And from there, the series of events became increasingly sketchy, the memories like a half-finished puzzle with remaining pieces that didn’t fit anywhere. The barmaid had arrived to take his order, then eyed us both with mistrust. I was already a potential problem, and now here was one of the community’s well-known criminals. To be clear, Cardiac Carl was no joke. On the contrary, he was dangerous. His constant supply of blow suggested ties to organized crime, bikers, or maybe the mob out of Thunder Bay. And Carl had been one of the few faces I recognized huddled around the mirror in the bathroom with Cheri Coke. As if reading my thoughts, he’d said, “Sorry about Cheri. Tough break. Hey, have you seen her around?”
I’d snorted a sardonic laugh, “Not since she packed.”
He’d left it alone, at least for the moment. The patchy nature of my reminisces were as surreal as they were frustrating. There’d been a beer in his hand at that point, but I have no vision of it arriving. And I have no idea how long we drank together. It must have been a while to cause such a hangover. My next recollection is the passenger seat of Cardiac Carl’s decked out Ford half-ton, AC/DC loud on the stereo.
“Who made who, who made you? Who made who, ain’t nobody told you?”
The high-quality speakers set at all points in the cab made conversation impossible, so of course Carl had yammered non-stop. I have to assume we were headed back to my place, so I could weigh out his pot. I remembered none of it, just the notion it had happened…and that he’d asked about Cheri Coke more than once.
Menu finished his dish of food. I watched the cat quietly clean himself while I smoked, unable to shake the ever-growing sense of dread. I had no memory of coming back here with Carl, or of coming home at all for that matter.
I installed myself on the living room sofa, the minor expenditure of energy involved in feeding my cat and making coffee leaving me drained enough to indulge in a nap, though I’d been awake for all of twenty minutes. Menu curled up beside me, and I was about to turn on the television when an object resting on a nearby armchair darkened my vision.
A black canvas duffle bag. It wasn’t mine, and I had no idea how it had made its way onto my recliner. It seemed innocuous. So why had the clinging sense of dread I’d been dealing with ratcheted up to fear coupled with vertigo?
I picked up the duffle. Its weight was surprising, heavy. Setting it on the floor, I crouched and unzipped the thing, revealing a pair of black plastic garbage bags. I pulled one open and gave a frightful moan. I was staring at several stacks of banded cash. I opened the other bag—same thing.
Adrenaline cut away my hangover. The questions came in a flood. How had it arrived here? Had Cardiac Carl forgotten it? Why would he bring it here? Was it even his…? If not, who the hell did it belong to…?
It was suddenly imperative to determine if I had in fact sold Cardiac Carl any pot. I was in the same pants I’d worn last night. Digging around in the pockets, I produced my money, folded and held by a clip. A quick count disclosed what I’d expect after a night out—no more, no less. Now that was odd. If Carl had scored, the tally would’ve been larger—he never bought less than an ounce, and he was usually good for a quarter pound. I crossed the living room to my office, a paneled room on the front of the house with dramatic bay windows and a view of the lake. Ostensibly, it was arranged so I could write, but it also served as my defacto boutique. In fact, there’d been precious little writing since the departure of Cheri Coke.
My sales supply was in a safe bolted to the floor. A hurried inventory showed it to be untouched. Carl hadn’t scored from me.
More confused than ever, I returned to the duffle of money. Menu had discovered it and was casually licking at one of the empty outer pockets. My first impulse was to chuckle at the cat, but then, after I’d pulled him away, my reaction turned to horror. I tried to convince myself otherwise, but he’d been busy tasting a crusty bit of blood. It wasn’t a big spot, but it was there.
An image flashed at me, slowly becoming a fragment of a memory—
“Who made who, who made you…? If you made them and they made you…”
—alone in the passenger seat of Carl’s truck, with only AC/DC keeping me company, I’d watched the back of his denim jacket disappear into a well-maintained Craftsman-style house. But what had Carl been carrying dangled by the straps? A multi-coloured packsack–I recall he’d hoisted it from the box of his Ford.
Had the house been on McQuillan?
Denial is a trickster creature. I came up with a thousand alternate explanations, and my instinct laughed at them all. It whispered what I already suspected—the duffle was somehow linked to the news report.
I removed the heavy garbage bags full of cash. Setting them aside for the moment, I performed a deeper examination of the canvas bag. I was dismayed to find it wasn’t just the one spot of blood. A pixelated patch of rusty red, harder to see against the black, had dried above the original blotch. Fuck. Panic screamed through me, a physical sensation similar to an elevator coming to a stop.
After taking a moment, I turned to the cash. Laid out on my rug, it proved to total five hundred thousand dollars. It had been cut into parcels of ten thousand; most of the bundles were held together by heavy bands, some vacuum-sealed in plastic. Fifty packs of ten. I shoveled the money back into the garbage bags and forced them into a chocolate-brown leather satchel I’d procured out of necessity on a trip to the city. It bulged but sufficed.
When I’d first moved into the house on the lake, a carpenter friend with a chronic marijuana habit had helped me create a stash under the stairs to the second floor. I’d even managed to keep it a secret from Cheri Coke—in every dealer I’ve met, such mistrust is ingrained. This was my real stash, not the sales supply in the office safe. We’d converted one of the steps into a hinged door. Below it, we’d built a compartment capable of holding twenty-five pounds of tightly packed bud, which is exactly what I’d crammed into the space in May. It was simple but effective. The entire thing was hidden by carpet. I rolled it back and unlocked the stair. The hidden closet still held a couple of pounds stacked in a corner. I dropped in the heavy satchel.
My thoughts turned to the duffle with its blood stains. I knew it had to go…and not into some garbage can. After gathering some essentials, I stuffed it into an opaque plastic bag. On my way out, I pushed Menu back to lock the door.
James C. Stewart began his career as a journalist working at newspapers in Northern Ontario. He currently resides in North Bay, Ontario.