The noir novel has long been a staple of urban American fiction. But what about Canada? The Walrus asked Canadian novelists to sketch their cities as grittier, sexier, and darker than you might ever have imagined…
From the plane into Edmonton International, I could see the city to the north, this treasure chest metropolis sprung up in the middle of nowhere. I was flying in with a four-year plan. Big skies, big bucks, live simple, get out. A job with Sirius Gas. Maybe you know it. A little travel, not much. Calgary mostly. Fort McMurray. Basically a desk operation downtown paying two and a half times what I was worth. I liked the people. I find it refreshing working with straight arrows. The problem was, at the end of the day they went home to their families in suburbs called Spruce Grove or Sherwood Park and I went back to my bachelor suite on Sask Drive. Not that my building didn’t live up to its motto: A Nice Place for Nice People. I’ll fit right in, I thought. That was before I got so lonely I was ready to slit my wrists. Before a madman became my best friend. Before I found out how good a pretty blonde can look in a strap-on.
I was living like a monk. I didn’t buy a car; I didn’t even buy a TV. Computers I got my fill of at work. My biggest recreation was shopping at Safeway. I walked to downtown, across the High Level Bridge. It can get fairly chilly on that bridge. It never occurred to me to furnish the apartment. I ordered a table and folding chair from ikea and a foam slab from Foam Alone. White walls and a view of the river valley and the city glittering in the winter night. Otherwise just me and my skin mags and Star Trek novels. Then one day on Whyte Avenue I stopped in front of a false-front shop called the Plant Shack and thought, that’s what I need. The owner lived in a lean-to out back. A Western Steppes horse rustler by appearance, Yakabulski was a wild thinker. We hit it off right away. I left weighted down with greenery. Over the next few weeks I’d drop in Saturday afternoons, and we’d duck out back and smoke a little of his under-the-counter product.
Sometimes Yakabulski’s girlfriend Heidi was there, a seamstress. When I first met Heidi she was working for a criminology prof at the U of A, making clothes for dead pigs. The dead pigs would be dressed in Heidi’s clothes and left out in the woods so the prof could study where the animals took the bones. This had to do with the city’s dead hooker problem. Heidi worked a couple of other jobs, but she wouldn’t say what they were. I found out one of them the day I took a cab to South Edmonton Common and walked into a box store called Lovecraft, thinking it was a sci-fi bookstore named for the fantasy writer. I was browsing the butt plugs when Heidi asked me with a smile if she could assist me in any way. Normally she worked in back, on apparel for customers with unusual girths or interests.
Unless you believe what you read in the papers, you know the rest. We started sneaking around on Yakabulski. But something was off. Heidi started showing up with bruises. Another bad sign was she had a semen collection. On a shelf alongside her bed, she kept a row of labelled jars in order of decomposition. It took me a few weeks to realize what I was looking at. I admit I was moved when I got my own jar. By that time my exchanges with Yakabulski were the screen door kind: strained. One weeknight he turned up at my place at two in the morning with Heidi in a state of dumb terror and talked crazy for three hours. The next morning I was at Home Depot before it opened. I bought a chain lock. A few days later two cops knocked on my door, and my first thought was for Heidi, but I had it wrong. It was a gay crime of passion, apparently. One of the cops showed me a warrant for my dna.
Just don’t take it all, I told him.
Don’t worry your pretty head, the other cop said.
It’s funny about four-year plans. A few minor alterations and they’re eight to fourteen.
Our next Canada noir: “Just The Thing” by David Bergen…