Thursday, February 25, 2010

Case 12 from the files of Wally Marte: Disappearance on the Hill

My name is Wally Marte. I know, sounds familiar, but I swear my parents thought of it way before Sam Walton ever did. I am a private detective and this is a case from my files.

It was a gloomy morning in downtown Ottawa. The fresh snow that came down overnight had now turned into a wet mixture of water, ice, salt, sand and dirt. I had finally made it to the downtown core after a hellish commute from the ends of the earth or, as the locals called it, Kanata. I walked into my usual Starbucks, order my usual tall half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot split quad shot latte with whip and sat down to read the free but oh so limited morning Metro. I had been working on this case and was really surprised when I saw that one of the headlines was linked directly to it. It read something like this: “Find that you're shy? Learn how to make a 'splash'”, sorry wrong headline. The important one was: “Daily stress takes its toll on sexual desire”. Wrong again; this was the one: “'No new spending in Canada's upcoming budget: official”. Upcoming budget? A colon used to quote an official? As I burned my tongue with my latte, I thought that this sounded like the handy work of a government.

A few weeks before, I had been contacted by an anonymous Sudbury born billionaire, now living in Montreal; a man well known for his connections with a lacklustre national political party. My client was worried because he had not seen or heard from the government for an alarmingly long time and wanted to find out what had happened to it. For me, this case was like no other in my short and almost illustrious career: first the client had some money, second the case had nothing to do with marriage and/or sex and third it didn’t require me eating cold Chinese food in my ’72 Pinto while waiting for something interesting to happen at Stornoway. The case, which I aptly named 12 – I’ve always been a sequential kind of guy –, had brought me into the seediest, most derelict monuments to bad architecture Ottawa had to offer; it had required me to meet with the most bizarre, “days left ‘til retirement” counting, blackberry addicted bureaucrats; it had forced me to sit through many long meetings with people that had nothing to say about the case but still kept talking at length to make sure they didn’t have to go back to their desks. Hell, I even had to sit through an Ottawa Senators hockey game. All that for nothing; I had brought me no further ahead then when I started: the Federal government was nowhere to be found.

I then asked myself what I could read into this headline. If there was talk of an upcoming budget, there must be a government somewhere? Who was that “official” who seemed to be acting as a spokesperson for the absent government? I knew that my only choice was to find the journalist who wrote the story and walk the chain. Still having the paper in hand, it was easy for me to find the first link in the chain: the name I needed was right there, a strange but evocative name, Canadian Press. So I got up, chugged down the rest of my latte, burning my upper lip in the process, and quickly walked out of the Starbucks to look for a phone booth. In these days of intelligent phones, phone booths are rare – I actually made a mental note to find a client that would be interested in paying me to investigate their disappearance- , I did locate one and, although it was covered with spray from the slush covered macadam, was able to consult the phone book. I finally caught a break, or so I thought: while being generously covered with wet crap propelled by a passing OC Tranpo articulated bus, I was able to find out that Canadian Press lived only a few blocks away. Jumping sideways to avoid another spray, I ran as quickly as I could to where Canadian was purported to reside. To my surprise, this happened to be a Canada Post outlet. The address details brought me straight to a post office box. I wondered how small Canadian Press was if he could actually live out of such a tiny place. I knocked but got no answer, another dead end.

Dejected, I walked down Bank Street, then made a right on Gladstone, then another right on Lyon, paying close attention to the stupid speed bumps, then left again on Laurier (or was it right?). I knew I had to meet with my client the next day and I really had nothing to show for my efforts. As I was thinking through what I was going to say, I realized I was standing on the Laurier Bridge, overlooking the Rideau Canal. Watching skaters of all walks of life coming and going on the ice, I recalled a cryptic message given to him by a brave but strange civil servant who wanted to be called “profound gorge” - or was it “abyssal throat” - any way, the message said: “Beware the Winterlude thaw, the government may sink.”. Try as I could, I could not read anything into it. I had no clue what it meant, but I did find though that by recombining the letters in the word “government” you could end up with the phrase “no germ vent”; cute but useless. I attempted to get more information out of “deep oesophagus” - or was it “bottomless pharynx” – but he was not willing to discuss the matter further, even when I promised a free lunch at Mama Theresa. I finally decided to dismiss the message as yet another boredom induced vision.

But now, seeing the Canal, I was struck by a thought; could it be that… And then, out of the blue, I saw Steven, wearing his old Calgary Flames “tuque” and Edmonton Oilers team jacket getting ready to throw a snowball at Michael who was skating away, munching on a beaver tail and reading an essay on the deterministic effects of common indo-european language roots on Bermuda’s Hansard.

So the government hadn’t gone missing after all; it had just decided to take a really, really long pause. Having finally understood what had happened, it now seemed that everywhere I looked I could see MPs and their staff smiling, laughing, playing; all in all being as unproductive as schoolchildren at recess. I remember thinking to myself how nice it was to see our representatives doing what they do best.

With a clear conscience, I returned home to type up my report. Suffice to say that my client was really happy when I told him the news and he signed me a big, income tax deductible cheque.

Thus ended case 12; another successful case for the files of Wally Marte.

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