Authors: Michael Van Rooy
An Ordinary Decent Criminal
Your Friendly Neighbourhood Criminal
Michael Van Rooy
A Criminal to Remember
206-100 Arthur Street
R3B 1H3 Canada
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any request to photocopy any part of this book shall be directed in writing to Access Copyright, Toronto.
Turnstone Press gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and the Province of Manitoba through the Book Publishing Tax Credit and the Book Publisher Marketing Assistance Program.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design: Jamis Paulson
Interior design: Sharon Caseburg
Van Rooy, Michael, 1968-
A criminal to remember / Michael Van Rooy.
love a fair, a festival, a circus. I was at the Red River Exhibition Fair with my wife Claire and our son Fred and our friends Elena and Alex with their son Jacob. They were a few hundred feet ahead of me, lost in the crowd, as I stopped to tie a shoelace.
While I was on my knee I saw a pack of twenty-somethings, men and women both, about six of them all clustered around the side of the butterfly tent forty feet away. I didn’t think anything of them but then I saw a flash-lick of fire in the narrow alley between tents and heard a raucous laugh that
I decided to check it out. I’m very curious; it’s a failure of mine, one bred deep in the bone. It’s caused a lot of pain, mostly to me, over the years.
I also get bored easily.
Curiosity and boredom are a much underrated combination. I knew from experience that bad things happened when I got bored and worse things happened when I got curious. For that reason I always tried to keep busy; it was one of the few pieces of advice I remembered my father ever giving me.
Between me and the group there was a big tent full of antique farm equipment, so I circled around into it and made my way past hay balers and grain sifters and all sorts of things I couldn’t identify. There were a few people in the place, some old men, a puzzled professor type and a guy trying to cop a feel from a recalcitrant but giggling girlfriend, but the tent was mostly empty.
At the back of the tent, behind a steam-driven pile driver, I could hear the group outside clearly through the heavy canvas.
“Here, let me do it.”
There was a hissing sound, and then another voice said, “Here, use this. It always works. It’s one of those electric igniters.”
I pulled out the pocket knife my in-laws had given to me. A little Swiss Army deal that keeps a good edge. The smallest blade made a slit in the canvas and I had a front-row seat.
Two feet away stood six idiots. One was shaking a huge pressurized can of generic hairspray and another was trying to light it with a butane lighter.
The woman with the hairspray said, “I’ll show those dumb fuckers to kick me out …”
The guy beside her finally got his lighter going. “Yeah. Also, Free The Bugs!”
Everyone laughed. They were drunk. Or stoned. Or stupid. Or all of the above. Four men and two women, all egging each other on towards true idiocy. It’s amazing how adolescence happens later and later for some people.
I put the knife blade back into the slit and kept cutting, sliding the blade down gently.
The three-foot gout of blue flame twitched at the old, patched canvas in front of the group and one of them whooped. At a rough guess they were ten seconds away from setting the tent aflame. Which would be a shame. I’d been through the tent earlier. It was called the Butterfly Garden and it held (or so the sign claimed) two million butterflies and moths. I’d taken the number on faith and hadn’t tried to count.
Inside it had lived up to its name—a big space full of fluttering, crawling, eating, fucking, birthing and dying bugs. Along with the bugs there were four teenage interpreters and guides and a few dozen visitors. It would be a shame to turn the tent into a torch, not to mention what would happen to all the people and bugs. My son, Fred, had loved them—he’d been captivated into silence and awe by the gentle, lumbering flight of the moths and the tense flickering of butterflies. He could see their entire lives in front of him on one wall—birth, first flight, feeding, fucking, dying. All coloured alternately in gentle pastels and sharp colours that looked blocked out by some talented artistic hand.
Even Claire had liked the bugs, when a moth the size of a coffee saucer landed on her breast, briefly becoming a brooch. It flew away when she laughed but her delight stayed.
It would be a shame to destroy something that had brought my family such joy.
I put the knife in my left hand with the one-inch blade sticking out the bottom of my fist. Just in case.
The woman with the hairspray shook it again as I stepped out.
“Now watch this …”
Fair fights are fine in the movies.
Really. I like them and I almost always want the good guy to win. But I wasn’t in a movie. I cheat. In the real world I was a bad guy—well, a retired bad guy. Which meant I cheated, as a matter of principle.
I balled my right fist up and swung overhand down as hard as I could at the closest guy’s right shoulder—near to his neck but away from his spine. The sound of his clavicle breaking was drowned out by his scream and the woman dropped the hairspray as the man crumpled. Lots of pain in a big bone explosively shattered but, fortunately, screams in a fair are not uncommon and no one near by seemed to notice or care.
The others turned to face me as I windmilled my arm back again fast like I was pitching a softball. The guy beside the girl had been leaning up against a support rope with his hand above his head, which made him a good target. He was stepping towards me with his hand still on the rope as I drove my fist up under his armpit fast and felt his shoulder pop out of its socket. It was an easy shot to take because the ball and socket joint is open from below and almost wants to come apart. With a little encouragement.
Anyhow, he started to scream too as he lurched to the side.
By that time one of the other men had managed to find a half-assed martial arts stance. Something he’d gotten from one of those unlimited (or is it ultimate?) fighting shows. Which was cool—whatever made him feel good. Maybe he was trying to impress the women. Men do way too much of that, and it seems to lead to all sorts of idiotic behaviour: wars, mountaineering expeditions, white water rafting, even getting married. I knew all about the urge to impress because I indulged in it myself sometimes.
Although with age it was happening slightly less.
Basically men will go to great lengths to be remembered and to be memorable.
I lunged with my left hand, the one with the knife, and twisted it gently at the last second to lay the very edge of the blade right across the guy’s forehead from temple to temple. It cut a trough maybe an eighth of an inch deep, skipping along irregularities in the bone, but that was more than enough.
For a second nothing happened and then a gush of blood poured down his face, covered his eyes and filled his mouth.
I wondered why they didn’t do shit like that in ultimate (maybe it was unlimited) fighting. I might watch it then.
Let’s be honest; in a real fight you palm an ashtray into someone’s face, you strangle someone with their own hair or you piss on them to distract their attention. Then you hurt them as badly as you can—you do what is necessary to win. Because in a real fight, after you lose, they just keep kicking you until you are way past dead. Then they kick you some more.
The knife wound I gave wasn’t serious … well, it wasn’t life threatening, but the guy would have other things to worry about for a while. Head wounds bleed like a bitch. They’re very, very scary. I mean, the head is where thoughts are and now blood is pouring out of it. It would keep the idiot busy as he pawed at his face and tried to wipe the blood away and see something.
I ignored him and kept moving. Which is a good idea in a fight, always keep moving, always keep loose and flexible. Always be ready to take or deliver a quick, cheap shot as long as it will be effective.
The two women had fled. But the last guy, the one with the lighter, had turned to face me, leaning back to kick like he was hoofing a soccer ball. Swaying a little from drugs or drink. It was still a pretty good kick, though.
I let him kick, twisting aside and bending at the knees to let it pass. When his foot was at chest height I put my shoulder under it and jumped straight up.
His expression was priceless as his foot went way past his head and then all expression vanished as the back of his head hit the ground from maybe eight feet up. The rest of his body landed seconds later and I took a second to heel-stomp his ribs into about a week of hospital recovery time.