Friday, 13 September 2013


The Pea Gravel Heist

 The night fell like a bent boxer. As black, oppressive and smothering as the stage curtain of a play that closes on opening night. I made sure the lights were out, that we stayed away from the windows, kept our voices down and kept our cigarettes cupped in the palms of our hands. There was work to be done.

 I was back in Edmonton, a harsh winter burg that hadn’t been sorry to see the last of me 20 years ago. I’ve since bugged out of worse places, spattered with bad blood and a crumpled one-way ticket in my coat. I’ve snuck my shadow out of some nice towns too. I’d been summoned north by a moll I could never quite shake, blonde and bosomy with gams I like to look at. Her wit’s snappier than the gum she chews and sharper than her nails. Her handle is Ann, Ann Fatale. As for me, the name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m a fixer, a freelancer. You don’t ever want to have to deal with the likes of me, but if you do, you’ll want me on your side. Trust me on that.

 Insurance lightning is normally a simple process. You need jerrycans of gasoline and plastic garbage bins. One or two paper matches. Foom! Issue solved. Ann Fatale said she had some torches, would I come up? Turned out the torches weren’t jobs, they were actual torches from the five and dime. Made in China. Citronella candles. Seemed their bases were too small to be stable. She envisioned them resting in terracotta dishes with their flimsy bases weighted down by gravel, pea gravel. They’d look nice on the backyard patio during the evenings. Keep the bugs away. Trouble was Ann Fatale had no gravel. Gravel was my gig. That’s what I signed on for. A pea gravel heist.

 Doctors are a lot like the heat. Everything’s copasetic until you encounter them and they examine you too closely. Suddenly everything’s wrong and you’re looking to escape a diagnosis or handcuffs. A doctor lives one block over from Ann Fatale, four garage doors down the alley. Nobody in the neighbourhood likes the doctor. I get that and I know back alleys like the back of my hand. Seems doctor had a substantial pile of pea gravel along side of his garage. Unused. That afternoon I did a recon, la-di-dah, walking a borrowed dog with bad hips, scanning, scoping and picking up after the dog. It seemed easy enough. All I’d need was a child’s beach sand bucket, a spade, 25 seconds and the cover of darkness.

 It was time. “All right,” I said, “let’s go.”

 Ann Fatale took the old dog. I carried the bucket and spade. We slipped through the back gate and the entire alley was lit up by motion lights. Our shadows stretched north to Fort McMurray and south to Calgary, west to Vancouver and east to Regina. But there were no guards, no guns. Security lights are like car alarms, ignored by everyone.

 “What do you think?” she asked tensely.

 “I’m going in,” I replied tersely. “Set your watch. If I’m not back in 25 seconds get out of here.”

 Later, during our debrief, surrounded by lit citronella candles that weren’t going anywhere, I thought maybe it was good to have an accomplice, the right time to have a partner in crime. I decided maybe I wasn’t going anywhere either.

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