Chapter Twenty Nine
I walk downtown. Today is Emancipation Day and its hot and the city is electric; all during the morning hours I see dozens of buses and hundreds of protesters heading for Queen's Park.
I travel the entire distance on residential sidewalks with my covid mask tied just below my eyes. It takes me hours, and its mid afternoon when I finally arrive in the coffee stain.
Carlyle street is empty, except for three people in a red Jeep Cherokee. They’re parked right near where I want to go, and appear to be working as Press. Their vehicle is unmarked, but one guy has camera. Now I recognize them.
It’s Skeeter Benzies, the blond-haired host of Rebel Roundup on Rebel News. He looks like Boris Johnson the UK Prime Minister, but with curly hair. I’m not a fan, but I know his face. Now I watch with interest as he paces the sidewalk, practicing lines. The cameraperson sets-up the shot with Rabethgie’s Jewelry in the background. I don’t subscribe to their YouTube show, but I watch them work like an arsonist might study a house on fire. I’ve seen their video clips and now watching them prepare for a shoot is strangely fascinating. Plus I want to enter that jewelry shop and speak to the owner and I obviously can’t do that while they’re here.
I keep my distance and stand well back under the mulberry tree. I eat the sweet offerings that hang from the branches and purple the ground underfoot. My simple disguise should keep me from being recognized, and so I nibble on berries and watch them confer over their paper script. They’ll soon do their business and leave, I hope. When Skeeter glances my way, I turn my face in search of more fruit.
“Right at that part, I’m gonna drift left,” the cameraman points at his notes where the words are highlighted yellow.
“I’ll pivot and you follow,” Skeeter agrees.
The camera operator shoulders his rig to get eye-level perspective which is standard practice in TV news gathering. I learned that from Exter two days ago; the home viewer expects eye-level news. I watch the videographer wave his hand to signal his actor to start performing.
“Aaand now, in case viewers are wondering,...” Skeeter Benzies begins. He pivots and the camera follows to reveal the jewelry store in the background. “We finally have an answer. Now Canadians everywhere know when a break and enter robbery becomes an Act of Terror. It’s when the alleged perpetrators are found in possession of incendiary apparel!” Peter holds up a black Combat 18 branded facemask. “And whoever said there’s no Fashion Police? Seriously this farce demands we pay more attention to our government’s case against Antonia Petti. She’s the young lady with wax wings who flew too close to the sun. The subject of yesterday morning’s Press Briefing at 51 Division, Antonia Petti, a Youtuber, is alleged to have masterminded the robbery of this business you see behind me. But beyond some security camera footage of her standing across the street, and some hateful facemasks found in her abode, the Crown has barely presented enough evidence to get an arrest warrant let alone a conviction. Yet because a certain police commander from Quebec proclaims it’s Terrorism, well then all the rules go out the window. To Hell with your Charter Rights you puny citizens; we’re battling Terror here!” Skeeter puts on the Combat 18 facemask and just stares at the lens for two seconds.
“... and cut.” The cameraman lowers his rig and becomes the producer. “Skete that was terrific, but you forgot the Black Lives Matter part.”
“Oh dangnabit I did too. We can do it again.”
“No. We should move on. We’ll do the B.L.M. segue down at the statue, or maybe at Queens Park.”
“Okay,” Skeeter checks his watch. “We are running low on time.” He casts eyes in my direction and I turn away quick, but there’s precious few berries left to pick. I sure don’t want to be discovered here, and certainly not by these boneheads, so I drift back towards the sausage vendor. I’m being real careful not to let anyone recognize me.
Carlyle St. repulses me now. I hate being down here. I loath these ugly little cinder block buildings, cracked sidewalks, and dirty windows. How could an upscale jewelry store exist in this ghetto? The sidewalks smell like diesel fuel and dog shit. Additionally discomforting, I know there’s someone nearby with a long lens camera. I remember seeing Chantwell’s picture-show and how a mystery photographer snapped shots of Sam and Mikey entering and leaving the jewelry store. I calculate the angles in my mind. The shooter was either in a second story window across the street, or on a rooftop, or in the apartment building on the next city block. Wherever it was, they could still be there, and I could be in their crosshairs right now.
Rebel News crew does a U-turn and drives way towards Church street. Carlyle is empty. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the overhead lights are turned-on inside Rabethgie’s. The retractable grate is rolled-up and so that means someone’s present in the store, although I can’t see anyone in the window. I ring the bell and wait. This is going to be dreadful.
The geriatric proprietor, his long hair tied in horsetail behind his head, appears in the hall. This is the kind Asian man who saved me on the first night we met. Now he studies me in shocked disbelief. He must wonder if I’m insane, or why I would return yet again to the scene of my crime. I can see that he doesn’t know what to think, and so I wave to him meekly.
“What do you want now?” Mr. Rabethgie faces me behind the glass. He doesn’t unlock the entrance or even touch the door.
“Your property has been recovered,” I begin. “The police called you right?” I ask him loudly. I’m sure he’s been notified because I saw the stolen jewelry laid out on the evidence table in yesterday’s press briefing.
“They did. Antonia Jayanne Petti.” The old man stares into my eyes. “There’s a warrant for your arrest,” he says, as if I need reminding.
I shrug, “I know.”
“Where’s your camera?”
“Gone. It’s all gone. I’ve lost... Everything.” I say humbly. His frown melts and his apprehension yields to curiosity.
“What do you want?” He motions me to backup so he can open the door. He pokes his head outside and carefully looks around. He checks the parked cars over my shoulder.
“When you first saw me...”
“Yes. The night you recorded how I enter...” Mr. Rabethgie glances at the alarm panel on the wall. “You zoomed-in on the code.”
“I did yes. I did it without thinking. I’m sorry...”
“Is that so?”
“Mr. Rabethgie. You watched me on your own cameras?” I ask, “that’s what you said.”
“Do you have one in the back?” I whisper the question; I pray he does and that I can convince him show me the feed.
“I’ve already given all the footage...”
“But from two days ago? When we... With the dog... In the park?”
“Why bother about that?” The old jeweler eyes me with new suspicions. “What is it you really want?”
“I need to see who was in Kerson Lane before us.”
“Paul Arden...” Just saying Blue’s real name causes me to choke-up. “He was last seen...”
“Arden? The body they recovered? You think...? In this alley?”
“When we were in the park.” I nod solemnly. “That was his dog.”
“Ohh,” he backs up and processes the new information. He studies my face. “Should I trust you?′
“I probably... Wouldn’t.” I admit. “But I’m trusting you. I have no one else...”
The old jeweler turns and motions me to follow.
In the jewelry store’s main showroom, Mr. Rabethgie unlocks a cabinet under the cash register and pulls out an Apple iPad2. He lays it on the counter and turns it on. Looking around the room, I can see many of the glass display cases under the device have empty cushions, but nothing is broken. He powers up his tablet and rhythmically enters a username and password entirely in Chinese characters. A moment later he gains access to the desktop. He taps a security camera icon.
From what I can see, the rear security camera is positioned just above the door. Its central focus is the rear loading bay, but almost thirty feet of Kerson Lane is visible. The system operates on a motion detector and a time stamp appears on the bottom corner of every new recording. The alley is quite busy, and the camera catches every vehicle that passes.
We watch the video stream together and I figure out how it works. When triggered by the motion detector, the camera records high quality, full color video. It turns off after a few seconds without any movement. We see cars and trucks pass through the lane, one at a time, and most autos slow down for the speed bump. The lane is supposedly one-way from Drummond to Carlyle, but vehicles travel in both directions.
I catch my breath when I see the white Sprinter van pass through the top of the frame. A moment later, in a slightly brighter exposure, Da Pooch steps into the shot. The boxer dog appears on the extreme left and trots right with his head held high. The canine looks curious, as if examining something or someone; he looks for any sign he can approach and receive affection. Da Pooch’s leash is taut and the leather strap pulls Paul into frame. The gangly black youth with short blue hair trudges along behind and tries to look casual. I can see he’s talking to someone off-screen. Then his expression changes and he raises his hands. My heart freezes at seeing him alive and surrendering like this; it’s like seeing a ghost. My eyes probe the scene for clues. To whom does he speak?
“That’s him isn’t it?” Mr. Rabethgie asks.
“Yes. That’s him.”
Blue gets halfway across the frame before he drops the dog’s leash from his left hand. I can see the Futurama chew toy in his right fist. Da Pooch runs ahead and then mysteriously the animal skitters backwards. Did the dog just get sprayed in the face with something? The boxer shakes his head and buries his snout in his front legs as if trying to remove some unwanted moisture from his eyes and nose.
“A repellent,” Mr. Rabethgie answers my silent question.
Blue raises his hands higher and I see Turanga Leela again. He’s points her one eye at what he sees ahead. Then he shrugs and circles around. He looks scared in the half second he faces the back of the jewelry store.
Two men appear and reach for his upraised arms. The guy facing the lens looks like a biker. He’s bald and wears a leather jacket and has tattoos on his neck. The other one is law enforcement. The word Police appears on his back and there are reflective stripes on his arms and legs. He wears the proper cap but it’s not possible to see his face. The two figures yank Paul’s hands down and frog-march him out of frame.
Then nothing. A few seconds later, a slightly brighter exposure, Da Pooch appears again and I see myself in the video. I cringe and relive the pain of that moment. I’m scampering like a scared rabbit. It’s so obvious I’m frightened out of my mind. I leave the frame on the righthand side, my eyes on the ground in fruitless search for clues. Mr. Rabethgie appears behind me and stands in the margins of his own rear driveway to watch me run down away the lane toward Carlyle.
“We’ve got to call the Chief of Police,” the old jeweler stops the video player.
“You can’t.” I tell him. Doesn’t he get it yet? “This is the police.”
“Young lady. You don’t know...” He mansplains to me like I’m a child, “I have lifelong friends on the force. I can ask them to...”
“No... You can’t. This isn’t the police force you know. It’s Guns and Gangs. It’s RCMP meets CSIS. It’s Govan Cochutemete’s Special Division.”
"Cochutemete? Oh heavens... That’s the Quebecois detective who visited me here after the robbery. He ran the press conference yesterday.”
“He’s framing me as a terrorist. He’s not a detective. But... It seems like he can be whatever he wants, whenever it suits him. He has all the resources and no accountability. He’s a court-appointed monster.”
“What should we do?” The Asian ponders the dilemma and then answers his own question. “We can go to Mayor Tory!”
“No.” His idea sparks a notion, a reminder of a promise I made. “The future mayor, the Community Relations Officer, Mark Berlette.” Now I think he might be the one person who can help me. “He’s been emailing...”
“So what can I do?”
“Let me upload that recording and be prepared to stand-by it’s authenticity when the TV reporters call.”
“Yeah. To Toni Petti LIVE.” On YouTube. You’ll be my first guest contributor.”
“Okay,” he says. I watch him isolate the clip from the stream of passing cars and we send it to Dropbox. Next we copy and paste the Dropbox URL into a blank MS-Outlook email and he hands me his iPad. I enter my Gmail address and press Send. Now I must log into my own email service and retrieve it.
That proves difficult. After multiple challenges, including two different CAPCHA codes followed by two personal security questions, I finally get access, but not really. My email dashboard appears, but I’m confronted with a popup-message like I’ve never seen before: ′This email account has been sanctioned by order of the Province of Ontario, on suspicion of criminal activity in accordance with Section 61 of the Criminal Code of Canada. If you’re the Administrator, please contact law enforcement immediately.”
My email Inbox has a hundred and sixty one new messages, but I can’t open any folders or do anything beyond stare at the popup. Arrgh!
Next I try to log into YouTube. I paste my email address and enter my password. The system waits a moment before informing me that access to my channel is Restricted due to Suspicious Activity. That could mean that Chantwell or someone else has tried unsuccessfully to gain admittance, or Cochutemete has finally succeeded in shutting me down. I open Safari and type ′toni petti youtube′ into the search bar. The search engine result page shows my YouTube channel first of course, and then my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIN social profiles. Next are several dozen mainstream news stories about me. I visit my channel and I’m surprised to find it still loads.
Toni Petti LIVE on YouTube hasn’t been taken down. The videos are still getting played and the numbers are astounding. Both videos have over 140,000 views now, and I have over 63,000 Subscribers! The conversation in the comments is very heartening and most commenters cheer me on, but there are some who despise me. I have to no time to read any of them. What I most need now is the ability to publish; I need the public to see my fresh evidence. Sadly, right now when I need my YouTube channel the most, I can’t access it. God damn Cochutemete!
I log into Facebook and to my surprise the system grants me access, but when I go to make a post it freezes. Instagram and Twitter won’t even let me login. Even Pinterest freezes-up when I enter my email address and password into the fields. None of the major social networks trust me anymore...
“Well perhaps I could make a channel and upload it.” Mr. Rabethgie says, and I know he’s just trying to be helpful.
“You could, but it’s not the channel we need... It’s the audience.” I pick up the SD card on which we transferred the security camera footage. “Can I borrow this?”
“Where will you go?”
“52 Division. Dundas and University. That’s Berlette’s domain...”
“How will you get there?” He asks like I’m crazy to think it’s possible. “Through the protest? Through the police lines?”
“In disguise.” I explain how I can lurk in plain sight amongst thousands of people. Protests during pandemics let people wear disguises. I already have sunglasses to protect my eyes, and a thick white Covid mask over my nose and mouth. Mr. Rabethgie helps and tucks my hair under a thirty-year old vintage Montreal Expos red baseball cap which he kindly requests I return. I laugh at the idea and he smiles; we both know he’ll never see it again, except maybe on TV.
Outside, I walk west on Carlyle like a zombie. The full weight and magnitude of what I’m about to do settles-in on me. I’m going to march into the Lion’s Den, right into 52 Division with an SD card in my back pocket. I’ll ask to see Mark Berlette and hand it to him directly, in front of as many witnesses as possible. They’ll arrest me and I’ll spend some time locked-up I’m sure, but hopefully the wheels of justice will roll me out of this mess eventually. This isn’t just my own freedom on the line anymore. This is about getting justice for Blue. Seeing him one last time shakes my core and pushes me. Seeing the scared look in his eyes as he turned around. I can feel him walking beside me now, holding my hand. We’re doing this together.