Canada |

The Green Honda

by Don McLellan

edited by Kevin Chong

Archie spotted the scanner at a swap meet one Sunday morning. The hawker evidently concluded that he wasn’t an undercover pig, because he leaned across the pile of swag and said, “It’s your lucky day, man.” The scanner was about the size of Archie’s shoe. Though dismissed by Lila as “just another stupid toy,” once he got the hang of things, it allowed Archie to eavesdrop on firefighters and paramedics, on the banter of security guards, construction crews and bicycle couriers. But the hawker had been right: the police frequency was best. After dinner most nights, Lila’s ample fanny parked in front of the TV, he’d lie in the dark listening to cops working stakeouts and drug busts, in pursuit of robbery suspects and car thieves. The action was unedited and often profane. Due to atmospheric interference, it could also be unintelligible. But when the sky was clear and the night air crisp, his evenings were about the ticketing of teen dragsters and the forced separation of feuding couples. About the search for Peeping Toms, cat burglars and fugitives – about reality radio. Of course he couldn’t see the “perps,” as the police called them. It was like listening to one of those taped books for the sightless: you had to imagine the cast of characters. This required a faculty Archie didn’t often exercise. The police wore a small microphone clipped to their lapels. So refined was the technology that Archie could discern the pounding of a heart or a constable slurping coffee, every burp, every groan, every sigh. What he heard made it possible to visualize cigarette smoke ebb from lungs palpitating from a takedown. The overlap of voices could be confusing, but in time Archie began to recognize the officers consigned to the evening shift. There was a senior detective, a Scot named McPherson who referred to cop and criminal alike as “laddie.” There were several Scots on the force, but Archie could always identify McPherson. He was the one with the stem of a pipe rattling between his teeth. “Patience, lad,” the detective counselled a rookie. “People don’t just up and vanish. It might take a while, but sooner or later we’ll catch the bugger.” *** Just a few weeks after the honeymoon – a weekend in Vegas – Archie knew the marriage wouldn’t survive. It was the way Lila rolled those myopic eyes when he recounted the humiliation du jour. “Then this customer says to me…” But she wasn’t listening. A shopping channel stone on her finger, Lila didn’t appreciate the sacrifices necessary for the big-screen TV and those sushi dinners on the west side. Women, Archie believed, never did. “A fella still godda have da hole he can call his own,” said Myron, of Myron’s Meats, Archie’s boss, following Lila’s exit. “Da home port.” Myron only broached the subject when Marlina, his own of several decades, was absent on errands. Myron was a European from a town Archie couldn’t pronounce. He had mossy forearms sturdy as a length of timber and a moustache resembling the long dash. Fifteen years earlier Myron had come to the vocational school looking for an apprentice meatcutter. Instructors recommended the young Archibald Louie because of his dexterity with the cleavers, which he could juggle like bowling pins, never so much as a nick. A classmate came up with the sobriquet: Chop Louie. “Vy dey call you dat?” Myron had asked at the job interview. His accent could be as thick as a sausage. “Vy Jop Louie?” “Ever eat Chinese?” Archie replied. “Dish they call chop suey?” He told Myron about dropping out of high school and the difficulty he’d always had with reading. Asked, he said he didn’t know his father but that his mother, who had passed, had worked as a cocktail waitress. He said nothing of her many male visitors, each of them apparently Archie’s uncle. “Do you believe in trade unions?” Myron inquired. Who in that class didn’t? All were aware that a member of the local chapter could earn double that of an independent. “Unions?” Archie said. “Isn’t that, like, communism?” He started work the following Monday. *** With Lila out of the picture Archie could listen to the scanner at any hour, in any room, its crackle and screech be damned. He also had the time and resources to launch the home business he’d always dreamed of, Archie’s Fine Meats. He purchased a freezer from a retiring butcher and cleaned out the garage. He bought wholesale and sold only quality cuts. Once word got around, demand for Archie’s products quickly exceeded supply. The most popular item was a stew made from leftovers, a concoction flavoured with garlic and ginger. It was so unlike what most carnivores were accustomed to. Everyone expressed curiosity about the ingredients. “Top secret,” Archie would say, which always earned chuckles. People, he found, even hungry ones, enjoy a mystery. Only a few of his customers were poached from the shop. Folks he’d developed a relationship with over the years, people he could trust not to squeal to Myron, who’d surely sack Archie were he to learn of the betrayal. Archie’s Fine Meats had only been operating a few weeks when he began to fear Myron suspected something. Hadn’t his employer been distant recently? On the drive home from work one evening Archie also noticed a car, a green Honda, following his pickup. Had Myron hired a private spook? But his employer, Archie reasoned, was too tight for such an extravagance. And what if Myron did discover his sideline? Free country, ain’t it? Besides, Archie could always open his own storefront. At a bankruptcy sale he bought cabinets, tubs, a cast-iron stewing vat, a gleaming new set of cutlery. When, after a night of work, he swung open the garage doors to hose the detritus into the sewers, the freshly rinsed blades sparkled like dewdrops in the morning light – or so, in a rare poetic interlude, it occurred to Archie. Like so many men of his temperament, Archie was happiest at labour – in his case, bent over a carcass, separating the edible from bone and gristle, blood like an incoming tide pooling around his rubber boots. Chop Louie. *** “Online dating,” Myron was saying. “You can look at da picture first, you know? Turn off dat radio.” But Archie couldn’t locate a computer’s power switch. And he balked at the idea of another spouse so soon after Lila. Which didn’t stop Myron from raising the subject whenever Marlina ventured beyond hearing range. “Who vas dat dame you took to da pictures? Before Lila.” Myron was excising fat from a rump of roast, wrapping the raw slab in a sheet of wax paper. “You know,” Myron said. “Wit da boobs?” “They all have ’em,” Archie said. “Two each, usually.” “Dis big?” “Sonia.” She had once visited the shop. “Dats da one! Vat happen to her?” They had the same conversation every few months. Sonia had worked at a bakery in a nearby mall. He’d taken her to a Clint Eastwood movie. When Archie tried kissing her, Sonia offered cheek. “She got back together with an old boyfriend,” Archie lied. “If dose tings aren’t for sale,” Myron said, those tings, of course, being da boobs, “Sonia shouldn’t put dem in da window.” *** After Lila, Archie sometimes returned to the same mall where he’d met Sonia; it was on his route home. He’d feign interest in an item to win the attention of some clerk who’d caught his eye. If he was drawn to one, as he had been to Sonia, he’d make a purchase just to lengthen the encounter. He was interested in a woman’s scent. Not the perfume, her. “Come to think of it,” he might say, “I could use some of those…” Leaving the mall one evening, walking through the underground lot, Archie sensed someone observing him from a parked car. He tried getting a better look in his rearview mirror, but the lighting was poor. Of the colour and make of vehicle he was certain: a green Honda. *** When he could work up the nerve, times when the loneliness throbbed like an infected wound, Archie visited the whores. He unwisely confided this to Myron, who insisted on knowing how much and for how long. And exactly vat did von get, huh? Archie slid a book of matches across the counter. The cover featured a busty brunette whose blouse opened when held up to the light. Knockers, the club was called, an all-night strip joint and cabaret. He’d met Lila at Knockers. For $50 she’d spent 20 minutes with him in a room at the Regent Motel. Before the wedding she’d been keen to please. Myron held the book of matches up to the window, mesmerized. When he heard Marlina’s car backfire out back, he slid the contraband under the cash register. “Next time da vife takes holiday in da Old Country,” he winked, “we go togedder.” *** Archie could sense something was wrong when he dropped by the shop on a day off to pick up his paycheque. Marlina’s greeting was evasive; Myron refused to acknowledge his presence. With the CLOSED sign posted in the window, the two men alone, Myron got right to the point. “How long you been vorking privately, huh? Vat da matter? Day job not good enuff?” Archie felt certain Myron was responsible for the Honda. How else could he have known about Archie’s Fine Meats? But his employer insisted a lady had visited the shop hoping to purchase Archie’s stew. Someone had blabbed. “Your vork here,” Myron said, “is finisht.” *** A week later Marlina calls him at home. “Dat bastard!” she snivels. “Dat son-of-a-bitch!” She tells Archie about the squabble with Myron. He’d sped off in the van. She hadn’t seen him in three days. “So I start vooking around for da clue,” she says. “I find under da cash register.” The matchbook from Knockers. Marlina is convinced Myron is shacked up with a whore. “Dat dog!” Archie agrees to return to work temporarily. A month stretches into three, then six. After about a year, no sign of the eponymous proprietor, Marlina realizes she doesn’t miss Myron all that much. She changes the name of the business to Marlina’s Meats. Sometimes she invites Archie over to the house for a wedge of pie. *** Archie switches on the scanner one night just as the police are closing in on a suspect. Between sharp bursts of static, the dialogue truncated, he’s able to surmise that the culprit lives nearby. Archie had resided in the neighbourhood for years; he wonders if the police are looking for an acquaintance. “Our people are in position.” The Scot, McPherson. “Proceed with caution, lads,” he says. The detective gnaws on his pipe like he’s trying to shatter hard candy. “This guy’s a piece of work.” The lights dimmed, his eyes closed, Archie fancies a badge pinned to his breast. Strapping on a bulletproof vest. A revolver heavy as a brick nestled in his perspiring palms. “On three!” McPherson says. Archie bounds from bed and peeks out the window. Police cruisers, their emergency lights casting a crimson glow, block both ends of the street. Neighbours in pajamas gather like crows on the front lawn. Then he sees it. At the curb. The green Honda. Archie cranks up the volume; he doesn’t want to miss anything. He hears a door being wrenched from its hinges. He switches off the scanner. A stampede of heavy boots in the hallway.