Picture Perfect 108

Picture Perfect 108

He left the FairVista location with an assurance to Linda that Dell and Strong would review the particulars of the lease & how the Jamison Corporate changes would affect it. He had been counting on a more relaxing few days but realized that the past month of his city life on hold had to be attended to whether he wanted to or not.

When he got back to the house he grabbed a beer from the fridge & sat on the sofa in front of the TV. Peter woke him when he returned from work.

“Tired, sir?”

“I didn’t realize that shooting this series would age me so quickly.”

“Then maybe I should wait till morning to give you this.” Peter dropped a large envelope on the coffee table. “It was by the front door.”

On the front of the envelope was a handwritten note from Stephanie. “I’ve texted you a dozen times. This is the material I was talking about.”

“Oh shit. I turned my phone off at FairVista.” He tore the envelope open. Out fell a newspaper clipping about the disappearance of Jasmine McKillop with a photo of the child as a part of it. The clipping was from the Cape Breton Post. Dan had recognized the photo as one of his dad’s school pictures. “Listen to this.” he read a post-it note with the clipping.

“Dan. Baxter wants you to act on this asap. Check your texts. There will be a bonus for you. Enjoy your flight.”

“Flight! What the fuck!” Dan scrolled through his texts. “Fuck.”


“They got this tip by courier this afternoon. Baxter thinks it’ll be a good final episode. I’m flying back to Cape Breton on that early morning non-stop.”

“How early?”

“Six a.m. Which means I have to be at the airport by 4 for checking in which means I’ll have to leave here by 3 a.m. to get there. Fuck.”

“What’s the bonus?” He texted Stephanie. The reply was almost instantaneous. “Oh!”

“How much?” Peter asked.

“A hundred an hour starting with her first text! Two hundred an hour when I get off the plane.”

“Wow! They must expect this show to do real well.”

“Launching QTel channel with it.”

“You better get packing, sir.”

“Starting with this.” Dan pulled Peter into his arms. “I love it when you smell of espresso & almond croissants.”


On the flight he went though the notes on this case. It was not one of the original cases. The tip had come to light as a result of the press coverage the show had generated. There was no living family in the area for Cold to interview. The house in Glace Bay where they had lived no longer existed either. With no family to speak to Stephanie had set up an interview with someone at the Cape Breton Post.

Cameron met him at the Sydney Airport.

“I was already here.” Cameron explained. “Getting more local colour with Brenda. How was your flight.”

“I slept. Or at least I think I slept.” Dan said. His eyes ached & he longed to stretch out with a a damp cloth over them. “How long do we have before I meet his this guy from the Post?”

“He’s expecting us at noon. So there’s time to eat.”

“I’m good but I need a dark place for an hour or so. I didn’t check what hotel in my itinerary.”

“The same as last time. You liked La Promenade?”

“As good as any forgettable hotel. What crew do we have?”

“Brenda deCosta is here. I expected Jennifer Devereaux on the flight with you.”

“Jennifer too?”


“I’m here in Sydney, Nova Scotia, at the corner of Dorchester and George Streets outside the Cape Breton Post building.” Dan stood so Cameron could get a shot of traffic passing behind him and then over his shoulder as he walked into the building. “I’m here with Jennifer Devereaux to follow up on a recent tip we received.”

“You know Dan, I have a strong feeling that this is going to point us something important.”

“We’re meeting Kyle Hayley. Archivist for the Post.” He reached out to shake Kyle’s hand. “Good afternoon Kyle nice to meet you again.”

“Thanks Dan. It’s quite exciting when our archives get some use. Not that I mean they are useless, but …  is that okay? I mean I don’t know what to say.”

“Doesn’t matter Mr. Hayley.” Brenda said. “It gets ironed out in post anyway.”

“I’m just so nervous.”

“You’ll be fine, Kyle. I was worse than you my first day, wasn’t I Cameron.” Jennifer said. “It gets easier.”

“Uh … okay.” Hayley shrugged.

“How long have you been archivist for the Post?” Jennifer asked.

“I’ve worked for the Post since I was a boy. I started with a paper route, did some reporting too and … they cut back some and I …. started working in here when the new building opened …. Blanch, Blanch Jacques, the former archives, died sudden, she was looking after these old files and I took over.”

“Can we go down to see them now?” Dan asked.

“Oh yes, yes. This way.” 

Dan and Cameron with his camera crowded on the elevator with Hayley and went down one floor. Brenda & Jennifer took the stairs.

The elevator stopped with a thud.

“To your left. I’ve got the files ready for you. Some on paper but most on fiche. Some of the fiche have been digitalized. That’s been my prime job the last couple of years. I hate to see paper disappear. mind you, but it can’t be helped.”

“I know.” Dan sighed. “Original documents make a big difference to me. A scan is never as good as the actual.”

“I agree.” Kyle typed a passcode into the door and ran his id card through the lock. He opened the metal door. “Climate controlled and fire resistant.”

“Very nice.” Dan said. There was a wood work table in the middle of the large room. Along one wall were three computers in cubicles.

“This is what we were sent.” He took the article out.

“How exciting.” Kyle rubbed his hands together as he read the item. “I mean, seeing it in the flesh not about the unfortunate child. I see it was filed by D. Rich, she’s Deirdre Marshall now. She’s still with us. I mean alive, not that she still works for the Post.”

Dan glanced at Brenda.

“I’ll get on it right away.” Brenda stepped out into the hall.

“Deirdre mainly covered local events. Showers, fairs that sort of thing. We don’t get much real crime in this area other than drunk drivers. Any way. I checked the editions after this article and there are only two other mentions of it. Strange. It’s not as if there was ever much out of the ordinary to cover. The Steel plant dominated the news. As it always does.”

“Can you pull up the issue this one appeared in. I’d like to see it in context. As well as the one before.”

‘Oh, yes. It’ll take a few minutes.” Kyle wheeled out a microfiche reader and connected it to one of the computer terminals. “We haven’t scanned this far back.”

“This’ll have to do.” Dan scrolled through the pages of the on screen newspaper. “I want to see what else was going on at this time.” The article was on page 3. “The fact that it was on page 3 and not the front page shows its relative importance. But it is the top item with a headline.” He enlarged areas of the page. “Fire in Ashby district. That would mean police had this to divert their attention for the missing child. Which would be more relevant had she been a Sydney child, though.”

“That’s right.” Kyle said. “I never would have made that connection.”

“Lets see what was going in Glace Bay two days earlier. Which was when she was first reported missing.” He quickly found the right file and the right page. “Can you print this out for me Kyle? Full size if possible.”

“That’ll take about an hour. Full size means we’d have to pull it from the big press. There’s no office printers for that page size.”

“Is there someplace that prints posters nearby?”

“Office Depot on Charlotte St.”

“Send it to them as a jpeg and have them print it as a poster.”

Kyle took Dan’s place at the consul, created the file and sent it via email. “It won’t be the best image quality.” He said.

“That’s fine. Contents is more important. This is one of the things I do when examining any photograph. In a crime scene picture the body can take focus. That’s why we get pictures of the whole room. In one I see a vase on one end of a mantle piece. I wondered if was there two? We checked dust patterns on the mantle. Sure enough there was. Where did the other vase go it?”
“Was it the weapon?” Kyle said.

“Maybe. So putting this story into a context of events around might reveal more about it. How long will Office Depot take do you think?’

“They are always fast for us.” Kyle said. “I’ll give them a call.”

“What did you see Dan?” Cameron asked.

“That weekend the mayor got married. The Rankin Family performed at the wedding. There would have been lots of people in town for this. Rev McKillop performed the ceremony. I’m assuming he was her father.

“Rummage sale … meeting to address increase in public drunkenness … Must have been some increase for anyone to notice that … Happy Hippo’s last days in the area … small town stuff.”

“Which tells you what?” Jennifer asked.

“We have to keep digging not speculating.”

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Picture Perfect 103 

Picture Perfect 103

The Historic Society table was on the cafe side in a corner by the window. Two period costumed manikins, one male one female, flanked either side of table. 

“Good morning?” A middle-aged man explained. “These are original manikins. The lady is from Jacobson’s Ladies Wear. The other from Crowell’s mens’ wear department. She dates from the twenties and is in pretty good condition for her age.”

The hands were chipped and white plaster showed under the beige-pink of her skin. She was wearing a  black beaded flapper’s dress.

“Not exactly daily street wear.” Dan said.

“Well, no … but we Capers didn’t wear kilts all the time, if that’s what you mean.”

“No. But he seems more appropriately attired.”

The male manikin had on a brown worsted wool suit, high-collared blue shirt with a dark red tie underneath it.

“I would agree.” the man said.
“The clothes are from the stores the manikins are from?”

“No.” Someone said from beside Dan. It was Stan. “Even if they had period garments having them on open public display wouldn’t be wise. These are approximations. The real are behind glass.”

“Thanks.” Dan finished his tea. “I better get rid of this.”

He found the recycle trash bin for his cup. It was near the books. He had hoped to find out more from the Historic Society man but with Stan there he wasn’t comfortable. Cliff Dingwall, owner of the 2nd hand book store was behind the table there.

“Great day if don’t rain.” Cliff said.

“East Coast sunshine is what my mother used to call it.” Dan said.

“Right she was.”

“I was wondering if you had any books on the history of New Waterford? Even a photo history would be great.”

“There is some that deals with the area but never heard of one about Waterford in particular.” Cliff answered. “Let me just check on line for you.” He took a lap top out from under the table and did a few taps on it. 

“Marvellous,” he said, “to have me whole catalogue at m’finger tips like this. And if’n I don’t have it I can find it pretty good too.” 

Cliff scrolled through a few pages. “Don’t seem to be anything still in print. There’s some that can be ordered if’n you want to pay for it. Not that they is rare books but scarce.”

“Don’t need them that much. Here’s my card. Could you send me the links. I can check them out when I get back to Toronto. Might find them in one of our libraries there.”

“Sure thing. But I do have a couple of similar things here. This pictorial history of Hans County ….”

“We’re about to do the draw for next prize.” Came over the sound system. It was Gracie from the snack bar. “If we could have the tickets, Flo m’dear?” 

Flo was the teen who greeted him when he arrived. The tickets were in a squared cookie tin.

“Shake’m up good this time.” Someone called out.

“Jim you come up here and make the draw.” Gracie said. “Prize this time is place setting for four made from Cape Crafts.”

She held up one of the place mats.

Jim shook the tin again. Gracie opened the lid so he could draw a ticket out. He read the number slowly. Dan found his tickets and checked them. 

“Not even close.” Dan shook his head.

Jim repeated the last three numbers again. 

“It’s me!” Someone called out.

“Okay folks. We have a winner. Don’t forget, all tickets go in to the big draw at 5. Next draw in thirty minutes. Get your tickets now if you want a chance to win a selection jams from Gracie’s Kitchen.”

“Thanks Gracie.” Someone called out.

“We have young Gordie O’Neil here now. He’s going to play us some songs.” Gracie said. “Let’s give him a big hand.”

The tea had gone directly to Dan’s bladder. He looked for washroom signs. He didn’t want Stan to spot see him going to the men’s room and follow him there. He wasn’t usually pee shy but the less pressure the better. 

The men’s room was up two short flights of stairs at the top of the building. One flight at either end of a midpoint landing. The view overlooked the floor. He took pictures of the swirling iron work of the stair railing and the leaded-glass transom window over the door. A sign said the washrooms had been maintained to keep the original tile and fixtures but the actual plumbing was new. 

There was nothing particularly distinct about that tile. There was ice in the dual floor level urinals. He glanced at the toilets and they too were nondescript but clearly of some period other than this one.

There was another door in the washroom with ‘showers’ over it. It was locked but the window in the door allowed him to see where the fireman would have showered. Here the tile was black and white. He got some pictures of the shower floor and the shower heads. How much head did they get in those showers? That’s a lost history he’d find interesting.

“Next raffle draw in ten minutes. Get your tickets now for a selection of Gracie’s Jams.” Came over the PA system.

Dan checked his cell for messages before he left the sale & went back out into the rain. 

“Oh! Mr. James.” Cliff called to him. “I remembered than I have some albums you might be interested in.”

“Photo albums?” Dan walked over to the table.

 “Yes. I bought them in an estate sale a few years ago  in New Waterford.” He pulled a largish cardboard box out from under the table. “You can look’em over at the Gracie’s.”

He handed the box to Dan. It was heavier than it looked.

“I usually don’t buy this sort of thing but it was part of a lot deal.”

Dan found an empty table at the cafe & plopped the box down. Inside was a lot of loose photos, some in their original envelopes, many loose & two large albums. He did a quick glance the loose photos. Many were in colour & several were in black & white. He loved at them a litter closer. At glance he could tell they were from the forties or early fifties.

He gathered them into a pile so he could take out the albums. The top one was one of those eighties  spiral bound. The other was older & the covers were laced together. 

The first pages had pictures with dates underneath – beginning with 1919. He took pout his loupe to examine them to make sure they were authentic to the dates & they were. A quick though the pages showed family photos, baby showers, picnics, school graduations. Many with first names or events written underneath. He filled back to the inside cover but there was no last name. It was the same with the envelopes of developed pictures – first name, drug store rubber stamped. Someone who used the same drugstore often enough that last names weren’t needed.

He flipped open the more modern album. More family gatherings, Christmas trees, birthday parties. Then one set of three pictures stopped him cold. Three girls in their late teen or earlier twenties on a lakeside wharf making faces at each other r& the camera. He recognized one of them as the woman wielding the in his father’s photos.

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Snow Forts

A major snow fall on Jan 17 halted the return to classes in Toronto schools resulting in a couple of extra days of play for the kids. This resulted in a boon of snow fort & tunnel building. These are all east-end Toronto in the Greenwood/Coxwell/Danforth area. Brought back memories of snowed in days in Cape Breton & building snow forts.

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Picture Perfect 98 

Back at La Promenade, Dan was happy his clothes were back from the laundry. All pressed and smelling fairly smoke free. He wished he’d gotten one of the rooms with a balcony to let them air in the fresh air. At last he could change out of the jeans he’d been wearing the last couple of days. Maybe it was his sweaty pheromones that had set off Stan’s hormones. 

Naked he checked his emails. other than messages from Baxter there was nothing he felt the need to respond to. There was a video post from Peter.

“Hey Dan! You’ve been in the news again, sir – the CBC had an item about the explosion that morphed into a profile of the Morrison twins. You’d think they were the first brothers to ever win an Oscar or have best selling books.” Peter moved away from the camera. “As you can see I’m at the house and everything is running smoothly. Sanjay hasn’t been around again. All I have on is the radio and a trace of Nocturne here.” Peter dabbed at the crook of his elbow. “It smells like you. I hope you don’t mind me using it, sir. I know it belongs to you. As does this.” Peter’s erection dominating the screen. “And this too.” Peter turned around so his ass filled the screen. He bent over and spread his cheeks. “I know you can almost taste it, can’t you, sir.” He turned around and sat so that only his head and shoulders were on screen. “Over and out.” The video ended.

Dan checked the receipts for the James stores and there was nothing of note there. Fairview needed to pull its numbers up though, if his sister expected to keep the space.

In the shower he rinsed out his socks, undies and tee shirt. No point in going back to Toronto with too much dirty laundry. 

In the lobby he went into the gift shop to see if there was some sort of candy he could pick up to bring as a gift for Peter. Beer Fudge? A Capers hoodie? It didn’t have any pockets but his shoulder bag could hold everything he needed, anyway. he could go out with only one camera for a change. He wouldn’t be needing his tablet either.

He bought a Caper’s, which turned out to be the college basketball team, hoodie with the letters in Cape Breton Tartan. Back in his room it only took a few minutes to transfer what he felt he had to have from his jacket to the shoulder bag. One last look in the mirror and he knew he’d made the right decision.

As he headed to the Boardwalk there was text from Baxter. “Channel 3, Global, between 9:30 – 10.”

It was quarter after 7 so he’d be back to the hotel by then. 

He has crab cakes on Boardwalk.

“That’s at 10, isn’t it. Too early for local.”

A sitcom started at 9:30. After the opening then credits commercials came on. The first was a teaser for Cold Case Canada a Maritime Mystery. 

“Holy shit!” Dan exclaimed. “No one told me this was coming soon was coming so soon.”

It showed a series of sepia photos of the missing children fading into each other with the one of him and Tim last. A circle appeared around his face. The name of the show appeared as well and faded at the same time with hosted by Daniel James under his circled face. The voice over said “In 1984 these children vanished and no one connected them until now when forensic specialist Daniel James put the pieces together. Follow his investigation this fall on Cold Canada’s Maritime Mystery.”

It was after midnight when he got back to the hotel.

“There’s an urgent message for you.” the deck clerk gave him note.

“Thanks.” he opened the note and it was from Baxter. ‘Answer my texts, asap.’ 

Dan had turned his phone off while they watched the Cold Canada promo. He checked his texts in the elevator. Baxter wanted to know what he thought of the promo. How urgent could that be?

“They spelt my name right.” he texted back.

The morning was overcast. The dark clouds over the harbour were massive and endless to the horizon. There were a few thinner strata were veiled sunlight seeped through. The air was humid. He took several shots of the sky from the parking lot.

He opted to take the 28 route along the harbour to New Waterford. The road must have been recently repaved as it it was pretty smooth until he passed South Bar where the recent storm had washed away parts of it. He could see some shore side houses had been demolished by that storm’s wind.

The homes on the other side were intact and the wide front yards with the houses set back from the road brought back a sense of his father driving along that same route. The only difference was, in most cases, newer model cars in the driveways. The  houses with aluminum siding hadn’t changed since the last time he drove through here. All that was missing were the few service stations where they might sometimes stop to get a cold Royal Crown Cola because those bottles were the biggest.

Did they still make that? 

Houses got closer, yards smaller as he drove through New Victoria and into New Waterford. He parked on Plummer Avenue. There were few people about but it felt like that moment in movie when you find that the empty street was truly deserted. He walked along looking in the shop windows. The drug store was open. There was even less activity than he had seen in Sydney. It was a ghostless town.

He resisted taking pictures not wanting to add to the growing dying-village porn that was becoming increasingly more popular. Photos of the dusty displays in the unwashed windows of closed stores didn’t appeal to him anymore as a creative statement or even as a meaningful comment on disposable culture.

After a brief tour of both sides of the ‘main’ street he drove by his old school. The building had been replaced with a now standard box designed to hold rather than mold children. Why did schools still look like factories rather than places that invited you in.

Hr turned onto the street where his family’s house was. He parked at the corner and walked on the side opposite his old house. The last time he’d been there  was when he’d left with his Dad, expecting to return at the end of the summer. Instead they’d just kept going. 

The only thing he really missed in the few years after coming to Toronto was his friend Timmy. He knew the names of some of the kids he’d played with, gone to school with, when they were living in New Waterford but there was no nostalgic resonance in them. It wasn’t as if any of them wrote to say how much they missed him or even sent him Christmas cards.

The houses on the street hadn’t changed. Curtains were different and some trees were bigger, some were missing. A few lawns were littered with fallen branches. A dog barked from inside one of the houses.

Scatter? The Fielding’s had a cocker spaniel called Scatter. He couldn’t still be alive. A face appeared in the front door window of the house with the barking dog. Should he wave? What did he have to lose? He waved and the face disappeared. The dog stopped barking.

He stood across from his house. Two stories. Nondescript, almost identical to all the other houses on the street. Each of them had variations in shutters or porch placement. Some had awnings over the front windows. Some did not. All the same or close to the same colour, even those with siding didn’t pop out from the ones that were painted.

“Are you looking for someone in particular?” A woman asked from his left.

He turned and she was walking a brown and white cocker spaniel.


“My goodness. It’s Richard’s boy. Am I right? You looks just like yer father.”

“That’s right. It’s Daniel.”

“Cassie McLeod.” She did a little curtsy. “Darrell’s mother!” As she said the name Darrell’s face was clear in his mind. “Tha’s right. I can’t get over it. Yer the image of your father.”

“Thanks. I guess.” He stooped to rub the dog’s ears.

“We was watching about you on the TV t’other day. Making a movie of some kind. Scouting for locations?”

“I don’t think so.” The dog was indifferent to his touch. He stood. “You never know though when some place will be what your looking for even if you aren’t looking for anything.”

“Right you are.”

“I wanted to see the old neighbourhood. I haven’t been back for some thirty years now.”
“By Jesus not really! That sister of yers is down nearly every summer. Guess tha’s why you kept the house. Seems a shame to let go empty so much of the time but then there’s lots around here tha’s been empty fer years anyways. Marge Donaldson in 412 keeps the place nice while no ones there. She has the keys if’un you want to get inside.”

“I was on my way there.” He scanned the street to see how far 412 was along it. “Didn’t they used to live other end?”

“Yes but … tha’s not a happy story, I’m sure you know.” 

“Yep.” He found her speaking to him as if he was still the age when the move happened. “Nice to see you again Mrs. McLeod. How is Darrell?”

“Worse’n his father, if the Lord will forgive me for telling the truth. One drunk gives birth to another. Left shortly after Syd died. Heart gave out playing cards one night. Died drunk and Dar will do the same I’m sure. Lest ways Syd left me enough to keep d’house. That was some ten years ago.”

“Left for where?” He knew he’d have to make some conversation with her or she’d make a beeline for the house once he went into it.

“Here’n’there. I gets cards with some money in’em from BC onct, Florida, Dubai. never know. He’s a good by at heart. Well, don let me keep ya.”

“Good to see you again. Nice to know some of the old families are still here too.” 

“Oh yes. Okay, Rugsy time for yer walkies.” The dog had sprawled on its side in the sun on the grass by the sidewalk. 

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Picture Perfect 95

Picture Perfect 95

Just then there was a knock at the door & Warszawa came into the cabin. 

“Looks like someone with better than average hacking ability is trying to sabotage your show?” He said to Dan with a laugh.

“Or maybe someone who wants to get caught and doesn’t want to get caught. But why wait nearly 30 years?” Dan mused. “Unless the culprit is jailed for something else and picks up when they are released.”

“Have you done a criminal background search on the families you interviewed.” Warszawa suggested.

“Could we see who was convicted in the fall of 84?” Dan asked. “See what sentences they were given. Or are all those records stored and secured in some underground vault in Ottawa?”

“I’ll find out.” Warszawa said. “Thanks to the text that triggered the alert you’ll have our resources until it gets resolved.”

There was a knock at the door. 

Evans opened it a crack.

“Sir, there’s a Mr. Baxter demanding to see whom ever is in charge.”

“Damn rights. I’m Canadian citizen and know my rights. First, we get told our cars no longer impounded, then we have to show credentials to get them when all our credentials are either in the fucking cars or in our off limit cabins. I tell you this is the limit.”

“I’ll deal with him.” Coster said. “It’ll be my pleasure in fact.”

“Inspector Warszawa tells me you’ve been consulted on the Travel case.” Phillips said.

“Travel Case?” Dan asked.

“That’s what we’re calling the file because you spotted those planted travel photographs.” Warszawa explained.

“Yes.” This is not what Dan was expecting. “Why? Is there’s a connection between that and what is happening here?”

“Peter Morrison has been on our radar for some time now. The connection is tenuous, perhaps coincidental. He was member of an America indigenous  paramilitary group that blew up sections of pipeline.”

“Damn!” Dan snapped his fingers. “That photo in his house! It was one of the ones that were planted at the crime scenes.”

“In Morrison’s house?” Evans leaned closer.

“It’ll be in background the footage we shot of the interview.”

While he, Warszawa & Phillips looked through the footage of the Morrison interview the processing of the rooms the crew had occupied at the Amethyst Court was expedited so they could be checked out by 6 p.m. 


Dan took a break & contacted the Depot, his sister and finally Peter to let them know he was alright & survived the explosion & that he would be returning two weeks earlier than expected. He resisted getting in touch with Jeremy Moxham lest Moxham insist on sending a private plane to Port Hawkesbury to get him.

Most of the crew headed back to Halifax as soon as they could. Dan longed to sleep in his own bed in Toronto but at the same time wanted a few days to himself. He hadn’t been by himself for months. He drove back to the Chambers Motel and booked himself into the room he’d had the night before. 

The silence was complete. When was the last time he didn’t have to wonder when Baxter was going text him or some crew member would come knocking at his door?

In the morning he hesitated at the Causeway for a moment before taking the north turn that headed to Sydney. The sky was cloudless and the sun so warm he wished he’d had shorts. The warm breeze was fresh. Over lunch in Baddeck he made reservations at La Promenade on the boardwalk in Sydney. 

He called Peter before he continued.

“Hi handsome.” He said.

“Hi yourself. What time will you be here. What flight are you one. Can I meet you at the airport, sir?”

“I’m not coming back as soon as that. I’m going on to Sydney then to New Waterford. I have to check out my old childhood stomping grounds while I have a chance.”

“As long as you’re not stomping old boyfriends.”

“I know your disappointed but I almost feel compelled to do this. I’ll make it up for you … say .. I’ll buy you a kilt.”

“A kilt! Really! I’ve always wanted a kilt.”

“You got it! I miss you.”

“Not a much as I miss you.”

The drive to Sydney was soothing & he arrived at La Promenade as the sun was setting. The manager checked him in with only one “Back to you, John.” As he unpacked Dan looked out over the harbour from his hotel room. There were some sail boats moving slowly with sea gulls swooping around their masts. Across the harbour he could make out Coxheath. On the boardwalk beneath his window he watched a pair of joggers dodging people, women pushing baby carriages, tourists taking selfies maneuvering to get the sail boats in the background.

Other than the signed and numbered prints of heather over his bed, the room was corporate hotel. They could have at least tied some Cape Breton tartan ribbon around the lamps. The coffee was passable but the packaged creamer was not. He dumped it down the bathtub drain.

The room service menu did offer cod cakes. Would they be like those fish fingers his mother used to fry up. He could taste the orange crust on them. Did they make those anymore. There had to be a Sobey’s to try.

After a quick shower he bundled his dirty clothes and took them with him down to the lobby. At the front desk he handed them over to be laundered, not dry cleaned. All of them smelled of smoke from the fire. Dry cleaning would not take that scent out.

As boy he hadn’t spent too much time in Sydney. Usually he accompanied his father to pick up photographic supplies. At the time he yearned for it as a big city though. He walked the Boardwalk to stretch his legs, stopped at fast-food kiosk for fish & chips & sent a cell pic of them to Peter with the message.

“The best fish & chips I’ve ever had.” 

Peter replied a little later with pic of his cock. “Better than this?”

“That doesn’t need to be deep fried.” He replied.

He went back to the hotel, resisted his lap top. He put drops inot his eyes with a damp face cloth over them and feel asleep instantly.

In the morning he walked the downtown core. He saw that it more a big town than the big city from his childhood. The entire population of the Sydney could fit into the Eaton’s Centre at one time, with room to spare. There were probably more people living in Toronto’s St. Jamestown than lived on the whole of Cape Breton island.

Not as deliberately quaint as popular tourist spots like Baddeck, the city seemed caught between a decaying past and what? The new buildings he saw lacked anything beyond functionality. 

The owner of the second hand book store suggested he check out the Whitney Pier Museum while he was in town. It was a short drive that passed through where the steel plant one was. He was shocked to see hardly a trace of the towering chimneys that would spew blast furnace dust over the city. That dust was the prime reason they didn’t live in Sydney. 

The Museum was in a converted Synagogue. As he walked in a young woman greeted him.

“Whose yer father?” she asked.

“Richard James.” He answered laughing. “I’ve been  on the east coast for over a month and that’s the first time anyone has asked me that.”

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My Five Year (Dead Friends)

With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.

One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.

It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.

Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.

I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer. 

I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂

This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.



the fear

aware of the light

shapes the unseen

the fear


is being awakened

at the wrong trembling moment

to your own pulse


I gave in today

without a fight 

without a second thought

gave in to nothing

being nothing

doing nothing

going nowhere


I gave up

my dreams & hopes

plans of a great future

that’ll never come true

all that’s left for me

is to relax into resignation

without bitterness

to keep on giving in

without a struggle


the plan now

is to sleep in

on all fours

to a snug shadow

of calm reserve

a smug disinterest 

about the things

I once had to become


I’m getting old 

the feel of fall

is colder in my bones

every year


I find it easier to drink

to forget old unfinished fears

than to make new motions

toward an altered shape

I find it easier

every time I empty another bottle

the next seems more welcome

more of a proffered hope

than a fleeting solace

leading to remorse for old hurts



is a futile gesture

it is an admission 

to pretentions

I once had a vision 

a true sense of a special offering

a vision proved to be

am insecure self-indulgence 

a vision

that kept me so in awe

I could never confront

even my basic mortality 


the vision of immortality 

before more than I could bear

no one is fooled but me

there is no dream revelation

just the dream

just the dream

to black out the image

of the self-pitying 



unfulfilled visionary 

with no shape

no broken heart

just his fear


the fear

last feeling of fall

has no vision


the unseen

is the futility of resignation

the inability to admit

that even as these words are

I intend to deny their meaning


this is not defeat

I have nothing to lose

this is not resignation

I have nothing to concede


the dream

will never change

that it may never come true

is the heart of the plan


the fear

pulse of the plan

has no end

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Spider Serenade

Spider Serenade




tree branched

against a winter moon

spins her fine web

fragile  almost nothing

floating wisps

to grab faces in the dark

infectious whips

to lash insects lost without light


a spider’s web

diamond visible against the moon

intangible interlocking of lives


almost nothing

web of affections

splashed with moments

of pleasure

confused by the space beyond

only a light touch on the face

sound heard as echo


many movements of moments in time

leave me

brittle fragile

against a moon of confusions




so slight  nearly invisible

when I catch on your face

when we find each other in motion

caught in each other’s tangle

of sun


and awkward blindness 



This poem from 1972 is one of the oldest in the folder. The influence of Dylan Thomas is the first thing I saw as I was inputting this piece. His use of adjectives to enrich an image with more than colour – ‘infectious whips’ ‘diamond visible’ are a great examples of his influence. I can still feel that off-putting moment of walking into a spiderweb in the dark. Mildly alarming & icky. 

The transition from the actual spiderweb to the ‘web of affections’ is fairly smooth & the analogy is effectively sustained through the piece. The verses have an image structure rather than a strict rhythm or even line count like a sonnet. The moon appears in each of them – slightly different each time – theme & variation.

The last verse weaves images & words from the first two moon, web, diamonds etc into a tangle that catches us. By the time we get to this point we are familiar with the concepts & are lured into the moment.

This use of language was very deliberate & somewhat successful if one forgives the youthful romantic ardour of the piece. It talks of an idealized, very non-sexual, type of love as well. I wasn’t out but was aware that I was queer. I suspect the ‘awkward’ of the last line comes from my fears of reaching out, of wanting to present myself as a poet & not as a horned up teenager 🙂 The blindness comes from the fact that there were no guides to coming out or picking up guys at that time. No role models, no support systems. Me groping in the dark for context.

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Welcome To The F Files


Membertou First Nation

Growing up in Sydney Cape Breton I was barely aware of the first nation population in the area. In my teens I heard stories of Membertou ‘The Reserve’ & once my drinking career was launched I was aware of it in the context of bootleggers. At least one booze buddy spoke of have an Indian girlfriend, whom we never met. The Reserve was also a place where some guys, maybe even my Dad, went for cheap cigarettes.

https://membertou.ca, http://eskasoni.ca/home/

The Reserve population was MikMak – I only heard it called that so, not sure if it was actually spelled – MicMac? An anglo corruption of Mi’kmaq. Some spellings weren’t taught in school. Its place in the history of the region was never mentioned. We did learn about Louisbourg – the conflict between the French & English. Alexander Graham Bell in Baddack. 

The other Cape Breton reservation was in Eskasoni on Bras d’Or Lake. I also heard of one in Shubenacadie on the mainland. But I never visited either of them. On my last visit to Sydney I went through Membertou with my sister. Lots of houses selling ‘smokes.’ A museum with artifacts & compulsory dream catchers. I don’t recall seeing anything about the Residential Schools but, thanks to wiki, I know the only one in the Maritimes was in Shubenacadie. It closed in 1967.

I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who lived there. Sydney, as small as it was, was very strongly segregated. There was a sizeable black community in one area that rarely went beyond its boundaries with its own schools, churches (one of the first Black churches in Canada). The same held true for the First Nations’ towns. I do recall that one of the Eskasoni high school boys sports teams (probably hockey but maybe basketball) had a reputation for being good players but rough.

I write this memory in the shadow of the recently discovered bodies of children in Kamloops. So many levels of dismay resonate in me – not merely the racist nature of this but also of the way children, all children, have been treated for their own good, by various legal systems. In the USA the separation of immigrant families & how the parents of a number of those children can no longer be found; stories of European war orphans shipped en-masse to North America. 

Children – those pure innocent possessions that get marched out as excuses for not exposing their tender sensibilities to sex education, same sex affection, etc. One of tenants of a current USA conspiracy theory is a secret child porn cabal – if you deny this conspiracy you are clearly a pedophile.

There is no easy wrap-up for this post. History is a wound than will never heal.

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Disco Chips

May 19, 2021 marks 43 years since I stepped off a plane to arrive here in Toronto on May 19, 1978. I’ve lived briefly on Wellesley St E, Sherborne for about year, briefly in Thorncliffe, Bright Street for a year, Oakdene for some 40 years. I’ve had a ‘real’ job for the first year then nothing ‘real’ since then. I have cleaned apartments, ran a theatre company for about 10 years, became a lab rat for pharmaceutical drug studies.

On the east coast I was working for Famous Players & had asked them for a transfer & ended up being sent to Toronto. The year or so before I left Sydney I subscribed to the Body Politic so I knew there was a gay world larger than the rumoured gay path in the park. I wanted a land of opportunity. 

I remember my first few months here. Discovering the bars, dancing, getting sober. I was a blackout drinker & was afraid of backing out at the Quest & heading for home – which probably would have been Sydney – a very long walk. I learned my way around the subway system going to AA meetings. 

I left Famous when I discovered I had an allergy to money! My job there consisted of counting box off take. often thousands of dollars of paper more & coins that had to counted & rolled & recounted any hand in airless windowless rooms. Money is filthy & we had no gloves or masks or sanitizers. I got rashes on my hands, arms & severe red-eye. None of which worked on the dance floor 🙂

here’s a piece I wrote my first summer in Toronto

Disco Chips





chip away

at the solid state of me

disco chips

chip away chip away 

dance away

till only sweat remains


slip away

escape for a time

a time of being

suck away fuck away

disco chips

chip away chip away

take your time

take my time

take my pace

leave my body



energy frenzy

fits the pattern

fumbles the patter



up your nose 

up your ass

in your mouth

out of your grasp

cuts your palm

across the life line

the pulse line

pumping thumping


dancing fists

disco chips

chip away chip away

at the solid of me


chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains




I used to laugh

when I was warned

of the lure the scent the heat

of the pleasure palaces

laughed at the phrase

the symbol

till I realized

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat 

even when I saw

no real pleasure

no surreal palace

only a whispering wall

a muttering stuttering

wall of eyes


I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat




disco hits

below the belt

disco chips

away the surface reveal 

my fear my futility

disco chips

disco hips & disco dicks

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco slips

into the ear

then into the blood


no alternative 

no escape

no please

tango prisoners

music fists

pounding me down

driving my pulse

popper clones

danger zones

disco chips

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco hips & disco dicks

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains.



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Paper Ghosts

Thanks to the pandemic I’ve been purging my past. Papers, first drafts, photographs & memories. A basement full of lumber, bricks, paint, nut & bolts saved, salvaged, kept for another day now gone, with out regret. Stage set pieces from Bushwack Theatre finally seeing the light of day in the back of a junk removal truck 🙂 

I have seeing my history in the paper I used for writing on. Scrap paper recycled from Famous Players old daily multi-coloured sales report forms – pads of which became redundant as they were updated. Colour coded for filing & mailing purposes. Flyers for movies, for theatrical productions. Lined or blank loose leaf, pages torn out of scribblers, note book of various sizes & even shapes. Notes, poems, fiction typed on various typewriters, hand written in various inks & pens, dot-matrix print outs that had never been separated. https://topoet.ca/2021/03/16/past-of-the-future/

The ‘See Europe’ was one of several road show productions that travelled around the maritimes with special presentations – this was Travel, another was Alpine Skiing – the most popular was the in person show by Raveen – a hypnotist, magician – I wish I had some of those flyers. The travel shows weren’t big draws mind you but they were rentals – in this case Tony Smith was in charge of his ticket sales. We got the rental fee plus sold lots of popcorn 🙂

The various papers help date when some of these pieces were written as many of them were undated. The Famous pages are before I moved to Toronto in 1978. Days Of Heaven is from my first year here. The Famous Players form bring back memories beyond what I had written on the blank sides. One of my jobs there was to type details onto them. There was carbon paper between the pages that were 4 form thick so one had to hit hard to make sure the bottom one was legible. A mistake meant whiteout on all copies before re-entering. A total pain. Life before computers & data entry. 

This piece was typed on the blank side of a ‘Days Of Heaven’ flyer

My Left Hand

he gives me a call

a peace offering

an invitation

an offer

to nail my left hand

to the floor

but he has no camera


he calls

on days

when his memory

is fading

the echo of the moon

in an old well

he speak

French threats


of vague violence

I cannot resist


I cannot confront

direct violence

I have a fear of pain

pain as in death

facts to face

I am afraid

I’ll enjoy the nail

relish each thud of the hammer


I remember

the bite of his teeth

even when I cannot

recall the feel

of his lips

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