Chapter One


Rebecca paused, one hand on the kitchen door.

“Did you put your tins away neatly?”

“Yes, Lena.”

“Have you got your uniform to wash?”

Rebecca smiled but otherwise remained frozen in the motion of leaving. Her food services uniform was folded neatly in the bottom of her bright red tote bag. “Yes, Lena.”

“Do you have your muffins for the weekend?”

“Yes, Lena.” The muffins, carefully wrapped, were packed safely on top of her soiled uniform. She waited for the next line of the litany.

“Now, don’t forget to eat while you’re home.”

Rebecca nodded so vigorously her brown curls danced. “I’ll remember, Lena.” One more.

“I’ll see you Monday, puss.”

“See you Monday, Lena.” Freed by the speaking of the last words, Rebecca pushed open the door and bounded out and up the stairs.

Lena watched her go, then turned and went back into her office.

“And you go through this every Friday, Mrs. Pementel?”

“Every Friday,” Lena agreed, settling down into her chair with a sigh. “For almost a year now.”

Her visitor shook his head. “I’m surprised she’s allowed to wander around unsupervised.”

Lena snorted and dug around in her desk for her cigarettes. “Oh, she’s safe enough. The Lord protects his own. Damn lighter.” She shook it, slammed it against the desk, and was rewarded by a feeble flame. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said, as she sucked in smoke. “But she does her job better than some with a lot more on the ball. You’re not going to save any of the taxpayers’ money by getting rid of her.”

The man from accounting frowned. “Actually, I was wondering how anyone could continue smoking given the evidence. Those things’ll kill you, you know.”

“Well that’s my choice, isn’t it? Come on,” she rested her elbows on the desk and exhaled slowly through her nose, waving the glowing end of the cigarette at his closed briefcase. “Let’s get on with it …”

“They cut emeralds from the heart of summer.”

The grubby young man, who’d been approaching with the intention of begging a couple of bucks, hesitated.

“And sapphires drop out of the sky, just before it gets dark.” Rebecca lifted her forehead from the pawnshop window and turned to smile at him. “I know the names of all the jewels,” she said proudly. “And I make my own diamonds in the refrigerator at home.”

Ducking his head away from her smile, the young man decided he had enough on his plate, he didn’t need a crazy, too. He kept moving, both hands shoved deep in the torn pockets of his jean jacket.

Rebecca shrugged, and went back to studying the trays of rings. She loved pretty things and every afternoon on the way home from the government building where she worked, she lingered in front of the window displays.

Behind her, the bells of Saint James Cathedral began to call the hour.

“Time to go,” she told her reflection in the glass and smiled when it nodded in agreement. As she walked north, Saint James handed her over to Saint Michael’s. The bells, like the cathedrals, had frightened her when she’d first heard them, but now they were old friends. The bells, that is, not the cathedrals. Such huge imposing buildings, so solemn and so brooding, she felt couldn’t be friends with anyone. Mostly, they made her sad.

Rebecca hurried along the east side of Church Street, carefully not seeing or hearing the crowds and the traffic. Mrs. Ruth had taught her that, how to go inside herself where it was quiet, so all the bits and pieces swirling around didn’t make her into bits and pieces, too. She wished she could feel something besides sidewalk through the rubber soles of her thongs.

At Dundas Street, while waiting for the light, a bit of black, fluttering along a windowsill on the third floor of the Sears building, caught her eye.

“No, careful wait!” she yelled, scrambling the sentence in her excitement.

Most of the other people at the intersection ignored her. A few looked up, following her gaze, but seeing only what appeared to be a piece of carbon paper blowing in the wind, they lost interest. One or two tapped their heads knowingly.

When the light changed, Rebecca bounded forward, ignoring the horn of a low-slung, red car that was running the end of the yellow light.


Too late. The black bit dove off the window ledge, twisted once in the air, became a very small squirrel, and just managed to get its legs under it before it hit the ground. It remained still for only a second, then darted to the curb. A truck roared by. It flipped over and started back to the building, was almost stepped on and turned again to the curb, blind panic obvious in every motion. It tried to climb a hydro pole, but its claws could get no purchase on the smooth cement.

“Hey.” Rebecca knelt and held out her hand.

The squirrel, cowering up against the base of the pole, sniffed the offered fingers.

“It’s okay.” She winced as the tiny animal swarmed up her bare arm, scrambled through her hair, and perched trembling on the top of her head. Gently she scooped it off. “Silly baby,” she said, stroking one finger down its back. The trembling stopped, but she could still feel its heart beating against her palm. Continuing to soothe it, Rebecca stood and moved slowly back to the intersection. As the squirrel was too young to find its way home, she’d have to find a home for it, and the Ryerson Quad was the closest sanctuary.

The Quad was one of Rebecca’s favorite places. Completely enclosed by Kerr Hall, it was quiet and green; a private little park in the midst of the city. Very few people outside the Ryerson student body knew it existed, which, Rebecca felt, was for the best. She knew where all the green growing places hid. This afternoon, with classes finished for the summer, the Quad was deserted.

She reached up and gently placed the squirrel on the lowest branch of a maple. It paused, one tiny front paw lifted, then it whisked out of sight.

“You’re welcome,” she told it, gave the maple a friendly pat, and continued home.

A huge chestnut tree dominated the small patch of ground between the sidewalk and Rebecca’s building, towering over the three stories of red brick. Rebecca often wondered if the front apartments got any light at all but supposed the illusion of living in a tree would make up for it if they didn’t. Stepping onto the path, she tipped back her head and peered into the leaves for a glimpse of the tree’s one permanent inhabitant.

She spotted him at last, tucked up high on a sturdy branch, legs swinging and head bent over the work in his hands; which, as usual, she couldn’t identify. All she could see of his face were his eyebrows which stuck out a full, bushy, red inch under the front edge of his bright red cap.

“Good evening, Orten.”

“’Tain’t evening yet, still afternoon. And my name ain’t Orten, neither.”

Rebecca sighed and crossed another name off her mental list. Rumplestiltskin had been the first name she’d tried, but the little man had merely laughed so hard he’d had to grab onto a branch.

“Well, hello, Becca.” The large-blonde-lady-from-down-the-hall stepped through the front door, thighs rubbing in polyester pants.

Rebecca sighed. Nobody called her Becca, but she couldn’t get the large-blonde-lady-from-down-the-hall to stop. “My name is Rebecca.”

“That’s right, dear, and you live here at 55 Carlton Street.” Her voice was loud and she pronounced each word deliberately, a verbal pat on the head. “Who were you talking to?”

“Norman,” Rebecca ventured, pointing up into the tree.

“Not likely,” snorted the little man.

The large-blonde-lady-from-down-the-hall pursed fuchsia lips. “How sweet, you’ve named the birds. I don’t know how you can tell them apart.”

“I don’t talk to birds,” Rebecca protested. “Birds never listen.”

Neither did the large-blonde-lady-from-down-the-hall.

“I’m going out now, Becca, but if you need anything later don’t you hesitate to come and get me. She brushed past the girl, beaming at this opportunity to show herself a good neighbor. That Becca may not be right in the head, she’d often told her sister, but she’s so much better mannered than most young people. Why, she never takes her eyes off me when I speak.

For almost a year now, Rebecca had been trying to decide if the white slabs of teeth between heavily painted lips were real. She still couldn’t make up her mind, the volume of the words kept distracting her.

“Maybe she thinks I can’t hear?” she’d asked the little man once.

His answer had been typical.

“Maybe she doesn’t think.”

She fished her keys out of her pocket—her keys always went in the right front pocket of her jeans, so she always knew where they were—and put them in the lock. Then she thought of a new name and, leaving the keys dangling, went back to the tree.

“Percy?” she asked.

“You wish,” came the response.

She shrugged philosophically and went inside.

Friday night she did-the-laundry and had beef-vegetable-soup-for-supper, just as she was supposed to according to the list Daru, her social worker, had drawn up. Saturday, she spent at Allen Gardens helping her friend George transplant ferns. That took all day because the ferns didn’t want to be transplanted. Saturday night, Rebecca went to make tea and found she was out of milk. Milk was one of the things Daru called odds and ends groceries and she was allowed to buy it herself. Taking a dollar and a quarter out of the handleless space shuttle mug, she let herself out of the apartment and walked down Mutual Street to the corner store. She didn’t stop to talk to the little man, nor to even look up into the tree. Daru had said over and over she had to be careful with money and she didn’t want to hold on to it any longer than she had to.

Hurrying back, she wondered why the evening had grown so quiet and why the poorly lit street suddenly seemed so filled with shadows she didn’t recognize.

“Mortimer?” she called when she reached the tree, knowing he would answer whether she guessed his name or not.

A drop of rain hit her cheek.

Warm rain.

She put up her hand and it came away red.

Another drop crinkled the paper bag around the milk.


Rebecca recognized blood. She had bleeding once a month. And Daru had said that any other time but then blood meant something was wrong and she was to call her no matter when, but Daru wouldn’t see the little man and he was the one bleeding, Rebecca knew it, but she didn’t know what to do. Daru had said she must never climb trees in the city.

But her friend was bleeding and bleeding was wrong.

Rules, Mrs. Ruth had often said, exist to be broken.

Putting down the milk, she jumped for the bottom branch of the chestnut. Bark pulled off under her hands, but she tightened her grip—people were always surprised at how strong she was—and swung herself up, kicking off her thongs. Men in orange vests had tried to take that branch off earlier in the spring, but she’d talked to them until they forgot why they were there and they’d never come back. Rebecca didn’t approve of cutting at trees with noisy machines.

She climbed higher, heading for the little man’s favorite perch. The dusk and the shifting leaves made it hard to see, throwing unexpected patterns of shadow in her way. When her hand closed over a wet and sticky spot, she knew she was close. Then she saw a pair of dangling boots, the upturned toes no longer cocky as blood dripped off first one and then the other.

He had been wedged into the angle formed by two branches and the main trunk. His eyes were closed, his hat was askew, and a black knife protruded from his chest.

Carefully, Rebecca lifted him and cradled him against her. He murmured something in a language she didn’t understand but otherwise lay completely motionless. He weighed next to nothing and she could carry him easily in one arm as she descended, his legs kicking limply against her hips, his head lolling in the crook of her neck.

When she reached the bottom branch, she sat, wrapped her other arm about her wounded friend, and pushed off. The landing knocked her to her knees. She whimpered, then got up and staggered for the safety of her apartment.

Once inside, she went straight to the bed alcove and laid the little man upon the double bed. Around the knife his small chest still rose and fell so she knew he lived, but she didn’t know what she should do now. Should she call Daru? No. Daru wouldn’t See so Daru couldn’t help.

“She’ll think I’m slipping again,” Rebecca confided to the unconscious little man. “Like she did when I told her about you at first.” She paced up and down, chewing the nails of her left hand. She needed someone who was clever, but who wouldn’t refuse to See. Someone who would know what-to-do.


He hadn’t ever actually said he could See. He’d hardly ever said anything to her at all, but he spoke with his music and the music said he’d help. And he was clever. Roland would know what-to-do.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled on her running shoes, then turned and patted the little man on the knee.

“Don’t worry,” she told him. “I’m going for help.”

Grabbing up her sweater, she stepped out into the hallway and paused. Would he be safe in there all alone?


The large gray tabby, moving with stately dignity down the hall, stopped and turned to face her.

“The little man from the tree has been hurt.”

Tom licked at the spotless white of his ruff, waiting to be told something he didn’t know.

“Can you stay with him? I’m going for help.”

He considered it while inspecting one forepaw. Rebecca bounced as she waited, but she knew there was no use in trying to hurry a cat. Finally he stood and came forward to brush against her legs, his head bumping into the hollows of her knees.

“Thank you.” She reached behind her and pushed open the door. Tom went in, snapping his tail out of the way as she closed it behind him.

Heading for the stairs, she broke into a run.

Roland scowled at the scattering of money in his open guitar case. It hadn’t been a good evening. In fact, for a Saturday at Yonge and Queen, it had been pitiful. A breeze lifted one of the few bills and he grabbed for it. His uncle was pretty understanding about waiting for the rent on his basement room but point-blank refused to feed him. A twenty-eight year old man, his uncle often said, should have a real job.

A teen-age girl, almost wearing a pair of pale blue shorts, came up from the subway and Roland watched appreciatively as she passed by him and stood waiting for the light.

He’d had real jobs, off and on, but he always came back to music and music always brought him back to the street where he could play what he liked when he liked. Occasionally, he filled in when local groups needed a guitarist at the last minute. He was supposed to be filling in tonight, but this afternoon held gotten a call saying both the drummer and the keyboard player had picked up the same bug as the man he was to replace and the gig had been called off. He checked his watch. Eight forty-five. Both Simpsons and the Eaton Centre would be closing in fifteen minutes and business might pick up on the street.

Drifting up from the passage that ran under Queen Street, connecting Simpsons to both the Centre and the subway, came something Roland thought he recognized as a Beatles song. The Beatles probably wouldn’t have recognized it, but in the six days this guy had been down there Roland had gotten used to his peculiar interpretations. The guys who sang in the subway made more money, but they had to pay a hundred bucks a year to the Toronto Transit Commission for a licensing fee and move from station to station according to a schedule that came down from the head office. Roland refused to even consider it; licensing busking was an obscenity as far as he was concerned.

He checked his watch again. Eight forty-seven. Time flies. He scanned the few people on the street and from slogans on T-shirts—the right to arm bears?—assumed they were American tourists. Probably from Buffalo or Rochester. Sometimes it seemed like half of upper New York State came into Toronto on the weekends. He sighed and flipped a mental coin. John Denver came up and he launched into “Rocky Mountain High.” So much for artistic integrity.

By the second verse, the satisfyingly solid thunk of the new dollar coins hitting his case had put him in a better frame of mind and he was able to smile at Rebecca when he noticed her standing in front of him. The part of his mind not occupied with going home to a place he’d never been before wondered what she was doing out so late. He usually saw her in the early afternoon when she spent her lunch break sitting listening to him play and he never saw her on the weekends. He suspected she wasn’t allowed out at this hour but didn’t take it for granted; he’d learned not to take much about Rebecca for granted.

“I’m not retarded,” she’d told him that first afternoon, prompted by his condescending voice and manner. “I’m mentally disadvantaged.” Her pronunciation of the long words was slow, but perfect.

“Oh?” he’d said. “Who told you that?”

“Daru, my social worker. But I like what Mrs. Ruth says I am better.”

“And what’s that?”


“Uh, do you know what that means?”

“Yes. It means I have less pieces than most people.”

“Oh.” There wasn’t much else he could think of to reply.

She’d grinned at him. “And that means I’m solider than most people.”

And the funny thing, Roland mused, was that while undeniably retarded, in a number of ways Rebecca was solider than most people. She knew who and what she was. Which puts her two up on me, he added with a mental snort. And sometimes she’d say the damnedest things, right out of the blue, that made perfect sense. With some surprise, he realized he actually enjoyed talking to her and looked forward to spotting her smile amidst the harried lunch hour scowls.

As Roland moved into the last chorus, he saw she was bouncing, rising up on her toes and back, up on her toes and back, the way she did when she had something important to tell him. The last something important had been the hideous orange sweater she now had tied around her waist. (“I bought it myself at Goodwill for only two dollars.”) He thought she’d been overcharged but she’d been so proud of her purchase he couldn’t say anything. It looked worse than usual tonight against her purple tank top and her jeans.

He finished the song, smiled his thanks as a fortyish man in a loud Hawaiian shirt dropped a handful of loose change into the case, and turned to Rebecca.

“Hey, kiddo, what’s up?”

Rebecca stopped bouncing and stepped toward him. “You have to help, Roland. I got him in my bed, but I don’t know what to do now. Or how to make the bleeding stop.”


She took a startled step back. There were too many built things around, too many cars, too many people; she could feel all the pieces pushing in at her. She could feel the outside nibbling at her edges but she knew she couldn’t go to the quiet inside place if she wanted to save her friend. Moving forward she clutched at Roland’s arm. “Help. Please,” she pleaded.

Roland considered himself a good judge of emotions—a necessary skill for survival on the street—and Rebecca was definitely frightened. Awkwardly, he patted her hand. “Yeah, don’t worry. I’ll come. Just let me pack up.”

Rebecca nodded, a jerky motion which Roland knew meant she wasn’t far from panic for her movements were normally slow and deliberate. Where the hell is her social worker? he asked himself, scooping change into a small leather bag. She’s supposed to be riding to the rescue, not me. He laid the guitar down, tucked the bag along the neck, and closed the lid. And what the hell happened? Can’t stop what bleeding? Oh, Jesus, just what I need; Simple Simon stabs a pieman, film at eleven.

He straightened up, shrugged into his corduroy jacket—wearing it was easier than carrying it, even if it was still hotter than blazes out—picked up the guitar case, and held out his hand.

“Okay,” he said in what he hoped was a reassuring tone, “let’s go.”

She grabbed the offered hand and pulled him forward, across Yonge and east along Queen.

The light was green; fortunately, because Rebecca didn’t look and Roland didn’t think he could stop her. He suspected that if he tried to pull his hand free she’d crush his fingers without even noticing it. He hadn’t realized she was so strong.

Wait a minute! She got him in her bed?

“Rebecca, did a man attack you?”

“Not me.” She continued to pull.

He had a feeling she didn’t understand the question and with no idea whether she knew what rape meant, he didn’t know how to rephrase it. Trouble was, while her mind might be no more than twelve at best, her body was that of a young woman; a well padded young woman, pretty in a comfortable sort of a way. Roland could remember being disappointed himself when he caught sight of the expression that went with the curves but he knew that wouldn’t discourage a lot of men and would, in fact, encourage a few. The world, he sighed silently, has a fuck of a lot of shitheads in it and a distressingly large number of them are men. It wasn’t that Rebecca was innocent, she had too much unconscious sensuality for the word to apply, it was more that she had an innocence—though, if pressed, Roland knew he couldn’t define the difference. He twisted away from the subject. The whole concept made him sweat.

One thing Roland had come to know about Rebecca: she never told lies. Occasionally her version of the truth was a little skewed, but if she said that someone was bleeding in her bed, she truly believed someone was. Of course, he watched the curls bob on the back of her neck, she also believes that a troll lives under the Bloor Viaduct. He couldn’t decide whether he should get upset or wait until he was sure that there was something to get upset about.

At Church Street, Rebecca began to calm down. She walked this route every day and the familiarity of it soothed her.

It’s nine o’clock, Saint Michael’s told her as they passed. Nine, nine, nine. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Late, late, late.

She let go of Roland’s hand and ran a little ahead, unable to keep herself to his pace any longer.

Roland flexed his fingers, feeling circulation return. He couldn’t help but smile as he watched her run forward, then back to make sure he still followed, then forward again. It reminded him of an old Lassie movie. He hoped he’d have nothing more complicated to deal with than little Timmy trapped in a flooding river. He hoped. But he doubted it.

When they reached her apartment building, Rebecca darted up the path and snatched up a brown paper bag leaning up against the foot of the tree. She looked inside, nodded in satisfaction, and held it out for Roland’s inspection.

“My milk. I left it here earlier.”

“It’ll be warm, kiddo.”

Touching the side of the cardboard carton, she shook her head. “No. It’s still cool.” Then she turned the bag and pointed at a reddish-brown stain. “See.”

Roland leaned forward. It looked like … “Oh my god, that’s blood!” Someone was bleeding in her bed … Jesus! And here he was, dashing to the rescue. He should’ve called a cop the moment she showed up.

Handing him the milk—he held it gingerly, hardly able to take his eyes off the stain—Rebecca unlocked the entrance and led the way upstairs.

“I left Tom with him,” she explained, pausing in front of her apartment. She gave the door a push and it swung silently open.

Roland stared into a scene of utter chaos and felt his jaw drop. One piece of curtain hung crazily askew, swinging in the breeze from the open window. The other appeared to have been shredded and flung about the room. A kitchen chair lay on its back, dripping with water and garlanded with cut flowers, the broken vase on the floor beside it. Plants and dirt were everywhere.

In the center of the mess, sat a large tabby cat, placidly grooming the white tip of his tail. An ugly scratch showed red against the pink of his nose and one ear had acquired a fresh notch.

“Tom!” Rebecca stepped over a pile of green fur Roland assumed had been a rug before puss and his playmate had gotten to it. “Are you all right?”

Tom curled his tail around his toes and stared up at her with gold, unblinking eyes; then he noticed Roland and hissed.

“It’s okay,” Rebecca explained. “I brought him to see. He’ll know what to do.”

Tom looked Roland up and down, then twisted around to wash the base of his spine, a gesture of obvious disbelief.

“Yeah? Well, same to you, buddy,” Roland growled as they headed past him into the bed alcove. He hated cats, the sanctimonious little hairballs. “Okay, Rebecca, where’s this …”

The question remained unfinished. Rebecca sat on the edge of her bed holding the hand of a little man, no more than a foot high. Although he wore trousers of green and an almost fluorescent yellow shirt, the color red dominated the scene. His hair, eyebrows, and beard looked almost orange beneath the bright red cap which matched the scarlet bubbles appearing between his lips with every breath. But it was the crimson stain beneath the handle of the black knife in his chest that drew the eye.

His eyes opened, focused on Rebecca, and the ghost of a smile drifted over his face. His hand tightening on hers, he tried to speak.

She leaned closer.

“Alex … ander,” he gasped.

“Alexander? But I guessed that months ago!”

“I know.” He fought for one last breath. “I lied.” The ghost of the smile returned and the little man died. Slowly, the body faded away until only the black knife and the red stains remained.