“How can I find out who owns a property in the city?” I ask Laura and she shrugs. That's not in her wheelhouse. She’s still reading about Commander Cochutemete on her iPad.
I type my request into Google. ′How to know who owns what property in Toronto?′ I find the knowledge I seek halfway down the page. Property ownership information is not available online, but can be researched through assessment rolls using the Toronto Property System available at the Registry Service Office at 20 Dundas St W. The next Google result is a complaints page about the service. There are lots of user-submitted comments describing how nobody answers the phone, ′and the answering machine message just goes on and on unnecessarily. They make it hard to even leave them a message...′ Huh. That’s good to know. Apparently I’ll have to go in person if I want to discover who owns 32 Drummond.
My phone lights up. The screen says Bluemageddon which is how I saved Paul's new number. Now I'm thinking this is Chantwell’s Cadillac phone, or maybe his personal cell.
“...Golr forr huphmumble scandalmonger." The old catfish is even harder to decipher than usual.
Chantwell’s accent, combined with the loud music makes it impossible to understand him. I hold my phone against my body and push through the crowd toward the exit.
Outside the front door, I squeeze past more people in the hall. Boys are drunk and one player with a backwards ball cap reaches for my arm. Fortunately his hand is pulled away by a girl in his group. I give her a thankful look and cast him an angry eyeball as I pass. He’s filled with testosterone and grins like groping is a game. Ugh. I walk to end of the hall and stand by the door. If I were to go in the stairwell, it would be quieter, but I’d probably lose reception. It’s loud here in the hallway, but this is the best place available to talk on a phone at this time.
“Hello,” I listen intently for any sign the caller is still connected.
"Tell me you ave moh dan dat Toni," Chantwell’s voice demands. ”Tell me you have da driver, da passenger and whoeva was in da back?" He must be talking about the Sprinter van.
“I do not. You tell me why the cops chased me?” I reply. “What’s going on?”
"Dat was your assaimen! Ya muss return to da koffee stain tonigh. Urry."
“Ohh, screw-off. Have you no regard for my safety?”
"Ya owe me two an a turd more ours," he insists. "It’s ’appening raht doh.”
"Yu canna break deals wit me. Jawa toll you dat.” Now he’s angry. ”You dick me aroun an I hurt ja.”
“I’m not going back there.”
"Why doh? Wha can dey do to ya?" Chantwell doesn’t wait. ”Dey won hurt you! Tis’I uwall hur you.”
“I’m not going back.” I shout, “and don’t threaten me.”
"Rekon-sider muck raker. Is doh too lay...”
I hang up. There’s nothing more to say after, I’m not going back. There's no way I can ask for the rest of the money. I’ve just made an enemy, but with the police combing the streets it’s not safe to leave the building, or even to go back to my own apartment. I’ve been arrested before and placed in holding cells and processed and prosecuted. It’s an awful experience and not something I want to endure again, especially when I know I haven’t done anything wrong.
Breathe. I need to think and this isn't the best place for that. I can feel a dozen eyes watching me. Intoxicated teens shout in each others’ ears which is akin to whispering in such a loud environment. The same drunk boy with the ballcap prances forth and motions for me to join his mating dance. I shake my head no, and try to move past. He reaches for my shoulder. This time there are no friends around to stop him.
“Don’t touch,” I push his hand away.
“Or what?” the stupid boy asks, an infantile reaction to being scolded. He comes closer and dances more threateningly and I roll my eyes at him in disgusted rage. He just became everything I despise; a blunt object, he doesn’t care who he hurts.
I try to leave him behind but when I turn, I see him reach again. He has more stupid words he wants me to hear. Too bad. He asked for this. I raise my right leg and spin.
This is my wheel kick. I can thank Lucille Dingman at Gagner Home for Girls for helping me develop it. Lucille liked to charge at unprotected backs and my move surprised her. My wheel kick sent her to the infirmary for three days. It cripples; the level of damage inflicted depends entirely on an opponent’s approach-speed and where my foot meets their head.
The whole maneuver happens on a pivot without warning; that’s key. I turn away from my assailant like I'm giving up, but keep turning and my false retreat becomes a 360 degree spin. I raise my right leg while simultaneously extending my foot. Cathump. It’s a wheel-kick and my black leather boot strikes the fool-boy’s left temple and topples him. His face hits the wall on the way down. He rolls to land unconscious at his friends’ feet. Whoa. The other ball players step back in shock.
“Hooray!” Two girls cheer. I duck past them toward Apartment 212. When I was at Gagner, I’d gotten in real trouble for booting Lucille. I’d cracked her jaw. I don’t want to hang around here a moment longer in case that trouble finds me again. I squeeze through the crowd at the door and hear boys shout for someone to stop me. I cut through the people in line at Muck’s bar and call across the dance floor for Mikey and Sam.
“I juss kicked a grabber.” I hold Mikey’s eyes and then point at the people in the hall. “Make sure his friends don’t come in.”
“You did what?” Doodles scans the entrance. “Oh aight.”
“Are you okay?” Sam acts sweet and tries for a hug.
“Yeah fine,” I turn his arms and point him toward the door. “Go on.” I give him a little push in that direction. I don’t want to be hugged right now.
The boys cut through the crowd and arrive at the door just in time to meet the baseball brats. Mikey and Sam push them back outside. They all disappear around the corner. Rapid movements and the shuffle of innocent people looking to avoid injury tells me something physical occurs. I smile with satisfaction, but it’s very selfish of me and feels a little juvenile delinquentish.
The kick was a nice release though, I must admit; it was cathartic, karmic and kind of spiritual. The world acted through me and I simply became the vehicle for Divine Retribution. Who knows, maybe I saved some other girl from getting molested tonight. I’ll forget about it in a few minutes but that jerk will stew on it for years. I don’t have time to waste thinking about it, or him, or how good it felt.
It’s the conversation with Chantwell that I need to unravel. Thinking back on how he said he’d hurt me freaks me out all over again. I’d hoped he’d give-up some answers about why he’d sent me, but he only cared about the van. That’s a clue for sure. Who or what was in the back of that Sprinter van? Who cares? I’m not getting caught up in this. I didn’t expect he’d pay the balance, but I'd sure like to know why the cops are so determined to erase themselves from my recording?
My phone lights up again with a new text message from Blue which reads: ′Please do what Chantwell says.′
‘It’s not safe,’ I reply, ′both of you can screw-off!′
I turn my phone off. No more texts or calls tonight. I’m gonna need another shot of Muck’s whisky to get to sleep. I cut in line to drain another vial and shudder my way back to the couch. I settle-in and use my backpack as pillow. While I was out, Ghost Girl reconnected my laptop to play her cousin’s Copwatch videos. That media played and the tags in the description caused the queue to auto-populate with police chases and real life gun fights which does nothing to settle my nerves. The violent media has nevertheless captured other people’s attention and so I can’t simply shut it all down without having a debate. That’s fine. I’ll just close my eyes...
I hear a special song, How I Feel, by A Tribe Called Red. Released in 2016, it’s a modern Canadian protest anthem. I hear this track several times a week and it’s kind of become the theme song for this summer.
...And over standing the corruption and deconstructing the lies
I’ve seen this country decline
Trying to keep discussions confined
Hide the underside
Over-extract and try to undermine
Damn, but I still believe in the truth
Whether it’s an MC in a booth, or a PhD in a suit
Yo when we yelling protest...
I open my eyes. It’s 3am. Sam is splayed out on the floor below the couch, awake. He lays amidst empty beer bottles, Red Bull cans and sticky red plastic cups. My Lenovo sits open in front of him and a video plays. He watching the media direct from the camera’s memory chip.
“What are you doing?”
“Brilliance Tone.” Sam looks up at me with bloodshot eyes that prove he hasn’t slept yet. “Can I kiss you?”
“No. Ugh. Let’s get out of here.” The darkened apartment is nightmarish. The light from the hallway shines-in through the half-open front door. Ghost Girl sits fast asleep in her chair with her iPad secure in her arms. Every square inch of the kitchen table is filled with cups and bottles. The carpet is gross and feels like glue paper. I’m glad our unit doesn’t suffer like this. I’m grateful to Camila right now for being so strict and never letting things get this out of hand. Ugh that awful beer cheese smell.
“But what about the dibble?” Sam dusts bottle caps, tabs and pizza crumbs from his pants. “Worry yah pre-dawn raid?” He had sandals on his feet when we entered, and now he's missing one. It’s half under the couch. I point to it as I power-up my phone.
“Yian said he’d text if they come.” I tell him. There were no texts from my tall Korean friend, but two more from Blue demanding I call him ASAP. Ugh.
We take the elevator up three floors and creep quietly into Apartment 505. The lights are all turned-off. Our flatmates’ doors are closed and they’re asleep. I half-expect Sam will try and follow me down the hall into my room, but he doesn’t. Smart move. The boy is winning points.
I wake at seven thirty in the morning and the first thing I do is check YouTube. Wow! Toni Petti LIVE channel now has 2754 Subscribers! My latest videos are getting good traffic too. Dark Alley with Toronto Police, Undercovers, ID Refusal already has 4354 views, and NHL Player Blocks Bike Lane ID Refusal has 9765 views. Those are real solid gains, and most marketers say growth is exponential. That means tomorrow’s totals could be huge.
My gmail inbox has over forty new emails and almost all of them are from people I don’t know. One is from Victoria @ RubyLaw.ca
Hello Toni Petti. Howard saw your video last night and he’s asked me to write you and offer our legal services free of charge. You may need us soon. Signed, Masie Duelle. The post script reads, The Law Office of Howard L. Ruby is devoted to defending those people who cross boundaries because of their political beliefs, race, class, gender, immigration status, creative impulses and perceived deviances.
Huh. How about that? I’ve heard of an ambulance chasers, but now an auditor-chaser? It surprises me that they’d reach out to me like this but maybe this law firm realizes that auditors like me will always need help because police don’t like seeing themselves or hearing their names on YouTube. I take the printed business card dispensed by Chantwell yesterday and I write the lawyer’s phone number on the back. Who knows? If the worst ever happens, and I lose everything, or get separated from my devices, I will have a hard copy.
I draft a fresh email to Marcy and tell her about the alley encounter and being chased by cops. When I click back to copy the video’s URL address again, I see my YouTube Subscribers count has grown by another fifty users to 2809. That is rapid growth. This might be the start of something really big...
One of my heroes is a YouTuber named Jenna Marbles. Her real name is Jenna Nicole Mourey. She was born in Rochester, New York which is right across the lake. But now that she has twenty million subscribers, she probably lives in Los Angeles. Six years ago, I really wanted to be her. She became famous for her video, ”How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking“, which gained over 5.3 million views in its first week. Then she made, ”What Girls Do in the Car," and ”How to Avoid Talking to People You Don’t Want to Talk To”. They were mega hits. She had a million subscribers back in 2011 when I was twelve. I want to have an audience like her, and be adored for some special skill, but I’m not creative like that. I don’t do comedy.
Most vloggers or video bloggers that are my age are either gamers, or comedians or they make beauty tutorials. Azra Bajrami does all three. She lives somewhere here in Toronto. I always figured that I’d meet her someday, at some event. But who am I kidding? Even now, even if I embrace this path as a Charter Rights auditor, I know there isn’t the same audience or demand. Copwatch videos as they’re called on YouTube will never get the same attention as comedy sketches, makeup tips or game reviews. But on the other hand, my teacher at Loyalist says good documentarians live their subjects, and they find the story that was inside themselves all along. So I guess I should just embrace the attention and go-with-it.
An email from my mom arrives in my inbox just as I was about to go take a shower. The best time to wash-up is in the morning, before the others are awake. Usually I’m out of here at six am. I’m not going anywhere today, but this email from my mother needs a quick response. She writes, ‘There are letters here and some government envelopes. I didn’t look. I have enough to do. The way you left was not helpful.’
This is very typical of my Mom. She has four children. Myself, and three boys who are toddlers. She looked at every single piece of my mail I’m sure, and her saying otherwise makes me smile. My leaving was a month overdue. If I was still living there she’d be complaining about me hanging around.
I curb my emotions, as per Dr. Barbara Drennan’s training, and I craft a perfectly succinct reply: Hi Mom. Thanks! Please bundle-up those letters and send me everything express. I love you, Antonia.
Okay. Shower time. I grab my towel and kit.
I return with wet hair to get dressed. Ding. Another email arrives. The subject line freezes my soul and excites, delights and frightens me. The email was sent just a few minutes ago. It’s from [email protected] and is titled, Street video girl interview?
Oh my Goodness. Is this..? Yes. This the big break I’ve been dreaming about...
Hey Toni. We like your videos! I’m John Stayer, a producer at CTV News. We’re wondering if you’d come to the station for an interview. How about 3pm today? Reply if that works and see you then. Address below.
This email was like summer rain. It was invigorating and inspiring. It’s the best possible email I could ever get because it’s exactly why I do this everyday. This is my reward for going out there so early each morning, and for following the sunlight’s reflections around the city center. But is it too good to be true? An intro email for a job interview on the same day? It’s suspiciously sudden. Why? Who cares? I can make it.
Hi John. I’d be thrilled to meet you at the station. I’ll see you at 3pm. Toni.
Amelia is awake. She knocks and peeks in. “I’m washing clothes today” the mousy girl announces cheerfully, probably happy to have such purpose. “Do you have anything?”
“Oh God yes. Would you?" I have nothing but dirty clothes. “That’s incredibly helpful.” I throw her the outfit I wore yesterday which are my favourite shorts and top. I only have one bag of stuff here and nothing for fall or winter. My garments are good quality but every piece is over two years old. Who can afford new clothes? Not me.
In my room, at my desk, I plot my afternoon. What will my interview at CTV News be like at 3pm? What will I wear? Will it be on-camera? No. They’d warn a girl if they planned something like that. It’s a job interview. What will they ask me? My rate? My experience? How could I prepare for their questions in advance? Just be yourself.
My phone buzzes, the ringer on silent. It’s Blue. Ugg.
"Dankya fra answeren Tone.” Blue is grateful that I finally picked-up. He’s texted a half dozen times and Facebook messaged and DM’d me on Twitter. “Ja feelin aight?”
“Yes, but listen. This is it Paul. I’m out.” I say firmly. He’s a close friend, but I’m not going to play with fire anymore, especially when things are looking so good for me now as a legitimate TV news shooter. “We still friends?”
“Auways Tone. Bud di worrin ’bout ya... Da vidyo worked ya know.”
“Yeah? Good. Chantwell should pay me the rest of the money.”
“Sum big tings be stirrin,” Blue ignores my sarcasm. ”We’s wondurin if dere’s more ya didnay pos?”
There is more. I think back on the my first half hour of last night’s shoot. The teenager at the BBQ Ribs restaurant, the hotdog vendor’s mishap, and how I filmed Mr. Rabethgie enter his jewelry store. I cut that last bit out, but the first twenty minutes could still be published. But why? Who would care about my bad camera work and my boring walk-around? Certainly not my audience, but maybe some Trinidadians might find it interesting...
“Paul. Who is Chantwell? What’s his deal?”
“Ee’s da big man nah. Dis big man ting.”
“So he runs a gang? Guns, drugs, and prostitutes?”
"Yeah, but nah. Ee’s above dat. But yeah.”
“Paul what are you doing? Were you not paying attention?” What I mean is, do you not remember what we all learned about Recidivism? He’s on the wrong path. I know he gets the reference.
“Short term Tone. For da fam.”
“Stupid. You should tell da big man to screw off and just go make your music.”
“Ja ’ave more vidyo or nah?”
“I have twenty minutes at the very start that I’ll put on Dropbox and send ya the link.” I compromise; I’m not going to post that on my YouTube channel, but I don’t see the harm in sending him everything right up to the jeweler's secret entrance. “But that’s it Paul. No more. I’m out. I’m square with Chantwell and I’d like you to please respect that.”
“Is nah up ta me. Onessly Tone. Da vidyo stirred up a ’ornets ness. Dere will be blood.”
“I try to keep ja oudove it. Jus don ja be talking to da fuzz. An sen me jamoah vidyo.”
“Ok. On Dropbox. I’ll Facebook you the link. And don’t worry about the fuzz as you say. Every conversation I have with the police is always on-camera.”
“Yah. Hah. I spose. Keep ja eyes peeled. Loss a folks be talking bout ja nah Tone.”
I upload the first clip of last night’s walk-around to Dropbox.com and the video file uses all the free space I have left on the service which means I have to delete everything else. Arrgh. I use Facebook Messenger to send Blue the link and consider the task and assignment complete. I have four hundred dollars in my pocket, and a night-shoot on YouTube and now a job interview. So, maybe everything turned okay? Maybe it wasn’t so stupid after-all?
Blue messages back: Don’t go nowhere today Toni. Keep your head down babe.
Oh screw off Paul. I’m not going to miss my interview at CTV.
In the kitchen, mid morning, I eat the last of my tuna macaroni salad. I intend to wash the bowl afterwards and so I stand over the sink and dine.
Camila appears in her pink nightie and socks and looks surprised to see me.
“Antonia? We don’t usually find you here on sunny mornings,” the dark skinned girl looks down the hall at my open door before committing herself to the kitchen.
“Got a thing today,” I explain between bites. “Plus life’s been a little weird lately,” and I could add how I’m scared to go outside for fear of Trinidadians and Toronto Police, but that’s not anything she needs to know.
“Did Sam come-in last night?” Camila studies my face for tells. I hold a blank expression and remember why I dislike her. She’s freaking nosey.
“Yeah. We were downstairs. At Mikey Doodles. With Ghost Girl and.. the rest.” I realize then she’d only ask if Sam’s door was open and he wasn’t present. He always leaves his room wide open when he’s not here. That’s why she’d gazed down the hall at my door; she’d looked-in to see if he was asleep in my bed. She must like him, or maybe she fantasizes about him somehow. She has no hope, and only heartbreak awaits if she goes there, but I don’t tell her that. Let her keep checking my bed.
Camila makes her morning power-shake. She selects strawberry and pours the pink powder into her blender. She cracks an egg and adds a splash of milk before half-filling it with water. After thirty seconds on High-Speed in the mixer, the ingredients congeal into a frothy pink goop. She pours herself a monster-cup and leaves the jug in the sink.
“Gorie says cops chased you?” Camila’s question takes me by surprise. I gulp as my anxiety returns. She spots my unmasked reaction. “What happened?”
“No updates yet,” I smile like it’s nothing and shrug with innocence. “I’ve asked the world to tell me... In the comments.”
“Ohh,” she says. “How are your videos doing?”
“They’re blowing up.” I make a fist and then explode it open, “Phoof.” It’s a silly rap culture reference.
“Good for you.” Camila slurps her simulated strawberry smoothie and shuffles away in her sock feet down the hall to her washroom. I can’t tell if she’s happy or sad. If she’s crushing on Sam, then she’s probably sad. This causes me to wonder about Samuel Parris and why he’s not here? I’d just assumed he was asleep in his room. He must have gotten up and left early this morning and that is rather strange behaviour. Maybe he met a girl downstairs last night and got an early morning booty call? Hey wait. What am I doing right now?... Am I crushing on Sam?