BEEF

Claude Lemouche looked up at ceiling tiles painted the color of dry blood. He sat in the Princeton, where the tabletops were finished with old shipping route charts sealed under glass. Pro poker, keno numbers and breaking news on flatscreens. Green wainscotted walls and brass fixtures. Money machine in the corner beside the door, VLTs on the opposite wall. He drummed his fingernails on the tabletop, gold watch glinting on his wrist, could never get used to all the plexi. The tables had it screwed to their edges. It reminded him of a gun range.

Guemes Island. Fidalgo Island. 28 fathoms.

The server’s high forehead was scored with worry lines.

“Can I get you anything?” The server put the food and drink menus down after he asked.

“Can you make me an old fashioned?” Claude had a faint Quebecois accent.

“I’ll have to check,” the server said, and walked away.

Claude looked around more. An old three shade billiard lamp was cinched up high on its chains where no pool table stood. On a low, carpeted stage there were some empty mic stands and floor monitors, an eight channel mixer. The ceiling fans produced tangible vortical currents. He noncommittally watched the news. A period in review. People in hazmat suits pushing someone on a gurney. Next shot. Abutting rows of identical caskets in a mass grave. Jump cut to Tampa Bay Lightning players in their glory, hoisting the Stanley Cup overhead. 

On stiltlike legs in second hand slacks an elderly man came up to Claude’s table.

“Meat draw.”

“Ex-cuse me,” Claude replied.

“Meat draw, three tickets for two dollars.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“We got a box of meat, steaks, wings, dry ribs and such, about a hundred bucks worth of meat in a box up for raffle.”

“Why didn’t you say so,” Claude said, searching his designer jean pocket for coinage, put a toonie, a loonie and four quarters in the hand open palm-upward, which the man pocketed, and then unspooled six orange ticket stubs, tore them off, laid them in a curl on Decatur Island.

A man came into the bar, seemed to be known. He hung his cycling satchel on a chair and plopped down as if at a relative’s.

Claude saw Duane passing by the windows on Powell. Enter Duane. Thin build, fluid, with astute brown eyes, a grayish smoker’s complexion and a hairline receding back from concave temples. He acknowledged Claude, glanced at the bar interior, at the mostly empty tables. 

The server brought the old fashioned, its maraschino cherry ran through with a plastic sword.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” the server asked Duane.

He glanced at the drink menu.

“I’ll have a 1516.”

“Would either of you like anything to eat?”

“I’ll get the mozza mushroom barbecue burger,” Claude said.

The server nodded. He didn’t have any writing materials.

“How’s Claude?”

“Claude’s good.”

He tried the old fashioned. Rather sweet. Not enough bitters.

Duane looked at Claude’s watch: “You taking on extra work?”

“My uncle died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“He was an asshole. Really rich, though.”

Duane chuckled. He had no idea if Claude was telling the truth. The server brought the 1516. 

“Were you looking for any food?”

Duane glanced through a set of saloon doors into the kitchen. Some metalhead dishwasher leaned against a counter playing on his phone.

“Not really,” Duane said, and the server walked away again.

“How’s work?” Claude asked.

“It’s never technically good when we have to meet.”

“This is true. How’s family?”

“My daughters are my daughters, that’s not changing. One’s fourteen. She’s already shagging as far as I can tell. My youngest is smart. She’s ten and they’re teaching her to code. My ex told me they were switching to online school. I and about five hundred other parents pulled the plug on that. My ex tries to interfere. She can’t raise them. They’re going to attend school, none of this online bullshit. They just hit mute, turn the camera off, go into the living room and play video games.”

Claude nodded with approval. He was a grandfather. His two daughters were grown up now, one in Trois-Rivières, two kids, the other in Montreal, single, a travel agent with an established company. He booked all his trips through Jenine. 

A train laden with fertilizer rumbled past.

On the news people wearing medical PPE toppled a statue wearing a tricorn hat. They rolled the figure into a canal. Cut to Antifa members in black block scuttling around after a Proud Boy one-punches their comrade. Montage of building fires, looting and ultra violence. Faces flashing by like a flipbook: President Trump (unmasked). President-elect Biden (masked), Hunter Biden passed out with a crackpipe sticking out of his mouth, Obama, Kamala, Soros, Floyd, Zuckerberg, Dorsey (Taliban beard), Ginsberg, Barr, Pompeo, Flynn, Fauci, Putin, Xi, Trudeau, Xi, President-elect Biden (unmasked).  

Eighteen wheelers shooting down Commissioner Street. Flashes of traffic through the windows facing Powell.

“Meat draw.” The man stood at the table again, this time soliciting Duane. “Toonie’ll get you three tickets.” Duane dropped a toonie into the guy’s hand and took three tickets. He put the stubs in his shirt pocket and the same two fingers pinched a folded five dollar bill that he gave to Claude, who took it and slid out from the money a piece of ripped stationary with the word PRESSURE printed on it in blue ink. 

Behind the saloon doors an ice machine churred.

The server came back, set out cutlery atop a diagonally folded napkin.

“How’s the old fashioned?” the server asked.

“I think somebody dumped a bottle of cherry syrup in it.”

“Really? Too sweet?”

“In my opinion.”

“Your burger’s on its way.”

Claude ignored the server.

He went to the restroom, let the stationary fall into the toilet, pissed on it, watched the blue ink bleed out, flushed the toilet with his Gucci shoe, and plucked a vial from his pant pocket. He dug out a lump with the point of his car key, plugged one nostril and sniffed. That euphoric carnival in the brain, a new level of confidence and power. Chemical drip-drip in the back of his throat. Claude replaced the cap on the vial and stepped out of the stall, began to wash his hands and it was already wearing off. Shit coke, he thought. Always chasing that first rip, the inaugural rush, cheque to cheque, payday loans, deep into the bank account, in and out of the pawnbroker, loans extracted from mother with convoluted lies, and never like the first time again.

As he walked out Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” kicked in and Claude felt like Odysseus.

He clasped Duane’s hand. It was a  BMW salesperson’s card, Hogan Ngu, Sales Associate, Burnaby BMW, and on the back of the card an email address in ballpoint: tzitziyaku@yahoo.ca. Duane put the card in his pocket with the meat draw tickets.

The server brought the burger. Claude began to eat and saw the caramelized onions and cheddar and tasted the bacon. It was dinner time. The server was nowhere to be seen. He kept eating. Duane helped him with the fries.

He chewed and watched poker, looked at the inactive bar. Models of barques and schooners above the shelves of spirits. Glowsigns—Molson, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“How’s everything?” the server asked.

“I ordered a mozza mushroom burger.”

“Well, you ate almost half.”

“I was starving. You disappeared,” Claude said. He could argue like this all night.

“Do you want me to get a new one made for you?”

“No. How about taking your job seriously? Learn English. There’s a difference between cheddar bacon and mushroom mozza, right?”

“I guess.”

“I’m fucking tired of coming to pubs, ordering a twenty dollar burger, and the stupid kitchen and serving staff can’t get it right. Is it difficult?”

“No. Really sorry about that.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’m fucking tired of sorry. Do your fucking job,” Claude said. “Write it down.” 

“I’ll talk to my manager. Can I get you a pint or something? On the house.”

“If you insist. I’ll take what he’s having.” Claude gestured at Duane, who was enjoying the show.

The server returned with the consolatory beer: “Wou-would you like the billy, the bill?”

“I’ll get the billy,” Duane said.

“D’you need the machine?”

“Just the check please.”

“We’re ready to raffle this meat off,” the ticket vendor announced. “In five minutes we’ll draw.”

The server brought the bill. Duane placed two twenties and a five on the table on top of the Inside Passage.

Claude put his meat draw tickets on the bill tray for a tip.

Claude watched the server print out his sales, cash out and sit down with the guy who seemed known.

The manager returned. He had a shaved head and a goatee, shopped at Zara, Claude guessed.

“Really sorry about that guys. He’s new.”

“It shows,” Claude said, texting somebody.

“So what do you gentlemen do?” 

“I sell insurance,” Duane lied.

“I’m a food critic,” Claude lied.

The manager slank away.

“Meat draw! Here it comes! 674. Number 674.”

Duane checked his tickets: 672, 673, 674.

He held up the winning ticket. On the way out he collected the box. There was a package of thick-sliced maple bacon on top. In front of the cold beer and wine he smiled at Claude.

“That was good.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Food critic,” Duane smiled. “The look on his face.”

“Enjoy your meat.”

“My kids’ll gnaw through this in less than a week.”

Claude checked for cars, jogged across Powell in his Gucci shoes and got in the back seat of a white Range Rover that drove away before the door was closed.

***

The navy blue F-150 thumped down McKeen, lift kit, fender flares, forty-inch mudders, aftermarket rims with bead locks. Pimp C on the system. Slot machine cherries swinging from the rearview mirror and a Mike Tyson bobblehead bobbling on the dash. Guvinda Bedi drove. Local 500. Thickset with a shaved head and a mole on the right side of his nose. Trent Parish was his accomplice, just got out. Guvinda picked Trent up two hours prior at an East Van halfway house. They handed a scorched glass bubble pipe back and forth, glassy-eyed, felt like gods. The big tires chirruped around the corner onto Pemberton. Guvinda steered with his knee, heated the bottom of the pipeglass with a torch lighter, inhaled, idled by the backed-in vehicles.

He gave Trent the pipe. “Load it up again, we got a couple minutes.”

“I am.” Everything he said was defensive. He parted a resealable baggy the size of his thumbnail, dropped a crack rock in the bubble end, put torch flame to blackened pipeglass, held the smoke in, let it worm out his lips. The heated seat felt exquisite. I am the best motherfucker in the world, he thought, wanted more. There was none left. 

“What are we looking for?” Trent asked.

“Dude drives a beige Camry,” Guvinda said.

“Well what’s he look like?”

“He’s got some Japanese symbol tattooed on his neck. Supposedly he walks around like a tough guy. First one out the door at the end of the day.”

“All right,” Trent said, laughed to himself at the easy hundred, slid the pipe in his  pants pocket and slipped on his knuckledusters. Both sets of fingers had four letter word tats: on the right hand, COKE, on the left hand, CZAR.

Guvinda did a three-point turn at the dead end and drove back down Pemberton, saw him. 

“Mask up,” Guvinda said, putting on an N95. Trent tied on a bandana and pulled his cap low. 

Jordan dug around his backpack for his car key as they pulled up and got out.

Jordan looked over and saw them standing in front of a Ford wall. The brown guy had on sweatpants and Timberlands, a white polo shirt, maniac eyes. He gripped a mace fashioned out of a BMX handlegrip and a ball hitch with spikes. The white guy had permanent blue demons on his forearms. Cocaine and Caviar t-shirt tucked into a handgun tucked into a pair of True Religions.

Sharp wind coming off the water.

“Jordan?” Guvinda said.

“Yeah,” Jordan said, jittery key halfway to the door.

“We gotta talk to you.”

“What?”

“Are you deaf?”

“No.”

“We heard you’re fucking with some of your union brothers. Framing them up and ratting on them.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he looked at Trent, Guvinda, Trent.

“That’s not what we heard,” Trent accused, livid bugged-out eyes darting up and down Pemberton. Jordan looked down at the gun.

“This is fucked,” Jordan gasped.

“You’re fucked, fucking skinner goof,” Trent said, phrased it like he was throwing a punch, gesticulated with the gun.

“If we ever hear about you messing with your union brothers again,” Guvinda stated, “I’m gonna put you in the hospital and put a lot of holes in your car.” He held up the crude device.

“I’ll punch your teeth out, cocksucker.” Trent held up his left hand with the brass knuckles. They shined hard in the dull light.

A wet area dilated on Jordan’s pants.

“I’m sorry,” he hardly said. He was sobbing now.

“See, you do know.” Guvinda stepped to him. Jordan flinched. 

Trent heard casual post-shift banter coming from the gates.

“Let’s bounce,” Trent said.

“I’m serious,” Guvinda said.

Jordan knelt, laid his palms on the asphalt.

“I don’t know—”

Guvinda climbed back up into the truck. The power window went all the way down. He stuck his head out, said: “You know exactly what I’m talking about.” 

“Go change your diaper,” Trent called over from the passenger side, cackled derisively as Guvinda casually drove away. 

When he no longer heard the truck’s thick exhaust, Jordan got in the car, lowered the sun visor and let himself go.

Down McKeen, Guvinda, and Trent unmasked, arguing about who would get out and switch the fake plates back to the registered plates. 

***

Duane sat back in the padded leather desk chair looking at a wall filled with curling bonspiel photographs and plaques of acclamation and dedication and framed parchments of accreditation and completion, signed and sealed, transected by angled bars of gray light. He pulled a steel ball on the pendulum clacker, let it go, faced his computer and continued to read and answer emails on but not limited to the subjects of bullying, backpay issues, vacation time carryovers, lockout threats, salary negotiation, the Covid-19 Second Wave, workplace conspiracies, conference center rental fees and basic safety concerns. The clacker stopped. He heard the receptionist tell someone “first door on the left.”

“Duane Bannon.”

He looked up from the screen at a huge masked cop standing in the doorway to his office.

“That’s me,” he remained seated, unmasked. “Come in. How can I help you?”

The cop entered, closed the door.

“You can leave it open.”

“I’d prefer we spoke in private.” 

“Have a seat,” Duane offered.

The cop remained standing. “Hi, I’m Dave Crawford, VPD, North Vancouver. I’m looking into an incident that occurred this past Monday afternoon at the Vancouver Shipyard.”

“An incident.” Duane sat there looking on with shrewd, relaxed eyes. Unguarded body language, noted Crawford, no crossed arms or fidgeting, nothing hinky.

“Yes. An employee was threatened on Pemberton Avenue by two men at about half past four this Monday. One of the men said something about the union. I quote: ‘Don’t be messin’ with your union brothers.’ The person threatened was Jordan Purnell. Is this name familiar to you?”

Thunderheads lit up the window. The air cracked and boomed.

“Vaguely.”

“How so?”

“I’d have to think about it. How can I help you?”

“I spoke to, uh,” Crawford checked his notepad, “Ward Browne this morning at the shipyard, a co-worker of Jordan’s, and Ward mentioned that he spoke with you on Saturday night, about some trouble he was having at work. Is this correct?”

“Yeah, I talked to Ward about his supervisor, Alan. That’s correct.”

“Well, according to Jordan, Jordan and Ward have some kind of issue with each other, some kind of beef. Know anything about that?”

Rain surged now, smeared the window behind Duane, something gently domineering about his eyes.

“I’m not aware of any beef  between those two, no.”

“Hmm, interesting, because this gentleman, Mr Purnell, was threatened on the Monday following your call with Ward, two days earlier, on Saturday. It’s coincidental that Ward is having issues at work, possibly involving Jordan—”

“Possibly? Ward didn’t say anything about Jordan.”

“I asked him some questions about Jordan.”

“Did Ward say they have beef?”

“I’ll ask the questions.”

Duane shrugged: “Okay.”

Crawford sifted through his notes.

“You wanna coffee or water or something?” Duane asked.

“No, thank you,” Crawford said. “Do you know about these two, from the sound of it, rather mean individuals, who threatened Jordan under the pretext of union solidarity?”

“I know nothing about that.” Duane stated, stared at him. It wasn’t exactly a lie. In this case, the chain of command was:

Duane’s email went to Ming He, who told her sons Thaddeus and Cyrus, twelve and fourteen respectively, what to type. They printed the message and put it in a stamped envelope, taped it closed, put on bucket hats and face masks, walked to the nearest mailbox and dropped the letter in.

Claude sent by courier a birthday card enclosing a separate sheet with the pertinent typed details.

What stemmed from Duane concerned information and tactics. 

What stemmed from Claude concerned money.

What stemmed from Ming arrived at the biker’s door. 

The biker, Mallard, emailed an invoice for security services to an accountant, pseudonymously known as Kevin Scott, who administered a certain bank account. The accountant known as Kevin Scott was not professionally engaged by the union. When the accountant received Claude’s courier post, Mallard got paid by Kevin Scott, who used funds from said bank account, and also paid himself a fee from the same account. The accountant shredded the instructions and took them to an incinerator. He deleted Mallard’s email, wiped his computer history and erased the digital invoice. He also paid Ming through her sons in person at Surrey Central Skytrain Station.

The biker, Tim Skall, aka Tiny, aka Mallard, six foot five, two eighty, walked nine blocks with a roll of quarters to a payphone, one of the last, also near Surrey Central Skytrain Station.

Mallard called Mark O’Carry, a peeler bar bouncer, couldn’t do it; his daughter’s Christmas concert was that afternoon. 

Mallard called Bernard Fehr, a scrapper from Flin Flon, Manitoba, and a dedicated cokehead, number not in service.

Mallard called Steve Baker, hurt people for a living, said he was born again, a catechumen, his baptism was in two months.

Mallard called Guvinda Bedi, ex-military, longshoreman, sadist—available for intimidation, arson, assassination. 

Guvinda answered but didn’t say hello. 

Mallard heard him breathing.

Mallard explained it.

Guvinda agreed to do it. 

Mallard told Guvinda that Guvinda had to pick up Trent Parish at the halfway house, dictated the address. Guvinda wrote it down in a porno mag across breasts airbrushed to perfection. He thumbed the instructions into his phone, hung up without saying goodbye, rolled a blunt of—what was he smoking—Gas Mask.

Mallard burned the letter from Ming in the backyard firepit while roasting hotdogs.

Guvinda thought Mallard’s name was Jeremy but couldn’t be sure.

Guvinda had no visual of Mallard.

Mallard had no visual of Ming.

Claude and Duane had no visual of or deliverable address for the accountant known as Kevin Scott.

Claude knew Mallard.

Claude didn’t know who Mallard knew.

“Can’t help you officer, what was it, Crawford?”

Crawford looked at framed photographs of Duane’s daughters, healthy, happy, unblemished.

“Can I get your phone number and address in case I need to reach you again?”

Duane took a card from a card holder, a miniature Noah’s ark, and handed it to Crawford. 

“If I hear anything about that I’ll let you know,” Duane said.

“Thanks for your cooperation.”

“Not a problem.”

Crawford said bye with a curt nod, was ignored by the staff on his way through the lobby, exited into a deluge.

Dustin Cole is the author of the novel Notice (Nightwood Editions) and the chapbook Dream Peripheries (General Delivery). He has also contributed writing to BC BookWorld, Heavy Feather Review and the British Columbia Review.