Never Look Back

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Chapter 62

The melodic click-clacking of heavy iron wheels assuaged my hyper-alert nerves and helped to calm my pulse and chaotic thoughts. My body needed fluids, protein, carbohydrates and a dose of caffeine to fight the low it was experiencing. The last twenty hours had jerked my central nervous system up, down and back again. It was going to crash if I ignored it much longer. The train’s rhythmic rocking provided a soothing effect. Other passengers stared at me. Open distaste showed on their faces. They looked away when I caught their eyes. They whispered to their companions. I appraised my clothes and discovered one ripped knee. Dried blood and splattered mud showed plainly on my hands, pants and shirt cuffs. Bloody and dishevelled. I looked like I had crawled out of the ditch fresh from receiving an ass-kicking. Not good. Not far from the truth, either. I detrained in search of an army surplus store and a second-hand clothing store. Open or closed, it made little difference. Larceny was the least of my worries.

Hours later, a dark backpack rested between my shoulder blades and a duffle bag hung from my hand. I had washed up and changed my clothes in one of the stores I had broken into and left a wad of twenties and the sales tags beside the cash register to pay for my bounty.

Khaki pants now covered my legs. A baseball cap pulled low obscured my face. After I had filled my shopping list, I allowed myself the luxury of an unhurried sit-down meal at a busy twenty-four-hour diner. Energy and vitality poured back into my system while I planned my next move. Two espressos followed the main course. Caffeine assisted memory and brain function by increasing the rate at which the neurons fired. More than twenty-four hours since I had slept. I was running on caffeine and adrenaline.

It was after eleven p.m. when I stepped off the TTC bus at College Street. The streets were relatively quiet in this part of the city on weeknights. No cruisers were in sight. Few pedestrians shared the sidewalk. Taxicabs, whose drivers mostly wore turbans or beards, or both, and had emigrated from some country with ’stan in it sat bored and hopeful inside gas/electric hybrid vehicles, mostly Toyotas. Some of the cabbies parked on corners or they sat at coffee shops waiting for one more big fair. Others headed to a home shared by two families, ten kids and a sister-in-law who was told she needed a husband, but who was emboldened in a new country full of freedom and choices that allowed her to turn her nose up at tradition and who wanted to build a career.

A younger brother more interested in chasing women than buckling down and working seventy hours a week like his older brother to give his kids more life-choices than he had been dealt was the envy of every family member. Big sister complained it was unfair that she had to follow the old ways when her brother was allowed to do what he wanted, so she stored extra sets of clothes at a friend’s house that she changed into before going to school so she could fit in.

Mostly I passed Chinese, Italian, Greek and East Indian store owners closing up shop, pulling down aluminum metal curtains over display windows, having performed the same nightly ritual for one or two generations. And I passed gangly student store clerks setting alarms and locking doors, most often earning minimum wage at a place where they opened textbooks while on the company clock; where there was a spoilage ratio of busted potato chip bags that let them munch for free so the job really was not all that disagreeable.

Weekends were different.

Droves of fun-loving, party-seeking college- and university students flooded local pubs, cafés and clubs for five blocks in the party district. Downtown Toronto was chopped up into districts such as the fashion district, the financial district and the party district. Students seldom created serious trouble for police. They were happily tolerated because of the loads of multicultural disposable income with which they purchased food and beer and clothes freely flowed. Especially beer, the preferred sustenance of Canadian college students since the birth of hockey and popcorn. But not on Monday or Tuesday nights.

Monday and Tuesday nights were for recovering from multicultural weekend bashes like Greek Thursdays, Italian Fridays and Indian Saturdays that were followed by Chinese Sunday smorgasbords. The first two days of the week were the dreary days where academic noses were held against the grindstone. Tonight, I did not fear inquisitive and watchful cops strolling street beats.

Weekends were just as tiring for them, as they were for the partygoers. I turned the corner onto a quieter side street. The second-hand University of Toronto jacket that I wore, its distinctive football patch on the shoulder and the crest on the left breast, effectively turned me into a student headed home after work. Student housing stretched for blocks all around this part of the city. Or perhaps I had just left my girlfriend’s apartment with a big bag of clean laundry, whatever. This outfit kept me off police radar.

The side streets near the University of Toronto teemed with older model cars.

Student-priced cars. Which suited me fine.

I found a poorly lit side street near the anthropology department building. Wavering on extinction, an overhead streetlamp buzzed and blinked. The blunted butt end of a heavy screwdriver shattered the driver’s side window. I hopped into the car. Kernel like glass pebbles fell to the seat when the door closed. I threaded a three-inch screw into the soft metal of the ignition. When the screw bit deeply, I clamped a pair of vice grips tightly to the end of the head and then struck them sharply with a hammer. The ignition cylinder popped out. Not the least bit elegant, but effective.

Bracing my foot against the dashboard, I grasped the steering wheel in both hands and pulled, employing brute strength to snap the crappy little metal pins that locked it in place. Several seconds after inserting a pair of needle-nose pliers into the key cavity, the engine sputtered to life in a cloud of dark exhaust. I eased out onto the avenue and slid into the darkness of a nearby alley. Unanswered questions reeled in my mind. Why did gun-toting bodyguards accompany a hacker? And what was so important they executed one cop and shot another with similar intent? What type of criminal enterprise employed ex-military? What the did they believe was on the optical drive?

Nothing made sense.
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