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Friday, June 03, 2005

Interview interruptus

Henry MacIntosh came back from his interview with a headache. The story should have been easy enough to write: yet another woman victimized in a sex attack in Stanley Park. There had been a string of reported sexual assaults in and around the park over the last few months. Several women had reported a man had groped them as they jogged past, and one woman was grabbed by the wrists by a man who attempted to pull her off a trail and into some bushes. All had fought their attackers and gotten away safe. But this time, it wasn't a youthful jogger and the victim wasn't so lucky.

Henry sighed deeply and took a giant gulp of the lukewarm coffee on his desk. The office brew was awful stuff, but it was either that or spend ten bucks a day on his five-cup habit. With the baby on the way, there were more pressing uses for that fifty bucks a week, or so Penny insisted. No one goes into journalism for the money, but if it wasn't for Penny's salary Henry'd be lucky if he could afford to eat every second day on the lean, and often late, cheques he picked up freelancing. He still wasn't sure how they'd afford the drop in income when she went on maternity leave. Henry was on a temp gig at City Scoop, a new free bi-weekly locally referred to as the Pooper Scoop for its shitty content. He was filling in for a reporter who was herself on mat leave. Penny was hoping the paper would keep him on permanently after the contract was up but Henry was secretly glad there was an end in sight to the daily grind.

Henry set his tape recorder on the borrowed desk. It was made out of laminated particleboard and aging poorly. The thin strips of wood finish were peeling at the corners. When Henry wore knit sweaters they sometimes got caught on the edges, not only catching the yarn and pulling holes in his sleeves but also further destroying the desk's cracking facade. Henry prudently rolled up his sleeves and began reviewing the notes for his story.

Jocasta Smith was found in Stanley Park two days ago, a week after she was reported missing and nearly a month since the date she was believed to have disappeared. The 65-year-old woman appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Witnesses called police when they spotted her emerging naked from the trees, visibly battered and bruised, in the middle of the day.

Henry supposed he could write it that way. But there was so much more to the story.

Police had a suspect in custody, a man she apparently had a date with the day she disappeared, a Mr. Leonardo Oliver. Oliver was in town trying to establish a B.C. arm of his Winnipeg landscaping business. How he and Jocasta met was still a mystery - Jocasta's daughter cut short the interview and herded him out the door as soon as Jocasta started talking about the bear ...

It wasn't that unusual for the timeline in this sort of thing to be a bit fuzzy, Henry supposed, especially when a person wasn't immediately reported missing. As far as he understood, it took three weeks for anyone to suspect something might have happened to the elderly woman. No, what was getting to Henry was Jocasta's tale itself. It was, well, just plain weird.

He plugged headphones into the tape recorder and pressed play.

"... not sure just what it was, just a big dark shadow ..." Jocasta's voice was a bit distorted by the tape, hushed and brittle. Henry stopped the tape, tossed the headphones back on the desk and rewound to the beginning of the interview. There was no way he was going to write in the story that she thought a fucking bear raped her. Henry wasn't about to speculate about a mystery rapist either. There had been no official response to the media on the issue. The police would only say they were investigating, and the doctors that examined Jocasta were, of course, forbidden to discuss what they found.

The blinking cursor in the blank Word document seemed to mock him. Clippy the Office assistant squirmed on the bottom right corner of his screen. Three hours to deadline. The figures in Henry's bobblehead collection stared at him from atop the computer monitor. He tapped each one on its nose, first the emaciated chihuaha, then the Christmas elf, the pig with the maple leaf eyes (Canadian bacon, eh) and finally his three prized Canucks players, Bertuzzi, Naslund and Jovanovski. Creepy little fuckers, he thought, looking at the grinning, nodding gallery.

The tape recorder clicked when it had finished rewinding. Henry donned the headphones. His voice always sounded tinnier and more nasal than he heard it in his head.

"Ms. Smith, I appreciate your being willing to talk with me ..."

"Remember, 10 minutes only," the daughter, Delta snapped. "She's very shaken up. Remember, momma, you don't have to tell him anything you don't want to. Are you sure you want to give this interview?"

Henry remembered thinking the pain in the daughter almost seemed more acute than in the mother. Jocasta, oddly calm, just nodded.

"Thank you Ms. Smith," Henry heard himself say. "So, let's get started. What happened?"

"Well, Leo came over to cook me dinner ..."

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