In his latest collection of short fiction, the dean of City Hall's press gallery writes about knife fights in the Clamshell parking garage.
For more than two decades, Metroland Media reporter and columnist David Nickle has been a fixture at City Hall—but when he’s not writing about the latest transit debacle or policy disaster, he’s writing fictional horror stories.
In the title story of his latest collection, Knife Fight and Other Struggles, Nickle’s depiction of municipal politics is dark and absurd, even by Toronto’s standards. Published by ChiZine, Knife Fight features a mayor who is totally not Rob Ford. Sure, he may be bullheaded, confrontational, and have a politician-brother at his side—but he likes LRTs, so he’s way different.
There are no heroes in this story, but naturally the mayor’s nemesis is a journalist—a prolific tabloid writer named Stan. In an interview, Nickle explained that the story originated when a group of students on a tour of City Hall asked the press gallery if they had any dirt on Rob Ford that they could use against him when they visited his office. When the class left, Nickle joked that he should have told them the mayor is an accomplished knife fighter, and once fought the Toronto Sun‘s Don Peat to a standstill.
And so Knife Fight was born. The fictional mayor fights a fictional journalist in the fictional City Hall parking garage, where civil servants park their cars at a distance to keep them clear of errant slashes. Other journalists know that it’s going on, but know better than to write about it—the mayor is an expert knife fighter, after all.
With City Hall distracted by the weekly spectacle, the city slowly deteriorates. The mayor oversees a garbage strike just before Halloween, and bus drivers walk out in solidarity. The City teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, and newspaper editors dub it “The Year of the Atrocity.”
Nickle told Torontoist that he believes Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), and John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) would make good knife fighters. And among journalists, he cited NOW‘s Jonathan Goldsbie, the Sun‘s Peat, and the CBC’s Jamie Strashin as worthy potential opponents. Nickle said the Star‘s Daniel Dale proved himself far too level-headed for such nonsense.
The knives flashed ribbons of steel through the air as the combatants danced across the concrete floor of the garage where it was not smeared with long slides of goose fat and back hair. A fluorescent tube sent a snowfall of shattered glass as the bowie knife cut through it; the director of Community Services spent the second part of the fight huddled behind a Subaru, applying pressure to an accidental slash across his arm from the fine-honed blade of the butterfly knife.
Although it was warm in the parking garage, the city clerk rolled up the windows on his Citroen and kept low as he clacked away on the minutes of the second instalment of the knife fight.
This one lasted longer than the first—the mayor’s cousin called it at twenty-seven minutes, fifty-three seconds, standing over the mayor collapsed on his back, while Stan, similarly exhausted, propped himself against a cement pillar. The two may have been invulnerable that afternoon to mere steel—but middle age and the hot, dry, carbon-monoxide-rich air of the VIP parking garage were another matter.
“Why don’t you call it a draw?” cried the director of Community Services, blood staining his fingers and necktie where he held it against his arm.
“Haven’t you proved enough?”
The mayor drew a wheezing breath and fixed narrow eyes on the bureaucrat, who looked away. The mayor turned back to Stan, who was coming out the other side of a long coughing ft.
“These are the end times,” the mayor said, and sat still a moment, before gathering himself up and quitting the ring.