Created by Stephen Reid
“After fifteen years as a private investigator — the last ten as a practising drunk –I had lost my license twice and my self-respect more times than I could count. The chances of me ever regaining either were between zero and entropy.”
That’s how long-past-his-prime P.I. “MAC” MacCAULEY sums up his misspent life at the beginning of the seasonal short story, “A Hard-Boiled Christmas,” which originally appeared in the December 23, 1989 issue of Toronto’s The Globe and Mail.
Despite the title, and some wisecracks you could shave with, the yarn’s actually rather heart-warming, as MacCauley, who is admittedly a prick, teams up with his has-been actor pal, Albert, to deliver a bribe from a mobster to the Mayor (and this is year’s before anyone had ever heard of crack-smoking Rob Ford). Just to add to fun, the bribe is to be delivered at the annual Christmas party at the Children’s Shelter–run by his long-suffering, would-be girlfriend, Gallagher.
It’s a good little story, and I read it every Christmas. There’s a nice balance between MacCauley’s cynicism and Gallagher’s wide-eyed optimism. Toss in a good-hearted dame, some orphans, a secret or two, a double-cross and a mobster with his own agenda, and you have a pleasant Yuletide diversion best served up with shortbread and a cold glass of milk.
Plus, there are enough touches of Canada tucked away in there (“Chequebook”? “Kilometre”? Snow at Christmas?) to make even the most hard-boiled Lost Canadian feel a little homesick. Beauty, eh?
It’s too bad this is MacCauley’s only appearance, as far as I know.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Reid first gained notoriety as a member of Canada’s notorious Stop Watch Gang, a team of daredevil bank robbers who pulled off a string of heists from Miami to Montreal, and ended up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. While serving time for those crimes, Reid wrote his first novel, Jackrabbit Parole (1986), a highly entertaining fictional account of a bank robber who escapes from prison and goes on a robbery spree. It proved to be quite a success, both critically and commercially. He received parole in 1987, and lived quietly on Vancouver Island with his wife, Susan Musgrave, a well-respected writer herself, who had served as his editor for the novel. They had kids, and tried to get on with their lives. Reid taught creative writing and worked as a youth counsellor. But their life took another hop in 1999 when Reid was involved in a failed bank job and ensuing shootout with the cops in Victoria, British Columbia, and was charged with ten counts, including attempted murder and armed robbery. It got him 18-year sentence (in all, he served time in over twenty prisons in Canada and the United States). The good news was that he started writing again, editing and contributing to Out of Bounds, a prison magazine, and won the 2013 Victoria Book Award for his second work, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison. He was granted parole in February 2014, but died only a few years later, in 2018.
- “A Hard-Boiled Christmas” (December 23, 1989, The Globe and Mail) | Read it now!
Reprinted in Winter/December 2003, Out of Bounds.