Detectives Price and McKeon are called to the scene a husband and wife found slumped in their car, parked sideways on a busy downtown on-ramp, a bullet in each of their heads. That's what's in the papers, and that's all the public sees. Toronto the Good, with occasional specks of random badness. But behind that disposable headline, Toronto's shadow city sprawls outwards, a grasping and vicious economy of drugs, guns, sex, and gold bullion. And that shadow city feels just like home for Get a Detroit boy, project-raised, ex-army, Iraq and Afghanistan, only signed up for the business opportunities, plenty of them over there. Now he's back, and he's been sent up here by his family to sell guns to Toronto's fast-rising biker gangs, maybe even see about a partnership. The man Get needs to talk to is Nugs, leader of the Saints of Hell. Nugs is overseeing unprecedented progress, taking the club national, uniting bikers coast-to-coast (by force if necessary), pushing back against the Italians, and introducing a veneer of respectability. Beards trimmed to goatees, golf shirts instead of leather jackets, and SUVs replacing the bikes. And now the cops can't tell the difference between bikers and bankers. Detectives Price and McKeon? All they can do is watch and grimace and drink, and sweep up the detritus left in crime's wake dead hookers, cops corrupted and discarded, anyone else too slow and weak to keep up, or too stupid not to get out of the way. This is Toronto's shadow city, and you won't recognize it. “Canada’s answer to Elmore Leonard is going places . . .” Toronto Star
About the Author
John McFetridge, author of Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, became fascinated with crime when attending a murder trial at age twelve with his police officer brother. McFetridge has also co-written a short story collection, Below the Line and has written for CTV’s new television series The Bridge. He lives in Toronto with his family, and writes regular updates on his website (johnmcfetridge.ca) and his blog (johnmcfetridge.blogspot.com).
Read an Excerpt
By John McFetridge, Michael Holmes
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2009 John McFetridge
All rights reserved.
COMING OFF THE AMBASSADOR BRIDGE into Canada, Vernard pulled up to the customs booth, the sign saying it was the longest international suspension bridge in the world. The tunnel would've been faster, but there was no way he was going underground, under water, gave him the willies, worse than all those caves in Afghanistan.
The Canadian customs guy looked at him and Vernard nodded, serious, seeing the guy's Glock, thinking, shit, these guys just started carrying guns a couple months ago, probably couldn't get it out of his holster. Fucking Canada.
The guy asked him all the questions, how long he was staying, was he an American citizen, carrying any firearms? Vernard showed him his driver's licence and his Armed Forces ID, blue for retired — honourable discharge, Sergeant Vernard McGetty. Said, "Not any more."
"What's the purpose of your trip?"
Get said it was a vacation. "I'm going to the film festival."
The guy said, oh yeah, and it's not business?
Vernard said, yeah, "I'm Jamie Foxx."
The guy actually laughed and said have a nice trip, waving him through, twenty-eight-year-old black guy from Detroit driving a brand-new Mercedes ML370 SUV, leather interior and twelve-speaker surround on his way to Toronto to meet with some bikers, sell them a truckload of Uncle Sam's guns and set up a pipeline for their coke and weed back to Detroit, stepping up to the big leagues.
Looking back he saw the U.S. customs guys just waving people through, too; cars and vans and campers and trucks. Fucking trucks, must be thousands a day, going back and forth, couldn't check them all. Couldn't check two per cent of them.
Shit, Vernard was thinking, turning up his system loud, Little Walter finding his Key to the Highway, it's easier to cross this border into another country than it is to cross Mack Ave into Grosse Pointe.
Through Windsor it was all Taco Bells and KFC and Burger King, didn't seem like another country at all except for the place selling Cuban coffee, Vernard thinking, right, that's not the only thing from Cuba in there.
Outside of Windsor this part of Canada was flat and bleak, farms, gas stations, fast-food places, and lots of traffic. Vernard was surprised there could be this much open space so close to Detroit, a foreign goddamn country, and you'd never know it was there.
Four-hour drive, Detroit to Toronto, six lanes of steady traffic going in both directions.
An hour in Vernard pulled into a gas station. Filled up and parked in the back behind the Wendy's with all the trucks, shit, looked like hundreds of them all lined up. He went inside and saw the guy he wanted sitting there eating a cheeseburger and drinking a shake.
"You keep this up, you might get fat."
The guy, three hundred pounds at least, his whole face smiled, shaking his big bald black head, standing up and saying, "Fucking Get, man, they let you in this motherfucking country?" They hugged, backslapping, and sat down across from each other in the little plastic seats.
"Saw your cousin on the news, man."
The big guy, once Corporal Duane Thomkins, now just Tommy K, looked off into the distance. "She so fine, all the reporters want to talk to her, all dressed up in her fatigues."
Vernard, sliding easy now back to being just Get, said, "They knew what she was sending home, man, blow they muthafucking minds."
"You know it." Tommy laughed out loud. Then he said, "Eat up, man, next stop is all Mickey Dees."
"I'll wait till I get there."
They walked out back to the truck lot behind the restaurant, stopping to look at Get's new car, Tommy saying, "Motherfucking German-ass piece of shit, man. Drive American."
"What do you drive?"
"Fucking Peterbilt, man, 370, air ride, MP3, DVD, got a satellite map, goddamn double bed. Look at these sorry-ass motherfuckers; Volvos, Swedish fucking bullshit, Hino, what the fuck kind of rice paddy piece of shit is Hino?"
Get said, "You're loyal, Tommy, patriotic. That's cool."
They got to Tommy's red Peterbilt hooked to a fifty-three-foot trailer and he opened the door, saying, "Fucking right I'm patriotic, man. Where'd we be without Uncle Sam?" Climbed into the sleeper and came out with a dark green duffle bag.
Get didn't even look in the bag, he just hucked it over his shoulder feeling the weight, nodding, yeah. "We'd be some sorry-ass niggers."
Tommy said, "No hassle at the border?"
"Guy was happy to see me," Get said. "But you never know, next time they could tear my car apart."
"Shine that fucking Maglite up your ass."
Get said, oh man, don't even joke.
Tommy smiled again, that full of life-is-good enthusiasm, and said, "Don't sweat it, a million trucks a day, they can't look at every one. You got somebody crosses here every week," and winked. Then he said, "There's only one can."
"Yeah?" Anybody else Get would have given a hard time, matter of respect, but not Tommy. Get was the boss, but Tommy would never really be an employee. "Guess I just have to shoot the motherfuckers one at a time."
Tommy said, yeah, make every shot count.
Get said, "You going to Toronto?"
"The Big Smoke?"
Tommy laughed. "Assholes call it that, looking for a name, be cool, play with the big boys."
Get hefted the bag, said, they playing with the big boys now.
"They don't even know it. Naw, man, I'm going to Montreal. Some fine French chicks there. And the food, shit, food alone's worth the drive. You should come."
"Maybe next time."
"You say that, man, but you all business, never take a break. You still that skinny-ass nigger on the bike."
"Yeah, but the Army made a man out of me."
Tommy laughed and gave him a hug, saying, "You fucking funny, you know it. Shit. Your mama be proud."
"Don't have to thank me," Tommy said. "You paying me."
Get said, yeah, but you're worth it.
Tommy got into his rig and started it up, saying, "Every penny." He blew the air horn on his way out, and Get walked back to his car, his German-ass SUV.
Three hours to Toronto, see what it's like, this Big Smoke, wants to play with the big boys.
Meet with these bikers think they're running the show, sell them this weaponry, see if they really can deliver the meth and X and coke and the tons of weed they say they can.
Get felt good, ready to really step up, make some changes in the Motor City, make his mama proud.
* * *
They walked into McVeigh's, Andre Price the only black guy in the place, thinking every black guy who ever came in was carrying a badge and gun.
At least a gun.
He said to McKeon, "Good thing I have my Irish escort."
She sat down with her back to the wall under two rows of black-and-white pictures of men's faces, looked like blown-up mug shots to Price, and said, "I'm the wrong kind of Irish."
He said, shit, it was just too complicated.
A young guy maybe twenty-five, tattoos on both forearms, came over to the table and asked them if they wanted to see menus and Price said, no, just something to drink. "Guinness, I guess, that's the one, right?"
McKeon asked for a cup of coffee and when the young guy left Price said, wouldn't that keep her up all night, and McKeon said, "It's not even midnight yet, you think we'll be going home anytime soon?"
"If we don't catch something, we'll punch out." Price looked around the bar, first time he'd ever been in and that surprised him, here it was right downtown, corner of Richmond and Church, but it was real Irish, not tourist, not a Ye Olde pub. The walls were covered with those pictures that looked like mug shots and a framed newspaper page that said "Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland" across the top and was filled with text.
McKeon said, "Here she is," and Price turned to see an East Indian woman in her twenties wearing jeans and a grey hoodie coming towards them. She got to the table at the same time as the waiter and they smiled at each other. She ordered a half of Smithwicks and sat down.
She said, "Thanks for meeting me here, detective," looking at McKeon and then at Price, saying, "detective," again.
"Call me Maureen, okay? Muneera, right?"
Price watched the two women, wondering how this would work, all these relationships. He and McKeon were partners, but McKeon and this Constable Muneera Anjilvel were both women cops; he and Anjilvel were both black, or at least brown, faces in the very Irish bar, but McKeon said she was the wrong kind of Irish.
The waiter came back with Anjilvel's half pint, a lot lighter colour than Price's Guinness, he didn't know if Smithwicks was Irish beer or not, and the look between the waiter and Anjilvel, both in their twenties, seemed like the start of a connection.
Shit, it was too complicated. Price figured he'd just sit back and watch.
Anjilvel was looking around, nervous, so McKeon skipped the small talk and got right to it, asking her why the secret meeting.
"All the shit that's happened," Anjilvel said. "Crazy."
Price watched her looking nervous, conflicted, but he didn't think she really was. The Toronto police were in the middle of a huge internal investigation, eight of their own guys arrested by the Mounties and everybody else under suspicion. But still, his read was that Anjilvel wasn't sneaking around because she didn't know what to do. He thought she was really sure about something. A lot of things.
She said, "I really appreciate this," and McKeon nodded, looking right at her.
"Okay. Here's the thing. Remember last week, that guy died at the hotel?"
"Dealer from Buffalo, got shot five times?"
"No, the other one."
McKeon said, "Guy his girlfriend killed, stabbed him?"
Anjilvel said, no, the car salesman. "Up by the airport. Drug overdose."
McKeon said, no, they didn't really know about that one. "Wasn't a homicide."
Price watched Anjilvel nod to herself, that look like she knows something you don't. Or maybe that she knows something she wishes she didn't. She said, okay. Drank some beer, put the glass down and said, "It's probably nothing."
McKeon said, "Start at the beginning," like she was talking to a witness.
Price thinking, first witness, first suspect.
"Okay. I'm riding with Brewski, right?"
"We're all sorry about that," McKeon said.
"Right. So, we get the call, guy's drunk or stoned or something. He's walking around the hotel smashing stuff. Those lights on the walls, the emergency exit lights, anything that'll smash. So we get there and we stop him."
"You and Brewski?"
Anjilvel looked at McKeon like it was a joke, but no one was laughing or smiling. "Me and Brewski. He actually got out of the car, came into the hotel, they got a bar in the lobby. So, I get the guy under control, you know. Once he's cuffed he calms down. He's crying and his feet are bleeding but he's not in bad shape. Tells me he's in trouble, deep shit, he doesn't know what to do."
Price said, "But he's stoned, right?"
"Oh yeah, he's dazed and confused. But he's scared. Oh, and he's naked, did I say that?"
McKeon, drinking her coffee, said, no, you didn't mention that.
"Well, he was. And one of the drugs he took was Viagra."
Price said, "Uh-huh."
"Yeah. It's not really relevant, though. I mean, it didn't come into play."
McKeon said, "In a manner of speaking," and Anjilvel looked up like maybe it was a joke she was supposed to laugh at.
She didn't, she just said, "Anyway, once he's calmed down, Brewski comes out of the bar and we take the guy up to his room. I figure we'll let him get dressed, take him to the hospital. The guy was looking okay, he took a cold shower."
"He was okay?"
"He was calmed down, his breathing was good, steady, he was coherent."
"You take him to the hospital?"
She shook her head. Drank some more beer.
Price leaned back in his chair holding his pint of Guinness. He liked it, nice and dark and cold. He thought it was supposed to be warm, room temperature or something, but maybe that was English beers. He was only starting to figure out the difference.
Anjilvel said, "Then the detectives got there."
Anjilvel looked like she didn't want to say. She drank some beer and nodded, then said, "Okay. Detective Roxon and Detective Keirans."
"Who called them?"
"I don't know."
Price said, okay, so?
"So, they said we could leave, they'd take it from there."
McKeon said, "Yeah, and?"
"And we left. Next day I hear the guy was DOA at Humber General. Overdose."
Price looked at McKeon, drank some of the Guinness, and said, "Well, a drug overdose."
Anjilvel said, "I just thought, you know, I should tell someone."
"No, that was the right thing to do," McKeon said. "It's the right thing."
"It's probably nothing."
Price thought, yeah, right, nothing. Or it could be exactly what it looked like. He said, "Did the guy know them?"
"Called them by name."
McKeon said, "Okay, the thing now is, sit tight. Let us look into this."
Price's phone beeped and he answered it.
Anjilvel looked at McKeon like they were the only two people in the place and said, "You'll keep me out of it."
"You don't say another word to anyone."
Anjilvel said, okay, good. "I haven't even said anything to Brewski, I don't think he even knows the guy died."
Price hung up and said, "We have to go." He finished off his beer, stood up, and dropped a twenty on the table.
Anjilvel stayed put, said she was working midnight to eight, maybe she'd get something to eat before she punched in, and Price noticed the waiter bringing over a menu as they left, wondered if he'd flirt so much, he knew she was a cop.
* * *
The on-ramp to the Gardiner Expressway was closed; a fire truck, an ambulance, and a cop car blocking the way, and uniformed men and women from all of them standing around smoking.
McKeon popped the siren a couple times and flashed the headlights to clear a path in the traffic and pulled right up to the ramp on Lake Shore, under the expressway.
One of the uniformed cops, a guy in his fifties, said, "McKeon, you're going to love this."
She was already out of the car walking towards the scene saying, "I am?"
The uniform, Dixon, said oh yeah, this is a good one. "Guy was driving up the ramp, see?" The car, a brand-new Dodge 300 with the big front grille and the little windows making it look like a thirties gangster car, had gotten halfway up the ramp, stopped, and rolled back, turning sharply so its back end was against the left side and its front end against the right, blocking the road.
Dixon said, "And pow, somebody shoots him in the head."
Closer now, McKeon and Price could see the passenger window covered in blood splatter and the driver's head flopped onto the steering wheel.
McKeon saw the woman's body, waist up on the passenger seat, the rest of her on the floor, like she was kneeling and slid off, as Dixon was saying, "Then they popped the chick."
Price said, "Holy shit."
Dixon was laughing. "You know it, detective."
McKeon walked around to where the driver's side door was open and said, "His pants are down."
"And," Dixon said, "get a load of her outfit, love the fishnets. Getting a little road head, eh, couldn't wait to get to the room."
Another uniform cop standing beside the car, younger than Dixon but otherwise looked just the same, said, "Or getting his money's worth on the way."
McKeon said to Price, "Great." She looked at the uniforms. "What's the id say?"
"You sure they're dead?"
"VSA, detective, that's what the pros tell us." He pointed to the firemen and ambulance guys leaning against their rigs drinking coffee. Vital Signs Absent.
McKeon said, You're really working hard tonight, and the younger uniform said, Hey, it's a crime scene, detective. "Once they said they were dead we didn't want to disturb anything."
McKeon said, "Right," and leaned into the car. She didn't see a gun anywhere, but thought, you never know. She picked up the woman's white leather purse from the floor of the car, had to pull it out from under the woman's butt, miniskirt slid up, nothing on underneath but a garter belt. Close up like this McKeon saw the woman was older than she thought, had to be mid to late forties, in good shape, showing off a very nice body in her miniskirt and expensive silk top, push-up bra, little leather boots, at least five-inch spike heels.
Excerpted from Swap by John McFetridge, Michael Holmes. Copyright © 2009 John McFetridge. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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