Toni Petti LIVE

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Chapter Twenty Two

Cochutemete must have arrested them all to try and get me. Why? The Dark Alley video has been viewed a hundred thousand times and I’ve given permission to other auditors to repost it on their channels. There’s no way to stop it now. That's why he’s so upset; it’s because of those motorcycles, the dead bikers who owned them, and the uniformed police officers who stood in front of them at 32 Drummond. That has to be the issue, because how could a police commander explain that? They weren’t bikers dressed as police, they were cops. He can’t explain what he was doing there either.

I run north on Mutual street all the way to Carleton. This lonely stretch is like a center fold in book. It’s a whole line of empty lots and back alleys. Car headlights approach from the south and I flatten myself against the side of building until the vehicle passes. I don’t want anyone to see me now and for the first time I’m glad my cell phone is smashed and can't be tracked.

I need to find a pay phone. On Carleton I head west toward the Holiday Inn. I cross over Church and run past the Loblaws in what used to be Maple Leaf Gardens. The school-bus-sized channel-letter sign still hangs on the front of the building but now the historic marque reads, Mattamay Athletics Center. I carry-on past the complex until I’m at the hotel.

Mask warnings remind me to raise my own face covering which helps my disguise. Inside the double doors, the front desk staff stare at me but nobody approaches. Most hotels have phones in the lobby and here at the Holiday Inn on Carleton I find them on knee-high tables beside upholstered armchairs. I press nine for an outside line and hear a new dial tone. I have to concentrate to remember Blue’s number, but that’s another one of my gifts. I recall his digits from memory and get it right the first time. But my call goes straight to voice mail. ‘It’s Blue. Leave ya worries behin, an leave ya number and when ya called ma line.... BEEP’

“Paul. It’s Toni. I’m at the Holiday Inn. Tell me you're okay. I’ll wait by where we parked. I’ll wait... For you...”

Who should I call now? Nobody. I should check the car.

I cross Carleton and stroll south through the narrow passage between The Met condo building and #2 Carleton. The Cadillac is still here and my bag is still locked inside. There’s no sign of Blue or Da Pooch. The sausage is still here wrapped in napkins by the driver’s side wheel. That’s proof the dog never returned.

I make a decision. Twenty minutes later, I return to Holiday Inn to call Chantwell. It’s either do that or break a window in his SUV to retrieve my backpack, and calling the old catfish on the hotel’s telephone seems like a better choice. Plus, I have his number.

"Who’s this? ’Oliday Inn?" Chantwell answers.

“It’s me... Toni.”

"Toni Petti?" Chantwell sounds surprised to hear my voice. "Ja geh settleh okay?”

“No.” I feel very unsettled at present, “Blue’s been taken.”

"Wha?"

“Your Cadillac is parked behind the condo building at Yonge and Carleton. Forty four Carleton.”

"Wha? Where’s Blue?"

“Blue has been taken,” I say again without emotion.

"Taken?" Chantwell asks, “dih je see?"

“Yeah, well no. I have video.”

“Ja poss da vidyo?"

“No. My laptop’s locked in the car.”

Ja goh Da pooch?”

“No.” I admit. I feel bad even though none of this is my fault. “Dog ran off. Not present.”

"Stay beside da car. I’m comin."

-

I return to the parking lot and sit on the grass behind the Cadillac. I nibble on the hotdog and ache with uncertainty over Blue. I keep looking around, hoping he'll appear, but deep down, I know he's not okay.

I remember the Summer of 2018, two years ago, when Blue and I were in juvenile detention. He was at Brookside in Cobourg when I was at Gagner. Both institutions combined for Project Go Green. We’d rake leaves, plant trees in Northumberland Forest and do trash collection on regional roads. It was fun; I liked those days. We’d all put on thick gloves and reflective vests and walk with sticks and bags. We’d do ten miles in the morning and then a few more in the afternoon and we’d laugh the whole time. Blue was hilarious. He’d make-up chain gang songs and I can still remember them. ′We’re the juvies from Durham County. We pick trash and plant evergreen trees. Sound off...” He’d tell jokes and could even make the support workers laugh. Barb said he has real potential as an entertainer.

I eat the hotdog. I don’t mean to, but I’m so hungry that one bite turns into two and then three.

A silver sportscar with a snappy tailpipe circles the parking lot. After one rotation I stand and present myself. It's dark now and my windbreaker reflect the car's headlights. I'm still holding my camera and I have the idea to record this encounter, but one look at the approaching party and I decide against it.

Chantwell marches toward me, his unlaced boots scuff the tarmac. He wears black jeans and the same white cotton shirt, open at the front. All his gems sparkle in the headlights. He’s flanked by two middle-aged black men who are absolutely covered in tattoos. They must be the most senior members of the outfit. These guys are seriously badass and one of them gazes at me with a hunger I recognize. He runs his eyes over my body and I shiver with discomfort, but smile with outward confidence and hope nobody notices. Don’t show any fear. Chantwell ignores me completely. He looks puzzled and must wonder why his expensive automobile is parked here. He strolls close but doesn’t bother to check my condition or even to say hello.

“You gotta vidyo ta show me?” The old catfish raises his right hand and unlocks his SUV with a key-fob. It must be his spare.

“Yeah, we can watch it on my laptop,” I open the passenger door and retrieve my bag, which is the only reason I returned here, and why I called him from the hotel across the street.

Another vehicle appears in the narrow passage between the tall buildings and toots its horn. The red Ford Mustang is filled with even more gang members. The driver is a middle-aged black man with a gristly white beard. He rolls up and speaks in coarse diction that sounds like a livestock auctioneer's cattle rattle. He trills and rhymes strange words that I don't understand, but it’s English. The Trini gangs' street-jive is incomprehensible to outsiders.

Drubbin and Goat exit the back of the sports car and Chantwell speaks to them quietly. Judging from his demeanor, he’s not happy, and I think it’s because he feels responsible for whatever has just occurred, or is currently happening to Blue; he needs to vent his worries and frustrations on someone. I should run.

Chantwell directs Drubbin and Goat to sit in the back of his SUV. He points me into the passenger seat and part of me knows this is the best time to bolt. But Goat and Drubbin would give chase. I’m carrying this heavy bag, and so they’d catch me. Instead, I’ll comply and look for a better opportunity later. I enter the front passenger side and keep my heavy bag at my knees. Chantwell adjusts the driver’s seat.

The four of us watch my last video on my laptop and older and more heavily tattooed gang members peer in the windows.

My most recent recording begins with me following Da Pooch into Kerson Lane from the Drummond St. entrance and around the bend. The dog runs away after the van and motorcycle riders in the extreme distance. The alley is empty and I walk slow and search for clues. Mr. Rabethgie appears behind me and I pick up the pace. The video ends with me running down Church St.

“Ja coulnay even keep ya hans on Da Pooch?” Chantwell asks me afterwards.

“I.. Looked for the doll.”

“Da doll?”

“None of this is my fault,” I say.

“I’m havin a har time findin ya blameless,” Chantwell puts the SUV in drive and wheels away toward the street. “Why were ya nah dere? When Blue was takun?”

“Mr. Rabethgie. The jewelry store owner. You see him here.” I drag the video player back to where he appears behind me around the two-minute mark. “He stopped me, before I started recording.” I try forget the anguish in the old man’s eyes, his desperate need to detain me. He must have believed I had his valuables. Little did he know, while we wrestled, all his goods were secured by law enforcement just a few blocks away. In the back seat, Goat clears his throat and finds the courage to speak.

“If Da Pooch chase da van? Ee’s a radio chip in his body raht? Can we follow dat?” Goat asks, rather proud of himself and Drubbin nods encouragingly. Chantwell raises an eyebrow at me.

“RF pet chips don’t work like that,” I dash their hopes. When Marcy’s dad lost a beagle while deer hunting, it was returned a month later. It was recovered because it had an radio frequency chip identifier and the local animal shelter called Marcy's dad directly. The chip didn’t help anyone find the dog, it just carried a registration number to help the vets contact the rightful owner. “They’re just dog tags that can’t come off. It’s not possible to actively track them.”

Goat shrugs and Drubbin stares at me hatefully. Chantwell glares at them both in the rearview and barks orders at them. “Get da word ou for any sign. I wan ya ryders to check da parks and waterfron. Get em ta look at Cherry Beach, Leslie Spit, and Tommy Thompson park.” He lists off three waterfront areas on the eastside of the city. That’s Interesting. Those must be all the places where 51 Division beats gang members. Chantwell likely knows this from firsthand experience. Oh my God, I pray Blue is okay.

The minions get busy texting people on their phones as we drive up Mount Pleasant.

-

Chantwell’s own phone rings and he speaks in Spanish for some time. “Si si donnes revisa los hospitales en busca del niño de inmediato.” I hear him list off the names of Toronto hospitals, St Michaels and St Josephs. Then without warning he slows and pulls onto a side street and then into the driveway of a posh two story home. He points at the front door.

“Jawall lie low ’ere tonigh. Ya stay in da guess houss by da pool. You tell her dat. An don make no mess.”

“Okay.” I heard the word pool.

“I’ll fin em. Ja stay put ’ere Toni Petti.” Chantwell looks me in the eye. “Ja don run off.”

“I’ll stay sure.” I don’t know what else to say, “Please find Blue.” I exit the Cadillac with my bag slung over my shoulder and head for the front door. This is a million dollar mansion that’s very well maintained as evidenced by the immaculate exterior landscaping.

In the portico, I wonder if I should ring the bell, or just walk in? I look back at Chantwell and can see through the front windshield how he lectures the teens in the back. He’s bent around talking to them and they nod as if taking instruction.

Before I can ring the bell, the front door opens and I see a lovely middle-aged black woman. She smiles and says, “hello.”

“Hi.” I’m pacified by her beauty and her vanilla lavender perfume. Behind her slender frame I see the lush white-carpeted interior of her house. The place is filled with with gorgeous wood furniture and there’s a huge flat screen TV dominating a sunken living room home theatre in the back. “I’m Toni Petti.” I tell her and then get lost in her beauty again. Her eyes are soft blue puddles in her smooth brown-skinned face. Her white toothy smile is curiously warm and welcoming.

“You’re just a baby.” She gazes over my shoulder at the Cadillac and finger-waves to Chantwell.

“He said I could stay in the guest house.” I nod toward the sliding screen door I can see in the living room at the very back of the house. “Out back?”

“Ohhh...” She appears confused, but after a moment’s pause she leads me through her comfortable home. “I’m Megan. Welcome.” We step outside again onto a lovely covered porch that’s lined with potted plants. There’s a picnic table covered in books and papers beside her open laptop. Megan is a kept-woman, I believe, and she keeps this house and her body in good shape for Chantwell to use whenever he needs them. Uggh. Stop. You shouldn’t jump to conclusions. I wonder if Calypso-crazed gang leader has a wife and kids? I hadn’t thought to ask Blue that, but I imagine he does. This is his sugar baby. He loves her too I’m sure. She’s in her late thirties now but still shockingly pretty. Mom would roast me alive for being here. But what choice do I have?

Beyond the covered porch is a gorgeous kidney shaped pool and its lights paint ripples on the wood siding of a small cabin. I can see wet towels and flipflops so I know visitors use the structure as a changeroom. There’s a couch in here with a plastic drop sheet to protect the upholstery. Stacks of unused patio furniture line the far wall.

“This is... Er it was the guest house.” She stands clear of the door and invites me to enter. I can smell chlorine-soaked clothes and pool filters. The room has piles of loose inflatables and a bundle of colourful foam pool noodles.

“Is there WiFi?”

“Yeah. That’s all about all there is.”

“This is fine.” I set my bag beside the couch. Some of the swimwear will fit me.

“You don’t have to sleep out here you know.” She comes close and surprises me. I back away into the corner. She steps closer and casually runs her fingers through my hair, “you can come inside.” She’s probably just being nice.

“Thank you. No. I have work to do.” I tell her and wait for her to back away. She doesn’t. “Work for Chantwell,” I say and kneel to retrieve my laptop from my backpack. “What’s the WiFi username and password?”

"Chantwellcrib, all one word. Capital C on Chantwell.” Megan steps back when I pour all my interest into getting connected. She waits until I look up again. “Password is Chantwellguest, all one word. Capital C.”

“Thanks. I’m in.” I lift my bag to the couch and sit beside it, my laptop on my knees. I’m hoping she’ll take the hint and go away but instead she retrieves a folding side table upon which she places a desk lamp. She turns-on the tungsten bulb and then turns-off the overhead fluorescent. I appreciate the decorating touch and reward her with a nodding smile. She bubbles and asks, “Can I bring you something to drink?”

“Yeah bottle of water. Anything.”

When she finally leaves, I get comfortable on the plastic covered couch and check my online world. It’s a warm night and I'm boiling in my new jacket. I remove the garment and drape it behind me to keep my top from sticking to the plastic.

“Toni?” a male voice asks.

“Hello?” I look up and see... Drubbin. Ugh, go away greaseball.

“Though ja might lie to watch sum TV,” he wheels forth what looks like a gameday television set on a furniture dolly. The fat picture tube is encased in a black metal cabinet that's covered with FIFA World Cup Soccer stickers. I don’t want to watch TV and I recognize this as a lame excuse to bother me. Regardless, I nod and smile. He’ll go away if I don’t engage with him.

But Drubbin has come to stay. He’s brought a big screen on wheels and a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka along with a 2 liter container of grapefruit juice in a white shopping bag. The TV barely fits through the door and he dickers with the power cords, but a moment later the picture glows to life.

At first I pretend not to notice, but on comes Dawna Friesen, Global News at 11. The broadcast has just started.

Unaware of my preference for non-fiction programming, Drubbin lifts the remote and makes to change the channel.

“Leave it.” I command, and he obeys. I regret that I had to speak at all, or acknowledge that I appreciate his contribution, but I don’t want to miss the headlines. “Give me the remote.” I’m still a bitch to him because of how he broke my phone.

Global News headlines for Thursday July 30th 2020 are a mixture of local and international stories. The lead story is how Coronavirus impacts Ontario hospitals and healthcare workers with multiple outbreaks in seniors’ homes across the province. Next it’s Covid relief payments for marginalized Canadians and how Donald Trump disrespected US veterans serving overseas. Melania Trump has begun to makeover the Whitehouse Rose Garden.

"Bills, bills, bills.” Dawn Friesen continues the broadcast, "The Bank of Canada is facing a shortage of $50 bills and all signs point to Canadians hoarding cash during the pandemic."

“Shee. I gotsa bunch righ 'ere.” Drubbin pulls out his money clip, thick with fifties.

“What are you even doing out here?” I’m hoping he’ll take the hint and leave.

“Is ma job to watch you.”

“Your job?”

“Ja wanna drink?”

“No. Shush. I want to listen...” I point to Dawna.

"Toronto is set to experience a lockdown of a different nature this coming weekend. Black Lives Matter protests are already happening and downtown businesses are boarding up their storefronts ahead of what organizers are calling the ultimate ‘day of action’ designed to bring recognition to the challenges facing minorities and call attention to unwarranted and excessive police violence. For more on this we go to Lana Hopkins downtown."

Lana Hopkins, an attractive 40 yr old women in business attire, holds a microphone and speaks to the camera from the south west corner of Yonge and Dundas.

“Thanks Dawna. That’s right. Businesses along Yonge street and shops on Bay are boarding up their storefronts again as Toronto prepares for what many claim will be the largest Black Lives Matter protest in Canadian history. That’s because organizers had planned-for and obtained permits for the rally and march two months before George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. The August 1st holiday is marked in just about every British Colony, but for Caribbean nations and West African nations it has a special significance. The rally will begin at Queen’s Park at noon and then sometime in the afternoon the march will culminate at Yonge Dundas square. I’m told by planners there’s charter buses coming-in from across the province and that Canada’s indigenous peoples will also be well-represented here on Saturday. It’s these more rural groups that feel particularly hard pressed in these challenging times. Dawna.”

"Can you tell us Lana, are the organizers expecting any violence?" Dawna Friesen at the anchor desk asks her reporter in front of City Hall.

"Well nobody will ever say that of course," Lana replies, “and so far this summer, that hasn’t been the case. Canadians have been very well behaved in comparison to what we’ve seen south of the border in Portland, Baltimore, New York and Los Angeles. Regardless many Toronto business owners aren’t taking any chances. Back to you Dawna."

The camera centers on Dawna Friesen at the Global News desk and a new graphic appears on the screen. It’s my apartment building over which a red handcuffs graphic has been superimposed. I gasp.

"Toronto Police arrested seven youths on robbery charges this afternoon in what is being presented as a terrorism case. For more on this we turn to Carolyn Jarvis, our Chief Investigative Correspondent.”

Carolyn Jarvis stands out-front of 51 Division on Parliament street. “Several young people were taken-in for questioning regarding the daylight robbery of a well known Toronto jewelry store yesterday.” She does a walk-and-talk to end up at the precinct’s monument sign beside the front door of the station. “It was a break and enter as the business was closed at the time. The looters escaped with over a hundred thousand dollars in cash and jewelry. Detectives at 51 Division were quick to track this down Dawna, and all seven suspects were found occupying two units in a popular backpacker’s hotel on the Ryerson campus..."

I gasp at the clarity of the arrest footage. One of those bystanders I’d seen holding up their phones by the front door of Neill Wycik must have sold this media to Global TV. It’s excellent, and once again I can see real fear in my flatmates’ eyes as their walked past the lens.

"Special Division of the Guns and Gang Task Force rounded up these suspects, and they made the arrests just a few hour ago," Carolyn Jarvis reports, ”These individuals are being charged under Section 61 which some of our viewers will recognize as Canada’s newly minted terrorism laws. The arrests and prosecution will be the subject of a press conference at 51 Division tomorrow.”

"Now Carolyn, can we ask... ” The anchor questions her reporter, ”what is Special Division?"

"It’s just what it sounds like Dawna. Special Division is the name given to a tactical operations unit led by Commander Govan Cochutemete. He’s the officer-in-charge that will be answering our questions tomorrow, or so we’re being told. Back to you...

"Thank you Carolyn. Now for more on Canada’s new terrorism laws..." Dawna physically turns her chair and the camera pulls back and pans to reveal she’s seated six feet away from a male guest. “...We turn to our Legal and Justice Affairs expert Daniel McMurty, a professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School here in Toronto. Daniel, do you believe these youths are terrorists? They look like scared teenagers to me. Do you think prosecutors will use the laws that were born from Bill c-51 in this case?”

"Thank you Dawna and let me say right off the top, it’s a disturbing file. It’s unsettling for two reasons; the shocking allegations the Crown has made, and our government’s ability to make these claims without a whole lot of evidence.”

"Can that you explain that Daniel?" Dawna asks.

"I really can’t. The crown attorney would have us believe there’s more here than meets the eye. They say there’s material yet to be collected, and at least one outstanding arrest warrant..."

Oh my God. My brain freezes. Are they talking about me?

“Are they talking about you?” Drubbin asks.

“Shhh. I think so.”

“...I’m sure we’ll get more details soon, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen charges laid before the case is made, and that’s a slippery slope,” Professor McMurty continues. ”There are lots of legal scholars like myself waiting to see the parameters and what evidence the task force has actually collected to support these charges.”

Drubbin shifts closer on the couch. “Don’t worry Toni. We’ll sort ou da mess.” He takes a big slurp of his vodka drink.

"We’ll sort it..?” I ask derisively. I question why he includes himself. I wish Blue was here to tell him to back off. I wish Blue was here so I could stop worrying about him. The TV news program moves onto the rising price of groceries and so I raise the remote and lower the volume.

“Chantwell has da best lawyers,” Drubbin says, “and we’ll keep ya tucked away nice an safe.” He slides his hand onto my bare leg, his fingers cold from his drink.

“What are you’re doing?” I shift my laptop to rap his roving paw.

“Just seeing...”

I have to physically remove his palm and fingers from my leg with my left hand. “What outcome are hoping for?′

“Blue say you like ta party.” The black youth returns his hand to touch my leg under my Lenovo.

“Look. I’m not going to keep fighting you off all night.”

“Ya I hope not,” he chuckles and finishes his drink. I watch with mixed feelings as he pours himself another. The more vodka he consumes the worse he’ll get, but also the easier he’ll be to control. I’ve been in worse situations. A good strategy is simply to play along and then escape-without-warning. On this occasion however there’s really nowhere to run. I may have to kick him in the head.

“Don’t annoy me. I’m not suddenly just going to change my mind.” I tell him sternly. “Like. It’s never going to happen.”

“‘Aeh come on. Ja got me all wron. I’m a rael nice guy. I tauht maybe we coul go fra swim and..’

“Uggh. No.” I shift my backpack to the other side of my body so it’s between us on the couch. It’s so packed-full it becomes an effective barrier. I lean against it and tune him out.

“Huh? Blue lie. Eesah you’re fun,” Drubbin pouts. “Jaknow I’m better looking. I don ave chupid blue ’air.” He points to his corn rolls which are obviously the source of some pride.

“Blue is magical. He’s smart and he makes me laugh. He’s missing and I’m worried sick.” I look over and challenge him, “why aren’t you?”

“Cause it’s my job to watch you.” He points at the big screen, “turn da channel.”

I pass him the remote and shoot him a dirty look. “I told Chantwell I’d stay,” I retrieve my ear buds and plug into Billie Eilish. “You can bugger off and leave me in peace. Please.”

Back in my bubble, with Billie in my ear, I continue to scroll down through my emails. There are so many flatterers that want to start GoFundMe pages on my behalf and I realize this is how they make money. They’re parasites who’ll take half the cash or more in the guise of helping a girl out. I don’t even reply. I do take the time to craft message to Marcy and my Mom who may or may not be aware of the news I just watched on Global National.

To Marcy - Things are turbulent right now Marcy. Freaking epically twisted. I may need your help. I may need a getaway driver and a place to hideout - help.

To Mom - you might hear some things about me on the news mom, but don’t believe them. The police commander from Quebec is the criminal, not me. He’s the mother-of-all-tyrants. The kids who were arrested today, some are totally innocent, as am I. Love Toni. I send the email and recall how Cochutemete knew about Grant and my mom, and how he’d surely have sent agents to watch their house. That’s the number one place they’ll look for me, and so of course they’re watching. My mom’s phone is likely tapped too. How is this all going to end?

It’s been a long day and I’m tired. The TV program goes to commercials I nod off to sleep but wake when I feel something touch my hair... Huh? I’m startled. I look across and see Drubbin leaning over my backpack. His left hand touches my knee. He puffs his lips and winks a bloodshot eye and grins.

“Uggh. Get away from me.”

“Relax.” He grabs my knee and holds firm. “Jah migh lihk it..”

Oh my god! What did he just say? He’s made up his mind. His words freeze my brain and I panic.

He grabs my backpack and pulls. I try to hold in place, but he’s too strong. He yanks it away and drops it on the floor. My camera and lenses complain but he just grins as if this is fun.

I try to get away and he grabs my laptop. He separates me from my beloved Lenovo. My earbuds are yanked out as the device slips from my hands. Then he holds my PC in his fingers real precarious, like he could drop it at any second.

“Give it back.”

“Come and geh it,” he readies his free hand to grab me.

“Uggh. You’re unbelievable,” I keep my distance. “Do I have to go inside and bother the lady?”

“I’ll drop ih fah sure den.”

“Are you fifteen years old? Is this how you behave with other girls?”

“Take off jah top.” He taunts me and plays tipsy with my laptop.

Oh no. I see where this is going. It’s time to get smart. I gaze up at the rafters of the wood frame building and pretend I’m exasperated, but really I’m just taking stock. There’s no ceiling and I can see the roof trusses. I could jump and hold one. What do I have down here? Pool noodles? There’s garden hose, some electrical cords and a pool cover. There’s swimwear hung to dry by the door and towels in a cubby. The yellow bikini catches my eye and I grab both parts. Without another word or second glance, I turn and leave the cabin. I know what I have to do, and it isn't going to be pretty.

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