Launch Day!

Well… It’s finally here: launch day for my new book, Diana’s Leap.

This book has been almost 15 years in the making, so it’s an auspicious occasion for me even though I’m spending most of it alone at my desk—pretty typical for a writer.

I remember when I wrote the first draft of the opening conversation between Cathy and Diana in Chapter One, and thinking “Hey. That’s not bad. Maybe this could be something.” I had no idea how the story would unfold at that point, although I had an inkling about how it should end in the final chapter.

I was still working at BCIT then, and it was a very busy time for me. In addition to my day job and family responsibilities, I was doing a master’s degree at Athabasca University and teaching night school, so there wasn’t much time for writing. One of my tricks in those days was to send emails to myself with a paragraph or two of copy that I’d write on my cell phone during my commute to work or while waiting for a meeting to start. Later, when I found a free hour or two, I’d consolidate the emails into a cohesive chunk and add them to the book.

It was kind of a slow process though and by the time I retired in 2015, I only had four chapters written, although those four chapters were re-organized into six in the final version. After I quit work, I thought I’d be able to bang it out pretty quick, but it took me another two years to write the last 19 chapters and five months to do the editing.

I’m hopeful the book will do well, but even if it doesn’t I’ll still be very proud of this book. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Here’s the links:

Diana’s Leap, the ebook

Diana’s Leap, paperback

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Only three days left…

Only three days left until the launch of Diana’s Leap, a new novel that follows the mis-adventures of a middle-aged woman after she learns that the charming man she re-connected with at a high school reunion is on the run from a notorious British gangster. Is it funny? Yes. Is it suspenseful? Yes. Does it have heartwarming moments that will make the tears well up in your eyes? Of course. Do you really have to wait three more days to buy a copy? Actually, no. You can click now to buy a pre-sale copy for the low, low price of $3.95 U.S., a discount of almost 50%. Offer ends midnight Nov 1st.

Only five days left…

Only five days left until the launch of Diana’s Leap, a new novel that follows the mis-adventures of a middle-aged woman after she learns that the charming man she re-connected with at a high school reunion is on the run from a notorious British gangster. Is it funny? Yes. Is it suspenseful? Yes. Does it have heartwarming moments that will make the tears well up in your eyes? Of course. Do you really have to wait five more days to buy a copy? Actually, no. You can click now to buy a pre-sale copy for the low, low price of $3.95 U.S., a discount of almost 50%. Offer ends midnight Nov 1st.

Diana’s Leap: Chapter 3

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Maison de la Sérénite, Paris, France.

—1—

Danny went out through the back door of the bistro, across the alley and into a building in the next street. It was a small hotel called Maison de la Sérénité that he knew well from previous visits to Paris. It was perfect for his purposes. It was quiet, and it had a small business center off the main lobby that could not be seen from the street. He doubted Tommy would stick around to look for him, but you can never be too careful. The business center was equipped with several Internet-enabled computers and a printer. Danny knew from previous visits that the desk clerk would happily let him use it for a small consideration.

As he entered the building through the back door, he fished a five-euro note from his wallet, plunked it down on the front desk and held it there with his pointing finger.

“Bonjour, François. Okay if I use the business center for a couple of hours.”

“Mais oui, Monsieur. It is empty now. You may have it to yourself.”

“Perfect,” Danny said, lifting his finger from the five spot.

The desk clerk whisked the bank note into his pocket, and Danny headed into the business center closing the door behind him. He sat down at one of the desktop computers and took a few seconds to think about everything he needed to do in the next couple of hours. He knew now that Tommy intended to kill him. He also had the haunting feeling that Tommy wasn’t the only one on his trail. For some time now, he had suspected that one or more law enforcement officers were investigating his dealings, and that they might be getting ready to close in on him. As Jimmy had said at the bistro, Danny needed to disappear—totally. Just leaving town wasn’t going to be enough. He had to disappear without a trace, and he needed to create a plausible diversion to throw his pursuers off the track.

There was an in-basket filled with hotel letterhead and envelopes on the desk. He took a sheet of the letterhead and scribbled out a list of tasks he needed to complete that after afternoon in the order he needed to complete them. There were five in all:

  1. Reply to Theo Legrand’s text
  2. Call Willy
  3. Buy plane ticket
  4. Find a place to hide
  5. Disguise?

A few days earlier, a business associate of Danny’s named Theo Legrand had sent Danny a text asking him for a favor. He wanted Danny to help him get a friend of his out of France under a new identity. Theo didn’t offer any details about the man other than his name, which was Luka Laroux, nor did he explain why his friend needed to leave the country. Danny guessed Laroux was probably a mob solider, and Theo wanted him out of the country to avoid a subpoena for a legal proceeding in which Theo was implicated. Danny didn’t ask any questions, though. In his business, the less you knew the better. At the time, he had just texted back a quick “Let me get back to you” and left it at that. He already had too many balls in the air to worry about Theo’s problems, but now, he saw a way he could use the favor to his advantage.

He took out the disposable cell that he’d purchased in London the day before and texted Theo.

Unknown Caller:

Theo. It’s Geoff Andrew. Are you there?

Theo Legrand:

Theo here.

Unknown Caller:

About your friend’s travel problem. Please send passport photo and cell number to the usual secure drop box. Tell your friend to be at Charles de Gaulle Airport by 3 p.m. this afternoon prepared for a trip. Will contact him there by cell.

Theo Legrand:

3 p.m. today? Cutting it kind of close, aren’t you?

Unknown Caller:

It’s okay. We have time.

Theo Legrand:

Okay. How much do IOU?

Unknown Caller:

5,000 EU. Have your friend bring it with him. And upload the photo and cell number right now. Need to get started tout suite!

The next item on the list was to call Willy, an ex-pat Brit now living in Paris on the left bank. For Danny’s money, Willy was one of the best forgers in the business, and he called on him whenever he needed something for his Paris clients. He told Willy he needed a passport and assorted ID cards, and he gave him the legal name that he wanted to appear on the documents. He carefully spelled out the name for Willy—twice; Willy was an excellent forger, but not a great speller. He told Willy he could find the passport photo that he would need on the secure drop box that he had given to Theo. Willy had used it before, so he already had password access. Finally, he told Willy that he needed the work done by 2:30 p.m. that afternoon.

“… you want it when?”

“2:30 p.m.”

“You know it’s one-ten now, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll have to drop everything to get it done by two-thirty, and I’ve already made other promises.”

“I’ll give you €2,000, and first refusal on all my business for the rest of the year if you can do it by two-thirty.”

“… I’ll do it by three for €2,500, and you come pick it up. No deliveries.”

“… okay. See you at your place, three p.m. sharp.”

Danny hung up and used his phone to transfer the €2,500 to Willy’s PayPal account from a bank in Zurich. Then he logged into the secure drop box to make sure Theo had uploaded the photo and cell number as instructed. He had, and Danny navigated to the passport photo of Theo’s friend Laroux and opened it on his phone. He studied it carefully; He wanted to be sure he could identify Laroux when he met him later at the airport. When he was done with the photo, he opened the posting from Theo with Laroux’s cell phone number and added it to the contacts on th4 disposable phone.

Next, he booted up the desktop computer and googled the webpage for Air France. Scanning through available flights, he booked a non-refundable, one-way ticket to the Cayman Islands departing early that evening from Charles de Gaul Airport. He bought the ticket under the name Geoff Andrew and paid for it with a credit card bearing the same name. Finally, he printed copies of the boarding pass and the ticket on the Business Center’s HP Officejet 6600 and slipped them into a hotel envelope.

Now came the hard part. He needed somewhere to hide for the next few months while he tracked down Susan Brown and got Tommy’s money back. The only sure way Danny knew to disappear without a trace, was to live with someone else. That way all of the easily traceable personal information like utility bills and land lines could be registered in someone else’s name. He needed someone who could not be easily linked to him, and preferably someone from his hometown of Pointe Claire, where he had a legitimate claim to the identity of Danny Alexander. The problem was that there weren’t many people to choose from. Danny had been a bit of a loner growing up and had not made many friends. His mind kept drifting back to a girl he knew from high school. It wasn’t as if she had been his girlfriend or anything; she was just a girl from school that he’d had a bit of a crush on. He was pretty sure it had been mutual, and he wondered why he’d never done anything about it. Then he remembered why and quickly banished the memory of that unpleasant time from his mind.

“… stay focused,” Danny whispered to himself.

He cast his mind back through all those years to a day when he’d been walking the halls at Lindsay Place High School. He remembered stealing the girl’s hat in a moment of reckless abandon, and then making eye contact with her when he handed it back. He could still see her face in his mind’s eye—her cute smile, beautiful brown eyes and dark hair. What was her name?

“Diana…” he said out loud, the name coming back to him after so many years. “Diana Miller.”

He opened an Internet browser and googled directory assistance. Then he typed in Diana’s name and the city of Pointe Claire. A listing came up with an address and a telephone number. She was still living in Pointe Claire in a single-family residence at 161 Braebrook Avenue. He made a note of the address and telephone number and then he checked to see if she had a Facebook page or an Instagram account. She had neither.

Next, he tapped into a database for provincial and federal government records using a Canadian Security Intelligence Service access code he had traded favors for a few months earlier. He learned that Diana had no criminal record, and he found copies of her high school diploma and her marriage certificate. He also found a copy of a divorce decree dated only a week previous.

Danny rubbed his chin trying to think of other places he could look for information. He googled ClassMates.com and went to the page for Lindsay Place High School. Then he clicked Diana’s graduating year, which according to her diploma was two years after his own. He scrolled down the list of names but her’s didn’t appear, which meant she didn’t have a ClassMates.com account. He was about to close the browser when he noticed an ad on the webpage announcing the 50-year anniversary of the founding of Lindsay Place High School. There was to be an Inauguration Dinner-Dance and Reunion to commemorate the event on the weekend of April 28-30, only two weeks away. He clicked the link for the 50-year anniversary and found the list of confirmed attendees. He scanned it for Diana’s name, but it wasn’t there.

He pondered for a few seconds and then he attached his disposable phone to the computer and located the photograph that Gustavo had taken of him on Pont Neuf with the Eiffel Tower in the background. He printed a copy and used the back to pen a note to Diana. Then he stuffed it into a hotel envelope and scribbled Diana’s address across the front. He took the envelope addressed to Diana and the other envelope containing the plane ticket and boarding pass, and he went back out to the hotel desk.

“Hello, Francois. I’m going now. Could you please put this in tomorrow’s post for me?” He handed him the letter for Diana.

“Of course, Monsieur. I will see to it myself.”

“Merci, Francois. Until next time.”

“Voyages sûrs, Monsieur,” Francois called after him as Danny walked out. The expression, which translated as ‘safe journeys’, seemed remarkably apropos to Danny under the circumstances.

—2—

Willy’s place that wasn’t far from the Maison de la Sérénité. Danny figured he could walk it in about 15 minutes, and he could call a cab on the way to pick him up for the drive to the airport. It was 10 minutes after three by the time Danny got to Willy’s place, a two-storey walk-up on Rue Domat. Willy’s apartment was on the second floor and there was a metal staircase with a landing at the top. Danny climbed the stairs and pressed the buzzer. Willy opened the door almost immediately. His facial expression looked a little sour to Danny.

“You said three sharp,” Willy scolded.

“Yeah, well… I’m here now, so… giddy up.”

Danny could see that Willy had a manila envelope in his hand and he reached out to take it from him, but Willy held up out of his reach.

“Where’s the money first.”

“… already in your PayPal account.”

“… and I get all your business for the rest of year?”

Danny knew there wouldn’t be any more business that year because of his troubles with Tommy Hill, but he nodded in the affirmative and Willy handed over the envelope. Danny took a quick look inside to make sure all the items were there, and then he added the plane ticket and boarding pass that he’d printed earlier at the hotel. He thanked Willy for his help and descended the stairs to the street. His cab was already there waiting for him.

As he drove away, Danny thought about his meeting with Luka Laroux again. It bothered him that Laroux would see his face and hear his voice when they met. If the man was ever apprehended by the police, Laroux would be able to give a description of him. The more he thought about it, the less he liked it. He wondered if he could wear a costume of some sort that would prevent Laroux from seeing his face. He asked the driver if he knew of any costume party rental places on the way to the airport. The driver said he knew a place in Saint Denis that would only take them a little out of their way. The driver waited outside while Danny went in.

It was quiet in the shop. Apparently, there wasn’t much call for party costumes in Paris on the Easter Long Weekend. A young French woman with an interesting array of piercings and tattoos was minding the shop. Danny was the only customer.

“May I help you, monsieur?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m looking for a party costume, and I’m in a hurry.”

“Oui, monsieur, you have come to the right place. We have many costumes here. I am sure we can find something to satisfy. What do you have in mind, monsieur?

“I need something that will completely cover my head, and… make me look taller.”

“… interesting monsieur,” the woman said, and her face clouded with concentration as she considered Danny’s unusual request. Then, suddenly, her face brightened again, and she smiled.

“Ah, I know, monsieur. The rabbit.”

“… the rabbit?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

She gestured at a costume hanging on a rack just a few feet away. It was the Easter Bunny, and it came with a full mask that fit over the wearer’s head, ridiculous Bugs Bunny buck teeth and floppy ears at least two-feet long.

“I thought you didn’t have the Easter Bunny in France,” Danny said.

“We have this one, monsieur. Only forty-five euros.”

“… does that include the deposit?”

“No, monsieur. The deposit is 100 euros, but you get it back when you return the costume.”

Danny had no intension of returning the costume.

“… or you could leave a credit card, if you prefer.”

“No,” Danny replied. “I’ll pay cash for the whole thing.”

She wrapped up the costume for him in brown paper with string, and Danny went back out to the taxi. As he was coming out of the rental place, he spied a confectionary shop a few doors further down the street. An idea occurred to him, and he gestured at the driver to wait a few more minutes. At the confectionary, he bought an Easter basket filled with traditional French chocolate bells that he thought would make a convincing accessory for the bunny suit.

It was a little after 5 p.m. when Danny finally got to Charles de Gaulle Airport. He went to his locker on the second floor and opened it. He hauled out his clothes suitcase and took out a white cotton tee-shirt and a pair of shorts. It was still quite warm, even though it was late afternoon now, and he didn’t know how long he’d have to stand around waiting for Laroux in the ridiculous bunny suit, so he wanted something cool underneath.

He put the manila envelope and the basket of chocolate bells in the locker and set aside the bunny suit and underwear. Then he re-locked the locker, and went to a nearby men’s room taking the suit and the underwear with him. He changed into the bunny outfit and took a look at himself in the long mirror installed on the wall above the sinks. He looked even more ridiculous than he had imagined.

Drawing a deep sigh, he wrapped his street clothes in a neat package with the brown paper and string and headed back to his locker. He dropped off the package of clothes and picked up the manila envelope, the basket of chocolate bells and his disposable phone. On his way downstairs to the departure level, he sent a text to Luka Laroux.

—3—

Despite the fact that Luka Laroux had never met Theo Legrand’s associate—the man who was supposed to provide him with the documents he needed to quit the country—he already didn’t like him. As instructed, Luka had arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport almost three hours ago, and he had been waiting ever since for the man to contact him. He had come a half-hour early because he wanted to be sure not to miss him. It was important to Luka that he leave France at the earliest possible moment. He was well aware that his life was in serious jeopardy if he could not get out of the country soon. His boss, Theo Legrand, might just decide to have him killed rather than sending him away. That was what usually happened to gangsters in Luka’s situation. They just turned up dead somewhere. The problem was Luka needed a new identity to leave the country. He couldn’t fly under his own name because he was on a police no-fly list, and he would be arrested on the spot if he tried to get on a plane.

It aggravated Luka that there was nothing he could do except wait. He had no way of contacting the man. He didn’t know his cell number. He didn’t even know the man’s name. All he could do was wait, and it was beginning to get to him. Then, finally, there was a ‘ping’ from his phone signalling a text message. Luka signed in and read the message.

Unknown caller:

Luka. This is from Theo’s friend. Meet me on the departure level near Air France.

Luka Laroux:

About time you showed up. How will I know you?

Unknown caller:

Can’t miss me. I’ll be the only one dressed as the Easter Bunny.

“… perfect,” Luka muttered. “… the fucking Easter Bunny.”

Luka was already on the departure floor but at the opposite end to Air France. It took him several minutes to make the walk, pulling his luggage on wheels behind him. Sure enough, as he approached Air France, he saw the Easter Bunny handing out candy to a small group of children who had gathered around him. As Luka got closer, the Easter Bunny looked up in his direction and watched him approach for a second or two. Then he put the basket of chocolate bells down on a bench for the kids to help themselves and retreated a short distance away to a spot partially obscured from view by an escalator and an adjoining wall. Luka followed the bunny.

“You’re Theo’s friend?” Luka asked the bunny.

The bunny nodded.

“… not talking today?”

The bunny shook his head.

“Alright, Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Whatever spins your wheels. You have the documents?”

The bunny shook his head again and holding out his left hand he tapped it three times in quick succession with the pointing finger of his right hand.

“Money first?”

The bunny nodded.

Luka counted out €5,000 in large bills and handed it to the bunny. The bunny slipped the cash into a pouch on the belly of his costume, took out a manila envelope and handed it to him.

“… so, what’s my new name?”

The bunny didn’t answer. He just pointed at the envelope.

Luka fished out the passport and read the name.

“Geoff Andrew?” he said.

The bunny nodded.

“… that’s no good. I am French. This is an English name. It won’t match my accent. Didn’t Theo tell you I was French?”

The bunny shrugged.

Luka drew a deep sigh of resignation.

“Where am I going at least? Somewhere warm, I hope,” He took the plane ticket out of the envelope.

“Cayman Islands… “

The bunny nodded.

“… okay, Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Have a nice life in case I never see you again.”

Luka went to catch his plane, and Danny headed back upstairs via the escalator. He went to his locker, where he picked up the package with his street clothes, and then he went back to the men’s room and changed out of the bunny suit, which he stuffed into a garbage chute along with his disposable phone. After picking up his bags from the storage locker, he took the subway to Gare du Nord where he boarded a train to Dunkirk. From there, he caught a cargo ship bound for Montreal, Canada.

—————

Read Chapter 1

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Diana’s Leap: Chapter Two

—Good Friday—

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Bistro on Rue Lagrange, Paris, France.

—1—

Danny Alexander was sitting at a table by the front window of a bistro on Rue Lagrange, not too far from Notre Dame Cathedral. The day was unseasonably warm for a Good Friday in Paris. It was more like one of those hot, humid days in mid-summer when the prickly Paris heat makes the clothes stick to your skin. In fact, Danny couldn’t remember another trip he’d taken to Paris at Easter when it had not been raining or threatening to. The bistro was packed with people taking a break from work or shopping to get some coffee or a little lunch, and the steady hum of conversation and the clatter of glasses and plates combined to create a kind of background music for the room. The cheerfulness of it seemed entirely inappropriate to Danny considering the very real possibility that he might not live to see the end of the day.

From where he sat, Danny could clearly see the Café Panis on the other side of the street. That was where he had told Jimmy, a 24-year old drug dealer originally from California, to meet him. He’d called Jimmy fifteen minutes ago and told him to come to the Café Panis at noon, its busiest time of the day. It was 11:55 a.m. now—only five minutes before Jimmy was due to arrive. Looking north from the bistro window, Danny could also see the south tower of Notre Dame Cathedral and Pont au Double, one of the many bridges that crossed the Seine, connecting the left and right banks. If Jimmy walked to the café from his apartment on the right bank, as Danny expected he would, he would see him come over Pont au Double and walk along Rue Lagrange toward the Café Panis. If Jimmy drove his car or took a taxi, Danny would still see him get out of the car and go into the café. Either way, Danny would see him coming.

Danny was not alone in the bistro as he waited for Jimmy to arrive. He was much too cautious for that. With him was Gustavo, a male prostitute that Danny had picked up that morning in Pigalle. He was sitting on a stool at the end of the bar about 10 paces away from Danny’s table. Gustavo had told him he was Swiss, but from his accent, Danny suspected he was actually of Eastern European origin. Danny looked at him now and gave him a wink. As instructed, Gustavo responded with a lecherous grin and thrust his hand inside his jacket. Danny nodded his approval and turned back to the window to scan the street.

Had he not taken precautions, like enlisting the aid of his amorous friend at the bar, Danny would have put his chances of surviving his lunch date with Jimmy at about fifty-fifty. Those odds were much too high for Danny’s liking, so he planned the meeting with some unexpected twists to turn the advantage in his favor. Of course, it wasn’t Jimmy that Danny was afraid of. It was Jimmy’s boss, Tommy Hill, and his nasty friends from south London that worried Danny. He knew Tommy would blame him for the money that had been lost while in his care. What he didn’t know was what Tommy intended to do about it. Would he be willing to give Danny some time to get the money back, or would he just kill him outright to save face and set an example? Danny’s elaborate plan for his meeting with Jimmy was all designed to give him the answer to that question.

—2—

As Danny sat waiting for Jimmy to show, his mind drifted back through the years and circumstances that had conspired to bring him to this place and this moment. For the last decade, Danny had been running a lucrative business catering to a small, but extremely wealthy clientele. His customers were members of organized crime syndicates based mostly in the U.K and Western Europe. They were involved in illegal activities that generated huge profits, most of it in cash. The service Danny provided was to convert the mountains of cash generated from illegal activities into funds that appeared to have come from legitimate sources. It was not something Danny had set out to do; it was something he had just kind of drifted into accidently.

Towards the end of his last year of high school, there had been some family trouble involving Danny’s mother, and his relationship with his stepfather had become severely strained. He left home at the end of that summer and went to Boston College on a football scholarship. He made the team as a second-string running back in his freshman year, but a knee injury ended his season in the third game of the season. The following winter, he went through re-hab, but he was never able to get back to his previous form. He lost the athletic scholarship, but he managed to stay in school with a small academic bursary and by working part-time jobs. He earned a business degree with a major in finance and a minor in computer systems.

After graduation, Danny bounced around for a while before landing in the banking industry as an analyst specializing in international finance. He quickly learned the ins and outs of moving large sums of money between financial institutions and across international boundaries. He also learned how to leverage his formidable computer skills to transfer money, snoop for useful information and cover his tracks when necessary. It all came easily to Danny, and he quickly grew bored with it. Moving up the corporate ladder was difficult without the right contacts. He was good at his job, but that didn’t seem to count for much in the world of corporate banking. After a decade with no significant promotions, Danny was ripe for something new and different in his life.

That’s when Peter showed up, and Danny had his first brush with organized crime. It started out innocently enough: Danny met Peter at a party thrown by a friend. Danny was sitting on the couch in the living room when Peter, who had been drinking steadily for hours, lurched into the room and installed his tall, lanky frame in an adjacent chair. Peter was a little sensitive about his last name, and he made a joke about it during the introductions.

“The name’s Peter…,” he said. “Peter Roach. You’ve probably heard about my chain of economy hotels… the Roach Hotels?”

Peter was about the same age as Danny and moved in the same circles. He began bumping into him now and then at parties and bars around Boston. Peter appeared to be a young business professional like himself, except that he had a lot more money than Danny did. He wore expensive clothes, drove a vintage Mercedes Roadster and threw money around like it was water.

The first deal Danny did for Peter seemed more like a favour between friends than a felony offence. Peter called him at work one day and said he was in the neighbourhood. He asked Danny if he wanted to stop by a local bar on the way home, and Danny took him up on the offer. They talked sports, women, the usual, and then about 40 minutes into the conversation, Peter started telling him about a client of his who was having problems transferring some money states side from an Eastern Bloc country. There would be a commission in it for Danny if he could help. The problem didn’t sound all that difficult, and it wasn’t. Danny was able to move the money discretely, and he earned a tidy profit for a few hours work. Other deals followed. Peter contacted him once every month or so to do a discreet transfer, usually from an off-shore account.

They always met at the same bar, the Eire Pub on Adams Street, and the meetings always went the same way. Peter would arrive about 15 minutes late, and when he finally showed up, he’d order a drink from the bar on his way to Danny’s table. He’d sit kitty-corner to Danny and start talking about something inconsequential, like a trip he’d just taken or some girl he’d shagged. While he talked, he scanned the room looking for anything out of the ordinary; he barely made eye contact during the first part of the meeting. Then, when he felt comfortable, he’d suddenly fix Danny with a stare and in a lowered voice, he’d give Danny the details about what he wanted done. Danny had to memorize the information. Nothing was ever written down. Then, Peter would leave abruptly, usually without finishing his drink.

About a year after his arrangement with Peter began, he and Danny had quite a different meeting. When Danny arrived at the bar, Peter was already there, and he wasn’t alone. There was another man with him. He was slender with thinning hair and an expensive suit. He spoke with an English accent, although he didn’t talk much during that first meeting. After the introductions, Peter did most of the talking. The other man, George Abramson, just sat there sipping his drink and watching Danny. When Peter finally finished explaining the deal, George suddenly spoke up.

“…Oh, and there’ll be something extra for this one mate: A job, working for me at Bartletts Bank in London. All expenses paid.”

Within a month Danny had made the move to London, and was working in a well-paid job, strategically placed in International Finance. Of course, it was understood that doing financial chores for George’s mob contacts was part of the job. George would drop by his office or call him to go for coffee when something came up. As with Peter, everything was done by word of mouth—nothing was ever written down.

The arrangement with George at Bartletts continued more or less without change for five years. But as Danny got to know some of George’s contacts better, they began coming to him directly. As time went on, Danny began to see a future where he could quit Bartletts and live a comfortable life with very little work as an independent financial consultant for the mob. It was not the career he had envisioned for himself when he started out, but once he started down that path, it was hard to turn back. No one ever spelled it out for him, but Danny knew he couldn’t just walk away. Criminal organizations did not take kindly to quitters, especially ones who knew their business.

Even so, he had begun planning an exit strategy almost from the day he had quit Bartletts and gone out on his own. He had bank accounts in different names all over the world. Sometimes, he used them to move money for the mob, but he also maintained balances in some of them, so he could access cash abroad in case he needed to leave the country on short notice. He also kept two packed suitcases in his flat at all times. One contained clothes and other necessities for a two-week trip and an unloaded gun stored in a special, hard-sided container. The storage container for the gun had been custom-made for him. It satisfied all the requirements for transporting firearms in checked luggage on commercial airliners, and it was designed to look like a jewelry case to avoid attracting unwanted attention from border guards or anyone else who might be curious. The other suitcase contained cash in several different currencies, pre-paid credit cards, gift cards and sets of identification documents like passports and driver’s licences under different names. It also contained an eight-Gig memory stick that Danny updated regularly containing the details of transactions Danny had conducted for the mob going back more than a decade.

Danny used many different identities to do his work, and many of them were known to his mob bosses. But there was one name they didn’t know; that was his real name—Danny Alexander. When Danny first made the move to London to work at Bartletts, he changed his name as a kind of insurance policy. The only person in England who knew his real name was his boss at Bartletts, George Abramson.

Danny provided many different services to his underworld clients, but the one in most demand was laundering cash—making it appear that the huge amounts of cash collected from illegal activities, like prostitution or drug dealing, had actually come from legitimate sources. The service involved a three-step process: First, the cash was deposited in domestic banks or foreign financial institutions by making lots of small deposits to avoid arousing suspicion. Next, a series of complex financial transactions like wire transfers or conversion of cash into bonds or stocks was performed to separate the illicit funds from their source and disguise the audit trail. The final step was to deliver the funds to the client, less a sizable commission that Danny liked to call the laundry bill.

For the last couple of years, Danny had used a local solicitor named Mike Babcock to complete the final step of the process. Mike was a partner in the firm Babcock Morgan Solicitors, and Danny liked him because he was lazy and unprincipled and not very likely to ask embarrassing questions if Danny brought him a deal that looked a little shady. Typically, the transaction involved the sale of a property that had been purchased with dirty money, usually from several different sources. The cash from the proceeds of the sale would be deposited to Mike’s trust account, often for just a few hours, and then transferred to Danny’s client as legitimate funds. Mike would collect a generous fee, and Danny would get a hassle-free transfer to his client.

It all worked like clockwork until Danny’s deal with Tommy Hill. Danny had purchased a villa in Tuscany using funds from different sources that Tommy wanted laundered. A few months later, he sold the villa for £2.4 million, and he arranged for the proceeds to come through Mike’s office. The transfer into Mike’s trust account was supposed to take place early on the Thursday afternoon before the bank holiday on Good Friday. Danny would come to Mike’s office later that afternoon to pick up a certified cashier’s cheque, which he planned to hand deliver to Tommy by tea time the same day.

A couple of weeks before the transfer, Danny went to Mike’s office to confirm the details of the transaction. About 15 minutes into their meeting, Mike called in a staff member to join them. A young woman in her early to mid-thirties arrived a few minutes later. She was a little on the plump side, but still quite attractive decked out in her smart business attire, with a stylish haircut and make-up. Mike motioned for her to sit in the visitor’s chair next to Danny.

“Susan, this is Geoff Andrew,” Mike said to the woman. ‘Geoff Andrew’ was the alias that Danny used for his dealings with Mike.

“He’s closing a real estate deal in a couple of weeks, and I’d like you to handle the transfer. Geoff, meet Susan Brown.”

It sounded like a made-up name to Danny.

“Pleased to meet you, Susan,” he said.

“Likewise,” she replied, curtly.

Danny had a bad feeling about Susan right from the start. He sensed an attitude of entitlement and self-assurance from her that gave him pause. He feared she might be one of those people who believe the rules simply don’t apply to them—and in Danny’s business, those kinds of people were dangerous. He tried to make eye contact and engage her in conversation, but she barely returned his gaze. She kept her responses terse and mostly monosyllabic. When Mike was done discussing the deal, Susan went back to her cubicle, and Danny decided to ask a few questions about the moody Miss Brown.

“Has Susan been with you long?”

“Not really. She joined us a few months ago.”

“Where’s she from?”

“East side, I think. Worked for an accounting firm there.”

“Good references?”

“Oh yeah, of course. The best.”

Danny was pretty sure Mike hadn’t bothered to do a background check, and he wondered if his preference for lazy real estate solicitors was finally going to bite him. Two weeks later when Danny arrived to pick up the cheque, the £2.4 million deposit was missing and so was Susan Brown. He and Mike turned the office upside down looking for information, but no one seemed to know anything about the transaction. It had all been left up to Susan, and she had left early for the day and could not be reached. When the futility of getting any information from staff became obvious, Danny took Mike into his office for a private chat.

“Listen, Mike. You must realize that I can’t tell my client that the money is missing. Not this client.”

“… but I don’t know where the money is, Geoff. There’s barely enough in the trust account right now to cover month-end disbursements let alone a £2.4 million real estate pay out.”

“… so, what are you going to do about it, Mike?”

“Well, we’ll have to wait until Tuesday when Susan comes back to work after the holiday, and then we can ask her about it.”

Danny shook his head in disbelief. He could see that Mike was completely oblivious to the trouble they were in.

“That’s not good enough, Mike.”

“… why not?”

“Because Susan isn’t coming back to work on Tuesday, or any other day after that either.”

“What? You think she took the money?”

“Yes, Mike. I do.”

“Well, what can I do… should I call the police?”

“No, Mike. You can’t call the police. You can never call the police, not with this client.”

Danny could see his face clouding over as the full import of the situation finally dawned on him.

“This client of yours, Geoff? He doesn’t know about me, does he? You didn’t tell him the transaction came through my office, did you?”

Danny didn’t bother to answer. He just turned and walked out of the office. He went home to his apartment, picked up the two packed bags—the one containing the two-week supply of clothes, and the one containing the identification and cash—and he left. After driving around aimlessly for an hour or so, he stopped at a pub for a pint and a bite to eat. No sooner had his order arrived than his phone started vibrating. It was a text from Tommy Hill—the last person in the world that Danny wanted to hear from.

—3—

Of all his clients, Tommy was the one Danny feared the most. He had never seen it, but he’d heard that Tommy liked to use a small upholstery hammer to torment his enemies during interrogations or sometimes just for the fun of it. The story was that Tommy’s father had an upholstery business, and he had always hoped that Tommy would follow him into the trade. He had given Tommy the hammer as a gift when he was a teenager in Camberwell, South London. A few days later, Tommy used it to commit his first murder.

The striking end of the hammerhead had a long narrow neck with a small square face, while the peen was formed into a claw for removing nails. It had a wooden handle stained with blood and despite its small size, Tommy could use it in devilish and imaginative ways to exert maximum pain on the poor unfortunates that fell into his power.

Tommy Hill began his criminal career as a smash-and-grab specialist knocking off furrier shops and jewellers in South London. It wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of the Richardson Gang, which had little tolerance for freelancers working their turf. He was given a choice: he could join the gang, or he could face the consequences. He chose to join the gang, and he didn’t have to think about it very long. He knew a punk like him would have little chance of standing up to the Richardson Gang.

Tommy became a feared enforcer for the Richardsons, and he proved to be a valuable asset during the gang’s bitter rivalry with the Kray twins of East London in the late 1960s. The Richardsons had a vending machine business in those days that served as a cover for their drug and prostitution rackets. It had a repair shop in back that was also used to interrogate and intimidate deadbeats or members of rival gangs like the Kray Twins.

Tommy was a witness to the torture on more than one occasion, and he willingly participated in inflicting excruciating pain on the hapless victims. He saw men having their teeth pulled out with pliers or their fingers lopped off with chain cutters. He once witnessed another Richardson goon named Harry Fraser nail a member of the Kray gang to the floor by driving a couple of six-inch spikes through his hands. After the man had told them everything they wanted to know, Fraser pulled out the nails and made him clean up his own blood before he and his goons threw out him into the street.

The story was front-page news for weeks when the so-called Torture Trial was convened at the Old Bailey in 1967. Fraser was charged with several counts of torture and extortion. The cops offered Tommy a deal to testify for the prosecution, but he wouldn’t do it. His refusal to cooperate did not go over well with the prosecution or the judge adjudicating his case, and it earned him a 10-year sentence at Belmarsh Prison. The silver lining was that when he finally got out, he became a trusted member of the Richardson Gang’s inner circle. His unpredictable nature and his reputation for ruthlessness and violence helped him rise quickly through the ranks to become a kingpin of the London drug trade.

Danny took a swig of his beer and clicked open the message.

Thomas Hill:

Where’s the package? Expected delivery at tea time.

Geoff Andrew:

Slight snag. Package missing in transit.

A call came in on Danny`s phone. It was Tommy, but Danny didn’t answer.

Geoff Andrew:

Sorry. Can’t talk. Too public. Low battery.

Thomas Hill:

We need to meet. Now!

Geoff Andrew:

Today’s no good for me. What about tomorrow?

Thomas Hill:

2-day!!!!

Geoff Andrew:

Sorry Tommy. No can do. What about tomorrow?

Thomas Hill:

In Paris tomorrow.

Geoff Andrew:

O.K. Saturday then, first thing. Will call to set up. Low battery. Got to go.

Danny gulped the rest of his beer and started walking toward the door. His telephone rang again as he reached the street. It was Tommy calling him back, but he didn’t answer. He tossed the phone in a dumpster on the way to his car. He dared not go back to his apartment, and he was glad he had thought to pick up his travel bags before Tommy called. He stopped at a phone store to pick up a new phone, a disposable with a camera, and then he just drove around for few hours thinking about what to do next. Slowly, a plan began to come together. Tommy had said he would be in Paris the next day, Good Friday. Danny would be there too.

He stayed at an Inn on the outskirts of the city that night, and he paid cash for his room. He knew Tommy had friends in law enforcement that would trace a credit card purchase if he asked them. The next morning, he drove to Victoria Coach Station and caught the 6 a.m. high-speed train for the two-hour trip to Paris via the Chunnel. He disembarked at Gare du Nord in Paris and took the subway to Charles de Gaulle Airport, where he stored his luggage in a locker. From the airport, he took a taxi to Pigalle and walked the streets looking for a suitable accomplice for his meeting with Jimmy. He spotted Gustavo not too far from the Sexodrome on the Boulevard de Clichy. Gustavo looked about right for the part—he had a muscular build and an odd smile that might appear sinister in the right context.

Danny took him to a local coffee shop to explain the deal he had in mind. Gustavo would receive €100 up front and another €100 from Danny’s friend Jimmy if he had sex with him later that day. Danny explained that Jimmy was an old and dear friend who had recently confided his attraction to men but had never actually consummated sex with one. It was Jimmy`s thirtieth birthday, and Gustavo was to be Danny`s special gift to Jimmy—Jimmy`s coming out party, so to speak.

Gustavo was more than willing to accept Danny’s strange request, and he was keen for the opportunity to score an additional €100. After the coffee shop, Danny took Gustavo to a second-hand shop a few blocks down the road and bought him a blazer. He chose a dark jacket that fitted loosely enough to conceal a gun. Danny paid for the jacket and then he and Gustavo took the subway to Pont Neuf Station. From there, they walked across the Pont Neuf bridge to the left bank. About half way across, Danny handed Gustavo his disposable phone, and asked him to snap a picture of him. Danny’s backup plan was still in the formative stages, but he thought the photograph might come in handy if his meeting with Jimmy didn’t go well. He sat in one of the concrete seats built into the outer balustrade of the bridge, and Gustavo took his picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

“Smile!” Gustavo said, enthusiastically, but Danny could only manage a half-hearted smirk.

After the photo, they continued to the bistro and when they got there, Danny sat Gustavo down at the bar to go over the details for the meeting. He explained that Gustavo would sit at the bar where Jimmy could check him out. Danny would talk to Jimmy at a nearby table and explain the arrangement. If Jimmy decided to go for it, Gustavo would accompany him to his apartment where they would have sex, and Jimmy would pay him the other €100.

“So, Gustavo… all you really need to remember is to make eye contact with my friend Jimmy when I turn towards you and wink.”

“Oui, oui… is simple. You wink, I blink.”

“No, Gustavo… no blinking, just steady eye contact and a sly, devilish smile. Like this.”

Danny demonstrated. Gustavo responded with a big toothy grin. He looked more like an absurdly enormous puppy dog than a hit man.

“Too big, Gustavo. Make it smaller—more devilish.”

Gustavo tried again. It was marginally better than the first attempt.

“Good. That’s perfect. And when you smile, I want you to slip your hand inside your coat like this.”

Danny guided Gustavo’s hand so that it looked like he might be reaching for a gun in a shoulder holster.

“Like I am holding une gross banane. Oui, monsieur?”

“Oui, Gustavo.”

“And to finish… a twirl!”

“…a twirl?”

“Oui, monsieur… a twirl!”

Gustavo demonstrated by jumping off his stool, spinning around and thrusting out his buttocks.

“You know. To show the… be-hind,” Gustavo explained.

“…not quite the message we’re looking for, Gustavo. Let’s just go with the smile and the hand thing, okay? No twirl.”

“Very well, monsieur… you are the boss.”

Danny sat down at a table by the front window and checked his watch. It was 11:40—time to call Jimmy and set up the meeting. He hadn’t called Jimmy earlier because he didn’t want to give him any time to think. He just wanted Jimmy to react. Danny knew Jimmy lived only a few blocks from the Café Panis; he would have just enough time for a quick call to Tommy and a brisk walk to the caféto make it there by noon. If Tommy had put out the word that he was looking for Danny, Jimmy would know about it, and if Jimmy knew Tommy was looking for Danny, he wouldn’t waste any time giving him up. He would call Tommy as soon as he finished talking to Danny, and then he would try to stall Danny at the Café Panis until Tommy arrived. That was why Danny had decided to switch up the location of the meeting at the last minute.

Danny called Jimmy on his cell. He answered after the second ring.

“…yeah, Jimmy’s here.”

“Hey, Jimmy. It’s Geoff… Geoff Andrew.”

“Geoff! Hey Geoff, how you doing dude? Where are you at, man?”

For someone Danny knew only as a casual business acquaintance, Jimmy sounded awfully glad to hear from him. Something was definitely up.

“I’m in your neighbourhood, actually. Feel like joining me for some lunch?”

“Sure man, sure. Where abouts?”

“The Café Panis. But you have to get here by noon. I haven’t got much time.”

“No sweat, man. I’m leaving right now.”

Danny hung up. There was nothing to do now but wait. About fifteen minutes later, Danny spotted Jimmy at the south end of Pont au Double near the intersection at Quai de Montebello. As Danny expected, Jimmy had decided to walk instead of taking a car. He watched as Jimmy crossed the street and started walking the short distance down Rue Lagrange to the Café Panis. Jimmy was walking on the opposite side of the street from the bistro. When he was almost directly across from it, Danny got up, walked to the front door and called to Jimmy across the street.

“Hey Jimmy!… over here.”

Jimmy turned to look across the street and spotted Danny standing in the doorway of the bistro. He looked confused and pointed down the street at the Café Panis. Danny shook his head and motioned at him to cross the street. Jimmy didn’t look very happy about the change in plans, but he did as Danny directed.

“Hey, dude. I thought we were meeting down the street…” Jimmy said, as he approached the bistro. “… at the Café Panis.”

“We are. Just come in here for a minute. There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.”

Jimmy came in, and Danny steered him toward his table by the front window. He motioned for Jimmy to take the seat closest to the window, and then he sat down with his back to the room. From this vantage, he could see the Café Panis across the street and talk to Jimmy at the same time.

“Who are we meeting?” Jimmy asked.

“My friend, Gustavo. He’s sitting over there at the bar.”

Danny turned toward Gustavo and winked.

Gustavo responded by sliding his hand into his jacket and smiling at Jimmy. His odd, lecherous grin was enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of Jimmy’s neck.

“…whoa, dude… this isn’t going to be… harsh, or anything, is it?”

“No, Jimmy. I just want to talk… ask you a few questions, that’s all.”

“Sure, dude, sure. No worries. Whatever, you want to know.”

“Did Tommy Hill say anything about me recently?”

“Tommy? No, man. Nothing I can think of.”

“… are you sure?”

“…yeah. Sure, man, sure.”

Jimmy was beginning to feel the heat. Like most establishments in Notre Dame, the bistro had no air conditioning. A tiny bead of perspiration popped out on Jimmy’s forehead.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Why don’t I believe you?”

“I don’t know, dude. Maybe you got a suspicious nature.”

“…or maybe you’re not a very good liar, Jimmy. Maybe people can tell when you’re not being truthful.”

“I swear to God, dude,” Jimmy said, holding one hand to his heart and touching his first two fingers to his temple in the international salute of the Boy Scout.

“Tommy never said anything nefarious about your ass, man. You shouldn’t be worried, you know. What I think we should do… is we should go on over to the Café Panis like we planned and get some lunch. It’s kind of hot in here.”

“I don’t know, Jimmy. I kind of like it here, and I know my friend Gastavo likes it here. It’s one of his favorites.”

Jimmy shot a nervous glance at Gustavo, who responded with another blood chilling grin.

“Jimmy, did you tell Tommy about our meeting at the Café Panis?”

Jimmy licked his lips.

“What? Me man? Of course not.”

“Are you sure about that, Jimmy?”

“Okay, okay, dude. Maybe Tommy did say something about you—something about some cash that went missing, or whatever. But he’s cool, man. He’s cool. I really think we should just go on over to the Café Panis like we said. Maybe we could call Tommy. Get this whole thing straightened out.”

“We could call Tommy from here.”

“Yeah… I guess,” Jimmy said doubtfully.

“You already told Tommy I’d be at the Café Panis, didn’t you, Jimmy?”

“I swear to God, man. I never said nothing.”

Danny had been keeping a close eye on the Café Panis through the front window of the bistro while he and Jimmy talked, and at that moment, a car pulled up in front of the café, and two men got out. One was tall and blond, and the other was shorter and balding. Danny didn’t get a good look at the two men because they had their backs to him, but he was pretty sure he’d never seen them before. He knew very few of Tommy’s goons because Tommy liked to keep the money and the muscle sides of the business separate as a precaution against collusion, and that was just fine with Danny.

The two men rushed into the café with their weapons drawn, while a third man waited in the driver’s seat of the car. Danny could see the man plainly through the open window, and he recognized him immediately—it was Tommy Hill. Anyone who ever saw Tommy Hill did not soon forget him. He had a face as wrinkled as a California raisin, and it stuck in your memory like the fragments of a childhood nightmare. The lines of age and care that covered his face revealed his evil, violent nature, but it was his eyes that scared you the most. They were cold, dead eyes, and when you looked into them, you got the chilling feeling that there wasn’t a real person there—not real in the normal sense anyway.

“Well, well.” Danny said gesturing at the window. “Look who’s here.”

Jimmy turned and looked across the street and saw Tommy waiting in the car. As he and Danny watched, frightened patrons began streaming out the front door of the café, followed a few moments later by Tommy’s men. The tall blond man shook his head and shrugged at Tommy as he watched from the car. Tommy was obviously unhappy with the news, and he turned and looked menacingly across the street. Danny had the sinking feeling that Tommy was looking right at him, but he knew it was impossible for Tommy to see him inside the bistro—not with the bright sunlight beaming down outside. Tommy motioned for his men to get back in the car, and they drove away at high speed.

Danny looked at Jimmy. He looked as nervous as a stray cat at the dog pound. He had sweated through his shirt at the armpits and his forehead glistened with perspiration.

“I wonder how Tommy figured out where the meeting was going to be, when the only person I told—was you, Jimmy.”

“Listen, dude. You have to understand. Tommy was totally pissed about the money. I mean, majorly, man. You know what he’s like. He’s not like normal humans. When he found out, he put out the word to everyone.”

“…what word was that, Jimmy?”

A bead of sweat rolled down Jimmy’s forehead and stung his eye. He wiped it with his sleeve and then he sat there blinking, his focus bouncing around the room like he was looking for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere.

 “…that he was, you know… looking for you.”

“…looking for me to…”

 “…to off you, man. He was going to waste you, okay?”

Danny nodded.

“Listen, dude… Let me give you some good advice, okay? You need to split, man. You need to go someplace nobody’s ever heard of you. You need to disappear, man, I mean totally.”

“Thanks, Jimmy. I’m going to go now. See you around, or not.”

“Whoa, wait a minute man. What about your friend Gustavo? What’s his story?”

“Oh, I think you’ll be quite surprised what Gustavo has in mind.”

Danny got up and headed for the back door of the bistro passing by Gustavo at the bar as he went.

“He’s totally into it,” Danny said to Gustavo as he breezed past him.

Gustavo beamed at Jimmy, then he slid off his stool, strutted over to the table where Jimmy was sitting, and he did the twirl.

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Diana’s Leap: Chapter One

Thursday, February 9th, 1978

Lindsay Place High School, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada.

—1—

It was the day after, and Diana was still walking on air as she and her friend Cathy disembarked from the bus and started walking toward the school.

“So, tell me!” Cathy implored.

She knew something was up with Diana. Her friend had dropped enough hints on the bus ride to school, and there was something about her this morning. Usually, it was all she could do to stay awake for the whole bus trip. This morning she was practically giddy with whatever it was.

Diana glanced sideways at her friend and flashed her one of her coy little smiles. Then she looked toward the school as she conjured up the events of the day before.

 “Well… It was after school and I was at my locker gathering up my stuff. I wanted to be sure I remembered my history book because you know we have that quiz today in second period…”

 “Diana. Whatever it is, I’m sure it has nothing to do with school. Will you please get on with it?”

Diana giggled at her friend. Nothing could suppress the effervescence of her mood. She felt drunk with delight at this unexpected turn of events.

“Okay. Okay. Like I said, I was at my locker getting my stuff. I had my bag packed and my coat on, and I had just pulled on my hat when I felt someone grab it from behind and snatch it off my head. I figured it was one of the juveniles from Grade 10 and I whipped around to try and grab it back. That`s when I saw who it was.”

“Who was it?”

“It was Danny Alexander.”

“No.”

“Yes. It was Danny Alexander.”

“The guy on the football team… the cute one?”

“Yes. Danny Alexander.”

“That’s unbelievable.”

“It’s true.”

“Well, I know it’s true, but it’s unbelievable. He’s so cute, and so… I don’t know… sad. You never see him smile. He’s kind of scary, but in a, you know, sexy kind of way.”

“Yes. I know what you mean, and I think he’s older. He’s 17, I think.”

“He is 17.”

“How do you know?”

“Garry MacAdam told me. He said they had to change leagues for football this year because two of the boys were over age. Danny was one of them. You’re only 15 Diana.”

“I’m almost 16.”

“You’re not 16 until June. That’s not almost.”

“… it’s more than half,” Diana countered.

“Well… anyway, Danny Alexander is just about the last person in the world I would expect to steal your hat.”

“Me too.”

They reached the front steps of the school and went in the main doors. Diana’s locker was on the second floor and Cathy’s was on the main, so they stopped at the foot of the stairs in the foyer to finish their conversation.

“So, then what happened?”

“Well, he was with his friend Rob Addie.”

“The redheaded, pimply-faced guy that plays on the basketball team?”

“Yes. That’s him. Well, I figured they were going to throw my hat back and forth and make me jump for it and stuff. But that’s not what happened.”

“What happened?”

“Well, he just stood there holding my hat like he was waiting for me to make a grab for it, so then, you know, he could snatch it away and stuff.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I made a grab for it. Only he didn’t snatch it away. He let me grab it. So then, we were both standing there holding on to the hat like we were connected or something. You know, through the hat.”

“Uh-huh. Then what?”

“This is the most amazing part. I keep playing it over and over again in my head. It makes me feel like I’m floating or something.”

“So, spill it, Diana. What was it?”

“Well, that was when our eyes met. You know how they say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I totally believe it now, because it was like we were cosmically connected. It was just for a second, maybe not even, but it was like time stopped or something. Suddenly, Rob Addie was gone, the school was gone, the whole world was gone. It was just him and me Cathy, our souls inextricably entwined. And then he gave me this little smile, and I gave him a smile, and then I knew, Cathy. I knew he was the one. I love him.”

“God, Diana. Could you be any more dramatic?”

“No. It is dramatic. It’s the most dramatic, wonderful, incredible thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life. I love Danny Alexander, and I think he loves me too.”

“Are you sure about that, Diana? I mean, maybe he was just horsing around. It’s not like a lot of guys have shown much interest before this.”

“What are you saying?”

Cathy regarded her young friend critically. It was true she had a pretty face, and she had beautiful, long brown hair that fell all the way down to the small of her back. But her body had been slow to develop, especially in the bust area, and if there was one thing Cathy knew for sure, despite her own limited experience, it was that high school boys had a keen appreciation for a well-developed bust. If anyone had a shot at Danny Alexander, it would be her, Cathy, not Diana.

“I’m just saying maybe you’re reading a bit too much into this. Did you even know him before this?”

“I sat beside him for a whole six months in Career Development. You know, it’s one of those grade eleven-twelve split electives. I never thought he even noticed me, but I guess he did because now he loves me.”

“Geez, Diana. You don’t know that for sure. I’m just saying, you might need to slow down a bit.”

“I don’t want to slow down. Danny Alexander is my soul mate and my life’s true love. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my whole life.”

“Okay, okay, Danny Alexander is the one. Congratulations. I’ll be maid of honor at your wedding.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Cathy made a face. Diana stuck out her tongue.

“Okay. So, what happened after the big moment?”

“Well, he let go of my hat. I put it back on my head and then I went to catch the bus.”

“That’s it? You didn’t say anything? You just walked away?”

“No… you think I should have said something?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I couldn’t. You know what I’m like around guys. I didn’t want to spoil it… I had to get out of there.”

“Well, it’s not how I would have handled it, but who knows? Maybe it’ll work out for you, Diana.”

“There’s one more thing I didn’t tell you. It’s the second-best part.”

“What?”

“As I was walking away, I overheard Danny say: ‘that chick is cute’ to Rob Addie.”

“Really?”

“Yes! Danny Alexander thinks I’m a cute chick. I’m a cute chick now.” She did a little dance with a pirouette flourish to illustrate the point.

“Okay, Isadora. So, what happens now?”

“Now?”

“Yes. What’s the next step?”

“Well, you know. He’ll get in touch.”

“Really? You think so?”

“Yes. What I think is he’ll go to my locker after school today and wait for me to come, and then he’ll strike up a conversation. Maybe he’ll walk me home and carry my books.”

“Really? That’s what you think?”

“Yes. That’s what I think.”

The bell sounded, and they had to head for their home room classes: Diana up the stairs to the second floor and Cathy down the hall on the main.

“See you at free period,” Cathy said as she walked away. “Good luck with your soul mate.”

“Ciao for now, ma ‘amigo,” Diana replied.

—2—

Danny did not show up at Diana’s locker that afternoon. Diana arrived fashionably late, 15 minutes after the four o’clock bell. As she rounded the last corner, she fully expected to see Danny waiting for her in front of her locker, but he wasn’t there. She waited around for another 15 minutes, fussing with her books and various odds and ends in her locker, all the while watching over her shoulder for Danny, but he never showed. Diana figured he had probably come early and left before she got there.

The next afternoon, the Friday afternoon, she arrived at her locker five minutes after the bell. Diana had been thinking about it all day, and she had concluded that Friday would be a much better day for her to begin her romance with Danny Alexander. After all, it was the last day of school before the weekend, and maybe if the Rendezvous with Danny went well—that’s what she had begun calling it in her head—they could meet up somewhere on Saturday, the mall maybe or the arena.

But Danny didn’t show that Friday afternoon, nor did he show on any of the afternoons of the following week. In fact, he was absent from the immediate vicinity of Diana’s locker for the entire month of February, in that frigid winter of 1978. She was especially hopeful on the 14th because it was Valentine’s Day, and the romance of something happening with Danny on Valentine’s Day would have made such a good story. But nothing happened. It was just a day like any other.

Not only did Danny fail to appear at Diana’s locker on any day after school through the rest of that term, but she didn’t see him anywhere else either. She began to frequent spots where she thought she might run into him. She sat with friends on the bleachers by the lower field where the football team played its games in the fall. She started hanging out at the commons in the mall where kids from school used to go on weekends or after school. She went with Cathy to the only two school dances that winter and to every lunchtime sock hop hoping to see him, but she was disappointed. It was as though a hole had opened in the earth and swallowed Danny Alexander whole.

Diana saw him only once more that year. It was at the spring assembly. She was on the girls’ intramural volleyball team, and she was there with her teammates to mount the stage and collect a certificate of participation from Mr. MaConahie, the vice-principal. They all wore their uniforms, if you could call them that: white blouses that buttoned up the front and navy-blue bloomers. It was not very becoming on Diana. The starched whiteness of the blouse seemed to accentuate the smallness of her bosom, and her legs stuck out from the bloomers like pencils.

It was right after the assembly that she saw Danny. He was standing in the hallway just outside the gym doors when Diana and the rest of intramurals came out. He seemed bored or tired or something; his expression was vacant and distant. When their eyes met, Diana tried to strike a pose to display her ridiculous volleyball get-up in the best possible light. She leaned back slightly from the waist and stood with her legs apart just a little, and then she tossed her hair and smiled.

Danny did not react. He just stood there staring at her with the same dumb expression on his face. It was as though he didn’t see her at all; it was as though she was invisible, and he was looking right through her. Diana was devastated. His reaction, or lack of it, hit her like a physical force, like she’d been punched hard in the pit of her stomach and all the wind knocked out of her.

A couple of floor hockey players from the intramural league passed in front of her blocking her line-of-sight with Danny. She turned and started walking back toward the gym, tears welling up in her eyes. She struggled to keep herself from breaking down and crying like a baby. It was an effort just to walk. Her legs felt like they were made of Jell-O. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t get rid of the horrible feeling she was feeling, and she just wanted it to stop.

She charged back through the gym doors and slammed straight into Mr. MaConahie, the vice-principal. She staggered backward from the impact, and Mr. MaConahie had to grab her by the shoulders to keep her from falling down.

“The assembly’s over, Diana,” the vice-principal said. “It’s time to go.” He gestured at the gym doors that Diana had just come through.

“Umm… I have to go to the girls,” she said, and she continued across the gym floor and out the doors on the other side. She went to the girls’ washroom on the main floor and into the last stall furthest from the door. She slammed the door behind her and locked it, and then she started to cry. She cried with a vengeance. She cried great, heaving, noisy sobs of tears and snot, and it made no sense because she hadn’t really lost anything—least of all Danny Alexander, who she’d never really had in the first place.

But it wasn’t just Danny’s sudden indifference that upset her; it was the hole it had kicked in her confidence of that special moment when she and Danny had looked into each other’s eyes, and their spirits had somehow forged an unassailable bond. In that moment, Diana had been so sure that Danny was her one true love that she would have bet her life on it. It sounded so stupid now when you put it into words, but at the time, it felt like the absolute truth. That it might not have been what she at first believed it to be, shook Diana to her depths.

She was never really completely sure of anything after that.

—3—

Diana graduated from Lindsay Place High School two years later in 1980 and went to the senior prom with Wayne Bussey, a friend of Garry MacAdam’s, whom Cathy had started dating. After high school, she went on to Dawson College and enrolled in Business Studies. She discovered she had an aptitude for numbers and finance.

After college, she got a job at the Bank of Montreal and eventually worked her way up to a credit analyst position in a commercial lending unit downtown. It was her job to crunch the numbers for new loan applications and reviews. She was good at her job. She knew the bank’s credit rules backwards and forwards, and she was good at structuring credit applications. Maybe she lacked the confidence to close a multi-million dollar deal, but Diana could quickly spot the strengths and weaknesses in any balance sheet, and she could write up a credit that showed the warts as well as the pearls.

It was at the bank that Diana met Gordon. He started as a commercial lender a few months after Diana and stayed for a little more than a year. He left when he got a better offer from the Canadian Bank of Commerce. He never had that much to do with Diana when they were working together: just the requisite good mornings and good nights and the occasional conversation in the lunchroom over morning coffee. Then at the office goodbye-cake event, he surprised her by asking her out.

On their first date, he took her to a Japanese restaurant in the west end. They had to take their shoes off and sit in a little hut with a fake grass roof. Gordon made a joke about how he should have been more careful choosing his socks. The food came with chopsticks, which neither of them could manage. They had a good laugh watching each other raise morsels of food to their mouths only to fumble it at the crucial moment. In the end, they ate the big chunks with their fingers just to get something to eat.

Diana was still living in Pointe Claire then, and on the way home, they stopped in Lachine to look at the water. Lake St. Louie was heavily polluted in those days, but it was still beautiful at night with the moonlight dancing on the water. They didn’t sleep together until their second date, and on that occasion, their lovemaking was awkward. Gordon was a big man, tall and somewhat overweight. They made love the first time at Diana’s apartment in Point Claire near the lakeshore. It started with kissing in the living room and gradually moved to the bedroom where they started to undress. It was a small room, and very close quarters with both of them in it. Gordon seemed to take up all the space by himself.

While trying to pull her top over her head, he accidentally clipped her in the jaw with his elbow. The blow stunned her and sent her toppling backward onto the bed. Her lower lip felt like pins and needles and she tasted a little dribble of blood. Gordon apologized profusely. Diana realized it was accidental, but still, it put a chill on the moment. They completed the act, but by that time, it was really just to get it over with.

Their lovemaking improved with familiarity, as did other aspects of their relationship, but it was never passionate with Gordon. It was more a matter of them becoming comfortable with each other in virtually every aspect of their lives. It was easy for them to share. They seemed to agree on everything: they both wanted children, a quiet life in suburbia, a nice house in Beaconsfield or Point Claire, maybe a membership at the country club and an extravagant vacation once in a while. They were great life partners, even if they were never great lovers.

They dated for almost two years before they got married. It was a simple ceremony with their families and a few friends. They paid for most of the wedding themselves, and their parents kicked in for a short honeymoon in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Diana decided to keep her last name. Gordon’s last name was Doll, and she couldn’t bring herself to go by the name ‘Diana Doll.’ It sounded like a character from a kids’ cartoon show. Gordon protested, but he finally let it go when Diana promised their kids would have ‘Doll’ as their family name.

They put a down payment on a small bungalow in St. Anne de Bellevue. After a couple of years, Gordon got a promotion and they traded up to a larger house in Pointe Claire with bedrooms and a big yard for the kids. Diana got busy painting and decorating, and she took up gardening. The kids never came, though. At first, they suspected Diana, but after they made the rounds of the doctors, it turned out to be Gordon. They were both devastated by the news, especially Gordon. Diana tried to persuade him to adopt, but he didn’t want to do that.

One day, Diana came home with a golden retriever puppy. They called him ‘Rolly’ because of his habit of rolling onto his back for tummy rubs. The years drifted by. Diana kept her analyst job at the bank even though she didn’t really need to work. Gordon continued to do well at the bank and the promotions kept coming. He eventually rose to vice president Eastern Canada, one-step down from the senior executive rank. They celebrated with a champagne supper at the Chateau Laurier.

There were lots of happy times, but it seemed like there was always something missing. They both felt it. Rolly lived for 16 years—almost double the life expectancy for a golden retriever. When he finally gave up the ghost, it was like Diana’s heart had been ripped out of her chest. She called in sick and spent two days on the couch weeping.

Gordon was also heartbroken. He started spending more time at the golf club. He would often have dinner at the club instead of coming home. He said he was entertaining clients. Then, one night, he didn’t come home at all. He said he had stopped off at the home of one of his golfing buddies after their round. He’d had too much to drink he said, and he didn’t want to risk driving home. She asked him why he didn’t call. He just shrugged and said nothing.

About a month later at one of Gordon’s company events, Diana picked up a vibe between Gordon and a woman on his staff. It was nothing really: just some eye contact, but Diana knew something was up. She kept an eye on the woman for the rest of the evening. She had long dark hair like Diana used to wear when she and Gordon first met, and she was at least 20 years younger.

There was dancing after dinner, and towards the end of the evening, the girl came to their table and dragged Gordon onto the dance floor. It was a rock n’ roll number—not the kind of thing Gordon would normally get up for, but he certainly seemed to enjoy dancing to it with this girl. He looked happier than she had seen him in a long time. On the drive home, Diana asked about the girl. He murmured something about her job at the bank and didn’t mention any personal details. He seemed uncomfortable with the question.

A few months later, Gordon came home from work and said he needed to talk to her about something. He poured a couple of glasses of wine and took them into the living room. They sat across from each other—Gordon on the easy chair and Diana on the couch. She already knew what he was going to say.

He said he’d met someone and that he was in love with her. He had decided to move out. He was leaving that night—that moment in fact—and he’d be back in the morning to collect his things. He tried to give her a hug when he was leaving, but she wouldn’t let him.

The following week, Diana got a call from Gordon’s lawyer about a separation agreement. The settlement was fair. She got the house free and clear, and enough money to live on comfortably. She expected divorce proceedings to follow soon after, but she never heard anything from Gordon or his lawyer about a divorce. A year went by and she heard from a mutual friend that things had not worked out for Gordon and the girl from the office. He had left her, and he had also changed jobs. It sounded like the new job was not quite as good as the old one. It was at the VP level, but with a small credit union—not a major bank.

Then one day, out of the blue, Gordon called her. It had been almost 10 years to the day since they had parted. He made some small talk, asked her how she’d been, and then he told her he wanted a divorce. He said he’d met someone new, and they wanted to marry. Even though she had long expected the call, it still came as a surprise. She told him to go ahead and start the proceeding, and she wished him well. She struggled to keep her voice even when she said goodbye for what she assumed would be the last time. It wasn’t losing Gordon that bothered her. It was the feeling that she had wasted so much of her life on him.

In all those years after high school, Diana never once thought about Danny Alexander—not until the day his letter arrived from Paris, France.


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