I wouldn’t be rotting in jail right now, serving five life sentences, and writing this memoir, if I hadn’t gone back to the woman’s washroom that Monday night to take one last look for the piece of paper. What I mean to say is, I found the garbage bag that should’ve contained the paper but it wasn’t there. The bag I’m referring to came from the sanitary napkin receptacle affixed to the wall of the stall, and as such it contained empty tubes of lipstick and mascara, broken hair elastics, bent bobby pins, chewed gum, and, of course, an array of used menstrual pads and tampons. I checked the insides of the lids to the makeup tubes before examining the tampons and then the pads, paying particular attention to their adhesive strips, yet no pieces of paper were found.
Both Darryl and I had seen the girl insert the piece of paper into the receptacle, so it was extra frustrating to have come up empty handed. Eventually, I admitted defeat and headed for the employee exit but abruptly turned around and headed back to the women’s washroom upon realizing the paper might’ve ended up between the bag and the inside of the receptacle. Sure enough, that’s where it was, and as suspected, it contained a phone number.
The next day, during lunch break, I found Darryl in the food court and told him in hushed tones that my persistence paid off because the paper had been located, and just as he predicted, the information it contained was almost certainly key to the investigation. After thanking me in an oddly sincere manner, he offered to do a database search of what was probably a burner number. From what I gathered; his line of work gave him access to some kind of triangulation-based tracking system.
On the Wednesday of that week, he poked his head into my janitor’s closet and proudly proclaimed his database search a success, as it produced an address where the phone had last been used. I jotted the address down and said I’d drive over there after work, just to see if it was worth our time. Darryl, however, did his shrinking violet routine upon hearing me say our time instead of my time.
- I wish you luck, Andy, but I can’t get anymore involved than I already am. Hope you understand.
- Well, no, I don’t.
- I just can’t.
- It’s not like I’m asking you to make a citizen’s arrest or anything, we’d only be surveilling and you love that sort of thing.
At the mention of a citizen’s arrest his demeanor suddenly shifted back from passive reluctance to active involvement, if only fleetingly.
- Here’s my advice: If you see something pertinent to the case, then you should make a witness deposition because they pay dividends in court. Just make sure you don’t say anything about me giving you the address.
- Can’t I just use their anonymous tip line?
- No, the police rarely act on sketchy information harvested from Crime Stoppers. Their budget isn’t big enough for long shots like that.
- Yeah, okay, but don’t you think it’d be fun to do a stake out together?
- Nope. I have a mall to protect.
- You’ve already made this place safer than Fort Knox.
- Fort Knox is an army installation and the main bullion depository for the United States.
- Darryl, it’s just an expression.
- Well, it’s wildly inaccurate.
- Most expressions are… Anyway, there’s something else I wanted to say.
- If you have more footage related to the missing girl, will you show it to me?
His eyes veered away from mine, searching the near distance above my left shoulder for the answer to my question. After a few hesitant seconds, he took a deep breath, nodded his head, and told me to visit him again, on the upcoming weekend, but this time it was my turn to provide the beer and cigarettes. I agreed to his terms, and then sweetened the deal, thereby minimizing the chances of him backing out.
- How ‘bout I bring some weed as well.
- Oh, I don’t know… I haven’t smoked any of that in a really long time.
- Don’t worry, the stuff I have isn’t strong, it’ll make you laugh and give you the munchies and that’s about it.
- Alright, then bring a dozen donuts too.
My attorney, Pam Levinsky, successfully argued that the witness depositions from the missing girl case, specifically those from the scene of her last known whereabouts i.e., the food court in the mall, were relevant to my own case, thus I gained access to them. One of the depositions was made by an octogenarian of Ukrainian extraction, and the other was made by a teenaged boy. Both witnesses were sitting within earshot of the missing girl as she conversed with her trafficker, and unlike me, they paid attention to what had been said.
Dmitri Millerov’s parents escaped the Soviet Union after the Bolsheviks murdered their way to power. The border of the newly established USSR had yet to be secured circa the early nineteen twenties, and so it was that a newly born Dmitri, swaddled in a babushka, arrived on the peaceful shores of Canada. Raised in south-eastern Ontario, he worked as a postman for fifty years before spending his retirement tending to his beloved bees, which, according to him, made the best honey in the whole region between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
Whoever presided over the deposition must’ve been in a generous mood, or maybe they had simply been charmed by Dmitri’s way with words, as they not only allowed him to tell large portions of his life story, but they also went out of their way to include these reminiscences in the actual transcription.
According to Dmitri, “someone must’ve pissed in the Corn Flakes of the young man sitting opposite the young woman, either that or he was blind… On second thought, he might’ve been playing for the other team because I heard him say they were there to buy her some clothes… He rhymed off a list of stuff she needed to wear for something or other, and from what I could tell it sounded like he was dressing her up in a schoolgirl’s outfit, as there was mention of a tartan skirt and, I think, knee socks.”
Near the end of Dmitri’s deposition, he claimed to have gotten a bad feeling from the young man but then followed that up with a head-scratching statement designed, perhaps, to underscore the dubiousness of taking bystanders at their word. Just to keep things real, he said “nobody lies like an eyewitness”—an old Russian proverb, or so he alleged.
The teenaged boy’s recorded statement was filled with expletives yet contained key information for Detective Brent, who, in my opinion, did not seem invested in the case. From the get-go, Brent appeared tacitly dismissive of the idea that the girl’s life was worthy of being saved. I got the impression he felt it was beneath him to go looking under rocks for prostitutes, even if they were minors. So, after the teenaged boy said the girl was “whored up and hot as fuck” and she had been giving him the eye while sitting across from her “dude who looked a lot like a tatted-up pimp”, Brent, the ever-snivelling, misogynistic bigot, responded by saying, “it must’ve been hard to see the tattoos because of all that black skin”, to which the teenaged boy replied: “He had a spiderweb on his elbow and a teardrop under his eye… He was a muhfuckin’ jailbird straight-up, bruh.”
Eventually, the tattooed sex trafficker was identified by cross referencing images of his face taken from the mall’s security footage, with one of his previous mugshots. The identification process had not been done expeditiously and by the time the trafficker came in for questioning, six days after the missing persons report was filed, the trail had gone cold, or so Brent claimed when he returned to the mall on the seventh day for the purpose of asking me about garbage collection protocol.
- Good to see you again, Andy. Looks like you’re hard at work with your custodial arts… I have a question for you.
- Has the mall’s garbage been picked up since we last talked, a week ago?
- It went out yesterday.
- Well isn’t that just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic.
The kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck retort was lifted from the nineties sitcom, Friends. Not that I found it funny, especially under the circumstances, and to make my displeasure clear, I silently resumed what I had been doing before his unwelcome arrival. Failing to get a laugh out of me bugged him, and his voice hardened a little.
- I brought that black fella in for questioning yesterday and all he could tell me was that he passed her a phone number on a piece of paper when they were together in the food court. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember any of the digits and claimed he hasn’t seen her since, but he had reason to believe she might’ve thrown the paper in the garbage when she visited the bathroom… You haven’t by chance seen the paper I’m referring to, have you?
- I don’t make a habit of picking through the dozens of garbage bags I change on a daily basis.
- Alright, Andy, alright, I guess this one’s headed for the cold case files… It’s not like she’s the first of her kind to end up there.
- Well, I know there’s about forty Indigenous women who’ve gone missing on the Highway of Tears and none of your buddies out there in the RCMP seem to be too worried about it, so yeah, she’s not the first and she won’t be the last, thanks to guys like you.
That final conversation with Brent steeled my resolve to drive by the address given to me by Darryl. I had planned on going the previous night but talked myself out of it, mostly because Darryl declined to accompany me. I suppose I chickened out, and the shame of having done so, coupled with the fact that the girl’s fate had been prematurely tossed into the cold folder of some future detective who might not have even been born yet, spurred me on.