DTES: "Disposable Meat" for a Hungry Clientlele
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The shadow of Willie Pickton still looms over this corner of hell known as Pain and Wasting.
These were the hunting grounds of a serial killer. And yet, in this beautiful city's worst kept secret, little has changed at the intersection of Main and Hastings. Even as Pickton awaits his fate -- a jury is now deciding whether he killed six of the 26 women he is charged with abducting from here -- life continues as it always has on the Downtown Eastside.
The drug sick and the desperate still climb into the cars of strangers; the broken and the forgotten still scrounge for crack or heroin.
And the rumour is that Dinah Taylor is back in town.
"I saw her about a week ago," shivers Sage, balanced precariously on flamingo legs and high-heeled white boots. "She used to be my friend. She just turned evil."
OTHER KILLERS LOOSE?
Taylor was the bogeyman in the Pickton proceedings, the friend of Pickton's known to hook the needy girls up with the pig farmer. She was never called to testify at the 10-month trial, but Pickton's lawyers spent a lot of time arguing she may have been the real killer.
When the police and the media came calling, Taylor left for her reserve in Ontario.
"I never went on a date with Willie," Sage insists before her pimp drags her away, "but Dinah was always recruiting girls for him."
This low track of tears is known as the poorest postal zone in Canada, site of the highest HIV infection in the country.
There is not much lower you can fall than the Downtown Eastside.
The rain falls on grimy streets littered with the hopeless and the damned. Rusting shopping carts, heaped with clothes and bottles, are shoved under the eaves of decaying flophouses and fleabag hotels. Groups of men huddle in doorways of boarded up buildings, others sell pilfered goods laid out on the wet sidewalks.
The pawn shops are barred and locked tight for the night. But there is one business here that runs 24 hours a day. Outside the once grand Carnegie Public Library, the open air drug mart is awash with customers, the hunger for crack and rock undampened by the drizzle. An ambulance waits in the alley for the overdoses sure to come, its lights bathing the puddles with an eerie glow of blue and red.
Only the truly desperate working girls are out tonight.
Cowboy girl is so strung out she can't stand straight in her thigh-high red boots, but she insists she knew most of the women who went missing from these streets.
"They say I partied with Pickton but I don't remember," her eyes constantly darting around for her 'old man.' "Those years of my life, I don't remember much."
Only this much she knows for certain: "He's not in on it alone. It's not just him."
Angel needs to make another $15 for her $35 room at the Astoria. And then another $300 for the day's crack. So she is out here, in her black boots and sequined mini, pacing her corner with the occasional swing of her white umbrella.
With long raven hair and clear brown eyes, she looks too healthy, too pretty, to be working low track.
She's only been back a couple of months, she explains. She'd been clean for three years, married, had a baby. But the marriage went bad and social services took her two-year-old daughter away.
So the drugs -- and the street that pays for them -- drew her back.
"It's easier not being sober," Angel explains.
She used to know Sereena Abotsway, one of the murdered women. "She was sweet but we never talked a lot. She was always out there tweaking in front of the Balmoral."
Tweaking, the frenzy of a crack addict searching for imaginary drugs.
She remembers Pickton, even had a beer with him once at the Astoria where he would come by and sell his bacon. "He was stupid and weird," she recalls.
Taylor wanted the two to have a date, but she refused.
"She was bringing girls up there," Angel says of Taylor. "She should have been charged, too."
Still, Angel hopes the jury finds Pickton guilty of murdering Abotsway and the other five women in this trial. When this is done, he still stands charged of killing 20 more.
But she is convinced there are other killers still out there.
"I think he should fry. At least one of them got it but I don't think it's enough. Everybody knows he's not the only one. He's not smart enough."
Even if Pickton is put away, life is hardly any safer down here. The flash of cash and promise of some rock is all it takes.
Angel was attacked by one john back in 2004 and ended up killing him in self-defence. The other night, she had another bad date where the guy started punching her in the head when she wanted to get out of his car. She decided not to lay charges when the police came. "It's too much aggravation. No matter how tough you are, bad dates happen."
No, nothing has changed.
"Women are still going missing. I'm somebody's mother, daughter, sister, but out here, I'm meat and I'm disposable and I know it."