Vendors hawked their wares in rotten country French. I saw October pumpkins, apples, squashes. It was end of season. What wasn’t sold would be fed to the pigs. Jack selected an apple from a cart and dropped a sou into a habitant’s outstretched hand.

We kept walking and came to the pillar topped by its statue standing across from the Hotel de Ville, Nelson with his back turned to the river. Two old ladies in black stood at the column’s base under the stone crocodile of the Nile, gumming at dark round fruits they pulled from a waxpaper bag.

“Like in that book,” Jack said. “Ever read it? What’d they call Nelson? ‘The one-handed adulterer,’ I think. Have to love the Limeys’ gall, sticking the man smack plumb in the bosom of his foes. Come to it, this lot here’re all Bourbons at heart and never fell in with the Revolution and Boney. Still, I’m surprised they haven’t stuck a bomb beneath Lord him, send him kingdom come.”

“Here or in Dublin.”

Jack eyed me slantwise. We carried on along Notre-Dame. He tapped his stick upon the stones as I matched his pace. Jack paused at a corner. “Listen, I have a rendezvous.”


“Not like that. Something else, something delicate. I dug you up because you’ve always been game, man. Might need your help. Your eyes and your hands. Are you in?”

He waited, gauging the effect of his words.

Let the traffic signal change before you answer. Stop.

Go. And so I did. Betimes I reached into my pocket for my case, opened it, and offered Jack my last smoke. Our eyes met and Jack laughed aloud. We shook hands, like back when we were boys. Some caper, this. He pulled out his own rectangle of metal and showed me a row of clean white machine-rolleds.

“Gaspers?” I asked.

“No, Turk.”

“Thanks,” I said, selecting one.

Jack set fire to the cigaret with what I took to be a platinum lighter and I inhaled a grateful lungful deeply.

“So what is it?” I asked.

“A very small fry, but one liable to scoot. Want you to bottle up his retreat if he does. Should be quiet.”

He shrugged and raised his stick to rest on his shoulder. Dug me up was right. Some dirty work, with the chance of trouble. What was in it for me? My stomach made the decision. Jack would stand drinks and a meal. In my present state that was enough. I nodded assent and together we went along St. James between its gauntlet of grey banks, closed and frowning down at us, hoarding the Dominion’s wealth. Here were the temples of our race: the Royal, the Imperial, the Dominion, the Bank of Montreal. Before us sat Molson’s Bank, where one could withdraw ale scrip from the wicket and spend it on the selfsame bloody beer in a tavern down the street. We passed beneath their dour allegorical finery: gold-trimmed coats of arms, an engraved caduceus of Mercury the patron of thieves, granite Indians. Jack slowed and motioned to an alley.

“Our man’s down there,” he said.

I spied a dark shape waiting.

“I’ll circle ’round. Wait here and watch. If there’s a rumble back me up. Worse comes to worst, take a hike. You know the drill.”

“Fallback?” I asked.

“The Ritz,” he said, disappearing in the gloom.

Couldn’t tell if he was joking or no. I peered about. The street was quiet, suppertime for most. My eyes adjusted. I made out the figure of the stranger as it resolved in low light. He was a small slim man with a spare moustache, nervous-seeming. He wore a bowler, a bowtie, and clutched a furled umbrella though it hadn’t rained in a week. Cocking my ears for any footfall I heard metal tapping, and then Jack’s voice.


There Jack was, legs akimbo, hands on his stick planted between the bricks.

“Aye,” said the man.

“No one’s very happy with you. My lords and masters least of all. You know to do as you’re told.” Spoken calmly, the faintest mocking lilt to his voice.

Brown spluttered to life. “Now look here ye manky bastard, you canna talk to me like that.”

“Your slip’s showing.”

“You’ve no bloody right to speak to me like this way.”

“We own you Brown, and no mistake.”

“You own me? Is that so? I’m an agent of the Crown, ye bloody weskit.”

“Aye, but ye take the King’s coin, ye soldier for tha’ King.”

“Pah. You canna make me do a Goddamned thing, you Goddamned guttersnipe.”

Here Jack’s stick flashed an arc up and Brown went down, clutching at his face, letting out a shriek. Jack pushed him from the alley wall to the ground and onto his back. He put his foot on Brown’s chest and placed the tip of his stick near the man’s aorta. Anatomy, simple.

“Listen close,” he said. “Chicago bought you and your waistcoat, and you’ll do as you’re told. Happily. Tonight. In for a penny, in for a fucking pound.”

Jack stepped off Brown and pulled out a wad of banknotes. He peeled off and dropped a flutter of bills over the now silent, cringing form. The little man was frozen, his hands protecting his phiz.

“My advice, Brown? Keep that dirty trap of yours shut, respect your elders in the kirk, and tie your bootlaces.”

This was not an especially encouraging turn of events. My hackles rose and I looked around for an eyewitness. No one. Brown keened in his pain. Ugly. Watch your step, boyo. My mouth spat aluminum-tasting saliva out onto the alley wall.

Jack came to me where I waited at the entry. He took a handkerchief from his sleeve and carefully wiped blood off the shaft of his stick. Done, he dropped the rag on the sidewalk. Was I terribly shocked by what had happened? Life had thus far shown me much worse. Together we went west.

“Let’s grab a ’cab,” he said.

St. James opened up at Victoria Square and at the foot of Beaver Hall Hill Jack whistled a motor-taxi over. We climbed in and Jack directed the driver to wheel us to the Derby. He whistled an old-fashioned tune as we rode, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”

“Who was he?” I asked.

“A useful useless man,” said Jack. “He’s been trying to spit out his hook.”

“Scotch,” I said.

“No kidding.”

“No, here.”

My very last chattel. From its secret place I took out a flask of blood-warmed liquor and offered it to Jack. He took a pull and made a face.

“Christ in heaven. You must be broke.”

“And how. One question.”

“Shoot, lad.”

“What’s that, your stick?”


His eyes lit as he stroked it.

“Shark’s spine.”

AT THE RESTAURANT Jack paid the ’cabman and we got out. For a moment I worried about my mien. My suit was starting to shine at knee and elbow. I’d left my overcoat at my digs as a sort of hostage. Quickly I checked my fingernails and brushed my front, then tightened my necktie. To hell with it. Set your hat straight and march on in. Do as Jack does. At the door they straightaway took our toppers and Jack’s damned stick. The maitre d’ led us to a lowlit booth of deep brown leather. We sank in.

“Peckish?” asked Jack.

My salivary glands winced at the aroma of good food.

“Like that Russian’s dog,” I said, and let out a strange unbidden laugh.

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