Whether Helicopter Hog Hunting or Shooting at a Scottish Castle, Elliott Leyton Felt Right at Home

World-renowned crime writer (and gun enthusiast) Elliott Leyton was definitely more Hunter S. Thompson than thou.

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I met Elliott Leyton through music. His son, Jack, was a teenage guitar prodigy and invited us to jam at his house. All the other houses on the street faced the road while Elliott’s was reversed and took in the commanding view of the ocean. This was your first clue that he had his own way of doing things and was quite comfortable with it.

We made a racket in the basement, as all teenage musicians do, and during a break we went upstairs to meet the parents. Rather than the perfunctory introduction, Elliott was engaging and genuinely interested in who we were. I immediately liked the guy. 

Not long after, his wife, Bonnie, brought home a paperback book about serial killer Ted Bundy. At first he scoffed at it and had a reluctant squint. Then he was captivated by it, blasted through it and set in motion with his own ideas.

By his own admission, Hunting Humans contained no new information until the end where he expressed his own opinion. “These people aren’t sick, they just need to be shot.”

Well, that was it. That one sentence opened a lot of doors for him. It also provided another clue. Elliott loved guns. He was the president of the Rod and Gun Club and encouraged competition. One summer there was a commercial on the radio tempting everyone on the island to show up for an open skeet shooting competition. During a stag party for his son, Jack, I teased him about it.

“That wasn’t very hospitable of you, Elliott. Thank-you all for showing up, I present this trophy to myself.”

“I was in the zone, Mark,” he replied. “Hit 99 out of 100 targets.” 

That was some mighty fine shooting. He was also the reigning Handgun Combat champ, where you run around obstacles firing and reloading. Yeah, he just loved guns. Almost as much as he loved his wife, Bonnie. I heard a radio interview with him about receiving a crime writing award in England. “It’s quite an honour,” he said, “The only other honour I’ve ever had is my wife’s hand in marriage.”

I could only imagine everyone else listening and having their hearts melted.

Penguin Books UK invited him to London to sign a three book deal. He recalled being very happy walking up to the building and taking a moment to let it all sink in. He was the first civilian to ever have unfettered access to the files at Scotland Yard. When he was shown his office, the Officer asked him: “How did you do this?”

That’s a question a lot of us had about a lot of stuff he did.

Elliott mentioned being invited to a shooting party at a castle in Scotland. Gamekeepers flushed out birds while gentlemen fired away with exquisitely detailed antique shotguns. Their personal butlers reloaded for them, save for Elliott who was unaccustomed to such luxuries. That evening they feasted on their game and took drinks by the fireplace where I’m sure he felt right at home.

Elliott was very reluctant to retire from his teaching position at MUN and in true form, he went out with a bang. I attended his final lecture and afterwards there was cake and champagne. There was a ceiling mounted projector in the main auditorium of the  Science building and Elliott really wanted me to hit it with a champagne cork. I had three tries and each shot made the distance but veered off as it got close. Seldom, these days, do gentlemen say farewell to  their long and stellar careers with such style. I saw him a few weeks later at a pond in my neighbourhood, lashing his kayak to the roof of his car. 

“I should’ve retired years ago,” he admitted. “This is great!” 

Maclean’s magazine was hounding him to write for them at the time but what he really wanted to be was an automotive journalist. I offered him a guest spot in my weekly column at The Independent newspaper with the promise of any car he wanted and the princely sum of a hundred dollars for his story. He showed up with his own photographer and picked out a Cadillac because his father always wanted one. The piece called, “A Caddy for Dad” was an endearing and humorous read. Finally, after all those years, Elliott had a chance to write something funny. A style he always held in high esteem.

He was the only person I knew who had a bigger stack of National Lampoon magazines than me. There were decades collected in binders and he let me borrow them a couple of years worth at a time. That was my homework from Elliott, a compendium of satire. 

John Andrews hosted a party for the staff of The Independent newspaper and the first guests to arrive were Elliott and Ray Guy. Just four of us standing in the kitchen, three of us grinning at Ray, whom we all greatly admired. He was undoubtedly the star of our humorous universe. 

A few years later I got an e-mail/pic from Elliott, he just bought a cabin in Florida. It had a front porch with a rocking chair.

Me: Perfect spot to sit out with a shotgun.

Elliott: It’s on a gun club.

Me: You need a golf cart with a gun rack.

Elliott: Got one!

Me: You should start your e-mails with that part first.

The next time I saw Elliott, he was pretty stoked. The gun club owner had invited him to hunt wild hogs from a helicopter with a machine gun. Elliott was definitely more Hunter S. Thompson than thou.

A few years later, at home, Bonnie was recuperating with a broken wrist and in a lot of pain. Their son, Marco, suggested some cannabis. (Marco is well qualified to mention it.) I got an e-mail from Jack, “Hey Brother, can you hook up my Mother. Needs a jraw.” Ha! No sweat. The Hugs 4 Jrugs Foundation got you covered. I brought over a nice water pipe and showed Elliott how to use it. He and Bonnie were quite relieved. 

A few years later they invited me over and asked me to bring a few bottles of wine. Their house in St. Phillip’s, by the way, faces the ocean and not the road. Elliott was a little slower on his feet but still had a fine, sharp mind. He showed me his latest acquisition, one of the exquisitely detailed antique shotguns from the Scottish castle expedition, willed to him from one of his shooting buddies. It was the most beautiful shotgun I’ve ever seen. Elliott was absolutely beaming with pride.

That was the last time I saw him and how I’ll always remember him.

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