Well it looked like I had run into a dead end. I should have known better than to think any of the bar’s phones or their accoutrements, which is a fancy way of saying the shit that goes with something, would have survived the types of drunks, junkies, and liars that inhabit a strip bar. Probably the first drunk husband whose wife had told him not to come home from wherever he was had performed the Charles Atlas trick on the “Let My Fingers Do the Walking” tome at the first booth.
The second looked like it had been used to mop up something that I didn’t want to have a better acquaintance with, and the third, like someone had used it as practice before they perforated the late, lamented Doctor Magneson. Sighing a curse or two at the perfidy of my fellow men, I headed for the office where I was certain I could find a phone book in somewhat better shape than any of these relics.
After two hours of questioning my sanity and a half bottle of whiskey, I came across the phone book for the National Capital Region (Ottawa, Hull, and anywhere else in the vicinity that uncivil servants might hang their coats and hats) propping up a window. It had sustained a little damage from water and the neighbouring pigeons, and the mice had absconded with the zeds for comfort, but at least the section where gorgeous Scandinavian blondes kept their phone numbers looked to be intact.
That is if they kept their phone number in phone books at all. Two hours of scouring only confirmed the fact that there was no Magnesons to be found with a listed phone number anywhere within the confines of this sorry excuse for a city. There are 600 Martins, and four different ways that people seem to spell MacDonald, Mcdonald, MaCdonald, and Macdonald, but no damn Magnesons.
Some items when they cause you frustration don’t have the decency to give you any means of release. A phone book on the other hand has a nice bit of heft to it, so when you decide to chuck it across the room it will make a resounding thud. Indeed if you throw it hard enough not only will it make a satisfying noise, it will rip through cheap drywall like an elephant’s fart through tissue paper.
It took my a few seconds to realize that the ringing sound I was hearing in my ears was unrelated to the minor bit of renovation I had begun seconds ago, and had more to do with the phone sitting on my desk than anything else. I was using less then the usual requisite number of brain cells required to carry on a phone conversation when I picked up the receiver; half of them being awash in the best part of a fifth of Canadian Club, another chunk trying to visualize how the filing cabinet would look on the other side of the door, and the remainder trying to figure out how long it would take the mice to work their way backwards through the whole alphabet now that they had ready access to the source.
So it took me a second or two to remember what I was supposed to do with the piece of cheap plastic in my hand out of which a sultry voice was calling hello with increasing amounts of urgency. I tried to shake off thoughts of mice in knit yarmulkes and me wearing a truss, the way a dog shakes off water, and was rewarded with the office attempting to spin me into orbit. It was only by catching the desk with my chin that I was able to prevent myself from hitting the floor.
Pain has the remarkable ability to clear your brain and let you focus on the events at hand. After the sparks that had appeared out of nowhere in front of my eyes had vanished I noticed that I was holding on to the phone. I was just about to hang it up when I heard a vaguely familiar sounding voice saying, “Oh my God what’s going on, is there anybody there? Hello, hello?”
“Lady could you keep your voice down. I’ve got quite the headache all of a sudden and you’re not helping any by yelling away like this.” There was now a much-appreciated silence at the other end of the line that allowed me to regain a little bit of my composure so that I could go about this the right way. After all she had just lost the man who I assumed to be her father in a rather grisly fashion and that called for a certain amount of delicacy. (Who else did you think it was going to be on the phone at this time of night in this kind of story? Sheesh.)
“Why did you do it? Why did you kill your father tonight Ms. Magnesen? I saw you running away from the bar just as he keeled over at my feet, so don’t deny you were there and that you fled. Any normal girl would have stayed, you see your father drop to the floor like a ton of bricks and you’re heading for the proverbial hills – something ain’t right with that picture Ms. Magnesen and you’re gonna have to help me bring it into focus.”
There was a pause from the other end of the phone line, followed by the unmistakeable sounds of someone taking a large drag off a cigarette followed by a long slow exhale. Visualizing in my head just how those actions would affect her lips and the thoughts that sprang to mind with those images left me a little light-headed again. I barely recovered in time to hear what she had to say next.
“I guess I’m not what you’d call a normal girl Mr…?” her voicing trailing away in a suggestive question mark led me to quickly interject in a still somewhat shaky voice “just call me Steve, Ms. Magnesen,” to which she replied, “there’s no need for you to be formal either, Steve; call me Gertrude”. Immediately destroying any of the earlier mental images that I had envisioned. Gertrude is just one of those names where even knowing the person in question would look good in a potato sack makes me think of particularly hairy great aunts.
Another cigarette inhalation pause followed this exchange of names, this time bereft of any accompanying imagery, until she continued with, ” But then again my dad and I hadn’t been having what you would call a normal existence for the past while.”
I made appreciative, and what I hoped were encouraging noises, and made myself comfortable on the floor, noticing with contentment that the remainder of the fifth was within easy reach, having rolled on to the floor in the confusion. I hooked the bottle over to me with my foot and was carefully unscrewing the cap as she began her story.
“My dad and I had moved up to Ottawa a few years ago; my mother had died from cancer and neither of us could bear to be around places that reminded us of her. He felt especially guilty because his work had kept him from home during a great deal of her last months with us and he knew that he wished that he could have spent more time with her.
“I had ended up being her primary care giver, having to bathe her, change her diapers when she could no longer get up to go to the bathroom on her own, and eventually feed her. While he was off at conferences on climate change and global warming I’d be at home making broth and rolling her over in bed to prevent bed sores. He told me later that he was sorry that he had left so much of the burden on my shoulders but he couldn’t stand to see her like what she was becoming.
“That broken collection of bones and skin with no intellect or brain wasn’t the person he had married. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t feel anything but revulsion for her when he was around her, and that ate at him like termites in a clapboard house. He had worshiped the ground she had walked on until the moment she had gotten sick, treating her like she was royalty, and then all of a sudden he found he couldn’t go near her.”
I was fighting back tears by this time, although that could have been residual pain and medicinal whiskey, so I wasn’t all that surprised that she made a slight choking sound as if overcome with emotion and had to pause for a second. As there was nothing really that could be said, I said nothing and let her take all the time she needed to compose herself before she continued.
“Anyway when the previous government was working out ways to try and ensure that Canada was going to meet its Kyoto accord commitments a position became available requiring someone of dad’s expertise and skills. I decided to go back to school and finish the thesis work I had begun when Mom had gotten sick and we began the process of putting our live back together.
“Those couple of years were great; everyone dad was working with were excited about coming up with solutions that would not only see Canada meet its obligations, but actually exceed them. It was so great to see dad taking an interest in life again. There had been a time just after mom died that I was worried for him, and that I thought he might be going off the deep end into depression, but this new project had revitalized him.
“Of course it was too good to be true, and all those other damn clichés about good stuff coming to an end, and last fall when it began to look like the Conservative Party Of Canada had a good chance of forming the next government, dad started asking questions about the accord’s future if the change were to happen and it didn’t look good.
“The word he got was that even if they were able to cut emissions by fifty per cent and improve the economy at the same time by an equal amount, the Conservatives were going to pull the plug on the deal no matter what. When words like ‘setting a dangerous precedent for government regulatory powers and interference in the market place’ start being bandied about, you could have discovered the cure for cancer and AIDS and you knew your funding would be killed and your program shut down.
“Dad became like a figure obsessed; he began working all hours of the day and night in an effort to come up with a device that could be used to convert carbon dioxide and other dangerous emissions into harmless substances when released into the atmosphere. He knew that even if the government had no intention of ever making use of this technology that there were others who would and could.
“It was just before Christmas and after the election had been called that he let me in on a little of what he was planning, albeit it indirectly. He told me that I shouldn’t be surprised if he started to receive visitors at home at all hours of the day and night, and that I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. He also said it would be a good idea if I didn’t tell anybody about them either.”
She stopped to light another cigarette and gather her thoughts for what I assumed was the crux of the matter. I had a good idea where this was going and beginning to see how it ended as badly as it did. I had long since abandoned the bottle of whiskey and was sitting propped up against the desk with my legs splayed out in front of me. Looking out the office window I could see the sky was beginning to change colour; the clouds of the previous night had dispersed and there was a faint blush appearing along the eastern horizon line. It looked like it was going to be a nice day for somebody, somebody who probably wasn’t named Gertrude Magneson.
“Maybe I should have said something to him, asked him more about what he was doing, but he looked like he had hope for the first time since the beginning of the fall when we started to hear the rumours of our demise. After all we’d been through there was no way I was going to be the one to pull the rug out from under him.
“Over the course of the next couple of weeks, up to Christmas and then twice more before New Years, the visits took place. They would usually happen between midnight and four in the morning and the person would arrive on bicycle or foot. Most of the time they’d only come one at a time, but on the last couple of occasions all three of them came together and these visits were also in daytime. It was as if they either believed they were completely safe or they no longer cared whether they were being observed.
“The two men and a woman all dressed and looked pretty much the same. Long hair, bulky sweaters, fancy sandals with thick socks on no matter what the weather, and the same zealous fire in their eyes at all times. They were all sort of pale, like they didn’t eat enough and never had anything to drink except water and herbal tea. The woman looked at me like I was some sort of evil monster and the two men would sneak looks at me when they didn’t think I could see and they knew she wasn’t looking.
“Obviously they weren’t supposed to approve of me, the way I dressed or looked or something, but that didn’t stop them from drooling just like any other straight male does the first time he sees me. I thought they were judgemental little hypocrites for judging me by my appearance, they were probably the types who protested against just that sort of thing, but I didn’t say anything because my dad assured me their visits were temporary and they were helping him out in some way or another. Sure enough after those last couple of meetings before New Year’s Eve we never saw them again.
“After Christmas vacation my dad went back to work and waited for the inevitable to happen. After the elections rumours were flying fast and furious, but dad remained calm and when I asked him about it he just smiled and shrugged. But everything changed again a week after the oily bastards announced they were reneging on the Kyoto accord in order to ‘seek a Canadian solution’.
“I was at home working on my thesis and two men came to the door. They should have been wearing badges that said undercover R.C.M.P. officer or at least kept their stupid hats on they were so obvious. They said they were colleagues of dad’s from work and that he had sent them by the house for some files he needed that he kept at home, and would I mind letting them come in to get them. I told them I would have to check with him first, and pretended to walk back into the house to use the phone, but in reality just slipped around the corner and observed them in the reflection from the hall mirror.
“Not much of a surprise that they didn’t wait for me to come back from making my ‘phone call’. They left the door open when they left, so I did a full production for them of coming out on the step and looking puzzled as to what had just happened. I also used the time to spot where they had parked their Crown Victoria and watched as they pretended to be gay lovers necking in the front seat.
“When I told dad about it he asked if I were okay and when I assured him I was, he laughed a little. But it wasn’t as if it were at anything funny. He said they had searched the lab as well but they weren’t going to find anything because, and he pointed to his head, it’s all up here.
“It was a week ago that he started to get worried about things again, but he didn’t want to say anything to me about it. I had been seeing the same two cops who had come to the door around town, just happening to be where I was every so often. They made no effort to hide themselves, like they wanted to let me know they were keeping an eye on me for whatever reason.
“I think it was the fact that they were bothering me that finally convinced him that we needed to find somebody to help us. Somebody we could trust in a situation that looked like it was getting further out of hand then he had expected. I think he had hoped that when they didn’t find any files they could use they would leave him alone, but that didn’t look like it was happening.
“I was to follow him to the bar where the two of you were meeting last night to try and see if anybody had followed him, but it was so crowded that I couldn’t even see either of you for a while. The next thing I knew was that he was dead. I was so scared that his killer was standing somewhere near me that all I could think of was getting out of there as quickly as possible. My father’s dead Steve, and all I know is that it has something to do with the Kyoto accord and the Canadian government. Can you help me?”