NO CALL TOO SMALL

windingroad

We sit in our cruiser at the far end of the lot in Belcarra Park, where all is calm except for the two squirrels I’ve been tracking. Observed but unreported, one has scored a cheese doodle from under the picnic bench, and the other seems determined to take it by force, spiralling up the trunk of a nearby pine. Subject is a few inches tall, half a pound, light brown fur, bushy tail, nervous darting eyes, and twitchy body language. Victim is a few inches tall, half a pound, light brown fur, bushy tail, nervous darting eyes, and twitchy body language. The sharp crack that startles me is not gunfire, but a seagull dropping a clam onto the pavement to smash open its shell. This seagull of interest is known to police and has been seen in the area with his associates, harassing the eagle that now sits atop an 80-foot cedar. Current conditions do not warrant intervention.

The long road in creates a secluded feeling, with evergreens crowding in so tightly that the sun rarely dries out the green trail of slime running down the centre of the lanes. Down on the dock, anglers keep their small fry catch in pails. Theft, though not likely, is possible. We monitor this entire park, from the barbeques to the gazebos, down to the beach where kids overturn rocks to watch crabs scatter. These are the mean streets of Port Moody, now peaceful, but only until rival families clash over the last shaded picnic table. Angelo takes a sip of his coffee and stares out over the water before asking my opinion.

—Do you think Rockford was happy?

I know he’s referring to Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files, a popular show from the 70s about a private investigator.

—Single guy. Lives in a trailer. Does that sound happy?

—But it’s waterfront, and he can move that trailer any time.

Rockford doesn’t carry a gun. It isn’t, as Angelo assumes, a spiritual angle, a belief that the world can be negotiated without force, or a Buddhist-inspired pledge to non-violence, or the triumph of intelligence over thuggery. It’s because Rockford is a felon. Angelo won’t hear this because that’s not the Rockford he knows and loves. He romanticizes a life I see as quiet, hard, and lonely. Rockford may have an ocean view, but the trailer stigma never dies, no matter where you park it. Imagine his date stepping inside, clutching her purse a little tighter, hoping that when her eyes adjust to the darkness, her grim expectations will be proven wrong. Can you call it a home if someone can tow it in fifteen minutes? At night, rats lured to the food stands sniff out scattered crumbs from hot dog buns and French fries dropped in the sand. They can easily chew through the cheap flooring in the trailer if there aren’t already plenty of cracks and holes.

Without the most basic barriers, the trailer is vulnerable to attack. There’s no fence or hedge to slow down an approach, should anyone wish to hurt him, and plenty would. A large truck could level his “home” in seconds. Rockford is not really there. There is no post, beam, or foundation that fixes his structure to the ground. He has no current or future claim on that corner of the parking lot. No one in the area considers him a neighbour or would fight for his right to be there. His stay depends on the indifference or generosity of local authorities. What kind of life is that? Angelo won’t acknowledge the difference between living in a waterfront house and squatting in a prefab shack. Our bum P.I. is borrowing his seaside experience, not owning it.

Angelo resembles Rockford if Rockford were a young, trim, good-looking Italian. His light build and courteous manner suggest he’s ill equipped to tackle a drunken hooligan, but that never seems necessary. Calm tones prevail on our shift, and Angelo would likely be talking about last night’s game by the time he tucked a wild one into the back seat of our car. He drove me to this park during our first patrol together, and I was surprised to find this much wilderness on the edge of Port Moody. I’d been through Stanley Park and up North Shore mountains, but Belcarra is a low traffic area, off the major routes, and during that day we almost had it to ourselves. When we came to the end of the parking lot, he stopped the car and turned to me.

—Would you mind if I looked at your face for a few minutes? I only have to do this once.

He stared at the hole where my nose used to be, the wound left by the dog’s teeth, lingering on the main show for half a minute before moving on to the deep scars on my cheeks and the small, triangular cut-out on my upper lip where teeth show even when I’m not smiling. Angelo leaned closer, drawn into my topography, a terrain of pathways, lines, and trenches.

—I think your face is leaking.

Clair said almost the same thing after I told her there would be no more surgeries. Frankenface was tired of the cutting and the stitching and the sculpting and the shaping. She brought my prosthetic and a box of kleenex from the bathroom and slammed them down in front of me. The clip-on was supposed to boost my self-esteem, but the past cannot be restored like an antique chair.

—Why don’t you wear your nose?

—It’s a prosthetic.

—It’s a nose. It’s 95% better than having no nose.

—It’s 100% fake.

Do you like me better in disguise? Do you like this better than the truth? I considered, then aborted a dozen things I could say to slow her progress through the house. I sat at the dinner table, rolling the blob of silicone between my palms, wondering if the colour could be adjusted with make-up to match my skin tone as we cycled through the seasons. She often used her overnight bag whenever she stomped over to her sister’s place, the final punctuation to any fight, but that night I heard the bumping and scraping of the big hard suitcase she hauled from the back of the closet. She paused to let me know she had no choice but to distance herself from someone she considered self-destructive. She wouldn’t watch while I did this to myself.

I never had the chance to tell her about the Whittaker rape at Suter Brook Towers the week before, how I got into the back of the car with that kid who had been wisely silent up to that point, how I faced him, secretly pleased with his horror, asking simple questions as the member in the front seat scrambled to write it all down. On Thursday, a young hothead with bloody knuckles and a blind fury for anything in punching range just stopped, straightened up from his fighting stance, and stared at me, long enough for the bruised bouncer to get him in a headlock.

When it’s time to roll out of the park and stop some crime, I open the window to take in the forest air, as I always do. Tiny Tim, my first partner, would always whine and complain when I did this, turning the heat up to maximum. Tiny was just like Harry Callaghan in the Dirty Harry movies minus the driving, shooting, squinting, punching, and crime solving. Every one of Tiny’s 280 pounds was unhappy to be stuck with The Face, and I wasn’t thrilled to be paired with a guy who seemed determined to take on life from a seated position. How typical that one so desperately in need of exercise would do anything to avoid it, insisting on drive-through, assuring me at every traffic stop that he’d get the next one.

—Do you think someone could actually pull off the fire hose stunt?

Angelo is driving very slowly, as if he too is straining to consider all the possibilities posed by his own question. In the first Die Hard movie, John McClane is on the roof of an office tower that has been rigged with explosives by a bunch of foreign terrorists. John stands at the edge of the roof, understandably hesitant, when a helicopter with a sniper hovers into view. John more or less drops off the edge as the roof explodes, but when he hits the side of the building, he doesn’t break through the glass. He’s forced to plant his bloody feet against the window, spring off, and shoot his way through, landing roughly on a pile of shards.

Angelo points to the rusted out Corolla on the side of the road with its right headlight smashed.

—Isn’t that Clement’s car?

He’s half off the road, the underside of the car hung up on the shoulder. Angelo sees the bright patch of colour in the ditch before I do, a cyclist next to his mangled bike, not moving. Clement seems unable to form words, a nice little pile of puke in his lap, some painted over the steering wheel. Angelo reaches down to the floor of the car, pulls out the half full bottle of vodka, and throws it into the bush, lazy arcs of booze spitting from the mouth like a wonky sprinkler. He wants me to use the cruiser to nudge Clement’s car back onto the road.

—What about the guy in the ditch?

—He’s gone, Face. Look at the angle of his neck.

I go over and check anyway, my warm fingers on his cold, wet wrist. It looks like he was launched into the ditch head first, the weight of his body snapping his neck.

—Let’s go, Face! Running out of time here.

I look up from the bright, spandex-wrapped corpse as my partner loads Clement into the back seat of the Corolla. I can’t move, or won’t, staring at Angelo as more cold rain works its way down the back of my neck.

—Am I doing this by myself?

Still not moving, not talking. I hope another car comes along, or a school bus with twenty sets of unblinking eyes to witness this, even a single person, walking her dog along the side of the road. Looking up into the clouds, drops sting my eyes with tiny shocks. Somehow, somewhere, in that grey stewing mass, vapour bonds with dust and droplets are born, joining into heavier drops that blow apart when they hit the hood of the car. The fragments are reabsorbed into a blob, and when the mass overwhelms surface tension, it bursts into a rivulet, a tiny vein-like stream that joins others as they flow down the slope toward the ground.

—Face!

Nobody’s a criminal yet. Nobody’s a liar. Maybe if we stand still we can maintain this pure state, three cops holding rigid against the future. A crow scolds vigourously from a nearby tree, as Angelo uses the cruiser to push on Clement’s car. He switches over to the Corolla and floors it, the wheels spitting out bits of gravel and grass as it pulls off the shoulder, and then they’re gone, blue smoke hanging in the air.

The crime scene is more complicated now, chips off the Corolla’s tail light shattered by Angelo as he pushed, glass from the right front headlight at the point of impact, the long angry trail of the spinning tire. I see this area cordoned off with yellow tape, the entrance to the park closed to incoming traffic, a poster with nicely labelled photos on an easel in a court room, evidence markers like yellow flowers growing from the pavement, counting off a series of mistakes. And the bottle, with its excellent prints, still in the bush, where no one will look for it.

I spit out water that has funneled into my wound, and my thoughts return to the bruised and bloody John McClane, standing at the edge of the roof. There’s plenty to consider before he jumps. Assuming a fifty foot drop, he might be close to half of terminal velocity by the time it came tight. The hose has little flexibility so the stress at the point of attachment would be significant. It could easily snap his back. If it were tied around his waist, it might spin him like a propeller, sending his gun flying. Also, how much does a cop know about tying knots? If he ties a bowline, the loop won’t tighten on him, but he might slip through. If the knot slips, it will cinch tight on his body at the end of the drop, breaking his ribs, or clamping down so hard on his chest that he won’t be able to breathe. John stands on the edge, the odd gust pulling at his pant legs while he considers too equally unappealing choices.

The biker sucks in a huge, jagged breath and rolls over onto his back. His eyes follow mine until they don’t. While I call for an ambulance, there are two shallow breaths and nothing more. It’s impossible to get directly over his chest on the muddy slope, so I push on an angle instead of straight down, afraid that a shift might damage his neck. My muscles already burn, and I can’t even hear the sirens yet. Bright blood streams out of his nose, and I wonder if my compressions are at fault.

I hear the sirens now, two of them, and soon the flashing lights are near. I’m still cracking ribs on a corpse, pumping maniacally like an idiot, dropping down every thirty compressions to puff air into his bloody mouth. I collapse as soon as the first two paramedics arrive. The next crew attend to me, the woman stopping for a moment when she looks at my face. She breaks out a large gauze pad to hold over my nose hole.

—Darren? Get over here. Help me look.

They begin to part the long grass around me, and it takes me a minute to realize they’re looking for my long lost nose, the little nub of flesh long since passed through the tract of a pit bull. I pull the bloody pad away to show them.

—This is his blood. I’m fine.

At intake, my interviewer feebly danced around questions both obvious and forbidden. I had my bachelors, criminology courses out of the Justice Institute, and three years doing volunteer security work at the Jazz Fest. I buried everyone else on the POPAT with the fastest run in my group. He praised my achievements, but I could tell there was more he wanted to ask.

—Do you think you would be comfortable here?

I took my time answering, rooting through my pockets for a kleenex to wipe my leaky nose hole.

—Do you think I’d be comfortable anywhere?

The class photo was fantastic, all the pretty boys and girls, then me, the monster at the end of the row, showing more teeth than usual.

I sit in the mud with a bloody gauze pad in my hand, two paramedics standing on either side of me. Flashing lights imply urgency, but with the biker gone, there’s no reason to move quickly, no reason to move at all.

—So, hit and run?

I look up at her, angry that she’s tipped the balance of silence with her question. Darren drapes a red fleece blanket around me while they both wait for my words, truth from an officer of the law. Clearly there was some hitting and some running. Darren has a bright orange faux hawk and I wonder how many times he’s been asked by supervisors to switch to a more conventional look? Would it be implied, hinted at, to avoid a harassment issue? How many unconscious people would come to, see his head, and wonder if they were hallucinating? I have no obligation to answer their questions, no reason to feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t really matter what happened here because I’ll be the one asking the questions.

—I’ll be the one asking the questions.

—Okay, chief, can we help you up at least?

—I’m good.

She looks at her partner, shrugs, and starts to pack up her gear. When they’re gone, I call for the CSU, and turn up the heat in the car. Another cruiser with flashers on comes roaring over the crest of the hill. Arnot slows, then pulls alongside, our cars almost touching.

—Angelo called my cell. He wanted me to come around and make sure you were okay. You’re okay, right? He said you guys stumbled on to a pretty nasty hit and run. It was a hit and run, right? You gonna say anything, Face?

I stare at him for a few seconds, then roll up the window. Arnot yells at the glass while I shield my face with my hand.

—Clement has a family, you know!

Arnot turns his car around and speeds off. In all this time there hasn’t been a single civilian car in or out of the park, as if the universe is shutting out any distractions or contaminants at the scene. The crow is screeching again. I don’t know what he’s saying, but I’m pretty sure that later in the day he’ll share it with one or two thousand of his friends as they start their daily migration west over Burnaby. Perhaps it will be a simple story about a man putting a yellow marker next to a bottle in the bush.

 

This story was published in Grain Magazine, Volume 39, Issue 4.

 

 

 

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