Chapter Twenty Five
Seeing me weep, Goat breaks down bawling; his shoulders shake, and his chest heaves in uncontrolled anguish. He hides his face in his hands but sobs openly in his palms.
Hearing us cry like children, Chantwell emerges from his office. “Geh a hole of jasef.” He squares up on Goat, “Jawal tah ur mathar ’ome.” He peels off three hundred dollar bills and then shuffles aside to let the distraught teenager gather his anguished mother and leave down the stairs. She has some final words for Chantwell which I don’t catch because I’m crying too hard.
“Blue’s dead?” I ask Chantwell through my tears. I hope he’ll refute the news, but instead he ignores me which confirms it’s true.
Clomp Clomp Clomp. Someone heavy comes-up the stairs. A barrel chested black teenager with a square head and fat face presents himself. He’s a high school footballer with big lips and meaty jowls. The eighteen year old linebacker has short cropped hair and wears a green Minnesota Vikings mesh athlete jersey. He looks strong enough to wrestle an ox to the ground.
“Jenson. Take ’er down to da room,” Chantwell tells his young ogre.
“Wha? Take who? Where?” I should have expected this. My fear surges. But it gets even worse .
“Dis stayn up ’ere wit me.” Chantwell lifts my backpack off my shoulder.
“What? Come on?” I reach for my possessions. “We’re on the same road...”
“We are. Buh jawal goin so much fastah,” Chantwell holds my pack in his right hand, his left arm outstretched to keep me away. “I nee ta slaw ya dawn.”
“No. Come on.” I reach for my bag, “I’ve got... Needs.”
Chantwell doesn’t buy it. He shakes his head no and nods to Jenson who turns me down the stairs. This is terrible. I feel naked without my gear and something tells me things are going to get a whole lot worse. Think clearly. I’m not going to let anyone put me in a box.
We descend as slow as I can manage. I need to calm myself. Jenson doesn’t suspect anything so he doesn’t have his hands on me. He acts like an usher, not a prison guard, and he’s being really patient. We enter the dining room and move past the karaoke machine. The yellow ball bounces over words in another classic calypso song.
“Where are we going?”
“Da Ssistern,” the beefy youth nods toward another set of stairs leading down into the basement. He states it matter-of-factly and points the way.
Oh no. I can just imagine what’s in store for me down there. What are my other options? The front door is locked but could be opened, and the back patio still has gang members finishing their breakfast. Jenson is too big to knock over and there’s no getting around him. They’ll be no getting past him on the cellar stairs either... It’s got to be now.
“Jenson?” I try his name for the first time and he turns and waits. “Can you fix me a soda water?” I clutch my stomach, “I’ve got terrible cramps.”
He looks at me suspiciously until I point to the exact fountain glasses I desire. By selecting the specific glassware, I make my condition seem more believable. “... lots of ice.” He nods and moves to comply. He’s a good boy and he’s kind to women. His mother would be proud. I hope I don’t have to kick him in the head.
Once he’s behind the bar, I point again to the glass I need. When he turns and reaches, I head for the front door. But something catches my eye and stops me cold.
On the TV in the corner of the room is a picture of Blue in his Sunday best clothes. They’re discussing his death on the CBC.
“Turn it up!” I point and Jenson hears the urgency in my voice. He quickly finds the TV remote-control beside the cash register and hoists the gizmo to raise the volume on the broadcast.
Carolyn Wong does her hourly CBC News Update and Blue’s face appears in the graphic over her shoulder. “...The search for a missing youth became the City of Toronto’s forty third murder investigation this morning." The picture cuts to video footage of yellow caution-tape wrapped around shoreline trees. Emergency lights flash in the background and forensic investigators comb the area for clues. ”The remains of Paul Arden, age eighteen, have been recovered at Cherry Beach. Paul’s body was discovered by joggers at 7am this morning. With so many visible injuries, the wounds make it clear that he didn’t die from drowning. Police report they’re following several leads at this time, and we can expect an update very soon.”
I choke back tears. The news story continues.
"The gifted twenty year old musician was nicknamed ‘Blue’. That wasn’t simply because of his hair colour, but also because of his musical compositions. He was a fixture in the Trinidadian community and had already gained great renown for his marimba playing. In other news...
Jenson sets the tall glass of soda water in front of me and turns to leave the bar. I reach out and grab his hand. “Did you know him?′ I need to keep him behind the counter a few seconds longer while I workout my escape route. The front door is still the best option, but I know it’s locked and so it’ll take time to find and turn the bolt. Another half second will be required to open the actual door, and that might be too long. Sadly, I will need to neutralize this big galoot.
“Not really. Blue nevah came by ’ere unless ee ’ad ta,” Jenson replies. He doesn’t suspect anything, and seems genuinely sad. “Ee wassa helluva good playah... Da sublime tapper.” He scratches his itchy back under his mesh jersey. That gives me an idea. I move the ice cold drink aside and raise my hand like I can help. He doesn’t step away when I reach for his shoulder.
“You’ve got something on your back,” I lie to him, but he doesn’t doubt it. He crouches down to receive my help and I pull-up the bottom of his football jersey. He must think I’m going for a deep scratch because doesn’t resist when I raise it up around his neck. With my left hand, I’m delighted to find there’s brass coat hooks under the bar where patrons can hang their belongings. “...Sorry about this.” I wrench the mesh jersey over his head and tuck it up under the counter. He tries to raise his head but I flip the material over the coat hook and the brass finger pokes through a mesh-hole in the nylon. He’s trapped. The only thing he can do is back-up and pull-out of the shirt, and he can’t do that very easily in such a tight space. I’ve just bought a few more seconds.
But my timing is terrible. Just as I turn, I hear someone rap on the front door outside. Through the bay window I see gang members help with a delivery. Oh no, bad luck. They knock for Jenson to open the door! Ah crap. There goes that idea. Jenson wriggles free and runs shirtless around the bar to block my path through the kitchen. That only leaves up. I have to hightail-it back up that narrow staircase faster than Chantwell can come out of his office and snatch me. On the door by the cellar stairs is a red fire extinguisher which I hope to pull down and leave bouncing in Jenson’s path. But instead it comes away easily in-my-hand, so I carry it. I could drop it behind me on the steps, or throw it as his head, but I don’t. I heft and pull the handle-pin. When I squeeze the pistol grip, the cylinder coughs-out a choking white powder which coats my pursuer’s face and arms. He falls away and coughs as I fly up the stairs. Children come from college without elementary knowledge!
Chantwell emerges from his office and squats to stop me, but I don’t even slow down. I hold my breath and pull the trigger again as I run straight at him. Cough pffffffft. I close my eyes and charge up through the fog. He falls back coughing and I push him over. He topples down on the floor of his office and gasps for breath. I try to hit him in the head with the tank, but he knocks it away. I search around for my backpack, but everything is a white fog now. He tries to trip me with his outstretched legs, and I stumble. I can hear Jenson coming up the stairs again, and I can’t find my backpack anywhere. I stumble backwards into the waiting room and check around but it’s not in there either. Outside on the balcony, I gasp for air. White fog pours out the patio doors and I hear him coming.
“Arrrrggggh!” Chantwell emerges from the cloud at a run. He opens his arms to scoop me up but I easily duck and dodge his sweep. He counted on the wooden porch rail to stop him. He didn’t expect me to kick his backside. My perfectly timed strike has the wonderful effect of doubling his weight and momentum. Snap! The railing breaks and the gang leader teeters before he toboggans down the shingles on the splintered wooden handrail. “Arrrgghhhh. Ooohhhhfff” Crash.
The broken balcony makes it real easy for me to flee the roof; I scramble through the breach and hike up to the peak. Gang members down in the restaurant’s backyard patio lose their minds.
Jenson’s ghostly white form appears dazed on the broken balcony below. The folks in the yard shout and point. He spots me and continues his pursuit.
I run to the edge and jump like a gazelle onto the next building. It’s a flat roof, and I drop and roll and rise on the run. It was beautifully done, but that’s where my luck ends. Beyond this tar and gravel surface is just treetops. Oh no...
Jenson makes the jump and recovers with equal dexterity. He grins and thinks I’m cornered. But I’m not trapped yet. I peer over the edge as he approaches.
We’re over thirty feet off the ground. The trees are mature maples with wide trunks and their crowns rise higher than my head, They were planted ten feet from the side and their longest limbs just about touch the brick wall below. There are no fat branches for which to jump, but I reckon I can grab something on the way down. I hope..
I remember The Cliff at Pine Lake as I make a running jump and point my feet at the most solid part of the maple tree. I fall so fast. My hands grab at sticks and catch fistfuls of leaves, but I’m not a squirrel. Whack! A branch rips my thigh and I spin. Ooff I’m sideways. Crack. Pain across my forehead. My shoulder strikes another thick limb. Owwwe I drop face-first. “Ahhhh..” Thump. I belly flop onto the grass and it hurts. Gasp. I can’t breathe. That was a bad idea. Can’t breathe. Relax. It’s just temporary. Gasp.. Oh my head and ribs. I’m bleeding. My arm’s killing me. I’ve dislocated my shoulder. The pain is excruciating. Gasp.
Jenson tries to follow, “Arrggh!” He bellows and bravely launches himself off the roof. Swooosh I hear him come through the canopy. Crack. Snap. Tree limbs break under his weight. Whomph. He falls and doesn’t rise. Green leaves rain down in serenity. Gasp... Inhale.
Casper, the gangling adolescent on his old fashioned ten speed bicycle is the first gang member to round the corner. He comes right at me with his right fist raised. I pull myself up to meet him. There’s blood on my face and tears in my eyes. My right arm hangs limp at my side and my left hand clutches my ribs. The militant boy senses I’m medically distressed and he slows, unsure of what to do. “Help him,” I nod at Jenson.
The teen spots the footballer’s big body in the grass and rushes to aid his unconscious friend. I pounce on the kid’s bike when his back is turned. But he’s not dumb and he’s twice as nimble. He returns lickety-split and grabs my sore arm to pull me off his ten-speed. He wrenches my shoulder and the pain stabs. But the action resets the joint, and once he lets go I actually feel some relief.
“Back off kid.” I drop his Supercycle and step away. The other soldiers in the shower posse are coming around the corner now; I have less than four seconds to neutralize him and make my escape. “You can’t stop me.” I provoke him. What I’m really saying is, please try and stop me.
I turn my back as if to run, but keep turning and I’m happy to find he took the bait and rushed forward. There’s a look of surprise in his eyes when my right foot clocks his temple. Thump. Down he goes.
Oh owe. I’m in terrible pain. I trip and stumble while trying to mount Casper’s bike. I run and push and hop on the seat just as the fastest gangbanger reaches for my shirt. Another thug kicks the back tire. I duck over the front to defy my pursuers. Two pumps and I’m ten feet ahead where there’s a downslope. I pick-up more speed and soon leave the shower-posse behind.
I have nothing now... Nothing. My arms and shoulder are killing, and my head throbs. My heart aches; that’s the real pain. Blue is dead and I’m wanted by corrupt Federal Agents and likely facing a slew of phony charges and indefinite confinement as a terrorist. Cochutemete said I’d regret not taking the cash. But how could I live with myself if I’d sold-out? I never could.
I have to get out of Little Jamaica and flee Toronto entirely. I have no friends, no allies, and no money or any possessions beyond what I’m wearing. How can I possibly turn this around?