I was just starting to enjoy the party when The Norwegian came out of the bathroom and ruined everything.
At the time, I was dancing with a hyperkinetic yoga enthusiast named Windy. Or possibly Mindy. All attempts at verbal communication were being swallowed up by the blizzard of techno coming out of the forty-thousand-dollar stereo system. Which was fine by me since I didn’t imagine Windy-Mindy and I had all that much to talk about anyway.
She looked about a decade younger than me—clocking in somewhere south of thirty—and it was manifestly evident that her lifestyle choices were largely antagonistic to my own. Shrink-wrapped in Lululemon, Windy-Mindy radiated health and vigor as she bounced around in fuchsia Nikes performing an ode to the benefits of healthy living expressed through the medium of interpretive dance.
Exhausted by the spectacle, I took a breather and another belt of Woodford Reserve. In an attempt to bridge the cultural divide, I waggled the bottle at Windy-Mindy, inquiring with my eyebrows. Her brow furrowed but the corners of her mouth did curl up slightly—one patronizing, the other amused. Or so the bourbon whispered to me.
It may have been correct because she countered by proffering her own bottle—the blue-tinted plastic kind that hikers and college students liked to clip to their backpacks. In her other hand were two small white tablets, which I lip-read to be Vitamin C.
I shrugged and swallowed.
The contents of the bottle turned out to be wheatgrass and champagne, a combination that tasted even worse than it sounded. I forgave Windy-Mindy when the vitamins started coming on about twenty minutes later. Every cell in my body began sending my brain a jubilant message of thanks and goodwill, as well as suggesting, by the way, that they wouldn’t mind getting to know every cell in Windy-Mindy’s body if the opportunity should arise.
This wasn’t my usual kind of trip and it made me suspect two things: (1) The tablets probably weren’t Vitamin C and (2) if Windy-Mindy was on the same ride, it might explain her unlikely but undeniable interest in me.
Another possibility was that she had heard I was Jake Constable, a.k.a. the host of the party. From there she might have leapt to the not-unreasonable conclusion that the twenty-million-dollar mansion in which the festivities were taking place was also mine. Which was true, in a very temporary but excruciatingly legal sense.
The actual owner of the house, Mickey Wu, had hired me to look after it while he was out of town. For most of the evening, my flagrant abuse of this responsibility had precluded me from enjoying the party. Which was too bad since it was turning into a real killer.
The place was mobbed with people, a relief in those early evening “will-it-happen?” moments, but now a source of concern. I took it as a matter of faith that the front door was still on its hinges as I hadn’t seen it close in hours. On the mezzanine, a velour-clad DJ was hunched over a laptop and two turntables, conjuring up humongous bass beats and mixing them with everything from sirens to symphonies. The crowd was loving it, up and moving on every available horizontal surface, including the dining room table, much to the annoyance of the people clustered around it hoovering up lines of white powder.
When an albino wearing a lime-green Speedo and an impish grin threaded his way through the crowd on a Vespa, I found myself on the verge of questioning whether the party had been such a brilliant idea after all. He was travelling at a reasonable speed and using his horn judiciously but I still couldn’t shake that harbinger-of-ill-fate feeling.
At least until I discovered Windy-Mindy and her narcotic vitamins. After that, I was blissfully surfing the moment, my worries gone and my eyes inexorably drawn to her endless curves as they took on a cotton candy glow. I frowned and shook my head, but the effect persisted.
I spent long, increasingly paranoid moments pondering whether an admixture of wheatgrass and champagne could give bourbon hallucinogenic properties until I noticed the sun winking at me from behind the skyscrapers of downtown Vancouver through the window behind her. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping to banish this unwelcome party crasher. When I opened them, the sun was eclipsed by another—The Norwegian.
My first impulse was to go over and hug him, but I knew that was only Windy-Mindy’s vitamins messing with my amygdala. My second impulse was to run.
It had been almost three years since I had seen my former business partner, and he hadn’t changed a bit. The ornate black leather trench coat and vaguely Druidic hairstyle would have been comical on a smaller man less prone to violence. As he loomed over the crowd I tried to disappear within it. We hadn’t parted on the best of terms.
I had brought him in on a deal that had started as a hobby for me, a way to use the inheritance I received from my grandfather—a couple acres of land on Hornby Island and a green thumb. Granddad grew prize-winning heirloom tomatoes there. People loved his tomatoes. I preferred marijuana. As did my friends, and their friends, and so on.
When I terminated our partnership, The Norwegian kept three hundred thousand dollars of my money and I kept my kneecaps, which seemed like a fair distribution of assets at the time. Deprived of “Granddad’s Ganja”, The Norwegian moved into harder drugs and I moved into a converted loft in a post-industrial neighbourhood in East Vancouver. I spent money, threw parties, started dating my real estate agent, wrote a screenplay, shredded a screenplay, married my real estate agent, spent the last of my money, got divorced by my real estate agent, became mildly depressed, and began perusing community college course catalogs. I was a phone call away from signing up for a denturist training program when my ex-wife/realtor lined me up with house-sitting gigs for her wealthy clients.
Clients like Mickey Wu, in whose house The Norwegian was now standing. He was nonplussed when he spotted me. Then his face lit up with the expression of affected innocence that always accompanied his most heinous acts.
My pocket vibrated. I dug out my phone to find a text from Richard.
there’s a dead guy in the bathroom 🙁
I stared at the phone. Then I stared across the room at the bathroom door. The Norwegian was no longer standing in front of it. He had been replaced by Richard, who was staring back at me with an expression of genuine innocence and barely controlled panic.
With the help of Richard and his partner, Dante, I managed to close down the party without anyone realizing there was a fresh corpse on the bidet. By the time we finished herding people out the door, the sun gained sufficient perspective to glare down at Mickey Wu’s bathroom rather judgmentally.
Richard initially wanted to call the cops, but The Norwegian was long gone and I hadn’t asked Mickey Wu if I could have friends over. I couldn’t see the upside.
Richard accepted my decision stoically, feeling partially to blame for the mess in the bathroom since he was the one who talked me into having the party in the first place. I certainly saw it that way, but we had been friends since high school so I was willing to forgive a lot. Particularly when I needed help disposing of a corpse.
I had known Dante, his partner, only a few years but I trusted him because Richard did. The two of them had met at a Tae Bo class and quickly became partners in both the bedroom and business. Together, they were Buff—not only an accurate physical description of the two of them, but also the name of their high-priced house-cleaning business. It was conceived the night Richard made a losing bet on a pair of queens in a high stakes poker game. He and Dante cleaned the winner’s condo in the buff, and paid for a trip to Palm Springs with the tips they made. They went pro as soon as they got back.
The prospect of a post-party Buff Job had been instrumental in my caving to Richard’s importuning to have a party in one of my clients’ homes. I resisted for a long time, reminding myself that I now ran a legitimate business and partying in clients’ homes was no longer encouraged. I had matured. But when Mickey Wu hired me to look after his place for a month, I found out I was wrong. I hadn’t matured at all.
Mickey’s mansion was hidden away behind a bamboo hedge of prehistoric dimensions. Its monolithic front doors opened up like a Dwell centerfold to reveal the Pacific Ocean. The stunning vista was minimally impaired by a sprawling leather sectional sofa, a three-story wall of glass, and a twenty-person hot tub—amenities that might sound grand, but looked trivial in contrast to the expanse of shimmering saltwater beyond. As I admired the polished cement floors, Richard’s voice had whispered in my head, indestructible…easy to clean…
An hour later, that same voice had shrieked gleefully in my ear when I called to green-light the party. In exchange came Richard’s assurance that he and Dante would clean up after themselves as well as everybody else. At the time I was envisioning little more than spilled drinks and sticky floors, but a promise is a promise.
After the last of the house pests had been chased away, Richard opened up the bathroom door and we stepped inside. Dante was the first to break the silence. “This is Italian marble,” he said with an encouraging smile. “All that blood’s going to wash right off.”
“Anybody recognize him?” Richard asked.
No one spoke. Especially not Mickey Wu from where he lay on the bathroom floor, staring up at me with a glassy, accusatory expression.
As I leaned over the sink, I reminded the pale, sweaty guy I saw in the bathroom mirror that Mickey Wu was out of town. It couldn’t be him. It only looked like him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think all Asian men (or women) look alike. I’m not a racist or in need of glasses. Impaired, yes. Not to mention stressed out. Plus, the dead guy’s facial features had been significantly reconfigured by a bidet-shaped dent in the side of his head. So when I saw a middle-aged Chinese man in a black suit and crimson tie lying on Mickey Wu’s bathroom floor, I immediately thought of him. Generally, with nightmares it’s not unreasonable to expect things to go from bad to worse.
“Do you think someone did that to him?” Dante piped up as he worried a fingernail with billboard-worthy dentition. He seemed a bit skittish, but Dante was always vibrating with kinetic energy. Given a German mother and an Italian father, the man was like a Dachshund crossed with a Ferrari.
“Possibly,” Richard replied. “Or maybe he just OD’d and bounced off the porcelain on his way down.” With the toe of his shoe, he coaxed a small bag of mossy green powder from beneath the corpse.
“The Norwegian was here tonight,” I muttered as I splashed cold water on my face and dried it with one of the towels rolled and stacked in a small basket beside the sink. It was as thick and soft as a sheepskin. I was glad Mickey Wu wasn’t dead. The linens bespoke a classy guy.
Richard looked aghast. “Why would you invite him?”
“You know I haven’t talked to the guy in years,” I told the mirror. “I have no idea how he heard about the party. But he was here, standing right outside this bathroom before you found our friend here.”
Dante stamped his foot. “We should definitely call the police.”
“It’s up to Jake.” Richard’s tone had softened to something that sounded suspiciously like pity.
I understood where Dante was coming from but I couldn’t go there. I didn’t like the idea of ratting anyone out. Even The Norwegian. I downright hated the idea of him finding out about it. “No cops.” I sighed, not entirely for theatrical effect. “If you guys want to get clear of this right now, I totally understand. Go ahead and take off.”
For some reason they didn’t, so I pushed my luck. “Anyone know how to dispose of a body?”
“What you need is a pig farm,” Dante advised.
Richard rolled his eyes. “Do you see any livestock around here? Does Jake look like a farmer?”
Dante regarded me thoughtfully before shaking his head. “He’s got more of a stevedore thing going on. Or maybe a park ranger on his day off.”
Richard ignored him. “Sulfuric acid?”
Dante nodded thoughtfully. “Could work.”
I looked at them blankly.
“Drain cleaner,” Dante explained. “Dissolves hair in no time.”
“I need to do more than denude the man.”
Dante waved away my objection. “Hair, human body, same result. I saw it on Breaking Bad.”
Personally, I didn’t like how the show surreptitiously glorified drug dealers as libertarian anti-heros, but there was no denying that Bryan Cranston had been extremely believable as an expert chemist. “How much would we need?”
Dante eyeballed the body. “Forty or fifty gallons?”
“Gallons?” I asked.
I shook my head. “Any other ideas?”
“Burial, cremation, crushing, dumping, dissolution…” Richard recited.
I cast a wary glance in his direction. “Got some hobbies I don’t know about?”
Richard held up his smartphone. “Wikipedia. Means of clandestine disposal of a human corpse. There’s also space burial, dismemberment, disposal by exposure—anyone up for a trip to the Parsi Towers of Silence?”
Dante recoiled. “Is that the new club over on Robson Street? The one with the mimes?”
Richard reached over and gave Dante’s shoulder a squeeze. “You know I would never ask you to go there, babe. The Parsi Towers of Silence are in India. The Zoroastrians leave their corpses there for vultures to…” He waggled his fingers. “… dispose of.”
Dante perked up. “India does have great full moon parties.”
I worked my temples, hoping to erase my incipient hang-over, if not the last eight hours of my life. “This is getting us nowhere.”
“Don’t be so negative,” Richard chided as he scrolled through Wikipedia. “What about burial at sea?”
I looked out the bathroom window and smiled back at the sunlight as it merrily danced across the ocean depths.
• • • • •
We immediately bogged down over logistics. Dante offered to go home to get his paddleboard but Richard said that was a rookie move. This prompted Dante to give Richard the silent treatment. Richard took the opportunity to expand on an idea of his own—head down to the Granville Island marina and rent a Cigarette boat so we could “Miami Vice the mo-fo.”
Dante rejoined the discussion before I was forced to break it to Richard that the marina only rented thirty-horsepower fishing boats. “Take the guy to the hospital.”
Richard gasped. “Is he still alive?”
I looked over, half-expecting to see a disfigured corpse shambling back to life before our eyes, but it remained motionless.
Dante rolled his eyes. “Hospitals handle ODs all the time, so they must have some kind of protocol for dealing with John Does.”
Richard nodded thoughtfully. “They probably tag ’em and bag ’em without raising an eyebrow.”
I raised one of mine. “Tag ’em and bag ’em?”
Richard grinned. “I re-watched Platoon last weekend.”
“I don’t know. It seems callous, don’t you think? How would you like it if someone dumped you outside the door like a bag of garbage.” I nudged the dead guy with my foot, but he didn’t offer an opinion.
“How is it any worse than dropping him into English Bay?”
“They bury Navy officers at sea,” Dante pointed out. “It’s very classy.”
Richard looked exasperated. “You just suggested dumping him at the hospital.”
Dante shrugged. “Either way.”
Refusing to concede defeat, Richard busied himself with his phone once more. “The marina only rents Boston Whalers,” he reported in a disgusted tone. “And they cost sixty bucks an hour.”
“Right then, St. Paul’s it is.”
“Grab his phone,” advised Dante.
I felt disappointed in him. “I might be the kind of guy who’ll dump a guy on the street, but I’m not the kind of guy who robs a guy before dumping him on the street.”
He looked disappointed in me. “Don’t keep the phone, dummy. Get rid of it. There might be something on it that shows he was planning to come here—texts, a calendar entry, that kind of thing.”
“Ah,” I glumly contemplated frisking the corpse. “Good point.” Burial at sea was starting to sound pretty good again.
“Right, then. It’s decided.” Richard clapped his hands together. “And I’m famished, so can we please get this place cleaned up already? Breakfast at The Elbow Room on me when we’re done.”
Dante’s face lit up. “I could absolutely devour a James Farentino right now.”
“Does that one come with shrimp?” asked Richard.
“You’re thinking of the Karen,” said Dante.
Richard wrinkled his nose. “Gross.”
Dante proceeded to go through the rest of The Elbow Room menu from memory as they exited the bathroom. I stayed. After taking a moment to steel myself, I wormed my hands down into the front pockets of the dead guy’s disagreeably snug pants. His thighs were warm but his pockets were empty.
I was in the midst of wrestling him onto his stomach to check the back pockets when, from the living room, I heard Richard exclaim, “Mao Tse Thong!”
Startled, I let the body fall back to the floor and was rewarded with the muffled thunk of a hard object knocking against the tiles. A quick foray into his suit jacket pocket produced his phone and wallet. I hesitated only briefly before returning the latter and hurrying out the bathroom door.
Like I said, I was no thief.