John Tavares was born and raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, his parents having immigrated from the Azores. He graduated from Humber College (General Arts and Science), Centennial College (journalism), and York University (Specialized Honors BA). His short fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines and literary journals, online and in print.
Today Lisa attended the funeral for her father, who died during open-heart surgery. She couldn’t believe he actually bought a prepaid funeral, since he seemed forever young and lived his life as if he would never die, or as if he would die at an advanced age. She expected he would prefer burial in Red Lake, in Northwestern Ontario, where he matured and prospered, beside his wife, her mother, who died prematurely of breast cancer, or beside his own parents in Sioux Lookout, where he was raised, or near the First Nations reservation of Lac Seul where he was born. Citified, he came to rest amidst his own personal chaos of Toronto, his adopted Southern Ontario hometown. She hadn’t expected his corpse would be interred in a chilly vault, so high from the marble-like floor, the epitaph, plaque, and cover for which she couldn’t reach with her own hands, so faraway from home, so near strangers. She needed a stepladder to reach her father’s tomb, whose mausoleum was a short distance from the Eaton’s family mausoleum. Her expectations betrayed her own hometown loyalties and roots, even though she was now a mature woman living and working in Toronto as a schoolteacher.
The person she had not expected at the funeral in the church and at the mausoleum was Durrell. Twenty years ago, Durrell shot her father. Everyone expected her father to die then, but he miraculously recovered from those injuries. After he was discharged from Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto, her father changed his life, again. He lifted weights, bicycled, and stair climbed at the York University gym every day, while he attended the faculty of education as a mature student and volunteered to work with less privileged and at risk youth in the inner city and around troubled neighborhoods. After he finished training to become a schoolteacher, he started teaching on a First Nations reservation during the school year. Each summer, however, he returned to a condominium he bought in a gentrified neighbourhood near Ryerson University and Eaton Centre. He even started hanging out in the cafes and bars of the Rainbow Village around Church Street and Wellesley Street. On hot days, he posed and preened on the clothing optional beach and cruised the sand dunes of Hanlan Point on the Toronto Islands, where he also swam and danced with the naturists and nudists to the music from booming stereos aboard big, and expensive yachts. (No sixteen-foot aluminum boats with outboard motors trolling for lake trout and walleye, fishing for smallmouth bass and northern pike on Lake Ontario off Toronto Island, he joked.) She was actually shocked, when her father came out of the closet. Life was beautiful, her father said, especially if you stir it up, but the way he stirred life up, right to the bittersweet end, left her surprised.
Ironically, Durrell was now working as a streetcar operator for the Toronto Transit Commission, twenty years after he expressed his disdain for transit drivers and his hijinks helped get her struck, broadsided, by a speeding taxi, at the crosswalk down the street from the café where they left her injured father. She couldn’t believe Durrell attended her father’s funeral. After Durrell mentioned, seemingly offhand, he worked as a city transit driver, she thought she recognized him from the Queen Street streetcar route. Before he drove away, he even gave her his cellphone number and his e-mail.
An old-fashioned kindergarten teacher, Lisa still preferred pen and paper and a landline and avoided e-mail, social media, and computers. After Durrell drove away from the cemetery and mausoleum, she discarded the monthly transit pass Durrell gave her in the nearest wastebasket. Lisa remembered how she once loved Durrell, but muttered, “Good-bye and good riddance.” Having finally overcame her driving phobia, she took the wheel in her compact imported car. She remembered those fateful days years ago.
Then a man, nattily dressed in a colorful suit, rapped her windshield and told her his Jaguar wouldn’t start. He asked if she could give him a ride to Rosedale subway station. He said he recognized her from her father’s photographs and snapshots. She saw him at the funeral and the interment, but failed to recognize him. He said he and her father were lovers, and she grew churlish at the imputation. When her father had emergency open-heart surgery, he interjected, the surgeons were amazed to find bullet fragments embedded in the muscle and flesh around his chest, millimetres from his heart.
“Did you know your father had bullet fragments in his chest?” he asked.
She was surprised to hear, but she didn’t bother to mention she remembered when her father was struck by a bullet. And so her mind was transported to a time more than twenty years ago.
“I can’t believe that bus driver,” Durrell said, “accusing you of stepping in front of the bus like you’re trying to commit suicide.”
“You made him afraid.”
“Because I’m a colored man.”
“No. You looked like you were ready to attack.”
“I should have punched him out.”
Averting her eyes in shame, she gazed up the sidewalk lined with shops and stores. “You were so aggressive, so in his face. I was really afraid you were ready to hit him.”
“I should have punched him in the head or face; he was so accusatory.”
“Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, lost in thought.”
“Are you trying to tell me he’s not to blame? He was practically accusing you of trying to end your own life, stepping in front of the moving bus.”
“Why were you so in his face, arguing and fighting? The driver had enough trouble operating the bus.”
“That’s exactly the problem; he should concentrate on driving, not making accusations. We paid the fare. What business does a bus driver have trying to blame my babe?”
“Please don’t call me your babe; I’m no longer your babe. You need to understand we are no longer boyfriend-girlfriend, whatever the past.”
They walked along Eglinton Avenue West, past barbershops, hair salons, and a jerk chicken restaurant, whose placard sign said, “Get Jerked Inside,” searching for the café Caffeinism, where they planned to meet her father.
“And if what the bus driver said is true? He sounded like a psychologist, an expert on human behaviour. He must have read my mind. They say Toronto has more PhDs’ and medical doctors driving taxicabs and buses because they can’t get recognition for their foreign credentials.”
“You mean you’re trying to kill yourself by throwing yourself in the bus?”
“No, no, no. I just read an article in the newspaper about commuters throwing themselves in front of streetcars and subway trains. It scared me. Now when I’m waiting for a bus or streetcar I get frightened and freeze. Or when the subway train is roaring into the station I panic, I’m paralyzed.”
“Maybe you should get some help.”
“Help from who?”
“You’re asking me? You’re supposed to be the smart one. Think: a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, a counselor. Come on: enough talk. These bus drivers make me angry. Let’s go see your Dad.”
They strode along Eglinton Avenue West eastwards from the Ossington bus to the café.
“I should warn you, my father’s self-taught. When he was a teenager, he dropped out of high school and moved to Toronto. Then he moved back to Red Lake, but he’s always been a big reader and a fan of book learning. He also tries too hard—to speak precisely. If someone uses contractions, or doesn’t speak in complete sentences, he thinks it’s evidence of some kind of inferiority. He’s afraid people will think he’s a hillbilly, or a country music fan, which deep down he is.”
Durrell snorted, commenting, “Caffeinism, that’s an odd name for a café.”
“It’s the condition you get when you drink too much coffee, consume too much caffeine.”
“That’s great. We’re meeting your father at a café where he’s wired on caffeine, and he’s packing a pistol. Did I hear correctly: did you actually say he’s bringing a gun?”
“Yes. He’s got this handgun or revolver he got from an American. When I was in elementary school, a Vietnam war vet, dressed in camouflage, came to fuel up at Dad’s store in Red Lake. After the trolling motor for his bass boat broke down, this tourist wanted someone willing to sell or trade. Dad swapped a small used outboard motor for the handgun.”
Durrell shook his head, keeping ahead, as they walked the short distance through the Jamaican-Canadian neighbourhood to meet her father at his favourite café on Eglinton Avenue West, near the house basement apartment, which he rented from an aged homeowner. Her father grudgingly brought the money, the only cash he had available, he said later, but he didn’t mention anything about bringing a gold bar, in a large duffle bag, which weighed heavy in his hand. Lisa was uncertain if his actions were premediated, or if he even yet decided whether he should endow her with what she suppose might only be called an inheritance or a legacy, or if he brought along the precious metal to simply show off. Salvatore recognized her as soon as she entered the café, but, even though Lisa requested the meeting because she needed the money, she didn’t acknowledge him, and she supposed he must have reluctant to meet anyone. He didn’t even recognize him beneath his long curly greying hair and his thick unruly beard, when he was usually clean-shaven, with his head shaved bald. Durrell walked into the café behind Lisa and took a seat at a nearby table after she ordered a coffee for Durrell and latte for herself, while she overheard her father order pistachio ice cream and espresso.
When she finally spotted her father, forcing herself to smile, joined him at the table. “You’re living in Toronto now?” she asked. She knew her father loved the city, with which he first became enamoured as an awestruck teenager. After he dropped out of high school in Red Lake, he argued violently with his father, called him a racist, and ran away on the passenger train to Toronto. Later, after he inherited his father’s business, he constantly talked about moving back to the city and enrolling as a mature student at a college or university.
“I’m hiding away in Toronto for the present time, and haven’t decided whether I’ll move permanently,” Salvatore said.
“But you can’t just walk away from your business,” Lisa said.
“I already have,” Salvatore said. “The convenience store and gas station can run itself, for the time being.”
“But I thought you were thinking of buying another convenience store and gas bar in Ear Falls.”
“Your mother made any expansion plans economically unfeasible.”
“My mother? She’s your wife.”
“Do we need to go through this again?”
“So you two have broken up again?”
“If you actually took the time out from your busy day and preoccupied life to talk to your mother, you’d know she and I aren’t a couple. We’re separated for probably the same reason you haven’t talked with your mother for so long.”
“I don’t think the reasons are that simple. Do you have to be so cynical about everything and everybody?”
“Yes and no. But I even brought a gun. Once again I’ve found it necessary to carry a concealed weapon.”
“Necessary? This isn’t roustabout Texas or even the bush of Northwestern Ontario; this is cosmopolitan Toronto, in multicultural Canada. Do you realize the kind of trouble you can get into carrying around a concealed weapon?”
“Lisa, I’ve been a convenience store operator and owner, and I know the kind of trouble I need to avoid. The last time I defended myself with a loaded sidearm and held an armed robber at bay the police said nothing and chose not to even mention the handgun in reports.”
“I think you’re going insane.”
Her father gulped his coffee and went to the counter for another espresso. “I must be going soft in the brain—agreeing to give you more money.”
“Look at it as an investment—in my education, my future.”
“Whatever the money is for—”
“Did you bring the money?”
“Yes, I brought the money and I brought the handgun.”
“Lisa, I’ve met a handsome young man.” He motioned to the barista behind the counter of this café, brewing espresso, grinding beans, filling the air with the aroma of fine coffee grinds. “He always works alone, he’s happy to work alone. I come here regularly: he knows how I love my espressos and cappuccinos. He’s taken a liking to me and even invited me to his family’s home in Jamaica.”
Salvatore stood up, reached over the counter, and kissed the slender man on the lips. The barista warned him about getting physical with him on the job. Shocked, appalled, outraged, she couldn’t believe this flaunting of conventions and disregard and disrespect for her mother: her father kissed a young man, whom he treated as a woman. Distracted with anger, needing time to process this information, she also needed to discuss the matter thoroughly with the only man she felt she could trust with this revelation: Durrell. But she said nothing and her face was a mask.
“This is a fine, remarkable, brave young man. He manages the café all by himself even in the middle of the night. I wish I employed a worker like her to run my store.”
“Why did you bring your handgun?”
“Because I brought the money.”
“So bringing a revolver will protect you?”
“Do you remember the calibre?”
“Nine millimetre, I think.”
“I’m glad you remembered the cartridges. It’s an M1911, a single-action, semi-automatic.45 calibre pistol. Maybe you’ll inherit this pistol someday. The handgun is from the Vietnam War, even though the design is based on the original First World War model. I got this beauty from an American tourist, a Vietnam war veteran, who couldn’t repair his broken boat motor. I traded him an outboard motor for the pistol so he’d finish enjoying his fishing trip. He never experienced such excellent lake trout and pickerel fishing.”
“Dad, you didn’t bring cash, did you?”
“Unfortunately, after debating with myself, and you don’t want to hear what I argued, I did.”
“I can’t believe you. You brought twenty thousand dollars in cash?”
“Slightly more. That’s about all I have left in cash. You said you needed ten thousand dollars for tuition and ten thousand for room and board for a year. That sounds like more than what the average student needs, but who am I to argue, even though I want to dispute and debate this: it’s not as if you’re entitled to any inheritance now, and the money I’ve invested in your education so far has had zero returns. I wonder why, instead of giving it to you, I don’t use my money for my own education. I suppose my parenting instincts kicked in again. Make no mistake: I do genuinely want you to succeed in life and, if you think you need more education to attain that goal, I’m enough of a risk taker to try to help again. After all, it doesn’t look like anybody else is willing to look after you.” Her father glared at Durrell, as if her former boyfriend was somehow responsible. “Anyway, the money is from your grandfather’s safe.”
“Granddad’s safe? As in the safe you refused to open for years, the safe you never wanted to open because it had sentimental value?”
“Yes. What were you expecting?”
“How about a bank draft.”
“If that’s the case, I would have transferred the money to your bank account from mine.”
“Well, why didn’t you simply transfer the money?”
“Because my personal and corporate bank accounts are frozen.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Your mother engaged in certain actions with tax authorities, divorce lawyers, and family courts, which resulted in me having difficulty accessing my own funds and business accounts. She took this action for the sole purpose of enriching herself.”
“I thought it was called separation, as in a divorce settlement and alimony. Anyway, you sound like a lawyer.”
“Funny you should mention lawyers. Your mother said I should apply to university as a mature student and attend Osgoode law school. She says she’s going to York University to become a teacher. When I visited the campus and discovered Osgoode is affiliated with York University, I had to ask myself why she wanted me so near. Regardless, the consequences of her actions are the same, so I needed to open the safe.”
“You are talking about grandpa’s safe. I thought that massive safe had so much sentimental value you never, ever wanted to open it, not until you reached some special milestone, like retirement or selling the business.”
“That time arrived, but I couldn’t remember the combination number. Then, when I was ready to blow the safe sky high, I remembered I wrote the numbers on the back of a snapshot of your grandfather and I fishing. I stored the Polaroid picture in a reinforced cash box I dumped and buried in the outhouse at camp. So I had to dig through a composting shit pile just to get the combination number. Happy?”
“That is insane.”
“Your mother left me no choice. All the cash I could access was stored in that safe and is now in this duffel bag.”
“That is crazy.”
“That’s why I brought the handgun.”
“You mean you flew all the way to Red Lake to get the cash from grandpa’s safe?”
“I took the train to Red Lake Road and your mother gave me a ride to Red Lake, so she could vent and direct more of her animus and anger at me. Purging all these negative emotions, I guess, was therapeutic for her. The trip gave me the perfect excuse to return to my adopted hometown for the Canada Day long weekend. I checked up on my business and the house and cabin and dug through the shit pile in the outhouse. I drank Diet Coke at the Legion and drank coffee at the Tim Hortons, even if no-one wanted to join me.”
“You ransacked the same safe grandpa had when he was robbed by the two gold miners who were fired—”
“They weren’t fired or laid off—they were on strike, locked out of the mine, and broke. They didn’t even have money to buy their babies food and diapers.”
“These are the same guys who tried to rob grandpa.”
“Years ago, before you were born.”
“Then it’s blood money.”
“It’s money your grandfather earned and kept in the safe after he was robbed and became paranoid and stopped trusting anyone, including the bank. By the way, before she left, your mother took one of the two four hundred ounce gold bars from the safe. Apparently, she remembered the combination number on the safe. That gold bar she took from me, which I inherited from my father, is hidden in some safety deposit box in Winnipeg, but she refuses to disclose the precise location. Read the business pages and check the price of an ounce of gold for an idea of the figures involved.”
Following the conversation closely, with amazement, Durrell asked, “Well, if there are two gold bars, where’s the second?”
“That’s none of your business,” Salvatore snapped.
“This is the money from the safe that grandpa refused to open when they robbed his store at gunpoint.”
“With a sawed off shotgun, no less.”
“Instead of opening the safe and handing them the money, he somehow locked them in the office and set the store on fire.”
“Even I have trouble believing he deliberately set his store on fire. Either way, the robbers were roasted alive in the office from the fire. They couldn’t even identify the victims of the blaze from their charred remains and what was left of their teeth and dental records. Then so-called Indian agents from the federal government, which had their medical records, refused to cooperate with the provincial police and wanted the RCMP to get involved, but the Mounties had no jurisdiction. This happened during the sixties. The two robbers were actually respectable members of a nearby reservation. One was actually a native American who didn’t recognize the border with Canada and dodged the draft when the US Army recruited him to fight in Vietnam. Later, he tried to return home to visit a dying family member on a reservation in Minnesota, but was nabbed at the border in International Falls. He did a tour of duty in Vietnam with the US Marines, and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for rescuing pilots at Khe Sanh. After he received an honorable discharge, he decided to return to Canada. The other, from the Pikangikum reservation near Red Lake, even received a citation after he rescued American tourists from drowning when their boat got caught in the current and flipped in the rapids—it was even in the local newspaper. Good country people, they might say in the American South, but they were totally broke. The gold miners were on strike against the company for too long, endless months, and they didn’t even have money for bread, milk, and diapers for their babies. But they picked the wrong storeowner to rob. Your grandfather was disgusted with being ripped off. Besides, when these two striking miners robbed the store they seemed a bit intoxicated and probably weren’t thinking straight because your grandfather tricked them and escaped his business office. He had an emergency plan for whenever he was robbed, but instead of calling the police or fleeing he went straight to the gas pumps and filled a jerry can. He didn’t go to the police because he was tired of dealing with them. He didn’t like their attitude, obstinacy, and what he perceived as their incompetence; they never solved any break-ins or burglaries or apprehended any motorist who sped away from his gas station with a full tank without paying. They didn’t believe him and always treated him with mistrust, skepticism, and disdain. Can you blame the police for being weary of his calls: some miner or trapper on a bender intoxicated at his store; a single mom or teenager shoplifting; a deadbeat dad passing bad checks? He also wasn’t liked by the pillars of the community, the business owners, and property owners who ran for municipal council to influence community affairs in their favour and benefit financially, lining their own wallets and purses, instead of serving the townspeople. Conflict of interest wasn’t in their vocabulary, he complained at town council meetings.
“Anyway, he was so disgusted with the town’s authorities and institutions and being disrespected and a constant victim of crime he took matters into his own hand. Taking the initiative was something he believed in firmly, along with self-help and self-reliance. He took a jerry can, filled it with gasoline at the gas pumps, returned to his business office, stuck the nozzle in the mail slot in the reinforced steel door, and poured the gasoline. Then he lit the match while the robbers shouted, threatened, and pounded the locked door. There’s one interesting detail to this story my father liked to add. Apparently, the Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman made a sales trip through town and sold a truckload of sets of encyclopaedias to those gold mining families, who were big on education. Your grandfather was also an autodidact—I guess it runs in the family. He purchased a set of encyclopaedias, planning to read from A-Z while he minded the store. So the wall was lined with boxes of encyclopaedias he agreed to store until the buyers picked them up. All that fine paper only accelerated the fire and flames exploded like napalm. The whole building and the fuels pumps burned to the ground, but it was his store. He was so fed up and disgusted he didn’t care. He had insurance, but he never expected the insurer would pay. In fact, they sent a vice-president from Winnipeg to Red Lake to hand him a check for a hundred thousand dollars. There was a grip and grin picture of the check presentation, featured prominently on the front page of the weekly community newspaper. The fire and killings, which were ruled self-defence, only enhanced his standing in the community, but some local liberals, city slickers, and residents of the reserve accused him of racism. They didn’t know he could have held a status card; he was a native by today’s standards, a half-breed by the standards of the sixties, half Ojibway Indian and half Scots, born on the reserve of Lac Seul and raised in nearby Sioux Lookout, the son of a Hudson’s Bay store manager and a native seamstress.”
“I hate to digress,” Durrell interjected, “but how does somebody with a Scots and Indian background end up with a name like Salvatore?”
“I was born and raised on the Lac Seul reservation, near Sioux Lookout. The doctor who delivered me worked at the Sioux Lookout General Hospital, but the nurse there said not to bother, by the time the ambulance drove to Lac Seul reservation, my mother would be dead trying to deliver me. I was a breech birth, my legs coming out first, the umbilical cord tangled, and mother was wracked by seizures and extremely high blood pressure. The doctor came from an Italian background, though, and believed in that outdated concept famiglia. So he cycled from Sioux Lookout to Hudson, a distance of fifteen miles, with his medicine bag strapped to his bicycle. Thirsty, he stopped at the liquor store, the only store open in Hudson, and bought a bottle of wine, alcoholic beverages being the only drink readily available, unless he sipped the cool clean water straight from the lake at the roadside. He cycled down a long bush road to the reserve, took a canoe with a fishing guide across the lake, and helped carry it on his shoulders across a portage. Then they paddled across a bay in Lac Seul to my mother’s cabin in Whitefish Bay. He helped deliver me and saved mom’s life and, by the same token, mine. The doctor’s name was Salvatore and naturally it became mine. I’ve heard the story many times, with only slight variations, and I’ve heard similar stories involving others he cured and rescued I’ve trouble disbelieving them. They should erect a statue of him in town.”
“Anyway, it sounds like more than grandpa went off the deep end,” Lisa said.
“People in town didn’t understand your grandfather always thought, as a matter of survival, about looking out for number one, and that was him. In fact, if you paddled together and the canoe flipped, with only one lifejacket or buoy, he would beat you with his fists or the paddle for it, unless you were a woman or child. That’s almost how the struggle ensued when he drowned.
“The money and gold bar in the burnt safe survived, of course; the safe was fireproof. He left the safe in the office of his new store, which he rebuilt on the same site, but he never disturbed the safe or its contents, a reminder of that horrific event, which he came to regret, especially when he learned his assailants were striking gold miners with children. Yes, one dodged the draft but later did a tour of duty in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, but he learned the hard way a war medal can’t buy you groceries. Still, your grandfather rebuilt the store from scratch, bigger and better than the original, with the very first upright freezer in Red Lake.”
“Then this is blood money.”
“This is legitimate business profit and your grandpas’ savings.”
“Then grandpa died in a boating accident.”
“No, he got in a wrestling match with the fathers of one of his girlfriends from the nearby reserve. The old man wanted your grandfather to support the woman and her child.”
“So philandering runs in the family,” Durrell commented, offhand.
“I will not dignify that comment with a reply. Your grandfather and the woman’s father were drinking beer and wound up fighting over the identity of the child’s father. The boat rocked and a struggle ensued. Dad tripped, fell overboard into the lake, and drowned.”
“Then this is blood money.” Lisa reached into the duffel bag and expressed amazement at the worn, faded, aged Canadian currency her hands felt, including bundles of one, two, and even twenty-five dollar bills. “This cash—it’s old twenties and fifties, even vintage twos and ones.”
“Those old bills are probably collector’s items. If you found an honest and upright coin collector, you might be able to sell those one and two dollar bills and the other vintage denominations for a sizeable profit.”
“How am I supposed to take this to a bank? They’ll be suspicious; this money is worn and faded.”
“Just tell them the truth. You can pull it off; you are taking acting classes at Ryerson, aren’t you? I don’t even know if I can believe you anymore. Maybe you’re acting right now. Before you were studying journalism at Humber College, then television and radio broadcasting at Seneca College, then psychology at York University—”
Durrell, sitting across from their table, looked wide-eyed at the exchange and the barbs traded between father and daughter. As he listened closely as they continued to quarrel, he eyed the duffle bag, which felt suspiciously heavy. Did he have a shotgun or rifle in the bag as well?
“I actually studied social work at York University.”
“I can’t say your experience has instilled much faith on my part in the value of postsecondary education.”
“I want to find a fulfilling career, and Ryerson has the best acting school in Canada.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I’m worried this money is just for drugs, and I could use the money myself. I’m debating with myself over whether I should go to college or university as a mature student.”
“Dad, how can you talk that way? You’re just trying to annoy and anger me. You know I don’t do drugs and earned a diploma and degree already.”
“Then why aren’t you working?”
“I had to go through a gruelling admissions process to get admitted to Ryerson, which has the best acting school in Canada.”
“Come on, Lisa, let’s just leave.” Sitting at the table across from the quarrelling duo, Durrell reached for the duffel bag.
“Just wait a second, who the hell are you?”
“Dad, meet my friend, Durrell, like you and me, a small town boy from Cobalt, in Northern Ontario.”
“We’re from Red Lake, in Northwestern Ontario, the gold mining capital of the world, by way of Sioux Lookout and Lac Seul, and none of us are kids,” Salvatore countered.
“His grandfather played hockey for the Cobalt Silver Kings and his father played for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Durrell originally moved to Toronto to play junior hockey for the Oshawa Generals.”
Durrell gazed at Lisa as if she mentioned the unspeakable, the unmentionable. Meanwhile, Salvatore decided he wasn’t looking or speaking with Durrell and wouldn’t address him directly. “So I’m supposed to be awed by his lineage, playing hockey for the Oshawa Generals.”
“I actually quit the Oshawa Generals after only a season because they wanted a goon and a hitman. I wanted to help make plays, score goals, puck handle assists, and got tired of being bullied. I wanted to play hockey, not act as an enforcer, using my ice time to beat up an opposing player the coach targeted, like my father for the Leafs.”
“If his father played hockey for the Maple Leafs, why haven’t I heard of him? I’ve lived in Toronto before; I’ve been a Leafs fan and followed the team closely at times.”
“My father was an enforcer—he only played a few NHL games before he got in a fight in a bar in Montreal and accidentally killed a man.”
“Dad, you just want to argue with us.”
“Yes, I’m upset with you. You’re my daughter, and I want to help you pursue your career as a professional student, even though it against my better judgement, but money is tight. Now you want to make me broke and more self-sacrificing. I’ve already seen enough martyr parents in my Red Lake store; I used to sell them smokes all the time. Cigarettes was their medication; they didn’t have Prozac then. Sometimes they’d ask me advice or needed to talk. If I was giving advice now I’d say, ‘If they want to go to school, let they flip burgers for tuition money, and, see if you, a high school dropout, can get your GED or some formal schooling yourself, before you’re laid off from the gold mine.’”
Durrell seized the duffle bag, which felt surprisingly heavy, particularly since he expected it only contained cash.
“And he isn’t taking the money, friend or not.”
“I’d feel more comfortable with a bodyguard like him, if I have to handle so much cash.”
Salvatore pulled out the revolver from the inside breast pocket of his leather jacket and vaguely waved the muzzle in the direction of his daughter’s strongly built friend, in denim, a jean jacket and pants, and running shoes. “You told me this was for college.”
“Yes, but, if you gave me a bank draft, or even transferred the money to my account, I wouldn’t have to haul around cash. Hello, it’s 1996, there are computers and telephones.”
“Lisa, you understand your mother’s desire to ruin me financially and take every single penny I ever earned. It’s led to frozen and flagged bank accounts, so I’m forced to resort to schemes and money laundering to protect my own assets.” Her father waved the revolver, like a wild man, out of control; he figured intimidation might work in his favor.
“No, this money isn’t for him or any drug deals.” Salvatore gestured with the gun at the young man he perceived to be an interloper. When the barista saw the pistol, he forgot their friendship and intimacy with Salvatore, and ducked beneath the counter. Governed by fear, he sensed conflict brewing out of control, strong emotions seething beneath the surface, with no sign of de-escalation. The barista decided against calling the police, since he was young, black, and gay, and, in his experience, if there was a young black man the police were more biased against, it was a young gay black man. He put his hair, braided in cornrows, beneath the hood of her sweatshirt. He unbolted the back door and fled through the caged barricade to the back alley, with its barred windows, garbage bins, dumpsters, containers of recyclables, and graffiti cement and block walls.
Expecting minimal resistance, Durrell lunged at Salvatore. Then she threw herself between the two, trying to control the fight and struggle, but Salvatore’s finger pressed the grooved trigger. As he struggled with Durrell, she tried to break through the testosterone and pull the young man and middle-aged man apart, a bullet shot cracked the confines of the café and grazed Lisa’s arm before exploding, ricocheting, smashing a display of carafes, coffee percolators, mugs.
“I can’t believe it,” Lisa sobbed, in shock, as she gripped her bloodied arm. “My father shot me, my own father shot me.”
Salvatore snapped insistently, gasping and hissing fiercely through his clenched teeth, “Accidentally, accidently.” The two continued to wrestle and struggle, with Durrell grabbing his arm and shoulder, grappling with his forearm, and twisting Salvatore’s wrist. He struggled with him for control of the sidearm and turned the muzzle sideways, effectively aiming the revolver, at Salvatore’s torso. A shot exploded from the sidearm clenched in Salvatore’s trembling, weakening hands, around which Durrell’s stronger hands intertwined and locked. The bullet struck her father full force and at point blank range in the chest. Salvatore staggered around the café towards the counter and stumbled until he gripped the doorway, then collapsed against a wastebasket and utility pole bordering the sidewalk and narrow boulevard of Eglinton Avenue West. Astounded at the madness and rage that exploded into gunfire, Durrell seized the duffel bag, which he found suspiciously heavy. Upon examining her pale arm, he saw the bullet had grazed the flesh. When he saw the superficial nature of the injury, he tried to clean the wound with paper napkins, which he took from the dispenser, beside the packets of sugar and the bottles of honey, cream, and milk. He seized Lisa’s hand and forced her along, as she tried to check on the condition of her father. Dragging her along, he fled in a panic along the sidewalk of Eglinton Avenue West. Carrying the leather duffle bag, slung by a braided belted strap over his shoulder, he moved quickly, in a fright. Lisa worried about the condition of her father, as they fled, hurrying along the sidewalk. Durrell moved ahead, dragging her along Eglinton Avenue West, cursing, saying he never intended for any violence to occur, he hadn’t even wanted to join her in meeting her father because he knew her character and knew the encounter would turn confrontational. Some object in the leather bag bounced against Durrell’s side, hurting him. He wondered if the old guy stashed an old fashioned brick in the bag for protection.
Durrell impatiently urged Lisa to hurry, as they fled past the beauty salons and barbershops, a few of which were open at the late night hour. Durrell said first they should catch a cab and then considered public transit a better idea. Frenzied, he impulsively said the safest choice might be catching the next 63 Ossington at the Oakwood bus stop, before blending in with the crowds of commuters in Eglinton West station. Lisa realized the pair were fugitives, escaping the scene of violence, eluding capture by law enforcement. She flung his hand away as he tried to guide her across the white lines on the black asphalt to the bus shelter at Oakwood and Eglinton Avenue West.
He crossed the traffic intersection ahead of her, beckoned to her, and urged her to hurry from where he stood near the bus shelter. Worried over the fate of her father, she was distracted and gazed down in the direction of the cage, along Eglington Avenue and the sidewalk, cluttered with folded cardboard boxes, and garbage bags and bags of recyclables, where her father collapsed, where, she feared, her father might be dead or gravely injured, struggling to stay alive. When Durrell shouted at her to hurry, she was in the midst of a grim pause, and his loud voice aroused her from her torpor and distraction. She strode through the remaining distance in the crosswalk against a red light. When she saw the taxicab speeding into the intersection, she froze in her footsteps on the painted crosswalk, hypnotized by the headlights, ignoring traffic and pedestrian lights.
She stared into the eyes of the cabdriver, who, behind schedule, sped ahead to catch up on lost time. Worried about getting fired after he appeared late for his graveyard shift two nights running, the cabbie drove in a frantic hurry, obliviously bearing down on her. In the middle of the intersection, on a red light, before she reached the west side of the intersection, she was struck on the crosswalk by the speeding taxicab. Immobile, she lay on the asphalt. Durrell stood over her immobile body and tried to rouse some sign of life. The cabdriver, sought by immigration officers and scheduled for a court hearing, worried about being questioned by police while he was high on marijuana. He also feared deportation to Jamaica, where he feared a Kingston syndicate might target him for missing hashish he smuggled through Pearson Airport into Toronto. The cabbie thought he saw someone lending her aid, fled back into his orange and green taxi, and sped away.
Durrell stood over her prostate form on the street. While he didn’t want to leave her, she looked as if she was dead. He figured he could do nothing to help, and, if he contacted the authorities, didn’t want to face a murder rap when he tried to defend himself. As a colored man, he was tired of being scapegoated and figured he stood no chance against the police and the judicial system. He needed to look after himself for a change, instead of someone like Lisa. He took the duffle bag to the pay telephone outside the takeout pizza and chicken wings restaurant. He called 911 and asked for an ambulance to be sent to the intersection for a serious traffic accident. Then he put the duffle bag over his shoulders and hurried down Oakwood Avenue. When Durrell reached the next intersection, he saw a northbound public transit bus coming. He quickly crossed the street at the pedestrian crosswalk, and caught the bus, which drove north on Oakwood along its route past the accident scene, where a crowd of concerned motorists and pedestrians gathered and tried to help. The city public transit bus inched along its route on Eglinton Avenue West towards the subway station. Further down the avenue, cruisers, sirens screaming, lights flashing, rushed and swarmed the scene of the shooting from the nearby Metro Toronto Police, 13th Division headquarters. Durrell feared the bus would be stopped, but the driver only paused intermittently for congested traffic and the bottleneck of police cruisers before resuming his cruise along the usual route, along the avenue and into Eglinton West subway terminal. Durrell hurried down the escalators to the southbound platform and anxiously paced on the brick floor beneath the lights and low industrial ceiling for the subway train. The next train transported him downtown, and he briskly strode to his apartment, which he locked with the dead bolt and chain. Short of breath, sweating, his eyes bloodshot, wide, he dumped the contents of the duffel bag on his mattress and stared intently at the stacks of worn cash, with its musty smell. In amazement, he started counting the vintage Canadian currency, and then abandoned the effort, as his exasperation with the small denominations, the one and two dollar bills, and the sums and numbers grew. Then he gazed at the shiny, glistening brick, a gold bar, stamped four hundred ounces, Royal Canadian Mint, fine gold 999.9.
“400 ounces, Royal Canadian Mint, fine gold 999.9,” he whispered, almost afraid he’d be overheard. He lifted and raised the gold bar like a dumbbell, gauging its weight and heft, flexing his muscular arm. “400 ounces!” he whooped. “Royal. Canadian. Mint. Fine. Gold. 999.9.”
Born and raised in rural Cobalt, in Northern Ontario, he struggled to find his niche in Toronto. Earlier, he quit the Oshawa Generals in a storm and a fury, smashing and breaking a batch of brand new hockey sticks in the dressing room. He dropped out of Saint Michael’s College, after revealing he had an affair with a teacher, subsequently forced to quit. He worked at a succession of odd jobs, including telemarketing, pizza delivery, and door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson, but now he figured he was home free and believed he made it. Maybe he could start a fitness gym, attend community college to train for a trade like welding or electrician or a paramedic, or try to apply as a mature student to university.
He literally slept with the gold and cash, but, plagued with doubt and guilt, his conscience started to nag him. He struggled to comprehend his rationale for abandoning Lisa. Because she dumped him? He learned through articles in the Toronto Sun newspaper, which he picked up in a subway train, a tabloid he usually avoided because he thought the coverage, especially the salacious crime reports, was sensationalistic, biased, and right wing, she was being treated in the trauma ward of the Mount Sinai Hospital. Her father barely survived the gunshot injury to the chest. In critical condition, Salvatore was being treated in the intensive care unit of Mount Sinai Hospital.
He called the hospital and asked the switchboard operator. “Are they under police guard?”
“Why would they be under police guard?”
He called the nursing station at the intensive care unit and asked the nursing shift supervisor if Salvatore would survive.
“The patient is in critical condition in the intensive care unit. You tell me.”
Calling the main switchboard gain, he asked to speak with Lisa. Over the telephone in her private room her father’s insurance company provided she insisted Durrell visit. She tried to reassure him he wasn’t under suspicion; the police figured she was the victim of a hit and run driver and suspected his father was attacked by a random mugger, possibly a crack addict. The only crime for which he was guilty in her mind was cowardice, but make no doubt about it, Lisa told him over the telephone, he was a coward.
Stung by her words, he decided he needed to confess, come clean with her, and assume responsibility for his actions. He decided to surprise her by returning the gold bar. After he asked her a few vague, but probing questions, he assumed she still hadn’t the slightest knowledge of the gold brick. He placed the gold bar in her father’s dufflebag, which impressed him even more when he realized it was made mostly from genuine leather. He also stuffed the larger denominations of worn, aged cash, which he neatly counted and bundled with elastic bands from the office supplies store across the street from his apartment, into the bag, which had adjustable straps and buckles that allowed it to be carried as a backpack.
Durrell also brought Lisa chocolate and flowers, which he bought from the office supplies store. She felt he must have yearned for penance and repentance; she couldn’t remember the last time he gave her, or anyone, chocolate and flowers.
Carrying the duffle bag over his broad shoulders, Durrell took the subway train downtown. After he climbed the stairs and escalator out of Dundas subway station, he strode along University Avenue towards Mount Sinai hospital. As he walked south, a thin reedy young man with a cigarette stuck between his teeth, sprinted towards him at a furious pace. Instead of noticing he was running straight towards him he admired his athletic prowess and was distracted by how graceful and skilled a sprinter he appeared, even while he was smoking a cigarette. The reedy man collided with him and seized the duffle bag. Durrell went crashing into a newspaper vending machine, and scraped his knee on the pavement, but he quickly recovered his senses, tossed the chocolates, kicked aside the flowers, and went after the young man running with Lisa’s father’s duffel bag. He chased his assailant along University Avenue, down Dundas Street, through Chinatown, but by the time he reached Queen Street West, he lost sight of him. He searched the alleys and back streets around the broadcast studios, shops, restaurants, fashion stores, and cafes near Queen Street West, near University Avenue and as far as Spadina Avenue and the fashion district and Chinatown, but he could find no sign of his assailant or the bag. Originally, he hoped for some reconciliation with Lisa, and redemption and forgiveness, but now he felt all hope was lost, including the gold bar and the cash. He returned to walk back to Mount Sinai Hospital, where they commiserated, and, agnostics and atheists to a T, prayed with a visiting priest for the survival of her father.