The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Another Side Of Riley
By John Tavares
In the university library at the long narrow table, Bruno read the headline splashed across the front page of the student newspaper, Police Pursue Black Mercedes at Speeds up to 140 Kilometres Across York U Campus. Once trained to become a journalist at Humber College, he followed current events avidly, even when the quality of journalism was low, in the true mark of a news junkie. Unselfconscious, he read aloud the Capstone report about a police cruiser engaged in a high-speed chase of a black Mercedes Benz driven by a woman across campus. Riley had been a constant companion since early fall at the large table with desk lamps and computer terminals, where the placards indicated light snacks and beverages in spill proof cups were permitted. He finally noticed the young woman leaning against him, glancing over his shoulder at the community newspaper, the article about the speeder in the black Mercedes.
“Are you a private investigator?”
“A private investigator?” His brow became furrowed. “What makes you think I’m a private investigator?”
“My parents sometimes send plainclothes security people to tag along after me to make sure I’m keeping out of trouble.”
“Aren’t you a law student?”
“I’m trying to be a law student.” Her arms stretched out helplessly in display at the numerous law books and collections of statutes spread out before her on the table.
“Do you really think studying Security Analysis is my hobby?” Bruno showed her a university student card from his wallet. Then he lifted from beneath the plaid button down shirt the lanyard to which was attached his university employee card, which identified him as a member of the environmental services department of the university.
“Now that you mention it I think I’ve seen you cleaning Osgoode Hall.”
“Yes. I don’t know why I didn’t notice you.”
“Hmm. Why do you say?”
He could not admit he found her physically attractive. Long ago he learned to avoid paying attention to women he found visually appealing, particularly when working on campus; as a caretaker who enjoyed his work he never wanted to put his position in jeopardy. Moreover, through many cautionary tales, he learned staffers could never be too politically correct on a university campus. He glanced again at the student newspaper. She moved closer towards him, so he could feel her warm body and buoyant breasts pressed against his back, as she glanced over his shoulder at Capstone, the article about the motorist exceeding double the speed limit in the black Mercedes Benz, outrunning police vehicles in hot pursuit.
“That was me,” she said. “I had to park the black Mercedes, and now I’m driving my father’s red convertible BMW.”
Carefree, she laughed, and Bruno was once again smitten. He always found the young woman attractive as she sat beside him studying her law volumes. While mopping and sweeping, he occasionally spotted her in the Osgoode Hall Law School, but noticed her first in the Scott Library. This at a time when many law students did not even consider themselves part of York University, but as distinct members of the Osgoode Law School. He regularly studied and worked on research for economics papers because the section he frequented permitted food and drink. In this library locale, he could drink as much coffee as he liked, caffeine being a stimulant he found most effective. They somehow always wound up sitting next to each other in Scott Library, where she munched her potato chips, sucked candies, ate chocolates, and drank sugar free soft drinks colas, as she studied. He could not understand what a law student was doing studying in the humanities library. He also could not understand how a person who ate so much junk food could be so thin.
“What are you reading?”
Annoyed, he replied, “I’m not reading for pleasure.”
“I could’ve guessed as much. You’re majoring in economics?”
“You’re right. Did you think I was somebody with nefarious intentions?”
“No, I assumed you were a mature student. Why would I sit beside you these past few months if I thought you were evil?”
“Actually, I’m studying for the final exam in an investment course.” He toppled his disposable paper cup and wiped the spilt coffee with a paper napkin.
“Is that a satisfactory explanation?”
“Why wouldn’t it be? I mean, why sound so defensive?”
“Most people don’t even consider me a student because of my age.”
“I think you assumed wrong.”
“So you say because you’re a law student. During the first week of courses, I had a professor call security on me because he didn’t believe I was a student. Another time the cops stopped me on campus, asked for my identification, and started interrogating me. They detained me until I could prove I was not only a university student, but an employee.”
“What were the police doing on campus?”
“It was around the time the foreign student was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Her strangulation was captured on her laptop webcam, while she talked on video chat to her boyfriend in China. University officials went into damage control, and city newspapers and TV stations were running stories hourly about the murdered York University student. “I think the police flooded campus to comfort the administration.”
She pursed her lips and gazed at him intently through her horn-rimmed glasses.
“Anyway, I decided to acquire a degree in economics because the university offers employees free courses.”
As she sat beside him, she glanced over at him as she footnoted the law paper on human rights law she was editing and revising. Even though Bruno had stopped regularly reading and writing a decade ago, when he became a caretaker at the university, and felt he had probably forgotten most of the rules of spelling, usage, punctuation, and grammar, he couldn’t help noticing all the spelling and grammatical errors on the manuscript. With her pages riddled with mechanical errors, he could not help wondering how she became a law student. He went through the paper, correcting the errors, clearly indicating where she needed correction, rephrasing her complicated phraseology for clarity and meaning, and returned the paper to her.
She continued to sit next to him in Scott library, probably because they sat in a section where they could snack and drink. Most students avoided this section of the library because it was dead quiet, with bound periodicals and journals. When she returned a few days later, he was still researching a paper on the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and making painstaking notes with short stubby pencils on index cards.
“Thanks,” Riley said. “I got an A in the paper about laws affecting discrimination on the basis of age in the workplace. I usually only earn a B+.”
Bruno considered her admirable and virtuous for writing a paper on workplace discrimination, but he had lost the idealism of his youth that fuelled his entry into the discipline of journalism. Now he was motivated by money, aspiring to material comfort, and attracted to the related study of investments and the economy; his attitude about work and money had become mercenary. He told her he did not mind previewing her manuscript, but he was not certain the copy edits, corrections, and minor revisions he made to her text resulted in much of a difference in her grade. He warned her years had passed since he had studied journalism at community college. He figured he had forgotten some rules of usage and grammar and punctuation and copy editing, so he supposed they both lucked out.
“If you took journalism at college and, I’m assuming you graduated—”
“Yes, I graduated with honors.”
“So you have a degree in journalism?”
“It’s a three year college diploma.”
“Then why are working as a caretaker for York University?”
“To make a long story short I earn more as a unionized janitor than I ever earned as a journalist, either as a freelancer or a staffer.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Taking journalism was a mistake; I found some reporting no different from stenography. Besides, journalists are modestly paid. Hacks working for Canadian newspapers in Canada earn lousy pay compared to their American counterparts.”
She shrugged and asked what she was going to do with the mess she made of her research assignment examining the legal consequences of age discrimination in hiring practices for human rights law. She started adjusting her bra in ways that revealed her cleavage while she tapped the page with her ballpoint pen. Even though he was not certain how, he admitted, he offered to help, and she kissed him on the cheek. He occasionally noticed the smell of whiskey and beer on her breath and perspiration, as if she was drinking, before she left the library for the night, so he was not surprised when she opened a beer can right next to him.
“Will you make out with me?”
“Will I make out with you?”
She nodded and drank some beer.
“This isn’t an after party.”
“I know, but I like you.”
“I like you, too, but I think it should wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“We’re on a university's property, and, not only am I a student, but I’m an employee, so its double jeopardy, and I love my campus job. It’s how I get free courses. I’m on my days off. I usually clean the classrooms and lecture theatres in law school.”
“I’ve seen you in Osgoode Hall the odd time, usually when I have a late seminar or lecture.”
“Anyway, I’m probably about twice your age.”
“Are you telling me that you’re ageist?”
“No. I’m just reflecting what your friends and parents and probably the rest of society thinks.”
“Does it matter to you?”
“It matters to me, but you matter to me more.”
“That’s very nice of you, but—”
She stepped up suddenly and asked him to watch her luxury handbag, her fur coat, her leather boots, and her smartphone and laptop while she quickly strode downstairs to the twenty-four campus convenience store. When she returned, she had a huge bag of sour cream and onion flavour potato chips and a two-litre bottle of cola and grape flavoured bubble gum.
“How did you know I like sour cream and onion potato chips?”
“We have some sort of psychic connection.”
“Have some chips.”
She passed the open foil bag to him, and he laughed. She sprinkled potato chips on a blank legal size sheet of paper and passed it across the study table to him. After she settled down at the study table, she had a few shots of whiskey while she devoured sour cream and onion flavor potato chips from a huge bag.
Then she showed him videos from an adult website on the Internet on the surprisingly large screen of her smartphone. She showed him clips of women, with well-built bodies, and long hair and horn-rimmed glasses, pleasuring themselves in libraries, at study carrels, or in the aisles of stacks, whilst they recorded themselves on laptop webcams.
“Who would do that?” she demanded.
“They could be students from university with graduates educations, with master’s degrees, and PhDs, who need to pay for student loans by modeling on the side.”
“More like crackheads who dropped out of high school,” she said.
“As a lawyer, I’d have thought, you’d at least be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Then she reached under the table, groped him, and made him hard. He tried to warn her against intimacy in the library because virtually every student used smartphones with video and audio recording capacity. “Don’t worry; the library is open twenty-four hours for examination week and nobody’s around.”
“That’s exactly why I’m worried.”
“But nobody’s around.”
She deftly crouched beneath the table with her body, which surprised him because he had not expected her to be so fit and flexible. She would not stop until she could taste his fluids in her mouth along with the chewing gum and the chomped bits of potato chips.
Afterwards, they became steady study partners.
“Don’t you have a smartphone or even a cellphone?”
“I have a landline and a laptop. Why would I want a cellphone? To get myself into trouble?”
“How am I supposed to contact you?”
He gave her the telephone number for his landline. When he volunteered to lend her his bed for the evening, while slept on the sofa, she did not want visit his apartment, either. The stroll to his apartment from campus was short, and he wanted to impress Riley with how neat and tidy he kept his place.
“You don’t think I live in the basement of my parents’ house?”
“Didn’t you say you live near campus, around Jane and Finch, the notorious Jane and Finch, a high crime neighbourhood?”
“You don’t know about high crime rates until you’ve heard of my hometown.”
“Where’s your hometown?” She allowed a thick law book to drop on the heavy oak table and recited a statistic from memory: “Nunavut has 20.47 homicides per 100,000 people per year. Are you from Nunavut?”
“It actually closer to Nunavut in spirit and maybe even geography; it’s in Northwestern Ontario. The crime stats here are low in comparison.”
She stretched her long legs, flexed her smooth muscular calves, and held the heel of her polished pointed toe pumps.
“Does that mean you’ll let me walk you to my apartment tonight? It’s actually a pleasant walk across campus.”
“But I’m wearing these heels, and I have to look good for my profs and classmates. Besides, I’m out of shape for walking.”
Then she raised the hem of her dress.
“You think I look good?”
He started marvelling over her smartphone. Whenever she asked him a difficult question, he cultivated the habit of trying to learn the different functions and apps on the touch screen of her smartphone. Then he sharpened his pencils for his research notes on index cards.
“I’d like to invite you to my place, but I live with my parents. I’ve huge rows with my parents, who try to control my life and career. They even send private investigators after me to keep an eye on me.”
“I think I understand.”
He thought he should share with her the fact his parents were deceased, but decided against it.
“Do you consider me impulsive?”
He lied: “I think you like to drink, which concerns me.”
Later, he thought her drinking explained her desire to become physically intimate in the parking lots of big box stores, the park, bus shelters and benches, and even the public washrooms of fast food restaurants, at a time, when, after a few uncomfortable experiences in his young adulthood, he vowed never to use public washrooms again. He even succeeded in making good on his vow never to use public washrooms for nine years, even though he cleaned the men’s and women’s and wheelchair accessible washrooms in the Osgoode Hall Law School building on York University campus. He tried to warn her against promiscuous behaviour, and the lack of protection, but she said they did not need to use condoms because she took oral contraceptives. He occasionally saw her with prescription medication, Adderall and fluoxetine, and pink caffeine tablets, which were available over the counter, which he himself tried to stay awake and energized during examinations after studying all night. She admitted she liked these quick and dirty assignations the best, fast food, devoured hastily, followed by hurried sex.
He wondered about her grades and performances in law school, because she mentioned a few conditions she suffered, but the one that made the most sense to him was bulimia. He thought she had a brilliant mind; she impressed him with her memory and her recital of facts and arguments, when she made the effort, but around him she often behaved like a reckless, happy-go-lucky teenager. Because she was a younger adult and admitted she had bulimia and drank, he worried about taking advantage of her, although she usually initiated their intimacy. She told him he was a puritan and anal-retentive, as she chewed a huge wad of grape flavoured bubble gum, which she loved to chomp while she ate potato chips and drank a caffeinated energy drink.
When she drove alone, he told her he feared for her safety and volunteered to drive her home. She was reluctant at first to allow him to drive, but he showed her his license, with a perfect driving record; he was a white-knuckle driver in the city, since he was used to driving on the streets of a small town. He insisted she should allow him to drive her home because she was drinking. They finally agreed to a compromise. She told him that she would allow him to drive her to the outdoor swimming pool and tennis court, near her home in Forest Hill. She would drive the remainder of the distance, a few city blocks in a luxurious residential neighbourhood, home. He got the impression she did not even want him to know where she lived, which he understood.
“I don’t want to get into arguments with my parents about boyfriends. I don’t want to get into huge row with them while I’m in law school and trying to finish my degree. I just want to graduate, do my articling and find my own place, so we can take our relationship to a higher level.”
Our relationship: he initially believed they were friends with benefits, so he was heartened by her words. She insisted he not worry or bother with condoms, but he asked her if she was not worried about getting pregnant.
“I’m on the pill, but I could always get an abortion. Besides, I don’t think I’d mind having your baby.”
“Now I don’t know what to think. Am I some kind of surrogate?”
“You’re too good to resist.”
At the library, he continued to try to correct her spelling and grammatical and style errors. His efforts helped her raise her grade point average in courses where she was required to write intensively from B+ to A, she claimed. Still, he did not even know much beyond her first name because she was assiduous about protecting her identity. She even blacked out her surname on the papers she asked him to edit, before she made the corrections and reprinted them, so he made it a point of not knowing her officially beyond her first name, even when police pulled them over in the BMW.
Once, as he drove her in her father’s red convertible BMW sedan along the 401 expressway, a police officer pulled them over and demanded to see the motor vehicle registration and insurance. Without glancing at the motor vehicle registration and automotive insurance, which Riley passed to him, he handed the police officer, coughing, the documents and cards. He told the police officer, who wore her thick hair in corns rows, and had green eyes, he was driving for a friend who had been drinking. The police officer gazed at him suspiciously through the open window of the driver’s seat suspiciously. After she, interrupted by her own hacking, examined the papers, Bruno passed the documents to Riley, who nodded and returned them to the glove compartment, while he continued to gaze between them with apprehension.
Afterwards, Riley asked, “Was she African Canadian or some Nordic beauty?”
“I believe she was mixed race, but does it matter?”
“No, but you have to admit she had fairly exotic looks, especially for a police officer.”
“What amazed me was her voice. She sounds like Macy Grey, a young woman with a mature blues singer’s voice, a hoarse growl.”
Afterwards, Bruno did not see Riley in the library for about a week and wondered what became of her. He feared the worst and worried about her, but he had no way of contacting her; although he had given her his landline telephone number, she had not given him her cellphone number. He remembered her pill taking, her impulsive sex, and her speedy driving, even when she was wasted. Her driving seemed faster and more controlled, in direct proportion to the amount of amphetamines and whiskey she consumed.
Day after day, he wondered what became of his study mate. Finally, he picked up the weekly edition of Capstone and read about the death of Riley Remy, a law student at Osgoode Hall Law School, whom a classmate described as brilliant. Her parents, successful corporate lawyers, were quoted as saying they steered their law student daughter commercial law, but she had eschewed that lucrative field to selflessly study human rights law. During the summer, she worked out of legal aid offices in Parkdale and Regent Park assisting minorities and the marginalized with housing and job discrimination and human rights cases. She was killed in a fiery collision crash with a tractor-trailer on Highway 401 expressway, as she made her daily commute to York University. The article mentioned nothing about drugs and alcohol.
In Bruno’s mind, her death remained unexplained. The Capstone was one of the less accurate community newspapers Bruno had seen, despite the fact it was staffed by over a dozen editors, albeit usually students with minimal reporting and editing experience. Bruno even volunteered to bring in one of his journalism professors from Humber College to help improve the paper, but the students believed they possessed all the journalism skills they required and did not require any mentoring or tutoring.
So he called the police precinct himself. He explained to the officer to whom the operator referred him he was a friend and former journalist, worried about Riley’s drinking and impaired driving, so concerned he had put his reputation on the line on numerous past occasions for her, although he preferred not to delve into details.
“How long have you known this young woman?”
She had a smoker’s voice, gravelly, and a periodic cough. Her voice sounded familiar, like the police officer with cornrows with an elderly woman’s voice, who had pulled him over on Highway 401 expressway as Riley rode in the passenger seat.
“Eight years. I mean, eighteen years. We’re cousins, more like second, or more accurately, third cousins. She’s actually the daughter of a cousin’s daughter, but she’s also a friend.”
Bruno never lied to a police officer before. In the past, he never ruled out rejoining the journalism profession, if feasible, so integrity and honesty were still traits he admired and attempted to uphold.
“Strictly off the record,” she coughed, “I’ll look into the report from the police traffic investigation and the results from the forensic laboratory.”
Later, Bruno called the officer back at the police precinct, again virtually anonymous, on strictly a first name basis, although he realized she was indeed the same officer with the cough and raspy voice with the cornrows of dark, reddish-blonde hair and green eyes who pulled him over the night he drove for Riley.
“The alcohol levels look well above the legal limit in her blood samples,” she said. “Toxicology analysis shows high levels of fluoxetine and Adderall,” she added. Bruno knew she consumed both drugs, one as a prescription medication for bulimia and depression, the other as a study aid.
“The gist of this information is in a press release sent to media outlets a day ago,” she coughed, “so it’s not as if I’m giving away any secrets.” Then she told him the pathologist discovered from the autopsy she was pregnant.
“Yes. Pregnant. Eight weeks pregnant.”
He dropped the cordless receiver for his telephone and spilled coffee on his lap as the mug crashed and broke on his kitchen floor.
When he recovered, she coughed, “I’m sorry for the loss.”
There was a moment of silence. He could barely conceal the shock and tremors in his voice. Once again, he remembered why he left journalism; sometimes, for some parties, the truth was better left unknown.
“I think I’ve all the information I require.”
“You do understand that I’m speaking strictly off the record?”
“Have I made myself clear? Off the record.”
“Of course, ma’m.”
Later, Bruno decided to obtain a smartphone, when previously he felt comfortable with a landline at home in his bachelor apartment in a high-rise building. If he had a smartphone, a cell phone, he rationalized, he might have managed to stay in touch with Riley and somehow aid her, but he realized that was probably wishful thinking. As he searched the stacks for a volume on microeconomics and then returned to the study table he had shared with Riley, he thought he had been shadowed by a familiar woman, in a dark pants suit, with green eyes and strong wiry hair in cornrows. Even when he settled into some serious reading, he thought he had spotted her, conspicuous because of her cornrows, coughing behind the stacks of library volumes, rows of social science journals, gabbing on a smartphone. Then his smartphone chirped and he found himself fielding a call from the same police officer as he studied at the library, another annoying distraction from his economic studies.
“Why did you request that information?”
The cop sounded angry and abrupt, but her demand soon became lost in a spasm of uncontrollable coughing.
“I thought I blocked my call. How did you get my number?”
“You didn’t block your call. Your name and number popped up on the caller ID.”
“But I did block my call. I made certain. How did you get my cell phone number?”
“We have our sources. Did I say her parents are wealthy lawyers who have easy access to the nation’s best firm of private investigators? Now why did you want to know that information about Ms. Remy?”
“Because we were close friends.”
“Ok. Listen and listen well: Her father is a prominent corporate lawyer, and we don’t want any trouble. We don’t want to disrespect the memory of the victim, or besmirch her reputation, especially since there is civil litigation pending. It really looks as if it was the truck driver’s fault to fail to yield when she attempted to pass. And alcohol wasn’t a determining factor in the crash. She may have been legally intoxicated, or under the influence, but that’s just a technicality, and she was barely over the limit. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Bruno muttered beneath his breath, “you’re back pedaling.” Then he spent the remainder of the conversation worried she had heard his barely audible remarks.
“And she wasn’t pregnant. I misspoke. I was referring to a file I had reviewed earlier.”
“Really? What if I told you I thought I was the father.”
“I’d say congratulations, and I’m sorry.” She coughed and snapped. “Now I don’t have the time to exchange pleasantries and social niceties. Just take note her accident hasn’t attracted mainstream media attention, beyond the usual funeral home notice, and we’d like to keep it that way, out of respect for the victim’s parents and their memory of the victim. Do you understand, Mr. Marks?”
She knew his surname; she had conducted her own investigation.
Bruno heard the static of a telephone line gone dead and turned off the smartphone to the first call he received on a cellphone ever, a call he was certain he’d remember until the end of his time. The call reminded him of a conversation he had with an alternative school principal, who threatened him over the telephone, when he was a student journalist. The high school principal asked to speak to his college journalism professor and insisted that the schoolyard brawl and stabbing that had happened on school grounds was a spat between two students of a neighbouring public school on the sidewalk outside a corner convenience store over hockey trading cards. The interview helped persuade him that, personally, there wasn’t much intellectual or emotional satisfaction in journalism; nor was the remuneration sufficient to compensate for the burden. Still, he refused to be bullied and wrote the piece for the newspaper produced by the college journalism department, a well-edited and well-written, local community newspaper. For Riley, though, and her legacy and the time they shared together, though, he decided he should try to forget. There was nothing else he could do.
Born and raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, John Tavares is the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. His formal education includes graduation from the 2-year GAS program at Humber College in Etobicoke with concentration in psychology (1993); the 3-year journalism program at Centennial College in East York (1996); the Specialized Honors BA in English from York University in North York (2012). He worked as a research assistant for the Sioux Lookout Public Library and as a research assistant conducting a waste management survey of all Sioux Lookout households for the public works department and regional recycle association. He also worked with the disabled for the Sioux Lookout Association for Community Living. He recently completed the Canadian Securities Course, a certification required in the Canadian investment industry. His works have been featured in many publications.
#Unreal #JohnTravares #Fiction #ShortStory #AnotherSideOfRiley #Intoxication #PrivateInvestigation
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.