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145 miles north-east of Montreal
I know you requested to be here in person but your mother had enough sense not to allow it. You’re not eighteen yet, so her decision is final and I think she made the right call. Donnacona Federal prison ain’t no place for a girl like you.
Now, I know I’m not much of a father, probably because I never had the chance to be one but I am sorry I never got to be there for you. Your grandfather came to visit a few weeks ago. I’m glad to see that there’s at least one person from my side of the family who’s looking out for you. He told me you applied to circus school in Montreal. I never thought you could go to school for that, but he says your heart is set on it. So my heart is now set on it too. I just hope I get to see one of your shows one day. If you’ll have me, of course.
I guess what I want to say is, I ain’t got much, but I do have a little money set aside. Only seven thousand or so, but it’s something. It’s all legit money, so don’t worry about how I raised it. I don’t do drugs and I’ve quit drinking years ago. They don’t pay much here in prison, but I’m working the laundry service for 5.50 a day. I’ve been behaving well, and I got lucky enough to get on a Corcan program twice. It pays a little more and it gives me credits and experience to work when I get out. Now, the money is yours whether you want it or not. I don’t have much use for it in here.
Your mother said you wanted to know what happened that day, said you were pretty insistent about it. I don’t know if it is out of anger, which I wouldn’t hold against you, or if it is out of compassion, but if you think you are old enough to hear these things, I’m ready to tell you.
I don’t know everything for sure, but it was pretty easy to figure out. The news covered the story plenty. I had court records and word of mouth from friends and friends of friends and so on. Anything I didn’t know for sure, I just added in the details that made the most sense. Now, there is still time for you to forget about this because I’m not going to make it pretty for you. I may be a murderer, but a liar is not something I am. I won’t try to get you on my side either. I will tell it like it was and let you decide for yourself.
You have to understand that I hadn’t seen you at that point except in pictures. And even then, it was Mikey who had shown it to me while I was inside. Alice…Well, I thought your mother probably had better places to be or better people to be with. She can say whatever she wants. She never supported me in any way and that is one thing she can’t deny.
But you should’ve seen yourself in that picture. You were beautiful. Oh yes! Those pure green eyes, brown hair, lovable little cheeks, chubby cheeks, and you wore a little princess outfit with a tiara and a wand. It was nothing too corny. All green with butterfly wings. A fairy princess or something. I’d spend days looking at that picture.
That picture was taken a year prior to that night in the bar. I didn’t know what to expect anymore. How much had you grown? Had you grown all of your baby teeth? Did you like music? Of course, everybody likes music, but what kind and just how much? And I remembered an oath I made to myself back in prison. I swore I’d find me a good guitar when I got out, and I would sing you all the songs I had written about you. And two years is plenty of time to work on songs, let me tell you that.
I imagined myself on a stool, playing the cords on an acoustic guitar and you’d be dancing and twirling and all of that. What can I say? You were my light. Kept me straight and out of trouble, and to this day you still do. It is strange how I’ve never been in trouble while I’ve been in prison, either in Cowansville or here in Donnaconna. I can assure you that there are plenty of ways to get into trouble in here, but I never did thanks to you. Those three days of freedom earned me a lifetime in prison, but I have been at peace ever since, knowing you were alright out there.
In so many ways, you saved me without you even knowing it so I swore I would make sure to tell you someday, what went down and why it happened and now you are asking me just that. I’m not even looking for salvation here, maybe just understanding and forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a long hard road. I just hope you can understand that.
It was early, early September. The sky was covered with thick gray clouds. There was rain forecast for the evening. The boss was coming down the road driving his best bike: a brand new, flat black, Fat Boy Harley. The exhaust noise echoed all around as he made his way on the deserted street. He pulled on the gas and the bike winded louder which drew a satisfied grin on the man’s face.
He took a left at the gate of an abandoned industrial building lot. It was well fenced-off with plywood and tarps all around so that no one could peek inside. The building was awaiting demolition but the gates were open because the man on the bike also ran the company that would tear the place down. If they had killed me, I might have ended up in the same containers as the demolished concrete. There would have been a pile of rocks, mesh wire, floorboards, busted lamps and a dead Samuel Lee. Nobody would go looking for me.
He parked the bike right next to an old battered Buick Skylark. There were four other cars in the parking lot. The first two were a Cavalier and a revamped Impala. The other two were cars you forgot quickly about: a Hyundai and a Corolla.
He took off his helmet, went inside and up four stories. There were two men at the door, ‚full patched‛ men wearing leather jackets and dark sunglasses inside. They were silent and still, which was contrasted by a hell of a ruckus coming from inside the room.
Now most people imagine a Russian mob to be silent and methodical, likewise a Chinese triad or a Japanese Yakama too, and they’re probably right, but these folks here were brawlers. Boxing was the fanciest martial art they were ever going to do. Their tactics were loud: they rarely got the job done right, let alone done clean.
I remember hearing the metallic door and the boss walking in. The room had been stripped of all features except for the large square frame windows that had seen too many decades. The lights were all shattered and the room was lit up by a series of double-headed industrial work lights. There wasn’t any ventilation on the floor and with
twenty men or so surrounding me in a closed space, it quickly felt like we were in the tropics.
Each of them were granted a turn and I was hurting pretty badly. I was breathing heavily as thick, salty sweat was dripping from my forehead. The droplets ran down my cheeks and mixed with the blood pouring down from the cuts around my jaw. A pool of my own blood and sweat was starting to spread on the floor under the chair on which I was tied. I had at least a black eye and a busted lip, two teeth down and most likely a broken rib. But it seemed that would not be enough. I was in for the beating of a lifetime and I knew it was time to get tough when I heard someone say to the boss, ‚He’s ready.‛
But we’re not going to talk about that just yet.
Three days earlier, I was coming out of prison after my first punishable offense. I guess, I seem to be prison-bound, but what can I tell you? All I had was my GED, therefore employment prospects were looking grim. I had a little money set aside, a few hundred dollars, but there I was: unemployed at 26 and back in town.
Just getting on a bus from the Cowansville penitentiary had cost me close to 60 bucks. I took a greyhound and it came to a stop at a junction somewhere in the southwest of Montreal. The stop was little more than a sign on an electric pole in front of a dilapidated gas station on St-Antoine Street. The whole block near the highway bridge, surrounded by old brick duplex and concrete tenements, was dilapidated and in desperate need of a facelift or a wrecking ball.
They might had been fixing the neighborhood a bit further north, building up fancy towers and that hockey arena up the hill, but this block right there, that was the real deal. It was how it used to be. Places like St-Henri, Pointe-St-Charles and the better half of Verdun were standing a mere hundred yards from Westmount, the richest neighborhood in the country. Yet, on this side of the highway stood some of the poorest slums North America had to offer. You could see remnants of fences, with rusting barbwire still attached here and there. Dust, bricks and stolen cars formed most of the scenery around those streets.
In addition to the age old conflict between Francophones and Anglophones there were conflicts between the Irish and the Brits, tensions between the Whites and the Blacks in NDG. A neighborhood which at the time did not stand for Notre-Dame-de-Grace, but rather for ‚No Damn Good‛ and ‚Niggers Drugs and Guns.‛
There were open fights about which mob was to control the city port. Add to that the highest dropout rates in the city and an increasing amount of teenage prostitutes, the borough seemed ready to explode.
The city wasn’t all that worried thought. The rest of us were not going to barge in Westmount and burn it to the ground. We were too busy fighting one another and they
had made it damn near impossible to make it to the top of the hill. There was a cliff, a highway and only one damn north-south tunnel. They could sleep easy.
The bus went its way and I stood there. I was waiting on the corner, busy smoking my second free cigarette in two years. One by the prison door and this one right there. I ain’t had much. I was wearing my grey prison pants and a blue boxing sweatshirt, the ones with the stripes on the shoulder.
It was the middle of the afternoon. The sun was high and strong, though it was clouding over slowly. I had my poor boy hat on. I pulled it down to cover my eyes. I like to think I must’ve looked good, or at least looked like something back then.
Moments later, a beaten up Skylark came by to pick me up. It was a ‘65 or ‘66, something around those years. The one with the round headlights. It was my friend Mikey’s car.
Mikey was a tall skinny black man. He measured 6’3 and weighed 165 pounds at most. His long arms and legs felt more like loose limbs but always had it good with the ladies because he had a wide smile, good hair, good taste and a naturally incredible six pack. The motherfucker didn’t even have to do any sit-ups. I swear.
Once one of the only African-Canadian members the local Anti-Racist-Action skinhead group, he had traded his bomber coats for a job and a career pretty much at the same time I went to prison. I didn’t know just how that had worked from him yet but I knew he was the only friend I could really count on.
The Skylark’s headlights turned off. The radio stopped shouting its profane music. Mikey got out with a large grin on his face, wearing a Fred Perry shirt and dark jeans.
‚Has it been two years already?‛ he asked.
Yes, it had been, I thought. ‚Two years, less one day,‛ I replied. I blew out the last of my smoke threw the stub away.
Mikey always insisted on repeating things. That was his main flaw. That was his only flaw for that matter.
‚I was there, you know,‛ I said and then we shared a heartfelt hug.
‚It’s good to see you out,‛ he added. ‚But come on! We got places to go and drinks to drink!‛
He went around to his side of the car. I went to mine, threw my bag in the back and slid in the front seat as if he had just picked me up after a game or something. As if I had never been taken away for two years.
We both sat in the vast seats of the Buick. Onyx’s Bacdafucup was in the cassette player. Mikey was driving with one hand on the wheel, the other elbow resting outside
the window. He barely made any stops, ran every yellow light that came our way. We were just a bit further out of the southwest and headed towards downtown.
You could see that the buildings there probably were built the exact same time as those in Saint-Henri’s or Little Burgundy boroughs. But at least the owners there seemed to put some effort into renovating their lot. The wood felt fresher, the brick and the stone felt cleaner.
Some of the old industrial buildings had been converted into what looked like an artist center or a university building. Tags one the walls were less gang oriented and more political. ‚Free Mumia,‛ one said. Another read ‚Smash Capitalism –Pcr(co)‛.
We drove on St-Jacques up to Peel, took a left, and then headed back west when we had crossed the 720.
‚So you guys taking me to a strip club?‛ I asked.
‚Pufff, you wish!‛ Mikey answered. ‚It’s just going to be you, me and some guys. If you want a lap dance my friend, you’ll have to pay for it yourself. Besides, I’m not taking a man in such a dire need of ass straight to a land full of pussy he can’t fuck. It wouldn’t be fair to you man!‛
‚You’re a good friend.‛
‚Yes,‛ he said as he nodded ‚I know I am.‛
We were around the Concordia University campus and there was no shortage of fine young women in fashionable clothes. It was the nineties. Kurt Cobain was dead but grunge was still alive. The fall had not kicked in yet and there was plenty of skin showing off. Strong thighs under short skirts, long torn shirts, dirty boots and black nail polish. I was young and out of prison, what’s a man to do?
He parked the car in the toll parking in front of the pub, Crescent Street, under Sainte-Catherine’s where three or four Irish pubs were lined up against the ‚American pub.‛ Mikey paid the minimum amount of 12$ evening fee that was to double if he forgot to get out before midnight.
Thank you, the teller said from inside his booth.
Fuck you,‛ Mickey answered, politely, and we went to the bar. Of course he had chosen the Irish pub and I was happy about it. Now, I wasn’t Irish, but if I was to salute a flag that wasn’t mine, I was better off in the hands of a people who knew that beer was supposed to have alcohol in it.
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