Tommy Wagner was king of the world.
Gazing down from the top of the reservoir, Tommy surveyed his empire. His breath hung in the cold winter air. It was a stunning day; so clear and bright, one was almost blinded against the blanket of fresh white snow.
Tommy plopped onto his toboggan, and gave a gentle push forward. The slick-wooded craft bounced down the hill, narrowly missing several other children along the way.
Tommy came to rest next to his best friend, Jack Thomas. The two grinned goofily at each other, before grabbing their sleds and racing back to the top of the hill.
And back and forth it went, until the sun started to flirt with the horizon, casting long shadows. “I’d better get going,” sighed Jack. “My Mom will be looking for me.” “I’m going to stay awhile longer,” said Tommy.
With the moon slowly checking-in to take its shift in the sky, and reflecting gentle light across the snowy hill, Tommy had all the illumination he needed for a few more runs.
Tommy gathered his sleigh and loped to the launch point. Fatigue was starting to set in. It had been a long day. As Tommy reached the summit, he looked around again, realizing that where there had once been dozens of squealing kids, he was now on his own. It was suddenly starkly quiet, and more than a little creepy.
“I think I’ve had enough,” Tommy thought to himself.
As Tommy was about to propel himself down the hill, an eerie, pulsating noise rose above him. Tommy looked up, his eyes widening like saucers.
It was an alien spacecraft, or at least he was positive it was. He had seen so many in comic books and on television. The craft was huge; cylindrical in shape, with rectangular sections on either end. A ruby red light pulsated in the middle, and smaller white lights spanned the entire edge.
The craft moved slowly, and grew louder as it approached. Tommy, frozen with fear, could not take his eyes off the thing in the sky.
A bright white beam suddenly extended from the vessel, completely enveloping Tommy. It lifted him off the ground, and swept him into the ship.
Shaking and confused, Tommy was led down a corridor by two dark figures. Neither spoke, as the trio entered a large room with smooth bluish metallic floors and walls.
Tommy looked up, and in disbelief saw what appeared to be another boy, not much older than himself. Tommy wailed, “Who are you? Are you going to hurt me?”
“My name is Arkalor,” the boy replied. “I am the leader of the Qammik.” “You will not be harmed.”
“We have watched your world with interest since the time of the dinosaurs, and we have sadly been witness as your people have continued to squander your resources, and fight each other, rather than work together to ensure your survival.”
“We can no longer remain silent,” continued Arkalor. “We are here to warn you to change your ways, or we will be forced to take action.”
Tommy was beyond dumbfounded. “Why me?” he said shakily. “I’m only 10! Why aren’t you talking to one of our leaders?”
Arkalor stated bluntly, “We do not trust adults.”
“Our planet was once much like yours, with adults making all key decisions.” “But adults have agendas, and often make choices for personal, and monetary gain, not always in everyone’s best interests.”
Arkalor continued, “As our world flirted with economic and environmental collapse, our youth became more involved and vocal.” “In appeasement, the voting age was gradually reduced.” “Our political parties ran younger and younger candidates.” “Over decades, the pendulum swung, and a quiet revolution took hold.”
“Today, no citizen of our world can hold a political office beyond age 30 of your years.” “At that point they are relieved of power, and relegated to a position with less authority.”
“We are returning to our home world now, but before we leave, take this communication device.” Tommy accepted the triangular-shaped gadget in his palm. It was cool to the touch with sharp edges. “You can use this device to contact us by pressing the three tips simultaneously,” said Arkalor. “We will also activate it upon our return.” Tommy shoved the device deep in the pocket of his snow pants.
“We will return in one of your earth years,” concluded Arkalor. “Unless by then we have evidence of significant change, we are obligated to intervene.”
Arkalor waved his hand, and the bright white light once again engulfed the young boy.
When Tommy regained consciousness, he was lying on his back, next to his sleigh, at the top of the hill. He sat up and looked around, expecting the company of other witnesses to the unearthly event. There weren’t any. Tommy was alone.
Tommy sat frozen, barely able to breathe. After a few minutes, he finally found his legs and stood wobbly. With his toboggan in tow, Tommy started home. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he expected his mother would be furious with how late he was, and he had no idea how he was going to explain his alien encounter.
Despite his best efforts to remain quiet, Tommy’s mother heard the clack of the sled as he leaned it beside the door. “Hey Tommy, wash up!” “It’s time for dinner.” Tommy was confused. How much time had passed? He looked at the clock, and was surprised to see that it was only 6pm. It had been close to that time when the spaceship had appeared.
Tommy stripped off his snow suit and sat at the table. “Why are you shaking?” exclaimed his mother. “Uh, it was cold outside mom.” “And I lost one of my mitts.” Tommy couldn’t stop thinking of Arkalor’s dire warning.
Tommy tossed and turned all night, with visions of Arkalor and the spaceship haunting his sleep. When Tommy woke the next morning, he couldn’t be sure if the entire experience was real or a bad dream. Either way, he wouldn’t be going near that hill in a long time. And so days became weeks, and weeks became months, and slowly the painful memories of that evening began to fade.
When his buddy Jack came knocking on his door a year later, Tommy still hadn’t resumed sledding. These days, he preferred playing video games from the comfort of his living room.
“Come on Tommy!” extolled Jack. “Let’s go to the hill.” “Are going to toboggan at all this winter?”
After more cajoling, Tommy’s face finally lit up. It was such a spectacular winter day. Perhaps it was time to get out of the house and conquer his fear. Why not he thought?
Tommy and Jack raced to the top of the hill as they had so many times before, flopped on their sleds, pushed-off, and sped down the slope. As Tommy reached the bottom, he rolled and felt something sharp against his side. He reached into the pocket of his snowsuit and pulled-out a triangular piece of metal.
“Oh no,” said Tommy, barely audible. His face turned as white as the snow, as the sun was suddenly blotted out by a large spacecraft; humming loudly, and coming directly at him.
Héctor Arboleda hovered over the lifeless body. “What a waste,” he muttered, as he withdrew his knife from the unfortunate man’s neck.
Five years earlier, Héctor had escaped his native Cuba in search of a better life along Florida’s east coast. Officially, he was now employed as a security guard at the Sunway Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, but unofficially, his main source of income came from a much darker source.
Héctor was a drug smuggler; relying on his local knowledge to import shipments of cocaine from Cuba. Héctor was tasked with finding “business associates,” preying most often on unsuspecting tourists, to help move the cocaine through the US, and across international borders.
His love for the money and power that came with his new life was undeniable, but now here with his latest unwilling mule lying in a pool of congealing blood, Héctor realized he would need to find another mark.
Canadian Dylan Rogers had known Scott Turner and Brad Hamilton since high school. They had forged their close friendship on the playing field – all star athletes in football and hockey.
But the three had not seen each other in several years. They were now spread across the country, engaged in academic pursuits at different post-secondary schools.
It was Dylan’s idea for a reunion. Through regular correspondence, he knew they all shared the same week of winter break, so he proposed the three meet in Ft. Lauderdale, for a few days of fun and sun. The others were quick to accept.
The three arrived at their destination airport within a couple of hours of each other, and arranged to share a ride. It was after midnight when they finally reached the Sunway Hotel, tired but excited in anticipation of the mischief that lay ahead.
After checking in, the three friends were met by two “security” guards to escort them to their room on the 10th floor. The guards wore uniforms, but their shirts were only buttoned halfway. Clearly, this wasn’t the Ritz.
The guards suggested that it would be wisest for the trio to leave their room door unlocked. That way, should anything happen, they would be able to “get to us quicker.” That commitment seemed less than reassuring.
As the guards left, Dylan and his friends didn’t notice Héctor Arboleda glance back with a wide grin. He definitely had plans for these boys. Yes, they would serve his cause nicely.
Despite the sage advice, Dylan chose to lock the door, but doubted the mechanism would hold against the weight of anything greater than a small dog. The friends spent the next hour discussing who would use the bed closest to the entrance.
The following evening, as they were enjoying a few drinks in preparation for a night along the beach, there was a sudden knock. Dylan answered, and Héctor Arboleda, one of the security guards from the night before, stumbled drunkenly into their room.
A touch fearful, and not wanting to offend, Dylan offered Héctor a drink. He accepted without hesitation, and proceeded to sit on the end of one of the beds.
Héctor introduced himself, and did his best to charm, asking where the visitors were from, their backgrounds, and how long they would be in Florida. Dylan and his friends were cautious, but naively shared everything.
Then Héctor dropped a bomb. “I need the three of you to work for me.” “Excuse me?” replied a confused Dylan. Héctor continued slowly, “The three of you are going to each take a small package with you back to Canada, and deliver it to one of my associates.”
“A package of what?” asserted Dylan in a raised voice. “Let’s just say it’s something I can’t ship through normal channels,” replied Héctor.
Although the three friends might have been young and naive, they were smart enough to begin to see what was going on. “Drugs?” Dylan stammered nervously. “Are you talking about drugs?” “Listen Héctor, we’re just here on a short vacation ok?” “We don’t want any trouble.”
Héctor looked up, his eyes glazed and head bobbing slightly from the influence of alcohol and whatever else was in his system, “You know, you remind me of my best friend.” “That’s great right?” replied a hopeful Dylan.
“Not really,” replied Héctor. “I killed my best friend.” And then to illustrate how he had achieved such a claim, Héctor used his finger to draw an X on Scott’s chest, pressing especially hard, Dylan later learned.
“I don’t want any of you to be next,” exclaimed Héctor. “Just do as you’re told, and no one gets hurt.” “I’ll be in touch with you soon with details of your delivery assignment.”
Héctor stood and headed for the door. “Oh and before you get any ideas about running or going to the police, you should check under your bed.” And then he added slyly, “I’d hate to see any of you sent to prison. You wouldn’t care for it there.”
When Héctor had left, Dylan rushed to where the guard had been lounging and checked under the bed. To his horror, Dylan’s hand extracted a small clear plastic bag containing white powder – presumably cocaine.
“This is unreal!” exclaimed Brad. “What are we going to do?”
“Let’s be calm,” replied Dylan. “We haven’t done anything wrong.” “This Héctor character seems full of bs if you ask me.”
Unable to sleep, the three debated all night, plotting their next course of action. In the end, they decided to take their chances and go to the police for help.
With Brad remaining behind to watch their personal effects, Dylan and Scott started out early on foot the next morning. They had not ventured far when they heard the sound of heavy scuffmarks on the pavement behind them. They turned in unison, and in shock saw Héctor following close behind.
“Run!” yelled Dylan. The pair fled across the street towards the beach. A vendor was setting up for the day’s business – renting personal watercraft. Without time for an explanation, Dylan grabbed a key and jumped onto one of the Jet Skis, with Scott in tandem. “Hey, you can’t take that!” yelled the attendant. “You need to pay first!”
The startled attendant was barely able to take a step in Dylan and Scott’s direction before he was knocked to the ground by a lumbering Héctor, who swiftly stole a second Jet Ski in pursuit of the Canadians.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Scott yelled to Dylan over his shoulder. “We need to get away from this crazy lunatic,” replied Dylan. Dylan had driven Jet Skis on the lakes back home, but was unfamiliar with the weaving coastal waterway than ran south towards Miami. How different could it be?
Dylan raced as fast as the craft would allow, twisting and turning around other boats in an effort to lose their pursuer. Héctor would have nothing to do with it.
Héctor gained steadily on the two Canadians. His craft was lighter, and his familiarity with the local waters afforded him the knowledge to take shortcuts – shredding seconds off the pair’s lead.
Ahead, a large barge was entering the channel; the length of which threatened to completely impede all traffic. Dylan saw his opportunity, and headed for a narrow gap between the bow of the vessel and the shoreline.
“You’re not going to do what I think you’re doing?” yelled Scott. “It’s our only chance,” replied Dylan. With no time to spare, Dylan threaded the needle, scraping the side of the Jet Ski in the process, as both he and Scott drew their legs in quickly to avoid a violent amputation.
Héctor was forced to make an abrupt stop to avoid being crushed, and angrily shook his fist as he caught a brief glimpse of the two racing to freedom.
Rather than follow-through on their original plan to contact the police, Dylan and Scott rushed back to the hotel to check on Brad. As they burst through the door, their panic turned to horror. There, in the middle of the room lay Brad; motionless, with a clear bullet wound between his eyes.
Dylan and Scott looked at each other – exasperated and in shock. Suddenly a voice boomed from the open door behind them. “What were you doing this morning? You were going to rat on me?”
The pair spun around to see Héctor, still obviously intoxicated from the night before, pointing a gun in their direction.
To Héctor’s surprise, Scott stepped forward to confront him. With the hand holding the gun, Héctor swung surely, connecting squarely with Scott’s chin, and knocking him out cold.
Dylan was frightened, but now his anger was even more intense. When Dylan starred at football, his specialty was rushing the quarterback, and now was the time to call upon those skills once again. Without hesitation, Dylan took two quick, powerful strides, and lunged for Héctor, connecting with him hard in the chest, and sending him stumbling back against the wall.
But Héctor was a large man, and quickly regained his balance, despite his current physical condition. Héctor pointed, squinted and fired his gun, grazing Dylan in the thigh. Dylan yelped in pain but managed to mount a second rush, this time knocking the gun from Héctor’s hands, sending it spinning across the floor and settling on the edge of the balcony.
“Who do you think are?” Héctor bellowed. “I own this town, and now I own you!” He then proceeded to launch a mighty right-cross to Dylan’s jaw, dropping him to his knees.
“It’s time I put an end to this,” yelled Héctor, as he stumbled to regain control of his firearm.
Dylan shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Through the blood running down his face, he saw Héctor going for his gun. Gathering the last of his energy, Dylan bolted from his kneeling football stance and rushed Héctor, sending him back and over the balcony railing.
Héctor tumbled, screaming all the way into the pool below. At least most of him fell into the pool. His head wasn’t so lucky, and squarely found the less-than-forgiving concrete edge.
It wasn’t long before the wail of sirens filled the air. Dylan and Scott re-counted their story to the police. They were prepared to be taken into custody, but were instead brandished as heroes. They learned that several other tourists had already gone missing under similar circumstances. The police had wind of an operation, but couldn’t connect anything definitively to Héctor, until now.
Despite the praise, it was a quiet, sobering flight back to Canada for Dylan and Scott; heartbroken for the loss of their close friend, but satisfied and proud for their role in stopping a killer.
Marla Thomas had been a housekeeper at the Vegas Regency Hotel for longer than she cared to remember. And in that time, she had rarely been caught off guard; once when she walked in on a young couple still engaged in amorous activities, and another when she discovered the President’s suite completely trashed by some punk rock band. But nothing could have prepared Marla for the day she entered suite 35H to discover the slumped, naked body of well-known businessman, Jimmy Muxworthy. Marla’s piercing shrieks could be heard two floors away.
My name is Fred Grummell. Although I’ve lived in Vegas for nearly two years now, I still consider myself a newbie. I was a respected police officer in Philadelphia for 20 years, until my abrupt dismissal. I still can’t fully explain what happened that night. My partner and I were first on the scene of a suspected robbery. There was a scuffle, and I inexplicably froze and shot a suspect. I accept my punishment, but how I long to prove myself again and bury the demons from that day. I never thought I’d wind up living in Las Vegas, but I needed to put as much distance between myself and my former life. So here I am now at the Vegas Regency as a private investigator. The work is mostly mundane; mainly assisting hotel security with relatively trivial incidents. Trivial, that is, until the fateful day I was summoned to my boss’s office.
Felix Swofford was obviously distraught. He was usually such a confident, beaming man, but today he sat frowning at his desk, feverishly wringing his hands together. Felix had been the proud manager of the Vegas Regency Hotel for 10 years. The Vegas Recency was considered one of the premiere hotels in the city, and was the preferred destination for celebrities and power-brokers.
“This is horrible, Fred,” lamented Mr. Swofford. “Jimmy Muxworthy was found dead in MY hotel!” I was of course aware of Mr. Muxworthy’s demise, but I had not been involved, as the Vegas police had swept in immediately to take control of the investigation. Rumours were that the police suspected the death to be a homicide, but they had not revealed any details. “Fred, I want you to see if you can find out what happened. Not only is my hotel’s reputation at stake, but my good friend, Tony Dehaven, has been implicated.”
Jimmy Muxworthy was a legend in Vegas, mostly for infamous reasons. Jimmy was one of the city’s most recognized businessman. What his business was exactly was always the subject of great debate and speculation. Jimmy was brash and enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. He could often be found in one of the casinos, consumed in a rowdy game of poker. There was certainly no end to the list of people that would gladly cheer his demise. Nothing got in Jimmy’s way, and he was known to have left many adversaries swept to the side and in financial ruin.
Tony Dehaven was Jimmy’s closest business partner. Unlike Jimmy, Tony was much less flashy, and seldom seen in public. He was Jimmy’s rational compass, often tempering Jimmy’s explosive nature to guide him towards sound, logical decisions. “I can’t believe the police arrested Tony,” exclaimed an exasperated Mr. Swofford. “He was the sane one! I have known Tony for as long as I’ve lived here. Yes, he was somewhat intimidated by Jimmy, but he is not a murderer!” Mr. Swofford continued, “If it was me, I’d speak with that floozy of a girlfriend he’s been seeing. Stacey Sinn is her name. She’s a burlesque performer next door at the Excelsior.”
Although I was no longer a member of the police union, I still had friends inside. After a few calls, I learned quickly why Tony Dehaven had been targeted as a suspect. When police investigated the scene, they found that the hotel room safe had been completely cleaned out. The door to the safe though had not been forced. Whoever gained access knew the combination – information that Tony might have known as Jimmy’s business partner. But what I discovered next was most troubling. My informant spoke nervously in a hushed tone, “You didn’t hear this from me. We’re not revealing this to the press. Jimmy was poisoned. Toxicology reports show positive for ricin.” Ricin I thought? I pulled out my phone and searched. Ricin was a highly toxic, naturally occurring lectin (a carbohydrate-binding protein) produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant. Certainly rare, and beyond the ability of any rank amateur to produce. Tony’s expertise was finance. He was already wealthy, and from what I knew, lacked the knowledge to safely toy with something as dangerous as ricin. His involvement didn’t add up.
I decided to check-out the lead Mr. Swofford had offered; burlesque performer, Stacey Sinn. It’s a tough job as they say, but someone’s got to do it. An employee at the Excelsior directed me to Ms. Sinn’s dressing room. I had caught her between performances. “Ms. Sinn? Can I speak with you for a minute? I’m an investigator with the Regency next door.” After a couple of seconds, Ms. Sinn opened the door, clutching a towel to cover her chest. “Don’t be a shy boy,” she cooed sharply, “and cut the Ms. Sinn crap. My name is Stacey.” She could see I was blushing. “This is much more than I wear on stage. What do you want?” “I’m here investigating the death of Jimmy Muxworthy,” I replied. “The police have already grilled me about that,” she exclaimed angrily. “I’ve told them everything I know!” I asserted calmly, “I apologize for the intrusion Stacey. I’ll only need a few minutes of your time.” Reluctantly, she motioned me in and shut the door.
Stacey’s dressing room was what you might expect. Not overly large, with a centrepiece dressing mirror surrounded by lights. On her desk, I noticed a number of photos, most of a man who was definitely not Jimmy Muxworthy. Observing me closely, she noted, “Those are pictures of my brother. I haven’t seen him in years since I moved here from Ohio.” “I notice you have a lot of plants in here.“ Stacey replied, “I used to have a large garden at home. I only have a small apartment here in Vegas. These plants satisfy my green thumb.” Stacey moved towards an adjacent room. “Excuse me for a minute while I throw on a top.” With her occupied, I quickly pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures. When she returned, I said “So Stacey, can you tell me about your relationship with Mr. Muxworthy.“ “Jimmy was a great guy,” she responded coolly. “We just met recently. He used to come and watch my shows. He always treated me first class. The best food and clothes, always.” “Do you have any idea why someone would want to kill Mr. Muxworthy?,” I said. “I have no idea. I know not everyone liked him, but he was always good to me.” I left Stacey Sinn’s dressing room puzzled. Certainly I could see how she could sweet talk his safe combination, but I doubted she had the technical expertise for ricin poisoning.
My phone rang. It was my police contact. “We’ve just had two other reports of people dying at local hospitals due to ricin poisoning.” I was momentarily stunned. Did we have a serial killer on our hands? Apparently the two new ricin victims had admitted themselves to hospital following a night of gambling at the Casino Royale. Specifically, I learned the two had been engaged in a high-stakes poker game.
A light snapped on. Jimmy Muxworthy was one of the biggest poker players in town. I rushed to the Royale and talked to a security colleague there. Of course, since this was Vegas, there was no end to the number of cameras in place watching every movement. I asked if I could review feeds of the night the two men had admitted themselves to hospital. After reviewing video from a number of tables, I found what I was looking for. There was Jimmy Muxworthy, in all of his glory, seated at one of the high-roller tables. And on either side were the other ricin victims.
I poured over the footage countless times. Nothing seemed out of place. Nothing, except maybe one detail. The dealer was wearing white gloves. That struck me as unusual. I called a manager over. “That’s Steve Walther,” he explained, “one of our finest dealers.” “Is it unusual that he’s wearing gloves?,“ I said. The manager peered in, and with a confused look replied, “Yes it is. Let me check.” He pulled out his phone and made a quick call. “On that particular night, Steve had complained of a serious skin rash. He asked the floor manager if he could wear gloves to cover blisters and protect against the spread of any illness to the players. The casino was full, and there were no replacement dealers available, so the manager agreed.”
“What else can you tell me about Mr. Walther?” “He arrived in Vegas a few years ago,” the manager replied. “He told us he used to teach high school chemistry, but there was no money in it.”
I had been focusing so much attention on the gloves, I hadn’t looked closely at Mr. Walther’s face. The manager saw my puzzled look and asked if there was a problem. “Steve Walther looks a lot like the brother of the burlesque performer I was interviewing next door.” “Are you talking about Stacey Sinn?,” he replied. “She and Steve were dating until recently, when she left him for that big businessman that just died.”
It was then I put it all together. I remembered from my internet search that ricin is made from the seeds of the castor oil plant. I compared the photos from Stacey’s dressing room, and confirmed that one of her plants was indeed a castor oil plant. And Steve Walther certainly had the chemistry knowledge to refine the plants into ricin. I surmised he had exposed the playing cards to the ricin that night, and wore gloves to ensure he himself wouldn’t be poisoned. The bastard didn’t care if he took down innocents in the process. He and Stacey had conspired to murder Jimmy Muxworthy and steal his money.
Steve Walther and Stacey Sinn were taken into custody without incident. Somehow the police were able to keep the ricin details out of the press, so as not to alarm the public. It was redeeming to be back on the front lines again doing real police work, and recapture some of the respect I had lost. Sure, no one was really missing Jimmy Muxworthy, but justice was served, and for a top-notch investigator, that’s all that really matters.
Originally published March 2014.
I was in shock.
What began as a routine work day during the winter of 2005, ended alarmingly when I arrived home to find my front window broken; a clean nickel-sized hole through two panes of glass.
Had I been the victim of a drive-by shooting?
Was one of my neighbours out to get me?
As I was cleaning up the broken glass, I found the projectile; not a bullet, but a small round stone.
Is there a gun that shoots rocks? A sling-shot perhaps? The mystery deepened.
Far beyond concern for my own personal safety, I worried about my dog.
I had just purchased my pup the previous summer. During the first year, through the housetraining and chewing phases, I limited her access in the house while I was at work; using a baby gate to block off certain areas.
The day my window was broken, my dog was segregated in another room.
These days, she has full run of the house. When I arrive home, she’s often waiting for me, her nose pressed against the front window, in the exact spot where I discovered the holes in the glass.
Had my dog been older at the time, she might very well have been a victim of this heinous crime.
I taped over the holes until I could arrange a permanent repair.
I didn’t get much sleep that night. I tossed and turned trying to make sense of the situation. I wondered if I should report the incident to the local authorities, or at the very least stay home the next day to protect my dog and property.
Against my better judgement, I did go to work the next day, and proceeded to drive my co-workers crazy with my story. I was wrought with emotion. What should I do?
I couldn’t get home quickly enough that day.
Thankfully, I found my dog and home safe. My assailant had not returned.
I hugged my dog, but I was again faced with another worrisome night plotting my next move. I finally decided that I was going to call the police. This injustice could not be left unaddressed. I had to do something to put my mind at ease.
It was cold the following morning, and my driveway, my unpaved gravel driveway, was again very slippery. My car wasn’t equipped with winter tires and was having difficulty getting any traction.
Becoming a little frustrated, I gunned the engine in a desperate attempt to get moving.
It was then that I heard a distinct clunking noise against the side of the house.
Like a cartoon light bulb popping on over my head, it suddenly all became painfully clear.
My gravel driveway had been icy all week, and two days earlier, the day I arrived home to find the broken window, I had been particularly annoyed that I couldn’t get any traction.
I suddenly realized that when I had gunned the engine, my tire dislodged a small stone, sending it hurtling back and through my front window.
You know that feeling that’s both an overwhelming sense of relief, and embarrassing stupidity? Yes, that’s how I felt.
Needless to say, I didn’t report the incident to the police.
It’s not easy being me.
Originally published February 2014.
Do you remember Brigitte DePape? She’s the Canadian Senate Page who stood as a protest during the 2011 Throne Speech with a sign that read “Stop Harper.”
What’s a Page?
If you’ve ever watched Canadian government sessions (and who hasn’t), you might have noticed a group of kids, dressed like penguins, complete with bow tie, huddled on the steps around the Speaker’s chair. These kids are Legislative Pages, responsible for distributing literature, circulating messages, getting water, and other various errands for the elected members.
It was the Fall of 1979 when I served a six-week term as a Page in the Ontario Legislature, representing the Riding of Kingston and the Islands. I was one of 22 kids chosen from across the Province – eleven girls and eleven boys. A regular Noah’s Ark of junior politics.
Preparation was intense.
For starters, I had to memorize the names, ridings, and seat locations of all 125 members of the House. We were tested frequently. When we were given an errand to deliver a message, we were always expected to be prompt and precise.
There was also a lengthy list of rules and procedures for Pages to study.
A typical day at Queen’s Park began with special Page school, which was really just like regular school, condensed into about four hours.
After lunch, we’d all go to the House for the afternoon session – beginning with the always entertaining Question Period.
While most sessions were relatively routine, I was once summoned by a member to get him a box of Smarties. When I returned, he promptly opened the box, and to my shock, started throwing the candy at a member on the opposite side of the House. I felt a bit like an accomplice to a crime.
On a rotating basis, Pages would work evenings to support committee and public meetings.
At one of these sessions, the discussion centered around batting rodent infestations on agricultural land. Groundhogs in particular if I remember correctly. One by one, farmers would approach the microphone to vent their frustrations and propose potential solutions, including one who offered to “Just shoot their heads off!”
Not that the exchanges were not interesting, but I was exhausted this particular evening, and so I dozed off.
I was awakened to the mostly grinning stares of everyone in the room. It was suggested that I go get a drink of water to clear my head. It was certainly one of the most embarrassing moments in Toronto area politics, prior to Rob Ford of course.
The other Pages and I spent most of our free time together, including playing soccer on the front lawn of Queen’s Park. We were told that by law, Pages were the only ones allowed to use this property for recreational purposes.
It was during one of these soccer games that I collided with and nearly knocked out a girl I had a crush on. My technique for meeting women hasn’t changed much over the years. Susan Farrow, if you’re still out there, call me.
All in all, an interesting first taste of politics, albeit far less publicized and controversial than Ms. DePape’s experience.
Originally published January 2014.
If you’ve worked with me since 2004, you’ll know I keep a purple wrestling mask displayed prominently in my office.
I was on relatively stable ground entering 2002. Having nearly seven years with my then current employer, I thought I was settled for the balance of my career. I had also just purchased my first home.
The Monday following my first mortgage payment, all employees were summoned to learn that our facility was closing by year end. A day I will never forget.
The product line I supported was moving to Guadalajara, Mexico.
I was offered an opportunity to be part of the transfer team, travelling to Mexico to train employees and maintain continuity with customers.
Now in Guadalajara, I soon observed that a few of my coworkers kept wrestling masks hanging in their offices. I was told they were for good luck.
In Mexican wrestling, masks are worn by all competitors. Winners are awarded the mask of their challenger as a trophy.
One evening, I was invited to attend the local wrestling matches with a few of my Mexican colleagues.
On entering the arena, the first thing I saw was a display of wrestling masks on sale. I couldn’t resist snapping one up, and after consuming a few adult beverages, I put it on. Just like Batman.
So there I am, sprawled out comfortably about ten rows from the ring. Cold cerveza in hand and proudly adorned in my new mask.
There was a tag team match in progress. At one point, a wrestler was injured and couldn’t continue. His partner started moving around the outside of the ring, shouting at the audience.
Not possessing a firm grasp of the Spanish language, it wasn’t clear to me what was happening until he started pointing and shouting in my direction. When he then exited the ring and started towards me, I realized, in a moment of horrifying clarity, that he wanted me to take the place of his injured teammate.
In my mind, I wondered if my Mexican medical benefits would cover my spine being snapped in half, or if the language barrier would result in the accidental amputation of one of my limbs.
I’m sure the seats in that wrestling arena still bear the finger marks where I held on for dear life.
Thankfully after a few minutes, the wrestler gave up and moved on. I don’t remember much of what happened after this point, only an overwhelming sense of relief.
The next day, the guys in the office confessed that the whole episode had been staged as a joke. Bastards. They got me good.
You never know though. What would have happened had I climbed into the ring? I could have gone on to become the biggest star in Mexican wrestling, earning millions of pesos in prize money and tequila endorsements.
One can only dream.
Originally published February 2014.
I doubt anyone in this neck of the northeast will disagree that this has been a challenging winter. Frost quakes, polar vortexes, ice storms, blizzards, and brutally cold temperatures. Spring can’t come soon enough.
It’s the kind of winter that makes one yearn for a warm escape, and while I didn’t go anywhere south this year, I am reminded of a particular spring break trip to Florida back in the 80s.
A whopping $150 for a return bus ticket and a week’s accommodation in Ft. Lauderdale. Sweet!
Sure, the hotel wasn’t the most palatial on the planet, but what did you expect for $150? Boldly named the “Jolly Roger,” our hotel came complete with a pirate flag flying on the roof.
We arrived around 2am, tired but excited in anticipation of the mischief that lay ahead.
We were met by two “security” guards to escort us to our room. They wore uniforms but their shirts were only buttoned halfway.
They recommended that it would be wisest to leave our door unlocked. That way, should anything happen, they would be able to “get to us quicker.” Uh huh. That was reassuring. We chose to lock the door, although I doubt the mechanism would have held against the weight of anything greater than a small dog.
Six of us shared the room. No one wanted the bed closest to the door. Given the option, we were all more than happy to sleep on the floor as far from the entrance as possible.
One evening, while we were enjoying a few drinks in preparation for a night along the strip, one of the security guards stumbled drunkenly into our room. I’ll never forget his name – Jesse Rodriguez.
Before I continue, let me again reaffirm that our hotel was not 5-star. It wasn’t bad, considering what we had paid, but I doubt Donald Trump was in the adjacent room.
For example, all of the dressers were missing knobs, so we had to use knives from the kitchenette to pry open the drawers to store our clothes.
So again, here’s Jesse Rodriguez, disheveled uniform and all, back in our room.
A touch fearful, and not wanting to offend, we offered Jesse a drink. He accepted without hesitation and proceeded to sit on the end of one of the beds.
Jesse then launched into a story, telling us that he had been fired from the hotel that day for smuggling cocaine into Florida from Cuba.
We glanced nervously at one another. We had no idea if he was telling the truth or not. We just wanted to keep him happy.
I was enrolled in a few sociology courses, so I started viewing the situation as a project. I tried my best to be Jesse’s friend. A calm and cool Jesse is a non-violent Jesse, or so I hoped.
My plan seemed to be working. At one point, Jesse smiled at me and said, “You know, you remind me of my best friend.”
“That’s great right?” I said.
“Not really,” replied Jesse. “I killed my best friend.” And then to illustrate how he had stabbed his friend, Jesse used his finger to draw an X on my buddy’s chest, pressing especially hard, I later learned.
Well, isn’t that fantastic?
To add further drama, I then remembered that we were using knives to open the dresser drawers. One of these knives was unfortunately positioned right next to Jesse on the night stand.
Luckily, since Jesse was a little lacking in his faculties at the time, it wasn’t difficult to motion to my friends to provide a distraction. And with Jesse looking the other way, I dove gracefully across the bed, firmly grabbed the knife, and skillfully swept it out of sight, all in one motion. It was certainly one of my proudest athletic moments.
I wasn’t completely silent in my effort however, and when Jesse turned and saw me sprawled across the bed, he growled, “What the hell is your problem?”
“Nothing Jesse,” I replied somewhat uneasily. “It’s cool. Have another drink.”
Eventually, Jesse did leave, much to everyone’s relief.
The next day, the hotel manager confirmed that Jesse’s story was indeed true.
I’ve often wondered what became of Jesse. Not that I ever, EVER, want to see him again.
I’m just glad I’m still here to be able to tell the story. Enjoy the remainder of your winter.
It’s time to step out of the shadows and admit the truth. I am somewhat of a geek.
From William Shatner’s turn on the bridge of the Enterprise, to the raw, post-apocalyptic landscape of The Walking Dead, I’ve long-been wrapped in the escapism of science fiction storylines.
And I am not alone, as attested by the growing popularity of comiccons; nerd homages to the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and pop culture. From the flagship annual gathering in San Diego, to now nearly every corner of the globe, and in every size and scope, the train doesn’t appear to be slowing any time soon.
I mean, how often do you get the opportunity to engage directly with your childhood heroes and pop culture icons?
Comiccons are one of those rare events that appeal across wide generational gaps. Grandparents, parents and children sharing in their fandom of celebrated franchises including Star Trek and Dr. Who. Just look at the Star Wars phenomenon as an example. First blasting onto screens in the late 70s, and never stronger than today, even after close to 40 years.
I arrived late to the party. My first comiccon was in Ottawa in 2014. Where have you been all my life? The day was a rush.
My primary motivator for attending was an appearance by Christopher Lloyd, the legendary Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy. I paid for a photo with Mr. Lloyd in front of the DeLorean time machine. I only had seconds for a quick greeting and handshake, but it was a moment I’ll never forget, despite an awkward attempt at the “glancing at my watch” pose from the movie poster.
But comiccons are far more than direct celebrity experiences. There are countless vendors, artists, and associations in attendance, all eager to share their knowledge and passion. Certainly most memorable, were all of the fans dressed in cosplay – their enthusiasm and creativity overflowing.
Recently, Ottawa Comiccon organizers began revealing the line-up for this year’s event in May. Guests include legendary director, George Romero, the original Batman, Adam West, Smallville star, Laura Vandervoort, Gotham’s Robin Lord Taylor, and Dr. Who’s, John Barrowman.
I already have my ticket and can’t wait.
An event that caught my attention this week was the plight of the community of Oroville, California, home to the tallest dam in the US. Due to heavy rains, the dam has been in peril of failing. Or perhaps more accurately, the dam’s spillway has been in peril of failing due to heavy rains and massive erosion.
I don’t know if I could live in the shadow of a dam, especially in a region prone to violent geological activity. Looking up each morning at that imposing wall of concrete, wondering if today was the day that cracks might form, allowing water to start leaking through.
I am perhaps too influenced by the movie Earthquake, which I experienced as a young teen. Adding to the visual effects, the noise in the theatre was especially jarring, and the seats had been rigged to shake as the chaos started. During the bedlam, I’m sure there was a scene where a dam collapses under the stress, sending a torrent of water crashing tragically onto the town below.
Although residents of Oroville were directed to evacuate, a few had chosen to sit tight. One man interviewed said he had a boat ready in his backyard. Should the dam fail, and rushing water threaten his home, his plan was to jump in his boat and float presumably to safety.
Dams are incredible marvels of engineering. A few years ago, I visited Hoover Dam while on vacation to Las Vegas. Although you’ve likely viewed photos, nothing prepares you for the enormity when you first witness the Dam in person.
My visit to Hoover Dam included a guided tour. Traveling deep into the structure, through dimly lit, dank tunnels, I learned about the history of the Dam’s construction, and its importance to the Southwest US economy.
Hoover Dam facts:
- Supplies electricity to some 20 million people.
- Took 5 years to construct.
- Extends across the Nevada/Arizona border.
- Constructed using 4.3 million cubic yards of concrete (that’s a lot).
- 2nd tallest dam in the US (behind the Oroville, California dam).
Given the opportunity, I’d love to work at the Hoover Dam hosting guests and tourists. I’ll be your Dam guide. Does anyone have any Dam questions? I hope to be able to provide some Dam answers. I would NEVER grow old of that.
And lastly, beavers are a resourceful animal, known for their prowess in building dams. I only throw that out there for thought, and in the interest of adding some Canadian content to my story.
Enjoy the remainder of your dam day folks!