The Fraud Murders: Excerpt
The corner was busy, and not just with the crowds of homeless. The day had begun to fail. As the murk of evening filled the streets, hookers sauntered across the intersection ignoring traffic. Any driver who objected got the finger. The truly drug-damaged wandered about on the street if they could or slumped in doorways if they couldn’t. The traffic was relentless. It never stopped, although it slowed somewhat and became less strident as the night wore on.
All of this activity kept Stringbean amused for a little while. But he bored easily and soon ignored the shuffling human wrecks wandering aimlessly about in the fretful traffic. Settling again against the bars of the wrought iron fence, he retreated to his favourite space, a pathological sexual landscape littered with the dreamy fragments of his times with Indian breaking women for the trade. Most of all, his mind slipped to Willow, to what he’d done to her in the old riverside cabin and to what he would do to her on the floor of that rat hole of a hotel. The visions warmed him, excited him, flooded his consciousness with a dark world of brutal deviance, a place he preferred to any other, except its physical manifestation in the bodies of young women. He stayed that way deep into the night, the food line forgotten.
When Stringbean finally surfaced, the street was subdued but still active. People still wandered about aimlessly, cars still streamed down the streets, but everything seemed slower as if darkness somehow slowed down time. He began to fidget. Indian should have returned with the girl before this, he thought. His restlessness drove him to his feet and into the street. He walked up Main toward the alley, rubbing the irritated indentations in his back from leaning against that fence for so long. He shuffled along close to the darkened storefronts, avoiding the bodies sprawled in the openings and the inhabitants of the street.
He was approaching the black hole of the alley’s mouth when a dark van slid past him, swung across it, and stopped on the sidewalk in front of him. He leaned against the frame of a large plate-glass window fronting a Chinese market and watched as a small group of people left the blackness of the alley for the opening side door of the van. Flanking them were smaller, more fluid shapes that seemed to hover momentarily before fading back into the dark maw of the alley. The van door slid shut silently; the van moved smoothly into the street, swung wide across the cobbles, and disappeared down Main toward the harbour.
Stringbean remained frozen where he was. He’d recognized one of those shapes all right, and with that recognition he knew Indian had failed and Willow was lost to him. He slid down the glass, pulled his knees up to his chest, and wiggled his way deeper into the storefront.
Indian had lost. It seemed impossible. The yellows still had the girl, and Stringbean had a feeling that Indian might have lost the battle in that alley. He was a whisper in the woods, a phantom, a force no one had ever conquered, but here it was different. Those little yellow men who slid silently in and out of the light were the force here. Stringbean felt a hollowness growing inside him as if he were floating loose in a way that he didn‘t fully understand.
Slowly he rose again and shuffled back to the raised patio and the iron fence. He sat against the bars of the fence again and pulled up his knees. He huddled there for a long time. Indian didn’t come. Much later, he stood, crossed the intersection, and drifted back to the decrepit hotel on Hastings.
The same dirty fat man sat behind the counter, a cigarette still dangling from a corner of his mouth. Stringbean crept past and sidled up the stairs. The room was as bad as it had been before, worse even, given what had happened. He closed the door, crawled onto the sway-backed mattress, and curled into a ball. He moaned softly to himself as he fell into restless sleep.
He remained that way until morning light penetrated the window grime and stretched in a long angled bar across the bed. He twitched a few times, whined a little, and slowly sat up. He moved to the edge of the bed, planted his feet wide on the floor, and hung his head moving it slowly back and forth.
Suddenly, he jerked upright, his eyes widened in disbelief. The room was empty. Indian hadn’t come. He was instantly afraid, but the fear was coloured by a strange sense of lightness. He felt somehow disembodied, floating in the filthy room, untethered, loose. It was a struggle to get to his feet, but even standing, the sense of disconnection remained.
He did nothing for a long time. He just wandered around the filthy room, glancing out the grime-streaked window from time to time but seeing nothing. Not that there was much to see beyond the rotting, rubbish-filled alley. He relieved himself and left the room.
He wandered along Hastings, passed the corner at Main, came back the other side, and shuffled up to the alley once again. Here he stopped, unsure of himself. Because it was daylight, he turned into the narrow space lined with rotting bags of garbage, bins of refuse, and broken cobbles ripe with the effluent seeping from the sides to the rough trough in the center. He wandered hesitantly down to the cross alley, peeked around the corner, and stared at the closed gates at its end. Nothing moved; nobody seemed to be watching anything. All of it was just an alley.
Stringbean shrugged and continued to the far end of the main alley. He crossed the road, wandered down the street a little way, and entered the Chinese garden at one of its gates. He chose a bench at random and sat.
The slats of the bench were warm from the sun. He felt the heat through his filthy jeans and his frayed shirt. As the sun warmed his front, he glanced around the gardens but saw little. The feeling of being cut loose, adrift, somehow remained. It had started his wanderings in the morning, and now finally drove him out of the gardens and back onto the street. He felt most at home on the corner with the bread line and the wrought iron fence, but he was afraid to stay there.
Those chinks, he thought, those little yellow buggers, they gotta be who got Indian. They’re all over, but you can’t see ‘em much. Slippery little shits, just like Indian in the bush, can’t see ‘em but they’re there. If they got him, they’ll get me. Can’t go back to the fence, can’t eat, gotta get out. Gotta get out.
He fell into the rhythm of that chant, wandering up Hastings past the hotel again and onto Heatley. The street led in a short block or two to the tiny park and the bike. None of the streets registered. Not the park, not the bike standing in front of him. He stopped for no reason he could understand. The chant evaporated like morning mist, and he looked about himself. It was as if he’d grounded somehow, found something solid. He stared at the bike wondering how he’d gotten there, and reached for it the way a man long in the water would reach for a life ring suddenly within reach.
Grinning, Stringbean mounted the bike, bounced up and down a few times, and fumbled for the key still in his jeans pocket. He giggled, his eyes sparkled. He felt somehow solid now, thrown back into the space around him. He kicked the bike into life, revved it a few times, and took off down the side of the park. He turned on Campbell, turned again a few blocks down, and ran past the Chinese senior’s residence. He paused at a T-intersection, turned again, and puttered down a curving street running past warehouses on one side and slovenly apartment blocks on the other. Directly ahead of him was a bridge carrying Hastings over the street he was on. He ran the bike under the overpass and stopped. He felt more protected with that mass of concrete overhead. He turned off the bike and sat straddling it.
Stringbean looked around. There were a couple of RVs on the other side of the street under the bridge, power cords snaking across the sidewalk and into the front door of a small building where the bridge walls stopped. On his side, there was no wall, just a waist-high cement footing carrying a series of columns. Beyond them was a railway track, the gravel edges of its bed filled with weeds. Stringbean looked at all of it and smiled at the way he felt. He was out from under, alone in his own space.
He looked at the street in front of him, at the tracks at the end of the bridge slanting obliquely across the road. He looked at the alley that opened on the right, and at the street girl at the bottom of the hill sauntering back and forth on the corner of Cordova. He focussed on her, watched her lean against the stunted little tree on the corner, fuss in her huge bag for a cigarette, and light up. He watched the curling cloud of smoke she blew out, saw her glance his way and saunter slowly up her side of the street until she was across from him. She stood there hipshot, slid her short skirt a bit further up her nyloned thigh, and grinned at him. He grinned back, felt the heat rising, the need surging through him. He cocked his finger at her, and she sauntered across the street, slid her hand up his thigh, and asked, “You want company?”
Stringbean smacked the seat behind him, and she hiked her skirt, spread her legs, and climbed on. She wrapped her arms around him and leaned close. “For forty you get blown better than you’ve ever been blown, an’ double that gets you anything you want. The tits are mine, man, they’re real, feel ‘em? You got a place or you wanna find a spot. I got a few good ones.”
Stringbean turned his head and grinning, said, “I want it all, everything. I got lots a bread so no worry there, and I got a spot we won’t be seen.” She hugged him tighter, so he flipped the key, started the bike, and took off down the street. He swung a hard right onto Powell, and roared off toward Gastown.
The heat raged through him as he drove, memories of Willow flooding his mind, more aware than ever of the warm pressure behind him, the arms around his chest. He drove faster than he should, feeling reckless and powerful, knowing what was coming. He thought of what he could do to her, knowing how she’d fight him maybe, and how he’d take her. He’d been like this before, but never with knowing he was the power. Not Indian, just him alone.
He sped down the four-lane street, pleasure rippling through him, anticipation making him salivate. He slowed through Gastown, turned down the little side road, bumped his way over to the derelict pile of construction debris, and slid the bike in behind it. Just like with Indian, he thought, just like that, but now it’s me, not him. Just me. He giggled and bounced a bit on the seat. He turned the bike off and sat.
The girl slid off the bike, sauntered over to the pile of debris, and sat on an old bleached tie. Stringbean joined her. They haggled a bit about price, settling on eighty for the works. Grinning, Stringbean paid her and ran his hand up her thigh. She spread her legs.
Suddenly, a front-end loader belching exhaust roared out of the alley mouth and bumped its way over to the rail line. The operator manoeuvred it around some stacked ties beside the tracks and shut down. The sudden silence filled quickly with the muted sounds of the city and the distant rattle of train cars being shunted along the waterfront. The operator climbed down, pulled a pack from his shirt pocket, shook one out, and lit up. He spent some time smoking before he walked around the pile of ties, kicked a couple, and returned to the huge machine. He climbed back into the cab, but sat looking toward the harbour rather than starting up again.
The two on the old bleached tie in the pile of debris looked at each other, grinned, and made for the bike. As they mounted, she leaned over: “I gotta few good spots I know, and for an extra twenty, I know a place to get a room. Might be better, eh? We can have more fun in a room with a bed. You wanna come to my place for a while, my roomie’s out but I gotta charge more, ya know, cause rent’s comin’ up.“
Stringbean turned his head, and grinned at her, “Your place sounds good, babe, real good. An’ I’ll give you an extra fifty if we stay the night. But your roomie’s gotta find another place. Don’t like company.”
She wrapped her arms around him again, squeezed, and whispered in his ear, “Call me Sissy, an’ you gotta pay me now, just business you know, no offence, eh? I’ll call my roomie before you start this thing, an’ we’ll have the place as long as you like.”
She fumbled around in her huge bag. She hauled out fags, lighter, and phone, and slid her hand around, giving his crotch a quick pat. She made a call.
“Hey Donna, it’s me. Find a place cause I got an all-nighter an’ we’re heading there now…. Yea, so what, you pulled the same thing last week. So fuckin’ get a guy to take you somewhere, you do it enough you sure know how. Gotta go, don’t come home till tomorrow!”
Sissy slid off the bike, reloaded her purse, and lit up. She smiled at Stringbean: “Ya gotta add the rest now, ya know, so let’s get that outa the way an’ you got some fun comin’.”
Stringbean slid off too. He pulled a roll from his pocket, peeled off a few bills, and shoved them in her hand. He reached up, took the cigarette from her mouth, and took a few drags. He said, “That fucker starts up again, let’s roll. Finish the cig if ya want.” He sat on the bike sideways and watched her smoke.
His need was obvious to her; she could almost feel it, smell it, and it made her a bit nervous. He was a skinny guy, but he looked like some of the dock hands who came into the city on weekends, sort of thin but tougher than nails. Those guys were too anxious and sometimes too rough, but this guy, she thought, he was hungrier, and he felt a little kinky. She could always tell the ones who wanted more than she’d give, and this guy maybe was like that. Still, she could always handle ‘em one way or another, she thought. An’ there was that bear piss thing in a can in her bag. She hadn’t had to use it yet, but she knew what it could do.
So she finished her smoke, stroked his face, hiked her skirt even higher, and mounted the bike. She wiggled her ass and said: “Giddy up!”
Stringbean kicked the bike to life startling the cat operator. Revving it high, he dropped it into gear, peeled some rubber, and hit the street.
He drove back the way he’d come, up one street and down Cordova, watching the corners for cops. Sissy leaned forward and yelled instructions in his ear. He took them off Cordova up a side street, through a light industrial area of alleys and buildings of one or two storeys, and then into a seedy residential area.
The houses were brick workers’ houses, two-storey, narrow, grimy places, broken into apartments by whatever slum landlords owned the blocks. Sissy directed him to one a couple of blocks in and up a narrow driveway to the rear. He parked in a small dirt-packed yard obviously used as parking space and shut down.
He felt Sissy slide off the bike. He took her hand and let her lead him down a rear cellar entrance into a basement apartment that was nothing more than an efficiency kitchen messy with dirty dishes and a bathroom with grungy tile and a forest of hanging lingerie. Ahead, the small living room was strewn with more clothes over a couple of stuffed chairs. At the end, he could see an unmade bed and a bunch of pillows through the open door.
Sissy stroked his cheek: “Gimme a minute, okay? I’ll get stuff ready for us. You just sit for a bit. I’ll be quick, hun, an’ we can have some fun.”
He watched her walk toward the bathroom swinging her hips and smiled to himself as she closed the door. Stringbean looked around the place. It was perfect. A basement, no big windows, wall boarded cement walls, a bedroom at the far end. Perfect.
He got up, took a look, and felt even better. The window was on the side that damn near butted up against the next house. All he could see was the cement foundation a couple of feet away. He pulled the ratty drape and went back to the living room.
The bathroom door opened and Sissy came out barefoot, fully revealed in a sheer baby doll that ended just below her crotch. There was nothing else. She parked herself on Stringbean’s spread legs facing him and began to undo his grimy shirt. He grinned at her and patted her hips both sides. He stood suddenly lifting her up with both hands. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her crotch rubbing against his erection.
In the bedroom, Stringbean stooped, dropped her on the bed and while she watched, got rid of the rest of his clothes. Sissy smiled and knew this one was so eager it wouldn’t last long. Maybe, she thought, they could order in and spend time watching the tube before the next round. Depends, she thought, on how long he’s been waiting and how fast he could get it up again. She could help with that, she knew, but she’d pace him, stretch it out as much as she could. A few rounds, maybe he’d sleep.
Stringbean lowered himself on top of her, his hands never still, and entered her. It went on much longer than she’d thought possible and he hurt her a bit. Finally, she struggled to get out from under, whispering that she had to go to the john and that there was lots of time, but he didn’t move, only wrapped her more tightly against himself.
Then he began what he really loved, a brutal rape of every orifice he could reach, and he reached them all. Sissy tried to fight him off, but he knew how to hold her and fighting seemed to make him harder and more brutal. When she bit him, he hit her hard again and again until she gave it up and just took whatever he did. Her purse and the bear spray were miles away in the bathroom where she’d left them.
The violations went on a long time: on the rickety bed, on the floor, against the wall, until she had no resistance left, until he was through with her. He picked her up like she was trash, threw her on the bed, giggled to himself and said: “Okay, girly, you rest up. Ol’ Stringbean gonna watch you for a bit. We got all night, and you a sweet piece. Do another ‘round the world with ya, an’ some special stuff you gonna like.”
The rest of the night was a blur of pain for Sissy. He did things to her she’d never believed were possible. She closed down as much as she could and tried to survive. Near dawn, Stringbean dressed and left her curled in a ball on the bed. He went into the bathroom, searched around a bit until he found her stash, took his money and the remaining twenties, and let himself out the one door.
He didn’t start the bike right away. He wheeled it into the street and down to the corner before he slid on and kick-started it. He revved it a couple of times and took off down the way he’d come.
Up the block behind him a car started up followed by a couple of big hog Harleys. All three trailed Stringbean as he wound his way through the neighbourhood and the light industrial area.
Stringbean was euphoric. The night had been one of his best ever, even better than the river with Willow. He felt reborn somehow, new, and fresh, and different. It was all his now, everything was his. He smiled and nodded to himself. He turned down the slight hill just before the ice cream parlour, crossed the tracks, and rode toward the Chinese seniors’ center. He noticed the two bikers as he made the turn onto Raymur, the street that curved under the Hastings overpass, and his pleasure vanished like mist from a boiling kettle. Who were they? Were they following him?
He rode slowly down the street toward the bridge, watching for them in his tiny rear view mirror. They made the turn too. They weren’t trying to hide. They were a half block back riding tandem in the middle of the road. A large black car made the turn too and trailed a good bit behind them. Stringbean considered what he saw.
The bikers weren’t doing anything unusual, and the big car was back there because it couldn’t get by. One of the riders was heavy and bearded, his jacket covered in chains. The other was taller and much skinnier. He was riding a raked-bar Harley like the ones he’d seen in the Easy Rider movie. Stringbean began to relax. He could see no threat.
Part way down the block, the two bikers sped up and passed him. They pulled in under the overpass beside the columns the way he had the day before. Maybe they were looking for hookers, maybe there were some on the corner again even this early. It was sort of private under there, a good place for a pickup. Stringbean slowed his much smaller bike and watched, curious. He wanted to see who turned up, what kind of girls the two of them got.
He suddenly remembered the biker Indian had put in the Fraser over in Surrey. He hadn’t thought about that at all after Chinatown. Now he did. But they’d be after Indian not him. Then it hit him. Maybe bikers had gotten Indian and not the Chinks. If they had, then the bike he was on was a trap. Fear boiled up again, and his hand tightened on the throttle.
He felt the impact before he heard it. It threw his head back violently as the bike flew forward. The helmet strap cut viciously into his neck. For a moment he saw dark blue sky. He felt the bike slide out from under him and felt the impact as he hit the pavement. He skidded along the street, his ears full of the grinding screech of his shredding helmet. Stringbean had no leathers, and his jeans quickly disintegrated. The arm of his jacket followed. He felt his skin and flesh begin to rip. His body hurtled toward the side of the road, and the cement curb filled his vision. He felt the blow as his visor disintegrated and the shards ripped into his eyes. Then there was nothing.
Stringbean’s bike tore along the road toward the two Harleys, the screech of twisting metal drowned in the roar of the two bikes as they took off down the street. It came to rest at the side of the road near the abutment and the columns in the shade of the bridge just shy of where the two bikes had stood. The Harleys returned and parked beside the ticking wreckage.
The black car slowed and stopped under the bridge. Two men got out and the trunk lid popped up. They walked over to where Stringbean lay, a bundle of blood and ripped flesh tangled with fabric and the fractured plastic of his helmet. Stringbean’s neck was broken, his face a mess of blood and bone. The two men seemed unmoved by what was in front of them. They bent, hefted the body up, and dropped it into the black car’s trunk. One of them reached into the back seat of the car, pulled out a container, and poured its sanded contents onto the bloody smear where Stringbean’s body had lain. The two bikers watched the men finish their task. Then they picked up the remains of Stringbean’s bike, struggled over to the rear of the black car, and heaved it in on top of his body.
It was very early, the street deserted, the light only now beginning to strengthen. There were no hookers on the corner. The street remained empty and silent except for the gurgle of exhaust from the two Harleys. The black car sped off, worked its way through the city, and headed for the Knight Street Bridge into Richmond. Once across the Fraser River, the big car turned onto the expressway toward Surrey.
The bikers took off down the street, turned onto Powell, and worked their way east toward Highway 1.
They all met up again in the riverside industrial area where Indian had first come to get some help from the Hell’s Angels and to borrow a bike. The shed was still full of biker paraphernalia, and there were a couple of Angels on the door when the sedan and the trailing bikers arrived.
Along the side of the building near the water, the driver popped the trunk, and the two bikers pulled out the ruined bike and Stringbean’s body, both of which they dumped on the ground. They pulled his skinny arms behind him, and wrapped chains around his wrists, ankles, and torso. They hoisted up his body, took it down the rickety wooden wharf to a waiting fishing boat and threw it into the gutters. They returned to the car, hefted the bike off the ground and struggled with it, dumping it in beside the body. They climbed in themselves.
The fishing boat powered up, left the dock, and headed downstream to a small channel off the main river. This backwater was filled mostly with old abandoned scows and a few heavier vessels. The water was iridescent with spill and grey with effluent from the adjacent industries. It was also deep and without current.
The same two men pulled Stringbean out of the gutters and tipped him over the side. The wrecked bike followed.