tofino essay - the briefcase by malcolm johnson

The Briefcase

by Malcolm Johnson


Other than finding the briefcase full of money, there was nothing remarkable about the day we found the briefcase full of money. It was one of those ghost-grey winter days, another regular raincoast day, our town struggling to a soggy, sluggish start under a hanging cover of cloud.

Out to sea, the Broken Bank buoy was reading 2 metres at 12 seconds; the water was 48 degrees, with lumps of swell the colour of lead rolling in from somewhere out towards the Kurils and Siberia.

It happened in our town, Big Beach, a company town on the busted side of boom-and-bust, 800 people living along the strand, trapped between the lines of surf and the menacing, still-primordial mountains of the Canadian coast. In the winters most of us were unemployed; all we did was surf, and that morning Sol and I were scrambling our way over the wet rocks of the Cliffs, taking the standard shortcut through the cove of Billie’s Bay to the great arc of Breakers Bay, where the high-tide sandbars would be throwing out Triple-A A-frames, pushing long, carveable walls left and right before closing out into the inside, where the kids and the kooks would be caught day after day, almost admirable in their endless, Sisyphean efforts against the whitewash.

The Cliffs were ancient, their rocks as dark and black as the gleaming hide of a false killer whale and the airbrush coat of the jet-black board Birk Berkeley rode on his 50-foot wave at Suicide Slide in the Swell of ’89. Those rocks were as dark as it was that bad moonless night, back when we were kids, when Cat Paradise lost her board and was swept to sea, the Coast Guard searching, searching, searching before calling it off in the evening of the next day. The Cliffs were a thrust of lava from some unknown time before time, scoured smooth by the surf, clung to by ochre stars and octopi, purple urchins and neon anemones. We’d walked that way to the surf for twenty years, and it was there that Sol saw it first – a flash of silver in a surge channel cutting through a cleft in the rocks.

“ Dude, that looks like a briefcase,” he said, scrambling down to grab it before another set poured through.

“ Cowabunga. Yeah, it’s a briefcase,” he said and climbed back up, a shining metal attache case in hand. It was the kind of case that you never see in real life, but have seen a thousand times in two-star action movies on the satellite tv. It was in bad shape, bent up and draped with salt foam and seaweed, but it was, without a doubt, a briefcase.

“ Uh, what’s in it?” I asked.
“ I dunno, it’s locked.”

“ Huh. Weird. Ah well, throw it in the bushes. We’ll try to break it open after the surf.”


Three hours later we were sitting in Sol’s kitchen, suits thrown on the floor, coffee and chilli on the stove, files and chisels strewn around the case.

“ Got it.”
“ Rad. Let’s open it. Who’s gonna do it?”
“ I saw it. I do it.”
“ Yeah, okeh. But dude, what if it’s, like, something bad?”
“ Like what?”
“ I dunno, like a time bomb or something.”

“ Get serious,” Sol said, a slight note of scorn in his voice. “Who the heck wants to blow up Big Beach?”

And with that, Sol opened the case. There it was, something else we’d only seen on tv: nothing but stacks and stacks of crisp, clean American hundred-dollar bills.

“ Oh my God. Whoa.”

“ Yeah. Whoa is right. Whoa. Uh, wow. Gnarly. That’s what I think it is, right?”

“ Yeah, it sure is,” Sol said, all solemn, like a middle-aged man with serious matters at hand. “Wow. Our ship’s come in.”

“ Sol, that’s money. US money.”

“ Uh-huh. That’s what it is, dude. That’s money like has never been seen. That’s money like mines of my namesake, had the Lord willed them to be opened once again.”

“ Sol?”
“ Yeah?”
“ You know you can’t take this. You know we can’t take this.”
“ What?”
“ You know we can’t.”

“ Bull, brother. This is Providence made real. This is the Sea showing its favour for our faithfulness, for crossing those Cliffs, pure of heart and mind, to surf every single day since we were four.”

“ Yeah, maybe, but think about it, dude. Think of the stuff that goes on off this coast. Drug deals gone bad. Covert cargoes, slave smuggling, frauds and founderings, American arms whisked out to Russian trawlers to go God-knows-where. Shady and sinister stuff, man. We can’t just walk into the bank and drop this stuff off. And we definitely can’t tell the cops… those guys would just throw us in jail for trafficking and take it themselves, or be all professional and hand it to the Queen, duty and honour and salvage laws abided. Those bills are probably marked, and someone’s gotta be looking for them. This is crazy, this is the craziest thing ever, I mean, who finds a briefcase full of money, but I don’t think there’s anything we can do with this in this town. Dudes will show up in the middle of the night and take us out. No questions asked, and who’ll miss us? Whatever, man. It’s not worth the trouble. We’ve got to get rid of it, or stuff comes down on our heads that we don’t want coming down.”

“ No way, man,” Sol said. “Think about it. How many surfboards are in here? A thousand? Ten thousand? How many wetsuits? How many flights to Fiji? Shoot, think what we could do! Buy yachts, sail them to Samoa with Janie and Jo, do the whole Robert Louis Stevenson thing with surf. We could buy houses, cars, boards, buy a new start, buy whatever… buy all of Breakers Bay, fence it, open it to nobody but our crew, our own little Hollister Ranch… dude, think about it!”

“ Dude, I know. I know. Tempt me not. I just think it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth. What comes from the ocean should stay in the ocean. A million doesn’t really go that far anyway, and armed assassins don’t break in at night and say ‘sayonara, you clueless, thieving, soon-to-be-dead small-town small-timers.’ And plus, what would Dora do?”

“ Take the money and run.”
“ Okeh, well, you get my point. We can’t do it. We just can’t.”
“ Yeah, yeah, I know,” Sol conceded. “But wetsuits at least?”


The next day was a carbon-copy of its predecessor: overcast to the horizon, a solid swell spilling in from three thousand miles of heavy, heaving sea. We shuffled across the dark rocks of the Cliffs, clad in our one extravagance, brand new black wetsuits we’d bought at Big Bob’s Surf Shop, shiny ones from Australia with stripes down the side, the kind we’d always seen the pros wearing in the magazines. As we climbed over into Breakers Bay that morning, all decisions done and not to be undone, the briefcase full of money was opened to the ocean. The sandbars were going off, and as a full fortune in American cash blew over the black rocks, each bill fluttering like a mew gull in the offshore wind, Sol and I went for a surf.

Malcolm Johnson is a Tofino-based journalist.

Tofino Time Magazine October 2004

tofino | tofino time | activities | accommodation | events | directory
maps | travel | food | art & artists | photos | horoscope | tides
search | magazine | issues | articles | advertising | contact us

hosted in tofino by & studio tofino
© 2002-2014 copyright Tofino Time Magazine in Tofino Canada
© 2002-2011 Tofino Time Magazine & ThinkTank Design Inc.
tofino time october 2004

quick links:
tofino accomodations
tofino calendar

tofino surf report
tofino horoscope
september horoscope
tofino map
tofino fishing report
tofino tides
tofino weddings

tofino events:
tofino concerts
tofino events
tofino movies
tofino festivals
tofino yoga classes

tofino time magazine:
tofino time september 2012
captain vincente tofino
readers choice: the best of tofino
floating gardens at freedom cove
tofino event listings for september 2012
tofino concerts in september 2012
tofino movies in september 2012
tofino tide table for september 2012
tofino surf reports for september 2012
cox bay | wickaninnish beach
chesterman beach
tonquin beach
tofino brewing co.
horoscope for april 2013
tofino wedding guide

tofino accommodation:
tofino cabin
tofino camping
bed & breakfasts in Tofino
tofino hostels
tofino motels
tofino hotels
tofino vacation rentals
petfriendly accommodation

tofino bike rentals
tofino bear watching
tofino bird watching
tofino boat charters & cruises
tofino fishing
hot springs cove
sea kayaking in tofino
tofino storm watching
tofino surfing
tofino whale watching
tofino yoga

tofino art galleries
tofino books
tofino boutiques & gift shops
food stores in tofino
tofino outfitters

tofino yoga, spa & wellness
tofino restaurants
tofino internet cafes
tofino travel & transportation
tofino real estate
tofino vacation rentals
tofino weddings

tofino events
tofino concerts
tofino movies
tofino calendar
tofino cabins
tofino maps
tofino jobs
tofino media