Tanner's Tiger Page 2

“Please, Mr. Tanner.” He put his hand to his forehead. “Please…”

I had not meant to say all that. I hadn’t meant to say any of it, really. It just sort of happened.

“I do not require statements of political philosophy from you, Mr. Tanner. One can hear all the extremist nonsense one wishes these days. One can read yards of that lunacy in the separatist press. I have heard all these arguments and know them to be fundamentally absurd. It is even difficult for me to believe that native French Canadians can swallow such a tissue of lies, but apparently a tiny percentage of them can and does. Every society has its lunatic fringe.” He shook his head, deploring the existence of lunatics and fringes. “But you are neither French nor Canadian. I repeat – what is your interest? Why do you intrude in affairs that concern you not at all?”

“I sympathize with the cause.”

“A cause that is not your own?”

It was pointless to argue with him. One either identifies with little ragged bands of political extremists or considers them to be madmen; one either embraces lost causes or deplores them. I could have told this odious man that I was also a member of the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia, the Pan-Hellenic Friendship Society, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the Flat Earth Society – I could have gone on at great length, but why alienate him any further? It would have been a lost cause, and I was already committed to enough of those.

“Why have you come to Montreal, Mr. Tanner?”

“To see Expo.”

“Of course you do not expect me to believe that.”

“I guess not.”

“Would you care to tell me the truth?”

“I already have, but you’re right, I don’t expect you to believe it.”

He pushed his chair back and got to his feet. He turned away from us and walked to the far wall, his hands clasped behind his back. I looked at Minna. She did not look at all happy.

“Mr. Tanner.”


“You plan demonstrations in Montreal? Another outburst of terrorism?”

“I planned to see the fair. That’s all.”

“The Queen is honoring us with a visit, you know. Is your own visit somehow connected with hers?”

“I don’t even know the woman.”

His hands formed fists. He closed his eyes and went rigid all over. For a happy moment I thought he was going to have a stroke. Then he calmed himself down and found his way back into his chair. “I will not waste time with you,” he said. “The MNQ is a joke, a minor irritation. It is not worth our attention. It was foolish of you to attempt to enter Canada and disgusting that you would bring a child with you on such a mission. Of course you must return directly to the United States. You are persona non grata here. I will thank you to concern yourself with American affairs and leave Canadian matters to Canadians.” He consulted a piece of paper. “There is a flight to New York leaving in an hour and twenty minutes. You and your daughter will be on it. You will not return to Canada. Do you understand?”

Minna said, “We cannot go to Expo, Evan?”

“That’s what the man says.”

The man leaned over his desk to smile at Minna. The world’s worst scoundrels always attempt to display their humanity by smiling at children. “I would like to take you to see the fair, little girl, but your father is not allowed in our country.”

“Your mother,” said Minna in Armenian, “is a flea-ridden harlot who has unpardonable relations with the beasts of the field.”

He looked at me. “What language is that?”

“French,” I said.

They kept us in that room until our flight was boarding, and when Minna had to go to the ladies’ room, they sent a matron along with her. They gave me our passports as they put us on the plane, and this time there was no long wait for runway clearance. The flight back to New York was as pleasantly dull as the flight to Montreal. I had two drinks this time, and Minna had another glass of milk, and then we landed at Kennedy. It was close to one o’clock in the morning, Minna was asleep on her feet, and I was ready to dynamite the Canadian Embassy.

I have traveled illegally through most of the world. I have crossed international frontiers on foot, in donkey carts, in automobile trunks, almost every way imaginable. I’ve border-hopped through the Balkans and the Soviet Union. I drove a Russian tank across the demilitarized zone from North to South Vietnam.

And I couldn’t get into Canada.

Chapter 2

Canada .

I hadn’t even wanted to go there in the first place. I had nothing against the country and had enjoyed myself the few times I’d been in Montreal, but the world was full of places I would just as soon be. The Expo was supposed to be a grand thing for Canada, and I was glad it was there; I’m glad the sun’s up there in the sky, but that doesn’t make me anxious to visit it. I had attended the last World’s Fair, in New York. I spent a day standing in various lines and came home with the conviction that the world could have all the fairs it wanted but that it would have to have them without me.

Minna mentioned Expo a couple of times in approximately the tone of voice she used when discussing the Central Park Zoo. I made it obvious to her that we weren’t going, and she gave up. The summer began shaping up nicely. There was a Ukrainian girl named Sonya who was spending a lot of time around the apartment. There was the usual heavy volume of mail to contend with six days a week. There were books and pamphlets and magazines to read, a set of Bantu language records to master, meetings and discussion groups to attend, and, on the business side, a thesis to be written. It was hot as hell outside, but I had an air-conditioner in the apartment and they said the heat would break any day.

Then things began to go to hell.

The first thing to go was the air-conditioner. The heat, as I have mentioned, got worse instead of better, and the forecasters kept being wrong, and the air-conditioner just couldn’t keep up with it all. It dropped dead. It took me two days to get a repairman to look at it, and he collected ten dollars for a house call and took only ten minutes to assure me that the machine was not repairable.

It was an old unit, so that much was only irritating. What was aggravating was the impossibility of replacing the damned thing. The middle of a heat wave is not the best time to order an air-conditioner. The best time, I guess, is in early February, when no one else has the same idea. I called all over town until my fingers had blisters from walking through the Yellow Pages. The best promise I could get was three weeks’ delivery time.

After the air-conditioner died, Sonya moved out, though whether or not there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship, I cannot say. With the thermometer hovering between ninety-five and a hundred, the physical benefits of her companionship were beyond the pale anyway, but it was most unfortunate that our relationship terminated as it did. She put too much chervil in the scrambled eggs, and I was less than diplomatic in calling this fact to her attention. We started shouting at each other. Under more normal circumstances we would have kissed and made up, but the heat made that impossible. It was easier to fight. She threw the scrambled eggs at me, and then she went to the refrigerator and gathered up the other eggs, the raw and as yet unscrambled ones, and began throwing those here and there. One of them wound up in the record player, and I didn’t discover it until the next day when it cooked there while I played a Bantu language record.

Outside, the city was going to screaming hell around me. There was a three-day riot in Brooklyn, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. Some broker ran amok on his lunch hour and shot up Wall Street with an air pistol. Some cops had beaten up some hippies in Tompkins Square Park. The cabdrivers were threatening a strike. The social workers were threatening a strike. The garbagemen were threatening a strike.

I drank a lot of iced tea and tried to concentrate on the thesis I was writing, a doctoral bit on the implications of the Methuen Treaty upon the War of the Spanish Succession. It was a particularly interesting theme and I was having a lot of fun with the research, and when I was about three-fourths of the way through it, Roger Carmody called up and told me I might as well forget it because he had failed his oral examinations and had decided to say the hell with it and join the Army.

I had put a price of $1750 on the thesis, which was reasonable enough. And I had collected half the money in advance, mine to keep now that the job was washed out, but Roger Carmody was a pretty nice fellow and I felt bad about the whole deal, so I gave him all his money back and consequently felt even worse about the whole deal. Someday I would finish the thesis for somebody else and get my money out of it. In the meanwhile my bank balance was lower than I like to have it.

It was just one damned thing after another. A batch of things was hanging in the air in an annoying fashion. In Macedonia a girl named Annalya, the mother of my son Todor, was expecting a second child momentarily; I couldn’t find out a thing about her, and some friends of mine who were normally in close contact with Macedonia didn’t know anything. Other good friends had gone over to Africa to assist a secessionist movement in one of the new states and had quietly disappeared from the face of the earth. No one had any idea what had happened to them, and as they had been last seen in cannibal territory, it was quite probable that they had been eaten.

Then I got an eviction notice from my idiot landlord.

It turned out to be a mistake, of course. My landlord had hired a new secretary, and either she was particularly stupid or he had been singularly incompetent in drilling her in standard procedures, because she had sent eviction notices to every tenant in the half dozen buildings he owned. In my case, all that transpired was an apoplectic phone call, but with a great many of his other tenants he wasn’t so lucky. They were behind in their rent, and were used to things like eviction notices, so they moved. Just like that, the poor clown had a third of his apartments vacant and not a chance of collecting all the back rent.

I suppose he fired the girl. I suppose she went home and yelled at her mother or threw a shoe at the cat. I suppose the cat ran off and scratched someone. It was that kind of summer, and each day was worse than the last one.

By then I knew that the heat wave wasn’t going to end. I didn’t care what the weather bureau said, it was going to remain hot until I got a new air-conditioner. I was positive of it. Everything was going wrong; all of civilization was gradually crumbling around me. I sat in my apartment and read the Book of Jeremiah and waited for the world to end.

And then, of course, I got a message from the Chief.

I’ll have to explain about the Chief. I don’t know very much about him, but then neither does anyone else. He heads some sort of ultrasecret government agency. I don’t know its name, nor, for that matter, do I know the Chief’s name. As far as I can tell, his outfit handles the sort of operations that call for individual agents left on their own initiative and operating from deep cover. While the Central Intelligence Agency, for example, uses elaborate courier nets, the Chief’s men don’t even know each other. They don’t file formal reports, are forbidden even to get in touch with their own headquarters, and are generally left to work things out on their own.

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