Things That Go Bump In The Night

I sometimes refer to myself as a Professional Dilettante. One of the many jobs I have had was driving a patrol car on the night shift for the Commissionaires. I drove from site to site, checked that private property was secure, patrolled the Lower Causeway and the wharfs around the Inner Harbour in Victoria, closed and opened facilities in city parks, and did walkthroughs of construction sites. All of this in the dark during winter storms. I would get wet and stay wet. The heater in the car only served to make my clothes steam and fog up the windows. Also, in BC security guards are not (or were not) allowed to carry any flashlight larger than three-cells. (A three-cell flashlight holds three batteries. A four-cell holds four. And so on.) The reasoning seemed to be that if we had anything larger, we’d use it to beat people. We carried bulk packages of batteries in our cars as a three-cell light had a better than even chance of running out of juice before an eight hour shift was finished. This was just before large LED flashlights with longer battery lives were common.

One of the construction sites on my beat was the Crystal Garden. The Crystal Garden was a botanical garden, tea room, and conference site named after the original Crystal Pool which was the original use of the building. The Crystal Pool in turn was named for its glass roof. At the time it was built, it was the largest indoor salt water pool in the British Empire. A good view of the glass roof can be seen at the Provincial Capital Commission’s website, where you can also read about the history of the building. When I was crawling around inside night after night, the Crystal Garden had been forced to close after the Provincial Capital Commission said they could no longer collect rent from the other tenants in the building. It was being re-purposed as The BC Experience. It was a brief, bad experience, and the building is now part of the Victoria Conference Centre.

My route through the building was to climb the fire escape at the rear and enter at the upper balcony. With the tarp over the roof and safety paper over many of the horizontal windows, which are above the level of the street lights in any event, it was very dark inside. My little three-cell Maglight was the strongest source of light, and it often flickered and failed. The building was an empty space from the peak of the roof to the bottom of the empty pool with balconies around the sides. This space was filled with a ring of scaffolding which changed every night as work progressed on the roof. On the balconies, new free-standing walls and rooms appeared creating new nooks and blind spots. Hundreds of glass panes waiting to be installed were stacked all around, reflecting my light and my image. Construction workers left coats draped over the paint shelves of six-foot stepladders and hard hats on the top steps. As I shone my light around the gloom, human sized and shaped figures loomed. Winter storms lashed and the windows and the tarp. When the wind shifted to a certain direction, the whole giant tarp cracked with a boom like a thunderclap directly overhead. It was spooky.

After circling the upper balcony, I climbed the scaffolding to check below the roof peak— both for intruders and for damage from the storms. Then it was down to the lower balcony to check all the side rooms, down both grand staircases to check the doors to the street. The building was constructed in the ’20s as a grand public palace. The architecture was very impressive, very grand, and—in the dark in a dilapidated state—spooky. The building echoed with the storms and street noise.

After checking all the crannies of the lower balcony, I climbed through the scaffolding again and down into the bottom of the pool. The pool itself was imposing. Almost Olympic size, and clear space almost to the peak of the roof, it felt much larger in the dark when you could tell it was large and indoors but couldn’t see two walls at once. This was also where I ran into the most rats. In the day they hid in the interstitial spaces, but at night they came into the pool to find sandwiches and other tidbits the construction workers dropped from above.

My route took me across the pool to a passageway cut through the end when the gardens were built and into the basement spaces. The pool is a separate structure from the building. There is a space between the pool basin and the exterior walls. I checked that space, the boiler room, maintenance and storage rooms, and the old animal pens from the building’s time as a botanical garden. Finally, I would exit via the basement door, check the construction yard, and return to my car. Throughout my whole patrol—with dressed ladders, reflections in random places, storm and street noise—I was always convinced there was someone else in the building with me. One night there was.

One of the contractors had hired another security company without telling anyone. As I did my checks, my usual paranoia was gradually replaced by the absolute certainty that someone else was in the building with me. For reals. As a security guard, your goal is not to surprise anyone, nor sneak up on them. Let them know you’re there. Let them know they aren’t supposed to be there. Why he didn’t answer my calls, I don’t know. I assume he was an idiot. Answer when someone calls out “Security! Identify yourself.” Especially when you’re security yourself. Eventually I spotted him while we were more than ten meters apart, so a panicked flailing of flashlights was avoided.

Still, I think I could have taken him. Even though he was cheating and had a four-cell flashlight.

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About gordonrhorne

Professional dilettante past my year of grace. View all posts by gordonrhorne

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