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…
Her recent divorce lay heavy in her heart. At her feet, inside a briefcase, was the story of the whole hellish affair. Russell Crowe? Renée Zellweger? The casting would be crucial. She stood partially hidden behind the fur wraps and raglans crowding the coat racks near the ballroom entrance of the Lord Nelson Hotel. It was the opening gala of the Atlantic Film Festival, and she watched as a fleet of black and white limousines pulled up to the huge oak doors. A red carpet stretched from the curb in through the doors like an open wound against the dark. It wasn’t raining, yet the wind pummelled the backs of the starlets and leading men, the visiting producers and directors, all flashing smiles to flashing cameras as they hurried inside.
Across the street, a sudden gale churned the leaves of a giant oak in the Public Gardens, rocking the fans clinging to limbs for a glimpse of their idols. Other fans clung to the iron gates, elbowing each other for the best view. This wasn’t what she expected from a little port city. Deep lawns perhaps, a main street with parking meters, and thick ropes coiled around cleats on long deserted wharves. This Halifax felt more like a younger sister to Toronto, but hungrier, craving to be cast as the star. Toronto had become not so much a city as a simpering venue for a film festival, a grid of streets choked by too many studio trailers looking for money and moving images. Well, then, if this little-sister city wanted more than a cameo appearance, she’d make it happen.
Names she didn’t know, but familiar faces from the magazine rack stared back at her: the actress with the big duck lips; the golden-skinned boy with the yellow spiked hair; that interview lady with the surgically stretched face and a bit of a lisp; the skinny, strutting rock star; the smooth-faced golf star. Dozens and dozens of stars. But it was the directors and producers she was after, the backroom boys, the people who bankrolled the stories. She was going to place that briefcase into the hands of one of them; into the hands of a man who understood how cruel other men could be; a man who would scrape the words from the bruised pages of her life and smear them twenty feet high across that screen.
She spotted several pairs of eyes darting furtively about the foyer. Security guards. Through the thin material of her sequined purse, she could feel the hard cylinder. Slinging the briefcase across her back, courier style, she stepped into the honeyed light of the lavish ballroom, the carpeting thick beneath the tips of her worn stilettos.
The air was static with shrieks of greetings and adulation. Beneath the chandeliers, a sea of glistening eyes and smiles bobbed above ruffles of satins and chiffons. Broad, black shoulders rose and dipped like hulls. White-jacketed waiters bearing trays of champagne and caviar swerved like dolphins through the crowd. Drawing alongside a podium, she scanned the faces surfacing before her. For a second she felt small, grubby, the Value Village satin rotting off her shoulders. But only for a second. Despite the genius of the deal-makers surrounding her, the realms of magic they could set in motion, they were powerless without that first thought, that seminal idea. And bursting the seams of her briefcase was something fully grown — a towering oak, rich in sap and spirit. Full of that coveted force that can make an audience laugh, weep, brood. It was this knowledge that steeled her step.
She caught sight of a famous director, the tall white-haired man with the goatee and glasses. Him. It was him she wanted; his imagination, his discipline, his skill. And he would want her. He would fall on his knees for her story. One of the security guards looked her way, then moved sharklike through the swarming bodies as she pushed closer to the white-haired director. She dove deeper through the sequined starlets, swearing to God she’d not be tossed out on her ass this time. This time she was prepared. Her hand slipped into her purse. The guard bore down on her.
“Miss, this is the vip section,” he shouted. “Miss, Miss — you can’t come in here.”
Pulling out the pepper spray, she burned it into his eyes as he lunged toward her. He went down with a scream, fists digging at his face. Stepping past his thick, writhing form, finger still on the nozzle, she bolted toward the director. However this went down, Halifax was about to take centre stage.
Our next Canada noir: “Beyond the Overpass” by Michael Winter…