Hard Boiled Oyster Drama
by Greg Blanchette, Tofino
The name's Hammer – Greg Hammer. There are fifteen hundred stories in the naked village. November's Oyster Month, so this is three of 'em…
* * *
It was a slow day at the Westerly News, the only joint in town where no news is bad news. It was beginning to look like another front page story on vacation rentals when suddenly the phone rang. I picked it up.
"Hammer," I said. "Make it snappy."
"Get down here quick!" a voice shouted. "Hostage taking at Tofino municipal hall."
That got my attention. I pulled on my trench coat and fedora. By the time I got to the joint it was surrounded six deep by tourists, desperate for any kind of entertainment. I flashed a press pass and muscled my way into council chambers. In one corner of the room six councillors huddled like small, scared animals.
In the opposite corner stood a giant of a man, a titan in a cheap suit. His eyes bugged out, his hair stood up like some kind of electrical experiment gone bad, his glasses sat cockeyed on his face. I knew a deranged maniac when I saw one. "Hello, Mayor Al," I said.
"Stand back!" he cried, whipping a big half-shell to his lips and baring his teeth. "Stand back or the oyster gets it!"
Anderson shook a fist at the councillors. "You people vote like I said, or live with the blood of an innocent mollusk on your hands forever!"
The councillors' faces went pale as a fishplant worker's butt. Outside, hysterical people were screaming – "It ain't democratic," and "I told you not to vote for him," and "Somebody help that poor oyster!" By the window, Chris Lowther chained herself to the bike rack in protest.
It was another classic Tofino political standoff – a good ol' us-versus-them, nobody's-talking-sense, frustration-cranked-to-the-eyeballs showdown, just like in the pioneer days. Hell, just like last week. I got a warm feeling up my spine.
Nobody was gonna budge. There was nothing left to do but vote on it. The councillors' voices tolled out like a funeral bell: "Aye… aye… aye… aye… aye…" Then we all stood around for 20 minutes while Councillor Webb hemmed, hawed, and lectured us on the ethical merits of the situation. Finally she voted: "nay."
Anderson snapped. I got my story. But the bivalve never stood a chance.
* * *
It was another slow day at the Westerly News, when suddenly the door slammed open and in walked… a dame. She was wearing a suit tighter than Jimmy Schwartz on a Saturday night, and the office got warm as she slunk toward me like a banana slug on aphrodisiacs. She batted her eyes and said, "Hey, big boy, you lookin' for a story?"
I chugged down the last of my scotch and poured another. "We find our own stories 'round here, dollface," I said. "And when we can't find 'em, we make 'em up."
"That's too bad," she said, "'cause I think you'll find this one very, very interesting." She was fast. Suddenly she had a pair of 38s in her hands, pointed right at me.
I sat up straight. "Okay, sister," I said, "so I'm interested. Let's talk."
A cold smile played across her lips as she sat down and crossed her legs with the rustle of expensive silk. She snapped open her handbag and took out what looked like a wet, gray oyster on the half-shell. "Hammer," she said, "I'd like you to meet my husband."
I looked him over. "Kinda reminds me of my old pal Gary Shaw," I said. "You do this to all the men in your life?"
She wiped away a crocodile tear. "He was a bigshot at a fish farm company. He fell into one of his own netcages three months ago," she sniffed. "This is all they ever pulled out."
"Aw, that's sad," I said. "And you're telling me this because…?"
"Because I'm a woman," she said, leaning closer, showing cleavage any man'd mortgage his soul for. "I have certain… needs. Plus, when he dies I inherit 20 million dollars." She switched on the goo-goo eyes and came to the pitch: "Help me out, Hammer, and you and me can make beautiful music on a Mexican beach for the rest of our twisted, unnatural lives."
A beautiful dame and 20 million bucks – the whole thing stunk. But it stunk so good.
"Whatcha need me for, sister?" I said. "Why don't you just eat the man alive? It's not like that's something you never done before."
Her bottom lip curled into a pout. "I'm just not that kind of girl," she said. "I don't think I'd even know how."
"Angelcakes," I said, picking up the shell, "it's dead easy. You just put your lips together… and suck."
* * *
It was another slow day at the office. We get a lotta slow days. The phone rang. I ignored it. It rang again. I picked it up.
"That you, Hammer?" croaked a voice in obvious disguise. "I'm an anonymous informant in deep cover.
"Yeah, right." I wasn't in the mood for games. "Your name's right here on call display, Kev," I said.
"Look," he said, "you want this story or not? Just call me… Deep Fried. I got information you need to see."
It was going to be one of those days.
"Okay, 'Deep Fried',"
I said. "Bring it on by."
"I'll leave it in the Co-op dumpster at midnight."
"Kev, spit out the marbles, I can barely understand you. Just bring it by the office. Nobody's gonna know." But the line was already dead.
Rummaging through dumpsters wasn't gonna do anything for my reputation in this town. Fortunately Tofino at midnight in the rain is as lively as a convent during Lent. I flipped open the dumpster lid and struck a match. Sure enough, there was a package, wrapped in about 25 Co-op bags.
I opened it and flicked through the papers, all scrawled in the same shaky hand. Corn meal… Worchestershire… wasabi… it looked like a bunch of recipes. Another nutball goose chase, I figured, just like the Sasquatch sightings, the hard-working surfer, the community-minded developer – until I noticed the headings: Pointe, SoBo, Boat Basin, Shelter, Jiggers…
It hit me like a spring salmon to the solar plexus: This wasn't just any collection of recipes. It was every secret oyster recipe about to be showcased at the upcoming Oyster Gala. Millions in future restaurant business depended on these recipes.
The skin crawled on the back of my neck as I stuffed the hot potato under my trench coat. Guys've had their knees broke for holding less than this around here. Guys've been dumped into condo foundations. Guys've wound up on the Biosphere Trust board.
I got in the car and broke a few speed limits. Back at the office I poured myself a double and checked out the goods. They were genuine.
Danger's my business, but I could only shake my head at what Deep Fried must have gone through – the favours, the pressure, the whining, the payola – to dredge up the best-kept secrets on the coast. Secrets even more closely guarded than Dylan G.'s lingerie habit.
But why pass it on to me? What'd he want me to do, blaze it across the front page? That'd be the scoop to end all scoops. Plus an invitation to a Molotov cocktail, or worse.
Wait a sec. Seemed to me I'd been hearing rumours about a rival newsrag starting up in town, rumours with the name of a certain… ah, 'Deep Fried' attached. And here I was, with the most toxic information on the coast spread all over my desk.
Now I got it. Yeah, I got it good – like the cartoon guy who's handed the ticking bomb just before it blows. Once word got out – and it always gets out somehow in a town like this – I'd have one Ken Gibson-sized problem on my hands.
I dragged the desk around to face the door. I sat down, pulled out the bottle of scotch, slid open the drawer where I keep my gat, and put my feet up.
I didn't know who or when, but I knew sooner or later folks'd be coming through that door, and they'd be coming through screaming. The dark got a little darker. The rain fell heavier. I settled back for a long wait through the humid, small-town night.
* * *
Greg Hammer… er, Blanchette does indeed work
at the Westerly News, where nothing remotely like this ever happens except in his imagination. He can be offered therapy at email@example.com.