The next morning, Jack and Hilda were surprised to wake up well after dawn. Donning the white terry bathrobes and slippers on the bathroom door, they crept downstairs to find that no one was stirring in the house. Jack started the kettle while Hilda scooped coffee into the French press on the counter. They were putting out some juice and dishes when Emily came into the kitchen, also in a robe.
“Good morning, Em. Only one seating for breakfast today.” Jack poured the boiling water into the French press, stirred the mix, and covered the coffeemaker. He set the timer for four minutes.
“Comment es-tu ce matin, Em?” asked Hilda.
“Bien. Ou voulons-nous aller aujourd’hui?” Where we want to go today? Emily and Hilda continued discussing where to ride while Jack put croissants on their plates and assembled a bowl of fruit.
When the coffee was ready, he poured it and set it out, then said, “Assez! On mange.” To their surprised looks, he added. “I agree. Let’s visit the Oratory, because it’s right near here, then climb the Mont Royal. But I think we should save the Botanical Garden for tomorrow. It’s worth most of a day itself. After the Mont Royal, why don’t we ride down to the Île Sainte-Hélène and the Île Notre-Dame. We could find lunch at the Bon Secours Market on the way.”
“I like that,” said Hilda. “Depending on the time, Habitat 67, the Biosphere-“
“The Barbie Expo on the way back!” They both looked at Emily with surprise. “I saw a sign for it walking back from the Vieux Port yesterday and looked it up on Google.”
“Why not?” Jack said.
They heard the door open and a pair of cleats step onto the marble floor. A moment later, Maryse padded into the kitchen in her socks. “Hello. I hope you all slept well.” Her red and black Castelli jersey was wet, but the rest of her was only shining. She was still high on endorphins, but her breathing was normal.
“Good workout?” asked Emily. Maryse nodded enthusiastically.
“Café? Nous en avons assez.” Jack got up and poured a cup. Maryse joined them at the table.
“Very good. Jack. I never heard you speak French before.” She took a croissant and a banana.
“I’m not as fast as Hilda, so I usually just listen.”
“This looks like a planning session. Where to today?” They shared their ideas. “I have not done all those in a while. Would you mind if I came along?”
They sat there another twenty minutes, adding some cheese and more fruit to their breakfast. Then they all went up to their rooms to change.
Without the weight of the panniers, riding around Montréal proved easy and invigorating. The staff at the Oratory knew Maryse as a parishioner and let them in free as her guests. After that, she led them on the easiest roads, acted as their tour guide, and even got them discounts at the ticket-windows: veterans for Jack and Hilda, and student for Emily. They had lunch at the Bon Secours Market, rode the islands, and still arrived at the Barbie Expo by mid afternoon.
This last surprised them: a vast collection of unique Barbies, dressed in original outfits by the leading designers of haute couture.
By five-thirty, they were back at the house. Maryse whipped up some cheese omelets for a protein-rich snack. They were eating in the kitchen when Jacques arrived.
“We had a wonderful day, dear,” said Maryse as she kissed her husband. She told them about it while he got a plate and joined them.
“This isn’t dinner,” he said at last. “We were thinking of going out tonight.”
“My treat,” said Jack. Jacques shook his head.
“Later, my friend. Tomorrow, we can eat here. What do you think, Maryse?”
“What do you think, Hilda?” said Maryse.
“This is like a NASA lab compared to the little galley in Kaiserslautern. We can all fit. Shall we work together?”
“I hope ‘all’ includes us,” said Jacques, pointing to Jack and himself.
“Bien sûr, mon cher.”
“That’ll be fun,” said Emily.
Jacques went to the studio to book a reservation at Europea, just down the hill from the house. They all showered and changed. Hilda, Jack and Emily took turns checking their email and social media sites, then joined their hosts on the veranda.
“No news,” said Jack.
“Is good news,” said Hilda.
Jacques was pouring a 2016 Riesling, as Emily arrived.
“Mom is happy I’m here. She has been here before, but never knew about the Barbie Expo. She went totally ballistic about it! Grandma had the first Barbie and gave it to her!”
They took the car to the restaurant, which lived up to its reputation. They got back after midnight, but it was Friday, so Jacques did not have to go in the next day. Maryse planned to ride out about 8:30 instead of dawn.
On Saturday, Emily and Maryse headed out past Saint-Eustache to the open country west of the city. Large farms extended on either side of them. There were few drivers, and those passed with care, sometimes giving a friendly toot after they passed. They encountered more than a dozen groups – mostly men – riding hard in pelotons, obviously training. In the villages there were kids on bikes, and housewives riding city bikes. The bright colours of the riders contrasted with the browns and greens of the fields. Emily was transported to a happy place surrounded by like-minded people enjoying her favourite sport.
Maryse rode hard, but not competitively. Her steady 30 km/hr was well below Emily’s threshold, but Emily could read the intensity on Maryse’s face and knew that the pace would not allow her to chat. They covered about 50 km by the time they rolled into the driveway. They had omelets and a half-gallon of orange juice before going up to shower. Jack and Hilda were in their room, getting dressed to go out.
“How was it?” asked Hilda.
“Great. She rides hard, so we didn’t chat. Lots of cyclists out there of all types.”
“Hard for you or her?”
“Her. Only about 30 the whole time. Dr. Morris would approve.”
“OK. I heard you in the kitchen. You want to go out as soon as you change or eat something else first?”
“I’ll be ready as soon as I change. I see you’re in street clothes.”
“It’s only 15 km away.”
Emily went to her room through the bathroom.
A half-hour later, they were downstairs. Jacques and Maryse were trading sections of the newspaper in the kitchen.
“Enjoy the Jardin,” he said. “Maryse and I will go shopping this afternoon.”
“Thanks. À bientôt,” Hilda said.
Jack was right: the Botanical Gardens near the Olympic Stadium were worth their own trip. Amid the topiary in many colours, the Japanese garden and bonsai house, and the Chinese garden with its pagoda, they found natural habitats of different parts of the world, vegetable gardens, greenhouses, and plenty of places to relax and enjoy the view. It took the entire morning to cover the exhibits, including a stop for ice cream.
Since they were so close, they rode over to the Biodome to see the environmental exhibits. The former Olympic velodrome was an attractive nature center perfect for school groups and families, especially those who might not travel far from urban Montréal.
“So where is the velodrome now?” asked Emily. “This place is bike-crazy. They must have track racing.”
“They do, but the only track is in Bromont, just on the other side of Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu where we camped,” said Hilda. “It’s an outdoor track, so it isn’t as useful as it could be.”
“I haven’t been to a track race myself. It looks very different.”
“I’ve only been once – in Bromont, in fact. It is different. Considering the weather here, I hope one of the three proposals for an indoor track gets funded soon.”
They rode slowly back to the house, stopping for a light lunch at a brasserie that they remembered was near the hostel. Jack and Hilda chose a table where they could see the room. Emily excused herself after asking them to order the salade niçoise for her.
“Those same two guys who followed us to the hostel just walked in,” she as she returned from the ladies’ room.
“I see them,” said Jack. “Can’t do anything now except keep an eye out for them without being too obvious.”
“Maybe they just live in this neighbourhood,” said Hilda.
“Maybe. Let’s see if they follow us again.”
Lunch felt just a little tenser, but the two men went to the bar and ordered beers. They seem to chat.
“They paid for their beers right away, so they are not eating, and they can leave on short notice,” Jack said.
After lunch they walked out to their bikes. The two men came out just as they were riding away. Emily watched in her rear-view mirror.
“Dark blue Peugeot that was parked outside the brasserie,” she reported. The car made the right turn with them and followed for a block before speeding up to avoid blocking traffic.
“Did you get the plate?” asked Hilda.
“Yup,” said Jack.
“Me, too,” said Emily.
“Now we need to look out for them or their car, especially if either shows up outside this neighbourhood.” Hilda wondered about this new development. The men did not look foreign (how would she know in a city as diverse as Montréal?), so she hoped that these two encounters were coincidental. She didn’t believe it.
Back at the house, Jack stopped at the entrance.
“You two go in. I want to see the house from the back. I’ll ride around the block and be right back.”
Hilda waved, and Emily followed him in. Jack rode around the block and spotted what he was hoping not to find around the corner. He rode back, parked his bike and joined the others in the kitchen. Maryse smiled, but immediately lost her expression.
“You don’t look happy,” said Hilda. “What did you see?”
“A blue Peugeot 844-JXD”
Emily gasped. “Here?”
“Around the corner on the other side of the wall where the veranda is.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Jacques.
“We’re not sure,” said Jack, “but two men followed us to the hostel from dinner the other night. The same two men appeared at the brasserie where we were having lunch and followed us for a block until they had to speed up because of traffic.”
“Now their car is parked outside your house. Either they are neighbours, or we are being watched.” Hilda’s eyes did that flaring thing that Emily both feared and admired.
“Easy to check,” said Jacques. “I can have a friend in the Sûreté run the plates. We can at least make sure it’s not a neighbour before we worry.”
“That would be an unofficial favour, wouldn’t it?” asked Jack.
“Of course. What are friends for?”
“Let me try official channels first.” Jack pulled out his phone. “I have the name and number of a point of contact I am supposed to call here in Québec. It’s our liaison with the FBI.”
“Impressive. May I know who?”
“That’s Chief Inspector Pierre Laurent, Jack.” Jacques smiled. “You have a well-placed network.”
“Is that your friend?”
Jacques nodded. “Among other things, he leads the anti-terrorism unit that arrested the two Forebears of the Mahdi. Go ahead and call him but let him know that you are staying with us – and save your dime: use our phone.”
The phone was in the studio. Jack came back as the others were getting out knives, cutting boards, and ingredients to start preparing dinner. There was dough to rise, vegetables to cut and marinades to mix and fill with meat and fish.
“If I didn’t know better,” said Jack, “I would say it’s too much for five people – but I know we’ll burn it.”
Emily showed him how to use a mandolin on the onions. Hilda and Jacques washed the ingredients for the salad, while Maryse prepared the crème fraiche and put it in the refrigerator. When things were at the point where chilling, rising or chambering, the phone rang. Jacques took it.
“That was Pierre,” he said when he came back. “The car is registered to a company, not a person. He was curious about that, so he ran a check on it. It’s a shell company for an outfit in Miami, Florida. Now the FBI is curious, because of the possible connection to you, Hilda. Pierre said to tell you that Pete Sayfield is looking into it. We’ll know something probably by Monday evening if not sooner.”
“We know Pete,” said Jack. “He’s the Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore office. He’s been coordinating the people watching out for Hilda ever since the shooting attempt in Maryland.”
“You were shot at?” Maryse sounded shocked.
“Let’s go sit down, and we’ll give you the background.” They repaired to the living room, conscious of the fact now that the veranda might be subject to eavesdropping. While Jacques poured the now-traditional glasses of white wine, Hilda briefed them on the events since Chicago, and why the FBI was watching out for her. Jack explained his part in it all.
“And I’m just along for the ride,” said Emily, lightening the atmosphere and allowing them to laugh.
“Well, you should be safe here,” Jacques said, “but depending on what your FBI comes back with, I can have our private security contractor see what they are up to.”
“We probably should bring this up with Ted and Pete when we check in tonight.”
“You check in often?” asked Maryse.
“Every day, we call either the Provost Marshal at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, who has been on the case from the beginning, or Pete Sayfield. It’s a promise we made when we started out from Charlottesville.”
“Because of the three months that the FBI could not find them after Chicago,” said Emily, grinning.
Dinner that night was as special as they hoped. It took two hours to cook it, and another four to consume it. Jacques had a first-rate entertainment system providing music. With conversation between each course, they had no trouble finishing the baeckeoffe, a large Atlantic salmon, coq au Riesling, piperade, and pâté chinois, in addition to the salad, the cheese, and the berries with crème fraiche.
Conversation stayed light and happy as they caught up more deeply the lives that had transpired since Hilda and Maryse had parted ways at the Frankfurt airport. Emily, Jacques and Jack had become essential parts of those stories, and their stories became part of the tale.
They loaded the dishwasher (Emily and Jack had scrubbed all the pots earlier) and went to bed after midnight – again.
Sunday morning, they walked with the Pointreau’s to the Oratory for Mass, then came home for brunch. Jack walked around the corner to check on the blue Peugeot.
“Gone,” he said.
“If they are following us, maybe they realized that we made them,” said Hilda.
“We’ll know more tomorrow,” said Jacques, as they went indoors.
In the afternoon, everyone took a short nap. They went for a long walk through the Summit Woods behind the house.
That evening, they decided to go to La Lavanderia for Argentine food. The two men who had followed them did not show up.
“They might have turned it over to another team,” said Hilda as they considered the menu.
“If they did, the second team is better than the first,” said Jack. “I’ve been watching.”
“This is a protein-rich menu,” said Emily. “Good for our ride tomorrow.”
“Do you know where you will stay?” asked Jacques.
“There are two campgrounds just off the Russell-Prescott Trail, about half-way to Ottawa,” said Hilda. “We’ll call ahead when we have an idea of which one we’ll reach.”
“We’ve booked the Jailhouse Hostel for Tuesday and Wednesday.”
“That’s a fun place,” said Maryse. “The rooms are actually cells in the old city jail.”
Jack signalled for the bill, with a stern look at Jacques and Maryse. Jacques held up his hands in surrender.
Emily excused herself to go to the restroom. There were two women chatting as they adjusted their makeup. She took the second stall. When she came back out, the two women were just turning to the door to leave. It flew open and two men ran into the restroom. Emily heard two popping sounds. The women crumpled to the floor. The men pointed their pistols at her, and the one closest pulled the trigger. She heard a pop and felt a sting in her stomach. Her vision narrowed and went black.
Until next time
Smooth roads and tailwinds,