We’re running surveillance. I don’t want to be the last one to arrive, so I race. I take the 401 to the 404, to the 407, head west to Hurontario, exit to the north. I exchange fluids at Timmy’s, gas up at Shell, and arrive at 4:47am.
I drive down the target’s street, past his house, looking for the others. It’s still dark, save for the streetlamps. So far, it’s just me. I confirm the target’s plate. Grab the eye. I get set up—close enough to see his car, far enough I won’t stand out—tucked in amongst the dew covered vehicles.
It’s been five years since our surveillance techniques course. The instructor’s words are as fresh in my mind as the first time he said them: Ain’t rocket science, he’d say. First car there grabs the eye. Want your vehicle to blend in? Think of a box of Smarties.
Two weeks divided between the classroom and on-the-road training. The class instructor drew simple diagrams, little box cars with pointed front ends. His black marker squeaked across the flip-board. He drew arrows up, down and across, and circled things for emphasis. He’d rap on the diagrams with the end of his marker to emphasize key points he was making.
I crank down on the emergency brake and restart my engine to get rid of my daytime running lights. I twist the end of my mini Maglite and point it at my Greater Toronto Area map-book. Red light casts a shimmering veil over the page. I make quick notes and sketches: the street, the house, the vehicle in the driveway. I wait.
The night before, I’d packed snacks: nothing sticky, drippy, or stinky. Nothing requiring tools to open or eat. I’d set the coffee maker and my alarm for 3:40 am, draped clothes over the edge of the tub, and hit the sack early.
When my earplugs dislodged, I’d startled. The snoring! I smacked the pillow beside my husband’s head, replaced the plugs, flipped to adjust the pillow between my legs. I did this twice before I settled.
I fell asleep.
The alarm went off.
I’d costumed quickly: a camouflage of earthy browns and blacks, grabbed an old ball-cap to conceal my light blond hair. Blend in.
Now I watch the target’s house and car. I watch for lights in windows, on cars. I check my mirrors, the time, my pulse. Nothing moves. I wait.
The radio squawks the other cars’ arrivals.
“I’ve got the eye,” I say. “Everything’s open.”
“I’ll set up north,” says the silver Impala. He’s team leader for surveillance today. Good guy.
“I can take him south,” adds another.
Nick doubles to the south in the burgundy van.
“Your lights are on, Smitty,” the silver car says to the grey van.
Right, Smith—the newbie. I jot down: Smitty/grey van. Keep forgetting that guy’s name.
The eastern sky is a soft, glowing ribbon of peach. A silky smile, wistful on the horizon, it stretches into a swath of powder blue. It steeps and lightens, bleaches through the heavy shroud of night. I tweeze the plastic flap on my coffee’s lid until it sticks open, test the temperature with a small sip, then a longer one. I take a slow, deep inhale-exhale. I slurp and swallow until at last I tilt it right up and empty it, still wanting more.
“Okay,” I say, once everything’s covered off, everyone’s set up, quieted down and ready to go. “The black Toyota Camry is in the driveway.” I confirm our target’s plate and we wait.
Half an hour passes. “No change,” I announce. Everyone clicks their radio button to acknowledge me; everyone except the newbie.
“10-4, copy that,” says Smitty.
I race against the pre-dawn light; tilt my seat back so the door frame blocks my silhouette; adjust the mirrors to get the best view. I’m motionless, except for my eyes that scan about until a light or a movement or a shape halts my attention. I study a dark form in the target’s kitchen window. Was it there a minute ago? It doesn’t move. I keep scanning: the doors, windows, driveways, streets, sidewalks. I keep coming back to that dark shape but it never changes. Eventually I’m satisfied it’s nothing.
The nag and pull of a full bladder tugs at me like a child. Not yet. Go away! I can hardly focus. Fuck, I hate when this happens! “Can someone take the eye? I gotta do a nature.”
Ridiculous phrase, ‘to do a nature’! Like I could just hop outta the car and piss on that tree. I’m reminded of the sign my Dad posted along the country road in front of his bush: NO TREEPISSING! TREEPISSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED!
Nope. No tree-pissing for me. No way I’m peeing in some bottle either! Sometimes I imagine a first-aid mask attached to a long hose, maybe a hole in the floor. And me: a Mona Lisa smile. Heard some outdoor stores carry those gadgets. Not standard issue yet. No, I just do the homework: google the gas stations and coffee shops and save them to my favorites. Smith covers off north, the silver Impala takes the eye, and I beat it to the Shell station down the street. “I’ll be down for five on cell,” I say.
Luxury: a private toilet and civilian clothes. That means no gun leaning from my holster below the stall divider. It sits on my waist in a fanny-pack instead, warms—and kept warm by—my abdomen. Better hurry. Nothing’s changed when I return, so I double up to the south.
Doors open and close, people flit about on foot, cars pass, traffic builds. A woman in dress suit runs, heels clacking, after her bus. I imagine her sitting in some frigid workspace, hunched over a portable heater hidden at her feet. She’ll take her lunch outside today. She’ll soak up that beautiful sun until she wilts—her clothes all clammy-stuck to her back. Then she’ll go back in and freeze solid.
“No change,” says the eye at nine forty-five.
At ten-fifteen a man appears in the adjacent driveway. Slumped in my seat with my cap pulled down, I slide my knapsack over the radio console. I remove the binoculars from the passenger seat and tuck them in my jacket. I kill the radio, crook my index finger towards my eye as if wiping a tear, crack the window down a bit and offer a weak hello.
“Why are you sitting here in front of my house?”
“Sorry,” I say. “I needed to get away for a bit—didn’t mean to—”
“Oh?” His eyebrows beef up.
“I’m just upset. My husband and—”
“Are you okay?”
“Just upset—needed a little time.” I bite at my bottom lip.
You just take your time. Sure you’re okay though?”
“I’m okay,” I insist.
“Okay,” he says, and nods.
I nod back and he nods to me again. He’s leaving but then he stops—looks back. I wave him on. Then he goes, lumbers up his driveway and disappears. In one swift, continuous motion I release the emergency brake, twist the radio volume up, start my engine and drive away from there. Well, who’d a thunk? The helpless young damsel was packing a 9mm semi-automatic Smith n’ Wesson in her little black pouch!
“1-Delta-25 from 1-Delta-27,” I radio for an update. Zip, crackle, zip. “1-Delta-25, any change? You guys moving?” More static; my cell rings. It’s the silver Impala.
“Where are you?”
“Took some heat—had to kill the radio.”
“You guys moving?”
“We’re southbound on Hurontario. Target’s alone in the black Camry. I’ll keep the line open till you’re back in range.”
Phone to my ear, I’m off. I can hear the lead car transmit through the Impala’s radio.
“…Ok he’s signalling for the 407 west. Who’s with me?” says the eye.
“Got your back,” says Sammy.
“Okay, he’s on the ramp, heading westbound 407. I’ll stay with him until you’re good to go, says the eye.
“I’m good,” says Sammy.
“He’s yours then,” says the eye.
“Okay, no change,” says Sammy, taking over. “Target’s moving to the centre lane, I’ve two vehicles for cover.”
I reach the on-ramp for the 407 westbound. I merge and take off, tires whir against the concrete. I weave and dart and brake and rev through the sludge of traffic like some adrenaline fueled crazy-woman. I’ve no choice though. If I don’t catch up, I won’t live it down back at the office.
“Can’t drive worth a shit,” they’ll say when I’m out of earshot. Yet, if I’m in an accident, it’s my ass that’s grass.
I know how tricky it can be to catch up. If we’re on a major highway and the target exits without signalling, I might have to continue straight, let the next car take over. The team could be half way to Barrie before I catch up again. You want to master surveillance in Toronto? It’s all about knowing the majors.
Take the new guy, Smitty. He’s probably done surveillance three or four times now but he’s new to the city. He might know Yonge Street, but other than that he’s lost. I bet he’s got a map book open on his steering wheel right now! Even when he knows the majors, the book will be open on the seat beside him. Every chance he gets, he’ll sneak a look at it, check for exits, parallels, one ways, dead-ends. Never want to take a target down a dead end street. Guaranteed to be spotted and just like that—you’re burned! Might as well pack up the team and go home. A dumb move like that could jeopardise the project, not to mention your reputation.
I’m skipping along past the Mavis Road exit when the radio static becomes broken chatter. Getting warmer. “Thanks buddy, I’m almost there,” I say, and hang up. When the voice of the guy in the lead car becomes clear, I slow down and scan the lanes.
There in the middle lane is Smitty’s van.
I tuck in. “Got your back Smitty,” I say.
Beyond the Credit River, the target exits to Mississauga Road. The gold Ford takes the eye. “Okay, we’re turning left, going southbound Mississauga Road,” he says. “Got GlaxoSmithKline on our left and a fresh red in the distance. He’s checkin’ his mirrors boys.” The gold Ford takes him onto Meadowvale.
“You look like a train going around that bend,” I say.
“Can’t help that,” says the newbie, “got no cover.”
In my mind, I’m thinking idiot! “Smitty, pull into Mary Kay.”
Smitty veers left in to the Mary Kay parking lot, braises the soft shoulder, spits up the gravel. I follow him—minus the drama—and circle back to face the road. A vehicle passes and I motion for Smitty to go. He sails outta there spinning more rocks. What a dick!
Ron takes the target past Rapistan Court. Nick takes him past Meadowpines. “He’s signalling left for the Purolator building and I can’t go in,” says Nick.
“I got ’em,” says Smitty. “He’s parking now: 2600 Meadowvale. He’s out of the vehicle; he’s heading for the building.”
I tuck into a laneway across the street. I can barely see the target’s vehicle, just the tip of its nose. Once we’ve set ourselves up, I check the time, jot down some notes. I’m missing a description of what our guy’s wearing, so I know I’m about to be razzed. “What’s he wearing today boys?” I ask.
“Yeah, Nicky, it’s that exciting voice of yours, gets me every time.”
“Right on!” he says. His snort-laugh cut short.
“Cut the chatter,” says Smitty.
“Ooooooooooh,” someone says.
Nick calls my cell with the target’s description. I scribble. He asks for the time we got here.
“Ten thirty five. Think he’s surveillance conscious?”
“The target or fuckin’ Smitty?” he grunts.
“Yeah, Smitty’s gonna get us burned. Had people looking outta windows back there. I bet they call Peel.”
“Think he’s spooked,” says Nick. “Sure acts like it.”
We’re interrupted by Smitty. “Think I’ll go in, buy something,” he whispers.
The team leader says no.
“Okay, he’s coming out,” says Smittty, his words sounding like spit against his mike. “He’s out now—heading to the car…door’s open…now he’s in. Hold on, he’s getting out again. He’s got a package and he’s heading back to the store. I’ll go in.”
“I’m going in,” he says.
“No—!” says the team leader again.
“He went in,” I say. “I’ve got the eye from across the street.”
“Better not get us burned,” says Ron.
Five minutes drag by and still nothing. Then the door opens and the target’s out. “Heads up people,” I say. “He’s out and heading to his vehicle. He’s in. Okay, we got reverse lights—now he’s backing around. He’s heading for the street.”
We take him south to Meadowpines, west to Winston Churchill, then north.
“Smitty with us?” asks the team leader.
“Still picking out his envelope,” snorts Nick.
“401’s coming up, boys,” I say.
“Seriously,” says Nick. “His car was sitting empty when I went by, and I’m at the end.”
“He’s got his right flicker on,” I say.
“Right behind you,” says Ron.
We go eastbound 401, and we’re off! The target’s skipping along now. I check to see who’s with us. A series of radio clicks.
“I’ll call Smitty,” says Nick.
“No change,” I say. I pass the Apple Factory Farm Market, the Mississauga Road exit. “He’s in lane three.” Nick tells us Smitty’s line’s busy. “Okay, he’s moving back to lane two,” I add. “Mavis exit’s coming up. Ron, can you take him?”
“10-4,” he says.
“Heads-up,” calls the team leader. “Info from the wire room: he’s gonna do some shopping. Likely take Hurontario to Square One mall; we’ll set up on him there.”
The target heads south as predicted. But instead of signalling right, he signals left. Ron can’t go with him. “I’m scrogged,” says Ron.
“I’m scrogged too,” says the silver Impala.
So I take him again. But as I’m hitting the intersection the light goes yellow. I say, “go-go-go” to the delivery van turning ahead of me, horns blaring from the oncoming vehicles as I tuck in behind and turn on the red.
“Sorry!” I say out loud.
The black Camry vanishes around the curve, and when I come around, he’s gone. Must have turned here. Now I’m in a parking lot. Gone! No wait: I see the rear of his car descending a ramp.
There’s something eerie about the underground, the dim light and low ceilings. Cars packed tight in coffin rows, surrounded by cement pillars. Part of me wants to tuck into one of the empty spots—make myself disappear like a Smartie—but I keep moving along the row, around the corner, down another ramp, to another massive catacomb with very few vehicles. His car is here. It’s empty.
It takes a few minutes for Nick to find me. We need to switch vehicles because he’s got the van. I get the camera ready. Then I sit and watch, and snack and fiddle. An hour passes, then another. It’s warm. My phone rings.
“You still alive in there?” asks the team leader.
“Barely. Sure it’s happening today?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says. “Might have to hang tight though. A bit of overtime.”
“Sure thing,” I say.
As time passes it’s hard to stay focused. My stomach starts rumbling and I’m outta food. Then the heavy door I’ve been watching for hours swings open and there’s our guy with some woman. The door booms shut and they’re coming my way. I hear them, but can’t make it out.
“He’s out with an unknown female,” I say, hoping they can’t hear me. My heart’s beating fast and hard as they move in front of my van. Then they’re by me. “The girl’s Asian. Slim, ‘bout five feet, long hair: past her shoulders. Brown dress pants, a beige top. I’m guessing mid-thirties.”
They approach another vehicle, pop the trunk, my view is blocked. Then the trunk closes and they’re coming back toward me. I kill the volume on my portable radio. Want to melt into the upholstery. Keep walking, keep walking. They pass by and head toward our target’s car.
“They’re at the target’s vehicle now,” I say. My camera tucked in by the headrest. The target opens the trunk, lifts out a box and opens it. The girl says something, nods. Then she takes—what appears to be—a wad of money from an envelope, hands it to him.
I zoom in and focus. Yup, it’s money! Got ya!
Zip-zip-zip-zip goes the camera. When they turn their heads and point my way, I keep taking pictures. My heart sprints. They can’t see me. I stop and hold my breath as she approaches, passes by me again. Then she hops in her car and pulls up beside him. While they transfer boxes to her trunk, I sing in my head:
I Got You Babe! Zip-zip-zip-zip. I keep shooting as they close the trunks, shake hands. Then she’s back to her car and away.
I call out her vehicle’s description and Nick grabs the plate.
On the drive back to the office, I play it over and over in my head. I’m the forgotten Smartie, wedged between the cushions of the rec-room couch. Invisible even to the dog that sniffs, so close, I smell his humid breath.
Back at the barn there’s a debriefing. The surveillance guys all drop what they’re doing. Drag their chairs to the middle of the bullpen. The team leader sits on the corner of an empty desk.
“First of all, good work guys and gals,” he says. “We made some real progress today.” He floats a satisfied look at each one of us, then comes right back to me and grins.
I’m thinking Su-per-woman! I manage to contain my excitement.
“Those pics—the exchange and the unknown female—the nail in the coffin,” he says. “But even more important is teamwork. That’s what makes or breaks us.” Then he looks at Smitty.
Idiot’s got it coming now! I look at Nick. He smiles back, his eyebrows raised.
“Sometimes it takes going that little extra distance, to get the job done,” the team leader says. “Good work today, Smitty!”
What the fuck?
“If it weren’t for you going in the Purolator Store…” he says to Smitty before turning to the rest of us. “Young Smitty here witnessed the target on his cell phone, that’s how we learned about the meet, and why we stayed on him so long.”
“No fucking way!”
“That’s it, that’s all folks!” he adds. “Please get your notes to me before you leave. Tomorrow we’ll confirm the girl’s identity and address, and do up a general warrant for her phone records. We’ll have some pretty compelling material to include in our next wiretap rewrite.”
Everyone’s looking at the big hero-boy. He sits there like it’s nothing and grins.
Sidonie P. Hynes is a retired, twenty-two year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She spent eight of these years policing in Newfoundland and Labrador, followed by fourteen more working throughout the Greater Toronto Area. In 2011, she retired at the rank of corporal. She currently lives in Wolfville, Nova Scotia with her husband, daughters and two golden retrievers. Her story “Nice Cop” was published in the Summer 2016 Women and Justice Edition of Understorey Magazine.
Photo credit: Princess Cruises.