Return of the Orange Virgin

Chapter Twenty-nine—A Dream of Dancing

Quigley was spinning a Canadian dollar coin, absently tracking it through a coffee spill. Eleven-sided, anodized aureate bronze minted on a nickel blank, it had the shine of new gold. The many flats of its edges made it great for spinning. Elizabeth Regina on the one side. On the obverse, or reverse, depending on your feelings about the British North America Act, a duck. But the duck is not a duck, it is a loon, the lonesome augur of misted mornings, a shivery cry clinging low on the waters of the inland lakes, below the mists calling the fish to rise. The Canadians call this coin a ‘Loonie’ when they think about it, which is seldom. The Americans never think about it. Hardly the stuff of magic.

There had to be money—lots of it. Somewhere. Following the shootout at EAT, the forces of the Law were left with one confused couple, each maintaining fiercely in broken English that he/she was not married to—had never before seen—the other. English as a second language, the weaponry in evidence, all pointed to an international drug conspiracy. They swore that they were native English speakers but had been out of practice for a number of years they couldn’t quite pin down and in a place they couldn’t find on any map.

The pistol-packing poet insisted that he was an in-house editor for the Encyclopedia Britannica. They didn’t bother to check; he was locked away downstate in the suite sister Libby had hoped to set aside for brother Harry Profitt Pease. The woman, Valerie, disappeared from her cell, leaving only a chocolate mint patty on the pillow. Tim Hatt walked free on a writ of habeas corpus.

“Who says nothing ever happens in Willipaq,” Quigley stared at the formica countertop. Nothing had happened for Quigley, Champion and Everlast. It had started for them with the first sirens of spring. Now it was almost fall and with the wisdom that hindsight gives, April had been their cruelest month. The world then had taken on a glossy finish as the prospect of pinning down vagrant dollars shone brighter than the polyurethane on the alleys at the Border Duckpin Lanes.

Dreams of glory followed by months of thankless work ate away at the lawmen’s free time. They broke up with girlfriends and were hollow-eyed and snappish on the job. They were frozen in a holding pattern. It was the same old shit day after day. But the three had made a commitment to the golden quest—filling ninety-eight cent notebooks with doodles. Plus a heavy investment in time and effort. None wanted to be the first to quit, besides there had developed that attachment between the keepers and the kept. Tim Hatt knew who they were and what they were doing and was playing the game with them—a sure admission of culpability.

Their tail on Tim had made the three the world’s leading authorities on the unendurable tedium of his regular, predictable, and enviably respectable life. Eat, sleep, fuck and study—his English was now flawless. He even recycled and composted. Twice a week he spaded coffee grounds and lettucey salad residue into Harriet’s tiny garden. Alternate Thursday mornings he separated glass and aluminum and drove to the redemption center. Tim Hatt had sought no gainful employment. He seemed to live, love, read and mulch. He was sailing through life on a plastic surfboard, sustained frugally with a modest credit ceiling on a MasterCard and a Visa, miraculously refreshed. A tireless routine, and legitimate; they had checked on his plastic. The accounts were supported by a stipend, which he never over-drew, of a blind trust administered by a reputable old-line law firm. It was the bequest of an unnamed relative who had squirreled away some insurance policies in his name. After the first flurry of elated activity, they were no further along the road to success. Their chimaera of career advancement had flown the coop, and with its elopement taken the dreams of chevrons and pensions.

“Doesn’t that just burn me up,” said Quigley, expressionless, under control. “I am just really cooked, boiled, burned and plain old pissed-off and bummed-out.”

Favorite expressions. Quigley saw himself on the short end of the administrative stick. He was in a rotten mood. Actually, the Phoenix, the weather bird of ancient iconography, was the bird who burned, while Chimaeras have reportedly flown coops. The Phoenix, who aside from this paragraph makes no appearance in this story, was another airborne analog of the ancients who should have known better. Because of living on the Greek isles and all, they were close to nature and blessed with discretionary time for seeing animal shapes in the stars. Despite this, the ancients acquired a reputation for wisdom that persists to this day. It was a healthy outdoor life. Full of pride in their Mediterranean location and sparkling beaches, they played with new gods and imported others. The old gods slept.

The new gods danced.

Phoenixes burned and coops were flown—living the good life. But that was then and that was there and that was all long ago. With his hands busy toying with a shining coin and nightmares of an empty coop, Quigley was here, and nowhere careerwise. If you’re keeping score, the Phoenix and Quigley burned and the Chimaera eloped with their hopes, taking with it the Ladder of Success, which the boys had left leaning on the eaves of their edifice of advancement.

“There was a northeaster flattened most of the waterfront where we are now sitting.” Champion was trying to be helpful, changing the subject. After six years with the RCMP, he was a constable. He had been posted to an out-of-the-way community at the far end of the Willipaq Ferry. Champion once enjoyed high hopes. What had gone wrong? It worked for other recruits. He had seen them rise. Why, just being nearby when the big busts happened, the glory rubbed off and up the ladder they went. They had gone and he had stayed, checking visas and administering breathalyzer tests. And he had been there, in the thick of it at the celebrated shootout at Cousteau’s Diner, but no stripes.

Good publicity for the corps meant preferment all around. Champion had even had his picture in the national press. He had figured to generate countless column-inches of newspaper stories with the high profile investigations at a busy border crossing. But here he was staring at a tiny circle of sky from the bottom of a well of oblivion, an unperson.

Quigley knew Champion was right. There had been no perceptible forward motion since the first few weeks of their concentrated tailing of ‘the Kid.’ They had almost had him that night at EAT he was sure. Since then it had become a ritualized pursuit.

There is power in a glance, the power that if your eyes linger overlong on another dancer’s partner this will require him to forget his timing, drop rhythm, to break the truce. Both preoccupied they spin on woodenly—dancing about the floor around an object of which they must never speak, whose existence must never be acknowledged but for their presence at the dance. Her long blonde hair bound in a stylish coil, picture hat and gauzy dress, a patrician beauty dances open-mouthed, taking short frequent breaths—more, surely, than are demanded by the exertions of the dance—her eyes rolled back to the whites in a stylized gesture of sexual anticipation which her escort must notice. The escort notices, but he is busy just now covering his back. We have pretended we are here for the dance; we have broken the fragile protocols that bind together the keepers and the kept.

Champion had seen something just like this. In a dance piece on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s television service, the toughs had been strutting, but out of mutual fear and the respect fear engenders, not allowing their glances to rest overlong on the beauty, transcendent, a prize dancing beneath her social class, the other’s beautiful woman. Over the months past the dancers invaded his dreams and, while dreaming, invited him to join them. This he had not confided to his partners. Though he spoke of the show, the dream of dancing was his not to share.

“You watch too much TV, Ed. Straight guys don’t go to the ballet, even on the CBC. Pass me down the sugar would you?” said Quigley. “Spare me the cultural uplift, television is turning your brains to shit.”

“Careful, Quig, you’ll hurt my feelings.”

“You’re a Canadian; you don’t have feelings.”

“You gringo white-eyes were happy enough to see our money when the exchange rate was 33 percent.” Champion stirred his steaming coffee with his little finger, the way he had seen lumberjacks do in the movies. “Ouch! It’s the human condition.”

“Ed, your problem is reverse hibernation. Hockey deprivation is showing.” Quigley spun the coin. The trick was to get it spinning in place, standing still and spinning.

“There was this ballet on the CBC.” Champion slid the sugar past the loonie. Disturbed by the breeze, it wobbled and fell, doing lop-sided figure eights as it settled onto the face of the Queen.

“French television, Ed. You should know better.”

“Hockey and ballet. I only get the one channel.”

“Hockey is almost over. Try baseball. I have to listen to ballet?”

“This is interesting. It bears on our situation now.”

“You think we should wear tights and a codpiece. We go into the woods and find the pot of money under a toadstool. He comes to us and confesses all. Magnetic. Great.”

Champion, Everlast and Quigley had become close during the weeks of their partnerless gavotte. Their faith that the fugitives and their mountain of money really existed, gone to earth somewhere on their backwoods patrols, had transformed their lives, given them a quest. They broke up with girlfriends and were hollow-eyed and snappish on the job. But there had been no perceptible forward motion.

“There were these gangsters, see... On TV?” Surreal dance hall bravos—cinch-waisted, spatted, tattersalled and starched with checkered waistcoats and gartered sleeves—swirled with their molls through an eternal Edwardian demimonde.

Watching, alone in his room, Champion had been struck by the parallels between the dance and his life. The beautiful feminine women and beautiful feminine men in a ballet of thugs walked out the designs he had observed forming in their own affair of Tim and the money. For after all, but for the money what were they all doing here? The kid had been a model citizen over all the months of free-time surveillance, happily living off the charity of an unnamed rich relation and his own plastic umbrella. They knew Tim was their man. He had to be a drug smuggler of some stripe or the other with a cash flow to rival the gross national products of many third world nations. Yet there he was, popular as hell, bouncing around town with the irrepressible energy of a boxcar load of ping-pong balls. Tim’s rusty English was coming back swimmingly. Old people, children and small dogs just loved him. And the money, the evidence, through some legerdemain known only to Timothy Hatt was probably in an offshore account.

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