I don't know Fabio Basso, he of the Windsor Drive address in north Etobicoke that's become the focal point of the latest smoke trail in the ongoing crack video scandal. He's Mayor Rob Ford's high school friend.
But he could just as easily have been mine.
The inflection in his voice is one I'm familiar with. So is the working-class 'tude. We spoke by phone on Tuesday, June 11.
I rang him out of the blue. Reluctant to get into a conversation at first, he was careful not to go into details. His is the language of the street, honed no doubt by years of talking himself out of slippery situations. That's not a criticism, just an honest impression.
We've probably all had school chums like him who never moved out of the old neighbourhood, got stuck and for one reason or another couldn't, or wouldn't, outlive their high school daze. Then they find themselves two decades later approaching middle age and still living in their parents' house.
I must have caught him at the right time. Or maybe he was suffering from cabin fever.
Basso has been holed up in his house since June 6. That's when the Star broke the story that the driveway in front of the Basso family bungalow appears to be where that photo of the mayor with Anthony Smith, who was killed in a targeted shooting outside a King West nightclub in March, was taken.
"I'm fed up with this whole thing," he says. "I wake up, I look outside and there they are [reporters] sitting in their cars drinking coffee with a camera on their lap. People I haven't heard from in 15 years call telling me the Star's calling them."
It's also at the Basso address that the mayor has reportedly been indulging his (alleged) appetite for crack, if we're to believe Gawker's latest. The New York-based website ran a story on the Windsor Drive house hot on the heels of the Star's, quoting a source who said shady figures showed up at the residence looking for the alleged video of Ford smoking crack. That would be a few days after news leaked that the mayor's office may have had a bead on the whereabouts of the incriminating video.
Basso is circumspect on the subject of the video: "I've never seen it." And the photo: "I'm not in the picture."
According to some neighbours ("You know how neighbours talk," Basso says), the Windsor address is well known to police and notorious for drug activity. Local residents signed a petition in 2011 asking Etobicoke community council to close off a fence of at the end of Windsor "due to concerns over crime and vandalism" from the nearby Dixon apartment buildings. It's unclear how much of that is related to the Basso residence.
What's clearer is that Basso's sister Elena was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 2011. Fabio Basso, it's also been revealed, has been charged with several petty crimes, including theft. "Imagine pulling everybody's record, what they would find, whatever mistakes they did in their life," he says. "There's only one judge, bud. It's God.
"They've been watching the house for the last month. Where's all this activity? Wouldn't they have pictures of people coming and going steady?"
It's a circular 31-minute conversation that often goes back to slinging rocks at the Star, at points channeling Ford.
"What do they got?" Basso asks. "They have a picture of a garage door. Click. Click. Click. And an old lady digging bags out of her shopping cart. Click. Click. Click. That's crack journalism, pardon the pun."
Then a joke, but I'm not sure if it's to add levity or a sarcastic shot: "I smoke Premium Plus crackers, extra salt."
"They dropped the ball. They lost the game. They haven't changed the status quo." He's talking now of the Star's efforts being all for naught, according to the latest polls. "Now they're looking like idiots. This so-called tape... show me it. People I hear don't believe it," he says. On that last bit, Basso might have something.
Windsor Drive in Etobicoke North has been described as a pleasant, well-kept street. But it's not the pastoral Etobicoke of Royal York, with its mix of Tudors and Victorians. Circa-1950s bungalows dominate the mostly treeless streetscape.
It's an industrial-strength suburb with a touch of the hardscrabble. The hum of highways can be heard nearby. Planes from Pearson scream overhead every few minutes, so close that you can make out the numbers on their tail wing.
The Dixon towers, where poverty and unemployment have given rise to a teeming drug trade, loom large in the distance. In fact, more people live in high-rise apartment buildings than in single-family detached homes in the ward.
It's also here where the suburban-downtown divide when it comes to all things Ford is most evident.
Reporters who converged on the street last Thursday to record the latest chapter in the crack video affair got a firsthand glimpse of that when local Nijole Ardavicius came down to the Basso house to see what the fuss was all about. Ardavicius used to take Fabio's mother, Lina Basso, to swimming lessons.
"Absolutely impossible," she says when asked about that morning's Star report.
The mayor was here a while back on "personal business," she says. He listened to residents' concerns about people from Dixon jumping the fence at the end of the street and "harassing seniors." But to score drugs?
"Our mayor is a good mayor. I don't understand all of this," Ardavicius says. "I don't believe he would do anything like this."
A reporter hands her a smartphone showing the photo of Ford with Smith, et al. He asks what "the mayor would be doing standing on the driveway with those people?"
"Somehow I cannot believe that Rob Ford would be standing in front of this house." She seems genuinely flustered.
Out here on the perimeter, far from City Hall, it seems to be easy for people to get lost in an alternate reality, even when they're presented with hard evidence to the contrary. The distance between the two worlds is more than geographical.
Meanwhile, back at police headquarters on College, the corporate communications machine was forced into something vaguely resembling damage control mode over the Windsor Road revelations.
The June 6 Star story said police responded to a May 21 incident at the house, and that Detective Rob Gallant is investigating, but it had no details. It was only after a neighbour told reporters who converged on the scene later that day about hearing gunshots on May 21 that police were forced to do something they hadn't done in the three weeks since the scandal broke - that is, respond in any detail to the media.
They had no choice. For a few hours, every reporter in town was calling. Police voice mail boxes were full. Shortly before noon, a prepared statement was read to any press who called, but there was no official release.
According to police spokesperson Tony Vella, an armed intruder (no specifics on the weapon) had forced his way into the house and assaulted a man (believed to be Fabio Basso) and woman (reportedly his sister Elena), who were taken to hospital with "non-life-threatening injuries."
Is there a connection between the intruder and the Ford crack video? The police aren't saying. Nor are they saying if the incident was drug-related. Nor if there is a suspect.
In fact, the incident itself shows up nowhere in the force's major news reports, which are usually posted on the Toronto Police Service website. The chief's director of communications, Mark Pugash, did not respond to an email request for comment on that.
There was no press conference when Hanad Mohamed, the second man accused in Smith's death, was arrested out west a couple of weeks back, presumably so cops wouldn't have to answer questions about links to Ford.
The evidence against Hashimi, Mohamed's co-accused, has yet to be disclosed to his lawyer, John Struthers. That was supposed to happen at Old City Hall on Tuesday, June 4, but has been delayed until June 25 because of what Struthers describes as "complications" in the case. Hashimi has been in custody since April 4.
Struthers says he's learned more about the case against his client from reporters than from police or prosecutors.
On the growing Rob Ford crack video scandal, the cops have been exercising extreme caution not to do or say anything that could be construed as taking sides in the madness unfolding around the mayor. That would seem advisable. When a case might involve the most powerful man in the city, it's best to tread carefully. The danger, however, lies in tipping the scales too far the other way in what is a matter of huge public interest.
Perhaps the gumshoes watching the Ford affair are ready to pull a Frank Columbo on us. Hard to know in the absence of less than full public disclosure. Let's hope they aren't falling prey to that Etobicoke state of mind, too.