Chris looked out the window and decided he would have to go down, even though he was still a little hung over. He’d been worried since the notes started arriving. He and his new bride arrived in this mountain resort town, jammed full of tourist types with arms full of skis heading for the black diamond runs, but someone who obviously knew who he was from years earlier started shoving notes under the hotel door. That someone seemed to be threatening to say something.
He’d worked too hard for too many years to put his hippie past behind him, and he wasn’t about to let his new bride Carli, her trust fund family, or worse, the authorities know who he really was – at least once upon a time. He scoffed at his childish former self, a self-righteous eco-warrior, brain addled by too many tokes or hits of lysergic acid. Everyone was doing it then, he reasoned, and everyone was talking about Mother Earth and the Gaia concept and how the world needed a new paradigm, but they were always coming up short of details, on action plans of how this Garden of Eden was going to come into fruition. On the other hand, Chris was a man of action, a militant who’d abandoned satyagraha and all that non-violence nonsense that had Gandhi and King and the other pacifists bleeding out of major arteries. No, he’d become a monkey-wrencher, too radical for the locals in Greenpeace, so he joined Earth First, then came to loggerheads with that group’s brain trust, and struck out on his own with a few friends to start their own group in the Interior. They were so radical, they wouldn’t even have a name, or so Chris thought, until he realized they really needed some kind of calling card, so he came with the least likely name of all. The songbirds. Nature’s most beautiful, most vulnerable creatures, threatened by miners and loggers from all sides, yet the name implied the group was non-threatening as some kind of irony, or so he thought at the time, as he and his small band of Robin Hoods made their way through the province to shut down industrial operations in any small way they could. At first, they started out by using the technique of distraction by calling in fake threats, but as they should’ve known at the time, things would escalate, and this ultimately ended with an explosion at a copper mine they were protesting because of its discharges into streams. Everyone was caught, except for Chris. He went underground even further. The one thing that helped was that Chris had already been using a fake name, Eli, during all those years out of fear that he would one day need greater anonymity. Instead, what he decided to do was hide in plain sight, going back to his given name of Christopher, heading to college with the help of some inheritance money from an eccentric uncle that had made his money in one-hour Martinizing laundromats, and then take his real estate exam. In the time since, he’d started to lean more conservatively, joined the local chamber of commerce, and married Carli and her well-off family, though he did secretly continue to support some progressive causes. He’d rather be caught dead though than have any of his set know about the donations to Amnesty or the local battered women’s shelter. Besides, he’d made a habit of laying low about whatever he was doing, so he wasn’t about to start calling up the local paper to have his mugshot published holding some asinine oversized cheque.
Even though Carli was well-off, she had been brought up to work and had gone through accounting school after which time she began to work for the real estate office where Chris would one day land. She was fresh snow, whiteout, a chance to start clean again, seemingly loving and supporting him no matter what his mood, and finally they decided to marry and honeymoon at this massive ski resort – one whose construction he’d once tried to derail after setting fire to some of the building supplies. Somehow, he thought the notes that were arriving under the hotel suite door must have something to do with his lawbreaking past. Thankfully these seemed to arrive whenever Carli was out for morning yoga, or having a chai in the resort’s coffee shop.
I know what kind of man you are.
That was all the note said on the first morning, having been printed from a computer or typewriter, rather than handwritten. At first Christ thought it might have had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t help but flirt with the young, vivacious barista who made his double espresso when he was done checking the Financial Post and the TSE to see how his stocks were doing. He’d even caught himself covering his left fingers up by wedging them in the pocket of his khakis.
That note had been ambiguous though. It could’ve been blackmail, with the barista threatening to give his new bride a nudge, a wake-up call, a jolt of caffeine about the kind of man she had just married. Or maybe she’s flirting right back, he wondered, maybe using her staffer’s inside knowledge to track down his room number.
The first full-day at the resort Chris and Carli spent on the slopes, and after a few laboured attempts at love-making, Chris had to admit he was too stiff in the wrong parts of his body to get stiff in the one he was focused on. “It’s okay, honey bunch,” Carli told him before turning over to go to sleep. “We can try again tomorrow.”
The next morning Carli was long gone, having descended the elevator, and made her way to the on-site yoga studio for a lengthy session of downward dog and child’s pose. All that Namaste bullshit, Chris thought, as he forced himself out of bed, scratched his ass and did a double-take to the sight of note number two.
I know your secret.
The game continued, this time with words formed from torn newspaper type. Clearly, these were not the threats of vengeful barista threatening to take down his honeymoon. Or was it? No, it couldn’t be. Someone at this place, someone in the know no doubt, must have recognized him from his past days as an eco-terrorist. In the shower, he blasting himself in the face with spray and wondered what he could do. He was stuck. He couldn’t very well just leave. He was newly married and he’d paid a small fortune for the honeymoon, not that he couldn’t afford it, but he had to stay calm and stay put until he found out what kind of blackmail he was really facing. Maybe this was all in his head, he thought, then started to relax. Soon, he was singing in the shower. Old doo-wop, some Sam Cooke, maybe with Marvin Gaye thrown in, and he was in mid-lather of his genitals when he opened his eyes to find Carli right in the shower with him, humming along in harmony.
“Sheesh, I didn’t know you could sing,” she whispered in his ear, then have him a quick nibble on the lobe.
After a more successful afternoon of lovemaking, they celebrated their recent nuptials by going for the costliest steaks in the resort village, then hit up a karaoke bar to sing the night away.
“I love that you love the old stuff,” she yelled into his ear, while they were sipping cocktails and awaiting their next turn at the mike. “Not like music. It sounds like they pour it out of a can, sheesh.”
“Kind of in my wheelhouse,” he said.
He could tell she didn’t quite get his point. “I mean I’m old. A lot of that stuff was around when I was a kid. Or at least has been around for that long. You forget that I’m old, way older than you.”
She sat back in the booth a bit, and for a split second, she looked like she was frowning, an expression that he’d never seen with any regularity. She broke into a grin though and said, “Yeah, that’s what I love about you. You’re so experienced, so well-seasoned.”
“Seasoned?” He chuckled. “You make me sound like that strip loin at dinner.”
“It’s funny though. How come you never talk about being young?” she asked, her brows crinkling again. “It’s like you missed your adolescence though. It’s like most people have old college buddies or something. I know you used to be a bit of a hippie and dropped out of sight or something. At least that’s what your family says.”
He hid behind his cocktail glass for a second and thought about what he would say next. “Oh, you know. It was a crazy time.”
“But it’s like someone deleted those files or something,” she said.
He could actually feel the grimace he was making and could only come up with a cliché. “Well, you know what they say about ’60s. If you can remember them….”
“Yeah, but wasn’t it more the ’70s? I mean, sheesh, you’re not that old,” she said, taking a sip of a drink. “Thank God, that might be a little too much seasoning, if you know what I mean.”
“Ya, ha, I’m not that old,” he said, forcing a laugh. “Oh, look, we’re up again. Time to sing, sing, sing.”
She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up toward the stage for their next song. “Ha, look at us, just a kooky couple of songbirds.”
When he heard the last word, he could feel his sphincter tighten up a little, as if he were getting ready to have prostate poked and probed at his physician’s office.
The next morning, Carli had foregone her morning enlightenment routine and was counting sheep instead of doing downward dog. There was no note, and Chris silently said of prayer of thanks that the extortionist had not shown up. Maybe it was a prank that had run its course, maybe it had all been in his mind. Still, he was glad he didn’t involve his new wife in any of this.
The two went down for brunch of honey-cured bacon, eggs benedict, tropical fruit salad and mimosas – a little hair of the dog, Chris joked. Carli tried to talk him into more skiing, but he admitted he’d had a few too many highballs the previous night at the karaoke bar. A nap was what he needed, so after eating, he went back to the suite and drifted off to sleep with the CNN anchor giving some update about some explosion somewhere in the Middle East. He awoke startled a few hours later, disoriented from waking up in a place that is not usually where he sleeps. He had the odd something was wrong, and when he rose from the king-sized bed, he glanced over to the door where he could the blackmailer had been by.
Meet me by the clock tower in the village centre when it’s nice and dark. Make it 6 pm, Songbird!
Or else, he wondered. This time it was in some kind of fancy calligraphy. This was serious. What did the extortionist have in store for him? Some dossier linking him to property damage at the resort building site from years earlier, or the explosion at the mine site, or even some incident in which he had not been involved in the least. After getting washed and dressed, he headed straight for the bar, despite the slight hangover he had, and ordered a couple of ryes. He let the liquor slowly wash around his mouth, casting a glow through him from his insides, and he wondered whether one could ever outrun one’s past transgressions, whether there was any kind of statute of limitations on the stupidity and extremity of youth, or has youth just been an excuse. After all, Carli was young, and she’d avoided the extreme choices he’d made in his youth, made through his whole life really. She was bubbly and vivacious, and if she seemed a bit like an airhead, it was really a charade. He knew she was already smarter than he’d ever be, certainly smart enough to avoid rash decisions.
There was no way he could back to the resort now, as Carli might be there, and he could still think of no way to explain these notes to her. No, he would lay low in the bar until about quarter to the hour. When the time came, he threw on his parka, made his way through the throngs of ski bums coming in from the day on the slopes or heading out from night runs, and walked over to the clock tower that gave this tourist trap town whatever kind of heart it had.
He could feel the sweat under his ski clothes while he started at his watch. He hadn’t a toke in at least a dozen years, but he’d have given half of his portfolio for a baggy of BC’s finest right now. His heart was running moguls through his chest, and when the clock started to strike above, he had to stifle a shriek. Where was his accuser?
As the sixth bong sounded, he could hear bells, as the countless visitors began to part in order to allow the enormous sleigh, decked out in Christmas lights, to make its way toward. Oh, God, he thought. Carli.
The timing couldn’t be worse. What was she doing here?
“Hey, my little songbird,” she yelled. “What do you think?”
“Huh, what do you mean?”
“I booked us a sleigh ride,” she said, leaning over the side to give us a kiss. “Complete with lights. That’s why I wanted to wait until it was dark. Plus I had to get in some runs today.”
“Man, Carli, there’s something I should tell you. It’s weird. I can’t explain because I don’t really understand it myself, but I’m supposed to meet someone. Here. At six. Right now.”
His new wife started to laugh and couldn’t form a sentence for a moment, then calmed down enough to talk. “Yeah, silly. Me. You’re supposed to meet me. What did you think?”
“I don’t know. I thought someone was framing me.”
“Framing? What are you talking about? Why would anyone would be framing you?”
“I did some stupid things when I was young. Illegal stuff. No one got hurt, or at least, I don’t think so, but it was pretty serious. That’s why I don’t talk about those years. I started getting those notes, and I thought I was being framed.”
“That was me, silly. Sheesh, what kind of guy did I marry?”
“I even thought something stupid, that maybe I’d flirted with the barista at the coffee shop a little too much and the girl was going to bust my ass,” he said.
“Yeah, well, we might have to talk about curbing that little habit. I’m not thrilled about having to keep you chained up, if you’re going to turn out to be some kind of dog.”
Carli then explained that she left the notes for him whenever she went out as kind of a game, and that she had to admitted she was a little disappointed he didn’t play along. She knew about the donations, and gently scolded him for thinking anyone would care what organizations he supported. She admitted she already knew about that donations – which was the secret she was talking about in the second note – because she thought that because they were going to be married, she should start doing like his taxes, just to make sure he didn’t miss things like deducting his charitable donations.
“So you’re not really upset about my past radical activities?” he asked, still incredulous about the pardoning he was receiving after so many years.
She shrugged, smiled and game him a peck on the cheek. “Well, my little songbird,” she said, “if they come to take you away, we’ll just won’t let them. Maybe we’ll even have to put up a blockade or something serious.”
Photo by Joseph Saad on Unsplash