Thursday, 21 November 2019
Monday, 18 November 2019
I remember the awe I felt when Dad took me to visit the Salado Cliff Dwellings in Arizona as a little girl and I discovered a multi-storied, ancient adobe structure that looked similar to our own HOME. I felt drawn to it by an ache in my chest that I would later learn was nostalgia - yearning for a time when a family lived there so long ago. I learned that generations of people lived there over countless centuries, and in that moment realized - as Dad put it - the world wasn’t created on the day I was born; that I was only one small link in a chain of humanity that stretched back hundreds of thousands of years and may continue for hundreds of thousands more. I know now that the only thing that binds all those billions of links together through time is love, and it is the broken people of this world who have lived without love who truly know how precious it is.
My own small segment of that chain began half a century ago with a broken little boy and his bootlegger grandma, with a mother too busy surviving and a father too immersed in alcoholism to love him; then as a man who once treasured a brief and tragic love, the longing for which would never fade, he had found a broken, angry little girl and passed that love on to her and doing so, gentled her soul; and in turn she would pass it on to a lonely, discarded boy, and so on; links clicking into place, welded together through time.
We are mongrels. We are outcasts. We have all committed horrible crimes to protect what is ours. We are a collection of broken people who carry junkyard dogs within our breasts fixed tight with chains of restraint. Yet we have also performed wonderful things for people who need us; we have fed the hungry; delivered justice for the powerless; soothed those in pain; and brought joy where only sorrow lived before. Those who do not understand the hollow hungry place in our souls we all bore as children, fear us. Those who do understand, know that by coming together, by suffering together, by surviving together, we have filled that hollow place with the one thing that all of us so desperately seek ...
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
How it all started ...
On my way home I passed a few telephone poles and even a storefront that had bad photocopies of a picture of a girl with the words; ‘Have You Seen Me?’ on the top and a contact number on the bottom. I thought bitterly about putting up posters of my own face with the words; ‘Do You See Me?’, but I’d be afraid that no one would call my contact number even if I had one.
While I was waiting at the bus stop I noticed a new photocopy poster with another girl’s face on it. This one said; ‘MISSING’ and gave the girl’s name and a description of the clothes she was wearing the day she was last seen. Vancouver was full of girls and women who were down on their luck and who were always heading out somewhere else to find a better life.
Hitting home ...
Hitting home ...
“I like your hat.” I said, looking down at her pom-pom. She tilted her head and smiled up at me, then something caught her eye and her face got serious. I looked and saw what bothered her; it was another poster in the window of Chum’s sandwich shop.
“Another runaway?” she said.
I looked at the photocopied picture of the girl taped to the inside of the window and the bottom dropped out of my stomach. I knew that girl.
I squeezed Angel’s hand tighter.
“Let’s go home.”
I wanted to get us off the street because it felt suddenly dangerous to me.
Thursday, 12 September 2019
'Royal' Pahlenov spent 10 years in prison for the Romani mob, catching a charge he didn't own. Now he's out and looking for his backpay from those who betrayed him, but first they must believe he has forgiven them.
'There are such things as false truths and honest lies' ~ Romani proverb
Saturday, 7 September 2019
Angel was waiting for me at Broadway and Victoria when I got there just before two AM. She had a winter coat on this time and had it zipped up right under her chin, with her hands stuffed deep in her pockets and a grey toque on her head.
I’d brought the stuff she asked for – I found a large plastic bleach bottle with just a dribble left in Bill’s laundry room and a new one sitting there, so I dumped the old one out and rinsed it. Then I raided the work bench in his garage and found a couple feet of solid copper wire and a half roll of electrician’s tape.
I showed it all to Angel and she said it was perfect, so we started to walk toward Nanaimo. She cut into the closed Shell station there.
“We need some gas.” she told me.
“It’s closed.” I said, “The pumps are turned off.”
“I know that.” Angela said impatiently like I was an idiot, taking the bleach bottle and twisting off the cap and setting the bottle down.
She lifted one of the pump handles off the cradle, “There’s always some gas left in the hoses. Not a lot, but we don’t need much.”
Sure enough, when she squeezed the handle a few ounces of gas trickled into the bleach bottle. She repeated it a few times until there was an inch of gas in the bottom of the bottle. She screwed the top back on and we carried on walking.
I showed her where Mark lived and took her down the alley to his carport and showed her his 55 Chevy.
“It’s nice.” she whispered.The neighbourhood was quiet except for the odd ‘shush’ of a car heading up Nanaimo, the houses all dark and sleeping. We snuck into the carport and Angel reached around through the grill and popped the hood and lifted it just high enough to work under.
“Here.” she handed me a tool with a hexagonal end and a t-handle, “Take out the spark plug closest to the battery.”
I pulled the spark plug lead off that plug and set the tool over it and twisted it until it let loose, then screwed it out of its hole. Angel shook the bleach bottle violently then unscrewed the cap and stuck the spark plug in the end, wrapping the metal part at the base with the copper wire then wrapping the end of the plug and the wire so it was secure in the bottle. Then she felt around and found the negative post on the battery.
“Ground the spark plug wire to the negative terminal.” she whispered as she pointed at the negative terminal so I knew which one it was, “We don’t want this thing blowing up in our faces.”
I peeled back the boot on the plug lead and scraped it against the negative terminal — no spark. Angel set the bleach bottle on the engine and wrapped the other end of the copper wire to the negative post, then put the lead back on the spark plug.
“Let’s get out of here.” she whispered as she eased the hood down and pressed until it clicked closed.
Angel led us up to the top of the hill on Nanaimo until we found a phone booth. She asked for Mark’s phone number and I gave it to her.
“Where does he work?” she asked.
“He manages Pacific Xerograph up on Kingsway.” I told her.
“Vancouver or Burnaby?”
“Burnaby.” I said.
“What’s his last name?”
“Chalmers.” I told her and I did my paper clip trick to get a free call and she dialed Mark’s number and waited until he woke up and answered.
“Hello, Mister Chalmers? Mark Chalmers? Yes, this is Constable Yazniski of the Burnaby RCMP. Are you connected to Pacific Xerograph on Kingsway?” I couldn’t believe she was doing this, “Yes, well I’m sorry to inform you there’s been a break-in and it’s quite a mess. Yes, a great deal of damage. We can stand-by until you get here and can put you in touch with a contractor who can secure the store until you can contact your glass repair place in the morning. Yes, as soon as you can, it’s busy night for us. Thank you so much, Mister Chalmers, we’ll be standing by.”
She hung up the phone.
“Now what?” I asked as she led me to the shadows of a couple trees on the corner.
“We wait.” she said.
We could see Mark’s house and the roof of his carport from where we were. Lights were coming on in his house and in a couple minutes we heard the sound of Mark’s back door slamming, then the sound of him closing his car door. The dull wind-up of his starter came faintly from his carport and suddenly his backyard lit up with a flash and a loud ‘thud’ and the clatter of the hood of his car blowing off and bouncing off the carport roof to fall onto the concrete.
We could hear Mark swearing, then heard him go back in the house. Angel led me back to the phone booth.
“Do your thing.” she said and I shorted out the phone to get her another free call. He answered right away.
“Have you called the cops yet?” Angel said into the phone, “Good, don’t. You just learned what happens when you fuck with a friend of ours. Pay Jackson what you owe him by noon tomorrow or next time we’ll blow up your fucking house. He’ll be at Pacific Xerograph tomorrow at lunchtime. Be there and have his cash ready. And Mark? Don’t ever fuck with us again.”
Angel hung up.
“Let’s go.” she said and we ran across Nanaimo and took dimly lit side streets heading toward her foster home.
“Jesus Christ, Angel.” I said quietly as we walked – sometimes she scared me.
"That Dog Don't Bark"
"That Dog Don't Bark"
Sunday, 1 September 2019
“What’s going on?” I said as I walked past a mantle with framed family photos on it - husband, wife, three kids all under ten.
“Hi Denny.” he said as he wiped down the kitchen sink and the taps, obviously thinking about fingerprints.
“Whose house is this?” I asked.
“A very interesting guy.” Frankie said and threw the tea towel in the sink, now that I was in the kitchen I could see Frank’s shirt and pants had blood droplets all over them.
“What did you do, Frank? Where is this guy?”
“Tied up in the basement. You can meet him in a couple minutes.”
“How about his family?” I motioned to the photos.
“Nah-nah, they left him months ago once they found out what a scumbag he is.”
“I’m losing my patience.” I said.
“Alright, I’ll fill you in.” said Frankie, all smiles; “So, there’s this funny little chick that works the stroll with Carrie. Cute as fuck and a real oddball. If she was older I’d introduce her to Gordon.
“Anyway, she writes down plate numbers of all the johns who pick up the girls. Kind of an insurance policy I guess. Turns out, she wrote down the plate number of the stronzo who hurt Carrie, and I got a friend at motor vehicles who ran his plate for me.”
“Didn’t I tell you Carrie wanted us to leave it alone?” I asked him, “She’s pissed at me because you were interrogating the girls - her words. She says we’re through.”
“Carrie said she didn’t want you to do anything. That doesn’t include me.” Frankie said, “She’s one of us, Denny. We protect our own.”
“Fuck. What did you do?”
“Come on, you can meet him.” Frankie said, leading the way to the basement stairs, “Don’t touch anything. We already wiped the house for prints.”
Frankie had the guy tied to an old kitchen chair - one of those bent steel-tube chairs that everyone had in their kitchens in the fifties. The guy looked like a horror show; his arms were tied to the back of the chair, each shin bound tight to the legs. His face was bloody and swollen, his eyes so puffy that he couldn’t see out of them. I could see the stubs of broken teeth through his fat lips.
“This is Mister Schröder.” Frankie said, “He likes to hurt little girls.”
“You know it’s him?” I asked Frankie.
“He admitted it.” then to Schröder, “Didn’t you, Mister Schröder?”
Schröder lifted his head, moving it around like a bat trying to echolocate in the dark.
“I pay them.” he lisped through his swollen lips, “They let me if I pay them. I pay them well. Please? I don’t force them.”
I thought I would be angry. I thought I would be filled with a righteous, murderous rage and that I would pick up something heavy and beat this guy to death right there in his basement. But all I felt was sick. I believed Schröder. He had no reason to lie - I’m sure he thought we were going to kill him anyway, so he had nothing to lose.
I believed that Carrie allowed herself to be hurt for money. The memory of her limping home that night in the pouring rain flashed before my eyes and broke my heart anew. This explained her unwillingness to tell me what happened; her tears when I told her I cared about her; and her admission of feeling ashamed.
I didn’t understand the depths of her addiction until that moment, and it crushed my heart until it felt like it would burst open and stop beating.
I walked to the corner of the basement to get myself under control, because I felt like I was on the verge of crying myself. Frankie and Rocco had the decency to remain quiet while I did. I let the coldness creep in on me a bit, and when I felt more in control, I walked to Schröder and bent down so he could hear me.
“The blond girl. The little, pale one.” I said, describing Carrie in a way he’d understand who I was talking about, “How many times?”
“Just once ...” he shuddered, “Just the once.”
I stood up.
“I’ll never touch her again, I swear.” Schröder sobbed, I guess thinking he was about to die and trying to bargain, “I’ll leave her alone. I didn’t know she was your friend. Please don’t kill me.”
I stared down at this ruined man, feeling only a cold contempt. His wounds would heal just like Carrie’s, but his fear would remain - Frankie and Rocco made sure of that. No matter how much money you paid, you couldn’t escape the consequences of your actions. He learned that lesson - all night by the looks of it - from Frankie and Rocco.
“We’re not going to kill you.” I said to him, “Not this time.”
I bent over again.
“But if you go back there. If you hurt another girl - I will kill you myself, mister Schröder.”
Monday, 26 August 2019
I dug around under the bar and found a bottle of anisette that the guys used for shots to celebrate little victories. I drank right from the bottle and shivered as the strong liquorice liqueur warmed a path down my throat to spread across my belly. Taking the bottle I walked to the old Wurlitzer that Dad installed for the club’s reopening party and punched in numbers from the 1960s section and listened to the music Dad said was the narrative of his young life; Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Time, Bad Times’, Clapton’s ‘Crossroad Blues’, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth’, all the while sipping the anisette and weaving to the music.
Then I played all the songs I knew reminded Dad of Carrie; ‘Hey Carrie Anne’ by the Hollies, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harem, and the one that made me cry that night; ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ by the Foundations, about a young man who was so desperately in love with a girl he knew would break his heart, but loved her anyway with every ounce of his being.
I knew them all by heart, growing up watching my Dad get that faraway look of longing and heartache whenever someone played one of them. I was always in awe of a love that could endure for so long; kept alive and fresh even separated by such an impossible distance; the love he held for that long dead girl. And knowing he was capable of that made me know that when he told me he loved me, he meant it and it was real.
I drowned myself in his music and Mike’s anisette until I was sitting on the floor, leaning against the Wurlitzer, with raw tears flowing down my cheeks. I wanted my Dad right then, right there. I wanted to feel his arms around me, holding me like he held me so many nights as I cried. And him, never offering advice, never trying to fix it, never reminding me how I ended up in that state in the first place. All he ever did was listen and hold me and love me, and that was more than anyone can ask.
I’d set out to quiet my busy mind and had drank myself into a state of crippling nostalgia. I was a hot, drunken mess, and my busy thoughts had given way to a flood of emotion that was gutting me. I toughened up on myself and called an end to my pity party. My Dad was still alive and would hold me again, and I was determined to keep him alive by hunting down the motherless bastards responsible for his wounds and pain and kill every single one of them.
The Dark Riders and the Russian mob learned of my Dad’s cunning and savagery the hard way - ‘just wait until these mutts got a load of his daughter’, I silently swore to myself.
It took me three tries to get my legs under me and hold myself up by clutching the Wurlitzer. I studied the song titles as they blurred and came into random focus until I found the song I was looking for to pull myself out of the funk I was in;
‘Mambo Number Five’ by Lou Bega, the song that Dad and I danced to at my ninth birthday party, immortalized by the enlarged photo that lived inside the entrance in our home since that day, and will forever remain the happiest moment of my childhood.
I danced like I did when I was nine until I lost my balance and almost dropped the anisette bottle as I fell against the Wurlitzer. Then I felt dizzy and sick, so I staggered behind the bar and threw up into the sink. I rinsed it down and doing so tipped over the anisette bottle and spilled it all over Mike’s prep area. I tried to clean it up but I’d cashed in all the exhaustion that I’d saved up since Tuesday morning and the more I tried to clean up the worse I made it. So I finally scrawled ‘I’m sorry Mike’ on his order pad and hauled myself upstairs and flopped face down on the couch and passed out.
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