Before heading off to Bouchercon this year I started to write a bit of fiction about the trip.
Here is Part Two.
Remember, it's fiction. It's all made up. All of it.
Part One is below.
Declan stood by the door with the other smokers, his the only hand rolled, reading the headlines in the newspapers lined up in the boxes and I went inside to get us a place in line. Every hundred kilometres or so on the 401 there’s a rest stop.
They’re all the same; a gas station and a couple of fast food places. The names are different at each stop, a Petro Canada and a McDonalds, an Esso and a Wendy’s, a Shell and a Burger King – they all have Tim Hortons.
And they all have line-ups. I’ve been back and forth down the 401 from Toronto to Montreal every month of the year and every hour of the day and night and there’s always a line. So, standing in this one I thought about how I was going to steer the conversation to robbery. I’d been thinking about it for a while, here I am at home all day, drop my kids off at school and sit down and write. What if I just popped out once in a while and pulled a robbery? No one would notice and the money would just look like it came from my writing. Wouldn't be too much money, just a few grand here and there, but it would really take the edge off.
The idea never went anywhere because it wasn't something I could do by myself. I needed a partner.
In my head, of course, I was the laid-back, cool, ex-con Ernest Stickley, call me Stick. In reality, of course, I’m the weasely, talking-too-much car salesman Frank.
Oh, I’d thought about being both, doing it all myself, but I didn’t think I could. I’d written a flash fiction, a thousand word short story called The Book Club (it was on the website Shred of Evidence about two women who leave their book club and start robbing guys going into strip clubs. It’s kind of a housewife Swag. My friend Alan Taylor made a short film out of it, The Armed Book Club. He’d make a good partner, except he lives in Montreal. And we’d be known right away as the Black and White Bandits or something stupid like that. Alan’s black.
Back when I was at Concordia, ten years of part-time night classes to get a lousy English Lit BA, my buddy Bobby Jones and I were filling out applications to med school and law school and teacher’s college and getting turned down everywhere, so we decided – one night in the Rymark Tavern on Peel after four or five pitchers of Molson Ex – that if we didn’t get in anywhere we’d start a life o’ crime. That’s what we called it, life o’ crime, and laughed and figured out how we’d get pilot’s liscences, lease a plane, set up a front business and bring in drugs from South America. The next day it didn’t sound so stupid. Just like Frank and Ernest in Swag we worked out some details, made up some rules. We figured we’d be successful because we’d be smart. We would never DO drugs, because, as Bobby says to this day, dope is for dopes. We wouldn’t flash money around and we wouldn’t be greedy. We’d get a stake, start a business, maybe buy up some duplexes in NDG in Montreal where we both lived.
Bobby’s black, too, so we would’ve been the Black and White Bandits again, but then he went and got into teacher’s college and then went to teach in Yellowknife. He’s got the balls for armed robbery, that’s for sure, but now he lives in Nova Scotia and is making too much money and having too much fun to think about a life o’ crime.
Another friend still in Montreal, Randy McIlwaine also has the balls for it, no doubt. He’s big and strong, huge shoulders and broad chest and can make his eyes look insane when he wants to. Randy walks into a bar with a sawed off shotgun and says put the money in the bag, they’d put it in the fucking bag.
Except he’s a cartoonist, you can see his stuff at his website , it’s really funny. If I mentioned this plan to him he’d get a big laugh out of it.
Still, it seemed like such a good plan, I couldn’t let it go so I thought about a few more possible partners; Michel Basilieres is living in Toronto now, his first novel, Black Bird, won the Books in Canada /Amazon award and got fantastic reviews but now he’s teaching at U of T and spending all his spare time with his son. Families really do get in the way of careers.
Families made me think of my cousin Joe, he and I got arrested in Calgary together at the Sears, something I fictionalized in Dirty Sweet, and he might have been game back then, but he’s also in Nova Scotia now, taking it easy, blasting Deep Purple and working in a greenhouse.
But now here I was on the road with Declan, a guy who obviously thought about armed robbery because he wrote a fucking great book about it. I just didn’t know how to go from talking about writing novels to actually doing it.
I was next in line when Declan came in and stood beside me, saying, “Couldn’t do it here, though, have to stand in line so long there’d be miles of footage,” and he motioned to the camera on the wall behind the cash.
I said, “Yeah, and these places are always crowded.”
We ordered, me explaining that a double-double is coffee with two cream and two sugar and Declan saying, “There’s still room for the coffee, then,” and asking for it black with sugar. We also got a box of Timbits.
Walking back through the parking lot to the car I said, “I wonder sometimes what Tim Horton would have thought about Timbits,” and Declan said, “There’s really a Tim Horton?”
“People think he’s like Ronald McDonald. No, he was a hockey player. Started the first one of these places with a cop in Hamilton.”
Back on the road, Declan said, “But there are some places you don’t have to stand in line?”
“Not on the highway,” I said. “Have to turn off into one of these small towns.”
“These small towns have banks?”
“Not much anymore, the banks are closing branches all the time, setting up kiosks in grocery stores, forcing people to use ATM’s, online banking and those cheque cashing places.”
“You’ve got that scene,” Declan said, “in Everybody Knows..., where the guy robs one of those places.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s right.”
“That’s a good scene, it really works.”
I said, thanks, but I don’t know, it’s a pretty straightforward scene. J.T., a biker back from serving in the army in Afghanistan waits at the back door of a cheque cashing place and when the woman comes out for a smoke he shoves a gun in her face, forces her inside and cleans out the till.
“These little towns, they have these cheque cashing places?”
“Yeah,” I said. “They do.”
We pulled off the 401 into Trenton, past the fighter jet that looks like it has a pole up its ass, and into town. We were just going to take a look around, see what was what. Trenton is really just a big air force base with a little town attatched.
I said, “The thing is, for armed robbery, you need arms.”
“Right,” Declan said, “guns.”
“This isn’t like a book, just put in a convenient character, some guy we know who can get his hands on a gun.” I laughed then, said, “Like Rossi in The Big O, worried he can’t go to Sicily with the .22, a woman’s gun.”
“Wants his .44 back from Karen.”
“Too bad we don’t know a Karen.”
Declan pointed to a road sign and said, “Bridge to USA, could find something there.”
“Yeah, well, regardless of what people say, they don’t have guns in the corner stores.”
There was some tension in the car, we were both nervous, getting serious.
I said, “Like Homer Simpson said, ‘Wait three days? But I’m mad now.’”
“In my story about the housewives robbing guys going into strip clubs they use a toy gun they bought at Wal-Mart.”
Decland said, “A toy? Right.”
“Because I don’t think it’s the gun, really, I think it’s the setting.”
“Yeah. A kid’s playing with it in his back yard, it’s a toy, a grown man is carrying it in a back alley at night, it’s a gun.”
“Or a back alley in the day?” He pointed to a Mr. Cheque Cashing place at the end of a strip mall and I saw the Wal-Mart up ahead.
It went just like the scene in the book. I parked my car behind the big trash bins behind the store and we waited. After about half an hour a guy came out the back door and used a piece of two by four to prop it open.
Before I could say anything about how it looked like it really would've worked, Declan jumped out of the car and left the door open. We’d bought the gun at the Wal-Mart, looked just like a real gun, it’s true, especially when we painted it black with some of that model paint in the little square jars and scratched it up. I wrapped a big elastic band around the handle a few times and Declan said, what's that for and I said, I don't know, “I saw it in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy,” and Declan said, oh, okay then, but till that moment when I saw him point it at the guy’s head I didn't think we’d really do it.
They went inside the Mr. Cheque place and less than a minute later Declan came out carrying a big manilla envelope and jumped into the car.
He looked at me and said, “So, are we going, then, or should we just sit here and get arrested?”
I hadn’t even started the car, so I did, and drove back around the strip mall and out onto Division street. We went a couple blocks and made the turn up Sidney Street to the 401. No sirens, no one chased after us, nothing.
“What the hell did you do in there?”
He said, cashed a cheque, and for a second I thought that’s what he really did and I was so relieved. Then he laughed and said, “Holy fuck, there’s ten grand in here,” pulling money out of the envelope.
“Some of that’s American.”
“Good we’ll need it tomorrow in the states.” He looked at me and I think he winked and then he said, “We are going to the states, aren’t we?” and I realized we were taking the on ramp to the 401 heading west for Toronto. It’s like I just wanted to get home.
We only drove a couple miles on the 401, took the Wooler Road exit, crossed over the highway and got right back on heading east, the sign saying, Kingston 100 kilometres.
Declan said, “Holy shit, man. I thought about a little side-line to the writing, just something to take the egde off, you know,” and I said, yeah, I know.
He said, “Just a little extra income, I thought about maybe dealing a little dope, a few regulars, nothing big, but fuck, ten grand in ten minutes – that's a bit of all right.”
I thought, well, when you put it like that.
An hour and a half later we were pulling up to the American border, looking at some very serious and well armed guys in uniforms.