When you're working on a murder mystery, you have to deal with the victim and the perpetrator -- what do friends, family, or acquaintances think of them? One thing's for sure -- there shouldn't be total agreement. That is reserved for saints and demons.
And it's not even what the person has done that counts. It's what we THINK they've done that really matters.
It was the height of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. Late November in 1983. Christmas was looming. Derek (not his real name) was in despair. His four-year old girl had told him in July that she'd like a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas. He'd said 'Yes,' of course. She wanted a particular doll -- Bald Baby. He'd said 'Yes,' of course. And then promptly forgot about it for four months.
In those four months, the pursuit of Cabbage Patch Kids grew into a firestorm. The manufacturer announced it had run out of stock. There were riots in toy stores -- at one, 5,000 people descended when it made the mistake of announcing the arrival of 120 dolls. One woman had nearly died.
The panic was close to home. 'Bald Baby, I promised her Bald Baby. Now what I am going to do?' asked Derek plaintively. He was screwed, and he knew it. 'She will hate me. I promised!'
A week later, I had finished work downtown and was riding home, westwards, on the subway. It was a little earlier than normal, before rush hour. A woman sat opposite me, a large Eaton's bag between her legs. She was fidgety, even a little fearful, but it was about five stops before I noticed the box inside the bag. Through the thin plastic, you could just make out the dangerous words. Cabbage Patch.
I got off the train at the next stop, went up and over and back down to catch the next train east and then headed back downtown, to Eaton's at Yonge and Dundas. I headed straight for Toy Land.
The Cabbage Patch Kids display was empty. Totally bare. My dreams of heroism were exploded. I began to walk back toward the escalators, but realized that all of Toy Land was empty. Odd, at the end of November.
I went to find a cashier to enquire -- just to double check, you know. The cashier's station seemed empty, too. But as I approached, a woman stepped out warily from behind a wall of Barbies.
'You know?' the clerk asked, her voice barely audible.
She held up a hand-written note that said $25 plus sales tax. It was like a bank job in reverse. I paid. She gave me the receipt.
'Pocket,' she said, pointing. I put the receipt in my pocket.
She lifted a book in front of her. Underneath was a slip of paper, taped to the desk. On it was a hand-drawn arrow.
I followed its direction. At the first cross-aisle was another hand-drawn arrow, taped to a display and pointing left. I followed. I continued alone and in silence: right, right, then left, right, until I reached the final hand-drawn instruction. It was another note, taped to a pink-beige door, set in a pink-beige wall. 'DON'T KNOCK. WAIT,' said the note.
Thirty seconds later, the door opened. I saw across the wide room that lay inside someone leaving through a matching pink-beige door, clutching a large white bag. I actually could feel my heart rate rise.
'Pocket,' said the woman who'd opened the door. I produced the receipt and was admitted. The door was shut and locked behind me.
I was in a theatre. A pink-beige theatre in Toy Land that I didn't know existed. I walked to centre stage and looked out over two hundred proper theatre seats -- a full house of Cabbage Patch Kids. Two hundred smiling faces and four hundred unseeing eyes looked upon me from their seats. The ludicrous combination of skullduggery, reverence, danger, and lunacy was indelible.
There, in the front row, sixth on the left from the centre aisle, was Bald Baby. I stepped over and pointed. Bald Baby was bagged and I was shown the other door. Not a word had been spoken.
I rode home in triumph, I was Derek's saviour. And Derek would remain a hero to his little one. Sometimes, heroes are what others make them.