Chapter Fourteen: Dickie

It was always like this at the Patty Shop: supper rush would come so quickly that Dickie wouldn’t have time to go for a pee between orders, let alone a smoke. But by nine o’clock at the latest, he and Jacques the cook would be fighting over the remote control to the TV. God knows why. There was never anything good on.

“Holy shit Dickie-mon, look at that,” Jacques said as he stopped at a channel.
A pretty girl was flogging some sort of massage machine.
“Would you now, little man, could you take such a sweet thing?” Dickie asked.
“Ah, I just whip it out and she falls over for sure,” Jacques said.
“You means she bends over and tries to look for it, giggling all the while.”
“Ah, don’t confuse me with you, don’t be jealous.”

Crude banter to pass the time. It could be damn boring frying up one patty after another. Say anything to pass the time, never mind if that pretty white lady actually walked into the Patty Shop and placed an order, Dickie and Jacques would act like perfect gentlemen. However, it’s not much of a secret that the longer a man goes without a woman, the filthier his mouth becomes.
“Tabernac, there’s nothing on,” Jacques said.
“How do you know? You flip through the channels so damn fast.”
“I just need a peek, and then I know there’s nothing on that channel.”
“Gimme the remote. You’re just flipping, you ain’t looking.”
“No way. It’s my night to have the remote. We’re taking turns, remember?” Jacques said. “Goddamn shit,” Dickie said, “I’m going out front to look out the fucking window ‘cause you ain’t looking through the channels, you jest flipping.”
“Gonna miss the pretty ladies,” Jacques said in a smug sort of way.
“Huh, can’t even touch the pussy, let alone stick my dick in it. Who cares?”

Dickie got up from his chair and walked out to the dining room. He ran mostly a take-out busines, but he kept three tables in case some of his friends and patron wanted to stay and chat. His tantrum lasted maybe ten seconds and then it was back to tedium again. Damn. He walked outside and looked west. The sun had set not fifteen minutes ago. A deep rich blue colour framed the skyscrapers of West End Vancouver. The planet Mercury sparkled over the building and would soon dip below the horizon to end the day once and for all. The weatherman had said on the news at six that clouds would be coming in during the night. Two weeks of unbroken sunshine would be ending.
“Oooo! Dickie-mon, you missed the commercial for the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated,” Jacques yelled from the kitchen. “Damn, the ladies were fine.”

Dickie didn’t answer back, but he knew Jacques was bored too. He decided then and there that he would take next Monday off and go down to the beach. He would look at the ladies, and when he got tired of that, he would stare at the waves as they crashed into the shore. He would take Jacques along with him, and after a good dinner at a nice restaurent, the two of them would sit in a cafe and drink coffee and reminisce about life back in Jamaica. On the other hand, maybe they wouldn’t talk at all. Old friends were like that, you don’t have to say anything to them if you felt that way. Him and Jacques had been roomates in a dingy one living-room flat back then, tentmates in the sugarcane season over thirty years and forty pounds ago, where the sun melted away the fat no matter how much one ate. Dickie had decided to come to Canada because of -what else?- a woman. She left him two years after he had stepped off the plane at Dorval airport in the middle of January. Three damn feet of snow in Montreal at the time, and a coldness that had knifed through his denim jacket. But he had found a job even before he and Marie had even found an apartment. The contruction foremen had needed good workers for the building of Expo ‘68. They had taken one look at his biceps and forgave his poor English and non-existent French.

Montreal – that had been a city! – during the late sixites and early seventies, it had been so alive and bustling and fevered that he had jumped right in and clutched all of it to his chest. Marie had taken all she could, and then she had left him. She went back to Jamaica, he never returned. He even got used to the cold. Construction paid better than sugarcane but like the latter it was only seasonal work, and for a long while Dickie was paid under the table. One fine spring day, very much like the one today, his luck changed. He had been drinking in a waterfront bar when a couple of sailors had taken offence at the colour of his skin. Dickie had laughed off the epiphets of nigger and chocolate bar, which only made the sailors meaner. One threw a punch that bruised Dickie’s cheekbone.
“Oh mon, now you shouldn’t have done that,” Dickie had said.
He had caught the second punch with one hand and threw the man off-balance. The second made the mistake of moving to grab him. Dickie had slammed his hands around the man’s ears, and then threw a elbow into the throat. He caught the second man as he was reaching into his jacket for a knife. He twisted the sailor’s arm out of the socket by making the elbow touch the shoulder-blade. He knocked both of them unconscious in a careful, delibrate way to cut their screams short. Some of the dockworkers witnessed the fight and it became the stuff of legend. Dickie had done it so smoothly and quickly, without an ounce of rage to pump adrenalin into his system. Word spread, and one day two men sat down at his table, uninvited, but they bought him one drink, and then another. One of them was a shop steward for a local that controlled three of the commercial docks.
“Bon hommes, ils sont difficiles pour retrouver,” he had said.The other translated. Good men are hard to find. Montreal could be a rough place all over, and not just in the waterfront bars. That week, Dickie landed himself a job at the dock at union wage.

Every once in awhile he put in some time in the off-hours, providing security to this union organizer or that shop steward. Dickie also knew when to shut his ears and mouth. A couple of times there had been scabs in need of persuasion to turn their feet elsewhere. No matter, life could be tough sometimes and he had a better life in Montreal than he could ever possibly have had in Jamaica. They called “Le Grand Negre”: A token of respect tinged with affection. One day in 1976 his knee had given him a funny twinge which he had ignored. A week later it had swollen up like a football. As one last favour for the work he had done, and for the secrets he had kept, he found himself with a disability pension and plenty of spare-time on his hands. He still kept in touch with the union until one day the ward boss bought him a drink one last time.
“You know, Vancouver would be a better place for that arithetic knee than here. The winters are very mild on the west coast. Dickie had said that Montreal was alright for him all the same. The ward boss had sighed.
“You heard of that Jew Dylan? You know what he said? Times, they are a-changing. The old way of doing things is dropping by the wayside. We can’t do business with the damn separatists anymore, they just don’t understand. It’s gonna be a long winter. Best that you don’t stick around to see it.”
Dickie had said that he understood now. He was always good at picking up what people meant, not what they said.

Around that period of time, a young Montreal lawyer by the name of Brian Mulroney headed a probe into the corrupt practices of organized labour in Quebec. Dickie’s ward boss was indicted and convicted. The police asked many people where they could find a large black man known as “Le Grand Negre.” But they never did.

* * *

The man said his name was Gary, and Rob did not know or care if that was his real name or not. Jason had phoned him one day and said that Rob should meet this man because he would help him. They met at a strip club in Surrey that was a favorite pit stop for bikers. Rob was not introduced to the third man who hovered around the three of them, leaving the bar and coming back every now and then.
“Security,” Jason said, and shrugged.
“It’s not like it used to be,” Gary said, as if in agreement.

Rob tried to say as little as possible, sensing that this man would not be impressed by any display of bravado. His brother had told him many times a closed mouth beat a line of BS any day of the week. So he kept quiet and missed nothing. The man stood only about five-ten, maybe weighing one-sixty-five pounds with all his biker gear. His hair was cut short. He had given up his colours at the door check, but not before Rob had seen the “nomad” rocker on the back of his leather jacket. That meant Gary wasn’t associated with any particular chapter of the Warlocks. He had free passage all over North America, with the right to claim shelter and travel in any of the Warlock territories. It meant that Gary was an elite veteran biker. Jason deferred to him not out of courtesy (Jason was always courteous) but out of respect.
“Vancouver, Jesus, what a beautiful city. If there’s any place that a biker should settle down, it’s here.” Gary said, as he sipped at a beer. He didn’t smoke.
“Say the word Gary,” Jason said, “there’s a place for you in the Vancouver organization at any time.”

Gary allowed Jason to kiss his ass for awhile and Rob still kept quiet. The two talked about the vaguest generalites but Rob learned quite a bit about Gary in those few precious minutes. He looked at Gary’s tattoos. Gary had “FTW” tattooed on the knuckles of his left hand. A favorite saying for ex-convicts. It meant “Fuck the World.” So Gary had done time, no big deal. But on the inside of his right arm there were four small skulls with red dots for eyes. Rob knew what those meant and his mouth went a little bit dry. They symbolize kilings of enemy bikers. No doubt any nomad for the Warlocks couldn’t be a fairy, but a skull tattoo meant Gary had killed for the club. An assassin.

“…Anyways the fucking niggers are all over Oakland, turning the place in a cesspool. Jesus, the property value of our clubhouse has gone down by half in the last three years,” Gary said. “There’s a lot of history in Oakland,” Jason said.
“Ay, we’ll never give it up. But it gets harder and harder to take care of business, when all the customers wanna do is kill each other. The gangs down there – Crips and Bloods – when they do their drive-by shootings, instead of killing each other, they usually shoot up the kids playing on the street. Fucking niggers.”
“Speaking of the subject, I think we got a little problem with a posse up here.” Jason said.
Jason told him about Rob’s problem.
“I’ll be damned. I had heard they had made it as far north as Seattle, but across the border? They like their Uzis and Cobrays too much to make it in sleepy old Vancouver. Gees, now you got to worry about them and the damn chinks too. Shit happens.” Gary said.
“We did a little investigating, we got a line on their supplier. A nobody, a pimple on the ass of the world.” Jason said.
“That helps a lot. The man got a sheet?”
“Yeah, from way back though. He’s been careful though, nothing for the last ten years.”
“Don’t mean shit, just that he’s smartened up. Not smart enough though. So what’s the boy doing here?” Gary said, and he pointed to Rob.
“Rob’s looking to join the brotherhood,” Jason said.
“He better be, he’s got big ears and a sharp eye for tattoos” Gary said.
“I was sorta hoping you could teach him a few things, you know, show him the way. The boy is solid, his brother is in Toronto taking care of business.”

Gary sat back in his seat and turned his eyes to Rob, like a maestro examining a new pupil.
“Solo is always best Jase,” Gary said quietly,
“Maybe we should let the boy do it himself, alone.”
“Business is business,” Jason said. “We let him do it yeah, but it’s gotta be done right and clean. We’re getting old, you and me, one day we’ll have to pass the torch. The brotherhood has been good to us, it’s time to give a little bit back.”
Gary said nothing for awhile and just stared at Rob, and then at some spot in the ceiling.
“Well now, I guess for a little while, Robert, you and me are partners,” Gary said.
“I’m ready for whatever,” Rob said.
“Good boy,” Jason said.

* * *

Dickie looked up and down the street and went back inside. It looked like there would no more walk-in business today, and the phone had been quiet for a half-hour. Jacques had given up watching television, and was working on a small plastic model at the back, a seven-inch replica of a Dodge Superbird, circa 1972. Dickie could remember a few of those car driving around Montreal a long time ago. Classic machines but there weren’t too many of the life-size ones around anymore. Too much speed, too little cornering ability. Dickie went to the bathroom to empty his bladder and wash his hands. Time to clean up. Jacques saw him go into the john and put the model away, all part of an oft-repeated platform. He too washed his hands by the sink. The two of them set about putting away the food. Dickie noted with a little bit of satisfaction that they were low on ground beef. So soon in the week, it meant that business was good. He really should get himself a driver and set up some sort of delivery service, except the patties were best eaten hot. Always, the businessman warred with chef inside; usually the chef won. They were short on menus too. He thought that was good in a way too. but they were so damn expensive nowadays to print. The cost of advertising was so high, and one never knew if it did a damn bit of good. At the very least, it was time to renovate the place. It was very clean, Dickie made sure of that, but the paint was peeling where the walls and the ceiling joined. Why was that? Anyways, appearance mattered so much to attract new customers walking by. No one wants to eat in a dump.

They were by the sinks now, washing up with water hot enough to sting the hands. When Dickie had first came out west, he had worked in some food places that had not washed up properly every night. Some people were pigs, and it was too bad some of those pigs worked in the food industry. It was not enough to clean, everything had to orderly when he shut down for the evening, so he could start fresh and clean the next day. God, a man had to take pride in his work, no matter what it was, or what kind of man was he? He looked at one of the gas burners. It had been burning improperly for the last few days, sputtering and extingushing itself every once in awhile. It annoyed him.
“Jacques, you go on ahead home. I’m gonna stay behind and fix this burner. It’s not good to leave it like that.” Dickie said.
“You sure you can fix it mon?”
“Ay, just some dirt in the tube, or a sticky valve. Call a repairman for that? I don’t think so.” “Okay mon,” Jacques said. “I best be getting home. My littlest one, she’s breaking in her first tooth. Only her Daddy can stop her crying, for sure.”
“Yeah mon, give Emily a kiss for me.” Dickie said.
Jacques said good-bye, and Dickie heard the lock of the front door click.

He bent over the stove with his wrench and set to work. He thought the problem might be a speck of dirt in one of the valves. He had just disconnected some of the tubing leading to the burner when he heard the tinkle of broken glass up front. He picked up the wrench and froze so he could hear better. He heard the small taps of metal on glass, the sound of someone trying to smooth out the jagged edges of a hole in a windowpane. Someone was breaking into his restaurent. Dickie slowly stepped to the wall separating the kitchen from the front dining room with the wrench in his hands. He had been broken into before, a couple of kids looking for a free meal and maybe a little bit of cash. With any luck, he could subdue them without any effort. He tried not to feel angry. Bashing a B&E punk in the head might give him some small measure of satisfaction, but the police would object. Especially if the kids were white. Dickie peeped around the corner.

It was a man, short in stature, but a man nonetheless, methodically picking away at the glass surrounding the jagged hole in the glass door. A sort of sixth sense made the man look up from his handiwork and he spotted Dickie. He smiled and put his hand through the hole. In his other hand he held a revolver. Dickie turned and ran for the back door. In those few seconds he still felt no fear but the adrenalin started to pump into his blood. He didn’t stop to think that the smile was more dangerous than the gun in the man’s hand, that the smile meant some greater plan than simple robbery was unfolding. Dickie ran through the storeroom and hit the lever on the door. A brief thought flashed through his head; if he got out of the restaurent he was safe. He opened the backdoor and jumped outside.

“Stop!” Rob cried out, and Dickie froze, looking but not yet understanding, still holding the wrench in his hand.
“Drop the wrench.”
Dickie didn’t move, still paralysed.
“Drop the wrench, goddammit!” Rob said, his voice a few octaves higher.
The shotgun he held up to his right shoulder wavered a bit every time he spoke. Dickie dropped the wrench.
“Turn around, hands on your head, get back inside.”
Dickie couldn’t understand why the robbers couldn’t just let him run away, but he did as he was told. He could smell the fear all around him now, coming from the boy and yes, even from himself. He kept the panic away from his thoughts. He had to start anticipating instead of reacting. But he kept getting surprised.

The man sat in the kitchen, waiting for them, and Dickie fought even harder against the rising wave of fear. Something about the man awakened dark memories. The man held the gun loose in his hand.
“Good, bring him over here. Face the wall, on your knees,” he said to Dickie.
Dickie did as he was told. In the confines of the kitchen, he had been close enough to make a grab for Rob’s shotgun, but the man would have had a clear shot at him for at least one second. Now he was defenceless. He could hear the man admonishing the boy.
“You were too close to him, bringing him back to the kitchen. If he had panicked and turned around quickly enough, he could have knocked the shotgun right out of your hands.”
Dickie heard the boy mumble an apology.
“That’s all right, everybody makes that mistake the first time. Just remember, always keep at least five feet away. If you have to get any closer, shoot him.”

There was quiet for a few seconds, then Dickie heard the bell of the cash register ring. The man whistled softly to himself as he casually slipped the banknotes out of the tray and into his pocket. Dickie had a thought enter into his head that made his mouth go dry. He knew the boy. One of his nephew’s friends, although Dickie hadn’t seen him for three months at least. God, what was the boy thinking? Gary finished filling his pocket and walked a few back to Rob, who was still keeping his shotgun trained on Dickie. He put his hand on Rob’s shoulder and squeezed, feeling the tense muscles under the jacket. Gary wished he could feel that way again.
“It’s time,” he whispered to Rob.
Rob spun his head towards Gary, eyes bulging, then he looked back towards Dickie.
“Turn around,” he said in a hoarse voice.
Dickie got up from his knees, and turned around. The two stared at each other for a transcendental moment. Rob pulled the trigger. It seemed to Rob that the body took forever to hit the ground, and no time at all passed before Gary broke the silence.
“Why did you ask him to turn around?” he asked.Rob looked up.
“His eyes… I wanted to see it… it’s a mystery.” Rob stammered.
Gary gazed back at Rob with a strange sort of compassion.
“I understand. We’re not animals. Everybody wants to know what happens on the point of death. I held a man once when I killed him with a knife. I wanted to see if I could feel his soul leaving his body.”
Gary walked a step over to the corpse and bent down. He took a penknife out of his pocket and slashed at one of the wrists. He cupped his hand to catch some of the blood oozing out of the wound. He stood up, walked over to Rob, and wiped his hand on Rob’s forehead.
“You’re marked now. You’re one of us, a brother.” Gary said.

For a moment Rob’s thoughts fell away from him and felt as if he was falling into some sort of inky blackness. Then a sense of light-headedness took hold of him, and he felt as if he was floating. Every one of his senses worked at a higher pitch. He felt more than twice as alive as ever before Before they left, Gary wiped the cash register clean of fingerprints. Then he took out a candle and lit it. He dripped some wax onto the countertop so the candle would stick upright. He opened all the cocks of the gas stove and oven. Then, he and Rob fled into the night.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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