DENNIS Strongquill spent the day rushing around, trying to get to as many friends as possible. It was Dec.18, a Tuesday, and this would be the last chance the veteran RCMP constable would have to see them before Christmas. Duty called, and crime didn't take a holiday just because the calendar said Dec. 25. Dennis had volunteered to work through Christmas, so he could get New Year's off. He only had a few hours to make the rounds in his hometown of Barrows before he had to jump in his car and make the nearly three-hour drive to Waywayseecappo.
Although he couldn't be home for Christmas this year, home was coming to him. His girlfriend, Mandy Delorande, was arriving in Waywayseecappo the following night, along with their now seven-week-old daughter, Korrie. Dennis smiled when he thought of the past seven weeks. He felt like a new man, invigorated and full of life -- despite losing a few hours of sleep each night. Mandy was bringing her five other children as well, so it would certainly be a full house. They would be staying in a residence just behind the detachment, provided by the RCMP, where they would enjoy their first full family Christmas together.
"Merry Christmas, Ed!" Dennis said, as he walked up to the front door of his longtime friend, Ed Zastre. The two men went way back, to their days working in the area saw mills together, before Dennis had joined the RCMP at the age of 32. Dennis hadn't forgotten his roots, though, and always remembered the people who were important in his life. Zastre considered Dennis a brother, and cherished the time they'd spend together. On his days off, Dennis would usually come by to visit, usually to sit on the porch and talk, or watch baseball on television. He often brought his guitar, and the men would sing together. Sometimes Dennis and Zastre would head into Winnipeg, a five-hour drive, to see a movie, or go shopping. Zastre had even gone out to Powerview back in the days when Dennis was stationed at that detachment in the central part of the province.
Dennis had a large package in his hand, which he gave to Zastre on the old wooden porch. Zastre, smiling ear to ear, took the gift from his friend. He opened it, revealing a Christmas card and some new weights. He was thrilled. The men talked about their holiday plans, and Dennis said he was looking forward to the New Year's Eve dance at the local community hall. Zastre said he would be there.
"I'll see you on New Year's, then," Dennis said as he walked away with a wave.
Terry Bulycz saw the purple car motoring around Barrows and knew instantly that Dennis was in town. He was sitting on his porch, sipping a beer, when Dennis walked up.
"Do you want a beer?" asked Bulycz, raising his bottle towards Dennis.
"No, I've been fighting that sucker for 10 years," Dennis said with a chuckle.
Bulycz, of course, knew about Dennis' struggle with the bottle, and was happy he'd declined his offer, made simply to be courteous. He also knew about Dennis' wicked sense of humour. One night, when the two men had been playing hockey in nearby Birch River, Dennis had cracked the whole team up when he rushed to get dressed and get home following the game. Jacket on and equipment bag in hand, Dennis walked right out the door -- wearing no pants. Dennis wasn't usually so absent-minded, and most of his friends always figured he set himself up for a laugh, even at his own expense. Dennis was like that, always giving to others.
Bulycz and Dennis had grown up together, and Bulycz was proud of his friend, like most people in the community who wanted to see their own do well. Dennis mentioned he was in a hurry, that he had to go into Waywayseecappo to start his shift, but that he wanted to say hello.
"Looks like you're doing some renovations," Dennis said.
Bulycz invited Dennis into his home for a minute, to show him an addition he'd just finished. Dennis was impressed, but said he had to get going.
"You have a Merry Christmas," Dennis said on his way out the door. He got into his car, and headed for work.
* * *
They were known to many as Old Bull and Young Bull. Dennis Strongquill and Rod Lasson, separated by 25 years in age but seemingly joined at the hip in body and mind. Rod met Dennis a few years earlier while they were at a Rolling Stones concert in Winnipeg. Rod was serving as an auxiliary community police constable in Amaranth at the time, and Dennis quickly took him under his wing, encouraging him to pursue police work. Dennis was there when Rod graduated from the RCMP training academy in 1999. Now the men were working together in close proximity -- Dennis in Waywayseecappo and Rod in nearby Rossburn.
The men laughed whenever they talked about the incident earlier in the year, when Rod got into a fistfight with a local drunk on the streets of Rossburn. Rod was working alone, and found himself quickly overmatched. He grabbed his radio, calling for anyone in the area to help. Dennis was off-duty, but happened to be in the Waywayseecappo detachment just up the highway, picking up some things.
"I'll be right there, buddy!" answered Dennis. The familiar voice brought a smile to Rod's face, and sure enough, Dennis was on scene within minutes. His bright purple Neon was impossible to miss. The drunk took off running into a nearby clothing store, with Dennis and Rod in hot pursuit. They arrested him, only to be confronted by another drunk who claimed to be the man's lawyer.
"All right then, Mr. Lawyer. You're under arrest, too," said Dennis.
Dennis had a magical way with even the most down and out in society. He knew when to crack the whip, but had the softest touch of any cop Rod knew. Dennis would regularly engage those he arrested in conversation, and had a special place in his heart for people battling alcohol addictions. He understood what they were going through. Rod admired those qualities in his good friend.
"You gotta be real careful, Rod," Dennis would often warn.
"You're a similar cop to me. You'll always give people a chance first. But there are people out there who will kill you."
Dennis brought up Rob Thomas, a slain Mountie, when he picked Rod up the evening of Dec. 19 for a quick shopping trip and dinner in Brandon. Dennis had arrived in Waywayseecappo earlier in the day, wanting to get the house ready for Mandy and the kids, who were coming out the next day when he started his shift. The Christmas decorations were hung, the rooms were tidy, but Dennis felt something was still missing -- more presents. That's where Rod came in. He was off-duty, and being a bachelor, didn't have any firm plans preventing him from an impromptu road trip. On the drive out, Dennis began speaking of Rob Thomas.
"I can't believe those fucking guys could do that to someone," he said, an unusual amount of anger and emotion in his voice. "That was just such a cowardly act."
They arrived in Brandon and went straight to the Shopper's Mall, where Dennis had a short list of items -- picture frames, some clothes, and sexy underwear for Mandy. Rod hadn't planned on buying much -- until Dennis found a blue turtleneck sweater hanging on a rack in Sportchek. The price tag was $95.
"I can't afford that," Rod said.
"All the girls will love it on you," Dennis insisted. Conversations with Dennis always seemed to come back to women, a subject he knew quite well. Dennis loved to flirt, no matter where they were. One time, the two men were doing a walk through the Rossburn Hotel when a female patron stopped to say hello. Dennis grabbed the woman's hand and gave it a gentle kiss.
"Rod did tell me there were a lot of beautiful women in here," Dennis said, as the woman turned to butter. As they walked, Dennis turned to Rod and winked.
"I still got 'er, buddy. But I'm taken now," he said.
As Rod mulled over the purchase of the sweater, Dennis grabbed him firmly by the shoulders, the way a parent takes his child when they have something important to say.
"Buy it, Rod. You only live once. It's only money." Rod bought the sweater.
They went for dinner at Kelsey's that night, where Dennis continued to dole out the advice and wax poetic about their lives.
"You're too young to get married," Dennis told Rod, while adding his own life was the happiest it had been in many years. His health was good, he loved Mandy, and Korrie had given him a newfound sense of being.
The waiter came to take their drink order.
Rod ordered a rum and Diet Coke, while Dennis stuck to Diet Coke.
"You know what, Rod? They tell me at AA I could probably have a social drink with a friend now, that I could handle that," said Dennis.
"So I'll make you a promise. You and I are gonna have a drink on New Year's Eve."
Nowhere to Run: The Killing of Constable Dennis Strongquill (240 pages, $11.95) is published by Great Plains Publications. The book will be launched this Thursday with a reading by the author at 7:30 p.m. at Chapters Polo Festival at Empress Street and Maroons Road.