The town was dead as a Co-op cashier’s eyes in August. But this wasn’t August, it was March, Whale Festival month. One way or another, that usually livens things up.
I was on my second drink of the morning, something I call “Vitamin D”: Dewar’s scotch, the sunshine vitamin. After eight straight days of rain it takes the edge off. You know what I mean.
I hadn’t had a paying client for a month, and I figured I might soon have to channel my career ambitions into retail sales — a grim prospect at the end of a long, dark winter. I was putting the bottle back in the bottom drawer when suddenly the door to my office burst open. An icy gust rifled the papers on my desk and a volley of hail machine-gunned the floor, ushering in a flapping trench coat wrapped around … a dame.
She looked like a page out of a fashion magazine — one that had been laying in the ditch for a week. She was tall and young, maybe twenty-five. A once pricey hair-do hung in damp, coiling strands like a cheap blonde wig under her dripping chapeau. The trench coat was soaked through and clung to her body like a starfish to a dock piling — a very attractive piling. Only thing the rain had not ruined were her legs, in silk stockings, stretching down longer than geometry should properly allow, ending in a pair of waterlogged, expensive Italian high heels.
She looked like a special-delivery package of chocolate cake and lit dynamite as she shoved the door shut and stood there composing herself.
“They make clothes for going out in this kinda weather, you know,” I said, not taking my eyes off her.
She looked back at me, defiant. “I heard there’s a detective for hire in this town,” she said. “Is that true?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I heard of him too.” In fact I am him, but this dizzy blonde didn’t need the details. I propped one gumbooted foot on the desk to show her who’s boss around here.
She was sharp. “You? You’re—” she began.
“Mickey Anvill,” I said, easing my gat from its shoulder holster and plunking it casually on the desk. “That a problem for you?”
Her eyebrows went up but she managed to keep her mouth shut and sashayed across the carpet toward me. Even in the sodden trench coat it was like watching a snake charmer’s cobra doing its dance. I willed my heartbeat steady as I motioned her to the chair in front of my desk. She sat down and sighed. I kept my eyeballs in their sockets as she crossed her legs, and waited for her to talk.
“I … I’ve got a situation, Mr. Anvill,” she said, glancing into my face for a reaction.
I didn’t give her one. “Yeah, who doesn’t in this troublesome burgh?”
She hesitated, wondering whether she could trust me.
“Look, sister,” I said, “I’ve lived in Tofino longer than I can stand to recall without a stiff drink. You may think of us as a cute little town full of innocents, but when you’ve seen what I’ve seen you know we’re a whole city’s worth of weirdness, distilled down into a 180-proof village. I guarantee your problem pales alongside any one of my last dozen cases.”
For a second she looked doubtful, then it vanished. “I like your style,” she said. “You’re hard but honourable. I admire that in a man.” From an inner pocket she pulled a point-and-shoot camera, fiddled with it, handed it to me screen first. “My fiance,” she said.
My heartbeat returned to normal as I realized she wasn’t exactly available. Just as well, my life’s complicated enough as it is. “Lucky fella,” I said. “What’s he got to do with me?”
“We’re eloping,” she said. “During Whale Festival.”
“But my parents don’t like him. In fact, they hate him.”
“The thing is, my parents are …” — she leaned forward and whispered a name.
I let out a long, low whistle. There’s a lotta dough behind that name, and that means clout. “Yeah, well you win some and you lose some,” I started to say, but she looked so sad that I reached for the Vitamin D and poured her a slug, plus another one for me. She sipped gratefully.
“They fixed it so I can’t marry him in the city,” she said, “so we decided to elope. And I’d like you to … to arrange the wedding.”
I snorted so hard I shot scotch out my nose. “You want what?” I said. “Lady, I’ve heard a lot of crazy ideas, but that one takes the three-tiered cake.” I realized too late it was a bad wedding pun and tried another tack. “Listen,” I said, “I’m a private dick. I’m the toughest nut in town. Last month I beat up six guys at once in the alley behind the RCMP station. I trailed a man and his mistress to a B&B and stood outside the window in the rain all night to get the pictures. I’ve worked fishplant security and taken out the trash as a bouncer at the Maquinna. I’m more suited to the crowbar hotel than the honeymoon suite.
“Some folks say I’ll do anything for a buck, but they’re wrong: I don’t do weddings.”
“That’s exactly why I want you,” she said with a charming pout, now the little rich girl who always gets what she wants. “Daddy would absolutely crush any ordinary wedding planner, but he’ll never expect someone like you. You could pull it off where nobody else could! Besides …” — she batted her eyes and turned her smile up another hundred watts — “I can pay you well.”
I’m no fool; nor am I too much a gentleman to take advantage of a girl when I have to. A plan was taking shape in my head, a plan with the twin goals of sticking it to a rich old city guy and upping my own cash flow. “Sure, sister, you talk a good line. Thing is, can you pony up?”
She rummaged through her purse, a spangly little Vuitton number ill suited to the rabid storm outside, and held out a fistful of damp bills. “I can give you six hundred cash as a retainer,” she said, “with the rest in instalments. Plus a bonus when the wedding’s done.”
I sat up straight in my chair. I hadn’t heard numbers like that for a long time. I looked from her pleading face to the rain beating on the window. Wedding planner … if the boys back in city squad got wind of it they’d roast me alive. But those boys have a steady job, a pension and affordable housing. They don’t live out here on the bleeding edge of the continent. And bankruptcy.
Mickey Anvill, wedding planner … yeah, it had a strange ring to it. But it sounded better than Mickey Anvill, dishwasher, which is what things were coming to. In Tofino, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about a job.
I took a long swig of scotch. Aw nuts, who was I to stand in the way of young love? “Sweetheart,” I said, palming the dough, “you got yourself a deal.”
She squirmed in delight, her smile now a beacon of sunshine in the storm. “I’m thinking a sky blue theme,” she chirped, “with lots and lots of chiffon.” As the rest of the Dewars slid down my throat, I figured March was shaping up to be an interesting month.
More or less as published in Tofino Time magazine, March 2013. Tofino writer/poet/performer greg blanchette gets through the long, wet winter on a strong note of fantasy.