Nobody gets upsets when I open the door of the Cadillac and step out at the lights. Yonge Dundas square is just ahead, on the opposite side of the street.
“Guys ’elp ’ere geh ’er stuff,” Blue commands from the driver’s seat.
The light turns green and the cars behind honk as Goat and Drubbin help me retrieve the loose camera equipment in the back. The road’s jammed-up ahead of us anyway; it’s now mid afternoon and traffic is snarled all around the block.
Ryerson’s Media Arts building on my right. A video journalism reporter does a sidewalk interview for some school project. She stands beside a costumed performer encased in a three-foot wide blue ball that’s covered in red mushroom-shaped suckers. This must be Coronavirus-19 personified. It’s the first time I’ve seen such a mascot and it works; I remember to affix my own mask when I pass through a gaggle of people waiting for hotdogs.
I wave to the CP24 crew as I approach. They’re packing up their gear and reloading the trolley. Mark stops what he’s doing. Exter also waits to hear what I have to say, and why I look so glum.
“Where’d you disappear to?” Mark asks. I remain silent and he continues, “you were just supposed to get some stock shots?”
“I was abducted,” I look around and confirm the black Cadillac is still present in the traffic jam behind me. I don’t want to point, so I simply nod and glance at the black sport utility vehicle.
“Wha?” Exter follows my eyes.
“Wave to your friend.” I tell Mark, because I know he knows Paul.
The young cameraman focuses his eyes on the blue-haired driver. The luxury vehicle has only progressed another hundred feet farther along from where I exited at Victoria. It’s now locked in traffic at Yonge and Dundas.
“Blue?” Mark jumps to conclusions. It was my Trinidadian friend who first introduced me to the CP24 News guys at the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. They’re all pals. Now I’m wondering if both cameramen are on Blue’s list for special deliveries. Is that how they know him? Do they buy his contraband? Yes they do. But the way Exter and Mark look at me, I get the impression they’re thinking the same thing.
“Toni, I hope you’re not mixed-up in something?” Mark studies me carefully, looking for tells. Exter does a quick inventory of the camera gear in my hands. There’s no point lying to them.
A pack of motorcycles suddenly rev their engines in front of the Hard Rock Café and then roar out onto Yonge street. A shiver runs down my spine and I wince; I expect gunshots.
“Yeah. I’m wrapped up tight...” I admit. “You know Chantwell?”
"Shower posse Chantwell?” Mark looks stunned. “Toni that’s real trouble.”
“Oh, I know.”
“Shower posse?” Exter asks.
Mark pretends he’s firing a machine gun and showering bullets.
“Ahh,” the older cameraman nods and understands.
“How’d you end up in bed with them?” Mark asks me.
"In bed? I’m not...”
“Manner of speaking...”
“No,” I have to correct him, “it’s Paul whose in bed. I just... Fluffed a pillow.” I wince at the terrible analogy. “He gave me a heads-up is all.”
Mark doesn’t buy it. “Chantwell doesn’t give anything away.” He casts a nervous glance around the square and I decide to level with them.
“He says I’m going to be taken-in for questioning.”
“For something I didn’t do. I’m totally innocent.” I can't think about Sam and so I can't explain it to them, which makes me feel suspicious.
“If Chantwell says the police are going to pick you up, then it’s probably true.”
“Tell you what Antonia,” Terry English has overheard everything, “why don’t you take the rest of the day and get this sorted. If you can manage it, we’ll see you back here on Saturday.”
“Okay,” I nod and set down the camera. I want to cry.
“I’ll call you if we hear anything,” Mark says.
“No.. You can’t call me.”
“They broke my phone.” I nod at the SUV, just now turning north.
“..Have to use email or Facebook.”
Exter steps away to discuss the situation with Terry. A second glance and they appear concerned for me. Closer at hand, Mark opens his arms and offers a hug, which I accept.
“Toni. I’m totally here for you, whatever you need.” The muscular young athlete gives me a long healthy squeeze, and then he writes his phone number on a slip of paper. “For when you get a mobile again.”
I appreciate the forethought. I wonder if he’d bail me out of jail? I don’t ask. I’m not part of the family yet.
Despite the imminent threat to my personal freedom, and the certainty of another stressful evening ahead, I remain with the TV crew and putter over the foam lined road cases, tucking each camera piece into the cushions and making sure each lens is locked away in its prescribed compartment.
“What’s Blue doing...” Mark interrupts my attempt to think about something else, “driving Chantwell’s Cadillac?”
“Remember that white van?”
“Chantwell says he’ll pay ten thousand dollars to see who the passenger is tonight. Could be in a few different spots.” I tell Mark and wait to see how he’ll react. He surprises me for rather than ask why, or be intrigued, or inspired to collect the money himself, his only thought is for my safety.
“You’re not going back out there again are you?” he asks, sincerely worried about me.
“No. Blue is. And his two dimwit friends. They’re each gonna stake out a spot.” I shrug and confess my own role, “I did say I’d post the video.”
“Wouldn’t it be smarter to just hide cameras?” Mark asks, and after a moment’s consideration I agree that would be more intelligent, but I’m sure the areas in question are expansive. I don’t really know, and haven’t given any thought to solving their problem.
“On remotes? or motion sensors?”
“Not even. GoPros will get two hours straight shot,” Mark says. “Set it and forget it.”
The voice of experience. He’s right and I have a GoPro Hero3 back in my apartment. That device will only record ninety minutes continuously though, and not even that much now that it’s so old, but still, it’s a much better idea than walking around with my Panasonic or even cell phone cameras as the boys are intending.
“Go on then. But if you need anything you call me okay?” Mark smiles and I suddenly see him in whole new light. He’s a strong intelligent black man and not a Playboy either, but a good guy. “No matter what happens, I wanna see you here on Saturday. No excuses.”
“Got it. Here. Saturday.” I almost want to kiss him, “Thank you Mark.”
I cut across the square and walk east on Dundas. My mind turns to Sam and his stupid robbery. I don’t care that Mikey Doodles was involved. It was Sam who spent last night with me and didn’t reveal his deception. Who could do that? Only a blackheart could be so duplicitous. I remember Dr. Barb saying there’s just no saving psychopaths. There are people for whom no rehabilitation is possible. My hero, that kind Asian man who didn’t back down two nights ago was pilfered the next day because of me. He was burgled by Sam, and I was robbed by him too.
I stroll north on Bond street and then across to Jarvis. It’s not far. I can already see the top of Neill Wycik. This is the heart of Ryerson campus and two red and silver jacket security guards watch me. They stand and smoke cigarettes beside a compact car emblazoned with the red and silver GS4 Security logos. They’re rent-a-cops and they watch the Ryerson campus day and night during the summer when most students are away. They discourage any squatters in their greenspace and they’re doubly strong now in the Summer of our Discontent.
A black Cadillac Escalade screeches to a halt in front of me. Oh no. Here we go again.
Blue exits the driver’s side and walks around front to open the passenger door. The windows are tinted black, but in the afternoon sunlight I can see there’s nobody else inside. Da Pooch is the only passenger and he scratches at the rear window and barks when he sees me.
“Da cops gonna raid your apartment.” Blue says, “You don ’ave da much time.”
“I live right there,” I tell him.
“Toni, I’m a stickin to ja lah gluh.”
“Good luck finding parking...” I taunt him as I stroll past. I’m less than a block from home. My blue haired Trinidadian friend doesn’t try to stop me or even call my name. He’s too smart for that. Instead he reenters his fly ride and speeds away up Church. He makes a right on Gerrard. When I turn the corner myself a minute later, I see the lucky boy managed to find parking out front of my building. He waits by the entrance with a smug look on his face. Da Pooch watches from the rear passenger window.
“Are you going to sign in? You have to show ID,” I point out the neon green jacketed security guards inside the lobby.
“Or you could wait down here. Shouldn’t leave Da Pooch. I’ll come...”
“No. I’m nah lettin ya outa my sight.”
“Okay,” I nod at the mask-warning signs taped on the door and then apply my own face covering. “I hope you have one.” I watch as he fishes through his pant’s pockets to finally produce a crinkled white cotton mask.
Inside Neill Wycik’s lobby, the security guards close on Paul like he’s alien contagion; they know every tenants’ face and most of our names. I lead Blue to the security desk where I write my name and room number in the logbook plus the word Guest. Blue has to show ID and sign his name in the designated field and one of the guards asks him to look up at the CCTV camera on the wall. This may or may not be how they record his facial identity and now that’s on file.
Yian hustles toward me. This whole time I’ve had my back to the rental office window and I didn’t see the commotion. Two men in dark blue suits plus an older lady in business attire stand over the administrator’s desk. The men have papers in their hands.
“Toni, a storm brewing. Requests for security footage. For yesterday...” Yian pushes me toward the lobby stairs and out of sight from the people in the office. “Keep moving. Keep moving. Board members are here.” He looks around and seems surprised to find a black youth with blue hair and crinkled face mask is following us. “Who are you?”
“Yian this is Blue.” I make introductions, “don’t worry I signed him in.”
“Okay,” the tall Korean studies me and notes my new windbreaker. He tries to puzzle out something but comes up short. “What the hell’s going on?”
“If you don’t see me for a while, just know I’m okay. Probably.”
“She be okay.”
“Well... You still owe me a month’s rent.” Yian says, “and six community hours and...”
“... and a hundred and sixty dollars personally. I know. Don’t worry. I’ll pay it all.”
Paul huffs and puffs with exhaustion by the time we reach the fifth floor. I’m not even winded. I’m proud of my own cardiovascular response to this daily climb. Five flights has become an easy challenge and now after six weeks I’m inured to its demands, even in boots.
I unlock the door to Unit 505 and hear electronic music. My stomach tightens. Am I ready for this?
I don’t expect to smell roast chicken in the oven, or to see the living room so well decorated. There are black and silver streamers spanning the walls and white balloons tied to chairs.
“She’s here!” Amelia announces when I enter and gasps with surprise at the sight of my new black CP24 windbreaker. “I love your jacket!” She’s the decorator, and is just finishing a paper banner that reads Congratulations Toni Petti CP24.
“Winner, winner chicken dinner.” Sam emerges from the kitchen wearing a Kiss the Cook apron over a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, jeans and sandals. “How was your first day babe?”
Behind me, Blue inhales in surprise when he sees Sam. “It’s him!” He recognizes my blond roommate as the robber from Chantwell’s photos.
“Shush.” I find my room key and hold it up for Blue. Then I point down the hall toward room D. “Go to my room. That one.”
“Weird.” Sam is put off by being recognized by a stranger, and the sight of me ordering around a blue-haired black youth like a slave. His defenses are rising, I’m sure.
“Amelia turn it off.” I nod toward the remote control. “Pack a bag. You’re coming with me. We’re sleeping in a hotel tonight.” I announce, but she doesn’t take the news very well. Her face gets all screwed up like she’s inclined to defy me. They’ve been working on a celebration in my honour and so it must confuse her for me to act like this. Should I just shout it out?
“But we’re having a chicken dinner,” Gordon emerges from the kitchen. He no longer has the diamond earring he wore yesterday.
“What’s going on Toni?” Amelia picks up the remote control to lower the volume on the television but she doesn’t turn it off.
I study Sam carefully and watch his mind put pieces together. He knows something’s up, and I’m mad, but he doesn’t know how or what tipped me off yet, and he believes he can still charm a new reality. What a total phony.
“Sam. You’re sure handsome. You’re darn clever...” I check the neckline of his shirt. He’s not wearing the heavy gold cross pendant on his chest today.
“Are you going somewhere with this?” Sam looks down the hall at Blue who fumbles with my door key, “should we set a place for your friend?”
“Will you please tell me honestly. Be one hundred percent truthful with me okay...”
“Of course,” he flashes his perfect smile and his blue oceaneyes sparkle, “anything babe.”
“Where did you get that gold cross you had on yesterday?”
“What gold cross?” He plays dumb straight to my face, like a psychopath.
“The necklace you had on last night.”
“Been in my fam for decades.”
“And the diamond stud earring you gave Gorie?”
“Lent to Gordon.” Sam corrects me, “Yes, that too.”
“Can I see in your room?” I move toward his closed door.
“No,” Sam blocks me. This from the guy who usually leaves his door wide open, even when he’s away. Now he’s changed, and I know why. Half the stolen merchandise is likely piled on his bed and the other half is downstairs in Apartment 212, on Mikey Doodles’ bed. They’re such simpletons.
“What’s going on?” Camila appears in a plush robe, her hair in a towel. Amelia rises from the couch and they stand together united in her doorway. I have to temper my emotions. Calm down.
“Sam. There’s some shit going down...” I begin, “and you’ve just brought so much trouble on yourself.” I study his face. Can he be saved? I have to put my own feelings aside. I like him, liked him. I’m not sure how I feel about him now. “You have to make a decision.”
“I don’t know what you’re even talking about...” Sam’s eyes peer over my shoulder at Blue.
I push Samuel into the corner of the living room. I smash him right up against the side of the TV. Amelia and Camila are out of sight, but they listen to every word and Gorie watches from the kitchen. Good. Let them all hear this.
“I know everything. I know what you did. You and Doodles.” I say and his expression changes for an instant which tells me I’m right, and just for a moment he looks scared. I can save him, maybe. “It was just the two of you. I know. Gather it up and give it to me. I’ll save you. Someday we’ll laugh about it all. Call Mikey now.” He knows he’s caught and just for a second I think he’s going to relent, but then his expression changes.
“Give it you?” he says, and he looks at me like I’m a master swindler attempting a deep con on him. But he can’t challenge me without revealing all I said to be true, so he falls back to denial, “I really think you’re bonkers Tone. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Okay.” I’m heartbroken, but he’s morally broken and so not worth crying about. It’s a bummer though.
“Pack a bag Amelia. Come on.”
“I’m not going.” Amelia says defiantly from Camila’s doorway. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
“Amelia, I’m saving you.” I try to reason with her. “You don’t want to be here when they kick in the door...”
“Nobody’s kicking in our door. What are you smoking?” Sam circles a finger beside his ear to make the crazy sign. He points at me. Camila smiles, eager to believe I’m delusional and he’s being unjustly prosecuted. She probably thinks it’s a lover’s spat.
“I don’t want to go to a hotel with you and your black friend,” Amelia says.
“Fine. But tonight would be a good night to go out and stay out,” I tell them and retreat to my room.
Blue stands beside my bed and appears perfectly emotionless, like a robot ready to be programmed. His face is blank and I get the sense he’s trying to be helpful by just staying quiet. I point at my shoebox on the top shelf of my closet.
“Get that.” I watch him retrieve it as I close my laptop and unplug my battery chargers. I dump everything into my backpack which is full to bursting when I pull him out of my room and lock my door. Together we exit past Sam and Gorie in the kitchen, and past Amelia who’s pouting on the couch. Camila is in her room with her door closed. I don’t speak to any of them.
I know things will never be the same. I wish I’d handled it better. Maybe Chantwell is wrong. Maybe the cops have no idea who committed the robbery. Maybe they won’t burst through the door with an arrest warrant for Samuel Parris? He deserves it. He’s a psychopath. I’ll side with the kindly old man who was robbed, thankyou vey much.
Poor Amelia; she has no idea what’s coming.