Jacques came home at six. Supper was a silent affair, with the TV continuing to carry wild speculation about Emily’s fate and no calls from their friends in law enforcement. After dinner, Hilda called Katherine. Emily’s mother was as up to date as they were.
“It’s unnerving having the FBI technicians here all the time, waiting for a call.”
“Are you and Mark able to go out at all?”
“Oh, yes. And we’ve set the agents up in the guest bedroom with all their gear, so they’re not in our faces all the time.”
“What is the publicity like?”
“The Daily Progress picked up the AP wire story yesterday, and the local TV had a mercifully short mention on the six o’clock news. A few friends have called, but it’s all died down now.”
“Not here. The local TV stations have pundits with wild theories, just building on each other. It’s crazy. And I’m back in the news, because the other diners at the restaurant put our table on Facebook during dinner. It’s gone viral, at least among the cycling fans.”
“I’m sorry, Hilda.”
“Thanks, Katherine, but I can’t imagine what you are going through. I am in total agony over this, and with the paparazzi on the gate, we can’t even go out. Jack is climbing the walls, because he can’t work on it, but he admits that the Sûreté and the FBI are doing all the things that he would have done.”
“Isn’t there something about a 48-hour window?”
“Yes, but don’t focus on that. For one thing, there has been no ransom demand, so this is looking less like a traditional kidnapping. Then there is something else that gives me hope.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s an amazingly resourceful and quick woman. She’s strong, alert, and creative. She has awesome instincts and acts on them fast. You have raised a phenom in more ways than you can imagine, Katherine. Cling to that.”
“Thanks, Hilda. Mark and I want to come up there, but the FBI says we need to be here to receive a ransom demand.”
“Go with their advice. Everybody up here – including the bad guys – knows where to find us. We need to have the communications open in both places if they contact us.”
They rang off after promising to keep in touch.
Jacques called out from the studio. “Jack, Hilda, you may want to see this.”
He was sitting at his computer, with several windows open on the widescreen monitor.
“I have subscriptions to Velo News, Bicycling, and a few others. The online issues are full of Emily’s story.”
“That will keep the publicity up even in the US,” said Jack.
“I’ll have to tell Katherine and Mark,” said Hilda, “but I just talked to them.”
“Tomorrow should be OK. Maybe we’ll have more news by then.”
They retired to their rooms after the eleven o’clock news, which did nothing to make them sleepy. Both Hilda and Emily were featured. It was as if the Canadian news stations were happy to have something to report besides the latest Tweets from their neighbour to the south.
Hilda and Jack both lay awake, deeply aware that the bedroom next door was empty. They did not talk or move but rested gently in each other’s arms. At last, their combat training kicked in, as they forced their bodies to yield to the need for rest. They slept.
At 06:30, they rose, and made their way to the kitchen. Maryse was up, with the coffeemaker brewing.
“No paper, I’m afraid. The paparazzi are still out there.”
“How long could this go on?” asked Hilda, as she poured coffee into three mugs.
“Who knows? Until Emily is found or something more exciting happens.”
“Has this happened before?”
“A couple of times, when we had a celebrity houseguest. The guards should keep them under control, but it’s a hassle to try to push through them with a bicycle, so no morning ride.”
Jacques came in, shaved and dressed except for his jacket and tie. He poured himself a cup of coffee. Maryse got up and went to the refrigerator.
“Omelettes, anyone?” Three hands went up.
Hilda got out glasses and orange juice, while Jack set the table. Jacques sliced a baguette and put out butter and jam.
“I haven’t heard anything. You?” said Jacques. The others shook their heads.
The phone rang in the studio. Jacques left to take it. He came back two minutes later.
“That was Pierre. The crew in the black Suburban clearly did not realize that there was an APB out on them. They showed up at the border crossing at Blackpool. When the CSBA asked them to step out of the vehicle, the driver ran through the checkpoint and killed a Border Patrol officer crashing through the barrier. The American side is on high alert and a chase is in progress.”
“Oh, God, Emily!” said Hilda.
“I asked about her, but Pierre was still getting clarification about what the people at the two border checkpoints saw. He’ll call back soon. I asked him to call Maryse here first. The Sûreté and the FBI are on a real-time radio circuit right now.” He excused himself to go upstairs to finish getting dressed for work.
Hilda let Jack hug her, while Maryse quietly cleared breakfast.
“This is turning out to be the worst idea I ever had,” Hilda said, burying her face in Jack’s shoulder. “I never should have invited her to come along.”
“Don’t look back.” He hugged her strongly. “It was a great idea. You have always done the right thing, and this is no exception. No one – not even the kidnappers – could have expected Emily to appear in Québec until she did.”
Hilda took a deep breath and sighed. She stood back. “I told Katherine that I was clinging to my faith in Emily herself. It’s all I have left.”
“Then cling on.” Jack said, then gave a Vulcan salute.
“Oh, God, Jack, that’s almost not funny.”
“Better than dwelling on it, love.”
Jacques came in and kissed his wife. “I have a meeting that I can’t miss this morning,” he said to them, “but I’m going to take half-days until this resolves itself. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He left by the back gate, where Raymond was waiting with a company car. A desultory pair of paparazzi did not even bother to raise their cameras at the CFO of the 5th largest bank in Canada.
Jack said, “Let’s go read some bicycling magazines online.” He looked at Maryse, who had just finished loading the dishwasher. “Want to join us?”
As they entered the studio, the phone rang. Maryse answered. “Dis-le toi-même,” she said, and handed the phone to Jack. “It’s Pierre.”
“Hello, Chief Inspector.”
“More on the chase. The Border Patrol scrambled a helicopter while their ground units and the New York State Police chased the Suburban south on I-81. It crashed through a road block at the exit for US 11, killing another police officer.”
“Is this turning into suicide by cop?”
“Almost. The helicopter picked up the trail just at US 11 and saw the incident at the roadblock. The helo crew opened fire on the Suburban. It exploded and burned up instantly.”
Jack felt a punch in his stomach. “Emily?”
“Units on the scene report seven bodies inside, but I’m still waiting to hear more details. Just a minute –”
Jack briefed the others while he waited. Maryse gasped and sat down with her hand on her mouth. Hilda stood frozen, her face pulsating between rage and fear.
“Jack – I’m back.”
“The bodies are badly burned, but all seven are males. No Emily, apparently.”
“Thank God, but what does that mean, and where’s Emily?”
“That is why we are detectives, non? Between the drones over Mastigouche and our plodding footwork, we’ll find her. Right now, the lack of a ransom demand and having our prime suspects out of action is giving me hope. I don’t want to think that they killed her.”
“That’s not rational. They are cruel and greedy, but not crazy.”
“I agree. Unfortunately, the news cameras are covering the scene, too, so expect more paparazzi at the gate after the media makes the connection. Sorry.”
“I’ll tell the others. Thanks.”
“Later, then.” The Chief Inspector rang off.
Maryse lit off her computer, because she had bookmarks for the various cycling publications. Jack heard a sound in the hall. While the computer booted up, he walked over to the door. Hilda rose to follow him.
A flash blinded him. While the lights swirled in his vision, he leaped toward the source of the flash swinging an arm at the offending camera. By the time his vision cleared he was facing a thin man with black hair and unkempt beard, a wool knit cap and a camouflage jacket. He raised the camera again.
Jack grabbed his wrist, twisted and pulled the arm over his knee, dislocating the shoulder with an audible pop. The paparazzo screamed in pain and fell to his knees. The camera clattered to the floor and the lens snapped off. Hilda reached down, picked up the camera and extracted the SD card and battery.
Jack dragged him by his good arm to the front door. Hilda ran ahead of them, opening it just as they arrived. With a great heave, Jack flung the trespasser out on the porch. He could hear the clicking of the cameras with long lenses at the gate. Hilda tossed the camera into the grass beyond the porch.
“That should give the evening news something more truthful to report about the Emily case,” he said.
“Are you OK?”
“Just some spots in my eyes still. It’s clearing.”
Maryse was standing in the hall, a terrified expression on her face. “Was that a paparazzo in the house?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But you assaulted him, non?”
“Just doing my job in this case. Was it not the Chief Inspector himself who told me to take care of you?”
Hilda smiled. Maryse looked a little less terrified. In the studio, they left the TV on while they read the cycling magazines. At eleven o’clock, the lead story was the dramatic and fiery car chase with armed helicopters on the border. The media had not made a connection with the Emily Hampstead kidnapping yet. A second report showed long-distance photos of the hapless paparazzo outside the Pointreau home. He was generally reported as an overenthusiastic trespasser, with little sympathy spared for his having broken into a home.
“They didn’t even get a good shot of you,” said Hilda.
“Good. I can still go undercover in Québec.” They chuckled.
Jacques came home by the back door at one o’clock. He had two days of the Globe & Mail, Journal de Montréal, Montreal Times, Montreal Gazzette, and even a copy of the free Métro, After the headlines of the day before, the story had moved to the sports pages. They fixed lunch and settled in the living room afterwards, trading sections of the different papers. The unspoken worry hung over all of them. Every half hour or so, Jack would get up and walk to all the windows, checking for more trespassers. There did not seem to be any more photographers willing (or stupid enough) to risk a dislocated shoulder for a shot of the family at home. By mid-afternoon there were only four or five bored-looking photographers outside.
Emily woke with a start. The ground was unfamiliar, and dew had settled on her blanket, leaving her damp and stiff. The sky was light, but it would be a while before the sun cleared the steep cliffs above the river. She rose and hung the blanket on a branch to dry. Doing some stretches limbered her up enough to scrounge around for more firewood. She cooked three more ears of corn, wishing that she could pluck fish from the stream like the bears did. The blanket was dry when she doused her fire and carefully made her way back to the mainland.
She continued downstream, ducking back into the woods when the riverbank disappeared again right after she passed the island. It was slow going, but just about the time the sun cleared and began shining on the river, she thought she heard a car or truck up ahead. About a half-hour later, she heard another one, closer. Then she saw a large bridge stretching from the top of the cliffs on her side to the cliffs on the other side of the river. A one-ton stake truck sped noisily across the span and faded off to the south.
Encouraged, she began climbing the steep hill toward the road. It took another hour to make her way through the brush, so that it was late morning by the time she broke out of the woods and stood by the smooth, two-lane highway. She turned south and began walking toward the bridge. A full-sized pickup truck came up behind her, its knobby tires and leaky muffler making enough noise to shake birds out of the trees near the road.
Emily put out her hand with the thumb extended. The truck slowed and stopped. The driver leaned over and opened the passenger door. Emily first noticed his bloodshot eyes, brown and deep set. He had dirty brown hair almost shoulder length and wore a denim jacket much like the one Emily had on. Emily climbed in and pulled the door shut.
“Where to, beautiful lady?” American accent.
“Anywhere. I need to find a phone.” The cab stank of stale tobacco, spilled beer and cannabis. Emily sat as close to the door as she could.
“Anywhere? That sounds like a come-on to me. Let’s go!” He put the truck in gear and headed unevenly back into the lane. Emily wondered if he were impaired and regretted getting in the cab with him. His long, stringy hair was matted and his ragged t-shirt and arms were filthy.
The driver looked over at her appraisingly more often then she liked. After a half-mile she said, “You’re making me nervous. Could you look at the road more than at me?”
“Why? The road’s boring. You look like more fun.” He laughed at his own joke.
“What’s the next town up ahead?”
“Ain’t no town that I know of. Nothing but fields and woods.”
“So, where are you going?”
“I thought we’d go to my place. I got some good stuff there. We could have a real good time.”
“I need to call the police. Either take me to a town or stop so I can get out.”
He accelerated. “Nope. I can’t expect an angel like you to fall into my lap like this and get away, can I?”
“Why? Do you know who I am?”
“Nope. Doesn’t matter. I ain’t letting nobody call the police.”
“Just let me off. I saw a sign for a town back there. I’ll walk.”
“Nope. Can’t have you calling no cops.”
Oh, hell, thought Emily. What now? She held her hands to keep them from shivering. Think!
“Why are you afraid of the police, anyway? Are you on the lam?”
He nodded. “I got a nice little place in the woods where nobody bothers me, and I like it that way. You’ll like it, too.”
She watched the miles roll under the truck as they headed west past farms like the one from which she had escaped. He turned away from the sign for Saint Justin and headed northwest. A couple of miles later, he turned into a narrow dirt track that led into the woods.
Tree branches slapped the window as he drove deep into the forest. He stopped at a clearing with a small cabin.
“Home, sweet, home, darling.”
“I’m not your darling.”
“Feisty. I like that. Just like the last girl who lived here.” Emily tried to open the door, but he had activated the child lock. He got out on his side, came around and opened her door with the key fob. “OK, sweetheart, come to papa.” He held open his arms with a stupid grin.
Emily braced herself and flung the door open as fast as she could It caught him on the face and bowled him onto his back. She was out of the cab and running by the time he got back up. She headed down the path. He was taller than she, so she was not going to outrun him, fast as she was. Forcing herself to imagine Hilda’s fierce face, she planted her feet, stopped hard and turned. He was still running when she hit his solar plexus with her fist as she stepped on his foot and kneed him in the groin. She head-butted him so hard that she felt lightheaded as blood from his nose spurt out on her neck and chest. He wobbled. She backhanded him with a fist above the ear as hard as she could swing, and he went down in a heap by the side of the path.
Worried that he might awake soon, she searched his jacket pockets and found the truck keys and a wallet. A quick look showed a Vermont driver license issued to a Gary Whiteside. She took ten dollars from the wallet just in case and ran back to the truck.
Back on the highway, she returned to where she saw the sign for the town of Saint-Justin. It had a small VIA logo on it. A few miles later, she saw the same logo on a train station in the middle of nowhere. The sign identified it as Saint Justin, but there seemed to be no town. She parked the truck and went inside. The station was unmanned, and a sign informed passengers that this was a request stop. The schedule had been torn down and the holder vandalized. She found two payphones, but both had their handsets ripped off.
She got back in the truck and started it up. Coming out of the parking lot, she saw a sign for the town of Saint-Justin, five kilometers away. She headed south and rolled into the village. While it had a pretty church, there seemed to be no businesses, and the houses seemed all closed. On a hunch, she drove on, thinking that any road headed south had to come across one of the main east-west highways.
By now the shadows were getting long. The clock on the dash of the truck read “16:55”. She did not know where Montréal was from here, but she was sure that she could find a phone or a police station by dark.
Indeed, the road from Saint-Justin ended in a larger road, the Chemin du Pied de la Côte. A general store with a restaurant dominated the corner. She parked the truck and took off her socks before alighting. She walked to the store, keenly aware of how hungry she was. Feeling lightheaded, she paused at the door. One woman at the cash register. A male waiter (fifty-ish) to the right near what must be the kitchen door. One twenty-something man looking at the pastries case.
She crossed to the cash register. “Excusez-moi madame, j’ai besoin d’appeler la police. Avez-vous un téléphone?” The woman reached in her apron pocket, pulled out a cellphone and dialled 911. She passed the phone to Emily.
“Hello, This is Emily Hampstead. I am not hurt, but I need to report a kidnapping – two kidnappings, actually.”
“Of course, Miss Hampstead, where are you now?”
“Le Magasin général Le Brun near Saint-Justin.”
“Stay there. We’ll have a unit there shortly.”
“Thank you. I’ll wait.”
Emily returned the cell phone to the woman, who suddenly realized who was in front of her. Before she could say anything, Emily asked for the restroom.
In the ladies’ washroom, Emily tried to straighten out her hair, wash her face and arms as best she could, and rinse off the dried blood on her legs and the the front of her dress. Fortunately, most of the blood was on the jacket, which she did not intend to keep.
Back in the store, she asked for a rubber band, and began to tie her hair back in a pony tail. The lady at the cash register reached into her purse behind the counter and gave her a black covered hair band.
“Matches your dress, Miss Hampstead.” She smiled broadly. “You look hungry. Let me offer you something to eat.”
“The police will be here soon, but I would not mind something quick. How about a croissant or a tarte?”
“Of course.” She went to the pastry case, while Emily chose a liter bottle of water from the refrigerator case.
“Combien-ça?” she asked. The woman shook her head. “You do me honour to come into my store. Please eat and enjoy.”
Just as she finished the lemon custard pie, Emily heard the siren. She thanked the woman and finished the bottle of water as the Sûreté officers walked in.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,