Trapped, Episode Eight

Trapped 8.jpg

It was a night to remember, for sure.

There wasn’t anything we could do to make up to the kids for their mother’s absence, and we didn’t try. Claudia’s rage was palpable. Lukas was quieter, more reserved, but he burst into tears about halfway through the dinner his sister had refused to even come downstairs for, swore at Bisou—Lukas never swore, and he adored the cat—and slammed the door to his room. 

Thank goodness we live in an extremely solid converted factory, or the building wouldn’t have survived.

By ten o’clock I’d retreated to the bedroom with a half-bottle of Côtes du Rhone and Frédérique’s shoebox of memories. Anything not to think about the pain ricocheting off the walls of the apartment and the fact that they kids wouldn’t let me touch it.

I opened the box and spread the contents around the bed. I’d given it all a cursory look before, but now I sipped my wine and tried to organize the papers. They fell into a few main categories, which I stacked on different parts of the bed. 

Notes that had gone through the pulleys in the walls (identifiable because they all had holes in them) went on Ivan’s pillow. On my pillow were toy train catalogues (who knew there were so many?). Letters written and half-written, presumably by Frédérique himself went by my right knee, reserved for later reading (what boy keeps photocopies of his own letters?), and beside me was a stack of photographs, lots of them, of different people all over Montréal. Philippe was there, and Cécile Richard, looking casually exquisite in every one of them. Soizic and Jean-Luc, together and apart, sometimes one their own, sometimes with Philippe. A man I didn’t recognize but assumed was possibly Marcel Richard. The ones of him, or some of them, had question marks on the back. 

And then there was the rest. Postcards. Pages torn from magazines. Sketches (as an artist, it was good that Frérérique was studying urban development. Receipts, scraps of paper, a lot of it none too clean. I was rethinking the wisdom of putting all this stuff on the bed when Ivan came in. “They’re both asleep,” he said, closing the door gently. “I think they were too exhausted to stay awake.”

“Why would you put question marks on the backs of pictures of your father?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t,” he said, moving one of the piles so he could sit down. He reached across my, picked up my glass, and took a hefty swallow. “My father is the least mysterious person on the planet.”

“Not so,” I said automatically. I picked up one of the photos. “I think this is Marcel Richard,” I said. “It’s a little blurry.”

Ivan glanced at it. “Telephoto lens,” he said.

“You sure?”

He shrugged. “Looks like it,” he said. “Let me see the others.” I handed them over and he leafed through them, pausing long enough to hold his hand up for the glass of wine. He had another swallow and returned it to me. “If I didn’t know better,” he said at length, “I’d say these were surveillance photos.”

“Really?” I took one from him and frowned at it. 

“They’re not posed,” Ivan said. “He’s never looking at the camera. Most of them are blurry, like they were taken in a hurry before he moved out of the frame.”

“You should know,” I said. Ivan’s job as director of the casino means surveillance photos and videos are part of his daily life. “Who would have taken them? And why are there question marks on the backs?”

“And, more importantly,” said Ivan, standing up and carefully transposing my piles onto the dresser, “what do they have to do with Philippe Aubert?”

I sighed. “There’s that,” I said. 

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Okay.” But even as I snuggled in to his shoulder and he snapped out his bedside light, I wondered if we were missing something. Frédérique had given me the box for a reason, a reason that had to do with Philippe somehow.

But how? 

***

You’d think I’d have had my fill of sullen adolescents. Apparently not so. Frédérique Richard had agreed with the least grace possible to meet me Chez Cora the next morning for breakfast. If you can call ten-thirty breakfast time. 

I ordered a café au laitand some toast and gave him a few minutes to tuck into one of the small chain’s gargantuan breakfasts. He’d gone for Lukas’ favorite, Louis The Undecided: two eggs, bacon, potatoes, along with a crêpe filled with bananas, strawberries and chocolate-hazelnut spread. And toast. And extra bacon. I hated him for his metabolism.

“Thanks for giving me the box,” I said finally. “It seemed to have a lot of your life in it. Yours and Philippe’s.”

Frédérique nodded, shoveling potatoes into his mouth. He’d barely looked at me since we’d arrived.

I took a deep breath. “So I went through the notes between you,” I said. I’d done that over my first two cups of coffee before leaving home, squinting to decipher the boys’ scrawls. I’d had high hopes, but no results. Complaints about school and families. Excitement over a new part for a train set. At one point Philippe’s family had adopted a cat and ended up giving it away because one of his sisters was allergic; that conversation went on for some time. Then back to trains. 

The only teacher they’d singled out had been the science teacher, and I was halfway to calling Julian before I really grasped what they were saying. Their engineering abilities around the trains hadn’t gone unnoticed; she kept urging them both to enter science competitions, most city-wide, a couple in Québec City, one in Toronto. “She doesn’t understand,” Frédérique wrote. “We’re not that good.”

“She says we are,” Philippe had answered underneath.

“My dad went to X,” wrote Frédérique. “He says we’re not good enough.”

I had to look up X, thinking it was some kind of private code, but no, Wikipedia assured me that it was real, one of the most prestigious schools in France. I remembered, hazily, that Julian had said Marcel went to the Ecole Polytechnique. Marcel clearly knew his onions; no wonder he consulted to the United Nations.

The science teacher had persevered, though, for several pages later—they hadn’t of course dated their notes—Philippe brought it up again. “I talked with her after class,” he wrote. “She wants a train set! Can you believe it? A train set! We can do it at school and take it to the conference.”

“Trains are for us,” Frédérique wrote petulantly. “Not for school. Besides, they’re not about engineering.”

“Madame Favreau thinks they are!” 

“Well, they’re not. Stop talking about it.”

Philippe was clearly the follower in the relationship, because he had in fact stopped talking about it. I wondered why Marcel had been so dead-set against the boys participating in science fairs. With his background, you’d think he’d have been overjoyed, the first to encourage his son.

Now I slid one of the photos out of my bag and flipped it over on the table between us. “Is this your father?”

He barely glanced at it. “Yeah. So what?”

I shrugged. “I just wondered why he isn’t smiling in any of his pictures. Your pictures of your mom, she’s always posing for the camera.” And looking drop-dead gorgeous doing it, I thought. “But not your dad.”

Frédérique didn’t answer. He seemed to be finding his crêpe fascinating.

I cleared my throat. “Do you know what my husband does? He’s the director of the Montréal Casino.”

A flicker of a glance. “Et alors?” So what?

I drew in my breath. “So he looked at these pictures, and—”

“I never said you could share them around!”

I was surprised by his vehemence. “He was with me when I came to your house,” I said gently. “I didn’t know you wanted me to keep them secret.” A pause. “What my husband said is that these photos of your dad, they remind him of the photos that his security department takes of people at the casino, people they have to watch for one reason or another.” No response. “Frédérique, did you take these pictures of your father?”

“Stop!” The fist thudding into the table made people all around us jump, and earned us a wary look from the waitress. “This is nothing to do with Philippe! This is all between me and my father! You’re supposed to be finding out what happened to Philippe, not nosing around my family!”

“Then why did you give me the box?”

I never got an answer. Frédérique had left the building.