Smuggler’s Blues

EXCERPT FROM SMUGGLER’S BLUES

003

CHAPTER FOUR

The Twilight Zone Incident

I suppose I have always had an affinity for roguish characters. I think that, to some extent, we all prefer the company of people who have a little of the devil in them over the piously perfect and the politically correct. Rogues and Robin Hoods are far more interesting than their priestly counterparts and their errant behavior is often forgiven by mainstream society, up to a certain point. Society displays a degree of tolerance for scofflaws who break unpopular laws, like the speeder who uses a radar detector to beat the radar trap or the businessman who cheats the taxman out of his fair share of taxes. These lawbreakers are not held up to the same contempt that we reserve for more serious criminals because the laws being broken are not necessarily popular laws. That is how I saw my situation. Like a modern day Robin Hood who was bucking the law prohibiting marihuana. Irving and I were supplying a product that people wanted and a service that the law arbitrarily decided should not be provided. Weed was a benign and harmless product, if we were to believe the report of the Quebec Ledain Commission into soft drugs. The Ledain Commission likened a toke or two of pot to a drink or two of wine and stated that marihuana and hashish were far less dangerous than tobacco. As far as I was concerned, the only one who was getting hurt by our activities was the taxman, and I went out of my way to give him his dues. I even invented a legitimate income so that I could pay taxes on at least a portion of my easily gotten gains, just to keep the taxman off my back.

After our first four hundred pound load of weed was taken from the waterfront by Irving’s dock connections and handed over to us for distribution on the street, I hired my friends, Joe Dudley and Bob Bishop, to rent a truck  to go down to the waterfront to pick up our replacement crate from Canada Customs. The boys downtown had already replaced the weed crate with a crate containing my stereo and some tables and chairs so that our importing scam would not get blown.  But it still took some effort to convince my friends that the crate was clean. I finally gave Joe Dudley and Bishop the Customs and Excise documents needed to clear the cargo and told them that they could give me up to the man if there was anything other than my personal effects inside the crate. In due course, Bishop and Joe returned with the switched crate. Joe laughed and said that while they were driving through the customs terminal, Bishop was vibrating so much it seemed like the truck was running even when it was turned off. Bishop sputtered his denials as they both argued playfully, looking happy and relieved to have completed their project without complications. I came to use my two friends many times to repeat the same exercise as subsequent shipments of weed arrived in Canada. My stereo and furniture were sent through customs so many times that the speakers ended up looking like Swiss cheese from all the test holes drilled into the wood cabinets by suspicious customs agents.

The crates we shipped became larger and larger, and then we started sending full containers of weed as our audacity and expertise improved. With each successful shipment of marihuana from Jamaica, the good life became even better, to the point where we became hedonistic. Irving and I had standing reservations at The Steak Place Restaurant in Pointe Claire. The owner of the restaurant, who was named Francois, had been involved in a scam some years earlier when Irving sold him a container load of stolen gin. That mistake landed Francois a heavy fine, after the RCMP found a bottle of the stolen swag in his desk drawer at the restaurant office. The fine became even larger after the Feds raided his home and hobby farm to find the rest of the shipment of stolen gin in his barn. In spite of, or perhaps because of his previous history with Irving, Francois treated us like royalty.  His sumptuous service was rewarded with generous tips and we ate there at least three times a week. We went to The Steak Place so often that when I asked my wife if she would like to go there for dinner one night, she answered, “Not The Steak Place again!”

Can you believe it? You’d think I was inviting her to Burger King.

I bought Irving’s eighteen carat gold pendent and chain from him. It was “legit,” he told me, unlike much of what he owned in life. The medallion was comprised of two Austrian gold coins that were carried in a gold brace which was designed to hold the coins back to back. An eagle with spread wings decorated the faces of the coins which, at .999 fine, is the purest gold in the world. I also had an eighteen carat gold bracelet made for myself at a jeweler who was a friend of Irving’s. The bracelet featured big chunky links of solid gold and an invisible clasp that made it look as though it was permanently affixed to my wrist. The bracelet weighed a total of five troy ounces and I often wondered if someone might contemplate sawing off my arm for the gold.

Irving exceeded my extravagance in jewelry by buying a new gold pendent for himself that was so excessively large that it looked like an Olympic medal hanging around his neck. The pendent was made with the horoscope sign of Libra stamped on it and came with an eighteen carat chain that weighed close to a pound. I used to laugh and kid Irv that the chain looked like a gold-plated dog leash.

In spite of Irving’s warnings to me about showing off, when our moneymaking scam was underway, we both purchased late model Mercedes-Benz cars, completing the picture of our undeniable wealth. Irving figured that because we were in the car business, we could drive the cars without drawing too much heat but I didn’t give a damn which police forces noticed me, as long as I had a nice ride. My Benz was a two-year-old 450 SL two seat convertible in metallic blue with tan upholstery. It was a beautiful automobile that commanded respect in a way that my Corvette never could. People actually stopped and waved me into traffic in the Benz. When I drove my Corvette it was like waving red flags at a bull. No one ever gave me a break in traffic unless I pushed my way through.

Irving’s car was a brand new 450 SLC four seat coupe with silver exterior and black upholstery. The car was a dream to drive and afforded him the respect he had so long been denied. Cash money was coming in on a regular basis from the sale of our weed. At first I had so much money that I kept some hidden in my attic and some in my safety deposit box at the bank and I always had at least a few thousand dollars in my pocket.

As my trips to Jamaica increased in frequency, the size of our weed shipments increased as well. On my first trip to Jamaica, I shipped four hundred pounds north which I have already told you was brought into Canada successfully. Then I shipped seven hundred pounds. Then twelve hundred. Twenty-two hundred. Thirty-two hundred. Forty-four hundred. The last load I sent up totaled fifty-five hundred pounds of Jamaican coli. All told, Irving and I shipped eighteen metric tons of Jamaican marihuana to Canada over a five-year period and we never lost so much as an ounce. The boys on the dock took fifty percent after expenses and payouts, and in my opinion, they were worth every cent of their end. Irving and I split the other fifty percent after expenses and payouts.

My old pal Ryan McCann would have been enjoying at least a part of my good fortune  had he not pulled his extortion tactics on me in Jamaica. I continued my charade of a friendship with him until Irving pulled me aside after one of our poker games. Irving told me that he could not understand why I was still associating with Ryan after what he had pulled on me. He made me feel like a fool and I had to agree with him. There was no need to entertain anyone I did not like any longer, and after Irving’s words took effect, I called Ryan on the phone and told him not to come around anymore. I told him that I could forgive what he did to me in Jamaica, but I could not forget what he did. He tried to remind me that he had repaid my losses in weed, but I told him that that was not the issue. His breach of friendship and trust was eating at me to the point that I could not stand seeing him anymore. He was worried about my change of heart until I told him that I was not going to seek revenge on him. But I did not want him hanging around anymore, and I told him that Irving did not want him coming around, either.

I felt good telling Ryan off. It was long overdue, in my opinion. But banishment was only the beginning of Ryan’s retribution for his sins. His real downfall came when he was found out to be a liar and a cheat by his partner, Jean Paul, and it happened in a most peculiar way. Charlie Wilson and Jean Paul were at war at the time, having both survived an earlier shootout over some four hundred pounds of weed. And then something almost miraculous happened. Even though he was close to losing his mind at the time and was running around saying, “Tweet, Tweet,” Charlie came up with a real brainstorm. He called up Jean Paul and arranged a meeting. The last time the two had a meeting they ended up in a gunfight, so it is quite surprising that Charlie took this course of action. It was even more surprising that Jean Paul, who was a suspicious soul to begin with, agreed to meeting his enemy. I suspect that because Jean Paul was working with Irving and selling our weed, his allegiances had shifted away from Ryan and more towards our direction.

Whatever the reasoning behind their actions, Charlie went to Jean Paul’s house and sat down for a coffee and some conversation. Charlie told Jean Paul about his four hundred pounds of weed that went missing in Jamaica. He accused Ryan and Robby of a double-cross that led to the shootout with Jean Paul and himself. Charlie came armed with some facts to back up his side of the story. He gave Jean Paul the phone number of the caretaker of his Jamaican villa and repeated the story that the caretaker told of a white man with curly hair taking Charlie’s suitcases of weed. With the Jamaican maid’s phone number in his hands, Jean Paul called Ryan over to his house on a pretext of business. When Ryan arrived, Jean Paul began to question him in the kitchen while Charlie hid in the hall closet to listen to Ryan’s answers. Robby was called over to Jean Paul’s as well, but fortunately for Robby, he was in Jamaica at the time. Jean Paul had his future brother-in-law, Rene Lemiuex, on hand as backup. Rene held a shortened baseball bat under the kitchen table while Jean Paul sat listening to Ryan explain how he had invested Jean Paul’s money in buying their last load of weed. When asked by Jean Paul if that was the same four hundred pounds that belonged to Charlie, Ryan denied any knowledge of Charlie’s missing weed and added that he was told by the maid at Charlie’s villa that some black Jamaicans had stolen Charlie’s weed. Ryan painted himself into a corner that day and Charlie stepped out of the closet to call him on his bullshit. A phone call to the maid in Jamaica confirmed that it was a white man who stole the weed. A white man with curly hair. Ryan’s partner Robby had curly hair. And Ryan himself was known to possess a curly haired wig. It became clear to Jean Paul that Ryan had not spent the loan shark’s money on weed. Ryan had spent Jean Paul’s money elsewhere and then stolen Charlie’s weed to ship north to Montreal.

It must have been a cold, sobering moment for Ryan when he realized he was caught in a fistful of lies and deception but there was little time for him to ponder his bad fortune. On a given signal from Jean Paul, Rene swung the baseball bat across the table catching Ryan across the temple and knocking him to the floor in one blow. Then Jean Paul carried Ryan’s moaning body and dropped it over the railing to the lower floor of his split level home so as not to get blood on the living room’s wall-to-wall carpets. Ryan’s beating continued in the laundry room with blows from the baseball bat that were interspersed with questions. The vicious attack continued until Jean Paul was satisfied that he knew the complete truth. When he was finished his interrogation, the loan shark cleaned Ryan’s face with a damp towel and dropped him at the Laval Hospital emergency ward with a warning about what would happen to him if he ratted. Ryan survived the beating, but just barely. The doctors at the hospital said one more blow to the head would have finished him. When he recovered enough to leave the hospital some weeks later, Ryan and his wife quietly vanished from the Montreal scene and moved to Toronto to start a new life.

If Jean Paul had had his way, Robby would have paid an even steeper price than Ryan. Jean Paul never did like Robby, who passed himself off as a bored and petulant college student and displayed a calculated arrogance in his every move. That Robby felt superior to Jean Paul was obvious but it was not personal: Robby felt superior to everyone. Robby was a college dropout who had been the former president of the Sir George Williams University’s student union. He drove a Corvette that was fully paid for, and he came from a well off family in the west end.  Robby had come down from a level of society that Jean Paul was still trying to reach up to. There was no doubt in Jean Paul’s mind that Robby was responsible for the theft of Charlie’s weed in Jamaica. This shifting of the majority of blame to Robby from Ryan was convenient for the psychopath who did not really want to kill his onetime friend. The blame shift was reinforced by Ryan during his baseball bat-inspired confession, but the truth was that Jean Paul hated Robby and was looking for any opportunity to hurt him.

Jean Paul was hanging around with a new friend at the time. The friend was an American visitor to Canada who was said to be a psychopathic killer who enjoyed torturing his victims. After dropping Ryan at the hospital, Jean Paul contacted the American hit man and gave him a contract to get Robby down in Jamaica. Jean Paul did not care about the expense, as the cost of the hit man was covered by the money that Jean Paul no longer had to pay his ex-partner Ryan for the last load of weed.  A silenced .22 caliber pistol was smuggled down to Jamaica by Sammy Polanski to do the hit. Sammy was a small-time Montreal hoodlum with a penchant for publicity. When a newspaper crime reporter named Jean Pierre Charbonneau published a book called The Canadian Connection that had all of our names in it, most of us were choked about the exposure. Sammy on the other hand went around telling everyone which page he was on. Sammy was to set up Robby by offering him a free stay at a villa in Jamaica. Jean Paul gave Sammy the money to rent the villa. Robby had taken him up on his offer and was staying at the villa with his girlfriend, Paula.

But before Jean Paul’s American killer could arrive in Jamaica to meet Sammy and complete the hit, Robby received a warning telephone call at the villa. There was speculation that the call came from Ryan who had caught wind of Jean Paul’s plot. Or that it came from my pal Manny, who was working at Jean Paul’s furniture store and dealing Jean Paul’s weed and hash on the side. However, I eventually heard that the tip came from a CIA agent named Sid. Sid was the guy who ran the other video and slot machines around Jamaica that were in competition with Charlie’s.  I once saw Sid riding a moped scooter through town, when he stopped to collect his winnings from the slot machine in Hopewell’s general store and bar. Sid was a slim fellow. He was middle-aged and nondescript. He looked like a tourist. I never would have made him for a CIA agent if my Jamaican friends had not clued me in. After the call came from Sid, Robby wisely evacuated the villa that same day, escaping certain death just in time. The last I heard of Robby, he had moved to Vancouver Island to start a new life and, like Ryan, he was never seen again in the Montreal dope scene.

After missing Robby, Jean Paul’s hit man left Jamaica and took on a contract for an Arizona judge who was feared for his harsh sentencing. He was hired by a Montreal drug smuggler and a Texas marihuana smuggler both awaiting trial. The hit man was caught after killing the judge and wounding the crown prosecutor, and I was surprised to learn that the guy was Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s father. Harrelson senior got several life prison terms for the killings in Arizona. His son bankrolled an appeal, which failed, and Charles died in prison in 2007 of a heart attack. I saw a television interview with the American hit man, some years after he was jailed, and I was chilled by his calm demeanor and his intelligence. He seemed too damn smart to be doing what he was jailed for and I figured he was typical of many of the criminals and social deviates I have come to know. They are all in it for the rush more than the money.

With revenge being a dish best served cold, I should have been happy that my enemies were vanquished. Robby and Ryan were out of the game and Jean Paul had done my dirty work for me, while my conscience remained clean as a whistle. You would think I would be forgiving of Jean Paul who had done the right thing in many people’s minds. But I was still uncomfortable around him and I let Irving deal with Jean Paul exclusively.

A strange though unrelated occurrence that same summer saw me looking through the want ads for a gun. It was late in the summer and the fields around my dead-end street house were motionless in the still night air. I had been out playing poker that night when I made my way home at around 1.00 a.m. I parked my Mercedes in the driveway and started walking to my front door. The entrance was only a few steps away, on the side of the house, facing the surrounding fields. Suddenly I heard the sound of a gunshot go off that seemed to be right beside my ear. I know gunshots when I hear them and I instantly dropped to the ground with my heart racing. I scurried around my car on hands and knees and then ran into my house. Once inside, I realized that I had nothing for protection other than a machete and a spear gun. I waited for hours inside the house, unable to go to sleep while I wondered if the shooting was random or if it was a murder attempt that had failed. I did not call the police, who would have asked too many embarrassing questions and I was walking on eggshells for a week until I read in our local papers that some kid had been apprehended for running around our neighborhood firing gunshots. But by then I had already found and purchased a gun of my own. It was a .30 caliber deer hunting carbine like my father used to own. As there were no children around my house, I felt it was safe to keep the rifle loaded in the hall closet. The purchase of the rifle was timely, because although I did not know it at the time, I had good reason to have one. I was successful at dodging the cops and Canada Customs but what I did not know was that someone else was stalking me. A crew of young American guys who were hanging out in Montego Bay and Kingston had successfully strong-armed some of the west end wannabees who were trying to run their own dope scams out of Jamaica. The Americans had already put the west end kids on the arm in Jamaica and had even followed them to Montreal to coerce more money out of them. The Americans must have thought that all Montreal men were meek and mild, because they actually had the nerve to approach big John Miller and me when we were sitting at a fashion show in the Pegasus Hotel in Jamaica.  One of these clowns recognized Bob McTavish, who was sitting at our table, and came over uninvited to talk to him.  I could not believe my ears when Bob leaned over to me to announce that the American wanted a piece of our action. It was not a request. The little goof was trying to put us on the arm. I was disappointed by Big John’s response when I whispered Bob’s message to him. He just laughed like I had told a joke and went on watching the fashion show. I looked at Bob McTavish and said in a voice loud enough for his American visitor to hear.

“Tell your friend to fuck off, unless he wants to get hurt.” I felt confident with Big John at my side and a sharp buck knife in my pocket. I expected a problem in the parking lot later, but the American must have thought better of his idea because he left with his buddies. I found out a few weeks later that the Americans were preparing to kidnap me and hold me for a ransom in Montreal. Not only that, but they were going to use my friend and ex partner Ross to set me up. Ross, if you remember, was the driver who ferried the Ali Baba weed from New York to Montreal in the back seat of his father’s car. Ross was still my friend . . . or so I thought, until Bob McTavish clued me in. Bob was supposed to be in on Ross’s scheme but then he told me that he had changed his mind. Bob was a strange guy like that. I found out once that he was hanging out with the federal Crown prosecutor in the west end and was going to parties with him.  I was invited to these parties by Bob on several occasions and in a more than casual way. “Come on to the party,” he urged me one time. “It’s a celebration for this guy who just got out of jail. Everyone is going to be there.”

Yeah right, Bob.  Just what I wanted. A party with a Crown prosecutor, a bunch of lowlife’s I did not know and some heat score who just got out of prison. Many years later, I read a tell-all book that described how a stoolie came out of jail and started working for the Montreal RCMP. He wrote about a coming-out-of-jail party that he threw on behalf of his RCMP handlers and how he snagged a Montreal Mafioso and put him away for a long time. It was the same party that Bob had invited me to in the west end and I thank my stars that I hadn’t gone. I heard from Bob after that party that the Crown prosecutor would be attending another party and that he was very interested in meeting me. I can only speculate as to why. Maybe he was expecting to hear some unwise bragging or a confession perhaps. Since I didn’t go, I will never know. After Bob told me about the kidnap scheme, I called Ross over to my house for a little talk. He brought his girlfriend along and a bag of acid which the two were popping like vitamins. I suspect he wanted the security of the girlfriend in case I had something nasty planned for him. He denied his part in the whole kidnap story, of course, while admitting that the Americans were in fact planning to do just that. He had no answer as to why it was Bob who came to me with the warning and not Ross himself. I warned him that if anything happened to me, my partner Irving and his gang would kill him and his American flakes and not to forget it. Then I told him to fuck off and never come back into my life. He and I were both very fortunate that I didn’t know about him making moves on my wife when I was in the U.S. federal detention center. If I had known that, Ross would possibly be dead and I would be damned to hell for doing it.

In spite of this small hiccup, my life was going as well as I could ever have expected. I had an endless supply of money and all of the backup I could want with my growing list of acquaintances in the underworld.  There was just one little problem that remained to be dealt with. You might remember that when Irving and I started our business arrangement, he sent me down to Jamaica behind Charlie Wilson’s back. Irving never actually told Charlie that he was dissolving their partnership and starting a new one with me. I felt like a two-timing whore between my loyalty to my new partner Irving and my friendship with his business partner Charlie.

However, I did not allow my discomfort to interfere with my responsibilities. Some time after our second or third successful load of weed was smuggled into Canada Charlie came by my house with a friend. His visit came a few weeks after a Twilight Zone type of meeting between us on an Air Canada flight. I was flying down to Jamaica to ship off another load of weed for Irving’s contacts to grab, only this time I had my father along as a front for the shipping arrangements. It would not make sense for the broker to see me shipping another load of personal effects so soon after the first load without arousing his suspicions so my father was going to be my front for the broker. You might wonder how my father came to be helping me out on an importing scam. I can’t really answer that question except to say that later in life I became closer to both of my parents, who seemed very supportive of my chosen career. To my parents it was all about a harmless drug called marihuana and after all, didn’t the Seagrams and the Bronfmans make their fortune by smuggling liquor into the U.S.? The only negative comment I can remember my mother making was, “Whatever you do, Son, don’t get caught.” I suspect she was more concerned about what the neighbors thought, than about the right or wrong of the situation.

Anyways to get back to my story about the Twilight Zone incident, my dad and I were sitting in the middle of Air Canada’s economy class, or the cattle car as I call it, when the strange coincidence with Charlie Wilson began. I could see that the plane was completely full as we boarded in Montreal. My dad and I were practically the last ones on the plane. It was not hard to find our seats as there were three empty seats by a window and all of the rest of the seats in the aircraft were full. For a moment I thought that I had lucked out, with an empty seat between my dad and me, but then I saw a briefcase lying on the window seat. It was a black Samsonite briefcase, like the one that Charlie the Weasel carried with him wherever he went. It was identical, right down to the distinctive decal of a Tweety Bird from the Tweety and Sylvester the Cat cartoon. What are the odds that someone else had a briefcase exactly like that, I was wondering, when Charlie came back from the washroom and slid past my dad and me. He excused himself as he sat down beside the window and did not even recognize me at first. Charlie was as amazed as I was about the coincidence of our sitting together on the same plane, side by side. After introducing the two I told him my dad was coming down to buy some land in Jamaica. Charlie accepted that without argument and after that it was an interesting ride. I heard all about Charlie’s problems with his gaming machines that he had set up in Jamaica and the problems with his attempted dope deals. “No more dope deals,” he said. The Jamaicans were too corrupt and the dope dealers in Montreal were too dishonest and unreliable. The car business was no good, either. And his partner Irving was no good. It was an interesting ride, but I was only too happy to see the last of Charlie when I left him in the terminal at the Montego Bay airport, while I headed on to Kingston with my father.

Three weeks after that plane ride, Charlie was at my door telling me that he had a friend in the car who he wanted me to talk to. Talk is often a euphemism for much more than just words in the underworld, so there was no way I was agreeing to that. I could see that Charlie was agitated. He told me the guy in the car with him was Robert Lavigne.  I did not know the name at the time but I heard later from Robert’s own partners that Lavigne was a very dangerous man. I was firm in telling Charlie that I would talk to him but I would not let his friend into my house, and I took comfort in knowing I had the loaded rifle in my hall closet. It took thirty minutes to convince Charlie that I was not his enemy, while Robert Lavigne waited outside in the car.

“Yes, I am working with Irving,” I told Charlie, “but I was instructed by Irving not to tell you or anyone else what we were doing. It’s just business. It’s nothing personal. You would have done the same thing in my shoes,” I told him. “If you have a problem with Irving because he dropped you from your scam, work it out with him. I’m not the one you should be mad at.”

I reminded Charlie that he had already stated his intentions to quit the drug business and I suspected then as I suspect now that he was angrier about being left out of the loop than anything else. He must have heard that Irving had a load of weed in town. Everyone in Montreal was selling the Jamaican weed and everyone was talking about it. Now that he realized that Irving had pulled off their scam without him, Charlie was understandably angry about it. But if he had any idea how much weed Irving and I had actually brought into Montreal, I have no doubt he would have been much angrier than he was. When he started with Irving they were trying to ship off four hundred pounds of weed and Charlie could not get the job done. Now Irving and I were shipping entire containers full of weed to Canada on back-to-back runs. Charlie told me he was pissed off at Irving for going behind his back and that he was pissed off about Jean Paul ending up with his four hundred pounds of weed that Ryan and Robby stole from him in Jamaica. Before he left my house, he said he was going to get his pal Robert Lavigne to take care of both Irving and Jean Paul.

“You don’t know this guy,” he said pointing to Robert who was waiting in the Porsche outside. “You think Jean Paul’s tough? This guy will eat Jean Paul for breakfast.”

When they left I immediately phoned Irving from a cool phone. He seemed unfazed by the news of Charlie’s visit and his threats. Irving acted like Charlie was a pussycat and told me not to worry. He said that he was going out of town to Ottawa for a few days to take care of the house of a friend who had recently gone to jail. He gave me the phone number there and told me not to call him unless it was an emergency.

“I’ll deal with Charlie when I return,” he told me. I thought he took the incident rather frivolously, until two days later when I got a phone call from Irving in Ottawa.

“Did you hear the news?” he said in a voice that was heavy on drama and light on surprise. “Little Charlie is dead. Someone shot him and his pal Robert Lavigne last night at a bar north of Montreal. I heard it this afternoon on the one o’clock news on the radio.”

Irving gave me a few more details, but as soon as he hung up I switched on the radio to hear the news reports myself. My mind blurred with the news that Charlie, “the Weasel” was dead. The thought that I had spoken to him just the day before overwhelmed me with wonder and surprise.

I was getting the vibe that Irving was involved with the Weasel’s demise because he was giving me his report as though he had personally solved our problem with Charlie and Robert Lavigne. But how could that be when Irving was in Ottawa, which was several hours drive from the crime scene? It seemed highly unlikely that he would have done the deed himself and then driven back to Ottawa on icy roads for several hours. And then to brag to me about it on the phone. Irving was smarter than that. But he could have made a phone call to some of his underworld buddies in Montreal. I was hoping to hear some answers before I was picked up for questioning by the police, who I expected on a daily basis after Charlie’s murder. I knew they were coming. I was one of the last people to see Charlie alive.

But before the arrangements for Charlie’s funeral were even complete, I heard news of two more murders on the radio. This time the reports stated that Jean Paul LaPierre and his girlfriend Susan Braun were found shot to death in her Habitat apartment complex, which was built as part of Expo 67. The news reports said their bodies had lain undisturbed for days. I did not know what was going on at this point. It seemed like people all around me were dying and I had no idea about possible motives or who was behind the killings or who was next. I called Irving in Ottawa again to tell him about Jean Paul and Susan and he seemed genuinely surprised to hear of their deaths. I was not sure if I believed him in his denials about Charlie’s murder, because in that case, Irving had motive. However when it came to the deaths of Jean Paul and Susan, he had no motive I could think of. But Irving was the only connecting thread between all four victims.

Except for myself.

“Don’t call me from your house anymore,” Irving said, after I contacted him about the second set of murders. “In fact don’t call me at all unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

A few days later I was picked up by the Montreal Homicide Squad at my home in the west end of Montreal. I had cleaned house already while waiting for the cops to show over Charlie’s murder, but they took so long to come for me that I had moved my weed stash back into my bedroom. I saw the police edition Ford with the dish-plate hub caps through the front window at the same time as I saw two strangers marching towards my door. They were wearing cheap sports jackets and I knew they were not coming to sell insurance. I went to the bedroom and dumped a half a pound of primo weed down the toilet, most of which floated to the top of the bowl after the flush. When I answered the door, the two homicide detectives were agitated.

“You saw us coming and made a call. Who did you call?”

“I didn’t call anyone.”

“Yes you did.

“No I didn’t.”

“You are under arrest for the murder of Charlie Wilson and Robert Lavigne.”

“You gotta be joking.”

“This is no joke.”

After giving me the routine about a lawyer being provided if I needed one, the cops handcuffed me. I knew I had nothing to fear since I was not involved in any way with Charlie’s killing. I had been at home with my wife and my friend Bishop when the dirty deed was done. But I did have secrets to protect, not least the purpose of Charlie’s last visit to my house with Robert Lavigne. The cops started out by asking me why I had not attended Charlie’s funeral, to which I answered that I did not like funerals. The cops were angry at my reluctance to cooperate and so they took me in for questioning. Inside the police station I maintained my silence, but it was only a matter of time before I needed a bathroom break.  I was taken to the washroom by the police officer who had been interrogating me. He was a big bruiser of a detective who looked to be a surly pessimist with a stoic resolve to do his job. I was washing my hands when he came over to stand beside me.

“So, you don’t want to talk, eh?”

I looked at him with suspicion. “It’s none of my business,” I said. “I don’t want to get involved.”

He swung his open hand as hard as he could and hit me on the side of my head. I have been punched, but I had never been slapped that hard before. I saw stars. Dazed, I staggered a couple of feet away from the big cop and stared back at him in shock.

“This is murder,” he said, looking squarely into my eyes. “We don’t care about your other little games. This is the homicide squad. We are the cream of the crop. An innocent young girl and several other people are dead,” he said. “We want answers.”

I could see he was working up to another swing.

“All right, I’ll tell you what I know,” I replied, sparing myself another blow to the head. “But not in here. Take me back out there and I’ll talk.”

I pointed to the outer office where the other detectives were seated. I dried my hands and half expected another shot to the head, but instead I was escorted by the bull back to the interrogation room. I was asked why Charlie had come to visit me the day he died and what we talked about. I told the investigating officer that Charlie and I were friends. That we talked about his car lot and the cars that I bought and sold through him. They asked who I thought had killed Charlie and I told them about the shootout between Charlie and Jean Paul. It was common knowledge amongst Charlie’s friends that the gunfight had occurred. With both Charlie and Jean Paul dead, it gave the cops something to work on that led nowhere. Realizing that I was offering nothing further, the interrogation was halted with one last question.

“Where is Irving Goldberg?”

The burly cop hissed Irving’s name as though he was talking about something lower than a snake. I told the cop that I could provide an alibi for Irving because I had phoned him in Ottawa at the time of the murders. I regretted giving any information about Irving’s whereabouts, but I suspect that they already knew that information after three weeks of phone taps. They asked me for Irving’s address which I would not have given even if I knew it. They asked for his phone number but I told them I did not remember it. After several hours of interrogation, the homicide squad eventually released me, right after plucking a hair from my head. When they led me to another room for the hair sample to be taken, I was surprised to see a man in a white lab coat removing a hair from my buddy Bishop’s head. I found out later that they had brought Bishop in for questioning, too, after I gave him as my alibi on the night in question. The homicide squad released Bishop and me at the same time, with a warning not to phone Irving. On the way home I made sure we were not followed, and as soon as I could, I stopped at a pay phone to call Irving in Ottawa. It occurred to me that if they had wanted to, the cops could have put out an alert for any phone calls from Montreal to Ottawa, and at two in the morning mine would likely have been the only call. Under the circumstances, it was a chance I felt was necessary to take. I found a hotel that was open and I went inside to use the lobby phone.

He answered my phone call in a sleepy voice “Go to a pay phone,” I told him.  He was reluctant to drag his warm ass into the ten-below-zero weather outside his Ottawa bedroom but my persistence got his attention. “Go to a pay phone,” I said, “and call me back at this number.”

It took about ten minutes for his call to come through. Irving was impatient. It was 2:30 a.m. and I knew by his nature he went to bed around ten. He had been fast asleep when I called him, and he was in no mood for twenty questions.

“What’s up?” he demanded.

I told him the cops were looking for him. I told him that they probably knew he was in Ottawa. “Hide the book” I cautioned him. “They want to know about Charlie, but they don’t know anything about our scam unless they find the book.” The book I was referring to was a small notebook that Irving kept on his person at all times. The book contained all the records of our weed transactions, including collections and payouts that were too numerous to trust to memory. Irving snorted at my concerns about the cops and acted like I was overreacting. But he hid the black book before he went back to his friend’s home to climb back into the king size bed. The next morning at six o’clock while he was fast asleep, the Ottawa Provincial Police came for Irving. He answered the door in his robe and let them in before they broke the door down. Irving made only one statement.

“Do you know what an ironclad alibi is?” he said to the cops. “Well that’s what I got” he responded, answering his own question. “So save your questions cause I ain’t answering them.”

Having nothing on him, they took Irving in for a few hours before letting him go without charges.

I will never know for sure if Irving was behind the hit on Charlie, but I was told later that he was. I eventually learned that Jean Paul killed Charlie along with an accomplice who was an ex-partner of Irving’s from his bank robbing days. Jean Paul’s accomplice was never caught, but it was probably his brother-in-law Rene’s friend, Roger Ouimet, or Rene’s older brother, Joseph. It no longer matters. Both men are dead today. Roger died in a shootout with the cops during a bank-hold up and Joseph died in a jailbreak attempt.

I know that at least two men drove to the club the night of Charlie’s murder. Jean Paul and someone else. It was 3 a.m. and the club was still open, being in a Laurentian town where the closing hours were relaxed. The informal establishment was only a half hour’s drive from Montreal and enjoyed a reputation as a fun place to dance and rock the night away. Charlie was seated at the bar with his back to the door when two men wearing hoods and carrying machine guns entered the bar. Before anyone in the club knew what was happening, Jean Paul, wearing a hood, ran up behind Charlie at the bar and smashed the back of his head in with the butt of a modified M-1 carbine. Jean Paul had showed me that weapon at his birthday party. The M-1 was unlike any I had seen before and had been modified to fire on full automatic and used a belt of bullets rather than a clip. It was the same M-1 that Jean Paul had used previously to drill multiple rounds into a cop car that was chasing him after a bank job in the Laurentians. Jean Paul stepped back after clubbing Charlie and then blasted him with several rounds of .30 caliber ammunition. Poor Charlie died before he hit the ground, mortally wounded by the blow to the head even before the automatic fire finished him off. Jean Paul’s partner gunned down Robert Lavigne, who was running to Charlie’s defense, or running from the dance floor where he had been dancing with an unidentified woman, depending on whose story you believed. Either way, he was hit in the back. Some say Robert was beating on Jean Paul and pulling him off Charlie when he was shot by Jean Paul’s partner. Some say Robert was bolting away across the dance floor towards the exit when he was hit.

After Charlie and Robert were felled by a volley of gunshots, the two gunmen left the bar. In typical fashion, the bar patrons cleared out as soon as the killers fled in a waiting car. Only the waiters and bar staff remained by the time the cops showed up to take a report. On their escape out of town, Jean Paul’s getaway car slid off the road into a ditch and his accomplice’s gun discharged, sending a bullet through Jean Paul’s leg and into his balls, which eventually swelled up like grapefruits.  A mortally wounded Jean Paul and his partner made their way past the Operation Intercept roadblocks that were supposed to prevent exactly these kinds of escapes after crimes in the Laurentian villages north of Montreal. I imagine Jean Paul’s partner was apologizing all the way back as they drove to Jean Paul’s girlfriend’s apartment in Montreal. When they reached Susan Braun’s apartment, Jean Paul was put into bed and his false teeth removed to help with his breathing. A telephone call was made to a third accomplice and a doctor was summoned to the apartment at gunpoint. When the doctor pronounced Jean Paul to be dead of shock and blood loss, the accomplice promised to take the doc home and took him instead to a garbage dump and shot him dead. Jean Paul’s partner was intending to take Susan to her parent’s home, but when it was time to leave Jean Paul’s stone cold body, she started screaming hysterically. The accomplice put a silenced twenty-two to her head and pulled the trigger half a dozen times to silence her cries. According to the cops, Susan Braun died in a most cruel way, with defense wounds through her hands.

Any unfulfilled aggression I had towards Jean Paul died with him that day as I heard the circumstances of his suffering departure. After their deaths, I doubted that Jean Paul and Susan would meet in an afterlife because, by my interpretation of Karma, they were going to different places. I am certain that it came as no comfort to the parents of Susan Braun that the police had come to warn them about the danger their daughter was in only a week before her murder. They told the parents all about Jean Paul and his violent criminal past and urged them to warn their daughter. I, myself, could never understand how an intelligent, college-educated, pretty girl like Susan could ever hook up with a menace like Jean Paul. It bothered me that her fourteen-year-old brother refused to even talk to me at her funeral, as though I was somehow involved in her death.

There was a period of quiet for sometime after the murders, until everyone’s fear subsided and business started back as usual. But the murders had changed those of us who remained in the game. There was no room for amateurs in the smuggling trade, now that violence ruled the roost. Irving was my insulation from violence. He had no fear of anything or anyone. At best, he showed a measured respect for someone else’s abilities but never any fear. He warned me about the Mafia in very serious tones. “If the wops ever get wind of our scam, they will try to take it over, sure as shooting. And I ain’t gonna let that happen without a fight. We’ll all end up dead if that happens. So don’t ever talk to anyone about what we got going. Especially the wops.”

Irving was a leg shaker. I have met a lot of leg shakers and foot tappers and they usually have something on their conscience. Irving used to sit opening and closing his legs like a schoolboy. Even when he was playing cards and supposedly relaxed, Irving would be moving his legs constantly.  I met lots of leg shakers in the underworld. It’s as if they can control every aspect of their lives right up to murder and then the leg shaking starts.

I also met dozens of interesting characters who were not leg shakers. I met them as they came out of prison and came by our car lot to visit Irving. There was Freddy Peters and his brother Gary who had both done time and gone on scores with Irving. Gary was a career convict, with a recidivism rate that required a revolving door on the prisons. Gary had done B and E’s, holdups and robberies. He did some with Irving. He did some with others. And he did some on his own. One time Irving sent his jailhouse crony on a warehouse score. The warehouse was in Laval, which was some distance from where Irving lived and since Irving was on parole with a 9 p.m. curfew at the time, he decided to hand the score off to Gary. While Gary went to work late one night, Irving waited at home to hear about the successful break-in. In due course, he received a phone call from a panicked Gary.

“Where are you?” asked Irving.

“I’m in the warehouse.”

“Why the fuck are you calling me from the warehouse?”

“Something’s wrong. A red light came on.”

“What do you mean a red light came on?”

“It’s the alarm system. I think it’s activated.”

“Get out of there,” shouted Irving. “You tripped a silent alarm.”

“I can’t leave. I think the cops are outside.”

“Hang up the phone! Hang up the fucking phone!”

And that’s how it is in the underworld. A shortage of brains and an overabundance of daring.

Speaking of brains, I met Ziggy Epstein and his sister Ruby through Irving. Their older brother Simon was said to be a genius with safes and alarm systems. Simon died soon after his release from prison. The sister’s story was that her brother Simon tried to pull off another vault job and blew the money up with the safe. Then he became depressed and committed suicide. But the word on the street was that his buddies had spent his end of his last score while he was in jail taking the fall for the job.  They killed him with cyanide when he came out looking for his end.

Simon’s younger brother, Ziggy, was a quiet young man with a dry sense of humor. He became our jack-of-all-trades, installing my electrical lights along the driveway and tending to odd jobs at our homes and at our business. He drove cars to wherever we needed them ferried. He walked our dogs for us and washed our cars. Ziggy’s loyalty was his strong point, and he also knew his way around the streets.

Ziggy’s sister was going out with a scam artist nearly twice her age named Julius. He was always coming by with hot merchandise to sell, from leather jackets to diamonds and jewelry. Julius looked too old to pull scores, with his gray hair and his bifocal glasses. I always wondered if Julius didn’t buy those coats wholesale and just pretended they were hot.

Irving was a drawing card for colorful characters and miscreants of all shapes and sizes. Like Sonny the Booster, who was legally blind but drove getaway cars for Julius. The two boosters used to come to our car lot and laugh about the scores that had put them in prison. There was one story where Julius was throwing stolen booty from the car, while blind Sonny was trying to lose the cops and hitting every other car on the road.

Irving was like a father figure and mentor to all of these strange lost souls, as well as to me, to some degree. My own father and I were not as close as we might have been at the time, and when Irving came along, he filled a gap in my life. Seeking direction, as most young men do at certain times in their lives, I latched onto a mentor who showed no doubt as to his own direction in life. With Irving it was full speed ahead at any cost. The man showed no fear.  He had belonged to the infamous Stopwatch Gang, whose members were famous for remaining in a bank for less than 120 seconds. He survived the dismantling of that gang when their last job saw them getting caught in the act. Irving was with the other members of the gang, waiting for an opportunity to enter a bank that was located in a small shopping center in Montreal. He noticed something was amiss. It was winter and there was a crew of workman doing some work on the hydro lines. Irving noticed that they all sported bright new yellow work gloves. He told the other gang members about the new gloves but they said that he was just being paranoid. Irving backed out of the score, while the others questioned his manhood and entered the bank with guns drawn. They all ended up in jail. The hydro workmen were all cops. The gang had been staked out. They all went to jail, except Irving.

I met Myron Wiseman through Irving. Myron was another con out of prison who had been Irving’s cell mate. It was Myron who wrote Irving’s parole release application after reading Irving’s own attempt, which pretty much said, “Give me parole or go fuck yourself.” Myron was a paper hanger and counterfeiter and he was handy for obtaining phony licenses and documents. He was always chuckling about being “rehabilitated” as if the word were an oxymoron. Myron was an incorrigible criminal in the purest sense of the word. To Myron, it was a courageous act of defiance to break the law. Any law that was broken was another blow struck for anarchy. Myron was a revolutionary spirit who was totally against the accepted corruptions and class distinctions that exist in Western society. If he had owned a bike it would have been a Harley, just for the sheer spite of it, but he was more likely to sit down at a grand piano than ride a motorcycle. Myron was cultured and refined. He was a quiet man who always dressed in a suit. He even wore a suit to work cleaning and detailing our cars on the car lot that Irving and I opened together.

The car lot was incorporated in my name as Modern Motors and dealt in high-end used cars. Our premises were rented on the second and third floors of an old car wash location on Decarie Boulevard. Unlike most car lots in town, our showroom was indoors and the cars were parked on the second and third floors. It was an ideal location for selling cars in a hostile winter climate. It was also perfect for visitors, who came and went without being seen clearly as they drove in and out of our garage.

One such unusual visitor to our garage was Randy Segouin. I was going to set Randy up on a date with Barbara’s girlfriend, Heather, the stewardess, until I found out he was a stone-cold killer.

“Don’t fuck around with him,” Irving said one day.  I had made a smart-ass remark to Randy, and he had turned his cold eyes on me. Randy’s eyes had a way of glazing over when he was in a foul mood, and many people who had seen that look were no longer around to talk about it. I heard from one of his partners that Randy used to stand in front of a mirror with his gun in his hand saying, “Are you looking at me? Are you looking at me?” Then he would pull his gun out and make like he was drawing down on and shooting his imaginary adversary. Randy was bad. Randy was so bad that even the Hells Angels threw him out of their club. Randy’s previous partners in crime had been only too happy to see him go over to the biker gang when he got the itch to ride a Harley. Within weeks, the Angels were calling his partners up and begging them to take Randy back. They would have killed him if his partners weren’t supplying them with bargain basement prices on weed and hash.

“We got only two fucking rules,” they said. “No ripping off other club members and no fucking around with another club member’s girl.”

In two weeks Randy had broken both of those rules. Randy and his partner, whose name I do not remember, eventually killed so many people that paranoia was ever-present. Around then his partner ended up killing Randy in self-defense. They had been drinking for days in a New Brunswick cottage. Randy and his partner had already killed the landlord and his son a few days earlier in a drunken fight and then cut them up and buried them somewhere on the farm. When Randy gave that look of his to his partner, it was the end of the line for Randy. His partner killed him with a couple of rounds from his .45 automatic. Eventually Randy’s other pals from Montreal came looking for him and the partner confessed his crime to them. They had no choice but to forgive him, as Randy’s pals knew only too well that the partner was telling the truth. If Randy gave you that look, it meant the end if you didn’t move fast. Randy’s partner ended up in jail for killing his landlord and confessed everything to the New Brunswick police before killing himself in prison.

Another of Irving’s jail friends who came by after his release from prison was Richard “Chico” Perry who smoked tobacco and weed mixed in a pipe and walked around all day stoned and smiling. I didn’t see Richard around for very long. Shortly after being sprung from prison, Richard told his local banker that he wanted to open a line of credit. Being a career criminal, he did not stand a chance of collecting any money from the bank manager but Richard would not be warned off from his delusions, even by Irving. Chico threatened the bank manger and when he went to pick up his line of credit funds, the cops came to arrest him. When he turned around with a gun in his hand, they shot him twice in the stomach. Richard fell through the swinging gate in front of the manager’s office, shooting the cop who shot him, as he twisted and went down behind a counter. He ended up being shot nine more times through the body, as he hid beneath a secretary’s desk all the while continuing to shoot it out with the police. When he ran out of bullets, they arrested Richard with an empty .45 in his hand and a pipe full of tobacco mixed with weed in his mouth. Richard lived through the shootout and the cops put him in hospital with his legs and his arms in casts and then handcuffed him to the bed. Somehow Richard got loose, however, tied his bed sheets together and scaled down the four-storey hospital building to a second-storey rooftop in the dead of winter. He dropped from the roof to the ground and made it four blocks before the cops caught him again and brought him back . . .  to jail instead of the hospital.

As the money began to roll in for Irving and me, some of the friends who came around visiting were given a place in our organization. We had need of more personnel to handle pickups and deliveries and collections, as well as others to look after the needs of our car lot. The lot was an impressive front for our weed business, with thirty to fifty high-end cars in stock at any one time. We had a Mercedes-Benz and a Dino Ferrari on the lot as well as high-end domestic cars. I drove a Rolls-Royce for a while just to see how it handled. I was surprised to see that it could peel the tires, but I found it too large and ponderous for my liking. The nicest car I ever drove in terms of performance was a Dino Ferrari, and the closest I can come to describing its handling is to compare it to a bumblebee. It stopped, turned, braked, and cornered like nothing I had ever driven before and made a Porsche 911 feel like a truck by comparison. Big John Miller laughed at me when I took an interest in the car business and stayed around at night selling cars. I took the five-to-nine shift, until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“What are you doing?” John asked when he saw me staying behind in the office one evening.

“I want to learn the car business.”

“You got a business already. You don’t need to be doing this shit.”

It took almost a month before I agreed with him and quit the five-to-nine sales shifts. I couldn’t stand hanging around that stinky garage all night, and I hated haggling with customers who were getting a good deal and acting like I was screwing them. Irving used to handle those jerks much better than I did by using reverse psychology. When customers tried to bargain on a car with Irving, they would invariably come up with a story about a comparable car they had seen at a lower price.

“Oh yeah?” Irving would say, without missing a beat. “Then go buy it.”

Our cars were in superb condition when we sold them. After all the money we put into them, after buying them wholesale and selling them retail, there was hardly any profit. When our accountant, Abe, who was Irving’s cousin, did the books for us in our first year, we made $331,000 in income and spent $332,000 in expenses. And that wasn’t even counting the off-the-book expenses for Myron and Ziggy’s salaries.

For several years I had Abe the accountant invent an income for me so that I could pay my fair share of taxes. How can you drive a Mercedes and live in a beautiful home without paying taxes? Irving taught me many other wisdoms as well, such as never showing off my money when I was into a good scam.

“Wait until the scam is over before you flash your cash,” he advised. Meanwhile, at the height of our operation, we bought ourselves new homes, new Mercedes cars, new furniture and we both sported enough 18 Karat gold jewelry to sink a small boat. Irving had an affinity for the glitter, and John Miller and I followed his lead with dutiful respect, in that our gold chains were always less flashy than Irving’s were.

John Miller became part of our operation halfway through our scam with the boys on the dock. It was me and Irving equal partners all the way at first. But then a situation arose where someone had to be killed and I didn’t want any part of it. The boys downtown who lifted our containers from the waterfront were in a bind. A new supervisor was placing them at different positions on the waterfront and they could no longer function as needed to pull our loads off.

“No problem,” said Irving. “I’ll take care of it.”

“What are you going to do?” the boys asked.

“I am going to kill him,” said Irving. “I’ll walk right up to his door, ring his bell, and when he opens the door, I’ll drill him.”

He was serious. No fucking around with Irving when it came to money. That was one Jewish stereotype he followed religiously. To coin one of Irving’s favorite expressions, he’d kill his own mother if the price was right. But I could not go along with Irving on this one. I wanted money, but not enough to kill an innocent man who was just doing his job. I argued against Irving’s plan and I stoutly refused to drive his getaway car.

“It’s not right, Irving” I said, as I asked myself why the fuck he couldn’t drive his own getaway car.  I offered to give up the scam if that’s what it took in order to stop Irving from killing an innocent man, but there was no convincing him. He was gonna do what he was gonna do, no matter what I said, and the Devil be damned if he didn’t like it. When Irving realized that I was not budging on the issue, he contacted Miller and asked him to be his getaway driver. Miller’s compensation for the job was to be made a full partner in our scam. John Miller agreed to take the job, but in the end, the dock supervisor was transferred to another location on the waterfront and the problem was solved on its own.

John became a thirty percent partner in our scam, all for doing nothing. And boy did he love the change in lifestyle. John was driving an old shitbox Oldsmobile when I first met him. A few months later, he was driving a new convertible Cadillac Eldorado, and he was decked out in gold jewelry and puffing fatties. I didn’t mind sharing my booty with John. There was more than enough money to go around and John Miller changed my somewhat tedious job with an edgy partner into a job that was fun. Irving had the door. Irving sold the weed and collected the money. Irving had control. John and I were like his assistants, for all intents and purposes.

Irving kept records in his little black book, but there was never much cash given out because we were always investing the bulk of our profits back into the scam, paying for subsequent shipments that grew larger and larger every time. We drew enough money out to support our lifestyles, and every now and then we would pull a chunk of money out of the kitty for a larger house or a better car.

For me it was not about money so much as it was about the game. My future was riding on a life-sized magic carpet, with heavenly rewards and deadly consequences. The protagonists kept changing as I evolved through different sets of friends and business acquaintances. From Ryan and Robby I moved on to Bishop and Ross. From Bishop and Ross, I moved on to Irving and John Miller. Our antagonists were the police, Canada Customs, Immigration, the Mafia and all of the other lowlifes and criminal groups who wanted what we had.

“Don’t let the Mafia get wind of our scam,” Irving always preached to me. “I ain’t giving up nothing to those wop bastards,” he promised. “There will be blood everywhere if it starts up with them.”

Irving knew what he was talking about. The mafia had cost him several of his friends. One of Irving’s friends, Adam Schidlenski, survived a beating and stabbing that saw him left for dead in a car trunk at Dorval Airport. When the Mafia tried to extort money from Adam a few years later at his bar in Saint Jovite, he threw the Mafia enforcers out of his bar at gunpoint and told them to check with “the old man” and see who the fuck they were dealing with. Old man Vincent, the reputed head of the Montreal mafia, told his boys to leave Adam Schidlenski alone. “That guy is too crazy,” he said at the time. The Mafia eventually blew Adam up on the Decarie Expressway using a remote-controlled bomb to do the job. The hit was ordered when Adam would not pay tribute to the mob for a scam he was involved in where he melted down Canadian quarters for their silver content and then shipped it to the U.S. My friend, Big John Miller, used to chuckle at how Adam had offered him the job of driver, which was a euphemism for bodyguard or enforcer. “No fucking way was I taking that job!” laughed Miller, finishing with a loud snort. “I knew what was happenin’. Two fucking weeks later, the guy was dead.”

John Miller was a nice guy who had the misfortune to be born with a pug’s build. Powerfully strong, with massive arms and shoulders, he had a striking appearance, even though he stood no more than five foot ten.  Miller was a good-looking man for his size. He had prematurely white hair and a quick, easy smile with nice white teeth. He was a learned man, with a sardonic wit and a sarcastic view of life. With his menacing looks and jailhouse demeanor, John Miller didn’t stand a chance in the straight world. I always believed that he was doomed from birth to lead a life of crime. On the outside, Miller had the looks of an enforcer. On the inside, he was a hippie. He loved to burn weed and hash. He liked snorting a line of blow from time to time, but weed was his thing. Proud as a peacock, he liked wearing flashy gold jewelry and driving his purple Cadillac Eldorado convertible.

“A pimp’s car,” he used to laugh. “I have to drive it like an old whore,” he would snort, as he spread his legs wide to clear the low steering wheel.

John was down with the blacks and spent a good deal of his time at Rockhead’s Paradise Bar, near the rough quarter of Montreal known as Saint Henry. Rockhead’s was a club that catered to a mainly black audience, and many a time, when I went looking for Miller, I found him there. He was comfortable in that black environment that had the whores and the patrons swapping outrageous lies and generally laughing it up.

I started bringing John down to Jamaica with me to break the monotony. He was a little older than I was and I used him to dispatch a couple of the container loads of weed we sent from Kingston to Montreal. We were supposed to keep a low profile in Jamaica, but that was difficult with Miller around. His personable nature and his enjoyment of a good time led him into the center of most gatherings.

One time we were at the Pegasus hotel in Kingston, with Miller at the pool bar and me in my room smoking a joint. I was listening to the police band that was playing by the pool. Suddenly they stopped and I heard a commotion going on down below. I looked over my balcony and saw the police band running in scattered directions and, a short distance away, I saw John Miller watching them from behind a palm tree. I found out later that John was having a friendly conversation with an Australian gentleman at the bar. Somehow the conversation became heated, and when the Australian said that all Canadians were shits, John decked him into the pool. As soon as that happened, the police band scattered and the show was over, pending the arrival of real policemen.

I had many good times with John Miller. He was a good friend and he was as solid as a rock when the chips were down. John was one of the few business friends I kept all my life and I am only sorry that he is not around today to continue the good times.

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