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Goth Girls of Banff


Wanna add some edge to your mountain experience? To sharpen the dull blade of things, and let darkness descend, like beautiful sleep but with your eyes wide open? Call the Goth Girls of Banff. Available for photo shoots, social events, hikes, campfires, singly or in groups. Fully outfitted in deepest and darkest Gothwear, we can be more or less Vampiric, more or less Victorian, more or less Silent Film Man-Eaters and Vamps, and more or less Necromantic and Living Dead, according to special requests. If you're tired of silly Tilley hats and Gore-Tex, cotton and khaki and crave a touch of leather and lace, we're the gory Goth girls dressed up just for you. We're all about Goth aesthetics, no funny business, no sticky situations, no touchy-feely or long longing gazes, and absolutely no fiddly long-term relations. Interactions start at $100 per hour. Prices negotiable for entire afternoons. Can talk evenings for a fee. Request times, locations and nature of encounters. Terms and conditions apply and must be set prior to engagements. Goth Girls of Banff. We'll wrap dark wings around your wilderness day.

So this is a reckoning - yea, sort of a dead reckoning of how and why our Goth life ended. At least, how Linda's Goth career came to end. Linda, my alpha and omega, omega in the ascendant now, but not entirely. After all, she was the one got us started as Goths in the first place, and she was always the one, the first and foremost, you'll see. But I didn't think things were so, excuse me, grave. We had some good and bad times and Gothic experiences that were naughty and nice. That's life all over, isn't it? Light and dark, sweet and mean: a dog's soft belly or a dog's bum and breakfast. That's how it goes and that's what I think. But Linda always said, pushing her little sister down, "Jessie, leave the thinking to me. Your brain isn't equipped for figuring things out in these dark matters."

When we were on a job, she didn't want me thinking or speaking at all. She didn't want our clients to talk either, to get up close and personal. "It's about mystique," she'd say, spraying me with the word. "Make no mistake. The image is what drives the business, just as the ghost drives the machine." She'd make a spooky-film noise, stick her face close. I wasn't sure what she meant, but grinned anyway.

The last few months had been strange for sure. The first bad experience in those last days, the one that pushed Linda over the edge and round the big bend, as she said, took the shadowy shape of our 7th client that summer (scary number 7, like the 7th seal unsealed in our little lives), a WW II vet named Elmer Spragge. He was sweet as his goofy name, bristly and old as a BC Douglas fir but cute as a pencil. And he looked like a chewed up pencil, forehead scarred below his eraser-hair, with a red thumbprint on the nape of his neck. I guess he'd done the dye job himself. He had the darkest, bruised-blue eyes I'd ever seen, and they matched his Canadian Legion jacket, lapels clotheslined with medals. The weight of them pulled him forward, as if some deathless demon had taken his beef-jerky arm and was hurrying the old soldier along.

He'd seen our ad in the mountain paper The Bergschrund. Elmer was intrigued, hired us for an afternoon. When we met him, Linda whispered in my bejeweled ear: "He looks like he'll croak in the middle of the job." I wanted to say, "What a way to go," but didn't. We spent the first fifteen minutes outside the Royal Canadian Legion hall on Banff Avenue, examining Elmer's medals (the only medals I'd ever seen were fake ones, gold wrapped chocolate discs in Sugar Mountain). He had ten or so on his scooped-out chest, hanging from a rainbow ribbon. The one he was really proud of was pinned high, separate - a white metal badge, maple-leaf shaped, inset with tiny rhinestones and a number 2 in the middle. He'd served in the Queen's Own Rifles. I tried to get interested, but when I got close, almost nibbling his lapel, he smelled bad, with a ripe, cemetery stink. Where did he live, in a grave, tomb or crypt, place unsealed so he could seek us out, hoping we were from the same smoking hole? I admit I kind of liked the idea.

We always drew a crowd. We made quite a scene, an irresistible tableau, like a daguerreotype portrait. Or maybe more like a 3-D image from one of those old stereograph viewers: an ancient soldier, frail but spry, and me and Linda flanking him in all our Goth glory - me in a lace corset with a thin minstrel top over it, flared sleeves and black fingerless gloves, she in a medieval gown with a laced-up V-neck front, high slits up the sides, and crosshatched with lace. Linda also wore a crown of thorns made from leather. Both of us with dungeon eyes and bee-sting lips. Regular folk halted on the sidewalk right in the pedestrian traffic flow and gawked, charmed or appalled or both - we were avenging angels come to fly the geezer either up above the bright mountains, or down into one of Satan's sulphur pits.

As he led us inside the Legion hall, Colonel Moore Branch #26, Linda leaned into me, bit my tender ear with, "Don't get the old coot talking. Got a bad feeling about this one. He'll blab about how many men he killed in the war. Just some pics and we're gone. You sit close to him." Hadn't occurred to me that Elmer might have killed men. Now I wanted to hear, and pictured Elmer cracking an eggshell corset, post-battle, looking for comfort and love. Sex and death, what else is there, anyway?

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My Time Undercover on the Granville Strip
also available: eBook
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Vancouver, January 1983
I pull the heavy door open and see them for the first time, sitting with their backs against the wall, exactly where I was told they would be. They throw a short glance at me as I walk past them to a table near the bar. I order two drafts. I am nervous as hell, but I have worked for weeks to prepare for this, poking needles into the veins of my arms, and building a story to go with it. And it finally has meaning.

It will take time before I get anywhere close to them, so I take a sip of the cold beer, and try to decide who is dirty. Rick Crowley is sitting alone and, like the other hypes, no longer pays attention to me. I can't really tell if he or the others are dealing, but it really doesn't matter because I'm not going to score heroin tonight. I'm here for the long run, and I only want to be seen, get a feel for the place, and give them an idea of who I am before I become a threat to them. It also feels good just to see their faces.

In his late twenties, Crowley is the youngest. His ice-blue eyes are wide open and dart toward any movement, like the eyes of a cat. I know that he is violent and sneaky. I also know that Captain Kangaroo, sitting alone at the next table, has over forty years of criminal record under his belt; that Kate Baker, chatting with a group of as yet nameless hypes, is streetwise and has been around for a while; and that Cindy, her small frame hopping from table to table, is violent. There are a few stories of knifings for fifty bucks and of undercover officers being beaten up. Everybody's record says they know the game, robbery, drug trafficking, theft, fraud, and violence all centred on heroin trafficking. To a cop, it's a world to dive into where the line between good and bad is as clear as the surface of a dead pool of water. No ambiguity. They hate you for what you represent and you hate them for what they are. The Granville Strip is full of people who would rob and kill for fifty bucks, and finding myself in this greasy hole, inside the big pulsating city makes me feel good and scared.

I watch everything they do, how they sit, and how they talk to each other. It isn't enough to understand them. I want to be like them because this is going to be my home for the next couple of months. It has been two years since my last operation, two years of shirt and tie work in an office full of cops, and I know that it will take me a while to feel like I belong.

The heroin users stare nonchalantly at the scene in front of them. They don't pay attention to each other except for a few words here and there. Each has a glass of beer on the table. The beer has lost its foam, but it allows them to stick around for a while.

For my first day in the Blackstone we picked Welfare Wednesday, the day people get their welfare cheques, and the place is filling quickly. Bartenders in white shirts work behind large jars of pickled sausages and eggs, to pour draft beer from frosty taps into trays of empty glasses. The music is getting loud and the crowd louder, as waiters begin to hustle briskly from tables to bar and then back to tables. Ninety-five cents a draft and, when a buck is given, they keep the nickel.

An ashtray sits on Crowley's table and he taps his cigarette against it. I walk by his table to go to the payphone and he looks at me square. I'm the intruder and this is his place, but I know who he is, and he doesn't know me. That counts for something.

Picking up the receiver, I take a deep breath and begin to relax. I look around me and let it all soak in.

People come in through the front doors and from the alley through the back door, some of them after smoking a joint. All over the bar, small round tables are covered in red terry cloth to soak up the spilled beer, the same terry cloth I have seen in every bar of every small town I have been in, working undercover from Kamloops to Fort St-John. Months of work going from small town to small town, from lumber towns nested in thick forests amid the dark Pacific mountains, to the dusty towns of the cold plains of the northern interior, with their pump jacks looking like strange, dark birds stubbornly stabbing the ground. There is toughness about the people in these bars. Not the kind of superficial and rehearsed toughness you see in fistfights, but a higher level of self-sufficiency. You have a feeling that they do not rely on their town to keep them going, but that they are what keeps the town alive. Vancouver is different. Like most big cities, people come to it because they want a piece of it.

At the far end, near the small dancing area, you must climb a few steps to get to the pool tables. A few people sit, sipping their beer while waiting for their turn to play. As in most bars, the patrons surrounding the pool tables keep their attention on the game as they await their turn, their quarters lining up on one of the edges of the tables. Playing pool is always a good way to get into a bar crowd. I like the game and, being a little shy, I often use it to get into the local scene. Nothing like sinking the eight ball, taking a sip of beer, and then waiting for the next in line to come and play. And when you lose, you sit and talk, and it goes on from there. I am tempted to go over and lay a quarter on the table, but it would take me too far away from the heroin dealers so I decide to go at it cold somewhere else.

In the middle of the floor thick cigarette smoke rises above a number of tables pulled together to accommodate a large group. Partiers who appear to know each other well, couples coming down to the Blackstone to blow off some steam, hear the music, and have some beers. They don't interact with anyone else so I'll probably not see them again. I figure it best to stay away from the centre of the room. I need regulars, people who will remember me, and with whom I can connect tomorrow or the next day. Regulars usually have a favourite table in a corner of the bar. They don't hang out somewhere in the middle. I look at the older couple sitting at a table next to mine. I didn't think much about them when I came in and they don't seem to have anything to do with the heroin dealers, but they are having a good time, and they seem to know a few of the regulars.

Looks to me like a good place to start.

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The Weight of Blood


He crept along the dark path and came to a small clearing. In the dim light, he saw what looked like blood splattered over the ground. His chest tightened. Farther ahead, he could just make out a figure lying still, face down. He approached the body cautiously, a feeling of dread intensifying with every step. He knew he should run, but instead he inched toward the body sprawled before him.

Who was it? He couldn't tell in this light, but a voice screeching inside his head told him it was someone he knew, someone he loved. He prayed that it wasn't Ann Marie. Or Stephanie. Chris slowly reached down to turn the body over. "No!"

"She's gone." Ray Owens stepped into view. He raised his Remington M24 and pointed it at Chris. "And you're next."

"No!" Chris jolted up in bed and scrambled for the night lamp.

Beside him in bed, his girlfriend rubbed her eyes and looked at him with concern. "What's wrong, Chris?"

He didn't answer. It took him a moment to get his bearings: he was in Stephanie's Vancouver condo. His breathing was laboured, and he felt sweat trickling down his naked chest. He looked at the clock: two fifty-three in the morning. He lay back down, despairing over the fact that it was now Monday, the workday only hours away.

"It's okay. It was just a dream." Stephanie wrapped her arms around him and huddled closer. "Was it the same one?"

"Yeah," Chris whispered, upset with himself. Shivers radiated from his still-trembling body. He exhaled deeply, relieved that the danger wasn't real.

"You screamed. Want to talk about it?"

"I don't want to worry you with my problems. Sorry I woke you."

"That's all right." She touched his shoulder. "Ray can't hurt you anymore."

Chris flinched as a painful memory suddenly surfaced. He turned his head away to catch his breath.

"Another flashback?"

"Yeah," he said, waiting for his heart rate to return to normal.

"The worst is behind you now. But if you won't talk to me, promise you'll talk to Nathaniel."

"I will," he said through a heavy sigh.

"Ray tried to kill you. Nobody gets over that kind of trauma overnight."

"But that was three months ago. I'm getting tired of reliving that night. Every. Bloody. Night. And I'm tired of the nightmares. I'm tired of looking over my shoulder, expecting to see Ray coming to finish me off."

"Ray is in jail now. He can't hurt you where he is. And remember, the memories and nightmares are expected as part of your recovery. But it takes time, and it means talking these things through on a regular basis, until they're gone."

"I know. You're right. I'm seeing Nathaniel today. Hopefully it'll help."

"It will help, Chris. You're going to get through this. We're going to get through this ... together."

He thought back to three months earlier when Stephanie worked as a psychologist and he as a social worker at the Institute of Forensic Psychiatry. After his attack by Ray Owens, Stephanie had performed critical incident debriefing with Chris as he prepared for his return to work. She took herself off his case because of her feelings for him and insisted he see a counsellor. Eventually they started dating. Although they'd known each other for ten years, it was Chris' ordeal with Ray that brought them back into each other's lives.

"You're the best thing that's happened to me in a long time," he finally said, and kissed Stephanie.

"And I'm not going to let you forget it," she said with a smile.

"I'm serious." He paused for a moment before continuing. "When Deanna asked for a separation, all I could think about was how I'd failed as a husband, and as a father for Ann Marie. I didn't think my life could get any worse. Then Ray came along and proved me wrong. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that we'd be lying here together."

"All it took was ten years, your failed marriage, my broken engagement, and your almost getting killed."

"All I know is you're here now. I love you, and I'm not letting anything tear us apart."

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Image Decay

Image Decay

also available: eBook
tagged : political, legal
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The river slid underneath him. The water was nearly clear over the gravel bars. Over the deeper hollows and channels it folded in slowly undulating ribbons of olive and light brown. The surface looked like camouflage fabric with something alive underneath it. Some of the greens bordered on dirty blue but all the currents had the tint of suspended mud or dead leaves.

It did not look like it was flowing hard. Random twigs floated by faster than his normal walking pace, passing out of sight under the bridge. There was still laziness to it.

Not like the Niagara, which he remembered as cold, blue and terrifyingly muscular.

The light was not the same either. In the early September sun, the air here had lost the diamond hardness of midsummer and had taken on the clear, washed-out quality of faded jeans. Not the soft haze usually visible around the Great Lakes. Not the faint golden promise of the air in California. He could have lived in either of those places. He had chosen instead this pre-cast concrete city, frozen half the year, slovenly with litter and dust the other half, in denial about its nature always.

"What am I doing here?" Ostroski thought.

He stopped. Had he spoken the words out loud? He could not remember when he had started mumbling his thoughts, or when he had stopped being embarrassed about it.

His mind wandered in other ways, he knew. Faded jeans. Sky like faded jeans. Why did they have to be faded? When had they stopped making powder blue?

Sweat started trickling down his back. The sun had swung onto his side of the bridge and his jacket was now too warm but there was too much risk trying to take it off. He rubbed his back against one of the iron girders, its black paint starting to peel and rust starting to show around the peeled patches and the rivets.

He looked at his hostage. She had short brown hair, darkening toward black in a few patches. Her liquid brown eyes met his. They looked alternately nervous and angry.

He did not flinch from her gaze. If he had to, he would throw her over the railing. He had already threatened to do it once to keep the cops back. He thought he would need about one second--two at most--to send her dropping straight like an elevator into the water. It would probably take another two or three seconds for her to hit. She might survive. You never knew.

He reasoned the cops would not shoot him because there was too much chance of hitting her. But he would have to do it fast. They might try to shock him with a flash grenade or tear gas. The big plainclothes cop who had got close to him to talk might have decide to rush up and grab him.

He hoped they would find the lawyer or Adela soon. He was willing to talk to one of them, although even they would have to keep their distance. He did not want to send the girl sailing in a short arc and then straight down through the washed-out air and onto the surface of the river. Onto, not into. He guessed after a drop like that it might feel more like concrete than like water. He didn't want to do it. It had already been a tough life for her. That idiot had named her Mitzi."Don't worry, Mitzi," he said. "I'm not asking for much. They'll see reason."

She tilted her head slightly with curiosity on hearing him talk. What he had hoped would be reassuring words seemed to have little effect. She was probably getting irritable with hunger. She was bored, too, getting squirmy. At least she wasn't drooling much. He hoped her boredom and nervousness did not slide into aggression. He didn't like the look of her pointed teeth. Her voice was snarly, too. That was even more disturbing.

"Goddamn dachshunds," he thought. The nastiest, most short-tempered kind of dogs he could think of. He would rather have been holding onto the leash of a small pit bull, or anything else light enough to lift over the edge. Just like that smug moron to breed dachshunds and think they're lovable.

Just like me to start concentrating on the goddamn squirming dog and forget how fast even a big cop could get to me, he thought as he heard shoes scratch on concrete. He felt the big cop slamming into him. He dropped the dog as a twisted and toppled to the sidewalk, scraping a knee and elbow. He lay still and tired as the shock of the collision and the fall seeped through him.

Mitzi stepped up and licked his face. She was snarly, but not one to hold grudges. It was the most physical affection he had known in twelve years.

On the ninth floor of a nearby administrative tower a grey wraith of a man's silhouette let vertical blinds drop back into place. He had looked out to check the weather and been held by the drama taking place down on the bridge walk. Disorder mesmerized him. He had spent most of his last fifty years struggling to keep life under control, keep it as neat as the files in his office and the art collections he now supervised. He looked at his reflection in the glass covering a pen-and-ink drawing of an 1880s-era homestead on the wall across from his plain mahogany desk. He saw his metal-rimmed spectacles and thinning hair and flat, expressionless mouth, but he could not see past that surface detail. Nor did he want to.

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