Urban Life

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Carve the Heart

Carve the Heart

The Jack Palace Series
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : crime, noir, urban life
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Real crime isn’t like it is in the movies. It’s not that glamorous. No one’s zipping around the Italian countryside in a little sports car loaded with gold. Real crime is stupid, ugly, and violent.

The man in the alley had a woman pinned against a jet-black Cadillac Escalade. There was another man in the driver’s seat. Both of the men had slicked-back dark hair that was shaved on the sides. The man pinning the woman was wearing a dark-blue track suit with white piping along the legs. He had a shitty goatee sprouting from his chin like moss. The woman was taller than the man. She was wearing a black leather skirt and a white jacket. Her brown hair was pulled back in a sleek, long ponytail. Her eyes were red like she’d been crying. The man was muttering something and she was shaking her head “no.” I saw the man’s face curdle. He raised his hand to slap her.

“Let her go.”

Startled, the man turned toward me. Then he turned back to the woman. “Denise, I’m sorry. Baby, come on. I’m sorry.”

Denise shook off the man and stepped away from the car. Her heels click-clacked on the concrete. She muttered, “Call the police,” as she walked away.

I kept my eyes on the man. I could see his buddy peering at me in the driver’s side mirror. The man with the mossy goatee tilted his chin at me. “You gonna call the cops?”

I nodded. “That’s what she asked me to do, so I’ll do it. But not just yet.”

The man smirked. I hit him so hard his head snapped back and cracked against the car window.

The guy in the driver’s seat fumbled with the door. I let him open it, then slammed it on him, hard. He yowled. I threw the door open and yanked the guy out. He blinked when he saw his buddy stretched out on the concrete. I hit him in the stomach and he doubled over, gasping.

“You watch for the cops while your buddy beats up women, is that it?”

The driver groaned, still doubled up. I could see a bald patch under his gel-slick hair. These guys were both wearing enough aftershave to start a small fire.

“Give me your wallet.”

“Come on, man.”

“Wallet.”

Coughing, the driver slapped his wallet into my hand. There was probably about three hundred bucks in crisp green twenties inside. I ignored the money and pulled out his driver’s licence. I made sure he saw me staring at his name, then I stuffed the licence back in the wallet and dropped it at his feet. “Well, Dimitri, now I know where you live. If you and Captain Asshole here” — I gave the man on the ground a nudge with the steel toe of my boot, making him grunt — “if you guys ever bother anyone else, I’ll come looking for you.” I reached into my jacket and pulled out a knife. I held it to Dimitri’s throat, the blade glittering in the light. “Understand?”

“Y-yes.”

I pointed to the man on the ground. “Go on, get your garbage and get the fuck out of here.”

I tucked the knife back into its sheath beneath my jacket and strode down the alley. I stood watching as the driver stuffed the short man with the mossy goatee into the back seat of the Escalade. Then the driver pulled himself back into the driver’s seat and the vehicle peeled out of the alley. All aboard the Douche Express, last stop: who the fuck cares?

A rusty door opened into the alley. My buddy Eddie Yao stood there in his charcoal-grey pinstripe suit, a chrome .45 in his hand. “All good?”

I shook my head. “Assholes like that don’t learn. Do me a favour, will ya? Give the cops a call.” Eddie blinked. “What?”

“She asked me to call.” I shrugged. “You still have a guy at the precinct, right?” Eddie nodded. “I’ll take care of it.” His eyes scanned the alley and then he beckoned me closer. “Come on down.”

“Another time. I got Melody upstairs.” Melody and I had been drinking and getting frisky when the Escalade bros started roughing up the woman. You never treat a woman like that, especially not in the alley behind my office.

Eddie tucked his .45 back into the shoulder holster beneath his suit jacket. He didn’t smile, but his eyes twinkled. “Trust me, Jack. You’re going to want to see this.”

I stepped through the doorway, and the heavy steel door slammed closed.

I followed Eddie down a set of dingy stairs. It looked like the beginning of every horror movie ever. All it needed was a few bloody handprints on the wall. At the bottom was another door. Standing in front of the door was Eddie’s guy Josh, wearing a black suit that seemed to blend into the shadows. Josh nodded his head and opened the door.

Once we passed through, the whole horror-show vibe disappeared. This was Eddie’s basement casino, and it was classy, man, classy. Deep-maroon walls and polished oak chairs. Croupiers and dealers in maroon vests and black bowties. The gamblers were a different story. Eddie’s place attracted them all: the whales, the sharks, the donkeys, and the grinders. Everyone was trying to turn cards into money. An acne-scarred man with mirrored sunglasses and a straw cowboy hat tapped the felt at one of the blackjack tables, calling for one more card. As Eddie and I walked past the tables, no one looked up.

Eddie opened the door to his office and grinned. “After you.”

“I hate it when you’re all mysterious and shit.”

Eddie’s eyes twinkled again. He gestured toward the open door.

I stepped inside and froze. There was a beautiful woman sitting behind Eddie’s desk. She had pale skin, almond eyes, and jet-black hair. She was wearing a black turtleneck and a light-grey blazer. Her silver earrings caught the light as she turned toward the door. We made eye contact. She didn’t smile.

“Jack.”

“Cassandra.”

I hadn’t seen her in years — ten, to be exact. We dated, I loved her, she left me. It wasn’t quite that simple, but that was the gist of it.

Eddie gave the red leather chair in front of his desk a tug and a pat. “Have a seat, Jack. Can I get you guys anything? Cassie, another Scotch?”

She nodded. I sat down in the chair. The cushion deflated under my weight. “I’ll have a Scotch, too.” I stared at Eddie, trying to beam thoughts into his brain. Goddamn, Eddie. Warn a fella, would ya? Eddie just smiled and walked out the door.

Cassandra stared at me from across Eddie’s desk. I stared back. The clock on the wall tick-tocked. Finally, she sighed. “I’ll get right to it. Jack, I need your help.”

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Reproduction
Excerpt

PART 1
XX + XY
 
LATE SEVENTIES
 

XX

1.
Both of their mothers were dying in the background.
 
 
XY

1.
Both of their mothers were still alive in the background.
 

XX

2.

Before she died her mother was prickly. Before her mother died she was. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, was prickly. One more time. Before her mother died she, her mother, prickled her, Felicia.

In the days before she died, her mother flew into unpredictable rages over the littlest things. Felicia said sardines instead of tuna when passing the tin and her mother blasted her.

Why you working yourself up so? Felicia asked.

Because a tuna is a big fish and a sardines is a small fish. A sardines—you hear the nonsense you have me saying?

Her hands vibrated so badly she couldn’t open the tin, the can, the tin.

At the next meal, Felicia didn’t pour tomato sauce quickly enough into a pot, a sauce pan, thereby essentially, judging from her mother’s reaction, assassinating the Archduke.

All the nutrients done gone already, her mother said. We might as well eat hair. You happy with yourself?

Later that evening, up in the room they rented from a Christian lady, a retired British-trained nurse, who stored her medical equipment in two trunks under the window, Felicia took her mother’s blood pressure. It was 190 over 110.

See. You provoking me. You provoking me, man.

Two days later it was 205 over 115. Her mother said it was because she had climbed the stairs. Or it was because because because the machine was broken. But when Felicia measured her own pressure, it was 110 over 60, which, instead of confirming the sphygmomanometer’s reliability, caused her mother to worry and divert the conversation to Felicia’s iron levels. She demanded menstruation details, when, how long, how heavy, what colour. Where could she get good beef — West Indian beef, not from these anemic snow-eating cows. The cast iron pot—the soap Felicia used had wrecked it. Nutrients, her mother said that a lot before she turned into a seahorse and drifted off.

And then over the weekend, her pressure went down to 146 over 90. They both laughed.

I telling you I know what I doing. Don’t feel I don’t know.

Her mother had taken to eating two cloves of garlic at each meal.

Sunday night, after the women wrapped their hair for bed, they leaned against the headboard in their rented room in the Christian woman’s house and excoriated the choir director for favouring the tenors. When her mother fell asleep, Felicia read a little Great Expectations for school. Three pages and she was out.

Her mother woke up and took the bus from Brampton to work in Toronto before she died. Obviously. When else would she take it?

+

Point taken. Yes, and then the office buzzed Felicia during period 4, Home Economics, and told her to bring her things with her, there had been an emergency.

But her mother was not in Emergency at St. Xavier hospital. In fact, Emergency was taped closed. Felicia imagined the worst, that her mother wasn’t simply dead but that a grenade had gone off in her chest and destroyed a section of the hospital. A police officer directed Felicia and a couple with a baby to an alternate entrance.

Felicia found her mother in Palliative, sharing a room with an elderly woman. It was strange to see her mother sleeping in public. She was normally a vigilant woman with chameleon eyes that seemed to move independently from one point of suspicion to another. Now, although they were both closed, she seemed uneasy, perhaps with the fact that her bra had been removed by strangers and her breasts splayed unflatteringly sideways.

Between the two beds, a man stood holding his wrists like the Escher print of hands drawing themselves. It would become his characteristic position. From forehead to jaw, his head was the same width as his neck. From shoulders to feet, he seemed constrained in a tight magic box, ready to be sawed in two. Put together, he comprised two rectangles stacked on each other—a tall, abstract snowman. His pants were wet from the knee down. Despite that, Felicia presumed he was the doctor because he was a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing a pinstriped shirt, but it turned out he was only a man, a white man, a middle-aged white man, wearing stripes and grip­ping his wrists.

Unconscious, Edgar said.

Unconscious or sleeping? Felicia asked.

Unconscious, he repeated. He presented the woman in the other bed as proof of his medical expertise. My mother. She’s sleeping.

His mother’s mouth was open. There was brown industrial paper towel on her chest to catch the leaking saliva. She gave the impression of needing to be laced up—as if by pulling the strings of a corset one could restore her mouth, her skin, her posture, to their former attentiveness.

She’s not going to make it, Edgar said. He flicked the bag of intravenous solution with his middle finger, then looked for some change to register in his mother. Seconds later, she began coughing. Her cheeks filled with thick liquid as Edgar searched for a cup, her spittoon. Felicia happened to swallow at the same time as his mother and while looking at the lump go down the woman’s throat, she felt the phlegm go down her own. She pulled the collar of her coat tight around her neck.

Felicia turned back to her mother. Her mother was so careful about applying makeup and now there was no trace of it on her. Where were her earrings? Her nail polish looked more crimson than red. Felicia knocked on her knuckles.

You hearing me? Felicia leaned in. You hearing me?

She thought she saw her mother frown. She frowned. Or perhaps it was a deception of light, the passing accident of light reflected from someone’s watch face.

Felicia heard the jaunty jingle of keys behind her.

So what brings your mother here on this fine autumn afternoon?

Without moving the rest of her body, Felicia twisted her cervical vertebrae to see if he was serious.

Mutter, here, couldn’t breathe, he offered. It’s her pneumonia. He put an odd stress on the her as if he were settling a dispute between feuding children: it’s her doll, let her have it. They think the cancer might have spread to her other lung. We’re waiting. It’s not easy. The waiting. Not easy at all. Come on, get in there.

Felicia turned around fully. She hadn’t seen snow since arriving in Canada.

Edgar was slouching in one of the chairs in the middle of the room, organizing his keychain. His hair was the colour of the dried oak leaves around her school.

What do you know? she said.

I’m just telling you how it goes. I’ve been through this once, twice, be—

No, I mean what do you know about my situation?

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