Updated: Dec 7, 2022
“This is an 'NHL Insider' as you've never imagined. In Crossing the Line, David Sherman has captured the harsh underbelly of pro hockey, the language and humour of the game – and tells a charming love story at the same time." – Roy MacGregor, author, Order of Canada, dean of Canadian hockey writers
Available in quality paperback or ebook and Kindle: www.Indypub.ca/
An excerpt from Crossing the Line: Hockey star encounters reality
The door swung open and there was Elise, in stained apron, looking curious but not surprised. “You’re just in time to taste a stew I’m trying for tomorrow,” she said. “Come up. Don’t kill yourself on all the shoes. I’m a slob.”
There were 20 stairs that brought him to another thin landing and into a hallway. The scent of stew hit him. It smelled good though after his aunt’s roast he might not eat again for a day or two.
“Come in the kitchen,” she said. He followed. It was a long, thin flat, not much light – like most in the neighbourhood – the kitchen at the back, bedrooms on both sides of the corridor that took you through the living room.
He stood as she chopped thin coins of carrots and dumped them in the stew pot.
“What took you so long?” she said, putting her wood spoon on a little plate beside the stove.“I gave you a hell of a kiss. Triple A Angus and it took you a week to show up.”
“I was out of town,” Blake said. “Working.”
“You’re always working or going to work,” she said. “You a business guy? Or maybe an engineer or architect? That’s more sexy. Businessmen, all they want to do is take off their ties and tie you up with them. Then talk about their IPOs. ... Want a glass of wine or water or coffee? I don’t have any dope or any- thing.”
“No, I’m ... water. Water would be good.”
She took a Brita pitcher out of the fridge and poured two glasses and squeezed some lemon juice into each and handed him a glass.
“You’re a good-looking guy. In good shape. And you have money, cause like who else rips up hundred-dollar bills? You an international drug dealer?”
Blake knew sometimes it was best to keep his mouth shut. Besides, he liked listening to her.
“No ring, no ring mark, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Elise said. “Are you unattached, married? Criminal? Neurotic? Mummy issues? Daddy issues? A conservative? Recovering Trumpite?”
“Maybe,” Blake said. “Got addiction problems?” “Working on it. This an interview?” “I don’t want to fall in love with someone that’s nuts, is a fascist or is going to obsess about how terrible his daddy was to him.”
“Gave a cab driver a hundred bucks for a stranger so I guess I’m a little nuts,” he said. “I’m not suggesting falling in love. More like a drink or a cup of coffee.”
“No man knocks on a woman’s door at this hour wanting a cup of coffee,” she said. “Unless there’s something wrong with him. What’s on your agenda?”
Blake shrugged. “You’re lonely and horny,” she said. “Aren’t you?” he said. “I don’t know. Horny? Oh, Gawd, yes! Always. Lonely? Not sure. I’m particular. You like your work? You must, you work a lot. You a model or something like that? You have the looks and you carry yourself kind’ve graceful though ...” She cocked her head, looked him in the eyes. “There’s a kind of menace there. Curious. You don’t seem to be a hitman.”
“I’m a model of something but don’t know what and I don’t model. Uh, I did, though, a couple of times for a fashion show for a children’s charity when I was in Dallas. We all did. Wasn’t really by choice. Hitman? Maybe. Sort of. You could model aprons. Looks good on you. I hear you work a long day yourself. Security guard told me.”
“You’re a private eye like Phillip Marlowe or Spenser? I like to cook and I like the old folks so I’m lucky. And I like to eat and be able to pay the rent, though I’m sure they’ll condo this place any hour. I do a hundred twenty-three meals, lunch and supper, three days a week. Tough during Covid, people had no taste, kept complaining about the food but ...” She shrugged and smiled, then a shadow passed across her face and it turned dark, her eyes stopped shining, the smile tightened.
“We lost 38,” she said. She stared at the wall over Blake’s head and then she returned from wherever she had been. ... “I work there three days a week. This is for my other kinda job.”
“Two jobs?” he said.
“Other kinda job just a stipend. Practically volunteer work. Two days a week. Community Kitchen. We opened it during Covid and haven’t been able to close it. People still hungry. People still homeless. I think I’ll have a job for a while.”
“Don’t people have welfare or unemployment?” Blake said. “Something?”
“They spend it all on drugs and Cadillacs, don’t you know?” she said.“Where you from?”
“Here,” he said. “Been away a while.”
“You’re probably on airplanes and eat in restaurants and get cabs to keep the poor off you. Don’t see them. Nobody sees them.”
“I see them,” he said. “Don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”
“Most write a cheque if they have money and forget about it,” she said. “We ask for money they say they already gave. And they did. But...”
She seemed exasperated, but Blake was unsure if it was the topic or his ignorance. “The stew’s for them. Lunch day after tomorrow. And then dinner. Not supposed to cook here and serve there, against the rules, but ... screw it. No choice.”
“I’m not like everyone else,” he said. “When I don’t know what to do, I don’t write cheques. I try and find out.”
“I’ll show you,” she said. “Follow.”
He did, through the kitchen and into a small back room, designed 100 years ago for a maid. It was lined with two deep freezers and three fridges.
“Ta da?” She opened a fridge and it was packed with chickens, covered in plastic, on Styrofoam trays, stacked on top of each other. “Get ’em at Provigo when they have two-for-twelve-dollar sales. No limit. They taste like paste but it’s protein I can afford. I’ll do chicken stew but at this price the stew really has chicken in it; not all potatoes and frozen peas.”
“What’s in the freezers?”
“Chicken in one and pork roasts I found on sale in another. For next week.”
“Who pays for this stuff?” “I do,” she said. “Really?”
“Someone has to. We send out letters and little videos asking for money and we get a hundred here and a hundred there.” She shrugged, led him back to the kitchen. “Besides, all those chickens cost me a couple of hundred, no big deal, feed a lot of people, but that was before my car was smashed and I gotta look after that. And the rent’s late. ... Why you work so much?”
“Just the job,” he said. “You buy food and cook it and give it away?
“Guess so. Put it that way, I sound like a loon.” “No, I think it’s amazing. I never knew... I ... Can I help?”
“Can you cook?” she said, leaning against the counter, slipping out of her apron and slinging it over a chair. She was wearing a tight denim shirt, three buttons open, tight jeans and a men’s suit vest that rode high, pushed up and open by her breasts. She buttoned the shirt until only her neck was exposed. “I wasn’t expecting company,” she said. “I’m not an exhibitionist. .. Usually.” “And I’m not a voyeur but if I was ...” he said. “I can scramble eggs.” “In a pan or dropped on a floor,” she said, smiling. “In a pan. I can make a pretty good espresso. But I’m away a
lot.” “So, why? Where you go? Is it secret?” “Uhm, just part of the job. ... How do you deliver all that food?”
“I used to have a car. Someone will come by tomorrow and get it all. There are other people cooking. We have a central kitchen in an old restaurant that went under during Covid. Not sure for how long but the owner’s kind of sympathetic. But ... We go week by week, you know? Like a lot of people. ... Sorry. I bet you said I’m going to visit that woman I met in the snow bank and get really depressed. What do you do? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re coming to the kitchen for food?”
“Let me ask you, you buy all this food, how much you make a year?”
“I’m independently wealthy,” she said. “I inherited Amazon stock. But, since I’m bored with the burden of my vast fortune, I work for thirty-eight thousand a year. And the Community Kitchen or La Cuisine Communautaire pays a little more, like I said. I lied about the Amazon stock.”
Blake turned away. He knew what he earned per game. About twice what she earned in an entire year. And he only played 25 minutes a game.
“I can donate a few bucks,” Blake said. “I’m doing all right.”
“You know what I do. I don’t even know your name.”
“Blake Fowler,” he said. “Nice of you to stop by,” she said. “Now you know all about me. A little about me. I work a lot and I make shit and I’m always in debt. ... Blake Fowler? Why do I know that name?”
“I play hockey. I ...” “You the guy used to live here and just came back to play for the Canadiens?” He nodded.
“My God, they’re talking about you making more money than Disneyland and you’re here with a scullery maid,” she said. And started to laugh. “You’re a superstar big shot. Really like Triple A Angus beef. What’re you doing here?”
“I wanted to see how you were doing, you know,” he said. He prodded his psyche. He was turning shy, inhibited. What was this woman doing to him? “Your car got chewed, you were hopping around on one foot and you lost your loaves. Wanted to see if you pulled a Jesus and made the loaves multiply to feed the masses or ... I’m new in town, don’t know anyone.”
“I’ve watched a game or two on TV. Humans can’t do those things and survive. You a cyborg?”
“I wonder myself.” “You’re not a normal person.” “Are you a normal person?” “Of course not, but I’m not like famous, worshipped, wealthy and talented. I’m just a normal abnormal person. You’re like ... too much. What are you doing here? Don’t you guys have an agency that supplies glamorous women who fall out of their clothes just for athletes? Great clothes, perfect hair? I know, you’re Prince Charming and you take them away in a pumpkin.”
“Mohammed’s driving. He says you’re a lovely woman.”
“The cab driver? Is he waiting? The same guy? Did you buy his country?”
“I hope not,” Blake said.
“Blake or Mr. Fowler, sir, you’re a hot guy, I’m sure women just ... they’d pay to spend a night with you. If you need to make extra cash, I have a few friends.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I don’t even wear makeup. My hair gets cut, usually by my friend Jess. I don’t get coiffed, no facials, I have premature cellulite, and I always smell of raw sausage or creamed corn and you can’t take me anywhere.”
“We’ll stay here,” Blake said.
“If we go to a good restaurant ever, I don’t even know which fork to use,” Elise said. “I’m not domesticated. I think I need to use my litter.”
“I came over ’cause your kiss ... I had to see you.” “How can we have a normal relationship? It’s impossible.”
“Neither of us are normal,” Blake said. “And you think ’cause I gave you a simple kiss, no tongue – quite a bit of English on it, lotta hip – to thank you for your gallantry ... My mother warned me about guys like you.”
“No, just guys who appear at my door looking like lost puppies, needing their bellies scratched.”
“My belly doesn’t need scratching, probably just some elastic bandage. I just came to ... see how you are. I didn’t think about ...”
This was beginning to feel like work. He had never tried to impress a woman before. He had never even thought about it.
“You didn’t think,” she said. “Good thing in a man.”
She turned to the stove, covered the cast-iron pot, killed the heat.
“Here’s the deal, Mr. Fowler. I’m no groupie. I have a good life. I want to know now if you’re going to mess with my head, if I can expect use and abuse or macho craziness or passive aggression. You’re sexy and that whole damsel-in-distress thing very noble.”
“This is getting weird,” Blake said. “I thought, maybe, we ...”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” she said. “Problem is, Mr. Fowler, I’m not a swipe right kind of girl. I have to know you before we ...uh ...advance to the biblical sense of knowing each other. You want to go have a drink? Have to be back for this stuff.”
She waved her hand at the stove.