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Chapter 4

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 9 months ago

Chapter 4

 

Gassy Jack's statue. The night club named after him was upstairs behind the statue.

 

 

 

Due to the duplicity of Ray the booking agent, life at Burner Mansion got off on a bad footing. Rish and Poppy, a young couple who were long time friends and who had a new baby moved in on the strength of Ray’s claims that we would only be in town once every two or three weeks. The huge house would be theirs to ramble in alone as caretakers.

 

What happened next was like something out of The Shining. Within a week of our return the horrors began. Rish was a garbage man and Poppy worked at Safeway so they rose early and never saw us during the day, when we practiced in the living room next to their bedroom. They came home and tried to have a family dinners while we haunted the place like plague dogs. Then, with nothing better to do we pooled our money for enough to buy two rounds of beer and drove the Burner van down to the local bar. There we drank our money on empty stomachs. By that time the Burner Boys name had spread enough so we bummed beer until closing time. Then we invited anyone with enough money to buy beer, back to Burner Mansion. At 2 AM the band started a jam which blasted Rish out of bed like a frog being dynamited from a pond. He charged through clouds of dope into the living room in nightshirt and stocking feet. With his slight build and Van Dyke beard he looked like Bob Crachit, Scrooge’s victimized clerk from A Christmas Carol.

 

“Cool it. Shut it down or get the fuck out!”

 

The roomful of drunken strangers offered him beer and dope. We apologized for playing at 2AM. Rish was such a nice guy that he sat down, accepted a beer and smoked a joint. Then he had a second beer to wash down the joint. That meant he got to bed at 3 AM. After a week of this he looked like a sleep-deprived corpse. Poppy was furious. As a final insult she woke at six-thirty every morning to a kitchen that looked like a typhoon had hit it.

 

Soon we achieved a state known as Unity of Conflict. This is a dramatic term meaning two parties are so utterly opposed they cannot exist together in the same place without one destroying the other. Writers of fiction labor for years to create unity of conflict among their characters. We’d done it in a little over a week. Burner Mansion crackled with tension.

 

 

A Bruce Allen talent poster from around 1971. The Burner Boys didn't even know he was representing them. He now manages Bryan Adams, Martina Mc Bride, Michael Buble and others.

 

In the meantime we had to go out ourselves to find work. Ironically Prince Rupert had given us strength. It was as if we’d been huddled together in a foxhole for weeks and survived the most humiliating punishment ever handed out to a band. Perhaps we bonded. Now for no good reason we had a swaggering confidence. We drove to Vancouver’s newest, most high-tech nightclub, Gassy Jack’s. This was akin to a Memphis jug band showing up at the Copa Cabana in New York demanding work.

 

“We’re here to see the owner about a band audition,” I told the bouncer to avoid the cover charge. We looked so seedy the lie barely worked, but it was worth the effort. Compared to the Ho Ho Room the club was a masterpiece – plush chairs, glittering lights and a state-of-the-art in-house PA system guaranteed to make any band sound fabulous. As insurance against running out of money we’d brought along a girlfriend of Poppy’s. Robyn was a feisty, chatty redhead who couldn’t be classified as a groupie since she’d known us all before we were in the band, but nevertheless she was now getting her kicks hanging out with us.

 

I asked the waitress to see the owner. While we waited I looked around the club. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Jesse sitting at a rear table like a phantom crow perched on our shoulder. We wisely ignored him as the owner sat down.

“Paul Grey,” he quietly introduced himself. Slightly balding with glasses, in a turtleneck and blazer he was the opposite of Billy Bond. He looked like a successful corporate banker or an expensive psychiatrist.

 

“These are the Burner Boys,” Robyn said before anyone had a chance to speak. “They’ve just come back from a tour up north. They’re the biggest band on the North Shore and they’ve got tons of fans who would come here to hear them if you hired them.”

 

“Really?” Paul Grey inspected us slowly. I felt as if we were being scrutinized by a lawyer.

 

“So why don’t you audition them?”

 

“And you are?”

 

“Robyn,” she stuck out her hand. “I’m a friend of the band but I wouldn’t hang out with them unless they were good.”

 

Paul Grey held onto Robyn’s hand. His eyes flickered with interest. “Well Robyn, where should we hold this audition?”

 

“Where else? At Burner Mansion.”

 

“And where might that be?”

 

“Burner Mansion,” Robyn repeated as if he were an idiot. “You know, like Big Pink. Except it’s on Harold Road in Lynn Valley.

 

“I could make some time.”

 

“How about tomorrow night?”

 

“Will you be there?”

 

“Do you want me to be?”

 

“I insist.”

 

“Eight o’clock.”

 

“You’ve got a deal,” Paul Grey let her hands slip out of his and got up from the table.

 

This remarkable exchange was watched by all of us. It was as if Robyn expected his full attention and agreement on all points. Nothing less would do. We couldn’t thank her enough. Soon Paul Grey was back. He bought us a round of drinks and nestled close to Robyn. From their cozy conversation it was clear that we were now an item of done business. But Paul Grey was definitely interested in something.

 

Twenty-four hours later we mooched around the living room at Burner Mansion waiting. Eight o’clock passed. At nine Pop and Rish went to bed. At ten-thirty Paul finally showed up in a Jaguar. It was quite a comedown from a Jaguar to the seedy couch at Burner Mansion but Paul Grey was gracious about it. Robyn sat beside him. In an attempt to blow him out of his socks we kicked in with a rocked up version of Fred Neil’s ‘Another Side to This Life’ with long, howling guitar solos. It may not have blown Paul Grey out of his socks but it certainly blew Rish out of his sheets. His bedroom was right next to the living room. He stalked out in night shirt and socks like an angry little rooster.

 

“COOL IT!”

 

“Oh chill out. It’s an audition,” said Robyn matter-of-factly.

 

“I haven’t slept in a week!”

 

“Have you met Paul Grey? He owns Gassy Jack’s.”

 

Once again Rish’s own good nature got the better of him. He shook hands with Paul Grey.

 

“I’m sorry for this but we have to get some sleep.”

 

“This shouldn’t take too long,” Paul Grey assured him.

 

Rish went back to bed. We turned our amps down to minimum, which had Paul Grey barely tapping his toe. Nervous that we were blowing it, the volume sneaked up song by song until half an hour later it was at full blast.

 

The bedroom door slammed open. Rish emerged like a tortured being from a Heronymous Bosche painting.

 

“SHUT IT DOWN! God dammit, WE LIVE HERE TOO!”

 

“I’m liking what I’m hearing,” Paul Grey and Robyn were now holding hands.

 

“I’m pulling the plugs on those God damn amplifiers right now!”

 

“No need,” said Paul Grey calmly. “I’ve heard enough. I’d like you boys to do a guest set tomorrow to see how the crowd likes you.”

 

We broke out the beer and out of joy did a rugby song called ‘Old McDonald’ to seal the deal. Then, inexplicably, Paul and Robyn spirited themselves upstairs. This was odd because there was nowhere upstairs for them to go and it was highly unlikely they’d hijack someone’s room. Twenty minutes later I went up to use the washroom. It was locked.

 

“Who’s in there?”

 

“We are,” Robyn answered defiantly.

 

“Hurry up. I’ve got to use the can.”

 

I left, went downstairs and waited. Even though I sat on the couch it felt like I was seated on a small, hard boulder. Twenty minutes later I went back. The door was still locked.

 

“Come on,” I pounded on the door. “What are you doing in there?”

 

“Rappin’,” Robyn shouted.

 

“Rap somewhere else. I’m dying out here.”

 

“Dave,” came Paul Grey’s voice. “Calm down. We’re just about finished.” Paul Grey was clearly used to running things. He ran a nightclub. He’d run the audition and dealt with Rish. Now he was running the can.

 

“You’ve got ten minutes.”

 

I went back downstairs but now walked feverishly about like a man waiting for a very late train. Ten minutes later I was up again. This time I beat the door with my fists – Bam Bam BAM BAM BAM!

 

“We’re still rappin’,” came Robyn’s voice.

 

“I’m not leaving!” I hopped around in front of the door like a penguin. My ass cheeks were now puckering involuntarily. If the Navy Seals had an endurance test for holding in a dump I believe I would have passed.

 

“LET ME IN!”

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” came a voice from the top of the stairs. I turned. It was Rish. He was furious at being awakened for a third time. It was a unique confrontation – a man being denied sleep versus a man being denied a crap facing off with mutual hostility down a hallway.

 

“I’ve got to go so bad if I wink it will come out of my eye!”

 

“Go to a gas station!”

 

“No. I live here!”

 

“SO DO I!”

 

The bathroom door opened. Paul Grey, with Robyn on his arm eased between us and went back downstairs. With nothing left to fight about Rish and I shrugged. He stamped back off to bed and I dashed to the can.

 

The next morning it was snowing and by afternoon the weather office issued heavy snowfall warnings. At seven o’clock we humped equipment to the van, slithering our way through deep snow. With chained tires the Econoline made its way through snow-clotted streets to Gassy Jack’s. Snow rarely falls in Vancouver in any amount. A few flakes are enough to send people scurrying home from work early. Now the streets were deserted, like an atom bomb had fallen.

 

Inside the club it was equally empty. There wasn’t a single customer. The band on stage, The Fourth Way, was playing to entertain themselves. The Fourth Way were soon to become Weather Report, an influential jazz fusion band of the 1970’s and 80’s. The band's music featured extended improvisation, and that’s exactly what they were doing.

 

As we sat, watched and listened it was clear that Al, Steve and Tim were intimidated by these virtuosos who were originally associated with Miles Davis. Personally I was unmoved. It may be that I was born without the jazz gene, for I have never felt its attraction. Perhaps I am too used to the structure of conventional commercial song writing. I fail to understand how aging hipsters can pack coffee houses, smoke cigarettes and nod for hours in heavy appreciation to interminable jazz solos. Forced to do so I would shriek with boredom. Perhaps it is because I am not by any measure an accomplished musician so I lack the tools to properly value the music. So I sat bored and peevish. This was our chance to break into the downtown club circuit and we’d picked the one night of the year when nobody came. Paul Grey showed up briefly but wasn’t nearly as friendly as when he’d been putting the squeeze on Robyn.

 

Finally it came time for us to go on. This increased my sense of tragedy as the stage was dramatically elevated above the club and had there been people in the seats we would have felt like kings. As it was we played to exactly one table – the Fourth Way who viewed us like priests from some high religious office about to catch a band of musical heretics. We did have one thing in our favor. This gloomy emptiness was that of the Ho Ho Room – exactly what we were used to. I had my patter down to where I could talk to an imaginary crowd. After the Ho Ho Room we could have provided a lively show on the ballroom of the Titanic. We went at it, with a song we’d just written called ‘Old Rock and Roll Star’ which may have been prescient.

 

****************

 

I'm An Old Rock And Roll Star

 

I’m an old rock and roll star

And I never made it very far,

But I get me a yen

Go out and do it again

On my Rickenback guitar

Jump onto the stage

Rock into a rage

And put some whiskey back in my jar

 

I was very very good at the blues

And my boogie runs got into the news

My sweet bars of sixteen

Were so exceedingly clean

That they exploded in the soles of your shoes

And the kid on guitar

Played like a be bop in fire

Just like the kid’s gonna play it for you.

 

I’m an old rock and roll star

And I never made it very far

And now my time’s getting on

My guitar I did pawn

And my voice is like gravel and tar

But oh with such ease

The crowd I did please

Yes I like it when they know who you are

 

********************

 

Amazingly, the ultra heavy jazz musicians nodded in approval. At the end of the set they applauded wildly. At least this was something. Who knew? Maybe they would report back to Miles Davis about us. We were about to vacate the stage we heard a disembodied voice.

 

“Do Old Mc Donald.”

 

We looked around. The sound came from nowhere and everywhere.

 

“Do Old Mc Donald,” it came again. I realized it was originating from the state-of-the art in-house PA system’s band monitors. Monitors are any speakers set up facing the band so they can hear themselves play. In this case Paul Grey, now omniscient, had paid for an elaborate two-way system that allowed him to communicate with and control any band on stage. From the twelve foot high stage I peered straight across over the club where, if I squinted, I could see a small window high on the opposite wall. Behind it house lights glinted off Paul Grey’s glasses in the control booth.

 

“No,” I said into the microphone.

 

“Dave. Do Old Mc Donald.” He was referring to the gross, crotch-groveling rugby skit we’d done at the Burner Mansion audition. I was mortified at doing this in front of the influential and well-connected musicians watching us with whom we had built up such slim credit.

 

I turned around and looked at the band. They stared back at me for an answer.

 

“No Old Mc Donald,” I said into the mike. By now this conflict was being played out over the whole club.

 

Paul Grey’s voice now took on the aspect of the Hal 9000 computer in A Space Odyssey.

 

“Dave,” he said in a voice that sounded infinitely reasonable yet held an undertone of flat menace. “Old Mac Donald. Do it. Do it, Dave.”

 

I hesitated. In my mind I saw guitars seized by creditors, a van repossessed, ever longer welfare lines. There are no human rights on stage. We needed this gig. I nodded. Unable to look each other in the eye we assembled in a line and sang in schoolboy unison.

 

Old Mac Donald had a farm.

Ee I Eee I O

And on this farm he had a cow

Eee I Eee I O

(At this point we were required to caress each others chests)

And the cows were cowing it here

And the cows were cowing it there

They were cowing it everywhere.

Old Mac Donald had a farm

Ee I Eee I O

And on this farm he had a turkey

Eee I Eee I O

And the turkeys were gobbling here

And the turkeys were gobbling there

They were gobbling everywhere.

 

At this point we gobbled each other’s crotches, further driving the point home. The thing was that with each new verse we had to repeat the entire song from the beginning, so it grew exponentially longer. After five verses of gobbles, cows, rams, pigs, pussies and humility I ran out of barnyard animals. We walked hangdog off stage. I felt like a performing monkey.

 

We had no choice but to join The Fourth Way at their table. They applauded politely, like noblemen. The drummer said he admired Tim’s snare drum work with the brushes, and the lead guitarist called us ‘highly entertaining’. Perhaps from their elevated musical plane they saw something in us that we didn’t see ourselves. Nevertheless I believe someone in The Fourth Way must have secretly got back to Miles Davis and told him we had cheapened ourselves by doing ‘Old McDonald’, because we never heard from that famous man.

 

Paul Grey came back and flopped a sickly offer on the table. It was to play for the rest of the week. The Fourth Way had quit due to the snow, depressing conditions and because they were going south to form Weather Report. More snow fell. Over the next few nights we played to a snowbound, deserted house. The few people who made it in loved us and I banged my tambourine so hard I got a callous on my thigh but it wasn’t enough. No band can outdraw five days of heavy snow. Paul Grey ignored this and now viewed us as birds of ill omen – a band that had emptied his expensive club. We finished Saturday night with miserable pay and were never asked back.

We would also never make our payments. We knew we needed a new fifth Burner. Al had been working his connections but we had little to offer a working musician for income since we were all starving on fifty-dollar high school sock hops. What we really needed was a keyboard player to fill out our sound so lucrative club audiences would feel they’d gotten their money’s worth.

 

It snowed all of Sunday. About noon Al came into the kitchen.

 

“I’ve found a keyboard player,” he announced.

 

I couldn’t believe the good news. It proved that if you persevered, things finally went your way.

 

“Danny Carlson will be here at two for an audition.”

 

Our faces fell.

 

“He’s a drunk doper,” Tim said.

 

“So are we,” Al replied reasonably.

 

“He’s a postal worker. If we say no he’ll go psycho and shoot us,” I said.

 

“He’s got ten year’s piano training. That’s what we need. Be grateful he’s coming. I had to talk him into it.”

 

We acquiesced. Danny Carlson showed up through the snow at three. He was a rugged, jar headed individual. Walking hilly postal routes in the rain and snow had made him reddened and tough. He was also a fan. It was common to see him at our gigs partying his brains out in the middle of the crowd. He now sat down at the upright piano in the living room but didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked like a large, primitive schoolboy forced to give a piano recital when he’d rather be outside spraying graffiti. He ran through a few numbers – some simple classical pieces and ragtime that proved his ability. Then the band struck up with a simple three chord blues song so he could get a feel for jamming with us.

 

He stopped playing. After a few moments he looked over his shoulder in frustration. “I don’t know this one.”

 

“It’s just twelve bar blues,” I said. “What’s to know?”

 

We tried Fishin’ Blues, an easy to play three chord jug rock song recently popularized by Taj Mahal. He plunked a few notes and chords but it came to nothing and the song died after the second verse.

 

“I don’t know that one either.” It was becoming uncomfortable. “Then play something you know and we’ll play along.”

 

He banged off another classical piece which now left us unable to play along.

 

“I’m afraid it’s not going to work out, Dan,” Al placed a diplomatic hand on his shoulder. The truth was he was incapable of playing anything that hadn’t been drilled into his head by a piano teacher.

 

“Good,” Danny Carlson sat back. “I hate playing the fucking piano.”

 

We’d all assumed that it would be any right-thinking individual’s dream to become a Burner Boy. It had not occurred to us that someone might hate the instrument they played, nor that they would take the news of being disqualified as a Burner Boy with anything but the most bitter disappointment. Danny Carlson was relieved - happy to be just a postal worker again. Once he was sure he was off the hook he went out to his truck and brought in a bag of dope and a case of beer, pleased to be just a fan again and hoping to be entertained.

 

With no keyboard player to help us get better paying gigs we faced a wilderness of sock hop gigs and bankruptcy. The next morning Tim was going to apply for welfare but it had snowed more and the busses had stopped running. Rish couldn’t get to his garbage man’s job so he, Steve and I sat silently at the Burner Mansion kitchen table sharing a poor man’s breakfast of oatmeal and milky tea. Suddenly there was a clumping on the porch. It made no sense. No one could get around it this weather. Then a knock at the door. Beyond all reason our postman, probably the only one in Vancouver, had made it through the muffling snows and now pounded on the door. We were so impressed we were going to invite him in for tea but he had business to attend to:

 

“Package for Steve Renshaw.” he thrust it out.

 

Steve leapt back at is as if it contained a bomb. “I don’t accept it.”

 

The postman looked confused. I examined the package and recognized it. It was one of the keif shipments I’d mailed to Steve months ago from Paris. This one had never arrived, but now had been forwarded to Burner Mansion from Steve’s last address. It must have been drifting around in the mail for months. Another possibility was it had been seized by postal authorities, inspected, and forwarded it to police who had resealed it and placed it back into the postal system to be delivered only when they were in position to pounce the moment someone accepted the package. I checked the street. There were no narc sedans among the neighborhood’s snow-covered cars. Even though I had another drug trial pending I took a calculated risk. “I’ll take it.”

 

The postman handed it to me and tramped off. I placed it on the table. We all stared at it.

 

“This is bullshit,” Steve crossed his arms and sat away from the thing. “It’s a setup.”

 

“The cops aren’t that smart,” I argued.

 

“Mike’s trial is coming up. Now they’re trying to get me.” Steve was referring to his older brother who had been busted in an undercover sting while we were in Prince Rupert. Indeed, the police were getting better at tightening the noose. In an unheard-of move they had meticulously coached a 21-year old narc to go undercover and infiltrate so-called drug rings, which were really the sons of suburban parents trying to make a little extra money selling grams of hash and ounces of weed to their friends. Nevertheless in 1970 this was a huge offence – the same as selling heroin. The young narc had been brilliant in his deceptive role – growing long hair and beard, getting stoned and drunk and hanging out with people in cheap bars and Chinese restaurants until he scored the evidence. The reason it worked so well was that in 1970 for a 21-year old to do this was like committing treason against his own generation. Enough of the idealism of the 1960’s was still in the air that it was unthinkable that a person so young would do this.

 

We continued staring at the package in the cold winter morning light. It seemed a crime to discard an asset which had been so painstakingly purchased and sent, yet it was also a crime to open it. “I have a solution,” I said to Steve. “We’ll keep this and sell it; you won’t be part of it so you can plead ignorance if it comes to that. I signed for it. I’ve already been charged and I’m on appeal bail, Even if they charge me again with importing they can’t give me any more than three years, I’ve already got it coming. They won’t double it. We’ll use the money for this month’s equipment payments.”

 

The appeal to Steve’s practical side was too strong. He nodded. Rish tore open the waxed brown paper package to reveal a valentine-shaped box. It was full of carefully re-wrapped French bon bons. It made me remember the shattering experience I’d had in sending it. I’d been stuck in Paris with a friend named Ross. Ross had gone insane. I was forced to take him to the Bon Marche, Paris’ premiere department store and buy delicate pink bon bons for the equivalent of a week’s rent. In a rare moment of clarity Ross had helped me package the keif and we’d nibbled on the delicate candies.

Inside each wrapper was a lump of keif which dissolved to powder at the touch. We smoked some and got about as high as you’d get from riding a bicycle around the block. Still, if we sold it in large chunks for cheap, maybe people wouldn’t complain and we’d be able to pay our January bills.

 

Two days later word reached us of an even more dramatic drug defeat. The Mudflats had been busted. This was a tidal swamp below North Vancouver’s Dollarton Highway. It was a collection of squatters’ shacks and beached fishing boats connected by a complex system of planks over the mud, and home to musicians, artists, poets and writers, all or some of whom sold dope to get by. Among the residents was Al Neil, a jazz pianist, writer and visual artist who had shows as far away as Paris. Bill Henderson, lead guitarist for Chilliwack and The Collectors lived there with his family.

 

The place also had a past. Author Malcolm Lowry had lived nearby and written ‘Under the Volcano’ there. The best thing about buying dope at the Mudflats was that the artists and poets were such inept drug dealers that they’d get you so stoned trying out the dope that you actually didn’t need to buy any when you left. Now twenty-seven people were fleeing the drug charges, leaving everything behind and flying to Morocco.

 

The Burner Boys were invited to the airport to see them off. When they approached the boarding ramp they pumped their fists in the air, hammered their feet down in jackboot rhythm and shouted “Yip. Yip. Yip! YIP!” Anguished airline officials just stood and watched. If this happened today George Bush would simply bomb Vancouver International Airport.

 

As a band we felt it was our responsibility to fight back, to represent, but couldn’t publicly do much about the drug witch-hunt as we were one of the guilty parties. We wrote a song about the travesty called Goodbye I Love You, but without radio play it had no effect. We still had to try and pay our January bills. We went around to high schools and begged fifty-dollar sock hops. As usual the kids loved us but it wasn’t enough. Nor was the selling of the shitty keif to high school kids who didn’t know any better.

 

However, at the end of January we got a rare chance to make a personal statement against the war on drugs. Steve’s brother Mike had to go to court for an Examination for Discovery. This is a Canadian legal process whereby the prosecution presents its case, the defence refutes it, and then a judge decides if there is enough evidence to proceed to trail. We picked Mike up in the Burner van. He was understandably rattled, and should have been. He was facing what I’d already got – two years less a day. The key to our defensive strategy was that we’d all grown moustaches, except Steve, who couldn’t grow a moustache with a gun to his head. Similarly his brother Mike’s face was as hairless as a cheese. On the way to court we stopped at The Viking, a hair boutique on Seymour Street where I knew the owner.

 

“Rolf,” I shook hands with him as we walked in with Mike. “This is my band, The Burner Boys. We need to talk to you in the back.”

 

Rolf was the antithesis of a hairdresser, a six-foot four Swede with a great blond goatee. Perhaps he had named his shop after himself. “Rolf, this is Mike. He was in the same room when a drug sale took place and was busted by a 21-year old narc who lied to get him charged.”

 

Rolf stroked his goatee. “Zis is bullshit. Vat can I do?”

 

“He needs a moustache.”

 

“He can’t grow?”

 

“No, he’s tried, and now his trial is in an hour.”

 

Rolf hurried Mike into a chair. He carefully took tiny clippings from Mike’s hair and applied makeup glue to his upper lip. Then he began inserting the clippings one by one into the glue. It was a delicate operation for a man with such large fingers. After twenty minutes Mike had a toothbrush moustache that would have fooled a person who was standing right next to him. I thanked Rolf profusely and asked him for the bill.

 

“No charge,” Rolf bowed slightly from the waist then raised a large fist. “Power to the pipple.”

 

Twenty minutes later we arrived at Vancouver’s Public Safety Building. It is a dirty, graceless seven-story building that looks like it was built by the communists in post-war Rumania to intimidate its citizens. We found the courtroom and carefully arranged ourselves. The band sat clustered, away from the aisle with Mike and his moustache in our midst. We posted Steve by himself in another part of the courtroom, on the aisle. The two others accused in the case were seated randomly, as they had come in.

 

The judge called the courtroom to order. The crown prosecutor outlined the case and pointed out that each of the culprits now present in the courtroom had been caught red-handed, a fact which was unfortunately accurate. He called the first and only witness – the narc who had done all the damage. I’d never seen him in his hippie undercover role but now, clean-shaven in his blue suit and standard short narc haircut he looked coldly vicious, sitting in the witness stand. His face was as soul-less as a barracuda. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. The crown prosecutor asked him routine questions during which he named names, times and dates and sealed the fates of the accused.

 

The defence lawyer stood. He was in his fifties with frizzy graying hair tied back into a ponytail. With his portly build and Ben Franklin-style glasses he had the aspect of one of the Founding Fathers. There was little he could do to disprove anything at this point, but with his natural dignity he had the knack of attacking from the high moral ground. He’d catch the narc in a lie, then turn to the courtroom, shrug and sadly shake his head. In doing so he clearly revealed the witness as what he was – a sell-out lacking any conscience who would say and do anything to get his peers sent to jail for chicken shit busts. In the end his well-aimed derision even had the courtroom laughing at the narc. It was gratifying to watch but it wasn’t enough.

 

There was one detail left. Identification. To seal his testimony the narc had to walk down into the courtroom and lay a hand on the shoulder of the accused as the prosecutor read out the names. Now there were two or three other, older narcs behind the witness, consulting documents and encouraging their protégé. The prosecutor called the first name. The narc stepped down from the witness stand, strode out into the courtroom and proudly laid his hand on the shoulder of the accused. For him it was over. Two years less a day. Guaranteed. Another name called out. The narc stepped down and nailed the second culprit. With each ID he swelled with pride. His eyes flashed with joy. He was like an evil child let loose in a candy store. By now everyone in the court room hated him, including the judge and probably the crown prosecutor. But the wheels of the law are not subject to personal opinion, so everyone sat mute and watched as the process continued.

 

The prosecutor read: “Michael Rene Renshaw, charged with possession with the intent to traffic and importing with the intent to traffic.”

 

The narc stood again from the witness stand and strode down the center aisle. He had total confidence. By now everyone in the courtroom was aware of the deception. During the legal proceedings the band had fanned out and told spectators to keep looking at Steve, perched on the aisle. Like he was following a scent, chest high, the narc approached, turned, faced the judge and slapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder.

The effect was sensational.

 

I have never seen a more dramatic courtroom scene – no movie or television show comes close to it. There was a suppressed gasp where people struggled to remain silent, not wanting to tip the hand. Everyone sat in their best posture like well-behaved children. As the narc sauntered back to the witness stand the wide-eyed tension held as everyone fought to keep their self control. The defence lawyer had seen all and maintained his cultivated sang froid, not wanting to spoil the surprise. The narc resumed his place on the stand and answered more routine questions to wrap the case up.

 

For two or three minutes nothing happened. Then the narc’s backfield was in motion. The older narcs suddenly looked like a confused goon squad. They hurriedly consulted and exchanged documents and photographs. One ran from the room through a rear door. A minute later he returned with a grim face. There was another conference. In the meantime the narc was still on the stand answering questions but was clearly aware of the agitation behind him. Then, like the blossoming of a flower, his face began to grow red. It slowly changed from pink to the color of a stop sign. He was sweating. There didn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the room for him as he gulped air through his mouth.

 

The courtroom was transfixed. It was like watching someone publicly speared on a stake but in this case the victim deserved it. There was still absolute silence as the drama played out.

 

The crown prosecutor rose. “Your honor, the crown moves to dismiss all charges against Michael Rene Renshaw.”

 

The judge made no move to suppress the wild cheering that erupted. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event – we got to see true moral justice handed down in a court of law. When the band got outside we literally danced with joy on the courthouse stairs. We discovered going toe to toe with the enemy beat writing a protest song. It was a lesson we would not forget.

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