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Way too long. Just getting started, time’s almost up. Why’s it so important to spill all this shit. Before I … you know. Just is. Maybe I shoulda just talked to Petra. If I could find her. I guess I coulda got a message to her through political contacts. If they even know where she is. And if they can get it to her without blowing her cover or whatever she’s up to. I wouldn’t even know how to address it. Her name I mean.

Yeah. Petra’s not her real name. I dunno if you knew that. My lover. And I don’t even know her name. We joked how that showed exactly how close we were. I was one of the few people, outside her commie friends, who knew it was a made-up name, and the joke was I was close enough to know that much but not close enough to know her real name. If she ever told me, it’d be a sign we were gonna be together for life, she said. We’d either have to stay together or I’d have to be shot.

That was a joke. Her joke on what people thought communists were like.

A bigger joke was she’d picked the name Petra in the first place cause it sounded revolutionary. Russian. Then later she looked it up and turns out it came from something religious and only some pretty bad people in history were ever called Petra or Peter. Bad politically, she meant. But it was too late to change it, it was set as her cover name.

She took this as a trick on herself. Served her right for getting all mystical over it, she said, like a revolutionary spirit was something to be found in a name, a sequence of letters, like it could rub off on you. But it might work in reverse. Having a reactionary name — reactionary means like backward, the opposite of revolutionary — having this reactionary name would challenge her to rise above it. Like an alcoholic who keeps a bottle around to force himself to overcome temptation every day. That’s how she put it.

She’d be good to talk to now.

So where was I? Oh yeah, sleeping on the floor in that youth hostel.

I woke up with a foot prodding me. Someone was saying, “C’mon. You gotta get up you wanna eat, man.” He was sitting above me on the edge of a bed. “Too wiped last night, eh?”

I sat up and saw this real skinny guy with stringy hair and different colour patches all over his jeans. No shirt.

He said, “Whadya wanna sleep on the floor for, man?”

“I came in too late for a bed.”

“You gotta be up by seven to catch breakfast. You wanna shower first.”

There were two long rows of beds with half-dressed guys rolling up sleeping bags and carrying towels through a door at the end of the room.

The skinny boy dumped a canvas backpack on his bed and searched through his gear for something. I told him, “I don’t get a breakfast voucher. The guy at the front said.” I cupped my hand around my chin like a beard. “You know the guy?”

“He’s a good head. Just gets hung up on rules,” said the skinny boy. “C’mon with us, we’ll get you food.”

Ah, the showers. It was the first time since leaving home I’d scrubbed with soap. Even washed my hair with it. Made it kinda stiff but I felt real clean. I took some bunched-up fresh clothes from my bag to put on.

I found the skinny kid, wearing a shirt now and a patchy jean jacket, with two other freaks. One kinda tall and the other kinda short which made the kinda tall one look real tall.

Before leaving for breakfast, we lined up to check our gear in the small office at the front of the hostel. The man with the beard was still there but paid me no special attention. He took everyone’s bags, threw them in a pile in the office and checked off the names on his precious list. Everyone except me got a pink breakfast voucher.

I walked out into cold sunshine with the skinny boy and his two friends. Our heads were still wet from the shower and kinda chilly.

They never told me their names. They acted like we’d always been together. The skinny one who’d woken me seemed to be the leader. In my mind I pegged him as Scraggly. I dunno if there’s such a word but it was him. His hair was soaked from the shower but as it dried it looked just as stringy and dirty as before.

Three blocks away we came to this restaurant, Johnny’s, a greasy spoon run by Chinese. It looked like it survived on pink vouchers from the hostel. It couldn’t have got much other business.

A crowd of us arrived all at once, demanding to be fed. The owner was running around bawling at his staff and his customers. “Voucher, voucher,” he was shouting over the hubbub and taking the pink slips.

A hand-written sign on the wall gave us a choice of fried eggs, scrambled eggs, or porridge with toast. Scraggly pushed his voucher through the crowd and asked for porridge while the owner was directing a woman to fill coffee cups for the first lot at tables who were finishing.

Scraggly passed me his bowl of porridge with toast stuck in it and pushed me towards the tables at the back. He got the owner’s attention again. “C’mon, Johnny, how long do I have to wait?”

“Give me voucher.”

“I gave you my voucher.”

He got his extra bowl of porridge and joined me and the others at a rickety table at the back. “Porridge is better than eggs cause you get more,” he said.

Despite all the talk about how hungry they were, Scraggly and Peach Fuzz — the short boy with short fuzzy hair on his chin — took their time with their food, talking and joking. The tall boy, who had long yellow teeth and no energy for anything but eating, spooned in the oatmeal without slowing down. When it was finished he got up to see if there was any left.

“How can you stomach more of this garbage?” said Scraggly.

Yellow Teeth gave his slow smile and shuffled towards the front.

Scraggly said, “No chicks here, man.”

I looked around. It’d been all guys at the hostel.

“Where do girls stay?”

“Chicks have their own place,” said Peach Fuzz. “No visiting privileges.”

The crowd at the counter was gone now as everyone was eating. Yellow Teeth was pleading with the owner for the last bowl of porridge. It’d been ladled out and was cooling on a ledge behind the counter with no one to eat it.

Just as the owner was gonna hand it over, the door opened. The man seemed to think it quite funny to pull back the bowl from Yellow Teeth’s outstretched hands and give it to the new arrival.

I turned away quick but I heard Gus’s voice saying he’d slept in.

I heard Gus’s voice use the owner’s name, Chung-something. The Chinese man laughed loud like he’d heard a terrific joke.

When Yellow Teeth came back to our table I moved around the table as if to give him the seat closer to the aisle. It put my back to the front of the restaurant, so I couldn’t be seen.

“I almost had it,” said Yellow Teeth.

Peach Fuzz shoved his own empty bowl forward. “Here, you can lick this.”

“Think I want your disease?”

Together Scraggly and Peach Fuzz sang, “He got hair — down — below his knees — hole you in his arms an’ you can feel his disease —”

Scraggly continued alone, “— right now —” He drummed on the table.

I wondered if the noise had got Gus’s attention but I didn’t want to chance it by turning to see. I swallowed my coffee hot and zipped my jacket.

Scraggly passed out cigarettes and they all lit up. I wouldn’t take one. They dawdled over their coffees. Then they dawdled over empty cups

“Maybe we can get some more coffee,” said Scraggly.

“I don’t want no more,” I said.

“Johnny, over here. Where’s our coffee?”

“You have coffee,” the Chinese man said.

“How bout a refill?”

“No refill. Thirty-five cent.”

“C’mon. We’re regular customers. We’re here every day. We’re your best customers.”

“Let’s cool it,” I said.

A minute later Peach Fuzz asked Scraggly for another light and Scraggly reached across and put a match flame to a strand of hair on the guy’s chin. It sizzled and Peach Fuzz jerked back.

“You trippin’ or what?”

“I wish,” said Scraggly.

“Too early,” said Yellow Teeth.

“Dunno bout that.” Scraggly held his jacket open and lifted a joint out so only our table could see it.

I nodded at the front of the restaurant. “Not a good idea.”

The owner was watching us.

“Outside,” said Scraggly.

Like most teenagers, I’d done drugs. Nothing hard. Grass, a little hash. And like most I didn’t believe the horror stories. The only stories that fazed me were kids getting busted and put in jail, long sentences for being caught with real small amounts. Ten years for traces on clothes I’d heard once. That was scary. I’d also done enough dope to know I shouldn’t smoke up when I wasn’t into it. It always turned out bad. If it don’t feel right, don’t do it. That was my rule. Sometimes I even followed it. This should be one of those times, I knew. The Gus thing was bugging me. That he was here. It bugged me even more that I didn’t know why it bugged me.

But if I was gonna get out of Johnny’s without him spotting me, I’d have to go with the crowd. I tried to stay in the middle of the group as we moved through the restaurant. We had to string out to single file to get past some tables in the middle. I stared ahead and was ready to act surprised if Gus called out to me but he didn’t.

The joint came out as soon as we hit the street.

“Broad daylight?” I said.

“Safest place in the world,” Scraggly said. “Pigs see you bunched up in a dark corner somewhere, they wanna know what you’re doing.”

I couldn’t see any cops but I guess I’d got the other guys a little paranoid and Scraggly kept the unlit joint cupped in his hand as we walked.

I was with Yellow Teeth behind the other two. For something to say, I asked him where he was from.

“British Columbia. Kelowna.”

“You’re from B.C.?”

“Yeah, I know, everyone’s going out west and that’s what I left.”

“Heading east?”

“Going back now.” In front Scraggly was slicking the joint with saliva.

“But you left B.C.?”

Scraggly stopped and bumped into me. “Get closer so I can get this going.”

“I’ll watch for cops,” I said.

The three stood together to shelter the match from the breeze, then they split apart and continued walking, Scraggly and Peach Fuzz in front. The joint, with a burning end, was cupped in Scraggly’s hand again. He was holding his breath. Then he burst out with smoke. “Oh yeah.”

Peach Fuzz took the joint but smoked it real casual, walking along. If you weren’t close enough to smell it, you’d think he was smoking a cigarette.

“So where you been travelling?” I asked Yellow Teeth, hoping the other two would keep the joint to themselves.

“All over. Before I went east, I went north. The Yukon?” He made it sound like he was seeking approval.

“That’s north.”

Scraggly had taken the joint back from Peach Fuzz for another toke.

Gus musta got to Winnipeg before me. I’d been picturing him laying in his sleeping bag on the dark ground near Toronto. I knew he couldn’t still be there but I’d been picturing him like that. I had to get out of Winnipeg. Before he saw me. Why, I can’t say. Embarrassing or something to run into him again. He never was my buddy really.

“But I didn’t have enough bread to stay there,” Yellow Teeth was saying.

“So what’d you go there for?”

“Thought it’d be interesting and I could work. There’s nothing to spend money on there, so you just save it, you know? That’s what I heard. But there’s no jobs either. Unless you’re like educated in something they need?”

“So you came back.”

“I couldn’t do nothing. I had no money and they were clamping down on people like me that came up there with no job, so I couldn’t get welfare. The panhandling was the shits, eh? No one give you nothing. I couldn’t buy food or even a ticket outa there.”

Scraggly was holding the joint behind his back for one of us to take but Yellow Teeth didn’t notice it. So Scraggly passed it again to Peach Fuzz who took it quick.

“I’d never eaten dog food before,” said Yellow Teeth.

“You ate dog food?”

“Had to. Cold from the can. It’s not as bad as you think. The smell is sickening, you know? But if you think of it like luncheon meat — hold your nose and choke it down?”

Like Gus’s stories of roughing it in the big city. “You should meet a friend of mine,” I said. Then I wondered if I shoulda said that. “Back in Toronto.”

“So welfare, some agency, got me a plane ticket down to Edmonton. Just to get rid of me. You know the only thing I got outa that whole trip? This.” He pushed his jacket back and showed me a wide belt holding up his jeans. It was a real job, woven from strips of dark leather and bright-coloured beads. At the front was a huge metal buckle with an intricate design hammered into it.

“I made it,” he said. “Took this course there on handicrafts. Taught by like Eskimos?”

“It’s great.”

“Whadya think it’d sell for?”

“Dunno. Something.”

“Figure in Vancouver I can make a bunch and sell them on the street, you know, and make a living that way? Keep me in weed.”

He looked at the two guys in front of us to see where the joint was.

“So after you flew to Edmonton you headed east?” I said.

“Pass it back sometime, eh?” he said loud.

Scraggly said, “You missed your turn.” He actually giggled.

“C’mon.” Yellow Teeth took the joint and dragged deep. Still keeping the smoke in, he passed the joint to me careful-like.

I sucked just enough to get smoke in my mouth without inhaling much.

I tapped Peach Fuzz on the back to give him the joint next.

“Pigs,” someone said.

Stupid joke when everyone’s paranoid, I thought. I heard Yellow Teeth exhale in a small explosion. I let my smoke drift out slow. Peach Fuzz didn’t turn to take the joint.

Then I saw a cop car really was coming at us.

“Throw it away,” Scraggly said.

“No, they’ll see,” said someone else.

“Stash it.”

“Be cool. They ain’t seen it.”

Holding the joint at my side away from the road, I squeezed the burning ash out. I ignored my stinging fingertips and jammed the rest of the joint into my jeans pocket next to my wallet.

The car stopped and one of the two cops got out.

“Everything groovy, fellows?”

None of us replied.

“Let’s see some ID.” The other cop sat in the car with the door open, foot resting on the curb.

Standing at the back of the group, I tried to wiggle my wallet out without bringing the joint with it. I knew I was shaking.

“Christ, I can smell it,” the cop said. “That’s it, everyone empty pockets. Inside out. You first, up against the car.” He pointed to Peach Fuzz.

The other cop jumped from the car and pushed Peach Fuzz against the car.

Peach Fuzz placed his hands on the car roof and spread his legs like he’d been through this before. One cop kicked apart the little pile of articles Peach Fuzz had left on the sidewalk while the other one clapped him under the arms and down his body.

“Boots off.”

Yellow Teeth was frisked next. From a pouch around his waist, the cop took a bottle of white tablets.

“Aspirin,” said Yellow Teeth.

The cop passed a tablet to his partner who scraped it with a finger and touched the finger to his tongue. “Might be.”

“It is,” said Yellow Teeth

“Could be laced with acid.”

“I don’t do chemicals,” said Yellow Teeth. “It’s just aspirin. I get like headaches?”

“We’ll see what the lab says.”

Scraggly, on the ground taking his boots off, spoke up, “Yeah and if it is dope, it’ll get lost. That’s your scam. You guys are the biggest dealers around.”

“You’re next. Up here.”

“You’re just harassing us.”

“That a fact?” He shoved Scraggly against the car hood.

I edged back from the sidewalk.

In the car, the radio crackled. One cop reached in to answer it. The other was hassling with Scraggly.

Casual like, I backed off the sidewalk onto a lawn

“You!” The cop with one arm in the car shouted at me.

I half-expected my legs not to work, like in a nightmare, treading water. But they took off on their own. Like they belonged to someone else.



His legs were racing across grass to a driveway, down the driveway into a backyard, and he was riding them. A roaring noise brushed his ears. There was a garbage can in front of him. The lid denting under foot. Wire mesh passing under.

He landed hard on his side on the frozen ground.

A cop was running up the driveway on the other side of the fence he’d jumped.

He got up and took off between houses. He was in the next street. Then racing through heavy traffic, hitting the sidewalk on the other side. Between more buildings. Into an alley. Down the alley past four, five, six garages. He turned into an open garage, cut through it and out a door into a yard. Out a gate into another street.

This street was quiet. Big homes. Shaded by tall trees that were bare now.

He slowed to a walk and tried to think. Couldn’t. It’d happened so fast. Like it wasn’t him.

He couldn’t hear anyone behind him. No one had tried to stop him running through their yards or even shouted at him. No one seemed to notice him bursting through their neighbourhood. Partway down the block he crossed to the other side. Still no one chasing, that he could see. But police could swing around the corner any moment and trap him like on TV. Probably right now calling back and forth on radios to surround him.

He broke into a run again, down another drive into another backyard.

This time he cut sideways across the yards, battering shrubbery, scrambling over fences. He stepped through a drift of shrivelled up snow against one of them. Slipped in mud where a drift had melted.

But he kept moving parallel to the street without slowing until he came to an apartment building that blocked the way.

It ran right back to a high fence at the rear. Impossible to get past. He went to a side door of the apartment building.

It was locked or stuck. He pushed and pulled the knob.

It gave way and a woman almost fell out onto him. Her hand was on the inside latch.

“Sorry. Just going in,” he said and tried to chuckle but gurgled instead. His chest was heaving and he must look a mess, muddy, scratched by the bushes. His right hand was bleeding.

But the woman squeezed past impatiently and pulled an empty bundle buggy after her.

The door closed with him inside. He was on the bottom landing of a stairwell.

It felt safe.

He climbed the stairs slow. On the third and fifth floors he rested. His hand wasn’t hurt bad — the skin was scraped off the flat edge of it. That first fence he went over. On the seventh floor, the top floor, he went into the apartment corridor.

A small window at the end of the hall looked down on a quiet street. He was way above the street. A quiet street without cops racing around the corner to trap anyone.

He gripped the narrow window ledge and waited. He could feel the heat draining down his face into his neck and chest. He felt a wet drop on his top lip. His nose must have bled.

He shouldn’t stay here. He should be making clever moves to escape. But he’d lost the high that had pushed him through those streets and backyards. A different warm tide was rising in him now. He might puke. No, he was gonna pass out. He sagged against a wall and slid down to sit on the carpet. If anyone came out of their apartment right then....

But for a few minutes he didn’t care. No one came out. Right then, if cops appeared at the other end of the corridor, he wouldn’t try to get up and run. He would wait for them. Maybe ask them to let him sit there a bit longer. He could close his eyes and go to sleep. He did close his eyes. Slept a minute.

He had one of those dreams that are not regular dreams. Like when you pass out, just sort of images you can’t describe. They came over him and left and in a couple minutes the sick feeling went away too.

He waited to see if he was going back into it but he wasn’t. He pulled his feet back and squatted up. Until he could stand without dizziness.

He had to figure it through. Something that only happened to others had happened to him. He was in trouble with the law. Like a fugitive. He might be. He hadn’t seen cops since jumping that fence. They were after him when he took off but would they really try to catch him? They had no reason to think he was a criminal. One cop smelled the dope. They must figure he was holding, that’s why he ran. They might even think he was a pusher. He could end up on a trafficking charge. Plus resisting arrest. Like a criminal in a show.

Twigs and leaves and dirt were in his hair and clothes. He brushed them off onto the hallway carpet. It was hard to get it all out of his long hair. He went back to the window and tried to see his reflection in the glass to find out how bad he looked.

He pulled back quick. Way down there, a police car was coming down the street. It seemed to be nosing along, looking for something, but it was hard to tell from that glimpse.

He stood back a ways and looked out again. The window framed the car through the bare tree branches like a long shot in a movie.

Would they do a door-to-door search? If someone saw him on this street. Cutting through their backyards. Was this building an obvious place to hide? They wouldn’t think he’d get in without a key. That woman. She could tell them. Still his chances were better here than out there. How long could he stay? People in the building would report him. Cops would have a description.

His gear was back at the hostel. The cops could trace him back there through Scraggly and the others. They’d get his bag and figure out his identity. Or they could get his name from the list there.

His parents would be called. Dad would say he knew this was gonna happen.

Why’d he have to get his name on that hostel list?

He had to get his bag and destroy that list. Even if it meant going out into the open.

Down the corridor he found the garbage room. He took off his jacket, made sure nothing was in the pockets and rolled it into a ball. He wiped blood off his right hand with the bundle, then dropped it down the garbage chute. It slid down softly — into an incinerator he hoped. What was left of the joint in his pants pocket followed. He turned the pocket inside out and scuffed the loose leaves and stem into the ceramic floor with a boot.

Leaning over he roughed up his hair to get any more dirt or twigs out. Then he pulled his hair behind his ears and tucked it down the back of his shirt.

How else to make himself look different? He rolled the bottom of his jeans into cuffs.

Not enough. He took off his sweater and flannel shirt. Then he put them on in reverse order, shirt over the sweater and hanging out over pants. The shirt was tight that way but from a distance it might look like one of those oversized shirts young people wear as jackets. He tucked his hair down his back again. It’d have to do.

He took the elevator down.

Stepping from the building, he saw no cop cars or cops on foot. He didn’t know how far he’d run or exactly where the hostel was from here, but he could guess the general direction.

He reached the first corner without incident. That got him onto a main street.

In the next block a police car came whirring through traffic with flashing red lights. He tried to react like a curious bystander and it raced past.

In the next long block, traffic was heavy and the sidewalk was crowded. He felt less exposed with all the people around.

But what about plainclothes police? He was watching for blue uniforms but any one of the people passing could reach out and grab him without warning. Across the street a woman was yelling at a man from her driveway. Behind him two horns honked furiously, then stopped.

After four blocks he recognized a street from last night. Another couple blocks he was at the whitewashed building with the purple and orange door.

In the office just inside the hostel was the bearded man. “I don’t see you,” he said.

“I need my stuff,” Mark said.

“I don’t see you.” He stood up from behind his desk and came towards Mark. “You turn around, march right out of here and I’ll say I haven’t seen you.”

“What are you talking — What’s the matter?”

He blocked the office doorway. “The other kids told me. The police will come here.”

“Give me my bag, I’ll go.”

“You left this morning and I haven’t seen you since.”

“I want my stuff.”

“Not a chance.”

“I need it. Then I’ll go.”

“Let me explain the situation to you.” He walked Mark backwards toward some chairs by the front door. “I gave you a break last night. I didn’t have to but I did. Now it’s your turn to give me a break. Give the hostel a break.”

Mark looked past him to see where the list was. He had to grab the top page off, pick up his bag and get back out past him. He couldn’t think how. The guy was bigger than him.

“If the police come here, and I assure you they will, I cannot afford to have them know you came back and I gave you your gear. That I aided and abetted your escape.”

“What escape? I was just —”

“Because they do, that would put the hostel in a difficult position. It’s hard enough to maintain funding without people thinking we shelter druggees.”

“I’m no druggee.”

“You can see — can’t you see? — you’re putting the whole scene here at risk?”

“I just want my stuff. Cops don’t have to know.”

“Your stuff is on the list.”

“Destroy the list.”

“No can do.”

“You and your fucking list.”

“I won’t stand here and trade insults with you. You’re leaving.”

“Just some of my clothes. I don’t even have a jacket.” The list was probably on the desk in the office and the desk was next to the pile of bags on the floor. If Mark got in to get some clothes he might be able to rip off the page.

“No time. I can’t afford a drug bust on the premises. You gotta go. Now.”

Mark couldn’t tell how strong the man was under his hippie costume. Not that Mark was any muscleman but he had loaded trucks for the good part of a year.

“You some kind of social worker to have this job?” Mark asked.

“We don’t have time for a chat. Just go.”

“You’ll let me fucking freeze somewhere? Long as I don’t get busted in your precious hostel. Ruin your precious job here.”

He’d been moving around and was close enough now to grab the man’s beard and swing him down to the ground. If he could.

But the guy read what was going and took a step back, putting his hands on his hips. “I could call the cops now. That’s your alternative.”

He wouldn’t be able to get past to the office, he knew then. But he had to try.

“Well?” he said.

Behind him, as he spoke, the door at the far end of the hallway opened slow. And Gus slipped in.

The man didn’t hear it. Gus held a finger to his lips and tiptoed towards us.

“Well, I’m thinking,” Mark said. He tried not to follow Gus with his eyes.

“Are you leaving or am I calling the cops?”

Gus tapped his finger in the air towards the office and turned towards it.

Mark wished he could tell him to get the list. Had Gus heard that part of the argument?

But he forced his eyes to focus on the bearded guy. “I’m — I guess I’m leaving, so —”

He must have given it away. The man swung around.

Gus straightened and said to his face, “We’re taking Mark’s stuff and you’re not going to stop us.”

“What are you —”

“Forget that shit, calling the cops. You do that, me and the rest of the guys here will tell about you selling the dope to us in the first place.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“Could be,” said Gus. “But that’s what we’ll say.”

“What are you interfering for? Don’t you know what it means for the hostel if —”

“Come and get it, Mark,” said Gus. He plunked himself in the chair behind the desk.

“I’ve explained the situation to your druggee friend here —”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. And I’m sitting here till Mark gets his stuff and leaves. Or till the cops arrive and I can tell them my story. Go ahead, Mark.”

Mark dug his bag from the pile.

“Mine too,” said Gus.

“We need the list with our names too.”

“Aw, jesus,” the man said. “If I don’t have today’s list to show them, I’ll be in deep shit.”

“You’ll think of some way around it. Where is it?” said Gus. “Or are we waiting for the cops?”

The guy ran his hand through the side of his beard, glanced at the front door and swore. Then he pulled his lips tight like someone doing his duty and took a key from his pocket. He fit it to a drawer in the desk. “I’m thinking of the hostel,” he said. He took out a clipboard.

Mark tore the top page out and dropped the board. “Let’s go.”

They were fifteen minutes away from the hostel before they slowed down.

“We’re all right now,” Gus said. “Just avoid cops who might feel like running a random check.”

That was the time to grab his arm and thank him. Apologize for something. He wanted to tell him everything that had happened since they left Toronto. Tell him thanks some more. And sorry. But Gus strode ahead.

“Are we heading anywhere in particular?” Mark asked.


Continued >



Part I





Part II





Part III






Part IV





Part V







Part VI







Part VII















Part IX



Part X