Trapped, Episode 11
“It’s not,” said the voice, “that I was having an affair. I’ve actually never cheated on my wife. That must make me reasonably unique, anyway.”
“Marcel,” I said.
“Of course, madame, who else?” He moved and the light moved with him.
I drew my knees up to my chest and encircled them with my arms. It didn’t make me feel any less vulnerable. “Why?” I asked flatly.
“You were getting too close to my son. Too close to the truth.” He was getting too close to me, and I shrank back against the wall. I could see him now, the man from the photos Frédérique had taken, wondering through his lens what his father was up to. Reasonably handsome. Wearing a suit that looked out of place in the tunnel, like those photos of models you see wearing high fashion against a backdrop of a dark forest or a desert.
“Not that,” I said. Reality had returned, and I wasn’t at all sure I hadn’t been happier when I wasn’t able to remember anything. “Why did you kill Philippe Aubert?”
“Ah, that.” He sighed. “That was a mistake.”
“No. Locking a child up in a cage underground with food and water and medicine isn’t a mistake,” I said. “People don’t do that kind of thing by accident.”
“Of course I didn’t lock him up by accident,” he said impatiently. He didn’t say anything else for a moment, and when he did speak again, there was a catch in his voice. “I never meant for that to happen. I didn’t want to hurt him. I loved him like my own son.
Oh, God. Visions of abuse swept through my mind. “You loved—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped. “That’s not who I am.”
“No,” I agreed. “You’re a murderer.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” he said again, and this time I could hear it, the pleading, the guilt. “I never meant to. I didn’t want to hurt him.”
I remembered the aspirin. “You wanted it to be easy,” I said, nodding. “You wanted him to take the pills and just go to sleep. You wanted it to be gentle.”
“Yes!” It was a sob. “Oh, God, yes. I did, I wanted it to be gentle! I used to lie awake at night and imagine him down here. I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it. I imagined him trying to get out. I imagined him crying. It was upsetting—beyond upsetting. I didn’t want it to be like that. I wanted him to be okay.”
A shiver ran up my back and down my arms. There had been scratches in the stone, scratches in the cement, scratches on the bones. Philippe had been anything but okay. While Marcel lay awake feeling sorry for himself, Philippe had bloodied his hands and arms trying to find a way out. A way to live.
He would have gone mad, of course he’d gone mad, once the water ran out. The water ran out while Marcel carved his family’s Sunday roast, imagining the little boy curled up, asleep, dying gently.
“Why?” I couldn’t help asking it. And for God’s sake don’t tell me again that it was a mistake or I swear I’ll scratch your eyes out myself.
Marcel sighed. “He saw me, you see,” he said, as though it were the most reasonable problem in the world. “Outside the convention center. I knew Frédérique was sick, but it never occurred to me that Philippe would go without him. They always did everything together.”
I was still trying to make sense of the kaleidoscope of information. “You weren’t even supposed to be in Montréal,” I said.
I felt as much as saw the nod. “I was meant to be in New York,” he said. “It’s what I’d told everybody. I was usually very careful, you see, but I had to meet someone… they were bringing me a check. I had to pick it up in person, it couldn’t go to the house.” He made it all sound so rational. “It all went like clockwork, until it didn’t. There was Philippe, Philippe had seen me, and he and my son spoke together every day. What could I do?”
Kill him, of course. There was a bubble of hysteria rising inside me and I damped it down. “You don’t actually consult to the UN, do you?” I asked instead.
“No. That’s—it’s a story I tell people.” He hesitated. “It’s not my fault. I could have been a consultant. I could have… they were unfair to me in Paris.”
In Paris? I fought the Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole feeling of disorientation. “Paris?”
“Of course.” He was impatient now, impatient to air his grievances. “At X. The Polytechnique. They discriminated against me because I was Canadian, an outsider. They made fun of my accent.” The old hurt was as fresh as it had been to his twenty-year-old self. “You don’t understand, those people, they think they’re so special. They’re the ones that did this to me. If I’d been able to finish my degree, it would have all been different.”
“So you lied about it,” I said.
“What else was I supposed to do? How else could I have married someone like Cécile? How else could I hold my head up?”
“If you don’t work for the UN,” I said slowly, “then what do you do? How do you—”
“I said I didn’t have a diploma, I didn’t say I was stupid,” he snarled. “I live off investments.” He paused. “Other people’s investments. One paid for the next. I’ve always stayed one or two ahead, and I’ve always been able to use my international experience to get investors to take risks—clean water plants in Tanzania, a hydro plant in China. People trust me. They believe in me.”
“And when the returns don’t materialize?”
He shrugged. “Like I said, they are high-risk investments. Projects that will eventually lose money, so I don’t have to pay anything back. They don’t work out; that’s part of the rick of investing. People understand that. I’ve even had repeat clients.”
I could see it then: always living on the edge, wondering who would sue, who would figure it out, who would upset the lifestyle he’d managed for himself. “So what do you do?” I asked. “I mean, when you’re supposed to be in New York or Brussels or wherever?”
“I have a room,” he said. “On Sainte-Catherine Street.” A glance. “The non-gentrified end” Once upon a time, the whole street had been non-gentrified: bordellos, strip clubs, who knew what else. Most of it had cleaned up, become chic and expensive. Not all of it. “Frédérique said he thought you were having an affair,” I said. “It was a euphemism, he thought you were seeing prostitutes.”
“I thought once he went away to school that would all clear up,” Marcel said. “He’d forget about it, he’d move on with his life, I’d become less interesting. And that would’ve happened, too, if this all hadn’t happened, if they hadn’t found—”
“Are you happy?” I asked, just to shut him up about Philippe. I suddenly couldn’t stand him talking about Philippe. “I mean, every day, living this lie, and for what? You’re right, you’re smart, you could make a living doing—”
“I wouldn’t have Cécile,” he said flatly, and I pictured her in the Aubert kitchen, the dark tresses, the Julia Roberts eyes. “She was only interested in X, she was only interested in being able to tell people I was abroad, I was doing important work. She wouldn’t have married me and she wouldn’t have stayed with me and I couldn’t live without her.” So a child had died. One man’s obsession, and Philippe paid the price for Cécile. “But now it will be all right. Now I’ll straighten it all out and we’ll go on as before.”
“That’s nonsense,” I said. “They’ll get you, you know. Not that I care particularly what happens to you. But you have to know you’re going to have to live without her now. The mayor is looking into this, do you know what that means? Philippe’s his godson. It’s not going to end.”
“It has to end,” he said, and I could hear it then, just a hint of an undercurrent of craziness, magical thinking pushed to its limits. “Once you’re gone.”
I hadn’t really expected him to not kill me, but it was a little sudden, hearing it like that. “Tell me what happened that day at the convention center,” I said, a little desperately. I didn’t want to talk about Philippe, but I sure as hell didn’t want to talk about my future, either.
Inevitably, “it was a mistake,” Marcel reiterated. “I had to pick up the check. I thought the boys were home playing video games. It’s odd, you know, but there are train-related video games. Who knew there were train-related video games?” I didn’t answer. “I saw Philippe heading for the cashpoint but it was too late, he’ already seen me—we nearly bumped into each other, it was that absurd. And he knew I was supposed to be in New York.
He took a deep breath. “So I followed him to the bank, making sure to stay out of the CCTV—I’ve spent time downtown, memorizing where all the cameras are, you never know when it might come in handy. And so it did.”
If he was waiting for me to congratulate him, he could keep waiting. “I saw the video. He seemed happy enough to see you,” I said.
“Of course he was. I always think fast. On my feet. Always running though alternatives. I told him I’d come back to town especially because of the train show, and that I’d just been in and bought a gargantuan new addition to the set for the boys. Told him I felt bad that Frédérique was home sick and wanted to cheer him up, surprise him with the present. It was a set the boys had been wanting for months. I told Philippe to come along, we were going to pick it up at the warehouse, and he came along. Once I had him in the car…”
“How did you know about the cage? About the tunnel? That one, and the one we were in now.
He snorted. “Haven’t you been paying attention? I went to X! I’m a qualified engineer!” He paused, then said, more quietly, “I have a lot of time to kill, as you can imagine. I study the city. Everything about it. All the waterways, all the streets, all of subterranean Montréal. It’s a hobby.”
“A useful one,” I said drily.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen.” He was very close to whining. “I liked Philippe, you have to understand.”
“Then why didn’t you kill him outright? Why keep him prisoner? Why feed him? That would have been kinder, surely?”
“I told you, I’m always running through alternatives. I wondered… I hoped… I might find another way out.” More childish magical thinking. “That either I’d wake up and it wouldn’t have happened… or I could persuade Philippe to say nothing…”
“Wait!” I stared at him, trying to make out his expression in the dim light. “You talked to Philippe? You came down here and you saw him?”
“Well, of course,” he said, as though it were the most reasonable thing in the world. “At first I did. The first three days, when I was still supposed to be away. After that, of course, I couldn’t, I had to be home, I had to help in the search, see what the police knew. It would have been dangerous. But before that, I came and sat with him like we’re doing now, just with the metal bars between us. I didn’t have to worry about him trying to get away, of course, because I never unlocked the cage.”
“Of course,” I said.
“I tried to make him see that there weren’t any other options. I tried to make him understand why I had to do it.”
“Wait,” I said. “You wanted him to understand? To forgive you?”
He looked at me blankly. “Of course.”
“Holy Mother of God,” I said. “If you think that makes any kind of sense on any planet, then it’s—”
“Where is the key, Marcel?” The voice came from behind him, and I couldn’t make anything out in the darkness, but I was pretty sure I recognized the voice. Soizic Aubert
Marcel whirled around, pointing the flashlight. “No,” he said. “You’re not here. You couldn’t be here.”
It was Soizic, all right, but it wasn’t really her that you noticed; it was the gun she held in front of her. A gun with a light attached.
A gun? In Montréal? Okay, Martine, you’ve had more relevant and helpful thoughts in your life.
“Marcel,” she said again, “where is the key?”
“This is absurd,” he said. “I found Madame LeDuc—”
An explosion, and it felt like the tunnel rocked. Soizic moved the gun back so it was facing him again. She said something, but I couldn’t hear it, my ears were ringing. She’d just fired into the wall.
Marcel scrambled away, scuttling like something out of Kafka. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a keyring, tossed it in her direction. “Here. Take it. Take them all!”
Soizic didn’t move. “Unlock the gate,” she said. Marcel didn’t move, but her gun did. “Where do you want me to shoot you, Marcel?”
He grabbed the keys, fumbled them once or twice, then found one and hobbled over to the padlock, fumbling some more before he managed to unlock it. “Now stand back from the gate,” she said. I couldn’t see her face. “Do it, Marcel!”
He moved off into the shadows. Her light followed him. “Madame LeDuc, are you hurt? Can you come out here, please?”
I managed to get to my feet and moved with the alacrity of a tortoise across the floor, ducking my head to get through the metal gate. “Madame Aubert—”
“Don’t speak,” she said sharply. Her light was still on Marcel. “Stand behind me, please, madame. Marcel, get in.”
“No, Soizic, please. Let me explain! I didn’t mean to hurt him!”
“You’ve explained enough,” she said, and I wondered how long she’d been there in the darkness, listening. Living her son’s last days, last moments. “Get in, Marcel.”
He got in. She picked the padlock off the ground and gave it to me. “Lock him in,” she said.
It was heavier than I’d imagined, and I nearly dropped it. “Madame Aubert. I can’t.” I could give a speech about how that wouldn’t make us better than he was and nonsense like that, but I had a feeling Soizic had heard enough speeches, and anyway there wasn’t much time: I was swaying on my feet. Whatever he’d knocked me out with—a blunt object, a drug, or both—was still working its magic. “I can’t,” I said again.
She made that very indescribable French sound we make when we’re annoyed. “I want him to know what it was like,” she said.
“It’s justice,” she said.
“I know,” I said again. “But I can’t do it.”
So she shot him.