My smartphone rang just as I was getting ready to leave. I didn’t recognize the number, which just noted, unhelpfully, “Montréal.”
“Allo, ici Martine LeDuc,” I said. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded a little weary.
There was a pause. “Madame LeDuc?”
“This is she.” Not entirely unexpected, I thought, as I’d answered with my name.
Another pause. “This is Frédérique Richard.”
I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what came next. “Frédérique. Are you all right?”
“I wondered…” His voice trailed off and I waited. And waited. Just when I thought we might have been disconnected, he seemed to rally. “My father’s getting in tonight,” he said.
“That’s nice,” I said tentatively. Julian would be glad to hear it, anyway; I wasn’t sure how Frédérique felt about his father’s return.
“No,” he said, and he sounded dangerously close to crying. “Madame LeDuc, I don’t know who to talk to. I can’t talk to my mother, she doesn’t want to know anything bad, not ever. There’s no one.” The words fizzed and filled the space between us, unspoken: if Philippe were here…I could hear him swallow. “I don’t even know if it has anything to do with—with what happened,” he said.
I put my briefcase back under my desk; I wasn’t going anywhere soon. “Why don’t you just tell me what you’re thinking,” I said gently. “Or we could meet, if you—”
“No!” That at least was clear. “I can’t.”
“D’accord,” I said calmly. “Then tell me now. Has something happened?”
“No,” he said, and then, “yes. I don’t know. I don’t know if my father has anything to do with—with what happened to Philippe. But I think—I know—he’s been lying about some things.”
Chantal put her head in through the door. “I’m leaving,” she said. “Want me to lock the office?”
I waved her off. “I’ll take care of it. Bonne soirée.”
On the phone, Frédérique said, “What?”
“Nothing. Talking to someone here. She’s gone now,” I said, as reassuringly as I could. I didn’t want him thinking anyone else could hear him. “Never mind that. Tell me what you think your father’s been lying about.”
Another pause. “Perhaps,” he said, “he is seeing another woman. Besides my mother, I mean.”
Yes; I’d just about grasped that. “Have you spoken to him about it?” I leaned over and picked up my briefcase again. I was trying to help solve a murder, and this kid was worried about his father having an affair. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly swell, but neither did it mean I couldn’t talk enroute home. I had a feeling that Ivan was probably at the end of his rope with the kids; I would be, and then some. “Is this something new?”
“It’s new that it makes me wonder what else he lies about,” he said. “I am at university, my mind’s on other things, but this affaire Philippe, it’s brought it all up again. He lies, my father. It must be another woman he is seeing.”
“Okay.” I’d managed to slip my arms into my jacket. I was balancing the phone under my chin and remembering with some nostalgia the old-fashioned landlines with receivers large enough to actually hold like that. “The thing is, Frédérique, that’s a—personal issue.” I could just imagine approaching a man I’d never met and asking him whether he was having an affair.
“But there is more. I’m sure there’s more. It might have something to do with—with what happened to Philippe.”
I turned off my light and headed into the outer office. “What makes you say that?”
His voice had an edge of desperation to it. “All right, look, I made a mistake calling you. I thought you could help. Never mind.”
“Wait,” I said, but he was gone. Damn it. I stopped in the corridor and pressed the keys to redial his number and turned to lock the outer door.
Of course, I never saw it coming.
Consciousness came back slowly. And painfully.
I moved, and immediately wished I hadn’t. I was not, as I’d vaguely supposed, on my comfortable bed, but on something hard and gritty. My head felt like it was about three times its usual size, and the pain was the size of Toronto.
I groaned and rolled over, thinking about sitting up and not doing it. There was a glimmer of light somewhere in the distance but I didn’t feel up to exploring that just yet. I just lay back again on the grit and considered the situation.
I was pretty sure I knew whoI was, which actually felt like progress, but after that things got a little confusing, as though a fog bank had taken my memory and rolled right over it. How had I got here—wherever here was? Had I been at home?
The thought jolted me and I sat up. Home. Lukas and Claudia, and Margery not coming to pick them up for their school holiday. That’s what I was remembering. What else had happened? Was I in the basement of our building? And why did everything hurt so much?
I put a hand down and explored the grit. Cement. Was our cellar cement? Why couldn’t I remember? I’d been down there hundreds of times.
There was nothing for it. I was going to have to think.
I maneuvered myself into a standing position with a move—or, more accurately, a series of moves—that nobody in Cirque du Soleil was going to be emulating anytime soon. “It got the job done, didn’t it?” I asked, owlishly, and only when an echo came back did I realize I’d spoken out loud. Wow. Talking to myself, now.
Had I been drinking? That was what this felt like, a distant memory of college and going out with the girls and totally not remembering anything the next day except for how awful I felt. That made no sense. I drink in moderation, with dinner or socially; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gotten drunk. And certainly not since the kids had come to live with us.
I took a step forward, and immediately did another circus move, trying to stay upright. Wherever I was, I wished it wouldn’t keep tilting so dramatically.
Another step. And another. On the fifth or sixth step—my counting was a little blurry, too—I hit a wall, literally. Taking that as a sign, I slid down to a sitting position with my back against the wall. Enough exercise for now.
Time to look around and figure out… well. Yes. I kept catching at thoughts that formed themselves with crystalline clarity and then dissipated before they were halfway done. Figure out something. I was supposed to figure out something.
Where was I? The question broke through the mist and I grabbed it. That was it. I had to figure out where I was. Then everything else would make sense, would fall neatly into place.
Look around, Martine. A brilliant plan. I tried to focus. There was a light source but it was… small. Almost a pinpoint, but with a beam that widened. I’d seen something like that before. I couldn’t remember where. I gave it up and tried to figure out what the light revealed.
Stone and cement, and a ceiling that curved… and suddenly I was back in time, in a steam tunnel under an old asylum, somewhere I’d actually been a few years earlier and where I’d almost been killed. My heart jerked at the memory and the last of the mists dissipated.
A tunnel. I was in a tunnel. Just like Philippe. The light became a flashlight lying on its side, and what I could just make out were the iron bars, the padlock.
And not a cheese packet in sight.