As Dick Meyers left the office of Lisa Harrison and was on his way out the back entrance of The House of Hope he saw Bill James talking to a couple of residents in the back lane. Both clients held a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee in their hands and had already gratefully accepted free cigarettes provided by Bill.
Dick walked right up to Bill. “ I’m sorry to have to break up this little party,gentlemen, but I need to talk to Mr. James privately,” said Meyers to the two residents. “And here’s a toonie each for you boys for any inconvenience I may have caused you.”
“Gee, thanks man,” one of the residents said as he and his partner headed to Tim Horton’s.
‘So did you pick up any more juicy gossip for your little rag, Bill?” asked Meyers.
“We were just having a friendly conversation, Dick,” replied Bill.
“I hear that you’ve been talking to Lisa Harrison, nosing around about the recent fatality at The House Of Hope.”
“The people have a right to know what’s going on, Dick. Their hard earned tax dollars are paying for that rehabilitation center,” said Bill.
“Most of the people around here don’t pay taxes, Bill. They’re unemployed.”
Bill chuckled, “You think I don’t know that?”
“In fact, Bill I’d say that you’re barely employed yourself. All you do is publish that commie rag of yours and go to public meetings to cause trouble.”
“I’m self employed. You could almost call me a capitalist.”
Now it was Bill Meyer’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, you’re a regular Bill Gates aren’t you, James? I don’t get you. You’re a smart enough guy, you’re educated and you could have yourself a job that would actually provide you with a decent standard of living.”
“In other words I should get a job like yours.”
“No, not like mine. If were younger you probably could have gotten a job as a professional community advocate working for the government.”
“Why didn’t I think of that? I could have a nice, clean office, attend all kinds of boring meetings, push piles of paper all day and pretend that I’m actually helping the community.”
Dick Meyers had just got out of his beige Chrysler 300. He made sure to park it at least a block away from The House of Hope. Dick wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be any damage to his car after he had finished his meeting with Lisa Harrison. When he was last here he indignantly watched a sniffer urinating on the tires of his car.
Dick Meyers was the North End Coordinator of Housing Services for Mental Health Consumers. As part of his duties he had weekly in person meetings with Lisa Harrison. Dick worked hard for his money and was very proud of his car. He could not bare to see any damage to his prized vehicle. His Chrysler 300 was a big car for a big man. At least, Dick Meyers thought of himself as being a big man, and not only in the physical meaning of the word.
Dick was six foot two and weighed close to three hundred pounds, but at this point in his life, Dick liked to think of himself as a big man in terms of having a very important job. After all, he was the guy that made sure that all the mental health facilities in his territory ran well and more importantly stuck to their individual budgets. Dick Meyers prided himself on managing efficient, low cost rehabilitation facilities.
Dick also wanted nothing but good PR for any group home that was under his jurisdiction. When Lisa Harrison had called to tell Dick about Bret Daniel’s death, he knew it was time to go into damage control mode. He wanted this incident forgotten as quickly as possible.
When Dick arrived at Lisa’s office she already had his coffee prepared for him. He didn’t waste any time on small talk. Dick Meyers believed in getting straight to the point.
“Okay, Lisa I need to get all the facts straight about the Bret Daniel’s incident,” said Meyers reaching for his coffee. “I”ll need to ask you a few questions so that I can get some clarification on things.”
“Okay, Dick I’ll tell you everything that I know about Bret’s death. What’s your first question?”
“Do we know for sure what Bret died from?”
“Yes and no. The medical examiner reported that Bret had a cardiac arrest but wasn’t certain what caused it?” answered Lisa.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for one thing there was a significant amount of methamphetamine found in Bret’s body as well as traces of marijuana and cocaine.”
“So the kid died of a heart attack caused by an overdose of drugs.”
“That’s a possibility but there were other factors involved. Bret didn’t have a history of heart trouble and he was in good physical condition,” said Lisa.
“What else?” asked Myers.
“Bret may have been pushed down the stairs and he may have been beaten,” answered Lisa. “The ME found welts on Bret’s back and numerous contusions.”
“So he could have been in a fight and got beaten up?”
“That’s very possible.”
“Were there any witnesses? Anyone who saw Bret before he landed in the stairwell ?”
“The police have an on going investigation. I’m sure that they are still trying to find out if there were any witnesses,” said Lisa.
“Have Bret’s parents been informed?”
Yes, Mr. Daniels has already met with Rick Jennings. Rick told me that Mr. Daniels wants a meeting with The House of Hope administration as soon as possible. We will probably need to meet with him tomorrow.”
“What does Mr. Daniels do for a living?”
“He’s a lecturer at The University of Winnipeg. He wants to know why we only had one staff on duty the night of Bret’s death,” added Lisa.
“This could turn out to be a very unpleasant meeting,” said Dick Meyers.
“That is only one of our problems. Do you remember Bill James?”
“The editor of that communist rag?”
“The one and only. He called me on the phone yesterday.”
“I have nothing to say to you, Mr. James,” was Lisa’s curt response to Bill James’ phone call.
“I heard that there was another fatality at your facility a couple of days ago,” said Bill.
“Who told you that Bill?” demanded Lisa Harrison angrily.
“You know that I can’t reveal my sources, Lisa,” was Bill James’ answer.
“Now, isn’t that convenient. I’m going to check around if you’ve been talking to any of our staff. If I find out that anyone’s given you any information about the operation of The House of Hope they’ll be tossed off the pay roll as fast as the last two were,” said Lisa opening the drawer where she kept her bottle of Tylenol.
“From what I’m hearing the incidents of violence are escalating rapidly of late at The House of Hope,” stated Bill James.
“Is that supposed to be some kind of news flash, Bill?” pouring herself a glass of water from a pitcher filled with ice cubes.
“ I don’t know if you’ve figured it out yet, Bill, but The House of Hope is located in the poorest area of the city. You don’t have to be a social worker to know that poverty breeds crime,” said Lisa.
“So you’re going on record as saying it as a violent criminal act that killed the young man?” Bill pursued sensing an opening.
“I’m not going on the record as saying anything, Mr. James. I’d just like to tell you how easy it is for you to sit back and criticize the way I run The House of Hope,” said Lisa Harrison feeling her blood pressure rise.
“Hang on, Lisa, I know you don’t have an easy job,” replied Bill James defensively.
“You have no idea. You really don’t Bill. I would like to put you in my job for one day. You’d quit before noon,” said Lisa as she noticed her voice increase in volume.
“Of course, I’m not you, Lisa. I could never do your job,” Bill answered.
“I never thought I’d hear you admit it, Bill,” said Lisa relaxing slightly.
“Look Bill, you go to all these city council meetings, have your little communist meetings and publish your little rag you call The People’s Voice, but you have no idea what the reality of the situation is.
“I’m a socialist not a communist, Lisa. I’m deeply offended,” said Bill James with a soft laugh.
“What’s the difference, Bill?”
“Come to some of my meetings and you’ll find out,” Bill answered.
“The police know that only two well, mam. Have a good day.”
Lisa Harrison had risen from her black leather manager’s chair. She was in the process of making coffee when her phone rang. Lisa walked back to her desk to get it.
“Good morning. It’s Bill James from The People’s Voice calling.”
The first thought that crossed Lisa’s mind was, “I wish I had just called in sick this morning.” Yet everyday was much like this in Lisa’s position. There was always some crisis to deal with. Lisa Harrison believed that the best phrase to describe her job description was “intense, daily crisis management.” She always had a bottle of Tylenol Extra-Strength in her desk.
Lisa did not like Bill James. Bill would often come around to The House of Hope to talk to the residents. Bill was not allowed in the facility itself. There was,however, nothing that the administration could do if Bill talked to clients when they went outside the facility to have a smoke. Sometimes Bill would buy a resident a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Tim Horton’s and ask them questions about the goings on at The House of Hope. These conversations would often provide good material for an upcoming article in the People’s Voice.
Lisa had given strict orders to all employees of The House of Hope not to say anything to Bill James or grant him any interviews. The executive director had told the staff that if they were to talk to Bill or answer any of his questions their employment would be terminated. This would be considered “just cause” for firing as the employee would have broken the organization’s
confidentiality agreement. In the past their had been two House of Hope employees who had tested out whether or not the executive director would enforce this policy. To their dismay they found out that Lisa Harrison could and would carry out this disciplinary action. When the two staff contacted their local union for help they were told that the union could do nothing for them as the employees had signed the organization’s confidentiality agreements.
As a people’s advocate Bill James had also been known to attend city council meetings and to voice his concerns about things that were allegedly occurring at The House of Hope. Bill had gone as far as to challenge Lisa Harrison to a debate on a local radio talk show. The executive director continued to ignore his offer. She hoped that the public would see Bill as just a disgruntled communist who was trying to stir up the pot.
“So what’s up Streak?” asked Bill as he moved towards the kitchenette in his suite.
“I got a good one for you now, Billie. A kid died at The House of Hope a couple of days ago,” said the Streak.
Bill let out a sigh. “Not again. How many more people have to die at that facility until the administration wakes up? Most of the recent deaths have been preventable. Did you say that it was a young kid this time?”
“Yeah, early twenties. Educated too, from what I’ve been told,” Streak answered.
“Have they determined the cause of death yet?”
“ I don’t think so. I was listening in on an interview a detective was having with one of the staff. There appears to be multiple probable causes,” answered the Streak.
“Thanks for the heads up Streak. I owe you a free dinner and a pack of cigarettes,” said Bill now feeling fully awake.
After he hung up the phone Bill sat down on his old, over used sofa and properly lit up a pipe full of Borkum Riff. He needed to think this one through. After his experiences working in factories and trying to educate the workers, Bill’s political strategy had taken another direction. He now felt that he could make more of a statement as a community organizer and advocate. There were some paid positions available in this line of work but Bill wasn’t interested in applying for any of them. Not that the government or a charitable organization would offer him a paid position anyway. Bill was too well known as a radical in these circles.
If by some freak of nature Bill were ever to be hired as an official community advocate his life would be a lot different. He would be making a decent salary and wouldn’t have to worry about making every penny count. He could live in a safer part of town and afford a few modest luxuries.
But Bill could never tow the line. He’d met enough people in these paid positions to know that many of them were just lame duck bureaucrats. They had to answer to their bossses in order to keep their jobs. There were politicians that their bosses had to keep happy and the powers to be did not want anyone meddling with the present system.
The status quo worked just fine for the bureaucrats that were higher up the food chain. At the higher administrative levels the salaries were inordinately generous. The people in these positions knew darn well that they probably couldn’t make half this money if they were working in the private employment sector. Most of these upper level bureaucrats actually enjoyed their jobs. Their offices were clean, they had status and could take long coffee and lunch breaks. They would sometimes get to hob knob with the incumbent local politicians. Sure they often had to sit through some long, boring, unproductive meetings. There was tons of superfluous paper work to do and sometimes they had to hear about unhappy, over worked front line workers from different charitable organizations via their union representatives.But, all in all, life was good.
Bill James was just getting out of bed and was about to make himself a coffee when his phone started to ring. Bill ran for the phone and answered it with a raspy voice, “Hello,”
“Hey Bill. It’s Streak. You remember me from The House of Hope hostel?”
Bill grabbed for his pipe and Borkham Riff tobacco. He was waiting for the grogginess in his head to start clearing.
“Streak, Streak, let me think. Aren’t you that tall, skinny old guy with the colorful streaks in his hair?” asked Bill filling the bowl of his pipe with tobacco.
“You were at our last community meeting. You bummed a smoke off me after the meeting.”
“That’s me bud,” Streak verified.
Bill James was a community advocate. He was also a committed socialist who believed in the socialist ideals held by Leon Trotsky. Bill was self employed as the editor and publisher of a local paper called The People’s Voice. He rented the back half of an old rooming house in the inner city. Bill survived on the meager income he made by selling his newspaper and selling some books by socialist authors at his book table when he held his community meetings. Bill’s landlord was also of the socialist persuasion and allowed Bill to live in his suite rent free in exchange for some light maintenance work at the rooming house. Bill kept a couple of stray cats and a one eyed dog that he adopted. Most of the money he made went to feeding his pets.
Bill was fifty-three years old with a pronounced pot belly. He had thick curly black hair and a beard that was well streaked with gray. Bill walked with a limp and used a wooden walking stick. He was only five foot six and if it wasn’t for his corpulence he could have passed for Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings. Bill was well past the age when many of his old socialist buddies from university days had out grown their Marxist-Leninist beliefs. As Bill put it, they had sold out. They had bought into the phony, plastic, capitalist dream. They had sold their souls to Mammon. But not Bill James.
He was as much of a radical now as he was during the nineteen seventies. Everything that he had seen, heard and experienced since then had only confirmed for him the validity of his political beliefs. Bill had been a pre -med student at university but never finished his medical degree. Instead he worked a series of low paying labor jobs where he concentrated on trying to radicalize his fellow workers. All that this accomplished was to get Bill fired from jobs and eventually blacklisted. Therefore, ironically and by necessity he became self employed with his self published, politically radical newspaper.