The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

The Rothmans Job
By Mitchell Toews

A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”

#

Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.

#

Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.

#

“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.

“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”

“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.

#

Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.

#

Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”

Advertisements

The Rothmans Job

My noirish crime fiction, “The Rothmans Job”, has earned a reprint in SickLit Magazine. Readers seem to like the characters in this story. Me too.

SickLit is an online zine with the tagline, “Bringing the real. Keeping the weird.” I suppose that this twisted tale fits that mandate. Thanks to SickLit for picking me up on such a cold, dark night. Thanks too, to CommuterLit, who ran the story originally.

Like ‘Rella, in the story, I remain optimistic. “Against all odds”, is not such a bad place – at least you know where you stand. If you like this story – please share it. If you hate it – hit me in the face a few times and I promise not to counter-punch or argue. I’ll just get back up and keep trudging until I disappear in a flurry of snow.

bb48de0d4e107d2f3c9922b13a254df5 pegasus

allfornow – Mitch

@Mitchell_Toews

Red River Valley – Stories 2 & 3

THE SECOND STORY in the Red River Valley Trilogy takes place within a year of the first. It is set in Manitoba in the early Seventies.

A Vile Insinuation  At a bordertown baseball tournament, several young Canadians meet a ballplayer from the States. The issue of the Vietnam war and the draft comes up. The boys, from Hartplatz, a largely Mennonite village not far from the border, speculate on how life could have changed had their forefathers chosen to re-settle in the USA instead of Canada.

“So, it’s a low draft number. I’m going to Vietnam, unless the war ends, ya know,” Marty finished the thought, and his beer. “They are already in the eighties now. I’ll be called up almost right away after my birthday. You betcha’.”

.

We were quiet for a minute. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple drifted across the beer garden from a boom box near the bar.

.

“What song is that?” said Marty.

.

“You said your Mom was a Menno from Winkler, right?” Cornie asked, ignoring Marty’s question.

#

The last installment of the Red River Valley Trilogy takes place in the present. The characters from the ball tournament have aged. (Or, they may have aged.) One of them is facing a situation he had hoped to avoid.

In Without Reason, the concepts explored in the preceding stories are tested and re-evaluated.

He loved that old truck. Dietrich had it just the way he wanted it. His one prideful excess – Lord knows he could afford it – was the retro Cragar chrome mags. There were two other customizations: he had one handle from a favourite pair of ski poles as the knob on the stick shift lever. Also, the kids had given him a Reggie Jackson autographed number 44 Louisville Slugger bat. He had mounted a gun rack in the rear window for the lovely wood bat to reside, riding shotgun with him on the still streets of Hartplatz.

I hope you enjoy these stories and I would love to hear your thoughts. Your perspective may be entirely different than mine and there may be things about the incidents that you can refocus. I welcome critical comment. (Honest!)

Even if these stories are not your bowl of borscht, CommuterLit is a wonderful – free – resource for readers. Give it a try!

In the future, if my stories pass this ezine’s strict editorial scrutiny, I hope to have more work published on CommuterLit! For a linked list of my published pieces:  http://en.gravatar.com/mitchtoews

…allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

 

 

The Red River Valley Trilogy

I started submitting to literary journals, both print and online, in February of 2016. It was while we were on a vacation in Curacao and I concentrated on writing, windsurfing and Heineken. The first time my fiction was published online was when Editor Nancy Kay Clark accepted my three-part trilogy, “The Red River Valley Trilogy” for inclusion on Toronto-based CommuterLit.

CommuterLit.com is a literary ezine for readers on the go. It delivers to readers a new story or poem each work day that can be read on their mobile devices.

Here are a few author’s notes on the three interrelated stories that ran on consecutive days on CommuterLit this July.

encountered-pic
“Encountered on the Shore” Following a reckless youth, with more than my portion of a false sense of indestructibility, I have come to wonder about the presence of guardian angels. So often, catastrophes were avoided – no matter how foolish my actions were in bringing them on in the first place. In fact, it almost seems that bad news is a harbinger of good news, if you can just hold fast and not lose your nerve as you round the cape of bad fortune.

“Where, here quiet, awaits my guardian angel?”  from Encountered on the Shore

I did some research on the various beliefs concerning guardian angels and some of this went into this story, which was based on a true occurrence from my past. I don’t know if there was an angel interceding back then, on Portage Avenue, but I like to think there was.

The idea of guardian angels is ancient and widespread and is present in many religions and cultures. Guardian angels are often associated with telltales like: birds, bright colours, double digits and the ringing of bells, à la Jimmy Stewart. These heavenly agents are said to assume very beautiful or very unusual and physically powerful mortal forms.

Wings, of course, are a big part of the Christian doctrine concerning guardian angels.

#

20090123_060010844597-were-sorry

“Jackpot on Page Fifty-Five”  In this tale of unintended consequences, the protagonist is a struggling writer named Chap Buque. In desperation, on the heels of the bottom half of a bottle of Jack, Chap sends a rambling, late night email/rant to her publisher. In it, she describes a plan to include a coupon entitling the bearer to a $10 mail-in REBATE on the cost of the book. “It works for Benjamin Moore and Home Depot,” she reasons drunkenly, taking examples from the never-ending home renovation project that consumes her day & night, pulling her away from writing.

Communications fail and the coupon is bound into the book. Well, the promotion takes off like a summertime comic book movie and Chap and her hapless publisher are left holding the bag, seeing as the book ends up selling for $7.50 CAD on Amazon. (HINT: An Arts Council Grant may come to the rescue.)

#

Huh? In truth dear reader – and I do mean dear! – this is just a tease to see if anyone is actually reading this blog. Like Chap’s home reno, I am taking time away from “real” writing to produce this humble web log, so is it worth it? Is my blog busting through the literary clutter of the titanic internet and the million-or-so other blogs out there?

Does my guardian angel read my blog?

Is Chap not a great name for a woman?

Sorry… to be clear, “Jackpot on Page Fifty-Five” IS NOT part of the trilogy. A bit disrespectful to you who have read this far — but I wanted to see if anyone was actually, you know, out there. So, I made up this storyline as a kind of “read herring”. To tell you the truth, I now find the premise kind of interesting and want to write it! (The Adventures of Ms Buque!)

I will sign off right now and return with more about the other two, REAL instalments of the trilogy. Be sure to read them, and many other wonderful stories and poems from around the world, on CommuterLit!

  1. Encountered on the Shore 1,425 words – the kindness of strangers
  2. A Vile Insinuation 1,665 words – a call to arms
  3. Without Reason 1,389 words – do things really happen for a reason?

…allfornow – Mitch

 

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

 

 

 

 

The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine

My story, “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” appears today (Sept 19, 2016) on Literally Stories.

The story is an imagined adventure. It takes disparate ingredients like my Toews Grandparents’ personalities and my knowledge of downtown Winnipeg and combines them; setting the elements loose in a stressful situation.

Allowing this hybridization of fact and fiction is why (I think) authors talk about characters taking on a life of their own. The overall direction of the story is plotted but the step-by-step pathway is extemporaneous. Storylines jump off course and pinball through obstacles and perceptions that are themselves fluid and may not have been fully realized when the story began.

At least, for me they do. That could be part of the reason why I have to re-write so much as I collect disintegrated bits that are flying off into space in a most Kryptonian way.

This story, originally titled Complex Pacifism, came into being when I saw a faded yellow sign painted on weather worn bricks. I saw the Crown Zellerbach sign from my comfy chair in Chilliwack. Google Images transported me back to Winnipeg, as I researched a different story online.

zellerbach-paper-300
A familiar name

The Zellerbach name leapt out at me – it was familiar from countless cardboard boxes of supplies in Steinbach Bakery, a place in which I grew up and where I had my first job. The bakery is a receptacle for many honey-glazed memories.

Grandpa’s quiet stoicism and subtle humour together with Grandma’s Annie Oakley style of directness came together in the exchange district of Winnipeg. The area was my territory as a “cub reporter” with Dun & Bradstreet in the late Seventies and I spent many hours in my little Datsun, trying to find businesses in the hodge-podge of mossy brick and decrepit alleyways.

Bakery ingredients; the feel of a late fall evening in Winnipeg; how to throw a punch — these are things I experienced but I never imagined that they could be combined to create a story.

 

My Grandma Rose Toews (nee Zilkie) was a Steinbach institution and she lives large in my memories. A favourite story is told by my out-of-town, female cousins who boarded with her while going to school in Steinbach. Grandma, strict and direct, might ask the pretty girls upon their late-night return from a date, “Did you let?”

#

Years later, when Grandma remarried in her eighties following Grandpa’s passing a decade before, one of her Grand-daughters pulled her aside at the Sunday after-wedding  faspa, the day following the octogenarian wedding.

#

“Grandma,” my cousin – then in her thirties – whispered conspiratorially, did you LET?”

Literally Stories is an outstanding online journal — it is a great site for writer and readers alike. Try it when you want a quick story to read – there are some gems here on this UK-based site! The header image above is from the LS website where the story is posted

I hope you enjoy The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine and invite you to share your comments below or on the Literally Stories website!

…allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016