“Remember Maryse?” asked Hilda, as they snapped the loose dirt off the ground cloth and folded it.
“No. Should I?” Jack wiggled his eyebrows. Hilda rolled her eyes.
“My high school classmate who lives in Montréal. At least she was there on her last Facebook post. I meant to write to her before we left Charlottesville, but the shooting at UVA made us want to keep a low profile.”
“Want to try to contact her?”
“Now that we’re this close, I think it would be safe. We were best friends, but it’s been hard keeping up all these years after she moved back to Québec.”
“I think it would be fun. Let’s try.”
Emily walked up, pushing her loaded bicycle. “You two planning to ride today?” She grinned smugly.
“More people, more stuff. Gimme a break.” Hilda said with good humour.
“Still want to take the Voie Maritime? It sounds like fun to me.”
“Sure. It’s only 55 km all the way to the HI Hostel in Montréal.”
Soon they were riding the broad plain east toward the Saint Lawrence seaway. Emily was impressed by the size of the farms. Although many farms in Kansas were also vast, these were family-owned. Hilda explained that they dated back to the days of New France. After the British took over in 1755, they recognized the titles of the French aristocracy. Rather than confiscating the estates and breaking them up, the British left them intact.
Candiac was a prosperous, elegant town with large houses and bike lanes everywhere. They crossed town to Saint-Catherine, then took the véloroute that ran along the long, narrow island off the right bank of the river.
“This is fantastic!” Emily began speeding down the bike path that ran straight as an arrow along the island. On their right, low shrubbery and grass separated them from the water. On their left a long stand of trees gave them intermittent views of the skyline of greater Montréal.
“Québec has taken the bicycle as serious transportation longer than any other government in North America,” said Hilda. “Let’s plan on some touring on the Route Verte while we’re here.”
“I’d like that.”
Soon, they were crossing the bridge to the Île des Soeurs and thence into the City of Montréal. The hostel was near the train station, convenient to the metro and all the major sites downtown. Jack had reserved the only three-bed mixed dorm, so it was like having their own room. They checked in, presented their HI membership cards and were soon settled into their room, with their bicycles safely locked in the bicycle storage room. As soon as they had showered and changed, Jack and Emily spread out maps of Québec and Montréal on the table. Hilda pulled out her phone.
They smiled when Maryse’s squeal of delight reached them from Hilda’s phone. She held it away from her ear, shook her head and continued the conversation in rapid French. After a few minutes of catching up, she rang off.
“Guess what? Maryse wants us to move to her place tomorrow. As long as we want.”
“I can tell that she is excited to hear from you.”
“Yes. I explained what we were doing, and she insists that we base from her house. We can even leave our camping gear when we know we won’t need it. She has done well. The accountant that she married is now the CFO of the Bank of Montréal. They have six guest bedrooms in their place in Summit Park.”
“You may need your black dress for breakfast,” said Jack.
“Hardly. She says that she and Jacques are into skiing and cycling. We’ll feel right at home in bicycle kit.”
Jack looked down at the map. “Not far from here. Looks like 2 km.”
“No, but it’s an average grade of 10% to their house.”
“Ooh, my kind of ride,” said Emily, grinning.
They spent the afternoon walking to the Fine Arts Museum near their hostel. They stopped for dinner at a local restaurant on the way back. By now it was a habit for Emily to notice the patrons when she walked in: two couples, a family of five, and two casually dressed men by themselves at the back of the room.
Hilda appeared pensive as they waited for fruit and cheese after the main meal.
“I am trying to recall the pictures of me on top of Hamid,” she said. “I know the news reports did not mention our names, but Katherine recognized me. Is my face showing in any of them?” Jack and Emily both thought for a minute.
“Katherine knows you, and she knows that Shebeest jersey you wear,” said Jack.
“None of the pictures I saw showed your face,” said Emily. “Are you worried about the one-off crazies hoping to kill you?”
Hilda nodded. “It’s not much of a leap to guess that we were going to Canada if we were on the Vermonter.”
“But first they have to recognize you,” said Jack. “You can’t even tell your height from those cellphone pictures on the internet, or your eye color. I think it’s a stretch that you would be identified in those pictures.”
“Unless someone starts chatting about you to their friends, and so on,” said Emily.
“Yeah, I guess there’s that, but I think it’s making too much of it until we get some other indication.” Jack looked intently at Hilda. “It will be a while before we can feel safely that you are no longer a target, but Pete will let us know about the social media chatter, and when it starts to fall off.”
“OK. You’re right. Thanks, both of you.” She smiled.
A half-hour later, they paid and left. As they walked, Emily said, “did you notice the two guys in the back of the restaurant?”
“Yes,” said Hilda. “What about them?”
“They finished before we had fruit and cheese but waited until we left to get up.”
“I saw that,” Jack said. “They’re either following us, or just happen to be headed south on this street.”
“Let’s just let them follow if that’s what they’re doing,” said Hilda. “We’re almost at the Hostel. No room to dodge them.”
At the top of the steps, Jack took a quick glance as he went in, then stopped inside to look out.
“They stopped when we went in, and one of them made a phone call as they continued. They were definitely watching the door after we went in. Out of sight now.”
“Let’s stop by the internet area on the way up,” said Hilda. Fortunately, there were plenty of machines in the lounge, so they could all check their email, social media and news at the same time.
“Marian van der Fleet got an offer to race with the Boels Dolman team,” said Emily on the way up the stairs to their room.
“Is that a big deal?” asked Jack.
“Like first draft pick in the NFL. It’s unusual for a new racer to get an offer like that the first year. She only just graduated from Cornell this year.”
“I’ll bet Agent Daglio will have to make some choices if she follows her dream,” said Hilda.
“Anything on your spy networks?”, asked Emily, grinning.
“All quiet tonight, thank goodness,” said Hilda.
From their room, Jack called Pete, and Emily called her mom. It was a good phone call, especially compared to the one from Saint Albans. Her mother was pleased that Emily enjoyed the art museum, and that they would be in a home while in Montréal.
Jack waited until Emily rang off to brief them.
“No news is good news. The Arabic news channels and social media have not been talking about you. Someone in headquarters suggested taking the Arabists off the case, but they are collecting so much good intel, that HQ has decided to design a special unit to continue their work. They will stay in place in Baltimore until the new unit is up – and they will stay alert for stuff on you, Hilda.”
“Did you tell him about the two outside?”
“I told him that we spotted a tail coming from the restaurant, but we have no idea why. He doesn’t have any idea either, but he’ll alert the RCMP and the Sûreté.
“Good. Will he call Ted and Greg?” Jack nodded.
“Maryse told us to come by in the afternoon, so that Jacques can be there when we arrive. We can do some touring in the morning.”
They gathered their toilet kits from their panniers and headed to the bathroom down the hall. Brushed, flossed and changed into nightclothes, they arrived back in the room at the same time.
“Who gets the top rack?” asked Hilda.
“Let me take it,” said Emily. “Either one of you is likely to pull it over climbing up there.” They laughed and proceeded to plug in their phones and crawl into their respective bunks. It had not been a physically demanding day, but they slept peacefully.
The next morning, they enjoyed the free breakfast in the common room, with croissants and fresh baguettes, sweet butter and jam. They checked out after breakfast and left their panniers in the luggage room.
Sunny days this far north were not as warm as in Virginia, so walking to the Old Quarter was good for getting the blood moving. They passed the Bank of Montréal on the way, then turned toward the river. They took pictures at the Clock Tower of the Quai de l’Horloge, then turned back. They had a wonderful seafood lunch at a restaurant at the Place Jacques Cartier, admired the City Hall on their way to the Boulevard Levesque. That took them to the shopping district and the Place des Arts. They could have taken a metro back, but it was such a lovely day, that they chose to walk past the upscale stores and back through the Place du Canada Park to the hostel.
“I know it’s only three kilometres to Maryse’s house, but with the hills and our loads, I want to change,” said Hilda. The other two agreed. They used the washroom off the lobby. They looked at the few cars parked on the street when they pushed their bikes out, but no one seemed to be staked out in front. There were so many cyclists going in both directions that they could not have spotted a tail among them if they tried.
The Pointreau home was easy to find, occupying most of its block, a large mansion surrounded by well-kept landscaping and woods that must have once been part of the Summit Woods behind the house. When they wheeled up to the gate, it opened; obviously someone was watching the cameras and expected them.
Maryse Pointreau was waiting on the porch. Elegant, athletic and slim, she stood taller than Emily but shorter than Jack and Hilda. Her blond hair was up in a French braid, and she wore Arc’teryx trekking shorts and a designer polo shirt. They dismounted their bicycles smoothly and pushed them into the covered bicycle station cleverly built near the entrance. Hilda and Maryse rushed at each other in a big hug, with double cheek-kissing.
“Maryse Pointreau, this is Jack Rathburn,” she said in English.
“So pleased to meet you, Jack.”
“And this –” Maryse cut her off and extended her hand.
“Is Emily Hampstead. What an honor.” She turned to Hilda. “This is a surprise indeed.”
Jack mock-groaned, “not again!” Hilda laughed.
Emily took her hand, “Enchantée, madame.”
“Maryse, je t’en pris. Nous sommes en Amerique, après tout.”
Emily beamed. It was the first time that someone had not returned her French with English.
“Come in, all of you. I am so excited! Let me show you your rooms, then we can do a little catching up. Antoine!” While they unhooked their panniers, a large, muscular man came out the front door. Though he came from indoors, he wore overalls and had a pair of Felco shears on his belt and gardening gloves sticking out of his pockets. He took their camping gear, so that they could make just one trip. “Jacques said that he would come home early today, so we can expect him momentarily.”
They stepped into a foyer with a large dining room to the left and a living room to the right. The living room was expensively furnished, but Hilda noticed that everything was spaced so that furniture could be moved against the wall to create a large room for entertaining. She imagined cocktail parties, ensemble concerts, and lectures in a space like this.
A staircase carried up to the bedrooms. Maryse showed them two rooms with a bathroom between them. Emily’s overlooked the city. Jack and Hilda had a corner room that looked at the Summit Woods and the city.
“Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll wait for you downstairs when you are ready. Oh – no need to change right away. Jacques is wearing his bicycle kit, too.”
“Thanks, Maryse,” said Hilda. “See you in a little bit.”
“I like this family already,” said Emily with a grin.
No one needed a shower, because neither the hill nor the sun had broken any sweat. They moved their things from the panniers into the large dressers, washed up a little at the sink, and went downstairs together.
As they reached the ground floor, Maryse was opening the front door for a tall, slender man with grey hair and crow’s feet that betrayed much time spent outdoors. He gave her a hug and a kiss, then removed his sunglasses. His white BMO team jersey has already dried.
“These must be our guests,” he said in English, slightly accented. “Maryse has been beside herself since you called. Hilda Paisley, yes?”
Hilda shook hands and introduced Jack. Emily came up from behind.
“Goodness, I did not know that we would see Emily Hampstead live in our home. Welcome, welcome!” He pumped Emily’s hand enthusiastically, which made her blush more hotly than ever.
Jacques waved them toward the living room, and Maryse led them to a south-facing veranda that overlooked the garden with the city beyond. Comfortable outdoor furniture was gathered in groups, and a wet bar stood against the house.
“Wine, beer, other?” asked Jacques. Hilda suggested a white wine to sip, and Jacques showed her a 2015 Moselle from the wine cooler.
“Perfect. This brings back memories, n’est-ce pas, Maryse?”
Maryse smiled and nodded. “We both like Rieslings and Moselles. One of the first things we learned about each other, when we met on a bike tour of the Moselle Valley.”
“Now that sounds romantic,” said Emily.
“It was,” said Jacques. “On the third day, we arrived in Schengen, where Luxembourg, Germany and France meet. I wanted her to show me where she lived, so we left the tour. The rest, as they say, is history.”
“How are your parents, Maryse?” asked Hilda.
“They are well. Papa made General after the Germany tour. After two tours in Ottawa (which he hated), they retired to a small house in the Laurentians. It’s only a couple of hours from here by car, so we see them often enough.”
“It’s also a fine ride into some of the most beautiful hills in Québec,” said Jacques, “so we don’t lack for excuses to visit.”
They sat around on the veranda sipping the Moselle, while Hilda and Maryse brought each other up to date, slipping easily into German and French and back to English. Jacques was much taken with Emily. It turned out that he had raced in his twenties, including the Tour de Québec and road races in the USA. He followed cycling news in North America and Europe, so he was well aware of the coverage that Emily had received, and of her crash in the spring.
“Will you be able to race again?”
“Probably, but not this summer. I was delighted when Hilda invited me to tour with her. It’s a lot more fun that training rides around Albemarle County.”
“Bien sûr,” agreed Jacques. “When will you be able to race again?”
“The doctor told me not to compete until this fall. We will see what this touring does to my form, and whether I can get back in shape for next spring.”
“You are young. It should be no problem for you.”
“As it is,” said Jack, “she has to use her speedometer to keep herself from going too fast on tour – even with the bags.”
“I can imagine. Your form on the videos I saw was amazing, Emily.”
Emily blushed. “I’m not used to all this attention since we crossed the border. Strangers recognizing me and even asking for my autograph.”
“We follow cycling, especially in Québec. And potential world-class North Americans get a fan following quickly.”
“Hilda was the center of attention when we left,” said Jack. “It looks like Emily is now.”
“Well, I don’t want the attention she was getting,” said Emily.
“How is that?” asked Jacques. He looked quizzically at Emily then Jack.
“Hilda was pursued by some Middle Eastern terrorists and their associates until we got to Vermont. It’s why she did not call Maryse when she set out to come to Montréal.”
“The two terrorists were arrested here in Montréal, and the other four were captured in Massachusetts.”
“Wait a minute. Was that the two who crashed their car in Laval last week?”
Jack and Emily nodded. “The Forebears of the Mahdi.”
“Sacre bleu! They attacked the Sheraton in Chicago last year, as I recall.”
“That’s the group. The last two had some friends in the US, who ran into us in Connecticut. We were lucky to have them all off the street by the time we arrived here.”
Suddenly, Maryse reached over and tugged at her husband.
“Jacques! Remember the nurse in the attack in Chicago last year?” she said. “That was Hilda!”
“Oh, so that’s the connection. I remember the photo now. Why didn’t you recognize her then?”
“I was taller than she when we were 17, Jacques, and her hair was short the last time I saw a picture of her. We change, you know.”
“You haven’t, chérie.” Maryse gave him an affectionate slap on the arm.
Emily said, “I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about them now.”
“Me, too,” said Hilda with a long sigh, “Me, too.”
Jack looked around as if to scan the bushes. “Now we just have to worry about Emily being kidnapped by racing fans.” They laughed.
They broke up about six and took showers before dinner. Maryse insisted on serving dinner at home.
“Simple fare. Boeuf bourguignon, pommes de terre and flageolet verts,” Maryse apologized. “We’ll do something fancier later.”
“Maryse, don’t spoil us. We’re still revelling in the fresh bread and seafood here.”
“Let us take you to dinner at some point while we’re here, too,” said Jack.
Jacques and Maryse raised their wine glasses in assent. “OK. I hope you will stay long enough to sample our best restaurants.”
“We’ll have to ride to Ottawa and Québec City to burn that off,” said Hilda.
“But we were planning to do that anyway,” said Emily. “This is going to be the best summer I’ve ever had.” Their hosts smiled with obvious pleasure.
“We’re serious about your basing from here. We have the room, and no one coming this summer.”
“Do you have children?” asked Emily. A dark shadow passed briefly over Maryse’s face.
“Yes. Our son is in the Army.”
“He’s with the 22nd Regiment,” said Jacques.
“Québec City?” asked Jack. Jacques nodded.
About eleven, Emily yawned. Jacques had to go to work in the morning.
“You sleep in as long as you like,” said Maryse.
“Please don’t disturb your routine for us,” said Jack.
“We won’t. I go for a ride in the early morning when Jacques goes to work. You’ll find fresh baguettes and croissants on the counter in the kitchen when you come down, and feel free to whip up a big American breakfast if you like. There are eggs, bacon, fruit, juice, jam, butter and cheeses in the refrigerator. Please feel at home.”
“Bonne nuit, Maryse.” Hilda and Maryse exchanged a hug. Then everyone trooped to their rooms.
“You go first, Em,” said Jack as they opened their bedroom doors.
Inside, Jack and Hilda paused for a romantic embrace and a kiss.
“I saw the computers in the studio next to the dining room,” said Hilda. “Maryse said that we could use them anytime. The password is “routeverte” all one word.”
“Almost too easy to remember,” said Jack.
A knock on the bathroom door. Emily opened it cautiously.
“I’m done. BTW, I used my phone to Google Maryse Pointreau and found out she was Maryse Langlais. A champion rider twenty years ago.”
“Before Facebook and email. No wonder I didn’t know,” said Hilda. “She is too modest. Maybe you should check out her training ride one of these mornings.”
Emily gave her a thumbs-up. “G’night y’all. Get some sleep.” She grinned and closed the door quickly.
“Is there anywhere better than this?” Hilda asked as they stretched out in the king-sized bed on fresh linens.
“Only if you’re next to me.”
“Major Rathburn, you’re impossible!” She rolled over on him…
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,