Katherine and Mark flew to Montréal the weekend after Emily’s escape. Jacques and Maryse insisted on hosting them in the third guest bedroom. Except for some scabs from the scratches on her legs, Emily looked none the worse for her ordeal.
When they assembled in the living room after settling in, they found that Pierre Laurent had arrived. During the introductions, Katherine looked worse than Emily until the teenager came into the room. Katherine recovered her composure after some tears and hugs – and countless stories of the prowess of her daughter.
“In addition to shutting down a criminal network with MS-42,” Pierre explained, “Emily took a serial rapist off the street.”
“What?” Katherine paled again.
“Gary Whiteside was wanted in three New England states on a dozen charges of rape and assault. Emily gave us the keys to his truck and we had him in custody in less than thirty minutes.”
“Omigod, what if –”
“No what if, Mom. He was so excited to have me locked in his truck that he let his guard down when he had to unlock it to get me out. I knocked him down with the door of the truck and ran.”
Mark hugged his wife and looked at Hilda with a smile. “Who is she, and what have you done with our daughter?” All but Katherine laughed. She smiled, but her eyes worried.
“Oh, that’s Emily, I assure you. She’s been like this all the time. We watched it come out when she applied her natural skills outside of a bicycle race.”
“Did you teach her this?” asked Katherine.
“Just a few self-defense moves, which she insisted on learning. I knew it would be a good idea, seeing that she is so fearless.”
“And how to size up a room,” said Emily.
“That, too. The rest you taught her, Katherine.” Katherine raised her eyebrows in a question. “Being observant, sensing threats, even behind her, quick reactions, speed and thinking on her feet. Putting her in a Girl Scout troop that did rugged camping wasn’t a bad idea, either.”
Katherine shook her head and sighed. “I am just so glad this is over. I can’t wait to get you home again.”
Emily looked at her mother, then at Mark, then at the others and back to Katherine.
“Mom, I don’t want to go home yet. I want to finish the tour with Hilda and Jack.”
Katherine seemed stunned. Mark gave her a gentle hug. She gathered herself.
“After all this?” she asked.
“Especially after all this.” Emily waved her arms at the others. “The Forebears are out, their cronies are in jail, the kidnappers have been busted or killed, Gary Whiteside is in jail. Who’s left, Mom?”
“Well, uh –”
“You don’t have to answer that yet,” said Jacques, standing up. “Let’s celebrate all these victories first and you take time to think about it.” He went to the bar cooler and pulled out a bottle.
“Dom Perignon, ‘09?” he asked Hilda. Pierre, Mark, Maryse and Jack exchanged knowing glances and smiles.
“Adequate, I think, Jacques,” said the nurse.
As Jacques poured, Maryse came over to Katherine. “Emily has been bragging about your skills in the kitchen. Would you like to collaborate on something special tonight?”
“But Emily serves dinner most nights in our house.”
“C’mon, Mom, I just heat up what you cook. Maryse runs a democratic kitchen. We’ve all chipped in each evening.”
“OK, Thanks, Maryse. It would be fun.”
“More fun than going out,” added Jack, “until the paparazzi wander away.”
After finishing his glass, Pierre excused himself to push his way to the Sûreté sedan waiting for him outside the gate. Jack watched from the window of the house.
“That guy is such a giant that he simply scowls at the photographers and they back off. I love it!”
Maryse, Hilda and Katherine spent some time consulting cookbooks and online food channels, while the others went to the studio to check the chat rooms, news and social media. Jacques used Maryse’s computer, so Jack could use the VPN that he had set up on Jacques’ machine. Mark and Emily used their phones to check social media and Mark’s company internal news site.
“Well, this is not good news,” said Jacques. “Internal Communications at the bank reports that stormfront.org is posting diatribes about me, smuggling African immigrants – and financing subversion in Québec.”
“You have Stormfront here, too?” asked Emily.
“Of course. Your Southern Poverty Law Center has identified more than a hundred white supremacist groups in Canada.”
“Wow. That’s a lot.”
“Well, the SPLC reports almost a thousand in the US. Our population is one-tenth of yours, so the ratio is about the same.”
“But the issue is Hilda, again, isn’t it?” asked Jack.
“I’m afraid so. The human smuggling and financing is fake news – a natural extension of their racial hatred.”
“That won’t matter to the faithful readers, will it?”
Jack was quiet as he tapped a few keys and stared for a minute. “Just as the Islamist fanatic threat is abating, we get this.” He got up and walked into the kitchen. When he came back, his face was serious, but calm.
“I’m sending an email to Ted, Pete and Greg.” He tapped on the keys for a while. “Done.”
Emily went over and read some of the hate-mongering on Maryse’s computer screen. “That’s awful!”
Jacques shut down the sites. Jack’s phone rang. “Hi. Ted.” He listened for a while. “Thank Pete for me. I’ll tell the others.” He rang off.
“Ted just talked to Pete. He said that the FBI has been tracking the hate-groups all along, but now they will keep an eye on them for talk of Hilda or the Pointreau’s. Greg will brief Mark and Katherine after they return, especially because of the anniversary of the rallies in Charlottesville coming up.”
“Mom will just love that!” Emily frowned.
“You may win your argument to stay with us.”
“Maybe she’d like to come along!” Emily quipped.
“I think she would anyway, but she has her duties at the University.”
A shout from the kitchen: “Scullery crew on deck! Get in here!” They joined the three cooks and were assigned various duties prepping ingredients on the counters and tables in the kitchen.
While the ovens cranked away, they gathered in the living room again, because the veranda was still subject to eavesdropping by the paparazzi. The developments with the hate groups put a new perspective on the threats to Emily and Hilda.
“I still want you to come home,” said Katherine, after Emily repeated her point about the threat being neutralized. “It’s just not safe.”
“It’s just not safe anywhere, Mom. Hilda and I are linked in the fake news on the alt-right sites now. Charlottesville might be more dangerous than Canada soon.”
Katherine thought quietly about that as they sipped their Riesling.
“But how are you going to tour with the paparazzi out there?” asked Mark.
“We’ve thought about that,” said Jacques. “We’ve had paparazzi out there before. They wander off between two and four days after the newspapers stop carrying the story. You all are welcome to stay with us until then. We can drive you to Ottawa and Québec City for day tours, using the back entrance, so you will still see the sights you came to see. By then, the frenzy should pass, and you can resume your trip.”
“If it runs longer,” said Maryse, “We could go visit my parents in the Laurentians.”
“Where were you planning to go next?” Mark asked Hilda.
“Well, Ottawa and Québec City, so Jacques’ offer takes care of that.”
“I’d like to get out of town,” said Emily. “It has been more fun riding in the country than the cities, so far.”
“School starts in another month,” said Jack. “Why not a bit of the Gaspé?”
“That would be ideal,” said Hilda. She looked at Katherine and Mark. “It’s stunningly beautiful. Very quiet, even in the summer, with challenging climbs, wildlife and isolated towns that don’t take much interest in what’s going on in the big city.”
“How soon before school would you get back?” asked Mark.
“We can agree on that now. It should take less than two weeks to round the Gaspé to Campbellton, New Brunswick. At any point after that, we can catch a train and roll into the Amtrak station in Charlottesville a day later.”
“This means a lot to you, doesn’t it, Emily?” asked Katherine.
“Yes, Mom. I’ve learned so much, and I want to see it through. I don’t want to cut it off because of someone else’s bad choices.”
“That’s pretty grown-up talk.” Katherine smiled and sighed. “Best reason I can think of.”
Dinner took four hours, and conversation was light and pleasant. They agreed to use the Pointreaus’ van to take a tour of Montréal with the Dempsey’s after church on Sunday. Monday morning, Jacques took two days off from work. They drove Mark and Katherine to the airport, then went to Ottawa. They visited the Parliament and the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. On Thursday, they loaded the three bikes on the van. Maryse took them to Québec City, losing the paparazzi on country roads in the Mastigouche before turning south to Trois Rivières and on to Québec City. At Emily’s suggestion, they went by the Le Brun General Store near Saint-Justin, so they could thank the owner. Emily returned the black covered band, and they sat down for a proper lunch, leaving a big tip and buying a couple of bags of local products.
In Québec City, they took advantage of a guest house maintained by the Bank, which was unoccupied at the moment. The old city was no place for a van with three bicycles on it, but the guest house had a garage. They walked the quaint streets of the old city, toured the Parliament building and visited the Museum of Fine Art. Emily had never seen Western landscape painting or First Nations art, and she had never heard of the “Group of Seven”, but she developed a strong appreciation for their work in Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City. The first night, they had dinner in the house, and planned to try one of Maryse’s favourite restaurants the next night.
During dinner, Jack asked about Jacques and Maryse’s son.
“You said Jean-Pierre was with the 22nd, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but he has volunteered for CANSOF. You know it?”
“The tan berets. Canadian Special Operations.”
“He’s at the CSOTC school now.”
“How old is he?”
“He just turned 22.”
“They must think very highly of him to take him so young.”
“That is what his Major said, but it’s little comfort.” She looked at Emily. “All the time Katherine was in our home, I was feeling her concern for you, Em, and thinking of Jean-Pierre.”
“I’m sorry, Maryse,” said Emily. “Is the CSOTC place dangerous?”
“Not really. It’s just that I am sure he’ll be sent to Afghanistan or someplace like that. He’s as fearless as you are, Emily.”
“Sounds interesting. Do you have a picture?”
Maryse pulled out her phone and showed Emily her lock screen.
“Nice! I would like to meet him.” Maryse smiled while Hilda and Jack exchanged surprised glances.
“You might some day. He’s as crazy about cycling as we are. I think that he could have gone pro, but he chose the Army instead.”
“Does he know about Emily?” asked Hilda.
“Oh, yes. He’s the one who told us about you last fall after the Air Force Invitational in Colorado. He called you ‘hot’ and said he was in love!”
That got a laugh from the table, which allowed them to draw Maryse away from her worry and on to other subjects.
The next day, they visited the Plains of Abraham and the Citadel. The view of the Saint Lawrence from the parapets of the Citadel stretched almost to Vermont. Standing under the big guns in the clear sunshine, Emily could see the teeming shipping and the green, yellow and brown fields of the farms on the other side. Tourists were everywhere, and the atmosphere was festive.
They left the Citadel about one p.m. and walked over to the National Parliament. Maryse and Hilda were chatting ahead, Jack and Emily walking comfortably in silence behind them.
“That’s so cool,” Emily said as they climbed the stairs to the imposing building. “They have containers of kitchen herbs around the stairs.” Each large pot had a label describing the contents, its origin, and how it was used in food preparation.
They were about half-way up the stairs when there was a flash above them. Hilda pushed Maryse to the ground, and Jack pulled Emily down before the sound of the explosion reached their ears. Suddenly glass and bits of metal were raining on them as the front doors flew in pieces over their heads.
“Jack! Get them out of here!” Hilda was already running up the stairs. Jack jumped up and led Maryse and Emily down the stairs, a firm hand on their arms. When they reached the square at the bottom, they paused in the shade of some trees.
“But Hilda could be hurt,” said Emily.
“It’s what she does, Em. There’s no stopping her. Let’s see if we can help from here.”
They watched as the EMT’s and police converged on the scene. Emily thought about all the first responders gathering, and the people pressing up on the yellow tape being deployed. She remembered what Hilda and Jack taught her and looked to the left toward the street.
“Emily! Where are you going?” Jack shouted. But the young athlete was already running 20 meters away. She ran up behind a man standing under a tree with a clear view of the scene. From behind, she pulled his arm back, using her momentum to throw him down into a flower bed where she landed on him. The cell phone in his hand flew to the ground. Jack ran up behind her, just as the man managed to twist around. Jack pinned him down and turned him over, drawing his hands back and kneeling on his back.
“What the hell! Emily?”
“Second bomb! He’s the leader.”
Jack looked at her and the phone and nodded. Maryse came up and reached for the fallen phone.
“Ne touche pas le téléphone, Maryse!” They both shouted at once. Jack nodded to a Sûreté cruiser. “Go get a police officer from that group over there.”
When Jack identified himself, the SdQ officer took their suspicions seriously. In less than five minutes, the police took charge of the man with the cell phone and called over a man from the bomb disposal squad. It took no time for the bomb disposal expert to order an immediately clearing of the scene. The wounded had already been removed, so the first responders left the dead and cleared out.
Hilda came over. She had blood up to her elbows and across her chest. She was wiping down with a handful of antiseptic wipes as she walked. Jack and Emily looked around her, but the press was still fixated on the bomb disposal activity up at the scene.
“Maryse, we can’t have this turn into another Chicago. We need to be out of town before the press connects Emily or me to this.” She sat down on a bench to reduce her visibility, pulling Emily down with her. “Keep your head down, Em.”
“Let’s go to my parents right now. I’m calling Pierre.” She pulled out her cellphone and hit speed dial. After a fast conversation in French, she rang off. “Someone in charge will come find us.” She wrote her parent’s address and phone number on a note pad from her purse and tore off the page.
“Madame Pointreau?” A short man with thin gray hair and a round face appeared from the direction of the scene. “Chief Inspector Bertrand. My colleague in Montréal contacted me.”
“Yes. We have a problem.”
“I can see.” He looked at the other two women. “The well-known Hilda Paisley has saved several lives up there, and the famous Emily Hampstead has saved the lives of the rest of us.”
“You confirmed the second bomb?” asked Jack.
“Yes. I assume that you are Major Rathburn?”
“Yes, Jack Rathburn.”
“Marcel.” He shook hands with everyone. “Pierre has told me about the problems you have had with publicity. We can protect you.”
“What we would like to do, Marcel,” said Maryse, “is quietly return to our car, collect our things as quickly as possible and escape the city, before the press finds out who took down the trigger man here.”
“But we will need your statements.”
“Of course, but we will be available at my parents’ house in the Laurentians. Here is the address and the phone number.” She gave him a piece of paper on which she had written. “We can hide there from the press.”
“That seems reasonable, especially if you move fast. We will send an officer to take your statements up there.”
“Thank you!” he said, eyeing Emily. “I might have been dead a few minutes ago. Are you at the BMO house?”
“Let us take you there. The unit will wait and follow you until you are clear of the town. Just to make sure you don’t have company on the way out.”
“Get going now. It won’t do for the reporters to see you here.”
They got into the cruiser that had been parked nearby. It eased away quietly. As far as they could tell there were no flashes, and no one was taking an interest in them as them left the scene. The reporters converged on Marcel Bertrand as he approached the tape.
At the guest house, Hilda changed her shirt. They quickly packed and checked the house for their things.
“Em, I still don’t understand how you recognized the trigger man,” asked Jack as he cinched the top of his panniers.
“It was what you and Hilda taught me in Atlantic City.” She hefted her panniers and started for the door. “I looked away from the commotion and saw just one person who was watching everything with no emotion, like he was in control.”
“Exactly. I had a terribly urgent gut feeling. I just knew that it would be better to be wrong than to risk being right.” She headed downstairs to the garage and checked that the bikes were secure, while the others brought their things down.
Jack and Hilda were silent as Maryse made her way north out of town. The Sûreté cruiser eased along behind them, raising the anxiety level of the drivers behind them, who were afraid to pass the cruiser driving slightly above the speed limit. The traffic peeled off as they passed through the suburbs. When there was only the cruiser behind them, the officer flashed his high beams and signaled a turn. Maryse waved from the side window, and he tooted his horn as he did a u-turn.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,