April 20, 2010

From The Box, published by New Star Books in 2009.

I was still a writer back then. Well, I suppose that I didn’t have any more right to call myself a writer then than I do now, now that I have quit. I mean by that that I had done a lot of writing, but I had not had anything published. Except for some poems; anyone can get their poems published in this country.

I had sat at my portable Underwood and written three and a half novels, mostly about growing up and trying to make it in the world. But then I decided to write a detective novel. I figured that if you can write a detective novel, you can write any kind of novel. Detective novels are strong on plot, of course, I mean ha ha, and also strong on setting and character and suspense and all those things that everyone knows you need in a story.

I always figured that if you want to write a Western, you should go and ride a horse for a while. If you figure on a historical novel, read everything about the time and go visit the place. If you intend to write skin books, do your research. I was planning a detective novel. I decided to fol­low someone. I got myself one of those little green shirt­-pocket notebooks with the coil and a good waterproof pen. I already had a miniature tape recorder—well, it was mini­ature for those days. I considered a trench coat and Hum­phrey Bogart hat, but decided against them. I didn’t want to look like a cartoon ­character. I wanted to blend in with the background, eh?

How did I pick someone to follow? I just took a bus down­town, got off at Robson Street, and lit up a Sportsman, bending toward the matchbook flame cupped in my hands. When I looked up, I saw a guy in a dark blue suit and open dark blue trench coat. Perfect. He was carrying a furled black umbrella in one hand and a black attaché case hung from the other. It was as if I had put in an order. I let the cigarette dangle from the left corner of my mouth and with my hands in my jacket pockets, walked about a quarter of a block behind the guy.

I took notes in my head so that I could transfer them to my notebook when I had a chance. They would eventually be material for my novel if I was lucky and this worked out. I was a writer following a—well, I didn’t know what he was, but he looked like a business guy, maybe in insurance, maybe in the prosecutor’s office. According to my notes he was about forty or forty-five years old, wore glasses with rims on the top only, had conservative sideburns and hair that must have been cut in the past four days. There was a blue thread hanging from the hem of his trench coat in back, and a line of light grey mud around his black leather shoes. I figured he must have parked his car in an unpaved lot.

There was no music. This was real life or something to read.

I hung behind him as he walked west on Robson Street, making sure I caught the walk signals he caught, then hanging back, smoking my cigarette like a detective. He went into a little corner grocery (remember, this was back before Robson Street had become a franchise strip mall) and bought some Smith Brothers cough drops. I was close enough to see that the flavour was Wild Cherry, and won­dered whether a private eye was supposed to figure out something from that, or whether it was even supposed to show up in his notes.

Private eye or police gumshoe? Maybe I ought to write a spy novel, I thought. Just take notes and lurk, I told myself, make the narrative decision later. I wished that I had brought a hat so I could pull it down over my face. This fol­lowing a guy was fun.

He turned right on Burrard and before I knew it he was downstairs at the pub in the Hotel Vancouver, and so was I. I tried to look as if I were meeting someone, looking around and letting my eyes adjust to the dim light. I wanted to make sure that he sat down before I did. He sat at a round terry cloth table and waited for a man with a tray of beer. I did likewise, and took out the paperback book I was reading, The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene. I pretended to read it, and then pretty soon I was reading it. I hardly took my eyes off the page as I paid for my beer, and I gave only a fleeting glance to my subject, who was sipping his beer and reading something typed on a sheaf of papers.

Once you start on a Graham Greene book, it’s hard to make yourself stop for a while. The waiter was asking me whether I wanted another one, and the man I was inter­ested in was gone. I jumped out of my seat, knocking the table with my hip, and walked fast to the steps and up to the street.

I didn’t see him in any direction.

“Did you see a guy with an umbrella and a briefcase?” I asked a guy with a newspaper and a briefcase.

“Piss off, joker,” he replied.

I decided to look along Georgia Street, and it was a good thing (I thought then) that I did, because a block later I looked to the west, and there he was, waiting at the bus stop for the 444. Aha, I thought, so he’s going to the north shore. Very interesting, I said to myself. I was still ­trying to get into the role. I took my place at the back of the lineup.

Two cigarettes later the bus was there, and I was the last to climb on board. It was packed, so I didn’t have much choice about where to sit. As it turned out I was right behind my subject. He just sat there all the way, a forty-minute ride through the park and over the bridge and back east toward downtown North Vancouver, if there was such a thing back then. He got off at the main drag, and so did I, making sure that I was the last off.

And when I looked, he had disappeared.

I walked back and forth, looking into stores, checking parked cars, staring as far as I could up the hill and down. I looked down eight side streets. I was out of breath, hurry­ing uphill and not stopping to rest. I was a spy with a panic attack. I had lost him. The free world was going to slip fur­ther into calamity.


April 20, 2010

Comments (2)

Comment Feed

This story picked me up with

This story picked me up with the first sentence and carried me through the paragraphs with as much suspense and anticipation as the Grand Chute on the Des Moines River once whisked my canoe from top to bottom. Nice pic, too. Hope you still have those shoes, George.

bruce McDougall more than 3 years ago

I do like reading you.

I do like reading you.

annie more than 3 years ago

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