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Mount Royal
An excerpt from the new novel
by Basil Papademos


CHAPTER ONE

Montreal, Spring 1989

 

The sun's managed to drag itself out of another night. Going home, I see a couple of Hassids in stained white coveralls unloading a truck at the fishmongers on my corner. One of them stops, tugs on his beard then grins at me with a smarmy wag of the head.

Climbing the long staircase to our apartment, everything's quiet. When Jill stormed out a few nights ago, she'd once again vowed to never return but I half expect to find her sprawled under the duvet, that mop of auburn hair spread across the pillow. Checking up in the bedroom, nothing. Lines of pink sunrise come through the Venetian blind and angle along the jumble of sheets. The little black and white TV Jill had pulled from somebody's garbage babbles away on the dresser. The vertical-hold is shot so the image continually rolls past.
       Still fairly inebriated, I fall into a chair and my jaw goes slack like I’ve been chloroformed. An errant signal ricochets off the giant CBC antenna on Mount Royal and the TV begins to yap at me: A smiling Peggy Atwood stuffs laundry into a machine then dives in herself. Crudely spliced to weather report done by sobbing Mister Rogers, crying his heart out in torn and disheveled sexy nurse outfit. Then a demented minor-key version of old Hockey Night in Canada theme plays under chirpy voice of Foster Hewitt: He has the goalie on his knees but he can't get it up!
       A woman's voice comes out of the TV's cracked speaker. Message to deep sea diver. Surface at once, ship is sinking. It sounds like Jill back when we met two years ago and she seemed so young. Despite trying to come on so jaded, underneath all that was a sweet Maritime girl who blushed easily. Her little bow mouth pursed with modesty and those blue-green eyes didn't know how to hide very much, every single thing on her sleeve.

       I force my eyes open but she's not here. The clock radio on the nightstand snaps on. Some lunatic DJ screams about his girlfriend's dog. I shut him and the TV off then flop onto the bed. Like every other schmaltz-fed asshole, I catch Jill's scent in the pillows and sheets, regret losing that tight bod, maybe to never again see her casually naked. Thirty-five and still with those pert little breasts. It's kind of amazing Jill's body has survived in such good shape. Actually, it's kind of amazing she's survived at all.
       Last fall Jill had an abortion that was a bloody disaster. Some ham-fisted surgeon fucked up bad, made an accidental incision that caused near fatal hemorrhaging. Initially, nothing seemed wrong. I took Jill home after it was done and tried ignore the whole miserable affair by running off in a shitbox car we owned back then, going on a 30-hour bender. Returning at midnight in late October, I found her in a bed full of blood - a fucking lake. I phoned the clinic freaking out and a smug recording tells me to go to a hospital.
       I called an ambulance but the dispatcher's English was as bad as my French. I couldn't even blurt out our address. I was sure she'd be gone by the time they figured out how to get here, so I wrapped Jill in a blanket and carried her to our jalopy. She was fading in and out, eyelids turned black, lips pale as winter. The blanket was already dripping when we got downstairs. The nearest English-speaking hospital was the Royal Victoria on Pine, next to Molson Stadium. I raced us over there and found a filthy dungeon in total chaos, emergency ward arrivals screamed in agony, nurses obsessed with filling out senseless forms. I expected the doctors to come at her with rusty forceps while wearing those long medieval cone masks.
       I carried Jill back to the car while she swore and writhed, both hands pushed at her poor little hole, trying to staunch the flow. Her blood was smeared everywhere, all over her, me, down the inside of the windshield, on the seats, on the doors. Jill bled and thrashed and shrieked as we flew along Pine and then Cedar Avenue and onto Cote Saint-Catherine without a clue and just before being launched into the oblivion of the Decarie Expressway, there in the misty night, huge white letters: Jewish General Hospital. I skidded up the ramp sideways, horn honking, lights flashing. And thank the stars in the fucking heavens the staff were on the ball and instantly swept her out of the car and into surgery. Jill remembers very little of it. Well, who'd want to.
       Afterwards, I didn't really like to touch her, worried she might bleed like a river again. Jill got sick of my dismal mutters about vengeful gods, my reading Leviticus in bed every night, the fact I'd hardly let her mark up my body or do the same to her, the way we'd always done. She kept saying it was nothing more than a surgical error, they happen - and it's true, just an ugly mistake, statistical snake-eyes.

       Now that Jill is free of me, maybe she can attend those AA meetings we'd talked about, sit around with a bunch of twelve step losers. She can network, find a nice job in an office, get along with people for a change. Or more likely she'll try to save some repentant hardcase. The sincere, stupid type that submits to taking the white AA key-fob of surrender. And so, the two permanently-recovering addicts exchange vows in front of their new family then celebrate with extra helpings of coffee and cigarettes.
       When someone finally calls their own bluff and really does leave you, they take so many attitudes, mannerisms and daft little inside jokes that developed only because you were together. So if I'm going to be alone for real, then maybe it’s time to narrow everything down to a single degree; lop off that troublesome third dimension. Rent a furnished room somewhere in the east end, join the far-flung brotherhood of clean-cut and deeply repressed white men. Get a career as a customer service rep, something no one would ever remember. Cultivate an appearance so bland fellow employees don't recognize me in the street.
       In the tidy rented room, a small desk that contains closely lettered notebooks and a fastidiously organized file of newspaper clippings. From there it's a short step to camouflage clothing and high-powered weapons acquisitions. Then they find the diary: Yes, your worship, I did know her. No, not in the usual sense but there was an undeniable understanding when she got into the elevator, the doors closed and it began to go down. Any doctor will tell you a body is nothing more than a series of interconnected physiological functions with no apparent spiritual meaning. But her voice. Who can replace a voice?

 

Okay, maybe I won't go socio just because Jill doesn't come back but shit - she should come back. She's come back before. We've had some great fights in this apartment. Real crockery smashing, wall busting mêlées as the guy downstairs bays like a wounded dog.
       Our place is a big, high-ceiling pad that's dirt cheap. It takes up the top two floors of a rundown triplex a couple blocks off the Main. Yeah, it's drafty, has barely any furniture and the water pressure's worthless but the rooms are grand, with crumbling stucco mouldings and that ornate peeling wallpaper. Best of all, the mountain looms right out the front windows. It is an incredible luxury, the large salons Jill can hurl ashtrays across, bowling alley hallways where we'd roll and wrestle then tear one another's clothes off on the floor of the empty rooms upstairs. Who needs a bed.
       Down here under the mountain, it feels like an Open City in the classic sense. When civic leaders would make a legal declaration that the walls aren't going to be defended and gun emplacements will remain unmanned. Armies can wander through - but must leave their weapons at the door. Commanders are obliged to issue strict orders that no one will be raped, murdered or molested; nothing will be blown up and belongings won't be seized. As a result, the atmosphere becomes relaxed and holiday-like, everyone sleeps in a lot, no annoying air-raid sirens.
       You see, with its ancient buildings and broken, beautiful streets, Montreal is one of the last big Western cities where you can have a life of tarnished opulence without needing some idiotic job. Which is why so many ne'er-do-wells, students, career dole bums and alleged artists gravitate here. Few of the low-rent Anglophone ex-pats that live around the Main speak more than rudimentary French but we all vote for those xenophobic Separatist loons. Our strategy is meant to keep them in power and encourage the continued 'flight of capital', thus ensuring that our two favorite words remain posted on those big red and white signs all over town: À Louer. To Let.
       Having a big, dilapidated apartment is crucial. It gives your spirit room to grow, allows things to happen, things you could never plan or predict. Like Jill has this habit of trying to save all kinds of fuckups and losers. She'll go far out of her way to help the most tenuous friend of a friend of a friend - but only if they meet her exacting standards of victimhood. It's the whole Women's Temperance Union, Little White Mother Protestant missionary thing. Incredibly condescending at its core but she comes by it honestly. Her people have been morally strong-arming heathens and waste-cases since day one.
       Anyway, last summer there was this woman, Monica, from some hickish place like Alberta. Harmless enough, basically a white trash hippie with the wolf's tooth necklace and all that crap. She knew some acquaintance of Jill's and came to Montreal because her mother had died. So of course Jill invites Monica to stay with us for a few nights. Most of the time she sat on the living room floor with legs folded yoga style and listened to a downer Joan Baez album called Diamonds and Rust while she smoked and quietly sobbed, long brown hair shrouding her face.
       Jill was so solicitous she insisted on being at Monica's side night and day - I mean literally within arm's reach, like a fucking shadow. It was kind of nutty. The woman could have stayed with us upstairs, had one of the empty back rooms all to herself, but she wanted to sleep on the living room couch and watch the mountain at night. Okay, I get that - I've done it myself - and didn't complain when Jill said we should sleep in the cloakroom on the apartment's main floor. That would allow her to instantly fly to Monica's side in case she started blubbering. But Jill is also mortified of seeming insensitive, meaning we couldn't just happily fuck away while Monica grieved over her dead mother a few feet from us on the other side of the door.
       So we ended up having this intense deaf-mute kind of sex, glacially slow and completely silent, twisting into one another as if we were in pitch black anti-grav. Gorging on genitals, thighs wrapped over ears, every sound near and far was a pin dropping, every breath carefully drawn and released with mouths wide open.

Jill tied my wrists to the bed frame and her hand gripped my throat. I stuck my tongue out as far as I could and she sat on it, stroked her cunt back and forth on it, rubbed her asshole on it till my jaw ached, then buried her moans and laughter in the pillow when I bit the soft inside of her thigh and drew blood as she came. Afterwards, we agreed it was some of the best fucking we've ever done and wouldn't have happened in some shitty little one-room bachelor pad.


       Thinking about this stuff, combined with Jill's scent in the bed gets me hard and maudlin at the same time. Pretty pathetic. So I go down to the living room couch and get into my own session of mountain watching. Sheer exhaustion soon pulls me under and I sink into grisly, sweaty dreams.

There aren't many things worse than being trapped in a suffocating nightmare. You can't force yourself to wake up. You dream you've woken but then bizarre shit happens and you realize it's not over. You struggle for the light, groan and roll around but finally give in and let the miserable thing play out… forced to watch a redneck auctioneer with a wooden puppet's mouth rattle off meaningless numbers. He holds up a rat-sized creature by its long greasy tail. A reptilian thing, notch-backed, eyeless and limbless, hairless and toothless but with a muscular forked tongue. A prototype, the only one of its kind so far, it's been bio-engineered to slither inside human orifi and induce repeated violent orgasms. If required, it can also secrete semen with a precisely programmable genetic code. Experts predict the creature will one day rule the household pet industry.

A cloud of blue smoke swirls above the mob as they drive up the price...


       I'm finally knocked to daylight when the phone starts to ring - thank Christ. I sit up and shake my head to get away from that hideous auction. Jeezus… what the fuck's going on back there in the ol' hippocampus?

       I pull the phone from under the couch. It's Al Polo, fellow rent exile from Hogtown. To see Al, you could easily imagine him riding a penny farthing, one of those old bicycles with the giant front wheel that seem impossible to balance. Sparse dirty blonde hair, small-eyed and with the Baltic pallor his people are known for, he also has a ready charm that ingratiates him into almost any situation. Although he claims to be an actor, Al's real talent is an uncanny party radar. He's held in awe for being able find a gathering of booze, drugs, people and noise on a dead Tuesday night in the middle of January. It might occasionally end up being a bunch of second rate hair-dressers at the opening of a half-ass salon but more often he'll hit on a mind-blowing free bar and hot crowd soirée you'd normally only see in a movie.
       Al had tip-toed through the minefields along the Quebec-Ontario border a couple years ahead of me. He'd dared to slip past the search lights, machinegun towers and razor-wired frontier ditches after being inspired by the works of Rico Stevenson, a legendary globetrotting welfare leech who'd pronounced La Belle Province a five-star selection. Stevenson had authored the seminal masterpiece, Per Fas et Nefas, an exhaustive users guide on how to simultaneously scam welfare in 126 different countries, states, provinces and fiefdoms - all with copious footnotes on local customs, mores and police temperaments. Now in its 14th edition, the book has been translated into 89 languages.


       Al gets a kick out of coming on like an inspector, speaking with a rapid and precise cadence. He believes this gives him the upper hand. "Sorry to wake you, Johnny."
       "It's okay. I was about to bid on a bio-engineered mammalian dildo."
       "Oh?" he says without missing a beat.
       "Yeah. Where were you last night, Al?"
       "I left early, too many skinheads and off-island palaverers. Listen, Johnny, I've just received an important communiqué." He pauses for effect. "I was going to wait to tell you, but I think you ought to know now. Aunt Byron is coming to town."
       "Really, when?"
       "No ETA established. However, judging from our conversational subtext, I predict two weeks."
       "So is this a visit or… what?"
       "Unknown at this time. Byron plans to conduct some highly classified research. Our assistance will be required."
       "Uh huh. So how's he doing with the big switcherama, nothing's grown back? They say the body never forgets, Al. Phantom feeling and all that."
       He exhales heavily. "First of all, it's she, and her transition has gone beautifully. No complications. Now it's simply a matter of emotional support and psychological reinforcement. And Johnny, keep the stupid jokes to a minimum, will you, please?" Al’s coming on as if he'd used the scalpel himself and is worried about a malpractice suit.
       "Okay, Herr Polo, as you wish. So, Hennessy tells me you've nailed down some extra gig."
       Like everyone else, Al cheers up when he can talk about himself. "That's correct. I have been engaged as a background player in a television commercial featuring incontinence bags. The elderly are a major growth industry, my friend. I strongly urge you to invest now."
       "Old people. They're a fucking embarrassment. Exterminate the brutes."
       "You're a real tonic, Johnny. Nevertheless, it is a situation which allows me to practice the thespian arts as a paid professional, along with procuring some samples for Mama. Now, let me paraphrase from the script." Al must be pretty excited - sounds like he's getting to his feet. "All right, then," he comes back on. "I portray a man that strides past in the out-of-focus background, along a walkway in a well-manicured park. Perhaps he checks his watch, a furrowed brow, critical issues on his mind. Meanwhile, a very attractive elderly couple in full possession of their faculties waltzes happily in the foreground, eyes a'twinkle."
       "'Eyes a'twinkle'? Holy fuck, Al. So what's this war crime pay?"
       "Ten dollars per hour - cash. Four hour minimum. Time and a half after eight hours."
       "
Ten bucks an hour. Christ. I think you're being duped by the stooge class again."
       "Don't be naïve, Johnny. Show business is all about favors and connections."
       "Show business?"
       "
Yes, show business. For example, Doreen at Ace Talent, the agency in the Cooper Building? She's assured me that if I play along on this advert, I'll be a shoo-in for full union scale and in-focus on EcoKidz Rule."
       "All right, Al, I'm sitting down. What's EcoKidz Rule?"
       "It's an award winning CBC television series. A team of young sex abuse survivors get into little adventures saving the environment."
       "Where's my machinegun."
       "Keep your hair on," he yawns. "I have to go. Mama has already begun her daily campaign of harassment. I'll see you at Tony's."
       As Missus Polo yaps in the background, Al hangs up and I recall how he'd been one of the first to decipher where Hogtown was really headed. In a matter of hours, Al had packed up and left for Montreal. He snuck the old lady across the border in a wheelbarrow since she could collect his dead father's ironclad CNR pension anywhere from Bonavista to Vancouver Island.
       I'd been stubborn enough to stick it out during the final days of the Developer Wars, and got slapped from stylish loft to furnished room to unheated hovel. After being overrun by good looking, credit-worthy ground troops, I rolled up my life in an old rug and arrived in Montreal during a February blizzard. Al and Mama Polo were living in a huge, ramshackle flat at the north end of L'Esplanade. He'd stood in the doorway wearing a floor length Ayatollah nightshirt and bobbed his head with that knowing smirk. "Welcome to our island refuge, Johnny."

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

I consider trying to get some more shut-eye but fuck it, sleep’s overrated. Anyway, like Al’s character in the diaper commercial, I am a man with important shit on the go. I bolt on my sunglasses and walk outside - look up at the mountain, make sure it’s still there. With the heebie-jeebies already crawling up my ass, I head up to see Tony, the artist and part time dealer.

At Duluth, I cut over to L’Esplanade and walk along the side of Fletcher’s Field. There’s still some early mist on the mountain. I get a dim paranoia of my every move being spied from the summit. A couple of young white urban pioneers watch me warily from their gorgeously renovated parkside townhomes. One of these reconstituted groovers comes down her walkway, dragging a high-fashion toddler. She makes a show of locking the tall, stainless steel gate as they leave, then points her key fob at a new Volvo wagon I’m walking past. The car’s security alarm issues a loud double beep right next to me, verifying that it’s armed.

The woman storms away with her offspring and goes into the nearby daycare. I take a few steps backward and use a hip-check to break off the Volvo’s passenger side mirror. The car instantly starts to scream. Nobody pays attention. I’ll have a bad bruise but it’s nice to see a pair of ugly holes in the door metal where the screws have torn out. I catch the mirror before it hits the sidewalk and carefully place it on the hood.

 

When I finally make it to Tony’s warehouse just north of the park, I’m covered in sour sweat, practically wheezing. I pound on the big double-doors and yell that it’s me. He stomps across the floor, lifts the crossbar then puts on a disembodied robot voice. Dis-en-gaging.” Tony turns the big deadbolt as if breaking the seal on a pressure chamber. Ptshhhh. Clearance-authorized-for-agent-Johnny. Enter.”

Tony’s an expansive guy, easily given to absurd and theatrical outbursts. He’s hirsute and proud of it. His hairline begins a couple inches above his thick brows and dense brush covers almost his entire body, front and back. To see him running naked in the woods, you’d swear Tony was Son of Sasquatch. He can fucking well comb the hair on his fingers and toes.

His studio is a big rectangle, with wall-to-wall windows at one end. Pieces of plywood, disemboweled machinery and other found junk has been left wherever it was dropped. He even manages to slap together a painting or collage once in a while and they’re not bad, a kind of colorful Haight-Ashbury vibe.

Tony can spiel long and loud - about the Reformation or the Mogul Empire, Alfred Jarry or the Templars, Hadrian’s penchant for cross-dressing - a paperback Norton’s anthology laid open at his side, John Donne or some other maniac heavily underlined. Not a man without ethics, Tony wields a convoluted moral code based on what he calls the “One Obnoxious Man Principle”, the belief that conflict is the source of all individual worth. Its primary tenet: War is the father of all things.

Hennessy and Al Polo are already here, sitting round Tony’s big office desk littered with various tools and trinkets. The Hen’s in one of his black guttersnipe get-ups, held together with staples and duct tape, wearing an over-sized bowler down to his ears. He’s slumped back in a typing chair, legs sprawled out, on the nod, the normally sly mulatto features now slack and neutral. The little bastard's beat me to the punch.

Al is sunk into the shabby black suit jacket he’s worn since 1976, bony legs crossed tight, the cut-rate Mephistopheles. Something of an anomaly, he claims to simply enjoy the company and manages to do so without coming off like a co-dependent weirdo. Al’s thing is obscenely expensive brandies, cognacs, malts - and lots of them, an alcoholic with fantastic pretensions.

I grab the hot seat next to Tony and ease in on him. “So, Toneski, what’s happening?”

“It’s May Day,” he deadpans.

Lotta continua,” Hennessy murmurs, lips barely moving, as if a talking corpse.

“Lemme guess,” Tony grouses and puts on his Slavic peasant shtick. “You coming here to my houz with no dinars.”

“C’mon,” I whine. “Just something small till I figure things out.”

He rubs his fingers together. “Tonsko need many dinars - now!”

Gimme a break with the goddamn dinars.”

“Fuck man,” he bitches, dropping the Shmengie act. “What am I, your private perfumed ass wiper? Can’t you get some money off Jill?”

My guts are twisting. I’m ready to puke on him. “She’s still not back.”

“Oh yeah? So what did you do to earn all this extra drama?”

“It’s personal.”

“That’s right,” Al throws in. “Something personal called the old dumparoo.”

“Fuck you, Polo. You don’t have that inconvenience living with your mother, sitting on her lap every night eating perogies.”

“At least she never runs away,” Al replies, stroking his goatee.

“Just do me twenty bucks worth,” I keep bugging Tony. “Dole cheques are due soon.”

“Not possible,” he rejects my plea.

“Fuck ‘not possible’. After all the cash I give you?”

“All the cash you give me? What about the cash you owe me!? I can’t do anything because I don’t have anything! You think this is somekinda hobby!?”

“All right, already,” Hennessy snaps, eyes opening. “Will you at least let me enjoy this last morsel? Besides, can’t we go one bloody day without hearing about your-“

“You shut up!” Tony points at him. “In case it slipped the deformed piece of gray matter you have left, this,” he gestures with both hands. “What I’m doing here? It happens to be a felony. Y’know, jail, prison?”

“Keep it down,” Al says from behind yesterday’s Gazette.

“Keep it down!? You wanna tell the Man to keep it down!? He’s coming here this morning and I’ll have to French kiss his hairy ass and pray he lets me re-load even though I’m like three hundred short cuz I carry all these fucking deadbeats!”

Al tunes him out while he savors one of his stinky French smokes. Hennessy’s into a quiet nod, Tony’s noise remote as distant traffic.

“Why don’t you get out there and raise some goddamn venture capital!?” he yells at me. “Be a man, for chrissake!”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll get right on it.”

I’m fucked. Tony’s got to have a small reserve but he’s keeping that in case he’ll need to hunker down and wait for the Man, who could take ten minutes or ten hours or all day or who the hell knows. And even if the Man shows up soon, he’ll give Tony tiny bits, just enough to make up the money he owes, and then, if Tony’s a good little halfwit, give him a larger count to work with. In other words, it could be days before ‘the Tone’ can front again.

 

 

On my way out, I run into the Man at the elevator - of course. His broad smile lights up the corridor and he’s clearly pleased at the prospect of catching Tony with his pants down. If there was an alarm nearby, I’d set it off. The Man’s about five-five and wide as a doorway. He has a steroid-induced muscular bulk that makes his dark eyes bug out like some goiter case. The Man comes on warm but probing. The Man remembers all names, phone numbers and old debts. Occasionally, when the mood is right, the Man’s big hand sweeps before the debtor and the obligation vanishes. But if the fates are on the rag, the Man may don a pair of deerskin gloves with pockets of sand sewn into the knuckles.

“Johnny,” he greets me. “Johnny the Carp. How’s Tony been treating ya?”

I’m not sure what to call him. Mister Man? Sergeant Man? “Uh, not bad,” I say. “Guess he has his problems.” I instantly regret opening my mouth.

“Problems?” the Man asks and turns an ear toward me. “What kinda problems?”

“Well… it’s tough to keep things in line, right.”

“Things? What things?”

“Uh… y’know, his coming up short sometimes, I guess. I dunno.”

The Man frowns at the floor between us. “Short,” he repeats and his eyes snap up to me.  You seen Vern around? What do you guys call him, the Raging Skull, right?”

“No, haven’t seen him. Is he back in town?”

“So I hear,” the Man replies slowly.

“How’s he doing, clean?”

“Clean?” he snorts. “That guy’s feet stink right through his shoes!” The Man is being funny. I laugh at his shitty joke. A power saw screams from a workshop down the hall then stops. “You gotta number, Johnny?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you.” He taps me on the chest with his middle finger. “A number where I can call ya. You got something like that, Johnny?”

“Uh, I don’t have a pen on me,” I stall, worried about where he’s going with this.

“We don’t need a pen.” The Man’s eyes focus on my lips as I recite the number. He looks me up and down. “So, how much you owe us now?”

I’m ready to break into a run. “Uh… a hundred bucks, but I’ve-“

“Not too bad at all,” he cajoles, enjoying my dread. “A real stand up guy.”

The Man continues down the hall and leaves behind a waft of peppery cologne. I watch the wide back, the rock hard ass flex in the stone-washed jeans. When he reaches Tony’s door, I make for the stairs.

 

Hm, that’s wasn’t too bad actually. Maybe the Man’s thinking about a personnel shake-up after all of Tony’s financial debacles. I’m instantly absorbed in a rich fantasy. Good money, lucrative career, some local status, all my frets resolved. But the heady optimism quickly fades. That asshole won’t call. He’ll freak on Tony yet again and Tony will get his shit together for a while and then it’s rinse and repeat. The Man’s nice-guy act was just a casual warning because he’s heard I’ve been scoring on Park Avenue the odd time with Benny the Bike Thief. Aw, fuck him. What’s a lousy hundred bucks next to the piles of loot I’ve given that walking gland?

I drag my ass down Clark completely bereft and wrack my brains over how to drum up some gelt. My credit’s burned with anybody I know who’d have an extra twenty bucks hanging off them. Jill would give me a kick in the nuts rather than a fiver – even if I could track her down. My recent streak of cassette thefts from downtown record stores has attracted far too much heat so that’s out for a while. Christ, this whole thing is like the tyranny of food. You can’t just consume a finite amount and be done with it forever.

At the corner of Marie-Anne, I see Slim sitting in the window of a tiny café with another woman, a shave-headed young dyke she’s been banging. I can’t figure out what she sees in this baby chimp. Slim’s shoulder length, bleached blonde hair comes straight down from under a backward Oakland Raiders ballcap, torn and faded oversized jeans belted and bunched tight at her thin waist.

I sidle up and notice a book on the table, 18th century English social history. On the cover is a painting of serfs or somebody getting horsewhipped. She vaguely re-introduces her friend then frowns up at me. “You’re a mess.”

“Thanks.”

She pulls me down by the sleeve. “Come over to my place in an hour or so,” she whispers into my neck. “I got something.” Her little tattooed chimp friend gets all dismal over Slim’s secrecy. She angrily lights a cigarette. I grin at her and shuffle off, high on anticipation.

Slim and I met a couple years ago. Since then we’ve gotten pretty tight and regularly cheat on our respective partners with one another. Hennessy had introduced us at a shithole bar on Lower Saint Denis where Slim was working. The three of us slept together a couple times then I ran into her a few weeks later when I’d left Jill at home late one night to go out to the Main for smokes. Slim was among a gang of drunks on the sidewalk in front of the Bar Saint Laurent at closing time.                                                                                                                      

She’d led me over to the mountain. It was still late winter and we fell into a rolling tussle up behind Etienne-Cartier’s monument, among the trees, in the snow, to scratch and claw at each other in the dark and get soaking wet, hair full of icicles. She took me back to her place to defrost, a sprawling attic slum on the top floor above Schwartz’s Deli.

I hadn’t seen such a long, lean body on very many women. Those small, perfect breasts, the narrow boyish hips, deep green eyes and a dissolute beauty that always reminds me of Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter. Her high cheekbones and thin lips underline a supremely indifferent surface, impenetrable as buffed granite. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever been with and that took some getting used to.

It was while we were screwing that she’d casually mentioned her boyfriend, Gerry, was asleep in one of the other bedrooms. Slim told me he was a big brain and that she’d goaded him to the hilt but he refused to react, making her somewhat depressed. No matter how many men and women she dragged home, Gerry was impervious. I remember admiring him.

 

I kill some time by cuffing a couple packs of smokes at Mario’s Duty Free Depanneur then loiter at the magazine racks in the lobby of the Forty-Forty building on the Main. I’m reading a touching memoir of Michel Foucault’s attempts to suck and/or fuck every male grad student in Hogtown while researching The History of Sexuality, when Warlock appears at my elbow. An upper class WASP anomaly in this shtetl full of cast-offs, he’s a member of the moneyless Anglo gentry. Warlock sports slicked back hair and dresses like a Depression Era banker. “Haven’t the Frogs thrown you into the camps yet?” I ask him.

“That’s been postponed,” he replies with his glib little air. “I have agreed to learn to speak the historically valid dialect of French known as Quebecois, along with a smattering of Joual. That’s the colloquial parlance used by working class folk of rural French descent.”

“Fucking collaborator.”

“I try,” he replies mildly.

“Okay, then. How about a demo?”

Warlock shrugs modestly and clears his throat.  After a long pause he enunciates carefully. “Bon joor, mez ah-mee.”

I wait but that’s all. “Wow. You’re a regular Jacques Parizeau.”

“Thank you,” Warlock acknowledges with a short bow. “By the by, Johnny, I happened to see your wife on the Main late last night – or very early this morning, if you prefer. She seemed rather relieved about something, hmm?”

“I’m so glad I ran into you,” I grumble and refuse to take his bait. I put the magazine back and leave him standing there, aglow with malice.


The Main is smog-choked, packed with discount shoppers and squeegee punks, delivery trucks blocking traffic. I turn into the stinking alleyway beside Schwartz’s smoked meat house and press the button next to a steel plated door. When the buzzer sounds, I struggle up two flights of rickety, spiral stairs full of junk mail. Slim’s place looks different than the last time I was here. Maybe the latest boyfriend has been replaced by a new guy - or a roommate. In the kitchen, the snazzy glass table’s been replaced with an old door and a couple of sawhorses. The living room is furnished with a scavenged psychiatrist’s couch, mismatched chairs and a wood-plank bookshelf filled with paperbacks, busted phones and camera equipment. There’s a sleeping bag laid out by the front windows. A couple of blown up black and white prints are tacked to the wall – so big I can’t tell what they are. Street porn – M. Ant. is written on them in red magic marker.

I find Slim in one of the bedrooms, just out of the bath. Her hair drips, that lean polecat body wrapped in a beach towel. She mutters a greeting while ducking into the room’s sloped corners to sweep out dust and debris.

Slim drops her ass onto a bare futon on the floor and begins to peel away some crusty condoms stuck to the orange crate nightstand. I watch her hold them over a lit match. Each one sizzles and flames before she lets it fall it into an ashtray. The burning latex and petrified sperm give off an acrid plastic odor. I sit next to her and she lays a pair of tiny packs between us.

“You’re a peach,” I say and begin to set things up.

“Warlock told me that Jill’s left again.”

“She’ll be back.”

“Enjoy it while it lasts, Johnny. You’re pretty miserable when she’s around.”

“Yeah, well, so’s she. That makes us even.”

Slim reaches down to her pussy then casually examines the clear vaginal fluid between thumb and index finger held a half inch apart, judging the density. “That English guy I was seeing, Trevor, he’s gone too. Went kinda crazy on me.”

“You seem to have that effect on people.”

Slim leans back on the heels of her hands, ankles crossed. “Trevor,” she says again, faintly amused. “He told me he had a nightmare about you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Anyway, he made a big scene, swore at me for about an hour, then left to go tree planting in BC.”

“Stupid Limey. He’ll probably get eaten by a bear.”

“So what prompted Jill this time?”

“The usual bullshit,” I say, preparing my dose. “Me and Hennessy, me and you, me and this shit here, me - and me.” I stop and look at her. “Maybe I should change the locks while I have a chance.”

Slim smiles a bit. “She’d just kick the door down. The woman’s a wildcat. But it was pretty funny when she threw your typewriter out the front window.”

“Yeah, some poor bastard walking by almost got brained by the fucking thing. Although, the guy was nice enough to knock on the door and give me the sheet of paper that was still in it.”

“Gad, you two are so melodramatic.”

“Look who’s talking. What about all these neurotic guys flinging themselves at you?”

Slim rubs her eyes. “Yeah, it’d be really handy if let me know they’re nuts before I fuck them.”

“Speaking of nuts, what’s happening with your bald little chimp, the one at the café. What’s her name?”

“Celine. She’s cute and has a pretty sweet little pussy. I was actually going to bring her back here this morning but she got on my nerves - her constant need to be reassured about her stupid drawings.”

“I’ll thank her next time I see her. Y’know, I was up at Tony’s before I ran into you.”

“Uh huh, I figured.”

“Anyway, he was dry and freaking out, short of money as usual. But when I left, I ran into the Man in the hallway. Strange thing is, he soft soaped me and wanted my number.”

That perks up Slim’s interest. “You think he wants to replace Tony?”

“I wish. But you know how it is. The fuckin’ guy floats these stories to scare the Tone then they always kiss and make up.”

“Yeah, it’s too bad. Tony’s a nice guy and everything but I wouldn’t mind some consistent service.”

“You and everybody else.”

Slim gets up and grabs a small square of foil off the bureau. It has a hardened brown puddle on it. She fires up a lighter and uses a foil tube to inhale a few hits. I watch her undo the towel and let it fall to expose purple, blue and gold bruises on that tight ass of hers, down those long legs.

“Shit,” she says as I roll down my sleeve. “I should have given you that after we screwed. It’d be nice if we could both get off for a change.” Her pupils are contracted to pinheads, eyes almost totally green. Slim stands over me with a nasty smile.

“What about you?” I ask while carefully putting away my tools. “You’re already ripped.”

“That’s okay,” she chuckles. “I’m a girl. I can usually manage something.”

I barely run my fingers between those closed lips and catch a heady scent of how wet she is. Slim’s hips begin to sway back and forth ever so slightly. I take her knees and raise my chin. Her pussy lands right on the tip of my tongue, perfectly balanced. She tastes of soap and heat. Slim groans deep in her throat as my tongue curls in and she grabs a fistful of hair. She grinds against my mouth, thighs trembling, then reaches for her clit. The momentum builds fast. Within a couple minutes I feel a little bit of come wash over my mouth and chin. Having that tiny button sure is a nice advantage. “That was pretty good,” she grins and hangs onto her pussy with both hands, pulling on the blonde pubic hair. She wrinkles her nose. “But I want the big one. Y’know, the ball breaker.”

Slim pushes me down and straddles my waist. She opens my shirt and her teeth latch onto my shoulder. Fuck - her bites really hurt, deep incision s that bring up a flash of anger. She’s drawn toward earlier wounds, to re-open them. She undoes buckle and button and zipper, yanks off my boots and socks and pants and my two dollar Montreal Expos wristwatch, throws it across the room and cackles when it smashes to bits.

“C’mon,” she murmurs, sounding a bit fed up. “Fuck me from behind.”

Slim gets off me and I smack her ass hard. She yelps and giggles when I take a bite then lick the two red arcs left behind. I drag her up by the hips and her pussy is slick. Those long fingers snake down below and feel for her clit, for my cock, tugs on my balls. “So you think you can come?” she asks.

“I dunno. How about you?”

“Yeah, I think so. Fuck, I’m aching.”

The thing is – if you’ve used a fair bit of dope, having a serious, head-busting orgasm turns into a monumental struggle where you must pound the absolute fuck out of each other. Every muscle and tendon screams at the limit of endurance, going mad because you can sense that it’s right there, just out of reach, inching closer then it recedes, cockteasing yourself into lunacy and if you’re with a woman that hasn’t used, sure, she can come and come again and yet again and she thinks, yeah, okay, it’s great and all but how long is this going to take? He’s still fucking the living hell out of me and I’m getting kind of sick of it. I’ve got to get up and go to work in the morning.

But Slim has the same problem as me and she’s got nowhere to go so we’re soon curled chest to back. Our bodies collide as the motion builds and it all drives into a red horizon. I yank on her bleached hair as we screw and Slim laughs with frustration, her voice skipping along. “Fuck, man, this feels so good. I wish I could come.” At least she’s got that little button and it does help her pussy shudder out another partial convulsion. But it also makes the deeper itch even worse so she rolls over to face me, pulls me back in and the room whirls.

I’m engulfed as those green eyes glare and urge me beyond the dying flesh, the river of isolation. Slim knows she must sweet talk me, purr to me, keep me working. C’mon, baby, you can do it. C’mon, baby, fuck me, fuck me. We burn up with friction as our pubic bones bash, deep bone bruises that will hurt for days. Slim’s knees come up high to squeeze my ribs, one hand dug into my neck and the other down between us, jacking herself to our rhythm. She’s all the way off the bed now, ass against the tops of my thighs as I hold her up by the tail and slam into her. I’m on the verge of a stroke or a heart attack, gasping irrational obscenities over and over while our sweat flies and then finally – finally we manage to really come, bodies and souls shattered and shrieking and the back of my head blown away.

 

HO-lee shit. My heart thumps in my ears as we roll apart, both of us utterly wrung out. As it all slowly subsides in trembles and twitches, Slim shows me our come mixed together on her fingers, a ghost of a smile at her lips. “Congrats, baby.”

Good thing I have enough of a functioning brain filter left that it intercepts my vocal chords before I can gush a load of weepy nonsense that would instantly turn me into a big fucking drag, into one more dipshit guy that won’t leave her alone.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

I'm wandering down the Main an hour or so before sun-up when Hennessy prances out of the Bar Saint-Laurent. As usual, he's dressed like a 19th century anarchist, all in black and topped with a leather newsboys cap. His devilish grin lights up when he sees me and I watch him push through some hotheads crowded around the stairs leading up to the bar. All of them dolled-up in their tight shirts and toreador pants, they're hostile but also seem kind of hopeful. Hennessy's happily drunk and comes up on his toes to lay a wet smooch on my neck.
       "Relax, Romeo," I hold him off. "What's going on up there?"
       "Samba marathon."
       "I didn't know you like Samba."
       "I don't. I'm doing research for my anthropology thesis, The Cross-Cultural Maternal Obsessions of the Traditional Male Immigrant." He tosses his head at the grim-faced bunch behind him. "These poor fellows, they're all waiting for the horsy but randy and well-employed white lady that will take them away from all this yet remain relatively submissive - at least in public."
       "Sounds tragic. How ya fixed, ya got anything?"
       Hennessy rubs against me and exposes his sharp little teeth. "Does the Pope wear skirts? Perhaps we could trade something."
       "Like what?"
       "Like what else?"
       "Naw, not tonight. I think my prostate's broken."
       "Mine's not," he beams then waves it off. "But romance can wait. Right now, Johnny, we have a social call to make. Al Polo told me about an apocalyptic lease-breaking party in Griffintown. It should be peaking by the time we arrive." Hennessy’s suddenly puzzled. He holds up a hand and stops in his tracks. "Whoa! Wait just one second, Monsieur. What are you doing off the leash? Hasn't that harridan wife of yours come running back yet?"
       "No - and don't call her that."
       "Really?" he asks, his sharp features now sly and malicious. "So… how long has it been?"
       "Four nights. She's never stayed away this long."
       He tugs on his lapels and preens a bit. "You're better off without the hysterics, Johnny. And methinks 'tis far preferable to be a kept man."
       "Get off my back, will ya? Besides, you're not that well kept. Heidi's a miserable hag. I don't know how you haven't killed her in her sleep."
       "In the immortal words of Captain Hugh Abercrombie, 'a barnacle must cling to any passing ship.'"
       Around the corner on Saint Cuthbert, Hennessy pulls me into an unlit doorway and opens his jacket to show off a row of loaded syringes. They're lined up like pens and the nut's even got them in a plastic pocket protector. Only the Hen pulls this kind of stunt. "Jesus, you come prepared."
       "Boy Scouts," he says, handing me a fit. "One of the truly positive influences in my life."
       Hennessy whips out a tiny maglight and points it at the twenty units of caramel colored liquid. I flag a good vein on the topside of my wrist. We switch round and the Hen does the back of his hand. Our mood lightened, we grope each other and laugh stupidly. The little cockteaser squeezes my leg between his thighs and I feel him get hard. We've been flirting and fucking around for about a decade now, from the early days in Hogtown when we shared a girlfriend, a woman called Wander.


       Hennessy flags down a taxi and orders the driver to head for the old port. In the back seat, he curls up under my arm and coos like a baby faggot. The cabby floors it away from green lights and blares the horn at nothing. He glowers at the rearview as we go toward the river. Knots of night crawlers are still out, along with whooping gangs of frat house beasts.
       But everything falls silent south of that monument to Neo-Fascist architecture, the Palais des congrès. At the bottom of Peel Street, the driver refuses to go any further so we get out and walk into the unlit laneways of Griffintown's derelict warehouses.
       Some are bombed-out Victorian skeletons while others remain fairly intact. Shouts and music can be heard from the party a ways off, but closer to us some sinister figures move in the shadows. I feel for my exacto blade then see a pair of skinheads stripped to the waist, human tattoo parlors with cue-ball heads.

They grapple with one another while onlookers yell drunken curses and beer bottles explode on the cobblestones. Both combatants are blood splattered and foam at the mouth. A pug-faced female of their tribe flits around them in torn fishnets and a filthy wifebeater. She spurs on the struggle with a torrent of guttural Joual.
       "Ah, yes," Hennessy points as we give them a wide berth. "Here we have a fine example of the Celto-Saxon mating ritual. Observe the rutting cow as she circles the competing bulls. This allows them to catch enticing whiffs of her scent and thus further provoke their battle to prove genetic supremacy." He bats his lashes. "And win her heart."
       A trail of prone bodies leads us toward the doors of the party building. We work our way up a dark staircase full of smoke. It's jammed with more skins, metalheads, hippie punks, groovers of various ilk coming and going, along with the odd wino that happened by. The railing's been torn from the wall, huge holes booted through the plaster that now litters the steps.
       The cavernous third floor loft condemned to this evening's devastation is blacked out but for a few red spotlights. The Nils Call of the Wild booms from a stack of PAs powered by gas generators. A mass of bodies roll and sway to the music. Thick, sweaty heat sucks the air out of the place. Every window's shattered, the frames smashed to kindling.

The vortex appears to be centered on the cash bar somewhere at the other end. A few partiers stumble through the mob pretty much naked while a pair of lanky women near the door dance slow and loose, their shirts off. Thumbs hooked into one another's belt-loops, both of them wear big sunglasses and face the ceiling, both of them high as fuck.

This shindig's spent so there’s no point in trying to hit the bar. We get out of there and parting ways, Hennessy gives another one of his ready-made shots, along with a bit of money for a cab. The streets are empty and the driver’s a pro so I just beat the sunrise in the door.

 

Hennessy hammers on the door five hours later, already back in my face. He’s sweaty and distressed, tells me about a government yenta that wants to be double-teamed. The Hen says he haggled her up to two-hundred over the phone but she gets first right of refusal upon seeing the merchandise in person. With almost zero endorphins in my blood, the idea of performing three-way sexual calisthenics with some horny, extra sassy stranger holds about as much appeal as a steak knife colonoscopy.

“She’ll slam the door in our faces,” I tell him. “You look like stepped-on cat shit. Christ, your skin’s not even brown. It’s gray.”

“You aren’t exactly appetizing either, you know. I wouldn’t vomit on you if I was paid.”

“Well, that would depend on how much, wouldn’t it?”

“If you have any bright ideas, Johnny, I’m listening.”

“Okay,” I grump, “where is this hot-to-trot character?”

 Outremont. She’s a doctor, part of the inner sanctum at the Ministry of Culture.”

“Inner sanctum of my ass. Will she write for us?”

“She’s not that kind of doctor.”

“What the fuck. I’ve never understood this pretentious academic bullshit. What good is having ‘Doctor’ in front of your name if you can’t write a goddamn narcotics prescription? It shouldn’t be allowed. It’s fraudulent advertising.”

Hennessy sighs at my kvetching. “Can we go now?”

 

When we get to Outremont, the deal seems like it might be okay. Nice Modernist box house with mellow Nordic box furniture. The quasi-doctor bureaucrat doesn’t gack at the sight of us. She wears a black cat-suit, which isn’t the best outfit for her short, wide physique but what the hell, the woman’s pleasant enough as we sit in some sort of ante-room, chatting. Who knows, maybe she’ll do most of the work.  But then we find out what she really wants is to have us double-team her husband across his home office desk while she plays audience and jerks off with some adult toys. I glare at Hennessy. He gives me a weak shrug. Oops.

Hubby’s a snarky, cavey-chested middle-aged guy. He’s already down to nothing but a pair of blue and white Y-fronts and has patches of gray hair on his shoulder blades. He’s not too impressed with us either. “Where did you find these two specimens? They look like refugees from a palliative ward.”

“You wanted something street,” his wife bitches at him. “So I found you something street.”

“Yes, Montreal street. Not pox-infested Calcuttan gutter.”

He turns up his nose, looks away and points at the door. The doctor lady walks us out. She gripes under her breath, offers a few mumbled apologies and fifty bucks each as compensation. I should take it as a sign. After we score, Hennessy runs off to a sociology class at Concordia, The Housebroken Dog As Consumerist Metaphor in Late 20th Century Western Society.

 

I get home and call Jill’s name. Nothing. But her battered old copy of My Mortal Enemy is gone from the back of the downstairs toilet. She’s been here. Then I find two sheets of paper on the kitchen table; unlined pages torn from one of those big black hardbound sketch books she uses as a diary. Both are filled with her jagged up-and-down handwriting.

 

I met Niki's new boyfriend last night. Johnny - if that is his real name. I couldn’t believe his pat one-liners about never appearing before dusk. But I did like the fact he was shaved and scrubbed and had gotten dressed up for Niki. He wore a second or third hand black suit jacket that was clean, a pressed vintage white shirt, buttoned at the throat, with the tails hanging strategically down past the jacket, undone French cuffs covering all but his fingers and knuckles. His ensemble was completed with black jeans, scuffed police boots and a pair of wrap-around sunglasses on his head. I believe this is the uniform worn by the secret agents of a defunct country.

Niki told me she was attracted to his sense of humor, his easiness, along with his thin body, his black hair and largish nose. This big nose business is interesting. Many women are drawn to that feature, myself included. Well, a man with a small nose just wouldn’t be right, now, would it? Niki said that Johnny had moved here from Hogtown not long ago and they met at the Bar Saint-Laurent (where else). She is nineteen and impressed with herself at having sparked what she believes to be the more than sexual interest of someone ten or eleven years her senior. I remember what it was like with Neil - a certain sense of legitimacy that an older, experienced and seemingly intelligent man was intrigued.

Willa, Niki’s friend from Halifax, was there as well. She gave us hilarious descriptions of some men she has known. Example: Too often a man who at first seems exciting turns out to be immature and sexually dysfunctional. He becomes mean and vindictive as soon as you get him home and undressed and expect to enjoy one another’s bodies. Or he has a touch so weak and reticent, he makes you feel sexually dysfunctional. Then we have the ‘cock-proud preener’, as Willa put it. He stands next to the bed and strokes his penis to get it just the right semi-erect. ‘An extrovert!’

 

It’s pretty funny stuff but why can’t Jill tell me this in person? I read the other page.

 

Niki is upset about Johnny and I. We acted out a ludicrous scene in her kitchen.

She asked: "Are you sleeping with Johnny?" When I nodded, she said, "But, Jill, you’re my cousin."

"I know, sweetie. I’m sorry. What happened doesn't mean anything."

Niki turned the water on all the way then shouted: “You've been with Neil since I was in Grade Two, Jill, GRADE TWO, and I know you've never cheated on him – not until now. I’ve probably slept with more men that you have. You’re 33, Jill. THIRTY THREE - and now that you want to be ‘young and wild’, you have to ruin things for me. I’ll share Johnny with Willa but I don’t want to share him with you because you make everything so awful and serious. I hate you!”

Or something in that vein.

It’s fairly evident Johnny has little interest in either Niki or Willa for anything beyond sex, despite their exchange of books (His hackneyed arrival with Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty essays was ridiculous. Artaud? Really? I wonder how many copies he has inventoried to offer impressionable young women.) Niki ‘paid me back’ by bragging  that the three of them had gone to bed together and “spent hours and hours having all kinds of sex and talking about art and history and everything else.” It was difficult not to say something cruel and now she refuses to speak to me. I hope Niki soon realizes there are plenty of Johnnies on the Main. I miss her.

I have invested so much time and energy into Neil's career that I put aside my own motives, selfish or otherwise. That's a lie. As often happens with A great deal of resentment has built up. And yes, I do feel guilty but it was exciting to have a strange body in my hands. Niki is right – before Johnny I’d never taken a man home from a bar for a ‘drunken body bump’, as Willa calls it – and yes, I am thirty three years old. Rather embarr I have been with Neil since I was 19 and being the monogamous sort, I haven’t taken advantage of any opportunity  to stray. God, it’s been a lifetime. Neil, my beautiful man, I love you and miss you so much right this moment but it feels like everything is a distraction and I know I must live alone, just my dog and me, my Klee. After all these years, Neil, it would be pathetic not to. More than anything right now I need a drink and

 

The page ends in the middle of a sentence like that, needing a drink. So, what, I never had a say in any of this, like some brainless cock on wheels?

 Isn’t it always the way? Diaries never sound like the person you know in real life. The voice in a diary is always so goddamn reasonable, personal propaganda designed to make everyone else come off like total assholes.



One of our contributing editors, Basil Papademos, recently completed his second novel, Mount Royal, excerpted above, a book he calls his "love letter to Montreal." It will be published in spring of 2011. His first novel, The Hook of it is, was published by Emergency Press. He is currently in Thrace, in the Greek/Bulgarian/Turkish border region, researching a third novel.