True stories can often trigger an idea for a novel or a story. This is always a fantastic moment when the spark that ignites the imagination occurs. Sometimes, those ideas are based on a tragedy, as is the case with my novel The Truth About Scarlet Rose.
When I was in college I worked nights in a Toronto strip club. Every bar of course has its regulars. One of our regulars was a businessman named Chris. He was nick named “Megabucks” because he was rich and he was a big spender. He was in his late fifties, divorced, lonely and he loved to party.
Chris would party all night; drinking, laughing and joking, often with complete strangers and usually he was footing the bill. At least a dozen people—dancers as well as customers constantly surrounded Chris, who would be the centre of attention at the table. He would buy shooters by the tray, and his table would go through several trays in a night. Some nights he’d even buy the entire bar a round.
It wasn’t unusual for Chris to take the party back to his house when the bar closed and continue until sunrise. One night Chris invited the wrong people back to his house. But that was the thing with Chris, when he was drinking he thought everyone was his best friend. Unfortunately that innocent disposition of his would end up costing him everything. The people he invited back to his house that fateful night were two stepbrothers he’d been drinking with. Once there. they robbed him, raped him, then beat and tortured him to death. They were caught eventually and stood trial. Even though the entire truth about what they had done to Chris came out, they were given only a couple of years each jail time.
Because Chris had no family, was portrayed by the defense as a “party boy” alcoholic who hung out at strip-clubs, in the courts eyes it was as if Chris was from a sub-human class of beings, and thus the short sentences for his killers. There was one person, a character witness, who stood up in court for Chris. A young woman named Barbie who worked as a dancer. She was his only friend in the world. At the courthouse the accused’s family called her a whore and yelled profanities at her in the hallway. Even the cops made fun of her, applauding as if she was on stage when she came into the station for questioning.
The shocking story of what happened to Chris, a good man, friendly and generous to a fault, and the laughable sentences his killers received, has stayed with me all these years. The character of Charlie in my book, who is tortured and murdered in a hotel room, is based on Chris. And Charlie’s relationship to his stepdaughter, a dancer named Fiona, is a reflection of the real-life relationship Chris had with Barbie.
I remember reading about Chris’ murder in the paper back when it happened in the 80s. The title read Toronto Businessman Murdered. The story was a small article, maybe three or four paragraphs, somewhere around page ten in the paper—a story you might have missed if you hadn’t been looking for it.
There are other “truths” weaved through my novel, including a man on Canada’s Most Wanted List, child-killer Dennis Melvin Howe, whom I turn into a character. Even Scarlet Rose herself is based on a real person. The inspiration for her came from my friend’s crazy mother when I was a kid.
“Tis strange — but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction” – Lord Byron