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Chapter Thirty Two

The Doubletree on Chestnut has six elevators. That means it’s statistically improbable that one will arrive with cops inside, but I keep ten feet away from the doors as I wait, just to be safe. One of the maids approaches. I ignore her, my eyes on the elevators. Come on, come on. Ding. A carriage arrives empty. I step inside and press P2 and the maid huffs indignantly under her mask. The door closes. The next twenty floors down will be dangerous. The stolen robe is my only disguise. If the elevator stops in the lobby, I’m caught.

Down, down, down. Ding, ding, ding. I hear people and radio chatter as I approach the ground floor, but mercifully the elevator does not stop. The carriage slows at P1 before it finally arrives at P2. I’m not safe yet. Not even close. Anyone with their eyes on the security cameras will see me the moment I step out of these doors. But I don’t have any choice, and so that only means I don’t have very much time to find what I’m looking for...

The door opens on P2 and step out with the plush robe hiked up over my head. I surprise some hotel guests who stare at me wide-eyed over their masks. They must wonder what’s happening above, and why a half-naked girl in a bathrobe is so desperate to escape through the underground. But nobody follows.

I find the white Sprinter van straightaway. It’s easy to spot because it’s so much bigger than the other cars. It’s parked opposite the ramp down to P3, facing the wall. It’ll be locked of course; I don’t even bother trying the doors. I have another idea.

At the end of each aisle are cone-shaped concrete blocks with four feet of steel bracket sticking-up to hold road signs. It’s on these posts that reflective messages like Do Not Enter and More Parking Below are affixed. These totems are how management controls traffic. The bases weigh sixty pounds each and I grab onto one with an empty pole. I drag the toe-crushing cone towards the Sprinter van. I’m going to try and use the block to break the passenger-side window.

I summon all my strength to deadlift the weight onto the vehicle’s frontend. I scrape the paint all the way up the front-right quarter panel to the hood, such as it is, a two-foot wide protrusion under the windshield. The ruin the finish, but manage to rest the concrete on the inclined metal surface. Then I hop-up on the hood myself, which is only just wide enough to stand. The best way to break-into this van is by swinging the cement base like a golf club, using the weight to break & enter. Oh my goodness. The wheel turns. Break & enter is what precipitated manslaughter at Pine Lake. This is the very definition of recidivism.

I hear people moving nearby and so I crouch. An oncoming car spirals-up from P3 and passes my position with no suspicion. When I’m sure I’m alone, I ready the block. The signpost becomes a steel handle. I raise the weight over my head and bring it down like a lumberjack swings an axe. Smash! The safety glass in the passenger side window shatters into a million tiny crystals. To my surprise, the van’s loud horn blares as a crude alarm. I panic. I didn’t expect that. I lose my grip and let the post fall. It’s okay. Its job is done. But there’s still huge lumps of crystalline glass in the void. I’m perched on the windshield and I have to balance myself to lean around to clear away the broken shards with the sleeve of my robe. The honking is freaking loud; I’m sure to be discovered. Instead of unlocking the passenger door I simply curl my body through the gap. I let the robe absorb the remaining crystals as I drop onto the seat.

I find Turanga Leela right where I last saw her, perched on empty plastic pop bottles and candy bar wrappers behind the driver’s rear wheel. The Futurama doll smiles up at me and I can feel by her weight that my GoPro camera is still lodged in her head. Thank you!

The van’s horn-alarm honks and the sound echoes in the cavernous depths. Against the racket, I hear voices. ’This one here’. Someone says and another voice warns, “stand back. Thief’s still inside," a man tells me to, ”Come out!" I look around and find Yian’s skateboard behind the driver’s seat.

I pull-up the van’s rear door locks and kick open its backend. I surprise the good Samaritans summoned by the Sprinter’s honking and drop the board on the asphalt at my feet. One push and I fly past the righteous civilians and down the asphalt ramp into the depths of P3.

I’m at the very bottom of the hotel now and there’s no going any lower. I lean my body to make the sharp turn and roll through the dark emptiness towards a set of doors marked EXIT. I jump off and leave the skateboard behind. I’m not going to carry it.

In the building's emergency exit stairwell, I ascend rapidly, two steps at time. I pass P2 and the door opens. A grey windbreaker and heavy footsteps pursue. Now I recall the many times I’ve rocketed-up five floors at Neill Wycik and how I can easily do that and not even feel winded. Good luck keeping up with me bud.

But this agent is an incredible athlete and he does keep up. He must be leaping-up the stairs three or four steps at a time for I can hear him right behind me and then I feel his hands on my robe as I reach the top. I can see protesters on Elizabeth St. directly ahead through the glass door panel, but he stops my forward movement. His fingers grip the plush folds of my robe and I have no choice but to stretch my arms back and let him wrench the garment off my shoulders.

I push through the doors and emerge half naked into the warm summer night.

Friendless, wearing only a bra and panties and clutching a purple-haired doll, it’s hard to imagine how I could have any less hope, but I still have one last gambit. There’s a video on the mini-SD card in my hand, and my fate depends on getting the media to Captain Mark Berlette.

The man who snatched my robe continues his pursuit, but he’s spent. He huffs with exhaustion and drops the heavy cloth garment. He uses his radio to report my position.

Up ahead, two more grey windbreakers walk with protesters. They could be marchers, but I doubt it. They’re undercover police and now that I’ve encountered so many, I know their disguise. They haven’t seen me and I jig right to outflank them. But my sparsely clad body and sudden lateral movement catches other protesters’ eyes and I hear fresh shouts. "It’s Toni Petti!"

The two agents turn and search the crowd for me.

I’m on the street behind City Hall, right at the intersection of Hagerman and Elizabeth. To my right is the Ramada’s swanky ground floor café. Most such places have closed during the pandemic, but this facility has been repurposed to supply sustenance for protesters. Fruit drinks and granola bars are issued to people who pass the station. The only barrier, an ornate cedar hedge.

I scratch the skin on my bare arms, stomach and legs as I push my nearly-naked body through shrubs at the rear of the dispensary. Skids of water bottles, juice drinks and boxes filled with fruit and cereal bars await distribution. A dozen masked volunteers unpack food and place it on tables for pickup by long lines of socially distanced people. Another squad dispenses cans of juice and water, one per person.

My two pursuers enter the pandemic café through the same puncture hole in the privet that my entry produced. There’s only three escape options. I can turn and face them, or find an open door into the Ramada, or push through the people lined-up the get snacks. The last is the worst choice, but I have an idea on how to make it more viable.

I run to the front of the dispensary and drop and roll under the beverage table which scatters the workers charged with keeping it stocked. The men in pursuit probably believe they have me trapped against the crowd. But they don’t have me yet.

“Free juice for the Revolution!” I stand up quick and launch the whole table into the air. The action sends hundreds of juice and water bottles flying into the crowd. The cascade disperses the mob, first for safety and then in a scramble for drinks. I tip the table backwards and pass underneath to leave the furniture on its side as a barrier. I try to do this anyway, but don’t look back to see if it worked. I run like a squirrel with its tail on fire and pray the crowd congeals again in my wake.

I clamber into the homeless camp behind City Hall; it’s the same compound I’d set-off to record for Terry English two days ago. This campground smells like weed and Doritos and there's a hint of stale urine. There’s no easy path forward though and I hop from one section to another over makeshift dividers; I hear many complaints as I travel east through the blue tarp ghetto.

On Bay street, four bike cops in safety vests ride south to Queen. Oh oh. I stand behind a lamppost and inch forward on my tippy toes as they pass. Using this ocular convergence, I manage to hide myself from their patrolling eyes.

Just north is a cobblestone breezeway beside a water fountain in front of the Church of the Holy Trinity on the west side of the Eaton Centre. That scenic passage is the perfect spot to cut across.

There’s a modern art sculpture out front which marks the start of the pedestrian thoroughfare, but two steps into the grotto and I see the area is crawling with police. They're likely here to guard the historic attraction, plus the cafes opposite are tourist enclaves. I spin around quick and hope I wasn't been spotted.

Marriot’s City Center hotel is the building on my right, and just ahead at Dundas and Bay is the flagship Canadian Tire store. This big box retailer appears closed and that’s either because of the protest or the pandemic. Hundreds of marchers block the intersection. Getting into that mob is my best chance. It’s just beginning to thicken-up as thousands of protesters migrate to Yonge Dundas Square. That’s where the main event will be held tonight from six to nine o’clock. That’s where Berlette waits to speak to the cameras.

But there’s more grey windbreakers circling up there too.

I jig right and traipse-up the kiss-and-ride drive towards the welcoming portico of the Marriot Hotel. The doormen both stare at me under matching covid masks, speechless. They seem surprised to see a young woman clutching a child's toy and wearing only a lace bra and black panties with cuts, bruises and dirty bandages entering into their hotel. But neither of them makes any attempt to stop me. They just gaze at me wide-eyed as I pass. The circular rotating door into the hotel has been disabled in an effort to stop-the-spread and so I choose a regular door and pull the handle.

Inside the upscale lobby, I immediately feel cooler air and smell the hotel’s signature sandalwood aroma. It's refreshing and I’d like to lie down in here somewhere, but I’m not safe yet. I’m exhausted from the run and I need to find somewhere safe to rest and recharge. Two men in orange turbans admire my skinny body, my bra and underwear as I amble past them towards a marbled corridor and what I hope are conference rooms.

This hotel must have a rear-entrance that emerges outside somewhere behind that historic church, but I don’t know the layout well enough to confirm my assumption. I doubt there’s a path from here straight into the Eaton Center; that would be ideal. I’ll not bury myself too deep in here, or I'll entrap myself. I just need a temporary hiding hole, an abandon conference room with heavy cloth table covers that I can crawl under, or maybe some floor-to-ceiling drapes that I can stand behind just long enough to catch my breath.

The conference room has a hand-painted sandwich board with a message written entirely in Arabic except for an insert that reads, Isha 8:00 pm.

Loud voices come towards me from around the bend. I hear the quick steps of people on the run. I push open the doors to my right and duck into the room. It’s a big space. The lights are off, but I can still make out its dim interior. I expect to find tables and chairs. Instead there's a room filled with soft red carpets. A Persian rug convention? A carpet sale or showroom of some kind? There’s absolutely no where to hide. Think quick. At the back of the room are more rolled up mats and I get an idea.

I run to the rear and drop on a wide carpet; I lie-down lengthwise right near the front edge. I grab the tassels with both hands and roll. I spin myself up into the carpet and hope my bundle appears like the others. All I can do is wait... The doors burst open and through the open top of my rug, I see the lights turn-on.

More thumps and the conference room's doors close again. It doesn’t take long to search an empty room. I exhale, but I don’t dare move. Why would I? This is fine. This is the respite I sought.

I’m certain the room is empty because who could stand around in here when there’s so much excitement happening in the corridor. I hear men shout and someone’s radio issues a report; “...last seen going north on Bay. She went up the ramp into the Marriot." Radio static, a then a different voice continues, “...confirmed. Doorman says she ran right past him.”

How many of these gumshoes chase me? I’ve given them all the slip for now. But for how long? Just relax. Breathe and think.

I haven’t stopped running since I kicked Smits in his freckled face. That really hurt too, yet I haven’t even thought it once. My foot still throbs too but I don’t recall limping or being bothered by it before now. The horror of an immanent rape is why I ran, and the fear of being caught and locked away for life has kept me running. The terror of falling... Oh my God. The miracle of swinging into that balcony below. Oh my Jesus I could have died right there. I wonder, if I’d fallen, would there have been an inquiry into my death? Would it catch these villains? No. I don’t believe so.

My poor mother; I can’t even imagine what she's thinking. I can picture her parked in front of the TV, cycling through the channels, desperate for updates. They’re all likely waiting for me to call again, or for another social media post telling them I’m okay. I wish I had a phone that worked.

I have the doll, that's what matters. What’s on the memory card? If it isn’t damaged, or the camera somehow got turned-off, then it should show what Blue saw before him in the alley. And what sprayed Da Pooch? Mr. Rabethgie’s security camera feed showed Paul pointing the doll at what he saw ahead of him in the lane.

It’s tempting to believe I could take the GoPro to the press. But that idea is flawed. Let’s say I meet Peter Mansbridge in the lobby of this hotel. The first thing he’d do is turn me over to the cops. It’d be a crime to do otherwise; he can't harbour a fugitive. Then Commander Cochutemete gets his hands on me and I disappear. Even the most powerful news anchor in Canada couldn’t protect me once I’m in the system. Almost nobody can navigate the confusion that follows an arrest; even the police have trouble keeping track of who’s being kept where and for what reason and where they should be on a certain date. I know the drill. That bureaucratic fog is where Special Division thrives I bet. CBC The National would beg for access to the evidence and demand first dibs on the story in return for the anchorman’s good deed, but that’s all they could manage. Nobody’s going to broadcast the media straightaway, regardless of how spicy it turns out to be, and I don’t know any local YouTubers either. Rebel News? How would I contact them? I’m the girl with wax wings who flew too close to the sun...

Strange to admit, but I believe there’s only only person who can help me now, and he's a cop. The powerful police Community Relations Officer, Mark Berlette makes his own rules. If I get caught by security guards, regular cops or special agents, I’m done. The spider web is vast and Cochutemete sits at the center of all those tendrils. But if can just get to Yonge Dundas Square and surrender to Berlette personally, I’ll put the GoPro’s memory card right into the hands. He and that black detective Portia Mann; they made it clear they’re investigating the Quebecois agents, and I just pray this is the proof they need.

How do I know Berlette’s in the square? I saw him in the CP24 News special coverage of Emancipation Day. He’s there holding court at the side of the mainstage. He’s right near where we staged our gear three days ago, and with all the cameras on scene, he’s not going anywhere.

Bah. How do I know I can trust him? What choice do I have?

Why is trusting the police so hard for me? Because I hate them. Or do I hate myself? Everyone says I have too much anger. I do... I do blame myself for the death of Benjamin Wrahgley. That grieves me still and maybe I take that self loathing out on authority, on Grant, on the police or anyone who tries to stop me. But I don’t curse at the cops like Muck Daniels. He has some real hatred locked away inside of him. I guess deep down I just don’t trust them after what happened to me. Life wasn’t fair to me, and for those first two months after my arrest it seemed like the police were the chief enforcers of a great injustice.

I must trust Captain Mark Berlette. It’s an absolute certainty that I will get arrested tonight, but that needs to happen in the square. I need to put this evidence in the Community Relations Officer’s hands in front of a thousand witnesses. Then hopefully he’ll spread his soon-to-be-mayoral wings and keep me and whatever evidence I have inside Turanga Leela safe from Cochutemete.

I drift off...

I’m startled when the doors are suddenly thrown open again in the room. Audio speakers crackle as the hotel’s public address system comes to life.

“Ashadu an la ilaha illa Allah,” a male vocalist’s long wailing speech is heard and the same vocals echo in the hallway outside. Oh no. I know what’s happening here. It’s a Muslim call-to-prayer. This isn’t an oriental rug showroom, it’s the freaking prayer room! Oh no.

“Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah,” the male vocalist's wailing continues on the loudspeakers. Relax. These things don’t last very long. The faithful will come here and then leave in fifteen minutes. “Hayya ala s-salah,” sings the male voice, the summons continues, “Hayya ala l-falah”

Then I feel the carpet being unrolled.. Oh no. They need the rug. On the last roll, I am revealed. Gasp! The room is full of brown-skinned men wearing coronovirus masks. The pair unrolling the mat step back in shock. I spring up and startle others.

“Allah Akbar!” someone shouts. The Iman set to preside over the prayers also jumps in fright. His frown cues the assembly to shout. “Chelb, Ibn al kalb. Hemar!” “Allah Yakhthek!” “Ya Gazma!” “Ya Khara!” “Tah-hathek” “Tozz Feek!”

Even more vitriol follows as I bolt through the mass and through the conference room doors into the marbled hall. Their shouts echo in the corridor as I run to the lobby.

To my dismay, the entrance is choked with thugs. Both doorways harbour husky dudes with grey jackets and radios. They make it clear that escape is not possible that way.

I snatch-up a Fodor’s brochure, Toronto Downtown Marriott at CF Eaton Centre as I pass the rack. I run quick through a unique room with Inuit statues inside a wooden fireplace cone. I duck into the stairway beyond and read, ...the Marriott’s flagship hotel downtown is connected to the Eaton Centre through an aboveground walkway. Aboveground? The must be the breezeway beside the historic church. Aboveground? It can only be that. That means The Path which connects so much of the downtown core doesn’t reach this place. Crap.

I continue downstairs and see green sign which reads, Rear Courtyard and underneath there’s an arrow that points left. Oh yes please.

Marriott’s rear courtyard is a handsome topiary garden with discreet ashtrays beside stone benches and well manicured patches of grass for dogs. But the outdoor space is not empty. A burly man in a grey windbreaker smokes a cigarette.

My arrival is well-timed because the brute just lit-up. He hears me come through the doors and recognizes me of course, and so he squats to block my escape. But he’s disadvantaged being three steps down and he's not quick enough to climb any higher before I charge him. His righthand seizes the rail. That’s smart. I launch myself into the air, both of my bare feet forward. All fifty-six kilograms goes airborne. He raises his left arm to protect his face. Smart again. I bend my right knee back so just my left foot punches into his fat belly. Oof! He’s pushed back, but so am I. He doesn’t topple because of how he holds the rail. But I also get a rebound. I bounce off his belly and land on my butt. He crouches forward to catch his breath. I spring-up. He brings his right arm around to scoop me into a smothering embrace, and instead of pulling away, I raise my right knee into his chin. I’m gearing up to kick him again, when he collapses unconscious at my feet. A pink plastic cigarette lighter falls from his hand and bounces the rest of the way down the stairs.

I hop over the unconscious brute and run through the Marriot’s rear courtyard toward an opening in the ivy covered garden wall beyond. The brown brick barrier separates the quiet space from the bustling cafes on the west side of the Eaton Center. The cobbled breezeway bends around a small pond. It’s a major water attraction but the central spigot has been turned-off due to the epidemic and the city’s measures to control the virus. How that helps I don’t know, but the fountain is off.

I’m behind that historic church and there are yellow-vest cops keeping everyone out of the Eaton Center. Oh rats. Young Dundas Square is on the other side of this urban shopping destination, but it looks like the doors are all locked. How am I going to get through? I watch a moment longer and see a woman with a baby carriage inside the entranceway looking to get out. The cops direct her toward the only door that opens. Aha! One door is unlocked. I watch them hold it open for her. Then I step back behind the ivy-covered walls of the Marriot’s rear courtyard. Think now. I don’t have very long...

The collapsed agent was a smoker. His cigarette lighter fell from his hand. I could start a fire as a distraction, but nothing back here is flammable. Nothing on his body looks burnable either, except his smokes. Some of these trees and shrubs are dry, but none will burn. Ah but wait... The green ivy on the garden wall is fake. It’s made of thick plastic and that will burn, albeit not very well. Turanga Leela’s hair will burn. I remove the GoPro Camera and set the doll’s purple hair on fire. The material blazes like a torch. I tuck the doll into the thickest patch of ivy and watch the open flame melt the plastic resin vines.

Time to go. Yellow-vest police officers block the shopping center entrance and deal with tourists upset at not being able to enter. I don’t risk being seen by them or anyone. I bend-right and hug the flower garden on the east end of the church. Hidden behind shrubs, I point myself at the café patios which remain busy in the pandemic as outdoor dining is still allowed. I travel another twelve steps in stealthy secrecy. Instead of presenting myself on the cobbled path and showing everyone my sparsely clad body, I zig left and crouch behind a waist-high stone trash barrel to wait for my distraction to be discovered.

It doesn’t take long, but longer than I thought. The decorative ivy smokes like hell and black fumes curl over the wall. It’s dusk and I can see the fire’s glow in the smoke. The back doors of the Marriot hotel open and a woman screams “Fire! Fire!” Mist fills the garden below the black clouds and this fog rolls out of the opening. All three police officers guarding the Eaton Center leave their posts to run towards the emergency. They can’t help it. That’s their nature.

I don’t even wait till they enter the garden. The moment their backs are turned, I run towards the unlocked door. Nobody sees me disappear inside as everyone’s eyes are on the burning wall.

The mall is quiet. It’s near empty and everything is turned-off and all the stores are closed. The escalators are frozen and the water fountains dry. There are no pedestrian shoppers anywhere but there are some red- jacket security guards. There’s a cluster down by the Queen Street entrance and more on the north side by the Bubble Tea. Also I can see red jackets on patrol in the walkways above and below, but there’s none right close because they probably considered these doors to be safely guarded. They were wrong. I’m inside but I’m sure to be spotted if I cross the central concourse. Yet it’s the only way. I must cross this bridge, literally.

None of the red blazered security personnel are in front of the east doors either, and so that means there must be uniform Toronto Police officers on the other side. My best chances are to simply blitzkrieg through them. I can see the police barriers and the crowd beyond the east doors. The square contains an ocean of people and its loud out there and their chants make weird echoes in the empty mall. “No Justice. No Peace. Abolish the Police!”

I run at top speed toward the unguarded side doors. Is this where my adventure ends?

There’s only one cop in the vestibule. He stands on the northside of the anteroom between the mall’s outer and inner doors. There are three more yellow-vested officers outside facing the crowd. One has a riot shield and helmet, but the other two just stand ready with their hands on their hips behind a short steel fence. I can see the square is well lit, and someone speaks on stage in the bandshell.

I bust into the anteroom and charge at the doors. This is the last barrier; if I can get past these cops then I can hide in the crowd and worm my way to the front. Are the doors locked? Yes. Crap. Now I’m stuck in here.

“Hello Toni,” the Toronto police officer says. I recognize the voice. I look-up and see Jacobsen from my Bike Lane - ID Refusal video.

“Allan. Please let me pass.”

“They’ll just arrest you out there kid.” He takes off his jacket to hide my indecency. “It’ll be awful.” He’s a true gentlemen. I like him, but I can’t get caught here.

“Listen. You have to trust me.”

“I do. Let me serve & protect...”

“I have evidence,” I show him the small silver camera in my hand, “against Whisper." I say the name and he freezes.

“Okay. Go.”

“Thank you.” I want to hug him but there isn’t a moment a spare.

I pull open the unlocked door and immediately hear the loud chants and smell the acrid air. I find myself behind a small barricade and three officers deployed here to guard the Eaton Center’s east side doors. They have their backs to me, but the crowd facing them recognizes my face immediately and they shout, “Toni!! It’s Toni Petti!′

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