From the shady sidewalk outside the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, my residence building is just five hundred meters east. There are people smoking cigarettes out front. I could bolt across Gerrard right now and be there in two minutes, but instead of being reckless, I tread carefully and hug the shadows. Five more steps and another patrol car comes around the corner and drives directly at me. Oh you gotta be kidding...
I shelter behind a wide tree trunk and wait for the cruiser to pass. But it doesn’t pass. When I risk a peek, I see the squad car is just creeping along and the passenger is using a spotlight to search the bushes. They’re hunting me like an animal. I freeze when the high-powered beam comes closer, and closer.
The spotlight blinds my eyes.
I listen to my inner voice for once and run. There’s no traffic and I sprint across the street right in front of the police car. The flashers come on. Red and blue lights wash the buildings. The cruiser issues loud burping sounds.
I don’t stop.
I run past the smokers. I don’t know any of them and that’s good. None of them can identify me.
In the lobby, the security guards raise their heads and smile at me; they recognize me as a resident and so none of them rise. I nod politely and then dart for the stairs. Do I need to hurry now? The cops can’t come in here. They can’t enter without doing a whole lot of paperwork. Or can they? Maybe they can just come in here anytime they like?
Five flights of stairs, wearing my boots, saps what energy I have left in reserve. I’m panting now and can barely stand, but I stumble down the hall into Apartment 505.
Electronic music and the pungent stench of marijuana greet me at the door. Camila must be out because she’d never allow it.
Amelia lays on the couch and plays with her phone. She looks up at me with bloodshot eyes. Gorie stares at me from inside his Plexiglass box.
Sam emerges from his room wearing gym shorts. He was doing his exercises and his muscular body glistens with sweat.
“Cops are coming,” I say between gasps, “maybe.”
“Huh?” Sam turns down his music. “Why?”
I ignore him to talk to Amelia. “Ames. Can you please, pretty please go down to the lobby and see if they’re coming up?” I hold up my own phone. “Text me if they’re coming.”
“Why would they be coming here?” Amelia is horrified. She’s stoned and probably really paranoid.
“Ok. It’s okay.” I motion her to stay calm. “They.” I explain to the boys, “I got another video and,” I’m panting, out of breath, “two real senior officers. Tyrants.” That’s the word civil rights auditors use to describe cops who break the law on camera.
“They chased you?” Sam asks.
“Yeah...” I confirm, still gasping, and that spine-chilling reality floods my consciousness; I was just chased by the Toronto Police. I catch my breath. “Cop car’s lights were on and horns squawked and everything. Just before I entered the lobby.”
“And you didn’t stop?” Gorie is amazed. He opens the door of his box and exits in a cloud of tobacco smoke.
“Hell no.” I flip my camera over and open the latch. I use my fingernail to extract the memory card as I pace down the hall toward my room. “Gotta upload.” But even as I speak I realize it’ll take hours, maybe all night to upload even the last video. The police could still roll in here and shut me down at any minute. Should I cut it? No. The pre-roll adds to the authenticity of the encounter. But what about Chantwell? And what about my rent money? Who cares about that. Stay in the now. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to hide somewhere else in the building; the WiFi works everywhere, so why stay here? My fingers shake as I try to insert the memory chip into the front of my Lenovo.
“So you think the cops are out front?” Sam stands in my bedroom door and watches me.
I unplug my laptop from the wall and bundle-up the power cables. I toss everything into my backpack indiscriminately. I’m busy thinking about other people I know, and other living rooms I could visit. “Move.” I motion him to step aside as I survey my room for any last minute necessities. “I don’t have much time.” I close the door and hear it lock. Cachunk.
“Follow me,” Sam says. He puts on a blue paisley shirt that makes me smile despite everything. I’m still recovering from my run and my heart pumps. I have my camera in my backpack and I’m holding my laptop out front of me as I walk. The processor has opened the memory card and after two taps I see all three videos from tonight.
I walk behind Sam toward the stairs, but remember to stop and don my mask. I need to set the computer down, but he helps me. He lifts the string into place over my left ear so I don’t have to unburden myself. I catch his eyes. It's a tender moment. I’m about to head upstairs, but he grunts and points me down. He takes the lead.
“Mikey Doodles and Schmuck live down on Two with Ghost Girl. Their flat is right above the front door.” Sam’s voice echoes in the stairwell.
“Ghost Girl lives above the front door?” I know her from social distanced mixers in June. She’s the DJ at The Cave, a local bar, or she was before the pandemic. She’s Swedish, from Timmins.
“Good Wifi cause it’s right above the office.” Sam points at my laptop, “I wanna see the video.”
We stomp downstairs and only meet a few other people along the way. I feel a little safer on the second floor. Nobody will look for me down here, but I know I’m being recorded right now by the cameras in the hall. Sam knocks on Apartment 212.
The WiFi is stronger. I open my YouTube channel and click Upload. No time for editing. I select the third video and groan when I see it’s eighteen minutes in length. Sam knocks again.
“Did you say Schmuck?” I whisper.
“Yeah, you know... The whisky guy.”
Muck Daniels opens the door. He high-fives Sam and a toothy grin fills his face when he sees me. “No way. You guys together?”
“Ghost girl? You home?” I ask over his shoulder.
“Toni?” A wafer-thin platinum blond with pale white skin and eyebrow piercings pops up the background. “Come in.”
“Is the dibble out front?” Sam asks. He pushes past me and past Muck to cross the living room and look out the front window. “They are! Bloody poggers.”
“They are?” I shuffle past Muck who still grins like an idiot. There’s two police cruisers parked below, one on each side of the street. The car opposite has just arrived and I watch two officers exit the vehicle.
“What’s going on?” Ghost Girl asks, her face whiter than usual. Her real name is Laura something and she moves to the other window to survey the scene.
“Toni poked the bear,” Sam summarizes it perfectly.
“Huh?” Laura turns and sees me clutching my laptop and backpack. She tries to put it together but frowns with confusion. I don’t help her; my eyes return to the street.
The newly arrived cops wait for traffic before they cross. Relax. They’re not going to find me. This isn’t Nazi Germany; they can’t search the whole building. They’re both young recruits. The driver is an olive skinned toothpick and his partner is a red-faced ginger-haired man. They engage with residents we can’t see in the entrance below. The cops stand directly underneath our window to converse. Suddenly, a voice calls down to them.
“Oink oink pigs. Welcome to Neill Wycik.” Muck Daniels greets the law enforcement officers from what must be his own bedroom, the next window east. I’m horrified. I came down here to avoid detection not to taunt police.
“Pardon me?” the ginger-haired cop looks up the heckler over the short green awning outside.
“Knock it off Schmuck.” Sam hisses down the hall. We both step back from the window.
Muck doesn’t listen. Instead he leans his whole head and shoulders outside the 2x2 slider hole in his bedroom window. “I’m just expressing myself,” the young drunk says, almost apologetically. We can see him now, through the window.
“Well, that’s rude.” The olive skin cop looks-up and both police officers also step back so they don’t have to crane their necks. “How do you think that makes us feel?”
What an odd thing to say? He’s deescalating. The auditors in the videos I watch claim responding officers unnecessarily increase tensions during interactions. Many say the police cultivate and enjoy the air-of-authority they bring to each encounter. But this young constable appeals to Muck’s sensibilities emotionally. This must be their new training.
“I’m sorry,” Muck replies playfully. “I thought I’as doing good you know by not swearing at youse.”
“Certainly. We appreciate that.” The ginger-haired cop gives positive affirmation, reinforcing good behaviour.
Carmi, Barbi and Patty Juice appear on the sidewalk below our window. Dressed in tank tops, shorts and sandals, they leave Neill Wycik through the front doors and giggle like school girls. The police officers smile at them politely before they return their eyes to Muck. The girls wear disposable cloth masks and they all turn around to see what occupies the constables’ attention. Seeing the girls must inspire the drunken heckler for he loudly continues his performance.
“But you’re Toronto cops,” Muck points down at the two patrolmen. “So you’re worse than pigs.”
“Oh my God!” The girls on the sidewalk react in shock and laughter. Carmi grabs her phone and raises it up to the window.
“You’re blue-lives-matter douche bags.” Muck makes a gun with his hand and pretends to shoot the cops, “and do-nothing pieces of dog shit.”
“Muck!” Ghost Girl runs down the hall and into his room to stop him.
“That’s quite enough,” the ginger-haired patrolman states firmly from the sidewalk. I agree with him. Coming down here was a bad idea.
“Ahhah yiiiaha hahah!” Carmi, Barbi and Patty explode in riotous laugher. Carmi continues to record the angry cops on her phone until her friends pull her away. We listen to the struggle next door as Laura pulls Muck out of his bedroom window. The officers scan other openings.
“I’m outa here...” I turn to flee the scene, but Sam stops me. He holds me in his arms and calms me with his big blue eyes and dimple-chin smile.
“Toni. It’s fine.” Sam nods toward the window. “Look, they’re leaving.” It’s true. The officers that were inside have come out, and now all four patrolmen move to re-enter their squad cars.
“Of course they are,” Muck straightens himself. “There’s no law against crushing their souls.”
“That wasn’t smart,” Ghost Girl says to her flatmate sternly.
“No,” Muck admits, “but I can’t keep quiet either. Silence is violence right?” A grin spreads across his face, “and it felt great.”
“You’re barking mad," Sam cackles with admiration.
“Oh it’s jus the Black Lives coming out in me. That’s how I protest.” Muck explains. “Now I don’t have to go Yonge Dundas this weekend. Ahhh!” He raises his fists like he’s protesting.
I don’t know whether to curse or laugh. The guy repulses me on every level, but he was quite articulate and now the cops are leaving. He made them feel unwelcome.
My hands shake as I lift my laptop to check my video and confirm it’s still uploading. Then I notice my subscriber count has doubled to 224. NHL Bike Lane ID Refusal video now 2604 views. Wow. I sit on the edge of the couch. There’s numerous emails; and notifications on several channels. My phone is another bastion of activity. There are a dozen text messages and missed calls. Blue called and texted. He’s worried about me.
“Who wants a shot?” Muck lines up finger-sized glasses on the coffee table and dribbles his favourite whiskey into each little vial.
I surprise everyone when I seize the first one and throw it back. I clench my fists and shudder through the experience which goes well beyond its foul taste.
“That’a girl,” Muck salutes me. I shudder again.
Ghost Girl is even more puzzled with my behaviour and these circumstances and she scans for more clues. She waves off the proffered drink. Sam accepts the gift.
“Let’s watch your video Toni,” Samuel sips his whiskey.
“Can’t right now,” I point to the front of my Lenovo which I cradle in my lap. “Uploading direct from the chip.”
“Why?” Sam asks, but it’s a silly question and he shakes it off and I hear his teeth chatter after he gulps down his own strong drink.
“Just give me some space. I need to think.” I sit on the couch with my backpack beside me and my laptop on my knees. I go into my bubble. The boys get distracted with talk about rare British dance tracks and Ghost Girl plays on her iPad occasionally doing Google searches to resolve their bets. I ignore them and go to work.
Uploading to YouTube requires I fill out fields and most important is the title. After trying many different compositions, I settle on ′Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal.′ That hits all the right notes and could do well in search engines. Plus it will intrigue all the people who surf YouTube and see it listed. Now to pick a thumbnail for the Title Screen and check more boxes. Yes, the video is Public, and Copyright Protected. No, its not for kids. Editorial. Interview.
This dark alley video is on another level. It’s totally unlike my other uploads because, well for one thing the image is terrible and its hard to watch. Its success is going to depend on the audio. I’m uploading it without watching it first, or even listening to it. I experienced it.
In my rush to publish, I didn’t add my usual generic-opening sequence or any calls to action at the end. It’s just raw. I should write a description to set it up. But what to write? I was paid by a shady Trinidadian to reconnoiter residential streets for no reason? No. Loyalist College taught me to start with the who, what, where, when, how and why of the matter, and if possible to keep my personal opinions to myself. I won’t detail why, as I don’t have any answers. I start with the facts: ′Tuesday July 27th 2020, 9:30 pm. I walked Drummond to Carlyle and through Kerson Lane in downtown Toronto. I encountered a police presence. The headlights visible at the end of alley are from the same Mercedes Sprinter van that passes at the beginning of the video. Does anyone out there know what’s happening at #32 Drummond? Why are these Toronto cops in this alley? Leave comments or message me directly with answers.′ I cut and paste all the links to my social media profiles. Some part of me worries about this media. I can’t help feeling like I’m wiring-up a bomb. I sense this thing is going to explode, and not in a good way.
People stream into Apartment 212 and the party gets even louder. The neighbours all want to hear why Muck yelled at the cops. Sam sits on the arm of the couch beside me and runs interference. He occupies anyone who tries to bother me, or read what I’m typing, or look down my top. He patrols the airspace above my head and has conversations over top of me. There are other girls in the room. Barbie’s crew is here too and I can see them watching us. Maybe they think we’re together? Let them wonder. I’m not even going to check Sam to see which one of them he’s ogling.
My phone lights up again. It’s Blue texting his third inquiry: Toni???
I text him back: I’m Okay. Safe. But instead of calming the Trinidadian teenager, this causes him to text ′?!!” Then he tries calling. My ringer is off and I ignore him. I occupy myself on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, thanking everyone who commented on the NHL Player in Bike Lane, ID Refusal video. I can do all this while my new video uploads. It’s at 23%.
I turn back to my emails. Two more American auditors have asked for permission to share my NHL Player - ID Refusal video on their channel. They both identify the subject as Ryan Dewer of the Toronto Maple Leafs. ′That’s hot stuff!′ one notes. I reply in one sentence answers: Thanks. Yes you may republish, but please add a link in the description. God bless.
It takes an hour to complete the upload. I use the time to prepare drafts for its promotion once YouTube gives me the URL, and I confirm it works. I also answer emails including the promise to write a promissory note to Grant acknowledging my six thousand dollar debt to him. Perhaps this electronic letter could suffice? I hit Send and turn my attention to Marcy. I explain how I can’t rent guest rooms here right now, but if she just comes here she can either sleep with me, or on the couch... And Marcy, if you could loan me a couple hundred bucks that’d be sweet. Her money plus what I have in my pocket could cover one month. But Yian said he wanted the full eleven hundred. Oh pooh.
That reminds me of Chantwell. He’s not going to be happy either. He wanted all three hours and I ran away after just forty minutes. That means he probably won’t pay the balance.
The video finishes uploading. I hit Publish and cross my fingers and pray that I don’t see the dreaded something went wrong error message. But instead it all works flawlessly. A green badge appears on screen to inform me that I’ve successfully uploaded Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal. I copy its address to my clipboard and get ready to start pinging all my social channels. But first I’ll need to make a couple of screengrabs. Before I do that, I pull-up the new video on my phone and text the URL to Blue just to shut him up.
Mikey Doodles enters through the front door. This is his apartment I remember, and that’s confirmed when a loud cheer erupts both inside and out in the hall. The party doubles in size as all his friends stream-in behind. Mike is the most popular boy in the whole building due to his good looks and his cut-rate liquor connections These three residents, Mikey Doodles, Muck Daniels and Ghost Girl party every night and consequently they don’t have a fourth or fifth flatmate.
Mikey approaches me on the couch like I’m in his spot. He doesn’t get beyond “Hay Toni,” before Sam stands to face him. They’re friends and very similar beings. I know they’ve hung out before.
At the table, Muck Daniels pours whiskey shots for anyone who’ll sit with him. There’s some attempt to play Quarters, a drinking game which involves bouncing a coin off the table and into a cup, saucer or plate. But the room is too crowded now, and Carmi, Barbi and Patty Juice are already drunk and just want to dance.
Mikey Doodles sets a thirty-six inch flat screen on the coffee table in front of me. He passes me an old-school VGA cable which he’s wisely appraised as my only video connection option. I know what he wants, and I’m impressed he picked the right cable. By setting the screen before me, he draws a crowd behind the couch. This must’ve been what Sam discussed with him. He runs power to the monitor and I plug-in the blue-tipped cable. Next we hook-up the audio from my laptop to a battery-powered Minimax speaker. He’s thought of everything.
Someone turns down the stereo but everyone’s talking and the room is still loud. There’s over forty people in here now and more streaming in. There’s a crowd in the hall too judging by how the apartment door never closes.
I advance the video; I won’t make everyone watch me circle the block. I start the show at the point where I enter the alley. The room goes quiet and someone turns-off the overhead fluorescents. People whisper in the dark and one girl asks, ′where is this?′ I decide to set-it up for them.
“This is what I shot tonight. I’m in an alley just north of here.” Saying that sounds weird. “It’s Kerson Lane. It runs between Drummond and Carlyle.”
“Toni. Why?” Sam looks at me like I’m crazy, and he’s right. I shrug. Maybe someday I’ll try and explain it to him.
The video plays and the low-light picture is splotchy whenever the camera tries to adjust exposure for the streetlamps. I cringe. I should have just set the aperture at f 1.4 and let the picture go dark in places and burn-out in others but my camera moves are slow enough that it probably doesn’t disturb anyone else but me. The two figures appear backlit by the lightbulb as they open the garage doors. The fancy red and blue motorbikes are quite visible. The whispering in the room stops when everyone realizes the two characters on screen are cops.
“Good evening,” the first police officer steps into the light and then adds, “young ducky.”
“Is that recording?” The stocky blond cop asks, “What are you doing?”
“I’m recording you.” My voice says, and the people around me react. “That a girl!” I hear Muck exclaim from behind his bar. The people in the room shuffle about to get more comfortable.
“...Which is public business right?” My voice cracks.
"It’s not for schoolgirls."
"Listen. We’re just asking... It’s for our safety.” The crowd groans and reacts and I swell with pride. This little recording has real gravity and everyone’s hooked.
“...What are you trying to hide?" I hear myself ask on video.
"Goodnight Miss." The patrolmen back away. Muck makes pig-snorting sounds and everyone laughs.
Sam gives me a puzzled look as if to say ′that’s it?′
“Part two.” I hope up two fingers and then nod at the screen. It’s the same recording this time, as I didn’t power-down between encounters.
“Excuse us miss . Hello?” The two men in grey suits appear.
“Hi there.” McKenzie says. “Don’t be scared.”
“We’d like to identify you,” Cochotemete says.
This provokes an audience reaction. I hear Muck tell the cops to screw off and I realize he’s living the experience as though he’s me. They all are. They’re all imagining it’s them in that dark alley.
"I’m going to pat you down. Have you got anything..."
"No. You’re not." I hear myself stand-up to them. ”I do not consent. You have no reasonable ar..."
"It’s a high crime area. We’re investigating suspicious behaviour." Cochutemet comes closer on screen. ”Are you refusing to produce identification...?”
"I’m under no obligation...”
McKenzie’s produces handcuffs. "Then you can wear these."
Ahh. Sam’s hand grips mine. He’s actually worried. Everyone in the room holds their breath.
Then image goes bright as the flood lights come-on. The store owner’s voice asks ′Is everything okay?” and there’s a group exhale, woah. The audience remains glued to the show. They all chuckle when I pretend to know my rescuer and move past my tormentors. “He’s not happy,” someone says, reacting to the hateful look Cochutemete gives the camera.
I’m rewarded again when I hear the girls reject the Asian shopkeeper’s offer, ”Come inside. I’ll call you a taxi." Patty Juice says “Ain’t no way I’m going in there.” The others laugh and cheer when they hear me politely refuse the invitation. I swell with pride again.
The video ends as I run away through the lot behind the building. I stop the video player and there’s loud applause. The lights come on.
“Toni. Toni. Toni!” I’m mobbed. Everyone congratulates me and wants to know more about how the cops chased me here and how I slipped them. I get free legal advice from every direction. Doodles plays KRS-One, Sound of da Police on his stereo. The track starts with police sirens and a loud ′whoop whoop’’. This makes everyone howl with laughter and dancing erupts. Muck leads a push to get everyone to Subscribe to Toni Petti LIVE on YouTube. Ghost Girl knows what I’m doing is part of larger social movement.
“Hashtag ID refusal.” Laura crosses her fingers, a wide smile on her pale face. “You’re a first amendment auditor!"
“Charter Rights. Yeah, that’s what they call it.” I blush. “But I’m not...”
“Yes you are. My cousin’s a copwatcher in Philly. I’ll send him this.” Ghost girl hurries back to her armchair before anyone takes it. She gets busy on her iPad.
Yian towers in the door behind a surgical mask. He’s one of the only ones wearing such protection. He looks around and being so tall he sees me right away and waves. It takes him some time to push through the dancefloor and even when he arrives he still can’t be heard. The music is too loud; he shouts in my ear.
“Toni. The cops. Asked to see. Lobby footage.” His glare asks, what have you done?
“Don’t they need a warrant?”
“Yes. No.” He wags his head back and forth, “Neill Wycik is.. Written request.” He holds up two fingers. “Two board members need to approve.” He shrugs, “could get it tonight. Or tomorrow.”
“But why?” I’m trying to determine how that helps the police. I haven’t broken any laws. They’re just looking to identify me.
As if reading my mind, Yian agrees, “Probably just. Trying to. Figure out. Who. You are.”
“Did you tell them?”
“Nobody did.” Yian proudly shakes his head no. “Made it seem. Like hard drive. Is offsite.”
“Good. Thank you.”
A fresh beat emerges and the party boils with new energy. Patty Juice slithers close and pulls Yian onto the dance floor. I watch the triple-threat go to work on the Asian PhD candidate. Barbi and Carmi appear on either side and all three skinny girls writhe in close proximity. Yian drops his mask and surrenders to their charms; he’s already forgotten about me and what brought him here, I’m sure.
I’m safe here; but perhaps I should stay away from Apartment 505 tonight. Maybe I can sleep on the roof? I’ve heard stories of people doing that, but I’ve also heard how the building security guards will remove anyone they find in the common areas afterhours. Bah. I loath being inconvenienced like this. All because the cops are trying to find out who I am? Why? They can’t delete the video anymore.
If law enforcement is trying to find out more about me, then maybe I can learn more about them. The two patrolmen at the start managed to get away without giving me their names, but their uniforms make it clear they were law enforcement. Sadly it was too dark to even get the numbers on the vests. The other two gave their names, reluctantly. Clinton McKenzie and Commander Cochutemete they’d said. They both wore suits so maybe they’re detectives?
Back in my couch bubble, my laptop on my legs, I open Firefox which loads Google as my homepage. I begin with McKenzie. Or is it Mackenzie? Ahh there’s the problem. How to spell their names? I try Clinton Mackenzie. The search produces forty pages of results which I refine by adding the modifier, police. Still no Santa beards.
Ghost girl comes to sit beside me with her iPad. She wants to show me her cousin the cop-watcher in Philly I think because she has it loaded to YouTube, but when she sees what I’m doing she thumbs it away to open Safari and her own search window.
“Mackenzie?” Laura asks.
“You do the micks and I’ll do the macs,” she volunteers.
Together we use image search to try and find a picture of the white-bearded policeman, but no matter which spelling we try, or which modifiers we use, we can’t find any matches.
“What about the other one?” Ghost Girl asks.
“Co chu te meh? I can’t spell that name.” I start typing .. K och
“No, Its with a C..” Laura corrects me. “Its French. Co-chu-te-mete. I think it means...well, chuchotement is to whisper.”
I type Cochutemete and police into Google. The first result is bang-on.
Commander Govan Cochutemete. That’s him. It’s a press release put out by the Toronto Police Service two years ago, July 2018. The headers are various government logos and the brief is titled, The Guns and Gangs Task Force. It was prepared by Officer in Charge: Inspector Joseph Matthews and it details how Deputy Commander Govan Cochutemete is hereby appointed to lead Special Division with a mandate to unify select investigative teams within the Firearms Unit, Financial Crimes and the Ontario Provincial Police’s homegrown Biker Enforcement Unit. The Bikers!
There were motorcycles in the garage at #32 Drummond, and the Asian shop clerk said the thugs in the alley were bikers.
So, what’s going on? Why did Toronto Police cruisers chase me? Is it because Govan Cochutemete wanted to seize my camera to delete himself from my video? That’s one possible explanation. He planed to jam me up and secure my devices, but the jewelry store owner saved me, and I slipped the net. The next question is, what will do when he sees himself on YouTube?