Monday morning, Jacques rode to work, promising to come home for lunch with any developments or ideas at his end. Hilda and Jack promised to call if the authorities came up with anything. Jacques made sure that he had their cell numbers before he left.
After he left, Hilda sat with her coffee staring out the kitchen window. Her heart ached for the bubbly teenager who was such a surprising young woman. But mostly she felt deeply depressed.
Jack guessed her thoughts. “No, Hilda, there was nothing you could have done. You noticed those two men get up, and we were on them right away.”
“But couldn’t we have noticed them sooner?”
“No,” said the MP investigator. “I’ve been watching, but those were two completely new people. This gang knows what they are doing.”
“Oh, God, just what are they doing?”
“Probably nothing right now. I would expect them to keep her safe, someplace isolated and far away, until enough time passes for them to know that they haven’t been found.”
Maryse took her hand. “Would you like to go somewhere? Get your mind off this?”
“That might be nice, but I worry about being out right now,” she said.
“It might be good to stay in for two reasons,” said Jack. “You’re still a target for the crazies, and the pictures of us with Emily last night went viral. It won’t be long before the world figures out that we’re staying here and that you’re the famous nurse from Chicago.”
Hilda groaned and put her head in her hands. Maryse went to the studio to call Jacques. She came back in two minutes.
“Jacques came to the same conclusion you did, Jack. He’s ordered security for the house. Hopefully, they’ll be here before the paparazzi. Hilda should not go anywhere except in a car with a bodyguard until we sort his out. I called Antoine and Yvette, the housekeeper, to give them the day off. They offered run errands for us out there.”
“Let’s do our laundry until the next news report.” Hilda got up, and Jack followed her upstairs. They spent the morning on laundry, calling Ted, and waiting. The TV was on, tuned to a news channel. About ten, the story broke identifying the mystery woman with Emily Hampstead. Re-runs of the Chicago story preceded a pair of pundits wondering whether the young bicycling phenom were in some way active in international anti-terrorism circles during her convalescence.
Hilda groaned again. “Right now, I can’t tell if I want to hide under a rock or pick up the rock and kill someone.”
“You probably don’t want to see them,” said Maryse, “but I’ll send out for the afternoon papers.”
“We might as well know what to expect,” said Jack. Hilda hugged him and let him hold her for a long while. She took a deep breath and stood back.
“Maryse, there may be no point in trying to do the job of the Sûreté, but could we go online for a while to see what we can figure out ? To keep busy if nothing else.”
“Of course. You know the password. I’ll get some coffee and a snack, OK?”
“Thanks.” Jack and Hilda went into the studio, where Jacques and Maryse each kept a computer. First, they did their routine check of the Arabic chat rooms and social media, where everything was quiet about Hilda.
“I’m sure now that this has nothing to do with you,” said Jack. “I mean, you probably won’t get a ransom demand.”
“I agree. You’re the professional investigator. Where do we look now?”
Jack rebooted and set up a VPN. He logged into the law enforcement databases that he usually checked.
“About 200 responses to the Amber Alert have come in, and so far, they’re all dead-ends. She’s been sighted as far away as Vancouver and Prince Edward Island.”
Hilda shook her head. Jack brought up a satellite mapping program.
“Let’s figure how far they would have taken her to hole up for the night. She would be waking up when?”
“Depends on the dosage. Can we find out when the other two women woke up?”
Maryse walked in with mugs of coffee. “I heard that. I imagine that they were taken to McGill University Hospital. It’s only a few blocks from the restaurant.”
Jack searched for news with the keyword McGill and got a news alert. “They were released at ten this morning.”
“So, they probably woke up earlier, say seven or eight,” said Hilda.
“The kidnappers would want to settle her somewhere while she was unconscious, so let’s see how far they could go in, say, six hours.”
“That’s a long drive at night.”
“OK, let’s see what looks good four hours away.”
Jack drew a circle 200 km around the restaurant and zoomed in. For the next hour, he tagged buildings that sat isolated from the nearest road, inside the circle.
Jacques came home when they had about three dozen likely farmhouses and other buildings tagged. They showed him what they had.
“I talked to Pierre about that idea,” Jacques said. “They have narrowed the list to only a dozen unoccupied places. Police are checking those first. They also have surveillance drones doing a pattern search out to the forest line.”
“Do you have to go back in?” asked Maryse.
“Yes, but I have to shower and change first. I can’t get out now.”
“The paparazzi are blocking the gate. They’ll be furious when they find out that I was not a bicycle messenger with a delivery.” They laughed. “Raymond will bring a company car around to the back at one.”
Jack’s phone rang. “Pete, again.” He listened, then put it on speaker. “I have Hilda and our hosts, Jacques and Maryse, here. Go ahead.”
“Chief Inspector Laurent told me about your collaboration, Mr. Pointreau. Thanks.”
“The least we could do.”
“Anyway, I told Pierre that I would pass this on to you, so he can concentrate on the search. It seems that there was a spike in activity this morning between the MS-42 people in Miami and a couple of phone numbers in Montréal. The Montréal Police and SDQ identified them as local muscle for one of the drug gangs, so now they have the connection to MS-42. This seems to eliminate Hilda as the target. There’s been no ransom demand, so we are still not sure what they intend to do.”
“With the car belonging to the shell company,” said Jack, “this must have been set up for some time. Not a last-minute thing. They’d rent cars for that.”
“Agreed. Meanwhile, Pierre may have news for you on the search. There are not that many likely places after all. It’s just taking time to get out to all of them.”
“Has Greg briefed her parents in Charlottesville?”
“He’s doing that now and adding the update about the search.”
They rang off. Jacques went to shower and change, while the others went to the kitchen to put together some lunch. Conversation was sparse as they ate, each concerned and worried with their thoughts about Emily and knowing that they could not do anything just yet. Raymond called from the back gate at one p.m. Jacques kissed Maryse goodbye and took his leave.
About two p.m., Pierre Laurent called Maryse’s phone, and asked her to put it on speaker. “We had a break in narrowing down the search,” he said. “A Sûreté patrol went out to check a farmhouse near Saint-Didace. It was empty but unlocked. It looked like someone had left in a hurry, with tracks of a large vehicle and a smaller sedan at high speed. On their way back in, they thought to check at the only gas station near there. The owner remembered the blue Peugeot, and a black Chevy Suburban, which topped off. What caught his attention was that one of the two men in the Peugeot got into the Suburban before they all drove off. The Peugeot did not gas up.”
They carried the phone into the studio. The satellite mapping program was where they had it before lunch.
“That’s what, an hour and a half from here?” asked Jack.
“That’s right, about 120 km,” said the Chief Inspector. “What’s more, the blue Peugeot was spotted in a factory parking lot in Laval. Empty and wiped clean, but the police impounded it anyway. Forensics may be able to find traces if it was used to transport Emily.”
“CCTV on the Suburban?” asked Jack.
“Yes.” Pierre dictated the license number. “We have an APB out on it, and, of course, the CBSA and the Border Patrol will be looking for it.”
“Emily may be in the Suburban.”
“That’s what we’re thinking, but we’re also going to have a closer look at that farmhouse now.”
“Thank you, Chief Inspector,” said Hilda.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” asked Jack.
“Yes. Take care of my friends there. The paparazzi are very clever. They may even get into the house.”
“À tout à l’heure, alors.” He rang off.
Emily paused almost as soon as she entered the woods. As her eyes adjusted to the deep shade, he felt the air temperature drop considerably. She continued west, thinking that she would need to make camp well before dark. She chuckled to herself considering what a fashion statement she would make now, with her thick socks, low-heeled pumps, little black dress and a man’s denim jacket. She picked her way among the trees, which fortunately had such a thick canopy that there was not much undergrowth. About ten metres in, the ground pitched steeply downhill. She was careful to watch for the sun as best she could, and to notice if there was any moss or lichens growing on the tree trunks.
After about two hours, she reached the bottom. A very small brook ran swiftly down the ravine. Continuing west meant climbing back up, but she reasoned that all the flowing water would lead to a river and then to the Saint Lawrence. She turned south and followed the brook.
Growling noises ahead caused her to stop. She moved close to a tree to see around the bushes ahead of her. A trio of black bear cubs were playing in the brook. No sign of the mother. Emily had never met a Mama bear and did not want to do so now.
Emily hooked her bundle of corn on a stub above her. She grabbed a branch, climbed above the tied-up blanket, then reached down to move it up above her again. She repeated the operation as she slowly made her way into the thinner branches. Her heart was pounding as much from the physical effort as the prospect of being chased by something with claws and big teeth. When she was about 15 feet up, she found another crotch and settled in to look for the mother bear. Her knees and shins were bloody, and she had a splinter under one fingernail.
Mama bear showed up about a half-hour later. She had a fish in her mouth, which she proceeded to share with the cubs. Dinner took another half-hour, after which she led them up the ravine. She paused where Emily had been walking, alert to the smell of the girl on the trail. She growled and looked around. Emily was downwind, so the bear did not pick up a stronger, fresher scent. The bear nudged her cubs up the ravine, hurrying them along. While she waited, Emily took out the pocket knife and used the tweezers to remove the splinter. When the bears were long out of sight, she climbed down and moved as quickly as she dared downstream.
The sun was halfway down in the southwest when Emily reached a swiftly flowing river heading east. This was completely out of alignment with what she expected, but she turned left, knowing that the Saint Lawrence had to lie downstream, and getting there would take her across roads and into more densely settled areas.
It was slow going, because the trees went right to the river edge, leaving no bank to walk on. With the sun hitting the woods by the river, there was more undergrowth, so she had to walk along the steep hill rising to her left and pick her way among the trees. Scratches from the bushes joined the scrapes from the tree on her legs. She spotted a small island in the stream. There were narrow beaches on the river bank, but she worried about the bears behind her. Further on, she saw a small clearing on the island at the end of a series of rocks that led from the river. On the last rock, she slipped and slid into the river. The cold water made her gasp as she struggled for a handhold on the rock. Her feet settled on the bottom, so that she was not even waist-deep in the stream. Holding on to the rock, she carefully made her way to the island.
The air was warmer in the open. She collected firewood and built a fireplace with stones. Using the knife, she trimmed kindling for tinder and started a fire. She shed the jacket, dress, shoes and socks. The dress, the jacket and the blanket she hung on a branch close to the fire. They would dry quickly. She set her shoes and socks on the fire stones to dry. After soaking a half-dozen ears of corn in the river, she cooked them in their husks over the coals, steaming them in just a few minutes. She had been so focused all day, that her hunger surprised her. She burned her hands and mouth trying to handle the corn. With a couple of swear-words, she donned the jacket while she let her supper cool. The sun went down while she ate.
After supper, she put her dress, socks and shoes on, then wrapped up in the blanket on the beach. The only sound was the river running around the rocks. It masked any birds or insects that may have come out. The sky was brilliant with stars. She had enjoyed starry skies in Kansas, but there was even less light pollution in this spot in the forest. She knew that she was out of sight of anyone who might be looking for her. She worried about Hilda, Jack and her mom, who were probably frantic. She hoped that she was not too far from a road or a town, but she would find out in the morning.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,