“What happened?” Amelia holds her phone and continues to record the Cadillac as it drives away down the street.
“I caught a gig.”
“From them?” She’s mortified. “Really?”
“Yeah. Cash job.” I show her the money and her eyes widen. She stops recording on her phone and looks at me with new curiosity.
“What do you have to do?”
“Hah.” I chuckle uncomfortably at what her tone implies. “Nothing illegal.” I reply, and I hope that’s true. No matter what I tell her, the strange video assignment will seem suspicious. That’s because Chantwell’s request is weird and there’s no normalizing the activity to which I’m now committed. “It’s just some camera work.” I direct Amelia back towards our building.
We walk and I check my phone. There’s countless new YouTube and Facebook app notifications. Marcy texted. She saw the video and wants to congratulate me. My mom replied to the voice mail. She sent a text which reads ′Your cheques are here, we want to talk.′ Then two minutes later she adds, ′Grant wants you to send a note that acknowledges your debt to us.′ I notice how she writes us and it breaks my heart because she always used to be on my team first. But I do have to factor in my age and my three infant stepbrothers and how that must change her perspective.
I agree. I promised to repay the money my stepfather lent me and I’ll do it, just not during a pandemic. Life is hard enough without being broke. Ahh, but I’m not broke. I have four hundred dollars in my back pocket!
The security team in the lobby of Neill Wycik is extra vigilant. Three beefcakes in neon green jackets with inch-wide reflective trim are always on duty here and there are cameras everywhere. Security is tight because we live in a dangerous area. The two major north-south arteries to the east, Jarvis and Parliament St are both well known conduits for drugs and prostitutes, and the side streets have higher-than-average crime levels. There’s lots of warnings on the walls in the entrance of our building.
The two streets that Chantwell wants me record are west of here however, and just north of Ryerson’s main campus. They’re in a well lit area that’s considered safe, albeit off-the-beaten-path. There’s a popular breezeway on the west side which accesses Yonge Street just south of College. I’ve taken that shortcut myself, but never explored the area in between. What will I find there?
“Amelia, let’s take a trip to the roof.” There’s only two people ahead of us in line to use the elevators. That means they’ll get the next lift and we’ll get the following one.
“Okay.” She agrees. “But why?”
“Research.” I still have a few hours before tonight’s assignment and I want to see what the streets in the coffee stain look like from the sky. That’s because I know it’ll help me psychologically prepare for the expedition.
“Sure,” Amelia holds up her phone, “but we’re not on the list.”
“You don’t know?” Amelia lifts her mask so she can whisper audibly. “It’s a boy’s party.”
“It is?” I hadn’t expected the roof to be booked on a Tuesday. But how would I know? I never check the website or use the app. I generally ignore the Community Schedule as most residents here are either foreigners or fulltime university students and into very different things. There aren’t any street justice workshops, camera clubs or anything I might find useful.
“Mikey Doodles Beach Tan Party, invite-only.” Amelia reads her phone and then looks down at her homemade clothes. She’s certainly not the type to crash boy’s parties, especially while maintaining social distancing.
“Let’s see what he says,” I push PH Garden. The elevator will offload us one floor below the top surface into a lounge called the Penthouse Garden.
Amelia’s apprehension rises with the lift. We hear the music and young people laughing while still on-approach. The elevator doors open and we see two dozen residents in short pants and bikinis milling about a spacious ballroom with tall windows and white curtains. The music is loud and echoes off the hardwood floor. Nobody wears a mask and there’s more people than are allowed. If Security were to visit, and they will at some point, they’ll fine the host $100 for every person over the limit. That’s the penalty for such infractions.
Mikey Doodles stands tall in the center of the party. He sees me arrive and shouts, “hold the vador.” But he’s too late as the young couple who’d been waiting immediately move to occupy the carriage. We step aside and are approached by an olive-skinned brunette named Carmi. She’s barefoot in a light green bikini, an empty wine cooler in her hands.
“We’re full. You have to leave,” Carmi glares at Amelia. “What are you two even doing here?”
Barbie comes around the corner in a powder blue two-piece and stands with her hands on her hips. Her real name is Beryl, but she goes by Barbie because she tries to resemble the stick figure plastic doll we all played with as children. She probably believes she exemplifies perfection, and is at age 19, how all woman wish to appear and every age. Her only proof, she drives boys crazy.
Their gang is complete when Patty steps off the dancefloor with a tablet. She’s a pale blond with thick black Dior glasses that are nothing more than fashion accessories. She doesn’t have to adjust them to read the names on her screen. “You’re not on the list.” She looks up at Amelia and stares daggers at the submissive girl.
“I’m with Toni.”
“Ugh. Neither of you.”
“Toni you came to my party?” Mikey Doodles approaches and I recognize the look in his eye. His face says, hey, while you’re here, I’d like to add you to my list of summer conquests.
“We’re not staying.” I point up at the roof; “I just need to look at something.”
“I’m intrigued.” Mikey stretches forth his long arm to separate us from the bikini-clad bouncers. He corals us toward the stairs and Superstar Barbie and her sidekicks glower and gossip in defeat.
Amelia, Mikey and I emerge on the roof, twenty two floors above the street. It’s seven thirty at night and the setting sun warms our faces. The skyscrapers in the downtown core are wonderfully coloured this evening. They look like blue orange mineral crystals spawned from the rock against the smooth flat surface of Lake Ontario. The glass building’s bright reflections shine in the opposite direction now; the horizontal beams blind eastbound drivers on the Gardiner and dapple socially distanced diners on restaurant patios west of the core. It’s a hot sunset and there’s hardly any wind.
We walk across the cement surface of Neill Wycik’s rooftop community space, half of which is carpeted with bath towels from Mikey’s guests. I lead them to the northeast corner and we all lean on the four foot barrier that rings the rooftop. Not far from here is the region blotted by the stain on the map. It’s just a quarter mile northwest. I point out the two streets. Deciduous trees block Drummond, but Carlyle is denuded, exposed, and ugly. The street is a low rent area to be sure. It’s lined with seedy one-story buildings that are small mom & pop businesses which appear closed due to the pandemic. I can see a dry cleaner, fabric stores, a barber shop, a nail salon and there’s still more yet I can’t discern farther down. Mikey gives me a questioning look.
“I have to go visiting there later.” I explain. Amelia glares at me and her eyes ask why?
“Sure you do.” Mikey winks and flashes a knowing smile, “Drummond is the new club district, now that the bars downtown are all boarded-up.”
“I’m not clubbing,” I state flatly, “I’m working.” I tell Amelia. From what I could glimpse through the foliage, the residential properties on Drummond are very upscale. They’re ringed by trees and their patios and balconies look like stepping stones in a leafy pond. Garden lights and tiki-torches add festive décor and well-dressed people move about on these postage stamps. These are small gatherings, family dinners for wealthy folks with expensive cars in their driveways. How will I ever blend in there? Maybe I don’t care. I’ll just walk about and record what I can see, and never give a second thought. So what if I get dirty looks; I don’t care who notices me. Nobody can stop me. Why worry?
We descend down the stairs just as the cool kids in the ballroom begin riotously dancing to Billie Eilish’s Bad Man. The girls bop around barefoot and the boys vie for their attention. Amelia watches the show like a zoologist and I take her hand and weave a path direct to the elevators.
“Toni come by later. We’ll get messed up.” Mikey sticks out his tongue at me. I barely wave goodbye.
Amelia and I return to our fifth floor apartment. The boys and Camila now watch Jeopardy! and it’s competitive. Every participant collects a beer cap when they're first to speak the correct answer. This is how we play against each other; we shout guesses, collect wins and keep totals to see who’s smartest.
"He’s the English Monarch who was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution?" Alex Trebek asks.
“King James the second,” Sam says before any of the contestants on TV can even ring-in their buzzers. I wait and watch to see if he’s right. That’s a hard one.
“Who is King James the Second?" A middle aged competitor on TV guesses with uncertainty. He’s right. Myself, Amelia and Camila give Sam a cheer and Gorie complains.
“Categories in Round Two better not have one damn thing about England,” Gordan grumbles as he drops a beer cap on Sam’s pile. Our dashing flatmate is very knowledgeable when it comes to everything United Kingdom, but how will he do in Music of the 1970′s? That’s the last category in Round One. I give him a smile and he winks at me. I’ll see him later I hope, once my stake-out is over.
"They’re the Swedish musicians who...”
“Abba!” Gorie and Camila shout in near unison.
“...won the Eurovision singing contest in 1974.”
I put my camera batteries on charge and pull down my shoebox from the top shelf in my closet. I push my nanny cam and GoPro aside to retrieve fresh memory cards for my Panasonic. I grab a sweater and change my socks. Then I put on my black Madden Girl boots. My phone hums on vibrate and so I know there are more alerts coming-in. That excites me and distracts me from the dreaded task ahead.
I sit at my desk and power-up my laptop. There are twelve new emails but they’re mostly all notifications from the places where I uploaded the short vignettes. There’s new Facebook Likes and Shares and that warms my heart. That’s what social media is all about, and in most cases that’s enough, but I’m tracking results. I’m not just collecting backslaps. I’m keen to do some real numbers and kickstart my career as a freelancer.
My YouTube channel now has 102 Subscribers and the NHL in Bike Lane / ID Refusal video has 763 views. It’s not sky-rocketing, but that’s admirable growth considering it has only been live for a few hours. Oh look, there’s already a dozen comments. I hold my breath and steel myself as I scan the feedback. I relax because they’re mostly positive except for one cop-sucker named TimoTyreCam57 who’s clearly pro law enforcement. He writes on how the video is inappropriate because it threatens the safety and well-being of Constable Silvans and Lieutenant Allan Jacobsen who’re so clearly identified. If he’s so concerned for their safety, why did he rename them both in his comment? Hmmm, that’s not good.
Marcy emailed too. She wants to come visit on the weekend and she asks about the guest rooms here in the building. I’d like to see her, but I can’t query Yian about getting her a guestroom until I secure the rest of my rent money.
“It’s the year George Orwell wrote his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four?” Alex Trebek asks, and I wonder what Category that is? But I should’ve guessed as all four of my flatmates shout dates from the 1940′s. Gorie’s upset because he isn’t scoring and because the topics were once again ripe with trivia that probably involves Great Britain. Sam grins from ear to ear; he has twice as many caps as the others. What is 1949? was the correct answer and nobody had guessed that year, and so everyone laughs.
“Sit here Tone. I’ll share half with you?” Sam subdivides his bottle caps. It’s tempting, but I decline. It's 8:40 pm now and I have somewhere to be at nine.