweet,” he said.The Trans Am zoomed away with a short squeal of the tires.

John went back inside the Patty Shop. He went to the the phone that was sitting on the countertop and made a quick call. He then sat down with Mike and Scott, who looked as if they hadn’t twitched since John went out to talk with Rob.
“So how did it feel? Can you fart now without making a sound?” Mike asked.
“Ay, I didn’t bend over,” John said.
“Naw, you didn’t, we watched you. We were ready to back you up if Rob was to try anything,” Scott said.
Mike’s eyes grew wide for a moment. “Oh yes of course, we were quite ready to dash out and get our heads kicked in because John wanted to play Big Man with Mighty Cock.”
All three laughed, short and bitter.
“Why did you go outside John? You were right before, nobody can help Woody except Woody,” Scott said.
John thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I guess I wanted to prove that I still ain’t scared of him.”
Mike looked upward as if in supplication to the angels. “Oh please baby Jesus, tell me this boy is just possessed, and he’s not really saying these things.”
“Ah, you boys all worry too much, Rob’s gonna forget he even came here after he gets fucked, and fucked up tonight. Anyways, I gotta go,” John said. He got up to leave.
“Ciao, baby,” Mike said.
“Get your beauty sleep baby, we’re going to war pretty soon,” Scott said.
John made a sign of the fist and left. Mike spoke in an urgent tone not three seconds later. “What gonna happen after the game, man? There’s a truce on ‘cause we’re all members of the same team, but what happens after football season?”
“I don’t know, bro, I just don’t know.” Scott said.

* * *

When John reached the main thoroughfare of E. Hastings Street he turned right, and walked in the opposite direction from his home. It was dark now, and he looked up to see if he could pick out one or two stars that had not been blotted out by the city lights, He reached a Seven-Eleven corner store and went inside to play a video game. A familiar car pulled up, John exited the store and climbed into the Honda Crx. “Babe, babe, baby. Howzit going?” Timothy said by way of greeting. He looked cheery. John smiled back and clenched the offered hand in a power shake. “So I see Momma let you play with one of her toys tonight.”
“Oh man, she loves me. I am her reason for existing,” Tim said, and they both laughed.
Tim stepped hard on the gas to accelerate away from the curb. He took a tight corner, too fast. “Nice,” John said, “but my first car is gonna be something nice and roomy, maybe a Cutlass Supreme or a Ford Ltd. You know, something that can take six chicks in the back seat.”
“Arrgh, American cars are shit,” Tim said. They drove around for a bit longer and Tim spoke again. “Did you see that article in the newspaper?”
“No, what?”
“Another priest in Manitoba was charged with diddling.”
“No, God, not another one.”
“Yeah, this one happened at some sort of academy and from what I can tell of the article, the whole frigging staff is under suspicion.”
“Man, that shit makes me puke.”
“It’s a different ole world then from what they told us in Sunday school, ain it?. It reminds of when we were both altar boys, when during the service we’d hide behind the sanctuary and try to pull up each other’s robes, you know, pretend we were queer.”
John laughed. “God, that was funny as hell, one hundred people less than twenty feet away praying and singing and you trying so hard not to laugh your head off. So many times we came close to catching holy shit.”
“Don’t seem so funny now, does it?”
“What, ah relax, you’re no more a fairy than I am.”
“That’s not what I meant.” John thought for a minute. The humour had come from the sacriliege; that’s why it had been so funny, so exciting. Their adolescent teasing paled in comparision with what was being uncovered now.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“You still believe in God?” Tim asked.
“Oh yeah. And I believe he’s pissed off too.”

Tim drew out his wallet and tossed it onto John’s lap. John counted out a number of bills and shoved them into his pocket. He reached inside his inner jean jacket pocket.
“I haven’t dealt with this dealer before so I don’t know about the quality. I have good hopes though.”
In the palm of John’s hand were the Thai sticks he had bought from Debbie. Tim took them and carefully put them in the left breast pocket of his shirt. They said nothing more about the transaction. Just before dropping John off at his house, Tim asked John if he was going to the party that Tim was having a week from Saturday.
“Oh yeah, football season will be over and I’ll be in the mood to loosen up, I guess.”
“I think you will want to be there babe,” Tim said, “All the right people will be there, if you know what I mean.”
As John got out of the car Tim winked. “Come as a conquering hero, champ.”
John held up a closed fist. “Tigers forever.”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Eight: Glory

As John looked over his right shoulder, he saw the tip of the football spiralling towards him. He caught it, and it felt small in his hands like a grapefruit; that was good. A blur caught his attention and he stutter-stepped to the right. The blur slowed up and stopped. “Nice snatch,” Mike said, and he loped away.

The Tigers were at one end of the field, doing their last-minute warm-ups and drills before the game. Their opponents were at the other end, engaged in a mass-stretching exercise.

To play any sport well is to live in the present. To play at one’s peak it is necessary to cease conscious function of the higher levels of the brain. By numerous repetitions the actions condusive to playing well can be hard-wired into the nervous system. It is possible and necessary to play the piano faster than one can think, if one wants to play it well. More than ninety percent of all football plays last three seconds or shorter. There is no time to react, only to execute.

The drills served two purposes. One was to stretch the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The other was to trigger the part of the brain that unleashed unconscious movement. Such a process cannot be forced or thought out; it can only be allowed to happened. The martial disciplines of East Asia base much of their philosophy on that simple observation. Successful completion of such a state of grace often brings about complete eradication of the conscious state. It is considered bad luck to tell a baseball pitcher that he is pitching no-hit ball, the same as it is to tell a quarterback that he has not yet thrown an interception.

A wide receiver dropped an easy pass in one of the down-and-out drills; in regular practice that might have brought about curses or hoots of derision. There was no reaction from anyone today. A few seconds passed and such a mistake was instinctively forgotten. Reinforcing the positive and ignoring the negative was the second great psychological necessity of preparation. When a slotback caught a pass that was thrown slightly behind him, those few closest to him let out grunts of approval.

It all brought about the trigger of the fight-or-flight instinctive response, releasing drugs into the bloodstream more potent than any found on the street or in the pharmacy. It was the warrior’s addiction; it is why grown men, even after material affluence, will allowed themselves to be battered to pieces on the giridon.

A heavy mist covered the football field, stopping just short of being a fog. Every now and again drops fell from the sky. Vancouver was still half-asleep on this Sunday morning. The humidity of the air and the lack of traffic brought the fecund smell of the earth to the boys. Never is one so alive on the field of play or on the battlefield. For many this would be the physical highlight of their lives. Their senses would be so sharpened that years later many of them would remember specific plays called, who stood beside them, the smell of sweat mixed with dirt, and the grunt of each painful hit.

Last night John had dreamt the powerful dreams of adolescence. The music had played but only in the background, alone he had stood in a vast temperate jungle far from civilization not only in distance but in time. The landscape had left him awestruck in its complexity and vividness. After he had woken up, he had pondered how the brain was able to store so much information necessary to project such a dream-world. Later in the fantasy he had not been alone; a female persona had been beside him, although he could not remember the physical details of her face or body. They had escaped from a vast primitive castle built not of stone but of grassy earth. They had been running from a body of men intent upon capture; running, running into the endless jungle. The clarity of the dream carried over to the conscious state of the morning; John could count the pores in his arms and focus on the leaves on the branches of trees hundreds of metres away. He heard the solitary horn of a car more than a mile away. He had never felt so focused.

Ricky Jones drilled a hard pass into his chest just as the referee whistled for a coin toss. The two teams moved to opposite sides of the field. Laurentian kicked the ball not two minutes later to begin the game.

On the sidelines one of the senior offensive lineman began to tell a joke to fellow members of the pit. He told it to calm their nerves, to slow the flow of adrenalin pumping through their veins that might otherwise cause an error of enthusiam. John was included in this group.

“Okay, listen up all of ya. Hey, Freddy, shaddup, geeze ya got the attention span of retarded puppy. I’m gonna tell a fucking joke… … There’s this bunny hopping through the forest singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m pig, pig, pig.’ And he’s singin’ this song right, as he’s hopping away through the forest. So he hops past this grizzly bear and the bear says `Whoa, slow down there stupid. You ain’t no pig. Pigs don’t have long floppy ears and a bushy little tail and they don’t hop around on two legs. I do believe you’re a bunny rabbit.’

“And the bunny rabbit stops singing for a minute and he checks out the bear from head to toe. `Yeah right man,’ the bunny says, `I ain’t no pig,’ and he hops away. But sure enough, not five minutes later, the bunny starts singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ Okay, guys, enough of the joke for now, it’s our turn to play.”

The other team had turned over the ball, so the offense of the Laurentian Tigers took the field. The plan was simple; as a matter of fact it was the same strategy they had used in every game of the season. Hand the ball off to Woody and pound, pound, pound. Every once in a while Ricky would throw a short pass to keep the defense honest. By the middle of the second quarter the Tigers had probed enough to find the weakness in the defense of the opposing team. By having John assist the right offensive tackle in blocking the left defensive end, it left a gaping hole in the defensive that was simply not adequately filled by the outside linebacker, who was twice run over by Woody. The other team was forced to bring up its safeties to stuff the running game. Unfortunately for them, their corners were not skilled enough to cover the Tigers wide receivers one-on-one. Two quick passes later and the Tigers had their first six of the game.

At half-time the senior lineman continued with his joke: “Where was I? Oh yeah. So the bunny rabbit is still singing this stupid song `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ And this fox spots the rabbit and starts chasing him. The rabbit runs down a hole. So the fox is standing there pissed off and yells down the hole `So what the fuck do you know anyways? You’re not a pig. You got long ears and a cute fuzzy tail. You’re just a dumb rabbit.’ And the rabbit answers from the hole `yeah right, I’m a rabbit, now screw off.’ After the fox leaves, the rabbit jumps out of the hole and hops away. singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’”

The coach came into the lockerroom, interrupting the joke, and told the boys that they were doing a good job and that it was time to play the second half. The score was ten to nothing for the Tigers. In the third play of the second half the other team intercepted a pass by Ricky that shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place. One more drive would have sewn up the win for the Tigers, they would have ripped the hearts out of their opponents. Instead, they were cheered and the Tigers were momentarily disappointed.

Rob cursed the interception and slapped the helmets of every player on the starting defense, Scott’s included. Now was no time to remember a petty grudge.
“Now goddamn it, get your chins off the ground and let’s go stuff them,” Rob said, and grimaced at Ricky, the quarterback, who was now standing on the sidelines.

“Sorry baby, I just did it to make you boys look even better,” Ricky said. The other team drove half the length of the field for a touchdown, and the crowd was hushed by the change in momentum.
“Well shit,” Mike said to John, “looks like we got ourselves a football game here.”
John turned to the senior offensive lineman. “Hey, how does the joke end? I think we need a good laugh right now,” he asked.
“Not right now Johnie, I tell the ending later.” the senior replied. The Tigers offensive received the ball and turned it over to Woody for the next two plays. First down. On the fifteenth carry of the game for Woody, he felt a rip in lower left quadrant of his back and he went down.
“Ahhh, Jesus, that hurt!” he screamed, and he curled up into a fetal position.The trainer went out into the field.
“Muscle pull,” he said. Woody was able to walk off the field with the help of two of the linemen.

The Tigers punted the ball after one more play. The other team completed a long pass against all odds and marked another touchdown. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the score was fourteen to ten against the Tigers. Mr. Black was watching the game along with Mr. Holstein. “Ah Arnold, I don’t know about you but this is more exciting than the Grey Cup for me,” Black said.
“I feel sorry for the teachers who aren’t here,” Holstein replied. “They might get along better with the students if they shared more common experiences with them.”
“You’re right. But what can you do? Order them to watch the game? To hell with the fools who think teaching is just a job, or even worse, a paycheque.”
“Amen to that,” Holstein said, and bit back what he had been about to say.

The information he had acquired was still private, and he had been sworn to secrecy. Holstein was shop steward of Local 122 for Laurentian High School. Two days before he had attended a meeting with the union reps to discuss the renegotiation of the contract that expired next year. “…And of course it is the hope of everyone concerned that this time we can avoid strike action,” the chairperson had said. Holstein thought him a lying bastard, knowing damn well the chair had political ambitions. There was no better way to catch the eye of the N.D.P. executive council than to lead a successful strike, or even an unsuccessful strike. Not that Holstein had anything against leftists, being one himself. But how much misery would the chair be willing to cause for the sake of his own career? Holstein would be willing to bet quite a bit.

“There are steps that we can take before calling a strike vote, to show that we are serious,” the chair continued.
“What do you suggest?” Holstein said, “A work slowdown? Take a nap during class, in front of the students? Better yet, just let the students run amok. That ought to scare the bejeepers out of the school board.”
“Noted, noted, Arnold,” the chair said, and raised his hands in what was meant to be a reassuring manner. It only irritated Holstein.
“We were thinking of something less drastic, you will be happy to know. Like refusing to volunteer for extracurricular activities.”
“Like interscholastic sports?”
“Yes.”
Holstein had abstained from the vote that had taken place not five minutes later. Never fight a battle that you have no chance of winning. He knew Black would be upset at the cancellation of his beloved football program next year. He hoped Black would believe that he had not approved.

Mid-way through the fourth quarter the Tiger’s offense was close to panic without Woody. The second-string running back was a junior named Bill. Behind his back, and sometimes right to his face, he was nicknamed “Gentle Bill.” It was a cruel moniker, as he had the tools but not the vision to be a good running back. Woody could spot the holes, the weak spot in a defensive formation and instinctly attack the weakest point, the weakest player. More often than not, Bill blundered full steam ahead into the arms of the other team’s best players. Gentle Bill was the type of players who made the enemy look good.
“Way to hit the hole William,” sneered one of the senior lineman in the huddle. The preceding play had not gained a single yard.
“Shaddup,” Ricky hissed. “Let this here genius quarterback find a way out of this fucked-up situation.”A messenger ran to the huddle with the play called from the sideline.
“Thirty-six zebra right through the eight hole,” the messenger said. “You boys got that?”
Ricky said. “Look sharp though. If one more of the coach’s plays fucks up, I’m gonna start calling audibles. Okay, quick break, on one.” Four seconds later the man John was suppose to cover wrapped his arms around Gentle Bill, and the Tigers were forced to punt.

On the sidelines Ricky confronted John. “Nice block, asshole.”
John stared back. “He’s blitzing on every play, keying on the running back whether it’s Woody or Ben. Think about that Ricky. Make me an eligible receiver.”
Ricky calmed down and pondered that fact for a minute. “Okay, next play I’ll put Gentle Bill on your man to cover my ass and you run a post pattern. I’ll hit you after twenty from the scrimmage. Don’t drop the ball or your chance to be a hero.”
John smiled and turned his head back to the game.

The other team made two first downs and then stalled because of a penalty call against them. They punted and the Tigers started their attack from their own thirty-yard line. Don’t think, John thought to himself as he settled down into his crouch. On the third “hut” he broke towards the outside linebacker who glanced off his left shoulder and headed towards the Tiger’s backfield. John was free. He crossed with the outside receiver who slanted in towards the middle, taking the cornerback with him. John looked over his left shoulder immediately, seeing the tip of the ball taking flight towards him. John extended his arms at the very last split second as to not lose any speed. Ricky had led him too far, the ball was almost out of his reach… John dived parallel to the ground and caught the ball. Later the citizens of Laurentian, pupils and teachers alike, would all agree that it had been a catch worthy of the NFL. But as soon as John had picked himself up off the ground and ran a few more steps, he was tackled from behind.
The referee blew the whistle for the two minute warning. The Tigers were on their opponents twenty-five.

As the Tigers gathered on the sidelines during the time-out, a few teammates, Scott and Mike included, came over to congratulate John.
“Babes —how can I say it in a delicate and tasteful manner?” Mike said.
“What man, what?”
“I think Pole-man here is gonna get himself some big-league pussy tonight.”
“So maybe next year the team won’t be such a sad sack of shit after all,” one the senior linemem said, smiling.
“Hey man,” John said, “tell us how the joke ends. You know, the bunny rabbit.”
“Not now Pole-man,” the lineman said, “soon, but not now. No time.”
And he ran onto the field. Woody joined the rest of the offensive team on the field.
“Man, are you sure you’re alright?” Ricky asked Woody in the huddle.
Woody hopped from one foot to the other and spoke superfast.
“Yeah, man, I’m cruising, no pain, no gain. I’m Jim fucking Brown and Walter Payton rolled up into one. I’m a missile ready to blast off, I’m flying…”
“..On the count of three through the two hole. The ball is going to Ziphead just to shut him the fuck up.” Ricky said, and he shook his head in disgust.
John felt high too, in the sense of everything slowing down and moving in and out of focus. Later he would remember nothing so much as the taste of the air on his tongue and the pitch of Woody’s giggles every time they returned to the huddle.
“Five yards, six yards, and now seven. I’m unstoppable, untouchable, I can feeeel a touchdown now, Ricky-man…”

“Naked boot-leg after a fake to Woody,” Ricky snarled, and that was to be the last offensive play of the game for the Tigers. The whole defense of the other team keyed on Woody who ran one way, and Ricky ran the other, seven easy yards for the lucky seven points. It was seventeen to fourteen, Laurentian Tigers. During the last two plays of the game, Mike walked over the senior offensive lineman.
“Tell us now,” he said.
“Yeah, okay.” The lineman finished the story.
“So the bunny is hopping down the bunny trail, keeping an eye out for that fox or the grizzly. Of course he’s still singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ And he hops by this… chipmunk. And the chipmunk says `Hey, who are you kidding, you ain’t no pig. Pigs have curly little tails, you got a bushy one. Pigs have tiny little ears, you got big floppy ones. You’re a bunny rabbit, stupid.’ The bunny stops singing and looks at the chipmunk. Then the rabbit grabs the chipmunk, bends him over a log, fucks the squirrel up the ass, wipes the shit off his dick on the chipmunk’s fur, and hops away, singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’”

All the players listening die laughing. A long pass by the other team falls way short and the referee blows the whistle to end the game. The crowd starts to cheer, and Rob and Ricky hoist the coach on their shoulders. John took off his helmet, looked off into the horizon, and smiled at nobody in particular. Then he noticed Debbie gazing at him from the other side of the field. He turned his face towards her. He felt that everything in the world was the way it should be. A rare moment of peace and calm had come over him. Then Scott walked up and whispered in his ear. “It looks like the truce is over now, for good.”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Nine: Pandora’s Box

John stood on the sidewalk and watched the guitar man play in front of the liquor store. His memory stirred and gave forth an image of himself at a much younger age, walking with his father on the main street of downtown Vancouver, staring for the first time at the various street musicians. Most of all, he had liked the guitar players, playing with an open case for loose change, and with a nearby dirty packback. His guitar was in the closet back home now, spending most of its time there after John finally admitted he had no talent for pitch. He couldn’t even tune the six-stringed instrument. It made him admire the guitar players all the more. His album collection consisted exclusively of Hendrix, Pete Townsend, Bruce Coburn , and Stevie Ray Vaugh.

The guitar man in front of liquor store had stopped strumming and singing and started to pick with his fingers at the strings. It was a classical tune, requiring above-average technical ability, but the guitar man handled it flawlessly. John stood transfixed. The crescendo came not two minutes later and ended as suddenly as it began.
“That’s gotta be the first time I have ever seen a street player who knew how to thumb-pick.” John told him.
“That just shows you ain’t been around,” the player said. He had a salt-and-pepper beard, and looked to be in his mid-forties.
“Back in New York, in Greenwich Village, they got guitar-men in the street who could out-pick Saint Peter on a bad day.”
“Who taught how to play like that?”
“Played a little bit with Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists. Ever hear of them?”
“No.”
“It figures. Today’s kids only know Boy George, Micheal Jackson, and maybe a few other fairies.”
John grinned and dropped a few coins into the open guitar case. “That’s for your playing, and for good luck.”
And then he walked into the liquor store. Not three minutes later he walked out again and the guitar player looked at him and laughed.
“Son, if I had good luck to give out, would I be standing here on a street corner for a few pennies, or would I be in a music studio in L.A.?”
John replied sullenly. “Never had a problem before. I think it musta been a new guy. Now they’ll never let me buy booze there again. They’ve got me marked.”

“Well now son, I do believe this here is a chance for me to do a good deed for the day. Take a hold of this guitar, and slip me a ten-spot. Good. You realize, I’m only doing this because you showed respect towards your elders. Damnfool regulations they got here anyways. Kids gonna booze on beer or mouthwash, whatever they can get their hands on. You can play a little? I hope so. Don’t scare away all my customers, and keep your hands out of the guitar case. A guitar-man knows these things.”

John took a spot behind the guitar case and started strumming. “I drink Bacardi rum.”
“Rum? Did you say rum? What are you, some sort of Limey? I ain’t getting you no rum. Don’t worry, I’ll fix you up real nice.”
The guitar-man disappeared into the liquor store. John stood outside and strummed the chords to “Hotel California.” It was an easy tune to play, very hard to master. His clumsy fingers caused the strings to buzz only once in a while. He loved it, the romance of street playing, with no responsibities in the world. He felt the urge to quit his existence of John Poleshaw, high school student and sometime football player. He wanted to wander the continent, maybe mosey on down to New Orleans and explore the roots of music…

The guitar-man walked out of the store and slipped a hip flask of something into John’s inside jean jacket pocket, as neat as you would have it.
“There ya go. Gees, didn’t bring too much in, did ya? Oh well, it takes years to learn how to hustle properly, boy. Now you run along and have a good time at the party tonight, okay?” “Thanks, thanks a lot,” John said. The guitar-man had already taken his instrument from John. He looked each passer-by boldly in the eye, and loudly plucked each string so that the notes carried into the street. Not forty-five minutes later John stood in front of Tim’s house on the Westside and took a sip from the flask. The Southern Comfort liqueur burned John’s throat before the sweetness made itself known on his tongue. John had bought some Coke as a mixer but the stuff tasted good enough for him to be drunk straight. From that day forward, John never drank anything else. And he always yearned to go to New Orleans.

Tim’s parents owned a split-level rancher in the very upscale neighbourhood of Point Grey, not far from the Yacht Club and the Spanish Banks beach. Tim’s father was a ranking executive for Canadian Pacific with a generous salary in a position that offered good connections and a enormous amount of discretionary power. For example, he was on a nodding acquaintance with the federal minister of finance, as well as the odd captain of industry. The house mirrored the owner, blending into the landscape while dominating the foreground. Trees and lush vegetation covered the front and side lawns of the property, and looking at it reminded John of the dream he had had before the game. The silence of the neighbourhood also nudged his memory of that Sunday morning, when he had passed into high-school mythology with that impossible catch. John stood still for a minute, letting the motion-picture camera run in his head. Every nerve in his body jangled, not for the first time that week. He felt himself to be poised on the threshold of something very… momentous. He could not describe what his instinct was forboding. Only a few times in every person’s life does he or she arrive at a moment of great decision or change. John felt himself on the cusp of such a decision, and did not know for sure what to do. Perhaps tonight, he thought, the best thing to do would be to get drunk.

He walked up to the house and opened the door without knocking. Music emanated from downstairs but John headed to the kitchen first, the nerve center of any party. Besides, he had to chill the Southern Comfort in the icebox. Tim was there, sitting on a kitchen stool with Susan’s arms wrapped around his shoulders. They both looked tipsy.
“Arrgh, the mighty warrior has arrived,” Tim said, and he lifted up a glass of wine in greetings to John. Susan giggled and clutched Tim even harder. They looked good together. John poured himself a stiff shot of booze and shoved his mickey way to the back of the icebox. He sat down beside Tim.
“I, too, remember when I had my first glass of wine,” John said, and he winked at Susan.
Tim nearly choked on his wineglass and chuckled at the pinprick.
“Didn’t you know Johnsie, that alcohol is technically a poison? That if, you should drink too much of it, the respiratory system shuts down and cardiac arrest follows?”
“Why no, Tim, I didn’t know that.”
“Did you know then,” and Tim’s voice dropped to a whisper, “that I’m legally dead?”
Tim laughed and Susan goosed him in a playful sort of way. John was reminded of her brother but thought it impolite to inquire about the state of his health.
“So who is all here?” John asked instead.
Tim and Sue exchanged glances.
“A few people you know, a few you don’t. Gees, what do I look like, the recreational director?” Tim said.
“Okay, better question, who’s downstairs smoking the dope I got for you? And second question, are they enjoying it?”
Sue giggled again. “OOOOhhh, so it was yooouuu. Tim didn’t tell me. Hey, two whiffs of that stuff and you’re gone. You must tell us which places to shop to find such exquisite marijua-na.” Sue’s giggles continued into a bout of uncontrollable laughter. John drained his drink and poured himself another.
“Well, with all the straight answers I’m getting, I might as well go see for myself,” he said.

He took a detour through the parlour room that was empty of people. He walked through the ankle-deep plush carpeting to study a picture on the far wall. It was a portrait of a Highlander with his bagpipes in his arms and two of his dogs at his feet. John studied the brushstokes that created a picture almost as accurate as a picture created by photons hitting a frame of film. He wondered if such technical ability had been lost to the ancient painters dead long before the advent of television. One time, on a school field trip, his class had gone to a museum to view some modern art. Apparently some dork down in the states had made a fortune out of painting a portrait of a soup can.

As John headed towards the stairwell a waft of easy laughter serenaded his ears and he froze. He understood now the cause of Rob’s evasions; it had not just been the booze. Of course it had been a possibility that she would come but by no means a certainty. But did Tim and Sue’s tactful manner mean that she had brought a boyfriend with her? John’s logical side told him that he should have written her off a long time ago. He descended the stairs nervous and self-conscious anyways.

Jennifer hoped her boredom did not show too much. She had learned a long time ago that a pretty girl showing disdain would too easily be accused of snobbery. Unfortunately the three boys that had been following around her all night were fast running out of witty things to say, not that they had had an ample stock to begin with. Now it seemed that that they only stood close by waiting for her to get drunk enough for her to choose one of them. They could only wish. There are times, she thought, when the persona of ice queen is damn useful to have around, and another fifteen minutes of tedium might cause her to make an appearance. She was aware of someone standing in the doorway and she turned around ever so casually.

Don’t look like a dork and rush up to her like a drooling puppy, John thought to himself, and he walked over to say hello to a few people smoking a joint that he knew only faintly.
“Hey people, is that a communal joint?” he asked, and was rewarded with the roach in a clip. He took a deep drag, thinking that god yes he could do this now that football was over. He handed it back to a girl who smiled at him in a languid sort of way and John recognized that this group at least was working on a heavy stone.
“The Thai stuff was better,” someone said from the corner of the room. “Too good to last, too bad you missed it.”
“Well maybe that’s a good thing because I’m such an easy stone,” John replied. “Wouldn’t want to go crazy.”
“Don’t get crazy on pot, just lazy and hazy,” the voice answered back.

John felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around and Jennifer was there, not twelve inches from his face. Not four feet behind were three guys about John’s age looking vaguely uncomfortable and resentful.
“You know, I thought that was an extremely good-looking chick in the corner, but I wasn’t gonna make any moves until I had cased out the whole room,” John said.
Jennifer laughed and returned his steady gaze. She noticed for the first time how wide his shoulders were and how his lopsided grin made her slightly dizzy. Or maybe that was just the pot kicking in. Oh God, I don’t want to hurt him, she thought, but I can’t keep away from him anymore.
“So I haven’t seen you at church the last couple of weeks,” she said.
“Football,” John said, “my team just finished the play-offs. The Laurentian Tigers became city champions as of last Sunday.”
“Yeah, I know,” said one of the three boys that had backed away from Jennifer, “my team lost in the finals.”
“Hey, it was a fantastic game,” John said.
“Yeah, I know,” the boy said, “but we woulda beat you except for that little s.o.b that caught that long bomb at the end.”
John laughed and said nothing.

Over the course of the next few hours the three boys disappeared unwillingly into the woodwork. Jennifer just ignored them, drawing closer and closer to John until around midnight she stood slightly aside to him with her arm brushing against one of his ribs. John finally asked her if she would like to go for a walk. Before they went outside John detoured into the kitchen to refill his drink. Tim and Susan took a break from necking long enough to watch him rummage around in the icebox as he looked for his mickey.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Tim asked. Susan gave a lazy smile and snuggled into the nape of Tim’s neck. John filled up his glass and said good-bye. He found Jennifer in the doorway and they walked out into the street to the Spanish Banks, a stretch of beachland under the stewardship of the University of British Columbia.

They held hands in silence as they drew closer to the sand and the Strait of Georgia. Tall pines cut off the glare of the streetlights, and the city fell away from them as they walked not ten feet away from the surf, heading towards the westernmost point of the North American continent, excluding Alaska. John could feel himself slipping into thrall. It was as if the two had stepped off the face of civilization and into a world of magic. Darkness made the earth appear without form and void. An immense presence moved upon the face of the waters, unseeable. John looked up at the lights in the firnament of heaven and told Jennifer that among those stars were black holes with gravity so strong that nothing escaped; no matter or even light. And at the middle of every black there was a singularity, where the Newtonian laws of the universe ceased to exist. His physics teacher had told him all about it.

“That would be the perfect way to die, of course. To be on spaceship heading into the centre of the black hole. As you got closer to the point of singularity, time in the rest of the universe speeds up all around you. It would be sorta like traveling at the speed of light. You would live long enough to see the death of the galaxy, maybe the death of the universe. You would be like a god.”
Jennifer shivered and held him tight around the waist as they walked towards the forest. Their feet trod upon earth bringing forth grass, the trees dropping their pine cones full of seed. Safe from prying eyes they embraced and kissed. Jennifer told him that she didn’t want to hurt him. John laughed and told her not to worry so she didn’t. John leaned against a tree and Jennifer leaned against John. She started to tell him about Montreal, the cradle of Canadian history.

“It’s like the Plains of Abraham happened yesterday for some of those people. There is a few people there that hate the anglophones and everything that’s English. Some of them think World War II was a plot by English Canada to get them all drafted and killed. The worst part is the paranoia is increasing. More English people leave, taking their money with them, so Montreal gets poorer and the separatists get more and more pissed-off. So more of us leave, chased out of our homeland. Dad wants to go back, he doesn’t like it here.”
“Why not? This is paradise,” John said.
“His roots are back in Montreal; it’s hard to explain,” she said, “Have you ever been outside of Vancouver?”
“No.”
“This place has no history, it’s like everybody comes here to start over, washed clean of what came before.”
“I want to see you again. And again.” John said.
The booze and the dope and the atmosphere of the evening took away Jennifer’s hesitation and made forget about Andre, poor Andre with his crushed spirit, so she told him she wanted to see him again as well. It had not rained all that week but a mist rose up and watered the whole face of the ground. The smell of the forest breathed into John’s nostrils and he felt his living soul cry out as he embraced Jennifer. She pushed him away ever so slightly and picked up her purse from the ground where it had fallen. She took out a small vial and dipped her ring finger into it. She held her finger to John’s nose and whispered into his ear. He sniffed. He dipped his finger into the vial and returned the favour.
“It’s so much better than pot because it doesn’t wreck the lungs,” she said. John agreed, and put his hand under blouse, a different sort of hunger making itself known. Jennifer responded in kind.

* * *

Scott waited until his mother was asleep before he snuck out of bed to conduct a midnight raid upon the refridgerator. He couldn’t sleep, what a surprise. He poured himself a glass of milk. There was one third of an apple pie left but that was supposed to be for dessert tomorrow. Scott weighed the punishment against the pleasure, then made himself a sandwich and sighed.

He had to go to church this morning. Mom let him off during the football season but now it was back into the fold. He had been praying a lot lately. Woody was back on the coke again and Rob was looking to nail Scott’s ass to the nearest locker to show to the rest of the school that nobody could cross Robby and get away with it. So now it looked like Scott had to dig that goddamn suitcase of cocaine out of the ground and maybe do something with it that might save Scott’s ass. He wondered how many people had died in order that a certain number of cocoa plants could be processed into a recreational substance and then transported to a metropolitan area so it could be enjoyed by certain number of affluent consumers. He wondered if he simply was not signing his own death warrant by digging up the suitcase. Here lies Scott Shartrande, victim of his own stupidity, died 1986. Scott remembered one Christmas where he had prayed so hard for a remote control model car. He had complained to Mother that his prayers had not been answered.
“He did answer your prayers,” she had said, “and sometimes the answer is no.”

So many hard lessons for a young boy to learn. Somehow it had seemed so very important to get that remote-controlled car. Almost as important to find his old man and have him return to the household, to make the family whole again. Another hard lesson learned, sometimes the answer is no. The Lord helps those who helps themselves, Scott thought to himself, and the Devil quoteth scripture. Tonight is the night I take the first step to saving’s Woody’s ass. Scott’s buddy was like a planet in a decaying orbit around a ravenous sun.

Scott waited until well after midnight before retrieving the shovel from the basement. He walked over to the railway lands and found the bushes that served as the marker. He switched off the flashlight after he was certain of the location of where to dig. Him and John had only dug a shallow grave of maybe two-and-a-half feet. A hour of solid digging produced no sign of the suitcase, and Scott’s stomach started to do little flip-flops. It only took another half-hour of fruitless scratching before his mind froze with shock, a single thought repeating itself over and over again, with the only conclusion that made sense. John had beaten him to it. John had taken the cocaine already, and now Scott didn’t have the slightest idea what to do at all.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved