BIKER FUNERAL: Rural Canadian Noir
After centuries of neglect, Canada seems to have finally found its moment in the global news cycle. From vaccine mandates to trucker convoys, residential school graves to burning churches, travel restrictions to Papal visits, the past few years have proven a bumper crop of Canadiana click-bait. The eyes of the world have turned upon us at last, an event presided over by He of the Wonderful Socks and vanishing civil liberaties himself, our very own sun-beam of a Prime Minister, Justin Pierre James Trudeau.
I always knew Canada's moment would eventually arrive. I just never expected it to look like this.
So it's perhaps fitting that in this atypical moment of our cultural history that I publish (via an American press, no less!) BIKER FUNERAL, a novel that is atypical of Canadian novels - one featuring a hero who is anything but the typical Canadian. But Canadian he most definitely is.
Father Michael Barrett is the sort of Catholic priest who would look upon the residential school scandal with cold fury, enraged that his faith had been used to brutalize children. A former Toronto police officer, Barrett served for six years in Toronto's "red zone," patrolling some of the toughest streets in North America. There he developed a fierce sense of protectiveness toward the homeless, the addicted, the mad, the excluded, the lost. When he left the Toronto Police Service to join the Jesuit Order, he quickly learned that you can take the cop out of the force, but never the force out of the cop. Tapped to join the investigative service branch of the Vatican curia, Barrett hunts down the enemies of the Church but ends up running across one too many pedophile priests ...
He snaps and beats one to near-death. Then, spared a trial by church intervention, he is transferred to a backwater parish in Fulton, British Columbia and told to behave himself.
Barrett is not a nice man. Tortured by the psychological scars of a brutal childhood, tempered by the discipline of a career in law enforcement and isolated by an insistence upon truth and integrity that leaves him adrift in today's world, Barrett uneasily straddles the line between Biblical ideals and the harsh realities of a poverty-stricken town desperately clinging to life in the first quarter of the Twenty-First Century. You might not imagine rural Canada to be a place where criminal organizations regularly spill blood over territory, where dealers and street gangs vie for for dominance over neglected neighborhoods and where violence is swift and sudden ...
But after twenty years working those rural backroads and mean streets as a PI and security officer, take it from me: it's the wild west out here. And getting tougher everyday.
I felt the need to take some of what I've experienced as an investigator and former employee of the Roman Catholic Church and share it in my fiction. They say "write what you know." So I did. And BIKER FUNERAL is the result.
I'm deeply grateful to the team at Wolfpack Publishing and Rough Edges Press, the imprint bringing forth the first three Barrett novels beginning August 30th. I've had the privilege to associate with some fantastic authors, editors and assorted publishing professionals. They have helped bring Barrett from a dream to a reality. I could not be more pleased with the result.
I was particularly pleased when fellow writer and New York Times best-selling author Brendan DuBois agreed to furnish a blurb for the novel He was enthusiastic in his reception. "If there's something known as Rural Canadian Noir, Jamie Mason is now its king. Highly recommended," he wrote.
Thank you, Brendan. And all the other readers and authors who have supported me on this journey. Barrett and I are looking forward to making our debut in a few weeks' time.
Meanwhile, enjoy a taste of BIKER FUNERAL ...
Barrett tilted upright in bed, eyes aching, head pulsing, his bladder full and his anger rising at whoever was pounding on the parish house door with what sounded like a sledgehammer at –
(he glanced at the clock)
– three in the morning.
Having not reached REM sleep and still half-drunk, he lurched in bare feet to the chair over which he’d thrown his housecoat, untangled and threw it around his shoulders before stumbling to the entrance hall. Pausing to flick on the outside light, through the window Barrett could discern the shapes of two men on the parish house stoop. He unlocked and opened the door a crack.
“You Father Barrett?” The man spoke from behind a huge grey beard, his long grey hair held in place by a headband and he wore dark glasses although it was night. Barrett noted the leather vest, the jeans and black work boots. The speaker and his smaller, thinner companion looked like they had both stepped out of a Harley Davidson commercial.
“Yes, I’m Michael Barrett.” He blinked. “What can I do for you?”
The bearded man grinned broadly and tugged off his sunglasses. “Well goddam, padre!” He stuck out a paw. “Let me be the first to shake your hand! Goddam. It’s an honor to meet the man who put the little fucker who hit Jackie in hospital. Name’s Pappy, Vice-President of the Paladin’s Motorcycle Club and Jackie’s uncle. Come on down to the club-house. Big Mick wants to speak to you.”
“It’s three in the morning.”
“Perfect time! C’mon get your clothes on.”
“Well, look I can’t.”
“But you have to!” Rather than threatening, the man’s expression was one of genuine surprise. “Big Mick says so.”
“He does, huh?” Barrett sighed. If it was just this bearded yo-yo and his side-kick, he could have seen them off by himself. But he knew from experience that bikers were like hornets or nuns. If you got on the wrong side of one or more, the rest could swarm and make your life miserable.
“Okay. Give me a sec.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Twenty minutes later, arms wrapped around Pappy’s waist, clutching the Harley’s chassis for dear life between his knees, Barrett hurtled along Fulton’s main drag. He wasn’t sure what made him more uncomfortable, the prospect of imminent death as Pappy accelerated onto the highway or the feeling of clutching a hairy biker in his arms. As it stood, he just had to grit his teeth and bare it. Which he did for another twenty minutes as they slalomed down a few miles of the Trans-Canada before turning off onto a logging road. Pappy switched on the high-beams as they coasted along the dips and curves of a well-maintained trail through the woods until ending on a paved access road. Pappy swerved onto the blacktop and, five minutes later, they were slowing and turning into a compound.
Barrett alighted clumsily, then stretched and looked around. He spied a large metal Quonset hut structure and two houses, one of which looked abandoned, its front yard littered with vehicles in various stages of disassembly. There were lights and music coming from the open garage door of the second house. Pappy clapped Barrett’s shoulder and led him toward the din.
“I know that song,” Barrett said. “AC/DC isn’t it?”
“Good old metal, you bet.” Pappy ushered him across the threshold onto the concrete nap of the garage floor and across to the carpeting. “Hey, Mick! Look who’s here!”
The three-car garage was carpeted in what Barrett recognized as a Persian-style area rug. Scattered across it, from doorway to the huge mechanic’s work-bench in back, were scuffed sofas and coffee tables. Barrett also noted two beer kegs and the portable CD player from which the singer was screeching about riding the highway to hell. Barrett uneasily eyed the dozen or so bikers lounging around on the furniture like a pack of lazy but lethal hounds. At a gesture from one of them, Jackie detached herself from the wall and switched off the CD player.
“Well, there he is!”
A fatter, younger version of Pappy burst through a doorway in the rear hauling another keg. He positioned it by the end of the nearest couch, obliging a bald dude with face tattoos to move his legs, which he did with a muttered, “Sorry, Mick.” Big Mick set the keg down with a crash, tapped it with a nozzle and sprayed foamy beer into a red plastic cup, which he thrust into Barrett’s hands.
“Man, father! It’s an honor. Truly. Jackie! Get the father a chair, will ya? Fuck, it’s good to see you.” Big Mick wrapped his arm around Barrett’s shoulders and gave a squeeze that flattened Barrett’s lungs and induced a dizzying vertigo. “You saved my little girl! You saved Jackie from another beating by that no-good Randy son-of-a-bitch. Sorry, Jack. No disrespect about your mother.”
“None taken.” A lanky man with long sideburns and grey eyes hoisted his cup. “My brother’s a shit-bag. Got what he deserved.”
Barrett sipped his beer. Nodded. And tried to smile like he was at ease (which he was not). Jackie appeared, bearing one of those improbably comfy fold-out chairs in a Canadian flag pattern. Barrett lowered himself cautiously, noting her red eyes and mascara-stained cheeks. She had recently unburdened herself of a good cry and looked poised to have another at any moment.
“How are you, Jackie?” he muttered. “Everything okay?”
“No.” She spat the word sullenly, turned on her heel and stalked off.
Big Mick laughed. “My little girl! So emotional. We used to think maybe she could be an actress. Like, save up a bunch of money and send her to acting school. That’s a real thing, right? Acting school?”
“Sure.” Barrett gulped shitty beer that left of formaldehyde aftertaste. “You’re talking a fine arts education.”
“Exactly!” Big Mick beamed. “He’s a smart guy, ain’t he, fellas?”
“He’s alright,” allowed Jack.
“Sure he is,” muttered the bald guy with the face tattoos. Pappy and his companion beamed.
“We owe you.” Big Mick laid a hand on Barrett’s shoulder, gazing into the priest’s eyes meaningfully. “I owe you. And I’m never going to forget that.”
“Well …” Barrett shifted uncomfortably and glanced at where Jackie sulked, head down, in a corner. “You don’t really owe me any –”
“BULLSHIT. Pardon the language, padre, but you’ve done a solid for the Paladins. Whether or not you like it, by the Code, we’re indebted to you. That’s a serious thing to the brotherhood of the road, father.”
“I.” He cleared his throat. “I imagine it would be, yes.”
“So.” Big Mick clapped the shoulder again, firmly this time, and drew Barrett toward a narrow door in the rear wall of the garage. “We’re allies. And we’re going to do you a solid, pops. Count on it. But first.” He paused, chuckled and shook his head. “First, we’re actually gonna’ impose and ask another favor of you. Isn’t it funny how things are often like it, that way? Ya’ know. People come into your life with generosity and you just can’t help asking: can you do just one more thing for me?” He laughed and the half-dozen or so Paladins joined him.
“Well, sure. I guess.” He ambled behind Big Mick toward the narrow doorway. “If it’s in my power …”
The door opened onto a windowless concrete room. Mick switched on the lights. Empty steel shelving lined three walls. There was something under a sleeping bag on a table in the center of the room. Pappy stepped in behind Barrett and shut the door. Big Mick moved to the table and grasped the top edge of the sleeping bag. “So, ah. About Randy ...” Big Mick pulled back the sleeping bag. And there was Randy. Pale. White. Not breathing. With a black hole in the center of his forehead.
# # #
Barrett wasn’t sure how much time passed in a disoriented blur. As a clergyman, he was accustomed to dead bodies. He’d helped tend to several. But not the dead bodies of fit, healthy people with whom he had been speaking just the day before. Big Mick’s voice coalesced out of the rush of blood in his ears, coming back in dribs and drabs, at first.
“… later … found out … hospital. And was released this evening.” Big Mick paused. “He, ah, met with an accident on the way home. A traffic accident.”
“I can see that,” said Barrett, fixated on the bullet hole between Randy’s eyebrows.
“Helluva tragedy,” muttered Pappy.
“I’ll say!” Big Mick shook his head. “Thing is – one of our guys did it.”
“Yeah. See, Randy was going through a cross-walk, and …”
“I get the picture.”
“Thing is, we don’t want our guy to lose points on his license because of the accident. You understand.”
“Oh yes. I’d say it’s pretty clear to me, Mick.”
“Good.” Mick wrapped his arm around Bennett’s shoulders again and steered him toward the door. Pappy stepped past them and covered Randy’s body with the sleeping bag again. Mick paused a few steps from the door and said to Barrett, “We need to give him a decent burial. Me? I just wanted to leave him for the buzzards but Jackie wouldn’t allow it. She’s a total mess over all this.”
“It’s the least I can do for her.”
Before Barrett could open his mouth to say that he was no longer a practicing clergyman, that he was specifically prohibited from delivering any of the sacraments and couldn’t help them, Big Mick pulled an envelope out of his pocket and pushed it into Barrett’s hands. Barrett pulled open the flap and riffled a stack of hundred-dollar bills with his thumb.
“There’s five grand in there,” said Mick. “Think of it as a donation.”