Trapped, Episode Nine
Julian was pursuing lines of inquiry.
“What the hell does that mean?” I demanded. “It makes you sound like you’re weaving a tapestry or something.”
“You’re in a mood,” he observed.
“I’m double-parked,” I said. He seemed unconcerned, leafing through mail at the front desk of the police station. “I wanted to see if you had anything I can tell the mayor.”
“We’re pursuing lines of inquiry,” he said, then glanced up at me. “What? You’re the PR director, Martine, you know that’s the answer. That’s always the answer.”
“But this is—”
“—something you’ll be reporting to the mayor,” he said, finishing the sentence smoothly. “So you know it has to be PR-speak.”
I gave up. “What do you know about Marcel Richard?” I asked instead.
He sighed. I was clearly interrupting his day. “Some brainiac out of France,” he recited. “Attitude to spare, if you’re to believe Bob and René, and I see no reason not to. Out of town a lot. Consults to the United Nations. Runs some sort of investment company on the side. Wife’s a babe, son’s at college, oh, and yeah, they live next door to the Auberts.”
“I think there’s a connection.”
He frowned. “What? With Philippe’s disappearance?” He shook his head. “Sorry. He wasn’t even in town when it happened.”
“And we know that how?” He opened his mouth and I put up my hand. “Never mind. Bob and René,” I said tiredly. “So maybe it wasn’t anything direct, but seriously, Julian, there’s something weird going on there. Frédérique is dying to tell us something but it’s wreaking havoc with his sense of loyalty to his father.”
“And it might have nothing to do with Philippe,” Julian said.
“And it might have nothing to do with Philippe,” I agreed. “But, merde, Julian, every time I wake up in the night, that’s all I see, that little boy locked in that tunnel, crying and counting the cheese slices he has left.” I sniffled. “So please don’t just tell me you’re pursuing lines of inquiry.”
“Okay.” He gathered up his mail into a stack, picked it up, and turned to face me. “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll go over the statements again. I’ll see where Marcel was and I’ll see what Frédérique and Claire had to say at the time, and we’ll take it from there. You good with that?”
I nodded. “Thanks, Julian. I’m grateful.”
“Uh-huh.” He looked beyond me. “Is that your car out there? Because I think you’re getting a ticket—”
“Don’t even joke about that!” But I took the hint, and left anyway.
“Well,” said the mayor, cautiously, “Jean-Luc did have an affair.”
He’d stopped by my office for an update. I still wasn’t used to his informal way of wandering through the building, and I was pretty sure he was going to end up giving Chantal a heart attack.
But I took advantage of it anyway. The mayor sat in one of my visitor chairs and stared out past me at the Old City, and I quizzed him. “What about the boys’ fathers?” I’d asked. “Did everyone get along?”
“Besides the affair, you mean?”
“Who was it with? Not Cécile?” That would have compounded stupidity up into the stratosphere.
He waved a hand. “No, no, not Cécile. Someone from work. It’s why he opened his own firm, to tell you the truth; Soizic wanted him out of the office where he’d met the woman.” He paused. “I can’t remember her name now, though God knows at the time it was all Soizic could talk about.”
“And it was just the once?”
He nodded. “Jean-Luc’s no idiot. He knew it for what it was, and he knew what he stood to lose, and that was that.”
“Did Philippe know?”
“Unhappily, yes. Soizic wasn’t particularly discreet about her feelings. The girls knew, Philippe knew.”
I hesitated. “How old are the girls, sir? When we went by there wasn’t any sign of them. I’d have expected—”
“They’re gone.” He sounded surprised. “Sorry, thought I’d told you. Philippe was much younger than them. Diane was the only one still living at home when Philippe—disappeared; she was a teenager then. Elodie was studying in Paris; she lives there now. And Louise—well, she married a statistician from Vancouver.”
That struck me as funny, the way he said it, a statistician from Vancouver. Like a prostitute from Amsterdam. I decided not to hold it against either Louise or her husband. “So it was just the parents and the boys,” I said. “And Diane.”
“She wasn’t around much.” He shrugged. “Teenager, you know how it is. And once Philippe disappeared—well, it would have been difficult for anyone to live there after that.”
“But,” I said, as carefully as I could, “there was nothing to indicate she’d had anything to do with it?”
“Diane?” He looked started. “Good God, no. She was devastated. We all were.”
“Of course.” I tried another tack. “Were the two fathers friendly? How did Marcel respond? Was he helpful?”
The mayor blinked. “Well, of course, Marcel wasn’t here when it happened. He was in New York. It wasn’t long after he’d started consulting to the UN, I think. But he returned right away, Cécile called him I suppose, and he did everything you could imagine to try and find the boy. Moved heaven and earth, I’d have said, considering it wasn’t even his own son. Really helped the Auberts out. Put up posters in the neighborhood, that kind of thing. Even offered to follow up with the police, see what new leads they might have.” He frowned. “Why are you asking about Marcel Richard, Martine?”
“I don’t know.” I gestured helplessly. “You asked me to see what I could do to help the investigation, monsieur le maire, and I’m trying to—er—think outside the box.”
He nodded. “Well, I’m sure you’re barking up the wrong tree,” he said, shifting metaphors (not to mention clichés) effortlessly.
“It’s hard to know what the right one is,” I said. “I keep coming back to the assumption it was an adult, an adult Philippe knew, and honestly, there just weren’t that many of them.”
I sat staring at my desk for a long time after he left. That really was the point, wasn’t it? That there are a limited number of adults in an eight-year-old boy’s life. That it had to be someone he liked as well as knew, someone who could draw him away from something as compelling as a train show. Who else was there? His parents; his best friend’s parents; a teacher. That was it. No one had mentioned anyone else—a postal employee, a clergyperson, a neighbor—who had figured on Philippe’s radar. Julian had been through the witness statements, with and without verbal annotation by René and Bob.
But who would shut a child up in a cave and just let him die?