Friday, 10:52 PM
Candace had given me a recent photo of Mary Carmen. It was just a head and shoulders shot, but it was a clear, eight-by-ten colour picture of her facing the camera. She was a true head-turner, breathtakingly beautiful: her thickly lashed, deeply set, dusky emerald eyes were absolutely hypnotic.
“She’s a looker, all right, but I ain’t seen her,” said a man in a faded brown maintenance worker’s uniform.
I was traipsing around The Grand Hotel on Jarvis Street, showing Mary Carmen’s photo to every hotel employee I came across. The Grand Hotel reminded me of a quotation from that oh-so-pithy porcine puppet: Miss Piggy. She once said that you never want to stay in a hotel called The Uptowne Royal Olde King George the 5th Regal Châteaux and Suites, or something like that. Her theory was that the longer the hotel name, the greater the disappointment. A good hotel, Miss Piggy claimed, had one name. The Grand Hotel lived up to its mono-moniker: it was classy, bordering on ostentatious, and yet its location was incongruent with its personality. The much hoped for gentrification of this ’hood was still in the embryonic stage.
Jarvis Street is one of Toronto’s seedier areas, home to pawn shops, porn shops, and sketchy diners where one could more easily get a cap of meth than a cup of joe. The street was a favourite of the city’s destitute, drug-addicted, and downtrodden people. It wasn’t altogether surprising to see an abandoned syringe or a soiled condom lying in a saliva and graffiti covered boarded-up doorway. There were panhandlers on any corner that didn’t have a hooker or two trolling whatever cars slowed down in passing. There were dealers and transvestites on the alert to purvey whatever other vices were in demand.
Then, of course, peppered between vacant store fronts and boarded up buildings, there were the charities, religious institutions, and government-funded social services all hoping to rid Toronto of one social blemish at a time.
If you build it, they will come.
The Lighthouse offered hope and rehab to drug addicts; St. Paul’s Mission offered beds for the homeless; The Salvation Army doled out warm meals to those who usually foraged through garbage bins for their three daily squares. Yet, two blocks up from Jarvis Street’s worst stretch stood one of Toronto’s finest hotels, with in-room Jacuzzis, room service delivered on sterling silver trays, and complimentary Egyptian cotton robes and slippers.
The contrasts weren’t lost on me. Obviously nobody had yet told the area’s winos that urban renewal was on the menu.
Knockout that she was, if anyone had seen Mary Carmen, they would certainly have remembered her. But the doormen showed no signs of recognition— ditto the bartenders, waitresses and parking lot employees. Either the staff of The Grand were all involved in an elaborate conspiracy of silence, or they were all very forgetful and possibly visually impaired, or Mary Carmen had never actually been here.
At the front desk, a pimply girl with a bosom that surely must have caused backaches was very helpful and forthcoming, especially after I dropped a fifty-dollar bill in her hand.
“No one checked in. The room was held with a credit card—”
“Name on the card was Candace Curtis, right?” I broke in. “American Express?”
Candace had told me that all hotel room bookings were made under her own name, and guaranteed with her corporate credit card. She later billed the clients for the room, and the, um, extras.
“Yes, that’s right. If people cancel before 6:00 PM then there’s no charge. But if they don’t call to cancel, we hold the room for them, assuming it’ll be a late check in. As far as we’re concerned, the room is sold for that night, whether they show up or not.”
“And you’re sure no one checked in?”
“Yeah. They never came. The file note says ‘no show’ but on the credit card it just goes through like a normal check in.”
“Well, thanks for your help.”
Another fifty dollars got the housekeeping staff to confirm what the desk clerk had said. They were convinced the room had not been occupied at all, and the day shift workers were glad the next day to have one less suite to vacuum and one less bed to change.
Well, I was only a few hours into this case and was already fronting cash that I could hardly spare. I had discussed money with Candace before agreeing to take on her case. She hadn’t even batted an eye when I told her my rates, and that all expenses would have to be covered by her. I immediately wished I had padded my hourly fees. Clients with generous budgets were rare, second only in rarity to clients who paid their bills in full and on time, and didn’t pay me with a bum cheque.
I took a walk along Jarvis, then crossed over to Church Street, and then doubled back to Sherbourne Street. Toronto’s sex trade was contained almost entirely on these three streets, especially Jarvis. I approached hookers on every corner, but few would even look at me, much less talk to me. I suspected I’d have to refine my approach if I was going to pursue this angle.
After batting zero, I decided to call it a night. It was now well past midnight, and I was tired. I had no desire to hang around the neighbourhood once the bars closed for the night and the nocturnal vices and the flesh trade were out in full force.
Stay tuned for the next sample chapter, coming soon!
Link to Dead Light District on Amazon