CHAPTER 2: A DAY AT THE RACES
Thom and I arrived downtown around noon and parked in the closest Green P we could find. We had time to sit down for a quick lunch at the Pig and Pint, a small pub we frequent when we’re in the city. We enjoyed the dark walnut walls, the leather seats, cracked from years of patronage, the smell of beer and wings, and the staff that have been there for years, not because they have to but because they love it. We sat in a booth near the front of the pub, looking out through the bay window at the passing hordes. There were so many people. Then, anyway.
We sat and ate, and discussed the usual birthday woes, reflecting on the aging process, and how outside of our 10-year-old brains and hearts there were 40-year-old bodies that frequently farted, ached, and betrayed our sense of how far we could run or how much we could lift. The real fact of the matter is that I felt better than I ever had in all my years, not necessarily physically, but in general. I was happy. Without the bullshit expectations and perceptions that accompanied youth, I was actually happy. It felt good.
Thom and I finished our unhealthy but damn tasty lunch, and walked over to the theatre. Bloor St was bustling with people, rushing in and out of stores, laughing, kids skateboarding by us in a blur. The usual street kids were sitting against buildings asking for change, yet they wore nicer shoes than I do and had what appeared to be fully groomed and well-fed dogs, and at least $1000 worth of tattoos and piercings each. I could never understand that.
We arrived at the Bloor Cinema shortly before the festivities began, so I took the spare moment to call Diane and check in. She told me that Jordan went to daycare with none of the usual fuss of crying, kicking, and general mayhem that typically accompanied the drop off. Of course, she was always fine once inside, nonchalantly waving us away as she targeted a certain toy and bee lined for it. Then Diane mentioned that Jordan had a bit of a cough as she went in, but that it didn’t seem to be anything to be concerned about.
About three quarters of the way through Phantom, around the part where Winslow is bricked into the studio by Swan, the film jerked and the theatre went black. Of course. It was my birthday; things couldn’t possibly go smoothly. Murphy’s Law was written specifically for me, I was sure of it. With the important things in life I was as lucky as they come. I had my health, love, family, and friends. But when it came to the smaller things in life, I was notoriously unlucky. Give me fifty-fifty odds, I’ll lose nine times out of ten. Regardless, we waited for word from the theatre, as would usually happen in a situation like this. A few patrons walked out, presumably to get some answers, but still no help came. We waited about twenty minutes before realizing the film wasn’t coming back on. People had been sporadically leaving the theatre for a while now, and we decided it was time for us to leave as well.
We filed out of the theatre with a small group of people, up the musty inclined aisles and into the lobby. A few people were mulling about, but none of them seemed to work at the theatre. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. Thom walked up to a group of three or four people.
“Do you have any idea what happened to the movie?”
A tall man in a corduroy jacket turned to answer.
“We’re not really sure. We came out here just as some guy came down from the office, said something to the two girls at the snack bar, and they all took off out the main doors.”
Thom relayed this information to me, and we stood staring at each other dumbfounded. We considered the options and agreed to leave.
Once we were on the street outside the Bloor, the strangeness continued. Something about the mood had changed since we entered the theatre a couple of hours earlier. Sure, there were still crowds, people with shopping bags, kids running around. The difference was that everyone seemed to be moving fast. No one seemed to be casually strolling. Everyone was rushing to get somewhere, and no one looked happy. Traffic had multiplied since we went into the theatre, and Bloor St was like rush hour, packed bumper to bumper. After a minute or two of watching and trying to make sense of what we were witnessing, Thom and I both jumped when a piercing scream came from somewhere down the street. We couldn’t see who it came from, but it was loud.
A few minutes passed of us standing there observing and sorting out the scene in our heads. I felt like I was looking at one of those pictures that are just a mess of color, but when you squint and look really hard, you can see an image. I never could figure those out, I only ever saw the mess of color.
We started walking down the street towards our parking lot, which was about two blocks away. We tried to avoid everybody on the street, dodging out of the way of the migrating herds. In the course of the first block and a half, we heard two more screams coming from different locations, another female, but younger sounding, and a male. As we came around the corner onto the street our parking lot was on, we heard a din ahead, the noise of a crowd, like a group of people cheering someone on, only more aggressive.
We approached the parking lot cautiously, to where the noise was originating. As we walked up and crouched behind an Escalade, we peered around the SUV’s massive frame to witness what was actually a mob of people. They were gathered in a group, in a circle, and they all seemed to be concentrating on something in the middle. We could hear that the shouts were mostly angry, and we could see the raised arms of people beating something, someone. We could pick out a few choice refrains. “Son of a bitch.” “You fuckin . . . ” “Oh my God.” We surveyed the area and looked for Thom’s car. It was just behind and to the left of the mob. It seemed to have something sprayed on the driver’s side window. Paint? No. It looked like blood. But why? How? We stayed put for the time being, until the mob started to die down. A few people left, then a few more. One man, older, with grey hair, but fit, came out of the crowd quickly, holding what looked like a child, maybe ten years old. The child must have been unconscious, judging by the way she was lying limp across his arms, and she had blood on her clothes. He held the child delicately, but with a definite sense of urgency, stumbling briefly but always conscious of the small girl in his grasp. We ducked back down and circled to the front of the Escalade, then moved in front of the car beside it, a Corolla. The man put the child in the back of the Escalade, got in and started up the engine, and drove out of the lot with a harsh squeal of his tires.
The rest of the mob seemed to be satisfied with whatever they had done, and went their separate ways. One man sprinted by us as we rose from behind the Corolla.
“What the hell just happened?” Thom asked. The man stopped.
“We all came rushing over when we heard the screams. Some guy jumped that man’s daughter and started attacking her, biting at her. A real psycho. At first, there were just a few of us and we tried pulling him off her, but he kept freaking out, flailing around, and snapping at the air, at us. We had to just keep hitting him and hitting him, trying to beat him into submission, but he was relentless. I don’t know what the fuck is going on around here, but it took us a solid 10 minutes before he stopped attacking. I almost felt like I couldn’t stop, but what were we supposed to do, we couldn’t even hold him still long enough for someone to call a cop.”
Another loud scream cut though the air, this time much closer, along with what I could only describe as a guttural, roaring belch. The man we were talking to looked quickly in the direction of the screams then bolted. We started to move towards Thom’s car, and hesitantly looked at what was on the ground where the mob had gathered. What they left behind took a few seconds to discern. It looked at first to be a pile of refuse, perhaps a garbage bag of restaurant leftovers busted open, but it was actually a person. There wasn’t much left of him or her; it may as well have been garbage. There was a huge smear of blood on the pavement around it. It looked like someone had fallen from a plane and landed there. The spray, or ‘spatter’, as they say on CSI, reached as far as 20 feet away. It seemed to have coated everything in the lot. We got even closer, and could make out where the head was, or had been. It was smashed up, and barely recognizable as human; it reminded me of a Jack-O-Lantern after Halloween night. The rest of the body was almost as bad. There was blood everywhere; the hands and fingers were broken, twisted, and mashed. The legs were turned in unimaginable directions. The chest caved inwards.
We gave the mess a wide berth as we walked around it to Thom’s car, and saw that the blood smear went from the remains, across the lot, all the way over to Thom’s car. That must have been where he was first hit. How could that many people turn so viciously on one man? I understood saving the girl, but to have so many people not even question their actions in murdering a man with such a mob mentality, and then just leave? It didn’t make any sense to me.
Thom fumbled for his keys, cursing the mess on his car under his breath. I was carefully scanning the outlying area for any sign of the angry mob returning. I sure as hell didn’t want Thom to have to get rid of my remains with a car wash. As I was looking about, I heard a sharp crack behind me. I spun around and looked, my eyes as wide open as they have ever been. I saw nothing. There was nobody there. I heard another quick snap, and saw something flinch in the mess on the ground. Did my eyes just deceive me? Did the broken heap on the ground just move? I watched it carefully, hoping my eyes were just fatigued. Thom had gotten into the car by that time and was turning the engine over multiple times, trying to get it going. I just stood there watching the mess, waiting for the impossible to happen again. To say it hurt when I flung myself backwards into the car was an understatement. Considering that as I watched, the mess had raised its beaten head, and, with a sharp crack, turned and looked at me with its one sagging eye, I would say my reaction was justified. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Thom was shouting for me to get into the car. What should I do? Did this guy need help? Shouldn’t we get him to a hospital? Although those were reasonable questions to ask in a normal situation, Thom seemed to have the right idea; something felt wrong. My natural reaction should have been empathy, but instead I was terrified.
10 Minutes from Home copyright 2011 Bill Howard.