now, then and forever

chapter 1

“There’s something you need to know about Jose,” the woman said.

Alex was half listening. The front desk had transferred this call to him even though he was in the middle of packing up his meagre desk for the end of the night, and he was a bit startled to be hearing about the case he thought he already had closed the book on, so to speak.

“And what’s that?” he replied, with only a minute amount of curiosity, as he clicked around his computer screen closing windows as he went.

“I can’t tell you right now, well, at least not on the phone. Can I meet you in person?” the woman said.

“Sorry, but you’ll have to spell this out a bit more for me. Is there something concerning my story that you didn’t like? Is that why you’re calling? ” Alex replied, ignoring the question.

“Jose wasn’t.. he wasn’t at all who you wrote about. There is another side to him. But I’d prefer if I was able to tell you in person what I am trying to say,” she said, her voice distant and hesitant on the receiver. “I just. I think you need to know the full story. I need to tell you.”

Alex sighed. “Mam, I’m just about to leave for the night. Is this something that could wait perhaps? Could you maybe call back tomorrow? And sorry, I missed your name when your call was transferred to me…” he left a white space in the conversation.

“It’s Rosa. Sir. If we could, maybe, could we meet for coffee, maybe, just fifteen minutes. Tomorrow morning. I can find a place near your newspaper. I just. I need to let you know what you weren’t told, or shown, about Jose’s death. Or more accurately about his life. I think it is important for his memory that you know how he lived. But I don’t want to say more. I can’t say more on this line, anyway. So, please, could we meet tomorrow?”

Alex thought for a moment. His slow cooker at home would be simmering, and he just needed to sit on the couch and relax for a while after the day had drawn out so long. “Fine, fifteen minutes. Can we meet at the Timmy’s on the corner at 1st and Elm?”

“Yes, that would be perfect, I will be there. I’ll be there at 10,” Rosa said. “Thank you.”

“And sorry, how will I know who you are? What’s your last name?” Alex asked, as he scribbled with the closest pen on the corner of a report sitting on the top of a stack of unread other documents the words “10 – Rosa”. Before he could get an answer, the line went dead. “Hello?” he said, but she was gone.

Perturbed, Alex threw down the pen and grabbed his green satchel. He launched it over his shoulder, the bag still stuffed with half of his lunch-the healthy half of an apple and carrot sticks he swore to himself he would eat this morning just as he had packed that last bit of Halloween candy- and a scattering of coroner’s reports and police communications files he hadn’t filed yet. Alex set down the phone rather brashly and headed for the door. As he scanned the news room, only the sports reporters covering tonight’s late season football match remained.

Alex descended onto the street and abruptly wrapped his scarf around his cheeks. He hadn’t overheard how hollowing the windy cold was predicted to be from the regular office banter from his colleagues. As he made his way down the crowded but snowy street, he hunched over into his jacket, tightly jamming his hands-he had forgotten his gloves, again- into his leather jacket’s pockets in the unfortunately unfruitful chance they would retain some heat as he made the nine block walk home. He could catch the street car, he thought, but he knew it would still be packed. It wouldn’t save him any time and he’d probably still freeze as much just waiting for it to unload and load in the first place. Determined, he hunkered into his walk and tried to move through the crowd.

The phone call from this woman hadn’t been the only jarring thing about his day. If anything, it was just icing on the cake. Alex wasn’t immune from getting the public’s feedback on his stories; if anything, his “RANT” folder in his inbox was a testament to the the number of people who felt it was their right to share their often expletive-laden views with him on how he covered the frequent shooting stories these days. Today’s most upsetting moment happened just before lunch, when Alex thought for a second he’d be able to escape the high volume chatter and noise of the newsroom for a rare opportunity to get out for lunch with a friend. Richard, an old university buddy, had called the week prior and scheduled the two of them in for a pho spot not that far from the newspaper’s main office. Alex didn’t see him often and had built up a fairly significant amount of anticipation for the lunch, if only to hear the straight goods on his friend and the world they once inhabited years past. At the last minute, however, his editor had forced him to cancel, sending him scrambling down the hall with a freelance photographer to get out to the edge of the downtown to document another supposed hate crime. He didn’t like these assignments, but it was his duty.

Alex was so let down by the forced assignment he could only bang out a short text message to his friend to cancel. “I’m a dick for doing this, but just got sent out of the core on assignment and won’t be back in time for lunch,” he wrote. Richard had replied with a “no problem, another time,” but Alex felt he’d slighted his friend. Not only had he been hungry for a good lunch for a while, he also knew he wouldn’t likely have a chance to catch up with Richard for weeks if not months again. What was worse, he felt a grudge to his assignment editor for not listening to his request to have the tip shipped off to someone else.

“We need you, Alex, don’t let me down,” was all his editor said, and had turned and walked away as he stood there, his hands in front of his waist, pleading for his case. The assignment had turned up nothing more than a 100-word synopsis, anyway, a scattering of words he wasn’t sure would make the evening layout and into the morning news. Maybe a web update, just to satisfy the curiosity of locals, but nothing more. There hadn’t been a hate crime. A woman had rear-ended another on an icy street corner, and some expletives had been shouted, he had found from witnesses, but no one would verify that it was racially or religiously motivated. The damage to the vehicle as a result of one of the parties involved using their window scraper to smash a back window was likely to result in a charge, the junior police officer sent to the scene told him, but they wouldn’t confirm anything related to “hate.” Alex filed the story anyway, knowing his editor wanted something to justify sending the photographer along to snap some shots of the smashed window.

When Alex arrived at his walk-up apartment building, his hands were shivering. He made it into the apartment and flipped on the lights. The smell of his brisket-based chili emanated through the narrow hall from the kitchen. At least he had this to look forward to after the day that was, he thought to himself as he clambered out of the snowy boots and winter clothing. Alex walked into the kitchen and took the lid off his meal. It had simmered down nicely and the spiced aroma gave him a moment of joy. At least one meal today would be fulfilling. He took out a bowl from his cupboard, ladelled in a generous helping of the chili, and set it down on a small table mostly covered with books and papers. Alex turned back into the kitchen, fetched some sour cream from the fridge, and scooped a large spoonful onto his meal. He lifted a folded-over week-old newspaper left open to a nearly finished sudoku puzzle and grabbed for his television remote, turning it on to the late evening news as he ate his dinner. The headlines were repeats of the major stories he had heard throughout the day in the news room. Listening to the talking heads repeat them was more a force of habit than an attempt to learn anything new. Just as he reached to change the channel, the picture switched to a sombre scene of a wreath being laid on a war memorial tomb. Alex set down the controller and watched.

“Next week’s Remembrance Day ceremonies will be likely attended by thousands, especially after the recent killing of Toronto Police Officer Carlos Rodriguez in a still-as yet unexplained shooting in the city’s north end. The Legion has said they are looking for all citizens to come and pay their respects to those who have served in the line of duty across the generations at the event. Police Union president Johnathan Smith says a heavy presence of officers are expected to attend, following last Monday’s public funeral service where thousands of officers had paid their respects to Rodriguez. The public are asked to arrive no later than 10 Tuesday morning due to enhanced security screening at the event.”

Alex couldn’t help but notice one particular woman he saw on the television. After the news had shown the wreath, the station had aired last week’s footage of the late night shooting scene he himself had covered. In the blur of the background of the shot, Alex noticed an older woman crunched up against a corner, peering to the now-empty police cruiser where the officer had been shot and killed. He didn’t recall the woman from the scene, nor any mention of her in the eyewitness testimonies he had heard from when he went to cover the event. It made no sense; she stood out remarkably. Her blue house coat looked well-worn and clearly not warm enough for the time of year to be wearing outside. For a moment, he wondered if this was the woman who had called earlier in the evening. Perhaps tomorrow morning he would find out. He got up from the table and went to the cupboard. One final bottle of red wine was there, unopened. He took the bottle down, found a server’s corkscrew on his counter and proceeded to open the bottle. He skipped the elegance of a glass – one more dish to wash, he thought to himself, and carried the bottle back to his tiny living room area. With a swig of the wine, he started in on the remainder of the night.