Chapter 2: A Walk in the Rain
At about the same time, a continent away in Toronto, Canada, the sun had set on a warm spring evening night. Walking slowly on a damp bicycle trail, in the artificial glow of the light post brightly reflecting on the black and smooth asphalt, a teenage boy enjoyed the quiet time alone returning home, engraving in his memory the events that just took place less than half an hour before. Steven carried on his shoulder a decently heavy backpack containing all the electronic tools needed to perform the most important task of a plan he had set in motion months earlier. Tonight, everything worked better than he had ever hoped. It seemed that Mother Nature herself was even on his side, the short break in the weather had made the job much easier and even enjoyable. His adrenalin level already returned to normal, his hands stopped shaking and his heart resumed its proper pace, no longer beating like a drum at a parade. Taking this slow walk under a completely covered sky as a light drizzle fell on his short, black hair also helped make this evening one to remember. He felt that for the rest of his life, walking in a warm evening after the rain would forever bring him to this moment in time, and he smiled bowing his head and shaking it slowly from side to side in disbelief. What he had just achieved seemed impossible months earlier and now it was done. His only regret was that he could never tell anyone about it; even worse, the last task he would have to perform before returning home would be to destroy all proof that he had ever done it at all.
He would likely finish late at night or early in the morning depending on how you look at it, even though it was in the middle of the week, but it didn’t matter to him or to his step-father who
was sleeping like a bear. As for his mother, she was at work, cleaning offices somewhere downtown. Where—he never cared to ask. He didn’t have to wake up early either since he had left school like almost half the boys of his generation, but he didn’t see himself as a rebel teenager or a high school dropout like his friends and family called him. It was just that school to him was boring and rather useless. All the limited things he was taught in school, he could read on his computer or from those books he bought in bulk at the local used bookstore. The worst, to him, was that he had been forced to take computer classes when he could easily teach them or take French courses when he spoke the language without an accent as opposed to his teacher who couldn’t speak two sentences without making one mistake, which did not help convince him to continue.
He had quit for almost two years without any arguments from his parents, a behaviour he had taken as a total lack of care and good parenting. Of course, he appreciated the absence of resistance when he announced the decision to them, but he had expected at least a debate or to be asked what he would do without a diploma in a world where education meant more certainty of employment and a brighter future. The only person who had refused to drop the matter was his girlfriend, but she wasn’t really his “girlfriend” fin the traditional sense of it. Stephanie was in college and often brought him copies of notes she had taken and even a letter from the director of the adult school in her high-class neighbourhood, saying that if he wanted to take an exam, he should at least get his high school diploma and he would be welcomed to register, but Steven was busy, really too busy.
In a society where people go to school, find a job, get married and have on average 1.6 kids, buy a house with a white fence, mow
their lawn and pay the mortgage until they retire or until death, as the word mort (death) and gage (promise), or in plain English, promise to pay till death, and then die, hopefully of old age because it is the natural circle of life in the developed countries–it didn’t help Steven with his out-of-the-box lifestyle. He spent most of his time at home on his computer and on the Internet, a bittersweet technology that killed his childhood business; his Bulletin Board System or if you prefer, his six phone lines computer where people were so happy to pay sixty dollars a month to login and download pirated software. Of course with the Internet, everything became free and the sweet thing was that you didn’t have to hang up and dial another computer to change site; everything was there, free for the taking. But Steven liked that new utopia nonetheless, a utopia of free thinkers that offered their time for free, the sites were free, that virtual world was free. At least it was, before the big corporations, spammers and skimmers took it over. To most people, spending days and nights on the Internet and having clients come to his parents’ house from time to time to buy CDs of pirated software collections was neither work nor school. But to Steven, it was the Klondike Gold Rush all over again.
The week had passed rather uneventfully. Steven had given his regular classes at the local martial art school teaching the kids of his poor neighbourhood to be disciplined and, more importantly, to stay out of trouble. On Friday, he took time planning a nice weekend to celebrate and invited Stephanie to spend Saturday night with him in a beautiful suite on the 27th floor of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel downtown with a view of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower. The room was pricy, but it was well worth it. He was not buying the room time but instead, the special feelings and the sweet memories he had as he walked in the large amber marble lobby for the first time, and the first night he spent there with a girl. He had returned to the hotel many times since and that feeling had never died, although today his feelings were rather mixed. He was unsure if it was a desire to skip all romances and formalities and just enjoy a good moment in bed with Stephanie, or just the euphoria of this week’s events resurfacing as it had periodically all week. So, he did the only gentlemanly thing to do and pet Stephanie’s long brown hair, then turned slightly left and placed a knee on the thick, carpeted floor, plunged his hand in his right pocket and extracted a golden piece of metal. Stephanie looked at him with an adoring smile as he used it to open the mini-bar refrigerator. Then, he stood back up and started releasing slowly the cork on a cool mini bottle of Moët et Chandon champagne, rose up and poured two glasses of the golden and bubbly liquid, toasted to the weekend ahead and smiled thinking of his night in the rain. Stephanie finished her glass, dropped one of the many pillows on the floor and got down on her knees in her turn, but unlike him, she wanted nothing from the mini-bar.
Since he broke up with his ex-girlfriend six months earlier and Stephanie’s boyfriend was starting his military service on the East Coast of Canada, they had started seeing each other more frequently. Although they seemed to connect on a sexual and intellectual level as much as young adults could, they had never spared any efforts to be romantic and always kept the fire between them burning. But despite all this, the words I love you had never crossed their lips since Steven didn’t see her that way and Stephanie, out of respect for her cuckold boyfriend in Halifax.
They spent the evening walking on the boardwalk and talking for hours as they often did. On Sunday morning, they woke up together and went upstairs in the rotating restaurant for a very delicious brunch. Since Stephanie was still attending college, she insisted to return home early that afternoon to study and complete some homework. She drove Steven back home in her little sporty Isuzu Impulse. Before getting out of the car, he kissed her and took a long breath of her freshly clean hair. As the smell of strawberries filled his nostrils, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the moment; it was his habit to help him remember special events.
On Monday, Steven awoke with a snap—someone was ringing the doorbell, which sounded more like a factory buzzer. He turned to look at his clock and saw that it was only 6:20 in the morning. As usual, his brain started racing with one hundred questions and analyzed every possibility, a behaviour he couldn't help himself from having even during innocent walks to a park or in a shopping mall if something didn’t look kosher to him. He was dismissing scenarios in his mind like people crossing over the items on their grocery list after putting them in their shopping carts, but at lightning speed. That can't be my mother forgetting her keys again, he thought, it is too early and she is still at work. It can’t be the mailman, too early for that too. As the list of possibilities shortened, he started feeling intense nervousness gripping him like someone with a guilty conscience or a criminal living on borrowed time. It took a few more seconds for his curiosity to overcome his fear and he got out of bed, put his bathrobe on and went to the door. Pressing the buzzer to unlock the entrance door, he waited for the door downstairs to click open and it soon did. The corridor was at an angle, which made it impossible for him to see the front door from his position on the second floor. He heard footsteps and people chatting in low voices. To prevent them from knocking downstairs and waking up the landlord, Steven told them to come upstairs directly.
The figure of a man dressed in a black suit appeared as he turned the corner and slowly climbed up the stairs. He stopped on the middle plateau and smiled at Steven, then climbed two more steps to allow his partner to join him. She was about forty years old and, by the looks of it, not in peak fitness condition. She was very fat in fact and breathed heavily as someone who had just finished running a marathon. She was dressed sort of old-fashioned in a long dark blue dress that extended well below her knees, which reminded him of an old primary school teacher he once had. In her hand, she carried a book and under her arm was a big beach bag-style purse more suited for a kid delivering newspapers, he thought.
The man started talking first, likely to allow his partner to breathe. “How are you this fine morning, I’m Elder Smith and this is Sister Carter, we were wondering if you had heard of Jesus Christ and the Mormon Bible?”
Steven felt a sign of relief going through his body; they were clearly not detectives coming to question him on last week's events. Being in a poor neighbourhood, he knew he was in prime missionary territory. Very often, religious organizations sent representatives to convince the locals that their belief systems were flawed, resulting in their ongoing financial problems. If they would just read their flyers, they would see that whatever this new missionary’s religion or cult was, it would save them from the abyss and their lives of wants and sins.
“Of course I've heard of the Mormon Bible! You guys gave me one a few months ago during your last visit. I like it a lot actually,” replied Steven, smiling.
“I’m really happy to hear that, what good has it done for you?” asked Smith, the look of approval beaming on his face.
“It totally cured my neck pain,” answered Steven rather truthfully.
“And how did it accomplish that? Was it through prayers or did it lift all your worries allowing you to relax in the bliss of our Lord?” asked the woman, finally finding enough air to speak between heavy breaths and smiling, knowing that the battle was generally half won after that.
“No, it was actually much more subtle than that! You see, I have been sitting in front of my computer every day, most of the time for long hours without pauses to stretch and my head was always leaning downward a little to look at the screen, pulling at my neck muscles, so I placed your bible underneath the monitor. Now behold, I have no more neck pains!” Praise the lord! But that he didn’t say as he was trying to do everything possible to keep a straight face, happy of his repartee.
“Are you mocking us young man?” asked the man with visible annoyance. “Religion and the belief in the divine is the cornerstone of our civilization; Mormon missionaries around the world are helping more people than any nonbelievers ever did.”
At that statement, Steven didn’t answer and kept his thoughts to himself; he didn’t want to indulge them. Mormons are like fast-growing trees, taking roots very fast if encouraged.
“Maybe you can take this brochure and share it with your family?” the man proposed.
“Guys, no more flyers please, but if you care, I have a book that you might want to read?” Steven asked, knowing he wouldn’t have to bother to get it off his shelf as these people were there to sell, not to buy.
“Do you at least believe in a superior being?” the woman asked, knowing that if at least he believed in God, her training would kick-in. She had all the tools to take apart other religions and convince believers to join them; the Headquarters in Utah had made sure of that. But if she was facing an atheist, that would be a different beast to tackle. Her formidable courses on the world’s religions had allowed her to demolish the beliefs of people in their religions and brought them to the Mormons, but she had never gotten high marks in non-believers 101. None of the Elders had.
“Well, I can say for certain that I believe in only one less God than you do, does that help?”
“Young man...” started the woman again but was interrupted.
“Sorry guys, but I need to go and format some floppies, take care and thanks for stopping by,” snorted Steven and, without waiting for a reply, he closed the door on them but remained closely behind, curious to hear what they would do next. Surely enough they knocked on the door downstairs, but nobody answered and they left.
Steven took a quick shower, made himself a bagel sandwich and dressed up. Being a volunteer martial arts teacher at the local Karate school, he was slim and very fit. He also realized early on in his life that dressing properly (with nice expensive pants, shirt and shiny leather shoes) had an impact on people’s minds. At fifteen years old, he had walked to several car dealerships along the main boulevard near his house and managed to test drive at least one new car at almost every garage. Even when they requested a driver license which he didn’t have at the time, he would tell them that he had forgotten his wallet at the Hugo Boss store or a high-class restaurant he knew. The ruse had always worked in combination with a double-breasted suit and self-confidence, which he was in no shortage of. Instinctively, he had understood that dressing for success was the key to get everything you wanted as a teenager and a two-day growth of facial hair to hide the baby face wasn’t hurting either. His signature piece was a two-thousand-dollar Rado watch during outings, but at night and during ‘work’ he preferred wearing an advanced Suunto computer watch. Now, work was over and today, after giving his morning class, he would go shopping for a new computer.
Leaving the house, he said hello to Tik who was sitting on the balcony despite the early hours, as he always did, everyday, summer or winter, always at the same hours like clockwork. Tik, his landlord’s son, always sat in the same plastic chair and greeted everyone entering his field of vision. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. Tik, of course was his nick name, the oldest of five children and the shame of his father. He was a “retard” as the neighbours liked to put it, but Steven didn’t know really what he was: “Strange” he had thought at first—“not wired right” more likely. Functional autistic was the medical term he was once told but had forgotten. But one thing Steven knew was that Tik had a memory that would give his new Pentium a run for its money. Tik knew all the birthdays of everyone he had ever asked and asking he was, without shame. He also had the ability to remember almost word by word all three newspapers he was reading every morning in all three languages: English, Italian and French. He spoke them without an accent, except with his own perhaps, the typical Tik laughing accent. If it had not been for his skeleton look that reminded Steven of those starving people on television, the weak handshake and that laughter stereotypically associated with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Tik could have passed for normal in a good day.
Steven always took a few minutes to discuss the news with him, he never ignored Tik and always tried to engage him to think of what he could have become if he had not been born under the wings of an overprotective family. During one of these discussions, he thought he had understood Tik’s disease and he had tried to help him since. It happened last summer, they were sitting on the front balcony and Steven asked him how deep the RMS Titanic had sunk, out of curiosity. Of course, Tik answered with outmost exactitude—12,467 feet—and would have said it in metres had he been asked. Then, a minute later, Steven asked him how deep the deepest ocean was and Tik answered after thinking for a few seconds as he franticly rubbed his hands on his shoulders, a nervous tic he had when he didn’t know the answer of a question by heart and had to guess or think logically about it. He finally brought his hands down and answered that he was sure the ocean was no deeper than a few hundred feet. Steven had tried to make him realize that the ocean couldn’t be shallower than at least the depth at which the Titanic sunk, but to no avail. He never brushed the subject again for fear of insulting the guy.
After a minute of chatting, Steven took Tik’s cold and bony outstretched hand and shook it to Tik’s delight, triggering his usual laughter. As Steven made his way down to the last remaining stairs separating the house from the newest paved sidewalk, he looked around at the row of red brick homes and felt that perhaps it would be a good day to leave that deceptively clean and well tended ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless. He dismissed the thought as he walked toward his car, an old black Hyundai Pony shit-box. The original light grey was now spray painted with five cans of paint. It would have likely required ten or twenty to do a passable job and hide the rust, but Steven didn’t care; that car suited the purpose of transporting him from point A to point B and, more importantly, it fitted right in with the neighbourhood and wasn’t attracting any attention, at least not to his “business.” When he needed to appear rich to impress, Toronto was in no shortage of taxis, town cars and special limousines, all of them accepting cash, mostly tax free and left no trace.
As he was approaching the car, he noticed something peculiar: The rear passenger door on the driver’s side was open and somebody seemed to be searching for something on the backseat. Slowing his pace, he called loud enough to attract attention from the people around and said “Hey! What are you doing in my car?”
Slowly as if without a care in the world, a man dressed in a green overcoat extracted his head slowly and unfolded himself. Steven, being 174 centimetres tall, had to look up to see the man’s face now standing less than a metre in front of him. He was at least taller than him by a full head and Steven instantly noticed something on his chest that generated goose bumps on his arms and raised the hair at the back of his neck—a police badge.
“Steven Mitchell, I presume? I'm Sergeant Detective Allen of the Toronto Police Service and this is Constable Lambert,” Allen said while looking over Steven’s head.
Steven turned around on his heels and came face-to-face with a police officer in full blue uniform standing at a little bit of an angle, almost in a fighting position, with a pair of Smith and Wesson handcuffs in his hand. He was also tall as police officers often were, he thought. His heart was beating very rapidly now; he knew that this time, being an adult in the eyes of the law, the consequences would be more serious and that, sorry your Honour and I won’t do it again, wouldn’t cut it this time. More surprising to him than how the situation presented itself was that his first thought went to his friend Stephanie and whether or not he could use his phone call to explain why he wouldn’t be able to see her tonight.
The Constable asked him very politely to turn around and, with practiced hands, placed the handcuff around his wrists.
“Are they too tight?” Constable Lambert asked with genuine concern.
Steven nodded and the Constable adjusted the cuffs slightly. Continuing his routine, he asked if Steven would rather have his rights read aloud in French or English as it was often the custom in Canada to prevent offenders from using the excuse that they had not understood their rights because they were read to them in English while they were French-Canadians. Taking a card from his pocket, the Constable read to Steven his rights and placed him on the backseat of an unmarked police vehicle.
“Sorry Constable Lambert, what am I being arrested for?” asked Steven with a trembling voice.
As if you don't already know. “You’re being arrested for selling stolen goods. We have a warrant to search your car as well,” answered Constable Lambert, not asking if Steven would have liked to see it. “But you will be at the police station soon enough and there you will be able to write a deposition and release your burden.”
On the backseat of the car, Steven felt the handcuffs squeezing his wrists, the cold metal hurting his bones and squeezing his skin as he leaned against the backseat, but the pain soon disappeared as he went deep in his thoughts, trying to make sense of what Constable Lambert had just told him. Thinking hard, the voice inside his head was saying “The hell I will write a confession, especially for a crime I did not commit. I may be making my money with pirated illegal software, but I have not sold any stolen goods; that’s for sure. What does he think I am, a goddamn thief?”
Meanwhile, Sergeant Allen had completed his search and returned to sit on the front passenger seat of the unmarked police car. Turning to face his suspect on the backseat, he looked at Steven for a few long seconds and said, “You will be happy to know that our search was quite fruitful.”
“Yeah sure, I just had my car cleaned yesterday and there is nothing in it besides my hacker’s survival kit in the trunk and everything in the bag is mainly old stuff from the garage and stuff I bought in all legality at Canadian Tire and Walmart. Also, since I cross the United States border from time to time, I have all the receipts for that shit in the glove compartment,” Steven thought, but didn’t say as he looked through the window, anxious to see if any of the neighbours had seen him and would start gossiping about him being arrested in broad day light.