TABLE OF CONTENT
TORONTO: DECEMBER 27
coda n. final passage of piece of music,
usu. elaborate or distinct
—POCKET OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY
“What are you, English, a paid assassin,
a hired killer?”
“All soldiers are that,” I said.
—LEN DEIGHTON, BILLION-DOLLAR BRAIN
TORONTO: DECEMBER 27
Bunny’s gone. I stepped off the ice to get us sausages from the truck, which he wanted (my brother doesn’t get street meat these days), and now, when I turn back, he’s vanished.
What’s with that? I hoover a sausage and scope the place. I saw the latest James Bond movie before Christmas, and I’ve been doing his laser stare ever since. I think I rock it, even with glasses. Q should be talking in my earbud.
The rink at city hall is hopping tonight: skaters in bright colors, Christmas decorations, tinny music, cold. At the far side, the scaffolding is set up for the New Year’s Eve concert stage. This year it’s Aiden Tween. Since I’m not a twelve-year-old girl, I plan to miss it. Meanwhile, the hiss of blades on ice reminds me of the Komodo dragons Bond escaped from in Skyfall. I whip out my phone and grab a few seconds of video. I imagine an overhead shot, patterns of people flowing, Bond zipping through them. Hey, a chase scene on ice! I bet no one’s ever done it. I could use Bunny—he’s a good skater.
But Bunny’s not skating. Maybe he’s hit the washroom. Before I check, I take time to polish off his sausage too. I guess I’m hungrier than I thought. Besides, Bunny’s not the only person I’m looking for. I haven’t seen AmberLea since September, and it might be nice to meet her on my own.
I don’t see AmberLea either. I fire Bun a text—where r u—then AmberLea: skating remember? I turn to look for Bunny near the sausage truck and hear my ringtone, those eerie first notes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I dig out my phone again. AmberLea has texted: pan 180. I get it; AmberLea is in first-year film school, like me. I turn around and there she is, on the ice right behind me.
“Spencer!” It’s not Oscar-quality dialogue, but I’ll take it. AmberLea’s arms are stretched out. Is this for a hello hug or just for balance? Should I go for the hug? What if it’s a bad call? I solve the problem by forgetting I’m wearing skates as I step forward. I stumble onto the ice and practically land on top of her.
“Whoa!” She helps me stand up. “Hey, new glasses. Like ’em.”
I fumble them back into place. I’ve replaced my wire frames with clunky black ones, which are very cool right now. Plus, they go with the old curling sweater I found in a vintage store, decorated with crossed brooms and deer antlers. I am now urban cool. AmberLea says, “There’s mustard on your chin.”
“What? Oh, sorry.” I swipe at my chin. So much for cool.
“No problem.” She gives me a real hug. AmberLea looks great, as usual. Her blond hair sweeps out from under the same kind of hat Dad got Bunny and me for Christmas. I instantly revise my opinion on wooly yellow-and-blue hats with earflaps and tie strings. Maybe I’ll wear mine after all. I see she has matching mittens too. All in all, AmberLea makes a great picture—until someone else barges into the frame. A big guy showers me with ice flakes in a perfect hockey stop. “This is Toby,” AmberLea says. “We’re friends at school.”
“Hey,” says Toby. He’s wearing the same hat. I re-revise my opinion and make a mental note to give my hat to the first street person I see. Underneath the hat, Toby has a perfect swoop of brown hair and a perfect, stubbly face above a perfect suede bomber jacket with a perfect long, preppy scarf that matches the hat. I know his skates are expensive, because Bunny has the same kind. I hate him already.
I shake hands with Toby (who does that?), trying for my best manly man grip. He says, “AmberLea’s told me about you,” in some kind of clipped American accent. I wonder which parts she told him.
“She was probably just kidding,” I say.
Toby laughs. That doesn’t help.
“So,” AmberLea says, “let’s skate.” Uh-oh. I was so anxious to see AmberLea, I never thought about the actual skating part. The only ice I can handle is in a glass of Scotch—and that’s not even my line; it’s from a movie about a killer glacier. I don’t even drink Scotch.
They both look surprised. How much has AmberLea told this guy? “Bunny?” AmberLea says. “Isn’t he…?”
I nod. “But he’s home for Christmas. It’s complicated. He was with me and now he’s gone, and he’s only supposed to be with family, so I have to find him.”
“Can we help?” Toby asks.
“Naw, it’s okay. You skate. He’s probably just in the washroom. When I find him, we’ll come back.” Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll just go somewhere and die.
“Where are the washrooms?” says AmberLea.
“Over there.” I point to the far end of the rink.
“C’mon, we’ll skate over with you.”
“Oh, that’s okay.”
“C’mon.” AmberLea beckons and does a nifty little backup glide.
Oh, man. What can I do? “Bloody hell,” I whisper in my best Brit accent. Man up, Bond. Right. Notice James Bond never skates? I push off carefully. Except for falling over, wobbling forward is all I can do on skates. I keep my hands out, legs spread wide enough to drive the sausage truck between them. I’m swearing in a steady stream under my breath.
This is Bun’s fault. He’s the one who wanted to skate. He’d even wanted to skate on the lake up at Grandpa’s cottage yesterday if the ice was strong enough. Then all the crazy stuff happened, and we forgot about it. As soon as we got home today, Bunny said, “Come on, Spence. My only chance, maybe.”
I was good with it. AmberLea and her mom were in town, staying at the hotel across the street from city hall. I texted her, figuring we’d sit on a bench and talk while Bun skated. I really wanted to tell her about what had happened at the cottage. Besides, I felt kind of sorry for Bun. He’s not exactly having fun these days.
Now I’m not having fun, and AmberLea and Toby are politely pretending not to notice. Toby is skating backward, which does not make me like him any better. My exit is coming up. If I glide now, I should run out of gas as my toes bump the end of the rink. This is good, because I don’t know how to stop either.
AmberLea and Toby start their turn. I don’t. “Back in a bit,” I call. AmberLea waves. My toes kiss the edge of the rink.
Bond hopped out of the Komodo-dragon pit like a kid vaulting a backyard fence. I stagger off the ice like the Creature climbing out of the Black Lagoon. My fingers are cold, my feet are hurting, and AmberLea is with a preppy skating hunk. Still, things could be worse: I could have fallen over, for example. Or Roz could be calling. I wouldn’t want to tell her the Bun-man’s not available.
Which means it’s time to find the guy. I clomp across the rubber mats to the washroom. Bunny’s not there. I do a quick foot check under stall doors to be sure. I feel dumb doing this, but it’s slightly better than calling “Bunny?” in a men’s room. Bond could dice anybody who laughed at him into a small bowl of mush—so could Bunny, for that matter. I don’t even dice carrots.
“Find him?” AmberLea pulls up. I shake my head. My ringtone sounds. “The Good, the Bad,” says AmberLea. “Nice.” Apart from the fact that she’s saved my life twice, this is another reason why I think AmberLea and I are perfect for each other.
I check my phone. It’s a text from Bunny: donut call cops. “Oh, great.” I show it to AmberLea as Toby skates up.
“Whaaat?” she says. “He’s on a donut run with some cops?”
I shake my head. “Naw, he’s a bad speller. He means ‘do not.’ My guess is, he met some of his buds from last summer and went with them. Now he’s remembered he can’t do that, and he’s scared I’ll call Roz.”
“I’ll tell you later. Listen,” I say, “I better go, in case he heads home.”
“That’s too bad,” says Toby. Yeah right, I think.
“Okay,” says AmberLea. “Plan B: tomorrow afternoon, you have to come with us. Remember I messaged you that we sold my grandma’s cottage?”
“Yeah,” I say. “And speaking of cottages, wait till I tell you about—”
“No!” says AmberLea. “I have to tell you about Grandma’s first. Guess who bought it? Aiden Tween! He bought the whole south side of the lake. And he’s a big fan of Grandma’s movies, so he wants to meet me, and he said I could bring friends.”
“Really?” I’m stunned. Like I said, Aiden Tween is not my thing. His tweenybopper music is either bubblegum ballads or techno dance crud (remember his Comet Shuffle dance move?), but it’s not like I hang with megastars on a daily basis. Maybe I could shoot some video, post it, the whole deal. Jump-start my career. Cinema verité, as my doc prof would say. “Wow,” I say. “Can Bun come too?”
“Sure,” says AmberLea. “I’ll text you.” She gives me a wave. Toby slips his arm through hers and off they skate.
I find the bench my shoes are under. Unlacing my skates gives me the best feeling I’ve had since I found out Christmas break is nearly a month long when you’re in college. Then I reach for my sneakers and discover something weird: Bunny’s sneakers are under here too. Where the heck would he go in his skates? Still, it’s typical Bunny. My brother is kind of a special guy. I gather all our stuff and head for O’Toole Central, trying not to think about Toby and AmberLea.
When I get home, the door is unlocked and the house is a disaster—way messier than we left it. If this were a movie, I’d say the place had been searched. In real life, I’d say Bunny and his friends dropped by to get shoes and a snack for three hundred. I stuff the scattered sheet music back in the piano bench, take it off the couch, stick shades back on lamps and put things back in the fridge. The rest I’ll deal with later. I’m not going to call Mom unless Roz calls before he gets back. Then it’ll hit the fan. Donut call the cops. Thanks, Bun; I won’t. I’ll just wait for Roz to call and melt the phone line. In the meantime, I’ll do what I always do when things are a little tense: watch some movies. I think I’ll start with Blade Runner.
Probably I should tell you some things in case this gets any weirder. Most of it has to do with my grandpa, David McLean. Grandpa D (my mom’s dad) died last June, and in his will, he asked all his grandsons to do some stuff for him. Because I like movies, he wanted me to track down his favorite old movie actress, Gloria Lorraine, and film her giving me a kiss for him. I did it, but things got a little crazy, what with the bikers and the Buffalo mob and the street posse all chasing the stolen Cadillac. Anyway, that’s another story, except it was how I met AmberLea, Gloria Lorraine’s granddaughter. AmberLea lives in Buffalo, and she got mixed up in it all too, along with Al and Mister Bones, the chihuahua. That’s when she saved my life.
Even if I hadn’t met AmberLea, I’d still say I got off easy. Ask my cousin DJ—he had to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Or Bunny. Especially Bunny. Bunny had to get a tattoo, and he ended up with a street gang called the Fifteenth Street Posse. Now he’s in Creekside Juvenile Detention Centre. That’s another story too.
Anyway, this fall I started film school. Bunny was in Creekside. Deb, our mom, booked a cruise with her sisters for between Christmas and New Year’s. Our dad, Jer, was going to visit his dad, Grandpa Bernie, at the same time. Grandpa Bernie lives out west, on Salt Spring Island. They planned to spend a few days chilling in a yurt, getting in touch with their toes or something. Jer invited me to come along, but compare that to a week of parent-free living and you can probably see why I said no thanks.
But that’s where Grandpa D comes back in. In November, around when Deb and Jer booked their trips, one of my profs showed my class a rough cut of a documentary he’s working on, about this weird country called Pianvia. And I do mean weird: stuff like cards and unicycles has been banned there since 1952 or something. Music too. Don’t ask me why. Now the Save Pianvia Counterrevolutionary Army was fighting back, planning an invasion and streaming in classic rock and Texas Hold ’em online, except that no one in Pianvia has a computer. It was complicated. Anyway, I had downloaded the doc onto my laptop and had it with me one time on a visit to Bun. Deb and Jer were busy having some kind of Official Meeting, so I showed Bun some of it, just for laughs. We got to this part about how Zoltan Blum, Pianvia’s greatest composer, defected in the 1950s and then later on got murdered. Up came a picture of a mystery man thought to be his killer and Bunny said, “Hey, that’s Grandpa!”
“Right, Bun. Get a grip.”
“It is. It’s an old Grandpa.”
Actually, it would have had to be a young Grandpa, but I knew what Bun meant. I clicked back. “Grandpa didn’t have a mustache, glasses and blond hair, Bun.”
“His hair was white. Same as.”
“Come on, Bun-man. That’s because he was old.”
Bun made me email my prof right then, telling him that the mystery guy could maybe be David McLean. My prof thanked me, but he said the Blum murder was just a sidelight to the larger story and he didn’t want to give it more screen time, especially if the ID was just a guess. I thought Bun was wrong anyway, so I forgot all about it.
Meanwhile, some of my cousins and I planned to stay at Grandpa’s cottage over the Christmas break. Then we found out Bunny could come home for ten days on the Constructive Rebound for Adolescents Program. Not only was this good news, but it also made for a great acronym. Deb and Jer couldn’t change their flights. Cousin DJ said he’d “look after” us (sometimes DJ thinks he’s Grandpa), and when I heard AmberLea and her mom were coming to town, I hoped DJ might cover Bunny for me if I came back down to the city. He’s family, after all.
When Bunny got home a few days before Christmas, I was watching the doc again for an assignment. “Hey,” Bun said, “the Grandpa movie!” and we got into it all over again. Finally, I took my laptop into the kitchen. Jer was baking Christmas shortbread. “What color was Grandpa David’s hair before it went white?” I asked.
Deb came up from her office in the basement, carrying some exams she’d been marking. She’s a philosophy prof at York U. “What color was your dad’s hair?” Jer asked, brushing flour off his flannel shirt.
“And did he ever have a mustache?” I put in.
“Brown,” Deb said. “No mustache. He said he tried one in the war but it was a disaster. Why?”
I showed her the photo on the screen. “Bun thinks that’s Grandpa.”
Deb put on her glasses and peered. “Well, there’s a vague resemblance, but…” She shrugged. “Who is it?”
“Some mystery killer in the 60s,” I say. “In Pianvia. Europe, I mean. He killed a Pianvian guy who defected.”
Deb did a classic double take. Then she laughed. “Dream on, guys. Apart from the war, the closest Grandpa got to a killing was a good business deal.”
“Except for the ants,” Bun said.
“Right,” said Deb. “Remember I told you how he cornered the market on—”
Deb frowned. “Souvenir pucks, actually.”
“Right. And then there were the Chinese golf balls or whatever.”
“Ping-Pong balls. The golf balls were Cuban.”
“What about the wooden Frisbees?”
“Australian. Kind of like boomerangs. Okay, some were mistakes. But don’t knock it, buster. My dad built a solid import/export business and gave us a good life.”
“I’m not knocking anything,” Jer said. Actually, he was knocking butter and sugar and flour around in a bowl. “He did get around though. Maybe he was a secret agent.”
Deb laughed and swatted him with the exams. “Your grasp of logic and evidence is right up there with my students’.” Then she wiped flour off the exam papers.
And that was that, until our folks went away and we drove up to the cottage with DJ. Bun took his skates. I took the movie on my phone, because Bun wanted me to show the picture to everyone.
We got there first. Bun went outside to chop wood. DJ was at the door, giving orders and calling out to Adam and Webb, who’d just pulled in. I was laying a fire with the scraps of wood left inside from the fall. I grabbed the last piece, which was leaning up against the paneling by the fireplace. It stuck, which was weird. I yanked hard. It gave, and I tumbled backward with the wood and a square of paneling attached to it. A jumble of things spilled out from behind the panel, including a Walther PPK, James Bond’s weapon of choice.