Thursday, 13 November 2014


"Trust not too much on appearances,"


The officers talked loudly as they turned out of the driveway onto Bay Street.  Marty used his right and stayed quiet.  The cuffs tore into both wrists, distracting him from his hysterical thoughts.

“What am I charged with?  I am just some homeless guy!  If they take my beard off I will be charged with what, impersonating a homeless man?  I have no I.D., nothing on me!  They can’t know anything!  I saw it—Spades and Jimmy escaped!  What can they charge me with—being homeless?”

As the cruiser wended its way through Toronto’s snowy streets Marty started thinking about the makeshift prisons that were assembled in an old studio warehouse during the G20 demonstrations in the summer of 2010.  When the downtown core was effectively locked down the Toronto police had arrested over a thousand protestors.  Most were released without charges in the aftermath, but they endured a night crammed in tiny cages like poultry.  The scene looked like a gulag or an internment camp, Toronto turned into Beijing for forty-eight hours.

“All units!” came a deep voice from the radio up front. “All available units to 1200 Bay Street for a 211.”

“We just came from there,” replied the other, lighting up a cigar. “Jesus Christ.  Well, where are we now?”

“College and Church.”

“Let’s dump this bum in the hood and be on our way then,” the bigger of the two barked, and then took a deep drag of his cigar. 

After riding through an area called Cabbagetown the cruiser turned south.  The nice Victorian houses turned more and more dilapidated after every intersection.  This part of downtown Toronto was very old; some of the buildings made when it was still called the Town of York and Ontario called Upper Canada.

They came to a street where garbage and old furniture was strewn all about the front lawns of the houses.  It reminded Marty of Ivan’s backyard.  He saw the moment in his mind again when he stood over the smashed greenhouse.

“Here,” said the bigger cop.  The driver stopped the cruiser as they turned down an alley behind old buildings.  Marty noticed that they hadn’t been wearing their seatbelts as they both got up and swung their doors open.  One of his earliest memories as a child was of a policeman coming to speak to his class about seatbelt safety. 

Marty struggled to his feet as the big cop pulled Marty out of the car with one hand. 

“What were you doing?” asked the smaller cop as Marty took a step back from both of them.

“Just being homeless!” Marty blurted out.

The larger guy grinned, placing the cigar in his mouth, between his teeth. “Let’s go,” he said, pushing on Marty’s shoulder.  The other officer grabbed hold of his wrists and undid the cuffs, much to Marty’s relief.  They turned him around and pressed him forward together, further in the alley between an old brick house and a concrete three story building.  At the end of the alley was a big black garbage bin.  The brick wall behind it had a great mural of aboriginal inspired art, the scene of many animals, what looked like a coyote, a skunk, an owl and a crow.  They all hate bright hearts all painted red and yellow. 

As he admired the art for a millisecond he felt his legs fling out from under him.  He was being lifted, and then tossed down into the garbage.  The officer’s laughter was soon overshadowed by the stench. 

After a few minutes he had climbed out.  The police cruiser was gone.  If they returned to Bay Street they would no doubt have found out, along with the rest of their division that a rich man had been robbed.  Marty smiled to himself, but then started worrying that their cab may have still been picked up.

“If Spades and Jimmy are caught will they talk?” he wondered as he reached the street, confused as to which way was which.  He needed to get back to the Junction.  Spades was wanted before, he remembered, thinking of the time when he had said that it was "hot" outside in Jimmy's neighbourhood up in North York.

“You are welcome to come in,” someone said from behind him, interrupting his worrying thoughts.

Marty yelled out in shock, spinning around to see an old chubby man dressed in a big green sweater.  He had a massive head with a huge salt and pepper beard, looking like an off-duty Santa Claus.  Behind him Marty could see the spire of an old church.

“Come in for an early supper, sir,” the man said, gently laying a hand on Marty’s shoulder.  He then smelled it, the scent in the air of something succulent cooking.  To the man’s side he could see a line-up of people, most in raggedy clothes and jackets.  A thin man in a wheelchair turned the corner of the sidewalk and planted himself at the line’s end.  And then he saw two black-robed priests coming out of the great doors, the entrance to the church.

Marty smiled, and then reached up for his fake beard, tearing it off and grinning.

The older man veered back, his brows disappearing under his rugged bangs.  Marty laughed. “Sorry,” he said, tossing the beard over his shoulder. “I won’t be staying tonight, but I promise you.  I will make a handsome donation to your service someday soon!”

He strolled down the sidewalk, leaving the free meal and the confused Samaritan behind him. The bright white of the snow reflecting the sun added to his new joy.  Amongst the streets was a clamour of cardinals and other winter birds.  The sound of children’s laughter soon also reached his ears.  Usually he wouldn't have noticed.

Marty smiled as he looked up at the building he was coming up to on the street.  It was three storeys high with an open roof on the third level.  The walls were one fence and behind the fence were little children playing.  A small girl with a round face and long black hair gazed down at him as he passed at the far end.  Marty gave her a little wave as he passed by.   She raised both her arms and then hung her hands through the grill.

A chill ran through him as he remembered Spades.  He pressed on to the next major street.  As he started heading west down Queen Street he thought of all the things he would do with his new money.

He had a token that he had buried in his inner coat pocket that morning.  The whole ride along Queen's Street West, from the hip shops and bars near the old music building to the crowded streets of Parkdale, Marty’s mind was rife with two contrasting images, two scenarios:

One was the three of them, Spades and Jimmy and he, all gathered in the playroom tallying up the price that their newly acquired items will fetch on the market.  Soon after that they are surrounded with three ceiling-high towers of hundred dollar bills.   

In the other case the three of them are in a prison cell.  They robbed Harvey Franco.  They will be seniors when they are let out.

There were no police on the street, a good sign.  Marty stood at the end of his home street a moment before he cautiously made his way to the front door, eying his surroundings, expecting a cruiser to appear around the corner any second.

Once inside he raced upstairs to the playroom.  There he found Jimmy alone. 

“Where is he?” Marty asked as he shut the door behind him. 

“Marty, if only I knew where Spades went with all our stuff.  He disappeared hours ago.”

Nothing could have prepared him for this scenario.


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