WEDNESDAY: Hang On

BY TED WOLFE AND MANUEL PALOMO

This is an excerpt from a novel Class Action. Copyright is held by the author.

THE TORONTO rush hour, had already begun. Sandeep exited westbound on Cumberland Avenue then south on Belair Street and joined the bumper to bumper eastbound traffic on Bloor right about the same time as Mark entered the subway station. He was on his way up to see Michael Ng, the chief hacker, who lived in a predominantly Chinese neighbourhood up in Richmond Hill. He’d get on to the Don Valley Parkway and then Northbound on HWY #404. All had gone precisely as planned and in half an hour it would be mission accomplished and he’d be sharing a private conversation and a cold beer.

So far so good. He sure as hell hoped there would be no nasty surprises when they got to court. He could already see the placid faces of CEMI executives tighten and quietly mouth obscenities when the unexpected evidence was presented.

Surviving rush hour traffic in Toronto requires that everyone go like hell when the light turned green and then stop on a dime when the next light turned red and if there was more than half a car length between your vehicle and the one in front, some idiot would certainly cut in. The line of traffic approached the intersection of Bloor Street and Castle Frank Road. The light suddenly turned red and everyone tramped on their brakes. A tune by The Guess Who thumped from Sandeep’s stereo. He tapped his brake pedal to the beat. Nothing. The brake pedal went right to the floor.

He kept rolling. “Holy Shit!” He reached down automatically with his right hand and pulled up on the emergency brake. Still, nothing happened. He could not stop the car. Sandeep yanked the steering wheel hard right and moved into the lane of traffic coming from Castle Frank to go Westbound on to Bloor. He narrowly avoided a head on collision with a shrieking woman behind the wheel of an oncoming car. He leaned on the horn to warn other motorists then just as abruptly yanked the steering wheel to the left, shifted gears and gunned the Honda. He avoided the traffic coming at him over his right shoulder and those on Castle Frank who were intent on either getting on to the Don Valley Parkway or across the Prince Edward Viaduct and on to Danforth Avenue.

“Get out of the fucking way,” he yelled.

The sudden acceleration and high speed allowed him to avoid several collisions but now the high speed would work against him. He took his foot right off the gas, but he was still roaring down the winding ramp at the Bayview Extension that led to the Don Valley Parkway. Shit, why did it have to be downhill? Without brakes the only way he could stop was to scrape the right side of his prized Honda Civic in small contacts and then hard against the concrete safety barriers on his right hand side.

He felt the car’s dynamics and winced as he steered it repeatedly against the safety barrier in such a way that the wheels did not climb the barriers and flip the car over. He geared down and rapidly lost speed. Right fender, doors and rear fender were in full contact and he geared down and scraped to a complete stop just before the nose of the car stuck out into the flow of traffic on the Don Valley. He punched the red button for the hazard lights, put the car in reverse and scraped back from the main flow of traffic.

At this location the shoulder was so narrow that he could not safely open the door on the driver’s side of the Civic Sedan. The right side of the car was actually in contact with the concrete safety barrier. He sat there, his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel as The Guess Who sang the last few bars of Hang on to Your Life, your life, your life, your life . . .

It took a few fractions of seconds to realize that he was in a precarious position. He’d likely get hit from behind by drivers speeding down the curved ramp. He quickly opened the sunroof, pushed his knapsack containing $30,000 cash through the opening while hanging on to one strap; then climbed onto of the roof of the car, slid on his ass down the windshield and then down the sloping hood of the car.

Sandeep’s Blackberry rang. His hands were shaking. It was Liliane with news about Mark. “Oh my God. Oh my God, No! How is he?” He paused, felt the muscles on his face compress. “OK, thank God. OK, Liliane. Keep me posted.”

In a flash of intuition, Sandeep knew what had just happened. He shook both fists at the steel and glass towers in the background and screamed into the roar and din of traffic. “You motherfuckers!”

He called 911. He explained his emergency and his precarious position and stressed the need for a police cruiser and a tow truck. He dialed Michael Ng’s number. “Michael, they just tried to kill me,” said Sandeep. “They fucked with the brakes on my car. And, I just got a call from Liliane. Two guys picked Mark up and threw him off a subway platform into the path of a train.”

“Ayah!” said Michael.

“Other than a mild concussion and scrapes and bruises, he’s OK,” said Sandeep.

What would they do next? But even still, any reasonable group of senior executives held human life at an infinitely higher value than the financial well-being of a corporation. Didn”t they?  They must be desperate.

Jesus! What are these people capable of?”

Despite the rush hour traffic the police cruiser was on scene in just a few minutes. The cop parked the cruiser several yards behind the Civic with all its lights flashing then he lit a series of red flares and placed them in a triangle away from the rear bumper of the cruiser. The officer then stopped traffic for a few moments and joined Sandeep in the front of the Civic. They both used the top of the concrete safety barrier as a desk while they completed the accident report. When Sandeep told the officer about the CEMI Class Action the Officer realized that this was no mere accident and so he radioed for a police tow truck.

“Got a disabled vehicle here,” said the officer. “Looks like foul play.”

When he’d signed off he looked at Sandeep.

“OK. Your car’s going to the Police garage for a forensic exam.”

Once the police tow truck arrived and took the Civic in tow the officer offered to drive Sandeep home. Instead Sandeep asked to be driven to Michael Ng’s address. Once they were under way he called Michael again to tell him that he was on his way and he needed something a lot stronger than a beer.

When Sandeep arrived there was a full bottle of brandy and two snifters ready and waiting. Sandeep related in more detail the circumstances of his accident. He sat on a sofa in the family room opposite Michael and drank a couple of brandies in quick succession. He reached into his backpack and handed Michael the canvas bag with $30,000 in cash inside

“Michael,” he said. “We didn’t give enough heed to Kahlil’s warning that when three billion a year is at stake, God only knows to what lengths this corporation will go to protect that revenue and its brand. Can you fucking believe it? A Canadian based International Corporation, an icon of the international business establishment. They’re prepared to commit murder — they tried to kill us. Why am I having trouble getting my head around this?”

Michael said nothing for a moment and looked at him coldly. There was no trace of emotion on his face or in his voice when he finally spoke.

“Because, my friend, you have yet to accept the inescapable fact. This is the work of a bunch of psychopaths.”

He paused.

“And it’s not over yet.”

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