Chapter 32: “Someone is out to kill me.”

SUNDAY, 13TH DECEMBER, 2009

I don’t know how to explain what happened, but I will to the best of my ability. In a nutshell, on Sunday, the 13th of December, 2009, on the Feast of Santa Lucia, in a span of no less than six hours, I…

Okay, let me start from the beginning.

I had barely woken up when my cell phone rang, sometime around 10 AM. When I looked at the caller ID, it was a number that I didn’t recognize. Being the gentleman that I like to think that I am, I answered. “Hello?”

“Graziano?” I recognized the trembling voice. It was Mykhaylo’s mother, Oleksandra.

“Oleksandra? What’s the matter?”

“Mykhaylo didn’t show up to church this morning. He’s not answering his phone.”

“Oh, God,” I muttered. “Look, I was going to swing by his place later today, but I’ll check on him as soon as I can.”

“Please do, honey.”

“Okay. I’ll call you as soon I find out what happened.”

Dyakuyu, Graziano.”

After I hung up, I immediately got dressed and gave Britney something to eat. As I walked out of my bedroom, I saw Brandon reading the paper on the couch.

“Where are you off to today?” Brandon asked.

“Mykhaylo’s mother just called. He didn’t show up to church, and he’s not answering his cell phone. She’s worried, so I’m going to check on him.”

“Oh. I hope he’s okay.”

“Me too.”

“I’m going out for brunch with a colleague in half an hour. I probably won’t be back until 3 at the latest. I’ll be sure to bring some back for you.”

“Thanks, Brandon. See you.” I rushed out of the apartment, careful to lock the door behind me, and within minutes I was driving toward Mykhaylo’s neighbourhood near Ryerson University. My heart was pounding with each turn of the tires. When I got out near the intersection of Gerrard East and Jarvis, I was coming close to passing out.

Had I passed out, at the very least I would have avoided seeing what awaited me in Mykhaylo’s apartment. As I approached, I noticed that the door was open, but slightly. I tried to push it open, but something was impeding my progress. And then I looked through the opening, and I saw two things: a rather heavy duffel bag at the foot of the door, and a hand lying on the carpet. I recognized that hand from anywhere: it was Mykhaylo! I managed to push the door open to find my boyfriend on the carpet, dressed up and out cold between the TV and the coffee table. Immediately, I rushed to his side and turned him over, no small feat given that Mykhaylo weighed only a kilogram or two off my weight and had a similar build. His mouth was open, there was an ugly brown-red-blue bruise on his forehead, there was a pool of vomit next to him, and I could barely feel a pulse. Mercifully, there wasn’t any spilt blood to be found on his body.

With all the force in my body, I did CPR. Memories of being at Evan’s side before they switched off life support five years earlier flooded through me, and I was NOT, repeat, NOT going to endure that again. Not with Mykhaylo Karbanenko. Two minutes later, Mykhaylo coughed loudly.

“Mykhaylo, it’s me,” I calmed myself down as I spoke to him. “It’s okay.”

“I’m… sorry, Graz…” he said, tears coming down his face. I hugged him as he sobbed. Tears began to form down my face, too. I immediately dialed 911.

“I need an ambulance to 250 Jarvis, Apartment 6B. I found my boyfriend on the floor. I gave him CPR, and he’s awake, but I think something’s wrong.”

Within ten minutes, the ambulance came. I followed them to Toronto General Hospital, and as soon as they checked him in, I called Oleksandra back. I will never forget the sound of her screaming as she heard my voice. She instantly knew that something was up. I didn’t need to tell her anything, other than where Mykhaylo had been hospitalized.

Thirty minutes later, Ruslan and Oleksandra joined me in the waiting room. It took another hour before a raven-headed doctor finally approached our nervous asses. She said that Mykhaylo was going to be all right, but they needed to keep him in the hospital for observation. In the meantime, we were allowed to see him.

Mykhaylo was in his bed, drifting between being sleepy and awake when we came in. He had a bandage on his head, but otherwise looked fine, given that he had been in a state of unconsciousness for some time. “Hi, Graz,” he weakly said.

“Hey, buddy,” I hugged him gently. “I don’t want to ask how you’re feeling, because we know the answer.”

“Like shit, I know” he replied as Ruslan and Oleksandra hugged him and said some words in Ukrainian.

“What happened?”

Shcho trapylosya?” Oleksandra echoed my question.

“I don’t know. Ya ne znayu. Last night, I went to a bar with some friends, and when I got back to my apartment, I just… collapsed.” And then he said it again in Ukrainian. “I didn’t wake up until you gave me CPR, Graz.”

“What did you have to drink?” I asked.

Mykhaylo shrugged. “Just some wine. Two glasses. That’s all I had.”

“Graziano, we’d like to speak with our son by ourselves, please,” Ruslan said to me.

I looked at Mykhaylo. He nodded his head. “It’s okay.”

“I’ll be in the waiting room, then,” I replied. As I walked away, I heard the Karbanenkos chat quietly in Ukrainian. I went into the waiting room and dialed Brandon’s number. After a few moments, his voice mail picked up.

This is Brandon. Leave a message after the beep.

(BEEP)

“Hey, Brandon. I’m at General Hospital. Mykhaylo’s with his parents now. He went out last night with some friends, but when he came home, he collapsed. He’s doing fine, all things considered, but they’re going to keep him in the hospital at least for the night.”

As soon as I hung up, I caught a glimpse of the news on the flat-screen TV. It was the CP24 channel, and a woman was reporting a breaking news story:

A woman is recovering from injuries at Scarborough Hospital, after being found nearly naked and beaten in Amberdale Ravine Park. She is 25-year-old Aparecida Vasconcelhos, a nursing student from Brazil. Ms. Vasconcelhos was found around 7AM by a jogger, who promptly took her to the hospital nearby.

SHIT. I hadn’t seen Aparecida since that run-in weeks earlier, but I was still shocked. For the next ten minutes, I just sat in my chair, this close to frozen. Mercifully, Aparecida had survived, so that was good. But then, I began thinking about it some more, and a sudden wave of dread swept through me. Mykhaylo’s collapse at his apartment… Aparecida getting beaten up and left for dead… and within hours of each other, to boot. Something wasn’t right. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.

But I didn’t want to think about the possibility. I got up and walked back to Mykhaylo’s room, where he and his family were still talking. “I’m just going to get some things from the lobby,” I said. “I’ll be back in about ten minutes.”

Mykhaylo nodded, and soon I was in the elevator going down. In the Food Court, at the Lettieri Espresso + Bar, I nervously ate a Lago di Garda panino (roasted turkey breast with tomato, Emmenthaler cheese, roasted pepper hummus, and Romaine lettuce). I was on pins and needles as I ate my lunch, and just when I thought that it couldn’t get any more dramatic, I saw Claire Breedlove approach me.

And she was wearing an arm sling on her left.

“Oh, Jeebus,” I muttered loudly as she walked towards me. She looked shaken up, even if you take the arm sling out of the equation.

“Well, I never received that kind of greeting before,” Claire said.

“I’m sorry, Claire,” I replied, giving her a careful hug. “It’s been a rough few hours for me. What happened to you?”

“I was in a car accident,” Claire said, using her free arm to brush her right shoulder. “I crashed into a tree.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Well, what can you do? I don’t know much about cars other than driving them and filling them up with gas,” Claire tried to put a humorous spin on the matter. “What are you doing here?”

“Mykhaylo is recovering upstairs. I found him in his apartment this morning, and he was unconscious.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“And I just found out on the news that my dad’s mistress was beaten up and left for dead at some park. She’s at Scarborough Hospital, recovering.” I looked at my watch. It was almost 2PM. “Listen, I should check on Mykhaylo. Are you going to be okay?”

Claire smiled and hugged me with her free arm. “I’ll be alright, Graziano. My sister will pick me up soon. Go and see your boyfriend. I’ll keep you posted.”

She gave me a motherly squeeze of the hand before I left with my panino and Diet Coke. When I got back to Mykhaylo’s room, the same doctor from hours before was there, talking to Ruslan and Oleksandra.

“Graziano,” Oleksandra said, “this is Dr. Gupta.”

Dr. Gupta, or Dr. Neelam Gupta as said on her badge, shook my hand. She had a regal, elegant, dignified quality to her, as if she stepped out of the Femina Miss India contest. “Pleased to meet you,” she said.

“Pleased to meet you,” I responded. “How is he?”

“I was just getting to that. Why don’t we step outside?”

I joined Dr. Gupta, Ruslan, and Oleksandra in the hallway, but not before giving Mykhaylo a quick squeeze of his hand. And then, Dr. Gupta said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we found GHB in his blood samples.”

My mouth dropped. Ruslan and Oleksandra were confused. “What is GHB?” Ruslan asked.

“It’s a date-rape drug!” I suddenly exclaimed.

Ruslan and Oleksandra looked at Dr. Gupta. “It is a date-rape drug,” she said. “Gamma-hydroxybutyrate acid. It is used to make someone more receptive to sexual activity without their knowing it.”

“Someone raped him?” Oleksandra asked.

“We didn’t find any traces of sexual contact. Now, normally, the average dose of GHB in these cases is between 1.8 to 2.7 grams. We found 4 grams of GHB in his system. I think that this may be an act of poisoning.”

My knees began to shake. “Poisoning?” I asked.

“Yes, poisoning. Fortunately for Mykhaylo, we were able to detect it before it was too late. I’ve treated men and women who had GHB in their systems before, and the amount that Mykhaylo took is a record, as far as I am concerned.”

“How do they put it in?” Ruslan asked. “You can’t willingly ingest it, I think.”

“They put it in alcohol, Ruslan,” I replied. “It’s clear and odour-less.”

“How do you know about it, then?”

“I took a drug-prevention course in university.”

Dr. Gupta nodded. “He’s right about the GHB. Now, we’ll need to run some more tests on Mykhaylo, but I am pretty sure that he will recover. Had he ingested more, he would have died and you’d have a murder investigation to deal with. Right now, he needs to rest.”

Oleksandra turned to me. “Graziano, I think you should go home. We’ll take it from here, and we’ll call you if anything happens.”

I nodded. “Okay. I’m so sorry, guys.”

“It’s okay,” Ruslan said. He and Oleksandra hugged me, which was something that my parents never did, and it felt good. “You’ve done so much for our son, and we love you for it.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you, Dr. Gupta.” I bid all three of them goodbye and left the hospital. I was still a nervous wreck as I drove back home. Mykhaylo was in the hospital due to poisoning, Aparecida was in the hospital after being beaten up, and Claire had been in an accident… ON THE SAME FUCKING DAY.

I pulled into the parking lot outside 600 Queens Quay West, and the air was colder than it had been in the morning. When I entered the apartment, it was eerily quiet. I saw Britney lying on the carpet in front of the TV. I picked her up and sat on the couch.

“Honey, you wouldn’t believe the day I had,” I said, stroking Britney’s fur. And then, suddenly, I heard crying come from Brandon’s room.

“Brandon?!” I called out. There was still some crying. With Britney in my arms, I walked to his room. Brandon was at his desk, hunched over some papers, sobbing. It was a side of him that I had never seen before. He was always solid as a rock, even in the most stressful of circumstances. But not now. He was a mess.

“Brandon, what’s wrong?” I asked, setting Britney down on the carpet.

“Graz,” he said, in between sobs, “I’m sorry. I’m just so upset now.”

I pulled up a spare chair and sat next to him. “Didn’t you go to brunch?”

“I didn’t have time.” And then he raised his head. Amid the streaks of tears, there was a giant black eye. My heart stopped for a moment. I had never seen a black eye that bad in my life. I immediately rushed to the kitchenette and got Brandon an ice-pack. Within moments, the ice-pack was on Brandon’s face.

“Who did this to you?” I asked.

Holding the ice-pack with his left hand, Brandon took some deep breaths. “I don’t know,” he said. “I was in the parking lot, when some guys came up to me and called me a faggot. Just out of thin air. I tried to defend myself, but they were too much. I barely made it out alive. I just went back up here and I’ve been… crying ever since.”

At that moment, something in my mind clicked. Everything was now making sense. What had happened to my friends was not a set of loosely-connected coincidences. My friends had been attacked, but they were mere collateral damage. Someone was out to get me. And I had an extremely good idea as to who was behind it all.

“Oh, Brandon,” I hugged him tightly. “I’m so sorry. Did you get a good look at who did it?”

He shook his head. “I did get the license plate number.” He wrote it on a green Post-It and handed it to me. I didn’t recognize the number, but I put it in my pocket anyway. “Why did you do that?” he asked.

“Brandon,” I said, “Mykhaylo was poisoned last night. Someone slipped him enough GHB to bring down two people. And when I was in the waiting room, I saw on the TV that Aparecida had–”

“Who’s Aparecida?” Brandon interrupted me.

“My father’s mistress.”

“Oh. I remember now. Sorry.”

“Anyway, they found Aparecida in Scarborough, nearly naked and beaten up. She’s recovering. And then, when I got lunch in the Food Court, I saw Claire. She was in a car accident… though now it seems like it wasn’t.”

Brandon was quiet for a few seconds, and then he asked, “How do I fit in this?”

I took a deep breath. “You were attacked. Mykhaylo was attacked. Aparecida was attacked. Claire was attacked. What do you and they have in common? Me. Brandon, someone is out to kill me. They want to kill you all so that they can kill me.”

Brandon’s eyes widened, though having a black eye made it hurt. “Ow,” Brandon muttered, placing more pressure on his ice-pack. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” I placed my right hand on his left shoulder.

“Graz, who’s out to kill you?”

I took another deep breath, and then I said it: “My family.” It brought chills to my body.

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