Fifty: Bars & Bistros

queens cross

Episode 5, Part 1

Queens Cross Pub
North Vancouver, B.C.

Matt, Jake and Arseman were perusing the menu at their patio table when a waitress came oot to take their drink orders.

“Peregrino with lemon, please.”

Arseman hesitated and furrowed her brow as she scanned the beverage list prompting the waitress to launch into an unsolicited lecture on the Queens Cross premier seasonal wines and the four-star entrees they compliment.   After a few moments, Arseman interrupted.

“I’ll have an Aranciata San Pellegrino, no ice.”

The server turned to Matt.

“Tanqueray and tonic, no rocks.”

The sound of a pin dropping several blocks away was audible in the awkward silence that followed.  Arseman nervously cleared her throat while Jake fidgeted with his hands.

“Um, Matt…I know it’s not really any of my business, but are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“What?  Oh, the drink?  Relax, Guys.  I figured oot how to keep this under control a long time ago.  You don’t become one of the most sought-after realtors in Toronto withoot indulging in a little liquid courage from time to time.”

Feeling obligated though not quite sure why, Jake proffered his two cents on the matter.

“When we were talking on the phone last month, you told me you were still active in A.A.  Right?”

“That was the truth.  A.A. is a great place to network…and it keeps me grounded, you know?  It’s fine, Jake.  Honest.  I haven’t given anyone a black eye in weeks.”

Matt’s attempt at a strangely nostalgic joke fell flat and the friends once again found themselves negotiating the tangible discomfort.  Finally, Jake threw in the towel and gestured at the waitress.

“Can I get you something, Sir?”

“Yeah, you can shit can the sparkling water and the fancy Italian soda pop and just bring us three Tanqueray and tonics, please.  And keep ‘em coming.”

Matt smiled and gave Jake a playful punch on the shoulder.

“It is so fucking awesome to see you guys!”

*************************

The Venue – Downtown
Vancouver, B.C.

Ashley and Jerry sat at a small table in front of the stage as Dylan finished up his audition consisting of a few cover tunes on acoustic guitar with an electric pickup clipped to the body.  As he performed, Jerry sat stone faced, but Dylan noticed with satisfaction that his foot was tapping in rhythm beneath the table.  He finished his set and Ashley clapped wildly as Jerry rubbed his chin.

“Well?”

“Not bad, Dylan.  You’ve come a long way since high school, I’ll say that.”

“Yeah, thanks.  But um…what aboot Wednesday nights?”

“Forget it, Dylan.”

Dylan slumped off the stage as Ashley shook her head in disbelief.

“Come on, Ashley.  Let’s get the hell oot of here.”

Ashley grabbed her purse and followed Dylan to the door when Jerry bellowed oot from the back of the establishment.

“Forget Wednesdays, Dylan!  I want you to open for The New Pornographers next month.  And get a fucking haircut and some clothes that didn’t come off a thrift store rack – you’re gonna be on TV.” 

Dylan’s eyes nearly popped oot of his head as Ashley squealed and threw her arms around his shoulders.

“congratulations, baby!  i told you it would work oot!”

“Thanks, Ashley…and thanks for believing in me!  I love you!”

Their affectionate celebration was interrupted by another bellicose shout from the stage area.

Both of you – get the fuck oot of here before you make me puke.  Dylan, be here tomorrow night at 8:00.  Some session musicians I have on retainer are gonna back you up, so you’re gonna need to rehearse with them and get up to speed…fast.  And don’t make me regret this.”

*************************

Starbucks
Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly poured three packets of sugar into her cup of blonde roast and joined Brooke and Stacy at a corner booth.

“So…let me see if I have this straight.  You have cancer and you discovered that your husband’s been cheating on you and that’s what prompted this little homecoming?”

“More or less.  Listen, Kel…there comes a time in everyone’s life when a little introspection is in order.  For me, that time is now, obviously.  I wasn’t always very nice to you and I just thought—”

“Brooke, we were in high school.  Are you honestly trying to tell me that you’ve been harboring guilt aboot that shit all of these years?”

“No, not at all.  In fact, until recently, I hadn’t given it as much as a thought.”

“But now you’re facing your mortality and trying to get right with God or something?”

“I don’t believe in God, Kel.  I’m trying to get right with myself.”

“Okay.  So you’re sorry for being a high school bitch.  Big deal.  I could say the same thing, you know.”

“This isn’t aboot you, Kelly, and it’s not aboot settling scores.  My daughter is starting high school next year.  Naturally, she gets a bit anxious aboot it sometimes, so I try to give her guidance…and that’s when I remember that I’m the last person in the world who should be advising a child on the best way to deal with peer pressure and unrequited crushes.  I may not be religious, but I do believe in karma…and setting a good example for Tabitha.”

“Well, you know, that’s all very inspiring, Brooke, but let me fill you in on the last 20 years of my life.  I married a drug dealer who beat the shit oot of me on a daily basis, knocked me up and split.  In order to keep a roof over our heads, I schlep tables at a shitty bar while drunks leer at me and smack me on the ass.  My reward for all this was to get evicted from my apartment for being a week late on the rent, so now my daughter and I live on my sister’s couch.  What kind of example do you think I’m setting for my daughter, Brooke?  Is it time for me to engage in some introspection?  Do I need to work on my karma?”

“I wasn’t saying—”

“Forgive me if I’m not exactly in the mood to indulge your belatedly guilty conscience, Brooke.  I’m sorry all this shit happened to you.  I am.  But some of us don’t have the luxury of traveling across the country to redeem ourselves at the drop of a hat.  Some of us are too worried aboot how the fuck we’re gonna manage to feed our kids for another day.”

Brooke stared silently at her folded hands while Stacy nervously picked at the plastic lid on her coffee.

“You’re right, Kel.  I hadn’t thought aboot any of that, as usual.  Can we at least keep in touch?”

Kelly sighed as she got up from the booth.

“Sure, Brooke.  Maybe we can get together again after I get my shit together and figure oot what me and Nia are gonna do.  Take care of yourself.”

“You, too, Kel.”

A cold wind rushed through the door as Kelly exited, blowing a pile of napkins from the table.

“That was a little harsh, don’t you think?”

“No, Stacy.  She was right.  What good did I think an apology was going to do?  But I got what I needed.”

“What you needed?”

“Just enough information to make things right.  Finish up your coffee, Stace.  We’ve got work to do.”

*************************

Whistler, B.C.

Courtney’s anxiety had finally dissipated when Billy and Isabelle returned from Australia last night, the house once again filled with activity and friendly voices.  They sat at the kitchen table drinking wine and catching up.

“I’m so jealous of you guys – I would die to be able to just hop a plane Down Under whenever I want!”

“Really?  Great, then next month when I have to go back and spend 15 hour days filming scenes in the fucking bush before telling the associate producer that he’s fired for being an incompetent boob, I’ll send you as my proxy.”

“If you’re trying to make it sound like a drag, you’re not succeeding, Billy.”

“Enough aboot that…let’s talk aboot your decision to get back on the horse, eh?”

“Back on the horse?”

“Didn’t you say you’re gonna meet up with Matt tomorrow night?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“But nothing.  I saw the way you were looking at him ootside of the church.”

“Come on, Billy.  We haven’t seen each other in over 20 years.”

“You saw each other three weeks ago.”

“You know what I mean.  I’m not exactly ready to pursue a romance, Billy, I spent the last two decades as a nun!”

“I fail to see your point.  Wait…oh shit, now I get it!  You’re afraid you won’t know what to do, right?  Sheesh, Sis, I leave you alone in my house for two weeks and you didn’t even sniff oot my porn collection?”

“That’s not funny, Billy.  Mostly because it’s not too far off the mark, I guess.”

“Courtney, Matt knows your story and it was pretty clear that he was excited to see you, too.  If you can just relax and cut yourself some slack, I think you’ll find that the secular life is a fucking blast.  If you wanna get laid, you gotta act like a lay person.”

Courtney chuckled and smiled warmly at her brother.

“One thing at a time, Billy.  Let’s see if I can actually manage to pull off a dinner date first, okay?”

Fifty: Collateral Damage

hospital

Episode 4, Part 3

Lonsdale Quay Hotel
North Vancouver, B.C.

Arseman sat on her bed playing the daily Sudoku when Jake rapped lightly on the door.

“Good morning, Sunshine!”

“Morning, Jake.  Hey, where are we meeting up with Matt tonight?”

“He’s gonna meet us in the lobby at 7:00.  How should we waste the time until then?”

“Beats me.  I guess we should behave like the tourists we are and consult the Leisure section.”

Arseman grabbed the copy of The Sun from her bed and her eyes fell on a front-page sub-headline she hadn’t noticed when she picked it up from the front desk.

“Hey, Jake?”

“What’s up?”

“Do you remember Chris from Hillside?”

“Of course.”

“Wasn’t his last name McDonald?”

“It probably still is.”

“No.  It isn’t.”

“What the hell are you talking aboot, Babe?”

“He’s dead.”

What?

“Apparently, he was doing time at Kent and got murdered by another inmate.”

“Woah!  That’s crazy.  I, uh…I guess I’m not sure how to feel aboot that.”

“That makes two of us, but I know it doesn’t make me feel good.”

“Jesus.  Is it too early to start drinking?”

“Bloody Marys are a breakfast food.  Let’s go.”

*************************

The Venue – Downtown
Vancouver, B.C.

Dylan and Ashley parked their rented Geo in a metered spot around the corner from the café and walked to…

“What the royal fuck?”

“the venue??”

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?”

Dylan pointed at the marquee with a look of astonishment.

Woah, The New Pornographers are playing here next month?  That’s some big-time shit.  I wonder if Jerry’s seen this place lately.  I bet he’d be pretty pissed considering the best act he ever booked was Teenagers In Love.”

“let’s go inside and check it oot.”

Dylan pushed at the revolving door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“I guess it’s not a café anymore.  We’ll have to come back in the evening when it’s open.”

Just as they were turning to leave, Jerry unlocked the door and stepped ootside.

“You must be shittin’ me.  Long time no see, Dylan.”

“Jerry!  How the hell are you, Man?”

“Better than you’d probably believe.  What brings you back around here?”

“Well…let’s just say the rock and roll life ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Coulda fooled me.  Good to see you, Ashley.  Why don’t you guys come on in and have a drink on the house?”

“Wait, you own this place?”

“That’s what it says on the deed.”

Dylan and Ashley followed Jerry inside and sat down at the bar that had taken the place of the Avalon counter.

“What’ll it be?”

“Can you whip me up a White Russian?”

“Best in the city.  Ashley?”

“zinfandel, please.  thanks.”

Jerry disappeared behind the bar and reemerged a few moments later with the drinks.  He took a seat next to Dylan and detailed his recent spate of unexpected good fortune.

“A fucking Lotto Max ticket?!  That you found lying on the ground?!”

“I shit you not.  And that ain’t all.  I bought two other places on the east and west side, too.”

“Well, that explains a lot, but how the hell did you manage to book The New Pornographers?”

“Let’s just say that I have a benefactor with connections.”

“Unbelievable.  I guess good things do happen to good people?”

“Don’t kiss my ass, Dylan.  I have local acts in here on Wednesday nights.  If you’re interested, I hold auditions every Sunday afternoon.”

Dylan finished off his drink and flashed Jerry a wry smile.

“Sunday afternoon it is.  Ready, Ashley?”

Her eyes were fixed on the stage in the former pinball room as she idly circled her finger along the edge of her glass.

Ashley?

“sorry, dylan.  yeah, i’m ready.”

*************************

Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly awoke from a fitful sleep on her sister’s couch with Nia snoozing quietly by her side.  She got up carefully so as not to wake her daughter, walked into the kitchen and sat down, dropping her head wearily into her hands.  A few moments later, she was startled by the appearance of her sister by her side.

“Oh, hey, Valerie.”

“Get any sleep?”

“A little.  Nia’s still oot cold.”

“Do you know someone named Theresa?”

“Theresa?  I don’t think so.”

“Well, someone named Theresa knows you.  I got a really weird text this morning.”

“Weird how?”

“Here, take a look.”

She sat down and passed her phone across the table.  Kelly rubbed her eyes and looked at the screen.

My name is Theresa Morgan-Reid.  If you are sisters with Kelly Lavoie, I really need to speak with her and hope that you can supply me with her phone number or email address.  I’m an old friend from high school.

“Creative bill collector?”

“Worse.  Do you remember my friend Brooke you used to write papers for?”

“I remember her money.”

“Theresa’s her little sister.”

“What the hell could she want?”

“Not a fucking clue.  But I guess we’ll find oot soon enough.”

“Are you gonna call her back?”

“No.  You are.”

“If I remember correctly, the going rate for this type of favor is $20, but I’ll let you slide this time.  Give me the phone and let’s figure oot what the hell this is all aboot.”

*************************

Vancouver General Hospital
Vancouver, B.C.

Roxane finished packing her bag when the attending nurse appeared at her door.

“How are you feeling this morning, Ms. Lee?”

“Good, Jackie, thanks.”

“Think you’ll be okay at home?  I know you’ve improved a lot, but you’ll still need some help with anything strenuous.”

“I’ve got a friend waiting for me downstairs…he’ll look after me.”

“Okay, great.  Take care of yourself, Roxane.”

“You, too, Jackie.”

Roxane zipped up her bag and took the elevator to the lobby where Ben was sitting reading a magazine.

“Come on, Ben, let’s blow this place.”

Ben got up, grabbed her bag and followed her silently oot to the parking garage.

“So, what, you’re gonna make me guess?”

“Huh?”

“Jesus, you’re fucking dense – is it done?

“Yeah.  He’s dead.”

“And Tony?”

“Solitary.  What the fuck did you think they’d do with him?”

“Oh.  That sucks.  Well, sometimes collateral damage can’t be avoided.  Now let’s get the hell oot of here.  I haven’t gotten laid in weeks.”

Fifty: Original Sin

hotel

Episode 4, Part 2

Lonsdale Quay Hotel
North Vancouver, B.C.

A bitter wind whistled through the doors like an angry specter as Jake and Arseman lugged their bags into the opulent lobby of the Lonsdale Quay.

“Um…Arseman, Dear?  Is this seriously where you booked us for a three week stay?  Exactly how much money do you think guys shove down my Speedos every night?”

“Relax, Jake.  Whatever your Speedos can’t cover is coming right oot of my corporate travel account.”

“And since you’re the CEO, CFO and co-owner of the business, that means it’s coming right oot of your pocket.  Don’t patronize me, Babe.”

Arseman smiled as she ceremoniously pulled a business Gold Card from her wallet and waved it dismissively in the air.  She checked in with the concierge and got keys for their adjoining rooms on the third floor overlooking Vancouver Harbour.

“Alright, let’s unpack so we can get down to business.”

“Down to business?”

“Hammered.”

“Fabulous! I had a suspicion you’d be a great travel companion, Arseman, and now that’s confirmed.  But give me a few extra minutes – I should probably call Matt and let him know we’re here before I’m too wasted to talk.”

“Yeah, I guess we need to keep our collective alcoholism to ourselves when it comes to Matt.”

“Hey, at least we’re cosmopolitan alcoholics.  There’s a certain dignity to that.  But yeah…even though it’s been a long time, Matt’s still a recovering alcoholic.”

“Are you planning to tell him what you’ve been up to for the last 20 years?”

“In due time.  Now let’s go unpack and get down to business!”

*************************

Vancouver, B.C.

A dusty beam of early morning sunlight fell upon Ashley’s face, rousing her from a restless sleep.  Dylan was snoring softly with his arm draped over her breasts, so she slid quietly oot of bed to avoid waking him.

She grabbed her bathrobe from the floor at the foot of the bed and wrapped it around her body before padding into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee.  She settled down at the table and pulled oot her phone when Dylan trudged in yawning and rubbing his eyes.

“Hey, Baby.”

“good morning, dylan.”

“Early riser, huh?”

“not always…i woke up a few hours ago and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“That’s good to hear.  If I end up having to take some 9 to 5 gig, it’s gonna be a pretty big shock to my system.”

“i’m surprised they were even willing to lease you this place withoot a job.”

“I had some money saved from Vegas, so I paid three months rent right off the bat.  They kinda look the other way aboot employment when you do shit like that.”

“what are you doing today?”

“I don’t know.  I was thinking it might be fun if you and I go visit the old café – a little nostalgia trip.  What do you think?”

“the avalon?  absolutely!  god, it’ll be so weird to see it again.”

“Great, then that’s the plan.  But uh…are you gonna try to talk to anyone in Toronto first?  A lawyer or something?”

“dylan, i already missed my court date.  what can a lawyer do now?”

“Talk some sense into you, maybe?”

“excuse me?”

“Ashley, this isn’t going away by itself.  Trust me.  It’s only a matter of time before someone here in Vancouver runs your info through a database and finds oot there’s an open warrant.”

“are you worried you’ll get in trouble?”

“It’s a DUI, Ashley.  I’m not harboring a most wanted felon.  The real question is why aren’t you worried aboot getting in trouble?”

“i don’t know.  maybe…i just don’t care what happens to me anymore.”

“Bullshit.  If that were true, you wouldn’t have flown halfway across the country to dodge your legal troubles.”

“i came here to be with you.”

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  We’ll figure this oot together.  Now what do you say we get dressed and go pay a visit to the old shithole?”

*************************

ARIA TV Studio
North Vancouver, B.C.

Matt sat in the lobby waiting for Craig to arrive, periodically wiping his sweaty hands on the underside of his slacks while tiny pebbles of condensed toxicity crawled their way through the throbbing blood vessels in his head.  Checking his watch, he got up and walked ootside.

The cold air evaporated Matt’s nervous perspiration as he glanced up and down the block for a clandestine spot.  He noticed a small alleyway between the studio and the hair salon next door, so he walked down it far enough to be invisible from the sidewalk and pulled a flask from the inside pocket of his blazer.  He twisted off the top and greedily gulped down the last of the vodka, then walked back to the lobby where Craig and another executive from W were already waiting.

“Morning, Matt!”

“Hey, Craig, good morning.”

“Sorry aboot the commute, Man. Our headquarters is all the way back in your neck of the woods, so we have to use this place for our Vancouver productions.”

“No problem at all.”

“It’s gonna be a long one today, so if you need to do anything before we hit the sound stage and get rolling, now’s the time.”

“Oh, okay.  Then I’ll just make a quick phone call and meet you…”

“…in Studio C, around that corner.”

Matt walked back ootside and pulled oot his phone.

“Hello, Jake?”

“Matt!  How’s it going, Buddy?”

“Great!  I was so surprised to get your message last night.  What the hell are you doing in Vancouver?”

“I’m here with Arseman.”

“Arseman?  Really?  Wow!  Okay, so what the hell are you and Arseman doing in Vancouver?”

“Taking a trip down Memory Lane, I suppose.  When will you be free to get together?”

“I’m pretty booked all week but Friday night’s looking good – does that work for you guys?”

“Perfect!  I’ll call you later in the week to work oot the details.  Can’t wait to see you, Big Guy!”

“Right back at ya, Jake.  Take care.”

The hair of the dog effects had taken sufficient hold, so Matt strode confidently back into the studio feeling more like a television celebrity than a relapsing realtor.

*************************

Whistler, B.C.

Courtney had been living alone in Billy’s enormous home just ootside Garibaldi Provincial Park for over two weeks.  While looking after Marvel was a pleasure, the isolation was beginning to wear on her.  For the past two decades, every day had started with communal prayers, daily mass and a group rosary recitation.  For the past two weeks, every day had started with a lonely mixture of anxiety and regret.

She wandered from room to room, Marvel tailing closely at her side, and quietly prayed for guidance.

“Dear Lord, please forgive me for failing in my vocation.  Please guide my hand to—”

Courtney abruptly ceased her whispered entreaties and hung her head in shame while Marvel licked at her ankle.

Feeling that she no longer had the luxury of beseeching divine intervention, she walked into her room and grabbed the scrap of paper upon which Matt had written his phone number from the night stand.  She pulled oot her phone and dialed.  It rang three times before going to voice mail.

“Hello, Matt?  It’s Courtney!  I was just hoping that we could…get together sometime soon?”

Fifty: Deviant Fates

tower

Episode 4, Part 1

Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly pulled into the Martello Tower parking garage and wound her way up to the top level.  She eased into a spot next to the elevators, cut the engine and sat behind the steering wheel sobbing until she had no tears left to cry.

She took the elevator up to the thirtieth floor and stood at her apartment door jiggling the key in the lock, but the dead bolt wouldn’t unlatch.  Kelly glanced up and saw the notice that had been affixed to her door:

NOTICE TO EVICT PREMISES

Payment of rent in arrears in the amount of $1,150 is due and payable immediately.  If this back rent is not received in full within 7 days from the date of this notice, the premises will be cleared of all personal items and listed as vacant.  You will not be able to reclaim your personal property at that time.  Remit payment to the Leasing Office immediately to regain access to the premises.  Failure to do so in the required time will result in forfeiture of the unit.

“Oh, fuck.  Not now.  Jesus.”

She pulled oot her phone and called her sister.

“Hey.  I’m in a little bit of a jam.  Can Nia stay there with you tonight?”

*************************

Maple Ridge, B.C.

“Brooke!!!”

Theresa threw her arms around her sister and held her in a long embrace.

“Hi, Stacy!  It’s so great to see you!  Thanks so much for driving oot here with Brooke.  Eddie, come help us with the bags!”

They stepped into the foyer of Theresa’s spacious split-level home while her husband dutifully fetched their luggage from the trunk.

“So how was the trip?”

“Long.”

“In that case, what do you say we kick back in the kitchen with a bottle of wine?”

“Sounds perfect.”

They settled down at the table as Theresa uncorked a bottle of Chardonnay and poured three generous glasses.

“So, Brooke, what’s this ‘little project’ you have for me?”

“Sorry for being so vague aboot it on the phone, Theresa, but it seems cell phone towers in Manitoba are few and far between.  Before I left Toronto, I scoured all the social networks for anything I could find aboot Kelly – you remember Kelly, right?”

“How could I forget?”

“Of course.  Anyway, I don’t know if she’s married and using a different name or what, but my detective work was a bust.  You know I would never ask you to do anything unethical, but—”

“—but you’re going to anyway, right?  Listen, Brooke, I get so few benefits from the cheapskates at ICBC that sometimes I feel compelled to invent my own.  Usually, that comes in the form of extra copy paper for my home office, but maybe this time, I’ll access the driver database for…extracurricular purposes?”

That’s my baby sister!”

*************************

Monk’s Grill
Vancouver International Airport

“Ashley, I don’t understand.  Why didn’t you tell me aboot this on the phone?”

Ashley stared down at the table and fidgeted with an empty Stevia packet as she tried to formulate a sensible reply.

“i guess i just didn’t feel like talking aboot it.”

“Well, when is your court date?”

“today.”

Dylan shook his head in exasperation and took a sip of his coffee.

“You know you can’t run away from this forever, right?  The judge is gonna issue a bench warrant that will be transmitted to every police department in every province in the country.  You can’t hide oot in my garage until this one passes over, Ashley.”

“i’m scared, dylan.  and you’re all i’ve got.  i need you to tell me it’ll be okay.”

Dylan sighed and grasped Ashley’s hand across the table.

“It’s gonna be okay, Ashley.  I promise.”

*************************

Kent Institution Correctional Facility
Agassiz, B.C.

It had been two weeks since Chris had spotted Tony in the courtroom and though both were housed in general population, they hadn’t crossed paths in the prison common areas so Chris had started to let his guard down.  At night as he’d lay on his cot waiting for sleep that never came, he often wondered if Tony hadn’t gotten himself arrested at Roxane’s behest, a thought that only served to make his sleepless nights feel even more interminable.

Chris put on his jacket and lined up at the door to the recreation yard.  The guard did a head count and swung the steel door open to let the inmates file oot.

In keeping with his self-imposed isolation, Chris wandered to a quiet corner of the yard and leaned against the razor-wire fence as he lit a cigarette.  He idly watched a couple of inmates playing poker at a picnic table a few yards away until he spotted a hooded figure approaching fast from his left.  Thinking fast, Chris pulled up the cuff of his pants and reached into his sock for the slender makeshift shiv he’d been carrying for the past week or so.  He slid it inconspicuously up his leg and held it with two fingers against his inner thigh.  He looked back in the direction of the possible attacker who seemed to have disappeared in the brief moment that Chris had turned his attention to ferreting the concealed weapon from his sock.  Scanning the yard, he still saw no sign of the man and began to wonder if paranoia was just working overtime on his imagination.

Chris walked back toward the fence and lifted his thumb, letting the blade slip down into his shoe.  As he popped the cigarette back between his lips, he felt a sudden sensation of breath on the back of his neck and spun around.  Tony wore a sadistic grin as he raised the shank and sunk it rapidly into Chris’ throat before turning on his heel and disappearing into the throng of prisoners in the yard.  Chris collapsed to the ground as a stream of blood erupted from just below his Adam’s apple splattering a mosaic of crimson into the dirt surrounding his motionless body.

 

Fifty: Old Friends

diamond

Episode 3, Part 3

The Venue – Downtown
Vancouver, B.C.

Janice pulled up to the curb and parked in front of…The Avalon?  Apparently, Jerry had already been quite busy spending his unexpected windfall because she found her former hangoot transformed beyond recognition.  A large marquee above the entrance flashed the words The Venue – Downtown in deep electric blue and a swath of crimson Eco-Fi fashioned into a faux red carpet led from the end of the sidewalk to the revolving door.  A ticket-taker podium was installed to the right of the entrance.

Stepping gingerly over a thin layer of ice, Janice nearly lost her balance before reaching the red polyester strip and regaining her traction.  Pushing her way inside, Janice was momentarily stunned at the complete metamorphosis the establishment had undergone in just a few short weeks.  Signed band posters and sundry rock and roll memorabilia adorned the walls while the splintered light from a giant mirror ball suspended from the ceiling cast dancing illuminated diamonds upon every surface.  The wall that had separated the dining area from the pinball room had been knocked down, the booths and arcade games were gone, and in their place rose a prominent stage.

Jerry was sitting at a small table near the bar waiting for her to arrive.  Janice walked over, shook his hand in a pointedly businesslike manner and sat down.  Jerry polished off his beer and belched under his breath before giving Janice an uncomfortably thorough once-over.

“Nope.  Still don’t remember you.”

“I’m not surprised.  Back when I used to come here, the most memorable thing aboot me was probably how unmemorable I was.”

“You were friends with Ashley and Dylan and all those guys?”

“Well…I don’t know if ‘friends’ is exactly accurate, but yeah, that was my class.”

“Hmm.  I just don’t remember you.”

“Yeah, that’s been established.  Anyway, Jerry, the reason I asked to meet with you is that I have a business proposition to discuss.  I’m the programming director at Broadband TV.  I’ve been thinking of airing more live entertainment just after the prime-time lineup to sort of set us apart from the other networks that exclusively air talk shows in that time slot.  Then when I read your interview in the paper, I thought your new clubs might just be the perfect venue, no pun intended — but perhaps serendipity implied?”

“If you know how to speak English, please feel free to do so any time.”

Janice chuckled and looked warmly at Jerry.

“What I’m saying, Jerry, is that I run a television network and you are now the proud owner of three ultramodern rock and roll clubs all situated on prime Vancouver real estate.  If we combine our resources, we can make more money than we’d ever know what to do with.  So what do you say?”

Jerry paused and picked at the label on the neck of his beer bottle.  Finally, he raised his head and looked Janice squarely in the eye while extending his hand across the table.

“I say hell yeah, Partner!”

“Hell yeah.  Partner.”

*************************

South Bruce Grey Health Centre
Durham, Ontario

“Mrs. Walker?  Ashley?

“yeah…hi…i’m awake.”

“Good.  Do you know where you are?”

“a hospital.”

“Okay.  You were in a car accident, do you remember that?”

“yes.”

“Good.  Now you did suffer a moderate concussion, so we’re going to keep you here overnight for observation, but aside from that, I’d say you got pretty lucky.  Are you feeling good enough to have a little talk with someone?”

“who?  you didn’t call matt, did you?”

“No, Mrs. walker, we haven’t called anyone.  But there’s a police officer oot in the hall who wants to ask you some questions.  Do you feel up to it?”

“sure.”

The nurse rose from her chair next to the bed and before Ashley knew it, a stern-faced female officer from the Regional Police Service seemed to just materialize in her place.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Walker.”

“hello.”

“I’m Constable Jennings and I’m investigating the accident that you were involved in today.  Mrs. Walker, were you driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications at the time of the collision?”

“no, ma’am.  well, maybe.  i had taken an alprazolam just after lunch but that’s per my prescription and i take it at that time every day so…”

“Mrs. Walker, more than five times the prescribed amount of Xanax was found in your system.  That’s another reason the doctor wants to keep you overnight, to monitor any withdrawal symptoms.  We found one and a half bottles in your glove box, prescribed by two different physicians.”

“okay.  there’s really nothing i can say, is there?  so what happens now?”

“Since no one else was hurt, we’re going to let you go home after the doctor releases you.  But you’ll be receiving a summons to appear before the Court to face a charge of impaired driving resulting in property damage within the next few days.  You can retain an attorney, but they cannot be present for the initial hearing when the charges against you will be read to the Court.  Do you understand, Mrs. Walker?”

“yes.  thank you.  if you don’t mind…i really need to rest now.”

Ashley watched the cop lumber oot the door and slowly moved her hand towards the small lamp table at the bedside where the nurse had placed her cell phone.  She grabbed it and pulled up her contacts, then hesitated for a very long moment as her finger hovered unsteadily over the name Dylan Blackwell.

*************************

The Diamond
Gastown
Vancouver, B.C.

Matt sat nervously at the bar nursing a ginger ale.  The producer he’d met last week had advised him to be here at noon to discuss creative ideas with a team of reps from the network, but it was already twenty after and Matt was on his third $8 glass of Canada Dry.

Finally, he saw Craig stroll in past the maître d with a party of four nearly identical business-hipsters.

“This is the man of the hour, Fellas!  Matt, this is Peter, Alan, Joshua and Mitch, but you can just refer to them collectively as Those Assholes Who Make My Life Miserable.  I’ve already given them the basics aboot what you and I had discussed for the show format and now they’re here to fuck it all up.  Sound fun?”

“Sure!”

“Great!  What are you drinking?”

“Ah…just ginger ale.”

“Nonsense.  You’re gonna need something a lot stronger than that to stomach these guys, trust me.  Bartender, six Canadian Clubs, straight, and start a tab.”

“Listen, Craig, I, uh—”

“Matt, what do you think aboot a co-host?”

Craig and the team of producers pulled up to the bar on either side of Matt.

“Honestly, I thought a co-host was a given…but I don’t have any suggestions, if that’s what you mean.  I mean, my little thing in Toronto was just a single camera DIY show with a very limited audience, so…”

The bartender returned and placed the drinks evenly down the row of well-dressed, unshaven execs until he reached Matt and seemed to take a measured pause before sliding the glassful of amber brown liquid onto the bar in front of him.

“Alright!  Na Zdorovie, Gentlemen!  To Matt and another shitty realty show that’ll make us assloads of money!”

To Matt!”

Matt sat beneath the pyramid of raised glasses and stared into the whiskey, imagined himself drowning in it and found the image oddly soothing.

“Is everything alright, Matt?”

Matt raised the glass to his lips and emptied a burning stream of electrical current into his throat.  He slammed the glass onto the bar and smiled a demented jagged crescent of unhealthy satisfaction.

“Yeah, Craig.  Everything’s alright.  Let’s talk co-hosts!”

Fifty: Taking A Stand

church

Episode 3, Part 2

York Mills, Ontario

Brooke hesitated at the door to Tabitha’s bedroom and took a deep breath.  She knocked lightly and entered.

“Hey, Sweetie.”

“What’s up, Mom?”

“Got a second?”

“Sure.”

Brooke sat down on Tabitha’s bed and stroked her daughter’s hair.

“I may be going away for a while.  Some things have come up and…I just want to make sure you’ll be okay while I’m gone.”

“Nice try, Mom, but I’m gonna need a little more than ‘some things have come up’.  What things, exactly?”

Brooke swallowed hard.  “I have cancer, Tabitha.”

She stared into her daughter’s eyes as she processed the unexpected news.

“Is it bad?”

“It’s not good.  But it’s not necessarily a death sentence, either.  So far, it’s just in the lymph nodes. My doctor started me on injection treatments and—”

“Wait, how long have you known aboot this?”

“Not long enough for you to give me grief aboot it, okay?”

Tabitha forced a smile and rested her head on Brooke’s shoulder.

“I haven’t even told your father yet.  Look, Tabitha, there are some things I need to do back in Vancouver, so I’ll be driving oot with an old friend of mine next week.  I’m not sure how long we’ll be gone, but I wanted to do this now so that I’m back home when you start high school next year.”

“What things do you have to do?”

“I need to try and…make things right with some people I didn’t treat very well a long time ago.  You’re a smart young woman with a good head on your shoulders, Tabitha, and next year you’re probably gonna meet some people who’ll try to make your life miserable for no other reason than that you’re a smart young woman with a good head on your shoulders.  Your mom used to be one of those people.”

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself, Mom.  Like you said, that was a long time ago.  Do you really need to do this?”

“I do.”

“Okay, then……I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too, Baby.  I promise I’ll call you every single day and bore the heck oot of you with long rambling stories aboot people you’ve never met.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that, Mom.”

They sobbed and held each other in a long embrace, neither wanting to be the first to let go.

*************************

Our Lady of Sorrows Parish
Vancouver, B.C.

Matt parked in the church lot across the street from the convent, grabbed his Big Book from the passenger seat and exited the car.  He spotted a group of men huddled by a side door smoking, so he started to make his way over to them when he was startled by someone shouting his name from the direction of the convent.

“Matt!  Hey, Walker!!”

He turned around and saw a man and woman parked at the curb loading suitcases into the trunk of a Bentley convertible.  Not recognizing who had called oot to him, he started to wander over.  Halfway across the street, his eyes fell on Courtney and he stopped in his tracks.

“Don’t play in the road, Walker, you’ll get yourself killed.”

Matt collected himself and greeted his old friends while trying to suppress his anxiety at confronting Courtney so unexpectedly.

“Bill Simpson!  You’re just aboot the last person I ever expected to see here, but at least this gives me an opportunity to thank you for signing your full name in my Hillside yearbook – I was able to make the down payment on my house after I sold it on E-Bay.”

“Another financial amateur, I see.  The real money is in dead celebrity autographs.  You’d have been wiser to wait until I suffered an ‘unfortunate accident’ before parting with such a precious artifact.”

“Courtney…you look great.”

“Thanks, Matt.  So do you.”

Courtney dropped her gaze and fidgeted nervously with her fingers.

“What are you guys doing here?”

After a long pause, Bill broke the uncomfortable silence.

“What Courtney meant to say aloud is that she’s thrown off the shackles of the sisterhood, so we’re packing up her shit.”

“A nun? I mean…I’m sorry, Courtney.  I hadn’t heard much aboot you since high school, so I guess that just took me by surprise.”

“Yeah, you’re not alone.  What are you doing here?  I mean, it’s great to see you but don’t you and Ashley—”

“I’m here on business – in Vancouver, I mean.  I’m here at the church for an A.A. meeting.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At an Airbnb downtown.  You?”

“Billy’s taking me to his place on Garibaldi Lake.  I guess that’s where I’ll be staying while I figure oot what I wanna do when I grow up.”

“That’s great!  Here, take my number and give me a call as soon as you get settled in, okay?  I’d love to get together and catch up.”

Courtney smiled warmly and leaned in to give Matt a hug while Bill closed the trunk and got in the car.

“Alright, Walker, unhand my sister and go school some drunks so we can get the hell oot of this holy prison complex.”

“Take it easy, Billy.”

Dazed, Matt stared at the car as it sped off and disappeared around the corner.

*************************

York Mills, Ontario

Elliot was in the kitchen waiting for a pot of coffee to brew when Brooke entered and leaned against the breakfast nook with her arms crossed.

“Oh, good morning, Babe.”

“Elliot.”

“Grab a mug. Coffee should be ready in just a few seconds.”

“No, thank you.  Are you going to the office today or working at home?”

“I have to run to the office for an hour or two to take care of some stuff, but I’ll be home most of the afternoon.”

“Mm hm.  And what does Nancy’s schedule look like today?  Let me guess, first she has to tell her husband that she’s running to the office for an hour or two to take care of some stuff, then she’ll go home for most of the afternoon so he doesn’t get suspicious?”

Elliot went rigid in his chair and cleared his throat.

“What…what the hell are you talking aboot, Brooke?”

“Spare me the theatrics, you bastard.  I found the card.”

“Card?  What card?”

“The one that you left lying on your desk.  Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking aboot and look at me, Coward.”

“Brooke…I never meant—”

“Of course you didn’t.  I’m going away, Elliot, so you’re free to have your little affair.  When I get back, I want custody of Tabitha.”

“Now wait a minute, Brooke, we need to talk aboot this—”

“No.  We don’t.  And most family court judges don’t look kindly on philandering fathers, but if you want to go that route, so be it.  I gave my life to you, you son-of-a-bitch, and I intend to take it back.”

She exited the kitchen leaving Elliot sitting in stunned silence.

*************************

Provincial Court of British Columbia – Vancouver Criminal Courthouse

“Next on the docket, R. v. MacDonald.”

The public defender stood up and instructed his client to take the stand.  Chris trudged slowly toward the judge causing his leg shackles to rattle audibly through the courtroom.

“Mr. MacDonald, you’ve been charged with attempted murder in the first degree.  Unless you enter a guilty plea today, your case will almost certainly be transferred to the Supreme Court for a trial by jury.  Though this will afford you the opportunity to defend yourself and call character witnesses, it will necessitate that you remain in custody at Kent while you await your court date.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Honour.”

“Do you wish to change your plea?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“Very good.  Defendant has confirmed a plea of not guilty and will be remanded back to custody pending trial.”

Two guards appeared at Chris’ side and accompanied him oot of the courtroom.  As they passed by the row of benches occupied by other defendants and their attorneys, Chris suddenly noticed Tony, handcuffed and clad in an orange jumpsuit, trying to catch his attention.  Their eyes met and Tony flashed a sardonic smile before raising his restrained hands and running a finger threateningly across his neck.

Fifty: Manifesting Destiny

prison

Episode 3, Part 1

Hapa Izakaya Yaletown
Vancouver, B.C.

Bill, Courtney and Marvel sat at a corner booth waiting for their drink orders.

“Wow, Billy, so this is what it’s like to be a Hollywood A-lister?”

“I’m living the dream…who would have thought that one day, I’d have the honor of treating my religiously conflicted sister to overpriced sushi?”

“That’s not what I mean, Smart Ass.  This is a five-star Japanese restaurant, but you just waltzed right in with your dog and no one batted an eye.”

“I can’t take credit for that – Marvel’s irresistibly sexy.  By the way, you could probably stand to be a little more subtle around him.  He’s very intuitive so he knows when someone’s staring at his ass.”

“Very funny.”

The waitress returned with two White Russians and a bowl of water that she placed on the table in front of Marvel.

“Sorry, Buddy, but you need to stay on the wagon.  We can’t have anymore incidents like the one at last year’s Oscars.  He claims he blacked it all oot, but I found a pair of Margot Robbie’s panties in his kennel last week.

“He’s a man of impeccable taste.”

“Takes after his daddy.  Okay, Courtney, tell me something good.”

Courtney heaved a sigh and took a sip of her drink.

“I don’t know, Billy…I guess I just really started taking stock of my life over the course of the last year or so and when you’re a nun, that means taking stock of your faith.  It’s not something I ever really questioned before and that’s exactly why I feel like such a failure.  What was I thinking, Billy?  I took my vocational vows just months after I graduated high school and abandoned all my dreams of becoming a published writer.  I guess I was just…scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Of people, Billy…myself included.  Everything was always so dramatic, everybody seemed so mean, so I chose a line of work I thought would keep me away from all that.”

“Courtney, you were a kid.  Beating yourself up for a decision you made 30 years ago strikes me as a little masochistic.”

“I guess I’m hypersensitive…but I felt so guilty aboot some of the things I pulled back then, especially not being there for you.”

“If it’ll make you feel better, you can reimburse me for my therapy bills.  Aboot a hundred grand oughta do the trick.  Courtney, I’m fine and I seem to remember things a bit differently.  All this retroactive second-guessing is just an attempt to avoid starting your next chapter.”

“That’s just it, Billy! I don’t have a clue how to go aboot…starting the next chapter.  It’s like the whole world passed me by while I was taking sanctuary in a church.”

“And you don’t think that sounds like the basis of a great book?”

“A book?”

“Maybe the world has passed you by, Courtney, because bitter memoirs by lapsed Catholics are all the rage.”

“It’s not like that, Billy.  I’m not bitter, I’m just mad at myself for dedicating myself to a calling that I hadn’t really received.  I feel like I’ve been taking advantage of everyone at the convent for no other reason than that I’m an insecure mess.”

“Like Regina?  Somehow she doesn’t strike me as a paragon of self-assurance.”

“But her faith in the church is sincere.  I’m not sure if mine ever was.”

“So what’s the plan?  You’re welcome to stay with me and Isabelle at our place up on Garibaldi Lake until you sort everything oot.  You’d have the place to yourself most of the time.”

“Billy, I couldn’t impose—”

“Courtney, in just the past week, I’ve gone from New York to L.A. to Vancouver and tomorrow we’re leaving for Sydney.  Do you know who watches the house while we’re jetting all over the planet?  Nobody.  If it wasn’t my house, I’d rob it.  So do me a fucking favor and say yes.”

Courtney smiled as Marvel curled up in the booth by her side and rested his head in her lap.

*************************

Collingwood, Ontario

“Brooke, I don’t know what to say.”

“That makes two of us.”

“You’re welcome to stay with me for a while until you figure oot what to do.  I mean, I know it’s not much to look at but there’s plenty of room.”

“I appreciate that, Stacy.  I really do.  But I’ve been thinking that if there’s a bright side to Elliot’s affair, it might just be the opportunity this affords me to…mend a few fences back home.”

“Back home – you mean Vancouver?”

“Exactly.”

“That’s a pretty big step.  Do you feel up to it?”

“Some days I do, some days I don’t, but that’s not gonna change no matter where I live, Stace.  And if I don’t have a lot of time left…I need to use it wisely.”

“I’ll help you any way I can, Brooke.”

“Even if that means accompanying me on the road trip of a lifetime?”

“That’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

*************************

Kent Institution Correctional Facility
Agassiz, B.C.

“MacDonald!  You’ve got a visitor.”

Chris got up from his table in the mess hall and followed the guard oot to the visitation area.  He sat down, picked up a headset and glared through the plexiglass barricade.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.  What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Well, I saw your name in all the papers, so I thought I’d come congratulate you on your newfound celebrity.”

“Fuck you, Dylan.  If you just came here to gloat, I’ve got better things to do.”

“Oh yeah?  Like what?  Never mind, I don’t think I want to know.  I’ve been away for a long time, so I figured I’d see how my former bandmates are doing.  Yikes.”

“Save your sarcasm for someone who cares, Dylan.  Now what do you want?”

“Well, I paid Roxane a visit in the ICU just before I came here and she wanted me to give you a message.”

“What message?”

“She wanted me to tell you not to drop the soap…and that she can’t wait to see you in court.”

Chris extended his middle finger and pressed it against the plexiglass before turning around and following the guard back to the mess hall.

*************************

The Liberty Distillery
Granville Island
Vancouver, B.C.

Kelly cashed oot and pocketed her tip money, relieved to have pulled in just enough to cover her electric bill and Nia’s daycare for another month.  Exhausted, she sat down at the bar.

“Grab me an IPA, James.”

“You got it, Baby.  Rough night?”

“Is there any other kind in this shithole?”

“Excuse me, this is a craft shithole, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, and I’m living in craft abject poverty because these rich assholes are even cheaper than you are.”

James knocked the cap off the beer and placed in on the bar.  “You know something, Kelly?  I’ve got a premonition…”

“I can’t wait to hear this.”

“I have a feeling that your ship is aboot to come in, and sooner than you think.”

“Oh yeah?  And what makes you say that?”

“Just a feeling.  But it sure seems like karma’s been catching up to an awful lot of people lately and I think you’re a prime candidate to partake in the spoils of cosmic justice.”

“I don’t think you know me very well, James, because my karma is aboot as far in the red as it gets.”

“I doubt that, Babe.  Mark my words – good things are on the horizon for you.”