Monday, 18 May 2015

Was Here, Chapter 1

Merritt Toogood knew that with the sun in his skin and the wild in his hair no one would sit near him. Plus, he probably smelled like nature—his own, human, and the earth’s. The handle of his magnifying glass was pointing from his breast pocket to his armpit or maybe to the thought that was hovering eighteen inches outside his head, the thought he was trying to coax into the cluttered confines of his cranium. He’d come straight to the coffee shop from the park where it happened. Who would kill a girl who wasn’t of age? Who would kill a person at all?
Someone who seemed to know Ian, the shop’s owner, walked in and started making jokes about baseball, then about teenagers. Merritt wanted to lay his forearm across the joker’s chest and run him back into a wall, then, inches from his face, growl, “Who jokes at a time like this?” Or maybe, “Don’t you read the news?” Instead Merritt sipped his coffee and pulled out his notebook.
In True Detective, Rustin Cohle had that big sketchbook, and at times like this Merritt wished he could afford something more than his three-packs of pocket-sized, spiral-bound lined paper so waxy as to be nearly pencil-proof. He tried to read his ghostly notes, but he was too tired.
They’d announced about the girl on CP24 the afternoon of the day before. Of course, there was police tape and police officers and detectives all over where she was found. He went and searched for clues in the playground fashioned after a castle, his keychain flashlight—a gift from his eldest daughter—illuminating the scrawls of graffiti. If they’d published the girl’s name he’d know better which messages were clues. Still he examined them carefully under his magnifying glass. He’d read that the girl was Native, so he was carefully combing for anything racist, but if it was there it wasn’t explicit enough for him to see. He did find that everyone, it seems, “was here” at some point or another. Hate and violence were all over, too. Also, declarations of love and allusions to sex acts, incantations of lonely, frustrated virgins who hung out after dark drinking beer, smoking dope, hoping and drawing geometrical, crude genitals.
“Mr. Toogood?” He shined his flashlight towards the voice as if he needed to see her to know it was Detective Julie MacDonald. “Hi Merritt. You go home and rest. We got it under control.”
“What was her name, Detective?”
“You know you shouldn’t be here, Merritt. Some of the boys find you suspicious.”
He turned off his flashlight and walked with petulantly slow and heavy steps down from a balustrade, over several landings and through an opening in the castle’s wall. “Good night, Detective.”
“We’ll see you, Mr. Toogood.”
Up some eroding steps were the night-dark woods. Merritt walked around there with his flashlight and magnifying glass, scanning every inch of ground and finding last year’s acorns and leaves and garbage that he’d carefully itemized in faint pencil. He’d found nothing of interest by the time Detective MacDonald called “Merritt!” again and he turned off the light and sat down in one of the conical wooden forts scattered throughout the woods south of the castle playground. They recalled for him the structure of teepees, made by maybe kids playing, or people squatting, or the protesters who flew a Mohawk Warrior flag and claimed that the hill across the runoff pond from these woods was a burial mound. It was in one of these structures that he waited out the rest of the night. If he did sleep it wasn’t restful. Daylight found the police still around the crime scene so he’d come here, to the coffee shop, on his way to see the Holly Jones mural in Sorauren Park. He put his notebook back in his pocket and took a last sip of coffee.
He sat on a bench across from the empty basketball court and looked at the mural. The woman pictured was not the ten year-old girl who’d been kidnapped and killed. Whether the artist knew it or not he was drawing an older Holly, a woman the girl never had a chance to become, a woman who watched, larger than life, as kids tried to find the strength to throw a basketball as high as the rim, as employees from the Film Buff tried to dribble away night shifts in summer sun and heat, as dads used naptime’s freedom to pull muscles while trying to reclaim some cobwebbed high school athleticism. As Merritt sat in all his terrible sadness. What a fucking world.
“What’s good, Merritt?”
“Wish I knew. How are you, Octopus?”
Merritt’s friend rubbed the baroque cephalopod with a screaming beak scratched into his skin. “I’ve got steaming heaps of bad news in me today.”
“You hear about the girl in High Park?”
“Her murder, yes. It’ll be a week or two before she gets explained away by the papers.” The feather on the underside of his forearm danced as he rubbed at the badlands between his eyebrows.
“Think they’ll find the killer?”
“Indifference is all around. Too easy to find.”
Merritt indicated the mural of future/never Holly. “Same thing that killed her?”
“Some of the same things. Plus some others. What killed this recent girl is between the lines of the history books and in the heart of the Prime Minister.” Octopus took a deep breath and tilted his head.
“But the person? Will they find him?”
“If they look hard enough.”
“Will they look hard enough?”
“Ah.” Octopus winced. “Only white folks are guaranteed an individual killer. Or at least an earnest search for one.”
“Will we search? For the man who killed this new woman?”
“When they take down the police tape, sure, but we don’t know what we’re looking for.”
“Except in a broad, social sense.” Merritt thought of Detective MacDonald and wondered if she slept when she worked on a case like this because she did know what to look for and her dreams must be a tangle of loose threads. Merritt hoped she found the person that committed this murder. “Should we drink a beer, Octopus?”
“It’ll only make more space for the anger.”
“No then.”
“You ought to try and get some sleep, Merritt. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
Toronto, May 2015

Emoji sequence: Ian McPhedran, musician behind Bodies That Matter and co-owner of Extra Butter on Roncesvalles.
Story: Lee Sheppard.

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