Trapped, Episode Three

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I went back to city hall, and my life immediately got a lot more complicated.

My boss—the brand-new mayor of Montréal—was waiting. In my office, not his.

You have to understand that our mayors don’t tend to do that. The mountain very definitely goes to Mahomet in Montréal. But Spencer Clark—our first Anglophone mayor in a couple of decades—had only been in the office upstairs for a week and a half; maybe he didn’t know, yet, that he was supposed to be arrogant.

He rose when I came in. “Madame LeDuc.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, shaking his hand and moving behind my desk. “Did we have a meeting? I don’t have it on my schedule—“

He cut he off with a gesture. “No, no, not at all. This is—a personal visit, madame.”

I swallowed. “Of course,” I said, as though mayors normally came to their PR people to ask a favor. This was certainly new and different. “How can I help you, monsieur le maire?”

He sat down again and reached for the coffee on the table next to his chair. At least Chantal had made him comfortable. “I understand that you have been working with Lieutenant Fletcher on the murder of Philippe Aubert.”

“Yes.” I sat down. “Is that a problem? I’ve worked with him in the past—“

He waved me off again. “No, no, it’s fine. I want to—I want to help.” He paused. “Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. Jean-Luc Aubert is a good friend of mine. His wife, Soizic, also.” Another pause. “Philippe is—he was—my godson.”

I just stared at him. In some ways, Montréal is a large complex international urban environment. And then, times like this, it feels like a small village, with associations and interests and secrets crisscrossing its streets and quartiers. But we weren’t wasting time: this was a brand-new mayor.

Brand-new victim, too. I cleared my throat. “I’m very sorry.” I had no idea what to say, or what he wanted from me. “I didn’t realize—“

“Of course you didn’t,” he said. “I want to go and see them—“

“But of course—“

“—and I’d like you to come with me,” he finished. “I am absurdly new in this position, and I don’t want my personal life to make me put a foot wrong professionally.”

That had to be a first.

“And having my PR director there… well, it will help. Of course, you can tell me if I’m overstepping my authority.”

That was definitely a first.

He seemed to notice my silence at last. “I realize that I am perhaps asking a lot of you, as visiting grief-stricken parents is not part of your job description, but...”

I’d finally found my voice. “My job description is flexible,” I said. “I’d be happy to go with you.”

***

I said I’d be happy to go with him. That’s actually not the best adjective to describe how I was feeling by the time we reached the Aubert home. Queasy, perhaps. Happy, not so much.

It was a beautiful house in a row of beautiful houses painted in Victorian colors, with Montréal’s old curving outside staircases for access. Horrible in winder, those stairs, and you don’t see nearly as many anymore as there used to be. The Auberts occupied the second and third floors, etched glass on the doors, old well-maintained wood in the front hallway. Soizic Aubert took one look at Lucien and made a sound that I’d never heard before and then he was holding her, her shoulders shaking.

Our eyes met over Soizic’s head. I shrugged, unbuttoned my jacket, tried to look casual. He nodded and gently disengaged himself from her, murmuring softly.

She turned to me at last, sniffing, dragging a sleeve across her nose. “Madame LeDuc.”

“Madame Aubert,” I said automatically. “Je suis désolée…” My voice trailed off. It was hard to see how my being desolated could possibly help.

She didn’t seem to mind. “Come in,” she said in heavily accented English, no doubt for the mayor’s benefit. “Please sit down. My husband is coming…”

My smartphone chose that moment to announce itself. I glanced at the display and then at Spencer Clark. “I’ll join you in just a moment,” I said, and turned back to the entryway as I read the text from Julian. CCTV by convention ctr. shows P. leaving to use ATM.

I texted back. Anyone around him?

Not clear yet. People going over footage. Means maybe not fellow train enthusiast.

Maybe, I responded and put the phone in my pocket with a sigh.

In the living room, things had progressed. Jean-Luc Aubert had joined his wife on the sofa, holding both her hands in his. I sat down on the edge of one of the chairs. He looked exhausted; they both did. The mayor caught my eye and I shook my head. “Nothing new,” I said. It would be new if Julian’s minions had found something on the CCTV footage. As it was...

He cleared his throat. “I cannot say how sorry I am, how devastated I am,” he said, speaking as if picking his way through a minefield. “Philippe—“

Soizic made a strangled sound and buried her face against her husband’s shoulder. I said, quickly, “We don’t mean to upset you, Monsieur Aubert, Madame Aubert. The mayor wished simply to show you that he stands with you in this difficult time. And of course city hall is doing everything that it can to bring your son’s killer to justice.” PR words, I thought. Useless.

There was a moment of silence. We’d all run out of anything to say. Into the quiet, the doorbell sounded loud and portentous. No one moved. I glanced at the mayor, and said, diffidently, “Would you like me to…?”

No one said anything, so I got up and went to the door. At least here I could be helpful; if there’s one thing a PR professional can do, it’s tell people to go away.

Julia Roberts stood on the step holding a large covered casserole dish. Okay, not Julia Roberts, but clearly her Canadian twin. She looked as startled as I felt. “Bonjour,” she said, and went on in French, “I’m here to see the Auberts? I’m Cécile Richard? From next door?”

The mother of the little boy who may have survived because he’d been down with the flu. I couldn’t remember his name. “Come in,” I said, stepping to the side. If you bring food, you have the right to at least put it down somewhere. Besides, I was curious. “You know where the kitchen is, yes?”

Bien sûr.” She brushed past me and went straight down the corridor to the back of the house; I followed her. The kitchen took up the entire back end of the house, with greenhouse windows opening on a garden and flagstone patio.

Cécile had snapped the oven open and shoved her dish inside, fiddling with dials on the top of the stove. “You didn’t say who you are,” she said without turning.

“No,” I agreed. “I’m Martine LeDuc. I work for the city.”

“A friend of Spencer’s?” So she knew my new boss, too.

“Not exactly,” I said. “I only work for him.”

“I see.” She sighed and sat down at the scrubbed kitchen table. “It’s all so terrible, isn’t it?”

“All of it,” I agreed, sitting down with her. “Tell me something, Cécile, I know your son was a friend of Philippe’s. Had you noticed anyone paying attention to the boys?” It was a straw, but I’m as happy to grasp as the next woman.

She was already shaking her head, the long dark tresses luxuriant in the light. I’d been right in my first impression: I’ve never seen Julia Roberts in person, but I’m pretty sure this was what she looked like. “No, nothing like that. The police already asked those questions, questions like that one, back when Philippe disappeared. I had noticed nothing. They asked Frédérique, too.  A lot of times. There was nothing.” She shrugged. “They questioned everyone, the police. The other people who attend the train club. The teachers at school. Everyone.”

I nodded encouragingly. “And Frédérique—that’s your son, right?—he couldn’t have noticed anyone? A stalker, a stranger…?”

She shook her head, impatient. “No one. And they wouldn’t speak to anyone, in any case. Both the boys knew that. They were smart, they knew how to be in the city.”

“But if it had to do with trains…” I was running out of steam here. Ah, nice pun, LeDuc. “They’d listen to someone who knew about trains, right? Perhaps someone Philippe met at the convention hall?”

“As for that,” Cécile said, “I cannot say. Frédérique did not go. I don’t know who Philippe could have spoken to.” She shivered. “Surely someone who likes the hobby wouldn’t have done that to him! Walled him up in a tunnel…”

I didn’t say anything. I was thinking that people who had obsessions might well be the same ones who might wall up a child but it wasn’t a helpful thing to say to a mother whose child presumably would go on pursuing the obsession.

She stood up. “I have to get home. I left Frédérique alone. He gets… frightened, now. More so than even before. when Philippe was merely missing.”

Small surprise there. Most kids would be terrified out of their skulls. “Your husband isn't with him?” I asked.

Another shrug of the delicate shoulders. “He is away,” she said. “He is often away. He consults to the United Nations. It is an important job.”

I couldn’t help but wonder why he’d allow it to keep him away from his wife and son at a time like this. “I’m sure it is,” I said.