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“He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn, Can He Take a Punch”


Editor's Note: Sam Wiebe’s short story “He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn Can He Take a Punch” won second prize in the 2011 Scene of the Crime short story contest held on Wolfe Island last August.  

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Mumford and I were tidying up when Crenshaw limped in. He was recognizable by his clothes and by the smell of Bright’s Sherry that pervaded the air around him. His face looked like he’d been using cinder blocks as pillows and jumping into bed every night.

            “Nick, man. Fred. Two of you need to help me.”

            I put down the dustpan. “Kind of busy here, Crenshaw.”

            Mumford pushed the table back against the wall, leaving black scuffs on the linoleum.

            “What Constable James means,” he said, “is that we’re not in a position to help you. The Anti-Gang Unit—” he inclined his head to the bare walls of the half-cleaned room— “doesn’t exist anymore.”

            “I heard about Timmons,” Crenshaw said. “Sorry as hell.”

            John Timmons was our boss and the head of the Surrey Anti-Gang Initiative. The unit was Timmons’s idea, his baby. Cut gang enrollment off at the root by stopping recruitment in schools and working to extract teenage bangers. Crenshaw had been a long-time informant of Timmons’s.

            Now Timmons was dead, shot by a high-school senior named Jordan Bamford who’d been shot in turn during a police raid on his mother’s house. In the wake of Timmons’s death, the unit was pulled. Most of the personnel had already been reassigned. Mumford remained because his uncle, one of the higher-ups, was pulling favors to get him transferred to a K-9 Unit. Mumford loved dogs.

            Me, no one cared where I was, as long as I wasn’t on the street. I’d pulled the trigger on Bamford.

            It had been a clean shoot. I was waiting to see if the Board would agree.

            “I don’t know what to tell you,” Mumford said, pointing to the contusions on Crenshaw’s face. “If someone did that to you, K.C. at the front desk will help sort it out.”

            “You actually telling me to take a number, fill out a form?”

            “You know who tuned you up?” I asked.

            “Not their names, but I know who they work for.”

            “Work for?” I watched him gaze at the box of donuts on the table. “Who you in trouble with, Crenshaw?”

            “Not one of the gangs. Was those rent-a-cops, work at the new high-rise over by the university.”

            “Have a seat and tell us about it,” I said. Mumford pushed the Tim Horton’s box across the desk. “Help yourself, but if you spill any powdered sugar on the floor, you’re sweeping it up.”

            One of Crenshaw’s better qualities: he told his story straight. Didn’t try to make himself the hero like most skels do. He’d been poaching garbage from the bin behind the Karnes Building, looking for valuables amidst the cardboard furniture the owners had stuck in the offices to make them more attractive to potential leasers.

            He felt a hand on his belt pull him out of the bin, found himself spun into a wall and frisked. A cro magnon in a Taurus Security uniform told him not to come back, cracked him across the head as a warning.

            He went back the next day, Crenshaw being Crenshaw. The Karnes Building was smack dab in the center of Surrey, a block from the Skytrain line leading into Vancouver. Unavoidable, in Crenshaw’s view.

            He was lowering a computer monitor into his shopping cart when he heard the guard say, “Thought I told you already.” Crenshaw hopped out of the can and made for the cart. The guard wrangled him to the ground and put the boots to him. Crenshaw could account for every bruise.

            “I know no one’s going to jail for beatin’ on an old man,” he said. “All the same, over garbage? Sound like justice to you?”

            “Not much Nick and I can do,” Mumford said. “Like we told you, time being, we’re desk jockeys.”

            “I’ll talk to someone,” I said. I was bored and Crenshaw did have a point.

            “‘Preciate it,” Crenshaw said, shaking our hands. “You guys always did right by me.” At the door he turned. “‘Fore I go, either of you in the market for a fully-functional, four-channel hi-fi set?”

           

            The Karnes Building was twenty-four floors of pre-fab glass and plastic, connected to the Surrey Central Shopping Pavilion and the local university by a four-story parkade. Everything you need to know about Surrey, British Columbia can be summed up in that fact: the city’s biggest university was built as an adjunct to a mall.

            Glen Coleman ran Taurus Security. The company had a nondescript quarter-floor in the Karnes Building. Over Coleman’s shoulder I could see the glorious sights of central Surrey--park’n rides, strip malls, other office buildings. An unweeded garden of gray. Coleman offered me coffee, tea, anything I wanted.

            “I was a cop,” he said. “Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. OPP for seventeen years. Most of my guys I draw from that line of work. Who’re you working under, Nick—mind if we go by first names?”

            “John Timmons of Anti-Gang, recently deceased. I’m currently assigned to the Mop and Bucket initiative.”

            He showed a set of white capped teeth. “Been there,” he said. “What’s Mop and Bucket have to do with my guys?”

            “They tuned up a guy last night, works for us, manner of speaking.” I told him about Crenshaw.

            “Now, my guys did warn him off,” Coleman said.

            “They did.”

            “And he came back a second time, onto private property.” Coleman shook his head. “I fail to see how this falls on anyone but—his name’s Crenshaw?”

            “Right.”

            “First name?”

            “Don’t know.”

            “I fail to see how this falls on anyone but Mister Crenshaw.”

            He heaped brown sugar into his glass coffee mug.

            "The building’s owners, our clients, want to protect their investment. Only natural. Companies looking to lease office space don’t want their garbage gone through. Karnes pays us a premium to prevent that.”

            “I don’t know how things work in Ontario,” I said. “Here we try not to come down too hard on the local bedouins.”

            “Far as I’m concerned my guys didn’t,” Coleman said. “They could’ve pressed charges on Mister Crenshaw.”

            “They also could’ve killed him.”

            “I appreciate your concern,” he said.

            “I don’t get that feeling.”

            “Spell this out for me,” he said, rising out of his leather bucket seat. “A vagrant—and that’s what he is—trespasses on our property—twice—and it’s somehow our fault?”

            “You or your ‘guys’ hurt another scrounger,” I said, “and we’ll take a close look whose fault it is.”

            “Are you here in an official capacity?”

            I shook my head. “Concerned citizen.”

            “Then tell it walking.” He opened his office door, and as I passed him, said, “Count this as your warning.”

 

            I take my problems to bed. Lying there, I watched Chloe walk from the bathroom to the bed and trade her towel for her night shirt. Usually that’s all I want in the world. Perhaps I didn’t look as appreciative as normal, because she asked if something was wrong. To prove there wasn’t I pulled her back onto the bed and smothered her with the quilt and bedsheets.

            Afterwards I explained the whole mess to her.

            “There’s nothing you can do?” she asked. “Can’t you take it to your boss?”

            “My boss is dead.”

            “Someone higher up, then.”

            “God?”

            “I’m not sure this falls under his jurisdiction,” Chloe said. “Isn’t Fred’s uncle Chief Superintendent or something?”

            “Mumford called him after my meeting with Coleman,” I explained. “Not only does his uncle not care, but he’s buddies with Coleman. Their wives spin together.”

            “He’d take Coleman’s side over Fred’s?”

            “Actually it’s worse than that,” I said. “The Karnes people also own the courtyard next to the university. They pay big for RCMP services whenever they run a promotion or a concert there. Mumford’s uncle has nothing to gain by intervening, and stands to lose a hefty amount of dough.”

            “So Taurus gets to beat whoever they want?”

            “I’ll figure it out.” I squeezed her shoulder. “There’s got to be a compromise. Which is what I do best.”

            “Right,” she said, rolling over for sleep.

            “That’s why at the station they call me Nick James, Master of Compromise.”

            “No one’s ever called you that.”

            “Sure they do, all the time.”

            “Really?”

            “Course not. Go to sleep.”

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Anthony Jon
Comment by: Anthony Jon ( )
Left at: 1:30 PM Sunday, March 25, 2012
This is a fantastic short story. Its minimalism complements the setting and the action. But it also has some fantastically vivid description, even though this is presented in cold, hardboiled language, which works wonders. More please.

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