May 19th, 2021


He studies with calculating eye a misshapen monster on a table bowed with entries for best pumpkin. Sixty pounds at least, heftier than his own pampered beauty but lacking its richness of colour, its plump symmetry. Bestpumpkin, not biggest, that’s the qualification for this special category.

A volunteer passes him a fistful of exhibit slips as she peeks over the bed of his truck. “Looks like you’re going for the Mabel Orfmeister this year.” That is followed by, “Again.”

A cruel adverb, a cutting reference to his history of failure. Three years ago he’d come in a dismal fourth, but with redoubled effort he’d won silver the next two. But each time Doc Dooley’s name was engraved on the base of the muscular metal phallus, a bronze corncob.

There he is, the spindly semi-retired MD, lining up his entries at one of the prep tables. As Arthur limps over there for their traditional exchange of insincere well-wishing, Dooley observes his slow progress and confidently announces his diagnosis: “Plantar fasciitis.”

“Yes, I’ve been to a foot specialist. He told me to get fit with orthotics.”

“For that advice he goes to some fancy city specialist.” Dooley shakes his head. “Smoke a little pot. Works wonders for my arthritis.”

“I am shocked.”

“Get with the changing times, you old poop.”

Arthur feels himself falling apart. Yet here is Doc Dooley, 90, eighteen years his senior, lithe, sharp, everything still working, and he’s taken to soothing his aches with an illegal drug. Arthur is leery about cannabis; he experimented with it once, found it pleasurable and therefore dangerous, like alcohol.

Dooley glances over Arthur’s offerings. “Nice collection.”

“Not in it for the competition, of course.”

“Of course not, Arthur.”

“Sharing this fine island tradition with our neighbours in relaxed conviviality, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

“We’re educators. Grow local, buy local, eat local.”

A noble cause that discredits Arthur’s platitudinous twaddle. “Absolutely. Encourage others to grow their own healthy food.”

“I’m not one to count ribbons,” Doc says. “Educate, spread the organic word.”

Arthur nods vigorously. “Amen.” The Mabel Orfmeister is the last thing on his mind.

[565 words]

Fall Fair Day

Competitors are barred from the hall while the judges sniff, snip, finger, and taste, so Arthur limps about the booths, sharing with friends the blessings of a sunny summer Saturday, hiding his tension with strained exuberance. He stops awhile to enjoy the Fensom Family Singers on the open-air stage. He watches demonstrations by spinners, weavers, and quilters.

A bedspread designed as a map of Garibaldi Island is being raffled. Among its points of interest, stitched with black lettering, is the farm he has shared with Margaret Blake for the last dozen years: Blunder Bay, named after homesteader Jeremiah Blunder, who met his end in 1895 when, overcome with drink, he fell head-first into his well.

A supporter of folk arts, Arthur invests heavily in tickets for the bedspread. Margaret has a taste for the exotic; should he win, he’ll gift it to her.

When he finds her at the goat-milking demonstration, she says, “Did you see that quilt with the misshapen island map? Beyond ugly.”

He stops breathing for a moment. He must now pray his hundred dollars worth of tickets will be buried deep in the raffle box.

Their duties done, a few judges emerge from the hall, two of them slightly wobbly: arbiters of the homemade wine and beer. The children’s art judge joins them, fumbling for her cigarettes. Only minutes remain before the doors are opened and the winners announced. Arthur’s tension isn’t allayed when he spies Doc Dooley sprawled on a grassy knoll, smiling, too composed. He wonders if he’s stoned.

The Fensom Family has finally run out of repertoire, and now the public address system squawks. “Arthur Beauchamp, you’re wanted on the main stage. Arthur Beauchamp.”

He fears he has won the raffle, the beyond-ugly bedspread.

“Arthur Beauchamp. Get your old butt over here, Arthur.”

The booming imperatives of Scotty Phillips, master of ceremonies, fetch Arthur limping to the stage, where he sees a blue ribbon clutched in Scotty’s hand. Hope soars.

“Here’s old Arthur now.” A full-throated roar into a microphone already at full volume. “One of our best-loved seniors, Arthur Beauchamp. Lemme help you up, oldtimer.” 

Arthur pointedly refuses his hand, propels himself up, then Scotty drags him before the mike. “Okay, we’re starting off here with a novelty category. Best pumpkin. And it goes to old Arthur Beauchamp!”

Arthur manages to spout some words of thanks, then shuffles off the stage, still smarting from Phillips’s impertinent introduction. Ageism.

Half an hour later there comes another squawk of microphone. “This is a big one, folks,” Scotty shouts, “the Mabel Orfmeister. And the winner is — pass me the envelope, please — for the sixth straight year, Doc Dooley, ninety years young and still the champ! Jump on up here, young fella.”

[463 words]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

“A carb job won’t solve nothing,” says Stoney from under the Fargo’s hood as its engine coughs and wheezes. “Maybe you want to retire the old girl from active duty, eh? I got dibs on a ’87 F-250 which I think I can wangle for three large, plus dealer’s commission.”

Arthur estimates he has spent ten times as much on repairs to his bionic pickup: valves, front end, clutch, wiring, brakes. The alleged master mechanic sold it to him originally, and somehow Arthur has never found the heart to service it elsewhere. And so the Fargo is here again, outside Stoney’s cluttered garage, sputtering, farting, finally expiring.

“I am not ready to give up on her. She’s family.”

There follows the traditional ceremony: the haggling over fees and disbursements, the greasing of an already greasy palm. Arthur at least manages to secure a courtesy car, a 1980 Pinto, decals pasted all over it, not quite hiding the rust spots. Stoney promises it will be serviced and brought around tonight.

Arthur has to do some shopping, so Stoney chauffeurs him to Hopeless Bay, shouting over the Fargo’s coughs and rattles. “By the way, I never had no chance to give my sincere commiserations over how you crapped out at the Fall Fair, I heard it was a crushing blow. For consolation, as recording secretary of the Growers Association I extend a personal invite to our annual potlatch tomorrow afternoon.”

By potlatch he means a mini-fall fair where produce from Garibaldi’s major export industry competes for the McCoy Cup, named after a local icon caught green-handed with a heroic half ton of a cannabis. The event is usually attended by a dozen or more island growers and a few mainland wholesalers.

“We invited Doc Dooley to be among our distinguished panel of judges.”

Arthur scoffs. “That’s ridiculous. Why would he be so unguarded as to take part?”

“It’s widely unknown, but he grows a few plants for medicinal purposes.” Though they’re alone, he drops his voice: “This year it’s at the old quarry. Starts at noon and continues until everyone’s flat on their ass.”

Arthur is finding himself impatient with this careless flaunting of criminal statutes. His view, however stuffy and old-fashioned, is that a well-ordered society obeys the rule of law. Some want that law changed, but Arthur can’t get around his gut disgust at the thought of the government being in the business of getting its citizens stoned.

He alights at Hopeless Bay, the island’s commercial hub: general store, post office, and licensed lounge overlooking the public wharf. Lounging on an outside bench is the 150-kilo editor of the weekly Bleat, feeding from a super-economy-sized bag of corn chips. Nelson Forbish looks around, as if to confirm they’re alone. “Potlatch tomorrow, noon at the abandoned quarry. Mum’s the word.” He gestures at the RCMP van, sitting among the beaters and rusting pickups parked out front.

Arthur spies two lawmen on the deck of the bar, lecturing several of the regulars. Before tackling his shopping list, he heads up the ramp to join them, hoping to be a soothing presence. Constable Pound has been testy of late, and Reserve Constable Kurt Zoller is an odd fellow with his twitches, flinches, and hints of paranoia, and tends to be unstable.

Right now, he is acting the nuisance, getting into peoples’ faces, smelling their breath. “This one has definitely been smoking.” Zoller jingles his handcuffs.

“Cool it, Kurt,” Pound says. He is trying to ignore Arthur, whose presence may be adding to his irritation. “None of you individuals are the required three point two metres from this building, so I’m gonna have to ticket you under the smoking bylaw.”

A chorus of insincere apology — unnecessary, for the case fails for lack of evidence. No cigarettes are visible, nor an ashtray. Presumably all exhibits disappeared when the boys saw the cops driving up.

“However,” says Pound, “I’m prepared to let this infraction go if you boys help us out about the potlatch.”

This pathetic ruse to extort information falls flat: Pound is greeted by grins and guffaws.

Pound turns to Arthur. “See what I’m up against? A wall of silence. Kurt, I’m gonna have a word with the counsellor here while you explain to these losers they can either cooperate or we’ll be waiting around the next bend with a radar gun and a breath test kit.”

He draws Arthur away. “I’m way down on my arrests for this year. Unless I pull something off they’re going to put me behind a desk.” He looks at Arthur in a needy way, as if seeking deliverance. “It’s tomorrow, isn’t it? The potlatch.”

Arthur is offended by the presumption he would rat on fellow islanders. “Why would you ask me?”

“I saw Stoney drop you off. He’s the ringleader.”

Arthur intends a sharp response, but Pound is drawn away by Zoller, who has entered glumly shaking his head. Finally, the two officers leave for their vehicles, and the boys on the deck light up again.

[847 words]

Saturday night, September 10, 2010

Arthur is aroused by Homer, the border collie, barking greetings to Stoney, who has brought the discourtesy car, the 1980 Pinto. “Your limousine, sire.” An equally decrepit car pulls up behind it. Stoney’s henchman, Dog, a squat little fellow built like a beer keg, erupts from it, lurches into the bushes to relieve himself..

Stoney is on a jabbering high, and smells of pot. “A few tips regarding this here vintage Pinto. If she stalls, that’s because you’re going up a steep incline. If you gotta brake suddenly, yank her hard right because she has a tendency to drift left, the rubber don’t have much grip there.”

Arthur accepts the ignition key to this death machine as Stoney rambles on: “We’d linger, but Dog And me got guests, a potlatch preview party. It’ll go non-stop till the main event. Noon tomorrow, old quarry, don’t tell no one. Not to rub salt in any wounds, but we’ll be celebrating the life and achievements of the six-time Orfmeister winner.”

Arthur refuses to believe Doc Dooley will come within a thousand light years of that function.

Potlatch Sunday

Margaret is off-island, so Arthur has gone to the service alone, and is now lingering outside the church with his crony, Reverend Al, puzzling over why the other congregants are spinning their tires to get out of the parking lot. The sermon wasn’t that bad.

Soon, only the Jenkins sisters remain, who demand to know what Al is going to do about all the drugs on the island. He has no easy answer, and they walk off sourly, grimacing as they pause to examine the one remaining vehicle on the lot, the Pinto that got Arthur to the church on time.

In his hurry, he hadn’t seen the lurid messages posted on its rear, slogans that must have sent Al’s flock into a frenzy of dread. A bumper sticker: “Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re a dick.” Other stick-ons cover the rust spots: “O Canada, we stand on guard for weed.” “Bad cop — no doughnut.”

The subject, speaking of drugs, moves on to the potlatch.

“Noon at the old quarry,” Al says. “The worst-kept secret in the history of humankind. Pound is on to them. Informed sources tell me a launch pulled into Zoller’s dock at dawn and a bunch of guys with fishing gear disembarked.”

Arthur wonders if an RCMP sweep of local potheads is just what the rascals need. A spell in the slammer, that would smarten them up…

The notion fades like smoke as he pictures Dooley being cuffed and led away. What if the good doctor, in a moment of caprice, were actually to show up?

He looks at his watch: it’s half past twelve.

[460 words]

Sunday, September 19, 2010.

The Pinto stalls on the run up to Dooley’s bungalow. Arthur tucks rocks behind the wheels, then limps up to the Doc’s terraced acre of gardens, to the front steps.

“The doctor’s out,” the housekeeper announces, looking suspiciously at the panting visitor, still in his Sunday suit.

“But his van is here.”

“He took his bicycle. Said he’ll be gone awhile, wouldn’t say where.”

The car threatens to stall once more on the climb to the quarry, and Arthur is obliged to pump the gas pedal until it lurches onto the white, dusty entrance road. There are steep-sided gulleys and cul-de-sacs in these abandoned pits, and it is in one of those that Arthur expects the usual suspects have gathered.

In the parking lot, he sees Dog’s old beater. Doubtless the more sober members of the Growers Association parked elsewhere, to avoid attention, and hiked up here, or, like Dooley, pedalled.

He pulls in beside Dog’s car, finds a broken tree limb to use as a walking stick, then climbs a circuitous path around the rim of the quarry, hoping to gain a vantage point. Finally, he glimpses, among some second-growth fir, several men and women moving about with the swaggering gait peculiar to the unmounted members of the RCMP’s narcotics division. Radios, binoculars, and gun-sized bulges.

Descending toward a narrow clearing, he hears muffled conversation, sees a lone makeshift table with a meagre display of offerings: four small brown paper bags. The sole customer, whose leather jacket proclaims him to be a member of the Devil’s High-Riders, examines a fifth such bag, apparently newly bought. Meanwhile Dog is wandering about in woozy insensibility, clutching a half-empty beer. No bicycle, no Doc Dooley.

Even before the biker removes his dark glasses, ill-fitting beard, and hairpiece, he is betrayed as Garibaldi’s infamously over-eager auxiliary constable. “He didn’t make me, Inspector,” Zoller calls. “It was easy as pie, except I had to wake him up to do the buy.”

The inspector steps into view from behind a tree —undisguised, in a jacket that shouts: drug squad. This officer is a stranger to Arthur, whose specialty had been murder not marijuana. By now, Dog has collapsed beside a now-empty twelve-pack.

Zoller emits a grunt of annoyance as he opens his bag. “Thirty-five dollars, and it’s mostly twigs and seeds. What a ripoff.”

The inspector, turns to Zoller wearily. “Did you ask him where they moved the potlatch to?”

“I couldn’t get him to talk, sir.”

Now Pound sidles into view, looking stressed, fearful. “I know this man, sir. Let me have a go.” He shakes Dog, who opens his eyes and stares at him with the rheumy-eyed contemplation of an aging spaniel.

Pound speed-reads the caution, then demands: “Where are your confederates?”

Though Dog has never been known to string three syllables together, he seems to be turning red with the effort to remain silent. Finally a noise erupts, recalling to Arthur one of the Bard’s best-loved lines: A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind.

The senior officer looks down on the supine form, snoring again. “I had better things to do this weekend. We were planning to take the kids to the lake.” Then he erupts at Pound and Zoller. “Goddamn nincompoops! We’ve been conned!” The dressing-down accelerates as Arthur sneaks off, not wanting to be a part of this awkward scene.

But when he nears the parking lot, he sees two more narcs combing through his car: a broad-shouldered woman cleaning out the glove compartment, her male partner reaching under the driver’s seat.

Anxious to set matters aright, Arthur hurries toward them with wincing steps, intending to accost the male officer — who is holding aloft, with a triumphant grin, a fistful of roaches and half-smoked joints retrieved from the bowels of the Pinto.

Before he can protest, he is grabbed in a bear-like grip by the woman officer, and is propelled forward toward the back of the car, flush against the scolding sticker, “Bad Cop — No Doughnut.”

She barks, “Spread ’em!”

Arthur is too winded to utter even an oath as her hands sweep down his spread-eagled body and up his thighs, expertly, muscularly, indelicately. “Let’s see some i.d., pal.”

A third officer, behind him, calls, “Nice catch. Looks like we got number one anyway.”

The ringleader, he means, the suit-and-tie-wearing impresario of the soft-drug Mafia.

The Monday following.

“Obvious misunderstanding,” Reverend Al says, as he bails Arthur out after a fitful sleep on a hard cot. “Surely they’ll drop the charge.”

Arthur can see the Pinto in the compound, in pieces. He had rebuffed all questions, bravely determined not to impugn the name of the Orfmeister winner.

“I guess you could say the potlatch was a bust,” Al says, trying to lighten the mood as he herds Arthur into his car.

“Take me to Stoney’s.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I am going to kill him.”

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