Inside Hunter’s Lair

I knew Hunter long before he lived in this lair, so gaining access was not too difficult for me. I know that only a select few could get past the front door. Those few were expected to vet any acquaintance they might want to sponsor into the lair. It was a simple, humble, red brick house on a busy urban street. Although quite far from the center of downtown, it stood on a major artery that ran through the heart of the city. Large, modern street cars rumbled past, back and forth, and the old house trembled slightly.

sackville-street

Behind the house a yard was littered with parts of machines and building materials. There was no grass, just exposed hard earth with tufts of weed and wildflowers poking through at random places. Beside the yard, at the end of the narrow driveway, a rickety looking garage stood surrounded by weeds, steel barrels and some boards. A small pedestrian door was visible in the blocked car-size door. One had to be in very good standing with Hunter to get beyond the house and into the garage. People who didn’t know about the garage didn’t pay it any attention. It appeared to be so broken down even people who were accepted into the house barely noticed it.

Of slightly more interest were two old cars in the driveway in front of the garage. They were obviously not mobile because tall weeds and grass had grown up through them and around them. They were fairly rare, and Hunter was determined to someday finish rebuilding them. One was an original 1962 Austin Mini and the other a 1956 Volvo 544. I had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t complete them when he got to it.

Volvo

Out front, the small lawn was reasonably well-groomed. It was hidden from the busy street by thick foliage on the bushes that bordered the sidewalk outside. The only opening was for the steps up to the walkway that led to the wide wooden steps up to the porch. The porch was virtually filled with boxes, trunks, and parts of machines. There was, however, a clear path to the front door. The door was mostly glass and provided a clear view through the second glass door beyond the small vestibule. Through the vestibule door could be seen the stairs up the left wall to the second and third floors.

Opposite the staircase, on the right, was the only door in that hallway. It led to the lair. The two upper floors were unoccupied for many years. When my own daughter got to be about twenty, he rented the two upper floors to her. He charged her about half what the space was really worth. I assumed it was partly because of some favour I’d done for him decades before and partly because my daughter earned special status with Hunter in her own right. He’d known her since she was four years old, which is when I met him and we became friends. My daughter had earned entry into Hunter’s inner circle, including access to the old garage, totally on her own.

The lair was just a shambles. There was nothing but stuff and boxes stored in the dining room and the living room which was right at the front looking out onto the porch was simply covered with what appeared to be rags. Coats, pants, shirts, quilts, blankets and more hid any furniture that might have been there. A single bed, similarly hidden in blankets and clothes is where Hunter slept.

The walls of both rooms were quite a different story. They were decorated beautifully with a variety of original paintings. Hunter admired art, and several artists were part of his inner circle. He contributed to their growth by purchasing a few paintings that he liked. Some of the paintings were hyper-real and others were impressionist but all were nicely mounted in tasteful frames that complimented the artwork within them. I remember a time when Hunter learned one of the artists he tried to support was not really serious but was just playing the part of the traditional starving artist.

Hunter was so furious at having been duped and for this German guy to be laughing up his sleeve while he slouched around town taking advantage of people. Hunter didn’t hesitate. He gathered up all of Gunnar’s paintings, and literally threw them out into the garbage after he cut them out of their frames. He grumbled about Gunnar for at least a year after.

Over the years I took several people to the lair. Usually it was a woman whom I was dating and knew she would be safe to take there. I knew that Hunter had an interesting background. He had lived in some foreign lands because they moved around as demanded by his father’s international profession. He had gone to prestigious private schools and formed contacts at the very highest level of international business and politics. However, Hunter didn’t follow the family line and struck out on his own early in life.

He had a volatile relationship with his father and was close with his mother. His rebellious activities were at a level that would befit a Hollywood blockbuster. While boarded at some high level private school, he and a schoolmate conspired to commandeer the school radio station and broadcast some very unseemly programs. Hunter was expelled as was his companion, Alexander. Hunter returned home, which was in Quebec at that time. He and his father had a flat-out fist fight. Hunter’s father was a rugged man and no slouch even in his forties. All the same, Hunter whipped his father and left home. He was nineteen.

St.John's Newfie

My third wife was a marginal aristocrat. Her father, although Canadian, joined the British military during the Second World War. He had been living in the Channel Islands to avoid taxes and child support from a previous marriage. He was quite a rogue, as aristocrat wannabes often are. I took my third wife, Penelope to the lair. The moment I introduced them they began to gab together like long-time pals. I was surprised that the rather stiff, aristocratic lady simply fell into mutually animated conversation with this motorcycle tough in this shambles of a kitchen.

I began to pay attention to their conversation. It seems that the aristocratic woman knew some of the rascals with whom Hunter used to run. They had mutual acquaintances and friends. Hunter had a fairly lofty way of life when he was a bit younger. Obviously he didn’t take to it. Instead he got himself a powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle and rode around the mountainous area of Quebec.

There were other unexpected things about Hunter. Aside from the art on the walls there was a large Ford Thunderbird in the front of the driveway for the few occasions when he drove somewhere.  When he drove, it was best not to drive with him. He was recklessly fast and always slammed on the brakes at the dangerously last second. I remember a time when he was driving an old pickup truck for some reason. I was in the passenger seat. He parked in front of my apartment and backed into the spot too fast and too far and the high tailgate smashed the headlights and buckled the hood of a Toyota parked behind us. He lurched forward a few feet and shut off the engine, stepped out of the truck and went into the building without even glancing at the damage to the Toyota or the truck. He didn’t even put the truck in a different spot to avoid detection.

Visiting the lair meant sitting around in the kitchen. A kitchen table was against one wall and Hunter sat in an old office type chair. A large refrigerator at one end of the room was filled with bottles of Heineken beer. The wall at the other end of the kitchen had an old, two-burner gas stove, an old porcelain sink and some shelves. Hunter never cooked so the stove was used only to boil water to make coffee and tea, usually tea.

A large black cat was usually perched on top of the fridge, dozing. One wall was covered with stacks of magazines and newspapers. The wall over the table was covered with several layers of notes, photos, articles and such things. Some were more than five years old and might be several layers beneath more current notes and articles.

There was a plain, black, traditional phone on the table among ashtrays and more current magazines. If there were more than two visitors allowed into the lair at one time, the two simple folding garden chairs were obviously not enough. There were a few white plastic tubs in the room that were originally used for some kind of industrial products. They were the height of the average chair and were pressed into service as seats for visitors when there were more than two.

It was commonplace during a visit with Hunter that some person, usually a young man or woman, would come to the back door of the house. The back door opened onto the kitchen after a small, dark vestibule area that was crammed with boxes of junk. Hunter always seemed to know why the young people were there, and wordlessly set about sending them on their way. If someone was seated on one of the white tubs they would be asked to rise. Hunter would pop the top off the tub and fish out of it a number of ounce and quarter ounce bags of top quality marijuana. He would pass them to the street vendor and send him or her on their way back to work. He’d calmly put the lid back on the tub and invite the guest to take the seat again.

Hunter believed, quite rightly, that the war against marijuana was not legitimate. He was fiercely opposed to the harder drugs, and often did things to interfere with the activities of dealers in cocaine, crack and heroin. He had many good reasons to mistrust the police and knew from first-hand experience that they often rig arrests in their own favour even without legitimate proof. Hunter’s anti-law activities were driven as much by his disgust with the authorities’ mendacity as his desire to earn a good living under the radar.

There were many more eccentricities about Hunter. His diet was most peculiar. He would decide upon a small, home cooking kind of restaurant or diner and would go to that place every day. He would have a set order that was to be brought to his table. One time it was four sunny-side-up eggs and buttered whole wheat toast. He ate that every day for about fourteen months.

One day something in that restaurant bothered him. Perhaps a server annoyed him or the eggs were too loose or too well done. Anything or nothing could put him off. He chose another small restaurant that became his everyday meal. He didn’t stay with the eggs. He had an open-faced Salisbury Steak (hamburger) sandwich every day for another year or so. This transition of place and meal repeated every eighteen to twenty-four months over several decades.

Very often, Hunter would talk to his visitors about various subjects. He would tell a story that proved the police were criminals. He would talk about sailing, which he loved and sometimes did. He would talk about European types of auto racing, which he also did in sedan racing. He would talk about motorcycles which he loved. If one was a close enough insider, one could be invited out to the garage.

Ragnar

The garage was left with its rotting exterior to disguise the interior. The interior was protected by state of the art skill and materials all around. The roof was covered by a single, large rubber membrane that assured protection against leaks. The floor of the garage was heated and there was a small upper level like a mezzanine. The heat rose from the floor and kept the garage comfortable. On the floor was Hunter’s collection of motorcycles. There were six BMWs, each of historic value from as far back as the nineteen-twenties up through the fifties, sixties and eighties. On the walls were framed black and white photos of Hunter in one of his racing cars and some similar photos of me in my car. I don’t remember those photos or how Hunter came to have them.

The final reminiscence before I leave this trip through my relationship with one of my favourite and most trusted people. Yes, he was a criminal. He had served time in prison. But he was more trustworthy and dependable than a lot of respected lawyers and bank managers. I like criminals because they’re exciting and interesting and if they accept you and trust you, even though they know you’re straight within the law, they are an ally. They also show a lot of respect to you if you make your way in the world and earn a living honestly because they find that too difficult for them to do.

We return to the old kitchen from the backyard garage. We pass through to an old white door in a corner of the kitchen. It leads to the basement. At the bottom of the old wooden steps we see that there is a room that fills the entire space except for a long narrow hallway between the wall of the inner room and the exterior basement wall. At the far end of this dark corridor is the electric meter and fuse boxes. The only reason for the hallway was to permit access for the meter-reader.

Hunter opens the hidden door to the inner room. There are six long rows of heavy plastic troughs with liquid in them. Plastic tubes fed some nutrients into the liquid, over the troughs were huge, high intensity light fixtures and in the troughs, reaching for the lights were thousands of dollars worth of hydroponic marijuana plants.

It’s not easy to gain access to Hunter’s lair, but there are a lot of interesting things to experience there if you do get in. I remember other interesting things about Hunter, or Hunter and I together. We were from very different roots and backgrounds but were united by mutual respect and trust. I might write some more about us some time.

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