Authors: William Deverell
Tags: #General Fiction
The episode occurred Sunday. The heroes were Bob Grundison (“controversial heir to the Grundison corporate holdings, recently released from Riverview,” and so on) and Lyall DeWitt. The woman fell from the raft as it shot a waterfall. Grundy and Lyall jumped in after her. Grundy reached her first and bore her to shore. “I owe my life to him,” said the woman, an Edmonton hairdresser. There was a photograph of her saviour, wide smile, cold eyes. I had to give him credit – acts of heroism aren’t out of nature for the psychopathic personality. Bob would savour the moment, the grandeur of it – and the attention.
The next morning, over my garlic-pill-and-toast breakfast, I read details of the murder in the morning paper. Wilmott’s body had been thrown into a clump of salmonberries not far from Lost Lagoon. A wallet containing nearly three hundred dollars was in the pocket of the victim’s white linen jacket, a Rolex on his wrist. To complete the sad picture, a boutonnière was in the lapel.
I pedalled off to the Public Safety Building, better known as 312 Main Street. It is in the very gut of the Downtown East Side, Vancouver’s high-crime zone, where, despite its prime location, hustlers of dope and sex rule the streets, where spent syringes and empty wine cartons litter the alleys.
On the second floor, in the homicide squad room, a couple of detectives were working the phones, calling acquaintances of Chauncey Wilmott. I could see Inspector Jack Churko through a glass partition, butting a cigarette, waving at me. He is about sixty, a jaded endomorphic old-school cop, with the face of an aging boxer dog.
Churko came out to escort me in, an arm around my shoulder. He has a lot of patience for me, ever since I laid waste a
temporary insanity defence argued on behalf of a man who shot his wife and her lover.
“I hope you ain’t here as part of the homosexual lobby, that’s all I got to say, Doc.” That wasn’t all he had to say, he began a harangue. He’d received a delegation from the local gay pride group. He had been called by a gay city councillor. By a United Church minister. “A homosexual preacher – families go to his church, that’s what this world is coming to.”
He showed me the report of the pathologist, who concluded Wilmott’s throat had been looped from behind, probably with a wire. It had lacerated the skin: “a circular lesion anterior to the vocal cord, compressing the upper trachea.”
I told Churko that if it was a hate murder, I’d be keen to draw up a homophobic profile.
“We ain’t there yet. Look for the motive, Doc, that’s the first rule. We can’t assume we got a crazy on our hands.”
“He might not be crazy. What kind of motives are you talking about?”
“He could have stiffed someone with a bad loan, simple as that. Maybe he was blackmailing someone, maybe it was a lover’s quarrel, we’re going to check out every lead.”
“We’re working on it.” He tapped a cigarette from his pack, ignoring the no-smoking regulations. “No fucking prints, no hair sample, no DNA, we got shit, frankly. A year from pension, and this lands on me. It could have been a robbery gone bad, simple as that. Just some punk.”
“Mr. Wilmott had three hundred dollars on him. A pricey watch. Whoever did this didn’t lack for money. What kind of punk wanders around Stanley Park with a coil of wire?”
Churko knew I was making sense but resisted the obvious premise. “All I’m saying, Doc, is we have to keep all options open. Maybe the old guy began hitting on some weirdo who was fucked up about queers. Or maybe you’re right, it was a
random gay-bashing. We had a couple of incidents this summer, no one got hurt bad, but that sort of shit goes on.”
“Okay, so let’s bring out the files on these incidents, and go over them. Let’s draw up a list of known homophobes with records.”
“I ain’t got tons of manpower on this. We’re beefing up our patrols in the park, in the West End. But if you’re able to help, I can squeeze some money out for you.”
“Done. Draw up a list and bring them in, I’ll sit in on the interviews.”
I considered mentioning Bob Grundison’s name – he’d likely fit neatly within any homophobic profile, and three hundred dollars would be pocket change to him. But I refrained from fear of sounding foolish. He and Lyall had left for the Skeena River two days before Wilmott was attacked.
But did they actually drive all that way? Five hundred miles of mostly single-lane highway, it would have taken them a day and a half. Could they have dallied in Vancouver for two days, then flown up there Saturday morning? The rafting trip was a gift from Grundy’s father: wouldn’t he have sent them first class? Two main airports served the area, at Prince Rupert and Terrace.
Upon returning to Pier 32, I dropped in on Dotty, who despite all her grumbles and doubts agreed to make discreet inquiries with the airlines, the area hotels, and the Whitewater outfitters.
I was pleased to tell James that I’d nudged the police in a more productive direction. To allay his anxious state, he’d been vigorously cleaning up and organizing the mess in my desk drawers.
He directed my attention to an array of detritus from those drawers. Disregarded invitations; papers that should have been filed long ago; preposterous gifts: a mobile composed of Jungian symbols; a pencil sharpener set in the mouth of a bronze bust of Sigmund Freud. Old photos, torn clippings.
A childhood snapshot had been stuck in a niche at the back of a bottom drawer. I’d meant to frame it, give it to Sally for her birthday, a reminder of The Way We Were. She and I are standing by a birthday cake. She’s just turned ten. She’s wearing a set of false, waxy red lips (these enjoyed a brief vogue among our set), I have a Jimmy Durante nose tied about my head, and I’m grinning at her, already in love, spiritually, pre-carnally.
I took it to a framing shop.
Predictably, that scene popped up in this dream: I’m standing in a crush of people, wearing a false nose, my crowd phobia in full, flagrant bloom. As I fight my way toward open space, someone hands me a martini, and it dawns on me that I’m actually at a crowded cocktail party. Some of the faces seem familiar – and, in that self-referential way of dreams, they’re talking about me, about my affair with Vivian, my forthcoming trial.
Among the guests (at what has become your patio party) is Ellery Cousineau, the Don Juan of the children’s book industry. Ellery, I regret to say, is a notably handsome man, silver-haired and tall and fit and glib, and he easily draws women into his orbit. One of them, on this tossing, turning night-mared night, is Sally, clinging to him, but dressed as a little girl and wearing those sumptuous false lips. Miriam Goes to a Cocktail Party.
Standing at the border of all this coziness, I feel dejected. Then, as Ellery whispers a sweet nothing into Sally’s ear and the pair of them break into laughter, I feel humiliated – it comes to me that I’m wearing no pants or undergarments. This dream symbol is so trite that I’m embarrassed it has been permitted entry into my unconscious, but its source is obvious and I suppose it speaks to various fears relating to your party (expanded to eighteen!), my bleakness causing dampened spirits among your husband’s important clients, my phobias driving at full thrust. Or worse, some cocktail-glass-shattering eruption of anger and despair.
Herman Schulter is in this dream, addressing a cluster of colleagues: “The patient has blocked it from memory.” I find this comment disturbing – in dreams one’s voice is heard through others, so questions arise: Is it remotely possible that I’ve repressed some aspect of my encounter with Vivian? By some freak of fate, might I actually be pronounced guilty of the sin charged against me? Did my nakedness represent a fear of public exposure?
But where were you in this dream, Allis? Richard was present (his face was amorphous), but he was occupied with a woman from his office. Patricia Lang, his partner? (Had I picked up a tightness, a sense of distaste when you mentioned her name?)
Meanwhile I was still feeling shame, and I covered my genitals with my false nose. (The symbolism here is unclear.) Then I noticed everyone had donned party masks, and they were running about like children. I’ve a faint memory of Sally turning to me with her false lips, saying something like, “Even if I’m bad, you’ll always be my friend, won’t you?”
I rose at dawn, bleary with images from that dream, and I rode Vesuvio high into the wealthy suburbs of the North Shore: twenty-two minutes, thirty-five seconds, from the Seabus terminal to the Grouse Mountain lift. Then I sped downhill unhelmeted, my hair flying, the wind in my face, slapping me back to reality.
I continued my hard training that evening: Point Grey, the familiar neighbourhoods of Kitsilano. Biking down Creelman, I spied Sally and Celestine on the back deck of my former home, drinking wine and gabbing and laughing. I stopped behind the cover of Celestine’s van and tiptoed closer, to the fence, but made out their conversation poorly.
The only words I heard were Celestine’s, “I
I couldn’t hear Sally’s response and skulked silently away, back to Granville Island, to the
, to bed. But those
three imperative words were with me through the night, continually jangling me awake.
I slept in as a result, until ten, and I started when I made out James leaning over my bunk. “Are you all right, sir?” He apologized, but because of the lateness, he thought he should check on me. Some legal documents had just arrived by registered mail from Jackson Cove.
I groaned, donned some clothes, followed him to my office, downed a mug of coffee, and tried to make sense of Clinton W. Huff’s “Petition to this Honourable Court in the Matter of Huff versus Dare.” The mayor of Jackson Cove was seeking to have me declared “a hostile witness” and banned from giving evidence at his continuation. I was “biased by blood relationship” and therefore “incompetent in law.”
He needn’t worry. I’ve no intention of again sharing a courtroom with this bristling leprechaun.
I recalled John Brovak mentioning that Huff had a Web site, promoting a creed called “FreedomFirstForever,” and I asked my Web-wise secretary to track it down. James quickly located it, and suddenly Mr. Huff was on the screen frowning at me, beside a banner proclaiming
LIBERTY OR DEATH
FreedomFirstForever contained various screeds he’d written; the first was an essay replete with pumped-up cries for liberty from that great oppressor, Government (they want to know all about you).
There was a page on “the inalienability of property rights,” a weighty, multi-syllabic sermon touting Libertarian philosophy. Another was titled “Clinton Huff and the Court of Revision,” this a confusing history of his battle with municipal officials for the right to keep ducks on his half-acre lot. The text of his nomination speech for his failed run for Parliament was here too.
There were biographical notes, but they revealed little of the man. Born in 1953, in the East Kootenays, the fourth and final son of a storekeeper and housewife, head of his high-school
debating club, twenty-five years serving the needs of education in Jackson Cove, a history of his many tries for public office.
Huff kept his Web site up to date with references to his libel action, in which I found this: “Also present as a hireling of the defendants was a doctor with a reputation for prying into the private affairs of individuals. A newspaper review of his recent book exposes him as a charlatan.” The word
was hyper-linked to a savage critique of
by a prominent Los Angeles analyst whose name won’t go mentioned here.
There was no further reference to me, but questions abounded. Why was he in such a lather about me? What secret sinful activity was he concerned that I might pry into? Was he a threat to my physical as well as my emotional well-being? Or was he just a harmless nuisance – a grumpy pedagogue emotionally deformed by harsh toilet training? I can’t deny being tantalized by his mystery, but I’m determined to ignore him, to dampen his irrational response to me. There’s danger in riling him – the acutely obsessive personality is unrelenting and easily spurred to excesses.
On the following day the notice arrived from the discipline committee, over Herman Schulter’s signature, that an ugly charge had been added to my indictment. (The letter was, of course, couched in the hypocritical cant of reassurance: they were “merely seeking clarification with respect to this unfortunate allegation.”)
Dr. Schulter, no less than Clinton Huff, is fixated on me. At least he’s animated by a recognizable motive. Professional jealousy may not be the noblest of emotions, but neither is it out of the range of common feeling. But Huff is a nuisance, a flea bite compared to Schulter, who’s prepared to put my career and reputation to the torch. I’ve been told that a lack of diplomacy is one of my failings, so I resisted the urge to notify him he’s a vindictive son of a bitch.
Vivian, Schulter, Huff, Grundy … How has a simple seeker of truth managed to inspire such a throng of ill-wishers? I
founder for answers; a conspiracy of prankish unseen forces remains the most likely possibility. Though, as a scientist, I mustn’t reject the possibility that I suffer from a massive system of delusional ideation. A convincing body of literature (see Kendler and Gruenberg, 1984) suggests that a predisposition for schizophrenia is transmitted genetically, and I’ve started to seriously wonder if my father, Peter, was a paranoid psychotic.
Date of Interview: Monday, September 1, 2003
Tim called by phone to ask that I squeeze him in for a few minutes today, and I told him that if he wanted to apologize, he could wait till Friday. But he insisted, so I offered an alternative – an end-of-day drink in a wine bar near my office.
He was there when I arrived, looking penitent. I assured him that everyone thought it had been a lovely party, and no one was seriously upset over the incident.
Tim felt he had to explain. He’d had too much to drink, had been upset that Sally was being herself, vivacious, a social butterfly. He’d lost his temper, but had been provoked. He was thankful only that the party was almost over, that he hadn’t entirely ruined the evening.
I told him Richard and I later shared a chuckle over it, and others might have quietly applauded. Finally, he, too, was able to find humour, and soon we were both laughing.
Date of Interview: Friday, September 5, 2003
Tim was favouring his right leg as he hobbled in, having suffered a bicycling accident on Wednesday. He greeted me with a smile
that seemed so resigned and stoical that I gave him a hug, which he returned. Then he stretched out on the couch with a sigh but also with a fixed expression. He was fiercely determined that his injury, a sprained ankle, would not keep him out of the Okanagan Rally.
He knows Sally Pascoe was here two days ago, for an hour’s friendly discussion, but held back from asking about it. He understands, of course, that all matters between Sally and me were expressed in confidence.
Tim and I again discussed my weekend party, in a more serious vein than when we met on Monday, and I had an impression that he was holding himself back from remarking on the other guests.
He was able to work with me today, even to offer the gift of being more open about his childhood. A powerful dream had brought it spilling out. An exchange about the significance of the Labour Day weekend, as recorded below in transcript, bears following up.