Jim has returned.
I’m as thunderstruck as you are. Genuinely. For weeks, Jeff and I have been scouring satellite feeds, GPS readouts and reconnaissance photos, desperately trying to track down our prodigal field correspondent, the infamous Jim Fairthorne. We’ve tried to contact him by cell phone, email, Morse code, smoke signal and carrier pigeon, and yet we haven’t received so much as a post card in response. For all we knew, Jim’s charred corpse might be lying in a ditch in Kazakhstan being slowly devoured by carrion birds and starving locals.
After escaping the clutches of Mr. Chang, Jim basically vanished off the map, with the exception of one or two cryptic emails received by Jeff and I over the following weeks. To be frank, I could have heard just about any story detailing Jim’s whereabouts during that time, and none of them would have surprised me. Jim has always been a loose cannon; a live wire; a rogue agent: really any cliché you could name that refers to an out-of-control maverick who cannot be contained by walls, fences or social graces.
And now, somehow, he’s returned from behind the veil of secrecy in which he’s cloaked himself for most of his extraordinary life.
A lot of readers have emailed me asking how it is I came to know this elusive enigma of a man, and to be honest I’ve been putting off telling that story until I was certain of Jim’s fate (this would help me determine whether I’d be writing another exposé or a eulogy).
But now Jim is safely back on Canadian soil (though I’m still not sure exactly where he is; he has yet to show his face at the Compound), so I feel it’s time to relate to you, dear readers, the tale of Alex and Jim.
My history with Jim stretches back well over a decade, to the strange and remarkably tepid era that was the late ’90s. Technically speaking, I was a student in good standing at a rural Ontario high school, though I haven’t the faintest idea how I could have merited the “good standing” moniker. My days were spent avoiding the brutal monotony of English courses taught by semi-literate degenerates with missing teeth and nicotine-stained fingers, science labs overseen by nervous gym teachers, and shop classes where I was taught the finer points of operating a band saw by a mean drunk who kept a bottle of Maker’s Mark in a locked drawer of his desk.
Over-inflated ego is common enough in adolescents; in me it reached a fever pitch that nearly translated to psychotic delusion. In my own mind, I was smarter and better-read than most faculty; world-weary and weathered compared to my peers; above any law or rule the institution manufactured to legislate my behaviour. I ceaselessly flouted their arbitrary regulations: my attendance was so rare I was no longer conspicuous by my absence, but instead would be conspicuous by my appearance; the majority of my conscious hours were spent in altered states, deconstructing the superficial hierarchies I saw all around me; my time was spent drifting from social group to social group, gleaning experience and building the great unwritten stories of my imagined future.
In short, I was a total douchebag.
But I wasn’t entirely alone in this. I surrounded myself with a cadre of like-minded pseudo-intellectuals with an earnest desire to prove the system wrong. These brave children (for children is what we were, truth be told) were poets and artists, musicians and critics, drug addicts and alcoholics, freaks and geeks – it all sounds very romantic, doesn’t it? I thought so. Until I hit twenty and realized I was completely full of shit, and so were they.
But of all the self-styled tiny gods that formed our little club, one stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. One man trapped in a boy’s body with a penchant for grunge guitar and the poetry of Charles Bukowski. One man with a fractured, distorted past and a dream to rule the world.
Yep, that was Jim.
I remember the first day we met. I was hiding in an alley beside a local bar in the dirty heart of our little rural town, avoiding the roaming squads of bored police on the hunt for truant students, disorderly drunks and people of colour. A cigarette hung loose in my lips and the black trench coat I wore melded my emaciated form to the midday shadows. I was lost in my own world; the Psychedelic Furs were singing Midnight to Midnight through the buds in my ears and my head was full of bad poetry and burn scars left over from my lately-terminated relationship with the first of what would become a laundry list of misanthropic psychopaths I’d call girlfriends. I was staring out at the street, my view bookended by the filthy brick walls of the alley, when a man ambled by on the sidewalk. His loping gait reminded me of an arthritic gazelle; the Dickey work pants he wore swished as his long legs ate the pavement with wide steps. A blue lab coat waved in the slight spring breeze and the long hair cascading down his back complemented the flow of his jacket. A pair of wire-rimmed John Lennon glasses sat slightly askew on his face; the wispy fragments of a two-day mustache framed a full mouth terminally twisted into a grimace of irritation. Converse sneakers, a cheap polyester dress shirt and a dapper fedora completed an ensemble I would, in later years, come to associate with “asshole hipster”, but at the time I applauded as forward-thinking and unique.
His eyes passed over me peripherally and he ground to a halt. The backwards steps he took towards the alley were somehow more graceful than his forward motion. His eyes caught mine and I was startled by the intensity of his gaze. It was as though I was being dissected under a microscope. He took three great steps into the alley and for the first time, I was face-to-face with a man I would come to know and love like a brother.
Jim: Got an extra smoke?
AJ: Who’s asking?
Jim: Who’s asking who’s asking?
AJ: Look, I don’t make a habit of handing out cigarettes to creepy dudes in Dick Tracey hats. I’m not a vending machine and you’re not a hot girl. At all.
Jim: Fine. The name’s Fairthorne. Now will you give me a goddamn smoke?
AJ: Will you go the fuck away if I do?
Jim: Anybody ever told you you’re kind of a misanthrope?
AJ: Yeah, I get that a lot.
I handed him a cigarette and he looked at me blankly. Sighing, I also produced my Zippo.
Jim: (lighting smoke) Ah. That’s better.
AJ: Fairthorne, eh? I think I’ve seen you around. I’m –
Jim: Alex James. I know. Not too many people don’t know your face, with all the time you spend dicking around with that guitar of yours on stage. You’re pretty good.
AJ: Thanks, I –
Jim: I’m better. Want to start a band?
And that was that. Jim entered my life the same way he enters every situation – by ramming himself in with all the grace and poise of a Peavey ax striking soft wood. You don’t really have any choice in dealing with a guy like Jim – you can adapt to his presence until such time as he decides to vanish, or you can try to force him out. Attempting to force Jim to do anything is about as productive as trying to negotiate a path of destruction with an F5 tornado.
In the years since that day, Jim and I have traveled the earth like the recently-deceased Caine, two beat-up guitars slung into the back of Jim’s old Pontiac sedan (colloquially referred to as the Low Rider). We have fought back-to-back in bars throughout this great land and beyond. Jim’s inordinate interest in Pahlaniuk’s Fight Club served us well in those days. Jim taught me that it only takes five pounds of pressure to break a man’s kneecap, and the most vulnerable part of an adversary’s body is the throat.
And in return, I imparted onto Jim the value of deference; of humility; of listening to the sounds and voices of the world and gleaning wisdom from what we hear. It ought to give you a pretty good idea of Jim’s disposition that I was the one to teach him those things. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
When the Fixer hired Jeff and I that fateful day in September, it had been a few years since Jim and I had been in contact. We drifted apart during an adventure in Pamplona. I was on a pilgrimage to Spain to visit the site of poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s ancestral home, but Jim was dead-set on taking part in the Running of the Bulls. I reluctantly agreed to watch him try to outrun dozens of angry bovines who would likely catch and crush him, if only for the purpose of better understanding Death in the Afternoon. The last time I saw Jim he was frantically waving his arms at me as he sped past, ten-inch horns wrenching and goring at air almost directly behind him. His final words were carried to me over the rising heat of the Spanish air: “Take a picture, motherfucker! I’m going to be a legend!” The bulls closed in and Jim vanished behind an undulating wall of brown hair and bovine musculature. That was the last I saw of him. I left Pamplona shortly after, bound and determined to not be the guy to have to identify his wrecked body and take care of his final arrangements. Fuck that, I thought – they can put him in a ditch. Son of a bitch owed me twenty pesetas anyway.
I often thought of Jim in those years, but I never heard a peep from him. Occasionally a mutual friend would swear he’d seen Jim drinking at a bar in Calcutta or fending off angry Eastern European police in some bereft quarter of Warsaw. I never paid a lot of heed to these rumors, but some part of me always hoped he’d somehow escaped certain death and that he was out there somewhere, raising hell in our traditional manner.
About six months before my first introduction to the Fixer, I was sitting in a dive bar outside of New Orleans. I’d flown down to volunteer my services rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, because I figured – hell, if FEMA and the president were unconcerned about the disaster situation to the south, the rest of us good people had better damn well step up and help out. I’d just finished a long day of hauling planks back and forth and was enjoying a quiet whiskey by myself before I returned to my rented motor home for the night, when a hand fell on my shoulder. My eyes narrowed and my own hand stole into the thigh pocket of my work pants, fingers closing around the six-inch Bowie knife I kept there for especially close encounters. As I turned slowly to face the stranger behind me, my eyes widened in recognition and my jaw literally fell open.
He was sporting a shaved head and aviator sunglasses that made him look like the bastard reincarnation of Hunter S. Thompson, but there was no mistaking that twisted, sardonic smile. It was Jim, alive and well.
I’d like to say a tearful reunion ensued, but I’d be patently lying. What did ensue was a night of some of the hardest drinking I’ve ever done. The bar kicked us out after we literally drank their stock of whiskey dry. We parted ways in the harsh light of dawn with a promise to catch up once we were back up north. I didn’t have the chance to take him up on his offer before I was kidnapped by the Fixer’s hooligans. When the Fixer asked for Jim by name, I finally had solid information through which to contact him – or, at least, as solid as Jim ever was. I had an address in Morocco and a hastily-scribbled email address at a domain name I didn’t recognize. Upon receiving my accommodations at the Compound, I immediately fired off a missive to the elusive Jim. He replied a few days later and I wired him the money necessary for him to square his gambling debts in Rabat and join us in Toronto.
And that’s that. Shortly after his arrival the Fixer dispatched him to Marrakesh to retrieve that stupid fucking ape (who is still residing in a specially-built holding pen down the way from my offices, which makes for a lovely olfactory experience every morning, let me tell you). After much ado, Jim has triumphed over the worst the Far East could throw at him and has rejoined us here in the West. Only time will tell what further adventures Jim will get himself into – and in how many of them I will become an (at best) moderately willing participant. Stay tuned – the action never stops here at the Fixer’s Compound.