Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Thirteen

“In the beginning, there was dust,” Duncan intoned, reading the first line of A Trifling Monograph on the Subject of Library Dust, an attractive little book that had been collecting that very subject on his shelves. He brought it over to his desk and hesitated before the two stacks of books on either side of his computer, the two Martello towers that represented his quandary over what to read and what to sell. He placed it on the left tower, on top of a dusty copy of The Lone Rider of Santa Fe, the tower of books to be read. He picked up his cup of tea and walked over to the window.

A foggy Monday morning. It was still foggy. Perhaps Uncle Edward was looking out his windows at a nether sky beneath him, clouds of fog truncating skyscrapers, fingers of fog writing indecipherable messages on brick and glass, blankets of fog hiding wet dark streets leaving the bare grasping upper branches of the tallest trees to form a landscape like a haunted grave yard. In his 53 years he couldn't remember so many foggy days.Was it climate change he wondered. He had hardly been able to see his finger tips at arms length when he had crossed St. Antoine street twenty minutes ago, and, being startled by a bicycle bell—that classic old-fashioned bell he remembered having on his tricycle as a child—he had, for a fraction of a moment, hesitated, not knowing whether to move back or forward. 'He who hesitates is lost', he heard his father say, one adage of many his late father had often dryly pronounced. If it hadn't been for the bicycle bell he might have been dust himself. What had the bicyclist been thinking? His elbow had clipped Duncan and spun him round, and he had heard a muffled curse as he caught sight of the phantom bicycle, enveloped in its own wake turbulence, disappear into the brumous atmosphere. Rubbing his arm, he had continued on his way only to discover, after a few minutes, that he had been walking in the wrong direction. It would be odd, he had thought, if the fog lifted to disclose a completely different reality, an alternative world. One of the future or one of the past, Blade Runner or Bleak House.

It had been fortunate he decided against bringing Hugh to work that day. On Mondays, Duncan liked to arrive early with Hugh at Strand Cordage Ltd. in order to grasp the week by the lapels like Sam Spade dealing with an unruly crook. The time between 7 and 9 were the hours he felt he had a modicum of control over the business week. It was like the calm moments before getting on a roller coaster, the ups, downs and curves inevitably awaiting. He felt there were to be many curves on the horizon.

He sipped his tea and looked out at the vapourous miasma on the other side of his windows, and pondered over what he was going to do with the two businesses he was juggling. Having inherited Strand Cordage after his Father died in 1991, he had decided to move most of the 10,000 books of his Lafcadio & Co. bookshop into the large unused store room on the second floor of the family business, the store room where, as a child, he and his brothers would play among the coils, flats, bales and heady scents of rough and soft fibres imported from such exotic places as the Philippines, Russia, New Zealand, Mauritius, Ireland, Yucatan, Bengal, Belgium and Holland, with strange names like Manila Hemp, Sisal Hemp, Palma Istle, Flax and Jute. They would play pirates and pretend they were aboard ship. There was a climbing rope attached to the ceiling and they would swing on that like dashing swashbucklers, swinging their swords, wooden yard sticks with the business name printed on them. The pine floors creaking, the yard sticks slapping, he could almost hear the sounds. There had been two hammocks his father had fastened near the front windows, and Duncan would often lie there, one leg dangling over the cotton edge, reading an array of adventure books from his Grandfather's collection at the back of the office below, Henty, Marrayat, Ballantyne, Stevenson, Conan Doyle, intermixed with his own gunslinger comic books and the complete Hardy Boys series. He had been a keen reader of western comic books, and yet they were long gone: The Cowboy Kid, Kid Colt, The Apache Kid, Two-Gun Kid, and Rawhide Kid. The brothers had shared them till they must have fallen apart. He had not been one for collecting, only reading mattered at the time. He felt that those old comic books had vanished much like the demand for what he had to offer.

Duncan stared at the lustrous fog and thought once more of the papers he had found in his Father's files, an expansion project planned for the early 1970s. A plan to become a manufacturer of rope products, mountaineering and search and rescue ropes, circus and athletic ropes, and specialized marine and aviation ropes. Losing his wife in 1970 had taken the wind out of his Father's sails. The projected expansion had been filed away and never mentioned. Adrift, the business had managed to stay afloat, but only just. The competition overtook Strand Cordage with the slightest of momentum.

He turned his back on the recalcitrant morning. Sometimes he thought he had ruined Amelia's life. If it hadn't been for a dumb waiter in need of repair, they would never have met, and she might have married an engineer or a lawyer, someone who could have easily financed her desires, fulfilled her wishes.

If he could only sell the family business and some of his book stock, he could possibly raise enough to enable Amelia to take that post-graduate course in England she had talked about so often. They could sell up and move. Live in England for a year or so. He closed his eyes thinking he should have sold them both back in 1991. The Internet had been an exciting new prospect for bookselling, and those first ten years were good, but the ebook revolution had dawned with bright force. Becalmed in an era of digital tailwinds, his book business had faltered. More Blade Runner than Bleak House.


He sat at his desk and pushed the computer back. Out of a large deep drawer, he pulled out an old ledger from 1881, the red leather spine drawing lines and shedding small musty fragments on his pale green blotter. It was a somewhat unusual ledger for it had finely marbled endpapers.  He had been going through the company's files, interested in the day to day operations. His forebears had been a source for many retailers of the day, the grocers, the dry goods stores, mattress manufacturers, shoe companies, ship builders, fish mongers, spice factors, coffee roasters, stationers, plumbers, printers, newspapers, laundries, florists, flour mills, butchers, glove makers, furniture manufacturers, fruit merchants, awning, tent and carpet manufacturers, and many, many others. Rope, twine, and string were products of necessity.

The last retailer whom Duncan could remember wrapping a package with string was Stuart Grange. An old world ritual. Stuart would first wrap the books in brown Kraft paper and then tie them up, neat packages that felt special when you walked out onto the street with them under your arm. It was as if you had been browsing in a bookshop in the 1880s and emerged to find a bright loud world a century older where plastic bags were ubiquitous. Grange Stuart Books had been a veritable time machine. He missed Stuart and his old shop. When he and Amelia would eat at the Commensale restaurant, he would often look out the window and re-imagine the buildings that had been demolished, buildings that housed an F. W. Woolworth store and Stuart Grange's bookshop among many others. Or had it been a Kresge's store? The buildings had been taken down long ago in order to expand the street and construct a new shopping complex and business tower. Duncan remembered the day he came across Stuart Grange sitting on a street bench facing the new complex and they had sat there reminiscing about the old shop, the old buildings, Stuart pointing with his cane towards the spot where his shop used to be on the upper floors, pointing to open air. They had both agreed that though physically the buildings had vanished like a morning fog, there was still a remnant manifestation that drew them to the spot like a vortex exerting its pull. A black hole of the past. They had sat there seeing themselves moving about in the past, walking on air, phantom walls and books surrounding them. Stuart wrapping a package of books with twine while modern day Montrealers walked beneath his imagined self oblivious to their past.

Duncan also missed his one-eyed cat. An abstraction of ashes in an urn remained. A picture of his cat, he realized now, would have been a better memento mori. The weighty urn had become exceedingly non-representative. It was placed on the shelf to his right where books on the Far East were shelved. Lafcadio was presently propping up The Story of the Geisha Girl by T. Fujimoto, and Japan by Walter Dickson both rather frayed and faded with age, behind which lay many works of fiction, Kawabata, Tanizaki, Mishima, Dazai, and more modern practitioners like Murakami. Lafcadio used to enjoy snoozing on the shelves.

Duncan came to the end of the ledger for 1881 and yet there was a facing page with an ink stain in the shape of Sri Lanka, the Serendip of old, like a dark tear drop of an ink God. The paper seemed to be older and of a completely different type. He lifted the volume and looked through the page and could see an edge of an old watermark. Turning the page over he came to a blank page, and he continued to turn a few more pages until he found a half page of printed text, upside down. He fanned the pages and realized the last section of the ledger was made up of old paper signatures bound-in upside down. Turning the book over he opened it from the wrong end and came to a half-title page with a finely written inscription in purple ink.

© ralph patrick mackay

Friday, November 16, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Twelve

To J. van Starke
c/o Pascal Tessier
Galerie d'Art Crépescule
Montréal, Québec

Bergen, Norway.
October 21.

Dear Jerome,

I know you have been used to my absences in the past, weeks, and sometimes months, so my departure and my note, I felt, would not be unusual. I had hoped you had read between the lines. Why did I leave so suddenly? Forgive me. My apologies for any emotional trauma. I waited three months to contact you hoping this would help counter the momentum, and provide us both with a safe distance from the obscure events that were aroused by my investigative work. All I will say at this moment, is that I had been researching a story and was beginning to receive flak. A few shots across the bow as my Father used to say. Samples of threats that were spreading outwards, to friends, associates and family; efforts at cutting away my connections to those who support me in any way.  I have stored most of my few belongings at my Mother's house in Varennes. I have addressed this letter to your friend at the gallery to cover its tracks. I know this sounds bizarre, it is Canada not Russia, but I quickly felt endangered and did not want it to spread to those I love. My lawyer in Montreal is looking into the grim details while I am away.

But enough of this, for now. 

I spent two months in Edinburgh staying with my friend Judith. A wonderful place to live, but the cost of living there is very high. I wrote a few occasional pieces for arts magazines using my father's surname, Sinclair, Tess Sinclair. It is still my official surname. I am fortunate in having the two names to use as I wish. What is that classical reference I am looking for, Janus faced? I can't remember if it would be appropriate but there it is. While in Edinburgh, I met a woman from Bergen, Martine, and she invited me to visit. So, here I am, living in uncertainty. In limbo. She is a lawyer and has a very nice house with a number of rooms which I rent for very little. I even feel she may be keeping the money to reimburse me somehow. I take care of the shopping and help keep the place tidy, do some cooking. Just like my old roommate years. My savings have been seeing me through.

I was up early this morning and out for a walk, the showers of yesterday gave way to a light blue sky with an azure promise. The dark puddles on the pavements reflected images of the few passing clouds, clouds that reminded me of the ones in some of your paintings.

The northern light here is, at times, seemingly filled with vestigial reflections. A special light. I sometimes see ourselves in the shadows of this city, as if we have been here long ago, penumbral presences on the narrow cobblestone streets, turning corners, looking back, laughing.

I have been taking pictures. Autumn surrounds the city like a mosaic cloth, a rich complement to the colourfully painted wooden houses. The mountain as a backdrop reminds me of Montreal. There is graffiti here as well. Montreal graffiti is so commonplace now, and I know you have your opinions on graffiti, but what we have gotten used to in Montreal as expressions of a youthful Zeitgeist, is here more shocking. The buildings with their wood-clad siding of soft blues, yellows, greens and reds are, to my fresh eyes, exquisite, a pastel landscape with red-tiled roofs, like a picturesque fishing village that retains a miniature toy-like feel. I still find the graffiti on these buildings disturbing, but I know that some of the younger locals must have a different perception of their own city.

It is beautiful though. I can see us living here.

This morning I walked down by the wharf, the Bryggen, where the old Hanseatic fishing buildings face the water and the tall masted Statsraad Lehmkuhl, with its webs of attractive rigging lies at anchor. The hordes of tourists have diminished and to wander about in the early morning, the shop keepers busy with their preparations for the day, the pedestrians and cyclists on their way to work, makes me feel like a local, breathing local air. This harbour city exudes its watery essence much more than Montreal which seems to have turned its back on the water as it developed,  its barricade of high rise buildings blocking out the view. Bergen is so much smaller that it still retains its direct connection to the port.

The old Hanseatic buildings, their multicolour exteriors and their peak roofs reminded me of a visit to Port-Menier with my parents when I was small. My Father had business in Havre St-Pierre, and he decided to combine the trip with a short family vacation. I remember a picture in Havre St-Pierre as we waited for the Ferry to take us across to Ile Anticosti, my Mother standing beside me, her hand behind my back as I sat on an enormous dock horn or cleat they tie ships to, my little foot resting on the thick coiled rope. Such innocence and momentary pleasures we have in youth. These very old buildings on the Bryggen stirred up a memory of a street in Port-Menier, one facing the water with a row of colourful homes, old fisherman's houses, running obliquely off to the south west, a natural perspective of diminishing colour. Aren't we all just a storehouse of memories waiting to be aroused? That visit included feeding the white-tail deer that roamed the streets of the small port town. I wonder if they still wander freely. Probably. It is safer in the town nibbling people's lawns, than in the scrub forest eating blueberries during hunting season. Very human of them.

You probably know the story of Ile Anticosti. I remember reading about Henri Menier when I was in my young teens. I was fascinated. A man from France who made a fortune by making chocolate buys an enormous private island in Quebec, builds a huge Scandinavian-style mansion, introduces white-tail deer, and tries to develop local industry; it had many elements that led to some of my early romance writings while in my teens. Yes, a romantic recluse in his mansion in the woods, white-tail deer roaming about freely, a heroine and, yes, chocolate. Unfortunately, the mansion was purposely burnt down in 1954. What a loss. Would have made a wonderful Inn for tourists. Reminds me of the loss of many of Montreal's old mansions during the 1970s. A twenty floor high rise apartment makes for more tax revenue than a deteriorating mansion... I am sorry, here I am writing you a letter and I have gone off on a journalistic rant about the architectural history of Montreal. My apologies.

Bergen is indeed lovely. So much to tell, but I want to get this in the mail this afternoon. I will write again soon. Write to me at Martine's business address but do not put my name on the envelope and do not put your name and address as a return either. Just draw Mercury's helmet in the return area. Martine will know it is for me.

I hope you are finding inspiration for your paintings. I have been wondering what you have been working on. My lawyer has kept his eye on you from a distance, providing me with assurances that you are alive and well. Since he owns that odd little building you live in, I imagine Maurice is, unknowingly, his source of information.

As I write this, the red ink drying before my eyes, I worry over its passage to you. It feels as fragile as a paper boat. The time between the last touch of my fountain pen on the envelope and the moment your hands touch it, will be a test of fate. May the water between us be accepting.

All my love and seeking your forgiveness,

End of Chapter One

© ralph patrick mackay

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Eleven

Surrounded by the tools of her trade, a colourful assortment of dictionaries, phrase books, manuals and textbooks, Amelia sat at her desk, the aroma of cooked rice making its way towards her room like an overcast sky. She reached over and gently closed the door to her office not wanting to upset Duncan who was humming away, busy in the kitchen preparing his chick pea curry. Adjusting her earplugs, she started her iPod, a personal mellow mix of songstresses to bring her closer to that inner space she found necessary to do her best work, Bat for Lashes, Kate Walsh, Sarah McLaughlin, Sade, K. D. Laing, Loreena McKennitt, Jane Siberry, Kate Rusby and many others intermixed with soft classical pieces and Nordic folk music.

Duncan's strange discovery, the manuscript in code, lay upon her unopened laptop, a virtual paperweight from the past. Why would someone actually print such a text? It must be fairly old she thought. And its hiding place was a concern. Very odd. She fanned the pages and was slowly overcome with the feeling of frustration. The hundreds of specialized books in her office were of no avail. Although Duncan believed she could do anything, it was, for her, untranslatable. She put the manuscript on the table beside her desk and opened her laptop with the idea of searching the Internet to discover who lived in the flat before them. Online telephone directories were her first choice. She typed their address into the reverse address search box, the tinge of anticipation arousing a deep-set memory of Nancy Drew. She rolled her eyes, inwardly, and gazed at the magical looking-glass and its proffered information while the soothing voice of Kate Rusby sang Falling.

T. Laflamme.

Well, it was a beginning. T. Laflamme. She thought the previous tenant had been a woman, but there could well have been a man involved. She heard Hugh scratching at the base of the door, his nose and then his head appeared and he looked up at her expectantly. The rich earthy scent of curry mixed with the rice clouds began to enter her office. "Do you want to go for a walk?" she asked Hugh. He followed Amelia to the front of the flat, his tail wagging, his nails clipping along the oak floorboards. At the front window, Amelia looked down and saw Mrs. Shimoda's son Paul talking to Natasha Roy the single mother of one who lived beneath the Stirlings. She quickly put on her shoes and made her way down the stairs. As she opened her front door and stepped out, Paul noticed her and raised his hand in greeting with a nod of his head before getting into his car. Mrs. Shimoda was in the passenger seat, off to dinner with her son's family. Amelia had waved and then tried to catch Natasha's eye.

“Hi Natasha, how are you?”
“Good, and you?”
“Great. How is Anisha?”
“Oh, she is fine. We were just out shopping. Clothes. Very tiring. Do I smell Duncan's curry?”
“Ah, yes,” she said, realizing that the aromas had followed her down the stairs and out on the stoop. “He is doing his best chickpea curry. Would you like to come up for dinner? There is always enough for four. We have store-bought Naan bread which is really quite good.”
Natasha looked hesitant, weary and hungry, yet having to take into consideration Anisha's moods. “Let me ask Anisha, but I would love to come up.”
“No rush, please take your time. The curry gets better with simmering.”
“Thanks Amelia, very kind of you.”
“No problem, just ring the bell and come in, the door will be open.”

Amelia turned around to see Hugh managing the last stair, an expression of anxiety on his face. She got the leash from the back of the door and they went off for a quick walk. Once she and Hugh returned, she told Duncan they might have guests for dinner. After a moment to adjust to the information, he said that was wonderful.
“Maybe Natasha knew the person who was here before us,” he said.
“Yes, it had been my motive when I saw her from the window, but she smelled your curry and I thought we could ask her about the tenant over dinner. A little serendipitous give and take.”
“Sounds good.”
“I looked up our address online, the reverse search, and the name was T. Laflamme.”
“Oh,” he said, and repeated the name twice thinking it was a fairly common name. “Did you look up the name too?”
“I was going to, but Hugh entered the scene, fortuitously it seems.”
Duncan looked at her as he squished the tomatoes into the onion, chickpea, and curry mix thinking she was a bit fatigued. Her eyes were a bit red. Dehydrated too he thought.
“Maybe you should lie down for fifteen minutes. Have a bit of a rest. I'll come in and wake you if you've fallen asleep.”

Fifteen minutes later, Duncan, sitting on the end of the bed, gently stroked Amelia's leg and foot to wake her.
“I hope I didn't let you sleep too long,” he said offering her a glass of water.
“No, no, it's just what I needed,” she said stretching under the comforter, petting Hugh who lay beside her on the bed. “Odd little dream though. It was as if I was Nancy Drew and Natasha was Bess, and we were trying to open a door in a walled garden.”
“Hmm, was I involved?”
“Sorry, I didn't find a role for you in my ten minute nap dream,” she said, giving him a gentle prod with her foot. “Perhaps I should get out my old Nancy Drew books. I know The Strange Message in the Parchment is on a bottom shelf in the office.”

The door bell rang. They heard the door open and Natasha calling out hello. Duncan said he would entertain their guests while she freshened up.

“Her name was Thérèse, Thérèse Laflamme,” Natasha said, dipping a piece of Naan bread in the curry mixture at the edge of her rice. “She was a journalist.”
“Did she work for a Montreal paper?” Amelia asked.
“Not that I know of. I believe she was a freelance investigative journalist. Quiet, but very pleasant, always said hello.”
“She had a boyfriend who looked like Johnny Depp,” said Anisha.
There was a silence at the table while this statement hovered in the atmosphere mingling with the scents of curry, rice, naan bread and beer.
“Would that be a pre-pirate, or a post-pirate Johnny Depp?” Amelia asked with a wink to Natasha.
“Post-pirate I would say. A painter. A post-pirate painter,” Natasha said to their general laughter, although Anisha, being ten years old, was bewildered and perhaps a bit embarrassed.
“Very nice as well. A bit odd perhaps, withdrawn, but polite. He drove one of those old cars, what do they call them, a Citroen of some kind.”
“Was it one of those sleek long DS models?” Duncan asked, thinking of the car he had coveted when he was a youth after seeing Alain Delon in the film Le Samourai.
“No, it was one those tiny ones, a deux chevaux I think they're called. Anyway, when she moved, it went quickly. I don't think she had many belongings. Mrs. Shimoda told me after that Thérèse was going abroad for a job. It was all very sudden. I believe she had family living in Varennes.”

Duncan had instructed the girls to relax in the front room while he cleaned up. He wasn't sure if it was conditioning that prompted him to clear the table and take care of the dishes, having done so since he was twelve, order and satisfaction the reward. He sensed it was probably conditioning.
After their guests had left with many thanks, Duncan and Amelia sat in the kitchen with cups of tea, Hugh on the floor looking content but tired.

“Anisha loves Hugh, she gets along with him so well. They're so cute together. Poor Natasha. Her job is giving her a lot of stress. I think she needed a shoulder to cry on tonight.”
“Doesn't she work for that cultural institute?”
“Yes, and her boss keeps overlooking her for promotion. Natasha is so capable and smart but her boss keeps hiring people from outside who will essentially be pawns around him."
“I imagine such behaviour wouldn't last long in the real world of profits and margins.”
“Who knows, office politics seems to be rampant. It is a wonder anything gets done in the world.”
“I'm glad you could offer her your shoulder and ear. Must be hard with only Anisha to confide in. She must have to keep her frustrations bottled up."
They sipped their tea.
" Well, to change the subject,” Duncan said, “we learned quite a bit tonight. A few more pieces of the puzzle.”
“Yes, we can now look Thérèse Laflamme up to see if she has an online presence. Maybe find a contact.”
“And that deux chevaux, not many of them around. Not a car for the winter either. Might be easy to find owners of such a car.”

They sat at the kitchen table sipping their tea feeling much like Sherlock and Watson, yet not quite sure who was the detective and who was the doctor.

© ralph patrick mackay

Friday, November 02, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Ten

ex Packard was not his real name, but the dust on his $600 Cordovan Strand cap-toe lace-up Oxfords was all too real. How the hell was he going to get the dust out of the decorative perforations? He could see his shoe mender now, his skin darkened with age like the materials he'd been working with for over forty years, looking down at Rex's shoes with dismay and bewilderment. He didn't know a helicopter ride was on the agenda he could say as the enveloping smell of leathers, glues and polishes invisibly attached themselves to his clothes as he stood there explaining his dilemma to Georgios. Probably the best thing was to merely hand them over to the master with a weary shake of his own head and ask him to do his best.

He turned his back to the helicopter, and drawing out his gold coloured monogrammed cigarette lighter, which also contained his Powerpoint presentation on the built-in USB, he cupped his hand and tried to light his smoke. Being far enough away from the slowly moving blades, he succeeded and drew deeply wondering why he agreed to come along on this joy-ride. One of the Russians was relieving himself—marking his territory—against the metal fence that surrounded the ruin of the Michigan Central Station. The sound of the traffic on the Fisher Freeway leading to the Ambassador Bridge in the distance provided Rex with a fleeting image of where he and his SUV should have been by now, enjoying the pleasure of driving to the sounds of his favourite dance mix, relaxing with a cigarette, large hot coffee in the holder, it would have been just right, but now he would be late getting back to Toronto, late for the party at the night club his girlfriend had planned, late for his other life.

He turned around to make sure their transportation was safe. Why did all helicopter pilots look the same he wondered. Aviator sunglasses, headphones, white dress shirt, often short-sleeved, clean-shaven. Like clones. This one looked around slightly worried, anxious. Probably sharing Rex's state of mind. What if the police showed up? Would they be arrested? The Russians must have offered him a hefty sum to make the landing on the remnant lawn on the north side of Roosevelt Park. A tour from the air of Detroit's decay was one thing, but this was pushing Irish luck.

The Russians were calling him over now, gesturing with their cameras and cell phones. Rex took the devices and directed the dark-suited men to skitch in closer to each other and then he began to take their  photographs, egging them on to break out of their poker faces, “Za vas!” he yelled to them. No reaction. He thought of bringing up Luzhkov and his bees, but thought better of it. They might be friends with the mayor, the apiarist of Moscow. He thought perhaps of making a joke that they were in front of the mausoleum to the American Dream but his patience had already met up with his nerves at the acme of his fear. He took their photographs, like hunters in front of a kill, digital mementos of their visit to an icon of a metropolis struggling to get back on its feet.

Once more on board the helicopter, Rex tried to check his messages on his Blackberry while the others drank toasts out of hip flasks filled with Vodka. The pilot's voice came over his headphones instructing him to shut off his device before they took off and then away they went, carving the air in a smooth arc like a Nike swoosh on their way to the mansion off Lake Shore Road up towards Grosse Pointe yacht club, where the view of Lake St. Clair was like a grey carpet to the horizon on this overcast day.

It was going to be a long drive home. Perhaps he should stay one more night and leave in the morning. The mansion was at their disposal for the weekend, the Russians having planned a feast this evening before leaving on Monday for a week in the far North. He thought they had said Northern Ontario, but he wasn't quite sure. Moose, bear, polar bear. It had all been arranged months ago. Rex knew nothing about hunting though he was fairly sure polar bears were off the list of fair game. A joke perhaps. He could never tell when they were joking.

He didn't think Tina would be too upset. Business, that's what it's all about baby, he heard himself saying to her. His Sunday seminar in the plush conference room was a success and the Russians wanted to reward him with a fine meal. They said they had learned a great deal. Well, not in those words, but that was their drift. Yes, he would stay the night. A little work-out in the gym, catch-up with his favourite Youtube reality couple vloggers and their cat, and maybe a few pages of that Chuck Palaniuk novel on his Kindle.

The Youtube vloggers were so funky. He had thought of possibly starting his own Youtube reality vlog. I mean really, he thought, all the couple did was go out and do stupid things, or film around the house with their pet cat. They were seemingly making a nice living by, well, just living. But did he and Tina have the right stuff? Personality and character that would attract followers? Were they capable of being so goofy? Would Tina even consider the concept?

Back at the mansion, he helped himself to a cold beer. Pausing to look into the library, its floor to ceiling shelves glinting with gilt leather bound books, he sighed and took a sip. Nothing to read there he thought.  The Russians invited him for a sauna and a swim but he declined, gesturing to his Blackberry as he made his way up to his room.

He stretched himself out on the king size bed, turned the enormous flat screen tv on, and scrolled the channels, his brain falling into a diminished perception zone while the ever revolving circuit of talking heads and bad acting flitted over the screen. Coming  to a rerun of MacGyver, a show he had enjoyed as a kid, he threw the remote aside and began to check his messages. Tina had sent him one earlier in the day with a link to a cruise she wanted to book, it would feature a number of top DJs in the country, lots of dancing, drinking and fun. No family and kids. Rex saw that it could lead to some interesting connections. Networking was so important in his freelance work. The timing looked good, the cost just right. He sent her a message to go ahead with the cruise and that he was sorry for not being able to get back for the party. He would see her Monday afternoon.

Another email reminded him of a meeting in Montreal on Thursday. He wasn't keen on going. His old employers were fickle, ever wanting to keep tabs on his freelance activities. The Russians he thought, they probably wanted to know about the Russians.

© ralph patrick mackay