So I admit it, I'm a sucker for a woman in distress. It doesn't hurt that when she says my name it sound like a caress or that four-foot-nine of her five-feet-seven are legs. Those are just what we call fringe benefits in this line of work. Sort of like free drinks at a bar, or a discount on a sandwich for work done in the past.
So it was pretty much a no-brainer that when that husky voice, made even huskier by tears, washed over my ear I'd be saying yes to doing anything Ms. Magnesen wanted. If it means ferreting around in the muck of the quagmire that we call politics in Canada then that's what I'll be doing.
Lucy's voice sounded a bit calmer, less full of tears when she called me as agreed the next morning. If we were going to get to the bottom of this whole mess there was no time like the present to begin. I was hoping that she would be able to give me some clues; the names of any of the Greenpeace and granola types that had been hanging out with her dad in those last days would be a good place to start.
Unfortunately she couldn't remember any more details about them that morning than in our previous conversation. It looked I'd be getting on a lot closer terms with soy burgers, herbal teas, and hemp shirts than what I'd consider good for a man's soul. But those are the sacrifices you have to be prepared to make for the job.
I'm sure you've noticed how groups tend to congregate into a geographical centre of activities, and the granola rollers are no different. In Ottawa they've taken over a couple of square blocks of what used to be the red light district until the girls got wise and moved out to where all the embassies are and can now get work as escorts and blackmail material (usually one and the same thing in the embassy district).
In the end it meant another nice seedy neighbourhood falling victim to the 'let's improve the downtown core so people from the suburbs want to come here' mentality. It's that type of thinking that has ruined more areas in this city then you can shake a by-law exemption on zoning laws at. The first signs of trouble are when the adventurous ones in their SUVs and Dockers start showing up in your favourite greasy spoon.
Then it's only a matter of time before they're telling their friends about this "place". The next thing you know there's a Starbucks on one corner, a health food store on another, a new age book store on the third, and one of those shops that don't really sell anything in particular, but whatever it is they do sell, it's for quite a bit of money.
The people I wanted to talk to weren't going to be among that crowd; none of them would be caught dead driving anything powered by anything other than their own leg muscles, eating in a greasy spoon, or, if they drank coffee at all, sitting in a Starbucks. They'd be the ones you see working in the health food stores, or the whole earth type eateries that spring up like boils in these new neighbourhoods
You know the type; never smiling, with a pasty grey complexion from not eating enough protein who drift around filling the bulk bins at the health food stores. Or being your surly wait staff at the new eatery that displaced the greasy spoon within weeks of gentrification. They seem to take some sort of grim satisfaction in watching people pretending to enjoy their tasteless lentil and ground nut burgers or making bulk purchases of certified organic brown basmati rice.
The only time they're known to smile is when some pathetic soul tries to order something that gives them an excuse for the "lecture". It comes in four standard forms: the evils of globalization, the evils of eating meat, the evils of trans fats and other unhealthy by-products of processed foods, and the evils found in tap water and the air we breath.
The latter they seem to take special delight in listing while people are trying to eat lunch. Nothing like a graphic description of the effects of PCBs on a person's liver to turn you off your lentil and beetroot tofu omelette. Lucy had wanted to come with me on the grounds that she might be able to recognise one of the people who was visiting her father, but I told her that it wasn't necessary for the two of us to suffer, and besides I didn't know what danger we could be walking into.
So far, all that I had risked was doing some sort of permanent damage to both my intestinal tract and any goodwill I might have towards my fellow humans. I remember reading about the Puritans back in history class somewhere and how they were dour folk who didn't believe in frivolity or fun of any kind. But compared to these environmental martyrs those guys would have been a laugh riot.
For all that, I still was no further ahead before I walked into this ring of hell that Dante seems to have forgotten to describe. There was only one store that I hadn't been in yet and I didn't hold out much hope of finding anything there. Factual information and New Age bookstores aren't normally to be found within the same orbit, but as the saying goes no turn un-stoned. I've learned never to discard anything as a potential source of information.
Compared to the rest of the places I'd been in my tour through the pits of despair, this was a fountain of joy. Bright lights and no smell of rotting vegetation made an immediate improvement in my mood, which was only augmented by the smile and plunging neckline behind the counter. As they were accompanied by a pretty face and a cheery voice asking me if there was anything she could do for me, it almost made the day's efforts worthwhile.
Leaning casually on the counter, trying not to be distracted by what happened whenever she inhaled, I quickly spun the tale I had come up with to cover my real intent. My daughter was doing a school project on global warming and needed to find out more information about the Kyoto Accord. Did she happen to know anyone or could she recommend any good books that a single dad could get for his pride and joy to help her fulfill her dream of becoming an environmental scientist?
As soon as I mentioned the words Kyoto Accord I couldn't help notice an increased agitation in her breathing, how her smile had become a little more fixed, and a look had entered into her eyes that could only be fear. Pressing home what seemed to be an advantage I said surely amongst some of these books there must be something about global warming and the Kyoto Accord.
She was a lousy liar, that pretty little New Ager, and she knew it. But she bit her lip and said no, that wasn’t the type of book they sold here. She then made a show of catching sight of the time, and making her excuses about needing to see a doctor, she hustled me from the store so she could close up for her appointment.
I quickly took up station in the doorway of a store a half block down; there was no way I was going to let my little bird fly without following her. If my guess was right, she was the lead I had suffered lentil burgers for and all I would have to do was follow her to where I needed to be led.
Sure enough she came out of the store a minute later. After locking the door, she gave the street the quick once over and began to walk briskly away from the store and me. I let her get a half block away from the store before I began to follow her. She was wearing a very distinctly coloured poncho with some sort of bird on it's back that made her easy to follow so I wasn't worried about losing contact with her.
At one point she dashed into a store for a couple of moments and when she came back out she had added a headscarf to her ensemble. If that were meant to fool anyone who was possibly trailing her she was in for a surprise. Not even the RCMP would be thrown by such a simple deception. I was being careful to keep well back from her so there was no chance of her catching a glimpse of my face or recognising me by some other means, so I almost missed it when she turned off the main road.
When I got to where she exited stage right, it turned out to be a dead-end alleyway with nobody in sight. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed a couple of doors in each wall. They were made of identical plain materials, banded with metal, obviously fire doors from the old days when the buildings were first constructed.
It was probably that momentary feeling of being nonplussed that distracted me enough that I didn't notice anyone behind me until I felt the first touch on the back of my head of whatever it was they used to knock me out. I can only assume that I fell like a ton of bricks because that's what you normally do under the circumstances.