Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
Stormclouds had come to
Grande Prairie in the night while we slept two to a bed in a motel filled with loggers from interior B.C. In the morning we walked through a foot of snow to get to the cars. We ate and went out to our areas. I'd been paired up with my old buddy Matt. Ben drove us out to work in his van with some of the others. Dropped us off two by two. Often that was the way. To not let people take their own cars unless you had to. Strand them somewhere so they had nothing to do but knock doors.
An hour after when we were supposed to start, me and Matt were sitting on a pair of industrial cable spools that had been left behind at the edge of the newly built subdivision. The snow came down relentless. Flakes as big as a quarter. I kept leaning down to pick up a handful of snow to eat. Matt just stared out into the white. You could hear a lonely train horn bellowing somewhere behind the firs that bordered that neighbourhood. Where those cars were going up there or with what I couldn't guess.
“So you aren't pissed off at me?” he said.
“Not really,” I said. “More at her. Not that I'm happy about it.”
“Well, me neither,” he said. “She won't talk to me no more anyway.”
“Let's go to work,” he said, and highstepped out toward the road.
d gone near snowblind by the end
of the first street. I couldn't barely see the other side of the road and I couldn't see Matt anywhere. Somehow I'd signed up two people, both men in their early twenties, both on their days off between ten-day hauls on the rigs. The oldest was younger than me by five years, but he owned a new house and had a pregnant young wife sitting bowlegged on the couch. All smiles the both of them. I felt a rumbling in my pocket and took off a glove and got out my phone. It was Matt texting me.
At the end of the road. It said.
When I got there he was back on the wooden spool. His binder lay four inches down in the snowpack.
“I'm goin' back to the hotel. Try this shit again tomorrow,” he said to me.
I sat down on that other spool.
“You can come with me or not. But I'm goin'.”
“Just come down and work a street. It's good in there. Get a couple deals and then we'll both fuck off.”
He shook his head. Wouldn't even look back at the houses.
“Already called the cab,” he said.
“You sure?” I said.
“I can't do it,” he said. “Fuck it.”
“Come on, man.”
“I believe I'll blow my fuckin' brains out if I have to knock another door today.”
Two of the new guys weren
breakfast the next morning. When Ben went up to their room they were long gone and the maid was cleaning. Matt left out alone to work in a nearby town. Me and Squeak were paired up again and Ben drove us out to our area, Jessica in the passenger seat of his van and she wouldn't say more than a word to me. They dropped us off and went to work together.
We were suited up for minus-ten weather, and for more snow, but the skies had cleared to pale blue and the sun shone down at us. Squeak went door to door and I half-worked the other side of the street but more or less just cherrypicked newer houses. By three in the afternoon Squeak was all piss and vinegar, smiling ear to ear. I picked him off with a snowball when he came out of the last house. He flailed and went down into the powder on their front lawn. Lay there laughing his ass off. He'd already signed up five people. That was the most he'd ever done in a whole day.
We stopped at a redneck bar and ate a late lunch. They had a grizzly bear's head mounted over the centre of the backbar. Four roughnecks were sitting at a booth-table in the back and one of them was passed out, slumped over against the corner of his benchseat and the rude brick wall beside the booth. He sounded like a lawnmower. By the time we got out of there it was maybe four-thirty and the sun had dropped behind firs and foothills to the west.
Two hours later we were working in the dark of night. Splitting up blocks of fourplexes and townhouses. Squeak couldn't get another deal. I signed four people up and by eight o'clock we'd nearly spent the whole area. I let Squeak work the last set of townies. Found a beat up playground in the middle of the townhouse block and sat on the merry-go-round. Spun myself around by little sidesteps. Squeak did not come out for a long fucking time. I tried to text him but he didn't text back. I called and he wouldn't pick up. I watched a jackrabbit edge out from the shadow and half-stand, nose twitching. I stood up slow. He froze. I came off the go-round at a full sprint and the rabbit bolted, leapt the low-end of a teeter-totter and bounded away four feet at a time. I walked back to gather up my binder, hauling cold air as fast as my lungs could take it in.
When I got to the door of the last townie Squeak was already coming out. There was a very good-Âlooking thirty-something-year-old woman in a nightÂ-
gown and she was letting him out. She had tired, pretty eyes, the careful movements of a studied drunk. Squeak pulled the door shut behind him and nearly ran right into me. His hair stood up all over the place and his shirt was on backwards under his coat. He'd lost his snow pants somehow.
“You gotta be kiddin' me,” I said.
Squeak started to grin like an idiot. He walked down off the step and we made our way across the housing block. The kid looked like he had just been told the meaning of life.
“Did you just take that broad down?”
“It was pretty much the other way around.”
“So you're tellin' me you just got your v-card took in there?”
Squeak just shook his head.
“I didn't have a rubber.”
“And she owned a fourplex across the way. I signed them all up for her.”
“Then I believe she smoked a bunch of meth. Out of a glass pipe. Naked as the day she was born.”
I stuck my binder out to hold him up.
“How d'you know that?”
“They were rocks that she put in it. Fuckin' meth rocks.”
“Jesus. Wait. You didn't smoke none of that shit, did ya?”
“Fuck no. I was terrified.”
We got out of that neighbourhood and called Ben. Told him to come get us by that hillbilly bar. I went in and bought twelve bottles of beer on off-sales and we drank at it outside while we waited.
“How d'you feel?” I said. “Now that you're supposed to be a man and all.”
“This is the single weirdest day of my life,” Squeak said.
By our next road trip we
half the crew. Matt had taken to working alone most days and he barely did that. Jessica had been planning to make enough money to go to California, but instead she'd lost her shit and moved back to Saskatoon. Even Ben was trying to figure out a way to give it up and move back east but he had debts up to his eyeballs and he was scared to quit. Squeak didn't sign one single deal in the week after we got back from Grande Prairie. Ben couldn't get him on the phone. One morning Squeak's binder and his badge were just sitting there on the secretary's desk in the main office. That was the last anyone heard from the kid.
I'd gained thirty pounds since starting that job and was drinking beer every night after work. I would drink until three in the morning and then be up and out to the office by eleven. I never did a full day's work anymore. I worked alone most of the time. Ben set up the next road trip to Lethbridge because nobody was signing any deals in the city. He said everyone had to go or they'd be fired. Two more people handed in their badges before we drove south.
A chinook blew through that town the whole time we were there. It got as high as eighteen degrees outside but the wind ripped hard and if you weren't in a jacket by evening you were very cold. Ben tried to make me work with other people but we pulled shit numbers so he made me work alone, stranded me way out at the edge of town or in half-built subdivisions with man-made ponds and vistas of highgrass dunes and far-off bluffs broken by narrow rivers and waterways that were barely more than sand-slurries. At one house I had a beer with a young girl who went to college in town. She had blonde hair and a piercing in her nose and bottom lip, tattoos on her slender arms. She told me she was from a little town in B.C. and we talked about places we came from. She was very nice to me. By the second beer her boyfriend came through the front door. I thought there might be trouble but he shook my hand and sat down beside her and had a beer as well. They were good people. I took a beer for the road and walked very long and lonely through the streets.
I worked blocks of townhouses and pulled more than a few deals. A bunch of the people I signed up were Plains Indians of the Blood tribe. At least that's what I was told. I had papers with names on them like: Melissa Eagletallfeathers. Joseph Broadhead. Sally Longtimesquirrel. At the end of one block an enormous man opened the door for me. He went about six-foot-six and two hundred and eighty pounds. Long hair and dark, dark eyes. We sat in his living room and I signed him up. He told me he was an actor and he'd been shooting a big movie down in Mexico. I knew of it even though it wasn't all shot yet. He said he was away all the time and needed to keep the bills in check for his young wife. He showed me a picture of her and their baby. When I left his house he shook my hand and thanked me and I left that neighbourhood and walked far out of my area. Hours until I saw another new development at the town limits. I cut through barren, windblown fields and aimed for the densest set of houses.
The sun had long since started to set and now shone red at the horizon. No trees or buildings or bluffs to shield it. I stared down to the southern plains and might have been seeing clear to Montana, flat as that stretch of territory was. I couldn't keep my eyes open long for all the sand and grit that flew on those ruthless gusts. In the end I dropped my jacket and unbuttoned my shirt. Put the jacket back on over my undershirt. Tied my workshirt around my head like a Bedouin headscarf. I walked like that until I heard a far-off whoop. Then a high-pitched chuckling that carried. I looked back in the half-light and saw small rounds bobbing on the distant plain. They got bigger after a minute.
By the time I came to the rude boundary fence for the subdivision I had wicked shinsplints from hustling over the hard ground. I went through a gap in the fence and looked over my shoulder. The coyotes were maybe fifty feet behind me. Three of them. I came back to the fence and kicked at the rough timber until a couple of narrow pickets popped their nails and broke loose. I picked them up and went on down a gravel trail between half-built houses. Stray Typar wrap trailed out from one house and rattled hard on the chinook wind. I went across the fresh-laid asphalt of the subdivision circle road and beelined toward a gazebo that sat over a central man-made pond, wooden bridges coming out to it from the four corners of the neighbourhood. There was only pale light left to the west and there were no streetlamps on that side of the place. My shoes touched bridgeplank and I started to run.
As I climbed up the side-latticing on the gazebo I could hear the drumbeat of paws on the bridge behind me. I cursed out my fattened guts as I hauled myself up and over to the top of the thing, rolled over huffing and stared up at the prairie sky, vast and star-speckled. I shimmied up to the peak of the gazebo roof with the two pickets in my hand. There I sat and watched the coyotes saunter close and stop. All stared up with their slanted eyes and outsized ears, narrow snouts. Thick-tailed dogs with coarse fur the colour of straw. The alpha whooped.
“Fuck off you ugly mutt,” I yelled at him.
I took a handful of roadgravel out of my pocket and starting pitching the heavier stones at them. They spooked and skittered back. Then they all loped onto the gazebo platform, spread out and circled the thing. Whenever I got a clean look at one of them I pelted it with gravelrock. I nailed a squat-looking dog right between the eyes and it bucked and yelped, started to growl. I lay back on the roof and heaved air, felt the round of my stomach through my workjacket. A hard square of metal up near my chest, under the jacketcloth.
“Yes,” I said.
I lay there drinking whiskey from the flask and listened to the coyotes padding around on the platform, jostling against each other. The wind whistled in my ears. I had gotten very warm from fighting with the coyotes and from the drink. I took my jacket off and it had but cleared my hand when the wind tore it loose and threw it down to the coyotes. I sat up quick and got to my haunches at the edge of the rooftop. The coat had been flung down atop the squat coyote and the animal was tangled up in it somehow, snout stuck in the armsleeve by the look of it. He pinwheeled hard and banged off the wooden railing at the edge of the platform. As he spun I saw my badge fly from the coat and drop into the pondwater below. Then I saw my phone skittering out across the decking. It stopped face-down, one weak shove away from going over into the water. I drank deep from the flask and put it in my back pocket, took up the stakes I'd pulled earlier and leapt down near right on top of the trapped coyote. The other two had come over to check out the commotion and they scattered when I landed. I beat hell from the dog under the coat and he snarled and cried and then ran away crazily, bounced off the sidefencing all the way down the near length of bridge. One coyote had fled and circled around the gazebo. He came back now and took up behind the alpha. I pitched a stake at the alpha and it went end over end and hit him hard in the side. He hollered and the other coyote fled halfway down the bridge and stopped. I ran at them screaming bloody murder. The alpha ran and so did the other. Down they went to the road and the pass we'd come through and then they were trailing the coat-covered coyote as he scrambled blindly over the plain. Blue cloth and blue jacket sleeves flapping hard and then all three dogs lost to the dark.