Now that I had shaken the cops, I dug out my subway pass and stepped into the turnstile line. No matter how hard I tried to assume the vacant expressions gracing the dreary, Monday morning faces around me, I failed. Nerves strung tighter than banjo strings vibrated my limbs and unspent adrenaline raced around my system like a roaring mountain river. Manhunters were stalking me. Despite my efforts to bring my breathing training to the forefront, I failed to slow my spinning mind.
Suit- and shirt-wearing office robots shuffled sideways, edging closer to the yellow line as the platform filled. Some read newspapers, listened to music, earbuds blasting. Heads bobbed and toes tapped. Hunched over laptops and cell phones the lucky ones occupied plastic benches typing like high schoolers completing last-minute homework assignments. Others read Kindles, newspapers and watched TV on tablets and smartphones. Most stood shoulder-to-shoulder staring into obscurity, looking anywhere but at one another, working hard to avoid eye contact. Suddenly I loved the fact that almost everyone stared into their electronic devices. Thirty yards away, my fugitive gaze stole across two foot-patrolmen tilting their heads toward a broadcast rasping out of the Motorola radios secured to their flak jackets. They scanned the crowd. Muttering a hearty curse, I moved toward the train’s open doors.
Just short of stepping onto the train, they spotted me. How did they identify one person out of so many? And then I realized that I still wore my blue windbreaker. They ran toward me, fighting to part the crowd. I ducked through the connecting doors of the next car trying to lose myself among the sardines, moving steadily toward the red emergency exit in the last car. Rather than obey and move out of the patrolmen’s path, most people on the platform turned to watch them. Curiosity abrogated compliance. The more the cops shouted, shouldered and waved, the more interest they created in themselves.
The pneumonic train doors hissed shut.
People stared and gawked at the spectacle, looking for anything to break Monday morning doldrums. I silently blessed the office robots and presented my back to the patrolmen who sprinted alongside the train banging on windows, two seconds too slow. An eternity by Olympic standards, not so long by mine. Sliding forward with my back turned to the platform, I pretended not to hear their pleading shouts as they worked to convey a message for someone to push the Emergency Stop button. Seen through the window’s reflection, they reminded me of two British Bobbies acting out charades. Leaving the constables in our rumbling wake, I stared vacantly out the window as tunnel lights winked faster and faster. Had the cops bleated ‘Baa baa,’ maybe one of the sheople might have pushed the red button. Mutton rhythms well with button.
Passengers looked to one another to discover what the police had wanted of them. Others tried to decode who the person of interest might be. A few solved the first part of the riddle and viewed their neighbours through slanted and hesitant eyes. Awkward fright skittered through the herd from one person to the next. No one wanted to study their neighbour too closely. The train had turned communist. Everyone was suspect. Someone must be guilty of something, otherwise, the police would not have pounded and shouted and waved.
Society had betrayed me was my next thought.
My past had come forward in some weird transmutation that influenced others to hold me responsible for a present crime based on an ancient experience, so I decided to divorce myself of all responsibility to society. I refused to feel guilty for not handing myself over to the authorities. Individual liberty should mean something. This was still a free country, yet I was refused that consideration. In my eyes, I became a prisoner of war, which endowed me with a duty to escape. I met everyone’s gaze defiantly, daring each person to accuse me of wrongdoing. No one held my gaze for long. Anyone who refused to look meek, guilty and cowed must be proud, innocent and moral, and maybe that was true.
Fearing the train would become a POW transport, I detrained at the next station.
On the way past a garbage can, I trashed my jacket. At street level, with only my head showing above the railing, I scanned the area. More nervous than a prize stag on hunting season’s opening day, I stepped onto the sidewalk. Rather than remain exposed, I jumped into the first streetcar and slouched in my seat. Three immediate needs took precedence: money, change of appearance and a haven. Before the police froze my bank account or flagged it, I needed to drain it. Changing my appearance was simple. Obtaining shelter more difficult. Cops monitored fleabag hotels. A zany thought made me smile. Rather than do the unexpected, why not do the opposite? The idea had a certain panache, or it was rock stupid and the cops would pinch my sorry ass. Either way, I committed myself to it.
I felt myself make the shift fully back into survivor mode from a carefree civilian. Potential cement and steel walls sprung up around me. If no one troubled me, I would not trouble them. The world around me shifted orientation. It felt all wrong. Three years dedicated to discard prison and to reacquire a place in society had been for naught. Each person I passed possessed the potential to send me to prison with a 911 telephone call. It felt as though I had entered the Matrix, every person I encountered was a potential agent.
Forty blocks later, I exited the streetcar searching the area for an elusive pay telephone. My cellular telephone was now a GPS beacon for anyone who had the number. Cops could ping my location, so I removed its battery. The glass and aluminum sides of a rare public telephone, stained black with vehicle exhaust, came into view one block west. Hands jammed into pockets, shoulders hunched to reduce height, limp showing again, I stared coldly at the refuse-littered sidewalk mulling over my options.
Display windows became my eyes. Their reflective surfaces permitted stealthy browsing of traffic-jammed streets, kept my face turned away from pedestrians and cars. Who knew how many unmarked cars and foot patrolmen searched for me? How many criminal charges had been rung up? Break and enter, unlawfully at large, assaulting a cop, tallied but three. I gave the authorities the benefit of the doubt, certain they would do better than just three.
Directory information supplied the number I needed.
“Four Seasons, front desk, Justin speaking.”
“Howdy. I want to reserve a room. Make that a suite, partner,” I said in my best Texan drawl.
“Business or pleasure, sir?”
“Business. Tritech Industries.”
“Does your company have an account, sir?”
“I’ll be paying in Yankee greenbacks.”
“How long will you be with us?”
“Well now, that depends when ya’ll conclude that thair computer convention.”
“Wednesday, sir,” returned the clerk, a hint of Yankee scorn in his voice that might work in my favour should the police investigate recent reservations.
“Make it five nights. I reckon to mix a little pleasure in my trip.”
“Toronto has lovely sights. May I have your name?”
“Longstreet, Harvey Longstreet.”
“Home address, Mr. Longstreet?”
“1024 Main Street, Houston, Texas,” I adlibbed, counting on the peculiar fact that most big cities had a Main street.
“Very well, Mr. Longstreet. Thank you for choosing Four Seasons.”
“Obliged. Ya’ll take care.”
I dug out more coins and put them on the shelf. Before I had earned full parole, I had stayed in a halfway house. One of the guys I had done time with had been housed at the same facility. He had slipped me his phone number on a piece of paper before he moved out. I tucked it in my wallet and wished him well. At the time, I told myself that I would throw it away later. It became another one of those little scraps of paper that clutter a guy’s wallet until it becomes so crammed that necessity makes him prune its contents. I dialled the first of two numbers.
He picked up after the fourth ring.
“Don. It’s me. Get to the common landline. Call you again in one hour.”
“Don’t be fucking stupid. I’ll tell you in an hour,” I growled, half-imagining the police had his telephone under surveillance.
“You got the number?”
“Are you one of Jerry Lewis’s telethon kids? How the hell could I call if I didn’t have the number, you mentally challenged, shrivelled up crook.”
Don was the best paper-man I had ever met, but he was thick as cement in every other area. Fortunately, he was old school and loyal as a Labrador retriever.
“Oh, it’s you. Whud up? I ain’t heard from you since…”
“One hour. Sixty minutes. Don’t be late.”
I disconnected before he said my name. More coins disappeared into the coin slot. Odera’s cell phone went straight to messaging. Odd. She almost never turned her cell phone off. I left a message and used the last of my change to dial her condominium landline. Voicemail cut in after eight rings, so I repeated the same message. Worry tried to infiltrate my thoughts. I pushed it aside and headed for a nearby clothing store. Each ATM machine became a potential silent informant with its closed-circuit television Cyclops eye. CCTV cameras appeared above every other storefront and cashier. Cameras that I had never given a second thought now held potential harm: cameras mounted on buildings; hanging from the underside of gas bars; attached to red lights at intersections.
Police couldn’t access those cameras with facial recognition software. Or could they? Stop thinking Orwellian; big brother wasn’t that efficient. Or was he? Paranoia was never true until it was and by then it was too late.
An electric door chimed when I entered the men’s clothing store. When the sales clerk eyed me, I waved him off. I purchased beige slacks, a sweater and a drab cream jacket and changed my clothes in the store. Old clothes went into the next garbage can I passed. The emergency money in my wallet was nearly exhausted. Using plastic would be like sending up a flare to places I had been and perhaps present a pattern. Patterns, like repeated rhythms in kendo, were to be avoided. My bank waited five blocks away in Toronto’s downtown business district.
Royal Bank of Commerce’s downtown branch was a modern building freckled with discrete ceiling cameras hidden behind three-hundred-sixty degree tinted plastic domes. When I stepped inside RBC’s flagship bank, each camera lens became a laser sight dead-zeroing me. They would not shoot their Santa Fe snapshots unless a teller pushed the silent alarm button. The way my day had begun, I half-expected Bazooka Joe to follow me through the doors guns-a-blazing. And then some serious crimes detective reviewing the video would no doubt identify me as a gang member. Internal bank cameras operated on a twenty-four-hour cycle. Dummies-for-hire, security company personnel, monitored the CCTV system twenty-four-seven. Although the possibility of them being aware of my fugitive status was remote, I kept my face turned away from the cameras as I stepped up to a teller and entered my PIN.
“I want to access my safety deposit box.”
“One moment Mr. Garland.” She typed at her keyboard. Several seconds passed. “Please have a seat, Mr. Garland. Someone be out shortly.”
Each second that I waited became a minute as I imagined the teller, after noting my flagged account, had called the police, who at this moment were instructing her to delay my departure. Would they wait until I exited the bank before pumping a slug into my head Dillinger style? Why was I sitting here while the cops were setting their trap? Every fibre of my being urged me to run and to run fast. I began to tell myself that I should forget about the safety deposit box and be content with the money in my savings account. Deep breaths calmed my rapid pulse. After two or three minutes of scanning each face in sight, looking for nervousness or fright, anything that indicated they were aware of my fugitive status, my escort arrived and ushered me into the vault lined with varying sizes of shiny silver boxes.
“Your key, Mr. Garland?” she requested, inserting hers. “Thank you.” She slid a long and black metal box out. “Follow me, please.”
High-heels clicked against marble. Bank employees were trained to detect nervousness, so I walked slowly, in no rush, while pretending to play on my unpowered phone. Privacy rooms bordered each side of the hallway. She entered the first empty room, placed the box on the counter and pointed at a courtesy button.
“Push this button when you’re finished.”
I opened the lid. A thousand dollars in cash and my RHSP portfolio occupied the space within. My wallet and most of my ID traded places. Driver’s license and bankcard stayed on me. I pushed the button. The lady-escort appeared, accepted the box from me and turned for the vault. At the end of the ceremony to replace the box and to lock the door, she returned me to the business portion of the bank where I immediately filled an empty teller window.
“I’d like to liquidate my RHSP account.”
“There will be a penalty.”
“That’s fine, I found this amazing boat. I’ll take five thousand in traveller cheques ― hundred-dollar denomination. A thousand in Euros ― fifty-pound notes. Split the balance evenly across four bank drafts. Also, I wish to withdraw all but one hundred dollars in my checking and saving accounts. Hundreds and fifties please.”
She cocked an eyebrow at my request for European currency, noting that I had literally closed my accounts.
“It’s no trouble at all to wire the money overseas.”
“Thank you, but I prefer traveller cheques and bank drafts. Computers are damn unreliable machines,” I grumbled in my grandfather’s voice that detested the infernal contraptions.
“Of course, Mr. Garland. If you would sign here and here, and take a seat, I won’t be long.”
“Thank you,” I replied, scrawled my name for what might be the last time at this bank and retreated to the glass-banked corner of cushioned chairs to wait.
In fewer than five minutes, a woman approached and asked if I’d care for a cup of coffee. When one withdraws more than twenty thousand dollars, a lukewarm cup of Java was the golden send-off. I thanked my grandparents sotto voce for the inheritance I had withdrawn. Fifteen minutes after that, I departed the bank.