Past the final exit for the Don Valley Parkway, three streets up from the lake in the middle of old Toronto, a semi-forgotten business district where movie production companies, fashion warehouses and marketing firms operate in solitude and peace, is the Golden Retriever Bar and Grill.
It is located on Lakeshore at the corner of an unmarked cross street.
But as oddly positioned as this bar is, it is also a well-known and popular police hang out.
From the pub entrance, one can see several city-run parking lots, two abandoned factories with broken windows and one seedy strip club aglow with florescent signage and naked woman pictorials in poster frames with the private areas of the ladies blacked out to protect the moral fiber of its locals.
There was also a local playground in disrepair to the side.
Corigan remembered once hearing the pub had been a popular bed and breakfast years ago.
‘Just what the city needed’ Corigan thought, ‘A bed and breakfast in proximity to a strip bar. Tourist dollars, here we come.’
Unlike other pubs with a direct history of one culture or another, this place was a mish mash of everything. From Gaelic text to Greek symbols, from Italian patterns of webbed and swirling designs painted into wood panels to French fixtures and artwork hanging on the walls. That and many other unique and historic symbols from several heritages and displayed here a blend of so much, it was actually inviting.
By the time Corigan and Catherine arrived, traffic was starting to thin out.
Once parked and getting out of the car, Corigan took a big whiff of the waterfront air. “Hmmm. Smells kind of briny today. Like fish soup.” Corigan inhaled again and grimaced. “And one I wouldn’t order. In fact, I’d be putting that chef down for his own good if this was a delicacy he felt deserved to be scooped out and poured.”
Catherine held her breath. She disliked the smell of fish blended with industrial pollution.
Guarding the door, inside the huge oak paneled vestibule was a large Golden Retriever, the bar’s popular mascot. Older in appearance, his hair was standing askew from resting at his post on the hardwood floor, yet still advertising his regal breed in all its glory. He had deep dark brown eyes, a wide open smile, a huge tongue that drooped over his chin, and a look that could melt the heart of the angriest criminal entering this facility seeking a fight.
Corigan could not help himself. He reached down and gave the beautiful animal a good ear scratch and a belly rub. “AL” was engraved on the dog’s tags. Corigan gave the dog a pat on the side and complimented him. “You’re a fine looking animal Al. Wish I had one of you at home.”
Catherine too could not help but to drop to one knee and let AL lick her face with a huge wet slather. Dog lovers after all.
Near the back of the bar, past two pool tables, across from one slightly slanted and beat up dart board with numerous scores and chalk scratches, was the person Corigan and Catherine had come to see.
The suspended Officer Timothy Albom.
The pub was still closed and likely would remain so until they could resolve the situation.
A few media trucks had driven by and saw all the cruisers, but as it was a police hotspot, they presumed it was a lunch or office party being celebrated.
Near the rear exit, in front of a hallway leading to the kitchen were four OPP officers, two heavyset bouncers, the union representative, one very annoyed bartender and a handcuffed individual with his back to them screaming obscenities at anyone who approached.
The individual was wearing a white soiled T-Shirt, a pair of dirty jeans and only one shoe. His other barefoot was pounding up and down like a drummer without the instruments.
Catherine wrinkled her nose when she got within proximity. “I think I prefer the smell of dead fish and gasoline.”
Even Corigan had to pause in midstride at the scent of sour B.O. which emanated from almost twelve feet away. It encompassed the area. Corigan was almost glad not to be the other men surrounding Albom. He almost suggested aloud that the only thing that would destroy that stench would be the cleansing blanket of fire but he kept that little remark for later.
One of the officers turned around. He was a stout man, short in stature but wide in form. His European features included dark tanned skin as one would find in the Iberian peninsula and huge smile that could light up a room. He spotted Corigan and Catherine as they approached. He tucked in his shirt and moved immediately toward them, arms open and a broad grin. He spoke with a heavy Portuguese accent and a booming bellow. “Corigan my boy!” He spoke loud enough to make the poor dog Al howl. “I heard you got a ‘Boo-Boo’ last night? Did Mommy kiss it better?”
Both men embraced in a warm genuine hug.
Corigan replied, “No. Your wife did John. She really knows how to nurse a good wound once we were under your covers. By the way, you need to get some new pillows. I barely got a wink of sleep last night.”
Catherine gasped at Corigan’s comment.
Detective John Flegg laughed with a deep belly laugh, the roundness of his stomach jostling with amusement. “My wife always did have poor taste in men. Low aspirations is what I say. Explains how she got stuck with me.” John chuckled again. He quickly turned to face Catherine, “And the lovely Catherine. Wonderful to see you. You know, we still have that opening at the OPP for someone as smart as you. Get you away from the rotten partner of yours.” He hugged Catherine and gave her a customary kiss on both cheeks. “What was his name again? Cordless? Corkboard?” John paused to consider it. “Oh well. Whatever it is, not a very intelligent fellow from what I’ve heard.”
“I keep considering it, but I can’t just leave him.” Catherine chortled with him, kissing John back on both cheeks. “Like a seeing eye dog abandoning his master. He’d spend his days bumping into things, breaking property and I would feel guilty. All because I wasn’t patient enough.”
“True, so True.” John replied.
Corigan waited until the two were parted before interrupting. “I’m so glad I love myself as much as I do. God knows, having you two as friends is enough to batter my poor self esteem into oblivion.”
Corigan always enjoyed seeing his friend John, a great detective and good friend. John always visited Corigan’s home for the monthly OPP / Metro Police Poker nights. Where the boys in Blue would try to bluff the others and take some cash from friends and colleagues in a game of fun, skill and lots of joviality. Corigan continued. “That and she’d miss me too much. I can understand. I’m pretty addictive.”
“We could fix that.” John laughed. “Addiction can be beat once you know how rotten the stuff is for you. Like too much fat in your diet.”
Corigan laughed proudly and slapped his friend on the back. “And you would know about that.”
“It’s called punch padding I’ll have you know.” John chortled.
Moving back to business, Catherine asked. “I assume that’s him.” Gesturing to where the handcuffed man was arguing.
“I’m afraid so.” John turned, a touch of annoyance in his eyes, as if this officer on their team was an anchor dragging them down. “But I can take the solace in knowing, if he did assault you as you said, he won’t be stinking up our corridors anymore.”
Corigan asked, “I assume he’s not armed?”
“No.” John pointed to one of the other OPP officers, a tall man with pale skin and a slender physique. “That’s Internal Affairs. Stan Podolski. Nice guy. He confiscated Albom’s weapon when he was suspended.”
“No back up?” Catherine questioned.
“Nope.” John replied. “Albom is what we call a One-Armed man. One badge. One gun.” John took a breath. “One brain cell…I could go on.”
“No need.” Corigan threw in.
Corigan and John started their approach, moving toward the frantic man slowly, with Catherine sauntering behind.
The BO smell grew stronger.
The man shuffled, pulling his handcuffed arm along the brass railing, scratching it.
From Corigan’s vantage point, the man was the same height as the person at the complex yesterday and who attacked him last night.
With his back still to Corigan, the figure, who everyone identified as Albom, was yelling at his union rep, swearing and sputtering uncontrollably.
The union rep, Samuel Turner, was a tall man with brown hair, a cheap grey suit and a pale face with an expression of someone who was looking forward to getting away into a clean oxygen environment at any second. He was impassive as he listened and wrote down what he could translate from Albom’s ramblings.
Corigan felt his blood heating up as both fists clenched. He normally controlled his temper, but here it was a challenge as his own attack was still fresh in his mind. The man who attacked him, right here, right now, waiting to be faced.
Corigan cleared his throat, loud enough for everyone to turn in his direction.
Albom stopped his yelling and spun around to face Corigan.
Samuel got up and raced for the front door. He would be returning, but not until he oxygenated his lungs thoroughly.
Corigan recognized Albom almost immediately, from his sharp features and upturned nose to his deep acne scaring which only plastic surgery could repair. No make-up this time
What was new was a large black eye running down his cheek and around his jaw.
Corigan could not remember hitting the man in the face last night with enough force to do that much damage.
But then again, it was pretty dark, and with adrenaline flowing, anything was possible.
But when Albom spoke, even Corigan found himself shocked…
Albom coughed dryly into his palm. “And who the fuck are you supposed to be? My lawyer?”
Albom’s booze ridden vocals were slurred and tempered by exhaustion. But his facial features said it all. Albom had absolutely no idea who was standing in front of him.
Corigan moved in closer, disbelieving the man could be that dense, hoping proximity was the cure, and that maybe Albom’s drunkenness combined with the darkness prevented him from seeing Corigan clearly.
How could Albom not recognize the man he attacked? Corigan thought. It was illogical.
Albom looked on with bewilderment.
Corigan’s rage was still there, but it was felt somewhat misdirected as both fists started to loosen.
Corigan turned to Catherine. She had the same stunned appearance on her face.
Catherine had faced down Albom yesterday as well, him insulting her, so she couldn’t comprehend his lack of recognition.
But here it was.
When Albom spoke, his voice was exactly the same, the same chords and the same venom he had verbally spewed upon them not less than twenty four hours before with the exception of the slurring.
Albom looked to Corigan and back to Catherine. Then it dawned on him. “Wait a fucking minute. Are you the ones trying to pin an assault on me?” Albom looked insulted. “Bad enough my station thinks I stole a cruiser. Now I got other precincts saying I’m out attacking people.”
Albom cleared his throat, sucked up some phlegm, and he spat at Corigan’s feet.
Before Corigan could react, the bartender, standing idly by, waiting for his bar to re-open shouted sharply, “You do that again Tim and you’ll be licking it up.”
Albom looked chastened. This was his watering hole. One of the few places he was probably welcome. His eyes lowered when facing the bartender and he quickly apologized, looking downtrodden. Albom wiped the spit with the heel of his foot, the one wearing a shoe.
Corigan stepped back behind Catherine, but not before Albom slipped as he was getting back to his stool, ironically on the wet saliva lathered spot.
Albom’s left leg shot forward while his right leg slid back. His free hand tried to catch the counter, but with no success and as the other arm was chained, this hand was not available to catch his fall. Albom dropped partly to the floor, as the cuffs and his arm were not long enough to reach the hardwood. Instead, he landed with the full weight of his tired body on his single arm and bare wrist.
Albom let out a shriek as pain fired up his nerve muscles.
Corigan knew, it had to be excruciating. He actually felt sympathy for him.
Albom grasped at any remaining semblance of dignity, pressing down on the pain and pushing himself up. A few quiet moans slipped passed his lips.
During this whole escapade, not one officer had moved to assist. Not out of cruelty or lack of support. Simply put, no one had wanted that smell on their uniform.
Albom dragged himself back up into his seat, rubbing his sore wrist and howling for one of the bouncers to bring him some ice.
Corigan asked him one last question. “What happened to your eye?”
Albom was taking deep breaths now. The pain in his arm had sobered him up considerably. “Some jerk off attacked me yesterday.”
Corigan was intrigued. “Did you get a look at his face?”
“Who the fuck do you think I am?” Albom snapped. “Of course I did. Do you think I would accuse someone and not remember his face?” He continued with a cruel grin. “But no. I didn’t recognize him.”
“Why didn’t you report it?” Catherine asked, already suspecting the answer.
Albom was going to wait until he was back on duty and then provide some Blue Justice. Find the guy and return the favour… officially.
No report, no connection.
Albom didn’t answer the question. Instead he pointed out. “The guy had been following me all week so I figure I’d see him again.”
Corigan froze. “Followed you? All week? Are you sure of this?” He remembered Beckham mentioning the same thing.
“Of course I’m sure.” Albom replied with indignation. “I’m a cop after all.”
The bouncer handed Albom the ice. He placed it on his forearm and his eyes closed with an orgasmic look. After a few seconds, Albom opened them and glowered in Corigan’s direction “I can tell you this, cops know when they’re being followed.”
Corigan had to admit, that instinct was present with law enforcement officers, good and bad. It was a great gift to have and it saved many a life.
Albom continued. “I wasn’t sure at first, but a few things stood out.” He rubbed the melting ice along his arm, slowly and gently. “From the awkward corner jumps when I turned around to the weird shifts of gaze when he tried to appear nonchalant. Sometimes, not often, when I paused too long in one place, he almost seemed to vanish and someone new took his place.”
“New? Took his place?” Corigan asked, also remembering Beckham having felt he was being followed by a cluster of men. “How many?”
“That’s just it. I’d swear just the one. The new guy was just as awkward, but he looked different. But I was drunk some of those times, so I can’t say for sure.”
Corigan listened intently, annoyed the witness account was tainted by alcohol.
The story seemed to lead somewhere.
“So he seemed like an amateur?” Corigan threw in.
“Don’t get me wrong.” Albom commented. “The person who followed me knew how to do it. Just not good enough not to be spotted by a trained eye.” Albom gritted his teeth as he pressed the ice harder. “It seemed more like someone who had seen it on television and was trying to do it the same way.”
“And you could tell it wasn’t another cop?” Catherine asked.
Albom smirked. “You can’t tail someone for very long when they’re used to tails and it not get noticed.” Albom sneered in Podolski’s direction. “IA used to keep track of me all the time when they wanted to catch me drinking on the job. They were good. I was better.”
Podolski winked, letting him know, they might be doing it again.
“Cops look out of place to begin with.” Albom added. “No matter how they try to pursue you. Not this guy. He looked out of place sometimes, but in others, he almost seemed to blend in like a colour changing lizard.”
John added. “You mean a chameleon?”
“I tell it like I remember it. Not how I’d like it.” Albom replied.
Corigan believed him. “Have you seen him since?” Hope in his voice.
Albom shrugged his shoulders. “Nope. It stopped a few days ago. Up and until he attacked me yesterday and took my wallet.”
Catherine jumped in with annoyance. “You never mentioned he got your wallet?”
Albom shrugged. “All he got was two coupons, my Driver’s License and half an AA meeting card.” Albom looked to Podolski. “Don’t get too excited. I kept the other half because it had a number of this great slut I met the other day.”
The other officers shook their heads in frustration.
Albom added for good measure, directed to Catherine. “What’s he going to do with MY identification anyway?”
Considering this case, Catherine was about to say, ’You’d be surprised.’ She chose to keep quiet.
Corigan found himself hard-pressed to believe the man before him was not the person who attacked him the evening before, yet he knew, it was not.
Corigan would have smelled this man from a mile away, let alone not notice him downwind and able to sneak up on him on a quiet suburban street.
The voice of Beckham’s innocence was tapping harder at his conscience. And now it was not alone.
You’re missing something. You’re MISSING something!
It was almost the same situation as described by his first murder suspect Deryl Beckham, word for word..
Yet there was no connection between them.
That and this Albom, and he had to admit, he had to consider the use of the phrase ’this’ Albom, had a thick five o’clock shadow and a black eye.
And unless this Albom doused his skin with radioactive hair growth tonic, punched himself in the face and took a dip in a pile of dirty laundry at a local homeless shelter this morning, ’this’ Albom and the one last night were NOT the same person.
Which begged the question? ’Who the Hell was ‘the’ Albom from last night?’
John could tell Corigan was confused. “Why don’t you talk to the bartender? We can deal with Numb-nuts here.”
“Fuck you John.” Is all Albom could muster.
John turned and moved into the group, all trying to calm Albom down, get him unlocked from the counter and out of the bar.
Corigan and Catherine took the bartender aside and introduced themselves.
As did the bartender. His name was Deryl Ward. Deryl was a good looking man, possibly in his late thirties. He had dark black hair, bright eagle eyes and the bone structure of a teenager. He wore a fashionable black vest over a neatly ironed purple shirt with the neck collar open.
Catherine could tell this was someone who likely never went to bed alone at night unless he wanted peace and quiet.
Deryl spoke with a soft tone, but his words seemed to resonate as his voice was clear cut, perfectly pitched and well-delivered. A consummate professional that when manning the bar could speak a few words and everyone would feel compelled to listen. And when pouring your drink, he appeared like a man who would observe intently, remember conversations and repeat them back in a manner to help customers feel special, listened to and helped.
Corigan asked right away, “I might as well get this out there. This Albom never left your bar last night?”
Deryl took on a weird look, “This Albom?”
Catherine interrupted, “Just go with it.”
“This Albom…” Deryl shrugged. “Arrived early afternoon, positioned himself in his standard spot, the same one he’s in right now.” Deryl gestured to Albom. “Of course, he wasn’t handcuffed at the time.”
Corigan. “And he never left?”
“Nope. He remained there until this morning.” Deryl noted nonchalantly. “Except this is not including his hiatus in our back closet with our futon.”
Catherine bit her lip. “No way he could have left and come back?
“Only long enough for a washroom break or a quick puke.” Deryl admitted, “But trust me. This is not someone you’d miss.” Deryl paused to consider how to explain. It came to him. “Let’s just say for example, Albom was an asshole.”
Catherine giggled. ”I think I can picture that.”
Deryl was very charming when he spoke, even when crudely. “You don’t get to be an asshole unless you make yourself be known as an asshole.” He looked at Catherine. “Pardon my language.”
“We’ve heard worse.” Corigan threw in.
“So...” Deryl pointed to all the empty tables and abandoned chairs. “Can you picture anyone here, last night, not knowing that we’d lost our asshole?” He smiled. “Trust me, and everyone will confirm, he was here, in all his personality.”
Corigan admitted. Stupid as it sounded, it was logical.
Corigan motioned to the back room. “After you closed… No way out of there?”
“Sure. We have a key to the back door.” Deryl pointed. “Albom has been a customer for years. He knows where it is and how to get out.”
Corigan seemed to perk up.
Catherine asked the question, “So he could have left?”
“No way.” Deryl gestured to a security panel behind the bar. “This place is monitored 24/7. No door or window was opened last night. And when I arrived this morning, Albom was face down on the futon with the same dried puke on his face in the same cold pool of his own piss.” Deryl paused. “I draw the line at bodily fluids.”
“Nice.” is all Catherine could mutter.
Closing up the witness interview with Mr. Ward, asking him to come down to the station to sign a statement form, Catherine and Corigan found themselves out of options.
Suddenly, there was a commotion near the end of the bar.
Two of the officers had subdued Albom, restraining his arms, and within seconds had disconnected him from the handrail.
John turned and shouted to Corigan. “We’re going to take him to the station. Nothing to charge him with yet, but at least we can get him cleaned up and sober for his meeting with the Captain. Can’t in good conscience put our boss in a sealed room with him like this, for both their sakes.”
“Good luck with that.” Corigan joked.
John asked the question everyone was waiting for. “Do you want us to charge him? With your attack?” The query was genuine and his friend would have laid the charges without question.
Corigan took a breath and responded. “He’s not the guy. I must have been mistaken.”
John knew Corigan He was cognizant of the fact, Corigan was not happy by offering this response. But John also knew, whoever was on the other end of the attack was in deep trouble.
Corigan would not let this drop anytime soon.
“You got it.” John and the other officers took Albom out the rear entrance.
Al barked in defiance, or maybe pleasure as his sense of smell was more sensitive than humans. Albom’s departure had to be a welcome blessing for Al’s poor nostrils.
Corigan and Catherine stepped out of the bar into the warm sunny day, giving Al a quick pet as they left.
“I have to admit. I’m stumped.” Catherine commented as she walked to her vehicle.
Corigan opened the car door. “So am I. But I can tell you this, I’m not closing this case. What started as something a ‘little’ wrong has blossomed into something ‘WAY’ wrong. I have no intention of letting this get pushed through the system.”
Catherine offered her approval. “Well thank God you have a good partner to back you up huh?”
Corigan grinned. “Glad I have a good seeing eye dog.”
Catherine paused for moment, car keys in hand. “Call me a dog again and it’ll be your last.”
Corigan smiled as he got in. “I don’t care if the Captain demands we let it go. I’m going to find out what the Hell is going on here and bring this other Albom to Justice.”
“And the other Beckham I assume you want to say.” Catherine did not like saying it, but she knew her partner.
“I’m not at that stage just yet… But yes, I’m getting there.” Corigan paused. “If there are indeed two Alboms and two Beckhams, I plan to find them and arrest them both.”
Catherine started the car. “Well you got me piqued this time. I’m all in.” She patted her partner on the shoulder. “Sherlock and Watson are on the case.”
Corigan smiled at her.
Catherine made one last proclamation as she steered into traffic to Corigan, eye to eye, friend to friend and colleague to colleague. “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Corigan nodded in agreement.
Arthur Conan Doyle had it right.