The Case of the Missing Computer
by Tamio Wakayama
The following piece was printed in the January 1988 issue of The Bulletin.
I received the devastating news of a break-in at the Language School. The Bulletin Fujitsu computer, donated to us a little over a year ago, was gone with less than three days left before the printing of our big January issue.
In desperation I called the Vancouver Province and begged them to run a plea for the return of our computer. The Fujitsu, I explained, is practically useless to your average thief since it’s totally incompatible with North American systems and besides, how many people out there could use, much less buy, a hot Japanese word processor without software or documentation. The Bulletin would gratefully accept its return, no questions asked. The article ran the next day under the headline DEADLINE THEFT.
We frantically searched for an alternative way to set the Japanese copy but in the end we had to cancel our date with the printer. The next day I was well into a ‘What a way to begin the new year’ depression when the phone rang.
The caller was a John Wayne, a bartender at one of the sleazier pubs in the Downtown Eastside. He had read about the theft of our computer and as a result of a conversation overheard during work, he knew how to get it back for us if we could come up with the $200 ransom demanded by the thieves. I said I would get back to him.
It was nearly five o’clock so I hurriedly phoned for advice from a lawyer, an insurance agent, and my co-workers at the Bulletin. The opinions were contradictory so I thought, what the hell, might as well go and check it out. Fumiko volunteered to accompany me for “protection”.
Later that night we braved the cold and wandered down to the hotel pub, which even by the lowly standards of the neighbourhood could be generously described as a dive. Amidst the hookers, hustlers, bikers, winos and junkies the presence of two cherubic Bulletin editors stood out like sore thumbs. We cut through the miasma of stale suds and smoke shouted curses (“Close the f..kin door, you f..king idiot!), and the raucous noise of a bad western band to reach the bar where we met Wayne. He turned out to be a bespectacled. rolly-polly gnome of a man, friendly enough but given the ambiance, you’d be hard pressed to trust even the Pope. Behind the counter Wayne immediately asked for some identification—who’s holding up who? We talked as he expertly slung glass after glass of foaming beer.
Wayne: “I cut out the Province article and showed it to Japanese-in-laws in Steveston. Everybody was pretty hot and bothered about it so I thought should try to help out even though I’m scared shitless of dealing with those crazy junkies.”
Me (hoping to establish a war camaraderie): “Steveston, my wife’s from there.”
Wayne: “Yeah? I grew up in Steveston. After school, we used to fight the Japanese kids in the ditches. Back then it was the Rice Wars but now, hell, we’re practically married to half of them.”
Me: “Hee, hee.”
Wayne: “Like I said on the phone, I got a steady job, a home, a wife and three kids. I ain’t going anywhere and now that you know I’m here, you can get back to me anytime you want. I don’t want anything for myself but if these guys don’t get their money they’re just going to trash the machine.”
Me: “Er, ah, gee, I don’t know.” (After all, my mother didn’t raise any foolish kids who would hand over $200 to a total stranger in a sleazy bar.)
Wayne (sensing my discomfort): “If you want, you can write a cheque.”
Me: “Really? Look, let me talk to my partner here before deciding anything.”
Both my partner, Fumiko, and I were, by then, reeling from the fumes and paranoia so we went outside to consult in the cold, crisp night. A cheque! I couldn’t believe it. After a lifetime of crime novels, movies and TV shows we’d never heard of extortion payments by cheque. The deal was looking better every minute and besides, Wayne was practically a blood brother. We decided to go for it.
After a short run to the Bulletin office to get the checkbook, we signed over $200 to Wayne who promised to make the necessary arrangements the same night. If the Fujitsu failed to show up we could always stop payment on the check. We went home to await developments.
I half-heartedly watched Portland cream the Seattle Sonics and then the national and local News. At exactly midnight the phone rang. It was Wayne, telling me to come get the computer.
It was too late to rouse any help, so I re-entered the Pub alone. At the bar, Wayne, with a wriggling, crooked finger, beckoned me to follow. We snaked through the pub and the shabby hotel lobby to a locked, cubbyhole office under the ancient stairs. Oh my God, I thought, there’s going to be four crazed junkies with chainsaws who will now foolishly hold both the Bulletin computer and editor up for ransom. Given the state of our finances, I knew I was a goner.
The tiny office, except for a few odd sticks of cheap furniture, was empty. Sitting on the desk was the Fujitsu enshrouded by a green garbage bag. I plugged it in and less than a minute later the room was suffused with the comforting green glow of the monitor. After profuse thanks and a hearty handshake with Wayne I lugged the computer to the car and drove home to bed.
The computer is now safely back in our office. Koike-san came down early in the morning to give it a thorough check out. It’s working perfectly but we are missing the printer cable, a small but indispensable part of the system. However, we feel quite fortunate in having survived the adventure with only that minor loss.
We have returned to our usual state of controlled panic and barring any other disasters we should be at the printers on Monday. Our apologies to our readers and advertisers for the delay but, as they say, we were faced with circumstances beyond our control.