Picture Perfect 85

Picture Perfect 85

“Paula Morrison. 12 years old. The oldest of the girls to disappear. Father: David, step-mother: Rosemoon. One word.”

“Rosemoon?” Cameron asked.

“Hippy days.” She shook her head.

Dan nodded as Stephanie read the file to him. He’d gone over it several times already. He kept his eye on the road as they approached the Canso Causeway.

“How much more of this do you want to hear?” She asked.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve heard enough.”

“She’d been a runaway since the dad remarried two years earlier. Birth mother, Madeline, died of breast cancer. Father an American draft-dodger, birth mother from Whycoak …”

“Whycocomagh.”

“You say that like a native.” Cameron repeated the name.

“One of those place names that stuck with me. It’s a Mi’kmaq word means Head of the Waters.’” Dan repeated the name. “Feels good to say it too.”

“I suppose. Anyway she died and he remarried several years later. Paula was an only child until Rosemoon had twins.”

“Which was when the runaway business started?”

“Yes. Rosemoon has since passed away. Breast cancer again. Must be something in the water.”

“That’s a different investigation, Stephanie. I’m sure there’s some report buried somewhere that shows an alarming coincidences of cancer and the water in the area.”

“Un-huh. Her twin half-brothers, Seal and Wolf no longer live in the area.”

“Seal! Wolf!” Cameron giggled. “More of that hippy draft-dodger stuff?”

“Probably. Wolf is in BC and the other …” she read the file. “Is in Hollywood! Seal Morrison. The director! He’s from around here!”

“Yep. I’m not the only famous person from the backwaters of Nova Scotia.” Dan said.

As they drove under Welcome to Cape Breton sign on the Causeway, Dan half-expected to hear his mother say “Turn down the radio so we can listen to the waves.”

“Will you look at that!” Dan was tempted to roll down the car window & stick out his head.” I haven’t seen the Causeway since we left here. It was always a mini-adventure to drive across it. One year a storm blew waves over our car. Mom was terrified but Dad kept on going. All he said was roll up the windows.” Dan rolled down the windows to hear the waves.

“You sure that’s wise?” Cameron took a deep breath. “Don’t want to get lung cancer.”

“Very funny.”

Cameron followed the curve of the Causeway to the other side. 

“Pull off at the Souvenir Shop. Your first act here has to be one of shopping.”

“Dan this is not my first time at this .… cèilidh. You know we’ve already pre-interviewed people before you got here. Right?”

“Yes, yes, but did you drive across the causeway or fly into Sydney on the Quintex private jet?”

“As if a producer that insists ‘no four star accommodations’ could afford a jet.” Stephanie said.

Dan got out of the car. “What a view.”

“Yes.” Cameron said. “Just like a post card.”

Memories of Dan’s last summer there became clearer as he watched the waves breaking against the rocks that lined the roadway. Men fishing dotted the piers.

“I wonder what they’re catching?” Stephanie asked.

“Squid. Sometimes mackerel.” Dan said.

“You’re kidding?” Cameron laughed. “These are the squid jiggers like in the song? I gotta try that myself.”

The gift shop was a clutter of tartan objects. Coffee mugs made in China, tee-shirts from Bangladesh. One wall was devoted to local handicrafts and there was shelf of books about the area.

“Looking for something in particular?” The clerk came over.

“You have something without the Cape Breton tartan or a lighthouse on it?” Stephanie joked.

“Something like this?” The clerk handed her a roll of toilet paper. The wrapper said: ‘Cape Breton ass wipe doesn’t take shit from nobody.’

Dan laughed. “Maybe we should get a dozen for the crew.” He pulled out one of the books titled ‘Cabot Trail Mix Trivia.’ “Collected by David Morrison!”

“Let’s see?” Stephanie took the book from him.

“Is this the David Morrison from St. Peter’s.” Dan asked the clerk.

“Could be.” The clerk replied. “All of the books on that shelf are by locals.”

“It is.” Stephanie said. “According to the bio he’s a life long resident of St. Peter’s who had always been fascinated by local history. He is the proud father of Wolf and Seal.” She flipped to the inside front cover. “And it’s autographed.”

“Nice.” Dan took the book back. “You have many copies of it?”

“Just these three. We don’t tend to stock a lot of that sort of thing. Books, I mean.”

“Maybe if it had a kitten in a kilt on the cover. It would sell better?” Cameron said.

Dan bought all three copies. In the car he read through one of them. It was, as the title said, a collection of anecdotes, jokes, short historical facts about the area. No index and apparently haphazardly arranged.

“Wonder if he’ll sign them again?” Stephanie asked.

Cameron pulled into Amethyst Court, a motel just past the welcome to St.Peter’s sign. The remote truck was parked at the far end of the cabins. 

“I never thought I said this but thank God for a normal drive.” Dan got out of the car. “I was beginning to think these highways were jinxed for me.”

“If they were you know it would be part of the show anyway. Baxter expects you at six to go over the next week of shoots. You’ll see Mr. Morrison in the morning. 10 a.m. sharp.”

“Right.” He glanced at his cell for the time. “Give sme time to freshen up. Which cabin is mine?”

“Not sure. I’ll check with Brenda. She’s doing the production coordinating here.” She texted Brenda.

Brenda came out of cabin 3. “Took your time. We’ve been here since morning.”

“Dan took his time,” Cameron said. “A little shy after recent highway to hell events.”

“Highway to heck, is more like it.” Dan said as Brenda gave him a door pass card.

“Cabin 10. Baxter is in 9.”

“Yikes.” Dan winced. “Hope he keeps it down. He must be deaf from all that loud TV.”

“Whatever.” Brenda said. “I’ve done two series with him and I never knew how he could keep track of everything. Must in the volume.”

Dan grabbed his suitcase, shoulder bag and went to his cabin. It smelled so strongly of lavender when he opened the door, he propped the door open with a chair to see if he could air it out. He put his laptop out on the tiny writing desk. He wondered why these desks were always smaller than the TVs. At least the Court offered free wifi. He tried it but the signal wasn’t as strong as his Lifend connection.

He had email from both this lawyers. The one dealing with his sister, the other dealing with Sanjay. He made the Skype connection with the Depot.

“Hey Sandy.”

“Good afternoon boss. You’ll be pleased to hear that there is nothing major to report. Weekend sales were good. ‘While the boss is away’ made for a great promo.”

“More than good Sandy.” Dan looked over the sales figures. “Maybe I should stay away more often.”

“Please don’t.” she said. “You are our visible shield of protection from that sister of yours.”

“She been sniffing around again?”

“Nope. In fact the silence is ominous.”

“She has her hands full with the new contracts anyway. Thanks for the update.”

“I hope we can hold on until you get back boss. We can manage here without you but things go a lot better when you are on the premises. At least when you are in the city.”

“Go on. You angling for a raise?”

“Any more … rough spots?”

“No. I’m a bit surprised that the families we interviewed were so cooperative. I didn’t think their memories would be so clear about events so long ago. I know mine aren’t. Each day something new comes back to me about growing up here.”

“Such as?”

“Fishing. I look back on my childhood and all I recall is tagging around with my Dad, setting up cameras. But when we stopped earlier today I saw people fishing off the piers near the Causeway.”

“Fishing! Safe to eat?”

“It was back then. My Dad would sometime stop for a day there just to fish. He called it his summer vacation. Mackerel and sometimes squid. My mother hated the squid.”

He got a beep that someone else wanted to talk to him on Skype.

“Keep me posted. I’ll get in touch again in a couple of days.”

“Let us know when you’ll be back so we can have a ‘The Boss Is Back’ sale.”

“Will do.”

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Picture Perfect 84

Picture Perfect 84

“Other thing, which in fact was what lead me here.” Dan stepped back from Janis.

“Yes?” she cradled her hands over her stomach.

“We received several tips regarding a snake man.”

“Snake man?”

“They were about a man who would visit various farms buying baby pigs to feed to snakes.”

“Oh my.” Janis rubbed her hands. “There was always an issuing keeping the snakes fed. The Hippo never suffered from mice or rats while it had the snakes but I suppose they … Wait! Now that you mention it I remember some of the set-up crew would bring fresh …uh … food for the snakes. I never asked where it came from. I supposed it was from local butchers.”

“I see. If you recall anyone in particular us know.”

“Here.” Cameron handed her a business card. “This is a more direct line than that tips line.”

“I’ll do that.” Janis read the card.

<>

“I can drive for awhile.” Dan started to get into the driver’s side.

“Okay.” Cameron strapped his shoulder camera unit in the back seat. “Don’t forget we’re heading back to the Truro.”

“We are? Since when?”

“Got a text from Stephanie to get things back on schedule.”

“We’re not that far behind.” He glanced at the GPS. “It’ll take an hour or so to get there.”

“Don’t hurry on my account.” Cameron gave a little laugh. “What did you make of the good Rev?”

“Interesting lady. I think she was holding something back.”

“Besides that snake on her belly.”

“So that’s what that was.”

“Hard not to see it … rippling under her clothes.” Cameron shuddered. “It’ll fit in nicely though even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.”

“My buddy Timmy was excited about seeing those snakes when the Hippo came to town. All we’d ever seen were glimpses of ring-necks.” Dan thought a moment. “So seeing real live snakes would have been great.”

“Maybe you’ll get your chance if Baxter wants you take in a Nova service.”

“You don’t sound too enthused.”

“I’ll have nightmares tonight. Trust me I almost dropped the camera when that one slithered out from her sleeve. Didn’t it bother you?”

“I found it a bit weird.”

He dropped Cameron off at the crew’s motel & continued on to the Warwick.

In his room he checked his cell phones to see if he had missed any calls or messages while they were talking to Reverend Hadley. The updated shooting list had families to interview in Cape Breton.The Sheldons were new to the list but there was no background information. 

He played back the footage of the interview with Hadley. Cora suicide? Who was Cora? Winston Chamberlain hadn’t mentioned any suicides. He didn’t recall seeing more mentions of Cora in the Museum either, just the side-show banner.

<>

In the morning Warszawa was in the Wickham lobby as Dan came down for the breakfast part of the b’n’b.

“I have the the initial report on the cars.” Warszawa said.

“That was fast.” Dan shook his hand.

“Having me here gives them reason to be quick. They aren’t pleased with any internal investigation. You know how that is.”

“Yeah. Anything in the report.”

“Possible but not confirmable tampering.”

“Big help.”

“Possible is a code word for probable, ‘not confirmable’ means they know it happened but don’t know how it happened. Not enough to take to court.”

“I know how that is.”

“Part of the problem is the fact that the cars are rentals. No way of knowing if this was an unnoticed malfunction that was triggered by the rain storm.”

“The other cars?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Small consolation for Vidro family.”

“None to speak of. Brother in Calgary. That’s it.”

“So, I’m not a suspect?”

“Suspect! More like target. You switched cars at the last minute, right.”

“Yes. But this isn’t news. What do you actually have to tell me?”

“You turned off?”

Dan double -checked his body camera. “Yep. Let’s go up to my room so I can get this stuff off.” 

They went up to his room. 

Dan draped the apparatus carefully on the back of a chair. “Feels good to take that off. I forget that I’m wearing it but I feel so much lighter when I take it off.”

“I want do to this off the book until we have something concrete.”

“I know! This isn’t the first case we’ve worked on.”

“Yeah, but the first one where you’ve been so directly involved.”

“Right.”

“The detachment has a file on Winston Chamberlain.”

“Underage girls?”

“You knew!”

“Not about the file. More than one person has mentioned his predilections.”

“There wasn’t much they could actually do. He was underage himself. They brought him in after the father of one of the girls insisted. Thought he was an adult. Didn’t believe he was only fifteen.”

“I believe that.” he showed Warszawa the picture Teresa had given him. “That’s him there.”

“Hmm. There was more than one complaint mind you. But no one was willing to press charges. He was an oversexed, underaged kid – no law then against that. His parents said they’d see to it that he got treatment for his problem.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. They sent him to Toronto to see some specialist child psychologist. He was gone less than a month. Two of the disappearances happened while he was away. Visiting an aunt.”

“So he has family in Toronto?”

“At the time.”

“He kept out of trouble when he returned from Toronto.” Warszawa said. “At least as far as the RCMP are concerned.”

“I feel he’s holding something back though.”

“That has to do with the missing children?” Warszawa asked.

“A gut reaction. We’ll have to ask Jennifer Devereaux. She’s the seer, I’m the … actually I’m not sure what I am. A photo reader investigator. Does the local detachment have anything on the Nova Convergent Centre?”

“I did a check when you said you were going there. A few complaints. Every time someone gets scared by a garter snake they point at the Nova cult. But other than that they’re pretty quiet for such an odd bunch. Apparently there are several religious communities through out the Maritimes. Catholic retreats, an Ashram or two, Sisters of Isis.”

“What about importing snakes? Aren’t there laws about exotic animals, that sort of thing.”

“No one’s made that specific complaint. You think it’s worth checking out?”

“No harm. I was just wondering. Where did the original Tut snakes come from? You can’t pick them up like … dogs or parrots.”

“Parrots?”

“The Hippo had a parrot show at the time.”

“You think they shipped those children off in trade or something?” Warszawa laughed lightly. “You are starting to sound like Baxter.

“All things considered that may not be so far fetched. If you can smuggle snakes into the country, smuggling a child out would be easy enough.” Dan said. “Anything on Janis Hedley?”

“Picked up for grass a couple of times. She pressed charges against some guy who roughed her up when she worked at the Hippo. She didn’t want to charm his snake and he took it personal.”

“I’ve seen some of the snakes she now handles. Not many men would compare.” Dan said. “And if there is one who does, I don’t want to meet him.”

“Not even to take a peek?” Warszawa laughed.

“Not even.”

“I’m heading back to Toronto tomorrow. Sergeant Coster is the official show liaison, She’ll will be on hand to help should she have to.”

“We’ve got one more real interview to do over in Cape Breton in St. Peter’s. I’ll be spending a few days in New Waterford. I haven’t been back since my Dad moved us to to Toronto.”

“I wish I had it so easy. The I.S. unit is looking into the travel photo cases.”

“Oh!” Dan had forgotten about the case. There’s been developments?”

“Another one murder, last week. In Edmonton. ”

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Picture Perfect 83 

Picture Perfect 83 

“You drive.” Dan tossed Cameron the car keys. “I’m going to go over these notes Stephanie sent me.

“Okay, dear.” Cameron grunted. 

Dan opened his laptop & scrolled through the notes on the Centre that he had. One of the researchers had spoken with Winston Chamberlain who said that when Madama Cabanalla when left Hippo, she had purchased the the various snakes she used in her act. She tried a snake museum but when then didn’t work she founded the Centre which was a moderate success. 

Dan was slightly confused because he recollect the giant poster for Cora! Queen of the King Cobras. Or was she also one of the many Madama Cabanalla’s? He compared their faces on the photos he had taken at the Museum. They weren’t similar beyond both being female.

“This is the turn.” Dan nudged Cameron.

“Yes, I see it dear.” Cameron muttered.

They drove along & after five minutes over a crumbling roadway saw in a field a tall wooden Jesus in a field holding a snake with the snake’s head pointing to the Nova Convergent Centre. 

There was one car in the unpaved parking lot and Cameron pulled in close to it. He then checked to make sure his camera was on. “Visiting the Nova Convergent.” He said to mark the start of the recording.

They got out of the car. Dan taking photos of the sign, the dust trail still in the air where they had driven.

The silence was the first thing Dan noticed as he surveyed the area. Not even the whisper of wind from the field across the road.

The gravel crunch echoed as they walked to the Centre. A sign welcomed them to the Nova Convergent Temple of the Blessed Saviour. The Temple looked like a suburban strip mall. Siding that needed repair ran along the roof line. Stains mottled the wall that faced the roadway.

The dingy curtains behind one of the windows beside the door parted then closed as they approached the double glass doors. Dan assumed this was the entrance. The doors open out before he touched them.

A heavy set, tall woman greeted him. “Welcome, brothers.” 

She tucked in a stray tress into the bun of red hair at the back of her head. The bun seemed ready to explode in the sun. 

“I was expecting you. I’m Janis Hadley.”

“Us?” Even he didn’t know they were coming here in particular until it was decided that morning.

“Yes. We always expect seekers.”

“I see. uh … Winston Chamberlain mentioned that  Madama Cabanalla might be found here?” Dan felt there no reason to beat around the bush.

“Oh yes Cabanalla. That was me once upon a time. It’s now Janis Hadley. The Reverend Janis Hadley to be pretentious.” she laughed. “When I was Madama Cabanalla my gift was a parlour trick. It became real once I stopped playing with it.”

“You were the Cobra Queen as well?”

“Not the original! When Cora stepped down as queen I ended up with her subjects.” Janis shook her head sadly. “Poor Cora. Snakes & over-proof rum aren’t a good mix.”

“Before we go on I must ask your permission to be recorded.”

“Recorded?”

“Not for broadcast but to review what you tell us.” Cameron explained.

“Of course. Record away.”

“Winston told us a few thing about you. You started this?” Dan indicated the church.

“The snake handling? No. I’m merely continuing it. I am deeply grateful for the Happy Hippo that allowed me to discover the true muse.” She stretched out one arm and a green snake with orange spots slithered from under her loose sleeve. She turned her hand to support the snake’s body. It raised its head and looked directly at Dan.

“You are unafraid.” she said.

“On the contrary.” He keep his eyes on her even through the the snake seemed to be demand that he look at it. “I wanted to talk to you about the summer of ’84 when you worked for Happy Hippo.”

“Come. It is cooler inside.”

They followed her into the building. In the foyer there were two large glass cages, one on either end. She placed her snake into one of them that already held several others of different colours and sizes.

“They get along with each other despite their differences.” She said. “If only mankind were the same.”

“Winston tells me when the snakes didn’t do well as part of the carnival ….”

“His folks wanted to dispose of them. By dispose I mean destroy. They couldn’t be sold. They did try but no one wanted to buy them. No zoos wanted them. They weren’t rare enough or even dangerous.”

“Oh! One of the posters said something about deadly cobras.”

“Cobra’s yes, but they had been defanged. Couldn’t even eat properly as a result. Damned fools didn’t know what they were doing.” She pushed hair back into her bun. Dan noticed she was missing part of the baby finger on her right hand.

“Oh yeah. Lost this being careless myself. Just because a snake isn’t poisonous doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. But snake lore isn’t what you’re here for, is it?”

“You know I’m here about this missing children. We’ve been looking at … people who moved around a lot in the province during those months.”

“The Hippo was always on the move. There were three of them, you know, that traveled around. Some of us performers would be at one unit one night, and at another two nights later.”

“Yes I know that but … let’s start with how you became the snake charmer.”

She leaned back in the pew and looked at the ceiling. “I wasn’t afraid. I think that was the main reason. Oh yes, I was pretty enough too. That helped. I was at veterinary college you see and needed a summer job that worked with animals. I saw that the Chamberlain’s were looking for someone and I applied.”

“The fortune telling?”

“That, to coin a phrase, was a no-brainer. No one did just one thing you know. The fewer personnel the fewer people on the payroll. I was also the company vet. Snakes. Dogs. Remember the parrots? Nasty they were. I had to keep the wings trimmed so they couldn’t fly away. Thank God we didn’t have lions & tigers too.

“The snake act was really nothing. It was to compliment Cora’s Cleopatra. Cora! Queen of the King Cobras. All that Tut nonsense was just a gimmick to get semi-naked girls on stage. Chamberlain’s didn’t care about history or about snakes. Cora would shimmy and shake and the snakes would slither and slide. We took turns being Cleo by the way. Crystal ball gazing could be purchased after the show. Often it wasn’t crystal balls some of those men wanted gazed into. That was never allowed. I did use the asp more than one to ward off guys.”

“Asp?” Cameron said.

“It wasn’t an asp but who knew the difference?Certainly not these guys. I’d let it crawl down my arm and they were ready to crawl out of the tent. Even the Chamberlain boy, Winston, was afraid of them. Though I was too old for him then and I was just 20.

“The snakes where in pretty bad shape. No one knew enough to take proper care of them. It wasn’t as if such information were that hard to find either. When the Chamberlain’s realized they were more expensive to look after that they were earning they decided to get rid of them before the season ended. One of the Cora’s was some pissed because she had been making the act more elaborate by adding her own mummies. She was one weird lady.”

“So that’s when you started the … church?”

“Naw. I wasn’t sure what to do with them. There was about a dozen. There was some talk about a sort of snake-arium that people would visit like a zoo. Over the winter they all died. I couldn’t devote as much time to them, what with my studies. A few years back we were traveling in the south and came across the Pentecostal in Mississippi.”

“What was the word on the Hippo circuit that summer?”

“Word?”

“About those missing children.”

“The Chamberlain’s were worried about it affecting the box-office more than anything else. ‘Make ‘em smile but only after they’ve paid for it’ was their motto.”

“What became of the original Cora?”

“Suicide. I’d rather not talk about it.”

“I’m sorry. I’m surprised to see a snake handler church here though. Lobsters perhaps.” He gave a little laugh.

“People need something tangible to believe in. Communion wine is one thing but Nova brings the Bible to life.”

“No doubt it does. Thank you for your time Reverend Janis Hadley. Here’s my card if you think of anything.”

She walked to their car with them.

“Come by tomorrow for the service. The spirit is sure to reveal what you need to know.” She took a deep breath and held his left hand between her two hands. “What you’re seeking has nothing to do with those children. What you find will unlock one mystery but not the one you want to solve.”

“Thanks, I guess. I’ll check with the producers about the service. That is if you don’t mind real cameras.”

“We’ve been sensationalized before Mr. James. Hasn’t done us a bit of harm or even much good. That’s one of those fundamental truths. The spirit goes on. But that is never my decision.”

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Easter Summer

Easter

without a doubt

the slimmest hope

is held on to longest

that ghost of a chance 

that finds a ledge

to balance on

awaiting the opportunity

to dash into view 

when all the chips are down

can’t you just hear

his heavy footfall

up the stairs

or tripping over a chair

with a drink in one hand

resurrection in the other

1975

Ending this look back with something humorous. I’d say funny but the ending is a bit too sardonic. I’ve written similar pieces in which I play with clichés in unpredictable ways. I enjoy the way this poem twists around language &, hopefully, takes the reader by surprise with the unexpected ending image.

The poem a bit didactic with the almost aphoristic opening about holding on to hope. How long will Trump hold on to his unsubstantiated conspiracy theory? Pride keeps some holding on rather than letting go & moving on. Slim hopes: like ‘this time it’ll be different,’ ‘he/she didn’t really mean it’ etc. We find it easier to continue to invest in hopeless causes than move on.

Lessons learned can be quickly forgotten or ignored with the promise of resurrection. Red flags ‘heavy footfall’ ‘tripping over a chair’ are ignored with that promise ‘I’ll change.’ Or we get caught in being the nice guy afraid that by establish & maintaining a boundary we won’t be liked. ‘If you love me you’ll forgive me.’ ‘Don’t you trust me.’

Alcoholics often continue to drunk, well aware of the consequences – often there is no event, consequence or loss painful enough to get them to stop. In fact that pain becomes an excuse to keep on drinking, the promise of forgetting. Doing the same thing over & over expecting a different result. 

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Welcome To The F Files

https://topoet.ca/2021/06/26/welcome-to-the-f-files/

Picture Perfect 82

Dan hopped into the cab & directed the cabbie to the Mirabel. He sat back tor relax a bit & decided to double check his flight departure & saw to his dismay that his flight to Halifax was out the Trudeau  in Dorval.

“Merde. Arret. Arrêt.” He swore. 

“Pardon?” the cabbie said looking for somewhere to stop.

“Wrong way,” Dan’s French failed him. “I have to go to the Pierre Trudeau in Dorval!” 

“Ah!” The cabbie raised his hands in frustration & slowed the car looking for an exit ramp.

Dan wondered how many idiots made the same mistake & missed their flights? Did they have as much swirling around on their minds as he did? 

He gave his driver a tip equal to the fare when he got out of the cab at the airport with five minutes to spare. Breathless he gave his flight printout to the steward at the boarding desk. 

“Ah, sir! You are Daniel James?”

“Yes! Yes.” He pulled out his driver’s licence. “I headed to the wrong airport.”

“It happens. I haven’t missed my flight have I?”

The clerk scanned Dan’s ticket & typed into the computer.

“Non, monsieur. Your flight to Moncton leave in an hour.”

“Moncton! My ticket is for Halifax!” He took the ticket from the steward. 

“It appear there has been a change in your plans.”

“What!”

“Telephone for Monsieur Daniel James.” Came over the public address system. “Telephone for Monsieur Daniel James.”

“Maybe that will be the news you are expecting. You can take your call in the Salon Or privé.”

“Uh … thank you.”

As he followed the signs to the lounge he pulled out his Quintex phone & turned it on & saw that there were dozens of voice mails & an equal number of texts.

He walked into the lounge.

“Over here Mr. James. We were expecting you.” A young Asian steward waved him over to the phone.

“How did you know who I was!”

“Back to you, John.” She laughed lightly.

He took the phone. It was Baxter.

“Where the fuck have you been! We’ve been trying to get ahold of you all day. All fucking day. That house boy of yours was no help & your sister is a piece of work. Even Lifend wouldn’t take my calls.”

“You’ve met your match. What do you want!”

“You’re going back to Moncton to follow up on Snake Man. Stephane has sent you the information. I’ve texted you the information. We took the liberty of changing your flights.”

“So I discovered.”

“When we couldn’t a hold of you we what I thought was necessary. If you had bothered to check your messages you would have known. This is hot & we have to act on the wave.”

“I see without consulting me.”

“Dan we tried. Cameron is already on his way to meet up with you in Moncton.”

He hung up.

“Back to you, Tiffany.” He read the name on the woman’s tag. 

She laughed & took the receiver.

“This way Mr. James.” Another steward took his carry on & lead him to a semiprivate spot. “Mr. Moxham has sent instructions for us to make you are comfortable as possible. He also apologizes for this last minute change in your plans.”

“Merci.” 

There was a pot of coffee, muffins & a smoked meat on rye sandwich at the table.

“Anything else sir?” The attendant asked.

“No. This will be fine. Leave my carry on.”

“Of course sir.”

Alone in the quiet nook Dan took a deep breath. He poured a cup of coffee, had a bite of the sandwich & scrolled through the messages on both his phones. 

On his private cell his sister didn’t appreciate being pestered by Baxter;  Sandy didn’t appreciate being annoyed by that arrogant git Baxter; Jeremy apologized but for some reason Baxter thought he had more influence over Dan than he did; Peter sent lol Baxter says get in touch.

On the Quintex cell it was the series of increasingly urgent calls starting in the morning at eleven from Baxter, Stephanie, even Harold from the Toronto office. A for moment he regretted leaving the phone off then was thankful he hadn’t been caught up in the distractions.

He read through his updated travel itinerary & once again a reservation for him has been made at the Waterside. A car would be ready for him to pick up at the Moncton airport. Cameron would meet him in the morning & they would follow up a lead to Nova Convergent Centre near Maccan in Nova Scotia.

<>

Cameron turned off the road into the dirt lot in front of a store so Dan could consult the google map.

“I think we took a wrong turn somewhere outside of Amherst.”

“That I know already. Where the fuck are we?”

“Single isn’t that strong wherever we are. Let’s not be men for a minute & actually ask for direction.”

He got out of the car and went to the store. 

It was like stepping into a vintage photo, all that was missing were a couple of gas pumps out front. 

Cameron hoisted his camera to his shoulder to get footage of the rusted sign swinging above the door said “Welcome to Flannery’s” over an advert for ‘Nutsy Nougat’ a chocolate bar. A dingy card board sign dangling midway behind the glass said “Open” in fancy script.

Dan cupped his eyes and peered through the dusty door to see if the sign was right. He tried the handle, it wasn’t locked and bells clanged as he pushed the door open. The clang was a toneless metal like a cow bell. Cameron on his heels. 

Inside was dim until lights were turned on. A young man came from behind a curtain at the back of the store. 

“Don’t turn lights on unless we got a customer.” The man wore an unbuttoned white shirt with a plain grey tee-shirt under it “Ma won’t let us use that motion sensitive stuff. Hope it didn’t scare you too much. Them coming on like that.” 

In the man’s arms was a nearly matching grey cat that leapt to the floor and came over to sniff that Dan’s, then Cameron’s shoes then hopped to the window sill.

“Cod doesn’t take to strangers.” The man stepped behind the counter, brushed cat hair off his shirt sleeves. 

The store was larger than it appeared from the outside. It could have been a 7/11 from the layout, right down to a coffee island in the middle of the floor near the front window. Only this one had a couple of comfy chairs like a coffee shop.

“Bottled water at the back. That’s usually what people’re looking for when they stop here. But we’re prepared. Coffee fresh this morning. Columbian we roast and decaf, none of the flavoured nonsense. Coffee only. We’re not Tim’s.” The man laughed. “Ma bakes the cookies and scones. Fresh. Daily.”

“You’re certainly fixed for any tourists.” Cameron picked up a cookie with his free hand.

“Locals like us. We’re the closest thing to a coffee shop that isn’t Tim’s in these parts. Self-serve for the coffee.”

Dan had stopped for directions only but he couldn’t resist the man’s invitation. “Smells good.” He said as he filled a large take-out cup.

The man went one to one of the coolers. “Whole milk or cream? Can’t help you if you’re intolerant.”  

“Cream’ll be fine.” Dan stirred the cream into the coffee and put on a lid. “I’ll take one of those scones.”

“We got cranberry lemon or broccoli cheddar.”

“Really?” Cameron said putting a lid on his coffee.

“Oh yeah, just because we’re not city doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s selling.” The man held Dan’s gaze. “It’s pretty clear you’re with that TV film crew that’s been talking to people around here?”

“Yes.”

“I’d rather you didn’t film me, you understand.”

“No problem.” Cameron turned his rig off & slid it to the floor.

“Dan James.” Dan reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Cameron Carter cameraman extraordinaire.”

“Trey AuCoin.” 

“Not Flannery?” Cameron asked.

“Nah. That was the sign when we bought the place years ago. They weren’t Flannery’s either. Didn’t aim to rewrite history. We figured it would better to fit in some. We call ourselves Flannery’s General Store and Cafe.”

“So you’re not from here?” Dan sipped his coffee.

“Ma was. I’s born in the States. Price was right and so far we’ve managed to break even.”

“You know the area well?”

“Lost are you?”

“Sort. As long my g.p.s works I’m safe but the single is weak out here. We were looking for the Nova Convergent Centre.”

“You mean The Slythies.” Trey laughed. “Oh man those people are strange.”

“Slythies?”

“That’s what some around here call it. The snakes and all. From Harry Potter?”

“I see. It may be part of the show we’re doing. Thought I’d check it out. Research you might say.”

“Then you already know about them and the snakes.”

“Not much that’s why we’re here.”

“Yours is that TV show about the missing children, right? Weird about that psychic that got killed. I’m surprised it’s still going forward with it.”

“Nothing stops the news.” Cameron chuckled.

“You think it might be connected?”

“With Slythies?”

“I mean her accident. The guys responsible for those kids might not want to be caught all these years later. Maybe she was in psychic contact with the killer.”

“Anything is possible.” Dan opened the door to leave. “Good coffee.”

“You didn’t let me tell you how to find the Slythies place. Isn’t far.”

“Right. The coffee was so good I forgot.”

“You just follow this road and turn left when you get back to Maccan. It’s on the left about ten minutes down the other road.”

“Thanks again.”

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Summer Striptease

Our Lady of the Striptease

<>

1

<>

she

becomes an angel by intimation

an angle of departure

<>

I

call on her 

at random

when the answer

needs to be atomized

<>

atomized

atomic

breaking chains

disintegration 

she

becomes

the unpiecing of form

the distortion of winter

the glare of silk

<>

2

<>

in the dressing room

she flounces once

in the golding mirror

washes past shadows

for a new wrinkle

to offer her lurching toys

<>

each ruffle in place

nipples rouged ready

pasties perk sparkling 

before she climbs the stairs

mounts the stage

<>

runs quick hands 

over her waist down

soothe fingers on rhinestones

tests the outline of a dream

plunged into a startling spotlight

<>

3

<>

our lady

steps on stage

kaboom

the curtain opens

a lace dream vista

behind her

kaboom kaboom

golden ropes

brass chains

silver buckles 

shish kaboom

<>

gold gloves peeled

ta ta ta ta booma

pink panties drop

kaboom

the sagging grind

of hips breasts

ta kaboom boomba

held up  out

robbed

kaboom

by her own hands

shish kaboom

<>

4

<>

our lady

the form of a woman

she

holds warmth

constructs life

wishbone purity

snaps 

her fingers

eyes

linger

come hither

sleepy shoulder 

turns cold

at the wrong rush

of worried air

<>

clouded

thick with mystery 

the night’s chocolate 

in torn across beds

tumbled searched under

in the look for

the afternoon caress

of roses

brushing one another

as they follow

the sun

<>

our lady

undresses

alone at midnight 

slips

silent between unsweetened sheets

our lady

listen to me call

answer me

answer me

<>

5

<>

she

brushes her hair

<>

outside her window

my legs ache

from standing

tiptoe 

for so long

untangles her hair

used a black comb

powders her shoulders

her cold white back

arches her leg

scratches her belly

my legs ache

<>

she

dims another light

opens the curtain

a lace wider

dances

the bedroom tango

alone at midnight 

slides secretly

between unsearched sheets

<>

6

<>

she

disappears 

the idea of touch

loses contact

the secret caress

hovers

passes as a mist

atomized 

unsearched

aching legs

plow home

through the snow

through the clouds

an angel sings

answer me

answer me

<>

76

This version of Our Lady is from 1976. It went through several revisions before this one was considered done, the writing of it may go back to 1974. The one change I made in 2021, beside proof reading, was to move one section to improve flow. It did come to me as a whole piece starting with that title, which is a sardonic play on Catholic reverence – ‘Our Lady’ almost being the same as Saint. There’s also an echo of The Lady of the Lake. Here Striptease is elevated to a sacred art form.

Here, too, is my structural reliance on numbered sections, a lesson learned from T.S. Elliot. I thought it made my poetry look more serious on the page. Section 3 features my interest in sound poetry ‘kaboom kaboom’ as I give Our Lady a drummer for her number. In other pieces I explore this use of sound even further. I don’t think I’ve ever performed this one so I don’t know how the sounds sound 🙂

There is almost a story line as Our Lady prepares, then goes on stage, performs, then relaxes after & goes to bed. We are the audience for this show & the tip-toe observer literally turns the reader from audience into a secret voyeur. The point of view shifts subtly through out the poem from the ‘I’ to the omniscient poet’s eye that decides her toys are lurching. Finally to the figure spying.

Striptease is essentially a heterosexual male pleasure that invites lust with distance, without real investment in the object other than the surface. Writing about it was a way of establishing my masculinity as a poet. I wasn’t really out at the time, unless getting drunk & having sex with a drunk buddy counts. I was okay being bi but I kept my poetry focus on women.

It’s also about unrequited sex. Our Lady offers it to men who can’t have her, she goes home alone. Our peeper also goes home alone satisfied with his glimpse of the off stage Lady. Both of them caught in a culture in which the observed surface replaces real connection. 

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Picture Perfect Pause

The rough drafts of Picture Perfect were written as a part of NaNoWriMo over a three year span – 2015-16-17. So far I’ve edited & posted 2015 & 2016. I’m about to start in of the 2017 drafts & have been reading though the nearly 75,000 words I wrote to bring the seemingly endless story to a big finish. 

I’m making sure I have the sequence correct, that I haven’t missed any of the major scenes & to get an idea of what will be cut – trust me lots will get cut. At least one whole distracting subplot with get chopped. I also found that one big confrontation isn’t there! Oh my, but that can fall into place when I get to where I know it needs to be.

So I’m taking a brief pause to sort though this last set of scenes, notes & loose ends. Be assured a couple of those loose ends will not be tied up – but you will know what happened to the missing children – unless I get a better getter idea by the time I get to that revelation.

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Summer Resolution

Resolution

<>

today

the grey is a force

outside of me

it is cold clouds

brooding  complete

<>

I am a part of this day

a piece of this air

thick sleepy

with a slight breeze

to move me

from room to room

from talk to thought

<>

the breeze

a fussy flute

complicates 

each motion

with a contra-melody 

is in me

as I move formless

to fill the rooms

with a frosted rush

of talk  threats

<>

the threats

aren’t serious yet

but as the wind picks up

even these subtle hints 

can’t resolve its shape

<>

a haunted flute

in a cold hall

played by a winter breeze

waits for resolution

<>

Nv75

Although music has always played a big part in my life – at time when an lp, cassette, cd, mp3 would start up within minutes after I woke up – I rarely wrote without it, but seldom actually wrote about it. This piece is partially inspired by two pieces for solo flute: Syrinx by Claude Debussy & Density 21.5 by Edgar Varese. I had  an lp with both of these by Severino Gazzelloni. Both pieces were merely over as opposed to having a definite conclusion, they ended without resolution.

The poem also uses images, variations on those images – like melodies repeated with slight harmonic changes. The breeze moving me, the shades of cold, frost echoes grey. Haunted resonated with the emptiness of the room, the hollowness of the flute. I move formless, like frosted breath, like clouds that seem to have shape until you get close, they become fog around out, you breath them in.

This was written in 1975 – what was waiting for resolution in my life? I was living in a grey area of sexual anxiety knowing I was gay & being careful about how out I could be. Gay panic was an acceptable for murder, for assault. I had an English Lit prof tell me that writing about queer sexuality would not serve my writing well (or something to that effect). Sex was drunken fumbling with other drunk guys. Sex was a fussy furtive opportunity.

My writing ‘career’ was also unresolved. I had no real mentors. I was stumbling through the writing of fiction as best I could. I have a couple of novels that I wrote between 1970 – 77. Some short stories too, even a play. All full of emotional pretence & the striving to find a voice. A striving haunted by cultural shaming. I was waiting for resolution.

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Picture Perfect 81

Picture Perfect 81

Once he got out of the taxi Dan double checked the address for Joviet J. Inc. he had written down. He was on the right street according to the GPS. Avenue Vert. Both sides were lined with three or four-story warehouse spaces, some of which had been converted to lofts, others appeared to be abandoned. Many didn’t have street numbers just names: Place de Hebo; Masion Au Moire. 

The area had been part of the Ahuntsic garment district at one time but as imports brought prices down many of the side-street shops closed. There were some printing companies listed on the outside of some of them between the ‘a louer’ signs. He was tempted to ask a passerby but didn’t trust his French enough to approach anyone. His time in the RCMP had sharpened his reading & writing French skills but his conversational was never good enough to even order in a coffee shop.

There were a couple cafes & ground floor shops open – direct to public sales – with clothing, ceramics, paintings, in the windows. None with books or magazines. The door to Marcel’s Photocopie Plus was slightly open so he went in. A bell tingled. He took pictures of the various sized advertising cards printed in different languages, French, English, Cyrillic, Japanese, Hindi that were along the walls.

“Ello?” The clerk came out from a curtained room behind the counter & adjusted his toque. “Nice camera.” The clerk said pointing to Dan’s Lifend.

“Thanks. I was wondering if you could help me.”

“I would be most happy to try.” The clerk’s English was slightly accented.

“I’m looking for this address.” He handed the clerk the page he’s written the address on.

“Ah …” the clerk stepped to the door where the lighting was better. “This is a ‘b’ number. Which means it is not a front building but a back building. The fronts are all ‘a.’”

“It would help if even the facades had numbers.”

“I have often felt that way myself. Come … I will take you. I know where this one is.” He started down the sidewalk.

“You leaving your store open like that.”

“I shut the sign.” He reached around Dan, flipped the Overt sign to Ferme. “If they need copies they will come back. Come … ”

He lead Dan past a couple of the shorter buildings to a laneway between two of them. “It is down this lane & to the left.”

Even in the afternoon sun the laneway was dark. Reflected light gleamed at the far end & he could see there was another building.

“Thank you.” He turned and the man was gone. Dan started down the lane. His eyes adjusted quickly. A blow between his shoulders send him face first to the ground. He put one arm up to protect his face and clutched his shoulder bag to his stomach. A foot between his shoulder blades held him to ground. He felt something pulling at his camera strap. He tried to move.

“Be still stupid man or this knife might slip to do real damage.” The pressure on the camera strap increased. 

Dan took a deep breath, flicked the strap’s catch so it came loose. He remained flat on the ground. He wasn’t too concerned about the camera. It was fingerprint protected. Only he could use it. Releasing the catch would send a signal to alert Lifend.

He waited another five minutes after the footsteps had run from the laneway. He pushed himself up slowly, brushed debris from his pants and jacket, got his cell phone and called the police. He gave directions as best he could and waited on the sidewalk by the laneway entrance. He checked the camera’s gps & saw that whomever had it was still a few block away. Probably trying to figure out the Lifend.

When the officers arrived he told them who he was, showed them his special constable card.

“A secret service man!” the older of the two said shaking Dan’s hand. “I am Lucas Fortin and this is my partner Tai Zhang. You are here on a case?”

“No a little pleasure.” He explained his camera’s theft features as they walked back to the print shop.

A man rubbing his head staggered out of the shop. 

“Des voleurs. Voleurs. C’est la troisième fois ce fucking mois-ci.”

After the man had been calmed down it was case of break & enter. He had been for a little lunch & was turning off the security system at the door when this ‘fuckin’ voleur’ had pushed him through it, to the counter  & bashed him in the head. Dan had walked in before the ‘fuckin’ voleur’ had gotten anything. 

Dan checked the camera’s gps & saw that it was no longer in motion.

“He’s abandoned my camera in this area.”

He pointed it out to the store owner.

“A park not too far from here” Lucas Fortin laughed. 

“Place de Drogués.” His partner echoed the laugh. 

“Come, we will take you to it.”

The camera had been stuffed into one of the park trash barrels. It was covered with rotting orange peels.

Dan took it over the fountain, dunked it under the water & rinsed it off.

“Waterproof?” Zhang was impressed.

“More that that.” Dan smiled. “Pretty much indestructible. He turned the camera on to make sure it had survived. “Take a look. Sudden motion sensitive too.”

He played back the footage the camera had automatically started filming when he had undone the strap buckle: the sidewalk as the thief was running & dodging between parked cars, down a laneway & stopping at the park to shake the camera as he tried to turn it on. 

“Shitty shit shit camera.” The thief was saying as he tried to catch is breath. “… buttons do nothin’. Shit why that asshole come in just then.”

Then the camera was shoved into the trash barrel. There were several good quality shots of the thief’s face.

“C’est Clarence.” Zhang said. “Crackhead we know well.”can 

By the time his statement had been taken it was too late for Dan to continue his investigations. He told the police he was there taking photographs and someone had suggested the area and building at 641B Jaccent.

“Is gone.” The shop owner explained. “It was in a big fire last summer, or was it the summer before that? Torn down & soon to be condos.”

“Thanks.” His cell chimed. “That’s my reminder to get to the airport. I have a flight to catch.”

“You catch a taxi fast at the next lights.” Zhang said.

“Thanks.”

“I’ll tag along,” Fortin said. “Just to make sure you don’t get more troubles.”

“Sure.”

A few steps along Fortin said. “641 was a hot spot & not because of t’fire. No one would suggest it as a photo op. What are you looking for here?”

Dan took a deep breath. “I was hoping to track down Joviet J. Inc. in connection with a case I’m working on.”

“Oh?”

“Sorry that is all I can tell you.”

“Understood. The place had biker connections & no one was sorry to see it go, expect the insurance company.”

“I see.” Dan hoped the officer would tell him more.

“There’s a cab.”

As Dan got in Fortin handed him a card. “Get in touch if you want to know more about Joviet. Unofficially.”

“Understood.” 

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My Summer Conceit

My Conceit

<>

he said

‘you treat me like shit’

I just laughed

not worried at all

barely caring  surprised 

he felt

I treated him like anything at all

<>

later

when he was really drunk

he called me buddy

confessed

he was afraid of death

that things were slipping

out of his hands

out of his head

he started to break things

to shatter my distance

so I pushed him

a little too hard

with a snicker

a left hook

neither did much good

<>

he said

‘you’re still the same old prick’

I laughed

not worried at all

barely caring 

dismayed

he felt

I had to change because he couldn’t

<>

Oct18/76

Another of the stumble-drunk poems. This one about those drinking pals I look forward to so much simply so I didn’t have to drink alone. I recall one booze buddy who said I was the best pal he ever had – sound familiar – years later I heard that line in a song about drinking. Years later, I don’t remember which booze hound said that about me. I’m sure it was after buying a round drinks.

‘you treat me like shit’ is an actual line said to me, more than once. As a drunk I was emotionally overwrought while being detached at the same time. I was sardonic, even cruel, when not feeling much sympathy for the travails of others. Partially because I thought that a nasty streak made me appear more intelligent, witty, intellectual. It was also a way to keep people from getting to close. I’d rather they thought I was nasty than gay.

Things did get broken 🙂 The drunken confessions weren’t mine, though I may have felt some of those things. I wasn’t afraid of death – after all being a drunk is a slow death. I had suicidal thoughts & imagined drinking myself to death like my hero Dylan Thomas or doing some theatrical gesture like another of my heroes, Yukio Mishima.

My conceit wasn’t in thinking I was not as bad as my drinking buddy but thinking only I recognized that I was probably worse than him & he was humouring me so he could get another drink. Neither us were looking for change unless it was to try a different mix for our drinks.

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Welcome To The F Files

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