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It was Friday morning and I greeted my assistant with a spry, “Good morning,” as I have done for the past three-and-a-half years before entering my office. Terrance bound into my office only seconds behind me, as he has done for the past three-and-a-half years, to give me the mail and to notify me of any changes in my day’s appointments.
Terrance’s hair was not its usual colour. It changes constantly — something I attribute to being an occupational hazard when playing in an alternative band on weekends. I felt an urge to ask about this particular hue of burnt orange, but resisted.
“Anything new?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” he replied hesitantly. “Well, actually, yes. You received this weird piece of mail today. I’m surprised it made it to you. I can hardly make out your name.”
I looked at the wrinkled postcard he handed to me. The front was a photo of Niagara Falls at night — nothing particularly interesting. In fact, it seemed dated. Probably taken in the 1980s, I thought, although I did notice that the card was recently posted and had a new stamp. I flipped it over and back a few times searching for clues. There were some short incomprehensible words written in splotchy ink in what could only generously be described as handwriting. My first thought was that I was now the unfortunate recipient of a kidnapping note. But when I looked at the tired photo of the Falls once more I realized who the sender was.
“Filippo!” I cried out at the top of my lungs.
“Angus?” Terrance queried me.
“Oh,” I fell back to earth quickly. “The postcard. It’s from an old friend.”
I toyed with the postcard carelessly, bending and creasing the direction of the Falls, waiting for Terrance to leave so I could examine this new-found treasure closely. But Terrance remained stationary, going through the day’s itinerary. I attempted to avoid ogling his hair, but there was something about it that lured my eyes. Then I realized. His hair was the same colour as Filippo’s! I sat lifelessly as Terrance spoke. His mouth moved, but I heard nothing. I floated away. Silently. Effortlessly. Willingly.
I was back in Grade Three with Filippo and old Mrs. Crouse, our teacher who tormented us daily with horror stories of her childhood in war-torn Europe. It was years later that we found out she really grew up in Timmins. I can remember feeling heart-broken after hearing that news, knowing that she hadn’t actually suffered all those miseries she related to us each day. But I never listened to them much anyhow, because I sat behind Filippo and stared at his burnt orange hair. His colour came about naturally, in as far as red-headed people are concerned.
Filippo was my best friend in Grade Three, but only because I shared my lunch with him so he would protect me from the class bully Nat who wanted me to share my lunch with only himself. Even at that young age, I found that pretzel logic to be confusing. But Filippo had an interesting way of explaining the entire process and took me and four other students, who also required clarification, behind the school one cold January day. He showed us two snowmen. One was round, majestic and pristine. It literally looked like it just rolled off a Christmas card. The other was the same — minus the head. Filippo then asked us which one we would like to be. And from that day forward he had five new customers. Looking back now I see that this was my first taste of organized crime.