By now, I knew I was being tailed. When the black BMW sedan followed my Civic onto the Don Valley Parkway, I ignored it. When the same car was still behind me as I exited onto Highway 401, I began to wonder. When I turned north onto Victoria Park Avenue and the BMW was still back there, I was sure. Now and then, the driver of the black sedan let another vehicle get between his car and mine, but he wasn't working too hard at being inconspicuous.
It was a July morning in Toronto, warm and sunny with just a hint of the stifling heat that was coming. The morning rush hour was in full swing and the traffic lanes around me were jammed with vehicles driven by sleepy, surly people hurrying to jobs they hated. A few hours from now, the same people would rush home to spouses who bored them and to children they hardly knew. Four years ago, I lived that kind of life. I don't miss it all that much.
There were two men in the car following mine. The sunlight glinting from the black sedan's windshield kept me from seeing them very well, but I could tell that both were Caucasian and wearing sunglasses. If they were cops, they probably weren't locals. I've dealt with the Metropolitan Toronto Police so often that I have a sixth sense about their presence. If they were mob guys, then I was in more trouble than I knew.
When I stopped for a red light at Sheppard Avenue, I took a writing pad and a ballpoint pen from my car's glove compartment. Before the stoplight went green, I read the BMW's license number in the rear view mirror and wrote the digits onto the pad. Now, I just needed a chance to lose these clowns. I turned east onto Huntingwood Avenue and looked for an opportunity.
The Huntingwood area is mostly residential, with a few small office complexes allowed to cater to cleaner businesses, like office supplies companies and electronics firms. The street itself is straight and open, with no blind curves or alleyways that I could use as hiding places.
A red pickup truck with metal ladders strapped to its sides turned out of a side street and pulled in between my Civic and the black sedan. Ahead, the tracks for the GO commuter train crossed the road at street level. As I approached the tracks, bells rang and railway crossing lights began flashing red, warning that a train was coming. Here was my chance.
By law, I had to stop and wait for the train to pass. Instead, I pressed down on the gas pedal. My Honda shot across the tracks and a heavy metal anti-collision barrier dropped into place just a hair behind my car's rear bumper. The red pickup truck braked to a stop at the railway barriers and the black BMW sedan was caught behind it. The sedan driver pounded his horn in frustration as a green and white commuter train flashed past, carrying a crowd of workers downtown to the air conditioned torture chambers they called offices.
The passing train hid my car from the black sedan for about one minute. That was all I needed. By the time the train had gone, I'd turned off Huntingwood and was out of sight down one of the side roads. I drove slowly for several blocks along winding residential streets that were lined by leafy trees, tidy lawns and picture book houses.
The men in the black car hadn't seen me turn off, so they had no idea where I'd gone. I parked my Civic at the curb outside of a brown brick primary school and sat there, listening to jazz on the car radio. Stan Getz cast a spell with his saxophone as I watched young children slouching their way reluctantly into class. Before I moved on, I wanted to be sure that my buddies in the BMW had given up on looking for me. I pulled my cellphone out of my shirt pocket and looked up the number I needed from its call directory. After pressing the autodialer button, I waited while I heard the ring signal sound three times.
"Driver And Vehicle Licensing Office," said a woman's voice.
"Let me speak to Dave Archer, please."
"Just a moment."
After a pause, I heard the rasp of Dave's two pack per day baritone.
"Yeah? Archer here."
"Dave, it's Liam Slater. I want you to trace a license plate number for me."
"Jesus, Slater! Stop calling me at work like this. You'll get me fired."
"It's worth fifty dollars."
I heard Dave sigh and I knew he was hooked.
"All right. What's the plate number?"
I read out the digits that I'd copied from the black sedan. Dave put down the phone, then came back a couple of minutes later.
"Where'd you get that license number, Slater?"
"From a car that was following me."
"Well, our computer files say the plates were issued for a black BMW 3 Series Executive Sedan. The car's registered to a Stardust Florists, at two-fifty Rainbow Road in Brampton. Somebody screwed that up."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I happen to live out that way, Slater. I've driven Rainbow Road plenty of times. There's a hockey arena at that address, not a flower shop."
"Are you sure about that?"
"What if it wasn't a mistake, Dave? Suppose somebody gave a bogus address."
"Then maybe you're playing with some heavy dudes, Buddy. Better watch your back. Remember that you owe me fifty bucks."
Dave hung up and I put my cellphone away. I felt a chill down my back despite the warm sunlight. Who was following me and what did they want? Right now, I had no time to find out. I started the Honda's engine, pulled away from the curb and drove back onto Victoria Park Avenue. Heading north, I tried to maneuver through the traffic as quickly as I could. I had an audience with The Queen Bee and I was late already.
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