Helsinki Blood - By James Thompson


July eleventh. A hot summer Sunday. All I want is some goddamned peace and quiet. Now my house is under siege, I have an infant to both care for and protect, and I’m forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: call Sweetness and Milo, my colleagues and subordinates, or accomplices—the definition of their role in my life depends on one’s worldview—and ask them for help.

I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck. Only cortisone shots and dope for pain enable me to get around with a cane, speak and eat without wanting to scream. I’m still recovering from a brain tumor removal six months ago. The operation was a success but had a serious side effect that left me flat, emotionless.

My feelings are returning as the empty space where once a tumor existed fills in with new tissue, but I only feel love for my wife and child, and intermittent like for one or two others. My normal state and reaction toward others is now irritability. My wife, Kate, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has run away from home, out of control of her own emotions, and abandoned me.

These combined problems, any one of which would drive a person to distraction under the best of circumstances, cloud my judgment and affect my behavior. My judgment and behavior were already clouded. I feel so certain it will all end badly that it seems more a portent than an emotion. Auguries and omens of catastrophe seem all around me, just out of sight, but every time I turn to face them, they disappear like apparitions.


June had come to an end. I seldom went out, mostly because mobility was so difficult, but it had been such a bad day—Kate had been gone for around two weeks. I was depressed and in awful pain—that I thought fresh air and sunshine might be good for me, help me gain some perspective. Mental health care workers often recommend just getting out and about to raise spirits. Dumbfucks.

I hadn’t had a haircut in a couple months, went to the barber around the corner and got it cropped military short, as it’s been for more than thirty years. It revealed the scar that runs four inches across the left center of my head to the hairline over my eye. The ugly gunshot wound on my face was no longer bandaged but not healed. Looking in the barber’s mirror, I thought of my severe limp and knew all I needed was a long black leather trench coat to look like a cliché Gestapo torturer in a B movie.

Afterward, I went a little way down the street to Hilpeä Hauki, my favorite bar. I believed it might be therapeutic for me. It’s a cozy, quiet place—they don’t even play music—that specializes in imported beers, and the same faces appear almost daily. Conversations went on around me, but speaking wasn’t required. People often just have a beer and browse through the daily newspapers or sit in silence if they don’t feel chatty.

The patrons almost all know me, or at least of me, and wouldn’t ask questions about my injuries, so I felt comfortable being there. I sat in “the dogs’ corner,” so called because customers are allowed to sit in the squared-off area near the L-shaped bar with their pets. A water bowl was under a side table next to the door. The staff even keeps dog treats handy. I ordered a beer and a kossu—the colloquial for Koskenkorva, a kind of Finnish vodka—and sat on a stool at the bar.

A young drunk guy came in. He was loud, attention-seeking. The bartender, a half Finn, half Brit named Mike, refused him service. He called Mike a vittu pää—a cunt head. Mike is a big guy and used to dealing with such behavior, but I stuck my nose in anyway. “Shut the fuck up,” I said, “or I’ll come over there and beat you to death.”

The asshole was four paces away from me. He checked me out and laughed. “Listen, crip, the only thing you’re going to beat me in is an ugly contest.”

I felt myself seething. Mike leaned over the bar, looked at me, shook his head no. I saw that I had reached down and was going for my backup piece, a Colt .45 with a three-inch barrel in an ankle holster. I didn’t realize I was doing it.

“Bad day?” Mike asked.

I came to my senses and