February 5, 2023

Double Bubble Chapter 10: With Friends Like These

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Double Bubble


Like the super-spy Austin Powers, Ottawa is a city still trapped in the 1960s. But unlike Austin Powers, Ottawa is not the epitome of a 1960s counter-culture style but is instead the poster child for every bad choice made by the Silent Generation while it was still clinging to its boring Beaver Cleaver traditions and its doomed effort to rally against the rising Baby Boomer tide.

Ottawa is a city dipped in the amber of a 1960s aesthetic as perceived by a 1950s mindset. If Canada were a house, Ottawa is grandpa’s 1940s worn-out, patchwork recliner in the living room that everyone claims to hate but is always happy to sit on. From the architecture of Ottawa’s downtown flagship, the Major-General George R. Pearkes Building — an office complex that houses the Department of National Defence and consists of two short towers connected by a squat building, each saturated in a beige so bland that, taken together, make the whole structure look like a headless corpse tipped on its back in rigour mortis with its short legs and short arms stuck in the air as lifeless as the city it represents — to the equally empty and lifeless walking promenade of the Sparks Street mall, Ottawa is a city built by big government and small imagination.

And if Ottawa is the capital of the country’s musty-fusty style and boy scout thinking, then Al’s Steak House is its ambassador. Opened in 1967 — Canada’s centennial year — Al’s is the traditional fine dining experience your grandparents went out for on Sunday nights. It’s the steak and potatoes with a small garden salad on the side. It’s the comfortable and unpretentious fine dining experience you enjoyed before restaurants were infected by Instagram, and Facebook, and TikTok. And it’s the favourite restaurant of Eddie the Fixer.

Eddie called me earlier today and said he wanted to meet for lunch. Eddie is a lunch guy. He hasn’t quite figured out that only gangsters and geriatrics still eat steak at lunch. I am ten minutes early and hoping to claim a seat with a view of the restaurant, but Eddie is already here and, by the look of it, has been since Al’s opened an hour ago.

He’s perched like a silver fox at a corner table and holding court with a man I don’t recognize. In contrast to his sedate surroundings, Eddie is animated and vocal. I can’t make out the words, but I can hear the sound of his deep voice punching staccato bullets into the man he’s talking to. I would not want to be that man.

I hesitate near the entrance and make a show of looking at the wall of self-important photos of modestly important people feigning modesty. As I stand there, one eye on Eddie and one eye on the photos, I spot one of him, shaking hands with an unknown man, hanging in a ten-by-ten picture frame squeezed in between an autographed photo of a former prime minister and another of a hockey legend. If I took a snap-shot of Eddie today and had it framed and hung on the wall, you’d never notice it wasn’t the Eddie of yesterday that’s already framed and hanging on the wall. Eddie is an unchanging fixture of a bygone era.

The meeting ends when Eddie stands up. The man hesitates, his posture suggesting that he wasn’t finished, but Eddie isn’t the kind of man to take notice or to care. The waiter drifts over and starts clearing dishes. The man hesitates a moment longer and finally abandons his post. He stands, reluctantly shakes Eddie’s hand, and heads toward me on his way out. We look at each other briefly, and the man shrugs as if to wish me good luck and godspeed in the battle ahead.

Eddie is still standing when I reach the table, his hand out in greeting, a smile as warm as a great white shark’s.

“Wordy Willy T,” he says in his customary way. “How is Rodney’s case progressing?”

We both sit as the waiter hustles over with some water and bread, and fresh cutlery. I take a sip of water and wait for him to disappear.

“Moving along nicely,” I say. “He dropped off his documents yesterday, and I sent out the claim notice and offer to settle this morning.”

“Expecting any problems,” Eddie says.

His tone is even, his body relaxed, but his look makes it clear there is only one acceptable answer.

“None,” I say. “I’m sure it will resolve itself shortly like all the others.”

“Excellent,” he says. “That’s what I like to hear.”

Eddie takes a sip of his water before sweeping the room with his eyes. He’s no longer relaxed. He seems suddenly paranoid. He shifts slightly in his chair, looks out the window for a moment before dropping his eyes back on me.

“You know the reason I work with you, Willy,” he says.

It’s a rhetorical question, and I’ve learned that when Eddie starts talking, it is best not to interrupt him.

“You keep your mouth shut. You understand the importance of discretion,” he says.

I nod. I guess from Eddie that’s what passes as a compliment. I shift uncomfortably under his fixed stare.

“I’m a lawyer Eddie. Discretion is included in the job description.”

His eyes are still fixed on mine. He chuckles softly. It is a sound about as delicate as the crisp spring of a stiletto blade being released from its hilt.

“I guess so,” he says, still chuckling. “Though I’ve known plenty of lawyers who couldn’t keep their fucking mouth shut even if it were sewed tightly to their asshole.”

I don’t say anything. He looks at me for another beat before picking up his menu. He starts flipping through the pages like he doesn’t know what to order, and this is his first time here. Halfway through, he starts shaking his head. He’s unhappy.

“The apologist has nearly cost me my appetite,” he says.

“Apologist?” I say.

“The clown who just left. I call him the apologist cause he’s always whining and bringing me excuses for why he can’t get shit done. If the fucking guy spent half as much time trying to get shit done as he does apologizing to me for not getting shit done, shit would get done, you know what I mean?”

I nod. I want to ask what it is the guy is working on for Eddie, but I squish my curiosity. Now is not the time. I remind myself that Eddie isn’t my friend and we aren’t here celebrating a birthday.

“Fuck it,” he says and picks up the menu again.

Eddie isn’t the kind of guy who waits to be fed. And he doesn’t wait for me to decide before calling the waiter over. He orders a steak and cracks a joke about making sure it is extra bloody, hardy har har. I’m not hungry but don’t want to be rude. I order a burger and fries. The only upside to eating lunch with Eddie is that I won’t need to worry about dinner.

After we’ve ordered, he pauses long enough for the waiter to disappear into the back before getting serious again.

“So, as I was saying, I value your discretion,” he says. “In my profession, a man without discretion doesn’t live long, you know what I mean, Willy?”

He fixes his eyes on mine as he says this, as though he wants to be sure I am getting his message. It isn’t like he sent it by semaphore. His message isn’t that difficult to decode.

“Sure,” I say. “Of course.”

His eyes are hard, his jaw clenched. He isn’t happy, but I’m not sure why.

“I figured you did,” he says. “So you can imagine my surprise, when I come to find out you’ve been running your mouth all over town about me?”

“Eddie, I—“

He waves his hand at me, making it clear that he isn’t inviting feedback. I close my mouth and wait.

“Like I said, I have always found you to be someone who appreciates the importance of discretion. But when some dame rings my number out of the blue and starts yammering at me about her dead son and some bullshit about murder. I know there’s only one person who could’ve whispered my name in her ear. You see what I’m saying, Willy?”

Jean called Eddie? That doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t spoken to Jean since she was in my office. There’s no way she got Eddie’s name from me.

“Eddie,” I say, but he waves his hand at me again.

“This broad, what’s her name…” he says.

“Jean,” I say.

“…whatever,” he says. “She starts in about her son, and this and that and then about the cops and suicide and, honestly, Willy, this broad won’t shut her fucking mouth. I had half a mind to track her down and beat her senseless but then she says something that catches my interest…”

He interrupts himself to look out the window. It’s a bright sunny day, and there is plenty of foot traffic on Elgin at this hour. I turn to look out the window to see what’s distracted him and realize he’s watching someone he knows and is waiting for them to walk by. It’s a woman. As she passes the window, she sees Eddie and smiles. He returns her smile. She keeps walking.

Not sure why that was worth the interruption, but guys like Eddie don’t spend a nickel worrying about whether they are wasting your time or not. For guys like Eddie, life doesn’t happen without them. It’s like they’re a lighthouse perched on a cliff, and your existence only manifests itself to them when they shine their light on you. But like a lighthouse, guys like Eddie never linger their lights long on anything or anyone, preferring to scan and search the horizon for something or someone more interesting than you. And when they find it, they move their light to that new source of fixation and cast you back into a darkness of non-existence. Satisfied that I’m now the most interesting thing on the horizon, he turns his attention back to me. His eyes flicker briefly as he tries to remember what we were talking about. He offers no apology for wasting my time.

“Like I said, this hen is clucking in my ear about shit I don’t care about. I figure this is your case, Willy; none of it has fuck all to do with me. But then she says how she hired you and has tried calling you and leaving you messages, but you never return her call. That true, Willy?”

“Eddie,” I say.

“I don’t need a big song and dance here, Willy. I’m asking if it’s true?”

“She’s crazy, Eddie,” I say. “It’s like you say, she won’t stop running her mouth. But she never hired me.”

“I don’t get that,” he says. “This woman, what’s her name, she’s the same one you called me about last week, right?”

I didn’t call Eddie. He called me. But I don’t bother correcting him. Guys like Eddie have a way of rewriting history to suit their own narrative. Talking to him is like stepping into a room filled with funhouse mirrors, everything reflected is real but aggressively distorted. Eddie gaslights people with about as much effort as the rest of us use to breathe. Nothing in Eddie’s world happens in any way he doesn’t remember. That’s just how it is.

“Sure, Eddie,” I say. “Only she didn’t hire me. She asked me to speak to Danny’s girlfriend. I—“

“Danny,” he asks. “Who the fuck is Danny?”

I want to roll my eyes, but I don’t. Eddie isn’t this dumb. It’s a gimmick he uses to rattle people. Another form of gaslighting. He pretends he doesn’t know some important fact everyone knows he knows so that he can reset the conversation back to zero and reinvent reality. It’s a game to him. I guess it must throw some people off and undercut their confidence, but it doesn’t phase me. Years of litigation and fighting with people like the Terror have made me more or less immune to the Eddie Finns of the world.

“The dead guy,” I say, keeping my voice neutral. “Jean’s son.”

He arches an eyebrow at me as if I have been speaking mandarin this whole time.

“The suicide,” I say.

“That’s what I’ve been saying, Willy,” he says. “The case with the suicide that isn’t suicide.”

“Yes,” I say.

He stares at me. His eyes unblinking.

“Right,” he says. “And didn’t you tell me that this broad hired you to look into her son’s death?”

I return his stare.

“No, Eddie,” I say. “I didn’t. She never hired me.”

“I see,” he says.

He shakes his head, making it clear he doesn’t believe me. The conversation lapses when the waiter returns with lunch. I’m not much of a foodie, but the smell of sizzling meat makes my mouth water.

Eddie thanks the waiter, tucks in his linen napkin, and starts poking the steak with his knife. The meat is so tender that his knife slices through, and red blood starts to ooze out. He smiles. He grabs his fork and uses it to puncture a piece of steak in place before sawing it off with his knife. Satisfied with his cut, he drags the piece across his plate, trying to soak up the jus before popping it into his mouth.

I watch him chew and try and figure out what it is we are arguing about. So Jean called him. Not like he doesn’t take a fucking million calls every day. What’s one more crank? Sure, I can see why he would be troubled that Jean called him after I spoke with him about Danny’s death, but what did it matter? It isn’t like he referred her to me or something. I don’t understand why he is so agitated.

“Eddie,” I say. “I don’t know how this woman got your number but it wasn’t from me. I haven’t spoken to her at all since you and I spoke last week. She’s fucking nutso. I just don’t—“

He waves his knife at me for silence. I stop speaking. His eyes dart around the restaurant again. He’s agitated.

“Listen Willy. I don’t give a fuck how this woman got my name and number. Not like I’m some fucking celebrity hiding out from the public. But when a man agrees to take on a job, he doesn’t stop until the job is done. You see what I’m saying?”

I nod my head in agreement, but I have no fucking clue what he’s talking about. He’s animated now, waving his knife and fork around as he speaks.

“So when this dame calls me and tells me that her lawyer, who also happens to be my lawyer, won’t call her back, well, you can understand why that would make me unhappy.”

“I’m sorry Eddie but I don’t actually.”

He looks at me like I’m a petulant child. He frowns. He looks down at his plate, jams his fork into his steak, saws off another piece, and pops the piece into his mouth. He’s chewing slowly, looking at me the whole time. After he swallows, he smiles at me.

“I don’t think you’re hearing me, Willy,” he says. “ You see, I made some inquiries after I got off the phone with this broad. Reached out to some people I know. That’s when I heard about a five-million-dollar policy. That got my attention. Got me real interested, see? So I figure I should do you a favour since this broad’s your client. Make myself acquainted, as it were. So I had her out for coffee. Nice lady. Crazy like you say. But still a real nice lady. She told me all about this girlfriend and whatnot. Told me how the girlfriend killed her son etc, etc. She asked me if I could help. And what did you think I told her, Willy?”

When Eddie called me and invited me to lunch, I assumed he and I would be talking about Mr. Sad Sack, not Jean fucking Piggott. I really don’t know what to say except that if he has taken an interest in this case, I’m in trouble. A lot of fucking trouble. I shake my head. He smiles thinly. He cuts another piece of steak and stuffs it into his mouth.

“I told her sure I would help. Of course, I’m gonna help. For five million dollars? Fucking right, I’ll help. A friend of my friend is a friend, right?”

He tears off another piece of steak, drags it around his plate before popping it into his mouth. He starts chewing.

“But now you tell me she isn’t a friend. You say she’s crazy and never hired you. That she isn’t your client. And you see, that puts me in an awkward position,” he says. “That puts me in a real awkward position, Willy. You understand what I’m saying?”

I shake my head again. I still haven’t taken a bite of my food. I’ve lost my appetite. This is not fucking good. Not good at all.

“Listen, Eddie,” I say. “I’m sorry about Jean. I have no idea how she heard about you or that she would somehow rope you into this mess but she’s crazy.”

Eddie stops eating and stares at me silently.

“It don’t much matter whether she’s crazy or not, Willy. She’s a client. You gotta finish the job you were hired to do.”

He looks down, jams his fork into his steak, and starts sawing again. A pool of red blood has started to soak into the potatoes. He doesn’t seem to care.

“But that’s just it,” I say. “She didn’t hire me to do anything. Katrina did.”

“The girlfriend,” he says between mouthfuls.

“That’s right,” I say.

“The girlfriend who murdered your high school friend?”

“She didn’t murder him,” I say.

I’m feeling defensive but not sure why. He looks at me, still chewing his steak.

“So you’re saying this guy whatever the fuck his name is just swallowed the pills on his own? He committed suicide?”

“I’m not sure that’s how it is,” I say, trying to defuse the situation.

“That’s how I heard it,” he says. “The cops say it’s suicide and now the insurer won’t pay. You heard different?”

“No,” I say. “That part is true.”

He shoots me an irritable look like I’m a fly he’s trying to swat. He takes a sip of water. His steak is almost done.

“So if it ain’t suicide it had to be murder, right?”

“No,” I say. “Not exactly.”

“Not exactly,” he says, rolling his eyes. “What’s not exactly?”

“If I can prove it was an accident, Katrina will get the money,” I say.

“A fucking accident,” he says. “How you figure that?”

“I dunno,” I say. “I’m still looking into it.”

“Uh-huh,” he says.

He turns to look out the window but doesn’t see anything of interest. He looks back at me.

“Let me see if I got this straight. Mom hires you to investigate the girlfriend for murder, and girlfriend hires you to prove it was an accident. If it was murder, mom gets the money. If it was an accident, the girlfriend gets the money. And if you can’t prove shit, the insurer keeps the five mill. That about right?”

He looks at his plate. There’s still some steak left, but he decides it’s time to start on the potatoes. He forks one and pops it into his mouth. This is followed closely by a second, a third, a fourth. He’s like a fucking steam shovel now, the potatoes moving at speed from his plate to his mouth. He barely has time to swallow. Watching him eat is repulsive and is making me nauseous.

“If it wasn’t suicide, the money was going to the girlfriend, Eddie. There was no play that put the money in mom’s hands.”

This isn’t entirely true, and Eddie knows it.

“Unless it was murder,” he says, slowing down the machinery just long enough to smile at me grimly.

“Sure, I guess,” I say. “But it wasn’t murder, Eddie. Mom’s crazy. Her story is bullshit.”

“And you know this how,” he says.

“She’s a crank Eddie. There’s no evidence of murder.”

“I see,” he says, his tone skeptical. He takes a sip of water. “Except that you never really bothered looking, right? You went over there, fell for this broad, and she led you by your cock to her bed, is that about it? Or am I missing something?”

He starts on the vegetables, a few withered stocks of broccoli and a couple of carrots.

“It’s not like that Eddie. There was nothing to find. She didn’t murder the guy.”

He looks up at me and stops chewing as if he’s seriously considering what I have been saying. But he isn’t. Instead, he leans forward and opens his mouth so wide I can smell the broccoli and carrot hash he just swallowed.

“I get it, Willy. I hear ya. I do. But now you hear me. I told mom I would help her get this money, see? And that’s what’s going to happen. So whatever you got going on with this dame, it’s over now. You need to finish the job you were hired to do, Willy. That’s how it’s got to be.”

He leans back. Stares at me silently for a moment before going to work on the last of his steak. Eddie is a dangerous man and not someone to be dismissed lightly. But what he’s asking me to do is impossible. I’ve already started a court proceeding for Katrina. I’m her lawyer.

“I can’t do that Eddie,” I say. “I’m sorry you got brought into this but I’ve already agreed to take on the case for Katrina. I’ve already started the fight with the insurer. They already know Katrina is my client. It’s too late to switch teams now.”

Eddie stops eating, leans back, and looks at me. I’m not sure anyone has told him no before. I’m not pleased to be his first. He may be angry, but I can’t tell. He’s as still and cold as a sheet of ice. His eyes are staring right through me. After a minute, he seems to reach a decision. He frowns, and then he shrugs.

“You’ve made a real fucking mess of things, Willy,” he says, waving his knife at me vaguely as he speaks. “But there’s nothing for it now, I guess. You’ll just have to play it through.”

“What do you mean,” I say.

“I mean, Willy, you can keep working for this dame, sure. Nobody wants the fucking insurer to win. Seems to me we’re all on the same page about that. But before this case is over, you’re going to make it real clear that Danny was murdered by this broad. That’s just how it’s got to be. I told Mom she was going to get her money. And I’m not going to let some piker like you force me to break my word. So you do what you need to do but I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about this being an accident, you follow?”

“How am I going to do that,” I say. “I’m telling you Jean is fucking crazy, Eddie. There was no murder.”

“You’re a smart guy, Willy. I know you’ll sort that shit out.”

“And if I can’t,” I ask.

But I already know the answer. Eddie pops the last piece of steak into his mouth and gives me a cold stare.

“Best not to trouble yourself with things you think you can’t do, Willy,” he says. “Best to stay focused and find a way to get the job done. But don’t you worry, pal, I got your back. I’ll be here to make sure you get the job done, you follow?

Before I can respond, he puts down his knife and fork and stands up. The meeting is over. And apparently, so is my life.

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