The Uninvited Guest

An excerpt.

Christmas, 2005 / No. 15
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

On a cool July evening in 1979, at the Hotel Royal, in Göteborg, Sweden, Stan wheeled the cup to his room using a luggage dolly he’d borrowed from the bell captain. The party had been short and respectful, one of the family- and officials-only events Stan preferred, since rarely did anyone get too drunk and make a mess he would have to clean up. The formal ceremonies had finished early, around ten in the evening, after a nine-course meal and several rounds of toasts. The young champion Swede, Oleg Bandol, had moved his smaller party of friends from the dining hall into the hotel bar, giving Stan a chance to put the cup to bed early for a change.

As was his habit, he set the trophy in the bathroom, in the tub behind a drawn shower curtain, then locked and unlocked the room door several times to test for any quirks in the ancient mechanism. Leaving lights on and the room radio tuned to a jazz station, just loud enough to be heard from the hallway, he hung the paper Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob and slipped quietly down the stairwell to the ornate lobby. Having earlier sussed the entire hotel, Stan knew to turn left at the tiny bronze statue of a naked woman and continue through a small wallpapered door, out the staff entrance, and into a short alleyway leading to Drottntnggatan, a street in the city centre. In doing so, he need not cross in front of the threshold to the bar, where the remainder of the party could be heard singing and laughing.

Rooms are made secure through ideas as much as through locks. Stan tried always to leave hotels alone while others believed him still there. He had a reputation among the players for always retiring to his room as early as possible, and staying there until very near flight time. He ordered a schedule of meals ahead of time through room service to maintain a steady pattern of food trays on the floor outside his door. A careful eye would notice the plate covers had been untouched, but hotels are not places for careful eyes. Being the boring old man who slept with the cup was a style he cultivated. It was his freedom.

Stan walked the darkened streets of Göteborg in a fog of cool salt air, following a long canal east out of the main tourist district and into the first ring of homes. In the car on the way from the airport, he had begun to orient himself with the grid, using the position of the sun to get a sense of the city’s layout. Harbour to the southwest, municipal buildings in the east, houses in concentric rings from the centre to the suburbs. The front desks of hotels always had maps for the taking, and he would spend the short hours before any party, in any new city, studying the streets, delineating neighbourhoods, and thumbing through the ads in local newspapers and telephone books for business addresses, marking out his route in his mind.

Such was his science that Stan rarely had any trouble finding a good tavern or local restaurant in any city he visited around North America and Europe. He had no interest in hotel bars and recommended tourist spots. His habit was to find the quiet rooms where people were comfortable, where they might even be bored, near where lives were lived and children slept. Since his divorce, a domestic life had to be borrowed, and Stan found most good-sized cities to be generous with these things, if you knew where to look. He preferred streets trimmed with sitting rooms, where open windows spilled the sounds of conversation and favourite television shows onto the road. He liked to watch men talk to each other with low-voiced, finger-pointing intimacy.

Past the edge of the deep, black Trädgárdsföreningens Park, the stable squares of downtown began to soften and curve. He walked the broad avenue of Norra Gubberogatan, slowing to watch two young women buy cigarettes from a wall-mounted machine on the edge of a small traffic oval. He stopped behind them and fiddled with the foreign change in his pocket. It was scenes like this he watched for, evidence of the hidden life of a town. The girls smiled at him, took their cigarettes, and continued on down the road. Stan watched them turn into a doorway less than a block away. He bought himself a soft package of Kents and walked the short distance to the tavern.

As often happened for Stan in foreign countries, the evening became a corner table, some sweet, dark local beers, and his cigarettes. The two girls from the street sat at the bar and talked each other into tears about something lost on him. Wives came to retrieve their husbands, then stayed for a short drink themselves before heading home, all arms-at-elbows and comfortable laughter. Old men in hats played cards. There was a smell of fish and malted vinegar. A newspaper on the next table showed the handsome young Bandol, local hero, in front of the cup at the airport reception the day before. Stan recognized his own shoulder in the corner of the shot. But for the crazy language, and the extreme blondness and beauty of all the women, Sweden had the feel of Canada. If you ignored the age of buildings, and looked instead at how people walked down streets, Göteborg might be Thunder Bay. Even in July, you could see boys carrying bundles of hockey sticks, giant gear bags slung over their shoulders.

When the tavern closed for the night, Stan walked the residential streets, observing the turning out of bedroom lights, the soft blue flickering of late-night televisions. An hour before the sun, he made his way to the harbour on the Skeppsbron. There, a small restaurant fed breakfast to fishermen and dockworkers. He ate a cold herring salad and drank more beer. Knowing, obviously, Stan was not a local, the cook tried out his English on him. He talked to Stan about relatives in Sudbury, about watching hockey at the Montreal Forum on a vacation ten years earlier. At sunrise, he poured a shot of vodka for himself and Stan, to toast the day.

Stan made his way back downtown through a morning rush hour of bicycles and fresh blond people walking the sidewalks with purposeful strides. Shops and offices opened, café owners cleaned tabletops in the early sunshine. He reached the hotel in time for the morning shift change. A new young man he’d never seen before was exchanging covered trays outside his room door, loading a still-full dinner tray onto his cart and placing a breakfast plate and coffee urn on the floor. Stan waited for him to wheel the cart down the hallway before trying his key. There was no sound of jazz from behind the door, and no light from underneath. The key stuck in the lock, at first refusing to turn, and he had to stand back and make sure of the number on the door.

He saw the cup immediately as the shaft of light from the open door hit the bed where it stood, out of its case, gleaming like a child caught in a playful prohibition. Beside it, asleep on Stan’s pillow, lay a young woman. She was curled on her side, one hand beneath her head, the sheet drawn to just below her shoulders, naked. She snored in a light, fluttering kind of way, and her blond hair fell across her face. The cup stood upright on the other side of the bed, bobbing slowly to the rhythm of her breathing.

Stan nudged his breakfast and coffee into the room with his shoe, and closed the door. He opened the curtains a crack and examined the cup in a thin stream of morning light. Nothing had been added or altered, and the bowl was empty. There were some fingerprints and hand smudges around the rim of the bowl and at the base, the only remnants of whoever had moved it from the bathtub. They were large fingerprints, male. Stan checked the bathroom next. A small overnight bag leaned in one corner of the counter, a toothbrush, lipstick, and mascara beside it on the marble. The shower curtain was drawn just as he’d left it, and no towels had been used.

As quietly as possible, Stan removed his shoes and jacket, reclosed the curtain, and stretched himself out on the small couch near the window. He listened to the beautiful snoring of the young woman and slipped into sleep. Less than an hour later, he woke to the muted, almost imperceptible sound of bare feet on the carpet and turned his head in time to see the naked young woman glide into the bathroom. She returned wearing his bathrobe, picked up the breakfast tray from the floor, and sat with it on her knees on the edge of the bed, smiling at him.

“You are Stanley,” she said, in perfect Scandinavian English.

“That’s true,” he responded, sitting upright and rubbing sleep from his eyes. His body ached for the bed and hours more sleep.

“You are not surprised to see me here? ” the girl laughed.

Stan looked at her more closely. She could not have been more than twenty and unlike almost everyone else in this city, she was not a real blond. Her hair fell golden past her shoulders, but it was streaked with dark that pooled at the roots. She let strands of it cover her eyes, and smiled coyly through them. She bit the insides of her mouth, which pushed her lips out in a nervous kissing motion.

“Not so surprised,” he said, trying to return her smile. “The boys think this kind of thing is very funny.”

The girl removed the stainless steel lid from Stan’s breakfast and helped herself to a piece of bacon. She looked at the coffee longingly.

“Please. Eat it all,” he said. “I’ve had my breakfast. It would just go to waste.”

“Yes, I am a joke,” she said. “But you ruined the joke because you weren’t here. Oleg told me to stay until you returned. He said you had probably just gone out for a walk. I listened to your music, I ate from your dinner tray, I watched a little television, but then it was so late.”

Her name was Ana, and she was a prostitute, a student at the technical school who paid for her studies with dates. She was from across the water, Copenhagen, where she had been raised the youngest of seven children, all boys but her. Her father worked at a brewery, brought his work home with him every night, and her mother had walked away from the house when she was nine years old, never to return. Ana assumed her mother was dead.

“Otherwise, how is it possible? ” she said. “I have always thought she fell into a canal. It happens—people fall into canals and they are gone.”

All this Stan learned in the first half-hour he spent with the beautiful young woman he had found sleeping in his bed. Ana had built her young professional reputation on a skill for massage, and that irresistible nervous habit of biting the insides of her mouth. She worked all the downtown hotels and had a very regular clientele of visiting Danish businessmen and local politicians. Her specialty was something she called the knee massage. With the client face down on the bed, she would remove all her clothing, spread oil across the client’s back and her own arms and knees, and climb aboard. She was small enough not to do any damage, but just heavy enough to make a difference. She described the whole procedure to Stan, posing in the bed to show the posture.

“It is very soothing, and Oleg has already paid for it, so it is free to you. Come, take off your clothes. You look tired. I will put you to sleep in no time.”

When Stan woke later that afternoon, he was again alone in his room. The cup stood on the floor beside the bed where he himself had moved it. He felt rested and relaxed, and his back was looser than it had felt in years. On the bedside table was a note written in green hotel-pen ink.

Oleg wanted me to find out for him why you are called Two-Second Stanley. I will have to tell him I still do not know.

Take care of yourself.


His trip to Sweden with the cup in 1979 was the first time Stan had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, twenty years into his tenure as keeper of hockey’s championship prize. In the almost twenty years that followed this first trip, Stan crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least once a year, often more than once. His cabin home on Lake Simcoe contained hockey pucks and shot glasses from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. The Iceland trip had been unplanned, an emergency refuelling stop on the way back from Norway. They were let off the plane to stretch, and Stan had walked the trophy around the outpost tarmac, amazed at the rawness of the landscape. Jagged rock peaks surrounded the airport, and steam rose from fissures in the land all around. He told himself he’d make a special trip back there someday, but never did.

Twice in his travels, Stan was detained at borders under the suspicion the cup or its case was being used to smuggle something in or out of the country. In 1985, the cup was confiscated at the airport in Prague. Stan stayed awake for thirty-six hours in an airport detention cell, waiting to have the cup returned to him, and then refused to board a plane until he himself was allowed to dismantle the trophy in the airport and make sure nothing had been altered or removed. Ten armed guards watched and laughed at the old man from Canada, removing the bowl from the top of the trophy and sticking his arm into it up to the shoulder, feeling around inside for whatever might have been left there in the time he had lost touch with it. When he pulled out a Czech flag, the room erupted into laughter and cheers.

Flash cubes bounced off polished silver. Smiling and shaking his head, Stan respectfully folded the flag and handed it to the nearest guard, but the armed man insisted he take it with him. Then, in turn, as though somehow these men had not had enough of it in the preceding day and a half, each guard ran his hand along the side of the cup.

Over the years, Stan had removed hundreds of stickers and decals from the sides, and especially the bottom of the cup. He had untied countless neckties and pairs of suspenders attached beneath the bowl, fished out any number of folded notes and foreign bills slipped behind the nameplates, and unscrewed at least three false plates containing the names of local dignitaries, children, and historical figures—one, in fact, with the name of the pope on it. From the bowl, at the end of parties, Stan had removed pieces of cake, an entire roasted turkey, numerous cigars (some uncut and still in their wrappers), many sleeping cats, and exactly twenty-three pairs of panties, sixteen bras, and three garter belts. Once, in Stockholm, he woke to discover the entire cup, top to bottom, had been painted yellow.

Late in life, Stan calculated he had cleaned or polished the trophy approximately 4,560 times, an average of at least once a day, every day, four months of every year, for thirty-eight years.

Since the day, in 1952, he touched the cup for the first time at centre ice in Toronto, he had touched it again countless times. In the history of the cup, there has not been another person who has held, lifted, or touched it more than Stan Cooper. He lifted it on and off airplanes, trains, and ships. He rode with it in the back of an ox-drawn cart, the front of an ocean-going canoe, a hot-air balloon, and four different cable cars.

In late August of 1991, the cup was returning to Canada on a transatlantic flight from Moscow. Stan had spent a week in Russia, escorting the trophy to the celebrations of two different players. It had been an uneventful trip as foreign visits go. There was the usual unending supply of vodka to be poured from the bowl, but this time, thankfully, no one had vomited into it. At one party, Stan was introduced to two very well-dressed men about whom people whispered and pointed from the edges of the room.

There was something in the perfection of these men, and in their easy disregard for everyone else, something that smelled of violence. Other people’s reactions to them made Stan nervous, but they seemed bored by the trophy; they ignored it and instead wandered the room in slow circles, boldly appraising the local girls with their eyes. The young Russian hockey player pulled Stan aside.

“Two-Second, don’t worry,” he said morosely. “They are here for my money, not your cup. They do their business as quietly as possible. Taking your cup would make too much noise. They don’t want to be noticed; they just want to be paid.”

Stan relaxed, and found himself experiencing an unexpected and unfamiliar pity for the young athlete. The older Stan grew in his job, the less he had in common with the players who won the cup. Though he’d never much participated in the shit-slinging and underwear grabbing that seemed to entertain cup winners when he was a young man, at least they had shared a history as adults. With the kids he chaperoned later in his career, there was rarely anything of substance to be said, and he often could not even communicate with them. Their English vocabulary was held within the confines of the rink. Over the years, these young men had become richer and richer, pushing an even greater divide between them and the older, underpaid man who carried their trophy for them. What do you say to a boy in his early twenties who owns his own helicopter? How do you make small talk with the kid who buys prostitutes by the half-dozen?

But the Russians were often different. They liked their fun as much as anyone, but as in the case of this young man, they also had troubles their Canadian teammates could not imagine. With their giant paycheques came immense notoriety back home, and with the notoriety, trouble. In a country where a meal at the new Pizza Hut could cost a month’s wage, the salary of a hockey star was an obscene temptation. These players paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in protection money for the privilege of returning home to an intact family. They themselves were never threatened. The local mobs would never cripple their winning horse. But the weight of generations of relatives hung around their necks. The flights to Moscow with the cup were never quite as raucous as the flights to Moose Jaw or to Thunder Bay, tinged as they were with a background colour of worry. And at this particular party, celebration of the cup came second to celebration of the payoff.

Each new cup-winning player in turn learned Stan’s hated nickname and used it endlessly, despite objections. He was convinced half the kids didn’t even know why he was called Two-Second Stan, but they all liked the name, and liked even more that he so obviously hated it. With the foreign players, for some reason, it was often easier to remember “Two-Second” than his actual name, a convenience that meant, in other countries, he was introduced as a slim measurement of time.

In 1991, Valeri Berschin was the latest talented young Russian to enjoy the curse of winning the cup. On the ice, he was a goal-scoring surgeon, cutting past defenders with a combination of raw speed and brilliant fakery. Stan had been present for his game-winning goal in Game 5, a subtle backhand chip into the upper corner. The boy had not even been looking at the net, or the puck. In fact, he’d been looking at nothing at all. The slow motion replays clearly showed a smiling Berschin with his eyes closed, scoring by instinct and feel. As the puck left the tip of his stick blade, he took the inevitable hit in front of the net, spun deftly on the toe of one skate, and did not open his eyes until his back hit the end boards, his arms wide to receive an avalanche of teammates.

It was, in terms of raw skill and artistry, the greatest goal Stan had ever witnessed. And now the same young man stood by a table weighed down with food and drinks, sheepish in an uncomfortable-looking brown suit, the servant of two huge men with bad reputations. Stan waited until the evening became a bit louder and drunker, then approached Berschin.

“Look at the cup, my boy,” he said.

The young man blinked and downed the last third of a tumbler of vodka.

“Two-Second,” he said, smiling and drunk, drawing out the last syllables of Stan’s nickname until they were longer than their meaning. “Yes, the cup. What about it? ”

“Do you own the cup? ” Stan asked.

“No, Two-Second. You own the cup. I know. I can win it, but only you can own it. You’ve told me this before.”

“Do those two mobsters own the cup? ” Stan asked.

“Two-Second, no. I told you already. You own the cup.”

“So, look at the cup. You will take all that money you’re making because you won this cup, and you’ll divide it up and it will all go away into the world. All that money is long gone already: some to your family, some to these two guys, some to any kids you will have in the future or might have right now. Be certain—the money will go away. Do you think this cup gives a shit about your money? ”

“I guess, no, I don’t know what you mean.” He was blinking now, trying to see Stan’s point through a clear vodka fog.

“Stop thinking about these two guys. That’s just life. Everyone’s got his shit to deal with. They’re your shit, so deal with them, but don’t let them ruin this, this moment when this cup, which you do not own and never will, no matter how many fancy goals you score, this cup is here for you. It’s a short time, believe me. Tomorrow, I take this cup away from you, we’re back on a plane, and you, my boy, you may never touch this cup again after that. Stranger things have happened. Have you ever heard of Bill Barilko? Compared to that fact, those two big uglies mean nothing. You get my point? I see you standing around worrying about two men who will steal your money. You want to worry about someone in this room, worry about me, because it’s me who will take this cup away tomorrow.”

“Two-Second, you win. You are the scariest man here.” The young man smiled and slapped Stan between the shoulder blades. “From now on, I worry only about you.”

“Some day, Berschin, trust me, you’ll be closing your eyes and chipping rocks through your fence rails out there, rather than chipping pucks past goalies in the finals. When hockey is through with you, it will let you know, believe me, and then those gangsters will be through with you as well. They’ll have moved on to the next young superstar, because there’s always another superstar. And when those days come, you will wish you were right back here tonight, with this cup on your table and those two men over there licking their lips because of how perfectly you play your game.”

Berschin nodded and refilled his glass from one of the dozen clear, half-empty bottles on the table in front of him.

“You are the wise old man of the cup, yes, Two-Second? ”

“Damn right,” said Stan, and walked away, trembling from sudden anger. It was a cruel speech in many ways, and a kindness that made him feel briefly equal to the brilliant young player, an unfamiliar but satisfying feeling. On his way past the bar, Stan made a point of introducing himself to the two gangsters. Not caring if they understood him, he shook hands with them, and looked each of them straight in the eyes.

The next evening, on the flight from Moscow, Stan fell asleep immediately after dinner. He’d felt all day as though a cold were coming on, and was glad this would be his last trip overseas for the season. The cup sat secured in its case, strapped in with a seatbelt in the first-class seat beside him.

He always gave the cup the window seat, as that kept him between it and the curious who walked by it over and over on every flight. Sometime between dinner and their initial landing in Montreal, over the Atlantic, Stan Cooper’s heart stopped beating. The cold and indigestion he had been feeling had, in fact, been a building infarction, and Stan passed on as he’d always hoped to, in his sleep with the cup beside him. Because he died unnoticed while crossing time zones, no official time of death would ever be assigned to Stan.

The death of Two-Second Stan, of pulmonary infarction, at the age of seventy-two, was a problem for the airline flying his body home. The flight did not end until Toronto, but Stan’s death was discovered on the descent into Montreal by a startled cabin attendant trying to wake him. Normally, the body of a passenger who died inflight would be removed from the seating area at the first opportunity, whether it was that person’s final destination or not. Bodies were then transferred into thick cardboard carrying cases, and stored with the luggage below deck. In this case, the presence of the cup beside Stan fouled procedure. While there was enough room in storage for both Stan and the trophy, the airline worried about their legal and financial liability with respect to the cup. The trophy had boarded the plane as a passenger, and so was considered the property and responsibility of Stan Cooper, its keeper. This was the standard agreement the league made with airlines to ensure Stan kept his eyes on the trophy at all times.

With Stan out of the picture, and no other league representative present, the airline lawyers were worried that liability would transfer to them, and they didn’t want it, not even for the short hop from Montreal to Toronto. No one they contacted could put a price on the historic trophy. Stan and his beloved cup were both carried from the airplane at Dorval airport and stored under armed guard, in an empty hospitality suite owned by the airline, until the league could make arrangements for their transfer to Toronto. In an obituary in the Montreal Gazette, one writer suggested this wrinkle was Stan’s way of finally delivering to Montreal the cup that was rightfully theirs, the cup he’d stolen away with his famous two-second blunder, in 1951.

The league sent Antonio Chiello to make the pickup. Tony had worked with Stan at the head office, in Toronto, and helped him prepare the cup for travel for the past two years. Tony rode to Montreal, a passenger in the hearse the league hired to transport Stan’s remains. Childless and divorced, Stan had been the last of his line of Coopers for more than twenty-five years. Tony Chiello was the closest he’d had to family.