"Black lives, they matter here!" A steady stream of protesters parade down Yonge street chanting, “No Justice, No Peace. Abolish the Police!”
Another group decries the prison system with a street-wide banner that reads We March for Prison Abolition, and they’re followed closely by Toronto Prisoner’s Rights Project. Other banners read, Not Another Black Life, and Palestinian Youth Movement, and Keep Your Rent Toronto.
The groups march south to Dundas, but they won’t stay in the square. The banner carriers will circle about under the big screens and then parade west along Dundas until they get to University where they’ll go north to Queens Park. It’s the same route followed by protesters at rallies earlier this summer, and so I already know where the congestion points will be and how to avoid them. I need to cut through all this civil disobedience and get to 52 Division at Dundas and University where I’ll put the SD card I’m carrying in Mark Berlette’s hands. He’ll keep me safe from Cochutemete and all other would-be assailants.
“Yian.” I let the Korean approach. “How did you recognize me?”
“Your gait,” he smiles. “Your big strides.” I remember him telling me I walk fast. I’ve disguised my body, but not myself.
“Shhh, keep quiet about it.” I whisper.
“I’m glad I saw you. Don’t go back to Neill Wycik.”
“No. I mean... I’m trying to warn you. There’s two cops sitting in your unit. In 505.”
“Really?” That shocks me. Yian smiles, happy to help. The tall Korean has made this trip to Yonge street to watch the protest alongside the building’s three prettiest young women, Barbie, Carmi and Patty Juice. The girls slowly figure out with whom he converses, and one by one they raise their cameras and roll video for their Instagrams. There goes my disguise.
“It’s Toni Petti alive,” Carmy says, narrating her video. She chuckles at her clever word-play on my YouTube channel name.
“Where's Camila? Gordon, and Amelia?” I ask Yian, aware my time is running short here.
“They’re still locked up. The charges are serious.”
Barbie, Carmi and Patty become braver, and more rude. “Isn’t she like wanted by the police?” Barbi loudly asks the others.
“Like Ewe. Stay away Terror Girl," Carmi says.
“It’s Toni Petti everyone,” Patty pries at her phone’s screen with her fingers to zoom-in on me, “Canada’s most wanted!”
Up the street, two plains clothes police officers in grey windbreakers hear my name and turn around. Oh crap.
“Go Toni,” Yian hands me his skateboard. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I drop-and-hop on the Vector wooden skateboard and make it look easy. I’m not totally useless on a board, although I nearly lose my balance in the crosswalk downslope. I flail my arms and recover and kick-push across the asphalt. The streets are blocked so there aren’t any cars, but there are lots of people.
Over my shoulder, I sense a plainclothes’ policemen still pursues. He’s an athletic young fellow in short pants and he sprints like he’s back at The Academy. He shouts into his radio to relay my details, “Blue jean shorts. Red checkered top. Mask. Goggles and a... Red Maga hat.” He runs along behind and tries and keep up. It’s not a MAGA hat you idiot.
I easily leave him behind and by the time I get down to Elm street he’s nowhere to be seen. I swivel my hips and bend right. I fly past what used to be The World’s Biggest Bookstore and keep going until I see the crowd ahead. The protest surges and there’s real anger in the air. This mob heads south toward Toronto Police Headquarters at Bay and University.
From what I can remember of the BLM schedule I saw yesterday at the church, right now is the rally in Queens Park. All of University Avenue from College Street down to Queen will be thronged with protesters. Queens Park is probably the red hot nucleus and diehard BLM clusters will orbit the core until six or seven pm before they parade to Yonge Dundas square.
Hairy knuckles on a outstretched hand reach for me. The goon looks excited to be so close to his prize, but I defy him. I push the person ahead of me into his bulky form and rebound away.
A lady in my path drinks Tim Horton’s coffee and we collide as she raises her cup. Her drink spills in the air and I get warm drops on my face which covers my sunglasses and mask. I lift the eye protection and lower my face-covering accordingly.
Halfway through the melee another strongman with a radio runs at me. The undercover officer lurches and I duck his hand. His fingers grasp my ballcap. My hair tumbles to my shoulders and more people shout. “It’s Toni Petti. Look!” The crowd reacts. “They’re trying to catch her.”
A double-length TTC streetcar rumbles west on Dundas across Bay. The extra-long transport is followed by a flatbed truck full of interlocking fence. The utility vehicle shifts to the right lane, looking to pass. It pulls up beside the streetcar at the traffic lights on Chestnut, effectively blocking the street. The back of the truck is loaded with eight-foot-long steel barriers. These sturdy fence pieces stand about four feet tall. I clutch the taunt cargo strap on the side of the slow-moving truck and let its engine pull me along. The wind blows my hair and I channel Marty McFly from Back to the Future. The kids in the streetcar crowd the windows and scream. “...it’s Toni Petti!”
Things have changed at Dundas and University since I was here just five days ago. The police station now appears under siege. Portable fencing surrounds 52 Division at 255 Dundas Street W. The two-story building has large glass windows on the front and a very secure car park on the roof, but right now the place looks like an foreign embassy in a hostile nation. The previously open square out front where all the health care workers mingled with the Black Lives Matter protesters on Tuesday is now fenced-off and there are squad cars and uniformed police officers face the crowd every ten feet. How am I ever going to get in there? My only move is to wait until Captain Berlette, or Detective Portia Mann to come outside. Even then, they’d have to come real close to the fence before I could call to them and they’d hear me. That scenario is not going to occur naturally... How can I make it happen?
The whole world needs to see the evidence I carry in my pocket. But maybe it doesn’t have to be me that shows them? Maybe one of these other TV news reporters could take the story and run?
At Dundas and University, there are numerous TV trucks. I don’t see the black and gold CP24 Live Eye truck, but there’s Global News, and Channel 11 CHCH-Hamilton and two red and white CBC panel vans are parked at the end. I speed past Marc McCalister from CityTV News. His metallic grey hair seems shaggy which shows how he’s suffered in the pandemic; he’s lost access to his hair salon along with everyone else. Marc is Toronto’s most obvious five-o’clock shadow newsman. His beard-stubble wraps the entire bottom of his face. I could give him the memory card in my pocket, and tell him what I know. But he can’t protect me from Cochutemete like Berlette.
Across the street is Beth Macdonell from CTV News. I’ve followed her career intimately and almost feel like I know her. She started as a videojournalist with CTV News Winnipeg. That’s where she made her name reporting on the rise of asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border just after Donald Trump became the US president in 2017. It was an international news story back then and her honest reporting did big numbers for the network. They moved her to Toronto right after to do their Evening National news program. She got the call. She would take the evidence I have and chase it down. I look for her, but her team is retreating before the surge.
Whistles and shouts are heard as the police form lines to protect their police station. The BLM parade marshals I saw yesterday wrangle the throngs with their megaphones. The protesters surge and chant their grievances and there’s real anger in the air today. "Black lives, they matter here!" “No Justice, No Peace. Abolish the Police!”
I freeze. There’s the white Sprinter van.
Parked on Simcoe street in front of Village by The Grange, not far from 52 Division’s rear entrance is a white Mercedes panel van. Is it the same vehicle? The sight of the evil transport terrifies me. It’s a death bus. It’s the last ride Blue ever took. Why is it here?
Despite my rising fear and innate sense of impending doom, I can’t stop myself from investigating to the iniquitous auto. There are no cops or bikers or gang members anywhere in sight. Maybe it’s not the same Sprinter? I need to look through the front windshield and see what’s inside.
“Surprise!” Commander Govan Cochtumete emerges from the van’s passenger door in his signature grey suit and brown shoes. “Welcome Toni. I knew you’d spot the van and come.” He raises his arms to catch me. “You’re so predictable.”
I brake, jump-off the skateboard and kick it at him. He ignores the flimsy wood plank and reaches for me. I spin around as he steps forward. Here it comes...
My quick turn surprises him. He doesn’t expect to see my leg raised and my New Balance running shoe on course for his head. But he’s too quick, and it’s me who’s surprised when he catches my foot. Nobody’s ever done that before. I don’t know how to counter it either. He pushes and I lose balance. I fall on the sidewalk.
Cochutemete boots me in stomach when I’m down. He kicks hard and knocks the wind out of me and I gasp for breath. He picks me up and zip-ties my wrists behind my back. He slides open the side door of the van and tosses me inside like cordwood. Ooof. I land on blankets and trash. My feet thrash about and ruffle an old newspaper. I kick empty plastic soda pop bottles. He slides the door closed again and leaves me alone in the dim interior.
It’s all happening so fast. It’s hard to breathe; my chest and stomach throb with pain and my heart pumps fear. I’m caught.
Moments pass before I can inhale enough to scream.
“Ahhahahah! Help me! Heeelp!” I kick my legs and thrash around in the cuffs like a fresh-caught fish in a dry bucket.
Cochutemete opens the driver’s side door and climbs-in. He puts the key in the ignition and turns on the stereo. He plays loud rock and roll music to suffocates my cries. When I stop screaming, and he lowers the volume.
“What are you doing here?” the Quebecois asks. “What’s in this bag you carried?” He gestures to an army surplus duffle bag that I’ve never seen before and which lies on the passenger seat beside him up front.
“What bag...?” I’m still gasping from the kick and my screams and the shock of being handcuffed and confined.
“This rucksack you had... ”
“That’s. Not. My...” I stop when I realize what he’s attempting, and how it’ll probably succeed.
“Oh my...” Cochutemete zips-open the duffle bag and peers inside. ”Tabernak. Is this a pressure cooker and homemade explosives?”
“Bah. Nobody’ll believe you.”
“Is this why you drowned your blue-haired friend?”
But Cochutemete doesn’t wait for my objections. He speaks into his Walkie-Talkie. “Officers McKenzie and Termosa relocate to SD1. ...I’m beside the station on Simcoe.”
“You’re a murderer,” I sit on my zip-tied hands and face him. “Your lies are adding up.”
“And who’ll believe you? You’re an anarchist with a homemade bomb.” He waves at the protesters all around the police station across the street. “Look around at all these innocents you planned to harm.”
“You liar. It’s not my bag. You’ve no proof. No witnesses.”
“Here come my witnesses now.”
The sliding side door opens and I see four men. Three are dressed in black tactical gear, and the fourth is Clinton McKenzie the detective with the Santa-beard who stood beside Cochutemete in the alley. The first two enforcers I recognize from the start of my video in the alley. Here’s the freckle faced man with his split lip and the East Coast accent. Beside him is the same corpulent sidekick who’d stood beside the motorcycles in the garage at 33 Drummond. A bald headed man is the third officer and he moves directly to the driver’s seat where he switches places with Cochutemete. The team leader comes around front to open the passenger door and remove the green duffle bag with its dangerous contents.
“You all saw this? This is what she brought here.” Cochutemete unzips the bag and shows off its contents. Inside is an Instant Pot six quart electric pressure cooker, and a small blue box of Enoz Old Fashioned Moth Balls plus a clear plastic jug filled with some reddish liquid, presumable fuel.
“That’s not my bag.” I protest, “you’re all liars.”
“You all saw how she carried this over her shoulder when I arrested her right?” Cochutemete points to the ground near his feet.
“But,” Clinton McKenzie interrupts, “wasn’t she on a skateboard?
“Yes.” Cochutemet realizes he’s right and begins to look about for the conveyance. “Where did that go?”
“It’s here,” a rotund junior with the thick Quebec accent locates the skateboard in the gutter. The item is loaded into the van behind me.
The freckle faced East Coaster with the split lip turns me on my stomach and I can feel his hands frisk my body. He searches my pockets and finds the SD card I carry. Crap. “What’s this?” he asks.
“That must be what she’s doing here.” Cochutemete deduces. “She’s dredged up something...” He sets the duffle bag in the back of the van behind the passenger seat.
“We’ll have to view what’s on it.” Clinton McKenzie takes the memory chip from Freckles. “Before...”
“I’ve already uploaded it.” I lie to them and watch how they glance at each other.
“Her channel’s euchred,” McKenzie pockets the chip and steps away from the side door to conference with the commander more privately. They leave me with the bald bulldog guarding the front and the freckle-face Newfoundlander on top. The rotund youth blocks the side door. Two older officers confer on the sidewalk for sixty seconds.
"Secure back to the suite,” Cochutemete says in the distance.
"Holding pattern.” McKenzie explains from outside the vehicle. Freckle face pushes me down again and fear courses through my bloodstream. He changes out the white zip-ties around my wrists for sturdy metal handcuffs and then I hear the fat guy tear a piece of fabric. He makes a blindfold which he ties around me eyes. I’m so scared right now, I don’t even try and move. What are they going to do to me?
The side door closes and the overweight agent gets in the front passenger seat. Now it’s just me and these three thugs. Cochutemete and McKenzie are not in the van.
The diesel engine knocks and chatters as the Sprinter leaves its parking spot. The van's horn beeps as we move through protest clogged streets. Honk. Honk. ”Get them to clear the way.” The bald bulldog driver yells.
"Clear the way!"
"There’s people recording us with their phones.”
"Turn it on.”
"I have to send a text beforehand. You know the drill.”
"I’m turning it on.” The policeman in the passenger seat fiddles with something strapped up under the dash at his knees. Two seconds later I hear a Beep. He holds a black device plugged into the cigarette lighter and they all laugh. That’s their cell phone jammer. They disrupt all radio signals as they drive. Why? To eliminate all live recordings of them.
Is this my last ride? Like how Blue went on his last ride..? Are they about to stage my death while holding that bomb? What can I do to save myself? Struggling to get free now is not the answer.
"Oh shit. You have the pass card?" I hear the bald driver ask the overweight passenger
"Clint didn’t give it to you?”
"Shit. We got to go back.”
"Can’t go back. Can’t even turn around in this. No... No. We just pay,” the guy sitting on my legs says to the two up front.
"Your credit card? Not mine." The bald agent protests.
"Fine." The cop puts his hands on my back and presses down on my body as he leans forward to pass his card to the driver.
The van stops and I hear the driver lower his window. Outside, the protesters chant and there must be tall buildings on both sides of the street for their words echo as if in a chasm. Their calls for justice haunt me; if they could only see my need for justice at this particular moment.
The vehicle starts and the van descends. It corkscrews down, turning, turning, ever deeper underground. It gets dark and the ride stops. The doors open and everyone exits. They leave me inside to shiver in fear as they talk. I’m two floors underground somewhere.
The van’s back doors open and the men grab my feet and pull. The bandana they’ve tied around my eyes slips and I spot something... I see the one thing in the world that could give me hope. Under the empty chip bags and soda pop bottles, I see the purple hair of the rubber chew toy. Turanga Leela hides in the trash behind the left tire hump.