Chapter Ten: Opening Moves

January, 1988
A bruised disc in the spine can be difficult to diagnose correctly; if Woody had been playing professional football, the team trainer would have called in a chiropracter who would have ordered a series of careful x-rays and most probably enforced the only cure, that is, three to six months of rest.

Woody hadn’t been so lucky, for his doctor had been an elderly G.P. with a disdainful opinion of his chiro cousins. The doctor had also ignored Woody’s pleadings for a stronger painkiller than Tylenol. Thus Woody laid on his bed that evening, unable to sleep. With bouts of extreme pain especially frequent after re-injury, Woody would at times entertain dark fantasies of ripping off the doctor’s head and shitting down his throat. It briefly took his mind off the agony.

Meanwhile, Woody had a life to live, and that meant doing all the little normal things that any person took for granted: standing, walking, sitting down, and oh god each little movement hurt so much. So he had turned to Robby like a little child turning to a mother. When Woody had first injured his back, Rob had given him Demoral; the coke had come later in a moment of weakness. It was hard for Woody to determine the exact moment when he had become mentally hooked. Habits form themselves unobstrusively. Woody had assumed the crave for coke would lessen and disappear along with the pain in his back. It had taken a night of binging on the stuff and the lucid self-awareness that had come in the morning for him to realize that he was an addict. Worse still, he had been the last to find out.

Rob and Ricky and Scott, even Scott, looked upon him and talked to him with a mild sort of contempt – goddamn, I’m glad I’m not you, they said behind his back. It struck him as unfair. The team had needed him to continue playing, that was why he had taken the goddamn powder. He had allowed himself to get hooked for the sake of the team. Woody did not allow himself to realize that it had been just as important to himself to keep on playing. Practically all of his identity had been wrapped up in his role as star running back for the Laurentian Tigers. Now, football season was over, and Woody had the sinking feeling Rob was going cut him off.

“Damn Woody, you’s getting real expensive,” Rob had said in an offhand, casual way. They had been in the john of a fashionable nightclub downtown sharing a line.
“Sorry Robby,” Woody had joked, “but Cadillacs do swallow a lot of gas.”

Rob had not answered except to say mmmmm-mmmmm in a dismissive sort of way. Woody had been trying to justify Rob’s investment in coke for the last month and not just by performing on the football field. He had leaned -just leaned- on a few students who had tried to take advantage of Rob’s credit, and more than once had muled a few packages across town. Woody had phoned Rob’s house tonight and there had been no answer. He had then phoned Rob’s pager number not once but twice. No response. It slowly dawned on Woody that maybe the Cadillac had been left to rust. His back ached anew. Maybe the Caddy had a few gears stripped in the tranny too.

He laid down on his bed and tried to meditate. That’s how he had become a great running back, by meditating and playing whole games in his head, seeing the opposing linebackers and safeties miss. He had willed himself success on the football field. This craving was only a matter of mind over matter, a question of willpower, he told himself. Rob and his people were bad news anyways. Maybe it was time to suck up and pay the piper.

Two-and-a-half hours later he got and phoned Rob’s pager number a third time. That son-of-a-bitch never went anywhere without it, he just wasn’t answering. Woody felt the craving for coke gnawing at the edges of his mind, like a furry rodent. One would have better luck ignoring splinters under the fingernails. Sweat poured off his brow and he moaned in frustration. He lied down on his bed and hoped for the telephone to ring, for Rob to call and give him blessed release. Even one lousy line would relieve the tension, would quiet the chittering that would not leave his head. He’s fucking abandoned me, Woody thought, paranoia now darkening his thoughts. Rob’s left me to the dogs now that the championship trophy is safely locked away. What was he without football? Woody’s head swished from side to side as he teetered on the edge of delirium. Briefs episode of clarity were eclipsed by dark swirling emotions. Woody imagined Rob, Scott, and John, the whole football team abandoning him to the gutter, a container drained of all usefulness.

“Woody, are you alright?” a voice asked from the doorway.
It was his sister Darlene. Woody sat up in bed with eyes round as quarters. A trickle of sweat beaded down his left cheek.
“I’m okay sis, just my back hurting a little,” he tried to mumble, but it came out more as a squeak.
“You want a back-rub or something, maybe an ice-pack?” she asked, shoeing softly into the room like a cautious engineer approaching a ticking bomb.
“No, I’m alright – I just need some sleep,” Woody said, a little louder. He thought that Darlene and his mother did not suspect a thing. The truth was they knew but were too scared to confront him. Instead, they tried to soothe Woody with acts of kindness and lure him, in a woman’s sort of way, from Rob and the white powder. That such an approach never worked, they concealed from themselves. Darlene stood there for a moment and stared at Woody with her luminous brown eyes that had driven more than one boy crazy. They suggested an all-knowing, tender, embracement. Woody looked into those eyes and felt the urge to cry and babble like a small child. But he could not relinquish what he felt to be the last vestiges of his manhood. So he screamed at her. “Out! Get the fuck out of here! Goddamn it, I said GET THE FUCK OUT!”

Darlene flied, crying from the room. She ran out to the tiny balcony of the two-bedroom flat with the shitty view of the dumpster in the alley-way and put her hands to her face. It was the first time Woody had ever yelled and cursed at her. He had been the head of the family ever since their father had abandoned them so many years ago. He had been unable to find work in when they had lived in Toronto during the recession of 1981-82. One evening when he had been due to come home there had been a knock on the door instead. Two white police officers had come around asking for their father. When mother had told them she didn’t know where he was (and that was the truth), they had turned belligerent and began making threats. Woody had then put his arm around his mother and told the two policemen to fuck off. Woody not even started his growth spurt yet and his voice had cracked. One of the policemen had laughed at the young boy.
“Guess we’ll be seeing you in a couple of years, with that type of attitude,” he had said.But they had left after that, and mother had hugged Woody and told him he was now man of the house. Woody had taken the position to heart and had grown up fast. They had never seen their father since that night.

But now Woody, who had always been a bedrock of stability, was now coming apart at the seams just like Dad when he had lost his job and couldn’t support the family. Woody was changing, his personality becoming mercurial, more violent. Mom had told Darlene just a few days ago that now she feared hearing a knock on the door again. Darlene had known immediately what she had been talking about. Darlene walked back into the living with her tears dried. She couldn’t let Woody self-destruct like this, but she needed help. She picked up the phone and started to dial.

***

John picked up the phone and immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line.
“John? It’s Scott. We gotta talk baby.”
“Yup, that sounds good to me. What’s on your mind?”
When Scott suggested that they meet at a breakfast-and-coffee diner in the East end, a place where they did not normally hang out, John knew that Scott knew about the suitcase.

The greasy spoon was run by an elderly Cambodian and his family who had escaped Kampuchea one step ahead of the Khmer Rouge. The service was good and the restaurant was clean but drab and in desperate need of a good coat of paint. Already, to make ends meet, the counterman sold American smokes under the counter without their tax stamps. In a few more years, when the tax would amount to more than three dollars a pack, the 7-Elevens and other franchise corner stores in the area would do the same.

It was Saturday morning and cold for Vancouver. Black ice turned the roads into a bumper-car arena. By the end the day, eighteen Vancouver drivers would be filing for whiplash claims against their insurance. Five of those claims would turn out later to be fraudulent. John and Scott sat by the window and ordered eggs and bacon to go with their coffee. They idly watched the plumes of exhaust from passing vehicles rise up and pollute the morning air. Scott broke the silence first.
“So, John, are you going to tell me why?” Scott asked.
“You mean the suitcase? Or are we going to start bullshitting each other right off the bat?”
“I don’t know. I mean no. What the hell are you going to do with it?”
John thought of Jennifer and the way her long hair worked its way into his mouth when he tried to kiss her on the nape of the neck. He had never been with a girl who had worn perfume before, and she had worn expensive perfume that night.
“Jesus, Scott, what do you think? I’m going to sell it, use it to get the power to be able to tell Robby to fuck off. What were you going to do with it? I mean, you did go looking for it, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I was gonna use it to help Woody.”
“Oh yeah. That’s all?”
“No, you’re right, maybe do a few other things with it. But how come you didn’t tell me beforehand so we could dig it up together?”
“I was worried maybe you would try something stupid, like talk me out of it. Or maybe the suitcase wouldn’t be there anymore and I would have gotten you all riled up for nothing.”
“Fuck you, I know why. You got all the coke now. You got all the power.”
John sat back in the seat to think. This is an important moment, he thought in a crazy sort of way. If he walks out on me I’m screwed.
“Yeah maybe so, Scott, maybe I thought that deep down inside but I didn’t just admit it. So do you just want half? Hell, half is enought for Woody for the next two years and still you can sell enough to buy off Robby and his fucking band. We can split it down the middle and walk away from each other.”
Now it was Scott’s turn to pause and think. “No, we gotta stick together on this and on dealing with Robbie.”
Damn glad you see it that way Scott, John thought. “…But what do we know about running a network, running an operation?”
“Eh, it’s like that shampoo commercial. We tell two friends, they tell two friends, and so on and so on…”
“Just that easy eh? And when it gets back to Rob, he won’t notice that his whole franchise is getting a warm screwing-over?”
“So we need a plan,” John said.

* * *

Woody was thinking of the corner store that was only a few blocks away from where he lived. It probably had a few bucks in the till and a few cartons of cigarettes that he could move for a few dollars more. So how much was it for a quarter gram of cocaine, seventy-five dollars? He needed less than that, hell, he just really needed one frigging line to take the edge off the hunger.

One of the most effective means of torture ever devised for human beings is solitary confinement with nothing for the mind to focus on. Minute-by-minute repetition of the same thought or the same image is guaranteed to cause insanity even in the strongest psyche. Soviet torture of dissidents involved total sensory deprivation, a white padded cell totally devoid of colour or sound cues. The victim is left with a void, and the machine of the mind slowly begins to degrade. Anyone trying to quit a serious or even mild addiction faces much the same sort of cell. The addiction crowds all other thoughts out of the mind. The victim is unable to focus on anything other than the craving or the undying urge. Whether the craving is physical or pyschological makes little difference. In the end, there is the mind-numbing repetition of the same damn thought over and over again. The very neuroses of the brain seem unable to make any other connection. Of course, eventually, the cravings pass, depending on whether the person is strong enough to wait or gives into the craving.

Woody smashed his head onto the floor and made a loud thump. The pain was very satisfying because it took his mind off the coke for a few seconds. A small part of his mind looked on dispassionately and told him he was going into mild delirium. The raging id that was in torment told his super-ego to fuck off, and ranged about once more. The bedroom door opened and light came flooding in, momentarily blinding him. He saw two silhouettes that were neither his sister or mother. He thought crazily that they were police coming to take him away. He backed up against the wall and the adrenalin started to pump. He felt himself ready to tip over into madness and he would be glad of the release. One of the silhouettes held out a hand. Woody tensed to pounce.
“I think you need this bad, Woody, so take it.” said one of the silhouettes.

Woody knew that voice. It was John. Scott was with him. Scott was holding something in the palm of his hand, and when he pinched it with his thumb and index finger to let it hang down, Woody could see what it was. White powder in a plastic bag. Woody took one step and snatched it out of Scott’s hand without a word of thanks. He would feel ashamed for doing that later. He dipped his pinkie finger into the bag and scooped up a tiny amount of cocaine. There was no time for screwing around with a mirror and a razor blade. He stuck the little finger into one nostril, and sat down on the floor to wait. The rush took less than thirty seconds to hit his head. The furry rodent that had been chewing on his brain gave up and fled, and he could start to think about other things other than cocaine. He could remember the last minutes of the championship football game, when he had tasted victory in his mouth and had plunged for the winning touchdown. The whooping and hollering in the lockeroom afterwards. The victory party that night and the three separate girls that had offered themselves to him. He had been a champion – and a warrior.
“Woody, we gotta talk,” a voice said. John had spoken. Woody turned his face and his mind towards Scott and John. His head was very clear. He noticed that they looked at him with a sort of pity. But you don’t know what you’re missing, he thought to himself, you guys don’t know how peaceful this can be.
“So boys, I know what you’re thinking, it’s time to pay the piper,” Woody said, and he laughed.

* * *

The third life of Michael MacKenzie exploded and blipped out on the video screen. He wasn’t concentrating hard enough to make high score today. In disgust he left the game without registering his initials. As he walked through the arcade he fingered the end of his ponytail. He noted with a little bit of satisfaction that it was growing long again. He hated having just little nubs of hair too scanty to fit inside an elastic. His last ponytail had been a beauty, hanging half-way down his back. His father had cut it off, a bastardly thing to do, but then again, his old man was always a bastard after getting drunk. He was always sorry afterwards, and sometimes he even apologized. But the next time would always be a couple of weeks or months away. Mike’s mother had an agreement with the sugar refinery where his dad worked. They always held back enough of his pay from him at the end of the month so that the family could always make rent. Most of the time Mike and his mother just had to fear that the old man would drink up all the household money.

To be fair, he was rarely violent. He had only hit Mike’s mother four or five times in all the years they had been married. One time, when Mike had been nine or ten, his mother had invited over three of her friends on paycheque night. The conversation had turned to beatings as the women had trundled a succession of can-you-top-this stories. One woman had been thrown to the ground in a parking lot by her boyfriend when she was five months pregnant. Another one remembered when she and her man had both been drinking and she had woken up in the morning with bruises all over her body, and not remembering what happened. Mike guessed in that he and Mom were lucky in many ways, considering what was out there. But he wouldn’t let Dad beat up Mom again. The football season had left him lean and hard. He was sure that he was quicker than the old man after too many years of boozing. Plus, he was keeping up on the weightlifting so there was no chance of him losing muscle in the off-season.

Mike stood leaning against a video machine, his face becoming grimmer and grimmer as he sank ever deeper into thought. A hand slapped him on the back and he turned about slowly. He took pride in the fact that he was never jumpy. Never.
“How’s the man doing?” John asked. He was with Scott and Woody. All three of them wore strange smiles on their faces.
“Not too bad. You guys come down here to try and whump me at a game of Dragon’s Lair? Ain’t gonna happen, no way,” Mike said.
“Nah, not today, Mike my man. Today is not the day for games. Today is a serious day, maybe the best day of your life. You see, we need somebody to help us in a little task we must perform.”
“Um, listen boys, we be brothers forever and all that sort of happy crappy, but how ‘bout you guys just kiss Rob’s ass and make-up? I don’t want no part of messing with the man.”
“Shit,” Scott said, “that’s one smart boy, reading our minds like that.”
“Hmmm, I can see Mike needs some persuasion,” Woody said.
John held out both his hands. In one palm he held out a roll of twenties. In the other hand, which he opened only briefly, he held a small baggie full of cocaine.Mike’s eyelids flipped open and the other three boys laughed.
“Shit, his face don’t do that even when he’s putting a block on a linebacker,” Woody cried out.
John let Mike carefully take the roll of bills in his hand.
“We sold just three grams in the last two days,” John said, “we don’t have to kiss no one’s ass. All we’re offering is bucks, broads, and glory.”
Mike’s old man brought home in one week the cash that he now held in his hand. Images of his Mom and Dad flashed through his head. What he thought after that made him dizzy.
“Let’s get out of this place, I need time to get my head straight. And I got questions, Poleshaw.” “Michael, there’s no other way I would want it.” John said, He put his hand on Mike’s shoulder, and led him toward the exit.

* * *

“So what do we call ourselves?” It was Scott who asked the question.
“We ain’t a gang, we’re just a network,” Mike said.
“We have to be more than that. This ain’t gonna be easy. We have to be brothers ‘cause Rob ain’t gonna roll over and play dead,” John said.
“Shit, he’s just a lame duck. His ass is gone after this year,” Woody said.
“He ain’t just gonna give up. No way,” John said.
“So what do we call ourselves?” Scott asked again.
“It will have to be a secret name. If Black hears of us organizing, he’ll throw us all out,” Mike said.
“You guys are all sounding pussy,” Woody said.
“For Christ’s sake, do you think this gonna be easy? Like doing a friggin’ paper route?” Mike said.
“Rob don’t back up his people. They’ll wuss out on him the moment things get hot,” Woody said.

John looked out the window of the Patty Shop. They had paid for their meal to the delight of Dickie. He didn’t stop to think where the money had come from. John decided it had been a wise investment to stuff his people (that was how he thought of them now) with food so that tempers wouldn’t be so short. He glanced at Scott with meaning; it was obvious that Woody hated Rob’s guts now. Ironically, that could turn out to be a problem. There would enough to do without having to keep an eye on disciplining Woody. Discipline, disciple. Followers. Men on a mission. John found his train of thought focusing on the concept.

“We’ll call ourselves disciples,” John said suddenly during a lull in the conversation.
“Say what?” Mike said.
“God, what’s that’s supposed to mean?” Woody said.
“It’s what we are, or what we have to be,” John said. “I guess you could say we’re trying to spread the Good Word.”
Scott broke out into a smile. “Weird yeah, but I like it.”
Mike and Woody stopped to think it over.
“Well shit, I guess I can’t think of anything better,” Mike said.
John put out his hand in the centre of the table. “Do it or walk away. Swear loyalty to what we have now.”

It was not melodrama. By instinct the boys knew what they were getting into. They followed a ritual that was at least thousands of years old. They acknowledge that something was bigger than themselves. They swore fealty to a higher cause. All four clenched hands in the shape of a diamond.
“We are disciples now and brothers together. Swear that you never walk away from your family.”
They all swore.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Eleven: Craps

Black held the dice in his hand by way of a lock-grip.
“This method allows you to click the dice together in a most satisfying manner, as if you are shaking them in your hand.”
Black spoke mainly to Chretian, because Holstein had seen it done a thousand times before. Black rolled the dice on the coffee table which had been covered with a blanket. A seven came up.
“It’s called the blanket roll. In my time, every player that knew his way around a set of dice had heard of it, but curiously enough, very few players ever recognised it. I presume you know a bit about craps, Paul.”
“I know that rolling two ones or two sixes loses you the bet,” Chretian said.
“Very good, now watch again,” Black said, and he threw the dice again. An eleven came up.
“You flubbed it,” Chretian said.
“Wrong. The blanket roll is not suppose to show seven one hundred percent of the time. Under the rules, I get to roll again until I make my “natural,” or point. But with this roll, I will never throw a two or twelve.”
“I think I see why now.”
“Good eyes. Now look one more time,” Black said, and he threw again. The dice fell out of his hand and rolled end over end over one axis only. The one and six spots made up the hub of the wheels.
“The blanket roll is the reason why in any casino you have to throw the dice against the wall in order for the roll to count,” Black said.
“And where pray tell, did you learn such marvelous sleight of hand?” Chretain asked.
“The world is full of marvelous tricks and illusions, and one can find teachers in the strangest places,” Black replied.

He paused and spoke again more carefully. “Arnold and I go back further than you might have guessed, Paul. We were in the same battalion in Korea.”
“But I made sergeant while the now-beloved principal of Laurentian rose no higher than the rank of corporal,” Holstein said with a smile.
“We ran a floating crap game on the days when we were not fighting for Queen, country, and the UN,” Black said.
“A crooked crap game. I am surprised,” Chretian said.
“Wrong,” Holstein said, “we ran the straightest game of dice south of the 49th parallel, because we knew how to spot the cheats. The Yanks loved us because we offered the correct odds as well. There is no bigger gambler in the world than an American G.I., eh Ben?”
“So you were honest out of the goodness of your hearts,” Chretian said.
“Wrong again,” Black said. “We made sure to have the house percentage on our side – by betting always against the dice thrower and never throwing the dice ourselves. The `wrong’ bettor always has an advantage of exactly one point four one percent against the dice-thrower.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like much of an advantage,” Chretian said.

Black and Holstein looked at each other, exchanged smiles, and let the matter drop. The tiny advantage of one and a half percent had made them a profit of over three thousand dollars each back in the early nineteen fifties, a tremendous sum for that period. In the long run, the tinest advantage could grind out a fortune, but it was amazing how many people could not or would not grasp that crucial concept. In the long run, Old Man percentage beat out Lady Luck every time. “I learned the blanket roll from a barber back in York. It was a reward for being the best runner in my neigbourhood,” Black said.
“I didn’t know you ran track in your youth,” Chretian said.
Holstein leaned back and roared with laughter at the statement. Black just smiled that small smile of his that had mystified countless students and teachers. It was a knowing, guilty smile. “Sorry Paul, us fogies forget how the old way of doing things has been completely eradicated.” “Sanitized and cleaned up by the politicians. They weren’t happy enough with the ice so they took over the whole operation,” Holstein said cynically.
“Once again gentlemen, you have left me far behind,” Chretian said.
“Once again, we ask forgiveness Paul. Arnold and I are referring to the Numbers game. The dear old barber who was my mentor in dice also held the post of agent for the Numbers bank in my neigbourhood. I worked for them in my teens, until my youthful idealism overwhelmed my common sense and I signed up to go to war. Drunk as a skunk when I signed the enrollment papers at the recruiting office, but that’s another story.

“I presume you only have a faint idea of how the numbers racket worked Paul, so I’ll explain briefly. You could bet anywhere from a nickel to a dollar on a three digit number. If a player won, he or she was paid off at 500 to one, minus a ten percent tip for the runner, who is responsible for pay-offs and collecting the slips from various agents around the neighbourhood. An agent was somebody who solicited bets for the Numbers game. The daily winning number was usually made up of the last three digits of the betting handle at the local racetrack, which was about as random as you could get back in those days.”
“Let me interrupt you with yet another stupid question. All of this was illegal, I presume?” Chretian said.
“Sadly enough, it is true. Not a fine example to held up to the various inhabitants of Laurentian eh? But I humbly plead that poverty led to a way of crime, although I was a fine runner and never did get caught. Oh, the `ice’ that Arnold was mentioning… can you guess what that refers to?”
“Protection money?”
“Splendid! My goodness, hearing all this lingo of my youth is certainly making me nostalgic. It was refered as such because it meant to cool off the local heat. As well, the politicians weren’t the only ones who had to be paid off. The local beat cops as well as various community leaders all demanded a cut. Oh, and let’s not forget every charity from Etobicoke to China. The hypocrisy was the worst part of it.”
“But the Numbers racket is dead and gone,” Chretian said.
“No, it has just mutated. Lotteries, my dear fellow! What was once illegal has now been taken over by the government because it proved to be too lucrative for the Numbers businessmen,” Holstein said.
“You mean the Mafia,” Chretian said.
It was Black’s turn to snort and laugh. “The only Italian involved in the numbers racket was Nick the Spaghetti Man – I never knew his last name. He ran the only Italian food restaurant in my neighbourhood. And he played the numbers, he didn’t run them. No Paul, the numbers “bank” or the people who collected the money and made the payoffs, they were some of the most respected businessmen in York. I do believe one or two of them were wardens at my local church.”
“Whose coffers were undoubtably enriched by the proceeds of that particular form of gambling,” Hostein said cynically.
“Not that I will ever state this in a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, but the numbers racket benefited the community far more then these damn government lotteries. Us-the runners-wouldn’t take bets from people on relief, for example. And the money stayed in the local community, more or less.”

“There’s no relief anymore. It’s called social assistance nowadays,” Chretian said.
“So if you change the wording, you change the stigma? Orwell thought as much and said so: in my later years I have begun to wonder,” Holstein said.

He paused to think and then continued. “I remember reading a case study of a remedial program that was run in one of Ottawa’s technical schools a few years back. It was for the `disadvantaged,’ meaning the students who would not or could not learn at the same rate as the others. It was called ‘basic instruction’ or ‘basic rudiments’-something that some of the parents objected to anyways. So guess what happened.”
“They changed the name; probably to something like ‘fast-track learning.’ ”
“Very funny, no, they weren’t that Orwellian. They changed the title of the program from ‘basic instruction’ to ‘learning 233.’ Note the genius of the title. How could anyone quibble with an innoculous number?”
“Wait, let me guess, someone did.”
“The other schoolchildren weren’t fooled at all. They still taunted the schoolchildren in the remedial program, only they would tease them by calling them 233s. To them, it meant the same as calling them dummies. Soon enough, the parents wanted to withdraw their children from the 233 program because of the stigma attached.”
“It was the little boy who cried out that the emperor had no clothes.”
“That’s one allusion. Another could be that the intellectuals delude only themselves when they think they can control the proles. The proles do whatever they damn well please, and their street smarts keep them one step ahead of the bureaucrats.” Holstein said.
“And so what are we,” Black nearly cried out, breaking into the conversation. “Bureaucrats or proles?”
“God, hopefully neither,” Holstein said. “But it does make one think. Where do our loyalties lie? With the students, the parents, or the bureaucrats?”
“Our duty is to the community in which we serve,” Black said.
“I can poke holes into that statement. Do the students know what’s best for themselves? No. Do their parents know what’s best for their children. Not in the school in which we find ourselves. Oh yes, some are model citizens of Vancouver and of Canada. But some cash their welfare cheques and spend it on cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets all on the very same day. But it this a community or a collection of peoples pretty well thrown together at random? Do the people living in the school jurisdiction of Laurentian High know the name of their next door neighbour? I think not.”
“Nevertheless Ben, we serve the community,” Black said, his voice no longer questioning. “Just as we served as country so many years ago even though Korea is a long, long way from Toronto, or Vancouver for that matter. We are raising the future citizens of our country. We are here to serve the community, and if you don’t like that word, then we serve the collective.”
Holstein leaned back in his chair and roared with laughter. “God yes, the collective. Yes, there’s a word that appeals to a leftist like me.”

Chretian excused himself to pour another round of drinks. They were at Holstein’s comfy bungalow at the north end of Burnaby, near Simon Fraser University. Woods on a near-mountain surrounded the campus and partially obscured the northern slopes. Holstein had arisen early that morning, before the start of the East-West traffic, and had actually smelled pine in the air this close to the city, indeed in the very city itself. The only thing wrong with the location was that at night he could not see the stars. Too much light pollution. Holstein and his wife had moved to this house ten years ago, after the last of their three children had moved out. He was four years a grandfather and enjoyed the role immensely. After retirement, which was not too far off, he and his wife wanted to move to Vancouver Island, somewhere between Victoria and Nanaimo, where there were still trees that had stood since the beginning of the century. And one could see all the heavens on a moonless night. Chretian returned with the drinks, two alcoholic, one that was not. Black never lectured on the evils of alcoholism, he just gave a small smile if Paul or Ben started to slur words or waver in dealing the cards. He also would offer to raise the stakes to a nickel a point. The trickster persona concealed itself under the layers of advancing years, but Black had never discarded it. It served him too well for too long.

“And so what were talking about that was so fascinating?” Chretian broke the silence.
“We were talking about the community, or the collective if you prefer. Intellectuals and proles. Gambling.” Holstein said.
“We were circling around a topic that has been on the periphery of my thoughts all evening, but I have just waiting for a right time to bring it up,” Black said.
“No time like the present,” Chretian said.
“Despite the best efforts of authorities since the beginning of time to regulate the common man, or the proles if you prefer that term, crime and illegal activity have never been successful eradicated from any community. Gambling for example, was never seriously close to extinction despite the best efforts of the Puritans in power. Prostitution is another good example. Vice is so difficult to eradicate, don’t you gentlemen agree?” Black said.
“Ah, I do believe we are going to move from a philosophical generality to specific example,” Chretian said.
“Mmm, I’m getting transparent in my old age, losing my touch. Yes, to be specific what the devil are we to do about the dope that’s flooding our high school?”
Holstein let out a long whistle. “Find the source and eliminate it?”
“Frisk everyone at the door everyday?” Chretian said.
“Yes I suppose if it were that easy, something would have done a long time ago,” Black said, “but a bad situation is getting worse. Gretchen -you know her, she teaches grade 10 Geography- sent me two boys last week who were obviously high. In class!”
“We could start from there. Did the two have anything to say for themselves?” Holstein said. “Arnold, I thought you knew better than that. The boys weren’t dealers, obviously. Stoned in class? I pray for dealers that foolish. No, they came back to earth and clammed up pretty quick. Maybe too quick. There was fear behind their silence, not just the teen version of don’t-tell-the-adults-anything.”
“Perhaps even their silence offers us a clue,” Chretian said, “That, and Mr. Black’s boyhood memories of the numbers racket.”
“We are listening.”
“It was the community leaders of Mr. Black’s neighbourhood who offered protection and even ran the operation itself. It is not the rejects, the cast-offs, that are given the plum proceeds from the organization of vice. Who are the most prestigous members of our school? What is the most prestigous organization of Laurention High?”
There was silence for a moment, and then Black answered in a low groan. “The city champions of football. The Laurentian Tigers. But can you be sure?”
“No, of course not. There’s a good chance none of the players may be dealing. But they know about it. Where else can a dealer secure enough prestige to ensure accounts are always paid in full? Or to make sure the code of omerta is honoured? Whoever associates with the players but stays in the shadows, yes, perhaps we should look out for such a person. And conduct a midnight search of his locker.”

* * *

Black stared up at the ceiling while his wife quietly breathed beside him. He couldn’t remember the last time that she had fallen asleep before him. That had been his one major weapon against stress in all the years of being a high school principal: An astounding ability to sleep exactly seven hours out of twenty-four, no matter what the circumstances. He supposed the lack of alcohol in his life helped the regularity. But tonight, for some reason, he could not sleep. Paul had made some good sense in pointing out where the cancer lay, or at least where it took refuge. Black had been blind to the possibility that his beloved Tigers would betray him. No, he was being too harsh on himself. Chretain played the fool a little too much for his career prospects to be unaffected, but he was a sharpster, like himself and Arnold. Paul could make a good principal one day, if he could overcome that hidden weakness that Black sensed nonetheless. A lack of faith in himself or the system? Cynicism killed a man as sure as cynanide.

Black turned his thoughts back to question of dope-dealing and the football team. It seemed everybody over the age of twenty soon forgot what a Darwinian place high school could be, a witches’ brew of glandular testosterone and estrogen. The population of Laurentian high school consisted mainly of the offspring of the working-class poor and welfare types. As such, the numbers had seemed to point to Black doing a remarkable job in keeping the peace. No muggings, no stabbings, rarely more than a schoolyard squabble from time-to-time. Schools in south Vancouver, Kitslano, and Surrey all had higher rates of violence and incidents of drug use than Laurentian, which had among its boundaries the most vicious city blocks in all of Canada. There had been thirty homicides withing a square mile of Laurentian just last year. Judged within the proper context, the high school was a miracle of sorts, a peaceful oasis in an angry desert. Why?

The question presently haunted Black because in the last couple of weeks, there had been signs that the long peace was ending. There had been the two boys who had come to class stoned. Another boy had shown up to afternoon class with bruises on his face. He had not talked either, and his face had been unmarked during morning homeroom. There were small incidents to be sure, but Black’s grapevine had been utterly silent on the perpetrators, or even the circumstance that had surrounded the incidents. Silence suggested conspiracy. An incident from a couple of years back broke from the waters of his unconscious memories. During a physical education class, someone had ripped up the street clothes of three freshmen boys, undoubtably to send some sort of message. One week later, one of the very same boys had ended up in the hospital with a broken arm. But the boys had not talked. No one had talked. Black remembered doing the interrogation of everyone who had belonged in that phys. ed class. He remembered one student in particular, a certain Robert Gates. Unlike all the others, he had been neither nervous nor defiant, but calm, sympathetic even, like one captain talking to another.

So this whole thing is upsetting everybody and everything, the boy had actually said to him.Yes, Black had answered back, we would certainly like to get to the bottom of whatever is happening. Who, for example, would what to harrass a couple of innocent freshmen? That’s what I would like to know, Robert. I have no idea, the boy had answered back, those three boys kept to themselves. But whoever did what they did were real chicken about it, weren’t they? They certainly were, Black had answered back, infuriated that he could not squeeze this boy any further, even though he all but knew everything and anything. Ever since then, Black had kept a careful eye on Robert Gates. But the boy had been good as gold, considering the circumstances. Perhaps too good. Black closed his eyes. Yes, maybe it would be a good idea to call Robert Gates into his office for a chat. A good principal always tries to keep in touch with his students. A wise prince always seeks intelligence about other princes.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Twelve: Middle Game

John placed his elbows under Debbie’s thighs and pushed upward so that her knees hung in the air only six inches from her head. She moaned as he penetrated into her for the third time this evening. It was hard work keeping her legs open like this but she told him that she enjoyed it most like this. He found it most exciting fucking from behind, when she was on her knees and her face was buried in the pillow. He reflected that his preference probably made him a bit weird. Or maybe he just had some Greek blood flowing in his veins. Anyways, doing it by holding Debbie’s feet up near her head required a bit of work.

She came, and John set about getting his satisfaction. He wasn’t too sure if he would able to come for the third time that evening. One time there had been talk around the locker room about who had done the most times in one night. Woody said he had done it eight times before falling asleep, seriously. John suspected that Woody was full of shit. Either that, or else it was true what they said about the sexual prowess of blacks. John’s record stood at four, and his cock had ached the next day. Of course, John’s record had been accomplished by wacking off, and had been assisted by a truly tremedous issue of “Swank” magazine. John came, but it was only a tiny orgasm compared to the first two before it. However, it was such a relief after all that hard work that he fell on Debbie’s chest like it had been some momentous event. What the hell, women had egos too.

For ten minutes they held each other in their arms. John’s left index finger slowly drew circles around one of Debbie’s nipples. John liked looking at nipples. maybe he had fond infant memories of them. He wondered what it would be like for a grown man to drink from a women’s lactating nipple. He decided that with Debbie, he didn’t want to be the one responsible for giving her breast milk. He rolled off the bed to take a leak. Debbie’s mom was over at her’s boyfriend’s place. Again. John and Debbie did not pick any night when her mother was home, for obvious reasons. S

ebastian was in the TV room, watching a Stallone flick, First Blood One or Two, or whatever. The body count was high enough anyways to keep the attention of a seven year old boy. “Yah, blow away the motherfuckers?” Sebastian cried out. John was mildly schocked.
“Where did you hear that word?” he asked Sebastian. Sebastian turned his head towards John and looked puzzled.
“I dunno,” he said. “Around.”
He turned his head back to the T.V. Rambo had a huge sort of machine gun, a M-60 maybe, resting on his hip and was blazing away at the enemy who fell like marionettes with their strings cut. John felt a little uneasy at the sight of a seven year old boy cheering multiple deaths. He tried to remember at what age he was allowed to see violent movies. Or when he first used the word “motherfucker.”

Debbie was out of bed at her desk, working away at something. A bag of cocaine rested near her left elbow. An even bigger bag of pot occupied centre stage. She was rolling a joint with the marijuana and a little bit of tobacco.
“You have to cut this stuff Johnsie,” she said, “‘cause it’s pure hydroponic. It will blow you away for hours if you’re not careful.”
“Debbie, I got no time to get fucked up — I gotta meet the boys later this evening,” John said. “But you have to sample the merchandise, don’t you? Unless you trust me not to give you bad shit.”
John leaned over and kissed her on the nape of the neck. “Can’t trust you, can’t trust nobody and I’m fucked. But a toke would be nice,”

John was swapping coke for pot and a few tabs. Everybody at Laurentian appreciated the rich man’s powder, but some insisted on the old stand-bys of hemp and acid. Well, the group was only in business to satisfy the needs of its customers. The transaction, at current street prices, favoured Debbie but John could afford to undercut just about anybody. John and the boys were going through two bags of coke a week; at that rate they would be out of coke in just under three years.

John took the joint, had a few tokes, and passed it back to Debbie. After a few minutes had passed, he toked again. He sat down on the bed.
“Damn Deb,” he said, “You weren’t kidding.”
She stared back at him with dreamy eyes. “It’s good to get fucked up after a really good fuck,” she said, and she giggled.
John didn’t get any giggles but a series of head rushes. The feeling was sort of pleasant, but he hated the loss of control over his body, the ability of the drug to take away his focus on whatever he was thinking of, at that moment, and to throw it in an entirely unexpected direction. He stood up and walked to the window. He hoped that some fresh air would clear his head.

The window faced north towards the mountains, invisible except for the lights on the ski runs of Grouse John remembered an episode that had happened six years ago. He had been camping with his family on the mountains in the summer. He and Rachel and gone on a hike alongside a glacier river up a steep slope. Rachel had stood upon a rock outcropping that had given way underneath her weight. John had been directly below her not ten feet away. A waist-high boulder had tumbled toward him. John had frozen for the barest instant because he had been unsure of the path of the boulder which randomly kicked itself from side to side. Finally, John had leapt to one side and stuck out his hand as if to guide the boulder by him. He had felt no fear at all, not even afterwards. A sharp edge of rock had cut him on one of his fingers. Afterwards, he had bathed his hand in the ice-cold glacier stream, with his sister fussing over him. John looked at his watch. A half-hour had gone by.

Debbie was lying in the bed lost in her dream-world. “Shit Debbie,” he said, “I gotta haul ass. I’m supposed to meet the boys at the Patty Shop in about five minutes.”
“Gimme a kiss,” she said in a dreamy sort of way.
John leaned over and touched her on the lips. Then he grabbed his coat and his share of the dope and hustled out of the bedroom. He tip-toed past Sebastian who had fallen asleep with the T.V. still on, and almost forgot to pack the dope inside one of his pockets before leaving the flat. It was the stone that made him careless, and he hated that. The streets were vacant at that time of night, empty even of whores. Debbie told him that the police hustled them off the corners every once in awhile in a futile attempt to stop the trade. Meanwhile, the dealer-pimps would sit in their Camaros and Firebirds and bemoan the loss of income. The government made it so hard to run a business, dishonest or otherwise, while it was such a easy scam to tell your social worker that you had lost your welfare cheque again, and please may I have another?

John walked down East Hastings with his head clearing fast. There were so many things to think about, and they all had to do with his own business and Rob. Of course he was used to independents nibbling away at his franchise at Laurentian. Debbie had been doing a little here and there since she had been a freshman. But every once in awhile Rob yanked her chain, telling her hey woman, remember your place and gimme a cut. He had cut out three of her best customers in such an easy contemptous manner. He had walked over to her locker and had said Debbie, don’t worry about so-and-so, I’ll handle his needs from now on. Then he would pat her on the ass or grab one of her breasts and move along. The small crowd of hangers-on (Debbie called them suck-asses) would chuckle at Rob’s wit, and run their eyes all over her body. She would feel dirty, and hate Rob even more, who was usually careful not to make unnecessary enemies but was blind just this once. A girl can’t make a buck without some asshole coming along and wanting a cut, whether she’s selling her body or something else, she told John. She couldn’t wait for Rob to graduate and get the fuck out of her life. She looked at John like he was some sort of savior, and gave him what he needed most: Information. John had down on a list pretty well the name of every doper at Laurentian High, as well as a pegging on every one of Rob’s merry men and how solid was each and every one of them. Most of them were seniors who would be tight with Gates until diploma day. But there were a few who were looking down the line at another year or so in school with Rob gone to college or jail. It would good to know what exactly what Rob knew. Even better, to know exactly what Rob was gonna to do to John and company.

John felt irritated that he still had to pussy-foot around Gates and crew. He wanted to challenge Rob openly and claim Laurentian for himself and his gang. He wanted the respect of being Laurentian’s main man. He wanted to become a prince, so he could claim his princess. He yearned to be with Jenny again. He wanted to see her smile and make her laugh. She had wept that night in the garden, and when he had asked her why she said that she was crying because the two of them could never be. He asked if that was because he had holes in the bottom of his sneakers and she said yes, that was why. She had dated a poor boy before, and had watched him shrivel up at the sight of her father’s big house and fancy cars. The family’s wealth had poisoned their relationship. It had come as a relief when her father had sent her away to private school. The boy had drifted out of the picture, sinking back to the working-class world from which he had come. It had broken her heart. She had sworn that she would never do it again. The very next night John had taken a small shovel out of the garden shed and put it in his pack-sack. He had waited in his bedroom until his parents had finished watching the late night news and then he had crept out through the window. He would no longer deny his ordination. Woody’s addiction, football, and Jennifer all formed links in a chain that had dragged him back to the suitcase filled with cocaine. In the autumn he had been nothing more than a high school boy trying to make graduation with a minimum of fuss. Now? Through no fault of his own, his world had turned topsy-turvy. He could whimper and turn his back to it all, or he could grasp at the one thing that could turn the tide in his favour. He thought again that he really had no choice, or so he convinced himself.

Fives paces from an old tree stump, and John had easily found the spot where they had buried the suitcase. Unconsciously, even at the time of burial, John had somehow known that he would be back, and so he had memorized that patch of broken earth. Less than one hour later, his shovel had clunked against something that wasn’t a stone…

… John walked through the doorway of the Patty Shop and the boys were all there, with a friend. Good, John thought, this could be a very good night as far business goes. Sitting with Woody, Scott and Mike was a guy by the name of Frank, a junior at Laurentian High and a part-time runner for Robby. Frank was nervous.
“Can’t we go into the back?” Frank asked again, “I mean Jesus, if somebody sees me here and talks, I’m gonna have some serious explaining to do to Rob, and that’s no good for nobody.”
“Boy has got a point,” Scott said, nodding as if in agreement.
“…but we always sit here no matter what,” Mike said.
“…so it looks like you’re shit out of luck.” Woody finished.

The three boys smiled. John had told them to make Frank sweat just a little. John had also told them that if Frank threatened to take a walk, then to show him the door. Scott, Woody, and Mike were beginning to discover that John had a talent for sizing up people. John ignored the boys for a moment and went to the counter to order something to eat. There was a chair vacant, across from Frank, waiting for him. He sat down and said nothing for a moment, letting his eyes look around and a small smile play around his mouth. John had good eyes, a firm steady gaze that nearly always made the other person speak first.
“So I heard you wanted to talk to me,” Frank said, breaking the silence. Frank didn’t want to come on like he was a weasel, but that’s what he was. Maybe he had an illusion that he could walk in and talk to John like he was some kind of equal. That illusion was fast disappearing.
“I don’t know Frankie, you got something to say? You got something that can help me? I always remember friends.” John said.
What stupid fucking dialogue, like something out of a gangster movie, John thought. Except that this is real, that it was very necessary that he break Frank to his fist, that he talk slowly and with hidden meaning so that he could entrap Frank without scaring him off.
“Come on, you want to know about Rob,” Frank said.
John laughed. “Yeah. But what I really want to know is, does he know?”
“He knows something’s up. But nobody is talking to him, and it’s pissing him off. Pretty soon he’ll squeeze one of the major customers that ain’t buying from him anymore and they’ll talk.” “Maybe not, they’ve been warned,” Woody said.
Frank looked at Woody with a brief flash of scorn before remembering his place.
“Customers always talk, fucking always, because the dope makes them chickenshit, or they got to brag that their connection is the best in the city.”
“Okay, Frank, but we wanna know the answer to the million-dollar question,” Mike said, “what’s he gonna do when he finds out who’s moving on his territory?”
Frank could feel the balance of power shifting in his favour. That was the wild card in this dance, that was why they needed him.
“You know, Rob sells us hash at seven a gram, and then we flip it for ten or twelve, all things depending. A strip costs us ten, and we give it out for fifteen. But that’s individual selling, a gram at a time, a strip at a time. On volume deals, we always make less. Sometimes it’s enough to make a man think about going legitimate,” Frank said.
“Or make a man think about going into business for himself,” John added, looking at Frank with new eyes.
This boy is hungry, he thought, and maybe a little stupid too. Frank read John’s mind.
“No, no,” he said, “that’s not it at all. Holding down the franchise takes a different breed of cat than a salesman like me. I’m a distributor, not an owner — or an enforcer. God knows you need the last.”
Frank looked around the table with the sharpest glance of the evening. “It’s been peaceful around the school for the first time in years. And just down the street there’s Needle Park where the junkies O.D at least one a week. A little farther down, there’s Strathcona, where somebody can get a knife between the ribs just as a reminder to not get too smart.”
“We can take care of business,” Woody said.

It was the wrong thing to say. Frank straightened up and lost his cringing pose, though the fear stayed in his voice and even seemed to grow. A thought came into his head, and his eyes grew wide.
“Your connection is keeping you in the dark,” he said slowly. Then he repeated it.
“Fuck you, we know the score,” Mike said.
Frank shook his head slowly from side to side. “Who’s scared of Robbie if he stands alone Nobody. But who stands behind him? You don’t know. You don’t know enough to be scared.”
Frank got out of his seat and walked out the door. Just like that. Nobody said anything for a moment until John felt all eyes staring upon him. Frank’s little display looked very interesting to him and it was leading him to formulate a plan. But for now he had to say something. “Chickenshit is scared of shadows.”
Everybody laughed, and John lit a cigarette to help him think.

* * *

They were walking along the darkened street of Hastings when Mike asked John if it was safe to do it. John shrugged his shoulders. “Should be no problem if Woody’s got the key, eh Woody?” he said.
“I am the coach’s little pet,” Woody replied, and he held up a key chain with three keys on it. “I asked him one time if I could borrow some school keys so I could come in early and lift some weights. He gave me a set for one day, and that was enough time to hit a locksmith, don’t you think?”
“We just gotta avoid bacon until we get there. Gees Woody, do remember the time that ghost car followed us home from that party. I swear, the bacon was on our asses for a good four blocks,” Scott said.
“I wanted to run and have some fun but Scott wussed out,” Woody said.
“That’s what they wanted, probably. Maybe they would out have decided we were bad dudes and needed a bullet in the ass. Or maybe they would called in a doggie with a taste for dark meat. Shit, don’t give them an excuse, Woody,” Scott said.
“Ah, it’s all a friggin’ conspiracy to keep the black man down,” Woody said.
Everybody laughed because that was one of Woody’s favorite sayings when he was losing an argument.

By the time they reached Laurentian High conversation had virtually ceased except for a few brief words every half-minute punctuated by giggles. Everybody was nervous, a good sort of excited nervousness that sent shivers creeping down your back. We’ll look damnfool stupid if get busted for this, John thought. But he did not even pause in his stride to reconsider.

The front doors of the school were separated from the street by thirty feet of a semi-circular driveway. A high chain-link fence surrounded the rest of the school grounds. The boys ambled along the sidewalk looking every which way until John said “do it.” Then they darted to the front doors and hid in the shadows. Woody fitted a key in the lock. The cylinder refused to turn. The second failed also.
“Da coach butt-fucked Woody,” Mike whispered, and everybody hissed as they tried to restrain their giggles. Woody placed the third key in the lock and jiggled it for a few seconds. The door opened.

They crept along the corridor until they realized that they were safe within the bowels of the building. Scott had brought a totally inadequate penlight, so they depended on red lights of the fire-exits as beacons for navigation. It took them a good ten minutes to find their way to the gym. The unatural silence kept them on their toes, as if they expected a teacher to pop out of a door-way any second. When they reached the phys-ed section of the school, it was Woody who spoke first.
“Which gym?” he asked.
“The bigger one,” John said, “I need a lot of space to move my arms.”
A chorus of giggles relaxed the boys and they unconsciously straightened up and regained their swagger.

Woody opened the gym doors with one of the keys on the first try and Scott flicked the light switches. Nothing happened for two minutes, then one could make a faint blue from one of the ceiling lights. They needed time to warm up.
“Gimme,” John said and Woody flipped him the keys. John walked over to a small door embedded in the far wall of the gymnasium. He opened it. It was the equipement room. He chose two nice leather basketballs and threw them outside where they bounced along the floor until Scott picked one of them, and Mike the other.
“I don’t know,” Woody said. “The back has been feeling good but I don’t know what the jumping will do to it.”
“John’s gonna get one of mattresses that they use for the girl’s gymnastics classes. You know, the one that’s friggin’ three feet high.” Scott said.
“Could use a fucking hand in here,” said voice from the equipment room. Mike went inside to help. Half-a-minute later the John and Mike emerged from the room dragging behind them a large mattress. Woody’s face visibly brightened. The two boys dragged it to a point under one of the basketball hoops.
“One more thing to make it complete,” John muttered, and he turned to go back inside again. but Scott had beaten him to it. He came out with a mini-trampoline and let out a whoop. “Here we go! It’s NBA dunkfest competition-time.”
The rest of the boys shouted their agreement as they shed their jackets. John took the first turn, as he bounced the basketball three times before jumping on the trampoline. He exulted in the brief sensation of flying before bringing down the basketball in a tomahawk dunk through the hoop. He kept his footing as he landed on the mattress, but only barely. It was the first time he had ever dunked a basketball. This evening would be the only time he ever would.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Thirteen: Cain

Rob reflected twice that week that if things got any worse, he would have a nervous breakdown. He now stood corrected; as more bad news came down the pipe, he still managed to hold back tears of hysteria. It was if the very fibre of his character was being tested and so far he had not cracked. So far.

Rob piloted the Trans Am down the two-lane that led God knows where. He was out in Langley county, away from the city and its unsolvable problems, in the country where the trees grew green and tall and the mountains seemed to reach out and blot out the northern half of the sky. There were no clouds today, for the first time in months. The warm temperature and the new greenery served notice of spring approaching. Rob wondered if he would last that long in Vancouver.

A full tank of gas and he could be gone! His ass could be in Calgary before Sunday. He had three grand in the bank, with four hundred in his pocket. Farther east, he had an older brother in Toronto who ran a nightclub, always on the look-out for good people to help out with this and that. They had not talked in more than a year but blood was blood, and Robby could prove his worth quick enough. He could leave Vancouver and all his problems behind. He could run like…

“A chickenshit,” John said, and it seemed to the crowd gathered in the weightroom to be a statement of momentous importance, like the proclamation of a new era.
“I say, I fucking repeat, what we got here is a chickenshit.” John said again.
Rob sat up slowly, carefully. He had been laying down doing a couple of bench presses, with a weight just heavy enough to make him sweat. On the seventh repetition, while looking up at the ceiling, he had seen a hand come out of nowhere and just ease his spotter to one side. The hand had turned into an arm, then a shoulder, and then John had fully stepped into the picture, staring at him from an upside-down point of view. He had thrown the insult in an loud but even tone of voice, a tone devoid of emotion, full of calculation. Rob had felt safe in the weightroom, surrounded by members of the football team, of which a few had been his boys, totally at his beck-and-call. One or two of them looked at him now with total shock on their faces. The others were unreadable; they must have known beforehand. Betrayal. The realization rippled up from the pit of his stomach and roiled ever so briefly around the corners of his mouth before Rob clamped down on his emotions. Think like a fucking machine, he thought, but he could do no more than gut-react to the drama unfolding around him. Too bad he was playing a starring role.

“Do you know for sure what you’re doing, Poleshaw?” he asked. He immediately felt that statement to be lame. John was flanked by Woody and Mike, and Rob was damn sure that Scott was hovering somewhere behind him. His boys? They sure as hell weren’t backing him up, they were backing off.
“Exactement, Gates,” John answered, “Right down to the T.”

Rob had an incredible urge to jump the bench and commence an ass-kicking on Poleshaw. He’d bet he could move quick enough to get one hand around Poleshaw’s neck and then with the other hand, he could put a thumb in John’s eye. He could really fuck him up in no time flat, but Woody looked huge and mean standing beside him. Rob realized that it had been a mistake to cut the gorilla off from coke.
“Whatsamatter Gates,” John said, “You can’t think of anything to say? You look like you just shit your pants.”
A furtive titter ran around the room, and it loosened Rob’s tongue. “You’re acting pretty brave with that big side of beef beside you.”
“Yeah, you’re right, I guess I am. Maybe you want to go one-on-one with me? I promise none of my boys will join in. Then again, maybe they will. I don’t pretend to control them, know what I mean? Besides, when the fuck did you ever do somebody face-to-face? That bruise I got running around the track took a long time to fade. You don’t remember asshole? Fuck you. I know one thing for sure. Your boys won’t join in. I’ll be here next year, and the year after that maybe. You’ll be gone in a couple of months anywhich way you look at it. Ain’t that right?”

Rob said nothing.
“Damn Rob, you’re really taking the fun out of this. You listening to what I saying? Show yourself. Your army is gone. It’s just you now. Go down like a hero and don’t leave the Tigers hanging. No, it won’t be a fair fight but hey, I learned that from a good teacher, whose got to go out to pasture now. C’mon chickenshit, jump me.”
“Do I look stupid?” Rob said.
“You look scared.” John said. “There’s more to the business than this power-play bullshit.”
“But this is where it starts. And where you finish. I stripped your organization while you were out partying, and now I just took your balls. You’re toast. Get out of here.”

Rob didn’t move. If John backed down on the threat, Rob had a chance to come back later, and save a little face in front of the school.
“Everybody who’s with Gates, step forward. Everybody else, turn around and face the wall or close your eyes. No witnesses.” John said in a quiet voice.
Everybody heard him, and nobody stepped forward to join Rob. There was a shuffle of feet, and excluding John, Woody, and Mike, everybody turned to face the wall. Rob himself turned around and walked towards the door without thinking, knowing that he had lost it all. Scott had been keeping watch just outside the weightroom all along.
“Take it easy bro,” Scott said in an amused tone of voice.
There was a big smile on his face too, the asshole. As Rob walked down the corridor he could hear a whoop of joy, and then scattered laughter. That had hurt more than anything John had said.

Rob’s world had fallen apart on a Wednesday. Two days later Mr. Black called Rob into his office for the icing on the cake. On the way down, Rob had mused to himself why he hadn’t just taken the rest of the week off. God knows he needed to retreat somewhere and get a handle on what was going down. He decided that he just didn’t want to give up what he had worked for since the age of thirteen, when his brother had turned two twenties into the rent money in the space of one lousy day. Rob had phoned or met face-to-face with all his enforcers, movers and general groupies the last forty-eight hours, but John and his people had gotten to them first. Some had tried in a gentle and wussy way to explain to him the facts of life, like you would explain to a virgin at her first beer-bash, the cost of a six-pack and a jay. Others, like that bitch Debbie, had laughed in his face and had told him to go fuck himself. It seemed Poleshaw had told everybody at Laurentian that a new sheriff had taken over the business. Pardon, there was one exception.

“And so, Mr. Gates, are you looking forward to graduation, to making your way in the world?” Black asked to begin the conversation.
“Yes sir. Lately, I’ve just had the itch to get up and leave.”
“Yes, it looks like you’ll graduate right on time. You don’t know how much satisfaction that gives me Gates. Your eldest brother wasn’t quite able to grasp the brass ring -by the way- has he been released from Okalla penitentiary yet?”
“A year-and-a-half ago, sir. He’s in Toronto now.” Rob said.
“How is your father doing?”
“Dunno sir, haven’t heard from him in awhile.”
“Mmmmm, yes… I talked with your mother just the other day. Wonderful woman, she seemed very happy that you’re doing so well in school,” Black said.
“I aim to please,” Rob said, and he could feel a sick smile breaking out on his face.

Black was staring holes right through him, like a critical fisherman gauging the best way to gut his catch. What did he know? If John had weasled through channels just a few tidbits about Rob’s organization to Mr Black, then he might as well just bend over and kiss his butt good-bye. Black hadn’t run a hard-ass school like Laurentian with a limp wrist, and much of Gates’ success had been because of an ability to keep a low profile. Now it seemed everybody was rushing to paint a bullseye on his ass.
“It’s so difficult now for an adolescent in this day and age to concentrate solely on his or her studies, especially with the rampant consumerism of this materialistic society,” Black said.
Rob swore he could feel a steel trap chomping up his leg, inching slowly towards his testicles. “For example, so many students nowadays feel the need to have spending money, to buy clothes, music tapes, perhaps even an automobile.” Black continued.
Oh shit, Rob said to himself, as he saw the trap spring shut.
“You have a car, don’t you Robert. A black Trans-Am, I do believe.”
“Yes sir, that is true,” Rob said. He thought it best not to lie, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to volunteer any information.
“A muscle car, an expensive sports car,” Black said.
“Bought it secondhand, got a good deal,” Rob said, and that was a mistake.
“With your dope money? With the filthy cash that you make pushing crap on schoolchildren?”

The force and tone of Black’s words hit Rob like a slap on the face. His eyes went wide as he went into speechless shock for the second time that week. Rob came closer to breaking in Mr. Black’s office than he did in the weightroom with John, as the principal called upon every bit of his formidable will to break Gates in half, to spill his guts all over the light tan carpet of his office. I came so close, Black would think over and over again for days afterward, but the boy kept his cursed mouth shut. In the end, Rob walked out Black’s office with a white face and not much else. Black would hold him responsible now for every infraction committed by any member of the school body. Any shit that went down, Rob would be called into the office for another chat. Rob felt nausated just thinking about it. Black would not be above phoning his mother and play mind games with her. The son-of-a-bitch all but told him that a three-month continous spanking was coming right up for Mrs. Gates little baby boy. Oh God.

Rob shook his head to clear it of the bad memories. He was back in Langley, God’s country, and nobody could fuck with his mind out here. He needed to make a decision, probably them most important one of his life. He wanted to head East so badly, the only problem was that he couldn’t back out of the deal he made with the devil. Rob thought of Laurentian High as his temporary franchise, and he had been correct in thinking that way, for he had always been only renting it. Now the mutually beneficial relationship was over, only they hadn’t told him, so maybe now he had to break the news. They wouldn’t be happy. But maybe they knew already? Who was supplying John and his gang? Somebody trying to poach on the turf of his suppliers? Or maybe the time had come to ease him out of the turf and somebody had just forgotten to tell him. Rob didn’t want to have to sit on the hood of his Trans-Am and figure it all out, but maybe going East wasn’t really an option, because they were in Toronto too. They were fucking everywhere. After another fifteen minutes of contemplation Rob felt he was no closer to the truth. But he was ready to act now, instead of just standing in one place like a dope and having the world roll over him. He jumped into his Trans-Am and drove to the nearest gas station. He found a public phone and placed a call to somebody he only knew by first name. He did not hang up until a meeting had been set for that evening.

* * *

“Do you remember how this all got started?” Jason asked.
He and Rob were sitting on a large patio, drinking beer. It had a hell of nice view of rural Whiterock, not far from the Canadian-U.S. border. Rob sat back in a very comfortable lawn chair and closed his eyes.
“Yeah. It was the last year of junior high. I had sold some grass at class party which I had gotten from alternate sources, at a price not much below retail. I think I had cleared maybe ten bucks for my troubles. Anyways, word had gotten around so three chinks from my school paid me a visit as I was walking home. ”
“And?”
“So what did I do? I told them to fuck off and I booted one of them in the nuts, hoping to take out one real quick. If there had just been two of them, I woulda walked away a winner. Anyways, that guy didn’t whack off for weeks afterwards, I’ll bet. I smoked the second right on the nose; a whole lotta blood which didn’t make him too happy. The third one snuck behind me and kicked out my left knee. I was down on the ground with two upright Chinamen who were both very pissed-off.
“I didn’t say shit to the nurses and doctors at the hospital, of course. I only told my brother what happened. They were Red Eagles, and one of them had a tattoo of a dragon on his inner-left forearm. I had been selling on their turf, which was made up of Laurentian High and the whole neighbourhood right down to the sugar mill.”
“How did that make you feel brother? They come right over from the other side of the world and stake out turf right here in your country. And they spit in your face.” Jason asked him.

Rob thought about the question and answered truthfully. “They’re good fighters, the goddamn Vietnamese especially. Some of them come straight from refugee camps that make Laurentian High look like a friggin nursery school. I let them deal with their own kind at school, even trade a little of this for a little of that. Business is business.”
Jason was happy with that answer because it showed Rob had a good head on his shoulders. But he still pressed his point.
“But are they in control at Laurentien? No, you took them down, didn’t you. It wasn’t right that they used to be in charge.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Rob agreed.
“I remember when your brother passed the word along to us. He’s a good man doing well for himself in Toronto. When we brought you in, we knew you had good blood in you. You served us very well over the years,” Jason said.
“So why did you turn on me?” Rob asked, and Jason spun around.
“Why the fuck am I here and John Poleshaw is running the business?”
“You got things wrong, Gates. This Poleshaw is not affiliated with us,” Jason said.

Rob gasped and let a groan of absolute relief. Then he started to laugh because the tension had wound him up like a piano wire. But now he could relaxed, because at least he had not been betrayed by the Warlocks. Jason saw Rob’s display of emotion and suddenly everything clicked into place as for the reason of the meeting, and why Rob had been acting so cagily. He offered Rob another beer and posed question after question for the next forty-five minutes. He sucked Rob dry.
“Poleshaw is the leader of the gang?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, the crafty little shit cut me off at the knees, I’ll give him that.” Rob said.
“Woody is his main enforcer?”
“A cokehead. Poleshaw must be supplying him with a lot of stuff to keep him happy. That don’t make him any smaller though.”
“Who else?”
“Mike and Scott seem to be the last of the main men. That’s the circle right there.”
“They coloured too?”
“Scott Chartrand is, Mike ain’t, though I think there be a little Indian blood in Mike. He acts crazy sometimes like a fucking Indian, ‘specially when he’s pissed.”
“Where do they hang out?”
“Woody’s uncle place, the Patty Shop. Another big fucking Jamaican. Size must run in the family.”
“Jamaican? The niggers are Jamaican?” Jason asked.
“Yeah.”
Jason got up from his chair to pace the patio and think.
“That explains a few things, Gates, everything is starting to make sense now.”
“You figured out who the suppliers are?”
“Maybe, just maybe. Have another beer. Here’s a jay. I gotta go for a walk and chew on some stuff. You were smart and brave to come here. We shouldn’t have left you in the dark for so long.”

Jason walked away through his backyard, six acres square. In the middle of his estate there’s was a small shack which looked as if it hadn’t been used in years, pretty well hidden out of sight by a few bushes planted here and there. It was true Jason needed time to think. He also needed to place a few phone calls on a secure line. In less than an hour Jason walked back towards the patio, a plan of action firmly decided upon and on its way to being executed. Robert Gates would play a starring role in the plan if Jason could seduce him; now he must play the role of tempter.

“Come over here, Robby, let’s go for a walk,” he said.
Rob got up slowly up from the lawnchair and sorted of floated over to where Jason was standing. It had been a good joint. Jason placed his hand on Rob’s shoulder and smoked the last of the joint. He let it drop on the ground and stubbed it out with his foot.
“You have been wandering in the wilderness for a long time, Gates,” he said, and he turned to away to walk on an easy footpath.
Gates followed him.
“Is it a good stone?” Jason asked.
“Yeah.”
“A good stone like that is worth a lot of bread. You’ve done that for us for years now. Turn stones into bread.”
Rob gave up a chuckle and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s not enough is it?” Jason said, more of a statement than a question.
Rob dropped his smile and tried to figure out what Jason meant. It wasn’t enough, that was true. For one thing, it fell away so easily. All he had was a little bit of money in the bank to show for all those years of worry, sweat, and blood. But there was something else too. He was empty inside. He had no higher cause to live for beside making it through one lousy day to the next.

“Do you know what it means to be bound to a higher cause Robby?” Jason asked. “I’ll tell you. It means giving up yourself to something bigger… it means sacrifice, but what you get back in return is so much more than what you give out. I can’t explain it, except to say it’s like throwing yourself off a high building just knowing that an angel will catch you before you land on the ground. It’s like a faith almost.”
He looked at Gates, who stood there stunned, trying so very hard to understand what he was saying. Jason felt that he had almost had him.
“How would like a family with a hundred brothers? How would you like this mansion with all the land that surrounds. How would like pussy up to your earlobes? A new Harley-Davidson in the garage every year? How would you like the WHOLE FUCKING WORLD AT YOUR FEET?” “YES, GOD YES!!” Rob cried out, and he fell to his knees.

He felt as if his soul would jump outside of his mortal body and leap into the sky. He felt a gargantuan release of emotion, as if a curtain across his spiritual sight had been rent in two and for the first time he could see the world beyond materialism, the shadow-world of a higher belief came clearly into focus. He would dedicate his life now to the Warlocks, become a soldier in the band of glorious warriors. He would serve and be served, and be part of a greater cause. Jason looked upon Robert and was happy. He knew now that Gates belonged to him and his club. It felt good to find a lost soul and bring them into the circle, to show them that there were more important things than get fucked and sucked before sundown. But now he had to take care of business, and Rob would be his apprentice.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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.
“Oh?”
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

Chapter Fifteen: Crossing the Threshold

John found his boys in a state of total chaos at Woody’s place, because the latter had just found out that Scott had been seeing Darlene behind his back. Woody had drawn that conclusion from seeing the couple in a heavy clinch in his sister’s bedroom.
“I’m gonna kill you for touching my baby sister, you bastard,” Woody had yelled.

Scott used the twin bed as an obstacle to Woody’s wrath and then stutter-stepped to one side when Woody jumped on the mattress. Mike was in the kitchen, listening to the pandemonium and laughing his guts outs.
“Woody, Woody, don’t hurt him,” Darlene whelped, and she fluttered about trying to protect Scott, but Woody had gone into one of his rages.
His sister, the one sacred thing he had in the world, was on the point of corruption by his best friend.
“Sumbitch! I’m gonna rip your dick off so that I never have to worry about you again,” Woody said in a softer tone that seemed somehow more dangerous.
By this time, Scott had wormed his way out of the bedroom and had taken refuge in the living room, but he was still cut off from the doorway leading out of the apartment. John heard the ruckus from outside and opened the door. He saw Woody and Scott circling each other, the latter in a state of fear, the former hopping from one foot to the other in anger.
“What the fuck are you doing?” John asked.
“Woody’s upset,” Mike answered from the kitchen.
“He tried to dork my sister!” Woody said.
“Calm down,” John said.
Woody didn’t answer but turned his eyes back to Scott. He tried to move closer but Scott skipped away towards John.
“Woody, I said to fucking… calm… down,” John said again, but in a lower tone of voice, through clenched teeth.
Woody’s rages were becoming more and more frequent. It was really starting to piss John off.
“I tell you, the bastard went behind my back,” Woody said.
“I already know,” John said, “we all knew.”
“Ooops,” Mike said.
“Say what?” Woody asked, and he looked hard at John, trying to refocus his rage onto this new antagonist.
“You’re starting to get pissed when your toast burns in the morning, Woody. It’s time you got a grip.” John said, and he pointed his finger at Woody in controlled anger.
Woody shrank back, with a guilty look on his face.
“What do you mean?”
“Why the fuck did you beat up Willy?” John shouted.
Willy was a connection who moved a fair amount of coke for the boys. Woody glanced towards his sister.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” he said, now totally deflated.
“Then let’s go outside,” John said, and they did.

The two boys huddled together in the parking lot outside the public housing units and kept their voices low, but it was still all John could do to hold back his anger. Woody had swung to the other extreme, his rage expended. He looked meek and apologetic.
“C’mon, we fronted him two ounces, and he tried to short us a C-note,” Woody said.
“The story he told me was that the money was on its way. It woulda been in our hands by tommorrow.”
“He was bullshitting,” Woody said sullenly, “I saw it in his eyes.”
“Then you beat him up the day he breaks his promise, not the frigging day he makes it,” John whispered fiercely, “Goddamn, would Gates had done what you just did?”
“People gotta respect us,” Woody said.
“People gotta want to do business will us. Nobody wants to deal with a pyscho.” John said.
“I’m sorry,” Woody said, and he lowered his head.
John resisted the urge to tear into Woody any further. It was the fucking powder. Woody was just taking too much of it for his own personal use.
“Alright, issue settled. How’s the back?” John asked.
“Better, a lot better. Pretty soon it’ll be 100 percent.”
John suspected that the back had not bother Woody for days, maybe weeks. But it was a convenient excuse for Woody to keep snorting cocaine. Maybe if he and Scott and Mike tried to make Woody kick the habit, he would re-injure it, by accident of course. For the first time, John realized that he couldn’t trust an addict, no matter how close a friend he was. But John didn’t know what to do. The best he could hope for now was some sort of a holding pattern.

“Alright, are we okay now?” John asked.
Woody nodded. John took a few seconds to carefully think out what he was about to say.
“Now Woody,” John said, and he put his arm around him, “what’s wrong with Scott seeing your sister? For God’s sake, who would you rather see with your sister than your best friend, good ole Scott?”
“Hey, my sister’s a good kid,” Woody said.
“…And Scott’s a good man. He’ll treat her right. C’mon Woody, think. Trust me, the two really like and care for each other.” John said.
He spoke softly, as wise man always does when talking about another man’s family.
“I guess it’s all right,” Woody said grudgingly.
“It’s a good thing,” John said.

A half-later they were sitting in Woody’s family apartment again. John had brought along a six-pack, and the four boys were sitting at the kitchen table, laughing and sharing small talk as if nothing had happened. There was a knock at the door. Darlene went to answer it but she asked who it was first.
“Police,” a voice said. Everyone froze at the table for a moment and then turned their eyes to John.
“Nobody move,” John said, “and look cool.”
“We got booze on the table. We’re underage,” Scott hissed.
“This ain’t a bar, it’s a private home. They can’t touch us,” John said. “Just stay calm.”
John had three ounces of coke in the inner pocket of his jean jacket. If he got nailed with it, he doubted that he would be able to convince the police that he intended it only for personal use. He would be charged with trafficking. John nodded at Woody.
“Open the door sis,” Woody called out.

The two constables were courteous to a fault. John thought it strange when they took their hats off and asked if they could come in. They seemed hesitant when Darlene told them that her mother wasn’t home. There was an awkward pause. One of the constables finally broke the silence by telling Darlene that her uncle was dead. She broke down and cried. Woody rushed to her side to hold her. No one at the table could think of anything to say or do. They had all known Dickie. One of the officers tried to console the brother and sister by telling them Dickie hadn’t suffered at all. John felt sad, but he had a nasty feeling at the pit of his stomach. He asked how it had happened. One of the constables hesitated, so the other spoke.
“Homicide,” he said. “There was a robbery at the place of business. They shot him after emptying the cash register, and then left the gas stove on to try and destroy the evidence. There was a fire, but not an explosion.”
“Don’t worry,” the other policeman said, “we’ll find who did this. This isn’t Detroit.”
“Animals like that, we usually find them at the nearest skid-row bar boozing their brains out,” the first policeman said. “Probably nothing more than a couple of junkies looking for their next fix.”
After a while the constables ran out of things to say and they started to shuffle from one foot to the other. Woody took his eyes off his sister for a brief instant and thanked them. They left.

John and the rest of the boys left soon after the policemen. There was nothing they could think of saying to Woody and Darlene, except that they were sorry. In the elevator, it was Mike who first voiced what all three were thinking.
“Christ, you don’t think it had anything to do with us, do you?”
“No,” John said.
“How come you’re so sure?” Scott asked.
“Why would someone kill Dickie because of what we’re doing? Maybe one of us, yeah. Or one of our connections. Dickie had nothing to do with us, except that he fed us patties once in awhile.” John said.
They got off the elevator and walked outside.
“This is bad news,” Mike said, “Woody’s been digging into the powder too much anyways, and now this happens. Dickie was a father to him. We gotta cut him off.”
“You gonna be the one to tell him that?” John said.
“Maybe Woody should be included in this conversation,” Scott said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking behind his back like this.”
“It’s good to see you two are so close,” Mike said sarcastically, “considering he tried to rip your head off not two fucking hours ago.”
“We’re brothers,” Scott said. “We all swore to that. Is your word no good?”
John stepped in.
“Woody is my brother Scott. You and him and Mike is all I got. It’s the same all around. But make no mistake. Woody and Woody coked up are two different people. The second is someone I don’t know.”
Scott turned away and walked a few steps. “The goddamn powder. It makes us all feel good but it’s killing us piece by piece. We shoulda never got into this business.”
“You’re forgetting Scott,” John said. “It was this or kiss Rob’s ass and still get a boot in the face. You want out or something? You think you got a choice? You think I got a choice?”
“No,” Scott said, “you’re right.”
“Good,” John said. “We’ll talk about it again later, if you want to, but I gotta go. Business.”
“You getting the vehicle?” Mike asked.
“Tommorrow,” John said. “A supercharged Ford Mustang. We need wheels, we’re so successful. Okay, see ya.”

Scott and Mike cheered up a bit at the news and John was happy because of that. He did not want to think just yet about Dickie dying, because he had a nasty suspicion that he was wrong when he had told them that it had nothing to do with them.

* * *

John eased the Mustang through traffic with a very light foot on the accelerator pedal. It didn’t run too bad at all for an engine that was pushing sixteen years of age. The 1973 model was the last of the muscle machines for Ford, before they wussed the Mustang down and tried to make more economic on fuel. It drank gasoline like an alcoholic drinking Night Train. John had bought it from a mechanic who had restored it to near-perfect condition mechanically. It still need a new coat of paint but John hesitated about doing that right away. He figured that they didn’t need the attention. It was better to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After a week of driving John was satisfied that he had gotten a good deal. He had thrown in an ounce of very fine grass with the cold hard cash and signed no papers. He wondered how many new parts on the car had been stolen. Well, John was sure there were at least a few honest auto mechanics in the world, he just didn’t know if he would ever meet one.

Just as the thought passed through his head, the motor started to chop a little as he idled at an intersection. John started to swear at the mechanic but then he remembered with a guilty twinge that he had lent the Mustang to Woody last night. Woody loved speed, any kind of speed. He had probably ignored John’s caution and burned rubber all through the night. Maybe, John decided, he should count his blessings. Woody could have smashed up the Mustang, or been busted for speeding and God knows what else. It seemed no matter how many precautions John took, or how carefully he watched his own back (as well as the back of his brothers), he still had to turn to Lady Luck sometimes. Every damn day, something happened that forced him to roll the dice. It didn’t stop him from trying, God knows, to load the dice in his favour.

Debbie was waiting on the corner for him, carrying a Navy duffel bag, the type that could stretch out to four feet in length when fully packed. John didn’t like the picture of her standing on the corner. She looked somehow vulnerable. He pulled up to curb and she got in.
“Gees, Deb, howcome you didn’t want me to pick you up at your Mom’s place?” he asked in a sharp tone.
“We had a fight,” she answered sullenly. “I don’t want to see her just yet. I’m staying at a friend’s place tonight.”
“Yeah? Who’s that?”
“A friend.” And that was all she would say.
“Did you get what I wanted?”
“Yeah.”
“Then let’s see them,” John said.
“No. Drive me up Burnaby Mountain. I wanna see the view. I want to see the city.” Debbie said.

John didn’t really have time for this. He had a lot of things on his mind. But he headed east towards Burnaby anyways. He just wasn’t in the mood to pick a major fight with Deb. Plus, he figured, he might need all the friends he could get, real soon.

They didn’t talk in the car. Debbie seemed depressed. John drove up the moutain to the parking lot on top. The view was often gorgeous, when not obscured by the unfortunately frequent clouds. It was cloudy today, so there weren’t many people at all. Debbie got out of the car carrying the duffel bag, and motioned him to follow. She walked through the trees until she reached a small clearing on the downward slope of the mountain. The city of Vancouver lay below them, shielded by low-lying cloud. It was getting dark. She sat down on the grass and zipped open the duffel bag. She held out her hand for money and John paid her. He put his hand into the duffel bag and took out one of the four shotguns.
“It feels light,” John said. He turned it over into his hands. Not much heavier than the old Daisy BB gun he had at home.
“It’s good quality,” Debbie said. “The best are the lightest. You had the bread.”
John grunted.
“It will be even lighter once you saw off the barrel,” she added sarcastically.
Oh shit, this is what she’s pissed about, John thought, the guns. He said nothing.
“Goddamn, you stupid bastard,” Debbie hissed, and she got up her spot and walked a few feet away with her back turned.
“What are you going to use them for, huh?”
“We won’t ever use them. It’s just nice to have them,” John said. “Sometimes me and boys have to carry a lot of cash and stuff. We don’t deliver cookies and milk, you know. I don’t why you’re so choked.”
Debbie didn’t say anything for a minute, but then she dropped a bombshell.
“Woody’s uncle was snuffed by the Warlocks, you know,” she said.
John leapt up from his spot and grabbed her by both shoulders and spun her around. His eyes bore into her. But she was unfazed. She talked quite calmly.
“I heard from a friend who heard it from a friend… you know. Word’s on the street, or around people who know these things. They smoked your supplier.”
“Dickie had nothing to do with our business. Not a damn fucking thing.” John said.
“Oh,” Debbie said, and she looked away.
John released his hold.
The little nasty demon that had been nibbling away at the back of his mind took center stage of his thoughts. John felt more than a little sick. But then he felt a strange calm come over him and he cocked his head. He smiled in a stange way that scared Debbie.
“I guess it’s a good thing I got these.” John said.
“No John,” Debbie said,
“God, don’t. Tell your supplier and he can pay the Warlocks off. Or bargain for his life. It’s his problem.”
“No it isn’t,” John said.
“Dickie was family for Woody, maybe all of us. And my supplier won’t do dick.”
“No,” Debbie repeated, “you can’t go up against the club. They don’t want to touch you because it would look bad and bring down the heat. But if you show them disrespect, they will come after you.”
“No,” John said. “It’s gone too far.”
“I want out then,” Debbie said. “They’ll kill you, and me.”
She started to cry. John walked over to hold her, because he couldn’t think of anything to say.

* * *

John turned on the television set in the rec-room downstairs and turned the volume down so that it was barely audible. He walked to the next room which was his Dad’s workshop. He wanted to be able to hear if his parents got up from bed to go for a drink of water or a leak. If they came downstairs to check up on him, he would stash the guns and jump on the couch, and pretend to watch T.V. The creaky floorboards would give them away. But he would bet that they would not wake up, as long as he was quiet as he could be. It seemed like he had not been in his Dad’s workshop for the longest time. He looked around the room, at the Black & Decker tools and the Sears wrenches and the Canadian Tires thingmajigs that always promised savings in labour and time. He remembered as a young child playing in the workshop while his father happily worked on some project or another. Dad would give him a few bits of wood to play with, along with a few clean nails and a hammer. Every once in a while he would bang one of his fingers, but that was part of growing up to be a man. He wouldn’t cry out, but stick the bruised finger in his mouth to suck away some of the pain. The smell of sawdust had brought back these memories, and John shook his head. That time of his life had been filled with new discoveries every day, from completing a puzzle to blasting his bike down the neighbourhood hill that was really too steep to be safe, or so the local mothers thought. A couple of years ago, the city had sent a bulldozer in the park to level the hill because one too many kids had wracked up their ten-speeds. John took the duffel bag over to the work-bench and zipped it open. He took one of the shotguns out and placed in the workshop vise. He wound the vise shut on the barrel of the gun so that two thirds stuck out from one end. He looked for a hacksaw and found one. He took a set of wet blades out from the duffel bag and affixed one of them to the hacksaw. It would be best not to use one of the old man’s because he might notice. From what he could remembered, his Dad kept track of every damn screw and bolt. He spread a towel underneath the vise to catch the filings. Back and forth the blade bit into the steel, making less noise than John had expected. After finishing two of the shotguns, he went outside for a cigarette but black thoughts chased him back to work. Two hours, and three blades later, four hunting shotguns had been transformed into four killing street-sweepers. The dispersion rate of the buckshot as it left the shortened barrel made aiming unnecessary. Just point in the general direction and pull. They were also easier to conceal now, John could fit all four of them into his gym bag. He cleaned up the workshop and went back to his room, taking with him a file that he would later return. He sat on his bed and started to file down the sharp edges of the muzzles. He was getting tired and his hands shook a little. He could not stop from thinking about the future. John remembered when he was seven or eight years old. He had snuck out of the house at midnight on a Friday and had met some of his friends at the park who had done the same. They had sat down under the cover of some trees and gotten scared. A good sort of fear -the fear of something new and forbidden- ducking for cover whenever a pair of headlights had shone on the road next to the park. Once, a drunk had staggered across the field heading home after a night on the town. A strange thrill had taken hold of John. He had jumped up and yelled “Run!” Some of his friends had screamed with surprise, and they had jumped up and ran away too. The startled drunk had fallen to the ground. The boys had run non-stop to John’s backyard. Then they had started to laugh, as quietly as possible, but laugh nonetheless until their bellies had ached. They had all been scared, but the fear had had a make-believe, magical feeling about it. The fear of the unknown. The thrill of adventure. There was no thrill now, just a weird sort of sickness that ate into his belly. If it did not conquer the sickness, it would draw lines into his face that would make him look ten years older. One of the mystical dividing lines that a boy must cross before becoming a man is the realization of one’s mortality. That night, John crossed the line, and he was afraid.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Sixteen: Gravity

The restaurant brought forth some of the finest food that John had ever tasted. Nothing but three and four-star eateries on this section of Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. Four-star prices too, but it would be worth every damn penny. John had a plate of blue clams swimming in some sort of white wine sauce for an appetizer. The bread must have been baked less than a hour ago, it was so fresh and soft. John spread a thick slab of butter on the last piece in the basket and took a hearty bite.
“Would you like some bread with your butter?” teased a voice from the other end of the table for two?

John lifted his eyes from the food and smiled back at Jennifer. She laughed and told him he looked like a boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Then she mock-scolded him for taking the last piece of bread and leaving her none. Almost by magic, a waiter passed by, took the empty basket, and returned with a full one. Jennifer laughed again.

She wore a black dress that went down to her knees, with black stockings. It went well with her hair. She was so pretty John thought his eyes would start to hurt any minute. The memory of a pretty woman can see a man through many a lonely time so instinctively, John sought to burn the vision of Jennifer before him into his memory.
“Was the food to your liking?” John asked.
“Never been better,” Jennifer said.
“Well darling, please don’t eat too much,” he said, casting his eyes downward.
“Why is that? Are you worried that I will spoil my figure?” Jennifer said, taking the bait.
John leaned forward, a sly, cunning look on his face. “Dump-and-run,” he hissed, “I hope those high heels don’t slow you down too much.”

Jennifer collapsed in a series of hysterical giggles, as she looked to see if anyone heard him. She put her hands in front of her mouth as if to hide her smile. For the first time that evening, John consciously realized that Jennifer was happy because of him. It made him even happier, this thought. Two tables away, a middle-aged couple sneaked glances at the young pair and then nodded to each other, yes, those two are in love. At a nearby table, a patron got up from his seat to use the washroom. He stepped off the carpet of the dining room onto the tile that formed a path to the back of the restaurant. Click, click, click, his shoes sounded on the tile.

Click, click, click, the sound reverberated in John’s head and took him back to his other life, to Laurentian High. The click of Rob’s cowboy boots as he walked away from Scott and John, after his declaration of war. Jennifer saw the smile disappear from John’s face, as he turned his head to look out the window. His eyes seemed focussed on nothing at all. She would give him a few seconds to be alone with his thoughts and then reach out with her hand to touch his. And he would apologize. But she understood in a hazy sort of way. She had seen that look before, on the face of her father, before they had moved from Montreal.

* * *
They walked on the path near the beach at Stanley park with the stars up above twinkling. They couldn’t see the mountains that jutted out from the north, but they were aware of them all the same. They cut Vancouver off from ever expanding north, from ever spreading the pollution of the city to the pristine wildness of the forest that lay beyond. Jennifer wrapped John’s arm ever more tightly around her shoulders because, she told him, it was a cold night.
“Hell, it’s a cold world,” John said, and laughed a bitter laugh.
“What a terrible thing to say cheri, even if it’s true.” she said.
“I’m sorry,” John said, “it was a rough week.”
“Then you should have gone to church and prayed to God for help, no?” she said in accented voice.
She was playing the part of a coy French kitten. John liked it very much.
“IIt helps when you hold me,” John said, “it keeps bad thoughts away.”
I have them too, Jennifer thought, but did not say aloud. She had learned a bit about Laurentian in the few months she had attended Sir Robert Borden. One, if you were a very bad student, they sent to Laurentian to learn a trade. Two, if you were a very bad person, they sent to Laurentian before sending you off to a reformatory school. Three, it was the easiest place to get drugs in all of Vancouver. She had weaned this much information out of Tim.

“Gees, how come you wanna know all this Jen?” Tim had said. “Whataminute, this thing with John is more than evening of passion, ain’t it?” He grinned in a all-knowing sort of way.
“Hey, none of your business. A gentleman doesn’t ask.”
“Owwww, I’m sssso sorry! Like I’m blind anyways. You remember what Susie told you?”
“Yeah, to be careful. So what’s your point?
Tim rolled his eyes. “God almighty, it’s true. Good girls want bad boys like Eve wanted the forbidden fruit.”
“Why do you think Susie puts up with you?” Jennifer said.
Tim grinned and slapped his edge of his hand against his knee.
“Down to here baby, you better believe it.”
Jennifer kicked in the shins.
“Ow, damn it that hurt!”
“It was suppose to, you dumb prick,” Jennifer said, and turned to walk away.
“Whataminute. Let’s get serious for just a second. John’s bad news.”
The declaration floored Jennifer.
“I thought he was your friend, you bastard!”
“He is. But he would agree with what I said. He keeps away from you, doesn’t he? Hasn’t met Mom and Dad yet? ll bet he never will. I see the way he looks at you in church when you’re not looking at him. Breaks my heart. Maybe he can’t stay away from you but he knows the time you spend together, its borrowed time.”
Jennifer walked up to him so that her face was only inches away from Tim. Don’t come between us or I swear I’ll make you pay.”
Tim wilted a bit, then recovered. “Yeah, I can guess what you’re thinking. One flip of those short little skirts you like to wear, and half of the football team will be working me over as a personal favour to you. But what I’m telling you is what John wants to tell you, but can’t. He’s into heavy shit, but I didn’t say that. He’s gotta watch his ass, and he’s got no time left over to watch yours.”
“I can look after myself,” she said.
“Here, in this world, yeah. But it’s a different world down there.”
“Said enough?”
“Said my piece.” Tim said.
“Good. Then stay out of my way from now on. And remember what I said.”

Jennifer led John off the asphalt path towards one of the many logs strewn about on the beach. They sat down on the sand with their backs against weathered wood gone gray with age. Conversation dwindled as the whispering of the surf worked its magic again, hinting of eternity. Jennifer put her head on the soft cushion of muscle that connected John’s shoulder to his rib cage. She worked her hand underneath his shirt so that she could feel the beating of his heart against the palm of her hand.

The gentle rumble of waves on sand beat back the dark thoughts at the outside borders of John’s consciousness. He could see into the future no more. He could not be even be certain of living long enough to see the sun rise again. He thought of Captain Vancouver walking along these very same shores hundreds of years before, with only the stars to tell him where he was. Captain Vancouver sailing uncharted waters before landing in this new world, uncertain and afraid.
“What’s wrong baby?” said Jennifer, moving her head slightly to catch his eyes.
“Nothing Jen, nothing.”
She caressed one corner of his mouth with her hand, and traced a finger up to the bridge of his nose.
“Lines. Wrinkles.”
John put his face into the nape of her neck. He could feel the overwhelming urge to unburden himself. But he couldn’t. Not to the one thing in his life that was pure and good and true. Not to the only person who was uncorrupted by his touch.
“I love you. But don’t say those words to me.” John said.

In that moment Jennifer despised her father, her family that put so many nice things on her plate but kept locked up away from the world. She despised the Mercedes-Benz on the driveway, the Persian rug in the living room, the housekeeper, and the swimming pool out back. The designer clothes in her closets. Waking up each morning in such a soft comfortable bed. She felt entombed in the womb.
“No. Please, I love you too. Don’t deny me that.”
Nirvana. They clutched one another as if they were drowning in tandem. A wave drew itself up and broke over both of them, blotting out thoughts of the future.

* * *

Blood spilled out of the rare beef tenderloin as the blade of the electric knife made it’s first cut. John watched and his mouth watered for the second time that weekend. A fine Sunday dinner, like so many before it. His mother could cook, no doubt about. Gravy, horseradish sauce, mashed potatoes, squash with brown sugar melted on top, corn, and fresh rolls straight out of the oven. A bottle of Okanagan red stood not too far from his father’s elbow. Bottled in September, a very good month for wine. But only a snob could hate this meal, or a vegetarian.
“So John, how does it feel to be a football hero?” Rachel was sitting opposite him, looking at him with those laughing eyes.
No boyfriend tonight, good. More roast beef for him. She liked her men tall and wide, with big hearty laughs and bigger appetites. She had a rare three-day stop-over in Vancouver, miracle of miracles. Mom was positively beaming with the whole clan gathered at the table.
“Dunno sis, you’ll have to find one and ask him.”
“Hah! Such modesty,” Rachel laughed, and clapped her hands together.
That mannerism could charm a whole room full of people, as well as their parents time and time again. Mr. Poleshaw had a grin on his face from ear to ear.
“Hey Dad, can you keep carving please? The football hero is starving.”

Once everybody had their plates in front of them, the conversation died except for an occasional request of the condiments. John ate with the appetite of a typical seventeen-year-old boy. He was still growing, putting on ten pounds in the last six months. With his growth spurt over, he now stood just over six feet. The gawkiness of adolescence had all but disappeared. He carried himself with an athlete’s grace; there was a glide to his walk and his hand movements were always quick and sure, that is, unless his system was corrupted with caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Coke did not seem to bother him physically, except that it gave him a sort of physical self-confidence which John knew was false. The rush gave one clarity of thought but through rose-coloured glasses, a feeling of limits easily exceeded. John intuitively avoided coke, except for special occasions which became more frequent as time went by.

After the roast was sufficiently demolished, the table was cleared for the strawberry-and-rhubarb pie with ice cream. Halfway into the pie, John stomach’s finally signalled that it was full, but he finished the slice before his belly could make the eating experience unpleasant. John felt so relaxed that he was sleepy. He let the conversation of the table wash over him. Rachel was talking about the temple of Thailand. They had to be seen in person only, as the government would not allow pictures to be taken. It seems they were worried about desecration. John felt a pang of envy. So much in the world, and he was stuck at Laurentian High, seeing the same goddamn faces every day and doing the same shit. He thought of New Orleans again, and the guitarman. Thailand could wait. He wouldn’t mind walking the roads and highways of North America. He wouldn’t mind just wandering. The phone rang. Mother got up from her chair with a groan and answered.
“It’s for you, John,” she said, and handed the phone to her son.
John picked up the receiver and listened for a few seconds. He put his hand over the speaker.
“Hey, mind if I take this downstairs? Can you hang it up for me?” he said.
Rachel got up from her chair and laughed. “Some pretty girl asking for my little brother?” she asked.
John grinned in an aw-shucks sort of way. “Nah, nah, just a bud. Can I be excused? Thanks. Great dinner Mum, I’m stuffed.”
John walked down the stairs and after a few seconds he called up “okay.”Rachel hung up the phone and went back to the dinner table.

* * *

“You crossed the line with this phone call. No one calls me at home, business or social,” John said into the receiver.
He heard a soft chuckle through the wires, but he didn’t think to analyze it, to size up his opponent.
“I shoulda taken you in the weightroom, all of you instead of just your balls.”
“You sound pissed,” Rob said in a half-whispering tone. “Upset. Like you been under a lot of stress lately.”
John resisted the tug of the gutter, the urge to scream filth into the telephone. He tried to remember that it was a new game now. Dickie was dead, maybe killed by friends of Rob, maybe not. Rob maybe knew about Dickie’s death, and trying to bluff for all its worth. The fog of it all. John was either dealing from a position of strength or weakness, he did not know.
“Look here, a little man is trying to get my attention. I’m sorry little man, I forgot my manners. So how much stuff do you need?” John said.
He heard a low growl, and laughed, knowing he had scored.
“Your connections are gone, Poleshaw,” Rob snarled.
Debbie must have gone over to the other side. Shit. Well, it was useful to know that, John thought.
“OOOOhhhh, I get it. Somebody is trying for a comeback,” John said.
He felt loose and confidant now. The entire school could go over to Rob, but he still had a suitcase full of coke that he could sell cheaper than Rob. Time was on his side too. You couldn’t stay young forever, and Rob was an old man in high school.
“Im back, you’re just too stupid to know it.” Rob said.
John answered back. The pull of the gutter was too strong now, and he happily fell into the filth.
“I’ll wipe your ass off the face of fucking Laurentian, and I won’t even get near you. Remember football practice? Remember getting one of your boys to blindside me? Destruction by fucking remote-control. I won’t even give you the respect of a face-to-face. The lowest man on my totem pole will have the job of fucking you up the ass.”

Rob laughed, a true laugh, like John had fallen into a trap that Rob had worked so hard to construct.
“Who’s your low-man? Maybe I got him right here.” Rob’s voice moved away from the telephone.
“Bring him over him. Drag him.”
John heard a few muffled grunts. Someone hissed “Shaddup!” and there was a thud.
“Shit Robbie, I didn’t tell him shit.” said a feeble voice.
It sounded familiar.
“Frankie, Frankie,” Rob answered, “Now don’t start lying to me again. You know how it PISSES me off. ”
There was a slap of something hard on flash and a cry of pain.
“You still there Poleshaw?” Rob said into the phone.
“Yeah.”
“Can you smell his fear John? Ooee, you should see his eyes, they’re all white. It’s sorta exciting.”
“What do I care? He ain’t one ‘of mine.”
“He turned. Nothing but a weasel. Part of the rat family, the weasel. And you know what ya do with rats.” Rob said.
“This is bullshit, Gates. You can’t win. Even if you do, what about next year?” John said.
“So you wanna parlay?”
Not really, John thought, I just wish you would go away.
“On the football field. I’ll come from the south side. Tuesday, at six.”
I’ll come from the north.”Rob said
“Allright, let the turkey go,”John said.
“No, no, no, that wasn’t part of the deal Poleshaw,” Rob said with a note of surprise in his voice.
“What did you want to do to me? Fuck me up the ass? Sounds interesting. Don’t it sound interesting Frankie? Here Frankie, talk to Johnie for awhile.”
“Jesus John, tell them I didn’t say shit to you!” Frank cried into the phone.
Little flips flopped up from John’ss groin into his stomach.
“Hey John, you still listening?” Rob said, voice away from the phone. Someone was laughing, cold and hard.
“Oh God, no…” Frankie said.
John heard a growl, and Frank screamed into the phone like a pig going to slaughter. John hung up.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

Chapter Seventeen: Rendezvous

They gathered at Scott’s place since it was the safest house. His mother worked the evening shift, and wouldn’t be home until business was done. Woody kept peering out the windows, hiding himself behind the drapes, paranoid as hell.
“They could bushwack us, you know,” Woody said. “Who says they gotta wait until we get to the field?”
Scott gave him a line of coke to calm him down. Woody was getting on everybody’s nerves.
“It’s just a parley,” John said, “No sweat, maybe we just divy up the territory until Gates rides into the sunset.”
Woody snorted, and snorted again.
“So how come you brought those?”And he pointed at the duffel bag containing the shotguns.
John smiled to reassure Woody, but damn if he didn’t look at the coke and get an urge himself. “Well, it’s true this ain’t a Boy Scout Jamboree we’re having here. Gotta look strong while we parley,” John said.
Scott and Mike both smiled at that but looked at the coke too with a sort of hunger. John spilled a box of shells full of buckshot on the table.

Woody sat back in his chair and looked at the munitions. Slowly, a smile crept up to the corners of his mouth and it was ghastly to watch, because it turned his face into an clown’s mask. A smile with empty eyes. It reminded John of a picture in a book, Encyclopedia of Crime, a news-wire photograph taken of a serial killer in the mid-thirties. The man had been in handcuffs, only a few weeks from the electric chair. He had smiled for the camera.
“You’re a junkie,” John said to Woody.
“I know,” Woody said, “and soon you will be too.”
“Like hell.”
“Not to this,” Woody said, and he pointed to his nose.
“You’ll be needing what Gates needs to live.”
“And what’s that, you coked-up son of a bitch?”
“Juice. Power, baby. You see, you keep saying, all we gotta do is wait and Rob will disappear – poof! Like he’s gonna get his diploma and march into the sunset. But I know him. He can no more turn away from the juice than I can turn away from the powder. I remember the time I spent with him, the party times that turned me into the pathetic sum-bitch you see here. You know what Poleshaw? He wanted you, he spoke of you like a brother. It was you who shoulda waited. He told me one time you had the look; the look of a Warlock. You know who they are, don’t ya?”
Mike swore, and turned away towards the kitchen. He needed a drink of water. John wanted to pick up one of the shotguns, load it with a shell, and discharge it into Woody’s smiling face. It still grinned at him, like a court jester speaking the words of a prophet. But he held his breath for a moment and swallowed his emotion. He kept the panic away from his head so he could speak, so he could gamble:
“Alright Woody, you win,” John said.
He emptied his pockets of coke, pot, and a thick wad of cash. Woody’s eyes blinked.
“We give up. We go to Rob and give it up. The coke, cash, everything. We turn our guns butt-first and hand them over too. That’s what you want Woody, ain’t it?”
Woody didn’t answer.
“Mike, get in here,” John said.
“Fuck you. We’re up against the Warlocks. Oh God, I’m gonna puke.” Mike answered. “Goddammit, you chickenshit pussy,” John screamed, “GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!”
Mike came out of the kitchen.
“Who’s gonna break the circle?” John asked. No one spoke.
“You sons of bitches. Turn yellow now, if you’re gonna turn.”

John shook with anger, the dike breaking with a flash-flood of rage. He felt as if the whole world was against him, that no matter how much he schemed and planned and thought things out beforehand, something, or somebody would come along and screw it up. Like now.
“It’s not like that, John.” Scott spoke for the first time. “Nobody’s thinking of running. Nobody’s scared.”
“Fuck you, nobody’s scared,” Mike said. “I mean, I ain’t running, but this is more than shovin’ in the lockeroom.”
“Listen Mike,” John said in a soft voice, “If you leave now, and talk to Gates, real respectful like, and make him understand you’re out of the circle, I think he would leave you alone.”
Mike’s face grew red, and he looked as if he was about to cry.
“Is that what you think? That I wanna break the circle?”
John felt the moment to be at hand, and his fist clenched involuntarily.
“I don’t know, and I have to know. I can’t walk out alone. I need you brothers beside me. Not behind me. Beside me, so I can draw courage from the circle. I’m only mad at you Mike, ‘cause you thought you were the only one who’s scared.”
Mike covered his eyes with his left hand. John stretched out his arm and put his hand on the table. One by one, the other boys did the same, keeping silence as they joined hands.

* * *

They played cards for an hour or so, after loading the shotguns and planning for the meeting ahead. Scott cracked a couple of jokes to break the tension that seemed to gather whenever there was a pause in the conversation. One of them went like this:

“…There was this mouse walking along in the jungle, who all of a sudden, heard this whoompin’ and hollerin’. He rushed around the corner to see what was going on, and he came upon this elephant that was dancing around with one foot off the ground, in general just freaking out. So the mouse asks the elephant, ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’
‘I got a splinter in my foot,’ the elephant says, and turns his foot over so the mouse can see. Sure enough, there’s a splinter stuck right between the elephant’s toes.
‘Can you pull it out for me?’ the elephants asks the mouse, and the mouse thinks it over.
‘Okay,’ the mouse finally says – and by the way, the elephant is in freakin’ agony – ‘but if I do this for you, you have to grant me one wish, anything I desire.’”

“Well, the elephant doesn’t even bother to ask what the mouse wants, he’s in so much pain. ‘Just do it, anything at all, it’s yours,’ the elephant says.
So the mouse grabs hold of the splinter with both paws spread wide like this… for the mouse, it’s a big piece of freakin’ lumber. And the mouse pulls with all his might, heaves and heaves, and pop! The splinter comes out.
‘Thank you very much,’ says the elephant. ‘Now what was that favor you wanted?’
‘I wanna fuck you up the ass,’ squeaks the mouse.”

Scott waited until the giggles died down before he continued the joke.
“So the elephant thinks this over and snorts through his trunk. ‘Okay, climb aboard.’
And the mouse climbs the back leg of the elephant, lies himself spread-eagled between the two cheeks, and starts to hump away, holdin’ on to the elephant with all his might. The elephant stands there waiting for the mouse to complete his business, but after a couple of minutes, the elephants starts to get bored, starts shuffling from one foot to another. Well, damned if the elephant doesn’t step on another splinter.
‘Yeow!’ cries the elephant, and he leaps up into the air.”
“Meanwhile, the mouse is just about ready to come, and he hears the elephant scream. So the mouse yells out: ‘THAT’S IT BITCH, TAKE IT, TAKE IT ALL!’”

When the boys had finished laughing, John checked his watch and told them it was time to go. The cleared the table of beer and flushed the cigarette butts down the toilet so Scott’s mother wouldn’t know they had been smoking. They stashed the shotguns under their jackets. Scott went to the bathroom to fetch a can of Lysol. Woody and Mike left for the Mustang. John stood in the doorway.
“Don’t keep us waiting,” he called out to Scott.
“Squeak, squeak,” Scott answered.
When he had finished spraying the room, he put the Lysol back under the sink. Then he followed John out the door.

* * *

Light rain plunked down on the windshield of the Mustang as they drove to Laurentian High. It seemed this month that the Pacific Ocean had decided to spit half its water into the air and send it east. There had been a bit of sunshine last Saturday, but that’s all. The people of Vancouver were of course used to the rain, but after awhile it beat down the hardiest soul. There were not many people on the streets today.

John took eyes off the street for a moment and looked up at the clouds. Maybe they weren’t such a bad thing, he thought. He had read somewhere that the ozone layer was getting thinner, that there was even a hole up in the north pole, letting in harmful UV that slowly, surely, destroyed everything in the path of the beams of light. Perhaps the clouds acted as a shield against some of those rays. Stupid thoughts.

Rob and his boys were waiting for them at the other side of the field, leaning up against his Camaro. John wondered if any were packin’. He could guess Rob had a gun for sure. Hell, they all did. Anything else was wishful thinking.
“Showtime,” Scott murmured.
They gathered behind the Mustang to tuck in the shotguns under their jean and leather jackets. “Tuck in these green bandannas somewhere where they show. They’re our colours,” John said, and he handed them out.
“Yeah, show the flag,” Woody said.
“So what do we do?” Mike asked.
“Walk beside me, but don’t say a word,” John said. “Let me speak for everybody. Is that okay?”
Woody looked around and sealed the deal. “You’re the man, John.”

John started to walk over to the football field, and the boys fell in beside and behind him. Fog rolled off the waters of the Burrard Inlet to the north of Laurentian, and the day turned a little darker as the evening approached. A flock of seagulls flew over the field, heading towards the dumpsters of the diners and restaurants on East Hastings Street. The last of rush-hour traffic trickled out of Granville and the Trans-Canada and the Lougheed Highway as the commuters ended their day. But John was only aware of the grass under his feet as it dampened his running shoes. It had not been mowed in months. The hashmarks had all but disappeared. Rob and his gang moved towards them, their arms barely swinging with their strides, eyes level with John and his boys. In an insane moment John thought of the Coach stepping on the field and blowing the whistle, and every one would fall in together and run around the track, or gather in a military formation and do some calisthenics. John stopped walking when Rob was ten metres away. There were four other boys with Gates, most of whom John recognized from school. One of them was the lineman that had told him the dirty joke during the championship game. John couldn’t put a name to the face. It had all seemed so long ago. The rest of Rob’s gang looked to be older boys, everyone of them seniors. John couldn’t figure out what they had to gain by sticking with Rob, unless they didn’t have a choice in the matter. But the important thing to note was that all their jackets were open, and that meant they were all packing.

Rob looked insane. His eyes were round and his mouth was nothing more than a straight line drawn with a pencil. He looked like a boxer at the beginning of a fight, when the opponents touch gloves, only here there was no referee between them to advise them on the rules set down by the Marquis of Queensberry. For a long moment there was silence between the two gangs, and John’s senses sharped even more. The fear was gone, replaced by a heightened sense of being alive. The tension gave him a boost like rocket fuel, but the high was cleaner then from any narcotic. He felt as if he knew what to do and what to say.
“I’m glad you had the balls to come,” Rob said to John.
“What’re you talking about Gates? I thought this was all settled.. you know, in the weightroom.” “Easy to look brave when you’re setting an ambush, you little shit,” Rob snarled.
John shrugged his shoulders.
“Had a good teacher,” he said, and he looked away from Rob towards the other four boys, and spoke to them in a casual voice. “Okay, which one of you was the fucker that blindsided me during football practice? C’mon, somebody stuck an elbow in my ribs, who was it?”
John could hear Woody and Mike snicker behind him. Points for John in the opening round.

Rob saw that his words struck no fear into John and it made him angry, but he bottled it for the moment.
“You talk to me Poleshaw. Only me.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right Robby. God knows the boys standing right behind you look about ready to crap their pants.”
“I ain’t scared of you, punk,” one of the boys said, in a weak sort of way.
It was an outrage that John Poleshaw, barely a junior, was sassing a senior in such a way.For a moment it looked as if John and his boys would break out laughing at their opponents, but Rob moved his feet and hands darted towards belt buckles. But Gates was only moving his feet to make a point. He started to pace back and forth, throwing his face and arms to the sky in utter exasperation.
“John, John JOHN!” he cried out, “what the fuck ARE YOU DOING? This isn’t some fucking GAME! Are we gonna parlay or slap dicks on the grounds? Jesus!”
His fingers bent out from his hands like twigs from a dead tree, section-straight but contorted at the joints. His elbows pointed at his stomach, and his palms were raised upwards. He looked at John with eyes open so wide, they looked ready to drop straight out of the sockets. It was a damn freaky sight.

John felt the first pang of fear in his belly, not the type of fear one felt from a superior opponent, and not from any lack of courage. It was the fear one felt when faced with a dog that may or may not be slightly rabid. John guessed that Rob had spent a little too much time in some dark corner. A nasty realization hit John, as much from intuition as deductive reasoning. Rob had been the one who had smoked Woody’s uncle. Okay, okay, John thought, now’s the time to be cool. Mellow out the situation and let the bad vibes blow away in the breeze.
“You took from me Poleshaw! You took from me and I want it back. I’m taking it back today!” Rob said, and pointed a crooked finger in John’s direction that wavered in little circles.
John said nothing and rolled his head around once, twice. He could feel his neck muscles cracking. Yup, a little bit of tension up there.
“Answer me!”
“What do you want me to say?”
Rob stopped in his tracks as he digested this bit of news. Then he smiled for the first time.
“Kiss my ring. Get down on one knee. Be my first lieutenant. We bury all this shit that has gone on before and we come together.”
“Why should I?” John said.
“Because I’ll destroy you if you don’t.”

John thought for a moment. He thought of getting up in the morning and taking orders from his mom on what to eat for breakfast. He hated that nutritious wheat-germ shit in warm milk. He thought of going to school and taking orders from teachers who gave him shit if he so much as wore a baseball cap backwards. Then there was the football coach and the track coach who thought a God-given right to bust his balls. He thought of the convenience store clerks who threatened to call the cops on him because they thought he was shoplifting. At church he got dirty looks if he so much as scratched himself. Did God really care if he relieved himself of an itch in His House? Every damn day of his life, nobody looked upon him as a human being to be respected, just something to be ordered about or spat. And now there was another fucker who wanted him to bow down and stick his nose in the dirt.
“No,” John said.
“That’s too bad, Poleshaw,” Rob said, “I figured you to be a smart boy. Guess I was wrong.”
The old Rob was back now. Cocky, arrogant, with a shit-eating grin on his face, Gates farted loud enough for everyone to hear, and the boys behind him all laughed. John felt anger now. The injustice of everything that had happened to him leaped up and slapped him in the face.
“You’re history, Gates,” he whispered.
“What’s that Poleshaw? I didn’t hear you,” Rob said.
“Go home. Go to sleep. You’ll wake up tommorrow and nothing will have changed. My retail will be lower than your wholesale. Hell, I’ll give it away free for the next month. You can bust heads from here to June and people will still come to me, begging for the stuff. And by June, you’ll be gone.”
“No you ain’t, your supplier is long gone from this planet,” Rob spat.

John should have winced at that comment, should have checked five paces to his right, because Woody tilted his head back in surprise and started to put two and two together. But John was gone. The anger consumed him in a sudden flash and spilled out of his mouth, words, words, words.
“Bend my knee to you, you fucking twat? You’re nothing but a hyena that waits until a man turns his back and then you lunge for his hamstrung. I faced you and you turned your back like you wanted a rim job. You’re like a goddamn ugly poison spider that waits until night before crawling out from under a rock. Take orders from you? I’d rather die. You dumb bastard, do you know how many people wanna stick a knife up your ass? You’re history and you’re too dumb to know it. I’m talking to nothin’ but a ghost.”
“You’re a dead man Poleshaw,” Rob said, completely calm and cold now. “You won’t even make it to June. And I’ll piss on your grave.”
“Oh yeah? How’m I gonna die Gates? You tell me. A shotgun blast from a moving car as I come out of church with my family? A knife in my back as I’m taking a leak in a school washroom? And you’ll be sit in some bar on the other side of the city, wetting your pants as your Warlock bum-buddies pull your fat out of the fire again.”
“I kill you myself, I swear,” Rob said. “I’ll look into your eyes and see you die, like I done before, like I toasted that fat old fuck Dickie…”

And he stopped, but it was too late.
“YOU!”John whipped his head to the right. Woody no longer stood erect but looked hunched and ready to run through the line of scrimmage one more time. His face registered nothing but shock. It had hit him.
“Bastard!”
Woody reached inside his jacket. A heartbeat later, thunder.

* * *

Ten seconds of silence passed before John lowered his head to see what was making his knee so cold. It was on the ground. Instinctively he had bent down to steady his aim. The action had saved his life, he could remember now the sound of bullets or pellets whizzing over his head. They had aimed high. He was alive. He gloried in the feeling for a half-a-minute. He breathed in deeply, and it felt wonderful. They had tried to kill him, but they had missed and before they could try again he had sighted his shotgun and pulled the trigger, reached out and took life. He had fired twice, both times seeing one man fall as he looked along the barrel of the gun. They lay before him now, on their back or crumpled face down in the wet grass, unable to hurt him anymore. Death all around him, but it did not touch him. He did a pirouette to show the world that his heart still pumped blood through his body, that he could sing and dance and eat and shit and…

Suddenly a wave of loneliness broke over him, and washed away the joy. He looked at the line of dead bodies not thirty feet away from him. Still, motionless, like a photograph. He turned his head from side to side. Mike lay face down on the ground, and John was close enough to see the wind ruffle his hair. He looked pathetic dead, his legs sprawled out in a clumsy sort of way. Blood covered the bone poking out of his jean jacket, a shotgun burst had caught him dead center in the chest, the pellets slicing through his trunk to come out the other side. Woody’s face was half-gone, his features covered by a sheet of crimson. White gore separted what was left of his head from the grass. A dark cloud obscured John’s vision, and for a brief moment he could imagine Woody merely asleep, resting his head on a small white pillow, shielding his face with a red hankerchief from the sun. But there was no sunshine today, as the clouds hurried dusk along and the subtle shadows lengthed across the field, bringing darkness. Everybody’s dead but me, John thought. He felt as if he had stepped out of one world into another. He thought again of the firefight, Rob and each member of his gang dropping one by one. Gates had been the first. He had fallen to his knees, and by superhuman effort, drew his revolver and fired three times, but the last shot had been a wild one into the air as he flopped on his back. The barrage had only last five seconds. At ten metres, with sawed-off shotguns on both sides, the pellets had swept the field like a steel-whisked broom. John had not seen any of his friends fall.

Scott lay on his side, back facing John. A hand moved, and John blinked, not daring to hope. Scott’s hand twitched again, and John rushed to his friend’s side, and laid him over on his back. Scott opened his eyes.
“Shit,” he said.
It seemed an appropiate thing to say. His jacket was ripped on his left side, under the armpit. “They got you, man, oh shit,” John said, “we gotta get you to a hospital.”
“I’m alive, hot damn, I’m alive,” Scott said, as he fully came to his senses. He tried to sit, but cried out in pain and fell on his back again.
“Woody? Mike?” Scott asked.
“They’re dead.”
“Gates?”
“Dead too. Everybody’s dead but us.” Scott closed his eyes for a few seconds.
He opened them wide again, not out of shock, but from a sudden thought.
“Pigs!” he hissed. “We gotta get out of here.”
He struggled to sit up, and John helped him.
“Gotta-get-out-of-here.”
“Maybe we should wait for an ambulance,” John said.
“No! Everybody’s dead. We’ll be dead too if we wait. Help me to my feet.”
“You’re hurting, man.”
“Listen John. We have to get out of here. We’ve done killings… They’ll put us in adult court for this… I’m alright. The burst must have just grazed me, otherwise I would be dead.”

John stood paralysed for a moment. Run? To where? Everything was lost. The circle was broken. Futile to run away. A siren sounded in the distance and Scott gasped, bringing himself to his feet on guts alone. John instinctely wrapped one of Scott’s arms around his shoulders.
“We have to hurry,” Scott said. They staggered towards the Mustang, the wail of the siren growing louder. No time to think anymore. The fight-or-flight reflex chased active thought out of John’s head, as he carried his friend across the field.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley All Rights Reserved

Chapter Eighteen: Dreams

Scott wanted some coke to ease the pain and calm his nerves. He had started to tremble in the Mustang, complaining of the cold. John covered him with his jacket, two green bandannas making a compass over the wound in Scott’s side. John drove within the speed limit, not wanting to attract the attention of the black-and-whites whizzing by with lights flashing. Along Hastings Street, it seemed every damn cop car in the city was heading towards Laurentian High. They had left just in time. Not twenty seconds after leaving the school parking lot, the first cop car had passed them by, thankfully driving too fast for glimpses between the drivers to be exchanged.

The Vancouver police worked fast, setting up roadblocks around a one-mile area of Laurentian less than five minutes after the first officer arrived on the scene. John drove to Scott’s place, less than a half-mile from the school. Instead of fleeing, they sought refuge, and it saved them from arrest.

They were inside now, and John laid Scott down on the sofa in the living room, spreading Scott’s jacket underneath so that the blood wouldn’t stain the couch. He fetched some blankets. Scott’s lips turned a faint shade of blue as he fell into shock.
“You gonna be okay?” John asked.
“Yeah, it’s stopped bleeding, and it don’t hurt as much now. Walking up the steps was a killer,” Scott said. “Elevate my legs. Get me a drink of water. I’ll be fine.”
John did as he was told. Then he sat down in a chair and started to think again.
“Christ,” he whispered, “We’re screwed.”
“Not yet,” Scott said. “Mom ain’t due back for another five hours. I’ll be in bed asleep when she comes in and you’ll be gone.”
“What about tommorrow?” John asked.
“Fucking deny everything.”
“That’s gonna work?”
“I didn’t see any eyewitnesses anywhere. Did you?”
“This is nuts. You’re bleeding like a stuck pig.”
“No. I just gotta be strong, that’s all. There’s bandages and antiseptic in the bathroom. Goddammit, don’t lose your nuts now, Poleshaw. Go get the stuff.”

John went to the bathroom and brought back some sterile dressings and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. He folded back the blankets and cut away Scott’s bloody shirt with his Swiss army knife. He opened the bottle of peroxide.
“Gimme a line,” Scott said.
“Say what?”
“That shit is gonna hurt like hell, and my nerves are just about toast. Gimme some coke.”
John took a plastic baggie out of his pocket and spilled a little on a small sheet of plastic that he carried about with him. He sliced the coke into lines.
“Can’t give you too much, Scotty,” John said.
“Just a taste. It will help clear my head too, so we can think what the hell we gonna do now. Hell, let’s go all the way. You got some stones?”

It was a new way to take the coke, mixing it with baking soda and smoking it. It brought on a faster, cleaner high. Woody had shown them how to bake the coke. God knows where he had picked it up.
“I got some here,” John said, reaching into his pocket.He placed the stones on some tinfoil, and brought out his cigarette lighter.
“Damn, got no pipe here,” John said. He looked around for something to improvise with. “Mmmm, Christ, hurry up Johnny,” Scott said.
John picked up his shotgun which he had left by the sofa. He carefully took out the remaining shells and cracked open the barrel. He balanced the stone inside the tube, now the stem of a very long toke pipe, and told Scott to grab hold of the muzzle. Scott put his lips around the end of the firearm and John lit the stone. He put his mouth close to the beginning of the barrel and blew. He blew Scott a shotgun white. After they were done, Scott let his head fall back on the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling, waiting for the buzz. John cut a line of coke only for himself.

Maybe it would stop the bad thoughts that raced around his head like angry weasels. There was a time for action, and a time for contemplation, and this was the latter. The coke went up his nose easy.
“Baby, baby, baby,” Scott hummed to himself, feeling the pleasure now coursing through his veins and arteries. Pump the blood, pump the joy throughout his system.
“What the hell are you talking about?” John asked.
“My, my, wasn’t that a show?” Scott said.
“Helluva show,” John agreed.
“We’ll make it through,” Scott said.
John leaned forward and clasped Scott’s hand with his.
“Tigers forever,” he said.
“Tigers forever,” Scott said, and he closed his eyes.
John sat back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling as the coke made itself felt in his head. God, what a day, he thought. The bad thoughts wilted under the coke, shriveling like grapes under the sun. That’s right, you motherfuckers, get away from me, John thought. But all at once, the rage rose up stronger than before. All of what happened, it made John so angry that he started to shake. The coke fought the rage, but then surrendered to it. John’s body followed, and the anger swallowed him up. His consciousness could no longer take it. John closed his eyes.

* * *

He was flying.

Over the sea, towards white cliffs, he flew away from the outside world. Below him, the sea sparkled as a strong beam of light played across the waves, coming from John didn’t know where. The light gleamed and went. A faint pale beyond the cliffs illuminated the scene. John flew onward towards the shoreline, feeling no breeze across the face. He willed himself closer to the waves, wanting to hear the sound of the sea. It whispered to him, the sea, promises of secrets told that would bring everlasting peace. John dropped his hand to dip it into the water, to tear away the veil. A finger-touch of the surface…

…And bodily he felt himself pushed away, tumbling through the air now, out of control. A brief moment of total darkness, and he found himself on the shore. The sea no longer whispered, but roared as the surf hit the beach. John looked closer, and the very waves picked up the pebbles on the beach, and dropped them. John did not know how long he sat there. He wanted to get up and walk into the waves, the sea, but something held him back. Slowly the tide receded, until John felt that if he waited here long enough, he would be surrounded by desert. He turned around to look at the cliff now towering over him, and walked to the base of it. White as chalk, smooth as polished marble, there was no way to climb it.

Wick-wick, the little sound surprised him, and he looked closer at the cliff. Grains of stone flecked out of the wall, leaving behind a foot rest. It was if some massive invisible drill-bit was boring against the cliff. Wick-wick, another hole appeared, deep enough for John to put his hand inside. Two more holes appeared, tracing a path upwards. John started to climb.

In no time at all, it seemed, John had scaled the cliff. After he reached the top, he turned to see the view. The sea looked very distant now, and soundless. He felt a pang of sorrow, and he didn’t know why.
“Why do you come here?” a voice asked, and John spun around.
A man dressed in a simple robe sat on a rock thirty feet away, hands resting on his thighs, his head bowed with his chin nestled almost on his chest. The man had a flowing mane of dark hair that nearly reached his waist. He looked old however, John could see that even from a distance. The man got up and walked towards John, hobbling with back bent over slightly. As he drew closer, the lines on his face grew deeper and deeper. But the eyes looked bright on that face, like a pair of streetlamps set on a road in the countryside. He was beside John now, sharing the view.
“The sea. I flew over the sea.” John said.
“Mmm, mmm.” said the man. “To only bathe in the waters for a moment… and then die. It would be perfect.”
“Yes,” John said, and he felt a pang of sorrow again.

As they both watched, brights flares slowly descended from the heavens into the waters, at first only a few, but quickly they numbered into the thousands, until the very sky seemed afire. Brights as the flares seemed, John stared without blinking. As the flares wiggled closer and closer to the sea, the waves seemed to reach up hungrily to swallow the light, but the flares did not extinguish themselves as they entered the waters. Rather, the sea took on a luminous glow until it looked alive. The storm tapered off gradually, until they were only a few flares left descending. John looked closer, as the flares narrowed in width. He could see limbs extending from them, so that they took on the shape of a cross. Suddenly, he was certain, if he got close enough, he would see faces.

“Come,” the old man said, and he took hold of John’s arm to lead him away.
“Wait,” John said.
The flares had gone, but he swore he could hear something burbling up from the sea. Music. The soft notes of something indescribably beautiful and ancient rose up and touched John’s heart. The sadness returned, along with anger at being denied. The rage was still there, have hid for awhile, but now making itself felt.
“Why?” John yelled at the old man who was disappearing into the shadows.
“Why can’t I stay and hear the music?”
“Come,” said the old man. “It’s not for us.”
John followed the old man.

* * *

“Where are we?” John asked.
“The land of dreams, fool,” the old man said.
He seemed impatient with John.
“So this isn’t real?”
“Real enough. It’s all perception. The other world… it’s more than a million miles away… you’re here now.”
They walked downwards on a slope for a long time, until John felt they were descending into the bowels of a huge valley.
“Where are we going?” John asked.
“We’re continuing the journey,” the old man replied.
John shook his head at the non-answer.
“You don’t understand?” the old man asked.
“No.”
“Fool.”
“Why do you keep saying that? Why do you keep calling me that?” John asked.
“I’m an old man. I have lived for a long, long time. I cannot remember much of my younger days, when I was strong and handsome, when the blood pumped so quickly from my heart to my limbs that I could dance from morning to dusk, and I felt strong enough to hoist the world on my shoulders and run. I cannot remember what that felt like, although I remember doing it. I only know now that the drug of youth made me insane like a fool. Like you, now.”
“Who are you?”

“I am of you. This is the land of dreams, remember? I am a part of you, a part of everyone. I whisper to you at night when you are alone in bed. I poke you when your blood is hot and the drum beats in your ears. I was with you at the championship game. I stood and watched as you took Jennifer on the wet grass. I had my arms around you, forcing you down to one knee in the football field, as you reached out to take life.”
The old man seemed to grow bigger. His voice grew louder until it roared in John’s ears.
“Are you the anger?” John asked.
The man stopped speaking and growing. He sat down on a rock that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He looked tired again.
“Yes, that’s it, I am the anger,” the man said.
John bent down to look closer at the old man, now growing smaller, shrinking even.
“Why are you so tired?”
“I told you,” the man said irritably. “I’m old. At your age, I walked along the crust of Mother Earth as it hardened. The Seven Days, well it wasn’t a week of mortal time, do you understand? The Great Flood -well, that was such an event for humanity- by that time I had seen it all, and done most things possible. And still I exist.”
“But you’re a part of me, I’m inside myself right. I wasn’t around for those things.”
The man snorted. “Your ancestors were. And where did your spirit come from?”
The man got up from the rock and stalked away.
“Come back here,” John shouted after the departing shadow. “ I have more questions to ask.” “Why bother?” responded a voice from the darkness. “You will wake up from here, forgetting all that has happened. But no longer will you be angry. For I am leaving.”
“Why?”

No voice answered back, but visions flashed before John’s eyes. The suitcase spiralled toward him, open with a steady endless stream of cocaine spilling out. The contorted face of Robert Gates followed, his mouth ajar as if making ready to scream. John then saw the football field, two files of men walking towards each other. But he felt no anger, because now he knew. He felt himself ascending from the valley. He looked down and saw his bare feet covered with blood, from the ground where he had been standing. There were armies down there clashing in the darkness without purpose or meaning. The briefest flash of light showed a vast multitude of naked men engaged in conflict. The silence broke and John could hear shrieks of agony and alarm. One voice made itself heard over the others, a feminine wail of sorrow, of a woman crying over the blood-feast, over the utter waste…

* * *

The crying degenerated into a series of sobs, and John opened his eyes. Scott’s mother had come home and found her baby dead. With his head on her lap, her hands touched his cheek as if she could communicate life through her fingertips. Her tears dropped onto his forehead. One pellet out of several had not passed through Scott’s side. Instead, it had bounced off a rib and laid itself to rest embedded in the chest wall surrounding the heart. Slowly, but surely, it had wormed it’s way deeper until it had shocked that vital organ into stopping. The buzz of the cocaine had masked the warning signs, the irritation of the muscle that would have woken up a sober man. Scott had made a smooth transition from sleep to death. John sat still in the chair, not moving except for his eyes, fascinated by the tableau. A bag of groceries lay spilled about the doorway, a draft blew through the room from the aperture, from the evening cool. He did not know how long Scott’s mother sat there with her son in her arms, crying, only that the sobbing resonanted through him like a voice echoeing down a very deep well well. Every sob amplified his sadness until he felt the sorrow would swallow him up and eat his heart. It drained him. He rose up from the chair, fighting to stand, so heavy was the weight on his shoulders. Scott’s mother looked up and for a second did not recognize John, so much had he changed.

“My boy… my boy is dead,” she whispered to John.
“I know,” John said.
“He was just a boy… He hadn’t even seen the world yet. He’ll never be a man now. It’s all been taken away,” she said, still in shock.
Maybe she only meant to mutter those words to herself, oblivious to John, drowning in her own personal sorrow.
“I know all these things,” John answered back, and walked towards the cool of the evening, to the door that led outside. He stopped on the porch briefly to look at the world.
“I know,” he said to himself one more time, and walked away.

* * *

Jennifer laid in her bed the next evening, fully clothed above the covers, and stared up at the ceiling. It was all over the news, every channel. The massacre had reverberated far beyond Vancouver, across the nation, south of the border even. She had been plucked out of class that day and sent to the prinicipal’s office. A crowd of anxious adults had awaited her, her father being one of them. After the principal had had his say, the police detective had been the one who had talked the most, or at least, asked the most questions.

Did she know John?

Yes of course. She had never hid the fact that they had dated from her parents, just that it had been so serious. It was only later that she figured out that maybe one of her friends had prepped the authorities beforehand on the real relationship between her and John. Someone like Tim maybe. So the police detective asked his questions but Jennifer did not turn out to be much of a help. Some of this was intentional. But mostly, it was because she couldn’t make the connection between her John and what they said this John had done. Really, she had no idea who they were talking about.

However after an hour or so of questioning, it had been established that she had slept with John. Humiliated by the way the admission had been forced out of her, she had started to cry.

The detective had pulled the gloves off, cracking a bit himself under the pressure of the situation. Eight people dead in a gunfight. It rivalled anything that had ever happened in Detroit or Los Angeles or any of the inner-cities of America. Already, the southern media was giving great play to this episode of violence, trumpeting the tragedy because, for once, such savagery had not happened on American soil. The detective told Jennifer exactly what he thought of John, calling a murderer, drug-pusher, and monster. He pretended to lose his temper, so that she would break and tell all – giving him something that would lead him to John Poleshaw. But all she could do was cry.

They gave her the rest of the day off, and she went straight home and locked herself in her room. First her father and then her mother came around to talk to her, but she hadn’t answered to a single word. Finally they had left her alone. Around nine o’clock that evening her phone rang, and she let it ring until her answering machine picked it up. No, she didn’t want to talk to anybody today.
“Jennifer, it’s me,” the voice said.
She snatched the receiver off the hook and said his name. Then she couldn’t think of anything else to say. Speechless, she waited. Seconds passed.
“Jen, do you remember the time we spent on the beach?”
“Yes.”
“And the time we first made love?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Those times… they’re a part of me now. Those memories are hard-wired in the brain, I think. If that makes any sense.”
“John, they’re saying things about you. About what you’ve done.”
“I did those things Jennifer. I got down on one knee, aimed my gun and fired. I killed two men for sure. I took life.”
“God, what did you do that for? Oh Jesus.” Jennifer was weeping now.
John felt so far away to her.
“Come to me John, let me hold you. God, I miss you already.”
“I can’t Jen. I can’t get inside that cage they’re keeping you in. God Jen, I love you and if I could hold you one more time it would be worth the handcuffs slapped behind my back but they wouldn’t let me get near you. I have to go away.”
“John, don’t go, I love you too.”
“I can’t stay.”
“Can’t we talk just a little longer. I’m so alone here. You can’t say goodbye yet.”
“Jen?”
“Yes?”
John’s tone of voice changed. It grew deeper and harder. “I have to kill that part of myself now which is so in love with you. Because you see, they’re using you. As bait, to get to me.”
“What are you talking about?” Jennifer asked.
“Goodbye Jennifer. And ask your father if he agreed to have the phones tapped.”

There was silence on the line. Jennifer spoke his name one more time into the receiver before realizing that he was gone forever. Then she started to cry again, bird in a gilded cage singing a mournful tune.

The R.C.M.P constable was out of breath by the time he had reached the phone booth. The receiver was swinging ever so slightly off the hook, maybe because of the breeze, maybe not. Later, the police officer figured he had missed the fugitive by less than forty seconds. A ten-block wide manhunt of that area, set up in less than ten minutes after the trace, had turned up nothing. The constable just couldn’t believe that they had missed the boy.
“Like a ghost,” he told his fellow officers back at the station. “Like a goddamn ghost with ESP.”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley All Rights Reserved

Chapter Nineteen: Leaving Eden

“Are you having the dreams again?” Holstein asked Black.
They were having coffee in the high school lunchroom for teachers. Black nodded. It had been years since the dreams, the last time had been when he had done rehab from the booze. The dreams of Korea, the forgotten war. Black guessed today’s generation was much more familiar with the agonies of Vietnam, because the American media never hesitated to bring that debacle up if given half a chance. On the other hand, there was that TV show, M*A*S*H, but Black never remembered Korea being that amusing.

He and Arnold were good therapy for each other. Black told him of dream that kept recurring. In the vision, Black was walking along in a beautiful forest with people until explosions rocked the trees and destroyed the greenery. A common enough dream for a veteran. Coming back from the war, the companions walking along with Black had been Asians.
“The dream is different now,” Black said.
“How so?”
“The people in the dream; they’re Caucasians. Even the vegetation is different. The trees are taller, like the Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.”
“And the age of your companions?”
“That I cannot determine, strangely enough.” Black sighed, and then said something odd. “I thought it was a foreign land.”
Holstein waited for him to clarify.
“I mean, when we were over there, in the bloody trenches, watching the Chinese doing those suicidal machine-gun charges, as if Ypres and the Somme had never happened. I thought as if we were on another planet. Do you understand?”
Holstein nodded slowly.
“I thought such insanity could never happen here. I mean, when we returned, Vancouver looked so beautiful to us both, but then Korea could be beautiful at times as well. What separated the two was the prosperity and peacefulness of the land. Trees with valuable wood for the chopping, the Strait of Georgia brimming with fish. Do you remember walking along the Spanish Banks picking oysters for a fine supper over a beach fire? It was like the garden of Eden spewing forth endless riches. That’s how it seemed to me Arnold, after Korea.” Black looked down at his coffee and lit another cigarette.

Alcoholics as a rule loved nicotine and caffeine. He had gone to two AA meetings already this week, and maybe he would stop by one tonight. It seemed John Barleycorn whispered to him every night since the news now, promising him relief. He remembered again how he had learned of the massacre. A goddamn TV crew had come to his door late at night. His wife had opened the door and had nearly been blinded by the lights. How they had gotten his address, he still had no clue. He had seen himself on the television later that night (amazing how fast those people worked). He had come across as a ruddy idiot, a hopeless fuddy-duddy. But he had been in shock. He had canceled classes for the next day, with the agreement of the superintendent of schools. That evening, he had gone to an emergency meeting of the trustees and just about every member of the education bureaucracy who could wangle an invitation, where they had been briefed by the police on all the gory details. God, nearly every damn one of the gang members had played on the football team. The leftists and pacifists on the board (of which there were many) had a field day with that revelation. Black remembered the glances that had come his way throughout the meeting. Most of the looks had been ones of pity. But he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He had been too baffled.

Later that night he had taken out the personnel dossier on every one of the boys. The one on Gates had held no surprises. The whole damn family had been nothing but trouble to society since the day Dad had screwed Mom. The other files brought forth no secrets. Really, none of the boys had commited any really serious infractions that could have warranted any special attention. He studied the file of John Poleshaw, the only boy left alive from the massacre, still missing. The boy participated well in athletics. His marks were good but not outstanding. Streaky perhaps, with a tendency to be excellent when the boy was interested, mediocre when he was not. Interestingly enough, not one but two teachers had marked him as a “born leader,” and “student president” material. No one wrote that about a student drug-dealer, let alone a killer.
“Don’t think too much,” a voice chided him, “you’ll hurt the team.”
Black looked up from his coffee. Holstein sat there, looking at him with pragmatic concern. For a brief moment, Black didn’t see a bald, middle-aged schoolteacher with a good-sized paunch, but a lean, hard soldier affecting a world-weary pose.
“It’s nothing less than a damn war on our doorstep,” Black told him.

* * *

The sun came out the next day as Black drove down Hastings Street, peeping out from behind a huge culmunus, turning the day a little brighter. Black thought of seeds in the soil, little stems poking out from the dirt in accordance with some genetic clock, timed to go off at spring. Normally this time, he would be looking forward to summer holidays, but he suspected now such a vacation would be permanent. Every disaster needed a scapegoat. One of this magnitude stained almost every one within striking distance. These thoughts did not bother Black so much. He had always known that one day his career would fall to the political machinations of the school board and the career aspirations of the bureaucrats. No, he had never planned to go gentle in that good night, otherwise he would have never asked to be transferred to Laurentian High.

It was the unanswered questions that nagged at him. Why had this happened? For what possible reason had nine students of his school blasted away at each other at sucidal range? There were still no answers. They still had not found the Poleshaw boy. By now the police were feeling intense pressure from the public, press, and politicians. They had requested Black’s help in completing a new psychological profile of the Poleshaw boy. Black had agreed to help, although how much help he would be he did not know. The boy seemed to be an enigma.

He drove his way through the seedy part of Hastings, past the aboriginal bingo hall, alongside the pawnshops and the no-name greasy spoons. The area used to be the proud working-class section of Vancouver, where the longshoremen and CN rail workers made their home. But the area had never recovered from the devastating recession of ‘81-’82. Now, children had to take care walking in the park because of the needles. The average monthly income in this neighbourhood, Black had read somewhere, was the lowest in Canada, only a few dollars above the welfare allowance. Closer to the police station was a famous corner, Main and Hastings. It was an end-point well know to the transients of Canada, the highway-walkers that hitch-hiked from end of the country to another, picking up welfare cheques from province to province, traveling because they had nothing better to do.

On every street corner now, Black saw young men and women idling, now enjoying the first break of sunshine in weeks. Maybe it was just the way he felt, but Black thought there seemed to more of them every year, bums with no place to go, or nothing to do. The number of people on social assistance had gone up in Vancouver every year for the last seven, Black knew that for a fact. Maybe it was time for him to step aside and let fresh blood take over. He felt tired, not physically but spiritually. Somewhere in his soul there was a persistent wail of tiredness. He glanced again at the sidewalk, at a hooded figure leaning up against an abandoned store wall. Black looked closer…

…And slammed the brakes on his car, simultaneously veering over to the curb. He could hear a horn blaring behind him but he ignored it, stopping his car and opening the door. He had enough sense of mind to check his rearview mirror; he closed his door again so that a passing pick-up would not sideswipe it right off the hinges. He could not wait for traffic to clear, so he scrambled over to the passenger side and got out that way. He walked quickly, almost breaking into a trot, but the figure gave no hint of flight.

Poleshaw. John Poleshaw, standing on a street corner not two hundred metres from the main police station of Vancouver, with every officer in the city looking for him. It defied rational explanation. Black slowed his walk as he drew closer, and stopped not three feet away from the boy.
Is that you? he asked the figure, scarcely believing.
Yeah, John said.
Black stood speechless for a moment.
Good God, do you know what you’ve done? he finally said.
Yes, I do know, John answered back.
What are you going to do?
I’m going to run.
This is madness, Black said, come with me.
It is madness, I know, but I’m not going with you. I told you, I’m going to run.
Where to? Black asked.

Maybe North, up to Whitehorse. Lots of space, few people. If you can handle the cold, I hear it’s beautiful. Maybe South, across the border. There so many people down there, I could lose myself so easily. I can go anywhere, really. What’s here for me now? I’m waiting now, the police are guarding the exit-points. But as time goes by, they’ll fall asleep and I’ll slip through. And I’ll be gone for good.
This is madness, Black repeated, and he looked close at the boy.
Poleshaw had changed somehow, obviously. He sensed no fear, none of the gawkiness associated with adolescents of that age. No machismo, either.
I’m tired, John said suddenly.
Come in from the cold then, Black said.
John wavered, uncertain.
You’ve been on the run now for days. You’re going to collapse any minute now. It would be better if you gave yourself up to me. And you would be able to rest, Black said.
I can’t, John answered. I haven’t even seen New Orleans yet.

Black felt for certain now that John had tripped over the boundary of sanity.
Listen to me John, he said. Can you see tomorrow?
John looked puzzled, then a flash of understanding lit up his face.
No, John said, I haven’t been able to see tomorrow for a long time. That’s what has been making so tired.
If you give in, you’ll be able to see tomorrow. You won’t have to worry, Black said.
John looked away for a moment, deep in thought. Ten seconds, twenty. When he directed his gaze back to the principal, there was new strength in his voice.
You were to suppose to do that already, anyways, before all of this happened.
What? Black said.
I mean, where were you all when Gates was running the show? Where were you when the bad people came after me and Scott and Woody and Mike? Where the hell were you? John asked.
No, I will not accept that, Black said. I will say whatever is necessary to get you into custody Jonathan, but I refuse to believe that none of this is your fault.

Did I make this world? John yelled. And who made me? If this is paradise, how did I get here? Am I a evil person? Is that it? What I did, happens every day.
John, you have to come with me, Black said, and he reached out his hand.
I want to come home, John said.
Take my hand, Black said.
I want to come home, John repeated, but it’s no longer there.

Just then, a crowd of Asians marched up the sidewalk, twittering noisily among themselves, paying no attention to the drama unfolding. They came between Black and John, and when they had passed, John had already turned away and started walking. He headed in the direction of the Burrard Inlet, to the railway lands. Black did not follow.

Copyright 2009 by DJ Dunkerley All Rights Reserved