Trapped, Episode Five

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Ivan was willing to give up the concert.

“Listen, you have more than enough on your mind,” he said. “And Mahler isn’t going to make you feel any perkier.”

I frowned. He was spot-on there; but this was one of Montréal’s Symphony Orchestra’s grands concerts, and along with the Adagio for Strings were a trumpet concerto and a trombone concerto. Ivan loves brass instruments. “No, let’s go,” I said. “I’ll only fret at home.”

Claudia had been lounging against the doorframe. “Yes!” she exclaimed, pumping a fist into the air. Over the past couple of months we’d been gradually allowing her to be in charge when we were out, no babysitter, and a gift card as payment. “Don’t get too enthused,” I cautioned her. “It’s a school night.”

“Whatever.” She turned and left, eager no doubt to get on the phone to her current social circle.

Ivan and I looked at each other. “Whatever,” we said in unison.

I put on one of my little black-nothing Juliette Gréco dresses and delivered a lecture that the kids half-listened to. That was okay; I was only half-listening myself. “They’ll be fine,” said Ivan in the car.

“I wasn’t worried.”

“Yes you were.” He didn’t take his eyes off the road, but he reached over and took my hand. “You’ve been imagining Lukas down there ever since they found that boy.”

“Lukas will be fine.” But I said it fiercely, like a talisman. “Yes,” said Ivan. “He will.”

We were almost at the Places des Arts when my phone rang. I checked it automatically, ready to send the caller to voicemail, then changed my mind. “What fresh hell is this?” I muttered before swiping to take the call. “Good evening, monsieur le maire,” I said.

“Martine,” he said. Apparently his call for informality still stood. “I wonder if you can do something for me.”

“Of course.”

“It’s just—well, I’m not the best person—“

I glanced at Ivan. “What is it, sir?”

“Soizic rang me about a half-hour ago,” he said. “Soizic Aubert. Philippe’s mother. Cécile Richard has been talking to her. That’s the next-door neighbor.”

“Yes, sir, I remember.” Ivan pulled over into a loading zone to wait out the call.

“Well, their son, Frédérique, he’s got this box where he keeps papers and things. Well, he used to, when he was young; he’s at university now, and just home because of—well, what happened.”

“Yes, sir?” I had no idea where this was going.

Spencer Clark cleared his throat. “Well, the long and short of it is, he has lots of notes from Philippe in there, and no one remembered to show them to anyone at the time. And he’s home now, and he found the box, and told his mother, and she told Soizic.”

“They should turn it over to the police,” I said. “It could be helpful.”

“Well, that’s the thing.” Ivan was looking at his watch, and I wished the mayor would just get on with it. “Frédérique, he’s—unlikely to want to talk to them. To the police. I gather there’ve been problems.”

I rescued him. “D’accord,” I said. “Did you want me to see them? I can go over first thing in the morning.”

A short silence. “Martine, I was hoping you could go over there now. He’s there, and according to Soizic, not likely to stay very long. There have been…”

“…problems,” I finished for him. “I get it. I’ll take care of it, monsieur le maire.” I pressed to disconnect and turned to Ivan. “I have to go do something,” I said.

“So I gathered,” he said. “Come on, don’t look so glum. I’ll go with you and we’ll get a poutine afterward.”

“We’re overdressed for poutine.” Ivan looks glorious in his evening clothes.

“Nonsense. We’ll be trendsetters. Where to?”

“Ivan, I’m sorry about the Mahler—“ I began.

“As well you should be.” But his voice was amused. “Where to?”

I gave him the address and he punched it into his sat-nav. “I’ll make it up to you,” I added.

“You bet you will,” he said. “I’m already counting the ways.”

***

The Richard home was similar to the Aubert’s, next door. The exterior was a deep green, the graceful wrought-iron staircase delivering us elegantly to the front door. I rang the bell and surveyed my husband. “Now you look like you’re going to a casino,” I informed him. Ivan’s the director of the Montréal casino, and I’d always been disappointed that people there didn’t dress the way they did in casinos in James Bond movies. “You look—“

The door opened and Cécile Richard stood in it. “Oui?”

Bonsoir, madame,” I said, and then switched to English for Ivan’s benefit. “We met briefly before. I am Martine LeDuc, from the mayor’s office. This is my husband, Ivan Petrinko.”

She was already backing up, ushering us in. “Yes. Spencer called. He said you would talk to Frédérique.” She apparently saw nothing unusual in us presenting ourselves in evening dress.

Ivan cleared his throat. “Maybe I can wait here with you, Madame Richard?” he suggested. “While Martine talks to your son?”

“Yes.” She looked at him and nodded vigorously, as though he had articulated a brilliant theorem. “Of course. We will have tea.” She transferred her gaze to me. “Frédérique is upstairs,” she said. “Third door on the right.”

Ivan gave me a thumbs-up sign behind Cécile’s back, and I headed up the stairs. There was no sound coming from behind the third door, and no one responded to my knock, so I finally pressed the handle and opened the door myself. “Frédérique?”

He had headphones on and jumped visibly when he saw me, reading for an iPhone and turning it off, pushing the headphones down around his neck. “Who are you?” he asked crossly in French.

“My name is Martine LeDuc,” I said. “I think you know Spencer Clark? I work for him. He asked me to come talk to you.”

No response from the kid. He was good-looking in a disheveled sort of way, with a dark lock of hair falling into his eyes and a habit, I soon discovered, of alternately hiding behind it and pushing it away. The usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. I tried again. “We’re trying to find out who killed your friend Philippe,” I said. “Mr. Clark said that you found a box of notes when you came home, stuff you’d forgotten, and he thought you didn’t want to talk to the police—“

That got a reaction. He scrambled from the floor, where he’d been sitting, and perched on the edge of a desk chair instead. The chair seemed too small for him, and I was reminded that this wasn’t his room anymore. The boy in front of me probably had nothing in common with the ten-year-old he’d been when his best friend disappeared. “No police,” he said.

I nodded. “I know. That’s why I’m here. May I sit down?” There was nowhere to sit, really, but the bed, and I thought that in my little-nothing dress that probably wasn’t the most appropriate visual in the world, but I was scaring him and I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless he calmed down.

Frédérique nodded without looking at me and I sat down and arranged myself as modestly as I could. “Bien. So—you’re at university?”

A sullen look from under the fringe of hair. “Yeah, so what?”

So this was what I was going to be looking forward to with Lukas. “Just asking. What are you studying?”

“Urban development.” Not so far away from his earlier passion, I thought. “Are you still interested in trains?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Not since—not since then,” he said. He glanced at me from under the fringe. “Do you want to see them?”

“The notes?”

He was already on his feet. “No, no,” he said. “Come on.” He led the way out of the room and up another flight of stairs. The room we entered was cavernous—and not completely finished; but when he touched the light switch the place came to life. There, in the center of the room and taking up most of the space was a train set such as I’d never seen before. There were villages with churches’ spires poking up out of the roofs and trees; crossings with cars sitting and waiting patiently for a train that never came; a playing field with a soccer game in progress. Hills and woods and even a reservoir, and winding through, under, and around it all were the train tracks. Everything was covered with a layer of dust, and there were cobwebs. “It’s…magnificent,” I breathed.

“Isn’t it?” The sullen adolescent was gone and I could hear the enthusiasm of the young Frédérique. He was looking at the tracks, light in his eyes. “I used to come up here sometimes, and just look,” he said. “But it was never the same, after Philippe.”

“It must have been horrible,” I said frankly.

A nod. “I wonder if it still works.” He moved to the center of the table and touched some buttons and suddenly the table came to life. Lights flashed on. A train came barreling out of the station. The crossing barriers went down.

I must have exclaimed in delight because Frédérique glanced at me, and was smiling. “C’est super, hein?”

“Yes,” I said fervently. It didn’t get much more super than this.

We stood side by side while Frédérique put the train thorough its paces, and at some level I felt that I got it, this passion for a miniaturized version of a world that no longer existed. By the time we’d wound things up and got back downstairs, though, I could see the old expression starting to close down his attitude, and I touched his arm. “Show me the notes,” I said. “Do it for Philippe.”

He didn’t say anything, just went to the wardrobe that stood beside the bed, reached up, and removed a shoebox nestled on top of it. We sat next to each other on the bed while he took off the cover. Inside, willy-nilly, were postcards, envelopes, menus, the flotsam and jetsam of his younger days. “I’ll find the ones from Philippe,” he said, sifting through papers.

A postcard fluttered to the floor and I picked it up. New York City; the Empire State Building. I turned it over and there was a scrawled message: “New York is a wonderful city! I hope that I can take you with me some day. You’d love it. The street vendors all sell hot dogs.” It was signed, merely, “Papa,” but curiously hadn’t been mailed, wasn’t even addressed.

I looked up to find Frédérique watching me. “My father,” he said. I nodded. “He is often in New York. He consults with the United Nations.”

“And did he take you there?” I asked, flicking the message with my fingernail.

He shook his head. “Too busy,” he said, and cleared his throat. No trespassers, I thought. All right; I wouldn’t trespass. “Those are Philippe’s notes? Why were you writing notes to each other?”

He handed them over. “There is a hole,” he said. “The Auberts, they had it covered over after Philippe… disappeared; but it went from his room to mine. See: down here.” And there in the wainscoting was indeed a hole, revealed when he moved a small bookcase away. Philippe’s bedroom was presumably on the other side of this common wall. “We had rope, and pulleys, and we’d attach notes and send them back and forth at night, when we were supposed to be asleep.”

I sat back and gazed at him. “You must miss him,” I said.

He moved the bookcase back into place and turned to face me. “It changed my life,” he said simply. And then he began to cry.