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Chapter Twenty One

My unhappy flatmates ignore my departure. Nobody waves goodbye or says anything as we leave. I’m sure they all noticed though, and now they must wonder what’s next. I gave them fair warning, even Sam. I invited Amelia to come with me, but she chose to remain with the Devils-she-knows, and so I leave the apartment without saying any pithy last words. The door closes. Cachunk. End of an era.

Blue nods supportively to offer solace; he helps just by being quiet and respectful. I slink away down the hall and he follows, two paces behind. We apply our face masks before we get to the stairs and I remember how Sam helped me, and how he was so sweet two days ago. That’s the hole in my heart right there.

It’s much easier going down five flights but still a good workout, carrying a heavy backpack. On the ground we hustle through the lobby and I keep my head down to defeat the surveillance camera, just because. I’m hoping the guards won’t see us but Paul’s blue hair is so eye-catching that’s unlikely.

Outside on the street, Blue unlocks the Cadillac using its RF key and I climb into the passenger seat. There’s a dog, I remember too late. A brown and white boxer licks my face from behind. Ugg.

“Get back. Back.” I push Da Pooch away which only makes him more eager; he’s starved for affection. Blue enters the driver’s side and pets him over the center console. I pull out my laptop. I can still get WiFi here, and so I stop him from starting the car. I want to check my email and the status of my YouTube channel.

“Ja ken do dat at da 'otel,” Blue makes to start the motor and I stop him again.

“Five minutes,” I reach inside my bag and pull out my shoebox which occupies his mind; he sees its contents and his eyes are immediately drawn to my nanny cam.

The rubber doll was originally a child’s bath toy, but then it became a dog’s chew toy. It’s Turanga Leela, the purple-haired, one-eyed spaceship pilot from the animated television series Futurama. It’s modeled on an episode where she became a fish, because she has an enlarged head and weird gills. I thought it was rather clever to conceal a camera in such an ugly thing and use its one eye to mask the lens. I carved out the rubber backside of Leela’s head and made a small rectangular chamber in which my GoPro fits perfectly. I glued her hair on a Velcro patch which perfectly conceals the cavity.

Hero3 Silver Edition GoPro is a two inch square video camera that captures 1080p video at 30 frames per second. The battery is fully charged, and there’s a fresh micro-SD memory card. It’s a tiny little device that can be concealed inside small items, but the glass lens on the front usually gives it away. That’s why the one-eyed doll is so perfect; unsuspecting babysitters can hold the toy in their hands and not realize it contains a small recording device. I watch Blue peel off Turanga Leela’s purple hair patch and fit the lens in the eye socket. “Wicked.” The puzzle excites the boy-inside-the-man and he fiddles to get everything lined-up.

While he dickers, I scroll through my emails. There are dozens of new messages but nothing from YouTube Canada, or the police, or CP24, or anyone I know.

My YouTube channel now has 69,142 Subscribers, thirty thousand more than when Terry English checked this morning. NHL Player Blocks Bike Lane, Toronto Police Fail - ID Refusal now has 114,834 views, and my Dark Alley with Toronto Police and Undercovers, ID Refusal upload has 108,199 views. That could add up to a nice paycheck, sometime in 2021.

“Looks purfeck,” Blue is impressed with the doll and how perfectly the hair patch conceals the camera.

“I know. Right?” I point away down the street. Now I’m eager to get moving. Da Pooch whines like he needs to go pee, or maybe number two and this causes me to wonder if Blue has the requisite pooh-bags. I doubt it.

“Toni. All dis time ya knew da tief?” Blue has kept quiet about Sam, until now.

“Shush.” That’s the last thing I want to think about. “Never speak of him again.”

“Okay.”

Blue wheels the Cadillac around in a slick 180 degree U-turn to head east on Gerrard.

“We could just plant that doll?” I thumb the air backwards in the general direction of Carlyle.

“It’s nah da same place tonigh,” Blue says, “Drubbin an Goat alrey squatin. Dey runnin juniors on bikes.” He nods east which makes sense as there are rough neighbourhoods immediately to the east. I’m impressed by the scale of the operation until I realize I may have to upload another video to my channel. Ugg. Who knows what low-quality crap they’ll record. What will YouTube Canada give me a Strike Two when Cochutemete complains again? All this runs through my brain.

Blue lowers the rear window and Da Pooch puts his head out in the breeze. I sift through my emails which downloaded in a batch. Paul drives like he knows where he’s going so I don’t look up again until the SUV slows. He parks close to the busy south patio of Isabella Hotels and Suites on the northwest corner of Sherbourne and Selby. I groan because I know this hotel is listed as the most affordable accommodation in Toronto, and there’s no way I’m staying there. I investigated the four story establishment one day before I moved to Neill Wycik. After just one visit I knew it was a life-altering bad choice. It cemented in my mind a civics lesson; low rent attracts desperate characters. Case in point, a mixed race couple with an attack dog fleeing immanent police questioning and incarceration.

“I’m not staying there.” I tell him just before he turns off the engine. “Isabella Suites? Come on. That’s not part of the deal.”

“Chantwell knows da owner.”

“Another good reason. Not to stay here.”

“Where den?”

“Holiday Inn only costs twenty dollars a night more.” I tell him and he looks at me with question marks in his eyes.

“Hollidah Inn?”

“Yes, Paul. I know this because I had to look. I don’t have a cozy one bedroom apartment in the basement of my parent’s house in Scarborough that I can retreat back to.” I give him the guilt-trip. I do have a couch in Cobourg, but he doesn’t know that.

“I don’t stay wit dem no more.”

“No. I’m sure.” I taunt him, “...not while making tree gran a wee.”

“An sendin money ere dere and everwherh jus ta keep my fam alive,” the Caribbean boy points to his hair. “Pandemic Blue.”

D Pooch whines and gazes out the window at an empty lawn.

“Where’s da ’Oliday Inn?” Blue asks.

“Carleton and Yonge,” I answer. “Back the way you came.”

“Of course,” Blue turns south on Sherbourne and checks his phone for messages. There are none. None of the bees have found any nectar yet.

“How does Chantwell..?”

“Don ax anytin ya don wanna know,” Blue interrupts.

“Just tell me how he bought you so completely?” My question pisses him off.

“Chantwell’s ’elping me.” the blue-haired black youth indicates the SUV he’s driving and Da Pooch in the back.

“Is he?” I ask. “What’s he get out of this?”

We head east on Carleton. It’s a warm night and a loud spin class pumps classic rock over stationary cyclists in a church parking lot. Allan Gardens is a gorgeous mature greenspace with lush grassy lawns and open areas all around the central glass arboretum. The botanical gardens are usually open to the public but the place is so humid it’s considered too dangerous even with social distancing. The grounds outside are still popular and its grassy lawns are the perfect destination for commercial dog walkers. Da Pooch sees many of his own kind and whines and stamps on the backseat. But the driver ignores him.

“He gets...” Blue still ruminates on why Chantwell would give him an expensive vehicle, hundreds of dollars and a valuable dog to help his disguise. More significantly, why would the gang leader pay ten thousand dollars for a video of tonight’s van passenger? Blue knows the answer, and finally concedes, “I tink ee’s one of dem dat din pay.”

“I think you’re right,” I agree. That makes sense. Chantwell must have said no to Cochutemete. He’d said no to the shakedown, and so that now means the Special Division of the Guns and Gangs task force is now preparing a case against him. The stakes are real high for him and so he’ll pay thousands for any piece of the puzzle and especially to see who has paid.

Just beyond the Maple Leaf Garden’s Loblaws, I point out the green and yellow awning marked Holiday Inn, and I show him the best parking option, directly across the street.

“Turn left here,” I direct Blue down a narrow alley between tall buildings opposite the hotel. The passage leads to an open area behind The Met condo tower at Yonge and Carleton. There’s an empty parking spot at the far end that borders a parkette to the south. It’s the same patch of grass and trees I explored on Tuesday night before I entered Kerson Lane.

We let Da Pooch out and the boxer bounds away and raises a leg over the hydrangeas. Blue uses the opportunity to attach a leash.

I stand in the crease of the passenger door and sift the contents of my bag. I pull out my camera and leave everything else behind. Blue fetches Turanga Leela from the SUV’s console. We close the doors and he locks the cab using his key fob.

“I’m hungry,” he announces. He must smell that dirty sausage vendor.

We stroll south with Da Pooch and sure enough Blue zeroes in on the wretched hotdog cart, the same rig I filmed two nights ago. “I don’t want to eat from there.” I remember how that guy’s cookware was in the street and how he wiped the utensils clean on his pants.

Blue ignores me and strolls forward to order a foot long sausage. He pays and then turns to me with an unexpected question.

“How long do I have once I press the button?”

“It'll run for an hour.” I wonder if he knows that’s terrible. Newer model GoPros will record more than two hours straight. “You could get GoPro's app on your phone and Bluetooth the trigger.” That’s how my nanny cam was supposed to work; the concerned parent would start it by using the app on their phone as they left the house. Later model GoPros can record straight to the cloud and that makes it possible for the parents to watch while they’re away. This reminds me again how much I've lost. My iPhone had all these apps loaded.

“Yeah? Set it up.” Blue unlocks his device and hands it to me. I navigate to the App Store as he pets Da Pooch. The sausage vendor watches us both and I’m pretty sure he recognizes me.

“Oh my God. All the bars just vanished.” I watch the cell-service strength indicator shrink before my eyes. “It’s like something swallowed all the WiFi... Weird.”

“Nah. Das nah weir. Das whas ’appens,” Blue grabs his phone and tightens his grip on Da Pooch’s leash. Then he looks around as if he expects to see the white Sprinter van. Both streets are empty but he’s committed. “Press da button.” He hands me the doll.

I peel away Turanga Leela’s purple hair flap and finger the tiny camera's power button. I hear a single beep which tells me it's turned-on. The doll’s eyeball glows red at the top which proves the GoPro is recording. Blue has meanwhile started the video camera on his phone.

“We’re real close to da place you...”

“Kerson Lane? It’s right there.” I point at Drummond. “You’re rolling...” I hand him the doll.

“You stay ’ere and geh mah sausage.” Blue sticks his cell phone in his shirt pocket with the lens facing out. Now he carries two recording devices and they’re both so well concealed it just looks like he’s just walking his dog. This is going to work. I watch as he hustles toward the entrance to the alley. There are shaggy trees on the perimeter and he soon disappears from sight.

The sausage vendor studies me in silence. He hands me Blue’s hotdog and I accept the meal, swaddled in brown napkins. I immediately look for a place to set it down.

I stroll back through the tiny park. The Cadillac is locked but I can hide Blue’s food under the right front tire until he returns. I can see my backpack filled with everything I own is locked on the passenger side. I wish he’d left me the keys.

I return to the park and stand where I can watch both streets. There’s no sign of Blue on Carlyle or Drummond. I find a Heritage Plaque in the trees, its metal surface almost entirely covered by branches. I brush away the leafy curtain and read the message which informs me this is the Joseph Sheard Park. The great man landed in Toronto in 1833, a penniless immigrant from Yorkshire England. He was a skilled carpenter and seems to have gotten a running start here because five years later he was Foreman of Public Works.

... A hundred rebels who were arrested in Upper Canada following the 1837 uprisings were put on trial, and most were found guilty of insurrection against the Crown. One of the most severe punishments was to be sentenced to life in Australian prison colonies. This was the second worst fate before public execution. The leaders of the uprising were publicly hanged, most notably Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews. The public hangings of the rebels took place in Court House Square, in between Toronto’s new jail and courthouse. The Foreman of Public Works, Joseph Sheard, refused to help build the scaffold. ‘I’ll not put a hand to it,’ said he; ‘Lount and Matthews have done nothing that I might not have done myself, and I’ll never help build a gallows to hang them.’ The Orange militia stood guard during the execution to deter a rescue...

How interesting, there’ve been people protesting in this city for centuries. I can’t help wonder if Joseph Sheard would be happy here today, or if he'd pick up a Black Lives Matter sign and take to the streets? That's unlikely. In his time only Englishmen mattered. He'd done so well upon landing because he had British Privilege and by that I mean he wasn’t Irish, German, Italian or French.

A dog barks. I look up and see Da Pooch. His long leash dangles behind as he runs to me. What the...? Oh no. Something has happened to Blue.

“You!” A man’s voice calls from behind me in the park. “Stop right there.” I turn and see the Asian jeweler approach. He hobbles my way with one hand raised. He was robbed yesterday I know, and there’s plenty of stress in his sore red eyes.

“Mr. Rabethgie?” I back away, “It’s okay. I know what happened.”

“I know too, and it’s not okay.” He says, “I have cameras too. I saw you creeping around. You filmed me enter.”

“Yes.” I admit to doing that. He needs to know it’s not a conspiracy. “It was an accident. I’ll make things right.”

Da Pooch barks so loud it startles me. Mr. Rabethgie grabs my arm. His skeletal hand locks on my wrist over my new jacket.

“Okay. Don’t touch.” I try to pry his hand off and fail. I try to push him back, but don't really want to touch him. “Now you’re crossing a line.”

“You’re coming with me. To the police. I’m pressing charges,” he gasps. I pull away. Ugg I can smell his breath.

Da Pooch avenges me. The boxer leaps forth and ferociously bites Mr. Rabethgie’s ankle.

“Ouch. Owweee.” The jeweler lets me go to defend himself.

“No! Stop.” I pull the dog off the old man. But instead of being subdued, Mr. Rabethgie rises up and reaches out for me again. I step back but he keeps coming. I let go of Da Pooch and the canine bowls the old timer down.

“Arrgh. Control your beast,” the old man covers his face.

I grab-up Da Pooch’s leash and pull him off. Together we run from the crippled retailer at top speed. The other pet owners and the sausage vendor all watch with wide eyes. Da Pooch barks at them to mind their own business as we hustle away.

There’s no sign of Blue on Drummond. I run east on the shady sidewalk and don’t stop until I get to Kerson Lane. Slow down. Think about this. Listen for clues.

A slight breeze moves the trees and I hear busy neighbours all around. It’s another sweaty evening in the coffee stain; cicada bugs drone and children play in backyard splash pools. In the distance I detect muffled voices beside idling motorcycles. I hear tinkling chains and the rattle of exhaust pipes. Da Pooch runs ahead and barks at something down the lane. He looks back at me and urges me to follow. I glance over my shoulder and see Mr. Rabethgie chugging across the street. He’s about thirty seconds behind at his slow pace.

I step into Kerson Lane and power-up the camera to begin recording. When I get to the bend, I expect to see the people and bikes I’d just heard, but instead I find the cement lane empty. Or almost empty. There are vehicles in retreat at the very far end. Da Pooch runs away after the two motorcycles and a white Sprinter van. I watch them exit as a pack into the parking lot behind the apartment building on Carlyle. There is no sign of Blue.

The alley is deserted and I’m alone until Mr. Rabethgie appears in the Drummond Street entrance. Number thirty two Drummond is shut tight and there are no footprints in front of the doors. My camera rolls. It will absorb any clues I miss and maybe I can learn something by watching the video later. I check the grass on both sides of the road for the doll. Nothing. Blue has just vanished without a trace.

Mr. Rabethgie keeps coming and he’s got both his hands stretched out before him like he wants to talk, but I have no time for him now. I’m in panic mode. Blue is gone and Chantwell’s boxer has also run astray. I need to check Carlyle. Oh please be okay.

The parking lot is clean. There’s no sign of man or dog. What now? I’m out of breath. I need to sit and think. No time. I must call Blue’s phone. I head back down to Neill Wycik with a half-baked idea to call my friend from Yian’s office desk phone.

I run south on Church and keep a keen eye for the Sprinter van or any police cars. I run until I get to McGill which is the east-west street behind my building. Twenty paces in, I can see the recycling bins under my window. Then I notice something else.

There’s a police cruiser hidden between the dumpsters and two cops stand in front of the car with their eyes on the rear exit. They’re ready to pounce on anyone who comes bursting out. Oh wow. This is the backend of the police raid. An extraction team must be going in the front right now.

I creep down McGill and find more police in the Green Plus parking lot on the corner of Mutual and Gerrard. In the fading light, my black CP24 jacket offers a reasonably good disguise and I unzip the collar and raise the hood to cover my hair. When I arrive at the corner, I gasp in amazement.

It’s cherries and berries all down Gerrard. There are half dozen police cruisers and a paddy wagon and swarms of body-armoured tactical officers in the road. Yellow-vest traffic cops turn cars around at both ends of their operation, yet the sidewalk is filled with commuters and residents who stand to watch the show. I creep closer and check out all the vehicles on scene; the white Sprinter van is not here.

The crowd’s gasp and general commotion around the entrance alerts me to the Perp Walk. That’s what the press calls it when police escort perpetrators to their first court appearance. In this case, I watch my friends leave the building and get loaded into a waiting Toronto Police Services paddy wagon.

Sam is the first to appear, his hands are bound behind his back and his eyes are wide with fear. He’s followed by Mikey Doodles who shuffles along with his head down in shame. Next comes Ghost Girl, then Camila, then Muck Daniels and Gorie Atkinson. They all have their wrists handcuffed behind their backs.

Amelia appears last and my heart melts. I can see she’s terrified. Tears stream down her face and her body heaves in sobs. Poor girl, she doesn’t deserve this. Five of the seven did nothing wrong and probably don’t even know what’s going on. The cops only have evidence against Sam and Mikey; why would they arrest them all?

Oh my God! There he is... Commander Govan Cochuteme follows Amelia at the end of the line. He’s angry and looks real dangerous in a crisp brown suit and yellow tie. He snarls at the pedestrians on the scene around the front doors. They pepper him with questions but he ignores everyone to pursue his own obsession; he searches the crowd and peers at every female face. I avert my eyes when he gazes in my direction. He’s looking for me.

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