Hell and Gone has a cover now!
The designer found a great image of an old Vancouver building, but wasn’t able to license it. My girlfriend Carly is an analog photographer, so two weeks ago we spent an afternoon wandering around Main and Keefer Street as she took photos on her black and white Rolliflex. The results were awesome:
(*title text still to be tweaked)
In Canada you can pre-order Hell and Gone for Oct 23rd from Chapters here.
In the States it will come out early 2022, but you can pre-order here (Amazon).
I’ll be at the Vancouver Writers Fest this year, which runs in early October. I’m also planning a book launch, either late October or early November. This will be mostly an excuse to see people I haven’t seen since pre-pandemic days. Ideally I’d like to have a couple of guest readers and a giveaway…will keep you updated.
Hell and Gone started as a story published in the back pages of Image Comics’ The Violent, a terrific Vancouver-set crime series by Ed Brisson and Adam Gorham. A homeless man is knocked aside during a violent robbery—what at first seems like cruelty is in fact an act of kindness.
Here’s the story:
(illustration by Adam Gorham)
He asked her why she wanted his side of things, him being a reformed junkie, somewhat reformed alcoholic, and convicted wife-killer. The cop admitted he wasn’t exactly a star witness. But he’d been there that morning, he’d laid eyes on the shooters. And most importantly, he’d lived.
The cop made sure he had coffee and a breakfast roll. She flipped her notebook to a fresh page, wrote his name along the top. She smiled, showing a sympathy he doubted she felt, and knew he didn’t deserve.
“Take your time,” she said. “Tell me what you saw. Take me through the whole morning.”
He said he was up at three-thirty, showered, then prayed. At quarter to five he dressed.
“Prayed for a full hour?” the cop asked.
“Every morning. Pray and ask forgiveness and seek guidance on how to move more perfectly under His blessed sheltering hand.”
The cop took that in. He could tell she wasn’t moved. She cared only about the robbery and its aftermath, how he’d survived. She was young, maybe late twenties. Difficult to understand anything at that age, he thought. Another of His trials for me.
The cop was polite and didn’t challenge him. She let him explain about buying his coffee from the Korean grocer, the back-and-forth they’d had over the grocer’s kids, and then the cart he’d taken from the locker in the basement of his shitbag tenement.
“And then you headed up Main,” she prompted.
“Right. Up Main to Keefer, to the edge of Chinatown.” Not a rich area, but heavy foot traffic, lots of commuters. A spot he’d had to fight for with the other vendors.
He’d been in place on his corner around ten past five. The sun just emerging, a dry summer day. His cart contained bundles of calendars and he readied them for the start of the commuter onrush that would hit Main Street around five thirty, when the first buses started running towards the Financial District.
The calendars were a strategy to mobilize the city’s indigent, reward their creativity by featuring their photos, plus allow them to sell them and pocket the cash. The idea was to spread a hopeful image of the city, counter its perceived indifference. Vancouver, the place that cares.
The corner where he usually set up skirted a four-story office building with a black glass front. Asian-owned, a few pagoda-like features in the sweeping design of its awnings. He’d waved to the receptionist, an older lady, Malay or Cambodian, nice. She’d glared at him the first few months he’d set up outside, but eventually she’d warmed to him, seeing his work ethic. She’d actually brought him tea a few times. Shitty tea, but still.
“And then the van,” the cop said, steering him. “How long were you in place before you saw the van?”
“Maybe ten minutes?”
“So five twenty, about when it started.”
He’d seen the van circle the block when he’d first arrived. A matte-black Econoline that belched gray clouds of exhaust. Noted the two men on the front bench, noted the blacked-out side windows. Didn’t get much of a look at the driver or passenger.
“You remember how they were dressed?”
“They wore sunglasses, I remember that. Canucks hat on the one driving, old school black and orange. The other was bearded, think he had a shaved head.”
He saw the van crawl up Keefer and make another right. Ten minutes went by. Then it reappeared, stopped by the entrance to the building. The side door slid open and two men piled out. Both were carrying rifles, one with a hockey bag slung across his chest.
“Describe them,” the cop said.
“White guys, I think. Dressed in black. Had masks on, black with the cut-out eyes.”
“Right. They might’ve had shotguns--I don’t really know my weapons, didn’t see them all that close.”
“The driver and passenger?”
“Stayed in the van, I think.”
“And then what happened?”
They stormed the building’s front entrance...
...and that was really all he saw. He heard what came after--couldn’t stop hearing it, three days removed.
The silence, one minute bleeding into the next. Then the first ripple of gunfire, soft, from inside. The door opening, the screams. The shots through the glass, the weird horselike whinny of the receptionist as she was shot through the lungs. The unmuffled, deliberate roar of the final shots, into the onlookers up the street, the squeals and exclamations as the commuters fell.
Then the snarl as the van raced up the block, its engine noise fading to silence.
“And you saw none of that,” the cop said.
“I was around the corner, other side of the building.”
The cop bit her lip.
“Main Street runs north-south,” she said. He shrugged at that. So the cop spelled it out for him, her temper flaring slightly. “The buses run along Main. They don’t turn till Hastings. Your cart and blanket were set at the edge, facing the street. Not around the corner. So how’d you end up so far away from the action?”
Action, he thought. Listen to her. She wants these guys bad.
He hesitated before saying he’d been rousted.
“By whom?” Leaning forward, her pen poised.
“Guy in a dark coat. Grabbed my cart and blanket and flung it around the corner, away from the entrance. I was scrambling to pick up my stuff when I heard the first shots.”
“You didn’t mention this man to the patrol officers,” the cop said. “Had you seen him before?”
“You know, maybe. I see a lotta people.”
“But you don’t remember.”
“No idea why he’d do that.”
“None. But it’s funny, he probably saved my life.”
“Funny,” the cop said.
“Not funny, but--”
He tried to find the words, but ultimately gave up. She wouldn’t understand. She’d chalk it up to--well, not to providence.
But the fact was, the man had saved his life. He’d shoved him back, grabbed the handle of the cart and flung it up the block, around the corner, away from the entrance. It had jolted into the curb, the calendars spilling out into the street. He’d sworn at the man and stooped to rescue his merchandise from the gasoline-rainbowed puddles that ran along the gutters. The man had told him to stay down.
The man had been wearing black jeans and a leather coat, worn-looking, and had a soldierly air to him, and a black toque over his head. When he’d said to get down the man had his own hands up, rolling the toque down over his face, fitting his eyes into the hand-torn holes.
The man had looked back, briefly, to make sure he was busy with his calendars and didn’t pose a threat. Or maybe that he was safe. The man pulled a pistol from his jacket, then turned the corner to join the others. A few minutes later came the first shots.
The cop pressed him for details. “What did the man look like?”
He said he couldn’t remember.
“Sure you didn’t recognize him?” the cop said. “Nothing else you can tell me?”
He could tell her what it felt like to get your load on, to come home to your wife nagging at you again. To be pushed and pushed till you find your hands around her throat. To stagger out of your trailer and sit on the curb, blood on your face, her broken fingernail still embedded in your cheek. To spend more than a decade locked up in Kent, then to be let out at fifty-three years old. To return to your ways, and then to finally hear His call.
And then one day to have your life saved by a man you didn’t know, who’d gone on to kill eight others. To hate that you of all people had been saved, to know you’re unworthy, and yet to recognize His hand in it and be grateful all the same.
“I wasn’t involved,” he said, looking at the gray remains of his coffee. “Far as I know neither was the man.”
“Didn’t see anything else?”
“I was face-down with my calendars on the concrete.”
The cop wrote it down, thanked him.
On their way out of the station the cop passed a husband and wife, told them she’d just be another minute. He looked at them. Relatives of one of the victims, parents, probably. That same look of grief he’d seen from his in-laws from across the courtroom, twenty-odd years ago.
He left the station, walking down Cambie towards the bridge. As he passed over it he wondered what time it was, and if maybe it wasn’t too early for a drink.
Hell and Gone comes out October 23rd in Canada and a little later in the States. It’s available for pre-order here:
Next month I will hopefully/finally be able to share some film/tv news, more H&G updates, and a giveaway…