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Chapter Twenty Six

Where am I? Eglinton and Glenholme Ave. A tall church spire appears on the horizon and its golden shine catches my eye like a signal beacon. I set a course. Oh my body aches. . .

Around the bend, I see the property. A cathedral made of brown stone looks out-of-place in this red brick neighbourhood.

A dusty red TTC bus idles at a nearby stop. I still have Megan’s five-dollar bill in my pocket. That transit vehicle would wind around the neighbourhood for an hour but it would eventually take me to the Eglinton West subway station. Ahh, but think carefully; it’s a trap. Buses and trains have cameras and once onboard, I’m contained.

The church will have a phone I can use, and if the worst happens, the priests will keep me safe.

I slide the ten speed bike behind a lilac bush that grows beside the huge stone building. It’s part of long hedge that hides its cement foundation. There are stain glass windows above. The stone structure has fire doors here but they’re locked. They open from the inside only; the steel panels have no handles. Instead, a blue sign reads St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church.

I hike around to the front of the building and past several parishioners on the steps. Black senior citizens, they pay no attention to me. Inside the main entrance I find a strange mixture of wood and concrete in a cavernous foyer with more doors forward and two corridors that lead away in opposite directions.

I chose the right hand tunnel where I see a white lady in a powder blue sweater perched near a wooden plaque on the wall. The first name atop the prayer board is Pastor Carmen Dibenedetto.

A pastor is what they call the guy who preaches at the pulpit, that much I know. I’m a lost sheep being chased by wolves and he’s a shepherd. In a Catholic Church, the pastor is ordained which means he answers to a higher calling. He can’t be bribed by gangland figures, or jammed-up by police or swayed by politicians or anyone else in the secular world. He can offer Sanctuary.

The kind old woman studies me with curiosity but waits for me to question her.

“I’m here to see Pastor Dibendeo,” I murder his last name, but it doesn’t matter.

“Everyone is down in the basement child.” The lady directs me toward the stairs. “All your friends.”

My friends? What’s she talking about? I creep carefully down the wide staircase and find a subterranean gymnasium that smells like mold. The walls down here are painted green and made even uglier by overhead fluorescents. To my surprise, there are two dozen covid-masked black people of all ages chattering away with gusto. There’s an open box of surgical masks on a table in the hall. I’m a white girl who just wants to blend-in until I can find the preacher.

The huge room looks similar to a high school auditorium with retractable basketball hoops on the walls. People speak louder because they cannot sit close and talk normally due to social distancing and so the place roars with many high-volume conversations.

The meeting is set in the middle of the room where there’s a long table with many chairs. But rather than sit and listen to one speaker at a time, the gathering has devolved into many separate groups on both sides. I scan the mayhem for any obvious churchmen as I listen to their conversations. “...Organizations that are interested in becoming co-sponsors of the march and individuals can help with planning the event.” A pear-shaped black woman says to her social distanced friends. She hands out literature marked Unity with BLM-TO. Another Black Rights organizer lectures youth, “...primarily the Black Lives Matter movement amplifies knowledge and propels discussions that affirms the identities and needs of Black communities...” Farther along a black theologian and scholar proselytizes before his small cluster of listeners. “Unemployed black people in Canada face much greater financial challenges while supporting their families in a pandemic than their white counterparts.” Finally a Master of Ceremonies brings order to the chaos.

“Okay listen up everyone. I’d like to introduce ya’ll to Denika Tuey of the Zero Gun Violence Movement. She dun come all the way from Chicago and she spent fourteen days in isolation just so she could speak to us here today, and march with us tomorrow.” The attendees applaud the American lady who moves to the head of the table.

Behind this dignitary, an acne-faced Latin teenager attends to the group’s audio visual needs. His laptop is connected to the church’s video projector and he pushes a button to bring up the Zero Gun Violence website. He looks up from his computer and spots me. I hide my bloody face behind my disheveled hair, but he still watches. Oh crap.

“Greetings Marshalls and Guardians...” The lady from Chicago reads a prepared speech. “Tomorrow will be the most visible manifestation of Black Lives Matter movement in Canada. We have a tremendous responsibility. We’re creating a historic event with far reaching consequences.” She takes big drink of water. “Reporters ask us if there’ll be violence. We say no automatically. But us Guardians here in this room have to do better than just issue blanket denials; we have to strive-for-peace. Now, I haven’t been to Toronto in many years, but I know from decades of social activism in America that violence is always possible. Depending on your city’s current political climate, the route our march takes and the traffic intersections we impede, and depending on the prevalence of racist and bigoted counter-culture here in Ontario, our marchers may face real threats and taunts by members of the public, and even from the police.” Her words evoke murmurs of agreement. She continues, “I cannot stress enough how important it is that we remain non-violent. Our number one job as Parade Marshals is to deescalate such encounters. I will show how to recognize a bad situation brewing, and how we diffuse it..”

“Hey, you’re Toni Petti aren’t you?” The Latino challenges me at the door. I step back to keep some distance. My brain calculates all possible escape routes. Will I have to kick him in the head? “Relax. It’s cool.” He winks at me, “I luv your videos.” He holds up his cell phone. “Can I get a shot with you? For my Instagram.”

“Sure. But...” I know that’s how the police and gangbangers will find me, “can you wait an hour or two before ya post it?”

“So it’s true? You’re on the run?” He gets excited about the increased Instagram potential. “Did you really mastermind a terror cell?” He studies my bloody forehead.

“No. That’s not true.”

“...Hey wait. What are you doing here?” He looks around, suddenly realizing I could present an immanent danger to this place and these people. He looks down at my hands to see if I’m armed.

“I need help.” I speak softly and take his hand which shocks him to silence. He lets me pull him into the stairwell. “I need to use your phone.” My eyes fix on the device he carries.

“Follow me.” The youngster hides his Android away in the front pocket of his hoodie and climbs the stairs. I follow him.

He must be work here or volunteer as he’s intimately familiar with the layout. He opens doors and leads me to an administration center where there are tables and chairs and filing cabinets. We cross this staffroom into someone’s office. The empty room has a phone on the desk.

“This is Pat’s. I thought she’d be here but,” The kid looks around and then shrugs. “She won’t mind.” He motions that I should sit in a nearby chair and use the phone.

“Thanks,” I reach for the handset. I hear Click and look up. Click. The kid snaps pictures of me.

“Okay. Thanks for your help.” I put my foot on the desk which makes it clear it’s no obstacle, “one more, and I break it.”

“Right. Good then.” He drifts backwards, “I’ll just wait out here.” He closes the door behind him.

I make a long distance call. I dial my best friend in Cobourg and listen to it ring. I should probably call my mom first, but I don’t. I’m hoping Marcy will help. She’s a coward though and may need to be convinced there’s no danger. Should I even get her involved? Yes. I’m innocent and she’s my best friend and can help.

“Hello?”

“Marse. Thank goodness.”

“Toni?”

“Marse. I need you to come here and get me. Borrow the car and come. Exhibition place. Tonight.”

“Toni... I... Can’t.” Marcy sounds strange, like someone else is there with her and listening by her ear. “My mom says...”

“Oh please. To Hell with your mom!”

“Tone. What have you done?”

“Nothing. Posted a video. It’s a huge frame-up.”

“Where are you?” she asks. I hear baritone voices behind her.

“I’m safe. For now.” I reply, unsure of whose side she’s on. That crushes me.

“Ummm... Listen. Dad says I need to hang up,” Marcy sounds scared. “Good luck Antonia.” She ends the call. So much for being best friends. Dr. Barb would say it’s a failure of mine that I don’t have a forever-network of hardcore do-anything friends. Maybe that’s true, or maybe my Mom and I just moved too many times when I was growing up.

I wipe away a tear. I’m hurt, but I can hardly blame her. That was the smartest thing she could ever do I guess. But it still hurts.

After I dry my eyes, I dial the home phone number for my mom and stepdad in Cobourg.

"Hello?" I hear the voice of the woman who raised me, my best friend and co-conspirator for twenty years, my mother.

“Mom?”

"Antonia. Where are you?" My mother uses my birth name. That means she knows something’s up and she knows it’s serious. But it sounds like a typical Friday in her world; my three step brothers are being noisy in the living room and the television blares in the background.

“Mom? Are you alone?”

"No. I got a house full. Scaring the kids. Jamie’s holed-up out in the garage.”

“Police are there?”

"Men in suits. Not your ordinary..." I can hear her hands in a sink full of soapy dishes. I can picture the RCMP and CSIS officers seated around her kitchen table, listening. ”There’s a man here wants to talk,” she says, but then adds, ”Toni honey. Don’t be Cayenne Pepper. You know how all those people went to all that trouble looking for her..."

“Ahhh... Okay.” Cayenne pepper is our code word for not following the recipe. It comes from our belief that magazine writers simply borrow other people’s recipes and change one ingredient. We made this discovery while creating a spicy casserole and realized the cayenne was totally unnecessary and ruinous. We found the same recipe without the spice in an older cookbook. It was a life lesson learned through cuisine art and just one of the many passions I share with my mom. To ′cayenne pepper something’ is our code for winging it without instructions. I nearly cry, my eyes water at hearing her warning. She’s telling me to stay strong and not follow their directions. I can’t imagine what they’ve told her, but she must have smelled some bullshit. Are they threatening her somehow? It doesn’t matter. She held. Unlike Marcy she remains true and refuses to believe I could be a domestic terrorist.

The line crackles and a man clears his throat. ”Antonia Jayanne Petti, the best advice your mother can give is to surrender yourself into custody today, this hour...”

There’s a ruckus outside the office and I hear a voice I recognize.

I hang up on the agent in Cobourg.

Oh no, it’s Darnella Foster. She wears denim coveralls with a big yellow happy-face silkscreened on the front. But she’s not happy to see me. She’s angry. The big Jamaican lady points and raises a hue-and-cry.

“Who let her in here? That’s little Miss White Supremacy herself.” Darnella shouts, “Help! She’s a wanted criminal!”

The black woman finds her cellphone and dials 911. She parks herself in the office doorframe to block my escape. Oh how terrible bad luck. She’s going to try to make a citizen’s arrest. Crap! Of all the people to spot me in here. I don’t want to square off with her.

I vault over the desk. “Someday... You’ll know the whole story.” I shout over my shoulder as I run into the adjoining room. The ornate wooden door to this antechamber is half-closed and my rapid entry surprises someone hiding in here.

A cellphone goes skittering across a black and white tile floor. It belongs to the acne-face kid. I’ve caught him video-recording me but I can’t get upset because Darnella is just two steps behind.

I kick the kid’s legs clear of the door and slam it shut. There’s a switch lock on the knob. On the other side, I hear Darnella try the handle. She curses and then pushes-on the wood panel with her shoulder, but it holds. She’s locked out. But where am I?

“How do I get out of here?”

Rather than answer, the juvenile raises his phone and takes another photo. Click. I ignore his rude behaviour and scan the room until he diverts his attention back to his device. Then I reach out and snatch the gadget from his hands. On display are his texts with someone named DS Trevor Smyth - 13 Division. Oh my goodness, the little bastard is a double agent. I can see the photo he just snapped has been delivered. I stick his phone in my back pocket and move towards what I hope is a rear door.

“You’re stealing my phone?”

I ignore him. The geeky little prick is the same size as me and not scared of a girl, even a terrorist ringleader. Once I pass, he lurches to restrain me. But I spin around real quick and he’s surprised to find my right leg raised. He’s even more shocked when my New Balance shoe clobbers him. His body is thrown left and he smashes into the filing cabinets and crumples to the ground.

The back corridor leads down to the fire doors. These metal panels open-up and I find myself next to the lilac bushes outside. I recover the ten-speed bicycle and can hear Darnella shout to rally others on the front steps. A chubby black man wobbles around the corner. The big guy has probably worked security at past church events and so he takes it upon himself to lead this solo charge.

“Stop raight dere,” the overweight bouncer commands. But instead of complying, I hop on the bicycle and peddle hard. The big fellow reaches me but I slip away under his arm and easily leave him behind. I hear sirens all around, but don’t see any cruisers.

My back pocket vibrates. It’s the kid’s phone. I’m about to toss it when I see the display, Toronto Police - 51 Division.

Balancing on the seat, I ride with no hands and accept the call, but I don’t say anything. I steer towards a shady lawn and listen on the phone. I hear people chatter, telephones ring and all the sounds consistent with a busy office workplace, but the caller also remains quiet. I exhale loudly and dismount. I drop the bike behind a bush and lie down flat on my back on the grassy lawn. Passing vehicles won’t see me, but I do worry about who’s in the house and so I keep my eye on the windows as I listen to the phone.

"Antonia? Is that you?" Cochutemete’s voice asks. Hearing him speak my name paralyzes me, and I’m suddenly too scared to breathe. I wasn’t expecting him. ”Toni. If you can hear me... Return to St. Thomas Aquinas. I promise you won’t get hurt."

“Go to hell!”

"There’s the anger. Hey it doesn’t matter to me. The longer you stay dangerous, the more toys they give me... We have the helicopter tomorrow."

“You must be so worried right now...” I say this is spite of my own terrified condition. This is the ultimate test of my acting abilities. “You’re afraid I’ll expose you. How I’ll talk about your bribes and your shady deals with bikers and street gangs...”

"Hah. What an imagination you have Toni. No wonder you’re the ringleader." Cochutemete sounds genuinely amused. “Meanwhile things go from bad to worse for you. I just had a call with Charles Langren, a fellow you know as Chantwell.”

“Oh bullshit he called you. He hates you.”

"He’s in a cul-de-sac, not quite a dead end you see. He can still turn around."

“You lie. If you expect me to believe...”

“He has your camera and laptop and all your memory cards."

“So what?”

"He sent me this rather salacious picture...” Ding. A photo appears in the text stream. Oh my God! It’s a single frame from my video tormenting Drubbin. My yellow bikini-butt straddles a liquor bottle and pees vodka on his injuries. I knew that would bite me in the ass.

“Shouldn’t be too hard to track this fellow down. We’ll check the hospital records. He’ll probably testify." Cochutemete continues, ”additionally, your friends and flatmates have all flipped on you now; they all say it was you who masterminded the heist.”

“Bullshit.” I doubt Ghostgirl or Muck would play along. They’d be smart enough to know the police have nothing on them.

"Samuel Parris claims you have sexually explicit photos of him, and that you’re blackmailing him to do your bidding.”

“That’s a total lie... Oh my god.”

"Surrender yourself and we’ll sort it all out."

“Did you kill Paul?”

"We have pictures of you two walking together, a few hours before he went missing."

“Before he was taken by police... ”

“There’s no record of him ever being in police custody. Be honest Antonia, confess your crimes. Did you hit him with a blunt object and throw him in the lake?”

“Oh my God. You basssterd. I’m not a killer. It’s you...”

“You have anger issues Toni. It’s well documented. I’ve seen it myself. You can’t control your emotions.”

“I’m not...”

“You should surrender yourself today, so nobody has to worry about you disrupting things tomorrow.”

“Or I could find a good reporter and get the truth out.”

“I doubt anyone will believe you now. Or ever again. You’re wanted on terrorism charges...”

“There’s plenty of people who’d like to hear my story. And that’s what worries you...” I hang up. I don’t want to hear whatever bullshit he’s about to say next. I’m freaked out enough.

Terrorism charges? That’s bad. That means he can do extrajudicial things to me and make it so nobody can talk to me. Look at what happened to Omar Khadir, a 15yr old Canadian citizen who was detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for ten years, during which he pleaded guilty to the murder of U.S. Army Sergeant and other charges. Even after he was returned to Canada he remained in custody for three additional years. So he was locked away for almost fifteen years before anyone heard the truth. All this means I really cannot allow myself to get picked up by any police now, as then Cochutemete can simply disappear me into the system and hide me away somewhere indefinitely. There is maybe one police officer who could help me though; Captain Mark Berlette, and his sidekick, Portia Mann. They’re on the scent of this corrupt commander. They’re gathering evidence against him.

I pick up the bike and press-on eastwards.

Back on Eglington Ave at Locksley, there’s a sixteen story apartment building on the south side with the numbers 1775 emblazoned in black letters over the entrance. It’s community housing. The brown brick monolith has concrete balconies on the front and one corner unit suddenly fills with young blacks. They see me and point and holler and whoop. One holds a phone to his ear and reports my direction and speed.

“Ride gyrl. Ride!” A heckler shouts down at me in the street. “You best speed-up womah”

I need to get clever real quick. The gang will come for me in their cars and on their motorbikes. I’m not going to be able to outrun them on a ten-speed bicycle. I have to outsmart them.

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