Continued from Part II…
Some people say that Saint John has a homeless problem — and they’re right. Her name is Clara Baldwin, but I called her Chips, on account of that was all she could afford to eat.
“Oi, wot yew dooin’ in dese ‘ere parts, den?” she asked once she had spotted me walking up the street. She was sitting on her usual corner, on King Street by the Freak Lunchbox. While she was not, strictly speaking, reliable, she was known for keeping good tabs on the goings-on in the city. Better than any other bum I know of, anyway.
“Lass time I seent yew ‘round ‘ere, yew stiffed me fer da price of a Timmies,” she continued angrily.
I think it’s important to note here that Chips spoke with an incredibly obnoxious, fake cockney accent. Best I could figure it, she had seen the movie My Fair Lady as a child and thought if she talked like that, maybe some rich aristocrat would swoop in and make a real woman out of her. A crazy notion, sure, but not the worst get-rich-quick scheme I’d heard come out of this part of the country. Remember “East Coast Lifestyle”? Ha! Like that was ever going to catch on.
“I’m looking for a man. Goes by the screen name ‘The French EFF’.”
“I dunno nuffin’,” she said firmly, but her shifting glance told me otherwise.
“Out with it, Chips,” I said, grabbing her grubby coat collar and pulling her onto her feet. “What do you know?”
“Wot yew gonna do, den, huh?” she said, cackling. “ ‘it a po’ womin in da face?”
“No,” I said, calmly. “I was thinking more along the lines of cutting funds to the Romero House.”
I was bluffing. I had already axed that money-draining program months ago, so I was banking on the possibility that she hadn’t heard yet.
Her fiery eyes glared angrily at me. The fib had worked.
“Fine,” she said, spitting her words. She broke my grip on her jacket and continued. “I’d seent sum strange happnins down on Wattaloo street lass week. Lossa techy weirdos after da girls. Maybe dat has sumtin’ to do wit what yew is talkin’ about.”
“Thanks, doll,” I said, tipping my hat. “You stay warm, now.”
As I was leaving, she spit on the ground and returned to her spot, covering herself with copy of the day’s Telegraph-Journal. I heard her chanting a short mantra to herself, over and over until her words faded behind me.
“The tea in the ‘chi, tastes more or less like pee. The tea in the ‘chi….”
If there’s something to be said for the Waterloo Street whores, it’s that they’re persistent.
You can never catch a Waterloo whore off-duty. One starts to wonder if they ever take a day off to play a game of bridge, or even to visit their grandchildren.
When I got there, I saw Destiny, Zebra, and — ah, of course — Coconut standing on the street. The regular crew. I recognized them immediately. From a different time in my life, of course. I’d moved on, but there they stood, like relics from another era, selling their vintage wares as they had years ago, when I was just a boy.
I walked up to Coconut, and old favourite of mine. She reminded me of my Aunt Margaret.
“Oh Brian!” she exclaimed excitedly. “It’s been so long! I was beginning to think we’d never see you again.”
“I’m here on business,” I said sternly. “I’m looking for someone. A man going by the code name ‘The French EFF’.”
A slight flash of recognition crossed her face, but she hid it fast.
“Ring a bell?”
She eyed me seductively. “It might.”
“Don’t be coy, Coconut,” I said, giving her my fiercest look. “Who is he?”
“That kind of information,” she croaked, “is only for paying customers.”
I grit my teeth. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Fifteen disgusting minutes later, we were sharing a cigarette on the ratty mattress in the back room of the Max Pub.
“All right, Coconut,” I said, turning to her. “I filled you up — now spill.”
“I don’t know all that much about him, really,” she said, shrugging. “He just comes to see me some times.”
“How often?” I asked, feeling a little jealous, despite myself.
“Not too much anymore. He said he was about to get really busy right around this time, and he must have — he hasn’t been in to see me since.”
I tilted my head back and excelled a great ring of smoke. (OK, maybe not a great ring, but it was a pretty solid oval.)
“Is there anything else?”
“Yeah,” she said, thinking. “He was always running off to meet with his boss after we finished.”
I sat up with a start.
“His boss? Where? When?”
“I’d say around 9 o’clock,” she said, flicking her ash into a can of Alpine. “It was always at the pulp mill, according to him.”
“Wait, you don’t think the Irvings are caught up in this, do you?” I said, raising my hands submissively. “Because if so, that is way out of my jurisdiction.”
“No, they’re not involved,” she said, shaking her head. “At least not intentionally. I’m pretty sure it’s just a meeting place.”
I checked my watch. It was nearly 8 — I had just over an hour. I hopped out of bed and began to dress.
“Oh, one more thing,” she said, digging through her pants. “This dropped out of his coat one time. I think it’s his business card.
She handed me a crumpled and torn piece of paper. Sure enough, it was a business card. It read: “Lucas Reed, @TheFrenchEFF, marketing manager.” Also listed was a phone number and a business location, but there was a giant tear where the company logo should have been.
“Sorry it’s not in the greatest condition,” she said. “It’s been in my pockets for ages, and these clothes are pretty weathered. You know how it is.”
“Yeah,” I said, putting on my hat. “I know how it is. See you around, Coconut. Don’t fall out of any strange trees.”
“Huh?” she asked.
She gave me a confused look as I left, but I didn’t repeat myself. Didn’t need to, I thought. I nailed that exit line.
I showed up to the location a few minutes before what Coconut had said was the usual meeting time. I checked my watch and admired the bright lights of the pulp mill as it whirled off in the distance.
I began to wonder if they’d even show. Who knows if they even still met here? I was uneasy about loitering so near to an Irving facility. I knew how they felt about government interference.
It turned out that those fears were well-founded, because suddenly, I felt a warm breath on the back of my neck.
“What ‘chu snoopin’ around for?” asked a gruff voice from behind me.
I turned around sharply, and before me stood two burly men in security outfits.
“Oh, hello gentlemen,” I said, nervously. “It’s me. Brian Gallant. The premier.”
“Yeah? Well my name’s Ur, and this here is Vin,” said the one on the right.
“How do you do?” I said, lifting my hat cordially.
“Yer on private property,” they growled in unison, dispensing with the formalities.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s alright. I’m uh…I’m just scoping the place out. Governmental check. Making sure everything’s up to snuff.”
I ran my finger across a railing, pretending to check for dust. “Yup,” I said, nodding. “Looks good to me.”
They each grabbed one of my arms and lifted me effortlessly into the air.
“Time to go,” said the one on the left.
“No, No, that won’t be necessary, thanks,” I squeaked. “I can show myself out.”
“This is Irving property. You’re breaking the law,” came the curt reply — only I couldn’t tell which one had said it, seeing as I was now being hung upside-down, over the Reversing Falls bridge.
“Oh come on, man,” I said, my face reddening as blood rushed to my head. “What isn’t Irving property around here?”
Without a word, they released my legs and I fell.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two shady figures meeting in the distance, one of whom was turned toward me, licking his fingers and laughing as I plummeted face-first into the drink.
To be continued in Part IV…