Chapter One

The Blackbird told himself he was drinking too much because he lived in this hotel and the Silver Dollar was close by, right downstairs. Try to walk out the door past it. Try to come along Spadina Avenue, see that goddamn Silver Dollar sign, hundreds of light bulbs in your face, and not be drawn in there. Have a few drinks before coming up to this room with a ceiling that looked like a road map, all the cracks in it. Or it was the people in the Silver Dollar talking about the Blue Jays all the time that made him drink too much. He didn’t give a shit about the Blue Jays. He believed it was time to get away from here, leave Toronto and the Waverley Hotel for good and he wouldn’t drink so much and be sick in the morning. Follow one of those cracks in the ceiling.

The phone rang. He listened to several rings before picking up the receiver, wanting it to be a sign. He liked signs. The Blackbird said, “Yes?” and a voice he recognized asked would he like to go to Detroit. See a man at a hotel Friday morning. It would take him maybe two minutes.

In the moment the voice on the phone said “Detroit” the Blackbird thought of his grandmother, who lived near there, and began to see himself and his brothers with her when they were young boys and thought, This could be a sign. The voice on the phone said, “what do you say, Chief?”

“How much?”

“Out of town, I’ll go fifteen.”

The Blackbird lay in his bed staring at the ceiling, at the cracks making highways and rivers. The stains were lakes, big ones.

“I can’t hear you, Chief.”

“I’m thinking you’re low.”

“All right, gimme a number.”

“I like twenty thousand.”

“You’re drunk. I’ll call you back.”

“I’m thinking this guy staying at a hotel, he’s from here, no?”

“What difference is it where he’s from?”

“You mean what difference is it to me. I think it’s somebody you don’t want to look in the face.”

The voice on the phone said, “Hey, Chief? Fuck you. I’ll get somebody else.”

This guy was a punk, he had to talk like that. It was okay. The Blackbird knew what this guy and his people thought of him. Half-breed tough guy one time from Montreal, maybe a little crazy, they gave the dirty jobs to. If you took the jobs, you took the way they spoke to you. You spoke back if you could get away with it, if they needed you. It wasn’t social, it was business.

He said, “you don’t have no somebody else. You call me when your people won’t do it. I’m thinking that tells me the guy in the hotel—I wonder if it’s the old guy you line up to kiss his hand. Guy past his time, he don’t like how you do things.”

There was a silence on the line before the voice said, “Forget it. We never had this conversation.”

See? He was a punk. The Blackbird said, “I never kiss his hand or any part of him. What do I care?”

“So, you want it?”

“I’m thinking,” the Blackbird said, staring at the ceiling, “you have a Cadillac, that blue one.” It was the same vivid light-blue color as his grandmother’s cottage on Walpole Island. “What is it, about a year old?”

“About that.”

So it was two years old, or three. That was okay, it looked good and it was the right color.

“All right, you give me that car, we have a deal.”

“Plus the twenty?”

“Keep it. Just the car.”

This guy would be telling his people, see, he’s crazy. You can give him trading beads, a Mickey Mouse watch. But said over the phone, “If that’s what you want, Chief.” The voice gave him the name of the hotel in Detroit and the room number, a suite on the sixty-fourth floor; and told him it would have to be done the day after tomorrow, Friday around nine-thirty, give or take a few minutes. The old man would be getting dressed or reading the sports, he was in town for the ball game, Jays and the Tigers. Walk in and walk out.

“I know how to walk out. How do I get in?”

“He has a girl with him, the one he sees when he’s there. It’s arranged for her to let you in.”

“Yeah? What do I do with her?”

The voice on the phone said, “Whatever your custom allows, Chief.” Confident now; listen to him. “What else can I tell you?”

The Blackbird hung up the phone and stared at the ceiling again, picking out a crack that could be the Detroit River among stains he narrowed his eyes to see as the Great Lakes. Ontario, Erie, Lake Huron…