The man at the centre of the Chuck Cadman affair is looking a little knackered. It's just past 8:30 p.m., and Tom Zytaruk, the reporter whose book on the now deceased independent MP detonated bribery allegations involving the Conservative Party, has just returned from the carnival.
"Me and my seven-year-old twin boys," he says, widening his eyes in that so-you-know-what-I've-just-been-through look.
Before that it was the circus.
That one the Conservatives created this week when they suggested that Mr. Zytaruk's taped interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the bribing controversy was doctored. This, the opinion of two forensic audio specialists hired by the party to analyze the recording.
"It's been insane," Mr. Zytaruk says over coffee. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing. It's exhausting. But you know what? I'm okay with it because I'm completely at peace with my role. I know I didn't doctor any tape. So in a sense all this stuff that [Conservative MP]James Moore is saying is meaningless. I know what happened."
In an empty restaurant, Mr. Zytaruk, 42, looks like someone who's just got off a 20-hour flight from the Orient. If he's sleeping well, as he says he is, it's not apparent. A thick mop of silver hair is in need of a comb. Fleshy cheeks are pallid. His eyes say: Anyone have toothpicks?
Yet something happens when he smiles. He momentarily brightens and loses years. He becomes so boyish looking, in fact, you imagine how he might have appeared in his Grade 3 class photo.
And, if you're like me, you think: Sorry, but this guy did not doctor any tape to sell a book or make the Prime Minister of this country look bad.
Not a chance.
Of course, that is all gut instinct on my part. But after sitting down and talking with Mr. Zytaruk for 90 minutes there is not a fibre in my body that says he was splicing and dicing tapes for financial gain. No way.
He took me through the 10 minutes or so that he had with Mr. Harper at Mr. Cadman's house the day he asked the Conservative Leader about an allegation that two representatives from the party had offered the dying MP a million-dollar insurance policy in exchange for his crucial, government-defeating vote in the House of Commons.
"If you don't mind," says Mr. Zytaruk, grabbing my tape recorder, "I held it up to him just like this."
I've listened to the tape recording myself and there is a hitch in it near the end. That, said Mr. Zytaruk, is when he stopped the tape because he thought Mr. Harper had finished talking. But when he suddenly turned and continued, Mr. Zytaruk pressed record again.
"It was almost like he had this afterthought, like he was trying to clarify something," the award-winning reporter recalls. "We're talking a split second here."
As someone who uses a tape recorder frequently, I have done the same thing Mr. Zytaruk did that day a thousand times. Stopped my recorder prematurely and turned it back on. I've taped telephone conversations during which there are beeps and seconds of dead air as a result of someone trying to call through on my line or the one of the person to whom I'm talking.
You could probably get a so-called audio expert to say some of my recordings were doctored, too. You can get experts to say almost anything. It happens in courtrooms around the world every day.
There's something a little outrageous about a federal party trying to bully and intimidate and discredit an honest and decent reporter who hasn't had a black mark on his résumé in 17 years at the twice-weekly community newspaper at which he's been employed.
The allegations against Mr. Zytaruk, indirect as they may be, have hurt those around him. His mother, especially. While he tries to remain stoic and unconcerned about the publicity, he wonders whether he's being naive. In this business, there is nothing more important than your integrity and credibility. You trade on it every day. He wonders if the Conservatives are trying to destroy his to save theirs.
"I guess I just have faith in people that they will see that this is just all bullshit," he said. "Honestly, what bothers me more is that Chuck's story is so inspirational and I think all this stuff is just smudging it out.
"The only reason I did this book was so people could read about what an amazing person he was. No one asks me about that now. It's just all about this other stuff. I feel bad for Chuck. He deserved better."