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Chapter Twenty Seven

Ahead, a green and yellow sign says Subway. It’s not an underground train station, but a franchise location of the nationwide sandwich chain. Because of Covid19, the fast food restaurant is only doing take-out, yet they still make all the meals inside at the lunch counter. There’s a lineup out front and some idle patrons notice me ditch the stolen bicycle. They see me leave it on its side, right in the street. A bigger audience watches me awkwardly traipse across the parking lot towards the shop, and everyone in-line grumbles when I open the door.

There are people social distancing inside too. There are three sandwich-makers on-duty behind the counter and six patrons wait to be served. The delicious smell of toasted bread and lemon scented air freshener permeates my nightmare as I weave through the waiting diners. I’m not wearing my mask.

“Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me,” I squeeze through and push to the front so fast that nobody challenges or blocks my passage. Instead of heading straight for the washroom, which is likely what everyone expects, I duck under the laminate wood slab that separates the kitchen from the customers. Surprised, the store manager moves to guard the cash register. The other two servers hold their spatulas defensively and stare at me in disbelief.

“There’s men coming... Don’t let them rob you.” I point to the front door and everyone looks, but there’s no sign of my pursuers. “Don’t let them kill you!” I scream over my shoulder and run for the rear exit. I’m hoping the staff and patrons will impede any gang members who appear on my trail. Maybe I overdid it? I punch the steel push-bar to bounce open the backdoor and I’m outside in the hot sun again.

Another rear alley with a parking space for deliveries and trash. This lane is all concrete and offers few places to hide. Above are two apartments, and the building’s fire escape can be accessed by standing on the partition. The fence can be scaled by climbing some decorative trellis meant to hide a dumpster.

My shoulder throbs, but I manage to balance on the fence and pull myself up to the second floor fire escape. It’s almost more than I can do, but I’m running on fear. My head throbs and there’s blood on my hands. My fingers slip. Hang on. I can feel blood trickle down my back which means it’s in my hair and probably all across my face. Nobody has emerged below yet. Is there a confrontation happening inside? Or maybe nobody follows...

I zigzag-up the fire-escape. I place my feet as close to the sides as possible to avoid drumming the metal steps. At the top are potted plants in a culinary herb garden. The pad is twice as wide as the one below because there are no stairs-up. The window access point is locked from the inside. There’s nobody in the apartment. The roof is inaccessible and so I’m trapped if anyone spots me.

The rear door bursts open and the Jamaicans spill-out into the back parking area. Whoa! Not a second to spare. I drop and turtle. I tuck-in my arms and legs and appear nondescript. To anyone who gazes up, I should look like a shapeless bag of garden supplies.

Sure enough the caballeros cast their eyes in all directions and many study the fire escape. Gang members stare-up at me and step from side to side to get parallax on my position. Despite their scrutiny, none of the little bees decide the curious lump atop steps is worth climbing-up to investigate. They split-up and run in two directions, east and west down the alley.

Relax. Exhale. But somebody, somewhere still watches. I can feel it. It’s okay though. If I don’t move, they won’t notice and return. That’s fine. I don’t want to move. I can just sit here and recover. I’ll let the blood congeal.

Did Chantwell walk away unhurt from his sleighride down the roof? Probably not, but now he has everything I own. He has my backpack, my Lenovo laptop and all my chargers. He has my Panasonic camera, lenses and chips. He has my clothes and boots. Damn it. He has the video I made of Drubbin which he can trade to Cochutemete. That was dumb of me...

Here it is, Friday 31st of July. Tomorrow I 'm supposed to work second-camera for CP24 News coverage of Emancipation Day, but instead I’m the most wanted woman in Canada. I’m curled up on the top of a fire escape with nothing. Nothing! I have five dollars in my back pocket. I’m hungry, thirsty and scared to death. Are these my last hours of freedom?

Cochutemete is winning. The bastard. He predicted he would. But can he really charge me with terrorism? Yes. Just two weeks ago Black Lives Matter Toronto went on a rampage when three activists were snatched off downtown streets. That was Saturday, July 18th, the day the pink paint was thrown on two statues. That act of defiance wasn’t random. It was planned. There'd been calls to remove the bust of Egerton Ryerson from campus because of the role he played in Canada’s residential school system. Now Daniel Gooch, Danielle Smith and Jenna Reid are each charged with three counts counts of mischief and conspiracy. I don’t know any of them, but other protesters from Neill Wycik were stopped and questioned that weekend. They reported being asked who organized them, and how they got their orders. Whose idea was it to come here today? How much did BLM-TO tell you about this beforehand?

Police want to make arrests so they can claim the city is safer. How did I get myself in the middle of this? Cochutemete paints me as the criminal mastermind but maybe that’s his great mistake. He’s set the bar too high. It’s all because of the video that shows him in the alley. I refused to take it down so he looked for other options. The bikers’ daylight firefight made it a priority for him, and Sam’s robbery was the perfect opportunity. He quickly seized upon that to discredit me, and to harness the local police force to hunt me down.

The uniformed police in my Dark Alley video absolutely are real cops, but maybe not Toronto police. Now I believe the Quebecois police commander was caught in the middle of a shady deal that night, just as Chantwell knew he would be... But how did I become the loser?

I don’t want to go to jail again and certainly not on these trumped-up charges. I’m not the villain here. I didn’t do anything with criminal intent and that’s the essence of it. Maybe I made some mistakes, but I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Yet, Dr. Barb would tell me to accept some blame. I trusted Blue.

Recidivism. It’s a wheel. I remember the afternoon Dr. Barb told me the hard truths. Most teenagers never worry about whether they’ll spend the rest of their lives in jail, but you should Toni. It should always be top of mind. Once you have a felony conviction on your record, it’s hard to break the wheel. The facts don’t care about your feelings.

So what’s the answer Dr. Barb? I hear her voice, her mantras. We all want the same things. We want to love, and be loved, and we want to matter. She always said to focus on the positive and learn to see people for who they really are. Respect accomplishments and not braggadocios self promotions. Emulate your mentors. Smart girls sit in the drivers’ seat Toni; its time you learned how to drive.

After I kicked Lucile Dingman in the head she was so disgusted with me. She said everyone knows that poor child is seriously troubled. The others are not cowed Antonia. They’re being kind. When I complained the others are push-overs, she got upset with me again. Toni if you find good people boring or uninspired, then the problem lies with you.

I have to cure my anger, or it will always defeat me. I’m doin it again, aren’t I Dr. Barb? I’m stuck in the same rut.

I have to accept some blame. This feels familiar because I’ve been here before. This is not the first time I’ve lost all my friends and asked myself, is any of this my fault? I know what it’s like to feel totally alone... What’s it’s like to feel ashamed because of what you've done. Nobody wants to accept their guilt and most people look to blame others because it’s much easier than exploring inside themselves.

The has all happened to me before you know, and I didn’t think it was my fault then either. I really didn’t think I was the monster they said I was, just as I don’t believe I’m a violent terrorist today. Yet I must accept these are the circumstance I’ve allowed to exist, even if I didn’t actually create them. My mind drifts back to Pine Lake, and to the terrible day it happened.

Summer of 2017 was going wonderfully. I pumped gas and cleaned boats at the Pine Lake Marina during the week and waitressed at The Fancy on the weekends. I was just seventeen and very keen to be ogled by older boys. I wore skimpy bathing suits that turned heads and I counted whistles as compliments. It thrilled me that I could affect older men like that, and that’s part of the mind-trap. A girl ignored, whose suddenly adored, goes a little crazy.

I tested boundaries and tripped into Peter Daglish. I remember the golden hours after work at The Cliff where we jumped in the lake. It was thrilling because it was all so new and forbidden. I jumped too; the boys would wait an hour or more until I grew courageous enough to hurl myself over the edge. I’d scream the whole way down, twenty three feet into the water. Then we’d do a booze cruise around the bay in Pete’s old motorboat on what seemed like a perpetual quest for intoxicants.

It’d all started a month earlier when we’d found a hunting camp with six beers left to cool in a little creek. They were tied with a tiny chain and had been there for days because the labels were gone. Those brews were delicious. We’d got drunk and kicked open the doors and made ourselves right at home. That experience became the starting point for a summer of debauched Break & Enters culminating on Wednesday August 16th 2017.

The million dollar cottage property looked deserted. Pete said we should wait till the sun goes down to see if any lights turn-on, but I didn’t want to enter the mansion. I had my eye on the cute little boathouse by the water. There was an apartment above the berths with yellow curtains and I just wanted to see inside so I could dream of living there someday.

We climbed an exterior stairs and Pete successfully picked the lock. I remember always being awed by his criminal abilities but now I wonder if it was ever locked in the first place. Regardless, we howled with jubilation when I found a small beer fridge packed full of Budweiser with Russian vodka in the icebox. We filled Pete’s backpack and he opened a can of Bud.

Unfortunately the main house wasn’t empty. The property we’d selected belonged to a permanent resident, not a weekender. The man’s daughter had gone for groceries and that’s why there was no car in the driveway. He came up the stairs and turned on the lights. He surprised us and I screamed.

I don’t like thinking about what happened next. His name, I found out later was Ben Wraghley. He was an eighty year old Korean War veteran. He was crippled and walked with a cane but damned if he didn’t block the only door and try to keep us there for police or until his daughter returned.

Daglish was gentle at first; he tried to push the old man away from the door but the war veteran wouldn’t move. I started to cry and so Pete wrestled him backwards and knocked him over. The old timer fell down the stairs and hit his head. I knew he was mortally wounded. We had to step over his body to get away and the prosecutor made big point of repeating that in Pete’s trial.

The crown called it manslaughter; that’s their word for homicide committed without intention to cause death. It’s a statistically frequent biproduct of a botched robbery and escape, I’ve since learned. Later that night, this stupid girl and her drunk boyfriend were arrested on the beach in front of all their friends. What friends? None of them ever talked to me again, same as my girls back in Cobourg.

In Canada, anyone who breaks into a place with criminal intent is subject to more severe penalties because the crime is considered more despicable. Because the dwelling was occupied at the time, and because we used violence, they wanted to sentence me as an adult and lock me away for six to nine years. The next two months were terrible; it was easily the worst sixty day period of my life.

That’s when my anger triumphed, and when I started to actively despise myself. It’s still there. To this day I cannot hear anything about Veteran’s Day, Korean War, Seoul, Studebakers, frostbite; all these words make me want to punch myself and curse my stupid life. It’s like a twitch. It’s self-hate. Ben Wraghley had shown immense physical courage during the Battle of Kapyong. He’d gotten frostbite upon arrival and lost a toe and part of his right ear. Could you imagine? He was private in the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a special unit of volunteers raised specifically to fight in Korea. He sold a 1939 Studebaker Champion he’d fixed-up with his Dad, a WW1 veteran, before he shipped-off and there was a newspaper story about the sale, the proceeds given to charity.

What if we’d just sat down at the table and drank the beer? I think about that every day. He might have called the cops sure, or he might have shared his war stories and we’d all be pen-pals now. What if I hadn’t screamed and cried like an idiot baby? That’s what set Peter off. So, indirectly, you see, I did create that reality.

After a week-long trial, the most painful moments came during the family’s victim impact statements. The enormous consequences of the tragedy were fully realized and I was numb by the time it was over. Traumatized, I didn’t speak to anyone for days. Pete got seven years in jail and I got sixteen months at Gagner Home for Girls in Port Hope, and a new mom.

Doctor Barbara Drennan PsyD is a doctor of psychology. At first I thought she was just another cold-hearted Institution Witch. I despised her on arrival, but over time our little chats became more and more revealing and the workshops I did with other girls formed the basis of how I interact with people today.

“The trauma and shock of this experience is going to either positively or negatively affect how you control your emotions. Toni, if you don’t accept your faults and seek remedies, you’ll always suffer outbursts of anger and rage.”

She filled my head with logic tools and the machinery for self government. She’s the reason I can remain so calm today while talking to the police. But I’m stressed-out now, and getting really emotional again. You create your own reality, Barb always says, whenever anything seemingly random occurs. There are no accidents and both good luck and bad luck are a lot rarer than you might imagine. People who get left out and feel unlucky often just send the wrong signals. Conversely people who catch lucky breaks usually prepped or queued for it somehow. They applied themselves or they’ve developed something that appeals to one gatekeeper or another. Everything happens for a reason, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred you make your own luck.

I’d made the opportunity with CP24 News. That wasn’t random. Paul introduced me to Mark at the George Floyd Rally back in May, but I’d bugged him for that break ever since. He finally called because he’d seen my work online. But that’s all moot now.

Tomorrow is Saturday. I won’t meet Mark Dixon, Exter Manlin or Terry English at noon in Yonge Dundas square. I can’t even telephone them to tell them why not. And if I dare to show my face down there tomorrow, I’ll be arrested on sight.

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