East-City Noir (2)
An updated excerpt from a new project.There are no edits, so don’t mind the typos.The narrator viewpoint has changed, but the story continues:
The alarm wasn’t any quieter today. Big Ben clanged its harsh clarion call, as it did most mornings. I turned on my mattress and reached with a well-practiced move; grabbing the clock and tossing it across the room. It clattered along the floorboards, but the bell rang on. “Dam Westclox,” I mutter to myself. Now I’m forced to get up, just to turn the fucking thing off. Its radioactive glow has faded from when I went to sleep, but there was still enough illumination to see the time of morning. It was 7 am. Big Ben didn’t care that it was New Year’s Day. 1980.
It was the beginning of a new decade, and the end of the 1970’s. “Well thank God for that” I think as I sit up in bed, leaning my feet over to the bedside carpet. Dam. I was tired. But duty called. Even today. Lack of sleep or not. Not that I had been revelling in the NYE festivities at the Holiday Inn on George Street. Or anywhere else for that matter. Nope. I was kept busy driving around the city all evening delivering pies and lasagna’s for Big John’s Pizza. I only glimpsed any celebrations through the doorways of apartments and townhouses scattered across town. I’d made good money from tips.Those were welcome. But the invitation to a swinger’s orgy at an old Victorian mansion? That was kindly rejected.
“Typical Peterborough” I say, to no one in particular. Not even the chair. Those swingers were just some desperate ex-hippies trying to experience living through dope and free love. Right here in the backwards conservative bastion of Ontario. With a new anti-politician on the rise. Bill Dom. He was opposed to metric system conversion, bilingualism, and abortion. The one thing he could support was the reintroduction of the death penalty. Meanwhile, a slow rot had already settled in here amongst the once powerful industrial base that made this city. Some leadership.
But the time to ponder the state of local politics would have to wait. I have other careers besides pizza delivery. I had dogs to walk. Every morning and afternoon. About 6 of them. The mutts of professors from Trent University. Mostly from the same area of north end Peterborough. Right now, there was only one that I have been walking the last couple weeks: Max. While most academics were at home for the holidays, the Bauman’s had flown off to Frankfurt for three weeks to see family in the old country: Germany. So, Max had needed a home for a while. And I’d just the space for him.
It was down the adjoining short hallway that led to a small office overlooking Hunter Street. I got up and wrapped myself in my old, mustard-coloured terrycloth robe. Putting slippers on my feet, I grab the keys and open the front door. At the end of the hallway, I stop at the opaque glass- topped office door. The lettering stencilled on it reads: Peacock Investigations Inc. That’s my last name: Peacock. First name John. Snooping around for money? That’s the third career of mine. Hopefully it takes off some day.
So far, my jobs here have been limited to tracking cheating husbands and tax frauds. Not the most exciting of endeavours I’ll admit, but it did fill a niche in this town. I had no competitors for the meagre trade that dribbled in. I dreamed of finding something meaty to investigate. That would make a splash in town. Then all the doubters would eat a slice or two of fresh humble pie. My family included. I was supposed to just shuffle on down to one of the factories for employment. Or go off to a university. All my friends from school were either long gone from Peterborough or working at some plant or other toiling away and starting families. But not me.
I was a correspondence-course educated Sam Spade, but no dummy. I’d spent many hours at the public library in town and Trent University’s equivalent. Reading about crime, psychology, anatomy and all kinds of other subjects that may be of use. I even had a buddy Castellano who worked in the bowels of Civic Hospital. He would sneak me in sometimes to look at stiffs in the morgue. Although I’d never seen one outside of there. Other than at Duffus Funeral Parlour, lying mannequin-like in a coffin.
Having finished fiddling with the keys, I open the door. A small dachshund looks up from a sleeping mat on the floor and wags his tail. This would be Max. I brandish the leash toward the pooch.
“Ready to take care of some business Max. And for some breakfast?”
Max’s ears perk up and he trots out from under the opening in the Steelcase desk. The desk is sparsely furnished. A large blotter lays in the centre, an old Underwood typewriter on top. A penholder, rolodex, file tray, black telephone, and ceramic ashtray were laid out neatly there as well. An old wooden swivel office chair sits behind, and two leather chairs for customers are placed at the front. One back corner of the office held a large steel filing cabinet with a metal fan atop it. The cabinet housed not only my files, but also various equipment including walkie talkies, microphones, a super 8 camera and projector, plus binoculars. The other corner had a waste basket. On the wall were various framed photos, and some course certificates for different things: Private Investigation, Security, Martial Arts, etc. An old Telefunken radio was on a side table beside some sporting trophies and a baseball mitt and ball. The place was spotless.
I ran my empire from here. If you could call it that. I’d split off my apartment phone line, and carefully concealed a long run down here to the office. Bell Canada hadn’t figured it out yet, thankfully. I bend down and attach the leash to Max’s collar and usher him out the door and down the adjacent hallway. It led to the side of the building, and the wrought iron fire-escape. Below was a small strip of parking spaces where my trusty K-Car was sitting beside an old Mustang.
Standing at the top now, I get an immediate assault on my olfactory glands. I quickly light a cigarette to mask the smell. The exhaust vent for the kitchen at East City Lunch is directly below, and the aromas of rancid oil, fried onions, and bacon from the fryer are hanging statically in the frozen, still air. The smell of the nearby Quaker Oats factory is also thick in the atmosphere. It’s just over the Hunter Street bridge, but those scents are of roasted grains and malt. Not so bad, really.
East City Lunch must be one of the few places open on New Years Day. They’ll make good money from the red eye crowd on the way home. And in a few hours the hangover types would be eating there. It may be a new year, but old habits persist.
I let Max lead me down the two sets of steps, to the ground. With the snow piled up here and there, and my unfortunate choice of attire, I’m not letting him wander too far. Just enough distance to do his business. The second of which is always an amazement. How can that much shit come out of such a small animal? But out it drops. Max turns with the self-satisfied expression of a satisfactory outing.
“Good boy Max, but let’s go back up for breakfast, we can walk later, ok?”
I’m not sure Max understands, but he beats a path back upstairs to the warmth of the building. I butt my cigarette at the top step and look down at the still steaming turd. I promise myself I’ll will clean it up when I come back down. It may be wishful thinking, but the intention is there at least.
I walk Max back to the apartment, and let him in. He already knows where the food bowl will appear, after two weeks here. Dogs learn fast when eating is involved. I open a can of some special dog food. Must be from a veterinary office. Science Diet. That’s what it is called. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but Max loves the stuff.
It must cost a pretty penny, but my clients can afford it. And lots of other stuff. From the looks of the rings and fur coats Helga wears. Not to mention the Mercedes sedan she tools around town in. She lives in a big spread out in the Weller Street area of Peterborough. Her husband Klaus is some bigwig at National Electric.
That’s the plant that takes up a huge chunk of the flat heart of the city. A four-square block of industrial behemoth, where ten percent of the population works. It was surrounded by blocks and blocks of houses dating from the 1920’s-60’s. Mostly housing workers and their families, the former of which would walk every morning to the factory, lunchboxes and hangovers in hand.
My grandparents lived right smack dab in the middle of Albert Street that ran for a long city block. One side of the street was lined with dozens of 2-3 story red brick houses. The factory ran down the entire side opposite. So, the view from the front porch or windows of the houses was of a 4-story high factory wall as far as you could see left or right. That, as well as the rusted barbed wire fence. The aroma of Grandma’s home-cooking had to compete with the overwhelming smell of electrical wiring. That burnt, acrid scent was everywhere in the neighbourhood. And God only knows what else you’d breathe in. Especially if you worked inside the plant.
I’d heard stories about the shit that went on in there from my old man. Of giant rolls of asbestos and workers cutting it. They wore no masks or gloves for protection. Other stories were of guys elbow deep in transformer oil every day. The oil was full of PCB’s. In the old days they’d dump the excess oil straight into the Trent River. I never did ask if it was upstream, or downstream of the city. National Electric. It was a nasty place, but it ran the city, pretty much. Its industrial neighbours, Outboard Marine Corp and Quaker Oats held some influence of their own. This is an “industrial town.” And any new college campus or university buildings weren’t going to change that for the majority living here. They were focused on work, children, hockey, church, and drinking. Although, not necessarily in that order.
While Max ate, I figured on doing the same. I put some bread in the toaster oven and rustled up some Kraft peanut butter. I even found some margarine and strawberry jam in the back recesses of the Frigidaire. With my toast spread out on a plate and a glass of orange juice, I dined and leafed through yesterday’s Peterborough Examiner. It was the usual collection of local politics, arrests, obituaries, hockey news and cartoons. But it was always worth a scan for tips on possible jobs, and to check that my classified ad was printed.
Sure enough, it was there. “PPI Inc. Experienced Private Investigation for personal and financial concerns. Discretion Assured. Call 745-6614.” it read. There was a small icon on a magnifying glass inserted in the ad for emphasis. I’d been running the ad in the Saturday paper for about two years now. It figured that more people read the weekend edition, and so far, I’d had a steady stream of work. Or more accurately it would be described as a drip. At least lately. The extra dough from looking after Max had come at just the right time. That and the holiday rush from the pizzeria.
Thinking of the pizzeria reminded me to check out the inside compartment of my jacket that was slung over a kitchen chair. I pull out the fabric pencil case, and pushing my plate aside, open the case. I dump out a wad of bills and coins from the last two nights of deliveries onto the tablecloth. Max wakes up from a post-meal snooze as the coins clatter on the scratched tabletop, but soon his eyes droop back shut. I count the takings for the evenings, and it is just short of 200 dollars. Not bad, some under the table earnings. The official wage Big John paid me was only a little more than what it to fill up the gas tank. Well, that could be an exaggeration, but I did mainly work there for tips. That and some free meals. But there is only so much free pizza and pasta you can eat. That’s if you want to keep some sort of physique.
I was a tallish man, a bit barrel chested. Athletic in my school years, a tight-end for my high-school football team: The Kenner Rams. Kenner was one of the late 50’s-early 60’s schools that were built as the baby boom explosion of children entered the education system. Kenner sat near the end on Monaghan Road and the boundary of the south end of town. The kids of working-class parents went here, and I was one of the thousand or so that trudged off for the long walk back and forth each weekday.
That was in the late sixties, early seventies. The hippie and greaser era. But those scenes weren’t for everyone. Especially me. Following fashion wasn’t in my repertoire, but keeping fit and trim were. I’d weight-train, cycle, and did some martial arts training. Besides the football, and baseball. These days I mostly just hit the YMCA on George Street a few times a week and do some weights and played pick-up baseball in the summer. Not that any of those sports mattered much here in Peterborough. This was an ice hockey city to the core. The local Junior A team was the Peterborough Petes, and their teenage players were the Young Gods of this town. Even more so if they were drafted into the NHL. Then they’d get the keys to the city. If you won the Nobel Prize in physics and lived here, you’d not get such attention. That was a fact.
I got up now from the kitchen table and figured it was time for the three S’s: Shit, Shower and Shave. Afterwards, having dressed myself in a t-shirt and jeans, I pull out my West-German army jacket. There were a plethora of these fatigue-green coats around. I’d picked this one up at B & B Army Surplus on Water Street. The pockets sure came in handy. I threw on a down ski vest over top and grabbed the leash. Max perked up at once, knowing it was walking time.
And it was. But only as far as East City Diner. For now. I tie Max up to a parking meter and pop into the restaurant; going straight to the cash register and pull out a five-dollar bill. I place it on the counter and catch the eye of Tamara. She’d been a couple grades behind me at school and was now helping her family run this diner. Kind of a waste. She was smart, and a real beauty. And here she was serving eggs and bacon to hungover customers on New Years Day. Some life. But was mine any better?
“Just need a coffee to go kiddo. I can get my own, you look like you’re run off your feet.”
Tamara gave me a quick nod.
“That would be great J.P.”
I brandish the money as I walk over to the coffee urn and place the bill on the counter there. Soon enough I am back outside with a steaming cup of java, black. I’d likely get groused out next time by Tamara, for leaving that much money. But hey, she deserved a large tip for dealing with that crowd of customers today. Possibly, a fate worse than death.
Settling back into the car, I hit the ignition and by some small miracle the beast starts up once again. I give myself the sign of the cross in thanks. I’m not much of a religious man but driving a Chrysler K-Car. I figured that any help I could procure to keep it on the road was worth having. Even from God.
Chrysler was saved from bankruptcy by a government bail-out and the subsequent production of a bunch of cheap, boxy sedans. I’d inherited this model from my parents when they traded up to a Ford. Or traded over, perhaps. But the engine was purring now, and the heater was kicking in. Reaching over, I start searching for something interesting on the car radio. It was a tough slog, and a common issue in town. Peterborough was in a valley surrounded by large hills. Meaning reception was a limited. Eventually, I settled on CHUM-AM from Toronto. They were playing their annual top 200 songs countdown. Which would likely end up with Stairway to Heaven or Hotel California as the winner. The usual suspects. A real non-event. But they had Nick Lowe spinning Cruel to be Kind at the moment. All was not lost.
I turn right on Hunter Street and head up the hill past St Joseph’s Hospital. Further up, there was the large Westclox plant. The maker of my dreaded alarm clock. The clock that wouldn’t quit. They had been pumping out thousands of Big Bens here since the 1920’s.
This was East City. The other side of the river. The Hunter Street bridge was built in 1919, linking the eastern and western parts of town. The span was considered an engineering marvel at the time. The longest single span concrete bridge in the world. It allowed for the industrialization of East City. But that was pretty much limited to Westclox , a subsidiary of the American giant.
Luckily, they had stopped using Radium for the luminous dials, but not until the 1960’s. Who knows what effect it had on the workers, or where the waste ended up. They may have just followed the National Electric pattern and just dumped it somewhere local. Someday it would all come out in the wash, I was sure of that. But it didn’t pay to think too much or be too smart in this town. Best to stay under the radar in my case. I had a career to take care of after all.
Currently, that career consisted of taking a dachshund for a walk. So, making a hard left at the top of the incline we drive along a winding road past the local history museum, and on to the large parking lot atop the plateau. This was Armour Hill. One of the large drumlins that mostly surrounded the city. From here you could almost see the entire city, plus farmland, forests and the Trent Canal. It’s a good place to let Max wander and for me to clear my mind.
I was a bit blue this morning, it being the start of a new decade and me leading a solitary existence the last couple years. Since Donna and I had split up. She’d gone off to McGill to study English and History. Then there was teachers’ college and a job off in Guelph. She’d asked me to move, and I probably should have. What was keeping me here anyways? I was alone here with my thoughts, while Max scurried about in excitement, oblivious to my mood. His thoughts were of the here and now.
Armour Hill. It’s known as the local make-out and party spot in town. Evidence of a busy New Years Eve is scattered all round the empty lot. Overflowing garbage bins, and bottles and cans were scattered about. Likely, there were some used condoms lying around here and there. But that was one investigation I wasn’t about to embark on. It was time to head over to Lansdowne Street for a real coffee, then to pop in on an old pal.
I’d spent the last couple of January 1sts with Davidson at the Examiner. He is stuck as the solitary person in the newsroom overnight and into this morning. Until after noon anyways. He did the overnight 12-12 shift on holidays. “Gotta pay your dues” he’d say. That was one way to look at it. Later in the day, I was visiting the folks for dinner. Eating would be fine, but the lecture about what I was doing with my life would have to be endured. Oh well, nothing new to see there.
I whistle for Max, and over he comes. There was a bitter wind creeping up here, and from the looks of the dark grey clouds moving in snow might be headed our way. With Max onboard, I head back to Hunter Street, and continue along the top of the hill before descending the steep slope leading to the Lift-Locks. This was the largest boatlift in the world. Still. Built in 1900, it was a feat of engineering. A source of local pride. It was part of a series of locks that connected Lake Ontario to Lake Huron: The Trent Canal. A sister to the Rideau Canal. Both were constructed when wars with the United States were always a threat. Designed to bypass Lake Ontario, linking the Montreal-Ottawa trade route to the west, these canals were further inland from the lake. Built there to prevent American raids: like the sacking of York. The design worked well, but when the threat of conflict eased, they were technically obsolete. Also; shipping vessels had increased in size, which prevented them from being a practical trade route. Currently, the entire canal areas are a tourist region for boating and cottaging. A much different kind of industry than first imagined.
Pumping the brakes, I approach the structure as the road narrows into a single lane tunnel. Slowing at the entrance, I enter cautiously and sound the horn. Exiting the tunnel, we turn right on Ashburnham Road, driving along past a section of the canal. Its water has been mostly drained down for the Winter. Already today, there were people down on the ice surface at this God-awful hour. Skating and playing shinny. Better them than me.
We pass by Beavermead Park: where swimmers must compete with seaweed for some water. It was at the top of Little Lake. Not so much a lake, more like a widening in the Trent River. It straddled the downtown drag of George Street, working its way past a small park, art gallery, and around Little Lake Cemetary. Then it narrows back into a river. That continues towards the next lock in the system. A large fountain sprouted in the middle of the lake, lit up in summer in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours. Very picturesque for most of the year.
I turn right at Lansdowne Street and head towards the south end of Peterborough. In the other direction were a few smaller towns: Norwood, Havelock, and Marmora. Eventually you’d end up at the nation’s capital: Ottawa.
There wasn’t much of note here in the outskirts of town. Not until you cross pass back over the Trent River at Lock 19. A popular fishing spots during pickerel season. Although you would more likely land a giant carp from there these days.
Continuing into town, we pass the Memorial Centre & Exhibition Grounds before I hit a red light at Monaghan Road. Looking to my right I can see the perimeter of St Peter’s Cemetary, the old gravestones partially buried in drifts of foot deep snow. You need to be a card-carrying Catholic to enter here for a visit, or they’ll gladly arrange a longer-term stay.
Feeling a twinge of guilt, I promise myself I should take my folks over in the Spring to Little Lake Cemetary where my grandparents are interned. That’s a different affair altogether. On the other side of the great divide here in town. Between Catholic and Protestant. We would walk to elementary school on opposite sides of the street in my neighbourhood. With separate crossing guards. All based on religious segregation. They didn’t call nearby Toronto: “The Belfast of North America” for nothing.
Eventually, I reach my destination: Mr. Donut. The moustachioed chef on the shop sign greets me with his usual friendly expression. I park, leaving Max in the car. In the shop there are a few folks, sitting around on the orange vinyl counter stools and at the banquettes. A typical older crowd, drinking from ceramic mugs and puffing away on smokes. Soon enough, I’m heading back out with a box of assorted donuts and three large coffees in a take-out tray. Navigating carefully back to the car, I succeed in placing my precious cargo gingerly on the floor behind the bench seat. It just fit.
Max has woken up now and starts to paw at me when I’m back behind the steering wheel.
“What’s up Max? You are wanting some donut, or maybe need another little walk?”
Max continues to paw as we pull back onto Lansdowne. So, I head straight up the steep hill of the road to the top and turned right into K-Mart. This was Tower’s big competitor for the cut-rate department store market. Although Woolworth’s downtown was definitely in the mix.
Today, the giant parking lot was empty, so I might as well pull up to a nice spot looking down over the city. Our second vista of the city this morning is on display as Max jumps out the passenger door. He sniffs around a bit, then squirts a long stream of urine. Guess he had to go after all. The sun was further up on the horizon now, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. The grey clouds from earlier were clearing off. An auspicious beginning to a new decade.
Max came up to me now, so I crouch down to pet the dog. We’d known each other for a couple years, but only through informal walks with the other mutts. I scratch Max behind the ears.
“Well buddy, let’s go see Davidson, shall we?”
With this, we get back in the vehicle, and drive out the far side of the lot to a parallel road. Turning here, it is a circuitous route. It wound its way downtown eventually, where I pull the car up right in front of the Peterborough Examiner.
The local paper’s been around since the 1800’s and once had esteemed author Robertson Davies as it’s editor. It still published six days a week. Today being an exception, for the holiday. I good time to visit and pump Davidson for some leads. Putting the leash on Max, we navigate our way through the front door of the newspaper office.
Jimmy Robbins was the security guard here, even today. His age was anywhere between 70 and 90, no one knew for sure. There was a running bet in three of the local dive bars as to his birth year. The winners would only know their luck when the eventual passing away of Jimmy took place. And he was having none of that. Jimmy had told them so over glasses of beer in his off-hours. I’d ran into him a few times at the Montreal House or Pig’s Ear tavern. He played a mean snooker game still, usually with the other contestant on the losing end of the match. Yours truly included.
Jimmy was doing the crossword at 8:30 am. He looks up as I enter, seeing the coffee’s first, then Max in tow.
“Well, well, look what the cat dragged in. And that pooch there isn’t much bigger than a feline now, is he?”
He gets up and comes around the desk, crouching down to pet Max.
“But a nice little guy, isn’t he?”
Max enjoyed the attention, while I place a coffee on the desk and open the box of sweets.
“Better get a donut now Jimmy, before Davidson gets at them”
Jimmy stands up and grabs a double glazed and a coffee.
“Thanks Peacock. Davidson is upstairs in the lair.”
I nod and grab the stuff, leading Max up the side staircase to the 2nd floor. The long hallway there is filled with pictures of former editors and boards of directors. I stop to look at the current board members. Ah, there is a former mayor listed. Jack MacDonald. But it’s another name pops out at me: Klaus Bauman.
“Well, well Max, it looks like your master is a bigwig here.”
We reach the large newsroom at the end. It has 2 rows of windows looking down over the street below. It looks like a cliché from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The metal desks, typewriters, teletype, fax machine, photocopiers, microfilm viewer, water cooler, coffee percolator and wire waste baskets –they were all there. And a glassed-in newsroom editors office is situated in the corner of the room.
Davidson was sitting slumped back in an office chair at his desk. Down in the far corner, near the toilets. I walk over and quietly slide a chair over. Sitting down, I grab a coffee and a German Chocolate donut, and lean back. Max looks on, eyes fixed upon the donut. After a few minutes of relaxing here, and a with a small treat or two tossed Max’s way; I stand up and grab the other coffee cup, take the lid off and hold the still steaming brew close to Davidsons nose. A few seconds later he sit’s up with a startled look, now wide awake. I chuckle and pull the coffee back, placing it on the desk.
“Catching up on your beauty sleep Teddy?”
Davidson sneers as he looks at me.
“What the Hell, Peacock. You startled the fuck out of me.”
He reaches for his coffee and taking a healthy sip, grabs a Boston Crème. As he holds it up, Max whines for a sample. Davidson looks around the desk at the dog, then back at me. All the while, stuffing half the pastry in his mouth.
“And what’s with the mutt J.P.? You looking to get me fired bringing it in here. And I don’t see you with no white cane now, do I?”
Davidson spewed this out, just before gulping down the other half on the donut.
“You’re welcome for the delivery, by the way.”
Davidson sipped frantically now at his brew. He suddenly needed help to wash all that half-chewed food down his maw. Better that, than me having to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Davidson looks remorseful now and sputters out a belated thank-you. I pick up Max and put him on my lap to settle down
“And by the way, this isn’t just any old mutt. This is Max. Max Bauman.”
Davidson gives me a puzzled look as he reaches for a crueller.
“That supposed to mean something to me J.P.?”
“You’re an investigative reporter aren’t you, Teddy? You shouldn’t have much trouble cracking this mystery, right?”
Davidson sighs as he leans back.
“For fuck’s sake JP, can you stop being so cryptic for once?”
Davidson goes silent now as he chews on his snack. After a minute, he smacks his lips and licks his fingertips.
“Only Bauman I know is Helmut. He runs National Electric. Originally from Dusseldorf, came up through the ranks at Sieman’s before landing this gig. But what’s he got to do with anything?” Other than the leads I had on him for corruption, embezzlement, and environmental crimes. That shit all hit a dead-end with my editor though, the fucking prick!”
Davidson was wide awake now and threatening to start fuming.
“Well, look at the current Board of Directors for the Examiner, and you’ll see why Max here can stay as long as he likes. Right Max?”
Davidson slaps his head, as he should have known that fact long ago.
“For fuck’s sake, no wonder my investigations were kiboshed. Helmut Bauman on the Board. Anyone else I should know about J.P.?”
I motion with my thumb towards the hallway.
“Take a look for yourself Teddy.”
Davidson extracts himself from his chair and walks out to the hallway. Me? I’ll take stroll over to the sidewall, walking Max around the office with me. At the pegboards and whiteboards, story ideas for tomorrow’s edition are written or highlighted. The main news staff will work on whatever they filter out from this jumble. Not much is scrawled on there of any interest to me. A report on New Years Eve at City Hall, some arrests for drunkenness and assaults, a break and enter, the first baby of the new year. The usual.
I wander over beside the newswire teletype. Canadian Press and Reuters newsfeeds came in here regularly and there were a couple healthy stacks of news items that had come across in the last 48 hours. I sit down here, planning to peruse through the papers as Davidson comes back.
“Snooping around as usual J.P.? You’ll be the death of me yet Peacock, I swear. But go ahead and look around for a lead, although you’d be better off with the bulletin board, no? Local stuff, right? Not Reuters for fuck’s sake. And you got to clear out of here in an hour, capice?”
I ignore his stream of banter, and just start reading. Davidson retreats to his desk in resignation. It’s a time-consuming task, but I scan slowly through pages of printouts of recent events around the country and the globe. Mostly it is about festive celebrations, travel cancellations, accidents, and crimes from around the world. I wasn’t even looking for anything specific. I’m just a curious type of guy. One who kept his eyes and mind open for possibilities. Reading on, I come across a few highlighted stories that Davidson had earmarked for the afternoon shift. A train derailment in India, bomb scares at Milan airport, and some fluff & odd news items.
I went back through to the New Years Eve teletype pages; and something caught eye. Police in Frankfurt have put out an appeal for public help. A German industrialist running a large factory in North America has gone missing. He had arrived December 21st with his wife on a transatlantic flight from Toronto. Upon arrival and after customs, he had gone to the toilets, while his wife went to the baggage carousel. And that was the last anyone had seen of him.
I sit bolt upright, waking Max awoke from his slumber in annoyance.
“What’s up J.P., did you see a ghost?”
Davidson bellows, from across the room. I swivel around.
“Not a ghost Teddy, but maybe a lead for me, and likely a scoop for you. That’s if you run with it now.”
Davidson got up and came over to the teletype.
“What did I miss Peacock?”
Davidson leans over to look over my shoulder at the article. But Davidson is puzzled.
“What’s so special about that J.P.? Hardly of local interest now, so what gives?”
“Helmet and Helga Bauman arrived in Frankfurt December 21st. On a flight from Toronto.That’s why I have their dog with me. I’m dog-sitting. They’re due back on the 6th. It could be a coincidence, but in this case, it looks like our man Helmut. He’s not just the head of National Electric in Canada, but rumour has it he’s in the running to take over the entire firm when the current CEO retires.”
Davidson gives me a slap on the back and whistles loudly.
“That’s one hot potato you got there J.P.! How exactly you figure I should play this?”
I hand Davidson the teletype page. “Well first thing to do is bury this in your desk Teddy. You want some old hack to take the credit for this story? Then go dig up whatever you can on Herr Bauman in the archives. Meanwhile I’ll make a few enquiries on your desk-phone. You don’t mind if I use your name do you Teddy?”
Davidson looked puzzled now:
“Wait a minute. What are you up too Peacock?”
“Just helping and old buddy out with some research for the first news scoop of the 80’s at the Examiner. Something to get you upgraded from a glorified pencil-pusher. Or better yetyou could farm the story out to the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail. It’s an international story, no? And by the way how’s your German?”
“Exactly. I’ll do the calls, you get hunting for more background on the Bauman’s, cool?”
“Yeah, but what’s in all this for you Peacock? Huh?”
“Nothing much at the moment, but I have a feeling. My Spidey-Sense is tingling.”
Davidson shakes his head and mutter’s something unintelligible under his breath. But he heads back to the archive room. Leaving Max to sleep here, I head over to Davidsons desk; to rustle around for a pad, pencil and a phone directory. With this done, I sit down in his chair. First thing on my list is a local call-to Peterborough Police Headquarters. It was a holiday, so I’d likely get some underling on the phone. Worth a call regardless.
Finding the number in the phone book, I dial through and get an answer within seconds.
“Peterborough Police Headquarters. Constable Jackson speaking. How can I help you?”
“Hello, this is Edward Davidson from the Peterborough Examiner. I was calling to see if you had any comment on the Helmut Bauman case?”
“The what case? I’ll transfer you through to the staff Seargent. Just a moment.”
Soon a gruff voice, half-hoarse, comes on the other end of the line. “
Acting staff sergeant Corkery here, how can I help?”
“It’s Davidson from the Examiner, I’m calling to see if you had any comment on or had been contacted by Frankfurt Police. About the disappearance.”
“A disappearance, eh. Anyone in particular you’re wondering about? Whoever it is , they’re likley on a bender still. It was just New Years Eve afterall. Plus, a missing person’s report takes a day or two , so you’d be best calling back in a couple days, ok?”
Corkery seemed well-versed in the art of the brush-off. But I persist.
“Helmut Bauman is the missing party. Does that name ring a bell Seargent?”
Corkery stalls now.
“Hmm, I might have heard it somewhere…”
“He’s head of National Electric. You’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”
“Listen now. It was Davidson, wasn’t it? I’m not sure who you are and where you’re getting your information but there is nothing, I can tell you about that. And it’s New Year’s Day for Christ’s sakes. Were short-staffed and up to our eyeballs in drunks, so go bust someone else’s balls for a story!”
The phone slammed down. There was something in this all right.
Next was a call to the operator. Together we went through the process of finding a number for the Frankfurt Police. This took a bit of finagling and rerouting but eventually I was routed through to the main station. I’d picked up some German at high school and some Japanese through language books. Figured it was all the WWII and Godzilla movies I’d ingested in younger years that drew me to those languages.
I dial through and get another desk-jockey. This one spoke German.
“Hallo, Polizeipräsidium Frankfurt. Das ist Wachtmeister Schmidt. Wie kann ich Ihnen heute helfen?”
“Hallo. Das ist Edward Davidson von der kanadischen Zeitung Peterborough Examiner. Ich wollte Informationen über das Verschwinden von Helmut Baumann bekommen.”
“Einen Moment bitte, ich bringe Sie in den Untersuchungsraum durch.”
Re-routed again. Different country, same process. The line rang again for a few seconds, then was went through.
“Hallo, hier ist Detective Mueller.”
I repeat my query. But add a detail:
“Entschuldigung, aber ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch.”
Mueller: “No problem, Herr Davidson. I speak some English. You are enquiring about a Herr Bauman. How do you come to think that we are looking for him.”
I hear the tell-tale sound of a cigarette lighter being sparked on the other end, and the low rumble of voices somewhere in the vicinity of Mueller.
Peacock: “Well we have a reliable source that states National Electric CEO Helmut Bauman, accompanied by his wife, flew on the flight in question. So, when the newswire feed mentioned some details of your investigation it didn’t take long to link the two events.”
“Very quick thinking on your part then, Herr Davidson. But unfortunately, we can only officially confirm what information was already released yesterday to the press, as well as a general description of the man.”
“Ok, but unofficially Herr Mueller, if you are looking for the public’s help, wouldn’t it be better to release the name and photo of the missing person.”
Mueller snorts on the other end of the line.
“Well, yes Herr Davidson. But we have other sensitive matters to consider that are not to your knowledge. So, we are appealing to people who were at the airport around that time, or on the flight to come forward with any information they may possess that could be of use. We have followed up on a few leads so far and are hoping for more to come in soon.
“But you’ve hit a dead-end I assume.”
“Yes, he seems to have vanished into thin air. Your so called: Dead-End, I presume? But the case is more complicated than you realize. Due to the nature of the man’s family history here in Germany, and the career of an elder sibling. Not to mention the ongoing issue with the RAF cell.”
“Interesting, can you tell me more about that, Herr Meuller?”
“Well, we are quite busy here Herr Davidson with various cases. I suggest you further utilize your initiative to dig a bit more into the Bauman family for a better idea of the wider implications at play here in Germany. Guten Tag, Herr Davidson.”
The phone line went dead, so I replace the receiver in the holder. Sitting back with the notepad I jot down some ideas. Looks like I’d have to do some research for more background on things. Family history was easy enough to track down.
A few minutes later Davidson returns from the backroom without much to add. Other than Bauman’s start date, and various press releases or announcements. There was some brief mention of his career at Siemans in Germany but not much more than that. I give Davidson a briefing from my phone calls, which all but confirmed that Helmut Bauman was the missing executive and that was bound to be a big local news story. If he played it right.
That was a big if. I told Davidson to start work on an article in secret. I’d try to get some more information to feed to him soon. It sounded like it would be a few days till the identity of the missing man was revealed. So, we a bit of time. There was enough causality, and unofficial conversation, to put together a speculative article. But something bigger is afoot. It was something Mueller had rhymed off in closing. The RAF Cell.
Was there a terrorist angle to this mystery? I’d read about the Baader-Meinhof and Red Brigades in Europe. But RAF?