There was a damp wind blowing up from the North Saskatchewan last night.
Sticky, the kind that gets in under your shirt and makes your palms sweat
and your fingers unconsciously feel for imaginary triggers.
The kind of night that a neighbourhood gumshoe like me is used to.
Sure, if you wanna know, I’m still working on acquiring the signature:
“gut, gun and three ex-wives,” but I’ve got the ambition and the squint.
Anyway, I was at my usual spot, a scarred-up picnic table in Beaver Hill House Park.
A park I’ll warn you to vacate after 9 PM, the kind of park they loop Bach’s,
Toccata and Fugue, and Vivaldi’s, Spring, just to keep the chaff out.
The kind of park where “YEG hearts YYC” gets carved into the pressure-treated
spruce tops of perfectly chaste picnic tables; where cigarettes are burn-butted
out on the seats; and sparrow ordure has leached so far into the pores and cracks
of all the exposed timber you can taste ammonia at the back of your throat.
I was studying the clouds over the Coast Terrace Inn—grim cumulonimbus—
when she shuffled in on the concrete path through the east entrance.
I felt the hair on my forearms announce her presence.
She wore a sea-shanty hat, a long loose plaid shirt that you could park
a Taurus under; shorts, bark-brown, clean white cotton socks with a top roll,
and Adidas somewhat past their warranty. (Note: treads perhaps indecipherable.)
She was pushing an upscale walker, large wheels, 8-inch maybe (screw metric),
the kind that give you confidence on all terrains. She knew what she was about.
Under two bulging Save-On bags was a fully padded seat, ample width,
I’m thinking 15 inches, (admirable) and behind an equally plush backrest
was a handy pouch. (Aren’t all pouches deceptively handy?) Completing the package,
locking wheel brakes, and height adjustable handles; from this distance
I’m going to say a probable 33 to 38 inches of play. Sure, okay, nice ride.
She stopped under an elm, parked her rig, locked the safety brakes—smooth
action with a decidedly solid click—and began fishing through the bags that were
twist-tied onto the uprights. Then her hand swam to the pouch,
and suddenly I’m thinking of Friday going for his piece, and Mike Hammer’s
palm-slide to the revolver in his waistband. I stiffen. She lifts out a plastic
container. (Tupperware, maybe, Gladware, who knows these days? Take your pick,
there’s an entire island of snapware floating somewhere in the Pacific.)
My own hand went instinctively to my Bic ballpoint, a Velocity, bold-tip,
blue ink with a translucent blue barrel, balanced so well it reminds
you of a Karen Kain demi-pointe. I had my spiral bound blue-lined
Hilroy in my back pocket, but going for it might have alerted her.
Didn’t want to chance a left buttock-lift.
She reached in the pouch and took out a set of measuring spoons,
a six-piece—oval for easy scooping—stainless steel on a silvery ring.
Expensive, not your average set of measuring spoons, I’ve seen
a set like these before (Johnson-Rose possibly), but not around here.
(I know what you’re thinking: suspicious as hell.) She selected a spoon,
the largest, and cracked the lid off the polyethylene box. And my every nerve
went piano-wire. She levelled off a spoonful of sunflower seeds with her index finger,
then bent low and carefully unloaded the contents in a short line at the base
of the full-leaf elm. She repeated this three times. Three lines around the trunk.
She was practiced. Moved with a kind of enviable grace on to another elm,
then another, then she left the park, Rollating north across Jasper.
The whole operation had the stink of being unassuming and brazen
at the same time. My gaze returned to the sunflower seeds, so innocuous.
But these days you can put a Hawk 350 Sweeper plus a Foscam
Pan & Tilt Wireless in a single sunflower shell. I pulled out my Hilroy,
noted date, time, cloud formation, Bach’s contrapuntal phrasing, and wrote:
Not a damn squirrel to be seen. Who’s she kidding!
I walked home, took 106 Street. I always mix up my route. Sure, it’s not all glam,
but keeping this town safe is honest work. She’ll trip up one of these days
and I’ll be there like her worst dream. And you’ll be thankful I was.
But then, you’ll never know. Yeah, honest work, but thankless as shit.