The Rover does a life of crime
A pistol, a bag of weed and the creeping sense that we're all complicit
We stood across the kitchen counter from each other, staring at the gun Steven had just laid before me.
It was nickel-plated with a pearl grip, like a deadly fashion accessory to match a pair of black leather boots and a bolo tie. The pistol had been concealed in a chunk of styrofoam.
Steven took a sip of his instant coffee.
“You might need this in Val-d’Or,” he said. “If you’re gonna go there and poke your nose around cops and drug dealers, they might decide to come after you. I would if I were them. Well, I’d follow you at least.”
I laughed, trying to seem cool about the whole gun-on-the-breakfast-nook situation.
“It’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around,” he said. “A quick one in the stomach gets you out of a tight spot, bud.”
Just then, I imagined myself fumbling around with the pistol, dropping it and shooting my big toe off. Or worse, aiming it at someone. I can’t stand the thought of someone not liking me. It’s one of the shallowest, worst things about me, but it’s the truth. If a confrontational text message fazes me, I can’t imagine actually pointing a deadly weapon at someone (much less using it).
I insisted he keep the gun. So he disappeared to a back room and emerged with a freezer bag full of cannabis.
“Well, at least take this,” he said.
“If you say so.”
(I am not an outlaw. Just outlaw-adjacent. I suppose we all are)
I won’t tell you much more about Steven for his sake and mine. But I assure you this happened a few weeks before we launched The Rover.
When you want to report from the margins, it pays to know people who live there. The good stuff happens in the shadows, in the places your average taxpayer wouldn’t think to look: a biker bar with a jukebox that plays only Metallica and Éric Lapointe or the passenger seat of a Dodge Caravan loaded with stolen roof shingles.
For your information, the biker bar burned down about 12 years ago because it was also a grow operation. And the driver of the van loaded with stolen goods was pulled over by police. He bullshitted them something about urgently needing to deliver construction materials. At 3 a.m. On a Tuesday.
But I digress.
Maybe I was destined to a life of helplessly witnessing crime. My mom, dad and uncle Richard used to work at a basement bar famous for hosting members of the Hells Angels, Laval chapter.
They were a troublesome lot. It wasn’t unheard of for a card game to escalate to a fist fight, wherein one of the combattants would reach for a broken bottle and then all bets were off.
One night an older man pulled a gun from his overcoat before being wrestled to the ground. My dad put his foot on the gunman’s shooting hand, causing him to pull the trigger.
“Boy, I nearly jumped clean over the bar,” my dad would tell us.
Uncle Richard thought it was all some sort of joke, that the gun was really a starter pistol. So he sort of laughed it off. The gunman fired a few rounds into the ceiling for good measure.
“Ha! What fun!” Richard would have said. “Very realistic. Anyhow, I noticed you spilled your drink. Can I get you a fresh one? Labatt, was it?”
When the cops removed bullets from the ceiling, Richard went white as a ghost. At least that’s how my dad tells it.
A few years later, the leadership of the Laval gang was summoned to a meeting in Lennoxville, Quebec, and shot to death. Chapter president Laurent Viau was a regular at the bar my family worked. They fished his body from the Saint Lawrence River in 1985.
Where was I?
Ah yes, a life of crime. Sort of.
On my 30th birthday, I walked into the bathroom of a dive bar in Pointe-St-Charles, where a young man stood over the sink with a baggie of cocaine in one hand and a car key just under his nose. He froze, his friend froze and I froze. We all just stood there like some sort of Sergio Leone showdown.
“You cool?” one of them asked.
We all nodded. They indulged. I urinated.
Later that night, as I lost badly at a game of pool, they looked over to me from the slot machines. We all nodded. A fraternity of idiots.
I was restless one night in my Val-d’Or motel room so I decided to step onto the balcony for some air. There was still some of Steven’s weed left in my jacket pocket and the balcony is always a good place to settle your nerves.
The motel parking lot was covered in soft, wet snow. Probably the first good storm of the season. A white Honda Civic pulled up. Someone walked over from their room, the driver rolled his window and they exchanged something. This happened a few more times over the course of the night.
Maybe speed or methamphetamines but probably just plain old cocaine.
We can look down our noses at the people who sell illicit drugs from their gaudy sports cars or those who consume it in a rough-looking motel surrounded by open-pit gold mines. We can incarcerate those who traffic drugs and use nickel-plated pistols with pearl grips to impose some ancient form of justice on the industry.
We can even look to Mexico and wonder how it’s possible that cartel bosses can commit mass murder with impunity just to keep cocaine flowing into the United States and Canada. But ultimately, where is all that coke going? Who is buying so much of it as to fund a criminal empire more powerful than the Mexican government?
Everybody uses. Movie stars and circuit court judges, miners who’re far away from their families and finance bros who use the word “club” as both a noun and a verb. “Do you club?”
But it is the people in the margins — the Honda Civic driver, the pearl-gripped pistol owner, the farmer who needs to make ends meet with an illicit crop or two — who suffer the consequences of our consumption. They also reap the benefits. It’s complicated.
Just as my khakis came from a Bangladeshi worker whose exploitation feeds my life of leisure, the profits derived from a gold mine come at the expense of Anishnaabe land and Greg the club promoter’s 20-minute cocaine high is connected to a cartel that hangs its enemies’ corpses from the town square of a border city.
This is getting spacy.
My point is this: I once worked on Parliament Hill as a dumb intern at Postmedia. People smoked pot, people snorted coke and binge drinking was our medicine. And I don’t think I have to mention that, across the river in Gatineau, strip clubs ran wild with taxpayer money.
But when the sun came up, everyone was an upstanding citizen, a pivotal part of the Democractic Process. No one spoke about the drug use or the lobbyist that slept with the political attaché after a boisterous concert at Lafayette’s. I believe the scandal back then was the cost of fighter planes or Senator Mike Duffy’s creative use of a mailbox in Prince Edward Island.
That’s politics I guess. We’re meant to see one part of it, not the other.
So I said no to Steven’s gun. But I took his drugs.
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When I was 17, I worked in a halfway house for the summer before I left my small hometown for the "big" city of Ottawa to start university studying criminology. All of the men in that halfway house were like guys I went to high school with, the ones who hung out behind A building, smoking cigarettes and weed, skipping class, and a bit lost. I went on to work for federal corrections for 18 years and, with few exceptions, most of the people I dealt with still felt like the guys I went to high school with who hung out behind A building, just older, with more addictions, more set in their ways, and more lost. This us and them dichotomy is false. As a society we shine the light where it feels comfortable. Thankfully, we have you to shine it elsewhere.
Can't wait for Tarantino to direct the movie inspired by your life. "Tito: You Cool? I'm cool."
Psst! You are well liked. But fuck it. It doesn't matter.